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"Mobile Command, the 'A' parking area looks like a literal war zone. There are injured civilians and quite a bit of destruction out here. Please advise. Do you think we'll have enough time to deal with the next Sentinel before the firetrucks and ambulances arrive? Remember, the police don't like us very much." Alex called over the radio with concern.
//There are no police, fire, or paramedic teams being dispatched to your location. The dispatcher has been ordered to disregard all calls originating from or regarding the Westchester Mall.// Professor Xavier said seriously.
"How can they do that? There are civilians who need medical attention here." Alex asked anxiously.
//Even so, the emergency services are being ordered to stand down until the Sentinels have pacified the area.// Professor Xavier said gravely.
"Remy not know bout dis part of tings. Jus know bout dem coming to capture de mutants." Remy said frankly.
"Which means that the Sentinels might have some more programming that compels them to do something more than we're aware of." Andrew said thoughtfully.
"Do you think that the kids would know anything about that?" Scott asked curiously.
"They might. I'll go check." Andrew said simply, then stepped through a door that wasn't there.
"Havok, we need you to proceed as planned. Get in there, deliver your package, then get out." Scott said firmly.
"To be honest, I have very little to do with it. Superman, Rogue, and Two of Seven are handling most of this one. I'm just the bait." Alex reluctantly admitted.
"You're also the experienced X-Man of the group. I'm counting on you to see that our goals are met and our standards are maintained." Scott said seriously.
"I don't know if these guys can do 'by the book', but I'm pretty sure that we can get the job done." Alex assured his brother.
"That's what I'm counting on."
* * * * *
"I have a sufficient number of nanoprobes replicated. We may proceed with the implantation." William announced.
"Let me dive in with Angel and Groo and we'll get this show on the road." Caridad said enthusiastically.
"What should I do?" Evan asked uncertainly.
"Protect him. Me and the guys are going to try and keep that thing occupied, but if anything goes wrong, it's going to be up to you to deal with it." Caridad said emphatically.
Evan placed his skateboard on the ground and readied himself for action as he said, "I thought I was just coming along as bait."
"You've been upgraded to 'protector'. But if you'd rather us classify you as 'D.I.D.' I'm pretty sure it wouldn't take much doing."
"D.I.D.?" Evan asked uncertainly.
"Damsel in distress." Caridad clarified.
"You know, I think I'll pass on the 'D.I.D.' thing and be the hero this time out." Evan said as he stepped on the end of his skateboard and tipped it up to meet his waiting hand.
"Glad to hear it. As soon as we get that thing's attention, be ready to get to work." Caridad said seriously.
"Got it." Evan assured her.
* * * * *
"Are you okay, Icheb?" Marie asked with concern.
"I need a moment. I have nearly generated a sufficient number of nanoprobes." Icheb said seriously.
"That's not what I'm asking. You were jokey before, now you're all serious. What's up?" Marie asked gently.
"Unlike my siblings, I was not born naturally. I was bioengineered for a specific purpose. Doing this today, 'infecting' the Sentinels, it reminds me of past pain and dark days." Icheb said frankly.
"Are you gonna be alright?" Marie asked cautiously.
"Yes. I just need a moment to feel what I'm feeling." Icheb assured her.
"If you want, I could feel it with you." Marie quietly offered.
"This pain is mine to carry alone. I wouldn't want anyone else to feel this because of me." Icheb quietly informed her.
"Scoot over and take an end. I've already decided, I'm carrying it with you." Marie said as she removed her glove and took firm hold of Icheb's wrist.
"I would be ashamed..." Icheb feebly protested as he felt Marie's presence ghosting through his being.
"It's okay. I see it, Icheb. I see what they did." Marie assured him.
"I didn't want you to see. I wasn't meant to be a person. I should have only ever been a weapon." Icheb said regretfully.
"You're both." Marie said simply, then explained, "But now you're a weapon for the good guys."
"The Brunali who created me were also good guys... for the most part." Icheb feebly protested.
"Okay. I'll take your word for it and I won't hate them. But just so you know, I think you're a better person than I am. If someone had done that to me, I couldn't ever forgive them." Marie said frankly.
"I can't claim forgiveness, but I have abandoned my lingering hatred." Icheb said honestly.
"Even that's probably more than I could do." Marie reluctantly admitted.
"Perhaps you can be my strength, helping me to carry my burden and I can be your strength, showing you a way to abandon hatred toward those who have wronged you." Icheb said hopefully.
"I love how, even though you see the darkness in me, you still accept me just as I am." Marie said warmly.
"Of course. I have been to a place without light or darkness. Given the choice, I would wish for you to have both, rather than neither."
"How's your probe count?" Marie quietly asked.
"Sufficient." Icheb said confidently.
"Then let's do this." Marie said as she floated up and easily glided behind Icheb to lift him.
"I don't understand how you're able to fly." Icheb stated simply.
"Me either." Marie admitted, then thought to add, "Usually the abilities that I borrow would have faded by now, but this doesn't seem to be fading at all."
"I am curious to know what type of emissions the previous Sentinel was bombarding you with in an attempt to nullify your ability. It is possible that it may have contributed to extending Clark's ability within you." Icheb said speculatively as Marie carried him toward the giant robot.
"You guys ready to go again?" Marie called to Spike and Vi, who were busy hacking and slashing at the Sentinel.
"Do it! Bloody thing keeps trying to wander off." Spike said with annoyance.
"I'll lay down some cover fire so you can get behind it." Clark called forcefully.
Marie smiled at Clark's evident increase in self-confidence. In the short time that they had been fighting, he had gone from timidly trying to use his ability to stepping up as a 'heavy hitter' for the team.
"You ready?" Alex called from between some cars nearby.
"Stay down or it'll see you!" Marie scolded.
"That's the point. I'm doing my job as bait. Don't make me regret it!" Alex called before running into the scene of destruction and right in front of the giant robot.
As soon as the robot seemed to notice Alex, Clark let loose a formidable optic blast.
"Hit it!" Spike called as he and Vi resumed their hacking and slashing duties.
At best possible speed, Marie flew Icheb behind the robot and got him close enough to inject his tubules.
"Watch out!" Clark called as one of his optic blasts passed dangerously close to Marie's leg.
As she was about to caution Clark to be more careful, she spotted a snake-like piece of metallic tubing retracting into the Sentinel's side.
"Thanks, Clark. I didn't see that coming at me." Marie said gratefully.
Another blast impacted the Sentinel in the face, but didn't seem to do any damage.
"I think he's figured out how to counter optic blasts!" Clark warned.
"Guys! My blasts aren't doing anything either!" Alex screamed as he started running to evade another set of snake-like appendages emerging from the robot's palms.
"My package has been delivered. Please go help Uncle Alex until the Sentinel becomes non-operational." Icheb said seriously.
"Got it." Marie said as she gently placed Icheb on the ground, then gave him the slightest peck of a kiss on the cheek before flying into battle.
Icheb smiled at the action as he moved quickly away from the Sentinel to where he could watch the fight from relative safety.
* * * * *
"Hi Love, I expected Janine and Robert to be in here with you." Andrew said before leaning in to give Alan a kiss.
"They're both in their alcoves. They set it up so that we can watch what's happening on the television."
"I bet that's driving you crazy." Andrew chuckled.
"A little. But someone's got to stay home with the kids." Alan said frankly.
"Why don't I take a turn at baby juggling so you can help Scott at the mobile command center?" Andrew asked seriously.
"No, Andy. From what I've seen, there are people hurt in the parking lot and around the mall. I'm not seeing any kind of emergency response being dispatched, so someone needs to help them." Alan said reasonably.
"Love, I'm one person. I can't do it all by myself. The best help I can give those people is to send you in there to get this mess sorted out so that the ambulances and firetrucks can get through to them." Andrew said as he gestured to a door that formed beside him.
"Not that I'm disagreeing, but why aren't you taking care of this yourself?" Alan asked as he handed Marguerite to Andrew.
"Because as close as Scott and I are, you and he are closer. You're literally two versions of the same person. If anyone can figure out how to coordinate with him and help get things done as efficiently as possible, it's you." Andrew said confidently.
"So this isn't about you trying to make it so I don't feel left out?" Alan asked as he carefully placed Thomas into the stroller.
"As much as I love you, I wouldn't endanger a mission for something like that." Andrew assured him, then added, "I did what I could and gave it my best. Now it's your turn."
"I think Quaid and I can watch the kids for a while if you both want to go." John cautiously offered.
"No. I think I've done all that I realistically can. Anything else I could do would likely postpone the rescue effort even further." Andrew said decisively.
"Thomas and Chakotay are about due for a feeding. Marguerite will be due in about half an hour. I'll be back as soon as possible."
"Before you go, we need to ask the kids if the Sentinels are programmed to do something more than capture mutants. It seems strange that the authorities would forbid law enforcement and emergency services access to the scene if this was supposed to be a simple grab and go." Andrew said seriously as he took Alan's vacated space on the couch.
"I'll ask Janine." Alan said as he hurried to the door under the staircase.
* * * * *
"There it goes. It's turning away. That's our break." Evan said as he urged William to dash out of their improvised sanctuary.
Although Evan might be faster and more agile on his skateboard, in that moment, he needed to match William's pace so that he could be present to adequately protect him.
Just then, the Sentinel's head swiveled and it seemed to zero in on Evan.
"Go! Shut it down while I play decoy!" Evan said as he pushed William in front of him.
Although William wanted to resist and help Evan, he understood that there was a job that needed to be done and that he was the only one who could do it.
Beyond that, the best way that he could help Evan would be to stop the Sentinel from attacking him.
William was able to reach the back of the Sentinel relatively easily. As they had planned, the robot was sufficiently occupied so that it didn't react to William's presence at all.
Without hesitation, William injected his tubules into the back of the robot and began the implantation process.
As the nanoprobes spilled out and began their work, William watched with concern as Evan evaded the arms and metallic tentacles of the robot that were attempting to pin him down.
William wasn't sure how Evan was able to contort himself into impossible positions and radically alter the principles of physics using only a skateboard.
He was honestly in awe.
As soon as his nanoprobes had been disgorged, William withdrew his tubules and did his best to back away and blend into the crowd of onlookers.
* * * * *
"What did you find out?" Andrew asked quickly.
Alan seemed to be about to answer, but then broke into laughter.
"What?" Andrew asked cautiously.
"What's Chakotay doing there?" Alan asked between chuckles.
"He wanted a piggyback ride." Andrew said reasonably.
"Of course he did." Alan said with a loving smile at his husband.
"What did Janine have to say about the programming?" Andrew asked seriously.
"The program instructed them to incapacitate ten mutants, take them into custody, then transport them to a warehouse at the Wainwright company properties." Alan said frankly.
"So they're keeping the cops out until the abduction of the mutants is complete?" Andrew asked cautiously.
"It isn't explicitly stated in the programming, but that's how it seems." Alan said honestly.
"Does knowing that help us?" Andrew asked cautiously.
"I don't know yet. Let's find out." Alan said, then leaned in to give Andrew a quick kiss.
With one last longing look, he turned and hurried through the portal that was still waiting for him.
* * * * *
"I saw what you did there. What did you just do?" A girl near his own age asked anxiously.
"That thing was doing something bad, hurting people. I just tried to make it so that it wouldn't want to hurt anyone else." William said carefully.
As he spoke, the Sentinel suddenly halted all movement.
The girl's eyes went wide as she realized what she was seeing.
A cheer rose up from all those assembled as several of those near Evan's age, many with skateboards, stepped forward to congratulate him for getting the best of the metallic beast.
"They think he did something to stop that robot." The girl said to William quietly.
"He did do something. He distracted the thing long enough to let me do my work." William said seriously.
"What about the others? Were they working with you too?"
"Without their help, I could not have done what I needed to do to stop the Sentinel." William said informatively.
"Do you think it was going to hurt us?" The girl asked with a tremble of fear in her voice as she looked again at the large robot.
"No. Probably not you. But we received word that these machines were being sent here on this day to identify certain people with certain attributes, then kidnap them." William said seriously.
"You're talking about mutants, aren't you?" The girl quietly asked.
"Yes. This time I am. But if the people who made the robots can get what they want just by taking it, who knows who they'll be after next time?" William said frankly.
After a moment to consider, the girl finally said, "I think you did something good today."
"I hope so." William said simply, then thought to add, "Me and my friends need to get to work on the next Sentinel. We've got to stop these things before someone gets seriously hurt."
"Good luck. What was your name?" The girl asked curiously.
"William." He answered simply, then cautiously asked, "What's yours?"
"Rebecca." The girl said demurely, then hurried to add, "I'm at the mall just about every Friday night."
"Hopefully I will be able to see you then, sometime when there aren't any mechanical monsters trying to hurt people I care about." William said honestly.
"Hopefully." Rebecca parroted, then spared a pained smile for William before turning and disappearing into the crowd.
* * * * *
As Marie moved in front of the robot, it immediately held up one arm and began to emit a blue beam at her.
"They must be able to talk to each other. It's taken the analysis from the other one and skipped immediately to the counter-measure that it had already calculated." Icheb said clinically.
"Does that help us?" Spike asked as he chopped at the creature's forearm, trying to disable the ray.
"Only in the sense that we know that the next one won't have to analyze us to know what works against us." Icheb said gravely.
"Clark? Can you blast this bloody thing for me?" Spike called in frustration.
"I can try." He responded, then pinpoint focused his optic blasts on the base of the Sentinel's emitter.
"The Sentinel is generating a laser plasma cloud to shield itself from your optic blasts." Icheb said informatively.
"Do you know a way around that?" Clark asked anxiously.
"Yes. Turn the Sentinel off." Icheb said as the giant robot suddenly ceased all movement.
"How are you doing Marie? Are you okay?" Clark asked, running to meet her as she floated to the ground.
"Yeah. I'm not sure what that thing was doing, but it didn't hurt me." Marie said slowly.
"From the look of it, I think it was doing something to your absorbing ability." Clark said honestly.
"Yeah. I think you're right. But whatever it did doesn't seem to have gotten rid of the abilities I borrowed from you, it just made it so that I can't absorb any new ones... at least for a little while." Marie said as she stood on her own, mostly to prove to herself that she could.
"So that's it then? Two Sentinels down?" Spike asked as he examined the inert robot.
"Yes. But we can't stop to relax. There are still eight more that need to be dealt with." Alex said grimly as he panted.
"And now they know how to protect themselves against optic blasts." Clark added grimly.
"You need to call it in so that all the teams know what's going on." Alex said firmly.
"Yeah. The Sentinels aren't the only ones who can communicate with each other." Clark said before tapping his badge.
* * * * *
"Mobile command, the Sentinels have figured out how to nullify our optic blasts. It looks like once one of these things figures out how to counteract our abilities, they can tell it to the others." Clark's voice announced over the radios.
"Superman, Acknowledged. Proceed to the Macy's entrance of the mall and see what you can do to help Buffy and her group." Scott said seriously.
"But optic blasts is all I can do." Clark responded anxiously.
"You just figured out that the Sentinels can communicate with each other. Maybe if you're there helping Buffy's group, you can figure out even more." Scott suggested seriously.
"Right. Brawn down, brain up. Got it. I'll see what I can figure out for you." Clark promised.
"Havok, remember that when you join Buffy's group, she'll be in charge. You'll be there to offer up information and resources to help her enact her plan." Scott said firmly.
"Cyclops. I know that you don't want me to step on her toes. We'll offer to help, then stay out of her way until she needs us for something." Alex said dutifully.
"Good. Let us know if there's anything we can do to help you." Scott said with satisfaction.
"Will do. Out." Alex responded.
"Willow, will you make an announcement to all teams and fill them in on what Clark figured out?" Scott asked hopefully.
"Will do." Willow said seriously.
"How are you doing, Matt?" Alan asked, causing Scott to turn suddenly.
Noticing his reaction, Alan explained, "Andrew thought that I could do more good here than he could."
"He should have asked." Scott said simply, then asked, "Are you aware of what's going on?"
"Not everything, but I got the highlights. The last I heard, Clark's team just finished taking down a Sentinel."
"That's right. Clark's group has taken down two Sentinels. Angel's group has taken down one. Buffy's group has one on the ropes, but the damned thing refuses to go down. I've sent Clark's team to help them finish it off." Scott said with obvious frustration.
"If I'm understanding correctly, the only way we've defeated a Sentinel so far is with nanoprobes. Is that right?" Alan asked cautiously.
"Yes. I had hoped that Buffy could take one down with that mystical axe thing of hers, but she's only doing slightly better than Angel and Groo did with swords." Scott said frankly.
"I was able to hurt them." Matt said as he forced himself to sit up.
"And, from the look of it, they were able to hurt you, too." Alan said with a sympathetic smile at him.
"Yeah. They got me, that doesn't mean I'll let 'em get me again." Matt said as he slowly forced himself to a standing position.
"Well, since your claws were able to pierce them, you're already in a better place than most of the Slayers." Scott said seriously.
"Where do you want me?" Matt asked without prevarication.
"No offense, but you won't do us any good taking on one of these things by yourself. If you want to help out, you're going to have to do exactly as I say." Scott said firmly.
"I know. What'chya got for me?" Matt asked simply.
"From what I've seen, Clark's team and Angel's team have both been able to develop methods for dealing with the Sentinels. Right now, we have two teams who aren't doing quite as well. If you're willing, you could go and help them get together."
"Where are they?" Matt asked as he took a few steps to get a better view of the cameras.
"Willow?" Scott prompted.
"Faith's group is at the movie theater. While they haven't had any real resistance from their Sentinel, they also haven't been able to make any progress in disabling it." Willow said regretfully.
"Don't they have, like, four Slayers working on it?" Alan asked cautiously.
"Three, plus Robin." Scott confirmed.
"Okay. What did you need for me to do?" Matt asked seriously.
"Xander's group is outside, heading toward the northeast entrance. If you'll go through the mall and meet them as they enter, you could take them to the movie theater so that Trey can disable their Sentinel with some nanoprobes." Scott said frankly.
"I'll go get 'em." Matt said as he turned to leave.
"Remember that if you're spotted by any of the Sentinels, that they'll home in on you and ignore everything and everyone else." Alan said quickly.
"I'll be sure to have someone full of nanoprobes on standby before I fight another one." Matt assured him.
"Good. While you're doing that, we're going to work on where we need the next team to go." Scott said as he turned his attention back to the monitors.
"I'll radio when we've taken it down." Matt said before hurrying out the door.
* * * * *
"I think we've got a problem." Willow said as she pointed at one of the monitors.
"What dat be?" Remy asked as he scooted over.
"That Sentinel in front of Abercrombie & Fitch looks like it's going after someone." Willow said anxiously.
"Dat be Pietro. Dere be no way de Sentinel gettin him. Pietro be too fast." Remy assured her.
"That's right. Even though he's not on our team, we've worked with him before. He can handle himself." Alan confirmed.
"You're both from a different universe. Not everyone here is exactly the same as the people you knew." Scott warned them.
"Do you think he needs our help?" Alan asked uncertainly.
"No. I agree with you that Quicksilver can handle himself in a situation like this. I'm just saying that you can't automatically assume that people from this universe will operate the same as the people from yours." Scott said firmly.
"Yeah, he could be the evil twin." Alan said with a grin and a sideways glance at Scott.
"Willow, please keep an eye on him and let us know if he needs help." Scott said as he restrained a smile of his own.
"Check out this one at Bath & Body Works." Warren said suddenly.
"Dat don't look good." Remy said cautiously.
Scott reached in front of Willow and keyed the mic before saying, "All teams, if there's anyone who's not currently engaged, they need to head to Bath & Body Works. We have a civilian being pursued. They look like they need help."
"I'm near there. I'll get right on it." A female voice confidently announced.
"Who's that?" Scott asked curiously.
"Ashley B. I'm probably going to need some help with this."
"I'll have a team to you as quick as I can." Scott promised.
"I'd appreciate that. Out." Ashley B said sharply.
"Angel, I need your team to head due south to the Bath & Body Works where we have a Slayer facing off against a Sentinel by herself." Scott said firmly.
"We're on our way." Angel said firmly.
"Southwest parking lot." Alan said quickly.
"I almost couldn't see it with all the destruction. What's it doing there?" Scott asked as he moved to look more closely.
"It's just sitting there. I think it's already caught someone. Maybe they will all wait for the last one to catch its mutant before they all take off." Alan said speculatively.
"I guess that makes sense. That would only give us one chance to follow them back to their lair instead of ten." Scott said thoughtfully.
"Regardless, we can't leave someone trapped. We need for someone to go out there and free the mutant that was captured." Warren said frankly.
"Scott? Would you mind if I cut through the Gordian knot?" Alan asked cautiously.
After a brief hesitation, Scott quietly said, "Do it."
Alan keyed the mic, then said, "Wolverine, Rona, and Three of Seven, I need for you to head to the southwest parking lot to free a captured mutant."
"We haven't met up with Faith's group yet. Do you want for Axe Man and Six of Seven to carry on with their previous instructions?" Trey asked reasonably.
"Yes. Six of Seven, if you haven't started generating nanoprobes, you should start now."
"Do you wish for me to participate in subduing the Sentinels?" Jimmy asked with surprise.
"I want for you to be prepared to." Alan said firmly.
"I see the wisdom of your recommendation; I will do so. Thank you Two of Two. Six of Seven out." Jimmy said respectfully.
"Two of Two?" Scott asked uncertainly.
"It's a Borg thing." Alan said simply, then added, "At least there's no doubt that he can tell us apart."
"True enough." Scott agreed as he looked over the different screens.
"I've got a medical emergency just inside the east door. Possible heart attack." Willow said as she zoomed in on the action.
"What do you expect us to do about it?" Scott asked frankly.
"Don't you already have a plan for something like this?" Willow asked desperately.
"Yes. But my plan involves the emergency services being allowed to do their jobs." Scott answered honestly.
"Willow, call the mall office and notify them of the situation. With any luck, they have staff trained in CPR who will be able to go down there and stabilize the downed person until emergency services can arrive... whenever that may be." Alan said firmly.
Scott looked at him with surprise for a moment, then cautiously said, "Yeah. Good thinking."
"Things are a little different where I'm from. You quickly learn that not every battle can be won and not every hurting person can be saved."
"Does that mean prioritizing the value of one life over another?" Scott asked regretfully.
"Sometimes. But more often it's a matter of resigning yourself to settling for what you can realistically get." Alan said frankly.
"I see realism as something to be fought against, not accepted." Scott said honestly.
"Go with what works. Maybe if the people of my world had been just a little bit more tenacious, they'd still be alive." Alan said gravely.
"Or maybe not." Scott countered, then turned at a movement on one of the screens.
"All teams, the Sentinel in the northwest parking lot was supposed to have been stopped. Does anyone know why it's moving?" Scott asked anxiously.
"The Sentinel is following its new programming." Trey said calmly.
"What's its new programming?" Scott asked cautiously.
"To carry out the dictates of the one voice."
"Don't play games with me. Where's it going and what's it going to do?" Scott said as he reached in front of Willow to move the parking lot camera and track the Sentinel's movements.
"I only know about the programming contained in the nanoprobes. Upon completion of the override, the Sentinel is to await further instructions."
"We've got another one on the move." Warren said anxiously as he pointed toward another one of the screens.
"Where are they going?" Scott asked more firmly.
"I am not privy to their subspace domain, therefore I do not know what subsequent instructions they might have been given." Trey said simply.
"The one at the arcade is heading toward the movie theater!" Alan said as he pointed at another screen.
"Are the Sentinels being pitted against each other?" Warren asked uncertainly.
"That would change everything." Scott said as he quickly took stock of where all the different Sentinels were located.
"Not know if dat be better or worse dan before." Remy said with concern.
"The northwest Sentinel has just located one at the west entrance. It looks like they're squaring off to fight." Alan said slowly.
There was a brief tussle, then stillness.
"Fight over." Remy said with surprise into the silence that followed.
"What did we just see? How was it able to deactivate a Sentinel with a single gut punch?" Scott asked in bewilderment.
"Professor, do you have any insights into the matter?" Alan asked hopefully into the air.
//None so far.//
"Willow, can you pull a recording of that fight so that we can replay it?" Warren asked cautiously.
After looking at the identifier at the bottom of the video image, Willow quickly and efficiently brought up a replay of the brief Sentinel hand-to-hand encounter.
"Here. I'll slow it down." Willow said as she started the replay.
"Wait! Hold it right there. Zoom in. What is that?" Scott asked as he pointed at the screen.
As Willow worked to enlarge the image, Alan quietly said, "Those would be Borg tubules."
To Be Continued...
OK, another Cliffhanger. Can we get Cliff to go hang somewhere else?
I find it interesting to notice that people are now calling Clark Superman.
Has Clark figured out just who he actually is, now?
Will he be able to discern more if not all of his potential abilities?
I am really enjoying how everyone is using cooperation to achieve more than the sum of their individual powers and abilities, and make substantial progress.
Thank you, MM for another chapter of this exciting saga.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher