Possession is Nine Tenths
In which Dodger is offered proof
“What is that?” Sarah said, pointing to the metal tube.
“Do you remember our friend, Mr. Boon?” the doc said.
“Yeah. He’s a ghost but he’s not a ghost.”
The doc beamed with joy at her response. “Correct. My, but you are a clever, clever child. Aren’t you?”
Sarah went a soft pink in the cheeks as she giggled.
“Well this,” the doc said, lifting the glowing tube to eye level, “is a kind of vessel. Do you know what a vessel is?”
“A container?” she said.
“Correct again. Now, based on my earlier explanation, can you guess what the vessel is holding?”
Dodger opened his mouth to take a guess, but the child beat him to it.
“Is Mr. Boon inside of there?” Sarah said.
“He certainly is,” the doc said.
Sarah blinked in disbelief. “Whoa.”
“I’ll second that whoa,” Dodger said.
“Two whoas is just the beginning,” the doc said.
“Can he hear us in there?” Sarah said.
“Not as such. I am afraid the vessel is like a box of sorts. Once we place him inside, and close the lid, as it were, all light and noises are blocked.”
“Like a cashket,” Ched said.
“No. Like a box.”
“A cashket ish a box for a corpshe. Which he ish. Short of.”
The doc stared the not-dead man into silence.
“What do you intend to do with it?” Dodger said, trying to get the demonstration back on track.
The doc smiled again. “When I place the vessel inside of a machine like Mr. Torque, and if it works as intended, it will allow Mr. Boon to interface with the intricacies of Torque’s framework.”
“What was that?” Torque said. He poked a thin, metal finger into his ear, giving it a good swipe. “I don’t think I quite heard you right.”
“Be quiet,” the doc said. “Did any of that make sense to you, young lady?”
Sarah bit her bottom lip, screwed up her little face for a minute, then nodded. She pointed to the tube and said, “You’re gonna put that thing in that thing.” She shifted her finger to Mr. Torque on the second ‘thing.’
“No he won’t,” Torque said.
“And when you do,” Sarah continued, “Mr. Boon will be able to control it.”
“He bloody well will not!” Torque said.
“Very nearly there,” the doc said. “You were correct in every instance accept calling Mr. Torque a thing. He isn’t a thing. He’s our friend. Like Mr. Dodger. Or Mr. Boon.”
Sarah lowered her head. “Sorry, Mr. Torque. I didn’t mean to call you a thing.”
“Sorry simply won’t do,” Torque said.
“Mr. Torque,” the doc said, “she apologized for calling you a thing. Try to be sensitive. The child is new to all of this. You have to give her some room to adjust and-”
“I don’t give a fat rat’s rump if she called me your blood relative, which would be far worse than being called a thing, in case you were wondering. I’m talking about your proposed plan of shoving that giant metal suppository up my-”
“You will do as you are told.”
“I shall not.”
“Must you always be so argumentative?”
“Must you always be so dim-witted?”
“I’m in my right mind to break you down and scatter your parts to the winds.”
“Is that the same right mind that chose that bow tie?”
The doc’s mouth fell open a bit as he touched his tie. “I love this tie.”
“And I love the ugly curtains in Lelanea’s room, but you don’t see me wearing them around my neck, do you?”
“Enough!” Lelanea shouted.
The doc and Torque fell duly quiet.
“I swear,” Lelanea said. “You’re like a pair of spoilt children.”
“More like an old married couple,” Ched said.
“Either way,” Dodger said, “we don’t have time for this kind of bickering. Doc, if I understand you correctly, Boon is already inside of the, what is it, exactly?”
“The Spectral Pervasion, Occupation and Operational Key,” the doc said.
“You’re kidding,” Dodger said.
“No. That’s its name.”
“Out of all the namesh in the world,” Ched said, “you choshe to call it SHPOOK?”
“Yes,” the doc said. “Is there a problem with it?”
“No,” Dodger said, deciding explaining the name to the doc would take more time and patience than he had at hand. “And all you have to do is place the SPOOK inside of Torque, and Boon can take him over?”
“Yes, he will.”
“Oh no he won’t,” Torque said.
“Button it, Torque,” Dodger said. “Doc, is it invasive?”
“Of course it’s invasive!” Torque shouted. “That blathering spirit is going to have his way with my body!”
“I said be quiet,” Dodger said. “What I meant to ask is will the process damage Mr. Torque in any way?”
“Certainly not,” the doc said. “Once the tube is in place, Torque’s main personality processors will shunt into a secondary position, allowing Washington to man the helm, as it were. Mr. Torque won’t even know what is happening to him. He will enter a state very similar to sleep.”
“You mean I’ll shut down,” Torque said. “Might as well just pull my power source for good while you’re at it.”
“Don’t temp me,” the doc growled.
“Then do it,” Dodger said. “Show me that this can work and I’ll go and buy back your brute. We sure could use an iron hammer on our side, considering that maniac has such monsters on his.”
“Right,” the doc said. “Torque, open your main access port.”
“No,” Torque said.
“You will do it and you will like it.”
“For Pete’sh shake,” Ched said. “Jusht hold him down and shtick it in him show we can get on with thish thing.”
“He should stick it in you,” Torque said. “See how you like having all manner of metal things jammed in your depository holes.” The mechanical man waved a hand about wildly. “There is no way on this green earth that I am going to allow any of you near me with that-”
“Swordfish,” Lelanea said over the metal man.
Mr. Torque immediately responded to the shutdown command. His head drooped to the left as his whole body went slack. Silence rushed into the room with a sudden uncomfortable hush in the absence of the mechanical man’s ticks and whirs, not to mention his constant complaining.
“What happened to him?” Sarah asked.
The doc stood and pushed on Torque’s chest, releasing the hidden keypad inside. He pressed a few buttons. “Torque is equipped with a command code that allows us to override his incessant personality quirks.”
“In other wordsh,” Ched said, “they can make him do whatever they want.”
“I wish he would just do as asked,” the doc said.
“Then why didn’t you just ask him?” Sarah said.
The doc stopped, mid button press and looked over his shoulder at the girl. “What did you just say?”
“Sarah,” Dodger said. “Mind your manners.”
“Sorry,” she said.
“No,” the doc said as he turned about to stare at Sarah. “What did you say?”
Sarah looked to Dodger.
“Go on,” Dodger said.
Sarah swallowed hard. “I said, if you wanted him to do as you asked, then why didn’t you ask him?”
“I did,” the doc said. “Didn’t I?”
“No. You didn’t.”
“Ah. Well, now, you must understand. Mr. Torque is built for-”
“Am I your friend?” Sarah said over him.
The doc grinned. “Of course you are.”
“Well, you said Mr. Torque was our friend, like Mr. Dodger and Mr. Boon. So, when I don’t want to do something, will you make me do it like you’re making him?”
“Sarah,” Dodger said. “That’s enough.”
“Yes, sir,” she said and looked to the floor.
The doc looked back to the metal man. “Oh dear.”
Ched gave a dry, hollow chuckle. “Out of the mouthsh of babesh.”
“This is just silly,” Lelanea said. “Torque is our friend, but he is also a servant.”
“He can’t be both,” Sarah said. “Uncle always said it weren’t healthy to be both. Quickest way to start a fight is to make friends with the boss man. He always told me you can be family or you can be hired help, but you can’t be both.”
Dodger smiled at the adage. He had almost forgotten that one. My, but how time thieved you of the simple facts of life. The girly sounded just like the old man, word for word.
“I’m afraid the world is far more complicated than that,” Lelanea said.
“No,” the doc said. “The girl is right. I haven’t been very fair to him. I should’ve … I didn’t mean to…” The doc threw Dodger a worried look. “Do you think he will forgive me?”
“Only one way to find out,” Dodger said.
The doc sighed and pressed a button on the mechanical man’s chest.
Mr. Torque sprang back to life as if nothing had happened, continuing to say, “metal tube. In fact you can stick it up your own backside for all I care and why are you all looking at me like that?” He glanced down to the keypad at his chest. He gave a loud dramatic gasp, then slapped the back of his hand to his forehead, holding it there as he shouted, “You monsters! You did it to me again? Will I have no peace from your manipulations?”
“Mr. Torque,” the doc said. “Our new friend here pointed out something very obvious.”
“What?” Torque said. “That you are a total moron in need of a diet, a haircut and two gallons of cologne?”
The doc clenched his jaw, gritting his teeth. “No. She mentioned that I may have, possibly, just slightly overlooked the part where I should’ve asked you to read the tube for me.”
Torque’s eyes shuttered closed and open for a moment, the metal man’s way of blinking in surprise. “Well, yes. As a matter of fact, you did fail to ask me. All I ever get is Torque do this, and Torque do that.”
“To be fair,” Lelanea said. “You were created for just such a purpose.”
“You were created to take a husband and make babies, but no one yells at you for not squirting out a few overly hairy offspring. Do they?”
Lelanea’s eyes went wide. She clenched her fists and moved toward the metal man.
The doc held his hand to her shoulder, keeping her back. “Mr. Torque, would you please read the tube for me?”
Torque looked to Sarah, then back to the doc. “No.”
The doc whipped about to face the young girl. “You see? This is why we can’t just treat him like a normal-”
“But I’ll do it for her,” Torque said over his master’s rant.
The doc lost his fire and ire. His mouth hung open a bit. “You will?”
“If it pleases m’lady,” Torque said, bowing to Sarah, “then I shall do as she asks.”
The doc nodded to Sarah, begging her for permission.
“Yes, please,” Sarah said. “I’d like that very much.”
“Hand me the tube,” Torque said, snapping his thin fingers.
The doc passed the glowing tube to the mechanical man.
Torque considered it for a moment, then huffed. “I see you’ve designed this to fit my wax cylinder reader.”
“Yes,” the doc said. “It’s based partially on that and partially on the conduits of the DREAM machine. Consider Boon a message you can read for us. If you like, of course.”
“I like how you put it so drolly.” With a click, a small aperture opened in Torque’s right side. The metal man poked the blue tube into the hole, pushing it deep as it could fit. He closed the aperture, then paused to look up at the doc, furrowing his metal brows. “Sir. This won’t hurt, will it?”
The doc gave a soft gasp. “No. Of course not. I could never do anything that would hurt you.”
“Right. I just read it then?”
“Right.” Torque seemed to draw a deep breath to steady himself, which was absurd considering the metal man didn’t need to breathe. He then closed his eyes and clenched his fists. The mechanical man gave off a soft, rhythmic tick—a signal that he had set the tube in motion.