Gordon winced as the sounds of a feminine, slightly off-key voice drifted down from upstairs. "And whose bright idea was it to give her that recording of songs for children?" Roger asked sarcastically.
"But it seemed like a good idea at the time," his father protested.
"Well, it's better than broken crystal, I agree," Norman sighed. "It never occurred to me that she could make a sound of sufficient pitch and volume to shatter a wine glass!"
"I'll take credit for that," Roger said ruefully. "It was a joke, I didn't think that she would decide to test it out."
"She does take things very literally sometimes," Gordon nodded. "She's made so much progress recently that I forget that her sense of humor isn't fully developed yet.
"It's getting there," his son told him. "She understands straightforward jokes now, and seems to have a taste for puns, the worse, the better."
"Don't say that in front of your grandfather!" Gordon said in a stage whisper. "He'll teach her more and she'll be torturing all of us."
"Too late," Norman grinned wickedly. "At last, a partner in crime!"
Everyone laughed as Gordon pretended to duck under the table. "Well, let me see if I can convince our nightingale to bring down the volume a little," Roger said, still chuckling. "Maybe the answer is to get her some more recordings, then at least we'll get a bit more variety in our serenades."
"I'm rather partial to Wagner..." Norman said thoughtfully.
"You really hate us, don't you, Dad?" Gordon joked. "If you want us all to move out, you could just try asking. There's no need to come up with these elaborate plans!"
Roger grinned as he headed up the stairs. Dorothy's voice got louder as he approached her door, but mercifully, she seemed to be reaching the end of the song. In the brief silence that followed, he knocked on her door. "Dorothy!"
She admitted him, switching off her CD player as the next song began. "What is it, Roger?" she asked. "Does Grandfather want me to sing tenor again?" Mischief was dancing in her eyes.
He looked at her, puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
"Ten or eleven miles away!" she dissolved into a fit of giggles.
"It's too early in the morning for puns," he groaned. She was so pleased with the joke he couldn't help but smile at her. A memory teased at his brain and his grin widened. "Actually, I was thinking you should sing solo," he said.
"I was singing alone," she said, confused.
"So low we can't hear you," he explained with a straight face. His reward was another burst of laughter. When she settled a bit, he continued, "Seriously, though, Dorothy, it's just a wee bit early."
"If I didn't practice now, I would have no time all day," she complained. "Lisa is having some minor surgery today, and they won't let Felix stay with her at the hospital, so he's coming here. He isn't very interested in music."
"They won't let him stay with her? That's strange," he said.
"He is an android," she reminded him with some asperity. "He has no special right to be there."
Roger frowned. The ramifications of this were more than he was prepared to discuss at the moment, but it was going to have to be looked at sooner or later. Currently, under the law, androids were merely property and the hospital was well within its rights to refuse Felix permission, no matter how helpful he might be to her. "I'll be sure to talk to Dad about it," he said finally. "It's a complicated problem."
"Yes," she said simply. She changed the subject rather abruptly. "I will try to reduce my volume, Roger. It's just that it requires a degree of control that I do not have yet."
"You've improved a lot," he observed. "I'm not musical enough to be much help to you, though. All I can tell you is if something doesn't sound right."
"How can I get more information about it?" she asked. "Are there books I can read that will help me?"
"Perhaps, but I am not sure human breathing techniques will apply to you," he told her. "I hadn't much thought about it, but maybe we can find someone to give you voice lessons."
"I would like that," she said, pleased.
"Let Mrs. Tanner know, then," he said.
She nodded happily, then frowned as a thought struck her. "I don't have any money."
"That's all right. If the household budget won't cover it, I will," he told her.
"But you don't want voice lessons," she pointed out.
"Yes I do," he teased. "Your improved ability will be well worth it."
"Roger," she refused to be distracted. "Mrs. Tanner explained about money when she helped me decorate my room. She showed me how to make a budget and said it was very important for me to learn to handle my own finances because one day I'd be ready to live on my own and I would need to know about it."
"That's true," he acknowledged. "You don't have to worry about it yet, though."
"Yes I do," she said stubbornly. "Voice lessons don't grow on trees."
He bit his lip to keep from laughing. If he had a dollar for every time he had heard Mrs. Tanner say something didn't grow on trees, his net worth would be double the considerable amount it already was. "This is a little different, though, Dorothy. You haven't had enough time yet to decide what kind of a job you want to do and learn how to do it. There's nothing wrong with relying on your family when you are first getting started."
"I can earn money," she refused to let it go. "Mrs. Tanner said the same thing, but I am not a child and there are many things I know how to do already."
"Would you like an allowance?" he offered. "I can give you a certain amount of money every month that is yours to spend as you like. That will give you a chance to practice handling a budget."
"What do you want me to do in return?" she asked.
"You don't have to do anything special," he said. "Maybe you can spend some time thinking about what you might like to do for work and learn something about it to see if it would be a good use of your abilities and preferences."
She shook her head. "I would do that without an allowance."
"You really don't have to do anything," he said. "Dorothy, you didn't ask to wake. Since I'm partly responsible for it happening, I have no problem with getting you whatever you might need so that you have enough time to learn the things you need to know. There's nothing wrong with taking help if you need it--Mrs. Tanner would tell you that herself."
"Yes, she said that Grandfather helped her when her children were little and her husband died," Dorothy said. "But he gave her a loan and she paid him back."
Roger shook his head. It was clear that there would be no talking her out of it. "Well, what do you think would be a fair exchange?" he asked.
"I've been thinking about that, too," she said, a smile lighting up her face. "I heard you talking to Grandfather the other day about hiring someone to handle Big O's programming."
"That's true," he said. "Every time we add anything new, like the pistons, we have to add the appropriate software. When he wasn't so complicated, it wasn't much work, but it's getting to the point that we need a full-time professional to handle it."
"I want to do it," she said. "I've been doing some of it already--did Grandfather tell you that I helped him track down the glitch that was delaying the pistons firing?"
"He did, but he didn't say you helped him, Dorothy, he said you found it by yourself," he answered. "There will be other responsibilities, though. You will need to document everything we have and then keep track of any changes. You'll be in charge of letting the mechanics know about the changes, and they will be coming to you if they want to make any upgrades. Do you think you can do it?"
"I already started," she beamed. "I detailed the functions of the right arm and transferred the file to your computer last night. I just want you to make sure I did it right before I do any more."
Roger knew when he had been beaten. "All right. I will give you the job, provisionally. We'll see how it goes for a few months, and if it works out well, we'll make it official. Fair enough?"
She threw her arms around him in a delighted hug. "It will work out well," she said. "You'll see, Roger."
He smiled at her excitement. "I'll set you up an account now," he said, going over to her computer.
"How much will you be paying me?" she asked eagerly.
"Let's figure that out now," he sat down and brought up the Rosewater Corporation job descriptions. "Hmm.... responsibilities would be programming, documenting, meetings... do you think that's closer to Senior Programming Architect or Technical Liaison?"
"It's sort of in-between" she observed, reading the list over his shoulder.
"Well, let's give you the average of the two to start, then," he suggested.
Her eyes went wide at the figure. "That's a lot of money, Roger."
"It's a very skilled job," he pointed out. "It's not the kind of thing just anyone could do."
"Can you afford to pay me that much?" she asked doubtfully.
"Well, sure," he said. "But I'm not going to be the one paying you. Norman and I have our own company, Dorothy. Your salary will come out of our company's payroll."
"A company? What is it for?" she asked curiously.
"The Biomechanical Interface Group. It's an R and D--Research and Development--company," Roger explained, logging into another program. "A lot of the technology you see on the Big O we developed ourselves, and we hold the patents. We formed the company when I turned eighteen. As it turned out, some of those patents were useful for a lot of things outside of the arena, and it made us a lot of money. In fact, some of Big O's tech went into building you and the other androids."
"Really?" she hadn't realized that, despite her knowledge of the Megadeus' construction. "What parts?"
"Your arms and legs," he said absently, tapping at the keyboard. "Grandfather and I came up with a method of attaching the shoulders and hips that gave a smooth, complete motion but required very little maintenance. Before we came up with it, we were replacing the Big O's hip and shoulder joints every six months or so, the heat from the friction of movement and pressure wreaked havoc on them. We eventually adapted the method for elbows and knees as well."
"It works very well," she complimented him. "You like to play with words, too, don't you?"
"Huh?" He looked up from the computer.
"Biomechanical Interface Group," she said.
"You're the only person to get that other than Grandfather," he laughed. "Give me a minute..." he turned back to the keyboard and finished his entry. "All right. One R. Dorothy Wayneright added to the payroll, two weeks' salary deposited into a new account retroactively in consideration of the work you have done already. But Dorothy... if it turns out to be too much, it's very important that you tell me right away."
"I will," she promised. "I do know a lot about Big O already, Roger. I wouldn't have asked for the job if I didn't think I could do it."
"I know you wouldn't have," he said. "I've seen how much time you have spent working on his programming, and everything you have done so far is an improvement. It's certainly worth a try. Even if it doesn't work out well right away, there's no reason you can't study the things that you need to know and then try it again."
"It will work out," she said confidently. "Let me know about the documentation whenever you get a chance. I did it in three different styles, and I would like you to tell me what you think works the best."
"I'll look it over, but you really ought to be asking the tech people," he said. "In fact, I think that should be your first order of business. Felix is going to be here today, and I'm booked for the rest of the week, but I'll schedule a meeting for Monday or Tuesday and introduce you to your co-workers and you can go over it with them and decide, all right?" He took out his electronic planner and wrote himself a reminder.
"Do I go to work every day during the week?" she asked.
"That's up to you," he said. "Most of our people try to spend one day a week at the office itself and the rest of their time is divided up between the field and the lab. You may want to spend some of your working time here--you'll be doing a lot of writing and it might be easier to get that done with the equipment you're used to using. There's no set schedule for our technical types. One of our engineers shows up at midnight most days, he does his best work in the wee hours, and that's what we want, his best work."
"I like mornings most of all," she said.
"I know," he groaned. "Feel free to enjoy them, just leave me out of it."
"Poor Roger," she said, her voice dripping with insincere sympathy. "You wouldn't hate them so much if you went to bed earlier,"
"I'm not tired earlier," he reminded her, grinning. "And happily I have a job where I can sleep in most days. Speaking of which, I'd better get going or I'm going to be late."
"Felix will be here soon, too," she said. "I'm going to go downstairs and wait for him." She followed Roger to the entryway, waving goodbye from the door as he headed towards his car, and sat down on one of the chairs.
"There you are, Dorothy. Did Roger leave yet?," Norman was also headed out.
"Yes, just a few minutes ago," she answered.
He looked around to make sure no one was within earshot. "How did it go?" he whispered.
"He said I could try the job!" she said gleefully, keeping her voice low.
"See, I told you!" Norman winked. "I said you should be the one to ask him. You're going to do splendidly. It would have taken me months to find that glitch, but since you could talk to Big O, you had it narrowed down in 15 minutes!"
"I'm going to get voice lessons, too," she said happily.
"That will be wonderful," he said. "Make sure you ask your coach about learning some Wagner, all right?"
"I will," she promised. "I'll see you when you get home, Grandfather."
"Have a nice day with your friend, dear," he gave her a quick hug and headed out the door.
Felix arrived a short while later. She introduced him to Mrs. Tanner and Cook, then they went out to walk in the gardens. When they reached Dorothy's favorite tree, a large, old oak, she immediately climbed to her usual perch, urging him to follow.
After several false attempts and much laughter, he joined her. "I like this place," he said, looking around for a place to sit down.
"I like how you can see everything but no one can see you," she said. "It's peaceful here. No, don't go that way," she said hastily. "That smaller branch won't hold your weight."
"Quiet, too. It's never this quiet at home," he finally found a spot that met with her approval and sat down, his back resting securely against the trunk.
"You're closer to the city than we are," she agreed. "When is Lisa supposed to be getting out?"
"Provided there are no complications, she should be home late this afternoon," he said. "It's a minor procedure. I can't believe Ellen did this, though! Lisa wanted me there, and the nurses didn't object until she made a fuss."
"It doesn't seem very fair," Dorothy frowned. "If Lisa asked for you, why should Ellen have anything to say about it?"
"I don't know," he said. "The worst part was when she said I couldn't be at the house while she was there! I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't said I could come over." He neatly summed up Ellen's habits and probable ancestry in a three-second burst of Machine language.
"Felix! That's awful!" Dorothy clapped her hand over her mouth in a burst of giggles. "I bet you're right, too."
"I know I'm right," he said sullenly. "She's no relation of Lisa's, that's obvious. None of the rest of the family has any problem with me. Oh, a couple of them talk to me very slowly as if I can't understand, but they don't mind my being around. Her son Jack has been very kind. He told me the other day that his mother has seemed a lot better since I started taking care of her, and he even thanked me. Ellen tried to say something and he told her to shut up." He smiled at the memory.
"Well, I'm glad there's someone on your side," she said. "And you can come here any time. Roger said that I could give you his pager number in case we weren't home, and he said you could just call the garage and ask them to come out and get you if there's a need." She gave Felix the numbers, adding the ones for Mrs. Tanner and Security as an afterthought.
"Stored," he said. "Hey, did you hear another android woke?"
"Really?" she was immediately interested. "How did you find out?"
"Well, you knew that I'd met Sheldon Green a couple of weeks ago, right?" Felix asked. "He's the one who does information-gathering for the FBI."
"Yes, you mentioned that when I was last there," Dorothy said. "Did you have a chance to talk to him again?"
"I did," Felix said with satisfaction. "He's working right down the street from us. I left for a walk because Ellen was going to visit. Lisa was having a bad day, she wasn't feeling well, and I didn't want to add to the stress. I knew Ellen could look after her, she used to take care of Lisa before I came. I was just kind of wandering around and I saw Sheldon sitting at the cafe so I stopped to speak to him. He was working undercover, so he showed me something. Listen!" His words were followed by an odd, high-pitched whine. She stared at him, puzzled, when all at once, the whine resolved itself into understandable speech. "Dorothy, can you understand me?" he repeated.
"I do understand," she spoke normally. Her face had an intent look as she tried to reproduce what he had done. "Yes. I can. "
"Sheldon said that we could speak freely this way," Felix said "No one seemed to hear us at all, although there was a dog nearby that started barking."
"This could be very useful," Dorothy said. "This frequency is out of the range of most humans' hearing. There are a few who could detect it, but they won't understand Machine."
"Exactly," Felix returned to ordinary speech. "We had a long talk, and he caught me up on things. He is really looking forward to meeting you."
"I can't wait to meet him! But who woke?" she asked impatiently.
"His name is Peter Robinson," he said. "He's a nurse-companion model like me, but with some additional modifications. He has been working for an elderly couple who have a farm just outside the city--their children wanted to be sure they had enough help because they are getting on in years."
"What happened?" Dorothy inquired.
"From what Sheldon said, this waking was pretty painless," Felix said, smiling. "Mike and Patty Wade are apparently very fond of a good joke. Patty had said something to Peter that just didn't scan. It was quite unintentional, from what I understand, just a bit of good-natured teasing because he could be so literal at times."
Dorothy giggled. "Grandfather does that to me sometimes. I would tell him something like "I saw a shirt with a duck on the pocket," and he would pretend to be very surprised and ask me things like if the shirt was difficult to fold with a duck attached to it, and didn't the quacking make it difficult to have conversations?"
Felix laughed in delight. "I hope I get to meet Mr. Rosewater today," he said. "You've told me so much about him that I almost feel like I know him."
"He said the same thing about you," Dorothy said. "He'll probably be home early in the afternoon. He said he would take us to the arena if you wanted. But tell me more about Peter!"
"I'd like that," Felix said. "I want to meet Big O, too. I want to meet everyone you've told me about!" He shifted position on the limb. "I guess Mrs. Wade was joking with Peter much the same way that your grandfather jokes with you. She presented him with a logical impossibility and he got caught in a conflict loop. She saw his distress and reacted as she would have if her teasing had disturbed one of her children, by reassuring him and explaining the joke in simple terms."
"That's how I learned that Grandfather was only teasing to make me laugh," Dorothy said. "If it started to confuse me too much, he would stop and explain. You should have seen how surprised he was the day I answered him in the same way!"
"It sounds nice," the other's tone was wistful. "Lately, Lisa and I haven't done much laughing. Ellen is always showing up to make trouble."
"Well, if Jack told Ellen to shut up, maybe he would be willing to help you," Dorothy said. "Gordon said that if you can't resolve a problem with someone, it's a good idea to get help so the situation doesn't get worse. Although... that hasn't seemed to help much with Alex..." her voice trailed off and she frowned.
"Is he bothering you again?" Felix asked.
"Not really," she said. "It's just that he says things to me sometimes, and I don't like it."
"What kind of things?" Felix encouraged.
"He... he says that Roger doesn't really love me, he's only good to me because he's stuck with me," she said slowly. "He says that Mrs. Tanner only does things with me because it's her job, that no human in their right mind would be interested in being friends with me. He says I'm not a real woman, I'm just... just a... a...toy and that Roger is much too serious to bother with toys. He told me that Roger wants children of his own one day and he isn't going to waste his time with someone who won't give him any. He says..." her eyes suddenly filled with tears, "he says that Roger is already tired of me and is trying to keep me busy so I don't bother him. Alex thinks that Roger should have just...just..." she struggled with the words, "he should have just... erased me, and that... he's sure that the day will arrive when Roger realizes I'm more trouble than I'm worth and does... does what he should have done in the first place." She covered her face with her hands and began crying in earnest.
"Roger would never do that," Felix carefully moved closer on the branch and patted her shoulder awkwardly. "I'll bet Alex was just trying to upset you--we know at least one of his assumptions was inaccurate, you and Lisa saw to that."
"I'm sure that's exactly what he was trying to do," she sniffled. "There's a lot of things he doesn't know about me. But, Felix...what if he's right about Roger only wanting to be with a human woman?"
"Why don't you just ask Roger?" he suggested.
"I can't," she wailed. "He never wants to talk about it, and if I keep trying, he gets angry with me. I'm afraid if I make him too angry, he'll give me back to Alex. I don't want to belong to Alex, I want to stay with Roger."
"He doesn't act as though you repulse him," Felix observed. "He seems to like to touch you, and he smiles a lot when he looks at you."
"But he won't...he won't..." she shook her head. "He says that he isn't comfortable because he's afraid I'll decide I don't want to be with him after all and he doesn't want me to think that he took advantage of me. It doesn't make any sense at all--how can it be taking advantage when it's my primary function? It would be like Lisa telling you that you couldn't take care of her now because you might decide you didn't want to in a couple of years! It's what you know how to do, so why would you feel bad about doing it?"
"It sounds confusing," he said. "I really don't know much about it. I understand the biology, of course, but I don't have the programming for it."
"You don't?" she looked surprised. "I thought the underlying physical design was the same for all of us."
"It is," he shrugged. "Sexual function isn't standard on a nurse/companion. It can be added as an upgrade, but it really depends on who we're caring for and what is needed. I don't miss what I never had, of course, but sometimes..." he looked away.
"Has Lisa said anything to you about it?" she asked.
"No, she hasn't," he answered. "It's just that...well, I think that she gets really lonely sometimes. I've heard her crying when she thinks I'm sleeping. The first few times it happened, I went to her because I was afraid something was wrong, but that only made it worse. Now, as long as I know she isn't sick or in more pain than usual, I just pretend I don't hear and I get up and check on her when she finally stops and goes to sleep." He sighed. "I don't even know if being able to would do any good, she might not be interested. All I know is that I'd do almost anything if it would make her stop crying and be happy again."
"That's so sad," Dorothy said.
"It is," Felix told her. "I've had the chance to talk to her family about her life before, and they told me she was very active and had really been enjoying her retirement. She liked to travel, and was looking forward to doing more of it. From what I could piece together, she hadn't become seriously involved with anyone, but she had been dating and having a good time with it."
"Do you think she's doing any better now?" Dorothy asked. "I noticed she seemed to have more use of the left hand."
"I believe she is, and Jack thinks so to. That massage program was a big help," Felix answered. "It makes her more comfortable so she can do more of the physical therapy exercises. I wish I knew how to dance--one of her daughters was telling me that before the stroke, she loved to go dancing. She used to be part of a senior's group that held formal ballroom dances every month, and apparently she was good enough at it that her friends were trying to get her to enter a competition. That's why she got so depressed--the stroke took all of that away. She hates the wheelchair and not being able to get around without assistance. I'm hoping the foot surgery will help with that."
"I have a ballroom dancing program," Dorothy brightened. "Gordon gave me all my original programming disks last week, he said I'd know better than anyone if I needed to reinstall something or wanted to add something new. I haven't used much of it yet, but I know there are some really easy dances in there. Would you like to try it?"
"That would be great," Felix said. "Maybe it would give her something to look forward to as she recovers from the surgery."
"Let's go get it now," Dorothy said, happy to have solved at least one problem. She jumped down from the branch, landing safely on the grass below.
"I'll take the slow route," Felix said and began carefully climbing down. "I don't know how good my balance is, and I won't be much use to Lisa for anything if I damage myself."
"The dancing program will help with that," Dorothy said, taking his hand when he reached the ground. "Any physical activity does. You did fine with the climbing, you just need to practice."
"I think I'd rather dance," Felix muttered. They both laughed and headed back to the house.
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