The Love of a Good Android
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 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 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.
P.S. 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, with 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 Beck, and not the man he'd spoken to on the phone, who'd arrive with the painting.
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. He removed a small pail containing a sponge and 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 catsuit.
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. 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 wept softly, still trembling. He stroked her hair.
Dori 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 was delighted by this response. "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."
Indignant, 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 deck 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. "It's working, Jason, and I'm fine." She patted his cheek. "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.
Big B had informed Big O about the expected targets: three of the Union's own homemade robots and poor, dead Big Kappa, converted to manual piloting. She knew Big Kappa had undergone some repairs as well. 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 disabled Dori's headband. The other big device in Big Kappa's torso still hadn't been identified, but it didn't seem to be a weapon.
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.
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 watched Big O raise his forearms, 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 cloaking engine, 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, step after step, 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."
Lowering himself painfully to the sand, Beck tried to say something, 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. Angel attacked her food with gusto, though with excellent table manners. She ate more than Dastun. Dori used her as a benchmark and ate about half as much. Dorothy barely touched her food. 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 approximately law-abiding pillar of the community). Still in her leather catsuit (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 at 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 recently 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 negotiated 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, who disliked indiscreet statements, gave the impression that he was addressing random remarks to the air when he said, "Rumor has it that Mr. Beck is a most restless sleeper. It has been suggested that a large bed is a necessary item of 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 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 with a length of pipe."
"He's a friend?"
"Oh, sure. He was my defense attorney for all my convictions."
Dori was suspicious. "That's not reassuring."
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 how much I love your nefarious cunning?"
Dori found herself on Gordon Rosewater's farm, standing on the porch. 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. I've died trying a great many times, child. It has its uses. But this time I think we have a real chance. It will come sooner than you think."
"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.
And then she was sitting on a couch in Hangar B, her latest paperback open in her hand.
Just this morning, Beck had told her sadly that, with the Union defeated, things could remain quiet for a long time. Years might pass before Big B was called upon to do anything really dangerous. Beck's career as a hero might be over before it had truly begun. He'd even expressed doubt about maintaining the pace of his weapons development, though Big B was as devoid of powerful long-range weaponry as ever.
Dori got to her feet. Beck needed to know just how wrong he was. It was time to get to work! Time to pull out all the stops; to 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 give him the good news.
[We have come to terms]