Chapter 19

Sunday, October 24, 2004. The McConnaghay Home, Arkham, Maine

Josiah sat at the small dinette table in Maureen's kitchen, watching her bustle around preparing their first breakfast "at home" as a couple, nursing a cup of coffee, and silently thanking God once again for bringing her into his life. Jonas and Harry were sleeping in after their ordeal at the jail and then the hospital in Iowa the day before.

The telephone rang. "If that's another call from someone selling storm windows, on Sunday morning, I'll shoot them with one of the boys' phasers, and not to stun, either!" Maureen said jokingly. She stepped over and answered it.

"Yes, he's right here -- Just a moment." She looked up at Josiah. "It's Oliver Winfield down at the jail, for you."

"Josiah here, Oliver. -- I never authorized that! -- No, I most certainly did not. -- Well, chalk another one up to Roscoe's nefarious ways. You'd better put out an alert for them -- and let Starfleet know as well; all three had pending charges under Federation law."

Glowering, Josiah got up from the table and walked to the foot of the stairs. "Jonas! Harry! I need you down here as soon as possible -- and bring your phasers!"

Maureen looked on open-mouthed. Moments later, the boys came running downstairs, throwing on clothes as they came, Harry carrying both phasers.

"We've got a situation," Josiah told the three of them. "It seems that Elvira Oakridge and Jordan and Mary Eccles were released from jail Thursday night. The records indicate that one Josiah Brewster, Judge of the Family Court, authorized their release by telephone, with the Vacation of Commitment paperwork to be sent later. Oliver was going over the inmate census, found that note but no paperwork, and called me to ask if I'd forgotten about it. Dollars to doughnuts what's involved includes Roscoe and money, and quite likely that church as well." Shocked expressions met his explanation.

"That's why the phasers," Jonas said, not so much a question as amplification. Josiah nodded. "Mom, can we have coffee, please? I think we both need to be alert as possible."

"Breakfast?" she asked. "I can do it in shifts, so one of you and one of us is keeping watch while the other two eat."

"Good idea," Jonas answered.

"Omigod!" Harry exclaimed. "George and his boys -- they're staying in the Eccles' old house."

Josiah nodded and picked up the phone. He quickly dialed the Sheriff's office. "Pat? Josiah Brewster here. I want the nearest car to Arkham to proceed to the old Eccles place on Route 4 just south of town, provide a protective escort to State's Attorney Wentworth and his kids, and escort them wherever they decide to go. Confirm this with Oliver Winfield; he knows the reason. I'll call George. -- Okay, thanks."

He dialed George's cellphone next. "George? Josiah here. Listen, maintain a calm outward appearance for the boys, but make sure you follow through on this. I just got word that our boy Roscoe released Elvira and the Eccles from jail Thursday night. -- Yes, really. I want to get you and the boys out of there as fast as possible. There's a deputy heading there now. Get the boys ready and take them somewhere. -- Good idea, for the day at least; the courthouse is secure." He listened a second, then looked up from the phone. "If they haven't been arrested by dinnertime, how about if he brings the kids here for dinner and plans to spend the night?" Maureen nodded gravely. "Okay, come here when you're done at the courthouse," he said back into the phone. "Maureen's, that is."

Josiah hung up, and the four grimly settled in to stand watch.

"I'm scared," Pen said apprehensively as he sat behind the steering wheel of his car outside the Throxton mansion.

"Don't be; I'll be right with you, all the way," Doug said reassuringly as he rested his hand on Pen's thigh, a gesture not so much erotic as supportive. He quickly flipped through the CDs, found one and put it into the car's CD player, singing along to Pen as the young British boyband's sounds filled the car.

No matter what they tell us
No matter what they do
No matter what they teach us
What we believe is true

No matter what they call us
However they attack
No matter where they take us
We'll find our own way back

I can't deny what I believe
can't be what I'm not
I know I'll love forever
I know, no matter what

If only tears were laughter
If only night was day
If only prayers were answered
Then we would hear God say

"No matter what they tell you
No matter what they do
No matter what they teach you
What you believe is true

And I will keep you safe and strong
And sheltered from the storm
No matter where it's barren
A dream is being born"

No matter who they follow
No matter where they lead
No matter how they judge us
I'll be everyone you need

No matter if the sun don't shine
Or if the skies are blue
No matter what the end is
My life began with you

I can't deny what I believe
I can't be what I'm not
I know, I know
I know this love's forever
That's all that matters now
No matter what

"No Matter What" was written by Jim Steinman and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and is Copyright © Universal Music.

Doug sniffed back tears of his own, and said, "I never thought I'd be able to do something like this, sing the words of that song to someone and really mean them. That's a gift you gave me, and I love you for it, and for a million other reasons, Pen. No matter what happens in there, we're together, and always will be, and that's what matters now, no matter what."

Pen managed a wan smile, pulled together his courage, and opened the car door. Doug followed suit, and hand in hand they went to the mansion door.

"Where is my father, Jenkins?" Pen asked the very correct butler who met them just inside.

"In the large study, Master Penfield, but he is tied up with a very important call...." Jenkins answered.

"That's all right; this won't take long at all," Pen said, hoping his courage would last through the ordeal.

He led Doug down the hall and through the study door. At a large desk, replete with file folders, pens, and other office impedimenta, with a very modern looking computer sitting on a credenza to one side, sat his father, Penfield Throxton III. Short and slight of build like Pen, with the slightest hint of a paunch, and hair greying, dressed in expensive casual wear and exuding an air of authority, Mr. Throxton bore an irritated look as he listened to the phone call.

"Listen, DuBois," he finally said. "This is the fourth time this week that you've brought normal operating issues to me for decision. You're general manager because I trust you to manage, and make intelligent decisions without having your hand held. I'll back you on anything that seemed sensible to you, even if it turns out to be a mistake or not the choice I'd have made -- that's why I hired you. But I'm paying you to make these decisions, bringing only critical problems to my attention. If you can't manage that plant, give me your resignation and I'll look for someone who can. If you can, then start doing it. Just let me know once or twice a week what you did, so I'm not out of the loop on my own business. You have my authority; start using it. Now it's Sunday, and my son is waiting here to see me. Get that production issue resolved the way you think best, and send me a copy of the e-mail you put out about it. And next time something like this comes up, you make the decision."

He hung up the phone. "I don't know what's gotten into DuBois, Pen. When he was old Newfield's right hand man, he always knew just what to do. But now he's in charge, he won't pour himself a cup of coffee without asking my approval first!

"But, who's your friend here? You haven't brought any of your friends home in ages; it's about time.you did."

"Father, I'd like you to meet Doug Murdock. Doug, my father, Penfield Throxton." Pen took comfort in handling the perfunctory courtesies of an introduction -- the bad part was coming, but this at least he could handle.

"Pleased to meet you," Doug said with a slightly cowed attitude.

"I never understood why you never brought any of your friends home, Pen," his father said. "That was, after all, part of why your mother and I felt you ought to live here and attend public schools -- that you could have as normal a childhood as possible instead of the boarding-school frippery she and I went through."

Pen was secretly glad for the diversion before the confrontation -- and decided to make this conversation the first step towards independence. "The last friend I brought here was Tommy," he said to his father. "We were nine. And Jenkins and Mrs. Newton didn't want us playing in the house, where we might disrupt something. So we went outside, and Mr. Green was upset we were playing on his lawns. After a couple of days like that, we didn't try to come here any more. And the next day, Tommy's mother told me that Tommy didn't feel welcome at my home, and if he wasn't welcome here, then I wasn't welcome at their home either. Until yesterday that was the last real friend I had."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Mr. Throxton asked.

"Jenkins said you were too busy to talk to me," Pen answered somberly, beginning to feel a lump in his throat at the memory.

"But that's all right, father," Pen said, surprised at finding an untapped reserve of strength as he decided it was time. "I have some news for you, and then I won't disturb things any further." He drew a breath. "Father, I'm ... gay. And I love Doug, and he loves me." He steeled himself for the storm to come.

"Oh?" his father said. "Tell me, Mr. Murdock, if I were to disinherit Pen here, how you'd expect to survive."

"We can live off grandmother's trust fund!" Pen said with more vehemence than he'd expected.

"No," Doug said firmly. "He told me that when we were talking, sir, but I won't live off him. Sure we'll draw on that, but I'll get a job after school and weekends -- if necessary, I can drop out and work full time. I won't live off Pen's money." Doug was finding himself strangely calm, now that the moment of truth was on them. "He's smart; he needs to finish school and college. I'll support us while he's doing that. It'll be tough, but we can manage."

"All right, now you know," Pen said. "Would you have any objection to my taking my personal things from my room before we leave?" His legs were betraying him, shaking, and he grabbed the back of a chair to steady himself.

"Sit down, Pen, before you fall down," his father said. "You too, Doug." He punched his intercom. "Jenkins! Three glasses of Clanranald on the rocks, in here, on the double."

The senior Penfield drew a deep breath. "So I presume you haven't been listening to Fr. Wrenthwaite at church lately, Pen?"

Pen was a bit startled at that apparent non sequitur. "Uh, well...."

"I figured as much. Honestly, sometimes I think the military is missing a bet. Teach Fr. Wrenthwaite Russian or Arabic, and broadcast one of his sermons in an area we need to fight in, then just go in and capture the sleeping enemy." He smiled. "But haven't you been following the news stories about the Episcopal Church? The good father's been addressing those issues, albeit in his dry-as-dust style."

"We're standing for the rights of gay people as the other churches are getting insulting to them. And at Vestry last month our parish resolved to stand behind its gay members, come what may. I'm proud to say I sponsored that resolution -- mostly because of you, Pen."


"Surely you don't think I'd let my only son and heir run around the countryside without some sort of protection and security? They've been under orders to keep you in watch, but keep their activities hidden from you, so that you could have as much of a normal life as possible, and not feel like you were under a magnifying glass. I've known for a couple of years you like boys, and have been having sex with them. I can't say I think much of that pizza maker's son you've been seeing, though. Doug here seems a real improvement."

"Sir?" Doug spoke up. Mr. Throxton nodded a go-ahead.

"You've been having Pen tailed by security people?"


"Then where were they Friday night? When your son got raped, and was ready to give up rather than get medical help, for fear of your reaction? Why didn't they stop that?" Doug was genuinely angry. "Pen, I'm truly sorry if I'm pissing your father off, after everything, but that's just not right."

"What!?" Throxton was equally angry. "He was raped?"

"Yes, and if it hadn't been for two terrific guys on our local E.M.T. service, he'd have probably bled to death."

"And you calling them in, Dougie," Pen said affectionately.

Jenkins brought in three Old Fashioned glasses with whiskey over ice just then, and set the tray down in front of Mr. Throxton. "Serve the boys!" he told him. Jenkins looked questioningly at Mr. Throxton.

"Jenkins, how long have you been working here?" Mr. Throxton said in a low voice.

"Twenty-three years, sir," the butler answered.

"Within the last ten minutes, Jenkins, I've found out that my son has had a childhood with no friends because you drove them away, that you've told him I was too busy to talk to him, and now you're prepared to go against my wishes to give my son and his good friend a jigger of whiskey when their nerves are on edge? Do I need to make it clear who is in charge here? Do I need to make that clear to your replacement?"

Jenkins hurriedly picked up the tray, set one glass for his employer, and offered Pen a glass, which he took, followed by offering Doug one.

"Um, sir?" Doug said.

"Go ahead, Douglas. You need not stand on ceremony here."

"Well, sir, my mother's a drunk. And I'm sorry, but I don't want to turn out like her. Would you be offended...?"

"Of course not, Doug," Mr. Throxton said warmly. "But I'd like you to consider this medicinal in nature -- I see both you and Pen as nervous as cats at a dog convention, and one jigger is not going to do more than calm your nerves. I very much respect your desire not to drink, and if you refuse it, I'll completely understand. But I think you need to unload more than a little stress; that's why I specified a glass each for you and Pen." He turned to the butler. "Jenkins! I want you to contact the security company and have them immediately fax a copy of the activity log for the team following Pen Friday night."

"Um, sir...?" Jenkins said, indicating Pen.

"I've told him about the security arrangements. I had to. Give me credit for knowing my own business, man!"

There was a pause. "Did I or did I not give you instructions, Jenkins?" Mr. Throxton said, his voice low. Jenkins turned and stalked from the room.

Mr. Throxton shook his head. "He's been getting more and more difficult. What do you two think: fire him, or try to turn him around?"

"Um, I... us two?" Pen was startled.

"Yes. He's an employee. It's your home, despite what appears to have been going on around here without my knowledge. And I presume Doug is going to be spending a lot of time with you here, from now on? That gives him a voice, too." He turned to Doug. "By the way, young man, I owe you an apology for that question about supporting yourselves. But based on what that told me about how you feel about Pen, I hope you can understand why I needed to make sure you weren't just someone after his money? And I needed to do that first thing, before any reassurance, so as to be able to test your true motives. I have a great deal of respect for you for that answer, by the way; I just hope you still respect me, after having asked that question."

Doug took a small sip of his whiskey, choked a bit, and then smiled. "Yessir, I do. I was upset at first, though, even though I understand now why you did it."

"Completely understandable," the senior Throxton smiled back, then turned to the intercom. "Jenkins! Where's that transcript?"

Jenkins came walking back in carrying the faxed transcript. Mr. Throxton took it and skimmed through it. "According to this, boys, Pen went down to the bowling alley, spent several hours there, then came out leaning on you, Doug, and met the E.M.T. squad in the parking lot. After a few minutes inside the E.M.T. van, it transported the lot of you to the Martin home, where you spent the night. It would have been nice if you'd let me know, by the way," he said to Pen.

"I called Jenkins; he said you were on an important call, and I asked him to tell you I was at a sleepover there," Pen said. His father looked at Jenkins with basilisk eyes.

"Let me see that, please," Doug said. Mr. Throxton motioned him to come around the desk. After skimming it, he said, "Look down here at the bottom. They took a half hour coffee break from 10:20 to 10:50."

"That's about when Tony showed up," Pen said.

"Do you want to fill me in?" Mr. Throxton asked. Pen cringed.

"He deserves to know the story," Doug said to Pen. His eyes turned to Jenkins.

"Don't you have to finish tallying the household accounts?" Mr. Throxton said to Jenkins, in a "Do this!" tone of voice.

Jenkins left.

"Pen and I were sitting in the snack bar at the bowling alley, talking," Doug began, "when Tony DiPuglia came in and asked Pen for a ride. He got up and left with him, expecting, as I found out later, to have sex with him. But Tony wasn't patient enough to wait for Pen to get himself ready, and forced him, leaving a nasty tear in Pen's bottom. I called Bobby and Skipper -- the E.M.T. guys -- and Skipper stitched him up. Next day they took us to a hospital in Iowa, and they used high-tech stuff to heal the wound."

"How does it happen he went with Tony, if he was there with you?" Mr. Throxton asked.

"I wasn't admitting I was attracted to him, until later that night, when they forced it out of me," Doug said. "Pen's rich; we're poor; I knew you'd never accept me, even if you could deal with having a gay son. So I never told him, until Skipper made me."

"And as a result, someone who genuinely loved me never said a word, while I was sneaking chances for sex with Tony, I thought behind everyone's backs," Pen said ruefully.

"Um, Pen, I don't want to put you through this, but I think we need to press charges against the DiPuglia boy for rape," Mr. Throxton said. "Let me call George Wentworth, and see if we can keep this low key."

Perusing notes for upcoming cases, George was surprised when his cellphone rang. 'Must be either Winfield at the sheriff's office or the folks at Maureen's,' he thought. 'Or maybe his high and mightiness the Attorney General finally has deigned to return my call, a day after he was needed.' Across the room Philip sat curled up in a chair, apparently rapt in a lawbook. The twins sat on the floor with an assortment of the bric-a-brac his office had collected over the past couple of years, each in turn holding an object, closing his eyes and apparently concentrating. George resolved to ask them about it later. He pulled out his cellphone and answered. "George Wentworth."

"George! I couldn't reach you at your apartment. This is Pen Throxton." The millionaire seemed troubled by something.

"Pen! How are you? I'm at my office; what can I help you with?"

On a Sunday? I'd think a young bachelor like yourself would find better things to do on a fine October Sunday.

"Well, we had to vacate the house for a while, and this was a secure location to bring the kids."

"Kids? That's a change; I hadn't realized you'd married!"

"Oh, I didn't," George replied. "I adopted the three boys that the Eccles were fostering last week. They're here with me now."

"Well, I've never been one to try to use my position in the community for personal advantage, but I need to tread close to that line now." Throxton's voice sounded almost apologetic over the phone. "There's been a criminal issue come up, my son is a victim, and I believe it would be wise to keep it as low key as possible. Would it be possible for you to come up here to discuss it? Bring your boys along, of course."

"Of course, Pen. We'll be there shortly." He hung up the phone, and quickly let the boys know what they would be doing.

In Orlando

Jed awoke to find himself in a strange place. He was half-sitting/half-lying in what appeared to be a cross between a recliner chair and an armless office desk chair, with his head and shoulders draped across a tilted drawing board. As the wool cleared from his mind, he remembered working late, in the late Robert Maxwell's old study, on the printouts he and Sylvia had sorted out, government programs that would benefit Nate, Lije, and their mother. He stood up, stretched out some kinks from his shoulders and back, and walked out to the kitchen.

"Hey!" Mickey said, pouring him a glass of orange juice from the pitcher sitting near him. "Finally decided to join the rest of the world?" His smile made the tease easy to take, just like when Jed had hung out with Jared and Mickey back in Arkham.

"Yeah. I guess I fell asleep going over that stuff that Sylvia found for me." Jed felt a little sheepish over it.

Mickey looked serious. "Um, Jed...?"


"I know this Clan stuff is pretty serious business, and important to you. But there's someone that has been kind of a hurting unit, missing you....." His glance at a bedroom door said it all.

Jed darted the few feet back down the hall to the closed door to Jared's bedroom. He knocked softly; no answer. He opened the door to see Jared huddled up, clutching his pillow to his chest, lying on his side facing the wall. He walked over and put his hand on Jared's shoulder. "Hey, dudelet!" he said affectionately.

Jared jerked over onto his back. "Go away! I don't want to see you!" he spat out past tear-wet eyes.

Jed's world crumbled. He turned and ran blindly, out of the room, across kitchen and living room, heading out the front door.

Skipper relaxed contentedly, looking affectionately at the nude body of the feisty smaller blond boy that was dozing half draped across him, completely relaxed and secure in his love.  The ghost of the taste of Bobby's love lingered on his tongue.  They'd seized a quiet Sunday afternoon for some intimate private time, and then a chance to rest up from the eventful day yesterday, when Pen and Doug had set off in Pen's car to see his father.

The annoying ringtone on his cellphone roused him.  He made a long arm and retrieved it from his bedtable, answered and listened for most of a minute, his eyes growing wider.  "Bobby!" he shook him as he clicked off the phone.


"Wake up, mugwump!  We're needed up at the Throxton mansion."

Bobby came alert.  "What's wrong?  Who's hurt?"

"Nobody -- it's about what happened to Pen.  George Wentworth's there."

"Oh, shit!  I hope this didn't go bad for them!  Where's my pants?"

"I think you threw them on the floor.  It didn't sound bad -- except maybe for Tony.  C'mon, hurry up."

The scene as Jenkins dourly escorted Skipper and Bobby into the "large study" was ... strange.  Mr. Throxton was sitting at his desk, scowling.  Pen was in a chair, seemingly relaxed.  George was seated in an antique straight chair at a side table, rapidly filling a legal pad with notes.  From a neighboring room came the sounds of a cartoon show, which Philip and the twins were watching on a widescreen TV.  "Mr. Hamilton from the emergency service and young Master Martin are here.  They claim you wished to see them, sir."

"They claim that because it's true, Jenkins.  George phoned them not fifteen minutes ago.  You didn't have to rush that fast, boys."  Mr. Throxton was urbane to them, acerbic to his butler.  In the back of his mind, Bobby wondered what that was all about.

"Thanks for coming, guys," Pen said warmly.  "You want coffee or something?  Doug'll be right back; he just went to refill the carafe."

"Coffee'd be great, thanks," Skipper said.  "Me too," said Bobby.

"Boys, I've asked you here because I'm putting together a case...."  George's explanation was interrupted by Doug running back into the room through another door, with a panicked expression on his face.

"I was just refilling the coffee carafe and sugarbowl like you asked, when this woman walks in, grabs a butcher knife, and lunges at me!"

"Jenkins!  Call the police -- intruder alert!" came a woman's voice from beyond the door.

Mr. Throxton rose from his desk and stepped to the door.  "Mrs. Newton, get in here!" he commanded.

A grey-haired stout woman dressed in white walked in carrying a butcher knife.  Her eyes fixed on Doug.  "There he is!  I'd just stepped out of the kitchen for a second, and when I came back in, there was this young intruder in my kitchen pouring himself coffee just as large as life!"

Both Throxtons' faces were angry.  "Father," Pen said.  The older man glanced at his son, then nodded.

"Mrs. Newton!" Pen said firmly. 

"Not now, boy; I'm talking serious problems with your father!'

"Mrs. Newton, Doug is my guest in this house -- at a minimum -- and was in the kitchen obtaining coffee for us here at my father's request.  I will not tolerate you scaring off any more of my friends, and especially Doug.  You owe him an apology."

"Not good enough, Pen," his father broke in.  "George, I believe that constitutes assault with a deadly weapon under Maine law, am I not correct?"  George agreed, allowing a small smile to cross his face.

"Doug, you have my abject apologies for having been assaulted in my house, especially while running an errand at my request," Mr. Throxton said.  "You are entitled to press charges if you wish.  Mrs. Newton has been with us for years; I hope you can understand why I'm reluctant to have you do so, but you have my assurances that I will back you if you choose to do so."

Mrs. Newton stood shocked.  "Further," the older Throxton went on, "Pen is my son and heir, and I will not have him treated as if a child in his own home.  I found out only today that the staff has been making his life miserable here.  From here on, his orders are equivalent to my own, and you will treat him with respect.  In addition, this young man you attempted to stab with a butcher knife is welcome here at all times, as my son's and my own honored guest.  You will treat him with respect and courtesy, from now on.  Jenkins, this goes for you too, and the other staff as well.  Do I make myself clear?"

"Doug," George said, "do you wish to press charges?"  Startled, Doug shook his head no.

"Then I'll expect you both to comply with my wishes, in full," Throxton said.  "And you can start by going and doing what Doug was kind enough to volunteer to do -- that will be two carafes of coffee, with cream and sugar, brought here and served to myself, my son, and our guests."

George cleared his throat; Throxton nodded for him to proceed.  "I might also point out, Mrs. Newton," he said, "that Mr. Murdock's unwillingness to press charges just saved you from a term in women's prison -- and I am quite confident that I could get a conviction on the evidence at hand.  Don't you think you owe him something?"

Mrs. Newton eyed Doug, clearly unwilling to say anything.  At last, she forced out, "I'm sorry.  And thank you."  Doug nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Coffee," said Throxton dismissively.  She turned to go.  "Jenkins, you are dismissed too."  He stalked out.  Pen shook his head; his father caught his eye, and smiled.  "It will get better," he said.  "If you or any of your friends encounter any more grief from the staff, feel free to fire them.  I cannot tell you enough how sorry I am, son; I had no idea."

"You were busy, father," Pen said.

"Too busy," he answered.  "I thought I was doing the right thing for you, and let myself get caught up in work.  We'll talk later."  A pause.  "I'm fairly sure that means you too, Doug," he added.  Pen gave them both a warm smile, and nodded.

"To business, then," he continued.  "George, what do you need of our two medics here?"

"For a successful prosecution," George said, "we need to nail down the crime, the perpetrator, and document the damages caused.  I have Pen's and Doug's statements, but anything you two can provide, especially about bodily injury, will be valuable."

"Um, I guess the whole story's come out?" Bobby said.

"Yeah," Pen answered, "father's reaction was nothing like I feared.  I really don't want to send Tony off to prison, but Mr. Wentworth here says I have no choice.  It's a felony that he has to prosecute, whether or not I press charges."

"George," Skipper said, "I assume you need a proper medical description of the injury?"  George nodded yes, preparing to take notes.  Skipper began slowly, "Arkham E.M.T. was called to the parking lot of the Arkham Lanes at approximately 10:45 Friday night, October 22, by a phone call direct to the service from Douglas Murdock.  On arriving at the scene, we found Mr. Murdock supporting Penfield Throxton, who appeared in pain, weak, and bleeding from the rectal area.  Examining the patient in the mobile unit, we discovered a tear in the inner curve of the right hip, adjacent to the rectal fissure, approximately 4 cm. in length, running from the anus about 20 degrees right of anterior, involving both epidermal and dermal tissue.  There was also heavy involvement of the anal sphincter at the posterior end of the tear.  The patient declined transport to the regional hospital, implying he was concerned about family and community reaction to the assault.  He informed us that he had left the bowling alley a short time previously in the company of Anthony DiPuglia, for the purpose of sexual relations, but that Mr. DiPuglia had not delayed to allow him to prepare himself for anal intercourse, forcing himself into the patient's anus and causing the tear described.  We then transported him to the home of Grace Martin, R.N., where we both live, and there, assisted by both Grace and Robert Martin, I made stabilizing repairs in the form of seven surgical stitches, after administration of a topical anaesthetic by Mr. Martin."

George interrupted, "Did either of you see Tony?"


"Was photographic evidence taken to document the injury?"

"No.  The patient's wish at the time was to minimize publicity of the incident; we acted in accordance with that."

"Did you take an anal swab, to obtain semen that would produce the D.N.A. of the assailant?"

"No, sir.  To be honest, I didn't think of it."  George sighed at Skipper's answer.

"Can we at least attempt to document the injury now?"

"There may be traces of the injury left.  But what I haven't detailed to you yet is that Doug and Pen, along with us and Lt. Oliver Romero of Starfleet, accompanied Jonas McConnaghay and Harry Johnson to Broadlawn Hospital in Des Moines, where Pen was treated using a Starfleet biobed that accelerated the healing process.  He's as healed of the injury now as he would be in a week to ten days with the body's normal unassisted healing functions."  Skipper concluded, "Good medicine, but not good for your case, I guess."

"So what we've got," George said, "if Tony takes it to trial, is Pen's uncorroborated testimony of the assault, Doug's statement that Pen left with Tony and returned within a half hour injured, and your medical evaluation?"

"That's about it," Skipper said.  "I'm sorry."

"It may be enough to convict," George said, "but I'd like to nail it down better.  More evidence...."

He was interrupted by Randy coming in from the TV room, followed by Drew and then by Philip.  "I'm sorry, Dad," Philip said.  "I know you're doing important stuff, but Randy jumped up and ran in here before I could stop him."

"Dad," said Randy.  "You're missing something -- two things, really.  I'm sorry, but you were thinking too loudly, and I picked up what you was upset about.  'Member that Drew 'n' I can read Tony; Jamie 'n' Jacob said we're ready.  But the other thing's even more 'portant.  Dougie and Pen said they wanted to help Jonas and Harry when they was at the hospital."

"Okay," George said slowly, as the implications dawned on him.  "What you two read in his mind is good as a signed confession, isn't it?"

"That's what Jamie said," Drew answered seriously.

"But what does Doug and Pen wanting to help Harry and Jonas have to do with it?"

"'Cause that means Jonas has 'diction, not you," Randy said.

"Yeah, they explained something about that, when we were talking at the hospital," Skipper said pensively.

"I guess we'd better call them in, then," George said.

Meanwhile, back at the McConnaghay's

As Abbie came down the sidewalk from her house to Maureen's, the phone rang.  Jonas answered it.

Jonas?  Oliver Winfield here.  Is the Judge there?"

"Yes, but about to be tied up for a bit.  Should I bring him to the phone, or can I take a message?"

"Just let him know that the rental car that Jordan Eccles took passed through a camera checkpoint on Interstate 95, shortly before we put out the alert, headed southbound.  Image is fuzzy, but it looks like there were three occupants of the car.  I'd say you can stop worrying for the moment."

"Well, that's good news," Jonas answered.  "I'll tell him.  And thanks."

"Any time, son," the new sheriff answered.

Abbie was fuming as she walked in.  "Just what do you think you're trying to pull off, Josiah Brewster?" she asked angrily.  "I looked it up, and Maine's age of majority is eighteen, same as it's always been.  All that horse manure about losing Harry!  Listen here, young man, you get yourself home right now!  And you, Maureen, after all these years I thought I could trust you.  Well, I won't be a party to that two-timing son of yours toying with my boy's heart!  You can all go...."

"Abigail Smithers Johnson," Maureen said firmly, "I have never in the 25 years we've known each other lied to you, and I'm not about to start today."

"There are exactly three things in this world that can upset me personally," Josiah echoed.  "One is impugning my professional integrity, and the other two are insulting my wife and son.  Somehow, Abbie, you managed to pull off doing all three in a single breath.  I'd be impressed if I weren't so irritated.  I'm a Family Court Judge; my job is not to help families break up, but to find ways to help them stay together.  And that's just what I'm doing, whether you believe it or not.  Maureen, my dear, after that do you still want to go through with what we planned?"

"Yes, Josiah," Maureen said after a pause.  "If I thought someone was trying to take Jonas away from me, and didn't know the facts, I'd probably react just as Abbie's doing right now.  And besides, it's the only way to keep from losing one or both of the boys altogether."

Abbie was looking back and forth, confused, at this.  Harry was jittering, obviously torn; she looked at him and pointed at the door.

"Sit down, both of you, and let's talk this out, just as we said we'd do yesterday," Josiah said.  "Abbie, I promise you you'll have your say, in full, but there's things you need to know that we didn't get to yesterday -- were hoping they didn't need to be said.  And you need to hear them first, before you speak your piece."

"Please, mom," Harry said pleadingly.  She nodded grumpily and sat down.

"Let's handle the nasty stuff first," Josiah said.  "That'll make it easier to deal with the good part."  Maureen and the boys nodded.

"Abbie, I never said a word about the state age of majority yesterday.  What I said was that Harry has two separate and distinct ways to remove himself from your custody, and none of us want it to come to that.  First, I can declare him an emancipated minor.  The only way I would do that is if he himself specifically requested me to, and if he did, I'd have no choice but to find in his favor.  That eliminates all parental ties.  If I did that, I'd immediately certify it up to Superior Court for review, and based on my knowledge of the law, they'd affirm my ruling."

"The second thing," he continued, "is for Harry to stand on his rights as an adult under Vulcan Law.  That would entail him and Jonas moving down to the Clan enclave in Florida.  And believe me, none of the five of us want that.  He'll only do it if you force him to it."

"Me force him?" Abbie exclaimed.  "It sounds like you're trying to take him away from me."

"We're not," Maureen said.  "Just the thought of losing Jonas makes me realize how much you're hurting, right now, and it's all founded on a misunderstanding."

"I never realized how much the people in my court who'd lost a child were hurting until now," Josiah said.  "After all these years, to have a son like Jonas, and have to fear losing him after only a week -- well, it hurts."

"What are you talking about?" Abbie said.  "It's me losing Harry, not you losing Jonas."

"It's because we didn't tell you the whole story yesterday," Maureen said.  "Abbie, I want you to look me in the eye on this, and listen to all I have to say, without interrupting.  A lot of it is nearly impossible to believe -- I lived through it, and I still have trouble accepting it.  I'm counting on you being still willing to trust my word.

"First," she went on, "you need to know that my Jonas came to a rude awakening last Friday.  Thanks to a classmate, he was made to see how much he'd hurt Harry by sniffing after that Tanya girl.  Give him credit, he dropped her and apologized to Harry when he came over Saturday so they could take George Wentworth and his kids down to Florida.

"Then we got ambushed -- you know about that, partly:  Elton Friendly and five people from his church had Starfleet phasers illegally.  If it hadn't been for the fact that the new windows I bought last year diffuse coherent light, we'd all be dead right now.

"But what happened next is where it starts getting really weird:  Neil showed up, or rather his spirit did.  He's been dead a month.  And he transported the lot of us: me, Josiah, Jonas, Harry, George and his kids, to Florida on a completely different timeline, one where the place we went was one of the few holdouts when the FCC took over America, like they tried to do here.  And some kids from the Clan were there as well, including Jacob that you met, and they brought in Starfleet to free the country.

"But more importantly than that, almost losing each other really was a wake-up call for us.  Josiah and I proposed to each other...."

"Well, it's about time!  Congratulations," Abbie said, warming a bit.

"...and Jonas proposed to Harry."  Abbie's eyes snapped to her son; he smiled shyly.  "For the next week, we ended up living there as two couples, committed for life and ready to marry as soon as we got back.  Harry," Maureen said, "is feeling torn apart, between wanting to live with his life partner and not leave his mother."

"What else happened that week," Josiah said, "gave us an answer to his problem.  In the course of overthrowing that fundamentalist dictatorship, the Clan kids rescued fourteen kids that had been brainwashed and abused by the church leadership.  They asked us to take custody of them.  They're coming to live with us next Saturday.

"Maureen and I had already talked about buying the Templeton place," Josiah continued.  "Agreeing to take those kids was the icing on the cake; now we need the extra room, plus an addition."

Maureen took over again at that point.  "We've talked money before, Abbie.  What I make from the Dispatch and selling articles just about supported the two of us.  Last I remember, what you get from Bert's pension fund plus your wages and tips was just keeping your head above water, right?"

"I'm not going to let you use my low income to take Harry," Abbie said.

"We're not trying to take Harry," Josiah said patiently.  "We're trying to work out a way so he's not torn between Jonas and you.  If it comes down to it, Abbie, he'll choose Jonas, but it'll tear him in half to do it.  And none of us wants that.  He loves you, girl."

"With what I make and what I've saved," he continued, "plus Maureen's income from writing, and help from Federation Youth Services if we need it, we can easily afford to take on those kids.  But they are going to be a handful.  We're going to need help with them; for Heaven's sake, we're going to need help just keeping a household that size clean, clothed, and fed.

"That's where you come in, Abbie.  What would you say to living with us, running the household so Maureen has time for her writing and working with the kids -- you keep Bert's pension plus whatever you make renting out or selling your house, and I pay you, say, twice what you're making at the diner, prorated up to what a sixty-hour week's wages would be?"

"Harry gets to live with his mother, and you with him," Jonas put in.  "But he gets to be with me, day and night, as much as we want, too.  It's really the best idea for all of us, I think.  I'm glad Dad came up with it."

"Don't say No, Mom," Harry pleaded.  "At least say you'll think about it."

"Maureen, that is completely bizarre," Abbie said.  "From anyone but you, I'd think they were crazy or drunk.  But I know you, and I saw the truth in your eyes."  She turned to Harry.  "So you told Jonas yes?  What if I said you're too young?"

Harry's face was bleak.  "Then what the Judge said at the beginning goes.  And I don't want to lose you, Mom!"  His eyes began to water.

"Jonas," Abbie said, "you've chased plenty of tail while my poor Harry stayed in his room crying.  I never let on to him, but I knew.  I want your word of honor you'll never do that to him again."

"You have it, Aunt Abbie," Jonas said.  "I can't tell you how sorry I am that I did that to him."

Abbie sat, her eyes distant, thinking, for a good two minutes.  All four of the others stayed quiet, respecting her need to think things through.  At last she looked up.

"So tell me about these kids we'll be taking care of," she said.  Harry's face broke into a broad, joyful smile; he jumped up, ran over, and hugged her.  Smiles spread across the faces of the other three as they realized what Abbie had said.

"Well, there's ten boys and four girls," Maureen said.  "The youngest is eight; there are two thirteen year olds."  A thought struck her.  "Peter!" she said.  "Jonas, can you find out how he's doing, see if we can at least make his last days happy?"

"You rang?" Peter said, popping into existence in the room and hugging her.

"Omigod, how'd you do that?" came from five mouths at once.  Peter giggled.

Peter broke from hugging Maureen to run over and hug Jonas.  He said over his shoulder to her, "Remember what you told me before we went to Florida?"

"Umm..." Maureen was stumped.

"You said it'd take a miracle to cure him," Jonas reminded her.  "So you told him to go get himself a miracle."

"So I did," Peter said, bouncing over to hug Harry.  "I'm a Mikyvis now!"

"What, like Tyler and Kyle?" Josiah asked.

"Yeppers!" Peter giggled.  "And like their son Levi, who turned me into a Mikyvis."

"Those two adopted a son?" Jonas asked.

"Naah, they had him.  You know, when two people love each other very much...."

Everyone burst out laughing.

"That's impossible," Abbie said.

"Don't say 'impossible' around Clan Short," her son told her.  "They take it as a challenge!"

Peter scooted over to Josiah, climbed up into his lap, and snuggled in, head against his shoulder.  The judge, with a warm smile on his face and eyes that were misting, wrapped his arm around the nine-year-old and hugged him close.

Maureen looked on, smiling, but with a hint of sadness in her eyes.  "You know, Peter," she said, "we'd talked about adopting you.  But now that you're like Kyle and Tyler, you probably won't want that."

Peter sat bold upright, with a huge smile splitting his face.  He looked from Maureen to Josiah and back.  "You mean you wanted me?  Really?"

"Absolutely, little one," Josiah said, as Maureen chimed in with "Of course!"

"Then let's do it!" Peter said.  "Cory can 'make it so' when... well... you'll see."  His face had a sort of 'oops' expression.

"That's wonderful," Abbie said, "but to get back to the subject, how are you going to house those fourteen kids?"

"Be right back!" said Peter, and vanished.

True to his word, he reappeared three seconds later, and a rolled-up sheaf of papers fell onto Josiah's lap.

"See if this will work for you," Peter said.  Josiah unscrolled them; the other four gathered around his chair to look.  They turned out to be blueprints for enlargement of the Templeton house.  Down in the corner was a stamp that proclaimed them to be the work of George Templeton, P.E.

"George drew these, to exactly what we need?"  Maureen asked incredulously.

"Well, no, actually," Peter said embarrassedly.  "I created them, so Father would have something official to show the county planners.  But Mikey asked Jed's father George if I could use his stamp, and he said okay."

"Do what?" asked Abbie startledly.  "George is dead."

Harry had picked up on Peter mentioning Mikey.  "Don't worry about it, mother," he said.  "Like I said before, when something is supposed to happen, nobody's going to let a little thing like death stop them from helping out."  Jonas grinned.

The phone rang.  Maureen answered it.  "It's George," she said.

"I refuse to believe in dead men using telephones," Abbie said firmly.

"No, silly.  It's George Wentworth, and they want Jonas and Harry to come up to the Throxton mansion."

"Tell them we'll be right there in a second," Peter said, and as Maureen echoed this to George, Peter transported all six of them out.

At the McKendrick home, Orlando

Mickey, Sylvia, Lizbeth, Rina, C.J., and Raffy looked up, startled, as Jed came running through towards the front door, despair on his face and tears streaming from his eyes.  Lizbeth stood up and moved towards the door, intent on protecting the boy.

"Lizbeth," Mickey said.  She paused and looked at him.  "Let me go talk with him, please.  Take a position where you can guard us, if you would."  With a faint smile, she nodded agreement with the crippled boy's plans, and his willingness to cooperate in her duties.  Mickey wheeled his chair determinedly towards the door; C.J. and Raffy stood up and followed.  Mickey looked at them, saw the worry on C.J.'s face, and decided not to object.  He caught Lizbeth's eyes and nodded assent that they should follow; she nodded back.

Mickey wheeled himself outside, blinking in the Florida sunshine.  Jed was at an octagonal rustic picnic table in Sylvia's yard, sitting on one of the short benches that served in lieu of chairs for seating.  His arms were folded on the table and his head buried in them, sobbing.  Mickey rolled over to him.  "Jed," he began.

"He hates me now!" Jed said, not lifting his head.  C.J. slipped up on the next bench and wrapped his arms around his brother's shoulders.  "I wanted so much to help those guys -- you saw what they were up against, Ceej -- but I never thought it would cost me Jared!"

"I don't think it did..." Mickey started again.

"You didn't hear him!" Jed sobbed.  "He doesn't even want to see me!"

"He's just hurting because he can't be a part of what you're doing," Raffy said reasonably.

"He's right, Jed," Mickey said.

"Mickey," Raffy said in a voice completely unlike his normal eight-year-old little-brother voice.  Mickey looked at him; Raffy looked back.  It wasn't quite telepathy, but Mickey knew they were of one mind.  In the back of his own mind, he heard again the Chief saying, "When you have conquered your despair, you will be needed to help others whom he attacks," and Raffy's calm assurance that he would be Mickey's helper in that task.  Silently, he nodded to Raffy.  With two quick flicks of his eyes, Raffy silently communicated to Mickey his insight of where they were needed.

"I'm going to go talk to Jared," Mickey said to Jed and C.J.  Raffy nodded, and began to talk calmly to Jed.

Mickey wheeled himself back inside, reassured Rina and Sylvia as to what was happening, and set out determinedly for Jared's room.

"Jared!" he called out as he entered.

"Whut?" came sulkily from the form huddled on the bed, his face turned away from the door.

"If you don't love Jed any more, you owe it to him to break up with him like a man," Mickey said.  "Not just refuse to talk to him and send him away crying."

"What?!" Jared said, looking up.  "Of course I love him!  It's just, he's too busy to talk to me any more."

"So when he does come to you, you yell at him and send him away?  He spent all night trying to find help for two boys that were in the same predicament as we were -- that's his job with the Clan.  Then when I told him you were hurting, he dropped his breakfast without eating or drinking a bite and ran to you.  If you're going to love someone, little brother, you need to show you care, not be a pouty little boy who feels neglected if the guy he loves is trying to do something important when you'd rather he hung out with you.  Now get your scrawny little butt up out of that bed, go out to the picnic table, and talk to him -- before you lose him."

"Lose him?"  Fear was written across Jared's face.

"Yeah, lose him.  He thinks you hate him, now, and it's tearing him up.  Now move!"

Jared was up and out the door before Mickey could finish turning his chair to follow.

At the picnic table, Jed was looking up, head propped on hands, at Raffy, who was talking to him quietly.  C.J. had slipped close and was cuddling his older brother.  Jared ran to him.

"{Jed/Jared}, I'm sorry!" they both said together.  Jed stood and threw his arms around his boyfriend.

Following him out, Mickey looked at them, then at Raffy.  He smiled; Raffy smiled back; and they exchanged a nod at the successful completion of the first instance of their new teamwork.

The Throxton mansion, Arkham

"What?!  Where am I?"  Abbie exclaimed.

"Well, you're in my study, Mrs. Johnson," the elder Penfield Throxton said.  "But I confess, I am as surprised as you evidently are as to how you got here!"

"Starfleet transporter, right?" said Doug.

"No, it was Peter," Judge Josiah replied.  "Son, even knowing from Kyle and Tyler what you're capable of, it was quite startling to have it happen unexpectedly.  You're going to have to learn to give people warning when you do that."

"Yes, Daddy," Peter said, grinning.  Then he got a startled look.  "Whoops, gotta go; Levi needs me.  I'll be back soon!"  And he was gone.

Harry chuckled.  "Well, it's been an interesting month so far; I wonder what happens next!"

"Don't ask!" Jonas grinned.  "I think you folks invited us up here, though I suspect you didn't expect us to arrive in quite that way!  What's up?"

"Randy informs me," George began, "there may be a question of Vulcan law involved here."  Josiah's eyebrows rose.

"Why don't we move into the dining room?" Pen suggested.  "That way, there'll be room for everyone to sit down, and we can sort this out more easily."

"A good thought, Pen," his father said.  "Jenkins!  Have Mrs. Newton serve a light tea in the dining room, for..." he counted heads "...fourteen."

"You wish the little boys to join you, too?" Jenkins questioned.

Mr. Throxton glanced at George.  "Yes, their testimony may be crucial to what we're going to discuss," the latter replied.

"Perhaps you could find something to boost them up to table level," Pen added.  Jenkins glanced at Mr. Throxton; his stern visage and nod of agreement was all Jenkins needed.  "Very good, sir," he replied to Pen reluctantly.

As the group reconvened in the dining room, Mrs. Newton came in bearing coffee and a pitcher of cold fruit juice, with tumblers for the boys.  Philip nervously asked his father if he could have coffee; "Relax, son," George said.  "I know you need reassuring, but you won't get in trouble for expressing your preferences.  If I think you're still too young for something, as for example if they offered you wine, I'd simply tell you so."  Glancing at Josiah, Maureen, and Abbie, he said, "I think I'm finally getting the hang of this parenting thing."

"Mrs. Newton, I think some of your cream puffs would go well for my guests," Pen said.

Mrs. Newton looked at the senior Throxton.  "I do believe my son made our wishes clear," he said drily.  "Perhaps I was not clear enough earlier?"  She exited toward the kitchen; Pen rolled his eyes. 

"Jonas, Harry, what I wanted to talk to you about involves Pen's assault Friday night.  I believe you're aware of it already," George began.  Quickly he outlined the discussion up to that point for them.  "The twins say they'll be able to read Tony," he continued, "and that that's equivalent to a confession."

"It is," Josiah interjected.  "I have cites of the leading cases at my office, if you need them."

"I really don't want to put them through experiencing what he did, though," George said.

"Drew?  Randy?  Did the Double J's finish teaching you compartmentalizing?" Harry asked.  He got small smiles and "Yeah" answers from the twins.

"George, I talked a bit with Jacob when we on our 'vacation'," Harry said.  "From what I understand, part of the discipline the telepaths are taught includes immediately processing disturbing information they pick up, and compartmentalizing it away in their minds, so that they're not emotionally disturbed by the content.  Or at least, so that they don't have to be.  They are free to think about it, but they can keep the level that it impacts them at one they can cope with if they do choose to think about it.  When they're processing it or testifying to it, they use Vulcan emotional control to keep the things they learn from influencing their human emotions.  I hope that's some reassurance.  They'll learn things that we try to keep from young kids, sure, but they're equipped to deal with it without its traumatizing them as it might normal kids."

"The other aspect, though," George continued, "is jurisdiction.  Pen and Doug volunteered to work with you two yesterday?" George asked Jonas and Harry.  They nodded.  "Well, none of us understand this clearly, but Randy seems convinced that that gives you jurisdiction."

"Yes and no," Harry said.  "Simply because it was an assault against a young person, especially one sexual in nature, that immediately is enough grounds for invoking the Safe Haven Act.  But another provision of it, and of the Clan Charter, says that we should not jump to assert jurisdiction when the local courts are able to deal with it."

"There's a bit more to it, too, from my view," Pen said.  "I went with Tony willingly.  Yes, he forced me, and hurt me, but I feel somewhat culpable -- after all, I have willingly had sex with him quite a bit in the past."  He blushed; Abbie looked shocked.  "I don't want to see him sent to prison -- which Mr. Wentworth assures me is the likely result of a conviction."

"He hurt you and he should pay," Doug said vehemently.

"But prison's not the right answer," Pen said.  "Tony's got a problem using people, and he needs to be taught a lesson, sure, but locking him up for years with hardened criminals is not the lesson he needs to learn."

"Vulcan law can be just as harsh, or harsher," Jonas said.  He looked over at Doug and grinned; Doug cupped his hands in front of his crotch, and grinned back.

"But what they said in school," Bobby said, "is that it's always logical, and matches punishment to the offense."

Harry looked up with an evil grin.  "Okay, then," he said, "why don't we give Tony a choice?"

"What do you mean?" George asked.

Josiah was catching on to Harry's idea.  "That's innovative," he said, "but it just might work.  George, what he's suggesting is that Tony be confronted with his crime, and then be permitted to choose whether to be tried by the State of Maine or by Vulcan Law by Clan Short Tribunal.  And that would give wide discretion to tailor the results to meet Pen's concerns."

At that point Mrs. Newton brought in the cream puffs.  Discussion continued as they ate the treats, but a consensus formed among them for Harry's idea.

Suddenly Peter reappeared, accompanied by Grace and Jondo.  "Cory's calling a full Clan meeting," he informed them, "and you're all invited.  Stand up, please, and we'll be off."  He winked at Josiah.  "Better, Daddy?" he asked quietly.  Josiah grinned.  Seconds later, they vanished from the room.

At the McKendrick's

The door to Jared's room opened a smidge.  Raffy and C.J. giggled, knowing that Jared and Jed had been making up after their fight, and probably making up had transformed into making out.

Jed poked his head out.  "C'mere, please, C.J.," he asked.  Wondering what was up, C.J. went to the door, and into the room.  Jared was lounging on the bed; Jed sat down by his feet.  C.J. popped onto the chair opposite.

"Listen, Ceej," Jed said.  "We still need to go up and talk to Nate and Lije and their mother.  But I'd like to ask a favor.  Would you mind if Jared goes up there with me, instead of you, this trip?  It'd give us a chance to be doin' Clan stuff together.  I mean, it's your right, but...."

C.J. gave him a big smile.  "I think that's kewl," he said.  "But next time, it'll be Raffy and me's turn, okay?"

"You drive a hard bargain, squirt," Jed said, relieved.  "Deal!"  He ran back to Robert's office, grabbed the paperwork he'd put together, and darted back to Jared's room.  "Ark?  Can you transport Jared and me to Nate and Lije's place, please?"


"Aww.  I was just trying to be polite to ya, Ark,"


"Wait," said C.J.  He looked at Jared.  "Just, before you go, you should switch your shorts around so you're not wearing 'em backwards."  Jared blushed, and fixed his pants.

"Ready, Ark."  They transported out.

Jed and Jared popped into existence in the Lewises' living room.  Lije, watching cartoons, looked up startled and called out, "Nate!  Ma!  It's that Jed kid from yesterday!"  They came running, Mrs. Lewis from the kitchen and Nate down the stairs.

Jed rapidly and methodically went through the programs he had found that would provide them income and help.  "It looks to me," he concluded, "like you can get money to live off from these two, this one will pay for a home helper to come in and clean and do laundry -- that just leaves meals.  Nate, can you cook?"

"Tom always wanted to handle that, but I've wanted to learn.  But they only let girls take cooking classes at school."

"We'll take care of that tomorrow," Jed said, a plan beginning to form in his mind.  "Until then, what we usually do on weeknights is to get takeout, anyway -- Rina picks it up on her way home."

"Rina?" Lije asked.

"Oh, that's my guardian, and Ceej's.  We got to choose her after my parents got killed.  She's real nice, and pretty too."

"Jed," Mrs. Lewis said sadly.  "I knew about some of these, but we're not eligible.  I have to be certified as disabled by two competent doctors, and I just haven't been able to afford the fees for appointments with them."

"That's stupid," Jared said.

"Yeah, it is," Nate responded.  "But that's how the system's set up; you have to prove you're eligible for help before they give you any. and if you can't afford to prove it, you're S.O.L."

"Nate!" his mother said.

"Sorry for the language, mother," Nate said.  "But it's true.  These guys are the first people that have ever genuinely tried to help us, and it took losing Tom to get them."

"That's not right," Jed said.  He thought for a moment.  "Ark?  Can you patch me through to Doc Austin -- full visual of where I'm at?"

<Finally, someone who appreciates the range of my abilities.> Ark said.

"G'wan, you know we love you!" Jed said back to Ark.

"Who're you talking to?" Lije asked.

"A big old computer in Antarctica," Jed explained.

"Well, if you didn't want to tell me, you could have just said so," Lije answered.

"No, really..." Jed began.

"Jed?  Where are you?" Doc Austin's voice came in over his communicator.

"This is Mrs. Lewis; I'm at her house.  You know Jared...."

"Hello, Jared!  You seem to be walking much better now!"

"I am; thanks again!" Jared grinned.

"...and these are her sons, Nate and Lije.  Their big brother Tom was one of the Cadets killed yesterday."  Jed finished introductions.

"I'm very sorry to hear that, Mrs. Lewis, Nate, Lije.  You have my family's sincere sympathy.  Jed, are these the folks Travis said he helped you with?"

"Yessir," Jed answered.

"My son-in-law mentioned about you when they came off duty last night.  I'm glad he was able to help."

"Well, sir, the reason I'm calling is that they've apparently been unable to get any help from the disability programs, because they can't afford a doctor to certify that Mrs. Lewis is disabled -- much less the two opinions they're required to have."  Jed glanced at the paperwork.  "Doctor, in your professional opinion, can you state the degree of dexterity Mrs. Lewis has with her -- uh, is the right hand sinister or dexter?"

"Any fool can see at a glance it's been amputated!  They're requiring her to submit a doctor's opinion on that?"

"No, two of them," Jed said heatedly.  "Can you do anything?"

"Well, I don't know," Doc Austin responded.  "I'm only Director of Federation Youth Medical Services.  D'you think that might carry a little weight with bureaucrats?"

Jed grinned, joined a second later by Jared and Lije.  "I think maybe it might!"

"Wait just a moment.  Ark!  Would you patch this through to 'Tonio as well, please?"  Doc Austin asked.

"Antonio Barnes here" came the treble voice.

"'Tonio, Jed and Jared are with the Lewis family.  They need the opinions of two certified physicians that Mrs. Lewis is in fact disabled due to loss of a hand and partial loss of an arm.  I'll have Caroline prepare the paperwork for us; are you willing to sign off on it as a second opinion?"

"Of course."

"Thanks, 'Tonio.  Jed, fill in on your forms there that examination was conducted by Austin Michaels, M.D., Northwestern, and Antonio Barnes, M.D., Starfleet Medical.  You said they're in Charleston, Jed?"


"Mrs. Lewis, when things have calmed down a bit more, I'd like you to go to the old Naval Hospital there.  It's being renovated for Federation Youth Medical Services.  Ask for Dr. Christopher Herron or Dr. Marc Furst; I'll let them know I referred you.  They may be able to be of some help.  Um... Don't be surprised by Marc's appearance; he looks a lot younger than his real age."

"There's a lot of that going around these days!" 'Tonio threw in.

Doc Austin chuckled, as did Jed and Jared.  "Thanks, Doc, 'Tonio!" Jed said.  "Templeton out."

"What was that all about?" Nate asked.

"Well, two doctors I know pretty well just examined your mother through a visual link engineered by that computer Lije didn't believe me about.  One of them is the Director of Federation Youth Medical Services; the other is the boy who's his primary associate at the Camp Little Eagle Medical Clinic where his headquarters is.  His son Gabe is the guy that Fred and Travis were talking about yesterday; he's second in command of Clan Short Security, and Travis's life partner."

"You mean that kid that was here yesterday?" Nate asked.  "He's, like, married, and to another boy?"

"Yeah, that's pretty much it," Jed answered.  "Jared and I need to get around to that, then he'll stop thinking I don't love him when I have to do Clan stuff."

Nate looked from Jed to Jared and back again.  "You mean you two are...."

"Boyfriends?  Yep," Jed said.

"But don't your parents...?" Nate started to ask.

"They're dead -- his were murdered, mine died in a car crash six days later," Jared said.  "Rina -- that's his guardian -- and my big brother Mickey, who's mine, both approve."

This line of conversation was interrupted by Peter popping in.  "Hey, you two!  Cory's called a Clan meeting.  Better bring these guys along too.  What's up, anyway?"

"Oh, we're just trying to get some help for Mrs. Lewis, here.  She lost her hand in an accident," Jed answered.

"Can I see, please?" Peter asked politely.  Mrs. Lewis held out her arm and stump.

Peter concentrated, observing the hand in the past before the accident and her DNA.  Slowly the stump grew longer, flowered, and became a full arm and hand.  "There, I think that's fixed, now," he said at last.  "Try it!"

Mrs. Lewis clenched and then spread her hand, and then fainted dead away.  Jared and the Lewis boys looked on with wide eyes.

"Help her up, guys," Peter said.  "C'mon, we gotta get going!"  As Nate and Jared helped her to her feet, Peter transported the whole group to Clan H.Q.

New Auditorium, Clan Short HQ, Orlando

The group from Maine popped into existence in the rapidly filling auditorium.  Peter said, "Oops!  Be back shortly!" and vanished.  Tanner, smiling broadly, greeted Josiah and Maureen, and showed them, along with Abbie, George, and the senior Throxton, where the adults were gathering.  Raffy and C.J. pushed Mickey's wheelchair towards the boys, waving.  As the A.I. Division popped into existence a short ways away, Peter returned with Jed, Jared, Mrs. Lewis, Nate, and Lije.  He took one look at Mickey, and a second later Antonio and Byron were standing next to them.

"You gotta stop doing... oh!" Antonio said as he, first, realized that Peter had teleported him, then grasped the reason why.  Peter scanned carefully Antonio's memories of Mickey's examination, then checked out Mickey's spine directly.  He concentrated.

"Raffy, tickle Mickey's feet," Peter said.

"That's pointless, I can't feel anyth..." Mickey began to say, then collapsed into giggles as his feet twitched from Raffy's tickle-assault.  'Tonio motioned to Jed and Jared.

"Give him a hand walking over to a seat," 'Tonio said to them.  "After two weeks of being paralyzed, he's going to be a little unsteady on his feet, just like you were, Jared."

"C'mon, bro, we'll help you over to a seat," Jared said with a broad smile.  Mickey was beaming; he held out arms and stood up.

Jonas and Harry wore big smiles.  "Wanna play some basketball after?" Jonas said kiddingly.

"Just as long as you don't find any more kids hiding in the bushes!" Mickey said with a grin.  Jed and C.J. collapsed laughing.

Cory walked onto the stage. "Hey Sean, did we miss anyone?" he giggled as he helped Sean up and started towards the center of the long counter on the stage.

"I think you forgot the Federation Council!" Sean responded as they took their seats. "You ready for me to call everyone up?"

"I believe you are mistaken, Archivist." Sarek announced from the balcony. "My presence here fulfills the requirements for Federation Council attendance. I believe that once Patriarch Cory is sufficiently prepared, the meeting may commence."

Cory looked over at Sarek with a grin; at Sarek's nod Cory stood up. "Hello everyone; I am Patriarch Cory Short, welcome to Clan Headquarters. Tonight we're here to acknowledge all of you for pulling together yesterday. I'm also going to make sure everyone is really aware of where they stand in our family; and every single one of you is family in my eyes. This cute guy next to me is Clan Archivist Sean Short; he's going to do the introductions as our officers are brought up."

Sean stood as Cory took his seat. "These are not in any real order, guys, so don't think someone is above someone else just because they were called up first." Sean paused, then started calling people up. "Representing the A.I. Division, could Division Director Danny Page and Medical Director Marc Furst please come up?"

Marc and Danny came up to the stage, both showing a little embarrassment at being called first. Once they were at their seats, Sean continued. "Representing the Oceanic Division; Division Director Skylan Thomas and I.T. Director Cody Thomas." The two boys joined them on the stage, after a few quick hugs they took their seats. "Representing Clan Short Special Forces, Vulcan Commander Adam Casey and Intelligence Commander Logan Hayes." Both boys came onto the stage, saluting Cory before taking their seats.

"Hey, isn't that the guy from yesterday that you...?"  C.J. started to ask Jed.

"No, this guy's older.  But it looks an awful lot like him," Jed answered.

"Next up, Director of Clan Diplomatic Corps, Xain Thompson and his T'hy'la Jake Thompson." Sean paused until they were seated. "Now, the Director of Operations, North America, Sammy Reynolds."

"Who? Me?" Sammy exclaimed as he looked around the room.

"Yeah, YOU!" Cory giggled. "Get on up here, Sammy; bring Brian with you."

As a long exchange between Sammy and a deputy sheriff standing in the balcony followed, Pen nudged Jonas.  "Are you gonna get called up there?"

"No," Jonas said.  "It was just me and Harry up in our area until now -- except that nobody, including them, realized that Bobby and Skipper were part of the group as Jed's sworn brothers.  Now, though, things may end up changing."

Once Sammy had finally accepted his new position, Cory stood up with a giggle. "Sammy, get on up here and have a seat before things get out of hand! You've earned the spot, bro; we'll discuss everything about it later. Bring Brian with you."

Sammy and Brian stood to join the others on the stage. Brian seemed a little unsteady on his feet, but that did not matter, as the next thing everyone knew, they were standing behind their chairs.

Sean giggled at the surprise they had sprung. "Next up, representing the Mikyvis Council, Arch-Vilicus Kyle Richardson and Concilium Vilicus Tyler Short." Neither boy bothered walking; instead, they both appeared in their chairs wearing huge grins.

"You two are nuts!" Sean giggled. "Representing the Founder Council; Council Seer Tyne Oraculum and Founder Council Cautela Rusty Timberlake." Once Tyne and Rusty had taken their spots, Sean looked and saw that three seats were still empty. "Okay, now representing Camp Little Eagle, the Director of Clan Recovery and Support, Dylan Chang."

Dylan made his way to the stage; carrying a small, six year old boy in his arms. Dylan obviously was in just as much shock as Sammy had been; even though half his face was hidden by his black leather mask, his expression was clear. Once Dylan was comfortably seated with the child securely on his lap, Sean looked off to the side of the stage with a grin.

"Last but not least, representing Vulcan Special Operations Dragon Division; Dragon Lead One, Division Commander 'Voice' and Dragon Lead Two, Commander 'Fire'." Sean announced with great flourish.

Two of the strange robed figures walked from the edge of the stage to the middle, while gesturing for the remaining seven to find somewhere to sit. One of them, his robe covering what looked like a humped back, looked the most unusual, especially when he gave the back of the chair he found a disgusted look.

The blond haired boy walking towards Sean glanced over at the humpbacked boy, and the back of the chair suddenly detached and flew to the side of the room, allowing him to sit comfortably. Kyle giggled as he whispered "We're gonna need to stock up on chairs if you keep doing that!"

The blond replied in a musical accent , "I unscrewed the back, Arch-Vilicus. I will reattach it once the meeting adjourns." He and his partner then focused their attention on Cory and Sean.

"On behalf of the VSO, I formally bring you greetings, Patriarch Cory, Archivist Sean," the taller brown haired boy said as he gave them the Vulcan salute.

Cory and Sean came to attention and returned the salute. "It is fitting that the elite Dragon Division of the VSO be present at this occasion." Cory replied formally. He then motioned for them to choose their seats.

Just then, Levi spoke up from his seat in the front row. "Uncle Sean... you ran out of seats! I'll help ya!" With that, the counter next to Dylan and his munchkin hanger-on extended, four more chairs appeared, and a bench popped into existence at the end. "Is that okay, Uncle Sean!"

"Thanks Levi!" Sean giggled. "Now that Levi fixed the seating, we can include our little 'Tribes' that have formed within the Clan as well as the VSO 'Dragon Division Rugrats'. First of all, Timmy Short and Ricky Michaels, Chiefs of the group we all call 'The Tribe'."

Levi 'assisted' the two boys with getting onstage. At the same time, Allie appeared on the bench at the end. Sean looked over and barely kept from laughing; Allie was wearing a modified Clan polo shirt, with a Clan I.D. attached at the shoulder. "I almost forgot!" Sean chuckled. "Ms. Allie Gator; representing the Headquarters Animal Corps!"

Giggles came from JJ's lap, as a munchkin wearing a blue robe observed Allie's utility belt around her waist; a British Passport plainly visible through the open velcro.

At the boy's giggle, Sean looked down at him, "And for the third group, 'Little Heart' and 'Blue', leaders of the Dragon Division 'Rugrats'."

JJ and Adam's laps were suddenly vacant as both blue robed boys hopped down and ran up on stage. Laughter followed behind them as everyone plainly heard 'Little Heart' stage whisper to 'Blue', "Yous me boyfwiend now, Ross?"

"Thinks so, Bel," 'Blue' giggled as they ran past Marc, "Ever'one's up here wif der boyfriends, so wes must be!"

"Unca Marc has a nice boyfwiend," 'Little Heart' finished as they both sat by Allie, Timmy and Ricky.

Marc went an instant red color, and tried to look anywhere but at the suddenly speechless Danny. Howls of laugher rose from everyone in the auditorium, excepting the Vulcans' present. Xain did grin, however.

Danny found his voice quickly, "He's not my boyfriend!" His face was beet red, then a puzzled look came over him, "'Unca Marc'? Wait a moment! You know these guys?"

"Ummm... long story. Tell you after." Marc mumbled.

"Secrets; yeah, right," Danny muttered as his blush at 'Little Heart's comment faded.

"What's that all about?" Lije asked as the two androids blushed deeply, followed moments later by one of the two Mikyvis swatting the other in the side of his head.

"I'm not sure I want to know!" Harry answered giggling.

Cory looked over at the group to his left and shook his head. "As you can tell, as usual there's nothing really formal here tonight! Since you seem to be so vocal 'King Kyle', why don't you update everyone first?"

"LEVI! You're GROUNDED!" Kyle yelled while trying to keep a straight face.

"Does dat make Unca Ty'wer a Queen?" 'Little Heart' asked innocently.

Tyler turned beet red as he stuttered his reply. "No, but Levi is about to get crowned!"

"I think I'll go visit Brakkii for a few centuries!" Levi giggled as he suddenly teleported to the back of the auditorium.

Kyle motioned for Levi to retake his seat, the smile on his face saying that nothing would happen ... for now. Once Levi was re-seated, Kyle began. "As some of you know, a few weird things have happened with me over the last couple of days."

As the snickers died down from the crowd, Kyle continued. "Ok, so weird stuff around me ain't new! Anyways, what's happened is instead of me goin' into a growth spurt my body changed itself into a new species. It's made it so I can travel anywhere no matter what the date, universe or whatever."

A snort came from both VSO boys on stage at that last sentence as they tried, and failed, to hold in their laughter.

The strange humpbacked kid did not even try to hold his in.

"S...s...sorry... highness," the brown haired boy managed through his tears of mirth.

Cory looked out at the latest new Clan members and joined in the laughter. "Bro; you have NO idea of just how funny that is to the guys that your son has made contact with!"

Kyle shook his head with a smile. "Yes I do; he's gonna pay later! Anyways, what a lot of you don't know is that Ty, Levis, and I just had to take on a guy who was trying to use Time to destroy the Universe. We won, obviously, or else none of us would be here. While we were doing that, Levi was carrying out a couple of requests I made. He got 'Someone's' attention and has been fixin' some things that were messed up by the guy we fought."

"That's not all he fixed!" Peter yelled from the crowd.

"I know!" Kyle giggled. He then proceeded to fill everyone in on what him and his species were able to do, answering the occasional question from the crowd.

As Kyle finished, Cory moved over and gave him a quick hug. "You're definitely special, li'l bro, and I wouldn't change you for the world." Cory whispered.

Kyle smiled up at Cory as he returned the hug. "Thanks, bro; I needed that."

Cory made his way back to his seat, then looked around the room. "Guys, I need to make one announcement that I think all of you will like. I know a lot of you were able to hear the stories of the D'Kyr from Skirk and his brothers. As of just before this meeting, I officially took possession of the ship; we now have a Vulcan Combat Cruiser as our Fleet Flagship. In addition, we have the plans to build additional smaller combat frigates for each division which has need of one."

Cody and two of the other boys from the Oceanic Division all had looks of shock on their faces at this news. "You're kidding, right? I mean, no way anyone would put the control of a Vulcan cruiser in the hands of kids." one of them said.

"That fits in perfectly with my guys' plans, actually. I have an announcement of my own." Sky said, standing up. "As of earlier this week, the official Clan Short Commbadge went into production, and just before being 'popped' to this meeting, I had received the final shipment of them. At the conclusion of this meeting, if you will all see Zeke and Tim up here on stage, they will be able to assign you your badge, and then they'll be able to brief you on the operation of the new badges, seeing as though they're the ones who designed them."

The taller VSO boy stood and turned to look at one of his companions, seated in the crowd. Receiving a nod, he addressed Sky, "Skylan Thomas, I have an extra gift to add to your commbadge design. Eyes has received clearance from the VSO for us to give you our Covert Vulcan frequencies."

As he was speaking, the one identified as Eyes came up on stage and handed over a Vulcan data pad, "All the codes are here, and already cleared for each Clan Short Division. The list of who has what is tagged at the end."

"That won't be a problem for us." Sky said, accepting the Padd from Eyes. "Tim and Zeke created an easier interface than Starfleet has, to be able to add frequencies and encryption levels as required. I do believe it can even be done through the badge itself, but you'd have to check with them. I don't know anything about it, way too much technical jargon for me."

Once the giggles from his statement had died down again, he continued, "Also, following the events of the past few days, my Communications Officer decided that everyone needed some form of downtime, so being the wonderful person she is, and considering the amount of publicity just my division alone has been getting lately, Nintendo of Australia practically threw a testing contract at us for their new console. Anyone interested?"

Nate, Lije, Jared, and several others perked up their ears at this.  "Does that include us?" Nate asked.  Peter nodded yes.

There was a roar of agreement as the information sunk in to the rest of the group.

"I'll take that as a big 'yes', so simply contact Zoe, and she'll get a console sent out to you. Personally, I've seen the console, and it's TINY." Sky said, smiling at the enthusiasm of those in the room.

Sky's commbadge suddenly detached from his top and floated over towards the VSO blond. "Oh, this is sweet. Koth will love this," he said to the one who was obviously his boyfriend as he looked the badge over.

"You nut! Ask before you scare the hell out of someone, dude," Brown-Hair sighed.

"Oops," Blond blushed as he sent it floating back to the startled Sky, "Sorry! But Jace! That is great! These ones we have are obvious, those really add to the whole covert thing!"

The revealed 'Jace' covered his eyes with the palm of his hand as he said, "Oh, dear GOD, Fire! Code names? You really are blond, you know that?"

"Hey!" came the protest from nearly half the room.

Nate and Jared started howling with laughter, along with the rest of the room, when 'Jace disappeared from his seat, only to reappear hanging upside down over the stage; dripping wet.

Levi giggled, "You gotta 'pologize to Eli an' Benji before they'll let ya down!"

"Geez, way to tick half a room off there, Voice." Cody muttered to the dripping boy. "The rest of us suffer all the more for it."

"I coulda told ya not to do that!" Sean added.

'Jace', or Voice, stiffened slightly from what Jared could see, then they all saw Voice's eyes suddenly blazed forth in power. He seemed to right himself and float back down to land on the stage.

Fire giggled, "It always tickles when you do that, Voice."

As Voice came to his feet, he looked at the startled twin telekinetics and smiled at them, his eyes slowly returning to normal. "Guys, I do apologize, but it's not wise to use your powers on me or the others in the Dragon Division. At least, not until we are used to someone new pranking us with them. That goes for any here who are not Mikyvis. We are trained to react violently to mind attacks, and I could have easily used your own power against you." He looked pleadingly out at the entire room, "I don't want to cause hurt in response to a prank, so please, give us a few hours in your presence to 'imprint' on you all."

All the telekinetics, empaths and telepaths nodded in agreement and smiled back at Voice.

"It was very well done, though. I bet the dunking came from Levi?" Fire asked.

Levi nodded with a grin. "Mikyvis Dunking Authority at your service!"

"Can't stop that, Voice!" Fire giggled.

"Agreed," said the still dripping boy as he sat down.

"Your clothes are wet!" Peter giggled. "Let me help!"

Voice suddenly found his cloak replaced with a pink tu-tu. "Is that better, Voice?" Peter asked innocently.

Voice giggled, "Not bad. Not bad at all."

"Oh, we're having some fun tonight?" Fire giggled evilly.

"Uh huh," Voice nodded with a wicked grin.

Sky barely restrained his laughter and kept a straight face as he said, "Looks good, bro. When's the performance start? I assume, of course, you're in the ballet?"

Voice glanced at Fire. The boy nodded, and Voice floated up and started to dance in mid air.  Lije, C.J., and Raffy were laughing so hard tears were forming in their eyes.

Eyes sighed, "Idiot."

"That settles it, definitely the 'OTHER' side of the family." Cody laughed. "All nuts over there."

"Hey now!" Cory giggled.

Voice bowed in mid air, then suddenly found himself back in his seat and in his Division clothes again.

"Guys, that brings me to another good point. Apparently, the new badges are also waterproof, so all you dunkers out there will be able to continue the torture." Sky said.

"Thats good to hear;" Kyle giggled, "since I don't bother warning anyone any more...." Kyle grinned at Levi as he added "... It's GOOD to be King!"

"Technically," Eyes offered with a giggle, "the Vulcans, in ancient days, would have labeled you as a High Prince, Angel boy!"

"So, when someone calls you a royal pain in the butt anymore, they're actually being truthful." Sky quipped.

Kyle giggled. "I thought Cody was the pain in your butt, Sky; or did he finally learn to be slow?"

"Ouch, low blow, lil bro. I seem to remember a story about two little boys playing 'sword-fights' with their wieners." Sky quipped back, glowing bright red. "Delta, I may need you to give someone a taste of your 'numbing noogie'."

"Sword fightin's fun, Uncle Sky!" Timmy announced.

'Little Heart' and 'Blue' nodded, "Uh huh!"

"I'm sure it is, kiddoes. I was just trying to deflect attention away from me. Tell you what, you got any good, embarrassing stories to share about your Uncle Kyle?" Sky asked with an evil grin, already knowing about Timmy's 'habit' of spouting embarrassing stories unintentionally.

"Uncle Dan says that ev'ry time Uncle Kyle an' Uncle Ty goes to sleep they have another baby!" Timmy said proudly.

Voice giggled, "I think they're after world conquest, personally!"

"Yeah, seriously, where's the standard 'Take me to your leader' before the mass-invasion?" Sky asked. "And besides, mass-invasion?? SO cliche!"

Levi giggled. "Daddy is our leader, and Uncle Cory's his. Who else do we need to see?"

"Guys, I think we've drifted a little off course with the meeting...." Sky said.

"A little? Kinda like I can see the edge of the galaxy off of my shoulder!" Cory laughed.

"Nah, you're just looking too far into Sean's eyes again. Come back, Cory!" Sky replied.

Voice giggled, "I think it was my fault... or was it Fire and his commbadge fetish?"

"Dude, NOT going there!" Cody said, laughing.

Sean laughed. "Sky, you're one to talk; I seem to remember you and Cody getting lost a lot..."

"Shut it, Tower-boy." Sky said.

"Just wait until I take you for a ride in a REAL shuttle!" Sean said with an evil grin. "That reminds me, I have about thirty stuffed animals for you guys to take home with you."

"Oooo.... I'm shakin'." Sky replied sarcastically, before the second part sunk in. "Thirty? Dude, aren't that many in my division!"

"There will be soon!" the Mikyvis replied in unison.

Cory got an evil grin on his face as he said "While we're at it, I want to make sure all of the blonds here know the name of their target tonight. Voice, would you be so kind as to introduce yourself to the Clan?"

"Target, eh?" Voice giggled as he stood and walked to the front, "fair enough."

He looked over the assembled Clan before him, and suddenly tears rose up in his eyes. Here were all those he and his Division had been protecting even before they had become 'Clan Short'.

His eyes narrowed, as if he could hear someone the others could not; then the tears started slightly.

After a quick glance at Sarek seated on the balcony level, Voice began, "I am the Voice of the Dragon, a Division within Vulcan Special And Covert Operations. Our mission has been and will continue to be: Protect Clan Short. As you have likely worked out, my real name is Jace, or Jason. This," he pointed behind him, "is Fire, or Nathan. Seated amongst you is Eyes, or Antony; my little sister Heart, or Victoria, and Wings, Riti."

They all rose and bowed, tears also in their eyes.

Turning and pointing at the four blue robed children, Voice continued, "My son and daughter, Belar and Jessica. Antony's little brother, Ross. And finally, one of Antony's sons, Rhys."

"We..." He paused, for up on the balcony another adult had appeared. A Starfleet Captain. And he was speaking to the Ambassador.

It was a Starfleet Captain, and he looked a lot like Jason/Voice and Victoria/Heart.

"DAD!" Voice yelled loudly.

All the Dragon kids stood and started running to the stairs, all but Nathan. Raffy gasped as all of them started to float quickly upwards. As they landed, the Captain found himself on the floor after being pounced by all nine children.

"They've been watching Justy!" Sean giggled.

"Then Heaven help us." Sky added.

Justy giggled. "That was about an eight; I need to teach them air-time!"

"Perfectionist." Cody muttered.

"Just wait; I'm gonna give Kano his advanced course while you're here!" Justy replied with a grin.

"He don't need one." Jason replied. "I should know. I receive most of them."

It took a while for Voice and the others to calm down, and it took longer for their tears of joy to stop. "Hello kids. I can't stay long, Admiral Morrow needs me in Command. Can we talk later?" the Captain said softly.

"Sure, Daddy!" Riti/Wings whimpered.

After a last round of hugs and kisses, the Captain left. Sarek pulled Voice to one side and started whispering to him.

Riti, however, turned to look down at Justy, having heard his comment. "Air-time? THIS is air-time!" he stripped off his robe, and the entire room saw what the lump on his back really was; his midnight blue wings. Raffy also giggled when he saw that Riti was bare-butt naked!

The winged boy jumped and flew straight for Justy, grabbed him, and took him on the ride of his life. "Who needs shuttles, eh?" he giggled as he set the smiling boy to his feet.

"THAT was AWESOME!" Justy exclaimed. "Thanks!"

"Anytime. And that goes for most of ya... If you're too big, though then sorry... I'm only little!" Riti giggled.

"So have a comment there..... must.... resist..... urge.... in front of...... children!" Jason said.

Riti rolled his eyes, "I mean to carry! By the Great Tree, you humans have a one track min... oh, never mind, so do I!" He poked his tongue out at the laughing Jason Thomas-Komac.

After a brief whispered conversation, Voice asked Sarek out loud, "Has the Charter been released?"

"Not as yet, grandson," Sarek responded. "Eyes told me that something may occur in the next week that will make such redundant. Your Crest is also on hold. The Protection Crest shall be your symbol for now."

"Thank you, Grandfather." Voice hugged him, before turning back to the stage. He and Nathan suddenly transported there, with Kyle giggling at them.

"Well... I..." Jace shook his head slightly. "Patriarch Cory, I hope you don't mind this being a kinda Birthday event?"

"Does that mean we can all wear our birthday suits?" Levi asked hopefully.

Riti giggled as he hovered over the stage, "Why not? I already am!"

"Lil' dudes, I think you need to spend a little less time with your horn-dog parents." Jason said, shaking his head.

Riti giggled again, "I'm always like this... my tribe are rural, not stuffy city-folks!"

"Everyone keeps their clothes Levi; this IS a meeting!" Cory replied seriously. "Go ahead Jace."

Voice nodded and took a small device off his belt and placed it on the floor, then tapped his comm on his neck, "Voice to 'Yoshuhlnak'; Wisdom, Talons, Holo-comm activated. Number 34. Please start transmission when ready."

"Received," a voice replied.

A moment later, two figures were projected from the small device on the floor of the stage, one a ten year old Klingon, the other a twelve year old Andorian.

"Dragon Leads, on stage please," Voice gestured.

Once all seven of the Dragon Core Leadership were on stage, in one form or another, Voice again touched his comm, "Voice to Dragon's Nest; Draco, come to full audio and relay to the Division."

A computer voice responded, "As you command, Voice. All the Division are online."

The holographic Klingon asked, "What's happening, Voice?"

"Wait and see, bro," Voice turned and pointed out the two 'newcomers', "This is Koth, Code-name Talons, and Telez, Wisdom."

"Woah! What about Red One, Jace!" Telez hissed.

Voice just pointed up at Sarek.

Sarek announced, "As of this moment, 'Yon'kur Wuh' has been rescinded. All that has been hidden from sight is now official, and I formally recognize Jason Evans as my Grandson through A'nirih relationship to he-who-is-my-son, Captain Spock of House Surak."

"Clan Evans now exists," Voice said happily. Over his comm loud cheers and yells could be heard as all the Dragon Division changed into Clan in an instant. The seven on stage pulled off the covers on their Arm-Crests. Underneath was the Clan Short crest, in a silver tint with a Silvery Welsh Dragon encircling it.

"Finally..." Voice sighed as he embraced Nathan.

"Oh God, now we have to get another crest design done for the badges. Cory, stop adding divisions!" Sky said.

Voice shook his head, a little sadly, "We're not and can never be Clan Short, Skylan. This is the Protection Crest."

"What's that all about?" Jared asked.

"I'm not sure," Jonas answered.  "Sounds like something we've been out of the loop on."

Over Voice's comm a new voice was heard, "Jason? Is he there?"

Nathan rolled his eyes, "Oh, no. Horny Klingon time..."

"I heard that, bro!"

"Yes, Korris, he is," Voice replied with a wicked grin at one of the boys seated in the crowd; Chang.

Chang raised his eyebrow, "Me?"

"I'm beaming over..." ... "... now... oh, never mind..." said a twelve year old Klingon who had just appeared on the stage.

Peter giggled. "Transporters are such OLD tech ... get with the times dude!"

"Yes," Antony said, "But there's a time coming when you won't be there, so..." He trailed off, his eyes far away.

In his full battle armor and with his bat'leth slung over his back, Korris looked around the room... and then saw Chang.

Korris bowed formally, then stood and simply stared at the boy, who was staring back with an appraising look.

"You know, it is generally considered rude to stalk people..." Chang replied with a small twinkle in his eye.

"Oh my God!" Adam said loudly, "Chang just made a joke!"

Korris' lips curled into a smile, "Had I been stalking you, then yes, that would have been... dishonorable. I was assigned watchcare for..."

"Assigned??" Voice exclaimed in shock.

"You practically insisted!" Antony half yelled, "I nearly lost the use of my arm, you were twisting it so much... Literally!"

Chang slowly walked up to the group, Adam and Logan nearly lying on the floor in hysterics, "So... you were "assigned" to stalk us?" At that, Adam and Logan totally lost it.

"As I was saying," Korris continued, totally blanking his brothers, "I was watchcare for your Unit, and I saw you. You interest me, as does your code of honor." Chang had stopped a few feet before Korris by now, and both boys looked the other over.

On hearing what the young Klingon had said, Chang raised his eyebrow again. "You are interested in my code? Well perhaps then, if the Patriarch agrees, and my commander does as well, we can discuss Codes... at length."

As they were continuing to assess each other, Adam Casey asked through his giggles, "So, are you going to introduce yourselves?"

Voice waited a few seconds, but when it looked obvious that neither Chang nor Korris was going to say anything, he answered instead, "Chang... this is my brother, Korris. Korris, you obviously know Chang... oh god, Viccy? Can you..."

"Yeah, on it," Victoria said as she looked between them, scanning. "Oh, lord. It's love. I mean... REALLY love... well, even a blind idiot can see it... Korris is really in love. Chang... is holding it back... the spark is there, and OH, is it there... Oh, this is sooo sweet!"

"Wow," was all Nathan said as he stared at the two boys.

"Dang, they're almost as bad as Sky and Cody!" Sean giggled.

"What do you mean by THAT?" Cody asked Sean as he twisted around, directing his glare at the teen in question.

"Easy; the way you two get lost in each other's eyes." Sean replied.

"I'm glad we don't act like that," Jed said to Jared.  Mickey, Raffy, and C.J. cracked up all over again.

Adam Casey stood up, and moved over to where Cory and Levi were talking. "Excuse me sir, would I be permitted to address the entire Clan?"

Cory just nodded, and moved back to his seat. The room fell silent as Adam turned and started to look out to the very large group of kids, and the smaller group of adults in the balcony area. It took him a few moments to organize his thoughts, and then he nodded to himself and started to talk.

"Yesterday my family lost many. Yesterday we were all hurt, and hurt bad." He took a moment to compose himself, and fight back the tears. "I'm not sure who started this saying, but my brother, Kent, told me that there is a saying here that means a lot to everyone. 'Sometimes bad things have to happen so that good things can.' That statement holds more truth to it then almost anything else I have ever heard. And while bad things did happen to my family, it brought us all together. It is no longer my family, but ours. Every single one of us, in our own way, is what makes this Clan so great."

He paused for another moment, letting his eyes roam over everyone that was seated before him. "I would like to offer the full resources of our base to all of you. There you can learn anything you may have wanted to about Military, and non-military occupations. We have set this up so that when all the kids get older they will all have some training in a field of their choice. I would like everyone to feel free to use what we can offer."

Adam waited for a moment to let what he said sink in, then he continued. "We have a saying in the Unit, that i think very much fits with the entire Clan. If anyone is interested in learning where it came from, you can ask any member of the Clan Short Special Forces Division." He gave a half chuckle, "Hell of a mouth full there. But anyways, I think it best to show you, and if you wish, feel free to make it your own."

He silently nodded to Juan who jumped to his feet, and barked out a loud "UNIT! ATTENTION!"

Every member of the Unit jumped to their feet, and Adam took a step back from the microphone. He smiled a sad smile, took a breath, and then yelled out "Unit...THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!"

In one voice they all replied, "There IS only ONE!" Then they all saluted. Adam saluted back, and then let his hand fall. The rest of the kids dropped their hands as well, then Adam turned back to Cory.

Cory took back control of the meeting. After having Kyle help Sean fill in all of the new guys on Clan history, they discussed the various events that had happened since the last meeting.

Once Kyle had done this, Antony and Voice moved towards Cory and Kyle. After a brief whispered conversation, Kyle and Antony transferred the Clan Evans history.

Voice addressed Clan Short. "Just as we have been included in Clan Short history by Kyle, he and Antony have prepared a package about the Dragon, or Clan Evans history. When you're ready, lil' dude," he finished with a brief hug to Kyle.

Kyle transmitted all that he had been given by Antony. Once done, Antony spoke, "That is the brief history of Clan Evans, as well as an overview of each of those in our Clan. Some of their stories are painful, so please, if you need to talk to us about them, to find out how those involved are doing now, come talk to us. We're gonna be here for the next few days, and we want to get to know our brother Clan better."

"Welcome to the Family of Sarek, bros and sis," Cory said as he pulled Voice and Antony in for a tight hug.

Once everyone was up-to-date and aware what their membership in the family meant, Cory closed the meeting and led everyone off the stage, The rest of the Clan began to stand and mingle with those others they had not seen in a while, some taking the time to greet and congratulate the now 'official' Clan Evans, and welcome them to the Family of Sarek.

As the now-expanded Clan mingled after the meeting, Jason led two people over to meet Jonas: a ginger-haired young man who looked strangely familiar, as if he should recognize him, and a tall blond boy a year or two younger than his companion.

"I understand you're engaged to my namesake," the ginger-haired one said to Jonas with a cheeky grin.

Suddenly the penny dropped. "Pleased to meet you, Your Highness," Jonas stammered.

"Shhh," Prince Harry said. "Just call me Harry, please. I'm not here to play 'royals mingle with Clan' or any such public image hype; I'm here, with my mates, because this is a place where I, and they, can do something useful and valuable. Do keep it under wraps; not even most of Clan Short know that I'm here as yet, or that I'm a part of Clan Evans. Thirty of my mates are here with me, and we're the Dragon Prince's Guard in the Dragon Division.

"This is Nigel," the Prince said as he introduced his friend, "my second in command. He's the son of the Marquess of Rockingham, which technically makes him an Earl by courtesy. But just like me, he's in it not for the celebrity, but because by being part of this, we can actually DO something to help young people. Just call him Nigel, same as any other bloke."

"Kewl; I won't blow your cover," Jonas said. Then, looking beyond Nigel to where Justy, Jacob, and Jamie were talking with Judge Josiah, Jed, and Jared, he said to Nigel, "But I guess that makes you the Dragon Ea...."

"Exactly!" Prince Harry said laughing, and Nigel joined him, after clipping the back of the Prince's head lightly

Gabe and Travis came up to Jed, as he stood with Jared, Nate, and Lije. "Hey, guys, how're you doing?" Travis said.

"Awesome!" Nate answered. "Jed found us some help with the bills, and some kid named Peter somehow gave Mom back her hand! And you guys got rid of Miss Nadine, to boot. This has just been soooo kewl!"

Travis smiled. "I've been in a similar predicament; almost any of us have, different stories but the same problems -- being a kid in a world that won't listen to kids." He gestured at the roomful of boys. "Ask anybody. That's what we're doing here -- changing that!"

"I wish I could help," Nate said wistfully.

"You can," Gabe replied. "Just whenever you see somebody that needs help, find out what they need, and arrange it for them."

"We're just kids; who's going to listen to us?" Lije retorted.

"Didn't we have this argument yesterday?" Jed grinned. "I hope Trav and I proved to you exactly what 'just kids' can do."

"Yeah, but it's not like we're part of your Clan," Nate said. "You guys got resources." Jared sniffled, and tried not to look sad.

"Guys," Gabe said. "Do you know what it took to make us part of the Clan?"

"Uh, no..." Lije answered.

"We promised to be brothers to each other," Gabe answered gently. "That's all it took, back when it was just Sean and Cory, J.J., and Kyle. And that's all any of us have done, ever since. Sure, Grandfather Sarek pulled some fancy legal strings to get us the powers we have, and we have a lot of resources. But it all comes down to that -- guys promising to be there, brothers, for each other."

"It's not like a club with membership requirements and initiation and stuff," Travis enlarged on what Gabe was saying. "Sure, we recognize new members at meetings -- but that's not admitting them, it's letting everybody know who their new brothers are -- because we're all family. We helped you guys, same as we were helped, and now you want to pass on that help in turn. That's all it takes."

Jared, Jed, and Nate were openmouthed. Pen, Skipper, Bobby, and Doug turned to listen in. "You guys were thinking you had to go through some membership ceremony or something?" Gabe said. "Heck no, if you're willing to back us as brothers, and call for our help when you need it, that makes you a part of us, our Clan brothers." Jared was grinning from ear to ear; so were Bobby and Doug. Skipper wrapped his arm around them both, smiling broadly. "Hey, Double J's," Gabe said to Jamie and Jacob, "give these guys the package: Clan history, human languages, Charter, and Safe Haven Act. They none of them realized they're a part of us until just now."

"We did," Drew giggled.

"Pipe down and give us a hand, Andrew," Jamie said, grinning. Drew stuck out his tongue at him.

"Wow!" came from nine throats at once. "C'est merveilleux!" Doug added.

"U maakt niet indruk op iedereen; wij allen kunnen het begrijpen." Pen answered him, smiling.

"I wasn't trying to show off; I know you all got it same as me. I was just thrilled to finally be able to speak other languages," Doug replied with a great warm smile.

"Your dad did that to you?" Lije said to Jacob, horrified.

"Yeah, but he's history, and we got a great new life now -- same as you. You'll see," Jacob replied with a warm smile.

"Woops! We're needed over with the Unit," Jamie said, leading his two brothers off.

As Gabe and Travis walked away, Harry looked around to see the broad smiles on his friends' ... no, his brothers' faces, he corrected himself. Then he noticed another group coming towards them. At the middle of the group were Adam Casey and Logan of the Unit, as he recognized from their being introduced earlier. But surrounding them were a dozen or so boys who looked like what Logan must have looked like a couple of years ago -- just like him. And with them were three, uh, people. Harry's mind refused to tag a name on them. They looked almost like cats, walking on two legs and wearing military uniforms, more or less. Two of them seemed like hyperactive boys, or cats, or cat-boys, in their early teens, but the third -- it looked like a tiger. A six-foot-five tiger, in uniform. With a samurai sword at its belt. 'Must be an aftereffect from the painkillers they gave me yesterday,' Harry thought. 'I'm hallucinating.'

"There he is!" one of the Xerox copies of Logan said as they walked up to the Maine group.

Then Doug caught sight of the approaching group, and apparently especially the tiger. "Holy shit, what's that?!?!" he exclaimed. Everyone else turned and looked, and more then a few jaws hit the floor.

The Logan-copy who had said "There he is!" as they walked up grabbed Logan and Adam's hands, led them over to Jed, and said, "Hey Jed, I don't know if you remember me but..."

"Sure I remember you, Todd; you look a lot better then you did yesterday. How are you doing?" Jed asked, as he started to look around at the rest of the group that had just walked up, his face growing more and more confused.

Logan started to laugh as he caught onto the look on Jed's face. "Hey, Jed, what can I say: Mom was busy! By the way, I'm Logan." He started to reach his hand out to shake Jed's, when he got hit upside the head by a woman, apparently his mother, who had just walked up. "I heard that, mister." That of course made everyone start to laugh.

When the laughter died down, Jed extended his hand, and took Logan's. "Hey there. That's quite a group you have with you." As he once again eyed Khan.

Logan just laughed. "Yeah, they're a good bunch... most of the time. Here, let me introduce you to everyone. This is my partner, and Commander of the Unit, Adam Casey, and these are my brothers..." One by one, he introduced his brothers, and then the two cat-boys, whose names turned out to be Hermes and Mercury. "... and the big guy over there is Amur Khan, the commander of the G-Cat Assault team."

Jed smiled, "Pleased to meet you. Todd, you'll remember C.J." He gestured to his younger brother standing next to him. "This is my boyfriend Jared," he continued, "and his brothers, Mickey and Raffy. And these are the two guys that rescued me and CJ, Jonas and Harry. The big guy back there is the EMT guy that helped helped rescue Jared and them, Skipper, and that's Bobby next to him." Both guys waved to them as their names were given.

At that moment, Jondo, who had been keeping close to Skipper from nervousness around a large group of people he didn't know, poked his head out from behind Skipper. He looked at Adam for a second, then looked down to his right at a smaller boy standing there. He suddenly got a shocked look on his face, and in a strangled gasp he tried to cry out "Kent!" and then collapsed.

To be continued

Authors' Notes:

Many thanks to Ilúvantír for assistance throughout the chapter, and to ACFan and Roland for collaboration on the final sections. Contrary to what you probably are thinking, this chapter does not end in a cliff-hanger. The final scene is paralleled and continued, from Adam Casey's perspective, in Chapter 27 of The Unit, now or soon to be live at The Story Lover's Home. And, as always, thanks to The Story Lover himself for continuity review and editing. -- D&B