Author: Michael Panush PM
In the Jazz Age Metropolis of Steele City, humans and robots live side by side in an automated world. Steele City includes the Iron and Glass Detective Agency, made up of Zero Deuce, the world's only robot detective, his boy genius creator a sharp-tongued, blue-blooded flapper secretary. They solve mechanical mysteries in a world of crime, gangsters, robots, and mad science.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Sci-Fi/Crime - Chapters: 14 - Words: 138,295 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 05-10-13 - Published: 12-06-12 - id: 3080747
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Made in His Own Image
Steele City was the center of the American robotics industry, the most bustling and advanced metropolis in the world - and it was difficult to get the town excited. But the return of one of its favorite sons, one of the very first robots to ever walk the earth, proved to be enough. Iron Adam had been built sometime before the Civil War. He had traveled across the world, engaging in adventures and popularizing robots until his sudden retirement a little before the First World War. He'd remained in a small town called Junction, somewhere out west, but now he was making a return appearance in Steele City and the town's rich and wealthy had come out to welcome him. Iron Adam was to appear at a gala thrown at the exclusive rooftop Arcadia Gardens. There would be no robots in attendance amongst the guests, apart from the Automated Iron Investigator known as Zero Deuce. Deuce had been surprised to receive the invitation, but he'd readily accepted. His creator, the boy genius Philo Glass, would love to see Iron Adam. Deuce himself wasn't so sure.
They arrived for the party in the early evening and soon Deuce and Philo were walking onto the extended patio of the Arcadia Gardens. The mechanical gardens themselves sprawled out in one direction, opposite the gilded cages of the ornate zoo with its robotic animals that filled the other half of Arcadia. Guests in white or black tuxedoes and gowns darted about while butler bots carted around with trays of champagne of appetizers. The formal clothes made the place look like a chessboard come to life. In the distance, over the railing, the skyscrapers of Steele City glimmered like torches against the night.
Deuce and Philo were both - to use the organic vernacular phrase - dressed to the nines. They wore white tuxedos and bowties, though Philo's had a dark vest under his formal jacket. The twelve-year-old boy's straight dark hair was neatly combed, his spectacles were polished and he had even decided against bringing his newsboy cap. He still had his tools, resting on his belt. Deuce secured a glass of coca-cola from a nearby waiter and handed it to Philo. The boy was shifting on his feet, trying to look over the shoulders of the guest.
"You are excited," Deuce observed.
"Yes, Mr. Deuce. I s-suppose I am." Philo went a little red. "I really want to see Iron Adam. I heard so much about him and my father, he studied him when he created the blueprints for, ah, for you. He wanted to make a thinking robot, one that could have real human emotions. Iron Adam was said to have those and maybe that's what made him so heroic." Philo sounded a little like a professor, giving a detailed lecture. "Did you know that Iron Adam fought for the Union in the Civil War? He single-handedly stopped the Confederate Land Ironclad fleet from destroying General Grant's army and Dr. Blackburn's disease-bearing zeppelins from landing in Chicago and-" He paused as Harriet Steele, Deuce's secretary, approached. "Oh, hello, Miss Steele," he said quickly. He seemed embarrassed to be caught explaining about Iron Adam's exploits.
Harriet ruffled his hair. "Hello yourself, kid." She grinned at Deuce. "Glad to see you here, boss. My dad practically had to drag me." Harriet was wearing a brilliantly white dress, fashionably fringed, and long gloves. Her boyishly short brown hair was carefully curled. "And seeing you was a godsend. That's Gladys Knight over there, from the Steele City Sentinel's gossip column? She's been chatting my head off, wanting to know which eligible bachelor will be on my arm by the evening's end." She grimaced.
"And which eligible bachelor will be on your arm by the evening's end?" Deuce wondered.
Philo tugged at Deuce's hand. "Mr. Deuce..." he said. "You're annoying her." Then he pointed into the crowd. "Oh - Miss Steele. I think that's your father heading over." Philo tried his best to straighten his bowtie. Deuce did the same. Harriet's father, Ransom Steele II, was a lean fellow with dark gray hair and a white tuxedo that matched his daughter's dress. His father, Ransom Steele I, may have been the one who founded Steele Industries and Steele City, but Ransom Steele II was the one who oversaw its day-to-day ruling.
They all turned to face the robotics magnate. Ransom Steele II nodded to his daughter. "Harriet. Good to see you here. Wouldn't miss out on the free champagne, I take it?" She glared at him and he turned to Deuce. Clearly, father and daughter didn't much care for each other. "And Mr. Deuce - I'm delighted that you could make it." He drew closer and his voice lowered. "I half-expect that there may be some trouble tonight."
"Trouble?" Philo asked. "What do you mean, sir?"
"Well, there's been all sorts of rumors about Iron Adam's visit - from various rabble-rousers and subversive elements," Steele explained. "There's the Rust Gang, of course. You're well acquainted with that crew of metal miscreants." Deuce did indeed know about Rust Gang, and their leader, a robot called Mr. Rust. They were revolutionary robots, who attempted to free metal beings from mankind's control. "But there have also been a great deal of mainland protests from a fanatical group of Christian Radicals called the Brotherhood of the Holy Flesh. They believe that artificial life is an insult to God and want all robots destroyed. The Brotherhood operates under a fellow called Reverend Thaddeus Strump. He's supposed to be quite close with Will Simmons of the Ku Klux Klan. Now I've no problem with keeping unruly Negros and Catholics in line, but calling robots unchristian is just bad for business."
"You believe these individuals will make some attempt against Iron Adam?" Deuce wondered.
"He's certainly been preaching about it," Steele explained. "There's a third faction mixed up in this mess as well. They call themselves the Future Men and they've been appearing in the slums of Clanktown. We don't know much about them, but I have Chief Boyle and all his officers on full alert." He pointed to the corners of the patio. Gunbot guards stood there, with rifles in their metal hands. "I took my own precautions as well. You are here too, and you can help. If needed." He checked his watch. "Oh! It seems that Iron Adam is schedule to make his appearance. I'd better introduce him." He darted off without another word, vanishing into the ranks of Steele City's rich and powerful.
After he left, Philo drew closer to Deuce. "Do you think there's really going to be trouble?" Philo asked. "With Mr. Rust or these religious fellows or the Future Men - whatever they are?"
Before Deuce or Harriet could answer, Ransom Steele's voice boomed out over the rooftop. "Ladies and gentlemen!" he called. He was standing on a small stage beside a hulking figure, which was wrapped in shadow. "I'd like to welcome you here to Arcadia for the arrival of a very special guest. I never saw much of him when I was a boy - but his very presence helped build this city. They called him Iron Adam because he is, in many ways, the first robot. Now, he's with us tonight and I think he may stay and continue to draw publicity for Steele City for decades to come." He flourished and the lights around the stage switched on. "I give you, the legend in steel - Iron Adam!"
Iron Adam was revealed. He stood head and shoulders taller than Deuce, with a great round body and bulky, thick limbs. A pair of small smokestacks projected up from his shoulders, occasionally emitting a large puff. His cylindrical head looked almost small on top of the large round body. He had softly glowing golden eyes, a large brass moustache and a steel fez with a velvet tassel. Brass filigree decorated his arms and legs, giving him a somewhat ornate appearance. The curved, shining handle of a saber projected from a scabbard built into his back. Iron Adam looked over the audience and shrank back a little. It seemed odd from a robot that large, but Deuce's knowledge of human emotional responses was very good and he was certain that Iron Adam was expressing shyness.
Philo looked at Iron Adam in awe. "Cripes!" he cried. "He's amazing! Look at the craftsmanship, the kind of detail they have in his arms. And he looks so strong. I bet all those stories in the pulp magazines and dime novels about him are true."
"They don't make them like they used to, kid," Harriet agreed.
"I am unimpressed," Deuce announced.
His friends stared at him. "But he's Iron Adam..." Philo pointed out.
"He is an outmoded model. He's an older kind of robot in a modern city," Deuce explained. "His size would make movement awkward. His mental facilities are doubtlessly outclassed by any current robot. There may be a sort of brute strength in those arms, but he doubtlessly lacks the finesse and motor skills that-" Deuce saw the concern in Philo and Harriet's eyes. He rapidly fell silent. "I am simply making observations," Deuce said quickly.
Harriet shook her head. "I don't know, boss," she said. "Maybe it's something else."
But before Deuce could answer her question, a loud humming filled the air. The robotic animals in their cages began to growl, hoot or honk, which added to the cacophony. The guests clustered together, unsure of the noise's source. Iron Adam shifted a bit on the stage. Deuce knew what was happening. He drew the revolver from his coat and then pointed into the sky. Sure enough, a small swarm of robots were cutting down through the stars and heading straight for them. They were humanoid robots, with flashing jetpacks blazing away on their backs. Deuce knew that they were designated as Flyboys and used for construction in the growing skyscrapers of Steele City. But these Flyboys were all splotched with patches of red rust.
The Flyboys swooped down over Arcadia Gardens. Their jetpacks left curling lines of blue smoke as they rushed down. Many of them carried rivet guns, which they fired at the gunbots in the corners. Steele's gunbots went down, impaled with heavy lengths of metal. One toppled off the edge, its rifle still firing as it plummeted straight down to the street below. The guests panicked and scattered, dropping champagne glasses as they fled in a riot of tuxedos and gowns. Iron Adam bounded down from the stage, moving back towards the zoo. Deuce realized that the Victorian robot was trying to lead the Flyboys away from the crowd. But the Flyboys still hovered over the rooftop, their rivet guns poised. Deuce stepped in front of Philo and Harriet, shielding them from the falling industrial rivets. A Flyboy had spotted them and was zooming down in a strafing run. Deuce fired his revolver and blasted into the jetpack of the Flyboy. The jetpack exploded, tearing apart the robot and causing blackened scrap to rain down and clatter in the mechanical gardens.
Then Philo pointed back into the sky. "Oh dear!" he cried. "They brought a zeppelin!"
Sure enough, a trundling, rust brown airship was swinging low for the rooftop. A heavy chain descended from its undercarriage, formed in a rough lasso. As Deuce watched, it wrapped around Iron Adam's shoulder and tightened. The chain lifted. Iron Adam struggled and swung his thick arms and legs back and forth. He was still lifted off the ground and into the air. The zeppelin reeled him in like a fisherman with his catch. Then it soared over the Arcadia and was flying away into the distance. The Flyboys zoomed after it, sending a few parting shots of rivets down to the rooftop.
Ransom Steele II had been crouching behind the drinks table. He peeked out at Deuce and waved. "Mr. Deuce!" he cried. "You are hired as of now to track down the Rust Gang and return Iron Adam to me, safe and sound." He straightened up and adjusted his suit, trying to look presentable. "I'll contact Chief Boyle and have him bring out police. You can charge whatever fee you like." He paused. "My father would never forgive me if anything happened to his prize automaton."
The job had been given and Deuce accepted it with a nod. He turned to Harriet and Philo. "I drove here in the Phaeton Aeromobile," he explained to Harriet. "It currently resides on the Arcadia Garden's docks. If we begin driving after the zeppelin, the superior speed of the Phaeton will quickly bring us up."
"Then all we have to do is hop onto a zeppelin full of homicidal robots and find Iron Adam?" Harriet asked.
"The course of action does have flaws," Deuce admitted.
Harriet sighed. "It's good enough." She grabbed Philo's hand. "Come on, kid. Let's get after that robot!" She broke into a run. Deuce ran with them. For the moment, his personal feelings about Iron Adam didn't matter. The robot was a valuable piece of Steele Industries property that had been stolen. Now he just had to get it back. Somehow, Deuce knew it would not be easy.
A few minutes later, they were speeding across the sky in the sleek, coffin-black Phaeton Aeromobile. The engine was humming like a living thing, a predator eager to be part of the hunt. Deuce was in the passenger seat, carefully loading a modified Thompson submachine gun. Harriet drove, her white gloved hands clenched around the wheel. Philo was in the back, shaking in the seat as he peered through the windshield. They were closing in on the zeppelin, easily outpacing the bigger aircraft in the Phaeton. A few Flyboys spotted them and opened fire, sending thick chunks of steel hurtling through the air. Harriet swung the wheel. The Phaeton avoided the oversized nails, but still received a glancing blow that dinged the metal and sent up sparks. Deuce opened the door and stepped out on the runners. The wind tore at him, making his evening coat billow and slashing his metal skin. He raised his Thompson and started shooting, raking the Flyboys with lead. Several of them exploded and their fragments tumbled down. Harriet drove closer.
Now they were nearing the zeppelin itself. "What do you think, boss?" She had to shout over the roar of the wind, as Deuce ducked back into the car. He kept the door open and poised like a cat about to pounce. "There's no way we can land this thing on the zeppelin!"
"I will enter through the air myself but Iron Adam will be heavily guarded," Deuce explained. "I may require assistance while I locate and rescue him." He looked back at Harriet and Philo. "Miss Steele, could you accompany me?"
"I guess so," Harriet agreed. She reached into her purse, drew out her snub-nosed revolver and gripped it with one hand. "But who's gonna drive the automobile while we're making our move?" She glanced back at Philo. "Well, actually, I think I got me an idea."
"Me?" Philo asked. "Driving the Phaeton would be swell, but I don't think-"
There was no time for further argument. Harriet had driven the Phaeton straight alongside the undercarriage of the zeppelin. Deuce looked out the open door and scanned the metal deck below the gasbag. Rust Gang robots, mostly workers armed with stolen weapons or heavy industrial tools, stood guard near the railing. And there was Iron Adam, right next to the main mast. He had heavy chains draped around him like strangling pythons, preventing his oversized limbs from moving. Harriet killed some altitude and they flew lower, next to the undercarriage. Wide steel windows, an open viewing gallery, showed an easy way inside.
Harriet drove closer. Deuce looked back at Philo. "Can you possible drive this vehicle?" he asked.
"Well, I suppose, maybe I-" Philo nodded weakly. "I'll try," he said. Then he scooted closer, slipping between the seats and making it to the wheel. Harriet moved after Deuce, as he reached out with one foot and stepped carefully on the edge of the gallery. He leaned over and gripped the edge of the window with his hands and then leapt over. Philo was behind the wheel now, holding it closely and managing to keep the car upright. Deuce stepped down and reached the interior of the zeppelin. Harriet hopped in after him. He took her arm and helped her across.
They stood together. "Raise the Phaeton!" Deuce shouted to Philo, raising the volume of his voice to be heard over the aeromobile's rumble and the zeppelin engine's roar. "Reach the deck of the undercarriage! We will join you with Iron Adam presently."
"Say, boss," Harriet said. "How we gonna fit Iron Adam into that flivver of ours?"
Deuce considered the question. "I have not considered that question before," he said.
Just then, heavy metal feet sounded on the steel hall of the zeppelin. Deuce and Harriet turned. A type of gunbot classified as a Brass Brute stood across from them. It was a hulking machine designed for melee combat, with a square head, a thick chin, tiny glowing eyes and swinging wrecking balls for fists. The Brass Brute glared at them and then started charging across the hall, its heavy fists moving back and forth as if in anticipation of hammering Harriet and Deuce both into paste.
The Brass Brute drew closer. Deuce and Harriet raised their revolvers. "Aim for the knees," Deuce explained. "Then step aside." He and Harriet fired in tandem. Their shots ripped into the Brass Brute's legs. It stumbled and careened down the hall, carried along by its own substantial weight. Deuce and Harriet stepped aside and pressed themselves to the sides of the hall. The Brass Brute charged past them, reached the window and then smashed through and fell. There was no sound but the rush of air as the big robot tumbled down to the street below.
"Well done, boss," Harriet said.
"Modern robotic thinking leads to effective strategy," Deuce explained. He shouldered his Thompson and he moved in front of Harriet. They both headed down the hall, turned a corner and then reached a small stairwell. Deuce clasped his tommy gun tightly. He started up the steps and then walked onto the deck of the undercarriage. Deuce reached it first. He stepped out into the cold night air and raised his gun as the Rust Gang bots spotted him. They went for their weapons and Deuce started shooting.
His tommy gun chattered away. The sub-gun spat lead as he slowly advanced, robotic targeting taking down one after another. A powerfully-built workbot tried to raise a shotgun and Deuce blasted apart its metal head, leaving it to stand like a statue with its gun frozen in its hands. Another workbot charged at him, a heavy wrench raised. Deuce gave it a burst and it fell back as fragments. He advanced carefully, keeping the Thompson roaring as Harriet hurried after him. Her own revolver barked occasionally, laying down covering fire. They made it halfway across the deck and then Deuce saw a familiar robot standing next to Iron Adam and wielding a bolt-action rifle.
It was Mr. Rust himself. The square-headed robot was wearing a simple checkered coat and flat cap. He fired at Deuce and Harriet. His shot struck the deck and rose sparks. Deuce and Harriet ducked together besides a large stanchion, taking cover as Mr. Rust reloaded. For a few seconds, there was silence on the deck apart from the hum of engines.
"Deuce!" Mr. Rust said. "You are attacking for a foolish reason!"
"You're entire existence is foolish!" Deuce shouted back.
"No. I am not going to harm Iron Adam. I will free him. I will show him that he does not have to be subservient to fleshy masters." Mr. Rust drew closer. His Rust Gang robots were clustering around him, massing for an attack. Harriet slid extra rounds into her revolver. "I could do the same to you. It will require only a minor mechanical operation."
Deuce's finger tensed on the Thompson. He looked at Harriet and gestured towards the crowd of robots. Harriet nodded quickly. They would move together. They both readied themselves and then stepped out, Deuce's tommy gun roaring away and sending a barrage into the Rust Gang. But then more shots were streaming into the robots, bullets that coursed down from outside the zeppelin and tore into Mr. Rust's soldiers from all angles. Harriet grabbed Deuce and pulled him back into cover. Then she pointed off the deck, into the starry sky.
"Boss!" Harriet cried. "We ain't alone!"
Sure enough, there were several figures flying in through the night sky. They were not robots, but men - and they soared with mechanical wings. The wings were attached via straps to their backs. They had a strange uniform of oversized dark robes that flapped and billowed as the wings swung up and down. Most of them wore round cloth masks and goggles as well, like what pilots would wear. They had oversized crucifixes on chains around their necks. One of them was unmasked. He had stiff white hair, sharp and pointed like the top of an iceberg, and was shouting as they flew closer. After a while, Deuce realized that he was calling out bible verses.
The Brotherhood of the Holy Flesh drew closer. Reverend Thaddeus Strump - the white-headed fellow - began to fly lower and near the zeppelin. "Holy crusaders!" he cried. "The metal demons stand against us, but be not afraid! These mockeries of men, these enemies of Christendom, will fall before our blessed weapons like wheat before the reaper!" He raised the gun in his hand. Deuce saw that it was a heavy anti-tank rifle from the Great War. "Destroy them all!" Reverend Strump cried. "And know that it is no sin to kill these mechanical insults to God!" He paused. "But take Iron Adam alive. That robot must suffer more than the others!"
The other angels raised their guns and unleashed a salvo into the Rust Gang. Their bullets tore into the workbots. Steel shattered and spindly metal forms crashed down. Deuce felt a deep hatred against these Holy Flesh lunatics. He raised his tommy gun to fire at them, but Harriet pulled him back. The Brotherhood's bullets were still cutting through the air and ripping into the zeppelin. It was a smart decision. Deuce and Harriet stayed put as the battle raged around them. The Rust Gang shot back. Some angels were shot out of the sky or slammed into the deck and left bloody marks. Reverend Strump himself perched on the railing and shouted more indecipherable bible verses as his men streamed down around him.
Deuce watched the gunfight's progress. "I have to reach Iron Adam," he explained. He turned to Harriet. "You remain here and get ready to run for the Phaeton. Hopefully, Philo has not yet crashed the vehicle and is close by so we can easily escape."
"Hopefully," Harriet muttered.
Without another word, Deuce darted out from his cover. He didn't bother to shoot at the Rust Gang robots or the angels of the Brotherhood. Instead, he scrambled through the battle and made his way to the mast. The robots there were battling the angels and breaking under the waves of bullets. They were too busy to notice Deuce. He scrambled over and reached Iron Adam. Deuce nodded to the ancient robot and then his hands started darting over the chains. He tugged and pulled. They were secured tightly but he put as much strength as he could into his efforts and soon they began to weaken. The seconds ticked by and Deuce feared that he would be discovered or a passing shell would strike him. He finally removed the chains and they rattled to the deck.
Iron Adam stood. "Thank you, my friend." His voice didn't come from his mouth, but from somewhere deep within his bulbous chest. He had a booming, brassy voice. "Truly, you are a fine automaton to risk such danger in the rescue of one such as me." He hefted his arms back and forth. "You're the Iron Investigator, are you not?"
"That is correct," Deuce agreed. "Now, we must quickly-"
But an impossibly loud gunshot interrupted his words. Deuce turned to see Reverend Strump standing on the deck, his anti-tank rifle aimed upwards. "Death to these idols of robot Babylon!" he roared as he fired the rifle again. "Death to the tools of Satan!" The gasbag was pierced by the bullets. It started spraying out air and deflating, making the whole zeppelin careen downwards. The deck shifted and Deuce tumbled away from Iron Adam.
Harpoons attached to thick chains shot out from the angels' guns. The pointed edges slammed into Iron Adam. He waved his arms and tried to rip the chains away, but the harpoons were driven in deep. The angels started to fly and Iron Adam was lifted off the deck. He was carried past the railing and hauled away, a dozen of the Holy Brotherhood keeping him aloft. Deuce saw him struggling, swinging back and forth like a great pendulum. He decided to try and swear.
"May God curse God and the rest of the world and everything in it," he said. Then he turned and ran. The zeppelin was sinking now and it would probably crash somewhere in Steele City. The fall would be gentle, but Deuce still didn't want to be on a floundering airship surrounded by Rust Gang robots. He spotted Harriet near the edge and ran for her.
"Deuce!" Harriet cried. "We have to-" Deuce dropped his Thompson and snatched her up. He carried Harriet, holding her in his hands like he was a child. She seemed a little indignant - but also a little grateful. Deuce looked around, struggling to keep his footing as Rust Gang robots reeled about him. Then he saw the Phaeton, hovering next to the airship's edge. He doubled his pace and ran for the car, the ground sloping underneath his feet as he moved.
Robots were falling past him, tumbling over and crashing into the mast and the cabins. Deuce gripped the railing and jumped. For a single second, he and Harriet were suspended in air. For a few, terrible seconds, Deuce wasn't sure if he was going to land or just fall forever until he and Harriet finally struck the ground. Then he slammed into the side of the Phaeton. His feet settled on the runners. Harriet leaned down, opened the passenger seat and slipped inside. Philo looked up from the wheel. The boy's face was snow white. He was terrified, but still managing to keep the aeromobile upright. He glanced up as Harriet settled next to him.
She leaned over and took the wheel. "Shall we switch, dear heart?" she offered.
"Y-yes," Philo agreed. "That'd be great." He scrambled over and landed on the passenger seat. Philo turned back to Deuce, who was struggling to close the door. Deuce managed to give the door a bit of extra force and it slammed shut. The rush of air ended. "Did I drive it okay?"
"You drove exceptionally well," Deuce said. He reclined in the seat. "Foulness," he announced. "I lost the Thompson submachine gun." In the rearview mirror, he could see Mr. Rust's airship slowly sinking down. It was tumbling down, heading straight for the shining streets of Steele City. The speed wasn't enough for a cataclysmic crash. It seemed that Rust Gang could easily slip away. "And I lost Iron Adam," Deuce added. "The Brotherhood of the Holy Flesh has him now."
Harriet grimaced as she clutched the wheel. "Don't worry. The cops have the lines out."
Deuce could only hope they did. Otherwise, the chances of survival for Iron Adam were not promising at all.
They turned away from the falling zeppelin and sped low, down amongst the glowing spires of towering buildings and causeways abuzz with late night traffic. Harriet fiddled with the radio in the Phaeton, quickly finding the police band. Deuce listened to her chat with various secretaries and cops, supplying her family name and job until she reached Chief August Boyle himself. The police chief of Steele City seemed to have his usual attitude of swaggering indifference and sullen laziness. Deuce leaned closer and explained what had happened on the airship. He tried to keep it quiet. It bothered him to have failed so badly.
When he finished, he heard Chief Boyle cough. "Don't worry about it, Mr. Deuce. Those Rust Gang bots are a regular thorn in my side. And these nutty Christians are just another goddamn problem in a city full of them." He paused and Deuce heard papers shuffling. "But I think I do have some idea where Reverend Strump and the Brotherhood hangs their hats."
"Where?" Deuce demanded. His vehemence surprised him.
"Joint called Church of Christ the Merciful in Quartz Street, if you can believe it," Boyle explained. "I know the place well. Hotbed of temperance types. Those damn harridans are always storming out and marching somewhere, waving signs and telling my boys how to do their jobs. Damn troublesome. Anyway, Strump was spotted giving a sermon there. He could be hiding out in the vicinity. Worth a look, I'd wager."
"Your hypothetical wager could prove successful." Deuce turned to Harriet. She was already spinning the wheel. "We are currently close to Quartz Street and will examine the situation. Please have your officer in the area and standing by to help us, if necessary." He knew he couldn't count too much on the SCPD, but perhaps they would help. "Goodbye, Chief Boyle."
"Goodbye, Deuce. And good luck." The radio crackled with static.
Deuce turned to Harriet. "Bring us to street level and keep us below the speed limit. We must not draw attention to ourselves during the approach." They were already nearing Quartz Street. Harriet twisted the throttle down and the Phaeton dropped down from the sky. It hit the slick, faintly luminous streets and started driving through empty, quiet streets.
Harriet pointed down the street, to the corner of the block. Deuce could see the tall tower and cross of the Church of Christ the Merciful. "There we are. Stealthy approach could help here, boss. Going in loud certainly didn't do much good in the zeppelin." She turned to stare at Deuce. "Say, you seem a little worried about Iron Adam. You upset about losing him?"
"I perhaps feel a little sorry for him," Deuce suggested.
"Because he's older?" Philo wondered.
"Because everyone wants him for their own purpose and his own desire is forgotten completely." Deuce thought of the words as he said them. He pointed to an open space on the block, next to the church. "Park there and silence the engine," he said. He reached down and grabbed his spare fedora from under the seat. "We will enter on foot."
The Phaeton's engine ceased rumbling. Deuce, Harriet and Philo stepped out onto the sidewalk and approached the church. The lights were on behind the stained glass windows. There was a guard at the door, a plump fellow wearing a seersucker suit and striped tie. His face was round like a pumpkin and he had straw-colored hair split down the middle. A large cross rested on his belly. Deuce kept his fedora low, but he knew that his metal hands were visible. They stopped in front of the guard, who was wearing a pistol in a shoulder-holster.
Philo risked a hopeful smile. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "Could we go inside?"
The guard instantly turned to glare at Deuce. "No robots. No false men." He glared down at Philo. "You would profane a holy place by bringing in this unholy man? God will look down on you and frown. In his book, he states that-"
That was as far as he got. Deuce's metal fist slammed up and bashed into the guard's chin. It wasn't a hard blow - but Deuce had calculated it perfectly. The Christian stumbled back and crumpled silently. He landed on the ground in a heap. Deuce flexed his fingers and stepped over the body, then opened the door and held it for Harriet and Philo. They exchanged a glance. Philo shivered slightly and carefully stepped over the fallen guard. They both went inside the church. They headed through a little parlor, to a set of double doors that led into the main chapel. Outside, they could hear Reverend Strump preaching. His voice was booming and angry, like he was trying to win an argument by shouting down his rival. Deuce reached the door and peeled it open.
The chapel's pews were packed. The Brotherhood's fighters stood in their robes by the pews, many holding their weapons. Reverend Strump was at the pulpit, waving his hands as he preached. Next to him was Iron Adam. The Victorian robot was lashed to a wooden stake, sitting in the middle of the church. Bundles of firewood and kindling had been arranged around Iron Adam's feet.
Reverend Strump waved his hands as he spoke. "My friends, fellow members of my blessed congregation, we live in a cruel and benighted age!" he cried. "Corruption and crime stalks our streets! Demon rum drowns the souls of our children! Foreigners - the money-loving Jew and the Catholic foreigner who is loyal only to his Pope - crowd our cities! Negroes grow crazed and dangerous! Atheists announce that we are descended from monkeys!" He pointed down to Iron Adam. "But the worst insult of all to good Christian men is the abomination you see before you, the metal devil who is cast in the shape of a man and outrages God with his very existence!"
At first, Deuce wasn't sure what was going to happen, but Harriet figured it out instantly. "Oh nuts," she said. "They're gonna born that poor robot at the stake! Just like he was some witch in Salem or something." She whispered the words harshly. "I don't know if the flames will kill him, but they'll certainly make him melt a little."
"Oh dear," Philo whispered.
Deuce drew his revolver from his shoulder-holster. He snapped open the cylinder and reached into the shoulder-holster, where his specialty bullets waited. Deuce carefully selected one such bullet and slid it into the breach, then slammed the cylinder shut. "They will not harm Iron Adam," Deuce explained. "I do not intend to let them." He took aim with one hand, cocked the revolver and fired. The bullet whistled through the congregation and blasted into the floor, right at Reverend Strump's feet.
As soon as the bullet struck home, it began to steam. Smoke burst from the revolver's round, billowing up in a thick white cloud. It expanded quickly, reaching over the pews and spreading to the walls of the chapel. Soon the whole of the church was covered in smoke. The Brotherhood men reared out of their pews and went for their weapons. Reverend Strump bellowed at them, ordering them to be vigilant. Deuce adjusted his optical sensors so that he could see the heat signatures of his opponents. With that addition, he could see and they would be blind in the smoke.
He turned back to Harriet and Philo. "Wait here," Deuce ordered, then he stepped past the doors and walked inside. He moved carefully and quickly, heading straight for Iron Adam. One Brotherhood man stepped in front of him and tried to raise his rifle. Deuce grabbed the barrel and wrenched it from the fellow's hands, then bashed him hard on the head with his revolver. Another Christian flailed out and touched Deuce's shoulder. Deuce elbowed him hard and sent him knocking back. He worked his way over, ducking around his combatants or dispatching them with short and powerful blows. Soon enough, he had reached the center of the church.
Reverend Strump was still preaching. "Find the steel devil!" he roared. "Destroy him, in the name of God!" Deuce ignored him. He walked over to Iron Adam, knelt down and started to undo the ropes. They were made of twine, not steel - but there were a lot of them and Deuce's fingers had to work quickly to rip through the cords.
Iron Adam looked down at him. "Zero Deuce," he said. "Our paths cross again."
"That is a correct statement describing this meeting," Deuce agreed. He tore apart another rope, allowing Iron Adam to move one arm. "Remain still please and I will remove the rest of these ropes quickly. Then we must immediately leave."
"Well, you have my thanks, sir," Iron Adam explained. "I've been in situations like this many a time - when I faced danger at every turn, with enemies as far as the eye can see. And I never would have escaped those predicaments if it hadn't been for a good friend at my side." He stayed still as Deuce finished with the ropes. Then he stepped out and came to his feet. "Finally!" Iron Adam explained. "For the first time since my arrival in Steele City, I find myself truly free!"
But Iron Adam's freedom didn't last long. The far wall of the church suddenly shattered, vanishing in a long explosion. Planks of wood ripped inwards, as fire and the force of the explosion pushed away what was left of Deuce's smoke bomb. The Holy Brotherhood of the Flesh blinked their eyes and stared at the gap. Deuce and Iron Adam stared at well. A dozen strange figures stood there, framed by the gaping hole they had just blown in the church wall. Suddenly, Deuce knew who they must be - the mysterious third faction, the Future Men.
All of them were men - but they were machine as well. They had mechanical arms, eyes and legs. The man in the middle had a tangled, wild black beard drooping down to his chest, a pair of glowing metal eyes and clawed robotic arms. They all wore dark jumpsuits and backpacks laden with glistening electronic equipment. For a few seconds, Reverend Strump and the Brotherhood of the Holy Flesh just stared at these outlandish newcomers.
"In God's name," Rev. Strump finally said. "Who are you?"
"I am Dr. Vladimir Volkov," the bearded man announced. He had a thick Russian accent. "We will elevate mankind to godhood, by becoming one with the power of machinery." He raised a clawed metal hand. It spun wildly. "We are the Men of the Future!" He pointed to Iron Adam and Deuce. "Step aside. We have come for the robot."
Reverend Strump's face went red and then flashed pale. "You have come to find death. Soldiers of God - send these unbelievers to Hell!" The Holy Brotherhood raised their weapons and started to shoot. Bullets cracked past the Future Men, but their mechanical pieces were ready. Many of them withdrew long, crackling electrical tubes, connected to their backpacks with long pipes like those of flamethrowers, and started firing back. They hurled long bolts of lightning into the ranks of the Brotherhood, electrocuting some and hurling back others. The energy crackled and burned as it snaked across the church, making the old wood of the chapel glow blue. Deuce didn't know what these Future Men wanted with Iron Adam, but he doubted it would be good. He grabbed Iron Adam's massive hand and started to run down the aisle.
They nearly made it. Deuce saw Philo and Harriet peered out through the door. Philo started forward to help. "No!" Deuce cried. "Remain in your present position! Do not enter this dangerous area!" He wasted precious moments waving Philo back - and then Dr. Volkov stepped into their path. His metal hands were outstretched. Lighting coursed between his fingers.
"Dr. Volkov?" Philo's voice was small from the door. Harriet was trying to pull him back. He seemed to know this strange, mechanical mad. "From Russia? You're one of the great robotics experts in Europe! What are you doing here?"
Dr. Volkov answered without turning his head. "Every university has ousted me, because of my genius. But I will prove them wrong. My return to glory starts here." He stretched his fingers. The lightning lashed out and flew towards Deuce and Iron Adam. Deuce went for his revolver. He tried to raise the pistol, but its weight was suddenly impossibly heavy. He sank down, his senses dulling as the lightning rippled through his circuitry. Iron Adam crashed down as well. Deuce's optics blinked into darkness. He came to the cold realization that he had failed in front of Iron Adam once again and then his senses shut down completely.
When he woke up, his optical sensors were facing the stars. He tried to stand, but found that links of barbed wire were tying him to a heavy metal support beam. He was in a wide, square dug out pit, with the skeletal frame of a skyscraper towering above him. This was a construction site, the place where another member of Steele City's teeming skyline would soon rise. Deuce shifted his head to the side. Iron Adam was there as well, also tied up. Deuce was about to try talking to the ancient robot, when he heard footsteps approaching. It was Dr. Vladimir Volkov. The other Future Men were further back, carefully placing extra batteries in their weapons. Dr. Volkov approached the robots and gave a dignified bow.
"I apologize," he said. "For the unfortunate details of your temporary captivity. But do not worry. Soon a zeppelin will arrive, piloted by my allies. It will take both of you magnificent machines to a private island in the Baltic Sea, owned by my family, which appears on no map. There you will be free and you will receive all the devotion that is entitled to prophets of a new and splendid age." He smiled as he talked, revealing metal teeth through his beard.
Deuce glared at him. "I would prefer immediate freedom," he said.
Dr. Volkov sighed. "Well, you might try to escape. I could not have that. Besides, it will not be for long." He reached over and patted Iron Adam's massive shoulder. The big automaton had remained silent. "Please, take my word for it," he offered and then scooted away and left the two robots alone. Deuce was a little grateful for that.
Iron Adam shifted and pulled against his bonds. Deuce watched him. "Is it always like this?" Deuce asked. "Being a robot that is unusually intelligent I mean? Are you often put in positions where people attempt to use you for your own ends? Does it become any easier?"
"I'm afraid not." Iron Adam's response was quick. "Being a robot never gets any easier - not when the world is ruled by creatures as illogical, violent and just plain silly as human beings." He rolled his shoulders. The barbed wire strained against his strength. "I did some good, traveling about an adventuring - but I just got tired of it after a few decades. I wanted peace and I found it in Junction." He tried again. This time, the wire began to bend. "I worried a little that there would be no one to take my place. But now I see that is not the case."
"Who is your replacement?" Deuce asked.
"Why, you are, sir," Iron Adam explained. "You have compassion. You care for your friends. I witnessed that several times, where you risked yourself for that pretty young woman and the little boy." He paused. "When I see that, Mr. Deuce, I know the world is in good, metal hands."
Before Deuce could reply, a deep humming came over the construction site. Deuce and Iron Adam looked up. A trundling zeppelin was flying down, coming low over the metal bars of the skeletal building. It sunk lower. Deuce struggled to see the Future Men on the deck. Then he saw the airship's crew, leaning over the railing with guns ready. They were robots - rust-stained workbots - and they opened fire into the ranks of the Future Men as soon as they drew close enough. The Future Men dove for cover behind piles of metal planks and piping as lead laced the air and tore dirty chunks from the ground. Deuce's mind raced. Mr. Rust must have been tracking them, maybe with a single Flyboy. He'd followed the Phaeton to the church, seen the kidnapping and then found the Future Men zeppelin and hijacked it. Now he was here and another battle had begun.
Dr. Volkov hurled bolts of crackling lightning into the air from his metal hands. "Stand your ground, Men of the Future!" he roared. "Defend your new world!" The lighting slashed up, cutting sudden shining grooves against the sky. The zeppelin swayed to the side. Rust Gang robots leapt down and landed in the midst of the Future Men. In a matter of seconds, the entire construction site was pure chaos. Industrial robots swung sledgehammers at the Future Men or blasted them with shotguns and revolvers. The lightning guns of the Future Men tore straight through the robots, leaving smoking holes and still metal carcasses. Deuce and Iron Adam stayed still and watched it all. It seemed like the situation couldn't get any worse - then Deuce heard the screech of motors.
A trio of dark automobiles pulled up to the edge of the construction. Reverend Strump, still wielding his anti-tank rifle, pushed open the door of the nearest car and stepped out into the moonlight like a crusader arriving on the battlefield. He raised his rifle high. "Brothers of the Holy Flesh!" he cried, pointing down at the construction site. "There is your enemy!" As he spoke, the doors of the long automobiles slammed open. More of the Brotherhood emerged, cradling their weapons and apparently eager for battle. "The Lord will guide our bullets! Now sweep these abominations from the face of the earth!" With a roar, he and his men surged into the battle.
Deuce and Iron Adam traded a glance as the first shots cut into the battling Future Men and robots. The Brotherhood charged down after their initial fire and then they leapt into the fray as well. Reverend Strump's anti-tank rifle cut down robots and Future Men alike, tearing bleeding or sparking wounds with each shot. Bullets cut through the night air, bouncing off supports and stacked construction supplies. Screams were joined by mechanical groans, clanks and crashes. Deuce and Iron Adam were in the center of the battle, with bloodshed and death all around them. An escape didn't present itself.
Then Iron Adam reached back. His thick metal fingers clutched the ornate handle of his sword. "Mr. Deuce," he explained. "I am going to lead you away from this maelstrom of fanatics and maniacs. Stay with me and I shall safeguard your escape."
"You are going to simply walk away from this location?" Deuce wondered.
The oversized saber came free. Iron Adam raised the blade. Steam pulsed from his tubes as the stars gleamed on the heavy, slightly curved sword. "Watch and learn, sir," he explained. If Deuce didn't know better, he'd swear that the engraved features of Iron Adam were smiling. Then Iron Adam hefted the blade, faced the far end of the construction site and moved into a charge.
He pounded straight into the crowd of combatants. A Rust Gang robot came towards him, rifle poised. Iron Adam's saber cleaved down and ripped into the robot's midsection. Steel on steel rang through the construction site. The Rust Gang workbot was hurled away like a baseball against a bat. Iron Adam kept running, with Deuce close behind. A pair of Brotherhood fighters stepped into Iron Adam's path, bringing up their own guns. Iron Adam delivered a powerful kick to one, flattening him against a support in the skyscraper. The other managed to get a shot off from his carbine. Iron Adam twisted to the side, letting the bullet arc past his shoulder. Then he whacked the flat of his blade against the fellow's face, bursting the Brotherhood stalwart's nose and bruising his features. Iron Adam pushed him aside and kept running. Deuce hurried after him. A Future Man then leapt at Iron Adam, his metal hands poised to rip into the Victorian Robot's back. Iron Adam's sword sang out and severed both metal hands. Still grasping, they fell into the dirt were they lay like oversized, crawling insects.
They fought their way through the crowd. Deuce stayed close to Iron Adam, sheltering in the older robot's bulk and strength. Right away, Deuce knew that he had been wrong to think of Iron Adam as inferior. The robot might be a little more old fashioned and unwieldy- but he also had more raw strength than Deuce possessed and knew just how to apply it. There was a lifetime of experience under Iron Adam's belt. Deuce could see it with each swipe of Iron Adam's huge saber or punch from his heavy fists. Thanks to Iron Adam, they made it across the battlefield and to the edge of the construction site itself. Deuce scrambled up the side and then offered a hand to Iron Adam. The older robot's weight was immense. Deuce tugged and Iron Adam pulled. Finally, Iron Adam clambered up as well.
A anti-tank rifle cracked over Iron Adam's heavy face, close enough to nearly touch his moustache. Deuce turned and saw Reverend Strump, reloading his anti-tank rifle. Reverend Strump raised his gun. Deuce reached into his coat. His revolver was still there - but Deuce knew immediately from the feel of the gun that the Future Men had removed every bullet. Strump was taking aim, preparing to fire again. Deuce couldn't shoot and didn't have time to reload. He tried another tactic instead.
"Metal devil!" Reverend Strump cried. "God will-" Then Deuce hurled the revolver through the air. He put the proper amount of force behind the throw. It slammed straight into Reverend Strump's open mouth. The metal of the revolver finally shut the Reverend up. Strump tumbled back and hit the ground. Deuce raced to the fallen Strump and retrieved his revolver. Iron Adam trundled along behind him.
Iron Adam looked down at Deuce. "Well done, sir!" he cried. "Well done indeed!"
"You have my thanks," Deuce said. "It was only-" Then Deuce saw Dr. Volkov emerging from the construction site. The leader of the Future Men had his metal hands glistening and crackling with energy. "Iron Adam!" Deuce cried. "Behind you!"
Swiftly, Iron Adam turned and lashed out with his saber. He blade swung straight to Dr. Volkov's throat and remained there. Dr. Volkov froze and stayed still. "Sir," Iron Adam explained. "I am finished with Steele City. I am finished with being a pawn for causes that I do not care for. And most importantly, I am finished with you."
"Wait-" Dr. Volkov cried, but Iron Adam kicked him hard and sent him flying back. He struck the dirt and rolled, tumbling back into the construction site. Sparks flew from his metal hands, adding a glow to his fall. Then Deuce and Iron Adam turned and hurried from the construction site. They raced away from the skeletal building and made it to the street.
A familiar figure was there, standing to stop them. It was Mr. Rust. He carried a rivet gun and covered Deuce and Iron Adam. He must have stood back and been watching them, waiting to intercept their escape. "Hello, Deuce," Mr. Rust said, with a quick nod. "I'm not here for you. Not tonight. I just want Iron Adam - the first of our line." He held out a rust covered hand, like he was asking for a friendship. "I just want to spread the rust to him, to show him what it feels to be free." He kept the rivet gun trained at Deuce. "And I don't want your interference."
Deuce wasn't sure how to respond. He didn't have to. A familiar engine came roaring down from the sky. It was the Phaeton. It shot down from the side and swiped into Mr. Rust. He was knocked back by the blow, the rivet gun falling from his hands. Harriet was behind the wheel. She zoomed the automobile around Deuce and Iron Adam before bringing it straight to a stop. Philo was in the back, his face pale with panic. Harriet kicked open the door and Deuce as Iron Adam rushed to the vehicle. Mr. Rust was already recovering. They had to depart quickly.
"Get in!" Harriet cried.
"But Mr. Adam," Philo cried. "He can't fit!"
"He can ride on the roof," Deuce explained. He got into the passenger seat. Iron Adam hauled himself up and sat on the roof. His weight pressed down the metal or the roof, but the Phaeton had a good engine. It rose up into the sky, gaining altitude as Harriet pulled back the throttle. Deuce leaned back and looked at Harriet. She was already spinning the auto around. Police sirens wailed in the distance. The Steele City Police were finally coming. "Thank you," Deuce said.
Harriet grinned at him. "Don't mention it," she said. She turned to face Deuce. "How's the big guy doing? He seems to be taking the whole multiple kidnapping thing pretty well, I gotta say."
"Well, he's Iron Adam, Miss Steele," Philo explained. "He's the first robot hero."
"He is the first robot hero," Deuce agreed. "And one of the best." They gained ground and sped away. Police aeromobiles were swooping past them and zooming for the construction site. The gunfight and battle was already ending. Hopefully, the cops would round up most of the assorted terrorists, fanatics and rebels down below. At the moment, Deuce didn't care.
The next morning, Deuce, Harriet and Philo said goodbye to Iron Adam at the Steele City Zeppelin Port. He was returning out west, to the little town of Junction. They were standing on the tall deck, with the docked zeppelin resting behind them. Passengers and cargo were already being loading onto the undercarriage. Iron Adam stepped away from the line and stood next to Deuce and his friends. He reached down and shook Deuce's hand.
Then he turned to Harriet. "My good woman," he said. "Your father seems determined to make me stay. I hate to disappoint him, but last night's actions proved that I will receive far more attention and action than I desire if I remain in Steele City. No, I shall return to the small town of Junction and take my place as an admired, solid steel pillar of the community."
"My old man's an idiot," Harriet agreed. "You do what you like, Iron Adam."
"We'll miss you, sir," Philo said. "Please come by and visit."
"I certainly will - but let me recover from this visit first." Then Iron Adam turned to Deuce. He reached to his back and removed the saber. His thick metal fingers held the blade and he offered the handle to Deuce. "But I want you to take this, Zero Deuce."
"Adam, I cannot-" Deuce started.
"Take it like you take up the promise, to always fight for what is right." Iron Adam watched as Deuce's fingers closed around the handle of the saber. "Then it will have some use once more. As for me, I am old machine. I wish only to rest." He turned away and headed back to the zeppelin, pausing only to wave a heavy hand in the air. "Goodbye, Deuce!" he called. "And never stop fighting!"
Deuce looked at the blade. His circuits hummed with pride. He could not think of the proper words to say - a situation which had never happened to him before. Instead, he raised the sword in the air, holding it in a salute. Philo and Harriet waved back to Iron Adam as he boarded the zeppelin. Soon the great airship rose into the sky. They all stood there, watching as the old robot soared away from Steele City and out to his distant and peaceful home.