The Two Pearls
“Hello?” Mike Nelson mumbled, holding the phone upside down until his sleepy mind cleared and he reversed it. “Hello?” he mumbled again.
“Mike? Is that you?” the woman’s voice on the other end had a metallic whine like a chainsaw biting into old growth forest. “Mike, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” the woman bleated drunkenly. “I don’t know why I ever let you go.”
Mike sat up and wiped the sleep from his eyes. “Pearl,” he said wearily. “I’ve told you to stop bothering me.”
Pearl sniffed. “I know,” she said, “but you’re the best. . .”
“. . .thing that ever happened to you, I know.” Mike ran a hand through his tousled hair. “Stop calling. I’m not trapped in space anymore.” He hung up the phone and sat up. He reached for his robe and padded out into the living room.
Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot were watching TV. Mike didn’t understand why they did that - surely they had had enough schlock to last several lifetimes. The basket on Crow’s head was filled with Fritos; Tom’s head was full of guacamole. Mike dipped a Frito and ate it. “Hey, guys,” he said. “Pearl called.”
“Awww, geez,” Tom said. “Does this mean we have to move again?”
“I’m afraid so,” Mike sighed. “Heaven knows what will happen if she ever catches up with us. I for one don’t want to take part in any more experiments.”
“Where to this time?” Crow asked.
“This time we’re going to the one person who can help us. Pack it up, boys; we’re going to Iowa.”
* * * * *
Pearl laid her head down on the slimy bar and tried not to drool. Her life passed in front of her red-rimmed eyes in a bleary pageant. Where did I go wrong? she thought to herself. If only there was some way to do my life over again. A thought slipped past her like an eel covered with gooze. She tried to grab onto it but the little sucker eluded her none too swift mental grasp. Wait for it, wait for it. . .got it! That’s it, she thought. Why didn’t I think of that before? She went to find a phone book.
* * * * *
Mike’s rusty 1971 Impala pulled up in front of an imposing iron gate. “Uhhhh,” he spoke into a mesh grille beside the gate.
“Mike Nelson,” a sultry female voice responded. “I’d know that stammer anywhere.”
“Gypsy? Is that you? You sound different.”
The gate buzzed and opened slowly in front of the car. “Come on up,” Gypsy purred. “We have a lot to catch up on.”
Mike drove the car slowly past the gate and up a long driveway to a structure that can only be described as palatial. A butler answered his ring, but it was the tall, purple ‘bot who held his gaze. “Gypsy!” he cried. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Just the voice,” she cooed. “I had it adjusted last year. Do you like it?”
Mike liked it perhaps a bit too much, but he wasn’t going to say that to an old friend. “Yeah, sure,” he said casually. “Whatever. Like the place. Moat’s a nice touch.”
“I had that put in myself. Tom and Roseanne didn’t have that in the original design.”
Crow looked around - marble floors, a fountain in the foyer. “Nice,” he said. “Can I borrow your computer? I need to check my eBay account.”
Mike slapped himself in the forehead. “eBay! Crow, have you been bidding?”
“Yeah,” Crow said. “People keep offering pieces of the Satellite of Love. I’ve been buying up all I can. I want to put it back together. There’s this one woman named Barbbb who has an awful lot of it.”
“But why, Crow?” Mike asked. “We were prisoners up there. It would be like the Birdman buying Alcatraz.”
“I was born there, Mike. It’s my home; I miss it.”
“But don’t you see, Crow? That’s how Pearl’s been finding us. She’s obviously found some way around eBay’s security system.”
Crow’s eyes lit up. “It is? Well, fry my bowling pin in oil.”
“Is that what this is all about?” Gypsy asked.
“Yeah, Gyps,” Mike said. “Pearl’s been calling in the middle of the night wanting us back.”
Gypsy shuddered. “Well, I certainly don’t want to go back there. You’re safe here. Not even Bill Gates could find his way around my security system. But we need a more long term plan than just a hideout. How can we get rid of Pearl Forrester once and for all?”
* * * * *
Pearl approached the zoo gates. The heavy padlock and chain were no match for the industrial strength bolt cutter she carried. Just a snip there. . .and there and the heavy gate eased open. She hadn’t been to the gorilla area for a while, not since she’d been thrown out because of the cotton candy incident, but she had no trouble making her way there in the dark. “Bobo,” she hissed through the bars. “Bobo!”
A tall, handsome silverback raised one sleepy eyelid. He turned back over and snorted.
“BOBO!” Pearl hissed more sharply.
“What is it, Lawgiver?” the gorilla replied. “I’ve had a hard day.”
“A hard day, my eye,” Pearl said. “What’s so hard about living in a zoo?”
“You’d be surprised,” Professor Bobo said. “It’s hard work entertaining streams of people day in and day out.”
“Never mind that,” Pearl said, flourishing the bolt cutter. “I’m here to rescue you.”
“Don’t want to be rescued,” Bobo mumbled sleepily.
Pearl brandished the bolt cutter more furiously. “I’ll rescue you or I’ll use these on something else!” she hissed.
Bobo sat bolt upright very quickly. “Very well, Lawgiver. Rescue me.”
Pearl applied the bolt cutter to the lock, and then swung the door open slowly. “Come on,” she whispered.
“Where are we going?” Bobo said when they were ensconced in Pearl’s van.
“Bobo, have you ever thought about time travel?”
“It’s impossible to travel through time,” Professor Bobo said. “You see, time as a dimension is determined by the expansion of the Universe. . .”
Pearl whacked Bobo alongside the head. “You stupid baboon,” she said. “We already traveled through time.”
Bobo rubbed the sore spot. “We did? When did we do that?”
Pearl groaned. “Just keep quiet. I’m taking you to meet an old friend of mine, so to speak.”
“And I’m not a baboon,” Bobo muttered.
* * * * *
Tom and Crow kept getting lost going to the bathroom. Neither of them had to go to the bathroom, they just enjoyed getting lost. Gypsy’s house was full of surprises - she had used much of her huge ConGypsCo wealth to furbish it in a style she had long been denied while living on a cramped little satellite in space. Not that the Satellite of Love didn’t have its charms, in its quaint little way. . .besides, Crow was busy rebuilding it in the basement (when he wasn’t too busy getting lost).
“Tom! Crow!” Mike hollered stalking down a long black corridor. The corridor was amply lit, but it was still black. Black marble floor, glistening black walls, black ceiling. Mike had long since stopped asking Gypsy why anything was the way it was, because she invariably answered, “Because I like it that way.”
The black corridor ended in a single black door. Mike opened it to find a room full of nothing but trampolines. “Trampolines?” he thought. “Can Gypsy even jump?”
Apparently, Crow could, because he was jumping from trampoline to trampoline with great abandon. Tom was hovering vaguely over a trampoline, turning his hoverskirt off and on, but not getting much bounce before falling over.
“Oh, hi, Mike,” Tom said. “Can you help me up here?”
“Sure, Tom,” Mike said. He righted the little red ‘bot. “What’s up?”
“Crow, mostly,” Tom replied.
“Crooooow,” Mike said.
“That’s one ‘O’,” Crow said.
Mike smiled. “Gypsy sent me up. You’ve got a package.”
“Really? Oh, goody. What could it be?”
It was pretty huge. Gypsy had had the delivery man put the crate in the basement. Mike levered it open, to find lots of little pieces of blackened metal and bric-a-brac. “What is it?” he asked.
Crow’s eyes lit up. “It’s the rest of the Satellite,” he crowed.
“Or all that’s left of it after the fall through the atmosphere,” Gypsy said, popping up through a ventilation port. “I hunted down all the pieces for you.”
Crow held up a round, gold ball, sadly burnt. “Cambot!” he exclaimed. “Old buddy! Can we fix him, Gypsy?”
The flashlight on Gypsy’s head lit up. “I’ve got all the specs for the Satellite and all of Joel’s creations right here,” she said.
“Mmmm, could someone explain to me why we’re doing this?” Mike asked.
“It’s all part of my plan,” Gypsy said.
* * * * *
Pearl pulled up in front of a small shotgun shack. “Is this the place?” Bobo asked.
“This is the place,” she replied, her forehead creased in a frown. She sighed. “Brings back a lot of memories. Well, we’re here to fix that.” She climbed out of the van and knocked at the door.
A metal piercing shriek floated through the wooden door. “Clayton! See who that is!”
The door opened revealing a small boy in a green T-shirt and black pants. He wore glasses and there was an odd white streak in his hair. Gazing at Pearl, he said, “Mother?” and glanced back over his shoulder at the heavy-set woman sitting in the kitchen watching an afternoon soap opera on the TV. He turned pale and ran through the door and down the street as though being chased.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be back, more’s the pity,” said the heavyset woman. She walked over to the door herself, then froze.
“Hello, Pearl,” Pearl said. “May I come in?”
“Who are you?” and “Who is this?” the other Pearl and Bobo spoke at the same time.
“Pearl, meet Bobo. Bobo, this is Pearl.” Pearl One smiled wickedly.
“I’m confused.” Pearl Two and Bobo again spoke together.
“It’s very simple,” Pearl One said, speaking to her counterpart, “I’m your future self come back in time to warn you to change your life before it’s too late.”
Pearl Two sat down heavily. “Um, would you like some coffee?” she asked.
* * * * *
Dr. Clayton Forrester, for he still thought of himself that way, paused in his headlong rush to consider his options. One Mother was bad enough, but two? He shuddered. No way, no how, was he going back there, but what options did he have? It had been six years since he had become a Starchild, while Mike and his ‘bots had become energy beings on the edge of the universe, but he looked like a child of three. If he ran away from home, how far would he get? He felt in his pocket - yes, it was there, the CompUBank Visa Card he had obtained online - yes, it was legal, he was really nearly forty years old, no matter how he might appear. Good. Now, how far would this take him? He thought hard and headed for the nearest payphone.
* * * * *
Gypsy’s explanation was interrupted by the butler. “Excuse me, milady, but there’s a young gentleman on the phone for you. He says it is urgent, and appeared to be in some distress.”
“Thank you, Jeeves. . .”
“Milady? Jeeves?” Mike wondered aloud.
“Quiet,” Gypsy shushed him. “Did the young gentleman give a name?”
“That was odd, because he said he was Dr. Clayton Forrester.”
“Dr. Forrester?!” Mike exclaimed. “Isn’t he a baby or something?”
“Let’s take the call,” Gypsy said. “It might be helpful.” She went to the phone and turned on the speaker. “Hello? Is this really Dr. Forrester?”
“Yes, it is, Gypsy, forgive me for bothering you, but I’m in a heap of trouble. Someone has cloned Mother.”
“This is just getting weirder,” Mike said. “What do you mean cloned? And how did you know where we were?”
“Mike? Is that you? The last time I saw you, you were an energy being.”
“Well, that’s a long story, but you still haven’t answered my questions.”
“Oh. Yeah. I knew where Gypsy was because I read in the paper about ConGypsCo and about her buying the old Arnold place, but I didn’t know you’d be with her, honest.” A pleading note crept into his voice.
“OK, I get that. Now what’s this about someone cloning Pearl?”
“I don’t know,” Clayton sniffled, “but this woman showed up at the door today and it was Mother. Another Mother. She had some big hairy man with her. I just ran off. I’m not going back there, no one can make me.”
Against his will, Mike felt pity for his former enemy. One childhood with Pearl would have been bad enough, but a second one must be excruciating. “It’s all right, Clayton, you don’t have to go back. We’ll think of something. Got any ideas, Gyps?”
“Where are you, Dr. Forrester?” Gypsy asked. Clayton told her. “OK,” she said, “there’s a ConGypsCo office just a few blocks from there. Can you get there by yourself?”
Clayton wiped his eyes. “Yes, I think so.”
“Good,” Gypsy said. “I’ll call ahead, and someone will be there to take care of you, OK? Would you like a little plane ride?”
“Anything you say, Gypsy, just get me away from here.”
“We’ll help you out, little guy,” Mike said, gently, then cut the connection. “Although God help us all.” He turned to Gypsy. “Did you think of this before, because I admit it never occurred to me, but that’s it, isn’t it? With all the time traveling we did, there are two Pearl Forrester’s here on Earth at the same time, and now they’ve found each other.”
“And they’ve got Bobo with them, apparently, from what Clayton said,” Gypsy responded.
“So what do we do about it?”
“First let me make that phone call, then we pack up the Satellite and head for Gizmonics Institute.”
“I thought they closed that place down.”
“They did,” Gypsy said smugly, “but I bought it.”
* * * * *
“So let me get this straight,” Pearl Two said, “You. . .”
“No, you,” Pearl One corrected.
“Oh, all right, I,” Pearl Two said, “I have myself cryogenically frozen, wake up five hundred years in the future, get worshipped by a bunch of monkeys. . .”
“Apes,” Bobo corrected, “and we don’t worship you, more sort of venerate.”
“Hush,” Pearl One said.
“Chase Nelson and his robots around the universe for a while and then end up back here in the present and try to conquer the world, but fail. Is that right?”
“That pretty much sums it up,” Pearl One agreed. “Say, do you have something extra for this coffee?”
“No,” Pearl Two brushed her off. “But if you had this Brain Guy with you, and he was so powerful, why didn’t you just have him take over the world for you?”
“I like the way you think,” Pearl One’s eyes lit up, “but sadly, having an all powerful henchman isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. I sometimes think he wasn’t as cooperative as he made out. That’s another account that needs reckoning.”
“Not that you’ll ever have the chance,” Bobo pointed out, “since Brain Guy went to Rigel and made sure the van was no longer spaceworthy before he left. Try to go after him and whoosh!” He made explosive motions in the air.
“I thought I told you to hush,” Pearl One said, whacking Bobo on the head again.
“So what did you come to warn me about?” Pearl Two wondered.
“Well, you may have noticed that the little Starchild is quite a shrimp.”
“Boy, have I ever. That kid just will not grow no matter what I do to him.”
“I didn’t understand it either until Brain Guy explained it to me, but apparently Starchildren have so much to master that they mature much more slowly than normal species. That kid’s adolescence nearly killed me.”
Pearl Two blanched. “You mean he’s going to be a teenager for, how long?”
“Not all that long, since I finally gave up and smothered the little booger with a pillow.”
Pearl Two blanched even paler. “Well, can’t say that I blame you, me, whatever. That kid’s first adolescence was a pain in the patoot, I don’t even want to think about the second one. So you came back to warn me not to kill him this time around, is that it?”
“Well, not exactly. What I was thinking was that, if I’m not tied down with the little devil, I can get started on world domination that much quicker. That way, when I, you, get back from the future, I’ll, you’ll find the world already prepared for your, my second coming.”
“So you want I should kill him now?” Pearl Two was incredulous.
“Not exactly. They tell you that lethal injections don’t hurt, but don’t you believe them. We need a way to get rid of the shrimp without going through that again. These things must be done delicately,” Pearl One cackled.
Bobo couldn’t believe his ears. “Do you have any idea what you’re saying?”
Pearl Two whacked him this time. “Didn’t I tell you to be quiet?”
“No, she did,” Bobo said, pointing to Pearl One.
Pearl One smiled. “You do believe me now, don’t you?”
Pearl Two sighed. “I guess so. So what did you have in mind?”
“Do you have a computer? I need to check an eBay account.”
* * * * *
Mike and the ‘bots arrived at the Gizmonics Institute just as a long black limo pulled up at the gate. The door opened and out stepped a small boy. “My, Clayton,” Mike said, “how you’ve grown.”
“Don’t be patronizing,” Clayton growled.
“Um, so how much do you remember?” Mike asked, as Gypsy escorted the group past security and into the bowels of Gizmonics.
“I remember everything,” Clayton said. “And if you’re thinking that I have a lot to answer for, I agree, but,” he looked down at his diminutive form, “I think I’ve answered for a lot already.”
“Perhaps so,” Mike agreed.
Gypsy ushered the group into a large, well-appointed office. The lanky, sandy-haired man behind the desk looked up as they entered, only to be nearly knocked down by Tom and Crow as they hurled themselves across the desk.
“Joel!” they hollered together. “Oh, buddy, have we missed you!”
“Hey, guys,” Joel Robinson smiled sleepily, “how you guys doing?” He laughed warmly.
As Joel and his ‘bots got caught up on old times, Mike found himself feeling left out. He gazed around the office - elegant leather furniture, framed oils on the walls. Joel had apparently done quite well for himself. After a few minutes, Gypsy introduced him. “Mike, this is Joel Robinson, CEO of Gizmonics Institute.”
“We’ve met, haven’t we, Mike? A couple of years ago or so?” Joel offered a handshake and a warm smile, and even though Mike had difficulty overcoming his feelings of envy, he couldn’t help liking the guy. He smiled and shook Joel’s hand.
“Gypsy,” Joel said, “I got your messages and your specs, but we weren’t expecting you for another few days.”
“Things have taken a few unexpected turns, Joel,” Gypsy said. She indicated Clayton with a nod of her purple head. “This is Dr. Forrester; he’ll be our guest for a little while.”
Joel did an impressive double take. “Unexpected turns, indeed. I’m sure you’ll fill me in, Gypsy. In the meantime, I’ve made the changes in specifications you wanted, and, with all crews working double shifts, and with the work you’ve already done, we should be able to launch in about three days.”
“Um, pardon me for interrupting, but I’m still not sure what we’re doing here,” Mike said.
“It’s simple, Mike,” Gypsy said, “we’re rebuilding the Satellite, and then we’re going to hoist Pearl with her own petard.”
“Launch her into space, you mean?” Mike asked. “Are you sure we should?”
“Can you think of a better way to get her off our back?”
Mike frowned. “Nooo,” he said slowly, “but it doesn’t seem right somehow.”
“If you can think of a better plan, please share it,” Joel said.
There was a moment of silence. Mike sighed. “I guess not,” he said reluctantly.
“Remember, Mike,” Gypsy said gently, looking at Clayton, “what she told us when she found us again in Bobo’s time.”
Mike had to rack his brain for a minute. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Oh, that.”
“What?” Clayton asked. “Does it concern me? And what do you mean, ‘Bobo‘s time?’”
“Mike will explain it to you,” Gypsy said. “We’re going to go work on the Satellite - we may not have much time.”
“Let me help,” Mike and Clayton said together. “I built it in the first place,” Clayton said.
Joel knelt down to Clayton’s level, “You understand why we can’t do that, don’t you?”
“Because you don’t trust me.”
“Can you give me one reason why we should?” Joel said seriously. He and Clayton locked eyes for a long moment.
“I’ve changed?” Clayton said, with an ironic smile.
Joel smiled back, “So you have, but you still can’t help us. Sorry.”
“But I can help, can’t I?” Mike asked.
“Do you know anything about cybernetics? Mechanical engineering? Propulsion?”
“No,” Mike had to admit.
“Babysitting?” Clayton said, still with an ironic tone.
“Well, I did used to watch my cousins. . . . Hey!” Mike said.
“You stay here and bring Clayton up to date, Gypsy will do the same for me,” Joel said. “Let’s get cracking.” He left with Gypsy, Tom and Crow.
* * * * *
“Drat!” Pearl One said, and sat back exasperated. “Ever since the Satellite crashed, I’ve been able to track Mike because Art keeps bidding on eBay, but now, nada!” She sat back in Clayton’s computer chair, which was probably way too big for him, but was way too small for her. “Did they figure it out? Are they on to me?”
“So, what was your plan? For Clayton, I mean?”
Bobo shook his head. “There’s something wrong with your reasoning here, I know it. Why can’t I figure it out?”
“Shush,” the Pearls said simultaneously and whacked him on the head, one on each side.
“Oooowwww!” Bobo howled. “No fair.”
“It’s like this, Pearl,” Pearl One said, “Art’s been buying every piece of the Satellite that becomes available. He’s obviously trying to rebuild it. When he does, we steal it, shove my loving son into it, and launch it back into space. Think about continuing the experiment on a real live Starchild. When he gains full control of his powers, and I have full control of him, nothing will be able to stop me.”
“What powers? The little booger doesn’t have any powers.”
“They’re slow to develop, but they’re there. I got Brain Guy to tell me all about it. He’s done quite a study on Starchildren. They’re rare; this is a golden opportunity.”
Pearl Two thought a minute. “OK,” she said, “I’m in. So what do we do next?”
Bobo looked up from his ruminations. “So where did the little guy get off to?”
Both Pearls made as if to hit him again, but then stopped. “That’s right,” Pearl One said. “He’s been gone for hours. Didn’t you say he’d be back?”
Pearl Two checked her watch. She frowned. “It’s not like Clayton to miss a meal,” she said.
“He’s run away,” both Pearls said simultaneously. Bobo looked pained. “Well, that tears it,” Pearl Two said.
“Not necessarily,” Pearl One said. “Let me think about this a minute.” She paused. “OK, you call the police and play the distressed parent. I’m your sister. . .hm, I can’t be Pearl, I’ll be. . .Jade. Bobo,” she looked him up and down, “Bobo will have to hide in the basement until they leave. . .”
“No, they’ll search the house,” Pearl Two pointed out.
“Good point,” Pearl One said. “Bobo, you’ll have to go sit on a park bench or something. Try not to be conspicuous.”
“Anything you say, Lawgiver,” and Bobo left the house at a dead run. He never came back, either.
* * * * *
Mike stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered around Joel’s office. He knew he couldn’t ignore Clayton for long, but was reluctant to begin the conversation. He sighed heavily. This had all gotten way more complicated than he had anticipated. Clayton cleared his throat. Mike turned to him and said, “Well, Clayton, I guess you have a lot of questions.”
“Yeah, to say the least. Who cloned Mother and why is the chief among them.”
“Nobody,” Mike said. “It’s not a clone. When we became energy beings, we stayed that way for about 500 years or so. . .”
Clayton gaped. “500 years? Then what are you doing here now?”
“Shush,” Mike said. “Let me tell it. We were pulled back into our corporeal forms to find ourselves orbiting Earth in the year 2525 and Earth ruled by intelligent, well, sorta intelligent, apes and your Mother in charge.”
“How did she get there?”
“She’d had herself cryogenically frozen and the apes had thawed her out. She was bent on continuing your experiment in your memory.”
Clayton frowned. “I never suspected Mother of being that sentimental.”
Clayton raised his eyebrows. “This is the part you don’t want to tell me.”
Mike looked down. It was hard to remember that this small body housed a middle-aged man, and someone Mike had long considered an enemy. Heck, say it right, been an enemy. It was Clayton who had imprisoned Mike in the first place. Mike hardened himself to say the truth.
“Probably more guilt, and sheer perversity, than sentiment.”
“She told us that she had, well, done away with you.”
“Killed me? KILLED me? My own Mother? I always knew she hated me, but I never thought she’d take it that far. Did she mention just when she had done that? Will do that?”
Mike knelt down, just as Joel had done. “Simmer down,” he said. “It’s not going to happen. We’ll see that it doesn’t.”
“How do you know? To you this is the past, isn’t it? You and Mother have traveled through time somehow and come back here and how do you know you can change what has already happened?” Clayton was breathing hard and nearly turning blue.
Mike put a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Because the past has already started changing - from the time Pearl sought out her past self. If she hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t have panicked and run away, now would you?”
Clayton caught his breath. “No, probably not. There’s no place I could run, no place anyone would look at me and believe me.”
Clayton looked up into his eyes. “Except here. I know none of you have any reason to like me, after all I’ve done to all of you, but. . . .” he trailed off.
“But.” Mike said. He stood up. “Wanna play some cards or something?”
Clayton looked up at him. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“I dunno. Maybe I’m just a nice person.”
Clayton grinned, a genuine, boyish grin, and Mike found himself grinning back.
* * * * *
“I can’t believe this,” Pearl One said, stalking up the porch steps. “I’ve looked everywhere and that big stupid ape is nowhere to be found. Men! No matter how many times you rescue them from exploding planets, they always leave you in the end.” She wiped away a tear from her cheek.
“You’ve got that right, girlfriend,” Pearl Two said. “So what do we do now? I’m not sure why you brought the ape along anyhow.”
“Just in case. You never know when a little muscle might come in handy. Bobo’s stupid, but he’s strong. Ah well, I guess we’ll have to get along with our brains and forget the brawn. But if I ever catch up with that monkey. . .”
“Which doesn’t answer the question. No Clayton, no Bobo. What happens to our plan for world domination?”
Pearl One’s eyes lit up at the “our.” She had her girl hooked - but then why not? Perhaps the easiest person to persuade was oneself. “Let me think about it. Clayton at least we ought to have back soon. How far could the little shrimp get?”
* * * * *
“So how many planets did you manage to blow up?” Clayton asked Mike, laying out his cards on the table. “Gin.”
“Ah geez, not again. Let’s see, fifty two.”
“Fifty two planets?”
“No, no, no, fifty two points. It was only three planets.” Mike wrote his score down on the notepad.
“Only three? And they said I was evil.”
“Well,” Mike defended himself. “I didn’t mean to.”
Clayton shook his head. “You accomplished more by accident than I ever did on purpose.”
Mike considered Clayton carefully. “So, if you got the chance, would you do it all over again?”
“Well, if I would, I would hardly tell you, would I?” Clayton attempted a sardonic grin, but ended it in a sigh. “But look at me. I can hardly reach the top of this table, much less conquer the world.”
“Most people would consider the chance to relive their childhoods a blessing.”
“Ah yes, a time of happy play and no responsibility,” Clayton’s tone was ironic again. “It’s not so bad, now that I can walk and talk and get out of the way, but being a baby was terrible. I couldn’t do anything but lay there and think and wait for Mother to pay a little bit of attention to me.”
Mike grimaced. He started to respond, but then did a double take. Clayton appeared to have gotten taller. “Huh?” he said.
“Oops, sorry,” Clayton said. “I was levitating again. I’m not always aware of it.”
“Um, could I see that again?”
Clayton floated a couple of inches off his chair. Mike peered under the table to get a good look. “Huh,” he said again. “So you can fly?”
“No, what you just saw is pretty much the extent of it.”
“Can you do anything else?”
“Let me have that cup of coffee,” Clayton said.
Mike passed the half-full cup of now stone cold coffee. Clayton held it in his tiny hands a moment and then passed it back. The coffee was now a comfortable drinking temperature. Mike sipped it. He looked askance at Clayton.
“Don’t worry,” Clayton sighed. “That’s really all I can do. Just enough to weird people out, not enough to be any use at all. I generally just keep it to myself. Even Mother doesn’t know.”
Just then Joel returned with the ‘bots. Clayton gave Mike a pleading look. “Hey guys, how’s it going?” Joel asked.
“Oh, Clayton’s beating the pants off me in gin rummy. I owe him three pizzas already.”
“Pizza!” Tom said. “Can we have some, too?”
“No, they’re all mine,” Clayton cackled, “and with these pizzas I can rule the world! Heh heh.”
There was a dead silence.
“Oops, sorry,” Clayton said. “It was meant to be funny.”
“Oh,” Joel said. “Well. Actually, that sounds like a good idea. Why don’t we all head over to The Mellow Mushroom? The work on the Satellite is ahead of schedule, we can discuss it over pizza.”
Clayton held up his credit card. “I’m buying,” he said. “And sharing.”
“All right,” Joel said, flashing an uneasy smile.
Mike patted Clayton briefly on the shoulder, and Clayton looked up at him gratefully.
* * * * *
By the next morning, both Pearls were getting pretty worried. “Where could he be?” Pearl One said. “This never happened before.”
“What would you know about it?” Pearl Two snapped. “You just showed up yesterday.”
“You still don’t get it, do you?” Pearl One said. “I am you. Everything you’ve ever experienced, I’ve experienced. Everything you know, I know. This is good though, it means it’s possible to change the past. I wasn’t sure about that before, but now I know. Now we just need to find the little shrimp.”
“I have an idea about that. If he’s been gone this long, he’s going to need money.” Pearl Two headed over to the computer. She dabbled with it for about half an hour, then exclaimed, “I don’t believe this.”
“Don’t believe what?”
“Oh, I’m good,” Pearl Two chortled. “You’re not the only one who can hack.”
“I know. Where do you think I learned it from?”
Pearl Two looked up at her. “Oh. Right. This is going to take some adjustment.”
“So what did you find?”
Pearl Two looked back at the screen. “Well, Clayton doesn’t know that I know this, but he has some pretty major investments and a credit card. I just hacked into his account and voila! You’ll never guess where he is.”
“Just tell me.”
“You know that little pizza place I used to pass every day going from Deep 13 to the mall?”
“Yes, I do,” Pearl One said exasperated.
“Well, anyway, he used the card there last night, and from the looks of it, it was quite a party. The tab was over fifty dollars. I don’t think he went there alone.”
Pearl One bit her lower lip. “Why there? And who has he hooked up with? Well, there’s only one way to find out - it’s time to hit the road, sister.”
“I’m with you,” Pearl Two said. “Just let me pack a few things.”
* * * * *
It was two days later, and the Satellite was looking much like its old self. It had been trucked to the Gizmonics launching pad, all fueled up and ready to go while the last finishing touches were put in place. “We’ve made some basic changes, as you can see,” Joel led Mike and Clayton around the new Satellite. “Some you can’t see - the Satellite no longer has impulse drive, for one thing.”
“Good,” Mike said, “the last thing we want is Pearl running around the galaxy loose. Although I’m still not sure we’re doing the right thing.”
“Wow,” Clayton said, “look at the theater!” The old row of theater seats had been replaced by plush, comfortable-looking overstuffed sofas.
“We’re not planning to send her movies, are we?” Mike asked.
Joel shrugged. “She’s got to have some sort of amusement. I’m not planning to torment her. After all, I have no grudge against her.”
“No, just against me,” Clayton said.
Joel shrugged again. They strolled up to the bridge. “We had to design a new Gypsy unit,” he said.
“A new Gypsy? Why?” Mike asked.
A large ‘bot popped up. “Someone has to run the ship,” it said, with Gypsy’s old voice.
Joel patted the ‘bot. It looked like a stripped down version of Gypsy - stainless steel instead of Gypsy’s warm purple. “She doesn’t have a name yet, and we haven’t had time to create a new voice module, but she’s even smarter than the old Gypsy. Just don’t tell her I said that.”
“Maybe we should just let Pearl name her,” Mike said.
“I’d be happy to,” a voice said behind him. Mike whirled around to find Pearl standing in the doorway.
“Pearl!” and “Mother!” Mike and Clayton shouted together. A subtle hum seemed to come out of the floor under their feet.
“Someone’s powered up the launch engines!” Joel said. He reached under the console. Alarms and lights went on all over the ship.
“That tears it,” Pearl said, and grabbed Joel and shoved him through the escape hatch.
“What are you doing here, Pearl?” Mike yelled over the alarms.
“Looking for my lost little lamb,” Pearl said. “It wasn’t nice not to call your dear old mother, Clayton. I’ve been so worried.” She wiped away a tear.
“Yeah, right.” Clayton said. “Mike told me what you’re going to do to me.”
Pearl gave Mike a poisonous stare. “Oh, he did, did he? Then you’ll be glad to know that plans have changed.”
“I’m not going to let you shoot me back into space,” Mike yelled, heading for the escape hatch himself.
“Go ahead, Nelson,” Pearl said, and gave him a helping shove.
“Aaaaiiiiieeeeeehhhhh,” Mike yelled as he slid down the chute, falling on his dignity. “Joel!” he yelled at Joel’s retreating back. Joel came back at a run and helped Mike up. A light drizzle was falling on the launch pad. Joel shouted into a nearby communications port, “Patrick! What’s happening?”
“Joel!” Patrick, the chief engineer shouted. “Someone’s broken into Deep 13 and seized control of the launch sequence. There’s less than two minutes to launch. Thank God you got off.”
“Can you speed up the launch sequence from there?” Joel asked. “Mrs. Forrester’s on board. This is our big chance.”
“No, you can’t!” Mike said. “Clayton’s still on there.”
Joel gave Mike a quizzical look. “It doesn’t matter,” Patrick said, “because the answer is no. The sequence is locked in. I could only abort it, or pause it, if I had control.”
“OK. I’m going down to Deep 13, have as many people as you can meet me there.” Joel took off at a dead run.
Mike didn’t follow him. He was still standing on the launch pad when Pearl landed nearly at his feet. He didn’t help her up; he sat on her.
“Get off me, Nelson!” she said, elbowing him hard. Mike held on. “Where’s the other one, Pearl? We know there are two of you, and where’s Clayton?”
“In less than two minutes we’re both going to fry if we don’t get off this pad!” Pearl managed to throw Mike off and rolled to her feet. “I’m getting out of here, and if you have any brains, you’ll get out of here, too.” She pulled out of Mike’s grasp and made a run for it.
Mike still didn’t go. He ran around to the entry bay, but it had sealed itself shut. He spent several precious seconds trying to pry it open, to no avail. He turned and looked up. There was a gantry still attached to the Satellite, and what looked like a door. He climbed up the gantry. Yes, there was a door, or a hatch of some kind. He tried to remember the plan of the Satellite, and what this hatch might lead to. Ah, yes, the empty escape pod bay. He tried to pull it open, but it was sealed shut, too. He banged on it in frustration. “Who’s there?” a high-pitched feminine voice rang out.
“Open the pod bay door, Gypsy,” he yelled.
“I can’t do that, Mike,” the pseudo-Gypsy said.
“Open. The. Pod. Bay. Door.” Just as he was about to bang on it again, it opened and he fell into the bay as the door slammed shut again, narrowly missing his feet.
“Oh, I guess I could open it after all,” Gypsy Two said.
Mike jumped to his feet, and pushed open the bay’s inner door. He ran quickly up the corridor to the bridge. “Clayton,” he yelled, but there was no answer. “Where can he be?” he mumbled.
He ran into the theater, no Clayton.
He ran to the lower decks.
He heard muffled cries from Tom’s old room. He tugged at the door, but it was locked. What was that combination? Oh, yeah, Tom’s measurements.
He keyed in “12-8-29” and the door sprang open.
He was thrown to the floor as if one of those 12-ton weights from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons had landed on his chest. The agony seemed to go on for hours until it began to ease and he was able to climb to his hands and knees.
“Clayton?” he asked.
“Here,” Clayton whimpered. “We’ve been launched into space, haven’t we?”
“Looks like it.” The weight lifted some more. Mike climbed unsteadily to his feet. “Let’s go to the bridge and see what’s up.”
“We are,” Clayton said. Mike smiled weakly.
They made their way to the bridge. “Cambot, give me Deep 13,” Mike said. The viewscreen took a few moments to warm up, but then revealed - nothing. Deep 13 looked much as it did when Dr. Forrester had left it, but there was not a soul to be seen.
“Huh?” Mike scratched his head. He turned on the communications. “Joel? Tom? Crow? Gypsy? Anybody? Anybody there?”
There was dead silence for several minutes, during which Mike repeated the message, then waited, then repeated it again. Then, “Mike?” Joel’s voice came through the speaker. “Thank God, we thought you’d fried.”
“No, we’re OK,” Mike said. “What happened?”
“Pearl got into Deep 13 through a hidden tunnel. . .” Gypsy said.
“Deep 13’s got a hidden tunnel?” Mike asked.
“Oops,” Clayton said, “I had forgotten about that. I used to use it to sneak out when Mother wasn’t looking. I didn’t know she knew about it.”
Mike gave him a “now you tell me” look. “OK,” he said to Gypsy, “go on.”
Joel said, “She hacked into our system with a laptop and launched the Satellite. I got down here and wrestled her away from the keyboard, but then the other one showed up and knocked me out, I think, I don’t really remember. By the time Patrick got down here with the crew, they were both gone, and the Satellite was already on its way. I’m really sorry about this, Mike. How’d you end up back on board anyway?”
“He came back for me,” Clayton said, gazing up at Mike quizzically. “I have no idea why.”
“Mike Nelson,” Gypsy said, “you may not be the brightest banana in the bunch, but you’re my hero, did you know that?”
Mike blushed. “Aw, it was nothing. You can bring us down now, can’t you?”
“You can, can’t you?”
A long pause. “I’m afraid not, pal,” Joel said. “We wanted to make sure she couldn’t escape, so we built in a failsafe. The Satellite can’t be brought down for at least ten years, not with the current technology, anyway. Sorry.”
Another long pause while Mike and Clayton let this sink in. “Um, what can you do?” Mike asked finally.
“Well, we can take care of your physical needs, and, uh, we can send you movies?” Joel said uncomfortably.
Mike winced. “Not bad ones, I hope.”
“Whatever you want,” Joel said. “Any movie ever made.”
Mike brightened. “Well, what do you say, Clayton? Want to spend your second childhood watching movies and eating buttered popcorn?”
“Actually,” Clayton said, pushing up his glasses, “that doesn’t sound bad at all.”
There was a nearly blinding flash of light and Mike and Clayton coughed from a billow of smoke that surrounded the hooded figure that suddenly appeared on the bridge. “Brain Guy?” Mike coughed.
“Sorry about that, Mike,” Brain Guy said, “I’m a little out of practice. Now, where is the Starchild?”
“What are you doing here?” Mike asked.
“Bobo called me. I gave him my card when I left in case Pearl got up to any more mischief. That’s when I found out there was a bona fide Starchild here. That’s who I’ve come for. Where is he?”
Clayton raised his hand. “Here,” he said.
“Ah,” Brain Guy said. He looked Clayton up and down. “A bit old to begin the training, but it can’t be helped. Come along.”
“Hey!” Mike said. “Where are you taking him?”
“To my planet, of course. I’m a certified Starchild educator.”
“Don’t I get a say in this?” Clayton asked.
“Oh, very well. Do you want to come with me and develop powers beyond the dreams of even myself, or do you want to stay here with a big lug and watch movies?”
“Can we get Mike down first?” Clayton asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Brain Guy said. “It’s best not to interfere unless necessary, in a cosmic sense. You’ll learn all this in your training.”
“What’s this?” Mike said. “You interfered with me plenty already.”
“Not really, Mike,” Brain Guy smiled smugly. “If you’ll think about it, you’ll see that I never really did anything for Pearl that she couldn’t or wouldn’t have done for herself. My input was actually minimal. The only time I truly interfered was when the Satellite crashed. Haven’t you ever wondered just how you survived that? You should be grateful.”
Mike thought about it a minute. “Well,” he said, “maybe. I’m not sure I believe you though. You were pretty cheesed at me for blowing up your planet, even though it was really the nanites who did that.”
“Why didn’t you come for me before?” Clayton asked. “I’ve been suffering for years.”
“Pearl told me she’d done away with you. With all the time traveling we did, no one bothered to inform me that we had ended up in a time when you were still alive. I came as soon as I knew. Now, come along.”
“Mike?” Clayton asked, “what should I do?”
“You’re asking me? He’s your deus ex machina. You have to decide for yourself. Can’t see that there’s much for you to stay here for, though.”
“Consider carefully,” Brain Guy said. “Without training, your powers won’t develop much past the level of parlor tricks. With training, you could become the most powerful person in the galaxy.”
Clayton still hesitated. Mike was puzzled, wasn’t this the same Clayton Forrester who had tried so often to conquer the world? What was holding him back from unlimited power now? Finally, Clayton shook his head. “No,” he said. “I’m not going.”
“Is that your final answer?” Brain Guy said.
“Yes,” Clayton said firmly, squaring his shoulders.
“Very well, I was looking forward to this, but so be it.” He vanished in another puff of smoke.
When Mike and Clayton finished coughing, Mike said, “So. Why’d you stay?”
Clayton thought a minute before speaking. “I guess I just felt that I could learn more from you.”
Mike didn’t know how to respond to that, so he said, “Well. Wanna go watch a movie?”
“Sure,” Clayton said. “You pick.”
“Joel, ‘October Sky,’ if you will, please. And after that, every Frank Capra movie you can find.”
“Coming right up,” Joel said. “And, Mike, you’re my hero, too.”
“Ah, geez,” Mike said. He tousled Clayton’s hair. “Come on, squirt.”
“Don’t do that,” Clayton said.
Mike tousled his hair again. “Squirt.”
And Clayton, against his will, smiled.