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.
Around noon, Angel stamped into the penthouse, seething with frustration. Dorothy switched off the vacuum cleaner, silently mixed her a drink, and handed it to her.
"I'm so angry I could scream!" said Angel as she kicked off her high heels. She was wearing one of what Roger had taken to calling her "bimbo uniforms" after she had made a comment about his "mortician suits."
Angel paced back and forth, setting her drink down untasted and groping in her purse for cigarettes. "It's all so aggravating! Do you mind if I smoke?"
"I can hardly smell it, but Norman doesn't like smoking in the penthouse."
Angel restlessly stuffed the pack of cigarettes back into her purse. Then she looked Dorothy over. Dorothy looked back, standing perfectly calm, perfectly poised. Angel sighed, "You aren't going to ask, are you?"
Angel laughed humorlessly "All right, since you twisted my arm, I'll tell you. Beck is back in town. Boy, is he back. You know those two bank robberies that were pulled off last week? Both of them were Beck! And they took place less than ten hours apart! He did a really fancy safecracking job during the night, bypassing all sorts of security and opening the main vault without a peep from the alarm system. Then the next morning he walks into another bank as cool as a cucumber and pulls off a really lucrative `everybody-on-the-floor' kind of heist all by himself!"
"But why are you so angry?" asked Dorothy.
"It gets worse," said Angel. "The worst thing is, he's joined the Union! Or," she corrected herself, "he pretends he has. He's their new robotics genius. He must be planning on selling them down the river, he doesn't believe in any of their stuff, but in the meantime they're treating him like a king. He's impressed them."
Dorothy said, "They must not get out much."
"No, they don't. This is driving me crazy! It's not just that he's with the Union, but he's given them hope. I had one of their top guys all primed and ready to start talking to Dan Dastun about working out a cease-fire, but now that Beck is there with his fancy talk and his technical skills, he's backed out! He wants to give Wonder Boy a chance to do his stuff."
Dorothy said, "I don't see how Beck could impress them so much."
"Oh, if you can ignore the hair and the clothes and that idiotic cackle of his, Beck's pretty impressive. He used to be the number-one techno-crook in Paradigm. He was indispensable on any kind of high-tech job. Very well-respected in the business. When I first met him, he openly said that he was going to become the master criminal in Paradigm, and a lot of people thought he'd pull it off. I know I did. Even though he's way too excitable in a crisis."
"You know Beck?"
"I know all of Paradigm's major criminals. It was part of my job. Actually, I never got much information from the major figures -- they know how to keep their mouths shut. But once they've seen me sitting on the lap of the big boss, the minor crooks aren't careful about what they say around me."
She looked at Dorothy narrowly, waiting for a negative reaction. There was none.
"Go on," said Dorothy.
"Beck was the guy you had to call to get around a perfect security system, or if you wanted to open an impossibly difficult safe, or anything to do with robots. He was really, really good. He was a craftsman. Everyone treated him with respect, even deference. But then he went off on this giant-robot kick, and it all went wrong." Angel laughed. "Giant robots are not appropriate burglar's tools. Beck just couldn't understand this. Committing a crime with a giant robot is a lot like using a parade float as a getaway vehicle. It's big and it's flashy, but it's easy to track and simply isn't right for the job. Now, as a terror weapon, yes: giant robots are perfect. But professionals work quietly, and Beck likes jobs to be neat."
She paused, then said, "But the worst thing is, he doesn't seem to care about giant robots any more. He's focused on being a master criminal again. They say he's calmer. He doesn't have those idiot henchmen with him, either. He's using the Union's steadiest operatives for muscle instead. Hell, he's not even wearing yellow suits all the time anymore. Nobody recognized him at the bank jobs; I had to dig that out for myself."
She sighed. "But the worst thing …"
"That makes three worst things," said Dorothy.
"Thank you so very much for that observation. The worst thing is," and Angel looked around and then lowered her voice, "I think he's sexy."
"With that hair?"
"Well, in spite of it."
"Those clothes? That laugh?"
"Yes," said Angel mournfully.
Dorothy was silent for a moment, then asked, "Does he know?"
Angel blushed but said nothing.
Dorothy thought about this for a moment, then said, "Let's not tell Roger. I don't think he'd take it well."
"I'm not taking it well. I thought I was over him. Hell, I was over him. But it's all coming back. I'm losing my perspective. God knows what'll happen if I run into the man." She sighed. "It's not like I get along with him very well or anything." She sighed again. "I hate having crushes on people I don't like very much."
After a moment, Dorothy asked, "Is this instead of, or in addition to, your crush on Roger?"
* * *
Roger arrived at the rendezvous at precisely 5 PM, the appointed time. It was an abandoned brick warehouse with gaping holes where sheet-metal roofing had blown away.
The other party was already there, as Roger expected. At least, a car was there, a nondescript sedan, not new, somewhat dirty, and with dirt obscuring the license plate. The only thing the least bit odd about it was its heavily tinted glass.
Roger parked about fifty yards from the other car and got out.
After a moment, the driver's door of the other car opened, and a man stepped out.
"Beck!" said Roger, instantly angry. "What are you doing here?"
Beck flicked an imaginary bit of fluff from his sleeve. He was wearing one of his yellow suits. "Why, hello, Roger," he said. He was wearing that annoying smile of his. "Good to see you."
Roger bunched his fists, "If this is some kind of setup …"
"No, no, nothing like that," said Beck calmly. "On the contrary. This is a perfectly straightforward, by-the-book, no tricks, calm, orderly ransom deal."
Roger growled, "If you think I'm going to trust you…"
"Roger, Roger, Roger. Get a hold of yourself. I know we've had our differences, but we're both professionals. We have jobs to do. Let's do them with style, shall we?"
Roger looked angry and stubborn.
"Or," continued Beck, smiling even more broadly, "if you don't think you're up to it, just say the word. We'll go our separate ways and say no more about it. No doubt you can explain things to your client."
"Okay, okay!" Roger snarled. "Let's get this over with."
"Spoken like a gentleman. Well then, since money talks, why don't you do the honors."
Roger sighed. "Alright, then. I'll show you the money, then you show me Mrs. Riviera."
Roger pulled a briefcase out of the car and opened it. Beck peered at the money through his binoculars. He nodded, then turned back to his own car.
A moment later he was helping an old woman get out of the back seat. Roger could just make out his voice as he talked to her; he was saying something soothing to her. He led Mrs. Riviera a few paces from the car and stood aside while Roger peered at her through his own binoculars.
"Okay, Beck, let's meet in the middle, not too close together, for a closer inspection."
Beck nodded, pulled a suitcase out of the trunk, and took the old lady by the elbow and guided her to a point halfway between the cars. He skidded the suitcase in Roger's direction and said, "Now, Roger, as you'll recall, you were a very naughty boy last time. You used one of your magic flying briefcases for the ransom money. So do me a favor and dump the money into my suitcase, okay?"
"You cheated, too. You palmed off the wrong goods."
"That's no way to talk about Dorothy. But you're right." Beck sighed in mock regret. "I couldn't resist a boyish prank." His smile broadened. "But I've turned over a new leaf, Roger old pal, and that sort of wild behavior is a thing of the past. Over and done with. And I'm sure it's just the same with you. We grow older, but we grow wiser. Am I right?"
Roger finished dumping the money into the suitcase and set it down, unlatched, on the floor. Then he said, "Okay, Beck, let me see Mrs. Riviera. You can examine the money."
"Right you are." Beck turned to Mrs. Riviera and spoke quietly. "Hold out your hands, ma'am, and I'll untie your wrists. This last stage is just a formality. You'll soon be on your way." Speaking a little more loudly, he added, "And don't be put off by that burial suit he wears or that horrible old hearse he drives. He's a little simple, is our Roger Smith, but he's honest." With an insufferable smirk, he sauntered over to the money.
Roger stood back to let him pass, then approached Mrs. Rivera. He compared her closely to a photograph he had been given, and asked her a few questions.
Meanwhile, Beck was using some kind of electronic instrument to examine and possibly to count the money. In a very short time he announced, "All present and correct, Roger old buddy. I'm completely satisfied."
Roger said, "I am, too."
Beck continued, "And because you've been such a good boy, I'm going to give you an extra treat." He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and produced a pale yellow envelope. "I'll just set it on the floor for you." He did so. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you. I'll recommend you to all my kidnaper friends. See you around." And with that, he sauntered back to his car, suitcase in hand, and drove off.
Roger led Mrs. Riviera to the car. She was trembling and her eyes were filled with tears. He lent her his handkerchief and wrapped his coat around her, then helped her into the car. He turned the heat up and walked back for the envelope.
It was business-sized, light yellow, and felt as if it contained four or five sheets of paper. On the front it was addressed simply, "Dorothy Wayneright."
* * *
It was half past eight by the time Roger got home. After handing Mrs. Riviera off to her husband and picking up his fee, he went to tell Dastun what he'd learned. Dastun was in a meeting, as he always was these days, and Roger found himself cooling his heels for some time until he was available. Telling Dastun his story only took a few minutes, but they spent a great deal of time afterwards cursing Beck. Dastun made a few phone calls, placing extra guards on the prison holding Beck's henchmen and a few other points he guessed were of interest, and also to alert his detectives. Maybe they could get some leads from informers.
Then, when he was on the point of leaving for home, Norman called and relayed a telephone message from a new client, involving some kind of elaborate dispute over a partnership that was breaking up. The two partners had been great friends, and had built their factories and estates all mixed together on the same land. Now that both were dead, the two families weren't on speaking terms. Roger sighed. A domestic squabble masquerading as a business dispute. Those were always the worst.
But he visited the client's lawyer before heading home, where he was given a stack of paperwork to read. He made an appointment to meet the client the next day.
As he parked the car in his underground garage, he said, "Home, sweet home." He looked forward to a quiet evening. Norman and Dorothy were always soothing, and even Angel had been a pleasure to be around recently, now that she was working again. But her car -- a new convertible in what Roger felt was a particularly loathsome shade of pink -- was not in the garage. Angel was out.
He took the elevator up to the penthouse. Norman greeted him. "Master Roger, welcome home. Dinner will be ready in half an hour. Miss Dorothy and Miss Angel will not be joining you. They have gone out."
"Yes, sir," said Norman.
"I wonder what they're up to."
"I couldn't say, sir. But they said not to expect them back until quite late."
* * *
Angel knocked on the door to Dorothy's room as the clock struck eight.
Angel was dubious about taking Dorothy along tonight, but Dorothy had insisted. Angel's normal methods of settling differences involved loud arguments, but she found it impossible to argue with Dorothy, who simply didn't talk enough to hold up her end of the dispute. Somehow, this meant that Dorothy always won. Angel couldn't understand it.
Angel's goal was to visit a few bars where underworld figures hung out, and get them to tell her things they shouldn't. This was not a difficult feat, since men liked trying to impress Angel, and after a few drinks it was easy to nudge them in the direction of telling her their impressive secrets. But having Dorothy along was sure to ruin everything.
She opened the door and walked in. She had never seen Dorothy's room before, and had meant to give it as close an inspection as she could get away with. But her attention was instantly riveted on Dorothy herself. Her jaw dropped.
Dorothy said, "Do you like it?"
Never in her wildest dreams had Angel pictured Dorothy in a miniskirt.
The effect was, well, "cute" was the first word to come to mind, followed by "adorable," "vulnerable," "young," "sweet," "shy," and -- very definitely -- "sexy." Why an outfit that fell firmly into the category of (to use Roger's phrase) "bimbo uniform" should make Dorothy look sweet and shy wasn't instantly clear. It was partly due to Dorothy's petite frame, which, Angel suddenly realized, she was emphasizing by wearing shoes with almost no heels at all. Next to Angel, who in high heels was over six feet tall, Dorothy looked like a girl playing dress-up in her big sister's clothes.
"It's adorable," Angel said. "I didn't know you had any outfits like that."
"I bought it this afternoon."
"It's very cute. I'm sure the men will be buzzing around you like flies."
"Bees," corrected Dorothy.
"Whatever. Are you going to act the part?"
Angel was taken aback. "What?"
"It's not necessary. I will be myself."
"God help us," said Angel. "You're not even going to smile or anything?"
"I doubt it."
Angel rolled her eyes. Well, at least Dorothy looked great. That would attract men to their table, and when they bounced off Dorothy's wooden unresponsiveness, Angel could pick them up on the rebound. It could be worse. "Let's get going."
When they walked through the door to the Speakeasy, Dale, behind the bar, smiled at Angel, and some of the regulars greeted her. Angel basked in the attention, as she always did, and introduced Dorothy around. Angel had warned her to use only her first name here. A lot of people did. The name "Wayneright" would ring too many bells in the wrong minds.
The Speakeasy attracted an upscale business crowd during the day and an upscale underworld crowd at night. For Angel's purposes, it was perfect.
At one side of the room, Big Ear was pretending he hadn't noticed them, even when Angel pointed him out to Dorothy. Dorothy detached herself from Angel and walked to his table.
He looked up, then glanced around. There was no one nearby. "Miss Wayneright," he said quietly. "I'm pleased to meet you at last."
"Thank you, Mr. …"
"Call me Mr. Brown if you don't care for my nickname," he said. "That's my workaday alias. Please, be seated."
Dorothy sat down. Big Ear continued. "Ah, I see you know. Did anyone tell you?"
Dorothy shook her head.
"Please keep the information to yourself. We androids have to stick together."
"I will have to tell Roger."
"I'm not asking you to act against your conscience, Miss Wayneright. But be discreet, please."
"Roger speaks highly of you."
"He's a fine man."
"Mr. Brown," said Dorothy.
"I would like to engage you to find some information for me."
"Where are the materials from my father's lab?"
"They may be scattered. Is there something in particular that you want?"
"I want it all. Notes, plans, materials, tooling, subassemblies, completed work. Everything."
"I will do my best."
"Do you require advance payment?"
"Cash on delivery, miss. That's how I work."
Angel called Dorothy over to a table where she was sitting with a few men. She was talking, laughing, and joking. She introduced "my friend Dorothy" and went back to her conversation. Dorothy sat down at the opposite side of the table.
As time went by, it became clear that Dorothy's presence had a very different effect from what Angel had predicted. True, some of her most reliable cronies were a little put off by Dorothy's serious, near-silent presence, but others, mostly men who had never said more than a few words to Angel, were drawn to Dorothy. After a while, Angel saw a pattern emerge. Dorothy didn't say much, but whenever anyone spoke to her she listened very attentively. Some men insisted on trying to make her laugh, and these soon retreated in confusion, but others, badly in need of someone to talk to, found her irresistible. Also, because she was small and quiet and serious, men who were too shy to put themselves in the path of Angel's flirtation and sarcasm found Dorothy more in their league.
Dorothy also aroused protective instincts, especially in the older men. Twice, she was approached discreetly by middle-aged men who suggested that this bar was a little rough for a nice girl like her, and did she need cab fare home? One of these men was a crime boss whom Angel had thought entirely heartless.
One young man managed to monopolize Dorothy for a long time. He had come in with a group of men whom Angel vaguely recognized as being associated with some kind of semi-illicit manufacturing group -- the sort of people who built illegal (or at least clandestine) hardware for anyone with the cash, no questions asked. The young man had barely made it through the door before being stopped in his tracks upon seeing Dorothy, and didn't move until one of the men behind him gave him a shove.
Angel would have liked to watch what happened next, but the man talking to her finished his joke. She laughed on spec and dismissed Dorothy from her mind for the moment. She had work to do.
Dorothy noticed the young man staring at her. She met his gaze calmly and nodded.
He came over to the table, a little embarrassed, and said, "Hi. I'm Tony. I haven't seen you here before."
"My name is Dorothy. I'm pleased to meet you. Please, be seated."
Tony sat down. "Can I buy you a drink?"
"Thank you. I'll have whatever you're having."
Tony looked alarmed as he tried to think of a drink that would be feminine enough for her, but wouldn't make him look like a sissy.
"I didn't mean to tease," said Dorothy. "I'd like a glass of white wine."
Tony, relieved, ordered a glass of white wine and a bottle of beer.
"So," he said, "what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"
"You're the eighth person to ask that question tonight," she said.
"Sorry, I'm not very good at this."
"That's all right; neither am I. I'm here with my friend Angel." Dorothy nodded to Angel. "Do you know Angel?"
"We've never been introduced. She used to be Beck's girlfriend, didn't she?"
"They know each other, certainly."
"Is she working with him now?"
"I doubt it."
Tony lost interest in Angel and turned back to Dorothy, who made a mental note to follow up on this line of inquiry.
"Can we move to a different table?" he asked Dorothy. "This one's getting awfully crowded."
They found a table for two towards the back of the bar. Their places at Angel's table were filled immediately by newcomers. Angel was keeping them all in stitches.
Dorothy asked a couple of leading questions about Tony's work. He was a master machinist. He loved his work -- it was his calling -- but was unhappy at his current job. The company specialized in "discreet" manufacturing projects. This hadn't bothered Tony when he'd started working there a couple of years ago. Back then, the concept of "legitimate business" was in disrepute. The government and the Paradigm Corporation -- which were practically the same thing -- were basically criminal conspiracies. Under the circumstances, the choice of employer seemed unimportant. Besides, the pay was good.
But now he was filled with doubts. Dorothy barely had to prompt him, and it all came pouring out. One client after another had turned out to be a madman and mass murderer. Alex Rosewater had been the worst, of course, but Tony had also worked on projects for the Union, and even Schwarzwald. Tony put his life into his work, and people were using it to commit murders.
And he was lonely. He didn't know how to meet nice girls, and the kind of girls who hung around the underworld thugs running the factory repelled him.
Dorothy kept him talking for quite a long time. This wasn't hard, which was just as well, since Dorothy was a terrible conversationalist. She was every bit as bad as Angel thought she was, with one exception: she was aware of her deficiencies and kept a close eye on Tony's reactions. When she said something wrong, she corrected herself, as she had when he'd offered to buy her a drink. With Tony, this worked very well.
Tony abruptly stopped talking and said, "I must be boring you with all this. I'm sorry. Want to play a game of pool?"
"I may be the worst pool player in the city."
"Is that a no?"
"It's a yes. I just wanted to warn you." The went over to an unclaimed pool table. Tony racked up the balls and offered to let her break.
"You start," she said. "I've never played before."
"It's easy," said Tony happily. "I'll teach you."
He started off. He was pretty good, sinking four balls before he missed. "There. Now it's your turn. Hold the cue like this." He demonstrated. "No, that's not quite right." He put his hand over hers to adjust her grip, then paused. Then he lifted her hand from the cue and examined it closely.
"Wow," said Tony. "This is wonderful work. Show me the other one." Dorothy obediently offered up her other hand. "Wiggle your fingers." She did so. He peered closely into her face. Then he shook his head, smiling. "Someone must be very proud. Maybe someday I'll be able to produce work like that." He beamed with admiration. "Why didn't you tell me you're an android?"
* * *
It was well after midnight when they got back to the mansion. Angel got off on the eighth floor, saying she was done in, while Dorothy continued up to the penthouse.
Tony had become even more interested in her when he'd discovered she was an android. This was not a reaction she had ever expected to see. It was a strange world. She had felt compelled to dampen his ardor by telling him that she had a steady boyfriend. He had asked hopefully if there were any more like her at home. No; more's the pity. The records of her father's that Dastun had lent her indicated that R. D. had not been the last R. Dorothy Wayneright; there should be at least one more, fully assembled, ready for the incredibly elaborate bring-up sequence that would turn her into a living being. Dorothy was haunted by the fear of this other R. Dorothy Wayneright being cannibalized for parts or, worse, being clumsily brought to life and maliciously misprogrammed the way R. D. had been.
She wondered how many androids were passing for human in the city. She wasn't even looking, but she came across them from time to time. Big Ear was only the most recent one. Maybe there was an android girl out there who was perfect for Tony. She hoped so. Such a girl would need to be less obnoxious than Dorothy. He had wilted the two or three times she had thoughtlessly let fly with the kind of zinger she used on Roger.
Roger … She hadn't seen him all day, and she was bearing good news. Tony had told her that Beck was having something built at the factory right now, and was making frequent inspections of the work in progress. Roger would be pleased to see Beck behind bars again, and it would be a load off her mind as well. She didn't hate Beck the way Roger did, but he was dangerous and unreliable. Dastun ought to be able to scoop him up on a visit to the factory. A nice, quiet arrest. That would be a pleasant change.
Roger was still up, sitting on one of the couches, surrounded with papers from his briefcase. He looked up, thoroughly discontented, when the elevator door opened. Then his expression changed.
"Wow," he said.
"Do you like my new outfit?" asked Dorothy as she walked towards him.
He didn't answer. A moment later she was in his arms.
He never did answer the question about the outfit. Not in words.
* * *
Early the next afternoon, Angel was having lunch while Roger breakfasted. Angel was dressed in one of her respectable pink business outfits, while Roger was still in his bathrobe and pajamas. His hair was mussed, which she found very sexy. She had taken to breakfasting with Norman in the kitchen and lunching with Roger in the dining room. Generally, Dorothy was present at both meals, but today she wasn't in evidence; she was running an errand for Norman to some machine shop or other.
Angel had kidded Roger mercilessly about his use of an immense dining room table for only two or three people, and had threatened to bring a telescope and a megaphone to ease the strain of mealtime conversations. This teasing had apparently been more than Norman could bear, because the dining room table had been magically replaced by a much smaller one, suitable for four people. Angel had fallen into the habit of sitting on Roger's left, since Dorothy always sat opposite him and Norman insisted that Dastun sit on Roger's right when he visited, which he was doing several nights a week.
When Norman left to fetch more coffee, Angel asked, "Roger, I know Dorothy doesn't sleep. What does she do all night?"
Roger raised a napkin to hide a smile. Angel kicked him under the table.
"I meant," she said with mock severity, "what does she do while you're sleeping?"
He considered. "I'm not sure I know, not exactly. Different things. Sometimes she gazes out over the city, just like during the day. But she's pretty active. I know she visits Instro after hours sometimes. But if you want details, you'll have to ask her."
"By the way, Angel, where did you two go last night?"
"We went to the Speakeasy. We were digging for information."
Roger made a face, then said, "Find any?"
"I found lots. People were practically standing in line to tell me stuff. And I think Dorothy pried some information out of one guy, too. Or at least stood there and listened while he spilled his guts."
"Hard to imagine."
"That's what I thought. But she's a good listener when she wants to be, and for a lot of guys, that's all it takes. And she's cute, too, of course. Anyway, I don't know what she found out, but I have a couple of leads on Beck."
"Did you know he was behind those two bank robberies?"
"No. Did you know he was behind the Riviera kidnapping?"
"Really? Does that mean you saw him yesterday?"
"Yeah. And he was at his absolutely most obnoxious. He didn't cackle, though. That's something."
"How did it come off?"
"It went very smoothly. No tricks, no surprises. He claims he's turned over a new leaf and has left his boyish pranks behind."
Angel nodded. "I think he's finally given up on giant robots and has gone back to his earlier ambition of being a master criminal. If he's the one who pulled off the Riviera kidnapping, I can't believe how much money he's raked in, just over the last few days. I wonder what he needs it for?" She thought about this a moment, then continued. "That's where I need to be digging. Something's up, Roger. Something big. Beck usually takes it easy between jobs. This whirlwind of crime … he wants to do something hideously expensive."
The elevator chimed. The door opened and Dorothy walked in. She was back to her normal clothes.
"That reminds me," said Roger. "Dorothy, I have something for you."
Dorothy approached the table. "What is it?"
"At the handoff yesterday I saw Beck, and he handed me this envelope. It's addressed to you."
Wordlessly, Dorothy took the envelope from Roger. She opened it and began to read. The others watched impatiently, but Dorothy, oblivious, read the yellow cover sheet and the four other pages all the way through without looking up.
Finally, she lowered the pages and saw Roger and Angel staring at her. "Beck is asking me to negotiate a deal for him."
"What?" yelped Roger. "That jerk! He never misses a chance to pull my chain! Who does he want you to negotiate with?"
"You and Angel."
Angel laughed, then reached over and mussed Roger's hair. "Poor Roger. Beck's got your number. What does he want from us, Dorothy?"
Dorothy said, "In return for information vital to the safety of Paradigm City, he wants a truce with us. He won't bother us; we won't bother him. The Military Police can catch him if they can, but we won't help them."
Angel looked skeptical, but Roger was brought up short. "Is the so-called vital information part of the package you're holding?"
"Let's have a look." He held out his hand.
"No." She drew the papers back.
"My client insists that it not be shown to you until you agree to a temporary truce, to last until you verify the truth or falsehood of the information."
"You don't have to follow his orders!"
"I have chosen to. He is my client. This information is privileged."
Roger growled, "I really, really don't like having Beck come between us."
"My role as a negotiator ends when you accept or reject his offer and I inform him of your decision. We are talking about a matter of minutes."
Angel said, "Tough it out, Roger. You can do it."
"Knock it off, Angel. What do you think about this, anyway?"
Angel shrugged. "It's probably for real. He's in tight with the Union people right now, so he's probably found out about their next idiotic plan. He'll want us to stop it because he doesn't want the city smashed to bits; there wouldn't be anything left for him to steal. He might be conning us, but Beck likes big cons. This one's too little. We should take him up on it."
Roger sighed, "So what do we tell Dan?"
Angel replied, "The truth. We have no official status in law enforcement; catching Beck is his job. He'll rant and rave for a minute, then he'll forget about it and want to know about the alleged threat to the city."
Dorothy said, "We can tell General Dastun. In fact, my client suggests that we ought to."
Roger, still troubled, asked, "What do you think, Dorothy?"
She replied, "Speaking for myself, I am convinced that we should accept."
Their eyes met. After a moment, Roger smiled, fully reassured. "Okay, Dorothy, we agree to your client's terms. Can we see the pages now?"
Dorothy handed them over, all except the yellow cover sheet. Roger craned his neck and said sourly, "I can't believe it. It says 'Jason Beck, Master Criminal' on the letterhead."
Angel laughed, "He's had stationery like that since he was a teenager."
Roger turned to her, amazed. "How did you know that?"
"He told me."
"You know Beck?"
"Why is everyone so surprised that I know Beck? Of course I know Beck. I know everyone that a nice girl shouldn't know. I was his girlfriend for three days once. I can't believe I'm telling you this."
"What happened?" asked Roger.
"Before, during, or after?"
"No, please, not at breakfast," moaned Roger. "No details. All I meant was, have you been on speaking terms since?"
"Oh, yes, definitely," said Angel. "After we broke up we realized we could only stand each other in small doses, but we've been pretty chummy since. The trick is to leave before you feel compelled to hit him with a length of pipe. That's where I messed up the first time."
Dorothy asked, "You hit him with a length of pipe?"
"Just a little one."
Roger put his head in his hands, "Can we please get back to business? I really don't want to hear about Beck's love life, Angel."
Angel said, "You ought to reconsider, Roger. I'm sure you could learn something…"
"Oh, all right."
Dorothy said, "Roger, why don't you get dressed. I need to call my client and confirm our acceptance. I will also call General Dastun and let him know that his presence is required at dinner. We can meet back here in half an hour."
* * *
After dinner, Norman cleared the table and passed around copies of Beck's communiqué, which was a status report addressed to Alex Rosewater. Then, uncharacteristically, Angel got up and went to the kitchen to fetch coffee while Norman sat at the table. Norman was in charge of ensuring that Big O was prepared; he had a place at this meeting. Angel did not. But the coffee service allowed her to listen in as if she belonged there. If it worked for Norman, she reasoned, it would work for her.
Dastun read the report for the first time. The others reread their copies, except for Dorothy, who rose, drifted over to the stairs, and went up to the penthouse. Soon the delicate strains of Mozart's Piano Sonata Number 16 provided an odd counterpoint to their council of war.
Dastun finished reading. "Is that all the information you've got? It looks pretty ugly. Geez, I thought nobody was stupid enough to try cyborgs again. How long's it been since last time, Roger? Five, ten years? The damned things always go insane. And there was that Alan Gabriel. He was a piece of work. Nuttier than a fruitcake. They're always like that. Well, not always the same way, but they're always crazy as hell. What did Alex think he was doing?"
Roger said, "Beats me. Seems like Alex would fund anything if it would make a big enough bang. I mean, he funded that idiot Eugene and his chamber of horrors, and he funded Amadeus and Giesang with that sonic Megadeus, and probably a lot more we don't know about. Yet. God knows how he planned to control the cyborgs."
Dastun asked, "So how big are these things? I see the numbers, but I don't know how they compare to Big O."
"About half the height of Big O. Maybe a quarter the weight. They're probably too lightly built to be much of a threat. They might be fast, though."
"And there's one, maybe two of them?" asked Dastun.
"That's how I read it."
"So what do you plan to do?"
"Well, Dan, the way I see it, we ought to go in there with Big O and a whole lot of tanks and see if we can't get 'em to surrender. Maybe the cyborgs aren't active right now; they must have a way of getting them to hibernate until they're used. Can you imagine being in charge of a bunch of bored, heavily armored crazy guys fifty feet tall? Anyway, you'll want to go in with warrants and firepower, and if the cyborgs don't want to play ball, well, Big O will be there, too."
"We ought to give Big O a badge," said Dastun.
"And a dance card at the Policeman's Ball," added Roger.
"When do you figure we should strike?" asked Dastun, ignoring this.
"Tomorrow at dawn," replied Roger.
"Damn," said Dastun. "I knew you were going to say that. So I'm going to have to tell a bunch of exhausted guys on the graveyard shift that they can't go home to their beds, but instead need to drag their tired asses off to overtime and possible death."
"Yeah, I think so, too. If we haul in the day shift early, there'll be tons of radio chatter. But we can hold graveyard shift over without much fuss. Nab 'em in the precinct houses as they come off shift and redirect them."
When the meeting broke up, Roger, Dorothy, and Norman went off to inspect Big O, so Angel offered to see Dan out to his car. "You'll never get the elevator to work by yourself," she said. "There's a trick to it."
In the elevator, Dastun was nervous, turning his cap around and around in his hands.
Angel said, "Look, Dan, how can I flirt with you properly if you're always nervous around me?"
Dastun waved an arm in a vague gesture and said nothing.
Angel continued, "Being cooped up in the house with those two lovebirds is driving me crazy. Be a sport and ask me out to dinner sometime, will you, Dan? We can have some innocent fun. Maybe we could break all the windows in Alex Rosewater's summer home."
Dastun smiled. "How's Thursday?"
"Fine. Be here at eight to pick me up. Don't be in uniform, because you'll be taking me somewhere disreputable. You don't want to be a disgrace to the Force."
Dastun seemed reconciled to his fate. "As long as we don't get arrested. It's bad for morale when senior men get thrown in the slammer, and it's embarrassing as hell for the arresting officer."
The elevator stopped and the door opened. Angel kissed him on the cheek. "Bye, Dan. Don't be a hero in the morning, okay?"
* * *
Beck dozed fitfully in the command chair. His Megadeus was currently in the river, underwater, about a quarter-mile upstream of the cyborg enclosure. A newly installed periscope/snorkel extended up above the surface. The video quality was lousy with just the passive light amplification, but there was nothing to see anyway.
A bell chimed. Beck woke, fully alert. "What have we got?"
He had taken to voicing his thoughts when inside the Megadeus. It seemed to help things along, and it kept him calmer.
He peered at the screen. Almost dawn. Then he made out a line of vehicles, running without lights down the main road. Tanks. A moment later he saw another group coming in the back way.
"Where's Big O?" he asked.
A moment later Big O broke the surface of the river half a mile downstream and began to stride towards shore. As soon as he was on dry land, he stopped.
Another bleep brought Beck's attention to one of the screens. Big O had been positively identified as a "friend." Good. That meant Big O would feel the same about him.
The line of tanks entered the compound, the leading tank breaking down the locked gate to do so. They were all clearly marked with Military Police insignia, visible even in the lightening gloom. The tanks formed a line facing the main factory building and the small office building in front of it. Big O started forward.
Beck pounded the armrest with his fist. "Don't get between the compound and that other warehouse, you idiot! It's abandoned! There's probably tunnels from the compound!" He leaned forward to see the screen better. Suddenly, he had a bad feeling about this.
He could just make out Dastun standing in front of a tank with a megaphone. He called into it for a while. No response. He shouted something else. No response. A handful of cops started for the door of the office building.
Behind Big O, four fifty-foot cyborgs came running out of the abandoned warehouse.
Beck shouted, "Big B! Action!"
He grabbed the hand controls and used the foot pedals to start Big B walking to shore. Big B bent double before he broke the surface. His back was the first part of him to emerge.
All four cyborgs had attacked Big O, one on each arm, one on each leg. Big O flailed his left arm, managed to grab a cyborg, and pitched it in a shallow arc through the air. The cyborg did an amazing roll and landed on its feet."
"Give him the net!" called Beck, slapping the appropriate controls. A port opened on Big B's back and the net whirled out. Beck guided it so it hit the cyborg Big O had thrown. The net wrapped around it, causing it to lose balance and fall over. Beck stabbed the "electrify" button, and lightning sizzled all over the net. The cyborg went into convulsions. After a few seconds, the electronet turned off, its batteries exhausted. The cyborg, apparently undamaged, began to rise.
"Oh, no you don't!" shouted Beck. Big B strode over to the cyborg. Beck extended the plasma lance in Big B's right hand. With the left, he picked up the cyborg by the head, raising it high into the air. One swift cut, and the body crashed headless to the ground.
This was great! Beck almost had Big B strike a pose. But … "No!" he said out loud. "That's the old Beck."
He looked around. Where were the other cyborgs?
Big O was on the ground, face down. Two of the cyborgs were attached to his right arm, apparently trying to twist it off. None of Big O's weapons could be brought to bear.
Where was the other cyborg?
"Behind you!" came Dorothy's voice out of thin air.
Big B spun around. There was the other cyborg. It wanted to close. Beck flipped a switch and raised one of Big B's knees. The new kneecap cover snapped aside as Beck drove the knee hard into the cyborg's abdomen. "Fire!" he called, stabbing a red button.
The shaped charge went off and the cyborg's entire torso exploded in fire and ruin.
What next? The two cyborgs were still on Big O, preventing him from rising. Beck still held the head of the first cyborg in Big B's left hand. He lobbed it at one of the others, missing, and extended the left-hand cannon.
Big O had rolled onto hands and knees. One cyborg came within reach of the chromebuster, which left a jagged path of molten metal across its body. The cyborg suddenly exploded. Now it was down to one. Big O fired both piledrivers, flinging himself to his feet in an instant. The remaining cyborg leapt aside, but Big O ensnared it with one of the hip chains and reeled it in. Grabbing it by an arm, Big O raised it above the ground with one hand and hit it with the other. A single blow of the piledriver smashed it to flinders.
Beck looked around. A swarm of smaller armored cyborgs, barely larger than man-sized, was attacking the military police.
"Damn it to hell!" swore Beck. "These guys don't know when to quit. Well, I hope you've got some anti-personnel weapons, Roger old pal, because your usual stock in trade isn't going to help here."
Big B strode forward until he was a hundred yards from the tanks, which were all buttoned up. The tanks couldn't seem to bring their cannon to bear, and were relying on the light machine guns in the front corners. These seemed to have no effect on the cyborgs.
Beck opened another of the new control panels and flipped some switches. The toecaps of Big B's feet slid aside. Beck adjusted the aim and slapped the buttons. Dozens of claymore mines fired, sending hardened steel ball bearings, half an inch across, whizzing through the air a few feet off the ground. Many of the cyborgs were shredded. Some of the tanks didn't look so good, either, but their armor hadn't been broached. Probably.
Big O was picking off the cyborgs one by one with the chromebuster. Beck watched in awe. "How does he do that?" he asked. "I don't have anywhere near that kind of accuracy."
A moment later, it was all over. The last cyborg had been destroyed.
After a surprisingly brief pause, Dastun had rearranged his vehicles and was sending officers out to search the premises. Big O and Big B stayed where they were; they were too big even for the largest building.
There was a chime. Roger wanted to talk.
"Refuse the call, Big B. I don't have anything to say to him." Big O's cockpit appeared on the screen anyway. Beck glanced up at the camera at the front of his own cockpit, but it was off. He checked to make sure his microphone was off, too.
Dorothy was on the screen, too! "You idiot, Roger!" said Beck. "You need to keep her a secret!" Dorothy looked poised and serene with the eight probe cables coming out of her skull.
Roger spoke, "Thanks for the help, stranger. I hope to see you around sometime. If you ever need anything, just give me a call. I'm in the book."
Beck cackled, then stopped. The new Beck was much too cool for that. "If only you knew, Roger old buddy, if only you knew. Hero by day, master criminal by night. Can it get any better than this?" He yawned. "Of course, it doesn't leave much time for sleep."
Then, just for a moment, he could have sworn that Dorothy's eyes met his. He shivered. It was as if she had read his soul. "The camera's off. It's off! I know it's off," he muttered to himself. Then, "I'm not scared of her, anyway." The video image vanished.
His task here was done. He turned Big B around and disappeared into the river.
* * *
Dastun arrived early for dinner the next evening. His head and left hand were bandaged.
Angel made a face when she saw him. "I told you not to be a hero, Dan."
"Old habit," he said. "Won't happen again."
He accepted a drink from Norman and sank gratefully onto a couch. Dorothy and Roger came in. After greetings, Dastun said, "It's not dinnertime, right? So I can talk business."
Roger said, "If you must."
"Those cyborgs were bad news. Most of them were not volunteers, but had been shanghaied off the streets. They had some kind of mind control that made them follow orders. Creepy. I guess that's why they didn't care about whether they went crazy or not."
"Did we get them all?"
"I don't know. There were some survivors, non-armored cyborgs who surrendered. They were the bosses of the joint. We're interrogating them. We don't think there were any other giant ones, though."
Angel asked, "So what was that all about?"
Dastun sighed. "Angel, there doesn't have to be a reason. Something about this city causes some folks to go to elaborate lengths to smash it. Alex was like that. So were a lot of others. Me, I can't understand it."
Roger looked over at Dorothy, remembering the … prophecy? … she had made after a previous battle. She didn't notice his gaze, but was watching Dastun.
"What's next, I wonder," murmured Angel.
"Another drink for Dan," said Roger, "for medicinal purposes, and then dinner. Never philosophize on a full stomach."
"Speaking of philosophy, Roger," said Dastun. "We've sent up some aircraft and some high-altitude balloons with video cameras. You know that superstructure over the city that we saw the day Alex died?"
"Well, it isn't there. If you go high enough, you break through the clouds and there's the sun, and blue sky all around. And stars at night. I haven't seen it myself, but they say it's just breathtaking."
"That's a relief," said Roger. "For a while there, I was wondering if our whole world wasn't just a few miles on a side."
"No, it's a lot bigger than that," said Dastun, "we just don't know much about it."
"But we can find out," said Roger. "That kind of problem, we can solve."
"Not to wreck your moment of optimism, but there's still an awful lot closer to home that we don't understand jack about. We tested out some other anomalies. The fear that attacks people when they go underground? Still there. People suddenly going mad with memories that may or may not be their own? Still there. I don't know if what we saw in the sky that day was real or not, but most other things are just the same as ever."
"Thank goodness," said Roger, and raised his glass to Angel.
She made a face. "Don't go blaming it on me, even in a nice way, Roger Smith. Blame your own irresistible sweet talk if you have to blame anything."
"All right, I will." He raised his glass again. "To my own irresistible sweet talk."
"Louse," muttered Angel and Dorothy in unison.
* * *
While the household slept, Dorothy was in Big O's hangar, working at a drafting table on a wide catwalk not far from the cockpit. The eight probe cables snaked from Big O's hatchway and were plugged into her skull. Dorothy was creating an assembly drawing on a large sheet of vellum, depicting a complex subassembly of some unguessable machine. She drew with a technical pen, leaving glistening lines of jet-black, slow-drying India ink. Her strokes, though not fast, were sure. She never measured, never used a straightedge, and even drew her circles freehand. Though intended for a purely pragmatic use, the drawing was elegant. She had been studying composition, and her drawings were the kind that engineers were proud to pin to their walls. Occasionally, she would turn and gaze up at Big O's face. After several seconds of silent communion, she would resume drawing. A small stack of finished sheets lay on a table beside her.
The phone rang, terribly loud in the hushed, cavernous hangar. Dorothy put her pen down carefully and stood. The cables removed themselves from her head and the ends hovered in the air. Without hurrying, Dorothy crossed to the nearest extension, a wall phone at the end of the catwalk, and picked it up.
"Hello?" she said.
"Is this R. Dorothy Wayneright?" came a woman's calm voice from the telephone.
"I am also R. Dorothy Wayneright."
There was a long moment of unmoving silence. Then, "Go on," she said.
[we have come to terms]
NEXT: ACT 30. Dori, Dorothy