The Automaton Anarchy: Chapter 4, Scene 2.
The Automata’s head swiveled in the direction of the trio. It rose from its chair and brought the rifle up. Johnathan 2.0 stepped quickly in front of Ignatius and Angela. He flashed a rapid pattern of lights from his eyes at the once missing, now found, machine. It wavered, allowing the gun’s muzzle to dip to a less threatening position. A few puffs of smoke wafted out of its exhaust stack and it took a step forward. Johnathan 2.0 blinked a couple more lights at the older model.
The mechanized birds zipped off in all different directions, leaving the air quiet. The doorway to the cabin swung up framing a young woman. She wore a work shirt with the sleeves rolled up past her elbows. It was tucked into trousers, the cuffs of which were rolled up to expose her bare ankles and feet. The black hair cut precipitously close to her scalp did little to diminish the masculine appearance. When she spotted Johnathan 2.0 a nervous smile broke across her face. A couple of tears welled up and rolled down her cheeks.
“He did it,” she said. Her voice was rich and full of a warm tone.
Johnathan 2.0 walked forward to her, climbing onto the porch and stopping in front of her.
“Mother,” he said.
She looked at him, touched his face before resting her hand on his shoulder. The young woman clapped her free hand over her mouth and nose. A sob broke through her fingers. It started low in her gut and came out unrestrained. Tears poured out of her eyes and this time they ravaged her. The woman collapsed to the floor, Ignatius and Angela both sprang forward to her side. LMk-03 reacted by bringing the rifle up to its shoulder and squeezing the trigger. As the trigger went back, Johnathan 2.0 snatched the barrel of the rifle and lifted it toward the sky. With a sharp crack, the bullet pierced the porch roof.
Johnathan 2.0 wrested the rifle from LMk-03 and barked a command: “Stop All Functions!”
Immediately the Automata went slack, its arms dropping limp to its sides. With more caution Ignatius and Angela walked up to the porch. Angela with a light hop leaped onto the planks and crossed over to the crumpled figure of the woman. Kneeling down next to the distraught woman, Angela slipped a comforting arm around her and drew her in close.
Ignatius looked from Angela to Johnathan 2.0 to the now immobile LMk-03. Glancing sideways at the sobbing woman, Ignatius was plagued by something he could not quite name. Something about her bordered on familiar. Ignatius chalked it up to preconceived notions of meeting someone he considered an intellectual equal.
A few moments passed as the weeping grew slower and more controlled. Shortly, Angela helped the dark haired woman to stand up.
“Let’s go inside. I can make you a cup of tea if you like,” said Angela.
“Yes, please. That would be lovely. I do apologize for making such a dreadful scene,” replied the woman. Though strained, her voice was rich and warm.
“Tut, tut. No need for that. You have received quite a shock I imagine. What, with us showing up unannounced along with…erm, RMk-01 here,” said Ignatius. Instinct drove him to use the old model reference instead of the Automata’s newly selected name.
“Very kind of you to say, sir,” the woman said.
The interior of the cabin opened from the front door into a large circle. A kitchen area sat at the rear of the building. Steps led up to a loft area, which because of a lack of visible sleeping accommodations elsewhere, Ignatius presumed to be that area. The rest of the main floor was divided into living and work area. A large couch and several overstuffed chairs gathered at the large window, where during daylight hours there would be a clear view of the river and the mountains on the opposite shore. Covered with spare parts and half-finished projects, a workbench ran along the far wall next to the kitchen.
Several hummingbirds lay waiting the necessary parts to bring them to faux life. Angela sat the woman referred to as Mother by Johnathan Fawkes 2.0 on the couch. Angela draped a blanket around the woman’s shoulders and went back to the kitchen. In a few moments Angela had a kettle on the stove to boil water for tea. Johnathan 2.0 stood by the door, hovering patiently. Ignatius sat next to the couch in one of the chairs.
“I presume you are Mary Kendall, is that correct?” asked Ignatius. He used a light tone, not wishing to upset the woman further. She nodded her head.
“Do you know why I am here?” he asked. This time she shook her head.
“I am here because I agreed to help find you for several reasons. I made my arrangements with RMk-01 over there, because he is independent and sentient, as are the others of his model line. They urgently need you, though I will leave it to him to explain everything to you.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t follow you,” said Mary.
“You know about the accident concerning the U.S.D.F. Stalwart, correct?”
To this Mary nodded again.
“Well, the Automatons survived. Something in the crash affected them. I have not been able to determine what it is yet. However, they came away from it with the notion of self and everything surrounding that.”
At those words Mary sat upright on the couch, her eyes darting to and fro. She exhaled slowly through her nose.
“You, come here, please,” she said to Johnathan 2.0.
The Automata crossed the room to stand in front of Mary. She rose from the couch and circled the machine. She waved at Ignatius to increase the light from a hanging lantern, which burned gas instead of lamp oil. A small tube ran into the base of the light. Ignatius turned the knob on the side to allow more gas into the lamp thereby increasing the brightness. Mary probed the Automata in front of her, looking at the joints, the bulge on its back, the head and neck assembly and even peering into its eyes.
“He did an unbelievable job,” she concluded finally.
Angela came to join them with several mugs of tea. She handed one to Mary and kept on for herself.
“RMk-01, tell Mary your story,” said Ignatius.
The Automata began his tale at the beginning: Of waking up amid the burning remains of the airship, journeying across the state to Harrisburg. Mary sat listening, entranced by the tale. She flinched reflexively at the grim discovery that Johnathan still clung to life. After that initial reaction Mary’s gaze grew distant and her left hand started drawing figures in the air. Her eyelids drooped more than halfway closed. Then her eyes flew open and she gasped.
“State your name,” she ordered the Automata.
“I am Johnathan Fawkes, 2.0.” declared the machine.
“Will you take me to him, to Father?” said Mary.
The Automata inclined his head.
“Have you thought about what it is that you must do?” Ignatius asked.
“I must save the man that I love,” Mary said. “How could I not respond?”
“Well, there are certain ethical implications involved. The few experiments, merging of human and machine, that I have witnessed never led anywhere but down a path of darkness.”
“I am sorry? You are going to question the ethical choice? Don’t play the moralist to me Mr. St. Eligius. I know for a fact that you have already dipped into the murky pool of bio-mechanics. I have even read your research on the ‘Spinal Interface’.” Mary said, raising her eyebrow.
“And just how did you manage that, seeing as how that is not a published paper, but rather kept in a personal journal, far from prying eyes?”
“You shouldn’t rush to judge someone just because they appear, dress or act in a certain way. It leads to assumptions, and you end up making an ass out of yourself later on,” said Mary with a mischievous smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.
Ignatius eyed her suspiciously. Angela stepped in the middle of the pair and redirected the conversation.
“I appreciate seeing Ignatius’s feathers ruffled more than anyone. However, I think it is time to start preparing to return to the city. Do you have belongings you wish to bring?” she asked Mary.
“Yes. I have been packing light these days, so it will not take me too long.”
“Johnathan 2.0, why don’t you instruct LMk-03 to guard the cabin and everyone inside it,” said Mary to the Automata.
“Yes, Mother,” he said.
The Automata went back to the front door and went out onto the porch with the older model. Mary rounded on Ignatius, hands on hips and a dark frown covering her mouth.
“How did you find me?” she hissed.
“One of Fawke’s journal entries mentioned spending time up here. It seemed a logical place to start. What are you doing up here may I ask?”
“Hiding, though none too successfully apparently. Did you tell anyone else you were coming to the cabin?” said Mary.
“One of my associates, who is working with the Automatons in Harrisburg to build a better environment for Fawkes. What is the matter?”
“Inevitably, as you know, a person in my profession is bound to make enemies, detractors and even ardent supporters.”
“I understand that,” said Ignatius.
“It is often not those who disapprove of your work, but those who are keenly interested in it, which are the most dangerous. There is one such person that I am aware of. He seeks my assistance in building some glorious machine the likes of which have never been seen before. Or so he claims. This gentleman insists that with my bio-mechanic engineering and his genius there is nothing that a machine cannot accomplish.”
Ignatius sat bolt upright. “Tell me everything you know, at once!”
“There isn’t much beyond what I have told you. He asked to meet in Boalsburg.”
“Did you go?”
“No. I came here instead. I do not know how he knew to direct his telegraph message to Harrisburg, or that I would be checking for wires. There is something terribly insistent about him. He struck me as not a proper gentleman.”
“What else can you tell me?” asked Ignatius.
“I received letters in Chicago, before coming here, before…”
“Yes, before you faked your own death. I surmise that you did so in order to throw this mystery man off your trail?”
“Indeed. Johnathan and I felt that as close as we were to completing the RMk models, it wasn’t worth it to run the risk of staying together. Once I had a working copy of the Automaton’s instruction set and the new and improved storage model loaded in a prototype, we faked an explosion in the lab. I went on the run that day and have not stopped since.”
“To surmise, you are being pursued by a machine fixated maniac, who may be after you for your knowledge and abilities to create out of cold metal, what appears to live and breathe?” Ignatius said.
“That is correct,” answered Mary.
“We need to get back to the factory. If your man has the resources to track you down, then surely he will uncover the factory sooner rather than later. Everyone is there is unaware and therefore vulnerable. Imagine if he got a hold of any of the Automatons or even Johnathan. Angela, hurry back to the carriage and have Myron point that thing back at Harrisburg. In fact have him give you one of the horses and go on ahead to the old Smith Toy Factory. Go now,” said Ignatius.
Angela nodded her head and pulled her hat back on. In a few seconds, she vanished out the front door. Mary continued to dart around the interior, grabbing things and examining them for use or value. A few minutes later she had a bag with only the necessities ready.
“Aren’t you worried about Ms. Angela?” she said. “I mean she’s riding towards an uncertain situation.”
“If there is an uncertain situation, I trust her to be able to handle it in the best way possible. Since she has departed, shall we depart with the pretense? You worked for me for how long, and while your costume was very natural and convincing, there are specific features on the human face that cannot be altered significantly. Cheekbones and chin for example,” Ignatius said.
“Yours was a good place to hide. It gave me a chance to have shelter from my pursuer, access to tools, research and the latest news.”
“I must congratulate you, you were very convincing.”
“Thank you. I hope you do not hold a grudge about this, as I explained it was a matter of life and death, where I could trust no one.”
“I do understand. Still, to pilfer my research, tsk, tsk.”
“Are you experiencing side effects of the interface yet?” Mary asked. Her voice was concerned yet clinical.
“If by side-effects you mean massive spasms and uncontrollable pain, then yes. Do you know what is causing it?”
“Unfortunately I don’t. There never seemed to be enough time to settle in for a thorough reading of your notes.”
Ignatius sighed heavily and shouldered her bag. “Let us proceed. I think there is something to be said for safety in numbers. We should take LMk-03 and Johnathan 2.0 with us.”
“Yes. Do you have any idea what my Johnathan will need when we get there?”
“I only saw him briefly. There was no time to examine him. You should ask Johnathan 2.0. He is the one who stabilized Fawkes in the first place. Let us get him and the other and proceed down the mountain. I will feel better once we are on the move again,” said Ignatius.
Mary looked around the interior of the cabin. A wistful expression crossed her face just before she blew the lantern out. On the porch the two Automatons were staring out into the woods behind the cabin.
“What is it?” Ignatius asked quietly, stepping up behind Johnathan 2.0.
“I heard something. Not one of Mother’s creations, of that I am sure.”
“We are heading down the mountain. You and LMk-03 bring up the rear. When you reach the bottom, get aboard the coach and hold on. Protect Mary at all costs.”
“I understand Mr. St. Eligius. LMk-03, it is time to go,” Johnathan 2.0 said.
Ignatius and Mary hurried across the clearing. She leading him by the hand, as time and experience favored her. Nimbly she led them into the darkness. The descent was nothing like climbing. It was a mad dash headlong into a blackness similar to that of a mine, or cave. Ignatius stumbled every so often, his feet tripped up by a root or loose rock. His mechanical gait could not match the spry step of Mary.
Something whistled past his ear, slapping into a tree trunk. The crack of a gunshot rolled downhill after him. Several more shots rang out. Another bullet did not cross his path. He tried to prepare his cane for action. Somewhere in the darkness, a scream tore the night. Ignatius plowed headlong into Mary and together they went tumbling down, settling awkwardly with Mary astride the inventor, he bracing her with both hands firmly on her breasts. Each blushing furiously, they disengaged from each other and assisted themselves back to their feet.
“My apologies, I had no intention of any impropriety,” said Ignatius.
“Not the time, sir. We shall discuss this later when there is time for proper embarrassment on both of our parts,” Mary said sprinting away.
The trip down the mountain took much less time, or so it seemed to Ignatius. They burst out onto the road, Mary sliding to a stop near the coach. Ignatius, less gracefully, ran straight into it. Myron squawked in surprise and leapt down from the driver’s seat and helped his employer up.
“Are you allrigh’ Mr. St. Eligius?” he asked.
“Just lovely, thank you,” said Ignatius. He pushed Myron aside and opened the door. Mary scrambled in. Ignatius grabbed Myron by the elbow, “Did Angela get away unscathed?”
“As best I can tell. We’re ready to go on your say so.”
“As soon as the Automatons get here, drive like the Devil himself is coming to collect his due.”
“Gotcher. He isn’t is he?”
“All depends I suppose, on who or what you believe to be the Devil.”
The pounding of iron feet rang out and the two machines dashed into the open road. Each grabbed onto a side of the coach and pulled themselves onto the sideboards. Ignatius hastily retreated inside the coach and pounded the roof with his cane. The crack of the reins on the remaining horse was met with a whinny and a neigh and the coach surged off back down the rough road.