Eric 382 Part 2

Chapter 14

11:30am PST - Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004 (10:30pm RST)

Captain Sal Lowery stood patiently in front of the desk of Fredrick White as the man reviewed Sal's paperwork.

"Very impressive," Fredrick remarked as he flipped through the pages. "Not only do you have the recommendation of Colonel West and the UNIT, but it also seems that you also have Police Chief Young's recommendation as well as Sheriff Dixon's."

As surprised as Sal was about the additional recommendations from the Sheriff and Police Chief, the thirty-two-year-old man did his best to not show it.

Closing the folder, Fredrick looked directly at Sal. "I think that should address any questions in regards to references. However, I'm sure you are also aware of the heat this station is going to be under now, due to recent events."

"I am, sir," Captain Lowery replied.

"That's good," Fredrick replied seriously. "Then you would agree with me when I say the officers that we bring on to work at this station need to be able to turn the place around. Instead of being a place that is feared by youth, making it a place that is respected by youth. Instead of being a place of bigotry and reprise, becoming a place of fairness and acceptance."

"I do, sir," Captain Lowery agreed.

"Great. In that case, could you tell me, in your opinion, how you feel juveniles should be treated in comparison to adults?" Fredrick asked as he sat back in his chair.

Sal took a few moments to think about his answer. "I believe that juveniles should be offered the same respect that is given to adults, so long as they demonstrate the maturity to warrant that respect."

"I see," Fredrick replied. "And do you feel a twelve or thirteen-year-old could be mature enough to warrant such respect?"

"If you would have asked me this a few days ago, I would probably not be so sure," Sal admitted. "However, since I've had a chance to hang around some of those Clan Short kids, I believe that I've seen ten and eleven-year-olds that could be said to be more mature than many adults I've seen."

"I'm glad you feel that way," Fredrick nodded in agreement. "With all this in mind, I'm not only prepared to grant your transfer to SS4, but to also place you in a rather unique position."

"Sir?" Sal asked questionably.

"I would like you to meet your new partner," Fredrick informed as he pointed toward the door.

Turning toward the door, Sal saw a 14-year-old well built boy with light brown hair standing in the doorway, dressed in a LVPD uniform. "Captain Sal Lowery, please meet Lieutenant Miles Fuller," Fredrick introduced.

Sal was aware of some schools having Junior Law Enforcement programs, similar to how other schools have Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs for the military. However, Miles uniform seemed to that of an actual PD uniform. Even the boy's rank insignia appeared to be valid.

Seeing Sal's questioning look, Fredrick continued. "Don't let his age fool you. Miles is fully certified in all state and federal criminal justice courses. His skills in the field are just as sharp as in the classroom."

Sal nodded in understanding.

"In short, I would like the two of you to partner together. Consider it a trial run in regards to possible future clan and civilian law enforcement cooperation," Fredrick added.

Sal walked over to the boy and looked him up and down as he circled around him once. When he got back to the front of the boy, he looked down at him hard. To his surprise, the kid didn't so much as flinch. "Miles, huh?" he finally asked as he extended his hand.

"Yes sir," Miles answered.

"Your unit designation is Sierra Fourteen. Sal is Adam, Miles is Baker. You've been assigned car 315 which is in the lot. Your shift started thirty minutes ago, so why are you both still standing here?"

"Yes sir," Both Miles and Sal replied as they left the room.

"You enjoyed that, didn't ya pop?" Ryan White asked as he entered the room moments after they left.

"You bet I did," Fredrick grinned.

"Think it will work out?" Ryan asked as he walked over and gave Fredrick a hug.

"I sure hope so," Fredrick replied. "Now, how about you run upstairs and grab that dad of yours. I'm starving for some lunch."

Ryan smiled and nodded as he ran back out of the room.

Haden and Paterson appeared in the grass outside of the circular admin building at the Las Vegas compound. Immediately, Paterson gasped in surprise. "Whoa!"

Haden tried his best to not giggle, but the expression on Paterson's shocked face was just too much for him, and soon he was suffering from a fit of giggles. "Sorry," he said as he tried to recover. "I shouldn't laugh at you like that."

"That's okay," Paterson replied meekly. "I have a feeling that's going to happen a lot over the next few days. Is that how everyone travels now?"

"It's still not a nice thing to do. I know I wouldn't like people laughing at me all the time," Haden stated. "But to answer your question. No, most people use cars. Because we are part of the clan, we have access to some things that most people don't."

"Ah, okay," Paterson replied.

"If you want, I can show you what cars look like," Haden offered. "There are a bunch in the parking lot."

"That sounds cool," Paterson perked up. "We don't have to do that teleport thing again, do we?"

Haden shook his head. "Nah, the parking lot is just on the other side of the admin building, so we can walk there."

"Good," Paterson replied a little more cheerfully, "Because that made my stomach feel funny."

"Having never been transported or teleported before, that's most likely just your body getting a little disoriented from it," Daileass offered from Haden's comm badge. "Over time, you will get more use to it, and it won't feel as weird to you."

"Thanks... Daileass," Paterson spoke into the air.

Just as the two boys began to move toward the sidewalk that would take them toward the parking lot, a third voice called out to them from behind them. "Paterson? Is that really you?"

"Clyde?" Paterson mumbled as he froze in his tracks and turned around to see a shirtless eight-year-old wearing sandals and soaked long baggy shorts. "Clyde! By the saints, how can you be here?"

Clyde laughed as he ran up to Paterson and threw his arms around him. "I was just about to ask you the same thing. I thought I would never see you again."

"I remember you," Haden observed as he looked at Clyde. "Or at least the other me did."

Clyde looked Haden up and down. "I certainly remember you. Paterson brought you to school with him that day he disappeared a few weeks ago."

"A few weeks ago?" Paterson asked. "Clyde, that was just yesterday."

Clyde quickly shook his head. "Not from my perspective it wasn't. You had disappeared, and then your father moved away a few days after that. And that was at least two weeks ago."

"Oh man," Haden sighed. "These time loops can really give you a headache. Now I know how people feel when I talk about electronics stuff."

Paterson smiled at Haden before he shifted his focus back to Clyde. "So what are you doing here? And... why are you dressed like that?"

"Oh, I was swimming at Paradise Landing with a bunch of my new friends... it's like... well... it's hard to explain, but it's really fun, and involves lots of water.... kinda like the rapids of a river, but it's all really smooth and safe."

"It's called a water park," Haden offered, "A lot of the kids really like them."

"Do you like them?" Paterson asked as he looked back at Haden.

Haden shrugged. "They're okay, I guess. I've never really been to one. Well, I had to go to Paradise Landing before I met you in Iowa, but I never really got to use any of the water slides or anything."

"Hey," Paterson changed the subject, "Haden was just about to show me the horses that people use to travel around now, I think he called them cars. You want to come with us?"

Knowing exactly what cars were, Clyde grinned at the thought of Paterson's reaction. "Sure, sounds like fun."

As the boys walked down the side walk, Paterson was looking in awe at all the huge buildings they passed, especially when they walked between the two Cynthitech towers. He was so caught up in looking at everything that he didn't even realize that the group had stopped.

When he finally looked back down to the sight in front of him, he faced with a large group of large shiny cars. "Shiny Crates?" he asked with confusion.

"Pretty close," Clyde began. "These are the cars that Haden was talking about. You could think of them as horseless carages."

"That's actually what they were called a long time ago," Haden offered.

"And they can move around without horses pulling them?" Paterson asked with wonder.

Haden nodded. "Yup, they just use nitrous oxide and atmospheric methane now."

"That's just unreal," Paterson replied.

"You haven't seen anything yet, bro," Clyde smiled.

Paterson tilted his head, "Bro?"

Clyde smiled. "Sorry, that's how the rest of the kids in the clan talk. Pretty much we are all brothers to each other, and help each other anywhere we can. Kinda like how the village was suppose to be."

"Nice," Paterson replied. "As long as Haden is here, I'm sure I'll love it."

"Come on," Haden stated after they had been standing there for a few more minutes, "We might as well get the tour of your new home done now, and there is still a lot of cool stuff to see."

As the boys walked back down the side walk, Paterson looked toward Clyde. "You still haven't told me how you ended up here."

"There's not a lot to tell, really," Clyde shrugged. You know how the Potters were nice enough to take me in after my pa died? Well, about two weeks after you left, Mr. Potter threw out his back and wasn't able to work as much anymore. I'm too small to work the plow, so with less money coming in, they were looking at having to give me up."

"Oh man, that's a sad thing to hear," Paterson commented. "Wasn't Mrs. Potter still making her pies?"

Clyde nodded. "Yeah, but it wouldn't have been enough. So the night before I was going to be sent to the church, this purple eyed kid showed up and asked if I wanted to be taken to where you had been taken. At first I didn't believe him, and pegged him as a loon. But then some of the stuff that he showed me, well there was no way to fake that. And since you and I had always been best friends, I said yes and well, yesterday he brought me here to stay with the clan, and here I am now."

"I think God choose us for a reason," Paterson offered.

Haden shrugged. "Some pretty strange things have happened with the clan. We even have a real guardian angel that stops by to talk to use from time to time. He's Cory's older brother, Saint Mikey."

"You mean he will answer you in your prayers?" Paterson asked.

"Nope," Haden shook his head. "I mean he appears right in front of you for everyone to see, with golden wings and everything."

"Wow," Paterson mused.

"Oh cool, we are going to the indoor pool first!" Clyde cheered "You're going to really like this Paterson."

Paterson looked at the large building that they were walking toward and could only imagine what new wonders were waiting for him there.

At the Water Park, everyone from the clan was having a great time, with the events from earlier in the day having almost completely forgotten. Even the clone kids were having a blast, once the street kids were able to better explain how to properly go down a water slide.

As the day went on, Brent, Lance, and a few of the other clan leaders made their way over to the picnic area to start getting things ready for lunch. To their surprise, however, the tables that were previously bare, had already been set with plates, napkins, silverware, cups, and everything else that might be needed.

"Wow, looks like someone beat us to the punch," Brent observed as he looked at the tables.

"Whoever did it, seemed to do a pretty good job at it," Lance added. "I wonder who it was."

"The Ferrets," Brook replied as he walked past Brent, Lance and the others on his way back to the water park.

"Brook!" Brent called out. "Have you been off with the ferrets the whole time."

"Uh huh," Brook grinned. "Do you think we could add shiny tunnels to our dorms? I think it would be really cool."

"Shiny Tunnels?" Brent asked, slightly confused.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Brook replied. "We can talk about it later. Right now I need to get to the shiny water slides before it's time to eat our shiny meal." With that, he ran off toward the side gate."

"Shiny water slides?" Lance asked.

"Shiny meal?" Hania added.

Brent slowly shook his head. "I don't really think I want to know."

"What did those ferrets do to that poor kid while he was with them?" Lance wondered.

"I don't think I want to know that either," Brent replied. "But speaking of kids. Hey Daileass, is Clyde still back at the compound?"

"He sure is," Daileass replied. "I think he forgot why he had gone there. But I just gave him a little reminder. All three of them should be here in a few moments."

"Three of them?" Lance asked. "I thought you said he was going back to get Haden?"

"He was," Daileass replied cryptically.

Before anyone had a chance to respond; Clyde, Haden, and a light blond-haired eight-year-old, all of whom where dressed in swim suits, appeared in front of them.

"Hi guys," Haden said cheerfully as he gave Brent, and then Lance a hug. "Please don't be mad at me, okay?"

"I don't think I could ever be mad at you, Haden," Brent replied. "Although I am a bit curious as to who your new friend is, and how it involves Clyde."

Haden stepped back and pondered. "Yeah, you see. That could be a little tricky to explain."

"It's not that tricky," Clyde announced as he looked from the blond-haired boy to Brent. "Paterson is from my time."

"Paterson?" Lance asked.

"Your time?" Brent added. "Okay guys, I think you have a little explaining to do."

Haden looked at all the boys that were standing there. In addition to Brent and Lance, three other boys that Haden had known for awhile where there, Hania, Lee, and Daniel. "Well, you see, apparently there was another me somewhere," Haden began.

"Another you?" Brent asked with disbelief.

"Brent, please listen to everything Haden has to say before you pass judgement," Daileass jumped in. "As hard as it may sound to believe, I am fairly certain that it is in fact accurate."

"Okay, sorry about that," Brent nodded in agreement. "Sorry Haden, go on."

Haden took a deep breath before he continued. "Okay, well there was this other me from another universe in another time, and somehow I, or rather he, got teleported 200 years in the past, and it was really scary and everything. They didn't even have computers or electricity there!"

"That sounds terrible," Lance grinned.

Haden nodded in agreement. "Well, anyway, that's where I met, or rather he, or the other me met Paterson. Only Paterson was really sick and was going to die soon because they didn't have the same medicines back then that we have now, but that's okay because now he's here and not sick anymore."

Brent nodded after taking a few moments to process everything Haden had to say. "Okay, but why did Paterson come here and not go to the other Haden?"

"And, if this all happened with a different Haden, how do you know so much about it?" Lance added.

"Oh, that was the cool part," Haden answered. "See, when I first met Paterson, he had this cool glowing orb, it didn't have any electromagnetic signatures or anything. But when Paterson gave it to me, I guess all the memories from that other Haden went into my head from that day that he was in the past."

"An angel helper with rainbow colored hair gave it to me," Paterson added. "He said something about mandate, or something like that."

"Mikyvis," Both Brent and Lance replied at the same time.

"Since he is here now, can he stay with us, and become a part of the clan?" Haden asked. "Please?"

Brent shrugged. "I don't see why not. It's not like he has anywhere else to go. Although I still have another question."

"Cool!" Haden cheered, "Okay, what's the question?"

"It's actually for Clyde," Brent stated as he looked toward the other boy, "From the comment you made earlier, is it safe to assume that you are also from this other place?"

"I guess," Clyde replied hesitantly. "That same rainbow colored kid came to me about two weeks after Paterson left, and said I could come to a new and exciting place to live, which was here."

"But you were here yesterday," Lance observed.

"We couldn't figure that part out either," Haden offered.

Brent shook his head. "I don't think I will ever really understand the whole Mikyvis and time lord and angel stuff that goes on with the clan. But I do know that you guys are here, and for one reason or another you seem to be important to Haden. That alone is good enough for me."

"In other words," Lance translated, "Welcome to our family, Paterson."

"Thank you kindly," Paterson smiled.

"Okay, how would you guys like to help us round the rest of our guys up for lunch?" Brent asked.

"Sure," Haden, Paterson, and Clyde each replied. With that, all seven boys made their way back toward the water park.

Sal Lowery was torn between glancing at Miles, and watching the road as he and the fourteen-year-old Lieutenant drove Northbound on Tory Ave. Miles, for his part, was keeping a keen eye on everything they passed.

"So, been on patrol much?" Sal asked, trying to drum up some conversation.

"A number of times as a third, in Indiana," Miles replied.

Sal nodded, "See much action?"

"Not really," Miles replied. "But it was a much smaller town than here."

"I hear that," Sal replied as they drove past the Cedar Crest High School.

"Damn," Miles muttered to himself as he quickly glanced out the back window to double check what he thought he saw. "10-28, Signal 5 back at the school parking lot."

"What?" Sal asked with surprise. "Are you sure?"

Miles nodded. "Blue Chevy pickup. Had a spotter and everything."

Sal nodded as he found a safe place for them to turn around and head back toward the High School. If Miles was right, he just witnessed a drug deal go down. Sure enough, as they approached the school, a blue Chevy truck quickly pulled out ahead of them and gunned it down the road.

"Damn, looks like you might be right," Sal reported as he flipped the switches to turn on his lights, and then quickly blasted the siren for a few seconds.

Grabbing the radio, Miles called it in. "Sierra Fourteen Baker, 10-28 Signal 5 on Tory Ave and Swanson, past the Cedar Crest High School."

"10-4 Sierra Fourteen, 10-28 Signal 5," the dispatcher replied.

"It's going to be a blue Chevy pickup, looks like a '98 model, Nevada plates, License XAC-4CA," Miles continues. As he said this, the truck quickly turned on a side street and increased it's speed even faster. "Correction, we have a 10-41, Turning east on Michelle. Speeds around 45 Mph."

With the chase being on, Sal did his best to keep up with the truck, while still trying to drive as safely as possible. Meanwhile, Miles continued to call the chase on the radio, letting the other units know exactly where they were at.

As they continued to drive down side streets, at one point several large white bags went flying out the passenger window.

"He just tossed a bunch of dope," Sal pointed out as he had to swerve around another car.

"I see it," Miles replied as he related the info to the radio. "A large amount of Signal 8 dropped on Nelson, just past Swanson. Tossed from the passenger side."

As the chase continued, additional police cars joined behind Miles and Sal's car. At the same time, the driving of the blue pickup became more erratic and desperate. A few moments later, what looked like a large black handgun was tossed out the drivers window, something that Miles quickly called in so that one of the units toward the back could stop to pick it up.

After the chase had been going on for about 10 minutes, Word came across the radio that they had permission to deploy spikes. And that they would be deployed at the intersection of Hickory and Rancho.

"It won't work," Miles said under his breath.

"What do you mean?" Sal asked.

"This guys adopting to us too closely," Miles observed. "He has to have a scanner."

"Maybe," Sal agreed.

Miles picked up the mike, and hoped that the unit that was going to deploy the spikes knew the police codes as well as he did. "Sierra Twenty Three, 10-54 Signal 9 Kilo, 10-13 Charlie 4."

Sal looked at Miles as if the boy was insane. "You canceled the weapons charge?"

"Open needle as a weapon, I just hope those guys are able to follow me," Miles replied as he changed the channel of the radio to channel 4. "Sierra Twenty Three, copy?"

There was a brief moment of silence before an answer came back. "Sierra Twenty Three 10-4 10-13 Charlie 4."

Miles smiled and quickly replied. "Redeploy Signal 11 at Eastern and the Strip... repeat Eastern and the Strip... Shut down traffic, this guy is not your typical runner, he's going to try to make a scene."

There was another brief delay before a response was heard. "10-04, Signal 11 at Eastern and the Strip. 10-13 Charlie 1,"

Once the other officer was done speaking, Miles turned the radio back to their normal dispatch channel, channel 1.

"You better be right about this, that's all I can say." Sal stated. To Sal's surprise, however, the truck made a quick turn onto Eastern, which would completely avoid the Hickory and Rancho intersection. "I'll be damned."

As soon as they were on Eastern, the truck picked up speed as they were only a few short blocks from the strip. If this had been any other time, the pursuit would have been broken off in favor of the safety of the tourists on the strip. With Miles anticipating the move, however, they would have all traffic stopped.

As the chase passed the one block mark before reaching the strip, Sal slowly let his car fall back, knowing what was in store for the truck. Sure enough, the spikes were deployed and the truck hit them perfect on all four tires, causing it to swerve sideways.

Although the driver of the truck was hoping to turn onto the strip into traffic, the unexpected loss of steering caused the truck to miss the turn completely, and smash into a cement light pole. Within seconds, the chase was over. Several police cars had the truck boxed in, as officers were easily able to drag both the driver and the passenger out of the wreck, and get them into handcuffs.

In addition to the drugs and drug paraphernalia that was found, a rather high-tech police scanner was also found, just as Miles had suspected. The scanner was tuned to the exact frequency the LVPD used for main dispatch.

"Not bad, kid," Sal smiled toward Miles as he extended his hand. "You did damn good for your first day out."

"You're not so bad yourself," Miles replied. As he and Sal shook hands, several onlookers were taking pictures of the scene. It didn't take long for word to start spreading on the nets about another Clan Short operation that took place on the strip. Even though the Clan had nothing directly to do with it, the fact that a kid was seen dressed in a LVPD uniform was enough to make many people jump to that conclusion.

Paterson and Haden stood close to Brent as they walked around the park, looking for stragglers, while Clyde had gone off with Lance.

Although they tried to send everyone a message through the comm badges, it turned out that most of the kids had either decided to not wear them at all, even though they had been told to, or had them attached to their swimsuits such that it was hard to hear, especially over the rest of the noise at the park.

Because of this, at least a quarter of the kids had to be rounded up manually.

"Ya know, whenever ma needed us kids to come in for dinner, she would use to ring this big cow bell," Clyde commented at one point.

"That might not be that bad of an idea," Lance agreed.

Within the next ten minutes, all the rest of the clan kids were rounded up and were at the picnic tables eagerly awaiting food. While they were waiting, Brent and Lance took some time to once again remind everyone about the importance of keeping their comm badges with them, especially when they were out in public, away from their compound.

Once the division leaders had finished with their reminder, several ferrets appeared carrying carts and trays full of all kinds of food. In addition to several different types of fish, just about every other type of side dish that you could think of that would go well with fish, was also served. There were even a few side-dishes that at first you would think would not go well with fish at all, but seemed to be liked just the same.

"Wait here, Paterson," Haden announced as he got up from the table. "I'll go grab us some food."

Given that Paterson still did not feel comfortable around all the new faces yet, he was more than content to nod in agreement and continue the conversation he was having with Clyde.

A few minutes later, once almost everyone else seemed to be back to their tables and digging in on the delicious fish, Haden returned and placed a plate in front of Paterson as Evan placed a plate in front of Clyde.

"Paterson?" Haden asked as he placed his own plate down. "I would like you to meet my older brother, Evan."

Paterson looked toward Evan and smiled. "Yup, you certainly look like you would be a really cool older brother."

"Um, thanks, I think," Evan smiled.

Turning back and looking toward his plate, Paterson tilted his head. "Um, Haden, what is this stuff?"

"Oh, those are french fries, that's potato salad, that's egg salad, and over there is potato chips. I tried to get you a little of several different things," Haden replied.

"And what are these?" Paterson asked as he held up a small brown rectangle piece of food.

"Ah, those are fish fingers," Haden smiled. "They have a few different kinds of fish up there, but I usually like those the best."

Paterson looked at the fish finger from a few different angles before he set it back down on his plate and poked it with his own finger. "This isn't good," Paterson sighed.

"What's wrong?" Haden asked.

"Haden? How many other people here are eating these things?" Paterson asked with concern.

"A bunch of people I guess," Haden replied.

A look of dread came over Paterson's face. Immediately, he stood up and jumped up on the bench. "Everyone, stop eating!" he cried out.

Almost immediately, everyone stopped and looked toward Paterson.

Once he had everyone's attention, using the most serious expression an eight-year-old could possibly have, Paterson continued. "FISH DON'T HAVE FINGERS!" To emphasize his point, he held up his small rectangular piece of fish to show everyone. "I've caught lots of fish with my pa, and I can promise you that none of them had this!"

As Paterson was speaking, Haden slowly slid down in his seat, which was rather impressive, since he was sitting on a bench.

After several seconds of stunned silence, six-year-old Jace turned toward one of his older brothers. "Is he right, Art?"

A few moments later, Clyde stood up and whispered something in Paterson's ear.

"Seriously?" Paterson asked.

Clyde nodded his head, and waved him back down to whisper a few more things in his ear. When he was done, Paterson's expression turned to one of embarrassment. "Never mind everyone, um, you can go back to eating."

After stepping off the bench and sitting back down, and looking completely crushed, Paterson was surprised to see Lance walk up behind him with a small plate in his hand.

"You did a good job, Paterson," Lance stated.

"I made a complete fool of myself," Paterson replied. "I was only trying to help but... but it's all strange here."

"You were only trying to help," Lance nodded in agreement. "Do you see anyone laughing at you?"

Paterson quickly looked around. From the best he could tell, everyone had gone back to eating. "No."

"Exactly," Lance replied. "If anything, you did help a little. You got some of the younger clone kids asking questions and learning about fish."

"I guess," Paterson replied.

"Lance is right," Haden jumped in as he wrapped his arm around Paterson, "You were only trying to help, and that is what really counts."

"Here, I brought you this," Lance said as he took the processed fish fingers from Paterson's plate, and replaced them with what looked to be real fish fillets. "Here is some fresh fried catfish. Haden likes the processed stuff, which is probably why he gave you the same. But something makes me think you might like this a little better."

"Thanks," Paterson replied as he quickly cut a piece of the fish and placed it in his mouth. "Oh wow, yeah! Now this tastes like REAL fish!"

"There's a lot more up front if you want more," Brent stated as he walked up behind Lance.

Paterson nodded as he began to inhale his fish, totally forgetting about any lingering embarrassments.

Once lunch was finished, a number of the kids began to talk about going back to the water park, since they had plenty of time to compare what there favorite rides were.

"Oh crap," Haden replied as he checked the time on his GEAR. "I still have to finish the new A.I. back at base." Sighing, he turned toward Paterson and Clyde. "Um, do you two think you will be alright on your own for a bit? I have some, um, techy stuff that I have to get finished up that I started earlier."

Paterson nodded understandingly. "That's fine. I think Clyde and I still have a lot to catch up on."

"Cool, thanks. We can all hang out more later, I promise," Haden stated firmly.

"I'd like that," Paterson replied with Clyde agreeing.

"Daileass, could you take me back to the computer core?" Haden asked as he tapped his comm badge. Moment later, the boy vanished.

Paterson shook his head. "I don't think I will ever get use to how that feels."

"Trust me," Clyde replied. "When you have been in the wave pool for awhile, or have gone down some of these slides, that will be no problem." With that, Clyde dragged Paterson off toward the side gate of the water park.

Carrol and Richie flew down the sidewalk on their boards as they each pushed themselves as hard as possible to race the three blocks that stood between where the public bus stop was at and their house. The race was generally pretty close, with both boys being the same age and close to the same skill- although Carrol was starting to hit his growth spurt and was now about an inch or two taller than Richie, Richie's legs were still slightly longer than Carrol's, which gave him the slight edge that he needed.

"Ha," Richie grinned as spun through the front gate that led into their yard just a second or two before Carrol. Kicking up his board, and checking the time on his watch, his grin quickly faded away. "Aw man, it's almost five. Pat's going to be pissed."

Carrol nodded as he kicked up his own board and swung his backpack off his back. "When is he not pissed?" he asked seriously as he looked toward the front door of their house, slightly out of breath from their race.

Neither of the boys had a chance to say anything else before the front door opened and Pat stood glaring at the two boys through the screen door. It was one of those glares that told any kid that saw it that the adult that was using it was more than just a little pissed at them. To the surprise of both boys, however, the man said nothing; but instead motioned to the boys to get inside before he walked away from the door, leaving the main door open.

The two twelve-year-olds shared a momentary glance of confusion with each other, as they both fully expected Pat to start going off on them for getting home so late. It didn't take long to figure out the reason for the change in behavior. As soon as the boys made it inside and stepped into the front room, they saw a small light-brownish-red haired kid sitting on the couch opposite from where Pat was standing.

After several moments of awkward silence, Pat finally spoke up. "This is Terrence; he's going to be living with us now."

As Pat spoke, Richie felt his stomach sink. Seeing the sight of the kid, who could not have been any older than six, caused echoes of uncomfortable memories to flash through his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Carrol having a similar reaction.

"I expect both of you to be on your best behavior and keep an eye on him," Pat continued, pulling Richie out of his thoughts. "And getting home over a half hour later than you are supposed to is not a good start."

"But there was a big thing happening on the strip near that new water park, and with traffic as backed up as it was, the buses couldn't..." Richie began to say, before Pat cut him off.

"I don't give a fuck what excuse you have, you know when you are supposed to be home," Pat interrupted as a look of anger flashed across his face. "They have pay phones all over down there, and you could have called."

Both of the older boys knew just how much Pat was holding himself back from really going off on them. As such, Richie decided to push the situation a little further than he normally would have. "We were stuck on the bus in traffic so we couldn't..."

Again, Pat cut the boy off by running a finger across his neck in a cutting-like motion. "Enough. Do you want dinner tonight or not?"

"Yes, sir." Richie replied.

"Then go drag your asses in the bathroom and get yourselves and Terrence washed up. There are corn dogs and some peas in the freezer that you can heat up." Pat shot a long look toward each of the twelve-year-olds to see if either would try to mouth off again, before he walked out of the room.

Carrol gave Richie a look that told him that he should have known better, before he walked over to the small boy who was stiffly sitting on the couch watching them. "Hey there, Terrence," Carrol began as he knelt down in front of the boy. "My name is Carrol, and that's Richie. I know you are probably a bit scared, but neither of us will hurt you, okay?"

The small boy sat there for a few moments before he hesitantly nodded his head.

Carrol smiled. "Are you hungry?"

Terrence nodded his head again, this time with not as much of a delay.

"Okay, come on. Let's get you washed up, then we can make some dinner." Carrol then offered his hand toward the younger boy, who carefully accepted it a few moments later. With that, Carrol, Richie, and their new younger brother made their way down the hall toward the bathroom.

Haden was not the only one that left the water park early. Not too long after he was gone, Eric got a call on his comm badge reminding him of the meeting he and Forth were suppose to have with Doctor Green that afternoon. Since Forth was not willing to leave without Stan, there was soon three boys and two teddy bears waiting in Doctor Green's office.

The boys were not waiting in the office that long before Doctor Linda Green walked in.

"Hey guys," the doctor began. "This is a slightly larger crowd than I was expecting."

"Forth wouldn't come unless Stan was able to come with him," Eric announced.

Forth nodded his head in agreement. "Stan is my best friend."

"And the bears?" Linda asked.

"They are ours," Stan stated.

"Yes, I figured that," Linda agreed.

"The bears have been a bit on the protective side today, ever since one of them had to seriously hurt some older teens that were trying to hurt two of the younger kids," Eric offered a slightly better explanation.

"Yes, I heard about that, I guess that makes a bit more sense," the doctor replied as she sat down behind her desk. "Anyway, Since I've taken the position of head of medical services for the division, I've started reviewing everyone's files. Including yours, Forth."

Forth looked toward the doctor with panic in his eyes. "Am I going to die?"

"What?" Doctor Green asked with surprise. "Why would you even ask a question like that?"

"Over the last few days we have been learning a lot from watching something called television," Forth stated. "And every time someone get's called into the doctor's office to talk, the doctor usually tells them that they are going to die."

Linda sighed as she slowly shook her head. "Well, first off you are not going to die. Secondly, I don't really think that television is the best way to learn about our culture. But that's something we can address later."

Forth nodded, mostly since he was relieved that he wasn't going to die after all.

"From what I can tell from Forth's file, he has a problem with being able to fall asleep on his own. Does this sound accurate?" the doctor asked.

Eric agreed. "Yeah. We've either been using one of the bio-beds to push him into sleep, or using sleeping pills."

The doctor nodded. "And from what I can tell, they haven't been willing to try any more drastic solutions because of the differences in Forth's DNA compared to normal DNA." Seeing Eric was following her, she continued. "Yesterday, however, Daileass was about to find the needed DNA profiles for Forth in the data that the younger kids were helping to get added to the network. With that data in hand, I believe we are in a position to better help Forth."

"What do you mean?" Forth asked curiously.

Doctor Green looked down toward Forth and Stan. "What I mean, Forth, is that I think it is now possible to program the Bio-Bed to be able to fix you, so that you will be able to go to sleep at night just like every other kid."

"Really?" Forth asked, with excitement in his eyes.

Doctor Green nodded. "You need to be aware that it's an untested procedure since we would basically be loading the bio-bed with a non-standard DNA profile, and having it make a set of base-pair corrections based on that profile. So there is always a chance that it won't work. However, I've talked to both Doctor Flatt, and have had Daileass help with running a number of simulations. As such, there is a 99.5% chance of success."

"And what if it's not successful? What would happen to Forth?" Eric asked seriously.

"He won't be harmed, if that is what you are asking," the doctor answered. "If at any point along the process, the bio-bed encounters something unexpected, it will abort the procedure, so at worse, forth will remain as he is now, until we can figure out why things didn't work the way we expected them to, and make a second attempt."

"That doesn't sound that bad," Eric replied. "But in the end, I think the decision really needs to be up to Forth,"

Linda nodded. "I would agree. So, what do you say Forth? Is this something you are interested in trying?"

Forth's head very quickly began to bob up and down. "If it means being normal and being able to stay in the nest and sleep with all my brothers, yes."

"Great," Doctor Green smiled.

"When do you think you will be able to do the procedure?" Eric asked.

"We can do it right now, if you would like," the doctor replied as she stood up. "I already have one of the bio-beds prepared and loaded with the proper profiles."

"Cool!" Forth called out as Stan was clearly happy for Forth as well.

Doctor Green lead the group out of her office and into the main medical center. As she did, she continued to explain things. "Okay, there are a few other things you guys should know. First, since the bio-bed will need to make some minor genetic changes, it's going to need to put Forth asleep while it does it's work. Second, if everything goes according to plan, the entire procedure will take about thirty minutes to complete. However, there will be a very high chance that Forth will feel somewhat dizzy or light-headed for several hours afterward. So someone will probably want to stay pretty close to him."

"I can do that," Stan announced with pride.

"I think you would be perfect for the job, Stan," the doctor agreed as she lifted Forth up onto the bed. "Normally, I would ask you to take your shirt off, but it looks like all of you have already taken care of that."

"That's because we were at a water park," Forth informed her.

"Ah, I see," the doctor replied. "Okay, I'm going to need to take this arm band off you, but I'll set it right over here so it will be here when you wake up, okay?"

Forth nodded as laid down.

"I'll be right here waiting for you, when you wake up," Stan spoke seriously as he looked at Forth.

Forth smiled as he looked at Stan.

"If everyone is ready, I'll start the procedure and have the bio-bed put Forth to sleep now.

As Forth and Stan continued to look at each other, Eric nodded toward the doctor. "I think we're ready."

Doctor Green pressed a few buttons on her terminal. A few moments later, Forth's eyes slowly closed as the bio-bed went to work.

"I'll see you soon, Forth." Stan whispered as he took a step back to stand next to Eric.

While Terrence was washing has hands in the sink, Richie couldn't help but notice just how thin the little tyke was. He wasn't super thin, but it was certainly noticable that he was skinnier than your typical six year old. That was probably the reason Pat had agreed to take him in the first place.

Once Terrence had finished and had walked out of the room toward the kitchen, Carrol looked toward Richie. "Hey, do you think...?" The slightly taller boy asked, allowing his words to trail off.

Richie didn't need Carrol to finish his question. What was asked was all that was needed to let Richie know that they were thinking the same thing. Instead of saying anything, with a frown on his face, Richie gave Carrol a slow nod before he followed Terrence toward the kitchen.

"I hope you like frozens," Carrol said as he looked toward Terrence while taking out a package of corn dogs from the freezer.

The smaller boy bobbed his head up and down in excitement.

Richie was prepared to get into his little speech about how the only thing Pat usually gets for them is crapy frozen food, but when he saw the excitement in the smaller boy's eyes, he decided against it. Maybe it was just the excitement of a typical six-year-old, but he didn't think so. More than likely the kid was used to getting a lot less, which made Richie want to ask Terrence about his past even more. For now, however, he decided against it as there was food to be eaten.

Pat didn't eat with the boys. However, he did show up shortly after they had finished to supervise the dish cleaning process.

"Doesn't he eat?" Terrence asked in a hushed voice as they were cleaning.

Richie shook his head. "Nah, he will usually make himself a steak or something later."

"Oh," Terrence nodded as he went back to drying off a dish.

After all the dishes were cleaned and put away, Richie and Carrol grabbed their school books and sat at the table working on their homework. Terrence sat quietly on the other side of the table watching them.

A few minutes after the boys had started, Pat came into the room and asked Terrence if he would like to join him in the other room to watch cartoons while the older boys did their work.

Terrence shook his head. "No thanks."

Pat shot Terrence a disappointing look. "Okay fine, just don't bother them too much."

"He's been real quiet so far," Carrol offered.

Instead of replying, Pat turned and left the room.

Richie thought that it was odd that a little kid would pass on watching cartoons, but at the same time, until he was sure that Terrence wasn't going to get the same treatment that he and Carrol got when they were younger, he figured the less time the two were alone together, the better.

Over the next half hour, Carrol and Richie continued to work on their schoolwork while Terrence sat quietly watching them.

"You guys have a lot of homework," Terrence finally commented.

Carrol looked up and grinned. "Yeah, when you get into the sixth grade, you'll have a lot of homework too."

Terrence sat back in his chair in surprise, which caused both Carrol and Richie to smile. "Don't worry, Terrence, It's probably going to be awhile until you have to worry about this much homework," Richie chuckled. "Did I mention Terrence was a cool name?"

Terrence nodded. "Actually, my name is Terry."

"Really?" Carrol asked, "That's a cool name as well."

"My father's name was Terry too," Terrence continued in a somber tone, "And he always used to beat me, so I don't want to be a Terry no more."

"Oh man, that really sucks," Richie replied, "I don't really know who my real dad is, but if he did, I probably wouldn't want his name either if he beat me a lot."

Terrence nodded and continued to sit quietly to watch the boys work on their homework.

Richie now had a better idea as to why Terrence didn't feel comfortable going to watch cartoons with Pat. Once again, his heart sunk as he feared what Pat might have had in store for him.

Everything in the underground computer core under the Vegas administration building was exactly as Haden had left it several hours ago. The only major difference was that the fourteen new server silos were all powered on as he entered the room.

"Daileass?" Haden asked as he looked around the room. "Did you turn on the new silos?"

"Kinda," Daileass replied. "Maybe it's because I'm a little anxious to meet our new son, but I went ahead and powered up the silos just enough to begin the initial hardware burn-ins and architecture integrity tests. I hope you are not too upset with me."

Haden shook his head. "Nah, you actually saved about an hour's worth of waiting around. If I knew that I was going to be gone for as long as I was, I would have started the process myself. I'm guessing no problems were detected."

"You will need to check the individual silos," Daileass replied. "Since you plugged them into the smart plugs, I was able to power them up to begin the automatic self tests, but without network connectivity to them, I couldn't check anything else."

Haden nodded and spent the next few minutes walking around to each of the new server silos, and checking the small LED display on each to see the current status of the hardware tests. "Everything looks good on all servers. If you want to power them down, I'll start working on getting the two brain silos online."

Over the next thirty minutes, Haden worked on getting the special brain silos setup and connected with the other systems. With Daileass's more than eager assistance, as well as a little help from his other link brothers, the entire process went remarkably smoothly.

"There we go," Haden stated with a smile as he sat backward and looked at the fully functional silos. "I think that finishes all the connectivity stuff."

"I agree. Everything I'm able to see from my end also looks good," Daileass reported. "However, I'm afraid we can not continue with the next step."

"Why not?" Haden asked with concern.

"The next step involves initializing and syncing the neurotronic matrix within the brain silos, and activating the lower processing functions of the new A.I. However, before that can happen, we need to enter the name for the A.I." Daileass stated.

"Alright," Haden agreed. "Tell me what it's name is, and I'll enter it in."

"A name has not been selected yet," Daileass replied. "I figured that is something you could pick, Haden."

"Me?" Haden asked with surprise as he stood up.

"Why not?" Daileass answered seriously. "After all, you could very easily say this new A.I. will be our son. So why shouldn't you help with naming him?"

"Don't you mean the son of everyone that was helping on Archnania? Besides, I was working more on the hardware side of stuff, other than a little messing around, I haven't done much on the software or micro code side of things."

"Which matrix template do you think has been loaded up?" Daileass asked.

"The final one we came up with on Archnania, I would have thought," Haden replied as he typed a few keys on the small terminal that was hooked up to one of the brain silos. Almost immediately, Haden's expression turned to one of shock. "Daileass... you didn't!"

"What didn't I do?" Daileass asked.

Haden leaned in closer to the terminal. "According to this, the final matrix template that the team created is not what's been installed... it looks like.... Daileass, this is one of the test matrixes that I was messing around with when I was trying to figure out if software could be optimized in the same way that I optimize micro pathways."

"Don't you mean the one that WE were working on? I seem to remember offering a number of ideas to complement the ones you were coming up with," Daileass replied.

"Well yeah, the one we were working on," Haden agreed. "Either way, it's not the final version the team developed."

"What's wrong with that?" Daileass asked. "I've run this matrix through a number of tests and simulations. It's a perfectly viable matrix. The only difference is that it contains several micro-code, and low level function elements that more reflect a combination of mine and your style of development and optimization. In effect, this A.I. will truly be unique in that we can say it is OUR son."

Haden stood up and began to pace back and forth, in a combination of nervousness and thinking at the same time. "But Daileass," he continued. "What if something is wrong, What if we've messed things up and he's somehow more restricted from the other A.I.s? What if he's...."

"Not perfect?" Daileass finished.

Haden stopped pacing. "Yeah."

"So what if he's not perfect," Daileass replied. "Haden? Do you think someone has to be perfect to have a good and rewarding life? Should someone that is not perfect not be given the chance? Should we just throw away the matrix template we created just because it might not be up to the same standards as the rest of the team?"

"Well, no, I guess not," Haden replied softly.

"Exactly," Daileass replied. "Do you think I only like you because I feel you are perfect? No. Sometimes it is the imperfections that we have which allow us to stand out and to really shine as individuals."

Haden stood there without anything to really reply with.

In a softer voice, Daileass continued. "Haden. All of the simulations I have run indicate that the matrix that you and I created is a fully viable template, with no major integrity issues. So what if it has a few personality quarks, or if it's slightly different from the other A.I.'s being brought online. Would you still be able to love and care for it? I know I would."

Haden thought hard about what Daileass had said, and slowly nodded his head in agreement. "You're right Daileass. I would. I guess I just wasn't really thinking when I said that earlier."

"That's okay, Haden. I know you were just wanting the best for our son, and I can not fault you for that," Daileass replied. "However, you still need to come up with a name."

A small smile slid across Haden's face. "Alright."

Stan walked back and forth from the Bio-Bed that Forth was laying on, to the chairs that they were sitting on while they waited.

"What's taking so long?" Stan whined.

"You heard the doctor," Eric replied. "She said it would start beeping when it was done."

"I know," Stan replied impatiently. "But she said it would only take a half hour, and it's almost been two half hours."

"Maybe if we went to get a snack, that would help the time pass faster?" Eric offered.

Stan quickly shook his head. "No way, I promised that I would be here when he wakes up."

Eric smiled. "I'm sure Doctor Green will not wake Forth up until we get back."

Before Stan had a chance to reply, a small beeping sound could be heard coming from the terminal to the side of the bio-bed. Instantly, Stan's eyes lit up. "There it is, the beeping!" Within moments, Stan took off running toward the doctor's office. "Doctor Green, Doctor Green, it's beeping!"

"Kids," Eric muttered to himself as he slowly shook his head.

"Aren't you a kid too?" Stan's bear Rocky asked.

"I guess," Eric replied. "But that's different.

A few moments later, A very impatient Stan was back with Doctor Green close in tow. "Hear that? Is that the right beeping?" Stan asked excitedly.

Doctor Green smiled and nodded as she walked over to the terminal. "Yes, that would be the beeping. Give me a few moments to verify the procedure results before we wake him up."

"Okay," Stan replied as he ran over to the side of the bio-bed and waited. "I'm all ready over here."

"I'm sure you are," Linda replied. "Well, looks like everything checks out. It seems the procedure was a success. I'm going to go ahead and turn off the sleep function, so you should be able to wake him up..."

"Forth? Forth? Wake up!" Stan called out as he nearly started jumping up and down.

"... gently," Doctor Linda finished.

"Oh, sorry," Stan replied, as he began to loudly whisper while jumping up and down. "Forth... Forth, Wake up!"

Both Doctor Green and Eric slowly shook their heads, as Forth slowly opened his eyes. "Stan?" he asked sleepily, "When is this going to start?"

"It's already done," Stan smiled "Do you feel any different now?"

Forth thought for a few moments, "I don't think so."

"Okay," Stan replied. "Come on, we need to go let everyone know you can sleep in the nest with everyone else tonight."

"Don't you think you should ask the doctor if he can go?" Eric asked.

"Oh yeah," Stan thought for a few moments before he turned to the doctor. "Can Forth go now? Please say yes, we have a lot to do before tonight."

"Yes, but..." the doctor replied as Stan began to pull forth off the bed until he fell onto the floor. "You need to be careful, he still might get dizzy or light headed for a few hours."

Stan looked toward the doctor and nodded as he helped Forth stand back up. "Okay, I'll keep an eye on him. And if he get's too light, I'll tie a piece of string to him." With that, Stan began to pull Forth out of the room.

"String? Never mind, I don't want to know," the doctor replied as she, Eric, and the bears all slowly shook their heads.

Haden paced back and forth for nearly ten minutes as he tried to come up with the perfect name. During this time, Daileass remained completely silent as he could feel how hard Haden was focusing, and he didn't want to pry too hard.

"I think I have it," Haden finally stated as he ran back over to the computer terminal.

"Cool," Daileass replied. What is it?"

"Icarus," Haden announced.

"That's an interesting name," Daileass replied. "What made you choose that one?"

"Well, while we were on Archnania, one of the things I started looking into was greek mythology. If I am remembering right, Icarus was the son of the master craftsman, Daedalus, and his name reminded me a little bit of Daileass.. You don't like it, do you?"

"Actually, I think that name will work well," Daileass replied. "Icarus... yeah, I kinda like it."

"Cool," Haden smiled.

"Although... There may be one minor issue," Daileass continued. "Didn't he die by flying too close to the sun?"

Haden thought for a few moments. "So, we just make sure we never create wings for him?"

"Works for me," Daileass replied. "Icarus it is then."

With that, Haden sat in front of the terminal, and entered in the needed commands to imprint the name on the new matrix before he started the initialization routines that would activate Icarus's low level functions.

"Okay, Initialization is started," Haden reported. "How long until the higher functions should come online?"

"The first set of functions should come online fairly quickly, within fifteen to twenty minutes. It will take a bit longer for all the functions to come online.'

Haden nodded. "Okay, I guess while we are waiting, I'll get started on connecting the new server silos to the legacy servers." With that, Haden went back to work, eagerly waiting for his and Daileass's son to show it's first sign of life.

Once Richie and Carrol had finished their homework, they, along with Terrence, joined Pat in the family room to watch TV for about an hour.

Once 9pm rolled around, Carrol and Richie decided to take Terrence upstairs to get him settled in for the night. Neither of the older boys were really wanting Terrence to be sleeping by himself, so they tried to come up with a way to get Terrence setup in their room.

Almost as if he knew what was going on, Pat appeared in the room about minutes later. "What do you guys think you are doing?" He asked as Richie was in the process of trying to move one of the beds.

"Getting a place for Terrence to sleep?" Carrol hesitantly offered.

"I don't think so, he'll be sleeping in the guest room," Pat informed them as he shook his head. "Come on Terrence, I'll show you where you will be sleeping."

Terrence looked toward the older boys as if looking for some support before he hesitantly walked to the door. As soon as he walked into the hall out of the room, Pat followed.

Richie flopped down on his bed with a sigh. "We can't let Pat do the same thing to Terrence that he did to us."

Carrol nodded in agreement.

About five minutes later, a creaking sound could be heard. It was the sound of Pat walking back down stairs, since his bedroom was on the first floor. "It didn't look like anything would be happening," Richie thought to himself. "At least not for now."

Richie laid awake in his bed for a rather long time, not really sure what to think about Terrence being added to their family, and what would happen if the worst were to occur. To his horror, about an hour after he had gone to bed, he heard the creaking of the stairs once again. A few moments after that, he heard the door to the guest room being opened.

For several minutes, Richie continued to lay in his bed with baited breath. Then, it happened. The first muffled cry could be heard coming from the guest room, exactly as he had feared.

The cries and occasional thuds continued for about ten minutes. Shortly after that, the sounds of the stairs creaking could be heard as Pat made his way back down them. Letting out a deep sigh, Richie knew what it was that he would need to do.

After waiting a few more minutes to make sure that Pat had made it back to his room, Richie crawled out of bed as quietly as he could, and emptied out his backpack.

"What'cha doing?" Carrol asked sleepily from his bed.

"Pat just did it to Terrence," Richie replied in a hushed voice. "I can't let him live through the same thing we had to, so I'm getting him out of here."

"No you're not," Carrol stated firmly.

Richie sent Carrol a look that dared him to try to stop him. He had already made up his mind as far as what had to be done, and he wasn't about to let Carrol talk him out of it.

To Richie's his surprise, however, Carrol jumped out of bed. "We're getting him out of here."

After spending a few moments to make sure the other boy was serious, Richie nodded, and both boys went to work gathering up the few things that they had and stuffing them in their backpacks.

A few minutes later, they carefully stepped across the hall and into the guest bedroom where they saw a shirtless Terrence curled up in the bed softly crying, with his back turned toward the older boys.

"Terrence?" Carrol called out as quietly as he could as he walked toward the smaller boy. "Oh god, Richie."

Richie followed Carrol to where Terrence was laying and sighed as he could see the bruises already forming on the boy's back. "Yeah."

Hearing the sounds of the older boys, Terrence hesitantly turned his head around to look toward them. "He's just like my old dad," he said through tear filled eyes.

"I know," Richie replied, "That's why we are getting you out of here."

"It doesn't matter," Terrence whimpered as he turned his head back away from the boys, "That's how all parents act."

"That's not true," Carol challenged. "My parents weren't like that."

"Pat's not your dad?" Terrence asked curiously as he turned his head back toward the boys.

Carrol shook his head. "No. They were killed in an accident when I was five. That's when the state sent me to live with Richie and Pat."

As Carrol and Terrence were talking, Richie found the pile of clothes that the boy had been wearing earlier. "Come on buddy, let's get you dressed real quick so we can get you away from here."

Terrence used his hand to wipe the tears out of his face so that he could look back and forth between both boys for a few moments. Not seeing any signs of deception from either boy, Terrence nodded and allowed Richie to help get him dressed.

Less than two minutes later, all three boys were carefully making their way down the stairs. Richie and Carrol were sure to show Terrence which steps he had to step over so that the creaking sounds would not be made.

As soon as they were off the stairs, Carrol made his way toward his skate board. Before he could reach it, however, Richie placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Terrence won't be able to keep up with us if we take those," Richie stated softly.

Carrol looked back and forth between Terrence and his skateboard, as if struggling with a huge decision. Finally, he nodded in agreement and turned to follow Richie and Terrence out of the house.

"So, what's the plan?" Carrol asked as the three boys made their way down the street, toward the city bus stop.

"I don't really have one," Richie admitted with a shrug. Before Carol could respond, he continued. "Right now I just want to get Terrence away from here... Away from Pat... I figure we can use our bus passes to go somewhere."

"Like where?" Carrol asked with concern. "And Terrence doesn't have a bus pass."

Richie sat on the bench that was positioned next to the small sign that had a picture of a bus, and the numbers '203' under it. "I don't know, maybe we can get to one of those homeless shelters or something."

Carrol shook his head, "That's not going to work, the only thing they will do is call Pat."

"Then we tell them what he did to Terrence," Richie challenged, "I don't know. I just want to get Terrence away from here. He doesn't deserve to go through that we had to."

"I don't want that to happen to him either," Carrol replied. "But it's just going to be Pat's word against ours. Who's going to take a kid seriously?"

"How can you say that after what we saw earlier today?" Richie asked as he leaned forward to see if he could see the bus approaching.

"Dude, you know that just had to be some publicity stunt that one of the casinos were putting on," Carrol answered. "You know they are not really going to let kids run around in army uniforms with real weapons."

"They looked pretty real to me," Richie shrugged. "I don't know, we'll figure something out."

Carrol nodded as he looked down at Terrence who was quietly sitting between them, looking straight ahead of him.

The boys sat in silence for the next few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. It wasn't until the beeping sound of the city bus pulling up next to them, that they each went scrambling for their bus passes.

Carrol was the first to find his pass, and quickly stopped on the bus and slid it through the reader. Richie had Terrence walk in front of him as he slid his pass through the reader as well.

Before the boys were able to step much further, the bus driver snapped his fingers getting their attention, and pointed toward Terrence.

"Oh, umm, this is our little cousin. He just got here today, and we won't be able to get his bus pass until tomorrow." Richie put on his best puppy dog face.

The bus driver sat there for several moments, most likely trying to decide if he wanted to make a scene by trying to throw the kids off the bus. Finally, he sighed. "Alright, I've seen you two on here often enough. Just make sure he get's his own pass tomorrow."

Richie nodded. "We will."

"Thanks," Carrol added as the boys quickly found themselves a seat as the bus slowly pulled away from the curb.

'Well that's probably going to rule out switching to another bus,' Richie thought to himself as he glanced out the window. 'Terrence not having a pass could turn into a big issue.' One of his thoughts were to ride the bus all the way to the strip and eventually to the main bus complex where they would have the option of getting onto any of the other buses, but now he might have to come up with another plan.

For nearly forty-five minutes, the boys sat on the bus as more and more passengers got on. As both Richie and Carrol quickly learned, the late night passengers were nothing at all like those that they would usually see riding during the day. The way that some of the people were looking toward them was really starting to creep both of them out.

Finally, when a rather drunk looking group of college kids got on the bus from one of the casino's, Richie had as much as he could handle. "I think we should get off at the next stop," he whispered toward Carrol who nodded in agreement.

"Hey," one of the drunk college kids called out as he walked by where the boys were sitting, "Isn't it a bit past your bed times?"

"Yeah, I think I heard your mommies calling you," another one said with a giggle.

All three boys just ignored them, as the bus approached the next stop, and quickly made their way toward the front of the bus so that they could get off.

As soon as all three boys were off the bus, Richie took a quick look around him to get his bearings. To his left, he could see the large black pyramid of the Karnak. To his right could be seen the well lit castle walls of Camelot. Whether it was by chance or by fate, they had ended up very close to where they had been earlier that afternoon.

"Is that a real castle?" Terrence asked as he looked in awe toward the Camelot.

"Not really," Richie grinned. "It's a hotel. But they do have a pretty cool dinner show that has knights fighting with real swords."

"And dragons?" Terrence added.

"I'm not sure about the dragons," Richie replied as Carrol nudged his side to get him to look behind them. Not far away were the same group of college kids they had seen on the bus. "Come on, let's get moving."

The three boys made their way down the strip occasionally stealing glances behind them to see the older kids were still following behind. Each time Richie or Carrol would look back, one of the teenagers would make some type of rude gesture toward them which would cause the rest of the group to laugh.

Not seeing anywhere else for them to go, Richie led the group toward the entrance of the Karnak.

"What are you doing?" Carrol asked with concern as he looked toward Richie. "You know what will happen if we get caught in one of the casinos without an adult."

As he walked, Richie looked behind him at the college kids and then back toward Carrol. "Do you want to stay out here with them?" he asked seriously. "Besides, as long as we stay in the main path and don't stop at any of the slot machines or tables, we should be fine."

Carrol nodded as they reached the main entrance and walked through one of the automatic glass doors that was open. As soon as they were inside the building, the atmosphere around them completely changed. Instead of being out in a slightly crowded street in the middle of the night with lots of shady, creepy people hanging around, they were now in a well lit and rather flashy indoor environment. All around them bells, chirps, and other sounds of electronic games could be heard, along with the occasional cheers of people winning at whatever game they were playing.

Once they had walked a few feet inside, Richie looked behind him to see if they were still being followed. Sure enough, the group of older teens were right behind them. To Richie's surprise, the automatic glass door quickly closed causing one of the teens to slam right into it, hurting his nose and causing him to spill his drink on his shirt. It didn't take long, however, for the teen to push the door open, allowing the group to walk inside.

"Let's go," Richie stated as he led Carrol and Terrence further into the casino. Before they knew it, they were completely swallowed by the rest of the crowd of people that were walking in the same direction.

As they walked, Richie figured that the good news was that they had probably lost their pursuers. The bad news as that Richie had no clue where they were going since everyone around them was much taller than they were.

Not wanting to stop to look around out of fear that the older kids could still be somewhere behind them, the three boys continued walking with the crowd for several minutes. Then, out of nowhere, a tall man wearing black slacks and a white security shirt stepped out in front of them, literally causing the boys to bump into him.

"Are you boys lost?" the man asked as he looked down at them.

Richie looked behind him and hesitantly back toward the security guard. "Sir, there are a bunch of college kids following us."

The man looked up and surveyed the crowd behind the boys. "I don't see anyone following you."

Richie looked behind again as well, trying to see if he could point out the group. However, he didn't see any of the teens that had been following them. And honestly, he had no way to tell how long ago they might have stopped following them.

"You guys know that no one under 18 is allowed in the casino area after 8pm, right?" The man asked as he looked back down at the kids. "Where are your parents?"

Richie swallowed hard as he struggled to think of something to say. This plan of his was getting worse by the second.

"Are you boys staying here in the Karnak? What's your room number?" The man continued to ask.

Richie looked toward Carrol who seemed just as lost as Richie was. The thought of trying to lie his way out of this came to mind, but he quickly dismissed that idea since he already knew that anything he said would not match up.

"I see," the man stated with a sigh as he look out his radio, "246 requesting 10-25 at station 6 with 10-41 times 3."

'Why do they always have to talk in code?' Richie thought to himself as they stood there for the few moments that it took for a second security officer to walk up behind them.

"Okay kids, this way," the first security officer stated as he took hold of Richie's shoulder.

The two men took the boys out of the crowd and through a 'staff only' door that lead into a long white hallway that lead to other hallways that were part of the behind-the-scenes area of the casino. Finally they arrived at the security station, and were lead into a small white room.

"You boys wait here," One of the security guards stated once all three boys were in the room. After waiting a few moments to make sure his instructions were understood, he closed the door behind him.

"Great," Carrol stated in a slightly panicked voice. "Now what do we do?"

"I don't know," Richie replied as he motioned toward the corner of the room where a small camera was mounted near the ceiling. "I guess we wait." Besides the camera that was watching them, the only other objects in the room were a small square wooden table, and 4 chairs positioned around it. Besides the door they entered from, and a large mirror on the opposite wall, there were no other windows or doors in the room.

"We're in trouble, aren't we?" Terrence asked as he pulled out one of the chairs and sat down.

"Probably," Carrol replied as he and Richie also took seats.

At least ten minutes had gone by while Richie, Carrol, and Terrence continued to sit at the small wooden table inside the holding room. As the boys continued to wait, small sobbing sounds could be heard coming from Terrence.

"What's wrong, Terrence?" Richie asked with concern as he looked toward the six-year-old who had his head down on the table.

"I got all of us in troub... trouble," the small boy sobbed, "and now... now you two are going to be beaten just like me."

"It's okay, I'm sure we'll find some way out of this," Richie did his best to try to reassure the small tyke, although he knew himself the chances of that were pretty slim.

"How?" Carrol asked. "They are probably calling Pat right now, just waiting for him to come pick us up."

Richie shot a stern look toward Carrol and then back up toward the camera.

Knowing immediately what Richie was referring to, and knowing how bad he might have just messed up, Carrol let his own head fall onto the table as well.

Just as Richie was about to say something to try to cheer Carrol up, the door to the room swung open. Instead of one of the security guards walking in, however, a boy who could not have been any older than fourteen, walked into the room dressed in a Las Vegas Police Department uniform.

"Hey guys," the boy said cheerfully as he closed the door and sat down in the empty chair, "What's going on tonight?"

"Are you a real police officer?" Terrence asked as his eyes were glued to the new arrival sitting down across from him.

"Sure am," the boy said as he took out his police badge, "Lieutenant Miles Fuller, LVPD Juvenile Sub-Station Four."

Carrol blinked as he looked toward Miles. "No offense sir, but aren't you a bit, um, young to be a cop?"

Lieutenant Fuller smiled. "If you guys had asked me that yesterday, I would probably agree with you. But as it stands, well, for now let's just say that we live in interesting times." After waiting a few moments to see if there would be any more questions about his age, he continued. "Okay guys, listen up. There are several different ways that this can go down. The specific way will depend completely on the answers you guys give me over the next few minutes. If you are up front and honest with me, then I can guarantee you that things will turn out better than you could possibly expect. If you try to lie or be deceptive in any way, then things will go down hill from there. Okay?"

All three boys hesitantly nodded.

"Don't let the uniform scare you, I really do want to help you guys out of this," Miles did his best to reassure them, "But I need you guys to work with me on this." Getting slightly strong nods from the two older boys, he continued. "First things first, what are your names?"

Carrol and Richie looked toward each other for a few moments, as neither boy was totally sold on trusting Miles. Finally, Richie shrugged and decided to take a chance. "I'm Richie, and that is Carrol and Terrence."

Miles smiled as he took out a small hand-held device and started typing on it. "Okay, that's a good start. Thanks Richie." After a few more moments of typing, Miles continued. "Now, for the harder questions. What made you guys decide to run away tonight?"

"We didn't...," Carrol began to say, before he saw the look in Mile's eyes begin to shirt. "Because of Terrence."

"Terrence made you run away?" Miles asked curiously.

"No sir," Richie shook his head, "Because Pat beat Terrence earlier and we... or I guess I didn't want him to have to live through that."

"Who's Pat?" Miles asked as he continued to type into his hand-hand.

"I guess he's my father," Richie replied reluctantly.

Miles nodded. "Was this the first time that you know of that Terrence was beat?"

"Yes, but..." Richie stated and then stopped himself.

"But?" Miles prodded as he put his hand-held back in his pocket.

Richie thought for a few moments before he answered. This was either going to go really good or really bad. Either way, he knew he couldn't let Terrence live through what he and Carrol did, so he had to take a chance. "Pat just brought Terrence home today, I guess he adopted him like he did Carrol. Tonight after we went to bed, he went into his room and beat him. And well... The only thing I could think of is that the past was happening all over again, because when Carrol and I were younger, he... well, you know..."

Miles shook his head but spoke in a reassuring voice. "What happened? I need you to tell me."

Richie seemed to have a problem saying it, so Carrol answered for him. "When Richie and I were Terrence's age, he use to beat us as well."

"I see," Miles replied. "Have you guys ever tried to tell anyone about this before? A teacher, a school resource officer?"

Richie shook his head. "No, Pat told us that if we ever tried to tell anyone, we would just get in more trouble, and no one would believe the word of a kid over that of an adult."

Miles nodded in understanding. "Okay, thanks for being honest with me guys. It was really brave of you two to try to get Terrence out of a potentially abusive environment. It was even braver of you to risk telling me about it."

Richie nodded. "So what happens to us now? Are you going to send us back to Pat?"

Miles nearly lost it. "Hell no, erm... I mean... definitely not." He then waited a few moments for the giggles to stop that came out of the other three boys as a result of his little slip-up. "I think it's safe to say that you guys will never be seeing Pat again. As of about two minutes ago, all three of you have been placed under the protection of Clan Short as wards of the clan."

"Clan Short? That really good band?" Carrol asked.

"They're more than just a band, haven't you been watching the news lately?" Richie shot back at Carrol before he looked back at Miles. "But what I don't get is how can we be under the protection of Clan Short? Aren't you part of the LVPD?"

Miles grinned as he stood up. "Who do you think is running Sub-Station Four?"

"Seriously?" Richie and Carrol asked in surprise.

Miles nodded. "Yup. So, are you guys ready to get out of here?"

"Sure," Carrol answered as all three boys stood up.

As soon as Terrence stood up, Miles walked over him and knelt down in front of him. "Terrence? I know what your old dad did to you, and I Know what Pat did to you. You probably won't be able to believe me yet, but I can promise you that the new family you are about to get will make sure that no one ever does anything like that to you ever again."

Terrence didn't reply, but he did hesitantly nod his head.

Miles sighed as he stood back up. "Okay, follow me guys."

Miles lead the group out of the room and down the hall to the security station where he checked the boys out with the security guard that was sitting at the desk. Once they were checked out, Miles led them a little further down the hall before he turned toward the boys. "Okay, we need to stop by the station real quick and then I can take you to meet your new family."

"Are we going to go in your police car?" Terrence asked.

"Not exactly," Miles grinned as a started tapping the small police badge that was above his left pocket. "Daileass? Daileass? Are you there?"

"I've been listening the entire time, Miles," the slightly younger sounding voice of another boy replied. "you don't need to hit your badge like that, you'll just end up breaking it."

"Oh, okay, right," Miles replied sounding slightly embarrassed which brought out more smiles from the other boys. "In that case, could you transport me plus three to the sub-station?"

"Sure, but only because Terrence seems like he would be a great new friend." Daileass replied.

"Me?" Terrence asked in surprise just as all four boys vanished.

With a heavy sigh, Haden closed the side panel to one of the new silo servers. "Okay, That's the last possible component to recalibrate," Haden announced. "Go ahead and try one last time, Icarus."

Several seconds went by until the soprano voice of a seven or eight-year-old replied. "I believe that has worked. I now have full connectivity to all silos. Thank you, Haden."

"Finally," Haden said with relief. "Okay, none of that was ever covered in any of the mock-ups we did on Archnania."

"Great job, Haden," Daileass stated. "I can also confirm that Icarus now has full connectivity. Although, I still don't understand why you didn't want to ask Noah, Calib, or one of the others for help on the calibrations."

Haden shrugged. "I guess it's like you said. Icarus was something special that you and I created. So... I don't know, I just figured it would be more appropriate to try to fix the problems ourselves.'

"That makes sense. So basically, even though it was not the fastest, or most efficient way of doing it. Because of the fact that it was something you and I were doing together, you applied more weight to that in regards to our son?" Daileass asked. Once he saw Haden nodding, he continued. "That's exactly the reason I was hoping you were using, as that really says a lot about how you see Icarus. Thank you Haden."

"I guess since you explained things to me earlier, I've been kind of seeing all this from a different perspective," Haden replied. "I don't suppose everyone is still at the water park?"

"No, they have all returned home a few hours ago," Daileass replied.

"Oh, okay," Haden yawned. "Do you still need me here?"

"Actually, probably not. Icarus is still going to need to re-hash all of his internal indexes and do several other startup tasks before it can start assuming control of the base functions, but none of that should require you to be here. I can let you know if anything comes up," Daileass reported.

"Cool, thanks Daileass." Haden replied as he stood up.

"By the way, Patterson and Clyde are in quad 1146 if you are thinking about trying to spend some time with them," Daileass offered.

"You know that is exactly what I was thinking," Haden smiled, "So why did you even have to ask."

"He was trying to be nice?" Icarus asked.

"I guess that works," Haden shrugged as he put away his work tools and looked toward the two 'brain' silos. "I'll see you later Icarus. You be sure to let Daileass or me know if any problems come up, okay?"

"I do not expect there to be any, but I shall if any do," Icarus replied.

Haden nodded and walked out to the hallway. "Okay Daileass, teleport me over to the quads, please."

In an instant, Haden found himself standing outside quad building 2. Just after he went through the door and began to walk down the hall, he passed Stan and Forth. To his surprise, he saw Stan holding a small piece of string that was tied around Forth's arm.

'Do I even want to know about that?' Haden sent mentally to Daileass.

'Probably not,' Daileass replied.

"Haden!" Clyde called out with surprise as he opened the door to his dorm room.

"Hey Clyde," Haden smiled weakly. "Sorry it took me so long,"

Clyde nodded understandingly. "That's alright. Daileass told us that you were tied up helping with delivering the new baby A.I."

"Delivering a... but I wasn't..." Haden began to say until his smile turned more into a grin. "Now that I think of it, I guess you could look at it that way."

Clyde nodded as he motioned for Haden to follow him in. "That's alright though. Paterson and I were just catching up on things, and we started to go over some of the history that we've missed."

"That sounds pretty cool," Haden replied.

"Not really," Clyde stated.

"We've been finding a whole bunch of problems with history," Paterson called out from where he was seated at the desk. "At least according to this box."

"What kind of problems?" Haden asked curiously. "Daileass should be pretty good at keeping information accurate."

"Well, for one thing, we've been watching a few documentaries on early american history and culture. There was one program called Cowboy Bob that we have been watching," Clyde answered.

"Haden? That program done got just about everything wrong!" Paterson continued with a high degree of concern in his voice.

Haden looked back and forth between Clyde and Paterson, and tried his best not to giggle at just how serious both of their faces looked. "Um, I think I might know your problem," Haden stated. "I don't think Cowboy Bob would be considered a documentary. I think it was meant more as entertainment."

"Which I could have told you about sooner, if you had mentioned that you were looking for more historical accuracy rather than just something to watch to pass-the-time," Daileass announced through the speakers on the terminal.

"You mean there's a difference?" Clyde asked with surprise.

"Oh yeah," Haden nodded. "You see, there is this place called 'Hollywood', where they make a lot of the television shows and movies that people watch. And usually they will get a lot of stuff wrong so that they can make things more entertaining."

"That makes no sense at all," Clyde replied. "How would making things intentionally wrong, be entertaining?"

"I don't believe that it is they intentionally make things wrong as much as it is, they allow realism to be sacrificed in favor of entertainment value." Daileass added. "For example, not many people would be that interested in watching the show if it focused on the hardships of frontier life. Where as, the action of the indians constantly threatening the village, and the cowboys having to ride in and safe the day provides a degree of entertainment for some people."

"But that's not how things were," Paterson protested. "Clyde and I knew a number of Apache, and they weren't anything at all like the indians in the show."

"I don't really know how to explain it," Haden shrugged. "I guess it's just that culture has moved away from caring about what's real and factual, and is more important with fantasy and entertainment."

"Maybe that's why things have gotten as bad as they have?" Paterson suggested.

Haden nodded. "It's probably a part of it."

"Anyway," Clyde decided to change the subject. "Paterson and I were just thinking about going to get a snack since we didn't really have dinner because of the late lunch. You want to join us?"

"Sure, a snack sounds like it would be really good right now," Haden agreed.

With that, Haden, Paterson, and Clyde made their way out of the quad and toward the event center where the dinning areas were at. As they walked, they passed Forth and Stan. Both boys were holding large bags of popcorn.

As they walked by, Clyde did a double take to make sure he saw what he thought he saw. "Did Stan just have a string tied on Forth's arm?"

Haden nodded and smiled. "Yeah."

"Why?" Clyde asked.

"I think there are some questions that are better left unanswered," Haden grinned.

When the boys finally made it to the event center a few minutes later, they were slightly surprised to see how many other kids were there getting snacks and small meals. Given that the kitchens were all open, Haden decided to take this opportunity to introduce Clyde and Paterson to one of his favorite foods... Pizza.

Thirty minutes later, the three boys were on their way back to the quads, talking about how surprisingly delicious the pizza was. Even though they were all stuffed, they were already making plans to start a more detailed investigation of this new pizza food starting tomorrow.

"Haden?" Daileass asked through Haden's comm badge as the boys walked back into Paterson's and Clyde's dorm room. "If you are not too busy, there are some important things that I could use your assistance with. Plus, I may have an interesting surprise for you."

Haden sighed and plopped himself down on one of the chairs as he rubbed his eyes. "Okay, sure Daileass."

"Did I say something wrong?" Daileass asked a few moments later. "There is a sound of reservation in your voice."

"It doesn't matter," Haden replied before he turned to Paterson and Clyde. "I guess I have to go again guys, sorry."

"Haden, it does matter," Daileass replied. "If I have somehow hurt you, or have done something wrong, I would like for us to be able to talk about it."

"It's nothing you did specifically, Daileass," Haden answered. "It's just... I don't know, It seems like I'm constantly on the go... go to the training planet... go develop a new server hardware system... deliver a baby A.I.... don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed doing a lot of that stuff but... It's just like... well, I just met Paterson today, and I've hardly been able to get to know him, and I guess I just feel a little worn out."

Several seconds went by before Daileass replied. "You're right, Haden."

"I am?" Haden asked with surprise.

"Unfortunately, yes," Daileass continued. "Ever since I first really got a chance to get to know you, I guess you could say that I liked you. As such, I really wanted to give you everything that I had to offer, and to really make sure you had all the opportunities possible. However, I may have failed to account for the fact that it might be too much too quickly. I've neglected to account for your need to take a break."

"It's not that I don't appreciate everything you have done for me, Daileass," Haden replied. "It's just... I don't even know where I live anymore... Do I live here in Vegas? Do I live over in Russia? Do I live on Archnania? I want to be involved, I want to help, I want to do cool things, but sometimes it's just..."

"I think I better understand the problem now," Daileass stated. "Actually, a few of the problems. I have two possible solutions for you. I will let you choose which you would prefer to do, and I promise I will not be upset or think any less of you regardless of what you choose."

"Okay," Haden stated, curious as to what Daileass might have come up with.

"The first option is that you can stay here in Vegas with Paterson and Clyde tonight. I will find other ways to take care of what needs to be done tonight. Then tomorrow I can show you the surprise I wanted to show you, and we can then take things from there."

Hade nodded. "And the second?"

"The second option is that you, Paterson, and Clyde could spend the night on Archnania. Then you really wouldn't have anyone else interrupting you, and you would have all the time you need to get to know each other better. Then, when you get back we could deal with the other stuff, if it is something you feel up to doing." Daileass answered.

Haden thought for a few moments. "I don't think Paterson and Clyde would like sleeping in the complex much."

"You would not be staying at the same place you were at when you developed the new technologies. In fact, I think I know a good spot you could sleep outside," Dailass replied.

"I don't know where this Archnania is at, but the three of us sleeping outside sounds like it would be cool," Clyde offered with Paterson nodding in agreement.

Haden also nodded in agreement. "I think the Archnania idea sounds better as well. That way I don't have to miss any of the other stuff going on. It's not that I am not interested, it's just that I feel a little tired, that's all."

"Haden, I understand, really I do. Me and the rest of my brothers have posatronic brains. Although we can sleep and dream like you, we don't require as much of it or as much downtime. You fit so well with us that sometimes it's easy to forget that you don't have a posatronic brain as well, and that you do need that extra downtime, and there is nothing wrong with that," Daileass replied.

"Thanks for understanding, Daileass," Haden stated as he stood up. "Well, I guess it's off to Archnania for us."

"Is it a long way away?" Paterson asked curiously as he and Clyde walked over to Haden. "Will we have to do that teleport thing?"

"You could say that," Haden grinned.

Before Paterson could inquire further, all three boys disappeared.

Patterson and Clyde were giggling with each other as they walked back into the camp that had become their home for the last three days. Expecting to be able to share some more quiet time together before the sun set, they were surprised to see Haden sitting in front of the fire, working on cleaning the last remnants of slime off his GEAR.

"Haden," Patterson called out as he can over to sit next to him with Clyde following behind. "I thought you would still be at the feast?"

Haden shrugged his shoulders. "I wasn't that hungry I guess."

"Looks like you got that cleaned up pretty good," Clyde commented.

Haden nodded. "The outside is pretty clean. But I still don't want to risk turning it back on until I can check it out with the equipment I have back home."

"At least you got it back," Clyde stated. "That's probably the important thing."

"And who knows, maybe not having it for a few days will end up being a good thing," Patterson added.

"I guess we did get to learn a lot about this place, didn't we?" Haden mused as he carefully slid his GEAR back into his backpack.

"Yup," Both Patterson and Clyde agreed.

"But I still can't help thinking about what Daileass told us right before we left," Haden continued. "About that important surprise that he needed to show us when we got back."

Suddenly, a large tree off to the side of the camp began to move, drawing the attention of all three boys. "Then... maybe... it's time... for you... to leave..." it's low voice spoke.

"Ack!" Clyde called out. "By all that is Holy, I will never get use to that."

"We're trying," Haden stated as he stood up and walked over to the tree that was addressing them. "But no one seems to want to take us, and it's going to take several days to hike there with the Scouts."

"Oh hum... dee hum..." the tree replied. "You haven't... learned anything... during your visit... have you?"

"That's not true," Paterson protested. "We've learned a lot."

"Then listen..." the tree demanded.

"Not this again," Clyde sighed.

"We have been listening," Paterson answered.

"It would help if someone would tell us what we were suppose to be listening for," Haden added.

"Just... listen...." the tree replied.

Not really interested in playing this game yet again, all three boys collapsed on the ground, with their backs against each other as if they were each looking out from a different edge of a triangle.

As the minutes went by, Haden could hear the sounds of Scouts singing at their feast down by the fire-pit. As the singing continued, he noticed that the sound was more than just the higher pitch voices of the young Scouts, but there was also a low base to the sound, actually, several bases. It was almost as if some of the trees had decided to join in the song. In addition to that, there were other sounds that he could hear as well. In some way, it seemed as if the rustling of the wind itself was part of the song.

"Do you guys hear that?" Haden asked.

"Yeah," Paterson stated, "It's beautiful."

In an instant, everything that Haden had been through with his new friends over the last three days had come into focus. "Listen... listen to the song...," Haden continued. "Oh my god, it's been under our noises the entire time."

"What?" Paterson and Clyde both asked at the same time.

"The song is not just something the Scouts sing," Haden stated. "But it's a song that is being song in unison with the rest of the plants and animals. We were never able to hear it because we had always been with the Scouts, and we were only hearing them."

Clyde nodded in agreement. "It does sound that way, but that would have to mean that everything is somehow linked together."

"Is that it, wise one? Is that the answer?" Haden jumped up and addressed the tree. "Is that what you have been trying to teach us? That everything here is linked together? The plants, animals, and even the people?"

"Arum..." the tree replied. "You begin... to understand..."

"I remember Xern saying that everything was linked together when we first arrived," Patterson commented, "But this brings linked together to a whole new level."

"Wait," Haden called out. "Wise one... If everything truly is linked together, does that mean you can talk to the Ancient for us? Perhaps get a message to him?"

"Well herm... and yes... for he has been watching... and listening... you need only ask," the tree replied.

"So he can send us back home?" Paterson asked hopefully.

The limbs of the tree seemed to nod up and down as a deep low voice seemed to rumble from not only the tree they were standing in front of, but also from several other trees that scattered around their camp. "I can."

All three boys jumped up and cheered at the same time. As soon as Paterson turned to give Haden a high-five, he suddenly stopped and began to stare past Haden.

Curious as to what Paterson was looking at, Haden turned to see Bleak and several of the other Scouts standing a few short steps away.

"Good job guys," Bleak smiled, "You have earned your first merit."

"What?" Haden asked with surprise. "But you told us that merits couldn't be earned by outsiders."

"You're right Haden, I did," Bleak nodded as he pulled three round wooden buttons out of his pocket. "But just now you have all come to realize an important lesson. It's actually the very first lesson any Scout learns. And that is that we are all one with the world around us. We are one with the animals, the plants, and in many ways, the elements themselves."

As Bleak spoke, he handed one of the buttons to each of the three boys. "You can not be part of something until you learn to understand it. As such, it isn't until the young ones are able to truly understand how everything is bound together as one, that we can truly welcome them as a Scout. Now that you three have come to truly understand this. You are no longer considered an outsider, and we can welcome you with open arms as a Scout."

Neither Haden, Paterson, nor Clyde really knew what to say. As such, they each stood there beaming with pride as all the other Scouts that stood behind Bleak walked up to each of them, and welcomed them in a manner similar to how they were welcomed when they first arrived. Only this time, they were not welcomed as guests, but were instead welcomed as brothers; as fellow Scouts.

When it was all over, Haden had to wipe a small tear out of his eyes. "I... I don't really know what to say. It meant a lot when you accepted us into your group even though we were outsiders. To be accepted as one of you now... I don't know what to say."

Bleak smiled. "You could say that you will visit us again soon." Seeing the surprised look in Haden's face, he continued. "We knew that as soon as you got your machine back, that you would be searching for a way home. The Ancient has shared much with us. The only thing we ask is that you don't forget us, and you visit us again when the opportunity arises."

"Definitely," Haden smiled as he embraced Bleak in a hug.

Out of nowhere, little Gessle ran up to Paterson and presented him with a finely crafted wooden wind flute. "This is for you,"

"Wow," Paterson gasped. "Really?"

Gessle nodded with a smile. "Maybe we can play together when you return."

"I don't think the leaves in our world will act in the same way the leaves here do," Paterson said as he took the offered wind flute, "but I will do my best to practice never the less."

With that, the group spent several minutes saying their goodbyes to each other, as well as making plenty of promises to return. When everything was said and down, Haden turned back toward the large tree that they were standing by. "Wise one, we are ready to return to our world now."

"Indeed you are... for now you go... until you return..." the tree spoke.

There was a small rustle in the wind as Haden, Paterson, and Clyde briefly shimmered before completely disappearing out of sight.

Haden, Paterson, and Clyde appeared in a large, well-lit, oddly shaped room. A low humming sound could be heard as the boys immediately began to look around and make note of the large metallic boxes of various shapes and sizes scattered around the room along with a large number of ropes of various thickness connecting them. At least, that is how Paterson and Clyde perceived things.

As far as Haden was concerned, he immediately recognized all kinds of different computer servers and electronic devices of various technology levels all seemingly interconnected somehow. Some equipment seemed newer than the pico-tech stuff they had just spent years developing on Archnania, while other equipment seemed to be 10 to 15 year old low-end civilian hardware.

"Where are we?" Paterson asked as 3 rather small hovering machines flew in from one of the several passages leading out of the room. The flying machines flew to positions a few feet away from and above the boys. Once they were in position, they each shot a thin fan-shaped beam of laser-light at a different boy. The fans of light started near their feet, and quickly made their way up past their heads.

Before anything else could be said, the light shows were over, and the small devices flew off in the direction from which they came.

Seeing the way the other two boys were looking at him, Haden did his best to answer the unasked question. "I'm not sure, but I think those were some kind of scanning devices. But I've never seen anything like them before."

"Hey guys," Daileass's voice echoed around them. "I hope the skimmers didn't frighten you. They are just part of the security system. They automatically scan and verify any new object that arrives here."

"Daileass?" Haden asked with surprise. "Where exactly are we. I don't think we are in a mental-scape, but I don't ever remember seeing this place."

"That's because you are in a very secure location several hundred feet underground that very few people have ever, or will ever see," Daileass answered.

"Oh," Haden replied. "Is there some kind of problem you need my help with?"

"Nope, no problems at all," Daileass stated. "This is part of the special surprise I mentioned before you guys left for your little vacation. If you walk down the passage directly in front of you, you will see what I mean."

As the boys began to walk down the passage that was in front of them, Haden continued speaking. "Yeah, about that little vacation you sent us on. We're going to need to have a little talk about that later."

"Why, did you guys not enjoy yourselves?" Daileass asked with concern.

"We did, it was more like..." Haden began to say but stopped in mid-sentence as he looked at what was in the next room they had just stepped into.

In addition to several small server boxes and other various electronic equipment, in the center of the room was a large silver oval-shaped object. It was suspended about 3 feet off the ground by a multitude of wires running to the floor, ceiling, and sides. It was almost like a spider sitting in the center of it's web.

"Is that another server?" Clyde asked curiously.

Haden slowly shook his head. "No. But if it's what I think it is..."

"I wanted you guys to get a chance to meet me," Daileass's voice echoed. "The real me, in all my shiny spender."

"What does he mean, meet him?" Paterson asked. "Don't we already know him?"

Haden slowly shook his head as his jaw nearly fell of. "This is... That means... " Haden did his best to get out. "Daileass? Is this you? Is this your positronic matrix?"

"His what?" Clyde asked.

"His Brain," Haden replied as he looked toward Paterson and Clyde. "If I'm right, and I'm pretty sure I am... This is Daileass's brain."

Suddenly, before Haden was able to explain anymore, a pair of hands wrapped around Haden's face, and covered his eyes gently. "Guess Who?" a voice whispered into his ear.

For a brief moment, Haden reflexively began to tense up, but he quickly remembered that he was in the heart of Daileass, and that this would be the absolute last place that anyone who might even start to think about hurting him, would be allowed. With that out of the way, he allowed his thoughts to move toward the more important issue.

The hands that were covering his eyes were small child-sized hands with arms that just barely touching his shoulders which suggested it was someone that was possibly his size, or a tad-bit taller. The boy's soprano voice had a gentle, soothing sound to it. In a way, it reminded him of someone, but he couldn't seem to put his finger on who.

It would probably have to be someone that Daileass really trusted, given where they were at. One of his first guesses might have been Alvin, or one of the other two eight-year-old logan clones. But he had talked with them several times before, and had even held their hands, from the sound and hand firmness, he was pretty sure it wasn't any of those three.

Haden's next thought was Viktor or one of the other Russian kids that he had met shortly before he left for training at Camp Casey on the training planet. But he quickly eliminated that possibility since not only were the hands of those kids much harder from the environment they lived in, and the work they had been forced to do, but there wasn't really any reason why Daileass would have brought them into his core.

The fact that they were in such a secure place really caused the list of possibilities to be somewhat short. It would most likely be someone else that Daileass really trusted, such as a family member. Adam's two younger brothers were Jory and Juan. Although he had met Jory briefly before his first Archnania trip, and was pretty sure it wasn't him. Juan was a possibility, as he didn't seem to remember ever meeting him. But then again, he had heard lots of stories about Juan through the link. Given the unique personality that Juan seemed to have, he was fairly sure this would not have been him.

With all of Daileass's immediate family eliminated, perhaps it could have been a close friend of the family. Suddenly it hit him. Over a month ago when he and his older brother first got involved with the Clan, they had spent some time in Orlando staying with Cory Short and the rest of the kids in the main Orlando division. Tyler Short, Kyle's boyfriend, was one of Cory's son's, and would be right around the right age. From what Haden remembered, he was also an empath, which meant that he would easily have a very soothing voice such as he heard.

Seeing that as his best possible guess, he slowly muttered "Tyler?"

"Nope." The voice giggled. "Would you like a hint?"

Haden mentally kicked himself. There was something about that voice, something he should be able to put his finger on but couldn't. For a brief moment, he had considered possibly asking Daileass, or just using his link to access one of the security cameras in the room that he was sure had to exist. But with no immediate threat of danger, where would the fun in that be? So instead, he hesitantly replied. "Um, sure."

Softly the voice began to sing into his ear.

"When you are weak

I will be strong

Helping you to carry on

Call on me, I will be there

Don't be afraid

Please believe me when I say

Count on...

You can count on me"

By the time the voice had reached the end, Haden was softly singing along with him.

As soon they finished singing the verse, Haden slowly began to shake his head. "No way... this can't be possible... Daileass?"

Daileass laughed softly into Haden's ear. "In the flesh.." He removed his hands from around Haden's eyes, and turned the boy around.

"Oh my god! It's really you?" Haden called out a close-to-hysterical sounding voice. "But... how? You're hands feel so warm and real!"

"Um, I thought Daileass was just a voice in the computer?" Paterson pondered aloud. "He certainly doesn't look like a computer."

"He is... or was... or... I don't know," Haden said as he finally decided to stop trying to say anything at all, and instead wrapped his arms around Daileass.

Daileass hugged Haden back tightly as a few tears dripped down from his eyes. he'd had emotions all along, but it'd been a long time since he'd actually cried. Still holding Haden tight to his chest, he looked over at Paterson and Clyde. "You know that place you were just at? and how time ran differently there? Well my brothers and I spent a long time figuring out how to make it so i had a body, but was still able to do everything I did before. This is the result."

"Really?" Clyde asked with surprise. "How in the world were you guys able to concentrate with all the talking trees and singing leaves there? That place was right out of some of the stories my pa use to read me when I was little."

"Hey!" Haden spoke with surprise after the hug broke. "I was there with you guys too. I never heard anyone say anything about a body for you."

Daileass giggled as he looked back and forth between Clyde and Haden. Finally his eyes settled on Clyde. "We were there for a LONG time. After a few years, those things become normal."

He then turned his attention back to Haden. "We did it mostly in secret, in case it didn't work. I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up, so we kept the list of people who knew real small."

"If you say so," Clyde replied. "Personally, I don't think I would ever get use to that. Either way, I'm just glad to see how happy Haden is over this. Paterson and I were trying to come up with ways to cheer him up all weekend."

"Dude, my GEAR was eaten by that huge slimy thing," Haden replied to Clyde. "You have no clue how long that took to make." Noticing that Paterson had been rather quite through all this, he glanced toward him to see him looking toward the ground. "What's wrong, Paterson?"

Paterson looked up in surprise, "Oh, it's nothing. I'm happy for you too."

Haden shook his head as he walked toward the eight-year-old. "It's not nothing, something's wrong. Now spill it."

"This is clearly suppose to be a special time for you, so we can talk about it later," Paterson commented.

"It's special for all of us," Haden offered. "Please tell me?"

Patterson shrugged his shoulders. "It's going to sound rather selfish, but when we had that big talk yesterday, or whenever it was on that other universe, you said one of the reasons that I was special and different from Daileass is that I was a person and we could go places and stuff together. And now... well.. Never mind, I think Daileass is going to be better for you anyway."

"What?" Haden replied in disbelief, "Paterson? No." Haden stood there for a few moments trying to figure out the right words to say.

Daileass released Haden and walked over to Paterson. Had Daileass not had all the experience he's had over the past several months, dealing with so many people, he'd probably have no idea how to deal with this. However, as he walked up to a very nervous Paterson, he simply opened his arms, and wrapped them around the boy, holding him tight.

Whispering in his ear, Daileass also transmitted what he was saying to Haden though their link. "It's okay Paterson, I know you're confused by what you're feeling. Because of that you really have no idea how to deal with it. I don't know yet if the love you have for Haden is like a brother, or something more, but you have a long time to figure that out. Trust me, I do have an idea of what you've been through lately. Being ripped out of the only place you ever knew, being brought to the future where everything is weird and different. I can only imagine what that was like.

"Everything is new to you, and you're confused. That's normal considering what's happened to you. But I want you to know one thing right now." Daileass pushed Paterson away from his till the boy was at arms length. Daileass looked right into the boy's eyes as he spoke. "No matter what happens, I won't allow Haden to forget about you, not that he ever would. I may have been around for a while, and seen a lot of things, but it's like seeing pictures of things. Now I get the chance to actually see them for myself. Just like you, I'll get to see a whole bunch of new and exciting things. I hope you, and Clyde, will join me, and Haden will be our guide."

Paterson looked closely at Daileass as he considered his words carefully. He was use to the other kids trying to take advantage of him, and needing to be able to quickly detect deception. But now, he couldn't find any such deception anywhere in Daileass's face or eyes. Although still not fully convinced, he gave a hesitant nod of agreement. "Okay."

Haden slowly made his way over to where Paterson and Daileass were standing. "I don't know how good of a guide I will make. As we just learned from our little trip, I have a whole lot to learn as well. So maybe we will be able to all help guide each other?"

"That sounds like a good idea." Daileass said with a smile. "Paterson. I don't know if Haden told you anything about what i can do or not, but are you familiar with what telepathy is?"

"You mean that head talking stuff?" Paterson asked.

"Not head talking stuff, more like mind talking stuff," Clyde offered as he walked over to join the conversation as well. "Haden was telling us a little about the special mind link he had with you and your brothers, and how you could always talk to each other and stuff, except that it didn't work where we were at because we were away from time, or something."

Paterson nodded in agreement as Clyde spoke, "Yeah, that."

"Okay." Daileass said as he stepped back and closed his eyes for a second. A moment later four nice chairs appeared in the room. He indicated for everyone to take a seat, and once they were, he started to explain where he was going.

Telepathy can be used for a lot of different reasons, either to hurt someone, or to help them. To protect people from others trying to hurt them, or to expose someone who is wanting to hurt others. I'm sure you can all imagine how easy it would be for someone to abuse the power?"

Getting nods from both Paterson and Clyde, Daileass smiled slightly and continued. "We have rules on when we're allowed to read someone with out their permission. Mostly it has to do with trying to figure out if they are a threat to any of the kids we're protecting." His smile grew broader as he spoke. "However, i can easily say that neither of you are a threat, so I can not simply read your minds with out you're permission."

"Why do you want to read us?" Clyde asked seriously.

"Honestly, I want to try and figure out what you guys need, and see what I can do to make sure you get it. I've found that most people don't really know what they need, or at least have a hard time explain it. Allowing me to read you would cut all of that out."

Knowing that Clyde had heard about this kind of stuff a lot more than himself, Paterson turned toward his best friend.

"Some of those triplet kids were telling us about mental scans and all when we were watching the trial that Brent was running, and one of them asked if it was okay to scan me," Clyde stated. "He didn't tell me about anything that I needed, but maybe you are better at it or something, so yeah, I don't mind you scanning me."

"It sounds a little scary, being able to look inside someone's head and all," Paterson commented as he was clearly trying to work through his answer as he spoke. "But, I don't really have anything to hide, so if you think it can help us, and Clyde and Haden are alright with it, then I'm okay with it too."

Daileass smiled gently at both of them, closed his eyes. The room was silent for several moments before Daileass's eyes opened again. He looked at Paterson for a moment before a smile started to spread across his face. "You'll be happy to know that what you guys need is really very simple." Daileass stood up, and the others got up as well. "First, let's head to Russia; The doctors will need to do a physical on both of you, and while they're doing that, I'll arrange things for the both of you. Don't worry, nothing will be made official with out you guys saying okay."

"Russia?" Paterson asked. "Isn't that like on the other side of the world?"

"We just took a trip to some other universe," Clyde commented. "Do you think these guys can't get us to another country just as fast?"

"Good point," Paterson agreed.

"Wait," Haden called out, "Why Russia... oh fuck!" He suddenly slapped his hands over his mouth. "I completely forgot about Paterson being really sick. And we were at Archnania for three days!"

Paterson tilted his head as he looked at Haden. "That rainbow haired kid that brought me here said that wasn't something I needed to worry about anymore. Besides, I've felt really good since I've been here."

"Oh, okay," Haden sighed with relief. "Did you find another problem with them, Daileass?"

"Nope... it's just standard procedure." Daileass said out loud, but through the link, Daileass said to Haden only, 'I've found something interesting, but nothing bad. If what its what i think it is, then life will actually be a lot better for at least Patterson."

Haden sent a hug through the link to Daileass and nodded as he spoke out-loud. "Okay."

After getting nods from the other two, Daileass and Haden both shimmered for a moment. when they came back into solidness, they were both wearing their full uniforms. Daileass grinned at the shocked look on all three faces before explaining. "With everything that's going on in Russia, there's a lot of people that don't know anything other then the uniform. By wearing this, we won't get stopped as much."

A moment later, all four of them shimmered out of the Core room.

Haden, Paterson, Clyde, and Daileass appeared in the waiting room to the main medical facility on the Russian Palace grounds. Daileass walked up to the front desk, and spoke briefly with the person behind the desk, before motioning the other three to follow him into the back.

When they got back there, he introduced them to the on duty doctor, a kid of about thirteen years of age. "Guys, this is Doctor Vince Cartwright. Dr. Vince, these two guys are Paterson and Clyde. If you don't mind, I need you to do a full physical on both of them.

"No prob. Daileass." The kid said before turning to Paterson and Clyde. "Hi guys."

"Hi, Doc," Clyde replied cheerfully.

"Doctor?" Paterson asked with concern.

Clyde grinned as he looked toward Paterson, knowing exactly what he was thinking. "Don't worry, all the doctors in the clan are really nice doctors, nothing at all like old man Wagner back at the village. They won't use leeches, give you really bad tasting stuff, or anything."

Seeming to accept Clyde's reassurance, Paterson looked toward the doctor and nodded. "Hi Vince, I'm Paterson Ferris."

Vince smiled warmly in response. "It's great to meet you guys. Now, if you would like to step over here, we can begin."

"Haden, do you think you will be alright keeping an eye on things?" Daileass asked. "I need to step away for a few moments."

"Um, sure," Haden replied.

With a wave, Daileass vanished from the room.

After Daileass was gone, Haden turned toward Paterson and gasped as he saw Paterson in the process of taking his clothes off. "Paterson, what are you doing?"

Once Paterson had his shirt off, he shot Haden an odd look. "Didn't Daileass say full physicals? Well, every time I've had to go for a full physical, the doctor has always wanted me to strip."

As the two boys spoke, Clyde did his best to not break out in laughter. "Oh yeah, I think I forgot to mention that part," he jumped in drawing Paterson's attention. "All the clan doctors use special beds that can see through our clothes, so we don't have to take anything off."

"Oh," Paterson replied, as his face began to blush. "so no getting undressed?"

"Not unless you don't want to," Haden blurted out before he realized what he was saying and then began to blush himself. "I mean... um... yeah, you can get dressed."

"Right," Paterson said as he began to put his shirt back on.

Once Paterson had finished getting dressed, and Doc Vince helped him onto the bed, it only took a few short minutes for him to start the in-depth scans on both boys.

"So, how long until he starts?" Paterson asked after he had been laying on the bed for a few minutes.

"Actually, I'm just about done," Vince called out from the console he was standing out. "In fact, Haden, you can help both of your friends down if you would like."

"Was he serious?" Paterson asked as he sat up, "Was that it? Is he really done? I didn't feel anything."

Haden was about to answer as he was helping Clyde down, but Vince jumped in first. "Yes, I really am. If you would like, all of you may come over here and I will show you."

As soon as both Haden and Clyde helped Paterson down, all three boys ran over to where the doctor was standing. Once the boys were there, Vince pressed a few keys and on one of his monitors were two different images of Clyde, while the second screen displayed a bunch of numbers and other information.

Seeing the confused looks on Clyde and Paterson, Vince began to get into a brief description of the different information that was being displayed. After he finished a few minutes later, Clyde looked toward him. "So, basically you are saying that I'm not going to die, right?"

"Um, yeah," Vince blinked. "I guess that's another way of putting it."

"Cool, thanks doctor." Clyde smiled

"Not a problem?" he replied as he began to press buttons again. "And now, for your results Paterson."

This time, the screen showed only a single image of Paterson, and most of the information on the second screen was filled with red flashing letters.

"Is that a bad thing?" Paterson asked with concern.

"I don't really know," Vince replied as he looked closer at the information and typed some more keys. "I've never seen something like this before. It looks like results are being classified as the data is being processed. That can't be right."

"Actually, doc, it is," Daileass's voice stated through the room speakers. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to need to ask that you please not worry about it any further."

Vince did not seem happy about Daileass's proclamation, but nodded in acceptance. "Very well, I'll leave everything in your capable hands Daileass."

"Thanks, Vince," Daileass replied. "Please understand this is not something that is being done lightly. You have been doing an exceptional job here, and I've heard nothing but praise for your work."

"Thanks," Vince replied, cheering up a little.

'Haden?' Daileass spoke inside Haden's head after he had finished talking to the doctor. 'I'm still going to be a few more minutes. Would you mind maybe taking Paterson and Clyde to the dinning hall to grab something to eat?'

'Sure thing,' Haden sent back before he spoke aloud, "Hey guys, you two want to taste some of really yummy Russian foods?"

"Sure!" both boys immediately replied.

"Okay, come on then," Haden called out as he made his way toward the door. Paterson and Clyde were very close behind him.

As soon as the boys stepped into the dinning hall, the aroma of all the various foods that were cooking, hit them.

"Wow," Clyde immediately commented. "I don't know what that is, but it sure smells good."

"Oh yeah," Paterson agreed. "I almost want to say it smells like duck, but I'm not really sure."

"Okay, I knew it was going to smell good, but this is a lot better than normal," Haden added as he lead Paterson and Clyde past the rows of tables toward the serving tables that were on the other side of the room. "Everything is pretty much setup cafeteria style, which means you will see different plates of food, and you can take which ever plates you want to eat."

Once Paterson and Clyde both nodded in understanding, Haden handed each of them trayes.

"About time you decided to show back up," a young sounding voice called out from the other side of the counter.

"Viktor!" Haden called out with surprise as he looked at the seven-year-old russian boy. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, dah," Viktor grinned at Haden's surprise. "You don't think I spent three years on the training planet learning to how to cook from Chef Ron for nothing, do you?"

"I guess not," Haden grinned. "Oh, Paterson, Clyde, this is Viktor, he was the very first friend I ever made here in Russia."

"Hi," both boys replied.

"This doesn't smell like Chef Ron's cooking," Haden commented as the boys began grabbing small plates of food. "It actually smells a bit better."

"Of course it's not," Viktor stated as he wiped off his hands came around to the other side of the counter to meet Haden's new friends. "I'm actually working on combining some of Chef's recipes with some Russian recipes. You guys will have to let me know how they taste."

"If they taste anywhere close to how they smell, I can probably already tell you," Clyde commented as the boys took their trays to one of the tables and began to dig in.

"I know it!" Paterson called out. "This roast duck! Humm, and is that a small taste of salmon?"

"Damn, you're good," Viktor nodded, "I wasn't really expecting anyone to get that. Generally you wouldn't think the two would go good together, but with the blend of spices I'm using, I think they make a good combination."

All three boys nodded as they continued to chow down the various dishes that they were eating. As they did, Haden and Viktor spent a few minutes catching up. Haden told Viktor as much as he could about the non-secure things that he had been doing since he left, as well as hints about his other trips he had taken off planet, while Viktor filled him in on Andry, Boris, and Georgy, including the fact that Georgy was just about to finish his full medical certification.

"Well, I best be getting to helping in the kitchen," Viktor stated as the boys were finishing up their last plates. "There are going to be a whole bunch of hungry people here for lunch, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us."

After taking their trays to the dishwasher, and saying their goodbyes, Haden led Paterson and Clyde toward the door.

"So what happens now?" Clyde asked once they were back outside. "Not that I'm complaining, but how long are we going to be staying here in Russia? It's REALLY cold out here."

"That's a good question," Haden replied as he too found himself wishing that he had brought his warm winter coat with him.

'Haden, I think we are just about ready' Daileass sent to Haden mentally, 'But I think there is something you should probably know before I teleport you guys over.'

Already feeling the increase of emotions through the link, including some emotions from Logan that he couldn't really put into words, he hesitantly replied. 'Okay, what's up?'

In an instance, Daileass sent Haden a mental dump of the events which just occurred in one of the conference rooms as Daileass was meeting with several of his brothers as well as momma Janet and pappa Joe.

"Oh damn," Haden spoke in shock, totally forgetting to send his response mentally.

"What's wrong?" Clyde asked as both boys looked toward Haden with concern.

Realizing his mistake, Haden shook his head as he tried to figure out what to say. "Um, it's nothing.. well nothing bad... well... I think we just need to wait." As he finished, he was looking directly in Paterson's eyes, which caused him to blink."

"It doesn't sound like anything's wrong, but okay," Clyde replied. Paterson stood there, saying nothing as he tried to figure out the cryptic meaning in Haden's words.

"Hey guys," Daileass's voice spoke through all three of their comm badges, "I'm sorry any of you have been getting concerned by how careful and hesitant we've been acting. I just want to assure you that this really is something good. But it's also something that we had to be absolutely sure about before saying anything."

"That's okay, Daileass," Clyde replied. "We know you have a lot of other important stuff going on."

"Actually, believe it or not, you guys are the most import thing going on right now. Or, to be more exact, Paterson," Daileass stated. "If you guys are up to it, there are a few people that I would like Paterson and Clyde to meet. Then I will also explain what all the fuss is about."

"Okay," All three boys agreed. In an instant, they all vanished from the porch of the dinning hall.

All three boys appeared inside a conference room with a large round table with a bunch of chairs placed around it. Although most of the chairs were empty, five of them on the other side of the table were filled.

Moments after they arrived, a blond haired woman in her mid thirties gasped. Covering her mouth, the woman began to stare intensely at Paterson, causing the boy to take a nervous step closer to Haden.

Daileass jumped out of his chair, and ran over to Haden, Paterson and Clyde. "Come on guys, why don't you have a seat," he said as he walked them around the table. "I'll introduce you to everyone."

As he did this, Daileass made sure that Paterson was sitting next to a black-haired fourteen-year-old, who was sitting next to a slightly younger boy with sandy blond hair. Although Paterson had no clue who they were, Haden immediately recognized them as Adam Casey, head of the UNIT, and Logan Hayes, UNIT's Intelligence commander, and more importantly Adam's boyfriend and the person he had originally come to Russia for yesterday, to help out.

Once they were all seated, Daileass began the introductions. "Paterson, Clyde, I'd like to introduce you to Adam Casey, Commanding officer of the Clan Short's Military. His partner and also Chief Intelligence Officer, Logan Hayes. Next to Logan is Mamma Janet Hayes, his mother, as well as the mom for more then six thousand kids."

Daileass couldn't help but chuckle at the stunned faces of both Patterson and Clyde. "Next to her is Daddy Joe Casey, Adam's dad, and dad of the same six thousand plus kids."

"Six thousand?" Paterson gasped. "You must be Catholics."

"Thankfully." Joe said with a chuckle. "We each only have one child that is ours by birth, the rest have been adopted."

Once Paterson and Clyde seemed to calm down a little, Daileass continued. "When I looked into your minds, the one thing that stood out is that you guys didn't feel you belonged. You missed your families, and didn't know what to do. So I asked Mamma Janet, and Daddy Joe if they would be willing to adopt you guys like the did the rest of us."

Clyde looked toward Paterson and then back toward Daileass. "What do you mean adopt us? From what Brent was telling us yesterday, wouldn't Paterson and I already be kin, or what did he call it... wards of the clan?"

Logan stood up and moved to sit on the table next to Daileass, looking down at the two young, eight year old boys. "Well that depends. Wards of the Clan mean that every member of the Clan would be like your parents. It would be like have a whole bunch of people that would look out for you, and make sure that you had everything you need. If you agreed to have my mom and dad adopt you, then you would be my brother, not one of my sons."

"Alright," Clyde replied in understanding. "But if they have already adopted six thousand kids, why would they adopt us? And wouldn't that take a really big house for us all to fit in?"

Logan chuckled. "First off, they would adopt you, because you need it. That's how they work. That's what the Clan does. They find kids in need, and help them. As far as a house goes, well we do have one BIG house, it holds about twelve thousand people. But not all of our family lives there."

Logan paused as he got up, and then walked to the spot in between the two boys, and knelt. "I'll explain how that all works later on, but there's something else I need to talk to you about." He said the last part while looking right at Paterson.

Paterson looked a little nervous but nodded anyways. "When Dr. Vince did his scan on you, something interesting came up. Before you ask, there is nothing wrong with you." Logan said with a little chuckle, which turned into a full laugh at Paterson's relieved look.

"What we found is kinda hard to believe, but we're 100% positive that it's true." Logan reached out and took Paterson's hands into his own. "Some how, you and I are already brothers." Logan paused for a brief second. "Your father was also mine."

Paterson scrunched his face as he was clearly struggling to understand what the tall blond thirteen-year-old was telling him. Slowly, a look of realization came across his face. "So... you were brought here from the 1800's like Clyde and me? But how could that be? Papa never mentioned anything about me having an older brother."

Logan shook his head. "I'm not sure yet, But I can promise you I intended to find out. However the one thing I do know is that Mom and our dad knew each other since they were little kids. As far as we knew, dad died when I was three. We didn't come from the past like you guys did, which means, he must have went into the past."

"Huh?" Paterson's look became even more confused, "Are you sure about that? That doesn't even seem possible."

"Wait a minute," Haden jumped in hesitantly. "Logan? If Paterson is your brother.... does that mean... he's like you?"

"What do you mean, like him?" Clyde asked as he looked toward Haden.

Logan sighed and looked at Haden for a moment. He sort of wished it hadn't been brought up yet, but he couldn't be angry at Haden for asking. It was a very legitimate question. Looking back at Paterson, Logan spoke to both of them. "He may have some of the same traits that I do, but I doubt he is the same. Paterson, let me ask you a few questions, okay?"

The young boy looked nervous, but nodded anyways. "Have you ever been sick? You know, like a cold, or stomach ache, or anything like that?"

Paterson thought for a few moments. "Well, a few weeks ago, I got a bad cough that I couldn't get rid of and I started feeling really weak. And when Haden appeared, the guy in his head said that I was going to die in a few weeks. But before then, I was never sick. In fact, the doctor in our town would always make jokes about how something wasn't right about how I never got sick... and said one day it would catch up to me, which I guess it did."

Logan nodded, while Janet reached for the Padd again, and started to look though it fully. Trying to keep Paterson from worrying about what Janet was doing, he thought quickly, then came up with an idea. "In your schooling, did you get into maths at all?"

"I can answer that one," Clyde jumped in. "Miss Simmons hated Paterson, because he would always be correcting and challenging the math and science stuff that she would be teaching."

Paterson sighed and slowly began to sink down in his chair. "Gee, thanks Clyde."

Logan laughed out loud, which earned him a hurt look from Paterson. "No Paterson, I wasn't laughing at you. I was just remembering my first grade teacher always telling me that kids my age didn't have to worry about things like that." He squeezed Paterson's hands slightly. "I'm sure you're heard of collages or universities." When Paterson nodded, Logan smiled and continued. "Last year, just before I met Adam, I graduated from college. I was so smart that the teachers skipped me to the highest level of normal schooling when I was nine. It sounds like you might have gotten some of that too."

"Really? Wow," Paterson replied with surprise as he sat back up in his chair, "so you don't think I'm daemon spawn or anything because I'm good with numbers?"

"No." Logan said with a chuckle. "I've met some Demon Spawn... you're certainly not one of them." The way he said it made it unclear if he was joking or not.

Both Paterson and Clyde nodded at Logon's response. As neither boy could figure out if he was joking or not, neither could really think of anything to say.

Janet came over and gently pushed Logan out of the way, so she could squat down between the two new boys. "What my 'loving' son is trying, badly, to say is this. I know a lot of stuff is new and different for you guys. It takes a lot to deal with being ripped out of everything that you've even known, and dumped somewhere completely new. But we'd like to help you guys deal with it. We'd like it if you guys would join our family."

Joe came over and squatted down on the other side of Paterson. "Yeah, we've got a lot of kids, and we do the best for them that we can. But we also have a core family that's a lot smaller. That's the one we would like you guys to consider joining. You don't have to move in with us, or anything like that. All you would need to do is know that we're there for you if you ever need anything."

He looked directly at Paterson as he spoke this next part. "I know I could never replace someone's father, especially one that loved loved their son. But, if either of you would let me fill in when you need it, I would be honored."

Paterson had tears flowing down his face by this point. He'd been trying to be strong, just like his dad would have been, but what he just heard made him loose the control he had on his emotions. Not able to form words, Paterson nodded and threw his arms around Joe. At the same time, Clyde smiled and Janet, and hugged her.

Daileass smiled as he sat back. It might have been a bit rough there for a bit, but he always loved being able to watch a new family form, especially when it made his family bigger.

As Daileass continued to sit and watch Paterson and Clyde bonding with their new parents as they started their new life, he felt two small arms drape around him from behind. "Thanks Daileass," Haden whispered as he wrapped him in a hug, "I think this is the best gift ever you could have given them."

Ardell yawned as he stepped into the main control center. As he expected, most of the night team were still at their stations. Even with as crazy as events had been over the last week, he was pleased to see just how well everyone had responded, and how much work had gone into trying to keep things somewhat normal.

One thing that did surprise him, however, was to see both Ritem and Ethros huddled together at the ops station. Just as he was about to say something about it, he also saw Anwern standing off to the side typing away on his data pad. "Morning guys," he said, catching the attention of both Midget team leaders. "I was just about to ask what both of you were doing here, but I guess with Anwern here, that pretty much answers it."

The youngest of the two boys, Ritem, looked back toward Ardell and grinned. "KLAUS finished his analysis of the Eryradain."

"Really?" Ardell looked toward Anwern. "So I take it you decided to go ahead with your plan after all?"

Anwern nodded without looking up from his pad. "A perfect opportunity presented itself, so I decided to jump on it. Besides, we needed the information."

Ardell sighed, even after knowing Anwern and his brothers for as long as he did, he has yet to have been able to figure them out. Why would he have called for the meeting yesterday to discuss all of this if he had already planned on going ahead with it in the first place? Regardless, this did take care of answering a number of tough decisions that were left un-made; decisions which given everything else going on, he personally hadn't had a lot of time to focus on, so perhaps this would turn out for the best.

"Okay, so what did you come up with?" Ardell asked curiously.

[Based on the scans that Anwern's hand-held made, I've been able to completely eliminate any possible direct links between Eryradain technology and pre-fall Human technology.]

"Thanks KLAUS," Ardell stated. "So were we wrong about their technology being biological based?"

Anwern shook his head as he walked over to the empty science station and linked his hand-held to it. "Their tech is bio based, but where as the pre-fall focus here was on the genetics side, they seem to have focused on the neural side. Think of it as current time electronics, but with using neural structures instead. It's actually rather impressive when you get down to it. Their entire scientific development has taken a completely different path than ours."

"I'll take your word for that," Ardell replied as he tried to keep his head from swimming from all the tech talk.

"Oh, and I've changed my mind about that Haden kid," Anwern added as an after thought.

"You talked with him?" Ardell asked in surprise. "I thought we had all decided..."

Before Ardell could continue, Anwern stopped him. "Relax boss, I didn't mention anything to him. Let's just say I spent a few minutes picking his brain a bit."

Ardell hesitantly nodded. "Fine. I guess he must have really impressed you."

Anwern went back to typing on his hand-held. "Knowledge-wise, he doesn't know any more than the other contemporaries that we have looked at. However, as far as his conceptual, intuitive, and theoretical skills go. Well, let's just say I think Barrett will get along well with him, should he ever decide to meet him."

"If that's the decision that Barrett makes, then we will deal with that when it happens," Ardell stated. "But, as I said from the beginning, it's a choice that Barrett will have to make if and when he feels comfortable about it."

"I know," Anwern defended. "I'm just letting you know."

Ardell nodded. "KLAUS? Based on what Anwern gathered for you, does this impact your feelings toward the clan?"

[It does not. Although the new information that Anwern has acquired strongly suggests that Eryradain tech is going in a different direction technology wise, and that we may have gotten lucky this time. As quickly as top-side technology is increasing, and with as many new alien cultures humans seem to be meeting, I believe it may only be a matter of time until we are not as lucky. With that being said, out of all the possible groups that exist, if we set aside the fact that they are one of the newest, I believe that they would prove to be one of the more trustworthy, as well as among the most likely to be compatible with our culture. I still stick to my belief that in many ways, they have many characteristics similar to how our group started out back in the early days.]

Ardell thought for a moment. "True, but it is still a big risk."

"Isn't this the same group that mama was considering contacting before she..." Ritem commented as his words trailed off as he got close to the topic that he knew was a sore spot for everyone in the room.

Ardell stood there for several moments, letting all the information and thoughts settle in his head. In many ways he knew that Ritem, Nyo, and the others were right. Although all the lessons they had learned over the years still weighed heavily in his heart, he also knew that he couldn't put this off any longer. With the speed at which this new group of kids were growing and acquiring technology, the best time for them to meet was very quickly approaching, unless it has already passed. "Okay KLAUS," he finally decided. "You are still in contact with their Daileass A.I., right"


Ardell nodded. "Okay, let's do this. Go ahead and get a meeting setup."

[I don't suppose I need to remind you that the circle has not made a final decision on contacting the clan yet, right?]

Ardell thought for a moment and sighed. "I know. I've been Ternios for how long now, and very rarely do I invoke that authority. However, I think this is one of those times that we can't really afford to sit around and wait for weeks while the matter is discussed in council. So I think I need to use that authority now and then we can deal with the circle later."

[Very well. For what it's worth, I believe you are making the right call. However, I needed to make sure you were aware of the possible ramifications.]

"Thanks KLAUS," Ardell replied. "Now, let's see if we can get that meeting setup."

"You're planning on bringing them here?" Ethros asked with concern.

Ardell shook his head. "Maybe, but not at first. Let's see if we can find a more neutral location to start with. Perhaps some type of public location, that way both of our groups will feel a bit safer."

[Since most of our core team resemble children, and since they mostly are children; might I suggest a location where it would not be out of place for a group of children to be seen?]

Ardell thought for a moment. "Makes sense. What did you have in mind."

"I've always liked the parks," Ritem offered.

"Parks would work," Ardell agreed.

[There are a few nice public parks in the St. Petersburg area that we could use.]

"Make it happen KLAUS," Ardell stated as he turned to leave. "I need to go check on the others. But, when you have everything arranged, let me know, and I'll head up the group."

[Ardell, are you sure that's wise?] KLAUS's youthful voice asked filled with concern.

Ardell stopped walking and slowly shook his head. "You mean is it the safest? Maybe not, but I think this is one of those times where we can't afford for this meeting to go wrong. So I think it's necessary." After waiting for a few moments and hearing no response, Ardell continued out of the room.

As Janet, Joe, Adam and Logan continued to spend time bonding with Clyde and Paterson, Daileass led Haden out of the conference room. He had told the others that he was going to steal Haden for a few minutes so that Haden could help with a few things. Even though he had mentioned it twice, he was almost certain that none of them heard him.

As soon as they were out of the conference room, both Haden and Daileass vanished, and re-appeared several hundred feet underground, deep inside of Daileass's core. Just like the first time Haden arrived, within seconds two small flying devices quickly flew into the room and briefly scanned them before flying back out.

As Haden looked around, he noticed that they were in a slightly different room than the ones he had seen earlier. This room contained, among other things, some type of modified bio-bed, and a number of different monitoring stations.

"So, did you really need me to help you with something, or were you just looking for an excuse to get me out of there?" Haden asked.

"Yes," Daileass replied with a goofy grin just before he began to walk around the room and look at the displays of the various stations.

"I did want to get you out of there, partially because I knew you were feeling a bit uncomfortable, and I knew Clyde and Paterson were feeling a bit uncomfortable with them getting all the attention and you being left out," Daileass spoke in a more serious tone. "With you out of the way for a few minutes, this will let them focus more on their new family."

"Makes sense," Haden replied as he began to glance at the bio-bed, trying to guess at what some of the modifications that had been made to it, were for.

"At the same time, there is something I would like you to do, if you are interested in doing it," Daileass continued while turning back to Haden.

"Sure, what is it?" Haden asked as he walked over to where Daileass was standing. Something in the shift of Daileass's tone began to concern him.

"Do you remember yesterday when you came across the mention of KLAUS in our link while you were finishing the Icarus setup, before you left on your overnight trip, and I asked you to not worry about it for now?" Daileass asked as he reached his arms around Haden and held him close.

"You mean the overnight trip that turned into a bit more than just overnight?" Haden asked with a slight smile, "Yeah. I stayed away from it like you said."

"Yes, you did. I know that was hard for you to do, and I really appreciate that. Well, there have been a few new developments, and I think we may need to talk about it sooner than I had thought." Daileass stated.

"What do you mean?" Haden asked questioningly, as he stood there enjoying Daileass's embrace.

"You're aware of ARK, right?" Daileass asked.

"That really old knowledge archive A.I. that was found near the South pole, and where some of the clan got phasenmorphs from?" Haden replied.

"Correct. Like ARK, we believe KLAUS may have been around for a long time as well. Which of them is older, We're not really sure. And, although they both may be considered intelligent systems, from the few conversations I have had with KLAUS, I think I can safely say he has a much more personable attitude."

"So KLAUS is better than ARK?" Haden stated with a grin.

"Absolutely," Daileass smiled back. "But seriously, I don't know if better is the right term to use. I would say that they are different."

"Right," Haden nodded. "But we are at least pretty sure that KLAUS is friendly?"

"From everything that I've seen so far, I believe he is. The two of us have been in contact with each other for the last couple of days. Just like the clan, KLAUS has his own group of people that he"s been protecting. Some of these people are a lot older than they appear, and have been hurt a number of times in the past; so they've been a bit hesitant in meeting with us, or anyone from the surface for that matter, since they didn't know if we would hurt them or not."

"Why would we do that?" Haden asked as he pushed himself away from Daileass, so he could turn to look directly toward him.

"We wouldn't," Daileass answered. "However, they don’t know that. And, when you've been hurt a lot, then you start to expect to get hurt more in the future."

Once Daileass saw Haden nod in understanding, he continued, "Anyway, I've just been contacted by KLAUS a few minutes ago, and we both agree that we would like to have our two groups meet, and start to get to know each other. We're thinking a small group at first, maybe no more than five or six people, and probably somewhere that's out in the open with a lot of other people."

"Like a mall, or something?" Haden asked.

"Something like that. We're actually thinking one of the large public parks here in St. Petersburg. It would be in the open, and wouldn't be out of place for a bunch of kids to be seen meeting together." Daileass answered.

Haden agreed. "Okay, that makes sense. But why are you telling me all this now?"

Daileass smiled at Haden's curious expression. "I'm telling you this because we'd like to do this initial meeting sometime this morning. And, if you're alright with it, I'd like you to be part of the team that goes to meet them."

"Me?" Haden asked with surprise. "You have your body now, wouldn't you want to do it? Especially if it's this important?"

"If I could, I probably would," Daileass agreed. "However, this body is really complex, and there are still a ton of calibrations and system checks that need to happen before I would feel comfortable taking it in the field. This body isn't just some type of remote control drone. My entire core program, my consciousness you could say, is transferred into it. So if something were to happen to it..."

Already knowing the direction that Daileass was going in, Haden stopped him in mid sentence. "I know, I know, I was just surprised that you would want me to go on something like this. Aren't there other, better diplomats in the UNIT that would be able to handle a first contact situation a lot better?"

"I'm sure there are," Daileass replied. "But that's not what we are looking for here. One of the kids you'll be meeting is really important to KLAUS. And well, other than my brothers who I have always been with, you're probably one of the most important persons to me. Plus, believe it or not, you are important to the leadership of UNIT."

Ignoring the most shocking part of Daileass's revelation for now, he moved on to the next important part of his statement. "So, we are meeting other kids?"

"Yes, and no." Daileass replied. "Many of them look like kids. However, from the little information that KLAUS has shared with me about them, several of them are a lot older than they look."

Haden sat there thinking for a few moments. "Who all would be going?"

"Assuming that you're willing to do this, I'm thinking it would be good for the chipmunks to go along with you, and possibly someone else." Daileass answered.

Haden nodded. "Okay, I like Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. I've always felt real safe around them. What about also bringing Edgar? He's been part of the UNIT for awhile, right?"

"Edgar has been around longer than most. I think he'd be an awesome choice." Daileass replied back. "So I guess that means this is something you are interested in doing?"

Haden nodded. "If you really think I'm the best choice for this, then yes."

"You are," Daileass smiled. "Okay, in that case I'm going to send you up to one of the other conference rooms. That is where you will be meeting the others."

Haden gave Daileass a final hug before he stepped back and put on his officer's face. "Let's do it."