The Automaton Anarchy: Chapter 7, Scene 2
The paddy wagon bounced and jostled its way across the sleeping city of Harrisburg. The lights along the streets burned low due to the Mayor’s clutch on the city purse strings. The light, such as it was, hardly cut through the chilly mist, which hung like a blanket over the streets. Shadows flitted near alley mouths, behind trees and paced along parallel to the wagon. Ignatius glanced out of the barred window watching the city.
The changes that took place in his absence were progressive. For instance the lights, were now gas lamps before, they used to be oil. A deep pothole made the left side of the wagon dip precipitously and threw Ignatius against the still form of an Automata. Even as fatigued dragged down on his shoulders, Ignatius fought to string his thoughts together.
Winston said, perhaps Elijah was making his way to the airfield. If true that meant the hybrid was soaring over the valley on his way to some undisclosed location. For a moment, Ignatius toyed with the notion of checking in at the Harbor Master’s office to see if a flight plan was on file. Wearily, he discarded the idea. A plan was only on paper. It was no guarantee that the pilot would follow it in whole or in part.
Dead ends stared back at Ignatius no matter which line of investigative thought he took. The wagon swayed again when they turned to go over the covered bridge that led from Harrisburg, to the airfield on Forster Island and then onto the west shore of the Susquehanna River. The sounds of the wagon was made up of creaking timbers, drumming wheels and a dull clank of the thick iron rings mounted to the walls. Instead of lulling him to doze, the noises grated on the edge of Ignatius’s nerves.
The sooner the wagon ride ended, the sooner Ignatius would allow himself to relax. Shortly after completing the crossing, Ignatius heard the shouted challenge from the fort’s gate. The wagon slowed to a halt. Winifred’s voice rose up seeking admittance. Before long, the rear door opened and a dozen soldiers stood milling about looking expectantly into the hold of the wagon. Ignatius climbed out and motioned for the Automatons to follow him.
Several soldiers gasped as the Automatons stepped down from the wagon, lamplight glinting off their metal carapaces. The few police and half a dozen soldiers carried Johnathan out of the wagon and into the courtyard. Ignatius, Angela and Wellsie stood off to one side with the machines. A minute later Colonel Witmore arrived, still fumbling with the buttons of his uniform blouse.
“What in the Hell is going on Ignatius?” he demanded.
Ignatius snorted, tired to the point of breaking, his back throbbing and aching where Mary had opened him up and frustrated with his own progress. Ignatius snapped back, “Winston is dead, lying in a bush at the old toy factory on Cameron. Something tore him to shreds. I must thank you for having me followed, because it turned out so well for everyone involved. What is it that you are not telling us?”
Colonel Witmore surveyed the assemblage of Automatons, their inventor, Ignatius and the rest. “What has happened? Forget about Winston, where’s Mary Kendall?”
“She was taken from us. I do not know where she might be,” said Ignatius.
“They hit us hard,” Wellsie said.
“Mary is gone?” asked Colonel Witmore. He pressed several fingers to his temple.
“You,” he said pointing at Ignatius, “follow me.” The Colonel’s voice did not leave any room for debate. Pausing for a moment, he looked at the other people. “Ms. Boas, Mr. Wells and Office Goodman, you may all go home. We do not require your presence any further this evening. Come with me this way, Mr. St. Eligius.”
Sanderson Witmore led Ignatius around a shed, to the base of the hill. A large pile of timber sat stacked neatly at the base of the steep grade. Colonel Witmore pushed gently on one log and the entire pile slid out of the way, revealing a rail track on the ground and an opening leading into the side of the hill. The soldier marched down the hallway. Hesitantly, Ignatius followed.
“This situation is getting out of hand, Ignatius,” the Colonel said.
“There is little I can do about it. I feel like I am being out-maneuvered at every turn.”
“That’s because you are. You need to clear your head and focus. I told you at the onset of this campaign that there are forces moving against the country. I thought you would be able to handle the issue by getting out ahead of it. So far, that hasn’t been the case. I’ve recalled Ms. Boas to Harrisburg, run interference with the Mayor’s office and kept a tight lid on everything else and still you fall behind.”
The Colonel spun the wheel on a thick steel door, much like those that hang on bank vaults. With a grunt of exertion, Sanderson pulled on the handle swinging the door wide open. Ignatius shuffled into the stark white room beyond the entranceway. Inside a plain table and pair of chairs stood in the middle of the room, underneath a hanging lamp. A booming thud announced the closing of the door.
“Sit down,” Colonel Sanderson ordered.
Ingatius sat in the closest chair, leaning his cane against his right thigh.
“What the Hell is wrong with you?” Sanderson said in a soft, intent voice. “You are supposed to be one of the most highly trained, intelligent and skillful agents. You are blowing around Harrisburg like a rank amateur. How could you have lost Mary?”
“Perhaps I am a bit out off of my game, having been imprisoned for several years. On the other hand, maybe, I am somewhat recalcitrant because of a lack of information. You may take your pick,” snarled Ignatius.
“Don’t try to play the victim here. You killed half a dozen citizens with a mechanized war machine, in the middle of the damn park! There was no way the Corps could step in and cover that up. You had to go to jail for your crime. As for the lack of information, what I know is ‘need-to-know’ and as of this moment, you don’t need to know.” Colonel Witmore stared hard at Ignatius; he sat down in the other chair and stroked his beard. “I could go on about how poorly everything was planned but that will not get us anywhere. Tell me what you do know about Mary’s kidnapping.”
“Elijah executed it with some street toughs he picked up somewhere. Probably on the Hill,” said Ignatius referring to the Allison Hill district. “Winston said he heard them say they were going to the airfield. That indicates they will be traveling by air.”
“I see. Well, you will be glad to know that I have had patrols in the air for the past three days now. There haven’t been any reports of them yet. However, they may have gone northwest from here. I will send some scouts, out that way. What are we supposed to do now?”
“This is your operation, Colonel,” Ingatius reminded him. “I am but a simple mushroom. Kept in the dark and fed a lot of shit.”
Sanderson narrowed his eyes, staring at Ignatius. “Do you have anything useful to contribute?”
“We have Johnathan and more than a few of his amazing Automatons. Why not capitalize on that?” Ignatius hesitated for a second, “well, once Mr. Fawkes has recovered a bit more,” Ignatius amended.
“What pray tell would you have us do with Mr. Fawkes?” asked Colonel Witmore.
“We need to isolate him for a while, give him a chance to rest and heal up a bit. Then you could start working on the Automatons. Figure out how and why they appear to be sentient. That is where I would begin.”
“I see. To what purpose should we study the machine-men? What possible use can they be to us?”
“Knowing how they work and think should lead to obvious applications. You could question Johnathan about the role that Mary played in the Automatons creation. It may explain why she was taken, and not him. We may find out what sort of projects she would be likely to work on.”
Colone Witmore preened his beard for a minute, regarding Ignatius with his muddy brown eyes. “That is probably the most interesting point you’ve raised. Why take her, instead of the man behind the machines. He has a larger knowledge of how they work and the mechanics behind them…”
“True, but I think I know why Mary was taken. Look at the work she did on Johnathan. She brought him back from the very precipice of death and augmented him with mechanical parts. The interfaces are so transparent; the automaton like parts might as well have come from the womb with him. When I first encountered S.V. during the war, he built a pack of man-machine hybrids, like Elijah. They were not as refined mind you.”
“The creatures he manufactured were incapable of speech or large amounts of rational thought. They operated mainly on instinct and fear. Elijah is more advanced, though still limited. We are talking evolutionary steps here. S.V. is transforming man into machine. He must want to build something that is capable of everything a human can do, in a machine’s framework. Mary can bring S.V.’s desires into reality. I would hazard a guess that the results would be more stable too.”
“I think you are correct. I knew that the manifesto recovered at your factory was his. It seems all too clear now, what his end game is. He wants to overthrow the government using his hybrids, setting himself up as the new dictator of the country. Who knows, he may even just turn it over to his former Confederate allies. I don’t need to tell you what that would mean for the country. The troops would be called up and we’d have another civil war on our hands.”
“I understand the ramifications. What can I do about it?”
“For now? Nothing. You’ll just have to wait, like the rest of us. When the scouts report with some actionable intelligence, then we can make plans. In the meanwhile, you’ll need to reacquaint yourself with this…” said Colonel Witmore, drawing a Beaumont-Adams revolver out of his jacket and laying it on the table.
“What is that?” asked Ignatius, dreading the answer.
“That is your chosen service pistol, according to our records. In fact it is your pistol.” The Colonel held up a hand, “Tut, tut. There’s no need to ask how it came to be here. Allow me a few secrets of my own.”
“My service record should make my position on guns fairly clear,” said Ignatius.
“Crystal clear, actually. It is just that the situation requires you to put aside your aversion and start carrying a firearm again. This is not a request. It is a direct order. There may come a time when it is necessary to take direct action in order to prevent further loss of life.”
Ignatius contemplated the Colonel’s bland face. He grunted and reached for the revolver, stopping just short of picking it up. “You mean it will be necessary to kill someone. It will be necessary because doing so will head off greater calamity. I would guess you mean Ms. Kendall. Her knowledge…”
“Her knowledge could allow a separatist madman access to the technology he needs to overturn this Government. Think well upon that. What is one life in the balance against that of a nation?”
“It ought to mean something more than nothing,” argued Ignatius. “A citizen’s life must be one of the most sacred things to a country.”
“Actually, its their Freedom. The Constitution decrees it, I help enforce it.”
“You would trade Mary’s life for an idea? You would have me, your puppet assassin, go out and murder her in cold blood to prevent a war? This, I shall remind you, would be fought over a difference of opinion.”
“And I will remind you that ten years ago this country was tearing itself apart, and doing a marvelous of a job at it, over ideas. I will not allow this great nation to be plunged back into that kind of Hell. If it takes a life, it takes a hundred. In the end, it is far better to lose a handful than the hundreds of thousands that might be lost in another civil war.”
“I suppose then the proper thing would be to take up a gun again, seeing as how it is a direct order.”
“That it would.”
Ignatius slid his hand under the revolver and scooped it up. He hefted it, reminding himself of the weight. With the movements of long practice, Ignatius flipped the cylinder out and dropped the bullets onto the table. The brass casings made a small, sad musical sound like mournful rain drumming on a tin roof as they bounced and skittered on the wood. With a flick of his wrist, Ignatius snapped the cylinder back in place and stood up, jamming the gun into his waistband.
“I will carry the gun, but I will never use it again. Your orders be dammed. I will not allow this country to slide back into war and I will find Mary. Rest assured Colonel, you give me a location and I will handle the situation. Now, open the damn door so I can go home.”
Slowly the Colonel rose out of his seat and crossed over to the massive door. Pressing a concealed panel, he used a steam engine propelled ram to open it instead of wasting the effort of manual labor.
“It is time to step up your level of active participation Mr. St. Eligius. Whether this country descends back into war may rest squarely on your shoulders and it will be up to you to make that final determination. I might’nt leave those bullets behind if I were you.”
Ignatius swept past the Colonel with a reproachful look. “If the situation warrants such drastic action have no doubt that I know where to find a few errant bullets.”
Pushing past the commanding officer of Fort Couch, Ignatius stormed down the hallway toward the open air, his cane tapping against the stone floor.