In which Dodger needs to up the ante
“From her descriptions,” the doc said, “I believe Rex has created some kind of homunculus. A beast intelligent enough to take commands, but with enough brute strength to tear a man in half.”
“Tear a man in half,” Dodger echoed. That was an awful specific thing for the doc to say. As if the man had heard it somewhere. Perhaps from the lips of a young girl?
The doc looked over his spectacles at Dodger, nodding at the unasked question.
Dodger glanced to Lelanea for confirmation.
She nodded as well. “‘Like he was made of paper’ was how she described it.”
“Like the man was made of paper,” the doc said, then gave a long sigh. “I am afraid this has been his end game all along. The genetic manipulation with the dog soldiers and the buffalo, the use of the SCWAK Boxes, everything has come down to this. Using my science, he’s creating an army of beasts poised to take over your country. Then who knows, perhaps the world?”
“And what about the Sleipnir?” Dodger said. “Why does he want the train so badly if he already has an army of monsters?”
“Feng said it best, Mr. Dodger. He doesn’t just want the train. He wants us. All of us. This train represents a collected threat to his potential dynasty. He doesn’t want just me or you. He wants us as whole.”
“And he won’t shtop until he getsh ush,” Ched said.
Dodger’s skin crawled at the thought of Rex unleashing such terrible things upon the unsuspecting public.
“If I had all of the time in the world,” the doc said, “I would fashion an army of my own. A legion of mechanical men to protect us against such a line of beasts. But time is not with us. Therefore, we must gather what resources we have at our command.”
Dodger grinned. “Either that or buy back what we can?”
The doc nodded. “You see where I am going with this?”
“I think so, sir.” But of course it couldn’t be as simple as just going into town and buying back a mechanism. Something had to complicate matters.
Something that involved Dodger posing as Lelanea’s spouse.
“What am I missing?” Dodger said. “Why do I need to marry your niece just to buy back a hunk of metal?”
“Oh that?” the doc said. “Simple enough. I would fetch him myself, but as you have seen, I don’t have much luck when it comes to paying return visits to previous points of sales.”
“You can say that again, sir.”
“I would fetch it myself, but as you have seen, I don’t have much luck paying return visits to previous points of sales.” The doc furrowed his furry brow. “Was that clearer? Or shall I repeat it a third time?”
Dodger balled a fist to keep his nerves in check. “No. Please go on.”
“Where was I? Oh, yes, I can’t go, which means someone else with a comprehensive understanding of how Torque works must go in my stead.”
“Which leaves me,” Lelanea said.
“And the last time I was at Boulder Shadow, the men were, how should I put this? Terrible. Unfit for civilized company. All rough and no polish. They were all miners, you see? A town of all male miners.” The doc thought about this a moment. “Male as in men. Not mail as in postage. They didn’t mine for mail. That’s just silly. Imagine digging packages and letters out of the soil.”
“Miners?” Dodger said. “What would miners want with a lumberjack machine?”
“Far be it from me to judge the needs of others. They purchased and I provided, no questions asked. As I handle all of my business transactions.”
“The point is,” Lelanea said, “Uncle doesn’t want me to go into the masculine town on my own. He worries about my honor.”
Dodger did his best to repress a snort of laughter.
Ched did not.
Cutting her eyes at the not-dead man, Lelanea set her jaw and said, “I will have to go in to make sure the thing is worth salvaging, but Uncle doesn’t want me to travel unaccompanied.”
“While I trust your technical abilities, Mr. Dodger,” the doc said, “this is a task best befitting my niece. It would take extra time to show you what makes it tick, as it were. Time we don’t have. Lelanea can go in now, assess PAUL and determine if it’s still functioning enough to warrant buying it back from the town. You will go in and pose as her spouse, to keep rough hands and wandering eyes away from her.”
“Can’t I just go as her bodyguard?” Dodger said.
“Certainly not. I don’t want folks to think of her as just protected; I want them to see her as completely inaccessible. And I want them to see the source of their worry, should they try to access her anyways.”
Are you fine with this? Dodger said under his mind.
Lelanea stared at him, but didn’t answer.
Miss Lelanea? Dodger said, cutting his eyes at her.
She narrowed her eyes in return, then shook her head, as if she didn’t understand him.
Or perhaps she didn’t hear him?
“Stop that,” the doc said.
Dodger furrowed his brow at the man. “Stop what?”
“That secret whispering thing you’re doing. If there is something that needs saying, then by all means say it aloud.”
“Sorry, Uncle,” Lelanea said. “We can talk about it later, Dodger.”
Dodger nodded, wondering why she didn’t answer him.
“If y’all are done communin’,” Ched said, “maybe we can get back to the resht of thish?”
“What rest of it?”
“Ah yesh. You ain’t heard the amushing piesh yet.”
“I think,” the doc said, “I’m not certain, but I think that, well, possibly …”
“He thinks Washington can possess this PAUL,” Lelanea said.
Sarah gasped as she lifted her head from Lelanea’s shoulder.
Dodger cocked his head. “Would you care to say that again?”
“Uncle thinks Washington Boon can possess the machine,” Lelanea said.
“Possess?” Sarah echoed.
“Does that mean what I think it-” Dodger started.
Lelanea talked over him. “It means exactly what it sounds like. He expects Washington to operate this mechanical man from the inside. Like a suit of armor.”
“Or a shecond shkin,” Ched said.
Dodger’s mind raced at the possibilities of the doc’s idea. The wonder, the excitement, as well as the world of trouble such an application presented. If they could get Boon inside of a mechanical man like Torque, only much larger, then the odds would tip far into their favor. Not even an army of bulldogs could fight off a machine like that.
“That sounds amazing,” Sarah said.
“Is it even possible?” Dodger said.
“I think so,” the doc said.
“Think or know? Because I hate to be the one to remind you of this, but we are little more than a week from doomsday if we don’t get to Rex’s compound and put a stop to him. Monstrosities or no monstrosities. We know where he is and we know the layout of his compound. While I would love extra help, from Boon or PAUL or anyone, I can’t condone getting further sidetracked by a plan that may or may not work. Especially one that takes us so far out of our way.”
“Understood. May I at least explain my hypothesis? Perhaps you will better understand how valuable this is if you know how it works. Yes?”
Dodger rubbed his eyes and nodded. He knew there was no point in arguing.
The doc cleared his throat. “I think I have found a way to allow Boon to interface with machinery utilizing the same principles of the DREAM machine. I have constructed a conducer similar to the beanies I fitted you and Lelanea with earlier. Boon agreed to allow me to store his spirit or essence or whatever you want to call it inside of this conducer along with a resonator coil and a myriad of other components that I fear will take far too long to explain.”
“That is all well and good, sir,” Dodger said, “but it don’t answer my question. Will it work, or not?”
“Unfortunately, I can’t answer that with one hundred percent certainty, which is why I have prepared a little experiment. Chester, please hand me the device.”
Ched stood from his seat and twisted to the left, lifting a cloth wrapped bundle from its hidden spot beside the chair, near the door. He passed the bundle to the doc, who accepted the weight with a discrete grunt. The doc unwrapped the thing, revealing a glowing blue tube. The thing look just like an ARC, those strange metal tubes with recorded messages scratched on the surface. But knowing the doc, this thing was host to a whole different sort of trouble.