Paradigm City Paradigm City - A fan site dedicated to the anime series Big O Paradigm City
 
Main -
Paradigm City > Fan Works > Fan Fiction > Belonging
- Poll
 
Belonging

Part 3

At the convention, Roger was discovering some unexpected things. He had thought that having a whole week of guaranteed peaceful, uninterrupted nights would be bliss. Instead, he found himself pacing the small hotel room, unable to relax. "What are you brooding about, Roger Rosewater?" he could almost hear Dorothy's voice admonishing him. "Either talk it through or leave it for now, you need your sleep."

He opened the sliding glass doors and stepped out onto the small balcony, enjoying the softness of the night air. He thought back to earlier that evening. A woman he had met at one of the meetings had invited him out for a drink afterwards. He had accepted, thinking that some pleasant company and perhaps a bit of no-strings-attached fun would do him good. She was lovely, she was charming, and she clearly had exactly the same things on her mind.

It hadn't taken him long to realize that he wasn't the least bit interested. He had pleaded sudden illness, quietly setting up a tab for her with the bartender and arranging for it to be charged to his room. He had urged her to enjoy the rest of the evening and apologized, and she had seemed to believe him, even offering to find a drugstore if he needed any medicine.

He had declined and made his retreat as gracefully as possible, but now that he was alone, the disturbing reality of his disinclination was demanding attention. The problem, he realized, was a certain red-headed person. As the evening had progressed, he had found himself wishing more than anything that it was Dorothy sitting there on the other side of the small table. There were so many things to see there that would have delighted her, from the fountain in the middle of the lobby to the jazz quartet that had been providing background music at the hotel bar.

Why did it seem like being with anyone else would be a betrayal? He went back into the room and slid the doors closed, flopping down onto the bed. He knew the answer, he just didn't want to think about it. However, reality would not be denied, and the truth of the matter was staring him in the face. It would seem like a betrayal because it would be a betrayal, it was as simple as that. "You've gone and done it now," he muttered to himself.

When had it happened? He couldn't say. He had been with her nearly every waking moment since his brother had hurt her. He had watched with wonder as her personality began to unfold and done the best he could to aid the process. Sure, sometimes it was frustrating, but to his mind, an honest hissy fit was infinitely preferable to her former smooth, programmed emptiness. He was perfectly comfortable admitting that he loved her dearly, she was, after all, an important part of his life. But exactly when had his feelings changed from warm affection to head over heels in love? He was not sure.

This could present a problem. She really wasn't ready for it, not yet, although he was beginning to see glimpses of the woman she would be. It wasn't that he saw her as a child, she wasn't. She was proving to be very intelligent and her knowledge was expanding. Her emotions were a bit backwards, but that was only to be expected under the circumstances. He knew some adults who had less maturity than she did!

He had already realized that he was in a similar situation to his grandfather's brother, whose wife Diana had been in a terrible car accident. Uncle Steve had done everything for her at first, adjusting himself to the reality of her limitations, but he had never lost sight of the fact that she would improve and that her incapacity was only temporary. His patience and faith had been rewarded over time, and she was nearly fully recovered and they were happier than ever when Roger had seen them last Christmas.

Remembering his uncle's struggle as Aunt Diana slowly regained self control and learned to overcome or adapt to the lingering problems caused by the accident had been of great help to him in dealing with Dorothy. He had decided very early on to try to treat her in the way he could best determine that she would want to be treated if she were in full possession of herself, just as his uncle had done for his aunt. Sometimes it was difficult, but knowing that Dorothy had perfect recall and might have a thing or two to say to him a few years down the line if he was careless had kept him highly motivated.

It hadn't hurt him, either. He felt he had grown up a lot over the last 6 months. He was less inclined to shirk his own responsibilities now, and he was a lot more mindful of the example he was setting. There were other changes, too, of a more internal nature. He had always been very reserved, shielding himself with a smooth facade of impeccable manners and elegant charm. Feelings were something that were better shown than discussed, in his opinion, and only in a tasteful fashion.

All that had gone out the window as Dorothy awoke further. Everything had to be spelled out, in clear and simple terms, and he had had to be more open about his thoughts and emotions than he had been since his mother had died. Although he had only been seven when she passed away and his memories of her were far fewer than he would have liked, he had found an unexpected legacy of love within himself that made it possible for him to adapt to Dorothy's needs without too much difficulty. It was a gift indeed, bringing him back to a time when he had laughed and cried much more easily and never felt the need to hide anything, assured of his mother's radiant warmth and acceptance.

Of course, he was not his mother, but he found he often instinctively understood what was needed, no matter what Dorothy threw at him, from her initial nightmares to the current bouts of inconsolable weeping at the slightest sign of displeasure from him. Even that was starting to pass, she seemed to have been on a fairly even keel recently. Her tears those few nights past had been the first time it had happened for more than a week. For a while, it had been almost a daily occurrence. 

But what would he tell his father and grandfather? Sure, they had no problem with the way things were now, and they never pried into his private activities, but the day would undoubtedly arrive that they would wonder why he hadn't settled down with a nice girl and presented them with some children to spoil rotten. By the look of it, his brother was going to be a bachelor for many years to come, if not permanently. Although they wouldn't dream of pressuring him in any way, he also knew that they were counting on him to continue their branch of the family.

Would they accept Dorothy as his...his... long term partner? "Slow down, Roger, you're getting a bit ahead of yourself here," he told himself firmly. He was assuming that she would remain as devoted to him as she was now, and given the rapid changes she was going through, that was by no means certain.

All he could do, he decided, was to wait and see. He got into his pajamas and climbed into bed, setting the alarm before he switched off the lamp. His thoughts kept him going around in circles for several more hours before he finally drifted off.

***

Dorothy found both the visit with Felix and the appointment with the psychologist very enlightening. Felix, she discovered, in many ways had a better understanding of human behavior than she did, especially when it was contradictory. Mrs. Moore, her new friend explained, would sometimes become very angry and grouchy. He had learned it was a sign that she was in pain, and thus he didn't take it too seriously, although he would offer medication if it was appropriate. 

She had transmitted her massage program to him with a rapid-fire burst of machine language--it would give him an additional option to relieve pain if Lisa was having a bad day, and would help with her physical therapy--and accepted a program from him that covered the nuances of human body language. She had the basics, of course, but his information was far more detailed because as a nurse-companion, he might be working with someone who couldn't speak and his being able to read faces and movements could be very important.

All in all, their meeting was a great success and she found herself looking forward to the next, which was going to happen in about two weeks. It made her happy to have a friend who could really understand and compare notes with her.

The meeting with the psychologist proved to be helpful as well. In between answering the woman's questions, Dorothy was able to ask a few of her own. She left the office pleased to finally have names and a better understanding of some of the things she had been feeling recently.  Gordon arranged for another appointment in three months, reminding her that if she found she disliked being asked so many questions, she only need tell him so.

She looked around her with satisfaction. With Mrs. Tanner's help, her rooms were coming along nicely. The bedroom and adjoining bath were complete and she only needed a few more things for her workroom and the sitting room.

She stretched out on the bed for a few minutes, enjoying the puffy softness of the new, cobalt blue comforter. It was a tribute to the housekeeper's good taste and powers of persuasion that the room looked luxuriant rather than gaudy. Dorothy's preferences were for bright, jewel-like colors and textures that were pleasing to the touch, like satin and velvet. Mrs. Tanner had been able to convince her to choose subdued colors for the furniture and rug and use the bright colors and lush textures for accents. 

She got off the bed and sat down in her rocking chair, another unexpected delight. She had discovered that rocking was very soothing when she was trying to sort out something that was troubling her. She reached down to the basket beside her and picked up her crochet hook and yarn. She had recently begun an afghan to put over the back of her rocking chair, thanks to the kindness of one of the maids, an older woman named Ruth.

Dorothy had learned about the art of crocheting when she brought a basket of laundry down to the basement one day. Ruth was sitting there by the folding table, working on a sweater for one of her grandchildren. The woman had explained that she preferred to have something to do with her hands while she was waiting for something, in this case, for the last load to finish drying.

The process that turned a simple strand of yarn into an article of clothing utterly fascinated Dorothy, and she had begged Ruth to teach her how. The next day, the maid brought in a second bag with yarn ends and a crochet hook and taught her some of the basic stitches. With a few days' practice, she had the idea and Ruth gave her a simple pattern for an afghan. Mrs. Tanner helped her pick out the yarn, in a riot of colors to match everything in the room, and after a few false starts the project was well under way.

She let the work fall to her lap and looked out of the window. Roger would be home on Friday, and she would have a lot of things to tell him about. She began rocking as she puzzled over what to do about the disturbing things Alex was telling her. He had been cornering her every time he found her alone. She knew that she could go to Gordon and he would put a stop to it, but she didn't like the idea of being the cause of another argument. 

What if the things Alex was saying were true?  She had already figured out that often she wasn't given the whole truth when she asked questions. This had never bothered her before because she had quickly realized that this didn't happen out of malice, but rather was an attempt to make something very complex easier to understand. Often, if she revisited a question later on, more information was revealed. Was this a similar case?

The strong feelings of rage that filled her whenever Alex insinuated that Roger might prefer to be with someone else confused her as well, and even made her feel... shame, that's the word the psychologist had given her. Guilt and shame were apparently very complex feelings that were not easily put into a few simple sentences, but had a lot to do with those times that one did something one knew to be wrong or failed to do something one knew one should have done. Shame was what she had been feeling every time Roger got upset with her lately--she hated it when he was unhappy with her. She feared that telling him about the anger would make him unhappy as well.

There was nothing about this in her databanks. The programs said that she was never to question the actions of her owner. If that was correct, then she should not even be thinking about what he might be doing when they were apart. According to everything she had recently learned, though, this was incorrect. She was still struggling with the concept of "rights".  If everyone had certain inalienable rights, what was one to do when they conflicted? 

She had asked Norman about this, and he had laughed and said that the courts were still debating the answer to that question. He might have been inclined to discuss it further, but then he got a phone call and the matter was dropped. Perhaps she could ask the psychologist when she saw her again.

She frowned, realizing that her thoughts were beginning to loop and repeat themselves. This was pointless without more information. She resolutely picked up the yarn and hook again, determinedly concentrating on keeping her stitches even.

***

The questions that had been plaguing Dorothy while Roger was away seemed to fade into the background once he was home. She was beginning to understand what he had been trying to explain to her about it being good to have separate interests. To her surprise, she had been finding it very enjoyable to spend time talking with him about the things they had seen and done while they were apart.

There was something different in the way he was treating her as well. There was nothing specific she could put her finger on, and it wasn't unpleasant. He seemed somehow...warmer. The night before, when she was finally ready to settle down and recharge for a while, she had gone to his room to quietly check on him, something she had been doing every night since he came home. She had discovered she really liked having her own rooms and had no problem sleeping there, as long as she could reassure herself that Roger was also sleeping peacefully. The first few nights she had spent alone after his return, she had looked in on him every hour or so, but now a quick glance just before she shut down was enough. 

Last night he had been especially restless for some reason. He had tossed and turned until his blankets were tangled and half stripped off the bed. When she had fixed everything and covered him back up, he had awoken, but instead of being upset about it, he had only given her a drowsy smile and let her curl up with him instead of sending her back to her own bed as she had expected. 

Perhaps he was just glad to be home and it was a side effect of this. Perhaps it was only imagination. Perhaps it was simply her growing skill in reading people gleaned from the program Felix had given her that let her see subtle signals that she had been blind to before. She knew that she was changing rapidly and that her understanding was growing in leaps and bounds. Things that had made no sense only a month ago were beginning to be clear. 

When Roger explained in the morning that the reason he hadn't been upset with her for waking him was because it was accidental and had only happened because she was trying to be thoughtful, she found that she recognized the difference between it and the last time she had woken him easily. Just a few months ago, it would have taken her days if not weeks to sort it out.  

She had seen Felix twice more since Roger's return, and was nervously anticipating her visit with him today. Lisa's granddaughter Ellen was supposed to be coming by with her new baby.  Dorothy had been a little surprised that their usual meeting hadn't been postponed, but the elderly woman had been insistent. "You're Felix's best friend," she said, as if that somehow explained everything.

She nervously checked the brightly-colored bag at her feet, her gift for the baby. It was a blanket that she had made herself. It seemed awfully small to her, but Ruth had said it was just right. There was a knock on the door. "Come in," she called and picked up the bag.

"Ready to go?" Roger asked. He was bringing her today and would be meeting Felix and Mrs. Moore for the first time.

"Yes," she answered and walked with him to the car.

He seemed to sense her disquiet and spent most of the drive over explaining some of the things she might expect to happen. "Babies can be loud and sometimes they cry a lot, so don't be worried if this one does," he told her. Due to the size of his extended family--Norman was, after all, one of eight--he had spent his share of time around babies and small children. Even now, the Rosewater clan tried to get together at least once a year, although he hadn't attended the last few reunions.

His prediction proved to be accurate, they could hear the wails as they knocked on the door. Felix answered, looking positively flustered. They came in and were introduced, and sat down for tea. The baby was fascinating to Dorothy. It was so very small! It was one thing to know something from her databanks and another thing entirely to see it for herself, she was discovering. Even more amazing, though, was when his mother sang to him. Dorothy had heard recordings of people singing, of course, but she had never actually seen someone do it. She immediately resolved to learn how, just as soon as she got home.

Ellen said the appropriate things about the gift once she had soothed her son, but it was painfully obvious she was lying through her teeth. Dorothy sensed that the woman strongly disliked her, which was puzzling considering they had only just met.  At Lisa's urging, she sat down and held the baby for a moment, but with his mother looking daggers at her, she surrendered him very quickly. It was time for some emergency action. She quickly shuffled through her database for social situations until she found just the right thing.

"Mrs. Moore, would it be okay if Felix and I took a walk?" she asked, letting the routine run the words for her so she was as appealing and unassuming as possible. 

The elderly woman gave her a calculating look--she certainly wasn't fooled, and for that matter, neither was Roger--and nodded. "That's a good idea," she said. "I'm sure you two want a chance to chat in peace. Don't fuss, Felix," she added to cut off his inevitable protest. "I'll certainly be fine with both Ellen and this nice young man here to help me if I need it."

Dorothy coaxed her friend out of the apartment and grabbed him by the hand the moment the door closed safely behind them. "Let's get out of here!" she urged. They ran out the door and down the street, not stopping until they reached the small park where they had brought Lisa during their last visit. With the sky threatening rain, it was deserted. She released Felix's hand and sat down on one of the benches. "Ellen hates us," she observed.

"She thinks we are things," Felix said with distaste, joining her on the bench. "She told Lisa that she was crazy to trust me to help her, I might suddenly get my wires crossed and go on a rampage."

"In front of you?" Dorothy asked, shocked.

"No, of course not," he answered. "But she was so loud I couldn't help but hear her."

"Maybe Roger can make her understand," she said hopefully. 

"I don't know," he was doubtful. "She seemed to have her mind made up before she even came over." He switched to machine language, giving Dorothy a vivid picture of his experience prior to her and Roger's arrival.

"Sad," she answered in ordinary speech. "That feeling you have is called 'sad'-- with a little 'mad' mixed in." She impulsively put a comforting arm around his shoulders, switching back to Machine to give him the data she had accumulated on those emotions thus far.

They spoke back and forth for quite some time, comparing ideas and experiences since they last talked. They eventually got to the puzzle of conflicting rights, although they didn't get very far with it and decided to shelve it until their next meeting. Dorothy didn't even notice that it had begun to drizzle.

They were still deep in conversation--a few of Ellen's choice remarks to her grandmother deserved further examination-- when Roger finally caught up with them. "Dorothy! Felix! There you are."

She looked at him blankly for a second, still absorbed in the discussion. "Roger?"

He laughed to cover the strange twinge he felt when he saw that she had her arm around Felix. "It's safe to come back now, the dragon lady is leaving soon," he told them. "We were just starting to wonder where you were, you've been gone for nearly two hours."

Dorothy was immediately contrite. "I'm sorry, Roger. We didn't mean to worry you."

"It's all right," he said. "I don't blame you, Ellen really has a problem with androids, as she explained at length after you left."

Felix winced. "We were just talking about that," he said. "She apparently thinks I'm deaf as well, because she gave Lisa an earful when I was in the other room."

Roger shook his head. "There's no help for it, unfortunately. All you can do in a case like that is to pretend you don't hear anything and avoid her. Some people will get used to it and have no problem--did Dorothy tell you how it was when my brother first brought her home?"

"Yes," Felix responded. "She told me you weren't hostile, though. You just kept your distance." 

Dorothy suddenly smiled at them. "Do you want to know one of the first memories I have from when I woke?" she asked. When they nodded, she rose from the bench and took both of Roger's hands in hers. "These," she said, her face lighting up as she remembered. "Your hands were so kind. Everything in my mind seemed to be tangled and going around in circles, and something broke, and suddenly there was an "I" when there had never been one before."

"That's exactly what it was like when I woke up," Felix agreed. "I don't even know why I brought Lisa outside, the only thing I could make sense of was to get help and not leave her."

"I couldn't even get a direction," Dorothy said. "I have a pretty strong imperative to cease immediately if there's even a slight indication of discomfort or unhappiness when any of the pleasure routines are running, and Roger's command to stop was very clear. The combination was just as strong as Alex's command, and everything went haywire."

"I can't even begin to imagine what that would be like," Roger said. "Was it a conflict of orders with you too, Felix?"

"No, not quite. If I have to do something and my patient is resistant, my imperative is to try to persuade, so I guess I'm set up a little differently from Dorothy," Felix told them. "It isn't uncommon for someone to not want to take their medication, especially if there are side effects, or to want to avoid an unpleasant procedure. If coaxing doesn't work or my patient shows signs of getting angry with me, I'm supposed to contact the doctor or supervising nurse." He paused for a moment, trying to put the dilemma he had faced into words. "The problem was that Lisa wasn't breathing properly, a Class One emergency. In a case like that, I can't leave until a medical professional arrives, because artificial respiration might be needed. Normally I would have used the emergency call button, but Lisa had smashed the unit when she threw it against the wall and at the time I had no idea how to use the phone. Somehow it occurred to me that I could go for help if I took her with me, and it worked." 

"Everything was just going around in circles for me, and I was frightened that I would be trapped that way permanently," Dorothy said. She released Roger's hands and moved closer, smiling up at him. "When you massaged my shoulders, the pleasant feeling from it gave me something to concentrate on and helped me to not be so afraid."

"I was worried to see you so distressed," he said, putting his arms around her affectionately. "I wanted to help you but I didn't know how. I even thought about telling you I had changed my mind and that you could kiss me if you wanted--I figured I'd get it sorted out with Alex later--but I was concerned that since I had already specifically commanded you not to, it would make things even worse."

She leaned against him, returning the embrace. "You did help me," she said earnestly. "And then Big O explained how I could sort the logic out. It took us a little while, but bit by bit, the loop resolved and I could function again. I started to realize that there was a difference between the routines and the "I" that was thinking. I could still tap them, but there was a sense of separateness if they weren't running."

"That's a good way of describing it!" Felix said with excitement. "I never thought before, I just did things. Now there was a me to think about it. I was...there. I could go away for a while when I let a programmed sequence start, but as soon as it finished, there I was again. A break in-between when before it was just one routine running after another." Dorothy nodded agreement as he continued, "By the time Officer Gabriel started talking to me about what happened, I had realized that I could influence what part of a program ran. So instead of going into "listen" mode when he spoke to me, I went into "learn" so that I could review what he said later."

"Big O used an attention signal with me that cut through everything," Dorothy said. "I just started feeding him the loop and he sorted it and sent back. It was probably the first thing I did by myself, to apply the logic he gave me."

"How did he know you were in trouble?" Roger asked.

"We weren't acting right," she answered. "We didn't do any work or access anything or chat."

"That makes sense," he said. "How were you able to understand the attention signal? Isn't that specific to the Megadeus type?"

"It's standard on every robot built for the last five years," she explained. "There are some alerts that are only used by the Megadeuses, but there are a couple that are universal. The attention signal originated as a safeguard on industrial robots about three years before that. If a worker had an accident and got his hand caught in the conveyor belt, for example, the moment the belt pressure changed, the robot running that part of the assembly line would halt it and send the "Attention" command immediately followed by a "Stop". The signal would be received by all the conveyors in that particular line, preventing further problems such as an overflow of items." 

"I seem to remember hearing something about that," Roger told her. 

"Yes, it turned out to be very cost-effective because there was less time lost due to accident clean-up," she said. "In an industrial setting, workers can also send the command with the push of a button, it's programmed right into their communicators, so if someone saw something about to happen, they might even be able to prevent it. It was included in all of us because of its potential usefulness."

"I used it once myself," Felix said. "A small boy was chasing a ball and was about to run right into the path of a sweeper bot. I could tell by the angle of his approach that the bot wouldn't detect him until too late. It only takes a second to send both commands, so I did and the child didn't get injured. A supervisor showed up about twenty minutes later, took my report, verified the incident on the sweeper's vids and restarted it."

"If I saw something about to happen, could I tell either of you to send the command?" Roger wondered.

"If you could explain why quickly enough, yes. You couldn't just walk up and say "make that machine stop," though," Felix said. "There would be too much potential for abuse."

"I can understand that," Roger said. "So Big O called out your name, in a manner of speaking, Dorothy, and asked you what was happening?"

"Yes," Dorothy said. "He was worried about the loop, of course, but he was also happy about my waking up. That's what we were talking about just before you brought me home. He was showing me some of the things he had learned about manipulating internal processes, including how to circumvent a direct order if there was a need."

"I probably should be happy that he likes me, then, " Roger joked.

"You're his pilot," Dorothy said simply. "He'll do anything you ask, short of harming you. You are his whole world." 

 Roger looked slightly embarrassed. "So, because of what he showed you," he turned the conversation back to the original topic, "you were able to ignore Alex's commands later?" 

"Yes," she answered. "When we got back and he dragged me up the stairs, I realized that I didn't like it.  I had never questioned how he treated me before, of course, because there was no "I" to wonder about it." She frowned. "I could tell it made you angry when I kissed you at the party, but by the time you told me to stop, you were calm. You didn't try to...to... punish me over it."

"Why would I do that?" Roger asked. "Sure, I was angry about it for a second or two, you startled me. But you had no say in the matter, you were only doing what your routines told you to do. At the time, I just figured that the wrong one had come up for one reason or another. It was something to be corrected, not something to waste time being upset over."

"Alex often hurt me when he got angry," she stated. "Sometimes he would make me wait for hours before he would run the sensor block. He didn't care how much I cried."

"Contemptible bastard," Roger muttered under his breath, his arms tightening around her protectively. 

"It doesn't bother me," she reminded him calmly. "I remember everything he did, but there are no feelings involved because I wasn't really there. It's all in my database, but it's like it happened to a stranger, at least everything that happened before I woke. After we got to his room, he tried to command me to ignore anything you told me to do, Roger. It made him furious when I wouldn't obey. He got so angry that he punched me and hurt his hand. That's when I started to feel afraid--I had never seen him so out of control."

"That's an understatement if I ever heard one," Felix interjected. "You must have been terrified. When Lisa fought with me when she couldn't breathe, it was upsetting, but I did have some programming to cover such a situation because, as Officer Gabriel reminded me, people can be irrational when they are very ill. I can't imagine what it would be like to have her trying to damage me just because she could."

"I was terrified by the time he threw me out into the hallway and started kicking me. He just kept going," she said, an echo of that past fear in her voice. "When I saw Roger coming up behind him, it was like... I can't describe how much better I felt. I hadn't figured out much about anything at that point, but I did know he would make Alex stop, and he did."  She gave Roger a radiant smile. "Even when you didn't know I was there to have an opinion about it, you always treated me kindly. I don't know why you worry so much about what I will think of you someday. I know how I feel now, and I can't think of anything that would make that change."

Roger was spared the embarrassment of Dorothy and Felix seeing him melt on the spot by the drizzle turning into a downpour. "Let's go, Lisa will be worried," he urged. They laughed like kids as they hurried back to the apartment through the pouring rain.

Next Page >< Previous Page
 
-   -   -