"Thick foggy nights like this always make man think he is a savage," the old mariner commented as he reached for the hurricane lamp inside the small shack.
Roger Smith gazed at the wizened old man, the salty crags of his wind and sunburned face and short cropped white hair making him look even older. He was clad in the dark 'mac' the fishermen along the coast wore to protect themselves from the cold and wind.
"How so?" Roger asked patiently.
"Man's a superstitious creature by nature," the man explained, twisting the wick of the lamp higher. Outside, the wind responded with a furious howl against the act. "Your giant robots mistaken for Gods and such...we have'ta find patterns in things. It's the same with the unknown. We become beasts when we fear. We fight brutally or we run scared."
Marco Finelli was one of the older fishermen living on the docks of Paradigm City. He had fished all his life and very likely fished before The Event as well. He was a well-respected member of the dock community. And he had need of my services.
"Sir?" Roger prodded gently.
"My daughter Candice was a teenager when she and her friends decided to go on a fishing trip one weekend. It was the following weekend when she came back alone and completely mad, having swam back across the channel from the island. Something happened there...She died the day after she came back, her last breaths screaming for 'them' to not take her soul."
"Her soul?" Roger repeated.
"Tell me, Smith," the older man said. "Have you ever seen real ghosts?"
"What sort of real ghosts?" Roger inquired back. "I have seen many that would qualify."
The old man licked his dry lips, his faded blue eyes locked to Roger's dark brown. "Have you ever heard of Rose Velvet Island?"
* * *
Rose Velvet Island was located between Paradigm City and Ailesberry Farm Island, in the middle of the river on the east side of Paradigm City.
The population of Paradigm City had mostly forgotten about it, save those in the Military Police or the fishermen who wandered up the river and got too close. There was once a bridge on 60th Street connecting to the island, but that had been destroyed since before the Event.
Roger stood on his rooftop balcony, gazing east across the streets toward Rose Velvet Island, binoculars against his eyes to get a better look at the elegant ruins of mansions and parks.
Very little is known about the island itself. It had been shunned in the early years of Paradigm City, when the world was full of nothing but survival amid warlords and darkness. Whoever was on that island was cut off from the rest of the world. It took Paradigm City eight years to get enough together to send a recon ship across the channel and to the island.
The crew returned, but they were catatonic, as if they had seen some sort of horror they could not speak of. The only thing ever uttered by one of them was "Gates of Death". This had scared the early Paradigm City enough to forget the island ever existed. Today, the island is rarely looked at.
When I was with the Military Police, we got reports every now and again of teenagers heading out to the island on a raft to party. They were never heard from again. Whenever a particular criminal got up our noses, we always muttered, “Get lost at the Rose,” because criminals learned early on that trying to use the island as a hideout only gets them death.
Evidently, Finelli's daughter was the one returning survivor of an accidental visit to the island. She had returned starved, dehydrated, mutilated, and insane, mumbling about horrors and death. Upon her deathbed, she was convinced the ghosts were trying to take her soul away to join them.
Marco Finelli wanted me to negotiate the release of his daughter's soul.
I took the case. I don't know why...perhaps it was to satisfy my own curiosity about the legends surrounding the piece of land.
If any were true, Rose Velvet Island may be the one place more dangerous than the underground.
"Are you feeling well?" Dorothy Wayneright asked behind him.
Roger continued staring out of the binoculars. "Why do you ask?"
"You are not standing on the west balconies as you usually do," she observed. She hopped up on the railing, also gazing toward the island.
He shrugged. "Have you ever wondered about the island over there?"
"When I go to this side of the balcony, yes." Her skirt, jabot, and hair rustled in the breezes. "Superstitions are attached to it, I gathered."
"Gates of Death," Roger commented. "Fear of the underground is foremost in people's heads, yet there is Rose Velvet Island in the middle of the river in plain sight and its fear is only whispered about by those who have actually been near it."
Dorothy was quiet for a time. "You think that since the island is in plain sight, the people must fear it more."
He sighed, putting the binoculars down and folding his hands behind his head. "Perhaps. But there's nothing to indicate there is anything wrong by plain sight. It's only those who have ventured close to the island or been on it that had something horrible happen."
"It is because of its inaccessibility that people fear it less," Dorothy concluded. "The underground is close, but the island is not. Many know not to go there, but they do not know why, and they do not question it."
Roger silently pondered this, and then turned his head to look at her. "Do you believe in ghosts, Dorothy?"
She looked back at him. "By which definition, Roger Smith?"
* * *
Roger paid for use of a small watercraft at the east docks, and was left to fend for himself as he and Dorothy stepped into the dinghy.
If I had told anyone the reason for the rental, I would have been lynched. Finelli had informed me the east docks were a place of high superstition. Only criminals ever attempted to cross the channel to Rose Velvet Island...criminals and foolish teenagers.
With Dorothy's presence, they assumed we were a young couple on a boating expedition. I did not deny anything nor did we disillusion them. If it allowed us a way to acquire a craft...I had no problem with the subterfuge.
Dorothy sat at the back with the engine and steered while Roger sat at the stern with a pair of binoculars trained on the island's shoreline.
He glanced back periodically at Dorothy, looking quite girlish and innocent in a white and blue boating dress and a large white hat, which she held to her head every so often when the breezes came up strong. He glanced down at his own attire of black pants and shirt and brown jacket, then shrugged. All right, they did appear to be a young couple, but that was beside the point.
The shoreline of Rose Velvet Island was covered with sand and some driftwood. Further up were large angular mansions in decay and even older fallen down ruins. Trees stood naked and dead, their limbs twisting over the buildings.
"Roger," Dorothy called over the engine.
"What are you going to negotiate with on the island?"
The sound of thunder rumbled in the distance.
"Like Bonnie Frasier and Osrail?"
"I hope." He paused, looking around the shore line again. "Can you steer us to that small dock over there? It looks sturdy enough to tie the dinghy to."
He could not look back at Dorothy - he knew his suggestion was being processed by her as the statement that it was sturdy enough to hold her weight. Having been around the docks when he was on the "Sea God" case, he was aware many of them were too old and rickety to hold a healthy android.
Why was he feeling uncomfortable about it, anyway?
He dismissed it and put his binoculars away. The water was getting quite choppy and the clouds darker. A flash of lightning was followed by a crash of thunder.
"Heck of a time to start storming," he muttered.
Dorothy said nothing as she guided the dinghy in. There were no other boats or watercraft tied to the docks that she could see.
Roger jumped off the boat with one of the lines and tied it around a pier. He offered his hand down and Dorothy handed him a satchel. She twisted around and turned the engine off, then leapt up to the dock.
The boards creaked beneath her feet when she landed. Roger made his way down to the parking area nearby and she followed.
The lightning and thunder were closer now, filling the salty air with electricity.
"Too dark to do any investigating," Roger commented as a large, heavy raindrop splashed on the back of his hand. Another landed on his head. "And it's going to rain any second."
"Shelter," Dorothy stated as she trotted off toward one of the houses along the beach area.
Roger ran behind her, his hair becoming dampened by a few more raindrops.
Dorothy was already on the doorstep of a large elegant house with cracked and broken white pillars holding up the porch roof. The rain pattered down on the roof just as Roger climbed up the steps after her, the satchel slung over his back.
She pushed the door inward.
"Dorothy!" Roger snapped.
"There is no one residing here, Roger," she informed him. "The island has been uninhabited for several decades."
Both entered the house. Dorothy's headband slid out and lit up the front hall which was a large ballroom decorated in untouched but decrepit marble floors and pillars, crystal chandeliers, and many other decorative trims that looked expensive and arranged in ornate designs. Salt-eaten portraits hung on the walls, their frames made of ornate gilded wood and their subjects ranging from young women and old men to landscapes Roger could not identify except in dreams about blue skies and green grasses.
A sweeping staircase was the focus of the room, all in white with marble stairs, branching off into two wings on a higher floor.
Thunder pealed. The rain drummed on the roof of the house.
"Well, it's not leaking," Roger commented. "I suppose we could stay here until the rain lets up."
Dorothy was already walking off into another room.
Roger pulled a flashlight out of the satchel and followed her. "Dorothy, where are you going?"
"Looking," she answered. "Have you noticed that everything in this house has been left as if they were expecting company?"
They looked around the room they had entered - a dining room. A long table covered in moth-eaten linen was set for twelve with china, crystal, and silver. Delicate gold wire rings clutched dusty napkins.
They pushed open the kitchen door, finding the room perfectly clean save for the layer of dust covering all the surfaces and the tattered curtains in the windows. The kitchen filled with brilliant white light with every lightning strike.
Roger and Dorothy's eyes shifted to look at each other.
"Strange," Roger commented.
"It is common practice in the domes to have houses thoroughly cleaned before the owners go on vacation," she pointed out. "Perhaps this was the Pre-Event custom as well?"
"I'll never understand the wealthy mindset."
Dorothy turned back to the main hall and sat down on the steps of the staircase, pulling her knees up to her chin.
"Roger, this place isn't right," she proclaimed, her steady voice echoing all over the large room.
"What do you mean?" he asked as he sat next to her.
"This place does not...feel right." She looked up at him. "Can we leave?"
"As soon as the storm is over," he assured her. "With the storm the way it is, I'm not risking you turning into a lightning rod."
She locked her eyes to his, saying nothing.
He sighed, pulling the satchel up and opened it. "Well, we're stuck here for the time being, Dorothy, and I haven't had dinner."
Roger unwrapped a sandwich and began eating.
I always suspected Dorothy lied to me about not having emotions. At this moment she was terrified of something.
I didn't want to alarm her any further by admitting my own feelings of dread about the place we were in.
* * *
Roger beat the dust out of one of the couches in a parlor and settled down for the night, the rain and thunder lulling him to sleep.
Dorothy stood in the hall with her headband light on, sweeping the light around the corridor in a mechanical motion.
Whenever she was alone for the night in the Smith Mansion, she would spend an hour or so finishing up some mending project and then retire to her room for "down time". She actually needed "sleep", something which Roger Smith did not know about.
However, this house did not invite the security of sleep, so she stayed awake to watch over Roger while he slept in the parlor.
Again. The shadows seemed to hide just before her light struck them, as if they mocked her from the darkness surrounding her light beam.
"Hello," she experimentally said in a flat tone to the blackness.
"Dorothy Wayneright ...” a thin whisper answered her.
Dorothy turned to the source of the voice, looking back down the hall toward the kitchen wing - and bright sunlight.
She blinked in the bright light, seeing everything clean and in its place. The front hall had a geometric design motif in bright yellows and blues with black and white for background.
Coming down the staircase was Roger Smith - or someone who merely resembled Roger Smith, as the man in question was dressed in off-white casual trousers, a short-sleeved shirt, and had a pastel blue sweater tied over his shoulders. He held a racket over one shoulder.
"Roger Smith," she scolded him primly. "What are you doing in that ridiculous outfit?"
"What ridiculous outfit, Dottie?" he asked in a painfully fake posh accent. "I thought we were going to play racquetball together - get into your tennis clothes."
"Roger Smith, do not call me Dottie ever again," she warned him as she made her way toward him. "And stop playing jokes while we have this case to work on."
Roger dropped the racket and sighed. "Dottie, you have been working too hard at the firm - your psychoanalyst says you must relax sometime. Take a look at yourself, you look frazzled."
Dorothy humored him and turned to look into a mirror over a display table -
The image looking back at her was not she--this...thing...was wearing a bright, screaming-loud pink short skirt suit with shoulder pads large enough to make her look like a football player. If that were not shocking enough, she was clad in matching-pink sky-high stiletto heels, large gold hoop earrings, and a mass of teased-to-death red curls pulled back from her face to display harshly applied colorful make-up. The long, bright red nails reminded her of ichor-dripping talons.
She screamed as loudly as she could.
The vision shattered around her and she took in her surroundings as it settled.
Dorothy was no longer in the great hall but a bedroom, this one filled with age-tattered linens, cobwebbed furnishings, and dusty surfaces. And she was in the bed on her back.
A voice weaved in and out of her head; at one moment it was as silent as her thoughts, another moment it was whispering into her ear, using coarse and vulgar language as she felt unseen hands pin her limbs down to the bed. Despite her strength, Dorothy could not break from the grip of the invisible menace.
"Living dolls are only meant for one thing," the voice gasped.
"Roger!" Dorothy screamed.
* * *
Roger did not feel he had slept long when bright light exploded outside his eyelids. He carefully slitted his eyes open and saw he was no longer in the parlor but a small, cramped bedroom with several moth-eaten blankets piled on him. A window was open, allowing bright sunshine and the smell of a well-used river into the room.
He sat up, looking around.
The walls were clean but quite old; someone had attempted wallpaper at one point but had abandoned the project, probably realizing how ugly the cabbage rose print was. A pair of overalls and shirt hung on the back of a spindly chair.
Roger rubbed his hand over his face, feeling his hair falling into his eyes. He looked down at himself.
He was in long underwear.
"What the hell?" he exclaimed.
As he jumped out of bed, the door opened and a familiar head of red hair poked in. "Roger?"
"Dorothy, what's going on?"
She blinked, coming into the room. She was not in her boating outfit but a shapeless brown dress and a well-worn white apron. She was drying her hands--rough, calloused hands--with a dishtowel. "What are you talking about, husband? You overslept if that's what you're screaming about. You know the train yards don't care for layabouts." She smiled warmly. "Come now, breakfast in five minutes."
Roger stumbled over to the window as she pulled the panes closed. The outside had a few other low-income-looking houses around, while a small patch of turned dirt denoted a vegetable garden.
"What day is it?" he asked.
"May 27th!" She chuckled and embraced him closely. "What game are you playing, my love?"
Roger felt the hard lump against his stomach. "You're pregnant?"
She pulled away and shook her head, clicking her tongue. "Yes, again. If you don't want another mouth to feed, sleep on the roof. This makes number four and I've still got many baby-making years left."
Roger gasped in shock as everything registered at once -
Dorothy's skin felt warm.
Dorothy's eyes were violet.
Dorothy was hugging him.
Dorothy was pregnant.
He automatically picked her up and slammed her into the window.
* * *
Roger Smith awoke as he fell off the couch, gasping for breath and looking around wildly.
It was still dark and the storm continued unabated. He was alone in the dusty parlor.
Muffled by the walls of the house, he heard her faintly yell back, "Roger!"
Roger dashed out of the parlor and into the main hall.
"Dorothy, where are you?!"
"Roger!" she shrieked again.
Roger took the stairs two at a time, arriving on the landing and looking down each wing. "Dorothy, I'm coming!"
Roger took the wing on the right and ran down the corridor. "Dorothy, where are you?"
He tried the knob to a door and found it locked. "Dorothy!"
Her android screech made his ears bleed as he slammed his shoulder against the door.
"Roger!" she sobbed.
He pulled back and kicked the door in, the rusty hinges objecting loudly.
Dorothy was in a large bed, her arms and legs thrown out and pinned down by an unseen force.
Roger froze in terror as he noticed a bright green mist hovering over her.
"Roger..." Dorothy gasped. "Help me...I can't move..."
He inhaled deeply and rushed up to the bed, swinging his fist into the fog. "Get off of her, whatever the hell you are! I don't care if you are a ghost!"
The mist faded instantly, blending into the darkness. A sweet, alien scent filled the air around them.
Roger pulled Dorothy up and held her close, stroking her hair. "It's all right, I'm here."
Dorothy clutched him tightly, trying to control her sobbing. The smell of her peanut oil lubricant tears overpowered the sweet scent in the room. "I-I-I-I... "
"Calm down, Dorothy," he said softly, squeezing her; her cool skin and metal skeleton grounded him into his own calmness.
"I was scared!" she whispered. "I was standing watch for the night outside the parlor, then I heard someone say my name," she explained the vision, "and I came back online and I was in the bed and I couldn't move..." She broke into peanut oil tears again.
Roger held her head against his shoulder. "Did you see anything when you came back online?"
"I felt it before I came online. When I opened my eyes, I saw...green mist around...around a human skeleton."
"No, in me." She pulled back, her pale cheeks smeared with oil. "Roger, we have to leave. Right now."
"But you can't go out with the lightning the way it is."
"Then away from this house, Roger." She paused and took in the arrangement of their bodies, of her being held in his lap and his arms around her. "Please...let go of me."
He nodded and released her. "Are you...functioning better?"
"Yes." She looked up at him. "We need to leave, Roger."
There was no leaving that night. Without effort, I got her downstairs to the parlor and we sat in the lightning-flashed darkness on the couch.
"I had an odd dream," Roger said when the thunder quieted down between strikes.
"What sort of dream?" Dorothy whispered in response.
He told her. In the dim light, he could barely make out the outline of her face, but he could feel that her face remained as passive as it always had.
"You think the ghosts did it?" he asked.
"No. I think you have some unresolved issues about me."
Despite the situation, Roger snickered. "You may be right. Why don't you shut down and I'll keep an eye on everything?"
"You need your sleep, Roger," she stated, still whispering.
"You need to be able to run at full efficiency," he argued.
"You need it more than I do."
"Roger Smith, I will not be able to rest until we are off this island. You will sleep, I will watch over you."
She put her arms around him gently and drew him close, letting his head rest on her shoulder.
It was hard enough being a gentleman around R. Dorothy Wayneright, but my chivalric impulses are always quickly squashed as well.
Strange. I never noticed how soft she was.
* * *
Roger snapped awake when he felt a hand brush through his hair.
He looked around, finding Dorothy petrified with fear and the room filled with glowing balls zooming around over their heads.
He carefully untangled himself from Dorothy's arms and sat up. He felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, but he kept his attention on the glowing white spheres.
"Who are you?" he asked.
A few stopped and hovered before him.
"What do you want?"
The ones before him swirled around each other.
"Aren't you going to answer me?"
Their glow intensified, making Roger shield his eyes. The spheres suddenly slammed together, forming into a flaming skull. The dark, empty eye sockets and brittle teeth were rimmed with dried blood, while the flames licked along the outlines furiously.
The mouth opened and screeched, pushing him back on the couch and hitting his head against the wooden trim.
* * *
Roger felt consciousness slowly approach.
Everything smelled fresh, a long forgotten memory of a place he never knew, with sunlight dappling through trees and the sound of a breeze rustling through grass. He looked up at the tree canopy over his head, then turned his glance upward toward the face of Dorothy.
"Dora..." he whispered. "We're safe now, right?"
"Not yet, my love," she replied softly, her hand touching his face. He held her hand to his cheek, feeling the softness and warmth.
"I don't want to leave here."
"You must. I need you out there..." Her voice shifted from soft to panicked. "Roger!"
Roger rolled his head and found himself waking up, Dorothy with a firm grip on his shoulder and shaking him.
Roger lifted his head and looked around the parlor. Silver light peered in from the moth-eaten drapes, denoting dawn in Paradigm City.
"It is morning and the storm is over, Roger," Dorothy informed him.
He yawned and stretched. "Good, maybe we can find out what's going on."
Dorothy stared at him, her eyebrows knotting up in worry.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing is wrong, Roger Smith, why do you ask?"
"Because your brows are bunched up. Dorothy," he held her shoulders. "You're more afraid than when we faced the Archetype."
She gazed back into his eyes, her black concentric eyes remaining passive. "There is no reasonable explanation for these phenomena, Roger. There is no motive nor are there physical means for any of this to be happening. The forces appear when they wish, and they take on forms of horror."
"Maybe we can find something that proves this is either man or Megadeus made."
From her gaze, Roger could tell she did not believe him.
* * *
We searched the island the whole day.
Mansions lined the half the loop around the island, some staring out to the channels, others facing inward to the streets. The north side of the island made Dorothy especially nervous while the south side gave me the chills for some reason.
All was quiet. Nothing appeared to be out of place. There were no vehicles on the island, but they had obviously been around by evidence of the one parking lot, while the mansions appeared to have been thoroughly cleaned then abandoned. Silver, gold, and gemstones were undisturbed in the houses, while kitchens held bottles of ancient wine and some dens were lined with tobacco-filled jars for pipe smoking.
This place would have been wiped clean by the Paradigm Corp if they were able to get past the stories of Rose Velvet Island's tales of horror.
And yet there was beauty in the overgrown parks which took up half the island, now with twisted dead trees and broken trails. Amid the wet grasses, small flowers were struggling to bloom.
They looked like small blue cups or church bells.
The bridge that would have connected the island to Paradigm City had a sign posted up as the broken pavement hit dry land -
"Welcome to Roosevelt Island"
Under this was a tattered banner reading "Conservation Tours Available"
And hand-scribbled over the sign itself: "Welcome to the Gates of Death"
Dorothy approached the sign and touched the scribbled writing. She scratched a few flakes off and deposited them on her tongue.
She quickly spat them back out, like a vacuum on reverse. She began a fast trot back to the dock.
"Blood," Dorothy announced as Roger caught up with her. "It is obvious, whether human or ghost, there are beings here that have killed in a gruesome manner."
Dorothy had a point. I didn't even tell her about the shadows I'd been seeing out the corner of my eye, only to then disappear when I turned to look. Nor the woman I saw swaying in the breeze, hung by her neck from a tree.
"Agreed," Roger said. "Perhaps we should return later with--"
She pointed down to the dock. "Our craft is gone. It’s very likely it was destroyed by the storm."
Roger felt beads of sweat pop out on his forehead. "No more games." He pulled his wrist up. "Big O! Showtime!"
The watch remained silent, the display dead.
Roger looked up at Dorothy. "Blocked."
"My signal is also jammed," she added. Her eyes widened slightly. "We can't leave."
"Unless we swim," Roger admitted. "And you'll sink like a rock."
Dorothy turned from the channel and the domes of Paradigm City to look back at the island. "Roger..." she choked. "Don't look behind you."
"What's behind me?" Roger asked as he froze.
"Bodies. Dead bodies. All over the streets."
Roger's nose picked up the scent of the dead without having to look. And even the reflection in Dorothy's eyes hinted at the carnage of mangled bodies and splattered blood.
He idly remembered one Military Police officer describing the scent of death: "Like that Limburger cheese stuff left out to rot for several days."
He covered his nose with the sleeve of his jacket as the stench permeated the air enough to make his eyes water. Dorothy covered her own nose with a hand. "I'm muting it," she admitted. "But the gasses are still being registered by my other sensors." Her hand clutched his arm. "We need to get upwind."
Dorothy pulled Roger along the street away from the massacre, hopping over broken pavement and debris.
Roger turned to look to see nothing there. "Dorothy, stop."
She hesitantly halted and turned back. "Where are the dead bodies?"
Roger pulled his sleeve from his face. "And the smell's gone, too."
Dorothy's hand slipped from his arm. "Roger!"
Roger turned to see her being slammed against the second story wall of a house.
He somersaulted away only to see a two-by-four land right between his eyes.
* * *
Roger groaned, the pain throbbing down his face.
His arms felt stiff and he moved to stretch them, only to find they were not moving from his sides.
His eyes snapped open, surveying the area.
The room was small, perhaps eight-by-eight, covered with gray material that felt slightly bouncy under his weight. He pushed himself up with his feet and looked down to see he was bound in a dirty straightjacket. He looked up to the ceiling, seeing solid plaster.
The room had one window to the outside. It was covered with bars, dirty glass, and was too small for Roger to stick his head through. An obviously locked, knob-less door had a small thick glass window inset in it.
"Dorothy?" he called.
The rubber room absorbed his voice, save for the dirty glass windows.
"Dorothy? Where are you?"
Roger pushed himself up to his feet and stumbled to the door, looking out into a stained beige hall with other doors with small windows on them. "Dorothy!"
He called for her, screamed for her, cried for her. He banged his head against the thick glass, shrieking for Dorothy.
A figure in a white coat appeared, shaking his head. The man's attitude reminded Roger sharply of Alex Rosewater. "Mr. Smith," the man said. "Quiet down, you're disturbing the other patients. Solitary is supposed to calm you down."
Roger replied with many bad words followed by, "What the hell did you do with Dorothy?"
"Dorothy?" the man repeated in confusion. Then he nodded. "Oh, the robot girl in your fantasies. Mr. Smith, you must understand that Dorothy is not real, she never was real. You are not a negotiator for some city that lost its mind. And you certainly don't have a giant robot called," he giggled, "Big O. You are still not well enough to join society again, especially since you name robots after sexual slang terms."
Roger snarled, "You're lying! Where's Dorothy? I swear to God, if any of you hurt her in any way, I will blast this [CENSORED] island into ashes and you won't have a chunk of land the size of a postage stamp to haunt!"
"You're just a raving madman," his jailer said. "And you're staying right here until you understand that."
The man vanished, leaving Roger alone in his padded cell.
"Dorothy! Dorothy, please answer me!"
He yelled for her for another half hour until his voice became hoarse. He slid to the floor, forcing the tears back. He desperately wanted to be back home with her playing the piano and waking him up, standing on the balcony and saying nothing, her making coffee with sugar--anything other than this.
They're only trying to make me insane. They're trying to scare me into despair. I refuse to be frightened. I refuse to play into their game.
"Dorothy, I need you."
* * *
Dorothy looked around and saw nothing abnormal. It was a sunny day, the birds were singing, she could smell the sharp tang of the sea mingled with the earthy smell of Grandfather Blackwell's farm to the south. She brushed some dandelion seedlings off of her simple woolen dress and continued scattering feed for the chickens, as she always did. She knew she had a list of chores to do, and that her husband Roger would be back from the cow pasture later that day.
It suddenly occurred to her that she did not have a husband and had never even seen a chicken or a blue sky in her entire life.
She closed her eyes and marched forward, ignoring everything she heard, determined to find some bit of reality in this bizarre illusion.
On the edge of her hearing, voices whispered ...
... wind-up toy...you are what you are...fake...fraud...counterfeit...leech...stealing away his affections so he can never find a woman or life of his own...you are nothing...you give nothing...lie down...sleep forever...the world is better off without you ...
Dorothy suddenly bumped into something very hard. Opening her eyes, she saw the perpetual overcast of Paradigm City daytime and a tall bronze statue on a marble base. The statue was of a man who had a wide face, a bushy moustache, and glasses. His demeanor was one of both great seriousness and eagerness for action.
She read the dedication. His name was President Theodore Roosevelt and the island was named after him; the statue's dedication was on October 27, 1967. These things meant nothing to her. Four other stones surrounding the it had words carved into the stones, evidently quotes from the man for whom the statue had been commissioned to honor.
Hopping up the pedestal, she climbed to the very top of the statue and stood up, looking over the surrounding terrain.
In the distance there was a large building. She was certain that the huge gray structure had not been there earlier. Hopping to the ground, she ran at her best speed toward the building.
As she approached, she noticed enough landmarks to place the location; there had been a gray tower in the middle of a park, with a sign labeling it "Octagon Tower Memorial Park." There had been no building like that in evidence.
She suddenly recalled seeing another sign reading "Blackwell Island Prison Memorial".
"Whatever this place once was," she said aloud to herself. "It must have been quite tragic to have so many memorials."
* * *
Roger relaxed after an hour or more of struggling. He had learned a long time ago how to get out of a straightjacket--a skill acquired from a stage magician as payment for a contract negotiation--but this particular model seemed resistant to the tricks of the escape artist.
A loud crash sounded from outside. Roger sat up, sliding up to the window facing the corridor.
Down the hall, he saw Dorothy was making a mad dash toward his room.
"Roger!" She pressed herself to the door. "Stand back!"
He staggered back against a wall and Dorothy's hand plowed into the thick glass, shattering it all over the room.
The gray cell swirled around them, solidifying into one of the many parks. Next to them loomed a large gray domed tower. Roger's arms swung back around, now in his brown jacket instead of the strait jacket.
An old woman in a white gown dashed out of the domed building and faded away as she ran down the street.
Dorothy picked Roger up in her arms and sprinted away from the overgrown grasses and over the haphazard hedgerows. She ran down the roadway to the mansion they had spent the night in and deposited him on the grand staircase.
"I searched for you for three hours," Dorothy informed him as she picked up the satchel and pulled out a first aid kit.
"It felt like three hours," he admitted. He took the satchel from her and located the canteen, taking a swig of water.
Dorothy opened the kit and prepared the cotton swabs and iodine for the cuts. She unscrewed the lid of a jar and dabbed the blue gel to his bruises.
"Dorothy, have you been able to find out anything about this place?"
She applied the medicine to his face as she related her own experiences and observations.
"Anything else?" he sighed.
"The place where I found you was not the park we had passed earlier but a drab building with a sign reading "New York Lunatic Asylum""
"A madhouse," Roger muttered. "And most of it disappeared."
"Yes." She paused. "Do you believe you can negotiate with real ghosts, Roger?"
"I haven't really tried--they haven't given me a chance."
She pulled away to allow him another drink from the canteen. "You look terrible, Roger Smith."
He chuckled. "This place doesn't give me time to catch my breath." His eyes shifted around to scan the large hall. "The more time we spend here, the more I think blasting this place to hell is the only way to solve it. I'm not going to be able to find Candice Finelli's ghost anywhere in here."
Dorothy's lips curled up into a small smile. "Agree to my terms or my big-ass robot stomps on you."
Roger stared at her, then broke into laughter for the first time since they arrived. "Where did you hear that?"
"You sometimes talk in your sleep," she answered.
Roger shrugged, and then froze, feeling someone's cold breath down his neck. "What's behind me, Dorothy?"
"Nothing. I feel something breathing down my neck. Is there anything behind me?"
"I'm scared, Roger," she whimpered, her fingers gripping his.
"Don't let your fear petrify you, Dorothy." His other hand slipped the canteen back into the satchel. "Put the kit back and when I count to three, we run out to the street."
"There isn't a safe place on this island," she whispered as she slipped the kit back into the satchel.
"We have to find something. One...two...three!"
Roger and Dorothy jumped up and ran out of the mansion into the cloudy day.
"Could we build a fire?" Roger asked as they continued running down the road.
"Negative. The wood is still damp."
"How about a raft?"
Dorothy halted. Since Roger's hand was clutched in hers, he was swung forward and snapped back to her, tripping to the ground at her feet.
"We could," she stated. She turned around and marched back to the mansion.
"Where are you going?" he asked, being dragged along.
"The house we were staying at has doors made of the proper wood for floatation." Dorothy stood before the mansion, the marble pillars framing the large doors. She looked up at the sky. "It will be dark in a few hours."
"Just enough time to put something together." Roger spun to see what shadow was hovering just beyond his vision.
Dorothy slammed her fists against the hinges, and then tore the doors down. Roger pulled a length of cable from the satchel.
She laid the doors on the dead lawn near Roger. "Someone needs to distract them." She stepped away from him and spread her arms out.
"Dorothy, you can't do this."
"Make the raft, Roger Smith," she intoned as several shards of light enveloped her.
Roger focused on lashing the doors together. He was only once distracted by Dorothy's sobbing, resulting in him chanting as he worked, "I'm going to save you, Dorothy. I'm going to save you, Dorothy. I'm going to save you, Dorothy."
Tying the last line tightly, he turned to see her curled up into a ball, the lights dancing over her body and trying to pull her limbs out.
"Dorothy, we're going!" Roger pulled her up and shook her. "Dorothy, please, get back online!"
Dorothy's head snapped up, her gray concentric eyes turning black again. "Roger."
"Help me get the raft to the water."
Dorothy got up and picked the make-shift raft up one-handed, tossing it behind the mansion and toward the beach. Both ran down, feeling the cold fingers of the lost spirits chasing after them.
Roger spotted what he needed as Dorothy pushed the raft out to the water. He grabbed up the oars and splashed into the salty water, climbing up on the doors.
He turned to see an assemblage of thousands of phantoms and spirits lining the shore behind them, reaching out over the water.
Many were ragged and skeletal, while others were missing limbs or heads. All cried a low moan across the water, their empty mouths open in anger or torment. Ghastly ashen skin peeled in chunks off of some, while others were devoid of flesh all together, their blank skull sockets staring after the man and android. The ghosts produced an unearthly glow in the twilight, making Roger memorize each face in morbid fascination.
Dorothy turned, but Roger held her face to his chest. "No, don't look." He shoved an oar in her hand. "Paddle."
She obediently paddled on one side while he balanced on another and did the same.
When they were halfway across the channel, Roger lifted his watch up. "Big O--Showtime!"
The watch hummed in reply and five seconds later, the megadeus broke the surface of the water.
Roger settled into the pilot's seat and hit controls. He folded his arms and the control console lowered down around him.
"Cast in the name of God, ye not guilty."
Dorothy collapsed against the dais, her face turned away from the glass windows.
Roger gripped the stick controls and stared at the glowing shoreline of Roosevelt Island.
"Ghosts are not meant to roam the world of the living," Roger stated as he flipped the covers on top of the controls. "We can't exist on the same plane. You've had your time here--now go home!"
He pressed the buttons.
Big O's fists rose in the air, and then clanged together before his chest. The Chromebuster lit up, sending a brilliant laser beam across the channel and toward the shore, obliterating the beaches, mansions, roadways, and parks of Roosevelt Island until nothing remained of the haunted piece of land.
Roger gazed at the space where the island had occupied, then exhaled. He fell back in the pilot's seat and said, "Rest in peace, Candice Finelli."
* * *
Roger ate heartily, then showered and shaved, drying his hair as he entered his bedroom. After changing into his pajamas, he fell back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling.
Rose Velvet Island was once Roosevelt Island. It began as a prison when it was Blackwell Island, then an asylum when it was Welfare Island, and lastly it became a home to the rich. Dorothy's notes of what she found gave no clue as to what happened to the residents of the island during and immediately following The Event. Whatever happened, the post-Event presence was enough to create the energies of dread and death.
Roger turned over, switching off the light.
Dorothy was also able to witness the illusions of these ghosts and be subjected to their whims. Was it possible for the unbiased eyes of androids to see the actions of spirits?
Roger sat up and flicked the lamp back on, then collapsed back on the bed.
After all...seeing spirits would mean ...
A knock came from the door, and then Dorothy poked her head in. "Am I disturbing you, Roger?"
"No," he admitted, sitting up. "Come in. What's wrong, Dorothy?"
She slipped into his room, closing the door behind her. She was clad in the white nightgown he had bought her some months back. The silk draped down her figure, outlining her form here and there, hiding other places.
"I cannot shut down."
Roger waved her over and she approached the bed. "I can't sleep, either. Sit with me."
She sat next to him, staring up at his face. "I'm still...anxious."
He hesitantly put an arm around her, pulling her close when she did not object. "Yes. That was a pretty bad experience."
She continued looking up at him. "Could I spend the night with you, Roger?"
He raised an eyebrow.
"Until...until the fear subsides."
He nodded, brushing a strand of red hair from her face. "Of course, Dorothy."
Roger was surprised by the gentle hug she gave him, then the quick kiss on his cheek before she crawled to the other side of the bed and slipped under the covers. He flicked the light off again, and pulled up the blankets as well.
"Good night, Roger," she whispered in the darkness.
"Good night, Dorothy," he breathed.
"I need you, too."
Roger was glad for the dark, because his smile made his face hurt.
I hated to admit it, but I didn't want to sleep alone, either.
* * *
Paradigm City noticed the missing island. The morning paper printed the front page with the banner "MEGADEUS DESTROYS ROSE VELVET".
Dastun called and asked why Roger felt it was necessary to destroy an entire island. Roger replied with, "Because it was necessary to a negotiation--and never ask me anything about that place ever again."
Dorothy played cheerier songs on the piano, while Roger tried his hand at painting the blue flowers on the island.
For the next several days, Dorothy spent the night with Roger, since both were still too nervous to sleep alone. Norman made no comment on it as good butlers are taught.