The Great Junction Bank Robbery

Michael Panush

They rode down the broad strip of dust that passed for the main street of Junction, Texas - Bartholomew Brass first on an old sorrel mare before an old buckboard wagon pulled by a team of mules. Bartholomew Brass - Bat to his friends - twisted his head around to look at the wagon and the girl holding the reins. Just thirteen-years-old, Ivy Armstrong had dark hair in a set of long, perfunctory braids and wore a black pea coat over her dress. You wouldn't know it to look at her but Ivy was one of the greatest inventors and engineers in the world. There was only one who could possibly have been better - Dr. Josiah Gridley, the man who built Brass himself. Dr. Gridley have given Brass a stocky metal torso and slim limbs, along with a red head and a pair of electric glass eyes, featureless apart from a polished brass moustache. Brass had clothed himself in a dark suit, tie and matching waistcoat, with specially designed revolvers on his hip. One of the most sophisticated automatons and one of the greatest inventors in the world had arrived in Junction and they aimed to stay.

The mare slowed under Brass's command. The buckboard rolled up and Brass rode alongside. He turned to face Ivy, his head creaking slightly. "Well, Miss Armstrong?" he asked, the harsh sun shining his moustache. "Here we are in Junction - center of engineering in the great state of Texas. How's it stack up to New York and the like?"

Ivy pushed up her round spectacles. "I must admit," she said, her voice clipped and professional beyond her years. "It does not quite meet my expectations." They looked on both sides of the street and stared at the town of Junction. The structures, clapboard cabins, white adobe squares and tin shacks, sat in clusters along the winding road. Junction's few businesses - an oblong bank, a general store composed of dusty logs and an adobe saloon - flanked the middle of the road. A water tower stood at the far end, listing to the side and looking like it might tilt over if given a push. Ivy turned to Brass and gave him a wide grin. "Still," she said. "It does possess a certain charm."

The horse and wagon rode along, passing the general store, bank and saloon and then continuing down the road. Ivy produced a folded piece of paper and then pointed to a sign hanging at an angle on a wooden post before the final lot. "Here we are," she said. She tugged on the reins, slowing the buckboard wagon. Brass's mare trotted next to her and they looked at their newly purchased property - a single cabin and a workshop that had once been a barn. Ivy hopped out of the wagon and Brass swung down from his saddle. He hitched up their mounts as Ivy walked to the barn.

She threw open the doors and stepped inside. Brass looked up from the hitching post. "Miss Armstrong?" he asked. "What do you think?" He walked over to join her. They stood in the doorway to the barn, looking at the wide tables by the walls, full of various tools and machines that looked like implements of torture, the fat metal stove in the center and the heaps of scrap metal in the corner. Shafts of sunlight streaked down from holes in the roof, making the place seem like some sort of cathedral - albeit, one that armadillos had chosen as their home.

"Why, Marshal Brass," Ivy said, clasping her hands. "It is marvelous!" She moved around the workshop, gesturing as she spoke. "This shall be the workbench, where I can construct my inventions. That old desk over there shall be the place where blueprints and plans are drafted. I can keep potentially volatile chemicals in a set of jars there on the straw where they'll be safe." She turned back to Brass. "It is perfect."

"I'm glad to hear it," Brass said. "But I ain't a marshal no more. I tossed the badge away. I'm just Mr. Brass now, if you don't mind."

"Oh. Of course." Ivy smiled weakly. "A simple mistake. You have my apologies, sir."

"That's all right, little sister." Brass turned back to the door. "I'll help you get some of the supplies unloaded." He started back to the buckboard wagon, Ivy hurrying along next to him. The buckboard contained all of the blueprints, ingredients and inventions that Ivy had been working on when she left her father's workshop in New York City. The Wonder Works, as it was called, was moving west and Ivy seemed happy for the extra space. Brass - a marshal no longer - was to be her bodyguard and servant. It was a job he much preferred to wearing a badge.

They worked diligently, taking supplies from the buckboard wagon and setting them in the barn. Ivy unpacked some of the crates, gingerly hauling out their contents and placing them on the tables and workbenches like they were relics from the bodies of saints. Brass helped her as best he could. The sun glowered down outside, but gradually began to set. A cold wind rustled from the distance, coming in over the wide prairie and the rocky stretch of canyons and mountains that bordered Junction and led further south into Mexico. Brass walked out to bring in the final load as the wind stirred his frock coat. He found a bearded fellow and a curly-haired boy standing by the wagon. Brass's gears hummed as he remembered where he had met them.

He stepped towards them, holding out his hand. "Dr. Lowenstein," he said. "Little Herschel. You're a fine sight. I didn't know y'all had come out to Junction." He glanced over his shoulder. "Miss Armstrong's just getting her belongings situated. I'd bet she'd be tickled to see you."

Dr. Lowenstein, a bearded fellow with bristly muttonchops in a shabby dark suit, shook Brass's hand. "That is grand news indeed," he said, speaking with a hint of a Yiddish accent. He had known Ivy's father, Professor Armstrong, in the early years of Wonder Works. "We came out to Junction soon after leaving Europe. Herschel and I dwell a little ways down the street, where we are currently working on various automata."

Herschel craned his neck, trying to see inside the barn. A small boy, perhaps a year younger than Ivy, he had dark hair, slightly curled, under a newsboy cap and wore a similar dark suit and tie as his father - resembling an almost miniature version of the older man. His freckled cheeks flushed red as his eyes widened behind his spectacles. "Mr. Brass?" he asked. "Is Miss Armstrong here? I would like to see her - to discuss her v-various inventions and engineering projects, I m-mean."

Brass's internal mechanisms clicked fondly. "She's here, little fellow," he said. "Don't you fret." He turned and raised his voice. "Miss Armstrong! We've got visitors."

Ivy emerged from the barn, wiping engine oil from her hands with a handkerchief. She headed past the barn, over the patch of dirt and then reached the Lowensteins. "Dr. Lowenstein and Master Herschel. It is a pleasure to meet you." She curtsied politely. "I understood that a small community of inventors had chosen to settle in Junction, but I did not know you were among their number."

"Oh yes," Herschel agreed, tripping over his words. "There are all kinds of great inventors here. I think some of the greatest minds of the world have joined us in Junction." He paused and looked away. "Not that I did not count you among their number, Miss Armstrong, because your father - and you - have made the Wonder Works an innovative purveyor of-"

"She knows, Herschel," Dr. Lowenstein said. He pointed down the street. "Actually, I gathered Junction's other inventors over in the public house on Main Street, in a sort of welcoming party for you, if you'd like. The alehouse is a delightful establishment called the Last Chance Saloon."

"It's the sort of place where they would have gun fights," Herschel added, excitement in his piping voice.

"Is that so?" Brass asked. He turned to Ivy. "What'd you reckon?"

"I would be delighted," she said. She turned to Dr. Lowenstein. "Lead on, if you please."

He nodded and started down the dusty street. Brass walked over to join him as Ivy and Herschel walked by side by side and talked animatedly about engineering and machines. They headed down the dusty path, came to the Main Street and then arrived at the Last Chance Saloon. A squat adobe structure, it looked like a bone white tombstone situated across from the bank. Dr. Lowenstein held open the batwing doors as Brass and the others filed inside. He looked at the shadowy saloon, with scattered round tables standing before a full bar manned by a sullen-faced Negro in a stained apron. A round chocolate cake rested on the table before the bar and Junction's residents stood around it, tumblers of celebratory whiskey held high.

Dr. Lowenstein hurried over to join them. "Welcome to Junction, Miss Armstrong," he said, pausing to grab his own tumbler. "May fine inventions await!" The assembled crowd raised their glasses and toasted her, then downed the whiskey in a fit of coughing and retched. Brass's gears clicked quickly - an automaton's laughter - and he stilled them with a thought.

Ivy nodded politely. "This is quite a grand welcome," she said, walking to the table. "You bought cake?"

"It was Herschel's idea," Dr. Lowenstein explained. He picked up a knife and started to make uneven slices. "Let me introduce you to some of Junction's residents. The Celestial couple are Mr. and Mrs. Wong. They arrived here just last week from San Francisco. Apparently, they held a very high position in the Imperial Court of China before coming to America."

The two Chinese, a willowy fellow with a blue-buttoned shirt and a long queue and a petite lady with hair in a neat bun, approached Ivy and shook her hands. "It is good to meet you, Miss Armstrong," Mr. Wong said. "Professor Armstrong once visited China, you know. He was even allowed entrance to the Forbidden City - very rare for a foreign devil, if you will excuse my language - and presented an automated pair of hummingbirds to the Dowager Empress herself."

"I didn't know that," Ivy said. "It's not entirely surprising. He always was traveling everywhere." Brass had gathered that she never saw much of her father. "Were you also employed by the Dowager Empress?"

"We were," Mrs. Wong explained. "The official engineers - until she condemned us both to death and we were exiled here."

The next inventor stepped up to meet Ivy, his hand outstretched. "That is Junction for you," he said, shaking Ivy's hand as he smoothed his broad, dark moustache. "A city of exiles. I am Giacomo Tucci, a similar exile and now a humble Junction inventor." He sported a dandy's red coat and checkered trousers. "And yet, here I have found a home. Hopefully, you will too."

Dr. Lowenstein pointed to the man behind the bar. "And this is Butler, the barkeep of this fine establishment."

Butler glared out at them from behind the bar. He walked out, hands at his side. He had skin that seemed permanently weathered from the desert sun and only a few puffs of white hair clustered around the rim of his skull. He looked Brass over. "Metal man," he said. "Come into my bar and you don't drink, on account of you can't drink. And the girl there - I figure she's too damn young. But I'm supposed to welcome you, thinking that you'll be back time and time again?"

"Maybe we will," Brass said. "For the company."

"The company," Butler repeated. "I like that." He shook Brass's hand. "I heard stories about you, Bartholomew Brass. They say that you're a marshal - a metal marshal. There truth to them stories?"

"Mr. Brass served with Marshals Service from the end of his time in the Civil War to, well, to just a few days ago," Ivy explained. "He traveled the West and the entire world, battling for law and order. He is a hero, sir, and has brought countless notorious criminals, outlaws and scoundrels to justice. He is a constant defender of justice and decency."

Brass's gears creaked in annoyance. "No need to spin stories, little sister," he muttered.

Another automaton moved past Butler and stood in front of Brass. A spindly machine, he had a rectangular face under a bowler hat, with thin, glowing slits for eyes. He wore a dark broadcloth suit and a lacey tie and his thin, curved fingers looked like the teeth of a rake. "Well, Mr. Brass, I am Socrates - the editor, publisher and star reporter for the Junction Jackrabbit, our little town's source for news and discussion and I am certain that my readers would care greatly for edification as to your purpose among us." A pen and pad appeared in his hand. His mechanical voice chirped as he leaned closer. "Would you care to enlighten us, sir?"

"Who's this?" Brass asked.

"Um, this is Socrates," Dr. Lowenstein explained. "The newspaperman - or newspaper machine, I suppose. He was built to a printer's devil and copyboy for some big newspaper back east, but they gave him too much intelligence and found that he was too troublesome to keep on. He came out here and has been writing for the Jackrabbit ever since."

"I don't want to talk to no newspaperman," Brass said. "Or newspaper machine. Clear off."

Socrates' pencil raced across his pad, scribbling furiously. "Duly noted, sir," he chirped. "But there is one more question - would you consider taking up the burden of law enforcement once more? Junction does already have a sheriff, but I am certain that he could use help."

"A sheriff?" Ivy asked.

Herschel nodded and pointed to the table in the corner, where a solitary figure sat with a tall glass of water. "He's a very good sheriff - a good protector of Junction and a very kind man as well." He raised his voice gingerly. "Sheriff Turner?" he asked. "Would you like to meet Miss Armstrong and Mr. Brass? They are the latest arrivals to Junction." The hunched over fellow glanced over and then stood up. Herschel turned proudly back to Brass and Ivy. "This is Sheriff Zacharias Turner. Sheriff Turner, this is Ivy Armstrong and Marshal - excuse me, please - Mr. Brass."

Sheriff Turner looked like a vulture with the feathers pulled away. He had no hair on his head to speak of and only a thin, tangled goatee. He wore a checkered shirt, a frayed vest and a single revolver on his hip. He removed his Stetson and bowed stiffly to Ivy and Brass. "It's a pleasure," he said. "You must be good folks, if young Herschel vouches for you. Ain't an unfriendly bone in that boy's body." He turned to Brass and held out his hand. "I reckon I heard of you."

"I can't say the same," Brass shook the sheriff's hand. "But it's good to meet you."

Butler snorted. "Sheriff here is even worse than you, metal man," he explained. "Never lets a drop of alcohol touch his lips - and it ain't because he's made of iron either. Instead, he just comes in here and willingly refuses from ordering any alcoholic libations, in favor of cold water."

"Any particular reason?" Brass asked.

"I'm Mormon." Sheriff Turner shrugged. "Strong drinks are not for the belly but for the washing of your bodies. So says Joseph Smith in the Doctrines and Covenants." He raised his cup and had another sip, making Butler shake his head in confusion. "For whatever that's worth. Anyway, I'm sure you'll fit in here in Junction. You'll find there's not much call for law enforcement, in any fashion. I mostly just sit back and watch what the inventors put together. It's an entertaining sort of existence and about all I care to do."

"Sounds fine to me," Brass said. "Miss Armstrong and I are just-" A cracking gunshot blared out, covering his words. Brass turned to the batwing doors. Another gunshot hit the air and then a third. It came from across the street - right in the Junction bank. Brass hurried to the batwing doors, Sheriff Turner following. Brass's mechanical hands slipped down and he drew out both his revolvers. He gripped them closely, thumbed back the hammers as he gave Ivy a warning glance and then stepped through the batwing doors and onto the boardwalk.

The bank's doors slammed open. A pair of Mexicans stepped out, both wearing long coats and broad-brimmed hats, bandannas covering their noses. Burlap sacks, spilling bank notes and cash into the street, hung in their arms. They fired rifles into the air, shooting over the bank. The door slammed open again and another Mexican in a sheepskin vest emerged - doubtlessly the leader. He wore no mask at all and had dark curly hair, slightly coppery and covered in dust. A machete rested in a leather scabbard on his back and bandoliers crossed his chest. He turned and Brass caught a look at his face. A crude mechanical implant rested in his eye, looking like a silver ring jammed in the socket. Lines from the eye crept out and reached over his cheek and down to the bridge of his nose. The matched the four silver teeth that appeared when he smiled.

Brass stepped onto the sidewalk. "Easy there, marshal," Sheriff Turner called from the doorway to the saloon. "That's Rojo. He's the top shooter for a gang up in Soledad Canyons. Comes down here to raise trouble, but the gang he rides with has plenty of iron. We don't pick fights with them and they leave us alone, more or less."

"He's robbing the bank," Brass replied. "He needs to be stopped." He turned to face Sheriff Turner, his electric eyes flashing. "What sort of sheriff are you?" he asked. He didn't give Sheriff Turner a chance to answer, but raised his guns and stepped into the street. He walked towards Rojo and the two other banditos, who moved back towards a trio of saddled horses waiting by the watering trough near the bank. Brass could hear his mechanical engine churning, urging him onwards. He raised his voice. "Rojo!" he cried. "Where you reckon you're going?"

Rojo stopped. He glanced over his shoulder and looked at Brass. "Gringo machine?" he asked. "Coming to stop me, eh? Gun down the chili picker, save the money, protect the bank. That's what you want to do?" He turned slowly to face Brass. His men looked at him and he shouted a harsh command in Spanish. They moved back to their horses, leaving Rojo alone. "What do you do before you come to Junction, gringo machine?" Rojo asked. "A law dog? Federale?"

"US Marshal," Brass replied.

"Ah. Big machine with a badge and a gun. Come to kill the poor Mexican." Rojo's grin widened. "Of course, I'm machine too. You see, what the doctors have done to my face? Cost me a small fortune to have it down. Very painful. But they did the work and it's supposed to make me move faster, shoot straighter than any hombre on either side of the border. Does it work?" He held up his hands. Brass had him covered with both revolvers. "Let's find out."

His hands blurred. Brass didn't see the sawed-off shotgun coming up from the sheathe at Rojo's side before it was too late. The sawed-off shotgun aimed at Brass, extended in Rojo's hand and then fired - just before Brass pulled the trigger. The shell rammed into the center of Brass's chest, knocking him straight to the dust. It felt like he'd been kicked in the belly by an elephant. The impact raced through him as the volume of the shot filled his mechanical ears. His revolvers thundered, the shots going wild. They kicked up dust at Rojo's feet, but the bandito seemed unscathed. Brass's gears creaked and he tried to fire again - then Rojo's shotgun thundered once more. The second barrel's worth of lead struck Brass in the chest. His arms stiffened, the joints in his fingers suddenly freezing up. The revolvers fell from his hands.

The bandits hurried to their horses. Rojo hauled himself into the saddle and looked down at Brass. "Gringo machine," he said. "Maybe you weren't so strong after all, eh?" He flashed another grin, his silver teeth shining and then put spur to the sides of his bay. The horse broke into a gallop, followed by the others. They pounded down the street of Junction, turned the corner and then started to ride for the hills and canyons.

The doors to the saloon slammed open. Ivy and the others hurried out. She rushed to Brass's side and knelt down. "Oh, Mr. Brass," she said. "There was no need for you to rush out like that and engage those ruffians in such a manner." She shook her head. "I'll need to get you back to the workshop and begin repairs immediately."

"You'll fix the damage," Brass said. "With your usual grace." He didn't say much after that. Ivy stood up and arranged for a team of horses and some ropes to help Brass back to her new home and workshop. He stared up at the blue sky, darkening slightly with the first bits of night. As Ivy arranged to have him toted back to their new home, he began to wonder if Junction really was that peaceful after all.

It took Ivy a little less than an hour to finish her repairs. She worked quickly, using the tools she had brought and slowly the bullets out of Brass's chest and mending the ruptured metal. He sat back on a pallet of straw in the corner of the barn while she worked, glaring up at the lofty ceiling and hearing his gears click like the strumming of some distant instrument. He trusted Ivy. She'd repaired him from worse. Then Brass heard footsteps in the barn. He sat up, craning his head, and spotted Sheriff Turner standing in the doorway. Ivy turned to the sheriff and then looked at Brass.

Brass nodded. "Come on in, sheriff," he said, dripping some ire into the title.

Sheriff Turner walked inside, his Stetson in his weathered hands. He towered over to them and shuffled a little, suddenly as nervous as Herschel around Ivy. "You're upset," he said. "About why I didn't run after Rojo my own self. Come and stop him with guns blazing, like a sheriff should."

"The thought crossed my mind," Brass replied.

"Well, it's because Rojo works for a powerful man - a weapons dealer and sort of outlaw king by the name of Generalissimo Victoriano Villalobos. He has a hideout up in Soledad Canyon. Runs the place with his outlaw band. He was a general in the Mexican War and I guess the old fellow's still fighting, in one way or another. Anyway, he ain't a bad fellow, for a Mexican. Sends his men down here to rob, but only when he's getting low on supplies. He didn't take that much money in the bank and he keeps things nice and peaceful most of the time. Keeps out other outlaws too, of which there are quite a few. So I don't want to pick fights with him if I don't have to."

Ivy's hands slid back hesitantly. Brass looked at his chest, the dents and scars healed from her repairs. He buttoned up his shirt and waistcoat and then grabbed his tie as he came to his knees. "You're telling me some manner of outlaw king resides just of town - and you tolerate it?"

"We got a sort of unspoken pact," Sheriff Turner explained. "A pact and-"

"I don't give a good goddamn what you call it!" Brass came creaked to his feet and glared at Sheriff Turner. "I ain't letting some Mexican rogue general live like a king in the town where Ivy will have her workshop." He pointed at Sheriff Turner. "You don't seem yellow. You're not afraid of this Generalissimo fellow. There's something else."

"Mr. Brass..." Ivy muttered, sounding annoyed and embarrassed.

"It's all right, darling," Sheriff Turner replied. "Yes, Mr. Brass. There is something else." He stepped closer to Brass. "Before I came to Junction, I served in the Nauvoo Legion - fighting alongside old Danites for the glory of God, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. And for a while, I loved the smell of gun smoke and the righteous death we dealt, until the day we were ordered to destroy a wagon train from Arkansas in a place called Mountain Meadows. That we did, killing men, women and every child old enough to walk." His voice shook as he continued, staring straight into Brass's face. "I looked at the slaughter, saw the blood so red on the grass and I couldn't find God there at all. I fled the church and came here and I won't bring that kind of suffering to Junction, if I can help it."

His story made Brass pause. He had heard stories about the violence out in Utah - but never imagined it had gotten that bad. What would it be like - living with that sort of atrocity boiling away in your blood, ticking at the back of your heart? Brass thought back to what he had seen in Missouri and Kansas during the War Between the States and he knew well enough. Still, he couldn't let an outlaw operate some kind of criminal fiefdom with impunity. This Generalissimo needed to be stopped.

"I'm going after him," Brass said. "Whether you're with me or not."

"Are you certain that you're well, Mr. Brass?" Ivy asked. "You took quite a pounding from that reprobate's scatter gun and-"

"I've been hurt worse," Brass said. "And I won't be alone. I reckon there's plenty of folks who'll do what Sheriff Turner wont." He stepped past them and walked to the barn door. Ivy and Sheriff Turner hurried after him and they all stepped outside into the fading sunlight.

Sure enough, the residents of Junction had gathered to make sure Brass was all right. Dr. Lowenstein and Herschel, the Wongs, Giacomo Tucci, Socrates and even Butler stood by the fence posts that resembled bleached bones. They looked Brass over and Herschel sighed with relief and whispered some grateful words to his father. They were glad that Brass was all right. Brass stared at the. They didn't much look like the makings of a posse, but they might do in a pinch.

He rested his hands on his hips, where his revolvers rested in his gun belt. "I aim to bring Rojo to justice," Brass explained. "His master too - this Generalissimo Villalobos or whatever he calls himself. Sheriff Turner says they got some sort of hideout in Soledad Canyons. I don't like a pack of lawless banditos dwelling so close to Junction and I figure they won't want to stay here if we make trouble." He walked towards his sorrel mare, his gears creaking slightly as he approached the horse. "I'll ride up alone, if I have to. But taking care of outlaws is in the interest of the town. I say we form a posse and go after them together. Anyone care to sign on?"

The inventors and residents of Junction stared at each other in confusion. Socrates raised his hand. "May I write about this in the Junction Jackrabbit, sir?" he wondered.

"I don't care," Brass replied. "Who's riding with me?"

No one responded - apart from Herschel. He raised his hand. "Mr. Brass?" he asked. "I'll go with you, if you want."

Ivy rolled her eyes. "I'm sure that's not necessary," she said. "I don't think there's any need to-"

Then Dr. Lowenstein stepped up. "I suppose I could go," he said. "I must warn you, Mr. Brass, I've never fired a gun before in my life. But perhaps I can help still. We can at least have strength in numbers" He looked at his fellow inventors. "Would anyone else like to go?"

Mr. Wong talked to his wife in Chinese for a little. She glared at him and the he held up his hand. "I'll ride with you," he said. "I have a few rifles at our home that we can use."

Socrates held up his pencil. "And I must attend as well," he said. "If only for my story."

Brass turned back to Sheriff Turner. "Shaping up to be a fine posse," he said. "You gonna stay here - with the women and children?"

Sheriff Turner glared back a Brass. "Damn you," he muttered. He raised his voice. "There's irons at my office," he explained. "We'll pick them up and then we'll leave. I want us to ride together and take it slow. When the shooting starts, me and Brass will handle it. Now find a horse of some sort and meet me at my office down on Main Street. There we shall depart." He glanced at Brass as Mr. Wong, Socrates and Dr. Lowenstein headed down the street, the others trailing behind. "I hope you know what you're doing to these good people," Sheriff Turner said and headed off himself.

As they walked off, Brass headed to his mare. His repeating rifle rested in its sheathe, ready to be used. He swung into the saddle. Ivy walked through the dust and approached. "Must you do this, Mr. Brass?" she asked. "Riding off in pursuit of some outlaw?"

"It's to help keep you safe, little sister," Brass explained.

"I know," Ivy said. "Somehow, that makes it worse."

There wasn't time to consider her words. Brass hopped into the saddle and tugged at the reins, then stirred the mare into a decent trot. He cantered his way down the empty street and hurried to the sheriff's station, where the other members of his makeshift had outfitted themselves for the hunt. Going after Rojo was worth it. He had to keep Ivy safe - even if it meant picking a fight. Brass told himself that as he rode down to the station and met the others. Sheriff Turner passed around a couple rifles and shotguns and then they mounted up and rode. They headed out of Junction together, riding in a small cluster down Junction's main street. Then they turned down the dusty trail that wound past the hills and headed into the crags of Soledad Canyon.

The trail narrowed, becoming rocky and steep. Towering rust-colored rocks flanked the trail, with sprays of green brush and the occasional prairie flower lending a little color to the deserted path. From further in the maze of canyons, they could hear a creek trickling away. Brass scanned the reddish dirt and soon found the prints of hooves. Rojo and his companeros had ridden this way. They proved easy to track and soon the posse trotted easily down the path and followed the trail further and further into the labyrinthine canyons.

Sheriff Turner rode at their head, a Sharps rifle slung across his shoulder. Mr. Wong and Socrates followed, hunched and uneasy in their saddles, while Dr. Lowenstein and Brass brought up the rear. The Jewish inventor struggled to stay in the saddle and he held the reins high like he was afraid the horse's head would fall off if he let go. Brass slowed his mare and rode alongside the doctor. He reached out and adjusted Dr. Lowenstein's hands, showing him the proper way to clutch the reins.

Dr. Lowenstein thanked him with a red-faced smile - suddenly as bashful as his young son. "Thank you, Mr. Brass," he said. "I must admit I am not very good at riding, or other physical pursuits. It is good to have someone like you around to help."

"Yeah," Brass agreed. "I'm plumb useful." He pointed up ahead at Sheriff Turner. "What about him?"

"He seems a fine fellow," Dr. Lowenstein replied.

Brass gazed at the back of the wiry sheriff. "Could be," he said. "But he shies away from going after Rojo and Generalissimo Villalobos. It's not cowardice -merely a sort of regret. I can understand why, but I still don't care for it."

"He is a suitable sheriff for Junction," Dr. Lowenstein explained. "He does not want trouble and the same is true of all this town's residents. The Wongs faced a great deal of discrimination and cruelty in San Francisco before they arrived here. The same with Mr. Tucci. I am not certain what became of Mr. Butler's family, but he also lost them in violent circumstances. And while it was disease that took the life of my dearest Rose, it was human prejudice that sent me to America to raise Herschel in peace. And yet, I think some of the prejudice has followed us. There is not much room for a Jewish inventor in high society. Not many who would allow their children to befriend Herschel."

"And being a thirteen-year-old girl genius ain't easy either," Brass said. "I think that's why Miss Armstrong came out here - she's tired of everyone looking down their noses at her back east, on account of her gender as much as her age."

"We don't have the legacy of picking fights whenever we please," Dr. Lowenstein explained. "And Sheriff Turner understands that."

"You think I don't?"

"I think you are trying to protect Miss Armstrong, as best you know how." Dr. Lowenstein shrugged. "Perhaps I am doing the same, with this shotgun digging so uncomfortably into my back." He shaded his eyes with his hand and stared ahead. "Good heavens!" he cried. "Look at that. We appear to be riding towards a habitation of some sort."

Brass urged his mare into a gallop. He rode up ahead, moving to the front of the little column of horsemen and joining Sheriff Turner. Rojo's trail ended in a broad box canyon, with tall red rocks forming towering walls and all three sides. Caves lay the bottom of the walls, looking like dark unblinking eyes staring out from the rock. But this canyon had not been shaped by nature alone. Countless intricate carvings rested along the walls - showing prancing, blocky jaguars, armed warriors and the leering faces of serpents and gods. At the far end of the canyon, a sort of castle had been carved out of the rock. A long stone stairwell led down to the dust, ending in the gravel and bits of grass. The gray stone of the stone of the stairwell ended in a broad, square entrance lit by torchlight. Brass stopped his horse and the others rode in and stared at the strange ruins.

Mr. Wong swung down from his horse, his boots settling in the dust. "This was here before the conquistadors, I think," he said.

"Aztec ruins, I believe," Socrates explained.

Sheriff Turner nodded. "Ain't unheard of," he said. "The Spaniards had to give a good portion of whatever they found to their masters. Because of that, whenever they found some impressive set of ruins, they would cover it up and hide it, so they didn't have to split the riches. There's all sorts of strange ruins around this place that ain't never been mapped."

"And Rojo - and this Generalissimo fellow - reside here?" Brass asked.

"Could be," Sheriff Turner said, with a diffident shrug.

Dr. Lowenstein pointed to the stairwell. "It does seem like the complex stretches further into the cliff," he explained. "Judging from the quantity of shadows and light. Perhaps other tunnels could have been added to the original structure, creating a veritable warren that would be perfect for an outlaw hideaway."

"Yeah," Brass muttered. "Perfect."

"Do you think we should enter?" Mr. Wong asked.

"You stay out here," Brass said. He pulled his rifle from the saddle and let the long gun rest in the crook of his arm. "I'll go on in and see what's what. If I need you, I'll call and you can come running. Otherwise, stay put."

"You sure you want to go it alone?" Sheriff Turner asked. He stepped hesitantly towards Brass.

"Yeah," Brass replied, his gears clicking in annoyance.

He turned away from Sheriff Turner and started down the canyon, his boots crunching on the dust. Brass reached the stone stairwell and headed up, looking at the curling stone snakes that bordered the steps. Those snakes stood poised at the end, their mouths open and their stone fangs barred as if they were going to slither down and attack. Brass had heard stories about the Aztec Empire, who used to rule this land back before the arrival of the conquistadors. They had created a fantastic and vast civilization, with the kind of technology that modern engineers still studied. It seemed strange that Generalissimo Villalobos and his outlaws would be squatting in such a place.

The tunnel headed straight into the rock. Brass walked down the tunnel, the torchlight making his metal skin gleam. He walked further down and then the path dipped, sloping deeper underground. Brass followed. The slope ended in a smaller cave, a sort of antechamber, with a square doorway carved in the far wall. This seemed to be a sort of rest area for the outlaws. A few tables lay around set with dusty glass tumblers and decks of cards, with Mexican flags pinned up on the walls. Stone statues of ancient Aztec warriors and perched jaguars now served as rests for coats and hats. Some of the outlaws sat there, sitting at the tables and smoking cheroot cigars or cleaning their weapons. They turned when Brass walked inside.

He stared back, his rifle at his side. "I'm looking for Rojo," Brass said.

"Then you have found him." Rojo stood up from the table near the door. "You tracked me here, gringo machine? I envoy your abilities."

"I want to finish this," Brass explained. He stepped closer, his rifle aimed low. "Just me and you. Leave your boys out of this." He paused, listening to his gears spinning. "You think you can ride into Junction, claim dominion over it and raid it whenever you please because the sheriff's got no spine? Those days are gone. I'm Bartholomew Brass and I've arrived in Junction. You ain't wanted here anymore. No collect your pack of jackals and leave or prove that you can stay."

"Bartholomew Brass," Rojo repeated. "Marshal Brass?"

"I'm a marshal no longer," Brass explained.

Rojo shrugged. "Oh. No matter." He stood and said something quickly in Spanish. His men gripped their guns, but didn't turn to help him. Rojo walked closer, his sawed-off shotgun resting in the holster at his side. The machete handle poked out from behind his shoulder. "I will not flee, Senor Brass," he explained. "Where I grew up, there is not much use for cowards. We dress them in robes, send them to the priesthood. Otherwise, the coyotes and vultures eat their bones. I am not a priest. No vulture has ever eaten my flesh." His smile faded as he stared down Brass. "So I guess that only leaves one option, eh?"

They drew, Brass bringing up his rifle and Rojo raising his shotgun. Brass fired first this time, shooting quickly and working the lever to fire again. The first shot hissed past Rojo's shoulder and the next bit into him, taking out a chunk of meat and spraying blood on his sheepskin vest. Rojo's shotgun thundered, but the shot went wild. It thundered into a nearby table, striking a deck of cards and sending multi-colored fragments billowing into the air. Rojo fired again, forcing Brass back and then dropped the sawed-off shotgun and charged. His boots pounded on the dusty floor and his hand reached up, gripping the machete and then pulling it free. The blade gleamed in the flickering torchlight and then Rojo charged for Brass.

He pounded across the cave, holding the blade high. There was no time to fire the repeating rifle. Brass spun it around, swinging the heavy butt towards Rojo's head. Rojo ducked down, the rifle butt rushing past him and he slammed the machete against Brass's shoulder. The heavy blade bit into Brass's metal skin - but did not break it. Rojo's weight bashed against Brass and they tumbled down to the floor together. Brass tried to wriggle free, but Rojo moved with deadly speed and accuracy. He slammed the handle of his machete against Brass's face. Brass heard the sudden crack as one of his glass lenses shattered. He ignored it, dropped his rifle and then lashed out with his fist. His metal knuckles drove against Rojo's face, clanking against his implant.

The blow knocked Rojo back, tossing him onto the dust. Brass stood up, reaching for his revolvers. He cleared holster with both guns, but Rojo had already stood and turned to run. Rojo raced for the far doorway, scrambling past his men. Brass followed him, already taking aim with his revolvers. He would run Rojo down, corner him and then shoot the bandito dead.

Rojo slipped through the doorway. Brass followed, his gears straining as his metal legs pounded in the dust. He raced into the door, hurried down a little tunnel and then reached another door. Brass kicked it open, swinging up his revolvers and preparing to fire - just as the muzzle of another pistol jabbed into his cheek. Brass went still.

He looked ahead at the final chamber of the outlaw hideout. This seemed to be a throne room - maybe where the priests in the ancient Aztec temple would go after they did their sacrifices. A stone chair sat in the far corner, surrounded by an altar of leering, carved idols. Stone tables rested in the center of the room, with rifles and ammunition waiting to be used. A full cannon on high wheels sat in the far corner. Chests of stolen gold and bags of money clustered around the throne, like sacrifices offered up to a pagan god. More banditos stood inside, rifles on their shoulders and knives, swords and pistols on their hips. But it was Rojo who pressed a revolver to Brass's face. He stood just to the side of the doorway, where he had waited for Brass to appear.

Brass turned to glare at him. "You goddamn slippery-"

"The slippery bandit is never caught, gringo machine." Rojo behind Brass, jabbing the revolver against the automaton's cheek. "Lower your pistols. You are in the presence of the Generalissimo." He pushed the revolver closer when Brass hesitated. "Hurry, pendejo. I'll blast your mechanical brains into the dust!"

Slowly, Brass lowered his revolvers and slid them into their holsters. Rojo had outwitted him and there was no way Brass could shoot his way out an entire cave of desperadoes. He'd have to play it cool and wait for an opportunity he could use. He stared up, his remaining eye glowing slightly on the throne. A lone figure sat there, almost forlorn against the ancient snow.

"Walk, amigo," Rojo ordered. He moved behind Brass and pushed him closer to the throne. Brass moved, keeping his hands at his sides. The other banditos followed him, keeping their guns trained on Brass and making sure he didn't move. Rojo looked up at the throne. "Generalissimo," he explained. "The gringo machine is our prisoner. What shall we do with him?"

"Hold him." The weathered voice came from the throne. "He seems familiar." Generalissimo Victoriano Villalobos stood and walked over from the throne. An aged man, he had a thick white beard hiding most of his face, an eye patch resting squarely in his right socket. His paunch rested snugly in an old Mexican general's uniform, complete with faded epaulettes, crossed white sashes and a sword on his waist. Generalissimo Villalobos looked at Brass for a while with his good eye.

He pointed to Brass. "What is your name?" he asked.

"Bartholomew Brass, though it ain't no business of yours."

Generalissimo Villalobos rested a heavy, weathered hand on Brass's chest. His fingers moved over the buttons, undoing Brass's vest. He worked at Brass's shirt and then pulled it open and looked on Brass's torso, his finger resting on the 'G' engraved on Brass's metal skin. "And the man who built you - it was Dr. Josiah Gridley, was it not? You do not have to deny it. I can see his mark, right there on your skin. He built you and set you on your way and now you are here."

Brass stared at the Generalissimo, suddenly unsure. His gears groaned in confusion. "You know my maker?" he asked.

"I know his work." Generalissimo Villalobos leaned back. He rested a hand on his sword. "Did he ever tell you of what happened, during his first time of employment with the United States government? It was before your Civil War - your only one, compared to Mexico's many - when you came to invade our country and we resisted you. They hired Dr. Gridley to make war machines and so did he did and he unleashed them upon our people. It was a long time ago. He was a young man and so was I, with a bright young son as a military cadet at the academy in Mexico City." His one eye closed and he moved back, his hand entwined with the handle of his sword. Brass didn't hate the old man now. He seemed too sad. "Dr. Gridley's automatons marched at the heady of General Scott's army. They stormed Chapultepec Castle and they slaughtered the boys in uniform there without a second thought."

"I'm sorry." Brass didn't bother hiding the sympathy in your voice. "Was your son-"

"We found his body," Generalissimo Villalobos explained. "In the rubble, afterwards." He stepped back and sat on his throne, suddenly alone. "My marriage and official military service ended soon afterwards." He glanced up at Brass. "What has become of Dr. Gridley? I had heard that he became disgusted with what his machines did in the war. He destroyed them and went west."

"He went to Missouri," Brass explained. "Then the war came to him again, years later - Confederate bushwhackers this time, led by William Clark Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson. They were animals, not even bothering to wear uniforms, and they scalped and murdered their way through the countryside. Dr. Gridley swore he wouldn't make killing machines again, but he had to break his vow. He built me and we fought together, from Missouri all the way to the big battles in the East." Brass paused. "They killed him, the bushwhackers did. Shot him to death in the Missouri mud. I held him as he died and he got to breathe his last in my arms."

"Ah." Generalissimo Villalobos nodded slowly. "A mercy I was not granted with my son."

Rojo pulled out his machete. He rested the blade against Brass's cheek. "We can take him apart, Generalissimo," he said. "Pull out his metal innards. See what makes him tick."

But Generalissimo Villalobos shook his head. He leaned closer, resting his hands on his knees and folded his hands. "You think you are different than General Gridley's first creations?" he asked. "You think you're more than a killing machine?"

"I'm not..." Brass's gears squeaked, betraying his lack of confidence. "I'm not sure."

"Well, perhaps we will see." Generalissimo Villalobos produced the watch on a gold chain and looked it over. "Yes," he said. "Your friends have been out there long enough. I think they will have already triggered the canyon's defenses." He put away the watch and held out his finger. Everyone fell silent.

Then, Brass heard a rapid series of gunshots coming from the distance. The bullets thundered out, the retorts following each other. It had to be his posse back in the box canyon, shooting it out with some unseen foe. Brass turned around, straining his mechanical ears as more gunshots hit the air. Sheriff Turner could probably hold his own in a gunfight - most Mormons were plenty tough - but he couldn't say the same about Dr. Lowenstein and the others. His new friends were in trouble and he was here, stuck with the Generalissimo and Rojo.

Brass turned back. "What manner of defenses?" he demanded.

"Ancient Aztec machines, amigo," Rojo explained. "Like you, but much better made. Much more handsome too, I should say." He grinned at his joke. "The ancient Aztec shamans would make them out of the bodies of their sacrificial victims. They'd use skeletons, jade, gold and silver and wood from the jungles and then create strange sort of clockwork engines to give them life. We know how to avoid them, but I think your friends do not. They'll attack anyone or anything. It is in their nature to hunt and destroy. Perhaps like yours?"

The gunshots continued. Brass stared ahead, straight at the Generalissimo. "You gonna do what Rojo wants?" he asked. "Cut me open? Pull out my pieces? Try and avenge your lost son with my own destruction?"

Generalissimo Villalobos shook his shaggy head. "I'll give you a choice, Senor Brass," he explained. "To see what kind of machine you are." He nodded to Rojo. "Holster your pistol, my friend and step back." Rojo stared at General Villalobos, his face scrunched in confusion. "That is an order," the Generalissimo repeated. Rojo sighed and jabbed the revolver into his belt. Generalissimo Villalobos turned back to Brass. "You can draw your revolvers now, Senor Brass," he said. "And we will pull our own guns and then we will fight and you can kill the outlaw that you so desire."

"Or?" Brass asked.

"Or you can choose another path." Generalissimo Villalobos pointed back to the door. "Go outside and join your friends. Rojo will go with you. My men will not stand in your path. Go outside and save your friends - but know that you will not find an easy way back to my canyons." He cocked his head. "Well, Senor Brass?" he asked. "What is it to be? The battle you were created to fight - or the lives of your friends?"

Silence filled the room, broken only by the shots from the battle outside. Brass let his hands drop down to his waist, where his revolvers waited. He could draw now, gun down Generalissimo Villalobos and Rojo and the rest of them and then rush to help Sheriff Turner and the others - but by then, it might be too late. He knew what his answer was. In the end, the decision was easy. Brass turned away from General Villalobos and started walking back to the door, his thin legs moving in long strides as buttoned up his short.

"Go with him," Generalissimo Villalobos told Rojo. "See he gets their safely."

"Si, Generalissimo," Rojo agreed. He hurried along and followed Brass.

They left the throne room, moved back through the tunnel and then reached the antechamber. The banditos looked up from their tables, but Rojo shook his head and they let them pass. They hurried back up the other slope and then reached the tunnel entrance. Brass hurried past Rojo, scrambling up the slope and then stepping through onto the stone steps. He looked down, Rojo forgotten as he watched the Aztec temple's defenses racing out to attack his friends.

Sheriff Turner, Dr. Lowenstein and the others stay on horseback, riding together in a close square with their guns thundering in their hands. They had been trapped in the center of the box canyon by a pack of Aztec automatons, which rushed across the dusty stone. These automatons had been shaped like jaguars, with dusty fur stretched over the skeletons of real cats, carved obsidian for teeth and glowing circles of jade for eyes. The jaguar automatons padded over the ground in smooth, flowing motions, their carved obsidian claws clicking on the stone. They had all the grace and speed of jaguars, held within the careful craftsmanship of ornate machines.

The makeshift posse did their best to hold them off, firing from the saddle as the horses whinnied and kicked up dust from their panicked hooves. Sheriff Turner spun in the saddle, firing his rifle as a jaguar automaton leapt up and tried to tackle him. His bullet punched through the skull of the mechanical cat, sending out a spray of bone and tiny gold and silver gears. Socrates fired from the hip, filling the air with lead and not hitting much of anything. Mr. Wong and Dr. Lowenstein struggled to stay in their saddles, keeping their guns trained on the moving jaguars. They fired occasionally, but rarely hit their targets. Brass didn't think they'd last long.

He turned to Rojo. "It ain't finished between us," he explained.

Rojo shrugged. "So you say, gringo. Now go and help your friends."

Brass hurried down the stairs, pulling his revolvers from his holsters. He aimed both pistols at the jaguars and started shooting, firing and cocking the guns with mechanical precision while his machine mind aimed with perfect accuracy. He walked across the dusty stone, his revolvers turning to fire at each jaguar automaton crossing his path. His bullets punched through the belly of one jaguar automaton and the Aztec machine froze in mid-stride, its paws held in the air. Brass turned and shot anther jaguar as it prepared to pounce, punching a bullet straight through its open mouth. Bones and dried fur sprayed from the exit wound as the big cat fell to the ground in a clanking heap. Another jaguar tried to flank him, staying low and sliding across the earth. Brass turned and planted two more revolver shots straight into the jaguar's jade eyes. Chunks of jade spilled through the air and bounced in the dust.

His friends noticed him. Socrates waved at Brass from the saddle. "Mr. Brass!" he called. "A most fortuitous arrival." He aimed his rifle at a charging jaguar and fired, striking the flank of the beast and slowing it while Brass reloaded. "I had not the merest doubt - not the merest doubt, sir - that would arrive like the angel Gabriel, bearing your thunderbolts and serving as our savior."

Before Brass could correct Socrates, a jaguar launched itself at the posse. It flew through the air, paws outstretched and jaws open, and tackled Dr. Lowenstein. The inventor let out a sudden gasp and fell to the ground, the jaguar's body pressing down on him. Its obsidian jaws slammed open with a click, the dark stone looking like pointed shadows in the cat's mouth, and then it rushed down for his throat. Brass broke into a run. He hadn't finished reloading his revolvers, but he didn't care. He needed to save Dr. Lowenstein.

He crossed the dusty canyon, but knew he would be too late - then Sheriff Turner fired his rifle into the jaguar's chest. The cat slipped back from Dr. Lowenstein, its dusty, furry skin flapping like a tattered flag after the bullet pierced through. It brought Brass just enough time. He reached the jaguar and then swung down his fist, driving metal knuckles against the mechanical cat's skull. Bone broke against metal and the jaguar recoiled into a growling mass. It came at Brass again. He raised his revolver first, firing the only round he had managed to load. The bullet ripped through the jaguar's throat and the mechanical cat slumped down at Brass's boots.

Sheriff Turner rode closer to Brass. "Dr. Lowenstein!" he called. "Are you harmed?"

"A few bruises, sheriff. Nothing more." Dr. Lowenstein reached out and grabbed the saddle of a passing horse. He gritted his teeth and hauled himself up. "Mr. Brass?" he asked. "Did you locate the outlaws? I don't think we are in much of a shape to pursue them."

"No," Brass agreed. "Best ride on back to Junction, as quick as we can. We'll decide on a new course of action there."

He spotted his own horse and hurried to the mare. He reached out for the stirrups and started to pull himself up - when another jaguar leapt at him from the side. This cat slammed into Brass like a feline artillery shell, knocking him straight to the ground and slamming obsidian claws against his chest. The stone points dug into his chest. He swung his revolver handle into the jaguar's head. A jade eye bashed loose and fell in the dust, but the jaguar automaton didn't seem to care. Its teeth moved down towards his face, ready to bite into his metal skull and start tearing it apart. Sheriff Turner aimed his rifle at the jaguar and pulled the trigger, only for the gun to click empty. The others fumbled with their guns and tried to help Brass, but he didn't think they would.

Then another rifle shot rang out, coming from the top of the stone stairwell. The jaguar recoiled, its skull blasted in half. It collapsed on top of Brass. He slipped back quickly, then leapt into his saddle and grabbed the reins. Brass turned around, his mechanical eyes scanning the top of the stone steps. Rojo stood in the mouth of the cave, holding a smoking rifle. He lowered the gun and made a mock bow, laughing to himself after he saved Brass.

Brass stood up and pulled himself into the saddle. Rojo waved a farewell. "Adios, Senor Brass!" he called. "Come by again sometime, eh? We will show you even more hospitality." Brass wanted to draw on him - but he knew they didn't have the time.

He turned away and gave his horse some spur instead. The mare broke into a gallop, riding along with Sheriff Turner and the others. They pounded out of the box canyon. The jaguar automatons ran after them, their mechanical jaws stomping as dust rose from their paws. But when they left the box canyon and it the trail leading back through the rocks, the jaguars paused and stopped. Evidently, their priestly creators hadn't made them to chase down intruders, only keep them away from the temple. Brass's gears creaked in relief. He hurried up to reach the rest of his posse and they all galloped their way out of the canyon.

Dr. Lowenstein turned to Brass. "What did you discover?" he asked. "Did you see the fabled Generalissimo Villalobos?"

"Yeah," Brass said. "He's like trouble. No two ways about it." He glanced over his shoulder, thinking back to what Generalissimo Villalobos had told him. "He thinks he knows me too - on account of he fought the first creations of Dr. Gridley, during the Mexican War."

"Does he know you?" Sheriff Turner asked.

"I don't know myself," Brass replied, speaking softly. He turned back to the road and slowed his mare to a trot. They rode their way out of Soledad Canyons.

It took them until the evening to return to Junction. Brass and the posse rode to the Last Chance Saloon. Ivy stood outside and she called in when they approached. Mrs. Wong, Tucci, little Herschel and even Butler hurried out to meet them. Brass swung down from his saddle as Ivy hurried to his side. Dr. Lowenstein slipped down next and Herschel ran to him. Father and son embraced silently and Herschel's face went pale as he saw his father's bruises. Mr. Wong ran into his wife's arms while Sheriff Turner got down from the saddle and watched them all. Brass looked at the posse. They could have been killed - and it was his doing to send them after Rojo.

Herschel turned to Brass, still sheltered by his father's arm. "Mr. Brass?" he asked. "I would like to thank you very much. According to my father's account, you saved his life from ancient Aztec automatons. Please accept my gratitude."

"I'm obliged, little fellow," Brass said. "Your papa was real brave."

"Mr. Brass, you seem to have sustained injuries as well," Ivy said. She looked Brass over and shook her head. "It seems I repair you and then you race out and undo all my work." She took Brass's hand. "Come. We had better return to the workshop so I can fix you up before night falls."

Brass looked back at Junction's citizens. "We ought to talk," he said. "About what to do with the Generalissimo."

"You may talk later, Mr. Brass," Ivy said. "For now, you need repairs." She tugged at his hand, refusing to be ignored. Brass let out a groan of annoyance and then turned to walk with her.

Butler let out a little laugh. "First time I seen a marshal being led around by a little girl."

"But Mr. Brass is not a marshal anymore," Herschel explained. "And he does need repairs."

That was true enough. Brass walked alongside Ivy, feeling the damage dealt by Rojo's machete and the claws of the jaguars. They left the Last Chance Saloon and headed down the open street, walking along in silence. They neared the end of the street, where the barn and cabin waited. Ivy glanced back at Brass, her face fused in a frown.

"Something wrong, little sister?" Brass asked.

"I should say there is," Ivy said. "You didn't have to assemble a posse. You didn't have to chase after any opportunity for a fight, but you insisted, even after you have left your badge behind. I will not lie and say that I did not find it infuriating."

"It was to protect you," Brass explained. "To keep Junction safe."

"I fear that is the excuse you took because your internal machinery and past experiences told you to act as a soldier and a lawman - not a peaceful automaton," Ivy said. She turned to face Brass and he remembered Generalissimo Villalobos's accusing stare. "You can leave those pieces of your past behind. You can be something different. Dr. Gridley didn't just construct a good fighter. He made a good person, an honorable metal man. That's what you are, Mr. Brass, if you would just realize it."

"Someone else asked me something similar today," Brass said. "Inquired as to whether I was more than a killing machine."

"And your response?"

"I said I didn't know." They reached the barn and the cabin. Brass looked their new house over and then stared at the cabin. "You ought to go in and rest, Miss Armstrong. You can repair me in the morning. I can't getting more broke the longer you wait. You should at least get some shuteye. I'll still be here in the morning."

Ivy paused and looked up at Brass. "You're sure?"

"Certain," Brass said. He held out his hand. "And you're right. I ought to try to be a different sort of machine than I am. I just don't know if trying is all I can do."

"You'll succeed, Mr. Brass," Ivy explained. "You are the strongest man I know - of flesh or metal." She clasped his hand tightly and then turned and walked away to the cabin. Brass watched her depart and let out a creaking sigh. He turned back to the road, tinged orange with the setting sun. Sheriff Turner walked over, ambling down the road to join them.

Brass walked to the fence post as Sheriff Turner headed over. "I think I owe you an apology," he said.

"Nah," Sheriff Turner replied. "'I, the Lord, will forgive whom I forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.' So said the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Doctrines and Covenants." Sheriff Turner shrugged. "Only there weren't much forgiveness to be found in Mountain Meadows. Nor elsewhere, truth be told." He folded his hands. "You're right about the Generalissimo. Him being near Junction is a danger. But I got a way to get rid of him."

"How?" Brass asked.

"There's a telegraph in my office. Wanted poster on my wall too, offering a big reward for Generalissimo Victoriano Villalobos. He's wanted for quite a few crimes. I spread word that he's been spotted here and bounty hunters will arrive, along with maybe a law officer or two." Sheriff Turner grinned. "Who knows? There might even be a marshal or two along with them. They'll go after the Generalissimo and capture him or chase him back into Mexico. What do you think?"

"Sounds like a good idea," Brass agreed. "Could save us a lot of trouble."

"But when the bounty hunters come and go after the Generalissimo - will you be riding with them?"

Brass knew that he would. He'd been captured, humiliated and nearly destroyed by Rojo and Generalissimo Villalobos, who had already marked him for death. He couldn't ignore the need to bring the outlaw king to justice. "I reckon so," he said. He turned away from Sheriff Turner. "So long, sheriff. I'll see you in the morning, I expect." Brass started to walk back towards the barn, where he would spend the night. He listened to his machinery work, hearing a quiet malevolence amongst the clicking of the gears.

21