The Automatic Man

“What is it?”  The boy sounded skeptical of what he saw.

The engineer ignored his tone, however; the smile never faded from his lips.  “It is an automatic man.  My own invention.  First of its kind.”  He was a father, beaming with pride about his newborn son.

“How does it work?”  His assistant still didn’t seem to have the proper appreciation for his creation.

“Well, first, there is the fire in the cast iron belly.  That drives the gears and pistons.  Some of them are so small, some of my finest work.  Then . . .   Come here.  You cannot see it properly from over there.”  The engineer carefully removed the metal plate covering the back of the head.  “Back here . . .  You see all of these small switches?  Adjusting these in different ways allows you to set the machine to perform a variety of tasks.  Lenses for the eyes focus light and conducting wire carries sound; both help provide external feedback to the mechanisms.  You see?”

The boy nodded, though it was obvious he did not see at all.

“I assume some of those switches allow it to use a pneumatic gun?”

The engineer scowled at the sound of the new voice, but he managed to suppress it before turning around to face the man in a grey uniform who stood in the doorway of his workshop.  “Of course.  It can be used for many tasks, even ones as simple as that.”

The office ignored the subtle insult.  “Good.  Good.  And how quickly can you produce them?”

“Well, I cannot say for certain.  This took some time.  It is not as though I have a factory dedicated to the job.”

“Ah, but I do.  And we cannot wait any longer for these miracle machines of yours.  Do you have the plans?  We need to begin at once.”

It was all happening too quickly.  He needed to stall for time.  Find some way to keep this work out of the hands of the military.  “No.  I have just finished.  I have yet to even test it.  There has been no time to draw up plans.”

The smile on the officer’s face was not pleasant.  “You have tested it.  I know you.  You would not be bragging, even to your assistant, unless you knew it worked.  If you do not have plans drawn up, I will simply take this one so my men can fashion plans from the original.”  He waved his hand, and two other uniformed men entered the workshop.  They loaded the automaton onto a cart and wheeled it out.  The engineer wanted to protest, but he knew it would be fruitless.

“Do not worry.  Your creation is in good hands.  And your service to the country is not unappreciated.”  The officer produced a large pouch and tossed it on to a workbench.  The coins inside clattered against one another.  “I may have another task for you soon.”  He nodded and left.

The engineer chided himself for thinking he could keep this from the military.  But he knew he did not have the luxury for lengthy self-recrimination.  He had to figure out a way to get the automaton back.

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