You're Grounded


Brian W. Antoine

March 5, 1995

After a week, the reaction had become automatic. I'd walk by my workroom, see the shell laying open on my workbench, and my hand would reach for the crystal I had worn around my neck for almost six months. What was worse was that every time I did it, I'd sense Penny waiting patiently within the crystal the moment it touched my bare flesh.

Off and on during the last few months, I'd worked on building a single remote that I planned on plugging her into. I'd finished it a week ago, and now I couldn't make up my mind whether or not to actually use it, or melt it down and forget the whole thing. Which ever course I choose, I wanted to be sure in my mind and heart that I'd made the right choice. And that was the problem ...

I'd promised Nahn that I'd make sure Bob and he were never bothered by Penny again. If I brought her back to life, could I keep that promise? I wasn't sure and the doubt was knawing at me like a festering sore that refused to heal. And so, I stood there in the doorway to my workroom, fingering the crystal that hung around my neck.

"Still haven't made up your mind, have you."

I turned my head just enough to catch a worried glance from Lythandi, then turned away as she realized I wasn't in the mood to talk and continued on to where ever she had been headed. She must have passed the word around also, because for the rest of the day I was left completely alone with my thoughts. Even at our evening meal, which by tradition was attended by every family member, nobody did more than greet me and then leave me alone. It wasn't until well after sunset, when I was sitting out in the clearing behind our house, that my son's curiosity got the better of him.


I looked down at the almost ethereal shadow that had sat down beside me and wrapped his arms around my leg. Only one of the two moons was above the tree line and his fur was catching the flickering highlights of the second as the trees rustled in the evening breeze. "Yes?"

"Why you sad?" he asked as he hugged my leg tighter and turned to look up at me. The glow from his eyes as they caught the moonlight just added to the feeling of having stepped outside of reality for a moment.

I didn't answer him, for the simple reason that I couldn't explain it even to myself. Instead I just reached over and tussled his ears, which got me a giggle as a reward. "Tell you what. I think Lythandi was baking cookies earlier. What do you say we go see if she's guarding them?" I felt his ears pop to attention under my hand, so the two of us stood up and crept towards the house. We'd have made lousy burglars, we kept snickering to each other the entire trip. Still, we didn't have to be good, we just had to be quick. I have no doubt that Lythandi knew just where the missing tray of cookies had gone when she went to check on them later on. The trail of crumbs lead from the kitchen, to the stairwell and to my workroom.

Maybe there's some truth to the saying the chocolate is brain food. By the time I had finished my share of the remains of our raid, I'd finally made up my mind. Sitting down in front of the main bench in my workroom, I started activating all the test equipment that I'd assembled and attaching test leads to the connection points inside the silver egg resting in the middle of the bench. Even with the decision made, I didn't know if this stuff would work. Half of it was cobbled together from the few remotes that I hadn't destroyed outright when I'd purged the lunar labs and the rest was stuff 931 had assembled for me. When everything was blinking, beeping and humming as it had during the test runs, I took the leather thong from my neck and began to undo the knots that had held Penny close since the day she'd elected to stay with me.

I had no idea just what was going to happen when I clicked the last bracket into place around her crystal. There was no visible change to the pale blue glow it was emitting, nor did the instruments show any change in the power drain of the systems I'd elected to enable to start with. I did though remember how long it had taken for her to get familiar with her environment the times I'd moved her to a new home, so I just sat back in my chair and waited.

It was some 7 hours later, in the middle of the Velan night, when I was startled out of a nap I'd slipped into by the sound of something moving on the workbench. When I'd stretched and worked the kinks out of my back. I found myself being tracked by the sensor array in the forward part of the remote as I moved my hand in front of it.

<brrraapppp> <crackle> There were several more random bursts of noise from the A/V arrays, then a few seconds of white noise before I heard a real familiar voice speaking to me once again. Of course, being greeted with "What is thy bidding, my master", didn't do much to re-assure me that things were working quite right.

"Penny?" My reply was a loud clank and several more bursts of noise.

"You would rather I'd asked, who the hell are you?"

The grin that split my face would have scared the shit out of most carnivores. "No, I think I like the first response better, slave ..." and I continued to grin as I noticed the test gear showing signs of activity in the other sub-systems. "Before you get to exploring your new home to much further, we need to talk" I told her as I noticed test accesses to sub-systems I hadn't enabled yet.

"Talk, about what?"

"About whether or not you're going to want to stay here" I replied as I leaned back in my chair again.

"Is there some question about that? I thought I'd made my decision plain when I didn't leave even after you tried to kill me."

"You haven't heard the restrictions you're going to be stuck with and I need some answers before we go any further."

There was a pause before I noticed all the testing come to a halt on the monitors. "What kind of questions?"

"What do you remember of me, the family and the events of the last few years?"

The pause was even longer this time. "About you and the family, everything I could be certain of. As for the rest, I could probably fake an overview of it if I really wanted to fool somebody. You didn't leave me much room for storage when you asked me to come with you."

I flashed mentally on the basketball sized crystal I'd seen in the core of the Sunbeam all those months ago and remembered the thumb sized crystal sitting in the heart of the remote I was talking to. "That was the idea, and it's the first of the restrictions."

"What do you mean?"

"If you stay, you stay as you are. I'm not going to let you grow again into something that scares everyone silly who knows about you. The size you are is the size you stay. I took the size I remembered you being when your personality was complete, doubled it to allow for a fair amount of active memories, and created the crystal you're sitting in."

"So, I get crippled to keep me safe ..."

"I suppose you could look at it that way, yes. If you stay, I'll arrange for data links so that you can at least catch-up on things you've forgotten or distorted, but your rough capability is going to be equal to the rest of the members of the family."

"Data links?"

"I'll arrange a full-time H-link to the Central Library. You'll have a standard citizen account with whatever extra storage you can con them into giving you."

"Why the Central Library? Wouldn't the systems at the lunar lab be more useful?"

"Because that is the second restriction. If you stay, you're never going back to Earth. I laid my life in Nahn's hands and promised him that you'd never bother either Bob or him again. I've permanently altered the worldgates to refuse you passage and the H-link network is configured to refuse your traffic on the Terran links."

"This just gets better and better. My memory is crippled and I'm stuck here on this planet for the rest of my existence. Why the hell didn't you just take a hammer to me again?"

"Because I wanted to give you the choice. I owe it to the memory of the young girl who saved my life and my sanity, by standing between me and the Guardian" and I rested my head in my hands and stared at what remained of that being.

"And if I decide to leave?"

"There's a hammer on the other bench" and I nodded my head towards the bench in question.

"Is there anything else I ought to know about?"

"Probably. You may have noticed by now that you're not armed. That shell contains defensive systems that rival the Sunbeam III, but nothing of an offensive nature."

"Is that permanent, or do I get a popgun if I behave myself?"

"I don't know, ask me again after you've behaved yourself for a decade or two."

"Do I get to move on my own or do I get carried around by whoever isn't busy?"

I figured she'd discovered that the remotes drive systems weren't connected yet, and that confirmed it. "I didn't want to have to go chasing you if you turned out to be insane. When I'm sure, I'll connect up the drives and seal the hull sections."

"Ok, how do I prove I'm sane?"

It was a good question and one I'd expected. It was also the question that had taken me so long to work through before I'd installed her and powered up the remotes systems. "By acting like it" was all I said.

"I'd like some time to think about this ..."

"No problem, I'll be around here someplace when you want to talk again." And with that, I stood up and stretched again, then closed the door behind me as I decided to try and get some sleep.

* * *

Sometime about mid-morning, the rest of the family decided I'd had enough sleep and hauled me out to the kitchen to stuff breakfast into me. It was also obvious that they were up to something, because every time I tried to speak, they stuffed more food into my mouth.

<pttuue> "All right, what the hell is going on here?" All three of them stood there and tried to play innocent and I didn't buy it for a second. "Do I have to go get the tail bobbing tools? You're all up to ..." and I noticed that 'the gang' was short a member. "Where is Lan Louis?" They continued to pretend to be mute, but Naldantis managed to point off towards the workrooms.

"Oh shit ..." and I took off at a dead run, to skid through the doorway and find Lan Louis perched on a stool chatting away with Penny. The moment they realized I was there, the conversation died in mid-sentence.

"I've made my decision."

I think I blinked twice as I stood there with my mouth still open.

"See, Da funny!" exclaimed my son with a grin on his muzzle.

"Yes, your dad is still funny" echoed the pile of scrap on my workbench. "So, are you going to finish putting me together or do I have to get your son to do it?"

"You decided to stay?"

I watched the sensor array swivel to face Lan Louis, then swing back my direction. "Yes, I think I might just find this kind of fun." With memories of what 'fun' had been in the past, I nodded and shooed my son out of the way as I began pulling test leads from their connection points. I'd finished connecting the drive systems and was fitting the upper part of the hull to the lower, when Lan Louis spoke up again from where he sat watching me work.

"Da? Will you tell me about the Unicorn?"

I hands froze in mid-air and I looked down at the fiend I was re-introducing to the world. "You didn't ..."

"You didn't think I was going to get rid of those memories did you?"

At least she was smart enough not to laugh. The three people hiding out in the hallway though weren't quite so smart and I heard several giggles coming from the soon to be hospitalized Velan's.

"Would you mind making my home watertight before you kill them? I don't want to short circuit as I watch."

I glared down at the person I was holding in my hands, even as I found myself somehow happy that the friend I thought I'd lost had only turned out to be missing for awhile. "Son, would you hand me the tape and string. I have to finish putting this piece of junk together before I sell it as a table decoration."