Radioman First Class John Baim's eyes went wide as he verified the message he had just decoded. "Rogers, you've got the ball! I've got a Flash for the old man!" he stated as he acknowledged receipt of the message and placed a hold on acceptance.
"Got it." Radioman Second Class Paul Rogers replied.
John quickly made his way out the hatch, closing it behind him before running through the passageways and up the ladders to the Captain's Ready Room. If this meant what he thought it might, things were about to become very interesting.
"Sir, I have a Flash Priority Message from Washington." John announced as soon as the Captain opened the door.
Captain Leonids Schmidt quickly motioned for John to enter the compartment, and both of them retrieved their keys to the code safe from around their necks. After each had entered that day's combination, they inserted their keys and turned them in unison to open the door.
A minute later, Leon stated "I confirm this message is authentic."
John replied a few seconds later. "I concur that this message is authentic."
Leon read the message once they decoded the body, then told John, "Petty Officer Baim, disperse the designation information to all combat departments. I am authorizing you to read this and act as needed."
John quickly read the decoded message in full, his eyebrows vanishing as he realized what was not said.
As John was reading, Leon pulled up the referenced special order.
"Sweet Mother of Jesus!" Leon muttered as he reviewed the order. "You'd think that we were about to take on the entire Federation space fleet with this load."
He turned his head to John, who was waiting nervously. "Acknowledge the message, and immediately contact Clan Short for updated codes. As soon as you've dispersed the identification info, deliver a copy of this to the Intel Officer for immediate action. If he has any questions, tell him to call me."
"Yes, Sir." John stated as he spun around and bolted towards the Communications Room.
Leon reviewed the message once again, then he walked over to the terminal that had been added in preparation for their future transfer, and placed his very first call.
"Clan Short Headquarters, First Lieutenant Kelly Carlson, Clan Short Security speaking. How may I assist you, Sir?" a black-haired young teen with a baby raccoon sitting on his shoulder stated as the call was answered.
If he hadn't already met quite a few of the Clan members, Leon would have been shocked. As it was, the most shocking thing to him was the fact that Kelly had answered with his rank. "Lieutenant Carlson, this is Captain Schmidt of the guided missile battle cruiser Iowa. I was instructed to report to Admiral Metronome. Could I be transferred to his office, please?"
"He is right here, Sir. One second, and I'll transfer you to him." Kelly replied professionally. He 'forgot' to put the call on hold though as he turned around and yelled, "Hey Seth, stop the cyber-sex with the Prince and get over here; the Iowa's checking in!"
"Bite me, Raccoon Head!" Seth replied as he rolled over to the terminal. As soon as he saw that the call was still live, he shook his head. "I swear, you can't get good help anywhere nowadays!"
"Told ya I'd get you back..." Kelly grinned.
Seth withheld his reply, and addressed the Captain. "Welcome to the Clan Short Surface Fleet, Captain Schmidt. When you get a break, you might want to cross-reference what your Vulcan rank of Captain actually means. Have you informed your crew of the status change of your command yet?"
"Thank you, Sir. The message I received was 'Eyes Only'; I have only authorized disbursement to the Intel Officer at this time."
Seth shook his head. "Damn desk-bound paper-pushers! I swear, sometimes I think they classify their toilet paper after wiping their asses! The only thing 'Classified' is the composition of the weapons load that you are taking on. My Intel network has heard a few rumblings that don't feel right, and I want you ready to respond if things turn bad. Your crew has just joined Clan Short en mass; from this point forward you no longer have someone above you dictating what you can tell them. If I didn't trust your decision making skills, you wouldn't still be in the position you are in."
Leon realized quickly that he had just been ordered to respond to situations by the same protocol as Starfleet Captains were taught to use, instead of the antiquated Earth chain-of-command restrictions that he had previously operated under. "Understood Sir, thank you."
"What is your current status?"
"We had just began on-load when I received this message; at this time it appears the offload is completed and the new on-load has begun, Sir."
"Great; once you have notified the crew of their new status, set Condition Zebra. If you need to modify it, feel free. Our central AI is going to assist with loading everything, all your crew will need to do is secure it for underway. Once I have everything set up, your home port will be at our extension in Fort Lauderdale; at that time you will receive a full IT systems upgrade from our Intel team. Oh, and you have one week to lose the habit of calling me 'Sir' unless we are at an official function; this is a family, not a bunch of jarheads."
Leon smiled. "Understood, Admiral."
Seth shook his head. "Less than an hour in the Clan, and already a smart ass. You'll fit in great around here!"
Leon's smile got bigger; Seth seemed to be just the type of person he expected to be in charge of defense after meeting Cory Short and Adam Casey. In this short conversation, he had found that he would never need to worry about being left in the dark. "What would you like me to do in preparation?"
"Right now, nobody is sure exactly what is going on. Have your crew ready to jump; if you need to go hot, it's gonna be without much warning. Your comms room is now tied into our Intel systems; if you see something that in your experience needs a response, just let me know as you're breaking the speed limits in the river getting out of there."
"Understood, Sir... Seth. You'll be the first to hear."
"Tell your crew 'Welcome to the Clan' from me. I'll arrange a proper welcome party once Cory's back from his little trip. Have a good day. Leon."
"You too, Seth." Leon replied as the call ended. He reached over, and picked up the 1MC, the standard means for ship-wide announcements. "Attention all hands, this is the Captain. Set Condition Zebra; I say again Set Condition Zebra. All pier personnel report to underway duty stations. Officer of the Deck, lift the brow upon return to the ship of all duty personnel. All off-duty personnel assemble on the flight deck ASAP; all crewmen maintain Condition Zebra while traversing the ship."
(Note: Condition Zebra is a state of preparedness where all watertight openings are closed and 'Dogged Down', the Navy equivalent of being tightly latched. When the condition is set, the doors may only be opened for authorized passage then must be closed and verified resealed immediately.)
Leon replaced the microphone on it's holder, then stood and headed for the bridge. As he expected, the XO was waiting for him outside the Ready Room.
"Before you even ask, Ralph, welcome to the world of Clan Short." Leon said with a smile as he put an arm over his second-in-command's shoulder. "We have just been transferred to the Clan Short Fleet. To save time, I hope you can wait for my official announcement to the crew before asking details."
Ralph Harrison nodded his head. His tour on the Iowa as XO had just about been up when the tragedy of Montana had happened. When he had heard that the CNO was planning on giving the Iowa to the Clan instead of retiring her, he immediately had put in for an extended tour. To his surprise, it had been granted almost immediately, and he had been looking forward to the day he could be part of the network that ensured there would never be a repeat of that attack. He joined the Captain as he took a look out over the forward decks; both of them watching with amazement as the onload which should have taken days was now appearing to only require hours at the most.
"Ralph, swing by the Signal deck. Make sure they have the new battle ensign ready to fly; if Headquarters is right, we might be needing it. I'll meet you on deck." Leon stated seriously.
"I figured as much when you set Zebra." Ralph replied. "See you there."
"Captain On Deck!" Command Master Chief Payton's voice rang out as Leon rounded Turret Three.
"At ease, Gentlemen." Leon quickly announced. "Master Chief, after the ass-chewing I just got, the next time you do that, I'm going to make you an officer!"
"With all due respect, Sir, I would rather clean shaft alley with a one-bristled tooth brush." Master Chief Payton replied.
The snickers of both enlisted and officers echoed across the deck as Leon walked to the podium that had been set up behind Turret Three. As per Standard Operating Procedures, what he was about to say would be echoed over the various ship-wide circuits for those personnel who had to remain on-station. "Gentlemen, your attention please," Leon began. The assembled crew quickly quieted down, curious as to what led to serious changes in normal weapons on-load protocol. "First off, the Navy, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that we are no longer a battleship; their paper pushers say we've got to be called a 'Guided Missile Battle Cruiser', otherwise known as a BBG. Naturally, they told us AFTER we got a new paint job, so it looks like we're up for a new paint job already. Second, as you all are fully aware, we were scheduled to be transferred to Family Clan Short upon completion of our post-refit certification and shakedown. While details are still unreliable, due to intel reports that Clan Short has possession of, we have been transferred early and our shakedown has been cancelled. As of fifteen minutes ago, we are plankowners of the flagship of the Clan Short surface fleet. By order of Admiral Metronome, the CSSF Iowa is now on standby for immediate deployment."
Mutterings of amazement quickly built up throughout the group, as well as curiosity as to what would be serious enough for them to be sent out un-tested. After a minute, they quieted down, and Leon continued. "I know that you heard the exchange between myself and Command Master Chief. I was informed, in no uncertain terms, that we are now family, not a random group of men serving their country. Each of you has experience in various parts of shipboard life, and Clan policy is that you do what it takes no matter what your title may be. We are scheduled for additional upgrades once we relocate to our new home port of Fort Lauderdale; by that point I would like all of you to work together to develop a plan to equalize the berthing arrangements. As of right now, Officer's Country is no longer no-mans-land for the enlisted ranks. As the flagship of the fleet, we write the rules, gentlemen. Patriarch Short will be visiting us when he returns. I want to be able to show him what your experience has determined will be the best structure to implement on the ships that follow us. Our Clan broke the mold, and we need to follow in their footsteps. Officers, the limitation on you doing jobs that are historically relegated to enlisted personnel is now lifted. If you know how to do it, do it. If you want to learn, ask your shipmate to teach you. The Clan's version of 'Conduct unbecoming an officer' is being a Harvard snob; I know all of you are better than that, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish as a real team. Those of you who were enlisted have the same rights; if there is a job that the officers did that you either know or are interested in learning, you are encouraged to proceed."
"Yeah right!" Bosun's Mate Mark Williams stated. Unfortunately, his statement that he expected the noise of the crew to cover came out during a moment of silence.
Leon somehow managed to have a serious look on his face as he ordered "Seaman Apprentice Williams, front and center."
The crew became silent as they watched their shipmate once again being brought to task for putting his foot in his mouth. Once the sailor was standing in front of the podium, Leon spoke.
"Seaman Williams, I believe that you have the dubious honor of being demoted for stating your opinion more than any other sailor in the US Navy. As per the UCMJ, I believe you are attempting to add another notch to your belt. We are no longer under the command of the US Navy, and as such, unless I am informed otherwise, I am no longer recognizing the UCMJ as the rules that we live by. It is interesting that the officers and NCOs which have written you up for stating your opinion have declined the opportunity to remain at this duty station. With the exception of your tendency to state your opinion in very un-diplomatic terms, your service record as of two months ago showed that you are a very valuable part of this crew. I have already bent the rules by not discharging you as unfit for Naval service, due to your repeated appearances in front of me for Non-Judicial Punishment, despite many unofficial requests from former crew members. As of this moment, you are out of uniform, sailor; I expect to see you in my ready room ASAP wearing a crow with two rockers underneath it. You are now the liaison between the crew and myself to establish the procedures the Clan Short fleet will operate under. We'll work on your diplomacy issues as we go. Is that understood, Petty Officer Williams?"
(UCMJ: Uniform Code of Military Justice. The laws that the Military live by; it supersedes the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for any member of the U.S. Military.)
"Yes, Captain." Mark replied, half in shock, never expecting to be promoted to a Second Class Petty Officer for opening his mouth. Out in the crew, the few crew-mates who had taken the long odds on him ever making E-5 began looking for the unofficial bookies.
"Mark, I think that you will find your new duties will require help. I fully expect that you will be recruiting other crew members to assist you, either full-time or in addition to their current duties. I know of at least two officers who are more than likely already considering contacting you, just based on my previous interactions with them. You are in charge of this team, no matter what the rank of the other members may be, but I would suggest recruiting at least one of those officers as part of your staff. I think you'll find that there are actually parts of Officer training that will help the team achieve better results in the long run."
Feeling a sudden urge to test his new privileges, Mark replied "You got it, Leon."
Not even batting an eye, Leon replied, "Thank you Mark. Let me know what positions are vacated by your staffing, and I will have Headquarters find replacements. You are all dismissed, please allow Mark enough time to update his uniform before you swamp him with suggestions! Mark, please join me for a minute so that the two of us can coordinate with Mr. Harrison any immediate changes that need to be instituted.
"Let's stop here," Tracy declared as the group reached the shore of a placid lake.
"Yeah, this looks nice." Karl agreed as he gave Teddy's shoulder a squeeze. "Break time, no matter if you want it or not."
Cameron agreed. "Yeah, I'm actually feeling a little tired myself. You ready for another one of those shakes, Teddy?"
"Yeah; you guys are worse than my brothers!" Teddy replied with a grin. "At least they'll let me argue with them."
Karl grinned as his new friend. "I learned to be hard-headed from my Dad, you ain't got a chance!"
"I'll wear you down, sooner or later, I'll win." Teddy said with a smirk. "I'm gonna teach Cam to beat you guys at the game too!"
"What game is this?" Cameron asked.
"The 'I will torment my brothers until they give up because I'm such a brat' game," Tracy giggled.
"That sounds like fun!" Cameron commented with a grin.
"It's more fun to do it to adults; they deserve it for some of the stuff they make us do." Karl observed as he tried to look innocent.
"Hon, the halo would be more convincing if there wasn't horns holding it up!" Tracy said as he sat down on a rock, pulling Karl down to cuddle into his side.
Cameron and Teddy took seats on another nearby boulder, then all four boys had shakes appear in front of them. After taking a drink of his shake, Teddy looked at the newlyweds and continued their conversation from the hike. "Okay, do y'all understand Clan Short a little better now?"
Both boys nodded. "Yeah, there's a lot of stuff that the computers didn't say anything about." Tracy paused, took a drink, then continued. "Cory seemed like a mythical super hero going by the reports; now that you've told us the rest of the story, he sounds like someone I'd really like to meet. He must have one heck of a rabbit's foot with the luck he's had."
"No rabbit's foot; unless you count the rabbits that Timmy's collected!" Teddy giggled.
"You make it sound like he's got a zoo!" Karl giggled.
Cameron looked thoughtful, then stated "As of the latest count, the annex to Timmy's bedroom is home to five hundred and seventy-eight different creatures. Make that five hundred and eighty-seven; a batch of turtle eggs just hatched."
Both Karl and Tracy were speechless, trying to comprehend how a six-year-old could possible amass such a collection. Teddy just grinned. "Awesome! When Timmy gets home, I'm gonna have to go visit the babies! Maybe Millie will give me a ride again!"
"Millie?" Karl asked hesitantly, unsure if he really wanted to know.
"Yeah, she's the wooly mammoth that helps make sure nobody goes in or out that ain't 'posed to."
Tracy looked at Karl seriously. "Babe, I've decided that our family is freaking normal!"
"I'll second that!" Karl replied as Cameron and Teddy giggled at their responses.
"Back to reality here," Tracy giggled as, without thinking about it, he reached over and gave a tree that had come over to shade them a one-armed hug. "Maybe you can explain it, Teddy. Why is Marc so anal about protecting you guys? He's like a psychotic mom!"
"I'll have to remember that for the next time he tries to put me on bedrest!" Teddy laughed. "Really though, he's got good reason. He's seen the worst that humanity can do to androids because they don't think that we're real people. Now that he's public again with being a part of the Clan, some of the worst ones are starting to come out. One of my cousins down in the Oceanic division was a slave, one of the guys over in Hawaii was having to live through having his mind wiped repeatedly, three of Cory's new brothers were in the process of being sold into the same thing I was doing, and one of Cory's sons actually almost shut down due to alterations that were being done to his body. That's just the short list. For the first time since Uncle Danny was brought online, we're considered people by at least a relatively small group of the population. Marc ain't gonna let anything happen to any of the androids coming into the Clan, so he's being a pain in the butt to make sure our lives are better now."
Cameron added "It's not just our physical well-being that Marc worries about, it's our mental health as well. You have to remember that for the last twenty years, the only time Marc met another android, he was attempting to self-terminate, and Marc was called in to reach him if possible. Most of the time he couldn't. Worse, a lot of them were too far gone, and all he could do was complete the termination destroying the androids' brains and killing them with no possibility of ever bringing them back. That is the sort of thing that can really mess with your head. Especially if you are a doctor."
"So basically, he's a grumpy old man in a kid's body." Tracy giggled. "We'll just get him some Ex-Lax and a new deck of cards and he'll be happy!"
"Don't forget those corny old movies that put anyone under seventy to sleep!" Karl added.
"Interesting..." Cameron commented. "I just did as you suggested. Uncle Danny is now receiving medical assistance due to hyperventilating, and Uncle Marc is using language that I believe has not been heard by humanity in centuries!"
Teddy, Tracy, and Karl swapped glances, then exchanged a three-way high-five. "Awesome! That'll teach him to mess with the Geek Quads!" Tracy laughed as he pulled Cameron into the group for a four-way celebration hug.
As the hug broke, Karl asked "do you guys know how to swim? Better yet, is it safe to swim here?"
Cameron thought for a second. "It is safe to swim, and while I've never done it myself, I have observed other Clan members and the local population as they have swam."
Teddy grinned. "I love to swim! It's been a while, but it's like riding a bike; you never forget!"
Tracy smiled. "Awesome! Teddy, you wanna help us teach Cam? There's a big difference between watching and doing it. Whadda you think, Cam? You up for learning something new today?"
Cameron smiled as he looked at the first three people that he could really call friends. For the first time since his activation, he truly felt complete. "Let's do it!" he replied with a huge grin.
Cameron had learned the basics of swimming quickly, and now all four boys were enjoying themselves in the lake. Teddy had decided to have a talk with one of the older trees on the shoreline; after a few minutes of explanation, the tree had gladly extended some roots over the water, forming a diving board for the boys to use. Karl was floating on his back, a frog-like creature that Cameron called a 'Wagnum' sunning itself on his chest. For some reason, Karl had been able to understand the creature as soon as he saw it, and now they were having an interesting conversation comparing the natural resources of their respective planets.
Tracy swam over to Cameron, who had just completed a fairly decent cannonball from the diving root. "Hey Cam? This honeymoon stuff is kewl and all, but it ain't right that we get to play in a lake while the rest of the guys are stuck sitting at desks."
"I was wondering when you would decide that." Cam replied. "Their training is far enough along that we can finish it when we go to Alpha Prime. Would you like them to join us?"
"I think you're learning to read minds!" Tracy giggled. "Yeah, I kinda miss them already; I want them to have fun too."
"One group of friends, coming up!" Cameron giggled. A few seconds later, the entire group of boys appeared on the beach, their faces showing surprise as they landed on the ground.
"Okay, who let Cameron talk to Kerry?" Travis grumbled as he stood up and brushed himself off.
"I taught my cousin well, didn't I?" Cameron giggled.
"I think both of you need to see a trinary shrink!" Gabe commented as he began helping the rest of the group up. "Cory shoulda known better than to let Noah and Caleb near your personality programming!"
Cameron glanced around at Tracy, Karl, and Teddy. When he saw that they were still giggling at their friend's landing, he smiled. "The angel act ain't working, Gabe; do I need to tell Jimmy and Davey what you and your hubby did to Noah the last time he was up here?"
"He already told them!" Gabe replied, unable to keep up the 'I'm pissed off' act due to his joy at hearing Jimmy giggle freely.
"Hey Cameron? Why didn't Jimmy and Davey end up landing on their butts?" Rex asked curiously.
"They were already standing." Cam replied. "Besides, Timmy told all of us AI's that if we did anything that scared either one of them while they're relearning to be kids, he was gonna make us live in his pet closet for a year as soon as we get bodies!"
"Little innocent Timmy?" Parker commented with a chuckle. "Why would you be worried about that innocent six-year-old? He wouldn't hurt a fly!"
"...unless it landed on his Daddy..." Rex muttered under his breath. "Then all bets are off."
"You're just mad because he made you get your own teepee after you ate those beans!" Teddy giggled. "His exact words were 'You're worse than Daddy after he eats garlic!'... after he got some fresh air outside his teepee!"
"I wasn't that bad." Rex said in defense.
"YES YOU WERE!" all his brothers exclaimed in unison.
"Kermit says y'all are weird!" Karl commented with a grin.
"Kermit?" Tracy asked with raised eyebrows.
"Yeah, it's easier to say than his real name, and he thinks it's kewl." Karl giggled. After having Kermit climb into his hand, he came up to the shore and joined the group on the beach. Now perched on Karl's shoulder, Kermit looked around at the group as Karl watched them all regain their feet.
"Told ya Karl was the froggy one!" Jon giggled as he started stripping to swim. "You guys are gonna freak when you get to see the computer stuff that we're gonna have to play with!"
"That's evil, Jon!" Martin commented with a grin. "You know that if those two had a choice between cracking a server or making out, the server would be history."
"HEY!" Tracy exclaimed. "We ain't THAT bad!"
"Yeah; we'd crack it between sessions!" Karl added as Tracy joined him and cuddled into his side. "You gotta have priorities!"
"Guys, I think we're gonna regret all those times we wished the two of them would figure out they were a couple!" Rick groaned. "Now we get to be tonsil hockey spectators."
"Hey, sorry guys, we don't mean to rub it in your faces." Tracy said, all humor gone from his face as he started to pull away from Karl.
"Hold it right there; get back to cuddling with your husband." Parker ordered seriously before turning to the rest of the group. "Any of you that have a problem with them showing their love for each other, speak up now."
Parker glared at the group, daring anyone to speak. After a suitable pause, he continued. "That is what I thought. All of my sons, you're just getting to know your new friends. You're still re-learning how to interact with other youth, so you need to stop and think about how you would feel if what you were about to say was being said to you. The rest of you, on the other hand, are family to these two. Your actions and comments can make or break their marriage. Even the most innocent joke can be taken wrong right now, and cause them to start making choices between each other and the rest of you. All of you have a choice. Either you support Tracy and Karl as they bond into a couple, or I get you assigned permanently to the training center here. If you think that is an empty threat, ask Gabe and Travis who MY boss is."
Before anyone asked, Gabe added "He reports to Teri Short, Patriarch Cory's mom. If she didn't back him, Cory would."
"Yeah." Travis said as he cuddled up to Gabe. "Cory's kinda anal about not doing stuff that breaks up a couple."
Rex and Scott exchanged glances, both quickly picking up on the conversation not going over well with their new friends. Scott brushed his bangs out of his eyes, his Chinese ancestry from his mom's side coming out more due to the serious look on his face as he stepped forward to stand between Parker and the Fort Lauderdale team. "Guys, you need to excuse Dad; he failed Diplomacy, so he became a teacher." Scott deadpanned. "He has got better, when he made sure that Gregg and Nick had our support it took Danny AND Marc to keep us from drowning him. It is not my place to discuss his history, but I can say that there is good reason in his past that makes him protective of ANY couple in the Clan. He will stand by any one of you if he finds anyone trying to break up your relationship. One of these days, we might even get him trained to be more gentle when it is something that is obviously not on purpose. I believe that, if we are still welcome to join you in Florida, his new parent over-protective streak will be helped by the assistance of all of your parents. We are still breaking him in; remember that he's only been our Dad since the day the attack happened in Montana."
"You're pretty brave for being this close to a body of water, Scott." Parker commented. "I get the hint though; next time you can leave the club at home. I'm sorry for the threats, guys. No matter how old you are, the comments from your friends can make or break a relationship. Things that are normally taken as a joke can be taken seriously without either side realizing it; it will be like that until the new couple has settled into their new life. If you have something serious to say, make sure that they know that you're serious; if you're joking or picking on them, make sure that they realize that what you are saying is not serious. Something as simple as a group hug or sticking your tongue out at the pair goes a long way towards not only their comfort as a couple, but also strengthening your friendship with both partners."
Jon reached over and poked Rex. "Have you guys figured out which one of them is more long-winded?" he asked with a smile.
Rex grinned. "We've got a pool going as to which one of them would give up first if we locked them in a room together. You want in on it?"
"Sign me up!" Jon giggled.
Rick rolled his eyes at Jon's antics. "I see what you mean now, Mr. Carr. I always kinda thought of Trace and Karl as a couple; I didn't think about how things seem different to them now even though the rest of us see them just like always."
Parker nodded and smiled. "There are men five times your age that still have not figured that out, Rick. Most of them are really lonely."
Travis interrupted Parker. "Gabe and I kinda screwed up too; we're a little different than most of the Clan couples, and we've had to have people like Cory and Aunt Teri step in to help us. The only ones who supported me before the Clan were Gabe, his mom and dad, and my big brother. All of our friends met us after we were already a couple, so we've never been like Tracy and Karl are with having to adjust to being a couple while our friends are adjusting."
"Yeah, sorry guys. I'm getting better though, at least this time I didn't piss off Trav as well!" Gabe added as he stood with one arm over Davey's shoulder and the other over Jimmy's.
Davey looked up at Gabe. "These 'mad meetings' are for real, ain't they? We really won't be beat if we mess up?"
As the rest of the group fell silent at Davey's question, Gabe replied softly. "That's right, Davey. I know it's still kinda hard to believe, but the bad days are gone."
Davey smiled as he turned and gave Gabe a long hug.
Tracy's face was determined as he spoke up, the scene he just witnessed hitting him hard. "Y'all are still welcome back home; in fact as soon as Cam's ready to go, we're heading back. When you guys are jokin' around, I'll try not to be so sensitive about showin' Karl that I love him. I didn't really understand the Clan until just now. After what Davey just asked, I understand more than I really want to and I ain't gonna sit around while another kid goes through whatever he did. Cam, could you tell Seth that I want everything live as soon as we're home, bro?"
"I just told Uncle Marc to step up my transfer, and my cousin George is getting the office set up. It's different reading the histories; after seeing this, I'm not gonna just sit around either!"
Tracy glanced at Karl, and the look on Karl's face made Tracy pause. After a few seconds of thought, Tracy thought he knew what was bothering his new husband. "Guys, from what I understand time here doesn't mean anything about time at home. We wanted y'all out here to have fun with us instead of sitting around while we were swimming. Things are gettin' too serious; we're takin' a fun break now since everything at home will wait for us."
"He's right guys..." Parker started to add before he noticed his sons swarming around him. "Hold it... what are you doing... y'all are all going to pay for this!" Parker shouted as he found himself hoisted off of the ground and bodily carried to the edge of the water under the diving root. "Cameron, help!" he yelled as he became airborne.
"Okay!" Cameron replied, as he had Parker teleported to five feet over the center of the pond. As Parker hit the water, Cameron stated "He didn't specify WHO to help, did he?" with a grin on his face.
Cameron's comment broke the ice, and in no time just about everyone was running for the water, their clothes scattered randomly in the grass. Karl stopped Cameron, his face still showing that something was on his mind. "Bro, do you think you can find someone who can answer a question for me?" Karl asked.
"What's up" Cameron asked, his brain swimming with the fact that Karl didn't just assume he knew the answer, instead he was asked just like any of the other kids would have been.
"Me and Kermit have been talking." Karl began. "This is the first time either one of us has made friends with someone native to another universe, and we were kinda wondering if there was any way that he could come visit our home universe. We kinda wondered if him and I can still talk there too."
"I think I know who might be able to answer that." Cameron replied. "The King's son, Chance, understands what changes the planet's been through. He's just finished his music lessons for today, so I think he could use a swim!"
"What the heck... CAMERON!!!" a voice suddenly yelled before the person yelling landed in the middle of the pond. A minute later, a thoroughly soaked yellow-haired boy no bigger than a six-year-old human stalked out of the water, the rest of the group following him to witness the next prank retaliation. "I TOLD Marc to keep Danny away from your program!" he stated, his eyes giving away the fact that he totally enjoyed the prank.
Cameron giggled as he pointed at Karl. "Prince Chance, this is Karl. His friend is going by the name 'Kermit', and they have some questions for you."
"Hi Karl!" Chance said with a smile as he turned to the taller boy. "Hey, you must be one of the guys Kyle was telling me about, he said you and your husband were special in a universal kind of way; I can see it a little bit in what Alpha Prime people call their 'aura'. Your glow is different than most other human-types, even in other universes. It's kinda like a trumpet under a purple spotlight!"
"A trumpet? Like a trumpet from back home?" Karl asked.
"Yeah; I'm learning how to play some of the Alpha Prime music instruments. I like the brass instruments, they make my Dad run for the other end of the Palace!" Chance giggled.
"I bet they do!" Karl giggled. "Cam said that you could answer a question for me. Kermit and I were talking, and he'd like to visit my home. We wondered if he'd be okay, and if him and I could still talk like we do here."
Chance smiled. "I think the answer lies in what happened recently. In galactic time, we just became a high race. Before that time, our entire planet was semi-sentient. Our royal adults could speak with most of the animals and plants at a base level, but it was discouraged strongly for the general population to do it. When we became a high race, we brought the entire planet with us. That means that no matter when or where Kermit goes, he will be able to talk with you just like he is now. Since Kermit is a high race, the environment of Alpha Prime is no longer a danger to him. He doesn't have what you'd call 'super-powers' or anything like that, he's just a really smart Wagnum." Chance paused, then added "Cameron, the pond says that it would be best if a portion of it went as well, that way Kermit has something familiar to rest in."
Davey looked at Travis, and with a serious look on his face announced "I dunno who is worse, Pop. Uncle Galli with his time junk or the Prince here with his talking water. These guys make Uncle Jace look NORMAL!"
"How about time traveling water that speaks backwards?" Galli's voice came out of the rock near to them.
Davey's eyes grew wide for a second, then he latched onto Travis. "Pop, can we go someplace sane, like Timmy's bedroom?"
Galli folded in giggling. "Sorry for startling you, Davey-boy. Only joking," he smiled giving Davey a quick hug. "Right, sorry to hug and leave, but there's stuff that needs to be un-stuffed."
"Told you not to use super-glue on you and Jay's 'toys'!" Travis giggled.
Galli gave Travis a serious look, making sure Davey couldn't see it. "Not that type of stuff, ol' bean. Toodle pip!" Then he folded away, leaving a squirming, furry item in Davey's hand.
Davey watched in amazement as the little creature wiggled around and made itself comfortable.
It was a strange creature. It had two arms, with three fingers and a thumb on each, and only one leg ending in a six 'fingered' foot that now gently gripped Davey's little finger; The two inch long creature was now happily swinging upside-down from Davey's finger. It watched its new friend with big brown eyes, sniffing the air curiously with its little pink nose while using its flappy ears to keep swinging by waving them back and forth. In one of its hands was a tiny, folded up piece of paper.
Davey, his eyes wide in awe, passed the note to his dad after the little creature dropped it into his other hand mid-swing.
Travis read aloud, "'My name is Gazimo, and I am the last of my kind. Please give me a good home until Galli can bring back my old one, Gallifrey.'"
The creature, Gazimo, squeaked and gurgled for a moment. Davey listened carefully, then looked up at his dad. "He eats fruit, likes me and thinks you're funny looking," he said seriously.
The group all smiled at Davey's comment, not laughing out loud due to their sudden awareness of just how fragile his emotional state was.
"I think that you and him are going to learn a lot from each other." Travis replied with a smile. "Why don't you introduce him to everyone while I'm looking for Quint; him and I need to have a conference."
Jimmy giggled, looking up from checking out his brother's new friend. "It ain't gonna work, Pop! Uncle Quint is smarter than that; he won't prank Uncle Galli!"
"Prank the oldest old fart this side of the Big Bang?" Quint giggled, popping in with a flash. "Pranking the one whom everyone fears, the one who never carries a gun yet always wins? Am I that nuts? You better believe it! What's the plan? A Black Hole in the bedroom?!"
Davey narrowed his eyes, "Wouldn't a Black Hole kill him?" he asked, suddenly feeling quite protective of the person who not only helped Jimmy, but now had given him this awesome new friend to carry around.
"Why would it?" Quint shrugged. "Time Lords created them..."
"Yeah, they found a use for the blonds in their race!" Travis giggled. "Unplug their ears, and POOF, you gotta Black Hole!"
Quint narrowed his eyes. "I have blond hair at times... so..." He snapped his fingers. Travis blinked and returned soaked in pink water.
"You know, I like you already, Quint!" both Karl and Tracy exclaimed in unison. "That's what he gets for picking on blonds!"
Travis looked at the pink water dripping from him. "Do I wanna know?" he muttered.
"Nope," Quint smiled.
"Hey hun, is that something wiggling in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?" Gabe giggled after giving Quint a thumbs-up.
"Well, it isn't a pet from the Continuum. We don't have animals there..." Quint said off handedly. "It's a dick eating Juranga from Terris III..."
Before he'd even mentioned the name, Travis stripped naked in a flash. There, in the folds of his clothes, was a small dog like creature. It had bright pink fur, and its long blue tongue was hanging from the side of its mouth. As the little five inch long creature scrambled onto Travis' left foot, he began voicing musical barks as he looked up adorably at Travis.
'Hardly a 'dick eating' anything.' Travis muttered to himself as he picked up the little guy.
"Awwwwwwwww" the assembled group exclaimed in unison.
The juranga's tail was wagging so fast that it was like he was wagging his body as he repeatedly licked Trav's thumb.
"He needs a name," Quint said softly.
Jimmy grinned, "How about Arnie?"
"That sounds fitting, kiddo." Gabe said as he pulled Jimmy back against him in a hug.
"See, Kermit, I told ya anyone who tried to make fun of you would get dealt with!" Karl giggled to the Wagnum on his shoulder. He then turned as he heard Davey giggle, and smiled as he saw that Gazimo was now hanging from the top of Davey's ear, squeaking and gurgling non-stop to his new boy as they sat on the ground.
Travis had taken a seat on his clothes, and was happily showing off his little friend to Peter, Allen, Arron, Scooter, and Billy. "Hey Quint? What does Arnie eat?"
"I told you. Dicks."
"Ha ha! Very funny."
"Oh, alright... he's partial to scrambled eggs, or bacon, or..." and rapidly, Quint listed off most of the favorite foods for the Clan. "And tripe. He goes nuts for tripe. Sorry, it's stinky, but he's a fleshy and all fleshies are strange!"
"Thanks, Quint!" Travis replied as he watched Rich getting Davey's permission to give Gazimo a blueberry that he'd had Cameron get for him. The smile that came across Davey's face was priceless as his ear-borne companion expressed his pleasure at the gift from Rich.
"Would you like to come help us get even with our parents for their weird history lesson?" Rick asked Quint hopefully.
"I would rather prank Galli than try to get even with your parents." Quint shuddered and disappeared, only to immediately reappear with a thoughtful look on his face, "But then again, I never did back down from a challenge."
"Captain! Priority incoming message from Clan Short Headquarters!" the Communications officer stated breathlessly as he ran into the stateroom, not bothering to knock.
Leon looked up from where him and Mark were making a list of things that they knew caused morale or efficiency problems pre-Clan. He quickly took the freshly-unpacked PADD from the messenger, and within seconds jumped up and ran over to a rarely-used red switch-box on the wall. He lifted the guard, and depressed the spring-loaded switch underneath, causing klaxons to begin sounding throughout the huge ship. A few seconds later, he released the switch and picked up the 1MC. "This is NOT a Drill! General Quarters! General Quarters! All hands man your battle stations! Set Condition Zebra, report readiness to the Officer Of The Deck. Shift Colors, prepare for emergency maneuvers." He re-sounded the klaxons, then repeated his instructions before turning to Mark.
"Mark, Earth is being attacked, and Headquarters is counting on us to help prove it was the wrong thing to do. Could you please run up to the signal deck and tell the Signal Chief I want the full battle ensign? While you're at it, tell him to run that Jolly Roger that he thought was so funny last Halloween up the signal lines; if he don't believe you, have him call me on the Bridge. It's fitting since we follow Clan rules now."
"Yes Sir, Leon!" Mark replied as he jumped up from the table and ran out the door.
Leon was right behind him, and in just over a minute he was entering the Bridge. Just as he turned around after closing the hatch behind him, a black-robed figure appeared less than ten feet in front of him. "Stand down!" Leon quickly ordered at the sounds of weapons being drawn. Standing in front of him was a very familiar thirteen year old boy, with long black hair. On the right breast of his robe, the Clan Security emblem gave no question as to the probability of serious trouble if he was attacked. On the collar, his rank of First Lieutenant reinforced the warning. The right breast of the robe was more telling, and it made a lump rise in Leon's throat. Under the Master Demolitions insignia, three ribbons said more about the young man in front of him than any other introduction could. The first was a Distinguished Service ribbon, the second was a Montana Service ribbon, and the last was a Marksman ribbon. The part that tore at Leon's heart the most was directly under the row of ribbons... the pin that signified that the boy before him had been issued a Purple Heart. "How may I assist you, Sir?" Leon asked respectfully, not caring that the boy was of a lower rank than himself. 'If I had known this earlier, I'd have understood why Seth allowed him to do what he did.' Leon thought to himself seriously.
"Hello again, Captain Schmidt. In case you forgot, I'm First Lieutenant Kelly Carlson, Clan Short Security. Due to some intermittent communications issues, if you need any clearances from Headquarters I will provide them for you locally."
"Thank you. You may call me Leon, Sir; welcome aboard the Iowa. I would suggest strapping into one of the Command chairs; things are about to get really bumpy. Once we are underway, I know the perfect man to assist you with going anywhere that you wish onboard; the Iowa is a large lady, and it is easy to get lost in her. You may presume full clearance into any spaces that you need access to."
"I'll call you Leon if you call me KT." Kelly replied with a smile as a raccoon's head appeared out of the neckline of his robe. "And this is Boomer."
Leon's response was interrupted by the OOD (Officer Of the Deck). "Captain, all departments report Condition Zebra set and ready. Deck reports anchor raised and stowed. Tugs are awaiting orders to proceed."
"Tell the tugs to get the hell out of our way. Sever all moorings, deploy lift planes at full lift the second we are clear of the pier. Notify the crew to drop their cocks and grab their socks, we're about to set a new speed record to Charleston Harbor."
"Aye, Captain." the OOD replied quickly as he turned around. "You heard him, hit it! Deck Division, sever all lines."
Just then Mark came through the hatch, heading for his duty station. Leon reached out and stopped him. "Mark, this fine young man is KT Carlson from Clan Headquarters. Once we clear the harbor, how would you feel about being his guide? I think you might even be able to get some helpful input regarding the restructure if we have any free time."
Mark looked at KT, and after recovering from the ribbons and the raccoon grinning at him, quickly nodded his head. "It'd be an honor, Leon. KT, get ready for the best ride you could ever ask for, there is a reason we're all proud of this fine old girl."
KT grinned; the fact a NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) had just addressed the Captain by his first name and got away with it told him that one of Seth's worries was already well underway of being dealt with. "What are we waiting for, rock and roll!"
"Mark, you're on the ship's horn; I don't want to hear quiet until we clear the bridge!" Leon stated as he started to move towards his seat, motioning for KT to follow him. "I have the conn. Engine room, make turns for five knots."
"All lines clear!" the OOD announced.
"Helm, time to try out those new side-thrust units. Get me turned towards the harbor."
"Aft lookout reports clear of pier," the OOD announced a few seconds later. "Deploy lift planes."
Mark reached his station, and seconds later the ship's horn began sounding one long blast. As KT took his seat and strapped in, he looked out the forward windows. He was shocked at how the helmsman was making the ship turn like a much smaller vessel using a combination of the twin rudders and the side thrusters that Leon had mentioned. Just as the ship stabilized and was pointing down the river, Davie appeared hovering over the number one turret, a glowing sword in one hand while he was making an obvious 'follow me' motion with the other.
"Oh my God!" the helmsman exclaimed in shock, the noises from the rest of the crew on the bridge showing that they saw Davie as well.
"This makes things easier!" KT laughed. "Follow that Angel!"
When there was no immediate response, Leon stated "KT's orders override mine, gentlemen. You heard him!"
Knowing that he had KT's attention now, Davie pointed forward then held up two fingers immediately followed by three fingers. He then made a steering motion before pointing at himself. KT gave him a thumbs-up, then ordered "Helm stand clear of the wheel. Engine room, all ahead two-thirds."
The OOD quickly echoed KT's words. "Helm clear the wheel, make rotations for all ahead two-thirds, Sir."
Throughout the ship, crewmen began praying to whatever Higher Power they believed in as they felt something which they had never felt in inland waters before; the vibration of all four screws spinning at high speed and chopping the water as they tried furiously to bring the huge ship from a relative stop to speeds usually reserved for open water. The fact that the ship's horn was now sounding continuously just reenforced their worry, as they all realized their Captain was ordering operations well above normal protocols, and using the horn to warn other vessels to prepare for an unusual wake.
Leon couldn't believe his eyes as they approached the Cooper River Bridge. Despite traffic regulations which prohibited stopping on the bridge, not a single vehicle was moving. Instead, every inch of the railing was occupied by obviously cheering local residents. Without being told, Mark let off of the ship's horn as they went under the bridge as a courtesy towards the people cheering them on. A couple of minutes later, they passed the outer buoy, and Davie appeared next to the Captain.
"That was fun!" Davie giggled. "You can have the wheel back. Can I do that again sometime, Captain? I always wanted to steer a big ship!"
As the helmsman took the wheel once again, Leon looked at the little Angel next to him. "Son, if we make it though this, you can steer this ship any time you want. Would it be rude to ask who you are exactly?"
"I'm the Guardian Angel for the Iowa!" Davie said with a grin. "You can call me Davie; I'm the Right Hand of Saint Mikey of Urbandale, Protector of Gay and Abandoned Youth. I can't interfere with what is about to happen, but I can definitely make sure that you get there!"
KT giggled as he shook his head. "You need to stop hanging with Mikey so much, Davie. You're starting to sound just like him!"
"Watch it Katy," Davie giggled, "you're on MY ship here, and that means I'll have time to kick your butt on a few video games on the way back!"
"Dream on, Angel Boy!" KT laughed.
Leon was watching with his jaw on his chest, not believing the conversation that he was hearing.
Davie decided that it was best to clear the air, so he explained. "Captain, due to what a lot of the guys have been through, they get to see us Guardian Angels a lot more than just about anyone else. Part of our help is just being friends; something almost a third of the Clan has never had before. In some cases, we are the only friends they are comfortable having until well along in their recovery. I can't help someone who is either in awe or afraid of me as well as I can someone who is comfortable and trusts me."
The entire bridge crew understood what Davie was not saying; the ribbons on KT's chest told them that their newest shipmate had been the recipient of the aforementioned help, and that he had been granted the right to call Davie a friend.
Davie smiled. "KT knows where to go, I'm gonna take a tour. Don't worry, I won't give any of the crew a heart attack!" With that, Davie vanished.
"Sirs, we just passed the five mile marker," the OOD announced in a subdued voice.
KT nodded. "Set course for Long Island; we should locate any targets somewhere between the Outer Banks and there."
"Coming around to bearing zero-two-seven," the OOD announced.
"Coming around... On course zero-two-seven," the helmsman replied.
KT looked over at Leon. "How fast do you think we can get there?"
"We're about to find out." Leon replied. "Engine room. Hydroplaning shields to max, all ahead flank. Sit on those safeties, guys; we're going for a new speed record."
"Aye Sir; max out the water bumpers and all ahead flank. Do you think the shipyard has figured out yet that somehow the labels got switched between those carrier battle screws they had laying around and the new ones we were supposed to get?"
"I believe that it's too late to matter." Leon chuckled. "Good job, Chief; I knew you'd pull it off."
For the second time in less than an hour, the crew felt the ship shudder as once again the screws started digging in the water.
Thirteen year old Frasier Thornton had watched with awe as the Iowa made its way out of the harbor. Now using his binoculars from the balcony of his uncle's fifth story beach condominium, he watched as the ship made the turn to head north. "Whoa!" he exclaimed as he saw a plume of water begin to form into a rooster tail behind the great ship. It seemed to rise slightly from the water as well, but he figured that was just an optical illusion. He followed it as it picked up even more speed than what it had been doing before, but quickly lost sight as it crossed the horizon.
He walked inside, a look of amazement glued on his face. His Uncle Buck looked up from the news reports he was reviewing on his iPad. "I thought you were going to watch the Iowa leave, kiddo?"
"It's already out of sight, Unc!" Frasier exclaimed. "I dunno what Clan Short's done, but it hasta be passin' Myrtle Beach already!"
Buck smiled. "I'll tell you what; let's visit or neighbors and see if they need a hand in Fort Lauderdale."
"Why there?" Frasier asked.
"I've got some friends in the supply chain that provided some special pieces for the Iowa refit." Buck explained. "They just passed on where the Iowa is going to be home-ported to me, and logic dictates that the engineer in charge of making those pieces integrate should be on staff to assist in maintaining them."
"You know, you sound goofy when you talk like a Vulcan, Unc." Frasier giggled.
"No worse than you when you try to speak southern with your Indiana accent, brat!" Buck replied with a grin. "We need to get going; I'm sure we'll spend at least a few hours helping out here before things calm down enough that we won't be needed. If it's any longer than that, we're in deep doo-doo."
"Why you sayin' that?"
Buck turned totally serious as he replied. "The last report I got was that the Earth is under attack. If we can't defend ourselves fast, there might not be an Earth to worry about."
Frasier stared at Buck in shock; the only thing that kept him from panicking was his experience since he had moved in four years ago. The rest of his family had been consumed in a farmhouse fire late at night while he was on an overnight Scout trip. As soon as he was made aware of the tragedy, Buck arranged to be at his nephew's side, and was granted immediate custody due to being the only living relative who could support a child. As the loss of Frasier's parents started to hit the boy, Buck quickly worked to keep the nine-year-old from letting the events turn into a phobia of fire and separation. Using skills that he had learned in martial arts as he was recovering from the loss of his wife, Buck taught his nephew the methods he had learned of using panic as a warning without letting it take control of your actions. In his first year living with Buck, Frasier used the methods so much that they became reflex. Now the reflex was ingrained, and due to that Frasier was able to handle Buck telling him the raw truth.
"If it's that bad, we needta' get going!" Frasier announced as he grabbed Buck's hand and pulled him towards the door.
Leon looked out of the forward windows with a grin on his face. He reached over and picked up a sound-powered phone, dialing it in to the Number One Turret. "Number One, this is the Captain. Just what does Ensign Jergenson think he's doing?"
(Sound-powered phone: As the name implies, it is an internal communications network that functions without any power source. Designed as the primary communications device between two stations onboard ship in battle and emergency situations, it allows communication even when the ship is damaged - as long as the wire is not cut.)
"Sir, Mister Jergenson thought that due to the nature of our mission it would be fitting to apply a smiley face giving the universal 'Up Yours' sign to the side of the turret."
Leon considered his options. "I won't have a lone man out on deck at these speeds without a safety spotter. You have five minutes to have Turret One's full crew tied off and assisting him. Make it fast, turret three needs to prepare too, before we get in range. We'll make it look pretty on the way back."
As he was about to put the handset down, a call came in from the radio room. "Captain?"
"Go ahead, Comms."
"Sir, there is... you ain't gonna believe this... well, there is an angel down here insisting that we broadcast music over the 1MC, Sir."
"By any chance is his name Davie?" Leon asked as KT started giggling beside him.
"He's the new Guardian Angel of the Iowa, anything he wants, he gets. Go ahead and do it."
Before the radioman could reply, the first notes of AC/DC's "If you want blood" began playing over every 1MC station on the ship. Leon turned to KT and asked "Why do I get this feeling that a certain Angel is trying to get the crew fired up?"
KT grinned. "If he's getting his playlist from who I think he is, this is just a warmup. My brother used to use this song as the first one in a set to help his strike team focus on their upcoming mission. If he's using that set, and if your crew responds like the strike team did, you're gonna wonder why you're needed; every single one of them is going to use their training to the fullest."
Leon had picked up on KT's phrasing, and replied "You don't have to answer this or go into detail, but why were you using past tense?"
"His entire team was lost in Montana." KT replied seriously. "They refused to back down, and Kane was the only one that was still alive when the rescue team got there."
"I understand, and I swear that he's not going to have to suffer the loss of his brother as well." Leon replied. "OOD, inform CIC to bring all weapons except the turrets which are being prepared for action by their crew hot and standing by. Open all launch doors, activate Stage One programming on all birds. I saw topside shield generators listed on our upgrade list; if they're installed max them out."
"Sir, may I recommend that we just instruct the technicians to use their own discretion as to how far they can pre-activate their respective ordinance?" the OOD suggested. "Also, my division inherited those shield generators; they are onboard and hooked up, we were supposed to give them their first full test during shakedown. With your permission, I'll order them brought online and put through final calibration. They will be active as soon as that is done; dock-side we would have severed the lines."
"I like that first idea, they know details I don't." Leon replied. "We need all the help we can get. You've got the ball; get them both going ASAP."
The OOD didn't respond vocally, he just gave a thumbs-up as he began calling the various stations directly.
"How are things going down there, Steve?" Seth asked, an edge of worry in his voice.
Steve looked over to where Dustin was mid-mindmeld with the newest member of his team, a twelve year old redhead who was one-quarter Vulcan and three-quarters Irish telepath. The boy's name was Aedan Corcoran, and he had been sent to Naples by Seth as soon as they had finished terminating Steve's former sperm donor.
"Let's see... first you send someone with me who ends up being my little brother without telling me, then you send me a telepath who also happens to be a quarter Vulcan." Steve replied. "I'm really starting to reconsider asking for your help!"
Seth responded with a small laugh. "Relax, Steve; I didn't know about Adrian either, so that was a surprise to both of us. Aedan is just a thank-you gift; the combination of a natural human telepath and a Vulcan is almost completely unheard of. When the Vulcan Consulate contacted me on behalf of his parents asking if he could be of assistance, I immediately saw the possibilities. You've got a volunteer there who I think will help your team considerably."
"I'll give you that one, Seth." Steve admitted. "The remaining members of the City Council just voted in emergency session to place Gary as Mayor until there is time to arrange a special election. They are going to call me to moderate if they have any issues with his policies instead of trying to override him; I don't think there are going to be any issues, since he has agreed to be the voice for the changes that need implemented here."
"That's good, it sounds like you've got a handle on things." Seth replied. "Since you left, a project of mine has come into being. Over in Fort Lauderdale, a group of boys who have been trying to crack our systems has just accepted Clan membership. What are your thoughts on unifying Alligator Alley under one sub-division? I am thinking of it being a combination of intel and quick response, with base stations in Naples and Fort Lauderdale."
Steve gave the idea some thought as he felt Adrian cuddle into his right side. Adrian giggled as he added his own two cents. "I can talk to Dad, I bet he'll let us use his house as a remote base, then we could work out of the East Coast office unless we are needed here. All we gotta do is set up some of the version one doors between Dad's place and the Fort Lauderdale compound."
"That's not a bad idea, lil' bro." Steve admitted. "Dusty and me have got some pretty bad memories of this place; it might be better if we didn't have to live here." After a few seconds more of thought, he continued. "Seth, I like my little rat's plan; if it works for you, we'll start getting set up so that the rest of my family can move in."
"I was checking with Mr. Jobs while you were thinking it over, Steve." Seth replied. "I've just placed the order for the doors, George is standing by to take you guys to the East Coast compound as soon as you are ready."
Steve smiled at Adrian then looked around the room, noticing Dustin and Aedan had just finished. "Let me warn everyone, and then we're there."
"Great, Steve; I think you're gonna like the new Intel group! I'm going to have you guys swing past the Archnania training center to brush up on a few things, then I'll have Cameron send you back at the right time." Seth replied before terminating the call.
"Great!" Adrian muttered. "I hate it when I don't know when I am! Last time he pulled this, I was gone six years and came back in Orlando two hours after I left!"
"When was that, bro?" Steve asked.
"Just before I joined up with you guys." Adrian replied as he decided to gather another long-overdue cuddle with his big brother.
"Hey, my Mountain Dew's still got bubbles!" Arron giggled as he walked over to the drink that he'd sat down before they left. "It's still a little cold too!"
Gabe smiled. "Told ya that we'd be back a little bit after the time we left! You guys think you'll be okay long enough for me and Trav to take Parker over to meet the 'rents?"
"Yeah; don't tell them about our new brothers though." Tracy giggled. "I owe Dad BIG time for what he did to Karl!"
Parker laughed. "Spoken like a true Director, Tracy! I'll keep quiet, the reaction is funnier when they find out for themselves. I'm just waiting for this mob to start adding roommates myself."
"Dad! We'd NEVER do that without asking first!" Gregg stated as the entire family tried to look innocent.
Tracy, Karl and their cousins tried hard not to giggle when Parker yelled "George! I need some hip waders, the shit is getting deep in here!" Travis, Gabe, Jimmy, and Davey didn't bother, all four outright laughed; even Kermit, Gazimo, and Arnie made noises approximating laughter.
Tracy shook his head with a grin. "C'mon guys; I wanna check out all the stuff that Seth added to Karl and I's bedroom. Gabe, Trav? Hurry back; leave Parker there with the rest of the ancient ones. He can join their shuffleboard game or whatever else it is they are doin' since they are too old for fun stuff like sex and hackin' networks!"
"I gotta remember that one!" Teddy giggled, ignoring the glare from his dad.
"Just remember, a few of you are adults already by law." Parker laughed. "Lead the way, Gabe; I have plotting to do!"
Gabe rolled his eyes as he replied. "Whatever! Guys we'll be back in a few. I'll take care of updating the fossils on the new status some of you earned on Archnania."
With that, the groups split. The ones staying followed Tracy and Karl upstairs to the bedroom-slash-command-center that they would now all be working out of. As they walked through the doorway, they found that once again the room had changed. What was once two bedrooms was now a small conference room. In the center of the table was a plate piled with cookies, a purple card standing on the top. "This is getting to be a bad habit!" Tracy stated as he took Karl's hand and retrieved the card. They both looked at it, grinned, then Tracy motioned for Karl to read it.
Karl nodded, then read it for the rest of the group:
Tracy and Karl;
Congratulations on your marriage from the Quintessential Quonstruction Quorps!
As a small gift to celebrate your union, we have constructed you a new residence on the property that was for sale between this house and Beachfront Road. The upper level is your Clan offices, and is connected to this room by an overhead walkway. The lower two levels are your new residence, provisions have been made for your extended family to set up their own spaces in the house if they so wish, as well as your new companions from other worlds.
We hope that you enjoy this small gift, and wish you the best as you begin your new life together.
Quint, Peter, Eli, Benji, Sammy, 'Bastian, and Leg
The rest of the group stood there with their mouths hanging open. "Small gift?" Rick muttered.
Rex shook his head to clear it. "Ummmmm... I ain't never seen THIS happen!"
Allen giggled from where he and the rest of the under-ten group were busy 'sampling' cookies. "C'mon, grab some munchies and let's go check it out! They left awesome cookies, so its gotta be good!"
Tracy giggled. "That works, we'll use the cookie scale!" With that, the group quickly cleared the platter of cookies, then walked through the double doors on what used to be the back wall of the room. Tracy and Karl froze as they saw what was on the other side, almost getting knocked over by the group that was following them.
"Whoa!" Karl exclaimed. "This is SWEET!"
In front of the group was a tunnel-like walkway, comprised of polarized transparent aluminum on all sides with a marble-like walkway suspended down the center with clear partial walls topped by handrails. The passageway angled up slightly over the two acre distance between the Butler house and the new Command Center, and they could see the coastline stretching off to each side in the distance.
"C'mon slowpokes, let us see too!" Rex complained from the back of the group.
"Wait your turn!" Tracy giggled. "This is WAY AWESOME! Definitely a twenty cookie effort!" he added as him and Karl began moving again. Once all of them were on the walkway, they got another surprise as it began moving, turning a five-minute walk into a two-minute ride.
As they reached the other end, the giggling group exited the walkway and entered a foyer, where they found Cameron and a new kid waiting for them.
"Hey Cam!" Tracy and Karl chorused.
"Did the Android version of Moses decide your new body's safe?" Karl added with a giggle.
"Yeah, Uncle Marc says everything's good." Cameron replied with a grin. "He decided to release me when I started calling him 'Mommy'; Uncle Danny thought it was funny until I called him 'Grandma', then he volunteered to help me pack to come home!"
"That makes Uncle Danny Abraham!" Teddy giggled. "I hope someone recorded it, they had to look funny when you did that!"
Cameron grinned, unable to reply due to being mid-hug with both Tracy and Karl. After they broke apart, Cameron motioned towards the yellow-haired boy watching them with a grin on his face. "Guys, our newest member here is Daivik. As you probably figured out, he's Archnanian."
Daivik giggled. "Hi guys! Since Cam's covered the obvious stuff like me being male and Archnanian, I'll fill in the little things." His green eyes twinkled as he continued. "I heard about what you guys are gonna be doing, and I wanted to actually see it first hand. There are a lot of things that Alpha Prime people do that don't really make sense from outside, so I'm gonna live here now and help out while I'm learning."
"Kewl, welcome to insanity! How long are you gonna stay?" Tracy asked.
Daivik laughed. "I figure that if I hang around until your great-great-great grandkid's great-great-great grandkids get too old to be able to reproduce, I might start to figure things out. So I might be here a few decades!"
"Did I mention that his family was more than willing to let him torture another planet for a while so they could take a vacation?" Cameron quipped.
"Give the guy a body and he suddenly thinks he's a comedian!" Daivik giggled as he stuck his tongue out at Cameron.
Tracy thought for a minute; based on the fact that Daivik was about the size of a ten-year-old human, his experience on Archnania told him that Daivik was the equivalent of a fourteen-year-old human. "Seriously, welcome to the family dude. You probably know more than I do right now about what we're gonna be doing."
"Actually, I'm coming into this blind; Kyle told me I had to do it that way to keep from messing things up." Daivik replied seriously. "Sometimes being a high race is a real pain in the butt!"
"You'll do great, I wouldn't have agreed to you coming with me if I had thought otherwise." Cameron commented, getting a smile from Daivik in reply. "Does anyone have any questions?"
"Just so everyone knows," Karl asked, "I'm pretty sure I understand it from our talk before you started, but would you mind telling the rest of the guys how this all worked out?"
"Sure." Cameron replied. "What happened is that Uncle Marc twinned me, then moved my nanotronics into this body. He says that if he understands Uncle Mikey right, that means my soul is still with me. He brought my twin back up after adding some stuff into his program so he knew that he wasn't the original Cameron, he's my twin brother with all of my memories pre-transfer. Him and I actually had a talk before I left; he likes being my twin, and is going to use the same name so that we can mess with people. Uncle Caleb had a new toy that he made that we're trying out. What it does is give me and Cam a twin-link like human twins got, so we can talk to each other on a private channel kinda."
"Isn't it weird being in a body after being in charge of an entire complex?" Jon asked.
"It's different, I'll admit that." Cameron replied with a smile. "This is a lot more complicated, really. If I wanted to open a door before, I just told the electronics to open it. Now I have to coordinate a whole bunch of muscles to reach out and push the button."
"I don't think about the muscles, I just do it though." Teddy stated, his head tilted in wonder.
"Caleb says it is a side-effect of my base program as a systems controller," Cameron explained. "A lot of things that most people just think about, I actually mentally map each step of it. One example is smiling; I've figured out seven different sequences which will end up with the same result so far."
Scott looked at Cameron in wonder. "Do you realize what you're doing, Cam?"
"You're coming up with ways that might help kids who are unable to do some stuff because of damage from abuse. Nobody really understands the internal workings of a body like that; the stuff that you figure out might give a kid a somewhat normal life."
"Way to go, Bro!" Tracy said as he gave Cameron another hug. "You're already starting to act like a Butler kid."
Cameron's blush said more than any words. Changing the subject, he announced "All of you are already registered in the Compound computer. The system here actually does two scans; the first one is done at the start of the ramp. If there are no cleared personnel in the group, the floor runs backwards, making it really hard to get to this point. If they do make it here, or the system detects any actions that signal that the authorized persons in the group are escorting the others under duress, the room is equipped with over thirty different ways to make sure the offending party ends up in the brig, which is right below here. Cam and I put a lot of work into this new system, if we don't run into any bugs in it we are going to recommend it be rolled out to all of the Clan installations."
Jon giggled. "I trust you, Cameron; but I'm still gonna start a pool as to which one of us ends up tripping the system first and ends up in the brig!"
"Go for it!" Cameron giggled. "I want you guys to try to break it! If you break it now, I ain't gotta fix it later!"
That caused quite a few giggles, which grew into laughter when Arron asked "How in the heck do we get outta this room and inta the rest of the place?"
"You walk through the door, goof! Didn't I say that all of you are cleared already?" Cameron giggled.
Arron stuck his tongue out at Cameron, then broke into a sprint towards the door. Being eight became an advantage, as the door was only partially open as he plowed through the small gap.
"C'mon y'all, if there's more cookies in there he'll eat them all!" Karl giggled as he took Tracy's hand and went through the door at a much more normal pace.
The boys entered the large round room, and lined up along a railing as they looked over their new toys. The back of the room was a raised balcony that curved around ninety degrees on either side of the entry. From the point that each side of the balcony ended, the entire wall was the same polarized transparent aluminum as the tunnel had been made of, giving them an unobstructed view of the Atlantic ocean. Starting from the far wall, there were four semi-circular banks of workstations, each row four feet above the one in front of it. In the center of the room, there was a raised platform with three seats, each having four consoles set into the desk in front of them. Between the balcony and the center hub, tables and food replicators were set up, as well as some couches and recliners. Not seen by the boys, there were multiple 'overnight' rooms under the balcony.
"What's with the stuff in the center?" Rick asked.
"I think you'll only see that area being used if we're helping with an operation." Cameron explained. "Basically, it gives the guys running the operation a place where they can keep up with everything that is going on. Any one of us could end up sitting there at one time or another, if we do things here like Orlando does stuff."
"Kewl; Trace and Karl are one of us, I don't want them forced to play boss instead of working with us." Rick stated.
Cameron glanced over at Tracy and Karl; the looks of relief on their faces told him one of their unspoken worries had been resolved. "Don't worry, Rick; the clan don't work like that unless someone decides the position is needed and they do it themselves. Tracy and Karl are the leaders of our branch of the Clan family, when it comes to doing things in here, we'll find out who does what once we start working."
Tracy and Karl exchanged glances. Tracy spoke for both of them as he said "So that means that whoever is best at keeping the whole picture together is supposed to sit there?"
Cam shook his head. "Actually they can sit where they want, that station is just there for if they want to use it."
"Okay, we can live with that." Tracy replied. "Everyone go find a seat; last one to find a chair gets the Windows machine!"
"HELL NO!" the group exclaimed in unison as they all scrambled to find a choice seat at one of the consoles.
As each of them found a seat, the console in front of them came to life, setting up their initial login and adjusting seat and interface height to the most comfortable position for each of them. Within a minute, all of them were absorbed in the interactive configuration, each enjoying the chance to set their station up exactly the way they wanted it.Karl was surprised when a recess opened in his terminal, filling with water for Kermit to rest in. Davey's seat provided a small tree for Gazimo to 'hang out' on, complete with a tiny fruit dish. Travis found that his station provided a little play area for Arnie almost immediately.
"Hey Tracy!" Billy exclaimed, "my computer says I can install a buncha games! Is that okay?"
"Games?" Tracy asked as he looked at Cameron for help.
"Yes; they are designed to help him be productive while not boring him with terms that are way over his head. If we are in the middle of a project, the game will tailor his moves to assist in data mining or passphrase cracking. He'll also be providing the random seeds for anything which needs it for the rest of the users. Some of the other guys who are not up to full speed yet have games available too, as do those of us that can list fifty ways to crack a windows machine off of the top of our heads."
"Sweet! We get to have fun while having fun!" Tracy giggled. "Go ahead, Billy; anyone else that wants to load up games go for it. If you're playing a game, you're helping the rest of the team by giving true random input!"
They all went back to setting up. A minute later, they were interrupted by the local AI announcing "Incoming transport authorized by Orlando Headquarters."
"Does Seth EVER warn people?" Karl complained as him and Tracy started to get up.
"No he does not," the AI replied seriously.
Just then, the group from Naples appeared just inside the entry. Steve took a quick look around, then said loud enough for everyone to hear "Seth, I know you're watching somehow! It would be nice if you remembered to tell us who was in charge here BEFORE sending us over!"
"Don't feel bad!" Tracy commented. "We found out that you were arriving ten seconds ago, and still have no idea of who you are or why you are here!"
"Sirs?" the AI interrupted. "I might be of assistance here. I have been instructed by Orlando to assist in getting this installation online as quickly as possible. To quote Seth, 'the shit is hitting the plasma injectors'. At this time, his lack of following normal procedures is to be expected."
Adrian quickly interrupted. "Code Zulu Alpha seven fourteen one seventy six Zebra Oscar. Report status."
Tracy and Karl had just arrived at the group, and froze as they heard the AI reply "Command Override acknowledged. At this point in time, the Earth has been declared as under attack by extraterrestrial forces. The Terran Call has been issued. End report."
"CRAP!" Adrian shouted. He looked at the stunned faces around him, and was able to use his weak telepathic skills to gather names. "Bro, this is Tracy and Karl, Karl is the one with lighter hair. Y'all this commander of our team, Lieutenant Steve Mercer. Next to him is his partner and second in command, Second Lieutenant Dustin Mercer. A couple of us are telepaths, they'll handle introductions while we get wound up. Have any of you ever participated in a Clan operation?"
Rex held up his hand. "Have your telepaths get with me, I'll help them out. There are a few things they need to know. My brothers and I were rescued when Montana happened. Kyle certified me already."
Steve glanced at the expressions on Tracy and Karl's faces. "What is your specialty?"
"We hack computers; we don't save the world." Tracy replied, still in shock.
"Actually that's the best news I've heard yet." Steve replied. "This makes some sense; you're in command, but with your permission I think my team might be able to locate necessary targets while your team handles the dirty work. Little brother, I think it is time for me to cede command to you for this operation."
Adrian nodded. "Director Butler, do I have permission to assume the post of Command Center Operations Manager?"
"Permission granted." Tracy replied, now getting over his shock. "Just feed Karl and I the info, we'll distribute it around the Geek Squad." He turned and yelled "Billy! Fire up those games! We need some random numbers! Rex, you're head of the Carr team; let Adrian know if you need anything."
Cameron spoke up. "Frank is already in the darkroom underneath you, Adrian."
"Thanks." Adrian replied, pushing aside the nagging feeling that he recognized the voice until later. "I'm on the hot seat. Everyone else find a hole, we're about to go live."
Despite their earlier thoughts, Tracy and Karl made a quick decision.
"I've got left." Tracy declared.
"I've got right." Karl added.
Just then, Gabe, Travis, Jimmy, and Davey came running through the door. Tracy glanced at them and ordered "Find a seat, the Terran Call has went out. Adrian is Ops."
"Good choice." Gabe replied as they all ran past and headed for terminals, the group from Naples hot on their tails.
Just as soon as Tracy and Karl had taken their seats, they found that their station reconfigured itself to match their previous settings, including Kermit's pond being moved with him still in it. They both glanced over as they heard Adrian mutter "Oh Hell!", and saw all four of his screens flashing info in what looked like Vulcan.
"Intel Division, SET CONDITION RED." Adrian exclaimed as he caught up on the Clan's status. "Tracy, I'm giving you Northern Hemisphere, Karl you have Southern Hemisphere. Headquarters, Intel Division is hot. George, redirect all intel ops not specific to Headquarters to this location."
"You asked for it, Rat." George replied as the windows went black and began filling with projected status displays.
Adrian quickly scanned the windows. "Rex, you guys got Search and Destroy. Any network stuff that is over your head, pass to the Geeks. Anything that requires on-site response pass up here; we'll either pass it off to the nearest Division or assemble an away team. Des Moines is central refugee intake; anything on that subject goes directly to them."
"Got it." Rex replied as he started flipping through screens.
Tracy noticed a couple of things, and added "Cam, Teddy! You two have the world markets; keep them up. Double M's, Double A's! You're with me! The New York Exchange just went down; it's critical NOW. We are taking over host until it is back live."
As the six boys signaled that they had heard, Karl announced "The rest of you are with me; I'm taking both hemispheres to free up Trace."
Adrian smiled as he watched the two boys who never thought they could command anything suddenly take charge. "Greg, Nick! We're crashing into NORAD. Your training records look great from the training center; time to try it out live. You're on with my screen directly."
Gabe spoke up. "Me, Trav, Jimmy, and Davey just restarted Armed Forces communications control. We are primary for all military comms."
"Incoming message." Aedan yelled out. "Chicago Futures exchange just confirmed they are not going to open. Based on that announcement, we just received confirmation from the other worldwide futures markets that they are either not opening or are closed immediately. I'm switching to assisting monitoring stock market status."
"Thanks Gabe, thanks Aedan." Adrian replied.
The room temporarily fell quiet as everyone concentrated on their individual task. After a minute of silence, Tracy announced "Hamburg is closing London market by proxy. Tokyo is closing now. San Francisco is closing now. New York is closing now and expresses their thanks for the assistance. Russia and China never opened and state they will not open. All markets planet-side are now closed."
"Good job; that should help confidence when they re-open." Adrian replied. "I wonder if the FBI has anything that could help make sense of some of this junk I'm seeing?"
"One second, we'll find out!" Tracy chuckled as he quickly keyed in a string of seemingly random letters. "Okay, I'm logged in. Any particular area you wanna see?"
"How'd you do that?" Adrian asked with raised eyebrows.
"They got tired of me cracking their firewall, so they issued me a security clearance last month!" Tracy replied.
"Yeah, the new director thought I was joking!" Travis giggled from his seat. "You can thank me later for keeping you out of jail."
"Okay." Tracy replied, intent on watching the data on his screen. "Everyone listen up! Pass the word, the FBI has noticed and confirmed bogus intel is being distributed. Triple check all reports before accepting them as fact."
"Good call, Tracy." Adrian said just loud enough to be heard. His voice got louder as he added "I just got a message from Headquarters, guys. Seth says to tell you thanks and that you're doing a great job. We took enough of a load off of them that they are able to concentrate on the kids and first stage recovery now. Keep it up, I don't think we're anywhere near the worst yet."
Seth wiped his brow as he watched his Clan brothers once again stepping up to do things well beyond their ages. Yist was coordinating the 'Tribe', all of which were scrambling as runners to assist their older brothers. Teri's friend Bruce had taken up station on phones, assisting Jack, Fred, and Ryan with fielding calls from police stations in affected areas. Alec and Kelly were running the master consoles, passing information to whoever happened to be free. Every member from Camp Little Eagle who was not doing something else was present, lending a hand however they could. Jens was helping Seth by handling some of the overseas communication duties, while Antonio and Byron popped in occasionally for an update as they bounced from hospital to hospital, trying to keep things running and hopping into surgery as needed.
It had been close; Headquarters was barely treading water when Fort Lauderdale came on-line and began taking over the incoming traffic that was coming in too fast for Seth's crew to keep up with. The rest of the Clan was not in much better shape; Seth was sure that the new guys were going to be hearing 'thank you' for a long time.
'Here we go, I don't really want to know, but...' Seth thought to himself before stating "George, give me broadcast to all Divisional Command terminals."
"You're live, Boss." George replied.
"Seth to all Divisions. Status report please."
"General Shawn Douglas, Des Moines Operations." an adult voice responded immediately. "Downtown intake centers running at sixty percent capacity; satellite centers reporting seventy percent capacity. Compound parent teams at full strength and deploying within thirty seconds of confirmed need. Message from Grandma Morrison: if she finds out who ordered this attack, she is personally going to skin the creature alive and slow-roast him over an open fire until he stops screaming. Then she'll get mad. End message. Des Moines out."
"VSO Dragon's Nest," came an unknown adult male's voice. The severe lack of emotion in it made Seth think 'Vulcan' straight away. "All communications lost with Dragon Leads when they entered the null zone around Greater London. No communication with the Clan Patriarch. Fighting now inside England itself, with very few Romulans being revealed in Celtic forces. Small Earthquake detected, no localized event centre found. Snowdonia being evacuated due to signs of the extinct volcano, Snowdon, about to become active once more. If Voice were here I would believe he would say, 'Everything is just peachy'. If he were here. Dragon's Nest out."
"Ummm, Gulf Coast here, or that is what Jackie told me someone told him our division was called. Jackie asked me to answer the call for him. We are trying to organize a good portion of Vallée Plaisante at the school. We have all kinds of people, and every student in our Parish here. We are just getting word that we need to get to the levees and protect them. We have groups moving there. The oil rigs on the coast are under attack and we have other groups moving there. Someone even attacked our shrimp boats, and you don't mess with our shrimp! We may not know what the heck we are doing down here, but Jackie told me tell ya'll that we are going to kick some asses right back to where they belong. And since we have the whole school of kids to draw from, if you need help somewhere, just give us a holler. Gulf Coast out, or that's what I think I am supposed to say."
"This is Fort Lauderdale Intel Annex, Director Tracy Butler. Despite your best attempts, we are rocking and rolling here. Anyone needs support to reduce y'alls load in your command center, bring it on. Gulf Coast, we are organizing a dunking party for Seth once this is over; y'all are more than welcome to join the fun. Geek Squad out."
At that last transmission Talon answered, "You bring the dunkin' on down to the swamps and we will the supply the Cajun shrimp, we are always ready to party! Talon out." Just before he disconnected you could hear him yell, "You heard the boys, let's rock 'n roll."
"AI Division, Assistant Director Noah Barnes. We're holding on... barely. If anyone's got a spare doctor or ten, we could sure use them. Intel, we're in with you on the dunking party. Barnes out."
Jackie answered, "This is Jackie, just contacted our hospital here, they said they are sending six doctors and ten nurses your way."
"Thanks, Gulf Coast; that will help a lot. See ya' at the dunking party."
"This is Kaleo at Pacific Rim Division. Our Monarch and his family are safe here at Ewa Beach. The northwest tower of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki has teetered and crumbled to the ground. The last we heard from Keith, Prez is soaking his toasted biscuits in a medicated tub at the Rapid Response Base Hospital. That leaves me, my hubby, Tory, and Nathan Hayes in charge here. Ongoing at this time is an air and sea battle against a Warbird destined for San Francisco. I just got a thumbs up from our UNIT Detachment commander, indicating we've got the upper hand. We've got 'copters out to rescue pilots and seamen. The U.S.S. Meredith and the Royal Navy cruiser Blake have been sunk. I had this silly idea we might get to bed before three in the morning, for a change, but with refugees to deal with on top of all this other fun stuff, I guess that's pretty much shot. Can we coordinate Seth's dunking party with Hawaii Time Zone? If we can, thirteen of us are guaranteed in on that. All I want to know is why the Rimmers' parents get Valium and all we get are McCoy milkshakes? Something really needs to be done about that. Pacific Rim Division out."
"Camp Little Eagle, Chief Tecumseh. Teddy Bear Patrol fully deployed. Other Division resources assisting Headquarters. Charleston, stand by for fifteen more doctors and various other staff to assist. The Seminole Nation is at war; the Navajo nation has joined forces with us as of ten minutes ago, and will be assisting as needed. The Hopi nation declared alliance two minutes ago, and shall also be providing resources. Shrimp sounds good, I hope the Great Spirit has provided you a large harvest. Camp Little Eagle out."
There was a second of static, then a new voice was heard.
Ai_'Ssss.... isssn't it fun, child of man?'
Seth blinked. The voice came from the comm, but did not register on any systems.
'Hearing the hope in the voicccesss of thossse who have none left? Ssscramble and ssseek for a sssolution. You sshall find none. Our world ssshall return to usss... Ha'Thriesss ssshall be reborn... the infessstation of man shall die...'
"Who... what are you?" Seth asked, not really scared, just puzzled.
'The greatessst enemy you ssshall ever faccce. And thisss time, your Protectorsss and Defendersss are locked away... and even if they break free, we have the power now. Know our name... zKath...'
An obviously enraged Noah replied. "Great, now we know who we're gonna send to Hell, thanks for the update asshole!"
At the new Gulf Coast division, as AC and DC heard the strange voice come over the comms, they looked at each other, nodded and yelled, "and they will be Thunderstruck!"
"You can run, but y'all can't hide." Tracy added with a growl.
Way overtired and not in the mood for bullshit, Kaleo hollered, "Who the fuck was that lisping faggot snake in the grass?"
"He can zKiss my lily white assssss!" Tory screamed.
As the replies of the various Clan members poured in over the comm, all that could be heard from the strange, other-worldly voice was laughter. 'Courage.... we have always prizzzed courage. I will grant you thisss one thing, little apesss... we ssshall remember your courage. Now isss our time... look to your ssscreans and sssee your London... sssoon it ssshall burn, your leadersss burn... and your Cory shall live to the lassst. Hisss tearsss ssshall be the lassst of the Clansss' tearsss to fall...'
Then it faded away, but its ghostly laughter remained for a time.
Chief Tecumseh spoke loud enough to override the laugher. "Great Spirit, as your Warriors and Servants, we ask your blessings and assistance to return the Dark Ones who threaten us to their rightful prison once again."
"Amen!" echoed over and over from all of the Divisions.
As the communications closed, Seth reflected on what he had heard in the voices of his Clan-brothers after the strange voice had interrupted. The fright was gone, the unsure stumbling had vanished, and hope had given way to determination. The only thing that strange voice had accomplished was making things much more difficult for itself; the new Clan members as one just forgot all the things they had been told they couldn't do, and were now operating as one cohesive unit. The Clan was pissed, and Seth doubted if even death would stop any of them from ensuring Earth's victory.