Stoker looked over at his son as he pounced the dog again. "He's still staying here, Spike," he said quietly, not wanting his precious son to throw a fit.
Spike growled and possessively clung to the dog. "Mine! Poof!"
"I'll whip your tail," he said dryly. "You know better than that. By the way, don't walk into my bedroom again. Not while we're in there." Spike only sneered and went back to petting his friend.
Xander looked around from the kitchen, sticking his head out. "Ya know, there's a lot of dogs that need adopting or else they'll die," he said gently. "Unfortunately true," he said at the hurt look. "Some owners don't get their pets fixed in time and there's strays and stuff too. I know Vinnie said that one was going to die in about two days if he didn't adopt him."
"Damn it," Stoker muttered. "I hate you."
"I know," he said with a small smirk. "But hey, protective, possessive, and gives Spike someone to love. He needs someone to love and take care of. It's kinda obvious it won't be Anya or Ramjet," he added with a smirk. "He's still giving his sister looks like she's an alien species who wants to eat his brain."
"Fine," Stoker complained, goaded into it. He who had fought so his own people wouldn't die couldn't let another species suffer the same fate. "Where do we go to get them?"
"Well, there's a few shelters, the ASPCA shelter in particular. There's the pet store we shop at too, they take in some shelter dogs and adopt them out. Plus, ya know, big, huge bag of dog food and jingly balls and catnip balls and all sorts of neat stuff."
"Where is this place?"
"The pet store? I can show you. I do have the day off," he reminded him smugly. "Besides, Throttle's still in bed complaining about being sore."
Stoker snickered at that. "What did you do to him this time, mini-punk?"
"Um, just gave him a backrub actually," he said with a small shrug. "Come on, we'll go there. We could probably use some new food too. Spike, you wanna ride with your daddy or me?"
Spike looked from his father, to Xander, then back to his father and pointed at him. "Daddy."
"Sure, let's go," Stoker agreed, grabbing the baby carrier. "Where did you get this?"
"Walmart," he said fondly. "Right next door to where we're going." Stoker grinned at that. "They're even used to us there. It's one of the few Vinnie hasn't gotten kicked out of yet." He headed back into the kitchen, making his fried eggs a sandwich with the addition of toast, then he followed Stoker out and down to their bikes. He got onto his, eating one- handed while he started his baby. Spike stopped to pat his bike but allowed himself to be put into the carrier and they took off together.
Modo came out into the garage, looking confused. "Where are they going? Stoker's got to go back tonight." He shook his head and headed back to the mineral pool room. He was having a good, long soak with Vinnie's permission. His back was a bit tight too. Maybe he'd ask Xander or Switch to work on it for him.
Xander walked into the pet store and smirked, waving at the girl they usually dealt with. "He needs a puppy."
"A baby or any sort of dog?" she asked, looking at Spike, who made her coo and scratch him behind an ear. "You're so adorable!" Spike let out an evil chuckle and moved quickly, sucking on her finger instead, making her blush. "You're quite the mouse, young man. What sort of dog were you looking for?" she asked Stoker. "An apartment dog, a house dog? One that'll herd kids and animals? A hunting dog?"
"We live somewhere fairly warm and dry. Minimal care is great, we ride motorcycles, and I'd appreciate saving one."
"Ooooh! I know just the dog! He's on his last day," she offered, leading them to the cages. "This little guy is still pretty young, only six months old. But he's a lover. He's very protective and the warmer the better for him. He's part chihuahua and part miniature pinscher. He won't be getting much bigger."
"You are adorable," Xander cooed, letting the dog attack his face. "Yeah, you're loveable and Switch would love you. You'd fit in the baby carrier with the baby." He held it up so Spike could see. "It'll be a small dog, but your size for a few more years, Spike."
"It's not very manly," Stoker complained.
"Yes, but most of the manly dogs live less years and need more care," the salesgirl told him. "They need a lot of exercise, a lot of care, and a lot of vet visits, plus this one can live over fifteen years, as opposed to ten for the larger breeds."
"Plus, he won't be eating that much," Xander told him. "Something like a great dane will eat you out of house and home within a week. This little guy will probably only eat a cup or two of food a day. Which is still less expensive than cat food."
"Cat foods need to have more nutritional value," she said patiently. "That's why they cost more."
"Fine, but it still bites," Xander complained. "Please, Stoker? He's going to die if you don't."
"I don't know. What do you think, Spike. Think Anya and Mommy would like him?" He took the dog to look at more closely, getting attacked by the wet, sloppy tongue of doom. Which made him chuckle and pull it a bit farther away. "Well, you're cute and pitiful. He won't be growing?"
"Probably not more than a few inches," she offered. "The miniature pinscher, the larger of the mix in this dog, grow to be about ten to twelve inches and about eight to ten pounds. Chihuahuas grow to be about six to nine inches and two to six pounds. They're very portable dogs, they can go anywhere. This one was from two registered dogs getting together and being naughty in an alley one night. He's had all his shots and his vet certification to show he won't have many problems." She looked at the other dogs. "The only other one with one day left is that one," she said, pointing at a sheepdog, "and he's meant for colder climates. If you live near a desert, he'd die of heat exhaustion."
"I can see that," Stoker agreed. He looked over his shoulder at his son. "Well?"
"Anya's poof?" he said bitterly.
"Sure. Or mommy's."
"Mommy's poof," he agreed, biting his father on the neck. The dog barked and stretched back to lick him. "Eww!" Xander chuckled. Spike glared at him. "Nasty poof!"
"I'm not a poof, dear, and we both know I'm not a dog," he said with a small smirk. "Behave or no ice cream."
"Fine," Spike grumbled, stealing the dog. "I carry!"
"Sure, son. He'll fit in there with you." He looked at the last one, then at Xander.
"Charley said no," he said dryly. "But Oz might. Meg's feeling sentimental. She's pregnant," he shared with a wink for the salesgirl, who blushed. He pulled out his phone to call his buddies. "Hey, Meggy, it's me. No, I'm at the pet store and they've got some shelter dogs. There's a sheepdog here who's on his last few minutes. Stoker's got a cute little guy for Spike but it's got way too much fur for his house. It'd die from the heat, dear. It's very hot up there." He beamed. "I thought you might. Plus, hey, give Oz someone to play with now and then. Please?" he begged. "I'll buy you three huge bags of chow?" He beamed. "Yeah, that one by Walmart. Love you, Meggy. See you soon." He hung up. "Done," he said, kissing the salesgirl on the cheek. "Now, Spike needs some balls. He's been playing with Vinnie's and Vinnie's getting jealous of how often he plays with his balls." The girl 'eep'ed and blushed even brighter. "Not that sort, dear," he said with a small grin. "Sorry."
"That's okay," she offered, leading them over to where they kept the bigger toys. She watched as Spike's tail grabbed something and he let the dog sniff it before he cuddled up on it, cooing at how cute he looked.
"Please behave, son. Show some manners in the store. Like you do in the market when you go with your mother." Spike snorted and went back to petting the puppy and playing with his fuzzy mouse toy. Xander coughed and held one up, making Stoker look, then shake his head. "We'll put antennas on later." He heard a squeal and jumped, looking for his daughter. "Oh, it's her," he said, grabbing his chest. "I thought it might be Anya."
"No, it's not the daughter," Xander soothed, patting him on the shoulder. "Hey, Meg!" She waved and opened the cage before anyone could stop her, hugging her new dog.
"He's so adorable!" she cooed. "This is the one on his last day, right?" she demanded of the salesman walking over to her. He nodded quickly, looking at the cage's fact sheet. "Then he's my dog now! Make it so!"
"Sure, ma'am. Let's go fit him for a collar and leash," he offered, walking her that way.
She stopped to look at one, holding it up. "Oz would look good in that," she noted, adding it to the basket she had found lying around. Then she looked at her dog. "You'll like Oz. He's a programmer, like me."
"Hey, Meg, I'll throw in a fourth bag if you cart the bags home for us," Xander called, holding up the *big* bag of dog food. Fifty pounds.
"That'll last my dog his entire life," Stoker said dryly.
"They go bad after a few months," the salesgirl told him. "Unless you can put it in air- tight storage."
"No, I don't have one of those," he admitted. "Let's go for a smaller bag for now. Xander can always ship stuff to me if I can't find anything nearer to the house."
"Sure," Xander agreed. "With the other stuff too." He grinned and petted Meg's dog as he was walked over. "Someone's already well trained," he praised, opening up a can of treats and handing him one, then handing Spike's dog one, and Spike took one but made a face and spit it out, giving his dog a second one. He added it to his basket with a grin for Stoker. "He needed it."
"He probably did," he agreed dryly. "Hi, Meg."
"Hi, Stoker. Hi, Spikey," she cooed, kissing him on the head. "You're adorable with that puppy and the stuffed mouse."
"No, adorable is Vinnie's dog," Xander said dryly. "What is Vinnie's dog? It's not going to be one of those small breeds."
The saleswoman pulled a breed book off the shelf and handed it over. "Beauceron mostly. They're herding dogs. They're fairly active and playful, but quite intelligent. They're protective of their families. The little guy in the carrier will bark if he find someone hurting his family. Vinnie's dog will do true guard dog work to protect his family. But he's very trainable and very loveable, just very active when he's out to play. If he's allowed to get lazy, you're going to have problems."
"I'll keep that in mind," Xander said dryly. Spike gave him a smirk. "No, he's had plenty of exercise already. You've already driven all the cats but Joyce and Tara into hiding and worn out the puppy, Spike. Play with that one and Vic for awhile." He smiled at the cart the nice salesman was manhandling their way. "Thanks, babe." He dropped four large bags of dog food into it, then two smaller ones meant for small dogs for Stoker's new dog. "Collar, leash, carrying case," he advised, pointing at that row. Stoker nodded, going to get those. He kissed Meg's cheek. "Please be our pack mule? Spike can help unload," he teased.
"Micah said I'm not allowed to lift. This'll be the first baby in the agency since he started it." She stuck her tongue out. "So you're carrying your stuff and Oz can get the rest of everything later. Speaking of, do we owe you rent?" He nodded. "How many months?" He held up two fingers. "Why didn't you call?"
"Been a bit busy doing a hostile takeover of Boris' companies and stuff," he admitted. "But I'll let you do installments. Didn't I pay the landlord?" She nodded. "Oh, good." He beamed and kissed her on the forehead this time, weathering Spike swatting him with his tail. Though he did grab it on the next pass. "You pass that one onto Oz and then tie him down and spank him for making you pregnant, dear." She giggled, blushing madly, along with both clerks. "He did!" he defended.
"Behave, mini-punk," Stoker said, shaking his head. "We're going into Walmart next, Meg."
"Sure, I could use a glance at the maternity clothes and the fabrics. Some of my costumes will need expanded soon." She patted her belly and Spike gave her an odd look. "Yes, dear, I'm going to have a non-furry baby."
"Fur's prettier," Stoker teased. She pinched him and he winced. "Ow! Mean woman!"
"Good! Switch needs to beat you more! Xander should give her ideas!" She went to find her precious one some toys, letting him sniff them first. Then they all checked out and loaded it into her Honda, heading next door to the mega-store.
Stoker dropped the last of the bags of clothes at the base of the teleporter and smiled at Meg. "Thanks, dear."
"You're welcome." She hugged him and Spike, getting puppy kisses too. "I should head home. Oz is in class." She headed back to the car, getting in with her dog, who was probably big enough to drive, but didn't know how to drive a stick yet.
"Honey, we bought the kids clothes," Xander called as he headed for the kitchen. "Who's making lunch?"
"You are," Modo called back. "Please?"
"Sure!" He heard the rapid yapping and got out of the way before the puppy knocked him over again. It sniffed Spike's new friend, then barked a few times and went back to pounce Xander. "Are you hungry?" he teased, playing with his ears. "Okay, we'll go get food." He headed up to the kitchen, going in to start a real lunch. He found Vinnie staring at the microwave. "Bottles?" He nodded, grunting lightly. Xander gave him a hug. "Meg has a dog now."
"Good! Something furry for Oz to play with on the bad days." He took out the bottle at the beep and tested it, wincing a bit. "How long?"
"I usually do thirty seconds. It's still warm, but not that warm." He opened the fridge door and looked inside, then started to pull out food. "I'm doing lunch."
"Cool with me. Stoker?"
"Is sorting through the stuff he got at Walmart."
"Even better," he decided, going to feed his son, who was sucking on his toes. "You're cute when you do that," he teased, handing over the bottle. His son snatched it and sucked as hard as he could, his eyes drooping shut as he drank. "Good boy, you nap." His dog barked. "You can nap too." He pulled him up onto the couch, letting him settle in beside him. It only took a few minutes before his dog ran off again. Then two dogs came back. "I'm hoping one of you is going home with them."
"The little one is," Stoker admitted as he walked in with his tray of lunch. "He only had until the end of the day."
"So, Anya's getting her own dog?" he teased.
"Switch is getting a dog," he said smugly. "He's not exactly a manly dog, but he's cute and loveable and she'll adore him. He's the same size as one of the babies and won't get much bigger."
"Good, she needs something else to fuss over," Throttle agreed as he came up the ramp. "Spouse?"
"Good. Xander, make me some."
"Of course I am," he called back, sounding patient. "Meg's got a dog too."
"I'm sure Oz will be very amused." He sat down in front of Vic's spot on the couch, looking at the playing dogs. "Why do we have a breed book on a big herding dog?"
"That's what Vinnie's dog is," Stoker said dryly. "The salesgirl thought you might need it."
"But it's not that big," Vinnie complained.
"It's a baby, Vincent," Xander said as he started to drag food out to the table. "We need some sort of rolling cart to load up so we don't have to hand carry all this food." He went back for more, bringing it out and putting it on the table too. "FOOD!" Staff came jogging up the ramp, grinning before sitting down to dig in. Stoker's dog came over and jumped into her lap, making her stare at it. "It's for Switch."
"It's a newborn, right?"
"No, it's a lap muffin dog," Xander told her. "Part chihuahua and part mini pinscher. It's still pretty young but won't grow much more."
"It's supposed to last about fifteen years and it'll make Switch let go of the baby," Stoker pointed out, coming over to eat with his son. "Anya!"
"Doing my nails!" she called back. Then she giggled.
Rimfire came up the stairs shaking his head. "Just don't ask, coach. They're doing girly stuff and Dawn nair'd earlier." Xander shuddered at that. "She rinsed out the shower."
"Thankfully. I don't want to be furless from her girl chemicals." He sat down to eat. "Someone call the garage."
"I told Charley before running over," Staff promised. She ate another bite of her lunch. "Sorry, skipped breakfast."
"You shouldn't do that. Breakfast is important," Modo teased, smirking at her. "How's the new design?"
"Going well but there's something wrong with it. I'm working with Charley to figure it out."
"If you need help, you could ask us," Xander offered.
"I'm working on a new bike, not a building," she said with a grin for him. "Sorry."
"Not a problem. Need my books from Micah on how to design weapons?"
"You have books like that?" He nodded. "Why?"
"I got bored and wanted to learn something new beyond Dawn's Spanish book and designing buildings." He shrugged. "I'm like that." He heard a bike. "Sounds like someone's visiting."
"Well, we're all here so it's got to be Enamel or Shell. The rest of us are here somewhere," Throttle pointed out.
"Unless my sister or niece snuck down," Modo offered. "They can be like that."
"Let's not wish the terrible twins on this planet, Uncle Modo. I'm sure they don't want to be invaded by them," Rimfire said dryly, stuffing his mouth full when his uncle gave him a long stare. "Primer's kids would," he offered once he had swallowed.
"Your nieces are perfectly cute and adorable," Modo told him.
"Until they want to get into trouble, then they'd be like their momma on a naughty kick," Rimfire shot back with a smirk. "Or don't you remember her trying to take over your squad for you?"
"Um, well, yeah," Throttle agreed, wincing a bit. "That would be bad," he agreed, looking at Modo. "They could probably do worse since there's two of them just like their momma."
"She and Momma will stop them," Modo assured him patiently. "They know what girls in our family can get up to, they'll stop them cold." He looked over and nodded as Enamel came up the ramp. "Came for lunch?"
"No, came to check on Xander." He looked down at the barking thing by his foot, frowning at it. "Why do you have a dog? A small, little, annoying dog at that."
"It's for Switch," Stoker told him. "It only had a day left."
"So, which one told you about the thousands of pets that die every year?" Enamel taunted. Throttle pointed at Xander. "Good job. Shelter?"
"Pet store has shelter dogs," he said dryly. "Meg has one too."
"We are not running a home for poor animals," Throttle said firmly. "There's enough fur with just us and the cats."
"I'm not! I didn't bring home any new pets," he defended.
"What happens if Meg can't have the dog because Oz's allergic?" Modo asked.
"Considering how furry Oz gets sometimes, I doubt he's allergic to fur," Xander said dryly, giving him a look. "He doesn't sneeze when he's furry and he doesn't sneeze around us. He won't sneeze around their new sheepdog."
"There's *thousands* of dogs who could die this year?" Stoker asked. "Why?"
"Overbreeding, strays, what I told you earlier, and they're all over the world, Stoker. Well, in some parts they'd be food not die for other reasons, but we who can try to keep the pets down. That's why all of ours got fixed when he caught them."
"Gee, it only took three litters," Vinnie teased.
"That was Dawn, not me," Xander defended. "I wanted to take the first litter in to be fixed at six weeks, but Tara was already pregnant again and Dawn fussed about Joyce being fixed. We got the rest, but Andrew, fixed. We couldn't find him when it was time. All the cats but Harley and Cranberry are fixed."
"Cranberry's which one?" Enamel asked.
"The red one that likes to pounce you. Watch out." The little red cat jumped from the top of a doorway she had been sitting on and landed on Enamel's shoulder, purring in his ear when he jumped. "See? She's going in next week once the vet's sure her infection is gone."
"We know you try very hard, Xander," Throttle soothed. "Don't stress about it." He nudged his foot under the table. "What else did you get him, besides dog food?"
"We went to Walmart. Got some clothes and some spares for the general fund," Stoker admitted. "We need to come down and do some more for the general fund, some of the things in it are looking a bit shabby and worn-out. This'll replace most of those. Plus we got some tools so we could get some kids started learning how to build and fix things." Staff beamed at that. "Leak is doing those lessons," he told her.
"He's good with the kids. I'm glad he made it through the war," she offered gently.
"Speaking of kids," Enamel said with a small cough. "Take this, Staff," he ordered, handing her a small bottle of pills. "It's a revamped version of viagra that's closer to what we used to have. They're doing human tests to see if it's better working than the original but you're our guinea pig for testing it on mice. It'll definitely reduce those knots but we're not sure of any side effects so write down anything out of the ordinary and let me know." She nodded, taking the first one right there. "Good girl. It should take about six months for it to fully work." She beamed at him, then blushed. She dove back into her food and the dog started to bark again. Enamel looked down at it before picking it up with his tail. "I'm a friend of the family, dog. Get used to it." He let it sniff his nose then put it back down, watching as it wandered off to hop into Stoker's lap. "For the wife?" he asked dryly.
"Yeah, she'll love it, it'll sit in her lap like the baby. That way the baby can crawl around finally."
"Got any new pictures of the baby?" Vinnie asked.
"Nope. No film on Mars and what we got the last time got warped by space radiation on the way home. It apparently doesn't travel well across the cosmos."
"Ah, but there's a solution for that," Xander said smugly. "You use a digital camera, then upload them into a central database of pictures. One which you can search by name. Which would be a good project for any kids wanting to learn how to work on computers, or for Switch if she's still taking classes."
"Those were expensive," he complained.
"Not that much," he said, pulling one out of his jacket pocket and tossing it over. "That way we can share pictures of the kids. Most of ours go onto my computer."
"It'd have to, the laptop is still running the transporter," Rimfire said dryly, snatching another piece of pizza to nibble on. "What sort of burgers are those?"
"Ah, no wonder they're not as good," Rinfire said dryly. "Give me Chef Andy's any day."
"He was closed when we rode past," Stoker told him. "The sign said he was at the doctor's for a few hours." He looked down at the dog, seeing the hopeful, pitiful look on his face. "What are you doing?"
Staff looked. "Begging. Switch gets that look when you've been doing too much paperwork."
"Oh, that's why it looked familiar." He scratched behind the creature's ears, getting a groan but the dog was still begging him for something. "What?"
"No begging for food at the table," Xander said firmly. "You know better!" It hopped down and went to pout on the couch. "Thank you." He broke apart his burger and tossed two pieces down, letting Cranberry have one too. Vinnie's dog woke up at the sound of other animals eating and trotted over so Xander tossed a piece for him too, farther back so he'd get the point not to beg next to the table.
"You're a softy," Enamel teased.
"Yes, I am, the conditioning treatments worked very well on my fur," he said smugly.
"That's right, it did," Vinnie agreed. "Very well. You're nearly as soft as I am."
"Is that something that being down here makes you want to do?" Stoker asked.
"No, but Charley likes me having soft fur. Says I make a better pillow," Vinnie said smugly. "I get more cuddles for my soft fur than most any other reason."
"You could just ask," Charley said as she came up the ramp. She took her normal seat. "Enamel, you could sit down like a civilized mouse....." She stopped, looking at the second puppy. "That one had better be going to Mars."
"It's for Switch," Stoker assured her. "He won't get much bigger but it'll give her something to baby."
"You asked her if she wanted a pet, right?" Charley asked.
"She's always saying she wants a few of the cats," Stoker offered. "It'll be fine. She needs something to baby besides the baby. She won't even let her crawl around."
"Fine, but if she doesn't want him, you find him a *good* home."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, saluting her.
"Charley, are you feeling all right? You sound kinda grumpy today, like someone came in with an engine that won't be fixed," Xander offered.
"I'm fine. A few of the checks people paid me with bounced this morning. I had to deal with the bank."
"Is everything okay?" Staff asked. "Can we help? I can do a mean impersonation of a mean person."
"No, we have ways of handling those down here," she assured her, patting her on the hand. "Thank you anyway, Staff." She smiled and nodded. So Charley looked at Xander. "Don't even think about it."
"I wasn't," he promised. "The mail come yet?"
"Yeah, the water bill's on my desk. Since when did we only have one water meter?"
"Since the renovation when I told the water company to do that," he offered with a grin. "They're still measuring yours for the garage, I'll let you get that to me whenever."
She nodded. "Fine. Thank you, Xander."
"You're welcome. One less thing for you to worry about," he said happily.
Charley knew it was more like 'one more thing to bind my family together so they wouldn't leave me' but left it at that. Xander was still fragile about his family falling apart. You didn't pick on Xander about family stuff, it was mean and he went off then stomped off to get into trouble. "What's on for this afternoon?"
"Gathering up Anya and her Dawn-given sacred girl stuff," Throttle told her. "I expect that'll take a few hours."
"Probably," she agreed dryly. "Where are they?"
"Doing their nails," Vinnie said with a small smirk. "Making her pretty for her mother."
"Xander got her a crown and she's refusing to take it off," Throttle added.
Stoker nodded. "Some day we'll have to restart the Miss Mars pageant and I'm sure she'll be one of those in line for her age group." He shook his head, he didn't understand that daughter. Hopefully the next one would be more like him. At least Spike liked the new baby. He looked at his son, noticing he was asleep on his plate, and smirked. "Camera works how?"
"Ours is on the desk," Xander said quietly. Modo got up to get it, bringing it back to take pictures of him and Vic, who was sleeping with both the puppies and a cat on his back with his tail wrapped around her middle. He grinned at Stoker. "See the fun you get to have?"
He nodded. "Thank you, Xander. A lot of parents will like that."
"Plus, it'll lead for easier identification of kids if they become lost," Throttle offered. "You could also put up family charts so people could find their relatives."
Stoker nodded. "That would be helpful. Vinnie's would take up a whole database by itself though."
"Not my fault we're prolific," he taunted happily.
"No, it's one of your uncle's. The one who had kids by nine different women," Stoker shot back, making Vinnie snicker and nod.
"Why?" Charley asked.
"He didn't believe in binding oneself to another being," Vinnie told her. "So he had a harem."
She shook her head. "That's your *uncle*, right?"
"Yeah, my Momma's youngest brother," he admitted. "He hated my dad a lot."
"Oh, good. Let's not follow in his footsteps," Charley said patiently.
"I'd never do that to you," he assured her, giving her a grin. "Want help this afternoon?"
"I could use some. Staff's been working on my computer all day."
Oz walked his new dog up the stairs. "I should hurt you," he told Xander, handing him an envelope. "You made her cry."
"Why did I make her cry?"
"The dog pounced me and decided I was food to nibble on," he said dryly, looking at the other two. "No wonder. I'm surprised we didn't have a cat yet." Joyce got up and stretched before walking over to rub against his leg. Oz's dog sniffed her tail and she hissed, batting at his nose, making him shy back. "He's all right, Joyce. He won't hurt you. Someone hurt him in the past." Joyce looked at the dog, then gave it a playful bat on the nose and a meaningful look before going to the food bowls. Where she glared at Xander.
"Give me ten minutes, Joyce, you're not starving." He dug back into his food, eating faster. "I knew a dog would help Meg for when you had to travel and stuff."
"It does and he's nice," Oz agreed. "He had how long to live?"
"End of the day."
"Poor guy." He patted his dog's head. "That's half the first month's we owe you."
"That's fine, just catch up soon, like when you get your disbursement or something." Xander beamed at him. "The little dog is for Switch."
"Looks like Vic's gonna wail when his new friend disappears."
"Hey, Oz, how much is getting us another laptop going to run? Dawn wanted to know," Rimfire asked. "The other one is running the transporter and we'll need one for schoolwork."
"About a grand for a good one, maybe a grand and a half. She might be able to order one through the school and get a discount though. Have her bring me specs so I can make sure it's compatible with the home system here." He nodded quickly. "Any other problems with it?"
"Yeah, but it was solved by yelling at the air conditioning guy and threatening to sue him," Xander said dryly. "They didn't want to honor the warrantee."
"Ah," Oz said, nodding. "I'm sure you got them to do so. Need me for much?"
"No, that's fine, Oz. You can stay and play if you want." Oz nodded, heading into the office to play with the computer. His was being used by Meg.
"He doesn't have one at home?" Throttle asked.
"Meg's probably working on a few things at once," Xander told him. "She often uses them together."
"Ah. So they need a third one?" Modo asked.
"No, she'd probably steal that one too," Xander said dryly. "I thought about giving her a gift certificate to update her system for the holidays but I'm not sure that she wants it."
"She needs more processor space and the external you've got," Oz called. The dog barked. "Yeah, I know, it's an expensive toy but it means I'd get my own system back." He came to the doorway. "You're overheating again. Money?" Xander tossed him his wallet. "Thanks, watch the pooch for a few minutes. I'll go get extra fans and install them." He headed out, going to hit the computer store and price what she needed. Since Xander had said he would and all.
The sheepdog trotted out and sniffed everyone, finally ending up next to Modo to be petted since he had the strongest hand. "Feel good, little fella?" he asked with a grin. The dog only groaned and put his head down on his lap. "Sure, I'll pet cha more."
"Will he grow more?" Stoker asked.
"No, he's a bit older," Xander told him. "He's probably somewhere between two and five years old and probably won't live past twelve because of his size."
"So we should expect a second Oz and Meg baby about that time and have it named after him?" Rimfire asked.
"Nephew," Modo said firmly.
"She will go to him for comfort, it'll probably happen, and I'd bet that she'd probably want to name it after him."
"Point," Throttle admitted. "Still uncool."
Anya and Dawn came up the stairs. "I thought Mommy got a little dog. Did it grow really fast?" she demanded of her father.
"No, that's Oz's dog," he assured her. "Ours is on the couch with Victor."
"Oh. He probably needs the friends." Dawn swatted her. "Hey! Don't mess up my hair! You yelled at me for doing it!"
"That wasn't nice," Dawn told her. "Vic's too young to go out and make friends."
"Sorry, Auntie Charley. I didn't mean it in a bad way."
"That's okay. One day you'll learn to think before you speak." She gave her a pat on the back. "I like your hair."
"Thank you. It fits very well with my tiara." She smiled smugly at her daddy. "I'm beautiful."
"You are, but you're still spoiled and going to be grounded for bragging," he said firmly.
"It's not bragging if it's true," she retorted smugly, smirking at him. "You said so."
He groaned. "Not in that case, daughter. In yours, it's bragging."
"Fine." She crawled up into his lap, staring at her baby brother, then snorted. "Did he wear himself out again?" He nodded, handing her a french fry, then grabbing her hand to look at her nails. "It's called Comet Silver."
"I can see that," he said, looking over at Dawn.
"It is," she agreed. "It's a very good color for her and her fur."
Stoker shook his head. "Remember, princess, this is a *special* treat. You don't have fingernail polish on Mars."
"Can we go buy some? It'd make other people pretty too." She pouted up at his head shake. "Others need to feel pretty too, daddy. Otherwise nothing ever gets done because everyone feels so ugly and old. People need to feel pretty now and then to keep going. After all, a night of being pretty means that you can go on when the world is ugly for a while longer."
"That's very wise for your age," he assured her, giving her a gentle squeeze. "You still can't buy any nail polish. Maybe for the holidays."
"Thank you, daddy." She beamed up at him. "Not even for Auntie Cell? She could use some prettying up. She's got a date soon."
"No, not even for your Auntie Cell," he said patiently. "She can ask her little brother herself."
"Okay." She took another fry from his plate. "Thank you for making lunch, Uncle Xander."
"How did you know he did it?" Rimfire asked.
"There's no hotdogs."
"Ah," Stoker agreed, nodding. "Very logical, daughter. I'm very proud of your thinking today." She beamed up at him. "You deserve a treat."
"Nail polish and perfume?"
"Noooo, how about some new clothes? We picked you up some jeans and some t-shirts."
"Okay! Can I have hip hugger jeans?" she asked.
"When you're old enough to have hips to show off," he said patiently. "That's for older girl times."
"Okay." She nodded, digging into his lunch while her personal Goddess sat down next to her man and ate her own lunch. "Daddy?" He looked down at her. "Will you help me find a nice guy like Rimfire some day?"
"Sure, dear, I'd love to," he assured her, giving her another hug. Rimfire choked. "I'd never let her go with someone who wasn't as good to her as you are to Dawn," he said dryly. "I'd have to kill anyone else."
"Maybe she'll end up liking girls and go for one of Primer's kids," Dawn offered.
"Do girls like you like girls?" Anya asked, looking confused.
"Well, I only like Rimfire, but yeah, girls can like girls. The same as boys can like boys, like Throttle and Xander."
"Oh. Okay. That's pretty cool. Maybe I'll find a girl who's like Rimfire then."
"That would probably be Primer's daughters," her father offered. "We'll see who's around when you're older, dear."
"Yes, daddy." She stole her brother's plate, letting his head hit the table. He didn't wake up, he never did, but she got her own plate now. Even if she did finish off her daddy's lunch by putting it onto her plate.
Throttle snickered and handed over more food. "Hungry, coach? Your plate seems to have been cleared."
"Yeah, I think it grew a mouth," he agreed, taking more food for himself. Which his daughter still took more of. "Eat your own."
"Yours tastes better, daddy."
"It came from the same source."
"Yes, but daddies have special magic on their plates that make it taste better. The same as mommy's do."
"I can't refute that one," Stoker admitted. "I don't know the counter argument."
"You put some of the magic onto her plate," Xander said quietly, smirking at him.
"Ah. Here, daughter, let me put some of the magic on your plate." He switched plates with her and ran his fingers around the edges, then switched back, having to refill his plate again. She beamed and ate her own lunch now.
Xander looked at Vinnie, then at Enamel. "Is it normal for Victor to call all girls like he does his momma and all boys the same name? I've noticed that. He calls all guys 'poof' and all girls 'ohmygod'."
Enamel shook his head slowly. "What?"
"Hey, Vic, want a fry?" Xander called.
"Poof poof?" he asked sleepily, lifting his head. "Poof!" he said, smiling at Enamel. He yawned and got up, wandering over to sit in his daddy's lap. "Pooooooooofffffff?" His father put some fries on his plate for him to gum to death. "Ohmygod!" he said, spotting his mommy, beaming at her and beating the plate. "Ohmygod!"
Dawn took him to cuddle. "Hi, Victor."
"Ohmygod!" he said, cuddling into her shoulder. She gave good cuddles. She handed him off to Rimfire. "Pooof poof!" he said happily, giving him a wet, sloppy kiss on the nose. He handed him to his mommy. "Ohmygod!" he shrieked, reaching for his normal food source, not caring that she was wearing a shirt. He was hungry, he'd eat through it. "Ohmygod!" he mumbled, sucking hard to get through the fabric.
"Son, let me get us into a bedroom," she complained, heading into the nearest one to feed him.
"So he calls all guys 'poof' and all girls 'ohmygod'," Dawn agreed. "He also growls and says 'baddy' now and then."
"We're breaking him of saying 'bitch'," Xander offered. "I just wondered if that was normal."
Enamel shrugged. "He doesn't know that many words yet. Soon he'll start giving you each colorful names. I'm guessing that's what's going on. Unless he's got really bad eyesight."
"Can you check that?" Vinnie asked. "Just in case?"
"Sure, Vincent. Not a problem. Once he's done eating." Vinnie grinned and went back to eating his new handful of wet fries. "You guys make sure my life is never boring anymore. That's what I like about this family. Any plans on the second child, Vincent?"
"Not yet," he offered. "She said no more for a while."
"When she wants more, she'll let you know," Dawn assured him. "Then you can jump to attention and help her with that project for a few weeks."
"Then we'll have another baby who likes to play with the jingling Vinnie balls," Xander teased.
"That came out wrong," Throttle said, shaking his head to clear that image. "Please say that came out wrong."
"It did," Xander assured him, grinning at him. "He does claim all those balls as his though."
"Do I even want to know?" Enamel asked flatly.
Rimfire got up and grabbed the jingle ball from behind the couch, handing it over. "One of Vinnie's jingling balls. The other's in the garage, where Charley hid it."
"And they're furry balls too," Dawn agreed. "The other's are catnip balls."
Enamel jingled the ball, then put it down quickly, wiping off his hands. He didn't want to have that image. He really didn't. He might have to think about how to interchange the three sets. No, not that thought! He pinched the bridge of his nose and thought of his girl, Shell, and how she'd make him forget alllll about Vinnie's balls. "I don't wanna know," he announced. "That's given me dirty and nasty thoughts. Especially about interchanging them."
"That'd be one way to make sure no more kids came," Xander said dryly. "Change to a harmless set before sex."
Dawn choked and Rimfire pounded her on the back. "Please, I didn't need that image either. Especially not with how the kids keep playing with them." In her head was an advertisement for interchangeable balls and Vinnie's smiling face saying something like 'my wife likes when I change mine out, that way there's no way of having more kids, but they're always a lot of fun playing with my furry sets of balls'. She shuddered and Rimfire kissed her, making her focus on his balls instead. "Downstairs," she said firmly. "Now. Take this image out of my head." He nodded, walking her off.
"No sex in the house," Throttle yelled after them.
"Fine, we're going for a ride then. I need to get that ad out of my head!" she called back.
"Ad?" Rimfire was heard to ask. When you had big ears, you could hear conversations downstairs.
"Him talking about how much fun it is when he changes them out for Charley's pleasure and how much safer since there wouldn't be another kid. Take this image out of my head, Rimfire, before it gets stuck and makes me have a stroke."
"Yes, dear." He got her onto the back of his bike and took off with her, heading for somewhere more private.
"That is a bad thought," Throttle admitted, looking at Xander.
"He started it, he calls them his balls," Xander defended.
"He made the salespeople blush by talking about it too," Stoker noted.
Throttle got up and walked around to pick Xander up and take him down to their room. "He needs a nap. Let me help him with that. I'll be right back," he promised, going to put Xander to bed one way or another.
Staff finally unblushed and cleared her throat. "Bad Xander," she chuckled, then snuck back to her drawing. It'd take that image out of her mind.
Modo looked at Vinnie."He's definitely your family. A true white mouse," he taunted.
Vinnie beamed at him and nodded. "Yup, he sure is," he agreed happily. Then he chuckled. "I wonder how Chassis and them would take that."
"I'll let you know," Stoker said dryly. He shuddered. "I didn't want that image either. Anya, are you all packed so we can go home?"
"No. Do we have to?"
"Yes, we have to," he said firmly.
"Can we bring the air conditioner home?"
"No," he said patiently. "You don't need it. It's a luxury."
"Fine," she complained. "My hair will be frizzy."
"So? You can find ways around it," he assured her, patting her on the back. "Finish up so we can pack your things." She nodded, eating slowly.
"If you're not packed, he'll make you leave it until the next trip," Enamel told her. She ate more quickly, getting the hiccups. Her father handed her a soda and let her drink them away while he took her down to pack her bags for her. There was a small pile of shirts and stuff on Dawn's bed with Anya's name on the paper on top of them, and another pile with 'give these to someone naked' on top of them. He packed Anya's bag for her then went to get some plastic bags for the other stuff. Dawn was pretty good about donating her former clothes before they got too worn out. Then again, she liked to shop way too much to ever be satisfied on Mars. It'd be a long time before she and Rimfire came home for good.
Switch looked at the stuff her children were carrying out, watching the two helpers who went to get the rest of the stuff. "What's all this?" she demanded.
"Stuff we picked up. Some's for the kids, some's for the general clothing fund. Some's other stuff and the soft-sided carrier's for you," he said, kissing her on the cheek. "That way the baby can grow up." He put Spike into someone's arms. "Hold him. He's been trying to steal Vinnie's son and pack him in his bag." He went back to get the rest of the stuff, letting Modo carry the water and soda since he was stronger. They finally got it all through and the last thing through was a bag with books. Then the transporter shut off. "Hey, I didn't get those."
"Rimfire did by the note in the bag," one of his helpers offered. She looked at him. "How was my cousin?" Chassis demanded.
"Fine. Both of them are fine. Vinnie got his son a dog. He's crawling and talking. Enamel said he's got pretty normal eyes but he might need glasses some day, he's not sure yet. Charley said she needed them as a child so he's not too worried." Chassis gave him a long look. "Xander had to be put down for a nap. Oh, we brought some kiddy toys back too. Modo made me take the furry ball that Vinnie had." He nudged a bag and Spike quit growling and wiggled down, going to find the ball and attack it again.
Switch giggled. "That's so adorable!" she cooed. "We need pictures of that."
"I have some from their living room. Also, Xander and Throttle decided we needed a digital camera for pictures and to put them in a large database and to do genealogy charts so we could search out relatives easier. By putting them online over the computer systems, it'd make it easier to share with the other cities and find our families. The camera he got us is actually a two-pack so we can share it with one of the other cities and the others can figure out if they want to borrow or get their own." Everyone nodded at that. "Let me get these guys home so we can sort stuff out. We did get some extra clothes for the general fund. We did get some clothes from Dawn as well. She and Rimfire went through her closet. Plus my kids are growing so we'll be able to put some of their older stuff in." The other councilors smiled at that as well. "Switch, get the soft-sided carrier, that's your present. Spike helped me pick him out."
She squealed and found the carrier under a not-very-heavy bag and pulled it free, looking inside. She frowned and opened it, taking out the small dog. "Oooooh, you're so adorable!" she cooed, hugging him. The dog lapped her face. "Yes, you are! You're so adorable! So small and tiny and loving! The kids will love you!" Spike snorted but he continued to play with his ball. "Tough, son."
"He's got a thing for Vic's dog. It's a puppy but it'll get bigger. This one's about as big as it'll get. It's got a very loud bark." Switch smiled and gave him a kiss. "Thanks, babe. Bike with a cart?"
"Outside," she said patiently. "Let me get them up here. You always come home with stuff from Xander."
"He's the one who took me to the pet store and to Walmart," he agreed. "That dog only had a few hours left. Oz and Meg got one too. Oh, she's pregnant."
"Oooh!" she squealed hugging him.
"She wasn't as happy and Oz was really upset for a few days, but now they're used to it. He got the other dog, a huge sheepdog with a lot of fur, since it only had a few hours too."
"That's so cool," she agreed, going to get the bikes so they could load all this stuff up.
"Mommy, look at my nailpolish and my crown," Anya demanded as she followed her mother.
"You're so adorable! You look very pretty, Anya. How was Dawnie?"
"She's very good. She taught me some Russian and she did my nails and we brought you some smelly bath stuff that Uncle Xander said they were allergic to but it's sacred girl stuff so we can smell better than some sweaty, nasty boy. Uncle Rimfire got me extra stuff and Dawn showed me why baths are good for girls like us. She thinks you should open one of the spas with the mineral pools and just do appointments for everyone for the next few years."
"That was Vinnie's idea actually," Stoker admitted. "Give everyone a free spot each month, let the spa give out so many award tokens each month for things like medals earned and the like. Anya thinks it'd make things go easier to have a day of prettiness once a month, said it'd make the ugly times go faster," he said proudly.
"It is an interesting idea and we can't use that water for other means," Carbine noted dryly. "It'd also give Switch something more to do than to have another baby."
"We agreed, no more kids for a while, that's why she's got the dog," Stoker said dryly, smirking at her. "It won't eat much, Xander said he'd send up food for it, and it made Anya coo and pet something other than her brother, who was getting pissed off. Oh, look at his t-shirt. His uncle got him that," he said smugly, smirking at her again.
"I'm evil, what else did you expect?" Carbine read, then snorted. "That sounds like Xander's handiwork. "How is everyone?"
"Fine. Rimfire's getting ready for his first day of college. He's been doing some work for Micah now and then. He went out to help the ambassador get settled in and teach him about the human-style appliances. Apparently he's learning how to cook since Dawn doesn't." Staff came back with both bikes, letting him load up the carts behind them. "In the blue bag are baby carriers," he offered. "There's a soft stomach one for someone Spike's size and a back one for someone Anya's size. She'll be too big soon but it's probably safer for right now." He sniffed, then grimaced. "What smells like a Plutarkian?"
"We found a few hiding in the mountains, coach," Chassis told him.
"We're not sure yet," she sighed. "He won't even tell us his name, and by law that means we can't kill him yet."
"Let me get Xander up here. He'll tell him his name," he said dryly. "Oh, Carbine, got a suggestion on the motivation problem," he said smugly. "Xander and Vinnie suggested this, with Throttle's full support." She sat up a bit straighter at that. "Get all of Vinnie's relatives who are muir berry reactive, hype them up on them, point them at the mountains and tell them to go find stuff. Look at the rest of their units and tell them that if they don't find more than the hyped-up mice, the cousins get to teach them like that for a week. He said Chassis would know which ones that would work best with."
"Ten white mice, all hyped up on Muir berry juice," Chassis mused, looking up and grinning. "Hey, we could probably carve new homes out of the mountains too! Man! We'd get shit done like it was nothing for *days*!"
"So they could put together prefab walls too?" another councilor asked smartly.
Chassis nodded. "Probably more than you'd ever use. Can we, Stoker? Just to see the looks of horror on everyone's faces?" she asked sweetly, leaning on his arm. "Please?" she begged at his grin. "Pretty please? I'll babysit."
He snickered. "You'll do it anyway." He patted her on the back. "It's quite possible," he offered.
Carbine moaned and shuddered. "That's a bad mental picture. Ten white mice doing the training while in hyper mode. It's worse than the week Vinnie did his on muir berry juice and taught riding skills classes." Chassis laughed at that. "Sure, you laugh now, but we had a lot of injuries from kids trying to do what he did!"
"Yes, but the motivation problem would be fixed," Stoker reminded her. "All those kids grew up on the horror stories of what those three were like. I'm *sure* they've heard about that incident and the one where Vinnie took on a rat encampment by himself because he was hyped up, and allllll the other ones," he said fondly, smirking at her. "Wanna bet it won't motivate someone?"
She snickered, shaking her head. "Sucker bet. No way. Fine, we'll suggest it openly in front of a lot of the recruits, see what happens," she decided. "It might help."
"Also threaten to have Vinnie bring Xander up to help his training," Chassis offered sweetly, smirking at her. "After all, we got to hear the stories about them taking down the tower on caffeine."
Stoker chuckled evilly. "I like the way you think, Chassis. Vinnie said you'd know which cousins that would work on."
"Sure do, I can get you a list later this week."
"Thanks, now help me load this stuff. You can bring the spare cart back with the stuff for the general fund." She nodded, going to help since she wasn't doing much of anything else.
"Why were you up here anyway?" Switch asked her.
"Oh, I was going to see if there was new news from Earth. Vinnie usually can't stay out of trouble."
"I saved down Vinnie's call where he showed off Vic's speaking skills," Stoker offered.
"I saw that," she said with a grin. "He's so adorable!"
"They broke him of saying bitch," Stoker offered.
"Probably a good thing. Where did he get that one word from?"
"Dawn, Rimfire's girl," he said dryly. He looked around, spotting a few last bags, which got tossed into Switch's cart since his was more full. He found the carrier and put it on, putting Spike into it with his ball since he wouldn't let it go. Anya got onto her mommy's back while the dog got to go inside her shirt. Then they headed off with Chassis following behind them.
"It was a good idea," one of the councilors noted, tossing his hair back over his shoulder. "A bit of frivolousness now and then would help morale."
"It would," Carbine agreed, "plus Switch would be an idea candidate for that. She's caring, she's detail oriented, she's got free time with the kids. She'd also be a good person to help design the stuff for the pictures and family databases. She couldn't work on it herself, she doesn't know coding that well, but others do. It would be a help finding people and making sure families didn't interbreed."
Everyone nodded. "Any opposition?" the other female on the council asked. No one said anything. "Then passed." She banged her gavel. "Any progress on the list we need to send down to Earth?"
"I still feel a bit like a Plutarkian," one of them noted.
"We're not stealing or taking, we're buying things that are readily available and openly sold," Carbine reminded him. "Clothes and cloth are available everywhere down there. Micah gets us good exchange rates and we can do a bit of shopping to help out some of the shortfalls we have."
"We should be buying water," another one noted. "Not cloth."
"We have some water but we're out of clothes in most of the sizes. Even whatever he brought back won't fit most of us. None of us are overweight anymore but we're not all the same size. Uniforms have been tailored to death. People only usually have two outfits. Even if those of us who have a bit more from our former lives give them up, it won't be much help. You can't take the old uniforms from the army and make it into Freedom Fighter uniforms. For what we outfit each Freedom Fighter in, we spend about forty earth dollars. Giving him one thing would outfit everyone on the planet at that cost for nearly six years. Even if we bought the cheapest of the cheap clothes, we'd get more and it'd last less time but it'd still be about three years worth of clothes. Right now, we've got about ten months worth left. Less if we take out all the patched and worn stuff."
"I see the point, Carbine, but we need water and other necessities more," another one pointed out.
"No one said you can't get both at the same time," she pointed out. "We'd have more than enough money to do that. You can buy reusable water containers, like wells, down there for fairly small prices, or you can buy filtration units and dig wells into the underground water tables and the larger stream."
"Filtration? With as many chemicals as it has?" the other woman asked dryly.
"Possibly a few in a row," Carbine admitted. "I'm not fully up to date on that science. Their drinking and faucet water isn't much better. They have to add chemicals to purify it."
Stoker came back and flopped down with a sigh. "Chassis's taking the stuff to the general fund warehouse. What's the topic for discussion?"
"She wants to go buy clothes and water."
"We could use both, unless you want to see most Martians walking around without anything on?" he suggested dryly. "It's actually a time of sales since school is about to start all over the US."
"What about water filters? Did you get a chance to do any research?"
"I did some online. I emailed, their electronic form of communication, with someone in the Department of Wildlife and that stuff. They're the people who make environmental regulations. They said that it shouldn't be used for drinking, even with filtration, but that we could probably use some of the mineral pools. I told them basically that I had some mineral pools and had found a small underground water source full of minerals, this is what was in it in this strength, and let them tell me what to do." They all nodded at that. I used pools Access 1 and 2 and the Lunar pools as examples. I figured they were mostly standard ones. For the stream I used the last known test, dated about two years before the invasion started. So we can solve the bathing issue but not the drinking issue. He did suggest some places to look at filters for that."
"Can we put filters in a row?" Carbine asked.
"Yeah, we'd almost have to." He pulled out the papers he had copied down, handing them over to her. "That's what he suggested. It'd be about three thousand US dollars to get one system up and running for each city."
"If we could get a few of the smaller villages to move inward, it'd help some," Carbine said bitterly.
"People want to go home now that they can," one of the males noted. "Besides, some of us don't want to be pressed together in the city."
"Neither do I, but for practical purposes, things are easier when you're dealing with a few cities instead of a bunch of farms that aren't connected by anything, not even roads."
"A central water supply would be easier to maintain," the other woman agreed, "that's only practical. Unfortunately, we're an independent people who hate being forced together. Unless we ran pipes out there, it'd be problematic."
"We could set up regional areas," Stoker offered. "Group the farms together and run pipes to each of them. Especially the food farms." He looked around. "It was also noted that what little green area we have left is up in the Northern Mountains and that we should start clean-up efforts up that way."
"Are there any people that way?" one of the other men asked.
Stoker shrugged. "Not a clue. Apparently during a hallucination Throttle's group went up that way but that was said to be due to Xander cooking." Carbine snickered at that. "That's also the same hallucination that they got his bike during."
"If you say so," she said dryly. "I was wondering where it came from."
"It would be for the better if we could do that," Exhaust said plainly. "Then again, people are wary of that area because of it's reputation."
"As far as I know, there's no mice up there. We should send a troop of people up there, maybe Cell's group, to search for survivors. We'd welcome them home to the cities and it'd let us bury any dead and reclaim some of the area."
"That's spread pretty far away," Carbine said bitterly. "We don't have supply lines that long."
"We could easily put a few food farms that way and ship it every month or so," Exhaust told her. "We do have the units for that. With a group up there, they could form mutual protection or even just move a troop up there and switch them out yearly." Stoker nodded that he liked that idea. "That would be easier than trying to grow plants in an area with little water."
"What about the old filtration systems at some of those pools? They were using the same water to get the showers and those were always clean," the other woman noted.
"I'm not sure that there's any left but we can easily go look," Stoker admitted. "A point came to me earlier. We've got to start talking to the other cities and see what they're doing. We need to set up an information exchange before we get some inter-city warfare going."
"I do like that idea," Carbine admitted. The others nodded. "When do we call?"
"Tomorrow, it's late at night," Exhaust said, flipping his hair back again. "All right. Anything else good come from the trip, Stoker?"
"Some bad thoughts. Vinnie has these furry toy balls that Xander made some bad jokes about and gave me bad mental images."
Exhaust snickered. "I'm sure you'll live." He looked over at the sound of clicking nails on marble. "I see someone can track."
Stoker looked and groaned. "You're supposed to be with Switch," he complained, reaching over to pick the dog up. "What? She didn't pet you enough? Did she coo too much?" His dog licked his face happily then settled down in his lap. "Fine, this time. Do not make this a habit, dog."
"He's nearly as cute as Spike," the oldest member of the council said with a small grin. "Does he growl?"
"He barks," Stoker told her. "Totally different. So does Vinnie's son though. He growls and Spike used him as his pillow because he called him a baddy and growled at him." They all laughed at that. "Vinnie said his kid needed more normal friends."
"Vincent needs his head examined for spawning," Carbine said dryly. "Is he still wanting more?" He nodded, smirking at her. "What?" she asked cautiously.
"Xander told Throttle that when he was ready to have one, he'd help him pick out the mother. You should put in an application for that, Carbine."
"He'd hate me."
"He might not mind. They'd be pretty children and very smart," Exhaust offered. "Xander doesn't want any of his own?"
"Xander's found out a few things about the guardian spirits that used to control his life," Stoker said quietly. "Apparently they're working to make his life difficult because he left them. He said that any child of his would wend up either working for them or dying because of them. That's why if Rimfire and Dawn ever have children, the child is to be born on Mars, blessed immediately to a Martian deity, and then stay on Mars. Even if it does end up with the M'dreth, it's to stay up here."
"Why?" Carbine asked.
"That's for him to tell you, Carbine, not me," he said firmly. "You've probably heard him swearing about the Powers That Be. Needless to say he knows what's going on and he's resigned himself."
"That means he could come up here...." she started.
Stoker shook his head. "They had a much more personal interest in his life than they did Dawn's. It's any child she has that they can claim, but if Xander has one they *will* claim. Dawn has a ninety percent certainty of having a child that will end up serving them, even if she doesn't want it. He figures his is worse." She shuddered. "You've heard about his past. He knew about Martian deities after first meeting Throttle and the boys. He went home and found evidence back in Sunnydale. He knew then, before that thing with Willow, that he was in trouble. They abandoned him then. This is not to go in the official records either," he said firmly. "It's his problem and he's handling it well enough."
"What about Throttle's child?" she said gently.
"It'll be his kid, not Xander's. Xander can only be a step-parent and an uncle. He said so and he said it's safer, but he won't keep Throttle from having children."
"Good. I know some who wouldn't mind having one for him, even if he wasn't living up here all the time," the other female noted. "Would he consent to being a surrogate?"
"Throttle or Xander?"
"Either, but mostly Throttle."
"Throttle wants to be a daddy some day," Stoker said firmly. "Not to be a donor. Xander said he wouldn't care, but he's not fully mouse, he's changed." The teleporter in the corner went off and Xander walked out. "Problems?"
"Small ones." He handed over a letter. "Micah couldn't hook into the system again. He said that the Plutarkians down there are considering heading for a secondary world, which would bring them back past Mars. Throttle's considering how to blow them up from a distance."
"Good," Carbine agreed firmly. "Can you?"
"They're in Russia, in Siberia," Xander told her. "That's half the world away. That's some pretty strong magic," he said dryly. "Oh. Got the water bill," he said, waving it. "I love you guys dearly, but I'm not able to afford to water all of Mars again." He held up the little device he had found in one of the sink's faucets. "Whoever put it in there, I don't care, but they turned the faucet on full-blast." He handed the bill to Stoker, who choked. "That's what I did," he said dryly, frowning at him. "I don't care if you guys take half the water stream while a faucet is running, but I can't handle a three grand water bill every month to refill all of Mars' cisterns."
"No, that was unfair of whoever did that, Xander. I'm sorry," Stoker told him. "If we could find a way to take half of a water stream we could do that?"
"Sure, that wouldn't cost any more. We'd just have low water pressure on a few sinks." He shrugged. "I can handle that or low water pressure in one of the tubs even. I can't handle another shock like that water bill."
"No, and you shouldn't have to. Do you need us to cover some of it?" he asked.
"No, I'm good on that part," he admitted. "I've still got *some* of my inheritance from the Watchers. Oh, and the Plutarkians were found to have some more hidden accounts. Meg and her crew found some more. They're appropriating it out."
"That's fine," Exhaust told him. "Stoker noted that you had said you'd welcome Throttle having children some day. You do know that you're eligible too?"
"Yeah, but I know what'll happen to any kid of mine," he said dryly. "Besides, you don't quite look like you've got the proper equipment to have his kids. But if you're interested I'll ask him for you," he finished with a grin.
"Not me, young man, I'm much too old to sleep with someone as young and energetic as your mate," he retorted, smirking at him. "I do know that a few of my cousins wouldn't mind and drool over his old recruiting posters. That they'd even do it and raise the child totally."
"Nope. If there's a kid from Throttle, we'll get to play with him, he'll get to play with Victor, and we'll get partial custody," he said firmly. "No being a donor. That's not fair to the mother or the kid."
"Told ya so," Stoker said firmly. "What did we refill?"
"Both aqueducts and the reservoir were all refilled in the last month," a male member noted. "It was nice."
"Ice asteroids," Xander said firmly. "You can pull one down and use it."
"There's none close enough," Carbine said sweetly.
"How hard would it be to go out and find one and bring it back in tractor beam?" Xander retorted. She looked startled. "Yes, Xander is a Trekkie, Carbine. He's seen it before. The same as you've got two moons you can use."
"We hadn't thought about that," she admitted. "What did you kill for that chili?"
"Some small furry thing that reminded me of a rabbit. Modo said it was edible," he defended.
She groaned and shuddered. "As a moment of desperation maybe," she agreed. "That's starvation food, Xander."
"Hey, I asked before I killed it for going near Vic. He said it was edible. I cooked it." He shrugged. "I tried." He took the water bill back. "Figure out how to do half a stream and I'll gladly attach it to the tub's cold water faucet or something." Stoker nodded. "Any ideas on getting to them in Russia?"
"Ask Micah if he's got any contacts," he offered.
"Point. He's considering that himself." He shrugged. "Oh, from Vinnie for his cousins," he said, pulling out a few pictures. "Vic was being adorable again." He handed them over with a smirk and then headed back home through the transporter.
Stoker looked and chuckled. "Vic was helping someone cook," he said, passing that one around. "Who put that on there?"
"I'm not sure," Exhaust offered. "I'll figure that out tomorrow. I say we adjourn?" Everyone nodded and got up, heading out to their rides. Stoker remembered the puppy but didn't see the other one sneaking through the shadows. Exhaust did however and smiled. "You're adorable," he offered, letting the puppy sniff his hand. It barked and ran out, tracking Stoker by scent all the way home. This one crawled into Switch's lap at the table and lapped her before laying down, one tired puppy.
"Ooooh, another one?"
"No that's Victor's dog," Stoker said dryly. "How did you get up here?" He wagged his tail and let out a tired bark. "Fine, we'll call them tomorrow so they won't worry."
"He's just a baby doggy," Anya told her mother, handing her the bowl of veggies. "He's going to grow really big and he'll need trained. He's got to have a lot of exercise or else he'll start to get into trouble. Uncle Xander said so."
The oldest member of the council knocked on the door and walked in. "Xander sent these things up with a note that said since the puppy wanted to live with Spike at least they'd help you feed the thing." He put the bags of food and the bag of stuff down, handing over the note. "He does look very tired."
"He followed me home," Stoker said dryly, reading the note. He rolled his eyes and looked around. "Spike already in bed?" She nodded. "Well, Vic's pouting because his two friends left him in the same day."
"He can go back if they want," Switch offered.
"No, he'll be fine," the councilor noted. "They said to keep him up here." He waved and left.
Spike came out of his bedroom and looked at the dog, then grabbed it and drug it off to bed with him. He slammed his door after himself.
"Want dinner, son?"
Spike kicked the door and went back to bed with his friend. He was tired too. It was a long trip home.
Stoker shook his head. "Kids," he muttered, digging in to eat.
"Did there used to be kings and queens on Mars like in Dawn's stories?" Anya asked.
Stoker shuddered. "We'll tell you about them when you're older," he said firmly.
"Because it's not a happy ending story," her mother advised.
"Fine. No fairy tales?"
"Nope, not on Mars, kiddo. Sorry."
"Then I'll just have to tell the ones Dawn told me," she said firmly. "At playgroup tomorrow. I'll even wear my crown."
"Not a chance," Stoker told her.
"Mommy said I shouldn't be grounded since I am pretty and special and beautiful. That it's not bragging if it's true in my case."
Stoker looked at his daughter. "While it might be true, you're still bragging. If it's true, you shouldn't have to state it repeatedly for others to realize it." She nodded, looking down at her plate. "The fact that you keep stating it is bragging and that's what got you grounded. So you'll behave, princess, or else."
"Yes, daddy. Can you take me for a ride tomorrow after I get back?"
"Sure. Just the two of us will go out to watch the sunset." She smiled at that. "You still can't wear your crown to playgroup. It could get broken."
"Fine." She carefully took it out of her hair and put it beside her plate. "Can we put it with the other valuable stuff?"
"Sure, princess, later on tonight," Switch offered. She nodded, yawning. "Eat and then go clean up."
"Yes, mommy." She cleaned her plate then went to wash her face and get ready for bed. Baths were only done once a week here on Mars and her hair would be a wreck in the morning but Dawn had showed her how to fix it. She climbed into bed and let the little puppy climb in with her, getting closer to snuggle it. It was a good dog and defended her very well from Spike. Her brother was a big meany.
Stoker looked at Switch. "Try to keep them both here tomorrow," he offered. "The little one followed me to the chamber."
"I saw," she teased, kissing him gently. "Love you."
"Love you too, mouse cadet. Hurry up and eat. I had to sleep alone for way too long. Even Modo was starting to look good for a cuddle." She chuckled and finished her dinner, putting everything away so she could pounce him. He could finish his supper later. He'd need the energy to make it through their second bout.
To Part 50