Kel stared at Mama for a long moment and then burst into tears and flung their arms around the only person they’d ever known, burying their face in the soft weave of Mama’s tunic.
“I am so, so sorry, mije,” Mama said.
“Where did you go?” Kel asked.
“I got hurt,” Mama said. “Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, but I had to rest so that my body would heal.”
“I looked everywhere,” Kel said.
“I’m glad you came up here,” Mama said. “You found it okay?”
“The closet was open. You never leave it open. And Bot came out and told me to come.”
“I didn’t know if it would,” Mama said. “It was hurt, too.”
“Mama, why are we alone? Ama was surprised that I didn’t have sib-lings.”
Mama gave an embarrassed chuckle. “That’s a very long and complicated story, and there are other things you have to learn first.”
“Are there other people here on Lon?” Kel asked. “Why I haven’t I met them?”
“There are,” Mama said. “And you haven’t met them yet because we have some work to do before they are ready for us, and before we are ready for them.”
“When can we?” Kel asked, pulling back and looking up at Mama.
“You are almost 8 now,” Mama said. “When you are 16, you may do what you will and go where you want to go. By then, I think you’ll understand why caution is important. You’ve never minded being alone, is there a reason you’re so eager now?”
Kel frowned. “I wasn’t alone when you were here. But then you weren’t, and I’ve never been so afraid. What if you get hurt again? I can’t even use the stove.”
From the wall, Ama’s voice was almost apologetic as she said, “Actually, I think you probably can, now.”
Mama raised her thick, black eyebrows.
“Bot inoculated them and initiated the neural interface in your absence,” Ama said to Mama.
“Oh,” Mama said. “I hadn’t… Yes, that makes sense, though I’d planned to wait another year.”
“Watch,” Kel said, and held a hand out over the bed, and it changed back into a chair.
“Just don’t do that in my house,” Mama said. “I have things the way I like them there.”
“You mean it would work inside the house?” Kel asked.
“I told you that the house was grown,” Mama said. “This is grown from nano-processed stone. The house was grown from nano-processed biomass.”
“You sound like Ama now,” Kel said.
Mama raised an eyebrow. “If you want to understand your world, you’ll need to spend a little more time inside with me, learning about it.”
“Can Ama teach me, too?” Kel asked, eager.
Mama glanced at the wall. “Yes. But only if you do the things you need to do at home, first. And not every day. It’s a long walk up here.”
“Every six?” Kel asked.
“Yes,” Mama said. “Every six.”
“Can I spend the night again?” Kel asked.
“Perhaps,” Mama said. “As long as Ama is willing.”
Ama started to say something, and then stopped abruptly when Mama raised one eyebrow.
“May I please come up here and talk to you again, Ama?” Kel asked.
“Of course,” Ama said. “You can tell me all about how things are down there. I can’t see with my own eyes, so you can be my eyes for me.”
Mama helped Kel bundle up their things into the backpack, and made the chair go back into the floor with only a glance.
“Watch me, Mama!” Kel said, climbing down the ramp carefully. “I can slide down!”
“Kel, wait!” Mama called out, but Kel was already sliding down the long tunnel home.
With a sigh, Mama sat down at the top of the conduit, and slid after them.
Bot followed, with the pixie sitting calmly on top, looking pleased.