Special thanks to Kate M for her encouragement and insistence that I finish this tale. This story is rated NC-17 for suggestive sexual situations (m/m), language and violence.

My Brother's Keeper

Part One
of Three

Shane Vansen paused outside the pool hall, frowning. It looked. . .closed? But it was run by an AI. You'd think it would be open 24 hours a day. And here she was with her cue case in hand, hoping for a rematch with Alvin.

Tentatively she pushed at the door, not too surprised to feel it swing under her hand. But the large room inside was empty. She was on the verge of backing out when she heard the light rustle of paper and paused, looking around to see that the room wasn't totally empty. A man sat at a table to the side, his back to her. But it wasn't Alvin. She started once more to slip out then stopped again, frowning. There was something about the figure that looked oddly familiar.

His head raised for a moment as he turned a page in the book he was bent over and his hair flashed silver in the light. Easily seen was the navel on his neck, the sure sign of an InVitro. Puzzled, Vansen stepped closer.

Gary"Colonel?" She said uncertainly. But what. . .?

The man raised his head then turned around. There was puzzlement in that familiar face, puzzlement and no recognition. "Who are you?" He asked curiously, his voice lighter and softer than she thought it could be.

Vansen blinked at the innocence in the man's voice and in those clear gray-blue eyes.

"I. . ." Was all Shane managed to get out before a strong hand closed on her arm, spinning her around to look into the odd eyes of an AI. Alvin, dressed nattily and mad as hell, if the grip on her arm meant anything.

"Get out." Alvin said coldly.

"Alvin, what. . ?" The slow voice said behind her.

"Hush, Gary. It's okay." The AI's voice gentled when he spoke to the other man then hardened again when he looked at Vansen. "Get out. Now." This time, Alvin turned her toward the door and shoved her hard. She stumbled against the door, the case banging against her legs. She turned to see the stranger looking at her with interest, Alvin now at his side, one arm resting lightly on the man's shoulders, cold eyes glaring at her.

Confused, Shane slipped back out the door, rubbing at the bruises around her wrist.


"What would a AI be doing with an InVitro?" Cooper Hawkes asked as the trio followed their simmering CO toward the pool hall, directed by young Vansen.

"Who knows?" Nathan West muttered.

"I'm not sure I want to know." Vansen this time. "But there was something wrong with him. I mean. . ."

"What?" T.C. McQueen said curtly. "What do you mean?"

Vansen frowned. "I don't know. Slow maybe. Not very bright."

McQueen grunted, not even pausing as they reached the pool hall. He straight-armed the door. Luckily it was still unlocked and flew open to allow McQueen and his three Wild Cards to enter.

The pool hall was empty.

McQueen paused, looking around in the dim light. "Damn! They're probably. . ."

"We're closed." A deep Australian-accented voice came from the bar and the 58th collectively jumped, except for McQueen who had long learned to control such involuntary reactions. He turned smoothly to look at the man standing in the shadows behind the marble-topped bar.

The man stepped closer, into the dim light. He was not an AI, with his hazel eyes and wavy blond hair, maybe five-foot-ten with broad-shoulders and a sturdy frame. He was dressed oddly even for the Bacchus; a loose white shirt covered by a light brown tunic, black jeans, black gloves and bare feet. "We're closed." He repeated.

"We're looking for Alvin." Vansen finally said.

"He's not here." The man finishing wiping the glass he held and set it behind the bar before reaching for another one. "Won't be in for a while. Maybe I can help you?"

"And you're. . .?" Vansen stepped closer to the bar, setting her cue case on the marble top.

"The bar keep. Call me Twonky."

"Interesting. I wonder, what's it like, working for an AI?"

McQueen threw her a sharp look, wondering if maybe her hatred as AIs was interfering with their reason for being here and hoping it wouldn't complicate matters but Twonky only laughed.

"He pays good and don't give me no hassle. Can't ask for more."

Vansen studied him for a long moment before leaning against the bar. McQueen and the 58th wisely remained quiet, letting the young woman take the lead.

"We're looking for a man. . .light hair, light eyes, fair skin. Looks a bit like the Colonel there. . ." She glanced toward McQueen and Twonky's eyes followed hers. Was it his imagination or did the bar keep's eyes narrow? "Name of Gary. I saw him here earlier."

"There is no Gary here. And Alvin is out."

Alvin"Where. . ."

Crack!

McQueen's head snapped around. On a table nearby an eight ball rolled lazily toward a corner pocket. The man standing next to the table stepped a little closer, into the light and McQueen recognized Vansen's description of Alvin EL, right down to the dark sunglasses.

"Problem?" The AI's voice was low, husky.

McQueen glanced at Twonky but the man was no longer there. While their attention was on Alvin, the bar keep had slipped away. McQueen's eye darted quickly around the area, finally spotting a door almost hidden in the shadows.

"So much for you being out." Vansen observed.

The AI reached up a hand and eased his sunglasses down far enough for him to peer over them. "Why, Captain Vansen. Back for a rematch?"

"I won last time."

"Sheer luck."

"We're looking for Gary." McQueen interrupted, unable to suppress a twinge of nervousness at the bar keep's disappearance.

The cross haired eyes shifted to McQueen then the glasses were pushed back up.

"McQueen." Alvin turned back to the table, lining up for a shot but his voice continued. "Tyrus Cassius. Lt. Colonel. InVi. . ."

McQueen's hand slapped down to catch the ball heading for a side pocket. "We're looking for Gary." He said from between clenched teeth.

The AI straightened, both hands once again clasping the cue stick.

"Why?"

"That's my business."

A slight smile curved artificial lips. "InVitros don't have families, McQueen." And McQueen's hand clenched the ball so hard he was surprised it didn't shattered, wondering how far he could shove it down Alvin's throat. "Go away."

McQueen slammed the ball onto the table. "Damnit. . !"

"Colonel!" Hawkes' voice was sharp and McQueen spun, following the young man's eyes to the half-hidden door, now open and spilling light into the pool hall. Silhouetted there was the figure of a man. . .a slender figure, not Twonky's sturdy one.

"Gary! Go back to your room." The AI's voice was no longer low.

"No! Wait!" West vaulted over the bar and McQueen was reminded of how fast AIs could be as Alvin beat him to the half-seen figure. He straight-armed West, sending the young man back against the bar before turning to look at the newcomer.

"I heard my name." A disturbingly familiar voice said slowly, softly.

"Go back to your room, Gary. Now." Alvin commanded and the figure stepped back in obvious reluctance.

"Gary, wait." McQueen stepped forward into the light so the newcomer could see him. The man paused in his backward flight. "Please. I just want to talk to you."

"McQueen." And there was an odd urgency in the AI's voice. "Don't. . ."

"Don't?" Vansen said angrily. Her voice rose. "What right do you have to say don't? You. . ."

"Don' yell." Gary's soft voice interrupted her, his silhouette rocking in distress. "You don' gotta yell. Alvin. . ."

"Gary, shhhhh. . ." The AI stepped quickly to the man's side, slipping an arm around Gary's shoulders, ignoring the shocked looks of the others. Gary stopped rocking, leaning trustingly against the AI. "It's all right. Easy, Gary."

"I heard my name. Alvin, I. . ." The voice, McQueen realized suddenly, was childish.

"Yes, we were talking about you." The AI's voice was expressionless. One hand reached up to pull off his sunglasses, setting them on a nearby counter. His eyes were locked on McQueen's. "Come on out. Someone wants to meet you."

"Who?" Gary didn't protest as the AI drew him into the light and McQueen got his first good look at the man.

He wasn't at all surprised to see his own familiar features on Gary. Ever since Vansen's report, he had half-suspected that the man was his genetic twin. The vague, childlike look in Gary's eyes didn't surprised him either, not after what Vansen had said. Or rather, didn't surprise him much. Most InVitros Gary's apparent age that badly injured rarely survived or, more likely, weren't allowed to survive. No, what did surprise him was the trusting way he leaned against the AI. That and the large stuffed raccoon he clung to with both hands.

"Gary, this is Colonel McQueen."

Gary peered uncertainly at McQueen before muttering, "H'rro." Pause. "Do I know you?"

"Hello, Gary." McQueen said gently, stepping closer to the bar. "I'm. . .a friend. Call me Ty."

"Ty." Gary repeated then smiled tentatively, a smile that vanished as he caught sight of the three Wild Cards. "I see'd you before." He said to Vansen.

McQueen glanced quickly at his subordinates. None of them seemed to know what to think. "These are. . .friends of mine. They work with me."

"Oh." Gary's eyes wandered away, drifting over the empty pool hall with a puzzled frown.

"Do you live here, Gary?" McQueen asked, moving closer.

"I live back there." Gary turned to point at the door behind him. "With Alvin. An' Rikki." He held up the raccoon then hugged it close again.

"Oh?" McQueen looked stonily at Alvin, who still had his arm around Gary. "And what are you doing with an AI?"

"A. . .a what?" Gary asked with a puzzled frown and McQueen blinked, realizing that the man had no idea what an AI was.

"Nice of you to come back, Twonky." Alvin said suddenly, his low voice decidedly ironic.

"Knock it off, Al. You knew this was bound to happen sooner or later." The Australian stepped closer to the bar, stretching out a black-gloved hand to offer something to Gary. "Here, Gary. A treat. Pop back to your room and eat it, eh?"

"Treat?" Gary took the candy bar. "Chocolate!" He threw a suddenly shy look at Alvin.

The AI hesitated then nodded. "Go on then. Don't get chocolate on everything."

The man glanced at McQueen and frowned, obviously torn between curiosity and the treat. McQueen looked from him to the AI.

"Go ahead, Gary. I'll come talk to you in a minute." And his look at Alvin said plainly that he didn't care what the AI want or didn't want.

Gary smiled. "'kay." He turned and walked back into the shadows, the raccoon tucked in one hand, the candy bar in the other.

McQueen took a deep breath but before he could speak, Twonky anticipated him.

"Mining accident." The big man stepped back around the bar, reaching for a glass with one hand and a towel with the other. "Head injuries. Lack of oxygen. Equals the mind of. . .ohhhhhh. . .maybe a five-year-old."

"Couldn't the docs do something?" Hawkes asked.

"Maybe." Alvin spoke up. "If he'd been dug out immediately. If they'd bothered to get him proper medical treatment once he was dug out." The AI made his way back around the bar and walked toward a pool table, picking up a cue stick on his way. "InVitros are expendable. Why waste medical treatment on something. . ." He glanced at McQueen. ". . .that's cheaper to replace?"

Vansen glanced at Twonky and the Australian laughed without humor. "Don't look at me. He's right and you know it."

"How did he get here?" The young woman demanded.

"He came with me." Alvin again. "I take care of him." He sent a ball to rolling.

"You? Why would a AI care about a human?"

Alvin paused. "I don't know. And even if I did, I wouldn't be able to explain it. And even if I could, you wouldn't believe me." He turned back to the table, leaving the 58th blinking at each other.

McQueen had been shooting looks at the closed door. Finally, he started around the bar. "Set them up with drinks. I want to speak with Gary." He heard Twonky ask the 58th what they would have as he opened the door and slipped through.

The room on the other side of the door was not exactly what he expected and he blinked in surprise. He'd expected a bland room, the kind standard on any station or ship. But here. . .here the walls were literally ablaze with color, painted with wonderfully wild images of animals that never existed entwined with fantasy scenes. The mural covered every wall save half of the one to his left. Tightly capped jars of paint sat on the floor nearby, along with other painting tools.

There wasn't much in the way of furniture, just a large low bed, neatly made with a brightly colored quilt, a rather impressive entertainment center and a round table with chairs tucked to one side. Gary was at the table, licking chocolate from his fingers. Despite Alvin's admonishment, the man had gotten chocolate all over his face. He threw McQueen a sheepish look and an equally sheepish grin.

"It got a little messy." He mumbled.

McQueen sighed and looked around. To his left was a small kitchenette. Reaching out, he took Gary by the wrist, pulling him gently to his feet. "Come on, Gary, let's get you cleaned up."

"'kay." Gary followed him docily to a sink.

McQueen tugged a washcloth from the bar on the wall and wet it, handing it to Gary. "Here." He leaned against the wall, watching as Gary wiped away the smeared chocolate. Suddenly, Gary froze staring at the wall. . .no, at the mirror on the wall. A mirror that reflected both him and McQueen. He reached out a hand to point.

"You. . .you look like me." He said in wonder, touching McQueen's reflection.

McQueen hesitated, finally moving to stand behind Gary so that their faces were both reflected fully. "Yes, Gary. I'm. . ." How could he explain genetics and InVitros to this man? He couldn't so. . . ". . .I'm your brother."

"Brother?" Gary blinked in confusion.

"Yes." McQueen took the washcloth Gary still held and wiped away the last of the chocolate from Gary's hand. Washing the cloth out, he draped it over the side of the sink and guided Gary back to the table. "Come on. Let's talk."

Gary sat down and reached over to lift the raccoon from a nearby chair, wrapping his arms around it and resting his chin on the top of the toy's head. McQueen pulled out a nearby chair and sat next to him. For a long moment, he stared at the other man, trying to frame the questions he wanted to ask in a manner that Gary would understand. He wished that he had more experience with children.

"Do you like Alvin?" He finally asked

Gary laughed. "Sure I like him. He's my bestest friend." He loosened his grip on the raccoon and reached for a large pad of paper, pulling it toward him. He flipped it open to an blank page and picked up one of the colored pencils scattered on the table.

McQueen watched as the other man started to sketch on the page. "He treats you all right?"

"Uh-huh." Gary nodded. "Exceptin' when he don't let me have treats." He scowled, an expression that increased his resemblance to a pouting child and McQueen suppressed a grin.

"He's never hurt you?"

Gary frowned, shaking his head. "Why are you asking that?"

"I. . .I just want to make sure he treats you okay, that's all." McQueen reached out to gently draw his fingers through Gary's short hair, feeling the scar tissue underneath. Gary twitched at his touch but didn't pull away. "Have you seen a doctor, Gary?"

Gary grimaced as the outline of a cat appeared under the swiftly moving pencil.

"I take it that's a yes." McQueen smiled and Gary nodded. "Here? On the Bacchus?"

"Here. An' on Earth." He reached up to touch the right side of his head with a frown. "I got my hair all cut off there."

"Cut off?" McQueen asked, puzzled.

"I had an oper. . .operation. On my head. To help make me smarter."

"I. . .see." McQueen made a mental note to check on Gary's medical history. "Gary, how long have you been with Alvin?"

Gary frowned. "I don' know. A long time. As long as I 'member."

"How did you meet him?"

"I don' 'member." Gary shifted, his expression uneasy.

"Was it in the mines?" McQueen persisted and Gary began to shiver, his eyes glazing.

"I don' 'member." He whimpered, tightening his grip on the raccoon. "Mines. . ?"

McQueen opened his mouth to push then caught himself. This wasn't an enemy or a marine. This was a man with the mind of a child and the answers could wait.

"It's okay, Gary. Easy." He murmured and Gary settled, staring into the distance for a long moment before returning to his sketch. Gently McQueen reached to stroke Gary's hair. "It's all right." He waited for a moment, trying to regroup his thoughts and not succeeding. This was one situation he was not equipped to deal with. "Listen, Gary. I want to talk with you some more. . .later. Will that be all right?"

Gary threw him a disappointed look. "You can't stay? I don' see many peoples."

"You don't go out?"

"Not no more. Not since the bad men."

"Bad men?"

Gary paused in his sketching, frowning at what he drew. Absently, McQueen glanced at it then blinked at how well the portrait was done. He was no expert, of course but. . .then Gary was speaking again. "I useta go explorin' down in the Catacombs but then the bad men tried to hurt me." Gary grinned. "Alvin an' Twonky made them stop. But now I can't go explorin' no more."

Well, that could describe a lot of people on the Bacchus, some of whom would have a lot of fun with a brain damaged InVitro, especially one as attractive as Gary. McQueen pushed that thought away and rose. "I'll be back, Gary. Promise."

"Okay." Gary smiled slightly before turning back to his drawing.

McQueen paused in the doorway to look back, smiling at the sight of Gary showing the stuffed raccoon the picture he just drew, obviously soliciting the toy's opinion. Apparently it was favorable as Gary set the raccoon back done with a self-satisfied air and returned to his sketching. McQueen slipped out the door and back into the pool hall.

Vansen was over at a table, hands braced on a stick, watching as Alvin lined up a shot. At another table, West was showing Hawkes how to play pool, something apparently the young InVitro had never done. Satisfied that they were occupied, at least momentarily, McQueen went around the bar, moving to where Twonky was now energetically polishing the bar.

The big man studied him with a sidelong look and McQueen frowned. There was something odd about Twonky's eyes. Not in an AI way but. . .

"Drink?" Twonky asked.

McQueen stared at him for a long moment. "Scotch on the rocks." He said finally, sliding onto a nearby stool. A glass thumped down in front of him. A moment later, a thick file thumped down next to it. McQueen stared at it. "What's this?"

"Gary's medical file. Figured you'd want it. Like it back, though. We like to keep a complete copy handy. Just in case."

McQueen picked up the file apprehensively, weighing it thoughtfully in his hand before looking up at Twonky. "What exactly is your role in all this?"

Twonky laughed. "Me? I'm the bar keep." And he turned away.

McQueen glowered at his back. There was something decidedly odd about this Twonky but McQueen was too occupied with thoughts of Gary to devote time to that right now. He took a swallow of his drink paused then took another. "Good Scotch." He said approvingly before setting it back down. "I'll have this back to you before the Saratoga leaves the area."

Twonky grunted and McQueen rose, walking over to West. "I'm heading back to the 'Toga. You guys. . .keep an eye out here. If you don't mind." He added, remembering that the trio were on leave.

"Yes, sir."

McQueen started to turn, pausing as he caught the AI's eyes. He stared at him, unnerved by what he saw. . .or thought he saw. . .in the AI's eyes before turning away and walking out the door.


As the transport approached the Saratoga, McQueen closed the thick file, frowning. The notes inside the file were about as clear as mud, mainly written in medicaleeze but he did get the gist. Maybe he could get one of the 'Toga's doctors to translate it then the shuttle was docking and he stood, tucking the file under his arm.

He stepped from the shuttle and down the ramp, walking from the bay and toward the sickbay, suddenly pausing as a thought flitted across his mind. He switched directions.

His small office was tucked away in a corner of the Saratoga and shared with three other squadron commanders, luckily, rarely at the same time. Office space wasn't all they shared.

Rory O'Rielly was a young man, tall and far too thin. A civilian, he'd already been in place when McQueen had been transferred to the Saratoga. He had just lost two of the squadron commanders he had been aide to and had simply added McQueen to the ones remaining. Without, McQueen remembered with bemusement, even consulting him. Not that he minded. What he'd originally seen as just an aide and most likely a burden when the fighting began had turned into an asset he found himself thanking the powers for every other week.

Unlike his previous aide, O'Rielly clearly didn't care what color, sex or age the COs he worked for were and even less how they were born. He worked just as hard for McQueen as for the other three COs and had proven very adept at ferreting out information that was supposed to be highly classified. Shortly after his arrival, McQueen had discovered the young man was remarkably adept at getting items supposedly impossible to get. Now McQueen needed to borrow those skills.

O'Rielly looked up as he entered the office, blinking in surprise. "Colonel McQueen! I thought you were on the Bacchus."

"I was but something's come up." McQueen glanced around the office. It was empty save for O'Rielly. "I need some information."

O'Rielly didn't pause, simply reached for a pad of paper and a pen. "Shoot, sir."

McQueen felt a smile quirk his lips as he reflected, once again, how grateful he was that these young man was his aide then flipped open the file. "I need information on Alvin Herne. . .that's H-e-r-n-e. . .Gary Septon and Twonky Wildheart." He rattled off the names listed in the medical file.

"Twonky?" O'Rielly frowned, a thoughtful look in his eyes.

"Problem?"

"Hmmmmm? No, sir. It just sounds oddly familiar."

McQueen grunted. "Odd is right. Anyway, all I know about them is that they are currently on the Bacchus. Alvin works at, and maybe owns, a pool hall and Twonky is the bartender there. I want to know anything you can dig up on them."

"In how much time?"

McQueen's lips quirked at O'Rielly's earnest tone. "I'm heading back to the Bacchus in two hours. Meet me at Landing Bay Three in one hour and fifty minutes."

"Yes, sir. Anything else?"

"No." He started to turn away then paused. "Oh and thanks for the ink sticks."

"No problem, sir." The young man had spun around to face his computer and spoke over his shoulder. "If you happen to see the Commodore, Colonel, could you let him know it'll be three more days before I can get those strawberries to the Saratoga?"

This time, McQueen didn't bother to hide his smile. "Of course." He heard O'Rielly's "Thank you, sir." as he stepped through the hatch and turned toward the sickbay.

He was almost there when he heard a sharp voice call his name behind him and automatically snapped to attention at his commanding officer's approach.

Ross and McQueen"Commodore."

"Colonel McQueen, I thought I sent you on a 48 hour leave with instructions not to return within that time frame."

"Yes, sir. Something. . .came up." Much to his surprise, McQueen felt the sudden need to share what he's discovered with someone. "Commodore. . .Glen. . .can I talk to you for a minute? About something. . .private."

Commodore Ross blinked in surprise. During their entire time together, through the years, the wars, the peacetime, McQueen had called him by his first name a total of three times. Each time while under great emotional stress. "You know you can." He glanced around the corridor, which was remarkably empty. "Where ya headed?"

"Sickbay." As they walked, McQueen explained with terse and sometimes halting words what had occurred on the Bacchus, a situation Ross find difficult to grasp.

"You mean IVA actually created identical InVitros?" Ross asked slowly.

McQueen threw his friend a wry look. "If a formula worked, why change it? I know one InVitro who ended up with seven identical brothers. Not that it mattered. Only two of them survived the mines."

"Did you ever check. . .no, scratch that. I know you didn't."

McQueen stopped just short of the sickbay's hatch. "I couldn't." He said. "I don't think I could have handle it. Not then, anyway."

Ross studied him, finally deciding not to press. Instead, he nodded at the hatch. "You're in luck. Dr. Pierce's making his rounds of the Armada vessels." At McQueen's questioning look, he clarified. "The military's leading neurologist. All branches' kinda share him. He's here to pass along some new techniques and check up on patients."

McQueen opened the hatch and slipped in, followed by a commodore overcome by curiosity.

"Dr. Halls, where's Dr. Pierce?" Ross asked one of the ship's personnel and the young woman threw him a harried look before gesturing at a nearby cubicle. The duo headed in the indicated direction.

The man sitting in the cubicle was tall and well-built, looking remarkably young for someone in such an esteemed position then he looked up and McQueen could see his age reflected from his eyes.

"Dr. Pierce, this is Colonel McQueen. He would like to talk to you about a medical case."

Pierce frowned. "I've seen all the neurology cases on the Saratoga."

"This is an older case." McQueen said. "Not a military one."

"I've enough current patients without raiding old cases." Pierce sounded harried and McQueen didn't blame him.

"It won't take long, Doctor." He held out the thick file and Pierce eyed it.

"You've obviously never dealt with neurology." Pierce sighed, taking the file. "Have a seat." He flipped it open, eyeing the stack of papers and CDs stuck in pockets on the inside of the file. "How long a history is this?"

"Maybe fifteen years." McQueen leaned back against the wall Ross took a nearby chair.

"Ack." Pierce glanced at his watch then eyed McQueen before sighing. "I take it you want the information now?"

"If possible, please."

Pierce shook his head before turning back to the file, flipping the pages almost absently. Halfway through, he flipped the pages back, frowning. The tiredness that had weighed on him since the duo's entrance seemed to lift as he re-read a section then continued on. McQueen exchanged a puzzled look with Ross but waited patiently until the doctor had skimmed the entire file.

"What exactly do you want to know?" Pierce asked in a distracted tone.

McQueen frowned, not certain what he wanted to know. "I guess if there's anything that can be done for him. And what's been for him. If everything is being done for him."

"Hmmmmm. According to this, he's had several operations. The first was about. . ." He flipped back through the file. ". . .fourteen years ago. Concentrating on removing foreign objects from the right side of the brain and draining fluids."

"What kind of objects?" McQueen asked sharply.

Pierce frowned. "Dirt. Small stone chips. . ."

"The sort of thing that could be introduced in a mining accident?"

"Precisely." Pierce said in some surprise. "But a lot of the damage comes from oxygen deprivation. However. . ." He flipped through the file again until he was almost at the end. "This operation was something totally different." He said thoughtfully.

"How so?" McQueen asked.

Pierce didn't answer immediately. Instead, he tugged thoughtfully on his lip, studying what was written. "Have you ever heard of a Gregory Streiger?" He finally asked.

McQueen blinked at the sudden change of direction. "No." And Ross shook his head.

"Streiger is Earth's leading neurologist. The man's made breakthroughs you would not believe. Apparently, he is this man's. . .Gary's. . .doctor. My guess. . ." He glanced up at McQueen. ". . .is that this file is supposed to be classified."

"Why?" Ross asked.

"Because this type of procedure is supposed to still be hypothetical. I've never heard of it being done."

"What procedure?" McQueen this time.

Pierce tapped a CD. "I suspect that one of these has the actual operation but. . ." He turned his attention back to the file. "Here, it outlines the procedure here. Over the years, what could be considered a great deal of brain tissue was destroyed by the foreign objects or removed during operations. If you look at this. . .before picture, you can see that there was a hole here. You look at this picture and you see that? That is an artificial segment of brain, based on AI technology, placed in Gary's head to function as a part of his brain."

McQueen winced at the thought. Sure, he had a half-a-leg based on that technology but a part of the brain! "And it's working?"

"Apparently. From the look of it, this artificial bit is more or less a. . .ahhhhh. . .shall we say. . ." He plucked one of the CDs from their pockets. "...a CD? An area devoted to memory. Gary's brain is still functioning the same as before. . .the oxygen deprivation did too much overall damage to do much about that. . .but now he can retain what he does manage to learn."

"Does the human brain work that way?" Ross asked, looking over Pierce's shoulder.

"Oh yes. The human brain is remarkably like a computer's. A type of electrical impulse records information to the brain. That wasn't working with Gary so Streiger put something that would." He frowned over a passage in the file. "Apparently there is a downside. Gary can now access old memories, most of which he doesn't seem to really understand."

McQueen glanced at his watch. Twenty-seven minutes until the shuttle left. "In your opinion, has Gary been given the best treatment possible?"

Pierce studied him for a long moment. "In my opinion? Yes." He glanced back down toward the file. "I don't suppose I could keep this awhile?"

McQueen grinned at the longing tone in Pierce's voice. "Sorry, doc. I promised the holder I'd get it back to him." He held out his hand and Pierce sighed, closing the file and offering it to him. "The CD too, doc."

"Damn." Pierce slipped the CD he had palmed back into its pocket. "Can't blame me for trying."

"Thanks for your help."

Pierce waved to them absently, already turning back to his other files. McQueen and Ross walked from the medical center. "I have to go if I'm going to make it back to the shuttle in time."

"And I have to get back to work. Good luck, Ty."

"Luck has nothing to do with anything." McQueen said almost automatically as he turned toward the bays. "Oh, Commodore. O'Rielly said that he couldn't get the strawberries here for another three days."

Ross' lips quirked. "Damn! Why isn't that boy a quartermaster?"

"I asked him once. Said he couldn't take the cut-throatiness of it." He walked away, the Commodore's dry chuckles following him down the corridor.

Part Two

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