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Rare and Priceless (2)
Fri Nov 13, 2009 5:46am

"Benjamin! Come here at once!"

Ben paused at the familiar bellow, setting down the vase he was carrying -- a priceless antiquity, irreplaceable and full of historical significance, he was told -- with exaggerated care. Then he made his way from the storage room, one of the mansion's many, with the delicacy of a stalking cat, no mean feat for a Reploid with a frame the size and shape of a polar bear.


When he arrived at the study, his employer was pacing impatiently, one hand behind his back and the other clasped around the handle of his cane. He stumbled when he saw the bear looming silently in his doorway, then he scowled, lifting the cane to point it at him much in the manner of someone holding a sword.

"You're not a mute, I saw to that. Announce yourself instead of trying to give me a heart attack."

"As you wish, Mr. Sulemann."

The aging human made a sniffy sound and turned to stalk toward one of the many bookshelves that lined his walls. Stopping in front of it, he once again thrust his cane at the offending object -- a bundle of papers on the top of the shelf.

"Fetch me those down," he said, and the polar bear moved to obey.

It wasn't a difficult matter -- he didn't even need to stretch his arm to reach them -- and by the time he'd turned to his employer, the man was limping back to his desk.

"Bring them here, bring them here," he said, waving his free hand impatiently. "Really, Benjamin, growing old is a trial." He plopped down in his chair, waiting for his assistant's approach and snatching the pages from his fingers.

"So I'm told, sir."

Sulemann glanced at him and scowled. "That you are. Now have a seat. I need your mind for this." He waved a hand absently as his gaze flicked back to the pages.

Ben looked at him doubtfully for a moment, then studied the chair he'd indicated. An analysis of its structural integrity seemed to indicate it would by no means support his weight or his bulk should he try to sit in it. He settled for seating himself delicately on the floor in front of the desk, finding his head and shoulders still well above the edge.

"Cross-reference this with everything you have on the Dead Sea Scrolls." Sulemann dangled a paper before him, and he filed it, rapidly accessing the requested information.

His head bowed slightly, expression thoughtful. "There appears to be no connection, sir. The dating puts the documents close in date of origin -- very close, in fact. But they emerged in different regions and from, if I'm not mistaken, different cultures."

The man's face wrinkled into a smug look of satisfaction. "Thank you, Benjamin. Now file these and return them to the shelf, and you may go."

"As you wish, Mr. Sulemann."

He got to his feet as smoothly as his bulky body allowed, scooping up the papers and sorting through them rapidly before returning them to their perch. He had reached the door and ducked halfway through it when the doorbell rang, sounding a surprisingly loud echo through the house.

His master made an irritable sound. "Damn. Damn! I forgot they were -- Ben, get the door."

He was already on his way, however, turning the handle to admit the man's daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.

"Oh --" the woman said, lips pursing slightly. "Benjamin, hello."

"Mrs. Riley."

He stepped aside -- there was more than enough room in the foyer to do so -- but she nevertheless inched carefully past him. He ignored this, as well as her husband's wary smile, but the bright-eyed stare of her daughter, perched on the woman's hip, caught his eye, and he frowned. Then he flinched back slightly as she gave a bubbling laugh, reaching for him with a tiny hand.

"Winifred, stop that," her mother said absently, and the child's attention turned away immediately.

Ben closed the door and turned silently back toward the storage room he'd been working in, attempting to ignore the conversation that faded behind him.

"Deborah," Sulemann said.

"Hello, Dad -- I was afraid you'd forgotten." Her tone indicated she knew he had.

He sniffed. "Of course not. How long will she be staying?"

"Just for a few hours. The concert won't last that long."

"Very well. I imagine I can spare that much time."

"Well, I sure hope so -- you're the one who said you could do this!"

"Debbie --"

"Deborah, you understand the demands on my time -- I apologize for my tone, but --"

"Dad -- look, we'll be back in a couple of hours."

Finally out of earshot and safely returned to his work, Ben looked at the artifacts with a faint frown. The ones in place were sorted, but several remained to be brought up from the basement. He had just run through the inventory file in his systems when a small giggle sounded behind him, and a small hand closed in the cloth of his trousers -- bear or not, his master insisted he dress well.

He turned his head. "Winifred."

The toddler burbled at him, uttering a string of sounds barely identifiable as words.

He sighed and scooped her off the floor. "Your mother does not approve of these excursions. Nor does your grandfather."

Comfortably seated on his arm, she reached up to pat at his face, beaming. "Benny-bear!" she said, one of the few things he recognized.

"I suppose I am," he murmured, stepping into the hall just in time to hear Deborah's voice.

"Where is she?! Frank, weren't you watching her?"

"You were the one holding her, Debbie --"

He stepped quickly into view, clearing his throat, and the adults whirled to face him, alarm in their expressions. The little girl waved at her parents, beaming, then pointed at Ben.

"Benny-bear!" she said, looking terribly pleased with herself.

Deborah lunged across the space between them, expression tight. "Thank you for bringing her back," she said shortly, and snatched the child from him only to set on the floor again, nudging her toward her grandfather.

Sulemann looked less than pleased with the action.

"You'd best be on your way," he said, waving his cane toward the door. "Wouldn't want to miss your concert."

Deborah scowled at him, but she didn't say anything, nodding shortly to her husband and turning to the door, crisp and businesslike. Frank shuffled after her, and Sulemann watched them go, looking as though he'd just swallowed something sour.

"For pity's sake," he said with some disgust.

"G'mpa?" The child was tugging on his pants leg now.

"Yes, Winifred?" The scowl left his face, replaced with one of patient politeness -- as close to being gentle as the man ever got, in Ben's perfect recollection.

The child pointed at Ben. "Benny-bear?"

"Yes, of course, Winifred." Sulemann looked at him, arching an eyebrow. "Benjamin, I'm afraid I'm far too busy today to play with her -- keep her away from anything delicate, if you would."

"Of course, sir." Ben hesitated, then extended a hand to the child, who squealed and ran to him immediately, half clambering up his arm before he could lift her from the floor. "Perhaps the garden, then, Winifred?"

"F'owers!" she approved, and he nodded, carrying her gravely from Sulemann's study and toward the back door. He was fairly certain he could catch up on his work later in the day.

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