Josiah carefully and skillfully slipped between the hundreds of people in the busy marketplace. He had been searching for the last few days, since he had arrived in Xinjiang, asking various people that he knew would have information, having used them as contacts in the region before, but getting nowhere. One man that he spoke to seemed afraid at the fact that Josiah was asking, but Josiah could not tell if the man was afraid of him or afraid of who Josiah was looking for. And Ark was not able to provide him any more help than it had before he left. If Geoffrey Wido was living in this region, he was a ghost.
But as he wandered throughout the busy market, Josiah began to get the feeling that he was being watched. While it could have been someone that worked for one of the men that he asked for help from, it did not feel that way.
Josiah quickly skimmed the bustling market and almost immediately found where the feeling was coming from. He was not being watched from the shadows, but from the middle of the crowded street by a boy that looked to be only a few years younger than himself. The boy had short black hair, and it was obvious that he was from the Xinjiang region.
But the boy stared at Josiah so intensely that he felt as if the boy was looking through him. His dark eyes never breaking with Josiah's. And something was different about this boy's energy pattern. With one of Josiah's eyes being covered, he could clearly see the boy's pattern. But it was not any of the colors he was used to seeing; the boy's pattern was almost white. It stood out against the green and orange that massed throughout the busy street.
After a few moment, and feeling a little uneasy, Josiah quickly turned and started to walk in the opposite direction. However, after only taking a few steps, Josiah suddenly found himself face to face with the boy.
"Audo?" the boy said softly as he looked Josiah up and down a few times.
"Excuse me?" Josiah replied as he prepared himself mentally in case he would have to defend himself.
"You're younger than you're supposed to be," the boy continued, his English somewhat muddled by his accent. "I've been waiting for you."
"Do I know you?" asked Josiah.
"I was beginning to think that you would never show up," the boy said, almost as if he did not hear Josiah. "I've been waiting for two years now."
"Whoever you are, I don't think I'm the person that you're looking for," Josiah said as he started to step around the boy.
But the boy put out his arm to stop him. He looked Josiah over for a few moments before replying, "No, you're who I'm looking for. Although you're not aligned properly, like you should be, you project yourself into the aether to the point that you not only stand out but I could see you as soon as you appeared. I was out doing my weekly shopping when I suddenly saw your presence in my inner-vision." The boy then bowed, "I am Koushiro. And if I am not mistaken, you are looking for something that does not wish to be found. But we have found it. It was hiding from you, here on our own doorstep. So, we caught it and we have been keeping it for you."
Josiah just stared at the boy. He did not know what to say. This boy, Koushiro, seemed to think that Josiah was someone that he had been waiting for, but that did not make any sense. And what did the boy mean that he could see his presence? Could the boy see energy patterns, like he could, or was it something else? And what could he be keeping that Josiah would be looking for? He was looking for a person, not an item.
After a few moments of silence between them, the boy offered Josiah his hand.
"Why should I go with you?" Josiah said as he looked the boy over again, before letting his uncovered eye come to rest on the outstretched hand.
"Because I look after the Monster that you seek," Koushiro said in a low voice.
"Monster?" Josiah said softly. "Wait, are you talking about Wido?"
"No!" Koushiro almost shouted, and then in a quiet voice he continued. "The Monster no longer has that name. I have taken it from him. He...it...no longer carries any name or worth. Come, I will take you to it, so that you can speak with it."
"No, wait just a second," replied Josiah. "You've told me your name, but nothing else. Who do you work for? How do I know you're not trying to..."
Koushiro quickly shook his head, "I serve the Navus and no one else."
Josiah's eyes went wide, "What did you say?"
"Come," Koushiro said, offering Josiah his hand again. "I will explain more after you have seen what you have come to see."
Tracy Butler reached up from his computer desk and hit the intercom button on his wall. "Dad! Get up here!" He swiped the unruly blond curls out of his eyes unconsciously as he quickly double-checked his screens to make sure there was nothing open that would make a parent nervous. He giggled as he realized that it really didn't matter; he had hacked into his father's secure network server that he used for his home business at the tender age of seven. By the time he was ten, him and his father had reached an agreement; Tracy wouldn't cause havoc on people's servers for the fun of it, and his father would pay him to perform research for his private investigative service.
"What you got, Trace?" Forty-two year old Bryant Butler asked as he came into the room. He was actually quite proud of how his twelve and three-quarter year old son had taken to using his computer talents to help their business. "Don't call him twelve, he'll ream you a new one!" Brant chuckled to himself. Between the two of them, their company was now the most sought-after private investigator service in South Florida.
Tracy turned in his chair, his bright green eyes dancing in excitement. "You ain't gonna believe what just happened over in Naples!" he exclaimed.
"The Mayor fell into the ocean and was attacked by a shark?" Bryant asked with a hopeful grin.
"Even better!" Tracy giggled as he twisted back and forth in his chair. "He fired the police force, and I just found out from my statehouse tap that he's tee'd off Clan Short, and now they're in a big conference with the Governor and all the House and Senate!"
"He WHAT! That stupid son-of-a-bitch can't be that much of an imbecile!" Bryant exclaimed. "Show me what you've got, kiddo."
"Okay, and yes he can!" Tracy giggled as he twisted and began quickly entering commands into the computer, causing five of the six screens to flash quickly as codes were entered and acknowledged. A few seconds later, they were watching the screen as the radio transmission began to replay for the entire group of representatives.
"I hate to ask this, but how are you monitoring that?" Bryant asked as he realized that they were tapped into a secure conference.
"You TOLD me to keep track of Representative Chrystrone! I just happen to have a permanent tap on his work and personal systems!" Tracy giggled.
"But a secure conference...?" Bryant questioned.
"Chill Dad; I've got friends. You're seeing this because they said you could." Tracy giggled.
"Sometimes you scare me, Brat!" Bryant chuckled as he put an arm over his son's shoulder and watched the proceedings. Once he saw that South Florida was placed under a State of Emergency and Clan Short was given jurisdiction, Bryant stepped back. "You know that little group of friends from school that you keep forgetting to tell me about? I think it's time that them and their parents come over and visit. Soon."
"Why should I tell you stuff you already know?" Tracy giggled as he quickly tapped a sequence of keys. "Message sent!"
Bryant's eyebrows raised as he saw Tracy unlock a drawer and pull a PADD out. "Where did you get that?" he asked in amazement.
"Remember that Engineer, Lieutenant Chapman, that we helped a month ago?" Tracy replied. "He was so impressed with the information I got that cleared his name that he gave me a present. This is one of the kewl ones; it's set up to interface with any computer it's assigned to!"
"You know that's not legal for you to have." Bryant said, curious as to how Tracy had bypassed the law this time.
Tracy stuck his tongue out at his Dad. "Yes it is! Remember when I was playing Space Sim, and I made it to Assistant Engineer in the IT department?"
"Yes...." Bryant replied, starting to see connections forming, due to one of his clients being Microsoft on occasion.
"There was a bug in the game; and since I was playing the ship that Mr. Chapman was from I showed up on his records. I was really training on the ship but didn't know it." Tracy reached into the drawer again, pulled out an envelope, and handed it's contents to his Dad.
"United Federation of Planets; Ensign Tracy Charles Butler, Starfleet Engineering, Reserves." Bryant read aloud. "Congratulations, Trace. Why didn't you tell me about this?"
Tracy fidgeted in his chair. "I know you wanted to be in Starfleet Legal, but when Mom died you gave it up to raise me. I didn't want you mad at me because I did something without really trying that you wanted to do but I kept you from doing it."
"Come here, son." Bryant said softly as he held his arms out. Tracy stood up, the events playing out on the screens behind him temporarily forgotten. As he wrapped his arms around his Dad and rested his head on Bryant's chest, Bryant wrapped his arms around the one person who made his life livable.
"I'm sorry Dad." Tracy whispered, his voice catching.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, son; I'm very proud of you." Bryant replied. "I'm not mad at you, I would never be mad for you achieving something all by yourself. Staying here to raise you was the best decision I ever made in my life. Besides, if I had went into Starfleet I would have never had the fun of seeing people's faces when I tell them that my business partner is my almost-thirteen year old son."
"I just help you though." Tracy muttered.
"As of six months ago, that's not what the legal paperwork says." Bryant replied, amazed that he had actually slipped something by his son for once. "You proved that you are responsible, and every investigation that we do is equal parts of your work and mine. As of the last case we completed, you are now a millionaire in the trust fund I started for you when you started helping out."
"But... but you've been paying me." Tracy said.
"I've been paying you a quarter of what you've earned; the rest has went into the trust fund." Bryant explained. "I'm not really surprised that you've earned the rank of Ensign; without you we wouldn't be doing even a quarter as good as we are. When, and how, did you get officially recognized?"
Tracy's head was spinning due to the new information that he had never thought to look into. "That field trip for school to Federation Headquarters three weeks ago. It was for me." he admitted softly.
"I understand why, from your point of view, you were not comfortable with telling me." Bryant said as he squeezed his son tighter. "I would have probably done the same thing if I was the youth and you were my father. While I wish I had been there to see it, I'm just as proud and happy for you without having been there."
"I... I... I've got a... a... recording."
Understanding the fragile state his son was in, Bryant weaved his hand underneath the cascading curls covering Tracy's shoulders and began massaging his thin neck gently. "I think the two of us should sit down and watch it tonight then. I love you son; sharing the time watching that will be even better than me being there I think."
"Love you too, Dad." Tracy whispered as he tightened his grip on Bryant.
After a few minutes of father-son cuddle, Bryant could tell that his son was having a tween-age emotional shift and had received the affection that he needed to move on to the rest of his day. Naturally, being a tween, Tracy needed assistance in breaking the moment without ruining it. After some thought, Bryant hit on something he felt was most appropriate. "Hey Trace, did they issue you a uniform?" he asked softly.
"Yeah, a bunch of them." Tracy replied.
"I think that it might help things if Ensign Tracy was to greet our guests." Bryant suggested. "Maybe a dress uniform?"
Tracy pulled back enough to look into his Dad's eyes; the look he saw there told him that he wasn't the only one that was getting surprised today. "Yeah, that'd be kewl." he replied, willing as usual to go along with one of his father's plots. "I gotta get cleaned up though."
"Go ahead, I'll send Karl up to join you. Yes, I've figured out how close you two are, and I've got your back no matter what the two of you decide. I have a feeling that you two are going to need to support each other openly in the next few days, so I'll make sure you guys are left alone to talk... I recommend in the shower, since there is less chance of you getting interrupted."
"How...?" Tracy began, panic creeping into his eyes.
"Relax, Trace." Bryant interrupted. "You're not the only person in this family who loves the person, not the genitals. I dated both sides of the pool before I fell in love with your Mom; in fact Uncle Clyde isn't just a good friend of mine, he was my boyfriend for four years and the best man at my wedding. If you and Karl work out, I'll be just as supportive as if he was a Karla instead. I probably knew it before you did that you love like you do."
As his dad was speaking, it dawned on Tracy what he had noticed yet never thought about; the fact that Uncle Clyde always seemed to be treated differently by his Dad. With that realization, his trust that his father would love him no matter what grew immensely. "I love you Dad, thanks, I gotta get ready." he said, unwilling to let the conversation go any further just in case there were more shocks.
"Go on, run for safety while you can!" Bryant chuckled, "I'll make sure Karl knows to join you."
"No blowing his mind Dad, that's MY job!" Tracy giggled.
"You sure it's his mind you're blowing?" Bryant chuckled.
"DAD!" Tracy exclaimed as he turned beet red and ran toward the bathroom.
"That's what I thought!" Bryant yelled after him before heading back downstairs.
As Bryant had expected, the first of their visitors to arrive were their neighbors Clyde Harrington and his son Karl. As soon as they were in the door, Bryant and Clyde exchanged their normal hug, then Bryant took it a step further and gave Clyde a long-overdue tonsil inspection. When the two men broke apart, both slightly breathless, Bryant looked over at Karl, who was standing there wide-eyed. It amazed him still how close Karl and Tracy were in looks; the only real way to tell the boys apart was by their hair color, as Karl's was a few shades lighter than Tracy's. They had even been born within minutes of each other, which was a constant point of conversation whenever they acted 'twinnish'.
"Tracy's in the bathroom upstairs. Tell him I said that we already blew your mind, so he can concentrate on other subjects." Bryant stated with a grin.
"Ummm... ahhhh.... Trrraaaaacccccyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!" Karl exclaimed as he took the opening and ran for the stairs.
"In twenty-plus years, you've never lost your evil streak." Clyde chuckled as he put an arm over Bryant's shoulder. "You're teaching the boys bad habits. What's with the closet-busting obsession today?"
"A very wealthy client of ours gave me a project with specific instructions if certain events occurred. As I thought, they just did; our sons are about to have their lives turned upside-down worse than the day that Gail and Christy got killed in that sinkhole."
"Crap. The dreams again?" Clyde stated.
"Yes. By the time the boys get back downstairs, I'm pretty sure that Karl is going to know our history too. Are you still willing to give family a go?"
"If we don't, our wives will haunt us forever!" Clyde replied. "We said we'd wait until the boys were old enough to understand; looks like it's that time. Your house or mine?"
"Both; I'm pretty sure Commander Watkins is going to be one of our guests tonight; once I make a call he'll handle turning them into one."
"I get this feeling that it's going to be a LONG night." Clyde groaned.
"You have no idea..." Bryant replied.
Tracy and Karl exchanged a long kiss as they hugged in the rapidly-cooling shower. Karl broke the kiss long enough to reach down and turn off the water, then returned to the hug. The two boys stood in the stall, chins on each other's shoulders, their bodies pulled tight against each other.
"You promise not to get mad if I tell you something?" Tracy asked hesitantly.
"I promise." Karl replied softly.
"Umm... well... I think... no, that's not right... crap... I-LOVE-YOU!" Tracy finally exclaimed, instantly steeling himself for the worst as soon as the words left his mouth.
Karl held Tracy close as he leaned his shoulders back to look Tracy in the eyes. This caused their noses to be touching as they stared into each other's bright green eyes, both searching for any signs of deception or rejection. After a full minute of staring, not breaking eye contact, Karl responded softly "I love you too, Tracy."
They broke eye contact, and brushed lips as they returned to having their chins on each other's shoulders. They just held each other for a few minutes, then separated and joined hands as they exited the shower. Without a word being said, each of them grabbed a towel and began drying what water remained off of the other one. "Does your Dad know about you and Space Sims yet?" Tracy asked as he began brushing out Karl's hair, not even considering what he was doing due to the swirl of emotions running through his body.
"No, I'm afraid he'll think I'm too young and make me give it back." Karl replied.
"He's gonna find out anyway; Dad wants to watch the recording, so he'll see you too."
"Yeah; I kinda slipped and got out my PADD, and I had to show him I was legal to have it." Tracy stated.
"Dufus." Karl said with a grin.
"Dad wants me to wear my uniform tonight, since you kept yours here will you wear yours too?" Tracy asked hopefully.
"Yeah; it's getting even for them swapping spit in front of me!" Karl replied with a giggle.
"Gross!" Tracy exclaimed. "That kinda stuff should be illegal for adults to do!"
"Tell me about it!" Karl giggled. "They even grabbed each other's fat butts!"
"Ewwww! I'm gonna puke if you keep tellin' me about it!" Tracy exclaimed as he clutched his stomach in mock agony.
"Whichever house they sleep in tonight, we're sleeping in the other one!" Karl laughed as he swapped places with Tracy.
"You better believe it!" Tracy replied.
After Tracy's hair was done, the two boys headed into Tracy's room to get dressed. Tracy glanced at his screens, and noticed that one had switched to a dark green background with a single square in the center."Terminal Charlie Ten, acknowledge Tracy-seven-whisky-zero-zero-seven."
"I see the two of you had fun." a scrambled voice stated. "Consider yourself activated immediately. An associate will make the proper adjustments tonight. Assemble your team for full briefing after you have satisfied your parents."
Tracy rolled his eyes. "You know, no matter how many times you try to tell me otherwise, I'm positive that you ain't watching me every second."
"No, I settle for every five." the voice responded with a laugh. "Get ready; unlike you, the rest of your team has not hardened their residences to my standards... yet." With that, the screen went black.
Karl shook his head. "You know, he acts like he doesn't know we figured out who he is a few weeks ago." he giggled.
"He knows; he's just playing the game." Tracy replied. "Gotta keep up the looks of things." he added as he opened his closet and then slid the side wall open after pressing a hidden lever. "Dad said full dress." he commented as he pulled out two identical uniforms.
"We should go down there with nothing on but our Ensign bars." Karl giggled.
"Don't tempt me; if I could figure out how ta do it I would just to get even!" Tracy said with a smirk. "C'mon, before the rest of the guys get here."
"Your cute butt is mine now, so you better get dressed! I ain't sharing it with those pervs!" Karl stated, an edge of nervousness sneaking into his voice due to him still being unsure of just what their status was.
Tracy picked up on Karl's tone, and began to analyze his own feelings as he took Karl's hand and sat on the bed. "Why me? I'm just a geek who likes playing in other people's computers." Tracy asked softly.
Karl looked Tracy in the eyes. "You're a lot more than that. Everyone in our class comes to you when they can't figure something out because they know that you enjoy helping them. I don't think you've ever had an enemy, everyone likes you as soon as they meet you. Personally, I've liked you in one way or another since we were too young to remember."
"Anyone can do that stuff." Tracy replied in a whisper.
"Maybe, but you do, and others do it because you've done it for them." Karl argued. "You've taught me a lot about dealing with people just by watching you. You've got a cute personality to go with that cute body; I don't think I'd like you like I do if you weren't special inside like you are."
"If you say so... I'm just me." Tracy replied. "You're the reason I do a lot of stuff with other people; I wanna spend time with you so I learn howta do the stuff you like to do so I can do it with you."
Suddenly realizing that he would have to take the lead in helping Tracy sort out his feelings, Karl took a chance. "Are we gonna be boyfriends now?"
Tracy squeezed Karl's hand. "I think we've been boyfriends for a while already." he answered slowly. "I've just been too scared that you'd stop liking me to say it."
"Me too, kinda." Karl admitted. "You... you wanna make it official?"
Tracy nodded, afraid he would mess up if he spoke.
"Please... say it...." Karl prodded gently.
Tracy's throat tightened as he mentally sorted through thousands of ways that he could ask the question Karl was expecting. "Uhh... ahhh... will you be my partner forever, Karl?" he finally squeaked.
"Yes!" Karl replied as he leaned over and gave Tracy a kiss to seal the deal. After breaking the kiss, Karl giggled as he added "I think you just proposed as well, if you meant to skip being boyfriends and go right to being engaged the answer is yes as well!"
Tracy blushed, realizing after the fact just what his words meant. After a few seconds of thought he commented "I can't imagine being with anyone else, if I had some rings right now it'd be yes to being engaged."
Two white gold rings on a green velvet pillow appeared on Tracy's right leg with a note sticking out from under the pillow. Tracy's eyes went wide as he pulled out the note and read it aloud. Consider this a gift from someone who never had the chances to experience what you just did. Congratulations, the two of you are a perfect match. Signed, The Watcher.
Karl giggled. "Remind me to never ask for anything embarrassing out loud!"
Tracy smiled as he picked up one of the rings and motioned for Karl to pick up the other. "Umm... which one of your fingers does this go on?" Tracy asked as he realized he had no idea what he was doing.
Karl tilted his head. "Dad still wears his wedding ring, and it's on the ring finger of his left hand. I think engagement rings go in the same place."
"That works for me; worst case is they'll tell us to move them." Tracy replied. Feeling more confident now that his inner feelings were accepted by Karl, Tracy twisted to be at Karl's feet without ever letting go of his hand. "Karl, will you marry me?" he asked as he stared into Karl's eyes.
"Yes." Karl replied softly as silent tears of joy began rolling from his eyes. Carefully, Tracy placed the ring he was holding onto Karl's left ring finger, leaning down to kiss it once it was in place.
Karl reached out silently and indicated that he wanted Tracy to give him his left hand. Once he was holding Tracy's hand, he said "I've loved you as long as I can remember, and I'll love you as long as I live. With this ring, I promise to keep my word and marry you when we are legally able to." He placed the ring on Tracy's finger, then both of them stood and joined in a tight embrace.
"I love you." both boys stated in unison, causing them both to giggle. They began to dress, both looking repeatedly at the rings on their fingers in amazement every chance they got. After checking each other to make sure everything was perfect, the newly-engaged pair headed downstairs.
Bryant and Clyde were sitting on the loveseat, arms over each other's shoulders as they waited for the boys to return downstairs. "I told you not to get that bigger water heater!" Clyde said with a laugh.
"I had to... I really hate cold showers!" Bryant replied. "For such a little guy, Tracy sure takes a long time to wash. He always has."
"You haven't figured out that they'll stay in until it gets cold enough for them to 'turn turtle'?" Clyde said with a grin.
"Oh, I figured it out; why do you think I do the dishes while I'm waiting for him?" Bryant replied. "He'd never make it to school on time if he had his way!"
"Good point. On another note, do you think they're going to be okay with us becoming family?"
Bryant nodded. "Going by Tracy's reaction before you two came over, they're going to accept it with no problems. Since I've never seen the two of them actually disagree on anything, that means Karl should be fine as well."
Clyde smiled. "True. Now if the two of them can figure their own emotions out...."
"That time will come sooner or later, hopefully sooner for their sake." Bryant stated. As he heard the door upstairs open, he added "Here they come, we'll know the answer shortly I guess."
A few seconds later, Tracy and Karl walked into the room, unconsciously holding hands to support each other through whatever reaction their respective parent had. "Umm... hi Dad." Karl mumbled.
As Clyde looked at them in shock, Bryant exclaimed "BOTH of you?"
"Uh huh." Tracy replied uncomfortably.
"I should have known...." Bryant stated with a shake of his head. "Congratulations, Karl."
"Thanks." Karl replied, still waiting nervously for his dad's response.
Clyde glared at Bryant. "You and I are going to have a LONG talk about that evil streak of yours later!" he stated as he stood up and approached the boys. "Considering that neither one of you has ever tried to pull a prank that doesn't involve electronics in some way, I'm going to assume that this is for real. Should I wait for that overgrown goofball that Tracy calls a father to explain to me how you managed it, or do you guys want to enlighten me?"
"Could Dad do it? Please?" Tracy requested uncomfortably. "I don't wanna have to explain it again."
"I understand." Clyde said as he pulled both boys into a hug. "Congratulations, guys; I'm proud of you."
"Thanks!" both boys replied with relief as they returned the hug.
Bryant watched with a smile, at least until the glint of light reflecting off of the boys' new rings caught his attention. His jaw hit his chest as he realized which fingers the rings were on. "Uhhhh...Clyde? Before you release that hug, close your eyes and have the boys guide you to the chair. Don't open them until I tell you to."
"Why?" Clyde asked.
"Trust me; it's best if you sit down." Bryant stated, his eyes glued onto the rings. "I think Tracy's trying to outdo my evil streak."
"If this is another one of your hair-brained tricks, Bry, I'm going to refer to the language lessons I had in the Navy." Clyde threatened as the boys guided him towards the chair.
"Hold that thought, I might need some quick instruction myself. Boys, please step back between us, and hold out your left hands."
Clyde didn't wait for permission to open his eyes; he opened them just in time to see the rings as Tracy and Karl held out their hands, both shaking nervously with colorless lips due to how tight they were keeping their mouths closed.
"I assume by how nervous you two are that you are aware what it means to wear a ring on that finger?" Clyde said softly, aware that the two boys in front of him were in a very delicate state. At seeing them nod their heads in assent, he continued. "Can I also assume that this is in no way a practical joke to get even with me and Bry for kissing in front of Karl?" Again, the boys nodded their heads nervously. Clyde turned his head to Bryant. "Bry, in case you were not aware of it, when these two accepted their commission they lost their status as youth and were granted all of the privileges and responsibilities of an adult. The Federation has determined that they are mature enough to handle duties as assigned; before you say a word you'd better take that into account."
"Oh... shii...." Bryant started to reply before fainting in his seat.
"DAD!!!!" Tracy screamed as he sprung towards his father, Karl and Clyde following quickly behind him. After a couple of quick checks, Clyde turned to the now-crying Tracy. "He's okay Trace; he did the same thing when you guys' moms announced they were both pregnant... at his college graduation... on stage... with a live microphone."
"I don't CARE!" Tracy sobbed. "Dad! Wake up, Dad!"
"Karl, go get the smelling salts. They're in the medicine cabinet in Bry's bathroom; little green bottle on the bottom shelf." Clyde ordered as he tried to ensure Tracy didn't join his father in needing resuscitated.
"Okay!" Karl replied as he sprinted to the stairs, taking them three at a time as he went up.
"Tracy, relax or you're going to be in the same shape he's in." Clyde stated as he reached over and began rubbing Tracy's back. "It wouldn't matter if you were thirty, he still would have passed out finding out that his baby boy was entering a new stage of his life."
"Wake Daddy up." Tracy stated. "I want Dad!"
Karl came flying into the room, the sound of him coming down the stairs indicating that he had skipped most of them in his descent. "Here Dad." he said as he held out a bottle.
"Thanks, son. Try to comfort your husband-to-be while I deal with Bry." Clyde said as he took the bottle.
Karl nodded. Unsure of what else to do, he moved behind Tracy and wrapped his arms around Tracy's chest. He made the right choice, as Tracy immediately crossed his arms over Karl's arms, locking his fingers tightly with Karl's as he pulled himself tighter against Karl's chest.
"Wake up, please!" Tracy whispered repeatedly.
Clyde quickly moved to revive Bryant while Karl kept Tracy from becoming the next in line.
Bryant woke with a start, shaking his head before his eyes focused and settled on his distraught son being held by a very concerned-looking future son-in-law who was watching over Tracy's shoulder. "Come here boys." he whispered as he opened his arms.
Still holding Karl's arms tightly around him, Tracy fell forward into his father's arms. "You scared me, I thought you'd died." Tracy whimpered as Bryant wrapped his arms around both boys.
"I just passed out, kiddo." Bryant replied. "It happens when I let myself get overloaded emotionally. It's not you guys' fault, there's a reason why Clyde knows where the smelling salts are in the house."
"Why ain't we ever seen you do it before?" Karl asked, obviously for both of them.
"Because I usually manage to keep myself together long enough to get out of your site and call Clyde to be with me." Bryant replied. "I knew how it would affect you guys if you saw it happening."
"You could have told me." Tracy replied softly.
"Yes, I could have; and you would have became my shadow, not even letting me go to the bathroom without you by my side." Bryant replied with a small smile. "I know you, Trace; you'd worry yourself sick if you couldn't actually see me physically every second."
"I ain't gonna lose you too." Tracy stated firmly.
"No, you're not. That's my job to make sure of, Tracy, not yours." Clyde interjected. "Your job is to look out for my son. Your grandparents put me in charge of watching over your dad before you were born; let me do my job, and I'll count on you to do the one that you just took on."
Karl looked over at his dad curiously. "You talk like it's something that you expected to be telling us to do."
"It is." Bryant stated. "For as many generations as the records go back, our two families have existed together and have protected each other. There is a cross-family marriage every five generations; you two have just made your aunts and uncles breathe a sigh of relief, since this generation was due to be the one that re-sealed the commitment of the families, and so far none of your cousins had expressed any interest in each other."
"But it's not like we can make babies!" Tracy stated as he rolled his eyes.
"No, but it's sure fun trying, isn't it Clyde?" Bryant replied with a chuckle.
"GROSSSSSSSSS!" both boys chorused.
"You'll learn...." Bryant replied with a grin, totally ignoring the dual middle fingers being waved at him by Clyde. "Historically, no matter what the public opinion might have been, the marriages between families have been same-sex. In some cases the marriage was only recognized inside the family, in others it was public. I'm willing to bet that you know a lot more of your family than you think you do; somehow we all seem to be drawn together into groups in various regions of the world."
Karl shook his head. "C'mon Trace, I think our parents smoked something funny while we were showering!"
Tracy stretched up and kissed his dad's cheek. "I love you Dad, even if you and Uncle Clyde are both goofier than a bunch of hyperactive monkeys!"
"Go get straightened up, you two. Your guests should start showing up soon." Bryant laughed. "You'll learn..."
Bryant answered the door as the first of the guests arrived. He opened it to see a face he hadn't seen since graduation. "Hey there Jack, long time no see!" Bryant said as he held out his hand.
"How is it I knew Jon would find you?" Jack said after a moment's pause. "The Circle spins..."
"...and Infinity continues." Bryant answered, which caused Jack's eyebrows to raise.
"The Tenth have paired?" Jack asked.
"Yes, come on in and you can congratulate them." Bryant replied, ignoring the groans of the grey-eyed redheaded twelve-year-old standing behind his father rolling his eyes.
"It figures your friends are as nuts as you, Dad." Jon mumbled just loud enough to be heard by both men.
"Let me guess, you just gave him a history lesson." Bryant sniggered.
"How could you tell? Was it the cross he keeps holding between us, or his heavy garlic breath?" Jack replied with a laugh.
"The tone of his voice, I'm sure that if he thought we were vampires he'd be putting stakes in our hearts!" Bryant laughed. "We've been there, Jon; compare notes with Tracy and Karl before the three of you decide to commit us." he added in a more serious voice.
Jon just looked at the two adults as if they had turned into cartoon characters as he silently followed them into the room where Clyde and the two boys were waiting. As soon as Jon spotted Tracy and Karl, he quickly broke free and all but sprinted over to join them.
"Who slipped funny pills into our parent's drinks?" Jon asked as he came to a stop in front of them. "Dudes; the uniforms look awesome! You guys finally told the nuts.. I mean your parents?"
"I think you were right the first time!" Tracy giggled. "Yeah, we told them; after I goofed and got out my PADD."
"Let's find some munchies." Jon stated. "It looks like your dads know my dad from ancient times. I don't wanna hear them scheming up any more stupid bullcrap to try to tell us."
"You too?" Karl asked with a grin. "What did you hear?"
"I'll tell you while we raid the fridge!" Jon replied with a grin.
The three boys headed out of the room, totally ignoring the adult's comments about rising food bills. They had just finished making a dozen sandwiches when they were joined by another of their friends, this one dragging his nine-year-old little brother with him.
"Wazzup Rick? Who's your shadow?" Karl giggled at the blond pair.
"Bite me, K-man!" Rick laughed, his blue eyes sparkling. "This is Peter; I'm protecting him from nutcase adults. Is there a full moon or something tonight?"
"Yeah, I think Dad's been smokin' something!" Peter giggled, his hazel eyes filled with laughter.
"And Mom's been hitting the cooking wine." Rick added. "The twins comin?"
"Yeah, they said their mom would drop them off on her way to work." Tracy replied. "Let me guess; your parents said some cryptic movie spy crap at the door too? I heard Dad talking to Jon's dad, it was weird."
"Dude, you have no idea; it was worse than those movies they show in English class!" Rick replied.
"Yeah, Mom squeaked louder than when her and Dad are wrastlin' in their bedroom!" Peter added.
The four twelve year olds quickly exchanged glances which clearly conveyed their unanimous sudden desire to not actually know what was really happening during those times. "Your dad said to compare notes, Tracy; should we see if they're all taking the same drugs?" Jon stated, trying to quickly change subjects.
The last was spoken by the remainder of the team arriving, accompanied by their twin little brothers. All four had chestnut brown hair and matching sky blue eyes, the only difference being that two of them were twelve and two were nine. The two oldest, Marcus and Martin, reached for sandwiches as they came to a stop, while Allen and Arron headed over to Peter and bumped fists with him.
The boys quickly made a couple of dozen more sandwiches, comparing notes on the wild story that their respective parents seemed to have independently contrived. They all giggled at Peter's comment that 'they must think we're stoopid!' as they finished laughing at the crazy story that they had all heard. After loading up with platters, Mountain Dews, and some cookies that Tracy found hidden in the back of a cupboard, the group of boys headed upstairs, trying to avoid the laughing adults in the living room.
None of the boys paid much attention as they entered Tracy's bedroom, being too busy ensuring their booty made it to their hiding spot. Their attention was drawn to the changes in the room when the encrypted voice announced "I hope you don't mind; I arranged for a few minor changes to make things easier for the group to work."
"Holy SHIT! How in the heck..." Tracy exclaimed as he realized that the glass door that used to lead out to a balcony now led into another room, which at first glance seemed to be filled with computer equipment.
"Where'd all this come from?" Karl asked as he rushed over to the new archway.
"Call it a welcome gift." the voice responded. "I recommend committing your parents to Federation Youth Services as staff; that will be sufficient payback for the methods used to pass on critical family history to you."
"Critical family history? You mean like finding out all of our parents spent their teen years on acid and are constantly having flashbacks?" Rick answered sarcastically.
"Next thing you'll say is that elves are real!" Jon added.
"In reverse order, I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of elves;" the voice replied, "and while their descriptions were awkward, there are known facts which substantiate the claims made by your parents."
"Back to reality here!" Tracy demanded. "WHY do we have this computer equipment? I've hacked corporate servers for international companies that had less power!"
"It's a start... once your team gets organized fully I will give you some more recent tools to use." the voice laughed.
Noticing that Tracy was starting to lose his temper, Karl quickly stated firmly "No more joking around. What's up with all of this crap?"
"Seriously?" the voice replied, "My superiors expect those working to assist them to have the proper tools to do their job effectively. Despite the family history lesson that all of your parents fumbled on, there is a serious side to this evening. Tracy, your father has been given the biggest job of his life by certain events that have happened in the last twenty-four hours; with that job, ALL of you in this room are going to be empowered to do things which you never dreamed of. Relax for a few minutes up here to give the parents all time to be on the same page, then join them so that you can find out what makes this equipment necessary. I will be sending some associates to help you set up your new responsibilities while you and the group are talking to Tracy's father."
"Whatever... we'll deal with it later." Tracy responded. "Right now I've got friends to hang with."
"Agreed; there is much that they need to catch up on. I will be seeing you soon enough." the voice answered before ending the session.
"See what I gotta put up with?" Tracy said with a roll of his eyes. "C'mon guys, chow time!"
As a group, the boys began reaching for sandwiches and drinks. Martin noticed Karl and Tracy's rings as they were grabbing sandwiches, and after taking a bite of his own he asked "What's with the new rings, dudes?"
Without looking, Karl sensed Tracy becoming nervous. He took Tracy's hand as he replied proudly "Tracy proposed to me and I accepted! We're engaged!"
The room temperature rose five degrees as both twin-links went into overdrive with mental discussions. Jon and Rick exchanged glances, then Jon replied "What took ya so long? Y'all have been dating since like the first grade!"
"Have not!" Tracy replied with a blush.
"Yeah, we started dating in pre-school!" Karl added, earning him a long-overdue giggle from Tracy.
Martin grinned. "We had to explain a few things to the rugrats. Congrats guys from all four of us!"
"Ain't you gotta be adults to get married though?" Peter asked.
"Legally, they are li'l bro." Rick explained. "Our teacher explained it to us while we were waiting to watch them get commissioned. When Starfleet made them Ensigns, it meant that they have all the rights and responsibilities of a grown-up. She said that the Federation put that rule into effect so that planets and cultures that have age-based laws are required to give exceptions to anyone who has been accepted to defend the Federation."
"I know howta test to see if they're grown-ups now!" Peter giggled as he stood up. "Cuddle test!" he announced as he walked over and wrapped his arms around the pair.
Deciding that it wouldn't hurt to play along, Tracy and Karl returned the hug and created a three-way cuddle. After a couple of minutes, with those watching trying hard not to giggle, Peter broke the cuddle and announced "They're better than Daddy, they pass!"
As the giggles started at Peter's proclamation, Rick came over and put his arm over Peter's shoulder. "Way to go, guys; you passed the Peter Test!"
"They'll take the Dick Test later tonight!" Jon sniggered, causing Tracy and Karl to glow red as the rest of the tweens quickly found seats before they fell over.
Once everyone had settled back down, Marcus asked "What's with the big meeting tonight?"
Tracy shrugged the shoulder that was not almost glued to Karl. "Dunno. Dad said something about a big job because of something that's happened in the last day or so. He's supposed to tell us about it, but I'm waiting until the weird wears off of the adults."
"Why did they all decide to tell us that story?" Allen and Arron chorused.
"Dunno." Marcus replied. "It can't be because of our ages, since they told you guys too. Peter, did your 'rents tell you about it while they were telling Rick?"
Peter nodded. "Yeah, it was really weird."
"Something's goin' on." Tracy observed. "Dunno what, but it seems like a bunch of weird crap is happening today."
Karl nodded as he leaned over and grabbed the last cookie. "Yeah, I guess we're gonna have to take our chances downstairs to find out what."
Jon looked around, noticing that all of the food had quickly vanished. He finished off his soda, then said "Looks like we're ready when you are; y'all got the lead."
"Thanks." Karl replied sarcastically. "Remind us later that we owe you one."
"You guys got the uniforms, not us!" Jon shot back with a grin.
"I'll have to fix that..." Tracy stated with an evil grin.
"You better not!" Jon exclaimed, fully aware that Tracy would manage to make the payback quite 'interesting' to live with.
"Follow us then... chickens!" Tracy giggled as him and Karl stood.
Led by Rick, the rest of the group began clucking and squawking as they formed a line behind Karl and Tracy, who were trying very hard not to laugh at the antics of their friends. The three younger boys joined in, flapping their folded arms and 'peeping' randomly. With a shake of his head, Tracy opened the door and, with Karl at his side, led his 'flock' down the stairs.
By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs, the group began acting more 'mature', instinctively not wanting to give their respective parents any ammunition to embarrass them with later. As they walked into the living room, the adults fell silent while the boys occupied the large couch that was left open for them.
Bryant stood once the boys were seated. "Gentlemen, your parents are aware of what I'm about to offer you, and have agreed to defer to my judgment as to how things will proceed." he stated as he began pacing. "I know all of you know Mr. Gates, and I know that you are aware of his recent collaboration with Clan Short. Him and I had a long consultation session after his first interaction with the Clan; based on that a series of events was settled on that I was given discretion to act on. Trace, I was told by Mr. Gates that he only knew three other people better at punching holes in programming than you; one is the Patriarch of Clan Short, and the other two are core members of the Clan. With that in mind, he requested that if at any time I thought the Clan was in need of our assistance that I discuss it with you and the team that you had drawn to yourself. Tonight I made the choice; if you guys are open to it, Butler Investigations closes it's doors, completes it's outstanding contracts, and our families offer our full support to Clan Short. Tracy, as co-owner of the company, it can't close unless you agree with me."
Tracy nodded his head, grinning at the sounds of surprise coming from his posse. "We'll see what happens, Dad."
"That's the best outlook, Trace." Bryant replied. As he was about to continue, there was a knock on the door.
"I'll get it." Clyde announced as he stood up. He went to the foyer, and opened the door. "May I help you?" he asked the four hooded figures standing on the step.
"Clan Short Security. We have been assigned to this location." the taller of the hooded boys stated professionally.
"Hmmm... we were just talking about you..." Clyde replied with a smile. "Follow me, please."
"Lead the way, Mr. Harrington." the boy replied.
Clyde led the group into the living room. Once in the room, the lead boy headed directly to Tracy, pushing back his hood and revealing his long silver-blond hair as the other three stayed back awaiting introduction. "Tracy, I am Lieutenant Gabe Michaels, Clan Short Headquarters Security. I have assigned myself and my family to your residence until such time as you select a permanent security detail."
"Uhhh... isn't this kinda thing supposed to happen after I decide if we're going to ask the Clan if they want our help?" Tracy asked. "Besides, we just do computer stuff, why do we need security?"
"Oh crap, Seth forgot to tell you guys last month that you all were members of Clan Short!" Gabe replied with a grin. "He gets kinda busy and forgets things, like eating, sleeping, and welcoming new guys!"
"Dad? A little help here?" Tracy pleaded.
"Don't look at me, I'm as lost as you!" Bryant replied in shock.
As he picked up the smelling salts, just in case, Clyde asked "Just what did these guys do that earned them the right to be called Clan?"
"They actually made it through four of the six known levels of security on our computer systems." Gabe replied with a grin. "The FBI is still trying to make it through Level Two, and they had a month's head start."
"Tracy?" Bryant asked, the tone in his voice showing that Tracy's next words could either save him or ground him until the end of time.
"The guy running the place dared me, Dad!" Tracy replied.
"It was a test, Mr. Butler." one of the other boys stated as he lowered his hood and pulled his long black hair out to fall across his shoulders. "Travis Michaels, Internal Security." he added, his grey eyes twinkling with amusement. "Actually, I dared him; Seth just watched."
"So I assume that asking if you want our help would be useless?" Bryant asked with a shake of his head.
"Naw, since Seth is suffering from old age, we'll ask to make it official." Travis replied with a giggle.
At Travis' wave, the other two boys joined him, one on either side of him. "These are our sons, Jimmy and Davey." Travis said proudly as both boys removed their hoods. "If you guys agree to becoming full members, they'll be helping the three younger guys learn the communications equipment up in Tracy and Karl's bedroom."
"Hello." Jimmy and Davey said in unison, obviously not feeling comfortable with all of the adults in the room.
Bryant took one look at the two youngest boys, and felt a hole being torn in his heart at the stress being caused just by being in the presence of adults. "No matter what Tracy decides, As a father of one of the Tenth I claim my family rights and pledge support of my Family Clan to Clan Short."
"As the father of the other Tenth, I concur and by the rights given me pledge the support of my Family Clan to Clan Short." Clyde immediately added. "The Sires of the Tenths have spoken; any Family which fails to comply will be expelled."
Tracy looked around at his friends, all of which were sitting there with their jaws on their laps. "You weren't bullshitting earlier, were you Dad?"
Bryant shook his head. "No, Tracy, I wasn't. Usually Family is told when they reach eighteen years old; but something told all of us to break tradition on this one night. Trust me, I'm going to be spending the next three days making conference calls to our extended families to make this official."
"No you won't." Travis giggled. "It's recorded, and we'll help you make a broadcast as soon as Gabe's Mom clears the adults in this room. You'll be working with her."
Bryant nodded, and turned back to his shocked son. "As the Tenth, you and Karl are not subject to my declarations since you have achieved adult status. Since your cousins here have unknowingly joined with you, they fall under your decisions as well despite not officially being declared adults. It is your decision, son."
Tracy exchanged glances with Karl. The two of them leaned in close to each other and held a whispered conversation, then Tracy sat back and looked around at his friends and their brothers. "Guys, since it looks like this is for real, I want to make it official. Before I tell you what Karl and I decided, I want you to each decide if you want to follow me or if you want to go back to following the rules your parents have to follow. We'll still be friends either way, I ain't gonna force you to listen to me as some kinda family head unless you decide to though."
Tracy barely finished speaking before every boy in the room pledged their support to him and Karl. Grinning, he then asked "Do any of you guys NOT want to officially become part of Clan Short?"
The various comments of "DUHHH" and "Where do we sign?" answered his question almost instantly. "Okay; looks like we've got a full team!" Tracy giggled. "What now? How do we make it official?"
Gabe smiled. "You just did; the only one missing is Karl giving his personal yes or no."
"Of course I'm saying yes, he's gonna be my husband someday!" Karl replied with a grin.
"Now you've done it...." Gabe muttered to himself as he saw Trav's eyes light up. "Welcome to Clan Short guys, the insanity should start any second now."
"Bite me, hot stuff!" Travis giggled as him and his sons came over.
"Later." Gabe giggled, causing Jimmy and Davey to roll their eyes and groan theatrically.
"Poppa?" Jimmy stated with a worried tone as they got closer to Tracy and Karl.
"What's up, Jimmy?" Travis replied, suddenly serious due to Jimmy's tone.
"Remember Uncle Galli telling me about how my belly feeling weird when Uncle Kyle moves to different places means that they're bending space stuff?" Jimmy asked.
"Yeah." Travis replied as he exchanged glances with Gabe.
"They feel like they're trying to move space stuff, but they ain't moving." Jimmy replied, pointing at Tracy and Karl.
Travis' eyes went wide. "You sure about that, son?"
"Uh-huh. They're really close to movin'." Jimmy confirmed.
Tracy looked at them with confusion. "What are you guys talking about?"
Travis shrugged. "I can't really explain it totally; some people are born with special stuff they can do, and some of it messes with things that we were all told weren't real. I know who would know, but I don't know if he can come over."
Karl looked at Tracy. "Jimmy seems worried, so why don't you try calling the guy?"
"It's worth a shot." Travis stated. "Jimmy, you got that old cellphone that Uncle Galli gave you?"
Jimmy nodded as he fished the old digital phone out of his pocket. "Here, Poppa."
Travis took the phone, saying 'thanks' as he flipped open the cover, dialed *777, then after a few seconds pause stated "Doctor Galli Short to HQ Intel Annex for a Code Purple STAT. Doctor Galli Short to HQ Intel Annex for a Code Purple, STAT."
As Gabe held his hands over his mouth to hide his giggles, Davey asked "Poppa, what does 'stat' mean?"
"I dunno; it sounds kewl though when they say it on the doctor shows!" Travis replied, causing most of the rest of the kids to also begin giggling as he handed the phone back to Jimmy.
A few seconds later, Galli came running through the front door wearing a doctor's lab coat with a stethoscope swinging from his neck. "This better be good, Travis; I had to double-park!" he stated with a grin.
"If you get a ticket, just charge it to your big brother." Travis replied. "Jimmy's getting that weird feeling he gets when Kyle is popping in and out."
"That definitely qualifies as a code purple." Galli stated as he came over and motioned for Jimmy to join him. Once Jimmy was attached to his side, he asked "What can you tell me?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Tracy and Karl feel like they're tryin' to move like Uncle Kyle, but they're not moving." he replied as he pointed out the two boys.
Galli nodded, then spent a few seconds looking at the boys before taking what looked like a funny looking pen with a glowing top out of his pocket. After a few seconds of studying it, he muttered "This isn't good." He gave Jimmy a squeeze, then said "Good catch, Jimmy. Do you want to come with me and help figure this out?"
Jimmy looked over at Travis. "May I, Poppa?"
"Go ahead." Travis replied, slightly worried at Galli's lack of explanation.
As Galli and Jimmy vanished, Bryant asked "What is going on?"
Gabe replied for his group. "Knowing Galli, there is some kind of time disturbance by the way he reacted. He'll explain it... usually... after he fixes whatever is wrong. You know about as much as we do right now."
"Is he for real?" Tracy asked with skepticism.
Gabe nodded. "Have you two got to the course on Temporal Species in your online Academy courses yet?"
"We finished that module yesterday." Tracy answered proudly.
"Great, I'm glad you're moving through them quickly." Gabe said with a smile. "You know about the 'Q' then, right?"
"Yeah." Karl and Tracy replied as the rest of the room watched with interest.
"You just met the only person I know that can tell a 'Q' to do something and they'll do it without argument." Gabe stated.
"Oh CRAP" Tracy and Karl replied in unison.
"So if he's worried, then something serious is wrong?" Karl asked with a touch of fear in his voice.
"He didn't cuss, so I think you guys can relax." Gabe replied. "We'll know more when him and Jimmy come back."
Right on cue, Jimmy came running into the room carrying a box, containing what looked like a large roll of 10 millimeter thick rope. Pink rope. He dumped the box in front of the two boys, giggled, then sped back out.
"Oh, this should be good!" Travis giggled.
"Pink rope?" Rick laughed. "Are you guys getting kinky already?"
"Stuff it, Rick!" Karl and Tracy replied as they tried to hide in the cushions.
A large mastiff came in through the door next, dragging a small cart upon which were a wide selection of suction cups. These were multicolored, but what stood out were the furry ones. The mastiff dropped the rope he was pulling the cart with and sat down with his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. Around his neck was a silver collar, and at the throat was a blue crystal object. It pulsed slowly. That was not really that surprising. What was, however, was that the pulses 'talked'. "K-9 good dog for master. K-9 watches Flux boys. K-9 happy."
"Jimmy! Get the electric whisk!"
"Hey Dad, you taking notes for you and Mom?" Jon asked with a giggle.
"Watch it, kiddo... you're not too old to be put over my knee!" Jack replied, his tone revealing this was normal banter between them.
"Unlike you though, I wouldn't enjoy it!" Jon shot back as he sought safety behind Rick and Peter.
"I think that's more than I EVER wanted to know!" Clyde laughed as the rest of the room sniggered.
The next visitors were a couple of boys, neither looking older than six or seven. Their hair was the color of spun light, it seemed, and one had what looked like four flesh colored ropes around his chest. They wore no tops, but their long summer-shorts were as black as midnight. They were carrying an odd machine between them and were constantly talking to one another. At least, everyone assumed they were talking, but none could make out a single word that passed their lips.
K-9 panted and wagged his tail. "Put matrix by box."
"We obey," the boy without the ropes around his chest giggled.
"And speak English. K-9 does not speak Dalek."
"Sorry, K-9," the other boy giggled.
They placed the 'matrix' down gently, then went and sat on either side of Tracy and Karl. The one with the flesh-ropes smiled at Tracy, "Hi! I'm Skara. This is my lorra, Kari. We like cuddles..."
"And if you don't cuddle, then you'll be exterminated!"
"No!" hollered the Doctor from outside the living room door. "No exterminations!"
"He is kidding!" Skara yelled back with a giggle. He winked at Tracy, "We prefer tickles!"
Without any more warning, both boys started tickling Tracy and Karl.
"Okay Doc, stop humping Jay and get your little butt in here and explain this!" Gabe yelled towards the door as he watched Tracy and Karl squirming to try to escape the tickles.
The oldest boy in Time and Space poked his head around the door. "Oh shush, fatty... Jay's asleep..." He vanished again. "No, Jimmy. Not that nozzle. I need... yes, that one. Now take the whisk and the vacuum cleaner in there. There's a good boy... bloody hell, who stole my last jelly-baby?!"
The two half naked Dalek boys had finished their assault on Tracy and Karl, and the more human looking one had just popped something into Karl's mouth. A jelly-baby. "Karl did!"
"Did not!" Karl yelled with a grin as he swallowed the candy. "You must have bugs out there!"
"I'm going to get you for that, Kari. That was my favourite one!" the Doctor huffed as he came into the room, the grin on his face showing how much he was enjoying the pandemonium he was causing. Behind him, Jimmy came with an electric whisk in one hand and dragging the cleaner behind with the other. "Now! Oh, lots of people. In a circle, everyone... yes, yes, sweet heart, you as well..." he said, poking Cindy in the ribs. "If I'm up and about at my age, you're not getting away with lolling about. Come on, move it people! So little to do and so much time... well, for me, there is... hurry hurry. No, no, no! Tracy! Karl... you're the focus of this show, so in the middle of the circle. Yes. That's right. Sit and cuddle K-9..."
"I'm a good dog, master."
"Yes you are," the Doctor smiled.
"Told ya things would get nutty." Travis giggled. "Everyone, this is the King Nut!"
A slap across the back of his leg was all Travis earned from that one. "Right, you. Get with your boy and help me truss up these two turkeys for the event, please..." Galli giggled as he ran over to the box with the pink rope and started pulling it out. "I need them tied up like they were in the center of the Yarn-Guy's room after he'd been on an all night bender and decided to map all of Cory and Sean's sexual escapades! Jimmy? There's another rope in there... that's it, the cute, furry purple one... loop it around everyone in the circle, but alternate with the two in the center on each pass.... just one loop. Only these two are to have the most..."
Davey looked at Jimmy with confusion. "What's going on, little brother?"
Jimmy replied with an unusual smile as he began following instructions. "I'll explain later bro. Uncle Galli and Uncle Jay sat down and talked to me for a couple of years and helped me figure out what my body's telling me. They kinda helped with that crap our old parents tried putting in our heads too."
Between the relief of seeing unrestrained joy in his brother's face for the first time in ages and his trust in Galli, Davey nodded his head with a smile of his own. "Okay."
Then Davey 'eeeped' as the Doctor, on a pass around the inside of the circle with the pink rope - going opposite to Travis who was outside the circle - grabbed Davey out of his place and substituted one of the Dalek boys. "Right, Davey-boy... see those suction cups?"
"Good man! Now. One on everyone's forehead, please... that fluffy one... that's for Bryant," he said with a wink.
Tracy, now half wrapped up in pink and purple rope, burst out laughing at the look that came over his father's face.
"I wonder, are furry things a family fetish?" Karl asked with a grin.
"You ain't finding out right now!" Tracy replied between laughs.
"BUSTED!" the rest of the boys announced in unison as they broke into more giggles.
"The answer is 'maybe'!" Clyde added, hoping the glare from Bryant wasn't actually lethal. "Paybacks, Bry!"
Galli stopped what he was doing and just stared at them all. "For the love of Gallifrey... you're worse than Jay!" Then he giggled and continued to do... whatever it was that he was now doing with the vacuum cleaner and whisk.
Marcus, Martin, Allen, and Arron had been quietly conferring mentally during all of this. Marcus finally spoke up, speaking for all four of them. "This is kinda fun, but what's wrong with our friends? Are they gonna die?"
The Doctor stopped what he was doing and pulled out his 'pen-like device' and pressed a button. He winked at the four boys then looked to the door as a woman entered. "Here, River... you carry on with this bit..."
"Of course, sweety," she said with a warm smile as she managed to squeeze her way into the circle and take the items from the ten year old who was, once upon a time, her husband.
Then the Doctor went over to Marcus. "They will know what you will see. Won't they?" he asked, not really needing to be told.
Marcus smiled and nodded.
"Then, I allow this, special ones... touch my face and see that which few have seen..."
Marcus did so. And gasped... "You're... you're like fire... and ice and rage... like the night and the storm and the heart of the sun..."
The Doctor smiled sadly, for these words were said once before, by another such as Marcus. Long ago and far away, on an Earth much like, yet unlike, what they knew here.
Marcus was trembling, awe and fear upon his face. "You're ancient and forever... you burn at the center of time and can see the turn of the Universe... and... you're wonderful..." he finished, a smile and tears on his face together.
"I am not a man... I walk in eternity," the Doctor said simply. "And I contain all that remains of the civilization I seek to restore... the Laws of Time and Space are mine, and I will bend them to my will... I am, now and forever, Tempus Dominus Laurus... Time Lord Victorious... and I will saveyour friends..."
As he turned away, a tear trickled from his face. "I will save them... I've lost too much not to."
Arron reached out and grabbed Galli's hand. "Don't cry." the nine-year-old stated. "I can feel how you helped Jimmy; no matter what you may think, only someone good could have made him happy like he is now."
Galli turned to look at the boy, almost his height, and smiled. "I'm not good... good people don't need rules, and I have so many of them. But thank you... hey! You're in the wrong place, Arron..."
Arron looked down at where he was standing in the circle, then back up and the Doctor in confusion. Then he blinked. "I didn't tell you my name..."
"Ah, don't worry. I'm just clever. Come with me. You being in the circle will cause a massive time-space collision that will turn most of Florida into chocolate pudding! Come on, help me with this hoover..."
"It's a Dyson, actually," Karl giggled as he wiggled in the ropes he was in.
"Will the pudding have marshmallows?" Allen giggled as his twin started manhandling the vacuum.
"Nope! Completely marshmallow-less, I'm afraid. All marshmallows would be lost, forever. And we can't have that.... okay, Jimmy, hop over there and do what I showed you to do when we did the thing with the whatzit..."
"Okay!" Jimmy giggled, completely understanding the instructions that nearly made everyone else bleed from the ears, trying to understand.
"Arron, take the Dyson-hoover-thing to Karl's dad... what's-his-name... the perv who likes Bryant in fluffy underwear..."
Arron snorted and giggled out, "Clyde, silly."
"Yes, Claud... I knew that," the Doctor giggled, winking at Karl, who nearly wet himself laughing.
"You... munch-bunch extraordinaire..."
"Forgotten my name too?" Davey grinned.
"Daniel. See? Never forget a face. Names, who cares... come on Davey... hand that whisk to the Furry-underwear-wearing Bryant..."
"What am I supposed to do with this?" Bryant asked, trying to retain some dignity in the madness.
"Since you got us into this, I have some ideas..." Clyde chuckled.
"DAD!" Karl exclaimed. "If you and Uncle Bryant are gonna perv, do it in PRIVATE!"
"Jeez!" Tracy added. "You trying to destroy our fragile young minds?"
"There's nothing fragile about your young minds, Tracy... or is it 'Do it harder, baby!'?" Galli giggled, poking Tracy in the side as he went over to Tracy's father. Then he stopped at the confused feeling he suddenly got from the two boys who were tied up in ropes. "Wait... this is," the Doctor checked his watch and sighed. "Forget what I said. Remember it tomorrow... or the day after... yeah, that'll be fine..."
"What's he mean?" Karl whispered to his boyfriend.
The woman, River, reached and patted the boy's knee. "That you're going to lose something tonight, or tomorrow... the both of you..."
"Besides our sanity?" Karl responded with a deep blush.
"Sanity is for the weak," K-9 said. Then, "Master? Why have I been tied up too?"
Karl turned to look between him and Tracy and laughed. The poor mastiff was so wrapped up that only his black nose could be seen sticking out of the ropes.
"You'll find out," Galli giggled as he got to Tracy's father. "Now then, Mr. Bryant. When I say 'whisk' you just press the on button. You'll know where to point it."
"It's not even plugged in..." Bryant mumbled as he shifted slightly. The ropes around him were pressing on places that shouldn't be pressed upon.
The Doctor ignored him and went to Clyde. "When I say 'suck', you.... Don't think that, you great perv! By Rassilon! That's so... mmm... interesting idea for me and Jay. Thanks. However, rather than attack the hunky Bryant's 'bits', activate that cleaner. Again, you'll know where to aim it."
"You better be taking notes, Hon." Samantha told Jack. "I don't want to have to ask Jon what was suggested...."
"MOM! We're in PUBLIC!" Jon whined as the boys started giggling.
"They're all family, Jon. There are no secrets between family." Samantha replied with a smile.
"Can I just drop out of school now?" Jon pleaded.
"Yes; you guys will all start at Clan schools next week. Having weird parents is normal there!" Gabe interjected.
"Okay!" Galli put in, drawing attention back to himself. "When I start this, strange timey-whimey, spacey-whacy stuff will start. Just think about the ropes binding you together and about the sucker on your foreheads. To the two daddies... do that, but also remember my orders. Are we all ready?"
"NO!" the group exclaimed in unison.
As they all looked at each other, Galli giggled again. "Too bad. Here we go!"
A tense feeling gripped all those present as, about Tracy, Karl and K-9, a blue haze took form. The ground trembled slightly in response.
"Think about the ropes. The suckers. Think about each other... your friends... now... WHISK!"
Bryant pressed the button and reached out with the electric whisk to the blue haze about his son's head.
Clyde did the same with the nozzle of the vacuum, shoving it into the haze and turning on the unplugged machine.
The Doctor, his eyes narrowed as he watched what was happening, raised his 'pen' device. "Let's sever this connection..." he said simply, as he activated the sonic screwdriver.
The world went dark, it seemed, but it was really only the light in that room. Everything went pitch black, then immediately back to normal.
"Master. Is it done?" K-9 asked, wagging his tail, which pulled on the ropes, which caused Jon to lose balance and fall, which meant he landed on Karl, who bumped into K-9, who then decided to put his entire 150 pounds of weight onto Tracy's lap to escape, which pulled all the ropes.
In short, the whole group ended up in a pile. Except the Doctor and River. "Kids," River smiled before pinching the Doctor's cheek. "I'll be in the Tardis, Sweetie. Jay said he wants my pancakes for breakfast. See you in a bit."
"Okay Time-Brat;" Gabe groaned as he de-tangled himself from the pile. "You gonna fill us in on why we just had the largest suckathon in the history of the Galaxy, or do I gotta call for Aunt Teri?"
"Do you want the truth, or will you give me a moment to make up a convincing lie?" the Doctor smirked.
It was then that Gabe saw Captain Jack Harkness in the doorway, with a video camera.
"Truth." Gabe replied as he helped Tracy out from under the 'puppy'.
"I needed your focus on what you could understand. The ropes binding you together. The suckers on your forehead were there to focus your thoughts - having something pressed there is not something you can ignore for long. I needed the two dads to separate their sons from the dimensional realities with the whisk and to hold them here with suction with the vacuum... it was in your focusing on these simplistic visualizations that allowed me to do my job. What your hearts and souls did was far more complex, and if we had done this straight, you'd have all been tense. That would have made my job harder. So... I made you all look like a bunch of nutters, made sure you were all laughing and not thinking of how serious this was... and also video taped it so that Cory can watch later."
"Exactly what was wrong?" Bryant asked.
Galli walked over to Bryant, poked and prodded him until he was sitting on the nearest chair, then made himself comfortable on the man's lap. "Your son, and Clyde's son, inherited something unique from their mothers. That uniqueness had started to pull back to it's home dimension. However, since your kids are also of THIS dimension, they cannot survive such a transfer without a vehicle... such as my Tardis... you do know who I am, right? No? Come on, never seen the shows? Sheesh... Yankees... okay, I'm a Time Lord. A Tardis is a time traveling, living vehicle. Anyhow... your sons. What I've done is to sever the link that was pulling them back into a dimension that they really don't belong in, yet in doing so not destroy their uniqueness. They are special... and no, I don't mean they will end up dribbling in a corner... at least not until they mature more and then you have moody, dribbling teens that don't think of anything other than... never mind. They're now fine, and their 'special-ness' will be discovered naturally. They'll never get sucked places they don't want to be... unless by each other, but that's for them to discover... guys?" he giggled, looking over at the two boys in question. "Remember. No teeth, there's good chaps."
Ignoring his glowing son, Bryant asked "What do you mean dimensional inheritance? Their mothers were human."
"Yes... and no..." the Doctor smiled. "Time for a lesson in universal, dimensional realities... Gabe? Get the rum. They'll need it."
As two bottles of rum appeared in Gabe's hands, Galli rolled his eyes. "You mean to tell me you never... oh, right, you're human. The short story is their dimension overlaps yours, they got pulled over here, married you, and then got sucked back home by a sinkhole. On average, when that happens their people only last here about ten of your years. It's usually sinkholes or tornadoes that act as conduits; since they are of a higher racial order than your general human, they survive here due to an inter-dimensional merging of personalities with persons sucked into the dimensional rift from this side. Unfortunately, any offspring they create are not so lucky, as they cannot survive the inter-rift travel. These two blushing boys were about to create a sinkhole that would have turned this entire city into a large pond... like a dirty, smushed chocolate cake...."
Clyde and Bryant quickly moved to embrace their suddenly panicked sons. "What are the chances of this happening to the boys again?" Bryant asked with concern.
"Oh... for the love of me," Galli giggled as he picked himself up from the floor. He'd been thrown there by Bryant's fast movement away from the chair they were both on. "Didn't I make it clear with the timey-whimey, spacey-whacey bit? No? Okay... let me put my one billion year old head on, then. Nope! They are now bound to this dimension. They are safe, now."
"I can feel they're normal." Jimmy added from his spot on the floor, where he was helping the other nine-year-olds give K-9 some overdue attention. "I'd feel it easier now that I know what to look for."
Galli grinned at him, "Yeah... I did some fine tuning there at the same time. There's something very special about you and your bro, Jimbo. We'll chat later... and by that I mean when the time's right."
"So the second Tuesday of last month next week?" Jimmy giggled, causing Gabe and Travis to roll their eyes.
"You saved two kids and corrupted one of ours!" Gabe accused with a grin.
Bryant came over, Tracy glued to his side. "It's a good corruption. Jimmy, you saved Travis and Karl's lives. I'll owe you forever for that one."
"Right!" the Doctor grinned. "House call over... time for me to leave, I think. I'm... oh... it's Time... They are... this is not right. This cannot be right... why would they...? I need to go. K-9, it's time... come on, boy... Skara, Kari. You as well. Let's go find River... Tardis?! Get those systems running overtime! We need to find out what the Q are doing!" the Doctor shouted as he ran from the room.
K-9 and the two Dalek boys were only seconds behind him.
As for the ropes and suckers and the rest? They simply melted away before everyone's eyes. Except for the electric whisk and the vacuum cleaner. From outside the front door came a whirring sound that picked up in volume, then slowly faded away.
Gabe wasn't even fazed by the quick exit. He was more concerned with the two subjects of the latest universal adjustment. "You gonna be okay?" he asked Tracy.
Tracy nodded his head, extracting himself from his dad's arms to check on Karl. "Thanks for helping us, Gabe." he said softly as he extracted Karl from Clyde's grip. The two boys embraced tightly, their eyes closed as they relieved each other's stress level. After a few minutes, they broke the hug, but kept their hands clasped firmly.
Travis and Davey came over to the pair, each giving them a quick hug. Travis smiled before saying "Do you, Tracy Butler, take Karl Harrington as your husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, until time eternal ends?"
Not even caring if Travis was serious or not, Tracy replied with the feelings that had burned in his heart for the last hour. "I do."
Travis turned to Karl. "Do you, Karl Harrington, take Tracy Butler as your husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, until time eternal ends?"
Without hesitation, Karl replied "I do."
With a grin on his face, Davey reached into his pocket and pulled out a felt-covered box. Inside were two gold rings, each on a green silk pillow. Upon seeing the rings, both boys realized that this was absolutely serious; after exchanging a loving stare into each other's eyes, each of them picked up one of the rings.
Travis smiled, happy that he could shift the mood with this important bonding. "With these rings, you share with the world and each other the promise of your commitment and your love."
Tracy took Karl's hand, and as he placed the ring on Karl's finger, he ad-libbed "Karl, I have loved you since I was born, and I'll love you long after I die."
Karl somehow managed to take Tracy's hand through the tears that suddenly filled his eyes. "Tracy, you make my life complete and give me reason to live. I will never lose the love I have for you."
With the rings in place, the two boys clasped hands. Travis turned to the watching room. "Today, two young men are exchanging a promise that will stretch long past the time they return to their Maker. Today a new family is born. Those here today as witnesses are bound by duty to support and ensure the growth of this new family." He turned back to Tracy and Karl. "By the powers granted me by the State of Florida and sworn in the Names of the Great Spirit, I hereby declare you Husband and Husband. You may now seal this union with a kiss."
Both boys, eyes clouded with tears of joy, fell into each other and exchanged their first public kiss. Softly clapping, the occupants of the room formed a line. Once the kiss broke, each of them personally congratulated the boys. Off to one side, Bryant asked Travis softly "How legal was that?"
"They're married." Travis said with a grin. "It's a little bonus I got from hanging around Pastor Mills at Headquarters; while he was helping Davey and Jimmy unlearn the lies they were taught, I ended up learning enough that he had me ordained."
"Thank you; with what happened tonight, I don't want them learning that they were victims of a prank." Bryant stated.
"That is one prank that would get you skinned by Cory." Travis replied. "It's more special for Clan kids than it is for most people; for a lot of them it's their first step into a normal life."
"I think I understand." Bryant replied as he glanced over and saw the glowing faces of his son and his new son-in-law. "I think I'll wait to tell them exactly what their vows mean to the rest of the Family."
"Actually, I think tonight would be a good time to split age groups." Travis suggested. "Gabe and I can handle any issues with the guys our age and the kids; Gabe's mom is gonna meet you adults over at Clyde's house to do whatever adults do. Commander Watkins is gonna come over with her; she's been setting things up with him that you'll need."
"I get the hint." Bryant replied with a smile. "Not much of a honeymoon for those two, is it?"
"I've got that handled." Travis said with assurance.
Bryant nodded, and quickly rounded up the adults. After they made their rounds, making sure the boys all knew that they'd be right next door, they headed over to Clyde's house for the evening. Once the house was clear, Gabe looked around at the remaining boys. "Okay guys, as new Clan members, I'm going to have us taken someplace better suited to getting you up to speed."
The boys nodded their heads, all fairly numb from the events of the evening. Sure that everyone was ready, Gabe keyed his subvocal. "George, instigate 'Operation Newlywed'."
"Have fun!" George replied before every person left in the house vanished.
The boys appeared in a round stone room with six doorways evenly distributed around it's perimeter. Once all of them had a chance to look around, Travis addressed the group. "Welcome to the Clan Intel Center, Archnania. We are approximately a quarter mile underground, that pretty much eliminates any chance of other visitors stumbling across us. After you guys catch up on sleep, we're going to take a trip to the surface, then we'll get you training on your specialties on the latest systems in use by the Clan."
"Where is Archnania?" Rick asked. "I don't remember it being in our spatial geography lessons."
"It wouldn't be; it exists outside normal time and space." Travis replied with a grin. "When we go back, it'll be exactly after we left. If anyone was watching, they would think that they just blinked, as long as we stood in the same places when we return."
Peter giggled. "Kewl! We can hang out with no parents telling us goofy stuff!"
Gabe laughed. "It's not all fun, but I think that you guys are going to enjoy it here." He then turned to Tracy and Karl. "You two have a private suite for your honeymoon, and Trav is going to be your private guide for all surface trips. Until you decide that you've had a good honeymoon, we're not starting training."
Tracy smiled as he pulled Karl into his side. "Thanks!"
Travis smiled. "C'mon, I'll show you two around your place while Gabe's getting everyone else settled."
"Okay." Tracy replied as him and Karl followed Travis through one of the doors. They walked down a fairly long hall which seemed to slope upwards, the lights automatically illuminating their way as they progressed. The hall terminated in a large room, the walls seemingly made from the roots of a tree.
"Dude, this is awesome!" Karl gasped as he looked up at the ceiling, which appeared to be nothing more than a tangle of roots about twenty feet above their heads.
"How'd you guys do this?" Tracy asked.
"We didn't. Archnanian trees are a lot smarter than Earth trees. One of the really old ones made the walls of these rooms for special guests using his roots."
Tracy nodded; after the last few hours, you could have told him the sky was polka-dot and he would have believed it without looking.
Travis giggled. "Okay lovebirds, I think you can figure out what each room is for. Our internal AI is named Cameron; if you need anything just ask and he'll get it for you. He'll handle getting you food and drinks so you don't have to find out if either of you can cook, yet. If you need me, just ask him and he'll teleport me in here. You guys think you'll be okay by yourselves?"
Both Tracy and Karl nodded. "Having an AI makes it kewl." Tracy added.
Travis smiled. "Have fun guys! Cameron, could you take me to the main berthing area?"
"You AGAIN? I thought I got rid of you last week!" Cameron responded from hidden speakers. "I'm gonna have to hire a better exterminator!"
"Bite me, nano-breath!" Travis laughed.
Travis vanished as Karl and Tracy braced against each other to keep from falling over in laughter. As soon as he was gone, Cameron added "Congratulations on your wedding, guys. If you can't figure out where something is or how something works, just ask out loud and I'll hear you. I wipe anything that is not directed at me, so you guys have your privacy. I'll make sure to keep the Travis infestations down to absolute necessity for you guys as well. Nobody comes in here unless you tell me to let them in."
"That sounds great; this's kinda weird though, talking to the ceiling." Karl giggled.
"If it would make you more comfortable, I have a remote drone available that I could station in here for you." Cameron offered. "You would interact with me through him, then."
"Could you, please?" Tracy asked. "I kinda would feel better."
"Believe it or not, I understand." Cameron replied. "Give me a second to finish diagnostics on him, and you'll have a companion watching the apartment while you rest."
"Thanks!" Karl and Tracy responded, exchanging looks of relief.
"Here he comes, I'm teleporting him in." Cameron warned.
Not sure what to expect, the two boys squeezed each other's hand as they waited for their 'companion' to appear. A few seconds later, what appeared to be a strawberry blond thirteen year old boy appeared in the room. "Is this better?" the boy asked in Cameron's voice.
"I thought you said a drone." Tracy giggled. "You're a kid, not a drone!"
"Kinda cute too!" Karl added. "Not as cute as Tracy, but close!"
"Really, this is just a drone!" Cameron insisted.
Tracy shook his head, then unexpectedly reached out and began tickling the boy in front of them. "Drones ain't ticklish!" he proudly stated as Cameron started wiggling around to try to escape the onslaught.
"Stop... please... I'm... gonna... pee!" Cameron gasped.
Tracy stopped, and giggled as Cameron ran toward the hallway they hadn't explored yet.
"Drones ain't gotta pee, either!" Karl yelled after Cameron with a laugh.
A flush-faced Cameron came back into the living room a few minutes later. "You guys are evil; I think we're gonna be great friends!" he giggled. "Before you two decide to do a detailed full-body inspection to prove me wrong, take a look at the back of my head; just above the hairline."
Tracy rolled his eyes, and giggled "You're really gonna need to see a shrink about your delusions!" Despite their disbelief, both boys moved to where they could inspect the back of Cameron's head.
"Let's see... I see the ferris wheel for your flea circus..." Karl giggled as he started moving hair out of the way.
"Careful! You almost knocked over the roller coaster!" Tracy snickered. Suddenly a little door popped open in the area they were just going over. "What in the..." Tracy exclaimed.
"Dude, you got a nano-Scuzzy port stuck in the back of your head!" Karl gasped.
"You're close..." Cameron giggled. "Lift the door, there's a plate above the port."
Tracy, his curiosity now in overdrive, leaned in and inspected the plate Cameron was referring to. "VI-Y-CSAID-X-RCb3-0tA0B2-000001" Tracy read aloud. "Caution: Connection of unauthorized equipment to this port presents risk of fire, explosion, or death of all persons in immediate area. Contact Clan Short AI Division before attempting interface with this unit."
"Explosion?" Karl asked curiously.
"Yes; due to some events which a few of the Clan Short AI kids went through, all new units are equipped with... active... countermeasures against attempts to override or hack into the core programming of the android." Cameron stated seriously.
"Dude! That gives 'blow job' a whole new meaning!" Tracy giggled.
"Not going there!" Karl giggled in return. "Let me see if I can figure out this serial number. Since I know that back in ancient times Vision Industries made androids, I'm guessing that the VI means that he's based on a Vision Industries platform, I'm not sure what the Y means. CSAID has to mean the Clan AI Division; Tracy and I are still trying to get into their systems. X usually means either experimental or version ten. I'm guessing the rest is just a serial number."
"One second." Cameron replied. "Okay, that's settled. Congratulations, your security level has just been upgraded considerably; Seth already had the prerequisites done, but wasn't going to do it until you were able to receive training. The Y means it's a Youth version of the exoskeleton. The 'X' means experimental; RCb3 means Release Candidate Beta Three, 0t signifies the rest is in trinary. A0B2 is the firmware revision that this body is equipped with, expressed in trinary, and the 000001 is the sequential production number, also in trinary."
"Trinary?" Tracy echoed as he tilted his head. "Dude, why did you guys use that? There ain't a system made that can crunch that kind of data."
"Yeah, base three hardware is just a dream." Karl added.
"Base three is sooo archaic!" Cameron giggled, which caused the boys to look at him like he's grown a third head. "Try biased trinary; my core programming and central hardware are designed with it. there are five stages; I hear that when they were writing it, it was explained as 'No', 'Maybe No', 'Maybe', 'Maybe Yes', and 'Yes'."
Karl and Tracy exchanged glances. After a few seconds of thought, Tracy's eyebrows raised. "Dude! That means instead of a nibble being 15 base ten, a nibble would be 624 base ten!"
"Yeah, and instead of going from '00' to 'ff', the two-place designation would go from '00' to 'oo'!" Karl added in shock. "I could have sooo much fun using that to build new encryption schemes!"
"Are those wet spots on the front of your pants?" Cameron teased.
Not thinking, both boys looked, then realized that Cameron was teasing them. "I'll get you later!" Karl threatened with a grin.
"If you got such great hardware, and this body is so advanced, why are you running it like a drone? With that kind of power you could be in the body and be the super AI that I'm guessing you can be." Tracy stated.
"There's a little more to it than that." Cameron replied seriously. "I'll fill you guys in with the details sometime; but just think of it as with this body version, if I had a copy of my personality put in him it'd be a new me that shares my memories, but has a whole separate life from the time he's brought online."
"So? It's better than being a drone." Karl challenged.
"He'd be lonely quite a bit, since there are a lot of times that the base is empty." Cameron replied.
"Then you let him go visit people. You know, like hanging around at our place back on Earth." Tracy shot back.
"Yeah, I think it'd be kewl having someone around occasionally who doesn't get glazed eyes when Trace and me start geeking out." Karl added. "You actually can talk at the level we do with each other, which is awesome!"
"Just think," Tracy added, "the four of us could geek out and not worry about getting lost. I'd love that!"
Cameron was silent for a full two minutes, before asking "Is this what it feels like to have friends?"
"You've never had a friend?" Tracy asked gently.
"I thought I did; I get along with a lot of the people who come through here. Travis and I have fun, but it's different talking with you guys. Even talking about the hardware and software, you never assumed I knew something because I'm an AI."
"That's because you don't act like any AI we've ever talked to. You act like one of us." Karl replied.
"Thank-you. I've never been told that." Cameron almost whispered.
"I don't know how long we're gonna be here; but as long as we're here you can hang with us." Karl stated, getting a nod of agreement from Tracy. "We'll give you a real introduction to the rest of the gang too; even though they rag on us for being 'uber-geeks', they're really kewl guys."
Both boys gave Cameron a hug, smiling as he made a decent attempt at returning it. "Thank you, guys." Cameron said. "Are you ready to start your honeymoon yet?"
"Actually, I'm not sure what's supposed to happen on a honeymoon." Tracy admitted sheepishly.
"Me either; they ain't covered that in school yet." Karl added.
"I think I can help fill you in on that." Cameron replied after a pause. "My cousin Daileass has collected a lot of data on the subject, and he just agreed to help out by sending me the data. I just need to sort it then I'll fill you in."
"Thanks!" Karl and Tracy responded with relief.
"Wow, that's interesting!" Cameron stated. "Okay, you guys ready?"
"Yeah," both boys replied with a nod.
"Okay; it appears that most honeymoons begin with both people slowly ripping each others clothes off while performing a ritual swapping of their saliva. The data suggests that the more damage done to the clothing, the more successful the beginning of the honeymoon. On average, the next step involves alternate bathing of the partners with the tongue; extra attention being paid to the genital areas." Cameron totally ignored the fact that both of his 'students' were now blushing from the tips of their toes to the top of their heads as he continued. "The next step varies; usually in the case of two male partners, they engage in a position known as 'sixty-nine', where they bring each other to orgasm orally. Once that is completed, they tend to cuddle for a few minutes, then bring each other to erection again and take turns trying to impregnate each other, usually multiple times. Daileass has informed me that lubrication is essential; I have provided you his recommended options on the nightstand, as well as an instructional video provided by his mother which will instruct you on the best procedures to achieve comfort for both partners."
Both Tracy and Karl were unable to speak, and the heat radiating from their blushes had raised the temperature in the room ten degrees.
"The two of you are an interesting shade of red." Cameron observed. "It goes good with your hair color."
"Thanks." Karl managed to squeak. "Are all honeymoons like that?"
"Those are the basics; if you wish I can list the variations which have been noted." Cameron offered.
"Ummm... I think we'll wait for that..." Karl quickly replied, afraid much more would cause his new husband to spontaneously combust.
"One thing Daileass said to tell you." Cameron added. "From his observations, it appears that oral stimulation is most effective if the lips are held such that tooth contact with your partner's organ is eliminated as much as possible. It is also suggested by the data that massaging with the tongue and applying light to medium suction while varying the amount of the organ in your mouth in a regular pattern assists in the pleasure."
"Thanks!" Tracy managed to reply, his eyes showing that a nagging worry in the depths of his head had just been relieved. "Are you going to stay 'in' this body tonight while we're in bed?"
"For my new friends, of course." Cameron replied. "While I will not be listening to you celebrating, I will have a subroutine running which will flag any mention of my name by either of you as top priority, at which time I will actively listen to find out what you need."
"Thank you; I'll feel better knowing we're not alone here." Tracy admitted. "We've been up forever; is it okay if we head to bed?"
Cameron smiled. "Go do whatever you two desire, I will guard the apartment for you. I will see you when you awaken. You will have clean clothing in the morning."
"Thanks Cam." Karl said as he took Tracy's hand. "We'll see you in the morning."
Cameron watched as his two new friends headed off to begin their lives as a couple. Once they were safely in their room, he had the body sit down. Deep in the confines of the complex, in a room that less than two dozen people even knew existed, the nanotronic core that was Cameron accessed his secure protocols, opening a port that wasn't listed in the official specs yet was known by him and his cousins.
"That was an awesome sunset!" Danny commented to Marc as the night sky began showing it's stars.
"Yeah, one of these days we're going to have to catch one from the Hawaiian division; I'll bet it's even better over the Pacific." Marc replied.
Danny was about to reply when both of their commbadges began vibrating. they exchanged glances, both fully aware by the pattern that it was one of the new AI stations requesting audible assistance. Almost in unison, they both opened the channel. "Go ahead, you have Danny and Marc." Danny announced.
"This is Cameron. I only signaled you two." was the reply.
"We're alone, what's up Cameron?" Marc asked, his mind quickly pulling up all the information he had on the Intel Training AI.
"My systems are fine." Cameron reassured them. After a pause, he continued in an almost childlike tone. "Uncle Danny, Uncle Marc... what's it like to be alive..."