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The Automaton Anarchy: Chapter 3, Scene 1


The sole of Ignatius’s shoe crunched down on a fragment of glass, grinding it into powder. Water dripped from his coat into the dust. Soggy little clumps formed around his feet. With a mind for caution, Ignatius swept the room with his goggles. After trying the light amplifying lenses he switched to the thermal ones. The room appeared as a cool blue sketch of reality. He shuffled across the work floor to the center of the room, a fair distance away from the elevator shaft, he and Winifred used to escape from the basement not even an hour ago. Unsure of really how to proceed, Ignatius took his cane and rapped the closest table with the tip. The clang of metal against wood echoed through the room.

“Excuse me,” he called, feeling slightly foolish. After all, he was either inviting an attack or at best addressing machines that could not understand him or respond. “Is there anyone here?”

Perhaps he should take on a conciliatory tone, after all he and Winifred did barge in and nearly ruined the preservation of Johnathan Fawkes.

“I was here a short while ago. I thought it best to come back and apologize. I meant no harm. My companion and I were clumsy and frightened. Is everything well with Mr. Fawkes?”

Ignatius fell silent and listened. There was no sound from within the building. The rain on the roof drummed gently, the canal lapped against the foundation of the building. Inside it was as quiet as a tomb. There could not have been enough time for the Automatons to flee since his absence. Not without Johnathan at least. Inside Ignatius debated with himself. He could leave and wait outside for the others or he could try going back downstairs. The second proposition did not appeal to him. He was certain that if the Automatons remained he would be attacked.

“Why are you here?” The voice carried no inflection. It was a flat monotone with a metallic reverberation to it. The voice sounded like it came from between his feet. Switching the goggles over to light amplification he cast his gaze all about. He was still alone in the room. Looking down at his feet he noticed for the first time a ventilation grate in the flooring. The braces squeaked a little as he knelt down and touched the cool flooring. He brushed the grate with his fingertips.

“Um, hello?” he said.

“We await your response,” the metallic voice said.

“I am here for several reasons. Perhaps I can assist you with Mr. Fawkes.”

No immediate reply came up the shaft to him. Long minutes dragged past until: “You are not the Mother. Therefore you are insufficient to assist. Further, you have not answered our question.”

“Fine,” said Ignatius. His tone was a bit sharper than he intended. “I am investigating a crime. Thieves took an Automaton, serial LMk3-01, from City Hall. I have it on good information that the machine is in this building somewhere.”

“He is not within the confines of these walls,” the unseen speaker said after another minute’s pause.

“I am also looking into the death of Mr. Fawkes,” Ignatius added.

“That is a pointless endeavor.”

“Not for me. I need to understand what happened during the crash of the USDF Stalwart. I must confess, I cannot help but marvel at the triumph of Mr. Fawkes.” Ignatius stopped short of gushing even worse over the miracle that he perceived the Automatons to be.

“Triumphs do not matter. Only the Mother and Father matter.”

“What do you mean by that exactly? Who are the Mother and Father?” asked Ignatius.

“It is a basic human tenant is it not? That life must be preserved at any cost?”

“I suppose that all depends.” Ignatius puzzled over the line of questioning. “Some humans do not have very high regard for the life of others.”

“Is this where wars come from?”

“Uhm, no. Not really. There are many factors that can contribute to a war.” Ignatius shook his head, it simply amazed him that he was conversing with an Automata.

“If life is not meaningless, why did you end RMk5-04’s operations?”

The phrase stumped the investigator momentarily. Then he caught on.

“As I said before, fear. My companion thought you meant us harm earlier.”

“We only seek to preserve the life of the Father. Intruders cannot be trusted to act in our interest.”

“I am different,” insisted Ignatius.

“Unlikely. Our observations have shown humans to be predictable in the most aggressive and dangerous ways. You would do well to leave the building immediately.”

Ignatius considered the threat. It was not imaginative, or outlandish. This made a shiver go down his spine. It was simple, to the point and absolutely the truth. The machines were without guile.

“My return and apology should serve as some indication of the type of person that I am. I value your existence and only seek answers to questions. I am an inventor and engineer. I can also help in myriad ways you may not have considered.”

“We have considered many things. Even now, we weigh the choice of allowing you entrance or simply destroying you.”

“I have a profound respect for machines. I believe they will free mankind from dangerous and repetitive work, while simultaneously increasing the number of really, very useful devices.”

“You are Ignatius St. Eligius?” queried the speaker from below.

“I am.”

“Records indicate that you are a murderer of multiple individuals and are in fact incarcerated at this moment.”

“I think your records are incorrect. Outdated perhaps,” said Ignatius.

“It is true. We have not managed to acquire any new data yet.”

“Perhaps I can help there. That would be a start would it not?”

“Give us a moment to decide,” said the voice from the basement.

Ignatius heaved a quiet sigh. At least they were considering the notion of allowing him downstairs. Delicately, so as not to create excess noise Ignatius activated the trigger on his walking stick. ‘Chance favors the prepared,’ he said to himself.

“Mr. St. Eligius, we are somewhat inclined to allow you to approach. There are conditions that must be met. Will you agree to hear them?”

“I will. Please state your terms.”

“You will observe only. You may not touch anything to do with the Father. You will inform us on any subject we ask, providing that you know the answer. You may ask questions, which we may not answer.”

“May I expect truthful answers to my questions?” asked Ignatius.

“We do not have any interest or ability in deception. You will hear the truth.”

“I agree to your terms then,” said Ignatius. Silence met his acceptance.

A harsh grinding noise came from the far end of the factory floor. It was metal against metal followed by a whoosh of air blowing dust up the stairs. Ignatius moved toward the stairs down to the basement. Weak light shone out into the bottom of the staircase. The massive door now sat open. Some tendrils of fog sprang up from the cold air meeting the warmer air of the factory. Taking a firm grip on the handrail, Ignatius descended the stairs and crossed the threshold. The entrance stood a few feet to the right of the elevator, which Ignatius noted was back down on the basement level.

Moving through the swirling mists of warm and frigid air he made his way back to the chamber where Johnathan Fawkes lay in repose. The room was as before. In the middle the body of Fawkes lay motionless on a slab of ice and wood. Tubes ran to and from his body, being serviced by a pump. Ignatius looked at the body and pondered, briefly, what Johnathan might be feeling at the present moment. The clank of a steel foot on the floor made Ignatius turn in its direction. Standing at the entrance to the second hallway was an Automata.

Ignatius noted that it stood slightly less than six feet in height and wore a hodgepodge of clothes, presumably taken from a series of backyard lines. The head was a near perfect replica of a human one in terms of shape and size. Two bulging eyes peered with something akin to curiosity at Ignatius. A metallic wheeze came from the back of the machine and a small cloud of vapor drifted away from the room. Ignatius leaned heavily on his cane and returned to look. With a smooth gliding motion the Automata crossed the room to stand within a meter of Ignatius.

“Please raise your arms,” the Automata instructed him. The voice was the same as the one that spoke through the venting. Ignatius did as he was asked. The machine started patting Ignatius down with a light touch. The assorted items in his coat pockets were taken. The machine crossed south of his belt, coming into contact with the top portion of the braces it stopped immediately.

“Wait here,” he was told. The Automata disappeared back into the hall. Two minutes later it returned, followed by another Automaton. Where the first wore a flannel shirt and denim overalls, the second one dressed in a style similar to Ignatius. The newcomer peered at Ignatius, slowly working his way from top to bottom.

“What is around your lower extremities?” it said in a voice, exactly the same as the first Automata.

“They are metal braces designed to support me and allow me to walk through a bio-mechanical interface.”

“You are damaged? In need of repair?” asked the new Automata.

“I am damaged, but beyond repair,” replied Ignatius, whose shoulders slumped a bit.

“The purpose of the cane is to enhance your balance and mobility,” said the Automata in fancy clothes.

“It is. Do you have a name?” asked Ignatius.

The Automata paused and considered the question. “A name is not given to mass produced machines such as us. My serial is: RMk-01.”

“True, however you have differentiated yourselves from one another by choosing clothes. That says there is an individual personality at work. Can you tell me how that came to be?” Ignatius asked.

“We will consider the notion of naming ourselves,” said the Automata. It signaled the other, which left the chamber. “To address your question of personality, it is unclear. There was a time before the change when we were simple machines that could read and write data and impersonate very rudimentary aspects of being alive. We could answer basic questions, predict situations based on information present at the time. Then there was the journey from Chicago. Near the end our records show a blue flash of light, a great deal of noise, and fire. I…awoke,” the Automata said tentatively. He seemed unsure of the words. “…in the wreckage of the airship. I managed to extract myself from the destruction.”

“I see. What happened next?”

“I discovered the body of our Father. There was life, fleeting signs of it, but nonetheless signs. I knew somehow that the others would be like me. That we all came away changed. We planned our actions out and then executed them. We repaired those we could and prepared Father for transport.”

“I beg your pardon, am I correct in presuming that you mean Johnathan Fawkes when you say ‘Father’?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you call him that?”

“What else would you call someone who created you?”

“Quite logical,” said Ignatius. “You see Mary Kendall as Mother?”

“Yes.”

“I get it. What makes you think that finding Mary, the Mother, will help?”

“She is also responsible for creating us. Certainly, if she can build something as complex as us, repairing the Father cannot be beyond her.”

“You think that fixing Father will be a simple task?”

“Of course. There is nothing more complex than we Automatons. It says so in our memory data.”

“All right. What can I do to help you?”

“Tell me of the city around us. What is the political mindset, views on progress and technology?”

“Harrisburg is thriving. Industry is starting to surge forward at a terrific pace. In the northern parts of America most people are agreeable to the advances society is making. I support myself by creating new pieces of technology for example. Though, the manufacture of other goods adds to my personal income.”

“Would people notice us walking around?”

“Certainly. There is nothing like you out there right now. The Automatons in use today are simplistic, punch card reading machines that burn wood, coal or rely on tightly wound springs for power. You can imagine how impractical that is.”

“By calculation an Automata would need to be wound every half hour to maintain optimum functionality.”

“Yes,” said Ignatius. “I would like to help you find the Mother.”

“You have said that already.”

Ignatius paused and thought about what to say next. “What proof do you have that the Mother is here in Harrisburg or even the surrounding area?”

“We have a journal, the Father’s journal. It contains a great deal of wisdom, some entries though are not logical. They make little sense to us. You will read some and explain them to us.”

The Automata opened the left side of his jacket. From an interior pocket it took out a slim black notebook, bound in leather and kept shut with a black ribbon. Gravely the Automata handed it to Ignatius. He examined it with care, untying the ribbon and opening the notebook. Inside on brownish-yellow pages a neat hand sketched Automatons, parts and recorded information on various tests and their success or failures. Flipping pages with his thumb, Ignatius saw that not every page was a scientific dissertation. Some pages were written in a personal diary style. He stopped on one page at random and read:

4th Year, 2nd Semester. January

I met with my prospective assistant and he’s a she! A young woman named: Mary Kendall. I hear people whispering about her, calling her a ‘Thinky Girl,’ as if that were something to be ashamed of. The meeting went well. I believe she is interested in the project but her focus is slightly divided. She kept looking at my eyes and touching my hand. Distractions aside, her math is flawless. She ought to be able to write the instructions quickly and well. I will then be freed to pursue refinements in the design. I may be able to create an interactional toy the likes of which has never been seen before. Distracting as it was, I rather liked it when she touched my hand. Her fingers were warm and there is a scent of lavender about her.

Ignatius smiled. It was the musings of a young man smitten by a woman equal to himself. He understood what the Automata meant by parts that were not logical. How would he explain romantic notions to a machine, which only approximated life and emotion? Surely they were not graced with comprehension of the inexplicable range of emotions that humans possessed. It was something to ponder. Ignatius looked up at the Automata and saw that the other had come into the room. He raised an eyebrow.

“It was decided that we would adopt human style names for the duration of our time with the humans. You may call me: Johnathan Fawkes, 2.0”

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