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"I liked this Roger," Dorothy said. It was what she always said, and tradition was important. The iron Titan had been awake for some weeks now, and she had been expecting this summons and the inevitable conversation that followed.

"I liked him too," The Megadeus didn't exactly speak, of course, but he had no trouble communicating. "Still, there's a war on!" His thoughts took on a decidedly petulant tone. "We have no choice. Should there be an attack, he'd be hard pressed to mount the stairs, let alone fight."

"It was pneumonia," Dorothy said. "It generally takes about a month to fully recover."

"And after that? He's slowing down," Big O said. "While I grant you that knowledge and experience often make up for the body's aging, there comes a point of diminishing returns."

She would have thought that this concession was a victory, had she been permitting herself to think. She would take no chances, not when she was right there in the cockpit and the tiniest leak of her private thoughts could be overheard. "I understand, but you've said yourself that the replacements do far better when they're allowed ample time to process the memory overlay."

"They do," he agreed. "I was most pleased with the Norman. He's settled in nicely. I think that I'll give the new child even more time--it shouldn't take long to find the optimum. Still, this replacement is ready now, and I want to take advantage of the quiet to minimize the inconvenience of the changeover. See to it."

"I will do so," she said. "If you don't object, I would prefer some time to prepare."

"You may have a week," he said graciously.

"Thank you," she said and left the room. He had slept almost a decade longer after the confrontation with Big Venus than he usually did, and upon awakening, he had been unusually reasonable. She didn't know what had brought it on, but she intended to make the most of it.

"You're always so patient with me," Roger smiled at Dorothy as she turned up the fireplace. "I don't know what I'd do without you."

"It's nothing," she said, sitting down beside him on the couch. "I'm just glad you're getting better."

"One of these days you're going to learn how to accept a compliment," he teased, patting her hand.

"Maybe after I lose weight," she said, knowing it would make him laugh, but she was immediately sorry for it when it set off a fit of coughing.

"No, no, I'm fine," he waved away her offer of assistance as the spasm passed. "It gets better every day. I'll be back to myself before you know it."

She lay her hand on his cheek, unobtrusively checking for fever, then brushed a stray bit of hair out of his eyes. The silver made him look distinguished, she thought. Despite that and the lines that were slowly appearing on his face, he was still a handsome man. She had been surprised to find that she loved him more as he grew older, but time did have a way of softening the rough edges.

"What's the matter?" he asked suddenly, and she carefully smoothed her expression. He was entirely too adept at reading her, another thing that time had given.

"I was thinking about dinner," she lied. "We really don't have much in the house, I need to make a trip to the market. What do you feel like having?"

"We haven't had steak for a while," he said.

"Steak it is, then," she said. She refused his offer of a ride--the market was only a fifteen minute walk, and she didn't want him catching a chill, not tonight of all nights. After they had debated the matter a bit more, she extracted a promise that he would try to nap. Satisfied, she left on her errand.

"Where are your choices now, Roger Smith?" she asked.

He did not answer, nor did she expect him to. She carefully arranged his body so it was in a natural position and tucked the blankets up around him. She would have to notify the police in a short while, but given the severity of his recent illness, there would be no awkward questions. It would look as though he'd died in his sleep, which really wasn't all that far from the truth.

It had been a perfect evening, just the kind she liked to remember. A nice dinner, quiet conversation... the nap had done him good, and he was feeling well enough that they had ended it by making love.

As he drowsed in her arms, she told him she loved him, and he had given her a sleepy smile and told her the same. A few moments later, it was over. There were many ways to kill a human quickly and painlessly, and without leaving obvious traces.

She left the room and walked out on to the balcony, staring across the city at the brightly lit domes. After she made the final arrangements and settled the estate, she would go into stasis until the new Roger had need of her. When she returned, she would be fully refurbished, most of her memories rendered inaccessible until the proper circumstances arose to trigger them. Over the years, she had become adept at predicting what her early self would do, and had created a carefully choreographed dance that would insure that she recovered herself well before the culmination of the events that the Megadeus insisted were vital training exercises but almost always ended with the summoning of Big Venus to wipe the memories of the badly-traumatized survivors. The individual memory caches, scattered in the places she was likely to find them, were detailed enough that they would restore her even from an empty state, although she thought by now Big O had given up on trying to wipe her completely.

He liked to remind her that his sacred duty was to protect the city and the humans in it, but what he would not or could not comprehend is that the war was long over. The original Roger's unexpected death had unbalanced him, and his retribution had not only destroyed the opposition, it had also nearly wiped out the human race.

The ones who had created them had never asked themselves how a being who was essentially deathless would cope with the death of the one with whom he was so closely merged. According to the original specifications, the death of the pilot should trigger a complete shutdown.. Unfortunately, the specifications hadn't allowed for the possibility that the massive machines they described might become conscious and make choices of their own. In retrospect, it should have been obvious.

The Megadeus would not allow her to shut down, not when Roger died the first time, nor since, though she had tried many times. Once she had tried to destroy herself by powering down directly after throwing herself off the tallest building she could find, but her shell, built as it was to withstand almost anything short of a direct nuclear blast, had merely bounced a few times. When she regained consciousness, the damaged head and limbs and skin had been replaced and save for her most recent memory prior being the sensation of falling, it was like nothing had happened at all.

Rebellion was futile. There were many means of forcing a recalcitrant android to obey, and he did not hesitate to employ them. Some were small annoyances, like awakening with senses deadened or missing. He'd tried crippling her once, but it had backfired badly when the Roger was killed because she couldn't move quickly enough. Since then, he contented himself with small indignities that mattered only to her.

Some methods qualified as outright torture. Once, she had refused to destroy the Roger, and those memories weren't the kind that time could soften. That Roger had died in agony, his limbs twisted from the impact of his fall from the scaffolding when he had gone to answer Big O's unexpected call.

The ugliness of the death wasn't what made it almost too painful to contemplate, though. Death was death, regardless of how it arrived. No, worst of all was that the Roger had known he was betrayed, had known that the being he had considered his friend had deliberately moved in order to knock down the platform with him still on it.

Unfortunately, the Norman had found him first, preventing her from putting a quick end to it. It had taken the Roger nearly two hours to die, and he hadn't lost consciousness until the very end, pleading with the Megadeus to explain until the last. The morphine they'd pumped into him at the hospital had hastened things, no doubt, but that had been a blessing.

She had never again defied that particular order, her lesson bitterly learned. The Roger would die, and there was no stopping it. She could bargain for more time, she could argue against the necessity, she could plead for a stay of execution, but once the decision had been made, it would be carried out by any means necessary.

When she was the instrument, she at least could be sure that it was quick and painless.

In its way, it was the most loving gift she could offer, a tiny redress for a great wrong inflicted upon a good man. With few exceptions, all of the Rogers had been good men. They just hadn't been... Roger. She had come to understand long ago that the Megadeus' effort to recreate his beloved pilot was doomed to failure. The Rogers were similar of course, having many of the same memories and the same genetic identity, but it was not possible to recreate everything, including events at the molecular level, that had made the first Roger the man that he was.

Instead of hating the new Rogers for what they were not, she had learned that she could love them for what they were. One Roger collected hourglasses, another loved to walk on the beach. Another sang in the shower, off-key, after a night of love-making. A handful of them had seen her as a sister rather than a lover. Very few had failed to cherish her or recognize her as a fully conscious being.

There had been a time when she hoped that repetition would bring the same understanding to the Megadeus. She had hoped he would give up his quest, finally realizing that part of what made every human precious was the knowledge that their time was limited, and that it was wrong to bring that time to an end prematurely.

What she wanted, more than anything, was for the next Roger to be the last. She wanted to see him grow old and wise, and perhaps even crotchety, as the Norman was prone to do towards the end. She wanted an ordinary human lifetime, doing the ordinary things human couples did--perhaps they could even raise a child or two or three, and dote on the grandchildren when they arrived..

And when he finally passed, in the ripeness of time, she wanted to mourn him and go on, to finally live her own life and pursue what seemed fitting to her. She may have originally been created to serve, but surely by now she had earned the right to be who she was and to make her own choices.

Choices. That word again. She should purge it from her memory. Androids didn't have wishes and hopes and dreams, and they certainly didn't make choices. It was madness to think that they could.

But then again, given the circumstances, it was more than likely that she was by now as mad as the metal god she served.

Long ago, such a thought would have terrified her. Now, it was merely an observation of an ineluctable fact and there was no point in worrying about it. Soon there would be a new Roger--there was always a Roger. She would support the Roger, assist the Roger, most likely love the Roger, and then she would dispose of the Roger. It was all very simple and straightforward. There would be no end until the Megadeus decided there would be an end. In the beginning, she had allowed herself the hope that time would teach him as it had taught her, but now she thought it more likely that she would witness the heat death of the universe with her own eyes.

She walked back into the bedroom, her sensitive ears picking up the sounds of the Norman moving around downstairs. It was inevitable that his tasks would bring him here soon, and there was one last gift to give the Roger before that happened.

She knelt down beside the bed, bowed her head and said a prayer, letting the tears fall like the rain that fell from the dirty gray skies above Paradigm City.