By 'A Clockwork Tomato'
This is one of the episodes from my thirteen-episode fanfiction season 3 for The Big O, everyone's favorite anime show. It shows a plausible future after Act 26, advances Roger and Dorothy's romance, answers many of the riddles of Paradigm, and has plenty of giant-robot mayhem! The episodes feature R. Dorothy Wayneright, Roger Smith, Angel, Dan Dastun, Jason Beck, and our other favorite characters.
Why did I write a thirteen-episode season in thirteen weeks? Partly because people were so confused when the show ended so abruptly and mysteriously. A lot of folks felt that what happened at the end end of Act 26 made future episodes impossible. These thirteen episodes are my way of proving otherwise.
What happened in Act 26? Why did people lose all their memories? These and other mysteries are answered.
The original episodes and such are all copyrighted or trademarked or whatever by Sunrise, Inc. The rest is mine, all mine, and is Copyright ©2003 and 2004 by A Clockwork Tomato. All rights reserved.
Roger finished his appeal to Angel and stepped through from Big O's cockpit into Angel's control room. Dorothy was right behind him. He put his hand on Angel's shoulder. Dorothy said, "Roger the negotiator." The lights dimmed.
A moment later he could make out his dimly lit surroundings. He was in the middle of an underground chamber, similar to the one where he had found Gordon, Angel, and Vera earlier in the day. Most of the overhead lights were off. There was no control room. There were no cameras. There was no set. The room was empty. An exit sign glowed in the distance.
"Is it over?" Roger asked. "Did it work?"
Angel said nothing, but sank slowly to the floor, where she sat with her head bowed.
"Call Norman," said Dorothy. Roger triggered his watch.
Norman answered immediately. "Ah, Master Roger. The repair crew has just finished. Big O is ready for action. But I do not believe he will be needed. We have just received word that there was an explosion in Big Fau's hangar. Apparently there was a malfunction. Alex Rosewater was killed. Also, an enormous Megadeus burst through the street, but was immediately destroyed; no one knows how. The city is quiet."
"That's good," said Roger.
"But Miss Dorothy is missing."
"She's with me, Norman. Thanks. I'll explain when I get there."
He turned to Dorothy, jubilant. "Angel did it! It worked!" He swept her into his arms, then paused. "Let me see your hairband."
Dorothy obediently popped off the imitation hairband and reveled the empty slot which had once contained much of her memory circuitry. She said, "I'm the same as before. This outfit just came with a decorative cover."
"Whew! For a minute there I was afraid Angel had turned you into a human." He hugged her.
"No. I'm still me," she said. "Besides, Angel would have been better off turning herself into an android," said Dorothy in a matter-of-fact voice. "Because…"
But her words were cut off by his passionate kiss.
When the kiss ended, her eyes were closed and she was swaying slightly, but she continued in the same voice as before, "Because once a human has tasted android love, there's no going back."
"You made that up."
"I am making a prediction."
They were interrupted by a sob from Angel. They turned. She was still sitting on the floor, her eyes shut tight, tears streaming down her face.
"Angel," said Roger, "Are you all right?"
"It was horrible," said Angel in a quiet, broken voice. "The fate of the world was put into my hands. How could anyone put the fate of the world into my hands? I don't know how to be a god, I don't even know how to be a human being! I had all this power, and I didn't know what to do! I'm so unworthy, so unready, how could they have done it? I was raised to be filled with hatred and it was all just lies, I don't even know if I was ever a little girl at all, how could anyone have trusted me?" As she spoke, she became more and more hysterical.
Roger hoisted her to her feet and took her into his arms. "It's over now, Angel. It's over. You're human now. You won't ever have to do it again."
She clung to him but seemed not to hear. "I didn't know what to do, Roger. I had to make the world over again, and I didn't know what to do! I didn't know what I wanted. I don't know how to make a better world! All I was ever taught was to destroy. I've never been so frightened, and I felt so guilty! Then you spoke to me and I knew that I didn't have to tear it down at all. I could keep it going, just the way it was, except that I could rewind time just a little bit to avoid all the destruction, so nobody would have to die. Except for that swine Alex Rosewater. What kind of idiot wants to be a god? And Vera, too. So they're gone, and may they rot in hell! But I put the rest back, just like it was. I was afraid to try to make anything better. I didn't know what I was doing, Roger!" And she began to sob quietly against his shoulder.
Dorothy said, "You did it just right, Angel."
Roger said, "Yeah, you did great, Angel. We're proud of you." He looked over Angel's shoulder at Dorothy, who nodded fractionally. He lifted Angel's chin and kissed her gently on the mouth. "Now let's get the hell out of here."
Angel forced a smile. "You always were a sweet-talker, Mr. Negotiator." She let go of him and staggered for a couple of steps.
"She's bleeding," said Dorothy. "There are eight bloodstains on her back."
Roger looked. Sure enough, there were eight round bloodstains soaking through her suit. "How did that happen?" he asked.
Dorothy replied, "They're from the probe cables of Big Venus."
"But I was never in Big Venus!" wailed Angel. "I was in a control room! Here! Underground!"
"First aid first," said Dorothy. "Metaphysics later. Roger, do you know where we are?"
"I think so. We're not far from the house."
"Lead the way. I will help Angel." And with this, Dorothy picked Angel up in her arms with no apparent effort. To Angel, she said, "You will be relieved to hear that the rate of bleeding seems quite moderate. Norman has a well-stocked dispensary, and no doubt a doctor can be summoned."
Roger snorted. "Every doctor in the city is already overloaded with casualties…no, wait, that's not right, is it?"
He called Norman and warned him of Angel's injuries.
Soon they reached a corridor that Roger felt was definitely familiar, and a few minutes later they reached the private elevator into the mansion. It was choked with rubble at ground level, so they went around to a street-level exit. Angel shook off Dorothy's assistance and walked the remaining distance. She had stopped crying but seemed dazed.
Norman ushered them inside before they could knock and led them to a parlor where a doctor was already waiting. As Angel's suit was being removed, Roger excused himself and went to visit Big O.
There he was, as good as new. It was a strange feeling. "How does it feel to you, Big O?" asked Roger as he took the elevator up to the cockpit. Even before he reached the cockpit, he could tell that Big O felt…smug.
He climbed into the cockpit, and it was just as it had been before the fight. All in good repair, with the usual controls in evidence, the others out of sight. So strange…
And then, behind his chair, he saw a puddle of water, a discarded wet suit, and a crumpled scuba tank. Roger touched them, hardly believing that they were real.
"If anything, this makes even less sense than before," he said. Big O's feeling of smugness was unabated.
"You know, Big O," he said. "I think that the people who direct this world are very sloppy about their props. There's stuff lying around from old productions that nobody has ever bothered to clear away. There are leftover memories lying around, too. That's what I think. So whatever the people - if they are people - running this world are trying to do, the evidence is confused by their slapdash methods." He poked around a little more. "Well, I don't suppose everyone can have Norman keeping things spick and span."
"Dorothy's going to need a chair in here, too," he said. "I'll go tell Norman."
When he returned to the parlor, Angel had been put to bed, lightly sedated, in one of the guest rooms. Dorothy was with her. Norman took Roger aside and said, "Master Roger, the doctor said that her wounds are not dangerous, but they are rather deep and will bear watching. He will be back again in three days. Also, they almost but not quite line up with the pattern of old scars on her back."
"Thank you, Norman."
"There is one other thing, Master Roger. This morning, I had a sudden vision of a terrifying bombing of the city and a battle between Big O and Big Fau, which included Miss Dorothy waking up and rushing off to rescue you. But what really happened was that Big Fau blew up before any damage could be done. I have asked several other people, and they said they had the same hallucination, in many cases even encompassing their own deaths."
"It really happened, Norman. But Angel, Dorothy and I - mostly Angel - made it unhappen."
"Very good, sir."
"Tomorrow we'll want to call up Dastun and get him to rescind the order for Angel's arrest."
"Very good, sir."
"And also the order calling for Beck's execution."
"Indeed, sir? Ah, yes. I remember now."
"That was good work that Angel did, Norman. She made it so today's events didn't happen, but she left people's memories of it. I don't think anyone could have done better."
"Yes, indeed, sir."
"And then we need to get our hands on a flying machine. Schwarzwald's the only person who's seen the superstructure above Paradigm up close, and maybe it has some clues for us."
"Very good, sir."
* * *
Roger woke slowly, the memories of the past day's events mingled with dreams and nightmares, so he didn't know which were true. He reached for Dorothy, beside him.
She wasn't there.
Startled, he opened his eyes. It was full daylight. He groped for the clock. It was almost noon. Surely she would have wakened him with her piano?
Had it all been a dream? A fantasy? His heart froze as he thought of her lying cold and still and dead, such a short time ago. Frantically, he tore himself out of bed and plunged out of his bedroom, heading to where she…
Dorothy and Angel were sitting at the dining room table, talking quietly. He sagged with relief; heart pounding, knees weak. Everything was all right.
After a moment he regained his composure. Dorothy was dressed for the day and looked clean and trim as she always did. Angel looked surprisingly good, under the circumstances, in pink silk pajamas and a pink robe. She had put on her makeup and done up her hair. The weight of their collective grooming made him feel scruffy in his rumpled pajamas, bare feet, and uncombed hair, but he pushed the thought aside. He approached the two women. They looked up.
"God, Roger, you look worse than I feel," said Angel.
"I have some fresh coffee ready," said Dorothy.
Roger sat down at the table and accepted a cup. "Sorry I overslept."
"You earned it," said Angel. "We all did, but I couldn't sleep after the sedatives wore off, and Dorothy never sleeps, so it was all up to you."
"I see," said Roger. "Thanks, I guess."
Norman appeared. "What would you like for breakfast, Master Roger?"
"Norman, right now I can't tell if I'm starving or if I couldn't touch a thing."
Norman smiled and said, "Very good, sir," and withdrew to the kitchen. A short time later he appeared with an enormous breakfast of ham, eggs, pancakes, sausages, toast, and fruit.
Roger ate it all. He was silent during breakfast. Dorothy patiently refilled his coffee cup three times. He was still a little groggy, and hadn't really absorbed all that had happened in the past twenty-four hours. But there was also a deep underlying happiness.
When Norman took his plate, Roger asked, "What's on the agenda today, if anything?"
Norman replied, "Colonel Dastun called earlier. He says he has a job for Paradigm City's top negotiator. Also, Miss Dorothy and I will be talking to the architect about repairing the building. The damage to the wall may possibly have rendered the building unstable, and this must be assessed immediately. I am also thinking that we should add a street-level door for Big O, now that his location is no longer a secret."
"Maybe it should be."
"Perhaps, sir, but if we choose a secret location for Big O, it would help if there were also a public location where everyone believed him to be."
"Take care of it, Norman."
Roger went down to his office and called Dastun. He was in a meeting, but had left word to be told when Roger called.
"Roger! About time you called. Listen, people are raising six kinds of hell down at the city hall, and we need your help to straighten it all out."
"What seems to be the problem?"
"What isn't the problem? Alex Rosewater is dead, and now the government doesn't have a head. And those visions everyone had yesterday, they've gotten a lot of people thinking. The problem is, most of 'em aren't very good at it. Some of them see it as a warning, and think we should clean up the government right now, and others see it as a fake, a conspiracy of some kind, and want to hunker down and do everything just the same as they did when Rosewater was alive. And then there are your basic power grabbers who want to fill Rosewater's shoes or just take as much loot and influence as they can get away with in the confusion."
"Sounds bad," said Roger.
"Actually, it might work out okay. Like I said, a lot of people have taken it as a warning, but not everybody, so we're either going to have a nice breather where we can make some forward progress for once, or there's going to be blood in the streets. And there's another thing."
"A lot of people on the force remember me taking a pot shot at Big Fau. My superiors, for one thing. And a lot of guys remember breaking ranks and following my example. So there are lot of people on the force who think I'm some kind of hero. But my superiors probably don't see it that way. And there's one more thing."
"Big O isn't a secret anymore. Not even a little bit. Everyone knows that Paradigm's top negotiator has a Megadeus backing him up. So they'll listen to you. Even the people who were too snooty to pay attention before."
"I'm not sure I like that," said Roger.
"Too late now. But it's like being a cop. That's how I figure it. When you're a cop, everyone knows you've got a gun. But they also know that you aren't going to shoot them unless you do something really, really stupid. Lots more stupid than anything they usually do. But still, the idea that they might get a bullet hole in them if they act more idiotically than usual, well, it puts them on their best behavior. The think and listen a little more and yell a lot less. That's all I'm saying. It's like that with Big O. Nobody's going to think that Big O will squash them like a bug if they don't come to terms during the first meeting, but … it's like the cop and his gun."
"I understand," said Roger. "When shall we have our first meeting?"
"Can you be here in an hour? We can be ready by then. There are some senators who want to talk about the succession. It's always been a Rosewater, but we're fresh out, so we'll have to do something new. But not so new that we end up with blood in the streets."
"I'll be there."
"Oh, and Roger?"
"Do you know what happened to that Angel character? Patricia Lovejoy - you know who I mean. She used to be Rosewater's secretary and probably knows where all the bodies are buried."
"Did Norman call you about canceling that arrest warrant?"
"I did that myself a few days ago. Look, do you know where she is or not?"
"She's staying with me."
"Well, lucky you. Bring her with you if you can. I'd like to talk to her."
"I'll see what I can do. Bye, Dan."
"See ya, Roger."
Angel and Dorothy were still in the dining room, talking. Or, at least, every once in a while a sentence escaped the lips of one woman or the other.
"Angel, how would you like to go for a ride?"
"People are trying to figure out what to do to keep the government running now that Alex Rosewater is dead, and Dan Dastun thinks you might be able to identify some of the snakes and weasels."
"Colonel Dastun? The man who gave me back my gun?"
"The very same."
"He's not going to arrest me or anything, is he?"
"He canceled your arrest warrant a few days ago."
"Well…all right. Sure. Just give me a minute to change."
She departed, moving a little stiffly.
Roger turned to Dorothy and raised an eyebrow.
She said, "Does it mean something different if you raise the left eyebrow rather than the right?"
"Then the answer is, be alone with her whenever you like."
Roger winced. "Dorothy!"
"Are you sure about the eyebrows?"
"What I meant to say was, her injuries are troubling her, so you should be safe from her for a day or two at least."
"That's better." He reached for her, but she backed away.
"I'll go help her change now. Her injuries have left her stiff." She departed.
* * *
In the car, Roger said, "That was the longest minute I ever saw."
"What?" asked Angel.
"`Give me a minute to change,' you said. It's been more than half an hour."
"Dorothy said your appointment wasn't for an hour. She unpacked the suitcases she brought from my apartment this morning, and we a nice chat. Well, a lengthy one. For her."
"How are you two getting along?"
"I either love her like a sister or I want to hit her with a brick. Sometimes both at once."
"That's our Dorothy."
"I don't understand why she isn't trying to get rid of me. I would. When I woke up, there were four suitcases waiting for me. I could stay for weeks! I nearly cried."
"Did you ask her about it?"
"Would you?" asked Angel.
He smiled ruefully. "No."
"Well, in fact, I did. I asked her why she was being so kind, and she said that it was nice to see some clothing in the house that wasn't black for a change."
When they reached the Main Dome, they picked up a police escort that whisked them to City Hall through the light afternoon traffic. The sight of the escort alerted Roger that something was up: Dastun cared nothing for ceremony.
They were ushered into an underground garage and taken up to one of the big conference rooms. A number of senators were there. Roger had had dealings with one or two of them. None of the worst snakes and weasels were present, but all of the most honest and upright senators were. This looked promising.
Angel was introduced as Patricia Lovejoy, the name she used as Rosewater's secretary, to the few people in the room who didn't know her already. Roger was introduced to the larger number of people who had never met him.
The meeting was about to begin when the phone rang. Dastun picked it up and said, "Dastun."
Roger's watch beeped. "What is it, Norman?"
"Master Roger, a Megadeus has emerged from the river at the closest point to the house and is heading directly for it."
* * *
The architect had drawn a realistic sketch of the building, showing its shattered side and the gaping hole into Big O's hangar. The drawing, two feet wide and three high, was spread out on the dining room table. Now he overlaid this with a sheet of textured plastic and drew in his proposed repairs in quick, sure strokes. First, a lattice of temporary beams and girders to shore up the damage, then permanent repairs in concrete and steel. Over that, a layer of masonry to match the original look of the building. But dominating it all was an enormous pair of steel doors that would allow Big O to exit directly onto the street.
Dorothy watched with rapt attention. She had never considered the merits of drawing before; not as an activity for her. Roger's oil paintings had not revealed the depth and subtlety that two-dimensional art could take on in the hands of a master.
She stiffened. Then, suddenly, she was racing to the emergency stairs. The elevator would be too slow.
"Big O!" she called. "It's showtime!"
A rumbling from within the building showed that he had heard.
"It is too late to escape underground," she said as she ran.
She reached the fourth-floor hangar access door and pelted out onto the catwalk. A moment later she leapt over the side, to land in Big O's outstretched palm. He lifted her up to the open hatch of the cockpit, where she sprang into the command seat.
Removing her hairband, she held still for a moment as the eight probe cables rose like snakes and deftly plugged themselves into the slot in her skull.
The cockpit hatch lowered and locked. The screen in front of her lit up and said,
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD……
YE NOT GUILTY.
As the last message blinked, Dorothy, sitting primly in the seat with her hands folded in her lap, called, "Big O! Action!"
Big O strode out of the hole in the hangar wall, emerging just as another Megadeus appeared, turning the corner and entering their street at a jog. It was dripping water, and had some kelp clinging to one shoulder. Big O leaned forward, raised his left arm protectively, and prepared to pile-drive the newcomer with his right fist.
Dorothy spoke in a perfectly calm voice, "I cannot kill, Big O. You know that. Only Roger can make that decision."
Big O continued forward. The onrushing Megadeus slowed to meet him. Big O stretched out from a crouch and slammed his fist into the other Megadeus' shoulder, causing it to stumble backwards. Then Big O raised both arms protectively and began to march backwards down the road, toward the domes.
The Megadeus, recovering, raised its right arm. The hand withdrew and a weapon appeared; some kind of cannon, by the look of it. On Dorothy's command, Big O's upper torso suddenly opened and three missiles fired from his left side. The upper torso snapped back. Big O pivoted on his right foot.
The Megadeus fired its cannon hurriedly, before the missiles could hit, and missed. The projectile dug a long trench in the road and then exploded. Two of the missiles missed, and Dorothy exploded them harmlessly in the air. By pure luck (they had not waited for target lock), the third one struck the cannon arm, doing some damage, but not disabling it.
Big O resumed his backward march, hurrying this time.
"Maybe he will fall into the crater," said Dorothy. "The smoke and dust hide it completely."
In fact, the Megadeus did fall into the crater, and this allowed Big O to stretch his lead by a block.
"Oh!" said Dorothy suddenly. "They have isolated the core memory and installed overrides. The Megadeus is trapped in his own mind. There is no Dominus; there is only a pilot."
The Megadeus emerged from the crater on hands and knees. Its back armor lifted away from its body, and something enormous came spinning at them.
"A net," said Dorothy calmly, as the spinning web of chains and hooks whirled toward them. She directed Big O to fire the chromebuster, cutting the net in half. The two parts separated and smashed into the buildings on either side.
They were getting close to Main Dome. Roger's face appeared on a screen. He was inside a Military Police tank. "We've had some trouble with snipers, Dorothy. How much longer?"
"Twelve seconds," she said. Big O backed into a cross street. Three more steps brought him to the tank, where he crouched and picked up Roger in his right hand, his left arm raised to protect him.
When Roger entered to cockpit, Dorothy leapt into the air and landed behind the command chair, the eight cables still radiating from her head.
Roger sat down at the command seat and crossed his forearms. Once more, the front monitor displayed:
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD….
YE NOT GUILTY.
The hand controls, which had not appeared for Dorothy, slid down their slots. Roger grasped them. "Big O! Action!"
Big O's movements took on a new character: aggressive, menacing. Big O did not like playing defense. He and Roger were eager to come to grips with the other Megadeus.
"Do not kill the Megadeus," said Dorothy calmly. "He is the first sane one we have seen since Dorothy One. We will want to keep him."
"What about the pilot?" asked Roger.
"I know nothing about him. I would not harm him no matter how evil he was. Life and death are your decisions, Dominus."
"Don't call me that! And lock onto something non-vital with those missiles."
Big O leapt forward and grabbed the other Megadeus' damaged right arm in his left, then used his right-hand pile driver to smash the shoulder joint twice in rapid succession. The arm hung limp, useless. Meanwhile, the other Megadeus had withdrawn its left hand and extruded some kind of brightly glowing weapon.
"Plasma lance," reported Dorothy calmly, "Effective range, two meters. Time to penetrate our armor, one-half second."
"Yipe! This no-killing business is really dangerous to us, I hope you know that, Dorothy."
The Megadeus swung its arm. Big O blocked with his right. The lance plunged deep into Big O's forearm, and the other Megadeus sawed it this way and that. Gouts of painfully bright flame erupted from Big O's arm. Molten metal rained down on the street. Big O tried to pull his arm away from the lance, but could not.
"Magnetic grapples," said Dorothy.
A large chunk of Big O's right forearm fell smoking to the ground. The lance, stuck briefly to the falling armor, was withdrawn. Big O punched the Megadeus in the chest with his left hand and took a step back.
"Missiles locked," said Dorothy.
Big O shot five missiles from his right side, aimed at the Megadeus' undamaged arm. Three of them missed, and Dorothy exploded them harmlessly in the air. One hit the Megadeus in the arm, and one in the shoulder, causing it to stagger for two or three paces, then, unable to use its left arm for balance, it fell heavily on its back.
It started to rise, but suddenly began to twitch all over, and then to writhe. It was a horrible sight. The Megadeus' eyes suddenly lit up.
"The fall has damaged the override circuitry," reported Dorothy. "The Megadeus is regaining his freedom."
"And that's good, right?"
The watched the Megadeus in silence for a moment. It did seem to be gaining control of itself.
Roger asked, "Tell me, do all Megadeuses have gender to you?"
"You used to call them all 'it.'"
"Because everyone else did. My way is better."
Suddenly the other Megadeus heaved itself to its feet. Its motions were still slightly jerky and twitchy. Its cockpit hatch opened, and a man was ejected. He fell in a horrible spinning tumble to the broken pavement below.
The cockpit hatch closed. The eyes of the Megadeus went out.
Dorothy said, "He requires repairs, but his mind is intact and he will choose a sane Dominus." Then, almost without a pause, she added, "Did you say snipers?"
"What? Oh, yes, at least two people were set to pick me off when I ran out to meet Big O. Dan Dastun somehow guessed this might happen, and snuck me out a back door into one of his armored vehicles."
"Who were they?"
"I don't know. It's sad to think that yesterday's events only reduced the number of villains in the world by two. We've been given our world back, but Angel didn't pretty it up for us."
"Thank goodness. I never would have forgiven her if she had turned me into a human."
"Me, either. I like you just the way you are."
She walked around the console and they embraced. After kissing her for a moment, he raised his head and asked, "Big O? Do you mind?"
The cables removed themselves from Dorothy's skull, and Roger and Dorothy returned to their embrace.
* * *
Roger and Dorothy were examining the architect's sketch - which had been moved to a side table, as it was nearly dinner time - when Norman entered the room.
"Colonel Dastun and Miss Angel have arrived, Master Roger," he said.
"About time," said Roger. "Show them in, Norman."
Norman nodded. "Fifteen minutes until supper time," he said.
A moment later he showed Dastun and Angel into the room. Angel looked very much the worse for wear. Norman pulled out a chair for her at the dining room table and she sank into it.
Dastun looked uncomfortable. He had his hat in his hands and was turning it around and around. "It's my fault," he said. "I kept her too long, and I didn't notice she was getting tired." He sighed. "It's been a strange day."
"Have a seat," said Roger.
Dastun waved the offer away. He turned to Dorothy. "I was pleased to learn of your recovery, Miss Wayneright," he said, awkward but sincere.
"Call me Dorothy, Colonel."
"Thank you. Please, sit down."
Dastun sank into the seat gratefully.
Dorothy turned her steady gaze on Angel, and after a moment said, "I'll just see Angel to her room." Angel murmured an agreement. Dorothy helped her to her feet and the two of them went off towards the elevator.
"Drink?" asked Roger. "And we ought to send one down to Angel. I wish I could remember what she drinks." Norman appeared with a tray. He placed a bottle of beer and a glass before Roger, a scotch on the rocks in front of Dastun, and walked off towards the elevator, two cocktails still on the tray.
"Will they be back?" asked Dastun.
"Norman will let us know."
Dastun sighed. "What a day. Look, I'm really sorry about Angel. I forgot all about her when that Megadeus appeared, and then when I finally remembered her and started talking to her, she had all kinds of information that we needed right away, and the interview went on and on. She never complained or anything, and suddenly I saw she'd gone all pale. So I brought her home right away. Besides, I need to talk to you."
"Very gentlemanly of you."
"Do you really have both those women living under the same roof with you?"
"And if I do?"
"Well, god help you, that's all I'm saying."
"Well, if you're going to heap me with abuse, I suppose that makes this a social occasion. We'll be having dinner in a few minutes. Stick around."
"Thanks, I will. But I'll have to talk business."
"Not during dinner, you won't. That's another one of my rules."
Norman returned. "The two ladies will be joining us momentarily," he reported, and withdrew into the kitchen.
"You should have stayed on the force," said Dastun when Norman had gone. "You get a free funeral. That's going to be an important benefit for someone like you. Don't say you weren't warned. When those two square off, you're not going to be the prize, you're gonna be the battlefield."
"In case you were wondering," said Roger. "Angel is up for grabs, as far as I'm concerned."
"You don't get a vote, pal," said Dastun. "It's been nice knowing you."
A discreet cough made Roger turn around. Norman gestured with his eyes. Male bonding time was over. The ladies were returning.
Angel had changed into a fresh outfit and looked a lot better, though just a little glassy-eyed. Roger realized that the doctor must have left her some painkillers, and that she hadn't brought any with her on her trip to the Domes. Dorothy looked the same as always, which for some reason meant a lot to him. He suddenly remembered that terrible day when he had almost been killed by R. D., and Big O had suddenly appeared, and there was Dorothy, all fresh and unruffled, one of the few points of sanity in a world gone mad. He smiled at her. She did not smile back, but raised her eyes to look directly into his. Something…complex…passed between them, leaving behind a thrill of pleasure.
He turned to his guests. Angel had missed the exchange, but Dastun had a goofy little smile on his face, and Norman's expression was suspiciously blank.
Norman withdrew and almost immediately appeared with the soup course. They ate almost in silence. Dorothy's table manners were perfect. It was hard to believe that there had been a time when he thought her whirring noises and exaggeratedly robotic motions were real, and not an act she did to annoy people or to let them know she was an android without saying anything. She could pass easily for human in most circumstances.
Of course, eating and drinking were just a social convention; she derived no physical benefit from it. It occurred to him that she was dispensing with food more and more when they were alone, and sometimes even when they had company, as this morning when she had commandeered the coffee pot and poured for him and Angel, while consuming nothing herself. But Dastun was less used to her, and she must feel that blending in would help set him at his ease.
The meal went on in relative silence. Recent events had deprived them of small talk.
Eventually, Norman cleared the dessert dishes away and returned with the coffee service, which Dorothy commandeered as she had at breakfast, pouring for everyone but herself. This left Norman without an excuse to remain in the room, but he simply withdrew a pace and remained anyway.
Dastun cleared his throat. "So can I talk business now, Roger?"
Dorothy asked, "Shall the ladies withdraw?"
"I'd appreciate it if you'd stay, Dorothy," replied Dastun. "Angel, I don't want to keep you if you're tired."
"I'll stay for a little while at least," said Angel.
"Well, now," said Dastun, taking a notebook out of his coat pocket and riffling through it until he found a page with a list scribbled on it, "The first thing I want to know is, how did Big O do all that stuff before he even reached you?"
"It's a secret," said Roger.
Dastun sighed. "All right, then, let me put it another way. Is Big O doing this on his own, or was Norman or someone piloting him?"
"He was piloted, Dan. But he can't be piloted by strangers, if that's what you're thinking, and his actions are very limited when he's on his own."
"All right, then." He wrote something down in his notebook. "Next question. You wanted me to rescind the execution order for Beck. Okay, that's done. The execution order was illegal, anyway. But he has most of a long prison sentence still to serve. Do you know where he is?"
"Haven't a clue," said Roger truthfully.
"Didn't think so. Next question. What are we supposed to do with that other Megadeus?"
"Wait a minute," said Roger, "It's my turn to ask a question. Who was behind that Megadeus and the snipers?"
"Oh, that's right, I forgot - we found that out after you left. We took one of the snipers alive. He was a Union agent. So was the Megadeus' pilot."
Angel gasped. "But…"
Dastun nodded sympathetically. "I know. You told me. The Union agents are all there is. The folks back home they're allegedly doing this for don't even exist. So you say."
"Gordon Rosewater told me."
"But he didn't tell them. I guess they're still living in a fool's paradise. Anyway, Roger, what happened is this. They have a talent for finding Megadeuses out in the wastelands and converting them over to remote control, bypassing the core memories and turning them into directly piloted or radio-controlled robots. We've seen this before. And they've cobbled together some less sophisticated robots of their own. Well, they had another one ready to go. This time, they knew where Big O's hangar was, so they decided to wait until you were as far from Big O as possible, and they'd attack Big O in his hangar. You're only a few blocks from the river, so they could get really close if they could stay underwater until they reached the shore. Then a quick dash, catch Big O before he could escape underground, and bingo! No more Megadeus protecting Paradigm."
"That's an ugly thought," said Roger.
"Tell me about it. I've got the military engineers working on riverfront defenses that might slow a Megadeus down next time, but nothing's going to give you the kind of protection that secrecy did."
"So when do they try next?" asked Roger.
"Well, the guy we caught said that the pilot of the Megadeus was their robotics genius, and that with him dead, they won't be able to cobble together any more robots. So maybe that particular threat is gone for a while."
"Hmmm…" said Roger.
"So is it my turn to ask a question?" asked Dastun.
"What am I supposed to with that Megadeus?"
Dorothy said, "He's one of the sane Megadeuses, like Big O and Dorothy One. He's not one of the crazy ones like Big Fau or Big Duo. If you leave him alone, he will find a Dominus that suits him."
Dastun, alarmed, asked, "So what's it going to do, walk around the city and knock on doors? Is it going to hold a casting call?"
"I don't think so," said Dorothy. "I think a suitable Dominus will be drawn to him."
"So we can just sit back and let things happen?"
"If the Union still has agents around," said Dorothy, "they may try to destroy him."
"Crash barriers," muttered Dastun. "Searchlights. Guards. Artillery. Well, we can do that."
"Just don't shoot the true Dominus," said Roger.
"How can I tell which is which?" asked Dastun.
"If you try to shoot the true Dominus, the Megadeus will attack you," replied Roger.
"Thanks a lot. I really needed to hear that."
Roger said, "Just don't let anyone with a wheelbarrow full of explosives or a cutting torch get too close to the Megadeus, for their own safety, really. But if people with empty hands want to approach it, let them."
"And this is all going to work out? The guy who gets the Megadeus is going to be true-blue and on our side?"
"Not necessarily," said Dorothy. "He will be sane. That doesn't mean he will be a nice person. He may turn out to be a louse with no fashion sense."
* * *
Late that night, while the city slept, a man moved cautiously towards the abandoned Megadeus. It was brilliantly illuminated by searchlights. He wasn't sure why he was so interested in it - it didn't really fit in with any of his plans - but he couldn't stop thinking about it.
It was foggy and still, and the guards were lax, warming their hands over a fire in an oil drum and not paying attention to what was going on around them.
The man squeezed between the crash barriers and began to stroll casually towards the Megadeus, a crooked smile on his face. This slowly faded as he got closer, and was replaced by a look of wonder. He walked right up to the enormous right foot of the Megadeus. A panel silently slid open. The lights inside the compartment illuminated the man briefly, highlighting his curly blond hair and yellow suit. He stepped inside and the panel slid shut.
The Megadeus' eyes lit. A moment later, It began to stride toward the wastelands.