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Benji and Elijah were speechless as the limo pulled through the gate into Southcrest. As the Mansion came into view, everyone else fell quiet except Sammy and Sebastian. Sammy looked at the stunned occupants and giggled. “What’s the big deal? It’s just Uncle Chip and Uncle Josh’s house!”
“It’s HUGE!” Elijah gasped as they drove around to the back. “I’ve NEVER seen a house THIS big!”
As the limo came to a stop, Benji pointed toward the rear door of the house. “Who’s that?”
Teri looked to where he was pointing. “It looks like our welcoming committee, and they’re wearing their formal towels! The taller one is Justy, the twins are Jamie and Jacob.”
When they reached the limo, Justy ripped the door open. “No fair, Aunt Teri! Y’all got the Hummer! Where’s our new bros?”
Teri chuckled. “How did I know you three would have your radar on? Settle down, let us out of the car at least!”
Justy glanced at his little brothers. “Okay, Aunt Teri. But Sammy and Sebastian need to stay in there with the new twins. The seven of us gotta talk. Pop is waitin’ for y’all inside; Mark’s comin’ to show you in.”
Teri shook her head and grinned as she climbed out. “Justy, I think you’ve been taking lessons from Cory. You switch from a normal teen to all business like a pro.”
“What can I say, I taught him everything he knows!” Justy giggled as he climbed inside the limo.
“I HEARD THAT!” Cory exclaimed as he ran up and jumped in behind Justy. “Watch it, I’ll set Timmy and Ricky loose on you!”
“Whatever.” Justy said as he reached over and closed the door.
Cory grabbed a seat next to Justy and looked across at the newest additions to the group. It was obvious that they were not comfortable with the sudden invasion. Cory decided to try to break the ice by doing introductions. “Eli, Benji, welcome to the family. This goofball sitting next to me is Justy, the terror on your right is Jamie, and his mirror image on your left is Jacob.”
Before Cory could add more, Justy jumped in. “And he’s Cory, living proof that you don’t need a brain to survive.”
“Yeah, you’re just jealous. You wish you were as smart and cute as me!”
“Whatever, Cory. Don’t even go there; remember, I know you! When they were handing out brains, you thought they said drains and picked up a clogged one.”
“Bite me, Justy!” Cory exclaimed as he took a playful swat at him.
“Yeah, right! Like I’d take that chance; I ain’t gonna get rabies!” Justy replied as he scampered across the limo.
Cory turned his attention back to Elijah and Benji. “Ignore him, guys. He’s spent too much time in the pool and flooded his brain.”
Justy giggled as he moved over and wiggled his way in between Eli and Benji. “Give it up, Cor. You’re tryin’ to fight a battle of wits unarmed. Guys, don’t worry about him, we just keep him around to scare the rats off.”
Sammy saw their expressions and leaned over so that both Eli and Benji could hear him. “Don’t worry, they’re not gonna fight. I didn’t know what a real friend was ‘posed to be like until I saw these two.”
As if proving the point, Justy waited until Sammy sat back, then launched himself across the limo, stealth pouncing Cory. After a few seconds of tickling, both boys leaned back onto the seats and placed an arm over each other’s shoulder, both sporting mile-wide grins.
“Sammy’s right.” Cory said to the shocked boys. “Justy and I mess around a lot, but both of us have each others back. We’re actually your official welcoming committee; we figured you might wanna know a few things before you meet the rest of the guys. First thing is, Jamie and Jacob are our resident mind readers. Right now, the only ones who know the full story about what happened to you guys and what you can do are sitting in here. Don’t be afraid to let the rest of the guys know, none of them are gonna laugh at you. Jamie told me you had a really kewl family; if you give Doc and all of us a chance you’ll have another one. I can tell you that a lot of the kids you’ll meet today don’t know what it’s like to always have had a family who loves them no matter what. Eli, Benji, you’ve got a special gift. I’ll bet you were given that gift to make up for the injuries you’ve got now. Jamie, Jacob, and Justy were helped by a very famous Vulcan to learn how to use their minds to their full potential. If you guys let them, they might be able to save you some learning time.”
Eli looked over at Sebastian, who nodded his head. “That sounds kewl, but do you EVER stop talking, Cory?”
“Yeah, really! I was fallin’ asleep!” Benji added.
Sammy was all giggles as he jumped in. “Naw, Sean has to kiss him to shut him up!”
“And you don’t EVEN wanna know how he shuts Sean up!” Sebastian finished.
As Jamie and Jacob gave a chorus of ‘EWWWWW’, Cory turned beet red and said “Okay, I get the hint! We talked it over in case you said okay, and Jamie would like to work with you and Sebastian, Eli. Jacob said he thinks he’ll do better with you and Sammy, Benji. Justy and I will be here if anyone needs a hand.”
Another part of Orlando:
Sean looked at the group gathered around him. “Byron, you sure you’re up for this? It might not be pretty.”
Byron grinned. “Hey, if your boyfriend can handle it I can! Besides, you heard Dad – I might as well get used to it.”
“Good point! I’ll be sure to tell Cory your high opinion of him.” Sean giggled. He then turned to Lt. Barnes. “Well Matt, I guess it’s time for you to enjoy one of the perks of your new job. Let’s hit it!”
Matt grinned. “I know this sounds sick, but I think I’m going to enjoy this!” He put the Jeep in gear and drove the last three blocks to their destination. As he set the parking brake, the grins of a minute ago disappeared and were replaced with determined frowns.
Sean led the procession down the dirt path through the unkempt yard. “Watch the second step, it’s falling off.” he announced as they mounted the porch. Once everyone was in position, he knocked on the door.
An unkempt man in jeans and a dirty tee shirt opened the door. “Yeah, whadda you want?”
Sean forced a genuine-looking smile. “Hello Mr. Heinz. I need to see Antonio.”
“You got the wrong house kid. Get outta here.” Heinz growled as he tried to close the door.
Sean put his foot in the door. “Let me make it clearer then. I’m Ensign Sean Short of the Starship Enterprise, representing Starfleet Command. These gentlemen with me are Byron Tecumseh, representing Federation Youth Services, and Lieutenant Matthew Barnes of Starfleet Security. We have the right house; I would suggest you open the door voluntarily. Otherwise, you ain’t gonna have a door. As I said, we need to see Antonio.”
Heinz opened the door as if he was letting them in, then slammed it as soon as Sean’s foot was out of the way.
“Look out, Sean!” Byron growled, his twelve-year-old temper flaring dangerously.
Sean moved to the side just in time as Byron delivered a flying drop kick to the door. The kick was more than the old wooden door could handle; with a loud crash it splintered into two pieces and fell open. As soon as Byron was clear, Sean and Matt jumped through the doorway with their phasers drawn.
Sean looked around and saw that Heinz had pulled a gun out of a drawer and was pointing it towards him. Without a second thought, Sean fired his phaser and dropped Heinz. Matt rushed over and restrained the stunned man before he could regain consciousness while Sean covered him.
While they were busy with Heinz, Byron ran past them towards the back of the house. A few seconds later, Byron yelled “SEAN, GET BACK HERE!”
Matt nodded to Sean. “Go ahead, he ain’t going anywhere. I’ll call in for a pickup while you help Byron.”
“Coming!” Sean yelled back as he ran to join Byron. He ran down the hall and through the only open bedroom doorway. What he saw as he entered the room made him come to a sudden halt.
Chained to the bed in the middle of the room was an obviously frightened nine-year-old boy. His long auburn hair was in tangles, and the sheet under him made it obvious he had just recently put up a serious struggle. Upon taking a second look at the thin, pale boy; Sean realized what the struggle was about. The boy’s anus was inflamed and bruised, and even from the doorway, Sean could see a white substance still trickling out.
Sean turned his head and yelled angrily out the doorway. “Matt! Kill that son-of-a-bitch!” He then walked over to the bed and sat on the edge. He reached out and gently brushed some hair out of the boy’s eyes. As Byron looked for the keys to the shackles, Sean began trying to calm the kid.
“Hey little buddy, I’m Sean and that’s Byron over there lookin’ for the keys. Don’t worry, you’re gonna be safe now. Are you Antonio?”
The frightened boy nodded his head slightly, still unsure about his visitors.
Sean smiled. “I was hoping so. Don’t worry about your father. We’ve got a friend from Starfleet Security taking care of him right now. Where he’s going, he’s going to be on the receiving end of what he’s done to you – if they don’t kill him first. A couple of your friends were worried about you. What do you think about going to see Elijah and Benji?”
“Are they okay? Daddy told me they died.” Antonio answered in a small voice.
“They ain’t dead, but they both got hurt and could use a friend right now. Eli lost an arm and leg in the crash, and Benji lost part of his hand. Can you still be their friend with them being hurt?”
“Yeah, I’m just glad they didn’t die. You ain’t gonna tell them what I did are you?”
Just as Sean was about to respond, Byron yelled out “Got it!” and ran back to the bed. He immediately unlocked both of Antonio’s hands, then moved to his feet. As soon as the boys hands were free, Sean pulled him up into a hug. “Antonio, you didn’t do anything wrong, and what was being done to you is over.”
Antonio sat limp in Sean’s arms for almost a minute before Sean’s words sunk in. Once it hit him, Antonio slowly wrapped his arms around Sean and began silently weeping tears of relief. Byron slid across the bed and joined the embrace from the back, wrapping his arms around both boys.
Five minutes later, Matt entered the room and found the three boys still in their embrace. He walked over and sat next to them, then quietly asked “Is he okay, Sean?”
Sean turned his tear-stained face towards Matt. “I don’t know, Matt. I really don’t know. He was raped by his own father while chained to the bed. He’s safe now, but I think its gonna take a lot to be okay.”
Matt had to swallow before he could reply. He looked at the thin arms wrapped around Sean and made his decision. “Byron, could you go get the tricorder out of the Jeep? You’ve got some work to do.”
As soon as Byron moved away, Matt reached over and began softly rubbing Antonio’s upper back. “Hey Antonio, I’m Matt. I just sent your father off so he can be punished for what he’s done to you. I promise he’s never gonna touch you again. In fact, if it’s okay with you, I’d like for you to live with me from now on so that I can protect you.”
Antonio turned his head slightly towards Matt, and then reached up with his left hand and slowly ran it over Matt’s face. “Why’re you cryin’?”
Matt gently clasped the small hand. “I’m crying because a sweet little guy like you should have never even heard about the things that were done to you. Would you like to sit over here with me, then Sean can see if he can find you something to help the hurts and some loose clothes to wear that won’t make you hurt worse.”
Antonio timidly slid off of Sean and onto Matt’s lap. As soon as Matt reached a protective arm around the boy, Antonio wrapped both arms around Matt and pulled himself tight against Matt’s chest. Once Sean was out of the room, Antonio timidly asked Matt, “Did you kill my daddy like Sean told you to?”
“No, little buddy. I wasn’t that nice to that idiot. Your OLD Daddy has gone to a Federation jail. How would you like to listen while I call in and tell my bosses what to do about him?”
“You’re REALLY gonna make sure he can’t come get me?”
“Yes I am. In a few minutes there is going to be no way he can even get near you. Can you hand me my communicator from under your butt?”
Antonio relaxed slightly, and even giggled a little as he retrieved the communicator for Matt. He tensed up for a few seconds when Byron came back in the room until he recognized him, but then relaxed and listened while Matt reported in.
“Security Central, this is Lt. Barnes.”
“This is Central, Ensign White. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you, Ensign. Stand by to log official charges against a Mr. Heinz, currently in holding.”
“Logging in progress. You may proceed Sir.”
“This is Lieutenant Matthew Barnes. The following are preliminary charges against Edward Heinz of Orlando, Florida. Attempted murder of a Starfleet Officer, Child Endangerment, false imprisonment, and rape of his nine year old son. Additional charges may be filed upon further investigation. Federation Youth Services is on site and assuming custody of said child under provisions of the Safe Haven Act. Stop log.”
The reply was in a tone that would cut titanium. “Rest assured, Sir, that I will ensure ALL appropriate personnel are notified of these charges.” In a calmer voice the Ensign continued, “May I ask how the young boy is doing?”
Matt gave a small smile; from experience he knew that Edward was going to have an extremely rough night tonight. “He’s sitting right here listening to us. Considering the day that he’s had, I would say he’s doing okay.”
“What’s his name?”
“Hey there, Antonio! I’m Ensign White. I know Lt. Barnes probably already said this, but you are not going to have to worry about your old daddy ever hurting you again. He broke a lot of laws, laws that are going to put him in jail for a long time where he can’t hurt anyone. The best part is, you are gonna meet a lot of people who want to help you start a new life where you don’t have to worry. Can you promise me you’ll let them help you?”
Antonio looked up at Matt, wordlessly asking if it was okay to answer. Matt smiled and nodded, then Antonio said shyly “Okay, I promise.”
“Thanks lil’ guy! Can you do me a big favor? Tell Lieutenant Barnes that I just got a message back from Holding saying they are taking care of his problem. I need to get going, but before I do I’ve got a secret for you – Lieutenant Barnes has ticklish feet!”
Antonio giggled as he replied “You’re silly! I’ll tell him!”
“Thanks Antonio. I’ll talk to you later! White Out.”
Matt whispered to Antonio. “Say ‘Antonio out’.”
Matt took the communicator back and made sure it was in standby. He then wrapped both arms around Antonio and gave him a gentle hug. “You feel a little safer now, lil’ buddy?”
“Yeah. What did he mean about a problem?”
“Let’s just say your old Daddy is not going to get much sleep for the next few days. The guys I work with don’t like seeing kids get hurt; so when someone like your old Dad comes in after doing things like he did to you, they make sure he pays for it.”
Sean came back in the room with a small pile of clothes. “I just talked to Mom and Doc. They said we need to head over to the Camp. They’ll meet us there, and then we can finish up after Doc has fixed this little elf up. Oh, great catch Byron; John’s got guys on the way to follow up, but from what I saw you just found a bunch of stuff which is gonna make our hunting go a LOT faster!”
A couple of minutes later, Antonio was dressed. Matt picked him up and placed Antonio on his hip. “You know something? I think you do kinda look like a little elf! Pretty soon you are gonna be my little elf, how’s that sound?”
Antonio giggled. “You’re really silly, I ain’t no elf! I guess you can call me one if I get to stay with you though.”
Sean giggled at the exchange. “Hey, Antonio, this is the last time you’re gonna have to be in this house; look around and see if there’s anything you wanna take with you. Byron and I are going to grab all of your clothes for you.”
Twenty minutes later, they were satisfied that Antonio had everything he wanted to keep. Sean was just finishing strapping everything down into the back of the Jeep when a car pulled up and three Federation Security officers climbed out. Matt walked over and briefed them quickly, then joined the other three back at the Jeep. “Okay, it looks like we’re ready to roll. Which one of these guys do you want to sit in the back seat with you, Antonio?”
After thinking for a second, he replied. “I wanna sit with Byron. I wanna know how to break doors like that!”
Matt lifted the giggling boy up and sat him in the back seat of the Jeep. “As you wish, my elven prince!”
Byron climbed in next, and began making sure Antonio was strapped in properly. As he worked, he said softly “You know what, lil’ buddy? You are going to surprise Elijah and Benji big time! A couple of the guys can hear what people are thinking, that’s how we found out about you. When you meet Kyle, Jamie, and Jacob you can thank them. Jamie and Jacob found out about you, they let Kyle know, and Kyle called us.”
“You two ready back there?” Matt asked.
“Great! Let’s go home!” Matt announced as he started the Jeep.
Aaron knocked on the limo door before opening it and climbing in. “How’s it going, guys?”
“Oh my god! You look just like Aaron Carter!” Eli exclaimed.
Aaron chuckled. “I hope so! Since I AM Aaron Carter, it’d be kinda weird if I looked like someone else!”
Justy grinned. “If it was me, Airhead, I wouldn’t admit that! Aaron, this is Elijah and Benji. Guys, meet Aaron – living proof that a brain is not required to make music.”
“You’re goin’ swimming later, Justy!” Aaron replied. “Right now, if you guys are almost done, Mom is calling a meeting across the road.”
Cory scanned the three sets of twins sitting across from him. “Well guys, what do you think? Do you need more time, or have you got it all figured out?”
“I think I’ve got it now.” Benji replied. “I’m not the one who has to count on floating to move though.” Everyone looked at Eli. “How good have you got it, bro?” Benji asked.
Eli grinned. “As long as ‘Bastian is with me I’ll be fine. Jamie figured out that the two of us had a natural link, so he can help some.” He paused a second before adding “I guess I’m about as ready as I can be, it’s just gonna take practice now.”
“Awesome!” Cory replied. “I guess we’re ready then, but I want to say something first.”
Everyone in the car groaned theatrically, then giggled when Cory stuck out his tongue in defiance.
“Everyone’s a critic!” Cory giggled before continuing. “Seriously, there’s a whole bunch of people in this car right now who I’m really proud of. First is Jamie and Jacob; the two of you are doing awesome, it’s great to see how well you are adjusting to being real kids. Justy, when these guys called you their angel that said it all, but you still are the best big brother I could ever wish for Jamie and Jacob to have. ‘Bastian, Sammy, you guys are awesome. You guys left this morning to try to help a couple of kids you didn’t even know, and came back with two new friends. Speaking of which, Eli and Benji, you guys hung in there when a lot of people would’ve gave up. Aaron, you were right that you can’t replace Mikey; but you have still managed to be there when you were needed. All of you are great, and I’m proud to call each of you my brothers.”
Cory made the rounds of the group, giving each a hug of appreciation. Once Cory finished, Aaron got up. “Since we’re all in the limo, I’ll just drive us over there. Everyone else has already headed over.”
“QUICK! FIND THE CRASH HELMETS!” Justy yelled in mock panic.
Aaron casually flipped a one-fingered salute at Justy then headed for the door.
“Wait ’til I tell David you’re making offers again!” Justy giggled in reply.
“That wasn’t an offer, Munchkin!” Aaron chuckled. “Now get dressed, we don’t need you three scaring the kids there!”
Justy waited until Aaron was out and just about had the door closed before yelling “It must be your IQ then, Airhead!”
The limo dissolved into giggles at the exchange of insults. Eli recovered first and turned to Justy. “Man, how do you get away with talking to Aaron like that? And where’s his bodyguards?”
Justy giggled his response. “Man, Aaron and I have been running around together since I could walk! Don’t take our fake arguments seriously; it’s just our way of having fun. As far as bodyguards, if you really knew the security here on the Ranch, you wouldn’t ask. There’s things about it I haven’t figured out yet!” He glanced out the window, grinned, and added “Hold on guys, Aaron’s taking a short cut. He’s gonna be SOOOOOO dead when Mark catches him!”
After a couple minutes of bouncing around, Aaron came over the intercom. “Thank you for joining us today on AC’s Offroad Tours! If you will shift your attention to the passenger side of the limo, you will see the future headquarters of Clan Short. As you can see, the South Wing is the recreational area, equipped with an indoor Olympic pool, a hot tub, weight room, game room, and a full size sauna imported from Finland. It is rumored that the officers of the clan will have apartments above the recreational area so that they will have easy access to the facilities. The East Wing is going to be the residence of the Federation Youth Services Director and senior Medical Officers.” Aaron turned onto the winding driveway and headed towards the road.
As they neared the entrance to the property, Justy spoke up. “Eli, we need to ask a favor of you. None of us have found a gate we like to put out here; since you are a natural artist, could you design one for us?”
Eli blushed. “I ain’t that good!”
“Yes you are, it’s just that nobody has really challenged you. Go for it, and have fun with it.”
“Okay, I’ll try.”
A couple of minutes later, they pulled into Camp Little Eagle. It took a couple of tries for Cory to recognize the two little boys that ran up to the limo; between their native dress and their face paint, both Timmy and Ricky could pass for totally different kids. Cory led the group out of the limo, and found himself carrying Timmy a few seconds later.
“Hey kiddo, why the face paint?” Cory asked as he kissed Timmy’s cheek. “Did we go to war without anyone telling me?”
Timmy giggled as he replied “DAAADDDYYYYY! You’re SILLY! You know it’s ‘cuz them bad F-Bee-Eye guys tried to hurt Unca Kelly and tried to take Ricky’s new brothers. Unca John says he’s got it taken care of, but you gotta tell us it’s okay.”
Cory smiled as he regarded the boy in his arms. “You know what, son? I’ve got a better idea; why don’t we let William and Duke decide? They know if it’s safe better than I do, and that way you can warn me without saying anything.”
Timmy thought it over. “Okay Daddy. I hope I’m as smart as you when I grow up!”
Cory pulled Timmy tight against him. “Thank you, Son.” Cory whispered as they headed over to where Teri was standing.
Behind them, everyone except Eli had exited the limo. They all watched as Sebastian reached in to steady Eli and helped him out. Eli was unsteady as he took his first hesitant steps with the knee unlocked on his new right leg.
“Come on Eli, you’re doing fine.” Sebastian softly encouraged while holding Eli’s hand. “Keep going, lift it a little more, that’s great!” As they slowly continued ahead, Sebastian kept up the support, paying more attention to how Eli was doing than to what he was saying. “Great job, Eli, you’ve got it. I love you!”
Both boys came to a sudden stop as each of them realized, at the same time, what Sebastian had just said. Eli slowly turned to Sebastian, holding his hand firmly to keep him there. “Did you really mean that? Even with my screwed up body, did you mean that?”
Sebastian nodded his head and shyly answered. “Yeah, but I hate it when you say your body is screwed up. You may look different, but you ain’t screwed up. I’d love ya’ no matter how many arms and legs you had.”
Tears began running down Eli’s face. “Hug me, ‘Bas, please?”
As the two boys embraced, Eli whispered “I just realized I love you too, ‘Bastian. You don’t care what I look like. I’ll try not to say I’m screwed up anymore. Would you like to be my boyfriend?”
“Yes!” Sebastian replied as he squeezed Eli tighter. “I wanna be with you forever!”
The boys held each other until they both had their emotions under control, then continued on to join the rest of the group, arms around each other’s waist.
Camp Little Eagle, Medical Compound:
Austin looked over the readouts on the Medical Bed one last time. “Here we go, Antonio. You might feel a little tingling while the bed is fixing you up. When it’s done your butt might still be a little sore, but it’s gonna be fixed from where he hurt it, okay?”
“Okay, Doc. What was that stuff that was running out? Did he pee in my butt?”
Austin knelt so he was face-to-face with Antonio. “He didn’t pee in your butt, Antonio, that was semen. When you get bigger you’ll make it too. It’s a part of what makes babies when a man and a woman have sex. When it’s a man with another man, it don’t make babies but it gives each of them a little part of the other.”
“Okay. Did you get it all outta me? I don’t wanna have part of him with me.”
Austin smiled. “I thought that’s what you would want, so I programmed the bed to make sure. If you are ready, I’ll start. You’ll probably be put to sleep while the bed works, then it will wake you up when it’s done.”
Antonio nodded his head, then laid back. Once Austin started the bed, he went over to where Matt was comparing DNA samples.
“Well Matt, it looks like you’re actually using your training!” Austin chuckled as he joined Matt at the desk.
“Yep; before I joined Starfleet I was studying forensics in college. Have you ever seen this triple bump in the third helix before? Both of them have it.”
Austin looked at where Matt was pointing on the screen. “No I haven’t. It’s not in the sexuality quadrant, that’s two more helix’s down. Computer, query quadrant K-27 function and analysis.”
“Analysis Completed. Quadrant K-27 controls onset and duration of puberty. Sample Alpha indicates a two year long puberty at approximate age of fifteen years. Additional quadrants indicate this has already occurred, which matches entered subject data. Sample Beta indicates future puberty at age fourteen of three year duration. WARNING! DNA MISMATCH! Subject’s DNA age does not match entered data! DNA age is thirty-six years old. Verify Subject age.”
Austin looked at Matt in shock. “Buddy, you might be in for a long ride here! Computer, physical age verified at nine Earth years old. Subject is on Medical Bed One at this time. Re-compute.”
“Acknowledged. Dimensions of subject’s body indicate age of nine years, carbon data verifies age of thirty-six Earth years. Subject appears to be developing at one-quarter normal rate. Mental scan confirms mental development is concurrent with physical development. Abnormal DNA string appears to control aging of subject. Awaiting proceed order for DNA repair.”
Austin turned back to Matt. “It’s your call, Matt. If you say no, you are probably going to be raising him for the next forty years. If you say yes, I have no idea what the side effects will be.”
Matt took about three seconds to decide. “It’s time to use your new authority, Doc. The answer is no, and I want all DNA modifications locked out on him until he’s legally an adult, which should be around 2055.”
Austin nodded his head. “I agree Matt; there’s too much uncertainty the other way.” He turned to the console. “Computer, Federation Youth Services Medical override. Identify: Doctor Austin Scott Michaels. Confirmation: Seven-One-Four-November-Alpha.”
“Identity confirmed. Continue, Medical override authorized.”
“Subject: Antonio Fredrick Heinz. DNA manipulation and repair of quadrant K-27 prohibited under my orders. Any DNA work requires my personal presence during the procedure. Subject’s records are to be locked to all except Federation Youth Services Medical personnel. Medical override to remain in effect until the Terran year 2055. Confirm.”
Austin listened as his orders were read back. Once he was sure everything was in order, he continued. “Computer, transmit one copy of subject’s records to Doctor Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer, USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-A. Mark same for his eyes only. Confirm.”
Once the computer confirmed the additional orders, Austin gave the final order. “Computer, execute Medical Override.”
“Acknowledged. Medical Override now in effect. Records have been successfully transmitted to Doctor Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer, USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-A.”
Austin smiled. “Computer, override completed.”
Austin waved to Matt. “Let’s see how your new son is progressing.” They went over to the display and checked the readings. “It looks like he’s just about finished. I just hope he heals faster than he grows.”
Just then a lab technician stuck her head through the doorway. “Doctor, there is a Priority One call coming in for you from the Starship Enterprise. It’s a Dr. Leonard McCoy, and he doesn’t sound happy”
Austin grinned. “I was expecting that. Patch it in here, please.”
By the time Austin reached the viewscreen it came to life. “Dr. McCoy, this is Dr. Michaels. Did you receive the file I sent you?”
“Cut the pleasantries, Michaels. You’re damn right I got it, and it better not be your idea of a sick joke. I want that kid’s status – NOW!”
Austin pressed a series of buttons on the console. “I’m sending you a live feed from the Med Bed. The injuries are just about repaired from his ordeal. He has an abnormality in quadrant K-27 of his DNA which I believe to be responsible for his extended life cycle. His biological father shows the same abnormality, and it appears to be a dominant trait. If I understand the information correctly, we will not have the opportunity to verify this for another twenty years, when Antonio finally reaches puberty. Antonio’s EX-father is in the capable hands of some of Commander Martin’s finest, in custody for the crimes listed in the report from Youth Services I just sent to you; so the chances of him being in any condition for testing are zero”
Austin watched as McCoy scanned the report. Once he finished, he came back on, fuming. “Inform John that I said his men better handle it; if I get my hands on that bastard I might just forget my Hippocratic Oath. What made you put a block on DNA modifications to Antonio?”
Austin grimaced. “When we were running queries on the abnormality, the computer decided that a repair was needed and was awaiting orders to proceed. We think we know what this does, but I’m not about to experiment on a boy’s life to see what happens if it’s removed. Matt here is about to become his guardian under Safe Haven, and he agreed with me.”
“Damn overgrown adding machines! I’m modifying your order; the timespan is now indefinite and can only be overridden by the Federation Surgeon General. The only exception is the Longevity Research Project on Vulcan; I’m gonna send them a copy of these records today and will tell them to expect a DNA sample from you within the next week. I believe Ensign Cory will be able to assist you, unless he wants a full old-fashioned physical when I get back. Remind him he’s old enough for a prostate exam, he’ll get the hint. Good call, Michaels, I expect to meet the young man as soon as we get back.”
“Thank you, Doctor. I’ll get those samples out today. You’re not the only one who holds things over Cory’s head! Antonio will not be a problem at all …”
“Who you talkin’ to, Doc?” a sleepy voice asked from the bed.
Austin turned and was surprised to see Antonio sitting up and stretching like a cat. “I’m talking to Doctor McCoy. He’s the Chief Medical Officer on the Starship Enterprise. Do you want to come say hi?”
Antonio grinned as he hopped off the table and ran over to sit on Austin’s lap. “Hi Doctor McCoy! I’m Antonio. Why was you talking about me?”
McCoy smiled at the boy’s no nonsense approach. “Well hello there, Antonio. Doc Austin and I were just making sure that nobody could hurt you. It seems that you are a very special little boy, and we wanted to make sure that Matthew will be able to be your new Daddy forever.”
Tears started falling down Antonio’s face. “I don’t wanna have to go hide again!” he sobbed.
Matt dropped down and wrapped his arms around Antonio. “Hey little guy, I promise we will NEVER have to hide! You are going to be joining a special extended family. All of the guys will watch out for you and be happy to let you grow up at your pace. Nobody is gonna mess with you, if they do they’re gonna have to deal with Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan. if they are stupid enough to take him on they deserve the whipping they’re gonna get. Besides, I think it’s awesome that I get to watch my little elf grow up for a long time!”
“Really? My old Daddy said that if anyone found out they’d put me in a hospital and cut me up.”
“You don’t have to worry about that, Antonio. First off, it’s been thirty years since doctors did that, and second Doc Austin and I just made sure that nobody can find out; and if they do find out there is nothing they can do to mess with you. Why don’t you go with Matthew and get dressed while Doc Austin and I finish up? When I get back, you can come visit the Enterprise with your friends, okay?”
“Kewl! Thanks Doc!” Antonio gushed as he hopped up and streaked to his clothes.
Austin turned back to the console. “As I was saying, mentally he’s a true nine-year-old. Doctor. You know as well as I do that there’s not a nine year old boy on Earth who would miss a chance to visit the Enterprise!”
“You have a point. Work on getting his history. I have his records flagged so I will know of updates as you post them. Plan on getting calls well into your retirement, Doctor. You just took in a case that will probably outlive not only yourself but also your children. Let me know when that bastard that passed for a father is dead, I’m going to send a thank-you card to his funeral. McCoy out.”
Austin chuckled as the screen went blank. “Did you hear that, Matt? I think I’ll do the same. What about you?”
Without hesitation Matt replied. “Actually, I’ll pass on that. I’m going to get my revenge by watching this cute little elf slowly grow into a fine young man. He’s got a lot of years left to be a kid, and I’m going to enjoy every last one of them with him.”
The next thing Matt knew, his chest was covered by an underwear-clad leech. Matt tilted his head and kissed the grinning face of the boy attached to him. “I guess I ain’t gotta ask you if you approve of that idea, huh?”
Antonio giggled into Matt’s chest. “I’m glad you’re my new Daddy. You’re nice!”
Matt gave him a quick squeeze. “When’s your birthday, lil’ buddy?”
“February 29th, Grandpa said that’s why I grow so slow.”
Matt smiled. “Did he say why being born on February 29th made you grow slow?”
“Yeah. He said that guys in our family that are born on my birthday are special and don’t grow like the rest of our family. My old daddy grew like normal people, but Grandpa said his grandpa was like me. It kinda made my old daddy mad, cuz’ he had to move all the time so nobody could figure out that I’m different. Why ain’t we gonna have to move?”
“We’re not going to have to move because we live in a house with a lot of special kids. They are not special like you, but in different ways. What year were you born?”
Antonio giggled. “1968. I bet I’m older than you, Daddy!”
Matt chuckled. “That you are, little one. Just remember, I’m supposed to be the Daddy here!” Matt tickled Antonio just under the ribs, causing him to wiggle and giggle uncontrollably. “Let’s go, Squirt. You gonna travel dressed like that, or you gonna put on the rest of your clothes?”
Antonio gave Matt a sloppy kiss on the cheek then hopped down. “You’re silly!” he giggled as he ran back and finished dressing.
A few minutes later, the three of them exited the medical compound and began the walk over to the main compound, Antonio happily riding on Matt’s back.
Camp Little Eagle, outside the Main Compound:
Teri, John, and Hawkeye were just sitting back watching as the Clan boys enjoyed the new pool with their new friends from Hawkeye’s tribe. Teri couldn’t help but smile when Justin and Brian, holding hands, walked up and joined them. “I’m glad to see that you two decided to get rid of your old partners, I think you’ll be a lot happier together.”
Justin grinned. “Hey, I told Rusty that I don’t believe in cheating. Jason did the one thing I refuse to forgive; besides, this way the two little guys get to be brothers!”
Brian was watching Timmy, Ricky, Robbie, Johnny, and some of the younger Tribe kids as they worked on building a tower in the sandbox. “That’s for sure. I had a choice between Dylan and giving Robbie a good home. It was a no-brainer, I had the divorce papers filed five minutes after we got home. I wish I could have seen our lawyer’s face when he got the conference call from both of us filing at the same time!”
“You guys did the right thing, both for yourselves and the boys.” John replied. “When the four of you walked in earlier I could see in their faces how happy you have made them.”
They were interrupted by Robbie running up to Brian and pulling on his arm. “DADDY! LOOK! Unca Aaron is FLYIN’!”
Everyone looked up and saw Aaron flailing around in mid-air about fifteen feet above the center of the pool. As they watched, he suddenly dropped, managing to roll into a ball just before hitting the water. Brian giggled as he watched Aaron climb out and begin chasing Benji. “Don’t worry, son; it’s just Eli and Benji having some fun. It looks like you’ve got a bunch of new friends over there. Are you guys having fun too?”
“Yeah! We’re buildin’ a tower to the MOON!” Robbie exclaimed as he ran back to the sandbox.
“Teri, I think we need to order more sand!” Hawkeye chuckled. “I’m still amazed at how fast we got set up. I didn’t realize how many members of the tribe were wasting their schooling due to not being able to find jobs to match their skills.”
“That should never be a problem again, Hawkeye. Since this is basically a self-contained community, they can train for anything that interests them and have a job waiting.”
Suddenly, William and Duke began flying over the kids in the compound screeching. All of the kids dropped whatever they were doing as if it was a pre-arranged signal, and headed over to the pavilion where the adults were gathered. The reason for the rush was shortly apparent as Austin, Matt, and Antonio joined them.
Austin looked out and was surprised to see his two newest sons racing to the front. When they broke through the crowd and stopped in front of him, Austin could barely contain his giggles.
“Hi Dad!” both boys chorused.
“Hey guys! It looks like you’re having fun! Eli, it’s great to see you’ve figured out a way to run, but didn’t you forget something?”
Eli looked to where Austin was pointing, and giggled when he saw only one leg holding himself up. “Ooops! Just a minute!” Eli put two fingers from his left hand in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. “Here leg! Get over here!”
Realizing the potential for fun, Eli played it to the hilt. He ‘walked’ the leg through the crowd, then made it bounce like a puppy once it was in front of him.
“Now what have I told you about running off without me?” Eli scolded. He let the leg bend over slightly so that it appeared to be pouting. “Do I have to tape you on so that I know where you are at?” The leg’s top twisted back and forth. “Alright, fifteen minute time-out in the corner, then get back here where you belong!” As he shuffled the leg over to the nearest corner, the watching crowd cheered Eli’s performance.
Austin caught his breath finally and placed a hand on Eli’s shoulder. “You handled that well, son. I do have to admit, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a leg get a time-out!”
Eli giggled. “Sorry Dad, I guess I wasn’t thinking and ran off without it.”
Austin smiled as he sat down in a nearby chair and pulled Eli to sit on his leg. “It’s okay, Eli. I know you have to get used to it, so don’t worry about getting in trouble. I do want you to let me know if it’s causing any problems like sores or rashes, but if you just need to take it off for a while I don’t mind at all. What do you think about all of your new friends?”
Eli gave Austin a big grin. “They’re awesome! Dougie, he’s one of the Indian kids, is missin’ an arm too; we was talking a lot and he’s helped me figure out how to do stuff I used to use two hands for. All of the guys have been cool, nobody’s made fun of me or picked on me. You were right, Dad, these guys are great!”
“That’s because you are a great kid, son. Do you realize that you have made my day by calling me ‘Dad’?” Austin pulled Eli into a hug. “I love you, son.”
Eli wrapped his arm around Austin. “I love you too, Dad.”
They stayed that way for a minute, then Austin spoke. “You know, you have another friend here, one that almost all of these other guys don’t know yet.” He turned to Benji. “Benji, why don’t you join us down here? I think you two should have the honor of doing the introductions.”
Benji took a seat on Austin’s other leg. Once everyone was ready, Austin yelled “Matt! Come on out!”
Matt came around the corner, Antonio walking with him and nervously clutching Matt’s hand. As soon as he spotted the boys, Antonio pulled away from Matt and ran to them yelling “ELI! BEN! You’re okay!”
Austin couldn’t help but to smile as the three friends were reunited. As soon as they broke their three-way hug, Antonio began firing off questions.
“What happened? Why are you here now? How bad were you hurt? How do you move with only one leg now, Eli?”
Seeing that all of the questions were overloading Eli and Benji, Austin placed a finger over Antonio’s mouth. “Settle down, little one. You will have plenty of time to get your answers, right now all you need to know is that you’ll never be separated like that again.”
The smiles that Eli and Benji flashed at Austin expressed their thanks more than words. Austin winked at Eli, then added. “You know, I think fifteen minutes are up, Eli.”
“Thanks, Dad!” Eli answered with an evil grin. He turned his head to the side. “Hey leg, have you learned your lesson?”
The top of the leg wiggled in a decent approximation of a nod. “Okay, get back over here. I don’t want to see a stunt like that again!” Eli then made the leg ‘walk’ back to him.
Sebastian came up and arrived at the same time as Eli’s leg. He picked the leg up and put it on Eli’s stump. Once it was in place, he latched it and stood up.
“C’mere cutie!” Eli giggled as he reached out and pulled ‘Bastian to him. He gave ‘Bastian a quick kiss then announced “Antonio, I’d like you to meet my boyfriend Sebastian. Sebastian, this is Antonio, he’s mine and Benji’s friend from before the accident.”
Sebastian giggled at the stunned expression on Antonio’s face. “Welcome home, Antonio!” he said as he pulled Antonio into a hug. “Any friend of Eli’s is a friend of mine.”
Sean walked up to the boys and pulled Antonio back to his chest. “Dang Eli, when you decide to fry someone’s brain cells you go all out! Do you think you could do that at a moments notice to someone you don’t know?”
Sean rubbed Antonio’s shoulders, slowly relaxing him as Sean and Eli talked. “I’ll fill you guys in once we get home, but for now I’ll say that you might get a chance to do it to some people who hurt your boyfriend and his brother before they moved in with us.”
“That’s all I need to hear!” Eli replied.
Antonio’s brain finally finished processing the flood of new information it had received. “Eli, I thought you and Benji ain’t supposed to do that stuff where anyone can see it?”
Eli smiled. “It don’t matter anymore, bro. Everyone here knows about Benji and I; in fact we’ve been having fun with it all afternoon. AIN’T THAT RIGHT, AARON!?”
“Bite me, Eli!” Aaron giggled from the front of the crowd. A few seconds later he yelled, “OUCH! I didn’t mean it literally!”
“Open mouth, insert foot, babe!” David giggled from beside him. “Ohhh, that’s gonna leave a mark!”
Antonio looked over at the commotion, then snapped his head around to look for Matt. “DAAAD!”
Matt ran over. “What’s wrong, son?”
Antonio pointed towards Aaron. “Is that really Aaron, Nick and Ashley Carter, David Gallagher, JC Chasez-Dodds, Brian Littrell, and Justin Timberlake over there? Why are they here?”
Matt chuckled. “I told you this was a special group! Yes, that’s them. They’re all part of your family now, you’ll get to meet them as soon as Teri makes you my son for real.”
Antonio giggled as he replied, “Well, let’s hurry up then; unlike me you’re getting old! Which one is Teri?”
As Antonio dragged Matt over to Teri, Benji leaned over to Austin. “Dad, does that mean you know about Antonio?”
Austin smiled. “Yes son, we know about him not growing like you. Matt and I have made sure his secret is safe, and I promise he’ll never have to move to protect himself ever again. Let’s join them, Teri’s going to finalize our family, too.”
A few minutes later, Teri was guiding Byron as he completed his first Safe Haven Act inductions. Once he finished, Teri made her official announcement. “First things first, I want to congratulate Austin, Carrie, and Matt on their new sons. Benji, Elijah, and Antonio; welcome to the family!” Teri then motioned to Jamie and Jacob to join her. Once they walked up, she continued. “I think these two boys deserve special recognition. When they were found, they were scared to do anything without permission. Today they took the initiative, and acted as soon as they discovered a possible kid in trouble. They contacted Kyle, who called Sean and passed on the details. Thanks to them, Antonio is safe with his new Dad. Way to go, guys; I’m very proud of you.” Teri leaned down and gave both blushing boys a hug.
As soon as they ran back to rejoin Justy, Teri continued. “Chief Tecumseh and I discussed the current Clan structure, and determined it would be best for Derek to remain in his position as Teacher and assign Byron as liaison between the Clan and the Tribe. Charles will work with the Orlando crew, and both boys are now authorized to perform Safe Haven Act extractions in the field. This should help you guys with the kids out there, since your chances of getting near them with an adult are almost zero. Cory, Sean; take these guys around and make sure they meet everyone. John and I are going to go figure out how we’re getting home!”
Orlando Interplanetary Spaceport:
Sean went into shock as the limo pulled onto the Shuttlecraft Landing Field. “John, how did you manage this?”
“It wasn’t hard. It seems that some hot-shot Ensign got orders to complete his Atmospheric Certification. Oh, that’s right, these are for you.”
Sean opened the dispatch and read it to himself.
From: Captain James T. Kirk, USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-A
To: Ensign Sean Short, Helm Division
Upon review of your flight records, I have determined that you require completion of your certification flight for your atmospheric pilot’s license. Arrangements have been made for the flight. I expect to find a glowing report waiting for myself and Commander Dodds in the morning. Good Luck, Sean.
(Signed) James T. KirkCaptain, USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A
Sean grinned. “That’s pretty sneaky, John. Who’s certifying me?”
Matt raised his hand. “I am, and I expect you to stay ABOVE any bridges we get near.”
“Hey, I was only the co-pilot on that trip! Uncle Chip was the pilot!” Sean giggled.
Matt grinned back. “Yeah, but half of Starfleet knows about it! I’ve already reviewed your audio logs from previous flights, and I’m passing you on communications. Let’s see if you can pilot as well as you talk.”
A minute later, they pulled up to their designated shuttle. As they prepared to exit the limo, Sean went into work mode. “Mr. Short, could you please ensure our passengers get seated properly and belted in?”
“Yes, sir.” Cory replied with pride.
While Cory was getting everyone settled, Sean submitted his flight plan. He had just received approval when Cory came forward. “Sean, we have a problem. I don’t know how to belt William and Duke.”
Sean thought for a second. “Bring Timmy and William up here. Timmy’s rode in shuttles before, so William should be able to figure out from his memories of the trips what will work.”
Cory ran back and returned a few minutes later with Timmy and William.
Sean turned to Timmy. “Hey, kiddo. We need you to ask William to help us. He can’t use a seat belt like you; so I need you to let him see what a shuttle ride is like, and then see if he has any ideas on how he would be safe.”
Timmy concentrated for a minute, then smiled. “He says it’s easy, Pop. Just fold down the back seats and fasten the belts across them. Him and Duke can hold on to the belts; he says it’s easier than grabbin’ a fish after diving a couple hun’red feet.”
“Thanks son, and thank William for me. Go on back so your Daddy can get you fastened back in, then he’ll fix it up for our feathered friends.”
Once the cabin was clear again, Sean turned to Matt. “Mr. Barnes, begin preflight.”
Once they finished the check and double-check of the instruments, Sean turned towards the passenger area. “Mr. Short, are all passengers and cargo secured for flight?”
“Yes, sir.” Cory replied.
“Thank you.” Sean replied before turning back to his console. “Mr. Barnes, open our flight plan and request clearance to depart.”
“Aye, sir.” Matt placed the headset on, and dialed the tower frequency on the communications board. “Orlando Control, this is shuttle Newton. Requesting clearance for departure.”
“Shuttle Newton, this is Orlando Control. Please state names of pilot, co-pilot, and destination.”
“Orlando Control , this is shuttle Newton. Pilot is Ensign Sean Short, co-pilot is Lieutenant Matt Barnes. Destination is Des Moines, Iowa.”
“Acknowledged, Newton. Landing pad is clear. Ignite engines and standby for clearance.”
“Newton standing by. Thank you, Orlando.” Matt turned to Sean. “We are cleared to fire up the engines, then hold for flight clearance, Ensign.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“Newton, this is Orlando Control.”
“This is Newton. Go ahead, Orlando.” Matt replied.
“Newton, you are number one for takeoff. You are cleared bearing three-two-seven, altitude four-eight thousand feet. Transfer to Chicago Control for further instructions upon entering Central Time Zone. Have a good flight.”
“Acknowledged, Orlando. Newton number one for takeoff bearing 3 2 7, cruising altitude 4 8 thousand feet, transfer to Chicago Control upon entering Central Time Zone. Thank you, and have a good day. Newton out.” Matt closed the channel then turned to Sean. “I guess that trip with your Uncle Chip did some good.”
“I hope so. I want Uncle Chip to be proud of me.”
“I know he will, Sean. I’ll make sure he gets a copy of today’s flight log as well. You’re gonna do a great job, Sean. I have every confidence in you.”
“Thanks, Matt.” Sean beamed with pride at the praise from Matt. He then scanned the panels in front of him with renewed confidence as he lifted off and began their journey home.
Short Residence, Des Moines, IA, later that night:
The boys had finished dinner and were upstairs getting ready for bed. Kelly noticed Antonio sitting on the edge of the bed with a downcast look, so he went over to see what was wrong.
“What’s up, man?”
“I know I’m too old to cuddle, but seeing all you guys with your cuddle partners makes me want someone too.” Antonio answered in a shamed tone.
Kelly sat down and placed an arm around Antonio. “I know in a way I’m younger than you, but I think you’ve been told to look at it all wrong. The way we’ve got it figured, it takes four years for you to grow like I do in one year, right?”
“Okay, even though you see a lot more in four years than I do in one, your brain probably grows just like your body. In fact, Jamie said he’s positive it’s growing just like your body, it just has more room to store information than other nine-year-olds. What you need to do is just count your birthdays, the only difference between your years and mine is my year has twelve months and yours has forty-eight months. Now get rid of that frown and get over here with Byron and me; we’re the official cuddle pile for those without their own partner. Just promise not to worry if you wake up with a sticky belly or back; I found out the hard way that sleeping nude can make guys my age squirt without warning.”
Antonio slowly smiled. “You know what, I think you’re right. I need to just be a nine year old for now. I’ll be okay if you squirt, I like all of you guys so I don’t mind a part of you soaking into my skin. Let’s go to bed!”
As Kelly walked over to dim the lights, Cory whispered to Sean. “Babe, that just settled any doubts. We picked the right guy to be in charge of the kids.”
Sean pulled himself tighter to Cory’s chest. “I agree, babe. Goodnight, I love you.”
“I love you too, Teddy Bear.”