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Josiah looked up just in time to see Gavin leap into the air and tackle him.
"Where the hell have you been!?" Gavin practically shouted before pulling Josiah into a deep kiss.
"Aaah, so this must be Gavin," grinned Koushiro.
"Yes..." Josiah managed to say before being pulled back into the kiss.
"I see that the Navus has chosen a partner from beyond this world, in this lifetime," said a bald man, with glasses, who was walking up with Syris and his team at his side.
"It certainly looks that way," Koushiro said as he sat back and smiled.
Gavin pulled away just a little bit, and rested his forehead against Josiah's, "I was so worried about you. So much has happened. We've been attacked, people have died. We have family that has died. And I couldn't get a hold of you...I just...I was afraid that..."
"Wait, what?!" Josiah said in surprise.
"It's all a really long story," Gavin continued, with tears starting to stream down his face. "I'll explain it all later. I'm just so glad...so happy...that you're okay."
Josiah tightly wrapped his arms around his boyfriend, "I'm so sorry...I...I should have been there."
"He's been asleep," Koushiro added quietly. "For the last week or so, he's been asleep, reconnecting with himself."
"You've been asleep the whole time?! No wonder you weren't checking in!" Gavin exclaimed. "But what does he mean by reconnecting with yourself. Wait, actually who is this?"
Josiah grinned, "Gavin, I'd like you to meet Koushiro. He's the great great great grandson of one of my past lives."
"I am?" Koushiro said in confusion.
"One of your past lives?" added Gavin.
"Yes, and yes," chuckled Josiah. "It's also a long story. But I've found who I am, and everyone here at this temple is actually my family, in some way or another."
"You're not planning on staying here, are you?" Gavin asked, the distress in his voice was obvious. "I mean...if it's what you really want...I guess we could live here but..."
"No, I'm not staying. While it turns out that this has been my home for many lives, it isn't where I want to be right now," Josiah answered firmly, as he tightened his hold on Gavin.
"You're leaving us again?" the bald man said in a somewhat sad and broken voice. "We've been without you for so long, hoping you would come back to us some day."
Josiah looked over at the old bald man, "Are you my high priest?"
"Oh! Sorry, Audo," Koushiro said quickly. "This is your high priest, Jenrya."
"Jenrya...I remember you," Josiah said confidently. "You weren't the high priest when I was taken."
"No, that was high priest Myosato," said Jenrya. "He passed away a few years after you were taken from us."
"I'm sorry to hear that, he was a good man. Firm but good." replied Josiah. "And to answer your question, I'm sorry but I can't stay. I've now got a life outside of this temple, with lots of people that care about me and love me. And with all that's happened to me, I've also now got a unique perspective on humanity. One that my past lives didn't have. I won't be able to stay here peacefully if I know that I can help them."
"Humanity...they do not deserve you, but they will be lucky to have you on their side," Jenrya said sadly. "You used to tell us stories about days long past, when humans were not what they are now. We will miss you greatly, but if you think it is time to try and help them again, then we will gladly wait until you are with us again."
"You can all come with me, if you wanted," Josiah offered, as he started to slowly get up off of the bed he was on, with Gavin carefully helping him. "We have more than enough room where we are going, and I would welcome the help."
"I..." Jenrya paused for a moment and then shook his head, "I'm sorry Navus, but most of us have lived here too long. Leaving this mountain would cause us too much hardship. It is not a world we wish to return to."
Josiah nodded knowingly, "I was told that you probably wouldn't want to leave. That's fine. But I really do have to go."
"Then we wish you all the best, Navus," Jenrya said with a low bow. "May you always find peace wherever your travels take you. And know that you will always have a home here, should you need it."
"High priest, maybe I could go with Navus Audo?" Koushiro asked hopefully. "I'm not as tied to the temple as the rest of us are. I could help him."
Jenrya looked surprised for a moment but then smiled, "Yes, I really like that idea. If at least one of us can go with the Navus, and help him on his quest, then he is always with us in some sense. Yes, please go with him, Koushiro."
"Are we adopting your great great great grandson or something," mumbled Gavin, who looked slightly confused. "And why do they keep calling you Navus and Audo?"
Josiah giggled, "I promise, babe, I'll fill you in when we get back. Maybe we can fill each other in while I get something to eat. Actually, I don't know what time of day it is back home, but do you think Helen would be willing to make me something? I think my stomach is just realizing that I haven't eaten all week."
"I'm sure she would," Gavin smiled. "But I expect the full story in between bites."
Josiah looked over at Syris, who was still quietly standing next to Jenrya, "Syris, it's good to see you again."
"Thank you, it's good to see you too," Syris replied politely. "Me and my team are actually really glad that finding you, and finding you safe, was an easy task. We were all afraid that we'd have to keep Gavin from killing anyone that got in his way."
"Yeah, that sounds like Gavin," said Josiah. "I think he gets it from his brothers. Probably from Cory...or maybe JJ."
"Hey! I didn't tear down any government agencies or blow up a police station," protested Gavin.
"But you would have," Syris said knowingly. "That's what we were kind of expecting when we went along with him. Like I said, we're thrilled that this has gone so smoothly."
Josiah suddenly thought of something, "Syris, would we be able to leave some kind of communication device with Jenrya, here at the temple?"
"Sure, I don't see why not," replied Syris.
"Jenrya, if we left a communication device with you, would it be okay if I checked in with you from time to time?" Josiah asked his high priest.
Jenrya smiled, "Yes, I think that would be wonderful."
"Good, I'll be glad to know that if I need any guidance, you're just a call away," Josiah replied peacefully. "I hope that some day I can come back here, but until then please look after the others."
Jenrya nodded, "I will, and I will rest easy knowing that Koushiro will be looking after you."
"I think it's time that we headed home then," Josiah said as he turned to Gavin.
Syris handed a small device to Jenrya, "Here is that communications device. Just press the button in the center and speak your request, should you ever need to get a hold of us. The device will connect you."
"Thank you," Jenrya said, accepting the device. "Shall I walk you out?"
"That won't be necessary," replied Syris. "Ark, please bring us all back home."
Suddenly everyone vanished, leaving Jenrya standing alone in the temple garden.
"Until next time, then, my Navus," Jenrya said aloud before turning to walk back into the temple.
Tyler and Damon popped into the forest tree-line by an Archnanian lake. Damon's protest about being taken away froze in his throat as a tree wandered over and extended his roots to make a bench for the two boys.
"Thanks, Woodie!" Tyler giggled as he sat down, pulling his shocked companion to sit next to him.
"The... the tree MOVED!" Damon stated in shock.
"Yep," Tyler grinned, "and before we leave I bet you'll be able to talk with him too. Relax, we're on a planet called Archnania, time don't work here like it does at home so we'll get back a minute or two after we left. That'll give your big bro a chance to explain the basics to your Mom; your Dad already understands after Brian went through what you are."
"Whadda you mean?" Damon asked as a creature that looked like a cross between a rabbit and a kitten hopped on the tree roots and made its way onto his lap.
After assisting a slightly larger version of the same animal onto his own lap, Tyler responded "We call these little guys 'buntens' because we can't pronounce their real name. They are attracted to people who are able to pick up and control emotions, and just them being around helps us keep control of our skill." As Tyler absently scratched the bunten's ears, he continued. "You did something that even the N-Gen empaths can't do unless I let them, Damon; you managed to force me to want to leave even though I didn't want to."
"I'm sorry," Damon interrupted, "Dad says I need to learn that this Clan thingie does stuff different."
"Apology accepted," Tyler smiled as he pulled Damon into a cuddle with his free arm. "I'll teach ya that stuff too while we're here. I know Sky told you a little about us, but do you really understand what I am and why you shouldn't have been able to do that to me?"
"Not really, " Damon admitted, "A lotta the stuff Sky was saying sounded fake."
"He's getting better!" Tyler giggled. "He made it sound that way because other people coulda heard. You know about how caterpillars grow up and become butterflies, right?"
Damon nodded "Yeah, they metismorpisize or somethin' like that."
"Yep," Tyler nodded. "Kyle is my husband, which is another kewl thing about being in the Clan, and he's the same age as me. He was born really special, and earlier this year he kinda did the same kinda thing... he changed from a kid into a new type of human. He's able to do lots of stuff with his head that even our kids don't know about, but the first thing that happened surprised us all. Him and me were sleepin', and his head decided it didn't wanna be alone, so it changed me too. Miah, he's a really smart kid who specializes in figuring out new species, says that the only way that it worked was because I was an empath, kinda like you are. After that happened, I started to be able to do stuff just like he can."
"So, you're kinda like Supermen? Only boys?" Damon asked with wide eyes.
"Not really," Ty replied seriously. "We could be if we wanted to, but if we fixed everything that was broke then nobody'd learn and we'd spend eternity fixing stuff while humanity stopped growin'. We like being able to be normal kids if we can, but sometimes we'll see something important that needs fixed, then we'll do enough to get it pointed the right way and then let it go. Our big bro Cory taught us to let people learn from their mistakes."
Damon thought for a full minute before responding "That's kewl, I don't think I'd like bein' friends with a superman."
Smiling, Tyler admitted "I don't like being friends with people who just sit there and watch their friends hurt themselves. You were right, I did need to go get rid of all that anger."
"Does that mean we can be friends?" Damon asked.
"I think we're gonna be best friends," Ty giggled. He paused for a second, then added "Hey! Prince Chance wants to know if we wanna join him for lunch! Wadda you think, wanna take our friends here with us and grab some munchies?"
"How'd he know you were here?" Damon asked. "How did he ask you?"
"He had the same kinda thing happen to him that Kyle did, but he brought all the life on the planet along with him," Ty explained. "Him, me, and Kyle kinda have a 'first of our kind' telepathic channel we talk to each other on, and we usually can tell where and when each other is. We kinda did it so we could make sure none of our younger species members could play superman; all three of us have the power to stop any of the younger members of either species."
"That was fun, I think I like Chance!" Damon giggled. "He's funny! Do ya think I'll ever see him again?"
Ty nodded. "Anytime you want to! He added you to the list of people who are given open access to Archnania, which means any of the Clan AI guys will help you get here whenever you ask."
"Sweeet!" Damon giggled as he held another stick of celery for his bunten to munch on. "Why did he say he wants to see my grandpa though?"
"Because your grandpa twisted his gift of empathy and turned it into a weapon," Ty replied. "You developed protection against it, that's what he was looking at in your head. Now that he knows how to protect himself, he's wanting to learn exactly how it was done. Remember me telling you that his entire race is the Keepers of Knowledge?"
"Yep, they try to learn everything!" Damon giggled.
Ty snickered, "Yeah, and they're cute when they blush! But anyway, when someone has done that once, someone will do it again, so if he can learn the details of how it works and how it developed, then he can take your defense and make it better just in case we need to teach it to someone so they can stop a madman."
"Oh!" Damon exclaimed. "That works!"
"I like my part better though," Ty admitted, "'Cuz we get to figure out just what your head has done and is trying to do so that I can help you not hurt yourself."
"We ain't gotta do that now, do we?" Damon asked as he tried to stifle a yawn. "All that food's makin' me sleepy!"
Ty nodded as a double-wide hammock appeared next to them. "A nap sounds good, I can set my head to feed ya' the languages and other stuff that you need while we're sleeping."
"Kewl! Is this guy gonna be here when I wake up?" Damon asked as he cuddled the bunten to his chest.
Tyler nodded. " I bet he is, he seems to like you a lot, so he'll probably cuddle with you. If he does have to go somewhere, he'll be back though. Squeaky always finds me when I show up here, and he doesn't pay any attention to the other empaths."
"I like the way his fur feels," Damon commented as he shifted to rub his face on the bunten's side. "You think he'd like being called Fuzzy?"
Before Tyler could reply, the newly-named 'Fuzzy' twisted to rub noses with Damon. "He likes it!" Damon giggled, then proceeded to carefully climb into the hammock. Once he was situated, Tyler joined him, laying back-to-back with his new friend while each of them cuddled their furry companions.
Damon woke up, and unconsciously reached out to 'feel' his surroundings before even opening his eyes. He first felt Fuzzy, confirming the furry form cuddled to his chest was his friend. Next was Tyler, who felt really happy. Squeaky was there as well, and Damon could feel a connection between Tyler and the bunten. Last was a new person, someone who felt safe but had an edge of sadness and hurt that Damon had never seen before at that level. As Damon came closer to being awake, he realized that Tyler was still back-to-back with him, just like when they had fell asleep, but someone's arm was laid over Tyler and holding Damon's shoulder.
"It's okay, Damon; I'm Tyler's husband, Kyle," the new person whispered just loud enough to hear.
"How'd you get here?" Damon asked sleepily.
"Ty and me always know where the other one is," Kyle explained. "Get ready, I'm gonna pop us off the hammock."
"Okay," Damon replied, wrapping his arms around Fuzzy securely.
The next second, Damon found himself sitting on a loveseat with the still-sleeping Tyler snuggled up to one side of him and the new kid Kyle on his other side. "Whoa!" Damon giggled.
Kyle grinned as he said "Since this place is special, Ty and me play around with the stuff we can do more here. Ya know, you're pretty high on the special list too!"
"Why? Because I feel stuff?"
Kyle shook his head. "No, because you wanna be Ty's friend just because you can. He ain't got many friends that ain't family. I told him to go ahead and enjoy cuddles with you, that way he don't feel bad talkin' about it. Him and I kinda share our thoughts, so I'm gonna help out and talk with ya since I don't feel stuff as good as Ty does."
"Yeah," Damon agreed, "He was gettin' really mad about Mom's parents. I never liked them."
"I know!" Kyle giggled. "You shoulda heard him complainin' 'bout you makin' him leave and get rid of his anger instead of lettin' him help you first! That's why he let ya be his friend, because you worried 'bout him instead of just lettin' him help you."
"He was mad and needed to get un-mad," Damon stated as he shrugged his free shoulder. "I don't like mad people, they hurt."
Kyle nodded. "Yeah, me and Ty are gonna help you with that. Most empaths can control how much they're gettin', but you need to set up some walls in your head like I got for telepath stuff. Speakin' of that, is it okay if I look in your head and make sure how ya got it set up?"
Damon paused for a second, then replied "Sure, you can look at it."
Kyle giggled. "I felt that! You checked to make sure I wasn't feeling like I was gonna be mean! I'm not mad, that was really smart to do."
"Thanks," Damon replied with a smile, Kyle gaining just a little more trust in Damon's mind with his reaction.
Kyle nodded as he closed his eyes to concentrate on Damon's setup. After a minute, he re-opened them and grinned. "I'll be right back, I wanna go check on your ancestors, okay?"
"Okay," Damon shrugged, unsure of why that would be important.
Kyle seemed to flicker, reappearing with a knowing grin. "I knew it!" he exclaimed in glee.
"Knew what?" Damon asked with a puzzled look.
"I knew that you're special in a good way!" Kyle exclaimed. "Your great-great-great grandparents both carried the stuff that makes empaths, and that stuff actually mixed in and made the first weak empath in your family in a long time. That was your great-great grandma, and she was a feeler; she married a guy who had empath in him that didn't work and some of the stuff that makes the people empaths came from. Both her empath and his mixed along with the other stuff to make your great grandpa, and it made him a stronger empath. He married a girl that was mixed like him, but a transmitter, and they had your grandpa, who isn't any stronger but has a better head organization. Your grandma supplied the stuff that finished the head organizing, so that made your Mom a more stable empath. Your Dad's a really weak empath, but when his stuff mixed with your Mom's it made you a really strong one. You're a fifth generation empath, that's why you're so strong."
"I hope you understood that; I'm lost!" Damon giggled.
Kyle stuck out his tongue, then replied "It means I can teach ya' what to do in your head. I learned all the gene stuff from visiting my brother Danny's head, he's an android and he's full of silly junk like that!"
"Whatever! What's so special about my head?"
"You got three things like rooms in there," Kyle explained. "One room is used for everyday stuff. The people that Empaths came from used the other two rooms for looking at future and past stuff, but you can use one for pushin' out your emotions while the other picks up emotions. You're kinda doin' it now, but you ain't learned to split up and look at all three at the same time yet. I know howta teach ya that, then you'll be able to control it better."
"How do you teach that?" Damon asked, tilting his head.
"I'll bring you into my head and show you," Kyle explained. "I hadta learn it because of some different stuff, but the way I have that part of my head done is the way I think yours might work best too."
"You can do that?"
"Yeah, it's kinda fun... and I always have cookies for my friends!" Kyle replied with a grin. "It'll kinda be like you're dreamin', but you'll remember it after we're done."
"Cookies? I'm in!" Damon giggled. "Whadda I gotta do?"
"Sit back and close your eyes; I'll come over and get the part of you that can mind travel," Kyle explained. Once he saw Damon relax, Kyle announced "Here I come!"
"That was kewl!" Damon giggled, now fully back in his own body. "Don't you get lost in all those rooms?"
Kyle smiled, "Nope, I got a map in one of them... somewhere. I think Ty hid it again."
Rolling his eyes, Damon giggled "Okay, I think I'm ready to talk about Grandpa now; I got the feelin's about him locked up like you showed me."
"Kewl!" Kyle replied. "Let me know if you need help, I can hop in and give you a hand."
Getting serious, Kyle continued. "What can you tell me about how your grandpa acts, especially about your Dad?"
Damon thought about it for a minute, then replied. "Grandpa was always bein' mean with emotional stuff. When Mom was around, I could always feel him pushing stuff that made her feel like she couldn't do anything right, even when he wasn't sayin' nothin'. If anyone's dad was mentioned, he'd push out bad feelings about dads while telling Mom she got pregnant by a deadbeat. Lotsa times Grandma would help him by talkin' bad while he pushed stuff. I've been kinda tryin' to block mom from it for as long as I can remember, by pushin' good stuff at her when they're doin' that."
Kyle nodded. "You did it good from what Ty found when he cuddle-tested her. You're a lot stronger than your Mom is, Ty says when you were trying to protect her you actually overloaded the part of her head that picks up stuff. Since you're stronger than your grandpa, she wasn't feeling what he was pushing. When your grandma helped him a little got through, but not enough to fight the good stuff that you pushed. When I was checkin' on your family, I think I picked up somethin' about you grandpa being afraid of you. Was I just seein' things?"
Damon shook his head. "No, he usedta try his stuff on me, but I just pushed it back at him double. One time when I was four he pushed really hard, and I pushed it back so hard he had to go to the hospital. Mom says the doctors thought he had a heart attack from stress, but I know it was 'cuz he was tryin' to hurt me."
"Dang!" Kyle exclaimed in awe. "That's pretty strong! Your grandpa's gonna be put on trial for what he did to you and your mom. Do you think you can protect Leon from him?"
Damon nodded. "Yeah, but if he has another heart attack it ain't my fault."
"Don't worry," Kyle replied, "you're gonna have help. I'm not allowed to be a judge, because that'd be superman stuff, but if what I think is gonna happen happens, one of your new big brothers is gonna decide to deliver the sentence for his abuse of you and your mom."
"What's the sentence for what he did? What about Grandma, she helped."
With a serious look, Kyle stated "Due to what he's done, Vulcan law says either that part of his mind gets destroyed or he is executed. Your grandma didn't use her mind to attack, so she'll probably get prison. That's my guess though; Leon is the one who will decide that."
Damon looked Kyle in the eyes as he said "If he hurts Mom again or tries to hurt Dad, I'm gonna push at him twice as hard as I did when I was four, and this time I'll push all I can remember that he's pushed at everyone else."
Kyle thought back to what he did to Hunter's father, and felt a chill go down his spine. "Damon, I'm going to show you something I did that I'm not proud of. It's kinda the same thing that you're talking about, so please watch and listen to what everyone said."
Feeling Kyle's concern, but not understanding why, Damon replied "Okay." He unconsciously scratched Fuzzy's ears as he watched Kyle's interactions with Hunter's father as seen through Kyle's eyes, while indirectly feeling what Kyle felt at the time. Once he had seen everything, he looked at Kyle. "He was being bad, but didn't know he was?"
"Yeah," Kyle nodded, his eyes wet with tears, "and even though he learned his lesson, I made him suffer when he coulda learned it a better way."
Damon nodded. "You were showin' me why we shouldn't use our special stuff to punish other people, wasn't you?"
Kyle nodded. "Yeah, that was the reason Ty and me made the rule that us and our kids can't be judges. It's playing Superman, and it ain't good."
Thinking it over, Damon asked "So if Grandpa tries something at the trial, I should just do what it takes to block or shut down his mind stuff and let Leon decide the rest?"
Kyle nodded. "Yeah. Leon can't defend against mind stuff, so you doin' it instead is the right thing to do. That's fighting on the same level. Punishing him on a normal human level needs to be done by normal humans, not us. When you can do something most other humans can't, you need to only use it enough to keep things balanced."
Ty had been faking sleep since just before Kyle started showing the events with Hunter's father, and decided that now was the time to make his presence known. "It's like when you forced me to go get rid of my anger, Damon. Even though I'm a Mikyvis, I'm still also mainly an empath. You did it right then, because you saw that I wasn't stable and you pushed just hard enough to force me to leave and become stable. We were on the same level, so it was good. If you tried to do that to Jordan, it would be bad because he has no defense against you. Does that make sense?"
Damon nodded. "Yeah, if it was Jordan I'd be playin' Superman, which is bad. Since you can do what I do, it was fair so it was okay as long as I didn't do a lot more than you can do."
Relieved that he'd hopefully prevented another episode of what he and Jason had done, Kyle added "It sounds like you got it. I didn't wanna see you hurting like I was after I did it, so I thought showing you would help you understand what happens when you punish someone like that."
"Thanks, Kyle," Damon replied. "I'm glad you did it, I don't wanna feel bad about doing stuff."
"I'm glad I could help," Kyle replied. "You're Ty's friend, so I couldn't let you get hurt."
"Speakin' of that," Ty said shyly, "There's something that Kyle does with his close friends that I'd like to do with you if it's okay."
"What's that?" Damon asked.
"He sets up links so that he can talk and visit in his friend's heads so they can visit with each other no matter where or when they are."
"That sounds so kewl!" Damon exclaimed. "It'd be awesome havin' you around to talk to all the time!"
Tyler smiled, happy that he'd made such a good friend. "You really wanna do it?"
"Okay, just a second, I wanna make sure I do it right," Tyler replied as he closed his eyes.
A few seconds later, Damon's eyes got wide as he had his first experience of having a Mikyvis resident in his head. 'Oh wow, this is so kewl! I can even SEE you!"
'Yeah, we can talk, play games, or whatever!' Tyler replied. 'Just so you know, our sons decided that anyone that either Kyle or me do this with they won't do it with that person.'
'How many people are you hooked up with?' Damon asked.
'Through Kyle I can visit a few of our close brothers, but you're the first person I've ever set up a private link with myself. Since Kyle and me are tied so close, he can join us through me if it's okay with you.'
Damon smiled. 'I like Kyle, so that'd be kewl. This looks like a lot of fun!'
The mental conversation was interrupted by Kyle giggling. "Y'all having fun in there?" he asked as he gave both of them a poke.
Damon laughed, "Yeah, this is sweet! I just told Ty that you can come in through him if you want to."
Kyle smiled. "Thanks, Damon; I really think we're all gonna have a lotta fun. You ready to go back? Ty and I have to get back too, but we'll hang in your head while you get used to your new setup."
"Can Fuzzy come back with me?" Damon asked.
"He'll have to go to the ship to wait for you, they might freak out at the mall," Ty replied. "He'll be just fine back home, though. I'll give you a language dump real fast, then you'll understand him. He already understands you; all the creatures and such on Archnania have learned Alpha Prime human languages already."
"Sweet! Thanks, guys! You hear that, Fuzzy? You get to live with me!"
Fuzzy chirped in glee, causing Damon to smile. "Fuzzy likes that!" Damon translated. "He says that he'll wait for me to get back."
"Okay, everyone ready?" Kyle asked.
"Yep!" Ty and Damon chorused, while Fuzzy chirped his okay.
The store was large, grand pianos on display, walls of acoustic, electric and bass guitars, as well as every conceivable electronic effects and a nice selection of beginner PA systems with glass display cases of microphones. Prez and Keith were like kids in a candy store, browsing through the selections for something they didn't already have in their stage set up. Prez found a nice classical guitar made of Hawaiian Koa and got a salesperson to pull it down from wall.
The middle aged woman started climbing the ladder, warning, "This is an expensive guitar. Your parents did teach you the old warning, 'you break it and you buy it', I hope.
Prez grinned at Keith. While the lady was carefully climbing down with the guitar, the two teenagers began chuckling. Before handing over the guitar, she suspiciously eyed the boys. Married and bonded, they could hear each others' thoughts well enough, and decided to prank the salesperson. Prez took the guitar and Keith reached into his boardies pocket. He handed over his Clan Short debit card to the lady, saying, "Collateral, just in case." She smirked, but Keith insisted, "Go ahead, run it through your card reader."
Prez sat down and began playing the introduction to Bach's 'Air On A G String' while the lady walked away. "We're being bad," Prez softly chortled.
Rapidly nodding, Keith grinned, "Play like a beginner, T'hyla, at least until she gets back. Then play your best. She'll go from pale and apologetic to unconscious in thirty seconds or less."
Making a string squeak and fumbling a fretted note, Prez softly griped, "Damn!" Keith cracked up, and turned to the other side of the store where the saleslady went. He saw her waving over another salesperson. "Double damn!" Prez grumbled at another intentional finger flub.
The second salesperson frantically waved over a third salesperson, and then the second salesperson hurried to the back of the store. He passed through the door marked "Employees Only".
Keeping count of the salesperson activity in his own warped manner, Prez made another mistake and complained, "Triple turds!"
In a few moments, the second salesperson came out of the back room with silver haired gentleman, presumably the store manager. Sadly shaking his head, Prez sang along with the melody in his baritone voice wandering flat and sharp, rarely ever finding the true note. The silver haired man glanced over at Keith and Prez. Soon, all three salespersons and the store manager were at the cashier station. The original lady was helping other patrons with their purchases, but paying attention to the ongoing activity over the teenagers.
Keith wandered over to the electronic keyboards and helped himself to a Yamaha electric piano, randomly poking at keys. Prez followed his hubby while nonchalantly paying attention to the activity at the cashier station. Now that the other customers, three salespersons and store manager were all paying attention, Prez and Keith began expertly playing Chopin's Minute Waltz. They could clearly see the store manager look up at the ceiling and read his lips as he muttered, "Why me?"
At this opportunity, Skyler appeared outside the store as an adult. Prez and Keith wouldn't have recognized him if he was wearing adult clothing, but Skyler just resized his boards and T-shirt along with his body. He hurried into the store and held up an oversized pocket watch. In moments, when the song ended, Skyler triumphantly stated, "And they finished the Minute Waltz in fifty-six-point-three-seven seconds, ladies and gentlemen!"
The store patrons and staff broke out in applause, and everyone was cheering or chanting. Some even asking, "They're really Clan Short?"
Giggling madly, Keith and Prez bowed to their audience. When the clapping sound finished, Prez told any salesperson paying attention, "Get me a hardshell case, a leather strap and ten sets of quality classical guitar strings, and I'll take it home."
The store manager grinned, "If you gentlemen would kindly let us take some photos, for window advertisements, we'll take fifty-percent off and drop the tax entirely."
Keith checked with Prez then nodded, "Take as many photos as you like with all your staff, and its a deal."
After having Emmy teleport their pile of purchases home, Mark led his group out of Macy's to meet up with Prez and his group. As they passed the doorway, Mark grinned as he heard the in-store intercom announce "All available team members, report to youth for restock. All available team members, report to youth for restock."
"You're enjoying this a little too much, Mark," Kandra smirked. "You do realize the bill is going to come back to bite you, don't you?"
Mark shook his head. "I'll never even see it. Our jobs as parents are to give these boys a normal life. That card I used is tied directly to the Clan's support fund, and is completely funded by the members of the Federation to assist families in getting started. You don't give kids a new start by going to Goodwill to get them outfitted for daily life; you take them to stores that will allow them to fit in with their peers. They'll be representing the core of Clan Short just by being my sons, and they need to be dressed accordingly." Noticing Prez standing there listening, Mark asked "Did I explain that right, Prez?"
"Its close enough," Prez nodded, and then grinned, "Goodwill does have the rare vintage T-Shirt, for bands that had the also very rare one-hit-wonder."
Keith smiled, "Specialty items, like the very large quantity of shirts, trunks, boardies, and assorted male teenage garb that just landed on tables by the diving well at Ewa Beach."
Kandra's jaw dropped and bounced repeatedly. Marc and the boys howled laughing.
"Moving right along," Prez sniggered.
"I forgot to warn you, Kandra; the Clan has never heard the term modesty!" Mark gasped as he tried to control his laughs.
The appearance of halos above the heads of every person in the group under eighteen made further comments unnecessary. Rolling his eyes at Skyler, who had a 'Timmy approved' innocent expression on his face, Mark guided the mob towards their next victim.
Two minutes later, they came across the local Apple store. Mark stopped for a second, then said "Guys, Adrian told me I needed to stop here if I was in the area to pick up something he'd set aside for me. He said it wouldn't take long, so let's get it over with."
Figuring it would give them a chance to check out some of the new toys, the group quickly agreed and followed Mark into the busy store. Almost immediately, a team member came up to Mark and asked "Hello, I'm Jason. Is there anything I can help you with today, Sir?"
Surprised at the quick service, Mark replied "I'm Mark Williams; Adrian Jobs said to swing by and pick up something he had set aside for me."
Jason entered a few taps into the iPhone he carried with him, then raised his eyebrows as the results appeared on his screen. "It seems the son of our CEO has a prankster streak in him; by any chance is this entire group with you?"
"Yes," Mark replied as he started plotting ways to get his hands on Adrian to dump him in the new ship's pool.
"All of you follow me," Jason grinned. "Adrian has issued you the challenge of trying to drain his savings account. Anything goes, and all of you can get anything that you want."
Slightly off to the side, Keith was chatting with Drew and Corey, getting a laundry list of gear entered into his PADD for this occasion. Prez was with his security getting a bunch of cheeky photos taken.
"The squirt is definitely getting swimming lessons!" Mark exclaimed as the boys slowly realized what this meant. "Jason, tell the back room to get ready for a rush, something tells me you're going to set some sales records today."
"Dad?" Damon asked shyly, "Does that mean I can get a new iPad?"
Mark smiled as he squatted to give Damon a hug. "It means you can get anything you see in the store, son. Anything, and there is no limit."
"KEWL!" Damon giggled as he spun free and grabbed Terry's free hand. "C'mon Terry, we gotta pick stuff out!"
Before the group spread out too much, Mark announced "All of you are to get what you want, even you security guys. If I don't think you're being honest, I'll personally add to your pile. That goes for the Rimmer security too."
Prez grinned as he turned to their security. "You heard the man, go shopping!"
Smiling, Mark got Jason's attention. "Everybody walks out with the top end iPhone, maxed out. Don't let them try to talk you down."
Jason nodded. "You've got it!" he replied as he placed the order immediately.
Finally recovering from the series of shocks, Kandra asked "Is this for real?"
Mark nodded, "Yes; this is just like Adrian. You're going to love him, he's actually a really good kid, when he lets himself be one. I promise that there's no way we could drain his savings; that's his way of saying he wants us to get everything we need without worrying about the cost. You wouldn't know he's rich by his actions, and normally he doesn't bring it up. For him to do this, it means that he really wants to show his thanks for something I've done."
"Just what could you have done that would justify this?" Kandra asked as she noticed a pallet of Mac Pro computers being rolled out to the table that was now a staging area.
"I adopted Brian and Terry, and supported both of them no matter what their differences," Mark replied. "That means a lot to him; he's lived being isolated because of being different, and seeing my acceptance meant a lot to him."
"I think I understand," Kandra replied as a pallet of displays joined the Mac Pros. Spotting Jason, she asked "Who ordered that many computers already?"
"Those were already ordered," Jason explained. "Custom builds, all maxed out with every option. The gift message says 'If you have any left, just hold on to them until you adopt more kids'."
"I told you he likes showing appreciation," Mark chuckled. "Jason, are you sure there's not another set of pallets back there? If I'm counting right, he might have been a few short otherwise."
Jason laughed, "You're good! Just as soon as these are unloaded, the second round will be out."
"How could he have known how many to order?" Kandra wondered.
"One of his boyfriends is Skyler's big brother," Mark explained, getting a nod of understanding from Kandra.
Overhearing them, Skyler giggled "Yeah Aunt Kandra; he's gonna ask me next week how many are here so that he can jump ahead to yesterday to take Adrian to last month to order them for today."
"And THAT," Mark sniggered, "is why I just accept weird timing and move on. Sometimes it's better not to know!"
"I'll agree," Kandra replied as she pulled a bottle of aspirin out of her purse. "Are there any water fountains nearby?"
"Here you go, Aunt Kandra," Skyler giggled as he handed her a bottle of water.
"Thanks, sweetie," Kandra said as she downed two pills, not caring where the water she washed them down with came from.
Damon, Terry, and Liko were watching some of the kids who were playing on the iMacs, all three already having decided that they wanted one. As Damon was checking out who was doing what, he noticed one kid who felt different near the end of the row towards the door. Not really understanding what he was sensing, he poked at Tyler in his head and asked him what it meant, glad that his new friend was there for him. Tyler quickly figured it out, and told Damon that he needed to tell Liko.
"Hey Liko?" Damon whispered. "Ty says that you need to look at the big kid in the red shirt over there."
Liko barely nodded, his ears wiggling as he 'tuned in' on the target. A few seconds later, he purred "Good catch, little brother. C'mon, I want to see what he's playing."
The three boys casually made their way down the line, ending up on either side of their target, watching the game he was playing. Sensing their target's rising discomfort, Damon softly stated "Don't worry, we're from Clan Short and we wanna help you."
"Yeah, right," the boy, who appeared to be around twelve, sneered as he started to slip away, only to be stopped by a furry arm over his shoulder.
"C'mon, I wanna play cat and mouse with your adoptive womb donor," Liko purred with a grin. "You can watch if you wanna!"
Finally noticing that one of the boys surrounding him was some kind of cat, the boy froze. At that moment, his attention was diverted by a man yelling "Get your paws offa me!"
The boy turned towards the sound, only to find a gorilla in a pinstriped suit carrying a mall security guard out of the store... by his belt. "I told you the boy is under Clan protection!" the gorilla growled as he 'accidentally' bounced the security guard off of the doorframe.
"Mags is havin' some fun!" Terry giggled. "I bet the guy's boss ain't gonna be happy!"
"You KNOW him?" the boy exclaimed in shock.
"Yeah, he's my security guard," Terry giggled. "The cute fuzzball here's my guard too, but he's also my boyfriend. I'm Terry, fuzzy here is Liko, and the little guy there is our brother Damon."
"I'm Karlin. Why was that gorilla carrying out the mall cop?"
"He was tryin' to sneak up and catch you, but Dad's security caught him," Liko snickered. "We're always watchin' mall cops; lotsa times they help us find kids that need help as they're being stupid tryin' to catch them. There's lotsa good ones, but that was one of the buttheads."
"How do ya' know that?" Karlin asked, obviously skeptical.
"Besides being cute, I'm a telepath," Liko purred. "All of us security guys talk in each other's heads, that way we don't get surprises. All the rest of the Clan security guys already know that we're offering to help you, so they're watchin' your back while we talk."
"You guys are younger than me, what do you think you can do?" Karlin challenged. "Nobody's gonna listen to you."
"Wanna bet?" Terry stated.
"Yeah, what you willin' to place on it?" Karlin smirked, impressed by the confidence of the little guy next to him.
"If we can't do nothin', we have Dad help you go wherever you want. If we're for real though, you gotta become our brother."
"You can't make your parents adopt me," Karlin smirked.
"He can't make me, but he knows I will agree with his decision," Mark added as he came over to see how it was going. "Terry, Jordan's going with you for the investigation and trial. On your way back, swing by Macy's and help your new brother catch up with you guys on clothing. Sky says Ezzy's gonna give you a hand looping."
"Thanks dad!" Terry replied, smiling as he felt the effects of Damon keeping Karlin calm. "We'll be back, and I think Kar ain't gonna be as scared of you like he is now."
"Okay, be safe guys," Mark replied, backing off some at the hint that Terry gave him. "Ezzy's going to pull you to a staging area first."
"Okay," Terry, Liko, and Damon replied.
"What in the..." everyone but Damon exclaimed as they found themselves standing under purple skies.
"Welcome to Archnania, bros!" Damon giggled. "It's fun here!" Noticing Jordan scanning the area with his eyes, Damon added "This is a safe place, me and Ty hung out here for a while when we were becoming friends."
Ezzy giggled from his hiding spot standing directly behind them. "Yeah, Pop's really happy that you're his friend, Uncle Damon. Hi new guys, I'm Ezra!"
Rolling his eyes, Jordan took his hand off his phaser. "You know, one of these days we're gonna figure out a way to put a leash on you guys." Turning to Karlin, he explained "Him and his family are humans that can mess with time. One thing they won't ever do is allow you to be hurt by their actions, so it's safe to roll with it."
"Karlin," Ezzy added, "we came here first so that I could make sure you understand what's about to happen. We can do it two ways; either I talk it out with you, or I can tell you in your head and answer your questions as soon as you think of them. You get to choose."
"There ain't no such thing as telepaths, so I'd like to see you try that." Karlin smirked.
Seconds later, the smirk was replaced with surprise as Ezra took his dare as approval. In less than a minute, they were done and Ezra looked around the group. "Who's gonna judge?"
"Me," Terry stated. "Kar, can Liko look in your head for a second? The rules say I gotta get two copies of what happened."
"Why not?" Karlin replied as he shook his head in wonder.
A few seconds later, Liko signified that he had all the information. Once he had Liko's report, Terry looked over at Jordan, "Bro, I need you to scan any adults there as soon as we pop in. Ezzy, you're his second."
Grace Carson had just finished dinner and was about to get up from the table when she suddenly found the formerly empty room occupied by a group of boys, one of which looked suspiciously like a cat.
Jordan lifted his sunglasses long enough to verify who he was seeing, then stated "Don't bother standing, Mrs. Carson; we won't be here very long."
Ignoring Jason, Grace stood and pointed a shaking finger at Karlin. "You! I told you to never violate the sanctity of this residence again, spawn of Satan. In the Name Of Christ, BEGONE! BEGONE, and take these creatures of Hell with you!"
Jordan instantly tensed his muscles, fully aware that the information that he was about to forcibly extract might not be needed if she said much more. The evidence of that was standing next to Terry, ears flat against his head, claws out, and a menacing snarl on his face.
"You are hereby ordered to submit to a telepathic investigation," Terry ordered, his tone carrying an icy firmness that nobody his age should ever be capable of. "Begin."
"Hail Mary, full of Grace..." Grace muttered as she tried to fight the intrusion into her inner thoughts. Her efforts failed, and the room echoed with her screams as Ezra led the way into her mind. Once both him and Jordan had extracted the necessary information, Ezra tuned to Terry and stated "We have the report, Sir."
In the few seconds it took for the report to be given, Grace decided to take things into her own hands, screaming "I have the Power of Angels, and I shall Banish you from this mortal plane!" as she lept towards Karlin.
She never made it, however; Liko was much faster, and attacked with a ferociousness that made even Jordan wince. Before even Ezra could stop it, she was as good as dead; Liko had went directly for the kill. The very last thing she heard before her brain shut down was Terry's nine-year-old voice flatly stating "I sentence you to Death."
Fully aware that Liko wouldn't calm until his victim was absolutely dead, Terry turned to Jordan and stated "Prepare to log, Specialist Williams."
Jordan nodded. "Ready, sir."
Terry began, "The former Grace Carson has been found Guilty by Family Clan Short Tribunal of serious violations of the Safe Haven Act, Local Child protection statutes, and Federal Child Trafficking Statutes. Within the Terran time period of twenty-four months, she has physically, mentally, and emotionally abused the youth known as Karlin Carson, age thirteen, for the action of interacting sexually with another male. She has isolated, beat, starved, and verbally demeaned the youth over the period stated, then three months ago sold him to a third party as she was unable to force her religious views on him. She was fully aware this third party planned to make use of Karlin in illegal entertainment which featured youth in sexual situations. Sentence of Death was delivered while Grace Carson was still conscious. During the tribunal, she attempted to attack the victim, and was prevented from causing harm by Liko Williams, Family Clan Short Security. In prevention of her attack, she received lethal injuries which resulted in death shortly after sentence was delivered. As the husband of the deceased committed suicide three years ago, Family Clan Short hereby takes full custody of the youth Karlin Carson, and will begin placement review immediately. End log."
Karlin stared at the bloody mess on the floor. "I guess I ain't gotta worry about being sent back here, huh?"
Jordan shook his head. "That decision was made back when Liko scanned you the first time; you were never getting sent back. The only reason you're here now is that you needed to see for yourself that it's really over."
"You were serious, weren't you Ezzy? That trial was real?" Karlin asked.
"It was as real as the little brother that protected you from being attacked," Ezra replied. Noticing that Liko had finally stood up, Ezra quickly disposed of the body and gave Liko a Mikyvis fur cleaning. "Now you need to go through the house and find anything that you might want to keep. Your memories of what happened will probably let you help another kid in the future, so as much as they hurt don't completely lose them."
"I've been there," Terry added, "so if you wanna talk, I'm here for ya bro."
"And we have attack kitty brothers if anyone tries stuff again!" Damon added.
"Oh," Terry grinned, "The guy that you escaped from? I sentenced him earlier today to a Federation prison planet for Life... he tried to grab Damon and was pounced by Liko and his brother Lorin."
Karlin looked around the group, and realized that they had done exactly what they promised; they'd removed the threats that had put him on the streets. Without thought, he turned to the nearest body, collapsing against Jordan as the tears finally broke free.
"I've got it all entered, we'll have a team there to help with setup as soon as possible... you're welcome," Rylan finished saying before disconnecting the call he was on.
Over the last few days the number of calls they were handling had picked up quite a bit, to the point where they had to double their staff and convert more of the space in Ark Control to become part of Dispatch. Rylan even had a request in to clear out the old Cryo lab to a sort of receiving area and move the different doorways they were setting up into that room. That would free up the space they were using in Ark Control so that Rylan could use it.
Rylan was about to take another call, but looked up to see a familiar face enter the room.
"Are you always working?" Nicky asked as he approached the Dispatch area.
Rylan grinned, "Hey Nicky, what brings you down here?"
Nicky shrugged his shoulders, "Meh, I was visiting Kendall. Javyk said that I could, so I wanted to come see if he really meant it."
"You didn't think he meant it?" asked Rylan.
"No, I was sure he meant it, but I get the impression that he forgets things he's said a lot," Nicky said as he leaned against Rylan's computer console.
"And?" Rylan prompted. "How was your visit to our exciting R&D department?"
"Well, Javyk certainly meant it. In fact, he tried to put me to work while I was talking to Kendall."
Rylan chuckled, "That sounds about right. Especially if he gets wind that you're smart enough for it."
"I don't know about that, I was dumb enough to let him get away with it for the first 20 minutes or so," said Nicky. "The jerk had me helping Kendall interpreting electrical signal output. When I finally realized what I was doing I dropped that stuff and backed away. Kendall thought it was funny."
Rylan nodded knowingly, "Probably because the same thing kind of happened to him. Did you enjoy it?"
Yeah...I kinda did," sighed Nicky. "I mean, I'm not as much into this stuff as Kendall is, but it was a lot of fun getting to work with my brother.
"I understand," replied Rylan. "As much as Javyk can drive me nuts, I do love him and I like spending time with him. Even if that time ends with my pants accidentally being set on fire."
"Whoah, what now? Set on fire?! I would never expect something like that to happen with Javyk around," Nicky said in mock surprise. "Although it sounds like I might have gotten off easy if that's really how it normally goes."
"Oh, it's always different. He's not ALWAYS that entertaining or dangerous," laughed Rylan. "What did he have you interpreting data for exactly?"
Nicky contorted his face to show his disgust as he replied, "They're...growing stuff? It was like this weird gray fleshy tissue kind of stuff. And they were using their 'morphs to talk to the stuff they were growing. Kendall actually had his shirt off and was working with Javyk to apply the stuff to his chest when I first got there. I think it has to do with that armor they said they were working on at dinner the other night. They said they were checking for reactions to the material, or something like that. It was kind of gross."
Rylan grinned, "I can think of worse things to walk in on them doing."
"Eww, I don't want to think about that! That's my brother..."
"Oh! Not that! Jeez, I don't want to picture Javyk...I meant experiments!" Rylan quickly amended.
"Yeah, like what then?"
"Javyk once worked on a type of skin tight suit that was meant to act as a kind of wet suit but for cold environments," explained Rylan. "It's actually part of our thermal gear here at the Ark Compound. Anyway, he spent an entire month walking around naked, because he kept putting on the prototypes and then taking them off again for adjustments. And he said putting something else back on in between was a waste of time."
Nicky thought about it for a moment, "That might have only been weird for you because he was your cousin. If you'da been Kendall you probably would of enjoyed that."
"Oh yeah, well what if it was Kendall walking around naked for a month?" asked Rylan. "Are you saying that wouldn't bother you?"
"Dude, he's my twin, seeing MYSELF naked is just like seeing my brother naked," giggled Nicky. "Are ya thinkin' about seeing my brother naked often?"
Rylan turned red, as he looked away, "I was just using that as an example."
Nicky leaned across the console and waggled his eyebrows suggestively, "You know, as I just pointed out, that means I look just like him. You want a more personal look?"
"Jeez, you're just going to jump right to dropping your pants? Not even going to ask me out on a date first?" Rylan mumbled.
"Well how else will I convince you out of yours?" grinned Nicky. "I was told that Javyk has a nicer butt than you do, but I'm not convinced. Besides, asking you on a date gives you the chance to come up with some excuse about being too busy."
"I AM really busy..." Rylan started to say.
"I have a suggestion," someone said from Rylan's left.
Both boys turned to see Charles, Kyle's Grandfather, looking at them with a rather amused look on his face.
"Rylan, why don't you take a break for a little bit, take Nicky down to the cafeteria, and call it a date?" suggested Charles, giving the boys the most innocent old man expression he could muster.
Nicky suddenly looked slightly embarrassed, "Sorry, I kinda forgot we weren't alone."
"Oh, no reason to be embarrassed, young man," chuckled Charles. "But perhaps you two should just make this official and go talk somewhere where an old man like me might not be listening in."
Rylan opened his mouth to protest, but Charles cut him off, "I can hold down the fort until you get back. Now go, get talked out of your pants. You might like it!"
Charles then reached over and turned Rylan's console off, as if that would make it final, before turning back to his own work.
Nicky grinned and offered Rylan his hand, "Well, you heard the man! Feed me and lose your pants!"
Rylan was a bit in shock at what Charles had just done and implied, but decided to just close his mouth and take Nicky's offered hand.
"Awesome! Remind me to thank the old guy later! I can't believe that worked," Nicky commented as he dragged Rylan towards the living area of the Ark Compound. "You'll need to tell me where the cafeteria is, though. I've only been here a few times!"