Xander looked around the house he used to live in. It was empty. Dawn and Rimfire were in DC with Micah for the weekend. The bros were on active duty this week. He was all alone on Earth. He looked behind him as the transporter went off, smiling at Terror. "What are you doing here?"
"This is my punishment for letting the kids escape," he said dryly. "Wrench is coming later." Xander hugged him. "Fine, I'll be your bodyguard."
Xander chuckled. "It's fine, Terror. I promise to be a good boy shopping on Earth all by myself."
"Vinnie said this is my punishment for letting the kids escape," he said firmly. "You're not going to be shopping alone on Earth."
Xander giggled. "Sure. I've got to do two things before we head out." He headed up to the office, getting onto their accounts online. He smiled when he saw everything was in place. Then he found the envelope with his name on it. Inside were the new cards and checks for his new accounts in Mars' bank on Earth. He called the number on the card to activate it, then did another check. His third account was active and it was all good. He wrote a note to the bank manager's email address telling him he was doing the final move and he'd be closing that account in two weeks, but that he was draining it this week to do the remainder of the shopping. He got back an auto reply message and shrugged. He decided to call instead, smiling at the cheerful voice on the other side. "Hi, I need to talk to Mershan Philips?" He was transferred. "Hi, this is Xander Harris. Yes, him," he said happily. She remembered him. "Nope, I'm doing the final moving shopping this week. Yup, off that last account." He sat up, listening to her. "What other account?" He smirked. "No, I hadn't remembered having that. Huh. That must be from the remainder of my insurance payoff after Sunnydale went south. Sure. No, just to inform you that I'm back in town to shop on that account...." He snickered. "I'm only going to be back here once a year and I don't want to pay maintenance fees, ma'am. Sure." He listened to her plans. "Okay, can I still use the same cards? Then I can be down there to do that first," he agreed. "Thank you. Sure!" He hung up and grabbed everything else. "Terror, come on, we've got to head to the bank."
Terror came out of the kitchen with a chicken drumstick. "Already?"
"Yup. Sorry. You can eat on the way." He headed down to his bike, patting him gently. "Come on, big guy, let's go shopping!" The bike snickered but let him climb on and head out with Terror following. Once they got to the bank, he handed Terror the ID that had been in the envelope for him and for Wrench. Then he headed inside, smiling at the woman behind the reception desk. "I need to see Miss Philips?"
"She's expecting you, Mr. Harris. Right this way," she said, getting up so he could follow her. She tapped then opened a door, letting him inside. "Here you are and you have a nice day."
"You too," he agreed, smiling at her. He walked inside and shut the door, shaking her hand. "Hi."
"Hi, Mr. Harris. Sit, let's do this minimal bit of paperwork. We really would hate to lose you as a customer." She got to work on the paperwork, then went to cash out the remaining balance on both his accounts. She would get rewarded for keeping his account somehow, even though he was moving out of state.
Xander walked into his favorite music and video store, pulling out the list he had made at home on his computer. He looked around and smiled at one of the guys, who he knew worked on commission. "Hey," he said. "Can you help me? I'm doing a fair bit of shopping." The guy nodded and came over. Xander grinned. "You guys still work on commission right?" He nodded, looking eager. "Good. I have these from this year, I need everything else that came out on DVD, video, and CD in these genres." He handed over the list. "I'm even paying cash."
The man looked at it, then at him. "Why?" he asked cautiously.
"I've moved out of state and there's nowhere closer. I live on the edge of the desert and there's not even a satellite signal. I'm easily bored and I have ADHD."
The guy just nodded. "Sure. You're up to here, right?" he said, pointing at the titles. That got a nod. "Did you want duplicates on DVD and video, sir?"
"No, if they're out on both I'd prefer DVD."
"Sure." He led him to the computer to print up a list for him by release date. "We do have some rereleases and we do have some special editions," he warned.
"Point, thank you, sir. My family will love you for my holiday shopping." He led him to pull out what they had, putting in the order for the rest of it when they were ready to check out. The cart was nearly overflowing and Xander had stopped at the game systems. "Those just came out but we do still have the last version and most of the games."
Xander considered it, then nodded, pulling down two of each, then going to find the games. "My big brother's good at video games," he admitted with a shy grin. "What about the other stuff?"
"With three exceptions, they'll be in within three days, sir."
"Xander, please," he offered, grinning at him. They cleaned out that section and he ended up buying the other type of game system as well, plus some new computer games. Then he handed him the stack of cash, watching as he counted it out, kicking in an extra hundred from the stash in his pocket. He pushed the buggy out and over to the UPS place up the hallway, sending everything to himself. Then he returned the cart with a wave and headed off to the other stores he needed to visit. He ran into Terror in the food court, still staring at everything. "Hungry?"
"Yeah, suddenly I am," he admitted. "No wonder you guys brought up your own food. You could never be satisfied with what you can grow and buy at home." He looked at Xander. "Where were you?"
"Music and video store." He walked him over to the pretzel stand and got them each one, then looked around. "Japanese or hotdogs?"
"You can have the other one later," he promised with a grin.
"Hotdogs then." Xander nodded and went to buy him food, sitting down to nibble on his pretzel while his cousin ate. "You're not hungry?" Xander held up his pretzel. "That's not very filling."
"I'm good until dinner. I made breakfast this morning." He finished his first one off and Terror took half of his second before handing it over and finishing off his lunch. "Ready?" he asked once he was done. "Good. Then we've got to hit the other spot."
"What about the packages?"
"They're being shipped back to the house." He patted himself down, then looked around before muttering to summon his wallet. It landed in front of him and he checked it, it still had cash and cards. "Okay, let's head," he ordered, standing up and tossing away the trash.
"Man, no wonder Vinnie said he can eat ten hotdogs."
"I've seen him and Modo put away forty between 'em," Xander said with a grin. They headed out, finding Wrench reading on his bike. "Do we need to hit the bookstore too?" he teased.
"I will beg, plead, and let Throttle talk me into sleeping with you," Wrench said seriously. He looked at them. "Did you eat?" he asked, pointing at some mustard. Terror licked a finger and got to work on his spot. Wrench sat up, looking at Xander. "Where have you hit?"
"Candles, video and music, herbs, t-shirt place. We can hit the bookstore too." He pointed at it. "It's only right there." Wrench nodded, giving him a begging look. "Sure. Come on. Terror?"
"Do they have anything on guns?" he asked, noticing the odd looks. "My momma named me that," he defended.
Xander grinned at one lady. "Really, she did. He's former military too. Imagine his commander's look the first day." She shivered and they headed into the bookstore and of courses guards came to bother them. "Wrench, he found your ID too," Xander said as he pulled his. Terror's got given long stares, then he did. "His momma named him funny, guys. He's even former military." They shuddered and walked off, going to make a report about that in case anything else got said. Xander found the stuff he read, pulling down the stuff he wanted and loading up his carry basket. He found the how-to manuals and got some of them as well. Then he went to find Wrench, who was hugging a bookcase. He sighed and shook his head. "Go find a cart, Wrench." Wrench hurried off and came back with a helper. He looked at him. "Work on commission?"
"No, sir, but he said he was buying a good portion of the store."
"Can you guys ship it to us too?" Terror asked as he joined them. "I'm surprised he's not in the mythology/occult/paranormal/theology/philosophy aisle," he joked.
Wrench looked at the guy. "You have one of those? Do you have Dextra's books on astrophysics and spiritual travel?" The guy shrugged. "We can head there next, right?"
"Sure," Xander agreed, grinning at him. He looked at the guy. "We live out near the edge of a desert. We only get in to do this once a year."
"I see. Did you need anything from our video or CD sections, sir?"
"Actually, I stopped at the place up the mall," he admitted. "Got anything they wouldn't?"
"A few. We get a lot more anime than they do." He called over an associate. "Help them. They're moving out of state to the middle of nowhere and are stocking."
"I saw him in the music store," she admitted, leading Xander away. "How far away?"
"The edge of a desert. We only get back up here once a year," he admitted. "After this, we're doing groceries tomorrow and some leather too."
She smiled and led him to the videos. "Here'll probably be the easiest stop." She unlocked the cases and let him pull down things. The other place apparently didn't get tv shows. "Are you looking for any others?"
Xander looked at her and nodded. "Yeah. I only got Stargate up to season three and CSI to season three."
"We can help with that too," she said happily, going to the computer to make order lists. "How long are you in town for?"
"Hmm. I can rush this but it'll be extra." He shrugged. "Okay then." She ordered everything and rushed it then went back to help the others check out, watching as he stopped at the calendars and then the graphic novels. She smiled and got him a cart of his own. Then they went to the music section. They did some local band pimping and he got them as well. Plus a coffee. They paid and walked the carts down to the UPS store and then brought back the empty carts. Then they headed out to dinner.
Wrench looked around the clothes that Xander had piled up and waiting to be loaded into the cargo container. "Are you sure you need this many clothes?"
"Thirty percent of these are for the guys and another thirty are for the General Fund," Xander said patiently. "I mostly expanded and replaced." He banished everything into the container then checked it, nodding at the fullness. He looked at Wrench, who shook his head. "I'm not insane."
"So you protest," he agreed, walking him back inside. The container was shut and locked by Terror, who was still wincing in pain from the hefting he had done of the first few boxes of videos and books. The rest of that load would be the parts that Charley said she needed for her garage. Now they had the hard shopping to do, the grocery shopping. The stuff for the Councils had already been sent back last night in a large crate and a U-Haul that had been displaced for a few minutes. Wrench looked around the house, it was nearly bare. "I'll miss this place."
"Me too," Xander admitted, grinning at him. "If you can figure out how to move it to Mars, you can have it, Wrench." Wrench pinched him for it, but did think about it. Xander looked around as well, then went to pack one bag he had forgotten. He had already popped around to see Meg, Oz, their baby, and Micah. "If you can't, Micah said he's taking it over as a house for the local problem fixers. He's even going to pay the property taxes on it. After Dawn and Rimfire come up, this last transporter will come up with us, leaving the one in Vegas and the one in Micah's office." He hauled that bag down to beside his bike, checking his wallet. Still plenty of cash. "Come on, guys, it's time to do groceries."
"We're way ahead of schedule," Terror complained as he came in.
"I'll even treat to dinner."
"Then I'm in," Terror admitted. "Do you have Vinnie's lists?"
"Of course," he said, pulling them out of his pocket. "Of course they're going to be added to as well," he offered with a grin. "Oh, I need to put in another cooler compressor into one of the caves. Momma wants to do a once-monthly hotdog thing and we'll need more storage room."
"Isn't the one enough?" Wrench asked, looking confused.
"Only if you don't want to be able to walk into it," Xander assured him. They all groaned at that. "Sorry, guys. It's already up there though. I got it a few months ago. I just need to finish installing and plug it in." He got onto his bike. "Come on, baby, let's go rent a truck so we can do the groceries." His bike snickered/beeped and backed out, letting him drive off. Terror took off with Wrench on the back of his bike. Xander would drive the truck, Wrench would ride his bike, and Terror would escort, just like the last few times. It worked well for these trips.
Xander appeared with the last three cargo containers, then grinned at the Seal waiting on him. "Hi."
"Hi, Xander," she offered with a grin. "You left stuff this time."
She shook her head and brought it up, letting him head into the caverns. He got that one compressor installed then came out and gave her the pitiful look. "What?" she asked. "I'm not that nice."
"I brought you chocolate ice cream with walnuts. It's in the back of the cargo container with the food," he offered.
"I hate you," she muttered, but everything was put up. Including the store of hotdogs into the quickly cooling chamber. "That'll freeze."
"I know. I'll turn it down in a few minutes," he promised, grinning at her. "I'd give you a hug but you're not solid enough."
She snorted and checked the house, bringing up the rest of the stuff in the garage, then shook her head. She did give him a hug, making him shiver from her chill, then took her ice cream and left with one of the books he had bought.
Willow appeared and looked around and Wrench held up a thing of ice cream for her, making her squeal. "Do the books go into the library?"
"Yours, duffus," she teased, grinning at him. "Throttle's only *threatened* to turn it into a real library."
"Sure. Can you send the videos and cd's to their right spots too, along with the cabinets?" He popped open the container of ice cream bonbons and she moaned, doing it so she could steal that and her ice cream. "Thanks, Wills." He grinned at Wrench and handed over the fried chicken he had gotten him and Terror for dinner, then headed back to sneak into the house. He was tired!
"Your pad or mine?" Terror asked, salivating at the smell of the chicken.
"Mine. It' not a cave." He took off and Terror followed the chicken.
Vinnie and Throttle came in from their fun ride, stopping when they saw the new entertainment cabinets. They looked at each other, each picking one to open. Then they groaned.
Modo found the shrunken box in the bathroom and opened it, yelping as the toilet paper sprung out and grew to pile up on top of him. "I think they're back!" he called.
Throttle came in and groaned. "Vincent!" Vinnie came in and closed the box, stopping the spewing toilet paper bundles. "How deep is that thing?" Vinnie shrugged, looking around and laughing. "Fine. You laugh and clean this up. Modo, did you see my lunatic?"
"No, bro. I was with the kids. I noticed some new books hit the library." They went that way once Vinnie had taped closed the toilet paper spewing box. The library was much fuller now. Modo looked around. "At least we won't be bored."
"We should just start a real library or donate it to the one in town." Throttle stomped off toward the bedroom, tripping over the two cases of tubes of lube next to the door. He growled and walked into their bedroom, stopping to watch Magnet, Comet, and Tag cuddle his mate. He sighed in pleasure. Xander looked so sweet and innocent being cuddled by their brats. Too bad it was all such a lie. He went to the comm, calling Wrench's house, getting him mid-bite of chicken. "KFC?" Wrench nodded, finishing his bite and chewing. "Should we send for Stoker to come confiscate some chocolate?" Wrench shrugged and took another bite. "The truth?" he asked patiently.
"Not a clue, Throttle," Terror admitted. "There was a bike show next to where we were shopping. They were showing custom mods." He leaned into view. "Sorry, man. We tried. Sixteen trips, man. Oh, can you ask your Momma to put out a menu or a schedule or something so we know when the monthly hotdog thing is?"
"Monthly hotdog thing?" he asked flatly. "Xander!"
"Shhh!" Magnet called back. "Mine!"
Throttle hung up and went to find the inventory list, whimpering at the thickness of it. He looked over at Vinnie, waving it. "There was a convenient bike show next to the grocery store."
Vinnie winced and took the clipboard since it was his duty. "At least it's all put up." He looked it over. No more gas. Still no listing for the snack cavern. "There's an extra cool cavern with more hotdogs?"
"Momma apparently wants to do a monthly hotdog thing," he said, crossing his arms. "Well?"
"I'm reading," he complained, going over the list again. He looked at him, then shrugged. "Nothing more than what he already had restocked and a bit more."
"Bet me! Look at that thickness!"
Vinnie flipped through the list, noticing a few new things. "Charley girl's got some parts, she's got her own cave of parts and tires," he admitted. "That's sixteen of the pages, bro." He continued on. "No, nothing really out of the ordinary." He looked at him. "We could go look." He noticed the signs that his bro was about to have a blood pressure problem and got him onto the nearest seat. "I'll go look. Okay? It says we need to turn down the new cooler anyway." He headed out, going out to the caves. He saw Willow floating out there and looked at her. "How bad?" he asked.
"Mostly the same things only with more. He did eat all of some of it," she pointed out with a grin. "The snack cave is now locked from everyone, Vinnie. I can't even get in." Vinnie groaned and headed up to check things out. Charley's cave was one of the more modest sized ones but it was all arranged by boxes. A few things got shifted off the more delicate equipment underneath but it was mostly fine. He headed to check on the cool cavern, turning that one down a bit before he shivered himself bald. He headed into the grocery cavern, noticing how much higher the shelves were in some places. He noticed the diaper aisle was shrunk, but it contained a few of those shrunken boxes. "Hey, Willow, how many do these hold? We've got one of toilet paper in the house."
"I don't know," she admitted. "I can't tell."
"Cheese," he complained as he walked. He walked back to the snack cavern and sure enough, it was locked against him. "How do I break this?"
"I'm not sure you can. It's numerical," she admitted. She watched as Vinnie tried all the numbers he knew, finally finding the right one. "What date was that?"
"The day he met us," he said smugly, swinging the door open. An avalanche of boxes fell out and were put back by Willow before he was smooshed by Little Debbie. He groaned, looking at the piles of cakes, cookies, nutty bars, and ho hos. He wanted to cry just like Spike had but Throttle wasn't here so he couldn't hide against his chest. He looked at Willow and let out a small whimper, and Throttle appeared so Vinnie let out a sob and hid his face in Throttle's chest. "Him on a sugar high," he sobbed, pointing.
Throttle looked and winced. "Oh, damn, babe. Too much. Way too much." He looked at Willow, who shrugged. "Can you get Stoker to come steal part of this?" She shook her head. "Why not?"
"Because they got half a U-Haul with it," she admitted. He shuddered at that. "He did buy some more cheese too."
"Why?" Vinnie whined.
"Because he needs calcium. His family has a history of shrinkage in old age." She shrugged and closed the door. "Vinnie knows the code." She wiggled a finger and pointed at a new door that used to go to an open cave. "His soda stash. Not the rootbeer but the regular stuff so the kids can't get into it."
"Thank you," Vinnie said, pulling back and wiping off his face. "That's a horrible thought!"
"Hey, he got us ice cream," she said with a smirk, fading out. She searched the lot in Chicago, finding a few more dropped things. She was even nice enough to go down there and pick them up before bringing them back. They went into the right spot and she grinned at them. "The clothes in the 'bros' section of that container are in the garage so you can wash, sort, and all that stuff. His are in his closet, and his spare closet, and the spare bedroom in your rooms, Throttle. The general fund stuff we already sent down there." She faded out with a grin.
"Come on, let's go call Stoker. Maybe he'll take some of the candy anyway." Vinnie nodded, following him out. Throttle looked into Charley's cave, smiling at her happy dance with some of the parts. "We're heading back."
"Sure. Clean out the garage so I can find my workbench," she ordered. She went back to dancing with her parts and tires.
Once they got home, Throttle called Stoker. "He bought *more* chocolate. Need more?"
"Cheese, no," he said grimly. "We've got more than enough for all this year's picnics and to supply the baskets with some each time. Also to fill all the baskets for the next ten months with stuff we've never used before, including water and powdered milk." He looked at him. "How are you? Is he okay?"
"He's napping it off," Throttle admitted. "It could be worse." He sat down with a sigh. "He's also locked up the regular soda and left our stuff in the garage."
"Then I'd go clean it before Charley girl gets you for cluttering her space up," he said seriously. "Anything really new?"
"More hotdogs since Momma said she wanted to do a hotdog thing once a month apparently. I'm sure he's donating those."
"He probably is, that's what he said he'd do," Stoker admitted.
"Why did he tell you that?"
"To clear it with the Council."
"Oh." He grimaced. "Fine. Anything else I should know?"
"Did he remember lube?" he asked with a hint of a smile.
"Yeah, there's ten cases out there and two in our bedroom. We're set for the year," he said dryly. "Did he forget anything?"
"The canned hams aren't the same brand but they still taste okay when we did a taste test. The fresh stuff was nice too and the canned veggies were a bit different. Nicer, but different. We weren't real specific. Just veggies, meat, the usual list." He shifted and put his feet up barely in view of the camera. "Are you okay?"
"I didn't want him to do that. We've got more videos and tapes, plus more cd's and more books too."
"I'd suggest donating it in total to the local library but it needs to be rebuilt. It's a fire hazard." He shrugged. "Anything good or did Wrench do that stop?"
"You'd have to ask him. My head hurts," Throttle assured him. "Let me know if you need something he didn't get. That way I can handcuff him and go back with him." He hung up and went to wiggle around the kids to get to his mate. Xander blinked at him. "Way too much," he said quietly. "It's depressing how much stuff we've got."
Xander kissed him. "The General Fund warehouse is twice the size of ours and that'll last us for the next year."
"I'd hope more than that," he said, stroking his cheek. "I don't want you to go broke, Xander."
"I'm not. I've got money, I didn't even spend fifty thousand this time, Throttle." He stole another kiss and shifted so he could lay on his shoulder. "Why are you wet?"
"Vinnie saw your chocolate stash and had a small panic attack about you on a sugar high." He stroked the back of his head. "What clothes?"
"You guys have stuff that's got holes, stains, and rotted seams. I replaced it." He shrugged, getting more comfortable and yawning. "I'm going to nap."
"Sure, you nap. What's for dinner?"
"I don't care, pick something and let Staff cook." He shrugged and snuggled in, closing his eyes. "I got maternity clothes too."
"I'm sure they'll appreciate it," he agreed. "You didn't spend that much?" Xander shook his head. "What was so expensive the first time?"
"The building materials, the cargo containers. The electronics." He shrugged and yawned again. "I think I spent fifty-three including shipping costs to get everything back to the old lair. Oh, Micah said he wanted it."
"That's cool with me if it is with you," he promised quietly, stroking his back. "Can we donate the books to the library once they finish rebuilding it?" he asked quietly.
"Fine." He went back to soothing his mate. He had obviously worn himself out. He hoped they didn't need to go back for anything else. There wasn't any room for anything else. He watched as Vinnie carried in bags of stuff. "Mine?" he asked quietly.
Vinnie looked at him. "Terror was having flashbacks to helping him shop. He basically walked into the usual places, got three carts and stopped at each and every rack to find us stuff. Then they tied the bags differently. I'm hoping the salesgirls there work on commission like they do at the video store." They shared a look and a smile. "What are we doing with the old stuff? I seem to have a whole new batch of shirts to spill mustard on."
"Call the fund people and see if they can use it for work clothes?" Throttle suggested. Magnet glared at him so he grinned. "Go back to sleep."
"I can't. You're noisy. You and daddy both. Kiss him already." She huffed and put her head back down, turning it the other way, but still holding onto her uncle's tail. She loved tails.
Vinnie looked at his daughter's back, then at Throttle and gave him a kiss. "I'll check on that tomorrow. What's for dinner?"
"He said he didn't care, let Staff decide and cook."
"Cool. She's going out to the club to try the new recipe." He looked around. "Chicken?"
"Sure. Terror was."
"I noticed." He went to get his stuff and put it in their room, then headed out to the caverns to find a box of fried chicken. Or two, they were hungry.
Carbine tapped on the garage's door, walking in at Charley's yell. "Hey." Charley smiled at her. "How did the shopping go?"
"As far as I know it went okay. What did he forget?"
"To give us the receipts." Charley pointed at a box in the corner. "All of them?"
"As many as we've found. We did find about twenty from the grocery stores."
"He didn't do those mega club warehouse stores?"
"He said one's closed," she admitted. "He might not have been able to get into it before it closed." She got up to hunt through the receipts. "I don't think these are yours. Most of these have milk."
"He did get us powdered milk." She looked them over, separating out the ones she thought were theirs. "What did he get at the gap?"
"A few t-shirts for Modo," she said, putting that aside. "Why are we worried?"
"He didn't get the usual cheap brands. Some stuff was actually name brand."
"So you're worried about pennies?" Carbine nodded. "You might try asking him."
"I can't seem to find him. I called his bike and it's out of range?"
"He's out in the back yard. His bike may be visiting a temple. Xander!" He came jogging in. "They needed the receipts."
"I left them in the bags."
"We never found them." Carbine looked at him. "Did you buy name brand things, Xander?"
"The warehouse club was closed. The other one has sanitary violations. I'm not going to risk everyone's lives on a place where the fresh fruit is moldy and the freezers are leaking stuff into the food and they don't remove it." Carbine shuddered at that. "So I did shop the sales. I'm sorry if that offends and I'll make up any difference you think there should be, but I spent less this time. Most of the receipts should have been in the shipping crate. I did that one first." She nodded and went to call someone. He hugged Charley. "Can't please her, can I?" he whispered.
"Probably not. Where is your bike?"
"Visiting the temple with Spike. Wrench wanted to do some advanced training in case something like that happened again. My bike agreed." He shrugged and hopped up onto the counter. "I took your list in. Did I forget anything that's not on back order?"
"I wondered where a few things were," she admitted, pinching him on the thigh. "You did good, Xander. I'm sure Rimfire and Dawn will send up the rest when it comes in."
He nodded. "Thanks, Charley. It's nice to hear someone say that. Did the shirts fit okay? I wasn't sure."
"They're fine, Xander." She kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for encouraging Vinnie to wear shirts now and then." Carbine came back. "Find 'em?"
"I did," she admitted. "Or at least part of them. It was about the same as last time." She looked at him. "I'm sorry, but we do have to be a bit tight fiscally sometimes, Xander." He nodded. "We have too much coming out of the budget most of the time."
"That'll even out someday soon," Xander reminded her. "Besides, Micah said you've got stuff coming from sales still." She nodded at that. "I wouldn't worry about it yet, Carbine. There's worse things to worry about."
"Like what we're doing with all the stained and ripped clothing," Charley admitted.
"The General Fund can't really use things like that," Carbine said, staring her down.
"We thought maybe work clothes for those on building crews," Xander told her. "That way they could have good, non-stinky clothes."
"I'll check and see if they've got anything for that. Just stained stuff?"
"Mostly Vinnie's accidents with mustard and sauces," Charley agreed, smirking a bit.
"A few with baby spitup we couldn't get rid of," Xander agreed.
"I'll ask," Carbine noted, heading out to her bike to head back into town. She sat down in her office and called Micah, giving him the figures. He checked with his person at one of the warehouse clubs then held up a figure. "It's not that much different. A whole ten dollars."
Micah smiled at her. "Xander and Dawn both know how to get a good deal, Carbine," he reminded her. "Did you get the email I sent about that material someone wanted." She nodded. "Anything come of it yet? He's already checked back today."
"It's on the schedule for this afternoon," she assured him. "I'm not sure if we can or not." She shrugged. "What about our funds? They seemed lower recently."
"Taxes, Carbine. I had a word with the President, who had a word with someone, so they're supposed to making you a non-profit as of when the account started. That will get you a refund of at least some of us." She nodded at that. "We're doing what we can. How are things going?"
"Better. How is the newest president taking the news?"
"He threw a fit. He demanded to know why he wasn't told this before. We pointed out that we were waiting until he took office and easing him into it. We did let him meet the two ambassadors. He wasn't very impressed. He said it was clear to see why we had chosen Dawn, who then told him exactly why we had chosen her. Which also outed her sister, but Buffy said she didn't care. We have warned him to not say anything about it or to go to Cleveland on any future tour stops. He was not amused," he finished sarcastically. "Then again, neither am I most of the time. Is Xander still down here?" She shook her head. "It only took him a week?"
"He's been back now for two days, Micah. Terror and Wrench are still having flashbacks from the shopping." He chuckled and nodded. "Thank you for your help." She hung up and leaned back, considering her options. She called Stoker's office, getting him since it was lunch. "We need to talk."
"Because our funds are going to keep getting shorter if we don't add to them somehow."
"So we either sell something else or we go begging to Enamel and Xander?" She nodded. "Please tell me you're not thinking about seizing their accounts?" he begged.
"I wasn't. That's a desperation move and I don't want to do it," she assured him. "That would piss them off and Xander is about supporting us right now. He's doing all the shopping and everything else. We should start going to Winch for some things since Chicago just lost one of their warehouse clubs." He winced. "It was only a ten dollar difference."
"Oh, good. Is he back?" She nodded. "Fine." He considered it. "What's up for sale this time?"
"An engineering patent for an engine for a prototype bike we never got to work. That same military guy over the bike corps down there wanted it." He nodded at that. "I don't know what to do, Stoker. We're going to drown soon."
"We won't," he assured her calmly. "If we have to, we can always go raid part of Plutark and sell them some of the crap they've stolen over the years. Or sell them an old ship or something."
"Point," she admitted. "We do have plenty of partial wrecks up here." She sighed and calmed herself. "Micah wasn't telling the whole truth. I think Xander kicked in on it."
"He usually does," Stoker agreed. "Groceries are expensive. I'm sure he did this time too." He shifted a bit. "What do you want to do, Carbine?"
"I don't want to sell that. I feel like we're selling ourselves to them anymore." She looked at him. "I don't like that feeling."
"Neither do I but it's the only way to get some things done. I'd like to end our dependence on Earth within five years. By the time we get money." She nodded at that. "Can we draft a resolution to that effect in the main Council?" She nodded, looking more cheerful. "That will give us time to work on harvesting and meat beast solutions. Within five years we should be nearly self-sufficient again. If we get to work on it. Hell, I'd even take ten right now." He stared at her. "It was once suggested that we put the remaining green spaces to use," he said quietly. "That would mean sharing it with the other cities and the university but we could do that. Make the year of active service guarding the farms for the cities." She nodded, accepting that. "The reserve units could guard the shipments coming in now and then. Plus, if we could get a new source of water going, we could get some gardening done down here too."
"It isn't just gardening," she pointed out. "Entertainment. Electronics." She swallowed. "Engine parts because Charley had to get Xander to buy a lot of that for her."
"We're working on that, Carbine. For right now, focus on the immediate needs. Food, water, shelter, clothes." She nodded, accepting that. "So we can put it as five years for food stuffs and other essentials, ten years for everything else?"
She nodded. "Would that include Xander?"
"We can't stop him, he's got his own transporter," he pointed out. "By then he shouldn't need stuff either. I can go talk to him if you wanted. I'm sure he foresees this coming up." She nodded and sighed. "It'll be odd to think of him and Enamel as the Bill Gates of Mars," he noted, trying to make her at least smile.
She did crack a grin. "If he isn't poor by then. He just replaced all the ripped, stained, and weakened clothes of everyone out there. They wanted to know if we could use the stained stuff for laborers, that way they could save the rest for off-duty times."
"Maybe," he said with a shrug. "It never hurts to ask." He smirked a bit. "What next?"
"I think I want a nap," she admitted. "I'm tired." He nodded so she hung up and went to nap on her office couch. This would take some careful planning. They were too dependent on earth and if they had a problem with their economy it could collapse what little Mars had.
Stoker looked across the desk at Xander. "We're drafting a resolution before the full Council," he said quietly. "It'll end our dependance on Earth within ten years, five for food."
"Gee, then I guess I'd better stock up on pizza," Xander noted dryly, staring him down. Stoker gave him a dirty look. "I'm assuming this is an FYI?" Stoker nodded. "I knew it'd happen sometime, especially with you guys crimping the budget." He leaned back in his chair. "So, what can I do to help with that?"
"Well, first of all, when we end it, you might not be able to get back down there."
"Bet me I won't go shopping for entertainment," he said dryly. "Mars doesn't even have a band right now, Stoker." He sighed and nodded. "Once there's one up here, I'll gladly start to focus on them in the club as long as they're good." That got a small smirk. "I'm not going to torture my customers. That would make me a business without customers and that would be a bad thing." Stoker grinned at that and nodded. "If you guys can get it working, great. If not, I'm still going to do whatever I have to so my family isn't suffering."
"I understand. We mostly wanted you to know. In five years, everyone should be into a house if they want a house. We should be steady at that point. We have no idea what we should be working on for grown stuff."
"Look at your traditional menus. What's in them?" Xander said gently. "Plus you'll need meat beasts that most people aren't allergic to, unlike the one you've got now." Stoker nodded at that. "You'll also have to decide how you're going to farm and raise beasties. You're going to need to do that in concert with the other cities and you're going to need to be able to plan this out to within an inch of your patience. This is the fine detail work, Stoker. Plus, I hate to say it, but you'll need more water. Even that green area is shrinking due to lack of waterage. You might want to get Chassis' squadron to look for ice asteroids to start refilling a lake or ten. Even if it's just for growing stuff." That got another nod. "We're going to have to rewet Mars to get more than just that little area for growing stuff. Not that it won't do beautifully up there, but still not the best solution."
"Can you guys do anything about that? I mean magically?"
"You might ask the Seal. I know she's seen some problems in the magic flows on Mars. Mars is very weak in magic compared to Plutark and Earth. Even Dawn's complained about the heaviness of the magic and the pain of drawing it and she *is* magic."
"Fine. We can start looking for space ice sources I guess." Xander nodded. "What about when we reach that limit?"
"If things are going okay I wouldn't care to buy local stuff. I'm not going to rob Mars of food that could go to kids. If and when we get to the point when I can comfortably shop up here, then I'll only stock stuff I can't get up here."
"That's fine. You'll probably want to make it more subtle."
"True," he agreed, grinning as Throttle came in. "They're moving to end dependence on earth within five years for food and stuff."
"Good luck," Throttle told him. "I wish you luck planning how to do that." He sat down, putting his feet up on the desk. Xander glared at him so he grinned. "What?"
"Dirty boots on my desk. Off." Throttle sighed and pulled out a drawer, putting his feet on that instead. "Thanks. Much better." He looked at Stoker again, weathering the grin. "So, what can we do to help with that? I know Dawn and Rimfire are working on a plan to rewet Mars."
"Really? How far are they?"
"I have no idea. It's too sciencey for me," Xander assured him. Stoker nodded at that. "I'm assuming they've got the support of their teachers on this too."
"I'll call and ask him if he's finally home."
"They went to DC to help Micah with the president," Throttle told him. "He's not impressed."
Xander looked at him. "So we should send Modo since he's one of our most impressive mice?" he joked.
"That might work," Throttle agreed. "I'll ask him if he wants him." He smirked at Stoker. "How's Spike's training on Xander's bike going?"
"Why is he training on Xander's bike?"
"Because my bike likes Spike," Xander said blandly. "If it ever leaves me, it'll be for your son."
"I hope not. I don't think we could go on another quest to find you a bike," Throttle told him. "The last one nearly drove us nuts." He looked outside, noticing the bikes were in the backyard. "What are they doing?"
"Magnet and Terror are washing them."
"Ah. She's good at that."
"She looked good on her bike too," Stoker reminded him.
"Yeah and she's still grounded for that stunt," Throttle assured him. "She only rides with her daddy until she can beat her daddy on the big people's course. That's the limits they set." He shifted, crossing his feet in the other direction. "Are you going to set limits on the kiddie bikes for riding alone?"
"It's been discussed but most of us feel that's the parent's job," Stoker admitted. "Besides, they'd end up like Spike's bike, thinking it's not an emergency because Xander's there." He stood up. "I'll let you get back to being slackers."
"Slackers?" Xander snorted. "I've got to shift music around at the club today. I'm going to ask Stan if he wants to help me with the music stuff. I can't listen to all of it by myself, it's making my head hurt and it run together." He grinned. "We're doing a techno night tomorrow night. Fair warning about the complaints."
"I'll send that on," Stoker said, heading outside shaking his head. Xander's club was a good place to spend some time, but he got so many complaints about the music. Maybe he'd be willing to move it further downtown. Either that or someone was going to have to step in to regulate the music. He saw Terror and Wrench outside, looking at the guys in shorts. "Can one of you guys help Xander with the club's music?"
"I bake, isn't that enough?" Wrench asked.
Terror snorted. "I've tried." He looked at the bikes. "So, babe, you gonna go to Spike instead of Xander?" The bike beeped angrily and popped up a gun. "Hey, just askin'!" he defended, backing off.
Magnet swatted the bike. "Behave! You play with Spike more than Unclie Xander. Do not shoot at Cousin Terror. He's a nice cousin."
"Yes I am but I'm not going to let you ride off by yourself ever again," he assured her. She giggled and hugged him. "Thanks, mouse cadet." He looked at the bike. "Sorry."
The bike beeped and calmed down, putting the gun away.
Magnet curled up in her cousin's lap, twirling her fingers in his chest fur. "Cousin Terror?" she asked sweetly.
Stoker looked at her and groaned, shaking his head. No wonder that kid got away with everything. Not even Crankshaft was that manipulative.
"What?" Terror asked, smiling at her.
"Can I have some candy?"
"Hell no," Stoker told her. "We don't need more white mice on a sugar rush on Mars."
Terror snickered, shaking his head. "You'd have to ask Xander, sweetie. I can't get into that cavern."
"Shoot." She went back to teasing his chest fur. "Are you sure?" She nuzzled his chin too. "I'll be a good white mouse."
"I'm sure you will," he agreed.
Wrench looked at her then shook his head. "You're so whipped," he taunted. Terror flipped him off behind the baby's back. "Magnet, sweetheart, we can't get into that cave."
She switched to him, doing the same thing to him and he melted in her little fingers. "Can you get into that cavern?"
"No, sweetheart. Only Xander can. Sorry."
"Vinnie, save us," Terror yelled.
"What's she doing this time?" he called, coming out to look at his daughter. He watched his daughter work his cousins and smirked. "You guys are so whipped."
"Hey, she's special!" Terror complained.
"I'm leaving before she gets me too," Stoker said, heading back to the office. He did hear Vinnie tell her she couldn't have any until dinner, and then she and Uncle Xander could have one cookie each. He got there and parked, then headed inside, taking his messages from one of the kids playing messenger today. "Anything important?"
"No, but they're tail waving."
"Wonderful." He walked in. "Sorry, I was out watching Magnet VanWham coo and cuddle her cousins into submission and pliant gooeyness." He sat down and looked at them. "You could have started the usual fight without me."
Carbine looked amused. "She was doing what?"
"Cooing and teasing them into giving her chocolate."
Exhaust snickered. "How?"
"A lap cuddle, a bit of fur twirling on the chest, some nuzzling. She's a master. Not even Crankshaft was that good," he admitted. He kicked back. "What's on the schedule today?"
"Yes, we should hold some. Yes, they should be mandatory. How many others are we getting?"
"There's four people challenging us and only Exhaust's spot open," Carbine told him. "You and I are unchallenged so far."
"How are we determining who can run?" Exhaust told him.
"Let them register, campaign, and the least stupid campaign wins?" he suggested.
"How would we register them?" Exhaust asked. "Do we want them to come in with a petition and so many signatures to run? Do we just want to register anyone?"
"I like the petition idea," Stoker admitted. "That would weed out those without a real clue and no real qualifications."
"Did we have qualifications?" Carbine joked.
"We led people, that's qualification in my mind," Stoker said dryly. "If I'm not reelected, I'll just go train the kids so they can't travel like that ever again." That got some laughs from Mirror. "Really." Exhaust snickered at that. "Have we revamped the training yet?"
"We're trying," Carbine assured him. "Cell brought out Ty Rod and she ran the guys ragged. They've learned why kids think differently. We hope to have them updated by spring."
"That's four months," he said. "At least the kids are grounded well past that."
"And no camping trips planned?" Exhaust joked.
"Not so far. I'm sure they'll be calling next time." Everyone laughed at that. "What level do we want to do the petitions at?"
"I was thinking a hundred names," Carbine offered.
"That's not too many," Exhaust offered. "It might not be practical though."
"If they're serious about running they'll hold meetings to gather support and put their names on the petitions," Mirror noted. "We will be."
"Do we have to register?" Stoker asked.
"We can simply register. The non-incumbent people have to have petitions." That got some nods. "Not to be unfair, but we don't have time to gather names or hold many support or rally meetings."
"I'm sure we'll figure it out," one of the other city's councilors offered. "Maybe on the weekends?"
"Perhaps. Or at the city picnics? We can have a booth on the outer edges?" Mirror suggested.
"No," Stoker said firmly.
"That's the only time when we're assured everyone is together."
"No," Stoker said more firmly. "Those are to relax and to let the people chat, make friends, and celebrate the little things. No politics unless it's gossiping or complaining. No."
"Fine," Carbine agreed. "I can agree to that restriction."
"Sure," Mirror agreed. "Do we want to put any restrictions on it?"
"No giving away food or buying votes," Stoker noted.
"No exchange of goods, cash, or food," Carbine amended. "Simple interest meetings and ways of getting your views across. You may serve snacks, but not anything further."
Stoker nodded. "That wouldn't put an undue burden on anyone," he agreed. They all nodded at that. "I also want election monitors. Someone independent from another office. They can attend the meetings and make sure the rules are kept. They'll be the ones registering people as well if possible."
"A new office?" Mirror suggested. He nodded. "Fine. I can agree with that. Exhaust?"
"Sounds good to me. Do we have any idea who it should be?"
"Make it someone who hates everyone," Stoker told him. "That way they can't show favor for one group and they won't try to fudge things. Some miserable old mouse who hates everyone and makes everyone around them miserable." That got some smiles. "Even they can find work that way. They can even count votes."
"Sure," Mirror agreed, grinning at him. "Before the election we really should name the city, shouldn't we?" Everyone groaned. "The other cities will have to elect people to come monitor and help us. They should know where they're going. I know one ballot reads 'the delegate to go bother Stoker and Carbine', but really, that's not the official name."
"Oh, I don't know, it could be," Stoker noted sarcastically, looking at the other city's people. "What do you guys think?"
"I think the three suggestions so far have been Carbine's City, Stoker's City, and Freedom City," one of them put in, smirking at him. "Besides, we like to come bother you. Even if you named the city it'd still read that way." Everyone laughed at that. "So take a vote at the elections."
"Either that or hold a trial election to name it," Xander called from outside. He peeked in. "Have you guys seen Vic? He's supposed to be up here now and we haven't seen him yet."
Stoker called his office. "Victor?"
"In here playing with Spike."
"Thank you." He looked at Xander. "Piston and Spike have him."
"Thanks." He headed that way.
Stoker looked around. "Anyone like his idea?" They all raised their hands. "Cool. Let's do that then. When do we hold that one?"
"Election day is the same as when we got elected," Carbine noted. "So we can run it a few months before that. That'll make it the fifth month?" Everyone nodded and accepted that. "Good. We'll formally start taking nominations for the new name of the city next month. We'll figure out how to weed them down if we've got too many." That got a gavel bang. "Onto the nicer things. The food baskets are going out when?"
"Tonight," Mirror noted. "During the picnic." That got some smiles. "Did we find those receipts?"
"Most of them," Carbine agreed. "There's apparently a problem with the warehouse club place he used to shop so he went for what was on sale."
"That's fine. Should we start to bug Winch for these things?" Everyone shrugged. Xander didn't seem to mind after all. "Fine, we'll table that until next year's list is ready. Onto other pressing business. We have a petition here to bring up fast food places."
"Hell. No," Stoker told her.
"Sure," Carbine agreed. "Unless we can get a Chef Andy's up here, it's not my cup of soup either."
"Any dissent to turning it down?" Mirror asked. No one said anything. "Then denied." That got another gavel bang. And on it went.
The Seal popped into Wrench's room late that night, looking worried. "We've got problems." He sat up, staring at her. That was always a bad sign.