Chapter 02

Southcrest Ranch, Orlando, Florida

"No, dammit, N*Sync would *not* be interested in endorsing some off brand of boys' shoes! And don't call here again!" Joshua "JC" Chasez-Dodds slammed down the poolside phone, and turned his attention back to the young couple sitting across from him. "Zac, get your tongue out of Mark's ear and finish telling me about your garage bands project. It sounds like something we all might want to back you on."

"Well, I just got back from New England and New Jersey. I got in touch with at least one guy from each of about 30 bands that were just trying to get a start - critiqued their acts, hooked two of the best up with promoters, and, most importantly, told them about Federation Youth Services and Clan Short, in case they run into kids who need help. I just hope it didn't go in one ear and out the other." Zac Hanson said with a sigh.

The eyes of all three men turned to the trio of younger boys playing some bizarre tag variation on the lawn beyond the pool. The tallest of the three, a 14-year-old with light brown hair and angelic good looks, was being chased by identical ten-year-olds with strawberry blond hair, all three laughing and obviously having a good time. The twin boys seemed fully recovered from the abuse and neglect they had been rescued from a scant two months earlier, but the trio by the pool were all aware of the demons that lurked within the boys' minds—and what else was there.

Zac's cellphone began to ring.

"Vivaldi!?" Josh laughed.

"Well, 'Mmmbop' seemed a little bit too much," said a blushing Zac. "Zac Hanson here; who's this?"

"Zac, this is Harry Johnson," said an earnest voice on the other end. "I don't know if you remember me, but..."

"Yeah, Harry, I remember you. You were in that terrific band that opened for Aaron Carter somewhere up in New England. I was at that concert as kind of a scout, and decided to talk to you afterward about how you could get really good, and maybe go on and do some recording. You wanna take me up on my offer now?"

"Uh, Zac, sometime, maybe, but not right now. I've got a whole lot more serious favor to ask you right now."

Zac's eyes got big as he sat there talking on the phone, and his table companions' attention focused instantly on the conversation. They had a hunch what was coming, from past events. "Okay, give. What's this favor?"

"Well, I remember as we talked, you said you worked with a lady who helps rescue kids from bad situations."

Zac's heart started to beat a little faster. "Federation Youth Services, yeah -- the lady who runs it lives just around the corner from where I'm at right now. Why, what's this all about, Harry?"

Harry went on in a rush, "Well, my best friend and I just found two younger kids at our local playground, they were kind of trying to hide in the bushes. My friend got them to talk about what happened, and they said they found their parents murdered, and they're afraid that whoever murdered their parents might come after them too...."

"MURDERED!? Okay, Harry, hang on a sec. I wanna get some other people in on this conversation. It's gonna be kinda like putting the phone on 'speaker'." Zac put his hand over the mouthpiece and hollered, "Jamie! Jacob! Get your little butts over here, NOW!; we've got people who need our help!" He paused, drawing his breath. "Either of you know how to connect this call in with CIC?"

"Let the twins send the alert; Tommy knows how to tap in and make it a three-way," Josh said firmly. "Hey, you two, anybody from Intelligence at the Short Compound?"

"Kyle is," said one of the twins. His eyes went unfocused for a second, then came back on Zac. "You want Tommy to link in on that call, right?"

"Yeah, I think that would be a good idea. Let me know when you're ready." Into the phone, he said, "you still there, Harry?"

"Yeah, I'm here, Zac."

"Okay, hold on, we're about ready." He looked a question to those at the table with him for the "all ready" signal. Seconds later Jamie gave him the "thumbs-up."

"Okay, Harry," Zac continued. "Go ahead. We've got at least six other people listening in on this call to save time. Give me as much of the story as you can." Meanwhile, the twins had come up to the table and were listening intently.

Beginning to feel a little overwhelmed, Harry said, "I'm going to let you talk to a lady who seems to know a lot more about what's going on than I do right now. Her name is Mrs. McConnaghay, and it's her house we went to after we found the boys. She can tell why the boys are in trouble better than I can."

To his friends, Zac said, "This is getting creepier and creepier."

As one, the twins said "Kewl!" Josh gently shushed them. He didn't want to stifle their ebullience that was only just beginning to resurface, but they apparently were as yet unaware of the seriousness of the current situation. The twins looked at one another. *D'ya think Pop's mad at us, Jamie?*

*Nah. He was jus' sayin that we need to be quiet while the adults figure out what THEY think we should do about some bad stuff.*

*Oh, okay.*

Then Maureen came on the line. "Maureen McConnaghay here. Who is it I'm talkin' tae?"

"Ms McConnaghay, this is Zachary Hanson, of Clan Short..."

"Y'c'n call me 'Maureen.' The day people start callin' me 'Ms', I'll be havin' one foot in me grave an' the other on a banana peel."

Zac grinned. "Okay, thanks, Maureen. Now what's this about those kids being in some kind of danger? Harry seemed kind of upset there."

"Well, now, they got home from school today, see, and the first thing they see is their folks been murdered - blood all over the place, and so on. I know for a fact that their father worked for an engineering firm that was contracted for a project here in town. I've got good reason to believe that the guy he was workin' for got onto some shady deals, and George - that's the kids' father - didn't like it and wanted to quit, an' that's why he was murdered. I also have reason to believe that the guy who killed George may be after the kids as well. And some of the local cops are in Scordo's - that's the man I think is behind this - in his pocket. So we somehow need to get them as far away from here as quickly as possible."

"I one hundred percent agree, Maureen. Okay, we'll get a team together, and we'll be there shortly."

"Shortly? As in...."

Zac winked. "Oh, about ten minutes or so. Twenty, max."

"Now this I gotta see! I don't know where it is you're at, but there's no way you can be here in ten or twenty minutes!"

Zac said, "Watch us. We'll see you in a bit. Harry, keep your cellphone on; we'll home in on the signal." "Well, you heard, guys, looks like we've got a job to do. Tommy, have J.J. and Tyler get ready. Jacob and Mark, I want you with me on this. Get your stuff together while I call Cory."

"Cory? Zac here. Couple of kids in Maine, their parents apparently were murdered and there's evidence to think they may be next—at least enough to warrant invoking Safe Haven. Local cops are in on it, so they're useless. I'm prepping a team - J.J., Tyler, Jacob, and Mark - I just need you signing off on it. ... Okay, thanks. And yeah, we will be careful." Then he closed up his cellphone and darted for Mark's cottage to change into warmer clothes.

Two shimmering columns of light next to Josh's chair resolved into a twelve-year-old strawberry blond boy incongruously wearing a Starfleet uniform and a platinum blond eight-year-old in T-shirt and shorts. "Showoffs," Josh said unperturbedly to them. "You couldn't have run across to here?"

"Well, I alerted the Lafayette we'd need to beam out, and this was faster," the older boy said unrepentantly with a grin.

"Yeah, right, J.J., you just like being able to tell people to beam you around," Josh's older son Justy interjected.

"You want to take a swim?" J.J. responded. Justy's expression said a clear "Oops!" without words, and he turned to run when his father grabbed his arm. Jamie and Tyler grabbed one foot each while Josh and J.J. got his arms, and he found himself unceremoniously tossed into the pool.

As Justy climbed out of the pool, Mark and Zac emerged from their cottage in sweatshirts bearing the Clan Short sigil and jeans. Josh hurriedly kissed his son Jacob on the cheek. Motioning the other four into position, Zac whipped out his communicator. "Hanson at Clan Short to Lafayette."

"Lafayette transporter stage here, at your service."

"Five to beam to the origin of the cellphone signal which Thomas Short has relayed to you."

"Location established; awaiting your orders."


"How in the world," muttered Maureen, "can they expect a body to believe that they'll be here..."

Behind her five shimmering pillars of light formed and resolved into the boys being transported in.

"...in ten minutes?"

"Um, Mom? You better turn around," said Jonas with a startled air.

Maureen turned and blanched, putting her hand to her mouth. Suddenly she became very Irish. "Faith 'n' begorrah," she whispered in awe, "they really did mean it. How in the -"

"Team, deploy," said Zac, as J.J. moved to a point where he could see the back door and drew his phaser, and Jacob folded his arms and assumed an abstracted air. Mark placed his tricorder on the coffee table and aimed it at C.J., setting it to record C.J.'s vital signs. Tyler stood patiently behind C.J., waiting on Mark's signal.

"Good afternoon, ma'am. I presume you'd be Mrs. McConnaghay. Hi, Harry. I'm Zac Hanson of Clan Short of Vulcan. Let me introduce my team: Starfleet Lt. James J. Richardson, Chief of Clan Short Security; Mark Owens of Clan Short; Tyler Short of Clan Short Intelligence; and the other one standing there is Jacob Dodds of Clan Short Intelligence. For the record - Jacob, you getting this?" ... a nod from Jacob. "I'm interviewing Mrs. Maureen McConnaghay, of Arkham, Maine, a witness after the fact in the murders of the parents of two boys known as 'Jed' and 'C.J.'... these two boys are believed to be in danger, right?"

Maureen was feeling more than a little flustered by the recent turn of events, and wasn't just exactly sure where to begin. But her sense of authority and her reporter's instincts took over, she sat up straighter, and launched into the story. "Okay," she began, "to the best of our knowledge, then, these two boys, who told us their names are Jed and C.J., got home from school at somewhere around two-forty five today and found their parents murdered. They apparently ran to get help, and my son, Jonas, here, met them at the town playground a few blocks from here as they were running. Jonas found out why they were running away, and he and Harry brought them home to me. That's as much as I know right now."

Zac looked a question at Jacob. "That's true, as far as she knows it," said Jacob.

Maureen's face took on a pained look. "How - and even more, why - is that boy judging me, for pity's sake?"

"Don't be alarmed," said Mark with a reassuring smile. "Jacob is a Vulcan-trained telepath, fully qualified to testify before any court in the Federation if necessary. It was Captain Spock of the Enterprise who trained him; Spock is his adoptive uncle. It's Jacob's job, or his twin Jamie's, on any intervention we do, to find out the full truth behind what's happened telepathically. Don't be offended; we need to be absolutely sure of the facts when we use the authority we've been given, and we double-check ourselves every way possible, including making sure anyone talking to us is telling the truth."

Mark switched his tricorder to aim at Jed, and Tyler rested his hands on C.J., exuding compassion and calm.

"Lord, I've read about some of these things in the big national newspapers, y' know, about how the Federation ships go all over the galaxy and such an' do whatever it is they do, but I never dreamed in a million years it'd be happenin' right here in me own livin' room!" Maureen seemed flabbergasted.

"Okay, let's get back to what you suspect," Zac suggested. "On the phone you said you had good reason to believe that the boys' parents had been killed because of their involvement in some kind of scandal?"

"Oh, no," said Maureen firmly. "You're not gettin' me to talk in someone's mind about any kind of scandal. I got a living to make, and if word gets out that I breathed a word of this I'd be just as bad off as these two boys."

"Mrs. McConnaghay ..." Zac began.

"It's 'Maureen.'"

"Okay, Maureen, then. These records are going straight into Clan Short data banks, and the only people who will have access to them will be members of the Clan, and Starfleet security personnel if they're lucky. They will not be released unless our Clan Patriarch feels it will be in the best interests of all concerned - including yourself. Take my word for it; nobody who might have access to those records would ever include anyone who may have been involved in any scandal that may be uncovered by our investigation."

Jacob put in, "Please, Maureen, for the record, tell us what you suspect."

"Mom, why don't you let me take it from here?" suggested Jonas. "Go get yourself a glass of water or something."

"Sure, an' it's somethin' stronger 'n' water I'm needin' right now, but you go ahead. The next part of the story is better told by you anyway."

Jonas went on, "So I brought the boys home from the playground after hearing their story about how they had found their parents dead, apparently murdered. Between Harry and me and the two boys, we told their story to my Mom, and she formed the conclusion that the murders had been committed by one Randall Scordo, a contractor from here and a Town Selectman, or rather by thugs that he hired. Mom suspects, and now me too, that the parents were killed because they had been going along with Scordo's schemes and refused to follow him any further. Jed said that he had heard his father on the phone arguing with a man we think is Scordo. Due to what we suspect are the reasons for the crime, we're afraid that Jed and C.J. may be next. We can't turn to the local police; they're mostly in Scordo's pay, and may even have had a part in the killings. There, how's that?"

Mark said, "That was very well done, Jonas. Thanks." Then into the tricorder he said, "the preceding is an interview of Maureen McConnaghay and her son, Jonas McConnaghay, regarding the alleged murder of - what were the parents' names again?"

"Rhonda and George Templeton." Maureen replied.

"— Rhonda and George Templeton, residents of the town of Arkham, Franklin County, Maine.

"You don't happen to know their full names, do you?"

"Oh, uh, let me think, I vaguely remember something in the paper about their wedding...."

"The mother is Rhonda Elaine Sarles Templeton," Jacob piped up. "I'm not getting any impression that his father went by any other name than 'George.' When Jed was born, they named him after his mother's family - Jeremiah Sarles Templeton. C.J. is Christopher Judd Templeton." Maureen just sat there, staring at Jacob. She could maybe have dredged up memories of accounts in the newspaper of the parents' wedding, and the births of the children, but this - child - somehow just "knew." Go figure.

"I was named after my Gran'pa," C.J. spoke up.

All eyes turned to the two boys. That was the first either of them had spoken for some time.

"Tricorder, Mark," Zac said softly.

Mark aimed the tricorder first at C.J., then at Jed. "Getting a confused jumble of brain waves from C.J.; almost nothing from Jed."

Suddenly Jed wailed, "Gotta help my little brother - don' let them get him!" And he dissolved in sobs again.

Zac continued, "we've got to get them out of here quickly. Jed has gone almost catatonic, just like they said Cory did after his brother died. Just a few more details, then we're outa here. What we'll do now is make an official recording of Clan Short taking formal temporary custody of Jed and C.J., then we'll take them with us to our headquarters in Orlando."

"Ready," said Jacob quietly.

"Mr. Owens, activate tricorder to recording mode. Report, Mr. Dodds," said Zac.

"In the matter of Jeremiah Sarles Templeton and Christopher Judd Templeton," Jacob said in a toneless voice, "the boys arrived home from school today to find their parents, George and Rhonda Templeton, lying dead on their living-room floor. I will place details of their reading regarding the scene in the record following the extraction. Both boys appear severely traumatized by the event. Confirmation in Jed's latent memories of his father's recent phone calls makes it fairly certain that he had refused to continue working with Randall Edward Scordo, as Mrs. Maureen McConnaghay speculated, and a remote scan of the scene makes it evident that they were murdered by men engaged by Scordo. This was confirmed by a reading of Scordo - eeuck! What a filthy mind! - and he intends to eliminate the boys as well. In short, Safe Haven extraction is more than justified."

Adopting the same emotionless tone, Zac began, "I, Zachary Hanson, a member of Clan Short of the Family of Sarek of the House of Surok of the Planet Vulcan, in reliance on Article 200 of the Safe Haven Act of the United Federation of Planets, do hereby invoke the Safe Haven Act in protection over Jeremiah Sarles Templeton and Christopher Judd Templeton. I place them under the protection and custody of Clan Short of Vulcan, and officially supersede any jurisdiction of the State of Maine, the United States of America, or the League of Nations in this regard. The relevant sections are in Article 81, in relation to protective custody when a child's life or freedom are at risk and local law enforcement is deemed inadequate or indisposed to adequately protect them. Specifically Section 81-1, covering imminent threat of death, and Section 81-10, covering actions to be taken on a finding of the suborning of local law enforcement."

He was interrupted by the slamming of a car door and the advance of a burly policeman to the door. "Maureen McConnaghay!" the officer began in a bullish baritone, "I am investigating two boys with whom your son was seen... There they are. I'll just be taking these two boys and putting them in protective custody with the Arkham Police Department now."

"Ye will not," said Maureen firmly. "I know you, Patrick O'Doul, and you're as deep in Randall Scordo's pockets as the lint from his handkerchief."

J.J. spoke up. "Officer, this is a Safe Haven intervention by the U.F.P., and you have no jurisdiction."

O'Doul turned a jaundiced eye on J.J. "Just because your parents bought you a Starfleet costume for Hallowe'en, sonny, doesn't mean you can play cop in serious matters. Now *sit down!* Maureen and Jonas McConnaghay, I place you under arrest for suspicion of obstruction of justice. You have the right to remain silent..."

"And you have the 'obligation' to remain silent," said J.J., as he stunned O'Doul where he stood with his phaser. Whipping out his communicator, he continued, "Richardson to Lafayette."

"Go ahead, Mr. Richardson."

"I have one unconscious suspect to beam up - local cop, probably on the take from what I've learned, initial charges of interfering with a Clan Short Safe Haven extraction." He paused as Jacob signaled for attention.

"The cop was supposed to take the boys to Scordo's thugs, and was aware they'd be killed there," Jacob said in the same flat tone.

"Correction, Lafayette: charges are obstruction of justice, plus conspiracy to commit murder, two counts." J.J. said into his communicator. "Energize at your convenience."

O'Doul's body shimmered and disappeared.

Maureen, Harry, and Jonas were gape-mouthed and shocked. Jonas recovered first. "Did you really just shoot a cop in our living room and then request Starfleet to beam him up?"

"Not quite," J.J. said. "I stunned him, rather than shooting at a higher power setting. I know Cory's going to rib me for shooting another cop when we get back. And I didn't *request* he be transported, I *ordered* it. That was Ensign Hughes of Lafayette's Engineering Department on the transporter stage; I outrank him."

Maureen looked at the ten-year-old strawberry blond in deck shorts standing there. "Do your Dad and Mom know you're involved with this sort of thing at your age?"

Jacob smiled. "My Mom died just after my twin and I were born. My Dad's somewhere between here and Procyon at the moment, but my Pop kissed me goodbye just before we beamed in here." Gesturing at J.J., he added, "But with Clint Eastwood there shooting cops again, I need to use your bathroom!"

Needing a moment to ground herself, Maureen pointed, "through the kitchen and down the hall," she said absently.

"C'mon, Jacob. I've only shot five cops, counting O'Doul, and they all deserved it!"

"Yeah, but you seem to be enjoying it, and it's just a little nervous making. I know you've never let me come to harm and never will, but it's still a bit scary."

"If you're serious about that, I need to talk to Pop or Matt about my professionalism. I try to do only what's necessary on these interventions; it's not my fault cops won't take a twelve-year-old lieutenant seriously. But quite often I do need to take quick action, and when it's needed, I act immediately."

"Yeah," giggled Jacob. "You know, when he first laid eyes on his boyfriend, they were in the middle of a motel parking lot, and the very first thing he did, before saying a single word to anybody, was to take off his pants!"

"Hey!," said a blushing J.J. "Adam was naked!"

"You're digging the hole deeper, bro," Mark commented with a broad grin. "Better shut up while you're ahead!"

"Look, you guys, I really gotta go - NOW!" said Jacob, as he scampered off to use the facilities.

"Zac?" said Tyler. "Emotional states: C.J. is feeling a lot of loss and fear, but I've got him more or less stable. But Jed is pretty much a basket case; we need to get him to Dan as quick as possible."

J.J. stepped over to Zac and spoke quietly in his ear for a moment, then turned to Maureen. "Based on what Jacob reported and that cop's suspiciously quick arrival here, I'm inclined to think you and your son and Harry may be in some danger. We can evacuate you to Clan Headquarters in Orlando for your own safety; there's plenty of room to stay there."

"I thank you," Maureen said. "But I'm a newspaperwoman and an Irishwoman. I've never dropped a story from personal danger, and my ancestors would wish bad cess on me if I ran from a problem no worse than they faced in the Old Country. But ye can take the boys; I'll not have them at risk."

"If you're staying, I'm staying," Jonas said firmly. "And me too," Harry added, looking as though he wished he didn't have to be quite that brave and noble.

"All right, then," J.J. said. "With your permission, I'll detail two boys from the Clan as security to stay with you in case of further problems."

"That is something I'll be acceptin' with thanks," Maureen responded.

"Richardson to CIC," J.J. said into his communicator.

"Yeah, J.J.?" Tommy responded.

"I think we may need a couple of guys staying here - trouble's been and gone, and there may be more. Can you round up D.J. and Tanner and have them beamed up here with phasers and clothes appropriate for New England fall, enough for a few days' stay if needed?"

"They're jest in the Rec Room list'nin' to some tunes. I'll have them ready and up there faster 'n' a skeeter with a swaller hot on his butt."

"Thanks, Tommy. We'll be beaming back as soon as D.J. and Tanner are here. Would you have my Dad standing by, please; both boys we're extracting are pretty shook up."

"Will do. Tommy out."

"Richardson out."

"I bet you have some questions," J.J. said to Maureen. "We'll try to field what we can before we take the boys back - which it sounds like we'd better do quickly; D.J. and Tanner can answer anything that comes up after we're gone. They're both 13; D.J. is sandy blond and an inch shorter; Tanner, like Jacob and me, is part of Clan Short's elite force of strawberry blonds." Mark and Tyler gave J.J. raspberries at that last comment, while the returning Jacob gave him a high five.

"Something I don't understand," Maureen began, "is how - children - in my eyes anyway, can have the knowledge - the nerve - to pull all this stuff off."

Tyler responded, "Well, see, we've all been victims of some kind of abuse or other, and the Federation rescued us, then Clan Short, with the Federation's help, trained us to do the same with other kids."

"Now who - or what - is this 'Clan Short'?"

"That's a group of boys who have pledged brotherhood and are committed to helping other boys they way they were helped. The origin is from my adopted mom, Mrs. Teri Short, and her first two sons, Sean and Cory. Teri used to baby-sit me, and one day my mom sent me to her and told her to keep me, because she didn't want me any more. So Teri made some phone calls and adopted me on the spot, and my half-brother Adam, who's J.J.'s boyfriend, too. Then we all went out to dinner that night, and found Jamie and Jacob here Dumpster diving, and we did a 'vention, and they got adopted too. Their daddies are Chip Dodds of Starfleet, and Josh Chasez-Dodds of N*Sync."

"Don't they have a mother somewhere?

"Oh, yeah, they used to, but she died when they were born. And their real daddy used to beat up on them a lot."

"That has got to be the strangest story I've ever heard, but somehow, it's got a ring of truth to it. Wouldn't this make a story for the Dispatch! But never in a million years would readers believe it."

J.J. added, "Clan Short is recognized as an arm of the planet Vulcan government, and has the right to intervene under the Federation's Safe Haven Law whenever a child is in danger, abused, neglected, or abandoned. We're trained to do it in accordance with the law, and we're recognized as adults when we're acting in accordance with it. That's what Zac was getting so formal about earlier—that recording he made is the equivalent of a superior court ruling in its legal force.

"We've got about thirty kids right now who work with us in a bunch of different ways, depending on what they can do."

The now-familiar shimmering presaged the appearance of D.J. and Tanner.

"Maureen and guys," Zac said, "may I introduce you to D.J. and Tanner Wagner," gesturing to each as he named them. "Guys, this is Maureen McConnaghay and her son Jonas, and his friend Harry Johnson. We had a visit from a local cop who's part of the group of scumbags that are responsible for the killing of these boys' parents. We're taking them back to H.Q.; they're pretty traumatized. Maureen can tell you about the problems here; be prepared to intervene on any signal from Maureen, Jonas, or Harry, or if you think the situation calls for it. They're under Clan protection now; don't be afraid to call for backup if you need it.

"Mrs. McConnaghay, I think we need to get these boys to safety and help. D.J. and Tanner can call for help 24-7; don't be afraid to have them bring it in if you think it's needed.

"Harry," he concluded, "You probably saved a couple of lives today by calling me. Thanks for remembering and being willing to help people." Harry blushed and flashed a wide smile at that.

"Mark, you better give Jed a hand," Tyler interjected. "He's walking wounded down deep in his heart." And in fact Jed looked like he could barely stand. Tyler took C.J.'s arm comfortingly, and Mark picked up Jed and steadied him on his feet.

"Hanson to Lafayette," Zac said into his communicator, motioning the boys to take position. "Seven to beam out. ... Energize."

To Be Continued