A Man of Steel!
ambulance arrived at the hospital, two orderlies rushed out pushing a trolley.
They eased the patient out of the Red Cross trailer and onto the trolley then
pushed it and the patient into the hospital, along the corridor to the
laboratory. No.2 arrived a few moments later in a taxi and went into the hospital.
The professor was preparing for the operation, and awaiting the arrival of his
The two orderlies pushed the trolley through the open steel doors into the white walled laboratory. The Professor began his examination of the unconscious patient. No.2 stood at the pair of steel doors they didn’t open. He banged on the doors with his fists, in his frustration he was forced to pace the floor outside. While inside the laboratory the Professor had removed the face of No.13 as well as the synthetic skin, covering the steel frame of the automaton. The machine had been wired up to the computer in order to carry out a diagnostic of the mechanical brain.
Suddenly the pair of steel doors opened and No.2 stepped into the laboratory.
“Why have you kept me waiting?”
“Why in order to allow me to get on with my work in peace and quiet!” said the Professor.
“How is Number 4?”
“As you see, he’s the best so far. Number 1 was alright as far as it went, but it was too clunky, and clumsy. Number 2 was a huge step forward. You will recall how we gave it your face, and how it managed to fool your assistant.”
“I found that somewhat unnerving, it seemed to like its elevated position rather too much” No.2 said recalling the episode only too vividly “I recall it had to be deactivated in the end. Then there was the unfortunate incident with Number 3!”
“All safety precautions had been observed, Number 3 had been functioning normally then suddenly it…..”
“Killed three guardians, snapping the necks of two, and beating the third to a pulp!”
“Regrettable” said the Professor “But in experimentation one must expect losses.”
“Then Number 3 went on to attempt an escape. It would have torn a Guardian to shreds had it offered resistance, and where is it now?”
“At the bottom of the quicksand.”
“At the bottom of the quicksand, that saved your bacon Professor.”
“But it helped in the progression in the experiment which resulted in Number 4. He’s the best so far. Number 4 has become fully integrated in the system, the village and its community. He has
a number of experiences during his time here what’s more he has learned from
those experiences. I would give him a normal classification; on his arrival he
showed shock symptoms, disorientation, confusion and an accepted behaviour
pattern. He became uncooperative, under went interrogation, refused to talk. He
even came up with an escape plan and executed that plan, that was interesting.”
“Interesting how so?”
“On the grounds that it was the best demonstration of an independent free thinking, and calculating mind. He showed daring, the eventual desire for freedom quite normal behaviour for a man who has been in captivation for so long. This was instinctive, not pre-programmed.”
“So what went wrong?”
“We are running a diagnostic at the moment. Nothing abnormal is showing up so far. It’s the fact he remembered when all memory of his former life had been erased from the mechanical brain.”
“Then it doesn’t work?”
“I hate to remind you Number 2, but Number 4 was a perfectly functioning automaton up until we re-programmed it. And during that reprogramming something was left behind from his former life.”
“The ghost in the machine.”
“The ghost of something, memory, but it should not have been able to remember because there was nothing to remember!”
“So we have failed. No.4 is no use to us as an infiltration unit.”
“I am afraid so Number 2, and he was the last of his kind.”
“Then there must be another, what about Number
“There is no Number 5. The idea was to use an automaton as an infiltration unit. To be programmed with the mind of a subject of our choosing, then to be released into the outside word in order to gather information. This process would have been carried out many times. As it is what happens if each time during those processes a little of each subject remains after the re-programming? We would create a monster!”
“Haven’t you done that already professor?”
“Like Frankenstein? No not like Frankenstein, he wanted to create a man in his own likeness, and in the end he wanted to destroy the creature he created because it became a monster! Number 4 was perfect, we meddled with it and it became imperfect.”
“So, where does this leave the experiment?”
The Professor gathered up the papers on a table, stuffed them back into a folder, and dropped the folder into a wire wastepaper basket!
“Any more questions?” asked the Professor “Number 4 will have to be decommissioned and dismantled, the last of its kind, what a pity.”
No.2 carried a document case; unzipping it he removed a grey cardboard folder and dropped it onto the table.
“What’s that?” the Professor asked.
“That was sent down in part-2 orders earlier
today. Apparently our masters want the experiment to continue, but taking a
“Saltzman” was the name the Professor read on the cover of the folder.
“Professor Jacob Saltzman” No.2 said “A Saltzman machine has been acquired and is on its way to the village as we speak.”
“A Saltzman machine, what does it do?”
“Well it doesn’t move about creating havoc which is a bonus. But it does change the minds of men and women. What I mean is, the Saltzman machine makes it possible for us to take a subject and bring him or her to the village, wipe all unpleasant memories of their stay here, give him or her a mind of our choosing and put the subject back into circulation in order to gather information. Later to be brought back to the village and have that information extracted.”
The Professor opened the file, he couldn’t
help but think there is a flaw in that plan somewhere, but soon realized that
basically this is the same as his own plan, but using people rather than his
“And you want me to construct this Salzman machine and presumably make it operational.”
“You are as astute as ever Professor.”
“How was this Saltzman machine acquired?”
the Professor asked flicking through the papers in the file.
“Ours is not to reason why” No.2 told him.
“And this Professor Saltzman?”
No.2 shrugged his shoulders “We have you, the machine, and the plans to make it work which is all that is required.”
There came a noise behind them, a whirring, clanking sound which made the Professor and No.2 stop, they paused before turning round to see No.4 sitting on the edge of the operating table and taking notice.
are to be congratulated” Number 2 told No.4.
“You are the best of your kind, the most sophisticated.”
“Thank you very much!”
“We had to put you to the test you understand.”
“You mean I have been put through this ordeal, being tested, since the very day I arrived here in this place?”
“Well you didn’t actually arrive in the village………….”
No.4 looked down at himself, his steel frame and the cogs, springs, rods, wires. He raised an arm, he looked at his hand with curiosity to see how it worked when he moved a finger, clenched his fist.
“You mean I was constructed here. Then tell
me, since I have survived what then is to be my reward?”
“Reward!” the Professor shouted “you are a machine. I built you with my own hands. I know every nut, bolt, and cog.”
“Perhaps you think my existence is reward
“You are the last of your kind.”
“I am Number 4.”
“The best of my kind.”
“Yes I was listening Number 2, I heard very word uttered. And you two have made my life here, my existence a lie.”
“Not a lie, you can be anything, anyone you
like” said the Professor “I can make it possible.”
“Just as long as I remain here.”
“You cannot be free to go” No.2 said “besides where would you go?”
The automaton climbed off the operating table and took a step or two towards the Professor. No.2 stretched out a hand towards the telephone on the table.
“Is that an order Number 4?” No.2 asked
drawing back his hand.
In the Control Room the Supervisor stood
watching the scene in the laboratory play out on the wall screen. He picked up
the receiver of the yellow telephone and called security. A few moments’ later
four security guards in grey overalls and white helmets were speeding through
the village in a Mini-moke. Arriving at the hospital they marched in as a body
through the doors and along the corridor pausing outside the laboratory No.167
put an ear to the doors. He could hear voices within, he listened, he waited,
then he nodded to his three confederates with truncheons at the ready, then as
one they burst into the laboratory.
“Stop!” No.2 ordered “what is it you want?”
The automaton stood there, its brain whirring and clicking as it calculated what its response might be.
“We’ll take you, but first…”
Leaving the laboratory, No.2 and two
security guards escorted a monk-like figure, wearing a white robe and cowl, along
the corridor and out of the hospital. His face obscured, and the monk wore
white gloves on his hands. They bundled the figure into the waiting Mini-Moke,
and No.2 got in behind the wheel and started the engine.
Leaving the gravelled forecourt the taxi turned right following the hedge lined road, winding through woods, over a stone bridge turning left and along the road emerging into the village through the white and yellow triumphal arch. No.2 sounded the two tone horn warning pedestrians and cyclists alike to make way. The taxi continued on its journey until it came to a stop outside the large imposing building of the Town Hall. No.2 and the two security guards rushed the robed figure out of the taxi and up the steps into the imposing building.
The foyer was deserted, ahead a pair of wooden doors. One of the security guards produced a security pass disc from a pocket and inserted the disc into a slot of a
a small black box. There came a whirring sound as the
lid of the box began to rise a small pink hand emerged and snatched the
security pass disc, the lid closed and the pair of wooden doors opened. They
passed through and along the corridor and through a pair of glass panelled
doors, at the far end of a second corridor was a pair of glass panelled French
doors which opened automatically at their approach. Beyond was a small anti-room,
there was a second pair of identical glass panelled French doors also with
green blinds, they opened automatically and they passed through the open
doorway and stood in a dimly lit room. There was a whirring sound but the
source was unclear in the dimness. Then the French doors closed, and the lights
came on automatically. The source of the whirring was a tele-printer set up in
a corner of the room and a message or instruction was being typed out by the
machine. The room also contained three grey filing cabinets, a large oak desk and
“I have been here before” No.4 remarked.
“Welcome to your inner sanctum” No.2 announced.
The cowled figure stood there, eyes peered at the room through holes in a black and white theatrical mask.
“Here, what is here?” No.4 asked.
“This is your assignment, a very important one if you were to ask me.”
“What am I to do here?” he asked looking about him.
The two security guards stood blocking the doorway, truncheons at the ready.
“You are to type up copies of part-2 orders which are received via the tele-printer in the corner. And then send them on.”
No.4 looked at the tele-printer busy typing a set of instructions, he walked over to it, a white gloved hand opened the inspection door and ripped out wiring and paper from the roll. Instantly the tele-printer stopped working, and No.4 and No.2 stood looking at each other.
“I expect you think that’s a whole lot better” No.2 said as the tele-printer whirred back into life and resumed typing.
“This is your desk, chair, typewriter, typing paper, carbon paper, in and out trays, I suggest you get to work straight away” No.2 suggested.
“And if I refuse?” No.4 asked.
“Failure to comply will mean your being disassembled, your choice” No.2 told him.
The automaton stood calculating its options “Where is the automaton which sat behind that desk?”
“You have taken its place, you are Number 1 now” pronounced No.2.
The white robed figure stared at No.2, turned and faced the two security guards framed in the doorway. Then turning towards the desk, No.1 sat in the chair, and white gloved hands began typing.