a/n This story is going to be long. And slow. And did I mention long? I've wanted to get Providence involved in my AU for a while now, but being myself, I couldn't make it in any way easy for me or the characters involved. Updates will probably be slow but hopefully steady. This draws heavily on my first multi-chapter story, Taken. And no, I haven't forgotten Operation: YOYO. For some reason I can't get chapter four to cooperate for love or money - yet. Only the story is mine (and a handful of expendable OC's). The rest belong to Cartoon Network and their respective creators except for Chip Morton, who's the property of 20th Century Fox and Irwin Allen.

Chapter One: Preening and Ruffled Feathers

"What's eatin' the Doc?"

Not in the least curious, Bobo didn't look up from the newspaper he was holding with both feet as he caught up on baseball scores. "I dunno," he grunted, turning a page. "Did she take a stroll in the Petting Zoo?"

Giving up on the monkey with a roll of his eyes, Rex walked to the other side of the large communication center in Providence's rebuilt headquarters and approached a wiry, narrow-faced man in a green suit and sunglasses. Six was intent on a field report and did not look up as Rex dropped into a chair right beside him.

"Hey, Six. What's with Doc Holiday?"

His expression never changed but there was the slightest hint of a twitch of a dark eyebrow, which Rex interpreted as interest. Still focused on the report, Six asked, "What do you mean?"

Rex made a face, trying to put his impressions into words. "She's acting sort of weird. Distracted. She's . . . I dunno. Preening."

The generated a reaction. Six slowly turned his head, and though Rex couldn't see his eyes through those black glasses, he could feel the hard gaze fixing him in place as he asked, "Preening?"

Rex spewed forth all his evidence, glad to have an audience and hoping to get some backup on his observations. "She was fussing with her hair when it looked fine and I think she starched and ironed her lab coat and that's not her normal perfume."

"We're expecting company today," Six replied. "I suppose she wants to make a good impression."

"How can she not make a good impression?" wondered Rex under his breath. Aloud he asked, "Who's coming?"

"A representative from DexLabs."

"Oh?" Rex brightened. Anything new or different was a welcome distraction on a day when no EVOs were rampaging and no training was scheduled and boredom had to be fended off with both hands. DexLabs was interesting and new faces were a plus. He knew a little bit about the corporate giant, mostly because of his best friend's appreciation for quality sports equipment. "Noah loves their techy stuff. He wants one of those hover boards in the worst way. He's got some of their sports gear – I swear he swears by it." He scratched his head around his goggles, wondering if he should take a shower. If the Doc was worked up enough to iron her lab coat then maybe he should do her proud and present a decent front.

"Their technology is revolutionary," agreed Six, albeit reluctantly, "especially for such a young company. We use some of their communication equipment and survival gear, and the hover board I use is custom DexTech. They're best known as weapon manufacturers and for financing the ECF against the Fusion Invasion."

"That can't come cheap." Providence was well aware of the Fusion Invasion – the whole planet was – but it was not their top priority. They fought Fusions and Infections when they found them, but Providence's mission to combat the threat of EVOs remained constant. Just because earth faced an alien invasion did not negate existing problems and menaces, and EVOs popped up as often as Fusion Monsters. Rex brightened as an idea occurred. "Oh, wait, doesn't DexLabs make those Vull-Noid guns?"

"Null-Void. Yes. The Plumbers and the US Army are their top customers."

"Well, those KND we ran into in the Outlands took out EVOs with Null-Voids. It took a lot, but they stopped them. Remember, those weird frog things? They thought they were Fusions. Probably the glowing eyes. Why don't we have Null-Voids if they work against EVOs?"

He was asking more because the Null-Voids he'd seen were pretty cool-looking weapons and seemed like fun to shoot, not because they were more effective against most EVOs than bullets. Really, who wouldn't want a guitar that created sonic booms or an electric blue broadsword that shot lasers or a gigantic club shaped like a turkey leg? Of course Rex came complete with sword, but he couldn't shoot lasers from it like the child soldiers of the Kids Next Door or Earth's Combined Forces could. If Providence ever got Null-Voids of any sort he was sure they'd be uniformly black and boring, but it was fun to imagine the troopers he knew armed with the craziness he'd seen coming out of the armories at DexLabs.

Six considered for a moment before answering, and by the slight shift in his tone of voice Rex knew to pay attention.

"Our relations with DexLabs are . . . strained."

Sensing juicy gossip, Rex leaned on his hand and gave all his attention to this man that was as much teacher as friend as substitute father to him. "Oh? What happened?"

"There's bad blood between the two organizations. It goes back to before DexLabs was founded, soon after the Nanite Event."

"And?" he prompted when Six seemed disinclined to expand on that intriguing statement.

Drawing a breath, it looked as if Six was about to grant Rex's wish when a proximity alarm rang out. They turned to the radar screen as one of the Providence officers on duty announced,

"DexLabs gunship C-57D just called in range."

"Gunship?" wondered Rex, wondering who paid social calls in a flying battleship. Then again there was no telling where or when something – Fusions, EVOs, or just plain old random monsters – might attack.

"What's their ETA?" asked Six, abandoning his seat and the report and Rex's answer as he stood.

"Fifteen minutes."

"Plenty of time," insisted Rex, eager to get the low down. "Bad blood?" he reminded hopefully.

"Later. Is Cpt. Calan ready with his detail?"

"Yes, sir. He's waiting at the docking bay."

"We'll head down as well."

Rex fell into step beside Six, debating a possible line of inquiry that would generate the best results. He finally settled on working backwards to get what he wanted.

"So do you know who this person from DexLabs is?" he asked.

"According to White Knight, their Chief Executive Officer," said a woman's voice, and they both stopped as Dr. Holiday rounded the corner from her laboratory and joined them. Tall and willowy, she seemed even lovelier than normal to Rex, as if she'd dressed with more care than usual even though there was nothing out of the ordinary about her sweater and skirt. With the familiarity of an old friendship, she stepped into place between Rex and Six. "Are you going to the docking bay?"

Six nodded his greeting. "Yes."

"I'll walk with you."

Behind Holiday's back, Rex gave Six a pointed look and gesture, seeking confirmation of his earlier observations about preening. Six just took a deep breath and kept walking while Rex grilled the doctor.

"So who's their CEO?"

"Professor Patrick Utonium," she said with enough emotion to raise one of Six's eyebrows and make his ramrod-straight spine stiffen a little more. Rex saw and wondered at the response, but Holiday didn't notice. She sounded excited, maybe even a little anxious. "He's the foremost geneticist on the planet. A brilliant man. He made the Powerpuff Girls."

"Made them?" squeaked Rex. He'd never met the trio of girls, but he'd heard plenty of stories and news reports about them and he knew to be impressed. They were earth's only ultra-super heroes and they had earned their fame and renown the hard way by placing themselves at the forefront of the battle against Planet Fusion. "Out of what?"

Holiday sounded a bit skeptical. "According to Professor Utonium, sugar, spice, and everything nice. Oh, and something called Chemical X."

Rex felt his own eyebrows on the rise. Holiday was gushing. "So you're like a . . . closet Utonium fan or something, Doc?"

She smirked, amused at the question. "His work in genetics is invaluable, and he's got more degrees and awards than Bobo has fleas. He won a Nobel Prize ten years ago."

"Have you met him?" asked Rex, gallantly overlooking the flood of gushing enthusiasm and admiration. He wondered if the Doc had Nobel envy. She sure sounded dreamy enough.

"He gave a presentation at Harvard Medical four years ago that I was able to attend. It was very informative. I didn't get to meet him because he was on a tight schedule – he'd brought his children along and had to get them home to go back to school. He was very witty and spoke well and . . ."

"And?" hinted the teenager, smelling a bit of intrigue.

Holiday gave him a teasing smile that enslaved Rex anew. Softly, like a teenage girl sharing secrets, she added, "And he's an incredibly handsome man."

Rex grinned, and though it was impossible to tell he strongly suspected that Six rolled his eyes behind those sunglasses. Before she could go on their comm units chimed. Six immediately keyed his as if scrambling to change the subject.


"Sir, the C-57D is docking now."

The ninja frowned. "Now? The initial estimate was for fifteen minutes. It's been five."

"Guess they put the pedal to the metal, sir."

"We'll be there," promised Six coolly. He looked at their surprised faces. "Let's go."

They picked up the pace, with Holiday asking, "How fast was that ship going?"

"Very," growled Six.

"Looking cranky, Six," observed Rex. "Something wrong?"

"No," was the unconvincing reply.

"So they've got a fast taxi," Rex said, trying to sound reasonable. "Big deal."

"A gunship faster than a fighter?" Six muttered as they hurried into the elevator.

"Well," Holiday reasoned, trying to soothe ruffled feathers, "DexLabs has some of the greatest creative genius in the world working for it. We have to expect their technology to be advancing quickly."

"It's a question of whom they share that technology with," Six replied. "They aren't exactly forthcoming with some of their biggest advancements."

"Yeah, about that," began Rex, hoping to squeeze in the story of the breakdown between the two organizations before the other side of the equation arrived, but the doors opened and they were in the docking bay. Rex let out a low whistle as he spotted the C-57D gunship. It was black and angular against the stark white and curved lines that typified the headquarters' architecture, and it looked out of place despite the row of jump jets lined up in the bay – a wolf amongst dogs. Steam rose up off the dark ship as Calan and his squad spread out to form a protective perimeter around it even here in the secure docking bay.

"Why so many guards?" wondered Rex. "This guy royalty or something?"

"A security requirement DexLabs imposed on us to receive their CEO," Six replied gruffly. His disapproval of wasting so much manpower was evident, but agreements were agreements. "He's vital in the war against Planet Fusion and they take no risks with his safety, hence the gunship."

Holiday didn't notice his tone or expression. She was fixated on the ship, eager to see – and with any luck meet – Professor Utonium. Rex looked at her with interest and concluded this Utonium guy had to be something special for her to be so worked up. His attention went back to the C-57D as a hatch on it opened and someone stepped out to address Calan.

"I don't believe it!" yelped Rex, breaking into a broad smile. "It's Ben! Six, it's Ben10! Hey!" He waved. "Yo! Ben!"

The young man looked up at the call, flashing Rex a quick smile of recognition and greeting and waving briefly before returning his focus to the captain.

"He's our visitor?" wondered Rex, excited.

"Ben10?" echoed Holiday, recognizing the name. "The one with the Omnitrix?"

"Yeah," gushed Rex happily. "Ben Tennyson. Six and I met him over at Peachtree Commons when all those farm animals went EVO and then when that Infection hit Lake Cayuga this spring. He's cool." He tried to downplay his delight at renewing his acquaintance with someone close to his age and with whom he had so much in common, but even Rex knew he failed completely. The truth was that and Ben had hit it off famously, and given the chance Rex knew they would be great friends.

"Does he work for DexLabs?" the doctor asked.

"No clue," said Rex, already moving closer. Six and Holiday trailed behind their teenage charge. They wouldn't put it beyond Rex to put pleasure well ahead of business and try to dominate Tennyson's time. No matter what he thought or hoped, DexLabs was here on business, not a social call.

"He's one of the top commanders in Earth's Combined Forces," Six provided for Holiday when Rex seemed too distracted to explain. "The device he wears allows him to assume a variety of alien forms at will. He's a good fighter. And a good person."

"Fascinating," said Holiday, genuinely intrigued. She looked at the teenager with renewed interest, zeroing in on the oversized watch on his wrist. Six let out a long breath, realizing he'd have to reign Holiday in as well as Rex.

Ben, meanwhile, was talking with Calan with apparent ease, smiling and gesturing and clearly gaining reassurances about the security measures. He looked back at the C-57D and spoke to someone inside the ship. Another figure – tall, blond, heavily armed and in full body armor – appeared in the door. He addressed a few words to Ben and Calan before stepping out to join them. Clearly he was a soldier and a formidable one, and unlike Ben Tennyson he didn't smile. Instantly he zoomed in on Rex and his companions, and his eyes narrowed sharply at their unexpected and unwelcome presence. Calan was quick to explain and Ben offered a few words as well, pointing their way and plainly telling the man that he knew Rex and Six. Ben's opinion carried some weight because after a moment the walking blond arsenal nodded and stepped back to the open hatch.

"Sir, you can exit," said the man, his voice carrying across the bay.

"Finally. His majesty," muttered Rex, rather astounded at all the hubbub. It was a lot of fuss for one egghead, but it seemed White was willing to jump through hoops to make DexLabs happy. He waited impatiently, having no idea of what to expect and hoping for a chance to speak to Ben. Beside him, Holiday smoothed her immaculate hair. Six just let his breath out in a small sigh.

A figure in white stepped out of the gunship, glancing around the docking bay before he joined his escorts. A moment passed, and when it was evident that no one else was on the ship, Holiday let out a little sound of surprise and disappointment, her eyes wide as she stared not at Utonium as expected, but at a short, scrawny, redheaded boy.

Rex passed a hand before his mouth, forcing himself not to laugh. Finally he asked, "Bit young for you, eh, Doc?"