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.
The New Dominus was taking notes as the Old Dominus raged at him. "The repairs are going too slowly. Speed them up! And put more effort into sabotage. We know that Big B is still missing his new ankle joint. Take delivery of it, steal it, break it, burn the factory, kill the workmen. Whatever it takes!"
The New Dominus nodded and made a note. He was angry and didn't trust his voice. The Old Dominus never stopped harping, never praised, and always blamed the New Dominus for everything that went wrong. And the New Dominus suspected that he was the only Dominus in history who let his Megadeus give all the orders. He'd signed up for mastery, not servitude!
The Old Dominus seemed to have run down. Jones (he always fell into the habit of thinking of himself as "Jones" when he thought of Dori) said, "What about the androids?"
"Forget them!" raged the Old Dominus. "Stay away from them! They're dangerous, but they're not important! Keep to your task. Big O is the dangerous one. The others do not have effective long-range weapons. They are helpless against the reality cannon. If we destroy Big O, we will win. Roger Smith is rash. Set your trap and bait it well. He will walk into it, even if he knows it's there."
* * *
The duty guard called upstairs and announced that there was a Mr. Seebach waiting for Roger Smith. Dorothy left Norman to finish preparations for dinner and went downstairs. She entered the front hall at 7:44 pm.
Michael Seebach was in the first floor parlor, wearing a dark red sport coat, pink shirt, and black slacks. He carried a bottle of wine and looked ill at ease. For all that, he was a very handsome young man.
Dorothy said, "Good evening, Mr. Seebach."
"Good evening, Miss Wayneright. Sorry I'm early."
"That's all right. This way, please." The went to the elevator and up to the eighth floor.
As they ascended, Dorothy said, "They're not ready for you in the penthouse, so I'll entertain you for a few minutes in one of the parlors."
Seebach had been eying her warily. "Are you really the same?"
Dorothy considered this. "People who knew me then say I'm much the same."
The elevator stopped and Dorothy showed Seebach to a side parlor. A gas fire was burning brightly in the fireplace. Dorothy turned to the bar. "Rum and coke, isn't it, Lieutenant?"
Dorothy gazed steadily at him without speaking.
Seebach sat down heavily in one of the armchairs. "Rum and coke, all right. But don't call me that." He stared into the fire as Dorothy fixed his rum and coke. When she handed it to him, he took it automatically, but didn't drink. After a minute or two of silence, he said, "What's the plan this time? I see the domes are still up."
"Angel can tell you better than I."
He shook his head. "I don't like talking to that woman."
"She is not hiding behind a false role this time."
Seebach almost shouted, "I won't talk to her!"
Dorothy gave him a thumbnail description of Class M androids, their relationship with Megadeus and Dominus, and their abilities with damaged Megadeuses.
Seebach was interested, but obviously had other things on his mind, and had trouble giving the topic his full attention.
He interrupted her suddenly and asked, "What happened to Marianne?"
Dorothy was surprised. "Your wife? She died in a car accident."
"Two months after the last day you appeared for work at the Paradigm Press."
"Was it foul play?" he asked.
"She was hit by a drunk driver, who also died," said Dorothy. "There were a number of witnesses."
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I have trouble remembering the last cycle. Yet it all seems so important."
He gazed into the fire for a moment and then said suddenly, "Is that woman in charge now?"
"She is in charge of Big Venus."
"She doesn't give you orders?"
Norman arrived and announced that that cocktails were being served upstairs. Seebach set down his untasted drink and followed them out.
Dinner was not a success. Seebach was preoccupied and jumpy. He was sitting at Roger's right hand, with Dastun across from him. This meant that the table had all the men at one end and all the women at the other. Dori sat next to Seebach, Angel was across from Dori, and Dorothy was at the foot of the table.
Having Dori there may have been a mistake. Seebach wasn't sure about the concept of Class M androids, and having two of them didn't help. Dori, whose conversational skills were far more meager than her admirers often imagined, made no headway with Seebach and soon gave up. The other two women didn't even try.
After dinner, Seebach asked to speak to Roger and Dastun alone. They retired to an eighth floor parlor, leaving the women in possession of the penthouse. Dorothy walked over to the windows and looked out over the city. Dori went to the piano and began playing her favorite jazz numbers quietly to herself. Her musical interests had been affected by Beck, who had a fondness for jazz and music-hall songs. Angel paced for a moment and then vanished into the kitchen to talk to Norman, who had not joined the other men.
Dorothy came over to the piano and listened. Dori stopped at the end of a song and said, "He's a very sad and lonely man."
"He won't let us help him, Dori."
Dori played a few bars and said, "I know."
Dorothy said, "You want to take care of everybody. I worry about you."
"I know what I'm doing. I have a plan. I'll do it until I break, then I'll back off ten percent." She looked up. "That was a joke."
"Was it?" asked Dorothy.
"It's all going to work out fine. You'll see."
"You always say that," said Dorothy, "but sometimes things end very badly."
They didn't talk for a while, and then Dori asked, "How did the human Dorothy die?"
"I don't know. Father never said." The recording of the human Dorothy's personality that the two androids were based on had been made at the end of one cycle, and Dorothy had died after the beginning of the next, so the two sisters had no memory of it.
Roger and Dastun came upstairs alone. They had seen Seebach to the door already.
"It's no dice," said Dastun. "He doesn't trust us. He won't join. He says he's going to go off for a while and think things over."
"He shouldn't be alone," said Dori. "He'll get worse."
Dastun nodded gloomily. "We can't force him to stay."
Roger added, "He wouldn't accept a communicator watch. He doesn't want us tracking him."
"Maybe he'll find what he's looking for. Maybe he'll recover," said Dori.
"Don't count on it," said Dastun.
Angel returned to the penthouse and noted the long faces. She walked up to Dastun and put an arm around his waist. "No luck?"
"He says he's gonna take a hike and consider his options."
Angel kissed Dastun on the cheek. "He'll be back."
Dastun put his arms around her. "I'm taking the night shift tonight. Sorenson will be here any minute."
"I came out to tell you that he's just arrived. I took the call in the kitchen. I'll spend the night with Dori over at Casa del Beck."
Dori looked up from the piano and said, "He's in one of his moods."
"Maybe I can help talk him down. Meet us for breakfast, Dan."
* * *
It was 3 am. Beck was pacing the living room in Casa del Beck. Dori was leafing through one of her father's notebooks and following Beck's muttering with half an ear. He was stuck on three different projects. His long-range superweapon for Big B was not working out. A chromebuster was not really powerful enough to take out another Megadeus in a reasonable amount of time. The central components for a Thunder weapon like Big O's would not be ready for three months. A phonosonic device large enough to take Big Lazarus apart required a dedicated Megadeus to carry it, as Constanze had been. No one admitted to knowing how to make a fusion beam or the more impressive weapons once carried by Big Fau. Oh, the cutting wheels and those idiotic forearm missiles wouldn't be much of a trick, but Beck already had short-range weapons. He needed something that could take out Big Lazarus at more than half a mile.
Beck had shot himself in the foot on this project by switching technologies and canceling orders four times already. He could have had some really good missiles by now, much larger and more dangerous that the ones in his current missile launchers, but he had cancelled the order when he thought he'd be able to get a Thunder weapon.
The second project that was stymied was his android project. Everyone wanted him to start building new androids immediately. No one but Beck seemed to grasp what a tragedy it would be to botch a Class M android, and have her (or him) turn out unstable or even merely unhappy.
Mechanically, the androids were a problem, too. Their skin, with its embedded nerves, was very difficult to make properly. His workshop was having to discard well over 90% of it production. And Beck wasn't sure he'd found a sculptor capable of expressing people properly in android form. He would be damned if R. Angel didn't look just like the real thing, and Angel was one of the best-looking women Beck had ever seen.
The third project was his effort to understand how Leviathan 14's disintegrator worked. When active, whatever it touched turned to sand or dust. As far as Beck could tell, this wasn't actually possible. And when Leviathan 14 had used this weapon on Big Lazarus just as it had fired its reality cannon, they had both been flung into the future, along with Roger and Big O. From this, Beck had concluded that the disintegrator used a specialized form of reality technology. The most peculiar thing was that, according to Angel, the background reality level had gone up a little when the interaction between Leviathan 14 and Big Lazarus had occurred. Apparently, before reality technology, the background reality level hovered around a hundred. The use of reality technology had drained it way, and it was now in the single digits. Was it possible to pump it back up? Even to a hundred? Beck had been unable to discover anything for sure. Angel was reluctant to share her information with him.
Beck stopped pacing and turned to Dori. "Dori, what am I doing wrong?"
Dori looked up from the notebook. "You're ignoring a beautiful woman and staying up when you should be in bed. Two beautiful women." The second beautiful woman was Angel, who was asleep in the guest room.
Beck waved this away. "There must be a way of telling if we've recorded someone's personality right. There must be! That's what scares me. I love the way the mapping of the donor's mind to the android's nervous system works. It's self-testing. You know if it went okay and you got everything right. But if we get a blurry recording, how do we know?"
Dori said, "If it's bad enough to affect the senses or motor function…"
"Yeah, yeah, the mapping process will find it. But the thinking part of the brain's the hard part, not the mechanical stuff."
"Jason, you can't find it by fretting about it. You're too tired to read Father's notes, let alone analyze them. Come to bed."
"I wish your father would show up. Everyone's memories are coming back so fast, this time. He'll hit the ground running. I wonder when he'll make an appearance?"
"People with long associations with Megadeuses come back. That's all we know. He might not arrive for fifty years."
"I need him now!"
"So do we," said Dori. "Dorothy still blames herself for his death."
This last comment finally got Beck's full attention. He sagged a little. "Honey, you know it wasn't her fault."
"If she'd just stood quietly, like she was supposed to, he'd have been unharmed."
"It was heroic, that's what it was," said Beck. "She overcame her conditioning. It was magnificent. How was she to know it would make her slow as molasses? If she'd had her full speed, she would have plucked the gun out of that idiot goon's hand before he know what was happening." Beck sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Why are we talking about this? We've been over it before. God, I'm tired."
"Jason, you're as bad as I've ever seen you. Let's try the sleeping pills again."
"I hate 'em. They give me nightmares," said Beck absently. His mind was still on that terrible evening when one of his henchmen had shot Timothy Wayneright. Beck had smiled at the time, pretending to be proud of himself. He'd been such a jerk. And how much had he really changed?
"Half a dose, this time," said Dori. "I'll stay with you every minute, and I'll read to you until you fall asleep. We've tried everything else. You're no use to anybody like this."
"I shouldn't have let him have any ammo. I didn't want him to shoot anybody."
"Jason!" said Dori sharply.
Beck jumped. "What?"
"I don't like this part. When you're really exhausted, all your ghosts come back to haunt you, and then you sob until you fall asleep."
Beck hung his head.
"And I hate it when you talk to them," continued Dori.
"Dori, why do you put up with me?"
"Don't give me that."
"You sound just like Angel when you scold me," he said.
"I learned it from her," Dori admitted. "The classic Wayneright style is too harsh for everyday use."
"Oh, all right!" said Beck irritably. "Give me the damned pills."
* * *
Leviathan 14 moved slowly through the night. There was a certain part of the Wasteland where he expected to meet his Dominus. His android had told him. This was odd, because his android was just a decoy; a dummy that put out the right radio signals. But she had been quite definite, and he had nothing better to do.
The rendezvous time had not been fixed. He would go there now and wait. He concentrated on doing no damage and not being spotted.
He had moved out of communication with his friends in Paradigm, but they would understand, he was sure.
He worried that he was being conned, but he felt his need for a Dominus too desperately to do anything but press on.
* * *
Beck looked around and swore. "Damn it! Not me, too!" He was under the brilliant blue sky of Aylesbury Dome. Ahead of him was Gordon Rosewater's house. Gordon was sitting in his rocking chair on the porch. Beck was wearing one of his yellow suits.
Beck stomped up to the porch. Ignoring Gordon, he opened the screen door and went inside. The house was not, as he had half-expected, a false-front stage set, but seemed perfectly ordinary. He pulled a book off the shelf and read a few paragraphs from one of the middle pages. He pinched himself, too. It hurt.
Annoyed at this, he walked into the kitchen and took out a bottle of beer out of the refrigerator and then looked around in the cabinets for a mug. Finding one, he opened the bottle and poured. It tasted real, too.
"Damn it to hell!" This wasn't like an ordinary dream. He walked back onto the porch. Gordon was watching him. Gordon's face was calm, but Beck knew he was amused.
"Okay, spill it, grandpa," said Beck. "Say your piece. I need my beauty sleep."
Gordon spoke. "I'm waiting for your young lady."
As if on cue, Beck heard Dori behind him. "I'm here, Jason."
"Dori! Are you dreaming this, too?"
"I'm wide awake, sitting by your bed," said Dori. "This is your dream, not mine." She took his hand. She was wearing her usual jeans, blouse, and sneakers - not the pajamas and robe she had been wearing.
"Damned sleeping pills," muttered Beck. "I knew something ugly would happen."
Dori ignored this and spoke to Gordon. "Hello, Mr. Rosewater. I'm Dori Wayneright."
Gordon smiled. "It's a pleasure, young lady."
"Where are we?"
"Why, on my farm, of course."
Beck said, "This house burned down a year ago. You haven't been seen in almost as long."
"This is my new farm. It's more convenient. Please, have some lemonade." There were two glasses on the table beside him.
Beck shook his head violently, but Dori accepted a glass. She took a sip, and said sadly, "Dorothy could taste hers."
Beck finished his beer and, for lack of anything better to do, picked up his glass of lemonade and sipped it. It was excellent, but he didn't tell Dori this.
"Well?" said Beck to Gordon.
Gordon looked them over. "The first thing I wanted to tell you two was that I know that you get tired playing second fiddle to Roger Smith and his young lady, but in the near future it may be very important that you do so. It will happen without warning, when you are very busy with something else. I'd like you to resolve in advance that, when you are asked to play second fiddle, you will not hesitate or ask questions. Time will be of the essence."
Beck glanced at Dori. She was gazing fixedly at Gordon. Beck said, "Go on."
"The second thing is that I want you to trust me. I may ask you to involve yourselves in something extremely dangerous at a crucial moment. You will need to do this without hesitation."
Beck said, "That's the same as the first thing."
"Not quite. The first call will not come from me personally. The second will."
Beck got up and paced back and forth on the porch, three times. Then he turned to Dori. "Dori, honey, I just don't know. I don't know this man. I don't know if I trust my dreams."
Dori replied, "Then am I only a figure in a dream as well?"
He shook off the objection. "That's not a problem. After I wake up, you can tell me if you were here, too. I just can't make up my mind about the old man."
Dori walked over to where Gordon was sitting. She held out both her hand, and he held out his. His hands were large and gnarled. Hers were tiny, slim, smooth, and pale. They gripped each other's hands and looked intently into each other's eyes.
For a moment nothing happened, then Beck saw Dori flicker. She was replaced by the human Dorothy in a white dress. An instant later, she was Dori again. The two girls flickered back and forth for several seconds, Dori always looking calmly intent. The human Dorothy had the same expression, but tears began to run down her cheeks.
Suddenly, a third girl - human, not android -- appeared in the progression. Younger and smaller than the other two, she was still clearly a Wayneright. She had long blonde hair and wore only a pale yellow nightgown. She had the same intent fixity of gaze as the other two. Tears coursed down her cheeks, but she was smiling fondly at Gordon as she held his hands. A breeze that Beck could not feel ruffled her hair and nightgown. Beck would gladly have died for her.
Then, suddenly all three girls were there at the same time. Turning from Gordon, they looked at each other, quite calmly. They nodded.
The two human girls vanished. Dori, quite unmoved, said, "Yes, grandfather, we trust you." She bent and kissed the old man on the cheek.
Beck awoke. Dori was sleeping on the bed beside him. He had never seen her sleep before. Alarmed, he shook her gently.
"Jason," she said, opening her eyes and smiling, "I had the strangest dream."
* * *
Angel was in a good mood, and in fact was walking arm in arm with both Roger and Dorothy as they walked to the elevator that would take them to Big Venus. She was wearing her best business suit - she had explained that she always felt better if she was dressed up for Big Venus. It made her more confident. She had coveralls and such on board Big Venus if she needed to do any grubby work.
They found the elevator without difficulty and pressed the button. Dorothy asked, "Did we ride this up after last time? I don't remember that?"
"No," said Angel," Big Venus projected us to where we found ourselves. I haven't asked her about that, but she probably wasn't sure we ought to let you two nose around inside her, and of course I was a wreck by that point."
The elevator arrived and they got in. Angel pulled the lever that started it down.
"Projected us? How is that done?" asked Dorothy.
"Moving things is pretty easy with reality technology," said Angel. "The whole point of reality technology is that it breaks the chain between cause an effect. Just moving people from where they are to where they ought to be is easy. Expensive, though. Every time you do it, the world's a little less real. That's why it's best if we get to Big Venus the old-fashioned way. I almost didn't make it last time. You should have seen what everything looked like. Or didn't look like. Big Venus' hangar was just a grid on the floor, reaching out to infinity. If I'd had any idea what was happening, it would have scared me to death."
"What did it mean?" asked Dorothy.
Roger had said nothing for a long time. He was pleased that Dorothy and Angel were getting along. Because Dorothy generally spoke little and considered what she was going to say first, there was always a tendency to talk for her. He was trying to break himself of this.
"It meant that things were going to hell in a handbasket, and fast. The difference between what was real and what wasn't was so thin that I was seeing mostly things that weren't there. The grid should have scared the hell out of me, but I didn't know what it meant. It's not supposed to happen at all."
"But we saw it in the sky, and on the ground, too, that day," said Roger, and then mentally cursed himself as Dorothy shut her mouth without having said a word.
Angel paled. "You did? Damn it!" She stamped her foot. "That's not supposed to be real! It just supposed to show up on the monitors in Big Venus when we're deciding where to put things!" She pounded the wall of the elevator with her fist. "Damn!"
"What does it mean?" asked Dorothy.
Angel calmed herself down. "It means that reality technology is garbage. Well, we all knew that. Things take on a life of its own, by accident. Like that horrible loop that Sybil and Dan are stuck in. My god, when Dan's Sybil died in prison, you'd think it would have let him off the hook. But another one showed up, and he had to shoot her. And ever since the loop started, he's had to be a guy in uniform, not …" she paused. "Is that right?" She shook her head, dismissing the thought. "And she's had to be a beautiful terrorist."
Angel stared into space for a moment, then asked, "How long did the grid last?"
Dorothy replied, "Perhaps as long as an hour."
Angel shook her head. "That's bad. You've seen what the reality cannon does. One world to the next in the blink of an eye. Something's wrong. Big Venus wasn't even active that long. It's taken on a life of its own. And it probably isn't just for show. It's as if we've run out of underlying reality and are down to blankness." She thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. "I'll ask Gordon the next time I see him."
The elevator bell chimed, and the door opened. "Here we are."
They looked around. It was a hemispherical chamber, brilliantly illuminated, with Big Venus standing in a gantry. Angel smiled up at her, suddenly quite cheerful. "Hey, kid. You're looking good."
"She looks a lot like Big O," said Roger.
"Same basic model. They've both been modified over time. Roger, I've always meant to ask you. Big Venus is black and pink, and those are my colors. Big O is black and orange, but you only use black. Where's the orange?"
Roger indicated Dorothy. "Once you've got a beautiful redhead, any other use of the color is superfluous."
Angel rolled her eyes.
They entered Big Venus through the hatchway in the right foot, and went up to the cockpit first. Angel sat down in the command chair and checked out some systems. "There we are, see? Ambient reality level, 6.3. It was 6.1 before the fight, dropped to 6.0 after the reality cannon fired twice, and bumped up to 6.3 when Leviathan 14 hit Big Lazarus."
Dorothy asked, "What does that mean?"
"The ambient level is supposed to be 100. If it falls below much below five, it's no longer self-sustaining, and it collapses. The lower it falls, the harder it is to regenerate."
Roger asked, "What was it that Alex did to make the reality field collapse last time?"
Angel was surprised. "Alex? Nothing. He was reacting to it. He always was sensitive that way, almost as much as Gordon, but without the other skills. No, the reality waveform runs on for a while - thirty, forty, fifty years - then collapses of its own accord. The main function of Big Venus is to regenerate it. All the equipment that lets us change things around was basically an afterthought. No, the reality level pokes along at a more or less steady level, then suddenly plunges over the course of a few months. If we didn't regenerate it, the world would end."
"How is do you do it?" asked Dorothy "You can't possibly have a template for the whole world in here."
"Oh, nothing like that. Like I said, we regenerate the waveform. Basically, we time-delay and amplify it, so we keep the world pretty much the way it was before the wheels fell off. Last time, I spooled it back about eight hours to undo Big Fau's damage, but I let people's memories of the missing eight hours remain. Memories and physical stuff are kept in different channels, so that's no problem. But we don't really analyze the whole world, any more than a record player analyzes a symphony. We just record the waveform and play it back with amplification."
* * *
Beck asked, "Who was that girl?"
Dori smiled. "Did you like her?"
Beck cringed a little, but answered truthfully. "Love at first sight."
"That was the human Dori."
"What?" asked Beck, astonished.
"I made her up. I asked myself, what if I really were Dorothy's kid sister, and not Dorothy herself? So I made up a me who really was younger than Dorothy, and didn't share Dorothy's drive to abandon her childhood and grow up just as fast as she possibly could."
"She's wonderful," said Beck, smiling.
"I'm glad you like her. I wanted her to be the sort of girl you'd have fallen in love with, back then, in spite of my being so young."
"I'd have waited for you," vowed Beck.
"And Angel would have helped make the hours go by faster," said Dori, kissing him. "But you didn't have to. We Waynerights know what we want, and under our veneer of respectability, we're terribly unconventional. Poor father nearly had a stroke."
* * *
Angel stood up. "Come on. Let's go down to the editing room."
She took them down a level, to where the control room was. Off to one side was another, similar room, also equipped with banks of color monitors. "This is the editing room. If we only regenerated the waveforms, we wouldn't need this. But we can tack changes on top, too. Mostly, we need to do these in advance. A few things I can do on the fly. The degree of memory loss is just a dial. This," she brought up a display, "is the friends and foes Megadeus list. The foes get scattered to the four winds, if Big Venus knows where they are. That's in both time and space. The friends are gathered in Paradigm in the present. We need to update the lists."
Angel sat back, and names appeared unbidden at the bottom of each list. For "friends," Big Alpha and Leviathan 14 were added to a list of perhaps thirty Megadeuses. On "foes," Big Ramses and Big Lazarus were added.
"That's right," said Angel to Big Venus. "Save that. I feel bad about Big Lazarus, though. He's fundamentally okay, of we can get rid of the cyborg."
"What about Big Chi?" asked Dorothy.
"Don't know enough about him. He's on his own."
"Oh, and Big Venus? We'd better take Big Fau off the 'friends' list. Don't put him on 'enemies,' though. I'm not sure Alex is permanently crazy." After a long pause, she added, "Take Big Duo off, too." Roger saw that her eyes were brimming with tears.
She suddenly grabbed her purse and took out her cigarettes and lighter. She lit a cigarette and began smoking, scowling all the while.
"Damn Alex, anyway! God, how I hated him! And yet, now I've got my memories back, I think I'm going to have to let that go." She smoked discontentedly for a while.
"We screwed up last time," she explained. "Somehow we made the memory loss a lot more profound than we wanted to, and everything went wrong because of it. Gordon remembered his domes, but forgot about the fancy glassy stuff that would act as shielding and let the fortunate ones get their memories back faster than the peasantry. Wayneright didn't remember that his memories and notes were stashed underground. I didn't remember a damned thing. Not that I was there or anything. I projected myself forward in time. Didn't want to be part of the chaos in the beginning. I always feel so guilty! But somehow my own memories were blanked just as completely as everyone else's. It's a miracle that Gordon and Wayneright remembered as much as they did, really. And I can hardly blame Alex for being totally screwed up when no one remembered enough to guide him properly." She ground her half-smoked cigarette savagely in the ashtray. "But he's still a jerk."
* * *
Tony pulled into a parking space behind the specialty machine shop. He listened critically to the engine for a moment before switching it off. He had installed a high-performance cam, and now it had a rough idle. He felt a little guilty that he loved the sound, since it was really a fault, when you thought about it. But it still sounded exciting. Powerful.
He walked around the car before going into the shop. He still wasn't used to the new paint job. Green, not too dark - the traditional sporting green was too dark for the permanently overcast skies outside the domes. The belt-driven supercharger required an ugly hump in the new hood. That was another thing that Tony liked while feeling vaguely that he shouldn't. Uglying up the lines of a car was a flaw, wasn't it? But it implied power and speed even when the engine was switched off.
It must be a slow day. Besides old Fennel's pickup truck, there was just one other car in the lot, a beat-up four-door sedan with an amazing amount of mud on the sides.
Tony went in. Fennel's place was big. He called it a machine shop, but he did a lot of welding and heat-treating of exotic alloys. Tony was checking in the progress of some spare ankle joints that Beck was having made for Big B. These enormous pieces of heat-treated stainless steel could be made nowhere else in Paradigm.
The other customer was just leaving. Tony almost failed to look at the man's face, since Fennel's shop always rewarded a look around. But he saw him out of the corner of his eye, then turned for a closer look. His jaw dropped with shock. It was Jones - the Dominus of Big Lazarus!
Jones missed Tony's reaction and walked out the door. Tony stood still for a second, then turned to ask Fennel where the phone was. His mouth was so dry he couldn't speak. Well, that settled that! He raced out the door. Jones was just backing out of his parking space. Tony considered trying to force his way into the car with him, but it seemed impractical. He ran to his own car. He'd follow Jones to wherever he was going, then phone in.
His engine roared into life. Tony reminded himself that he was driving discreetly; he didn't want to draw Jones' attention by roaring up behind him or tailgating. So he closed the two-block lead slowly and tried not to fret when a car got between him and Jones.
Jones took a turn, and then another, and then a third, in rapid succession. Then, after almost stopping at a red light, he blew through it with a squeal of tires. Tony had been spotted!
Cursing, Tony put his foot down and roared through the intersection, almost colliding with a furniture truck. In an instant he was on Jones' tail. Jones blew through another red light, almost hitting a station wagon. Tony, expecting this, slid through the traffic with ease. A little warning and superior acceleration helped. Next, Jones went the wrong way up a busy one-way street, dodging traffic and spending a good part of one block on the sidewalk, where he hit one woman, pitching her through a plate-glass window. Tony stayed on his tail.
It became clear that Tony not only had the better car, but he was the better driver. Jones got back into traffic in the right direction and took Tony off on a low-speed chase for about ten blocks. At one point a panel van somehow managed to get between the two cars, and with this to slow Tony down, Jones took off like a rabbit, made a right-hand turn, and disappeared momentarily.
When Tony caught sight of the car again, it was empty; abandoned in the middle of the road in front of a fancy hotel. Tony drove his car up onto the sidewalk, where it would be safe, and raced inside.
"Which way did he go?" he shouted to the doorman.
"The guy who was running!"
"He got into the elevator going up, sir."
What the hell? That didn't make any sense! Tony walked over to the elevator, trying to figure out his next move. He pressed the 'UP' button and waited.
About a minute later, he heard a gunshot outside. He turned around, and there was Jones, stepping over the body of a policeman, getting back into his car! Tony ran out to his own car, and the chase was on again. Jones had committed murder for a three-block lead.
A few blocks later, Jones turned his lead into a vanishing act. Where was his car?
There! Right next to the trolley station. And one of the electric commuter trains was just pulling in. Tony didn't see Jones, but he knew he must be there. He pulled over and ran to the platform. He caught a glimpse of Jones getting on at the middle of the train. The back was closer, so Tony got on there. He didn't think he had been spotted.
Tony managed to move two cars forward before the train started moving. Everyone else sat down, so Tony felt terribly exposed. Jones was probably two cars ahead. What to do? Jones was armed; Tony was not.
He eyed the emergency brake cord. Oh, what the hell. He pulled it.
With a screech of brakes, the trolley came to a halt. This was on an elevated section of the line; it would be hard for Jones to disappear.
There he went! He was racing down the track, back the way he had come. They were only about a quarter of a mile from the station, so he'd soon retrieve his car. Tony manhandled the door open and took off in pursuit. He was surprised to see that he started gaining on Jones immediately. Tony didn't think of himself as an athlete, but he tried to keep himself fit. It was sure paying off today!
Jones did not look back. He slowed to a jog but pressed on determinedly. Tony closed the gap to a dozen feet, then surged forward and tacked Jones, both arms around the man's legs.
Jones struggled and punched Tony in the head. They rolled to the edge of the track and then off, falling a dozen feet into a heap of old trash. Tony let go to break his fall, and by the time he got to his feet, Jones was staggering in the direction of the waterfront, two blocks away. Reaching the edge of this vacant lot, he pulled out his pistol and started firing at Tony, who ducked behind a rusty old oil tank.
After the shots had stopped for a while and Tony had some of his breath back, he peeked around the oil tank. Jones was jogging down to the marina, where a number of boats were tied up. Tony got up and followed.
Jones found a small motorboat that looked pretty fast, or at least looked as if it once had been fast. He jumped in and started the engine. It caught, belched smoke, and died. This process was repeated twice more until it kept running. Jones cast off and was on his way. The boat was indeed fast.
Tony cast his eye over the other choices. He'd piloted motorboats a few times, but what he really knew was engines. There! That much larger boat - the ostentatiously ugly and decrepit one. The block of a 2,000 horsepower racing engine sat rusting on the dock next to it!
He jumped on board and started the twin engines, and was rewarded by a thrilling bass roar. Casting off, he opened the throttles wide, and in no time was planing over the harbor, with the boat leaving the water entirely when it crossed the wakes of other vessels. Now this was more like it! This must be a smuggling craft of some kind.
Jones was attempting to cross the harbor to a marina on the far side of the Hudson. Well, he wasn't going to make it. Tony was closing fast. He looked around for a life jacket and put it on. After he rammed Jones, he wasn't sure there were going to be any boats left to go home in.
Tony smiled. This was exhilarating! Too bad no one was here to see this. There were several women he would dearly love to impress with today's work. He hoped he'd live, so he could at least tell them about it.
His first attempt to ram was not successful. Jones swerved violently before the impact and fired a couple of shots. Tony ducked and lost the chance to correct his course and ram Jones anyway. Passing Jones, he put the boat into a tight turn and tried again.
The two boats were heading straight towards each other this time. They closed so fast that Tony had almost no chance to actually ram the zigzagging Jones, who blew past him without even bothering to fire a shot.
And then they ran out of river. Jones piloted his craft at full speed into the busy marina on the Jersey shore. This was also part of Paradigm City. Skyscrapers and domes towered up in the background. Jones cut the engine and deftly managed to jump ashore when his boat smashed into the breakwater. Tony couldn't bear to mistreat his boat this way, and reversed his engines first, then killed them as the boat came into one of the docks, hitting it, if not softly, then at least with little enough force that the hull wasn't smashed in.
He looked around. Jones was running up the ramp towards the street. Tony dashed off in pursuit.
This was a pretty fancy part of town, with boutiques and seafood restaurants. The closest one had valet parking. Jones walked up to the attendant, displayed his pistol, took the most recently arrived car and drove off in it.
Tony ran out to the curb and looked around for something in which to pursue. Nothing presented itself for a moment, then a little pink sports car appeared in his field of view. A convertible, with its top down. He waved to it frantically, and the driver accelerated towards him and then stopped with a screech of brakes.
"Ahoy there, matey!" said Angel cheerfully. "What's with the life jacket?"
Tony got in. "Follow that car!" He started to unbuckle the life jacket.
Angel got underway with a squeal of tires. As she got up to speed, she asked, "Which car?"
"See the black sedan two blocks ahead? That's the one."
"What's the occasion?"
"It's being driven by the Dominus of Big Lazarus." Tony tossed the life jacket into the small luggage area behind the seat, and was unprepared for the sudden burst of acceleration and sharp swerves as Angel started pursuing in earnest.
"You chased him across the river?"
"I ran into him at a machine shop. It started out as a car chase, but he couldn't shake me. I almost had him at one point! I tackled him on the elevated railway bridge! But after we fell off, he got away."
Angel eyed him sidelong momentarily. "Well, well. Unexpected depths," she said, with her provocative smile. She jammed down the crystal of her watch with her thumb. "Everybody listen up. I'm in pursuit of the Dominus of Big Lazarus." She gave details of the car she was chasing and the road they were on.
Jones suddenly made a sharp right-hand turn, putting his big sedan into a clumsy four-wheel drift and barely managing not to spin out of control. Angel followed with a beautifully controlled four-wheel drift of her own.
Tony found himself pressed up against Angel by the force of the turn. The unexpected contact excited him far more than he would have expected. He shifted back to his own place and complained, "Don't sports cars have bucket seats?"
"I hate 'em," said Angel. "My dates get friendlier with the emergency brake than they do with me. There's seatbelts there, somewhere."
Jones tried his last-minute turn trick again, this time at a freeway onramp. Angel laughed. "Not this time, sonny boy," she said. She followed him smoothly.
After pursuing for a while, she said, "Are you a good shot, Tony?"
She sighed. "I'm a great shot, but I can never shoot actual people. I've tried and tried." She used her watch again and reported their position.
Jones was going very fast, weaving in and out of traffic like a maniac. Angel, a better driver and with a car with a high-performance suspension, followed with more flair. Many of the cars Jones nearly collided with performed violent evasive maneuvers of their own, leaving confusion and near-collisions in his wake. Angel was in more danger than Jones was.
"God, this is exciting," she said. She reached over and squeezed Tony's knee. "Don't you think?"
Tony's throat was dry again. "Yes," he croaked.
"Hold onto your hat," said Angel. Jones had gone off the left-hand lane and was in the wide median strip, which was dirt with the occasional tuft of grass. He was instantly obscured by a cloud of dust.
Angel pulled over onto the left-hand shoulder and slowed, but did not leave the road.
"There he goes!" shouted Tony. Jones had crossed the four busy oncoming lanes diagonally, bumped down the embankment, and entered a surface street. Through some miracle, the cars that swerved or braked to avoid Jones didn't collide with one another. Angel waited for a gap in traffic, swearing under her breath. Traffic was heavy, and she had to wait a long time. When they reached the surface streets, there was sign of Jones.
"We lost him," said Tony sadly.
Angel stopped the car and turned off the engine. She found her purse, opened it, shook out a cigarette, and tried to light it. Her hands were shaking. She couldn't get the lighter to work.
Tony took it from her gently, flicked it into flame, and held it to her trembling cigarette. His hands were shaking too, a little. She took one drag, let out the smoke, then threw the cigarette away. A moment later, she was in his arms, kissing him passionately.
Some time later, when they came up for air, Angel said, "Come on. There's a motel right down the street."
She started her car on the second try. Tony tried to summon the will to protest, but was having trouble remembering why he should.
As they got underway, Angel's watch beeped. She swore so violently that Tony blushed. "Well?" she snapped.
Dastun's face appeared on the watch. "Are you still in contact with the suspect, Angel? We've lost him."
"We lost him too, Dan."
"Don't worry, Angel. We'll get him yet. Everybody's been alerted." The watch went dark.
Angel pulled over and pulled out another cigarette. "That really spoils the mood," she complained. "And the damned watch tells him exactly where I am, and he's got good maps." She smoked in silence for a while, then smiled and said, "Some other time, okay, Tony?"
"Yeah," he said shakily.
She started the car and they headed home.
* * *
Two hours later, Dastun summoned Tony into the police office on the ground floor of the mansion. "Have a seat," he said. Tony sat down guiltily.
"That was great work you did on the chase. Not your fault that Angel lost him. But he got away, and it's down to ordinary police work." He looked up at Tony, who was feeling very uncomfortable. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," said Tony weakly.
"Don't feel bad if you're a little shaky," said Dastun kindly. "You probably had enough adrenaline to make a Megadeus tap dance. Anyway, we need to follow up the back trail. We've already squeezed that one machine shop dry, but we want to check up everywhere in town that Jones might be having work done. You can probably give me names that we don't have." He looked at Tony sternly. "Don't imagine that you should shield any of these shops. We're trying to save the world here."
This was followed by a tedious session, where Tony first named all the shops he could think of off the top of his head, then he and Dastun went through the yellow pages to jog Tony's memory. Then Dastun read off names of people he knew of in the clandestine manufacturing business, in the hope that it would cause Tony to remember where they had moved on to, or come from. This added a few more names.
Sorenson started typing up the handwritten list. Clerks would double-check the addresses, many of which were incomplete, and divide the list by precinct. They already had copies of the police sketch of Jones. Within a few hours, everyplace on the list would be turned upside down by the police.
Angel walked in, winced at Sorenson's slow, two-fingered typing, and took over. She caught Tony's eye, smiled at him, and gave him a wink. Tony could feel himself blushing. As she typed, he tried to decode the smile and the wink. Other than indicating that she was neither sorry nor embarrassed, he couldn't figure it out. Was it a promise of more to come? An acknowledgement of a shared secret? A friendly hello? A few minutes later, Angel handed him the typescript. He pointed out a few errors, and she corrected them. Finished, she handed the pages to Sorenson, then gave Dastun a meaningful look, and in her teasing, provocative way asked, "Aren't you off-duty yet?"
Dastun raised an eyebrow, and Angel smiled at him. He smiled back. Tony beat a hasty retreat.
* * *
The New Dominus was gloomy. The police had seemingly interviewed everyone in the city who knew how to use a welding torch or a milling machine, and they had already compromised a number of his operations. At this rate, the police would backtrack them all the way to their base in no time.
He reported this to the Old Dominus, who raged at him for a while, then suddenly became icy. "We will advance our schedule," grated the voice over the speakers. "We will strike them before Big B is back in commission."
* * *
Major Smith entered his apartment. He hadn't been home for almost a week. It was a beautiful July day, sunny but not too hot. Dorothy was there. He held her tight and said, "I missed you."
Dorothy was silent for a long time, then she gazed into his face with her violet eyes and said, "How are we doing, Roger?"
"It's bad," sighed Roger. "They keep hitting us over and over. Alex is dead. Big Fau got taken to pieces. Seebach is dead." Roger couldn't get the image out of his mind. Seebach had burned to death inside the cockpit of Big Duo. Roger had seen it all on his video screen. It had been horrible. "It's down to me and Jason now."
"And Angel," she added.
"Yeah." They both knew about Big Venus.
The enemy had done a good job of recruiting, and had hit them with a bewildering variety of weapons in a short period of time. Just yesterday, Roger had nearly been killed by some kind of three-headed creature with an electrical attack. They had found a surprising number of crazed Megadeuses. And they'd acquired some heavy artillery and were shelling the city for good measure.
He kissed her, and then the phone rang. Cursing, he picked it up. "Smith."
He listened for a moment, and slammed the receiver down.
"I'll go help father."
He kissed her one last time. For a moment, he looked as if he were going to say something, but instead he turned and ran for his car.
The sound of shellfire increased in the distance, and sirens were beginning to wail. The sky was dominated by an enormous grid of girders and lights. It had been there since yesterday. No one seemed to know what it portended.
She watched him go.
* * *
Roger awoke to the sound of shellfire. "What the hell?"
Norman was in the doorway. "Master Roger, it seems that someone is shelling the city from the edge of the wasteland."
Roger smiled. "Well, we'll just have to go and do something about that. How's Big B?"
"Fully operational. All that talk about Big B's ankle joint being irreparable was a ruse. Mr. Beck will be underway in a few minutes."
"Have you gotten word to Big Alpha?"
"He is over an hour away, but will respond. I have not been able to contact Leviathan 14 or Big Duo."
Roger began to dress. "Where's Dorothy?"
"She was having a word with General Dastun."
"Good. We should all be really careful. It's going to be a trap. We need to take it nice and slow."
* * *
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY
"Big B! Action!" shouted Beck. Big B walked out of his hangar. He was in perfect fighting trim, or a little more so. Beck hoped his surprise would be worth all the effort. He turned to Dori and grinned. "What do you think, Dori?"
"It's a trap, Jason."
"It always is. We'll be extra careful."
* * *
The New Dominus was receiving a radio report. The voice of his informer said, "They're moving slowly and coordinating with the Military Police."
There was a creaking sound behind him. Something about it chilled the New Dominus to the marrow. He looked behind him, and the Old Dominus, his dead body strapped to his cross of steel I-beams, had raised his head. His blazing eyes glared at the New Dominus, who stared back in shock and horror. Then the Old Dominus spoke.
"Fire the reality cannon!" he said in a harsh, creaking whisper. "Fire it and keep firing it! Roger Smith will abandon caution and will rush in to stop us!"
"But the world might end."
"What good is the world to us, if we do not rule it? Fire the cannon!"
The New Dominus began to charge his terrible weapon.