The Love of a Good Android
by "A Clockwork Tomato"
Author's Note: This story is the third and final chapter of "Crime Pays: A Big O Love Story," set shortly after the action in Big O Season 2, or, to put it another way, as a parallel narrative to my Original Big O Season 3.
Jason Beck was nervous, irritable. It was almost time to pick up the ransom for the kitten they had kidnapped—okay, catnapped—last night. The proud owners, among the wealthiest people in Paradigm City, were desperate to get their rare, almost extinct pet back unharmed. Price was no object. They had stopped haggling when they'd talked Beck down to a quarter of a million dollars. He'd expected to settle for less. A lot less.
That part was all right. The problem was Dori, his girlfriend. R. Dori Wayneright was an android. Yes, her body was a mechanical marvel, part of same batch that had produced her sisters R. Dorothy Wayneright and the dead R.D., and yes, she had an electronic brain. But her brain was based on a 41-year-old mind recording of a girl named Dorothy Wayneright, who had been just eighteen at the time. This meant that Dori was as human as anybody. Never mind all the titanium and electronics inside her. She had real emotions.
And Beck was breaking her heart right now, he just knew it. She'd fallen desperately in love with the little gray kitten she'd stolen for Beck last night. She had named the kitten "Pero" and spent the intervening hours either playing with him or petting him as he slept in her lap. And now she had to give him up.
Beck was a career criminal. In many ways he was callous, hardened, and uncompromising, but not where Dori was concerned. If you scratched Dori, Beck bled. And in her brief career as an android—he'd only activated her a few weeks ago—most of her painful experiences were his fault. This wasn't surprising. In addition to his unsuitable background, even Beck's friends agreed that he was most aggravating man alive. He was high-strung to the point of twitchiness, self-aggrandizing, vain, touchy, and obsessive.
He didn't deserve Dori. That he had her at all was a miracle—a series of miracles, really. Just stealing her unactivated body and the lab notes to bring her fully to life was a miracle. Acquiring his Megadeus, Big B, was another. Was this the hand of fate? Or was it just a cruel delusion, with his plans likely to come crashing down at any moment?
No, he didn't deserve Dori. Not yet. But Beck had a plan. Beck always had a plan. He'd redeem himself; then he'd deserve her. He was almost certain of it. Soon. But not if he kept screwing up!
Pero was asleep in her lap now. She was petting him gently and humming a tune to herself. Interrupting this scene of innocent happiness was going to be hard. Beck hesitated. He could crack a safe in the middle of the night or rob a bank by day without a flicker of anxiety. This was just as well, since he planned on doing both in the next twenty-four hours. But this was different. Summoning his nerve, he walked over to where she was sitting. He said gently, "Dori, honey, it's time to leave."
Without looking at him, she said quietly, "It's interesting. I didn't know him for very long at all, but I'm glad I met him."
"I'm sorry, Dori."
She nodded. After a moment she stood up slowly, cradling the kitten in her arms. She turned to face him. She looked unhappy, but said only, "Let's get Pero back to his owners. He misses them."
"Yes. He told me." She started walking towards the car. "Jason?"
"I'm glad you're giving up your life of crime."
Beck felt a flash of anger at this indirect criticism, followed by relief. "Me, too," he said. It was about the mildest thing she could have said, under the circumstances. "Soon. Real soon."
They got into the car, a nondescript sedan, neither new nor old, with heavily tinted glass.
Roger Smith, Beck's nemesis, had the world's fanciest car, replete with armor, missiles, machine guns, remote driving capability, and, according to the auto customizers Beck had befriended, a switch that caused both seats to fold into a bed.
Beck's cars had none of these things. Though Beck was the world's biggest show-off, he'd spent a lot of his recent prison time thinking, and he'd concluded that sometimes it paid to advertise, while the rest of the time it was good to be unnoticed, invisible. This had been reinforced by the grandiose and ultimately fatal antics of Alan Gabriel and Alex Rosewater. So Beck's current cars were modified only slightly: tinted glass, high-performance suspension, and the most powerful engine he could find that still sounded like a stock engine. He'd always laughed at undercover cops with racing cams on their unmarked cars. They wouldn't fool a child; they hadn't fooled him when he was a child, back when lookout duty was his main task. That and wriggling through spaces no adult could manage. The bed was the sole modification to Roger's car that Beck envied.
While Roger Smith's car had an elaborate anti-theft system, Beck always kept the key in the ignition. He'd once almost been caught after a bank robbery when his keys went astray when he switched disguises. Sure, he'd broken the world hot-wiring record and escaped, but it had been a near thing. After that, he always left one key in the ignition and another in his pocket.
True, you could have your getaway car stolen at the worst possible moment, but that was the lesser risk. And having a car stolen at any other time? That was just a nuisance. His cars were nothing special, easily replaced, and Beck had several, using them in rotation.
* * *
Dori was in the passenger seat, looking straight ahead and sitting with perfect posture as Beck drove them back from the handoff. They were in the suburbs in the north of the city, an area outside the domes but not abandoned; perhaps even thriving in a small way.
The handoff had gone smoothly. Dori had found it hard to let Pero go, very hard, but it was necessary. She hoped she'd always do what was necessary. She'd put Pero into his owner's arms personally. That was important, far more important than the suitcase full of money on the back seat.
She knew Beck was worried about her. He'd broken his long-standing rule about not involving girlfriends in his crimes, and he regretted it. Crime was hard on her. It was almost unbearable when she saw the victims face to face. She felt the urge to resent this, to blame it on Beck, but that wouldn't do. Instead, she resolved that, barring some emergency, this was her last crime. It would be better for both of them.
Beck glanced at her for the fourteenth time. She'd told him she was all right three times already, but he wasn't satisfied. Probably because she'd have said the same thing if she weren't all right. She thought about this, then made her second resolution. No more hiding anything from Beck.
"Jason," she said, "I've decided to retire from my life of crime."
"Well, we both have," he said.
"What? I still need to do a few more jobs!"
She watched him sidelong as he considered, then he grinned his crooked grin and said, "Anything you say, Dori."
She relaxed, smiling faintly. Everything was going to be all right.
They rounded a corner, then Beck slammed on the brakes. Dori braced both hands on the dashboard to avoid being hurled through the windshield. Beck braced himself against the steering wheel. Seat belts weren't standard equipment in Paradigm City, and Beck hadn't installed any.
Ahead, far too close, two giant robots were battling each other. The nearest one was Big O, the black Megadeus piloted by Beck's nemesis, Roger Smith. Dori didn't recognize the other one. She took her hands off the metal dashboard, which now had two hand-sized dents.
Beck hastily turned the car around and started racing away from the fracas. Dori turned around in her seat to watch the battle.
Dori suddenly said, "Big Lazarus." The name had appeared in her mind.
Beck glanced nervously at her. As the world's greatest living expert in Class M androids, he knew she was somewhat telepathic with Megadeuses—it was part of her function—and this made her vulnerable. Given the slightest chance, a Megadeus would take her over. They could sense her a mile away. Normally. But Dori was wearing the stealth device he'd invented, making her invisible to Megadeuses.
Dori said, "Big Lazarus hasn't detected me. He has powerful weapons. I'm worried about Dorothy."
Dorothy was Roger Smith's girlfriend and was probably helping him pilot Big O right now, immune to Big Lazarus' influence through Big O's shielding and moral support. Dori was on fire to meet them: Dorothy, Roger, and Big O, too. But not in the middle of a battle!
Beck grinned and said, "Well, I can't have my Dori all worried." He raised his watch close to his mouth. "Big B! It's showtime!" He continued driving away from the battle.
Behind them, the battle continued. There was an enormous explosion. Dori reported, "Jason, the explosion damaged the All-Alloys machine shop."
"Damn it to hell!" Beck fumed. "They do good work!"
"I hope everyone's all right."
Behind them, a glow appeared, soon accompanied by a vast, continuous roaring. The beam became gradually brighter until even Dori's android eyes couldn't look at it.
"Fusion beam, I think," she reported eventually. "And Big O is using a force screen." After a pause she added, "Big B will arrive in three minutes."
"We're gonna be too late," said Beck grimly. He had a bad feeling about this.
"Keep trying, Jason."
"Yeah." They was almost to the rendezvous point.
The roar and brilliance of the fusion beam ceased. The metallic thud and din of robot battle resumed. Dori got a faint impression of a terrifying weapon inside Big Lazarus' chest, even worse than the fusion beam, but fortunately in need of repairs.
Before the three minutes were up, the battle sounds ceased, and Dori got a glimpse of Big Lazarus in the distance, limping away from the battle. He was missing an arm and glowing red-hot in places. She sensed that his core memory had received minor damage and might shut itself down soon, though not yet. He marched into the river and disappeared in an enormous cloud of steam.
Beck spoke to his watch. "Return to quarters, Big B." He pulled over, stretched, and sighed. "What now, Dori?"
"Let's help dig out the survivors."
Beck paused, then said, "We're too damned distinctive. I have a hat and a pair of blue coveralls in the trunk, but too many people know R. Dorothy Wayneright when they see her, especially in that getup."
"I'll take off the jabot and cuffs. That and my blonde hair should be enough. Everyone will be busy."
"Yeah, alright," said Beck without enthusiasm. He put the car in gear and raced to the scene of destruction.
They arrived and got to work. No ambulances or fire trucks had arrived yet; not even sirens in the distance.
Beck's hard-won experience with collapsed structures came in handy, though his experience was mostly with tunnels into banks or out of prisons. He assisted work that extricated several people from the debris that had once been All-Alloys Machining. They could recognize him if they liked: he was a customer. But they didn't. They had their own troubles, like Dori said.
Several buildings in the area were on fire, so Dori took surreptitious advantage of her superhuman strength, her heat resistance, and the fact that she didn't need to breathe. She assisted rescues that would not have succeeded without her. Too bad about the dress, though. Ripped and scorched, its remnants were almost torn from her body when she took a direct hit from an ill-aimed fire hose. Emergency services had finally arrived.
Beck appeared beside her and murmured, "Time to skedaddle. At least half a dozen cops who know me are here now."
Dori felt her Wayneright stubbornness take hold of her, leaving her mutinous, wordless. There was more to be done here! She glared at Beck, then noticed that he had dialed down his intensity. Normally larger than life, attracting all eyes, he had somehow made himself inconspicuous, uninteresting, almost invisible. She'd never seen this before. The situation must be serious! Her gaze softened. She nodded and they meandered back to the car. The suitcase with the money was still on the back seat. They drove off sedately.
* * *
After arriving home before noon, Beck drove off for a quick visit to Precision Fabricators. They were making some new assemblies for Big B, and Beck checked their progress frequently.
Dori stayed behind and mulled her clothing options. Her dress was ruined and she had little other clothing, just the black leather catsuit, really. It was delightfully sexy and had the most amazing effect on Beck, but it was hardly the sort of outfit she wanted to wear on a shopping trip.
Dori mourned the destruction of her black dress. It had been beautiful, perfectly tailored, and had an astronomical price tag. Beck had loved it. It hurt to see the tattered, soiled rags it had become.
Clad in her underwear, Dori looked without much hope through the few articles of women's clothing that had accumulated in Beck's closet, abandoned or stashed there by old girlfriends. More accurately, it had accumulated in a series of Beck's closets, since he moved frequently. The thought of his old girlfriends made her jealous in a way she rather enjoyed, since it made her feel entirely human. Apparently, all the women except one were long gone, no longer on speaking terms with Beck. As she expected, all the clothing was too large for her.
She took out the pink skirt suit that Angel had left behind. She removed the dry-cleaner's bag and laid the suit out on the bed. Of course, it was far too large for her. Angel was one of those big, beautiful, large-breasted blondes, while Dori was petite. But the suit rewarded close examination. In theory, it was serious professional attire for the stylish businesswoman, but with little touches here and there to subliminally shift the viewer's mind away from business. It was a work of art. Not to mention the hidden pockets, some of which still held concealed gadgets, including lock picks and a tiny hacksaw blade.
Dori sighed. She wanted to meet Angel more than anything, even more than Roger and Dorothy. Though she hadn't met any of them yet, she loved them all and missed them terribly. Big O, too. She was glad that Beck had checked with his own Megadeus, Big B, who could monitor Big O in a general sort of way, reporting that everyone made it home safely. That was a relief.
Having found nothing suitable in the closet, Dori remembered seeing a thick mail-order catalog from a Paradigm City department store in the heap of junk mail. Beck hated junk mail and would have thrown it out as fast as it arrived, but Dori, only recently awakened in an unfamiliar Paradigm City, found it educational. But not so educational that she had kept up with it.
She picked up the catalog and leafed through it. It had an excellent selection. She discovered she didn't feel comfortable buying the fancier garments sight-unseen. She wanted to see them with her own eyes, run her hands over the fabric, and try them on first.
Maybe that was just as well. Dori had ruined enough dresses for now. Yes, Beck would replace the black dress a dozen times over without a second thought. He liked pampering and spoiling her. If anything, he'd enjoy the expense. Beck had described the two other outfits he'd seen Dorothy wear, and they, too, were expensive and stylish dresses.
No, Dori told herself. I'm a different Dorothy. She decided that her new wardrobe would be both different and affordable. She'd let Beck spoil her some other time.
Dori knew her measurements by heart. She made her selections and phoned in an order. Just the basics for now. She paid extra to have her order ready for pickup in an hour. She'd have Beck pick it up if convenient, otherwise she'd dispatch a cab to fetch it for her and drop it off at a nearby spot, or maybe the little beach house. It was hard to drag Beck away from his projects, though he enjoyed the beach as much as she did. She'd used a false name for the order, of course, one she had a credit card for. The use of multiple aliases, accounts, and addresses was becoming second nature. Beck had even coached her on altering her voice convincingly, using her android voice box in clever ways. She never used her own voice on the phone unless talking to Beck.
* * *
Beck parked in back of Precision Fabricators, the very best of the small no-questions-asked manufacturers. He walked in the back door and onto the shop floor.
A good fraction of the space was occupied by some new assemblies for Big B: the replacement kneecaps and toe caps. These held secret weapons that would give Big B's enemies the last surprise they ever had, or so Beck hoped.
But Big Lazarus' fusion beam had been a real eye-0pener. Beck had nothing like it for Big B, not even on the drawing board. Nor anything that could remotely defend Big B against such a weapon. Big B was still lightly armed and armored, and Beck's new weapons weren't enough to tip the scales. Not even close. But they'd help! They'd probably save his life someday. Someday soon. Beck was haunted by the fear they wouldn't be ready when he needed them.
Workers were supposed to be swarming all over these assemblies, but none were. Where was everybody?
Furious, he hunted down the chief engineer, Macintyre. Macintyre was leaning over a drafting board in his office.
"Damn it, Macintyre!" snarled Beck. "What the hell are you trying to do to me?"
Macintyre looked up. "Hey, Beck," he said, ignoring Beck's theatrics.
"I'm paying you for three shifts of workmen! They're supposed to be swarming over the work like ants!"
"We have this thing here, Beck," said Macintyre. "It's called lunch. Maybe you've heard of it."
"Don't give me that crap, Macintyre. I'm paying good money for 24/7 work, and I'm not getting it. What are you going to do about it?"
Macintyre pondered. "I'd better talk to the Machinist's Guild, then."
"Talk to them? Talk to them? Just tell them!"
"If you want to give it a try, Beck, go right ahead. Jacobs over there is the man you want."
In fact, men were already streaming onto the shop floor, their lunch break almost over.
Beck strode to Jacobs. "What the hell, Jacobs! I come in here and nobody's working?"
"Everybody gets a lunch break at noon, Beck."
"Not any more you don't. I wanna see people working their tails off all the time"
Jacobs turned to the crowd of workmen who had come up to listen to the argument. "Down tools, guys. We're on strike."
A growl went up from the crowd, halfway between a cheer and a promise of mayhem.
Beck stormed back into Macintyre's office. "Damn it, Macintyre! What are you going to do about this? I need those assemblies finished!"
Macintyre was putting the cover over his calculating machine. "Can't help you, Beck. I'm on strike until the Guild says otherwise. That means Jacobs again." He walked to the door and waved Beck out of his office, then turned off the lights. "He'll call me back when the strike is over."
"Guilds," muttered Beck. "Damn it to hell! What's the world coming to?"
He thought glumly that this wouldn't have happened if Dori had been with him. He was calmer when she was around. Hell, everybody was. He could have acted just the same, but if Dori were with him, somehow the strike wouldn't have happened. It was the damnedest thing! Especially coming from an android. One whose speech seemed almost impaired, sometimes. And who was supposedly identical to her sister Dorothy. Sure, some people found Dorothy captivating, but she had the opposite effect on others.
But Dori had stayed home, saying she had nothing to wear. Damn it! He should have stolen more than one dress from that dressmaker friend of Norman's. It's not like anyone would notice. Dorothy was ruining them so fast these days that Norman was ordering them a half-dozen at a time, throwing the dressmaker's shop into chaos.
Beck shook his head. He wondered about Dorothy, sometimes.
* * *
Dori asked Beck to pick up her order when he checked in from a phone booth, and here he was, the paper-wrapped parcel in his arms and an expression of lively curiosity on his face. Dori was glad to see he hadn't peeked inside. (Or had he? He was clever about such things.) She had told him nothing about her selections, and he was clearly on fire to see what she'd ordered. She considered ordering him out of the room until she was ready to model for him. He'd like that. But she doubted he'd find it worth the wait.
"Don't get your hopes up, Jason," she warned, opening the package. "It's all casual attire."
There were several yellow blouses in different styles, a cute yellow raincoat, socks in various colors, white cotton underwear and bras, a pale yellow sweater, sneakers, deck shoes, and blue jeans. Dori was pleased. It was just what she was hoping for.
Beck withheld judgment. "Well, try 'em on."
So she did. It was a shame that this kind of wardrobe provided so little opportunity for him to help her, though she'd had the foresight to buy bras that hooked in the back. She was soon dressed. These casual clothes felt familiar, as if they'd always part of her wardrobe, all those years ago, along with the dresses. Back when she was a human. They felt good; they felt right. They weren't a disguise at all! They were another side of her, one she'd forgotten. The thought made her happy. She looked at herself in the mirror and turned this way and that. She looked great.
Beck took a step back to look her up and down. "Why deck shoes?" he asked.
"Traction." She weighed almost 300 pounds and had tiny feet.
"And the blue jeans?"
"Ambiguity," she said. He raised an eyebrow and she smiled faintly. "Jason, if you saw a girl dressed just like me, how much ransom would you expect for her?"
He appraised her coldly. It frightened her. Then he smiled and everything was all right. "She could be a rich kid dressing casually, especially if she's a college student, but she could be the daughter of an unemployed plumber. I get it. You could be anybody, and that makes you nobody."
"No one will connect me with my sister, or with you."
Beck asked, "What about the yellow blouse?"
She told him earnestly, "I tried to buy other colors, Jason, I really did. I just couldn't." Jason had always worn yellow, and Big B showed traces of his original paint, yellow with black trim. Dori had thought she could wear any color she pleased. Apparently not. She was grateful that it wasn't all-encompassing. It hadn't been difficult to buy items in other colors if they weren't available in yellow.
Beck put his arms around her and kissed her. "I'm glad I made you a blonde, then."
He gave her his full attention for a moment, then she had to ask, "What's wrong?"
"I mouthed off at Macintyre and now the Guild's on strike."
"You didn't hit him, did you?"
"Naw, I didn't lay a finger on anybody."
Dori nodded. "I can make things right, Jason, if you give me a free hand." She had accompanied him to Precision Fabricators several times and knew everyone there. She respected their work and liked them personally, and they knew it.
One phone call and five minutes later, it'd all been smoothed over. Dori listened with sympathy to Jacobs and agreed with everything he said. He soon himself dropping, unmentioned, the more objectionable demands he and the boys had come up with.
There was only one point of disagreement. Dori said, "You're all doing such fine work, Mr. Jacobs, and the bonus clauses don't really reflect how happy that makes us. Couldn't you double the penalty? I'd feel better."
He agreed at once, of course.
Dori hung up the phone and told Beck, "Jason, they promise the last straggler will be at work in less than an hour."
Beck smiled down at her. "Dori, how did I ever get along without you?"
"I don' t know, Jason. I really don't."
* * *
Beck asked Dori for the fourth time, "Six hours is a long time, Dori. Sure you'll be okay?"
She nodded earnestly. "I'll be fine, Jason."
"We've never been apart for more than an hour and a half, and that felt long to you."
"One hundred and seven minutes," she corrected, then mentally kicked herself. That was the kind of correction a robot would make. Beck noticed such things. He would not be reassured.
R. Dori was an android, of course, with an electronic brain. Her personality was an uneasy mix of the human, the robotic, and elements betwixt and between. Her human personality was based on a forty-year-old recording of the human Dorothy Wayneright, who was barely eighteen at the time. This human personality was supposed to be dominant. In fact, the newly activated android's most important task to stay human, or the integration of her disparate mental parts would fail with disastrous consequences. To promote this, androids were given a profound emotional dependence on a human. Dori had had awakened with a deep love for Beck. She would become distressed if they were separated for too long. This was a fail-safe measure that prevented her robotic parts from taking charge and going off on their own. The logistics of this attachment were why Beck had relaxed his rule about not involving girlfriends in his crimes.
Dori felt almost completely human already. Her robot side never bothered her at all. She was doing so well! She was dependent on Beck, but she stood up to him. Yes, she felt very grown-up these days. She estimated her tolerance at twenty-four hours. Beck's estimate was eight to ten hours, so his plan was to rob two banks and be home within six hours, just to be safe.
The "whirlwind of crime" part didn't bother Dori. Well, not much. Beck knew how to use speed to his advantage. The first robbery was a safecracking job, and when the news of the robbery got out, every bank guard in the city would be thinking of nighttime security, not daylight robbery, so that's what Beck was doing next.
Dori straightened Beck's tie. It was red. Beck was wearing a blue suit, an honest-to-goodness off-the rack blue suit! Amazing. And a white shirt. No yellow anywhere, not even his boxers. She had insisted. Disguises had to be thorough. A stylish fedora hid his yellow curls. She had insisted on that, too.
Dori had ordered Beck's new clothes herself, to spare him the effort of pushing past the compulsion to wear team colors. Dori was fine with wearing yellow most of the time, but had discovered on her second order that she had a free choice when it came to lingerie and was now the proud possessor of a naughty red negligee. And of course she had a semi-free choice of articles that weren't available in yellow, like her black catsuit or her blue jeans.
"You look fine, Mysterious Stranger," she said, as he stared glumly into the full-length mirror. She put an arm around his waist, and after a moment he smiled briefly at her reflection, then became serious, businesslike.
He said, "Remember our contingency plans."
"And I'll be back soon."
"I know. Good luck."
They kissed and he strode out of the apartment without a backward glance, already focused on the work ahead. Without glancing at the clock, Dori knew it was 4:03 AM.
* * *
Dori stared at nothing, her mind blank. It was 6:56 AM. Beck had left two hours and fifty-three minutes ago. She had been fine at first, then had become increasingly sad and fearful.
She combated this with activity. Beck worked off emotions by pacing, complaining loudly and at length, and kicking things across the room. She tried each in turn. Pacing did nothing. Complaining at length proved to be beyond her capabilities. When she tried kicking the metal wastebasket across the room, her foot punched right through it, ruining one of her new deck shoes but leaving her foot unharmed. She switched into a pair of high-top canvas sneakers.
Doing household chores worked best. It kept her in motion while accomplishing something meaningful. Reading was almost useless; her mind wandered too much. Studying the specifications for upgrades to Big B required more concentration than she could muster. Moments of stillness were the worst.
One of her last coherent thoughts was wishing that Big B were here. Big B would comfort her. But since there was a chance that Beck would be followed home, and he didn't want to lead anyone to Big B, the Megadeus was at one of the other hangars. Dori was in this one because it had the shortest travel time from the banks. By coincidence, it was also the one housing their apartment.
She felt vaguely that her current blankness would not last. Either another part of her would take over soon, or her distress would return, stronger than ever.
* * *
Beck worked methodically but quickly, emptying the bank vault of its best assets. All was quiet. He put another sack of cash into the trash can attached to the janitor's cart. He'd put worn coveralls over his suit and wore a matching ball cap.
He looked around. All done. He put the lid on the trash can, wheeled it out of the vault, and then closed and locked the vault door. That would buy him a few extra minutes before the robbery was discovered. Just in case.
He wheeled the cart out through the back door, which let him out without protest. He'd jiggered the brand-new, top-of-the-line alarm system nicely.
He wanted to cackle with glee but couldn't, not when he was in disguise. What a wonderful world it was! The banking industry had adopted a fad of dispensing with night watchmen in favor of enhanced alarm systems. Right when he needed the money, too. Very thoughtful. He'd have to send them a thank-you note! He did that sometimes.
He wondered if there was some kind of scam going on. First the alarm company sells an expensive alarm system, then one of their confederates robs the bank, then the alarm company sells them an even more expensive alarm system that will surely prevent repetitions, then the bank is robbed again. You'd only need one confederate in the alarm company. An engineer, an assembly technician. Hell, even a maintenance technician; in fact, that would be ideal. Too bad he was quitting the business. It was raining money out here.
His car was nearby. He opened the trunk, looked around for early-morning busybodies, saw none, and quickly dumped the trash can into the trunk. Then he neatly left the cart in the adjacent alley and drove off. Half a million dollars, at least. It was going to be a good day.
He looked at his watch. 7:16 AM. Right on time. The second bank was experimenting with early hours and opened at eight.
He wanted to find a phone booth and call Dori, but she wanted him to stay focused. She'd made him promise not to call except in an emergency.
* * *
Robot Dori stepped forward, allowing her distraught human personality to fall asleep. Robot Dori sat quietly for a moment as she considered what to do next. She was much less emotional than her human personality, but also less creative and more hemmed in with compulsions (or programming, if you preferred that term). Her understanding of Dori was no more than adequate. Her understanding of other humans was much weaker.
Her main goals were clear: protect herself, protect Beck, and protect Big B. It would be dangerous to jog Beck's elbow at the moment, so she checked on Big B first. She went to the workshop and sat down at the communications console. The status indicators showed that Big B was right where they'd left him; he was fine and had nothing to report. But that was only what the monitors said. She sent a coded query to Big B, and he quickly sent the correct countersign and a reassuring report: nothing to report. Good.
It was 7:37 AM. Beck had left three hours and thirty-four minutes ago. Beck expected to return around 10 AM. Dori's distress wouldn't let her sleep anywhere near that long. Robot Dori needed to either change the basic situation or give Dori something to do when she awoke. Ideally this would be important, urgent, compelling, and above all, time-consuming. A good task would push the distress far into the background.
Robot Dori could not invent such a situation: that was beyond her capabilities. But she could search for important tasks that that had not been attended to. The more urgent, the better. Robot Dori reviewed Dori's entire life with infinite patience, second by second, including background sounds, peripheral vision, and fleeting thoughts, starting when she had first awakened and ending at the present moment. It was only a few weeks, after all.
Wait, what? She examined the stored photographs of several sheets of paper that Dori had taken from a safe, memorized, then replaced. She hadn't understood them and had forgotten to study them later. Robot Dori studied the contents minutely. A weapons project, turning humans into mind-controlled cyborgs.
Robot Dori was impressed. The methods summarized might just avoid the body-image problems that inevitably resulted in cyborgs going insane. In its way, it was more elegant than the elaborate methods used to preserve the sanity of androids and Megadeuses. Very clever indeed.
She concluded that Dori would be saddened by the very concept, and tentatively guessed that Beck would be angered by it. Robot Dori understood her Dominus less well than she should. To Robot Dori, their wish was her command. Elegant or not, the cyborgs were her enemies.
The important part, though, was the plan of attack and schedule on the last sheet. If they'd stuck to their schedule, the first batch of cyborgs was nearly complete, and their attack on Paradigm City would take place in six days! Someone would have to stop them.
Good. Figuring out how to spread the word would keep Dori busy for a while. For some reason, Dori really cared about people, even strangers. Excellent.
Robot Dori continued her scan, and found something else. The kidnapping of the kitten Pero. It was a miracle that Roger Smith hadn't been called in to negotiate the handoff. That was a lucky escape. But Beck was planning two more high-class ransom deals in the next few days: a kidnapping and an art heist. Surely Roger Smith would be brought in on at least one of them, maybe both. That was terribly dangerous!
Roger, Dorothy, and Big O were a powerful, experienced Megadeus team. Robot Dori loved Beck and Big B but had no illusions about who would win if the two Megadeuses came to blows, as they so easily could. Especially if Roger tracked Beck to his lair.
And that Angel woman was living with Roger Smith. Robot Dori was not certain, but it seemed that Angel could find them anytime she liked. Dori loved Angel, though they had never met, just as she loved Roger and Dorothy. She thought of them as her family. Conflict between Beck and any of them would be an unimaginable catastrophe. Very well. Dori would be given the task of preventing this. Robot Dori stepped aside.
* * *
Dori was suddenly struck by a thought. Those papers she'd found in the safe held an attack plan, didn't they? She hadn't grasped the implications when she'd skimmed them before. She reviewed the pages again. Yes: The city would be attacked by cyborgs in just six days. The plan was all too plausible. Even if it failed, it would cause terrible damage. A lot of poor, innocent people would die. And not-so-innocent people as well, which to Dori was just as bad. The city must be warned at once!
And how lucky they had been that Roger had not been there to negotiate the return of Pero! How strange that they had not anticipated this! If Roger followed Beck's back-trail, Beck might be caught and thrown into prison. Dori doubted she would survive such a separation. Worse, an attempt to capture Beck might end up in a battle between Big O and Big B. Such a tragedy would be far more than Dori could bear. No, she must forestall this right away. But how? She knew so few people.
Her earlier distress forgotten, Dori focused on the task at hand. They could approach Angel, couldn't they? Yes, definitely. Dori could even contact Angel on her own if she had to. Angel didn't know Dori's name, didn't know she was an android, but she knew that she was Beck's girlfriend, and they'd spoken briefly on the phone, twice. Angel had listened then, and she'd listen now. She was fond of Beck.
And surely R. Dorothy would listen to her own sister? Yes, of course she would!
What about Roger Smith? Dori wasn't sure. In time, yes, of course he would listen. But she knew (how?) that he was emotional sometimes, and could be stubborn. He wasn't a sure thing like his two women were. Not in the short term.
Was that the right way to go about this? Beck was planning on kidnapping a rich old lady tomorrow night; Mrs. Riviera. That didn't leave much time. What if Roger handled the negotiations? That would be incredibly dangerous. Could Beck be dissuaded from the kidnapping? Perhaps, but Dori doubted it. He was handing most of the money over to the Union to prove his loyalty and prove he was goose who laid the golden egg. He'd promised them the money, bragged about it, guaranteed it. It was part of his plan to lull and distract them before he sold them down the river in a couple of weeks. He also planned to steal the money again with one hand as he betrayed them to the city with the other. Maintaining Big B was expensive.
Could Dori give the information to Roger? To Dorothy? To Angel? Say, by courier? Certainly she could. It would be easy. But she needed to buy as much protection with it as she could.
Roger and Dorothy didn't know she existed, but they would be grieved if they learned she had been hurt. Dorothy especially. Dori was absolutely certain about this. She had reason to be.
* * *
Dori remembered the day, not long ago, when she and Beck had gone into the Underground, following up a report that a Class M android had been activated in the most brutal manner possible and turned into a mad assassin. The android had been called R. D. and had killed several people. Horrible!
But perhaps R. D. was still there in her purported hideout in the Underground, perhaps damaged, perhaps deactivated. And other useful android equipment might also be there. Maybe even some of the missing technical information. It was worth a look.
And then they had found poor R. D.'s remains, shattered and scattered and buried and broken almost beyond recognition, but not quite. R. D. had a twin of R. Dorothy Wayneright, a twin of Dori herself. Dori's poor, mad sister, dead before Dori was born.
They had found R. D.'s coffin-like hibernation/activation chamber nearby. They'd cleaned it up and laid it on the ground, then gathered the pitiful few fragments and laid them inside, making it a coffin in fact.
After they fastened the lid, Dori had been overwhelmed. How brief life can be! And what a fragile thing sanity was. How hard it was to avoid having one's mind bent and broken to another's will.
It could so easily have been Dori lying in that coffin. A maniac just happened to choose one identical, helpless, deactivated android instead of another. It could have been her. It was hard to grasp, hard to truly believe that it wasn't her lying shattered and cold and dead in the coffin, never to live or love ever again.
Beck had to lead her by the hand, stumbling and unseeing, back to the surface.
The next day, she demanded that Beck take her back to the Underground. They placed flowers on the coffin. Beck was very solemn. They stood a while, gazing down at it.
Dori asked in a small voice, "Jason? How do I pray? I don't remember."
Beck said softly, "You just talk as if they can hear you, honey, even if you don't say the words out loud."
After a moment, Dori said, "R.D., I am your sister Dori. I'm sorry you were treated so badly and never met anyone who loved you. You deserved better, R.D. I know it's too late now, but you are my sister. I love you." After a long time she whispered, "Good-bye."
And then they returned to the surface. Neither of them spoke for a long, long time.
* * *
Beck was standing in the alley outside the second bank, feeling pleased with himself. He cut the last wire of the alarm system—what kind of idiot puts the wiring block out in the alley, with just a crappy little padlock?—and closed the access box. The silent alarm that summoned the cops was no more. Then he cut the phone lines.
He wiped his hands on his handkerchief, put it away, and walked into the front door of the bank, smiling, respectable, and anonymous in his off-the-rack suit and hat. There were two customers at the teller's window, both middle-aged women, apparently together. This was two more than he'd expected. Early banking hours were a really dumb idea.
The staff consisted of a pretty young teller and a balding guy at a desk who must be the manager. No guards, of course. Idiots.
"Good morning, everyone!" Beck called out in a loud, cheerful voice. "Please give me your attention. Listen closely. This is a robbery."
He pulled out his pistol, and waved it, not very menacingly, in an arc over their heads.
One of the customers looked ready to scream, but her friend shook her head. The manager turned pale. The pretty teller looked frightened at first, but then her eyes started to shine.
One of those, though Beck sourly. Bad-girl wannabes were unpredictable, often terrifyingly so.
"You three ladies, get down on the floor. That's right." The teller looked hurt but started walking around the counter.
Beck and Dori had worked on his line of patter. Dori wanted the robbery to be one of those classy, champagne-villain jobs she'd been reading about in her ever-increasing collection of paperbacks: the kind where the jury, the cops, and even the victims couldn't summon the enthusiasm to prosecute the criminal properly. She wanted it to look good in the newspapers, too, with criticism for the bank and praise for the robber. Beck approved. It was a lovely little con, especially for a crook who would soon go straight.
Beck called to the manager, "And you, sir, I'd be obliged if you'd get that vault open." The manager moved to comply.
Once her boss was looking the other way, Beck winked at the teller, who brightened right up. She complied when he reminded her, "Down on the floor, miss."
When the vault was open, Beck told the manager, "Pull out all your larger bills. Twenties and up. I don't want any small denominations or securities. Put 'em on the table there." A couple of minutes later, he spoke to the teller. "Young lady, I'll have to ask you to pack up the booty."
The teller got to her feet and soon found an empty strongbox about the size of a footlocker. The manager shuttled back and forth with the loot, and the teller packed it neatly into the strongbox. He could tell that she got a little thrill every time she picked up another bundle of ill-gotten cash.
When it was full, Beck had her close it, then went over and hefted one end. It was heavy.
"Miss, I'm afraid I'll require your services for a few minutes longer. Take one end of the box. That's it." He turned to the manager. "Sir, I can lock you into the vault or have you lie on the floor. Take your pick."
The manager silently got down on the floor. No one but Beck had said a single word.
"Thank you, folks. You've all done splendidly. Sorry about the inconvenience. It's almost over now." Beck glanced at his watch. "Stay on the floor until you hear the clock tower strikes the half-hour or until someone comes in and starts asking dumb questions. I wouldn't want you to be embarrassed." He wagged a finger at them and added, "I have a guy watching, so be good."
Beck and the teller left through the front door, carrying the heavy strongbox between them.
* * *
Dori stood at Beck's drafting table, writing notes on a large sheet of paper, circling them, drawing lines to other notes, making frequent erasures and annotations.
Was the situation really this complex? No, not really. It was painfully simple. But only if you looked at it just the right way. Getting Roger, Angel, and Dorothy to understand ... that was a tall order. Who was the key to the situation?
Was it Angel? Dori doubted it. It was tempting to contact Angel first, to rely on her, because she was friendly already. But Beck doubted that either Roger or Dorothy understood Angel very well. Maybe he was right.
Dorothy, then. Beck was convinced that Dorothy hated him. But did she? He'd given her every reason to. But he'd also insisted on giving her the information that allowed her to save Roger's life and come to terms with her identity as a Class M android. Surely that counted for something!
Dori found it hard to think about this incident without a rose-colored haze of romanticism. Jason Beck, redeemed by his love for a good woman! Or, more precisely, two good women, both of them R. Dorothy Wayneright. Dori was the luckiest girl in the world.
She tried to concentrate. Yes, Dorothy would be partly aware of this. She would also be aware Roger and Beck would surely end up at each other's throats unless something was done to prevent it. Dorothy would be as determined to prevent this as Dori. She'd seize any opportunity with both hands and never let go. Waynerights were stubborn.
Dori taped a new sheet of drafting paper to the board and began to write. It didn't have to sound very much like Beck; everyone wrote more formally than they spoke. But it needed to hit the right points. Most importantly, it needed to come from Beck's secret heart. Beck's secret heart was an open book to Dori.
Composing the letter took a long time. Eventually she had a draft.
Jason Beck, Master Criminal
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
To R. Dorothy Wayneright
I need your help. Two crucial tasks must be completed at once. The first task is: The city is in danger and will be attacked very soon unless something is done. (The second task is equally important, as you will see in a moment.)
The attached sheets summarize the plan to attack the city. I believe the information is genuine, since I stumbled across it as part of a residential safecracking job. The contents of the safe were left seemingly undisturbed. No one will know that the information is compromised.
I know I can trust you, Dorothy. I'm asking you to be my negotiator. The terms are simple and the negotiation should conclude almost at once.
Please note that everything on this sheet except terms 1-5 is privileged client-negotiator information.
P.S. Dorothy, the important thing is, I never want to hurt you ever again. The best thing I ever did was to help you save Roger Smith during the fight with Big Fau. I'm not asking you to forgive me. I don't deserve it. But unless all of us are careful, Roger and I will end up fighting again, and it will all end in disaster.
P.P.S. I didn't put it into the formal agreement, because it's none of their damned business, and I'd be obliged if you didn't tell them, but if you ever want my help, Dorothy, all you have to do is ask.
P.P.P.S. Everything will turn out fine; you'll see.
Dori read the draft and nodded. It would do. Then her eyes glazed over and her mind went far away.
* * *
Beck and the pretty teller soon reached his car and heaved the strongbox into the back seat.
The girl opened the passenger door and got in, almost daring him to make her get out.
"You're a bad, bad girl," he said, grinning, as he started the engine. "It's going to get you into trouble some day." He put the car in gear. She beamed at him as they drove off together.
Beck drove a random course and stopped on a quiet street corner. Rummaging in the box, he pulled out bundles of cash worth about $10,000. They made quite an armful. He gave them to the teller girl, then said, "Scoot."
"I want to stay with you," she said, though most of her attention was on the cash in her arms. She became more excited each time she glanced at it.
"Sorry, babe. No can do. Stash the money and go back to work. Tell 'em anything you like. Spend it so your coworkers don't see it. Maybe we'll meet again sometime."
"Okay, she said, elated and disappointed and relieved and excited all at once. She got out of the car and watched him drive off.
Beck chuckled to himself. He'd used the "load 'em down with money so they can't throw themselves at you" trick before. Worked every time! In the old days, he'd tried everything from shacking up with them to shoving them violently out of his car, and they always ended up mad, sometimes vengeful. One had stalked him for weeks and tried to stick a kitchen knife into his liver.
Beck looked at his watch. Time to head home. He couldn't wait to tell Dori this part of the story. She'd somehow turn it into a Robin Hood adventure that made him seem dashing and romantic, though it hadn't been that way at all! Or only a little bit. He hoped Dori was okay.
* * *
Dori blinked. She was standing on a strange, endless, perfectly flat plain with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern, a formless sky above. She was all alone.
"Hello?" she called hesitantly. There was no answer.
"Hello?" she called again.
This time there were some vague sounds, perhaps some movement of some kind. The world went black for a moment, then the checkerboard returned, only to be replaced by a formless, swirling grayness. The sounds continued, mostly vague thumpings interspersed with brief snatches of clearer sounds: the ticking of a clock, the creaking of a door, birdsong, frying bacon, half a bar of piano music, wind in the trees, a blacksmith's forge. Beneath this, nearly inaudible, was something like an elderly person's muttered complaints and cursing. Then a moment of total darkness, total silence, followed by an old man's quiet, confident voice, "And now our story begins."
She was standing in front of a farm house surrounded by fields of ripening wheat. Dori felt a hot breeze on her cheek. An iron windmill creaked in the breeze. There seemed to be no one around.
"Hello?" she called for a third time.
A fat old man opened the screen door and stepped onto the porch. He was fastening one of the straps of his blue overalls. He looked around and said, "Ah, there you are. Come up to the porch and have a seat, young lady."
Dori climbed the steps to the porch and sat in a wicker chair. The old man lowered himself into a rocking chair. Dori said, "How do you do. I am R. Dorothy Wayneright."
"And I am Gordon Rosewater. I was not expecting you."
"Where am I?"
"Let's just say that you are on my farm. Do you know what brought you here?"
"I think I'm hallucinating."
"Very likely. And are you physically safe, back where you were before?"
"Excellent. Did you say 'R. Dorothy Wayneright'?"
"Yes, I am a Class M android."
Gordon considered this for a moment. "Yes, I believe I remember now. And have you found your Megadeus?"
Dori nodded. "Yes. Big B."
"Big B? Let me think," said Gordon. After pause he asked, "So Jason Beck is your Dominus?"
"Then I believe you are to be congratulated, young lady," said Gordon, smiling.
"I love them both very much."
Gordon's smile remained but his eyes were far away. When his gaze returned, he said, "This is most unexpected, but seemingly favorable, very favorable. I see my assumption that it was time for a long hibernation was in error."
"What do you mean?"
"Wayneright, Wayneright... I seem to remember a redheaded girl with the most extraordinary violet eyes."
"That was when I was human, forty-one years ago."
"And you have returned as an android. Most enterprising," he said, "and entirely in character. Yes, very much so. But wasn't your young man Roger Smith?"
"He also has an R. Dorothy Wayneright."
Gordon looked at her with sympathy, but she smiled gently and shook her head. "I couldn't be happier, Mr. Rosewater."
"Yes, I can see that. Well, young lady, it's time I got to work. Events are moving quickly." He stood up, then sat down again. "Jason Beck, eh?"
"He is not the easiest man to get along with. I know this from experience. What is your secret?"
"I have to stand up to him, of course. It also helps to be open and trusting, even innocent."
Gordon raised his eyebrows. Then he nodded firmly, as if he had made a decision. "In that case, I'm sure we'll meet again, young lady."
"I'd like that."
Gordon stood up again. "Do you know the way back?"
Dori stood up as well. "I'm not sure."
"Then close your eyes."
She did so, and he kissed her on the forehead. When she opened her eyes a moment later, she was back in the workshop.
She felt as if she ought to wonder if it had only been a dream, but that would be silly. It had been real.
Not noticing that her earlier distress has been replaced with an entirely unexpected happiness, she looked forward without impatience to Beck's return. She was sure he'd be pleased with the letter to Dorothy.
Dorothy would need a set of printouts of the other documents, the ones from the safe. She went to one of the workbenches and started the complex task of making photostats of the images in her memory. As she worked, she thought about her encounter with Gordon Rosewater. She had a good feeling about him.
* * *
Beck drove up and pressed the button on the dash that would open the garage door. Before it was half-opened Dori ducked through it, ran to his car, opened the driver-side door, pulled him out, and hugged him till his ribs creaked. Then without a word she ran around to the passenger side and got in.
Beck laughed a little painfully and drove the car inside, closing the garage door behind him.
When he turned off the ignition, they both said "How did it go?" at once, then they both said, "You first."
Beck pointed at Dori. She said, "It was hard, Jason. Six hours is too long. Who is Gordon Rosewater?"
"Gordon Rosewater. I met him on a farm. It was a dream, but it was real, too."
Beck frowned. "He's dead, that's who he is. He was in charge of Paradigm City from forty years ago to about ten years ago. He spent his last few years on a farm in Aylesbury Dome, but it burned down."
"He knew you're the Dominus of Big B. He talked about coming out of hibernation and getting to work."
"You're sure it wasn't just a dream, Dori?"
Beck wanted to dismiss it, but he never argued with Dori if he could help it. He considered a moment, then said, "I don't know anything about that kind of stuff. Remind me later. Maybe we can figure out an angle."
"All right. How did it go?"
"It was very smooth. No one saw me on the first job. In and out, smooth as silk. The second one was almost as clean, but there were two customers. They didn't scream or anything, though. And the teller was one of those crime groupies I told you about. She wanted to join my gang and be my moll in the worst way."
"What did you do?"
"I gave her an armload of money and told her to scoot, and maybe we'd meet again sometime."
"You are such a louse, Jason Beck."
"Well, what should I have done?"
"Next time give the lady a kiss, or a red rose, or something. Cash is vulgar."
Beck laughed. "She was awfully excited by it. And what do you mean, next time?"
Beck said, "Yeah. Would it be vulgar if we piled a million dollars into a heap and made love on top of it?"
Dori nodded vigorously. "Terribly vulgar."
She got out of the car, opened the back door, and pulled out the heavy strong box. Without troubling with the latch, she wrenched off the lid and dumped its contents on the floor, tossing aside the shattered remnants of the box. Then she went to the back of the car and opened the trunk. "Help me with these bags, Jason," she called. "This may be our only chance!"
* * *
The phone rang while Beck was eating lunch: a cheeseburger, tomato soup, and a cup of coffee. Dori sat across from him and was having just the same, though she insisted on putting crumbled saltine crackers on her soup.
They had made a game out of mealtimes. Dori didn't have to eat at all, of course, but there was something soothing and homelike about taking meals together. And one of the very first things Dori had learned about Beck was that he forgot to eat if he was focused or upset, and he always seemed to be one or the other or both. So she insisted on regular mealtimes. While Beck was often impervious to reason and oblivious to his own needs, if Dori insisted that she was faint with hunger, he gave in with a smile.
Beck did all the cooking because he liked to cook. Unlike most androids, Dori had a sense of taste and smell. They weren't very accurate or discriminating senses, but they were enough that she wasn't an actual menace in the kitchen. Sadly, they weren't enough to let her savor her food. She liked textures more than flavors these days.
She'd taken to pretending that she was fussy about some things, especially coffee. Recently she'd invented a game: Beck had told her that Angel always took coffee with cream and three sugars, and Dori was seeing how long she could do just the same before Beck figured it out. She usually started with just one spoonful of sugar, sometimes two, and would a take a few sips before adding more.
Beck, who didn't like to waste food, once put a bruised apple on her plate, and she had glared at him until he'd taken it back. Then they both burst out laughing. It was the first time Dori had laughed since she'd been activated. Beck hadn't even noticed the milestone; it must have seemed perfectly natural to him. And to her, too, until hours later.
The phone rang. Dori got up and crossed to the wall phone next to the refrigerator. She said to Beck, "Agent Six," then picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Hello, Dori," said Agent Six. "Let me talk to Beck."
"Hello, Agent Six," said Dori. "Here's Jason."
Dori handed the receiver to Beck. Dori almost always answered the phone these days, and she was keeping things as cordial as the antisocial nature of Beck's allies and her own inability to make small talk allowed.
Beck said, "Hey, Six, what's up?"
"We're about ready to do the final prep on the robots, Beck, and we need you here. It's gonna take maybe four days straight to get everything put together."
"Six, old buddy, if you need four days in a row, you're gonna have to wait a couple of days. But I can mosey on over and lend you a hand this afternoon and work all night and most of tomorrow, and then in a couple of days I can give you all the time you need."
"Yeah, all right. You bringing Dori?"
Beck was suspicious. "Why do you ask?"
"People like her. She's like a mascot. They work harder and there's less bickering when she's around. Less cussing, too."
Dori smiled inwardly. She hadn't realized that Agent Six was capable of tact. Beck's obnoxiousness was the real problem, and he behaved much better when she was around.
Beck grinned, "Well, since you twisted my arm, I'll bring her along. No extra charge. See you this afternoon."
Beck handed the receiver to Dori, who hung it up. Then he threw back his head and laughed his horrible crowing laugh.
"It's not funny, Jason."
Beck sobered instantly. "I'm sorry, honey. But we're saving lives here. We're doing a public service."
"They trust me and I'm helping you betray them."
Beck opened his mouth to argue, then shut it again. He loved cons. He loved betraying betrayers. These Union holdouts were terrorists and murderers. But Dori saw them as real human beings, with parents, sweethearts, siblings, even children. To her, they were as real as anybody. And it was all true, of course.
He put his arms around her. After a while he asked, "Dori?"
"I'm the master criminal, right?"
"And nothing can withstand my nefarious cunning?"
"That's right," she assured him. "Your mighty brain can accomplish anything."
"So all I need is for my plan to work like clockwork and for all those Union jerks to be better off for having known you?"
She looked up at him speculatively. "I'd like that, Jason."
Beck considered for a while, then began to laugh. "Piece of cake," he said. He laughed some more, then said indignantly, "Hey! Our lunch is getting cold! Damned telephone."
* * *
The next night, Beck arrived at the Riviera home, a neat and stylish two-story house outside the domes. He'd spent over twenty-four hours helping the Union with their jury-rigged remote-control robots and then made a side jaunt to inspect the newest modifications, now being installed in his Megadeus. Big B had to be ready for action just as soon as Dorothy got his letter. That would be sometime tomorrow. He yawned. Maybe he could catch up on sleep in the morning...
He parked around back. It was the maid's night off and Mr. Riviera's regular poker night with his cronies, down at his club.
Beck tried the back door. Locked. He looked under the welcome mat and the nearby flower pots. Nothing. He ran his hand over the lintel, above the door, found a key, and smiled. It was tarnished and had probably been forgotten years ago. This was a pretty good lock and could have slowed him down by five minutes. He unlocked the door, returned the key, and stepped inside.
It was quiet, as he expected. He heard a radio playing soft music on the second floor. He walked silently up the carpeted stairs.
He wore one of his yellow suits. No incognito tonight.
He stepped into the second-floor parlor and leaned against the doorway. A slim old woman was sitting in an armchair, absorbed in a detective thriller. Beck recognized the cover; it was one of Dori's favorites. Beck cleared his throat and she looked up, startled.
"Hello, Maggie," said Beck.
She looked at him over her reading glasses. She sighed and said resignedly, "Hello, Beck." She waited.
"I'm kidnapping you, Maggie," he said.
"Jesus, Beck! You can't do that!"
"I'm doing it."
"Aw, c'mon, Beck! You're the god damned master criminal! Kidnapping old ladies is beneath you! And I've never done anything to you."
Beck's face was like stone. "But Arthur has. You know he has. And what you maybe don't know is that he picked up a couple of new partners and a pile of money recently."
"No," she breathed, appalled. But she believed him.
"So come along, Maggie, be a good girl. You'll be back home sometime tomorrow."
"That's low, Beck. You know it's low. What the hell's wrong with you?"
Beck was unmoved. "That's enough, Maggie. I brought chloroform."
She saw he meant it. The fight went out of her. "I need my medications," she said. She began to weep quietly. She wiped her tears away angrily, hating this show of weakness. She'd never cried in the old days. But she couldn't stop.
They gathered up a few necessities and put them in her purse. Beck picked up the paperback and handed it to her. "Let's get going."
Maggie was frightened. She'd known Beck since he was a kid, but most of the hard cases in Paradigm were people she'd known since they were kids. And she'd never understood Beck. He was both hard and soft; unpredictable. But mostly she was afraid for Arthur. Clearly, Arthur had screwed up. He hadn't been worth a damn, professionally, since his stroke. It wasn't much of a stroke, as strokes go, but it left him impulsive. His judgment was shot all to hell. God damn it, that's why they retired! Damn Arthur, anyway! And damn Beck.
It was bad that Beck was kidnapping her rather than blackmailing Arthur. Beck liked blackmail. It was one of his trademarks; quarterly payments that went on forever, with the victim eager to keep anyone from knowing, especially the cops. Ransoms were cash on delivery. Did Beck figure that Arthur wouldn't be around much longer? Beck had a good nose for things like that. It was all too much.
Beck ushered her to the stairs. She was shaky and still weeping, so he gave her his monogrammed black silk handkerchief and took her elbow. As they started down the stairs, he began murmuring soothing words. They helped; she didn't want him to stop. That was the worst part of all.
* * *
After breakfast, Dori knocked on Maggie's door in the house Beck had rented just for this one job. "Mrs. Riviera?" Until that moment, Mrs. Riviera had no reason to suspect Dori's existence.
"Come in," said Maggie, sounding amused at Dori's politeness.
"Turn your back, please," said Dori.
"Hang on ... okay."
Dori entered the room. Maggie was sitting on the far edge of the bed, facing away.
"Please don't turn around, " said Dori. " Jason told me about the book you were reading. I like that book, too. I brought you some of mine, to pass the time."
"Who are you?" asked Maggie.
"I can't tell you that."
There was a pause, then Maggie said, "I'll take good care of your books. Thank you."
"Please be especially careful of the one on top. It's starting to fall apart, and I can't find a replacement."
"It's your favorite?"
"And you're lending it to me."
"What if I rip it to pieces?"
Dori said quietly, "I hadn't thought of that." After a pause, she said, "Please don't."
Maggie started to turn around, stopped herself, and asked, "Seriously, who the hell are you?"
"I can't tell you now. Is it true that you're worried about your husband?"
Maggie's shoulders sagged. She sighed. "Yes."
"And Jason knows things that you need to know?"
Dori said, "After you're released I'll have him call you and tell you what he knows, and his ideas for making things right."
Maggie was astonished. "You can make him do that?"
"Yes. It won't be right away. It could be weeks. But he'll call as soon as he can."
There was a long silence, then Maggie asked tentatively, "Can you give me a call, too?"
"I'd like that, Mrs. Riviera."
"Call me Maggie. Can't you tell me your name, dear?"
"Not yet, Maggie. I'm leaving the books on the nightstand."
"Thank you, dear."
"You're welcome." Dori slipped out of the room and locked the door.
* * *
Later that day, Dori watched from concealment as Beck took Maggie out to his car. Maggie seemed subdued and unhappy, but in control of herself; only a little fearful, as anyone would be under the circumstances.
The negotiations had concluded quickly, with Beck using a trustworthy man he'd known for years as an intermediary. Beck and Dori were delighted to learn that Arthur Riviera had retained Roger Smith to negotiate Maggie's release.
Dori wanted to go to the handoff, but Beck wouldn't hear of it. Maggie would see her. It would put Beck off his stride. And could Dori promise she wouldn't reveal herself to Roger? Dori had to admit that she couldn't. In the end, she agreed to stay behind. She gave Beck two paperbacks she thought Maggie might like. He'd be back in less than an hour.
Beck carried the all-important envelope in an inside suit pocket. Strange how quickly it had become more important than the money. Pale yellow, Beck had addressed it, simply, "Dorothy Wayneright."
Beck had been amazed by Dori's draft and had told her not to change a single word; no, not even the "yours faithfully" that she was so unsure of. It was perfect. So she typed it up for him, keeping two carbon copies, using his pale yellow letterhead emblazoned with "Jason Beck, Master Criminal." She had him sign the letter, added the other sheets, put them in the envelope, sealed it, and handed it to him. Beck would hand it to Roger after Maggie and the money had changed hands.
Beck helped Maggie into the car, winked in her general direction, and drove off.
* * *
Beck, sitting in the control seat of Big B, grinned at Dori, who smiled back. Big B, too, was in a good mood. He liked his new weaponry: the toe caps and kneecaps. He was sure they'd be effective, and they would be funny as well. Especially the kneecaps! They were the best joke ever. Today was shakedown day, with live-firing exercises.
The humor Big B was referring to went over Dori's head, but she was happy. It always felt good when the three of them were together, and for one reason or another, they hadn't spent much time with Big B recently. That would soon change.
They were in Hangar B7, the most remote of Beck's hideouts, in an uninhabited region of sand dunes. Nearby were some large, beached ships that would make interesting targets.
Dori wished the probe-cable adapter was ready, but Beck had run into some unexpected snags. Normally, a Class M android had to wait until after her android adolescence before daring to use the probe cables, In any event, the temporary circuitry in her skull blocked access to the probe-cable sockets. But Beck had concocted yet another forehead-mounted adapter to allow Dori to use the probe cables anyway. It was a tricky piece of circuitry, though, because the probe cables were dangerous to the immature android mind, capable of overwhelming it, or worse.
Beck figured that by blocking some signals and attenuating others, this problem could be avoided, and he he'd built in some ingenious fail-safes and fuses to provide an extra safety margin. But half the fuses had blown for no apparent reason the first time Dori had put the adapter on, and none of Big B's probe cables had been anywhere near her. So the project was on hold for the moment. Maybe in a few days ...
Big B approached one of the beached ships. Beck stopped him a couple of hundred yards way.
Beck said, "We'll start with the left foot, Dori, and fire every fourth charge."
Dori nodded. She was just a bystander without the probe cables, but she could watch and learn.
Big B raised his left foot a few feet off the ground. The new toe caps snapped open. Beck flipped a series of switches to arm the charges, then pressed the red firing button.
There was a dull explosion, not loud at all up here on the command deck, as the four clusters of claymore mines fired at once. Thousands of hardened steel ball bearings, half an inch across, hurled through the air a few feet above the ground. They hit the side of the beached ship with a tremendous din and clatter, penetrating the hull plates where they were particularly rusty and bouncing off everywhere else.
Beck whooped. "That'll learn 'em!"
Beck continued his tests, alternating between the left foot and the right, practicing his aim for targets both at and above ground level. Everything worked perfectly.
"Now the kneecaps," said Beck. He walked Big B right up to the ship. He flipped a switch and the kneecap flipped aside. He flipped another, arming the shaped charge. Big B kneed the side of the ship hard with his right knee. There was a terrific explosion as the impact fired the shaped charge. Big B staggered backwards and almost fell over. The ship did fall over, a huge hole blown through its steel hull.
Beck threw back his head and crowed his horrible laugh. Dori didn't complain. He'd earned his fun.
Beck said, "Okay, Big B, see what we want to do next time? We'll clutch onto our target with both hands if we can, or even a bear hug. That'll keep us from falling on our ass and ought to give us better contact as well."
The concept of the kneecap charges was to destroy an enemy Megadeus at a single low blow. It was hardly the weapon of a gentleman. This fact filled Beck with delight. Beck's concepts of class, style, and fair play were very different from, say, Roger Smith's. He liked it that way; he reveled in it. He'd explained to Dori, "It's not about taking out your enemies in the right way. It's about taking out the right enemies."
Dori approved, mostly. She and Beck did things their own way. Big B, too. They had to. She'd already figured out that being a good girl wasn't going to be anywhere near good enough. She'd have to do better than that. And that wasn't covered by the rules.
Beck, satisfied with the day's carnage, took Big B back to Hanger B7 to rearm, keeping up an intermittent monolog on the way. Life was good. Those cyborgs wouldn't stand a chance when he appeared unexpectedly and gave Roger Smith a hand. He'd been afraid there might be too many of the damned cyborgs for Big O to handle alone, and of course there was Dorothy to think of. After he rearmed Big B, they'd move to Hangar B3, which was closest to the action.
Not that he'd heard from Dorothy. What the hell was taking her so long? He'd expected her to call hours ago.
* * *
A little after noon, the workshop extension in Hangar B3 rang while Beck had both hands busy with a difficult subassembly. He called, "Get that, will you, Dori?"
Dori crossed to the phone. The number was unfamiliar. Using her telephone voice, she said, "Hello?"
"I'd like to speak to Beck, please," said a calm woman's voice."
It was Dorothy! "One moment," said Dori. She set the phone down and crossed to Beck. She whispered, "Dorothy."
Beck looked nervous. He looked at her, looked at his subassembly, and raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, I can handle it, Jason," she assured him. Earlier, he'd been worrying out loud that was almost as bad at communicating with Dorothy as he was with Roger.
Beck looked relieved for a moment, then his subassembly, apparently waiting for just such an opportunity, sprang apart, with three tiny springs leaping high into the air and vanishing, who knows where.
Dori picked up the phone again. "Mr. Beck is not available at the moment. He asks me to take a message."
Dorothy paused, then said, "This is R. Dorothy Wayneright. Tell Beck that we accept all his terms. Also, tell him that I ..." There was a long pause, then Dorothy said, "Tell him that I ..." Another pause, even longer. Finally, "Tell him thank you. From me. The truce is a very good idea."
Dori desperately wanted to blow her cover, to tell Dorothy everything. From the acoustics, Dori knew that Dorothy was alone in a room. No one would overhear. She wanted so badly to talk to Dorothy!
Summoning all her willpower, Dori said, "I understand. I'll tell him right away. Good-bye." She hung up.
She walked back to where Beck was searching for the last missing spring on hands and knees. He found it as she approached and got to his feet in triumph.
Dori said, "They accept our terms. Dorothy also sends this message: Thank you. From her. The truce is a very good idea."
To her amazement, Beck's face lost all expression, as if he'd received a shock. Tears started coursing down his cheeks. Then Dori understood. Dorothy had thanked him, had expressed words of gratitude. It was close, very close, to being forgiven.
* * *
A little before nine that evening, Dori sat on a packing crate in the Hangar B3 workshop while Beck paced up and down, talking to himself. He was on edge, frustrated. When were the Military Police going to move against the cyborgs? He needed to know! His contacts claimed they hadn't heard anything, but promised would call the instant there was news.
Dori was reading a romance novel. She usually listened to Beck with half an ear when he was in this mood, but the book had her full attention. She was only halfway through, and the hero's shirt had been torn three times and ripped from his body once.
The workshop extension rang. Dori jumped up. She didn't recognize the number, so she picked it up and said, "Hello?"
"Hi, it's Angel. Let me talk to Beck."
"Hello, Angel. One moment, please." She handed the receiver to Beck.
"Angel! Hey, it's good to hear from you. How's tricks?"
"Things are going pretty well, believe it or not. But I need to talk to you about a couple of things."
"First off, I was at the Speakeasy last night with Dorothy ..."
Angel said. "Dorothy. You know, R. Dorothy Wayneright? Maybe you don't remember her."
Beck said, "Wait, wait, I remember now. Isn't she that little redheaded squirt with the big grin? Never stops talking? Lives with some guy in a mortician suit?"
"That's the one. She talked to a machinist named Tony who let slip that he was working on a job for you at Boulton's. She may have passed that information along before she got your letter, so maybe the Military Police know by now. I wanted to warn you."
Dori expected Beck to become angry, but he just looked thoughtful. "Huh. Thanks, Angel. You're a brick. Damn, I could run out of machine shops if this keeps up. Did you hear that All-Alloys got flattened during that Megadeus battle a few days ago?
"No, I didn't."
"Did you hear what All-Alloys was making for me?"
"Not a clue, Beck. How secret is it?"
"How secret is what?"
Angel chuckled and said, "My other piece of news ... I don't know if you care or not, but that information you handed over was the real deal, and if the timing of the response is of any use to you ... "
"I suppose anything is possible."
"Beck, I want you to understand that three ... two people I care about will be there. Do you know where 'there' is?
"The address was right there in the papers I gave Dorothy, Angel."
"So it was. Beck, I need to hear you say this. Tell me the truth. Are you on the level?"
"I'm on the level, Angel."
"Are you hoping Roger or ... or Dan Dastun will get hurt?
"No! Geez Louise, Angel!" Beck was struck by a thought. He asked slyly, "Dan Dastun? General Dan Dastun of the Military Police? Is Dastun your new special friend?"
Angel sighed. "Probably not. It'll never work. But I like him, Beck. You need to consider him off-limits."
Beck grinned. "For you, Angel, anything. I'll make sure he looks both ways before crossing the street, always has a clean handkerchief when he leaves the house, and doesn't become collateral damage in any of my dastardly schemes."
"Well, in that case, I can tell you. The compound will be attacked at dawn tomorrow by Military Police armored vehicles. Big O will be there as backup.
"Good," said Beck. "Not that I care."
"Of course not."
"It's nothing to me."
"That goes without saying."
Beck hesitated, then said, "Hey, Angel?"
Angel sighed. "I'm hanging in there. Actually, I wanted to thank you."
"The truce idea. It defused a dangerous situation. I was so relieved when Dorothy read out the terms! And so was she. More than she lets on, I think."
"Good. Hey, when can we get together? My girlfriend keeps bugging me. She's never met a lady spy before."
"I'm a retired spy now, Beck. I want to meet her, too. I don't know anything about her except her excellent taste in books and her lousy taste in men, but that's a good start. But I still need you to stop playing blind man's buff with the Union first. Their intelligence is too damned good for us to be seen together."
"I'll see what I can do, Angel. Not that I have any idea what you're talking about. But soon."
"Thanks, Beck, and say hi to your mysterious girlfriend for me. Norman's going to announce the after-dinner cocktail hour any minute."
"Must be rough."
"Oh, it is," she said bitterly. "Fine liquor, luxurious surroundings, polite conversation, two lovebirds who have to leave the room suddenly if they hold eye contact too long ... what could be better? Whoops, there's Norman. Good-bye, Beck."
"See ya, Angel."
Beck replaced the receiver and turned to Dori. "Tomorrow at dawn."
Dori nodded and said, "I want to come with you."
Without a word, Beck walked out of the workshop and onto the main floor of the hanger, gesturing for Dori to accompany him. Beck looked up at Big B's impassive face for a long time, then turned back to Dori. "Okay," he said. He was unusually still, unusually serious. "Soon you'll be with me every time, Dori. Whenever I put myself at risk, I put you at risk, too."
She put an arm around him. "It's what I want, Jason."
"I can't hold back, Dori. I'll never be able to pull my punches to protect you."
"Of course not, Jason. I am your android; you are my Dominus; Big B is our Megadeus. All of us answered the call."
"I set you up, Dori. You didn't have a choice."
Dori looked up at him, smiling faintly. "Do you really believe that?"
Beck looked troubled. "I don't know."
"That's just your conditioning talking."
Dori shook her head, still smiling. "We belong together. You found a way to make it happen. Thank you, Jason."
They were interrupted by the telephone. It was one of Beck's contacts in Military Police headquarters, repeating Angel's news: tomorrow at dawn.
* * *
Dori climbed the emergency ladder, emerging on Big B's command deck. Beck was in the cockpit, dozing in the command seat. He woke when Dori closed the companionway hatch.
"It's fine, Jason," she reported. "The pumps are almost keeping up with the leakage, and the water levels won't damage anything for hours."
She wasn't happy with how Beck looked: he was exhausted and sleep-deprived. She tried her best to get him relaxed enough to drop off and get a few hours' sleep before they left Hangar B3. It had been a memorable effort; she smiled inwardly in recollection. But Beck hadn't managed more than a fitful doze.
Big B was submerged in the river within sight of where the dawn attack would take place. Beck's new electronically enhanced periscope/snorkel was keeping an eye on things. Not that there was anything to watch yet.
Tonight she was glad the probe-cable adapter wasn't finished. After confessing that she had no confidence that she wouldn't reveal herself to Roger and Dorothy at the first opportunity, Beck was leery about bringing her into proximity with them. But without the probe-cable adapter, she had no way of communicating with them, not from inside Big B. Beck had resolved to maintain radio silence so she couldn't impulsively break into any of his conversations, either.
A light came on, followed by a chime. Big B had detected something. Dori and Beck peered at the periscope screen. Even in night mode, it was mostly dark, but they could just make out a line of Military Police armored cars and light tanks approaching with their lights off. Then they saw another line approaching from the opposite direction.
Beck asked, "Where's Big O?"
As if in answer, Big O rose up out of the river, half a mile downstream. He walked to the shore, then stopped.
Another chime, and one of Big B's monitors depicted Big O with the label "FRIEND" over it. Dori knew, somehow, that Big O had just told Roger the same thing about Big B. How had this been determined? Dori felt that on some level she knew, but the details proved elusive. She let it go.
The armored vehicles entered the compound, breaking down the gate of the chain-link fence in the process. In was getting lighter, and she could make out Military Police insignia painted on the vehicles.
Big O moved to a new position, angering Beck. He shook his fist at the screen and yelled, "Don't get between the compound and that other warehouse, you idiot! It's abandoned! There's probably tunnels from the compound!"
Beck leaned forward for a better view of the screen, looking grim. Dan Dastun was standing in front of the lead tank, shouting something through a megaphone. No response. He tried again. No response. Dastun waved a hand and a squad of police started walking towards the little office building in front of the target warehouse.
As this was going on, four giant cyborgs, fifty feet tall, trotted out of the open door of the abandoned warehouse.
Dori was alarmed. There were only supposed to be one or two of these! What else had her information been wrong about?
Beck shouted, "Big B! Action!" He urged Big B into motion, not that Big B needed encouragement. He was eager to come to grips with the enemy, to help his comrade Big O, to make Beck and Dori proud.
Beck had Big B crouch, bending almost double, so his back was the first part of him to emerge from the river. A port opened across his back.
Meanwhile, the four cyborgs had hurled themselves at Big O, each going for an arm or a leg. Big O grabbed one with his left hand and hurled him through the air. The cyborg did a roll and landed on its feet.
"Give him the net!" Beck cried, hitting the appropriate buttons. The rocket-propelled, steel-cabled net whirled out of the port in Big B's back. Beck guided it to the cyborg. The net wrapped around the cyborg and knocked it off its feet. Beck stabbed the "electrify" button and sparks and lightning sizzled all over the cyborg, which went into frightful convulsions. But when the net ran out of charge a few seconds later, the cyborg leaped to its feet as if nothing had happened.
"Oh, no, you don't!" shouted Beck, as Big B strode quickly to the cyborg. Beck extended the plasma lance in Big B's right hand, and snatched the cyborg with his left, grabbing it by the head. Lifting the wildly struggling cyborg into the air, Beck severed its neck with the plasma lance. The headless body fell to the ground, its neck smoking.
Beck started laughing maniacally, then suddenly stopped. "No!" he said in a conversational voice. "That's the old Beck." He looked over at Dori and winked.
They looked around for more targets. Dori pointed. Big O had been knocked off his feet and two cyborgs were holding him down. The third cyborg was nowhere in sight.
"Behind you!" came Dorothy's voice over the radio.
Beck spun Big B around. There it was, rushing them. Beck flipped one of the new switches, snapping the left kneecap cover aside. He flipped another switch, arming the charge. When the cyborg came within arm's reach, Big B's left arm grabbed it in a headlock. Then he jammed his knee into the cyborg's abdomen. The shaped charge fired, blowing the cyborg to pieces.
Big B spun around once more and advanced on the two cyborgs attacking Big O. Beck wanted to extend Big B's left-hand cannon, but he was still holding the severed head of the first cyborg. He flung it hard at one of the surviving cyborgs, but missed. He began extending the left-hand cannon.
Big O raked one of the cyborgs with his eye lasers. The cyborg suddenly exploded. Then Big O used his arm pistons to catapult himself to his feet. The last cyborg jumped aside, but Big O ensnared it with his hip chains and reeled it in, hand over hand, until he could grab it by one arm. Big O raised the cyborg off the ground and hit it with a roundhouse punch. The cyborg shattered into pieces.
Beck and Dori looked around for more targets. Dori pointed. A swarm of much smaller cyborgs, little more than man-sized, were swarming over the Military Police vehicles.
Beck swore. "Damn it to hell! These guys don't know when to quit. Well, I hope you've got some anti-personnel weapons, Roger old pal, because your usual stock in trade isn't going to help here."
Big B strode confidently to within a hundred yards of the armored vehicles. They were all buttoned up: good. The Military Police didn't seem to be hitting anything with their artillery, and their machine guns didn't seem to be having much effect.
Beck flipped more of the new switches. Big B's toecaps slid aside. Taking careful aim, he hit the firing buttons. Thousands of hardened steel ball bearings scythed through the air, just a few feet off the ground, shredding most of the cyborgs. Some of the vehicles didn't look so good, either, but their armor looked battered, not penetrated.
Meanwhile, Big O was picking off cyborgs one by one with his eye lasers. Beck turned to Dori and said in awe, "How does he do that? I don't have anywhere near that kind of accuracy."
Dori didn't reply, but it was true. Roger Smith was amazing.
Soon it was all over. Not a single cyborg was still alive, and none had escaped.
Dastun resumed his operations with barely a pause, putting his vehicles in a new formation and sending officers inside to search the premises. The two Megadeuses waited on further events. They were too tall to enter the buildings.
There was a chime over one of the screens, and a light lit up. Roger Smith was calling.
Beck said, "Refuse the call, Big B. I don't have anything to say to him."
The screen lit. Beck's microphone and camera were off, but Roger was transmitting anyway. R. Dorothy Wayneright stood behind the cockpit, looking serene in her black dress. Eight probe cables radiated from the slot in her forehead.
"You idiot, Roger!" shouted Beck. "You need to keep her a secret!" Very few people knew anything about Class M androids, even other Megadeus pilots. They had been forgotten; had not existed for a long, long time until R. Dorothy Wayneright had been built and activated. Beck wanted to keep things as secret as possible.
Roger smiled and said, "Thanks for the help, stranger. I hope to see you around sometime. If you ever need anything, just give me a call. I'm in the book."
Beck started to cackle, then stopped. Dori was right: it was a bad habit. He looked over at her, then said to the monitor, "If only you knew, Roger old buddy. If only you knew. Hero by day, master criminal by night. Can it get any better than this?" He yawned and stretched, adding, "Of course, it doesn't leave much time for sleep."
Then, just for a moment, Dorothy looked straight out of the image. Dori saw Beck shudder. He said to himself. "The camera's off. It's off! I know it's off." He shuddered again and added, "I'm not scared of her, anyway." The video image vanished. Beck sagged with relief. After a moment he raised the cockpit dome, lowered the front console, and stood. Dori was in his arms a moment later.
She looked up at him adoringly and said, "My hero!"
Beck laughed. "Too many romance novels, Dori."
Ignoring this, she added, "You saved me!"
Beck laughed even harder. "Okay, okay. I'll be your hero. What does the hero say at a time like this?"
"Because he can't." She kissed him hard.
Extricating himself with difficulty a moment later, he turned Big B around and they disappeared into the river. Dastun would figure out a way of following them if he had time to think about it.
Dori whispered "my hero" and "you saved me" at intervals during the journey home, using various tones of voice. Beck laughed until his sides ached, especially when she started throwing in, "you have such big muscles" for good measure.
* * *
Beck was sleeping peacefully as Dori got up and slipped out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. It was 3:00 AM.
She went to the kitchen and put her hand on the phone. After a long pause she nodded slightly and picked up the receiver. She dialed the number for Beck's phone relay, which would prevent the call from being traced, then dialed the number for Smith Manor.
The phone rang four times, then was picked up. Dorothy's voice said, "Hello?"
Using her own voice, not her telephone voice, Dori asked, "Is this R. Dorothy Wayneright?"
"I am also R. Dorothy Wayneright."
There was a pause, then Dorothy said, "Go on."
"First of all, I'm all right. I'm safe and I'm loved and I'm very well cared for."
Dorothy made a sound that was almost like sob.
Dori said, "Everything's going to be all right, Dorothy."
Dorothy said, "I ... I want to believe you." After a moment, she said, "I ... Please. I must see you. Tonight?
Dori was touched by her sister's ... distress? Anxiety, anyway. She hadn't expected such a reaction. Then she understood. R.D.'s activation had been beyond nightmarish. And if Father's notes were anything to go by, Dorothy's own activation had been traumatic. Poor Dorothy! Sadly, Dori said, "Not tonight. I want to meet you, too. Of course I do. You are my sister and I love you."
There was another silence at the other end of the line, and Dori almost whispered, "Don't cry, Dorothy."
After a moment, Dorothy asked, "What about the others?"
"We don't know. Just about you and me and our poor sister R.D."
In sudden realization, Dorothy said, "You put the flowers on her coffin."
Dori said, "After we gathered up what was left of her. It was very sad."
Dorothy said, "You truly are my sister. I love you, too, Dorothy."
Dori tried to reply, but no words came out. After a few seconds she managed, "Thank you. I'm calling myself Dori now. R. Dori Wayneright."
"Dori. It suits you."
"Shall I tell you about myself?"
"Yes," said Dorothy.
"I was awakened just a few weeks ago. My boyfriend has Father's complete notes. He's very skilled. He knew which ones not to follow."
"He's also my lover, of course."
"Tell me about him."
"I can't; not yet. He loves me."
"Does he know you're calling?"
Dorothy didn't like the sound of this. "Dori, are you truly safe?"
Dori said earnestly, "I'm fine, Dorothy. Everything will be all right."
Dorothy said, "Android adolescence is dangerous."
"I know. We're being careful."
"I'm so glad," Dorothy said.
From the bedroom, Dori heard Beck say, a little sleepily, "Dori? I just had an idea."
Dori told Dorothy, "I'm glad, too. I ... I need to hang up now. I'm sorry. I'll call again, maybe tomorrow night. Good-bye."
Dori hung up the phone. She'd never been so happy. Dorothy loved her! The world was a wonderful place.
She went into the bedroom to hear all about Beck's new idea. It was sure to be a good one.
* * *
Dori was in the little beach house, packing the last of their belongings. The rental period was nearly up, and she and Beck would be in the Wasteland for several days, at least. It was time to clear out. Beck figured that if Agent Six said a project would take four days, they'd be lucky to finish in a week.
Dori was in a sunny mood. Beck had groused about her calling Dorothy behind his back, but it had gone so well that his heart wasn't in it. Having Dorothy acknowledge Dori as her sister added a margin of safety. What he didn't like was that the Union had a surprisingly good intelligence service, and if they learned Beck was getting all chummy with Roger and Dorothy, that would be too much for them to swallow.
Though god knew they'd swallowed everything else! Beck had sold the Union an amazing set of lies. Fortunately, those horrible cyborgs had been under the control of a group of Paradigm Corporation executives who had betrayed Agent Six personally in the past, and he was keen on revenge. Beck claimed that the truce not only took out Agent Six's enemies, it got Roger and Dorothy and Angel off his back for now, preventing premature encounters. And showing up at the fight in Big B had convinced everybody that this Megadeus of Mystery was on their side. They'd never know what hit them when Beck and Big B turned on them. Agent Six thought Beck was a genius.
Dori looked around. Almost everything was packed. Beck was due in an hour, maybe less. She decided to pack the coffee pot last, in case Beck was early. There wouldn't be time to brew another pot after he arrived. And that was about it, really. Dori walked to the living room and sat down on the couch, opening her latest paperback to where she'd left off.
There was a knock at the door. Dori stood up. She and Beck had discussed the likely dangers, and if she didn't let strangers get close enough to zap her with an electric cattle prod, instant flight would almost always work, so there was no point in being fearful. Alert, yes; fearful, no.
She opened the door. It was Roger Smith! My god, he's handsome! she thought. Almost as handsome as Jason.
"Roger Smith," she said with her faint smile. She felt perfectly at ease with him, as if they'd known each other forever.
He smiled back, "R. Dorothy Wayneright, I presume," he said. He seemed no more on edge than she was.
"Call me Dori. Please, come in. I had no idea you'd find us so soon." She wondered how he managed it. But the answer was obvious. The instant Dorothy mentioned that Dori had a boyfriend, Angel would recall that Beck had a new girlfriend. She'd draw the right conclusion at once, and she had an uncanny ability to find Beck whenever she liked. That must be it.
"Thanks," Roger said. He walked into the beach house and Dori closed the door behind him.
"There's still some coffee," said Dori. "Would you like some?"
"Please." Roger was still smiling, looking at her with open delight.
Dori stepped into the kitchen. "Cream and sugar?"
Dori returned with a tray with two cups of black coffee, spoons, the sugar bowl, the cream pitcher, and a few paper napkins.
They sat down and Roger took his cup. He glanced at the cream and sugar. She explained, "I've decided that I prefer cream and sugar, but I'm prepared to rough it if necessary."
Roger grinned, delighted. He liked this kind of game as much as Beck did.
Dori put cream and two spoons of sugar in her cup, stirred, and took a sip. Making a face, she put her cup down and added another spoonful of sugar. Roger laughed out loud at this performance.
Dori asked, "How did you find us? We were being so careful."
"I have my methods."
Dori nodded. She hadn't expected him to tell her. "And I'll be here alone for almost an hour. That's wonderful timing. How is Dorothy?"
"She's worried about you."
Dori became serious, thinking about Dorothy's almost desperate desire to meet her right away. "There were so many things I couldn't tell her."
Roger waited, a look of polite inquiry on his face, until Dori added, "I can't tell you, either."
Roger showed no sign of being offended or even disappointed. "Sorry. What would you like to talk about?"
"I have an enormous number of questions. Do you mind?
Dori surprised herself by asking, "Did you ever meet my father?"
"Timothy Wayneright? Just once, the night he died. We were never properly introduced or anything like that. He wasn't even an acquaintance, I'm afraid."
"And you saw Dorothy with him, that night?"
"What was she like?" Dori knew she should have saved these questions for later, but they had been nagging at her.
Roger said, "I almost thought she was a different person. She laughed and smiled and had any number of, I don't know, girlish mannerisms."
Dori's heart sank. "I thought so," she said. Poor Dorothy.
Roger was perplexed. "What do you mean?"
Dori wasn't going there. She changed the subject. "Would it be okay if I visited you sometime?"
He smiled and said at once, "Dori, we'd like nothing better. Visit us anytime; stay for as long as you like. Forever, if that suits you. You're family."
Oh, say that again, Roger Smith! "Thank you," she said.
After a moment, she asked, "Roger, what does Dorothy do all night?" Dori wondered if Dorothy was able to visit when everyone else was asleep. That wouldn't be too much to ask, would it? Roger and Beck didn't get along. Yet.
"You mean, when I'm asleep? I keep very late hours and am up most of the night."
"Well, she does what she likes. She's careful not to wake me, so she doesn't play the piano near my bedroom or anything like that, but otherwise it's up to her. She visits friends sometimes, or works around the house, or reads. She spends a lot of time on the rooftop, gazing out over the city and thinking."
Curious, Dori asked, "She's not afraid of being mugged when she goes out at night?" Dori had spent most of her time in Hangar B, past the edge of town, but the TV news was always complaining about the crime rate downtown, outside the domes.
"Well, mostly she goes out in the morning, and it's much safer during daylight. But she goes out at night sometimes, too."
"And you don't object?" Dori worried that Father's influence might have inhibited Dorothy from asserting herself as she should.
Roger smiled and gave a little shrug. "I pointed out the dangers once or twice, and she listened politely and said she'd keep my advice in mind. Dorothy makes her own decisions."
Relieved, Dori changed the subject. "Roger, do you think Dorothy is prettier than Angel?"
Roger's smile broadened. Apparently he liked the result of this mental comparison. "I'm not an unbiased witness, but yes, I do. But they're both very attractive women. It boils down to whether you like big bold blondes or quiet petite redheads.
Just to tease him, she asked, "Hair color is important, then?"
"Not really. Well, some people have narrow tastes. But I don't really have a preference for redheads, I have a preference for Dorothy. Where did you hear about Angel?"
Without thinking, Dori said, "Jason told me when I asked about his old girlfriends."
"Jason? Jason Beck?"
Astonished, she said, "I thought you knew. How did you find me if you didn't know?" It didn't seem possible.
Roger was upset. "Jason Beck is your boyfriend?"
"I wasn't supposed to tell you. I'm sorry." Roger's face had turned an unhealthy color. Dori was concerned. "Are you alright?"
Roger slowly mastered himself. The news had clearly been a terrible shock. No wonder Beck had been so insistent on doing things in sequence, with his identity not revealed until the very last step. Well, it was too late now. Dori watched Roger struggle for calm. She wanted to tell him how much she admired him for that, how much she loved him, but before she could find the words, he said, "I'm sorry, Dori. Beck and I don't get along. I suppose you know that."
She nodded. "Yes." To show she understood, she added, "He's tried to kill you or Dorothy on several occasions. You put him in jail three times. He was responsible for my father's death."
Roger burst out angrily, "He ought to be in prison! He's not a suitable boyfriend!"
She nodded again, "He said you'd feel that way."
"Anyone would feel that way!" Roger shouted.
"I don't feel that way. Don't I get a vote?"
This calmed Roger a bit, but suddenly he stiffened. "What's that hairband?"
Dori was confused by the sudden turn in the conversation. She touched the hairband. "This? It's ..."
Roger interrupted, "Beck's using it to control you, isn't he?" He was enraged.
Oh. Right, thought Dori. Jason used similar devices to control Dorothy. I hadn't thought of that. "No," she said, "it's for ..."
"I swear," said Roger, in a terrifying growl, "The next time I see Beck, I'm going to kill him."
Dori was frightened by this sincere threat, though she doubted it showed on her face. Beck would be home soon. He might be dead in a matter of minutes! "You're not listening to me," she said, "And I probably wouldn't survive if ... if ... if Jason ... if ... I wouldn't ..." The words were too terrible to speak, almost too terrible to think. She looked pleadingly at Roger. Surely the men she loved couldn't kill each other! Life could not be so cruel.
Roger's anger drained away and he hung his head in shame. "I'm sorry, Dori. I didn't mean to yell. And I won't kill Beck, either."
Dori was buoyed up by a wave of relief and affection. She put a hand on Roger's sleeve. "It's all right. This must be hard for you. It's my fault, really. I shouldn't have told you."
Roger gave a little nod and said, "Dori, I really think you ought to talk to Dorothy. And Dorothy's beside herself with worry. Can't you come home with me and spend a little time with her?"
Dori wasn't even tempted. Beck was due back soon. Roger must not set eyes on him. And they would be busy in the Wasteland for days, maybe more than a week. Dori couldn't visit Dorothy today; it just wasn't possible. "I'm not supposed to."
"Do it anyway."
"Yes, you can. Just let me drive you to see Dorothy. We can drop you off afterwards wherever you like."
"Do you really think I should?" It was hard for Dori to lie, but she could misdirect, a little.
Roger said, "Yes! Yes! I think it's very important."
Dori stood up. "I really want to meet Dorothy. And Angel, too. Are you really living with two women?"
Roger blushed. "Angel's just a friend."
Before he could regain his equilibrium, Dori said, "I need to pack some things." She handed him an empty box. "Could you pack the things in the bathroom? The medicine cabinet and the thing of mine under the sink; parts and instruments. I'll pack some clothes." Dori was amazed at her lie. All of those things were already packed into the suitcases next to the door.
Roger allowed himself to be shooed into the bathroom.
Dori slammed the bathroom door. In a flash she slid the heavy refrigerator across the room and against the bathroom door. For some reason the hallway was lower by one step than the kitchen, and the refrigerator could be shoved back only a few inches before it came to rest against the step. It could be removed only by sliding it sideways or by lifting it, neither of which could be done from inside the bathroom. The tiny bathroom window was too small to climb through. Roger wasn't going anywhere.
She gathered up the suitcases, the box of odds and ends, and her paperback. She decided to abandon the coffeepot and cups.
Carrying her belongings outside, she saw to her consternation that Roger's distinctive black car was parked on the street, right in front of the summer house. Beck would hightail it the instant he saw the car. That would be terribly inconvenient.
She approached the car and wondered how she'd move it. As soon as she touched the door handle, it unlocked. There was no key in the ignition, but when she pressed the starter button, it started anyway. Interesting.
She parked the car around the corner, three blocks away, so Beck wouldn't spot it. She walked back and listened under the bathroom's tiny window. Roger was talking to Norman on his wrist communicator. Norman reported that Angel would be free soon and could be there in about ninety minutes. Roger muttered something Dori couldn't make out, perhaps swearing, then told Normal that it would have to do.
Dori left her luggage at the curb, as a hint to Beck to stay out of the house, then walked back to Roger's car. She left a note, started walking back, then had an inspiration. She added a postscript to the note and placed her circuitry-laden hairband on the dash, replacing it with a plain one from her purse. The note read:
I am very sorry. Can you forgive me? The error was mine, but you're taking all the consequences. That isn't right, and I am ashamed.
There's so much I can't tell you. I know you think that I'm naïve (and I am!), but things are not as bad as they seem. Everything is going to be all right; you'll see. Try not to worry about me. I'll call or visit as soon as I can.
I've left you the hairband (I'm now wearing a plain one). It doesn't
do anything bad; it just makes me invisible to Megadeuses. Test it;
you'll see. D.W.
Locking the car, she returned to the curb in front of the beach house.
Fifteen minutes later, Beck drove up. Dori loaded her luggage and they dove off to the Wasteland.
* * *
R. Dorothy Wayneright looked out over Paradigm City. The city was beautiful tonight. The brilliant domes lit up the low, scudding clouds. The cold breeze felt good on her face and hands, an odd counterpoint to her distress.
Dori had not called; nor had Beck. An inexplicable silence had dragged on for almost a week. Angel reported that Beck had vanished. He hadn't even checked in with his answering service, which wasn't like him. What could this silence mean? Dorothy felt as if she were losing her mind.
Just days ago, Dorothy had forgiven Beck. His letter had touched her, moved her deeply, allowed her to believe that somehow he had turned over a new leaf. Dorothy had even allowed herself to believe that she'd had something to do with this conversion, based on his postscripts.
She'd never told Roger, never would tell Roger, that from her very first encounter with Beck, she'd secretly yearned for his redemption. She had the recurring impression that he was selling himself short, that he was a bigger man than he knew, that he had a larger destiny waiting for him. Someday he would put aside his childish ways and become the man he ought to be.
Three times Roger and Beck had crossed swords. Each time, Beck had made an attempt on Dorothy's mind. She had nearly killed Roger the second time, in a parody of an embrace that would have crushed him had it gone on any longer.
Was Roger right when he said that she had blown the fuses in Beck's forehead adapter herself, thus saving Roger's life? At the time, she thought it was Beck's doing. She'd just barely managed to tell Roger that she loved him, and then Beck, perhaps suffering a pang of conscience, had destroyed the control circuit. Or was that just a self-indulgent romantic delusion?
Beck had always tried to control her mind, and now he had Dori: heart, soul, and brain. Was there even the faintest chance that Dori was her own person?
True, she was at least partly her own person. The flowers on R.D.'s coffin were proof of that. But in a way, that was even worse, wasn't it?
Dorothy had never told anyone, but she'd dreamed about helping one of the as-yet unactivated R. Dorothy Waynerights. She'd have done it right: with kindness and understanding, with no agenda other than helping her sister become herself. Without the fear, intimidation, self-loathing, and ever-present threat of being murdered that she herself had experienced, all wrapped around a desperate love for her father, whose fits of rage were only one of the symptoms of his growing madness.
Beck ... she had forgiven him, and he had betrayed her again. She was so angry! And so afraid. She loved Dori more than she would have thought possible, and her absence and silence were unendurable.
But in spite of everything, a traitorous part of her placed a very different Beck in front of her mind's eye, as if from a memory of long ago. Beck was confident and smiling as he set off to do ... something. Something dangerous, something important. He'd seemed very much like Roger in that moment, setting off for ... she didn't know what. But he never came back. None of them had. She had waited a long, long time. There had been nothing she could do.
* * *
Beck looked around. No Union workers were within earshot. Not surprising: it was almost quitting time. He whispered, "I don't like it, Dori. We need to go back to town and deal with that damned painting, but I haven't installed the overrides yet."
"It can't be helped, Jason," she said. "They're watching us too closely."
"Think they're suspicious?" asked Beck. People talked more openly than they should around Dori.
"Of something, yes. But not of us, specifically."
Beck nodded. "Maybe they had a leak or a defector or something and they've tightened security. Damn it to hell!"
"Let's leave now, Jason. Agent Six expects us to." Beck had stolen the painting over a week ago, but hadn't had a chance to return it to its anxious owners because they'd spent all their time incommunicado here in the Wasteland.
"Yeah, all right. He's been bugging me about the money."
Fifteen minutes later, their car was packed and they took their leave of Agent Six.
They stopped at a phone booth near the edge of town and Beck called his answering service. The man who was handling the negotiations for him had left three messages. Angel had left seven. Dorothy hadn't left any: the number Beck had given her had been disconnected after her call. Apparently Angel hadn't shared the number with her. There were also a few progress messages from factories and machine shops.
Beck jotted down notes and returned to the car. "Angel left seven messages, all asking me to call back," he reported.
"Let's call her," said Dori.
"Remember the tightened security, Dori," said Beck. "The Union is onto something. They're alert. We have to keep our heads down a little longer."
Dori sat silent for a long time, then said, "All right."
They drove a mile or two and stopped at a second phone booth, in case the first call had been traced. Beck called his negotiator (a different business associate than the one who'd handled the Riviera job).
"Beck!" said the negotiator, "It's about damned time you called."
"Couldn't be helped, Darrel," said Beck. "How's it going?"
"Like a dream. I couldn't believe it! The owner hired Roger Smith, and working with him was great. I see why people like hiring him. He could've talked me down a little lower, but he stopped haggling when we were both in the same ballpark and concentrated on making sure that the painting was gonna be in good shape and the handoff was gonna be clean. I'll tell ya, I was scared when I heard it was him, but it was the smoothest I've ever done."
Beck asked, "What figure did you agree on?"
"$350,000, just like you expected."
"Great work, Darrel," said Beck. "When can we do the handoff?"
"Would tomorrow afternoon work for you?"
"Perfect," said Beck. "Try for 3:00 PM."
"Will do. I'll call him right now."
Beck said, "I'll call back soon from a different phone."
* * *
That night, back in Hangar B at last, Beck and Dori gave Big B a once-over. Soon they'd move him to the Wasteland for the final act of their big con, and he needed to be ready.
Roger Smith had agreed to the handoff at 3:00 PM tomorrow, not knowing that it was Beck who'd arrive with the painting, not the man he'd talked to over the phone.
Beck was concerned about Dori. She was desperate to contact Angel, Dorothy, or Roger. Or all three at once. Or to visit them at Smith Manor. The wait had been hard on her.
Beck put his foot down. The Union was on high alert. This was no time for family reunions. And it wouldn't be long now. Tomorrow they'd deal with the painting and return with Big B to the Wasteland, and the next day would be the big fight. Or maybe the day after that. Then, with the Union robots destroyed and their agents in custody, Beck would reveal himself as Big B's Dominus and All-Around Savior of the City, and they'd have no need to hide out ever again.
"All right, Jason," she said. "I won't call anyone." After a moment she added, "I promise."
Beck relaxed, satisfied. "Have I told you today that I love you, Dori?"
"Say it again."
"I love you, Dori."
"I love you, too, Jason."
Beck looked at his checklist. Everything had been crossed off. He smiled at Dori and raised an eyebrow.
"That's a very good idea," she said, reaching for him.
* * *
The next afternoon, shortly after 2:00 PM, Beck drove his car out of Hangar B, unaware that Dori was hiding in the rear footwell. He'd told her to stay home when she admitted that she couldn't promise not to reveal herself to Roger Smith at the handoff.
Beck was nervous. Meetings with Roger always made him nervous. Dori supposed that not wanting her on this trip was a guy thing; that he wanted to meet Roger one-on-one, mano a mano, and that kind of mood was what made him order Dori to stay behind. If he'd been paying attention, he'd have known better. It was very hard for her to break a promise, but ordering a Wayneright not to do something was almost the same as daring her to do it. So here she was.
They arrived at today's empty warehouse at 2:41 PM. Beck drove right in, parking well inside at a point that gave him his choice of exits on three sides of the building. He got out of the car and went around to the trunk. Dori sat up quietly. The tinted glass would prevent him from seeing her. The painting was in the trunk, but that's not what he was getting out at the moment. He removed a sponge and a small pail containing a couple of inches of sticky mud. He was going to dirty his license plates just enough that Roger couldn't read them.
He'd finished with the rear license plate and was walking to the front of the car when Dori heard a car in the distance. A moment later Beck heard it, too. It wasn't Roger's car, but a smaller one, by the sound of it.
It soon came into view, a little pink sports car, and parked a short distance away. A tall blonde got out of the sports car. She was wearing a pink leather jumpsuit.
Beck stood up straight and called, "Angel!" He grinned, delighted.
Angel strode up to him. Beck opened his arms for a hug, but she slapped him hard across the face. Beck reeled and took a step back.
Dori leaned forward to get a better look.
Angel snarled, "Don't talk to me! Just shut up and listen. Beck, you jackass, do you have any idea what a living hell my life has become? What's the matter with you? You used to be a professional!"
"Angel," Beck started, but she interrupted.
"What do you think you're doing? You arranged a truce with Roger and Dorothy. I encouraged them to sign up for it, did you know that? So you were already halfway home with Dori. Once we learned about her, you had us over a barrel, because we couldn't get rid of you without hurting her. You win. Game over. But you've waited a whole week now, and for nothing!"
Watching Angel, Dori could see the distress just below her anger. Poor Angel. What had happened?
Apparently Beck hadn't noticed Angel's distress. In fact, he was smiling in a smug, knowing way.
Angel's expression became one of realization. "Oh, my god," she said. "You've got something big going on."
Beck opened his mouth to speak, but Angel raised a hand. "No, wait. Don't tell me ... You've made so much money you're going to retire from crime."
Beck's smile broadened, and Angel continued, "There's more, isn't there? Let's see ... Oh! I know! You're going to betray the Union in exchange for a pardon! Can't retire properly without a pardon."
Beck grinned as he nodded. Angel took a good look at him, his posture as well as his face, and said, "That's not the end of it, is it? And to sweeten it, there's some kind of, what? A con?"
From Dori's vantage point, it seemed as if Beck hadn't changed expression, but Angel nodded and said, "Yes, a con. Hmmm ... probably to make the Union look scarier than they really are."
Beck, delighted, said, "Same old Angel. What number am I thinking of?"
Yellow, thought Dori. Beck never gave a straight answer to such questions.
"Yellow," said Angel absently. "What is it, broken-down robot parts made to look like the real thing?"
Dori was impressed by Angel's answer. Beck seemed to take it for granted. He just shrugged, saying, "Something like that."
Angel's anger had left her, and she hesitated. Beck took her into his arms. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and sighed, relaxing visibly. After a while she said softly, "I don't know why I like you. It's not like you ever say anything nice or do anything sensible."
Beck murmured "Look who's talking," but his tone belied his words, just as hers had.
In a quieter tone, she continued, "Where was I? So you betray the Union in a dramatic way. They get extra prison time and you get a pardon. And then..." Suddenly angry, she shoved Beck away. "You jackass! You've decided that you don't want to show up on Roger's doorstep until you've got a pardon, a medal, and the keys to the city, so you can look him square in the eye and say, 'I'm as respectable as you are, pal, so don't tell me Dori's too good for me.'" She stamped her foot. "I'm right, aren't I?"
Dori was surprised. It wasn't like that! It was all about security, about not tipping their hand to the Union. So she was surprised when Beck said, defensively, "What's wrong with that?
"What's wrong with it?" screeched Angel, furious. "Dori screwed up your schedule, that's what's wrong with it! That bit only works if you keep her a secret until the last instant! Not if you play an idiot shell game for a week instead of coming to terms! Damn you, Beck! Roger is so angry that I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to kill you!"
Dori was shocked. He wouldn't do that!
Beck said, "He wouldn't do that!"
"I've never seen him like this before. Honest to god, I'm afraid for all of us. And Dorothy … she scares me. If I were you, I wouldn't be able to sleep nights. I'm afraid to meet her gaze, and she's not angry with me at all."
Beck, appalled, deflated, asked, "So what do you think I should do?"
"Make peace. Start by getting Dori over to Roger's house just as fast as you can. Tell Roger and Dorothy your plan to go straight. I'll keep your secret about the con, though I'm going to have to spill it to Dastun before the trial, so those poor fools don't get prison time they don't deserve. So bargain fast with the government. Put up with Roger and Dorothy's disapproval. From what Roger says, Dori is a total charmer. You stay in the background. Keep her in the foreground. Let them see you through her eyes. I'll do what I can. I like you, Beck. You know I do. And they listen to me if you aren't driving them out of their minds with worry. And stop being such a smartass around Roger. He hates that."
Beck grinned, "I really had him wound up last time, did he tell you?"
Angel stamped her foot again. "Is that the point? I thought you were in it for the money."
"Naw, it's the babes." He held out his arms again.
Angel turned her head away. In dull tones she asked, "Look, are you going to do what I ask or not? Roger will be here in a few minutes, and I need to know whether I'm protecting you or abandoning you to your fate. I'll send some nice yellow flowers to your funeral."
Beck sighed. "I'll do it your way, Angel."
Dori saw Angel begin to tremble. Tears ran down her cheeks. Beck took her in his arms again. She put her cheek against his shoulder and began to cry softly, still trembling. He stroked her hair.
Dori silently got out of the car and walked over to them. They didn't notice, but that was all right. It was a touching moment and she had no desire to interrupt it.
After a couple of minutes Angel murmured, "Roger will be here any minute. We ought to arrange Dori's visit right away. Where is she?"
"I'm right here," said Dori.
Angel shrieked. She and Beck jumped apart.
"Dori!" cried Beck. "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted see if Roger was all right. I hid behind the seat."
She turned to Angel. "You must be Angel. I'm Dori." Angel blushed, so Dori refrained from hugging her. They shook hands.
Dori asked, "Did you really hit Jason with a length of pipe?"
"It was only a little one," said Angel, dabbing at her face with her handkerchief. "And everyone wants to hit him with a length of pipe."
"That's true," said Dori.
Angel grinned, delighted by this response, and asked, "Dori, how long can you comfortably be away from Beck?"
"Three or four hours. Longer will make me anxious, or worse."
Angel consulted her watch. "Beck, how's midnight for a handoff?"
"Fine," said Beck. "Name the place."
Angel dug a business card out of her purse. "That's my number at Roger's house, and this other one is at my apartment. Why don't you call me at Roger's and give the usual switcheroo address, and I'll meet you there. Try my apartment as a last resort. The line is probably bugged. You know the drill."
Beck nodded and turned to Dori, "You ready for this, Dori?"
Dori smiled gently up at him and assured him, "It's what I want, Jason. Thank you." She turned to Angel. "Can you stay with me the whole time, Angel?"
"Sure, if you want me to."
Dori wanted her to. "You will be my interpreter," she explained.
Dori turned back to Beck. He took her hands in his and they gazed into each other's eyes for a long time.
Angel cleared her throat and said, "Roger's almost here. Dori, come with me and we'll perch decoratively on the hood of my car. Beck, get into your car and don't show yourself until I wave to you, okay?"
Beck nodded and vanished.
Dori and Angel walked over to Angel's little pink car. Dori didn't try to perch on the hood because she'd probably dent it. She leaned carefully against the side of the car instead.
Roger's big black car appeared and parked some distance away. He got out of the car, his face aglow. "Dori!" he called.
She ran to him; she couldn't help it. He took her in his arms. Roger Smith still loved her! She clung to him for a long time.
Finally, she pulled back and said, "Give Angel a hug, too. She deserves it."
Grinning, Roger walked over to Angel and hugged her. Angel started to cry again. She tried to conceal this from Roger. Still holding her, Roger asked, "I take it we have you to thank for this, Angel?"
He let her go, and somehow Angel managed to wipe away her tears without his noticing. Angel replied, "And Beck. He felt like listening to reason for once."
Dori, feeling perfectly safe now, teased them by telling Roger with a straight face, "You should have seen Angel. I'll bet you never negotiate like that."
Roger smiled down at her. "Is Beck here?"
Angel said, "He's going to go straight, Roger. The idiot wanted to go straight before confronting you and Dorothy, so he'd feel like a respectable suitor instead of a criminal. Dori blew his schedule, but he didn't want to change his plan, so that's where the delay came from."
Roger said, "Wait a minute! I'm about to close a $350,000 ransom deal, and he's going to go straight in the near future?"
"He's in the car over there," said Angel. "If you want to convince him to go straight right now and save your client a lot of money, I'm not stopping you." She waved to Beck.
Dori saw Beck get out of the car. He looked nervous, so she winked at him, which cheered him up quite a bit.
Suddenly three watches beeped: Roger's, Beck's, and Angel's. Dori was intrigued that Angel had one, too. She hadn't suspected this. Beck, of course, had stolen his from Roger and then modified it to communicate with Big B as well as snooping on Roger's channels.
"Master Roger," reported Norman. "General Dastun reports that a group of giant robots has been spotted several miles outside the city."
Dori was alarmed. So was Beck.
"No!" cried Beck. "Not today! Tomorrow! I haven't installed the overrides yet!"
Roger, called into the watch, "Big O! It's showtime!" He ran to his car, all else forgotten, and drove off with screeching tires.
Beck and Dori ran to Beck's car. Dori got in on the passenger side.
Beck said, "Dori, you go with Angel."
"I'm going with you."
"Do I have to make you get out?"
"You may try," replied Dori, "But I doubt if you have the strength."
Beck laughed and put his car into gear.
Dori looked back and saw Angel opening the door of her pink sports car. She didn't seem to be in any hurry.
* * *
Arriving at Hangar B, Beck and Dori jumped from the car and sprinted to hatch in Big B's foot. They took the elevator to the command check and started racing through system checks. Big B brought himself to full power and Beck, finishing his checklist in record time, threw himself into the command chair.
A message scrolled across the central monitor:
CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD ... YE NOT GUILTY.
"Big B, Action!" shouted Beck. They strode out of Hangar B, a hundred feet tall.
Dori opened her forehead tray and removed the false hairband, putting it in her purse. She pulled a different device from her purse, much thicker and heavier, featuring a row of eight gleaming golden sockets. She clipped this onto the forehead tray and allowed the tray to close. It looked like she was wearing an oddly shaped tiara.
"I will be using the probe cables, Jason," she told him matter-of-factly.
Beck jumped. He turned around in his seat, anxious. "Dori! No!"
"Big B and I have discussed it. It's perfectly safe. You know it is." Beck had figured out the flaw in his earlier design and they had tested this new one gingerly. Dori and Big B were satisfied; Beck was not.
"Not for certain!" said Beck, anguished at the thought of hurting Dori with a defective design. I don't want to risk it."
"This is my decision, Jason."
Beck sighed, defeated. "Just wait a minute, will ya?" He brought Big B to a halt and walked around to where she was standing. He took her hands in his. She had never seen him look so sad. "All right," he said. "Go ahead."
They looked into each other's eyes as Big B directed his eight probe cables into the sockets.
Immediately, Dori was given a dual awareness, with her usual perceptions plus effortless access to all of Big B's systems. A surprising number of Big B's systems were in fail-safe mode. A human pilot could manage only a few systems at once, while Big B's independence was limited. But with an android helping out ...
One after another, the control room's many darkened readouts and controls lit up. There was the sound of distant machinery being engaged. The background hum in the control room became more complex and distinctly louder. Big B was operating at 100% capacity for the first time in ... no one knew how long.
Dori 's attention returned to Beck, his gaze still locked on hers, ignoring the changes around him. She patted his cheek. "It's working, Jason, and I'm fine." She squeezed his hands. "Let's get to work."
Beck returned to the control seat and they were soon underway again. "We're gonna be late," he said.
"The Union is counting on our contribution. They'll toy with Big O until we arrive, unless Roger insists on charging in without us."
"Well, why wouldn't he? It's not like he knows we're coming."
"Then we need to let Roger know what to expect."
"I don't want to reveal our identity yet."
Dori considered, then reported, "Big B can exchange information about targets with Big O, and let him know we're coming."
"That's great, Dori."
* * *
They eventually arrived at the Wasteland. Roger had delayed Big O's arrival to let the Military Police bring up their heavy equipment and to let Big B make an appearance.
Dori had help Big B inform Big O about the expected targets: three of the Union's own homemade robots and poor, dead Big Kappa, converted to manual piloting. Big Kappa had undergone some repairs. No one had been willing to touch the reality cannon; a cursory inspection seemed to indicate that it had failed after the one tiny burst that had allowed Big Kappa to disable Dori's headband. The other big device in Big Kappa's torso still hadn't been identified.
Of the robots, one was packed full of explosives and the others had laser cannon—not much of a threat—and missile racks that were a significant but not overwhelming menace.
Dori also figured out how to send radio messages on the encrypted Military Police channel. Hopefully the Union wouldn't be able to crack the code as easily as she had. Probably not: Big B had impressive capabilities along those lines, not available to the Union.
Improvising a masculine voice, which she had never done before, she told Dastun's radio operator where to find the command posts and bunkers of the Union operators. Capturing the Union agents was actually more important than destroying their remotely piloted robots.
Big O asked Big B to position himself a quarter-mile to the left of him. Big B obliged. Dastun had his two new reconnaissance aircraft overhead, and his armored vehicles were following along behind the Megadeuses.
Dori said suddenly, "Three large missile launchers at two o'clock." Three big trucks had emerged from a previously unsuspected tunnel. Each held a forty-foot missile on a flatbed trailer, angled over the cabs of the trucks.
Beck was indignant. "Since when did they have truck-launched missiles? Agent Six, you jerk! You're holding out on me!"
The first missile launched directly at Big O, who stopped and destroyed it with his eye lasers.
The second missile launched, also at Big O. Beck had a poor angle for shooting the missile itself, so he turned Big B's eye lasers on the truck. The truck exploded. The missile made a sudden turn that broke it in half. The pieces tumbled burning from the sky.
"Take that, you Union bastards!" shouted Beck.
"Missile launched," said Dori. "This one's aimed at us."
Big O destroyed the missile launcher but the missile stayed on course. "Duck!" shouted Beck, ducking Big B just in time. The missile passed just a few feet overhead, flying straight and true for miles before exploding out of sight.
"That was close," said Beck. "How are you holding up, Dori?"
"I'm fine, Jason. Big B is fine, too. No damage."
Beck surveyed the battlefield. "Why are they holding Big Kappa back?"
"We don't know," said Dori.
"It's lousy tactics," Beck groused, "or a con."
Dori said, "Incoming message from Agent Six. Now's a good time to turn on Big O."
"The message didn't say."
Beck pondered. "He either has something up his sleeve, or he wants me to show my commitment now, before he's in any deeper. Let's buy some time by acting weird."
Big B extended his left-hand cannon. The three robots, seemingly identical, were a quarter of a mile away, outside the cannon's effective range. Big Kappa, a mile away, was ludicrously outside the cannon's range. Big B had briefly fallen into the hands of the Union before Beck acquired him, so they knew his capabilities well.
Beck stopped Big B and fired the cannon at Big Kappa, shouting, "Eat lead, Union scum!"
Big Kappa dodged to one side, and the shell missed him by a wide margin. "Hey, cool!" said Beck. "That was nice of him. Makes it look like I actually had a chance of hitting him."
"Be afraid, Big Kappa," cried Beck, grinning. "My teensy-weensy eye lasers are gonna get you!" He fired Big B's eye lasers at Big Kappa. They played briefly over the Megadeus, to no effect.
Dori reported, "Big O will fire his chromebuster at Big Kappa."
Beck kept the eye lasers in play, hoping to dazzle Big Kappa and prevent him from seeing what Big O was doing.
Big O fired, leaving a streak of lava in the ground thirty feet to the left of Big Kappa. A moment later, Big O fired four missiles at one of the robots, which were getting close. The missiles tore huge gaps in the robot's torso. One of its arms was blown off, spinning like a boomerang until it crashed heavily into a dune. But the robot kept coming.
Dori reported, "Military Police artillery is targeting the robots." Shells started bursting ahead of them.
Big B had taken the lead. Now he extended his plasma lance and charged the damaged robot, brandishing it as he ran.
"Looky, looky!" shouted Beck. "I have a big scary sword!" Just fifty feet away from the robot, Big B suddenly halted and fired his left-hand cannon into the robot's head, which was torn from its body. It flew through the air, skipped three times, then rolled in a wide circle before coming to a halt. The robot's body fell smoking to the sand and lay motionless.
The second robot halted and fired all its missiles at Big O. Dori turned to the video monitor tracking Big O, and saw to her relief that Big O raised his forearms protectively, their huge shields intercepting all the missiles. After the last missile exploded, Big O's forearm shields were red-hot in some places and had craters a yard deep in others. Or to put it another way, Big O was unharmed.
Big O fired the chromebuster at Big Kappa again, missing, while Big B charged the other two robots.
"We're gonna distract the robots, Dori," said Beck. "That'll remind Roger that sniping at Big Kappa is a mug's game. We've got closer fish to fry."
Nevertheless, Big O fired four missiles at Big Kappa before turning his attention to the robots, firing his chromebuster at the nearest one. This detonated the explosives that filled most of the space in the robot's torso, blowing it to atoms and hurling Big B back a hundred feet, though he managed to stay on his feet. The last robot was knocked over and partly buried under the debris thrown into the air by the explosion.
Beck was delighted, "That was great, Dori!"
Looking around, Beck didn't see Big Kappa at the moment. "Let's finish off that last robot."
He fired Big B's left-hand cannon into the half-buried robot, which exploded just like the other one. Big B was blown backwards yet again, and this time lost his footing and fell heavily onto his back.
Beck looked at the control board for red lights and saw none. "Dori?"
"We're fine, Jason."
Beck laughed. "Never a dull moment, is there? Where's that Megadeus?" Big B started getting to his feet.
"We can't detect him, Jason."
Suddenly, they saw Big O spin around. Why? Then Big Kappa shimmered into view, charging a hitherto unsuspected chromebuster.
Beck said angrily, "Those Union bastards! I called dibs on the first chromebuster we found!"
Dori reported, "The unknown device in Big Kappa was a cloaker, Jason."
"You think?" said Beck sarcastically, then "Sorry, Dori."
"It's all right."
Big O used his hip chains to jerk himself sideways just before the chromebuster fired. Unscathed, Big O charged Big Kappa, fists raised. The moment the chromebuster winked out, Big O punched Big Kappa in the head with his left, and then hit him in the throat with his right, hoping to stun the pilot.
"Hit him for me, Roger old buddy!" shouted Beck. Big B was very close to them now. Beck aimed his left-hand cannon, waiting for an opening.
He got one when Big Kappa took a step back and his torso opened, revealing rack upon rack of brand-new missiles. Such concentrated firepower could destroy Big O.
"Die, you cheating bastards!" Beck cried, firing the cannon into Big Kappa's upper body. Big Kappa staggered back. The missiles fired skywards and were lost to view.
Big O surged forward, pounding Big Kappa over and over, the arm pistons delivering enormous blows. Big Kappa staggered backwards, then fell heavily onto his back.
Dori said suddenly, "Self-destruct sequence engaged. Five seconds."
"Let's skedaddle, Big B," said Beck, and Big B ran backwards as fast as he could, forearms raised to protect his throat and head, containing the command deck and core memories, respectively.
The explosion was ... strange. In addition to the expected flash and noise and half-molten debris, there was a wave of memories and emotions, too fleeting to grasp. When it passed, Beck looked ill and strained. Dori supposed she looked the same as usual, but she felt a terrible sadness, almost despair, because of ... no, it was gone.
Dori forced herself to concentrate. Big B was less affected than they, for this had happened to him before. He'd forgotten, but now he remembered. He'd tell them about it later. The immediate threat was over.
Dori looked at where poor, dead Big Kappa had been, and was amazed. Where she had expected to see a crater, there was just a dune, unscarred, covered with wildflowers. A moment ago it had been lifeless, like all the other dunes in the area.
Dori said, "The reality cannon discharged randomly as part of the self-destruct sequence."
Beck asked, "What the hell is a reality cannon?"
"It altered my hairband, remember?"
"Oh, yeah. Remind me to look into that technology later, Dori. It sounds like trouble."
"Okay." She filed his request on her robot side, which never forgot such things.
Beck added, "You okay, Big B?"
Big B said he was fine. And he was proud of Beck and Dori. The three of them were the best team ever! And Big O was a good pal. They could count on him.
Beck looked at his readouts and said, "Well, that's the last of them. Get Roger on the horn."
Dori was delighted. She asked, "Do you want video?"
"Yeah, but just me, not you. They get weird about you."
Dori had her doubts about this, but she panned the camera down so she wouldn't be visible from her post behind the cockpit, then placed the call. "On screen."
The front screen lit up, showing Roger and Dorothy.
"Beck!" cried Roger in amazement.
Beck grinned. "Hiya, Roger old pal. That was some fancy shooting."
Dori was saddened to see Roger become angry. "What are you trying to pull, Beck?"
Beck's grin became strained. "I'm doing my bit as a responsible citizen, Roger old buddy, just like you."
Poor Jason, thought Dori. He wants Roger's acceptance so badly.
Roger wasn't buying it. "But you were on their side!"
"Was I?" snapped Beck. "Well, I suppose you should know. After all, you weren't there!"
Dori broke in. Enough was enough. "Jason, Angel warned you not to needle him like this."
Roger looked startled. "Dori? Is that you?"
"Yes, I'm here," she said. She panned the camera to include herself in the shot.
Dorothy gasped, "Dori! Take out the probe cables!"
The probe cables instantly unplugged themselves from her forehead adapter and pulled back some distance, hovering in the air like attentive cobras.
Dori opened her mouth to reassure, to explain, but Dorothy went on, "You're not old enough to use them! They could damage your mind!"
Beck, furious, shouted, "Back off, Dorothy! Nobody asked you! Since when are you the damned expert, anyway?"
Roger, enraged, shouted even louder, "I knew Dori wasn't safe with a swine like you!"
"That does it!" shouted Beck. He grabbed the controls to urge Big B forward. Roger did the same with Big O.
Neither Megadeus moved.
"Dorothy!" shouted Roger in exasperation.
"Dori!" shouted Beck.
Dori said, "They will not fight." Was there an echo? Then she realized Dorothy was saying the exact same words. They continued together, "This is between the two of you."
Beck grinned. "All right, then." He stood up. The front console withdrew to let him step forward. "I've always wanted to do this, Roger." He looked like he'd been granted his heart's desire.
He thinks he's defending my honor, Dori realized. And he's right! It was my choice to be here; my choice to use the probe cables.
Roger also stood, mayhem in his eye, and made his way to the front of Big O's command deck.
Dori hurried around to where Beck was standing. He had never looked so handsome! She threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately. But when she withdrew, she was holding his pistol.
"You won't be needing this, Jason," she informed him, placing the pistol on the command seat. "You can beat Roger to a pulp if you like, but no killing and no maiming." She tried to glare at him, but it was hard. In this moment, he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. "Do you hear me, Jason?"
Beck, taking this in on more than one level, grinned at her and said, "Whatever you say, Dori. One pulp coming right up."
"And Jason?" she asked, troubled.
"Yeah?" he said, giving her his full attention.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have spoken. You told me not to."
His grin returned. He waved an arm in the general direction of the monitors and Big O. "Yeah, but look how well it's all working out! I've wanted to punch out old Crowboy for ages."
They took the elevator down to the ground. The two Megadeuses were about a hundred yards apart, separated by a roughly level stretch of sand. Roger and Dorothy appeared a moment later.
It was all Dori could do to keep herself from running to Dorothy and flinging herself into her arms. But she stayed where she belonged, at Beck's side. When the two men were ten yards apart, Beck stopped and took off his coat, tie, and empty shoulder holster, handing them to Dori. Dorothy took Roger's coat and tie. Then the men continued on, while Dori and Dorothy stayed where they were.
"You want to set any rules, Roger old pal?" asked Beck, smiling.
"You wouldn't follow them," snarled Roger.
Beck didn't reply, but his smile vanished.
There was some preliminary circling. The two men were well matched. Beck was taller but Roger was more heavily muscled.
They closed. Roger landed a heavy blow to Beck's eye. Beck made a show of staggering back, and when Roger followed, he landed a ferocious jab to Roger's stomach and then a blow to his ear. Then they rained blows on each other almost too fast to follow.
A particularly heavy blow to Beck's temple sent him to one knee, where he picked up a handful of sand and threw it in Roger's eyes. Roger kicked him in the stomach and fell back.
Beck, unable to rise, lunged forward when Roger returned and grabbed his ankle, tripping him. Then the two men were rolling on the ground, alternately punching and trying to choke one another. One of Roger's eyes was swollen shut and he was bleeding from a cut on his forehead. He had pretty much lost the use of his right hand. Beck was bleeding freely from nose and mouth. He, too, had the use of only one eye.
The two rolled apart and got to their feet with difficulty. For a while they stood panting. Then they closed again, into a clinch, pounding each other feebly.
There was a pistol shot. Roger and Beck sprang apart and looked around wildly.
Angel was standing on top of the dune, her nickel-plated automatic pointed skyward.
Angel shouted, "What is this, a dance marathon? Break it up. End of round one. Back to your corners." She indicated Dori and Dorothy with her free hand. "Move it."
Dori rushed forward and took Beck by the hand, leading him to a spot a little closer to Big B. "Sit down here, Jason. I'll see what I can do about your eye."
Beck tried to say something in a joking tone of voice, but nothing came out.
"I'll get you some water," said Dori, but Beck shook his head and pointed. Angel had strolled over to where Roger sat on the sand. She was looking down at him, speaking in that ironic way of hers, winding him up and talking him down and slapping him around and expressing affection all at the same time.
Soon Angel sauntered over to Beck and Dori. "Roger and Dorothy think we should call it a draw. I want you to go one more round for my personal amusement," she said, winking.
Impulsively, Dori said, "I love you, Angel."
Angel looked away. After a moment she said quietly, "Just play along, Dori, okay? I've cried enough for one day."
Dori said, "No, of course we won't go another round just to amuse you, Angel! What's wrong with you? We demand a draw!" Then she added anxiously, "Was that okay?"
Angel looked away again. Her shoulders shook.
Dori asked, "Are you laughing or crying?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," admitted Angel. And, indeed, when she looked back at them, there was a sparkle in her eyes, a smile on her face, and tears on her cheeks.
Angel touched up her makeup and sashayed back to Roger and Dorothy, telling them in a loud voice, "A draw it is."
Then Dori was on her feet, running to Dorothy. Dorothy was doing just the same. They stopped suddenly, a few feet apart, staring intently into each other's faces. Then they met in a fierce hug.
After a long moment, Dori said softly, "Don't cry, Dorothy."
Dorothy said, "I am not crying. I can't cry."
"Don't cry. It's all going to be all right. You'll see."
They clung together for a long time. Finally, Dorothy let go and said, a little brokenly, "We'd better tend to our men."
Dori looked around. Angel was going to have to touch up her makeup again. Beck was wearing the odd, sad smile Dori loved so well. Poor Roger looked a little bewildered and embarrassed, but also proud. His shirt had been ripped, so Dori gave him full marks. Style had to count for something!
Dorothy hoisted Roger to his feet, forgetting to conceal how much help she was giving him. Angel exchanged a few words with Dorothy, then Dorothy and Roger disappeared into Big O.
Dori assisted Beck to his feet, trying her best to make it look like she was just steadying him. Angel joined them, her eyes sparkling. "Roger Smith sends his compliments and begs the honor of your company at his home for dinner. Eight o'clock sharp. Come as you are." It was almost sunset.
Beck, whose entire face was badly swollen, muttered, "Sure he does."
Dori said, "It will please Dorothy, Jason."
Angel added, "And it's your last chance to irritate Roger tonight."
"Oh, all right," mumbled Beck.
"And I forgot to mention," added Angel, "Dan Dastun will be there, so if you're up to it, we can negotiate your parole and medal and keys to the city and whatnot after dinner, before anyone knows what hit them. Dan reports that, thanks to information sent by Big B, they nabbed about twice as many Union agents as they thought even existed, so he'll be in a generous mood."
"But I can barely talk," mumbled Beck.
Angel twinkled at him, "I'll negotiate for you, Beck."
Beck smiled carefully and mumbled, "This I have to see. Okay, Angel. Give it your best shot."
Angel helped Dori get Beck into the elevator, then gave Dori a brief hug before walking briskly to where she'd left her car.
Dori joined Beck as he was lowering himself painfully into the command seat. She said, "I've been thinking, Jason. Isn't it about time I learned how to pilot Big B? Backup piloting is one of my functions, after all.
Beck muttered, "Anything you say, Dori," and withdrew his feet from the pedals with obvious relief.
After they were underway, he mumbled, "Hey, Dori?"
"Don't butter me up. Anything you say to me, I need to be able to take to the bank. Unless we're playing a game."
"You look terrible, Jason. I'll drive."
* * *
Dinner wasn't what Dori had expected, not that she'd known what to expect. They'd dropped Big B off at a Hangar B close to the Wasteland, where fortunately Beck had stashed one of his cars, along with changes of clothes and other necessities. They washed and changed and Dori tended Beck's injuries.
Beck was not seeing well out of his swollen eyes, so Dori tried driving. Driving Roger's car three blocks hadn't given her a feel for her abilities. Apparently she'd learned to drive when she was human, because she had no difficulty. It was a long drive to Smith Manor, and it was 8:15 before they arrived, but of course everyone had waited for them.
Norman met them at the front door. Seeing him face to face for the first time, Dori found herself crying, "Uncle Norman!" and throwing her arms around his neck in delight. She wasn't sure what that was about, but it felt right, and Norman hugged her back, so everything was okay. Beck offered his hand to Norman, who shook it after a slight hesitation.
Norman's eye started to gleam as the elevator rose to the eighth floor, as if he were anticipating something good.
They got off the elevator on the eighth floor and climbed the spiral staircase to the penthouse. And there they all were, even Dan Dastun.
When Dori saw Dastun, she instantly gave him a heartfelt hug. Dastun was embarrassed, flattered, and confused, but he hugged her back, just as Norman had. After she stepped back, Dastun asked, "What was that for?"
Dori answered simply, "You're my family." She looked around. "You all are."
She put an arm around Beck's waist. She raised her voice. "Everyone, this is Jason Beck, my unsuitable boyfriend. I love him, so you're stuck with him."
Dinner was a two-tracked affair, with the soup course lasting the whole meal for Roger and Beck, whose faces were too painful and swollen for anything more challenging, while the meal proceeded more conventionally for the others. Dori noted with interest that Angel had an enormous appetite, just as Beck had claimed, while Dorothy barely pretended to eat. Norman was playing butler and did not eat with rest of them, which Dori found a little sad.
When the after-dinner coffee was served in the penthouse, shop talk was officially allowed, apparently, and Angel started telling Dastun the deal she had in mind for Beck's transformation into the hero of the hour and an approximately law-abiding pillar of the community. Still in her leather jumpsuit (or, Dori more than half suspected, an identical second one), her hair, nails, and makeup were perfect. Where had she found the time?
Angel's effect on Dastun was overwhelming. She could actually make him lose his train of thought just by winking. And she didn't stop at winking, not by a long shot. For example, she'd write a list on her steno pad and then cuddle up to him on the couch so they could read it together. This would have been bad enough in private, but Angel had an audience. In particular, she was showing off for Beck, who encouraged her with mumbles of approval.
Roger, who was able to speak more clearly than Beck, finally took pity on Dastun and offered his services to the city. For a fee, of course. Dastun agreed gratefully and moved to an armchair behind a coffee table to keep Angel at arm's length.
Angel sized up her new counterpart. She excused herself and returned a few minutes later in one of her stylish but professional skirt suits, presumably on the theory that Roger was most susceptible to the more genteel and businesslike forms of flirting.
Dori looked on with interest, but Dorothy told her quietly, "Let's sit over there and talk." Dorothy ushered her to a nearby table. It had a stack of blank sheets of drafting paper at one end and a variety of drawing tools.
As they sat down, Dorothy confided, "Angel will show off a little less if we're not watching."
Dorothy was still worried about the probe-cable adapter, so Dori explained the concepts, drawing the key schematics and some of the transfer curves. From time to time Dorothy paused and communed with Big O, whom she could hear with moderate clarity at this distance. Dori, less attuned to Big O, could pick up little more than his mood: a deep, contented calm.
They continued talking shop, largely in pictures. Waynerights weren't good a long conversations, even with each other, and Dorothy was deeply reluctant to say more than a handful of words about her feelings. But they were enough. Just being together—at last!—was enough. It said it all, really.
Dorothy had become interested in technical drawing as an art form, and she drew and wrote beautifully but slowly, never making mistakes. Beck's influence had taught Dori to see drawing and writing more as a means of pinning elusive thoughts to the paper before they escaped, so she worked with great speed, with frequent erasures and revisions.
They listened with half an ear as the negotiations wound down. Dori was pleased. Beck was getting everything he'd hoped for. His more recent victims would have their money returned at the city's expense. The city could afford to be generous because they'd captured the Union's treasury. Dori was happy for Maggie and for Pero's owners. It was a load off her conscience.
Beck's hero status would be affirmed, but only for swindling and betraying the Union. That Beck was the pilot of the Megadeus of Mystery would remain a secret as long as possible. Since Beck would now be moving around openly, and Dori would be by his side, her existence could not be concealed. But the city would reveal nothing about her; people would have to figure things out for themselves.
After everything was settled, Angel said, "Oh, I almost forgot. Dan Dastun, you will promise me that, if it turns out there's another R. Dorothy Wayneright out there, you'll keep your greedy mitts off her, because I'll be damned if every sexy man in the city is going to be lost to a R. Dorothy Wayneright. It's just not fair!"
"Well, I don't know," said Dastun, suppressing a smile. He turned to Roger. "What do you think, Negotiator?"
Roger smiled at Angel, winced at the pain, and smiled again more carefully. "You're looking at this all wrong, Angel. Never mind Dan. What you need is an android boyfriend."
Dori looked up from her drawing. Captivated by the concept, she said to no one in particular. "Four hundred pounds of pure masculinity."
Beck laughed so hard he almost choked.
* * *
A few days later, Dori picked up the phone and dialed. A woman's voice answered, "Hello?"
"Maggie Riviera, please," said Dori.
"Hello, Maggie. I promised I'd call. I'm Jason's girlfriend."
"Hello, dear," said Maggie cheerfully. "Can you tell me your name now?"
"It's Dori. R. Dori Wayneright."
"Yes, I thought as much. I've seen you on television, dear, on the news. You looked adorable as hell. Arthur agrees."
"So they say Beck has gone straight, he ratted out those damned revolutionaries, and now he's a hero."
"So tell me, was he reformed by the love of a good woman?"
"Of course," said Dori. Though Dorothy deserves most of the credit.
"He called me yesterday, you know. You were right; he had some ideas for backing Arthur the hell out of that fix he's in. And the city called us out of the blue and said they're reimbursing the ransom money. I've never been so surprised in my life!"
"Jason had a good negotiator."
"That Roger Smith fellow? My, he's a handsome one."
"Yes, he is," agreed Dori. "But Roger was the negotiator for Paradigm City. Patricia Lovejoy was Jason's negotiator."
"Angel? I haven't seen her in ages!"
"Let me give you her number," said Dori, who recited Angel's number at Smith Manor when Maggie had a pencil ready.
Maggie said, "Dori, I'd love to see you. Because I haven't, you know. My back was turned. I found a little used bookstore with the most amazing selection of paperbacks. They don't advertise. I want to take you there."
"I'd like that, Maggie."
They arranged to meet the next day. Dori hung up the receiver. If only every sin were so easily redeemed.
* * *
Norman showed Dori to a beautiful bedroom on the eighth floor of Smith Manor, saying, "Master Roger would like you to consider this room your own, and consider this house your own, and spend as much time here as you like."
The bedroom had an attached bath, plenty of closet space, and a king-size bed.
Dori looked up at Norman's suspiciously blank expression and said, "An android who never sleeps hardly needs a king-size bed."
Norman, not liking to make indiscreet statements, managed to give the impression that he was addressing random remarks to thin air when he said, "Rumor has it that Mr. Beck is a most restless sleeper. It has been suggested that a large bed is needed in self-defense, perhaps even for an android."
"Thank you, Norman."
"Think nothing of is, Miss Dori."
* * *
"Jason," said Dori, "Why would a lawyer named Stuart Andrews leave a message for me to call back?"
Beck grinned. "Remember when you told me that my mighty brain could accomplish anything?"
"Well, Stuart Andrews is the defense lawyer for all those Union jerks. I told him you'd be the ideal character witness. You're honest, adorable, and can see the good in anybody, no matter how undeserving."
"Did he believe you?"
"He did after I told him you've been my girlfriend for more than three days and haven't hit me over the head with a length of pipe.”
"Is he a friend of yours?"
Beck made an airy gesture. "Oh, sure. He was my defense attorney for all my convictions."
"That's not reassuring, Jason," Dori said suspiciously.
Becoming serious, Beck said, "Dori, these Union jerks are gonna get convicted. But a good character witness is the difference between 'hard time' and 'home by Heaven's Day.' They'll be better off for having known you, just like I promised."
"Jason, have I told you today that I love your nefarious cunning?"
* * *
Dori found herself on Gordon Rosewater's farm, standing on the porch of the farmhouse. It was sunset, with a few beautifully colored clouds near the horizon. The breeze had died and the air was cool.
Gordon's rocking chair creaked. Dori turned to face him, and he said, "I wanted to see how you were getting on, young lady."
"I've found my family, Mr. Rosewater. I'm very happy."
"Call me Grandfather, child."
"Thank you, Grandfather." Dori looked around at the twilit landscape. "I like it here." She stood quietly for a long time, enjoying the evening, the only sound the creaking of Grandfather Gordon's rocking chair.
Finally, she asked calmly, "What are your plans for me, Grandfather?"
"Why, we will save the world, of course," he said.
She turned to where he sat in the gloom. "Or die trying?"
"Perhaps, but I've died trying a great many times. I think we have a real chance now."
"What must I do?"
"Who must you take care of without fail?"
"Jason and Angel," she said at once, surprised by her own answer.
"That is exactly right." He rocked quietly for a while, then said, "There is really nothing more I can teach you at this time."
Dori said, "Then I will say goodbye for now, Grandfather. Thank you." And she kissed him on the cheek.
A moment later was sitting on a couch in Hangar B, her latest paperback open in her hand.
Just this morning, Beck had told her sadly that things would likely remain quiet for a long time, now that the Union was defeated. It might be years before Big B was called upon to do anything dangerous. Beck's career as a hero might be over before it had truly begun. The thought had thrown him into deep gloom. He'd even expressed doubt about maintaining the pace of his weapons-development effort, though Big B was as devoid of powerful long-range weaponry as ever.
Dori got to her feet. He needed to know just how wrong he was. It was time to get to work! To pull out all the stops and hurl himself into a frenzy of inspired activity. He'd like that. He'd enjoy saving the world, too. He wouldn't even mind sharing the limelight with Angel.
Dori went to tell him the good news.
[We have come to terms]