The Automaton Anarchy: Chapter 5, Scene 2.
The scalpel lay in a shallow pan of alcohol. A pink cloud drifted listlessly around it in the liquid. Mary blinked hard several times. Her eyes burned from the constant effort the surgery had required. Looking around the room, she saw the drawn faces surrounding her, all with the same question in their eyes: Was the surgery successful.
On the table, Johnathan lay occasionally forced into movement by the steady pulse of the liquids flowing in and out of him.
“The damage was great, but I’ve done what I can,” Mary said.
Johnathan’s arm was the first thing that she replaced with a part from RMk-09. The new part glistened in the light. Wires led out of the forearm and pierced the skin and muscle of the bicep. Delicate links between wire and flesh, which Mary meticulously joined. Part of his skull lay on a side table, exchanged for a section of metal.
The internal organs proved to be the most troublesome. Mary knew from her studies what each one was and how it functioned in principle. As for attempting to fix the damaged parts, she did her best. She exchanged a couple of pieces with mechanical substitutes and one came out altogether.
Everyone looked exclusively at Johnathan Fawkes. Even the Automatons joined in the vigil over their creator. Mary and Ignatius monitored the young inventor’s vital signs, counting heartbeats and measuring the thrust of blood through his veins. The first action was a hard process since there were no instruments to assist in that, the other was not a reliable measurement as long as the pump moved fluids through Johnathan’s body. Ignatius caught Angela’s eye and cocked his head toward the hall that lead further into the cellar. They retreated down its length a ways and talked in quiet voices that would not carry.
“I think the surgery went as well as could be expected given the circumstances,” said Ignatius.
“I agree. The poor thing must be exhausted beyond measure by her efforts.”
“What do you make of the attack on us back at her cabin? Coincidence?” asked Ignatius.
“I don’t believe so. I think whoever is pursuing them is closer than they reckoned.”
“There was a manifesto, or at least part of one, in one of my factories several weeks ago. It alluded to the rise of machines, which would push the humans aside in their ascension. I feel that both Mary and Johnathan would be key assets for such a plot. Imagine having the two finest minds concerning Automatons and their development under your control. If you wanted machines to replace men, you have multiple examples of that in this very building.”
“It wouldn’t work,” said Angela.
“You think not? Look at the Mayor of Harrisburg. The Automatons fascinate him. He wants more of them in the government,” said Ignatius.
“Yes, as ornaments to show off how rich and progressive he is, it’s political grandstanding. Isn’t it?”
“I am not sure. The city government adopts Automatons, they prove useful and then a trend begins. It moves from the halls of the government to the wealthy. They would be able to afford it and will like the idea of the status symbol a staff of Automatons would confer. From there mass production and a lowered cost would allow almost anyone to own an Automata.”
“What should we do with them, then?”
“I thought about hiding them. Taking them to Wyndfast, but that will not be secure enough. At least not without being obvious, this would lead whoever is chasing them there. I hate to admit it, but I think we will have to involve Colonel Witmer. He has the resources to protect them all.”
“Do you think Johnathan will survive?”
“Which? The surgery or the trip across to Fort Couch? I suppose it does not matter, perhaps it would be for the best if had not survived the crash.”
“Ignatius! ¿Cómo se puede decir que?”
“I can say it with an objective perspective. Johnathan seems to be the main spark for innovation. With him deceased the chances of the Automatons evolution stops or at least slows.”
“Except for the ones that survived the crash. Someone could be reverse engineer them. I am sure Mary knows more than a little about the process of building those machines.”
“This is all speculation since he did in fact survive. Once we know Johnathan is going to pull through we will gather the resources necessary to move everyone and everything in one fell swoop,” said Ignatius.
“There is another possibility, other than this machine revolution theory. What of S.V.? We are seeing that which he struggled to perfect man and machine merged as one. The ethical question of its validity remains unanswered as well,” Angela pointed out.
“It had crossed my mind that this was his work. I cannot think that he would be here in the North, though the text mentioned a shift from man to machine. That does sound like him.”
“What about the Negro we fought from the train? Did he not strike you as familiar? He took more than a little punishment from the Henry rifle.”
“If Elijah was in fact one of those Southern abominations, then surely it perished in the river,” concluded Ignatius.
He frowned as he contemplated the past couple of days. He wondered if perhaps he had missed something. He opened his mouth to say something but a shout interrupted him.
“Ignatius,” called Wellsie’s booming voice, “Come here.”
Ignatius and Angela returned to the makeshift surgery.
“What is it?” asked Ignatius.
“The engine is fluttering something fierce,” said Wellsie pointing at the machine. “I can’t fix it without shutting it down. One of the pistons is cracking under the repetitive strain.”
“What can you do without stopping it?”
“Nothing,” replied Wellsie.
“Suggestions, anyone?” Ignatius called.
“Perhaps I can assistance,” offered Johnathan 2.0.
The Automata took hold of the drive rod that pushed the liquid out of the tank and started matching the stroke.
“You can now shut off the engine Mr. Wellsie. I can sustain this movement for quite some time.”
Wellsie nodded and started stripping the engine apart. Ignatius glanced around and spotted Mary hunched down in the corner of the room. Ignatius caught Angela’s eye and motioned at Mary with his head. Angela nodded and walked over to the young woman and gingerly helped her to her feet.
“Let’s see about finding you a nice quiet place to lay down for a little bit,” said Angela in a soothing voice.
Mary nodded numbly, allowing herself to taken out of the room. One of the Automatons came in and announced, “There is a man approaching the building. He was here before with him,” said the Automata pointing at Ignatius.
“Red hair, blue uniform?” asked Ignatius.
“That is correct.”
“Winifred Goodman. He is a police officer, and we are working together him and me. Please let him come in. We need to know what is going on in the city and I know he will be able to answer our questions.”
“I agree with Mr. St. Eligius,” said Johnathan 2.0. “You should go meet him upstairs.”
Ignatius walked back to the stairs and climbed up them. He moved slowly, each step sending a jarring ache throughout his hips and lower back. He crossed the factory floor to the reception area and met Winifred inside the door. The yard beyond the police officer was dotted with puddles, each rippling with falling rain.
“I’ve got news,” said Winifred without preamble. Ignatius took a step back and studied Winifred’s face. Deep lines crossed the copper’s brow and dark circles underscored his eyes.
“What happened?” Ignatius asked, pulling the door shut behind Officer Goodman.
Ignatius went back into the factory workshop, bringing Winifred to the windows that looked back over the canal.
“There’s been a slaughter up on Allison Hill. Someone tore up one of Bey Feng’s opium dens. We believe the suspect left a woman dead in an alley as well,” said Winifred.
“That does not sound terribly tragic to me, about on par with the working classes.”
“It was Susie, Ignatius. The woman who gave us the information that got us here. The witnesses all claim that it was a Negro. They say he went berserk. Some of the bodies are just pulp; I’ve never seen anything like it. One eyewitness said the suspect got shot in the chest and the gunman was torn in half for his troubles.”
Ignatius let out a low whistle. “I have a notion that your suspect is the same man that Angela and I ran into on the train.”
“The one that she shot and kicked off the bridge? How would a man survive that?”
“The answer should be quite obvious. He is no longer completely a man. Angela raised a concern that a figure from our past is orchestrating all of these strange. I am starting to be inclined to agree with her,” Ignatius said.
“What’s going on here? By the by, who are the men on the roof?” asked Winifred
“That is a tale to be told. Come along.” Ignatius started walking toward the stairs, Winifred followed along beside the inventor.
“On the roof are some of the Automatons, they are keeping watch.” Ignatius held up his hand, preventing Winifred from asking a question. “In short, we have located Mary Kendall, performed surgery on Johnathan Fawkes and come to some kind of truce with the Automatons.”
“Good gracious, you have been busy haven’t you?”
“You cannot imagine,” said Ignatius. He sighed, trying to push the fatigue away. “Winifred, there is something you need to see.”
Ignatius set off to the stairs, leading Winifred below. They walked through the twisty passage until they came to makeshift surgical theater. Winifred gasped aloud when his eyes flicked over the body of Johnathan Fawkes. Several Automatons turned to look at him with their unblinking blue eyes.
“What in God’s named have you done?” Winifred said, aghast.
“What was necessary to ensure our survival,” answered Johnathan 2.0.
“This is meddling in the affairs of the Almighty. I don’t understand.”
“He would have certainly died if something was not done,” said Ignatius. “Mary repaired what she could and replaced the rest with the mechanical equivalent.”
Winifred stepped back from the table, looking around at the grim faces surrounding him, shaking his head.
“We have to get everyone to Fort Couch, the army can keep them safe from anything out here,” said Ignatius.
Pain started creeping into Ignatius’s head and he felt himself swoon a bit. “Please excuse me for a moment,” he said, leaving Winifred sputtering in confusion.
Ignatius staggered back into the side room where he and Angela spoke earlier. On the shelves were bottles and vials of medicines and powdered chemicals. Ignatius determinedly rummaged through them tracking down different components. Some he kept and others he put back. Ignatius got an empty flask out and placed it on the table in the middle of the room.
Squinting in the dim light, Ignatius began mixing ingredients together. Shaking hands stirred the dry materials with a simple iron stick. Taking great care, he poured a measure of water into the mix. Slowly the dry chemicals dissolved away. After a minute of vigorous stirring, Ignatius took the rod and set it aside. He cocked his ear to listen down the hall. The sound of voices debating reached him from the room with Johnathan Fawkes.
Winifred was raising objections to their attempts at reviving the gravely injured engineer. Much like closing a barn door after the horses were out, Winifred was not making much ground. Ignatius raised the flask up to his nose and inhaled deeply. The main elements smelled correct, though some of the lesser components might be off. That hardly mattered, only the relief of his burning fatigue concerned him.
He started looking around for some means of rapid delivery, a syringe preferably. A minute of hunting through drawers and cabinets turned up nothing. The last option was brute force, simply drinking the draught in one fell swoop. It was slower but effective. Ignatius imagined that it would taste awful. Shrugging to himself, Ignatius raised the flask to his lips…
“Isn’t that what got you in trouble in the first place?” Winifred asked from behind Ignatius. There was a note of disappointment in his voice.
“You would not understand,” said Ignatius. The tip of the flask hovered near his lips.
“You’re ready to throw everything away, Miss Angela, your freedom?”
“Winifred, you misunderstand. This is merely an elixir to remove the effects of my fatigue.”
“It seems to me that one is hardly any better than the other. You say it is to help you through the fatigue, next you’ll be making an excuse to ‘enhance’ yourself. I may just be a copper, without the brains that God gave you, but I know a bad idea when I see it.”
“I must be able to think clearly. There are too many dangers coming at us for me to fail because I may not have been at my peak for performance. Your report of the Allison Hill violence tells me that we are facing at least one opponent who is twisted, evil and clever enough to create something like Elijah. No, I must be clearheaded for the time being and worry about potential repercussions later,” said Ignatius.
His voice tapered off to a morose sort of little sigh and then he tipped his draught up and swallowed the entire flask worth of liquid. The taste was every bit as bitter as he imagined it would be.
“Now there is nothing for it, but to move ahead,” he said to Winifred as he walked past.
He returned to the room with Johnathan Fawkes and approached the table. The young man looked almost peaceful, with his eyes closed in repose. Ignatius shuddered as the potion started to reach his central nervous system. S.V. was somewhere nearby. He could feel it now.
Elijah would be one of the monstrosities, which came from research that Ignatius stumbled upon on a scouting mission in the mountains along the Tennessee / North Carolina border during the war. Was the manifesto part of S.V.’s plot or could it be a coincidence. The people pursuing Johnathan and Mary, were they too part of S.V.’s plan? Everything seemed linked together. It was a swirling confusion of man, machine and power.
Ignatius knew he would need time to reflect on pieces of evidence to get a better idea. For now, it would be enough to get Mary and Johnathan to the safety of the fort. As that thought crossed out of Ignatius’s head, Johnathan Fawkes opened his eyes and screamed.