...I expect to be replaced shortly. Your record tapes showed other names listed at this address. (waits, then frowning) They did, didn't they, Captain?
I'm afraid we can't tell you everything we've learned, Mister Seven.
(glancing at Roberta; back to Seven)....
ASSIGNMENT: EARTH, Final Draft, January 1, 1968
Act IV, sc. 198
Barbara - Katherine
Even perfectly typed columns of statistics tend to become illegible, when one has been working long enough.
My God! Roberta Lincoln asked herself, yawning and rubbing her smarting eyes. Doesn't that man ever get tired?
Apparently not. Though it was nearly midnight, Gary Seven had been working long before Roberta had come to the office at her usual time, and he gave no signs of stopping in the very near future.
Suddenly, Roberta realized that - except for a sketchy lunch late in the afternoon - she hadn't taken any breaks all day, and she rose indignantly. Moving soundlessly, she went to the open door of the library and glared at the tall figure standing near the window with his back to her, reading the latest stock market reports. Her expression soon became one of frustrated gentleness while she studied the rugged looking, forceful man who had totally disrupted her life - and not always for the better. True, Roberta was constantly learning and growing, because Gary kept entrusting her with more and more information about the Superiors and their work...but each new level of growth moved her that much farther from her own world - constantly leaving her less time for normal human contacts. Nor, to date, had Gary done anything to make up for this loss. After Lorna and Kang had returned to the future ((While We're Apart, by Sharon Emily, Star Trek Showcase II, February 1975)), Gary had continued to treat Roberta less like an employee and more like an equal - but that wasn't what she wanted and needed.
A summoning tone from the computer broke the silence.
"R-r-r-r-o-w-r!" Isis announced.
"A message from Headquarters? Finally!" Gary neither raised his voice nor turned his head. "Roberta, I've nearly finished reading this, and I don't want to lose my place. Please get a printout and bring it to me."
Roberta jumped slightly, wondering how he'd known that she was standing in the doorway. She approached the computer slowly, hoping that the machine would behave since Gary was present. But his back was still turned and he was preoccupied, so the computer gave Roberta the usual run-around when she punched the controls. Instead of providing the requested printout, the computer sat there humming, its low, threatening tone indicating that it would not acknowledge Roberta's authority. She punched the controls again, harder this time, but the computer still refused to obey.
Isis watched for a moment then, looking at Roberta as much as if to say: "See? You do it this way!" she approached the computer and uttered a soft snarl.
"Computer on!" The voice reflected deep hurt. "Since you insist!" It spat the printout at Roberta.
"Thank you, Roberta," Gary reached quickly for the printout, unaware of the by-play involving the three females. He read the sheet, then he frowned and shook his head.
"Trouble?" Roberta eyed him anxiously when he crumpled the sheet into a tight ball.
"No...not really." He sighed. "The teams that we've selected here on Earth are working out perfectly - your idea of choosing mostly married couples was a good one, Roberta. But.... The Superiors have just told me again that my request for transfer and their orders for a replacement are 'going through normal channels!' I anticipated there would be a slight delay but...two years?"
If either of them had looked at Isis just then, they might have wondered why she was grooming her left front paw so industriously that her face and eyes were hidden. Yet, neither would have been able to guess that Isis was responsible for the constant delays, for she'd covered her tracks too well. She'd made sure that Roberta and Gary were either asleep or were elsewhere every time she'd sent a regular report to Headquarters - advising them to continue delaying action on Gary's request for transfer because he was apparently in the process of becoming part of the supervisory team for Earth.
"I'm sorry," Roberta said softly. "I know you're anxious to leave Earth." A note of sarcasm crept into her voice: "Poor Gary! It must be terrible, having to stay on this world that's so primitive - according to what you've known before!" Relenting, she reached out, intending to put her hand on his arm. "Surely the Superiors must have good reasons for postponing your transfer!"
"Maybe, but I'd feel better if I knew what they were." Gary returned to his task, oblivious of the hand which had been reaching out, and now dropped to Roberta's side as a clenched fist. "We need to incorporate the information you were dictating as soon as possible, Roberta."
"Yes, Mister Seven!" Since unheeded sarcasm was wasted effort, Roberta went back to the outer office without further comment. The typewriter finished the listing with its usual swiftness. She checked the pages, still vainly hoping to find an error, then she returned to the library. This time, all the relays clicked into place without hesitation. The computer hummed sweetly as it began to add the information to its store of background histories, current data, and studies of the careers of Earth's leaders - enabling Gary to obtain forecasts of the influence each leader could have upon Earth's future.
Roberta felt a swift thrill of triumph. Perhaps she was finally beginning to learn how to run this uppity machine! Then she felt an equally swift tremor of suspicion and cast a quick glance over her shoulder. Sure enough! Gary had stopped working for a moment and was watching her while she put the computer through its paces.
"Keep it up, sweetie!" Roberta muttered under her breath. "One of these days, you'll make a bad slip, then Gary will see right past your pretty little flashing lights!"
"That's fine, Roberta!" Gary smiled as he handed her the papers he'd just finished marking. "Once you've dictated these new figures, we can wrap up this particular section. I'll check with Moscow while you're working."
Roberta tried to ignore the muted sounds of conversation drifting in from beyond the open library door, but the soothing tones of Gary's voice intensified the drowsiness that had been threatening to overwhelm her for the past hour. Gary was still talking when she finished, so she put her head down on her folded arms to rest for a minute before going back to the computer. The minute became two; before the third minute ended, she was sound asleep.
"Roberta, you can have the computer now," Gary called. When she didn't respond, he appeared in the doorway. "Roberta, I.... Roberta?" He approached the desk and stared down at the sleeping girl. "Now, why would she do that?" he exclaimed as he ran one hand through his hair.
"M-m-r-r-o-w-t! Pfsst!" snapped Isis, the vocal accompaniment to her telepathic communication clearly expressing her emotions.
"Midnight'! Really?" Gary protested. "I didn't realize.... She must be exhausted! Better remind me sooner next time, Isis."
"Rowr!" Isis replied, then she began to pace back and forth beside Roberta's chair, looking up at Gary all the while.
"You're right; she can't rest like that," Gary agreed. He glanced toward the couch on the opposite side of the room, then he shook his head. "It's too noisy in here...." He bent and scooped Roberta up in his arms. "Isis, will you please open the doors for me while I carry her back to her apartment?"
The lights were already on when Gary entered Roberta's living room. Isis hurried on into the bedroom. When Gary followed a moment later, the lamp on the bedside table was creating an island of soft light. He bent and laid Roberta down on the bed, then he reached for the coverlet lying folded at the foot and spread it over the sleeping girl.
"Hssst!" Isis reminded him.
"I was just getting to that." He reached under the edge of the coverlet to remove Roberta's shoes and lined them up side by side on the floor.
Roberta sighed softly and snuggled down into the folds of the coverlet, throwing one arm up in her sleep so her fingers lay curled gently beside her temple.
Gary's expression as he stood looking down at her was a curiously gentle one - closely akin to brooding tenderness.
"Prrr!" Isis commented.
"Yes," he responded. "I'm quite aware that she's very attractive, and I agree that a relationship with her would be satisfying and rewarding - for me. But I can't allow myself to become too interested in her. I won't be here much longer...and it wouldn't be fair to her if I brought more complications into her life." He reached up and set Roberta's clock-radio well past her normal waking hour. "Come on, Isis."
When the alarm buzzed, Roberta reached automatically to turn it off, then she sat up and gazed around the room with a very bewildered expression. "How'd I get here?" she demanded of the empty air. When she realized that she was still fully dressed and that her shoes were standing beside the bed, she knew what must have happened. "It figures!" she said resentfully. "He finally takes me in his arms, but it would have to happen at a time when I didn't know a thing about it! Okay, Roberta, no use complaining! Time to get up and get ready to go back to work!"
Gary didn't turn his eyes from the image on the computer's disk when the telephone rang. Roberta spoke a few words then covered the mouthpiece with one hand. "It's 807, Gary! He's calling from Los Angeles and says this requires your personal attention."
"Put it on the speaker, Roberta."
"807 here, sir. Sorry about the phone, but I had no choice. I've just learned that a professional killer's been hired to assassinate the important American industrialist Edwin M. Jones. Jones is touring Rio, and he's supposed to be killed at two o'clock this afternoon, Rio time. Can you send someone else to take over for me here?"
"That'd be risky! You've already developed the background for your assignment there...." Gary looked up at the clock, which confirmed that they had less than an hour, then he went over to the desk and sat down. "Give me the details; I'll go to Rio...."
A few moments later, he cradled the phone and looked up. "Roberta...." She was already setting the computer to work on a printout of Jones' possible effect upon Earth's future. "We don't have much time, but we'd gain a few minutes if I finish that while you get everything else ready."
This wasn't the first time that Roberta had helped Gary prepare for such a mission. While he worked with the computer, she checked the Servo to be sure it was fully charged, and she also selected a set of Brazilian credentials in case he needed them.
"807's right," Gary mused as he studied the final results. "Each person's life is important, but Jones definitely is too valuable to lose. He'd got to be saved.... Thank you, Roberta," he took the Servo from her and put it in his vest pocket. "Take over here while I'm gone."
"Of course. Good luck, Gary." She quietly returned to work, refusing to acknowledge her worry.
No one saw Gary appear in the alley behind the hotel that 807 had identified as the professional killer's hiding place. 807 had known which floor the killer had chosen, but the computer had no detailed floor plans of the hotel, and it hadn't been able to locate the exact room. Since Gary hadn't wanted to appear in someone else's occupied bedroom, the alley had been the safest choice. His entry into the hotel was equally unobserved, and the door of an empty elevator slid open as he started toward the stairs. He stepped in and pressed the proper floor button. The car rose smoothly, and he began to flex his muscles in preparation for action. Suddenly, the lights flickered as the car jerked sharply, then the lights went out and the car ground to a halt. Gary pressed a few buttons, hoping it was just a faulty connection, but nothing happened. A moment later, voices coming through the doors from above verified his suspicions.
What a time for a stupid power failure! he thought as he jumped for the trap door overhead. It took only seconds to climb through and then open the sliding doors above the elevator. He ignored the excited questions hurled at him from all sides and pushed his way through the small knot of people gathered in front of the elevator.
No one followed him as he hurried to the exit; he ran up the stairs two at a time until he reached the right floor. Just as he stepped into the corridor, he heard the sound of two rifle shots coming from behind a closed door at the far end. Gary's own body jerked sharply as though he'd felt the impact of the bullets, then he shuddered, clenched his teeth, and started running. The carpet muffled his footsteps enough that he could hear excited voices behind the closed doors on both sides of the corridor; so far, however, no one had looked out to see what had happened. When he reached the end of the corridor, he could detect the pungent scent of gunpowder seeping under the door. He reached out and silently turned the knob. Locked! A moment's work with the Servo took care of that.
"Whothehell...?" snapped the man just turning from the window, rifle still in hand. The Servo's stun beam changed his attempted attack into a slump.
Gary bent and gave a few deft touches to the killer's arms and legs to make it appear that he'd tripped and had knocked himself out while trying to flee from the scene of his crime. That would hold him until the authorities got there.
Roberta had her back to the open door of the transporter when she heard Gary's footsteps.
"That didn't take long," she said.
"It rarely takes long to fail," Gary replied dully.
Roberta turned quickly, then uttered a sharp cry of dismay. Instead of the confident agent who'd left a short while earlier, she was looking at a man shattered emotionally by his failure to save a life. Gary stood just outside the doorway of the vault, his shoulders drooping slightly, and his glazed eyes seemingly fixed upon the vision of a man lying dead in a city street on another continent.
Her heart prompted her to reach out to Gary, to give him bodily contact and reassurance from someone who understood and cared, and she moved forward swiftly.
Gary started and pulled back slightly, then his vision cleared as he looked down at Roberta. He slumped toward her, seeking the comfort that she was offering. His arms came up slowly and started to close around her, then he caught sight of Isis. Realizing that he was on the verge of taking an irrevocable step, he chose a more familiar path. Instead of completing the embrace, he put his hands on Roberta's shoulders and gently moved her out of the way, then he hurried over and picked up the cat.
"Help me, Isis!" he pleaded as he sank into his chair and turned toward the window so he could look up into the sky, ignoring a startled and angry Roberta Lincoln. He began to stroke the cat and she crooned to him, her voice holding the same soothing tones that had once entranced the Vulcan Science Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, telling Gary that perfection was impossible to achieve. He'd done his best, but accidents couldn't be eliminated entirely. And as she soothed him, she provided a sense of support - telling him that the Superiors still had confidence in him.
Roberta glared at the engrossed couple, not trying to understand the events of the past few seconds, her compassion suddenly turning to anger at being shut out - again. She opened her mouth then shut it without speaking, realizing they wouldn't hear her. After a moment, she turned and stamped out over the thick carpet, then she tried to slam the door - but it insisted upon closing with its usual inaudible "click."
"That did it!" Roberta shouted as she slammed into her apartment. "I know when I'm not wanted!"
She rushed into her bedroom, snatched a suitcase out of the closet, and began to pull various items of clothing off their hangers - throwing them into the suitcase without stopping to consider if the sweaters and the blouses would match the skirts and the slacks. Finally, she jerked a handful of lingerie from the chest then slammed the suitcase shut. She shrugged into a coat and was halfway out the door when she remembered something.
Dropping the suitcase, she took two quick steps to her desk, which held a green cube like the one residing on Gary's desk.
"Are you listening?" Roberta snapped.
The cube blinked once.
"I want you to tell Mister Seven...." She paused and tried to clear a sudden tightness from her throat. "Tell - tell him I'm leaving because he's made it very clear to me that he - that he doesn't need me. I'm - I'm not even going to give him the usual two-week notice! Oh...and - and tell him that he doesn't have to worry.... I'll not tell anyone what I've learned about him and his Superiors. Who'd believe me, anyhow?"
Once she'd finished recording that message, Roberta felt a bit calmer - at least, enough to realize that she couldn't leave without making some definite plans first. Both Gary Seven and Isis were still in the library, so the transporter wasn't available to her. She opened the Yellow Pages to "Airlines" and dialed the first number listed there.
"Yes, I want a seat on your next flight to.... All airports have been closed? Why...? Oh...how long till a runway's cleared...? I see. Okay, thank you."
She put the receiver in its cradle then went to the window and pulled back the curtains, glaring helplessly at the heavy flakes of snow that were hitting the glass and covering every available surface.
"Someone has a rotten sense of timing," she snapped as she flipped through the Yellow Pages again. Unfortunately, the trains were running so far off schedule that the stations might as well have been closed.
Her next call was to the Port Authority Terminal: "...a few busses are still running? Good! When's the next one out...? I don't care where it's going...if I can make it, I want to get on it.... One's scheduled to leave for Washington, D.C. in forty minutes? If no seats are available, I'll sit on the floor, just so I can get away from here...! Fine. Put the ticket in my name - Roberta Lincoln. I'll pick it up when I get there."
She left the building without even glancing at the door of Gary's suite as she passed it.
The street was clogged with vehicles moving almost bumper to bumper, but she spotted an empty cab approaching before too many minutes had ticked by and she dashed out to stop it.
"You sure you wanna go out in this, Lady?" the driver asked as she threw her suitcase into the back seat of his cab and followed it.
"Port Authority Terminal," Roberta ordered. "If you can get me there in half an hour, I'll double your fare!"
"I ain't makin' no promises, Lady," the driver said as he eased his cab out into the traffic.
Roberta hung on to the strap above the door while the cab crept and skidded over the icy streets. Suddenly the driver swore and twisted the steering wheel savagely as he brought the cab to a screeching halt only a fraction of an inch from the rear bumper of a motionless van.
"You okay back there?" the driver asked as he lowered the plastic shield between the front and back seats then turned to peer anxiously at her.
Roberta's grip on the strap had been firm enough that she hadn't been thrown to the floor. "Y-yes..." she gasped. "What are those flashing red lights ahead of us? A wreck?"
"Yeah, and a bad one, too, from the way traffic's pilin' up around us. I'm afraid we're goin' to be here for a while."
He turned off the motor then sat hunched behind the wheel with his coat pulled up around his ears, listening to the drone of the dispatcher's voice describing numerous wrecks and warning of traffic jams throughout the city.
"Lady," he said finally, turning to look back at her again. "I don't wanna' scare you, but I've seen traffic jams like this before, and it took four or five hours to get them unstuck!"
"Attention all drivers!" Interrupted the dispatcher's voice. "All trains and busses have just stopped running. No traffic is moving in or out of the city. I repeat: No traffic can move in or out of the city. You are advised to drop your current fares at the nearest shelter and either come in if you can or find shelter where you are."
"Sorry, Lady. Looks like you won't have to pay me much of anything after all," the driver said with a rueful grin. He looked toward the flashing lights. "There's been no sign of an ambulance.... I've had First Aid trainin', so I think I'd better get up there. You ain't afraid to stay here by yourself for a while, are you?"
Despite her emotional turmoil, Roberta found herself liking this man who was capable of feeling so much concern for others. "Go ahead," she answered. "I don't think any troublemakers will be prowling about in this storm."
He started to open the door, then he paused. "I've got less than half a tank o' gas, and there's no tellin' how long we're gonna be stuck here. You've got a heavy coat, so leave the motor off as long as you can stand it. I'll leave the key in the ignition so you can turn the motor on and heat the car up a bit if I'm gone too long - but go easy. Okay?"
"Sure," Roberta replied with false cheerfulness. "But I think I should go with you and see if I can be of any help...."
"In this wind? You might be blown off your feet before you took two steps! You let me handle this! I'll be back quick as I can."
The cold started to creep into the cab as soon as the driver had closed the door behind him. He vanished behind the curtain of blowing snow before he'd taken more than a few steps. Roberta stood it as long as she could, then she leaned over the seat and turned on the ignition. The motor caught, but it died immediately. She crawled over the seat and put her foot on the gas - still nothing. Afraid of running down the battery, she stopped trying to start the motor and sat hugging herself, staring out at the whirling curtain of snow. She hoped that no one had been seriously hurt in the wreck, yet her knowledge of the plight of those unfortunate motorists didn't keep her from feeling angrier and angrier at the way even the elements seemed determined to keep her from leaving.
The wind had turned now and was blowing from behind the cab. The driver was right - she probably couldn't walk against it. All the buildings on either side of the street were business establishments and definitely were all locked by now. There weren't any hotels within safe walking distance either. However, it wasn't far to the terminal - not with the wind at her back. If she could get there, she could wait in its warmth until the busses were running again. Anything was better than freezing in this cab!
She left some money on the seat and started to get out, then she paused, wondering if it was wise to leave the key dangling in the ignition. What did it matter? Even if someone tried to steal the cab, they wouldn't be able to go anywhere with it!
The wind whipped the door out of her grasp, but she fumbled to retrieve her suitcase and managed to slam the door behind her. She slid across the street and then stumbled over the piled drifts onto the relative safety of the sidewalk. The wind seemed a little less sharp there, but it pressed against her back like a giant hand, and the snow hitting against her face blinded her as she slid along.
Roberta struggled for two blocks before realizing that she couldn't possibly make it to the terminal. She blinked the snow out of her eyes and looked around to orient herself. Oh no! Somehow, she'd gotten turned around at that last corner.... Wait! That looked like a church a few feet ahead. Perhaps she could find shelter at the top of the steps.
But, even when she backed up against the door, she could still feel the wind howling around her. No one could have blamed her for turning and hammering on the panel, her blows expressing her frustration and a little fear.
Suddenly the door swung open and a priest motioned for her to come in. "Hurry, child! You'll be safe in here."
He left her standing in the welcome warmth of the entryway and went out into the storm. Roberta couldn't see him, but the wind whipped his words back to her as he called to the motorists sitting in their motionless cars. Soon, a number of people were making their way along the aisles of the Sanctuary, heading for the pews at the front.
"Make yourselves comfortable," the priest instructed. "We'll be bringing you sandwiches and coffee in a few minutes."
Roberta had been swept along with the others, but the idea of fraternizing with a crowd of stranded motorists held no appeal for her. She wanted to be alone to get her thoughts together - to make plans.
She headed back down the outermost aisle, moving so quietly she avoided attracting anyone's attention. When she passed a dim alcove opening off the main Sanctuary, she paused and looked in. The alcove held a small altar and promised solitude. She entered, dropped her suitcase by the backmost pew, and sat down, seeking comfort in the silence.
"Thanks, Isis," Gary murmured, releasing the cat. "I'd better get back to work now. Roberta, will...." He cast a swift glance around the room, then he reached down and pressed the call button on his desk before picking up a report.
After reading a couple of sentences, he dropped the report and looked up. "Roberta, I...!" He blinked with surprise. "She must've gone back to her apartment," he assured himself as he pressed the other call button.
Several more minutes passed, then he frowned. "Roberta should have been here by now," he informed the silently watching Isis. "Why don't you go get her while I see why these signals aren't working?"
Isis left but returned swiftly, her voice sharp with anxiety.
"'Gone!' Are you sure? All right, I'll go see if I can find out what's happened!"
Roberta must have left in a hurry - if the disorder of the apartment was any indication. When Gary's gaze fell on the green cube on the desk, he activated it swiftly. The cube faithfully reproduced Roberta's tones of heartbreak and anger. After listening to the message twice, Gary whistled soundlessly then passed one hand over his jaw.
"I don't blame her for being angry," he told Isis. "Even though I needed your help, I shouldn't have pushed her away from me like that. What did she say...? That she's leaving because she knows I don't need her?" He paused, realizing just how much he'd come to depend upon her...how often he'd left the office in her hands, confident that she could handle almost any situation that might arise during his absence...how often she'd provided the human insight that a computer - even the Beta Five - lacked...how just her being there in the office had made his temporary exile endurable.... His eyes widened. "'Exile'?" he murmured. "No, not any more...she's made this planet seem like home.... Isis! I - I do need her! I can't let her go!"
Isis didn't have time to express her satisfaction; she was barely able to keep up with Gary. He raced down the hallway, visualizing Roberta lying in a doorway, freezing in a snowdrift, falling under the wheels of a skidding vehicle, slowly dying of carbon monoxide poisoning in the back of a stalled taxi, being trapped in a plane forced to the ground as its wings iced up, starving in a stalled train - casting her as the heroine of all the tragic movies and plays he'd seen since coming to Earth. For the first time, he had some idea of how an anxious mother whose child is just venturing out on her own must feel.
Once again, Isis had to sacrifice her dignity for speed, but she managed to squeeze through the door behind Gary as he charged into the library and headed for the computer.
"Computer on!" he commanded sharply.
"Computer on," came the silky-toned reply.
"Subject: Roberta Lincoln. Locate her - and hurry!"
Hum. Click. "She is not on this floor!" the computer purred with satisfaction.
Gary stood glaring, his arms folded across his chest, waiting.
There were a few more tentative clicks. "She is not in this building?" Gary's glare intensified and he began to tap the fingers of one hand.
Hum. Click. Ping. "She is not even on this block," the computer said triumphantly.
"That will be enough of your Beta Five evasions," Gary's voice was laden with quiet menace. "Find her."
"I see no reason for you to be so angry," the computer whimpered. "She is comfy-cozy in that large Catholic church near the Port Authority Terminal!"
"Thank Heaven!" Gary whispered as the horrible visions faded from his mind, leaving him shaking with relief, which changed immediately to anger. "How dare she do this to me?" Then his anger became tinged with a swift surge of embarrassment when he realized that he'd never given her any reasons for personalizing her loyalty. "Well, she's out of the snow there, at least.... Show me exactly where she is!" His anger cooled as rapidly as it had flared while he studied the image on the disk. "Good! No one will see.... Set the transporter to reach her...!"
Roberta waited numbly for the storm to end and free her. The distant "bong" of the steeple bell beginning to sound the hour underlined the silence of the tiny chapel - a silence shattered by the sharp sound of a single footstep as a hand fell upon her shoulder. Controlling an impulse to shriek as she mentally leaped over the pew, she half-turned to assure the priest that she needed nothing.
Gary Seven towered over her in the dimness of the chapel, outlined against the blue cloud of the transporter.
"W-what are you doing here?" she stammered, visually measuring the distance to the door, and realizing with dismay that he could stop her before she reached it.
"Looking for you," he replied softly, dropping his hand from her shoulder. "Come on; we can't talk here."
"N-no!" She drew back and instinctively lifted one hand in a vain effort to keep him away. "I don't want to go anyplace with you...!"
Moving with his usual swift grace, Gary swept up the suitcase with one hand as he captured Roberta's wrist with the other, and the final notes of the bell reverberated through an empty chapel....
In the library, Gary put the suitcase down, his hands on his hips, and calmly confronted a very angry Roberta. True to form, as her anger increased in volume, the coherency of her speech decreased.
Gary's eyes began to twinkle as he listened to the words tumbling from her lips, the sound much like that of a 33 1/3 RPM record being played at 45. While he listened, his last doubts were resolved - life would be dull without her.
Finally, as Roberta began to run out of breath, her words became more understandable: "...left a message with the cube...!"
"I heard it," he said quietly. "But you're wrong. I do need you, Roberta."
"No you don't!" She sniffed and tossed her head. "Any employment agency can send a babysitter for that snotty computer of yours! You can decide if the person they send is trustworthy enough to be told the rest...!"
"You still don't understand," he said, dropping his hands to his sides and standing poised - ready to intercept her the moment she started toward the door. "I won't let you go."
"Why not? Oh...!" Roberta fell back a step or so. "Because I know too much?" Her eyes mirrored her hurt; she'd thought he'd trusted her - at least. "I - I told you that I wouldn't talk...! What - what are you planning to do? P-put me in exile?"
"Is that what you want?" he asked coldly as he advanced.
She started to retreat again, then she lifted her head defiantly and held her ground as she glared at him. "It isn't what I want - but has that ever mattered? Your work comes first, so you'll do what you have to...." She drew a quick breath. "What - what are you going to do...block my memories of you?"
"I suppose I could - if I had to." His voice had become gentle, and he began to smile. "But.... Who would block my memories of you, Roberta?"
"Why, I...! Huh?" Roberta paused in mid-sentence and stared at him. What's going on here? she asked herself. Looking beyond Gary's shoulder, she saw Isis curled up on the couch, purring and preening while she listened to their conversation. No you don't! Roberta thought angrily. Things may finally be starting to go my way, and I'll be darned if I'll let you stick around and spoil them for me! "Isis," she said sweetly. "Would you mind leaving us alone for a few minutes?"
"Yes, Isis," Gary said in immediate agreement. "Please go."
The startled look Isis gave him wasn't all pretence as she rose and headed for the door. Once through it, she paused, turned, and stuck her head back into the room. When she intercepted the triumphant look that Roberta gave her, she marched away, tail fluffed with disdain.
Silence descended upon the two while they looked warily at each other.
Now what? Gary thought as he studied Roberta, realizing with inner amusement that this was one situation the Superiors' training hadn't covered. I guess I'd better let her do the talking...for a while, at least.
Now what? Roberta thought, visually tracing the strong lines of Gary's face. Is his expression really a combination of tenderness, understanding, and - and laughter...or is it just wishful thinking on my part? Could Gary finally be seeing me as a woman? Well, even if he is, he'd better realize that it's going to have to be all or nothing from now on! I won't settle for anything less!"
"Okay, Mister Seven," she said at last. "Just what was that you were saying about 'needing' me?"
"What else can I say, Roberta?" he asked with a forcedly-casual shrug.
"Why do you need me?" she insisted.
"Roberta, you're so exasperating, stubborn and willful...anyone else would have been glad to let you go!" There had been a hint of impatience in his voice, but his tones became deeper, warmer as he reached out, caught her, and brought her in against him, holding her so tightly that she couldn't move - even though she wasn't trying to get away. "But...you're also generous, loyal, courageous, and - I happen to love you...!"
"Yeah?" Roberta interrupted skeptically, remembering how he'd played upon her emotions by using her love for her country to serve his own purposes the first day they'd met. "How much...?"
"Enough that I'm asking you to marry me, so I'll have the right to keep you from ever trying to run away from me again - idiot!" Gary made the term sound like a fond endearment, and he gave her no chance to make a verbal response.
"Well...?" he demanded much later.
"H-how can I answer if you keep on kissing me?" Roberta protested as she put her hand against his face. "Yes."
"It's about time," he tightened his arms about her and rested his chin against the top of her head. "I could hardly think straight when I learned that you'd left me.... Isis! No... don't go.... We want you to be the first to know...."
Isis' replies were filled with smug satisfaction.
"Oh, you saw this developing a long time ago and were wondering what was taking me so long, did you? Now, you hope that we can forget this nonsense and that we'll get on with our work? Isis, I think you'll learn that your definition of 'nonsense' and mine are no longer the same."
Later that same evening, Roberta entered Gary's library and found him looking out of the window, admiring the beauty of the crescent moon shining upon the new snow. Sensing her presence, he turned, extending his hand. She moved to join him, then - standing between him and the glass - she turned to look up into his face.
"Gary?" she demanded, wanting to be absolutely fair to him. "Are you - are you sure....?"
He reached out and put his hands on her shoulders, studying her face intently.
"Sure of what, Roberta?" he asked gently as he dropped his hands from her shoulders, only to put his arm about her and draw her close to his side. "That I love you? That I'm willing to be Earth's supervisor - permanently? I have no regrets. With you at my side as my helpmate, my friend, and my lover...." He put one finger beneath her chin to lift her head, then he bent and kissed her. "I can accept this as my world now because it's yours."
They became silent as their thoughts turned toward their future. Gary looked down at the city that he'd finally accepted as his own. As she leaned against the firm support of Gary Seven's arm, Roberta looked up at the stars. For one brief moment, before she also began to visualize the challenging and rewarding future awaiting her, Roberta recalled the events that had been part of the beginning of all this - when the U.S.S. Enterprise had come back into the past.
Issue Number Three: December 1976
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