Damaged Goods

Chapter 3 Prologue

by Dr. Seth


"Birthday Bash" is one of my favorite episodes of all time; therefore I refuse to try to rework it. Well, if I could change one thing, I would probably make Naard just as smart as Emmet, just because I'm sick of seeing groaning, grunting, stupid, large things. This, obviously, is an addendum to that episode. Yay!

And with a golden, swirling rush of wind, the conglomeration of Emmet, Naard, dairy truck, and spaceship vanished back to the dimension, planet, whatever they came from. Duane could relax for a moment, as Rusty and Jeffy celebrated with shouts of adoration. His thoughts immediately snapped back to Darlene, who had been fused with the house. Was she just fused with the wall, or was she connected to the entire house? If so, did the house's internal wiring serve as her organs? He hoped not, seeing as how the house had been ripped from its foundation and dropped into a cow pasture. How long could Darlene survive in her present state? Was it too late? There was one person who could possibly know.

"Doc, I need you to...." Duane was caught off guard. The monitor that had once showed Dr. Slate was now empty. "Doc?" Where had she gone? How long had she been gone? He panicked, slightly. His faith in himself faltered; sure, he could grapple with basic technology (all right, more than basic) but this piece of alien hardware was well beyond his expertise, whereas Dr. Slate had been reverse-engineering alien technology for a while.

"What about mommy?" Jeffy had suddenly halted his celebratory cacophony and began to sniffle.

"Don't worry, son!" Big Guy tried to reassure him. "We'll have this whole mess straightened out in a jiff!" Jeffy seemed to cheer up, at least a little, and plopped down in the grass at Big Guy's feet. "You know, how did this whole mess get started anyways?" Big Guy turned to Rusty, who instantly crumpled with shame.

"It was an accident." He dug his toe into the earth, in a hangdog gesture. "I was trying to get Jeffy a really cool present, for his birthday, and I asked Dr. Slate for some money, and she gave me this quarter, and I saw Dr. Patterson get some stuff out of a machine with a quarter, so I went and tried to see if there was anything really really cool...and...." Rusty's ramble started to slow as he retraced his path, landing on his mistake. " I think I went into the secret room that Dr. Donovan told me not to go into...You know, with the special secret stuff. I'm sorry."

"Dr. Slate needs to supervise you a little better," Big Guy rumbled in disapproval. Inside, Duane had found Dr. Slate by tracer, and was happy to note that she had been on the move for a while, and was fast approaching. A few moments later, a helicopter appeared in the sky, piloted by a Quark lackey with Dr. Slate riding shotgun. It had barely settled on the ground before she leapt out and marched over to the two robots and the little boy.

"All right, let me see the igglomerator," she demanded, immediately getting down to business.

"The thing's a little too small for my fingers, ma'am," Big Guy said, leaning down to hand her the tiny pear-shaped object. She studied it intensely, as they each looked on in silence. Even the Quark pilot had shut the chopper off and joined the group. After 20 minutes of tense concentration, she abruptly snapped up and marched into the half-ruined house. There was a bright flash, then another moment of silence. Rusty put his hand reassuringly on Jeffy's shoulder. Duane could feel every muscle in his body contract in anticipation. Swiftly, the clouds of doubt cleared from Jeffy's face.

"Mommy!" he cried, little pearl-like tears cascading from his wide blue eyes. Darlene staggered forth from the doorway, almost knocked over when Jeffy rushed to hug her and fiercely latched onto her. Dr. Slate was close behind her, a smug expression settled into her features, obviously satisfied at a job well done.

"Well! What was that all about?" Darlene groaned, clutching her head.

"You were the wall!" Jeffy cried, as attached to her leg as a barnacle on Mack's back. Believe me, he's attached.

"I don't even remember!" she said, comforting him. Aside from being slightly disoriented, she seemed in perfect health for someone who was fused with a wall. "Well, I certainly owe a lot to Mr. Big Guy, and your little robot friend."

"We did the grunt work, and Dr. Slate here did the science," Big Guy boomed. Darlene turned to smile at the small scientist who was clutching the strange device.

"It was quite simple, really," Dr. Slate began. "You see, by observation I noted that the matter was being transfused by the process of cell-subversion mono- configuration, so by finding a way to reverse the polarity of the Brundle matrix I could...."

"Thank you," Darlene cut her off.

"All in a day's work," Dr. Slate replied.

"Can they stay for cake, mom?" Jeffy looked to his mother for approval.

"Sure," she agreed.

"Thanks for the offer, but actually, we've got two scientists back at Quark who need this thing back so they can...unglue themselves," Dr. Slate politely refused and had begun walking back to the helicopter when the young pilot intercepted her.

"It would be a shame to miss out on the party here. If you tell me how to work this thing, I can always get it back to Quark, so you can enjoy yourself, and get a little time off," he offered. She considered this for a few moments; wouldn't it be just too interesting to socialize with Duane's sister, and maybe embarrass him for a bit?

"Well, perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad idea, if it's all right with them." She looked to Darlene, who nodded her approval. With a delicious joy she could barely conceal, Dr. Slate instructed the pilot about the igglomerator's functions, then sent him off.

"Why don't we get the folding chairs from the garage, or what's left of it, and have a little picnic?" Darlene suggested. Jeffy grabbed Rusty and ran to the wrecked garage and extracted folding chairs while Darlene retreated inside to retrieve the cake. Dr. Slate peered up at Big Guy's red eyes for a moment, and Duane caught sight of something very disturbing... There it was- the craftiest, most devious smile, so very subtle, but nonetheless present! What was she up to? Jeffy and Rusty reappeared and set up the table and chairs. As they finished their assembly, Darlene reappeared with a slightly damaged homemade vanilla cake, covered in white frosting and the words "happy birthday Jeffy!" scrawled in thin, blue icing.

"Who wants cake?" she said, setting it on the table.

"I do, I do!!!" Jeffy screamed and squirmed enthusiastically at his mother's heels. "Wet me cut it, mom, pweeeeeeze!!!"

"Okay, honey." She held her hand over his as he gripped the knife and cut out little pieces of birthday cake. "We have to serve the guests first, sweetheart, so take these pieces over to Dr. Slate and Rusty." She deposited the first two slices on two paper plates, and Jeffy obediently gave them to his friend and the little robot's creator.

"Thank you -- Jeffy, is it?" Dr. Slate said as he handed her the cake.

"Yoo welcome!" he cheerfully replied with an adorable speech impediment. Dr. Slate hated to admit it, but Jeffy was terribly cute. How could Duane ever be related to this precious cherub, or his mother, for that matter?

Darlene obviously got the tall, glamorous genes of the family, evident by the graceful way she carried herself on her long, gazelle-like legs. She had a face like a scheming pixie, with rosy cheeks and cupid-bow lips that twisted mischievously between deep dimples. Her hair framed her face like an auburn nimbus (though Dr. Slate suspected it was artificially colored) and it was fashioned into very modern curls and waves, perfectly pinned into an alluring coif that was still perfectly in place, despite the trauma she suffered earlier. Immovable hair must run in the family, Dr. Slate smirked; sparkling green eyes seemed to be part of the package as well. Dr. Slate went on to note she was dressed in a very stylish way with a simple light pink shirt tucked into pressed grey clamdiggers, like Dr. Slate had seen on the front of so many home-and-garden type magazines. Darlene resembled some sort of housewife supermodel; she was the very picture of the ideal contemporary woman. "We have all the human and human-sized guests taken care of..." She looked up at Big Guy pondering how to serve the gigantic robot in her yard.

Duane thought it would the perfect time to excuse his alter ego. "Maybe I should get back to base. After all, frosting gums up my servos." Big Guy patted the area where his stomach should be, but which in fact contained a little nervous man.

"Aw, my unka Doo-wayne could fix you up! He's the best mechanic ever!" Jeffy exclaimed. Oh, that kid was manipulatively cute....

"Jeffy, you've got to learn how to talk to robots; they've got the Three Laws, you know." Dr. Slate advised. She rose from the table, and then cleared her throat. "Big Guy, I order you to sit and stay for cake!" She almost couldn't suppress the giggles this situation brought out.

"Yes, ma'am." Big Guy obliged. Duane cursed the Three Laws as he settled the huge robot into a sitting position in the field. This was turning out to be a very surreal weekend.

"Wow, neet." Jeffy said in awe. "Can I make wobots do anything?" he asked.

"As long as it won't hurt humans." Dr. Slate said. During this time, Darlene had once again gone inside the house and came back with a huge platter and a gigantic serving fork.

"These should do!" she said, loading a mammoth slab of cake onto the platter. "Here ya go, big fella!" She offered up the cake like a sacrifice to King Kong.

"Thank you, ma'am" Big Guy replied, trying to grasp the objects in his fingers. This was truly one of the most difficult things Duane had ever attempted inside of the big robot; the plate and the fork were large for humans, but still rather small compared to Big Guy's hands. He had to be very precise and nimble to handle them. He sort of wondered how he was going to feed Big Guy. Rusty was built to contain food if the need arose, but Big Guy had no need for social eating, and was therefore built without any storage containers. He decided just to scoop it towards the mouth region, just to keep them happy. He quivered with longing as he saw the first forkful mash uselessly against the faceplate. He had prepared for weeks for this chunk of cake, and now it was going to waste. The cook back on the Dark Horse had engineered his diet just right so he would be able to allow for a massive intake of sweets. Duane remembered the list of ingredients that Darlene had given him so the cook could compensate for the sweets: Mmm, sweet cream butter, cream cheese frosting, sugar and whole milk, vanilla -- teaspoons of it! And here it was, dribbling down the front of this stupid robot's face while Duane could only drool on his knees with cake lust. Darlene's homemade cakes were something he never wanted to miss. Maybe later he could console himself by rolling a stick of butter around in some sugar and eating it, but it just wouldn't be the same! He shuddered with contempt that he was trapped in ten tons of titanium and steel, away from his nephew, his sister, and his cake!!!

"It's been some day, hasn't it?" Darlene leaned back in her chair and began to pick at her cake.

"I'm really sorry about the whole mess Rusty caused," Dr. Slate apologized earnestly. "I'm sure Quark will be willing to rebuild your house!"

"Actually, Uncle Sam picks up the tab for this kind of damage!" Big Guy interjected. "I'm sure Gen. Thornton will have his boys working on your place in no time!"

"Speaking of the military," Darlene licked a bit of icing from her finger. "Where's my flyboy brother?"

Finally! They had noticed he was missing!

"He's back on the U. S. S. Dark Horse, ma'am! He has to stay on base while I'm on duty! If you'll permit, I can go back and get him." Big Guy said enthusiastically.

"Nah. I guess it's a long trip." Darlene shrugged. "The poor baby needs a day off anyways; he can just spend it relaxing instead of having to haul himself all the way back out to the countryside."

"What?! Aw, c'mon!!!" Duane slapped the monitor in frustration. Then, Darlene's face suddenly changed. It took on a more devilish, naughty smile. Duane knew what was coming next...He'd seen it a million times before.

"Have you met my brother Duane?" Darlene turned to Dr. Slate with an impish twinkle in her eye. "You know, he's a wonderful guy, and I'm sure you two would just get along great!" At the word 'great', her nose wrinkled in a darling manner that only Duane knew meant she smelled matrimony! He stopped spooning cake and stared in wide-eyed dread.

"Oh, yes, Lt. Hunter. We have met, actually. I work with him from time to time on Big Guy projects." Dr. Slate casually stirred a piece of cake in a puddle of icing.

"Mr. Lieutenant Duane is sort of nice...Sometimes, he lets me talk to Big Guy when he's in power down mode. He can be sort of crabby, though," Rusty said through a mouthful of vanilla cake.

"Unka Doo-wayne is never cwabby with me!" Jeffy said, surprised. "He's the coowest guy ever! He wets me pway in his jet sometimes, and he buys me pwesents, and he wets me sawute the ceiwing!" Jeffy threw his palms up in the air, as he did whenever Duane thrust him towards the ceiling.

"He's really a swell guy, doncha think?" Darlene waited expectantly for Dr. Slate's reply, like a cat waits for a mouse to exit its hole.

"Well, I don't really get to see him outside of business..." Dr. Slate said. "I would like to get to know him a little better, but we're always so busy we never get to talk! Why don't you tell me more about him?" She leaned in closer, expecting to get an earful of dirt on Duane.

"Gee, that's a real shame, you know? I'll tell you what -- as soon as the army gets done with my new house, you and Duane can come over and help me break the new place in! I'll fix us a nice beef stew, and you can bring Rusty back so he can play with Jeffy some more." Darlene locked her eyes to Dr. Slate's, ready to force her into another date if she should refuse this one. Dr. Slate was completely taken aback, and was momentarily speechless.

"This isn't turning out like you expected, is it?" Duane chided her figure on screen. She probably thought Darlene was going to just chitchat and dig out some naked baby pictures, not set her up on a date!

"Did you hear that?" Jeffy grabbed Rusty's hands. "Mom says you can come back again!"

"Awesome!" Rusty giggled. They ran around in little circles between Big Guy's feet.

"Can Big Guy come back too, mom?" Jeffy called.

"No, I'm sorry sweetheart. Remember what the Big Man said? If we want Uncle Duane to come, Big Guy has to stay home. No offense, Mr. Big Guy," Darlene answered.

"None taken." He replied.

"Sowwy, Big Guy!" Jeffy tried to clamber up to his knee. Big Guy scooped him delicately in his gigantic hand.

"It's all right, little partner," Big Guy said, turning his head to stare at him. Rusty flew up to his shoulder and perched there, banging his heels against Big Guy's chest, which started a little migraine in the corners of Duane's temples.

"We can all play together another time. Me, you, Jeffy, and maybe Mr. Lieutenant Duane, if he feels like it...." Rusty added with a grin.

"Is it ok for the children to play on that robot like that?" Darlene whispered, leaning into Dr. Slate.

"Oh, it's perfectly safe. Robots are equipped with the Three Laws, the first one being to protect humans at all costs. It's the strongest law," she reassured her.

Darlene nodded and leaned back again, regaining her mischievous twinkle. "So whadya say? A nice evening with the kids at the new place?" she asked.

"Well, actually...." Dr. Slate began.

"Mmm-hmmm?" Darlene could compensate for anything in a flash. Duane tried to pay attention to the children climbing all over his metal exterior, but was mildly amused by watching Dr. Slate try to fend off his sister's matchmaking.

"I'm not entirely devout, but I am actually Hindu, so I don't eat beef," she explained.

"Hindu, huh? So that makes you...."

"I'm originally from India. My mom's Indian, and my dad's Cuban," Dr. Slate said.

"My, what a fascinating background you have!" Darlene exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "Duane got to go to India once, through the military. You guys can compare notes at the dinner! So, do you eat turkey? I make a killer turkey!" she needled further. Dr. Slate had no choice at this point but to cave in.

"Okay, fair enough." Then she added, "But it's not a date!"

"Of course not!" Darlene grinned from ear to ear. What had she gotten them into?

On to Chapter 3, part 1!

Back to chapter 2b

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