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You Just Missed Her

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He cautiously squeezed a tomato, just waiting for it to ooze over his hand. When it didn't, he stuffed it into a bag. And through the rest of that time, he wondered why he just didn't make a beer and hot-dog run. Joel, surely, wouldn't mind.

Mike Nelson shook his head, silently, as he moved on to the celery. Gypsy wouldn't want that; she had worked her...well, tube...off to make sure that ConGypsCo could live without her for a weekend, and she was counting on making up a fancy non-hampered-by-space-travel dinner. It was the first time the whole family would be together. Funny, how he thought of all of them as his family: the four robots, that is. Joel, he didn't quite get, but carried a sense of respect for.

He glanced again at the list Gypsy had made out for him; relieved to notice that it was complete, he strolled across the supermarket and joined the shortest checkout line. (Only when he looked up did he realize that the person in front of him had over two carts worth of food; his luck continued).

Within a few minutes of joining the line, he felt something bump into his back. He turned, ready to apologize, only to realize that the bumper was familiar...very familiar.

"Pearl?" He asked, his voice genial.

Blue-rimmed eyes dignified his voice, rising up from a copy of the Inquirer. Surprise showed up on her face, as though she hadn't recognized his voice, but knew his face. "Mike Nelson!"

They shared an awkward laugh.

"So, what brings you to Minneapolis?"

"We live here now," Mike said, "Had to move, mostly because the neighbors kept complaining about how loudly Tom and Crow play dog and bear..."

"Ahh," Pearl said, though she didn't sound truly interested.

"Anyway, I got a job with Hackenshmit Temp...they say they like the way I file..." The more Mike spoke about himself, the more Pearl seemed to drift off. He glanced over his shoulder; the line wasn't moving. In desperation, he asked Pearl, "So, what are you doin' in Minnesota? I thought you were going to be some high muckety-muck in some foreign country somewhere."

"Ohh...well, Quatar had a very complex political...economic...crap." She rambled.

"They overthrew you, didn't they?" Mike asked, as they laughed once again.

"Yep." Pearl admitted. "Threw me right over for some jerk calling himself The Master...I'm lucky I escaped with my life." They shared another false, awkward laugh.

"Yeah," Mike finished laughing, "Yeah." They lapsed into silence. Their line promptly moved forward, leaving Mike enough room to place his groceries down.

"Do you mind if I go first?" Pearl asked, "Brain Guy complains that when I do the shopping..."

"Brain Guy moved back in with you?" Mike asked, not moving into the gap the previous shopper had left, "I thought he had...stuff..to do."

"Yeah...he didn't have anything going, either. I made him my Chief Advisor for the whole Quatar deal, but for some reason my 'people' were all grossed out by his exposed brain thing."

"So you kept him on because of your sense of loyalty?"

"No, he quit because of 'creative differences'."

"You put him in an iron maiden."

"Yeah, but then that whole Revolution went down...By the way, didn't you see me on TV? They blew up the presidential palace...I was the one in rouge screaming for divine justice to be levied on the heads of these savages?"

"We did," Mike lied, figuring to himself that they had just skipped the news that night in favor of a Sandy Frank marathon on KTMA. "We were the ones laughing in delight at your getting just deserts."

"Ahh...good times talking to you, Nelson, good times." Pearl returned.

"Hey, jerk! Move it!" a large, gruff-looking man standing behind Pearl demanded.

"Look, Buster, nobody talks to the dictator of Quatar that way..." Pearl snapped.

"Quatar?! What in Sam Hill is a Quatar?" The man asked, wrinkling his nose.

"You wouldn't dare speak to me like this; I'd have your head...if we were in Quatar...or I had my omnipotent assistant with me...Or had you stuck on a satellite in space..."

"Lady, are you feeling OK?" the guy, obviously not believing a single word coming from Pearl's mouth, queried.

Pearl sighed, shaking her head, "Yeah, I'm fine."

"Besides, I wasn't talking to you; I was talking to the goofy blond kid in front of ya.."

"Sorry, Sir," Mike was already settling his groceries down, "I'm doing it..."

Pearl glowered, not at all enjoying the sound of someone bossing around her ex-captive. She satisfied herself with an elbow to the ribs of the loudmouth.

Mike checked out, paying off the cashier. As he bagged his groceries, stowing them back in his carriage, he watched Pearl check out. The amount of food she was in the process of purchasing surprised him; all of the fixings for a Mexican feast...two turkeys...a ham.

"BoBo's living with you, too?" He asked, stuffing one last bag in his carriage.

"They were poking him with a shock stick in that zoo, Mike." She, with the assistance of a checkout
girl, began packing her groceries into paper sacks, "And you know no one but me shocks my monkey."

Mike laughed in acknowledgment, once more; and they agreed that they'd "see each other around", but he knew this would be the last time he ever met Pearl Forester in his lifetime.

Still, something compelled him to linger in the parking lot, stacking his food in a more orderly manner into his Bug than normal. From the corner of his eye, he watched Pearl trot confidently out, pushing a carriage to the Widowmaker of Doom and loading her groceries in.

Mike stepped into his bug, strapping on a safety belt before heading out of the lot. He didn't spare Pearl another look, firmly locking the negative aspects of his captivity back where it belonged; in the past.

Pearl, however, focused her gaze right on that Bug, pretending to apply some lipstick to her already-blood-red lips. She thought about chasing after it, but what was the use? Clayton's experiment had failed, and was as dead and buried as Thor Mikel's career...but had succeeded, somehow, in a strange way she never would understand. Like Ed Wood, the poor fool.

"Screw it," She said to herself, smiling bittersweetly. She gunned the motor, feeling the WMOD slide into gear. At home, her monkey and Brain Guy waited for her.

Mike would never have to know that there had never been a Quatar.