With all twenty-six kids having been confirmed safe, and both buildings having been declared secure by the Starfleet security teams, Brent finally took a few moments to really take in the sheer destruction around him as he stood in the center of what used to be the main lobby. As he was looking around, he couldn't help but smile at the fact that both Greg and Doug seemed to already be asleep on one of the couches. The small six year old had pushed himself to the breaking point. Then again, they all did.
Hearing the scraping of metal being pushed behind him, Brent spun around to see Lance walking in, with Hania and Luke right behind him.
"Lee's father says that all twenty-eight of the thirty unborn clones are stable. He's not sure about the two newest ones yet," Lance commented as he, too, began to glance around the room. "I think we won."
"I think so too," Brent agreed as he turned toward a noise being made on the other side of the room, where Evan, Haden and Jude were walking in. Seeing Haden glued to Evan's side, and still shaking, Brent looked toward Evan with concern. "Is he going to be okay?"
Evan glanced down at his little brother and nodded. "I think so. This is all a little too much for him, I think."
Lance walked up next to Brent and gave his boyfriend a warm hug. "I think it's finally over."
Brent sighed as he shook his head and turned to look out the now shattered lobby window. "We might have won, but I don't think this is close to being over."
"What do you mean?" Evan asked with concern.
"I just got done talking to J.J. on the communicator. He's going to want to chat with us later tonight once they get done picking up the pieces from what was going on in Montana, but the way things look now, if we want, all of the Cynthitech buildings and property can be transferred over to the Clan, and we can take over the responsibility of looking after everyone here," Brent stated.
Lance gasped. "They were joking, right? There is no way in hell we could manage something like that."
Brent shrugged, "You heard Lee's dad; there is over an 80% chance that trying to move any of those clone growth chambers to anywhere else would result in termination. I don't think I could live with that, could you? And well, I don't know... over the last few days, all of those clone kids... well, they kind of grow on you. And think of all the other Cynthitech clones that are still out there. We know what happened to 50 of the 400, that still leaves over 350 unaccounted for. If we don't do this, who will?"
Lance laid his head against Brent's shoulder, "In that case, I guess that means we are staying. But I'll tell you one thing right now."
"What's that?" Brent asked as he wrapped his arm around his boyfriend.
"I'm not going to be the one to break the news to Neal and Rick." Lance smiled, which caused everyone else within earshot to giggle as well.
Greg carefully felt his way around the room that he was in. Although he had become familiar with a large portion of the Cynthitech layout in the last week, right now he was in an area that he was not as familiar with. As such, he had to take things a bit slower. To make matters worse, he was focusing hard on not pulling any sight images from Doug or anyone else, otherwise he would risk giving both his and his best friend's location away if any of the triplets picked up on it.
"Over here," Doug whispered. "I found us a perfect spot."
Greg headed in the direction of Doug's voice as quickly as he could. It was fairly common knowledge that the loss of one sense (in Greg's case, sight) often caused the other senses to become stronger. Greg was no exception, as his hearing was sharp enough to almost perfectly pinpoint where his best friend's voice had came from. The only thing he didn't account for was the fact that there would be a desk separating the two of them.
"Sorry about that," Doug whispered once Greg made it close enough to him. Then he grabbed onto him and guided him, head down, so he didn't hit his head when he crawled into the cupboard he had found.
"That's okay," Greg answered as he felt the more confined space that he had crawled into.
"You could have taken a small peek through my eyes, you know?" Doug whispered after he managed to get the door closed.
Even though it was pitch black, and there was no chance of Doug seeing him, Greg shook his head. "That's what gave us away last time. I think when I pull images, they can somehow pick up on the images I'm getting or something."
From somewhere far away, both Doug and Greg heard a voice call out, "Ready or not, here we come!"
"They'll never find us here." Doug said before he heard Greg make a small 'shhhh' sound.
Fredric sat patiently in the waiting room with his small, eight year old, dark blond haired charge sitting next to him. He had arrived at the small walk-in clinic that he had been instructed to go to about twenty minutes ago, and for all twenty of those minutes he had been more than a little nervous.
If it had not been for the incredibly high reputation that this Clan Short had, he probably would have turned around and walked out very shortly after arriving, given what he had seen. As a social worker, he had trained himself to be able to almost instantly size up any new environment he might enter and identify anything that seemed unusual or out of the ordinary, as it often meant the difference between placing a child in a potentially bad environment. Here, there were many issues that jumped out at him.
The first thing that he noticed was the unusual uncleanliness of the clinic. How anyone could be willing to wait in a waiting room like this, let alone risk getting help here, he had no clue. The second oddity was the fact that the receptionist looked to be about fifteen, with spiked hair and dressed in street clothes. The third thing he noticed was that the last person to place their name on the sign-in sheet was dated three days ago.
For all the overall uncleanliness, there were some other things that caught his eye, such as the two small security cameras that were clearly keeping a close eye on the entire waiting room area, and the fact that while he and his charge had been waiting, several other street kids had come in, gone through the door leading further into the clinic, and then a few minutes later came back out. Everything he saw screamed setup.
Fredric was just about to give up waiting and leave when the door opened again and an eleven-year-old, well tanned boy, with rather short black hair, walked in. This new boy immediately stood out from all the other street kids that he had seen enter over the last twenty minutes. For starters, instead of street clothes, he was dressed in a more preppy school uniform with white pants and a blue and white shirt. Also, on his right arm was a rather odd looking armband with three small boxes attached to it.
"Mr. Bowman?" The boy walked toward Fredric, extending his hand in greeting. "I'm Evan, sorry to keep you waiting but traffic was pretty bad."
Fredric was slightly taken back at Evan's confidence and how he took over the situation as soon as he walked in. "It's nice to meet you, Evan, and please, call me Fredric." Fredric stood up to shake Evan's hand, which caused the small child next to him to stand as well and latch on to Fredric's side. "This is Darren."
Evan took out a small tricorder from a pouch that was attached to his belt and quickly scanned Darren with it. After a few minutes he nodded and smiled, "Yup, he is definitely one of the guys we are looking for. I guess you have been waiting here long enough, so if you're ready, we'll get started."
Not really sure what the older boy was referring to, Fredric hesitantly nodded. "Okay. That would be fine."
"Great, I need to do something real quick first." Evan walked over to the receptionist window where the spike haired boy had been watching them, and handed a small object to him after whispering something that could not be made out. After that he walked to the door heading out of the clinic, "Coming?"
"We're leaving?" Fredric was confused as he and Darren started to walk toward the door as well.
"I don't really think this would be a good place for Darren, do you?" Evan asked as he walked toward a dark blue Ford Taurus and opened the back door for Fredric and Darren to enter. "Don't worry about your van, we'll bring you back here when we're done."
Hania followed close to Brent as the two walked down a small service road that ran between the Trump and Royal hotels.
[Inbound Rent-a-Cop] Randy warned Brent.
Grabbing Hania, Brent quickly ducked both of them behind a garbage dumpster, where the two boys waited patiently until they heard the security guard, and his radio, move off past them.
"Remind me again why we couldn't just have Daileass teleport us right to their hideout?" Hania groaned as he and Brent continued to make their way down the alley.
"I already told you," Brent sighed. "Maurice most likely has one of his boys posted somewhere as a watch, and I want to make sure they know we're coming."
The twelve-year-old Native American shook his head as he realized that Brent obviously missed his joke. "I know. I know. It's just my right to be able to complain, so I shall."
Brent let out a snort as he finally caught on. "Not to mention that I messed up big time the last we were together. I don't plan on doing that again."
"I just hope he understands the gesture," Hania added as he and Brent easily climbed over the cement wall that landed them inside the parking garage.
"The stairs we need are on the other side." Brent lead them down one of the rows of cars, "Besides, if Justy was right, and we really can become official, I'm going to have to get in the habit of cleaning up our messes. This is something I've let linger too long, so one way or the other, it needs to be addressed."
"You're preaching to the choir, Brent." Hania opened the door leading to the stairs so that he and Brent could go through, "If I did not think that the spirits would approve, I would not have volunteered to go with you."
Glancing around the stairwell and seeing a faded out 'TSB' tag painted on the wall, he started to head down, "This will get us to B-3; we can get in down there."
The two boys walked down the three flights of stairs leading to the third and lowest basement level as Randy gave Brent another update. [I've been running around and checking all the usual spots, but I don't think we've passed a single lookout.]
Brent nodded, "Randy says we haven't passed any lookouts yet."
"Is that good or bad?" Hania asked as he again opened the door, this time leading out of the stairs.
"I'm not sure, but we are nearly there," Brent said as he looked around. They were in a lower level of the parking garage. Unlike the upper level, there were almost no cars down here save for a very small handful, including two cars that were covered with a small layer of dust on them, showing that they had been here for awhile.
Walking between one of the large support beams and the back wall, Brent found a large metal grate on the ground that would allow water to flow into it on the very rare occasions that they would get any significant amount of rain. Easily lifting one side of it up, he held it open so both of them could jump down into it.
Once they were both inside, and the grate was carefully closed behind them, Brent pressed a button on his wrist GEAR. This caused a powerful light to shoot out of the attached squares, which did a good job at illuminating the small space they were in, as well as the three different tunnels that were large enough that a child could easily walk through them.
"This way," Brent pointed his arm and the light toward one of the tunnels as the two boys started to walk down it into the darkness of whatever might lay at the other end.
Lee and Roe were both sitting on the floor in the living room of Neal's house, deeply concentrating on a game of Mortal Combat. They had been playing the game for the last half hour while they waited for Pat to get home from helping his mom with an open house, and for Rick to finish taking a shower and getting packed so he could drive them all over to Cynthitech.
Having lost his fifth game in a row, Lee threw his controller down in disgust. "Dang, man, how are you so good at this?"
Roe smiled. "I"m not really that good, but I guess it's 'cause I have eight other brothers, all of us like playing video games, so there is always lots of competition at home."
Lee glared at the controller as if it were one of the worst things that existed, "I don't even know why you guys like these games. You just sit here trying to tear each other's head off."
"Yup! That's the point!" Roe giggled as he nodded his head.
Lee sighed as he picked the controller back up. "Give me a good RPG and I'll take you all on."
Roe shrugged as he pressed the buttons needed to start another game, "RPG's are boring, all they are is a bunch of reading."
"No they aren't! They are kinda cool, with puzzles and stuff to solve. You just can't go around tearing everyone's head off."
"Like I said, boring." Roe giggled as the next game began and both boys became silent as they each concentrated on tearing the other's head off.
Halfway through the game, there was a knock at the door, although neither boy seemed interested in doing anything about it. After a few moments and another knock, Rick walked into the room towel drying his hair, wearing only a pair of shorts. "It wouldn't kill you guys to get the door, you know?"
Roe shook his head as he thought about how silly adults could be sometimes. Of course he would have been killed if he had gone to open the door, and he wasn't about to let that happen. Plus, it wasn't his house.
"I think we might have done it this time." Greg whispered to Doug after they had been hiding for about five minutes.
Right on cue, the cupboard doors flew open. "Wanna guess again?" Ty asked as he and Phil stood there looking at the two smaller boys.
"Don't feel bad," Daniel Keen stated from a few feet behind the two triplets. "They found me after the first thirty seconds."
"How did you find us this time?" Greg whined, "I didn't pull any sight from anyone. I was real careful not to."
"We're just that good," Ty grinned.
"Actually," Phil corrected, "It was the desk."
With the game now over, Greg wasted no time in allowing the sight from Doug's eyes to fill into his head, "What do you mean?"
"When you ran into the desk when you were hiding, that sent out a pretty loud signal." Phil stated.
Ty nodded. "Yup, so that really narrowed down the rooms you could have been hiding in."
"I still say that's cheating," Doug groaned.
"Come on," Phil called out as he made his way to the door. "You can help us look for Ben, Cooper, and Jace. Those three really cheat, since they don't broadcast any hints."
"Are the clones smart enough to be able to think like that yet?" Doug asked.
Greg nudged his friend as they walked into the hallway, "That was mean."
"What?" Doug protested, "I don't know what they can and can't do yet."
"It was still mean." Greg repeated as the group entered the first room they planned on looking in.
Seeing no one other than a woman in her early twenties in the driver's seat, Fredric hesitantly motioned for Darren to crawl into the car, and then entered himself.
Once Evan got in the passenger seat in the front, the woman who was driving looked back at the concerned look on Fredric's face, and then back toward Evan. "Let me guess, you didn't even bother explaining what was going on?"
Evan grinned evilly, "Well, you said a quick in and out."
"You know that's not what I meant, kiddo," the lady said as she tried to reach over and mess up Evan's hair at the same time Evan tried his best to push himself back against the door.
"Hold on!" Evan giggled slightly as he held up his hand to get the woman to stop, and took out his communicator. "Evan to Lance."
After a few moments, the communicator crackled to life with a very young sounding boy responding, "Um. Hello? Lance is busy right now, Evan. He just accidentally slipped and fell into the pool. A freak accident, ya know?"
Evan winced. "Yeah, right, Forth. Tell him that everything checks out, and I'm ten-twelve x two. We're just leaving now, so we should be there in about twenty."
"Oh, um. Okay," The voice replied. "I don't know why you just didn't ask Daileass to bring you back."
"Just let him know or else when I get there, you might have one of those freak accidents as well."
"Um. Right. I'll tell him. Bye!"
As Evan put away the communicator he glanced back at the now beyond shocked expression of Fredric's face. "Oh yeah!" Evan smiled. "Fredric, this is Debby, she helps us out a lot and is one of the best cooks you have ever seen. Debby, this is Fredric."
Debby quickly glanced back and nodded toward Fredric before turning her attention back to the road. "I hope you're prepared for what you're getting yourself into with these guys."
Fredric sighed. "Actually, I have no clue what to think. I was told to bring Darren to the clinic and someone would meet me there. I wasn't expecting the road trip."
Debby only shook her head.
"What?" Evan tried to ask innocently. "Did you see how dirty that place was? Would you really want to stay there any longer than we did?"
"Not really." Fredric agreed.
"Exactly. The clinic you were at is mainly just a front anyway." Evan grinned.
"I kind of figured that," Fredric nodded. "But a front for what?"
Evan glanced at Darren, and then back toward Fredric. "What can you tell me about Darren?"
Slightly surprised by the change of subject, Fredric glanced toward the small eight-year-old who was sitting back, seemingly enjoying the ride, "Well, he's a shy, passive child. Most of the time he seems to be off in his own world somewhere, as it can be somewhat difficult to get his attention. He has to be told to do everything, and it's hard to teach him things, which is probably why he's in the special needs home. But he's certainly not stupid, when you do manage to get his attention, he can do things like math problems incredibly fast in his head."
"He seems out of place?" Evan questioned.
Fredric nodded. "I would say that. Socially and emotionally he's well below where he should be for his age. Mentally he's across the charts. Depending on which test you look at, he's either well below his age or well above his age. He's been diagnosed as having a type of Autism, but that doesn't seem right either. I've met a number of Autistic children, and he doesn't really fit."
Evan inwardly smiled to himself. At first he was rather skeptical when some of the other guys were talking about bringing this guy on board, but it was quickly becoming clear that this particular social worker might actually be different from the others. It was at this point that he decided to trust him a bit more, not that he really had a choice, given that they were already driving out of the city limits and toward their new home. "But overall, not bad for a six month old, eh?"
"I'm sorry?" Fredric was clearly confused by the statement.
"You were right to suspect that Darren's problem is not Autism or any of the other labels people have tried to apply to him. The reason nothing seems to make sense is you are missing an important piece of information, which is the fact that he was born six months ago. Well, actually we are probably getting close to six and a half months now."
"I'm afraid I still don't follow. Darren has been one of my cases for at least the last month, and he looks the same now that he did then. How can you say he is only six months old?" Fredric took another look at the boy, who seemed to be ignoring the conversation, as if to make sure he was still eight years old.
Evan nodded. "That's because Darren wasn't born normally; he's actually a clone. His genetics were bio-engineered or something like that. I don't really understand it myself. I just know that when he was born six months ago, his body was at the physical age of eight."
"A clone?" Fredric again glanced at Darren and then back at Evan. "I thought human cloning was outlawed, not only here on earth, but also by the Federation?"
"It is. But just because something is against the law doesn't always stop people from doing it." Evan sighed.
Glancing through the rear-view mirror, Debby noticed Fredric looking toward her for confirmation. "As crazy as it sounds, what Evan is telling you is the truth."
"How can you be sure Darren is a clone?" The confused man tried to look closer at Darren as if to find some detail he had missed. "He looks like a normal eight-year-old to me."
Evan nodded. "The first clue you had already found when you first contacted us. The small tattoo you found on the back of his neck with the strange symbol and the number 365. And when we first met back at the clinic and I scanned Darren with my tricorder, I was able to confirm that he had the genetic markers that we were looking for."
"Who would do something like this?" Fredric frowned. "Aren't there enough homeless kids around that someone doesn't have to make more?"
Evan could not stop himself from frowning as well. "A company called Cynthitech created him. The why is complicated and still something we are working on figuring out. But basically, Darren was one of the rejects of the main program, so he was sold off as a boy-toy to someone, and I guess from there he somehow found his way into the foster system."
Fredric turned his head and looked out the window lost in thought. He noticed that they were turning off of highway 160 onto a smaller highway 159 which was leading them toward the mountains west of the city. "I thought Cynthitech was a local pharmaceutical company here in the valley. But I guess that would help explain his lack of personal records. Sold as a boy-toy? How could someone even think of doing that to someone so young, clone or otherwise? Does that mean you are associated with Cynthitech, a clone yourself?" The man babbled as he thought out loud, trying to put things together.
"Well, let's see." Evan grinned as the man realized what he had been doing. "Yes, Cynthitech is officially a pharmaceutical company, but that's mostly a front for what they were really doing. They sold off a number of their rejects to generate additional funding since they lost their primary backer a long time ago. And no, I'm not a clone, nor am I associated with Cynthitech. I guess you could say that I'm associated with Clan Short, but we are not really an official division, well, at least not yet."
"I see. A front operation makes sense, since I doubt they would get much support for what they were really doing. But why tell me all of this? And where exactly are we going?" Fredric was starting to get a bit concerned in regards to them seemingly driving out to the middle of nowhere, and how openly his questions were being answered.
Evan smiled. "The reason I've been sharing all of this with you, is that me and the rest of my friends would like you to help us out. As far as where we are going, we are going somewhere that Darren can get the help he needs so he can function more like a normal kid, if that's what he chooses."
"By friends, you mean others in Clan Short? And where exactly would you take someone like Darren to help him become more...?" Just as Fredric was asking his question, the Taurus reached the top of a very small hill, and in the short distance between them and the mountains he could see the large twin buildings of Cynthitech's headquarters, "I thought you were not with Cynthitech."
"I'm not," Evan's smile got larger. "Let's just say that Cynthitech is now under new management, and will never hurt any kid ever again, clone or otherwise. In fact, now we are working on trying to find kids like Darren and his brothers so that we can try and give them the help and opportunities they should have had in the first place."
"I see," Fredric said as Debby turned into the mostly empty parking lot, heading toward the main entrance of the slightly larger of the two buildings.
"That's partly where we were hoping you might come in. Having someone in the system like yourself could probably help out a lot with being able to spot other kids like Darren." As the car stopped, Evan jumped out and opened the back door so Fredric and Darren could climb out.
Still in shock and trying to make sense of everything that he was learning, Fredric only stood there and looked up at the large building they were in front of.
After closing the back door, Evan walked to the drivers door. "Coming in with us?"
Debby shook her head, "No. I still need to go get food to feed all you guys, before you roped me into your little mission."
Evan blushed as he gave Debby a kiss. "Thanks, Deb."
"You're welcome. Just remember, if lunch is late, you get to explain why to your brothers." Debby gave Evan a final smile before driving off.
Evan walked up to where Fredric was still standing and staring. "Well, you ready to have your mind really blown?"
Fredric shook his head as Evan shot him an evil grin before walking toward the door, "And here I thought you had already done a good job at blowing my mind. I hate to see what you have planned next."
Evan only smiled while he held one of the large glass doors open as he waited for Fredric and Darren to walk through.
After about five minutes of walking, Brent and Hania could see the end of the tunnel come into view. As they got closer, it became clear that it was another junction point, with this one only having one other tunnel leading off of it. Once at the junction, they could see that the second tunnel did not go that far until it opened into a larger room.
Looking up and seeing no one at the normal door guard position, Brent became a bit more concerned. "Something isn't right. There should have been someone here."
Hania activated his GEAR light as well so he could help look around the large, mostly trash-filled room. Among the trash and on some of the bed mattresses, various food wrappers and soda cans could be seen laying around, but no signs that anyone had been there anytime recently.
Brent tapped his sub-vocal. "Daileass, are you sure that none of the kids that I told you about have been picked up by the police?"
Almost instantly, Brent heard the A.I.'s reply in his normal child-like voice. "I'm positive, Brent. I've checked several times in all available databases, including local, state, federal and Federation. I've even checked in a few places that are not officially available."
"Then where could they have..." Brent stopped in mid-sentence as he saw Hania hold up a hand.
Hania whispered low enough so only Brent could hear him. "Someone else is in here."
[He's right. Over by the far corner.] Randy's voice called out.
Shining his light toward the far corner, both Brent and Hania could see a small Hispanic boy crouching down behind an overturned table. As soon as he was spotted, the boy sprinted toward the door, but Hania's longer legs and quicker reflexes allowed him to get there first.
"Esteban?" Brent called out toward the short, dark-haired, nine-year-old.
Esteban looked defiantly toward Brent. "Coyote said we're not cool anymore, Brent."
"I know," Brent said as he lowered his light and slowly walked toward the boy. "But a lot has happened over the last week, and I really need to talk to Maurice or Andrew."
Esteban thought to himself for a few minutes. "I can't, Brent. Sorry."
Brent sighed, "Esteban, please. It's really important that I talk to him just one last time. After that, if they want us gone, you will never see us again. I give you my word of honor on that."
Esteban thought some more as he looked up at the well-built twelve-year-old Native American boy blocking the exit and then back toward Brent. "I'll let them know what you said, but that's all I can do."
"That's all I ask," Brent nodded as he motioned toward Hania, "Let him go."
Hania nodded and moved to the side as Esteban dashed past him, running at full speed down the tunnel. "You're not going to see him again, you know that, right?"
Brent shook his head and found a place to sit down. "I know Maurice and I had a disagreement, and we parted on not very good terms, but if there is anything I've learned about him since I've known him, it's that he has a very high sense of honor and duty to his crew. I just hope it's enough."
"Hello Patrick." Rick said as he opened the door for the eleven-year-old, who had a backpack flung over one of his shoulders. "Sorry you had to sit out there and wait; I think it would be too much for these guys to get the door for you."
Pat grinned as he walked into the front room. "Hi, Mr. Knocks, that's okay, I wasn't out there that long."
Rick nodded as he closed the door. "Okay, but please, call me Rick. Mr. Knocks makes me sound way too old."
"Mr. Knocks?" Daileass's voice could be heard coming from the terminal on the other side of the room, which caused the other kids to snigger.
"Yes, Mr. Daileass?" Rick glared toward the terminal where he knew the A.I. was most likely monitoring through the video pickup.
Daileass giggled. "I like that. Anyway, Dr. Flatt wanted me to let you know that they would be starting the final stage of the emergence process soon."
"Thanks, Daileass. Please let him know that we will be there soon, but not to hold things up on our account." Rick answered after thinking for a few moments.
"You got it." Daileass replied before going silent again.
Being somewhat interested in seeing one of the new clones being born, Roe turned to look toward Rick. "You think we will get there in time?"
"We might, I'm not sure. I need to finish getting dried off and dressed, and get things locked up and then we can go," Rick answered as he walked back down the hall and out of sight.
Both Lee and Pat giggled as they saw Roe's panicked expression when he realized that Lee had not stopped playing, and had in fact taken the opportunity to remove a significant amount of Roe's life. "Hey!"
"What?" Lee smiled as he was sure he would finally win a game. "You could have paused the game, but you didn't."
Lee's smile slowly faded away as Roe started fighting at a skill Lee had not yet seen. Panic slowly crept into his face as what started as a rather large advantage was slowly disappearing. The panic turned into complete shock as Roe's player tore off Lee's player's head in his finishing move.
After grinning at Lee's shocked expression, Roe became a bit more serious. "How can you not be interested in something like this? It's not every day you get to see a new life starting?"
After spending a few more moments looking at the 'Game Over' message on the screen, and realizing he had lost his sixth game in a row, Lee shrugged. "I don't know. I watched Dad do lots of emergence and posts. There isn't really anything special. It's not like they know anything or can do anything yet; they're just waking up for the first time."
"One thing we've learned in church is that all life is important, and everyone is special." Roe let his words linger for a few moments before the smile came back to his face. "Anyway, I think you need a bit more practice." Looking behind him, he offered his controller to Pat, who eagerly accepted it.
Roe attentively watched as Lee and Pat selected their players and started the game; however, in the back of his head, his thoughts were focused elsewhere. Ever since he met Eric and learned about his brothers two weeks ago, he had been completely captivated. He had thought that with his eight brothers, his own family was large. But technically speaking, if all of the clones that were like Eric could be considered to be in the same family, then they would have all other families beat hands down. He was knocked out of his thoughts as he saw Rick walking back into the room, now fully dressed, carrying a suitcase.
Setting the suitcase down in the middle of the room, Rick looked toward the T.V. to see that the game between Lee and Pat was much more evenly matched. "Okay guys, go ahead and start winding things down. I need to grab my keys and lock things up, and we can head out."
Roe started to panic as he thought about what Rick had just told them. He's planning on driving them to Cynthitech. There is no way they would get there in time that way. "Umm, Rick? Can't we have Daileass teleport us there? It would be A LOT faster."
Quickly walking into the kitchen to close and lock the back door, and then walking back into the living room, Rick saw Roe's panicked expression and thought for a moment. "I'm not really sure if it's such a good idea to use Daileass's resources like that. It won't hurt for us to drive there."
Roe tried to think of a reply as the communication terminal's speaker came back to life with Daileass's voice. "It's really not a problem to transport you guys, Rick. It's actually kind of fun."
"Fun?" Rick asked, not really sure if he liked the idea of an A.I. referring to transporting them as fun. "Okay, but only if you are sure it will not use too much of your resources. I don't want these guys getting too lazy."
"Transporting the four of you will only use about 0.00013% of my resources, plus or minus 0.00002%, so I think I have it covered."
Everyone in the room was sure that they could hear Daileass grinning as Rick's eyes bugged out.
"Okay, okay, you win." Rick finally answered as everyone was looking toward him now that Lee and Pat had turned off the game and the T.V. "As soon as all of you guys get your stuff in the center of the room, we'll be on our way then."
Lee smiled. "I don't have any stuff to bring, and Roe's stuff is already there, so it's just whatever you and Pat are bringing."
Rick nodded, and after seeing Pat fling his backpack back onto his shoulder, he looked up in the air and then toward the communication terminal. "Daileass, when you are ready, go ahead and teleport us over to Cynthitech."
Daileass's cheerful twelve-year-old voice replied in a tone that clearly indicated he was enjoying himself. "You got it, Mr. Rick! Off you go!"
Moments later, the living room was empty, as was the rest of the house, save for the small white and black hamster that everyone seemed to have forgotten about, who was happily snoozing away in his cage in Doug's room.
"What if they don't come?" Hania asked after they had been waiting for about twenty minutes.
Almost immediately, sounds could be heard coming down the tunnel.
"Here we go," Brent said as both he and Hania stood up.
Through the door entered a tall teen who looked to be around fifteen, holding a drawn knife. Behind him was Esteban, along with another Hispanic boy who looked to be about twelve, also holding a drawn knife.
Brent looked toward the eldest boy. "Hania, this is the chief of Twain Street Boys crew Maurice 'Coyote'. The other guy next to Esteban is Carlos 'Spanky'; he heads up security for the crew."
"You have some nerve showing your face here again, Brent," Maurice scowled. "Come back to stab us in the back again?"
Brent did his best to keep his voice calm to offset the anger in Maurice's. "I know I made a bad mistake, Maurice, I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Maurice's eyes were filled with anger. "When you make a mistake on the streets, you end up dead. There is no sorry."
Brent swallowed hard as he knew what he had to say would be a gamble. "If you feel taking my life would bring honor to your crew, then it's yours to take."
"I should." Maurice moved his knife under Brent's neck, which caused Brent to have to look up toward the taller teen, and both Hania and Carlos to tense up while Esteban took a step back. Not a sound was heard for several moments as if the scene froze, with no one willing to make a move.
"But you're right, that wouldn't accomplish shit." Maurice took a step back. "Besides, you have some real balls showing up here. So you have that going for you."
Brent allowed himself a brief sigh of relief. Maurice showed his dominance, he had respected that position, and now he was going to get the one chance he wanted.
"You still haven't answered my question, Brent: why are you here?" Maurice continued to glare at him and kept his knife trained on him.
"A lot has happened over the last week," Brent started. "I'm sure by now someone in your crew had to have heard about Clan Short, and what was happening last week when we had to leave."
Maurice nodded. "I have, but that still don't mean I agree with what you did."
"You're right, I could have handled it better, but like you, I have to do what I feel is best for my own group, my crew." Brent saw the anger starting to build up in Maurice's eyes again, so he got out the next part as quickly as he could. "But as I said, a lot has changed over the last week. Where I was not in a position to help you guys out as much as I would have liked in the past, I am now. Something that I think might work out really well for you and the rest of the crew."
Maurice waited a few moments before replying, "What help?"
Brent relaxed a little. "Remember the first time when we met, you took me to the roof of the Royal, and you said your biggest wish was that you could find a way for you and your crew to get off the streets, and to actually have a chance to survive?"
"What of it?" Maurice glared.
"Back then, when we were still living at Neal's house, and with there being so many people already there, there was no way we could've gotten all your crew in there as well." Brent watched Maurice and the other two of his crew to see what their reactions would be to what he would say next. "But now, we are at a new place, a much bigger place where there is tons of room and you and your crew could easily live there."
Maurice shook his head. "There is no way we are going to any street shelter or juvy home, shit, half my guys have run away from that crap."
"I'm not talking about anything like that," Brent replied. "I'm talking about a place that we control. Well, technically Clan Short is the ultimate owner of it, but since it's here in Vegas, it's being turned over to me and my guys."
Maurice lowered his knife, which caused Carlos to lower his as well. "No," He finally answered after thinking for several moments. "We don't need your help anymore, we can get along just fine without you."
"Coyote?" Esteban called out, but took another step back when Maurice glared toward him.
Brent knew what Esteban was wanting to ask even without him having to ask it. He could also see the same pleading look in Carlos, but knew that the older boy would not dare say anything that would make his chief look weak. The big question would be, how would Maurice handle it?
Turning his focus back to Brent, Maurice sighed. "Fine. The crew will vote on it tonight. But I won't be recommending it."
Brent nodded in agreement. "I can only make the offer. If you guys want it, cool. If you feel you will be better off out here on the streets on your own, that's fine too. I won't bother you again."
Maurice nodded. "Come back here this time tomorrow. You'll have our decision then."
"Okay." Brent looked toward Hania to make sure he was all right with this as well.
"You're on our turf," Maurice stated, clearly indicating that the meeting was over.
Brent nodded and tapped his sub-vocal, even though he was fairly sure that at least one of the A.I.'s had been monitoring them the entire time. "Daileass, transport me and Hania back to the Center please."
Moments later, Brent and Hania were gone, leaving three boys, in a much darker room, behind.
Lance poked his head through the door of building number two's lower security room, turned main office workspace, as it was one of only two places that secure Clan terminals could be set up over the past week while work on cleaning up and repairing the rest of the facilities was taking place. Inside, he saw Haden was still going strong with his video conference link up to a few Wayne Industries representatives. Undoubtedly, they were still going over the slew of new GEAR module designs that Haden had worked out over the past few days.
Lance allowed himself to listen in for a few moments. He was still amazed at how completely different Haden was when he was in his element. It was almost as if he were two different people. Usually an ultra-shy, very reserved, nine-year-old boy who looked more like eight, who would usually be too scared to talk to someone without being spoken to first, let alone leading in a conversation with older adults, to the seemingly overly confident and intelligent young adult that was currently sitting in the chair in front of the terminal talking to some of the brightest minds of the Wayne Industries Research and Development Division. Deep inside, he hoped for the day that the two sides would find a happy medium.
Lance was just about to close the door and go elsewhere when he heard a very distinct shift in the tone of Haden's voice, one that indicated that he was moving from talking about electronics and circuit designs to talking about something else.
"Um, Lance? Wait." Haden's voice sounded uneasy and slightly scared, which also stopped conversation from everyone else.
Lance froze and waited. If it had been anyone other than Haden, he would have been very concerned at this point that something was seriously wrong. As it was, he had to remind himself that this was normal for Haden when he was talking about anything other than his electronics. Actually, compared to the boy he had first met less than a month ago, who would completely shut down if a conversation moved away from electronics, and his older brother was not within arm's reach, this was a huge improvement.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Haden continued, his voice slightly shaky, "Could you stay? For a question?"
Lance nodded, walked into the room, and leaned on the desk that was behind Haden. Now, he could clearly see the terminal screen, which split into three separate sections, showing the three different people that he was talking with. From looking at their expressions, he could also tell that two of them were more than a little surprised by Haden's abrupt change in character.
"'Sup, Haden?" Lance asked after a few more seconds of awkward silence had passed.
Haden swallowed hard. "Um. Could you... I mean... Would it be all right... um..."
Normally, at this point, Lance's instinct would be to wrap Haden in a hug, and to give him all the support he could to help him through saying whatever it was he was trying to get out. But, as they had all previously discussed and agreed to, when Haden was in front of his 'peers' from Wayne Industries or any other company he was talking about his electronics with, they had to treat him like any other person. Given that Lance knew that Haden was well aware of how hard it was for him to talk about stuff around others, he figured that whatever it was that Haden was looking for, it must be fairly important, since he was the one that insisted that everyone treat him normally in front of others, so the only thing Lance could do was offer a warm smile and nod of encouragement.
After a few moments, Haden tried again. "On Wednesday, if we are not busy... I mean, if it wouldn't be a problem... In the afternoon... Do you think... Um..."
Lance hated seeing Haden like this, and after taking about as much as he thought he could before he would be compelled to walk over and wrap the small nine-year-old in a warm hug, he decided to try to help out. "You would like to know if someone could take you over to Wayne Industries on Wednesday afternoon?"
Haden nodded, "Yes."
Lance smiled, as already he could see relief coming across Haden's face and he hadn't even answered him yet. "That won't be a problem at all, Haden. Just let us know what time you need to be there and it will happen."
Haden smiled. "Thanks, Lance."
After a few moments of taking warmth from Lance's smile, Haden blinked a few times, then turned back around and started his video conference conversation back up. Once again, two of the three participants were visibly surprised at the sudden return of the confident young adult.
Lance was about to leave, as he wasn't sure how much of this 'geek-talk' his head could handle. However, in addition to the fact that it sounded like the conference was winding down, Haden would occasionally steal very quick glances to make sure that Lance was still there. In Haden language, that usually meant there was more he wanted to talk to you about, otherwise he would have tuned you out completely, and you would no longer exist in his world.
As soon as the conference call was over, less than five minutes later, Haden jumped out of the chair, and practically barreled into Lance, who quickly wrapped his arms around the smaller boy, squeezing him and rocking him gently. Besides his older brother, Lance was one of the very few people that Haden seemed to be able to trust enough to get true comfort from.
"You did good," Lance whispered.
"I didn't. I couldn't get the words right," Haden half said and half cried into Lance's chest.
"You got enough of them right that I guessed right on the first try." After hearing a very small half-giggle from his chest, Lance continued. "It will take awhile, but over time and practice it will get easier, you just never got a chance to practice when you were younger."
"I know," Haden answered, still holding Lance tight. "When will Evan be back?"
"He should be back any time now, I would think." Lance continued to speak softly as he felt Haden continue to become more relaxed in his arms.
"I think I might be able to give you a better answer to that question." Daileass's voice spoke over the terminal's speakers as the terminal activated.
"Daileass?" Haden jerked his head up from Lance's chest and turned toward the terminal. "You were listening?"
"Of course I was." The youthful A.I.'s voice replied in an as-a-matter-of-fact tone. "Why wouldn't I? I'm everywhere. Or at least, I should be."
Daileass's comment had the desired effect in causing Haden to giggle and run back over to sit in front of the terminal, "Where is he? My brother?"
A few moments later, the terminal's screen changed to show a black and white image from one of the security cameras in the main lobby of the other building. Evan, along with an older man and a younger boy, could be seen walking in through the main doors.
"You wouldn't believe how tricky it was to tap into these things," Daileass commented.
Lance grinned, "Are they too high tech for ya, Daileass?"
"High tech?" Daileass answered, almost laughing. "Um, no. Try highly fossilized, as in ancient relics. These things have to be at least twenty years old. I'll be really happy when my brothers get there later to finally get you guys set up with some more modern equipment."
"Speaking of which, when will that be, Daileass?" Brent asked as he and Hania walked into the room, which caused Lance to immediately walk over to steal a quick kiss from the boy he loved.
"Well," Daileass started, as if he really was having to consider the question. "After getting first hand experience at just how bad off your equipment is over here, I've re-arranged a few schedules here and there, and made a few other alterations, and well, several of my brothers will be there in about ninety minutes."
Lance broke his kiss with Brent and glared toward the terminal. "Daileass! You shouldn't be re-allocating resources like that. I'm sure there are a lot more important things going on in the Clan."
"Just kidding, Lance," Daileass replied. "Most of the intel guys really will be there in ninety minutes, but Adam was already planning on them taking a few hours today to get you guys set up, now that you guys have just about everything repaired here from last weekend's events."
"Daileass!" Haden called out. "They are out of camera view!"
"Sorry, Haden," Daileass answered. "But since the cameras are so old, and are hard wired analog, I can only tap the streams of the cameras that happen to be wired closest to the outside of the building that I can create a digital ghost from, bleed off signal by bombarding them with sequenced electron pulses from the UNIT's portable shield generator that is still out in the parking lot."
"Oh, cool!" Haden said as Lance and Brent looked at each other with confused looks on their faces.
"I promise that once you guys get your hardware upgrades later today, I'll be able to do a lot cooler stuff with the cameras," Daileass replied before he changed subjects. "And Brent, a call report has been routed through the UNIT's rescue center to your Nevada Division."
Brent blinked. "We're a division now? When did that happen?"
If Daileass could have grinned, he would have. "Well, technically no, since Cory has not officially made the announcement yet, but they have been talking a lot about it. And, as far as the other A.I.s and I are concerned, you guys are just as much a part of the Clan's family now as anyone else."
Brent looked like he might protest more, but Lance leaned over and gave him another kiss, stopping any chance of that happening. After a few moments, Brent looked back toward the terminal. "Okay, what was the report that was routed? And why to us?"
"As you know, the UNIT has been handling the majority of kid rescue calls at our call center since last Monday. Let's just say that the initial volume of calls has been so high that I've had to allocate more lines on more than one occasion." Daileass waited a few moments to see if anyone would question him. Getting only silence, he continued. "Yesterday a call was received from a Mrs. Glenda Farthing, a middle school guidance councilor. She reports that she believes one or more of her students may be in serious danger from a sexual predator. She has arranged to have a meeting with the individual Monday afternoon and would like a representative from the Clan there as well to intervene if needed."
Brent thought about what Daileass had told him for a few moments. "Okay, but I still don't see why it was routed to us."
"Two reasons actually," Daileass answered. "First, the school in question is Walter Johnson Junior High School, which is about ten miles away from where you are. Second, the call seems to suggest that it will require someone that can easily blend in as a student. For some reason, I don't think one of the UNIT guys in full military gear would blend in well as a student."
Lance giggled. "I think you're right, Daileass."
"Yeah, makes sense," Brent nodded as he looked toward Lance. "Well love, this would probably fit you best, so it's your call if we take it or not."
Lance grinned. "Are you kidding? After being cooped up in here for the last week fixing and cleaning things, of course I will. Especially if it means getting another scumbag off the streets."
Brent agreed. "Sounds good to me."
"So, what do I need to do, Daileass?" Lance asked. "We haven't handled any call center calls yet, so I'm not really sure what the procedure is."
"Well, Mrs. Farthing left her phone number, so I would think that at some point between now and Monday, you might want to call her to work out specifics," Daileass answered as Lance scrunched up his face, causing Brent to laugh. "Beyond that, there really aren't any specific procedures. Each call is handled as needed."
After Brent stopped laughing, Lance smiled. "Okay, I guess we can go ahead and take care of that now."
Before anyone else could answer, the phone next to the terminal rang, which caused Haden to jump back in his seat.
Brent answered the phone. "Um, Hello?... Oh, hi, Dr. Flatt, is everything okay?... Oh cool, is there anything we can do to help?... Ah, okay... Right... Okay, I'll let them know, thanks."
Once Brent had hung up the phone, Haden and Lance both looked toward him curiously.
"That was Dr. Flatt, he says he's about ten to fifteen minutes away from being ready to start the final birthing phase of 413, and to let anyone who needed to be there know."
"Oh cool!" Lance smiled. "I'm sure Eric and all his brothers are going to be excited."
"They're not the only ones that will be," Brent nodded. "Daileass, could you let Neal, Rick, and the others know?"
"Sure thing," Daileass cheerfully answered.
After a few moments, Lance changed gears back to being serious. "Okay, so now perhaps we can give Mrs. Farthing a call?"
Once again, before anyone could say anything, the phone rang, again causing Haden to jump back in his seat, now scowling toward the phone.
Brent grinned, and picked up the phone. "Hello?... Oh, Hi, Evan..."
Haden sat up straight and looked up toward Brent at the mention of his brother's name, which caused Brent to grin as he continued his conversation. "Yeah, we actually saw you walk in the main lobby through one of the security cameras, so I guess everything checked out and Darren's fine?... Cool... Uh huh... Right now I'm in the lower security room in building two... Yeah, that sounds good... If any of you guys are hungry, you can stop by the cafeteria, or just start the tour, either way, I'll catch up with you guys in fifteen minutes or so... Got it, see ya then."
"That was Evan, just letting us know he's confirmed Darren is one of Eric's brothers, and that he's getting ready to start the tour for him and Fredric," Brent said as he knelt down next to Haden. "Haden, I'm going to go over to the other building to meet them. Would you like to come with me, or wait until he comes back over here? Darren is one of Eric's clones, and the Clan has already checked out Fredric; he's a good man."
Lance and Hania watched quietly as Brent asked his question. Although both boys knew how hard it was for Haden to meet new people, Lance had a much better idea of the struggle the small boy was going though. Although he was pretty sure what the answer would be, he also knew that the best way they could help him was to continue to give him opportunities to stretch himself, which he was certain one day he would do, when he felt comfortable enough.
After a few more seconds Haden deflated. "I'll wait here." He answered in a quiet voice as he looked down toward his feet.
Brent nodded and stood up. "Okay, I'll send him over as soon as I can."
Haden said nothing, and continued to look at his feet.
Sighing, Brent took out his communicator. "Brent to Eric?"
As Brent waited for Eric to answer, he noticed the others looking toward him. "I figured I would let Eric know about 413 and Darren."
Lance and Hania both nodded.
"Brent to Eric?" Brent asked in his communicator again after waiting a few more seconds and not getting a reply.
A few moments later, the communicator responded with Eric's voice. "This is Eric, yes, Brent?"
As Brent started to update Eric quickly on what was going on, Lance walked over to the still deflated Haden and reached down to lift the small boy up into his arms. As he did, he could feel Haden tensing up slightly, something he had not done in a while. Maybe they were trying to push him too far, too quickly after all? He would have to talk to the others later about that. Once he had him in his arms, Haden quickly relaxed.
Finished with his talk to Eric, Brent put his communicator away. "Okay, I'm heading over to the other building; call me if anything else comes up."
Just as Brent was about to walk out, the door opened and Roe, followed by Lee, Patrick, and Rick, walked in.
"Wow," Patrick allowed his eyes to scan all around the room. "You guys got this place cleaned up really good."
"Did they start yet?" Roe anxiously asked, completely ignoring Patrick's statement.
Brent grinned. "I don't think so. If you head down now, you should be just in time."
Roe nodded, and grabbed Lee's arm and started to drag him out of the room.
"Roe," Lance called out and waited for Roe to look toward him. "Could you let Dr. Flatt know that some of the UNIT guys will be here in about an hour and a half to help get all of our new computers and stuff set up?"
"Okay," Roe answered as he continued out of the room with Lee being dragged close behind.
"He didn't look excited," Hania commented after they were gone.
"You should have seen him at Neal and Rick's; he practically freaked when he thought he was going to miss it, until Daileass offered to teleport us over."
Rick nodded. "That Daileass certainly seems to be something else. Although it really would not have been a problem to drive over. Plus I would have had the car over here if we needed it for anything."
"Oh, I forgot to tell you, Rick," Daileass's voice crackled through the terminal speakers. "I went ahead and teleported your car over as well; it's in the fourth space from the left on the fifth row."
Once again, Rick's eyes bugged out, causing all the other kids, including Haden, to giggle.
"Okay, guys, I need to get over to building one and meet Fredric and Darren, and send Evan over to his brother." Seeing no immediate protests, and not really waiting around for any, Brent made his way out of the room, leaving the others in the room behind.
Down at the indoor pool, Neal was happily throwing squealing and giggling kids from the shallow end into the deep end. Ben, Cooper, Eric, Forth, Rene, and several of the other clone kids that were not busy with one of their school cycles were all hanging out at the pool. For many of them, it was one of the first times in which they were able to begin the process of learning how to be real kids, and do something enjoyable.
After spending most of the morning going through the mounds of paperwork and files that still had to be dealt with, Neal, too, was enjoying himself. Little did he know that when he agreed to adopt four boys a little over two months ago, that he would now be the proud father of dozens of boys, many of whom had no clue what a father was.
Allowing himself a few moments to reflect on recent events between boy tosses, Neal could only grin. The last two months had been a very trying time for all of them, and although many times things only seemed to get worse, he couldn't help being impressed by just how well his boys had not only coped, but grown over that time. Although many of his boys seemed to have their own personal set of issues that they had to deal with and work through, they all seemed to band together to help each other grow beyond them. Even little Haden had made a lot of progress over the last several weeks.
The words that Teri Short, and several of the other Clan parents had shared with him back when things were just getting started were finally really starting to hit home and make sense. If this is what the power of the Clan was, to turn kids with little to no hope, into kids with bright and promising futures, he was more than glad to be a part of it. Even if it meant spending the last week learning things he never thought he would be able to learn, and helping to rebuild what would end up becoming their new home.
Moments later, the words from one of the kids pulled him out of his musings, "Hey, Neal. My turn," Forth, one of the younger clone kids squealed as he leaped from the edge of the pool toward Neal, and ended up doing a cannon ball right beside him. Before the eight-year-old-looking boy had a chance to make it back up to the surface, Neal already had him in his arms and lifted the giggling kid over his head for a perfect toss into the center of the deepest part of the pool. This of course started a new round of "My turn next" from all the other kids that were around.
What made the game even more fun was the fact that Eric, Avery, and a few of the older kids were playing with diving sticks in the deep end, and now had the added challenge of having to dodge the younger kids turned cannon balls.
For the most part, things went rather well; the older kids would stay toward the sides of the pool unless they were diving, and the younger kids were being tossed into the center of the pool, so there seemed to be little chance of there being much contact between the two. At least, that was the case until Avery, one of the twelve-year-olds, had spent a little too much time underwater, and instead of swimming back to the side to avoid the cannon balls, had to surface in the center of the pool just as Cooper came falling on top of him.
Neal was already making his way toward the deep end when the two collided, since he had seen what was likely to happen the moment he had launched Cooper up. But neither he, nor anyone else, could stop the two boys from crashing together.
Fortunately, neither boy was seriously hurt. However, the surprise of Cooper landing on top of him, and the fact that he was already out of breath, caused Avery to inadvertently swallow a good amount of water as he was pushed back under.
As Eric managed to get the scared and confused Cooper over to one edge of the pool, Neal had Avery half way out of the water and was moving him toward the other edge. With the help of Foster, the oldest boy that was there, within moments the gasping Avery was out of the water and sitting on the edge of the pool.
Although neither boy was seriously hurt, and Avery was able to quickly recover, the overall mood of the happy, cheerful event had been lost as all the other kids looked on with concern toward their two brothers.
After several more long moments, the silence that had fallen was broken by the sound of a communicator chirping to life, "Brent to Eric."
With his arms still wrapped around Cooper, Eric looked toward his pile of clothes, where his communicator was at. Looking up at Eric, Cooper pushed himself out of Eric's arms so the older boy could make his way out of the pool and toward the pile.
"Brent to Eric?" The communicator went off again a few moments later while Eric was still fumbling through the heap. Finally, he managed to get the communicator in hand, and activate it to respond. "This is Eric, yes, Brent?"
"Hey, Eric, there is nothing wrong, but we just heard from Dr. Flatt that he's just about ready to start the birthing of your newest brother, and I think you mentioned you really wanted to be there?" Brent's voice seemed a bit rushed.
Eric grinned, as he had almost forgotten about what had been planned for today. "Um, yeah. I do. Thanks for letting me know, Brent."
"Not a problem, bro," Brent replied as the light murmuring of other talking going on in the background could be heard. "Also, Evan just made it back with Darren. It seems everything checked out, and he's definitely one of your other brothers. I'm going to be heading over to the other building to meet up with them, and our new social worker."
Eric's grin turned into a smile as he listened to the even better news. "That's great. I'll check back in with you after my new brother is born, and maybe meet up with you guys over there or over here."
"Go be there for your newest brother; we have things under control over here, and you'll have plenty of time later on to get to know Darren," Brent stated.
"Okay. Thanks." Eric was in such a hurry to start getting dried off, that he closed his communicator before he got to hear Brent saying bye. It was only after he realized that everyone else was looking toward him that he realized he had also forgotten to let everyone else know what was going on. "Oops," Eric started to feel a bit embarrassed.
"It's okay, Eric," Neal called out from where he was still sitting with Avery, "We heard."
Eric smiled as he continued drying himself off and started to get dressed.
Neal glanced around the room and noticed that most of the kids were floating around the edges of the pool. "Okay, guys, I think it's time to get out. There should be just enough time for you guys to grab something to eat before a bunch of you need to start your afternoon cycles."
After helping Avery to stand up, and being assured that he was fine, and seeing that Foster was doing well at getting the other boys out of the water, Neal made his way over to Cooper. As he approached, Cooper smiled toward him, but he could still see the small boy was a bit dazed.
"You okay, Cooper?" Neal asked as he lifted the small boy into his arms.
Cooper nodded. "Uh huh. I'm just sad that I hurt my brother."
Neal gave Cooper a tight squeeze. "It was an accident, and accidents happen sometimes. Besides, you had no control over where you were landing. But, if it means that much to you, maybe you could go give Avery a hug?"
Cooper's eyes lit up, and he quickly nodded his head.
Smiling, Neal gave Cooper one last hug, let the boy down, and watched him scurry over toward Avery. He got so caught up in watching the two boys interacting with each other, that he was slightly surprised when he felt a tug on his pants. Looking down, Neal saw Forth staring back up at him.
"Can I go with you and Eric to meet my new little brother?" Forth asked hopefully. "I did a double cycle this morning because I woke up early, and I never got to see any of my brothers being born before and I want to be there for him."
Neal grinned and picked up the sandy-blond haired eight-year-old. "You know you're not supposed to do double cycles," Neal fake scolded.
Completely missing the joke, Forth got as serious as an eight-year-old could get. "I know. I don't normally, but I really wanted to see my new brother, and I knew that I couldn't if I had to do an afternoon cycle, and I thought...."
Neal gave Forth a loving squeeze, which caused him to stop his babbling. "If it means that much to you, you can definitely come. I'm not really mad at you about the double cycle, I just don't want you to try learning too much too fast."
"Yay!" Forth cheered, returning the hug.
After making sure that everyone was dressed, and that the younger kids were following the older kids toward the kitchen, Neal passed Forth off to Eric, and the three of them made their way down the hall and toward the elevator that would take them to the upper labs.
Luke was grinning as he entered Birthing Lab #2 to find Dr. Rodney Flatt hovering over his data console checking and double-checking the information that was being displayed. "Hiya, doc!" he said cheerfully, causing the middle aged man to jump in his chair and turn toward the unexpected guest.
"Oh, hello there, umm, Luke, is it?" Dr. Flatt said with a bit of relief. "How did you get in past the security door?"
Luke smiled as he nodded. "Yup, that's me. And you felt like you were kinda busy, so I just borrowed the code from your head." Luke ended his statement by tapping one of his fingers to his head, giving the universal 'telepath' sign.
The doctor shook his head as he turned back to his console. "Sometimes I am glad that we never did manage to unlock the telepathic gene in our clones. Having you and the other triple-t's running around is bad enough."
"Oh, don't give up on your guys just yet, Doc, who knows, they might surprise you one day." Luke walked toward the center of the circular room where two table-like stands were rising up from the floor. The stand on the left had nothing on it, while the stand on the right had what looked like a large cylinder laying on its side with a bunch of tubes and wires coming down from the ceiling into it. The cylinder was about six feet long, two feet wide, and about one and a half feet high.
Although it was impossible to see in through most of the tube-like cylinder, as he stepped closer Luke noticed that part of the top had clear glass instead of the metal that the rest was made of. It wasn't that large. In fact, it was only large enough for him to see the face and neck of the small boy that was laying inside. The boy, who had light brown hair and appeared to be about eight, looked like he was sleeping peacefully, and had the same light brown hair that Stan had. The only thing out of place was that his skin had a dark red tint to it, as if he had a sunburn.
"Is that him?" Luke asked as he continued to look at the boy in the tube.
"Huh? Oh, yes." Dr. Flatt answered slightly distracted by his work. "Please do not touch anything. Besides, I thought Roman was going to be the telepath here?"
Luke took a step back to get a better look at the assortment of tubes and wires leading into the cylinder. "Yeah, he is, but he wasn't sure if he would be able to make it here in time, so I decided to come as well."
"Ah, yes, yes, you will work fine, lad, I just need a few more minutes here," The doctor absently stated as he started to type a few commands on his keyboard.
Luke started to walk back toward Dr. Flatt to try to figure out what had his mind so preoccupied and concerned, "Actually, Roe is still going to be doing the dump, Daileass teleported them over from Neal's house, and they are all walking up to the door right now."
"Is that so?" The older man's voice trailed off as he once again jumped up from his seat at the sound of knocking coming from the main door. Looking up at a small screen above his terminal showing a black-and-white view of the hall, he saw Neal, Eric, Forth, Lee, and Roe patiently waiting outside. He pressed a button and the door buzzed and unlocked, allowing the others to enter.
"About time you guys got here." Luke watched as all the others entered the room and started looking around.
Roe immediately made his way for the large cylinder in the center of the room. "We didn't run from the elevator to try to get here first like you did."
"I didn't do that. You can't prove anything," Luke shot back.
Ignoring Luke's egging, Roe stretched himself up a bit to look through the small glass at the top. "Is this him? Is this Eric's new brother?"
Seeing that Roe was close to losing his balance in his over-enthusiasm to look in on the new clone, Lee ran over and quickly grabbed a hold of him. "Careful, Roe, we don't want to have another repeat of last week. Besides, you'll be able to see him a lot better as soon as the chamber is open."
Roe glanced at Lee trying to figure out why he was being pulled back, when he noticed the two adults in the room watching him closely, with feelings of concern pouring out of them.
"Sorry, dad," Lee said as he glanced toward Dr. Flatt. "Roe's been a bit excited about getting to be here when 413, erm, Eric's brother is born."
Dr. Flatt nodded toward his son, and then turned back to his console.
"Where do you need me?" Lee asked, now walking back toward the others?
The older man stopped and thought for a few moments. "I'm running the final checks on oxidation levels, and cardiograph-pressure strengths. If you could check all the umbilical feed valves, and make sure all of the nutrient stores are empty and have been properly purged for the separation, that would be helpful. Then I'll need you to keep an eye on the counts when we break the seals and do the separation. The rest I think I've gotten set up so I can do from the terminal."
Lee nodded and walked back to the front of the cylinder and started checking some of the valves.
Fredric and Darren remained next to the front desk in the lobby of Cynthitech as Evan was finishing up a phone call that he had to make.
"Sorry about that," Evan said as he walked back. "I wanted to let Brent know that we were back. He's the guy that's pretty much been heading all of this stuff up, and keeping us all together over the last few months."
Fredric nodded. "That's not a problem. This Brent sounds like someone I wouldn't mind meeting."
"Perfect." Evan smiled as he started towards two large double doors leading out of the lobby. "Because he's going to be coming over to meet us."
Fredric guided Darren, who also seemed to be overwhelmed, to follow the older boy.
Evan held open one of the two doors and waited for the other two to go through. "Are either of you two hungry?"
"No." Darren immediately answered.
"I'm fine." Fredric agreed.
"Okay." Evan continued down the hall. "I guess that answers my other question. We could either have gone and grabbed something to eat at the cafeteria or we could start the tour. Either way, Brent will meet up with us in about ten to fifteen minutes."
"I see," Fredric nodded.
Turning a corner, and walking about half way down the hall, Evan first took them into one of the biotech cad rooms.
At first, Fredric thought that they had walked into a normal office complete with two desks, each with a large desktop computer on them, and file cabinets next to one of the walls. However, on the corner of the other wall, there was a small device that was about one foot high, five feet wide, and another five feet long. At the top of the device was a large white disk that took up nearly the entire surface.
"I think this may be a good start to help you understand better what's going on," Evan said as he started to type something on one of the computers.
Fredric waited patiently for a minute or two, until the odd device with the white disk on top began to hum, and then start to glow. A few moments later, an image of an eight-year-old boy appeared that looked very similar to the boy that was standing next to Fredric, except of course for the fact that the boy in the image had no clothes on, and was also slowly rotating.
"You have a 3D image of Darren? And why is it nude? What kind of sick game are you playing here?" Fredric's voice began to get a bit angry.
"No." Evan quickly answered. "Look closer at the boy in the image."
Fredric took a few steps closer so he was right next to the machine, and began to observe the image much more closely. He could tell something was wrong with the image, but he wasn't sure. Looking back and forth between the image and Darren, the answer finally dawned on him. "It's too perfect."
"Bingo!" Evan replied.
"His skin doesn't really look like skin, everything is completely symmetrical, this kid looks a bit more developed than Darren, he's not as skinny as him. Who is this?" Fredric looked back toward Evan.
Evan typed a few more keys on the keyboard, "This is the genetic template from which Darren was created. In a perfect environment, and perfect development, this is how Darren should look like. I don't understand all the specifics behind it either, but the short answer is that in practice, because of one's environment and experiences, and random mutations in early cell development, someone does not always look exactly as their genetics originally intended."
"That makes sense." Fredric nodded as he saw the image of the boy shift slightly. "What happened?"
Evan looked toward the rotating image as well. "Darren is the 10th revision of the D-series clones that Cynthitech had created. What you are looking at now, is the 9th revision. You'll actually be meeting this kid a little later."
Looking more at the image, Fredric could easily see that Evan was right, this boy looked very similar to the other boy, again symmetrically perfect, but with some minor differences such as the skin tone being slightly lighter, his ears being a bit larger, his eyes being a little further apart, etc.
Pressing another key, the image went away. "Okay, now on to the next part of our tour."
Fredric guided Darren to follow Evan out of the room. "That seems like some very impressive software, although a bit scary. If people can pre-model their kids, what does that mean for the future of the human race?"
"Oh, wow," Evan grinned. "Rick is going to love having conversations with you. But to answer your question, although the output that we were seeing looked pretty impressive, making changes is extremely difficult. Usually, it can take several months to make even a minor change."
Fredric wasn't sure if he completely bought that, but instead of arguing about it, he filed that information away to bring up at some later time.
After waiting and allowing Dr. Flatt and Lee to do whatever it was that they were doing for several minutes, Neal spoke up as he walked closer to the console. "So, doc, what exactly are we seeing here, and what should we be expecting?"
Dr. Flatt sighed, having been interrupted yet again as he turned to face Neal. "How do I explain this in simple terms for you?" The man ran his hand through his hair as he thought. "413 is at the end of a long series of events that have occurred as part of his post-hyper-formative cellular mitigation. Last week the final portions of the embryonic crust which had surrounded his body during most of the development stage was blown off. Which has allowed his epidermal tissue to complete its development over the past week, while the final elements of his synoptic pathways were formed. Now we are at the final stage of separating his umbilical fibers, and allowing his body to function as a true independent system."
Neal blinked a few times as he tried to figure out what he had been told.
"Basically," Lee added, "What he is saying is that in a few minutes we will break the seals of the emergence-pod, and with any luck, he'll 'wake up' for the first time."
Neal nodded his understanding.
"Sounds really cool," Forth added from Eric's side. "I can't wait to meet my new brother and tell him about all the cool stuff we've been doing."
"Forth, you know that when your new brother first wakes up, he's not going to know anything, right?" Lee asked.
Forth nodded. "I know. That's why I'm going to tell him everything that's been going on."
"No, I don't think you understand," Lee replied. "His head is going to be completely empty, he won't know about words, or how to talk with you, or anything else."
"Oh," Forth considered the new problem that was presented to him. "How long will it take him to learn?"
Lee grinned as he checked a few more connectors. "Well, normally new clones would go through a post-emergence training process that would take about three or four weeks, but one of the reasons that Roe and Luke are here is that they are going to be able to help speed that process up a bit, by pushing a basic knowledge package of information into his head."
"Cool! Thanks for helping my new brother, Roe and Luke," Forth cheerfully replied, feeling that what was about to be a problem was now solved.
"You're welcome, Forth," Roe smiled. "It should help a little, but it's not going to be instant, it will still take some time for his head to organize all the information, and be able to make use of it."
Luke agreed. "Yeah, and unlike the rest of you lot that were 'awake' for a long time before we first met you last week, your new brother is going to be a completely new slate, so we really don't know how long that time is going to be."
Forth nodded, "Okay."
"Dad?" Lee called out, "I've checked and verified that all the nutrient stores are empty and purged, and it looks like everything else over here is ready to go."
Dr. Flatt nodded. "Good, good. I only have a few last things to verify and we will be ready to sever the remaining fibers, and break the seal. Go ahead and get the defibrillator out and on standby."
"What's wrong? Why do you need that?" Neal worriedly asked.
Lee moved the crash cart with the defibrillator into position as he answered Neal. "Normally we don't need it. But sometimes, when clones are taken off the system for the first time, something goes wrong, and their heart beat gets all out of sync, so this is used to get it back in sync. We probably won't need to use it, but it's one of those safety things we like to have set up and in place, just in case."
"All primary and secondary readings show green across the board," Dr. Flatt called out to no one in particular.
"Everything is set up over here," Lee responded.
"Okay, very well. I am initiating final release," The doctor stated as his hands flew across the keyboard, and a large pop and soft hissing sound was heard.
Everyone was silent and watched intently as the top half of the cylinder separated and raised above the bottom half. Resting on top of some type of foam-like material was a small eight year old boy.
"Why is he all red?" Forth asked with concern as he intensely stared at his new brother.
"That's because his skin is so new," Lee answered. "Over the next week or so, it will start to turn to a more normal color. Between now and then, we need to be careful not to expose him to too much direct sunlight, not that it would be a problem down here."
Dr. Flatt checked several readings on his monitor. "Cardio rhythms nominal, minimal synaptic activity at its baseline."
"I think that means you guys are up." Neal looked toward Roe and Luke.
Roe nodded as he closed his eyes and began to allow his mind to reach out toward the new clone, while everyone else stayed quiet and watched closely. A few moments later he started to shake his head. "Something is wrong. I can't find anything."
"Can't find anything?" Eric asked with a degree of concern in his voice.
Luke closed his eyes and started to focus as well. "Do what Kyle taught us, look for the spark."
"I am," Roe replied.
Evan next took himself, Fredric, and Darren to an elevator where they went down instead of up. When the elevator opened, they headed down a new set of hallways that were dimmer than the other hallway. After going through another set of double doors, they came to a door that was mostly made of glass.
Inside, Fredric could see four or five kids that were around eight to twelve years old, many of whom seemed to be working with toys that were intended for four- or five-year-olds, such as blocks or logs or crayons.
Evan knocked on the door, stuck his head in the room, and talked to the boy that seemed to be the one who was trying to work with all the others. A few minutes later, he came back out. "We need to go to the other room. So much for my perfect tour, I must have read the schedule wrong."
Fredric could not stop himself from grinning at how this kid who had been showing them around and acting so mature still allowed the fact that he was still a kid show through.
Evan lead them down another hall, around another corner, and came to another door that looked almost the same. Again, Fredric could see kids inside, but this time they seemed to be doing things with shapes, letters, and numbers. Just like the previous room, Evan entered and talked to the kid, who looked to be no older than twelve years old himself.
Instead of coming back out, Evan opened the door and gestured for them to enter. "Fredric, I would like you to meet Matt Von Schuyler; he's one of our telepaths who has been working a lot with the clones. Matt, this is Fredric Bowman."
"Nice to meet you." The twelve year old boy shook Fredric's hand.
"Likewise," Fredric replied.
"And to answer your question, yes, I can hear thoughts, no, this isn't a joke or a dream, and yes, we really can help Darren." Matt grinned at Fredric's shocked expression.
"Okay," Fredric answered, not really sure what else to say.
"Fredric, I would also like you to meet Devin," Evan said as he motioned to one of the boys sitting at the table.
At hearing his name, the boy in question immediately turned around. When he saw Fredric and Darren standing there, he stood up and walked toward them. "Is this him? Is this my new brother?"
Other than being about two years older than Darren, Fredric thought that Devin looked almost exactly the same, except for a few minor details.
"Yeah," Evan replied. "He's actually only one revision ahead of you, so you two are very close brothers."
"Cool," Devin said with a smile as he looked over the younger version of himself.
To Fredric's surprise, Darren took a very strong interest in looking over Devin. He looked the taller boy up and down, and reached out to touch the boy's hand before looking up toward Fredric with a very questionable expression. "Me?"
Fredric shook his head, not really sure the best way to answer. "No, your brother."
Darren turned Devin's hand over, and continued to intensely survey the older version of himself.
"I've never seen Darren take this much interest in anything before," Fredric said in a low voice as he continued to watch the two boys observing each other.
"Do you still think that Darren is suffering from some mental disorder?" Evan asked.
Fredric shook his head. "No, I didn't really think so in the first place, which is why I called you guys. But after seeing what I've seen so far, everything you've told me on the way over here seems to be making a lot more sense."
Evan nodded. "Darren is actually one of the lucky ones. He was just abandoned by whoever had him. A bunch of our other kids have gone through all kinds of abuse that would make most of us sick just to hear about."
Fredric only nodded.
Nearly everyone else in the room held their breath as several moments went by and both telepaths remained silent. Finally, after about thirty seconds, both boys spoke in unison. "Found him!"
About two minutes later, both telepaths opened their eyes, each sighing with relief.
"Well?" Forth asked impatiently.
"It was definitely a learning experience," Roe commented, obviously a bit worn out from his experience.
"But we found him, and we managed to push the information we had into his mind," Luke followed up. "The problem is, it's so empty, we don't know how how long it will take for his mind to organize it, if at all. With all the rest of you guys, you had at least some basic frames of reference, but he has nothing."
"I think," Dr. Flatt got everyone's attention, "It would be best for us to run him through the standard post-emergence protocols, at least until he is able to show the knowledge that you have given him has taken hold. That may also give the reference points that you mentioned may be needed."
"For now, that sounds like a good idea," Eric agreed.
Roe jumped up and pointed to the eight year old. "Guys, look, look!"
The young boy laying in the bed opened his eyes, and was moving his head back and forth looking around the room.
"Guys, be careful, there is a chance that he might..." Lee started to say, before he was interrupted by the sudden screaming and thrashing from the pod.
Within moments, the boy had managed to throw himself off the pod, and onto the floor where he started thrashing around on the floor. While this was going on, Roe and Luke backed up, somewhat surprised by the scene, while Lee rushed to clear some wires and equipment out of the way to prevent the boy from hurting himself.
"He's bleeding!" Roe cried out, spotting small splatters of blood on the floor.
"That's normal," Lee tried to say over the screams and cries, but he was not sure if Roe, or anyone else, was able to hear him.
Both Neal and Dr. Flatt had moved in to try help subdue the clone if needed. Before they could take any action, Eric raced past them and threw himself on top of the kid, as if trying to shield him from an explosion or some other unseen danger. Instantly the screaming stopped.
"Eric?" Luke asked with a small about of surprise.
A few moments later, Eric twisted himself around and had the small eight-year-old held tight in his arms. Although he had stopped screaming, he was still whimpering.
"He's scared." Eric softly rubbed the boy's back.
Neal walked over with a small rag, and started trying to clean up some of the blood. "How did you know that?"
"We felt it." Forth finally dared to move a bit closer.
Lee was a bit surprised. "You guys can feel each other, like the telepaths can?"
Forth shook his head. "No, not really, I don't know the right words, but it's just something I felt. I never felt that before."
Several minutes went by as they allowed the small child to continue to calm down in Eric's arms. Eric took over the cleanup as well, since the boy continued to tense up and become scared every time Neal touched him.
Roe was the only other person that the boy would allow to get anywhere close to him, who was now rubbing his fingers up and down his back. "His skin is super soft."
"That's because it's so new," Lee commented. "By the way, when you think he's ready, Eric, we are going to need to get him to one of the programming beds."
Forth immediately scowled toward Lee.
"It's just for a few days, Forth," Lee answered, knowing how upset this would probably make him, "We need to at least get enough stuff in his head so that it can organize all the knowledge Roe and Luke gave him. As soon as that happens, we won't use it anymore on him, I promise."
Eric nodded. "I think he's started to fall asleep in my arms, so we can do it now." Standing up carefully, with the boy still wrapped tightly in his arms, he followed Lee out of the lab.
Moments later, Eric found himself doing what he had promised himself that he would never do again, hooking one of his brothers up to the programming equipment that the former owners of Cynthitech used to better control him and his brothers. Even though he knew that he had spent several days last week working with Lee to remove all the harmful protocols in the program that were not really needed, it still did not sit well with him. However, in the end, he knew that it was really the lesser of two evils, and that in this situation, it would probably help things more than harm.
"I think that's it," Eric quietly commented as he placed the last electrode behind the boy's ear.
Lee nodded as he plugged the lead to the electrode in. "Okay. I don't know how much this will affect you since you're holding him, and your blood is still going to have a lot of that protein.
Eric nodded. "I think I'll be fine. Fire it up."
Lee turned a dial, and flipped the switch. Immediately the low hum of the equipment was heard. Glancing toward Eric to make sure he was okay. He noticed that the older boy's eyes fluttered a little as he fought the desire to go to sleep, but Eric still managed to stand up and get the smaller boy on the bed.
"You okay?" Lee asked after Eric had stepped back, allowing Lee to place the light visor on the boy's head, and over his eyes.
"I think so." Eric answered, looking at his newest brother laying motionless on the bed. "I really don't like that thing."
"I know," Lee said with a sigh, as he dimmed the lights and the room, and the two boys walked out to join the others who were now waiting outside the door.
A few minutes later, after giving Darren plenty of time to look Devin over, and to say their goodbyes to everyone else, Evan, Darren, and Fredric were once again walking down the hall.
"I think I could use that drink now," Fredric commented.
Evan nodded, and led them back up to the elevator and up a few floors, and down a hall to a small cafeteria. With Darren not seeming to understand what Evan meant by 'what drink would you like?', Evan decided to get him the same thing that most of the other younger clones seemed to really enjoy, strawberry lemonade. He then got a coffee for Fredric and some Sprite for himself.
Looking at how much Darren seemed to be enjoying his drink, Fredric shook his head. "What did you give him? I don't think I've ever seen him so interested in a drink before."
"Evan was cheating," A thirteen year old, brownish-blond, short haired boy said as he walked into the cafeteria. "Most of the clone kids seem to really like strawberry lemonade for some reason."
"You must be Brent?" Fredric asked as Brent took a seat at the table with them.
"Yes, that would be me," Brent said with a smile as he shook Fredric 's hand. "And you must be Fredric."
With the initial formalities out of the way, Brent glanced toward Evan. "I'm guessing the tour has gone well?"
Evan nodded. "So far we have visited one of the bio-imagers, and we stopped by one of the classrooms downstairs to let Darren meet Devin."
"Thanks a ton, Evan, you've done great," Brent smiled. "But, I think there is a certain nine-year-old over in the other security room that is going to go crazy if he doesn't see his older brother soon."
Evan grinned. "Yeah, I should go see how he's doing. You need me for anything else?"
"Nope, get out of here." Brent motioned toward the door.
Evan stood. "It was nice meeting you two. I hope we get to see more of each other in the future."
"As do I," Fredric answered as he watched Evan leave the room, and then looked toward Brent. "This is certainly an incredible setup you guys have here."
Brent nodded. "I wish I could take credit for it, but we are just trying to make right what was wrong. Everything you see here was made by the former owners."
"Perhaps, but you're still taking the initiative to make something right that you see wrong. There are so many people that would not even do that much," Fredric replied as he took a sip of his coffee. "I've heard a little of Clan Short, but I never thought I would see you guys in action."
Brent thought about getting into his normal speech about how they were not really an official part of the Clan, but between Daileass's comment a few minutes ago, and the fact that they were really hoping that Fredric would agree to work with them, he decided against it. "Thanks. When you put it that way, I guess you might have a point."
Fredric smiled. "So tell me, Brent, what happens now?"
"That depends a lot on you," Brent said, slightly glad that the conversation was getting back on track. "Now that you have had a chance to see a little bit of what is going on here, and how we are trying to help all of the clones, there are a few things actually. First, would you be willing to release Darren to us so that we can help him like his other brother?"
Fredric thought for a few moments. "Well, I'll ignore for a few moments the fact that if you guys are actually part of Clan Short, that I don't really see why you would need my approval, but just from the little I've seen Darren reacting in your environment here, just at the small chance that he could live a normal life, I would say yes. Although I don't see how you guys would start to accomplish that."
Brent smiled and nodded. "Actually, you're right, we did not really need your permission; however I felt it was important for a few reasons to get it. As far as the other part goes, besides the fact that most of the equipment here is designed specifically to help clones grow and mature, we also have a few telepaths that work with us that can give Darren a 'mental dump' of a lot of the knowledge that he's missed."
"That makes sense," Fredric nodded as he tried to take everything in that he was learning.
"That brings us to the second item. We would like you to help us." Brent watched Fredric closely to see what his reaction would be.
Fredric only nodded. "Evan had actually mentioned that on the way over here, but I do not know anything at all about genetics, or cloning, or anything else. I don't see how I could help you guys."
Brent smiled. "We don't need you as a geneticist; we actually have that fairly well covered. You spotted, on your own, the fact that Darren was different, and that he didn't really meet the diagnosis that he was given. Your love of the kids that you watch over has caused you to go above and beyond what is normally expected of you, to contact us, and agree to have you and Darren meet with Evan today. Between that strong passion that you have, your protective nature, and the fact that you're a part of the system and in a place that we really have no eyes in, they all add up to us being able to really use someone like you."
Fredric sat back in shock. Although he knew that most of what Brent, this thirteen year old kid that was sitting next to him, said was true, no one had ever read him like that before. After spending a few minutes thinking about Brent's question, he finally answered. "I still do not know how much of a use I'll be. I've been in the system for about five years now, and before now I've never met any kid like Darren. But if you feel that I could be of help, then I think it would be an honor to be a part of this."
"Oh, you have no idea just how much of a help you will be." Brent grinned.
Given the way that Brent grinned at him, for a brief moment Fredric was not sure if he should reconsider or not.
Brent took out a small communicator device from his pocket. "Daileass, you there?"
"When have I ever not been here?" a voice instantly replied.
"Good point," Brent grinned. "Could you do me a favor and make a note that Fredric Bowman will be working with our group?"
"You got it, Brent," Daileass replied.
"Thanks, Daileass," Brent said as he closed his communicator and put it back in his pocket.
"Who is Daileass? He sounds like another kid, but there is something else a bit odd about his voice." Fredric was a bit puzzled.
"Good ears." Brent stood up, which caused Fredric and Darren to stand up as well. "Daileass is an A.I. that has been helping us out a lot."
"An A.I.?" Fredric was more confused.
"Come on." Brent motioned towards the door. "I think it's time we got Darren to one of the telepaths, and start to get you caught up to speed on some of the craziness around here."
Brent and Fredric walked back into the main lobby area where Fredric had begun his tour with Evan almost an hour and a half ago. During that time, he had seen more things that surprised him than he thought possible.
"Well," Brent said after they passed the main desk. "I think that's about everything. Any questions?"
"I think you guys have given me enough to think about for today," Fredric replied. "You'll call me if there are any problems with Darren? And let me know how he's doing?"
"Of course," Brent nodded. "And actually, we'll do one better. I don't see any reason why you can't come back and check on him yourself, regardless of what you decide."
Fredric nodded. "Thanks. As soon as I'm able to talk things over with my wife, I'll let you know. Say by Monday at the latest."
"No problem." Brent handed Fredric a business card. "Take as much time as you need."
Fredric looked out the large glass window toward the parking lot. "Um, how exactly are we going to get back to the clinic, so I can get my car?"
"Daileass?" Brent spoke out loud.
"Just say when, Mr. Bowman," Daileass's voice said over the P.A. speakers.
"When?" Fredric asked, confused. Moments later, the man was gone.
Brent shook his head. "You can be so bad sometimes, you know that, Daileass?"
"Thanks." Daileass's voice could be heard grinning. "You ready for my next trick?"
"I know I'm going to regret this, but go ahead." Brent held his breath, and braced himself for being plunged in a pool somewhere, or to have a bunch of water fall on his head, or anything else that Daileass might have been thinking of doing.
Within moments, about ten kids and several very large crates appeared in front of him. Each kid wore a brown shirt and camouflage pants. All of the kids were between eleven to thirteen years old, except for one who had to be closer to eighteen.
"Brent Knocks?" a blond boy asked with a touch of concern in his voice.
Brent tried to smile as he let himself relax. "Yes?"
"I'm Tyce Hayes, part of the UNIT Intelligence Team, we're here to start upgrading your equipment." Tyce said, still looking at Brent with concern. "Is everything okay?"
Brent nodded as Daileass could be heard giggling from one of the speakers.
Tyce sighed. "Never mind, that explains everything."
Brent looked at the two crates behind the group of kids. "Are those crates all for our upgrades?"
A slightly taller, light brown haired boy next to Tyce grinned. "Nah, those crates just have the equipment for this part of the building. There are tons of other crates where those came from."
"Um, okay." Brent said a bit surprised. "Well, we have the blueprints to the building in the security office in the other building, if one of you guys want to come over and grab them with me."
Tyce held up a data pad. "No need, we have all the blueprints right here."
Brent nodded. "Okay, what do you need from me?"
Tyce tapped on the pad a few times before looking back toward Brent. "If you are fine with it, my guys will get started on the main areas of building one, then move over to building two, while you and I will work on some of the more sensitive areas of the structure, and then I can cover some of the new equipment with you guys and I will have to make sure you understand everything."
"Works for me," Brent answered.
With that, the rest of the kids dispersed. Some of them asked Daileass to transport them to various locations in the building, while two kids remained behind and started to open and unpack the crates that appeared in the lobby.
"First, may I see your communicator?" Tyce asked as he and Brent began to walk down the hallway.
"Sure, why?" Brent took out his communicator from his pocket and handed it over to Tyce.
Instead of answering, Tyce took the communicator and held it in front of his data pad, until the data pad beeped. Then he took another small object from his pocket, and held that to his data pad as well, until it beeped. Finally, he handed the small object to Brent.
Brent took the small, roundish, flat metal object. It seemed to be rather thin, less than a half an inch thick, with about an inch and a half diameter. One side of the device had a small clip attached to it, so it could easily attach to a shirt, and the other side had the Clan Short crest on it. "What is it?"
Tyce put Brent's communicator in his pocket. "That is your new Clan communicator."
"This little thing?" Brent observed the object more closely, and could not find any type of switches, or obvious way of opening it up.
Tyce nodded. "Not only is it a lot smaller, with a further range, and a longer power supply, but there are a lot more channel options than the old Starfleet-based communicator you were using, but it is also water proof."
"Sweet. How does it work?" Brent looked at Tyce curiously.
"It's pretty easy, actually," Tyce said as he took the small comm badge from Brent. "Tap once to activate it or deactivate it, indicate who you are calling just like the old communicator, although with this one, you only really need to say the other person's name, and you will get routed correctly; you can rotate the front and back clockwise to change major channel scopes, or right to change regions, neither of which you should have to ever worry about, much. Everything else, Daileass pretty much handles."
"Nice." Brent smiled as he took the small commbadge back from Tyce, and attached it to his shirt.
"Oh, and I forgot to mention one of the other features." Tyce grinned since he already had a good idea of how Brent would react to this. "It also has a built in GPS. That way, if any of your younger guys get lost or separated from you, Daileass will be able to quickly find them."
"Very cool," Brent replied, until what Tyce said actually hit him. "Wait a minute, younger guys?"
Tyce grinned. "Oh yeah, I guess I also forgot to mention that all of your guys, including the little guys, will be getting commbadges."
"Are you sure that's wise?" Brent asked, as all kinds of possible issues started to flood in his head with allowing the youngest kids to have commbadges. "What if they start abusing it, or trying to call everyone?"
"That won't be a problem," Tyce answered. "Unlike the older Starfleet communicators where the initial routing was made through Terra-Main, with these comm badges, Daileass does the initial routing. He'll have a good idea if the person using the badge should actually be calling the person being requested."
"So it's like call screening? If I try to call one of the Clan guys in Orlando, Daileass could decide I shouldn't be calling them, and block it?"
Tyce shook his head. "No, the screening is only done for the younger kids. Think of it like parental controls. When a kid is mentally mature enough to demonstrate that they can use the commbadge responsibly, the screening is removed. This is just something to help address the specific issues you mentioned with your younger ones."
Brent had been so caught up in learning about the new commbadge, that he didn't realize that they had gone down the elevator, and had arrived at one of the classrooms with the glass doors. Walking in, several of the clone kids were looking inside a huge crate that was in the center of the room, while one of the intel kids was taking out and setting up flat screen terminals on the desks.
"Brent!" A few of the kids shouted as soon they saw him and Tyce walk in, "We're getting new computer systems."
Brent grinned as he gave hugs to each of the kids. "Hi guys, you guys seem a bit excited."
Cooper seemed to be one of the more excited kids. "Yeah, it's going to have cooler software, and we are going to be able to talk to Daileass on there."
"Actually," Tyce broke in, "you will be able to talk with Daileass any time you want with these." Tyce then started scanning in, and handing out commbadges to each of the kids.
"Cool!" All of the kids started jumping up and down.
Brent cringed. "Um, Tyce, I have a feeling you're going to regret that."
As he handed out another commbadge, he grinned toward Brent. "Don't worry, Daileass can handle it, every one of the 8,000 kids at the UNIT base could all be talking to him at once, and it still wouldn't put a dent in his resources."
Once Tyce had handed out badges to all the kids that were there, he showed them how to attach and remove them from their shirts, and how to use them. While Tyce was doing this, Brent was watching the other kid setting up some of the terminals. As one was wired in and turned on, Brent was shocked at how quickly the terminal booted up, and loaded into the operating system and was ready for use.
When Tyce finished his explanation, he asked if anyone had any questions, to which Ben, one of the younger clones, raised his hand. "Yes?"
Ben looked at Tyce closely. "Is Logan your brother? You look a lot like him."
Tyce smiled as this was one of the questions he had been expecting. "Yes, we are brothers. Actually, if you want, I can tell you guys a secret."
Once again, Tyce had the attention of every kid, as they all started nodding their heads.
When the nodding stopped and he was sure he had their attention, Tyce continued. "I'm actually one of Logan's clones."
"You're a clone like us?" Rene, another of the youngest kids, asked.
Tyce nodded. "Yup."
"So you're one of our brothers too?" Ben asked.
"Not exactly," Tyce answered. "I'm a clone like you guys are clones, but I'm not the same kind of clone. I was not created here at Cynthitech. A really bad man created me and my other brothers."
"That's okay," Rene said as he wrapped his arms around Tyce. "You deserve to have a lot of love too."
A few minutes and several hugs later, Brent and Tyce walked out of the classroom where Brent patted Tyce on the shoulder. "I think you've just made yourself a bunch of new friends."
Tyce nodded. "We, meaning myself and all of my other brothers, had already discussed it, and we thought it would be a good thing for your guys to know that they are not alone."
Brent agreed. "Thanks. I really appreciate that."
"No problem." Tyce smiled as he tapped his comm badge. "Daileass, to the temporary C.I.C. if you would, please."
A few blinks later, Tyce and Brent appeared in the security room of building two.
The first thing that Brent saw when he arrived was Evan standing near the center of the room with Haden attached to his leg. The three older desktop computers that were in the room were gone, and two other kids were there running some wires through the ceiling.
"Hey guys," Evan said as soon as he saw them appear.
"Hi," Brent replied as he looked at all the mess in the room. "How's Haden holding out?"
Evan glanced down toward him. "All in all, not bad. I tried to take him somewhere else where there would be less stuff going on, but he seems fairly insistent on staying here."
One of the Intel kids walked back into the room carrying one of the new cameras that were being installed. The entire time, Haden appeared to be watching the boy like a hawk.
"Alan, looks like you have a fan club," the other intel kid said as he saw how closely Haden was watching him as well.
Brent laughed a little. "Haden isn't watching Alan."
Slightly confused, the boy looked at Haden, and then back toward Brent. "He's not?"
Barely loud enough for the others to hear, Haden started quietly speaking. "Night vision, ultra-violet, infra-red, quad-spectrum, x1000 zooming, motion tracking, ambient sensor suite, parabolic microphones, intra-point signal encryption."
Tyce busted out laughing, and then stopped himself. "He's watching the camera!"
Brent nodded. "Yup."
Tyce tapped his data pad a few times, then walked out of the room. Moments later, he walked back in carrying another of the new cameras. "I just checked and it seems that we have 10 extra cameras than we will actually need with us." He then knelt down a few feet from Haden and offered the camera to him.
Instantly, Haden's eyes grew large. "For me? Really?"
Tyce nodded. "Yup. You're a part of the Clan, and part of Brent's core team, so you have access to them. There are just not many guys that would actually be able to understand half of the hardware in here. But something makes me think you might."
Haden nodded as he reverently took hold of the camera. "Thanks." Moments later, Haden was on the other side of the room looking for some of his tools.
Evan smiled at how quickly Haden changed as soon as he was thrown back in his environment. "You realize that's going to keep him busy for hours?"
Tyce nodded. "Yup, should be just long enough for us to finish the upgrades, and then get out of your hair."
"Do the cameras really have all of that stuff that Haden was listing off?" Brent asked curiously.
Alan nodded as he finished with the camera he was installing. "All of that, and more. You guys are actually getting one of the newest models we have."
"Wow." Evan commented as a third Intel kid came in with a large drill and started to drill a few holes in the wall.
Seeing Brent's concern, Tyce turned toward him. "Gordon is getting data port entry points set up. Since this will be one of the temp C.I.C. areas, then a bunch of data will be coming into the room. The data port entry points will be used when Daileass teleports the wiring into the walls."
"Nice," Brent replied.
"Excuse me." Daileass's voice came out from Tyce's comm badge. "But Tyce, there are a few issues that Shane and Tony are having down on sub-level three. It seems that Dr. Flatt is not wanting to allow them into the clone incubation chamber rooms to set up the new cameras."
Brent sighed. "He knew this was going on today, I can handle this."
Tyce nodded. "Transport Brent and me there if you would, please, Daileass."
Within moments the room had two less people in it.
Lance stood silently behind Haden, and watched as the younger boy happily traced circuit pathways on one of the thirty-some pieces he had the camera split into, completely oblivious to everything else that was going on around him.
"Hey, love." Brent kissed Lance soundly on the cheek as he walked into the room. "It looks like Tyce's little distraction worked?"
Lance nodded as he looked at his watch. "Yeah, Evan had to go help with some stuff in the other building, so I've been keeping an eye on him over here. I think we are going on three hours, and other than going to grab a few more tools, I don't think he's even bothered to look at anything else going on."
"Cool, and from what I can tell, just about everything is finished up with both buildings, although Tyce mentioned he will be back down here shortly to wrap up a few final loose ends."
Lance glanced across the room at several large cables that were still laying around not plugged into anything, as well as the two terminal computers which did not seem to be working. "Good, because it looks like they might have missed hooking up a few things."
"Maybe we need to provide a live demonstration on how to 'hook up' things?" Brent giggled he kissed Lance again, this time patiently on the lips.
Lance, mildly blushing, playfully pushed Brent away, and swatted him on the butt. "Behave, you!"
"Hey, Daileass?" Haden called out as he continued to look at one of the circuit boards. "On board three-B, why are both resistor forty-five and resistor forty-eight tied into the logic IC junction?"
Brent and Lance looked at each other as if Haden was speaking another language.
"Just a second, Haden," Daileass answered from Haden's new comm badge. "They are both lead ins from on-board transistor gates to control image mode selection before the analog signal is converted to digital by the converter IC."
"Oh," Haden replied after taking another moment to study the area Daileass had mentioned. "But why two? You're already double buffered in two other locations in the same pathway, so the circuit should be able to handle the capacitance with only one, shouldn't it? And then if you added in another AND gate, and used a WICRD 70240 chip instead of the 70220, wouldn't that allow you to get two different mode views simultaneously by using digital separation?"
Daileass was quiet for several seconds, during which Haden seemed to be getting worried that he might have said something wrong, and that Daileass was now upset with him. Finally, Daileass's voice answered. "Very good find, Haden. Sorry for the delay, but I wanted to run the simulation a few times to be certain, and it looks like that would actually work. I'll make sure the R&D guys include that in the next board revision."
"Umm, Daileass, what exactly did Haden just do?" Lance asked curiously.
"To put it in simple terms, you know how these cameras have a number of different view modes to them, like infra-red and multi-spectrum, right?" Daileass asked.
Brent and Lance both nodded. "Right."
"Well, currently, the cameras can only have one of these modes active at a time," Daileass continued. "What Haden discovered, which the rest of the R&D guys have missed due to the complexity of the circuit pathways involved, is a way to cross-connect two apparently unrelated pathways to make it possible to transmit two modes at the same time."
"Wow! That's awesome, Haden," Lance said as he reached down and scooped the beaming nine-year-old into his arms.
"That's actually beyond awesome," Tyce said as he walked in the room. "You know we have had some of our best R&D guys working on this for close to a week. People who have had years of experience working with these components, and in less than three hours, Haden spotted something the rest of them missed."
Now a combination of both beaming and blushing, Haden buried his face in Lance's shoulder.
"Well," Tyce said as he clapped his hands together after giving Haden a few moments to recover. "You guys will be happy to know that nearly everything is finished. In fact, most of my guys are already on their way back to the UNIT Base."
"That's awesome," Brent commented. "I can't begin to tell you how much we appreciate everything you guys have done for us."
Tyce nodded and smiled. "Hey, you guys are family, and we take care of family."
"Um, Tyce?" Lance tried to come up with a good way to address his concern. "Not to sound ungrateful or anything, but what's up with those huge cables over there? Shouldn't they hook up to something? And shouldn't those two terminals over there be working?"
Tyce grinned. "Oh, you noticed that as well, did you?"
"Well," Tyce now looked toward Haden, who had finally dared to start peeking out from Lance's chest. "That stuff is for one final piece of hardware that needs to be installed. I figured that since Haden did such a good job with the camera, that perhaps he might be willing to help me install it."
"Me?" Haden asked, using his hand to point to his chest.
Tyce nodded. "Yup, you. That is, if you don't mind."
Feeling Haden starting to squirm, Lance let him down.
"What do I need to do?" Haden asked as he took a few hesitant steps toward Tyce.
Tyce kneeled down so that he could whisper to Haden, but being sure to be loud enough that Lance and Brent could easily hear as well. "Well, I've been ordering Daileass around all afternoon to get things in place around here, and I think he might be getting a little tired of taking orders from me. So what I need you to do is for you to give Daileass the order to teleport the final piece of hardware into position." As he explained this, Tyce pointed toward the empty corner of the room, near where the three large cables were at.
Haden looked toward where Tyce was pointing, and took a step toward it. As if building up the courage to give Daileass an order, Haden stared down that corner for several moments. "Daileass?" Haden finally timidly spoke. "Could you please teleport the last piece of hardware in place?"
"Sure thing, Haden," Daileass replied. Moments later, in the open space that everyone had now shifted their attention toward, a large, four-foot black object appeared. The top of the object was sleek and in the shape of a cylinder, while the bottom of the object was square and seemed to have a number of small LED's which were all currently off. Going up and down on the cylinder portion of the object was the 'Wayne Industries' name and logo, and under that in white bold letters was the word 'System 27'.
Haden's eyes went wide as he gasped and literally fell backward into Tyce's legs. He immediately spun his head up to look toward Tyce with his mouth moving slightly as if trying to say something, but nothing came out. He then looked back toward the object and then back to Tyce and again to the object. "Ours?" Haden finally managed to squeak out.
"That's right," Tyce smiled as he gently helped Haden to sit on the ground and then proceeded to start connecting the three large cables into it.
"What is it?" Brent asked. Given Haden's reaction, he knew it had to be something big, but it didn't look at all familiar to him.
As he was hooking up the connections, Tyce explained. "Oh, it's nothing much, just one of the most powerful mainframe computers that Wayne Industries produces." Seeing the shocked expressions on both Brent and Lance's faces, he continued. "We use a bunch of these in the server farm back at the UNIT base to help run Daileass. Now that you guys are like a satellite branch that Daileass is helping to run, we figured it would be a good idea to have one of these babies on site to help Daileass better load balance some of his management functions."
"I think he said it's to help Daileass, Love," Lance commented.
"Ah," Brent nodded in agreement.
"How?" Haden was clearly struggling to find his words, "How does it work?"
With all the connections made and what sounded like a multitude of internal fans and other components start to power up inside of the mainframe, Tyce turned his attention to the two previously unconnected terminals, which were now flashing all kinds of various information across the screen. "Sorry Haden, but technically the System 27 is classified, and I'm not allowed to tell you about it. Not that I really could, even if I wanted to."
Haden deflated, with his head sinking toward the ground. "It's okay."
"However," Tyce said with a smile, being sure to get Haden's attention before he placed a large two inch thick paper-back book on the table in front of him. "The rules also say that this owner's manual must be stored on-site with any System 27 installation, and since you are the head of Cynthitech's Hardware Support Division, I guess that means that you will have to look after it."
"Real... really?" Haden asked, once again wide-eyed, and staring intently at Tyce to see if he was lying.
Tyce nodded, "Really." To make sure his point hit home, Tyce placed the rather heavy manual in Haden's hands.
Haden tried to say something, he really did, and his expression showed it, but by this point, the poor boy was so overwhelmed, there was no chance of him getting anything out. After a few moments of his intense stare of thanks and appreciation, he ran over and plopped himself down in front of the now blinking LEDs on the mainframe, and started to read through the manual.
"You realize, there is no chance of us getting him away from that any time in the next few days?" Lance asked with a smile.
Tyce smiled as well, "If you need to, go ahead and ask Daileass to put you into contact with Janet; she can arrange to have an I.V. hooked up to him for food."
All three boys laughed.
Finally, in a more serious tone, Brent asked. "You're not going to get in trouble for this, are you?"
Tyce grinned and shook his head. "Nah. To be honest, the guys at Wayne Industries are just as impressed with Haden as we are. They've been looking for an excuse for awhile now to let him tear into one of these things and see what he can do with it."
"I've already confirmed that Daileass has a solid connection to it, so he should be able to handle everything until Haden get's up to speed. So there really isn't anything to worry about with it," Tyce continued.
"Thanks, Tyce," Lance said again as he shook his hand. "For everything."
"My pleasure." Tyce said with a wave of his hand. "But now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back before all my brothers eat up all the pizza."
Brent and Lance both giggled and nodded.
"Daileass, if you would, please?" Tyce said before disappearing moments later.
"Come on." Brent wrapped his arm around Lance, and started walking toward the door. "Let's go get something to eat ourselves, then we can bring something back for Haden. I have this strange feeling that he won't be getting much sleep tonight."
Lance gave his lover a squeeze as the door to the room closed behind them, leaving behind one intensely focused nine-year-old, who was happier than he had ever been in his life.
"It's not fair," Forth pouted as Eric helped him up onto one of the biobeds in the medical wing, "Everyone else gets to stay up to talk with Daileass. Why can't I?"
Eric sighed. He hated doing this to his younger brother, but since Forth was unable to fall asleep on his own, they really didn't have any choice. "You'll never fall asleep if we let you stay up."
"So?" Forth challenged. Seeing that he wasn't going to win that argument with Eric, he came up with a new plan, "I could take the pills instead. Just tonight, please, Eric?"
Eric glanced at the clock, "Forth, it's already past ten. If you take the pills now, you wouldn't wake up in the morning until after eight. And you would only be able to stay awake for thirty minutes or so before they forced you to sleep as well."
"So?" Forth challenged again, "All the rest of my brothers get to stay up and talk with Daileass. I want to be with them. I don't want to be different."
Forth's last statement hit Eric hard. He knew exactly where his brother was coming from. Out of all the clones that were there, Forth was the only one who had the genetic defect that prevented him from being able to fall asleep and stay asleep on his own. Back before they were rescued last week, it didn't really matter much, since the techs kept the kids asleep and sedated most of the time anyway when they were not being tested or trained or programmed. Now that their life had changed, Forth was the only one who still had to be hooked up to one of the old programming beds or new biobeds each night, and forced to sleep.
The only other option was for him to take some rather strong sleeping pills that he had been given for the one night last week when the power to building two was being re-routed and they couldn't use any of the special beds. Within thirty minutes of taking them, they would force him to sleep. The only drawback was, it was virtually impossible for him to be woken up for at least ten hours after taking them.
Eric sighed, knowing that this was one of the times he needed to give into his brother, "Okay, Fine. Just for tonight."
Forth's face lit up as he jumped down from the bed before Eric had a chance to change his mind, "Thanks, Eric."
Eric nodded, "But you need to take the pills right now."
"Okay," Forth agreed as the two boys left the room.
A few minutes later, Forth and Eric walked into the waiting room in building one where Greg, Doug, Daniel, the three youngest triplets, and all the younger clones had their nightly nest setup. Brent, Lance, and the other older boys had their nest set up across the hall. For the past few nights, they had made separate nests, not just due to the small size of the rooms, but also because the older boys often liked to talk about logistics and planning and other things the younger guys really weren't interested in much.
Everyone looked at Forth as he entered the room and defiantly plopped himself down next to Stan, one of the other eight-year-olds.
Eric answered everyone's unasked question, "Forth is using the pills tonight, so he can stay up a bit longer to chat with Dalieass and be with the rest of us."
Other than a few nods, not another word about it was said. Although most of the clones were still struggling to grasp basic social and emotional concepts, there was not one of them who could not easily relate to Forth and the position he was in. One by one, kids started going back to the conversations that they were having with each other, and with Daileass.
"Why did you do it?" Stan whispered to Forth, when it was clear that he was no longer the center of attention.
"I wanted to be here," Forth answered as he took his communicator off and stripped off his shirt.
"But, you said it hurts when..." Stan started to say, but was stopped abruptly by Forth.
"It doesn't matter." Once he had Stan's attention, he continued stripping off his shorts and boxers so that he was dressed the same as the rest of his brothers. "I don't want to be different. I want to be here with my brothers. With my friends. With my... specials."
"But..." Stan began to protest.
"Third!" Forth said seriously as he twisted himself around to be able to look right into Stan's eyes. "Don't tell anyone, please?"
After a few seconds, Stan nodded. "Okay, fine."
"Thank you," Forth said as he turned himself back around, and started fiddling with his communicator.
Somewhere deep inside of Daileass's server farm, one of his watcher processes had monitored the open communicator conversation, as watchers monitor all conversations. Something in Forth's tone of voice was just strong enough to set off a rule trigger that caused the watcher to elevate the conversation to one of Daileass's higher levels of consciousness. Ultimately, the conversation was noted and stored in his vast array of memory. Daileass hoped that tomorrow one of the hard drives that the younger kids would use would get hooked up so that Daileass could copy and catalog the information on it. He hoped it would be the one that had Forth's genetic profile stored on it, since he knew as soon as he had the needed information, he would be making sure that Forth had a visit with Janet.
On the other side of the room, Jude and Ty, two of the younger triplets, were in a deep discussion with Jace and Art, one of the younger ten-year-old clones, about family and parents, and what it meant to have a parent, something that both Jace and Art were having a hard time understanding.
"But why?" Jace looked toward the two triplets. "Why are they so important? None of us have any parents, and we've gotten along fine."
"That depends on what you call fine," Ty replied seriously.
Art frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Ty shook his head, not meaning for his comment to be taken as an insult. "It's not that, it's just from your point of view, you might think it's normal, but that's only because you've never had any."
Jude agreed with his brother. "Until you have had a mother and a father that really care about you, you can't really say it's useless, because you don't have any context."
"That's not true," Jace challenged as he lifted up his new comm badge. "Daileass, tell him we are right, and they are wrong."
"Sorry Jace, but I think all of you are wrong," Daileass's voice replied through Jace's comm badge.
"How can that be?" Art asked as all four boys watched Jace's comm badge as if expecting Daileass to pop out of it at any moment.
If Daileass had lungs, he would have tried to clear them before he started. "Well I think Jude and Ty are wrong in a way, because not every parent is loving, kind, and deserving of respect as their own parents are. There are a lot of really bad parents in the world, and some3 of them have done terrible things to their kids... things that no one should ever think of doing to a child, let alone their own child."
After thinking about it for a few moments, both Ty and Jude nodded.
"At the same time, I think Jace and Art are wrong," Daileass continued. "You two might feel you have no family or parents, but family doesn't have to be flesh and blood. Family can also be what you make it, those that you surround yourself with and who are there to nurture and protect you. In a way, the entire Clan is your extended family. But more specifically, Brent, Lance, Neal, Rick, and everyone else is your closer family, since they all care a whole lot about each of you."
"So, what you're saying is that family is more about those that really care about you, rather than who donated to your genetic material?" Art asked.
"I think you got it, Art," Daileass replied as the others nodded in agreement. "One thing you guys may not know, as far as parents go, is this. Inside the Clan a parent doesn't have to be an adult. Adam and Logan, who are only fourteen and thirteen respectively, have four adoptive children. Cory and Sean have ten, Adam Short and J.J three. So parents can mean a number of things."
On the other side of the room, Stan and Forth were quietly talking as Forth fiddled with his comm badge.
"Daileass?" Forth asked as he changed the subject. "How do you do it?"
"Do what, Forth?" Daileass asked.
"Deal with being so different? You're in this little box or wires or where ever you live as an A.I., that makes you really different from like me and Stan and everyone else. Doesn't that hurt you?" Forth tried his best to get across what he wanted to know.
"That's easy," Daileass replied, which caused Stan to look toward the comm badge as well. "I don't focus on the differences, I focus on the similarities."
"What do you mean?" Forth curiously asked.
Daileass did his best to explain at a level that Forth and Stan would understand. "You're right that there are a lot of ways that I'm different from you two. But at the same time, there are a lot of ways that I'm the same. I get sad and angry sometimes, like you do. I laugh at jokes and I like having fun like you do. I like watching cool shows on T.V., just like you do. In a lot of ways, I'm similar to the two of you, and that's what I focus on more instead of the differences."
Forth looked around the room at all the other kids who were having conversations with Daileass. "Why do I have to be different?" Forth looked toward his best friend. "Why can't I be like Stan?"
Daileass calculated a number of different possible answers, but as he reviewed those possible answers, none of them really seemed that they would fit or explain things within the context that he would be able to understand, so he was left with only one answer. "I don't know, Forth."
After a few moments, Stan turned slightly to face more toward Forth. "I kind of like the fact that you're different. I think it's cool."
"Why?" Forth asked with a bit of surprise.
Stan thought for a moment. "Because that's what makes you unique. If you were just like everyone else, then you wouldn't be Forth."
Forth nodded. Stan's answer made sense, a little, but he still didn't like it.
A few people away, Cooper and Ben were both lying down looking up toward the ceiling. "Daileass? Have you ever ridden a horse?" Cooper asked.
"As an A.I., I live inside of computers, Cooper, so no, I've never been able to ride a horse before," Daileass answered.
"Have you ever seen real horses?" Ben asked.
"Actually, yes," Daileass answered. "Not too far from the main UNIT base, there is a herd of wild horses that sometimes get near to one of my remote cameras so I can see them."
"Cool," both Cooper and Ben replied.
"Do you think we could see them one day?" Cooper asked.
"Yeah," Ben added. "When they get close to one of your cameras again, you think you could show us?"
"I can do one better," Daileass replied. "Next time they are in sight, as long as Brent and Lance don't mind, I can teleport you guys to see them."
"Whoa," they both replied in shock.
Forth blinked a few times as he could feel his head starting to get foggy with the sleep meds starting to kick in.
"I don't want to have to go to sleep, Stan," Forth stated, a bit sleepily. "I want to stay up with the rest of you guys."
Stan tilted his head not really sure how to answer. "We will still all be here tomorrow."
"I don't care," Forth pouted. "It's not fair."
"Life isn't always fair, Forth," Daileass answered.
"Yeah," Stan agreed. "So we just have to do the best we can."
"Exactly, Stan," Daileass replied.
"Dail... Daile... Daileass?" Forth mumbled as he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer.
"Yes, Forth?" Daileass asked, although he already knew that he would not get any response.
A few minutes after Forth stopped talking, and he was sure that he was asleep, Stan pulled Forth's now-limp body closer to him. He had no intention of letting anyone else mess with his 'special' that night.
On his way to turn in for the night himself, Evan decided to stop by the old security room, now turned C.I.C., to see how late his little brother was planning on staying up. Lance had filled him in earlier about the little surprise Haden got, and he knew that there was no way he would tear his brother away from that until he was ready.
As he entered the room, he was surprised to find Haden passed out on the floor with his head resting on an open page of the manual he was reading. The scene was made complete with a plate holding a half-eaten turkey sandwich and a partially drank glass of milk not too far away from him.
Evan picked up the plate and glass, and set them on a table away from any electronics. He then turned to look at his younger brother peacefully sleeping with a smile on his face next to the huge black System 27 mainframe. He had to admit, the mainframe looked fairly impressive, as he was sure his brother was having a field day learning about it.
Trying to figure out how to best get him and his brother to bed, Evan lightly touched Haden's shoulder, which caused the smaller boy to sleepily sit up.
"Evan?" Haden mumbled as he reached his arms up and wrapped them around Evan's neck, "Not done... reading..."
"Okay, bro," Evan gently replied, as he lifted himself and his brother up, realizing that there was not that much chance of him carrying Haden all the way to their room.
"Daileass?" Evan whispered, "Could you teleport us to our room, please?"
Without a word, the world around Evan shifted, and in an instant he was standing between the two beds that were in the room that they shared together. Letting his brother slip from his arms, Haden sat on the side of his bed in a dreamy daze, his eyes already closed.
Evan quickly undressed his younger brother. Briefly, he toyed with the idea of just letting Haden sleep in his briefs, but he knew how hurt and upset he had been the next morning the last time Evan tried something like that.
As he grabbed the PJ's, from his younger brother's breathing Evan could tell that Haden was already asleep, even though he was still sitting up. Getting him to lift his arms up so he could get his top on was fairly easy, but getting Haden to stand up in his sleep so he could slip into the pants proved a bit more challenging.
Finally, Evan had his brother completely changed, and tucked into bed. "Love ya, bro," Evan softly said as he kissed his brother on the forehead, before he stripped down to his boxers and crawled into his own bed.
Moments later, Evan was sound asleep was well.
As you can see, with the first chapter of book two out of the way, there are lots of new things that are happening, with the best yet to come. I hope that things have not been moving too quickly, and that between Lance's letter in the prologue, and the additional descriptions that I've tried to put in the initial scenes in chapter 1, that readers will not be too confused.
I choose Saturday, October 30 as the day to pick up book 2 so that there would be a large pause in the action between the climax event in book 1, as well as to account for other events happening elsewhere in the Clan. Keep in mind, the events with the FCC had also occurred a week ago, and among other things, the Clan was still holding their funeral services in the early part of the week.
Now, a week later, we get a little bit of a fresh start, and we get to see the initial making of a completely new set of adventures. All of the main characters from Book 1 have had a chance to grow considerably from who they were at the beginning. But, will it be enough to deal with what the future has in store for the Clan in general, and them in particular? That remains to be seen.
Wow, things sure have changed. The prologue/letter helped tremendously, but there are still so many questions. What a computer system!! Wish I had one like that here at home. And finding the clones that are out there is going to be a lot of work, but I know that your group of boys will be able to tackle the task. They are also getting their first case. Wonder what that is going to bring around?