Thanks for the feedback so far. Even if this particular piece of fanfiction has grown far beyond what I originally intended, I am somewhat enjoying myself. After all, can I claim that I'm suffering from insanity if I'm having fun with it?

Time for a certain individual to return to the land of the living. I hope you enjoy.

Drifting between true consciousness and unconsciousness felt too perfect. Waking up never seemed so hard. He was generally eager to get up in the morning and head out to his job. After all, Inspector Gadget was never off duty. Crime never slept, so he needed to always be prepared. But he was really having trouble this time trying to return to consciousness. He momentarily contemplated just going back to sleep for just a few more minutes. He could probably still make it on time and even if he was just a little late, Chief Quimby would likely understand and only yell about it a little. After what just happened, he'd…

What did just happen? His brain felt like it was made of wet cement and trying to dig through it for information was almost too much effort, but he was fairly certain something major occurred. And bad. Maybe whatever it was that happened was connected to why it felt so difficult to force himself awake. He'd have to mentally retrace his steps a little to figure things out and the only way to do that would be to plow through thick and heavy mess clogging his thoughts.

There was something about Sophie. Did he go visit her? That sounded about right. He remembered her and Frank. They were at her lab. They needed to tell him something. Something important and potentially dangerous. Right? That sounded sort of right. He couldn't really tell though and trying to recall was giving him a headache. Maybe if he just rested a few more minutes…

No, he needed to wake up and figure out what happened. The more he struggled against the vague uncertain memories of what was going on, the more it became obvious that sleep wasn't the answer. He couldn't remember what happened concerning his sister when he visited her and he wasn't usually that forgetful. Not to mention a sense of dread that was slowly creeping up on him. Whatever happened wasn't good. He needed to wake up properly and drag his mind out of the sluggish muck clogging up his thoughts. Besides, the sooner he figured this out, the sooner he could get back to his job. Someone had to stop MAD…

Wait, there was something about MAD. He remembered Frank mentioning it. Why would he be talking about them? Did something happen or someone say something to them about the group? If he and Sophie heard that name, that almost guaranteed trouble. That thought was enough to force him to completely reject further rest as an option.

Struggling towards full consciousness was a surprisingly difficult uphill battle. He far preferred this vague state of semi-awareness where it seemed so simple to slip back into slumber. Waking up was harder. It might make it easier to think, but it was also increasing that slight headache…

Actually, his head wasn't the only thing aching. His chest felt pounded, like the time he was trampled by goats at the petting zoo as a kid. Only worse. And everything felt so heavy. The idea of raising his head seemed impossible. And even though he felt exhausted, the heaviness was not just because he was tired. He felt weighed down by his own body, trapped by something unexplainable and strange. Nothing seemed right.

Why would he feel so tired, pounded, and like everything weighed a ton? Why did he have this growing concern about his sister and her husband's safety? Why did he remember Frank mentioning MAD? What happened to him?

When he first tried opening his eyes, he was immediately forced to shut them against the bright light above him. His second attempt worked a little better and he got a glimpse of an unfamiliar white ceiling. As he tried to make sense of his strange surroundings, he realized that there was a soft beeping sound close by. In fact, the sound had apparently been going on for quite some time and he'd not noticed the background noise until now. It was probably best since the beeping wasn't really helping his headache. Though, something told him that the pain in his head, throughout his chest, and the general aching across his body should be far worse.

Still trying to get his bearings, he shifted his eyes slightly to the side and caught sight of a number of machines and wires leading from them towards him. While initially this only served to further his confusion, he finally worked his way past the disorienting sluggish thoughts in his head enough for understanding to dawn on him properly. He was lying in a strange white room, hooked up to several machines, and feeling like he hit his head harder than usual. Those facts added up to one simple conclusion: he was in a hospital for some reason. He didn't know how or why he ended up there, but it wasn't good.

"Wowsers," he muttered, his voice sounding more like a dry croak than what he normally sounded like. "What hit me?"

When he unsurprisingly didn't receive a response from the empty room, Gadget decided to try sitting up. Since he was slowly waking up properly, he was mildly hopeful. The fact his body still felt oddly heavy and not quite right might hinder his attempt, but he intended to try. He wasn't going to figure out what was going on if the only thing he could see was the ceiling and a few machines. As he moved his arm, the sense that something was not right increased dramatically.

Before he could figure out what was exactly wrong, approaching footsteps caught his attention. Curious, he quickly shoved himself into a sitting position and instantly regretted it as his head swam and the ache through his entire body sharpened. The sensation almost forced him back down and possibly back into unconsciousness, but he managed to stay upright and caught sight of the older man as he stepped into the room. The new arrival looked surprised, but pleased that he was awake and the white lab coat implied he was some sort of doctor.

"Good morning, Inspector Gadget," the older man greeted, approaching the bed and peering curiously at him. "This is certainly a promising development. My name is Professor Von Slickstein. Can you tell me how you're feeling?"

"Tired, sore, and a little confused," he responded. "What happened?"

"Well, the fact you can understand and respond to me is certainly a good sign," the white-haired man stated. "I know Dr. Lewis expressed some concerns about that when we were busy with your head."

He blinked, "My head?"

Gadget reached and gingerly touched his temple, ignoring the continued feeling that something was wrong when he moved his arm. He caught sight of a brown glove on his hand as he reached, but also shoved that observation out of his mind for the moment.

Even through the glove, he could feel something wrapped around his head and the contact increased his headache. It felt strange. Not the object, which seemed to be some kind of bandage and he half-expected to find such a thing anyway. No, his sense of touch felt strange. It felt… off. It wasn't quite right. Like so many things since he'd woken up, it seemed wrong. The information about the general texture of the gauze, where the edge of the bandages were, and even a guess about how thick the layers were around his head were certainly going from his fingertips to his head, but there was something vaguely different about the sensation and how he was perceiving. Maybe it was a little less intense or not quite as distinct as what he was used to, though that might be merely the glove getting in the way instead. But there was this quality, paradoxically reminding him of how a limb would feel if it fell asleep if the pins-and-needles sensation was removed, that suggested it was more than just the glove. There were no words to describe the difference, yet it was there regardless.

Curious, he lowered his arm and glanced at his gloved hand. In addition to the general oddness of his sense of touch, there seemed to be a slight stiffness to his movements. It was subtle, but he could feel it. And there was a soft sound, somewhere between a squeak and a creak.

"I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this," Von Slickstein remarked, pulling his attention temporarily away from the mystery concerning his hand and arm, "but there was an accident. Apparently there was an explosion at the lab you were at. They brought you here for treatment afterwards."

At the reference to an explosion, Gadget's immediate thoughts were no longer concerning himself. Instead, they raced back to his memories of Sophie and Frank's presence in the lab and the fact his recollection of what happened afterwards was hazy. And if he was caught up in some sort of explosion (which could explain some of his symptoms since waking up), then what happened to them?

"Was there anyone else? Are Sophie and Frank Dollar all right or are they in another room?" he asked.

An odd look of discomfort and regret briefly flashed across the older man's face. Gadget momentarily didn't know what was wrong, but the general meaning of his expression eventually dawned on him. They weren't just hurt; they were gone. His little sister, the brilliant woman who accomplished her dream and that he loved dearly, was gone. That was almost a more shocking and painful blow than the explosion itself. The information seemed to rattle a few more memories loose. He could recall them mentioning threats from MAD in exchange for their inventions and a brief fear that there could be a danger to Penny…

Penny. His niece. What happened to her? Was she all right? Did MAD go after her after the explosion? Probably not since she wouldn't be able to serve as blackmail material for the inventions of her parents anymore. But where was she? If Sophie and Frank were really gone, then she was alone. As bad as it was for him to imagine a world without his sister and brother-in-law, it would be far worse for Penny. She lost her parents. She could just be heart-broken over events or she could actually be in real trouble. Either way, he needed to find her and help her fast.

"Penny," asked Gadget. "Where is she? Is she all right?"

"She's fine," the white-haired man assured. "She's been staying with Chief Quimby for the time being. She visited here a few times earlier and I saw her at the funeral for her parents. She'll be very happy to hear that you're awake though."

He frowned, "I missed the funeral? I don't know whether to be upset about that or relieved. I never wanted to go to my sister's funeral after all, but that was mostly because I didn't want her to have one. At least, not while I was around for it."

"You almost joined their funeral," Von Slickstein stated. "I'm not one that generally subscribes to the concept of miracles, but that's probably the best explanation for why you survived long enough to receive help, Inspector. We needed to take some rather drastic measures to ensure your recovery and, honestly, I added a few touches beyond those necessary for survival." His fingers tightened slightly on his cane, "I'd tell you to sit down before I told you the news, but since you're lying in a hospital bed already…" He trailed off briefly before clearing his throat and asking, "Do you recall some paperwork you filled out a while ago concerning hospitalization, life-saving procedures, advanced techniques, and such?"

Gadget nodded, wincing slightly as the movement agitated his headache further. He should probably avoid head movements for the immediate future.

He definitely remembered the paperwork the man was talking about. It occurred a couple of years ago when he was trying to fill out an overwhelming amount of paperwork dealing with health and life insurance rates that seemed to keep rising. He'd asked his sister to assist in trying to figure out a way to make it more manageable. Apparently his career choice wasn't one the insurance people enjoyed covering due to the various risks. One of the forms that Sophie pointed out to him concerned newer and experimental procedures that were continuously being developed. The paperwork might have as well been in gibberish to him, but she seemed to understand it and translated the legal talk into something comprehensible. Apparently the more advanced methods weren't always covered by insurance since, while they could be more effective, the fact they were newer meant they might not be dependable or safe. More risk means more money spent when things went wrong, so the companies preferred time-tested methods instead. But Sophie worried about him and encouraged him to sign several forms saying they could use the more advanced and experimental procedures if the worst should happen. After all, she assured him that she would cross-examine the doctors first to ensure that he got the best treatment possible and that the advanced procedures actually had a high chance of succeeding before they did anything. And because he knew his sister would worry otherwise, Gadget signed it with the knowledge that such things weren't covered by his far-too-complicated insurance.

The only problem was that Sophie was gone. She wasn't able to make those kinds of judgments concerning his health and he'd been asleep through the whole thing. With only the signed form to dictate the doctors' actions and Gadget's limited comprehension of what exactly the paper specified, there was no guessing what could have happened. But, as his more optimistic thoughts pointed out, the fact he was alive and apparently not currently dying from being blown up suggested that the chosen procedures couldn't have been that bad.

"Well, if you remember that document, I guess I should tell you that I may have stretched the definition of 'radical life-saving procedures' a little in order to consider it permission for my actions," Von Slickstein acknowledged. "But I had nothing but good intentions and wanted the best for Sophie Dollar's brother."

"You're familiar with her work then?" asked Gadget, guessing that the older man might have read her research or something similar.

"Among other things," he nodded. "And I know that you love your job as an inspector. In fact, everyone agrees that you would be miserable if you couldn't do your job."

"Of course," Gadget responded. "I'm always on duty."

"Well, you nearly went off-duty permanently. Even if we ignore the fact that most of the damage caused by the explosion would have been fatal without drastic measures, you wouldn't have been able to work in the field afterwards because, to be blunt, you wouldn't have any limbs. Your arms and legs were beyond salvaging and what was left had to be amputated."

He blinked in confusion at Von Slickstein's words before glancing at his hand. It certainly looked like he still had his limbs. Although, he already knew that something was off about it…

"Artificial limbs were just the start of the more noticeable changes. I'll bring you a full list and description, but I've installed a number of inventions into your body that should enhance your crime-fighting capabilities. For example, your new limbs and neck can extend, there is a phone installed in one hand, skates, and even a miniature helicopter attachment. These various gadgets should help ensure that you're always at your best as an inspector and that you're safe while facing criminals. They're voice-command to make them easier to use and hopefully reliable."

Gadget continued to stare at his gloved hand. He flexed his fingers, watching them move exactly how they were supposed to with maybe a hint of stiffness. They didn't feel quite right; his sense of touch still not matching up perfectly to what he expected. The fact it wasn't his original hand made sense, especially since it would be too much to ask for to come out unharmed from an accident that killed Sophie and Frank, but it was a little concerning. He woke up with four new limbs and who knows what else. His sister used to be talented at creating technological wonders, but that didn't mean he was prepared to have it all attached to him.

At least the replacement arms and legs didn't ache. There were probably some painkillers involved that needed their dosage adjusted since his headache was getting worse and the loss of limbs hinted at far more damage than he first anticipated. He should be a lot more pain. Unless there was a lot more mechanical parts than he thought and they were the reason he wasn't feeling worse. How far did it go? How much of him was still… him? Could he go through life like this, his sense of touch not quite right while apparently strange gadgets were hidden just out of sight? For just a brief second, he wondered if it would have been easier if he'd shared his sister and brother-in-law's fate.

And as soon as that idea tried to form, he knocked it down like the numerous fragile vases and bookshelves he'd encountered over the years. Penny needed him. He couldn't leave her alone. He couldn't let her down. Sophie wouldn't want her daughter to be left alone in the world and John Maxwell Gadget would never disappoint his sister. A few missing limbs and slightly strange sense of touch was a small price to pay to make sure she was okay. It might be hard to get used to, for both him and those he knew, but he'd be there for his niece regardless.

Besides, he'd figure out how to make everything work out in the end. That's how the world worked. The good guys always prevail as long as they don't give up and he was certainly one of the good guys. Thus, if Inspector Gadget decided that everything would work out and he'd be fine, then he would find a way to make certain of it. And Professor Von Slickstein did say that he intended this to help him be a better inspector. He couldn't be too upset about anything that might help him uphold the law and halt criminals.

It wasn't too bad when examined like that. He was alive. He could take care of Penny and keep her safe. He could still do his job. Everything else was merely details. And details tended to just get in his way.

Looking up from his hand (his new hand, but still his hand), Gadget noticed that Von Slickstein was watching him a little nervously. The professor probably wanted some sort of response or acknowledgement after his prolonged silence. The older man likely was waiting to see how he'd react to all the changes and information so far.

Smiling in a hopefully reassuring way, Gadget joked, "I guess I can't say that I know my way around Metro City like the back of my hand now. At least, not for a while."

Responding with his own small grin, Von Slickstein remarked, "Don't worry, you'll get used to all of this fairly quickly I'll suspect. Especially after I work out any bugs that might occur due to the prototype technology."

"What sort of bugs?" he asked curiously. "Because while I'm not scared of spiders, I'm not a huge fan."

Gadget couldn't quite figure out why his question left the professor laughing, but Von Slickstein moved forward to what was shaping up to be a rather complicated-sounding explanation.

Penny was working at training Brain when Chief Quimby received the phone call. She already figured out that her new pet was far more than what he first seemed to be. He was clever, quick to learn commands and phrases, and practically behaved as if he understood every word she said. It didn't take a genius to figure out the connection between the gift from her father and his work with animals. She didn't know why her puppy was a science experiment, but she didn't mind having an extra-smart pet. Though she was surprised by how much he liked wearing hats and such, sniffing out a number of costumes in the household. Far more than she expected a police chief to own.

She barely noticed the telephone call as the girl worked at teaching Brain to identify a number of common objects. Her attention did shift away from the canine when she caught sight of Chief Quimby's expression. Penny couldn't quite identify the emotions, but it certainly captured her interest. In fact, judging by how the man kept glancing in her direction, she guessed that the conversation connected to her somehow. A variety of possibilities flickered through Penny's head, ranging from a breakthrough concerning her parents' death to someone trying to move her to an orphanage. As soon as Chief Quimby hung the receiver back on the wall, she braced herself for whatever the news might be.

So when the man shared the information and suggested she grab her jacket, Penny broke into a smile. Uncle Gadget was awake.

While most of her trips down the clean and quiet hallways, Penny tended to remain calm and close to Chief Quimby as he escorted her. Today, it was all she could do not to run ahead. After all, it wasn't as if she didn't know which way to go. She wouldn't get lost. But regardless of how eager she might be to see her uncle, she couldn't just run off after how kind the man had been by taking her in. She didn't need to cause trouble for the chief of police.

But by the time she caught sight of the room at the end of the hall, her resolve buckled and Penny sprinted ahead. She slipped inside, her eyes instantly locking on the man in the bed. He was peering at a stack of papers with a slight frown. That expression evaporated as soon as she ran into view. She kept herself from jumping towards him and tackling him with a hug; the bruises on his face were still in the process of fading, so it was doubtful the rest of him was back to normal. But even if she didn't launch herself, Penny still wrapped him with her arms in a tight hug within seconds. She barely noticed that she knocked a few sheets of paper to the floor. His arms and chest felt more solid and stiff than she remembered, but she didn't care. She was simply too happy when her uncle returned the gesture.

"Uncle Gadget, you're awake," she smiled, burying her face into his chest.

Even without looking, she knew he was smiling back at her, "Penny, I'm so glad to see you. Are you all right?"

She couldn't help chuckling at the absurdity of the situation. Uncle Gadget was the one who was blown up, rebuilt, and ended up in a hospital bed, yet he was asking if she was all right? But she knew she should have expected such a thing from her uncle. Penny finally released her tight embrace and looked at his face.

"I'm fine,' she answered. "I've been staying with Chief Quimby while everything's been happening. And he's been really nice about everything. Are you okay?"

Something briefly flashed across his face before he adopted a reassuring grin, "More or less. I mean, I'm not quite myself since…"

"Yes, you are," Penny interrupted firmly. She didn't know how this sort of thing would affect someone, but she wouldn't let her uncle get upset over the idea if she could help it. That was part of protecting him. "I already know they fixed you by adding a bunch of machinery and gadgets and I don't care. You're still Uncle Gadget, no matter what. Nothing will ever change that."

Her words seemed to have the desired effect, causing a warmer and more determined smile to spread across his face. Satisfied, Penn gave him another quick hug. She knew she could get used to the sensation of being embraced by metal arms. As long as they were still Uncle Gadget's arms.

A little hesitantly, he quietly stated, "Penny, I really don't know how to bring this up, but I have a spare bedroom at my house that you're welcome to if you want it. Or if you'd rather keep your old room and home, I'll try to work something out."

"Your house is fine," she answered immediately, trying not to let her expression change and to keep her tone causal.

She didn't mind moving to Uncle Gadget's place. It was easier than staying at home. There were too many memories for her to face. A fresh start in a different house would be better than staying and dealing with the emptiness.

And she wasn't even surprised that he was trying to plan things out for her future even if he'd only woken up that day. He wanted to make sure she was taken care of. He'd probably even want to leave immediately to either help her pack or to start investigating the circumstances that led to her parents' demise. She just hoped that someone would be smart enough and capable of keeping him from running off before he was completely better.

Uncle Gadget's attention momentarily shifted towards something beyond her and he called out, "Chief Quimby, you're here too."

Penny turned her head and spotted the police chief standing at the doorway, almost purposefully not getting too close to the man in the hospital bed. His face was a surprising mixture of emotions including relief to see him awake and relatively well, slight discomfort probably from interrupting a reunion between family, stern professionalism, and what appeared to be mild caution as if he expected to suffer some form of harm simply by being in the same room as Uncle Gadget.

"It's good to see you awake, Gadget," the man nodded in greeting. "Let me be the first to assure you that we're already investigating what happened…"

"MAD," he interrupted.


"MAD," Uncle Gadget repeated. "I remember Sophie and Frank talking about receiving threatening messages from them. That was why they invited me over. They were concerned and told me about it just before…"

He trailed off and Penny quietly edged a little closer to him. She didn't know who or what MAD was, but she intended to find out more if for no other reason than to make sure they never could hurt her family again.

"I see," Chief Quimby muttered thoughtfully. "That should certainly make things more complicated. But at least we have a direction now."

"I'll be happy to start helping immediately," he declared, actually shifting slightly as if he was about to climb out of the hospital bed.

"No, you are not," ordered the chief of police just as Penny reached out to try and hold her uncle in place. "I'm sorry, but you're going to be off-duty for a little while."

"But I'm always on-duty," he responded stubbornly.

"Not in this case, Inspector. This is a direct order and I expect you to follow it to the letter. You are not to leave here until the experts say you can go. Furthermore, you're going to at least take a short amount of time afterwards in order to look after your niece. She's been a very well-behaved houseguest and I don't regret letting her stay at my house under the circumstances, but it isn't ideal in the long term. It'll probably take you at least a few days to get her moved in and everything settled. You both deserve some time after everything that's happened and I order you to take it. If you want to consider yourself 'on-duty,' you can. But you're still going to follow those instructions or else I swear I'll stick you behind a desk pushing paperwork until Penny graduates from college."

There was a moment of relative silence. The only sounds came from the machinery attached to Uncle Gadget (rather than the softer sounds that she could only hear if she pressed her ear to his chest that were a part of him). Penny waited to see how her uncle would react to the chief of police's order. He certainly seemed to be considering the older man's words rather carefully, momentarily glancing at the girl before looking back towards Chief Quimby.

"I'd never disobey a direct command from you, Chief," he remarked slowly. "And I suppose waiting a few days wouldn't hurt anything. But if you need my help before then, I'll be happy to get back to work."

"I'm sure you would," nodded the older man. "Just concentrate on getting everything sorted out and trust the rest of us to handle the investigation until your return. After all, you're not the only member of the Metro City Police force."

Penny gave him a quick grin of thanks. She'd feel better knowing that her uncle would at least take a break before he tried chasing after the person who caused the explosion. She wanted to make sure he was completely back to normal (or whatever the new definition of "normal" was) before he went back to his job. At least Chief Quimby seemed to share that goal.

"I'm sorry we can't stay any longer today, Gadget," he continued. "You can probably only imagine how things have been at the station since… Well, I need to get back there and I think that Penny's school sent over some homework to help her catch up on what she's missed so far."

The girl resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the implication she was behind on her schoolwork. She finished it as soon as her teachers sent it with a note saying that they were sorry about what happened and would be happy to help her make up for her lost time. Considering the fact she's already read the textbook and her parents were already discussing the possibility of moving her ahead a grade or two before they died, the homework was child's play. But it wasn't as if she could stay here while Chief Quimby headed for the police station. That was one of the disadvantages of being child; people wanted you to be supervised at all times, so walking back to the chief's house later on her own wasn't an option. Maybe when she was older, but not when she was seven. Thus, the suggestion she do homework instead of staying.

"I wouldn't want you to fall behind in school," stated Uncle Gadget.

"Don't worry, I won't," she assured.

Pausing only long enough to give her uncle a final hug, she reluctantly started heading towards the door and Chief Quimby. As she allowed herself to be led out, she spared a final glance back towards Uncle Gadget. That brief glimpse allowed her to notice how tired he still looked and that he was probably only staying awake because of their presence. Penny immediately felt guilty for wanting to remain when it was clear that he needed the rest. It was more important he get better. It might take some time, but she could be patient.

He was alive, he woke up, he spoke to her, and he was on his way to recovery. That was enough for now.

Time passed and injuries healed. Bruises faded. Organic portions adapted to the mechanical. Headaches dulled away as both damage healed and the brain grew used to the new form of input. The mind is adaptive and Professor Von Slickstein designed his additions to work with the synapses as naturally as possible.

The first activation of the new attachments was an extension of his arm to catch the sheets of paper when he nearly dropped them for the twelfth time. It took several moments of staring at his lengthened arm, metal and segmented to allow for the extension, before Inspector Gadget could believe it. It took even longer to figure out how to retract the limb back to normal. By the point Professor Von Slickstein came to check on him, he was carefully experimenting at extending and retracting his artificial arms.

Before the scientist or Dr. Lewis would let him leave, Gadget was carefully and thoroughly examined and informed of his new capabilities and limitations. Some were obvious and others were less so. The doctor pointed out that the loss and replacement of various part of the body left the man with less than the normal volume of blood and mass in general, meaning that various substances including medication would have a stronger effect at the same dosage. Von Slickstein, on the other hand, cheerfully advised against activating the Gadget-Copter while inside a building and other helpful tips.

By the time he was released, Gadget was more than ready get out. After all, there was more important things he could be doing instead of staying in a hospital bed.

Penny glanced around the room curiously, her arms holding a small box of belongings. Brain waited patiently beside her, her backpack being dragged along in the puppy's eagerness to help. The room was neat and tidy. The dresser was bare of objects and decorations. The comforter on the bed was white and fluffy while the plain pillow rested against the headboard. It was exactly what a guestroom should look like. But it wasn't just a spare bedroom anymore. It was hers. This was going to be her room for now on.

It was Uncle Gadget's first day out and he was already trying to help her move in. At the moment, however, he was downstairs trying to prepare lunch. And, judging by the yelps coming from downstairs, he was discovering the fact that most of the food that sat in his fridge the entire time he was gone was now mutating into some strange blue fungus. Thus she was left to muddle through on her own until he finished battling the strange substance growing in there. And if the crashing and banging was anything to go off of, that particular war against the mold would be a long one.

Everything she'd taken to Chief Quimby's house was now here, though it wasn't really that many of her belongings. Mostly it was some clothes and school supplies. It would take some time to make the room feel like it actually was her, but she could at least make a start.

"You can leave my backpack next to the bed," she told Brain, watching him drag it over on her command.

As the golden-furred puppy followed her instructions eagerly, Penny headed for the closet with her clothes. When she opened it to put her belongings away, however, she noticed a cardboard box resting on the floor. Curiosity once again gaining the best of her, the blond girl placed her armful of shirts down and dragged the container over next to the bed. Out of the dark closet, she could make out far more details of what the box contained.

Inside was a large textbook, what looked like an odd watch, a collection of assorted wires and microchips, and a stack of paper. Puzzled, she pulled out the book and opened it. Inside the cover were, oddly, buttons and computer screens. She pressed a few keys experimentally, growing more confused by the moment. It seemed as if someone took a normal computer, miniaturized it, and then camouflaged it as a textbook.

Setting the book computer down, Penny then pulled out the watch. It was a little bulkier than most of them she was familiar with and it wasn't currently displaying the time, but it was clearly supposed to be a watch. She carefully strapped it on her wrist, turning it back and forth as she investigated the object. Curiosity still flaring, she started poking at the rectangle where the time should be displayed. Her examination of the watch abruptly caused a reaction and several panels unfolded. Once more, a rather impressive piece of technology was disguised as a more innocent-appearing object. But why would her Uncle Gadget have these sorts of things in the closet of his guest bedroom?

Turning her attention away from the watch now, she pulled out the first sheet of paper. It was covered in handwritten notes and schematics. Each illustration and careful notation was neatly recorded and labeled. The inner-workings of the computer book she found were displayed on the sheet of paper. Penny's eyes began to tear up as she recognized her mother's tidy penmanship.

She bit her bottom lip, trying to push back the urge to cry at the unexpected encounter with something so clearly connected to her mom. The writing was her mom's, so everything in the box was probably hers. Every wire, every microchip, and every circuit was the result of her mother's hard work and brilliant mind. Penny could easily picture her mom hovering over these devices, peering through her glasses as she tweaked small adjustments and smiling slightly the entire time. These were her inventions and materials. This was the pure essence of Sophie Dollar. She was a scientist. An inventor. A brilliant woman. Her mommy.

Shoving the box under her bed and out of sight, her resolve not to cry broke and tears began to flow in earnest. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that her mom and dad were gone. None of this was fair. How could those MAD people do this? Why did they destroy everything? Was that all that was left of her parents? Small samples of their life-works? A clearly genetically-engineered puppy from her dad and a box of inventions from her mom? She didn't want pets and technology. She wanted her mommy and daddy back.

Choking back sobs, Penny sat on the floor next to her bed with her legs curled up and her head resting on her knees. She could hear Brain whining beside her, but she didn't move. She'd been avoiding the familiar and anything that might remind her of her parents until this point. She'd not been home since she received the news of the explosion and she'd definitely not looked at any photographs. But a simply box of her mom's creations brought back the memories far too easily. The handwriting was just too familiar. She could almost see her mom's hand as she wrote out measurements and sketched out the placement of microchips. It was as if she just stepped out of the room momentarily to grab a pair of needle-nose pliers and would be back any time. It was just too much to handle.

Her body shaking with sobs as she tried to at least stay quiet, her first hint that her attempts not to be noticeable had failed was when a pair of stiff and firm arms abruptly around her and pulled the child into a hug. Penny didn't even look up. Instead, she buried her face into the solid figure that appeared just when she needed him to. She continued to cry and cling to his chest, letting the strong arms lift her so that they're both sitting on the bed instead of beside it. He didn't say a word. He just held her in that solid, firm, immovable, steadfast embrace that felt as unbreakable as the metal used to help put him back together again.

The far-too-firm stiffness was comforting rather than strange. The solidness felt dependable and like nothing would take him away. It felt safe. For the moment, she didn't have to be the brilliant girl who could solve any puzzle and could answer any question her teacher might pose. She didn't have to be the one who would figure out how to keep the remainder of her family protected to prevent history from repeating. She didn't have to be the brave, mature individual who could handle whatever might happen. She could just be a sad seven year old child who wanted more than anything to have her mommy and daddy back.

She didn't pay attention to how long it took, but the sniffling and tears began to gradually slow. Penny didn't loosen her grip, though. She kept her tight hug on the reassuringly-solid figure, listening to the various clicks, whirls, and the steady heartbeat in his chest. Exhausted by the sobbing and lulled by the increasingly-familiar and comforting symphony of sounds, she barely noticed as she began to drift off to sleep.

Yeah, I have a bad habit of making cute little girls cry in my stories apparently. And honestly, I think that a seven year old Penny has earned the right by now to have a small breakdown when unexpectantly encountering her mom's stuff. Dealing with loss, especially loss of someone rather fundamental to your life, isn't going to be quick or easy. Give her a little more time and she'll get better.

And there's the origin of Penny's computer book (which was a lot like a laptop way before the things existed) and her awesome watch she uses to keep in contact with Brain and such. Her mom made them and Penny adapted them for her use. As for Brain's collar with the camera and microphone, she does have other stuff in the box that she can use to make that. After all, she's a smart girl. She can build at least one of her pieces of technology herself.

I'm not even going to pretend I know how long this story is going to be anymore. It just keeps growing. Just let me know what you think and I'll tell you when it gets done. Thanks.