THOSE MAGNIFICENT ANDERSENS
by
Ward Constant

Chapter Two. Chair and Chicken Salad.

Robin Leslie sat quietly, trying not to think, trying to somehow ease the ache that lay inside her. She did not move. The porch-light clicked on a few minutes later. Still she sat. After about an hour, Orion got to her feet and trotted into the yard, stopping at the edge of the blackness and looking back. Casper stretched, stood on his four paws, and looked at Robin Leslie. She did not stir. Casper whined softly, gave Robin Leslie an uncertain lick, and followed his playmate into the yard.

She sat there brooding for a few minutes longer until her behind began to hurt from sitting on the hard wooden stairstep, then got to her feet. The dogs were nowhere in sight. Probably running around the truck waiting for Han to finish, she thought. They're just as excited about the Trip as the rest of us. With a sigh, she turned and walked creakingly across the porch and through the old oaken door of the farmhouse.

The big entry parlor was empty and as silent as a tomb. Robin Leslie stood at the open door, porchlight flooding through behind her to cast a rectangle of white on the dusty dark floorboards. Everything was gone, of course: the French Rococo settee, the piano, the rugs and lamps and the brass umbrella stand with Great-Grandpa's silver-topped cane still in it, all but the cane itself sold to the highest bidders at the big auction in Tulsa six months back. Aunt Bell had protested the sale of the piano, a rare and expensive Victorian instrument, but Grandpa would have none of it. "We're going to the Moon, sister," he'd told her. "And there's no room for a piano on the Moon. Someday, maybe, but not now." So he'd sold it, along with the settee, rugs, lamps, and everything else, and the few things he'd kept for sentimental or practical reasons were sitting in a big bonded warehouse in Oklahoma City, waiting for Someday to arrive. With a sigh, Robin Leslie shut the door behind her and took off the duck boots. Carrying them in her hand, she walked through the empty parlor to the central hallway beyond.

Slowly, quietly, she passed down the darkened hallway, like a ghost moving through a mausoleum, pausing at each doorway along its length like a gallery visitor looking at paintings, at each stop recalling a memory specific to that room. The dayroom. We watched TV here when I was little, before we got the edec. The wallpaper had yellow stripes with little blue bears on it. The wallpaper was gone now, the bare wall beneath it sanded and repainted white. Gone.

She moved on. The library. Oh, the thick warm afternoons, the old ochre West Africa. Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The smell of books simmering in the heat from the sunlit window. She smiled sadly, lost in the past, as a cold fall day sprang up all around her, as she walked the four walls, her hand running lightly over the empty cherry shelves. I'm sick. I have a cold. Grandma said I could stay home from school today. I'm wrapped in the old duck-print quilt in the Great Green Chair, and Grandma brings me a chicken salad sandwich. She could see her Grandma's kindly face like it was really there, all pink and scrubbed, and smiling, her aged hands soft and wrinkled as she handed the plate across. "This is Grandma's special recipe" she'd always said, "It's like medicine. It will make you all better."

But Grandma was dead, the cherry shelves lining all four walls were bare, and the Great Green Chair with its rows of shining brass tacks was sitting all alone in that warehouse now. "We'll come back for the books in a few years," Grandpa had said, "But until then we've got the edecs." As if an edec was any substitute for a real, honest book!

So the books had been hauled away, along with the Great Green Chair, French West Africa and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan - and everything else, too. Now, there was nothing left in the sweet-smelling old library but dust and a teenage girl and the memory of a chicken salad sandwich made with love so long ago.

Without knowing quite how, Robin Leslie found herself moving again, out the door and past the stairway and past the open door to the basement and into the kitchen where three plates, two mugs, a glass tumbler and a handful of forks sat on a sideboard next to a still-damp dishrag.

The screen door opened, closed with a bang and the truck wasn't there anymore. Han and Grandpa and the dogs had left without her.

She was alone.

After a minute or two spent staring at the matted grass where the truck had been, Robin Leslie walked quietly around the old farmhouse, along the fence, and out into the corral where the barn was. The grass felt cold and wet on her bare feet, but she ignored it. She put her hand on the scanning tile and went in.

There, in a nest of orange blown-foam packing, sat the Andersen family's robeast, its eight legs folded underneath its cream-colored body. The robeast raised its horns as she entered, the two paddle-like antennae attached to either side of its oval head tracking with her as she came into the barn proper. "It's me, TOTO," she said quietly, walking across the clean title floor of the barn to the yellow-painted crater where it sat. The huge LASSI unit's bulbous head began to shake slightly as it recognized its master, but it did not rise; Robin Leslie could see the cardboard tag of the big yellow lockout key hanging over the back of TOTO's head. As long as that key remained in place, the enormous cyborg was essentially paralyzed. A Leg Ambulation Semi-Sentient Implement like TOTO was slavishly loyal to its master - a loyalty born from genetic imprinting - but the few hundred grams of gene-modded canine brain tissue that served as the robeast's CPU was not capable of controlling the multi-ton body safely without human supervision. Hence the lockout key, cutting the link between the robeast's powerful biomechanical body and its simple, obedient mind.

TOTO clicked contentedly as Robin Leslie walked quietly up to it, its wide, peanut-shaped head nuzzling her hand as she patted it between its eyes. The shell of the robeast was smooth, warm, and slightly soft to the touch, its leatherlike polymer skin masking the bioceramic shell beneath. The two great eyes gazed innocently up at her, their delicate greengold retinas dazzling with reflected light beneath their hexmesh protective screens.

"They forgot about me, TOTO," said Robin Leslie, her voice choked with self-pity. "They forgot about me."

With sluggish fingers she found the nutrient and vitamin syringes, sank their silver tips through the self-sealing membrane circles marked on the side of TOTO's thorax, and injected the chemicals past the layers of polyskin and ceramic directly into the cyborg's biological core. Then she sank to the floor, suddenly weary beyond belief, the syringes dropping from her hand, her legs skidding beneath her in the soft foam snow of the nest, her head slumping to rest between the robeast's eyes.

She felt the telltale cloudiness of sleep coming upon her; I should call in, let them know where I am, she thought suddenly, but just as suddenly she knew she would not; her hand did not move to tug the phone stud in her right earlobe. As if anyone cared. She knew, of course, that somebody would care; the Family Andersen took care of its own, and when Han and Grandpa arrived back at the hotel in Tulsa without her, the alarm would be raised. The thought of her parents frantically searching for her on this of all nights gave her a syrupy feeling of vengeful pleasure. Let them suffer for once, she thought.

And then she thought no more, as sleep descended on her like a sudden squall, black and heavy. The last thing she saw was the fire extinguisher on the wall by the door, a red smear through a glaze of tired tears. Then she was asleep, her young form limp against the wide nose of the robeast, her breath coming slow and soft as TOTO clicked and purred contentedly to itself in the quiet of the barn.

"Robin Leslie?" said the voice. A violet shaking, then, more urgently, from right up close, the voice again. "Robin Leslie, wake up!" The voice moved farther away; she heard TOTO snuffle behind her. "Lucy, I found her! Don't just stand there in the door - help me get her up. Pony, will you run and tell my daddy we found Robin Leslie?"

Robin Leslie opened her eyes. Hovering before them was the face of her younger sister Catherine, her features bunched in concern. "You've been playing in the sun, Cathy," mumbled Robin Leslie sleepily. "Freckles on your nose."

In response, she got another shake, this time much stronger. "Wake up, Robin Leslie!" urged Cat. "It's already nine o' clock and you haven't even got the barn cleaned out yet!"

Nine o'clock! Sudden panic filled her brain. "Omigosh!" exclaimed Robin Leslie, sitting straight up. "But it can't be!" She looked at her wristband. Sure enough, the dial read nine, straight up. Frantically she looked around as she staggered upwards. She could see her younger cousin Pony standing at the barn door, her small-sized space coveralls shining in the morning sunlight as she stared confusedly at her cousins . Cathy helped Robin Leslie to stand. "Wha, what happened? How can it be tomorrow?" said Robin Leslie in a dazed voice. "I must have fallen asleep!"

Catherine Andersen rocked back on her heels, unconsciously tugging her wrinkled ship coveralls back into place in a ladylike fashion. "You did," she exclaimed, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger. "You were gone all night!" Cat's long fingers plucked nervously at Robin Leslie's disheveled clothes. "Are you okay? Are you sick? And look at you! All messy, with your shorts still on! What are we going to do if Dad catches you like this?"

"Prob'ly get a spanking," said a low voice from the door. The sisters turned to see a lanky, silhouetted form standing in the blinding glare of the open barn door. "That's what I'd rate, anyway." The silhouette disappeared, replaced by a tall, lean blonde girl with a black leather motorcycle jacket over her ship coveralls. "Of course that's if he catches you. You could always run away from home."

The tall girl strode over to where Robin Leslie and Cat stood. TOTO snuffed uncertainly as she approached.

"Hi, Lucy," said Robin Leslie dully.

"Yep," said Lucy Andersen nonchalantly, dusting off her jacketed shoulders with one gloved hand. "A spanking seems to be in order, all right. Staying out all night sure got me a few back at ol' St. Timothy's," she said. Her elegant brows arced downward over green eyes. "But then again, I'm not daddy's fairy princess, am I?"

"You take that back!" Cat glared at her older cousin with a fierce look. "Robin Leslie just fell asleep, that's all! It was an accident!" Her elegant fingers were now balled into tight fists as she stood her ground. "I'm sure Dad will understand."

"Ya think so, huh, Cathy? Well, it wouldn't be the first time you got a free pass, Robin Leslie," said Lucy brightly. "I guess some people just have the knack. For getting out of trouble, I mean." She winked conspiratorially. "I envy you, kid! It must be nice to have a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card." She walked around the two younger girls, pretended to inspect TOTO. The robeast shifted nervously in its nest, its rabbit-ear horns tracking her as she circled.

"I don't have any such thing," said Robin Leslie quietly. "I pay for my mistakes just like you do." Robin Leslie turned to look at her cousin. "And it's not my fault you don't have a father, Lucy, so shut up about the 'fairy princess' thing, okay?" Before she had even finished speaking those sorrowful words, Robin Leslie regretted saying them, but it was too late. Behind her, Robin Leslie heard Cat give an involuntary gasp.

Lucy stood, her broad back to the girls, but said nothing. Then she turned around and looked Robin Leslie straight in the eye. "I got over being adopted a long time ago, Bird," she said gently. "And I do have a dad, somewhere. It's a biological fact. A smart girl like you ought to know that."

The two cousins stood, staring at each other. Cat looked from one to the other, waiting for lightning to strike. Even TOTO was still.

"Here they are, Uncle Spooky!" Pony Andersen burst through the door, her brown curls flopping. "See, I told you! In the barn!" Pony stopped looked back and pointed as the light was blocked once more, this time by a tall, masculine form. Behind her diminutive eight-year-old cousin, Robin Leslie saw the wide shoulders of her father appear.

"Robin Leslie Andersen!" he said, the words booming like thunder. "Young lady, I ought to switch you!" It was The Voice, as Lucy called it, all right - a stentorian tone, heavy and deliberate, used by her father when ruling from the bench at the county courthouse, or when dispensing a more personal justice to his two daughters. Judge Casper Andersen walked over to Robin Leslie, his eyes scanning her for injury or pain, finding none. His huge hands gripped her shoulders. "Daughter, you have pulled some stunts before, but this beats all I've ever seen. And on the night before we leave!" His narrow blue eyes focused laserlike on Robin Leslie's. "Your mother was worried sick! What were you thinking?"

"I guess I wasn't, Father," said Robin Leslie, her eyes downcast. "I - I just went in the house for a minute, to look around and stuff, and when I came out, Hannie and Grandpa had gone. So I came in here to finish up with TOTO and, and I guess I just fell asleep. I'm sorry." Her voice was dull as she confessed. "Didn't Han wonder-?"

"They thought you'd left with Sharon," said Judge Andersen. "When you weren't at the hotel, we started looking for you. Didn't you get our call?" He tapped the phone stud in his daughter's right earlobe. "Your mother called at least a dozen times!"

"No, Father," said Robin Leslie truthfully. "My phone never rang."

"Here, give it to me," he replied brusquely, holding out his rough hand. Robin Leslie unpinned her phone stud and handed it to her father. He cupped his giant hand around it, then said, "Tap."

Robin Leslie tapped the phonestud, but instead of responding to its owner's fingerprint with the "ready" chirp of a live telephone link, it remained silent. "Again," he ordered, but the button-sized telephone did not stir.

Judge Andersen held the phonestud up to the light and squeezed its rim. The tiny Bell System logo on the phone's enameled face remained unlit. "Dead power cell." he muttered. "Well, I can't blame you for that, I guess. Still, to just...disappear...like that. It's irresponsible." He looked around a bit, then resumed his gaze at his daughter. "I don't have time to punish you today, Robin Leslie..."

"'Get out of jail free-ee,'" hummed Lucy softly, hidden from her uncle's view by the LASSI unit's bulk.

"...but later, you'll have to pay for this. Did you have something to add, Lucille?"

"No sir," came the earnest reply. " I was just talking to old TOTO, here."

"Well, I suggest you whisper next time, Lucy, or I might be forced to tell your mother about her daughter's smart mouth." He turned to Cat. "Cathy, will you help Robin Leslie for me?", he said in a kinder tone. "Run over to the van and get out her shipsuit and coverall ready. Robin Leslie, I want TOTO configured for transport and on that ramp in ten minutes, understand?" His normal speaking voice was back.

"Yes, Father," said Robin Leslie softly. "I understand."

'Good," he said, his demeanor changing instantly to one of good cheer. "Come on, Pony, let's go find you a hot chocolate and me a hot coffee." Sweeping the little girl over his coveralled shoulder, bag-fashion, he strode merrily out the door. As they walked away, Robin Leslie could see the grinning mouth of her younger cousin forming the silent words YOU'RE IN TROUBLE. Pony was so cute that Robin Leslie couldn't help but smile. "And call your mother!" her father yelled as he walked through the door.

"Yeah! Call your mom!" added Pony with a giggle.

"How come he smiles when he's talking to Pony, but uses the Voice on me?" wondered Robin Leslie gloomily.

"I don't know," said Cathy. "I guess Pony's too young for the Voice."

"And what about my 'smart mouth?'" asked Lucy cheerfully, peeking around from behind TOTO's head. "Oh, don't get me wrong - I like it! No one ever called any part of me 'smart' before." She strode back to where the two sisters were and stood looking down on them, arms akimbo. "Anyway, I gotta go load my bikes onto the truck back to town. See ya on the ramp, 'princess'!" She poinked Robin Leslie gently on the nose in a display of mock endearment, then turned strutted out into the morning sun without looking back.

Robin Leslie watched her leave, then sighed. "Cat, can I borrow your phone?" asked she asked. "Mine's out of juice, and I don't wanna link through my edec." Ordinary wireless phone service was byte-for-byte cheaper than a high-bandwidth edec commlink, and Robin Leslie had been warned not to use her pocket unit for casual conversation.

"Sure," replied her sister, unclipping her own phonestud and activating it with a touch. "Phone: Call mother," she said into the enameled button, which chirped in the affirmative. "Here, Bird."

"Catherine? What is it?" The warm, slightly nasal voice of Dr. Carolyn Andersen spoke up from the phonestud. "Did you find Robin Leslie?"

"It's me, mother," said Robin Leslie, "I'm using Cathy's phone - mine ran out of juice. I'm fine. I just fell asleep in the barn here with TOTO last night."

"Sleeping in the barn? Robin Leslie, what am I going to do with you?" Her mother's tone was sharp, but not unpleasant - that of a cross but loving grammar school teacher. "And on the night before we leave. What possessed you to do that?"

"Dunno," mumbled Robin Leslie.

"Well, I'm sure your father will have a few choice words," her mother sighed ruefully. He already did, thought Robin Leslie with a mental wince. "Is TOTO ready?" finished her mother.

"Yes, ma'am," she replied. "I was in here giving him his final preflight vitamin series when I conked out. He's ready; all I have to do is walk him over to the ship." As she spoke, Cathy gave a silent high sign and left for the van. "Okay, Cathy, I'll be right here," said Robin Leslie, turning to inspect TOTO as she talked. "No, mom, just talking to Cathy. I'm going to hang up now and get him going."

"Okay, honey," said Mrs. Andersen. "I'll see you at Number Three in five minutes." Her voice softened. "Sweetheart, I know this is hard for you. Try not to feel so down today, okay?"

"Okay, mom. See you in five. 'Bye." In fact, Robin Leslie did not feel particularly badly; now that the sun was up and The Day was finally here, the big move seemed almost exciting, like a great adventure about to begin. Which I guess it is, she thought. After all, it's not every day my family and I take off for the Moon. Clipping her sister's phonestud into her own right earlobe, she began inspecting TOTO's limbs and joints, preparing him for full activation. As she worked, she hummed a little German tune.

Just then, Cathy tromped through the door carrying the, thick, high-collared white unitard that was Robin Leslie's shipsuit. "Sorry, I left your boots and overalls. I got in too big of a hurry," she explained breathlessly, handing the garment over to Robin Leslie. "But I'll go back."

Robin Leslie took the proffered garments from her sister and began slipping off her playclothes. "That's okay, Cathy," she said warmly, stepping into the snug shipsuit and feeling it constrict around her. "I've got to walk TOTO that way anyhow. I'll give you a ride." Cathy's smile told Robin Leslie that this was acceptable. "Ready to go, TOTO?" she asked happily, as she drew on the duck boots without tying them. With a final tug to the left boot, she stood up and turned to the robeast.

"Ummm!" said TOTO, his eartennae wagging excitedly.

"Okay, Cathy, up you go." Hands basket-linked, she gave her younger sister a boost onto TOTO's broad back, then put her own foot on his foreleg kneecap and hoisted herself up. Easing her legs and seat into the the narrow cockpit at the front of the cyborg's thorax, she settled herself down until only her upper body was clear, then pulled the lock harness over her shoulders. The tiny instrument panel on the back of TOTO's head lit up as the harness clicked home.

"Okay up there, Sis?" she asked, craning her neck around to look at Cathy in the jumpseat atop TOTO's abdomen behind her. "Check," said Cat happily, bringing the jumpseat's lap bar over her middle. "Let's go!"

"Okay, then," said Robin Leslie. She flicked her eyes over TOTO's readouts, then reached forward and pulled the lockout key from its socket on the back of his head. Immediately, the great body beneath her began to stir, its artificial musculature clacking and whirring into life as the robeast's brain reconnected with its biomechanical corpus. She grabbed the reins, making sure she had a good five-finger contact with each hand on the springy foam-covered loop, and pulled. "Up, TOTO!" she said, bringing the reins towards her the slightest bit.

"Umm!" said TOTO, his six spiderlike legs slowly unfolding from beneath him with a ceramic clack. With a lurch, the robeast stood up, scattering orange foam pellets everywhere, bobbling the two girls around like candy jelly.

"Ready, Cat?" asked Robin Leslie, thrilled as always at the sheer power of her cybernetic charge.

"Ready," replied Cathy happily.

"Then let's go. Come on, boy!" she said, flicking the reins to the left.

With a clatter of ceramic on cool tile, TOTO rose from his crater-like nest and crawled across the floor to the barn door, the rubber shoes on the tips of each leg squeaking a bit as he walked towards the back exit. "Woops, forgot about that," she said as the barn doors came closer. She leaned forward and spoke to her mount. "TOTO, give me master arms." Immediately the two articulated ceramic control arms sprang from their pockets on either side of the cockpit. Robin Leslie slithered her own arms deftly inside of the cold, hollow, mechanical limbs, then hit the foot switch and reached forward. The cyborg's forelegs - a pair of waldoes, jointed and servoed to match the range of motion of a human arm - unfolded from their stowed position beneath the robeast's head and reached forward as well, moving smoothly toward the control tile set on the wall next to the doors, reproducing the motions of Robin Leslie's own arms as she moved them. As the right-side waldo made contact, Robin Leslie felt the grasper at the end of the slave arm touch the hard, unyielding surface of the door tile, the pressure wave being transmitted through the master arm's tactile interface to her skin. Letting up on the foot switch, she grasped the reins again and brought TOTO to a halt, then stepped down on it once more and tapped the tile with the grasper's three rubber-covered fingers. The barn doors slid open, and TOTO walked forward into the pasture, carrying the two sisters with him into the bright sunshine.

The girls rode along the fence to the gate, then stopped. "TOTO, kneel," said Robin Leslie, pulling down on the reins. The robeast knelt, touching his underbelly to the ground. "Cat, you want to run get my stuff?". Cathy unlocked the safety bar and slid down TOTO's rounded side, landing on her hands and feet on the damp ground. "Eww! Muddy," she exclaimed, brushing at the sticky soil that clung to her palms. "Are you gonna wait for me or should I meet you out there?" she asked.

"I really need to get TOTO on the ramp," said her sister apologetically. "Do you mind running them out to me?"

"That's okay," said another voice. The two sisters turned to find another girl about their own age just coming through the gate. "I'll take 'em out if you don't wanna, Cathy. Hiya, Bird!" The newcomer waved, her short brown hair, merry brown eyes and mischievous expression lending her an air of elfin good cheer. "Are you just now getting up?" she asked, Robin Leslie, patting at her shipsuit and overalls. "You're not in uniform!"

"I left her boots and overalls in the trailer, Patty," said Cathy. "But I'll go get 'em. Be right back." She took off at a trot.

"Hi, Patty," said Robin Leslie. "I, uh, accidentally fell asleep in the barn last night while I was getting TOTO here ready to go. Cathy's helping me out today with the uniform. You wanna help me get this monster into Zero One, cousin?" she asked.

Patty Andersen nodded. "Why not? I feel so useless today, it'll be nice to do some work. I'm not used to being free during daytime!" They both smiled at that. Patty worked at her grandparent's Japanese restaurant in Coldwater and was usually hard at work steaming rice and chopping fish by the time the sun came up; to see her in broad daylight like this was indeed unusual. "Where are Oji'i-san and Oba'a-san?" asked Robin Leslie, using the Japanese words for Patty's grandfather and grandmother. "Are they coming to the party tonight?"

"Yeah, but you know how it is," replied Patty. "The store's open today, and they gotta be there. Plus, with me gone, they're having to train that new kid." She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Talk about a learning curve! He's a farm boy from the sticks. The poor sap doesn't know one end of a fish from another, and can't speak English, either."

"Just Japanese, huh?"

"No, Spanish. He's from Mexico." Patty leaned up against TOTO and crossed her arms. "I feel sorry for him, " she said, shaking her head wearily. "I was a hick from the sticks once, too. Still am, for that matter, but at least I can get around in Japanese. Rey's a smart kid, but Oji'i-san only speaks Japanese in the kitchen, and it's going to be a train wreck when the first lunch rush hits. The customers will be lucky not to get fish heads with floor sweepings instead of futomaki. Oh, Cathy, here you are," she said, as her cousin let herself through the gate, this time carrying the missing overalls and boots. "I would have gotten that stuff for ya."

"That's all right, Patty," said Cat breathlessly as she passed the boots up to Robin Leslie. "I like running today. It'll be a long time before I have the chance to do it again."

A dark cloud of pain passed over Robin Leslie, but she ignored it. "Thanks, Cat! I'll change in the ship," she replied, stuffing the garments into the cockpit between her feet and trying hard not to think about what Cathy had just said. "Come on up. You've earned your gold star for the day. Want a ride out, anyway, Patty?"

"Suits me just fine," said Patty, giving TOTO an affectionate stroke between the eyes. "I love this big fella. Yes, you're a great big fella, aren't ya, boy?" she asked the robeast. "Aren't ya?" TOTO snuffed happily in the affirmative as Patty positioned herself near a slave arm. "Ready when you are, Birdie," she called.

"You in, Cat? Okay, Patty, here we go." Using the robeast's right-side manipulator, Robin Leslie gently picked up her cousin and sat her in the crook of the other slave arm, then let off the foot pedal, locking the waldoes in place. "All settled in?" she asked.

"Okay back here, Sis!" said Cat.

"Wagons, ho!" saud Patty.

"Cool. Come on, TOTO, stand." She tugged on the reins; TOTO rose to his feet with a grunt. Then, with another flick of the reins, TOTO began to crawl, moving steadily through the tall grass with the three Andersens bobbing atop him.

It was all great fun. The cool wind was just the right temperature, keeping the morning heat of the bright Oklahoma sun at bay as the cyborg carried them across the field. It's as if God air-conditioned the whole world today, thought Robin Leslie. The tall grass parted before them like a whispering yellow sea, the sky was cerulean and full of clouds, and the wind whipping through her tousling hair smelled like hay and clover. She glanced back at her younger sister with a smile. "Isn't this great?" she asked happily. Cat nodded, her own smile easy and sincere. Robin Leslie turned back to keep an eye on their path ahead as the three white spaceships got closer and closer. This is so wonderful, she thought. I wish I could save this moment forever.

"Come on, cousin! Let's have some speed!" urged Patty from her perch between TOTO's eyes. "The poor thing's going to be cooped up for two weeks! Let him run a little!" She pumped her arms joyously as TOTO's stride increased. "Whe-ooo!" she yelled. "That's more like it! Let 'er rip, TOTO!" At Robin Leslie's urging, the cyborg increased his pace, changing from a steady crawl to a loping, six-legged gallop. From down front Patty cut loose with a rebel yell. "Yaaaah-hoo!" she chortled as the robeast cut a path through the hayfield. "We're really movin' now!"

NEXT: THE GOING-AWAY PARTY

©2000 Bruce Lewis. All Rights Reserved.