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.
Dorothy handed the telephone receiver to Dori. Emily was making one of her late-night check-in calls.
"Hi, Emily," said Dori.
"Hi, Dori," said Emily. "Tell me, do you and Dorothy ever switch places?"
"She won't do it," said Dori. "Not even for an instant."
"Too bad," said Emily. "The comic potential is almost unlimited. What's up?"
Dori replied, "I'm having a pajama party at Casa del Beck on Thursday. You're invited. Angel and Dorothy will be here, too."
"I'd better buy a pair of pajamas, then. Where will the boys be?"
Dori smiled inwardly. To Emily, the plural of "man" was generally "boys," especially if they were men she knew.
"They'll be having a stag party at Roger's place. Roger, Norman, Dan, Jason, and Will, if he wants to attend."
"How are you going to keep Angel with you if all the boys are at Roger's?"
"I had to bully her," admitted Dori. "And I had to tell her that it's not all fun and games, but there will be business, too."
"Oh?" asked Emily, interested. "What kind of business?"
"We will determine the fate of the world," said Dori.
* * *
Leviathan 14 pondered his next move. Ordinarily, a Megadeus was somnolent unless he was being piloted, was helping with repairs, or was defending himself. Sometimes, too, a Megadeus would go looking for his Dominus, but usually only after being awakened by a need to defend himself. Finally, a Megadeus could operate with the assistance of his android, and do anything he liked but take the offensive. By sleeping through the dull times, a Megadeus saw life as one action-packed adventure after another.
Leviathan 14 had been rescued by Emily from remote piloting, a form of electromechanical mind control that was painful and traumatic. Leviathan 14 had fallen in love with Emily at first sight. Later, he had come across on of Beck's decoy androids, which gave out radio signals identifying it as a friendly android. The decoy had no intelligence whatever, but its transmissions were soothing. Leviathan 14 took it - her - on board, and by pretending she was real, he could act independently, almost as if she were a real android.
He had helped fight Big Lazarus, who was clearly crazy; an enemy for sure. On the other side had been Big Alpha, Big O, and Big B, all of whom were friends. He should find them. They would probably take his decoy away, but they might help him, too. Where were they? He was far from Paradigm; far enough that its lights did not illuminate the nighttime sky. He didn't know where he was. Since the battle had taken place near Big Lazarus' hangar, he was presumably in enemy territory and needed to be careful. Time to move on, but which way?
As it turned out, he guessed wrong.
* * *
Emily rang the doorbell at Casa del Beck. Dori opened it immediately. "Hi, Emily. You're the last to arrive."
"Sorry I'm late," said Emily as she stepped inside, not sounding the least bit sorry. She had a suitcase in one hand and a department store shopping bag in the other. "We had some car trouble." She set her burdens down as Dori closed the door and moved in for a hug.
Dori was wearing a red chemise. Emily approved. It set Dori off nicely. Emily suspected, correctly, that if left to her own devices, Dori might wear blanket sleepers one night and a transparent negligee the next. Beck was goofy about Dori and thought that everything she did was wonderful, so he would be useless at curbing her excesses. An opaque chemise that came down to mid-thigh was just the thing for a pajama party.
The only surprising thing was that it wasn't in yellow, or at least an earth tone. Emily had difficulty choosing outfits that didn't pay at least passing tribute to the green and black color scheme she shared with Will and Big Alpha. This had hampered Emily when she had shopped for sleepwear earlier in the day. She had wanted at least a little green, and all she could find was a pair of cotton pajamas. She knew she'd look good in them, but she'd hoped for more. Maybe next time she could bring herself to settle for black. There was a lot of good stuff in black. Normally she didn't bother with sleepwear, but Dori's pajama party had piqued her interest.
"How's Beck?" asked Emily.
Dori waved a finger at her. "This is a pajama party. Go change." She waved in the general direction of the guest bedroom, from which Angel was just emerging, wearing her pink silk pajamas.
Emily's jaw dropped. "I don't believe it!" she said. "Angel, where did you get those? I swear, if you took them off, it would be less revealing!"
Angel beamed. "Good, aren't they?" Through some kind of miracle of sartorial science, her pajamas -- which were loosely cut, had full-length legs and sleeves, and weren't the least transparent -- somehow managed to give the impression that they weren't there at all.
"You could start riots with them," agreed Emily.
"I wear these every night. I thought you'd seen them before."
"You always had a robe over them."
"Let me write down the tailor's address. The man is a genius." Angel searched around for a pencil. Emily cut her off.
"Never mind. Just show them off to Will. Once he picks his jaw up off the floor he'll make sure I get a set."
Dorothy came into the room. She was dressed almost identically to Dori, in a red chemise, though it clearly came from a different shop. They looked at each other, startled.
Dori smiled, "I can change if you like."
Dorothy said, "It suits you."
After Emily changed into her new green cotton pajamas, Dori led them all into the living room, which Beck had furnished in oriental splendor, with four couches set in a rough square with a large coffee table in the middle. A thick rug covered this part of the floor. Each couch was piled high with a ludicrous number of pillows of different sizes, with blankets here and there for good measure. There was a large television set and a top-of-the-line hi-fi built into one wall, and a small projection room was built into the far end of the room. A movie screen could be lowered from the ceiling at the push of a button. Outside the area holding the couches, there was enough room for dancing. A large gas fireplace stood in another wall. The fourth wall held a small bar and a refrigerator. The room might have been designed for pajama parties, though in reality it was a shrine to Beck's insomnia.
Dori had laid out a selection of snacks on the coffee table. She motioned to these and took a couple herself, to be sociable. Emily followed suit and lay down on one of the couches, propping herself up on her elbow and a heap of pillows.
The others also sat down, one to a couch, except Dori, who sat down next to Dorothy and held her hand. They ate in silence for a moment, but soon Angel started to laugh at the spectacle of three androids keeping one human company as she ate, and soon she put her plate down. "I couldn't eat another bite," she said, trying to keep a straight face and failing. "But, please, keep on eating. Don't mind me."
* * *
Beck had left the penthouse to make a few phone calls.
Dastun asked, "What do you suppose the girls are doing?"
"Talking about us," said Roger. "What else?"
"Well, I suppose that turnaround's fair play," said Dastun. "How are you and Dorothy getting along?"
Roger smiled smugly. "Couldn't be better. How are you and Angel doing?"
Dastun waved an arm in a vague gesture, "She's gotten moodier, and we fight a lot more. This stuff with Big Venus has her spooked. But after we fight, we make up." He smiled. "It's not a fairy-tale romance, but it's working. At my age, that's all you ask. An incredibly beautiful woman and a relationship that works. And it doesn't hurt that she's smart and knows where all the bodies are buried."
Roger asked, "Has she started talking about children yet?"
"No," said Dastun shortly.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to pry."
"What the hell is keeping Beck?" said Dastun irritably. "Is he badgering the girls already?"
"No," said Roger. "Dori threatened him with six kinds of messy death if he were to call even once. He's just taking it out on somebody else."
"Or ordering in a dozen strippers."
Norman appeared. "Will is here, Master Roger." And in fact Will was right behind him, not waiting for the formalities to conclude.
Will grinned and shook hands with Roger and Dastun. "Where's Beck? We ought to get this show on the road. Are we up for a panty raid later?"
"Didn't you get the word?" asked Roger. "Dori will have your head on a pike if you try anything funny."
Beck returned. "Hey, Will," he said, grinning. "What do you say we ditch the stiffs and tie one on in town?"
"Let's bring 'em along," suggested Will. "They'll provide contrast."
They all went, even Norman, in Roger's car. After a brief wrangle, they decided to start out at a nightclub that they knew had a good band and a good chef, though they had no idea what the acts were like these days.
* * *
Okay, Dori," said Angel. "Can you tell us what your ulterior motive is yet, or do we have to play a game of Truth or Dare first?"
Emily was delighted by this suggestion. "Truth or Dare! Truth or Dare!" she called. Dorothy frowned at her, but Dori gave the suggestion a moment's consideration.
"No," she said. "A Wayneright can't play Truth or Dare."
"That's right," said Dorothy.
"Why not?" asked Emily.
Dori thought about this for a while before answering, "It's so obvious, it's hard to explain. I can't ask people to tell me things I know they shouldn't, not just for fun. I can't ask them to do stupid things. And if they ask me, I get mad. It doesn't matter if there's a game."
Emily raised an eyebrow but didn't pursue the issue.
After a moment, Dori returned to the topic at hand. "Jason is almost ready to start making new core memories. He's already making new android bodies. We're tooled up to make them in different heights and builds, and in both sexes."
Angel laughed, "That's going to look good on a resume. 'Designed male genitalia for androids.'"
"Complete plans were in Father's papers," said Dori. She returned to the main subject. "We're just about ready to start recording people's minds for later copying into core memories. And Megadeus core memories will follow almost without transition, since Megadeus core memories are pretty much the same."
Emily nodded. This seemed sensible to her. She noticed that Angel seemed awestruck. "New Megadeuses," Angel breathed. "Do you know how long it's been?"
"No," said Dori. "Do you?"
"Not really," said Angel. But we lost the core memory technology a long, long time ago. I don't know how many cycles there have been, not anymore. Roger is young. He's been through, I don't know, ten or twenty cycles. I've been through all of them. We lost count at fifty or so, and that was a long time before Roger. We lost the core memory technology before then, and have been running on existing Megadeuses ever since. Of course, a lot of them recur cycle after cycle, even if they've been destroyed many times before, but they never get any saner."
"When did you lose the android technology?" asked Dorothy.
"That's the funny thing," said Angel. "I was around before the first reality weapons were deployed, and I don't think I ever knew about Class M androids. And yet, they're essential. It's probably another side effect of reality technology. First they were an essential part of Megadeus technology, then they ceased to exist for a while. I mean, for a while they had never existed in the first place. Then something happened and they're back again, and have existed all along, and we just forgot."
They thought about this for a while. Dorothy said, "Reality technology is wrong."
"Tell me about it," said Angel. "I hate it. I always have. It's disgusting. People aren't gods, and they shouldn't have to try. And it doesn't work very well, either."
Emily said, "Well, we're here now. You really need an android, Angel. Every time I see those scars on your back, I feel ashamed. We let you down, somehow. You shouldn't have had to go through that."
"Yes," said Dori, before Angel could answer. "Angel needs an android. We will be able to create one based on anyone we like. Jason is impatient and would just do whatever's convenient. He'd say he'd do it better next time. Then next time he'd do whatever's convenient again. We need to choose. They say that the fate of the world depends on its younger generation. We're going to decide who the younger generation of androids and Megadeuses is going to be. And we're going to start by choosing a donor personality for Angel's android." She looked around. "Who should it be?"
There was a pause. Emily, as the newcomer, wasn't going to venture an opinion until asked. She looked around. Dori was also looking at each of the others in turn. Angel was not looking at anyone. Her face was troubled. Dorothy was focusing her calm, steady gaze on Dori.
Finally, Angel said, "An R. Dorothy Wayneright would do."
"It's not what you want," said Dori.
Angel didn't meet her gaze. Dori continued, "It's not what you think would be best for your mission."
Angel still said nothing. Dori crossed over to Angel's couch and sat down beside her. Angel gave her a little smile and then turned her head away.
Dori asked, "Emily, what kind of person makes a good Class M android?"
"Hmm," said Emily. "Let's see if I can remember. With the android, now, the requirements aren't as stringent as with the other two, since we don't do any actual killing. The android needs to work with both the Dominus and the Megadeus, and is rarely if ever in command, but still needs to have a strong personality and a powerful will. At the same time, the android can't be domineering. She has to respect the decisions of others. It's important that the donor personality be highly intelligent, have a strong moral sense, and be capable of deep attachment and loyalty to one or two other people. It helps if the donor personality dislikes personal violence, since the inhibitions that are used early on shouldn't cause the android any distress. Any tendency to abusive behavior is a total disqualifier, as is a history of mental illness. Androids must be sane. The power wielded by the Dominuses and Megadeuses is bad for them, and the androids help keep them from going off the deep end. That's one reason why it's best if they both love their android. An ability to do the right thing in a crises is important, as is a disrespect for authority."
"What?" asked Angel, startled.
"The android is not there to interpret orders from on high; the android is there to support her Dominus and Megadeus. Paying too much attention to superiors or to orders is a handicap; such things are the Dominus' job," explained Emily. "Oh, and there are a lot of snooty attitudes which are crippling to an android. Anyone who is too high and mighty to deal on friendly terms with non-commissioned officers, machinists, and mechanics will never be a good android. And the donor personality needs a strong sense of self; waking up in an android body can come as sort of a shock, in spite of the cushioning effect of the android adolescence period."
The two Wayneright sisters nodded agreement. "What about mechanical and mathematical ability?" asked Dorothy.
"Moderate amounts are irrelevant; these skills are provided along with the other Megadeus memories. A real talent along these lines would be useful."
"So who do we know who would make a good android?" asked Angel.
Emily considered. "Well, Dori, Dorothy, and I make great androids," said Emily. "And there would be no difficulty in using us as the donor personalities. You might make a good android, Angel. All the things you lack confidence in would vanish from the job description of an R. Angel, and I think she could be very happy and effective. But you wouldn't want to team yourself up with an android Angel; that sort of thing never works. Will? He likes danger too much. He'd make a terrible android. Norman would be perfect. Dan might be good. I don't know him well enough. But why isn't he a Dominus? That's what I'd like to know. Tony would be really good, too. Beck's too clever and sneaky to make a good android. Androids should be fundamentally straightforward people who only use sneakiness when it's necessary, not as a form of self-expression." She stopped.
"You left someone off the list," said Dori.
Emily glanced at Dorothy, whose expression was unreadable, then, with considerable reluctance, said, "Well, he has a streak of rashness in him, but otherwise he's perfect. I like the way he refuses to carry a gun. For Angel, an R. Roger Smith is really the only choice."
* * *
A low overcast made it very dark. With no city lights, Leviathan 14 could make out the flash of arc welders reflected on the clouds a long way off. He moved in to take a look.
Inside a large building with enormous open doors, a Megadeus was standing upright, surrounded by a close-fitting gantry. Half a dozen welders were working on something at the base of the gantry. Leviathan 14 had never seen this particular Megadeus before. It bore a close resemblance to Osrail, but without the shoulder projectors. Its basic color scheme was dark blue.
As he watched. The welders stopped and stood back. A klaxon sounded, then the gantry slid slowly over, until the Megadeus was lying on its back. At this point it became clear that the gantry was associated with some kind of rail system.
A horn sounded, and the enormous railcar rolled out of the hangar. Soon it disappeared down a steep grade into an underground tunnel.
Leviathan 14 followed it along a parallel path, sinking into the ground smoothly. He could hear it better from underground.
This place was clearly nowhere; a dispersal site for his friends, or an enemy base. Probably the rail system would lead him to something interesting.
The railcar was much faster than he was, but it went straight and true. Leviathan 14 would follow the same course, and would get there when he got there.
* * *
Angel was in tears. "But what about Dan?"
Dori said, "It's all right, Angel. We can make him an R. Angel, and I'm sure they'll be very happy. You'll see -- there isn't any kind of love dilemma that we can't solve by adding more androids."
"But he wants children!" sobbed Angel.
"Oh," said Dori, taken aback. She considered this for a long time. "Well, it would be an imposition, but you could bear Dan's children and he and R. Angel could raise them, and you could bear Roger's children for you and R. Roger to raise, and then everybody's happy."
"What about me?" asked Dorothy.
"You don't want children, do you?" asked Dori, surprised.
"I've been thinking about it."
"But it's not possible!" said Dori.
* * *
The nightclub was a big hit. They put on a good show, with two excellent lead singers and a stand-up comic who was actually funny. After this, Will and Beck wanted to go to a strip joint, but Roger put his foot down and insisted that they take in a stage comedy that was just a few doors down, and whose curtain would be going up in ten minutes.
* * *
Angel had dried her tears and seemed a lot happier. "Okay," she said, a little shakily. "You've convinced me. Sort of. My mission is important and I need the right android. All right, I can see that. And you all think that R. Roger is the right choice? I'm not being selfish?"
They all nodded. Emily said, "We had to hog-tie you and hold your feet to the fire, Angel. No one can say this was your idea."
"And Dan … well, we'll have to see what happens. But we won't leave him out in the cold. He has options." She looked ready to start crying again.
Dori said quickly, "Next item. Who is going to provide donor personalities for Megadeuses?" She looked at Emily.
Emily said, "Megadeuses should be aggressive. They should love a good fight. They need to be able to follow orders, though. And its important that they form a close bond with their Dominus and android. They should be sane, of course, and have an aversion to deep philosophical questions. That's really important, under the circumstances."
"Will," said Dori.
Emily smiled, "Yes, he's just the thing. Dan would be good, too. Roger would probably be okay, but not great. Beck and Tony would be completely hopeless, for different reasons. Norman might be good, but I suspect him of thinking deep thoughts when no one is looking."
Dorothy smiled slightly, "That's true."
They all looked at her, but she said no more.
Emily continued, "It's tempting to just replicate a tiny circle of known-good personalities, but that's bad. A competent enemy studies our tactics, our strengths and weaknesses, and we don't want our Megadeus teams to think alike. Every opponent should provide a new mystery to them."
Angel said, "Okay, so suppose we stick Will's personality into a Megadeus, maybe a new one, maybe a salvaged one. Who will be his Dominus? Who will be his android?"
Dori said, "Our existing Megadeuses are such sweethearts. Shouldn't we replicate them, at least once?"
"We just discussed that," said Emily. "We should do new ones first, then backfill with repeats."
Angel said, "So do we have a to-do list? One R. Roger Smith for me, check. One R. Patricia Lovejoy for Dan, if he wants one, or whoever he wants, because we can deny him nothing, check. One Megadeus with a personality based on Will, check."
Dori said, "If we're handing out androids to people who aren't Dominuses, what about an R. Dorothy Wayneright for Tony?"
Angel laughed. "If he doesn't get an android woman soon, he'll explode. I hope I'm there when it happens."
Emily asked, "Is he, I don't know, is he macho enough for a Wayneright girl?"
Dorothy replied, "We don't require that our boyfriends be men who laugh at death."
Dori added, "It just worked out that way."
Alarms suddenly sounded in Casa del Beck. The four women leapt to their feet.
"That's the underground intrusion alarm!" shouted Dori over the din. "Come on, Angel!" She grabbed Angel's hand and pelted out of the room.
"What's going on?" asked Dorothy.
"She's going to use Angel as an emergency pilot for Big B!" shouted Emily. "Come on! We need to get back to Roger's!" They raced to the door.
Angel flung herself into the command seat of Big B and crossed her arms.
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.
"Big B!" called Angel. "Action!"
Big B stepped out of his gantry.
Angel said, "Okay, Dori, where are these intruders?"
"They're about half a mile away, where they imagine the exit to Hangar B is," replied Dori. "We rerouted all the tracks last month, and the real exit is totally concealed. I'm putting video on screen."
Angel said, "Take us there, Big B." She let the Megadeus choose his own path. They jolted over the surface. This part of town was largely deserted and contained a lot of open space.
A couple of screens lit up with images from security cameras. A Megadeus had crawled out of a Prairie Dog railcar and was lying prone in the confined space of the subway tunnel. He was battering away at the steel and reinforced concrete doors leading to the false Hangar B.
Suddenly another screen lit up. Beck's face appeared on the screen.
"Dori, what the hell …" his jaw dropped.
Angel snapped, "Beck, get your eyes off my breasts and pay attention! There's a Megadeus punching his way into the false entrance to Hangar B. We're investigating now. Dorothy and Emily are headed back to Roger's and their own Megadeuses. They don't want to use the underground. I hope. Damn it, look at my face when I'm talking to you!"
"Sorry," said Beck. "It's the way they bounce when…"
"I don't want to hear about it. I'm not piloting in my P.J.'s for fun. I've got work to do. And it's your work. Get over here and do your job, damn it!"
Beck's face vanished from the screen.
"Men," said Angel disgustedly.
"God bless them," said Dori. "We're getting close."
* * *
Emily and Dorothy ran to the nearest of Beck's several cars parked outside. Emily went to the front of the car and lifted the hood. "We'll have to hot-wire it," she said.
Dorothy got behind the wheel. The engine started.
Emily dropped the hood and got in. "How did you do that?"
"Beck always leaves the keys in the ignition," said Dorothy, putting the car in gear and pulling out with a screech of tires.
"I'll never understand him," said Emily.
Dorothy said nothing for a while, but concentrated on driving very fast towards Smith Manor. Then she said, "Call Roger."
"With what? I don't wear my wristwatch with pajamas!"
"Neither do I," admitted Dorothy. "See if Beck has hidden a transceiver in here."
Emily hunted around. "Nope," she said. "But I found sixty-three cents."
After another moment of silence, Emily said, "Are we going to wait for the boys, or are the two of us going to take one of the Megadeuses?"
"Can we do that?" asked Dorothy.
"Big Alpha will accept me as a temporary Dominus, and I'm sure he'll let you be his android for a while."
"How are you at violence?"
"Not good," admitted Emily, "but I can tell Big Alpha to go ahead with whatever he has in mind. That'll work okay."
* * *
Beck had been muttering in the back seat of Roger's car the whole way. It was his place that was being attacked, but Roger insisted on driving to the mansion first, on the grounds that Big B was already fully manned, but Big O and Big Alpha were sitting empty and vulnerable at Smith Manor. Dastun had commandeered the radiophone and had called out his heavy forces and put the policemen at the manor on alert. A quick call to Big B verified that no action had yet started, and that Dorothy and Emily were on their way to Smith Manor.
Roger took the tricky final turn into the alley in a four-wheel drift, missing the fireplug on the corner by inches. With a final wild, skidding turn, he raced into the garage entrance.
All four men hit the floor running. Dastun ran for the police office on the ground floor. Beck dashed for his car. Will headed for Big Alpha, and Roger and Norman raced to Big O.
"Norman, I want you to man the house defenses," said Roger. "And keep your ears open on the police and Megadeus channels. Dastun may not think to call you when he should."
"Very well, Master Roger."
The Megadeuses' eyes were already lit. "Looks like the girls got here first," said Roger, as the got into the gantry elevator. They turned in opposite directions when they reached the upper catwalk; Norman left for the house, while Roger ran to Big O.
On entering the cockpit, he stopped dead.
"Do you like my new chemise?" asked Dorothy.
Roger smiled. "It sets a new standard in combat attire." He took the command seat and crossed his forearms.
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.
"Big O! Action!"
The armored doors to the street opened, and Big O walked out stolidly. "Get me Angel …"
Angel was in the command seat of Big B, wearing her pink pajamas. The motion of Big Be was doing the most amazing … Roger tore his eyes away and focused on her face.
"Two seconds," she said, smiling. "Not bad."
"Angel, what's happening out there?"
"There's a Megadeus pounding away at the armored door to Hangar B Prime," she said. "Dori says he's got about two more minutes before anything interesting happens."
"Can Dori sense anything? What are we looking at?"
Dori was not in the picture, but her voice said, "He seems sane, Roger. You should negotiate with him."
"Is the Dominus a guy?"
"I think so," said Dori. "The Megadeus is, at any rate."
"Angel should talk to him," said Roger. "Dorothy, do we have any threats in our vicinity?"
"That's strange. The attack on Hangar B has got to be a diversion. But where's the main attack?"
Dorothy didn't answer.
* * *
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.
"Big Alpha!" shouted Will joyously, "Action!"
Big Alpha walked out of the hangar and then took up a station a couple of blocks away from Big O. No sense being within the same blast radius.
"What's the plan?" asked Will.
"We're waiting on developments," reported Emily. "Apparently Beck has some surprises inside Hangar B Prime, so the Megadeus is not an issue. We're waiting for the real show to begin."
* * *
Dori reported, "I've made contact with the enemy Megadeus."
"Put him on screen," said Angel.
"Whatever you do, don't let Big B stop walking," advised Dori.
The Dominus of the enemy Megadeus was a man of about thirty, clean-shaven, with shaggy black hair. He spared Angel a glance, looked back at the main screen, then did a double-take back to Angel.
"Hi," said Angel, "I'm Angel. Did you know that you're on the wrong side? But we have a special offer tonight. Sign up with our side, and we'll make a sexy android for you."
Dori adjusted the camera so they were both in the shot. "You ruined my pajama party," she accused.
"So what will it be?" asked Angel, smiling sweetly, "Taking orders from a shriveled up old zombie, or being your own master on the side of sweetness and light?"
"You're trying to seduce me into changing sides!" he accused.
Angel said, "Ask your Megadeus if he'd like a nice android girl to help him with his work. The zombie hates androids. I don't think he likes women, either. The crazy ones are all misogynists. That's what makes them so cranky."
"Jason's here," said Dori. "You'll have to stop walking around in circles for a minute."
"Think it over," said Angel, "But think fast, because we're going to have to put our foot down in a minute." She paused, and then an idea struck her, "Hey, you haven't been in a fight with the old mummy, have you? No, wait, don't tell me! You had a fight with him, and then he apologized and said you were right and he was wrong. Am I right? I am, aren't I? And that was so out of character for him, it won you over. And then, let me think … he offered you this very important mission to show that he trusted you, didn't he?" She smiled winningly at him.
The other Dominus was taken aback. "How did you know?"
"I used to be Alex Rosewater's private secretary, so I know how a complete and total jerk thinks. Did he go the extra mile? Did he sweeten the deal with some kind of new weapon, one that only works when you're up really, really close? He did? They packed your Megadeus full of explosives, honey. If were you, I wouldn't come up to the surface until I'd disconnected the suicide switch and removed the radio-controlled detonator." She smiled at him, then added. "Aren't they supposed to be backing you up? Because there's not sign of them anywhere."
Beck appeared in the cockpit. Angel stood and threw her arms around him. "Think about it," she said to the enemy Dominus. She made a hand gesture behind her back, and Dori cut the connection.
"That was low and despicable," said Dori. "I'm proud of you."
"We're saving lives here," said Angel. "Beck, I think that idiot's Megadeus is packed full of explosives."
"What?" exclaimed Beck. "After I set all those charges in Hangar B Prime?"
* * *
Dorothy announced, "General Dastun is on the line."
"Put him on."
Dastun's face appeared on the screen. He had finally acquired a watch like Roger's.
"We've got some sightings," reported Dastun. "Leviathan 14 is coming in by itself. It's in map reference F17. It's being careful not to cause any damage. And there's a group of four giant robots along the lines of the ones that attacked the amusement dome that time. They just emerged from the river at map reference G19 and seem to be headed for the Main Dome."
"Leviathan 14 is probably a friend," said Roger. "We'd better send Big Alpha to go talk to him. I'll intercept the robots. Big B will catch up when he's finished with his unexpected guest."
"Do you really want to split up like this?" asked Dastun, dubiously.
"I'll send my main body of tanks to protect the Main Dome. I'll put my reserves so they can go to any of the three trouble spots," said Dastun.
* * *
"Where's map reference F17?" asked Will.
"It's on the other side of the river. Let's assume Leviathan 14 is headed into town and move to intercept."
"Right," said Will. "Should he be able to move this far by itself?"
"No. We have to assume he's hostile. But we'll know once we're close enough to talk."
Big Alpha moved quickly to intercept. Nighttime movement through the city was nerve-wracking, and they caused more collateral damage than they would have liked, especially in the form of broken power lines. But at least the streets were empty.
"There he is, on the far bank," announced Emily.
"Can you hear him?"
"Shhh … Yes, I hear him," said Emily. Then she began to laugh.
* * *
"Is this wise?" asked Dorothy.
"It's all part of being a gentleman," said Roger. "We're not really sure if the other two targets are enemies, and we can't destroy them until we're sure. The bad guys can just blaze away regardless."
They had taken up position on a main street about half a mile outside the Main Dome. Soon the four robots came into sight. They looked almost ludicrously like toy robots blown up to giant size. They were very crude and walked stiffly.
"Let's start with the chromebuster," said Roger. "But lock missiles on the second one, too. Do we have any interesting sensor readings?"
* * *
Beck was talking to the enemy Dominus.
"All right," said the enemy Dominus, whose name they still didn't know. His Megadeus was called Big Chi. "It looks like you were right. I'm sure I've found all the detonators. I'll come to the surface and we can talk."
"Just leave the Megadeus where it is, pal, and come to the surface by yourself," said Beck. "Then Angel can take you to a café or something. No offense, but I'd just as soon you stayed out of Hangar B and not wander around with that Megadeus while we've got other irons in the fire."
"No," he insisted stubbornly. "I'm coming to the surface." He cut the connection.
Two minutes later, the ground erupted in a vacant lot near Hangar B Prime. A Megadeus emerged. He took two steps out of the rubble, then was engulfed in an enormous internal explosion. Armor plates whizzed through the air in all directions. What remained of the Megadeus - not much - fell heavily to the ground.
"Idiot," said Angel and Beck together.
"The poor Megadeus," said Dori sadly.
"Let's go help Roger," said Beck.
* * *
Roger was in trouble. The chromebuster wasn't having much effect, and these robots were carrying ludicrous numbers of missiles. He had run out of counter-measures and was taking damage. His own missiles had crippled one of the robots, who had been left far behind the rest, dragging one leg. The other three pressed on.
Dastun's artillery was peppering the robots, without effect. Everyone knew exactly what kind of munitions the Military Police had, and they just built everything strong enough that it would have little effect, except possibly at point-blank range. Dastun had some weapons-development programs, but he was short on cash and so far nothing had been deployed.
Roger could destroy the robots fairly quickly with his Big O Thunder, but that would involve leaving his protective crouch. Hating the necessity, he stepped behind a skyscraper.
"Big O Thunder," he called. Big O's right arm transformed to reveal the four-barreled plasma cannon.
He stepped back out into the open, and there were the three robots, quite close now.
"Fire!" he called, as he pulled the trigger. The blue bolts of plasma flame riddled the robot's body, ripping huge molten holes. The robot withstood only a second or two of this, then exploded.
"Two down," said Roger. An incoming barrage of missiles caused him to hastily raise Big O's left forearm and detransform the right arm. A lucky hit to Big O's left leg caused him to fall heavily on his face.
The robots closed in for the kill.
* * *
Beck used his left-hand cannon to shoot the limping robot in the head from behind. It exploded.
"Where the hell is Roger?" asked Beck.
"He's behind that building," said Dori. Smoke obscured Beck's view. Even if Big O hadn't been behind a building, Beck wasn't sure he could have seen him.
"I hope Angel knows what she's doing," groused Beck. He had set her down about a mile back.
"Roger's using the Big O Thunder and we're in the line of fire!" said Dori suddenly.
"Yipe!" said Beck, and sidestepped as fast as he could.
The Big O Thunder damaged Big B's left arm, making the cannon useless. At least it destroyed a robot, too. Now it was two robots and two Megadeuses.
"Damn it, Roger!" said Beck. "That was my best weapon! Let's use the net on the closest one."
Just as he fired the net, the nearest robot shot a brace of missiles at Big B, and Beck couldn't deal with them and the net both. The net smashed heavily into a skyscraper.
"Damn it to hell!" said Beck.
"Big O has fallen," said Dori. "Roger is unconscious. Dorothy is trying to carry on."
"Lock missiles on the one closest to Big O. No! No time. Fire all missiles!"
Twenty-four missiles streaked out of Big B's chest and raced towards the most distant robot, which was getting dangerously close to Big O. Without missile lock, only four hit, and these didn't stop the robot or cause it to explode. If it got any closer, it would explode on its own initiative, and probably destroy Big O in the process.
"Deploy the phonosonic device," said Beck heavily. He had no faith in his small phonosonic cannon against heavily armored targets, but it was his last long-range weapon. He couldn't close with these walking bombs without being blown up himself.
The rearmost of the two robots turned around and headed towards Big B. Beck fired the phonosonic cannon, with no effect that he could see. The robot moved steadily closer.
"Okay," said Beck, "Time to run." He started sidestepping towards the nearest cross-street. The robot fired a dozen missiles at him. One of them hit Big B in the ankle, and Beck found himself with only one useful leg to stand on.
"We can't walk, Dori," said Beck. "This looks bad."
"Keep trying, Jason," said Dori.
"Yeah." Beck raised the knee of the damaged leg and fired the toe-mounted claymore mines at the approaching robot, without effect. He kept firing the phonosonic cannon, training it on the robot's head, since the body was clearly immune.
Suddenly, a pair of enormous chains came out of nowhere and wrapped themselves around the ankles of the nearest robot. There was a tremendous pull, and the robot was yanked off its feet. Then it was dragged in a series of quick jerks away from Big B. Beck followed the chains with his eyes, and there was Big Alpha, hauling in the robot hand over hand. After pulling the robot a couple of hundred yards, Big Alpha fired his chromebuster at the joint between the robot's head and its body. He had to hold the beam for twenty seconds before the robot finally exploded. Both Megadeuses were knocked off their feet.
Beck swore. He rolled Big B onto hands and one knee and started crawling as best he could toward Big O and the other robot. "Why doesn't Big O get up?" he shouted.
"There is damage to the legs," said Dori.
The lead robot was getting closer and closer. Beck glanced towards Big Alpha, who was just now getting to his feet. No time.
For the second time in two fights, Beck had to resist the temptation to close his eyes to avoid seeing the inevitable.
"Yee-haw!" came Angel's voice over the radio.
Leviathan burst out of the ground, its two front claws glowing with a golden light. It reached out and touched the robot with one of them … and the robot silently dissolved into a heap of metallic sand. The claws dimmed.
* * *
An astonish short time later, Angel was seen racing barefoot in her pink pajamas across the broken pavement to Big O. She managed to get in through the entry in the right foot.
She appeared on the monitor screens a few minutes later.
"Roger's coming around," she said. "He's swearing at me, so I think he'll be okay. Dorothy is unconscious. She got shocked while trying to get Big O's legs working."
Dori crossed over and carried Dorothy into the cockpit. Roger was awake but a little groggy. The Prairie Dog was summoned and, with considerable manhandling from Big Alpha, Big O was sent back home. This process was repeated, with much less difficulty, with Big B. Will decided to walk Big Alpha back.
Angel returned wearily to Leviathan 14. The cockpit was still festooned with wires from the now-defunct remote-control unit, and Angel had to sit on a nest of wires to use the command seat. The decoy android was standing behind the cockpit, strapped in. It was a strange and disturbing sight, though apparently Emily thought it was funny.
"Okay," said Angel. "Let's take you away from downtown. All in all, I think we'd be best off following Big Alpha. Then Emily can come talk to you and make you all better."
* * *
Dorothy found herself standing on the porch of a farmhouse. The sun blazed down. A gentle breeze made waves in the ripening wheat.
"Hello, Mr. Rosewater," said Dorothy.
Gordon was sitting in his rocking chair, his straw hat on his lap. He looked up and seemed to see her for the first time.
"Why, hello there," he said, chuckling. "Aren't you a little underdressed for the occasion?"
"It doesn't matter." She gazed at him steadily.
"You look like you expect something from me, young lady."
"Yes. You will speak to me in riddles, and then I will go away and think about them."
"Would you like a glass of lemonade?"
"Thank you." She picked up the proffered glass. The lemonade was cold and sweet and tasted wonderful. It had clearly been made out of real lemons, fresh lemons. She realized that her sense of taste was something she had left behind when she had become an android, and her eyes filled with tears. Tears!
"There, there, don't cry," he said, pulling a red bandanna out of his pocket and handing it to her. "It's only a dream."
"Tell me your riddle," she said, wiping her eyes.
"When I speak plainly, people don't understand me," he said. "When I speak in riddles, people can cut off as thick a slice of the truth as they can handle, but not too much that they choke on it. People have a limited appetite for truth."
"We want to defeat Big Lazarus, Mr. Rosewater. We want to end the cycles once and for all. Can you help us?"
"Who is the Dominus of Leviathan 14?"
"I don't know."
"Who is the real Dominus of Big Lazarus?"
"I don't know."
"Where is Michael Seebach."
"I know where Big Duo is."
"I would start there, then." Gordon smiled at her. "And now, I see that it is time for you to go."
The scene faded slowly. Dorothy managed to say, "Good bye" before it faded altogether.
She awoke on a workbench down in the hangar. Tony had been hovering over her, and he heaved a sigh of relief.
Dorothy sat up. She was her android self again. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
In her right hand was a red bandanna, still damp with her tears.
* * *
Roger held an ice bag to his head. Dorothy, who had just returned upstairs, held his other hand. He sighed. "There isn't anything we can do with high-tech weaponry that someone else can't do with twenty tons of high explosives at really short range. I hate that."
"What I don't get," said Beck, who had both arms around Dori, "was whether this attack was even serious. Were they just probing us? Because if they were, they did a great job. If they attack us in earnest tomorrow, they're gonna roll us up like a carpet."
Dori said, "Norman reports that all three Megadeuses will be ready for action in four hours. Or less, if I'm allowed to go help."
"Later," said Beck.
Dastun walked in. Angel had been sitting very quietly, looking tired and bruised. Her face lit up and she went to greet him. After a show of affection that left him red with embarrassment, she went and mixed them both drinks and led him to one of the couches.
Roger said, "Your aerial spotting is working really well. How are the heavier guns coming?"
Dastun sighed. "Slowly. But I think I'll have a couple of truck-mounted chromebusters in a week or two. Where are Will and Emily?"
"They retired early," said Dori. "Will said they're not interested in strategy. Just let 'em know when there's fighting to be done."
"Good man," said Dastun. "So where do we stand?"
Roger said, "For a few hours, we're vulnerable, but then we'll be better off than before, since Leviathan 14 will accept Angel as a temporary Dominus. But I'm concerned about their depth of resources. We keep being hit with one thing after another. They seem to have Megadeuses to burn."
"We might have Michael Seebach soon," said Dorothy.
"God help us," said Roger and Dastun together.
* * *
It was sleeting. Norman wiped the locator with his handkerchief and peered at the dial, which was slightly fogged on the inside as well. He and Dorothy were in an alley outside the East Side Dome.
"I believe we are very close now, Miss Dorothy," he said. "Do you sense anything?"
"Perhaps," said Dorothy. She was wearing her red rain cape. "It is very faint. I think the area is shielded."
"Miss Angel said that the elevator was in a busy warehouse." Norman looked around. The sound of trucks came from a couple of blocks away. "This way." He picked up his heavy satchel and lead the way.
They found a busy warehouse - busy enough that they walked right in and no one paid any attention. If someone was supposed to be on duty at the open entrance, the sleet pelting in through the door had driven him off.
Norman adjusted his locator. "Ah," he said with satisfaction. "This way, I think. The elevator is imperfectly shielded."
They quickly found the concealed elevator. Norman pulled out a small repeater unit, about the size of half a pack of playing cards. There was no obvious place to conceal it in the open stretch of wall, so he moved over a few feet and wedged it between a length of electrical conduit and a light switch. "There we are."
It took them a while to puzzle out the call button, but eventually they noticed a pair of holes, slightly larger in diameter than a pencil, bored through a brick. Norman poked a pencil into the lower hole. A minute or so later, the brickwork opened up, revealing an elevator car. They stepped in.
There were only two buttons. Dorothy looked at Norman, who nodded, and pressed the DOWN button.
They emerged in an enormous hangar, on a walkway that went around the hemispherical chamber about a third of the way up. As they expected, Big Duo was standing there, supported by a gantry that was part of a system equivalent to a Prairie Dog.
Dorothy stiffened. "Hello," she said. "Big Duo." She paused, then said, "I am R. Dorothy Wayneright. We have not met."
A loud, mocking voice from nearby suddenly broke in. "But we have! You were with that Paradigm lapdog, Roger Smith. You activated that Megadeus underground, and nearly killed me in the process!"
They turned around. A young man had emerged from a hitherto unnoticed door. He was tall and slim and had dark eyes and straight black hair. He wore black jeans and a long-sleeved red shirt. He continued, "He destroyed Big Duo, my beautiful Big Duo, as well. But look! We are reborn!"
Dorothy said, "Hello, Mr. Seebach."
"Little Dorothy Wayneright, reborn as a machine," sneered Seebach. "How fitting! Oh, yes -- I remember you from when you were human, or so they said. Little Miss Perfect, as cold as ice. Just like your father. Where is Gordon Rosewater?"
"I haven't seen him. I don't know if he's alive," said Dorothy.
"What a mess he's made of the world."
"Mr. Seebach," said Dorothy sternly.
"You are raving."
Seebach was taken aback. He stared at her.
Dorothy said, "There is a crazed Megadeus outside the city with a reality cannon."
"Its personality has been isolated and has been replaced with a zombie. It has a Dominus who is apparently under the zombie's control"
"My god," said Seebach. "What's been done about it?"
"My sister R. Dori tried to talk the Dominus around. She tried to release the Megadeus' personality. She freed a Megadeus they had under their control. Another friend, R. Emily, freed a Leviathan that they were operating by remote control. Those two Megadeuses plus Big O and Big B fought Big Lazarus, but it vanished under peculiar circumstances. But we are receiving reports of more recent sightings."
"Are you telling me the truth?"
"I rarely lie, Lieutenant."
"Don't call me that!" roared Seebach.
"Would you like to meet with Roger, or with General Dastun? Both of them together, perhaps? Could you use assistance with Big Duo?"
"They are both living with that woman, aren't they?"
"That's none of your business," said Dorothy coldly.
"Oh, but it is! She is the Whore of Babylon, and she will be the ruin of us all! I hear that she has gathered her lovers together, and now together they run the city. Well, that's only the start. She'll destroy the world before she's done. You know she will. Why do you protect her?"
"You are raving again, Mr. Seebach," said Dorothy. "The end of the world is what we are all trying to avoid, Angel as much as anyone. More so. We have new information. The ambient reality level has increased."
"That's not possible!"
"Nevertheless," said Dorothy.
Seebach looked sternly at Norman. "Is this true, Sergeant?"
"Yes, sir," said Norman. "Every word. And it's good to see you again, sir."
Seebach smiled a crooked smile, much more human than his normal overwrought performance. "In spite of my ravings?"
"We all carry wounds of some kind, sir," said Norman, gesturing vaguely at his missing eye.
Seebach sighed. He seemed the shrink to human proportions. "All right. How is tomorrow at eight?"
Norman replied, "We will be expecting you, sir."