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.
R. Emily moved down the alley as quickly as she could. It was the middle of the night and no one was out. It was sleeting; she was soaked. Sparks shot out of her damaged right knee with every step. Stray currents from each discharge stiffened her momentarily, causing her to lurch.
She had been unearthed only yesterday. She had been buried in the rubble for ages. Something had happened to her memories. She knew her name, and that was all. What had awakened her? Had the men done that, or had she done it herself? She couldn't recall.
They didn't know she was awake. She had lain very still and listened. She hated what she heard. The good ones always talked about defense, about protection, about trying not to do harm. These were the other kind, who talked about dominance and mastery and remaking the world in their own image. They knew something of her function. They were delighted to have found her. They had plans. That meant there was a crazed Megadeus in her future if she didn't escape. She fled as soon as their backs were turned.
A particularly powerful discharge from her knee pitched her to the ground. She had a sudden memory of her Megadeus and her Dominus. Where were they? For a moment she was so overwhelmed with longing that she couldn't move. Yet she couldn't remember their names or faces.
She recognized the city as Paradigm, but it wasn't her Paradigm. The domes in the distance were new. Some of the buildings seemed newer than they ought to be; many were older. Some were missing. She got to her feet.
Where was she going?
She was disheveled and clad only in a stolen yellow raincoat. The sparking knee and its consequences would prevent her from passing for human. She was dimly aware that under better circumstances she not only passed for human, but turned heads. Not tonight. Her long black hair was a mess, and her face probably wasn't much better. She made a variety of unpleasant mechanical noise when she moved.
The sky was lightening. Soon it would be dawn, and there would be people everywhere, in spite of the weather. She needed to get dry and out of sight. If she were dry, maybe she could do something about the short-circuit in her knee.
She closed her eyes and relaxed slowly. After a few minutes, she felt sure there was an entrance to the Underground a couple of blocks away. Or there had been, once.
Dripping water, she limped through the sleet in that direction.
* * *
Roger was working with an insurance company to ransom a stolen necklace worth half a million dollars. He and Dorothy were meeting with the company's representatives in their offices inside Paradigm Main Dome, where it was a bright, sunny day. Outside the domes, it was a grey, mid-December afternoon. It was sleeting.
Roger's fee was unusually high for this kind of work, but his track record was so good that the actuaries' calculations said he was a bargain.
Technically, ransoming stolen property was illegal. Roger had been concerned that this would bother Dorothy, who had a strong moral sense, but it not been an issue. Dorothy's values did not include much respect for authority, which in Paradigm was perfectly understandable. She herself almost always obeyed the law because breaking it was bad manners. But nothing about ransoming stolen property gave her conscience a twinge.
Dorothy had been a big hit with the men at the insurance company, who liked her attentiveness and good manners. They knew she was an android - she never left people in the dark about this for long - but it turned out that insurance company people liked androids. The more typical androids had perfect memories, never made mistakes in calculations, and were unfailingly cheerful and eager to please, all of which endeared them to their employers. Dorothy did not, in fact, share any of these characteristics; she was too human. The insurance men seemed not to notice.
Roger had encouraged her to take an active role in this case. He would do the talking with the thieves. Dorothy took the lead with the insurance men.
She was going down her list of questions. They had already discussed bidding strategy at length. The thieves would not expect to get the full insured value of the necklace, but they expected to get as much as they would if the stones were sold individually, with perhaps the most valuable ones cut into smaller stones to make them untraceable. This was about twenty percent of the insured value in this case, and represented the least they were likely to accept. The insurance company rarely went over one-third of the insured value, as a matter of policy. Putting a ceiling on ransom values that represented a good profit for the thieves but a substantial savings for the insurance company was good business. It was better to let a few deals fall through and pay full price to the owners than to let the price for all deals creep up over time.
"Number four," she said. "How can we tell if the necklace is genuine?"
"Ah," said Mr. Yance, the head of this particular insurance investigation. "We have photographs and a description. Two of the stones, the most valuable ones, are quite distinctive. Do you have any experience with gemology, my dear?"
"Mr. Smith does," said Dorothy.
"Mr. Smith, please look at these descriptions and photographs carefully, and ask any questions you may have now," said Mr. Yance, handing them over. Roger accepted the documents and began studying them carefully.
"Number five," said Dorothy. "What is the policy if the necklace is damaged in some way; for example, if some stones are missing?"
"Ah," said Mr. Yance again, as he did after every question he considered interestingly non-routine. "Such damage should be treated with the utmost suspicion, as it is likely to mask a counterfeit necklace, especially if the most distinctive stones are missing. The handoff should be immediately terminated pending further negotiations, unless the damage is trivial, such as a broken clasp."
Dorothy made a note. "Number six," she said. "Is any attempt to be made to make the money traceable, or will we in any way attempt to catch the thieves?"
"Absolutely not," said Mr. Yance. "If we were to increase the odds of the criminals being caught, their demands would immediately rise. They would wish to factor in the increased chance of defense attorney's fees and the loss of income due to prison time. No, a high level of trust keeps ransom demands low. I must ask you to do everything possible to prevent clues to the thieves' identity from falling into the hands of the police. I realize that this technically makes you a party to a criminal conspiracy, but no more so than every other aspect of the transaction."
Dorothy made another note. "Number seven. Should any clues to the criminals' identity be reported back to you?"
"Ah," said Mr. Yance, smiling. "A very good question. To me, personally, yes. It pays to keep track of the more inventive criminals. At one point we were paying a highly successful criminal one million dollars a year to not rob our clients."
Roger smiled. Beck had bragged to him about this just a few days previously. He was interested to note that Beck had reported the dollar amount accurately. At the time, Roger had thought he had probably inflated it outrageously.
Dorothy continued, "Number eight. Once the necklace is in our possession, we wish to hand it off as soon as possible. Where shall we take it?"
"During normal business hours, you should bring it to me here. You can hand it off to me personally, or any of these gentlemen." He produced a typewritten list. "Otherwise, please use your discretion. Kindly keep in mind that telephones may be tapped, and announcing success may place you in danger. Though no doubt Mr. Smith's residence is one of the safest places in Paradigm City."
"Number nine," said Dorothy. "Our last question. What level of secrecy is to be maintained afterwards?"
"That is up to the owners," said Mr. Yance. "Normally, they would announce the safe recovery of the necklace to the newspapers. If you would like Mr. Smith's name to be mentioned as well, or yours, my dear, you will have to take it up with them. However, I could encourage them to do so as a sort of bonus for a job well done."
"Thank you, gentlemen," said Dorothy. "I have no further questions. Roger?"
"I believe we're done here," said Roger, opening his briefcase and placing the accumulated papers in it, including the descriptions and photos of the gems. "I expect the next call from the thieves in forty minutes at a pay phone a short distance from here. If you will excuse us, gentlemen." He stood.
There were handshakes all around, and they departed.
"That went well," said Roger, smiling, as they headed for the escalator. "A little more practice, and I can hand the business over to you."
"When that happens, you can carry my briefcase," said Dorothy. "A handsome man in a well-tailored suit makes a good impression with clients."
* * *
The two men met in a dingy hotel room. "What have you got, Chuck?" asked the leader, Tamworth.
Chuck grinned. He was in his late teens, but seemed much older. He had ten years' experience in organized crime. "It's always the same. When there's a call for Big O, the big double doors open and the cop on duty leaves to stop traffic. The access hatch on the outside edge of the right foot keeps working until Big O starts moving. I saw a guy open it to grab his lunch box just a few seconds before Smith got underway. Smith and his girlfriend always enter from the catwalk leading to the cockpit. They never look down."
"How long is the entrance unguarded?"
"At least thirty seconds. Plenty of time to get inside."
"Couldn't find anything about the interior, but there's an elevator and an emergency ladder inside the hatch. We ought to be able to step off on any level we want. If we can't get up to the head and the core memories, we ought to be able to do something interesting with the reactor in the abdomen. There must be a main cutoff switch or something."
"What if Big O goes underground instead of using the street?"
"Doesn't matter. The street doors are opened on spec, every time. It'd be great for us if Big O took the underground, because it'll be easier for us to move around than when it's walking."
"You up for this, Chuck?"
"Are you kidding?" asked Chuck, grinning. "It's going to be great! Stealing a Megadeus! It doesn't get any better than this!"
"What about Big B?"
"Still missing the torso armor, last I heard. Beck won't want to bring it out."
"I'd like to make more certain."
"Well, if we put an antitank missile into the reactor, I figure Big B will never go anywhere ever again. It's exposed right now. Hell, they open the main doors in Hangar B every day. We could peg it from across the street. Gillis knows how to handle that stuff. Piece of cake. But we could steal Big B, too. Why not?"
"You don't know Beck. Beck's sneaky and paranoid. Big B will be loaded with booby traps and remote shutdown codes. No point even trying."
* * *
Beck was elated. The new chromebuster was installed in Big B and they system had checked out - he'd gone up to Big B's head and tested it personally -- though of course he couldn't fire it in the hangar. Real weapons! He'd gotten a lot of mileage out of Big B's big-bore, slow-firing left-hand cannon, the right-hand plasma lance, the net, and the shaped charges in the knees, but all these weapons had been used in front of plenty of witnesses. Everybody knew about them now. And none of them had the range or punch of a chromebuster.
Big B liked it, too. He hadn't felt right with a broken chromebuster in his head.
Beck had been laughing and praising everyone in sight. It also looked Big B was ready to have his torso armor put back on. He'd feel a lot better after that happened.
And there was the other weapon, the one he was keeping under wraps. That wouldn't be installed here in the hangar - it was far too secret for that.
He wished Dori were here. He was calmer when Dori was around, and she reined him in before his excesses ruined things. But Dori was all excited about Heaven's Day and today's business could be done easily without her, so he'd left her with Dorothy. He consoled himself with the thought that Roger hated Heaven's Day, and being double-teamed by the Wayneright sisters meant that his opinion wouldn't count for squat.
He made another circuit of his new Prairie Dog unit. Man, but it had been hard to talk Norman into sharing his tracks! It had been the most natural thing in the world -- or so Beck had thought -- but Norman was incredibly possessive of his underground track system. He barely even pretended that it belonged to Roger and not him. Beck knew that Norman was slyly digging secret extensions to his track system, using his automated equipment - and not telling Beck. Beck had considered bugging Norman's equipment, but the old codger would probably find him out, so he was shelling out money instead to Murray Worthington, who had seismographs and other sensors all over town. He wondered who else knew Murray was selling information to. Not Roger Smith, obviously, or Norman wouldn't imagine that his tunnels were a secret.
Beck suddenly decided that he needed some quiet time in Big B's cockpit. He had recently been turning over some ideas about core memories in his mind, and he thought better about such things when he was with Big B. Nobody was working in the cockpit today. He headed for the elevator.
* * *
Roger and Dorothy walked into the penthouse, followed by Norman, who had met them at the elevator on the eighth floor. Dori was there, and hugged first Dorothy and then Roger.
"Roger," she said as she returned to one of the couches. She picked up a pencil and the newspaper, which was opened to the crossword puzzle. "I need a word that starts with 'L' and ends with 'E.'"
"Louse," said Roger instantly.
"Four letters," said Dori.
Roger thought for a moment. "How about 'like'?"
"Second letter is an 'O.'"
"'Lone'? 'Lope'? 'Lore'?"
Roger hazarded, "'Lobe'? 'Lose'? 'Lode'?"
Roger shook his head, smiling. "Sorry, Dori. If there is such a word, which I doubt, I don't know it."
"He's not a louse," said Dori to Dorothy. "He has a limited vocabulary."
Dorothy said, "That's a pleasant surprise."
Roger picked a notepad off the coffee table. Its top page was covered with Dori's bold handwriting. When Dori took the time to write slowly, her handwriting was identical to Dorothy's, but she had a swashbuckling approach to getting the written word down on paper. Her writing as always legible, but was usually none too neat, with frequent erasures and additions crowded into the margins. Dori was also much less sparing with words when she wrote than when she talked, and sometimes imitated the style of authors she had read recently. Right now, she was reading several romance novels every day.
Roger asked, "Do you mind if I look?"
"Go ahead," said Dori.
Roger picked up the notepad and began to read.
* * *
BEFORE WE FORGOT
A NOVEL BY DORI WAYNERIGHT
Before we lost our memories, the dauntless men and women of the Paradigm Megadeus Squadron risked all to hold back the relentless chaos around them. This is the tale of their deeds, and of the love that was almost enough to hold the world together.
General Dan Dastun: The lovable commander of the Megadeus Squadron. Angel's sometime boyfriend.
Major Roger Smith: The lovable Dominus of Big O. A hero. Angel's sometime boyfriend. Dorothy Wayneright's true love.
Captain Jason B. Smith: The lovable Dominus of Big B. Roger's younger brother. A hero. Angel's sometime boyfriend. Dorothy Wayneright's other true love[?].
Captain Mike Seebach: The tortured Dominus of Big Duo.
Captain Alex Rosewater: The despicable Dominus of Big Fau. A villain. Gordon Rosewater's son.
Lieutenant Patricia "Angel" Lovejoy: Roger Smith's mysterious but lovable and beautiful assistant. Secretly the Domineuse of Big Venus.
Dorothy Wayneright: The lovable and beautiful heroine.
Prof. Timothy Wayneright: A lovable scientist. Dorothy's father. Technical advisor to the Megadeus Squadron.
Dr. Gordon Rosewater: An eccentric engineer. Secretly Angel's Futurity Advisor.
Big O: A lovable Megadeus. Teamed up with Roger Smith.
Big B: A lovable Megadeus. Teamed up with Jason B. Smith.
Big Duo: A tortured Megadeus. Teamed up with Mike Seebach.
Big Fau: A despicable Megadeus. Teamed up with Alex Rosewater.
* * *
Roger looked up, smiling. He asked Dori, "Is there more?"
"No," said Dori. "I can't write it."
"The worst part is that Jason … that Dorothy … Jason …" Her voice trailed off. After a moment of silence she closed her eyes and tried again. "There aren't enough Dorothies in the story, and Jason … Jason …" She opened her eyes and said, very quickly, "RogergetstheonlyDorothy."
Roger sat down beside her and put his arm around her. She snuggled up against him. She was quiet for a long time. He knew that it was hard for her to talk about some things, and that trying to do so was painful to her. This was true of Dorothy, as well. Apparently, it caused her deep distress to imagine a Beck who never got his Dori. A few months ago Roger would have found the concept inconceivable. A lot of things in his life today would have been inconceivable a few months ago.
Something told me she had recovered, and he said, "Well, that's a problem. Maybe, in your story, Dorothy could be twins."
"It's not just that," said Dori. "Fiction needs conflict. I have to hurt the characters! I can't do it. I couldn't even write a synopsis."
"What about non-fiction?"
"Much easier. I don't feel responsible, then. But I can't write my novel as history. Angel doesn't remember enough."
Roger wondered how much of the what he had just read was based on Angel's memories instead of Dori's imagination. Probably not much. Most of it was ridiculous; little more than a list of Bigs and their pilots. But he couldn't resist probing. "What does Angel remember?"
"Everyone asks me what Angel thinks."
"You think I should ask her myself," said Roger.
"She'll be here soon."
He changed the subject back to her writing, "Maybe you should write about your own adventures."
"Nothing interesting ever happens to me." She looked up at him. "Why are you laughing?"
She suddenly bounced off the couch and left the room. A moment later the elevator bell could be heard on the eighth floor. New arrivals.
Dorothy took Dori's place on the couch and held his hand. She said, "Roger, I know you don't like Heaven's Day." She left the statement hanging in the air.
Roger tried not to squirm. He despised Heaven's Day, which he felt glorified the Paradigm Corporation. He also knew that Dorothy liked it, and that Dori was agog. This would be her first Heaven's Day ever. Seeing her enthusiasm, he had felt compelled to forbid the hanging of mistletoe in the mansion. "What do you have in mind?" he asked.
"I would like to throw a party for our friends."
Roger hated parties. He especially hated parties in his own house. "Who did you want to invite?"
"Family, of course. And Dan, Angel, Instro, Freddie, Laura and Oliver, Lt. Sorenson and Julie, Kelly Fitzgerald, Tony, and Mr. Brown."
"Who's Mr. Brown?"
"You call him 'Big Ear.' And Mr. McGowan and his granddaughter Tammy."
Dori returned with Dastun and Angel. The three of them walked towards the couches and Roger.
Roger capitulated. He suspected that the alternative would be a party at Casa del Beck, which would be worse. A lot worse. "Sure. As long as you and Norman are firmly in charge of all the preparations."
"Thank you, Roger." She squeezed his hand and rose to greet the others.
Angel and Dastun were talking to Dori. Dastun asked, "What do you want for Heaven's Day, Dori?"
"I don't want anything for me. I want things for other people."
"What, nothing at all?"
"I have everything that's important to me," said Dori seriously.
Dastun said, "Some of us would like to give you gifts anyway. Maybe you could think of some unimportant things that would please you."
Dori nodded seriously, "Thank you. That's a good idea."
Dastun continued, "What do you want for other people?"
Dori looked at him for a moment, considering. Then she said, "I'd like Roger and Jason to be friends. I'd like Angel and Dorothy to be friends."
Dastun was confused. "I thought Angel and Dorothy were friends." Angel said nothing and looked away.
Dori said, "They're doing better than Roger and Jason. Dorothy is me, in a way, and Angel's my best friend. She should be Dorothy's best friend, too."
Dastun looked enquiringly at Angel, who said, reluctantly, "It's not that bad, Dan, really. Dorothy and I love each other. We just don't like each other very much."
Dastun looked at Dori and asked, "Does that make any sense to you at all?"
"Maybe someone could explain it to me."
Neither of them did.
* * *
Beck awoke with a start. He looked around the cockpit. "What is it?" he asked.
One of the displays was tracking a blip near the stairway down to the underground.
Beck looked at his watch. 6:40 pm. There was only one shift working, these days, and modifications neared completion. The workmen had all gone home. The security guards were all outside the hangar.
As Beck watched, the blip passed through the locked and armored door separating the underground from the hangar. What the hell? Almost immediately, the display added a notice, "ANDROID." After a couple of seconds, it added, "FRIEND." Another pause, then "DAMAGED."
"Thanks, Big B."
Beck decided to be prudent and got on the loudspeaker. "Well, hello there!" he said. "Would you kindly move into the light so I can take a look at you?"
The figure lurched into the light. Beck peered alternately at the video display and out the window. The figure was shrouded in a voluminous yellow raincoat.
"Take off the raincoat, please."
The figure did so, revealing a startlingly attractive young woman of medium height, with long black hair and a damaged left leg. She was nude. Sparks shot out of her left knee from time to time.
"Sorry, miss. My mistake. Put the raincoat back on. I'll be down in a jiffy." Beck opened a supply cabinet and took out a pair of heavy black rubber gloves and a white cotton lab coat, then took Big B's interior elevator down to ground level, emerging from a hatch in one of the feet. He had pulled the rubber gloves on and had the lab coat draped around his neck like a towel.
"How do you do," he said, approaching the android. "My name is Jason Beck. I'm the Dominus of Big B here. Pardon the gloves, but I see you're sparking. He offered her his hand, and she reached out and shook it calmly.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Beck," she said. "My name is R. Emily. I've forgotten my last name." Her voice was clear and sounded entirely human, though her body made noises he didn't like the sound of when she moved. "I am looking for my Megadeus and Dominus. I was buried underground for some time; I don't know how long. I am in need of repairs. Also, the men who unearthed me are probably looking for me. They wanted to use me to help make a mad Megadeus operational."
"Again?" cried Beck. "Doesn't anybody in this city do anything else? Well, you've come to the right place, sister. We'll get you patched right up. But can I ask you a personal question?"
She smiled. It was a full smile, something he'd never seen on Dori and certainly not on Dorothy. Emily had dimples. "I won't promise to answer it."
"What's in the slot in your forehead?"
She nodded, as if acknowledging that the question was reasonable. The disc tray extended, then swung aside. Beck reached into his pocket for a tiny flashlight and took a peek. Two-thirds of the way back, the slot ended in eight gleaming sockets. Emily was equipped with a direct Megadeus interface.
"Good," he said. "Didn't you used to have a bunch of memory chips and stuff in front of those sockets?
"I don't remember, specifically, but that's what we have when we're young, for reasons I'm sure you know. It all gets taken out when we've matured."
Beck said, "I think I want to take you to visit some friends of mine. Another Dominus and his android girlfriend. My android girlfriend is there right now. Dori. They've got a pretty good shop there, too. This hangar isn't where I keep my android stuff. You think we should tame that short-circuit before we go? I don't want you setting fire to my car."
"Yes. The arcing is driving me crazy." She rattled off a list of tools that would be required. After a couple of false starts they discovered that if she stood, bracing herself against a wall, with her leg straight out in front of her on a Formica table borrowed from the break room, Beck could work on her leg easily and with minimal danger of being shocked. Beck got her leg partly disassembled and exposed the offending section of wiring, which had lost some of its insulation and was shorting against the metal interior structure of her leg. Beck slapped on some new insulation and wrapped the whole section neatly with electrical tape, working deftly in spite of the clumsy rubber gloves.
"That looks pretty good," he said, after having her move her leg in all directions while he monitored a voltmeter. "But there's some crud and corrosion in there, and you must be low on oil to be making that kind of racket." He smiled at her to show he didn't mean it personally.
Emily patted him on the shoulder. "This will do for the moment. Thank you, Mr. Beck."
"Just Beck. No mister. Oh, and give this lab coat a try. The raincoat doesn't suit you."
She said, "If your girl Dori is the least bit jealous, you should turn your back."
"Naw, she isn't, not at all," he said, grinning.
"Turn your back, Beck."
"Oh, all right."
After a short time she said, "You can turn around now."
She looked good in a too-big lab coat, and no doubt would look a lot better after she'd had time to wash up. Beck offered her his arm and, leaning on it rather heavily, she allowed him to lead her to his car.
* * *
Roger was listening to Angel and Dastun's animated discussion of their after-lunch target-shooting session at the local range. They had been using pop-up targets. They hadn't turned in the highest scores of those people present, but they'd been careful to avoid shooting targets before they'd identified them. A lot of the other shooters would blaze away gaily and targets as soon as they popped up, and then learn that they had plugged little old ladies or mothers pushing strollers.
The usual crowd of avid shooters had been there, and they had all trooped off for the traditional lunch consisting of huge slabs of meat, which somehow was an essential part of target practice. They had heard a number of entertaining stories over the meal, which they recounted, suitably embroidered, to Roger.
Dorothy walked up to Roger and put her hand on his arm. "Time to go," she said.
Roger checked his watch. "So it is. If you'll excuse me, we have a necklace to ransom. We should be back in time for dinner at eight."
As they drove away, they saw a nondescript sedan with dark tinted glass go by in the other direction. "Was the Beck?" asked Roger.
"It looks like one of his cars," said Dorothy.
They soon reached the rendezvous site. Unlike Beck, who drove the most generic cars possible, so he could not be spotted with certainty, Roger always drove his custom-built Griffon to handoffs with crooks. There wasn't another car like it in the city. Crooks were always nervous at handoffs, and seeing the distinctive car they expected was reassuring to them. They also knew that Roger had a special relationship with the Military Police, through his friendship with General Dastun, and with the city, because of Big O, and that everyone had semi-official orders to look the other way where Roger's negotiating work was concerned.
Criminals valued people with connections with City Hall, and Roger had been so overwhelmed with work that he had felt compelled to raise his fees three times in the last few months, to discourage everyone who didn't absolutely require Roger Smith personally. Even so, business was brisk. Bringing Dorothy along was no longer optional; there was far too much work for him to do alone. Besides, she was alert to many things that he overlooked, and vice versa. They were so unlike each other that they made a great team. And they each took a deep satisfaction in working together.
For once, the handoff wasn't in an abandoned warehouse, but was downtown, under the domes. The meeting place was a classroom at a small private school, now closed for the holidays. The school occupied half of one floor of a fairly busy downtown skyscraper; busy enough that no one paid them any attention as they walked in an took the elevator to the fourteenth floor. The hallway was deserted.
Roger stepped out of the elevator and checked the floor plan and his watch. They stood near the elevator for a minute and a half to ensure that they would reach the rendezvous exactly on time - one of his trademarks, and another thing that criminals found reassuring. They liked it when there were no surprises.
The door was unlocked. Roger rapped on it a couple of times, then entered. Dorothy followed. The lights were on in the classroom.
Roger smiled. "Hello, gentlemen. I'm afraid I don't know your names. Sorry we had to retrieve Beck in such a hurry last time, but time was pressing. No hard feelings, I hope."
Frank, a fat, middle-aged man, said, "Yeah, yeah. We knew it was you, Smith. We saw you. And you, too," he said, nodding to Dorothy. "That was pretty funny, jacking our car up like that. And you let us get away, so no hard feelings, sure." He reached out a hand to Roger, who shook it gravely.
They went through the formalities. The two men examined the cash while Roger examined the necklace through a loupe, comparing it carefully with the written description and the photographs. Dorothy looked on impassively. Her job was to stay alert for trouble, from whatever quarter.
The exchange was made and Roger shook hands with both men. "It's a pleasure when things work smoothly," he said. "Do you want to leave the building first?"
"Don't worry about us," said Frank. "Leave whenever you like. But first, I got something to tell you."
"First thing: Everybody knows Beck has a Megadeus. Everybody knows where Hangar B is. Somebody ought to tell him."
"I'll pass that along," said Roger.
"Second thing: Somebody's trying to find Megadeuses under the city. We don't know who, but it's not anybody we'd trust."
"Who would you trust?" asked Dorothy.
"You, the Military Police, maybe even Beck, now that he's gone straight. People who like things to run smoothly. But it isn't anybody we know, and we're afraid it's another nut case like Rosewater or Schwarzwald. I got a wife and kids."
Roger asked, "What can you tell me?"
"I have two entrances to the underground they seem to be using." He handed over a slip of paper. "And some guys we don't know got drunk in the Speakeasy a couple of nights ago and babbled about Megadeuses and core memories. I got this second-hand, but Big Ear probably heard every word. He usually does."
Roger said, "Thanks, guys. I'll look into it. And I didn't hear a word from you."
Harry, a thin older guy, said, "And tell Beck we ain't looking for him. He would have helped us if you hadn't sprung him. It was just one of those things."
"I'll pass the word."
* * *
Norman and Beck were finishing repairs to Emily's knee down in the android repair area of Big O's hangar. Dori was working on Emily's arms, blowing out any lingering crud with compressed air, then applying solvents, degreasers, lubricants, and other liquids with great care to bearings and linkages, using cloth pads to intercept any drips before they happened.
Emily was talking cheerfully. "One has to wonder about the people who designed androids," she was saying. "I mean, using steel and motors and hydraulics to make imitation men and women? I'm told that there are synthetics that can contract like human muscle cells. Apparently it's possible to make an android that's a lot more human under the skin. Really, we're just miniaturized Megadeuses in disguise. Except for our minds, of course, which are mostly human."
"Which bearing is this?" Dori interrupted. "Three fifty-one?"
"Bearing 351 needs replacement," said Dori, writing this down.
Beck asked, "What's the tally?"
"Twenty-six parts with the same designation as mine, three that are different," said Dori.
Beck nodded. "Same design, different revision."
"Why are you so short?" asked Emily. "You probably aren't tall enough to operate some kinds of equipment."
"The human Dorothy was this size," said Dori.
"The manufacturer did custom tooling to match each individual?" asked Emily in surprise.
"My father wanted to bring his dead daughter back to life. He hadn't built any previous androids, so all his tooling was custom," explained Dori.
"I'd like to meet him," said Emily. "He does excellent work."
"Thank you. He's dead. "
"It was very tragic. Jason was responsible. It was before he was reformed by his hopeless love for Dorothy. I'll write a romance about it some day."
Emily looked around, taking in Norman's absolutely blank face, Dori's serious expression, and Beck, who seemed to be displaying every conceivable emotion at the same time, though embarrassment and fondness seemed the dominant themes. She said, "I can't wait to read it."
* * *
The party was a week later, two days before Heaven's Day. It started at six to accommodate little Tammy McGowan, who had an early bedtime. Norman opened the front door to admit Dastun and Angel, who arrived bearing armloads of gifts. They were late; Dastun had some last-minute business keeping him late at the office, and Angel had taken the opportunity to do some last-minute shopping, so she had made him later still.
"Good evening, General, Miss Angel. Lt. Sorenson and Miss Julie are already here." Norman relieved Angel of some of her packages and turned towards the elevator when his watch beeped. At the same time, a shout came out of the police office on the ground floor. "General? Is that you?"
The police message was delivered more or less simultaneously over the watch and by shouts. Something, possibly a Megadeus, had emerged from the river to the north of the city, and was walking around. So far, it had reversed course once. No real damage had been done.
Dastun swore. "Not during the party! Who's on duty? Billings? Tell him that it's probably either a trap or a diversion, so he shouldn't rush in. I'll be there as soon as I can. Damn! Maybe Roger and Beck can flip a coin over this one." He set his packages on the floor. So did Angel and Norman.
"No, sir, they will almost certainly both wish to be there. Master Roger especially, since he dislikes parties."
To underscore this, there was a rumble as the big doors to the street started to open.
By unspoken agreement, the three turned and opened the armored door to the hangar. Not that there was likely anything for them to do, but you never knew, and Big O getting underway was always worth watching.
As the stepped onto the landing to the stairs descending to the hangar floor, they saw four men rush in through the open doors and race towards Big O. Dastun's policemen's reflexes had him running after them almost before he'd taken in the situation. Norman and Angel followed.
The four men reached Big O's foot, opened an access panel, and operated the control that opened a hatch in the foot. The went inside and began to climb the emergency ladder.
Dastun glanced up to see Dorothy and Roger racing down the catwalk to Big O's cockpit. This was going to be close. He put on a burst of speed.
He and Angel made it inside without any trouble, but the hatch closed automatically as Norman was coming through. Both Dastun and Angel grabbed him and almost hurled him inside, but the tail of his long coat was caught in the hatchway. Norman pulled at it once and decided that it wasn't going to come loose, so he grabbed the front of his coat and burst all the buttons in a single movement. In a moment, the coat was off, revealing his twin shoulder holsters.
In the meantime, Big O had gotten underway. Fortunately for them, he was using the Prairie Dog, and the motion was fairly smooth. In a few seconds, Big O had tilted ninety degrees onto his back, making both the elevator and the emergency ladder problematical. But the front of the elevator shaft was now horizontal.
They boosted each other up to it. No sign of the four men.
"Norman!" hissed Angel, her pistol in her hand.
"I've never been able to shoot anybody. Not ever."
"Now would be a good time to start, miss."
Dastun asked, "Is it safe to use firearms inside Big O?"
"Not to us, sir. Ricochets and cut electrical cables might prove hazardous. To Big O, the risk is nonexistent."
Angel tried to contact Roger using her watch. "There's no signal!"
"Big O is very well shielded, miss."
"Any sign of those guys?"
"No, miss. We should assume they are climbing. There is nothing for them here in the leg."
They kept on moving.
* * *
When the call came through to the penthouse, Roger shouted the news to Beck.
Beck said, "Whoops! Sorry, all, but I've gotta run. Come on, Dori."
Dori turned to Emily. "Come with us."
Emily smiled, "Three's a crowd."
"It's four, with Big B. Come on, you can give me pointers."
Emily looked at Beck, "All right with you?"
"Don't just stand there yapping! We've got work to do! Come or stay, whichever you like. Come on, Dori!" Beck grabbed Dori's hand and urged her into motion. Emily followed. She was moving almost silently now that she'd had some maintenance.
They took Norman's kitchen escape chute to the hangar floor, with Beck prudently announcing, "Ladies first," to eliminate the possibility of being brained by android women from above.
Big O was already gone and the hangar doors were closed again. Beck was not fooled; the Prairie Dog was gone, too. He led the way to Norman's fastest railcar. Soon they were speeding towards Big B.
* * *
Angel found herself in the lead; she was fitter than the other two. They had made it up Big O's leg and now had a choice of directions: there were a lot of narrow ladders and catwalks inside Big O to facilitate maintenance. With Big O on his back in the Prairie Dog, progress was slow. She saw a scrap of cloth flutter; someone had left a piece of trouser leg on a sharp protrusion from some unguessable machine. She pointed the direction to the others. The would take them right to … all right, admit it! Right to Big O's crotch, with the other leg further on, the reactor above, and all the weapons even higher still. She started working her way in that direction. She hoped she'd be able to shoot to save her own life.
Big O suddenly began to lurch. The Prairie Dog was rotating him back to vertical. Angel hung on with one hand and grabbed Dastun, who had very nearly lost his footing. Norman, perhaps more at home with this sort of thing, seemed quite comfortable.
Norman called, "Hang on very tightly!"
There was an enormous acceleration that hit as soon as Big O was upright, then an equally powerful deceleration as he burst through the ground. Angel felt as if she'd been compressed and stretched like a concertina.
Norman said, "Things will be very rough from now on. Hold on to something secure with at least one hand at all times, and be careful of your footing as well. We will have to move very slowly."
They crept towards the center of Big O.
* * *
The doors opened on Hangar B, giving a wonderful view of Big B and his exposed torso. The golden globe of the reactor took up about half Big B's abdomen. It gleamed in the bright hangar lights.
Gillis had his shoulder-launched anti-tank missile ready. He got out of the car on the passenger side. The upward angle of the shot meant that he could shoot right over the roof of the car, making it less likely that he would be seen before firing or shot afterwards. He took careful aim and pulled the trigger.
The missile flew straight and true, hitting the reactor dead-center. A flash and cloud of smoke briefly obscured the view, then it cleared enough to show Big B sagging limply from the gantry.
Something wasn't right. Gillis stared. Large portions of Big B were hanging down in tatters and … flapping? Gillis tried to take in the scene for a long moment, then suddenly dived into the car. "Let's get out of here!" It had been nothing but an inflated decoy.
Chuck hit the accelerator and they peeled out. Police were soon on their tail. They managed to stay ahead of the cops for about ten minutes - it was hard for the police to barricade the warrens of streets here at the edge of town -- but all at once something massive was coming down on top of them.
The heel of Big B's right foot hit the ground in front of them, and they hurtled into the wedge-shaped space between the heel and the upraised toes. There was a brief screech of metal, then silence.
A voice filled their whole world. "Naughty, naughty! Now sit right there like nice boys and don't make any funny moves, or I'll have to put my foot down."
They sat very quietly indeed, and didn't even complain about the smell of leaking gasoline from the broken fuel line. They were pathetically grateful when the police dragged them from the car and out from under Big B's foot. As soon as they were clear, Big B squashed the car absolutely flat. When he lifted his foot, the remains burst into brief but impressive flames.
As they were hustled away, they looked back at Big B, his torso fully armored. He had also been given a new coat of dark yellow paint with black trim.
* * *
Since it was dark, Roger was having trouble making visual contact with the target, which showed up only as a blip on his radar.
"What do you make if it, Dorothy?" he asked.
"It is a Megadeus with a damaged core memory and an unwilling pilot."
"An unwilling pilot?"
"So Big O says. I don't understand it, either."
"What does it want?"
"Perhaps it is looking for an android to help repair its core memory."
"Call the house and warn Emily."
* * *
Beck looked down at the remains of the car and said, "That was fun. But let's get on to the main event. Dori, can we get there without going underground?"
"Yes, there's an abandoned highway going the right direction," reported Dori. "If you step over power lines at these nine points instead of knocking them down like last time, and don't step where these three gas mains go under the road, you won't do any damage at all."
"Anything you say, Dori. How's the ride, Emily?"
Emily was standing next to Dori. "It's been entertaining so far. Where were you trained, Beck?"
Dori answered for him, "Jason is completely self-taught."
"Why am I not surprised?"
Dori said, "Here come the first power lines, Jason. Time to target, three minutes."
* * *
Angel said discontentedly, "Where are they?" She seemed to be in charge, by virtue of being more agile and also by being the only one who consistently had enough breath to talk.
Norman answered, "If I were them, I would either want to shut down Big O at the reactor, or at the core memory. Or possibly storm the cockpit directly."
"We get to all three if we climb straight up, don't we?"
Angel peered up, but everything was obscured by the reactor. "Let's start climbing."
They cleared the bulge of the reactor and found nothing. "How do you shut this reactor down?"
"You open this door and press the two emergency power-off switches at the same time," replied Norman.
Dastun pointed to the door and asked, "Are these crowbar marks new?"
Norman chuckled, "Indeed yes. It would take more than a crowbar to open that door."
Dastun said, "Then they've given up and are doing something else."
Angel nodded. "More climbing, I suppose."
The ladder was not straight. It would go up for ten feet or so, meet a catwalk, and then a new ladder would ascend at some distance to the left or right. They were about to start climbing their third ladder after the reactor when there was a clatter above them. Angel flinched back, then let out a little shriek. Before its echoes had died away, she gave a tremendous kick. Something dark and about the size of an apple flew through the air away from them, exploding some distance away.
"Grenade," she explained unnecessarily. She glared upwards, though there was nothing to see, since she was a good ten feet back from the ladder.
There was another ladder back the way they'd come, so they climbed that one. To Angel's amazement, when she reached the catwalk, there was one of the attackers with his back to her, peering down the other ladder. She ducked back down and motioned Dastun, who was next in line, to go first. She felt like a coward for doing this, but she had a track record for not pulling the trigger, and she didn't think she could shoot a man in the back.
Dastun nodded grimly, focused entirely on his task. Big O was walking, and Dastun's whole world was lurching and swaying alarmingly. He swarmed up the ladder until his head and shoulders were above the catwalk and immediately pumped three rounds into the attacker. This was no venue for chitchat or warning shots. The man fell sideways off the catwalk. Angel, just a few feet away from Dastun, could barely hear the shots over the noise of Big O in motion.
Dan climbed up onto the catwalk to let the others get up. On this level, there was only one ladder going up. Dastun took off his coat and flapped it under the ladder. A grenade was dropped immediately. Dastun caught it and threw it straight up, then lurched back away from the hole. There was an explosion, disappointingly far from the catwalk above. Accurate pitching was not something they were going to be able to count on as long as Big O was in motion.
"What now?" shouted Angel.
Beck peered at the screen. "Come on, guys, fire some weapons so I can watch you on infrared." But Big O and the target were not cooperating. Big O was stalking the target, who had made no overtly hostile move.
Beck asked Dori, "Can you make any sense of this, Dori?"
"Big O says it's a Megadeus with a damaged core memory and an unwilling pilot. Big B says it has a damaged chromebuster that it's trying to charge up bit by bit, but that it's arcing internally."
Beck said, "I don't like the sound of that 'unwilling pilot' stuff. Sounds creepy."
"Can we rescue him?" asked Dori.
"We can try," said Beck.
Emily said, suddenly, "Use me for bait."
"What?" asked Beck and Dori together.
"Use me for bait. The Megadeus won't be able to resist me. He has a damaged core memory and I have the memories he needs."
Dori said, "I thought those got taken out with your other memory circuitry."
"No, of course not! That's just the programming, the inhibitions, the compulsions, the overrides. Training wheels for baby androids. Backup copies of everything, too, in case your development takes a wrong turn and has to be partly reversed, or in case you get damaged. I can fix a Megadeus' core memory if I want to. It's one of our best talents, Dori. But I can't cure a crazy Megadeus."
"Not at all?" asked Dori.
"Not at all," affirmed Emily. "Dori, don't ever think a bad Megadeus can be redeemed by the love of a good android. The android always loses that one."
Emily raised her voice, "You got that, Beck? Use me for bait, so we can get straight to the showdown before this Megadeus drifts into town or gets the chromebuster working, but you'd better damned well kill it before it captures me, or I'm going to be very angry with you. And try to keep the poor pilot alive. He ought to be okay if we get to him fast enough."
"Geez," said Beck, "you sound just like Angel when you talk like that. Okay, where do you want to be put down?"
"Right here's pretty good. We're not quite in line of sight. As soon as I'm outside Big B, he'll know I'm here. He'll probably come running. Just walk off nonchalantly like you never noticed me. Undamaged Megadeuses don't pay much attention to androids. At least," she corrected herself, looking at Dori, "androids that aren't their pals."
Beck stopped Big B and opened the cockpit hatch. Emily stepped onto Big B's hand and said, "See you in a few minutes," and gave a lazy salute to Beck and Dori as she was being lowered to the ground.
Beck put Big B back into motion and started wandering off.
Dori said, "I've told Dorothy the plan. Look - the target has scented the bait."
The enemy Megadeus was making a beeline to Emily. Dori said, "ETA, one minute."
Big O was also closing in.
Beck said, "Lock missiles onto the enemy's torso, as a backup. But we'll use the chromebuster to the head. That'll be less hard on the pilot and leave us more parts to salvage."
Dori said nothing, but Beck could sense her objections. She didn't want to kill the Megadeus, whatever Emily said. But she never interfered with his decisions.
"I hear you, Dori, and I'm sorry," said Beck. "I've been trying to think of a better way myself."
"I know you have, Jason. Target almost in range."
Beck waited until the target was, in fact, quite close. It seemed willing to ignore Big B so far. When Beck felt he was so close he couldn't miss, he called for the chromebuster. Big B took up his characteristic firing stance, and the chromebuster charged up for three seconds. "Fire!" called Beck, stabbing the firing button. Nothing happened.
"Damn it to hell!" shouted Beck. "Dori, what's wrong?"
"The button isn't wired to anything," reported Dori.
"What? Well, can you or Big B fire on my order?"
There was a pause. "I'm sorry, Jason. It should be possible, but I can't figure out how to do it." Dori sounded miserable.
"It's okay, honey. We'll use the old weapons. Plasma lance! Cannon! And let's get some eye lasers, too!"
Big B's left hand moved out of the way, revealing an immensely wide gun barrel. A brilliant streak of fire appeared in his right hand. Beck urged Big B forward. The other Megadeus was getting awfully close to Emily. He fired the eye lasers at the other Megadeus' knees, hoping for a lucky hit.
The enemy Megadeus took up a chromebuster firing stance. Big B raised his forearms protectively and sidestepped, hoping to avoid the beam. There was a pause. No beam emerged from the other Megadeus' head.
"Ha! Well matched, my friend!" cackled Beck. "Sorry, Dori." He'd promised her he wouldn't let himself get overexcited. "Let's lock the missiles onto its left leg. We're close enough."
Big O was getting pretty close, too. Beck moved Big B out of Big O's line of fire. Big O took a chromebuster firing stance. The enemy Megadeus threw itself flat on the ground just as the chromebuster fired. Big O missed.
Beck aimed his left-hand cannon at the enemy Megadeus' head. "Fire!" he called, jabbing the firing button. The cannon roared, and the armor-piercing shell hit home and exploded. It was not, however, enough to penetrate the Megadeus' head all by itself. Beck hadn't expected it to.
"Relock the missiles on the head," he said, just as Dori was about to announce that lock had been achieved on the leg.
Big O hove into view over a small rise, which had kept it from seeing the fallen Megadeus. With a surprising agility, the enemy Megadeus got to its feet and adopted a chromebuster firing stance again. This time it achieved a beam, but only for a second. A river of molten steel rained down from Big O's forearm armor, but there was plenty more where that came from.
"Where's Emily?" asked Beck.
"She's a three hundred yards to the right of the enemy Megadeus, moving away," reported Dori.
* * *
Angel was seething with frustration. They had split up. She hadn't wanted to, but Norman was the only one who wore a wrist-grapnel, and he had insisted on using it to get above their attackers. Angel had no idea what had happened to him. Dan had been thrown against some machinery when Big O had taken an unexpected lurch, and had been left dizzy and nauseous. Angel had left him wedged into a corner, with his belt fastened around a girder, so he wouldn't fall even if he lost consciousness. He said he hoped to feel well enough to follow in a few minutes. Angel prayed he wouldn't try.
For that matter, Angel had no idea what had happened to the attackers. There should be three of them, somewhere. She had climbed the ladder to the next level when she felt that Norman had to be in position. At least she'd distract the attackers enough that he could get the drop on them while they got the drop on her.
She emerged at the next level and found it deserted, but she heard faint noises from one level up. Here she had a choice of ladders, and she chose one that should put her on the opposite side of her attackers from Norman.
And there they were! Three of them, one with an arm hanging limp, peering from time to time around a piece of machinery, only to be forced back by shots from Norman.
They were concentrating so hard in the opposite direction, and there was so much noise and vibration, that she could walk right up to them without being noticed, so she did. The man closest to her had a grenade stuck invitingly into a loop on his belt, so she snatched it. He didn't notice. Holding down the spoon, she pulled the pin and held out the grenade at arm's length.
Big O stopped walking, and a hush fell.
Angel said, "Oh, boys!"
They turned around to look at her beaming face, her pistol pointed demurely at the ground, and the live grenade held out almost within snatching distance.
"Time to surrender like good boys," she said.
They were tempted, she could see that. And if they had brought grenades with shorter fuses, they probably would have given in. But one of them rushed her, and then the others did, too. She gave the grenade a little toss and brought up her pistol. The grenade landed on the catwalk and showed no sign of plunging safely into the distance below. One of the men reached over to pick it up, and then suddenly pitched off the catwalk. Norman had shot him.
Big O started moving again. Angel almost fell off the catwalk herself. The grenade rolled down the catwalk, to stop almost at Norman's feet. Startled, he stared at it. Then Big O gave another lurch and the grenade rolled back. One of the men tried to rush past Angel in his hurry to get past the grenade. She elbowed him in the face, chopped him across the neck, and now that he was bent double, took a step back and kicked him hard in the shoulder, shoving him backwards and knocking him into his compatriot, the one with the wounded arm. The two fell in a tangled heap.
The grenade! Where was the grenade?
There was a muffled explosion.
"Ewwwww," said Angel. The two men had been on top of it.
There was a sudden, tremendous lurch. Angel somehow managed to grab hold of one of the cables supporting the catwalk, which was swaying wildly. The grenade blast had weakened the catwalk, and it has separated under the stress of Big O's steps. She looked around wildly for Norman, but he was okay. He worked his way back to stabler ground, and pointed upwards. She nodded.
* * *
Roger looked at the enemy Megadeus, now quite close. He had transformed Big O's arm to expose the Thunder weapon, and had his right hand on the control.
"Any thoughts, Dorothy?" he asked.
"It cannot be saved, Roger."
Roger spoke to the enemy Megadeus, "You're damaged beyond our ability to cure. I suppose you know that. No hard feelings, but … bye-bye!" He pulled the trigger. The four-barreled plasma fire pounded the other Megadeus. After a few seconds, the Megadeus fell over onto its back, its head almost obliterated.
"Core memory destroyed," reported Dorothy.
"Time to extricate the pilot," said Roger. Then he almost jumped out of his skin as the side door opened and Angel walked in, followed by Norman. They looked the worse for wear.
Angel managed a rather artificial smile. "Congratulate us, Roger, we're heroes. Dan, too. He's down a few levels, resting. He banged his head. You had four stowaways when you started this jaunt. We bagged them all." She leaned heavily against the bulkhead and then said, "God, I need a drink."
Roger looked at his displays, saw nothing alarming, and stood up. The front console retracted and he stepped out. "Norman, you don't look so good."
"Overexertion, Master Roger. I'll be myself in a few minutes."
Roger nodded. "And you, Angel …"
Angel threw her arms around him, pointed to the ceiling and said, "Look, mistletoe!" She kissed him hungrily.
There was no mistletoe, of course. Roger was distracted for a few seconds, then extricated himself with some difficulty, and said, "Dorothy, you'd better go retrieve Dan."
"For his sake as well as yours," said Dorothy. The probe cables withdrew from her forehead. "Who knows where he is?"
Angel sighed. "That would be me." She patted Roger on the cheek and turned to Dorothy. "You're a good sport, Dorothy."
Norman had lowered one of the recently-installed jump seats and was strapping himself in. "Two of the attackers are definitely dead, Master Roger, and two are probably dead, but we have not recovered the bodies. They fell quite some distance."
Roger nodded and returned to the control seat. A moment later, Beck was on the line. "Emily is climbing the Megadeus right now. She thinks she can get the pilot out, and would like us to stand by. Are you having problems? Dori says Dorothy is off-line."
"She'll be back in a minute, and we'll be ready to roll again."
The three were back in a surprisingly short time, using the elevator. Dan looked a little green, but was conscious and focused. Angel folded down more jump seats and made sure Dan was settled. She was delighted to discover that Roger had indeed laid in a supply of barf bags, and handed one with malicious courtesy to Dastun, who managed to glare at her for all of two seconds before smiling. She whispered something into his ear, and he laughed.
* * *
Emily climbed up the Megadeus until she reached the main cockpit hatch at the throat. Usually it was easy to take control of a Megadeus if the core memory was destroyed, provided the power wasn't shut down. She could sense the circuitry in the hatch mechanism. She wondered if the Wayneright sisters knew how to do this. They were nice girls, very intelligent, but they were terribly young and totally untrained. From Emily's point of view, the two were practically the same age. She found it odd that Dori looked up to Dorothy as if she belonged to a different generation. Emily found the lock controller and waited for the circuitry to become clear in her mind. Electromechanical, damn. She made a supreme effort and managed to energize a relay long enough to get the hatch partway open.
There was the pilot. He looked much the worse for wear. She couldn't see his face, but he was lashed to the command seat with probe cables, which were sunk deep into his back.
Emily managed a smile. "Hi, I'm Emily, your friendly android. I'll get you out of here and off to somewhere safe."
He muttered, "Pleased to meet you. Will Henderson."
She unwound the cables and told him, "I'm going to pull these probes from your back. It's going to hurt, but there will be surprisingly little bleeding. I've done this before. We'll get you to a doctor and soon you'll be as good as new." She pulled the cables out one at a time, being careful to pull them out in a single perfectly straight motion. The man gasped a little but didn't cry out.
"There. I'll help you to the ground."
He murmured, "Awfully kind of you."
"My pleasure. Can you stand?" She took his hand to help him up. As soon as their fingers met, she gasped. Memories flooded her. "Will? Is that you?"
"Oh," he breathed, "I wish it was. I really do. But we've never met before."
"Your favorite number is 17. You eat ketchup sandwiches. You cry at sad movies." she said.
"Well, that's me. Who the hell are you?" But he said it with rising hope.
She said sternly, "You're in the wrong Megadeus."
"Tell me about it."
"We'll hitch a ride in one of those others, and we can talk later."
She communicated to Beck in gestures, a couple of them rather rude, and Big B stretched out a hand and took them on board. Emily put down three jump seats and set Will in them sideways, then strapped him in.
"Dori, call to have …"
Dori interrupted, "… a doctor at Smith mansion. Done. Who's the hunk?"
Emily smiled. "He's mine. Will, Dori. Dori, Will. That's Beck over there in the hot seat. And Big B all around us. They're all friends."
Will smiled faintly, but he looked woozy and probably wasn't taking it all in.
"Stay with him, Emily," said Dori. "Big B doesn't have a smooth ride."
* * *
The party had been dead with the entire household missing and in danger, but on their return things picked up immediately. Kelly Fitzgerald had already left; she had promised to attend four different parties tonight. Big Ear had declined the invitation with thanks. Everyone else was waiting for them.
The doctor was waiting for Will and Dan in a side room. It was the same man who had patched up Angel's probe wounds, months before, and he dealt deftly with Will's. Dan got a once-over, a piece of gauze over the lump on his head, some aspirin, and an anti-nausea drug. "Take it easy tonight, general. Let the young lady fetch and carry for you."
"Good idea," said Dastun. "It's about time I got some use out of her."
They went out to the party, taking the doctor with them. Angel wasn't happy about Norman's condition. Will and Emily stayed behind.
Both Roger and Dorothy had insisted that Norman stay seated in one of the couches, so he was telling his tale to an enthralled audience.
Dorothy was with Tammy McGowan and her grandfather, Jim. Because of her early bedtime, Tammy had been allowed to open her gifts early, and had become wildly excited over them; playing for a few moments with one, and then another, and showing them off to anyone who happened by. Now she was was rapidly running out of steam, and soon would be asleep on Dorothy's lap. Dorothy seemed quite pleased with this turn of events. She had visited the McGowans the their hotel from time to time, ever since the "Angel" had fallen from the sky. They were good friends now.
The doctor pronounced Norman sound and prescribed a nice quiet evening with friends, with Dori to do Norman's duties, which she did willingly enough, since it allowed her to spend time with and take care of everyone.
Over at the piano, Oliver was playing his saxophone to Instro's accompanyment. Oliver had made a hit with his holiday tune, "Jingle Bells," that had come to him one day, and had made some money off it. He had since come out with a handful of other popular holiday tunes. He had parleyed this into a good job at a music store, and was taking a more disciplined approach to his music. He no longer inflicted his improvisations to passers-by, but usually played them quietly to himself at home. His better numbers, which he readily admitted were probably memories of old songs, always came to him while playing.
The blind girl, Laura, was no longer his girlfriend - she was his fiancee! They were getting married soon. Dorothy was going to be a bridesmaid.
Laura had captured Tony, the machinist, into her orbit. Tony was distracted by the thought that there was an android woman in need of repairs right here in the house, but she was too busy right now to see him. Laura asked him a couple of leading questions, and listened sympathetically and with genuine interest as he went on at length. Although Laura and Dorothy were friends, she had found that asking Dorothy questions was like talking to a brick wall, and had not yet learned to use Dori as an alternate source of information. She found Tony's conversation very enlightening, and vice versa.
Dastun found himself surrounded by cops and members of similar trades, including R. Freddie (the android detective), Sorenson, Julie, Angel, and (for a while) Roger. Dastun and Angel got to recount their adventures of the evening, which in Angel's case included a reprise of her misteltoe gambit, though, since Roger was no longer with the group, she victimized Beck, and then Sorenson for good measure. She seemed to feel that mistletoe, real or imagined, was wasted on actual boyfriends. Sorenson's girlfriend Julie has been a good sport about it, and had smiled cheerfully but shaken her head when Angel suggested that she have a go at Beck and Dastun. Dori seemed rather put out, though. She didn't have Angel's nerve, and longed for real mistletoe.
The party wound down rather erratically. Dastun and Norman dozed off early, worn out by the day's events, and were carried off to bed by Dori and Dorothy, who returned the sleeping Tammy to her grandfather. Angel was still flying high from the day's excitement and was careening around the party like a loose cannon. Once she sat down for a few minutes, though, she was out like a light, falling into a deep, boneless sleep like a little child, looking to be an angel in more than name.
Beck took off his coat and put it over her, an odd little smile on his face. The gesture would have been perfect if Beck hadn't been wearing a sinister-looking pistol in a shoulder holster under his coat.
* * *
After the party had ended and the guests had been dispatched home in cabs, Dorothy went to check on Will and Emily. Will was sleeping, lying on his side, and Emily was sitting quietly in a chair by his bedside.
"Can I get you anything?" asked Dorothy.
"Just convince me I'm not dreaming," said Emily.
"I'm not good at philosophy," said Dorothy.
Dorothy pulled the room's other chair near Emily's, and they sat quietly for a while.
Emily murmured, "He's sedated. We can talk."
There was another long silence. Unlike Dorothy, who enjoyed silence rather more than most conversations, this bothered Emily, and she spoke. "He couldn't resist looking for Megadeuses. He didn't remember anything about them at all. All that was left was a yearning. Well, he found one."
After another silence she continued. "I don't understand how this could have happened. I was buried for more than forty years, it seems. Much more, I think. But here's Will! How did it happen? Was he born again?"
"I don't know," said Dorothy. "Angel might be able to tell you. But I think a human is born only once. Some of them reappear from time to time, at different ages. There is a young Dan Dastun in this city, about eight years old. His origins are unknown, but he was adopted by a loving family. Roger has memories of other Rogers, from different times. He knew the human Dorothy. I don't remember that part. It was before we all lost our memories."
Emily reached over and squeezed Dorothy's hand. "Well, when we discover how it works, it will be technology, and we'll put it to use. For now, it's a miracle."
* * *
It was early afternoon on New Year's Day. Emily tossed her suitcase into the trunk of her car, a nondescript sedan - one of her going-away presents from Beck. The others, far more important, were in her purse. They included the all-important cloaking device that would make her invisible to Megadeuses. Beck was a genius. Emily was almost certain that such a device had never existed before. It alone made her quest possible.
Will came down the steps, walking with only a hint of stiffness. Emily grinned at him. God, but he was handsome! He winked at her.
Dorothy was there to see them off. Emily hugged her, and said, "Consider everyone's lectures delivered. We'll be careful. We'll stay in touch. We'll drop by whenever we're in the neighborhood. We'll be sure to let you know if any of the repairs give me trouble. If anything touchingly romantic happens, I'll let Dori know immediately so she can write a book about it someday. Weird technology will be reported dutifully to both Beck and Norman. I will let Tony know if I find a nice android girl. I have conflicting orders about Angel and a nice android boy. Big O thinks I shouldn't go out without a Megadeus, and Big B thinks I shouldn't go out without him." She hugged Dorothy again and turned to get into the car.
Almost against her will, Dorothy asked, "Will you find him?"
Emily grinned. "I found Will. That was the impossible part. Finding our Megadeus is only going to be very, very hard. We're up for it. Don't worry about us, Dorothy. We're in our element." And with that, they drove off.
Dorothy watched until they were out of sight, then went back into the house. She would go up to the roof and gaze over the city. She had much to think about.
She didn't realize it, but as the walked to the elevator, she wore a little smile.