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The Iron Fireman

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ZARI

 

There’s another clump of big grass about five feet ahead. It’s been cut, and like the one I’m crouched behind now, is only about fourteen inches high. That’s enough, I’m small.

No, actually, I’m *tiny*. Which is great when it comes to hiding. Sucks for winning fights, tho’. I bring my right knee up to my ear and plant my foot against the knot of grass giving me cover, and push off. My hands hit the ground once en route, and then I’m crouched behind what had been the “next” clump of grass.

And then I remember what I’d been discussing with Caleb, and I just get up and stroll in the direction I’d been headed. He’d said “Ninjas don’t want to be *noticed*. Trying very hard not to be *seen* can make you a lot easier to notice. Who’s going to pay attention to a little girl walking through a park? But a little girl doing impressive gymnastics to stay hidden in tough ground is something to notice.” So I stroll, but it actually doesn’t matter because there’s nobody within a few hundred yards anyway.

I’m a few hundred feet from the trees, and I notice that the area to the right of the trees looks… different. So I head over that way, while trying to figure out what’s different. It’s flat, but everything here is flat. It’s got clumps of the big grass on it; that’s most of the park too. The grass clumps are smaller and further apart, okay, that’s a difference. And it’s flat, but it’s a little bit *taller* than where I am or what’s further right. To the left are the trees, and that’s a big change – we do *really* big trees around here – but I’m not really interested in that direction.

I get to it, and it’s a low, scrubby rise, about level with the middle of my chest – say, about two feet. It’s easy to scramble up, but the top is just flat with clumps of grass like everything else on this end of the park. So I scramble back down, and walk around the edge. Maybe a quarter of the way around, I find a hole in the side. It’s square, regular, and about a foot on a side; plenty of room. I crawl inside. Dark – of course. But dark is my friend, I keep crawling. The sides are dirt, the floor is a bit damp, and the roof is… maybe that’s wood. But bits of it come off on my hand when I rub against it. Well, it hasn’t rotted away *yet*, and I can’t be more than two feet underground, and it’s not getting any deeper.

The walls sort of dribble out, and I’ve got some space on either side. And I bump into a barrier. It feels more like wall than like dirt; I move along it and in a few feet I find a hole. It’s damper on the other side, and then I put my hand on something different.

The surface is rough, pitted, and smoothly curved. The space is still completely pitch-black, so I don’t have any idea what it looks like. I follow along its length, and it suddenly has an edge, at which it tapers. I follow the taper to a narrower cylinder, and only a few inches further it flares out again – not as much, this time. Feeling along the re-broadened cylinder, I come to a protrusion. It’s oval, as wide as my hand is long, about two and a half times that in length, and gently domed. A little further along, two small cylinders protrude from the larger one.

A face. Two eyes and a mouth. I back down the cylinder past the narrow part to the wider one, and reach over it – difficult, given the cramped space, the mud, and the darkness. But I feel a ribbed, curving thing that could only be a shoulder. I’d found a robot, evidently a long-dead one.

It’s a lot bigger than me; no way am I going to be able to move it. So I just back out, wriggle through the broken gap in the wall, and get up on my hands and knees in that slightly taller space and crawl my way out. It has started raining – big surprise, not – but that wasn’t going to do much of a job of rinsing all of the mud off me. Mom isn’t going to be happy.

She isn’t, but it’s more “Well, Zari did it again,” than shocked horror. Good. I’m whisked away to Mrs. White’s shower while my clothes go off in another direction, and we are reunited in Andy’s bedroom about forty minutes later. Since getting the mud off *me* only took about fifteen, that gives me plenty of time to bring Andy up to date on what I’d found.

Andy’s almost twice as old as I am. I’m small for my age, but she’s tiny for hers – she just turned fourteen. Some of her school friends were shooting up and sprouting boobs, but she’s just a bit bigger than I am. When I came into the room wrapped in my towel, she was at her computer – of course. It’s still light out, so the telescope wouldn’t be interesting.

We get along because she doesn’t treat me like a kid. Might be because of her own size, she’s pretty sensitive about other people treating *her* as a kid.

****
ANDY
****
Okay, so *this* time I’m going on the Saturday rocket-club trip. Teddy, my little brother, is really into flying model rockets, and Mom and Dad are pretty nice about indulging us in our passions – he’s got his rockets, I’ve got my Cassegrian scope – and are also big on having Family Activities Together, but in spite of that I usually find some way to beg off of going to the Rocketry Club on Saturdays. Rockets have a hard enough time getting to the *moon*; we’re not going to get out and meet aliens with *that*.

Caleb is usually there, tho’, and he’s OK. And now Zari seems to have found a robot. Robots are cool.

We arrive at the park, Teddy gets busy setting up his launch pad and his first rocket, and Zari, Caleb and I wander off in the direction of the trees. It’s a bit of a walk; amateur rockets aren’t very selective about where they land, so a rocketry field needs to give ‘em a lot of room to wander around in.

The little rise Zari had reported is where she’d described, and we walk around it to the hole she’d also described. Zari eels into it; I put on my headlamp and wriggle in after her – kinda tight, but manageable. Caleb will have to wait outside; he *might* be able to fit one leg in a hole this size. Or maybe not.

My headlamp illuminates a mostly-rotten wood floor above us, with dirt above showing through the holes. More dirt to the sides and below, and Zari’s sneakers straight ahead. The dirt to the sides subsides, and we have a bit more room before there’s a wooden wall – again, mostly rotten – ahead of us. Zari’s waiting for me at a hole in the wall, a bit off to our left.

“There’s only really enough room in there for one of us at a time” she says, waving me on ahead of her.

She’s right, and it’s kinda tight for one, at that. Or at least, tight for *me*; she’s even smaller than I am. And as I crawl into the hole, I see the robot a few feet ahead of me. Zari’d had to identify it by touch the first time; with a light the shape is immediately obvious. Cylindrical body, gooseneck arms and legs, head furthest away from me and pointed upwards. Pretty much adult-human-sized and shaped, except for the head being way too big.

I wiggle my way backwards into the larger space on the other side of the wall, where Zari is waiting. “That is indeed a robot. Now how do we get it out?”

“Maybe Caleb can do it.”

“How would we get him *in* here?”

“Maybe we should have him be part of this conversation.” So we turn around – doable, but a little tight with both of us in this space – and wiggle back out to where Caleb is waiting.

We explain, he asks me “Andy, do you think you can re-trace your underground journey on the surface? And Zari, could you take Andy’s light and this..” he pulls something out of his pocket “..tape measure and give us a quantifiable idea of how large this thing really is?” He hands the tape to Zari, I do the same with my light, and she’s back off down the hole. I climb up on top of it – well, maybe “clamber” would be the better word, it’s only about two feet high – and re-trace the underground journey in my mind. Ahead, angling a little to the left, about this far to the wall, beyond the wall –

“About here”, I inform Caleb. We return to the tunnel-mouth as Zari is emerging from it.

“It’s a bit less than seven feet from one end to the other.” she reports.

“Okay,” says Caleb. “And the idea is to take it home and fix it up?”

“What *else* would we do with it?” Zari asks.

Caleb tries to look professorial. This is more comic than effective; he looks kinda like the result of a Mad Science experiment to turn a chocolate lab into a person. “Cover it with hot sauce and have it for lunch?” Zari punches him – in the thigh, that being what she can reach – and he giggles. Zari’s ferocity amuses him. I suspect he’ll be less and less amused as she grows up.

“I was more trying to raise the point that we don’t have either the space or the tools where any of us live to do this kind of work.”

“We could store in in my garage for a few days while we figure that out,” I volunteer. “I don’t think we can keep it there long-term, but a few days should be OK.”

“So next week we bring some tools, and we can get it out of there and take it home,” responds Caleb.

So we troop back to the Rocketry Club, arriving in time to watch Tom launch his Bumblebee. The launch is a success; the rocket goes up, makes a little “poof!” way up in the air, and then tumbles back to the ground. The Bumblebee is too small to need a parachute, the ejection charge just shoves the engine halfway out the back of the rocket so it tumbles on the way down instead of falling straight.

Tom is delighted; this is his second rocket, and it worked on the first attempt. Ted had brought 3 with him today, two simple one-stagers and a two-stage model. He’s fiddling with the booster stage; they don’t get parachutes and it seems his fell back down rather harder than it was supposed to. He’s only annoyed; nothing a spot of glue won’t fix.

“Mom, we found a robot. Can I keep it in the garage for a few days while we figure out what to do with it?” Mom knows me very well; a lot of other adults – teachers and such – make the mistake of assuming I’m joking when I make one of my odd requests.

“How big a robot are we considering?” she asks.

Zari answers, “About seven feet tall and human-shaped.”

“If it can stand up, no problem. If it has to be lying down, it’ll have to go in the garden shed; we don’t have that much room in the garage.”

 

Installment #3:

*****
CALEB
*****
So I’m going robot-mining today. I’ve got a shovel and an axe, and I’ve improvised a travois out of half of an old ladder, a scrap of particle board, a tarp and a piece of rope.

Mrs. White’s minivan has a roof rack, which is a good thing for holding the travois and will be a better thing for holding the robot.

It’s kinda funny to me that none of us even thought about any alternative but rebuilding the robot. Yeah, a working robot is more fun than a non-working one, I don’t have any argument with the decision, I’m just amused that no one seems to have recognized that it *was* a decision.

So we get to the park, the boys go off to launch rockets and the adults go with ‘em to ooh, aah, and nominally supervise, and the girls and I troop off to the robot-mound. Now that I know what I’m looking for, it’s easy to see how one of the old wooden Vanport foundations got bulldozed under and covered with mud.

Not *much* mud, tho’. Only three or four inches, and I’m scraping rotted wood. I clear an area a couple of feet on a side, switch for the axe, and bash a hole through it. No robot immediately underneath, but Zari sticks her head in the hole, twists around once, pops out and says “this way!”, pointing ahead and to the left. She scampers over a few feet, says “Here!”, and gets out of the way.

I scrape some more mud, whack some more boards, and we are indeed looking down at the rusted and very dilapidated remains of a metal man. Not a whole lot of down, when I jump in the hole, it’s not quite halfway up my thigh. The robot is heavy, but manageable. I pull it out of the hole, lay it on the travois, cover it with the tarp, and tie it down. As we start back to the rocket park, I ask Andy “So what do robots have to do with interstellar travel?”

“What do you think we’re going to be crewing the ships with?”

“Ah.”

The rest of the trip back is in companionable silence.

Dinner at Mrs. White’s is great, as usual. Sweet-and-sour meatballs on egg noodles, and broccoli, which is an excellent excuse for eating butter. And she doesn’t mind feeding my appetite, which can get a little absurd. I limit myself to half a dozen meatballs, three servings of broccoli, and a lot of noodles. That *should* be enough, but my belly has never been very good about saying “That’s enough.” As soon as the serving-dishes have gone around, Zari asks “Mr. White, can we have some money to rebuild our robot with?” I’d say tact has never been her long suit, but it’s more like she’s never heard of the concept.

I’m observant enough to catch Mr. White’s quick grin. “Ask me again when you have a more specific request. What parts do you want to buy, where are you going to buy them, and how much do they cost?”

I chime in. “I was thinking more of trying to scavenge the parts, but I see two issues. The first is that I don’t know where to look, and the second is that I suspect you have other uses for your garage over the next few months.” Dale continues to blissfully masticate his current meatball, and then says “I know a few people I can put you in touch with. Let’s talk about that in my office after dinner.” Best response I could have hoped for.

Mrs. White brings out a fruit salad for dessert; it’s got mint in it and several other flavors I can’t identify. After the sweet meatballs it doesn’t taste particularly sweet, and the fresh, light taste is a welcome contrast to the heavy meal. We all help clear the table, then Mr. White catches my eye, gestures, and we go up the stairs to his home office. “Very good project you’ve got there,” he says, while pulling out a pad and a pen and waking up his computer. “I’d suggest you find a way to look into the history of it; one of the contacts I’m giving you is Don at the Vigor Shipyard. He’s been around as close to forever as makes no difference; he might know a few things.”

I look at the list he’s passed me; it’s got half a dozen businesses on it, with individual names after the phone numbers. Don’s name is at the top. “Thank you, Mr. White. This gives me a real place to get started.”

“Glad to be of help,” he says, and that’s more or less the end of the evening. I say good night to Andy, Zari, Zari’s mom, and Mrs. White downstairs, and head on out for my bus. The apartment is empty when I get home; not unusual – Mom usually works evenings. No sense in trying to call businesses on a Saturday night; I put the list away, plug in my phone to charge, and hit the sack.

 

Installment #4

*****
TOM
*****

Saturdays are the best days; I get to go to the Rocketry Club with Ted and his family. They’re rich, but Ted’s mom doesn’t mind me hanging out with them. They’ve got their own house, and they’ve lived in it since before Ted was born, and Ted has his own room with a bathroom next to it he only has to share with his sister. And they have two cars, and one of ‘em is a mini-van big enough to take us all to the Rocketry Club.

Ted has about five rockets; I now have two. My new Bumblebee is a “tumbler”, it’s so small and light it doesn’t need a parachute. So when the ejection charge goes off, it just shoves the engine halfway out the back, which spoils the stability, and it tumbles back down without breaking. My Bandito can take A-class engines, twice as big as the half-A engines the Bumblebee can handle, and actually uses a parachute for recovery. The Bandito is a beginner kit, tho’, and came with a plastic fin assembly. When I built the Bumblebee, I had to cut the fins by hand and glue ‘em to the fuselage tube and fit the stability ring around ‘em.

Three weeks ago, Zari wandered off and found a ruined old robot. The week before last, she showed it to Andy and Caleb. Last week, Caleb, who’s huge, brought some tools and dug it up and they brought it home. It’s sitting in the shed in Ted’s mom’s garden, which is a nicer place than a lot of places *I’ve* slept in, not that the robot cares. It was never alive to begin with. Ted had sneaked into the shed and opened up the robot; he said it had a whole lot of brown tubes inside, and when he touched one, it fell apart, so he just put the cover back on so he didn’t break anything else.

This week, as soon as we arrive at the park, Andy, Caleb and Zari walk off toward where they found the robot. I knew they were going to do this – Zari had said so before we got in the van – and so I went, too. Rockets are great, and Ted’s my best friend, but this is a *robot*.

Diane comes with us. She follows Caleb around a lot, and she’s real pretty. The five of us get to a little raised area, which now has a hole in it. Caleb sits on the edge of the rise, and Zari and Andy make a triangle with him. Diane stands on one side, sorta between and behind Caleb and Andy; I’m on the other side between Zari and Caleb. Everybody likes Caleb, he’s a nice guy.

Zari says “I talked with my Dad, and he says we can put the robot in the barn and use his shop tools to fix it with.” I try to break in, but Zari keeps talking: “Mom brought the small car this time. We can tie it to the roof, though.”

Andy succeeds where I hadn’t: “I don’t think we’ve gotten to the point of making that decision yet. Caleb, what did you find out?”

“Your Dad gave me eight people to contact. Don at the shipyard will let us keep the robot in a corner of the PT boathouse, and showed me some of the shop rooms, which have all sorts of tools in ‘em. He says he can get permission for me to use the tools, too, as long as he supervises me. Dr. Mahmoud, Mr. Chang, and Ms. Prasad are at computer companies, since computers are mostly how robots are done now. All of ‘em are interested and willing to help, but your Dad is pretty sure the robot is more than 50 years old, and they didn’t have computers back then. So I’m not sure what kind of help they’d be. Mike works at a sheet-metal company, and will help me go through their scrap bins and find bits we can use. Sergeant Miller is at the Air Force base at PDX, and also has a lot of tools he can use, but he says we wouldn’t be able to keep the robot on the base, and signing non-adults into the base might cause problems. Russell works at a machine shop, which mostly does work on car engines. We don’t know what the robot uses for power, but it’s got to be *some* kind of engine, and it’s good to have an engine expert we can talk with.”

“Why does it need to have an engine?” asked Andy. “Couldn’t it run on batteries?”

“Small powerful batteries are very modern inventions. If the robot’s old, if it did run on batteries they’d be the same kind as car batteries. Those are mostly made of lead, and if the robot was full of lead I wouldn’t have been able to lift it. For old tech, the lightest way to store energy is gasoline.”

“Why not a steam engine, instead of a gas engine?”

“It might be a steam engine. Steam engines can be made to run on anything that burns; old steamships usually burned coal. Gasoline is still the most space- and weight- efficient way to store energy that isn’t radioactive, and a steam engine can be made to run on it.”

“Do we know that it *isn’t* radioactive?”

“Not for sure, but if it *was* an atomic powered robot, I think the Army would have been all over the area looking for it. I can ask Sargent Miller about that.”

“The last person he told me to talk with was Professor Ambargh at OU. He teaches history, and early 20th-century America is his area of specialty.”

“Was he useful?”

“Not yet. He asked me a bunch of questions, told me some stuff I already know about the history of the area, and asked me to come back next week after he’s had some time to look into it.”

“Okay. So we have two choices of where to store and work on the robot, or three if we count the Air Force base. Let’s not. Both viable choices come with tool-shops. One source of parts, two more of expertise, one of which comes with more tools. Anything else?”

My chance. “Teddy told me he opened up the robot. It’s got huge piles of tiny brown tubes in it. He touched one and it fell apart, so he stopped touching things and put the cover back on.”

“I guess he learned something from the time he tried to take Dad’s barometer apart.”

“I had a talk with my grandma,” Andy continued, “and she knew who built the robot and what it was made for.”

“How could she know that?” asked Diane.

“Because *her* Mom thought *she* built it. But Grandma had done some more asking around, and found out it was really her grandpa who built it.”

Diane looked doubtful. “Your great grandma thought your grandma built the robot? Wouldn’t she *know*?”

“No, my great-grandma thought she herself, my great grandma, built the robot. But it took a lot of different expert engineers to actually do the job, and her Dad, my grandma’s grandpa, was both a very good engineer himself and knew a lot of other very good engineers in a lot of different fields. And grandma said he was also a wonderful grandpa and probably would have been a wonderful Dad, too, so she could easily imagine him letting Molly think the robot was her own project.”

“Can we go ask your great-grandma about it?”

“No, she died when I was small. She must have been a pretty good grandma too; Mom was really upset.”

“Did she say what kinds of engineers her grandpa had recruited?” asked Caleb. “That’d give us an idea of what kinds of technologies we might find inside.”

“Grampa Morty was an engine-builder. Grandma knew that one of the other engineers was a radio-man, and another was a hydraulicist, and knew that there were at least five other men involved, but she didn’t remember what any of the rest of them did.”

“What kinds of engines did Morty build?”

“Gasoline-powered two-cycle and four-cycle, Diesel, liquid and solid fired steam, Stirling cycle, electrical, and probably others, but those are the only ones Grandma knew about. That’s all stuff she told me years ago, we didn’t go into that this week.”

“Doesn’t limit the choices much,” reflected Caleb.

“No, it doesn’t. Moving on to why the robot was built, it was built to be a fireman.”

“Makes sense,” said Zari. “A robot isn’t going to care much if it gets burned.”

“But why did they want a robot fireman?” asked Caleb.

“They built it in a shipyard during World War One. Lots of ships being built, most of them steam powered. Some coal burners, some oil burners – mostly oil here, mostly coal in England. Steam engines use boilers that hold a lot of pressure. If the boiler explodes, it can kill everybody in the ship. So stopping engine room fires was very important.”

“What makes a robot fireman better for that job than a human one?”

“Humans get too attached to things like breathing and homeostasis. The robot also needs air, but can carry around its own air supply. And it’s much less sensitive to high temperatures than humans are.”

“Okay.” Caleb seemed satisfied.

I had a question of my own. “Isn’t it kind of weird that you just happened to be wandering around in this park, and you found a robot that your grandma’s grandpa built?”

“Well, actually, Zari found it, not me. I think what’s weird is that it stayed hidden so long. Why doesn’t anybody except my grandma know about a robot fireman? Grandma says it’s because we’re natives, and nobody cares what native people do. That makes sense, but doesn’t seem like enough.”

“If it did its job right, we *wouldn’t* have heard about it,” contributed Caleb. “If there’s a big explosion in the shipyard, there’d be news stories about it. If there’s a small fire, and it gets put out without having to call the Fire Department, and there’s no big boom, there’s no story.”

“Exactly that happened at least once that Grandma told me about. There was a ship full of explosives that had some furnace problem, so they towed it to the shipyard to fix it so it could leave. One of the ship crew thought he could get the job done faster than the shipyard guys, and blew something up and started a fire – a little one, nobody died. Morty and his friends sent the robot in, and it put the fire out. No big explosion, no story. But Grandma said that a ship full of explosives would make as big a blast as a Hiroshima bomb. If the ship *had* exploded, there would have been stories. Also, no Portland.”

“She also said that the thinking part was done by what she called a Babbage Engine – a mechanical computer. Some of Morty’s friends were working on those, and they got so good at it that they were recruited to do it again for the Navy in the 1930’s. Grandma was real impressed by what they built. She said it could tell a ship’s gun how to fire to hit one moving ship from another moving ship twenty miles away in a thunderstorm. It had something to do with a thing called a “three dimensional cam.” She showed me a two-D cam in the motor of her car – she was still driving, then – but it looked 3D to me, so I guess I don’t understand the idea well enough.”

Caleb looked worried. “If we need to fix any 3D cams, we’re going to need a really fantastic machinist. A *lot* better than me.”

“I’m sure you could do it,” chimed in Diane.

“Well, I’m the one who’d be doing it, and I don’t think so.”

“Back on topic,” said Andy. “We have two possible places to store the robot and do the work, and a number of experts and possible experts to consult when we get stuck. Tom, Teddy said the robot was full of tubes, and that one of the tubes fell apart when he touched it?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re sure he said tubes, and not wires. Right?”

“Right.”

“That’d mean either pneumatics or hydraulics,” chimed in Caleb. “I’d guess hydraulics, as they transmit force better.”

"Well, yeah," responded Andy.  "And I did already say that Grandma said there was a hydraulicist involved." 

“What are those?” asked Zari.

“Sorry. Pneumatics means the tubes are full of air, and you make something happen by pushing the air in the tube. It’s lighter, and if a tube leaks it doesn’t get fluid all over everything. Hydraulics use liquid instead of air; since liquid doesn’t compress the way air does, they can transmit more force and are usually more precise. Your Dad’s tractor probably uses a lot of hydraulics.”

“And *again* let’s get back on the subject. Zari, I know you really want to take the robot home and put it in your barn and use your Dad’s tools on it, but it seems to me that the person who’s going to be doing most of the actual hands-on work is going to be Caleb, and for him to get to your barn needs an adult with a car. He can get to the shipyard on a 72 bus, so I think for the work to get done the robot needs to be in the shipyard. Are you OK with that?”

Silence from Zari. Then, in a grumpy voice, “I guess you’re right. Let’s put it in the shipyard.”

“Good. Thanks for agreeing to that. So Caleb moves the robot and takes it apart to figure out how it works, I read up on Babbage engines and talk with Grandma again, find out what I can, and check around to see if I can confirm what she says. Zari, would you be willing to look around on the web for anything you can find about robots in World War One? You’d also be looking for automata and mechanical men.”

“I can do that.”

“Okay, so let’s take Tom back to shoot some rockets.”

Caleb gets up, and we all walk back towards the Rocketry Club. “Tom,” says Andy, “why did you choose to do the Bumblebee after the Bandito? Isn’t the Bandito bigger and more powerful?”

“Yeah,” I answered, “but I don’t have much money, and I got the Bumblebee kit for a buck at a garage sale. It’s old. It’s also a trickier project – the Bandito came with a molded plastic fin set, but on the Bumblebee I had to cut the fins out of balsa wood, glue ‘em to the fuselage tube, and then glue the stability band around the outside of the fins. The instructions *call* it a stability band, anyway, but what it really does is keep the fins from breaking off in case it lands funny.”

“Well, let’s see how it flies.”

 

Segment 5:

*****
Zari, websurfing
*****

I didn’t wait ‘til I got home; as soon as the car was on the freeway, I got out my phone and started searching. (If I don’t wait for the freeway, I get car-sick.) I found a site with half a dozen images of “men dressed in clunky metal suits”, but when I found a date on it, I discovered I was looking at movie props from the 1950’s. The tiny print was very difficult to work with; once I *found* it I could zoom in on it, but there was too much space on the page to peer at everything in detail to see if there was tiny print there to be zoomed. A couple more like that, and I decided to wait ‘til I was home so I could use a big screen.

Dad likes to play computer games, and he also likes to read and learn things. So one of the rooms in the house is called the Library, even tho’ I think it was built to be a bedroom. It has bookshelves along the walls, and four desks set up in the middle with computers on ‘em. Dad’s computer is the one with the three huge screens around it. Mine only has one smaller screen, but I can watch a movie on it, and it’ll fit a full page of text or a nice picture, so that’s fine.

I found the site “cyberneticzoo.com”, which had all sorts of robots on it, a lot of them from the early 1900s and late 1800s. “Occultus” was built in 1909 in Germany, and had a picture of a man-like figure with all sorts of belts and pulleys and gauges in it, and quoted two newspaper stories describing it. But the picture didn’t show how anything worked, and the articles didn’t tell anything about it, they just boasted about how the machine would make its creator the most powerful man in the world. Since before reading this page I’d never heard of Adolph Whitman, I guess they were wrong about that. Made me wonder what *else* they were wrong about.

The 1913 “French automaton” had all its machinery concealed in the base it stood on, and was attached to that base. Not much use for anything beyond an advertising gimmick, which seems to be what it was used for.

Captain Alban Robert’s “Kaiser” robot looked much more promising, but hadn’t been built until 1928. It was described as “electric”, and “controlled by light.” Another 1928 robot was Gakutensoku, another “sit in place” job. All the others were even later than that – but the site *did* have a list of links, so I started exploring those.

Anthrobotic and Hizook were all about modern robots; if they had history sections, I couldn’t find ‘em. And it seemed like even modern robots were still struggling with things like walking without falling over. Humanoides was in French, and I can’t read French. Again, all of the pictures looked modern. Kinetica was an art site. And there were three or four others with broken links. Oh, well; back to the search engine.

I did find a reference to ‘Big Red Hair’, and did a search on that which lead me to Boilerplate. This seemed like exactly what I was looking for, until I read all the way through and discovered that Boilerplate was a foot-tall model that had inspired a bunch of fiction stories. Also, Boilerplate *disappeared* in 1915, he wasn’t *built* in 1915. The “big red hair” site also looked into some of the robots on the cyberneticzoo site, and thought them to be “frauds of their time”, rather than either real robots or modern stories. Phooey.

Robots.com sells modern robot arms. They seem to think that an arm is a whole robot.

On my phone, the site with the pics of “men in clunky metal suits” had labeled a lot of ‘em ‘steampunk’. So I looked *that* up. 170 million hits, not useful. Try “steampunk robot”. Still 18 million. How about “steampunk robot portland”? Down to 1.7 million. This is getting boring. The first link is to “images”, so I start looking through those. One of ‘em looks like Iron Man, with a big jewel in the middle of its chest and smaller ones on the palms of its hands. The title says “Portland Gear Con,” so I look that up.

Hey, there’s a steampunk convention in Portland! And it’s only two months away! Their site is all about *last* year’s convention, tho’. Maybe send ‘em a note and ask about this years. Might be worth it. So I open up my mailer, write a message saying me and some of my friends had a robot we thought was steampunk and we want to show it off and maybe get some help restoring it, and send it off.

Then I found an article in the Telegraph that said the word “robot” had been invented in 1921, and that most walking robots used six or eight legs.

Okay. What if I look for the “Iron Fireman”? That gets me the Iron Fireman Collective, which is at least in Portland.

This wasn’t getting me anywhere. So I called Andy.

“Andy, all I’m finding is that fake robots were the world’s favorite fraud from about 1890 to 1930. I’m not finding any real robots until a few years ago. Are you sure your grandma said 1915?”

“Yeah, that’s what she said. And you saw the robot – it looks like a man with a big head. That makes a certain amount of sense, they didn’t have real computers back then, and these “babbage engines” aren’t nearly as compact.”

“We’ve seen it, so it exists. And it’s old and rusty, so it’s been around for a while. Your grandma said that there weren’t stories about it because it was “just a bunch of natives and who cares about them.” And Caleb says if it did its job right nobody would have written stories about it, he talked about “the explosion that didn’t happen.” But from looking at it and what your grandma said, we think it could not only walk, but get around well enough to rescue people from a burning ship and put out the fire. We haven’t had robots that could even walk across a flat floor with no obstacles for more than a few years; a robot that could fight a fire would have been news no matter who made it. So why aren’t I finding anything?”

“Because the people who were building it were hiding. They didn’t *want* to be found.”

“How do you know that?”

“Grandma, again.”

“Why didn’t they want to be found?”

“I see her again on Wednesday. Tell you when we meet again on Saturday.”

“Okay.”
Section #6

*****
Caleb takes the robot to the shipyard
*****

Mrs. White stopped at the gate. Don was there to let us in. From the street, all you can see is thousands of yards of chain-link fence with green plastic inserts. The gates, too. If it wasn’t for the ramp through the curb, you wouldn’t be able to tell it was a gate.

Don looks so old you kind of wonder if he didn’t die already without telling himself. That’s reasonable; he’d told me he was 89. He unlocks the gate when we pull up, waves us through, and then locks it behind us, gets in the car, and directs Mrs. White to the PT boathouse. The robot is in the back of the minivan, strapped again to the travois I’d improvised – I *can* lift it, but I sure don’t want to have to carry it very far in my arms – so I slide it out of the back of the car and lean it against the rail. Don says “Wait here while I let your mom back out”, I don’t bother to correct him. They drive off towards the gate, and a few minutes later Don comes walking back. He goes down the ramp, and I pull the travois after him. The boathouse is on the docks, and the ramp is hinged at the top and wheeled at the bottom so it can adjust when the water level changes.

We go in the door, which is attended by another old white guy, nearly as old as Don. We turn right to go down another ramp, and I look to my left at the PT boat just below us. Neat toy. The deck is pretty much covered with guns, from the big 40mm on the back deck to the fake 37mm at the bow – the horseshoe magazine is real, but the “gun” is just an old car driveshaft stuck in an empty steel box somebody’d folded up. The really neat stuff is under the deck, tho’: Three Packard V-12 engines.

But I’m not here to look at those. We go to the end of the ramp – much shorter than the outside ramp – and Don leads me around to the opposite corner, to the front left of the boat. This is where what Don calls “the most important machine in the shop” sits – the coffee-maker. There’s an empty spot on the wall at the end of its counter, and following Don’s gestures I unstrap the robot from the travois and sit it in the spot.

“Doesn’t it stand up?” Don asks.

“No, the legs are goose-necked. Must make ‘em pretty flexible when it’s running, but when it’s not they just go limp.”

“Mmph. Hope nobody trips over ‘em. You can lean that thing --” he points at the travois – “on the other side of the door, here.”

I do. When I come back, he’s staring at the robot, with a soft, almost sentimental look in his eyes. “Want to get started?” he asks, and at my nod he says “Then let’s get him up on the bench.”

We pick up the robot together and lay it out on a work-bench on the other side of the coffee machine and a few feet away from the cabinets lining that part of the wall. It looks like we’re about to hold a robot autopsy, which actually isn’t all that far off. “You brought it in, you get to do the honors,” he says, waving at a nearby tool rack. I get a #2 Phillips out of the rack, and ten screws later we have the front panel off. As Tom had described, a bunch of brown spaghetti, about as thick as parachute cord. Little green corners can be seen lurking behind it.

“That stuff’s so far gone I’m surprised it didn’t turn to dust just from you pulling it down the ramps. Let me introduce you to your most important tool.” He hands m a yellow pad and a pen. “All of those tubes have to come out, and you have to know where to connect the replacements. You need a rigorous system – maybe just start at the top left and move across and then down, and each time you take out a tube, give it a number and describe where it goes to.”

And that’s the whole day. Over the next eight hours, I take out 418 of the skinny tubes, and fill ten pages each with two columns of numbers and coordinates. Don takes breaks to go get more coffee and sit down and drink it, but stays with me all day, looking in as I clear out the nest of tubing. With the torso about two-thirds cleared out, I’ve exposed a couple of dozen small green blocks, maybe an inch square and six inches long, each of which has two rows of nipples to attach the tubes to. At the bottom in the back there are also a pump, a couple of tanks, and what looks like a motorcycle engine. Don repeatedly offers me coffee, which I politely refuse. People actually drink that stuff on purpose; I’ve never quite been able to figure out why. I mean, obviously they like the taste, but it tastes like weak, dirty solvent. How do you learn to like that, as a taste?

“Same time tomorrow?” Don asks.

“No, I can only take one day off school. But I can be back about three-thirty tomorrow afternoon.”

“Okay. I’ll see if I can scrounge up some hydraulic tubing to replace all this rusted-out stuff. We’re going to have to clean off those brass blocks, too.”

“How do you know they’re brass?”

“Well, if it corrodes green, it’s either brass or copper, and there are obviously moving parts inside, which’d make copper too soft to withstand the wear of operation. Process of elimination, must be brass.”

“If you say so. What do they do?”

“Let’s take one apart tomorrow and find out. Don’t miss your bus; it’s a long walk back into town.”

I scooted.

Tuesday after school I get the rest of the rusted tubing out. This leaves four vertical rods on either side, to which the corroded brass blocks are attached. Behind and below that are the motor, a couple of containers, and a pump-like device.

I feel behind the blocks, and find screw-secured clamps holding them to the vertical rods. I get an offset screwdriver from the tool rack, and two screws later am holding a block in my hand. Feels heavy. Don has brought a spool of hydraulic tubing, slightly smaller than what we’d been pulling out, and also a can of brass polish. I read the directions on the polish, and then get a rag and wipe it all over the block. It’s supposed to stand like that for twenty minutes, so I go back to the robot and detach the two tanks. The larger one is heavier than its size would indicate; the smaller one is just an empty metal can. The smaller one is connected by a small metal tube to the motor, the larger one has a larger brown hose coming from it that leads up to several branchings that eventually lead to the green blocks, and a hole in the other side. The inside of the torso is now clear enough that I can see a plug sitting on the bottom, with another brown hose on it connecting it to the pump. I detach the hose from the pump and pull it out; the plug on the other end neatly fits the hole in the larger tank. I can get a finger in the hole, so I carefully do so and feel the edge. It’s about an eighth of an inch thick. Okay, pressure tank, and the pump keeps it pressurized, and the motor drives the pump. Gonna need a new tank. The light can is the fuel tank for the motor. Not large, maybe a third of a gallon.

It’s time to get back to the brass block. Per the instructions, I wipe it off with a clean rag. It works, the block is now shiny brass, and I can see half a dozen tiny screws securing one of the long sides – the back, if it were still attached to the bars in the torso. I can’t find a screwdriver that small. Don is on the boat, talking with one of the sailors; I pick up the block in a clean rag and go over to join him.

The two old men are by the radar mast, and I guess that they’re talking about the 75-year old radar set. They don’t keep me waiting, Don finishes a sentence and raises an eyebrow at me. “I can’t find a screwdriver this small. Do we have one?” I hold the block towards him; he takes it, rag and all, and looks at the back of the block. And then he pulls it up to his face and squints, peering at it with great concentration.

“No, we don’t have any that small. We’ll have to go to a specialty tool shop to get one. Which is going to be tomorrow, because the shop is now closed and you’ve missed your bus.”

“Ooops.”

Both old men laugh, the other one – Mark, I think? – says “The mark of the artisan. The clock doesn’t count, all that counts is the work.”

“I’ll give you a ride home,” says Don. “We can go screwdriver shopping tomorrow.”

The new screwdriver is like spinning a pencil between my big fingers, and it’s a battle getting it into the heads of the tiny brass screws. It does work, and with a reasonable amount of swearing and the magnifying lamp I manage to get all six of the tiny screws out.

Nothing happens. I hope to pry open the lid, but I’m not finding a seam to pry on. Don is watching, he says “May I?” before taking the block from me. Holding it between his fingertips, with the back-side down towards his hand, he slaps the back of his hand down hard on the desk, takes the block out of his fingers with his other hand, and hands me back the block in one hand and the cover in the other.

I look inside the block. Then I pull over the magnifying lamp and look at it through that.

It is completely full of tiny, precisely machined parts. “I’m not sure if I could get all those out, and I’m even less sure I could get ‘em all back in again.”

The parts are gooey, and only slightly blackened, not covered in green corrosion. Don looks at it with me, and says “Yeah, I think we should just give it a bath and see if it works. An acetone bath will take that off, it’s just decomposed hydraulic fluid.”

“That’s two dozen acetone baths, and we haven’t even tried opening the limbs or the head yet.”

“If you’d wanted an easy job, you’d have tried resurrecting an early ‘60’s chevy.”

He’s got a point.

Thursday morning before school I order a new pressure tank online. It’s not shaped quite the same as the one we’re replacing, but close enough. One input valve, one output valve, and a pressure gauge. I might want to take that off; nobody will be able to get into a position to read it while the robot’s running anyway.

After school, it’s off to the shipyard again. Today I tackle the engine and pump. Pulling ‘em out is fairly simple, if a bit cramped – it’s hard to get both my arms and a socket wrench into the torso space. But I do, and they both come out together. It’s a simple piston-style pump, directly connected to a thrust rod out of the business end of the motor. There’s a big fan blade on the other side of the motor. Don and I stand there looking at it for a few minutes, and then he says “Did I ever tell you about my adventures fixing my own TV in 1960?”

“No.”

“It taught me a lesson about using the right tool for the job. In that case, the right tool for repairing a television was a television repairman. In this case, I think the right tool is a motorcycle mechanic.”

 

Section 7

******
ANDY
******

"No, Gram, it still doesn't make sense.  Okay, it's a bunch of red and black and yellow folks in a white world.  Okay, the explosion that didn't happen isn't news.  *It's still a robot*.  They were doing things with World War One technology that we didn't manage until the next century.  How could that not make the news?  Even front-page headlines." 

She smiles at me.  I melt; Grandma has a very special smile, that pours on like love-syrup.  "It's so wonderful, that you live in a world that lets you think that.  I did ask Grandpa Morty why he didn't show off his Iron Fireman.  Do you know what he told me?" 
Special smile or no, I blow a raspberry of frustration.  "If I did, why would I have just asked?" 

"He told me, 'If I were to show off the Iron Fireman, what would show up in the news is a minor street fight.  Three days later my body would be found in a ditch, and some deputy's brother in law would be showing off the marvelous robot he'd just miraculously invented.'  There's still a lot of bigotry and prejudice in the world, hon, but it's *so* much better than it used to be.  Now, even the cops know what they're doing is wrong, and know they have to hide it." 

Operates from different premises, but internally consistent.  Also, horrifying.  "So what did he do instead?  You've told me Gramps Morty stories before, he doesn't seem like the kind of guy to just chicken out and go hide." 

She snorts and giggles.  "No, not hardly," she agrees.  "He brought his friends together and formed the Cascadia Mutual Assistance Society." 

"Which did what?" 

"It organized their efforts to help each other.  Gramps talked with everybody, and found out what they could do, and what they wanted to do, and what they needed to do it.  And he went out and looked at the real world they were in, and figured out what the obstacles were to doing it, and who would oppose it, and how those opponents got *their* information.  And in talking with other people whose needs he was trying to help meet, he also asked after skills and resources, so he could find things for people who needed 'em and didn't know where they were.  And he recruited other people to go looking with him, and trained 'em in how to do it.

"During the war, he started teaching school after work.  When the war ended, he cut back to part time at the ship yard, and spent most of his time teaching.  And he not only taught children, he used the Cascadia Society to help their families.  And once a child entered one of his classes, he kept track of them and their family forever." 

"That's a *lot* of people." 

"Damn straight it was a lot of people.  And a lot of activity, and none of it ever showed up anywhere official.  The Klan and the other hate groups couldn't pick on him or his people, because they never knew any of 'em existed.  By the time they moved down to Chile, there were more than twenty thousand of them." 

"And they moved down to Chile because of the flood, you told me about that one." 

"Close.  Not so much the flood itself, but after the flood some men in suits came around, and told Grandpa and his friends that the flood wasn't an accident, that it had been arranged on purpose, specifically to destroy their equipment and kill a few of their people.  So they moved to someplace they thought was safer." 

"And these guys in suits wanted to wreck their stuff and kill them why?  It couldn't have been just bigotry, there were lots of us around that nobody tried to kill."   

"You said your friend Caleb was taking the robot apart.  What did he find in its head?" 

"He hasn't opened up the head yet, he's only working on the body so far." 

"Okay.  What he hasn't found yet is the mechanical computer. You know they didn't have electronics back then."

"Yes, you'd said the only electrical parts were the eyes and the AM radio." 

“Right. And the whole rest of the head is filled with mechanical computer, which no one else in the world could make, yet. And in the 1930s, all full of idealistic patriotism, most of the computer crew went to work for Ford, building mechanical computers for the Navy. The military intelligence people of the time weren’t as nasty as that profession is today, but they felt really strongly about people they didn’t trust having military secrets.”

Light dawned. “Wait, you mean the military intelligence guys *staged* the Vanport Flood?”

“No, but they were very clever. When the flood occurred, they did a very convincing job of taking credit for it. They told Morty all about how they’d supposedly done it, and told him that the massive property loss and minimal loss of people were entirely intentional on their part, but that if the whole Cascadia Society didn’t fold up shop and stop doing things, they’d be going after people next. Morty believed them. So, Chile.”

“Okay, but this is getting ahead of the question I’m trying to ask. You were saying that Grandpa Morty and his friends kept the robot secret *on purpose*, because they thought if anybody knew about it, they’d get killed and it would get stolen. Is that right?”

“That’s the *start* of the story, yes.”

“We can get to the rest another time. How do you program a mechanical computer?”

“Honey, I have no idea. I’m telling you what I remember of stories my Grandpa told me when I was seven and eight years old. And he was an engine-builder, not a computer-wrangler.”

“Okay, right. Sorry.”

Section 8

******
TOM, at the Rocketry Club
******

I’m really surprised when the five of us troop off towards the robot-hole, and Ted actually puts down his rocket and comes with us.

It’s not a long walk. This time Zari sits on the edge, and Caleb and Andy make a triangle with her. Diane is of course next to Caleb, and I’m by Andy, so Ted takes the remaining point, directly opposite Zari.

Zari once again starts, and this time nobody interrupts. “There’s nothing on line about real robots before about 1960, and even then they were building things like ‘robotic arms’, not real robots. A lot of fakes, though. I did find an Iron Fireman Corporation, but they made dampers for coal stoves, not robots.”

“What’s a damper?” asked Diane.

“It’s a flap in a chimney, that controls how much air can enter or leave the firebox. You use it to close off the chimney when there’s no fire going, to keep the drafts out. Iron Fireman Corporation went out of business ages ago, but their buildings are still there, and there’s a group called the Iron Fireman Collective there now. I’ve sent ‘em an email; they haven’t answered yet.

“There are a lot of turn-of-the-20th-century robots in some stuff called Steampunk. I found a Steampunk convention in town, and sent them an email too. Also no answer. Yet.”

“Good work,” approved Andy.

“I got the robot’s torso emptied out,” started Caleb. “We’re going to have to replace the body; it’s the chassis as well as the shell, and you saw how rusted-out it is. The robot worked by hydraulics, as Andy had suggested; there’s a motor that pressurizes a tank, and then tubing leads from the tank to valve controllers that distribute the pressure to the head, arms, and legs. We want to get a motorcycle mechanic to look at the engine, and I’ve ordered a replacement pressure tank. The fuel tank still looks good.

“We opened up one of the valve controllers, and it was gummed up with dried hydraulic fluid but not internally corroded. So I cleaned all 24 of ‘em, and numbered them in order and put ‘em aside. So I need to find some metal and build a new casing, and find a motorcycle mechanic to overhaul the engine.

“I also heard back from Professor Ambargh. He referred me to another guy down at PSU; I don’t remember his name offhand but I’ve got it in my notes. I sent him an email, and he said he’d get back to me on Tuesday. He seems to know some stuff about your great-great-grandpa, Andy.”

“It’s great to have outside confirmation. What does he know?”

“Maybe I’ll find out on Tuesday. All I know so far is that he knows the name Mortimer Stone.”

“Well, that’s a good start.

“I was chasing the question “Why didn’t the robot make headlines.” The answer is that Grandpa Morty and his friends were hiding it on purpose. When the explosives ship caught fire, they did report there was a fire, but just said “we put it out,” without bothering to specify that one of “we” was a robot.”

As if on cue, Zari asked “Why were they hiding it?”

“Because they were engaging in radical social experimentation under the pretense of running a burial society, and didn’t want anybody looking too closely.”

Diane’s cue, this time: “What’s a burial society?”

“It’s like a fund for paying for funerals. People used to think it was very important what happened to their body after they died. Some people still do. And the society *did* pay for funerals, that part was real. It just wasn’t the important stuff they were doing. They were also educating people, helping them with career planning, helping them start businesses, get medical care, get food, arrange child care, get housing, helping them hide from lynch mobs, and helping them keep their successes secret when they did well, so as to prevent more mobs.”

Ted had remained silent so far, which isn’t like him. “Why all this focus on mobs?” he asked.

“Oregon had a very active chapter of the KKK back then. Every few weeks, they’d go out and randomly lynch somebody. They just liked killing people and black people didn’t know how to fight back. They came after us, too, but we tended to shoot back.”

“Then why didn’t they go after this burial society?”

“Because burial is what you do with *dead* people. The mobs *liked* making dead people. I guess for them it was like ‘Oh, these people clean up after our messes’.”

“So why did the mobs object to people being educated and cared for?” Diane, this time.

“I dunno. Maybe they were afraid somebody might do better than them. But that’s not the important thing. Grandpa and his friends were setting up a societal infrastructure that might grow into something that could challenge the default mainstream society on its own terms. That’s not what they had in mind to do, they wanted to become *part* of that default society. But they knew that society was also paranoid, and tended to respond violently if it thought it might be being challenged. So they didn’t want it to notice them at all for anything until they were ready, which they saw as being a long time off.”

“I think they were right about that one,” mused Caleb.

“Grandma said that by the time they moved to Chile just before she was born that they were up to 20,000 people.”

“Why did they move to Chile?” I ask.

“Because there was a flood that killed several hundred of them and ruined most of their equipment, and some guys who said they were from the Army came by and told Grampa they’d arranged the flood on purpose, as a warning that the Mutual Assistance Society had better restrict itself to arranging funerals, or there’d be a lot *more* funerals.”

“Could they do that? How do you ‘arrange’ a flood?”

“Grandma doesn’t think they did it, but does think they could have.”

“So there are twenty thousand Cascadians in Chile?”

“No, they’re all dead. There was a tsunami a dozen years later. Well, *almost* all dead, a few escaped. The *point* is that Grandpa Morty had good reason to hide, and the best way to hide is to not let anybody know there’s anything *to* hide. If you say ‘the buried treasure isn’t here’, you’ll get a lot of people wondering where it is, and then they go looking for it. If you say ‘I’ve never heard of any such thing’, then there’s nothing for ‘em to look for.”

“So what are *you* going to be doing this week?” interrogated Zari. “I’m going to be calling the Iron Fireman Collective and the Steampunks, and Caleb’s going to finish taking the robot apart. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to find out if there are any more of those Cascadians still around and if they know anything useful to us.”

“I know where to get sheet-metal to make a new body for it!” One advantage of living on the streets is you end up knowing where everything on the streets is.

“I can find a motorcycle mechanic,” contributed Tom.

“Then let’s get you back to the club so you can launch some rockets. We’re done here, for now.”

Section 9

*****
Correspondence between Zari and Steve
*****

Dear Gearcon People:

My friends and I have found what we believe to be a World War One automaton, and we are renovating it. Since your last convention was about what you called “the Great War,” we were hoping that some of your people might know something about it, and that you might be interested in letting us display it at your next convention.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Zari Davis

 

Dear Gearcon People:

I have not yet received a response to my previous letter. Do any of your people know anything about actual World War One automata? And can we display ours at your convention?

Sincerely,

Zari Davis

 

Dear Zari,

To the best of my knowledge there were no actual WWI automata. If you have one, we would be delighted to display it, but before claiming it to be authentic I would have to see fairly convincing proof. If it looks good, we can display it anyway; a genuine WWI fraud is still a genuine artifact.

How large is it, and do you have pictures? If so, could you send them to me?

Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to procure a site for this year’s ‘con, and the ‘con has been indefinitely postponed as a result. As soon as we have a site, I can send you exhibitor information.

Sincerely,

Steve Couchman

 

Dear Mr. Couchman,

As I’d said in my initial letter, the robot is currently undergoing restoration. I’ve attached some pictures of it, but right now it does look more like wreckage than robot. We are going to be replacing the body casing, at which time it will look a lot nicer. If we could stand it up, it would be just under seven feet tall, and as you can probably make out from the pics is shaped like a man with a very big head.

How soon will you know about a site?

Sincerely,

Zari Davis

 

Dear Zari –

It’s an impressive looking piece of wreckage. Do you think you can get it to work, or is it going to be a static display?

I will post about the event site on our Facebook group as soon as we have a site, and update the website with the new information within a few days of that. If you have or know someone who has four thousand dollars they can donate to the convention, we can have a site reserved within a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, piles of spare money have lately been noticeable only by their absence.

Best,

Steve

 

Dear Mr. Couchman,

Do I interpret correctly from your earlier statement “there were no actual WWI automata” that there is no one in your group that has expertise in this matter? I am also not an expert, and I did a web-search on it, and I didn’t find anything either. But Andy, our lead researcher, asked older residents in the area, located some who had indirect experience with the robot, and assembled a rough history of its creation and employment. It’s called the Iron Fireman, and was used to fight ship engine room fires in World War One.

I have spoken with Caleb, who’s doing most of the mechanical work, and he is optimistic about the robot being able to be restored to full functionality. He’s not sure yet, and if he can do it he’s not sure how long it will take, but he says he has replacement parts for everything that needs to be replaced, and that most of the original computing machinery seems to be in good condition and only needs to be cleaned up.

Piles of spare money seem not to be any more common here than they are there. Is there anything else that can be done about the site problem?

Sincerely,

Zari Davis

 

Dear Zari,

My own websearching turned up the Iron Fireman Collective, across from the Holgate MAX stop. They’re a real estate firm rather than a robotics company, but they would have enough space to hold the ‘con twice over, if they could be persuaded to contribute it. Why don’t you ask them, and let me know what they say?

Best,

Steve

***
End Ch. 1
***