Clan Short Pacific Rim Division

Chapter 14


Ewa Beach CIC Basement Store

Saturday, November 5, 2004, 11:00AM HTZ

About the same time Reyes was initiated into his Core Rimmer role at the diving well, John and the rest of the Des Moines brunch party returned home with eight new kids. One of the eight boys was five-year-old Wade Houseman, who was John's and Stephen's newest son-to-be. The first thing John did upon arrival was tap his comm-badge, calling Lieutenant Vorik, so he could meet twelve-year-old Vaziik. In the meantime, Jim, Jennifer and Stephen explained the basics of the shopping excursion to the newbies.

More concerned about their newest toys, the Oldcambus brothers wondered where their new trikes were. Frankie answered, "Daddy told Alden to leave them outside the CIC."

At the eight confused and scowling faces before her, Jennifer smiled, "It may seem that the leaders like talking to themselves, but often they're talking to our AI, Alden, through the sub-vocals in their ears."

Lieutenant Vorik transported into the store. John introduced Vaziik to his new mentor.

Stephen giggled, "While we were saying goodbye, guys; John, Johnny and Robin were saying their goodbyes telepathically, and John talked to Alden. Right out behind the CIC, across the driveway and near the shuttle pad, is a brand new trike garage."

"And I'll be adding to the collection, so more boys can join you," Jennifer promised. "Then I'll see about getting a trike-trail set up at the Northwest side of the base."

Wearing a small grin, Jim reminded his wife, "Remind Carl to leave the trees and foliage untouched, love. Remember our squirrel families."

"I haven't forgotten," Jen smiled. "I may never forget."

Done with Vorik and Vaziik, John turned to the group of newbie boys, giggling, "Let's not talk about what would happen if we don't remember our squirrels." Leaning down, John used his hands to lift Wade, and then sat him in a shopping cart. Telekinetically, John made the cart buck like a horse. Holding on tight, Wade happily squealed. On its own, the cart rolled down the aisle to the boys' underwear and sleepwear department.

Next to take a shopping cart, Erik Kendricks wondered, "John, is there a reason you didn't lift Wade with your mind?"

Paying attention to Wade holding onto the sides of the cart, John pleasantly answered, "Trust," and lifted Frankie up off the floor to hover over the cart Wade was sitting in. Giggling madly at each other, Wade reached up while Frankie reached down.

"Wade knows what John can do," Stephen meekly added. "We can feel Wade's on the fence about it; wanting to try it again, but scared to try at the same time. John levitated Wade to a urinal in the mens' room at Des Moines. It was our lucky break that it wasn't anywhere else."

Watching the Oldcambus brothers grab shopping carts, Jen reminded, "We're all family now. Where you decide to live and with whom doesn't change that fact."

"Anyone that needs mom or dad time can find it, from any adult here," Jim assured. Rob and Laura Gibbons transported into the store and were quickly introduced to the batch of boys. John admitted to telepathically calling the Gibbons' to the store. Almost immediately, Laura took interest in Wade and Taron, the two youngest boys. Wade held back from Laura until he was assured by Frankie it would be okay. Taron got jabs from his cousins until Laura showed more interest in the cute strawberry-blond, eleven-year-old twins, Kade and Karey.

Knowing when to keep his yap shut, the twins' big bro, fourteen-year-old Kassidy, followed Erik into the underwear department. In the meantime, Jim was softly telling Rob that Erik's only surviving parent, the boy's father, was an LA motorcycle cop who was killed in an accident during the riots. With a purpose, Rob followed the two teenagers and made himself available to chat. Jim went to assist twelve-year-old Stu Sutliff through the store. Choosing to assist Taron, Kathy Marr trailed the blond boy and struck up a conversation.

In dormitory three, Pat O'Hara and Rafe had Ralphie there, helping to get the new digs organized. Having moved into the dorm and out again Thursday evening, Ralphie was able to explain a few new items, like the laundry sacks, and the satellite television and radio system. Noticing that Pat and Ralphie paused for kisses as they traveled from suitcase to closet and dresser, Rafe giggled, "We need to do something with this room."

"What's wrong, Rafe?" Pat wondered.

"You two can't pass by each other without a touch and a kiss," Rafe giggled. "Since this is how it is daytime and dressed, we need to do something for night time. We need extra privacy between the beds."

Ralphie giggled, "What do you think we'll be doing?"

Already blushing slightly, Pat loudly laughed, "RALPHIE!"

Focusing on putting his clothes away, Rafe giggled, "Like Jay and Chris; gettin' naked, kissin', moanin' and groanin'."

"RAFE!" Pat yelled. Ralphie cracked up. Sadly shaking his head, Pat smirked at Ralphie, ordering, "Tell him what we've been doing since we met."

Ralphie giggled, "Getting closer and wanting to get even closer." Rafe howled laughing. Disappointed, Pat slouched. Ralphie went to Rafe, paused his unpacking, and more seriously said, "We're sharing more than hugs and little kisses. I've been telling Pat what my life was like, and he's telling me the same kind o' stuff. Intermixed with all that is my new life with three brothers, which might become five brothers, at least that's what we're hoping."

Rafe wondered, "Which two newer brothers?"

"Richie's brothers from Vegas, Carrol and Terrance," Ralphie said. "And that's just the start, because Ronnie's half brother, Adam, in Des Moines, has another three brothers, a twin and another set of twins."

Pat explained, "I'm telling Ralphie about Washington. We're city kids, and Ralphie's from the suburbs near Lake Erie. Do you think we're just gonna become boyfriends overnight? Yeah, I like a lot about Ralphie, and he like's a lot about me, but we're just starting, not like your bro and Chris at all. We hope to get there, is all either of us can say."

Nodding, Ralphie smiled, "And that it's looking good so far."

Rafe confirmed, "Like every other friendship?"

Ralphie nodded and Pat grinned, "With additional attractions tossed in." Much more enthusiastically, Ralphie nodded at Pat. Leering at Ralphie, Pat giggled, "Like with a pro model."

Slithering closer to Pat, Ralphie smiled, "Or with a hot redhead who could've been a model. Which reminds me, I think we'll have to wear our Speedos again today." Stepping into a hug, Ralphie and Pat sighed and purred.

Rolling his eyes, Rafe laughed, "Alden, how can we block the views between the beds?"

From the ceiling speaker, Alden giggled, "It's not been much of an issue before, Rafe. There are alternatives, like a thick cloth curtain, or we could simply rearrange some furniture?"

"Let's try something with the furniture," Rafe suggested.

"Step away from the beds, guys," Alden prompted. Rafe did as he was told and moved by the doorway. Not willing to separate, Ralphie and Pat slowly waddled together away from the beds. The two night tables and lamps disappeared from their positions between the beds and windows, reappearing near the furthest corners of the room. The dressers were also relocated from the walls near the closets to the space between the beds. One dresser faced Pat's bed and the other faced Rafe's bed. Alden asked, "How's that look to you guys?"

"Excellent!" Rafe cheered, "We can get this unpacking done faster too."

Pat wondered, "Where can we put our empty suitcases, Alden?"

"You could put them under your beds, or there's a storage room, just down the hall, where you could put them," Alden replied.

Across the hall, Chris had been doing most of the unpacking, leaving Jay to put sneakers and button-down sport shirts away in closets, because that was easier for him to do with one hand in a cast. With the last of the shirts put away, Jay watched Chris scurry between the beds and the dressers with socks, underwear and shorts. With nothing better to do, Jay went to his suitcase and started to carefully lift a stack of shorts. Hurrying over to his boyfriend, Chris giggled, "Leave it, before you drop it. I'll take care of it," and tried to take the pile of shorts.

Gripping the clothes tighter, Jay chuckled, "I can help."

Play fighting for the shorts, Chris giggled, "Yeah, help get 'em all wrinkly and dirty before you even wear 'em." When Jay wouldn't let go, Chris cackled, "The Doc said no exertion!"

"Was I talking about the clothes?" Jay sniggered, and repeated, "I can help." Pausing his struggle for the clothes, Chris looked into Jay's eyes; the eyes he feared he wouldn't ever see again only hours earlier. Without looking, Jay tossed the pile of clothes onto the bed. Watching tears flood Chris' eyes, Jay whispered, "I'm the only one that can help." In a flash, Chris was in Jay's arms and unashamedly crying. Holding his love close and tight, Jay softly joked, "I'm not quite dead yet. I do believe I'm feeling much better." Still weeping through a giggle, Chris smacked Jay's ass. Soothingly, Jay rambled, "It's my fault; my fault I got trapped, my fault you and Rafe thought I was dead, it's all my fault, just like every other argument we've had. I hate to tell you, but those roles are about to change. Since the door is open, everyone can see me with you. They'll all see it soon, baby; your hand in mine, and my mouth attached to yours. Corey and Drew showed the way. Prez and Keith proved it. You're mine and everyone here's gonna know it, I promise."

"I was so scared," Chris bitterly wept. "Starting over again, but wanting someone like you, and always being disappointed, getting nowhere, with nobody, because they could never be you."

Knowing this was only the beginning of the recovery, Jay listened to Chris bawling nonsensically for a few minutes. When his lover calmed down, Jay led Chris to the bed on the left side of the room, and then tossed Chris' empty suitcase onto the other bed. He sat down on the empty bed and then pulled Chris down onto the mattress, signifying it was cuddle time, and the last bit of unpacking could wait. Kicking his sandals off, Chris then slid into his favored position, beside Jay and with his head resting on his left shoulder. Once settled, Jay softly told Chris what he was planning for his first days at Ewa Beach. He compared their old closeted life to the new one about to start that very day, after they grabbed a nap and then had lunch. Soon, Jay realized he wasn't getting any responses from Chris, only deep, steady breathing. With the door wide open, Jay whispered, "I can help, and I will," and then closed his eyes and fell asleep.

On the way to the bathroom, and again returning to his room, Scott Shetley saw Chris cuddled up to Jay. He couldn't help admitting how awesome they looked together. It was time to figure out his sexuality, once and for all, Scott told himself. All his life, Scott had been friendly with various boys and girls, but none were so close that he could picture himself holding them close and napping together, like Chris and Jay were. He yearned to be in a picture like that, but the other half was blank. Returning to the job of unpacking and organizing his new room, Scott saw Lance point and beam, "I thought that corner would be a good home for our axes, man." 

Maybe it was his thoughts that made Scott believe Lance's smile was particularly bright. Seeing the smaller Les Paul case leaning against his larger, tweed Stratocaster case, Scott nodded, "Good spot, easily accessible for both of us. It's kewl."

Lance blinked, "Are you sure? You seem a little distracted or something?"

Scott grinned, "Look down the hall, in Chris' and Jay's room."

Heading out the door, Lance wondered, "What did they do?" but didn't wait for a reply. 

Returning to unpacking his suitcase, Scott wondered and worried what Lance might have to say. Barely a minute later, while Scott was organizing his new chest of drawers exactly like his old one in New York City, Lance returned. Without saying a word, Lance went directly to his bed. Scott paused to watch Lance. He didn't seem fazed. Scott prompted, "What are you thinking?"

Heading to his closet with shirts, Lance shrugged, "What's there to think? Chris is happier, so that's really good."

"Nothing else and no other comments?"

"I don't really know Jay, but they seem to belong together. There's lots of gay guys here. It don't bother me a bit. Does it bother you?"

"No; I thought they looked pretty good, comfortable together."

Lance giggled, "Comfortable enough to leave the door open, so everyone going by could see."

Trying to keep his voice sounding like he was making idle conversation, and returning to the chore close to finished, Scott admitted, "I've never had that, and can't even really see ever having it."

Lance grinned, "That's too bad."

Gathering up more clothes to take to the dresser, Scott suspiciously smirked, "You've had something like that and didn't tell me?"

"His name was Paulie," Lance giggled, "Paulie Panda." Spinning around, Scott grinned at Lance. Continuing his unpacking, Lance giggled, "Paulie was my snuggle bear from ages three until ten, when he was looking so much older than seven, it was a very sad day when Paulie gave his final wave bye-bye."

Cracking up, Scott laughed, "You're telling me your first boyfriend was a Panda bear?"

Lance giggled, "A guy's gotta start somewhere!"

"You're killin' me here!" Scott roared, and collapsed onto his bed.

Going about his business, Lance playfully giggled, "I told you already, over my head is the word 'virgin,' capitalized in big red neon letters. Sometimes, I think I'm lucky I can spank it and get off on it." Scott howled. More loudly, Lance giggled, "Yes, I can play guitar, but it's a fifty-fifty shot when it comes to playing with myself. I figure someday after I can play guitar really well, maybe I'll start thinking about sex, but not until then. That leaves us a few years of practicing, I guess."

Almost breathless, Scott sat up chortling, "Fifty percent of the time is good by my standards."

"I'm sorry about that too, and that I'll be the only teenager at the diving well keeping my shorts on most of the time."

Scott grinned, "Why are you worried about it? You've got the same or more than most other guys." Uncontrollably, he blushed from accidentally divulging that he was paying attention in the shower the prior evening

"I don't care what the guys see," Lance grinned, "but I do care about sunburning my city boy white ass."

Understandingly, Scott nodded, "Then you definitely limit your exposures. I've had my share of sunburns too." He stood and set about finishing the last of his unpacking.

Finished unpacking, Lance zipped up his suitcase and stuffed it under the bed. The mattress top was at least six inches higher off the floor than his twin sized bed in Manhattan was. The box-spring was higher off the floor and the mattress had to be three or four inches thicker. Springing up, Lance landed on his back on his new bed. "Oh, man!" Lance cheered, "This is an awesome bed, the most comfortable bed I've ever felt."

Scott nodded, "Gimme a few here, and I can check out my bed."

Lance giggled, "Paulie would've loved it."

Losing it and cracking up, Scott fumbled, dropping his socks and underwear to the carpeted floor. Lance howled laughing and rolled back and forth on his bed. Squatting down, Scott giggled, "You've got me jealous of a damned stuffed Panda bear!" and started tossing his new, but slightly less clean underwear at his hysterical roomie. Fanning the flames, Lance held pairs of boxer-briefs to his face and deliriously purred through his giggles. Laughing his butt off, Scott began loading several smaller socks into a single large sock. He stood, opened the Velcro on his board shorts and stuffed the over-filled sock into his opened shorts.

Lance glanced over and saw his roomie approaching his bed. Widening his eyes, Lance squealed, "No! That's way, way bigger than I expected after last night's shower!"

Passing by the room, Craig Nash heard the remark, paused and peeked inside. Seeing Craig at the doorway first, Lance turned red and cracked up. Turning to see why Lance was blushing, Scott inadvertently showed off his sock-stiffie. Craig sniggered, "Nice, but I think Lance is right, it's way bigger than even the gorillas and G-Cats would want to deal with." 

Wandering off to return to the relative safety of his little brother and their room, Craig heard Scott loudly laugh, "It's not what it looks like, Craig."

"Thank God!" Craig chortled. "I'm not sure what it was that I saw."

A giant stuffed Panda bear appeared on top of Lance. "PAULIE!" Lance cheered. The Panda teetered and toppled over, apparently giving his companion a long overdue hug. Lance giggled, "It's been so long, but not as long as Scott."

"Oh, God damn it," Scott laughed, "I guess I'll pack and move out, so you and Paulie can be alone."

Lance hysterically wheezed, "You just unpacked. Stay, and Paulie can find a home with a younger kid. We've got guitars to master, in between middle of the night wanks."

Pulling the sock out of his shorts, Scott grinned, "It's a deal. And it's good to know you won't get too upset if I become as hairy as Paulie."

"It's good to know you won't freak when you hear my bed squeaking late at night," Lance giggled.

Scott shrugged and grinned, "I figured, since you're thirteen, if you hadn't already started, your turn would be soon enough. We all learn it's a necessary evil."

Much more seriously, Lance asked, "Do you think we told each other too much?"

Scowling and shaking his head, Scott assured, "To be roommates, we'd better get used to telling the truth. At some point, one of us will have a girl friend or a boy friend. We'll have to deal with lots of daily stuff, so no, I don't think that we've messed up. I think we've started on the right foot. Goofing around is a good way to deal with it."

Nodding, Lance prompted, "Let's head to the diving well before lunch."

Scott sniggered, "Let me finish organizing socks and undies."

Lance giggled, "I'd help, but I know where them socks have been."

"I've got underwear on," Scott chuckled.

After humming thoughtfully for a few seconds, Lance muttered, "That's another point for consideration; I'd guess half the guys here wear underwear."

"I can go commando in this climate." Scott reminded, "Compared to Manhattan's heat and humidity, this is way more comfortable."

"We'll eventually have to fit in with the locals," Lance stated, and stood to remove his underwear. Purposefully, Scott attended to his clothes and storing them, instead of watching his roomie strip. Lance put his board shorts and sandals on again. Finished putting his stuff away, Scott zipped his suitcase and then slid it under his bed. He quickly stripped, stuffed his boxer-briefs into a laundry bag in his closet, and then slid back into his shorts and sandals. Thankful that Scott got undressed beyond his open closet door, Lance sat and waited on his bed, knee drumming and softly singing the lead guitar part to Led Zeppelin's 'The Ocean'. When Scott was dressed, he tapped Lance on the arm. They left the room, each singing the guitar parts to 'The Ocean'. After going through the common room, Lance and Scott passed the open door of the Nash brothers' room. Having heard from his big bro what Lance and Scott were caught doing, Phil cracked up.

Sadly shaking his head, Lance giggled, "We're getting a reputation."

"For having fun with stuffed bears and over-stuffed socks."

About the same time Scott and Lance were walking outside of dorm three, Drew was leading Corey and his three sons into townhouse number three. The young family stepped inside the spacious living room. The tan leather sofa was large enough for all five of them to be comfortable. To one side of the sofa was a matching love seat, and on the other side were two matching recliners. Drew paused and turned on the television. Corey, Geoff and Lenny went into the dining room, and then turned left into the kitchen. About to join the rest of the family, Drew and Leo paused to allow Geoff and Lenny to race by and up the stairs.

Drew called, "What're you doin', Cor?"

Turning slightly and looking over the breakfast counter at his hubby, Corey answered, "Just looking in the cabinets. We've got plates, pots, pans and utensils, but no food at all." He then called, "Alden, get some food and stuff in this house, dude."

Alden queried, "Give me an idea of what you'd like, guys?"

Corey checked with Drew, who then answered, "Our main meals will be at the CIC, so snacks and sandwich fixin's, ice cream, potato and corn chips, a variety of cookies, and milk, juices and sodas. We'll definitely need toilet paper, bath, hand and kitchen towels, all those sorts of household supplies."

"It's on the way," Alden replied.

Corey asked Drew, "Are we going to Kaho'olawe today?"

Nodding, Drew replied, "After lunch for a few hours. How long we can stay depends on rescue activity."

Looking up at his new dad, Leo asked, "Are we staying here tonight?"

Drew nodded, "If we can't stay at Kaho'olawe, yes. Keith and Prez are already considering spending the night there."

Leo wondered, "What's the beach house like?"

Corey giggled, "Since we haven't been there, we don't really know."

Pulling his eldest close for a hug, Drew grinned, "We were told it's sort of like the big homes here. I think it'll be a good place for you to get to know all your new cousins and the rest of the Core Rimmers."

Leo giggled, "Kewl, dad. There are so many kids here, I wouldn't know where to start or who to talk to."

Nodding understandingly, Corey softly explained, "A week ago Geoff and Lenny felt the same way, with only a hundred kids here. By Wednesday afternoon, when we adopted Lenny, both of 'em knew all their cousins and had other friends too."

Drew confidently told his eldest, "You'll be like that in a few more days, Leo. When kids have questions for a Core Rimmer, but none are around, guess who they'll ask." Shocked with the news, Leo's eyes widened. It had never occurred to Leo that he was now the son of two leaders.

From upstairs, Geoff and Lenny yelled, "DADDY! POPPA! COME SEE!" Leo giggled at his brothers.

Leading the way, Drew laughed, "We're coming."

Trailing his dad and walking with his pop, Leo wondered, "How can I answer any questions? I just got here."

Corey giggled, "Ask your brothers and cousins that question later. You'll have a whole day together."

Climbing the steps, Drew added, "You witnessed everything in the store, last night and again this morning, Leo. Believe it or not, you've got the answers already."

As soon as Drew stepped onto the second floor landing, both his hands were taken by Geoff and Lenny. Drew was quickly shown the two smaller bedrooms and then dragged to the master bedroom. Peeking into the two smaller bedrooms, Corey giggled, "There's room for four." He glanced down at Leo, playfully asking, "Do you want another little brother, or one your age?"

Covering his face with both hands, Leo cackled, "Too much, too soon, pop!"

Wrapping an arm around Leo, Corey softly giggled, "Oh, the spare bed in that room is for your older boyfriend, isn't it?" Smirking at his pop, Leo jumped away from the arm over his shoulder and tickle attacked with both hands. Cracking up, Corey escaped by racing downstairs.

From the master bedroom, where Geoff and Lenny could be seen testing the mattress springs, kid-style, Drew sniggered, "What did your pop say, Leo?"

Leo giggled, "You call him 'angel'? He's wicked!"

Waving Leo forward, Drew loudly called, "Corey, I'm setting up our computers."

Approaching his dad, Leo grinned, "Do we really need two beds in both bedrooms?"

Drew shrugged and grinned, "We'll check with Grandma Morrison for a spare brother for you. Which reminds me, what were you and the evil angel talking about in the store?"

First checking that his two little brothers weren't paying attention, Leo blushed and giggled, "The birds and the bees, and the birds and the birds, and the bees and the bees."

"Now I get it," Drew smiled. "Too many cute dudes changing clothes?" Nodding, Leo fiercely blushed. Drew grinned, "Let what you've learned settle for a few days. We've all been there. Imagine how I felt, being attracted to Prez, who suddenly became my big brother."


Drew nodded, "Later on, when we visit Kaho'olawe, you'll get the whole story."

"What's the preface?"

"Keith and John are my blood," Drew began, "but Prez is very much a brother too, and so are Kaleo, Tory, Sean, Troy, AJ, Jerry, and all the Core Rimmers. We're all family. All the kids that will be at Kaho'olawe are my nephews and your cousins. All the other kids are brothers and sisters too. That's the biggest lesson we teach every newbie." Noticing Corey out in the hallway, keeping a safe distance from Leo, Drew giggled, "Come check out our workstations, Cor. You can put the finishing touches on this, and I'll take Leo to rearrange the other bedrooms." Geoff and Lenny jumped off the king sized bed and raced past Drew, Leo and Corey, out of the room. Corey got tickled by everyone that passed him.

Drew went to the bedroom furthest from the stairs, where Geoff and Lenny had each chose a bed to bounce upon. Calling Alden, Drew replaced his sons' laptops with top-of-the-line MacBook Pro models. He then had Geoff's and Lenny's clothes transported into dresser drawers and closets. Ready for Leo's room, Drew called for Leo's suitcase. Immediately, Drew called for Alden to remove the extra bed. Heading for the bed with Leo's suitcase on it, Drew asked, "What did you think of your facts of life talk?"

"Trippie," Leo giggled. Watching Drew turn and smile at him, Leo giggled, "Love has so many different levels and parts. Never once did I imagine how it could be. None of my old friends were really close friends, not so much that I'd want to cuddle with them. Cuddling nude is further out there." Geoff and Lenny raced by the room and downstairs.

Drew asked, "Do you think you have a sexual preference?"

"Boys," Leo blushed, and then muttered, "The basement store made it very clear, but it still seems weird to say."

"Think more about the whole person, not just the attached parts," Drew recommended. Beginning to empty the suitcase and load the dresser, Drew rambled, "Where I was at nine-years-old isn't that much different. Corey was already my best friend. We were already snuggling together, hugging and kissing occasionally too. He slept with me in my twin sized bed, and I slept with him in his double-sized bed. It's only a little more than a year since we started having kid sex; which is more like experimenting. Only since last June has it become much more than experiments. You've got at least another year or more before you're there, Leo. Being an American here in the ROH, you'll learn that you can be comfortable naked. Now that you know your interests, you can start looking for that very special best friend, the one you want to be with most, and can barely wait to be with. Getting there is everything, because without it, all that's left is sex."

Leo wondered, "Who do you think I need to spend time with later?"

"Anyone and everyone," Drew chuckled. "I know Gage, Sammy and Dee are already at Kaho'olawe, and they're in your age bracket." Noticing Leo seemed off in a trance, Drew gently wondered, "What's wrong?"

Snapping himself out of it, Leo frowned, "Stuff from yesterday. I'd rather not talk about it yet, dad."

"Whenever you're ready," Drew promised. Carefully watching his husband and eldest son, Corey came into the room.

Glancing at his dad and pop, Leo sighed, "I really want to fit in."

Noticing Leo's uncertainty, Drew offered a hug. Following Drew's lead, Corey completed the sandwich, cheerfully assuring, "You fit in with us and our family. By the end of the day, you'll have plenty of friends." Leo widely smiled and rapidly nodded.

During the quiet moments Corey, Drew and Leo were embracing, the distant pitter-patter of feet climbing steps was heard. A door slammed. The louder footfalls of Lenny and Geoff racing up to the second floor preceded Lenny's shout; "We got a cellar too, like gramma and grampa's house!"

Geoff giggled, "It's big! There's even a bathroom down there."

Stepping away from the hug, Corey went to the hallway landing giggling, "I guess you dudes like our house?" Enthusiastically, Geoff and Lenny overflowed. Softly giggling, Leo and Drew returned to the unpacking task. Taking their poppa's hands, Geoff and Lenny led Corey down to the basement. 

Finishing the unpacking, Drew watched Leo at the closet hanging his rain jacket. When Leo turned to his dad, there was a brief introspective expression Drew noticed on his eldest. Pasting on a bright smile, Leo prompted, "Let's go see the basement, dad," and held out his right hand. Drew took Leo's hand and they started out of the room. On the way down the steps, Leo shared, "My old house didn't have a basement."

Drew suggested, "How about we make it a rec room, with games and toys for you and your brothers?"

"That sounds awesome!" Leo cheered.

"As soon as we get back from Kaho'olawe," Drew chuckled. "I'll bet your brothers are hungry again by now. Let's gather up the speed demons and your pop, and we'll go to the CIC."

"Kewl," Leo smiled, "I'm still pretty full from the milkshake. Next time I won't get a large glass."

Finished in the basement store, John watched his parents and the Gibbons' transport back home. All the newbie boys wanted rooms in the dorm, which wasn't surprising since almost all the boys were older than eleven years old. Eight year old Taron Reyce Otter was the youngest of the group, but he wanted a dorm room too, to prove himself 'grown up' like his three cousins, the Oldcambus brothers. What was surprising was Stu Sutliff trailing Vaziik and Lieutenant Vorik through the store. Only one boy from the prior night's rescues hadn't already taken a dorm room that morning. Over the base PA system, John called for eight-year-old Jimmy Matos to meet the group at dormitory three. Stephen called Alden to have the group transported to the third dorm's common room.

Upon arrival, Lieutenant Vorik told John, "I will return to the Command Center." When John nodded and thanked him, the Vulcan man then told Vaziik, "I am billeted at condominium B, first floor unit 1A. You are welcome."

Nodding once, Vaziik assured, "I will make a point of visiting you there."

Tapping his comm-badge, Vorik ordered, "Return me to the Command Center, Alden." He vanished and the chatter among the newbies got louder with remarks about the huge room they were in.

John smiled, "Oldcambus brothers, you're first on the list," and led the way with Frankie, Stephen and Wade. John called, "Taron, Jimmy Matos is your age. I'm hoping you two like each other enough to share a room." Reaching out empathically, John knew that Travis was in his room. He told Erik Kendricks, "There's a guy your age in a room alone, dude. Maybe you two will consider becoming roommates." He then tapped his sub-vocal, telling Alden, "Get room twenty-one set up for three, with bunk beds, an extra desk, chair, dresser and computer." Passing room twenty, where Travis was shirtless, John called, "Got a minute, Trav?"

"I'm not here a full day and already putting on a fourth shirt," Travis sniggered. Stepping out of his room with a clean polo shirt in his hand, Travis smirked, "I spilled chocolate milkshake on the one I wore to breakfast, and spilled cola on another at the diving well. It's all Darren's fault, showin' off without warnings."

Stephen giggled, "You're our first accident prone Rimmer, Trav."

Travis chuckled, "Normally, I could make it through an entire day in one shirt, but even though I feel pretty relaxed, I guess I'm still a little jittery." 

Ignoring all the curious thoughts about Darren that the newbies were having, John grinned, "Travis just got here yesterday, and moved into the dorm this morning." Turning to Travis, John smiled, "Trav, meet your new neighbors. First we have the Oldcambus brothers, Kassidy is fourteen, and the twins are Kade and Karey." Casual greetings traveled around.

Opening the door across the hall from Travis' room, Stephen saw the furniture rearrangements done and called, "Right here, guys."

The twins cheered, "Awesome!" and hurried with their suitcases, past their big brother into the room. Sadly shaking his head, Kassidy followed his brothers.

Distracted by the threesome, John returned his attention to Travis, saying, "We're a little uneven with newbies again, bro." Gesturing to each boy with his right hand, John said, "Taron's eight, and Erik is fourteen. I was hoping you and Erik might like to try rooming together. You're both from California, so you've got a little something in common."

Trav nodded and offered his right hand to knock knuckles with Erik, warmly saying, "It's good to meet you."

Widely smiling, Erik greeted, "The pleasure's mine."

Of course, John couldn't help telepathically hearing the surface thoughts each of the two teens were successfully stifling. Travis thought Erik was the cutest dude he'd ever seen, and Erik thought just as highly of Travis, who still hadn't managed to get his clean shirt on. In fact, Erik's thoughts sounded like a broken record, repeatedly chanting, "Omigod! What a hunky champ!" 

Wondering how clean Travis' shirt would be in a few hours, John helplessly giggled, "Are you two willing to share a room?"

Almost simultaneously, Erik and Trav enthusiastically agreed, "Yeah, sure." Jerking his head toward his room, Travis left the hallway and Erik followed, dragging his suitcase along.

Stephen, Frankie and Wade uncontrollably giggled at the two star-struck teens seemingly floating into the room they now shared.

Jogging through the common room, Jimmy Matos hollered, "John! You called, dude?"

Nodding, John answered, "Just trying to keep a bunch of you dudes from living alone." He then gestured to Taron Reyce Otter and introduced the two eight year olds. They shook hands and knocked knuckles. John moved on to Vaziik and Stuart, smiling, "You two hit it off from the start, so I don't need to ask."

Watching his new Vulcan friend, Stuart smiled, "The Clan is Vulcan, and I've only learned a few things at school about the planet and the people, so it's been good."

"And I will learn more than I might in books from Stuart... Stu," Vaziik somewhat awkwardly stated.

Opening the door to room twenty-two, Stephen smiled, "Welcome home, guys."

Going to Taron and Jimmy, John asked, "How're you two doing?"

"I think it'll work fine," Jimmy answered. "Taron's not from LA, but I think we've got a lot in common."

"Plotting ways to annoy my stuck up cousins," Taron softly sniggered, and then bounced his eyebrows at Jimmy.

Grinning, Jimmy asked, "Are we the youngest dudes in this hall?"

John thought a moment then answered, "Yeah, in this hall you are. Down the other hall there are four younger than you."

"Perfect!" Jimmy giggled, "We're too young and innocent to be blamed for anything!"

Evilly cackling, the two boys went to the open room where Stephen was standing. John giggled, "Jimmy, I know you're all sweet and innocent, but without your suitcase and clothes, that image is pretty much shot, don't you think?"

Jimmy shrugged and grinned, "I was at the pool before you called me. At first, it was a little scary, but it was kewl. To have lunch and dinner at the CIC, I will need clothes, though."

Tapping his sub-vocal, John called, "Alden, get Jimmy's suitcase, bro."

Over the hallway's ceiling speakers, Alden shared, "That's the last suitcase, John. Everyone has a home for the first time in a week."

Taron softly asked Jimmy, "What was scary at the pool?"

"Lots of dudes were naked," Jimmy replied.

"That's not so scary," Taron offered. "In Louisville, me and my friends would skinny dip every summer."

Leading the way to their room, Jimmy grinned, "I never did, until today."

Watching Jimmy and Taron step into their room, Stephen told John, "And there are only two empty rooms left in this hall, hon."

Nodding, John grinned, "An entire floor filled in a day and a half." Noticing Frankie and Wade almost toe-to-toe, John chuckled, "Are you ready to try again, Wade?"

Wade giggled, "Only a little bit, daddy." With those words, Wade rose off the floor a few inches, so he was looking in Frankie's eyes. Taking a few steps closer to his boys, Stephen offered his hands to Wade. Rising another few inches, and looking in his poppa's eyes, Wade delightfully squealed, "I feels like a balloon!"

Frankie giggled, "But there's nothing pushing or pulling you up, is there?"

"Just like a balloon," Wade cackled.

John grinned, "Come on, let's get some lunch," and levitated the boy higher.

Stephen giggled, "Do you wanna walk, Wade?"

Shaking his head, Wade laughed, "I think I gotta whiz again!"

Clapping his hands, Frankie cracked up. Stephen giggled, "I think it's a little too much for him, John."

Turning around, John led his family and youngest to the lavatory. The newbies getting settled in their rooms noticed the airborne five year old going by their open rooms. Stephen noticed Erik and Travis standing very close together, softly talking, but not getting much unpacking done. He silently asked John; 'By the end of the day, hon?'

'I don't think it will take that long,' John replied. A few moments later, Wade was floating before a big boy's urinal again.

Over the pool and diving well speakers, Aerosmith was playing 'Janie's Got A Gun', when Drew's voice interrupted the chorus; Janie's got a... "LUNCH!"

Amongst the sniggering teens at the diving well, the Nash brothers hollered, "DREW!"

"What?" Drew giggled, and waved his arm at all the other kids getting out of the pools, adding, "It's lunch time."

Giggling hysterically and sadly shaking his head, Phil tried to put his board shorts on, but stumbled into each leg. Craig smirked, "Janie's got a lunch loses all the power and punch. It's not the same."

Tying his board shorts, Phil giggled, "That's Craig's favorite song. He knew a girl named Jane, but it didn't work..."

"PHIL!" Craig shouted.

"WHAT?" Phil loudly laughed. Closing his eyes, Craig sadly shook his head.

Corey giggled, "How about we have Alden play music in the dining room? We'll even have him replay the song, dude."

Nodding agreement, Craig changed the subject by asking, "Where are Prez and Keith?"

"Hiding," Drew grinned. "Because Prez burned his bottom, Thursday night at the Hyatt, they're laying low." A group of tweens and little kids, including Carmella, Kokaku, Rena, Bruce, Ben, and the quadruple R's and their guests surrounded Corey's and Drew's family.

Corey explained, "The six oldest Core Rimmers worked their butts off Thursday night and all day yesterday. Before Drew's mom has a meltdown, they're taking some time off to chill."

Having seen news reports on TV about the Hyatt, Craig nodded understandingly, and said, "We just haven't seen or heard much from them since we arrived. During breakfast this morning, Prez and Keith were there five or ten minutes, and then they were gone."

Nodding, Drew chuckled, "My mom sent Prez a flaming glare during dinner last night. Right away, Prez knew he was off duty. He was home, in his townhouse, and asleep around eight o'clock."

Already dressed, Darren Devault told Craig, "It's been a weird few days for the Core Rimmers; Wednesday through Friday were pretty messed up. Believe me, soon enough you'll see and hear Prez several times a day."

After putting his T-shirt on, Craig grinned, "I'd just like to get to know them better." Fully dressed, Phil joined his brother and gave a thumbs up to Drew and Corey, signaling that they were kewl to go to the CIC. Drew waved and the pack around him began walking toward the dining room.

Joining Darren, his roommate Lance Elling asked, "What do you want to know? We could probably tell you anything "

Slipping into his sandals, Craig shrugged, "With such a big Clan, I was wondering how he manages everyone."

Darren grinned, "Prez, Keith, Derrick and Mike are very much hands off managers. They don't get involved unless they absolutely have to."

Lance tapped Darren and chuckled, "They missed Reyes' initiation." Lance then told Craig and Phil, "While you guys were getting settled, Derrick and Mike tossed Reyes into the diving well. When any of the Core Rimmers are hanging with the Clan, they mix in, just wanting to be regular kids, like the rest of us."

Now that Craig was dressed and ready, Darren suggested, "Let's have lunch together. We'll tell you all you want to know."

"Kewl," Craig smiled. They started walking around the pool house.

Seeing Tony Lanning, Ray Varga and the Eckhart brothers nearby, Phil waved them over to join them.

Craig asked, "What happens when there's trouble; arguments or disagreements?"

Darren wondered, "What is there to fight about?" and reminded, "We've all got the same stuff in our rooms. Maybe little kids will whine about playing a video game in the rec room, but any of us can just say, 'wait your turn,' and lead the kid to another game."

"The Core Rimmers don't get involved in that stuff, because any of us can do it," Lance stated. "This isn't the city, where folks mind their own business and don't get involved. From day one, they've told us that we're family. They've shown the way, so each of us can pick up the slack."

"All the Hundsers say, 'be happy and be safe,' so we go with that," Darren offered.

A few paces ahead of the group, Roy Angulo and Pete Dano overheard the conversation. Pausing to join the group, Roy grinned, "A few days ago, two little dudes were playing rough in the pool, really close to the side. Before I could get there, Sammy and Gage each went to a kid and picked him up, showed them how close they were to getting hurt, and then tossed the kids into the center of the pool."

Pete chuckled, "That was Wednesday. They had been Core Rimmer sons only a little more than a day."

Nodding, Roy laughed, "Later, at dinner time, the odds were made very clear when a food fight broke out, all the kids, twelve and under, against all the teenagers." The newbies began evilly chuckling, and wishing they had been around for the food fight.

Darren chuckled, "We're out numbered, but we can easily handle two little squirts at a time. It takes two or more of them to deal with one of us."

Many meters ahead of the large group of tweens and teens, John, Stephen, Frankie and Wade were seen. Lance checked with the newbies, "You dudes know John is N-Gen?"

Phil giggled, "Yeah, at Des Moines we saw some of what he can do."

Darren grinned, "Just before the shit hit the fan Thursday night, John levitated every kid and all the adults by the pool and diving well."

"And the furniture, and the weights in the rec center," Lance finished. "His eyes started glowing blue when he picked up the weights."

Roy nodded, "He's ten, and might want to be tossed into the pool or diving well, so he'll let you, but if he decides you need to be dunked too, he'll pick you up without ever laying a hand on you."

Gesturing to Roy, Pete sniggered, "The voice of experience. John let Roy toss him into the diving well twice. The third time Roy picked up John, Roy floated up about ten meters and they both dropped into the well."

Roy chuckled, "An hour or so later, there's John and Stephen on television, holding up a forty story tower, while his brothers raced inside to rescue trapped people." The old timers noticed expressions of disbelief on the faces of the newbies. Stephen, Frankie and Wade went inside the CIC, but John paused, turned and grinned at the group. Suddenly, all ten of the teens and tweens were walking two meters above the ground. Darren, Lance and Pete cracked up. Roy loudly laughed, "Higher, so we can see the entire base and the beach, John." 

Without any effort, John steadily levitated the group about twenty meters above the ground, leaving Rikko on the ground barking, "STOP THAT! GET DOWN HERE!"

Glancing around the floating pack, Darren sniggered, "Do you believe us now?" Nervously nodding heads and giggling affirmations flowed around the group of newbies.

Adding to the lesson, John stepped inside the CIC to join his family while the levitated group slowly lowered to the ground. Darren asked Craig, "Are you getting the picture?"

"I think so," Craig uncertainly muttered.

"Look at it this way," Roy suggested, "they've got three hundred kids to care for, and their own kids, and their parents' families. It's unrealistic for them to be able to spend time individually with each of us. When they can, they certainly do, more so than my real parents ever did with me."

Landing on the ground, Pete grinned, "The real trip is that they treat every kid like their best friend, when they know only the basic background. In my own case, I came here to get off the street. Not knowing any better, I challenged Prez, telling him none of our group needed a head shrink. He calmly and coolly got in my face and told me how it was. I didn't know what to think or say to the dude. He's a year younger than me, but as tall, and now that I've seen him naked, I know he's better built than I am. He could've grabbed me and walked me back out the gate. Instead, he told all twelve of us how things were, with over a hundred kids and everyone else on this base on his shoulders."

Darren added, "Considering all that, and that Prez, Keith, Derrick and Mike get on stage to perform for us, confidence is a small word to describe any of the Core Rimmers, including the younger four."

"I found that out myself when I first saw the dorm bedrooms and common room," Craig admitted. 

Phil nodded and sniggered, "Drew didn't act like he was younger and smaller than you, that's for sure."

Lance smirked, "Do they ever hold anything against us?"

"Nope," Pete, Roy and Darren chorused.

"They're our brothers, plain and simple," Lance stated.

"Not only are we getting all that family stuff, that lots of us haven't ever had, and entertainment around every corner, we're getting educational possibilities no one else would dare even offer us," Roy reminded.

The group walked into the CIC dining room. Grabbing a tray and getting into the chow line, Phil asked Craig, "What're you thinking?"

Craig shrugged, "That we're lucky on so many levels. I worried that we'd be split up, or that I'd need to quit school and work, to give us a tiny single room to live, eat, and sleep in. Instead, we've gone from one family into another. All I want to do now is really get to know everyone here, pick up the pieces, build something as good or better, and move on."

"Let's find a soccer ball after lunch," Phil suggested.

"Sounds good to me," Craig nodded. He went over to the salad bar, got a plate and built his salad. 

Coming into the kitchen next were Stu, Vaziik, Ray, Tony and all three Oldcambus brothers. Ray introduced Phil to the other newbies. Ray realized that their entire hallway had shown up within moments of each other without planning it. Only Travis was missing from the chow line, but was assumed to already be in the dining room, since his bedroom door was closed.

Sitting down at a table with his family, John noticed little Dulce Kentesius looking around the dining room at many of the Battle Of Earth newbies. Now and then, Dulce's cousin, Antonia would whisper to her distracted cousin. It seemed that many of the newest kids came to Ewa Beach with the spirits of their loved ones. Reaching out to the clairvoyant little girl, John struck up a telepathic conversation with Dulce, learning that she had always been able to see spirits; that some visited once in a while, but these Battle Of Earth parents were sticking around their sons. Dulce's family had always accepted her gift, and the five-year-old understood that it sometimes freaked people out. Fairly new to the Clan, Dulce would share what she was seeing with her cousins; six year old Felix Nepos, seven year old Antonia Nepos, ten year old Luke Nepos, and thirteen year old Barbara Nepos. 

With his tray loaded with a big salad, a bran muffin, and a large glass of water, Craig told Pete and Darren he would find a large table for them in the dining room. Leaving the chow line without any sort of check-out still felt odd to Craig, but he went into the dining room, searching for an empty large table. He walked past a bunch of smaller tables, where little kids were sitting, and then saw John, Stephen, Frankie and Wade at another table for four near the Command Center. Corey, Drew, Leo, Lenny and Geoff had another table near the center of the room. Not far away was a large, rectangular table that could seat twelve. At the next table over sat Lance Kinchen, Scott Shetley, Chris Stokley and another newbie. Putting his tray down, Craig looked over toward the kitchen. Seeing Pete and Roy, Craig held up an arm so he could be seen. Grinning and nodding, Pete and Roy walked in that direction.

Chris called over, "Craig, are you eating alone?"

Looking over, Craig grinned, "Nope, this table will be filled in a couple o' minutes."

Nodding, "Kewl," Chris then formally introduced Craig Nash to his boyfriend, Jay Montigua.

Going over to that table, Craig noticed the cast and carefully shook hands with Jay, chuckling, "Hey, you don't look too bad, for a dead dude, that is."

Lance Kinchen dropped his fork and covered his mouth with both hands a second before cracking up. With his mouth full, Scott widely smiled and bounced in his chair, quietly laughing. Jay chuckled, "Saint Peter said I wasn't done stirring stuff up, so he sent me back, to lounge in a hospital over night. Chris came with Drew and Corey to bring me here, where I could do more damage faster." Chris sadly shook his head and giggled.

Craig grinned, "I'm with Phil, just past the common room, in the first room on the left. Chauncey and Fred Eckhart are across the hall, with Rikko."

Chris asked Craig, "Where's Travis?"

"Meeting his new roomie, the last I saw," Craig answered.

Scott asked, "Did you meet him yet?"

"Not formally, but I heard John introduce him to Trav as Erik," Craig replied. "He's almost as tall as Trav, kind of thin compared to Trav, and has dirty blond hair."

Evilly grinning, Chris teased Jay, "If you had stayed dead, I probably would've started my search with Travis." Scott and Lance softly chortled.

"Nice," Jay smirked, "no respect for the nearly dearly departed. I guess I need to meet my competition."

Gesturing to his table where Pete, Roy, Darren and Lance Elling were already seated, Craig smiled, "I'm learning about this division from some old timers. We'll chat more later, I'm sure."

Chris nodded and Jay said, "Kewl, man. We'll talk to you later."

"Phil and I are going to kick a soccer ball around after lunch," Craig nodded, and then returned to his table.

Noticing Jay's desire to play, Chris shook his head, softly saying, "Tomorrow, stud; after Doc Andrews checks your bruised brain."

Jay sighed and then wondered, "What're we going to do the rest of today?"

Chris answered, "Hang out by the pools, stroll around the base and show you what's here."

Pointing across the room, Lance told Jay, "That's the rec room. It's filled with all sorts of games; bigger and better than any arcade I've ever seen in any mall." For another few minutes, Chris, Lance and Scott told Jay about the various facilities on base.

Scott told Lance, "I can't wait to see the auditorium."

Nodding, Lance called over, "Drew?"

"Wassup?" Drew called back.

"Can we check out the auditorium?"

Humming thoughtfully, Drew then answered, "We usually keep it locked and powered down, so little kids don't play in there and hurt themselves, but I'll have Alden unlock it for you."

Lance happily smiled, "Thanks, bro." Drew flashed a thumbs up.

In Drew's sub-vocal, Alden asked, "Is there anyone else to allow inside, besides Lance, Scott, Chris and Jay?"

Drew silently replied, "Any groups of newbies over age twelve, bro. No one goes in alone and no one gets hurt in the dark."

"Got it," Alden said. He then softly called, "Drew?"

Drew answered aloud, "Yeah?"

"I need a family."

"I know you do."

Alden giggled, "How would you like another brother?"

"I'd love it."

"What do you think Keith, Prez and John would say?"

"The very same thing, no doubt about it."

Alden softly wondered, "And your mom and dad?"

"Why are you nervous? I know you talk to them every day."

"So much of the time it's while they're at work. It's pretty much business related. They're very different around any kids than they are at work."

"Have you ever shown them you're a kid?"

Thoughtfully humming for a moment, Alden then wondered, "What qualifies?"

Grinning, Drew prompted, "Come on, dude. Do you giggle? Is it the real you, or one of your VI's? Since I know you can rapidly switch from AI to VI and back again, how much time are they hearing a VI? The Alden I heard several times in California was a VI. The real kid is the one I'm talking with now, the one I've heard most of the morning, wondering how to choose a body, and all its parts!" Corey and Leo sputtered. Both reached for the napkins in the center of the table at once, and the whole family cracked up, including Alden.

"That's completely different!" Alden giggled into Drew's and Corey's sub-vocals. "They're adults! It takes more cycles to process who to pay more attention to than to actually do what you need me to do! All the Core Rimmers get most of my attention, the rest of the Clan gets a fair bit, and then it's all the adults needing to do business."

Corey giggled, "Alden, you're choosing to pay more attention to kids because you are one. Honestly, I think you could choose any family you'd like, and the adults would be just as happy as the kids. Who you choose is completely up to you."

"Start showing our parents the real you," Drew suggested. "My parent's, Corey's dad, Mike's dad, and Derrick's mom all have sub-vocals. Imagine having a body size and type conversation with one or all of them. Face it, dude, when humans show emotions, they're showing the real person inside. That's your clue. Where you belong becomes apparent."

Alden confirmed, "Could I really talk about that stuff with them, like I would with you guys?"

Drew grinned, "Try it on our dads first. Hearing our moms' perspectives would be good too. I wouldn't mind being around to at least hear some of that conversation."

Corey answered, "Drew and I were there when your software was designed. We know not to call you 'bro,' because we know not to influence your choice. Sure, we slip now and then, but we try not to sway what has to be your choice."

Giggling madly, Leo wondered, "What are you talking about?"

"Choosing a family," Drew replied.

"That's easy," Leo smiled, "Imagine what it's like getting hugged. When you want to shrink and hide, it's bad. When you want to snuggle closer, that's right. Dad was first to hug me, pop was next, before we left Des Moines. That said it was right." Lenny and Geoff enthusiastically agreed.

"Don't forget the benefits of catnip!" Charles added in passing, on his way towards the kitchen for a bowl of milk.

Chauncey's puppy, Rikko hurried over to say hello. Seeing the large Siberian Husky running at him, Charles puffed up then bolted under the table, then tore for the next table, and then under the table where Lance, Scott, Chris and Jay were sitting. Since the puppy wasn't giving up, Charles unhappily meowed to be transported out of the CIC and back to the safety of home. Around the dining room, most of the kids were giggling.

Over in the corner, Shirley almost fell off of her pear-tree perch in laughter, partridge-style.

Unaccustomed to all of this, Leo giggled, "When are we going to the beach house, dad?"

Kerry interjected his two cents. "If you want, I can talk to our resident Mickey Mouse, and we can have you visit the house last week!"

"Or next month!" George added.

"Or maybe five seconds before you asked?" Alden added helpfully. Rapidly blinking and trying to understand, Leo had no idea what the AIs were talking about.

"MEDIC!" John yelled with a giggle. "We need temporal tranquilizers over here!" Louder laughter broke loose.

Waddling out of the kitchen, carrying two trays of fruits, cookies and an entire pineapple upside-down cake, Lance Kinchen's Panda, Paulie shuffled over toward his companion. Dozens of kids and their teddy bears took notice of the giant VI Panda. Scott softly muttered, "It... is... alive." Lance fainted and fell face first onto his tray.

Scott, Chris and Jay hollered, "MEDIC HERE TOO!" Laughter became hysteria.

Watching Scott trying to revive Lance, Paulie asked, "Does this mean no dessert?"

"Don't worry!" Alden reassured Paulie. "He'll be just fine, as soon as we get the carrot out of his nose."

As Lance came around, John handed him a PADD. "Prez says the next Pissed Off Chickens tournament starts in fifteen minutes. Your logon is already set up."

Stephen giggled, "The girls say that you need to stay out of their changing room."

Turning to Scott and whimpering, Lance sighed, "I'm gonna go back to our room, and play 'Dazed And Confused' about twenty times."

Nodding, Scott sniggered, "I'll join you," and guzzled down the last of his soda.

Paulie said, "And I'll bring dessert."

Not knowing how to deal with his currently speaking Panda, Lance carefully suggested, "Why don't you pass that around to the kids here, Paulie?"

Paulie asked, "You're not hungry for cake or cookies?"

"No," Lance softly replied, "these other kids would enjoy it, and you too. Make some new friends, Paulie."

Nodding, Paulie giggled, "That's my generous best friend. Sure, I can do that."

Paulie was about to turn to start offering the cakes and cookies to the little ones when an arm (with a hand attached, thankfully) appeared out of thin air and snagged a few, leaving behind a different cookie in trade.

Paulie turned around and blinked at Lance, curiously wondering, "Do you know what just happened?"

Lance shook his head, and then started laughing as two arms appeared and dumped a plate full of still warm, sugar coated cakes onto the already full plate in the Panda's paws.

Balancing the mound very carefully, Paulie snaffled one of the new, strange looking cakes into his mouth. He tasted and checked it for safety, and nodded. "Welsh Cakes, fresh too. And, from the records and recipe from Draco, made by Aunt Helen in the Dragon Division."

Carrying his lunch tray, Scott prompted, "Let's go, Lance," and led the way to the kitchen. Leaving his tray at the dishwasher counter, and taking the PADD off of Lance's tray, Scott asked, "Have you ever played Pissed Off Chickens?"

"I've never even heard of it," Lance grinned, and left his tray at the dishwasher. "Then again, I've never skinny dipped before last night; I've never left a stuffed Panda on my bed, only to have it walk into a room I was in an hour later, and I don't even want to consider whose arms were stealing and replacing cookies, or where the rest of the armless body might be."

Handing off the PADD and heading for the exit, Scott sniggered, "Some questions are better left unasked?"

Fiddling about with the PADD, Lance nodded and giggled, "I've got bigger problems, and about seven minutes to learn Pissed Off Chickens, to play against our Head Rimmer. I'd better learn this game damn fast, or risk disappointing Prez."

Leaning close and looking over, Scott wondered, "Have you figured out the goal of the game?"

"There are various exploding eggs; the white eggs are the least powerful, then silver, then gold, then red are the most powerful. You have your chicken toss eggs at chicken hawks, coyotes, foxes and weasels who are trying to raid the chicks in the hen-house. Seems easy enough."

"There's always a catch," Scott warned. They left the CIC and walked across the quad towards dorm three. Lance started a beginning level of a Pissed Off Chickens game. As soon as a goofy little theme song played, the game began. Chicks ran out of the hen house, a chicken hawk dove from the sky, a fox and a weasel scampered behind rocks, barrels and bushes, a coyote made a dash for it and stole a chick, and Lance hadn't even found an egg to toss yet. The sounds of captured and dying chicks played over the theme music. Scott began laughing.

"FUCK!" Lance hollered, "They failed to mention the chicks don't stay in the hen house, and that all the villains would attack at once! Prez plays this game?"

"Apparently so," Scott chortled.

"I'm more scared now than when Paulie strolled into the dining room," Lance giggled, and managed to toss his first egg, yet missed the thieving weasel completely. Lance grumbled, "I think our leader has a screw loose!" Scott howled laughing, and pulled Lance by the shirt back onto the path. All the way across the quad, Lance concentrated on the game, bitching about the hawks, coyotes, foxes, weasels and his dwindling brood of chicks, while Scott sniggered and kept tugging at his pal's shirt to keep him on course. They walked into the dorm, down the hall and Scott unlocked their dorm room.

Following Scott into their room, Lance screamed, "FUCK! They also failed to mention that when the chicks are gone, the hawk, coyote, weasel and fox come after you!"

Scott laughed, "Maybe you were supposed to save some of the chicks and never get to that point."

"WHERE THE FUCK ARE ALL THE EXPLODING EGGS?" Lance yelled in frustration. His screen filled with red, indicating his chicken was dead. He tossed the PADD onto his bed, and noticed a book laying there. He picked up and opened the manual. Inside the front cover, in large letters, were the words: 

P.A.N.D.A. (Positronic Assisted Next-Generation Direct Assistance) Companion

Contact Jory, Noah, or Caleb for technical problems. Powered by COOKIES!™

There was, in small print, a note: Any sugar rich item will do. Welsh cakes, for instance!

At that point, Lance's PADD beeped at him, indicating it was time to start the pissed-off chicken tournament. Lance grumbled, "Prez better be playing this silly friggin' game, or I'm not wasting my time."

Watching his roommate sit on the edge of his bed to begin the game, Scott grinned, "I'll get our axes out, man."


Pulling the two guitar cases away from the corner, Scott asked, "Is Prez playing?"

"Yeah." Suddenly and unexpectedly, Lance howled laughing.

Scott grinned, "What?" and set his Strat case on his bed.

"You know those eggs I found in places I had already been?"

"Yeah," Scott replied. He opened his guitar case, grabbed the strap, and flung it over his shoulder.

"It turns out that my chicken has plenty of eggs. I was dropping them as I searched."

Lifting his Stratocaster, Scott wondered, "Well, how do you get your exploding eggs?"

"I shake my chicken," Lance giggled. Cracking up, Scott put his Strat back in its case and flopped onto his bed in hysterics. Getting up and going over to Scott, Lance demonstrated by shaking his PADD, and a second later the sound of exploding eggs could be heard.

Wheezing, Scott laughed, "Don't shake your chicken at me! You might not like the consequences."

Blushing, but concentrating on the game, Lance giggled, "Or maybe I would. It would be more productive than this silly game, that's for sure." Scott gazed at Lance. Glancing up, over the PADD at Scott, both boys howled laughing. Accidentally shaking his PADD, Lance cheered, "MORE EGGS! HELL YEAH!"

"Shake that chicken, baby!" Scott sniggered.

"Speaking of shaking chickens, did you know that fifteen percent of the teens here talk to their penis while masturbating?" Alden asked over the room's speakers. After a pause, Alden then asked "Why do they call it 'choking your chicken'? It's not like penises have feathers." Lance roared laughing.

"I think it's because it rhymes," Scott grinned.

"Uh oh, Prez stopped chucking eggs," Lance reported. Giggling and tossing his PADD onto his bed, Lance stood and announced, "Prez went to be with his guests. He says, he'll check later to see if we can shake our chickens more."

Sadly shaking his head, Scott sniggered, "My roomie was shaking his chicken with our Head Rimmer. I think I'm jealous again."

"Not near as jealous as Keith would be," Lance giggled. He went to get his Les Paul, and then got ready to play.

Standing and then putting the strap on his Stratocaster, Scott grinned, "Did you wonder why Prez got you a PADD to play that game in the first place?"

"John told me he's telepathically connected to Prez and all the Core Rimmers," Lance divulged. "John told Prez what was going on here, that everybody was perfectly fine. Then Paulie waddled in, I face-planted my plate, and Prez's first thought was to have me join a game of Pissed Off Chickens." He giggled, "So he's our leader, a virtuoso, and as looney as they come." Noticing a curious expression on Scott's face, Lance giggled, "What's wrong?"

Shrugging, Scott shared, "I remember learning something that I think fits Prez. 'Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.' Maybe that's his philosophy when it comes to leading this division."

"That's very kewl," Lance beamed.

"I can't recall where I learned that or who said it, but it just popped into my head," Scott admitted.

Alden answered, "Albert Camus said it. He was a French Novelist, Essayist and Playwright, and won the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature, born in 1913 and died in 1960."

Lance giggled, "Is there anything you don't know, Alden?"

"Lots, like how to choose a body to live my life in," Alden giggled.

"Understandable," Scott grinned. "That's a rough question, and one that humans don't get a choice about it."

Looking up at the camera, Lance asked, "When are you getting a body?"

"When I choose my physical attributes, choose a family, and am accepted by that family," Alden answered. "What do you guys think?"

Scott queried, "You could be anything you like?"

"Not anything," Alden giggled. "I would obviously be a male android, but apparent age, race, height, weight, eye, hair and skin color, are all up to me."

Scott hummed then said, "I like the age I'm at, but I know I've still got years until I'm fully grown."

"Whatever apparent age I choose is the way I'll always be," Alden told them.

"I wouldn't want to be younger than I am," Lance shared, "but I won't mind when I'm eighteen and fully grown too."

Nodding agreement, Scott told Alden, "I'd go for a teen body. I can do stuff now that I couldn't when I was younger, simply because I'm further along in physical development. Generally, little kids have to work harder for the hand-eye coordination. Without that, I couldn't have started playing guitar."

Lance smiled, "Yup, I feel the same way. Just carrying this Les Paul is way easier than it used to be."

"It's a heavier guitar than a Strat or an acoustic," Scott reminded.

"When I got it, I'd wind up sitting after about twenty minutes," Lance offered. "Now I can stand and play for at least an hour before I start to feel the weight."

Alden told them, "I'd want to play with littler, younger kids too, though."

Lance replied, "Then thirteen or fourteen is perfect. You can still play with younger kids, but just have to be a little more careful, because you'll be way stronger than them. We're still kids too, enough so that we can flip from acting younger, our own ages, or even more maturely than our age."

Scott said, "I think it's important that you fit your family too, meaning you're obviously that family's kid."

"That helps a lot, guys," Alden giggled. "Thanks for sharing. There's still a bunch of decisions to make."

"Like what?" Lance and Scott chorused.

Alden giggled, "Being a teen exposes the whole sexuality topic."

Scott smiled, "You'll get a different answer from everyone you talk to about it."

"Yeah, I've noticed," Alden giggled. "Almost sixty percent of boys here talk to their erections in the mornings." Lance and Scott laughed. Alden giggled, "You two didn't this morning."

Lance giggled, "Because Scott was two urinals away to hear it, but I was. Even alone, there's a frustration factor, standing there holding your pecker for longer than necessary."

"I definitely was too," Scott admitted, "and didn't say anything aloud for the same reason; Lance and everyone would've heard."

"Oh man," Alden whined, "the statistics are totally blown away if guys silently talk to their dicks. The question then becomes, when don't guys talk to their dicks?"

"In front of their parents!" Lance laughed.

Nodding, Scott sniggered, "And in church. The rest of the time is fair game."

Alden giggled, "Back to the drawing board I go!"

Lance chuckled, "Before you go drawing obscene body parts, can you tell us if there's a hard rock or heavy metal radio station here?"

Alden answered, "There's not a local station in the ROH, but there are satellite radio stations you can find. The ones from the United States are channels 5050 thru 5069 on your satellite receiver."

"Excellent!" both boys cheered, and walked over to the television and stereo. Scott operated the satellite remote control and Lance got the stereo powered up.

In the meantime, most of the Clan was leaving the CIC dining room. Some went into the rec room, but many went outdoors, destined for the pools, the playground or the rec center. Chris Stokley and Jay Montigua went for a walk with Rafe, Pat O'Hara and Ralphie Bonham. The Oldcambus brothers and their cousin, Taron ran directly for their trikes. Ready to try something new, Jimmy Matos joined his roommate. As promised, Mrs. Hundser had ordered additional trikes. There were now twelve trikes in three sizes under a covered trike garage at the Southwest corner of the helicopter and shuttle pad. Waiting on an adult sized trike, Carl Seibert introduced himself, and then told the boys, "The East side of the base is where the school is, and where a family of squirrels have taken up residence. We'll blaze a new trike trail on the West side of the base."

Down the shorter hall of dorm three, Travis McAuley and Erik Kendricks had shared their Battle Of Earth losses, and gotten to know each other while unpacking their suitcases and setting up their room. Travis learned that Erik's mom had died of cancer three years earlier. With everything unpacked, and their suitcases stowed under their beds, Travis asked, "Are you ready for lunch?"

"Almost," Erik answered. He then faced his new boyfriend, giggling, "I haven't had a shower since yesterday morning, California time. Noon yesterday, I was escorted to a hospital; by nine last night, I was an orphan; at noon today, Des Moines time, I was being welcomed to the Clan. To me, the longest day was even longer, because of too many time zone changes. Before I go anywhere else, or go any further with you, that's first on my list." Reaching out his right hand, Erik prompted, "Com'on, Champ."

Taking Erik's hand in his, Travis grinned, "I've already showered today, and if I go with you, neither of us will get any cleaner."

Taking a few steps closer, Erik giggled, "I know exactly what you mean, but our first time won't be in public, it'll be right here. Even if you don't shower, I want you with me."

Reaching for and taking Erik's free hand, Travis asked, "Newbie jitters?"

Erik stole a tender kiss then giggled, "The new place isn't as important as being with my new boyfriend. That's what's really blowing me away. Yesterday was a sucky day. So far, today is shaping up much better. I don't want to be away from you for ten minutes; sorry, no can do."

Travis warmly smiled, "There's never been anyone like you."

"My dad would've really liked you, Champ," Erik fondly reminded, and led the way to the door.

Travis chuckled, "I always thought motorcycle and cop were two words that didn't belong together." They left their room with the door open.

"He liked to rock and roll," Erik smiled. "He's been missing my mom for years. The most peaceful and relaxing thought now is that they're together again." They walked into the lavatory and went directly into the mob shower. Sitting Travis down on the bench in the changing area, Erik took his already unbuttoned top sport shirt off, telling his boyfriend, "You're giving me purpose again, someone to care for." Tossing his sport shirt onto the bench, Erik lifted his muscle Tee shirt up and off. "Since my mom passed, the most important times were dinners with my dad. Eating dinner with a bunch of kids I didn't know is what freaked me out last night."

Nodding, Travis shared, "I think that's what's been missing since I got here yesterday; someone familiar that I could share stuff with. I could only barely see myself as being a brother for any kid, but now, with you, I can see that more clearly."

Now shirtless, Erik giggled, "You're my boyfriend, Travis. I'll always stay near you, and back you up on everything. I told you how I used to be with my buds at home." He reached to unbutton and unzip his shorts.

"The dancin' slut," Travis recalled, and bounced his eyebrows.

"I would dirty dance to any style of music with any babes, dudes, and even dogs," Erik giggled. "All that major league scoping and showing off, but I never got off the ground with anyone. I never had to pull any of those slick boy moves on you." Noticing Travis' eyes closed, Erik tossed his shorts onto the bench, laughing, "Are you really that shy that you can't look?"

Opening his eyes, Travis blushed and chuckled, "I was imaging you dancing like you were with me in our room, only in someone else's living room, with humans and their pets, and focusing on your voice." Purposefully looking at Erik's boxer brief covered mid section, Travis giggled, "I do want to see, and I'm seriously debating stripping, just so we're even and you can see me too."

Shrugging and then tossing his shorts aside, Erik giggled, "I can make this like high school locker room showers, but can you? What I want to do with you requires privacy, Champ."

"I think I'll leave it up to you," Travis smiled.

Nodding and pushing his underwear down, Erik was leaning forward and at eye level with Travis when he whispered, "Take the shower across from me." He planted a kiss then stepped back, giggling, "That's the last one you get until we're back in our room."

"Tease," Travis giggled, taking note of Erik's cute uncut limp dick. Travis was born Irish Catholic and was circumcised at birth.

Walking backwards into the mob shower, Erik shook his head and playfully reminded, "I promised you that we're sleeping together tonight, and from now on. What we'll see now, we'll be seeing an awful lot of from now on." 

Starting to strip, Travis leered, "I like what I'm seeing, cuddle bunny."

Still walking backwards and scoping out his boyfriend, Erik giggled, "Me too, Champ. Being in your arms is the most comfortable I've been in more than a day. I already know I belong in my hunky champ's arms, what I see only confirms what I feel." Now that Travis was naked, Erik turned his shower on, purposefully getting blasted with cool water and keeping it a little cooler than he would normally prefer. He had always hoped for a boyfriend with a cut dick, and without even asking if that were the case, had accomplished his goal.

Getting shower water running across from Erik as he was told, Travis evilly snickered, "Your backside is as nice as your front, so you might as well turn around."

Wiping water off his face and spinning around, Erik giggled, "It's the tall, hunky and quiet types I should've been focusing on all these years."

"I never focused on anyone before, until you," Travis chuckled.

"Uh huh," Erik suspiciously giggled. "You don't need to romance me, Trav, but I love it."

"The truth happened to seem romantic to you," Travis chuckled. "The truth is, I talk plenty. You left me speechless." 

Cupping his soapy hands over his mouth, Erik tried to sound like a baseball announcer. "That one was low and inside. Two strikes and the batter is still woozy as he steps back up to the plate."

"The next one I'll toss underhanded and try to cop a feel," Travis joked.

Erik loudly laughed, "This water is nowhere near cool enough! We are outta here!" Watching Erik spin to face the wall and quickly rinse off, Travis cracked up. In no time, they had grabbed towels and their dirty clothes, and then hurried back to their room. As soon as the door was closed, they were wrapped in one another's arms, lapping water droplets off of each other.

Outside at the soccer field, Craig and Phil Nash had drawn a small crowd and a few participants in their soccer warm-ups. Tony Lanning and Ray Varga joined the two brothers in their soccer demonstrations. Coming from the rec center's equipment room with two more soccer balls, Bruce Downing led Dewi and Kokaku to the field. Pausing at the edge of the field, Bruce began encouraging the boys to play, and separating the spectating group into three groups; four to eight year olds; nine to twelve year olds; and thirteen and up. By this time, Craig, Phil, Tony and Ray had all figured out what was going on. They left the field. Craig and Tony took the pack of ten older boys to begin lessons. Phil and Ray took the middle group, and Bruce took the youngest boys onto the field. The Stoeher twins had played soccer before and became coaches too, assisting Bruce with the group of the younger kids. For the next hour, the groups practiced passing and dribbling the ball.

Completing the trip around the base perimeter, Chris, Jay, Rafe, Pat and Ralphie passed by and saw what was going on. Wanting to participate, Jay loudly whined. "No," Chris giggled, for the fourth time. In addition to wanting to try all three diving boards at the well, Jay had wanted to lift weights, and play handball inside the rec center too. Chris, Pat, Rafe and Ralphie practically dragged Jay back to the pools. John and his family were playing in the pool with some younger kids.

Over at the diving well, Corey was up on the five meter board, and noticed Chris leading his reluctant partner away from the soccer field. Corey called his hubby and pointed. Drew turned and saw who Corey was pointing at. Drew turned to Leo, Lenny and Geoff, evilly grinning, "Back me up?"

A chorus of 'okay daddys', and a single, 'sure dad', rang out. Four bare butts jogged the path toward Chris and Jay, causing Corey to break into giggles. Still giggling, Corey jumped, twisted once, did a summersault and then splashed into the well. He quickly swam to the side and climbed out, then hurried to be with his family.

Seeing his young leader and his sons approaching, Jay sniggered, "You're really not giving me the impression of a shy, gay boy, Drew."

Gesturing to groups of kids around the pools, Drew smiled, "It's home and this is family, ye of the bruised brain. It's time to pay up, big bro. Drop 'em!"

"We wanna see some skin!" Corey, Geoff, Lenny and an extremely embarrassed Leo chorused. Nearby and resting on chaise lounges, Keanu and Liki overheard what was going on and cracked up.

Nodding and then turning to Chris, Jay chuckled, "Just the lowest board, please?"

Rolling his eyes, Chris smirked, "The three meter board, and only once, then you swim to the side and get out. The doc said no exertion, Jay. If Doc Andrews sees, I'm playing ignorant." Pleased for what might be his only chance at something fun this day, Jay quickly took off his shirt. A bunch of large bruises scattered around Jay's arms, chest, shoulders and back that hadn't been noticed that morning at the hospital were plainly seen in the sunlight.

Joining the group, Keanu sniggered, "This makes you a hundred percent Clan, Jay. Your boyfriend took a few hours, until almost dinner time, to drop his shorts."

Seeing Jay's torso, Liki gasped, "Damn, Jay." He then faced Chris and giggled, "Your boyfriend has one of the sweetest six packs on base, dude." Evilly grinning, Chris bounced his eyebrows, but said nothing about how often he had gently traced those abs with his fingertips. Scowling, Keanu nudged his roomie. "What?" Liki giggled, "Now there are exactly four sets of awesome abs on this base; Jay's, Keith's, Roy's and Craig's. You've got a four pack, like Prez, Derrick, Pete and a few others." Gesturing at his own mostly flat, but undefined belly, Liki giggled, "This is the vast majority of dudes around here."

Once Jay had removed the last of his clothes, Corey and Drew locked eyes with the newbie, pleased that he hadn't balked and easily got naked. What hung between Jay's legs was typical and completely average in comparison to the vast majority of Rimmer teen boys, which Jay obviously knew, or he wouldn't have gotten naked so quickly.

Naked and walking closer to the two arguing roommates, Jay softly smiled, "If you two aren't boyfriends yet, I have to wonder why not. You're acting like a couple." He passed between them, walked over to the low, three-meter board, climbed the few steps and did one simple dive, bouncing hard on the board and flipped up-side down. Jay cut into the water like a knife, with most of his splash made by the cast on his wrist. Around the well, teens and tweens applauded an excellent dive.

Drew asked Chris, "He's done a lot of diving?"

Nodding, Chris smiled, "At the local boys and girls club, and we've gone to beaches in Maryland. I haven't mentioned that you guys surf, and won't until tomorrow."

Flashing a thumbs up, Drew chuckled, "Message received. It won't be mentioned by me or mine, but plenty of kids around might say something."

Evilly grinning, "I'll have to limit his exposure," Chris picked up Jay's clothes. To loud laughter from all those gathered, Chris went to the diving well. He asked his partner of three years, "How do you feel?"

Holding onto the side of the well at Chris' feet, Jay smiled up, "Fine, baby. Only the flip felt a little disorienting, so I won't do that again until tomorrow." Before Chris could reply, Jay bounced up, grabbed his boyfriend by the waist and pulled him into the well, earning a yelp, more laughter and applause. Jay's clothes rained down into the well on top of them.

Being led away from Drew's family, Liki softly told Keanu, "I can't help noticing."

Shaking his head, Keanu admitted, "That's not what worries me. Course I noticed his abs. We're being noticed and kids are figuring us out though. As much as I definitely do care about you, I just don't know how to feel about it. It's not a happy feeling, like it should be; it's more like anxiety, or even a little scared."

Nodding, Liki assured, "That only means you want us more private. I can try to keep it that way too."

"I don't want you changing anything though, Liki. The way you are and the things you say is what I love. That's what's messing me up inside. I could've wholeheartedly agreed about Jay's abs, but instead, I nudged you, which is what I think made everything obvious. So it's not you, it's my reactions completely. I'm wanting it private, and then turning around and making it public. Something's gotta give, and it's all me, dude."

Liki frowned, "Not any more. One major thing I've learned the last week is we're a team now. Let's always keep that in mind; we make it as a couple, or we break it - together. It's not on you, or on me, it's us."

Nodding, Keanu softly smiled, "Let's get a snack and a cold drink."

Heading for the chairs where they left their clothes, Liki giggled, "Uh oh! What did I say this time?"

"Just because we're going for a snack doesn't mean anything," Keanu softly chortled. Liki widely smiled at his lover. Keanu laughed, "Nope, not this time. We'll come back out here."

Liki sniggered, "For how long?"

"A while, until you accidentally get me revved up again," Keanu chuckled.

"I never do it intentionally," Liki giggled. "That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!"

After Jay's dive and watching Chris get pulled into the well, Drew, Corey and their three sons got dressed. They then went over to the pool to tell John and Stephen that they were about to go to Kaho'olawe, and to have their security, Chuck, Conner, Ata and Baakir join them. Lenny noticed Leo's worried expression and nudged Geoff. Both little guys went to Baakir and were soon lifted into the gorilla's arms. Ata offered Leo an arm, and offered, "Climb aboard, Leo." 

Seeing Leo was still uncertain, Chuck climbed up onto Baakir's back. With one arm, Ata swept up Conner. Giggling at the demonstrations, Leo carefully climbed up onto Ata's back. The first thing Leo noticed was how much larger Ata's back was compared to his real dad's shoulders. 

Telepathically, John told Drew and Corey, 'We're going to get some additional Intel help from the Ark compound; a family of Founders; two boys and two adults, named Praefectus. They'll be here before dinner, local time. I also want to empathically check on our newbies. We'll hang out here for another hour or so, and if the Prafectus family hasn't shown up by then, we'll go to the beach house.'

Nodding, Drew said, "If you need help, let us know. We'll see you later."

Corey tapped his comm-badge, telling Alden, "All nine of us are ready for the beach house, Alden." They vanished from Ewa Beach.

Stephen asked his husband, 'Are you still worried about the Steib brothers and Stoeher twins?'

'Not so much any more,' John answered, 'but they need to control reading surface thoughts of other Battle Of Earth newbies.'

Four naked Steib brothers jogged around the side of the pool toward where John and Stephen were. 'We're fine, big bro!' All four Steibs chorused, and then leaped into the pool, bottoms first, cannonballing their two leaders.

Evilly grinning, John levitated the quadruplets many meters above the pool. Hearing their laughter, John sent them over the pool house and left them hovering above the diving well. "Quads on the wing," Stephen helplessly giggled.

After an hour of jamming to heavy metal music in their dorm room, Lance and Scott approached the diving well, noticed the floating and nude seven-year-olds and cracked up.

Kelly, Lawrence, Matthew and Nick shouted down, "LOOK OUT BELOW!" a few seconds before being released from John's telekinetic grasp and dropping into the well.

Tanning their white city-boy butts, Chris and Jay applauded the quadruplets from their chaise lounges. When all four surfaced, Jay chuckled, "That's what I call, graceful as an elephant in a china shop."

Walking up to the chairs where Chris and Jay were sitting, Lance asked, "How about we check out the auditorium?"

When Chris and Jay agreed and started getting up from their chairs, Scott said, "I'll ask some of the other newbies at the soccer field."

"I'll go with you," Lance offered. Scott grinned and nodded. Lance softly sniggered, "I'm sure Chris and Jay can dress without me watching, and they can find the soccer field too."

"Jay sure looks different without his shirt on," Scott grinned.

Lance giggled, "I noticed that too. I never would've guessed he was that ripped."

"No wonder Chris was a little verklempt last night," Scott softly and uncertainly offered.

"He sure doesn't look verklempt now."

"More like completely composed and satisfied," Scott reverently whispered.

Catching something in Scott's tone, Lance wondered, "What's wrong?"

"Nothin'," Scott quickly answered, and carefully added, "just a little envious, I guess. I'm still racking my brain, trying to figure out what I want."

Nodding, Lance wanted to say something, but kept mum, refusing to orally acknowledge that he was attracted to Scott, and Chris, and Jay, and at least half the other teenaged boys he had met the last day. In comparison, very few of the teenaged girls got a second glance. Choosing a partner wasn't a high priority, so Lance only checked out eye candy. He understood that Scott was older and clearly ready for a partner. Lance only hoped that whomever Scott chose to be with would be a musician too.

The soccer lessons were coming to an end, Lance and Scott noticed. Craig, Phil, Tony and Ray were showing the kids how they could practice alone or in smaller groups of two, three or four. Noticing the Ramos brothers sitting on the grass at the edge of the field, Scott asked Nick Ramos if he and his brothers would like to join the auditorium expedition. Lance yelled for Craig, Phil, Tony and Ray. Nudging his roommate, Scott cracked up laughing. Lance giggled, "What?"

"I've been around you more than a day and never heard you that loud before," Scott sniggered.

Shrugging, Lance blushed, "I never had a reason to be loud before."

Pat O'Hara showed up with Ralphie, and not far behind them were Richie, Carrol, and Robbie. After lunch, Ronnie had gone to Des Moines to spend time with Adam and Garret. All five had wet hair and their clothes were stuck to their wet skin. Scott grinned at Ralphie.

Ralphie giggled, "None of us have been in the auditorium either."

Robbie grinned, "John said to have Alden help us turn on the lights, so none of us get hurt."

"The Steibs were going to come too," Richie revealed, "but Derrick showed up, and took those quads and his other four brothers back to Kaho'whoosie Island."

Nearing the large group of teens and tweens, Craig asked, "Has anyone seen Travis?"

"Not since this morning, when we moved into the dorm, before lunch," Chris answered.

All the teens that had met Travis the prior day thoughtfully scowled. Out of the loop, because he hadn't met Travis, Jay asked, "Is this guy expected to be social or does he prefer to be alone?"

"Definitely social," Chris told his boyfriend. Jay evilly grinned, causing Chris to giggle, "He was among the last to call it and go to bed last night, and he was not always with me."

Lance told Jay, "He was chatting with Scott and me for a while."

Craig added, "He spent time with me and Phil too," and then innocently revealed, "he met his roommate, and we haven't seen him since."

Pat and Ralphie glanced at each other, and then began giggling. Carrol, Robbie and Richie giggled along with them. Chris and Jay thought about it, then cracked small, evil grins. Tony nudged Ray, and they nonchalantly turned away, softly sniggering.

Wide-eyed, Craig gasped, "No way!"

Phil giggled, "Why not Travis?"

Ralphie giggled, "Pat and I were immediately attracted. When it happens that suddenly, you really have to act on it, or go crazy."

"Is there a difference?" Pat giggled, and cutely batted his eyelids.

Displaying his thumb and forefinger about a millimeter apart, Ralphie laughed, "One is acceptable crazy and the other isn't, unless you like tight white jackets."

"It's time to play detective," Lance giggled. "The game has changed from Where is Waldo, to Where is Travis, and who is his roommate?"

Tony sniggered, "And what have they been doing all these hours?" 

Disapprovingly, Pat smirked, but uncontrollably giggled, "It's obviously private stuff that we don't need to know." Busting up laughing, the group started walking toward the auditorium.

Pulling Jay close, Chris grinned, "My boyfriend rose from the dead and we're not locked away."

Ray giggled, "Me and Tony only met this morning and we're not locked away."

Sniggering, Jay admonished, "No, no, children. Be nice and pull your minds out of the gutter. They're only getting to know each other, in a slightly different manner than some. What goes on behind closed doors is none of our business." When most of the pack were grinning at him, he then stage whispered, "We'll ask Alden," and everyone roared laughing.

For the remainder of the walk, the group took tangents from Travis, to Lance's and Scott's observations about Craig's and Jay's abdominal muscles, which led to remarks about Keith's, Prez's and Derrick's abs, which led to Platinum Habits. Seeing the group approaching the auditorium, Alden had already unlocked an entryway door. They all walked inside. The lobby area was among the largest any of them had ever seen. Craig and Phil opened the closest pair of theater doors. "It's pitch black in there," Craig relayed. "I can only see the trails of LEDs down the aisle."

Finding the two circuit breaker panels, Scott called, "Hey, Alden?"

"I'm all set for you guys," Alden replied over the ceiling speakers, and then shared, "John told me to offer to play the Platinum Habits concert videos I have. It's up to you, but I could play the Wedding Concert, which is about two and a-half hours long, or the Welcome Home concert for the level one orphans, which is about an hour and a-half long."

Lance and Scott cheered, "SWEET!" 

Robbie, Richie, Ralphie, Pat and the Ramos brothers each said that they would like to see the shorter concert, so they could still enjoy the afternoon. Realizing that the Wedding Concert would have them in the theater until dinner time, the rest of the group agreed. Lance said, "I'd like to see the actual stage set up, before the flick," and Scott agreed. Alden began walking Scott and Lance through the circuit breaker panels. They powered up the lights, the movie screen, and associated sound system. 

Lights began flickering on. Standing at the open theater doors, Phil gasped, "Omigod! It's humongous!" getting the attention of the others. Everyone, except Lance and Scott, who were still at the circuit breakers, hurried to peek inside.

Tony and Ray were the first to enter the theater. Following them inside with Jay, Chris called, "Alden, how big is this place?"

"It can seat twenty-five thousand," Alden answered. "It's designed the same as Clan Headquarters, in Orlando." He said nothing about Tyler blowing the roof off the Orlando CIC, or what the new Orlando CIC and auditorium was like.

"Would we ever need to use a place this big?" Jay wondered.

Alden replied, "Pacific Rim Division has five bases, capable of supporting up to two thousand kids right now. That could easily be doubled, if necessary, and then factor in the adult staff. Prez and the band members have already discussed Christmas and New Year's Eve Concerts for the entire Clan, so eventually, yes, we would need the capacity."

Walking inside the theater with his younger brothers, Nate Ramos grinned, "From back here, the stage seems small."

"There are ceiling video screens that could be lowered, so everyone can see," Alden informed them. "The Wedding Concert had the largest audience, about four thousand, so we haven't needed to use the video screens."

Lance and Scott finished powering up and joined the rest of the pack. Barely three steps inside, Lance immediately began evilly cackling. Scott gasped, "Holy crap! Derrick's drum set includes gongs and timpani." He could only wonder what songs Platinum Habits played that required gongs and timpani.

Nodding, Lance giggled, "A grand piano, a Hammond B3, and racks of keyboards at stage left and stage right."

"I'm counting ten amplifiers and eight stage monitors," Scott shared.

Lance and Scott madly grinned at each other, and then started running down the aisle, past all the other newbies, and went up onto the stage. They wandered around, taking inventory of all the amps and guitars. Lance carefully picked up Mike's Martin D-45 and whimpered. Scott sniggered at his roomie. "Take this from me," Lance giggled, "I just came in my pants." Scott, Tony, Craig, Chris and Jay roared laughing. Once he was able to, Scott took the guitar from Lance.

Still blushing, Ray sniggered, "You two dudes can play guitar, right?"

Looking over with the D-45 in his hands, Scott answered, "We can play, but I've never seen a setup like this before." Turning around, he carefully returned the D-45 to the guitar stand. On the return trip toward the front of the stage, Scott checked out the three effects units on the floor. They weren't powered on, and he had never seen them at stores in Manhattan, so he could only wonder how they worked.

Going over to Keith's keyboard rack, Lance only looked around and then giggled, "I have no idea what most of the knobs, buttons, and sliders are for."

"That's what we're here for," Scott pleasantly reminded. "Soon enough, we'll have a clue, Lance."

Jay grinned, "If you two are done, come on back down here, so we can watch the band."

Nodding, Lance headed for the stage stairs and called, "Alden, we want to hear and feel the music." Closer to the opposite side of the stage, Scott practically skipped down the steps.

Alden giggled, "Okay, but this system could leave you all with temporary hearing loss. I guarantee it'll be plenty loud though." The stage curtains began closing, the lights dimmed and the movie screen lowered from the stage ceiling. 

From the rear of the theater, Kassidy Oldcambus shouted, "What are you guys doing?" With him were his two brothers, the Hiram twins, Jimmy Matos, Bob Wheeler, and Paul Eliason. All eight of them were splattered with mud, making it obvious that they had been on their trikes since lunch, and found at least one mud puddle.

Jay waved them inside and Craig hollered, "A virtual concert, featuring our leaders."

As the group jogged down the aisle, Kassidy wondered, "Is this kewl? Are we allowed in here?"

Alden answered, "Drew, Corey, John, and Stephen know and approved. This is one place you newbies haven't seen yet."

"The doors are usually locked though," Kassidy reminded.

Before taking a seat in the center of the tenth row beside Lance, Scott said, "So little kids don't come in here and play, then wind up getting hurt in the dark. It's kewl, man." He sat down beside Lance, leaned over and softly sniggered, "Are your shorts all gunked up?"

Nodding, Lance softly giggled, "Did you know it was possible to cum with a limp dick?" They both cracked up. Lance cackled, "Nobody ever told me!"

"Learn something new everyday," Scott chuckled. "If you keep doing that, you'll have a reason to wear undies."

"Depends," Lance giggled, pushing Scott to loud laughter.

Two dozen teens and tweens greeted one another and got settled in seats. The auditorium lights dimmed and Alden's video of the concert began with 'Home By The Sea', with Reyes playing timpani, and Derrick singing lead vocals. The video was very simple, capturing the entire band, but without any fancy videography; the picture periodically zoomed in on the lead vocalist and backed out to the entire band. Since four of the six band members were very much locked in position, Mike and Prez made up for it by bopping and dancing together, seemingly feeding off each other, but keeping the audience and their other band mates involved. The entire performance was amazing to each of those watching, and especially those old enough to recognize the tune. Lance and Scott were amazed with Mike, who never even glanced at his guitar's fretboard; he watched Prez, he moved over by Troy, he moved back by the drum risers to watch Derrick, but never once checked his hand position. Prez was doing the same as Mike, moving around the stage, but they thought the bass was a less challenging and interesting instrument.

At the end of the song, Lance softly checked with Scott, "Did you catch a single chord that Mike played?"

Shaking his head, Scott sniggered, "I think I saw him playing some ninth chords, but I'm really not sure."

Lance blinked at Scott, asking, "You know ninth chords?"

"In one form, two when I look it up, again," Scott grinned.

"I am so screwed," Lance laughed.

Scott smirked, "You know ninth chords, I've seen you play 'em."

The next song, 'Lunatic Fringe', started. The sound of the audience cheering was clearly heard, since all the original eighty-seven heard it as the opener for the luau. Reyes sat at the electronic drum kit. Troy was now playing electric guitar. He was playing rhythm through most of the song, but did trade off licks with Mike during the guitar solo. Again, the band members paid attention to the audience and each other, but seemed to rarely look at their instruments. During the break between songs, Chris, Jay, Nate Ramos and the three R's evilly grinned at Lance and Scott.

"No, we couldn't play either song, even with a month's forewarning," Scott chuckled.

"Aw shit," Lance grumbled, "Troy's put the Stratocaster down and picked up a twelve-string acoustic. I've never touched a twelve-string."

Scott answered, "Me either, but it can't be that hard." He then laughed at Jay, "Turn around! We can't play this either."

"They haven't started playing yet," Jay chuckled.

"Does it matter?" Lance and Scott chorused.

Led by Troy's acoustic guitar part, the band began playing 'Too Many People'. Reyes had moved over to hand percussion, shaking maracas in one hand, and keeping a separate rhythm on a tambourine in his other hand. During a short section where Reyes was unoccupied, he picked up a group of drum sticks and displayed them to Derrick. Reyes tossed a stick. Derrick dropped a stick and caught the one thrown, but never missed a single beat. Cracking up, Reyes tossed more drum sticks to his dad, until he picked up the maracas and tambourine to play again. The kids loved it that day, and the newbies watching the recorded performance loved it too.

Through the entire flick, each of the kids noticed that the band members seemed different, almost possessed with alternate personalities. Gone were the laid-back teenagers, and in their place amazing look-a-likes commanded the stage and their instruments. During the drum and percussion solos in 'Soul Sacrifice/Head, Hands and Feet,' all the kids were tapping their feet, and the Stoeher twins began playing air drums. Troy played saxophone during 'Urgent,' making the solo seem like the most natural thing he'd ever done. Hearing and watching three metal songs in a row; 'Revolution', 'You've Got Another Thing Coming', and 'Heaven's On Fire', most of the boys realized Platinum Habits wasn't like most bands that stuck to a single genre. Switching from those three rockers to the slower, bluesy jazz of 'Can't Find My Home' made it clear that the band could play anything they wanted, and the music was precisely what was recorded. The excitement Lance and Scott had before arriving at Ewa Beach doubled, and doubled again with each song Platinum Habits performed.

What grabbed everyone's attention, not just the two musicians who were watching and listening to every band member very closely, were the vocals. They harmonized easily. Each of the band members had different voices that closely matched the songs they were covering. From lowest to highest were Prez, then Mike, then Derrick, then Troy, and then Keith. Reyes hadn't done any singing at all during that particular concert. None of the newbies knew that hours after the performance they were watching and hearing, all the Core Rimmers had taken a week off at Archnania. During that vacation, the band members had learned many new cover songs, as well as figured out Reyes vocal range, and where it could be applied to expand their repertoire.

At the end of the show, the lights were turned up again and the movie screen rose. Chris asked his partner, "What do you think?"

Jay grinned, "I think we'll be seeing a lot of concerts."

"As soon as Prez is off the injured list," Ralphie giggled.

Tanner shared, "John said, there are more kids scheduled to arrive tomorrow."

"So tomorrow we'll prob'ly get a show," Toby finished.

Everyone in the group stood and shuffled past rows of seats to the aisle. Noticing Lance and Scott were very quiet, Craig grinned, "What do you two dudes think?"

Lance smirked, "Yesterday, I thought I was ready to learn from these guys. Today, I'm not so sure."

Nodding agreement, Scott added, "They're not amateurs; they got the audience singing along during 'Dirty Laundry'; even in the flick, they made me feel like they were really standing up there, performing for our small group."

The Oldcambus twins chimed, "Yeah, we felt that way too."

Locking eyes with Scott, Lance asked, "What can we do to be more prepared?"

"Practice," Scott answered. "A lot of practicing, so we can at least play without looking at our axes."

Lance whined, "Did you see Mike playing those blindingly fast runs during 'Wildest Dreams'? He seemed to be picking every note. Watching both my hands, I couldn't reproduce that."

Scott sighed, "It's back to the basics, playing the scales to a strict tempo. That's what my old guitar teacher used to say; warm up with scales and chord progressions before moving on to songs. I didn't pay much attention to that advice."

Relenting, Lance sighed, "My head is spinning with ideas."

Chris suggested, "Let's go back to the diving well."

When Jay nodded, Craig glanced over at Lance and Scott adding, "Like cramming for a test, let the ideas settle down." Off to the side, the muddy trike riders agreed they would need to use the pool house shower before using the pools.

Scott told Lance, "After dark, when we head back to our room, let's spend at least another hour just working on scales and progressions."

Speaking loud enough that Lance and Scott could hear, Chris playfully told Jay, "I didn't know they were that obsessed last night."

"I haven't been that obsessed since I was five, with them mud pies we used to make," Jay joked.

Lance giggled, "Are you mocking us, Jay?"

"Simply stating the facts," Jay chortled.

Scott wondered, "Isn't there something you really enjoy; something you want to be very good at?" Turning to Chris and bouncing his eyebrows, Jay helplessly sniggered. Without saying a word, Chris blushed and giggled. Scott chuckled, "I suppose that counts."

Craig nudged his brother, smirking, "What are you blushing for?"

Phil giggled, "Jay and Chris, obviously."

Grinning madly, Kassidy teased, "You dudes don't hold much of anything back, huh?"

Jay smiled, "I used to hold everything back, never giving a sign, or saying a word to anyone, including Chris, until we were behind closed doors. The facts are that being in love and making love are normal parts of life. The situation is much kewler now, and I promised Chris that it would all change. I'm following through on my promise. I had to wait about four hours in that hospital before anyone told me that Chris, Rafe, and Pat were alive and in Clan care. Four hours was rough enough, so I can easily imagine how they felt, thinking I was dead for a day. If any of you guys ever see me treating Chris coldly, you have my permission to line up and slap some sense into me."

Chris giggled, "He's serious."

"Dead serious," Jay confirmed. "Several times during that concert, I wanted to get up and dance, but that would be considered exertion, so I'll wait until tomorrow."

The group filed out of the theater, except for Lance and Scott. Going directly to the circuit breaker panels, Lance and Scott powered down the auditorium. Everyone left the building before Lance and Scott were finished. When the task was complete, Lance told Scott, "I'm gonna hit the men's room here."

Nodding, Scott confirmed, "I'll meet you at the diving well?"

"Kewl," Lance chirped, and went to use the facilities.

Stepping outside, Scott realized this was the first time in more than a day that Lance wasn't nearby. It felt strange; more strange than leaving the only home he'd ever known and walking through the city alone in the pre-dawn hours the day before. He had been telling himself to stop following Lance around like a lost puppy, but only discovered Lance following him instead. The mid afternoon sun was shining, adults and kids were walking around the CIC, but for the first time, Scott felt desperately alone. The distant sound of squealing kids at the playground could be heard. Tears for his deceased parents flooded his eyes. His mother, Cynthia Shetley should've been home by midnight, but never made it. His father, Emmet was expected between one and two in the morning, but again, the apartment door never opened. Laying in bed that Thursday night, Scott only occasionally slept. Mostly, he worried about them and his own future. Scott wiped his tears away, reminding himself to be strong and accept what had happened. Suddenly, all the changes of the past day and a-half were too pronounced; nothing around him was familiar. The sun seemed brighter than it ever had in New York City. The trees were old growth, and had never seen a trimming by man. The three condos were the tallest buildings on base, but even they seemed small compared to what Scott was used to seeing. Paying little attention to where he was going, Scott walked the path through the quad. He didn't even notice Keith was by the pool and just kept walking past the rec center and into the trees, telling himself to pull himself together again before returning to the rest of the Clan.

Finished in the men's room and done drying his hands, Lance exited the tiled room and uncertainly called, "Alden, I'm the last one out, so lock the doors behind me, please?"

"It's covered," Alden replied, and then said, "Something's wrong with Scott. Walking across the compound, his head was hanging, he was slouching, and if wiping his eyes means anything, he was crying."

Scowling, Lance asked, "Where is he now?"

"He just walked right past the pools and into the trees, on the Southwest side of the base."

"I'll take care of it," Lance assured, and stepped out of the auditorium.

Outside, over the speaker, Alden asked, "Should I call for help?"

Shaking his head, Lance answered, "Not yet. I'll bet I know what's going on." Taking off like a rabbit, Lance ran at his top speed past the first two single family homes. He slowed and jogged past the diving well, and then the pool, just to make sure Scott hadn't already returned. Not seeing his friend, Lance turned up the juice and tore past the rec center.

Craig and Phil noticed Lance on a high speed quest and turned to each other. Since they had seen Scott walking by minutes earlier, the Nash brothers assumed that they had agreed to meet amongst the trees, to chat about their guitar playing goals.

Beyond the tree line and slowing to a brisk walk, Lance looked around for his roomie. He didn't want to call Scott's name, knowing that would get the attention of any gorillas and G-Cats in the vicinity. Looking to his left and right, Lance followed a semi-direct path around the trees. 

Sitting on a lower tree branch not far away, Scott saw Lance searching. From his seven foot high perch, he chuckled, "Looking for someone, pal?"

Spinning toward the sound, Lance saw Scott's legs hanging first. He looked up and giggled, "What're you doing?"

Scott grinned, "Living in the city, I never climbed too many trees as a little kid. I just wanted a place to sit and rest."

Approaching the tree Scott was sitting in, Lance smirked, "Nice try. Why didn't you go to the diving well, where there are tables and chairs, like we planned?"

Scott shrugged and reluctantly admitted, "I started remembering my folks. Since I got a little sad, I thought I'd chill out and not make a scene. Climbing this tree gave me something to think about, like not falling and breaking an arm, leg, or my neck."

Lance prompted, "Tell me something?"


"Did you ever catch your parents cuddling on the sofa?"

"A couple of times."

"You've thought about that, doing that with someone?"

"Yeah," Scott softly admitted, and with a small smile added, "a lot more often recently."

"When you had me go look in on Chris and Jay earlier, that's what I remembered; two different people completely connected, soul mates who are dependent and relying upon each other. They know each other so well that they can almost read minds. My parents had to be together, even at the end, one followed the other to the other side. It's the way it had to be."

Shivering with delight, Scott smiled, "That's a beautiful idea."

"It's true," Lance shrugged. "My folks acted like they were in love, and from the sounds of it, so did yours. Sure, neither of us is thrilled that they're gone, far from it, but look where we are, man. When we left New York, it was in the mid-forties and we were wearing jeans, long sleeve shirts and winter jackets."

"Those jackets may never see the light of day again," Scott sniggered.

"The important points are, our parents stayed together, and in their place, we have a bunch of really nice adults, and all the married Core Rimmers to remind us what's important. Add to that the lucky happen-stance of Chris and Jay, who are just as committed as any other couple around here. Plus, several of those same Core Rimmers are virtuoso musicians. I'm seeing this whole situation as a wash, the good families we lost have been replaced with more good families, and more brothers and sisters around every corner. This place is like a gigantic family reunion. You and me are choosing to be really close brothers, sharing a room together. The way things were before lunch, alone together in our room, goofing around, and jamming after lunch, is only a preview of what the next few years are gonna be like. So, look up at the sky, say your final goodbyes, and jump down from that branch."

Scott smirked, "You're not gonna let me drown in my thoughts?"

Shaking his head, Lance giggled, "Not sad thoughts. We've got all kinds of musical ideas to drown ourselves in. Now, am I gonna have to climb up there with you? That would seem really weird to everyone." A fair distance from the boys, but close enough to hear every word, Bengal tiger hybrid Rashad, allowed the teens to notice him walking away.

Waving at the G-Cat, Scott chuckled, "Like Travis disappearing into oblivion after meeting his new roommate?" Lance paid no attention to the wave and watched Scott carefully.

"Yup, just like that. People will start to talk, about way more than sock-stiffies and..." Lance unexpectedly stopped talking and looked well beyond the tree Scott was sitting in. Carefully turning to see for himself, Scott saw Paulie Panda approaching. Lance's surprised expression pushed Scott to soft sniggering.

Paulie called, "What're you doing, Lance? When did you start talking to trees?"

Before he cracked up and fell off the branch, Scott jumped down. Startled by people dropping from trees, Paulie loudly warned, "WATCH OUT!" and started running. 

"WHOA!" Lance loudly laughed, and scrambled to get between Paulie and Scott. Paulie ran into Lance, who tumbled backwards onto Scott, and all three wound up on the ground in the dirt. Scott howled laughing. "PAULIE!" Lance incredulously giggled, "What the hell was that all about?"

Rolling off the top of the pile, Paulie answered, "You're my friend, and I was protecting you. I don't have claws, like the Teddy bears..."

"Thank GOD!" Lance interrupted, and got onto his feet.

"But I still have the same basic friend protection firmware," Paulie finished.

"So you tried to tackle my roommate?" Lance giggled, and pointed to Scott, who was still laughing too hard to get off his hands and knees.

Paulie grinned, "That was my intention. You got in the way. I couldn't stop in time. Sorry."

Gesturing to Scott, Lance giggled, "He's my roommate and best friend. You don't need to protect me from Scott. As a matter of fact, you don't need to protect me at all. I'm three years older now, Paulie."

"You're the boss," Paulie giggled.

With that said, Lance turned and offered Scott a hand up. 

Breathlessly wheezing, Scott got onto his feet, and unsteadily leaned on Lance. Brushing some dry leaves and dirt off Scott's shirt, Lance confirmed, "You're okay?"

"Fine," Scott giggled, and picked a leaf out of Lance's hair.

Turning to his Panda, Lance smirked, "Paulie, we'll have to figure out some new rules to play by. I'll need to know a few things."

"It's all in the manual, Lance, but I could tell you what you'd like to know."

Scott suggested, "Let's head back to the pools." Lance nodded agreement and they began walking.

Lance wondered, "What've you been doing since lunch, Paulie?"

"What you told me to do," Paulie answered. "When all the cakes and cookies were gone, I played with the kids at the playground. I can do things the Teddy bears can't, like push the merry-go-round, and catch kids coming down the slide."

Lance asked, "Was there a special kid that you liked the most?"

Paulie giggled, "I like all kids. All are special to me."

Lance checked with Scott, got a nod in response, and then told his Panda, "Here's the deal; I've grown up and started doing more grown up things, like learning to play guitar. As much as I love having you around again, I don't think I could be a very good best friend and companion for you."

"I am programmed to be your best friend, Lance. I will follow you and do what you tell me to do. My programming will not allow me to harm children, unless a child is threatening my best friend. My primary weapon is my size and weight. I can lift up to two-hundred pounds, tackle, or bear hug."

Lance chuckled, "You always were a big cuddle bear, Paulie." Seeing his friend as a much younger boy, Scott couldn't help it and started chortling again. Turning to Scott, Lance bounced his eyebrows.

"I can also act as a pillow or bed for my best friend," Paulie stated.

"Those were the good ol' days," Lance fondly recalled. Arriving at the pool, Lance scanned for red heads, looking for Albert and Charles McPhearson. Lance and Scott had escorted the McPhearson boys to the Meadowlands, Des Moines and all the way to Ewa Beach. Scott saw the boys were with Laura and Lindsay Gibbons, tapped Lance, and led the way.

Seeing their teen protectors and Paulie, Al and Charles raced over to them. Lance and Scott paused to catch a running kid. Glued to Scott's side, Al looked up and proudly told both teens, "We've got a new family! Mike's mommy and daddy wants us as much as we want them!"

At the seven-year-old boy's enthusiasm, Scott chuckled, "We told you in New Jersey that everything would work out."

Attached to Lance's side, Charles gushed, "You gots a kewl Panda bear, Lance."

Lance smiled, "Since you think so, and I'm way too old, how would you like to have Paulie as your best friend?"

Charles gasped, "Could I really?"

Turning to Paulie, Lance ordered, "From now on, your best friend is Charles McPhearson. You will live with, play with, and protect Charlie. I'll be happy with you as one of my friends, so I relinquish all claims of being your best friend. Charlie is your best friend."

Without any emotion, Paulie nodded, "Kewl, Lance. Charles is my new best friend."

Both McPhearson boys cheered, "AWESOME!" and hurried to Paulie. The two little guys took Paulie's paws and brought him to their new mom. 

Hearing what Lance had done, Laura got up and went to him, widely smiling, "You gave Charles your Panda?"

Nodding, Lance chuckled, "He was great when I was a kid, and could only pretend he was talking to me. I'm hoping to do better than a VI bear someday."

Laura gave Lance a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then unexpectedly gave the same to Scott. "I know that you two chaperoned those two all day yesterday," Laura smiled. "Thank you both, so much."

Scott blushed, "It really wasn't a problem. We just kept them with us, so they felt safer."

Lance smirked, "It's the baby sitter that left them, to make it to the Meadowlands alone, that I'd like to have a few four letter words with."

"Starting with, what the hell where you thinking?" Scott softly offered.

Laura giggled, "I'd imagine so. I would do the same, and far worse. My husband and I are ready to adopt them, and they're very ready to be adopted; as soon as Preston is available to do the honors, hopefully tomorrow."

"Congratulations!" Scott and Lance disjointedly cheered.

Warmly saying, "Thank you again," Laura returned to her family, and Paulie, who was almost as tall as she. As soon as she had a chance, Laura tapped her comm-badge. She told all the other Core Rimmer parents what Lance and Scott had done, knowing that word would eventually get to the Core Rimmers.

Doc Andrews shouting, "Mister Montigua! GET OUT OF THAT WELL, or I WILL have you sedated, and on a bio-bed, pissing by remote control!" set most of the Clan around the pools laughing.

"BUSTED!" Lance, Scott, Keanu, Liki, Pete, and Roy roared.

Climbing out of the well, Jay sniggered, "It was fun while it lasted."

"Mister Stokley, hiding under a towel doesn't relieve you of responsibility," Doc Andrews smirked.

Leaving the towel over his face, Chris groggily muttered, "I was napping. What did you say, Doc?"

Walking up to the lounge chair beside the one Chris was in, Lance giggled, "I don't think he's buying it, Chris." Intending to take a few dives before dinner, Lance started to strip and so did Scott. Chris faked snoring. Lance and Scott were looking at Chris when he disappeared from the chair. Less than a second later, Chris' loud scream pierced the air. Flat on his back, Chris dropped from ten meters above the diving well. All the teenaged boys around the well cracked up. Quickly curling up, Chris grabbed his knees seconds before hitting the water, ass end first.

Over the pool house speakers, Alden cryptically giggled, "I'm getting pretty good at these initiations!"

Wearing a satisfied grin, Doc Andrews walked back toward the FYS building. For a week, none of the kids had ever questioned him. These newbie, well adjusted, supposedly 'normal' kids, were the ones to challenge him. To teach a lesson, he responded like any one of the kids might to overinflated teenage egos.

Walking around the side of the well toward the diving boards, Scott chuckled, "So, ignorance is not blissful after all, huh, Chris?"

Chris loudly laughed, "No one warned me that our doctor had a sense of humor!"

Jay teased, "An important lesson to be taught immediately upon arrival."

"You be quiet!" Chris giggled, "This is all your fault!" and splashed his lover.

Walking by with the Praefectus family and the Triggs brothers, John was simultaneously teasing his brothers soaking in the tub at Kaho'olawe, and Stephen, while calmly introducing the base, some of the other newbies, and the proud pediatrician. Nearing the pools, they saw Chris drop into the well, the McPhearson brothers with Paulie, and a bunch of other little kids with their Teddy bears dancing to Kenny Loggins, Playing With The Boys. The singing kids had changed the chorus' lyrics to Dancing With The Bears. The next song was Kung Fu Fighting. All the kids took a break to watch their bears perform a choreographed Kung Fu Dancing routine, and laughed their tiny butts off. The small pack around John were laughing almost as hard as any of the little kids. John giggled, "Who knew?"