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Belonging

Part 5

"Dorothy, exactly what programs did you give Felix when he was here last month?" Roger was angrier than she had ever seen him before.  

"A.. a ballroom dancing program," she began, and halted, suddenly terrified. When he had asked her to come to his office, she had been able to detect the tension in his voice, but she didn't know why. She had been afraid that she had made a mistake with Big O's programming and it had somehow caused damage to the Megadeus.

"Somehow, I don't think that's what Ellen was referring to," he said sarcastically.  She stared at him numbly, Alex's words about her being more trouble than she was worth replaying in her mind with painful clarity. Had she done something wrong in giving Felix the software he had asked for? It had never seemed to bother anyone when they had swapped programs before.

 "Dorothy, answer me. What programs did you give Felix?" Roger repeated insistently, rising from his chair and taking a step towards her when she remained silent.

"Take it easy, son, can't you see you're scaring the poor girl to death?" Gordon entered the open door. He immediately went over to Dorothy and put comforting arm around her shoulders.  "I assume this is about Ellen? I just got off the phone with Lisa's son Jack, and he seems to think that she's making a fuss over something very innocent. He called just as I was coming down to find out what the problem was this time. He told me what was going on."

"She didn't make it sound very innocent," Roger frowned, calming a little at his father's reasonable words.

"No, but she wouldn't, would she?" Gordon said. "This isn't the first time she's contacted us with her complaints. The only reason the call went to you instead of me was because Mrs. Tanner thought I had left already, she didn't realize I was in the kitchen talking to Cook about the dinner party next week."

"Felix wouldn't do anything wrong," Dorothy found her voice again, and promptly burst into tears. Why was Roger so angry with her? She hated it when he looked at her like that.

"No, of course he wouldn't," Gordon said soothingly. "Roger isn't really upset with you, dear, he's upset with Ellen. Right, son?" he gave Roger a meaningful glare.

"Yes. I'm sorry if I scared you, Dorothy," Roger said insincerely, still visibly trying to restrain his temper. "I think I'm just going to take a short walk to calm down, if you'll forgive me, Dad?"

"That's a good idea," Gordon said. "After all, it's hardly Dorothy's fault even if she did give Felix what you think she did--it isn't as if anyone told her that she shouldn't!" She realized with a start that Gordon was angry too, and the thought that it might be because of her made her cry even harder.

His father's pointed words and Dorothy's obvious distress finally seemed to register with Roger. He sighed heavily. "We'll work it out, Dorothy, I promise." This time, he sounded as though he meant it. "I'm going to take a walk in the gardens and then I'll come back and we'll talk about it, all right?" He gave her shoulder a reassuring pat and left the room.

Gordon waited until her tears had slowed before speaking. "I'm upset about this, but not with you or Felix," he said quietly. "It seems that Ellen is determined to create trouble, and I'm not sure if there's anything we can do to make her stop." He sat down and gestured towards the chair next to his.

"Why would she want to do that?" Dorothy asked, seating herself.

"I don't know, " he answered. "Jack was furious with her. He told me that his mother was occasionally having a problem with severe nightmares, they think that they might be brought on by some of the medication she's taking. When he asked Felix what happened, Felix told him that Lisa had awoken in the middle of the night and was too upset to go back to sleep. He tried bringing her some herbal tea and a snack, he read to her for a while, he gave her a back rub--nothing was working. Finally, he just lay down with her. It worked--she calmed down and eventually did doze off. He didn't want to take a chance on waking her, she's a light sleeper at the best of times, so he stayed where he was instead of going back to his room."

"What's wrong with that?" Dorothy asked, puzzled. "He's only doing what he's supposed to do, which is taking care of Lisa."

"I agree, and so does Jack," Gordon told her. "I guess Ellen showed up first thing this morning and barged right in. She found them both asleep in Lisa's bed and immediately assumed that it was for a different reason entirely. I don't know exactly what was said to Roger, but I'm sure Ellen made it sound as sinister as possible. Lisa was completely outraged at her behavior and threw her out on the spot, so I think Ellen was hoping to do something to cause trouble for Felix to get revenge. Jack was planning to go over to Lisa's apartment to change the locks after we finished talking so Ellen couldn't just walk in whenever she pleased."

"Is Felix okay?" Dorothy asked, suddenly worried.

"He's fine," Gordon assured her. "He's not happy about it, of course, it was a hell of a way to start the day."

"What do you think Ellen told Roger?" She couldn't imagine what the woman could have said that would make him so angry.

"She said she had reason to believe that Felix was trying to.. to coerce Lisa," Roger came back into the room and sank down into his chair. "She said she thought her grandmother was afraid to tell her."

"Felix would never do anything like that! He loves Lisa," Dorothy said indignantly. "The only thing he's ever made her do that she didn't want to do was to go to the hospital the night he woke, and that's his job!"

"I know that," Roger said wearily. "After Ellen called, I looked up what software had been originally installed on Felix, and when I saw that he was a standard nurse-companion, I assumed that you had given him some of your more specialized programs." Dorothy opened her mouth to speak and he held up his hand. "Wait, please. I realized when I was walking that even if you had, there is no way he would do that. I agree with you. He loves Lisa, and wants her to get better. He's not going to intentionally do anything that would jeopardize her or make her unhappy. And you're right, Dad. No one has ever told Dorothy not to make trades."

"It isn't any of Ellen's business anyway," Gordon commented. "Lisa is a grown woman in full possession of herself, and if she and Felix decide something like that would be rewarding... well, that's entirely up to them. Jack brought it up during the conversation. He said at first the idea really bothered him, but when he thought about it, he had to admit that his mother has been doing a lot better with Felix caring for her. That's good enough for him. He said she had worked hard all her life and he didn't begrudge her any happiness she might find, no matter how unusual the source." 

"What is Ellen's problem, anyway?" Roger asked with frustration. "When I talked to her the day I brought Dorothy to visit, she was very hostile and kept coming up with reasons that a human should be taking care of Lisa."

"I really don't know," Gordon said. "So far, the reaction to the nurse-companion models has been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn't understand why Felix wasn't allowed at the hospital--a few others have brought their companions with them, and there haven't been any problems. We've done extensive follow-up, and they've been found to be very helpful. They know the patient and can alert the staff to any complications very quickly, and the patient is much more comfortable with a familiar caretaker. The nurses we've spoken to say the companion greatly improves the quality of care." 

"Maybe she thought that if Felix wasn't there, her grandmother would be able to tell her there was a problem," Roger said. "Assuming, of course, that Ellen actually believes the things she's saying. I must admit I have my doubts. Now that Lisa is showing visible improvement, it seems like Ellen is getting more desperate and her accusations are getting more irrational."

"She told Lisa that Felix might get his wires crossed," Dorothy volunteered.

"She didn't want to hear that he doesn't really have any wires to cross, at least not in the way she imagines," Roger said. "Look, I hate to cut it short, but I have a meeting to get to in," he looked at his watch, "fifteen minutes. We can talk later if you want to, Dorothy. I'm sorry I let Ellen get to me." He gave her a quick hug and left the room again.

"I need to get some lunch," Gordon said. "Do you care to join me, my dear?" She nodded and they left the office.

"Did you know that Ellen used to take care of Lisa before Felix came?" Dorothy asked as she followed him to the kitchen.

"Did she really?" Gordon stopped in his tracks and turned to face her.

"Yes," Dorothy nodded. "Part of the reason that Lisa agreed to take Felix in the first place was because Ellen had just found out she was pregnant and Lisa was worried that it would be too much work for her."

"I wonder if Ellen is jealous," Gordon mused, turning back toward the kitchen. 

"Jealous?" Dorothy asked curiously as they went in. "Why would she be jealous?" She fell silent as she examined her databanks for further information.

"People get jealous for a lot of different reasons." Gordon told her, going over to the refrigerator. He pulled out a package of lunch meat and a carton of milk and put them on the counter. He then went into the cabinet. "It might be that Ellen was happy to be of help to Lisa, and it felt like Felix was stealing her job." He brought a can of tomato soup over to the electric can opener and locked it into place.

"So jealousy is a reaction to a loss or a threat of loss?" Dorothy asked, speaking a bit louder to be heard over the sound.

"Not necessarily," he said as he took the lid off the can. He got a pan and dumped the soup into it, adding a full can of milk. He put it on the range and turned on the burner, then disposed of the empty can, washed his hands and got the bread. "Peppered turkey--Cook always knows what I'll be in the mood for," he said happily as he put his sandwich together. "Jealousy..." he thought for a moment as he went over and stirred his soup. "It would be more accurate to say that it's a feeling somewhat like anger that arises when someone has or may get something or someone that you believe rightfully belongs to you. So a husband may be jealous that someone is flirting with his wife, or someone might be jealous over a friend's new job. If it's a material object, like a car, it's often called envy."

Dorothy stared at Gordon as he served himself and sat down at the kitchen table. "Ellen feels that Lisa belongs to her?" she asked.

"Perhaps," he said and began eating. "Or that the job of caring for Lisa belongs to her. I'm honestly not sure, Dorothy, but I think it warrants further investigation. There may be a way that Lisa can reassure her."

"I know she would be happier if they weren't arguing all the time," Dorothy said. Gordon agreed and changed the subject to lighter matters. They chatted casually as he finished, and then he excused himself and headed back to his own office.

When she was alone in her room, instead of sitting down at her computer to work as she had originally intended, she sought her rocking chair. Was "jealousy" what she had been feeling when Alex said Roger wanted a real woman? Did she feel as though he belonged to her? Or was she upset at the thought of anyone else doing the job that she believed she should be doing? 

An hour later, she was no closer to an answer than she had been when she started. She got up from the chair and picked up her purse and sketch pad. If she wasn't going to be able to concentrate enough to work on the documentation, she might as well head to the arena to work on some of the diagrams that would be needed. It would be nice to talk to Big O, she hadn't been spending any time at all with him lately. 

***

"I told you Roger was getting tired of you," Dorothy groaned as Alex approached her. Of all the days that he could have been working on Big Fau, why did it have to be today? "Hi, Alex," she bent her head to her sketch, hoping he would see that she was busy and go away. When he stood there smirking at her, she sighed. "You know, when I saw you walking over to me, I thought that this was going to be the moment you completely shocked me and said "Hello" to me like an ordinary person would," she said dryly. "It's been a stressful day, it was very kind of you to spare me."

He frowned. "Are you trying to be sarcastic?"

"Me?" she was proud of her expression of wide-eyed innocence. 

"Don't waste your time trying to adapt to Roger, he's never going to want you," Alex said. "The thought of an android and a human together makes him sick--look at how he reacted even to the idea of Felix and Lisa. He wants a real woman."

"I think I'll let him tell me that himself if you don't mind," she snapped, letting her annoyance at his persistence hide her discomfort with his words. 

"He already has," Alex said confidently. "It's obvious! Why else would he be wasting so much time teaching you to do new things?"

"Because he believes people shouldn't limit themselves," she answered.

"Yes, people shouldn't limit themselves, but you're not exactly a person, are you?" Alex sneered. "If there are other things he wants you to be able to do, why doesn't he just get you the software?

"There isn't a lot of software yet," she reminded him. "It's still being developed."

"Yes, by you," he smirked. "He's going to take all the routines you've created and sell them back to Rosewater Corporation. With a few modifications, any android will be able to use them. Then he'll wipe you clean and install only the ones he finds useful."

"Roger would never do that. He loves me just the way I am," she said firmly, trying to banish her growing unease. She knew that everyone was interested in anything new that she learned, it was no secret. In fact, she and Grandfather had already sent many of the routines she had created for her own use to the corporation's programming division to be analyzed and adapted for other androids. Felix had done the same, and Grandfather had promised to arrange for them to receive any royalties if their work was used.

"Sure he does, just like he loves his car and Big O," Alex said. "Sooner or later, though, he's going to find another toy and you'll outlive your usefulness."

Dorothy had reached the limits of her patience. "Why are you saying these things?" she demanded. "Why should you care what Roger does? I belong to him now--you were quite clear about giving me to him. What he does with me is no longer your concern."

She suppressed a shudder as Alex reached for her. "If he really loved you, he'd know you aren't completely happy," he breathed into her ear, his hands moving over her body. "He'd know how important this is to you."

The sketchbook and pencil fell to the floor and she stood frozen as her habitual obedience to his wishes warred with the weakened internal command structures that were insisting that only the one she belonged to was permitted to touch her this way. 

If Roger knew about this, it would make him very unhappy.  "Alex, don't," she whimpered, frantically trying to quell her body's positive reaction to his touch. Her pre-waking memories showed that Alex could bring her great pleasure if he so chose, and this seemed to be his intention. She shouldn't have been able to respond to him at all--she didn't belong to him now, she belonged to Roger. The conflict that had originally propelled her into consciousness must have done more damage than she realized. She was reacting almost as if she belonged to both of them.

"I know you want this," he whispered, one hand sliding under her shirt.  He hadn't expected this much of a response, and he pushed his advantage. "There's nothing wrong with doing what you're made to do. Roger is the one who has a problem, not you."

"No..." He was fumbling at her clothing. Did he intend to take her right here and now? "Alex, stop it!" She struggled to overcome the paralysis and break free of him.

He laughed at her efforts. "Don't fight it," he advised, his caresses becoming more intimate.

There seemed to be no escape. Maybe it would be wiser to just to let her programming take over--if she did, she wouldn't have to experience this directly and the memories would be distant, as if it had happened to someone else. She didn't think Alex intended to hurt her, at least, not this time, and maybe when he had what he wanted from her, he would be satisfied and leave her alone.

She closed her eyes, letting her resistance fade. The sooner she acquiesced, the sooner the routines would fully activate. She tried to aid the process by imagining that it was Roger doing these things to her. "That's it, just relax," the sound of Alex's voice shattered the fragile illusion, as did the hand that gripped her hair and pulled her head back so he could kiss her.

Tears began leaking from the corner of her eyes when she realized that her plan wasn't going to work, but he paid no attention to them. He guided her to the private area created by the combination of Big O's feet, the wheeled staircase, and several tall tool cabinets. The mechanics took their breaks there and had put in a comfortable old couch, a coffee table, and an easy chair. It was secluded enough that no one would realize there was anyone in there unless they got very close.

She didn't want to be with him, no matter how good he was making her body feel. "Please, Alex...don't do this," she tried one more time.

He pushed her down to the couch, frowning. "No more talking," he said.

"No!" She managed to twist away as he leaned over her to kiss her again.

"Dorothy, I've had enough of your games," Alex said, his hand gripping her chin and forcing her to look at him. "You don't belong to my brother, you belong to me, and you're going to do what I tell you to do. Do you understand?"

Was he actually so deluded that he thought he could command her? Her sudden rage set her free from the conflict-induced paralysis and she pushed him away. "You son of a bitch!" She slapped his face hard, hard enough that she could almost immediately see the skin purpling in a bruise that closely resembled the shape of her hand. "I don't belong to you, I belong to Roger. Don't you come near me again!"

He lunged for her but she shoved him away, fleeing to the safety of Big O's cockpit. She locked herself in, secure in the knowledge that the only other person who could enter was Roger himself, and perhaps Norman if he asked the Megadeus very, very nicely. 

There was a low hum as Big O registered her presence and activated himself. He became concerned when she didn't answer his greeting--she was too busy sobbing the fear and disgust out of her system. She was able to ignore the screens flashing, the questions, and even the lights turning on and off repeatedly, but when the Megadeus started his engines and began shifting his weight from one foot to the other, she nearly fell out of the pilot's chair. 

The screen displayed a schematic of the cap that had been used to take the original reading of her personality pattern, and door of the cupboard where it was stored slid open. "All right! If you want me to put it on, you have to hold still long enough for me to get it!" she said. When the motion stopped, she got it and sat down again, letting it rest in her lap as she looked at it. Why would he want her to put this on? He'd just done an update last month.

"Fine!" She jammed the cap on to her head as the rocking began again. 

She realized with astonishment that Big O was accessing her memories directly by means of the cap. Although she had upgraded his pattern-recognition abilities just a few weeks ago, he shouldn't have been able to do this.

It was strangely relaxing. The sensation of the mental touch was almost like a tickle deep in her head. As her fear and confusion yielded to the calm radiating from the Megadeus, she realized that the link worked both ways.

She was surprised at the complexity she saw. He understood far more than she had previously believed--the problem, he was explaining, was that he was running out of memory and was limiting his sphere of knowledge for the moment in order to conserve it. "How much do you think you need?" she asked.  There was a brief, uncomfortable sensation of pressure in her head, and then it faded. She found she now had a schematic that hadn't been there before. "That's a lot!" she whistled. "I can get it, though, even if I have to buy it myself."

The sensation of pressure briefly returned and she laughed when she saw what he had given her. "That improvement will definitely pay for it," she told him. "In fact, if we let Grandfather handle it, it will be enough to have you gilded into the bargain!"

A scornful image of the Victory Deluxe gleaming in the sunlight formed in her mind and she laughed again. "You're right, I suppose it would be more Beck's style than Roger's." She turned serious as Big O changed the subject. "You can see it? Where?" While they had been talking about the equipment he wanted, his more powerful programs had been analyzing her command structures, and he had found the cause of her earlier paralysis.

Her guess that it was related to the original conflict that caused her to wake was correct. When the chains of logic had snapped, they had done peripheral damage to other chains nearby. When Alex had verbally transferred her ownership to Roger, the old associations hadn't been completely cleared. It had simply been bad luck that his actions had activated them--in most circumstances, they were effectively invisible. 

"I'm not going to be able to fix that, am I?" she said. The Megadeus sent her the equivalent of a shrug. It was beyond his ability to smooth the tangled pathways and he was concerned that trying to force it would damage some of the other, beneficial structures she had built and force her to start over with them again.

"But... I have time," she said. "That wouldn't be such a bad... oh." She slumped in the chair. "You're saying that it might also destroy me.  If I can't repair it, though... what am I going to do?" She shuddered at the thought of Alex being able to compel her any time he wanted. Had he not made her angry when he pushed his advantage too far, she would likely still be there now. While Alex was many things, he was definitely not a fool. It was just a matter of time before he realized his mistake and rectified it.

"Yes, you're right," she nodded. "I don't think remembering how angry I was will work indefinitely, but maybe it will buy me enough time to get away." She frowned at the response. "What do you mean, anyone?" She huddled in the chair, the tears beginning all over again. "Anyone who resembles either of them enough will be able to... No! You can't be right!" 

She could feel gentle reassurance radiating from the Megadeus, and it helped to settle her. "You're right, it's better that I know about it, then it won't take me by surprise." She began to examine her database for similar situations and solutions, firmly setting her fear and revulsion aside. "There's got to be a way around it, we just aren't seeing it. Maybe.. maybe Roger can use the override and manually transfer command.  I bet that would clear it." 

The alarm on her watch beeped softly and she looked down at it in surprise. "I have to go, the driver will be here to pick me up in a few minutes," she said. "Big O... thank you. I don't know how long it will take to get all of the things you want for your upgrade, but if you think it will help, I can bring you at least one drive tomorrow." 

She removed the cap and put it back in the cupboard. "I hope Alex is gone," she said, looking outside for any sign of him. A series of pictures flashed on the screens, a set of still images from the outside cameras. He had left almost immediately afterwards, she saw. She was glad of it--although her anger was fresh enough in her mind that she didn't feel particularly afraid, she had had enough confrontation for one day.

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