The Automaton Anarchy: Chapter 4, Scene 1
Myron hauled back on the reins abruptly and the horses responded by sliding to a halt on the slick cobblestones. When the carriage finally stopped swaying on its springs, Ignatius resettled his hat with a manic grin and jaunty tap with his hand. He took the coach door handle in his hand and gave it a twist. Pausing halfway out of the cab he looked back at Johnathan Fawkes 2.0.
“You stay here,” Ignatius said, “I need to explain the situation to Ms. Boas and convince her to join us. I will not be more than a few moments. Please be patient and wait here.”
“Patience is not a new concept to the Automaton. I will do as you ask.”
“Thank you,” Ignatius said, ducking out of the carriage.
He swept up the sidewalk to the front door. He took the door knocker in hand and beat it against the brass plate.
“Angela!” he called up to the windows above him.
The door swung open briskly, revealing a stout, brown skinned woman with a tight gray bun of hair perched on top of her head. Around the woman’s shoulder was a brightly colored scarf. Brown eyes peered through thick glass lenses, barely visible for the folds and wrinkles that covered the face.
“Si?” she said in a brusque tone.
“Ah, Ms. Boas, please?” Ignatius replied hoping that the woman had exhausted her Spanish.
“Lo siento, la señora no está disponible,” came the rapid-fire response.
“See here my good woman, this is a matter of grave urgency,” Ignatius said.
The frown he received in response deepened the lines carved into the woman’s face. The old woman fluttered her hand at Ignatius, insisting that he move off the stoop. Ignatius stood his ground and waggled his finger under the prunish nose and threatened all manners of mechanical discomfort that he could think of.
“Deja, o voy a buscar a mi escoba,” snarled the woman.
“What? No, I do not understand! Wretched woman. Habla Inglés?”
“Of course I do, I prefer to speak Spanish you ignorant lout,” snapped the woman in heavily accented English.
“Senora Martinez, que está en la puerta?” called Angela’s familiar voice.
“Now you are in for it,” said Ignatius, smiling spitefully.
“Algunos chico con modales terribles,” Mrs. Martinez replied.
Wrapped in a dressing gown and her hair a mass of curls, bundled on top of her head, Angela appeared at the foot of the stairs. Looking over Mrs. Martinez Angela saw a ragged version of Ignatius swaying on the porch. His clothes and hat were all disheveled his face unshaven. Angela stepped up to Mrs. Martinez and whispered urgently in Spanish. When she finished the older woman gave Ignatius a thoroughly disapproving look and stomped off to the kitchen.
“What are you doing here? I thought we were having dinner at Wyndfast.”
“I regret to say that we shall not be eating at Wyndfast tonight my dear. An urgent matter arose earlier and you are one of the only people who I would trust with this task. We must find a woman who does not wish to be found.”
“Ignatius, do I look like I am in any fit state to go tramping around Harrisburg in the rain looking for your little lost waif?” Angela said.
Ignatius studied her for a moment, “no,” he said.
“The only clue we have is the location of a cabin, out beyond your Uncle’s farm. We need to find her.”
“It is hard to explain. Suffice to say that it is a complex and sensitive issue. I can explain more in the carriage.”
“Explain now. Before I call Senora Martinez back.”
“Baron Hirsch asked me to locate a missing Automata,” said Ignatius.
“Is that all? That seems like the sort of thing the police would be able to handle.”
“Yes, well. I have not actually found the missing Automata yet. However, I found some significantly more serious.”
“A group of sentient Automatons.”
“A group of sentient…, what does that even mean?”
“There is more.”
“Not only are these Automatons capable of thinking and acting on their own, they have the remains of Johnathan Fawkes.”
“If you would get changed, I will happily explain it as we ride along.” Ignatius frowned for a moment, “You will want to bring a couple of your guns. To be safe.”
Angela stared at Ignatius for a moment and then put her hand to her forehead. “To be clear, you want me to put on outdoor clothing, fetch some weapons, jump into your carriage and dash off to the woods for no better reason than: I’ll tell you later? Is that correct?”
“Well, your summation is a bit cynical, but efficiently stated. I would not ask if it were not critical.”
“Right. Wait here.”
“May I come in out of the rai…?” Started Ignatius but he was cut off by the gapped smile of Senora Martinez as she slammed the door shut in his face.
“Devil woman!” shouted Ignatius.
A particularly cold stream of water dripped off the roof and ran down the back of his neck. Ignatius closed his eyes and tried to picture a sunny field somewhere. The chilled water sent goose bumps all over his skin. The sensation of the rain water down his back was too reminiscent of his time at the State Hospital. Long hours spent under a stream of frigid water or submersed in a claw foot tub. Either way the day generally ended with electroshock therapy.
Fighting the urge to curl up on the stoop and mentally pack it in for a week, Ignatius instead pondered what potential evidence they might come across in the hills. The door rattled and swung wide open. Angela came out of the house with her Henry rifle in its scabbard over her shoulder, drover’s coat wrapped around her and a gun belt around her waist.
For a moment, Ignatius took a long look at Angela, realizing that years had passed since he last had the chance. Her shoulders were broad, matching her hips. No waif or fainting damsel here. She was a strong woman, capable of many things. Some of which, Ignatius could not even begin to attempt. She caught his green eyes with her brown ones and winked.
“Hello, Angela. Thanks for coming along. Let me introduce you to our compatriot. He is waiting in the carriage.”
“Tell me more about what we are doing,” inisited Angela.
Ignatius escorted her to the end of the walk and opened the carriage door for her. Taking her calfskin gloved hand; he assisted her into the coach and joined her on the forward facing bench. Sitting opposite was Johnathan Fawkes 2.0. A bit of Angela’s composure had fallen off.
“It’s incredible, Ignatius. Did you make it?” asked Angela.
“No he did not. Johnathan Fawkes and Mary Kendall are responsible for my manufacture. You must be the indomitable Angela Boas. A pleasure to meet you,” said Johnathan Fawkes 2.0.
“Amazing, how realistic the responses are,” commented Angela.
“They are, because I am alive,” said Johnathan 2.0.
“Steady on, old thing. I will grant you an exceeding amount of ability and the appearance of sentience. However, that is all, just the appearance,” Ignatius said.
“What do I lack? I think, I consume fuel to make energy, I breathe, and I grow. How am I any different from a bird, cow or person?”
“The facts are that you heat water to generate steam, draw air in to increase the temperature of your fire and you only grow if someone else adds parts on. That is how you are different from any of the animals you listed. We will need to revisit your boiling process later. For now, we should concentrate on locating Mary. Do you agree?”
“I do. Tell me of your plan,” said the machine.
“It is rather simple. We ride out as far as we can. Then hike the rest of the way to the cabin. Once at the cabin we search for clues that might tell us where Mary could be. Very straight forward.”
Myron turned the carriage north on Front Street and they were soon moving up river at a very fine pace. The light was preparing to fade in its daily retreat to the western shore. A couple of canoes and small sailing skiffs darted over the drab green water. Ignatius noted wistfully that the wading birds, egrets and herons, were already well into their migration. Bobbing through the air, a midsized airship came down river on its final approach to the air field at Forster Island.
Ignatius looked first to Angela and then over at Johnathan 2.0. She was sizing up the Automata. Ignatius could see it in the way her eyes flicked from one spot on the machine’s body to another. Examining potential weaknesses and seeking out hidden strengths. Johnathan 2.0 for the most part looked straight at her, watching Angela watch him.
“You wanted to know what is going on?” said Ignatius to Angela. She nodded her head without moving her eyes. “Alright. Sitting in front of you is, as best as I can tell, the most advanced Automata ever built. Something happened in transit from Chicago. Now they can act and react independently. It is as if the hand of God came down and bestowed both life and the ability to think.”
“The airship was not as fortunate. It crashed and incinerated upon impact with the ground. The creator was coming here to show his latest creations to the Mayor. He is hovering at Death’s door in a warehouse. The Automaton’s have a plan to sustain and ultimately repair Mr. Fawkes. They need their other creator, Mary Kendall, in order to do so. I have agreed to help them. This is what we are attempting to accomplish.”
Ignatius paused to light a cigar, exhaling the smoke out of his window. “Of course the Mayor will still want to know about his missing machine. Never mind the fantastic opportunity here before us. Johnathan, why did you decide to come with us?”
“The term is responsibility. You are familiar with it?” asked the machine. Ignatius nodded his head. “We feel a powerful sense of it, especially in connection to the Mother and Father. Ms. Boas, what is it that you do?”
“I’m not sure I understand your question, metal man,” replied Angela. Her voice may have a casual but her fingers twitched and her eyes narrowed ever so slightly.
“What is your occupation? You have the bearing of a very capable person, able to comport yourself in adverse situations.”
“Surmised that all by yourself have you?” said Angela, swaying with the carriage.
“I have made some observations. A few of your exploits are listed in our reference tables. Beyond that however, there is little information that is attributed to a credible source.”
“I am a scholar, adventurer or perhaps something drifting between those two definitions. It is hard to say. My central passion is Indian peoples of Mexico, Central America and South America. Part of my time is spent researching or presenting papers, the other time is spent exploring. I admire the works of Alexander Von Humboldt and his associate Amie Bonpland. When I have time I work on compiling a library. Some of it is my own notes and writings, parts of it are other people’s.”
“I would very much like to see it someday,” said Johnathan 2.0.
Angela made no reply, but instead regarded the machine thoughtfully. Ignatius noticed that the carriage was rolling through the old fort, now owned by Angela’s Uncle Daniel. The fort provided early warning and defense during the French and Indian war. It was now a farm, resting peacefully at the bank of the Susquehanna River. The cries of circling gulls mixed with the rattle of the steel bound wheels and staccato rhythms of the rain.
“We’re coming to a turning Mr. St. Eligius,” called Myron.
“Right. We need to bear off to the right,” answered Ignatius. “Johnathan, how adept are you at seeing at night?”
“I can adapt to most degrees of darkness. It is a simple matter of amplifying the available light around me.”
“Soon we will arrive and begin our hike up the hill to where the cabin sits. Angela will you take the lead on this?”
“Certainly,” she said.
Ignatius handed her his goggles, “Take these. They will help you see in the dark. Johnathan 2.0 and I shall bring up the rear. Myron, keep your eyes peeled for a trail leading off on your left,” Ignatius shouted up to the driver.
“Sure, I’ll do that. Not like it is raining and getting dark out or anything,” muttered Myron under his breath.
Fortunately a large boulder served as the trail head marker. Myron drew in the reins, bringing the horses to a halt. Ignatius opened the carriage door and clambered down with his walking stick in hand.
The ground was spongy underfoot, part soft loam and part water absorbed from the day’s rainfall. Angela sprang lightly from the cab, her knee high boots of light brown leather affording her adequate protection from the water. Johnathan 2.0 exited carefully, so as not to over balance the vehicle by placing too much weight on one side. His solid feet sank a quarter inch into the earth.
Ignatius eyed the metal feet dubiously. “Are you sure you will be all right?” he asked.
“The ground is solid enough. Once I start moving there will be almost no difficulty.”
Angela took her rifle out of its case and cocked it, then put it back inside to keep the water off of it. Ignatius nodded to her and she started up the trail. Angela moved softly, placing each foot with care. In a few seconds the growing dusk swallowed her. Ignatius gestured at Myron to seek shelter inside the coach and then started up the trail with the Automata following him.
The trail cut back and forth while rising steadily. Surprisingly, it was well maintained with crushed rock coating the surface. Every couple of switchbacks there was a bench to take a rest from the climb, which Ignatius steadfastly ignored. The waist belt of his braces had begun to dig into his sides, the leather band chaffing the skin. The Automata kept pace with Ignatius matching his stride.
They climbed in silence, somehow they mutually agreed on a quiet ascent without speaking. After ten minutes of steady work they both halted at the sight of Angela squatting at the side of the trail. Ignatius raised his hand to the machine, motioning for quiet and eased forward to Angela’s side.
“What is the matter?” he said, barely moving his lips and keeping his voice low.
“I caught a glimmer of something ahead with the goggles.”
“Could you tell what it was?” said Ignatius.
“No, it flitted away across the slope of the hill and some trees obscured it.”
“Next time, flip the thermal lenses in place. That will show you the heat coming off of things. It might help you determine if what you saw is alive or a construct of some kind.”
“Yes, thank you for that helpful tip,” Angela said. Her voice dripped with sarcasm. She rose and continued up the hill. Johnathan stopped next to Ignatius and murmured, “Quite spirited, Ms. Angela.”
Ignatius jerked his head in response. “Come along, we must almost be there,” he said, huffing a few ragged breaths as he moved up the trail.
Ignatius turned one more switchback, crested a small rise and came out into a level clearing. The last vestiges of cloud filtered sunlight were dying out with haste. Angela stood rock still amid a glittering swarm of fluttering, flapping mechanical hummingbirds. Ignatius halted in his tracks as a deer with an oversized windup key protruding from its shoulders darted between the trees, only to vanish into the forest.
A cabin, unlike any Ignatius could imagine sat in the middle of the field. A great curved window looked off in the direction of the river. The cabin itself was a marvel as well. It was built from hexagonal panels, fitted in at varying angles. The overall shape was that of a dome. A windmill creaked while it spun beyond the cabin.
A light, steady and bright, radiated out from a second story window. A thin tendril of smoke rose from the blackened stovepipe. The swarm of hummingbirds flitted from Angela to Ignatius to Johnathan 2.0. Their wings beat the air in a blur of motion and gentle humming. Ignatius took one step toward the cabin and then stopped dead in his tracks.
Sitting on the porch holding a rifle in its hands was LMk-03.