Be Careful What You Ask For

Chapter 13

Friday, Late Afternoon, C.I.C. Orlando

After a call to the Chipmunks at Camp Bam Bam Command Center, Aaron sat back and waited. In a few minutes, Daileass beamed Barry in. One of the guys who had been through the three years training on the TARDIS earlier, Barry had been handpicked by the three Intel triplet-clones for his personality traits. He was wearing the special subvocals indistinguishable from skin except by high-tech devices.

"Hey, thanks for coming," Aaron greeted him warmly. "Let me tell you what the plan is." And Aaron briefed him about Camp Santa Anita, and the idea he had come up with. Barry began to grin.

Main Auditorium, former Hancock AFB

"Thank you all for coming today and applying for work with us," Kurt said to the 604 people sitting in rows before him. "We have a process designed that will, we expect, give you all an answer before the day is out. Unfortunately, that means a great deal of waiting on your part."

He drew a breath. "Your applications will be reviewed and coded for relevant skills. Starting in about ten minutes, my nephew and I will be conducting brief interviews with any of you we think we might be able to use … and I do mean brief, probably no more than two minutes each. Shortly thereafter, you'll have your answer. Meanwhile, rather than bore you with TV reruns, we do have some live entertainment for you."

With that, Kurt stepped away from the front and proceeded to the adjacent offices, where Scott and two of Kayla's staff were already beginning to process applications, reviewing them and coding in relevant skills at the top. He accepted the first batch, stepped back to the door and called out their names.

What was not said was that one major criterion for hiring was not whether the person was the best at a job skill, but whether he or she was interested in adopting or fostering the children for whom the facility was being built. As Kurt asked the questions, Galen would be monitoring for the requisite attitude. Kurt expected to hire a few others, but he'd be sparing of such hires – what these kids needed was parents, not people who viewed it as a 9-to-5 job. "I don't necessarily want the best cook or maintenance man," Kurt had told them. "I want people who have a need to parent, a heart that reaches out to kids who need a home and family. I'm looking for people who will 'click' with the kids we get from Camp Bam Bam intake. What they do for a living, we can figure out later – maybe it's even just houseparent for a big group of kids that they bond with. We're not here to set up a place to warehouse homeless kids; we're in the business of manufacturing families. We need people that will love the hurt, the skeptical, the hardened, the unlovable, despite their efforts to wall them out. Keep that in mind."

Out in the auditorium area, Kevin Richardson had taken 'center stage' to announce that he and his cousin and fellow former Backstreet member Brian Littrell would be performing, following which they broke into a couple of à capella numbers. Marky was romping around, showing off – with not only permission but encouragement from the others. In the rear of the auditorium, scanning the crowd (as the fine print on their applications had given consent for) were Sammy and Sebastian Martin. The interior motivations, how people reacted to Marky and the other boys, and what their hopes and dreams were – these were the grist for the boys' scans.

Down in front, Brian completed a solo rendition of a song he had written. "Thank you, everyone. We'll be back shortly. In the meantime, let me present the Michaels Twins and their magic show!"

Dressed in the cape, suit and tails of stage magicians, Eli and Benji came running out. As Benji introduced their first trick, Eli's pet leg came walking out. "Leg!? What are you doing here?" Eli said. "Go lay back down!" The leg's angle and knee joint changed subtly to give the impression of a hangdog look, and it slowly made its way back to the side.

"After I lost my leg in a plane crash, that was my prosthetic leg," Eli explained. "But now I've got this bionic transplant leg, and I don't need it any more." The leg's position sagged even more, making it look emotionally crushed. Eli looked over at it. "Not to walk with, I mean," he corrected. "It's still my pet leg." The leg perked up and came running back over, snuggling up to Eli's (attached) legs.

The audience was of course eating it up, laughing their heads off and wondering how the boys were doing it. Only a few of them noticed Benji's and Eli's saddened expressions as they remembered the fateful flight that had cost them their limbs and their parents, when they picked precisely the wrong time to show their parents, flying the light plane, what they could do. Distracted by the two ex-Backstreet men and the telekinetic twins, the applicants were wide open to the boys' boyfriends' scans.

As Scott, the two FYS employees, Kurt, and Galen methodically worked through the applicants, hiring many on the spot, Sammy and Sebastian were lurking unobtrusively in the back of the waiting room-impromptu auditorium where the former Backstreet Boys and the two telekinetic twins were putting on their show for the interviewees. With Galen's burgeoning psychic powers, the two platinum blond twins passed thumbs-up and thumbs-down images to him for each interviewee, and he surreptitiously signaled Kurt what they'd 'pathed to him. As Brian showed off more of his original music, Eli and Benji joined the scanning team on their breaks, using their own telepathic skills. During the period when they were effectively the Clan's only TK team, they'd used their telepathy only, or almost only, with other members of Clan Intelligence, but with training from the Double Js, the two young telekinetics had brought their telepathy up to the level of any of the other Clan's normal telepaths. Now they had a chance to help, not with their flashy TK skills, but in the normal way of the other telepaths, and to make it more sweet, it was to give to others what they had been given, and they were eating the opportunity up.

Even with rather perfunctory interviews, processing over 600 applicants in slightly more than nine hours was a strain. But by the time 6:00 rolled around, the exhausted boys and Kurt had hired 138 employees who mostly thought the job would give them a little of what they thought they could never have: 'If I can't adopt kids of my own, at least I can help kids who need help this way.' Kurt and the boys had a surprise in store for them. Another 53 people were caring individuals who would be good with kids even though they didn't have that need-to-parent. Many of them were exceptionally good at the things they did for a living. Kurt had teachers, chefs, nurses, groundskeepers, handymen: nearly everything needed to establish a self-sufficient community on this old airbase.

As they slumped exhausted into some vinyl base-surplus furniture in the lounge area, Kurt wearily said, "Guys, I want to thank you all. Anyone who wants to leave now can do so, but I've ordered pizza, hot wings, salads, and plenty of drinks. But let me tell you all how grateful I am again. We did it! The new facility is staffed. Now all we need to do is get housing built for families, in place of that God-awful barracks setup the Wayne guys left us with. And even with fast-track contracting, that's going to take some weeks."

Eli looked up with a smirk. "I don't think so," he said. Catching sight of where his brother was going, Benji started to grin. "You know what we were doing last week?" Eli asked rhetorically. Blank looks met him. "Well, let me tell you...."

Camp Santa Anita

As the group of teenage boys trudged up the path to the designated building for this afternoon's Bible study, Barry quietly materialized at the end of the group. He was not looking forward to this, but he knew it had to be done. Emily had asked him, back at Camp Bam Bam, if he would volunteer for the special assignment, and he'd agreed. "You've got two skills that make you right for the job," she had said. First, his eidetic memory, which had already served well in convicting a broad range of abusers, neglecters, and peculators during his two years on the street and in and out of various juvenile programs, whose intent may have been good but whose follow-through was atrocious. Second, his Stoic survival attitude meant that he could take whatever these self-styled Christian counselors dished out in the name of 'helping' boys, and be less injured emotionally by it than many others would be. Given that analysis, and Aaron's request for someone to infiltrate, he'd been glad to volunteer. He'd been equipped with an emergency sub-vocal implant, now dormant until he activated it; otherwise he was on his own.

As he filed in behind the others and took a seat, he flashed a smile to another boy looking his way. Slap! The hand across his cheek stung. He looked up to see a weaselly little man wearing clerical garb glaring at him. "You know the rules: No Fraternizing!" he said. "Yessir," Barry said in apparent meekness.

The topic the pastor had picked for today was God's call to Samuel. And some of the boys seemed to be caught up in it, probably imagining themselves called by God to do important stuff. That wouldn't do, Barry decided. He raised his hand.

The pastor called on him. "How often did God call someone that young, like our age?" he asked with an assumed air of innocent curiosity.

The question seemed to take the pastor aback. He mentioned Jeremiah, then started trying to think of other examples. Barry carefully repressed the smile he was feeling ready to break out at the interruption of the pastor's train of thought.

Eventually the pastor got back on track, and started lecturing the boys on the sexual sins of the Canaanites that the Children of Israel were warned against. This was intriguing, but the boys all noticed the swelling in the pastor's crotch as he waxed eloquent on sexual sins. Barry gambled on another question. "So a lot of what God condemned was actually doing sex stuff to worship the false gods of the Canaanites? Am I getting that right from what you're teaching us?"

"Exactly," the pastor said. "The lying priests of the Canaanites had told them that sex with the priests or priestesses would make their crops more fertile. God doesn't work like that." He smiled at Barry.

Another seed planted, Barry thought. Best to leave things well enough alone. He let the pastor complete his teaching without additional interruptions, though a couple of the other boys had questions.

"Prayer service and dinner in fifteen minutes," one of the other men who had been watching the boys announced. The boys rose to leave. Barry tried to slip into the middle of the group, but the pastor walked over to him. "Those were interesting questions," he said. "I think it's time you had some private counseling. Come with me." The boy Barry had traded smiles with earlier caught his eye; Barry wasn't sure what his expression was – friendship? compassion? pity? The pastor took Barry's arm and led him out of the assembly hall to a small secluded cabin. A sidelong glance at his crotch told Barry what sort of 'private counseling' it was likely to be.

Saturday morning, Short Compound, Orlando

Jude awoke with a smile on his face and a full bladder. He looked with deep affection at the sleeping boy beside him – Billy Joe. Billy was working his way out of his conditioning against being gay, or rather hating himself for being gay, but it was taking time. They had got it to the point where he was comfortable with them both being horny for each other, but last night had not been the time to act on that. Instead, they had cuddled, and fallen asleep in each other's embrace. And Jude felt very content with how things were going – if a little impatient for it to get to the point where they could make love without any guilt on Billy Joe's part.

As he slid out of bed and walked over to the en-suite toilet, he thought how his life had changed: a week ago, being beaten by his grandfather, running away, being picked up by Kurt and his boys, riding to Orlando with them in hopes of a better future, then the apparently miraculous transition into the CSU of his reading, dreams, and fantasies. And then being taken as a brother by Joel, adopted by Teri and Spock, passing Starfleet Academy admission exams with ease, being given a commission and a medal by Admiral Morrow, working alongside Cory in a starship emergency.... "It's the stuff that dreams are made of," he hummed under his breath.

The rising tide of noise outside was slow to come to his consciousness, but when the hooting siren announcing Condition Red went off, he woke up the rest of the way quite abruptly. Listening, he heard with growing alarm that it was Joel, the brother who had brought about his own adoption, and that he'd been assaulted and was in critical condition. Jude started to barrel out of the bathroom to get dressed and … do something to help his brother.

And was stopped abruptly. A 12-year-old strawberry blond haired angel with white wings and green eyes appeared in front of him, and the hubbub outside quieted abruptly. "No," Davie said, halting him. "Listen, I can't stay long; there's too much crazy happening. We're having to improvise," Davie continued, "and you can bet that doesn't happen often in my line of work." He paused, his vision distant, then continued, "What's going to help Joel is being pulled together as we speak – and you're not a part of it. While the Tribe has got something important to do later today, this morning they'd just be underfoot. What you need to do is to help Seth in the Command Center right now, then take the Tribe away from C.I.C. for a while a little later in the morning. I'd say to take them four-wheeling unless you've got a better idea."

"Just abandon my brother?" Jude asked with a touch of hostility.

"Nope, do your part in the effort to help him by pretending nothing much is wrong to some people who aren't ready to face what happened yet."

"But didn't you know about all this ahead of time, or at least didn't your Bosses know?"

"Um … no. This … wasn't planned. Yeah, 'bad things happen so that good things can happen', yada yada. Joel was … supposed to make a choice, to decide to confront something very bad, so that something very good could result – in the future. And not have it forced on him, like what happened this morning. This caught even those who are supposed to know the Plan by surprise."

"Look, I gotta go. There's dozens of people I need to appear to, Mikey's tied up keeping the Universe from pushing its self-destruct button, and as long as I'm here, that leaves St. Pottymouth in charge."

"I heard that!" came a disembodied voice.

"Later, Jude. You know what's needed; make it so." Davie mimicked Patrick Stewart perfectly; it was only later that Jude realized that TNG wasn't even a concept in the CSU, except to him and a very few other people.

Adopting the same humor, Jude answered Davie, "Roger wilco, 'twill be no tribble at all," the last in a heavily exaggerated Jimmy Doohan-as-Scotty imitation. Davie nodded and vanished.

C.I.C., a short time later

As Jude and Billy Joe hurried in, Prince Harry wiped sweat off Seth's forehead. "Hey, guys," the wheelchair-bound teen said bleakly. "Joel's at Camp Bam Bam Medical Clinic, along with his father, the kid who found him, and his father, who owns the store Joel was at. The UNIT and the VSO are in pursuit of the guys who did it.

"Why Camp Bam Bam?" Billy Joe asked.

"More complete facilities," Harry answered in his clipped speech. "They don't have anything better than we do here, but they have a lot more. Doc Austin planned the Camp Little Eagle clinic as emergency services and residential care for the Clan and the Camp, not a full-on hospital."

Sammy Martin looked up from the Intelligence station. "This doesn't make sense," he said. "The closed-circuit cameras and the mind-scans of the people involved – They're saying Joel never did what he'd had to have done, in order to get from Uncle Allen's to Gibson's Store."

"What?!" Adam Short, on Security, exclaimed as he stepped over to Sammy's side. "That can't be right!"

"That's not the first odd thing about this morning, by a long shot," Seth said quietly. "Push that through to Jace; he's collating all that sort of stuff." Adam looked like he was going to say something, but subsided.

"Another anomaly," came the report from Caleb, at A.I. Division. "Take a look at what Ark's reporting."

Adam pulled it up on his computer; Jude looked over his shoulder. "That has the signature of bots trying to find backdoors into our A.I.s and computers to inject viruses into the programs." Then "The code's changing as we watch!"

"Freeze that, if you can," Jude said. "Got a machine I can get on?" Adam gestured at one. Jude booted the computer, and set feverishly to work on the data Adam had captured – or partially captured, since he'd caught it in mid-mutation.

"Get me another shot if you can, please," Jude said shortly. "This looks like somebody cleaned up the code from Microsoft Anti-virus, stripped off the execution sequence and hacked it into the library modules for Starfleet's proprietary translator program, and just for laughs, threw in a Crimson Dragon animation from Warcrafters World to entertain you while it executes. But whether it'll wipe your hard drive, teach your computer Conversational Klingon, or just sit there doing nothing – I haven't the first clue!"

After another two passes, Jude was forced to admit he couldn't learn anything more about the program, other than that it was self-modifying and cross-platform. They relayed what little they'd learned to Jason, mystified at what had happened and deeply concerned at what an apparent attack they couldn't counter might mean for security.

The face of the man from the cleaning service was white, the look of terror in his eyes. "Big... hairy... t-t-t..." he mumbled. Helen shook her head as she, once again, broke the glass on the "Emergency Valium" box next to Timmy's hall door. Closing the door, she nodded and instructed, "Breathe slow and deep."

Helen looked at him compassionately but with an air of resignation. "You just had to look, didn't you?" she said. Pulling out her cellphone, she punched in a single-digit speeddial number. "Dan? Helen here. Another one, just couldn't resist the temptation to look into Timmy's room." She listened. "Yeah, I'll try to keep him calm. See you soon!"

Short Compound

The Tribe pelted out the door and down the grassy slope toward the open parkland surrounding the compound. Their joyous whoops and yells reminded one of kids released from school early for a snow day. In an open shed outside the built-up Compound area sat a parking lot's worth of ATVs, ranging in size from full-size adult models to little bitty ones not much bigger than a tricycle. They were in every color imaginable, from Army camo to a brilliant glossy black shot through with red and gold flame detailing. "Woah! Kewl!" cried out a couple of Tribe members who hadn't seen them before. There was a mad scramble as kids rushed to claim their favorites.

"Atten-HUT!" Jude bellowed. A dozen or more kids suddenly froze. "How many of you have ever actually driven these things?" A show of hands resulted in his finding out that all but three had been out on them before. "More than I'd thought," Jude said to himself. He revised his plans on the fly. He pointed to Timmy and Reuben and said, "All right, you and you have just been drafted as instructors in the Clan Short School of ATV Drivesmanship." He grinned at them. "You two and me, we're going to take some time to show these three" – his gesture indicated the three boys ho hadn't ridden ATVs – "how to drive 'em and give them a chance to get used to them."

Timmy took the ball and ran with it, so to speak. Before Jude had finished talking, he was in take-charge mode, showing his friends what to do. Jude motioned Billy Joe and Ricky over; the eagles joined them. "Let the other guys have some fun bombing around the immediate area here; you two keep an eye on them. Duke, you can make sure they're safe, right?" He got an acknowledging squawk in reply.

The new kids practiced driving for about thirty minutes. When Jude was satisfied that nobody was going to dump his machine into a ditch somewhere, he motioned the other group to join them, and taking the lead, he led them off slowly cross-country through the fields and woods behind Southcrest. Billy Joe took the rear to help ensure none of the little ones strayed. As they picked up speed, someone began vocalizing the theme from the William Tell Overture, better known as the Lone Ranger Theme: "Da-da-doop, da-da-doop, da-da-doop-doop-doop!" Matty shouted out "Hi ho Silvew! Awa-a-a-a-y-y!"

Jude began to feel a curious lightening inside, as the younger ones' high spirits washed over him and soothed his own troubled spirit. He slowed down and came to a halt, grinning broadly. "You guys about ready to tackle some real heavy stuff?"

A chorus of "Yeah!" "Kewl!" was his answer. Taking the lead again, he set off on a half-overgrown trail, with a dozen or so mini-ATVs following single file behind him, looking for all the world like the Pied Piper leading the children out of Hamelin. They drove over bumps and hollows, muddy fields, logs, hummocks almost as big as the smallest ATVs. As they broke through a copse of trees, someone pointed off into the distance. "Oh, look! Isn't that Southcrest?" And of course the mansion was visible in the distance across some meadows.

'Oh crap!' Jude thought to himself. 'I don't want to lead an ATV contingent across Mark's landscaping!' Aloud he said, "Let's head off to our right, and check out the ponds." Before they could rev up to head in that direction, however, the roar of another large ATV could be heard approaching from the distance. They stood there transfixed, waiting to see what was happening. Flying over a rise off to their left came a mud-bespattered ATV driven by someone in a sweatsuit so caked in mud as to be unidentifiable – until he pulled up near them, stopped, and lifted off his helmet.

"Grampa!" Timmy yelled out joyfully, seeing His Excellency Senior Federation Ambassador Marcus O'Neil, jumping off his ATV and throwing himself into his grandfather's arms – who on his part broke into a happy smile at seeing his red-headed grandson.

"What are y'all up to?" he asked.

"We was just goin' out joyriding," Timmy answered. "Some of my friends have never been out on a ATV before, and I showed them how!"

"You want to go ATVing?" Ambassador O'Neil said. "Follow me, and I'll take you for the ride of your life!" Grinning broadly, Jude made sure Timmy was back safely on his ATV, then motioned everyone to follow Timmy's grandfather. With the Ambassador leading the way, they followed after him. Jude was content to let him lead, and joined Billy Joe at the rear.

After they had gone some distance, music started playing. Unseen by any of the others, the Ambassador had activated a sound system on his ATV, and they flew over rough ground to the tune of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. Somehow, the flow of the music seemed to coincide perfectly with the obstacles in their path.

"Let me show you everything," Timmy called out to his grandfather, who motioned him to take the lead. Jude looked at Billy Joe and smiled, happy for now.

Camp Santa Anita

"This afternoon's Bible study," the pastor leading the group announced, "will be on true Christian brotherhood, and how different it is from the sinful feelings you all have experienced." Sitting gingerly on his metal chair, Barry thought, 'Y'all are makin' this just too darn easy!' When he had come back down from the 'private counseling,' several of the boys had caught his eye and given him quick, furtive smiles and gestures of support. He had smiled broadly back, accepting the reprimand from the man supervising them unrepentantly. As the boring session dragged on, he made sure to ask some more leading questions, and was pleased to see some of the other boys doing the same thing.

When the pastor announced that they'd have a hymn sing before dinner, Barry risked stealing a glance around the group. The boys' faces reflected a new sense of camaraderie and a rekindled hope that hadn't been there. He decided to put the final stages of the plan into place.

As the boys launched into a lackluster rendition of 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus,' he motioned to the pastor. "There's one song that I really like that fits with this afternoon's lesson," he said, "'Let There Be Peace on Earth.' D'you think we could sing that?" He gave his most ingratiating, 'please, Mister?' smile.

The pastor thought it over. "You know all the words?" he asked. Barry smiled and nodded yes. "Then go ahead and teach it to them," he told him.

"Thank you, sir!" Barry said sincerely.

As the boys raggedly came to the conclusion of 'taking it to the Lord in prayer,' the Pastor announced, "This young man," with a gesture indicating Barry, "will teach us a new song."

Barry grinned thanks at him, took the guitar he was offered, and began to rehearse the melody and words for the boys. Enough of them already knew it that they were shortly able to start singing:

Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me
Let There Be Peace on Earth
The peace that was meant to be.

As the next passage began, Barry really leaned on the words, and saw in the answering grins that the others were getting the message:

With God as our Father
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With ev'ry step I take
Let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment
And live each moment
In peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me

'Go for broke time,' he thought, and activated his sub-vocal.

"This is my Daily prayer for all 23 of us boys," he announced.

'Daily's prayer answering service standing by!' Daileass giggled.

Barry launched into:

Some glad morning way up in the air,
We'll fly away
With my brothers, to a new home there
We'll fly away.

And the room was empty of boys. The pastors looked around thunderstruck.

Rec Room, Short Compound

"I'll fly away, O Glory, I'll fly away," Aaron sang before breaking into a big grin.

"Nice work, Barry!" Davie said, his wings visible and unfurled.

The boys looked shocked. "Did we go to heaven?" one asked.

"No, although you may think so over the next few days, after what you've been through," David Gallagher said as he stepped forward and planted a kiss on Aaron.

"Maxy, you asked God why He couldn't send Clan Short to help you guys," Davie said. "So He did." And he and Barry began to explain, joined after the liplock by David and Aaron.

"Collating telepathic scans now," came the word from Clan Intelligence. "Arrest warrants will be forthcoming."

"Thanks, guys," Aaron said.

"I gotta ask, why did you do it this way?" David inquired. "And why wait for the hymn sing?"

"It went faster than we planned, anyway," Aaron said. "But the basic idea was to keep it non-violent, and to do it at a time when the guys had agreed to it, sort of." David's face registered confusion, as did some of the rescued boys.

"And they swore brotherhood to me," Barry said. "That's why 'Let There Be Peace' was in the mix. Then we asked for transport."

"'Daily' prayer – Boo!" Aaron laughed.


"So what are you boys giggling about?" Kurt said to the two sets of twins, which caused the giggling to redouble.

"Our boyfriends," Sebastian got out between giggles, "like to play with Peter." This caused Eli and Benji to start blushing, and Marky to start giggling too. Scott was having trouble not breaking into giggles along with the others, though he was a bit mystified, but he pushed the issue: "You wanna explain that?"

A little towheaded boy in shorts and T-shirt was suddenly in Scott's arms, giving him a random hug, followed by doing likewise to Marky. Then he and Galen looked at each other.

Peter and Galen … flickered … and then were back where they had been, a few millimeters off from where they had been standing. They exchanged glances.

"We'll explain later, Unk," Galen said confidently.

"I'm not really here; I'm in a nest in Ewa Beach," Peter offered. "C'mon, guys," he added to Benji and Eli. They vanished and promptly returned. "Tomorrow morning?" he asked them; they nodded agreement, with yet more giggles.

Peter bounced up into Kurt's arms and hugged him. "Not to worry," he said. "You'll have all the housing you want tomorrow." Kurt looked shocked. "Last March the crooks that used to be at Starfleet Engineering pushed through some vouchers to pay a building contractor up in inland British Columbia for a huge amount of prefab housing."

"Vouchers we slipped into their pile," Benji giggled.

"We just put C.I.C. buildings in place in Des Moines and Ewa Beach," Eli amplified.

"Tomorrow the three of us will be putting up your housing here," Benji added. Galen just handed Peter his new purple hardhat that had just suddenly appeared in his hands, and put his own one on. Marky and Scott stared at him; he giggled, giving Peter a solid kiss.

The atmosphere was electric, with hopes, fears, dreams dangling before them. Galen looked longingly at Peter, then said resignedly, "They need you in Hawai'i. And I need to spend time with my family. Tomorrow?"

Peter looked like he wanted to cry, but thought about it and at last nodded. "Tomorrow … and for the rest of Time." He turned to Eli, Benji, Sammy, and Sebastian. "You guys want to go home for the night?"

"Yeah." "I guess."

"Let's do it," Peter said. He and the four twins poofed out.

Kurt and Scott looked at Galen. "What?" he said defensively. Marky giggled.

"Love touches you when he will," Stass said in a musing tone of voice.

"I'm hungry," said Marky.

"Me too," Scott interjected.

"How in the world can you be hungry? You two just demolished a party pizza!" Kurt said incredulously.

"We're growing boys, Unk," Scotty said with a grin.

"You certainly are," Stass added as he ran his hand across Scott's loins. Scott blushed.

"Mr. Grayson said there'd be a car," Scott commented, changing the subject quickly. And when they contacted the Wayne Industries office, so there proved to be: a seven-passenger SUV which was rapidly brought to them.

They headed out, down Taft Road and onto the Interstate, heading into the city proper. Marky loved the giant candle on the smokestack. Kurt took an exit that was signed for a large mall, and they started looking around the area.

"Over there," Galen pointed. Kurt smiled and turned in the direction he was pointing, and in a few minutes they were walking into a restaurant billing itself as the Spaghetti Factory.

With heaping plates of pasta and sauces before them, everyone's spirits were lifted. Scott caught Marky eyeing a piece of sausage and two meatballs. "Don't even think about it!" he ordered.

"Aww man!" Marky whined, suppressing a giggle.

"So what exactly did you...?" Kurt began to ask Galen.

"Um," Galen replied, "it's not that I'm not willing to answer you, Unk. It's that I can't. We... went somewhere and... things happened. Stuff I don't understand yet. I'll tell you everything you need to know just as fast as I understand it myself." Galen's reticent, shy look was back full force; Kurt's heart melted for him. He was still worried for his middle nephew, but he resolved to play this one by ear – something he was having to do a lot lately, he amended his thoughts ruefully.

The rest of the dinner conversation was rather inconsequential. They chatted a bit about a few of the people they had met and hired, how they might best be involved in the plans they were gradually evolving for the prototype facility. Marky pointed out that they needed a place "where kids can go and just have fun",and Scott backed his little brother. "If it's for the kids, Unk, you need to think like a kid. Somewhere they can go and do what they want to, within reason, is something every kid needs to have."

Kurt recognized he'd forgotten a bit of what it's like to be a kid, and mentally made a note to come up with something that would fit for a 'getaway' place for kids.

As they left the restaurant, Kurt's attention was turned to the big mall looming nearby. "Hey, would you guys like to go over and check that out?" he asked. "I've wanted a chance to hit a good bookstore since we got here." All four boys made it very, and very noisily, clear that they thought that was a good idea.

As they entered the mall, they were met by the usual onslaught of hoopla: background music from several stores, a PA announcement incoherent in the distance, the roar of 50 private conversations.... Clothes held no particular interest for any of them, though Galen looked longingly at a display of Hawaii Republic import board shorts. As they passed an electronics store, Scotty paused to look with interest at a display of Space Sim 2004. Galen however was unimpressed. "That's a piece of crap, bro. You know that; remember what Cory 'n' Noah an' Caleb found? Just ask Cory; he'll get you a copy of the good upgrade!" With a bashful smile, Scott conceded that Galen was right.

Kurt, however, knew just what he wanted, and a quick glance at a "You are here" floor plan showed him right where to go to get there. Stass was hot on his heels; he called the other three to follow. A few hundred steps with an escalator ride in the middle brought them to a Lords and Silo Books outlet. The boys' eyes took on that predatory glint generally seen in teenage boys' eyes when pizza is in the offing, or in tribbles' eyes and, well, anything edible. If there was one thing the Farnsworth clan had in common, it was a love of reading, and Stass was their equal. They spread out, each for the area that most interested him.

Kurt and Scotty started at the history section, where Kurt found a two-volume History of the 20th Century: Vol. I: the Great War and the League, Vol II: the Federation and the Stars. Scotty found a Short History of Vulcan.

Kurt headed into the science fiction section, and was startled by what he found. Books he had loved as a boy were there, but written by one Robert A. MacDonald, first Commanding Admiral of Starfleet. The War of the Raptor was described as a classic, by people named Arthur C. Maxwell and Sanjak son of S'pharol. He smiled as it began to come to him who these people were.

Scott saw Marky arguing with a sales clerk, clearly frustrated and more than a little angry. He stepped over to intervene. "This young man was looking at books above his age range," she explained in answer to Scott's question.

"He's my little brother; I've been reading fiction online since I was his age, and the last few years he's been there reading alongside me," Scott said. "What did you think was beyond him?"

"These," she said, handing him three books.

"Marky, you've already read all the James Bond stories," Scott said as he recognized them.

"Yeah, but the story lines in these are different!" Marky said defensively.

Scott scanned the cover blurb, and nodded. 'Licensed by the Queen to take out rogue governments it would be embarrassing for the League to admit public opposition to...." "I see what you mean," he said. "Bring them and c'mon along with me." They walked off, leaving the sales clerk speechless.

They found Galen and Stass in the same aisle, though at different racks. Galen was perusing a volume entitled "Anti-Energy and the Theory of Time," written by a physicist from Princeton. Stass was in the mythology section, with a broad smile on his lips. "Look, lover!" he said warmly. Scott blushed deeply. "This is exactly what I need to make sense of this place you have brought me!" He held up a volume: "Meta-Mythological Dynasties," by Benjamin Stone.

"Let me see that," Scott said. He looked through it. "This bit about Cosmos and Chaos being brothers, who undo each other's work, near the start – I don't get it."

"But it makes sense," Stass said excitedly. "Chaos wants to smooth everything out so it is quiet and peaceful. Cosmos builds things up, setting up for change, conflict...."

"Entropy," Galen said firmly from where he was standing. Chaos promotes entropy, Cosmos fights it."

"But this is myth stuff," Marky said.

"Yes, and myth is how people understand and interpret their life experiences," Stass said. "On the, uh, television, there was a man talking about this." He took the book and quickly flipped forward. "See here, where it talks about Phoenix and Libya? For my people, they were the ancestors after whom Phoenicia and Libya were named. And see how he ties it into the Bible's list of what nations were descended from whom? And here, where he brings in the Irish legends?" Stass was as excited about this as Scott had ever seen him – out of bed, at any rate. "I must have this book," he said strongly.

"Ah, there you are!" Kurt said as he came down that aisle. "Ready to check out?"

"Oh yeah!" Marky said for them all.

They headed back to the former air base, and went to bed in what had been guest quarters there. It had been a very full day.

Galen slept fitfully. As he roused, he was unsurprised to find that he, his uncle, and his cousins-made-brothers were now living in a large old Victorian farmhouse. A crack of thunder was followed by a loud, ominous rumble. He ran to the window and looked out.

Marky was darting across the yard to the storm cellar. As he ran down the steps into it, an arm reached up and closed the doors. In the middle distance, a tornado's ominous, sinuous funnel was looming – and apparently headed straight for them.

He ran for the door of the room, then down the hall, down the stairs, skidded around the turn and headed for the back of the house. It began to shake, then with a terrible low-pitched groan it started to shift on its foundations. Furniture began flying. Panicky, Galen ducked and... was thrown against a wall. He felt himself passing out.

* * * * *

As Galen came to, he could see the sun shining in through the north window. He got up, a trifle shakily, and walked to the front door, opened it, and stepped out. There. standing in front of the house, was a bright blue kangaroo. "G'day, myte!" it said cheerily.

"Where am I?" Galen asked, feeling like he'd fallen into yet another story.

"'Where am I' indeed!" the kangaroo said. "You would think that people who use transdimensional vortexes as their mode of transportation would be acquainted with the standard destination for domiciles carried on them. In a word, myte, you're in Oz."

"Oz? But where are the Munchkins?" Galen asked.

"Probably at the pool, engaged in their Dunkin' ritual," the kangaroo replied. "That's how they usually initiate new members into the Tribe, after all."

Galen looked around. Seeing a yellow pavement leading off into the distance, he adked, "Let me guess. I'm supposed to go down that, meet three companions, and end up at the Emerald City and the home of the Wicked Witch of the West, right?"

The kangaroo shook its head sadly. "I can see this one isn't going to be easy." It reached into its pouch and pulled out a cardboard plaque on a ribbon, which it hung around its neck. Galen read the plaque: 'Official Clan Short Purveyor of Oracular Wisdom.' The kangaroo continued, "First, while like many Wiccans she can be a little spacey, I wouldn't call her wicked. Second, I have never heard of this Emerald City. What lies at the end of the road, if you do decide to take it, is the Fair. Well, not the full Commonwealth Fair; that's next month. But the run-up to it, kind of the Advance Australia Fair." The kangaroo giggled, which seemed out of place.

"Further, I would advise you not to get into any political or religious arguments with anyone you encounter down the road. They just set up straw men. And don't recruit any robots; you can get more modern androids quite easily. Finally, do not trust cowards, because they are always lyin'."

Galen walked over to the road. On closer examination, it appeared to be made up of small golden penises, lined up end to end and side by side in a corduroy sort of effect. Noting Galen's quizzical expression, the kangaroo explained, "It's the Yellow Prick Road."

"So what do I need to know, to find my way around safely here?" Galen asked.

"Ah," the kangaroo said, "you want wisdom. Well, first, wherever you go, there you are." As Galen gave him a 'Well, duh!' look, he explained, "Just because you go somewhere new or pick up a new skill, doesn't mean you're not still the same person inside. Two..." he reached into his pouch and pulled out a coin. "Change comes from within. If you want to be something, you can make yourself become it – though beware the cost." He gestured at the road. "You may find that your way is paved by peter."

"What do I need to beware of?" Galen asked nervously.

"You will lose your heart to a Roman, I fear," the kangaroo said. "But fear not, for all can be repaired." He produced an envelope from his pouch and held it to his forehead. Galen looked at him weirdly.

"I meant here," Galen said.

"Here?" the kangaroo exclaimed. "There's only one thing to fear here!" It became animated, twitchy. "It's the rabbits! They eat everything in sight!" The blue kangaroo was working itself up now. "You should see the little blighters, bounding through the bush and the billabongs, driving everything before them in a panic." The kangaroo began bounding about, stirring up dust. "It's terrible, I tell you!" The dust clouds got worse, obscuring everything that had been in sight. There was so much dust in the wind that Galen thought he might be back in Kansas – which was strange, because until this dream he had never lived there. He closed his eyes.

To be continued