The Automaton Anarchy: Chapter 6, Scene 1.
The piercing shrieks halted abruptly giving a moment of respite, before continuing again. Johnathan thrashed against the restraints holding him to the table, muscles and sinews swelling with effort. Mary cried for help bringing everyone running in from all directions. Wellsie attempted to smother the newly repaired young man in order to prevent him from tearing himself apart. Mary went to Johnathan’s head and spoke in soothing tones to him.
“My darling, everything is all right. You are amongst friends, you are safe,”
“Fire everywhere…No chance to survive. Must…reach… Mary,” groaned the young man from underneath the blacksmith.
“Quick, is there any morphine about?” asked Ignatius.
One of the Automatons sped back out of the room, reappearing in a minute with a heavy syringe. Ingatius snatched it from the mechanical man and directed Angela to steady the struggling Johnathan’s left arm. Using as much care as possible, Ignatius slid the needle into a vein and depressed the plunger. A few seconds went past until the morphine started to take a hold on Johnathan. His screams abated and his body went limp. Mary continued to stroke Johnathan’s hair and murmur to him in a soft undertone.
“Well, that could have gone worse,” Ignatius said. “Any idea of what just happened?”
“Shock to his psyche or mental trauma. Whatever you’d like to call it,” said Mary in a whisper. “Try to imagine the last thing you are aware of is being about to die in a fiery crash and then waking in a freezing room surrounded by a collection of people and machines. He will need to adjust his frame of mind. To do that, we need to control his rise to consciousness.”
“We shall follow your lead,” Ignatius said.
“The pain is easy to manage. The morphine should take care of that. It is the other sensations the flesh joined to wire and metal, knowing that something is amiss within. A covering for his eyes may help,” Mary explained.
“What, like blindin’ a horse?” blurted Wellsie, much to the chagrin of Ignatius.
Mary grimaced at the analogy, but nodded. “Yes, like that. We can deprive Johnathan of his basic senses. I can explain his condition in slow installments. Thus we bring Johnathan slowly back into the realm of the living.”
Ignatius took a watch out of his pocket and consulted it. Half of the day was gone. There was much work to do.
“Angela, would you mind go back up to the roof and resuming your watch please,” Ignatius said.
“Of course. Do you have a plan?” she asked.
“Not at the moment, but I am working on it.”
Angela frowned, concern etched on her forehead and left the room. Mary and an Automata were attending to the unconscious Johnathan. A strip of cloth formed a blindfold over his eyes. Mary assembled a hanging drip bottle to deliver a steady and calculated dosage of morphine while the Automata refastened the restraints. Ignatius flicked his head at Wellsie.
“See if you can round up some more materials and increase the number of ties to hold Mr. Fawkes.”
“Now? I’m almost done with the repairs to the engine,” asked Wellsie.
“Yes, now please. I want to have Mr. Fawkes secured, as long as Johnathan 2.0 is still holding up,” said Ignatius turning his gaze to the Automata in question.
“I am fine. This is a trivial matter,” Johnathan 2.0 said.
“I think there’s stuff up’n second floor to suit,” said Wellsie.
“Winifred, will you come with me?” asked Ignatius. To the others he said “We shall return momentarily.”
Ignatius took Winifred upstairs to the dysfunctional factory work floor. Amid the doll parts, he turned the officer to him and said, “We have little time. If you and Angela are both correct, Elijah is alive and on the move. Since he found Susie, we need to presume that he knows the same thing that we did when she told us about the disturbance here.”
“That makes a certain amount of sense. What does your heightened sense of awareness think we should do?” Winifred asked. His bushy mustache bristled.
“We have to get Mary and Johnathan to Fort Couch. Before anything, bad can happen. I feel that I must ask you, what are your intentions? Are you willing to help us after everything you saw?” Ignatius asked him. He watched Winifred’s eyes. The held only doubt. The copper shrugged.
“I’ve sworn to protect life in the city of Harrisburg. There is plenty of life here worth protecting.” Winifred answered.
“Life is often gray, not black or white, Winifred. You best come to terms with that soon. I imagine things are going to be getting dicey before they get better. I need to know that you are committed to a course of action that sees Mary and Johnathan to safety.”
“I do not wish harm to come to Mary or Mr. Fawkes I suppose. But Ignatius, this isn’t easy.”
“If it were, anyone could do it, instead of people like us.”
“How long before your elixir wears off?”
“It is hard to say. I typically get eight or nine hours out of a dose. I was not able to be as precise as I would have liked this time.”
“I just pray it isn’t during a critical moment.” Winifred thought for a minute, “How are we going to get everyone out of here?”
“I am not sure, do you have any thoughts? All of mine involve someone fetching carriages and wagons from Wyndfast.”
“That’s too far away. It will take a long time for anyone to get there and back. Time I don’t think we have. I’d guess as night falls that is when an attack might occur.”
“What is closer?” Ignatius asked.
“The paddy wagon,” said Winifred, as a smile broke out under his mustache. Ignatius grinned. The wagon should accommodate all of the necessary people and machines, it was only three blocks away. In all it was an excellent choice. Ignatius clapped Winifred on the back.
“By Jove man, that is it! We shall load the wagon and drive it with all haste over the nearest bridge to the fort. Go at once to the police station and fetch it here, if you please.”
“Right you are Mr. St. Eligius.”
“On second thought, you may as well take your time. We cannot go anywhere until Johnathan is stable enough. Go make the preparations.”
“I’ll bring back some men and guns. It couldn’t hurt, right?”
“You are right. I am going up to the roof to talk with Angela. Good luck getting the wagon,” said Ignatius.
“Thanks. I’ll be back soon.” replied Winifred heading out to the lobby.
Ignatius made his way through the building to the stairs that lead up to the second floor. He mounted another flight upwards, which deposited him on the third floor. A few musty supplies such as reams of cloth and yarn for hair silently gathered dust and mold from long neglect. Ignatius spied the wrought iron ladder in the corner of the storage room. Laboriously, he clambered hand over hand through the small trapdoor in the ceiling, emerging on the roof of the building. Angela was not immediately visible. Ignatius spotted a seemingly random pile of refuse at the southeast corner of the building. Doggedly he crawled along the rooftop on his belly. One of the wood crates dislodged itself to reveal Angela’s head, peering down at Ignatius.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Remaining unseen by people on the street, approaching by stealth?”
“You sound like a freight train coming off the rails.
Ignatius rolled his eyes, “How are things?”
“Quiet so far. Nothing untoward has happened.”
“We are making plans to leave,” said Ignatius.
“Was that why Winifred left?”
“Indeed. He is heading to the nearest stationhouse to procure a wagon for us to load everyone in, as well as some additional forces.”
“Then what, we all ride the paddy wagon across town and the river? Don’t you think that might draw undue attention?”
“It is a risk, but it is no worse than anything else. At least the wagon gives us a modicum of privacy and shelter.”
“How are we going to load it? Did you think about that? A great big wagon, police escort and an abandoned factory might draw attention.”
“Tell me about the situation now. Have you seen anyone watching this building?”
“No,” replied Angela.
“Any unusual activity on the street? Strange carriages, horses, people?”
“I cannot deny your points, they are valid concerns. I think my plan is sound, given the amount of time we have. What if we were to execute it after nightfall, what do you think of that?”
“It’s better. How are you going to alert Winifred?”
“Can you do it? I know you able to be discrete and move along the street as well as any thief or mugger.”
“Ah, yes well, when you flatter like that, a girl’s going to just instantly jump at the chance.”
“No need for snarky remarks, my dear. I apologize for my less than flattering comparison. Will you do it?”
“Yes, Ignatius. What time do you want him at the front?”
“Let us say one o’clock in the morning.”
“Right, send up a metal man to relieve me and I’ll be on my way.”
Ignatius nodded and rapidly moved back to the trapdoor. Awkwardly he made his way down below and called for an Automata.
“RMk-05 here,” said one, stepping out of the shadows by a window that overlooked the canal.
“Go up and take over watching the street for Ms. Boas, please,” said Ignatius.
The Automata nodded and went up the ladder with no apparent effort. Ignatius frowned after the ascending metal feet. Half disgusted with his own predicament Ignatius made his way back down to the basement. Knowing that their timetable was set to a particular time gave Ignatius a framework to work with. He needed to find Mary and see how Johnathan might be by then. In the surgery room, Mary bent over the young man whispering soothing words into his ear. The mechanical Johnathan 2.0 continued to work the makeshift pump in place of the engine, even as Wellsie repaired it. Ignatius stopped by Johnathan 2.0 first.
“How are you holding up?” he asked the machine.
“Well, thank you. As I stated previously, this is no effort at all. I am only concerned for Father’s well-being.”
“Good. A plan is forming and we need to be ready.”
“Ignatius, I’ve got yer extra straps in place and should have the pump finished in a few minutes,” Wellsie said.
“Thank you, Wellsie,” said Ignatius, “I need to talk with Mary, we have a schedule for leaving here and I want to know if Johnathan will be ready.”
Ignatius stepped over to Mary and touched her gently on the elbow. She turned to him, pushing a tendril of loose hair out of her face.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Do you have a moment? I need to talk to you,” said Ignatius.
Mary nodded and followed Ignatius out into the hallway.
“How is Johnathan holding up?” he asked Mary.
“Well his vital signs are stronger.”
“What progress have you made with acclimating him?”
“That’s been hit or miss. I think the morphine took him in the opposite direction, where now he is completely insensible. I don’t know if my words are reaching him in any real or measurable way.”
“Could we move him in about ten hours?”
“Is it necessary?”
“It is. With what little intelligence we have from the outside there is every indication that our troubles are getting closer. I would not ask to move him, if I did not believe the threat was imminent.”
Mary sucked in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. She rubbed her eyes, trying to make the burning sensation go away.
“I think he ought be physically stable enough to attempt a move. I can keep him out of his senses with another solid dose of morphine.”
Ignatius smiled winningly, “I think I just came up with an idea to help transition Johnathan. What if we put him in a tank of water? It would be the same temperature as his body? This tank also cuts off any outside sound from getting in. It shall essentially deprive him of his senses. Are his repairs water tight?”
Mary narrowed her eyes, pondering the notion.
“Yes. That will make the transition much easier. What do you propose?”
“Wellsie can be sent to the fort right now, or rather when the engine is fixed. He can start the fabrication. I know the Colonel has the necessary supplies or at least be able to get a hold of them quickly.”
“Let us do that. It sounds like a most satisfactory plan,” said Mary.
Ignatius nodded and turned to give Wellsie his instructions when a jolt of pain screamed across his lower back. It was intense enough to make Ignatius collapse like a marionette with its strings cut. A cry broke through his lips and Mary stooped to his side.
“Ignatius, what’s the matter?” she said.
“Cursed interface is acting up again,” he managed to grunt through gritted teeth.
“What can I do?” Mary asked.
“Unhook the bloody thing,” said Ignatius, throwing himself onto his stomach.
She lifted his shirt from his waistband in order to expose the connections from his braces. Without hesitation, Mary removed the plugs from their connections. Curious, she leaned over closer and examined the connectors and their receptacles.
“When was the last you cleaned these out?” she asked.
Ignatius sagged against the cold floor, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. “I do not remember,” he managed to say.
“They look filthy. I think this might be a large part of the problem. I’d have to perform a surgical procedure to determine this, but I think you may have some kind of infection inside of you. If I made a guess, I’d say where the interface joins your spinal column.”
“Can you do something now? Will it take long?” asked Ignatius. A note of desperation crept into his voice. Without the ability to walk, he became a burden, which no one had the time or resources to take care of. Too much was already at stake to allow his handicap to interfere. Mary sat back on her heels.
“Now? Do you think now is the best time?”
“Madame, I cannot think of a more critical time.”
“Well, I could give you some morphine and open you up in under forty minutes. The rest of the time will depend on how extensive the damage inside you is. Do you have any notion what may have befallen your interface?”
“I do have a small notion. Call Wellsie and have him move me into the room over there. Then you can get started. We have no time to waste,” said Ignatius. “No time at all.”