Orphan Again

Part One

Written by Zelda

Author's note: Although it really doesn't have anything to do with this story, you may wanna read my other Time Squad fic, "Buck" before venturing into this one, for minor plot details. Enjoy!

                "Heya Larry!" Otto poked his head into the control room, to find the robot in the midst of a littering of papers. "What's goin' on?"

                The robot turned and rolled his metallic eyes to the child. "Monthly paperwork." he groaned. "Every Time Squad unit has to go through a thorough catalog of all of our missions, equipment used, expenses, everything!"

                Otto picked up a few sheets of paper, and thumbed through them. "Wow." he squinted. "Looks like a chore."

                "A chore and a bore, I tell you." the 3000 unit grumbled. "I don't think they gave me enough multitasking power for this."

                "Well, do you want some help?" Otto offered. "I'm sure Tudrussel and I could---"

                "No no, not him!" Larry cringed. "You don't want to know what messes I've gotten into by letting him do the paperwork. Half of the files had to be sent back to headquarters with laser holes in them!"

                Otto couldn't help but chuckle. "That sounds like Tudrussel alright."

                While he was rearranging the piles of papers on the floor, Larry turned back to a stack of mail and computer disks on the console, picking up another letter. "Hello, what's this?" He gave it the curious quirk of an eyebrow as he read the envelope letter. "It's from the personnel department, that's awfully odd…" The robot opened the letter, scanned over the first few lines, and had his face fall. "Oh dear…"

                Otto looked up from his stack of papers. "What's the matter?"

                "Otto, would you do me a favor and go find Tudrussel?" Larry glanced down at him. "He and I have some talking to do about this letter."

                The boy sighed, stood, and started out. He knew exactly what Larry's tone of voice usually meant: that a fight between he and Tudrussel would momentarily begin. Then again, Larry hadn't really sounded angry about anything. Shrugging it off, Otto peeked into the kitchen, to find Tudrussel finishing off the last of a former pile of hamburgers.

                "Heya kid!" he waved, mouth still full of food. "What's up? Sorry I didn't save ya any, didn't know you were hungry."

                "It's alright Tudrussel, I already had lunch." the boy shrugged. "Larry sent me to find you, said he wanted to talk to you about a letter or something."

                "Is he doin' paperwork again?" Tudrussel kneaded his forehead. "I told him I paid the bill for my magazines months ago! Alright, alright, I'll go. Keep the baked beans warm for me kid, would ya?" He yawned and stretched before he finally got up, and trudged out of the room.

                "Alright Larry." Tudrussel growled as he stalked into the control room. "I'm here, let your tirade begin."

                Sitting at the console chair, Larry frowned and handed Tudrussel a letter. "Cool your jets, Buck. Take a good look at that."

                "What? It's from the personnel department." Tudrussel shrugged. "Hopefully they're apologizin' for my last paycheck being late!" But he scanned the letter quickly, and the annoyed expression was gone. "Oh…"

                "This is serious Tudrussel." Larry narrowed his eyes. "How do you think they got wind of this?"

                "Well… hey, it was bound to happen sometime." he shrugged. "We can't exactly keep stuff from Central Command, you know."

                "Someone else reported it to them." Larry shook his head. "Which means Command has already made the decision and sent out this letter without hearing our point of view first!"

                "Hey hey, relax Lar." Tudrussel waved him off. "We'll just have to sort this out, nothing's gonna come of it."

                "Oh really, is that what you're going to tell him?" Larry hissed.

                "Why tell him anything?" Buck asked, annoyed again. "It's not a big deal, Larry."

                "You say that now." the robot shook his head. "Wait until he gets taken away. Wait until we're handed a ruling from Central Command that we can't appeal. You think this hasn't happened before? That's how squads get reassigned. Although I'm sure you remember that well!"

                "Hey shut up, alright? What do you want me to do about it?" Tudrussel threw his hands up.

                "Well we have to do something." Larry folded his arms. "Because if Central Command gets their way, none of us are going to be very happy."

                "I don't know why you didn't approach them in the first place about this." Tudrussel shot him a glare.

                "What? Me? You're the one who's supposed to be in charge around here." Larry wagged a finger at him. "Besides, with all the missions we've been handed, I would never have had the time to draft up a letter to them, explaining all of this."

                "Eh, what does it matter." Tudrussel rubbed the back of his neck. "We got ourselves into this, we're gonna have to get ourselves out. When does that letter say we have to get to headquarters?"

                "0800 tomorrow." Larry answered.

                "Woohoo." Sarcasm was thick in his voice as Buck faked a cheer. "Guess that means I'm setting my alarm clock early." he started out, but paused as Larry called him back.

                "Not a word of this to him, Tudrussel." the robot warned. "Remember."

                "Yeah, I got it." the man sighed, as the door closed behind him.

                "Where are we headed?" Otto yawned. "I didn't hear the alarm go off…"

                "Heh, we get the day off kid!" Tudrussel celebrated. "Shame we gotta waste it on going to Central Command."

                "Wow, are you kidding?!" Otto beamed. "I've wanted to go there! You guys always talk about it, but I've never been able to see it."

                "Trust me kid, it ain't nothin' special." Tudrussel waved him off. "Like a standard satellite, just five thousand times bigger."

                "And bursting at the seams with bureaucracy." Larry sighed, as the three of them stepped onto the teleportation platform. "Seems they can't even let us send in our paperwork over the computer this year, we have to turn it in manually!" With a few pushes of a panel's buttons, the three disappeared in a blast of white light.

                "Whoa…" Otto turned in a complete circle, looking all around him. "This place is bigger!" Central Command was a towering space-station, full of officers clad in black and white, and robots of dozens of models zipping around, speaking in computerized code. Huge window bays looked out into space.

                "Yup, it's big, that's fer sure." Tudrussel nodded distantly, waving to a few people nearby. "Come on kid, we're headed this way."

                "Make sure you don't get separated from us, young man." Larry chided. "And stay where I can see you at all times!" No sooner than the words were out of Larry's mouth, than Otto was off like a shot, into the crowds of people. Larry sighed and hung his head. "This is not going to be easy Tudrussel." he muttered.

                "Larry, this is wrong, we've gotta tell him."

                "How do you think he would react?" Larry asked him. "Let him enjoy himself for now. The Council wants us in less than an hour."

                Otto put in protest as Larry dusted off his shoulders and straightened his shirt. "Ow, Larry, cut it out!" he complained. "Why do I gotta look all nice, where are we going?"

                "We got a Council meeting kid." Tudrussel looked down at him, barely taking his eyes off of a pair of doors before him.

                "Council meeting? I thought you said you just had to hand in some paperwork?"

                "I'm afraid something else has come up, Otto." Larry started, his voice uneasy. "But… hopefully this will be over quickly, and we can leave."

                "Naw, can't we stay here a little longer! This place is awesome!" Otto grinned. "I wanna talk to some of the other robots, all of the officers seem so grown up."

                "Compared to Tudrussel, everyone seems grown up." Larry let out a smirk. Suddenly, the doors whizzed up, revealing a brightly lit room beyond. Larry stood sharply, and Tudrussel let out a heavy sigh.

                "Come on kid, let's get this over with."

                The Council meeting room was dome-shaped and broad, with the members sitting on one side, and a row of chairs and a podium on the other. Before the council, a massive window arced out into space. Otto stared at the stars for a few moments before he was jolted along as Larry grabbed his hand, pulling him next to Tudrussel beside the podium. The Council consisted of six members, three humans and three robots. All of them looked pretty aged. One man, who sat in one of the middle chairs, cleared his throat.

                "Time Squad officers Beauregard Tudrussel and robot unit Larry 3000?"

                "Sir, yes sir." both human and robot replied simultaneously.

                "This meeting of the Council has been called to discuss the matter we have informed you about in our Personnel Department letter."

                Larry was distracted as he felt Otto tugging on his hand. "What letter?" The child whispered. Larry hissed a shushing noise, and stood straight again.

                "As officers, both of you are well-versed in the code of our Prime Directive. You know that your satellite is reserved as mission headquarters for officers and prisoners only."

                "We do, sir." Larry spoke. "Article number three-twenty three, subsection A: 'Time Squad satellites are for the purposes of living quarters, prisoner holding, and mission reception and feedback only.'"

                "Yes." a robot in the other central chair spoke up. "The Council finds your Time Squad unit to be in violation of this article in the holding of a person who is neither officer or prisoner on your satellite for an extended period of time. Is the person in question present?"

                The two officers by the podium looked down to Otto, who was staring in confusion at the Council. Tudrussel reached around Larry and gave him a soft tap on the back. "'Fraid that's you, kid." He straightened quickly and gave the Council a nod. "He is, sir."

                "Very good. Step forward." The robot commanded, eyes snapping onto Otto. "And state your name for the Council."

                Now even more confused, Otto took a few steps up from the podium. "I'm Otto Osworth…" he started.

                "Mr. Osworth." Another human Council member spoke. "Are you aware of the fact that you are not an official Time Squad officer?"

                "Yes, I'm not an officer." Otto nodded.

                "And you are also aware that you have  not been designated by your unit as a prisoner?"

                "No no, I'm not a prisoner." Otto shook his head, growing more confused. "Why should I be?"

                "As the Council understands it, you shouldn't be." Another robot replied. "You have been the target of no mission, nor have you been labeled as a repeat offender who has resisted the disciplinary lessons of any Time Squad unit. Therefore, are you aware that your presence on the satellite of the unit in question is in violation of the Prime Directive?"

                "No—no sir." Otto scrunched up his face.

                "Are the satellite's officers aware that they are in violation of the article in question?"

                "Yes sir." Tudrussel and Larry again spoke at once.

                "And as the Council understands it, you have been in violation of said article for some time." Another human spoke. "The Council will hear a statement of explanation before we give our ruling."

                Larry stepped forward, rejoining Otto. "Members of the Council, we were aware that taking Otto on board the satellite was against protocol from the beginning. We apologize for abusing the rules of the Prime Directive, and we ask that the Council consider issues of circumstance before you hand down judgment. Otto is an orphan, he has no home or parents to return to in his original time. However, he has been of indispensable use to us on the satellite. He has gone above and beyond the call of duty of an official officer, and would certainly be able to pass training if he went through it—"

                "The eligibility of the boy for the Academy is not the matter in question, 3000 unit." a robot cut him off. "Let your commanding officer speak."

                Looking suddenly nervous himself, Tudrussel stepped forward and took his time in clearing his throat. "Erm, sirs, we ask that you understand why we've kept him on the satellite. He's the smartest person I've ever met about history, and he's just a kid! He's gotten our unit out of some real scrapes, I can assure ya."

                "Neither of your arguments addresses the reasoning as to why this child is present on your satellite, and not in his original time. It is against Time Squad protocol to displace anyone from the time/space continuum without the permission of Central Command. Your removal of this child from his time and place may create unforeseen changes in the future, thanks to your events in the past."

                "I believe we have gone through needed procedure." A woman nodded. "I can a vote on the issue."

                "A vote? But wait!" Larry protested. "You don't understand, he can't just go back!"

                The Council did not respond, looking down into their desk as they typed on individual computer units. The first man to speak cleared his throat.

                "It is the decision of the Council that your unit is to rectify this situation immediately by  the action of returning the subject Otto Osworth to his time and place in history."

                "What?!" Otto started, all of the events in the hearing finally snapping into place. "You're going to send me back? You can't!"

                "Otto, shh." Larry started with a sharp whisper.

                "But---but I don't want to go back!" Otto stammered, disbelief over the situation shimmering in his eyes. "Tudrussel and Larry are my family! They--- they take care of me when I'm sick and--- and they look out for me--- and---"

                "I am sorry, child. Time Squad units are not babysitters. As a non-officer you have no place on the satellite. Protocol mandates that you return to your time and place in history." A robot replied.

                "I don't care about stupid protocol!" Otto nearly yelled. "This is my time and place! I belong here!"

                "The council has already made its decision." The robot stated. "The party responsible for the child's displacement will return him, or another unit will be assigned to do so by force."

                The 'by force' part finally got Otto to sober up, and quickly. He stood like a deer in headlights, tears shining in his eyes, feeling terribly alone before the Council.

                "Then it is settled." Another member nodded. "The child will be returned to his designated time and place at 0800 hours tomorrow. Officers Buck Tudrussel and the Larry 3000 unit will be assigned the mission, after which they are to teleport back to their designated satellite and file a full report."

                With a press of a computer key, the hearing was over.

                Turdussel couldn't take it anymore. It was going on midnight by the time they had cleared all of the hearing-related paperwork, and had gotten a breath of freedom. Otto dissolved into hysterics shortly after they left the Council room, and he and Larry had decided they would sleep in the guest quarters at Central Command that night. The whole situation was an absolute mess. Hoping to find a little peace and solitude for a moment, Buck opened a door and stepped into a small officer lounge. The lights  had been dimmed significantly at this late hour, and Tudrussel was massively disappointed to find that one other officer was inside. She was reading a book by the light of a nearby planet, sitting close to a large window. Trying her best to ignore her, Tudrussel plodded over to a couch and plopped down with a heavy sigh. The woman lowered her book enough to look at him, then spoke.

                "Well well, fancy running into you here Buck."

                "Sheila?" Tudrussel blinked. Inwardly, he wondered if the situation could possibly get any worse. First the kid, now her?

                "It's late, Buck." Sheila checked her watch quickly. "Guess the Council heard a lot from you and the robot."

                Fatigue vanished from Tudrussel's face, replaced by a deep frown. "How'd you know we had a hearing? That ain't common gossip around Central Command."

                Sheila shrugged and turned  page in her book. "They'd have found out sooner or later Tudrussel. You should actually consider yourselves lucky, if that thing dragged on then you'd really get the book thrown at you. Somebody had to alert the Council to your situation.

                Tudrussel was floored. That's how the Council knew about Otto. Someone had told them. "For pete's sake Sheila…" Tudrussel growled at her. "It was you?"

                "What did you think I was supposed to do?" She folded her arms. "Let this pass by without at least telling Central Command? He's a kid, Buck. A kid! In Time Squad, and especially your unit, a kid equals liability."

                "A liability?!" Tudrussel hissed, standing in the darkened room. "That is not your call to make Sheila, I can't believe you'd do this to---"

                "To you?" Sheila rolled her eyes. "Get real Buck. You and that robot taking care of a kid is like cruel and unusual punishment."

                "The kid's an orphan, Sheila." Tudrussel opened his hands. "What do you think he's going back to?"

                "To a place where he'll be adopted into a real family." Sheila nodded. "You aren't seeing this from the Council's point of view. You took someone out of the past and just decided to let him live with you on the satellite! You know that you can't do that, we have to preserve history as it happened. Do you have any idea of how many of the principle codes you're breaking by keeping him?"

                "Sheila please…" Buck sat back down again, kneaded his forehead with steepled fingers, pausing for a moment. He continued without looking back up at her. "He doesn't want to go back, Sheila. You didn't see him in the meeting today, the whole prospect scared the soles off his shoes. And he's got a place in the team! I don't know why he can't just go through training and become a member."

                "It's not about what he wants." Sheila huffed. "Protocol is clear on what has to be done in this situation. There's a right and there's a wrong here. You're in the wrong, Buck. Deal with it." And with that, she walked out of the lounge, and left Tudrussel alone with his thoughts.

                Sheila's step was curt as she made her way back for the transporter wing of Central Command. She'd certainly done her duty here, she felt like she could return to her satellite with a clean conscience. What on Earth was Buck thinking, anyway? Time Squad was about work, about duty and purpose. There was no place for a family. He hadn't changed a bit since she had divorced him, not a bit! Getting angrier with every step, Sheila barely noticed as she passed by an open door, and heard a muffled sound from inside. But the sound came again as she continued walking, and it made her suspicious. She stopped, crept back to the doorframe, and peeked inside. The room was actually one of the temporary quarters for visiting guests and officials. But it was dark, so dark that Sheila had to squint to make out a shape on the floor near the bed. The sound came again, and the shape shuddered, and suddenly Sheila realized what it was. There were actually two shapes, a little boy and a 3000 unit, stooped to the floor and leaning on a bedpost. The boy had himself crushed into the metal chassis of the robot. The sound came again, another shudder, and Sheila realized the boy was sobbing.

                "I—I—I can't go back…" he stammered, his voice slurred by sadness and exhaustion. "How—how could they make me, Larry?"

                "It'll be alright, you know." the robot spoke softly, but his voice was dull and almost metallic.

                "You're--- you're lying." Otto hissed into him. "They don't know--- you don't know--- what she's gonna do---"

                "What do you mean?"

                "Do you think I---I'm just gonna f—forget everything?" he whimpered. "I—I'm gonna keep reading my book—my history book—and she'll find out---- she always finds out--- and she's gonna get her stick and—and—" The child's voice broke and he degenerated into sobs again, his knees giving way as he sank fully against the robot.

                Surprised by the force behind his emotion, and feeling awkwardly sad, Larry drew his arms around the boy and tried to hug him.

                "They---they—'re not gonna make me go back…" Otto growled low, still shaking. "I won't--- I'll run away or—or something…"

                "I'm sorry Otto… I don't know what to say." Larry replied. "There's nothing we can do, with the Council's ruling…"

                "I won't go!" Otto's voice now rose to a strained yelp. He balled a fist and raised it blindly. "I won't!" He struck at the flank of the robot, a now startled Larry merely trying to hold him gently in place as Otto clanged his hand against the metal a few more times, each strike losing purpose and strength. Finally, he curled his damaged hand back into his stomach, and choked on sobs hastened by physical as well as mental pain.

                Larry was obviously stunned. He never once took his eyes off of the child, even though he couldn't see his face. An arm rubbed absently, helplessly, across Otto's back.

                Sheila witnessed all of this from the doorway, her body going cold as she pulled away and sunk her weight against the wall outside of the door. Recovering herself, she walked away as quickly and quietly as she could, not stopping until she rounded a corner. What had been going on here? Was the child really that desperate to keep himself with Buck and the robot? They were far less than parental figures… how bad was it for the kid that he would think of those two as a vast improvement? Sheila drew in a deep breath, thinking to herself. Could it be… that she had made a mistake?

To be continued…

Time Squad and all associated characters are property of Cartoon Network and Time Warner Inc. I make no profit off of my stories, although I wouldn't mind doing so! Don't sue me, pretty please?