After the confusing but humorous introductions, Rose and Xenith listened to an abbreviated account of what the dolls had been through, and how they'd escaped. Rose got the feeling they were leaving a lot of things out, but if there were worse things than watching yourself get killed, dealing with asshole guards and playing the same songs over and over for a psycho mechanical bitch, she didn't want to know about it.
Rose told them what she and Xenith had found out about Colonel Stanley and his daughter. They guessed that the real Angelica must have died when she was taken out of the hospital, or shortly thereafter. Stanley had been an A.I. engineer, and he must have been desperate enough to build himself a new daughter. Too bad she'd turned out to be completely insane. Now, they needed to figure out how to get twenty-one dolls and two women back to the city with only a single car and a small moving truck. "I think I'll bring the car up," Rose suggested. "Then we can figure out who goes when and all that."
"Okay," Steve said. "Should one of us go with you?"
Rose shrugged. "I'll be all right. It's not far. Besides, I think you guys have effectively rid the Forest of evil." Steve grinned, and she walked down the path to where she'd left the car. When she reached the place, she jumped. Two men were sitting on the hood of her car, glaring at her. "What the hell?" Rose cried.
"We warned you not to ask about the Colonel's daughter," the taller of the two said, brandishing a heavy chain. "But you didn't listen."
The other man leisurely donned a pair of brass knuckles. "Now we're gonna have to punish you."
Rose stared for a moment. Then she laughed. The men looked completely shocked. Apparently, laughter was the last thing they'd expected. "Punish me?" she cried through her laughter. "Brass knuckles? Chains? You have got to be kidding me! What are you, some kind of Old Mafia wannabe's?" She kept laughing until the men got over their shock and started to look angry.
"That's it! You're gonna get it now, bitch!"
"Listen, sweetie," Rose said, still grinning. "If you're smart, you'll get your dumb asses the fuck off of my car, put your little toys away and go home!"
"Now why the hell would we do that?" he asked.
"Steve!" Rose called loudly. She stood with her hands on her hips and waited. In about ten seconds, Steve and Stevie were at her side. They looked surprised when they caught sight of the two men.
"Who the hell are these guys?" Steve asked.
"I don't know," Rose answered. "But they attacked me and Xenith the night before last. And they just threatened to attack me again." The dolls frowned angrily. The two men stood up, looking at the dolls nervously. Steve and Stevie must have looked fairly daunting, despite their smaller stature. Steve was armed with a control rod, while Stevie carried the double bladed axe he'd used to chop off Angelica's head - still stained with her blood. And they'd just been told that the two men had hurt the woman they loved. The men gaped for a moment, before pulling themselves together. "We can take 'em," the shorter one said. The other nodded his agreement.
Steve aimed his control rod, but Stevie shook his head. They said something to each other in Studiospeak and Steve grinned. Rose wondered what they were up to. Stevie handed his axe to Steve and stepped forward. "Come on," he said. "Try me. I'll kick both your asses. But, no weapons."
"Yeah right, you fuckin' fairy!"
"Okay. If you're scared, you can keep your little chain." The taller man growled and swung his chain at Stevie's head. Stevie caught it easily. He yanked the man forward and wrapped the chain around his neck in one fluid movement. He held the chain just tight enough for the man to have to work to get any air. Then he beckoned to the other one. "Come on, punk. One hand!" After a second's hesitation, the other man rushed him. Stevie dodged and grabbed the man by the collar. Using the man's own momentum to his advantage, Stevie shoved him into a tree. He fell back, dazed. Stevie took hold of his hair and pulled him up to his knees.
"Listen up," he said, shaking the man on the chain a little to make sure he was paying attention. "I just took both of you out in twenty seconds without even breaking a sweat. But if that wasn't enough, take a look in front of you." The men did as they were told. Rose grinned at the total shock on their faces. The rest of the group had come to see what was happening, and they were now watching the scene with amusement. "See that?" Stevie asked. "That's what you're gonna have to deal with the next time you fuck with Rose. Or Xenith. Got it?"
They nodded as best they could. "Why did they attack you, anyway?" Steve asked.
"Because they didn't want us asking questions about Angelica," Rose replied. Then she backed away, startled by the look that had come into Steve's eyes. She'd never seen him so furious before. Never. Stevie had the same look in his eyes. In fact, the words were like a spark that ignited rage in all the dolls. Stevie growled and slammed the shorter man into the tree again. Then he lifted the first man off the ground and threw him against the same tree. They cowered against it as all of the dolls gathered around them, eyes filled with deadly fury. Rose was afraid herself, and they were on her side.
"That bitch is dead," Stevie snarled. Without taking his eyes off the shaking men, he held out his hand and Steve handed him his axe. "And if you aren't out of here in five seconds, you will be too." The men gaped, too scared to move. Stevie scowled. "One." In an instant, the men scrambled to their feet and ran to their car. They couldn't pull away fast enough. Stevie and the others glared after them until they were completely out of sight.
Rose and Xenith looked at each other, stunned expressions on both their faces. "Steve," Rose said quietly.
"Yes?" he said, turning to her.
"Remind me never to ask you what that woman really did to you in there."
Steve smiled. "You got it, babe."
In the end, they decided they would all leave together. Rose and Xenith thought that it would be too uncomfortable for the dolls to be crammed into the back of the truck, but they all agreed that a little discomfort was a small price to pay for getting away from the reviled house as soon as possible. They drew straws to decide who got to ride in the car and the front of the truck. Stephen, Steve, Ray and Stevie won. The other dolls protested loudly that the drawing had been rigged, but the Perrys flatly refused to budge. Rose drove her car, along with Stephen and her own dolls. Ray drove the truck with Xenith, who seemed to be permanently attached to his arm.
They went first to Rose's house, and spent most of the afternoon giving statements to the police. They'd sent the same two officers who had come to Rose's house the day Steve and Stevie were stolen. It seemed that the former soldiers would be spending the next several years learning how to walk again. In prison. The police couldn't tell them who the two men were who'd threatened Rose and Xenith. Rose guessed that they must have been engineers that had helped Colonel Stanley create the new Angelica, and they hadn't want anyone finding out what she was.
The police took down a few final notes and prepared to leave. Rose asked them what kind of action would be taken to return the dolls to their rightful owners. "That is not a priority at this time," Lt. Kim said. "We'll take the units to a holding cell until their owners can be contacted." Rose frowned. Holding cells. She didn't think the dolls would like that in the least. "However," the officer continued. "It's been my experience that people are not satisfied with having stolen units returned to them after such a long period of time. Most of these units have been running for over a year without regular maintenance." She looked pointedly at Paul, whose hand was still shaking uncontrollably. "A lot of money will have to be put into servicing them, and I doubt their previous owners will care to deal with that."
"What will happen if their owners don't want them?" she asked.
"They'll be put up for auction," Lt. Peterson replied.
Rose frowned. She did not like the sound of an auction. The dolls looked at each other, morose expressions on their faces. Obviously, they hated the idea more than Rose did. "What if we keep them?" she asked suddenly. They looked at her in shock.
Lt. Kim raised an eyebrow. "All of them?" she asked.
"Why not?" Xenith asked. "Their former owners don't have claims out for them, right?"
"Only the Valory '83," Lt. Kim said. "That one," she clarified, pointing to Paul's would-be replacement. "But the cost of maintaining this many units..."
"Is something I have quite enough money to handle without a problem," Rose finished. "I'm not asking if you think it would be wise. I'm asking if you think it would be legal."
"In that case," Lt. Peterson said. "Yes. These units qualify as unclaimed stolen property. Anyone who finds them can have them."
Rose grinned. "Great!" She turned to the dolls. "What do you say, fellas? Would you like to stay with us?" The dolls stared at Rose and Xenith in astonishment, plainly unable to believe their ears.
"I think we can take that as a yes," Xenith said.
Lieutenant Kim shook her head, obviously thinking Rose and Xenith were either crazy, or just plain stupid. Rose didn't care. She didn't want to see these dolls end up on some auction block for anyone to have for the taking. Not after all they'd been through. When the two officers had confiscated all the control rods (except for the ones Steve had hidden in the studio before they arrived), they were ready to go. The newest Valory doll said goodbye and went away with the police.
When the officers had left, all the dolls started to talk at once. They thanked Rose and Xenith profusely, and both women got hugs and kisses from more dolls than Rose could keep track of. When she could speak again, she asked them if they were sure they didn't want to try to find their old owners. "I'm sure Xenith still has the list of the robbery victims," she said. "We could call and see if they'll take you."
"No!" they all cried.
"I don't even have an old owner," Ringo said. "I was stolen from a store." Macca, Jonathan and Red said the same.
"Well, I had an owner, but you heard the cops," Lightning said. "They don't even have a claim out for me. That means they've replaced me. It's no good going back after all this time and trying to shove ourselves into their lives now."
They nodded. "Besides," Stephen said. "My master was better than that Bitch, but he wasn't great. He made me sing and dance for him, but he barely even looked at me otherwise. I don't really want to go back to living like that."
"Neither do I," George said.
"We want to stay with you," said Stephen. "You... you came after them," he said, gesturing toward Steve, Stevie and Ray. "You love them." Rose thought it was sad that Stephen sounded so amazed by that fact. "We know you'll take care of us," he said. The others all voiced their agreement.
"All right," Rose said, smiling. "Then it's settled. Now all we have to decide is who stays with who."
In the end, the dolls decided that they didn't want to be separated from the others of their same year. Since Rose already owned Steve and Stevie, she kept the '79's and the '96's, with the understanding that Neal and Ross at least, would start to grow their hair out immediately. (She thought Jordan's shiny head was sort of cute.) Xenith kept the '83's and the '86's. Snippet came home the next day, and found that there were six new friends in the house to play with. They all thought she was adorable, and they took turns caring for her. Thanks to their tender care, she made a full recovery at a speed that amazed Len. In under a month, she was her old, feisty self again.
Rose and Xenith saw each other frequently. When they weren't at each other's houses to visit one another, they were there because one or more of the dolls wanted to go see someone at the other house. They had become as close as brothers during their ordeal and didn't like to go too many days without seeing each other. They'd also discovered that Xenith had a studio, too, and they'd started working on projects together. There was hardly a single day when Rose wasn't taking one doll or another over to Xenith's to discuss a song or arrangement they'd been working on.
Eventually, Rose and Xenith decided that it was ridiculous to keep running back and forth to each other's houses every time they, or their dolls, wanted to see each other. They pooled their funds and bought a large house in the country with enough room for all of them to live comfortably. They converted several rooms into sound-proof studios so that the guys had plenty of private places to work. The dolls had even set up one of the larger rooms as an auditorium, with a raised stage, surround sound speakers and other state-of-the-art equipment - plus several cozy chairs for everyone to sit in. After what they'd been told about Angelica, neither Rose nor Xenith felt comfortable asking the boys to put on concerts for them. However, the dolls did so willingly, anyway, telling the girls they were silly to think it should be any other way. Rose and Xenith treated them so well that they wanted to make them happy all the time. Performing was an easy way to do it. Especially since they insisted they had never played to a better audience.