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.
Daryl Parsons was sixteen years old. He hadn't gotten along with his drunken mom's drunken boyfriend, so he'd moved out. He was making a precarious living doing odd jobs and bunking with friends.
A guy came up one morning and said he needed two or three guys to help clear out an old storeroom for half a day. Daryl and a guy he didn't know named Mike took him up on it. Ten bucks was ten bucks.
They got taken to an enormous concrete building at the edge of town; some kind of old factory, Daryl guessed. They were led inside. There was plenty of junk in the room; you could see why they wanted people with strong backs to clear it out. They were led into a side room first, to sign papers, they were told.
But instead, they were grabbed and given injections that made them groggy, then hustled down a side corridor.
Daryl lost consciousness before he discovered where he was being taken.
* * *
Angel walked into the living room in Casa del Beck, Beck and Dori's new apartment, which was built into a corner of Beck's enormous workshop at Hangar B. She had a lunch date with Beck and Dori. Beck was there, sprawled on a couch. There was no sign of Dori.
"You look tired," said Angel.
Beck nodded morosely. "Dori's just about worn me out."
Angel laughed. "You should have thought of that before you got yourself a robot girlfriend."
Beck explained, "She's just about worn me out dancing."
"Never gets tired," Angel went on, ignoring this. "Doesn't sleep."
Beck plowed ahead doggedly. "Roger took Dorothy out dancing, and Dorothy loved it, so now I have to take Dori out dancing, too. We've been out every night this week."
"All that enthusiasm," continued Angel. "It's a wonder you're still alive."
Beck threw a pillow at her and missed. "Why do I let you hang around?" he asked.
"Dori loves me."
"Well, that's true."
"And you're so damned obnoxious that hardly anybody else will come to see you, so you can't afford to be choosy. And you don't mind me yourself. Where's Dori, anyway?"
"In the shop, I think." Beck stood up and stretched, yawning. They crossed over to the corridor leading to Hangar B. A room partitioned off the cavernous main floor had a light on. This was the android workshop.
Dori was inside. She had a tiny screwdriver in her left hand and a jeweler's loupe in her eye. She had removed all the skin from her right hand, and all the gleaming stainless steel works were exposed. She was making an adjustment to something in her right thumb. She looked up and smiled. "Hi, Angel. I'm almost done."
Angel walked up to the bench and picked up the skin that Dori had removed. It also contained some padding and most of the nerves for her hands, though some were in the joints and metal bones as well. Angel still didn't understand how the nerve impulses passed through the skin and into the cables that went up Dori's arms. Dori had explained it, but Angel only recognized about one technical term in four.
Dori said. "All done. Just hold that like a glove, Angel, and let me get my fingers inside it." She slipped it on, wiggled her fingers, shoved some things around a little bit with the fingers of her left hand, and then her hand looked perfectly human, without even a hint of a seam. "There," said Dori with satisfaction. She stood up and gave Angel a hug. "I haven't seen you in two days!"
"I've been busy. The memory-hunting racket is giving me fits," admitted Angel.
"Well, it should," snorted Beck. "You have special talents and you're refusing to use them."
"It's not just that," said Angel. "There's a gold rush in the Megadeus-hunting business."
"Really? Nobody tells me anything," complained Beck.
"They wouldn't," said Angel, "because it's all your fault. Everybody knows you scored a Megadeus, and they say, 'Beck doesn't deserve one any more than me, so maybe I can find one of my own.' Everybody and his brother is out combing the Wastelands or even the underground looking for trouble."
Dori looked concerned. "A lot of them will be killed, won't they?"
"Good riddance," said Beck. Then, "Sorry, Dori."
"And they'll be taken like poor Will if they're not lucky," said Dori. "And the poor damaged Megadeuses always end up being killed. Someone should be taking care of them."
Angel nodded. "How's the core memory research going, Beck?"
"I still don't understand Wayneright's notes. In theory, I should be able to make new core memories, using Dori as a template. And in theory I ought to be able to use any human personality, not just the human Dorothy's. You could go to sleep one night, and wake up as an android - well, sort of - and the human Angel would still be walking around. In theory. But something doesn't add up. If I can figure it out, I ought to be able to churn out new core memories for Megadeuses or androids; take your pick. Wayneright did it, why not me?"
Angel was surprised. "Did Dorothy 1 have the human Dorothy's memories?"
"Sure," said Beck. "Why not?"
Angel shrugged. "She's not the type. You don't want Megadeus to be a half-hearted fighter."
"Dorothy 1 was designed for salvage work, not combat. Meticulous, dangerous stuff. Dorothy was a great choice."
"Lunch," said Dori. "We were going to have lunch. I'm starved."
They grinned at Dori, who often used her entirely imaginary hunger, thirst, or sleepiness to move things along, and began bickering over which restaurant to go to. Dori chose restaurants on the basis of how cute the guys on the staff were. They eventually decided to go to a rib house that Angel and Beck both liked, even though Dori found the all-woman serving staff to be a terrible disappointment.
On the way, they decided to draw up a plan to salvage the crazy Megadeus they'd found underground. It was so wrecked that Beck figured it could be approached - at least by Big B. And Beck wanted to salvage the hangar and transport system left behind by Big Ramses, which had been destroyed sometime back. Otherwise, other looters would get there first and salvage all the good stuff.
As they were pulling into the parking lot, Dori asked, "Angel?"
"Where's Big Venus?"
Angel thought about this for a long time, but couldn't remember. She hoped Big Venus was safe.
* * *
The New Dominus was in the cockpit of Big Lazarus. The new weapon had been installed. He had checked out all the subsystems and the cockpit controls. It was ready for testing.
It was not an easy weapon to test, or safe, even out here in the Wastelands. All the new Megadeus hunters meant that little could be done unobserved these days.
He looked around the hangar. The other two Megadeuses hung from gantries. One was almost operational. Its core memory was partly scrambled. If he had a working one from another Megadeus or a Class M android, he could repair the damage, and the Megadeus would be as good as new. The core memory was sufficiently functional that he knew that this was one of the crazy ones. Good.
He looked behind him, at the body of the Old Dominus, strapped to the steel cross at the back of the cockpit, with preservative fluid being pumped through its veins. He could use this technique to augment a damaged core memory if he chose. But then the other Megadeus' New Dominus would be as powerful as he. No. There must be a better way.
Was it true that Roger Smith had a Class M android? It seemed almost too good to be true. He'd send men to find out.
* * *
Dastun arrived for dinner for the first time in four days. He looked tired as he took his place at the table. Roger and Dorothy were there; Angel was not. She was dining out with Dori and Beck. Norman was serving, as usual.
"How's business, Dastun?" asked Roger as Norman served the soup.
"Brisk," said Dastun. "I'm just about exhausted, and I'm cutting every corner I know. Sorenson even volunteered Julie to do my laundry, and I'm stretched so thin I accepted! I still can't believe I did that."
Dorothy asked, "Are you working too hard, Dan?"
"Yeah. I can't keep this up. But things are bad. I can delegate a lot of things, but there's scary stuff going on. I might as well work long hours. That way, I can sleep at night."
Dorothy asked, "Can you tell us about it?"
"I suppose. I gave you all top security clearances a while back. There's a lot of kidnappings going on. Mostly of young, healthy street people and stuff like that. At least ten, and maybe a lot more. A lot of these folks drift around, so nobody can keep track."
"Zombies again?" asked Roger.
Dastun nodded. "That's what we're afraid of. But we don't have any real evidence. Just empty spaces where people ought to be. And then there's all the Megadeus hunters."
Roger said, "There was a story about them in the paper today."
"It's pretty accurate," said Dastun. "People think they can get themselves their own Megadeus. If you and Beck can do it, why not them? This is causing all sorts of trouble in the breaking-and-entering and search-and-rescue line, but it's nothing compared with what's going to happen when one of them connects."
They all considered this in silence.
After a while, Roger said, "You should move in here for a while, Dastun. You'll get your laundry done and you can keep tabs on everything from the office on the ground floor."
"I wouldn't want to be a bother."
Dorothy said, "We've hired a laundry service and a cleaning service, now that I'm so busy helping Roger."
Dastun said, "You're not matchmaking, are you?"
Roger laughed. "If I were matchmaking, I'd be trying to get you to hire Angel, not live in the same house with her. We always get along best when we're working, and she says that's true with everybody. How's Sorenson holding up?"
"He's pretty beat. He has to work the same hours as me. It's supposed to be good for him, you know. Being an aide is the fast track to promotion, because of all the on-the-job training. But it must be pretty hard on Julie." Dastun considered this angle for a moment, and said, "Yeah, okay. Just for a few days."
Norman said, "I'll phone downstairs and tell Lt. Sorenson that he is free to go."
Dastun nodded. "Thanks, Norman."
* * *
Hilda Fletcher was a fortyish secretary, and not the sort of person people thought of when talking about Megadeus hunters. But she was smart and fit and restless. Her husband had been a member of the Military Police and had died when the Sea Titan had run amok in the city. She was alone now and could do as she liked. She had decided that she'd like to look for a Megadeus.
She had found entrances to the underground easily enough. There were plenty of manhole covers and utility entrances, and after she'd tried a few of these, she'd found one that attached to an old tunnel with a steel ladder that went down. This took her to a subway tunnel, complete with platforms and abandoned cars. An easily overlooked doorway led to a lower level of tunnels that looked new, and were lit up.
She started exploring these, pacing off the distances carefully and mapping everything out with a compass. She was hit by the terror twice, but she recovered from it quickly, with no lingering effects.
She felt sure she'd find something important if she kept looking long enough.
* * *
Lt. Sorenson put down the phone gratefully and stood up. He could take the staff car home and get some sleep. He looked around the police office in the ground floor of Smith Manor. The walls and doors had been armored recently, and there was a bunker to retreat to, just in case. He picked up his hat and coat.
"Hey, Lieutenant!" called the duty sergeant.
"Does the name 'Eugene Grant' ring a bell?"
"Only, we just got an alert that we're supposed to be on the lookout for a couple of guys who used to be his research associates, and keep our eyes peeled for his handiwork, and I've never heard of the guy."
"Me, neither. I'll ask the General in the morning."
"Good night, Lieutenant."
* * *
After dining out with Beck and Dori, Angel started making "time to go" noises, but Beck shook his head. "You're not going anywhere, Angel," he said. "We've got plans for you."
Angel raised an eyebrow. "I'm not that kind of girl," she said.
"Oh, yeah, right," said Beck sarcastically. "I must have forgot. Listen, Angel, you've been avoiding your memories for too long. Dori and I are gonna help you get 'em back."
"Do I get a vote?" asked Angel.
"Sure, you can run away if you want to," said Beck. "We won't stop you. But first you have to let Dori look at you pleadingly and ask you to let us help you."
"God, you play dirty, Beck!" said Angel. She looked at Dori as if she were an unexploded bomb, then sighed. "Okay, Dori. Give it your best shot. What do you want me to do? Spent a month in the underground? Let Beck electroshock some memories into me? Or what?"
Dori said, "It's not like that, Angel. We know that you remember better when you're underground. Roger and Jason also recall things when they're in the cockpit of Big O or Big B. All we want you to do is try sleeping in Big B for a few nights.
"I'd never be able to get any rest in that chair."
"Jason has a mattress behind the cockpit," said Dori. "It's not bad. We think it might help you."
"I don't know, it seems spooky, sleeping inside Big B's body like that," said Angel. "Wrong, somehow."
Dori said, "I know he's not your Megadeus, Angel, but he wants to help. He won't talk to you while you're trying to sleep, I promise."
Angel hesitated. Dori added, "I'll stay with you if you like."
"Oh, all right," said Angel. "How long am I going to have to keep doing this?"
"Until you find the key to your memories," said Dori.
"Or until you can't stand it anymore," said Beck. "So make her comfy, Dori."
* * *
Angel kept an overnight bag in her car, with pajamas, a change of clothes, a blanket, some food, a pair of shoes, ammunition, and other necessities. By the time Angel returned to the hangar with these, Dori had made up the bed. It was just a mattress on the floor, but it was a good mattress, brand-new, and Beck had sybaritic taste in bedding -- if you didn't mind yellow. Dori showed off the new bathroom on the level below the cockpit, which included a shower and everything, and pointed to the space where Beck was planning on installing two tiny bedrooms, an even smaller kitchen, and a cramped bunkhouse that could sleep four in comfort or eight in discomfort. Beck had visions of using Big B as crew transport or expedition headquarters in addition to a weapon. A nearby space would hold air cylinders and a purification system that would remove all known poison gases. The cockpit dome already had its own air system, but this new system would also protect any crew on board.
Dori had a satchel filled with romance novels, notebooks, pencils, and other means of passing the time. She dimmed the cockpit lights, leaving just one bright light to read by. She adjusted this so the light wouldn't fall on Angel's bed.
"Do you want a bedtime story?" asked Dori.
"You're joking," said Angel.
"I could read to you from one of my romance novels," Dori offered.
"I think I'll be ready for sleep if we just talk for a few minutes first," said Angel.
Dori waited in silence, but Angel didn't say any more. Eventually, Dori said, "Everyone's worried that I'll fall in love with Roger."
Angel, who was beginning to nod off, mumbled, "Why not? Everyone else does."
"They're afraid I'll leave Jason and fight with Dorothy and make everyone miserable."
"Mmmmmm," said Angel sleepily. She was too drowsy to take it seriously. She murmured, "What do you think, Big B?"
Big B thought the whole thing was funny. Roger and Big O were great friends of his, but they were so dull. No sparkle. Dori loved everybody, but Jason and Big B were hers, and she was theirs. The three of them belonged together, and there was no getting around it. Angel smiled and dropped off to sleep.
After a while, she dreamed.
She was on the porch of Gordon Rosewater's farm, looking out over the wheat fields. There was Gordon in his rocking chair, a glass of lemonade next to him. Angel was standing near him, a copy of Metropolis in her hand. She was wearing her best pink skirt suit.
"It's about time you visited me, young lady," said Gordon.
"I know. I've been putting it off," said Angel.
"Have a seat. Have a glass of lemonade," said Gordon.
Angel sat down in the wicker chair next to Gordon's rocker and set the book down on the table. She picked up her glass. It was cold and wet with condensation. She took a sip, then said, "I can't remember how to regain my memories."
Gordon chuckled. "Yes, that's a problem, isn't it? You locked the combination inside the safe so you wouldn't lose it."
Angel scowled. "It's your fault, too."
"I know it is, young lady. Well. So you want your memories back, do you?"
Angel hesitated. "I think it's not safe for me to go on without them."
"Yes, that's true. But your memories make you unhappy."
"Maybe it's different this time."
Gordon was silent for a while, then asked, "Who is in charge, the Dominus or the Megadeus?"
Angel answered instantly, "They're a team. Equal partners."
Gordon beamed. "Very good. Just keep that in mind, and the rest will follow."
The dream began to fade. Angel asked hurriedly, "Gordon, is this a dream, or are you alive somewhere?"
Gordon's voice called back faintly, "Good luck, young Angel!"
* * *
Dori read for a while as Angel slept, then set her book aside and thought.
No one had said anything to her directly, but they were worried that she would follow the same pattern as both her big sisters - Dorothy and the human Dorothy - and fall madly in love with Roger as soon as she'd left her android adolescence behind her. It sounded logical, but it felt all wrong to Dori. Big B, too, thought it was silly. Dori took a lot of comfort from that. Big B didn't talk much, but he loved her and had tremendous faith in her, and she felt the same way about him. Did Dorothy feel the same way about Big O? Dori had never quite worked up the nerve to ask.
Angel agreed, bless her. Angel understood her. She hadn't always. Dori remembered the first time she'd ever spoken to Angel...
She had arrived five minutes early for her lunch date with Major Smith. It was a beautiful spring day. It was warm, there were just a few fluffy white clouds in a deep blue sky. It was a good day for a walk, which was just as well, because it was ten blocks from her father's house to Major Smith's apartment.
Major Smith wasn't there when she arrived, so she waited outside his door. Bees were buzzing in a few early apple blossoms. It would have been perfect if there had been anyplace to sit down on the porch or in the yard.
Eventually, Major Smith's staff car pulled up and his aide, Lt. Lovejoy, got out. She knew Lt. Lovejoy by sight but had never spoken to her. The tall blonde walked briskly to the door, a file folder in her hand. She certainly looked good in uniform, with her cap perched jauntily on her head. The skirt could have been designed to show off her legs.
Lt. Lovejoy raised an eyebrow. "Another one?" she asked with an unfriendly smile. "Well, you might as well wait inside." She produced a key and opened the door.
"Thank you. I don't believe we've met. I'm Dorothy Wayneright."
Lt. Lovejoy gave her an appraising once-over. "Dr. Wayneright's kid? He's been keeping you under wraps. Go on in, it's okay. I'm Lt. Lovejoy. You can call me Angel. Everyone does."
Dorothy walked into the living room of Major Smith's apartment. It was almost obsessively neat, with the three magazines on the coffee table angled at precisely 45 degrees to show that the owner wasn't the sort of person who felt compelled to square them. Dorothy took a seat at one end of the couch.
Angel set down the file folder - it was marked SECRET - on the coffee table. She remarked, "Somebody higher up in the chain of command must have detained Major Smith. He's the most punctual man alive if he has any say in the matter." Angel opened the liquor cabinet and said, "I don't normally offer to people who aren't old enough to cross the street by themselves, but do you want a drink? Roger keeps some pretty good stuff here." She scooped out the last of the remaining ice from the ice bucket and mixed herself a scotch on the rocks.
"No, thank you." Dorothy watched Angel gravely. The woman was uncomfortable and masking it with bold talk.
Major Smith had mentioned Angel; in fact, he'd talked quite a lot about her. Major Smith wasn't good at talking about relationships and had not been very clear. He had broken up with Angel recently, and was trying to convince himself that he was done with her, but he was fooling himself. Dorothy gathered that he and Angel had a very deep relationship that was occasionally marred by sex. Or perhaps by their attempts to treat themselves as a conventional couple. There was much for Dorothy to be alarmed about here, but room for hope, too. Dorothy wanted to be the steady girlfriend. Angel had failed repeatedly in this role, though she was clearly a permanent fixture in Major Smith's life. Dorothy wondered why.
Angel was clearly made uncomfortable by Dorothy's silence, and continued the offensive. "Mind if I smoke? Would you like a cigarette?" she asked.
"There's no ashtray," pointed out Dorothy.
"That's no answer."
"If Major Smith wanted his guests to smoke, he would provide an ashtray," explained Dorothy.
Angel pressed on. "So where's Roger taking you? To the malt shop? To a playground? Maybe a pony ride?"
"To lunch," Dorothy snapped.
"What's it take to get a rise out of you?" asked Angel peevishly. She paced restlessly around the room.
"You're almost there," admitted Dorothy. Angel's words and her body language were at odds with each other. She was fascinated by Dorothy, and a little intimidated. Dorothy wondered why most people couldn't read each other this way. They didn't really watch the people they were talking to, and they didn't listen carefully, either. They spent too much time thinking about what they were going to say next, she supposed. Her father had taught her how to listen properly. Angel's words were mostly an act, but her possessiveness of Major Smith was real.
"So has he told you about all his other girlfriends?" asked Angel.
"He told me about you."
Dorothy could tell that Angel was unnerved by this. Angel pressed on regardless. "And do you have any idea what the average length of one of his flings is?"
"It's not long. I hope to god you're only in it for kicks."
"I am in love with him."
"You poor kid," said Angel, mostly serious this time. "Is he in love with you?"
"I don't know."
Angel stared at her. Dorothy gazed back. Angel looked away first, then smiled - a real smile, this time -- and looked back. "Are you always like this?"
"You're a lot like your father, aren't you? He's very self-possessed and doesn't talk much," said Angel.
"That's right," said Dorothy.
"You don't look like him, though."
"I look like my mother," said Dorothy. "She died when I was little."
"Any more like you at home?"
"No, I'm the only one."
Angel stopped pacing and sat down at the other end of the couch from Dorothy. "All right," she said with a conspiratorial smile. "Tell me what Roger said about me. I'm dying to know."
Dorothy considered. After a few seconds, Angel said, "Well?"
"I'm thinking," said Dorothy. After about fifteen seconds, she said, "I don't remember his words, not anymore. He told me that he had broken up with you, that he didn't love you, that he was free. He tried to say that you were only his assistant, but then he corrected himself and said you were pals, and then went on to explain that you were friends. Close friends. Best friends."
Angel smiled another genuine smile. "Did he stop there?"
Dorothy considered for another several seconds. "He said, 'Say something, Dorothy,' and I replied, 'You love her and she loves you, but your attempts at being a romantic couple haven't worked out.'"
Angel stared. "Oh, my god. Did you really say that?"
"What did he say?"
"Nothing?" asked Angel. "How could he say nothing?"
"I put my arms around his neck, and he kissed me," said Dorothy.
Angel laughed. Then she said, "Dorothy, let's be friends. I think it will be good for us."
* * *
And there it was. Hilda could hardly believe her eyes. A Megadeus, stretched out flat on its back inside one of the hemispherical underground domes.
She had spent the last several hours in a daze, forcing herself to go on, drawn to this spot. She had been on the brink of collapse. Now, though, with this enormous machine in front of her, her fatigue was forgotten.
It had chosen her! It knew just how much anger she had, bottled up inside. Her husband John had been killed in the line of duty, and that had made her angry enough, but when she'd heard that the Paradigm Home Office had told Major Dastun to hold off on the attack so the Sea Titan could destroy the area outside the dome, she had been driven almost out of her mind with rage. Well, she could have her revenge now. She could feel the anger of the Megadeus, twin to her own.
As she approached the Megadeus, pictures of how to make it operational began to form in her mind. Its reactor was shut down. She walked around to the access hatch on the outside of the Megadeus' foot. She opened the emergency panel and began to crank the hatch open by hand.
* * *
Daryl woke up. He felt odd, thick-headed, groggy. He tried to stand up but needed his hands on the floor to keep his balance. He tried again, reared up for a moment, and then returned to all fours. His vision was strange, too.
This scared him. Somehow, the fear instantly turned to rage, and he stopped thinking altogether. He roared.
Daryl came to himself a little bit when things became quiet. He looked around and found that he was in a pen full of horrible monsters. He became fearful, then angry. He roared and attacked the nearest monster. Once again, his anger shut down his thinking, and he remembered no more. He would never be himself again.
* * *
Roger finished his breakfast, and Dorothy said, "Beck is talking about salvaging Big Ramses' hangar and the other Megadeus that Dori and Angel found."
Roger nodded. "Better us than them, I suppose."
"How do you think we ought to go about it?" asked Dorothy.
Norman coughed discreetly. "Mr. Beck would like to use the tunneling equipment to reach the tunnel complex that Miss Angel and Miss Dori discovered, so we might explore in secrecy."
Roger asked, "What do you think, Norman?"
"It seems to me, Master Roger, that it is only a matter of time before looters backtrack Big Ramses and find his hangar. They should either find nothing at all, or an installation that is guarded by the Military Police. And who knows where the tunnel system used by Big Ramses leads? Or what it might contain."
"Hmmm," Roger said. "So we should lend a hand."
"Yes, sir. And we wouldn't want anything to happen to Miss Dori, sir."
Roger scowled. "I don't like Beck having such a hold on me."
Dorothy said, "Beck would come to my aid just as readily."
Roger was surprised. "Really?"
"He loves me."
Roger was alarmed. "What?"
Dorothy patted his arm. "That's why he activated Dori. To have a Dorothy Wayneright who loved him back."
Roger relaxed. Discontentedly, he said, "Somehow I never thought of it in those terms."
* * *
The New Dominus was gazed out the cockpit windows. They'd gone outside in the dead of night, to a desolate spot five miles from the hangar. It was a tradeoff. It would be best to test the new weapon as far from the hangar as possible, for a variety of reasons, but the further they went, the more likely it was that they would be noticed and followed. It was now after noon. He wanted to be able to see the results clearly.
He began to charge up the weapon.
* * *
Angel was having lunch with Dastun downtown, in the Military Police cafeteria. They hadn't been seeing much of each other lately, due to Dastun's long hours.
Angel was saying, "You'd better spend the night at Roger's, or I'm going to track you down."
Dastun smiled, "I'll be there. Roger and Dorothy made me promise to stay there for a while."
Angel raised an eyebrow.
"They felt I'd get more rest that way."
Angel smiled archly, "Their logic escapes me."
Dastun smiled back. "And it lets Sorenson go home at a reasonable hour. And my laundry will get done without Julie's charity."
Angel nodded. "That girl's a brick, but she must have her limits. If I'd been her, I'd have broken both of Sorenson's arms by now, and one of yours."
She started telling Dastun a funny story that Julie had told her, but suddenly stopped talking. Her fork clattered to the floor.
"Angel, what's wrong?" asked Dastun, alarmed. "You're as white as a sheet."
Angel heard herself murmur in a shocky voice, "Someone is testing a reality weapon."
Dazed, she closed her eyes, stood up, took a step forward and …
She was in the control room, a simple rectangular room with three plain walls and a fourth that was covered with an array of color television screens with a control panel beneath. Fluorescent lights on the ceiling; a low rumble of air conditioning. Otherwise, silence. She was seated in a large swivel chair.
The monitors, initially blank, suddenly lit up. The same words slid across every one of them:
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY
Angel felt the words of the response rise in her throat. Convulsively, she uncrossed her forearms and clapped both hands over her mouth. Shutting her eyes tight, she fought against her traitorous body and brain, writhing in the control seat with the effort.
After a while the compulsion faded. The words no longer welled up in her throat. She was her own master again.
Angrily, she looked around. "Back off," she snarled. "This is my choice, Big Venus." The eight probe cables stopped hovering like attentive cobras and withdrew.
She relaxed. Big Venus waited, no longer pushing for control. Suddenly, Angel realized that her memories were here, waiting for her, just at the threshold of consciousness. She lowered her guard and let them in.
After a long moment, she smiled and said, "Hello, Big Venus. It's been a long time." After a pause she said, "No, last time doesn't count. You cheated. Don't be so damned pushy. Who do you think you are, me?" She smiled again.
She turned to the displays, which were now showing a variety of different views; some video, and some instrumentation readouts.
"Okay. Show me what you've got."
As she studied the readouts, she dug in her purse and got out her cigarettes. She lit one.
She smoked in silence for a while, studying the screens minutely. "It's a Mark IV reality cannon, all right. Damn it! I thought they were gone for good." She pointed at a trace on one of the screens. "He charged it up, test fired it twice on minimum power, and shut it down. Any idea where he was? No, didn't think so."
She stood up and began to pace. "I hate the smart ones. Why couldn't he just leave it powered on? We'd nail him for sure. There's no way to trace him, now."
She paced back and forth for a while, smoking. "A Mark IV reality cannon. He could destroy what's left of the world in, what? An hour? Destroy it forever."
She paced some more. "While I'm here, there's a lot to do, isn't there?" She stopped suddenly and grinned. "Hey, how long's it been since you met a class M android? Do you even remember them? No? It has been a long time, then, hasn't it? Well, I've met three of them. They're all taken, and they're girls, anyway, but still. Food for thought. I'm sick of your probe cables, that's for sure."
Angel stubbed out the butt of her cigarette in the ashtray on the console and said. "Okay. We're wasting our time here." She walked out the door into the short little corridor and stepped into the alcove with the accommodation ladder. This level suddenly reminded her of Beck's new facilities in Big B, and she grinned. She climbed up one level and entered Big Venus' cockpit.
Angel sat down in the command seat and started running system checks. After a moment she looked up and said, smiling, "I missed you, too."
After about an hour she leaned back and said, "You're in pretty good shape for such an old gal. Show me where we are."
The screens showed their location and the hangar lights came on. Angel laughed. "Well, I don't think we need to worry about unexpected visitors." They were deep, deep underground, in a shaft that had several false bottoms to fool potential intruders.
She stared into space for a while, then said. "Okay. See if you can find Gordon Rosewater. He's got some explaining to do. Or I do. Either way, we need to talk."
* * *
The New Dominus was furious. "You're late!" he screamed into the telephone. "You were supposed to start hours ago!" His diversion hadn't happened. Who knew how many people in Paradigm were looking for him now?
"It was hard getting them ready. It took forever to give them their new orders," said the voice at the other end of the telephone.
"Forget it then," he said. "It's too late now."
There was a long silence at the other end of the phone. "But we've already started," whined the voice eventually."
The New Dominus slammed down the receiver in a rage. Morons. Another plan wasted.
* * *
The combination appeared in Hilda's mind as she stood in front of the armored access door to the reactor. The door unlocked, and she cranked it open by hand. Now all she had to do was press the two REACTOR ON buttons, set three feet apart in the wall. She did so. For a second nothing happened, then lights came on in the reactor room, and, one by one, hums and throbs started up outside. The voice in her head was much stronger now. She held on as the Megadeus - Big M - stood, then scurried down the catwalk to the main elevator shaft. The door was open. She stepped into the elevator car and it whisked her up to the cockpit.
The words formed in her throat automatically. "Big M! It's showtime!"
She walked around to the command seat. Big M would help her operate him. She shared his anger and his eagerness. This was going to be wonderful.
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY
"Big M! Action!"
The Megadeus strode across the hangar, to an enormous lift that would take him to the surface just outside the Main Dome. Hilda had only the vaguest of plans. If they could get away clean, she figured they'd make a run for it and get their revenge later, when they'd had time to choose their targets. If they faced opposition, well, they'd put up a fight.
The roof of the lift broke through a parking lot and a gas station, bursting the underground fuel tanks and starting an enormous fire. Hilda could feel the heat even through Big M's armor. Big M strode out of the conflagration. Hilda looked around.
What the devil? There were enormous … beasts … leaping down a road half a mile from her. Five of them. They were almost as big as a Megadeus! The lead monsters extended tentacles and somehow managed to burst one of the giant panes of glass at the base of the dome, then they all bounded through the hole.
"Enemy of my enemy," said Hilda, smiling, and moved to follow.
* * *
Roger and Dorothy raced down the catwalk and leapt into Big O's cockpit. "Big O!" shouted Roger. "It's showtime!"
The gantry lowered Big O smoothly into the Prairie Dog, and they started moving towards the Main Dome.
* * *
Dastun was shouting into the radio from his command tank, "No, we've never fought one of these before. Big O has. They're just big animals. Use shrapnel rounds, and don't set your fuses too long! Remember, we're in a heavily populated area. And nobody is to step outside the armored vehicles!"
His column wound its way to the Main Dome. If Roger could take on the Megadeus, he ought to be able to mop up the chimeras. They were only big animals, after all.
No word from Big B, so far.
* * *
Angel got into the elevator and lifted the lever. The old-fashioned unit moved smoothly upwards, the floor indicator clicking backwards from level B666. She was smoking another cigarette - she was already well over her quota for the day - and she blew smoke at the indicator. Gordon and his magic numbers, she thought. There wasn't a single stop between here an the top, so he could make the starting and ending numbers whatever he liked. She probably would have labeled the indicator in feet, or maybe fathoms.
The bell chimed and she stepped out. This was where she, Roger, and Dorothy had ended up last time. She knew the way. It wasn't far to Roger's house.
She could feel her memories beginning to fade, but knew they would never fade to the extent they had before. That had been self-inflicted. One of Gordon's ideas, along with the domes. That part hadn't worked, but the outcome had been good, last time, so there was no point complaining. She walked towards the exit.
What time was it? She didn't bother looking at her watch; it would probably be wrong. Dastun was going to be distressed. She's better call him first thing.
* * *
Big O burst through the pavement inside the main dome. Roger crossed his forearms as the words scrolled across the screen:
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY
"Big O! Action!"
Roger looked out the front windows. No enemies in sight. But one of the screens was tracking a Megadeus and five large animals of some kind.
Dorothy spoke behind him. "The Megadeus is almost identical to Big O. Core memory … intact. It is … angry, but, perhaps, not truly crazy. Roger, please, we should try to save this one."
Roger nodded. "No promises, Dorothy, but I'll do what I can. Tell me about its armament."
"Missile launchers and machine guns are out of ammunition. The chromebuster is broken."
"They don't last long in storage, do they?" said Roger, smiling.
"No. Arm pistons, intact. Eye lasers, functional. No Thunder or Final Stage in Big M."
"That's his name. Shall I talk to him?"
"Is it safe?"
"Use your judgment, Dorothy." Roger urged Big O to close with Big M.
They came closer, until they were only a couple of hundred yards apart.
Roger said, with an edge to his voice, "What's happening, Dorothy?"
Dorothy let out a little shriek. "He lied to me! Oh, Roger, I've been such a fool. This is one of the crazy ones. Watch out!"
Big M had leaned down and picked up a large, dual-trailer propane truck in both hands. Then, letting go of the rear trailer with one hand, he brought it around with the other like a whip, breaking both trailers across Big O.
The explosion and fireball were incredible. Even inside the cockpit, the heat singed Roger's eyebrows. Big O was blown backwards into a skyscraper, which tilted dangerously from the impact.
Big O regained his balance and plunged forward, eager to get to grips with Big M, who raised his forearms protectively and played his eye lasers across Big O's throat, hoping to find a weak point in the cockpit armor. Big O lifted Big M by the elbows and hurled him backwards into a skyscraper.
Roger forced Big O backwards, calling "Big O Thunder!" The right-hand control was replaced with a new one, and Big O's right arm transformed, revealing the four-barreled plasma cannon.
But before Roger could fire, Big O lurched backwards.
"What's happening?" shouted Roger.
"We are being attacked by a chimera," said Dorothy.
Big O struggled and flailed his arms, but could not shake off the new attacker, nor could he bring his other weapons to bear.
"Hang on!" said Roger, as Big O leapt into the air and fell on his back, hoping to crush his attacker. But the chimera let go at the last moment and dodged aside.
Meanwhile, Big M had gotten back into action. Grabbing Big O by a leg, he whirled him around and threw him into another skyscraper. Big O struck head first, completely piercing the structure, and becoming largely immobilized in the process.
Roger struggled with the controls. With a mighty effort, he managed to roll Big O out of the stricken building, which collapsed behind him. Big M was waiting, and struck Big O in the face and throat several times as Big O tried to get to his feet. Once again, Big O fell on his back.
A brilliant light came down from above. "Oh, damn it, what now?" cried Roger.
"Big B," said Dorothy.
And indeed it was. Big B was descending with the aid of an enormous rocket backpack, which he used to incinerate a chimera as he landed. As soon as Big B's feet touched the ground, the backpack detached and flew away.
Big B reached out a hand and hauled Big O to his feet. Big M closed in once again, targeting Big B this time, and two chimeras leapt at Big B from behind.
Beck's face appeared on one of the screens. Whatever message he had been about to deliver was forgotten as he faced three foes at once. He strode forward to meet Big M, ignoring the chimeras for now, and extending his right-hand plasma lance.
Roger turned Big O and fired the hip chains, which passed entirely through the two chimeras attacking Big B. Roger reeled in the hip chains. Two down - or soon to be down. Now that they were immobilized, he fried them with his eye lasers. While he was doing so, a fourth chimera attached itself to Big O's back.
Suddenly, warning lights started coming up all over the board.
Dorothy said, "It's inside somehow. Tentacles! It has sent tentacles in through the joints in Big O's armor, and they're ripping up everything they can reach."
Big O's legs were becoming stiff and unresponsive.
"Beck!" called Roger. "I've got a problem here! The damned thing's sent tentacles inside Big O, and I'm losing control of the legs!"
"I'll be there as soon as I can, Roger old pal," said Beck cheerfully. "Just hang on a sec. Yeah, that's right, Big M. Get real close. Look! I'm gonna fire my chromebuster!"
Big B took up a chromebuster firing stance less than fifty feet away from Big M, who raised both forearms protectively and rushed to knock Big B over before the immensely powerful weapon could go off.
Beck, laughing gleefully, jammed Big B's knee into Big M's crotch and fired the shaped charge. The two Megadeuses were blown in opposite directions, both landing on their backs.
Big O had finally managed to reach behind and grab part of the chimera, and was trying to wrench it off his back. This seemed to at least distract it to the point where further damage was not being done. Big O could scarcely move his legs.
Big B got back to his feet, only to have the fifth and last chimera leap on his back. Beck was still on-screen, and Roger could see him grinning like a maniac as he called, "Dori, honey, let's give him a taste of the new weapon."
A pair of what looked like bright gold radar dishes popped out of Big B's shoulders. They swiveled around and aimed at the chimera. There was an unbearable noise, and the air in front of the dishes shimmered. Where the shimmering air hit the chimera, its flesh blew away like confetti. In a moment, its dead body slumped to the ground.
"Now you, Roger old buddy."
"Hang on, Beck!" protested Roger. "Don't use the phonosonic device on Big O. Try something gentler."
"Spoilsport." Big B had maneuvered to where it was facing the chimera on Big O's back. Big B lifted the toes on his left foot so they were pointing at the chimera. "Say cheese!" said Beck, and fired all his foot-mounted claymore mines. There was an enormous racket as thousands of hardened steel ball bearings passed entirely through the chimera and bounced off Big O's armor. The chimera fell in several pieces to the ground.
Roger looked back to where Big M should be. "Where's the Megadeus?" he asked.
Big M was trying to escape, but Beck's shaped charge had caused internal damage that rendered it all but immobile. There was a longer pause between each step.
Roger looked past Big M at the so-far untouched buildings. He had caused enough collateral damage for one day. Big O had mostly regained control of his legs. Roger allowed Big O to rush forward and wrap his left arm around Big M's throat. Then, with his right, he used the pile-driver on the head over and over, until Dorothy reported that the core memory was destroyed. Big M crashed to the ground.
Roger looked around at the carnage and sighed. Dastun's tanks were just now getting into position. The entire battle had only lasted a few minutes. "Dorothy," he said, "Let's go home."
* * *
Beck and Dori arrived at Smith Manor in time for dinner. Dori immediately sought out Angel, who was still in her room. She knocked, and then knocked again. Finally, she opened the door fractionally and called, "Angel?"
"Dori," said Angel in a muffled voice.
Dori entered the room and saw Angel stretched out on the bed, her face buried in the pillow. Dori bent over and gave Angel a little hug, then sat on the bed and waited.
Eventually, Angel rolled onto her side and looked blearily at Dori. She had been crying.
Dori waited patiently. Finally, Angel said, "Well, I have good news and I have bad news."
"Good news first," said Dori.
"I've found Big Venus and she's safe. She's fine. She'll be there when I need her. And I've got my memories back."
Dori sat in silence. After a while, Angel glared at her and said, "You're supposed to say, 'And the bad news…?'"
"I thought getting your memories back was the bad news."
"That's right, I told you about my dream at breakfast, didn't I? Well, the worst news is that someone has an operational reality cannon, and they tested it today."
"What's a reality cannon?"
"It's a weapon that collapses the reality waveform around the target area, causing it to be replaced with something … else. Usually something from the past, but not always. But almost certainly something that doesn't have your enemies in it."
Dori sat quietly for a moment, then said, "You told me this once before, didn't you?" She paused, trying to remember. "It was the second time we ran into each other at Roger's apartment. You told me about reality weapons, and how they can make the reality waveform permanently unstable, but Big Venus can regenerate the waveform for a while. You cried then, too."
Angel was dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. "It's all such a mess. It's not like I'm cut out for this sort of work, it's just that my Megadeus was handy when the equipment was ready to be installed. None of us thought we'd make a career out of this."
Dori patted her on the shoulder. "It'll be all right Angel; you'll see. We just need to find an android to help you, and to spare your poor back."
Angel smiled. "Maybe you're right."
"We'll find you a nice android and everything will be fine."
Dori almost bumped into Dastun on her way out. Dori hugged him in spite of his dirty uniform - he had overseen the successful extrication of the pilot from Big M and the rescue work of people trapped in the buildings damaged in the fight. "Hi, Dan," she said, releasing him. "Cheer Angel up." She left them.
Angel looked at Dastun curiously. "What happened to you?"
"I was going to ask you the same question. You just vanished, right in front of me." He held out his arms.
Angel stood up and put her hands on her hips. "If you think I'm going to touch you while you're wearing that filthy uniform, Dan Dastun, you're crazy. This is a good suit."
"Well, take it off."
She glared at him for another second, then smiled. "All right, I will. Dinner's in ten minutes, so don't get any funny ideas. Go wash and change your uniform. I'll be there in a minute."
He left dutifully. She arrived at his room in a fresh outfit just as he was buttoning up his shirt. She tied his tie for him and straightened his collar, then flung her arms around him and kissed him hard.
"You seem okay," he said.
"Okay?" she said, stamping her foot. "That was a lot better than okay!" She kissed him again.
A moment later he gasped, "Not that I'm complaining, but weren't you going to tell me what happened?"
"I'd better give you the condensed version. Some moron fired up a reality weapon. Big Venus summoned me to her. The weapon was powered back down before we could locate it, and before it did much damage, thank god. It must have been a test run. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting reacquainted with Big Venus, checking her out, and getting my memories back. Everything's fine, except I don't like my memories very much because they contain so much failure and heartache."
"So you know what happened forty years ago?" asked Dastun.
"Dan, I'm the one who did what happened forty years ago. And, yes, I remember it now. But no more questions, or we'll be late and Roger will sulk. Your turn." She held out a fresh uniform jacket and helped him into it.
As he did up the buttons, he said, "We had a double attack on the Main Dome. A Megadeus and five big critters like the ones Eugene Grant used to make.
"My god, just one was bad enough! Five of them! What a nightmare."
"You're telling me. Well, Big O and Big B arrived before we did, and they bagged all the game before we even got there, but there's a terrific amount of collateral damage and a lot of injuries. Some fatalities, too. I was left in charge of the rescue and cleanup while Roger and Beck came home early for drinks."
* * *
R. Emily leaned against the car and scanned the landscape around them. "There," she said to Will. "Straight ahead. Do you see that green patch?" She handed him the binoculars.
"That looks like a forest, maybe an oak forest," he said. "That's not native."
"No. And can you make out what's off to one side?"
"The brown patch? It looks like … it's a stretch of mud flat. There's a rotten boat and a pier and everything. What's it doing at this elevation?"
"Try to remember."
Will relaxed and let his mind wander. After a couple of minutes, he said, "Reality weapon. A medium-sized one, or maybe a big one on low power."
Will looked through the binoculars again. "They were always mounted in Megadeuses, weren't they?"
"Megadeuses are resistant to reality weapons. They were the only safe firing platform."
Will smiled at her, the way he always did before suggesting something dangerous. "Let's look for footprints and see if we can backtrack it."
"Right." Emily beamed at him. Good old Will. "Our friends will want to know about this."
* * *
Dastun had the lights dimmed in his room and a fire in the fireplace. He and Angel were on the floor in front of the fire. He had his arms around her. He was in his shirtsleeves, but Angel, complaining about wrinkling her dress, had taken it off and was in her underwear.
"How's it feel to have all that power and responsibility?" he asked.
"Humbling. Frightening," she said
He held her tight. "Me, too," he said. "Only, my job's not so big as yours, so sometimes I think I'm entitled to feel halfway competent."
"And I'm not really up to it," she said. "It's too big for me. I make mistakes, and then I'm ashamed."
He stroked her hair. "I know that feeling, too."
"I'm glad you understand," she said.
They gazed into the fire in silence for a while, then Dastun asked, "So how do modern times stack up with what's gone before?"
She relaxed against him. "Right now, I don't have anything to complain about."
"Wow, I didn't know you were such a sweet-talker."
"I think things are looking up. If we can just … well, now's not the time to talk shop, Dan, but I'm beginning to hope again. Maybe we can break the cycle after all. I haven't dared hope that in ages."
"Why the change of heart?"
"Well, it's a lot of different things. But the clincher came just today, when Dori told me that she was sure that everything was going to be all right. What Dori wants, Dori gets. Everybody knows that."
Dastun smiled. "You've convinced me."
* * *
Dorothy put down the phone. Emily had reported their progress, or lack of it. The trail had lead into a river, and that was that. They had gone miles upstream and down, on both sides of the bank, but hadn't found where the tracks emerged.
But the test site had to be within a reasonable distance of the Megadeus' lair. She would tell General Dastun in the morning, and perhaps they could discover and destroy the reality weapon before it could be fired.
The mansion was silent, but it was only midnight. Roger would still be up. She found him in the penthouse, sitting on one of the couches, rereading some of his notes from one of his cases. He was still in his suit, but had loosened his tie. He wasn't aware of Dorothy's presence, and she watched him fondly for a while before approaching.
She walked over to the couch and sat down beside him. He looked at her sidelong and smiled but continued reading. He soon reached the end of his notes and set his notepad down and put his arms around her.
Dorothy said, "I've been regaining some of my memories from forty years ago."
Roger raised an eyebrow. "Your memories?"
"I think of that girl as me now. We have more in common that I thought. We were both madly in love with you." She kissed him.
After a while he broke away long enough to point out, "It ended badly."
They kissed again. Dorothy said, "This time I'm an android. Maybe this time I'll be able to keep you alive."
Roger smiled. "That would be nice." He was struck by a thought. "Angel really needs an android to help her control Big Venus, doesn't she?"
"No," said Dorothy, "not an android boyfriend. Angel's love life is not the issue. She needs help with Big Venus. And she deserves the best."
Roger smiled. His smile slowly turned into a grin. "You mean…?"
"We have to build another R. Dorothy Wayneright."