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The bad news was - the hanger doors were locked and guarded. The good news was, the guards didn't seem to be paying attention to them at all. This area was the source of the emergency alert, it seemed, lights flashing and a siren blaring, and the two guards were staring at the door. Jubat and Lefty again; jeez, surely this ship had more than just the four adults in it, didn't it? 


"Oh jeez, honey," said Lefty, pointing a scaly hand at the arriving teens. "It's the kids again. Aren't you supposed to be up in the schoolroom?" 

 

"Oh they probably got bored of all the little kid games there, amirite?" asked Jubat, with the ingenous smile of an adult talking to advanced grade schoolers; albeit a stressed one. "Hey we actually could use your help while you're here. Do you remember any grownups telling you how to calm your god when she gets angry?" 

 

From the other side of the door came the distinct, impossible sound of a bellowing elephant, and a thump, as if a large object had hurled itself against the door. 

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"Yes," Danica said immediately, big-eyed and sincere as a little tortoise girl could be. "All the Goddess's followers must do the sacred dance and sing the special song, to ease Her heart and let her rest. But the problem is that it can only be done on sacred ground! You need to put us back in the sacred place where you found us so that we can sing the song!" 

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"Oh yes! It is the only way at all!"

 

Pan slammed a fist into an open hand.

 

"If you try to do it on unsacred ground, she will become absolutely mad! And you do not want to be in the same part of any world as her when she becomes mad! Why, she could wreck the entre ship with ease!"

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Lefty and Jubat looked at each other for a moment, then seemed to shrug.

 

"Ugh, I'll deal with this with the Cap'n," said Jubat. "Just do what you have to do!" 

 

"Get in there!" said Lefty, hitting a button by the side of the door with her tail. "And get ready!" 

 

As the teens darted inside (as quickly as they could, anyway), they were confronted by a scene out of madness. Lucy the Elephant  was very much moving, trumpeting madly from her flexible wooden trunk, and stamping about the place in a fury. She spotted the heroes as the door shut behind them and bore down on them with a sudden bellow, charging at them like the maddened creature she seemed to have become! 

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"Yikes!" Danica squeaked, dropping partway into her shell on reflex. "Nice Lucy!" she called hopefully, using her best persuasive voice. "You remember us? We got you all clean? I painted your toenails so pretty? We're going home really soon, if you could just like, not squish us before then? Pretty please?" 

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"Hush now, little goddess! Do not worry, everything will be fine, as soon as we returned to our home, yes?" 

 

His entire being seemed to radiate a calming sensation towards the rampaging elephant that was very clearly showing some strong emotions despite having been nothing but a landmark not long before.

 

"I had a thought, Danica: What do you expect to do with all the children once we are back on Earth?"

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Danica's eyes widened almost comically. "I... hadn't really thought of that," she admitted. "But we can't let them out here, they'll get trampled! Shoot!" She looked again at the elephant. "Um, I mean, everything's totally okay, you can calm down and stop rampaging, it's all fine, fine, fine..." Wheeling her Segway behind the dubious protection of a pile of boxes, she turned back to Pan. "Maybe we can let them out as soon as we land and the pirates can pick them back up again?" 

 

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Lucy charged up close until she seemed to be almost within reach of the teens, then sank to her knees on the metal deck of the cargo bay, first in front, then in the back. It was still an intimidating scene, the great big-eyed wooden elephant much much larger than her organic counterparts, her tusks so close that Danica and Pan could practically touch them as she hemmed them in against the door, but for now she wasn't interested in trampling them.

 

Suddenly, though, she lashed out with her wooden trunk and picked Danica up by the midsection! Wood creaking under her weight, it lifted her high in the air over its head, emergency lights still flashing red across the whole scene...

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Pan stood still, a wide grin on his lips as the elephant charged.

 

Yes, yes, the children were still aboard Danica's shell. The Pirate children. Well, they could make something of them, could they not, if they really wanted?

 

Or find a way to get them back, at least. 

 

Flying up after Danica, he did his best to continue calming the giant elephant, while shouting out. "Now would probably be a good idea to send us and the goddess back to the sacred ground, yes?"

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At that moment. there was a bright, golden shimmer of light that shone all around them, through them, inside them - 

 

And then they were gone. 

 

And then they were back again! 

 

They weren't quite where they'd been picked up, though no doubt the marksmanship was impressive on an interplanetary scale. They were actually on Margate Beach outside Margate City, close enough they could actually see the missing place in the beachfront skyline where Lucy was supposed to go. There were police there and a few superheroes they didn't immediately recognize, though it was hard to pay too much attention when Lucy placed Danica atop her sixty-five-foot high back! With a loud trumpet that echoed across the narrow, mostly deserted beach, Lucy reached over her trunk to try and scoop Pan out of the sky too.

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Danica's yelp of surprise was swallowed up by the tractor beam, and before she knew it, she was back on Earth and sitting in the surprisingly plush howdah of an inexplicably alive fake elephant. She quickly slid out of her shell and yelled inside. "Ashley, Judy! We're back on Earth! I don't know what to do with these kids, and the aliens still have my scooter! And the elephant is alive now!"

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Flash of light, and they were back?

 

Pan hardly had time to make plans for all the lost boys and girls inside Danica's shell before Lucy continued its rampaging, putting Danica on top and trying to grasp him. Pan twisted to the side of the large trunk, waving a finger at the elephant while he grinned.

 

"No, no, I do not think so, my suddenly animated friend."

 

His eyes locked with the elephant's as he hang in mid-air before it.

 

"So, tell me, what are you? Are you anything at all?"

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The elephant was - awake? Perhaps it was the wrong word but this was as clever as an animal, with thoughts similar to but not the same as an elephant. Overall it was perhaps a familiar series of thoughts for Pan, a creature that was less a real elephant and more the sort one would make if one had only ever heard stories about them. And if they had a sixty-foot wooden canvas rather than one of flesh. It seemed tame for now, looking around and snuffling with the aid of its great wooden trunk, before it took a few steps down the beach towards its home. 

 

Judy exited the shell first, crawling out and calling back behind her with a huge smile, "-almost there! Follow me to adventure!" She looked around, profoundly relieved, as she took in where they were, followed shortly thereafter by a small group of shell-shocked looking alien kindergarteners, staring around with eyes and feelers and various other things. Judy looked at the kids and winced, then whispered to her friends, "what are we gonna do?" 

 

Ashley was the last one out, looking disgruntled for a moment before settling back to all business. "Gotta make a quick call," she said before stepping aside for a moment.

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Danica looked after Ashley, wide-eyed. "Please tell me you know how to fix this," she begged, her eyes as big and pleading as any of the children. "You're the responsible adult here, how do we fix this before we are all interstellar criminals who have to go to space jail?"

 

Things got very quiet for a moment at that, and Danica abruptly modified her tone to something much more cheerful. "Guess what, guys? We get to ride on an elephant! It's so exciting! Just be careful while it's moving so you don't fall down! Yay!"

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Pan stared at the elephant for another moment, moving backwards behind it as it moved towards the beach, then quickly flew up to the others on the elephant's back.

 

"Ah, you are back, good, good." He looked over the children, before continuing. "Well. The elephant is alive. Or at least it believes itself to be alive. It acts like someone would think an elephant would act, but only not quite? Someone might have made it change. Is it not terribly exciting?"

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Luckily for Ashley, it was about that time the Freedom League descended on the briefly-displaced heroes and their alien charges. Unluckily for Ashley the hero on the scene happened to be Comrade Frost, a Russian agent who was decidedly not aware of who she and Judy were. 

 

Daystar and Watchdog thus hung way back as Frost briefly glad-handed with Forever Boy with the air of a long-time politician just meeting a promising new recruit for the party. "Forever Boy! Ah, all the stories about you are true, I see. Delightful, delightful! Ah, Chelone," he added, keeping a distance from the reptilian heroine with the practice of one who knew a great deal about such things. "Well you four seem to have situation well in hand. Watch children for a moment while I call friends in space, yes? And keep eye on elephant!" He stepped back to make a few calls. 


A crowd was definitely forming of police, tourists, and a great many others, and the alien kids were starting to look decidedly nervous, clinging close to Danica, Pan, and the sparkling rainbow figure of Daystar, and murmuring softly, worriedly to themselves about what was going to happen to them now. 


Lucy the Elephant was wandering slowly up the beach towards the road, but was in no danger of reaching there anytime soon. She stopped to scoop up an empty lifeguard's tower and shoved it into her mouth, chewing with the noisy sound of crunching wood. 

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Danica was looking decidedly nervous as well, watching the crowd over the side of the howdah and wincing at the loud crunching noises from the elephant. This adventure had not exactly gone according to plan. "Okay kids," she said brightly to the youngsters, "How about we go back in my shell and I'll show you the awesomeness of Disney movies!" The little ones were just as happy to go back into the relative safety of the shell (even the New Jersey sky was awfully big when you were used to space!)  and Danica followed them right on in.

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"Show them Peter Pan!" Pan helpfully added to Danica as she guided the youngsters back into the shell.

 

Then, he turned to the dear comrade, with an eyebrow raised. "All the stories, you say? And what stories would that be? And who would they be?" He was grinning ear to ear now, while he waved his hand about, looking to the elephant, a long, tall fence appearing along the coast line, hopefully keeping it from having any ideas about continuing further.

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"Oh all flattering ones I assure you," Comrade Frost lied with the easy neglect of someone who obviously knew his lie was being detected. He stepped away for a moment to speak quickly into his telephone, then with a look of satisfaction placed it into the breast pocket of his old-fashioned suit. Calling up louder to Ashley and Judy as well as Pan, he added, "I have good news children! As it happens Lor vessel was already in area to deal with pirate problem, so they can stop by and pick up displaced children. Ah, such a coincidence, eh? And you will get to see that space is not all full of criminals and malcontents..." 

 

Having finished her meal, Lucy began slowly striding up and off the beach, though fortunately she seemed to be taking an access road rather than trying to crush the historic boardwalk beneath her legs. She was heading for her usual resting spot, and luckily the road was wide enough (and still roped off) that she could slowly wander over there without stepping on any cars or banging into any buildings.

 

Secure behind her mask and riding on the back of what had turned out to be a rather sedate and docile wooden elephant, Ashley wasn't really worried until she saw the familiar spaceship coming in overhead. "Ashley...?" asked Judy, who had eyes even better than hers. 


"Lots of ships like that," Ashley murmured - a moment before her phone chimed with a message through ErosUnlimited that said "Spacecase" was in Earth's atmosphere...

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Even without the chime of her phone Ashley would have had a good idea exactly who was in the cockpit of that bird.  Not many others in Lor space were willing to come in quite that hot on a theoretically pre-space faring planet.  The fiery arc of the de-orbit burn gave way to the glinting hull of the familiar ship as it swooped into the landing zone at speed.  Pulling up and deploying landing gear at the last second the ship kissed the ground with a surprisingly light touch and little more than a pleasant breeze from the retro thrusters as she came to a rest.

 

A cargo ramp deployed from the underbelly with a hiss of depressurization and a small cloud of condensation as the pressures within and without equalized.  Out of hte fog emerged a familiar pair, one in formal appearing robes the other in a skin tight flight suit in light blue.  The standard issue rfid emitter on her belt would identify her as Star Ranger Fa'Rua Zal Na'ar to those tuned to the correct frequencies, the silver star that housed it was a custom affectation.

 

"Jolan check in on the kids."  Fa'rua ordered her brother who was in fact much better suited the task, "I'll liaise with the local law enforcement."  

 

Jolan hustled down the ramp at his sisters suggestion and paused looking about for a moment before smiling wide at the shell, "Oh marvelous!"  he intoned with genuine reverence.  Taking a few steps toward it he gently knocked, "Ah, excuse me enlightened one may we beg entrance?"  he intoned formally having at least some experience dealing with perhaps slightly more mature spiritual beings.

 

Swaggering down the ramp Fa' Rua made a bee line for Ashley, "Told ya I'd stick around the neighborhood."  

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After only a moment, the tortoise shell in question, already quite a bit larger than a normal example of the type, grew somewhat larger, big enough for an adult to crawl into with no trouble. Danica came to the front opening and looked up at Jolan. "Um, hello," she said, looking abashed and relieved all at once. "Are you here to help with the kids? I swear we didn't mean to take them, and the pirates totally kidnapped us first! They put us in their daycare when they saw we weren't adults, but then the guy who was supposed to be watching the children just up and left, and we couldn't make our escape and just leave all the kids with nobody taking care of them! They're practically babies... I'm pretty sure!"

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What Ashley wanted to do was take off her helmet, pull Fa'Rua in for a long kiss, and maybe let her put aboard that ship and fly her back to CoVic Station for a few days. (Or honestly just climb into her arms together) But she was working and so all she did was smirk inside her helmet, the kind that came through in her voice, and said, "Glad I've got you here watching my ass, space-cop." She spread her arms just a little, a swagger that was only a little complicated by standing inside the howda of a sixty-foot wooden elephant. 

 

To Jolan's practiced eye, the children following Danica out from her shell seemed like the sort of motley crew you'd expect from a ship full of families. In the aftermath of the Incursion, some refugee ships had been preyed on by pirates - others had become pirates themselves. "Arr!" declared one boy, a green-eyed, green-haired humanoid who looked to be about twelve. "Have you come to throw us in the hold, ye Republican dog?" 

 

"Hey Fa'Rua!" said Judy cheerfully, glowing brightly from where she had been on the opposite side of the shell. "Ah guess space isn't that big after after all!" She looked from Ashley to Fa'Rua and back again, showing much more confidence in her powers than the last time Fa'Rua had seen her in person, and perhaps a moment's "If anybody's in trouble it's me," she said suddenly, "Ah was the one who wanted to get back to Earth tout suite. But it should just be a matter of getting these kids home, it wasn't that far when they beamed all of us down here..." 

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"Yes, yes, I am sure." Pan's voice was absolutely full of sarcasm as he replied to the Comrade. He crossed his arms and smiled with his mouth closed. A knowing, smile, but if he was offended, he didn't let it show.

 

At any rate, his attention was soon drawn to the space ship, with him briefly muttering "I have been to space," in response to Comrade Frost's statement about space and criminals and malcontents, but again, his attention was drawn away as the space aliens left their spaceship.

 

He was away from Comrade Frost and by Judy, Ashley and Danica's side in a second, clasping his hands together as Ashley and the space alien talked and Judy greeted these space aliens, obviously knowing them, and... He looked between Ashley and Fa'Rua a few times, his smile widening. "Oooooooo!"

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Jolan bowed low to Danica as she came to the entrance, "Yes we are here to ensure they are reunited with their families."  he explained calmly, "Thank you for your service in keeping them safe."  the monk intoned diplomatically as he watched the children file out.

 

"What can I say I enjoy the view."  Fa'Rua replied with a saucy wink.  She looked at the unusual conveyance, "Your efforts to one up my ride every time we meet are really getting out of hand."  she teased and smiled to Judy, "Ju'Deth!  You look, well, there is a glow."  the Lor ranger joked playfully, "Happier though it's a good look."

 

Jolan looked to the child who spoke and shook his head, "Oh no we are equipped with comfortable berths for you all and able to modify to any unusual requirements."  he assured them earnestly.  "You'll be take to the nearest starbase and we'll track down your families, you'll all be home soon."  he promised openly without a doubt in his mind they would manage just that.

 

Fa'Rua shook her head to Judy, "No one's in trouble as far as I'm concerned."  she assured them both with a small shrug, "We'll make sure they get home don't you worry."  she promised solemnly as well.  She spared a glance to Pan and gave a small nod, "Fa'Rua Lor Republic Star Ranger corps."  she introduced extending a hand, "And you are a perceptive one, keep it under your hat Smith here is in deep cover."  she advised half joking as she glanced at Ashley, "Or is it finally Agent Tran?"  She asked curiously and shrugged, "I can hit him  with the neuralizer if you need."  she offered pulling a metal cylinder from her belt with a small glowing ring on one end, a cylinder Ashley would recognize as a flashlight from one of their earlier meet ups.

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Ashley felt a pleasant warmth wash over her as Fa'Rua and her brother took control of the situation and (for a little while, the squabbling kids), cocking her head to study her girlfriend through her helmet. God, I love this woman, she thought to herself, a realization that was a little frightening but mostly very pleasant. "He knows how to keep his mouth shut, believe it or not," she said, too good-naturedly to actually sound menacing. "So you actually can send all the kids home? Thank God." She considered a moment, then took off her helmet, shaking pink-dyed hair loose in the sea breeze, and shot Fa'Rua a distinct Later smile. 

 

"But our families are Republic criminals," said the boy, giving Jolan a skeptical eye. "My mama says we're not bound by the ancient laws of a doomed nation." 

 

"We know them from helping me with my powers," Judy explained to her friends, "They helped me figure out exactly where they came from...there's something you should know," said Daystar, who'd beamed (quite literally) at Fa'Rua's praise before sobering a little. "There is a Stellarian on that ship. He thought...Ah think he just thought it was funny to try and play with us, because he didn't care about those little children at all."

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