Of Mice and Mechanical Men
In which Dodger gets some minor relief
Dodger stared at Lelanea. She stared hard at him in return, each of them taken aback by the doc’s outrageous suggestion. Marry Miss Lelanea? The thought was simply absurd. Especially considering Boon was planning on doing just that thing when he returned to his corporeal form.
Of course, Dodger was the only one in the room that knew that.
“He can’t be serious,” Dodger said.
“He is,” Lelanea said. She gave him a curt smile.
Dodger looked to the doc. “You can’t be serious, sir.”
“I’m perfectly serious,” the doc said. “It’s a solid plan. I know I am not normally a wellspring of such things, but I think in this case you will find the idea has a solid foundation-”
“Sir,” Dodger said over him. “It isn’t the solidity of it I question. It’s the, well, the logic of it.”
“Logic?” The doc wrinkled his nose.
“Logic?” Lelanea echoed with a huff. “So marrying me would be illogical?”
Made uncomfortable by her question, Dodger rubbed the back of his neck. “Now, ma’am, that’s not what I meant.”
“Good,” the doc said. “Because there is nothing wrong with the logistics of it. The whole thing makes perfect sense.”
“Yes, well,” Dodger said, “I must be missing out on something here. Because unless you have some kind of machine or concoction that can speed things up quite a bit, I don’t see how me marrying your niece is gonna get us any extra hands. If you get my meaning.” Dodger furrowed his brow. “You do get my meaning, don’t you, sir?”
The doc pondered Dodger’s meaning for a brief moment, his gaze flitting back and forth between the pair in question. A slow understanding crept upon the doc, filling his wide eyes with utter horror as he realized exactly what Dodger’s meaning really meant. “Oh, dear! Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. Not that. I don’t mean, you know, that.”
“Then what did you mean?” Dodger said.
“I don’t mean what you thought I meant. At least, I don’t think I mean that.”
“I don’t know what anyone means anymore,” Mr. Torque said.
“That’sh what I wash gonna shay,” Ched said, crossing his arms.
The doc continued to remain flustered by the mistaken proposition. He fanned himself and puffed his cheeks. “Oh, my. Oh, dear. Why, the very idea of it. I can’t … I don’t … I think I need to sit down.”
“You are sitting down,” Torque said.
The doc ran his hands across the arms of the chair he occupied, sighing in relief. “Ah, good then. At least there’s that.”
“Uncle,” Lelanea said. “Would you like for me to explain the way of things?”
“Must you?” the doc said. He turned to her with a piteous look. “I mean, there are so many others here. It’s embarrassing to think about, much less discuss.”
She huffed. “I meant about your idea, you silly fool.”
“My idea? Yes! Yes, please tell them about that, so we can get off of this uncomfortable subject once and for all.”
Lelanea cleared her throat and sat back, getting herself comfortable for what was sure to be a long and detailed explanation. “Several years ago, shortly before I joined the crew, Uncle struck a deal with a small town at the edge of what is now the Idaho Territories. The town of Boulder Shadow.”
The doc cut in atop her story, excitedly adding, “The name makes me think the town lies in the path of a giant boulder. Why would someone want others to think they set up a town in the shadow of doom like that? Foolishness, if you ask me.”
She cut him a frustrated look. “Do you want to tell it, or shall I?”
“Oh no, by all means, please continue.” The doc clasped his hands across his belly and beamed at her.
“As I was saying, Uncle sold the ladies and gentlemen of Boulder Shadow a certain-”
“Mostly gentlemen,” the doc said over her. “Actually, it was all gentlemen. Well, not gentlemen per say. They were really a bunch of ruffians and roustabouts and I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” He went quiet as he grinned at his niece.
She did not grin in return.
“What did he sell them?” Dodger asked.
“A mechanical man,” Lelanea said. “In fact, it was the prototype for Mr. Torque.”
“Me?” Mr. Torque said with a gasp of surprise. “I was assured I was one of a kind.”
“You are,” the doc said. “No one has your attitude, ineptitude, platitude or various other tudes that make you so useless.”
“You forgot my beatitude,” Torque said.
The doc growled, annoyed by his manservant’s sassy backtalk. “I wished you had more gratitude.”
“To go with your ineptitude?”
“Keep that up and I’ll introduce you to a whole new altitude, when I throw you from the roof of this train!”
Dodger balled a fist to keep from hollering at the group to focus.
“Y’all are funny,” Sarah said with another giggle, breaking the tension.
“They sure are,” Dodger said. “We know what makes Torque unique, so what is special about this mechanical man?”
“Unlike Mr. Torque,” the doc said, “the Pneumatic Automatic Universal Lumberjack was built for manual labor, not the delicate work of a butler.”
“You mean the delicate work of folding your under things?” Torque said.
Sarah smiled wide. “I like him.”
“Oh, my.” Mr. Torque touched his hand to his chest in a dramatic shock. “Well, I like you too, young lady.”
The doc ignored the exchange. “I created PAUL to help the men of Boulder Shadow clear the forest surrounding their chosen home. It was one of my first contracts when I arrived on these shores. The summer of ’66 I believe.”
“And you want to, what, take it back?” Dodger said.
“Well, buy it back, yes.”
“PAUL is over nine feet of solid iron and steel, and nearly as wide. He was designed to lift and carry thousands of pounds on a regular basis. Think of the extra power such a thing could provide.”
Dodger’s hands went to the ladies at his hips. “Not that I don’t appreciate the offer of help, but I’ve got all the power I need. Triple rounds in my hands are enough to put any mutt in his place.”
“I have no doubt of your extraordinary talent, Mr. Dodger. Your gift with a gun has saved us time and time again. Yet from what our little friend here tells us, you’re going to need all of the help you can muster when it comes time to face your arch nemesis.”
Dodger looked to the young girl.
“Rex didn’t think I saw it, but I did,” she said.
“What did you see?” Dodger said.
“He thought I was already asleep, but I wasn’t. I fought that medicine he gave me. I fought it really good and stayed up as long as I could.”
“You did an excellent job,” Lelanea said. “Now, tell Dodger what you told us.”
A look of distress overcame the girl. “Do I gotta tell all of it again?”
Lelanea smiled softly. “Tell us what you can, and we will fill out the gaps. Can you do that?”
“I can.” Sarah turned to Dodger again. “Mr. Dodger, that doggy kept me tied down to a cot in the corner of his flying ship, and I pretended to be asleep but I peeked when I knew he weren’t paying me any mind. I saw all kinds of drawings and pictures all pinned up on a big board.”
“Which explainsh how she learned of hish compound,” Ched added.
“What else did you see?” Dodger said.
“Something awful,” Sarah said, her face falling into worry. “Rex was arguing with some stranger. I couldn’t see the man’s face but he kept calling Rex a fool for trying to take on the US Army.”
“The Army?” Dodger asked.
The doc held his hand up, signaling for Dodger to let the girl finish her tale.
“But Rex said he couldn’t lose because he had a secret weapon,” she said. “Something that could take down one hundred men without breaking a sweat. I didn’t know what he meant at first, then I saw it. Something big and hairy and scary. He set it on the stranger. The poor feller tried to run, but … that thing … it caught him … and … and …” Sarah’s eyes welled with tears as she hung her head, unable to finish the story.
Lelanea pulled the weeping Sarah to her, cradling the child in her arms.
In which Dodger needs to up the ante