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"Come in, Josiah!" said Maureen warmly. The judge hastened in and slipped off his topcoat, which Jonas hung in the hall closet for him. "Dinner's nearly ready."
"Your timing was perfect," Jonas added. "We just got back, ourselves."
"Oh?" said Josiah quizzically. "I wasn't aware you'd been away - and I saw almost no traffic on the way up."
"We were at Clan Headquarters in Florida, training," Harry said. "And the reason you didn’t see us traveling is that we were disembodied photons at the time - Starfleet transported us to and from."
"So you did formally join the Clan?" Jonas asked. "I remember them inviting you to, after that rather startling funeral service."
"Yes," Jonas answered. "The last couple days have been a real education for both of us."
Harry smiled. "That is really an understatement, Judge. It feels like I've been marking time for fifteen years, waiting for this." He stepped to Jonas's side and slipped his arm around the back of Jonas's waist; Jonas reciprocated with a warm smile and an arm across Harry's shoulders. Maureen paused in the dining room door and looked at the two boys, smiling knowingly.
"Actually, I have something I want to talk over with you two, a bit later, relative to what your group might be able to do. But let's not spoil one of your mother's magnificent dinners with shop talk."
"Josiah, you could charm the pants off that James Blaine statue," a blushing Maureen answered.
"If I were out to talk clothing off someone, my dear, it would not be old Senator Blaine's statue, but a much more charming young reporter woman." Josiah could not resist the chance to banter with her.
"C'mon, Harry, let's give them some privacy!" a grinning Jonas threw in.
"Now, you menfolks stop that!" Maureen answered, blushing and grinning at the same time. Jonas reached out and high-fived Josiah. "Come into the dining room and I'll take dinner up."
"Coffee, Judge Josiah? Mother?" Jonas asked as he cleared the table.
"Yes, please." "Of course." They responded.
Placing cups before them, a Coke at Harry’s place, and a Dr. Pepper for himself, Jonas re-seated himself. "I'm not sure where to begin. It was an unbelievable weekend. Southcrest is beautiful, the Short Compound is pretty remarkable when you consider it's all been built within the last couple of months. And the people.... You all thought Tanner was joking - he wasn't."
"You've got to pick up a copy of 16 Magazine next month," Harry threw in.
"Isn't that the magazine about boy actors and singers, for lovestruck teenage girls?" Maureen asked. "Why would we want that?"
"Because Billy Pierce did a shoot for them while we were there, a profile of Aaron and David, and they had me and a boy named CD posing as backup players in a few shots."
"Aww, geez, can I have your autograph, Har'?" Jonas teased him.
"This is probably the most outwardly impressive thing, though," he continued, lifting his shirt to show a holstered phaser and communicator clipped to the waist of his jeans.
"You said 'outwardly impressive,' Jonas," Josiah picked up on the turn of phrase. "I take it there's something else that impressed you more?"
"Yeah, Judge Josiah,” Jonas said. “They went through the history of every boy there, from the first four of them right down to Jed, C.J., and the six boys they've rescued since then. And by the time Sean was done telling what had happened to all of them, I was in tears. Then we talked about our legal authority and responsibilities under the Safe Haven Act and the Clan Charter. And that was really an eye-opener - we’re legally authorized to carry these now, and to step in whenever we see a child at risk - refer them to you, judge, if you can act, and intervene ourselves if there’s a reason you can’t. And then this group that’s been through Hell together and found the way to fight back, took Harry and me as their brothers. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say what that meant to me."
"I can only imagine what that must have been like," Josiah answered. "But that brings me to the particular custody cases that I've had on my mind this week. Maureen, you remember the McKendrick accident last weekend, right?"
"I certainly do! That was perhaps the most difficult bit of reporting I’ve had to do in some time."
"Well, la Oakridge placed them," Josiah went on, "if you can call it that. When I went to see if they were happy with what she'd done, I found out that she'd never asked them a thing. She'd simply found an institution and two families and dealt out the boys to them, one to a customer. And all three are angry and sullen at 'the system' - and I cannot blame them. Here are their files," he concluded, placing the information on the table.
"Can we look at that, I mean legally, are we allowed to?" Harry asked.
"Certainly. It's not part of a 'case or controversy' as we lawyers refer to it - meaning it's not confidential as part of a lawsuit. It *is* confidential private information regarding the boys, but I'm a judge speaking to people who qualify as expert consultants - the three of you - and can override that privacy restriction."
"My problem is that Elvira has come up with placements that are individually outwardly plausible, not totally erroneous ones, and as the Town Welfare Officer she has the prerogative to do that. There are specific grounds for me to override her, and while each of these has a half dozen reasons why it's not right for the boy in question, none of the objections rises to the level of the grounds I'd need in order to reverse her decisions from the bench.
"That's why I've brought them to show you all - I hope you can find a reason to ask Mrs. Short to step in, because I consider what Elvira did to be a travesty of justice - but, unfortunately, not one I can overturn."
"She’s putting a 16-year-old in the County Extended Care Facility?" Maureen asked incredulously as she looked through Mickey’s file. "Warren Bliss is the youngest man in there, after his stroke, and he's 53! I’m not a social worker, but it doesn't take anything but common sense to see what's wrong there."
"What's the issue with the eight-year-old being put on a farm?" Jonas asked.
"It's another of those frustrating things," Josiah answered. "On the surface, nothing. But young Raphael doesn't want to be separated from his brothers and his friends, there are no boys anywhere near his age on neighboring farms, and the Samuelsons have a boy in college and two teenage daughters and no other children. It’s just a horrible fit as far as placement goes, but one that conforms to the legal standards enough that I can't override it."
"What the FUCK?!?" Harry shouted. "She's putting Jared with the *Eccleses*?!?!"
"Harry Johnson, watch your language in this house!" Maureen said. "Chill, dude," Jonas added.
"Negative, uh-uh, no," said Harry with fire in his eyes. "Look here, Jonas!"
"Oh, shit!" Jonas said, as he looked where Harry was pointing. “Judge Josiah, what do you know about the Eccles’ beliefs?”
"Not much," Josiah answered. "Elvira noted that they were a good devout Christian family who would be good role models -- she had Jared classified as having behavioral problems, but I'm skeptical of how much background she did beyond what they put on the foster family form."
"Let me tell you about the Fundamentalist Church of Christ," Jonas said angrily. "They are nothing but a cult. When we beamed out of Orlando a couple hours ago, the Clan had just accepted custody of two boys of nine and ten who had been systematically brainwashed by that church for nearly six years. They'd rescued a three-year-old who had been kidnapped, literally, by the church, held hostage for his parent's good behavior. And the FCC had infiltrated several government agencies and was subverting them to do its work for it."
"I read the transcript of what Jamie and Jacob found in those boys' minds, and I went and threw up afterwards," Harry said.
"Mother brought me up to be respectful to adults generally, and you in particular, Judge Josiah," Jonas told him, "but I’m telling you right now that Jared is *not* going to that home, regardless of what you decide."
"We can use Article 12 to intervene,” Harry said. In a toneless, Vulcan-like voice, he quoted from memory, "Article 12: Mental Abuse. Section 12.1: Brainwashing or mentally programming children to believe that there is only one religious or social belief system contrary to the actual status of same in the predominant societal structure of the local area. Section 12.2: Isolation of children from their peers and normal socialization. 12.2(a): Deliberate isolation for purposes of depriving children of necessary social skills. 12.2(c): Any history of actions which prevent children from being afforded the same freedoms and opportunities afforded the general populace of the same age Section 12.3: Depriving children of necessary interaction with close family members without justification. 12.3(a): Examples include Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, or other relation recognized by the local society."
"Section 17.15 is applicable, too," Jonas added. "It makes it an offense to isolate children from their siblings. And Josiah can take action against Ms. Oakridge under Section 81.2: Failure of the appropriate authorities to take the actions necessary to protect the children under their authority."
"Um, where in the world did you two memorize sections of law over a weekend?" Maureen asked. Jonas and Harry looked at each other and then just grinned at her.
"So where are the boys now?" Jonas asked Josiah.
"They are in the hospital tonight - due to be released tomorrow and placed in their new homes. But Jared is still bedfast with his broken leg, and of course Mickey will never walk again."
"There’s not much time," Harry said. "Aunt Maureen, Judge Josiah, will you agree to help us?"
"Why, certainly." "Of course, Harry."
"Well, here's what I have in mind: we spring them from the hospital tonight, then tomorrow Judge Josiah brings up the cases formally in court, and we intervene there and get it on record."
"What do you mean, 'spring them,' Harry?" asked Josiah.
"We simply go in, escort them out, and bring them back here," Harry said matter-of-factly.
"You can’t just take people from the hospital like that!" Maureen said horrified.
"Actually, Harry’s right," Josiah said. "Several times I've had to issue bench warrants authorizing someone, usually a Sheriff's Deputy, to release someone from the hospital, usually in a custody case where one side has gotten the hospital staff on their side. I take it you'll want me to do that?"
"Well, no, actually, Judge Josiah," Jonas told him. "It happens that in this particular specific circumstance Harry and I have powers that supersede yours - provided that it's logical or in accord with the Safe Haven Act for us to intervene as Clan members."
"Don’t be gettin' too big for your britches, there, son," Maureen said. "I'll not have ye sassin' Josiah."
Harry and Jonas both drew deep breaths, started to speak, and stopped. Josiah noticed. "What the boys are saying, Maureen, is that they have the legal power to intervene - just as the boys from Florida did ten days back for the Templeton kids. And that where I am blocked from doing the right thing by procedural statute, they have the authority to go ahead and do what I would like to.
"You may count me in on your plans, gentlemen." Josiah grinned reminiscently. "I haven't been in on a nighttime raid like this since college; thank you for bringing back a touch of my youth."
"You’re siding with them, Josiah?" asked a shocked Maureen.
"Of course, my dear," he said. "How many times has Jonas told me about you drilling it into him that he should never be afraid to stand up for what's right? If I had it in my power, I'd be using my court to do the right thing - but, as Shakespeare said, the law can be an ass. The boys have a way to do the right thing legally which isn't available to me, and so I'm backing them."
"Oh," said Maureen. She paused in thought, then grinned. "Well, gentlemen, 'tis sure you’ll be needing someone to drive your getaway car on this escapade. And what would my ancestors who thumbed their noses at the Sassenachs be thinkin' if I were to stay at home and let the menfolk have all the fun?"
Jonas beamed. "I knew you'd see it our way, Mom!"
"Boys?" said Josiah. "Are you remembering that your rescue includes two boys that aren't able to walk?"
"Sh... sugarbush!" said Jonas. "That's going to be a problem."
"I know how to move them around," Harry said with a grin. "Eli. But he can’t move 'em all the way up here, and back tomorrow."
"We probably need intelligence, too," Jonas said.
"Intelligence?" his mother asked.
"Telepaths, like little Jacob," Jonas explained.
"As far as transport goes, what about Skipper?" Harry asked.
"Skipper?" Josiah asked.
"He's our EMT," Maureen explained. "And I'm certain he'd help."
"Definitely," Jonas agreed.
"How are you so sure?" Josiah asked.
"He's fierce on the subject of kids being forced into roles they haven't chosen, owing to his own past," Maureen explained. "He's a local boy, and some misguided therapist thought it would be a good idea to take him from his parents and put him into a mental health program. He and they fought that and won.
"Then he joined the Navy fresh out of high school, and his parents' car slid into the river with them in it one slippery winter night. They lived next door to Grace Martin and her son Bobby, and for years he and Bobby were the next thing to big and little brothers. When Skipper left the Navy, with full emergency medic training, Grace opened her home to him. Then Pete Magnan, our EMT, answered a mutual aid call and got severely burned, to the point he needed to retire, and the Selectmen hired Skipper as his replacement. He's been taking Bobby along and training him, and at 14 he's expert at first aid and probably could pass the basic EMT test. And the two of them are inseparable.
"Bobby came out at age 13," Harry tossed in, "and the school bullies were giving him a hard time. That stopped suddenly when Skipper showed up at school one day. One of the bullies went through a chain-link fence, another found himself dangling a foot off the ground by his shirtcollar, with a six-foot-two Navy veteran telling him what would happen if he said one more thing to Bobby that upset him, and he made him believe it."
"I'll contact the Clan," Jonas said. "Mom, why don't you call Skipper?" He detached his communicator from his waist, and activated it.
"McConnaghay to CIC."
"Hey, Jonas. Justy here. What’s up?"
"We've just been talking with Judge Brewster here - your brothers met him on Jed and C.J.'s extraction - and it looks like the Clan's help is needed again."
"I thought John and you guys got rid of the guy that was making the trouble."
"Well, yeah - he's off on a prison planet. But our local welfare worker was one of his minions, and she's trying to do placements for kids that are just plain wrong - a teenager in an old folks' nursing home, and one boy with an FCC family."
"WHAT!! We’re just dealing with a couple interventions here that the FCC is at the bottom of. You have full Clan authority behind you; get him out of there! What help do you want from us?"
"We can wing it with what we have here, if we get Eli to help move the two boys who can't walk, plus one telepath to document the grounds to intervene officially."
"I'll send 'Bastian - he'll want to go with Eli anyway. Let me have names for our records here - that'll help cover you if anything goes wrong."
"Okay, it’s Mickey Harmon McKendrick, 16; Jared Scott McKendrick, 13; and Raphael Erskine McKendrick, 8. The last one is 'Raffy' to everyone."
"Jared, you said? Just a minute. Don't sign out." Justy left the terminal he’d been working at, and Jonas waited impatiently.
"That's what I thought. Jared is a friend of Jed's, and Jed had another of his precog. dreams about him getting hurt, and needing help. He talked to Dan about it; I thought the name rang a bell. I'm going to send him up too."
"Great. I'll just wait on them beaming in, then. Thanks, Just'."
"Any time, dude. Dodds out."
Justy went into action. First, he called out for Alec, and quickly briefed him on Jonas's call. Then to the terminal.
"C.I.C. to A.I. Division."
"A.I. here; Furst speaking."
"Hey, Marc, it’s Justy. Can you spare Eli and 'Bastian for about twelve hours?"
"No problem. Eli’s operation is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, if six other crises don't intervene. We've just had a couple of new cases come in. They're just trying not to get nerved up about it. Having something to do will take their minds off it."
"Good enough - have them beam up to Jonas's home in Maine. The Lafayette transporter stage has the coordinates from last week. Jed'll be joining them."
"Hey, Eli, 'Bas', get over here! You two mind helping Jonas and Harry with something?"
"They’re extracting three boys, and two of them won't be able to walk - so they need Eli. And they need a telepath to handle intelligence - so 'Bastian makes sense to cover that."
"We'll do it." "What he said." "Fine by me, Justy."
"Okay, thanks, guys. Why don’t you alert the Lafayette to beam you up, and meet up with Jed in orbit and beam down together?"
"Sounds good. A.I. Division out."
Picking up a phone, he called Jed’s home. "Hi, Rina. It's Justy from the Clan. Is Jed right there?"
"Sure, just a minute and I’ll get him on the phone.” The usual off-phone noises, and then “Hey, Justy, what's up?"
"You said you were about ready to take part in Clan stuff, when you were here talking with Dan, right?"
"Yeah, but I figured Cory would want to OK it before I started."
"Well, I've got an extraction that I think you ought to be on. It's up in Arkham; Jonas and Harry are leading it. And the guys they're extracting are Mickey, Jared, and Raffy McKendrick."
"Jared!?!? I'm in, bro! Whose butt do I need to kick?"
"I don't have the details on that; it's Jonas and Harry's baby. Ask them, when you get there. Now, go throw on something warm in a hurry, and let me know when you’re ready."
Justy turned back to the terminal, called the Lafayette transporter stage, and patched them into the phone call.
"Ready," said Jed.
"Talk to you later," Justy said.
"Hang up your phone and stand straight; I'll beam you right up," came from the Lafayette's transporter deck.
Justy turned his attention back to what he'd been doing on the terminal when Jonas’s call came in. "Man, look at the sweet butt on that boy," he said to himself.
"Skipper said they’ll be right over," Maureen reported. "I told him it was a patient transport to protect some kids from bureaucrats; he's in on it without knowing details yet."
"The way I figure this," Harry said, "is that we need to rescue them from the hospital tonight, before Ms. Oakridge sends them to their new homes tomorrow. But it's not enough for the Clan to take custody, or whatever - we'll be seen as a bunch of kids locally, and I figure they're going to want to stay here. So, if Maureen will put up with it, we bring them back here and camp out here for the night. Then, tomorrow, Judge Josiah holds court and he and Jonas sort the custody issue where people will hold it in respect legally."
"Very good thinking," Josiah commented. "What validates legal decisions in the public mind is respect for the law; using that *for* you instead of fighting it makes sense. But why have Jonas sit with me, instead of you or one of the Clan leaders from Florida?"
"Simple," Harry answered. "We aren’t getting Clan leaders; they're up to their butts in alligators with other incidents already. It's going to be the Arkham guys and a couple special talents pulling this off - and between us, we can do it. As for why Jonas, I've been close to him for almost a decade now, and he's a natural leader, the sort of person that others listen to, even adults. I could suggest we do something, back when we were 10 or 11, and have it laughed at; let Jonas suggest the same thing, and everybody thinks it's a great idea. Like you said, Judge Josiah, leverage what you’ve got. If Jonas has charisma and natural leadership, use it to sell the idea to others.”
Jonas was staring at his best friend with wide eyes. "I never realized that!"
"Fish don't notice they're in water, either, bro. You do it naturally, and that’s what counts."
The doorbell chimed and the familiar shimmer in the air portended the arrival of the transporter group, nearly simultaneously. Maureen went to let Skipper and Bobby in.
"Let me introduce everyone,” Jonas said as the group settled down. “Next to me here is Harry Johnson, my best friend and partner. We're both brand new to the Clan, did our training just this weekend. To his left is Josiah Brewster, who's Family Court Judge for this county, and the guy who called the Clan in on this intervention. Trying to look like she’s not snuggled up to him is my mother, Maureen McConnaghay. Judge Josiah and Mom are providing transport and working with us, but it's a Clan operation.
"Next is Jed Templeton, who's a Clan member from here in Arkham, now living in Florida. Jed, from what Justy said, you were close to Jared, right?"
The chestnut-haired 12-year-old blushed. "We were best friends."
'Bastian smiled warmly at Jed. "And I've checked; nobody in this room has the slightest problem with the fact that your feelings were a lot stronger than friendship."
Jed's blush deepened, and he ducked his head. "Yeah," he said softly.
"So that means you should take the lead on extracting Jared," Jonas said. "We’ll need Eli for both, so we’ll get Mickey after you and he get Jared."
"Over on the loveseat," Jonas continued, "are Skipper Hamilton and Bobby Martin." Eyes swiveled to see a large, muscular 20-year-old with short brown hair, and a fairly small boy of 14 with dirty blond hair and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Skipper is our local EMT, and he and Bobby were the guys who extracted the guys physically from the wrecked vehicle. Bobby's Skipper's other half - little brother, partner on the EMT service, you name it." 'Bastian’s eyes grew large.
"Finally, over here on my other side are 'Bastian Martin and Eli Michaels.” The two ten-year-olds waved. 'Bastian's platinum blond hair and sky blue eyes were captivating, but attention lingered on Eli. First, his grey eyes, then his shoulder-length sandy brown hair. But as one's eyes followed the length of the hair, one's attention was arrested by the right sleeve of his sweatshirt, which hung limp. He leaned up against 'Bastian on that side, and 'Bastian's arm was wrapped around him.
"Harry," Jonas continued, "you put together the plan for this; why don’t you fill everyone in?"
"The gist of it is fairly simple," Harry said. "We drive to Farmington, to the hospital, from here, in two cars and an EMT unit, get the boys and bring them back here, then take them to court, back in Farmington, in the morning. From the point of view of law, we're doing it as a Safe Haven extraction - but for anyone who isn’t impressed by a bunch of boys who think they have legal powers, we have Judge Josiah along. For anyone who didn't know already, the town welfare worker has come up with totally lousy placements for all three boys, and there's a technicality that keeps Josiah from being able to overturn her, so we’ve got to do it by SHA.
"I know we can handle this by beaming them around using Starfleet transporters, but the way I'm thinking, mysterious disappearances are not going to make much of a legal statement. I want us to 'do it the hard way,' so to speak, so that we make 100% clear the fact that Mickey and Jared's rescue will have been done completely in accord with the law of the land, so that they can live as much of a normal life here in Arkham afterwards as is still possible for them.
"If we do run into trouble," Harry finished, "I've got two security from the Lafayette standing by, to beam down on my 'Hey, Rube!' But I think we can do this without invoking transporters or Starfleet security at all. Questions?"
"Not a question," 'Bastian said. "Just making sure we're on the same page: you expect me to do the Vulcan witness bit, right?"
"Yep," said Harry. "Sorry I didn’t mention that. I need telepathic confirmation of what they told Josiah - that they had no choice in their placements, and hate them - and the usual stuff about us acting in accord with the SHA. Check?" 'Bastian smiled and nodded.
"Then let’s do it," said Jonas. "Harry, you and Josiah talk with whoever's in charge. Mom, you'll want to be with them in your reporter capacity, I think. I'll go see Mickey -- he's an old friend -- and you three handle Jared and Raffy." They all proceeded out the door to the vehicles, and drove off into the gathering night.
Jared was about cried out. Mr. and Mrs. Eccles had come to visit him, and made it quite clear what he could expect when they took him tomorrow - he refused to call it 'taking him home.' The one time he'd dared to argue with them, Mr. Eccles had slapped him in the face so hard his ears rang. Then he'd drawn back a fist, to be stopped by Mrs. Eccles in words that still sent a chill through him: "If you hit him here, the nurses will call it child abuse. Wait until you get him home."
'If I could only walk,' he thought, 'I could get out of here, start running, and never come back. They say I’ll never see my brothers again anyway. But no, I'm tied down with this broken leg. If Dad was alive, he'd save me. If Mickey hadn't given up, he'd save me, even if he can't walk any more either.'
He scrunched his eyes closed and prayed aloud. "God, I don't know why you took Dad and Ma, but let them know I still love them, and I miss them. Please take care of my brothers. If you can save me from the Eccles, I'll do whatever you want. And please, let Jed know I love him, and someday I'll find him and go to be with him."
"Well, if you'll open your eyes and stop praying," said Jed, "we'll get you the flock out of here."
Jared's eyes flew open to see his grinning friend standing at the foot of his bed, flanked by two younger blond boys. "Jed, is it really you? I'm dreaming, right?"
"Well, you could always kiss him," one of the younger boys said with a smirk. "In the stories, that always wakes people up from a dream."
Jed blushed. "I don't know if he wants that kind of relationship from me."
"Trust me, he does," said the other younger boy. "I know you two deserve to play this out with a 'I'll show you my feelings if you show me yours,' but we don’t have *time* for that - I'm having enough trouble heading the nurses off by planting suggestions of things they ought to be doing that don't involve this room."
"Okay, then," Jed said, walked up to alongside Jared's chest, leaned over, and planted a firm kiss on his lips. Ka-CHING went Jared’s nervous system.
"Whoof! We need to talk about that later," Jed said. "For now, are you ready to leave?"
"This isn't really happening, is it?” Jared said. “It's like every dream coming true."
"Sorry, dude. Lots of your dreams aren't. Your parents are dead, and that's one thing we can't fix. But I know how you feel, and you get the economy version rescue, without eagles or angels. I'm Eli, by the way. And I'll be your attendant on this flight."
"Don't worry about it," Jed said, brushing Jared's hair back from his forehead and smiling lovingly at him. "Eli's got a straaange sense of humor."
"Got what I need," 'Bastian said, tapping his head. "Here's a wheelchair, with one leg support up for his cast."
"Okay, alley-oop," Eli said, levitating Jared smoothly off the bed.
"What the *heck*?" a startled Jared said.
"We'll explain *later*," Jed said. "Just trust us for now."
"Oooh, cute butt!" 'Bastian said, as it became visible under the hospital gown.
"Watch it," Jed said, blushing and grinning at the same time. "That butt is taken!"
Eli floated Jared over to the wheelchair and lowered him into place. Jed opened a closet door and checked. "No clothes here, just a bag with his belt and billfold." He handed that to Jared. "Get a blanket and drape it over him."
"And just what do you think you're doing?" a large, hefty nurse in a starched white uniform said from the door of the room.
"Checking him out of here in accordance with the Safe Haven Act," Jed answered more calmly than he felt. "This is a Clan Short extraction of boys at risk."
"You get away from him and stand there while I call Security," the nurse said.
"I *don't* think so," said a wrathful-looking Skipper, walking up behind her. "Here's a bench warrant from Family Court, signed by Judge Brewster and countersigned by the leading Federation Youth Services official for this area, authorizing Jared's release. Now I suggest you move out of the boys' way before you get arrested for interfering with Federation law." He reached out, took her arm firmly, and walked her away from the doorway.
"Okay, now for Raffy," Jed said. "You know what room he's in, Jare'?"
"433, I think," Jared said, still rather stunned by what had happened.
"Over here," Bobby said, motioning them through a short cross-corridor and to a room on the opposite side of that wing.
"Hey, short stuff," Jed addressed Raffy as they entered the room. "Get up and get dressed; we're blowing this firetrap!"
"Jed! I thought you was gone!" Raffy said.
"Well, I was, but wingnut here decided to get himself laid up, so I had to come get you guys," Jed teased them.
"There they are," said the hefty nurse to the security guard with her.
"Freeze!" he said, drawing his sidearm.
"Tell me you did not just draw a pistol on a group of preteen boys," Skipper said angrily.
"Sir, this is a Safe Haven Act extraction under Federation law by Clan Short. Please do not interfere," said Eli. The security guard grabbed Eli's shoulder and yanked him into a hold that was apparently supposed to be restraining him. The effect, however, was to dislodge Eli's prosthetic leg, which fell off. Eli then levitated it and kicked the security guard in the jaw with it, slipping from his grip at the same time.
'Bastian had dropped back into a neighboring room and pulled out his communicator, calling the Lafayette for help. Moments later an ensign from Starfleet security materialized in the corridor. "Hold it right there," he said with a steely voice.
"Thank God you're here!" said the nurse. "These young hooligans were trying to kidnap two boys from this hospital."
"I was talking to *you* and Joe Rent-a-cop here," the Starfleet man said with menace. "Sebastian, fill me in."
"We're doing a Safe Haven extraction of Jared McKendrick here," 'Bastian said, pointing to Jared, "and his brothers."
"Did you identify yourselves as Clan Short?"
"Yes, Jed did just that, and we also presented the nurse with a bench warrant from the local judge with jurisdiction, ordering Jared's release."
"Drop that gun now," the ensign said to the security guard. "And don't even think you can outdraw me; this is a Starfleet phaser, and speed of light wins every time."
"If they'll just leave us alone, we need to get Raffy and his other brother, and take them to a safe space until court tomorrow. Do you think you can order them to let us be, and make it stick?" Jed asked.
"Oh, I don't think so," the Starfleet man said. "It looks to me like they've manhandled a crippled child going about his lawful duty, and interfered in a duly ordered intervention authorized by Federation statute. That's grounds to take them into custody even if you don't want to press charges."
"You’re going to believe that little hooligan over me?" said the nurse. "I demand to speak to your superior officer."
"Oh, you'll get that chance," the ensign answered. "He's on board the Lafayette right now, waiting for my report - along with *his* superior officer, who happens to be the 'little hooligan's' father." He activated his communicator with one hand. "Lafayette, three to beam up, two in custody."
"Ready at your command, sir."
"Energize." The ensign, the nurse, and the hospital security guard vanished in the usual columns of twinkling light.
"Wow!" said Raffy.
"Get dressed," said Jed, walking him into the room.
"Mister?" came a wan voice from the other bed. "Can you help me?"
The entire Clan contingent, and Skipper and Bobby as well, perked up their ears at that.
"What’s the matter, kid?" asked Skipper.
"My whole family's gone, and I'm gonna die soon, and I don't want to die in here," the boy answered, doing his best to keep a quaver out of his voice and be brave.
An older nurse in pink scrubs came down the hall just then. "Where’s Agatha and the security man she called? And just who are you boys, anyway? Skipper, Bobby, I know you; are they with you?"
"Yes'm," said Bobby. "Nurse Haggy and the security guy are about 30,000 miles that way, under arrest. These guys're from Clan Short, and they're makin' sure that Jared and Raffy and their brother don’t get sent to live with cruel people. They've got the judge's orders to do it."
"Well, good for them," she said. "I never heard of young boys being able to do that, but the world's changed so much, I'll believe it if you tell me so. You've always been honest with me, Bobby. I knew that Eccles was no kind of father for a boy like Jared, and little Raffy here didn't want to live on a farm. Maybe they can help you, Peter."
"What's the story with Peter?" asked Eli, strapping his leg back in place.
"I shouldn’t say in front of him…" the nurse began.
'Bastian interrupted her, a solemn look on his face. "Peter's nine; he's dying of a fast-acting cancer, and he knows it. His family are all dead; his step-aunt dropped him off at the hospital when he got sick, and left town without him. What he wants, more than anything, is to be with people who care about him, and have a little fun or do something meaningful before he dies - and he only has a week or so left."
"How'd you know all that!?" a wide-eyed Peter asked 'Bastian. 'Bastian simply pointed to his head in token that he was telepathic, an effect spoiled by a grinning Eli pointing to his head and making the swirling motion with his fingers that has been Boy code for "he's nutz" for many years.
"He's coming with us," Jed said decisively. "Anyone want to argue the point?"
"Really?" said a suddenly hopeful Peter.
"Absolutely," said ‘Bastian. "It's not only justified under Safe Haven grounds, but it has that sense of 'this is the right thing to do' that I've learned to recognize from Mikey's appearances."
"Ma'am?" asked Skipper of the nurse. "Would you be so kind as to do up any discharge paperwork the hospital will need, and get copies of the boys' medical records for the Clan's medical staff?"
"Certainly," the nurse said. "I take it Judge Brewster is authorizing this?"
"Yes, a combination of him and Federation officials. I gave Agatha the bench warrant ordering Jared's discharge."
"Just list it as being on the authority of Cdr. John Martin, Starfleet Security," 'Bastian said. "That will cover your problems with the bureaucracy, and I'll clear it with Pop that he authorized it later; I know he approves."
"Why, thank you, young man," the older nurse said with a warm smile. "I'll do what’s right for my patients, and take the flak if I need to, but it's nice to know someone understands how much grief we can get from paper pushers. It's surprising to see a boy your age so thoughtful about adult things like paperwork. But how do you know Commander Martin will approve it?"
"He's my adoptive father, ma'am, and we talked about things like this; I have his OK to give his name as authorization when it's something I know that he'll approve of when he gets the paperwork - it saves everyone time."
"Raffy's ready," said Jed. "Peter, you seem to be already dressed; what do you need to bring?"
"Have you got your morphine drip in place?" the nurse asked Peter. Smiling, he nodded his head yes. "Then run along with these folks, bright eyes, and I hope they can do more for you than we've been able to." She bent down and gave him a warm hug.
Peter picked up a small plush Barney doll. "It's the last thing I've got left from what my parents gave me when I was little," he said defensively to nobody in particular.
"Does Jared have any clothes here?" Jed asked the nurse.
"No, I gather his clothes had to be cut off him in the emergency room."
"Okay, thanks. We'll get some from his house later then. We'll be borrowing a wheelchair and a blanket for him until we can get them back to you."
With a warm smile, the older nurse watched them head for the elevators, with Skipper carrying Peter.
"Dammit, Jonas, I *do* appreciate your visit, but get off the 'keep your hopes up' bit. My life is over. I'm never going to walk again, tomorrow I go to the old folks' home, at age 16, and nobody can change that. I wish I could see my little brothers once, to say goodbye, before I go. But otherwise I've accepted it. It's over for me."
"Mickey, you don't know yet how *dead* wrong you are," Jonas said with a mixture of asperity and compassion. "You are *not* going to the nursing home, and you *are* going to be reunited with your brothers."
"It's a nice dream, Jonas, but I have to grow up and face facts. That's where the authorities are sticking me, whether I like it or not, and nobody's going to listen to what some kid wants."
"You'd be surprised, Mickey. But I won't argue it any more. I'll just sit with you until the rest of my gang gets here."
A gaunt nurse in starched whites with a pinched expression on her face stepped into the room. "I'll have to ask you to leave now, young man. Visiting hours are over."
Jonas pulled out his billfold, and extracted his Vulcan I.D. card. "No, ma'am, I’m sorry, but that won't be possible. Mickey here is under the protection of the planet Vulcan, and I've been detailed to remain with him as his security."
"A likely story!" the nurse said. "Now, be off with you!"
"Pick up that phone and call the shift supervisor's office," Jonas said. "Judge Brewster is there discussing the matter with your boss as we speak."
"I don't have to do that to know a prank when I see one," the nurse said. "Since you won't leave quietly, I'll just walk you out." She stepped forward and raised her arm to grab Jonas; he quickly drew his phaser and stunned her.
"Whoof!" he said, straining to lift her inert body and move it into a chair. "I didn't think anybody that skinny would weigh this much!"
"You're in trouble now," a shocked Mickey said.
"No, actually she is. But I don't think I'll press charges," Jonas smiled.
The party from the fourth floor arrived at that point. Raffy ran to the bed and threw himself onto Mickey, hugging him. "They wouldn't let me come visit you, Mickey," he said.
"I love you, little brother," Mickey told him, hugging him back.
"Are you ready to go yet?" Jed asked him.
"Go? I’m not going anywhere but to the old folks' home," Mickey said, his improved mood dropping to depression again.
"Whoa! Man, knock off that pity party!" Eli's grey eyes were flashing, his expression angry. "I came here to carry you down to the EMT unit that'll be giving you a ride, but if you plan to just give up and not fight for yourself, there's no sense in me doing that."
"Huh? Little bitty kid like you is going to move me, when I can't make my legs do anything?" Mickey was shocked out of his despondency to scoff at the idea.
"Jared, hang on." Eli lifted Jared's wheelchair, with him in it, up one side of Mickey's bed, across Mickey's legs hovering about twelve inches above them, and down the other side.
"Now, look," Eli continued. He kicked off his prosthetic leg and yanked his sweatshirt over his head with his one good arm. "I was ready to give up a month or so ago. I thought I was just gonna be a freak the rest of my life.
"Well, guess what? I've got more brothers than you can shake a stick at, I've found a role where I am doing something important to help people, and tomorrow, if all goes well, I'm supposed to have surgery to give me a new arm and leg, cyborged parts that an android would use, that will feel just like the real thing, to me and to everybody else.
"I don't have any idea whether the technology we've got access to will allow you to use those legs again - but I *do* know that there’s something important in store for you, something only you can do, and it doesn't depend on whether you can walk on the legs you started life with. But not, dammit, if you're going to just lie there and feel sorry for yourself. I ought to kick you in the ass and get you moving! In fact, I think I will!" And with that, Eli levitated his prosthetic 'pet leg' and 'walked' it over next to Mickey’s left hip, where it appeared to draw back and kick him in the hip. This little antic got everybody laughing, including Mickey - just as Eli had intended.
Bobby pushed a wheelchair in the door, and said, "C'mon, dude. The blond kid's right - Skipper and I didn't drag you out from under a log and your dad's bucket seat so you could lie here or in a bed at an old farts' home for the rest of your life. Get your butt in gear!"
"You guys are serious, aren't you?" Mickey said.
"Serious enough to get Starfleet to bring me back here from Florida, and these guys with me," said Jed. "You matter to people, Mick' - and not just to Raffy and Jare'."
"You know, it's kind of full circle," Jonas said bemusedly. "Remember when we were shooting hoops after school two weeks ago, Mick? Jed's the guy I found in the bushes, scared out of his wits..."
"Literally," interjected Jed.
"...And if it wasn't for that, there'd be no choice but to let you go to the County Home. But that opened the door to a new life for Jed, for Harry, and for me - and it can for you and your brothers too. Are you ready to take a chance? I'm pretty sure you'll like the results, whatever they turn out to be," Jonas's smile was warmly encouraging.
"C'mon, bro!" Jared's first contribution to the discussion was startling. "If nothing else, we can have wheelchair races!"
"I have no clue what you guys are up to," Mickey said, "but it has got to be an improvement over lying here and feeling sorry for myself. Sure I’m game."
"Okay, then, dude. Just don’t freak," Eli said, and began levitating Mickey from the bed into the wheelchair.
"There they are!" A Security guard advanced menacingly on the boys as they emerged from the elevator.
"This is a Clan Short intervention as provided for under the Clan Charter issued by the Vulcan High Council and in accordance with Article 200 of the Federation's Safe Haven Act. Please stand back and do not interfere," recited Jonas, knowing it was unlikely to do any good but would at least provide formal 'being informed' status.
"Like you expect me to believe that?" The security guard scoffed.
“I think you’d better,” said Judge Josiah Brewster in an icy voice, as he emerged from the hospital’s administrative-office complex with the shift administrator, along with Maureen and Harry.
"Ah, there you are, Marie," said the administrator as a harried young woman carrying a laptop computer came rushing in from another corridor. "Josiah, I am not at all happy about this midnight raid with a bunch of children. I do want to put that on record. But from what you and young Mr. Johnson here have shown me, I have to accept that it's on the straight and level. Marie, the judge here is going to preside over an informal session of court here in our lobby, and you as a medical transcriptionist are the closest thing we have to a court reporter. I want a formal record made of what goes on.”
“Sir, over and above the actions we will be taking to extract four boys from your facility," Eli said, "it will be necessary for us to borrow two wheelchairs and one blanket. These will be returned in good condition when they can be replaced for the boys by FYS-issue material, but in the interim, if you choose not to take my word that they will be returned, you can submit a voucher for reimbursement to the Federation Youth Services Hospital, Charleston, South Carolina, and they will be paid for."
"Thank you, young man," the administrator said with cynical asperity. "And what am I supposed to do when they reject that voucher as some sort of practical joke?”
"Well, they won't, in the first place. In the second place, if someone did, you could complain to my father, Dr. Austin Michaels, Director of Federation Youth Medical Services. And in the third place, do you make a habit of accusing every young person who tries to ensure your property is properly dealt with of lying?"
"Chill, Eli," said Jonas. "I'll tell you what, sir, since you are doubting the word of my brother here, send the bill to me, Jonas McConnaghay of Clan Short of Vulcan, at my address in Arkham. I'll ensure it gets paid. I'll also make sure Ambassador Sarek hears that you called the honesty of one of his grandsons into question. What happens to you for causing that sort of interstellar incident, even if Sarek decides not to exact vengeance on you, I'd rather not think about."
"What?!" said the administrator.
"I think he was pretty clear in what he said, Don," said Josiah. "How many ten-year-olds would take into account that you're responsible for disposable property like blankets and wheelchairs? Eli thought of it, made sure you knew what to do to protect your responsibility, and you answered him with an insult to his honesty. And as I've been trying to make clear to you, this whole thing now involves the entire United Federation of Planets, since the State of Maine can't properly protect its own children. Jonas is right - if you don't want to accept Eli's word, you have escalated this into an interstellar incident, with the honor of the Planet Vulcan at stake, and from what I've seen of Federation cases, insulting the leading Vulcan on Earth by making an unsupported allegation against a member of his extended family is not a good move. At minimum, you lose this job, with any accrued benefits. At maximum, you get prosecuted - in Federation courts - for creating such an incident."
"Or you could apologize to Eli," Harry threw in. "Not that I’m trying to tell my elders what to do, but Mother always said that 'I'm sorry, it won't happen again' would work wonders to repair what you've done wrong."
"Are you serious, Josiah?" the administrator asked.
"Dead serious, Don," the judge answered. "And so are these boys. If I could have dealt with this, and if you weren't about to hand them over tomorrow to an incompetent welfare officer to deal out like junk mail flyers, none of us would be here. Oh, and by the way, if you don't tell your security man to put away that gun and stop pointing it at us, I'm fairly certain that he will need the services of your staff proctologist to recover it."
"Stand down, Bert," the administrator said to the security man, then, addressing Eli "Young man, it appears you were trying to help me and I've misjudged you. I'm still very concerned at this little late-night escapade, but I appear to have no choice but to take your word."
"Can we get this show under way?" a very tired Maureen asked.
"Certainly, my dear," Josiah answered. "Miss Marie, please take notes of the following as if it were medical dictation you were transcribing.
"Hear ye, hear ye - a joint emergency sitting of the Family Court of the County of Franklin and State of Maine, and the Clan Tribunal of Clan Short of Vulcan, is now in session. This session will handle only emergency custody issues; permanent decisions will be deferred for tomorrow's court session. Presiding are, for the Family Court, myself, Josiah Brewster, Judge of the Family Court, and, for the Clan, Jonas?" He nodded. "Jonas McConnaghay of Clan Short of Vulcan.
"In the matter of the custody of Mickey Harmon McKendrick, Raphael Erskine McKendrick, and Jared Scott McKendrick," Josiah continued, in his most judicial demeanor, "this court takes judicial notice of the gross inequities in the placements of these three boys proposed by Ms. Elvira Oakridge, Welfare Officer for the Town of Arkham. However, under State of Maine law, this court is not entitled to overturn those placements under the circumstances at hand. Therefore, on its own motion, this court has invoked the aid of Clan Short of Vulcan. Jonas?"
"Thank you, Judge. Mr. Martin, have you concluded your readings of the relevant persons?"
"No, sir," 'Bastian answered. "I have, however, established sufficient evidence of actual or planned violations of Articles 11, 12, 17, and 81 of the Safe Haven Act, from my readings of the three boys, to state for the record that intervention under the Safe Haven Act is fully justified under relevant Federation law. In addition, in at least one case the mandates of the Clan Short Charter would justify intervention and assuming of protection even without the Safe Haven Act. I do expect to have a complete report tomorrow morning. I, Sebastian Jeffrey Martin, a member of Clan Short of Vulcan, do hereby enter by reference into the record the report I will prepare on my telepathic readings relative to this case."
Jonas resumed, "In reliance on Article 200 of the Safe Haven Act and the Clan Short Charter as well, then, I, Jonas Patrick McConnaghay, a member of Clan Short of the Family of Sarek of the House of Surok of the Planet Vulcan, do hereby take temporary custody of Mickey Harmon McKendrick in behalf of Clan Short, superseding all placements and authority of the State of Maine and any other body claiming jurisdiction. Jed, do Jared." Jed blushed deeply, and Jonas chuckled, "I mean, invoke custody, like I just did. You can handle the other later." A ripple of laughter went throughout the group.
"I, Jeremiah Sarles Templeton, a member of Clan Short of the Family of Sarek of the House of Surok of the Planet Vulcan, in reliance on Article 200 of the Safe Haven Act and on the Clan Short Charter, do hereby take temporary custody of Jared Scott McKendrick in behalf of Clan Short, superseding all other claims on his custody."
"Harry, you want to make the claim for the little dude?" Jonas asked.
"Acting in reliance on Article 200 of the Safe Haven Act and on the Clan Short Charter, I, Harry Bertram Johnson, a member of Clan Short of the Family of Sarek of the House of Surok of the Planet Vulcan, do hereby assert temporary custody of Clan Short over Raphael Erskine McKendrick, and I supersede all other claims, assignments, or placements which may otherwise have been asserted."
"What’s that mean?" Raffy asked.
"Well, Raff," Jonas answered, "to make it as simple as possible, Jed and Harry and I, along with these two guys, 'Bastian and Eli, are members by adoption and blood-brotherhood of a subclan of an extended Vulcan family that has legal rights to intervene to protect boys. We just invoked the protection of the Planet Vulcan and the Federation Starfleet over you and your brothers, to prevent Ms. Oakridge from splitting you up and sending you off where she'd planned."
"Kewl!" said Raffy. "See, Mickey, I told you it'd work out!"
"There’s one more item," Jed prompted.
"Oh, yeah. You want to handle him, Jed?" Jonas said.
"Yeah. I think I’ve got this right; will any of you guys step in and correct me if I mess up the formula, please?" Jed said earnestly. "In the matter of Peter Lambert, an orphan with no known relatives who is a ward of the State and who has requested the protection of Clan Short, I, Jeremiah Sarles Templeton, a member of Clan Short of the Family of Sarek of the House of Surok of the Planet Vulcan, do hereby petition the Family Court of Franklin County to award custody of Peter Lambert to Clan Short, and in behalf of the Clan, I state that I and the Clan stand ready to assume custody of the said Peter Lambert."
"I think you got it perfect," 'Bastian said to Jed.
Josiah harrumphed. "The Family Court of the County of Franklin is in receipt of a petition to award custody of Peter Lambert to Clan Short of Vulcan. Does any person know of a legal objection to such an award?" Josiah paused to give formal opportunity for such an objection. "There being no objection raised, I hereby award custody of Peter Lambert to Clan Short of Vulcan. You'll have to explain how you came to pick him up too, Jed."
"Is all this legal?" asked the administrator.
"It most certainly is," Josiah answered. "I gave you a link to the Safe Haven Act on your computer; check out the provisions in it. I've been studying it for the last three days, and the boys have acted completely in accordance with the law as specified.
"Jonas, anything more you need to do?" Jonas nodded no; Josiah continued, "There being no further business to come before the Franklin County Family Court, it stands adjourned until 9:00 tomorrow morning at the Courthouse. Marie, please make sure that copies of that transcript go to the hospital's legal office, my chambers, and to Federation Youth Services and Clan Short, both in Orlando."
"Okay, let's get everyone back home!" said Jonas as they emerged into the cool Maine fall evening.
"I'm riding with Jared," Jed said in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Do you know how to brace yourself in an emergency vehicle under way?" Bobby asked.
"Well, no," Jed answered with a sense that he was being told not to do it.
"OK, I'll show you. It's not tricky, but you lose your balance easy if you don't know how," Bobby said.
"Raffy and Peter, why don't you sit with Harry and me? Then if 'Bastian and Eli won't mind sharing the front seat in Mother's car, we won't have to drag Josiah back to Arkham," Jonas suggested.
'Bastian paused. "Judge, you are still planning on calling Jonas up to sit en banc with you tomorrow, right?"
"Why, yes, son. Why do you ask?"
"Because I have quite a bit of evidence that's not just limited to these four boys," Bastian answered. "Eli and I need to be transported back to Charleston tonight, but I'm going to get everything down on a PADD for you. It will all be admissible under Federation Rules of Evidence, Rule 14 (b). I'll go over my findings with Jonas before we leave."
"That sounds fine, son. Give my regards to your father."
"I'll do that, Judge."
"Let's roll," Skipper said. "Maureen looks dead on her feet, and I feel like she looks."
Josiah watched the EMT mobile unit and the Camry go out of sight, on their way back to Arkham. 'I became a Family Court judge because I wanted to see our children get justice,' he thought. 'I never expected to live to see them intervening to make sure others get what they deserve. But it feels wonderful!'