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The Automaton Anarchy: Chapter 1, Scene 2

Myron drove the carriage with practiced ease while his employer: Ignatius St. Eligius and Winifred Goodman of the Harrisburg Police rode in the coach. Ignatius considered the evidence in the storage room where the city officials kept the Automata.

“Winifred, I have seen marks like those on the floor before. That combined with the crushed lock are what convinces me that another Automata took LMk3-01.”

“Wouldn’t that mean that someone had to program the machines to take the other one?”

“Normally, yes it would. I have seen things yesterday that leave room for doubt in my mind,” said Ignatius stifling a yawn.

“What sort of things?”

“I am not at complete liberty to say. I found this evidence yesterday while performing my duties for Colonel Witmore. However, the relevant part was more of a side project. I visited the crash site of the USDF Stalwart. Do you remember the news reports about it? These would be from about a month ago.”

“Yes, I believe so. A cargo airship coming in from Pittsburgh, is that right?”

“It is. On board was Johnathan Fawkes, who you have no doubt heard of.”

“Yes, he’s the chap who sent the city LMk3-01.”

“I would find it a stretch of unimaginable length if his death and the disappearance of LMk3-01 were not related.”

“I thought the Stalwart crashed because it was hit by lightning.”

“Yes Winifred, it was. However, Mr. Fawkes’s body was not at the scene. More than that, the majority of the cargo was missing. About a dozen Automatons, fresh from Mr. Fawkes’ assembly plant in Chicago. That the crash was accidental there can be no refuting that. However, I feel the crash set something in motion. I discovered there signs that the Automatons were active. They organized themselves and marched east from the destruction. It is also my belief that they took with them their fallen creator.”

Winifred looked aghast, “To what end?”

“I do not know,” admitted Ignatius. “There must be a logical reason, but it eludes me. I know very little about the Automatons. How they function, their ‘brains’ for lack of a better term, are a complete mystery.” Ignatius smiled to himself for a moment.

“Delicious puzzle, this. More to the point though, where would you go if you were a machine that just stole another machine? They would stand out most anywhere.”

“Might I suggest something,” asked Winifred.

“Of course my dear man, what is it?”

“Criminals want to be unnoticeable, to do that they hide amongst other criminals. Would it make sense that these machines might do the same thing?”

“Hide amid other machines. I do not know. There are no other machines quite like these,” said Ignatius.

“Perhaps they’d go someplace where machines wouldn’t draw so much attention then.”

“Do you have any ideas where that could be?” Ignatius asked.

“A few. Let’s stop at Mrs. Murphy’s Pie Shop and get a cuppa. I’ll tap the urchins and see what’s happening around town. Maybe they’ve seen or heard something.”

Ignatius rapped on the side of the carriage and called up to Myron: “Change of destination. Mrs. Murphy’s if you please!”

“Right you are, sir.” answered Myron.

The carriage halted on 3rd Street next to the brownstone cafe. Mrs. Murphy was of Irish heritage and ran her shop according to her own sharp wit and grandmother’s recipes. Several tables were setup outside, but remained empty due to the rain that was falling in steady, light drops.

“I’ll get us some pie and a couple cups of coffee,” volunteered Winifred.

“That sounds fine. Send Myron in to have a seat out of the rain, please.”

Officer Goodman exited the cab and called for Myron. Together the two men went into the cafe. Several minutes later Winifred emerged bearing a heavy white ceramic mug, filled with steaming coffee. He handed it up to Ignatius, who sat under the roof of the carriage.

“I’ll be back in while. I can usually find a few of the street children up a couple of blocks from here. Once I’ve dispatched my instructions, I’ll be back down.”

“Excellent. I shall await your return then,” said Ignatius.

The policeman strode off into the misty rain and turned the corner, and vanished from sight. Ignatius sat back and sipped at his coffee. It was hot, with the usual bitter after taste mellowed by a fair splash of Irish whiskey. Contemplatively, he reached into his jacket pocket and took out a cheroot cigar. He struck a match against the interior wall of the carriage and touched the flame to the end of his cigar. A few puffs fired the rolled tobacco to life.

Overhead a deep thrumming came from the propellers of an airship. From the sound, it would be a larger cargo vessel. Mixed in with the sound of the blades was the popping and hissing of its steam engine. It flew low over the city on its way to Forster Island, where it would dock and offload its cargo. Idly he wondered if the shipment was textiles from the south or mechanical parts from the Pittsburgh area. Ruefully, Ignatius admitted to himself that the cargo nowadays could very well be anything under the sun.

“Coo-Eee!” called a woman’s voice.

Ignatius looked over to the cafe and saw Mrs. Murphy standing in the doorway waving at him. He sat upright and smiled at her.

“Good morning, Mrs. Murphy.”

“Top o’ th’ mornin’ to you. How are you finding yer coffee?” she asked.

“Delightful as ever. Is my man giving you any trouble?”

“None at all. You must speak with him about that,” said Mrs. Murphy with a mischievous glint in her blue eyes. She patted her auburn hair and fluttered a hand at Ignatius. “Is there anytin’ else I can be gettin’ you?”

“No thank you, Mrs. Murphy. I am perfectly content at the moment.”

“Well, I’ll leave you to it then.”

She turned her considerable frame around and bustled back into the cafe. Moments later a chorus of laughter drifted out. Mrs. Murphy, a long time widow, had designs on Myron. The trouble with Myron was that when he got around Mrs. Murphy he became a shy, timid schoolboy.

Ignatius let his mind wander over the course of the past two days and the morning he had so far. The drumming rain and spiked coffee lulled Ignatius towards sleep. His head bobbed up and down several times, causing Ignatius to jerk it back upright. He considered the facts of the case in front of him. The newly arrived Automatons were missing along with one from the very first shipment. His investigation yesterday theoretically proved that a group of them managed to walk away from the crash of the Stalwart with the body of their creator.

It seemed to indicate that the Automatons put some value in him. Was it possible that they might have a notion to try to revive Johnathan Fawkes? Could it work?

Ignatius supposed that it might be feasible. Given what he had seen over the course of his military career and wandering around afterwards he knew that many things were possible. Why, even he was capable of very great things when properly (or chemically) motivated and inspired. He exhaled a cloud of smoke, which caught in the slight breeze and wafted out over the street. It was a dreadful notion. It spoke of horrors unimaginable. Suppose that the Automatons wanted their creator restored to them…

As machines, it would be logical. Repair the damage and replace broken parts. They would realize quickly that such a task is beyond them. Forcing them to do what? With his cigar clenched between his teeth, Ignatius felt the ports along his spine. Slowly it dawned on him. If confronted with a lack of knowledge, the machines would seek that information from another source. It would be someone they trusted and recognized as being superior to just about every other reference. They would seek out the other half of the team that built them, Mary Kendall.

She programed them, gave them their brains to store knowledge, and built the sensors that explored the world around them. Like Ignatius, they recognized her as an authority. In the case of the machines and Johnathan Fawkes, the only one qualified to assist them.

Winifred returned to the coach and climbed back inside. Water dripped off his coat onto the floor. With a sharp whistle, he summoned Mrs. Murphy and another mug of Irish coffee.

“I’ve put word out on the street,” he told Ignatius.

There was an excitement in his voice. The tone was one that belied his frequent protestations that he was happy as a beat cop. Ignatius thought, not for the first time, that he would make an excellent detective.

“That is good to hear. I think I may have come up with a new line of thought, a reason or rationale if you will for what is going on. My theory is that the twelve machines from the Stalwart brought the body of Johnathan Fawkes here, to Harrisburg, in order to resurrect him. To do so, they need two things: Knowledge and Talent. Mary Kendall, their co-creator has both. My guess is that she is somewhere nearby.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t she reported dead not too long ago? She died in an explosion in her laboratory in Chicago, if memory serves. And how does this tie in with the missing Automata from City Hall?”

“You are correct. Mary Kendall supposedly died in a tragic accident. What I am suggesting is highly hypothetical, requiring the suspension of a number of beliefs.”

Ignatius ticked points off on his fingers. “These new Automatons must have an impossibly high level of functionality, Mary must be alive, Johnathan is in a state which gives the Automatons hope that he can be repaired. Proving just one of those is incredibly difficult. All three, about impossible with what we have for evidence.”

“Well, Mr. St. Eligius, I’m glad that’s what you get paid for. Thinking like that only makes my head hurt. Give me a nice simple mugging anytime.”

Ignatius laughed. “You do not fool me, Winifred. You are far more complex than you let on. I am sure your wife would concur.”

“Do we have any alternatives to your hypothesis?”

“What would you suggest?” asked Ignatius.

Winifred stroked his voluminous mustache for a minute before answering.

“Well, thieves could have taken it for scrap or sale to a competing inventor. I’ve heard that the black market is full of technological wonders flying around between people out to make a fast dollar and those who want the fame without the work.”

“That is a good, practical notion. Maybe they crushed the lock with a tool, which is faster than trying to pick it. If you add in a cart or something to move the Automata, you have accounted for the major elements of the crime. Your contacts, will they have access to the black market news?”

“Yes. How likely do you think my idea is?”

“It is probably more likely than my own,” Ignatius said absently. “Do you think the rain will stop soon?”

Winifred chuckled, “I doubt it. Sergeant Mason’s knee is bothered something fierce.”

“Useful sort of joint he has there. Part time walking device and part time weather prediction service.”

“It was good to see Miss Angela back,” Winifred said.

“I was initially shocked by her appearance, I was not expecting it. After talking with her briefly, I am hopeful for the future.”

“Forgive me if this is out of place, but have you given any thought to marrying her?”

Ignatius spat a mouthful of coffee out of the carriage’s window, “Bite your tongue! Besides, I think that we are both too fiercely independent and such an arrangement would inevitably fail.”

“Still, it could go the other way.”

“True enough, I suppose,” said Ignatius. He sucked on the end of his cigar in silence, allowing the sound of rain to lull him. A wet slapping sound broke his meditative state as a street urchin, drenched to the bone padded up to the carriage.

“Mr. Goodman, sir?” he called in a high voice.

“Yes lad, climb in,” invited the copper, opening the door for the lad. The youth was about nine or maybe ten. It was hard for Ignatius to tell. Dark brown eyes peered out from under a ragged cap.

“Ah, Ethos, it’s you. Good. What news do you have?” asked Winifred.

“It’s pretty quiet all over town,” the young man began. Ignatius and Winifred looked disappointed at the news.

“I heard one thing though. Maybe it’s nuthin’. A barge was drifting down the canal the other day. Empty. No signs o’ anyone on it, just the mule team.”

“An empty barge? Nothing of interest there is there?” asked Ignatius.

The boy continued with a sharp look at Ignatius, “Ole Blind Susie claims that it pulled up alongside the old toy maker’s digs before it drifted down the canal. Docked there for several minutes it did.”

“Old…Blind…Susie?” said Ignatius.

“She’s renowned in the back alleys for her keen eyesight, it’s kind of an opposite to her nickname,” explained Officer Goodman.

“How long did it tie up for,” asked Ignatius.

“Susie said a couple of minutes. Long enough for some men to get off, carrying a litter of some kind.”

“Here Ethos, take this dollar and go inside Mrs. Murphy’s and have a stack of hotcakes on me,” said Ignatius.

Grinning from ear to ear, Ethos plucked the coin from Ignatius’s hand. In a flash, the boy was crossing the threshold of the cafe.

Looking at Winifred, Ignatius smiled and said, “It looks like we are going to Cameron Street.”

“That it does, Mr. St. Eligius.”

“Call me Ignatius, for goodness’ sake Winifred. Myron! Stop your flirting and get out here, now,” Ignatius hollered.

Myron bolted out of the cafe, with a white linen napkin around his neck and a flaky pastry in one hand. His cheeks were flushing red as he scrambled into his seat. With a snap of the reins, the carriage set off.

“That was a bit abrupt, don’t you think?” Winifred asked.

“What? Calling Myron like that? I suppose so. Do not worry, I will send him back to return the dishes that ought to make it up to him.”

With quiet mirth, the carriage rolled into the misty morning, angling through the city streets toward the Pennsylvania Canal and Cameron Street.

  1. Hi! Susie sent me. Loved your comment on my blog and the idea of posting regular scene updates.

    Is this a NIP that you plan to release in segments? If yes, WAY TO go on getting your story out there.

    I really enjoyed the read.

    • Thank you for dropping in! The Automaton Anarchy is the third in a series of novella length stories, all of which are posted here. I was inspired to work in this shorter format by the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. So, when the series concludes there should be at least six stories, each linked and building off the previous on. I am also posting flash and short fiction back stories as the mood strikes. All of it can be found in the Steampunk section of the menu. Hope you come back and read the rest.

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  1. Some Irish Coffee and A Little Rain. « Tales From Xira

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