[Fan Fiction] ACT 36: BATTLE OF THE WASTELAND, Complete!

A Clockwork Tomato 01-10-2004 10:46 PM
ACT 36: BATTLE OF THE WASTELAND

This is the tenth episode in my very own fan-fiction Season 3 of BIG O.

The series starts with:
Act 27: Life Goes On and continues with
Act 28: Returning to the Dead ,
Act 29: The Master Criminal,
Act 30: Dori, Dorothy,
Act 31: The Underground Error,
Act 32: Materia Medica,
Act 33: Heaven’s Day Mayhem,
Act 34: Memories of Days Gone By.,
Act 35:Grand Theft Android

-- A Clockwork Tomato



Officer Garza's sketch of the suspect (top) and victim (bottom) [by Falcon 7]





Dori woke up in the back of the van. She had only been unconscious for three minutes. That was another advantage of being an android – you didn’t need to wear a watch. She looked around. Ted, the Rapid Tool delivery man, was lying next to her, unconscious. She could hear his breathing; it sounded normal. That was a relief.

Her wrists were fastened together. She glanced down and saw that they were bound with ordinary handcuffs. Good. Her kidnapers didn’t really know much about her. Her legs were free.

She had discussed this contingency at length with Beck. After all, Dorothy had been kidnapped several times. Beck disapproved of Dorothy’s behavior under such circumstances. Dorothy was disapproving and uncooperative, which meant that her kidnappers stayed on their toes and, at best, didn’t cut her any slack. At worst, Dorothy’s disdain made them want to hurt her.

Dori’s instructions were to be adorable and cooperative and non-threatening – and to make a break for it the instant she had the chance. Every second she delayed, the kidnappers were closer to home and were more in control of events. But she worried about Ted. Leaving an unconscious Ted alone with furious kidnappers would be wrong. The Rapid Tool van was very distinctive. Surely they would switch vehicles soon. She’d have another chance after they switched.

She sat up and moved towards the front of the van. She stuck her head between the two bucket seats and said, “That wasn’t very nice.”

Both men jumped. Jones, behind the wheel, almost lost control of the van. The other man brandished the electric cattle prod at her. Dori gazed levelly at him, and after a moment he lowered it and relaxed slightly.

“It’s good to see that you are undamaged, Miss Wayneright,” said Jones.

“Mostly undamaged,” corrected Dori, who in fact had only some scorching on her skin to complain about. But it wasn’t a lie. “You are going to leave Ted behind when you change vehicles, aren’t you?”

Jones sneered, “You’re supposed to say, ‘You’ll never get away with this.’”

“No,” said Dori. “That’s after you tell me your nefarious plan. Ted has a wife and two kids. He’s nice.”

“He’s seen my face.”

“Lots of people at Hangar B saw your face.” Dori didn’t mention the man in the passenger seat, and neither did Jones.

“What are you offering in return?” asked Jones.

“Your humanity,” said Dori seriously.

Jones went through a brief internal struggle, some of which was visible on his face. Rage, amusement, anguish, and annoyance vied for first place. In the end, he settled for a neutral expression. After a minute or two, he pulled the van into an alley and switched off the engine.

“Time to switch vehicles,” he announced. “Throw one of those moving pads over your friend, Miss Wayneright, and come with us.”

Dori spent a moment making Ted comfortable and covered him with a quilted moving blanket used to cushion large parts. Her handcuffs were something of a nuisance. Then she obediently got out of the van – what with the short winter days, it was almost dark outside already -- and into the back seat of a nondescript car that was parked further down the alley. Once again, both men sat in front.

She could burst the handcuffs and leave the car at any moment, even when it was traveling at moderate speeds. But not until she was further away from Ted.

* * *

Tony sought out Beck, who was in his office, pacing back and forth behind his desk, which was littered with books and papers. He looked as Tony entered. “Well?” he snapped.

“Mr. Beck, have you seen Dori?”

“No.”

“Only, she left me to take a delivery twenty minutes ago and said she’d be right back. I checked at the receiving bay, and she went out with a Rapid Tool man, but didn’t come back in. Not through that door, anyway. The delivery van is gone.”

“Was it Ted?”

“No, somebody I didn’t recognize.”

Beck sagged. His face lost all expression; for a moment he looked like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Then he recovered. He seemed to swell with purpose. He picked up the phone. “Betty, tell everybody it’s quitting time. Down tools and go the hell home. Except the guys in shipping and receiving; I need to have a word with them first. And tell Security to look sharp; bad things are happening.” He slammed down the receiver.

He held still for a moment, then took a deep breath and let it out slowly, like someone nerving himself up for a painful ordeal. Beck held his watch up to his face and said, quietly, “Dorothy.”

Tony edged out of the room.

* * *

Continued in Part 2
Advinius 01-10-2004 11:09 PM
I am so looking forward to watching Beck go totally freking berzerk with righteous wrath. this is going to be good.
Wingnut 01-10-2004 11:31 PM
quote:
Originally posted by Advinius
I am so looking forward to watching Beck go totally freking berzerk with righteous wrath. this is going to be good.
Then again, freking berzerk is somewhat normal for Beck anyway so it's not really all that different from what we've already seen. Except that this time he is one of the good guys. I can't believe I just typed that last sentence and ment it. Dorothy is no doubt going to be equally peeved only she will likely keep her anger just below the surface.
X Prime 01-10-2004 11:33 PM
I don't know about that... I do think SOMETHING has to be able to make Dorothy REALLY angry.
Tony Waynewrong 01-10-2004 11:45 PM
Blast! You are killing me, Uncle Tomato. The suspense is killing me.

Poor Dori!

** hyperventilating **

Must be strong! Smile
Big Ben 01-11-2004 04:14 AM
quote:
Originally posted by Advinius
I am so looking forward to watching Beck go totally freking berzerk with righteous wrath. this is going to be good.
Yes, especially the role reversal aspect. Now Beck is where he usually put Roger. It would be interesting to see his thoughts on that observation.
A Clockwork Tomato 01-11-2004 10:48 AM
Dori asked, “By the way, why have you kidnapped me?”

“We have a Megadeus who needs to be repaired,” said Jones.

Dori sighed inwardly. Back when she was human, this hadn’t happened to her. But she was an android now, and she had layers of conditioning and programming that made it almost impossible for her to ignore the needs of a Megadeus. She shouldn’t have asked. Now that she knew that there was a Megadeus that needed her, it was going to be hard to summon the will to escape.

Too late now. She asked, “What’s wrong with him? Or her.”

“It’s something to do with the core memory.”

“Is it broken? Missing?” asked Dori.

“It seems intact, but there is something wrong with its contents, we think. The Megadeus refuses to activate itself.”

“That’s a good sign.”

“It is?” asked Jones.

“Yes,” said Dori. The ones that refused to come to life were generally in pretty good shape; they were the ones that knew they were damaged and shouldn’t trust their own judgment. The crazy ones, the ones that went on the rampage, were more impaired than this, and no longer remembered what sanity was.

Dori thought for a while, then said, “Mr. Jones?”

“Yes?”

“You will want to let me go after I’m finished.”

“I will?”

“Yes. You’ll see. You’ll want to. Please arrange things so that you are able to.”

Jones thought about this as he drove. This girl was having an effect on his thinking. Where before he was totally focused on The Plan, now he was allowing irrelevant side issues to intrude. He was even thinking of himself as Jones instead of The New Dominus. He wasn’t even able to work up any outrage about this. Oh, well. It wouldn’t last.

He said, “I suppose I could blindfold you so you won’t know where our base is.”

“Thank you.”

* * *

Dorothy had been standing alone on the parapet when Beck’s call came in. She told him that she would alert Roger and Dastun right away.

“Tell Angel, too, if she’s there,” said Beck.

“Yes,” said Dorothy.

“Dori and I have talked this through. We have plans. We have tricks up our sleeves. Try not to worry,” continued Beck.

Dorothy said nothing.

After a moment, Beck added, “And, Dorothy?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry.”

Dorothy walked back into the penthouse. It was almost dinner time, and Angel was sitting on a couch with Roger, drinking a cocktail and listening to him tell the story of the day’s events. The attack on Roger’s car in the Main Dome seemed insignificant to Dorothy now.

“Roger, Angel,” said Dorothy. “Dori has been kidnapped.”

Angel went pale.

Roger leaped to his feet, enraged. “I’ll kill Beck!” he snarled. “I knew he couldn’t be trusted with Dori!”

The color came back to Angel’s face in a rush and she jumped up and glared at Roger. “And how many times has Dorothy been kidnapped, smartass? You might as well install a revolving door!”

“Damn it, Angel! I don’t have to take this from you!”

“That’s right, you don’t!” Angel stamped her foot. “I’m leaving. Beck’s going to need help.” She turned and started to stalk out of the room, then turned around again. “And don’t go rushing into danger like an idiot this time. It’s probably a trap.” Her expression softened. “Be careful, Roger, okay?”

Dorothy could see that Angel’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears, and that she wanted to throw herself into Roger’s arms, but there was a coffee table in the way. Roger hadn’t noticed, and looked like he was about to say something nasty about Beck, or possibly Angel. Dorothy interrupted, saying, “Roger, I’ll help Angel pack. You tell Norman. One of you should phone General Dastun.”

Dorothy and Angel headed for the stairs. Angel said, “Dorothy, I’m worried about Roger. He’s going to do something rash, I just know it. He doesn’t believe that Beck can take care of Dori, or that Dori can take care of herself. He’s going to act like he’s her only hope. Please, Dorothy, you’ve got to hold him back, and get him to listen to Beck. I don’t want to lose Roger again.”

They reached the bottom of the stairs. Angel turned to face Dorothy, and then suddenly looked amazed. “You’re smiling,” she accused.

Dorothy realized that she was. “It’s just like old times, isn’t it?”

Angel hugged her, then took a step back and said, troubled, “Is it really something to smile about?”

“I wasn’t thinking about the outcome.”

“What, then?”

“The teamwork. I’d forgotten until now. For months I’ve known that it was vital to keep you here, but I couldn’t remember why.”

Angel smiled delightedly. “Come on, I need to get out of here. Help me pack and I’ll tell you what Beck and Dori have planned.”

* * *

As the other man drove the van away, the New Dominus removed Dori’s blindfold. They were inside a hangar containing two Megadeuses -- Big Lazarus and the other one -- but she didn’t see this; her eyes were closed. She was swaying slightly. In her mind, she felt like she was being torn in half.

“What’s wrong?” asked the New Dominus.

“They are both calling me,” said Dori in a voice with robotic overtones. She was having difficulty speaking. “I … I … please, take me to one of them right away.”

The New Dominus was amazed. “But Big Lazarus doesn’t need your help!”

Dori said nothing. She was standing as still as a statue.

The New Dominus needed to report in. He took Dori’s hand – awkwardly, as she was still in handcuffs. Her hand’s texture was not the same as a human hand, but it was warm and, after a moment, it clasped his trustingly. He felt a moment of disorientation, then his purpose reasserted itself. He said, “Come on,” and he headed towards Big Lazarus.

They entered at the hatchway in the right foot. As soon as the door closed behind them, Dori regained much of her animation. “That’s better,” she said. “With two of them, I felt like I was being torn apart. I can handle one. That’s my function.” She looked up at him, a gentle smile on her face.

The New Dominus dropped her hand as if it burned him. He waved her into the elevator and they rode up into the cockpit.

They stepped inside, and Dori saw the Old Dominus for the first time; the shriveled, motionless, almost mummified corpse of a young man, rudely crucified to a cross of steel I-beams welded to the back wall of the cockpit. His head sagged. His unseeing eyes stared at the floor. Eight probe cables stabbed through his shirt and into his back. Tubes carrying preservative fluid entered and exited his body at arms, neck, torso, and legs.

Dori looked at the apparition without horror, and in fact did not give it her full attention. “Poor man,” she said absently. She closed her eyes and remained silent for a long time. Then she opened them and turned to the New Dominus. She was smiling gently again. “Yes,” she said. “I can fix this Megadeus. Its personality has been isolated and no longer plays any role in operating Big Lazarus. But this is reversible. I will need to use the probe cables. If you’ll unplug the zombie, I can have Big Lazarus back on his feet in less than an hour.”

A voice rasped from the speakers. “Get that android out of here!” it said. “Never let her near me again. Girl, you will be punished for your insolence! And you, too, Dominus!”

The color drained from the New Dominus’ face. Taking Dori by the hand again, he pulled her hastily back into the elevator. “Sorry, Master,” he said. “I didn’t know!” The elevator door closed and they descended in silence.

When they left Big Lazarus, Dori became withdrawn again, and the New Dominus led her across the hangar floor to the other Megadeus. It looked a lot like Big O, with the massive arm pistons and forearm armor. Its color scheme was forest green and black.

Once again, Dori became more herself as the hatchway closed behind her. She said to the New Dominus, “This one is in worse shape. I can’t make out his name yet or anything.”

They went up the elevator to the cockpit. Dori stood inside the cockpit for several minutes, eyes closed. The cockpit was silent. No air moved. There was no rumble of machinery or hum of electronics. All the displays were dark. Dori sat down in the command seat and folded her hands in her lap. Her hairband moved, revealing a modified disk tray. The front of the disk tray was unusually thick. It flipped around and revealed eight gleaming round sockets. The tray withdrew back into her skull, and now the eight sockets protruded slightly.

Dori looked at the New Dominus and said, “Here goes.” From the cockpit behind her, eight probe cables rose like snakes and moved forward, plugging themselves into the sockets in her skull. Too late, the New Dominus moved forward to stop her. He was about to step onto the narrow entrance in front of the command seat when the transparent cockpit dome snapped down from the ceiling and the entrance panel slid up from the floor. Dori was inside the armored, air-tight command capsule, and the New Dominus could only watch helplessly from outside. He turned at a sound behind him. The elevator door had closed.

The New Dominus raged. He pounded on the elevator button, to no avail. He paced and swore. He raged even more because he could not even be sure that he had been tricked. Perhaps this was all normal operating procedure, and the android would do his bidding afterwards. So far, she had not refused a single request, or even argued with him. She had merely made suggestions.

Yes, that was it. The android would be obedient. Of course she would. Androids had to follow orders, didn’t they? He slowly got control of his temper.

* * *
Continued in Part 3
A Clockwork Tomato 01-11-2004 10:50 AM
Dorothy walked Angel to the elevator. Angel stepped inside and set her suitcase and her satchel down. She had changed into her pink leather jumpsuit and long boots, and was wearing her voluminous pink overcoat. She turned around and smiled at Dorothy, giving her a wink just as the door closed.

Dorothy went in search of Roger. He was talking to Norman on the catwalk leading to Big O’s cockpit.

Roger smiled at her encouragingly, the way he did when he was going to suggest something he wasn’t sure she’d like.

Roger said, “I’ve been thinking about what Angel told us, and I think we’d better be clear in our own minds that this is going to be Beck’s show, not ours.” He looked at her sidelong.

Dorothy nodded. “Angel and I talked about this, too. Beck and Dori have discussed kidnap scenarios at length. They know what to expect from one another.”

“Will Beck be calling the shots, or Dori?”

“It all depends. They don’t have a plan; they have dozens of plans. They’ll switch from one to another as the situation warrants.”

Roger nodded. “So no one but Beck will be able to figure out what Dori is up to, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Not even you?”

“Not even me,” said Dorothy. “Everything depends on knowledge that Dori has and I do not.”

“That’s settled, then. This is Beck’s show, and we’re backup.” He hesitated, then said, “There’s one other thing.”

Dorothy waited silently.

“Should you go with Beck in Big B? Big O and I are used to operating without an android, but Beck doesn’t have that much experience. He always complains when Dori isn’t there with him.”

“Yes, I can do that. If it won’t bother you too much.”

“What bothers me is the idea that we might lose Dori if we don’t put our best foot forward.”

“Take Angel with you in Big O.”

“Has she left?”

“Yes. Beck needs her moral support. He would take my presence as criticism. We’ll do the switch just before we go into action. He’ll like that.”

“Should she come with me in Big O? Angel has her own Megadeus.”

“She cannot risk Big Venus,” said Dorothy.

“Isn’t it just as bad for her to risk herself?”

“Apparently not.”

* * *

Angel walked into the break room of Hangar B, where a police inspector in plain clothes and two uniformed officers were present, along with Tony and Beck. One officer had a notebook open and was taking shorthand notes of the interview between the inspector and Beck. The other had a sketchbook and was drawing a picture of Jones with Tony’s assistance. He had already done one of Dori. In spite of the urgency of the task, Tony’s gaze kept straying to the picture of Dori, until the police artist finally covered it with his free hand.

Angel walked straight up to Beck. They embraced. “Beck, you look terrible,” said Angel.

Beck managed a crooked smile. “You look pretty good, though,” he said. “Angel, do you know everyone here? Tony, of course. Inspector Plaice. That’s Officer Garza with the sketchbook, and Officer Hamilton with the notebook.”

Angel nodded at them. “Patricia Lovejoy,” she said.

She turned to Beck and raised an eyebrow. He shook his head slightly. No news.

Angel got up, went over to the coffeepot, and started a fresh pot of coffee. Then she walked across to Beck’s apartment, which was built onto the side of Hangar B, and emptied the cookie jar onto a plate. She brought this back into the break room and served cookies and coffee all around.

She took a look at the sketches. Officer Garza had done a good one of Dori. A little idealized, but they he was relying on Beck and Tony, both of whom were goofy about her. You couldn’t get a really accurate description out of love-struck males. In the little description Officer Garza had put down for “Sex” “N/A (F).” Angel smiled at the “N/A” – clearly, no one had told Officer Garza that Class M androids were different. Under “Age” he had put down “1,” which, while technically correct, wasn’t going to help the cops on the street.

Angel was about to point this out when the telephone rang, and she got up to answer it. It was Dastun. He and the inspector discussed ways of dealing with the kidnapping. After that, is was time for the inspector to leave, to get the sketches copied and distributed, and to brief policemen as they came on-shift.

After they left, Angel turned to Tony. “You staying?”

Tony nodded, “If Mr. Beck needs me.”

Angel turned to Beck. “What do you think?”

Beck said, “I’ve got some stuff in the lab that needs to be installed in Big B. Damn it! I should have been better prepared.”

“Lead on,” said Angel. “We’re right behind you.”

It turned out that Beck had a sophisticated tracking device built into Dori. Normally inactive, it emitted signals only when it received requests to do so. If the pings were emitted more or less randomly, it was very difficult for anyone else to home in on the device. It worked, but Beck’s receiver was in the lab, while it needed to be in Big B, since its range was limited to five miles even under ideal conditions. By the time Dori had been missed, she had been out of range.

The equipment was relatively bulky. They loaded it onto a cart. Beck told them to take it up to the cockpit and weld the main unit to a bulkhead somewhere, then run the control wires to the command chair. He’d figure out just where to mount them later.

“I’ve got a surprise to load into the right foot,” he said mysteriously.

Angel and Tony took equipment up to the cockpit. They worked quickly, and for the most part silently. Angel would have preferred to work with Beck. They would have soothed each other with a steady stream of inconsequential talk. Tony was terribly worried about Dori, and this left him silent and preoccupied.

They finished, everything but mounting the controls. Angel saw a good place for them and decided not to wait for confirmation from Beck. She overrode Tony’s objections, told him to install them, and went to see what was keeping Beck for so long.

He was outside Big B, talking to a couple of men Angel didn’t know. All three were sitting on empty wooden crates. Beck had something in his hand. He looked up as Angel approached.

“Hey, Angel.” He handed something to Angel. It was a set of six photographs. “Take a look at these.”

The photos showed Megadeuses. The first two were of the damaged Megadeus she and Dori had found under the East Side Dome. The second one … Angel looked up in amazement. “That’s Big Duo!”

Beck nodded. “It sure looks like it. The original model, not the one that Alan Gabriel piloted.”

“I missed that part,” said Angel. “I was underground at the time. Did the new version look different?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Beck. “No question. All sorts of little differences, and one eye had this stupid star over it, like some kind of monocle for a drag queen.”

“Well,” said Angel, tapping a photo, “This is Big Duo, all right.”

“Not another unit from the same production run?”

“No,” said Angel with certainty. “Big Duo’s been customized in a lot of little ways. I’d recognize him anywhere.” She looked at the next picture. “This is in Big Ramses’ hangar?”

Beck nodded. “Sounds like it.”

“Where’s Mike?”

“Who?”

“Mike Seebach,” said Angel impatiently. “Don’t you remember?”

“No.”

“Well, you should. He’s the earnest type; you two never got along. He’s been having trouble hanging onto his sanity, these last few cycles. He goes loopy and starts talking about Truth with a capital ‘T.’”

Beck was impatient with these details. “So is he on our side or not?”

“He is until he loses his marbles; then it’s anyone’s guess. Dan or Roger can rope him in; he never trusts you or me.”

“What timeframe are we looking at? Hours? Days? Years?”

“Is Big Duo awake?”

Jerry spoke for the first time since Angel arrived. “It turned its head to watch us. My hands were shaking so hard I almost couldn’t take these pictures.”

Angel said, “Soon, then. But not soon enough to help us with Dori.”

Beck stood up. “You guys did great. Let me give you a token of my esteem.” He walked into Big B’s left foot and came back carrying a briefcase. Both of the other men were now standing. Beck handed the briefcase to Jerry.

Jerry opened it and gasped.

Beck slouched happily, with his hands in his pockets. “There’s a hundred thousand in there. Untraceable. That’s your finder’s fee and your ‘keeping your mouths shut’ fee. If we manage to get the Megadeus into service, there’ll be a lot more.” He stepped between the two men and put a hand on each man’s shoulder. “Remember who your friends are, okay, guys?” He escorted them out of the hangar.

* * *

Continued in Part 4
A Clockwork Tomato 01-11-2004 10:52 AM
Dori was no longer aware of the outside world. She was communing with Big Alpha. His mind was a mess. Long ago, he had lost his Dominus and his android, and had accepted a temporary Dominus to help him go looking for the real one. There had been a fight. It had gone badly, and to extricate themselves he had had to use the probe cables on the temporary Dominus. The personality thus absorbed into his core memory could make decisions that only a Dominus could make, for a while. It was the only way for a sane Megadeus to be fully operational without a Dominus. The effect was temporary; soon after incorporation the new personality was subject to the same inhibitions that the original one had been, unless the core memory had been crudely hacked to allow self-piloting, or if other damage broke down the barriers. But the new personality was permanent. Big Alpha had been left with a split personality, and the new one had been incompatible with the old. Instant schizophrenia.

Then it had happened again. And again. And again. The composite personality was crazy. It had retained just enough sanity to realize how dysfunctional it was, and shut itself down.

Crazy Megadeuses tended to settle into one of several manias. Suicidal depression sometimes resulted in spectacular acts of self-destruction, but Megadeuses were frequently prey to the same megalomania that so often struck the humans of Paradigm, especially those who wielded vast power, had secret knowledge, or, worst of all, had body-image problems coupled with the other two. Cyborgs could be counted upon to go insane; everybody knew that. The human personalities in androids and Megadeuses were cocooned in safeguards, but a Dominus was not. When a Megadeus absorbed the personality of its Dominus, it absorbed his instabilities at the same time.

And the zombie Dominus? Sanity in flesh-and-blood humans was largely a matter of brain chemistry and glands. What chance did a zombie have to retain even the shreds of its sanity? Over the short term, it would behave normally through sheer force of habit. But in the long term? It didn’t have a chance.

Big Alpha’s mind was still in there, still sane, exercising a minority opinion amid a Babel of other voices. Dori’s task was a matter of exorcising the ghost Dominuses; laying them to rest, poor things. In theory, she knew just what to do. It was her function.

Dorothy had failed in similar circumstances, with the Archetype and Leviathan, because she had been in a vulnerable state; still with her adolescent circuitry in her skull, and without the all-important attenuators that Beck had devised. And she’d had very little knowledge of her function. Wayneright had somehow managed to use her to bring up the Megadeus Dorothy 1 without teaching Dorothy much about herself. Dori, with additional training and safeguards, was in far less danger of having her personality submerged by the insistent demands of the Megadeuses and her own programming – though with two Megadeuses screaming for her help at the same time, it had been a close thing.

Even so, she had very little power to resist. So she didn’t. Instead of resisting, she complied … cleverly. For this sort of thing, Beck had been the perfect teacher.

Dori was particularly careful to do her work in a way that continued to deny the Megadeus control over his own body. She would enable that last, when he was himself again. Also, she wanted no outward sign of progress to make its way to the zombie in the other Megadeus. For all he knew, she and Jones were just poking around and discussing what might be done.

Her eyes were open, but they did not see. Hours went by, and she didn’t notice. Nor did she notice when Jones opened the emergency access panel, cranked open the escape hatch by hand, and left.

* * *

Beck was back a minute later. “Well, that was interesting. How’s the wiring?”

“Tony should be about done. I picked a spot for your controls, and you’d better be happy about it.”

“Help me here for a minute, and I’ll go up and take a look.”

Beck had installed something truly bizarre. There was a vertical stack of pine coffins in the right foot of Big B. At the bottom was what looked like a torpedo tube. A hydraulic plunger seemed poised to shove coffins out of Big B’s heel.

“What the hell is that, Beck?”

“You’ll see,” he said, grinning. “It’s the latest technology.”

There were a number of wires that had to be connected to a control box in the foot. Because of the tremendous shock and vibration, Beck didn’t tolerate wires draped helter-skelter, the way he did in his lab. Everything had to be secured properly. The simple wiring job took the best part of an hour.

Beck ran some tests, then said, “That oughta do it. Let’s go up and test-fire it.”

“Tell me what it is,” said Angel, “or I’ll scratch your eyes out. The suspense is killing me.”

“Scratch away,” said Beck, smirking. “It’s a secret.”

They took the elevator to the top. Tony was asleep on his feet. Angel glanced at her watch. 11 pm. This was starting to cut into her beauty sleep.

Beck tested his coffin-launcher, which worked perfectly, shoving out one coffin after another at a leisurely pace.

Angel asked, “You don’t have zombies in there, do you?”

“No, nothing like that. Nothing dangerous at all,” said Beck, smiling his crooked smile.

Beck then tested the locator device, grudgingly approving the location Angel had chosen for the controls and Tony’s workmanship, which was flawless, as always.

“What else is on the agenda?” asked Angel.

“Well, other than reloading the coffins, we wait,” said Beck.

Angel crossed to the wall phone Beck had installed in Big B’s cockpit and called a cab for Tony, over his objections. “I’m putting Beck to bed next,” she assured him as she followed him into the elevator. “You’re not going to miss a thing. And there’s no way Beck would take you with him when it’s time to roll.”

After she saw him out, she grabbed her things and brought them back into Big B with her. She got off on the level below the cockpit, which featured Beck’s newly installed living quarters. They were cramped but serviceable, with two tiny staterooms and a microscopic kitchen. Beck was in the kitchen, cooking up a quick meal.

“Which stateroom are you in?”

“Put your stuff in Stateroom A,” said Beck.

Angel obediently stepped into Stateroom A. She almost turned around and left when she saw Beck’s horrible yellow pajamas laid out on the bed, but then she started to laugh.

“Bunk beds?” she asked.

“There really wasn’t room for anything else,” he said.

“Bunk beds?”

“Upper bunk, lower bunk; take your pick.”

“Bunk beds. My god. You sure know how to show a girl a good time, Beck.”

“Angel, stop giving me a hard time and come eat this before it gets cold. The bunk beds were Dori’s idea, anyway.” At that last line, his face fell.

“I’m sorry, Beck.” She sidled into the kitchen and put her arms around him. “We’ll get her back.”

“Yeah.”

“And I’m glad you have bunk beds.”

“Sure.”

“Just for tonight. I’ll seduce you after we have Dori back safe and sound.”

“Eat your dinner.”

Angel kissed him briefly and sat at the tiny table. Beck sat down, too. Angel ate her meal and Beck pretended to eat his.

“Is there a phone in there?” she asked as she finished.

“Yeah.”

“Can you reach it from either bunk?”

“Just the lower one.”

“I’ll take the upper bunk.”

* * *

Beck tossed and turned while Angel slept in the upper bunk. Good old Angel. It was almost impossible to put her off her feed or keep her from sleeping. Beck, on the other hand, suffered from an artistic temperament, and often couldn’t eat or sleep because of all the plans, ideas, and worries boiling in his brain.

The phone rang at 3 am exactly. Beck snatched the receiver off the hook before the ring was half-completed. “Yeah?”

“Hello, Beck,” said Dorothy’s calm voice. “I have Emily on the line.” Emily was their other android friend, who was somewhere outside the city with her human boyfriend Will.

“Hi,” said Emily.

“Emily, Dori’s been kidnapped,” said Beck. “It happened this afternoon, just before quitting time. She’s out of range of my tracking devices.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Emily. “Do you have any idea who, or why?”

“They hijacked the Rapid Tool delivery truck, but they abandoned it early on. Nobody saw her removed from the premises. They may have knocked her out with an electric cattle prod. That’s how I would have done it. We have a sketch of the one guy who came inside. White, short brown hair, twenties. Other than that, nothing. But I think she’s outside the city, or I’d be able to pick something up.”

“What would you like us to do?” asked Emily.

“Keep your eyes peeled. There was also an attempt on Dorothy, and an attempt on some equipment that’s supposed to be Wayneright’s. I think someone’s after a Class M android and isn’t particular how they get it. So you might be in danger, too.”

“I’ll be careful,” said Emily, “So you think they have a Megadeus that needs a helping hand from a friendly android?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll move to a more central location. There’s a hill that overlooks the whole area where we think the Megadeus with the reality cannon might be. That’s the scariest scenario; that’s what we’ll concentrate on.”

“Good,” said Beck.

“We have the transceiver, so we can contact you if we have to.”

Dorothy said, “Don’t break radio silence if you don’t have to.”

“I won’t,” said Emily. “Beck, are you okay?”

“Yeah. Angel’s holding my hand,” said Beck.

“Good for her,” said Emily. “No doubt we’ll see you soon. Good hunting.”

* * *

Continued in Part 5
A Clockwork Tomato 01-11-2004 10:53 AM
The Old Dominus was in a fury. He hadn’t said anything, but his rage was palpable.

“If the android gets the Megadeus operational, she’ll call down Big O and Big B on our heads!”

“Let’s destroy the Megadeus,” said the New Dominus. “Either the core memory or the cockpit. We can still salvage the rest.”

“She fooled you! She worked her wiles on you! How could you fall for such an obvious trick!”

The New Dominus said nothing. The Old Dominus was right, of course. He had been far too trusting. And even now he wasn’t sure he’d been wrong to do so. He could still be in the other cockpit with Dori, and not here with the Old Dominus. He pushed the thought away. No point thinking about it. He had passed the point of no return a long, long time ago.

The Old Dominus rasped, “No, we will use her for bait. We’re ready to spring the trap. Take me to Hangar 2.”

* * *

Emily held her binoculars with one hand and spoke into the microphone with the other. It was a bright night; there must be a full moon above all those clouds. She was wearing headphones. “Norman, we’ve got a sighting. A Megadeus at map reference 72. It emerged from a building at map reference 73 and walked into another one about a mile away. I tried Beck’s detector; no dice. But the hangars and the Megadeus would probably block the signal at this range. The Megadeus seems complete. It’s one of the rounded-looking ones, like picture of the Sea Titan you showed me. Yeah, but fully armored. No real color scheme; it’s mostly just bare, pitted metal. Matches the description you gave of Big Lazarus. It looks fully operational. No, I’m too far away to sense anything; this is just a visual sighting.”

* * *

Beck heard Dori’s voice calling to him. “Time to wake up.”

His heart leaped. His eyes flew open.

There was Dorothy, looking at him gravely.

“Emily has sighted Big Lazarus,” she said. “She hasn’t detected Dori, but we should follow up.”

“Give me a minute.” He felt disoriented and desolate.

Dorothy stepped onto the edge of the bed and said, “Time to wake up, Angel.”

“Dori!” said Angel from the upper bunk. “Oh. Sorry, Dorothy.”

“It’s all right. There’s coffee brewing.”

They met in the tiny kitchen, Beck had somehow managed to get dressed and to look perfectly fresh and fit in the space of a minute or two. Angel was still in her pajamas, looking sleepy. “What time is it?” she said.

“Almost seven,” said Dorothy.

* * *

It was 8 am. Dori was finished; Big Alpha was himself again. His control panels and screens lit up. There was a throb of distant machinery and a hum of nearby electronics. The air conditioning started. There was a sense of attentiveness and of barely contained aggression.

Dori felt a rush of exhilaration. The probe cables put her into intimate contact with the mind of a Megadeus. Big Alpha was very masculine. He took an elemental joy in destroying enemies with his hands, as Big O did, and also had the tender protectiveness she associated with Big B. There was a love of danger for its own sake that was new to her, and a wry sense of humor. Like Megadeus, like Dominus – Big Alpha’s android had been a very lucky girl. She smiled at Big Alpha. She could feel him smiling back.

Dori crossed her forearms as the central screen displayed the message:

CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.

The hand controls appeared and slid down their grooves to where Dori could grasp them. She reached for them, bursting the chain of her handcuffs without noticing.

“Big Alpha! Action!”

Dori looked carefully at the gantry and the hangar floor. There was no one near. Big Alpha braced his feet and heaved with back, shoulders, and arms. The gantry he was attached to twisted, buckled, and with a horrendous scream of tortured metal, fell. Big Alpha was free.

Dori looked around and asked, “Where is Big Lazarus?”

The other Megadeus was no longer in the hangar.

“This isn’t good,” said Dori. “That zombie was crazy. They might be waiting to ambush us.”

Big Alpha agreed.

“Not that I could use them, much, but don’t you have any weapons at all?”

Just arm pistons and hip chains, reported Big Alpha. Everything else had been cannibalized, like the eye lasers, or had broken, like the chromebuster. Big Alpha was undismayed. He far preferred using his hands.

* * *

Big B broke through a sand dune and emerged into the Wasteland.

The hand controls slid down their slots and the central screen lit up:

CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.

Beck called, “Big B! Action!”

Big B strode forward a few paces to get clear of the hole. Beck looked around carefully. Nothing in sight. The screens showed nothing of interest. Well, they were three miles from their target, which was obscured by hills. He turned around to Dorothy. “Everything okay back there?”

“Yes.”

Beck waited, but Dorothy said nothing more.

* * *

Big O burst through the sand and emerged in the Wasteland. Big B was a couple of hundred yards ahead of him.

CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.

“Big O! Action!”

Big O strode out of the hole in the sand.

Angel’s voice behind him said, “Don’t you ever get tired of saying that?”

“No.”

“Me neither.” Angel was strapped into one of the jump seats. She was craning her neck to keep an eye on the displays.

* * *

The New Dominus flipped a few more switches on the bulky electronic equipment that had been hastily installed in the immense cockpit, both different from and similar to that of Big Lazarus. This should do it. He set the timer for five minutes, armed the radio-controlled self-destruct charge, and hurried for the elevator.

Five minutes later, the Leviathan’s central screen lit up to the message:

CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.

The hand controls slid down the slots flanking the empty control seat, nearly snagging on one of the innumerable new control cables. A relay clicked. A recorded voice cried, somewhat tinnily, “Leviathan 14! Action!”

* * *

“Let’s see if we can raise Big B,” said Dori. “Channel 63, Encryption J-37.” She didn’t have to say these things out loud; Big Alpha could here her thoughts through the probe cables. But she was sitting in the command seat and felt it was expected of her.

The screen lit up. There was Beck! “Jason!” Dori blurted. “Are you all right?”

Beck looked startled, “That’s what I was going to ask you!”

“I’m fine. I’ve made a new friend.”

Beck grinned. “That’s nice.”

“But Big Lazarus is in that big building at map reference 72. He’s got a fusion beam and a reality cannon and a chromebuster. I don’t think he likes me.”

Beck said, “He must have really lousy taste.”

“There’s a zombie in charge, instead of the real Megadeus personality. The man who kidnapped me is the Dominus. The zombie is crazy, and I think Mr. Jones isn’t all he should be, either.”

“We’ll put them out of their misery,” snarled Beck. “Nobody lays a hand on my Dori.”

“Jason?”

“Yeah?”

“Big Lazarus would be okay if we got rid of the zombie. The personality is still there, trapped, down very deep. But he’s there. And sane.”

“I don’t think we’ll have the chance, Dori. He’s got a reality cannon. We’re gonna have to kill him fast, to keep him from using it.”

There was a pause, then Dori said, “I know.”

“Can you get away without having Big Lazarus take any potshots at you?”

“I think so. Is Big O with you?”

“Yeah, he’s right here.”

“Say hi to Roger and Dorothy for me. I’ll be on my way in about ten seconds.”

“I’m here with Beck,” said Dorothy.

Dori smiled. “Oh, good. I’m not the only one. Big B’s a real sweetie, isn’t he?”

“He’s fine,” said Dorothy neutrally.

“See you soon.” Dori cut the connection, then said to Big Alpha, “Let’s make a back door.” She urged the Megadeus through the rear wall of the hangar, out of Big Lazarus’ line of sight. She had been afraid that the building might sway alarmingly or even collapse, alerting Big Lazarus to her departure, but it barely shivered.

“Now let’s go find our friends.”

* * *

The New Dominus monitored the progress of Leviathan 14. So far, so good. But it would be spotted soon if they didn’t provide a diversion. He crossed his forearms.

CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.

“Big Lazarus! Action!”

* * *

Cintinued in Part 6
A Clockwork Tomato 01-11-2004 10:55 AM
Emily realized they had been focusing on Big Lazarus’ presumed location to the exclusion of all else. It was easy to do. Big B and Big O had already passed their hilltop location, so all the action promised to be ahead of them. She told Will, “Keep an eye on that hangar. I’ll take a scan around.” She shaded her eyes and looked around without the binoculars first, planning to use them again in a moment.

What was that? A sort of shimmering at ground level, tracing out a path that was headed straight for Big O.

Will was already talking into the microphone. “Big Lazarus has left the hangar.”

Emily snatched the mike away from Will and shouted, “Roger! Behind you! It’s a Leviathan!”

* * *

Beck swore. “Damn it to hell! Dorothy! Arm and fire coffin number 1!”

“Coffin number 1 armed,” said Dorothy coolly. “Coffin number 1 firing.”

Big B’s foot was in the air when the coffin emerged, and it broke open when it crashed to the ground. The figure inside pushed the lid away and got to its feet. It looked like an animated department store dummy. It was dressed like Dori and wore a blonde wig. It walked somewhat jerkily.

“Chromebuster on Big Lazarus!” Beck called. Big Lazarus was still almost a mile away; long range. Big B took up a firing stance. After charging for a couple of seconds, the powerful beam fired from Big B’s head. Beck switched the beam off after five seconds and pressed Big B into furious motion to get out of the way of any return fire, but there was none.

“Damage to target, nominal,” reported Dorothy. “Leviathan has changed course and is heading for us. Leviathan is no longer traveling underground.”

Beck glanced at the screen. Sure enough, the long, segmented, insectile Megadeus had burst through the ground and was traveling on the surface.

* * *

Sounds of incoherent rage, interspersed with random computer sounds, pounded out of Big Lazarus’ speakers. Finally, the Old Dominus found his voice. “Why has the Leviathan changed course? Are you betraying me, Dominus?”

“I don’t know why!” protested the New Dominus frantically, as he operated Leviathan’s remote control. “I’m telling it to turn around, but it’s not paying any attention to me!”

* * *

“Arm and fire coffin 2,” ordered Beck. “Lock missiles on the Leviathan.”

“Arming coffin 2. Firing coffin 2,” said Dorothy. Big B’s torso shutters snapped open, revealing racks of missiles. “Missiles locked.”

“Even-numbered missiles, fire!” ordered Beck. Twelve missiles raced towards Leviathan, which bobbed and weaved. Eight missiles struck home.

Dorothy gasped. “Those coffins have Class M androids inside!”

“They’re just decoys,” said Beck. “Nothing distracts a damaged Megadeus like an android.”

“Damage to Leviathan: minimal,” reported Dorothy.

Big B was brushed by fire from Big Lazarus’ chromebuster.

“Damn it!” swore Beck. “What the hell is keeping Big O?”

* * *

The Leviathan was close enough for Emily to hear. She said to Will, “The Leviathan is being controlled. And not very well. He can overcome the compulsion if he thinks he can get an android out of the deal.” She turned to Will and grinned. “I’ll take the Leviathan. You catch up with Dori.” Dori’s Megadeus was only a quarter of a mile away.

He grinned back, then picked up the field radio and started running downslope, talking into the microphone as he did so.

Emily reached up to her forehead and removed the hairband that Beck had provided – the one that concealed her from Megadeuses. She put it into her purse. “Come to mama,” she said. She also began to run downslope.

* * *

“Emily!” shouted Roger. “Get out of my way!” He had the Big O Thunder all ready to go, and could destroy the Leviathan in a moment if Emily would just back off.

“She can’t hear you,” pointed out Angel. “I hope she’s coordinated the coupe de grace with Beck, because we’re not going to be any use here.” She glanced up at the screen. Big Lazarus was concealed from them by a low hill. “Here comes Dori.”

Dori’s Megadeus hove into view, then stopped suddenly. Roger and Angel couldn’t see why, because a grove of trees blocked their view of ground level.

Then Dori’s Megadeus got underway again, passing the Leviathan closely, ignoring it, apparently unconcerned. Both Roger and Angel swore with considerable inventiveness.

* * *

The elevator took Emily up to the cockpit. “Ye gods,” she said, when she saw the control system. “I’ve never seen anything so primitive in my life.” Then a sudden babble of sounds came out of her mouth, followed by a prolonged high-pitched scream. Indicator lights changed all over the control room as the Leviathan came unchained. “Pleased to meet you,” said Emily happily. “That’ll do for now. We’ll do the rest later. Let’s get this vampire box off you first.” There was no obvious on/off switch, so she started pulling cables at random. “Just hang on, sugar,” she said to the Leviathan. “We’ll have you free in no time.”

One cable was part of the self-destruct circuit. When she pulled it, a small charge went off in the center of the control box, destroying it and flinging her against the far wall. She smashed into one of the video monitors and got a jolt of high-voltage electricity. She fell unconscious to the floor.

* * *

“Will!” said Dori delightedly as she hugged him. Then she jumped out of his way in order to give him the command seat.

Will was grinning, transported with happiness. Dori could see this, but for a moment she didn’t know why. Will crossed his arms.

CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.

“Big Alpha!” shouted Will joyfully. “Action!”

Dori was amazed. “You’re the Dominus of Big Alpha!”

Will grinned. “We knew he must be around here somewhere. Let’s go help Emily.”

* * *

Beck asked, “What’s the range of that reality cannon?”

“Against ordinary objects, about two miles,” replied Dorothy. “Megadeuses are resistant, and are not affected until the range closes to half a mile. Big Lazarus is three-quarters of a mile away.”

“What’s the range of the fusion beam?”

“It goes on for miles, but is only useful against a stationary target, since aiming is impossible once it’s turned on. Against Megadeuses, it is normally fired at no more than two hundred yards.”

“But it has a chromebuster, too, so we have no range advantage.”

“That’s right.”

“Arm charge number 7.”

“Charge number 7 armed,” reported Dorothy. She looked quizzically at Beck.

“Chromebuster!” he warned.

Big B took up a firing stance and fired again at Big Lazarus. “Fire charge number 7!”

There was an spectacular explosion in Big B’s head. Beck turned off the chromebuster. “Okay Big B, do your stuff!” To Dorothy he said, “Arm and fire coffins number three and four.”

Big B staggered backwards drunkenly, then reeled behind a small hill and out of Big Lazarus’ sight.

Two decoy androids were left in his wake.

* * *

The New Dominus reported, “I’ve lost contact with Leviathan.” Leviathan, Big O, and Big Alpha were out of sight, so anything could have happened.

“Imbecile!”

The Old Dominus’ rant was interrupted by chromebuster fire from Big B. This in turn was interrupted by an explosion in Big B’s head. Big B staggered back.

“Now! Now!” shouted the Old Dominus. “Close! We can finish him!”

Big Lazarus strode forward.

“They outnumber us three to one,” pointed out the New Dominus.

“If they aren’t too far apart, we can get them all in a single shot. Charge the reality cannon.”

* * *

CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD … YE NOT GUILTY.

Angel gasped, then swore. “Damn, damn, damn!”

She was in the control room of Big Venus.

She turned around. At least Big Venus wasn’t trying to compel her this time. The probe cables were not hovering around, either.

She looked at the readouts. Big Lazarus was charging the reality cannon. If he fired it indiscriminately – say, for an hour – the reality field would weaken so much that the world would end. If he fired it even half a dozen times on full power, reality in Paradigm would be noticeably less real than it was already. Damn!

It wasn’t time yet. She really didn’t want to ring down the curtain on the new cycle. Not so soon. Not when things were so promising. They’d been lucky last time.

Angel desperately wanted a cigarette, but she’d need to keep both hands free. Things might fall to pieces at any moment. She tried to fix in her mind what she’d want to have happen if she had to start a new transition right now; how she wanted things to change.

And that was the trouble. She didn’t want them to change at all. “Damn you, Big Lazarus!”

Big Venus would try to bully her into doing something more usual, with lots of memory loss and the sorting of people into winners and losers. Angel had been down that road too many times before. She hated it. It was the road to madness. Big Venus had been slow to arrive at the same conclusion; she didn’t spend any time out in the world. She still believed what Gordon Rosewater had told them.

“I need backup,” she said to herself. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Longing welled up in her. “Roger … no, damn it! Dori!”

“Angel?” Dori sounded frightened.

“Close your eyes and reach out for my hand.”

Angel, her eyes still closed, reached out with her own hand. It closed on Dori’s. She pulled gently.

Angel opened her eyes. Dori was standing in front of her, still holding her hand, looking bewildered.

“Dori, we’re in the control room of Big Venus. Big Lazarus is charging up his reality cannon. If he uses it more than a few times, I’m going to have to trigger a transition just to get rid of him. Big Venus and I don’t agree on what the outcome of the transition should be. You need to use the probe cables and back me up.”

Dori looked around the control room. “Hello,” she said hesitantly. “I’m R. Dorothy Wayneright.”

* * *

Continued in Part 7
A Clockwork Tomato 01-11-2004 10:57 AM
Emily awoke. What was she doing lying on the grass? Where was the Leviathan? Where was Will?

She looked around. There were Big O and Big B and the other Megadeus, all standing close together. “Spread out, you idiots!” shouted Emily. “Big Lazarus has a reality cannon!”

As if on cue, they began to separate. “Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!” she shouted. She started running towards Dori’s Megadeus.

The Leviathan must have ejected her. Why? Where had it gone?

* * *

“We’re within extreme range,” noted the New Dominus.”

“Fire at full power,” rasped the Old Dominus.

“It won’t work.”

“Fire! Fire! Do I have to do everything myself?” raged the Old Dominus.

The New Dominus stopped Big Lazarus and took careful aim. As he did so, Big O fired at him with the Big O Thunder, and Big B fired his chromebuster.

“Fire!’ repeated the Old Dominus.

Big Lazarus fired the reality cannon on full power. Writhing, squiggly, snake-like patches of light and dark squirmed over the surface of Big Lazarus. These grew brighter and brighter – both the light patches and the dark ones – until it became impossible to look directly at Big Lazarus. Then, in an instant, they vanished, and a fan-shaped piece of land, two mile long and a quarter-mile wide at its far edge, was suddenly transformed from sandy pine barrens into a level, rock-strewn plain, with only occasional tufts of grass. Heat shimmered off the landscape. Lizards basked on the rocks.

Though they were caught square in the beam, the three Megadeuses were still there, unchanged. Megadeuses were resistant.

“Closer! Take us closer!” called the Old Dominus, ignoring the damage caused by the Big O Thunder and the chromebuster. “Fire the chromebuster to interfere with their aim!”

The New Dominus urged Big Lazarus forward and started to charge the chromebuster. A moment later he fired it at Big O, who was forced to hastily withdraw the Big O Thunder and protect himself with his forearm shields.

* * *

“Whew! That was close!” said Emily as she reached the cockpit. The landscape had changed just seconds after she had clambered inside Big Alpha. She took her place behind Will, and the eight probe cables flew into her forehead. She smiled. “I love you too, Big Alpha. I mean it. What’s the game plan, Will?”

“We don’t have any long-range weapons, so we’re gonna work our way around to the side and then charge,” said Will. “We’re the weakest threat, so they shouldn’t waste any firepower on us, right until we tear them apart.”

Big Alpha ran off to the flank at top speed.

“Where’s Dori?” asked Emily.

“She was right here a minute ago,” said Will, looking around. “She must be around someplace.”

* * *

Big Venus condescended to let Dori use her probe cables. Dori was glad she had taken the precaution of setting her probe-cable adaptor to maximum attenuation, because Big Venus had a powerful mind and very definite ideas. Dori liked her immediately.

“You all right, Dori?” asked Angel.

“Fine,” said Dori.

“We’d better get up to ground level. Big Venus! It’s showtime!”

The elevator started taking Big Venus up the long shaft to the surface.

* * *

The decoys hadn’t worked against Big Lazarus at all. He had walked right past the two imitation androids.

“This is bad,” said Beck. “He’s going to come into view with a fully charged reality cannon, and our only chance is to destroy him before he pulls the trigger. We don’t have the firepower.”

Dorothy said, “Will is working around to the right. Roger is working around to the left. We will draw his fire.”

“I’m sorry, Dorothy.”

“It’s all right.”

“Big B, let’s skedaddle. We can keep Big Lazarus busy for longer if he chases us. Not too fast, though. We don’t want him to turn on our pals.”

Big B started retreating. Big Lazarus would be within sight in less than a minute.

Beck glanced at the screen and swore. “Damn it, Roger! I’m the hero of this piece!”

Roger had stopped working his way to the flank and was racing directly towards Big Lazarus, who now stopped and turned to face him.

Beck turned Big B around. Even as he urged Big B into motion, he had to admire the speed and fluidity with which Big O moved. What a team Big O and Roger made!

Big O zigzagged, taking full advantage of every little hill. The reality cannon worked on wide stretches of surface, but didn’t penetrate very deeply into the earth, so hills acted as shielding.

Will was also racing towards Big Lazarus.

This was going to be close. Beck pressed a button, too agitated to call out directions to Dorothy, and Big B’s back armor opened. He pressed another, and Big B’s rocket-propelled net whirled out of the opening and flew toward Big Lazarus. “It ought to distract him, anyway.”

The incoming net must have unnerved Big Lazarus or his Dominus, for he stopped and fired the reality cannon prematurely, not waiting for an accurate aim or full power, missing Big O entirely. A stretch of landscape was suddenly filled with adobe houses, with clotheslines criss-crossed over narrow streets. Throngs of people stopped and gaped at their new surroundings.

Beck tried to pilot the net right into Big Lazarus, but Big Lazarus dodged just enough that Beck missed, and then the net’s rocket motors gave out before he could bring it back for a second pass. The net smacked into the ground a quarter of a mile beyond Big Lazarus.

Big O was in the final stretch. He was still a long way away from Big Lazarus, and there was nothing for him to hide behind. Big Lazarus couldn’t miss.

Beck wanted to close his eyes, but that would be cowardly. “Chromebuster!” he called, though he knew that he would not be able to fire before Big Lazarus.

Just then, the Leviathan erupted from the sand directly in front of Big Lazarus. His two front claws were glowing brightly. A single touch from either of them would turn Big Lazarus into sand and dust.

Big Lazarus lurched backwards. The Leviathan surged forward. Big Lazarus grabbed the Leviathan’s claw arms by the wrists, one in each hand. They struggled backward and forward. Beck withheld the chromebuster, figuring that the Leviathan was the better bet.

Big O got closer and closer. At this rate, he’d be able to finish off Big Lazarus with his Big O Thunder at close range.

Big Lazarus heaved the Leviathan over on its back and then staggered backwards. He took the firing stance for his reality cannon. Once again, writhing snakes of light and darkness played over his body, with both the light and darkness becoming brighter and brighter.

The Leviathan rolled over and reached out with a claw. It touched Big Lazarus just as the reality cannon fired. There was a blinding flash.

* * *

Beck and Dorothy screamed. After a moment, when they could see again, they looked around for Big O. For Big Lazarus. For the Leviathan. Where were they?

Nothing showed up on sensors.

“What happened?” asked Beck. “If Big Lazarus got them, there’d be a big swath of somewhere else where they used to be. If the Leviathan got them, there’d be a big pile of metal sand. If Roger got them, there’d be burning wreckage.” Instead, there was nothing. The earth was gouged where the fight had took place; it hadn’t been replaced. There was no suspicious pile of sand. No wreckage. No survivors.

“Roger,” said Dorothy in a robotic monotone.

Beck stared alternately at his screens and at the site of the combat. He was in shock. What was he going to do now?

* * *

Continued in Part 8
A Clockwork Tomato 01-11-2004 10:59 AM
Angel screamed. Dori gasped. Both called out, “What happened?”

Angel’s eyes raced over the monitors. “The reality cannon is gone. There was a blip just before it vanished … No, that can’t be right, can it?” She stared at the readout. “The baseline reality amplitude just rose a fraction.”

“Can that happen?”

“It never has before,” said Angel.

They hadn’t quite reached the surface. “Reverse the elevator, Big Venus,” commanded Angel. “We don’t want to blow our cover just yet.”

“Dori, get Roger on the horn and find out what happened.”

After a moment, Dori reported, “He doesn’t answer.”

“Get Beck, then.”

Beck’s face appeared on the screen. He looked haggard. Dori said, “Jason, what’s wrong?”

“We’ve lost Roger.”

Dori gasped, “He’s dead?”

“He’s lost,” said Beck. “One moment he was there, then he was gone. But the ground around him didn’t change. Big O, the Leviathan, and Big Lazarus all vanished in a flash of light.”

Angel cut the connection. With shaking hands, she took out a cigarette. After trying to light it five times, Dori came forward and did it for her.

* * *

Roger screamed, then didn’t know why. He looked around. Where were Big Lazarus and the Leviathan? If the Leviathan had won, there should be a pile of sand where Big Lazarus had been. If Big Lazarus had won, there should be a large swath of countryside that didn’t belong. But the area around them looked normal.

“Do we have any enemies left, Big O?”

Big O couldn’t see any.

“Get Beck on the horn.”

Beck’s face appeared on the screen, looking exhausted and troubled. Then suddenly he looked as if he’d seen a ghost. “Roger! Where the hell have you been hiding?”

“What? I’ve been right here.”

“We’ve been looking for you for hours!”

Roger almost made a sharp retort, then shook his head as if to clear it. “What happened between Big Lazarus and the Leviathan?”

“Damned if I know. The Leviathan whacked Big Lazarus with its claw just as Big Lazarus was about to fire the reality cannon, and there was an enormous flash. Then all three of you were gone. Vanished.”

“How long has it been?”

“Three hours.”

“I called you less than a minute after the flash, from my point of view,” said Roger. “Is Dorothy okay?”

“I am now,” said Dorothy, her voice almost normal, almost convincing.

“Any more premature mourners?” asked Roger.

“I’ve just notified Dori and Emily,” said Dorothy. “To paraphrase them, they send their love. Angel says … never mind. Angel is also pleased.”

Roger grinned.

Beck asked, “Are the other two going to pop up here, too?”

“I guess we’d better assume that they will,” said Roger.

They stayed in the area for two days, until they were too tired to continue. Then they gave up and went home. The Military Police set out a small guard to radio if anything happened, but this was withdrawn after ten days with nothing to report. Big O had been some distance from the main event. Being blown into the future was no doubt a fringe effect. The other two were probably gone for good.

* * *

A week after the fight, Dori was visiting Angel at Smith Manor. “I brought the things you left behind in Big B,” said Dori.

“Thanks.”

“Why did you sleep in stateroom A? Stateroom B has a queen-sized bed.”

Angel began to laugh. ‘B’ for Beck. Of course stateroom A wasn’t the master bedroom! She’d wondered at the time why the door to stateroom B was locked.

Dori watched her quizzically. Angel stopped laughing and told her, “It was the bunk beds. They were just what we needed at the time.”

“I would have thought…” Dori began.

“Ask me again some other time,” said Angel, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief. “Bunk beds. My god.”

“All right.” After a pause, Dori said, “I don’t want to be Big Venus’ android, Angel,” said Dori.

Angel smiled. “You’re not telling me that Beck was right about androids and Dominuses, are you?”

Dori rolled her eyes. “You’re not my type. Now, Will, on the other hand -- am I too old to have a girlish crush on Will?”

Angel’s eyes danced. “No one’s ever that old.”

“Good. I shall worship him from afar.”

Angel asked, “So what’s wrong with Big Venus?”

“She’s even better at bullying me than at bullying you.”

“Somebody needs to help me keep her in line,” said Angel.

“You need Dorothy. She’s better than me because she lacks social skills.”

“What?” asked Angel, laughing.

“It’s true. Dorothy was raised by our reclusive father. So was I, when I was human, but he raised her as an android, too. She has firm views about how people should behave. She’s totally uncooperative and inflexible when people cross the line.”

“And you’ve been raised by Beck,” said Angel, smiling, “and he’s always over the line, one way or another, but we love him anyway.”

“I’ve learned tolerance and patience,” said Dori. “Big Venus doesn’t need these. She needs to be hit with a brick just to get her attention.” After a moment she added, “A big brick.”

“Don’t you like Big Venus?”

“I love her. She’s wonderful. But I’d be the junior partner.”

“Okay, Dori, I’ll talk to Dorothy. How’s Beck doing on his android research?”

“Progress is slow. He’s spending more time thinking about reality technology.”

Angel glared. “I told him to knock that off!”

“If you didn’t want him to work on it, you shouldn’t have told him that the ambient reality level went up when Leviathan and Big Lazarus disappeared. Jason thinks this may be the key to everything.”

“Just thinking about reality technology drives people crazy! I don’t want to lose Beck, too!” wailed Angel. “I’ve lost so many of the others.”

“Maybe it’s his duty.”

They sat for a while in silence, then Dori said, “Dorothy’s out on the parapet.”

Angel walked out onto the roof. Dorothy was standing on the parapet, gazing out at the city. Odd, Angel though, how the two sisters differed. Dorothy was very fond of this activity, while Dori had never taken to it. Dori also rarely played the piano, though she was quite proficient in a mechanical sort of way. The human Dorothy had enjoyed the piano but had never progressed from technical proficiency to real mastery. Dorothy was doing so now; Dori had other interests. But as soon as you convinced yourself that they were totally different, something happened that reminded you that, in many ways, they were the same.

“Hello, Dorothy,” said Angel.

Dorothy did not reply. Angel hadn’t really expected her to. Angel leaned against the parapet and gazed out at the city, too.

Finally, Angel said, “Dori has resigned her post as Big Venus’ android.”

“I know.”

“She thinks you might like the job.”

Dorothy still did not turn around. There was a long pause. Then she said, “I am Roger’s lover; I am his android. I belong with him.”

“But,” Angel began.

“When he vanished, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake.” After a while, Dorothy added, “I survived Roger’s death once before, forty years ago. It was …” There was another long pause, then, “I belong with him.”

Dorothy turned around and hopped down from the parapet. She looked up at Angel. “I can be with you in Big Venus if Roger is there, too.”

Angel nodded. From her point of view, this was ideal. “And Big O?”

“He understands,” said Dorothy.

“It probably won’t happen. Now that the reality cannon is gone, we ought to have decades before the next transition. I’ll have my own android long before then.”

* * *

The Leviathan reappeared two weeks later. No one noticed. He was drawn to one of the decoy androids that Beck had left behind. He knew it was a fake, but he found it comforting. He put it in his cockpit and pretended it was real.

* * *

The New Dominus looked around. Where had the Leviathan gone? Where was Big O? He scanned the screens. No sign of anyone. He looked at his watch. It was still before noon, but it looked as though evening were setting in.

The Old Dominus spoke. “Move us quickly to Hangar 3. I need repairs. I need answers.”

Hangar 3 was safe; it had not been discovered. After making a few cautious phone calls, the New Dominus suddenly realized that more than a month had gone by in an instant.

He reported this to the Old Dominus, who replied, “That is fate at work. We have been saved to fight another day. How long before we are ready to try again?”

“A few weeks – a month at most.”

“See if you can speed things along. And, Dominus…”

“Yes?”

“No more androids.”

[To Be Continued]

Next: Act 37


The full episode list is:

Act 27: Life Goes On,
Act 28: Returning to the Dead ,
Act 29: The Master Criminal,
Act 30: Dori, Dorothy,
Act 31: The Underground Error,
Act 32: Materia Medica,
Act 33: Heaven’s Day Mayhem,
Act 34: Memories of Days Gone By,
Act 35:Grand Theft Android
Act 36:Battle of the Wasteland,
Act 37: Pajama Party Pandemonium,
Act 38:The Big Chase,
Act 39: Act The Last of the Waynerights.
Wingnut 01-11-2004 12:00 PM
Yikes, be careful ACT, messing with time travel is a whole other ballgame in itself. If that was just a one time thing, then it's ok.
At least the bad guys will not be after the Waneright sisters or Emily anymore.
Also if my recolection is correct then the unit that those two Megadesu hunters were in last act was Big Duo. That brings us up to 6 known intact and/or functional Bigs. Alpha, B, Duo, O, Ramses, Venus, and a rouge Leviathan.
Tony Waynewrong 01-11-2004 12:24 PM
ACT, it was good as always. Nice work.
Tifaria 01-11-2004 12:49 PM
Oh man, I am going to be anxious all week until next Sunday! I'm so eager to see how you're going to resolve everything.

I really like that Emily and Will had something to do here. They're so cute. Smile ) And does Angel's talk of Seebach mean that he'll be making an appearance soon? That ought to make things very interesting! I can't wait for the next part.
Zola 01-11-2004 12:51 PM
Good job, Uncle Tomato!

Wow, I can tell the season finale is going to be a doozy! Smile
X Prime 01-11-2004 01:18 PM
I am now eagerly awaiting the appearance of Big Ra or Big Tut.

...I'm not kidding on #1.

..Or did he show up already?
R.Dorothy Waynewright 01-11-2004 03:16 PM
*applauds enthusiastically*

I love your work! This is fantastic...oooh the suspense. I can hardly wait until next week. You should write for the series, I'd love to see some of your ideas put in the actual show. We should just get together and send the people in charge your stories, as a suggestion for an actual season 3. *grins*
Dorothy and Pero 01-11-2004 05:10 PM
Yay! New chapter! I look foreward to these all week!
Great job ACT Big Grin
**Sigh** Now I have to wait another week Crying