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The Automaton Anarchy: Chapter 1, Scene 1


Ignatius lolled around in the coach as it made its way back across the river toward the Mayor’s offices. A frown weighed Ignatius’s face. His legs felt trapped and useless at the end of his torso. Colonel Witmore arranged for the cab ride back into the city, while also dispatching a fast rider to Wyndfast to have a wheelchair brought to Ignatius immediately. Dark clouds were moving in over the city, bringing with them the threat of rain. The crisp autumn air which normally pleased Ignatius now felt cold and of things decaying. He knew fatigue plagued him. He knew that the interface failure between his spine and the braces was simple happenstance and not part of some conspiracy against him.

Yet he could not shake the feeling that these were mere tidings of things to come. The cab came to a halt in front of the Mayor’s office. With distaste, Ignatius took in the twenty marble stairs that led up to the entranceway. Rattling from down the street heralded the approach of Myron pushing a wheelchair up to the handsome cab.

“Morning, Mr. St. Eligius,” Myron said.

“Myron.” replied Ignatius, nodding his head.

The coachman opened the door for his employer and hesitated, unsure of exactly how to proceed.

“Get it over with,” said Ignatius.

Myron leaned in and bodily hoisted Ignatius up over his shoulder and manhandled him out of the cab. For a moment, as Ignatius lay draped over Myron’s shoulders like a rolled up carpet he fretted that someone such as Bey-Feng may happen past and dissolve into helpless peals of laughter at the sight. Myron efficiently slid his employer into the woven seat with minimal fuss.

Myron paid and tipped the cabbie, then took the chair around the side of the building. Along the building’s foundation, approximately halfway back from the street was an entrance for service workers or Negroes. One useful feature of it was the level threshold, which Myron could roll Ignatius over with little difficulty. Inside the doorway a rough desk stood by with a clerk sitting in attendance. A large number of ledgers leaned at an odd angle, so tall was the stack. Myron bobbed his head at the man and wheeled Ignatius forward.

“Ignatius St. Eligius, for the Mayor,” said Myron.

The clerk peered at Ignatius as though he were trying to determine the validity of the claim. The pencil thin mustache twitched and the clerk waved his hand dismissively.

“What do I care? I’ve got my own problems here. Between uppity colored folk demanding information and missing Automatons, you could be the Mayor’s mistress for all I care.”

Ignatius leaned forward with a wolfish grin on his face. “How do you know I am not?”

The clerk gave an involuntary start and frowned. “You’re being sarcastic. I don’t have time for sarcasm. Since you’re a cripple I suppose the stairs are out of the question and you’ll be wanting to use my service elevator. Bear in mind that I am only letting you, because it will get you out of my sight faster.”

Without a second glance, the clerk went back to his book. Myron pushed his employer over to the gated entrance to the elevator and within a minute, they were riding the noisy left up to the third floor. They rolled into the familiar antechamber where Miss Temperance sat primly at her desk. A Bible, bound in leather sat open next to her.

“Good morning, Miss—” began Myron. Ignatius laid a warning hand on his driver’s forearm.

“Miss Temperance has a funny notion of what is or is not good,” Ignatius said.

Miss Temperance raised an arch eyebrow, “So, the sinner returns. Another tribulation presented and triumphed over for His glory. You are late,” she said to Ignatius.

“Yes, well, it could not be helped.” Ignatius said.

“Out causing more sin I suppose,” said Temperance.

“And thinking of you the whole time,” replied Ignatius. “The Mayor is expecting me. Is it your intention on keeping me out here, berating me over some supposed transgression rather than announcing and then showing me into the Mayor’s office?”

“Is it any wonder you are in such a low state? Not an ounce of holiness in you.”

“Nor is there an ounce of compassion in you. I thought that was paramount in being a person of faith.”

“I reserve my compassion for those of a holy nature, not whatever you are. The Mayor will see you now,” Miss Temperance said. She reinforced her abrupt dismissal by looking back down at her Bible and continuing to read.

“Rough morning, sir, isn’t it?” asked Myron.

“One aspect is a bit brighter,” said Ignatius.

“Oh, what’s that, sir?”

“I do not have to wait out in reception.”

“Oh dear,” said Myron.

The thick wood door swung open allowing Myron to guide Ignatius into the Mayor’s office. The lush appointments were still in place. A heavy oak desk, leather chair and rich furnishings all spoke to the Mayor’s tastes and sensibilities. Mayor Hirsch, also known as ‘Baron’ held a collection of papers in his left hand and a crystal glass of an amber liquid in the other. His watery blue eyes focused on Ignatius. Bushy muttonchops rippled as he worked his jaw.

“Dammit, it’s about time you got here,” he shot at Ignatius.

“My apologies, Baron, I was unavoidably detained.”

“Skip the excuses. We’ve a real problem here.”

“And that would be?”

“All of the new Automatons have gone missing.”

Ignatius let the words register with his mind before reacting.

“You sent for me because the Automatons are missing? Is that all? Have you looked in the last place you had them?”

“Don’t you sass me, this is a problem.”

“How is it a problem?”

“First, the only ones missing are the new Fawkes models,” said the Mayor holding up a thick finger. He extended the next finger, “Second, Mr. Johnathan Fawkes has not arrived as scheduled.” Another sausage-like digit thrust into the air. “Third, I paid a great deal of money for those damned machines and I want them back!”

“Could they have just wandered off? Perhaps there was a problem with their punch card readers?”

“No, it couldn’t be anything like that. These machines are much more advanced than simple card readers. They represent a significant purchase for the city. I want to know who did this. Then, I want to know where they are. From this minute on, until they are returned to me safely, the Automatons are your only concern.”

“If you insist,” said Ignatius.

“Well I do. I am assigning Officer Goodman to work with you. He’s a good copper, really has a sense for the city.” The Mayor paused and looked Ignatius over.

“Shouldn’t you be walking on your own?”

“Yes.”

“Well you had better get that fixed. Rattling around in a damn wheelchair isn’t going to resolve this affair.”

“I am aware of the setback my situation present. Tell me what you know about Mr. Fawkes.”

“Well, he’s a young man from Chicago. By all accounts brilliant. He is possibly even as smart as you are. He and his lab partner, a woman if you can imagine that, devised the new Automatons to be more independent. Capable of performing actions based on spoken commands instead of punch card instructions. You saw the prototype last month when I had you released. Johnathan Fawkes was personally bringing in a dozen new machines. He wired me to say that he updated both the memories and power supplies. As you no doubt know, Johnathan was onboard the USDF Stalwart when it ran afoul of lightning.”

Ignatius nodded, keeping his mouth closed for the time being. Something told him not to mention to the Mayor his investigation the previous day at the crash site. It might be nothing, but on the other hand, it might be just the thing to tip a situation into his favor.

“Fine. Where do you wish me to start? I presume you do not think that the Automatons simply wandered off  into thin air.”

“Correct. You will start your search in the service chamber, where we kept the prototype. You may turn your keen and penetrating mind on the evidence as preserved in there. Officer Goodman should be joining us in a few moments. The pair of you can start immediately.”

A polite knock on the door punctuated the Mayor’s words. The door opened allowing Winifred Goodman to enter. The copper held his helmet in one hand. Ignatius noted that his unruly red hair was in a semblance of order and as stout as ever, some of the highly polished buttons strained against his girth.

“Officer,” the Mayor said, “Please show Mr. St. Eligius down to the service area where we kept the machine. Keep me apprised of the situation as it develops. Good day, gentlemen.”

Winifred grinned down at Ignatius and pulled the wheelchair backwards out into the waiting room. Myron sweating profusely had backed himself into a corner as far from Temperance’s desk as possible.

“See here woman, What have you done to my driver?” demanded Ignatius.

“Nothing except brought the word of Almighty God to him.”

“I think that is enough. It is as though you told him that the book of Revelations is coming true tomorrow.”

“How do you know it isn’t?” she asked.

Ignatius ignored her and motioned for Myron to open the door. Together with Officer Goodman, they filed out of the Mayor’s chambers. Winifred wheeled Ignatius along the carpet back to the service elevator. He set the lever to ‘sub’ which sat below the basement on the dial. The cables twanged in the shaft above, while the car descended. With a bone rattling jolt the elevator car reached the sub-basement. Winifred rolled the doors out of the way to reveal the room. Cold stones in the floor reflected struggling candle light from wall sconces.

“Follow me,” Winifred said, picking up a lantern and lighting it while moving forward along the corridor. Myron took up pushing Ignatius over the rough ground.

“I’ve talked with the caretakers who look after the Automatons in service. This particular unit, LMk3-01, was here last night before they went home. They came to work this morning and were about to start the machine up for the day and found its storage room empty.”

“Well, we shall see what the room holds for us,” said Ignatius.

The hallway was short. It ended without preamble at a metal door.

“Behind the door is the storage room. We can start in there if you would like,” said Winifred.

“No thank you. I will start here at the door. Begin at the beginning. Myron, wheel me over, please. Winifred some light here.” Ignatius indicated the portion of the frame where the lock would snap into position.

Close examination showed little. A few scratch marks on the metal loop attached to the wall, which Ignatius rubbed with his finger.

“Myron, did you happen to bring my kit with you?” he asked.

“Here you are, sir. I collected your effects from the train station on my way to city hall.”

“Invaluable that one is,” Ignatius said to Winifred.

From his satchel, Ignatius took his recovered goggles and a magnifying glass. Doffing his top hat, he slung the goggles over his eyes and adjusted their lenses. He swept the loop again with the glass before turning his attention to the door itself.

“Where is the lock?” he asked Winifred.

“I don’t know. I suppose it could be inside the room.”

“Right. Let us now enter the chamber and see what is there,” Ignatius said.

Winifred pulled back the door. Ignatius swept the floor with his goggle-clad eyes. The hard packed dirt bore scuff markings and one shallow dragline. Everything had a greenish tint through the goggles, which obscured some of the details. The middle of the room had a very plain, but thick, chair stood. A circular patch of clean floor next to it spoke of something missing. From the coating of dust outlining that spot, an object had sat there for quite a while. There were marks on the floor from shuffling feet. Ignatius watched Winifred as he moved about the room with his lantern. He then turned his gaze to the walls and shelves of the room. He saw nothing that appeared out of place or missing.

“I think I have seen enough. Winifred? Are you ready to leave?” Ignatius asked.

“I suppose so. I would have liked to found something that might have indicated what happened.”

“It is all in how you look at things,” said Ignatius.

Myron started wheeling Ignatius back to the lift.

“What do you mean, Mr. St. Eligius?”

“The LMk3-01 was taken. Abducted or perhaps liberated, depending on how you look at it. That part is unclear.”

“Would you mind filling me in?” Winifred asked.

Myron’s boot kicked something hard across the floor.

“Hello, what’s this?” he asked no one in particular.

Myron bent over and picked the object off the ground.

“Good Lord, Mr. St. Eligius, look at this!”

Myron dropped a lump of twisted metal into the investigator’s hand. Though it was twisted and bent, the padlock for the door was unmistakable.

“It fits,” Ignatius said, absently tossing the destroyed lock up and down in his hand. “There are scuff marks on the floor, but when you moved through the room Winifred, you did not leave any permanent trace. That tells me, something heavier and with a different form of movement was in there. The scratches on the lock’s loop came from the forcible removal of the lock. As in, something twisted the lock off rather than unlocking it. Something without the key and with the necessary strength to do this,” he said holding the lock up for the other two to see.

“Gentlemen, I think it is safe to say that LMk3-01 was taken by another Automaton.”

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5 Comments
  1. Very very good! I really enjoyed tat!

  2. this was such a goodread Steven..loved it :)

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  1. Where a Trip to City Hall Proves Insightful « Tales From Xira

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