By 'A Clockwork Tomato'
This is one of the episodes from my thirteen-episode fanfiction season 3 for The Big O, everyone's favorite anime show. It shows a plausible future after Act 26, advances Roger and Dorothy's romance, answers many of the riddles of Paradigm, and has plenty of giant-robot mayhem! The episodes feature R. Dorothy Wayneright, Roger Smith, Angel, Dan Dastun, Jason Beck, and our other favorite characters.
Why did I write a thirteen-episode season in thirteen weeks? Partly because people were so confused when the show ended so abruptly and mysteriously. A lot of folks felt that what happened at the end end of Act 26 made future episodes impossible. These thirteen episodes are my way of proving otherwise.
What happened in Act 26? Why did people lose all their memories? These and other mysteries are answered.
The original episodes and such are all copyrighted or trademarked or whatever by Sunrise, Inc. The rest is mine, all mine, and is Copyright ©2003 and 2004 by A Clockwork Tomato. All rights reserved.
Roger started the car and looked over at Dorothy in the passenger seat. "Just like old times," he said, smiling at her.
She looked straight ahead and said, simply, "Yes."
Roger was not fooled. She was happy. Happy to be alone with him, assisting him on a visit to a new client. Roger hadn't asked her to accompany him for some time, since she had been so busy with Dori. Maybe he should have asked her sooner.
They drove out onto the street and waited for the new traffic light to change. Dastun has put in a number of new traffic lights in the neighborhood and posted some extra cops as well, to make it possible to clear traffic to make way for Big O if he left the building through the immense new street-level doors. One cop was permanently on duty near the giant doors, and one was near the front door. He wasn't actually on the steps or anything, but he saw everyone who came in or out. There had been some trouble with nut cases. Roger had been briefly annoyed, then had given in. He lived on the ninth floor, after all.
In fact, he had given over some of the old offices on the ground floor to the police. They now had a couple of offices, a break room, and a bathroom of their own. Norman made sure they were well provisioned, though he also kept a close eye on them to prevent them from rifling through files or bugging the phone system. Cops will be cops. But Dastun picked good men for this duty, and there had been no trouble. Quite the reverse. It was pleasant having these respectful, competent men around. They had made a pet of Dori, who visited them almost every day.
They drove in silence for a while, then Roger asked, "Do you think we made a mistake, leaving Dastun all alone with Angel?"
"Beck and Dori will be there."
It was Norman's night off. Dastun had a date with Angel. They were going to dine at the mansion and then go out on the town. Beck was cooking. Roger had taken to inviting Beck over to the mansion for dinner. It pleased Dori, and Dori had Roger wrapped around her little finger. Beck liked to cook and was much less abrasive when he had a challenge, such as an ambitious meal, to distract him. He had been a little put out when Roger had received a call from a new client who wanted to meet with him that evening. No doubt he would take it out on Dastun.
Dorothy asked, "Who is the client?"
"A man named Amos Greenlake. I've never met him."
"I have. If it's the same man. He was a friend of my father's."
"What do you know about him?"
Dorothy considered. "He's old. In his mid-eighties, I believe. He is a gerontologist."
"What's a gerontologist?"
"He specializes in the diseases of old people."
Roger smiled. "That's convenient."
"What does he want us to negotiate?"
"He didn't say."
* * *
Dastun's car pulled up at 7:29. He pressed the front doorbell at 7:30 exactly.
Dori opened the door and flung herself around his neck. Dastun knew better than to dodge or struggle. She was an incorrigible hugger. Resistance was futile. She was stronger, faster, and heavier than he was. His aide, Lt. Sorenson, looked on, grinning. Dastun blushed.
"Give Sorenson a hug, while you're at it," he suggested callously, hoping to escape his fate by throwing her a Lieutenant.
She did not let go. "I can't. Not until he's been approved by one of my advisors."
"And who are they?"
"Jason, Dorothy, and Norman," she replied. "Roger refused to serve. Angel has been struck off the list in disgrace."
Dastun grinned. "You can let go now."
She did so, and turned to Lt. Sorenson again. "Dinner is in half an hour, Lieutenant. We'll be sending some food down to the break room."
He smiled at her. "Thank you, miss."
She led Dastun inside. As they waited for the elevator - Dori had used the stairs coming down - she asked, "Did you hear that Roger and Dorothy have been called away?"
"Yes. That's okay. I can get along with Beck. I just wish I knew what Angel had in mind for tonight. She didn't say anything."
"She said she just wants you to show her the town, have a few laughs, and then take her to bed."
Dastun froze. He could feel himself blushing again.
Dori noticed and turned away from him suddenly. "I'm sorry. I said something wrong."
"It's all right," he managed.
"No," she said, still not looking at him. "It's not. I say the wrong thing all the time."
He raised a hand to pat her shoulder, then changed his mind and lowered it again.
The elevator arrived. Dori made no move to enter it.
"Dan, will you tell me which mistake I made? Was I vulgar? Did I say something that is only ever implied? Did I ruin a surprise? Did I deny you the initiative? Did I use girl talk in front of guys?"
"Yes," said Dastun, suddenly smiling again.
"All of them?" Dori turned around and looked at him wide-eyed.
Dori opened the inner door of the elevator car and walked in. Dastun followed, and she closed the inner door again. She pressed the button for the eighth floor. The elevator began to rise.
After a moment, Dori said, "Don't mind me. My brain isn't broken in yet."
"You're just fine, Dori," he said. "Don't worry about a thing. If you grow out of this frankness, I'll miss it."
"Yeah." He braced himself. Sure enough, she gave him a hug that made his ribs creak. Fortunately, the elevator arrived on the eighth floor, and she let go. She stepped out of the elevator and he staggered after her.
* * *
Amos Greenlake lived in a small but charming house in a well-to-do district. The door was answered by a nurse in a white uniform, who led them into Greenlake's office, an incredibly cluttered room with heaps of books and paper everywhere.
Greenlake was a wizened little man, totally bald and heavily wrinkled. He stood shakily and shook hands tremblingly with Roger and then Dorothy.
"We have already met, Miss Wayneright. Please let me give you my belated condolences for the loss of your father."
"Thank you," said Dorothy.
"And now you're assisting this young man."
Greenlake looked around for chairs to offer them, but they were completely filled with books and papers.
"It's all right," said Dorothy. "We'll stand."
Greenlake sank into his chair. "I don't get many visitors these days," he said. He collected his thoughts for a few seconds, then said, "Mr. Smith, I have a multi-way negotiating task I would like you to undertake. I was involved with an inappropriate use of medical research funded by the Paradigm Corporation. Times have changed, and it is now time for the project to be shut down. It involved materials that are quite dangerous. Some of them are infectious. These should be destroyed. Some of the research was highly immoral and dangerous. Some of the records should no doubt be destroyed as well."
Roger asked, "What kind of research?"
"Originally, the goal was to seek immortality. The basic mechanism seemed straightforward enough. Most of the cells in our body do not last a lifetime, but are replaced several times over. As we age, the cells become less capable, and we grow old. There is a mechanism in every cell, like a calendar, that tells it how old it is. Old cells eventually give up and die.
"Now, this is not true in all species, or even with all cells in our own bodies. A baby is created from cells from its parent, but its calendar is reset. Otherwise, it would be born with cells that thought they were the same age as the parents, and babies would grow old and die at the same time as their parents. Life could not exist.
"So, if only we could find a mechanism to reset the calendar in every cell in the body - not too early, but, say, to our mid-twenties, when our bodies are done growing but are still young - then we could achieve immortality. In theory, it is as easy as that."
Roger asked, "Did it work?"
"So far, progress has been painfully slow. My friend Timothy Wayneright far outstripped me in his immortality research, where he proposed to copy human minds into android brains, recapturing the personality of the original. And, incidentally, preserving the mind in a digital format that could be archived forever - on a disc, for instance. He also hoped to achieve the reverse transformation and copy the digital recording back into a young human brain."
Dorothy said, "But my father's experiments were unsuccessful."
Greenlake smiled and said, "Why do you think so, my dear?"
"Because Father wanted me to act like the real Dorothy, and I didn't. Not naturally. I had to learn the part by rote."
Greenlake said, "I knew young Dorothy, forty years ago - forty-one, now. How would you describe her?" he asked Dorothy.
Dorothy considered. "Father insisted that she was cheerful and vivacious. A little flirtatious, but also a little shy and rather dependent."
"Yes, that is how he described her to me as well, in his last years," said Greenlake. "Of course, at the time, he had not seen her in almost forty years, but that was how he saw her, in his mind's eye. Tell me, how do you see her in yours?"
Dorothy considered this for a long time. Suddenly her eyes locked on Greenlake's in an intent gaze.
"Yes," he said. "I see you understand."
"Thank you," she said.
"Don't mention it."
Roger, who had not understood a word, said, "Perhaps we can get back to business?"
"Yes, of course," said Greenlake briskly. "Where was I? Ah, yes. The way to invade every cell in the body and alter it is through something rather like a virus. The properties are, in theory, just what we need, but obtaining the desired effect is not easy. Far too much trial and error is required for what ought to be a simple process. So far, I have not found a technique that achieves my goals. However, other goals were served by the same processes. Eugene Grant found it relatively easy to use the technique to change the DNA in living creatures, causing them to change their form, though he was sloppy and incompetent at making the process self-terminating. The transition was generally followed by undesirable self-mutation." He stopped.
Roger prompted, "And what about your research, sir?"
"Ah. It was a simple concept with profound medical implications. The cells in our body are quite insistent on operating at full speed all the time. If they could shut themselves down - go into hibernation - if, for example, the level of oxygen was too low for them to function, then a great deal of misery could be eliminated. Someone who lost an arm in an accident could have it reattached days later, without loss of function. Heart attack victims could be revived, almost uninjured, hours or days -- weeks, with proper refrigeration - after their hearts stopped beating. The number of lives that would be saved would be simply incalculable."
Roger asked, "That sounds promising."
Greenlake nodded, "It's a wonderful technology. Of course, under Paradigm funding it all went wrong. They saw potential in it that had never occurred to me. I am a doctor. The concept that people in suspended animation might be easier to interrogate than live suspects had occurred to me."
Roger bristled, "They did that?"
"Oh, yes. It was an offshoot of Dr. Wayneright's work. A quiescent brain can be recorded more accurately than an active one. Less interference. His best work came from recordings made when the subject was in a profound sleep. But this method worked even better.
"And that was not the end of it. It turned out that the quiescent brains could be altered before reawakening, either through lab apparatus or through the nature of the virus itself. The possibilities of this had people in Paradigm Corporation very excited, I am sad to say."
Roger asked, "Altered how?"
"In various ways. The possibilities they found most appealing were to condition the subjects to obedience and servitude, though some of the decision-makers preferred a tendency towards violence. The combination, it was felt, would make an excellent army. It is this work that I wish to have stopped, with proper safeguards and the destruction of much of the material."
"Some of my colleagues are not keen to give up. They fear punishment or believe in the work itself. You will have to deal with them in addition to the government." He fumbled around on his desk and eventually found a file folder, which he handed to Roger. "The details are here. Read them over, and we will meet again."
* * *
Dastun relaxed over his after-dinner coffee. The meal had gone very well. He and Beck had recounted the tales of one of Beck's crimes after another, from their different perspectives. Each man, hearing the other side for the first time, was fascinated, and they would have rehashed old crimes all night if Angel hadn't abruptly left to prepare for her date with Dastun. Angel managed to simultaneously smile and glare at him before leaving, as only she could.
Beck excused himself to make a few phone calls to the shop he had engaged to make a new weapons system for Big B. He badgered them day and night.
Dastun smiled at Dori. "You've been quiet," he said.
"I'm self-conscious tonight," she admitted.
"I've been wondering," he said, "What is it between Angel and Roger, and between Angel and Beck, for that matter?"
"No more indiscretions today. You'll have to ask her yourself."
"Awkward," he said.
"She won't mind. But you have to ask, or spend eternity not knowing." She smiled her faint smile. "At least you have a choice this time."
"Were you leveling with me before?" he asked.
"I repeated what she told me herself, this afternoon. I think she was serious. She had Norman prepare a bedroom for you, so you'd have an alibi in the morning."
Dastun grimaced. "Next door to hers, I suppose?"
"Across the hall. Someone told Norman that you snore. You're next door to me. I don't sleep; snore all you like. There's pajamas and underwear and socks and a toothbrush. I don't know if the new uniform arrived in time."
"Norman is a wonder."
"Yes he is, even if he did refuse to add Tony to my hugging list."
"It's the way he blushes and stammers for five minutes after I hug him."
"How do you know, if he isn't on the list?"
"Oh, Angel vouched for him because she likes teasing him. He has a crush on Dorothy. He's even more awkward around me than her. Angel said I shouldn't stop at hugging, either. That's what got her thrown off my team of advisors."
* * *
Back in the car, Roger said, "Well, we're free for the rest of the evening. What would you like to do?"
"I think that Angel may have the right idea," said Dorothy. "Music, dancing, conversation. What should I wear?"
"The new miniskirt outfit," said Roger, decisively.
"Because it's the only black one, or because it's the skimpiest?"
She considered. "I'm not sure that outfit is decent to wear in public."
"Good. I want my fellow man to fall over dead with envy."
"You really are such a louse, Roger Smith."
"That's settled, then."
* * *
Angel knocked on the door of Dastun's room as he was knotting his tie.
"Come in," he said.
"Nice uniform," she said. "How does Norman do it?"
"I don't know, but there were three of them in the closet waiting for me. I figured I looked a little rumpled, so I tried one on." He regarded his reflection in the mirror complacently. "Not bad." He turned back to you. "And you're looking especially gorgeous tonight yourself."
"Thank you, kind sir," she said, smiling. She was wearing one of her more respectable miniskirt outfits, one that said, "Having a night out with my man," rather than "Hey, sailor: you alone?"
They traveled down the elevator in companionable silence. This was not their first date, and Dastun had lost most of his initial nervousness with Angel. They could always get over any awkwardness by talking shop: guns, tricks of the detective/espionage trade, gossip about the higher-ups in Paradigm Corporation.
At the ground floor, Dastun shouted, "Sorenson!" and the Lieutenant appeared as if by magic.
Angel turned to Dastun. "A chaperone?" she asked, archly.
"There's some bad stuff happening," he said. "I want to be on call, and I don't want to lug one of those jumbo-sized police walkie-talkies with me on a date. You might get sarcastic."
"Can't you use one of those communicator watches?"
"Yeah, when I have fifty grand in the budget to spend on one."
Angel was shocked. "Do they really cost that much?" Roger had given her three of them.
"At least. The police ones send in clear. The encrypted ones like Roger uses cost a lot more. But Sorenson here is on salary. He can wait in the car and fetch me if I'm needed."
Angel said to the Lieutenant, "I hope you didn't have to break a date with Julie."
He said, "I did, as a matter of fact."
"Any time you can manage to bring her around for breakfast, consider the two of you invited," said Angel. "And I'll get you a dinner invitation soon."
Sorenson beamed, "Thanks, Miss Angel."
"Just Angel, unless Julie will get all funny about it."
* * *
Roger and Dorothy walked into the Octagon, the most popular nightclub in Paradigm. There was a pretty good crowd for a weekday, but not enough to be troublesome. Heads turned as they were shown to their table. Dorothy's miniskirt was indeed skimpy, though on someone with her petite build and air of self-contained calmness, it was more cute than scandalous. Angel could have stopped traffic and caused riots in a similar getup.
Though not actually smiling, Dorothy seemed unusually happy. She soon got up and pulled Roger to the dance floor.
"Do you dance?" asked Roger.
"You are such a louse! You've never bothered to find out."
The music started. The band was excellent. They played a swing number -- jitterbugging had recently made a comeback. Dorothy grabbed Roger and off they went.
She danced beautifully. Roger was surprised. Foxtrot, tango, cha-cha, waltz … he prided himself on his own dancing, though he had fallen out of practice since Dorothy had arrived and the stream of young women arriving at the mansion had dried up. Had he done that himself, by becoming more and more indifferent to them, or had Norman and Dorothy arranged it? It had probably been his own doing. He hadn't missed them at the time.
He had to remind himself from time to time of how heavy she was, since certain dance moves - even an overenthusiastic dip - could end in disaster. But mostly it was easy to forget. She let him lead, following him smoothly, though if he made a mistake and moved the wrong way, it was like dancing with an iron piling.
After the set they returned to their table. Dorothy seemed very happy. "You dance wonderfully," she said.
"You, too." He reached a hand across the little table and she took it in hers.
"It's easy for me," she said. "My reflexes are so fast. But I was pleased that I remembered all the steps."
"When did you learn?"
"The real Dorothy loved to dance. I remember how from her."
"I wish you wouldn't call her that. You're as real as she ever was."
"I'll call her 'the human Dorothy' from now on."
He smiled at her. "Why are you so happy tonight?"
"Isn't it enough that we're together?"
He smiled. "Probably not."
"There's another reason. I'll tell you later."
* * *
Dastun and Angel found themselves at the amusement dome, with Lt. Sorenson trailing behind with the walkie-talkie. They had done the Ferris Wheel and most of the other rides, including a particularly vicious round of bumper cars that had not only included ramming, but a boarding action as well, when Angel leapt from her car to Dastun's and wrested the controls from him through a combination of jabs and tickling, and had then engaged in a spirited ramming duel with Lt. Sorenson.
They were now terrifying the patrons of the shooting gallery with fancy trick shots. Angel was trying to line up one of the horrible little rifles with the intentionally inaccurate sights for a behind-the-back shot, using the mirror in her compact to see what she was aiming at, but burst out laughing when Dastun attempted a backwards shot by bending double to shoot between his own legs. He really wasn't flexible enough for this feat, and he would have fallen over if Lt. Sorenson hadn't steadied him. The shooting gallery was emptying fast. Angel laughed so hard her sides hurt.
About the time they had their breath back, the walkie-talkie burst into garbled speech. Instantly serious, Dastun and Lt. Sorenson concentrated on making out the words. Then they both straightened up, suddenly purposeful. "Come on," said Dastun, and hurried out of the gallery. Angel and Lt. Sorenson followed. They went into a photo studio where patrons could get their pictures taken in silly costumes. It was quiet in there.
Dastun picked up the walkie-talkie. "Okay, tell me what's happening." He listened intently for a while and said, "Yeah. I'll call Roger Smith and find out if he knows anything. Right. Sure, keep an eye on him. Just don't bother him. Right. Dastun out."
He turned to Sorenson. "Telephone."
Sorenson pointed. There was one next to the cash register. The photographer glared at them but made no protest when Dastun, without asking permission, picked up the receiver and dialed.
* * *
Beck and Dori inspected the work being done on Big B. Beck had been growing increasingly concerned about Big B's lack of heavy armament. Big B's chromebuster was non-functional, and the massive space in his chest for a really heavy weapon was empty. The Megadeuses that he and Roger had destroyed had been so thoroughly trashed that nothing could be salvaged from them. Beck longed for a shock vortex or a fusion beam, but no one knew how to build them. He had a chromebuster on order, but it would not be ready for weeks. As a stopgap, he was installing missile racks in Big B's torso.
He was not happy with the way the work was progressing. He had wanted the missile racks installed first, with the modifications to Big B's torso armor coming later. That way, Big B would never be unarmored if he had to be taken out on short notice. But the factory engineers had insisted that this could not be done. Big B stood with his entire front torso exposed. Men swarmed around inside him, readying the mounting points for the missile racks. The torso armor had its own swarm of men, cutting launching slits and affixing shutters. Although work was going on 24 hours a day, Beck was fretting.
He was taking it out on Tony. Tony was new on the job, having abandoned a less reputable outfit in favor of one that Norman thought highly of. Tony had volunteered to be the contact person on any work for Roger or Beck. He had a thing about android women and got to see a lot of Dorothy and Dori this way. He was painfully in love with Dorothy, to the point where his perfectly natural attraction to Dori made him feel unfaithful.
Both Dori and Dorothy were sympathetic but not encouraging. Each of them felt that the other R. Dorothy Wayneright was a delightful person and that any man of sense would fall in love with her, and so Tony's reaction was not to be wondered at. But his infatuation put him at risk of personal violence from Roger and especially Beck.
Tony also had an intense conviction that Dori was too good for Beck and a weaker one that Dorothy was too good for Roger. He also disliked Beck personally. Beck meddled in the work and was the sort of person who came up with brilliant ideas just as his perfectly adequate previous idea was being brought to completion. The fact that he paid lavishly, appreciated good work, and had far more interesting ideas than anyone else did not compensate for the aggravation of having to scrap good work, or for his infuriating work habits, which included calling people at home in the middle of the night. Beck was an insomniac who did his best sleeping during afternoon naps, and he didn't see why anyone else should sleep when he couldn't. If it hadn't been for Dori, Tony would have walked off the job long ago.
"Just remember, pal, that if the city gets leveled because Big B is in pieces, it's all your fault," said Beck, stabbing a finger at him. "So get the lead out. Stop screwing around. Get back to work."
Ordinarily, this sort of thing would have had Tony incandescent with rage. But Dori was standing a little behind Beck and was mouthing his words with an expression that somehow managed to be both totally deadpan and hysterically funny. Tonight, Tony's problem lay in not bursting out laughing.
"Yes, Mr. Beck," he said with a straight face.
"Come on, Dori," said Beck, and stalked out. Dori winked at Tony and followed.
* * *
Dorothy helped Roger out of the elevator. He had managed to twist his ankle during a conga line around the nightclub, when it had wound across the stage and back down, and he had expected there to be one less step than there really was. The elevator didn't go all the way up to the penthouse, so Roger had the spiral staircase to deal with next. He knew Dorothy could simply pick him up and carry him, but he didn't suggest this, and neither did she. She helped him limp up the stairs, led him to a couch, and went to fetch some ice for his foot.
The phone rang. A moment later, Dorothy returned, phone in hand. "It's General Dastun."
Roger picked up the phone. "What is it, Dan?"
"Roger, did you meet with an Amos Greenlake this evening?"
"Yes. He's my new client."
"Not anymore. He's been murdered. Shot through the heart."
* * *
Much later, Lt. Sorenson drove Angel home. He got out and opened her door.
Angel said, "Dan, you rat, get out of the damned car and see me to my door like a gentleman. You're setting a bad example for the Lieutenant."
Dan got out dutifully and took her arm. "What kind of an example will I be setting if I follow you in?" he muttered.
Smiling encouragingly, she said, archly, "He knows perfectly well that you're going up to have a nightcap with your good pal Roger. The Lieutenant's mother stays up until he gets home, and the poor old lady needs her sleep. Let him go." She smiled dazzlingly at him.
Hoping the light of the streetlamps didn't reveal that he was blushing, he said, "Thank you Lieutenant. That will be all."
He took Angel's arm again and escorted her into the house.
* * *
That night, Roger dreamed.
He got out of the staff car and Lt. Lovejoy - Angel -- drove off. It was a fine spring day. He straightened his uniform automatically as he walked past the bed of daffodils, now past their prime, and down the walk to his apartment. The bees were buzzing in the apple blossoms.
Dorothy was there, struggling up the steps with a pair of heavy suitcases.
"Here," he said. "Let me help you with those."
He picked up both suitcases easily in one hand and fished for his keys with the other. As he opened the door and waved her inside, he asked, "What's in the suitcases?"
"My things. I'm moving in with you."
He stared at her, speechless. She looked back at him calmly, her eyes a deep violet.
Finally, he said, "Your father is going to be furious."
"Why are you doing this?"
"I've been talking to Angel."
Roger and Angel had broken up, again, only the week before. He almost shouted, "So this is all Angel's idea?"
"No. It was mine. She doesn't like it. She sees the sense in it, though."
"Well, I don't. Are you going to explain it to me?"
She looked up at him, considering. "Not yet."
Roger set the suitcases on the carpet and turned to face her. "Do I have to throw you out?"
"I'm stronger than you," he pointed out.
"I would resist. You would have to hurt me."
Roger looked down at her small, frail, determined form. Just imagining her being injured was enough to made him feel sick. He sighed, defeated. He said, "You're only seventeen. Your father will have me arrested."
"No. For the same reason that you won't throw me out."
With more than a hint of sarcasm, Roger threw his arms wide and said, "Well, Dorothy, welcome to your new home!"
"Thank you, Roger," she said gravely.
After a moment, he began to smile.
* * *
In the morgue, Amos Greenlake tried to sit up. His head banged on the ceiling of the drawer.
"Oh, dear," he said.
* * *
In the morning, Dastun set down a tray and said, "I brought you some coffee, Angel."
She sat up, shook her hair out of her face, straightened her pajama top, and tried to focus. "Cream and three sugars," she said blearily.
He sat and watched her through her first two cups of coffee. Angel was not hard on the eyes, even in her groggy, bad-tempered, early-morning dishabille.
Gradually, she began to smile. She put down her coffee cup and twinkled at him. "Good morning," she said.
"You really needed that," she said, stretching. "Me, too."
"Angel, there's something I want to …"
"No! Stop! Me first." She collected her thoughts, then, "Dan, there are things you can't expect from me, and I don't want you to ask for them, or even get your hopes up."
"Angel," he began.
"Let me finish. I know what I'm talking about. Dan, for god's sake don't think of me as a future Mrs. Dastun. I'm not up to it. I'm not the type. If I spend too much time with a man, we end up at each other's throats. This mansion is almost too small for me and Roger, and I'm not even sleeping with him."
Dastun protested, "Well, you wouldn't."
"Oh, yes, I would. Don't kid yourself," she said. After a moment, she added grudgingly, "Beck, too."
"They're pretty well sewn up," he said.
"Don't I know it! And it's not like the Wayneright sisters don't know all about me," she added, looking unhappy. "God knows why they put up with me. But my point is that I can't marry you, and because I can't live with a man without fighting and because I never completely let go of an old flame, I won't even measure up as a steady girlfriend." She looked up at him as if expecting a blow.
His desire to comfort her warred with his injured pride. The idea that she still openly carried a torch for Roger particularly bothered him. "This isn't very flattering," he grumbled.
Her face crumpled. "I know it isn't. It's ghastly. It's not fair to you at all." Tears rolled down her cheeks. "You deserve better, Dan, you really do."
He couldn't bear to see her cry. He took her in his arms and wracked his brain for something to say that carried the right tone. Finally, he said, "You'll do until something better comes along."
She smiled through her tears. "That's the spirit," she said.
* * *
Amos Greenlake tried to take his pulse. There wasn't one.
He sighed. That caught his interest. "Am I breathing?" he asked. He listened. "No," he decided, "just to talk."
He thought about this for a long time. Then he said, "I'm compelled to conclude that they funded the anaerobic-mode research without telling me." After a while he added. "I wonder how I got infected."
What was it about the anaerobic mode that had made him so adamantly opposed to it? He tried to remember.
He wished they'd hurry up and pull him out of the drawer for his autopsy. He hoped that none of the doctors in attendance had a weak heart.
* * *
Late the next morning, Roger looked up from the papers Greenlake had given him. "Does any of this make sense to you?" he asked Dorothy.
"Not much," she admitted. "Microbiology is not one of my fields."
"I have a client, but he's dead. Normally, that wouldn't matter, but I don't really understand his wishes. He wanted things sorted out, but I can't do the sorting myself, and he's not here to advise me."
Dorothy said, "Will you turn it over to the military police?"
"I think I have to."
"I will get General Dastun on the phone." She rose.
"No hurry. He's coming over for dinner, isn't he?"
"Yes. Angel wants to include his aide, Lt. Sorenson, and his girlfriend Julie, if that's all right with you."
"Good. It'll help keep him from taking shop at the dinner table. Warn him that I have a case to discuss with him, so he knows not to schedule any after-dinner meetings. I swear the man never stops working. He even called us last night when he was supposed to be out on a date."
"Angel doesn't seem to hold this against him. They were holding hands under the table at breakfast."
"He spent the night?"
"He stayed in one of the guest rooms."
"I'll bet. Well, maybe Angel will be able to keep her hands off me now. But what are we going to do about this case? I know I have to hand it over; I'm out of my depth with all this medical stuff. But there's probably something I ought to be doing." He drummed his fingers on the tabletop. Dorothy said nothing.
Roger suddenly shot to his feet. "Ow!" he said, as he put weight on his injured foot.
Dorothy asked, "What is it?"
"Suspended animation! Get Dastun on the phone quick! If Greenlake was the sort of doctor who sampled his own wares, shooting him in the heart isn't enough to kill him."
* * *
Dastun was leaning against the wall of the morgue, looking green. Roger wasn't much better.
"Yes, yes," said Amos Greenlake peevishly. "I look like a corpse. Put me on a heart-lung machine and warm me up, and I'll look better in no time."
Dorothy asked, "Can your heart be repaired?" There were three doctors in the room with them, all experienced men, but she was the only one who had retained her normal color and calmness.
"I have no idea. But I will not last forever in this anaerobic state, either. It is very destructive to the tissues, especially if I exert myself. I seem to remember that one's mental equilibrium is the first thing to go. Either way, being shot through the heart is not something with a good prognosis. I was in very poor health in any event."
Roger asked, "Could you at least give us a list of men we should trust, and men we should not?"
"Yes, I can do that. The list in either case is very short. Trust Dr. Redberg and Dr. Jones. Distrust Dr. Redberg and Dr. Jones. As for the others, they fall in the middle."
Dorothy asked, "Could you give us the list again? I'm not sure I heard you the first time."
Greenlake frowned. "It's very simple. Dr. Redberg is completely trustworthy. Dr. Jones is a snake. And I fear that Dr. Redberg is as well. And now I fear I must rest." He lay back.
Roger, Dorothy, and Dastun withdrew, leaving Greenlake to the doctors. Sorenson was sitting in a chair outside, looking pale. He had been overcome early in the proceedings.
Dastun said, "Arrest the lot of them and question them separately, that's how I figure it. And in the meantime, have the forensics guys go through the labs very carefully. Roger, I really don't think there's any more for you to do here."
"My client is still alive," said Roger.
"Sort of. If he ever becomes coherent enough to give you instructions, maybe you'll be back in the game," said Dastun. "But I don't need you poking around. Some of that stuff is supposed to be infectious, and somebody shot the hell out of Greenlake. I don't want you wandering through the case spreading disease and drawing fire, okay? Not unless you have a clear mandate. And you don't."
"You're right," said Roger. "And I'll let you know if anything brings me back in. The game plan always involved keeping you in the loop."
"Thanks. Go put some more ice on that ankle. I'll see you at dinner. Don't forget I'm bringing Sorenson and his girlfriend."
"We'll roll out the red carpet, Dastun."
* * *
The next morning, Norman waited until Roger was breakfasted, dressed, and ready for the day, and then reported that Dastun wanted him to call.
"What is it, Dastun?" asked Roger, when the call had gone through.
"Well, Roger, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that this mess with the medical research isn't one of Alex Rosewater's crazy projects."
Roger asked, "What's the bad news?"
"It's somebody else's crazy project. Revolutionaries within the Paradigm Corporation. They were going to put a whole bunch of people in suspended animation, brainwash them, and then break them out all at once and take over the city."
Roger snorted, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!"
"Yeah, it does sort of beg the question, doesn't it? I mean, so they're brainwashed - so what? It's not like brainwashing gives them weapons skills or a firm grasp of tactics or anything. But that part's been confirmed. Maybe there's more. Anyway, we're planning a big raid this afternoon, and figured that it wouldn't hurt to have Big O as backup. You want to be there? Would you rather be on call? Or do you need to sit this one out?"
"I can be there."
"How's the ankle?"
"It's still stiff. Big O isn't going to tap-dance today. I suppose it'll be okay, though."
"Think about it. Maybe you can have someone else do the pedals or something."
Roger laughed. "That would work even worse with Big O than it does with a car!"
* * *
Amos Greenlake woke up. He felt very unhappy and all alone. He wanted to go home. He sat up and looked around. He was on a table in the morgue. Ridiculous! He wondered vaguely if his car was down in the garage.
To his surprise, the door was locked. The doorknob twisted off in his hand but the door didn't open. Peevishly, he banged on it to get the attention of the staff. It seemed awfully flimsy, so he beat it down. The elevator gave him no trouble, and he got out at the lobby. There was some kind of commotion going on around him. He thought vaguely that one had to expect emergencies at a hospital.
Forgetting his car, he hoped to get a taxi, but the only one in front of the hospital took off with a screech of tires as he approached.
He wasn't tired. He decided to walk the two miles to his home.
* * *
Roger used a pair of binoculars to scan the scene from the cockpit of Big O.
The research facility was, as Roger could have predicted, outside the domes in a rundown industrial area, part of the squalid fringes of Paradigm that had been largely abandoned. Property here was free for the taking, and no one asked any questions.
The facility was surrounded by a sturdy chain-link fence with security lights all around and warning signs reporting the presence of a lethal electric charge. Razor wire topped the fence.
The buildings inside were ordinary two- and three-story office buildings that had been restored to good repair. For once, no enormous warehouses portended hidden robots anywhere in the neighborhood.
Roger's foot had worsened during the early afternoon, and he had finally gone to a doctor and discovered that he had torn a ligament and had to have a cast. He returned not long before he needed to set out to support Dastun's operation. Dorothy helped him up the stairs to the penthouse.
Dori was there, reading a soppy romance novel. She looked up and saw the cast on his foot. "How are you going to run the foot pedals with a cast on?" she asked.
"He's off with some friends. Coarse company; not suitable for a little lady like me," she said, perfectly deadpan.
"Can you help me run the pedals on Big O?"
"All right. How?"
"You sit on the edge of the command seat and put your feet on the pedals. I put my feet on top of yours. You match my motions, but harder. I may also have to give you voice commands."
Dori considered. "You only need me on the left pedal, don't you?"
"It may work better if I put my hand on the pedal instead of my foot. You'll have a better surface to press against. Don't look like that; you can't hurt me."
They tried it and it seemed to work. Dori positioned herself at Roger's feet so she was facing forward, in case seeing out would help her in her task as a power booster. Her right hand was on Big O's left pedal, and Roger's damaged foot was on her hand. The cast reduced the mobility of his foot almost to nothing, and he had to indicate pedal motions by moving his heel to one end or the other of the pedal and pressing. Grinding Dori's hand under his heel was horribly unaesthetic, but it worked.
Dorothy could have piloted Big O while Roger ran the weapons systems, but she found the idea distasteful. While Big O's legs were not in themselves a weapons system, they were what brought him to grips with enemies. Dorothy was only really happy if Roger made all the decisions having to do with killing, and she followed orders or reported events. And while the probe cables were long enough to have allowed her to take Dori's place, Dorothy felt that the current arrangement was best. She was very busy during combat as it was, though you couldn't tell this by looking at her.
Dori had called Beck to get his permission to accompany Roger on this jaunt. For some reason Beck had thought the whole thing hysterically funny and had agreed at once.
Dastun's men were already in position, of course. People with guilty consciences might flee upon Big O's approach, and the police needed to be in position to scoop them up if they did. The police radio crackled with uninteresting reports. Roger continued to scan the scene with binoculars.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose. Men swarmed out of one of the office buildings and began to attack the cops.
"What the hell?" said Roger. The police were dropping like flies.
"Big O! Action!" He urged Big O into motion. With Dori's help, this worked smoothly enough.
Soon there were no more cops out in the open. Most had disappeared into armored cars or tanks, whose hatches had slammed shut in a hurry. Machine guns and even cannon were opening fire on the attackers, who seemed to resist the onslaught surprisingly well.
"What is this? More cyborgs?" asked Roger, dismayed. Big O wasn't really set up for anti-personnel work. Big B was much better equipped.
"Eye lasers," he announced, as he brought these into play. He started picking off the attackers one by one. Whatever they were, they weren't laser-proof. When he hit one, what was left of it - not much - didn't get back up again.
As he got closer, he began to see the attackers more clearly. They looked like corpses - not like fresh corpses, like Amos Greenlake, but preserved corpses. Cadavers.
Some of them wore armor. Most carried weapons of some sort. A few had an oddly bulky look. One of these spread-eagled itself against the side of a tank. There was a huge explosion, and when the smoke cleared, the tank was on its side, with a huge hole where the explosion had taken place. Roger immediately started targeting the other bulky attackers.
Dori gasped. "Zombies," she said. "They're zombies!"
Big O was now only a couple of hundred yards from the nearest zombies. They were taking no notice of him. Even the walking bombs probably couldn't breach Big O's armor. Roger continued picking them off.
Soon, the tide of battle had turned. It took a lot of machine-gun bullets to destroy a zombie, but the police had a lot of machine-gun bullets. And the artillery on the tanks worked very well. Dastun had high-explosive shells whose range could be set all the way down to zero, which meant that they exploded only a few feet beyond the muzzles of the guns. Zombie were getting ripped to pieces by shrapnel.
A hail of bullets erupted from one of the office buildings. Roger said, "Dori, we're going to go rip the roof off the building." Big O turned and approached the building. With one quick motion, Big O grabbed the roof in both hands and lifted it from the building, then tossed it aside. Inside were a number of zombies operating three heavy machine gun nests. Other zombies were clumsily trying to bring an antitank gun into operation. A quick flash of the eye lasers melted the antitank gun, then Big O grasped the front wall of the building and pulled. Now exposed, the area was filled with shrapnel from Dastun's tanks.
Norman's face suddenly appeared on the screen. Roger said, "What is it, Norman?"
"Master Roger, I am terribly sorry, but the house is under attack."
"Norman, if it's the same thing we're fighting here, it's zombies, and they're out of your league. Try to make it to Big B and give Beck a hand."
"Very well, Master Roger." Norman's face vanished from the screen.
"Dorothy, put through …"
"On screen," said Dorothy.
Beck's face appeared on the screen. For once he was unsmiling. "Beck, the mansion is under attack. I think it's more zombies like we're fighting here. They're really tough, but no match for a Megadeus, even without armor. Can you lend us a hand?"
"Is Dori okay?"
"I'm fine, Jason," said Dori. "Nothing has even scratched Big O. But I'm worried about Norman."
"It'll be a few minutes," warned Beck. "I can't bring Big B to me in his condition; there are workmen swarming around inside him. But it won't be long. Bye now." His image vanished.
* * *
Norman slid down the chute into Big O's hangar. It was perfectly silent here. No sound of the struggle with the police made it through the thick walls. Norman dashed to his maintenance railcar and got inside. In no time he was hurtling down the subway at a hundred miles an hour. There was, not coincidentally, a stairway to the surface that emerged inside Big B's hangar.
In very little time he was on the main floor, demanding that the workmen get out of Big B and that the hangar doors be opened. Tony was repeating these orders, making them official. Norman crossed the floor and took the gantry elevator up to the cockpit level. Big B would probably not allow him to pilot him, even in an emergency, but he could check to make sure Big B was ready to go.
"Hello, Big B," said Norman as he crossed into the cockpit. "We have not met before, but I am Norman Burg. I take care of Big O." He could feel Big B's attention on him.
He continued. "Have we? I don't recall. My word. Then it is a pleasure to see you again. Mr. Beck will be here any minute, or so he assures me. Roger Smith's home is under attack, and the disturbance around Big O is also continuing. No, she is with Big O at the moment. Ah. Here comes Mr. Beck."
Big B bent down and placed his palm on the ground. Beck clambered aboard and in an instant was stepping into the cockpit. "Hi, Big B. Hi, Norman. Damned contractors. I want my armor!" he muttered, throwing himself into the command chair and crossing his arms.
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY
"Big B! Action!" called Beck.
Big B marched out of the hangar.
"Let's get Roger on the horn," said Beck to himself and Big B, punching the appropriate buttons. "Roger, old pal, where do you need me?"
"Things have died down at the main site," said Roger. "The zombies have taken over the mansion. I'm wondering if Big B's hangar is also going to come under attack."
"What do these zombies look like?"
"Cadavers, mostly. Some of them look really bulky. Those are carrying a big load of explosives for suicide bombings. A few have built-in weapons."
"Hard to kill?"
"Not by Megadeus standards, but you wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley. You pretty much have to shred them or fry them to make them stop moving."
"I'll take a look around the old homestead, Roger, and then move on to your place if nothing's cooking here. There are a lot of workmen on-site here, and I'd hate for them to run into anything worse than me."
A semi truck, apparently oblivious to Big B's presence nearby, pulled up in front of the hangar. The rear door opened and zombies began to pour out.
"Claymores!" called Beck, as he manipulated the controls. The toecaps of Big B's feet snapped open, and Beck fired a series of claymore mines, causing enormous numbers of hardened steel ball-bearings, half an inch in diameter, to whiz through the air a few feet off the ground. In no time the zombies and the truck were shredded.
"Fish in a barrel!" chortled Beck. "Fish in a barrel!" He picked off a couple of survivors with the eye lasers. He'd gotten much better at using them recently.
"Mr. Beck," said Norman. "Sorry to intrude, but there is another truckload behind you."
Beck demonstrated that Big B had hitherto unsuspected heel claymores as well, but the second truck had disgorged its contents, and the zombies had spread out. Many survived the initial onslaught.
"Damn it to hell!" said Beck. "I wish Dori were here! Everything's ten times harder when I have to do it myself." Big B spun around. The zombies were too spread out to make good targets for Beck's remaining claymore mines, so he began stepping on them instead. Beck discovered that he liked this part a lot.
He glanced at the hangar and was relieved to see that the doors had been shut. Then he saw an unusually bulky zombie heading for the doors, and zapped it with Big B's eye lasers. There was a tremendous explosion, but all it did was put a crater in the pavement.
"Nobody beats up my contractors but me!" announced Beck. He zapped another bulky zombie with Big B's eye lasers, and looked around for other targets. Just two or three left. He zapped those, too, then made a circuit of the warehouse, looking for stragglers or new trucks. Nothing.
He called Roger. "Two truckloads of zombies arrived here," he announced. "Two up, two down. How's things with you?"
"We're in the Prairie Dog now," said Roger. "Monitors say they haven't breached the hangar yet, so we don't quite know what's going on. We'll be in the hangar in a minute. I'm afraid they may have taken out the cops on duty, though."
"I'll stroll on by and lend a hand," said Beck. He cut Roger off and called Dastun. Lt. Sorenson answered. "Mr. Beck! Where are you?"
"Just finished two truckloads of zombies over at hangar B," said Beck. "I'm moving towards Roger's house unless you have something more interesting for me to do, Sorenson."
"We're converging there now." Sorenson made suggestions about route. Beck agreed. The last thing he wanted was to be stuck behind traffic, and cops knew which streets could be cleared quickly.
He called Roger again. "Dori, honey, I miss you terribly. Much as I value Norman, he's no substitute at all."
Roger growled, "Damn it, Beck! Get off the line! I'm moving into position now." Dori's hand appeared briefly in the shot as she waved to Beck. He grinned and closed the connection.
Long before Beck reached the mansion, it was all over. A number of zombies had been milling around outside and had fallen prey to Big O's eye lasers. The police had then followed up with an assault on the interior of the mansion, using volunteers in flak jackets and carrying either shotguns or tommy guns. The fight was brief but bloody, continuing all the way up through the penthouse and onto the roof.
* * *
The police declared the house to be safe, and Roger, Dori, and Dorothy got out of Big O. Roger felt uneasy enough to pick up a sawed-off shotgun from the weapons rack. He loaded it with heavy buckshot shells and put a handful in his coat pocket.
He tried calling the police office on the ground floor, but the circuit was dead. He used his wrist communicator to warn Dastun that he was coming through the door into the main section of the house.
He unlocked and opened the heavy metal door and stepped through into the ground floor lobby. His jaw dropped. "My god," he said.
The floor and walls were scarred everywhere with bullet holes. There were holes in the floor here and there where grenades had gone off. Some of the ancient teller's windows had been destroyed by the blasts. There was a surprising amount of blood. Roger was pretty sure that the zombies didn't bleed. He had a bad feeling about this.
Dori was clinging to Dorothy, looking around with wide eyes.
A policeman approached them. Roger asked him, "What happened to the men on duty here when the fighting began?"
The policeman shook his head. "None of them made it," he said. "It looks like three of them holed up in the corner office and made a barricade out of the desk and filing cabinet, but they only lasted long enough to sound the alarm. The two guys outside must have been the first ones down."
Dori asked quietly, "Sergeant Alderson? Officer McClurg? Officer Johnson? Officer Riley? Officer Simmons? Officer Weinstein? Officer Baker? Officer Short? His wife is going to have a baby." She seemed dazed.
"I'm sorry, miss," said the policeman. "They're all dead."
"Roger, I must get Dori home right away," said Dorothy.
Roger twisted the dial on his communicator. Beck had finally condescended to carry one of his own. "Beck? Dori needs you right away. Where are you? Okay, meet you there." He turned to Dori. "Beck will be here in Big B in about two minutes. Let's go wait for him outside."
"They were my friends," said Dori. "Jason was going to put them all on my hugging list." She allowed them to lead her outside.
Big B showed up soon afterward. Beck and Norman took the interior elevator down, emerging from a portal in Big B's right foot. Dori clung fiercely to Beck, who was so moved by her distress that tears streamed down his cheeks and into his beard. He led her gently to the portal and they disappeared inside Big B. A moment later, Big B turned and headed towards home.
Norman spoke. "Master Roger, how is your foot?"
"What?" Roger hadn't thought about it for some time. He must have been suppressing the pain, because, now that he was reminded of it, it came flooding back. He sagged. Dorothy and Norman supported him.
"If you will wait on the steps, Master Roger, I will survey the damage to the house. We may wish to stay in a hotel for the night."
At the moment, Roger felt a tremendous need to stay close to Big O, but he nodded anyway. "Take care of it, Norman," he said weakly. Events had taken more out of him than he had realized.
Norman came back about half an hour later and reported that the damage was serious in places, but large areas of the house had been entirely spared. Roger's office had taken a terrible beating, and his collection of hourglasses had been largely destroyed. The eighth floor, with kitchen, dining room, and most of the bedrooms, had been entirely spared. Parts of the penthouse, including the picture windows and the piano, had been wrecked, but Roger's bedroom was untouched. The stairs were badly damaged by grenade blasts, but the elevator was working perfectly. Several of the unused floors had taken damage, but this was inconsequential.
Because the eighth floor was untouched, Norman recommended that they reoccupy the house at once, but that Roger sleep in a guest room until the penthouse was tidied up. Roger agreed wearily.
Throughout the narrative, Dorothy had focused entirely on Roger's loss, not hers, which made him feel like a louse. He could hardly complain about her supportiveness, however.
"I'm sorry about your piano," he offered.
"It's all right," she said. "We can get another." She was silent for a long moment, then said, "Roger, promise me you'll never buy me anything that's irreplaceable."
He squeezed her hand. "That's easy enough. Let's go inside."
Dorothy asked, "Norman, do the telephones work?"
"Yes, Miss Dorothy."
"I'll need to call Dori as soon as Roger is settled."
"Very good, Miss."
* * *
Dinner was very somber. Roger was glad that Lt. Sorenson and his girlfriend had been here the day before, and not tonight. The coroner had removed all the bodies and a disaster recovery company had done all that could be done by sweeping, scrubbing, and setting police tape around damaged areas. Repairs would commence tomorrow.
Angel had arrived after most things had been squared away, having not heard a word about the day's combat. She was horrified, but not as deeply affected as the rest. Her reaction to the news of the dead cops was anger. She glowered through the meal, muttering threats against the people responsible.
Dastun showed up for the meal a little late, bringing Sorenson up with him. Angel flung herself into Dastun's arms with almost Dori-like abandon. As usual, Dastun had managed to sustain some injuries. He had a bandage around his left bicep.
They refrained from talking about the day's events during the meal. For once, Roger's rule against shop talk at the table suited everyone. But during the after-dinner coffee, Dastun spoke.
"We found Amos Greenlake wandering around the streets, scaring the life out of people. Apparently he just wanted to go home, but he got lost along the way. He was disoriented and agitated, and becoming increasingly aggressive. He wouldn't listen to us. In the end, we had to shoot him."
Dorothy said, "That poor man."
Dastun continued, "We're learning more from the researchers we took prisoner. Greenlake's work was a Pandora's box. Every loony in Paradigm had a different way to twist his technology to their own ends. Greenlake just wanted to heal people. A lot of people had other agendas."
Roger said, "Tell us about the zombies."
"We're trying to find out where they came from. Street people, mostly, we think, and people hired to work on distant construction jobs who were never heard from again. This was done by some really sick bastards. They played around with attaching weapons to the zombies with bolts or steel bands. Disgusting stuff like that. Apparently they conditioned them to follow orders blindly, and it worked."
Roger sighed. "Well, we can see how they thought they could take over Paradigm with these troops. Tell me, have we caught all the ringleaders?"
Dastun shook his head. "Probably not. And the damned virus is stable in storage. A pocketful of test tubes and you have a lifetime supply. The brainwashing apparently isn't all that hard, either."
* * *
In the wastelands, Big Lazarus waited in a derelict hangar. The new Dominus was performing maintenance in the cockpit. He drained last month's preservative solution into a jerry can, cleaned the filters on the pump, and added new solution. He primed the pump carefully and opened the valve at the top of the system to allow any air bubbles to escape.
The tubes went to the old Dominus. He had been attached with stainless steel bands to a pair of I-beams crossing the rear of the cockpit. He looked as if he had been crucified. The eight probe cables were still deep in the old Dominus' back, on either side of the vertical I-beam.
The new Dominus closed the air-release valve and turned on the preservative solution pump. The new weapons would be ready soon. It was amazing what you could get done in Paradigm through the application of fear and money.
He looked complacently at the old Dominus. Other Megadeuses had a core memory.
He had something better.
[To Be Continued]