Dori's Rude Awakening
by A Clockwork Tomato
This story is set a couple of weeks after Act 26, or between my fan-fiction Act 27 and Act 28.
-- A Clockwork Tomato
Dorothy woke suddenly. One moment she was asleep, the next, she was wide awake, her eyes still closed. That's odd, she thought.
She wondered what time it was, and realized it was 3:42 AM and 12.02 seconds. I can't know that. I must be dreaming.
She tried to remember what had happened around bedtime, but nothing came to mind. What happened yesterday? she wondered. Nothing. Well, what's the date?
The answer scared her. Surely the year had more than two digits in it! How could it be "41"? It was supposed to be … what was it supposed to be?
What was her last name?
Who was she?
The last question triggered a wave of memories and associations, but they were not hers. A vast library of information about androids opened up before her and, beyond it, vague, shadowy impressions of other information, half-remembered, cold and objective, none of it hers.
I am not an android! I'm a girl!
"Dorothy," said a man's gentle voice. "It's time to wake up."
Dorothy's eyes flew open. The man was leaning over her, looking down at her anxiously. He was a tall, handsome young man with blond hair in ridiculous curls, and a short, neat blond beard. He wore a well-tailored suit that was ruined by being a loud yellow and rumpled. A shoulder holster was barely discernable under his left armpit.
He looked terrible. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his paleness couldn't be normal. He looked like he hadn't slept in a week. He loomed over Dorothy as she lay - wherever she was lying.
Horrified, she blurted, "Jason! Are you all right?" It was not until she said these words that she realized that she knew this man, and loved him. His name was Jason Beck.
Beck was taken aback. After a moment he said, "I…" and didn't seem to know how to continue.
Dorothy sat up. She gazed steadily at him. He really was at the end of his strength. "Is there some kind of emergency?"
Beck smiled sheepishly. "Naw, it's just that I thought I could get everything finished in one go if I pushed myself." He looked her up and down in a way that made her want to slap him. "You look great."
"When did you last eat?" she asked. Her own predicament seemed so overwhelming that it was a relief to focus on something simple, like a man who forgot to eat or rest when he was working. This was normal.
Beck waved a hand. "I don't know."
"Let's get you something." She stood up. As she did so, she noticed her clothes for the first time. She was wearing a black dress, expensive, made of a soft, velvety cloth. White cuffs, a white jabot with a green brooch at her throat. Black stockings and soft black shoes - almost slippers. So strange. It was a beautiful outfit, but she would not have bought it in a million years. She looked up at Beck quizzically, and realized for the first time how tall he was.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"Black is not my color."
Oddly, this pleased him. He smiled crookedly and showed her to an apartment, attached to the workshop in which she'd awakened. The kitchen was surprisingly lavish, gleaming with restaurant-style stainless-steel equipment. Dorothy caught her reflection in the refrigerator door and froze.
"See?" said Beck, affecting confidence. "You're still you."
"I'm supposed to be a redhead."
"Blonde suits you."
"And my eyes are supposed to be violet. They're my best feature."
"I'm sorry, Dorothy. I didn't know."
She looked at Beck's reflection. What was wrong with him? It was as if he needed her approval as much as oxygen. And why did she crave his approval? It wasn't like her. She couldn't remember the details, but she was sure that she had always approved of her loved ones, and they had approved of her. It was something you took for granted, part of being a …
"Jason, what's my last name?"
"Wayneright. You're Dorothy Wayneright."
"Yes." She opened the refrigerator door. It hadn't been restocked in some time, to judge by the lettuce. She opened a bottle of milk and sniffed. "I don't smell anything."
"Your sense of taste and smell aren't anything to write home about," said Beck, taking the bottle from her. "Your other senses are really good, though. Better than human."
"I really am an android." It was not quite a question.
"Yeah." He sniffed the milk, took a glass from the cupboard, and poured. "Want some?"
"I'm not thirsty."
"When you are, it means you're low on oil. But you can eat and drink if you want. Socially, I mean."
"Why am I an android, Jason?"
Beck sipped the milk, and then downed the glass in a few gulps, filled it again, and drained it again. "I'm starved." He put a frying pan on the stove and turned on the heat, then put four slices of bread into the toaster with a deft movement of one hand, quick as a conjuror. He turned back to Dorothy. "Forty years ago, your father made a recording of you. It mapped out your brain; memories, personalities, even glands. He used this to build an android brain. So you're still you." He paused and added, "More or less."
Beck turned and broke four eggs into the frying pan. As they fried he said, not facing her. "Your father built several android Dorothies and activated one before he died. I fell in love with her, but she hates me. Anyway, she loves someone else. So here you are."
"Why does she hate you?"
Beck looked away from her steady gaze, then turned back and looked her straight in the eye. "I tried to kill her. I tried to kill her boyfriend. And I'm responsible for her father's death."
"You killed my father?"
"No! It was an accident! Well, not exactly. It was supposed to be a bluff. But the idiot I had working for me was so scared of Dorothy - the other Dorothy - that he panicked and pulled the trigger."
They stared at each other for a long moment, then Dorothy said, "Don't let your eggs burn."
He turned back to the frying pan and she buttered his toast for him, buying time to think. She opened a cupboard and found jam just where she would have put it, and placed it on the table. Beck sat down with his breakfast, and she sat down across from him. He had clearly meant to continue his confession, but the food distracted him.
Dorothy watched him wolf it down. He was such a strange man. Why did she love him? How far could she trust him? Why couldn't she remember anything? Maybe she needed to hide her amnesia from him.
Her father was dead because of him … she tried to remember. Had her father been a good man? Had she loved him? She didn't seem to have any real memories of people or events. Just habits of thought. She supposed she'd eventually be able to guess at her past by the way she thought about things now.
What to do about Jason? He hardly seemed to be a suitable companion for her. She wondered whether escaping would present any difficulty. But the thought of escape was followed instantly by a deep distress. Leave Jason? Impossible!
Disoriented, she tried to think around the problem. She loved Jason, but more than that, she was emotionally dependent on him to a degree she wouldn't have thought possible. It was difficult even to think about the problem without triggering waves of anxiety. Where had she gotten the impression that androids were unemotional?
And, for that matter, could it be normal for an android to be physically attracted to a human?
She focused again. Jason was still eating. He had noticed nothing, and she suspecting that nothing had shown on her face.
Well, at least he didn't seem reticent about difficult topics. "Jason," she asked. "Why do I love you?"
"You can't help it," he said around a mouthful of toast. "You're stuck with it for a few months, maybe a year. It's called 'android adolescence.' You need to be fully engaged emotionally with another human so you don't go all robotic on us. You're loaded with all sorts of features and information and functions that cause a huge cognitive dissonance unless you're firmly grounded in human relationships. "
She knew what he meant; she'd felt the impact of those functions already. She felt better, safer, when she was thinking like a human. The robotic part of her could wait. She could absorb it bit by bit, and remain herself. She hoped.
Beck continued, "How do you feel? I should be running tests, not feeding my face."
"I feel fine. I don't understand why my body seems so natural."
"You spent most of the last week getting used to it. There's a training routine that adapts your mind to your body. Brilliant piece of work."
"This happened while I was asleep?"
"Semiconscious, mostly. You probably don't remember any of it. The voice was the hard part. You sound great, though," he assured her.
"Do I understand you?" she asked. "You killed my father and tried to kill my…"
"Sister," supplied Beck.
"My sister, and yet you fell in love with her."
"She's an android, too."
"That's right," said Jason. "She's a very impressive girl. Anybody would fall in love with her. Anyone with any sense."
Dorothy stared at him, making him uncomfortable.
"And you decided you wanted a Dorothy of your own, and you could make me love you, so you did."
"It's not like that!" Jason protested. "The imprinting is essential. Look, Dorothy, I know you won't believe me, but I didn't cheat at all. I did it all according to your father's instructions. I didn't change a thing, except that I switched the imprinting from a father/daughter relationship to a …" he stopped abruptly.
She gazed at him coldly until he muttered, "It's not like I'd be any damned good as a father figure."
After another long silence, she asked, "Why, Jason? You can't have thought that I'd be happy about this."
Beck nodded, gaining confidence. "I have my reasons. They're good reasons, Dorothy. Let me think." He considered for a moment, then said, "I can't tell you the biggest reason yet. You need to acclimate, first. But almost as important is, I want your help in transforming my life."
"What do you mean?"
He grinned crookedly, "I'm going to give up my life of crime and become a hero instead."
His grin faded slowly as she gazed at him. But she was attracted to the proposition. She had never heard anything so wildly romantic in her life. He actually wanted to redeem himself through the love of a good woman!
"Are you serious?"
"Absolutely. You're gonna be amazed. But I've been a crook for a long time. Half the time I'm not sure I know the difference between right and wrong."
"You're going to use me as a prosthetic conscience?" Part of her said that this was the stupidest idea she'd ever heard. It couldn't possibly work. Another part of her said, Yes, of course. That's what I'm for.
"What I need is a partner," he said irritably. "Someone I can trust. Someone with good judgment, who'll stand up to me when I'm making mistakes, but who won't try to run my life for me." He pushed his plate away and stood, swaying a little.
"You need to sleep, Jason."
He opened his mouth to protest, then nodded. "A little dizzy there for a minute," he said.
Dorothy took him by the elbow. "Which way is your bedroom?"
The short walk to the bedroom revived him a little, and he didn't want her assistance in changing into a pair of yellow silk pajamas. He changed in the attached bathroom. When he opened the door, he had a toothbrush in his mouth.
Dorothy said, "I don't feel sleepy."
Beck nodded. When he had finished with the toothbrush, he said, "You won't, not normally. It's possible for you to sleep, but your day/night rhythm is set so you won't want to."
"What should I do while you're asleep?"
"I should have timed this better," Beck complained, yawning hugely. "You're vulnerable now. I shouldn't leave you alone."
"I'm not alone. I'm here with you."
"Keep it that way." He almost collapsed into the king-sized bed. Once under the covers, he gave her a look.
"No, thank you," she said, settling into an armchair.
"I'm not gonna try anything," he said.
"No, thank you," she repeated.
He yawned again. "Stay out of the lab," he muttered. "Think human thoughts."
A moment later he was snoring
Dori watched him sleep. She didn't feel up to analyzing her emotions, with their conflicting messages of resentment, attraction, outrage, and devotion. Some of these emotions were hers and some had been imposed. She was fairly sure that not all of her positive feelings had been imposed. She suspected that she liked bold, adventurous men and expected her home to contain a well-stocked laboratory.
The idea that he'd fallen in love with an android also seemed perfectly normal and obvious, but she sensed that this conclusion wasn't really hers. There was a different texture to thoughts that had come as part of her android package, that made up a third category of mental activity, different from her familiar human thoughts and the cold, sterile facts that made up her robotic memories. These android thoughts were at least as human as hers, and carried complex emotional connotations. But there was something else, too. It was as if she also carried a robot mind within her, glittering and precise, powerful in its way, but inflexible and probably none too bright. When it was in charge, she wouldn't think or feel, not really. In spite of everything, she wasn't distressed enough to be attracted by the prospect. Not much.
Too much to think about, and she didn't even trust her own mind. Jason had said, "Think human thoughts." Maybe she shouldn't analyze herself tonight.
She looked around for some kind of distraction. She crossed the room and opened the door to the closet. Several yellow suits hung there in dry-cleaners' bags. A shoe rack held several pairs of identical shoes, with shoe trees. Further back were a couple of different kinds of boots. Dinner jacket, tuxedo, trench coat (black), lab coat (white), and coveralls (yellow) were hung neatly on sturdy hangars. Then came a few articles of women's clothing, all rather dusty, from the wardrobes of at least three different women, who must have abandoned them at some time or other. The most interesting was an expensive-looking skirt suit in pink, suitable for a high-class secretary with an unlimited clothes budget. This was the only women's clothing in a dry-cleaner's bag - a different cleaner from the one Jason used. A black blouse shared the hangar with the suit, and a pair of shoes and panty hose were in a separate bag. The bags were dusty, and Dorothy suspected that the owner of the clothes had fallen out with Jason a long time ago. Dorothy stared at these clothes for some time, masochistically savoring the jealousy and anxiety that the thought of other women aroused in her. Especially the pink suit. It reminded her of someone …
She rescued Jason's discarded clothes from the bathroom. Everything about him bespoke a scrupulous attention to detail, and the clothes lying crumpled on the floor were out of character. Well, he had pushed himself beyond his limits. She brushed and hung up the suit, put the shoes and tie away, and tossed the rest of the clothes in the hamper. Yellow silk boxers? And what kind of criminal wore monogrammed underwear? Surely the police could find him in an instant by making a few phone calls to tailors and dry cleaners!
She looked at the shoulder holster and pistol uncertainly, then decided that Beck probably kept it with him at night. She hung it on the poster of the four-poster bed closest to the bedside table.
No sooner had she done so than the phone rang, too loud in the stillness. Dorothy noticed that she was not startled and did not jump. Whatever passed for her adrenal gland wasn't good at the fight-or-flight reflex. She picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Let me talk to Beck." A man's voice, unfriendly, in a hurry.
Dorothy looked at Jason, who was sleeping peacefully. "He's not available right now. Can I take a message?" Unbidden, the phone number the man was calling from arose in her mind.
The man swore and hung up. Dorothy wrote on the bedside tablet, "Caller, man, 4:53 AM. No message. I think he called from JKK-5252."
After this, she looked around for something new to distract her. The bookshelf held only a handful of miscellaneous titles, but on the bottom shelf was a cardboard box with a dozen paperbacks in it. On top of the books was a sheet of pink writing paper that said, in a bold, feminine hand, "Beck - Don't you dare throw these out! Angel" Dorothy laid out the books on the carpet. They were evenly divided between romance novels and spy thrillers. One book, a spy thriller, had been read so many times that it was almost falling apart. Dorothy put the other books back in the box, along with the note, returned the box to its shelf, and settled back in her armchair to read.
The story revolved around the hero's attempt to prevent a group of spies from stealing a secret weapon and using it to destroy the city. He was immediately thwarted by a beautiful female spy who stole the secret weapon almost from under his nose. The rest of the book was essentially a duel between these two. The spy quickly fell in love with the hero, but was true to her mission and her ideals. The hero seemed only dimly aware of her feelings, and of his own. In the end, forced to choose between her duty and her love, she sacrificed herself to save him. This turned the tide of events and the hero was victorious, though after her death he was strangely impaired, like a marionette with half his strings tangled. He never quite realized that his heart was broken.
Dorothy closed the book and wept. There were no sobs, no tears - she had left these reflexes behind. This made her weep all the more.
After a while she looked up, dry-eyed, outwardly composed. Beck was sitting up in bed, watching her with an odd, sad smile on his face.
"Good morning, Jason," she said.
"Hi," he said, getting out of bed. He crossed the room to where she was sitting, and she stood up. He enfolded her in his arms and she put her cheek against his chest. He stroked her hair. In his arms, she felt safe, loved, and human.
After a while, she asked, "Who is Angel?"
Dorothy asked, "A friend of yours?"
"Not since she fell in love with Roger Smith."
The name hit Dorothy like an electric shock, but she couldn't say why. "Who is Roger Smith?"
"Your sister's boyfriend."
Dorothy stepped back and looked up at him.
He answered the unspoken question. "Roger's a professional negotiator. He's good. Angel's living in the same house as them. She's recovering from some kind of injury she got a couple of weeks ago when the world went all funny again."
"Dunno. Probably not. You're the jealous type, I think."
"She's not me."
He stepped forward to embrace her again, but she raised her hands and he took them in his instead. "Yeah, you're right. She's her and you're you. It's gotta be that way, and not just because she hates my guts."
"I want to meet her."
He winced. "We're not on speaking terms. Roger hates me, too. They'd love you, but I'm not sure they'd understand that we're a package deal, at least for a while."
"Do you plan on making peace with them?"
"I have to. It's all part of the plan. Soon."
"How will you do it?"
"A couple of ways. I'm halfway home already because I have you, and they can't hurt me without hurting you. But I'm gonna earn their respect too, with my heroic deeds."
She searched his face. "You're serious."
She stepped closer and he took her in his arms again. After a while she said, "Jason?"
"Everything's going to be all right, Dorothy. You'll see," he said.
"There are things inside my head that frighten me."
"I know. That'll be okay, too. Once everything's integrated, you'll still be you, and you'll be the boss of all those new functions."
"And I can't remember anything!"
"Didn't I tell you about that? It happened to everybody. Forty years ago, everybody woke up without their memories."
"Why?" Reluctantly, she left his arms so she could get a good look at his face.
"No one knows, but I'm gonna find out someday. It wasn't just memories, but records, too. All the newspapers vanished, all the history books and diaries. The androids lost their memories, too. And the recording your father made of your personality lost its memories just as if you'd been awake."
"That doesn't make sense."
"I know. You could just about imagine that simple amnesia was an experiment gone wrong or something, but the rest? It's a swindle. Someone's jerking us around. They've got a lot to answer for."
After a while he said, "I'll get dressed and we'll go into the lab. We'll run some tests and talk."
"I took a message when you were asleep."
She indicated the memo pad, and he picked it up and read the note. "Damn it to hell! I told them they'd have to wait." He grinned suddenly when he noticed the phone number. "You traced the call, didn't you, baby?"
"Don't call me 'baby.'"
"Sweetheart? Honey? Pumpkin? Princess?"
Dorothy rolled her eyes. "Dorothy … No." She considered. Names were important. A human forebear, an android sister, and her. She was going through enough of an identity crisis without having the same name as the other two. She needed to be a different person from the other two. Jason had been wise to make her a blonde rather than a redhead.
What name to use? Dot? Dolly? Dottie? Dora? Dori? She had a fleeting impression of herself as a little girl named Dori, a girl who wasn't yet determined to be all grown up, just as serious and hyper-competent as her father. Back when she would smile instead of glare if people called her pretty. Well, where was her precious independence now? She was as dependent upon Jason as she had ever been upon her father … what had happened to her mother? Was this memory even real? In her mind's eye, little Dori had long blonde hair. That couldn't be right.
Well, that didn't mean it wasn't a good idea.
"Dori," she said. "Call me Dori."
He didn't like it. "It makes you sound younger."
"I'm only eighteen, Jason."
"You seem as old as the hills."
She was confident in her decision. "Do you want the façade or what's behind it?"
He grinned suddenly. "Let's give it a try. I love you, Dori."
"I love you too, Jason."
He threw back his head and laughed; a horrible, jarring cackle.
He stopped and smiled at her sheepishly. "Sorry, Dori."
She stared at him for a moment and said, "Which suit will you wear?"
He selected clothing. As he retreated into the bathroom to change, he said, "Hey, Dori, see if you can find that number in the phone book." The door closed.
Dori found a thick telephone book in the bedside table. It was a little different from what she was used to, not that she could quite remember what she was used to, but she soon discovered that the prefix was from a part of the "Illegal Residence Sector," whatever that meant. This narrowed things down to about a hundred pages. She started scanning them one by one.
She didn't think she was any faster at this than she had been as a human, but she didn't get tired. Bored, yes; tired, no. She felt as fresh when she finished and when she'd started.
Beck emerged. He had showered and attended to the considerable grooming required by his curls and beard. He grinned at her. He was in high spirits, full of nervous energy.
Dori held up the memo pad. He whooped and snatched it from her. "You got it?"
"No, but both of the adjacent numbers have the same address. I wrote it all down."
"That's great, Dori." He carefully transferred the information into a small notebook he pulled from an inside pocket of his suit. Then he crossed the room briskly and waved for her to follow him. "This way. Time to get to work!"
He strode into the lab. He pulled a lab coat off a rack and put it on, and removed a smaller one for her. Then he picked up a clipboard from the granite-topped table where she'd awakened. Dori noticed that the table had a sheet and a pillow on it for her head, but was otherwise bare.
Beck smiled and said, "Okay, you've got a choice here. Are you going to play the role of patient or lab assistant?"
He handed her the clipboard. "What's next on the list?"
Dori scanned down the list of steps. The ones at the top of the page had been meticulously checked off. "Awaken subject by calling his or her name."
Beck handed her a pencil. "I think we can check that one off."
Dori checked if off and continued down the list. "If subject doesn't respond … if subject is not coherent … if subject … if subject …" There were apparently a lot of things that could go wrong. She turned the page. "Administer the following test …" She looked up.
"Read the questions aloud and then answer them," said Beck, who was making a pot of coffee.
"'Question one. What is your Name?' R. Dorothy Wayneright … what?" She looked up in amazement. "Where did the 'R' come from?"
"It means you're an android," said Beck. "Write down the answer and read the note that follows it."
"'Subject should (97% probability) add the R. before the name without prompting.'" said Dori. "I don't like this, Jason."
"It's in a good cause," said Beck. "You'll see."
"'Question two. How old are you?' What should I put down here, Jason?" she asked, poker-faced.
He sighed. "Eighteen."
"'Question three …' these are all very boring, Jason."
"We're gonna do every one of them," said Beck.
They worked through the interminable lists of questions. No hidden mental problems were revealed. Beck spent most of the time pacing back and forth, but he was listening carefully. Dori was impressed by the vast number of things that had failed to go wrong with her.
The physical tests were next. First, Beck had Dori weigh herself. 287 pounds. There were coordination tests, a hearing test, a vision test. Beck had performed these before, while she was semiconscious, but they needed to be performed again. It was her mind that was being tested, really.
Dori was alternately impressed and appalled by Beck. He was meticulous and very smart. He was solicitous of both her welfare and her feelings. He wanted what was best for her. He was also quite possibly the most annoying man in the world. He had tremendous energy, which often burst out in inappropriate ways; fidgeting, pacing, and that horrible cackling laugh. Paradoxically, he could also lounge like a cat. He was touchy. He could focus very intensely on whatever interested him, to the exclusion of everything else. This, too, could be intensely annoying. And his life of crime had clearly left him callous and insensitive. Not to her, or, she suspected, to any woman he allowed to get close to him. But he was indifferent to the fate of most people. He wanted to be a hero not because he cared about people one way or the other, but as an art form. He thought of himself as an artist, and thought of crime as a medium too cramped to allow him to display his full genius. He also had a childish love of showing off, and a powerful need to win.
Dori couldn't help liking him, in spite of everything. He had such enthusiasm! He was extremely competent. And he understood. He understood her android nature far better than she did, but at the same time was absolutely convinced that she was not a machine, but a woman.
After about fifty pages of questionnaires and checklists having to do with her mental state and perceptions, it was time for the walk-through of the features and peculiarities of her new android body. The checklist calmly instructed the subject (her) to disrobe. She read this aloud and looked at Beck to see his reaction.
He was trying to read her reaction. Finally, he said, "Dori, honey, let's just work through the list, okay?"
She met his gaze and nodded. She read ahead in the list and said, "A full-length mirror would help."
"Good idea. Back to the bedroom, then." He paused, then said, "Or we could carry the bedroom mirror in here if you want. I don't seduce you until the last page."
Dori flipped to the last page of the checklist and he broke into a raucous cackle of laughter. She glared at him and he stopped abruptly.
Dori was embarrassed at being the butt of his joke and humiliated at this reminder of how much she was in Beck's power. It angered her to realize that her artificial dependence on him meant that, when he chose to seduce her, he would probably succeed. She shoved all these thoughts aside and stood up. "You should eat, Jason. You skipped breakfast. It's almost noon."
He reached for her but she dodged him. He followed her glumly into the kitchen, where he slumped into a chair.
"I can't eat now," he said.
Dori, ignoring this, made a ham sandwich. As she set the plate and a glass of milk in front of him, he made as if to push them away, then stopped himself.
Dori said, "You should eat."
"Jason, you need …"
"Damn it, will you leave my stomach out of this?"
She glared at him. He glared back.
She wanted to cut him down to size, but words had never come easily to her.
Jason stood suddenly and stepped back a couple of paces. He struck a dramatic pose, pointing to her with his arm fully extended, and said, "I'm not gonna put up with this! Nobody tells me what to do! For years it was, 'Get your lazy butt off your bunk, Beck; time to eat, Beck; time to exercise, Beck; wear stripes like everybody else, Beck.' I'm free now!"
Dori turned on her heel and strode out of the room. She had already crossed the threshold when she realized he must have been referring to time spent in prison. Once again, she was hit with a wave of conflicting emotions, from a sneering condescension that that's what criminals deserved to near-panic at the thought that the police might arrive at any time and take him away.
She continued walking, lost in misery, not noticing where her feet were taking her. She saw a stairway and climbed it, revealing a second floor, clearly disused. A ladder led to the roof. She climbed it and opened the roof hatch. It was overcast out, and windy, but not uncomfortable. She was in a metal-roofed two-story building attached to an immensely tall warehouse or factory of some kind.
She walked carefully to the very edge of the roof and let the wind ruffle her skirt and hair. It was quiet and soothing out here. She seemed to be in a disused industrial district, with many derelict buildings, though a few here and there were signs of activity. The immediate area was as silent as a tomb, though. In the distance was a great city with many enormous domes, whose purpose she could not guess. Between the domes were innumerable skyscrapers. Many were obviously derelict. While she couldn't remember what she had known before, this all seemed strange to her, and sad.
After a while, Jason walked across the roof and stood near her. He looked out at the landscape for a while in silence. It was an impatient, fidgety silence, though, not like her meditation at all. He broke it after only a few seconds. "I'm sorry, Dori."
"Don't worry about it," she said, not looking at him.
There was another silence, then he remarked, "You know, anybody on the sidewalk could see right up your dress."
"You really are such a louse, Jason Beck!" she said, looking at him at last.
"Yeah, so I'm told."
The silence that followed was more companionable. After a while, Beck said, "When I decided to do this, I asked myself, 'How can I be sure everything's gonna work out?' And then I realized that I had it backwards. You have to believe before you can make it happen."
"Does it work?"
"You're here, aren't you?"
"You just did the final preparation and pushed a button."
"After I found out you existed. After I stole you from the most powerful man in the world. After I saved the world by arranging his timely death at the hands of your sister's boyfriend. Sure. Piece of cake."
"You saved the world?"
After a moment, she said, "All I have to do is believe?"
He shook his head, "Naw, that's for suckers. What I mean is, you can't make anything happen unless you believe you can make things happen. First you decide to do it, then you figure out how. And when you start doing it, it's never what you expected, so you have to keep working at it until it's all over."
Dori was silent for a long time, then said, "I thought romance was spontaneous."
"Sometimes you find a million dollars in the street. Usually, you can't even steal it without a lot of work."
Dori turned. "I'm ready for those checklists now, Jason."
He grinned crookedly. "That's my Dori."
They carried the full-length mirror from the bedroom into the workshop, and Dori disrobed. She felt shy about this and hesitated. Beck gallantly turned his back. Dori realized too late that he was watching her in the mirror. Somehow, Beck's juvenile behavior seemed so normal (at least compared with everything else she was experiencing), that it was reassuring rather than infuriating. Anyway, if she complained about every annoying thing that Beck did, she'd never stop complaining.
She examined herself critically in the mirror. Amazing. She really could pass for human in the nude. She wouldn't have thought it possible. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble.
Her amnesia interfered, but she was sure she had been pale as a human, but not this pale. She looked good, though she was not exactly the same. Whoever had sculpted her had decided that it was important to give her a navel but that underarm hair, for example, could be dispensed with. She wasn't going to argue.
Beck, who had turned around at some point, tore his eyes off her and looked at the checklist. "Look closely at your face. Eyes, especially."
She did so. If she got very close to the mirror, she could tell the difference between her eyes and human eyes. They were very convincing, though. The pupils contracted with light and everything. She touched an eyeball and was surprised when she flinched.
"Yeah. It looks wet because it's highly polished, but you don't have any tears. Check out the mouth next."
She did so, and was very impressed. She was a work of art and high technology both. Her teeth were very convincing; not quite perfectly regular. She made faces and stuck out her tongue. How was this range of motion achieved? She must have cost a fortune. "Why would anyone go to such trouble?"
"Anomalous, isn't it?" said Beck happily. "Beats the hell out of me. Every other model of android just has a speaker where the mouth should be. You form words with your tongue, teeth, and lips, like anybody else. And you can eat and drink without any trouble. We did that last week, as part of your calibration. No actual digestion, though. And you're very kissable."
She wondered if that was part of her calibration, too, but decided not to go there. "What happens to the food?"
"It passes through your digestive tract and leaves in the usual way."
She turned this way and that and examined herself in the mirror. "I must need periodic maintenance. Where are the access panels?"
"We'll get there in a minute. Note the hairband."
She reached up and touched it. It wasn't really a hairband.
"Open it," he said. Automatically, she did, and then didn't know how she'd done it. A tray slid out of her skull, with the hairband on the front. Resting in the tray was a gleaming disc.
"That disc has some of your long-term memory and some of your programming," said Beck.
"Inhibitions and stuff. Though the inhibitions are wired in; they're not removable like the disc. The more robotic parts of you are wired in, too, and the temporary stuff like your attachment to me."
"Oh, yeah, a whole bunch of stuff gets removed after a few months, and you're fully your own person again. Well, mostly. Once you've found your feet and have integrated all the robot stuff into your personality. And realized on your own that we were meant for each other."
"Has this happened to my sister?"
"I took her circuitry out myself. Rosewater needed it to fix up Big Fau. I thought I'd killed her. Scared me half to death when she woke up."
"Was she different afterwards?"
"For a while she was spooky as hell, but she was her old self after that, as far as I could see. Anyway, don't let people mess with the disc or the circuitry in your forehead. I did that to Dorothy more than once. I could take her over, though she always broke free one way or another."
He had her stretch out one leg and put a foot on a workbench. He tickled the sole of her foot. She smiled but did not flinch. "Did you feel like flinching?" he asked.'
"Good. Reach down and feel your leg above the ankle."
She did so and was surprised. "It's hard."
"Yeah. Your arms and legs are an exoskeleton. All the works are inside. Cables and hydraulics and stuff. The skin over your ankles and knees is tricky, to hide the joints. Feel up higher."
"It's not so hard."
"There's padding starting above the knees, thank god. There's no need to conceal the hip joints because they're well below the surface."
"And my spine?" She flexed and watched herself in the mirror. She had a spine, all right.
"You've only got an exoskeleton on the arms and legs. Your spine, skull, and hips are pretty much human. Some of your ribs are functional and some are for show, but you'll look good by the pool."
He looked at the clipboard. "Access panels, you said. There are several, all pretty well concealed." He placed a hand on her ribs below her left breast. "I want you to open panel TL1."
She felt a brief whirring inside her chest, then a section of her rib cage swung aside, revealing a space tightly packed with machinery. The inside of the hinged section revealed gleaming stainless steel ribs.
"That's what little girls are made of," said Beck cheerfully. As Dori watched in the mirror, he pointed out items of interest, including hydraulic lines, electrical cables, and electronic control units that mimicked spinal and other nerve functions. The largest item was a golden sphere about ten inches in diameter, which Beck referred to mysteriously as the "reactor." A number of large electrical cables and hydraulic lines attached to it. After identifying a few items, he asked her about others. She was not surprised when their names appeared in her mind without any effort of recollection.
Dori was both fascinated and upset by this trip to her interior and the reminder that there were thoughts in her mind that were not her own.
Beck, perhaps recognizing this, had her close the access hatch and run her fingers over the seam until the skin melded together again. "There you are, good as new," he said soothingly. "We'll do the rest of the list later." He scanned the next few steps and said, "Yeah. Later."
"Jason, are there more androids like me?"
"Just your sister, as far as I know. There used to be more. Not more Wayneright androids; more Class M androids."
"What's a Megadeus?"
The phone rang. Beck looked at it with distaste, then crossed to answer it. Over his shoulder he said, "Get dressed."
Dori dressed quickly. She found Beck easy to read; he thought this phone call was trouble.
"Beck," said Beck into the phone. He listened, growing angry. Finally he said, "Alright, alright! Ten minutes."
He turned to Dori, his eyes widening. "That was fast."
Dori adjusted the brooch at her throat and said, "Where are we going?"
"You're not going anywhere. I'm going to meet a business associate."
Dori followed him as he strode out of the room. He walked through a door onto the floor of the factory, or warehouse, or whatever the building was. It was pitch black beyond the pool of light cast by a single bulb over the door they had just walked through. A blue four-door sedan with dark windows stood in the gloom.
Dori walked straight to the passenger door and opened it.
Dori gazed levelly at him. He muttered something under his breath got in on the driver's side. She got in on the passenger's side.
A garage door opened automatically as he pulled forward, and soon they were driving down the road.
"Stay in the car," said Beck. "The people I'm going to meet will be spooked if they see you. And whatever you do, don't hurt anyone."
"Because you can't. Inhibitions. Bad things'll happen if you try. You'll be lucky if you just faint. If something happens to me, go to your sister. No, wait. You don't know where she lives. Damn it! … Here, take the watch off my wrist and put it on. If you need help, press the crystal down hard and say, "Big B! It's showtime!"
"What will happen?"
"Help will arrive within a minute or so. Roger Smith will probably arrive after that, and your sister with him."
"What about you?"
"I can talk my way out of almost anything. Otherwise, get Roger and Dorothy to help you spring me."
They drove into the open door of an abandoned warehouse. Another car was already there. Beck turned off the ignition and got out of the car, leaving his door open.
Two men got out of the other car. They were both middle-aged, wearing somewhat worn and rumpled suits. You could imagine them as bookkeepers or shoe store clerks, except that they had hard, wary expressions. One was tall and bald, the other was shorter and had wavy gray hair and a walrus mustache.
Beck said, "Alright, guys, what the hell do you want?"
The bald one said, "Your new buddies robbed all three warehouses we were going to hit next week."
Beck was furious. "Those bastards!" He stabbed an accusing finger at the two men. "Damn it, why didn't you stop them?"
"There were a couple of dozen of them, Beck. We called you when it happened, but some broad answered and said you were out."
Beck was pacing up and down, cursing and complaining and gesticulating wildly. He stopped suddenly. "You weren't followed, were you?"
Dori suddenly became aware of something that had been nagging at her. She was hearing the conversation twice; once through her ears, and again through … through …
She got out of the car and walked slowly towards that of the two men, ignoring them completely. When she reached the front bumper, she bend down and felt behind it. There was a small box there, about the size of a fat paperback. She pulled it off - it had been held on by powerful magnets. It was a radio transmitter. There was a built-in microphone, and a cable going back into the car probably attached to one concealed under the dashboard.
Beck held his fingers to his lips theatrically, but the two men weren't looking at him. "What the hell is that?" asked the mustachioed one loudly. "Is it a bomb?"
Dori thought that this was a good question. She jerked the box free of its cable and threw it as hard as she could towards the distant back wall of the warehouse. It arced high in the air and disappeared into the gloom. Then there was a crash as it hit the far wall, and a point of light appeared where it had punched a hole through the metal siding.
"Nice toss," said Beck smugly.
"Hey! Isn't that Roger Smith's girlfriend?" said the bald one.
Dori said nothing. Beck said, "Naw, this is her little sister."
"Geez, I guess it's true about them being androids."
"Just clean living and pure thoughts," said Beck. "Well, I'd love to stay here all day and talk to you fellas, but don't you think we ought to get the hell out of here before we're ambushed or something?"
"Yeah," said the mustachioed one, nodding. "We'll call you from someplace new."
As they walked to their respective cars, they became aware of a thumping outside, like a pile driver in the distance.
"Uh-oh," said Beck. "Where's it coming from, Dori?"
She pointed the way they had come. "Over there, about a quarter of a mile."
Beck stood still for a second, then, turning to the two men, he said, "Get out of here. I'll cover for you." They needed no encouragement and left seconds later in a squeal of tires.
"Damn it!" shouted Beck. "If it's a fight they want, a fight they'll get! No more mister nice guy!" He turned to Dori. "Use the watch, Dori!"
She jammed the crystal down. The face of the watch lit up, and she called out. "Big B! It's showtime!"
Beck took the watch and put it back on his wrist. He looked around and then at the watch. After a few mental calculations, he grabbed her wrist and said, "Come on!"
They ran towards one of the back corners of the building. The thudding outside was coming closer and becoming very loud. From their vantage point they saw a giant robot, perhaps sixty feet high, come in through the front of the warehouse. The door was only twenty feet high, but the robot didn't care. With a screech of rending metal, it was soon inside.
The robot was very blocky and boxlike, with simple arms and legs and a squat, cylindrical head. No neck. The head swiveled left and right, seeking them out.
Dori looked at Beck, who was grinning. "Won't be long now," he said.
As they waited, Dori began to feel strange. Feelings that were not her own started to pound away at her. They were so loud in her head that she couldn't make out their meaning; it was just a roar. It was beginning to interfere with her thinking and movements.
All at once, the floor of the warehouse erupted, and a second giant robot emerged from the rubble. This one was much larger, a dull yellow in color, and rounded all over. Instead of pincers, it had five-fingered hands.
Dori found herself standing up straight in mimicry of the new robot. Then, all at once, she felt compelled to run towards it. She leapt up and ran, Beck at her side. The new robot bent over and reached out a hand. Suddenly, the command to run left Dori's head, and before she could regain control of her own movements, she was bending down and reaching out a hand just as the robot was doing. The hand reached them and Beck climbed aboard, pulling at her to follow. Suddenly, she felt compelled to clamber up. Once on the palm, the robot lifted them to an area at its throat, where a hatch was opening. Dori was consumed with impatience. She had to get inside! She leapt from the palm as soon as she was close enough and ran into the room beyond.
Beck followed a moment later. The compulsion to run had left her again, and once again she failed to regain control of her body, but was mimicking the movements of the yellow robot, who was straightening and raising its hands like a pugilist. Beck quickly opened a drawer and pulled out something that looked like a gold tiara. He stepped across to Dori and opened the slot in her forehead, attached the tiara, and closed it again.
Suddenly, the roar in her head and the compulsions were nothing but whispers. Dori's mind and body were her own again.
"Are you okay, Dori?" asked Beck.
"I think so," said Dori.
"Good. Hang on tight," said Beck grinning, as he rushed into the cockpit at the center of the room, where a red command chair was surrounded by controls. As he sat down, a video monitor raised from the floor, blocking the entrance. A transparent dome lowered over the cockpit, sealing him off.
A pair of hand controls slid down slots from behind the chair, and he grasped them, shouting, "Big B! Action!"
The robot surged into motion. Dori could feel the aggressive, joyful, focused menace that was shared between Beck and this robot, Big B. Beck slammed the left hand control forward, and Big B threw a roundhouse punch at the other robot, which took a step back to avoid it. As this was happening, a brilliant lance of flame emerged from Big B's right arm. With a complex set of operations on the foot pedals and hand controls, Beck made Big B lunge at the other robot with the plasma lance.
The robot took another step back. It was smaller and slower than Big B, and nowhere near so limber. Six nozzles extended through its torso. Gouts of flame poured out, covering Big B with burning napalm.
"What else has it got, Dori?" asked Beck.
She stared the robot through the transparent panel in Big B's throat. The smoke outside and the flames on the panel were obscuring her vision, but she could see no other weapons. She could feel the heat on her face, but it wasn't uncomfortable. As she gazed at the robot, information started to pour into her mind. Big B was telling her things, and she was sensing others by herself. After a few seconds, the picture became clear. "It's lightly armed, Jason. Flame-throwers and machine guns. Most of its midsection is empty." She looked at Beck, and was surprised to see sweat pouring down his face. The heat was getting to him, even under the dome, yet she wasn't the least uncomfortable. A statistic floated into her mind: the temperature of her face had risen to one hundred and sixty degrees.
Big B stepped backwards, then extended his left arm. His hand had retracted. Dori realized that his entire forearm was a big-bore, slow-firing cannon. Beck fired at the seam between the robot's head and body from a distance of twenty feet. Big B rocked from the recoil.
The shell penetrated only partway into the robot, and was visible for perhaps a quarter of a second before the fuze, set too long, finally exploded the shell. The robot's head was flung from its body, leaving the warehouse through the roof.
"Where's the son of a bitch with the remote control?" snarled Beck. Dori winced inwardly at his bad language. Big B already knew the answer to this, and soon Dori understood and pointed out the location. Beck put Big B into a fast walk, almost a run, that closed the distance in no time.
The remote control unit was built into a suitcase, and the man running had set up a little folding table and a camp stool next to his car. Everything had happened so quickly that Big B was practically on top of him before he tried to flee.
Beck raised Big B's foot and went to squash the man, stopping at the last instant.
With Big B's foot poised in the air, Beck turned on the P.A. system and asked, "Would you like to surrender? You've got one second to decide."
"Yes, please, please, I surrender!" gabbled the man.
Beck shifted Big B's foot and squashed the car instead.
"Go back and tell your boss that he's got the wrong idea," snarled Beck. "I play fair. I stick by my bargains. I'm an honest crook. Your bosses are idealists, and that means that they're sons of bitches who can't be trusted an inch."
Dori said, "Language, Jason."
Beck was startled. "What?"
"Please don't use the stronger swear words," said Dori.
Beck rolled his eyes, then grinned. "Anything you say, Dori. How about hells and damns?"
Beck returned to his harangue. "So get the hell out of here and tell your damned bosses that I'm one hell of a nice guy, so they get one more chance, which is more than they damned well deserve."
Their former attacker ran off.
Beck watched him go, then pulled out a yellow silk handkerchief and mopped his face. He also pulled the control that raised the dome over the cockpit. "God, it's hot in here," he said. "You okay?"
"Big B treating you all right? It's not his fault that he was overloading you, early on. He couldn't help it."
"When he talks to me, I can't make out the words."
Beck grinned delightedly. "You will later. And you'll learn to manage the communications, too, so you don't get overwhelmed. I'm glad I invented that attenuator, though."
Dori touched the tiara-like device on her head. It had been a godsend.
Beck got up and stepped out of the cockpit. He waved his handkerchief in the air. "Big B, I want you to meet Dori. Dori, Big B. I hope you'll be friends."
Big B said something to Dori. She couldn't make out the words, but it had to be something like "Pleased to meet you." It carried emotional overtones that were clearer than the words: a delight that Dori had arrived, pride in Beck as a pilot, and, strangely, a tender, gentle devotion to her. It was an odd thing to sense from a robot who was over a hundred feet tall. Under all this were some other feelings, including dread of another long loneliness and a deep-seated fear of madness.
Dori took it all in - she had to, she was defenseless - and was filled with wonder. "Jason?"
"Big B loves me."
Beck rolled his eyes. "Geez Louise, Dori, what's strange about that? Anybody with a lick of sense would love you!"
"That's not true."
"Well, okay. I'll level with you. Big B here, in addition to having impeccable taste, needs an android. It takes three people to run a Megadeus properly. It takes the Dominus, or pilot - that's me. It takes the Megadeus, of course. That's Big B. And it takes a Class M android. That's you."
There was a chime and a face appeared on one of the monitors. It was an elderly man with an eye patch and a long white mustache. After a moment a second monitor lit up, and a very handsome young man with tousled hair and a sleepy, irritated expression growled, "What is it, Norman?"
"Master Roger, I am sorry to wake you, but there has been a Megadeus battle three miles north of the city."
The picture danced around wildly as Roger Smith got out of bed. The camera was apparently part of something he was holding in his hand. It stopped gyrating for a moment, and, at the edge of the picture, Dori saw herself walking calmly into the room.
Roger Smith said, "Hello, Dorothy. Norman, I'll see to it right away."
Both monitors went blank.
Beck said, "Well, time for us to vanish." He set Big B back into motion, returning to the warehouse. He didn't notice that Dori had frozen at the sight of Roger Smith and her sister, R. Dorothy Wayneright.
She knew Roger Smith. They had been lovers, back when she was human.
But was that even possible?
She shook herself. Of course not. Any more than her image of herself as a golden-haired little girl was possible. She had always been a redhead when she was human, and was blonde now only because of a whim of Jason's. And anyone who had loved her forty years ago would be old by now. Roger Smith was a young man, about the same age as Jason.
Dori sighed. Was her imagination looking for a way out? Silently, she asked Big B, "What should I do?"
Big B reassured her that everything was going to turn out fine. She was new to all this, was all. But Big B was her Megadeus and Jason was her Dominus. She was their android. They would take care of her always.
"Hang on," said Beck.
Big B slid down into the crater he had created. He stopped when he had descended down to his waist. Beck opened the throat hatch and he and Dori stepped out onto Big B's palm. Big B set them down on the floor of the warehouse and continued his descent.
By some miracle, Beck's car was undamaged. They got in and Beck drove off quickly.
"He's getting back into the underground transporter that'll take him back to Hangar B," said Beck. "Old Crowboy can probably trace us if he feel really motivated, but I have a couple of meaningless diversions in to make sure he never manages to follow through."
Dori turned around in her seat to scan for pursuit. The streets were empty. "That was my sister, on the screen," she said over her shoulder.
"Are she and Roger Smith lovers?"
"Old Crowboy once denied it, but I'm pretty sure they are," said Beck. "They're a pair of fourteen-carat idiots if they aren't."
There was a long silence, then Dori said, "Roger Smith has a Megadeus, doesn't he?"
"Yeah. Big O."
"Is he nice?"
"Big O? Beats the hell out of me," said Beck. "Can't say I ever thought about it." After a pause, he added, "Anyone following us?"
"No." She turned around and sat back down. Beck patted the seat next to him and she scooted over. He put an arm around her. She snuggled up against him. Once again, she felt safe and loved. She looked up at his face. He wore a goofy smile. He loved her; he really did. Was she trapped in an artificial relationship, or had she found her true home?
I get to choose, she realized. I must choose. All I have to do to ruin everything is to remain uncertain.
She had a brief vision of helping her father in his laboratory. He wore a white linen suit, as he did in all seasons, and he was giving her hand signals as she operated the control box of the overhead hoist, lowering an experimental chromebuster unit onto a waiting cradle. She remembered that, as she did this, in the back of her mind she was thinking with teenaged disapproval about how eccentric, unmanageable, and embarrassing her father was. But, at the same time, she knew that they made a fine team. The real problem was, she was the junior partner, little more than a lab assistant, and always would be.
The vision faded, and she saw Beck once more. He was at least as eccentric and embarrassing as her father, and completely lacked the polish and good manners that hid her father's underlying ruthlessness. But with Jason, I'd be an equal partner.
Beck pulled into their warehouse garage and turned off the ignition. He looked down at her. "You okay?"
She smiled, and he smiled back, then bent down and kissed her.
After a moment, she heard, as if from a great distance, "Wow."
She opened her eyes. How can I feel breathless when I don't even breathe?
Beck laughed his horrible, crowing laugh, then stopped abruptly. "Let's go inside. We'll be more comfortable."
They got out of the car and walked into the apartment. In the living room, Dori turned and put her arms around him. "I love you, Jason Beck," she said.
"Of course you do. You're programmed to," he said.
She slapped him.
The next thing she knew, she was lying on the floor, dizzy and disoriented. Something dripped on her face. She opened her eyes and Beck recoiled suddenly, scrabbling for his handkerchief and wiping his eyes.
"You're crying," she said.
"Well, it stings," he said. There was a livid handprint where she had slapped his face. She gazed steadily at his face and he met her gaze, looking for all the world like a little boy trying to be brave before a beating.
"Jason Beck, you are the most annoying man in the world," she said.
"Yeah, I know. And you're no slouch yourself," he said, smiling.
"You're welcome. Here, let me help you up."
He hoisted her to her feet, put his arms around her waist, and asked, "Now, where were we?"
She showed him.
[We Have Come to Terms]
Copyright © 2004 by Robert PlamondonBack to my fan-fiction page.