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.
A little before midnight, the two criminals met in a corner booth of the bar. The music was so loud that there was no chance of their being overheard.
"One of my boys has been given guard duty at the Foster place from midnight to six a.m. tomorrow night," said the first crook. He was fat and middle-aged, but seemed hard, somehow. "Some of the staff comes on duty around five, so we can have four, maybe five hours. It looks like all five million are still in the safe."
"Any luck with the combination?" asked the other crook, a skinny old guy who had lost two fingers from his right hand.
"Nothing. I don't think we can open it without Beck."
"Has he really gone straight?"
"He's hanging out with General Dastun and Roger Smith. He's either gone straight or is playing such a deep game that his share of the loot won't tempt him."
"But he's opened that safe once before! They say it only took him fifteen minutes. Five million, for god's sake! How can anyone go straight when there's that kind of money to be made!"
"Well, it's not like we've asked him."
"Screw asking him. Let's see if we can't nab him tomorrow and make him open the damned safe. He can take his share and keep his mouth shut or he can sleep with the fishes. That's the way to deal with Beck. If he's in, he's in. He's a pro. But if he isn't in, we can't leave him alive to shoot his mouth off. He'll come around once he sees he doesn't have a choice."
* * *
Dorothy arrived at the kitchen first, at 6:55 a.m., as she always did. She ground some coffee beans and put on a pot of coffee. Then she set the kitchen table for five.
Norman came through the door at the stroke of seven, as alert and tidy as Dorothy herself. "Good morning, Dorothy!" he said cheerfully.
"Good morning, Norman," she replied calmly.
The kitchen was Norman's domain, and the rules were different here than in Roger's part of the house. In the kitchen, "Miss Dorothy" became simply "Dorothy." The same was true for Angel and Dori. Roger, however, was always "Master Roger," Beck was always "Mr. Beck," and Dastun was always "General." Of the three, only Beck had tried to get Norman to use his first name, but Norman did not approve of him sufficiently to do so.
Angel drifted in as Norman started making suggestions about the morning meal. As usual, she wore pink silk pajamas and a pink robe. She was barefoot. She shuffled over to the coffee pot and stared at it blearily, willing it to finish brewing.
"Good morning, Angel," said Dorothy, getting out a mug.
"Ungh," said Angel.
Beck burst into the room with Dori. He had just arrived. Dori often took a cab to the mansion in the middle of the night, to be with Dorothy while everyone else was asleep. Beck retrieved her at the morning, and was gone before Roger awoke. Beck and Roger still didn't get along. "Good morning, my fine feathered friends!" he said in a loud, cheerful voice. Angel winced. "And what are we having today?" He took off his suit coat and exchanged it for an apron.
Dori hugged Dorothy, Norman, and Angel in turn. To Angel she said, "Wake up, sleepyhead."
"Coffee," said Angel.
Dorothy filled Angel's cup, added three spoons of sugar and a dash of cream, and passed it over. Angel slumped into her place at the table.
Beck was arguing over the menu with Norman. After a moment Norman capitulated, smiling, and allowed Dori to lead him to his place at the table. Beck grinned and started barking orders to everyone but Norman. Angel glared at him but did not move, as usual, so preparation was down to Beck and the Wayneright sisters. Norman's rule was that, if you ate in his kitchen, you had to help. He and Angel would do most of the washing up. No one wanted Angel's help before her third cup of coffee, and Beck and Norman couldn't both cook at the same time. Their methods, styles, and wills clashed.
The enormous kitchen had plenty of room for three people to work at once. In no time ham, eggs, toast, sausages, fruit, oatmeal, juice, hash browns, pancakes, and bacon were being prepared. Norman preferred fancier dishes, while Beck preferred simpler fare. He was an excellent cook, though, having learned in his teens as a front for his crimes. Working at hotels, always willing to work evenings, deliver room service, or work catering jobs, he had ample opportunity to case the jewelry and homes of Paradigm's wealthiest citizens. At private parties, he would not only cook, but would helpfully take a tray of drinks or hors d'oeuvres out when one of the waiters wanted to sneak out back for a smoke. With a tray in his hands, he was invisible, and could generally case the entire house. He had located many a concealed safe in this way.
Breakfast was his favorite meal, though obviously it had been more lucrative for him to be the late-night room-service chef or an under-cook at a fancy party.
Beck had a soft spot for cooking and a certain nostalgia for his early career as a jewel thief and safecracker, before he turned to more technically demanding work. He was also trying - too hard, really - to charm Norman.
There was quite a bit of talk throughout. Dorothy was almost silent, but Angel perked up after her second cup of coffee and started throwing barbs at Beck, who gave as good as he got. About half the time they addressed their comments to Dori, who generally agreed with whatever they said to her.
"I feel sorry for you," Angel told her. "I really do. Beck is such a pig."
"I like pigs," said Dori.
"And he has no manners."
"I've noticed that," said Dori.
"I was a perfect gentleman until I met Angel," said Beck.
"Perfect gentleman?" asked Angel incredulously. "Did he ever tell you how we met?"
"No," said Dori.
"I was minding my own business, having dinner at a restaurant …"
"Drinking in a bar," Beck corrected.
"Having dinner,"Angel said emphatically, "at a restaurant, when this dman in a yellow suit and a blond girlie wig …"
"Hey!" objected Beck.
"That's what it looked like. When this chromium yellow apparition bursts into the room, dives under my table, and makes shushing noises like a steam whistle. Then two thugs with drawn pistols come into the room and started looking around. I didn't like the looks of the thugs, so I kept eating as if nothing was happening. But you know how excitable Beck is in a crisis. He can't keep quiet. He starts asking me questions about what the thugs are doing and saying things about my legs and asking me if I had a boyfriend. I had to keep kicking him to shut him up!"
"They really are great legs," said Beck.
"It was quiet in there, and he keeps yammering on as if he doesn't have a care in the world. I was wearing open-toed shoes and I nearly broke my foot keeping him quiet! Finally the thugs leave and Beck pops out from under the table like a jack-in-the-box and propositions me on the spot! I was so angry I would have screamed if I hadn't been laughing so hard."
There was a pause, then Dori asked, "Is there a moral to this story?"
Angel nodded emphatically, "Avoid open-toed footwear."
They sat down to eat. Beck merely picked at his food. He always tried to come across as cool and confident, but he had a nervous temperament and often ate almost nothing for days at a stretch. Dori and Dorothy, who as androids did not, of course, have to eat at all, ate more than he did. Angel ate like a horse, as usual. Only Norman's appetite had nothing noteworthy about it.
After breakfast, Dori and Beck departed. Angel, Dorothy, and Norman washed up. Angel kept up a stream of conversation with Norman, mostly about trivia, since Norman was very close-mouthed about Big O and Roger's negotiating work, and nothing about buttling could hold Angel's attention. However, Norman was an incurable gossip where people outside the household were concerned (though it was amazing how genteel and dignified he could make gossip seem).
"What's on the schedule today?" asked Dorothy.
Before Norman could answer, the telephone rang. Norman picked it up, "Smith residence." He listened for a moment. "One moment, please, sir."
He put a hand over the telephone receiver and asked Angel, "Are you at home to a Mr. Worthington?"
Angel nodded and reached for the receiver. "Hello, Murray? What's up?" She listened for a moment and said, "I'll meet you in half an hour. Bye, Murray." She hung up. Noticing Norman's and Dorothy's neutral expressions, she said, "Business. It's probably nothing, but I ought to follow it up. I'll probably be back in time for lunch." With that, she left the kitchen and headed for her room.
When she had gone, Dorothy repeated, "What's on the schedule for today?"
"There is some track damage on one of the spur lines. The power has been interrupted. Probably another broken rail. Master Roger should be up by ten this morning. And no doubt there are household chores to be done."
"Not many. Dori and I have polished off most of the list."
"I wonder if that girl realizes what a help she is to me," said Norman, smiling.
"She likes to stay busy."
Norman surveyed the kitchen. It was spotless. "Well, Dorothy, we'll want coveralls, helmets, and gloves. Shall we meet at the Prairie Dog in ten minutes?"
* * *
Murray pushed another seismograph chart across his cluttered desk. Angel held it next to the other one.
Murray pointed, "Those periodic blips, forty-two seconds apart -- I think they're an elevator. It's heading to the top level, encountering an obstruction, and dropping back to the level below. Then it repeats."
"How can you tell the obstruction is at the top?"
"There's an echo, see? That's inside the main chamber."
"Okay, Murray, I'll take this information off your hands. Where is this place?"
He plucked a map off a heap of papers. Murray's office was dingy and terribly cluttered, but he never seemed to have any trouble finding anything. He worked in a shabby office building outside the domes, a freelance fact-finder. He had seismographs all over town. It was a specialized business, since very few people were willing to go underground because of the terror effect, no matter what interesting data showed up though his arcane fact-finding.
Murray showed her a street map with five concentric circles of different sizes drawn on it. Four of them nearly overlapped at a point outside the East Side Dome. Murray said, "The Megadeus has been so active in the last couple of years that I've been able to improve the calibration of my underground locators."
"What, every time he bursts up through the ground you get to calibrate your readings?"
"Yes, and there's interesting data from when it moves around, too; both above ground and especially below."
"You'll keep that under your hat, Murray, if you know what's good for you."
"Don't worry. The Megadeus is looking out for all of us. And it has a guardian Angel protecting it." He smiled.
She smiled back. "How do I get there, Murray?"
He gave her a handwritten sheet of directions and a pair of photographs. "These shouldn't be much trouble, but I haven't checked them in a couple of years. I wish I could tell you more. All I've got is one of the big underground domes and an elevator."
"You're a wizard, Murray. Thanks."
* * *
Norman stopped the subway car a couple of hundred yard from the break, just before a utility box. He and Dorothy got out. Both were wearing black coveralls and hard hats with attached lamps. The tunnel was large and double-tracked, making six rails in all; the two sets of load-bearing rails and two current-carrying "third rails." Norman opened the utility box with his key and threw the two enormous oil-quenched knife switches that controlled the current to the damaged section of track. He locked the box again. "All safe."
They walked down the line, moving slowly, gazing up at the ceiling and down at the floor. Breaks in the line happened sometimes, usually after the Prairie Dog had just passed, but there was always the possibility of geological disturbance or sabotage.
"Oh, dear," said Norman. Ahead, part of the floor of the tunnel had collapsed. The four load-bearing rails were intact, their ties still attached, drooping over a hole in the floor a dozen feet wide. The third rails, more lightly constructed, had both separated.
"What will we do now?" asked Dorothy.
"We could bridge it," said Norman, "or we could use the tunneling machine to bypass this section of line. Let's take a closer look."
He walked down the track, stepping on the ties, until he got near the edge of the crater, and then got down and crawled the rest of the way. A few rocks fell into the crater, but nothing more.
"What do you see, Norman?" asked Dorothy, who, conscious of her weight, was hanging back.
"The line seems to have collapsed into one of the hemispherical chambers we find under the city," he reported. "I can't see very far inside, but we seem to be almost at the base of the chamber."
"Are you going to investigate?"
"Master Roger doesn't approve of spelunking under the city. We can drive a new tunnel that bypasses the chamber. With the tunneling and track-laying equipment, we should be done before supper."
"Shall I help you?"
"Please. You are unaffected by the waves of terror that come and go here. It would be most inconvenient if I were to be prostrated here by myself."
"Has Roger ever felt the fear when in Big O, here underground?"
"Never. I believe that Big O is shielded somehow."
* * *
Angel stopped in front of a drug store and went in to use the pay phone. She took a stenographer's pad out of her purse and ran a finger down a list written in her illegible (and, in this case, encoded) shorthand. Then she dialed a number "Dori? Hi, it's Angel. Let me talk to Beck … Beck? Listen, I need to talk to you. Business. When can you meet me? Thirty minutes? Great. Get a pencil. Rendezvous 17A. Right. 17A. Oh, and bring Dori if you can. Bye."
* * *
Dorothy, now wearing one of her black dresses, poured Roger another cup of coffee as he finished his breakfast.
He was in his bathrobe and pajamas, with his hair all mussed, as usual. Norman stood in the background.
Roger pushed his plate away and took a sip of coffee. This was the signal that it was all right to talk about the coming day. Roger started off. "I have a meeting with Dastun at eleven-thirty, followed by lunch with somebody he thinks I ought to meet. I figure I ought to be home around two. Where's Angel?"
Norman said, "She had some kind of business, Master Roger. She called twenty minutes ago to say she would probably be gone all afternoon, but should be back by suppertime."
Roger nodded. Angel had been doing various kinds of consulting work, mostly based on straightening out the mess left behind by Alex Rosewater. As his former secretary, she knew a lot of things that had either never been written down, or for which the records had been destroyed or stolen. A lot of the work had been for Dastun and the Military Police, but she had other clients, too. She was annoyingly vague about it all. On the other hand, she was completely reliable about phoning if she was likely to be late.
"And what are you doing today, Norman?"
"There is a break in the track on one of the spur lines. A cave-in where the line passed too close to a hemispherical chamber, I believe. It is too wide to bridge easily. Miss Dorothy and I will dig a bypass tunnel and lay new track. We expect to be finished in time to prepare supper on schedule."
Roger nodded. The speed with which Norman's automated equipment worked wasn't news to him. "Which line is it?"
"The one to the East Side Dome."
"I'm sure we can live without it for this afternoon." He stood up. "Keep me posted."
* * *
Angel met Beck and Dori at a diner. She had chosen it at random from 24-hour eateries in the phone book, back when she made the list she shared with Beck. Angel was surprised by how good the food was. There was a brisk early lunch business, but Angel managed to snag a corner booth. She sat next to Beck and they murmured their conversations almost into each other's ears, as Dori looked on with interest. Could she hear what they were saying? She resolved to ask later.
"Beck, I need to go underground to check a place out. There might be memories or other salable goodies there. Did you ever make any progress on figuring out how the terror effect worked?"
"Nope. Sorry. We learned a few things, but we don't have a cure and we can't predict when it will happen. You can stay down for days sometimes and not get hit by it. Sometimes you'll get hit twice in the same hour. Usually - not always - it moves down a tunnel in a sort of wave, maybe twenty miles an hour and lasting for fifteen minutes or so. We tried sending scouts down the tunnels with radios, so we could hear them scream. That worked pretty well."
"What happens if you're caught by … get your hand off my knee!"
"It takes people different ways." He ticked them off on his fingers. "There's the screamers, the runners, the mutterers, and the silent sufferers. Most people faint after a minute or two. After the terror lifts, they recover completely in a few minutes."
"No lasting side effects?" asked Angel.
"Well, they usually don't want to go on an underground job again anytime soon," admitted Beck, "and some of them switch into a less stressful way of life."
"What category do you fall into?" asked Angel.
"Oh, I'm a mutterer," said Beck. "I've been hit by the terror, I don't know, probably a dozen times. The underground is just too good a deal to pass up if you want to do bank jobs or high-class burglaries. That's a dozen times out of maybe a hundred times underground. The odds are pretty good."
"Aren't you being a little too casual about this?" asked Angel, suspiciously. "You're such a show-off, Beck."
Beck grinned. "It's really, really unpleasant, Angel. And you can get messed up if it hits you at the wrong time. A friend of mine lit a fuse once, just before the terror hit him. That was the last mistake he ever made. But a lot of people are afraid of being afraid. Me, I hate it, but I'm not afraid of it. You're probably just the same." He put his hand on her knee again. She ignored it.
"What about Dori?"
"Androids are immune. Hey, that's right! Hadn't thought of it that way. Deal us in, Angel. Come on, fifty-fifty. You need the backup, and you get two for the price of one."
"I'm not paying fifty percent just to have you come and hold my hand," she said, removing the aforementioned appendage from her knee.
"Aw, you know it'll be more than that. It's going to be dangerous. It always is. I'm good at this sort of thing, and we've always made a great team, Angel. And we need Dori, and don't say that's not worth something."
"I'm paying fifteen percent to my informant. Anyway, I'm not sure there's anything salable there at all."
"We'll work on spec," he said smoothly. "If nothing happens, well, it's a good training run for Dori." He put his hand on Angel's knee again.
"Damn it, Beck! Stop putting your hand on my knee! Dori's right here and everything!"
"Oh, don't mind me," said Dori, "Dorothy says you're both such flirts that I should ignore everything before second base."
There was a stunned silence. Angel felt her face grow hot and saw, to her amazement, that Beck was also blushing. Angel considered having a talk with Dorothy, who in her opinion was the worst person on earth to give advice on relationships, but realized that she would never be able to work up the nerve.
After a moment, Beck reached both of his hands across the table.
Dori took his hands in hers matter-of-factly and said "Angel, You shouldn't go into the underground alone. Tell us what you're willing to pay, and we'll agree."
"Dori!" said Beck.
"Thirty percent of the net," said Angel firmly.
"Done," said Dori.
Beck rolled his eyes.
They separated for a while to get ready. Angel drove to her apartment to pick up the appropriate gear: heavy work clothing, her pink leather jacket, sturdy steel-toed boots, leather gloves, and a miner's hat. She had a small backpack full of tools.
Beck picked her up a few minutes later. He apparently had just put a pair of coveralls over his suit and changed into a pair of work shoes. Dori was dressed in jeans (no surprise, she wore jeans whenever she could, though they were seriously out of fashion) a long-sleeved work shirt, and a pair of high-top canvas sneakers.
They got into Beck's car and drove off to the point where Angel hoped to enter the underground. She checked her instructions on the way. "There's an access stairway from this old hotel. It's supposed to have a combination lock on it: 12-27-19. Write it down for Beck, Dori."
"I'll remember it," said Dori.
"Write it down and make sure he puts it in his pocket. We might get separated or something, and he might have to use the door again."
They arrived at the old Galaxy hotel and parked on the street. The building was partly occupied, but no one bothered them when they went inside. They found the stairs to the basement. Sure enough, a locked door with a built-in combination lock stood next to the main circuit breaker panels. It opened easily enough to the combination. A set of concrete stairs led down.
Angel flipped a switch at the top of the stairs. Lights came on. "Well, that's convenient," she said. Before going down the stairs, she drew a pair of wings with a halo above them, added the date and time, and an arrow pointing down the stairs.
They went down two flights of stairs and found themselves in a tunnel about eight feet high. Large-diameter electrical conduits and bundles of telephone cable were attached to the walls. After a while, they found a steel ladder that plunged down into darkness, along with some electrical conduits. Angel checked her notes. "This is the way," she said. Before going down the stairs, she drew another stylized angel and an arrow pointing down the ladder. Then she turned on the light on her miner's helmet and descended.
They found themselves in a subway tunnel, double-tracked for three-rail electric subway trains. There were no overhead lights. Angel checked her notes and her compass (she didn't trust her sense of direction underground), then chalked an angel on the wall and led the way.
"Watch out for the rails, Dori," advised Angel. "The middle rail has high voltage to run electric trains."
"No it doesn't," said Dori. "It's completely disconnected."
"Well, it might get turned back on at any time, so stay away from it."
After a couple of hundred yards, she said, "This is it." The rails sagged across a crater in the floor.
They inspected it for a moment, then Angel said, "What do you think, Beck?"
Beck said, "The right-hand side looks like the best approach. Let's use a rope just to make sure."
Angel nodded. They tied off a rope to a railroad tie, well away from the third rail. Angel chalked yet another symbol on the wall, with an arrow pointing down. "I'll go first, shall I?" asked Angel. "This is my show, after all."
"You're the boss," said Beck.
It was an easy descent. Soon Angel was on the floor of a vast, dark, hemispherical chamber, with walls of what looked like tarnished copper.
"You next, Dori," said Beck.
Dori moved nimbly down the slope, one hand on the rope. She took a different path, and at one point stepped onto the edge of a broken concrete slab, which suddenly tilted and pitched her downslope. A minor landslide was followed by a loud groaning noise, then part of the roof fell in. Dori narrowly missed being buried, got to her feet, and raced towards Angel.
The cave-in ended as quickly as it had begun. Enormous clouds of choking dust obscured their vision, but it seemed as if there was no longer any way to get back up to the subway. Angel held her handkerchief to her face and cursed.
"Damn it! This is all we need."
"Jason," said Dori in a flat voice.
"I'm sure he's all right," said Angel. "he was well back."
They tried shouting, but there was no answer.
Angel pressed the crystal on her watch hard. "Norman? Roger?" There was no response. She looked closely at the watch. It seemed dead, even its hands almost invisible. Roger had told her that was how it looked when it had lost all signal. "Great," she said in disgust.
"Are you all right, Dori?"
Angel held very still. Then she almost jumped out of her skin when a loud clonking sound happened about a hundred feet to her rear. This was followed by the sound of … "That's the elevator!" she said.
Then Angel heard the other sound. Faintly, she heard a sound that could only be that of Beck hitting the railroad track very hard with a stone. Three taps, then a pause, then three taps.
Angel picked up a large piece of rubble and went to the intact part of the dome next to the cave in. She clonked the stone against the wall very hard, three times. It made a better noise than she had expected.
The rhythm of Beck's tapping changed. Morse code. Angel swore under her breath. She had never learned it.
"R … U … O .. K." said Dori. She picked up a stone and pounded on the wall. "O … K"
There was a pause, then "I … L … L … space … G … E … T … space … H … E … L … P. 'Ill get help'"? She considered. "Oh! 'I will get help.'" She pounded on the wall again. "O … K."
A final "B … Y … E" from Beck, and there was silence.
* * *
Beck hurried back to the surface. He was glad that Angel had chalked the symbols on the walls, because he was frazzled by the turn of events and might conceivably have made a wrong turn. But he made his way back without mishap.
He emerged from the hotel and was crossing to his car when his path was blocked by a fat, middle-aged man with a hand in his coat pocket. Presumably, he was holding a gun on Beck.
Beck cursed inwardly but managed to smile. "Hey, Frank, long time no see," he said. "What can I …" His knees buckled. Frank caught him as he sagged to the ground. A skinny old man put away his blackjack with a smug smile on his face.
"Nice work, Harry," said Frank. "Help me get him to the car."
They manhandled Beck's semiconscious form to their car. They tossed him into the back seat and drove off.
* * *
Norman finished programming the track-laying machine. "It will go almost to the crater and pull up the track and ties back to where we will start the new tunnel," he told Dorothy. "Meanwhile, we will drive the new tunnel with the digging machine." The digging machine was an enormous cylinder with a drill at the front and a conveyor at the back. Yet more machines took the rubble from the conveyor and sent it off for disposal.
"Where will we put the rubble?" asked Dorothy.
"We will fill up the tunnel we are abandoning," said Norman.
* * *
Angel and Dori moved carefully to the far side of the dome, where the dust wasn't so bad. Angel wiped her face with her handkerchief and took a drink of water. She offered her handkerchief and canteen to Dori, who dabbed carefully at her eyes.
Dori said, "It's convenient not having to breathe, but my eyes don't like the dust."
"Does it hurt?" asked Angel.
"Yes," said Dori. "My pain response is different from yours. I won't writhe or scream or anything, no matter how badly hurt I am, but I hate the way it feels."
"I can't ask these questions of Dorothy."
"You can ask her practical questions and she'll answer straight away. But if you ask her about her feelings, she'll snap at you."
"I don't even know if she likes me," Angel said mournfully.
The elevator arrived again, with a big clonking sound. Angel jumped. "Let's take a look at that elevator," she said. "The noise is driving me crazy."
They went over to the elevator, which was partly blocked by the cave-in. Ten minutes later they had cleared the rubble from in front of the doors. The obstruction turned out to be a piece of copper sheet that had once been part of the dome's inner wall, but had ended up wedged between the doors. It stuck into the elevator shaft for a couple of feet, and apparently hit some kind of sensor on the elevator car, which caused it to back off and try again. When they removed the obstruction. The elevator car arrived, a bell was heard, and the doors opened smoothly. There was a light inside the elevator car. It looked awfully inviting.
"No, no, no!" said Angel. "We should stay here. First rule of rescue work. The victims shouldn't go wandering off." She leaned into the car and pulled the "OPEN DOOR" knob. The floor buttons were labeled "B1" to "B10." The "B1" button was lit.
Dori said, "Do you think there's a way up to the surface?"
"Probably not. There usually isn't. Maybe. Let's look around. After all, that's what we're here for."
They did a careful search and found absolutely nothing. Whatever the dome had been used for in the past, it had been completely stripped. The elevator seemed to be the only exit. There was just a hint of old tunnels; hemispherical patches of copper paneling at floor level that had tarnished to a different color than the rest. But the walls there were just as solid as everywhere else. There were no lights, no control panels; not even an abandoned packing crate.
Angel sat down on the floor, exhausted. Dori was restless. "I need something to do," she complained. "I worry about Jason if I'm not doing anything."
"I thought you were fine for hours," said Angel.
"Normally. This is different."
"Count the bricks in the wall," said Angel tiredly.
"It has to be something real or it doesn't help."
* * *
"All right, all right!" shouted Beck. "I'm in! I'll do it! Just take these damned cuffs off me so we can shake on it!"
He was still in the back seat of the car. The old guy, Harry, took the cuffs off him and they shook hands. At the next red light, Frank turned in the driver's seat and shook hand with Beck as well.
There was a general relaxation.
"Sorry to put you through this, Beck," said Harry, "but you'd gone straight and ratted on some guys."
"They weren't crooks, they were revolutionaries!" protested Beck. "It doesn't count!"
"Yeah, yeah. What do you need for the job?"
Beck grinned. "You won't believe it. I need one sheet of fine sandpaper and a really good stethoscope. A Mackland, for preference."
"Yep. Those Burleigh safes are supposed to be the best, but there's a flaw in the lock design. But I'm the only one who knows how to open them." He paused for a moment, and then, by way of life insurance, said, "Hey! After the job, give me a call and I can arrange to train some of your boys. I'm not really in the biz anymore, after all. There's only, I dunno, twenty or thirty Burleigh safes in Paradigm, but they're all in really prime locations."
"You'll do this out of the goodness of your heart?" asked Frank dubiously.
"There'll be a fee, unless you want to owe me a big favor, Frank old pal. But I don't want a cut from the jobs because it might be traced."
Frank considered this and nodded. "Sounds good."
"So when's the job?" asked Beck. "I've got appointments. People will start looking for me."
Beck rolled his eyes but didn't protest. It would have to do.
* * *
The enormous drill inched its way forward. Although there were a few tiny windows, there was nothing to see. Norman and Dorothy kept their eyes on the video screens. Every twenty feet, a rubble carrier detached itself and crawled on caterpillar treads to a waiting train and loaded a car. The track-laying machinery had already pulled up the old track and was waiting down another spur line. When the drill was removed, the new line would be laid in a couple of hours.
When all the cars in the rubble train were full, it headed down the line to dump its contents into the old tunnel.
* * *
Angel woke suddenly to a loud rumbling sound. "Must've dozed off," she muttered.
Distant noises and vibrations were heard above them.
"That can't be a rescue attempt," said Angel. "Even Roger doesn't make that kind of unnecessary noise."
"Maybe it's Big O and the Prairie Dog," said Dori.
"Oh, great, just what we need, Big O derailed right on top of us," groaned Angel.
The rumbling continued, interspersed with hammering and the sounds of groaning metal. The landslide resumed intermittently and threatened to smash the elevator.
Angel jumped to her feet. "I don't like this!" she said. "Whatever's happening, it's not helping. Let's get out of here while we still can!"
They raced to the elevator. Angel pushed the "DOOR OPEN" knob back in and pressed the "DOOR CLOSE" button with one hand, while stabbing the "B2" button repeatedly with the other. The doors closed. There was an enormous crash. A spray of dust and gravel burst in through the crack between the doors. Then the elevator began to descend.
* * *
Roger walked into the dining room. Dinner was late - not because of the tunneling work, which had been completed on time, but because he had been detained downtown. "Where's Angel?" he asked.
"I don't know, Master Roger," said Norman. "She hasn't returned and has not called."
"That's not like her. Maybe she's with Beck and Dori."
"I telephoned, sir, and there was no answer. Mr. Beck has not called his answering service since before lunch. Also, there is no signal from Miss Angel's watch. None at all."
"Did you trace it?"
"No, sir. As you'll recall, she demanded that her watch only be traceable when activated by her. It is otherwise very hard to pinpoint."
"Damn it, Norman! You actually did what she asked?"
"I do not lie to Miss Angel, sir."
Roger sighed. "Has this ever happened before?"
"No, sir. She is sometimes as much as fifteen minutes late for supper, but other than that she has always called. Because your business kept you late, we are serving forty-five minutes late tonight, but she does not know that. And her watch has not been out of range at all for weeks."
"What about Beck and Dori?" asked Dorothy.
"There is no way for us to locate them. Mr. Beck is less consistent than Miss Angel, but he has instructed his answering service to let us know when he last checked in, as a safety measure. Mr. Beck is very erratic in his daily routine, but he almost always calls his answering service at least once during the afternoon. He has not done so today."
"So you think they're together, and they're in trouble," said Roger.
Dorothy rose. "I will ask Big O if he can sense them. If that doesn't work, perhaps Big B can." She departed.
Roger looked enquiringly at Norman. "Do we know where Big B is?"
Roger looked at his fine meal discontentedly. His appetite had vanished. "Well, no doubt Dorothy will tell me her secret when she's ready."
* * *
The elevator door opened, revealing a curved, high-ceilinged corridor that was strangely lit.
"This looks new," said Dori.
"The further down you go, the newer everything looks," said Angel. She marked an angel on the wall and asked, "Which way?"
Dori immediately pointed to the left.
Angel was startled. "Why?"
"There's something bad in the other direction."
Angel drew an arrow pointing to the left and asked, "How do you know?"
"I just have a feeling. And don't look at me like that: I'm not a computer. Sometimes I just know things."
Angel said, "What I meant was, if it were a Megadeus or something, wouldn't you know which senses were telling you it was there?"
"Oh, yes. This isn't like that. It's a premonition." She looked at Angel's expression. "You're doing it again."
"Sorry." Dori? Premonitions?
Dori rolled her eyes. "Go ahead and ask."
"I might as well," said Angel. "My, you're in a talkative mood today! Tell me about these premonitions."
"It's my last gasp," said Dori cryptically . "Dorothy has premonitions, too. We don't know where they come from. They're not always accurate. Usually, though."
"What premonitions does she have?" asked Angel.
"She says the strongest one is that …" she stopped.
"It's about you. Maybe you don't want to hear it."
"Oh." Angel considered this. Then, smiling artificially, she said brightly, "Let's change the subject, shall we?"
They walked in silence for a while, then Dori asked, "Angel, what happened forty years ago?"
"Why do you think I know?"
"Roger said you did."
"I don't like talking about it."
"Please? I think it's important," said Dori.
Angel smiled, "Another premonition?" she said archly.
"Yes," Dori said, seriously.
Angel stopped walking and considered. "Well, you know how one day follows another, and you know deep down that yesterday was pretty much like today, and this was true even before you were born?"
"Well, it's true most days, but not every day. There was a discontinuity in history, Dori. The day before people woke up without their memories was a lot more different than they imagine. People lived different lives, had different occupations. The world was different. It was all rearranged, and people's memories were taken to conceal the discontinuity."
Angel sighed. "There's something about our world that's broken. Its continuity has been damaged. Cause and effect don't work all the time. It's like a house of cards that has to be rebuilt when the wind blows it over."
"How could such a thing happen?"
Angel tried to remember. "There was a war. And it had something to do with Megadeuses, and a terrible new weapon. And then suddenly there wasn't enough … reality? history? continuity? to go around. And when the house of cards fell over, a handful of people in a certain … place? could deal them out again and build a new one."
Dori protested, "That sounds horrible!"
Angel smiled. "A lot of people think it sounds wonderful. Just think, playing God with the lives of everyone in the world. Wouldn't that be nice?"
"It sounds even worse when you put it that way."
Impulsively, Angel hugged Dori. "There's a great shortage of sensible people in the world, Dori. Remember that."
She sighed and continued. "It was all just a stopgap to keep things from falling apart altogether. We were going to fix the world, put it back the way it was."
"Sort of. Not me, exactly, but mostly. And others. Probably I was more me than you are the human Dorothy."
Angel considered. "It kept going wrong. I remember … it was harder than it should have been. The discontinuities affected us, too. We couldn't remember very well across them. We kept making the same mistakes. And once you'd made the same mistake a couple of times in a row, it became ingrained. It was horrible. And there were side effects, too. Memories of what we were doing kept leaking into the minds of other people, and they felt this terrible compulsion to play god. Sometimes that affected us as well. We lost sight of our task, sometimes."
Angel lapsed into silence, trying to remember. Here, underground, with Dori, her memory was far clearer than it was up on the surface. Usually, she could remember nothing about her time as one of the Directors. There was something she ought to be able to remember about that, too. She groped for a long time after the memory, but it eluded her. Finally, she gave up.
As soon as she stopped straining after the memory, an image floated into her mind. She was sitting on the couch in Roger's apartment, having this same conversation with the human Dorothy. The sun was streaming through the open windows and the smell of spring was in the air. Angel's eyes filled with tears.
"Well, this isn't getting us back home," she said. Let's get moving … Dori?"
Dori was staring blankly at the wall.
Dori turned her head slowly, mechanically. "An … gel."
"Ja … son."
"Are you all right?"
"Can you walk?"
"Follow me, then."
Angel continued down the corridor, moving slowly at first, but soon realizing that, whatever was wrong with Dori, her walking wasn't impaired, and she set a brisk pace.
Soon they came to the first of the bodies.
* * *
Dorothy returned. "Roger, we need to leave right away."
Roger stood up. "What's this about?"
"Big B told Big O that Beck has a locator watch similar to ours. It has been removed from his wrist, but it has been continuing to move around."
Roger said, "Anyone who got his hands on Beck would strip him of his personal effects, because all of them are likely to be gadgets."
"Yes," said Dorothy. "But since the watch is still moving, they are likely all moving together. I will pick up a second watch from Big B's cockpit."
Roger raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, Big B and I are on friendly terms," she said with a trace of sarcasm. "Isn't that nice."
* * *
It was only the first body. Hardly more than a skeleton, it wore an unfamiliar gray uniform. They soon found more. The walls were blackened and pitted in places where weapons had struck them.
They reached a crossroads in the corridor. The two side passages were narrower and had doors opening off them. It must have been a block of offices, because desks and filing cabinets had been piled in the main corridor to form a barricade, now broken.
At the barricade, they found the first of many bodies in red uniforms. For another hundred yards, gray and red were found in roughly equal numbers. Beyond that, only the occasional red-clad body was found, where a wounded man had crawled off to die.
They reached another hemispherical chamber. This one was well-illuminated and contained a great deal of machinery. A Megadeus sagged as if crucified from the arms of an enormous gantry.
"No!" said Dori suddenly. "You cannot see me! I am not here!" Several red lights in her hairband were blinking furiously.
Angel jumped nearly out of her skin, but the Megadeus did not move. It had been terribly damaged. She could actually see all the way through its torso where something had burned through it. Its armor was rent and pitted, and only a fraction of its mask remained. One leg had been burned through at the knee, and lay on the floor.
"Dori, is this one of the sane ones?"
"No!" said Dori. "No!"
Angel took Dori's hand and led her back down the corridor.
* * *
Beck looked his tools over. He had added magnets to his wish list at the last moment, to stick the stethoscope onto the safe with a minimum of fuss. He was in a hotel room and was testing the holding power of the magnet against the side of the bathroom medicine cabinet. Perfect.
"Okay, gents, I'm ready," he said. He put his tools carefully into the small briefcase that Frank had provided. He hated having his suit pockets bulge with tools. He winked at his reflection in the mirror. This was going to be fun.
Harry and Frank escorted him downstairs. They were a little nervous, as most crooks are before any job. They went out to the car and got in, with Beck and Harry in the back as before. Frank started the engine, turned the wheel, and made to pull out of the parking space, but the car didn't move. He revved the engine, but nothing happened. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, he saw a petite redheaded woman standing directly behind the car.
Perplexed, he looked around and saw several policemen approaching.
Beck said, "Gotta run, fellas. Sorry!" and got out of the car in a hurry. He slammed the door and said, "Let 'em go, Dorothy!"
Dorothy dropped the rear bumper of the car. When the wheels hit the ground, the car peeled out in a thick cloud of burning rubber, barely missing one of the cops. A moment later, it was gone. The cops pursued.
Roger stopped lounging against the wall of the hotel and walked up to Beck. "Where are Angel and Dori?" he asked.
"We were helping Angel check out a site underground where she was fishing for memories," said Beck, "and there was a minor cave-in that left them stuck but okay. I got nabbed when I was on my way back for help. They wanted me to open a safe for them. I couldn't say no, since they were gonna kill me if I did."
"We'd better get Angel and Dori out right away," said Roger.
"You've got that right," said Beck. "Dori will be going nuts by now, and Angel isn't going to be in a good mood, either. We'll want some equipment."
"Where is all this?" asked Roger.
"In the subway near the East Side Dome."
Beck had never heard Dorothy shriek before. He prayed he would never hear it again.
* * *
Angel didn't know what to do. The two cross-corridors turned out to be dead ends; administrative adjuncts to the Megadeus hangar, no doubt. The Megadeus hangar would certainly have some kind of access to the surface, though likely long disused and possibly blocked. Taking the elevator up to level B1 was obviously not an option, and going even further down struck her as being reckless. How much faith to put in Dori's premonition?
She decided in the end that Dori had chosen the wrong direction. They retraced their steps. Angel updated her chalked markers with the new time and new direction, without effacing the old ones.
After about fifteen minutes they reached another chamber. This one was also designed to house a Megadeus, but none could be seen. They were on a level halfway up the dome. At the base were several large tunnels going in different directions. Angel was reminded of Roger's Prairie Dog transport system for Big O, though there were no tracks.
Angel hurried across the floor to where she expected to find an elevator. There it was! She pressed the "UP" button, which lit immediately. The indicator dial above the elevator began to descend.
Beneath her, there was a distant rumble.
"Come on, come on!" Angel said to the elevator. The distant rumble came closer.
The elevator door opened. Angel dragged Dori inside and pressed the top button. The doors began to close, but not before an enormous wheeled vehicle slid into the chamber. It was easily as large as Big O's Prairie Dog.
The elevator started upwards. "Hurry! Hurry!" she screamed at it.
"Big Ramses," said Dori, her voice blurred with a robotic buzz. "He can't see me, but he knows I am close."
Angel looked at her watch. Were the hands glowing a little brighter now? She jammed the crystal down with her thumb. "Roger, for god's sake get a fix on me. There's a Megadeus pursuing Dori. Do you hear me?"
The elevator reached the top floor and its door opened. Surprisingly, they were in a perfectly ordinary-looking warehouse, with rows of metal drums stacked high. Forklifts could be seen moving in the distance.
Angel grabbed Dori's hand and they began to run. When Angel looked back, she saw only a blank wall where the elevator had been. They kept running.
Angel's watch beeped, then Norman's voice could be heard. "Miss Angel, Big O will be there in approximately two minutes."
Two minutes! Damn! Angel didn't complain; she was saving her breath for running. Every step they took away from the elevator would make it that much harder for Big Ramses to pinpoint Dori.
She heard a roar as Big Ramses burst through the ground a couple of blocks away.
He was a gray Megadeus, ugly and lacking the usual ornamentation. He was extravagantly armored - even more heavily armored than Big O. He bristled with secondary armament; heavy machine guns or light cannon - things no ordinary Megadeus would carry at all.
Angel turned the corner and hoped that Big Ramses had no idea what he was looking for. Surely he had no idea what Dori looked like!
Big Ramses stood motionless for a moment, then uttered a bone-jarring cry. Dori suddenly froze, then turned around and started walking the other way.
"Dori, no!" screamed Angel. "No, you can't!" She tried to stop Dori, but Dori was so much stronger than her that it had little effect. "Please, Dori!" she begged, "Listen to me! That thing isn't your friend, I am! I'm Angel, remember? And you're Dori Wayneright!"
Dori hesitated. "An-gel," she said in a robotic monotone.
"Turn around, Dori!" pleaded Angel, weeping. "Roger will be here in a minute. Don't let that thing ensnare you! You've got to stay away from it, you've got to stay free for Beck!"
"Jason!" Dori said in her normal voice.
"Come on, let's run some more," said Angel, pulling hard at Dori's hand. "We need to put some more distance between us and that Megadeus."
"Jason will be here in a minute," said Dori, not moving.
Angel decided to play along. "That's right, but let's wait somewhere a little further away, okay?"
"Okay," said Dori. "This way. Thirty seconds." She pelted off in a new direction, and Angel hurried after her.
* * *
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY
"Big O! Action!" shouted Roger. Big O charged towards Angel's location.
"Big Ramses," said Dorothy calmly as the other Megadeus came into view.
"Look at the armor on that thing!" said Roger. "Weak points?"
"None to speak of," reported Dorothy. "There is no pilot. No android. Core memory … intact. This is one of the crazy ones. It is skilled at self-piloting."
"Chromebuster!" called Roger. Big O took up a firing stance and fired at Big Ramses' head. When he switched off the beam, he saw that Big Ramses had thrown his right arm in front of his face, and it was now glowing red-hot. Part of Big Ramses' mask had also slagged down.
Suddenly, Big Ramses' torso opened and revealed rows of missiles. "Counter-measures!" called Roger as he raised Big O's forearms protectively.
There was the familiar bang as the chaff charges went off, enveloping Big O with a cloud of little pieces of radar- and heat-reflecting foil, not to mention a huge cloud of smoke to obscure visual tracking. Of the twenty-four missiles, only four went home, and did nothing more than vaporize a few tons of Big O's forearm armor.
"Big O Thunder!" called Roger. One of Big O's arms transformed to reveal a Gatling-style plasma gun. Big O stepped forward out of the smoke. "Wait!"
Big B had just arrived and was hurtling towards Big Ramses, brandishing his plasma lance. Roger had learned something of Beck's tactics by now. "Chromebuster!" he called.
Once again he fired the chromebuster at Big Ramses' head. When Big Ramses raised his left arm to protect his head from the beam, Big B drove the plasma lance deep into his side. The instant Roger turned off the chromebuster, Big B fired his left-hand cannon directly into the red-hot section of Big Ramses' head. There was an enormous explosion and Big Ramses staggered back.
"Core memory still intact," reported Dorothy.
Roger allowed Big O to surge forward. Big O was eager to come to grips. Big Ramses regained his balance and grabbed Big B, attempting to lift him off the ground. Big B jammed his knee into Big Ramses' crotch, and Beck fired the shaped charge he'd planted in the knee for just such an occasion. Big Ramses and Big B were hurled apart. Big B kept his balance, but Big Ramses fell onto his back.
He was up again as Big O came within reach. The explosion had wreaked horrible damage. Flame was spurting out of Big Ramses' torso at the joints for arms, legs, and neck. Big O waded in and hammered Big Ramses in chest and head, using the piledrivers to deliver enormous, smashing blows.
In the meantime, Big Ramses had transformed his left arm. "Shock vortex," reported Dorothy. Big O was too close, but Big Ramses fired at Big B. A ring of blinding silver light shot out of the end of his arm and raced to Big B, who was suddenly enveloped in silvery lightning that went on and on. Big B became suddenly rigid, then toppled onto his side.
The explosions inside Big Ramses' body became more intense. Roger retreated with some difficulty, as Big O did not want to disengage. "Big O Thunder!" he warned, and played gouts of plasma fire over Big Ramses' stricken body. Soon Big Ramses toppled to the ground. After a moment, he stopped moving. Roger ceased fire and watched the Megadeus burn.
After a moment he turned and looked at Big B, which was still lying motionless on his side. "Is Big B okay?"
Dorothy replied, "The shock vortex dissipated a few seconds ago. Big B will regain full function within minutes. Beck, Dori, and Angel are unharmed."
"Put through a call."
Roger grinned at the image. Beck was strapped into the command seat and didn't seem too uncomfortable in his sideways position, and Dori looked - he blinked - almost joyful, for some reason, and was perched gracefully on the side of the cockpit. Angel was sitting on the wall-turned-floor and looked thoroughly discontented.
Roger asked, "So how do you like being a passenger in a Megadeus cockpit, Angel?"
"I've had better rides at demolition derbies, thank you very much, Roger Smith," she replied. "The fall practically homogenized me. Somebody ought to teach Beck how to drive one of these things."
Beck interjected, "I've got partial function back. Would you give me a hand up, Roger old pal? It'll save time, and we want to get these ladies home. They've had a hard day."
Roger grinned and urged Big O over to where Big B was lying. He hauled Big B to his feet, enjoying the spectacle of Angel cursing and flailing around as the cockpit shook and shifted.
"Remind me to add a couple of passenger seats to the cockpit," he said to Dorothy.
"And a wet bar," said Angel, who had heard, since Roger hadn't closed the connection. "And a bathroom. And barf bags. Lots of barf bags. Not that I'm complaining, Beck, but if you can't make this thing move more smoothly, you're going to have one hell of a clean-up job before we get home."
"I'll order them in pink," said Beck, grinning, "and you should go home with Roger anyway, since the location of my hangar is a secret."
Angel dug out the steno pad out of her purse and scribbled something on it, then handed it to Beck. He rolled his eyes. "Roger, old friend, Angel's coming with me to my" he glared at Angel, "secret hideout."
"We'll meet you there after we've put Big O away," said Roger with a perfectly straight face.
Beck threw his arms in the air. "That's right, make fun of poor old Beck! I might as well buy a neon sign, is that it? Look, be a sport and invite me over for dinner, Roger old buddy. Dori wants hugs all around, and I really don't want you guys driving up to my hideout."
"Again," said Roger. He laughed when he saw the look on Beck's face. "Beck, I would be obliged if you and Dori would do us the honor of dining with us tonight. Oh, and drag Angel along, too."
"Be nice to Angel," said Dori.
"Sorry, Dori. Angel, could you see your way clear to gracing us with your presence?"
"Well, considering that I live there, I suppose I can put up with the inconvenience, just this once" said Angel generously.
Roger, smiling, turned Big O towards home.
ACT 32. Materia Medica