"Yes, Kurt?" The wheelchair-bound teen's voice was brisk, businesslike but warm and friendly as well.
"Could you find out for us what we need to do to get up to Syracuse to look over the new facility there?"
"Huh?" Kurt was confused.
"All you need to do is ask. Since you're asking me, and dressed for a Northern fall, I'll assume you're ready to go, unless you tell me otherwise."
"Oh, okay. Yes, we're ready."
"Are they expecting you?" Seth asked.
"Not that I know of."
"You want it to be a surprise inspection?"
"No," Kurt replied. "I just want a chance to see what's been done already to get it ready for kids."
"Well, then, let me make a couple of calls." Seth turned to his console and began keying in codes.
"Terra Main Transport."
"Seth at Clan Short here. I have a party of five for transport to the former Hancock Air Base in North Syracuse, New York."
"They're third in line, then. Allow about two minutes to clear traffic."
"Thank you, Terra Main." Seth punched a disconnect, then keyed in another code.
"Wayne Enterprises, Syracuse Warehousing."
"Seth from Clan Short here. The team who Mr. Grayson recruited to run the new facility wants to do an inspection and assessment tour. Have a vehicle and driver ready, please.'
"Will do. Thanks for the heads up. When should we expect them?"
"Oh, in about a minute." Seth grinned. A gulp came from the other end of the call. Seth disconnected and looked up at Kurt and Scotty. "They'll be ready for you, Kurt." The boys were giggling. "Get ready for transport."
They appeared on a very Star Trek-y-looking transporter stage. A smiling petty officer looked up and said, "Welcome to Terra Main, gentlemen! If you would be so kind as to hold position, I will send you on to your destination."
Seconds later they felt the now-familiar tingle of the transporter, and then were standing in a rather drab business office lobby. "Good morning, sir," said a smiling man of about 30, robust and with curly brown hair. "And hello, boys. I'm Fowler Jackson, and I've been assigned by my boss to give you a tour of the facilities. If you like, we can drop the boys off at the new rec. hall, and pick them up when we finish the tour."
Marky started to get angry; Galen and Stass looked disappointed; Scott seemed to be vacillating between accepting their consignment meekly and speaking up. "No," said Kurt firmly. "The boys are members of Clan Short of Vulcan, and they have been assigned to join me in assessing the state of preparation here. I think Mr. Grayson would be, shall we say, discomfited to learn his employees tried to keep them from their duty." He gave Jackson a thin smile.
"Oh, I'm sorry, forgive me, boys, I didn't know, of course you are more than welcome to come along on the tour." Jackson seemed unable to cover his posterior with suitable words fast enough.
"Actually," Scott interjected, with a bit more confidence now, "you're still slightly mistaken. Uncle Kurt is the trained professional who will oversee this and the other new Clan facilities, but he works for the Clan. Unk will be making recommendations that amount to orders on what needs to be changed or improved. but it's the four of us who will ultimately be the ones who decide whether to approve what you've gotten done so far, or not."
Jackson looked at Kurt. Kurt nodded. Jackson gulped.
They began their tour with the recreation areas. The gym was adequate, though Scott pointed out that with the number of kids they were housing, additional gym facilities would be needed. The area for little kids next to the daycare would probably be inadequate, Kurt guessed, but that would be easy to expand. The library, though small, would be adequate, if more books were ordered to match the kids' interests.
Two things stood out: there was no indoor, heated swimming pool, and most of the rec facilities were left over from the facility's days as an air base, and were geared to young adults, not to teens and preteens. Kurt made notes.
There was no school anywhere on base. "We figured the kids would attend the schools in town," Jackson explained.
"You're planning to dump over 2,000 kids, most of whom will need special handling, into a public school system?" Scott asked. Jackson had no answer. Kurt made more notes.
There was a plethora of office space – far more than they were likely to need. "This looks good if we need a C.I.C. here," Galen mused, and didn't notice Jackson's skeptical look – but Scott did. As they were going between buildings, a jet took off loudly from the adjacent airport runway, and Kurt noted to check soundproofing.
The housing was nice – what there was of it. But it wasn't right – one and two-bedroom apartments and bungalows, for the most part. The reason why became apparent as they reached the last set of buildings: the barracks for single enlisted men had been adapted into dormitory-style bedding areas. "This is where you're putting the kids?" they asked.
"Well, yeah. You need to house a lot of kids, right? They won't need much space; they'll be in school or activities most of the time." Jackson was obviously mystified what they were concerned about.
"Well, why didn't you fix up some of the apartments and standalone houses for kids?" Marky asked.
"They're for the staff," Jackson explained patiently. "After a day of working with the kids, they're going to want time away from them, with their own families. You'll understand when you grow up, sonny. Don't worry about it now."
That was fairly high on the list of worst things to say, but Kurt noticed Marky's and Scott's anger getting ready to overflow. "I want a couple of minutes to speak with my boys alone," he said to Jackson, and led them into one of the offices, closing the door behind them.
Stass looked fearful, Marky and Scott rebellious. But Kurt said, "I want you guys to keep tight hold on your tempers. You're right to be angry. There needs to be some big changes. But it isn't going to do any good to blow up at this guy. We'll take the issue where it belongs, his bosses or whoever. Think you can handle that?"
Caught off guard by Kurt's tone, Scott's anger deflated. He and Galen quickly nodded agreement. Marky said, "It's still not right."
"No, it isn't," Galen agreed. "But what Unk's saying is that getting mad at this guy won't fix it. He's gonna do what will fix it, later." Marky thought about that, and agreed. They trooped back out of the office.
Next they hit the south perimeter of the compound, where the runway area was fenced off from the living and recreation areas. Galen remembered that Tilden had mentioned how easy it would be to get supplies, being next to an airport. To his surprise, however, there was no gate in the fence. "Shouldn't there be a gate here?" he asked.
"Oh, the airport authority had it removed," Jackson explained. "It was a question of liability, you see; they didn't want kids straying onto airport grounds, and you don't really need it."
"And that warehouse?" Kurt asked, pointing to a building just outside the fence.
"Same thing – it was something you wouldn't need, so the airport commission took it to lease out."
Kurt pressed his commbadge. "Daileass? May I have a plot map of what properties Mr. Grayson transferred to the UNIT, transported to my current location, please?"
"Of course not!" Daileass giggled, as a 50"x30" map popped into existence in midair in front of Kurt.
Kurt said nothing for a second, seizing the map as it began to fall and looking intently at it. Then, "Thank you, Daileass. Please relay the following to the Syracuse Airport Authority: 'The Authority is in breach of contract with Clan Short of Vulcan as assignee of Wayne Industries. It has twelve hours to restore the gate providing access between the Clan compound and the runways and to restore access to the air freight warehouse. Failure to comply will be taken to indicate a wish to terminate the contract. At that time, Clan Short will initiate proceedings to disband the Airport Authority and assume control of the properties it leased from the Air Force, which now belong to Clan Short of Vulcan.' Got it?"
"Add: 'This will be regarded as an interplanetary diplomatic incident, which will be reported to the Federation Council and to Starfleet'," Galen put in.
"Got it. Message... sent. When you get serious, you don't mess around, do you? Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a battle going on...?"
"Oops, I didn't realize. Thank you, Daileass."
Jackson was wide-eyed. "You can't do that!" he said.
"Not only can he do that, he did," Scott said quietly.
"Where to next, sir?" a somewhat chastened Jackson asked.
"What do we need to see yet, boys?" Kurt asked.
"Dining halls," Galen noted reflectively.
Surprisingly, the dining hall they inspected, chosen at random, met with their approval. The Air Force industrial kitchen with side area added for special meals preparation matched their memories of Helen's and the Camp Little Eagle kitchens, and what they'd seen at Camp Bam Bam. And some bright individual had realized that kids come in assorted sizes, and ordered some rectangular lower elementary-school tables and chairs and some very low round ones suitable for preschoolers and five-year-olds. "The others are set up pretty much like this," Jackson told them.
Stass spoke up tentatively. "Sir?" Kurt smiled encouragement at the nervous Greek boy. "There is... possibility of attack on the ones living here, true?"
"He's right, Unk," Scott said. "Remember what happened just before we came across?" Scott thought once again how very lucky he was to have the boy of his dreams, and to have become in real waking life a part of the Clan he'd read about in stories and daydreamed of joining. Then another thought struck him, and he paled.
They were standing in the chill outside the dining hall. Kurt looked around, spotted what he'd noticed earlier, and pointed. "That's where we're going next," he told Jackson.
Shortly they pulled up to a three-story building with thick concrete walls, fenced off from the rest of the compound by another steel-mesh fence with a gate. They passed through the gate and got out of the SUV.
"Halt!" called out the nervous young airman on sentry duty. "This area is restricted Air Force property, no admittance without adequate clearance." He held his service weapon just off from being directly aimed at them.
Scott said calmly, "We are Clan Short – that gives us clearance here."
"Like hell it does," the sentry said. "If you have clearance, where's your proof?"
Scott said wearily, "That's what I figured you'd say." He touched his commbadge. "Seth? Daileass is busy; can you patch me through to General Larkin at his office?"
"No can do, Scott; he's with Adam. He left word that calls from the Clan were to go to a liaison at the Pentagon; will that be OK?"
"That works," Scott sent back.
"This is Col. Ainsley Durkis. The Chairman assigned me to provide any assistance the Clan might need. How can I help?"
Scott paled even more. "This is Scott Reinhardt, member of Clan Short of Vulcan. My uncle, who's my adoptive father, has taken the position of readying the former bases given to the Clan for housing rescued children, and my brothers and I are representing the Clan as he and we inspect the first base, the one in North Syracuse that Wayne Industries bought and gave us. We've just been halted from inspecting a large blockhouse-like building on the base by an Air Force sentry, who's denying us entry."
"I'll get that cleared up. Just a moment."
Col. Durkis apparently held the mic away from his mouth and gave orders that the call be patched through to the sentry station they were facing.
"This is Ainsley Durkis, Col., U.S.A.F., airman. You will explain why you are barring your visitors from entering."
The sentry became nervous but continued to hold his position. "The radar tracking computer housed in this building is classified, sir. Our orders are to restrict entry to persons without adequate clearance."
"That technology has been obsolete for thirty years. I have no idea who left it classified. You have a man and four boys waiting there?"
"Yes sir, and also a guy from Wayne Industries."
"The others are the people who will be running that facility. You will admit them and show them every courtesy, including answering any questions they may have, and I mean any questions. Do I make myself clear?"
"Good. Young man, give your uncle this number; it's the direct line to my desk." And the colonel rattled off a telephone number, which Scott echoed to Kurt.
The sentry holstered his weapon. "Please enter, sir, boys. I hope you are not...?"
"Of course not," Scott said firmly. "You were carrying out your orders until we got them countermanded, as you should have." He looked over at Kurt. "When we're done here, we have got to talk."
With one major issue, the building seemed perfect for their needs: three storeys above ground and two below were over 90% full of an ancient vacuum-tube computer. But the building had an on-site generator with a large fuel tank, several big water tanks, a dormitory area for the technicians who had formerly run the computer, with stockpiles of staple and canned foods... everything, in short, to make the building self-sufficient in emergency.
"That computer is a classic," Kurt noted. "We, or the Air Force, should donate it to the Smithsonian." He made a note. "I'll bet you that, with it out of here, we could fit every adult and kid we plan to house in the compound in here without crowding, and keep them comfortable, warm, and fed." Galen grinned; he obviously thought the same thing.
"I'm glad you took the initiative to call Col. Durkis," Kurt told Scott. :That solved our problem with one fell swoop."
"I knew it would work," Scott replied, his face haunted. "That's what scares me."
"Okay, what's bothering you?" Kurt asked his oldest nephew. They were through with their tour, sitting in a lounge off the main office area,with Kurt holding Marky and sitting across from Scott, who had Stass cuddled tight to his side. Galen sat in a chair perpendicular to the line of sight between Kurt and Scott. "I've got a lot of things that need to be changed in a big hurry here."
"Don't worry about that," Scott said offhandedly. "You'll get all the help you need for it, probably from Starfleet. I'm certain of that."
"You know, I'm glad to see you more self-confident," Kurt said. "But what makes you so sure of that?"
"Let me lead up to the answer to that," Scott said steadily. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you without going through the explanation first."
"Okay, you've got me curious," Kurt replied. "Go ahead."
"Well, where are we? What are we doing here?"
"We're on a former airbase that was given to the Unit," Kurt answered, "or the Clan, same thing really, to house rescued kids. We're checking it out to be sure it's ready for them, which it isn't."
"Because they hired you to set up and run the program," Scott filled in. "It's the job of your dreams, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah," Kurt admitted. "I thought Galen was supposed to be the one developing empathy and insight."
"I knew it was for a good reason," Scott said, pale-faced again. "It started when I realized what a perfect caricature of a middle management drone that Mr. Jackson was. Then when you called and pulled that bit with the Airport Authority, another piece fell in place. Then Stass made the suggestion about the blockhouse, and I got this real warm feeling about what an absolutely perfect boyfriend he is, and it all fell in place. So I tested my hypothesis when the sentry stopped us, and it proved out." Scott did not look triumphant about having made the right call there; he looked positively terrified. Kurt wondered why.
"When I asked you where we were and what we were doing here," Scott went on, "I had something a bit broader in mind than this old airbase." He drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "For the last four days, we've been living in a world where Clan Short is real, we're actually a part of it, all the stories we read have come true.:
"Yeah, ain't it great!?" Galen said with a grin. "An' I can help people now, like I used to want to."
"You don't get it," Scott said. "Cory, Sean, Adam, Logan, the Double J's, J.J. and Adam, Jake and Xain: what do they have in common?"
"They're all part of Clan Short?" a mystified Marky answered quizzically.
"They're all from stories we read and loved and dreamed of being a part of," Scott said in a quiet voice.
"They triumph over problems by invoking help from people in high places," Scott said. "Just like we did." His voice was hollow.
"I don't get it." Galen sounded confused.
"If they're all part of those stories," Scott said, "where are we?"
The expression on their faces was thunderstruck.
To be more precise, it was only Kurt who was actually hit hard by the realization. To Marky, resiliently bouncing back from the realization that the change was permanent and he would never go home, the idea that he was in one of the stories he and his brothers loved was something to be enthusiastic about.
Galen looked serious and concerned, to be sure. But he was dissembling; with the Mikyvis, Sammy, Joel, and a few others, he had taken his part on the Author Inspiration Task Force. He kept silent, as Kyle had requested.
It was Stass, however, who had the most cogent response. "Why does this worry you, beloved?" he asked Scott. "My father gave me a book once, about a boy who finds his way into my people's myths. In a story, that which occurs, it builds the story, how do you say it?"
"Contributes to the plot," Galen supplied.
"The gods reward those who do good, and punish only evildoers and those who have hubris..." he fished for the word... "pride, beyond what is proper. Things do not happen for no reason, like my father's drowning. The myths tell us how the world is put together, the legends hold up heroes to show us how to live, and tragedoi..." He looked at Galen again.
"Men with tragic flaws."
"Them, to show what comes of taking the gods' gifts for granted. They too are examples for us, to tell us what we should not do." Stass drew a breath and looked at his boyfriend with love. "If we are now living in a story, then that is a good thing, for we will either find lasting happiness, as I think we have, or we will die to help others who need our help. This is what characters in stories do."
"Just be sure never to wear a red velour shirt," Galen added with a grin.
"But I think Stass is right," he went on. "We came over because we wanted to be a part of the good guys, to work with the Clan to fix the world. If we just keep trying to do the right thing, we actually come out better off, because most stories don't have downer endings or random, senseless tragedies that never come out to have been for the best in the long run. Just like a lot of the other guys, Marky, you lost your family, but you got the Clan."
"But what about being gay?" Scott asked.
"Think about what Mikey said," Galen answered at the same time as Stass said, "Did Zeus condemn Ganymede?"
"If you're worried about the consequences of being gay," Kurt said with a laugh, "you signed up for the right story!" They laughed; he sobered, and added, "But we need to talk more about this, later."
Starfleet Ensign Cadet Jude Lee woke with a smile. Next to him, still making quiet snore-y sounds, was the boy he'd fallen in love with, Billy Joe McAllister. He looked over at the chair he'd dumped his clothes on, and his smile broadened into a full grin. Lying there was his uniform, the evidence of a birthday beyond his wildest dreams: he had not only been named a cadet commissioned officer in Starfleet, the daydream of every teenage Trekkie back home where Star Trek was only a TV show, but been given two medals by the Commanding Admiral himself. And lying atop it were six even more precious gifts: first, the commbadge that served as both identification that he was in fact a member of Clan Short, the daydream he'd never dared share with anyone, even his loving parents; and the five faceted stones from the Gorn/Soleen alien, Capt. Rasch, that said Cory and the Clan were counting on him to learn advanced technology nobody else on Earth knew.
With a song in his heart, he roused his boyfriend with a kiss. Since they were teenage boys, his rousing Billy Joe became an inadvertent double entendre that caused him to giggle when he realized he was thinking it, and it was forty minutes before they finally made it to breakfast.
Discussion at breakfast centered on Grandma Anne's giving Joel and Kevin her advice about eating fruit if they were engaging in anal sex, with a great deal of giggling from the boys. Jude however was struck by a memory from his former world. "You know," he giggled as he helped himself to some toast, "this reminds me of those old stories of people being abducted by aliens."
Spock raised an eyebrow and asked, "What stories are they, my son?"
Everyone perked up his ears, literally in a few cases. Jude gave them a smile and went on, "In my world, some people claimed that little green or gray men from other worlds came to Earth, took them into their starships, and examined them. The biggest story was about anal probes and stuff. They claimed it was happening all over the world. I never believed it,"
Kenny started laughing like mad as Jude finished explaining.
"What do you find so amusing, Ken?" Xain queried as he started to take a drink from his Vulcan tea.
"Hehehe... Jake gets probed by an alien... hehehe... almost every night!" Kenny giggled.
Xain sprayed Vulcan tea over nearly half of the table, and Jake, who was sitting on Xain's other side, began to pound on Xain's back to stop the 12-year-old 'alien' from choking to death.
"How did what Grandma Anne do or say remind you of that, Jude?" Joel giggled.
"Well... not Grandma – you! It was the role reversal of a human 'probing' an alien!" Jude laughed.
Kevin just sat there, trying to look angelic with a 'Who, me?' expression on his face. "Don't bother, Kev," Sean giggled. "We can all see the horns!"
"Hey!" Joel protested as everyone started laughing the two boys, "I probed back just as much!"
"TMI, cuz!" Justy laughed even louder. "Waaaaay TMI!"
'T'hy'la,' Xain sent to Jake down their link, 'what is the conversational English phrase for the custom of causing one's Clan brother to be immersed in a pool owing to a joke such as Kenneth made?'
'Dunk him, and good idea,' Jake sent back.
"Kenneth," Xain said, his voice as emotionless and Vulcan as ever it could have been. "Please remain here once you have finished breaking your fast. Jake and I wish to dunk you."
"And you expect me to stay after saying that?!" Kenny giggled his retort.
"Yes!" came the response from both boys.
Along with the others, Jude was laughing hard. Then he paused. Alongside him, Billy Joe's face met his, and he read what was on it: a little bit of shock, and a little bit of... hope? With love pouring out of him, he nodded his agreement wordlessly with a smile that promised Billy Joe whatever he had to give, and drew him into a close embrace.
Seated outside C.I.C., with his back up to a tree and his long legs sprawled in front of him, a laptop positioned, well, on his lap top, Jude again dug into what Capt. Rasch had provided him, the warm Florida breeze playing across him as the tree's shade protected him from the sun's glare. Billy Joe lounged nearby, lying on his stomach, his gaze directed lovingly at his cute blond boyfriend. There would be time for them alone together later; for now, he was content just to be with Jude as he excitedly absorbed the implications of the data from the crystals.
"Hey, Mickey!" he said into the laptop's built-in mic.
"You rang?" came back the voice of the world's most famous cartoon character. When John Martin had pointed out to Cory that Disney held a trademark on the synthesized voice, Cory had just smiled and called their legal department. Shortly afterwards, there appeared an agreement on Justy's official-records terminal warranting that the Disney business group had made an in-kind contribution toward the governmental assessment that the Safe Haven Act had authorized to fund Clan Short operations, and was therefore entitled to a partial tax exemption, and new releases and re-releases of Mickey Mouse cartoons now included the line "As licensed to Clan Short of Vulcan" in their credits.
"Subject: Teleportation. Subcategory: Methods Available to Clan Short. Comparison, Summary," Jude instructed the mouse-voiced computer network.
"Scanning..." Mickey squeaked. Jude giggled. Making the database of restricted information available to the Clan voice-operated, with the Mickey Mouse voice reading off the results, was a simple challenge to the Clan's computer buffs, and had made the results much more kid-friendly. Adam had christened the result "Mickeypedia" to much giggling from Clan members.
"Beginning," said the mouse. "The Clan knows of three ways to apport from one place to the other without traveling across the distance between them.
"First is the Starfleet transporter technology. Derived from Vulcan research and technology. Consists of a non-destructive detailed scan of an object's structural pattern, followed by its conversion into energy and restoral to matter at another point in spacetime. Mark III transporters do not require a transporter stage at either end of the transport, though conservative transporter operators prefer an intermediate stop on their transporter stage. Technical specifications follow below."
"Cory musta written that; it's long-winded enough!" Jude laughed.
Mickey read on. "Teleporting via the Ark does not convert to energy, but simply moves the object or person to be transported through a different dimension. She has the potential to store objects in transport in those dimensions, which she refers to as 'buffers.' For details on this, see Founder technology."
"Mikyvis use yet another non-mechanical means. A Mikyvis is potentially aware of anything anywhere, anywhen, in any Universe, subject to exceptions noted below, and can move his attention there, along with his body and anything else he chooses to bring along."
"Thanks, Mickey!" Jude said. He thought about what he'd heard. "Mickey, record mode," he said.
"Recording … activated," came the synthesized mouse-voice.
"Soleen-Avalla teleportal technology resembles a cross of all three other methods," Jude said into the mic. "Like Starfleet transporters, it is mechanical. Like Ark, it uses transdimensional gating, in this case using tachyons. And like the Mikyvis, there are almost no limits to where it can go in theory, though in practice signal-to-noise ratio limits it severely. End record, for now."
"What's all that mean?" Billy Joe asked. Jude put down his laptop, leaned forward and gave his boyfriend a kiss, and started to explain.
Jude's researches and his explanation to Billy Joe were cut short when Spock walked up to them. "Please accompany me into the Command Information Center of your Clan, my son," the Vulcan said.
"Sure, sir," Jude said.
"You may call me 'Sa'mi' or 'Dad'," Spock said, essaying a smile at his newly adopted son. The two boys got up and followed him into C.I.C., where he walked over to where Joel, with Kevin at his side, was rapidly reading material from a terminal.
.Spock addressed his bio-son, however. "Sa'ren, due to your love of Starfleet and your aptitude for Federation technology, Admiral Morrow and I wish to put both you and Jude through the entrance exams for Starfleet Academy. In Jude's case he shows great proficiency in starship engineering and auxiliary systems. Are you both willing and free to attempt these tests?"
Jude was absolutely stunned at the recognition. Apparently, so too was Joel, who hugged Kevin to him tightly and excitedly replied, "Yeah! Cooooool! Yes please, Daddy!"
Spock nodded, then gestured for Jude to take a seat by a free console. He then turned to look at little Kevin. "Do you wish to attempt the tests as well?" he asked the boy.
Kevin shook his head. "I like being in the Clan's Diplomatic Corps, Uncle Spock. I like starships and such, but I don't know how good I'd be in Starfleet – not yet, anyway," he finished quietly.
"That's crap, Kevvy," Joel said hotly. "Stop thinking like that. Cory and the others said the same to you ages ago, didn't they? And I've seen your mind! You went from not being able to read to reading things like Tolkien and Shakespeare in less than two months! You've GOT a brain, so stop thinking you're dumb!"
Kevin stared at his boyfriend. "I know I'm not dumb, but Kenny..."
"Is Kenny. He's a math head! He's into different things than you! He can't draw for shit, Kev! You're into different things, but you're EACH just as clever as the other!"
"Sa'ren is correct, Kevin," Spock said softly. "You are no less than your brother, and you have an air of command as you showed two days ago. These tests do not simply check for technical knowledge - if that was the entrance requirement, what need would there be for the academy? They test you on many levels to find where your potential and abilities lie. If you have natural skills that Starfleet looks for in its officers, you will pass. If not, it will show where your skills and abilities would be better suited. There are more opportunities within the Fleet than officers on starships, my child. We are always in need of proficient diplomats as well."
The praise that Spock and Joel had poured on him had impacted Kevin hard. After a silence, he looked up. "You really think I'd stand a chance at getting into Starfleet Academy?"
"Prentares Commendation and the Star Cross," Jude said simply. "I think they both say enough about your chances, Kevin."
Kevin's face started to split into a slow, wide smile. "Yeah - How many cadets would have them before their first day!"
"Not many," Spock said dryly as he gently separated Kevin and Joel and placed them at their own consoles. "Do you require anything before we begin? The test can run over an hour in the majority of cases."
"No, thanks, Pop," Jude answered, making himself comfortable at a terminal.
After a bit more banter between the boys, Spock told them, "The test will begin in thirty seconds. Answer honestly, and to the best of your ability. You may be as detailed as you care to be regarding the questions - but know that the more you put down will allow for a clearer picture of your potential."
The three boys set to work as their screens displayed the beginning of the test, while Spock stepped to the door leading to the dining room to wait for them to finish.
Less than fifteen minutes later, Joel signed off his console. Jude was approaching the end of his test, and was … well, intrigued but not surprised that the bright little Vulcan had finished before him. He was surprised at how easy the engineering and tactical sections of the test were for him, though some of the other material, on Starfleet codes and proper judgment in command situations, he had no idea of the proper answers. But, he felt, not bad for someone whose knowledge of Starfleet came from 'engineering manuals' prepared by Star Trek fans.
Five minutes later, Jude completed his own test, signed off his console, and went to the dining room to join Spock and Joel – and, as it turned out, his new mother as well, with Joel ensconced on her lap. "I've finished, Pop," he said with a smile. "There were a few I couldn't answer – command choices and stuff. I don't think I'd be good at commanding anyway. The engineering ones were a breeze, though. And the tactical questions were enjoyable."
Spock raised an eyebrow with quiet surprise, "Well done, my son. Please, join us while we wait for Kevin."
Jude nodded amiably, seated himself in a nearby chair, and wordlessly offered to hold his younger brother. Joel was quick to take advantage of Jude's offer of lap and cuddling, and quickly jumped down from Teri's lap and into his. They began quietly discussing their test answers as Spock and Teri continued the discussion they were immersed in.
The life of a child star is often a difficult one, full of the sorts of demands and pressures that one person can put on another in search of the almighty dollar. Aaron had seen a lot of this, both firsthand in his own and his boyfriend David's experiences and in what he had observed of the lives of other child stars and teen idols. Those experiences, coupled with the sense of belonging that he had come to feel in the last two months since becoming part of the Clan, had left him with two deep impulses that sometimes seemed contradictory: the implacable need to do all he could to ensure no one else had to go through the sorts of things he and his Clan brothers had; and an equally strong sense that caring, not conflict, was the way to achieve that goal.
This was one of those times. He realized just how much they had all taken on in the aftermath of last Saturday's conflict, and how greatly it had impacted all of them. He had been trying to figure out a plan to close down Camp Santa Anita, the 'conversion therapy' church camp that Billy Joe had been sent to, and rescue the boys there.
To be sure, there would be no problem going in with a show of power and overawing the guards. Starfleet or the UNIT, or the US military, would gladly provide the forces. But in his mind, that could lead to unnecessary deaths, and possible injury to the boys who were, after all, the real reason for the intervention. With no great optimism he'd come up with good results, he was trying to brainstorm a better way.
On paper it looked easy. The camp was located on a peninsula jutting into a small lake east of Ocala, on a dead-end road. Closing off access would be simplicity itself. And sending forces in to subdue those in charge would seemingly be little greater a problem. But he still wanted to find a non-violent way to pull it off.
His computer beeped, alerting him to an incoming e-mail, and as he hovered his mouse over it, his antivirus software reported it was clean. He sighed at the interruption, then did a double-take. 'That's it!' he thought.
He pulled up the sketch map of the site, then opened a word processor and made some notes, printed both out, and hurried off to talk with David and Tommy.
"Well, regardless of your suppositions, Scott," Kurt said, "the fact remains that this place is not ready for the kids it's supposed to be set up for, and we still have to do interviews. I think we need to start calling on help to get things done." He touched his commbadge.
"UNIT Intake, Istvan Casey."
"Good afternoon, Istvan. This is Kurt Farnsworth. I need to speak with someone about the outreach facilities, please."
"Mr. Farnsworth? Mr. Grayson left word you were to contact him when you checked in. He said to tell you he wanted to know how his crew had done, and what else you'd need."
"Excellent. Thank you, Istvan. How do I contact him?"
"He's on the Clan's network; I'll forward this."
"I appreciate your help, Istvan."
"Any time, sir. I needed help less than a week ago; it's a pleasure to be able to enable somebody else to give that help to others. There was a click, then:
"Grayson here. Thanks for calling, Kurt. What have you found out?"
"This place needs a lot of work still, sir. I'm afraid it will take some time to find out what I have available to spend to bring it up to par and get it ready for kids."
"Time is what we don't have. Money and people are not a problem." Richard paused. "Why don't you come here to Gotham, and we'll go over what you need and what we can bring to bear to solve the problems?"
"Um, we got beamed up to here." Kurt said tentatively.
"Well, I'm sure Seth can arrange to have you beamed here – but tell me, have you and the boys eaten?"
"Why, no! We've been busy looking this place over." Kurt said.
"I'm hungry!" Marky piped up.
Grayson chuckled. "He's a Clan boy, for sure! Tell your driver to run you over to the airport. I'll have a charter flight ready, with meals for the five of you."
"We couldn't impose...."
"It wasn't a request, Kurt." Grayson was patient but firm. "What you're doing matters a lot to Sis and me, and to Bruce and Sarek. We've been trying to get something like this going for most of a century. You need to make it happen – and we need to know what you need to make it happen.
"Yes sir!" Kurt replied with something like a relieved smile.
"Where have you been?" Galen asked.
"I ran over to get myself a sandwich and coffee," Fowler Jackson answered. "I don't know what else your uncle needs to see, but...."
"Unk just talked with Mr. Grayson," Marky said hotly. "He wants you to take us over to the airport to catch a charter flight down to Gotham."
Jackson looked skeptically at Kurt. "My boys tell the truth," Kurt said. "When you're ready, take us over there."
Out onto Taft Road they went, then left onto an access road for the freeway. But rather than merging onto it, they took a loop that led them into the airport. Jackson dropped them at the terminal; they walked in and checked with information.
"You want General Aviation. It's down that way, to your right," they were told. They trudged the length of the terminal, and finally found what they were looking for.
"For heaven's sake, he should have known better!" the man at the charter service told them. "There's a V.I.P. drop-off entry right over there. Come with me; I'll show you to your plane!" And they were whisked on board a small executive jet. Flying was a new experience for all four boys, and they enjoyed it immensely.
The in-flight meal was a real treat, too. Kurt had beef marsala. Scott and Galen shared a pizza, Stass enjoyed a seafood sampler, and Marky made them all laugh by his antics eating a hot dog. They all had some mozzarella sticks to go with their meals.
At the little regional airport servicing Gotham – for major flights, one went down to NYC – they were met by a stretch limo, and transported swiftly to stately Wayne Manor.
A veddy proper butler escorted them into a drawing room that looked to the boys like something out of a movie. High ceilings, burnished wood, big comfortable chairs, exquisite accessories abounded. Two men seemingly in late middle age were seated there awaiting them Richard Grayson stood and welcomed them. The other man, a dark-haired square-jawed gentleman, started to rise as well. "Don't, Bruce!" Richard said. "Your health...."
Bruce made a dismissive gesture. "That was true, but the Doctor worked his magic."
Richard looked sheepish. "Force of habit, père-aimé," he replied.
"Who?" Galen asked.
"Yeah, him," Bruce said with a grin.
"It's very gracious of you to take the time to see us, and to have flown us here," Kurt began.
Bruce held up his hand. "Kurt, I don't believe you understand quite how important what you're doing is to us. Richard and I both were wards of the system.
"Sis, too," Richard interjected.
"It would not be far wrong to say that everything we do in business is directed at being able to afford to support work like you are doing," Bruce continued. "And if we can't afford it, Kayla is sitting down in Orlando on a pile of money that would make Scrooge envious."
"Ebenezer or McDuck?" Galen quipped.
"Either one," Bruce laughed. "Now tell me what you have in mind to do, what you found out in Syracuse, and what you need to fix it."
With that, Kurt launched into a presentation of his plans: to hire mostly from people who were willing to become parents, and to use Galen's talent to sift them out, then to have the new facility self-sufficient, with its own schools and rec. facilities, and real homes for the rescued kids, rather than group-home dormitories. He began detailing the failings of the renovated base, with Scott and Marky interjecting their own comments. When Marky first interrupted, Kurt attempted to shush him.
"I want to hear what he has to say, Kurt," Bruce said with a smile. "Nobody is going to know better what is going to make a young kid happy or sad than another kid the same age." Midway through his description of the facility's shortcomings and their less-than-cordial reception, Richard stood up with a disgusted look on his face and left the room.
In a few minutes, he returned. "I think you'll get much better cooperation when you go back up there," he said. "All of you." His gaze took in the boys. Scott began to grin; Richard grinned back.
As Kurt was winding down, the butler returned. "The gentlemen of the press are here, sir."
"Ah, good; show them in," Bruce answered. Turning to Kurt, he said, "I didn't intend to spring this on you, but I planned an interview for this meeting. It's not only good public relations for Wayne Industries, but it keeps the problem of family-less kids in the public eye."
As the butler escorted the reporter and photographer in, Bruce went on, "You need not be on your guard with Mr. Clark here, like you have to with some reporters. We've worked together in the past, and he's among the world's finest journalists. In his news articles he's always scrupulous to report the truth, and if he does a feature or opinion peace, he stands for justice."
Marky looked up at the man. Tall and muscular in build, with horn-rimmed glasses, he had hair so black it almost had a blue sheen, but did not seem at all menacing, but very mild in his mannerisms. Scott's eyes were drawn to the person accompanying him, a photographer who bore a striking resemblance to a younger Tobey Maguire. If the reporter was the personification of calm competence, his photographer was the exact opposite, seemingly bouncing off the walls in his enthusiasm for the story. "Calm down, Pete," Mr. Clark said to him.
We need not rehash the contents of the interview. Between them, Richard, Bruce, and Kurt explained the need and what they were planning to do about it. The reporter Clark seemed surprisingly well informed about the problems. "I should have mentioned," Richard said apologetically. "Kent here was himself a foundling, adopted by a farmer and his wife." He nodded. "I try to give Richard and Bruce's efforts to help kids as much coverage as I can," he said. Do be sure to keep me informed; I'll give you as much coverage as I can talk my editor into." Kurt was surprised and pleased, and agreed gladly.
"How can we help you, Admiral?" Kirk asked as Harrison Morrow, Admiral Commanding Starfleet, walked into C.I.C..
Morrow just looked around the room until he found Jude and Billy Joe with his eyes. "Well, it is about the three test scores I had land on my desk from the head of the Academy. It seems that a certain Jude Lee, Kevin Thompson, and Sa'ren Short have more talent than has been seen by the examiners in many a long... decade..."
"M...mine too?!" Kevin squeaked. "But I... I thought I'd... I..."
"Yours too," Morrow smiled down at him as he walked further into the room. "If you three are up for it, I have another exam I would like you to do... Now, if possible. It is tailored to each of you individually."
"More tests?" Joel grinned happily. The human boys, with the usual human boy enthusiasm for tests, looked at him as if he were an alien creature – which I suppose he was.
After a short bit of hilarity involving the kids whom Joel and Kevin had earlier rescued and adopted, along with J.J. and Adam's son Harley and the young Vulcan boy Solkar whom Sarek and Amanda were fostering, things calmed down enough for Adm. Morrow to get on with his proposed testing. Along with the others, Jude was laughing his behind off at the antics of the little ones. The amused Admiral was interacting with the kids and seemingly loving it.
"Admiral?" Solkar asked from Justy's arms, where he was making himself quite comfortable. "May I have one of the tests to do as well, please?" he asked hopefully.
Morrow smiled at the little Vulcan. "I am sure we can find one that is geared for you, Solkar. I will pull the records from the VSO and set you a Starfleet one to match and challenge your talents – as far as is possible for Vulcans, that is."
"Thank you," he beamed.
Justy placed the boy back down on Kirk's lap and ruffled his hair, "I need to find Dean – he'd love to meet you, too!"
"I will be here, Justy," Solkar beamed again. "Admiral Morrow won't be able to get my test ready for at least an hour, knowing VSO procedures in releasing classified data."
Morrow chuckled, "I will try to be quicker, but you are right. Now, if my three victims will follow me, I shall get them started!"
Joel and Jude were already racing for CIC as he said this. Kevin grinned and followed the Admiral more slowly, for he still wasn't sure he fully believed he had made a good impression. His thoughts were dwelling on all the words he couldn't quite make out, and on the fact that it must be just kindness that was making the Admiral do this for him.
"Come on, Kevin," Morrow said, as he turned and easily read Kevin's pensive face. "Your test score was surprising – not because you did it, but because it was from an eleven year old. I have never seen such insight from one as young as you in the field of diplomacy."
"Really?" Kevin whispered softly.
"Really. Now, hurry along, Cadet!" Morrow added with a semi-serious bark to his voice. Kevin immediately jumped to it and ran into the Main CIC to join the other two, as fast as he could.
After shutting the door between Main CIC and the Dining Room behind him, Admiral Morrow moved to sit at the main table with the other adults. Jason Evans was also there, having just arrived back from the rescue at the Genesis Project base earlier in the day. "I take it things went well?" he asked the young Dragon Division commander.
"They did. Very. We didn't lose anyone," Jason replied with a smile. "I'm here as the VSO guard for Joel for the afternoon. Nath' and Koth are still with Logan and the others."
"That's great news," Morrow smiled.
Spock and Kirk turned their full attention on the Admiral, then. Bones was simply sipping yet another coffee, but his eyes were probing Morrow no less than Kirk's and Spock's.
"Okay, Admiral; what on Earth has brought you all the way from San Francisco? Three entrance exams by a group of kids and teens have never made you do that before," Kirk asked, cutting right to business.
Morrow nodded, "Correct, and normally they wouldn't have done so, now. However, those three boys are anything but normal."
"Would you care to explain that one?" Dan asked curiously.
"Both Joel and Jude not only aced the entrance papers, but spent some time answering some theoretical questions on Sub-Space mechanics – just to relieve the boredom of the 'easy' tests, I'd imagine. Kevin came up with a brilliant diplomatic ploy that our experts are even now trying to adapt to use with those damned Sheliak – and their first opinions are that we may manage to get a treaty out of them with it. THAT is why I'm here in person. I will NOT allow these three boys to have their talents put to waste, if I can help it, and I also wanted confirmation."
"Oh," Dan murmured.
Allen Thompson, Kevin's father, simply looked stunned, proud and terrified all at the same time. "My little Kevin did that?"
"Your little Kevin did," Morrow answered seriously.
John grinned and patted Allen on the back before turning to Morrow, "I'm sure they'd have not gone to waste, Admiral. Cory has an eye for talent."
"So do I, and a little known law of the Federation states that you can hold position in any number of the fleets within the Membership of the UFP at the same time – he is STILL Starfleet himself. And so will these three be, if they really want it," Morrow grinned back.
"Does Cory know that?" Dan asked curiously.
"Like I said, it is little known – outside of the highest levels of command. Whilst we allow it, we don't encourage it. A person isn't their best if they spread themselves too thinly. Cory, however, would be bored with just Starfleet, or just the Vulcan High Command. He and Sean have more talent than any one person should rightfully be allowed to have. Any number of the children here do. I'm 'window-shopping', if you wish to call it that. And I'm already geared to place a sizable bid in for Joel, Jude and Kevin." Morrow turned to Spock and Allen, "How much for them?"
Allen laughed, "You can borrow, but never keep!"
"The price is astronomical," Spock said at the same time.
"You'd have better luck talking me into having a sex change," Dan replied seriously.
Morrow fixed him with a look, "The way I feel about those boys? Pick your dresses!" Then he laughed. "Seriously, they have talent, ability and knowledge to spare. If they want in with the Fleet, then whatever else they get under Cory with VHC, the Fleet is open to them. Oh, and as for Joel, he's got command potential, Spock. I'd wager he'd rival Jim, here, for ability. And Scotty now has TWO boys with engineering excellence. Jude and Cory. Scotty has the report on Jude already, and he's drooling at the mouth."
"I am seeing a trip to the Academy within a day or so. Right, Harrison?" Kirk asked with a knowing smile.
"Correct. If they do as well with these tests as I expect, I'm arranging for a full simulator run this coming Monday."
Spock glanced at Kirk and smiled, "I hope Sa'ren acquits himself with more morals than a certain other Cadet I used to know."
"Hey, now! I did nothing, no one saw me, and you can't prove a thing!" Kirk laughed jovially.
"Kobayashi Maru?" Morrow guessed. "I heard the rumors. It was..."
"Imaginative," Bones completed with a sly grin.
"Very," Spock confirmed. He looked at Morrow, "Will you run them through that?"
"Then expect to have the second 'win' in the unbeatable scenario, Admiral. And this time, without 'imaginative' exploits," Spock said seriously, and when he saw the look Morrow gave him, he added, "I have seen into my son's mind. He will, to use a colloquial phrase, 'trash' the test. Both he and Jude will, with what I've seen already."
"Jude has been hanging around with Cory; do I need to say more?" Dan added.
If you can visualize a full Admiral almost literally bouncing in his seat like a small boy and grinning ear to ear in expectation of an anticipated treat, you may have a picture of Adm. Morrow's reaction right then. "I cannot wait for them to take it, then," he said. "Spock, with what they put down on the test papers, I bet they could design a new starship, never mind 'trash' our current tests!"
"Too late...." Dan muttered. 'They already have,' a computer voice supplemented his comment seemingly out of midair.
"Hello, Draco," Morrow smiled, "What did you mean by that?"
'Joel and Jude have already designed a starship. They have called it "Enterprise E" and it contains technology that I have never seen before. Very interesting.' Morrow looked stunned.
Spock raised a hand quickly. "Such technology would be dangerous for Starfleet at this present time, however. We will need to integrate what they have designed slowly so as not to destroy ourselves by a large influx of information and power."
"Agreed," Morrow nodded, "but it isn't half tempting!"
"No D'Kyr tours for you, Admiral," Dan chuckled. "All the finest talent in the Clan are working on the plans for that ship."
"Joel and Jude are not," Spock clarified. "Cory is fully aware of what they have created and is himself scared of the Clan having that power too quickly."
"Are you aware of what they have designed?" John asked Spock.
"Yes. I can give you the names of some of them, for you will not be able to reproduce the items from just the names." Then Spock started to list off, "Quantum Torpedoes; Tri-Cobalt weapons; Corbomite Shielding – based off of a ploy used by Jim in one of our earlier missions; Multi-phasic Shields; and Ablative Armor Plating generators."
"They're all weapons and defensive tools, right?" John confirmed.
"Correct. Restricted, of course," Kirk said. "Not even I know what they really are or do. The other stuff they came out with, however, is going to be more fun."
"Sa'ren has already sent off all the information he knows about 'holodecks' to the Oceanic Division, as it seems to play into their interests," Spock explained, "while Jude has supplied us with blueprints of new scanning and deflector systems."
Morrow just sat with his mouth open. "I'm so looking forwards to seeing what can be released, you know."
"I've finished, Uncle Harrison!" It was Joel, done with his test in eleven and a half minutes. Morrow registered shock.
+ + +
It was not quite a half hour later when Jude emerged from C.I.C. He had completed what were supposed to be three hours of advanced tests, specially tailored to his talents, in just over 39 minutes.
Ten minutes later, Kevin followed him out. The fact he had taken longer than the other two had once again brought to the fore the feelings of inadequacy which his mother and the Chicago school system had instilled in him – even though he had finished three hours worth of testing at a level used for training career diplomats in a mere fifty minutes.
"Come here, Little One." Allen read his face and motioned to him, scooping up the diminutive boy and drawing him into a tight cuddle, and trying to reassure him of his worth. Morrow, reviewing the boys' test results with growing incredulity, looked on with a smile, as did Jude, cuddled up with Billy Joe.
"You did superb, Kevin," Morrow said to the fearful boy. "All three of you did, you no less than the others." Kevin looked happy though slightly skeptical at the praise and reassurance.
Joel dragged Kevin off to the pool; Jude smiled at Billy Joe. "I'll give you a choice: we can go join them for a swim, or do anatomical research."
Jude just grinned. Billy Joe followed his gaze down to his own crotch, and blushed. "Um, uh, I'd like a swim right now." He lowered his voice. "And the other later?" Jude laughed and nodded. They ran off.
Unconsciously mimicking Spock, Kirk raised an eyebrow at the Admiral. "Okay, out with it … sir!" he said.
Morrow laughed. "Well, to start with, Joel is simply amazing. With his eidetic memory and amazingly quick mind, the major challenge confronting Starfleet is trying to come up with something that will be a challenge to him. Command, navigation, strategy, tactics, physics, engineering... he either has mastered it all, or can quickly do so from seemingly the flimsiest of clues. Reminds me a great deal of both his parents," he added, his gaze flicking from Spock to Trip and T'Pol.
"Jude's skills are a bit more specialized, but only slightly. He was complaining earlier of the difficulty of the command decisions section of the test. That's because he's 'only' as good at it as men like Sulu and Evans, with a couple of decades experience on top of a natural aptitude. He's as good as Cory, Joel, or Scotty at engineering, skilled at tactics, and, along with Cory, is the only man in Starfleet to be Scotty's equal at making technology serve tactical needs." Kirk, who knew what a jewel his longtime Chief Engineer had been in many a tough situation, nodded.
"What about my Kevin?" Allen asked.
"First, Allen, he's probably the single best officer in the fleet at the strategic aspects of diplomacy, at making words serve in place of weapons to gain the ends you want."
"Growing up undernourished on the streets of Chicago probably had more than a little to do with that," McCoy observed morosely, remembering when he had first met Kevin in the Enterprise sick bay.
Morrow nodded. "Second, he has a remarkable intuitive grasp of symbolic subspatial relationships. With only a couple of exceptions, his equals at it are either involved with Starfleet research, at major universities here on Earth, or in the Vulcan Institute of Science of the Imperial Military Institute of Greater Andoria."
"Who are the exceptions?" Kirk asked.
"Your first officer and his son," Morrow answered, with a nod at the impassive Vulcan sitting across from them.
After a half hour of swimming, Admiral Morrow entered the pool area and called the three boys to him. He smiled as they quickly dried themselves down and donned sweatpants and a tee-shirt. "Going commando?" the Admiral chuckled.
"Yeah!" Jude grinned back. "No point in putting on too much if we're going back swimming, later. Would only mean more time stripping and less time swimming!"
"Very logical, and a good sign of forethought," Morrow said seriously, but the look in his eyes showed the three boys that he was yanking their chains. "Come on. I've got something special lined up for you."
Jude, Joel and Kevin had finished the latest test, and were now outside CIC and found that the rest of the kids had started a spirited game of soccer. Jude pulled Kevin under one arm and Joel under the other as he said, "I think we all did very well, don't you?"
Kevin nodded with confidence. Morrow's reaction to the first test before their swimming break had bolstered his self-image, and Joel had added to it with a good long kissing session - just to be sure. "Yeah - we're super amazing!" he giggled wickedly.
"All right, then." Bruce was in take-charge mode once again. "Richard has sent one of our best men up to clean house at our Syracuse operation. When you go back, you should get much better cooperation – all of you." He looked meaningfully at the boys. "Are you happy with the screening process?" he asked Galen.
"I guess so," the 11-year-old answered. "I agree that we need to focus on people with skills we need, and Unk and I can make sure to hire the ones among them that will be good for building families. I just worry that we're going to have someone slip through the cracks that would have been good."
"I have an idea," Scott said. Pressing his commbadge, he asked, "Seth, are there any teams of telepaths available that we could borrow?"
"Hang on a second. – Sammy and Sebastian will be free, and Eli and Benji want to come along with them. Will that do you?"
"That'd be great!" After disconnecting, Scott explained to Kurt, "A backup team of telepaths, screening people along with Galen, to look for what you want." Galen was nodding vigorously, with a big smile on his face.
"That would work," Kurt said slowly. Bruce and Richard were looking on with warm smiles.
"As for the inadequate facilities," Bruce went on, "I think we can guarantee that Starfleet will bring in some prefab structures, which can be converted to or replaced by something more permanent later."
Richard nodded. "I know Sarek will guarantee it, from what they did already. Does that tackle all your issues, Kurt?"
"Yes, certainly. How can I ever repay you?"
"By helping those kids, that's how." Bruce was quietly firm. "That's what this is all about."