"Cyclops. Do you want the teams to rendezvous with you in the parking lot or should they proceed directly into the mall?" Andrew asked curiously.
"We don't necessarily need to have a group meeting, but the mobile command center can be a place for teams to gather so that they can go into the mall with all their members. We have no idea when things are going to start heating up." Scott said thoughtfully.
"Team. Superman and Three of Seven are here with me. They need to know where they're supposed to meet up with their escort." Andrew stated professionally.
"Rona, you got this?" Buffy called.
"Yeah. I can see their bus ahead of us. We'll pull in beside you and you'll have all your Slayer escorts at once." Rona easily responded.
"As soon as everyone is with their escort, I'll be on my way to the command center." Andrew said seriously.
"Anyone who needs an old-fashioned walkie-talkie can meet up with us when the command center comes to a stop." Willow quickly announced.
"Yeah. Me and this badge circle thing just ain't gonna get along." Another of the Slayers said frankly.
"Don't worry. I've got your back." Willow quickly assured her.
"Thanks Wills. You always do." The woman responded appreciatively.
* * * * *
"Quaid, are you versed in the manipulation of differentiated subspace domains?" Janine asked seriously.
"Of course, I'm not a baby." Quaid responded with a roll of his eyes.
"Then, should you so desire, you may work to hardwire the incoming signals to appropriate soft-frames of the video playback device. While you do that, Robert and I will work to isolate and redirect the individual data streams." Janine said firmly as she handed him a somewhat worn and abused tricorder.
"Do you need for me and John to do anything?" Bobby hesitantly asked.
"Be prepared to analyze the video output once Quaid is able to properly route the feed." Janine said firmly.
"What are you kids up to in here? Are you planning to watch some cartoons?" Alan asked as he pushed a double stroller with one hand and carried a baby with the other.
"We are going to access the various video feeds from the mission team so that we may advise them remotely and do research for them." Janine said simply as she nimbly worked to reconfigure the video playback chip reader on the television.
"We're going to act like dispatchers." John paraphrased.
"Make sure you don't get in your father's way while he's busy." Alan said with concern as he slowly took a seat on the couch.
"We will be doing the things Father cannot do, such as analyzing structural and programming deficiencies in our opponents that can potentially be exploited by us." Janine said confidently.
"Maybe you can help us see that they won't distract from anything important or get too much in the way." Quaid helpfully suggested.
After a moment of consideration, Alan slowly nodded his agreement, then asked, "So what are you doing now?"
Before Janine could answer, Quaid quickly said, "We're setting up the video feed so that all of us will be able to watch the team and tell them if we see something that they're too busy to notice."
"That looks kind of complicated. I'm really impressed that you know what you're doing with that." Alan said with a smile.
"I think being a great dad to a bunch of kids must be really complicated, too. I guess that means that we're each good at our own things." Quaid said as he kept the majority of his attention on rerouting the isolinear circuitry.
"Quaid, do you have any signals ready for me?" Robert cautiously asked.
"Yeah. I have nine of them set up. There's a dummy signal to hold each line open until they have a real signal to receive. I have lines reserved for Icheb, Trey, William, Jimmy, and five alternates for whatever other feeds we can latch onto." Quaid said professionally.
"When the time comes, we will request access to the mobile command center's data stream." Robert added seriously.
"The professor saw the value of including us, the Borg, on this mission. I have no doubt that he will see the value in granting us access to additional sources of information to do the job most effectively." Janine said confidently.
Alan wasn't sure how he felt about what his children were planning to do, but at the same time, he was sure that he didn't want to get in the way of them doing it.
* * * * *
"So what all does this book tell you about me that we don't already know?" Matt asked as he tried to decipher the small handwriting.
"Considering the questions that you probably have, not much. But from my own perspective, this book holds an incredible wealth of information having to do directly with you." Mr. Howlett said honestly.
"Don't make me have to hurt you, Ken." Matt said with frustration evident in his voice.
Ken couldn't contain a laugh, then said, "This book contains memories of a beloved family member who went missing. It's a beautiful tribute, written with love."
"That's nice, but is there anything in that book that helps us prove who I really am?" Matt asked hopefully.
"Prove is a pretty strong word to use with a lawyer...." Mr. Howlett began to say, but was interrupted.
"I'm about to use some stronger ones..." Matt growled.
Ken laughed again, then said, "I think that if you go through the stories related to James and his father that you might be able to isolate enough fine details to be able to say conclusively that you are James Howlett." Ken said carefully.
"So you're saying that you believe it, but you can't prove it. Am I getting that right?" Matt asked cautiously.
"There is quite a lot of apocryphal information to sort through that may or may not contain proof of the thing that you want to believe is true. I believe that if you read through it yourself that it is possible that you will find enough obscure facts that you can stitch together to support your preferred conclusion." Mr. Howlett said diplomatically.
"But do you believe it?" Matt asked cautiously.
"Because I've read the story of James Howlett. When you strip away all the memories of a man, what's left is his bare essence. I can see the person you are resulting from the person James was known to be. My relative is remembered and mourned as being a man of good character who would stand up for what was right and never compromise his principles. Not only do I suspect that those traits exist in you, but I can also imagine more than one scenario when such a person could be manipulated into abandoning his family in an attempt to protect them." Ken said frankly.
"Sounds like I've got a lot of reading ahead of me." Matt said unenthusiastically.
"Go do your mission and you can look at this when you get back. I'll leave it here with you."
"I'll be sure to take good care of it." Matt quietly promised.
"I'm going to order another copy, so you'll have your own. Every member of the family gets one." Ken said with a smile.
"You're already counting me as a member of your family?" Matt cautiously asked.
"Given the circumstance of your amnesia, the geographic distance of the events and the passage of time, I believe that it may be impossible for us to unequivocally prove anything. Even so, I believe that you are part of my family. When you believe it, too, let me know and I'll introduce you to the others."
* * * * *
"One of the Borg subspace channels just came on." Quaid announced.
"Jimmy typically uses that frequency. Would you be able to route the video portion of the output on the screen?" Janine asked cautiously.
"I think so, but I'll need for someone to watch the screen and tell me when they see it come on." Quaid said seriously.
"Right now I'm covered with sleeping babies. There's very little else that I can do but sit and watch. I'll be happy to help you." Alan said frankly.
"Go ahead, Quaid. Just tell us what we need to watch for." John helpfully added.
"I'm going to patch it in. Let me know when you can see the signal on the video screen and if it's clear or not." Quaid said in concentration.
"I see something snowy and staticky in the first box in the upper-left corner. Kind of an electric nightmare." Bobby said quickly.
"The interpreter isn't sorting the sub-channel out right. Give me a second." Quaid said seriously.
After another moment of watching, John suddenly said, "Wait! Stop right there. I've got a clear picture now. I can see Xander in front of a Dippin Dots stand."
"It looks good. Nice and clear." Bobby added.
Quaid scooted out from his position half-behind the television to look at the picture for himself.
"Robert, I require your assistance. Could you connect to the video interpreter box with your tubules?" Janine asked hopefully.
"Sure. I could, but why would I?" Robert asked curiously.
"I anticipate needing more computing power than my personal processor and data node can provide. If you will connect to the interpreter and route the decrypted signals to me, I will use my alcove to process the data." Janine said reasonably.
"Why can't you just watch the video with the rest of us?" Alan cautiously asked.
"Icheb, Trey, William, and Jimmy are going to be gathering data, visual and otherwise. If we do not process the data in a timely manner and transform it into something useful to our cause, then any risk they are undertaking is rendered pointless." Janine said firmly.
"Okay, I guess I can see that." Alan reluctantly admitted.
"All you need for me to do is keep the subspace signals sorted out for you, right?" Quaid asked to confirm.
"Yes. Be sure to maintain the data streams beneath each video. Anything we accomplish this evening will be, in part, due to your efforts." Janine said as she looked him in the eyes.
"This family thing is really awesome." Quaid said with a giggle under his words.
"Robert, once I am in my alcove, begin direct transmission." Janine said firmly.
"You got it, Sis." Robert said confidently.
* * * * *
"Do you have access to all the mall video channels?" Scott asked into the RV.
"I've got it, but I'm not sure what you want me to do with it." Willow said honestly.
"Just keep an eye on things and tell the team, especially your Slayers, about what's ahead of them. You can warn them about potential dangers or just when they might be about to run into another team." Scott said seriously.
"What you be doin?" Remy cautiously asked.
"While you watch over the teams, I'll be watching over you to keep you on track and hopefully prevent you from stepping on each other's toes too much." Scott said frankly.
"This place is packed. It's insane" Willow said aggravatedly.
"It'll probably get worse before it gets better. Think about it, it's the Friday after Thanksgiving, the first 'official' day of Christmas shopping." Andrew said frankly.
"There's Xander and what was his name? Jimmy?" Willow asked as she pointed at one of the many split screen monitors before them.
"Yeah. That's them." Andrew confirmed.
"Do you tink dat dey should have a Slayer watchin over dem?" Remy asked with concern.
"I think Xander can hold his own." Andrew assured him.
"He survived seven years in Sunnydale, what more qualification could you ask of a person?" Willow supportively added.
"It looks like Buffy and Riley are stopping at a shoe store." Willow said as she pointed at a different screen.
"Just Buffy is going in. It looks like Riley's going to keep watch at the planter outside the store." Scott said slowly.
"Keepin watch. Yeah. Dat be what he doin." Remy said flatly.
"Tara and Dawn are on the upper level. How'd they get up there?" Scott asked suddenly.
"Maybe they parked on the upper-level of the garage." Andrew said speculatively.
"No. They rode in with Buffy. How did they enter the mall from opposite ends at almost the same time?" Willow asked confusedly.
"Remy tink you be readin de camera layout wrong. You got de left and right backward." Remy said slowly.
"Yeah. There's Icheb and Marie's group. They entered the mall the same place as Buffy." Scott said quickly.
"Right. I've got it now. Whoever set up these cameras zig-zagged them instead of running them in sequence." Willow said in frustration.
"The switch box for the video output is under the first monitor if you want to reorganize them before we get too much into this." Scott offered seriously.
"I think I should. It makes more sense for each camera to flow into the view of the camera next to it." Willow said as she began switching the video output like a practiced professional.
"Any sign of Sentinels?" Warren asked cautiously.
"Nothing so far." Scott said seriously.
"Do we know what they look like?" Warren asked uncertainly.
"We know that they're each over ten feet tall and coated with Kevlar. From the sound of it, they'd be kind of hard to miss." Andrew said frankly.
"I don't know about that. All the parking lot cameras are focused to look down on the cars, so we'd have no way of seeing them if they come at us from above." Willow said seriously as she worked to reorient the camera layout.
"If we're lucky, maybe they'll carpool in." Scott said awkwardly, obviously not comfortable with making light of the situation, but likewise not knowing what else to say.
"It might be good if we had someone out there spotting for them... possibly from the air." Warren cautiously suggested.
"Someone with wings, perhaps?" Scott asked with a smile in Warren's direction.
"Dat might not be de smartest ting to do. If dey can't fly, den we'll see dem on de cameras. If dey can fly an dey spot you, den all ten might zero in an try to take you down." Remy said seriously.
"He's right. As nice as it might be to have a pair of eyes in the sky, it's not worth the risk. If we're going to have to face them, it's best to do it on our terms as much as possible." Scott reluctantly admitted.
"Eyes in the sky, huh?" Andrew mused aloud.
"Do you know a non-mutant who can be a lookout for us?" Scott asked hopefully.
"No. But I can use my mutant ability from here to keep an eye on what's going on outside the mall. It won't put me in any additional danger and the only downside is that I won't be able to help you keep watch on the video feeds." Andrew said seriously.
"We've got enough people watching this. If you can keep watch for Sentinels, hopefully it will give us enough of a warning so that we can face them at our best." Scott said confidently.
"I'm going to be counting on you to keep watch on the kids." Andrew said firmly.
"I'll see to it that they're kept as safe as possible." Scott assured him.
Andrew's eyes turned golden and began to glow faintly as he said, "I'll be able to hear you if you have anything to ask me. I just won't be able to see you."
"Got it. Just keep watch on things outside and we'll keep you up-to-date on what's happening in the mall." Scott said seriously.
* * * * *
"What's with the subtitles? Is Trey trying to send us a message?" Alan asked curiously.
"Yes and no. Trey can send us text messages embedded in the video feed, but they're not technically subtitles, since they don't have anything to do with the video being transmitted. He probably doesn't want to establish a whole new channel for a message he can send in just a few words." Robert said frankly.
"It's too small for me to read from here. What's he saying?" Alan asked anxiously.
"He's just telling us that he's taking environmental base readings on his first subchannel and sending us the layout of the mall on the second." Robert easily explained.
"So is that the data that Janine is going to be processing?" Alan asked curiously.
"That's some of it. Trey will get all this stuff established early so that we have it processed and on file when the bad guys show up." Robert easily explained.
"So that way Janine won't have to check how high the ceiling is and things like that because she'll already know it?" John speculated.
"Exactly right. We'll already have the specifications of everything calculated and virtually rendered so that once we have scanned our opponents, we will be able to run thousands upon thousands of simulations, calculating every conceivable possibility." Robert said firmly.
"I'm curious, how many times do humans do things that are inconceivable to you?" John asked with a mischievous grin.
Robert glanced at Bobby for a long moment, then quietly said, "If it weren't for the unpredictability of human behavior, I would be able to calculate the outcome of today, and every day, from now on. Having done that, what would be the point of going through the motions just to arrive at a foregone conclusion?"
"Oh right. You're the poet, aren't you?" John said in realization.
Robert shyly smiled, then quietly admitted, "Yeah. I guess I am."
"Robert. I cannot use telepathy while ensconced in my alcove. Please contact Professor Xavier and request access to the mobile command center video feeds. If he resists, remind him that we will share Icheb, Trey, William, and Jimmy's video feeds in exchange." Janine said in a modulated Borg whisper-voice over the television speaker.
"Yeah. I'll get right on it. Professor X has been all up in my mind before, so I feel like he gets me. Don't worry. I got this." Robert said into the air and transmitted simultaneously.
* * * * *
Faith was the first to confirm that cash from the parallel universe was accepted without issue. Ashley B. was the first to find that their credit cards weren't quite as easy to use.
With Cerebro's help, Professor Xavier was able to construct facsimile accounts and connect them to the Slayers' existing credit cards. After that, Warren volunteered to do his part for the cause by footing the bill for the Slayers' shopping spree that evening with the proviso that he not be saddled with any subscriptions or recurring payments.
"Warren, did you notice that nearly all the Slayers, no matter where they are in the mall, appear to be doing exactly the same thing?" Scott asked curiously.
"No. I hadn't noticed, but it could be something that they planned ahead of time... or maybe they all just think the same." Warren said speculatively.
"In each case, one of them went into a store and shopped while the other waited outside. Each one bought something, I'm not sure if it was the same thing, but each one of them left the store with a large bag." Scott observed.
"It's shopping camouflage." Willow said simply, then explained, "They hide their weapons that way."
"That's good thinking. I was wondering how Xander was going to be able to walk around carrying an axe like that." Warren said frankly.
"Actually, Xander can probably get away with it. Whenever someone sees a big doofy guy with an eye patch carrying a battle axe, they automatically assume that he's an actor or a cosplayer or that he's going to try and sell them something; insurance, most likely." Andrew said as his golden eyes stared sightlessly forward.
"That's funny, because if I saw just about anyone else carrying an axe like that, I'd probably at least stop to question it, but Xander just seems to be natural that way." Scott said thoughtfully.
"He be dangerous, gentle, worldly, innocent... all contradiction." Remy said, finishing with a loving smile.
"Guys! Northwest, ten o'clock, I see at least four rocket engines in the sky that very well could be the Sentinels." Andrew said ominously.
Scott tapped his communicator and said in a slow clear voice, "Attention all team members. We've spotted something that might be the Sentinels approaching the mall from our northwest. Prepare yourselves and keep your radios handy."
"They've got to be insane, doing this on the Friday after Thanksgiving." Warren said anxiously.
"If they're wanting to test the ability of these things to capture mutants without hurting normal people, then I can't think of a more conclusive way of testing it. If they can do it today, they can do it any day." Andrew said reasonably.
"What do you see now?" Warren cautiously asked.
"All ten of them are in view. It's definitely them. They're... slow. They're big and clunky and as aerodynamically streamlined as a brick." Andrew said critically.
"It must take a lot to power them, then. I wonder what kind of power source they're using." Warren said speculatively.
"It must be something incredible because they're belching out long trails of flames to maintain those brick-shaped things at altitude." Andrew said carefully.
"How close are they?" Scott asked anxiously.
"They're still a few minutes out. It's amazing that they can stay airborne moving that slowly." Andrew said frankly.
"Can you make out any details about them that might give us an avenue of attack?" Scott asked curiously.
"Only the obvious. What kind of an idiot makes bipedal robots when he doesn't absolutely have to? I mean, why not make them one legged if you're going to do that? It would make about as much sense!" Andrew ranted.
"Which means?" Scott prompted.
"Which means that they'll be top-heavy, hopelessly off-balance, slow, awkward, and since taking even one step requires thousands of lines of code, they're probably going to register on the lower end of the intelligence scale... sub-moronic, most likely."
"Do you mean that you expect them to have some sort of artificial intelligence?" Scott asked with concern.
"More like artificial stupidity, but yeah. Either way, they have to have some sort of autonomous decision-making capability when they're out in the field. But as bad as that is, remote control drone robots would be even worse. They wouldn't be capable of doing the job." Andrew said seriously.
"How close are they now?" Scott quickly asked.
"A few minutes out, maybe. It depends on how long it takes to land one of those heavy-assed things. From the look of them, I'd guess that they weigh about a ton, each." Andrew said seriously.
"How are the Slayers going to be able to stop a machine that weighs a ton?" Willow asked with concern.
"Being that big and heavy has to be a disadvantage. We just have to figure out how to exploit it." Andrew said firmly.
"I'm sure you're right. I just can't think of how, off the top of my head." Scott timidly admitted, then thought to ask, "How are the Sentinels doing with their landing?"
"I'm pretty sure each of them has expended at least three gas stations worth of fuel so far and they haven't touched the ground yet." Andrew said frankly.
"If we can manage to take these things down, we really need to examine their energy source." Warren said frankly.
"I know the thought of it makes your money-bags draw up in anticipation, but keep in mind that these things are from the government. Whatever is powering them, it's probably something that can't be replicated in the private sector." Andrew said seriously.
"Like it was with the microwave?" Warren asked with a sly smile.
Andrew appeared to be surprised by the implications of what Warren was saying.
"Besides, given recent history, is it more likely that I'll find a way to capitalize on them or that you'll adopt them?" Warren asked playfully.
"I'm not..." Andrew sputtered, but then caught himself.
"There's no way..." He tried again. Finally, in an obviously flummoxed state, Andrew quietly growled, "Shut up."
* * * * *
"I see something. North lot, west side." Willow said abruptly, drawing all their attention.
"There's another one at the south." Scott announced.
"I never thought about how much room you'd need to land one of these things. It looks like each one of them is going to wipe out six or eight parked cars when they land." Andrew said slowly.
"Sixty to eighty cars destroyed? I wonder if this is going to be tallied into the cost benefit analysis of the field test." Warren asked speculatively.
"Uh oh." Andrew said suddenly.
"What is it?" Scott asked immediately.
"Matt on his motorcycle. He's just pulling into the mall parking lot." Andrew said hesitantly.
"Has he spotted the Sentinels yet?" Warren asked cautiously.
"They're in the process of incinerating over fifty cars all around the mall right now, complete with gasoline explosions. They're kind of hard to miss." Andrew said frankly.
"Have they spotted him yet?" Scott asked slowly.
"They haven't given any indication... wait, one of them is turning. It looks like it's going to try and face him." Andrew said slowly.
"Remy, would you see if you can get Jimmy and Clark's teams to move in that direction?" Scott asked firmly.
"Oui." Remy automatically responded, then keyed the mic before saying, "Jimmy and Clark. We be needin you an your teams in de west parking lot. Be ready to take some pictures."
"Superman and Six of Seven are on the way." Clark responded for both of them.
"You're not sending them into danger, are you?" Andrew asked with a slight growl under his words.
"Don't worry, they're not alone. Rona, Trey, and Xander are with them." Scott assured him, then explained, "We don't know how many chances we're going to get to take readings of these things. This could end up being our best opportunity, so we might as well go for it."
"I guess that's why you're in charge." Andrew said resignedly.
"I've got a visual." Willow suddenly announced.
"I think you're about to get another one. The professor is sending instructions for patching a set of external signals into your mixing board. We're about to get a direct video feed from 'Borg Control', which is Janine and the others at the boathouse." Scott said quickly.
"Look at dat." Remy said quietly as he pointed to the parking lot camera.
Matt and the Sentinel seemed to be squaring off, each waiting for the other to make the first move.
"Matt look like a small child nex to dat ting." Remy said slowly
"It's analyzing him, calculating how to counteract his mutant ability." Andrew said thoughtfully.
"How do you know that?" Scott asked curiously.
"Because there's no other reason for it to wait to attack him. Right now it's processing. As soon as it's done, it'll take action." Andrew said with certainty.
"Three of Seven, Uncle Matt has engaged one of the Sentinel robots. Now would be an excellent time to do an intensive scan of it, if you are available to do so." Jimmy called on the radio.
"I don't think your communications system has learned everyone's name yet." Willow said frankly.
"As long as everyone gets their messages, I'm not going to worry too much about it." Scott said honestly.
"Andrew, are any of those Sentinels landing near us? I can feel the ground trembling." Willow asked with concern.
"No. They're all closer to the mall. They just kick up a lot of dust when they land. They're that powerful." Andrew slowly answered.
"Six of Seven, we have visual contact with Uncle Matt. Commencing scanning now." Trey's voice said calmly.
"The Sentinel looks like it's done processing. I can't tell for sure, but I think it's hitting Matt with some kind of radiation or sound wave attack. Whatever it is, doesn't appear to be hurting him." Andrew said with concern.
"Team members, Matt is under attack in the northwest parking lot. Any non-mutant in the area who is combat ready, move in and attack at will." Scott called firmly.
After a moment, Andrew quietly said, "It looks like Clark, Rona, and Xander are moving in to attack."
"If these things weigh a ton each, Clark's the only one I can see being able to do much damage to them." Scott said frankly.
"Here. I've zeroed in on that part of the parking lot. You can see what's happening." Willow said quickly as she moved away from the monitor to give an unobstructed view.
"A Sentinel just entered Macy's. It looks like this could take us a minute." Buffy called over the radio.
"Do what you need to do. Call if you need our help with anything." Scott immediately responded.
"Will do." Buffy replied.
"We've got one at the movie theater. We've got Ashleys A. and C. here with us. I'm pretty sure we can handle it." Faith called next.
"Acknowledged. Yell if you need us." Scott said with a note of concern sounding under his words.
After a long anxious moment, Warren quietly said, "That's only four of them."
* * * * *
"Robert, go to your alcove immediately. I require your assistance." Janine's Borg whisper-voice said over the television speaker.
"Don't you need me to stay here and transmit you Trey's data?" Robert asked hesitantly.
"I have processed the relevant data from Trey's scans. I require your assistance to make use of the resulting information." Janine said succinctly.
"Um, yeah. I'll go to my alcove now." Robert said as he looked to Bobby hopefully.
Bobby nodded immediately and stood to go with him.
"Dad. I have gained remote access to the video output of your viewing device. I will endeavor to give you a clear view of what is happening with Father and the others." Janine said as the nine-way split screen changed to reveal the view of a single camera in the parking lot, where Matt and a giant robot were standing amongst smoldering rubble, facing-off against each other.
"Thanks, Pumpkin." Alan hesitantly said, not sure if she was able to hear him or not.
* * * * *
"Matt, we've got a team nearly at your location. As soon as they arrive, I need for you to disengage and retreat to the command center RV directly south of you." Scott said firmly.
"Cyke, you know me better than that." Matt immediately responded.
"Matt. How many people are you willing to let die because you're too proud to let them do what needs to be done? This thing attacks mutants. Let the non-mutants handle it this once." Scott said firmly.
A powerful stream of red drew everyone's attention as the two narrow beams focused on the giant robot's head.
"Matt! Get out of there while that thing is processing the new information!" Andrew called loudly.
"You can quit your nagging. I'm going." Matt responded irritably.
After a long moment, Andrew tapped his badge and quietly said, "All team members, just in case you haven't found out for yourselves yet, these things appear to be impervious to sword and axe attacks. Remember that they're top-heavy, weigh a literal ton and are not very fast or graceful. Maybe you can find some way to use that to your advantage. Do your best. Call if you need our help."
To Be Continued...
Editor's Notes: This is so totally cool; to see everyone working together to resist and destroy, or at least I hope they are destroying, or at least disabling and neutralizing, the metal morons.
Is it my imagination or is the government in general, or in any universe, totally out of it, and unable to see beyond their prejudiced ideas?
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher