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#7: Crothall’s Grand Idea

Jane Temble’s disdainful, arch look was priceless after Crothall’s dogged mooning over the woman for the better part of the afternoon. The poor fellow nearly lost his composure, in fact, under the lady’s withering stare, explaining in a subdued tone, “Well, I wasn’t going to kill off the little buggers. I was thinking that mayhap we could smoke ‘em into submission.” At the subsequent blank stare, he shrugged and embellished, “Like they do with bees.”

Col. Spreenkerton, clearly in favor of the previous suggestion, Giles appeared baffled, Doctor P. harrumphed thoughtfully, while Jane, a slow smile creeping back across her expressive face admitted, “That could actually work . . .”

And indeed it might, for the previous tenant of the warehouse in which they stood appeared to have had a scientific bent to their activities. Several adequate lengths of rubber tubing lay coiled near a fume hood, while a good deal of burnable-looking material lay about the room.

Patting his pockets, Dr. P. produced his kit for smoking and offered up a match, while Jane and Giles set about readying the fume hood for a nice smoky blaze. Even Howard Spreenkerton unbent enough to contribute—producing half-a-dozen protective masks that he located in an equipment locker. And so, resplendent in goggle-eyed masks, their voices muffled within bulbous breathing filters, the five set bout laying hose near the meat locker to channel the conflagration that Sir Crothall had inspired.

If success could be measured in the sudden stimulus of activity behind that heavy metal door, then MDOPFGIASA was successful indeed. Rustling and squeaking increased five-fold, signalling that the choking air was crowding out the clean, wholesome atmosphere previously present within the small meat locker. After several breathless—quite literally—minutes, activity therein had died to a minimum and Giles breached the barrier, moving quickly and ready to abandon his position should the team’s actions have proven ineffective.

Praying that he wouldn’t get sliced to ribbons or electrocuted, Giles leapt into the smoke-filled room and grabbed at the first autobot he could find.

It offered no resistance.

Closing the door behind him, he stepped back into the light of the warehouse and assessed the mechanics with a quick eye—dimmed and shuttered as it was by the tinted goggles he still wore. Frustrated, the Inspector tore off both mask and gloves, knowing his time was limited. Not only did he need to guess which part of the mechanism controlled motor skills and disable it without also taking the life support off-line in the process, he had to do so quickly else his tardiness would suffocate the other bots still in the freezer.

Turning the metal and rubber gadget ‘round in his hands, he swore. The design was sleek, tight, and logical. Unfortunately, what made the design smart and elegant made it near impossible to separate the mechanics of the creature’s diabolical defences from the controls keeping its brain alive.

Dr. P’s shadow fell across the available light as the professor leaned in for a look. Hissing angrily as the movement startled him and dimmed the already less-than-perfect light, Giles threw an annoyed glance at the man. With a twitch, the autobot signalled the slow beginnings of recovery and both men tensed.

“There.” Dr. P pointed with his thick rubber-encased fingers, a gesture immediately followed by the quick snip of a wire.

Nodding, eyes flooded with unexpected relief and gratefulness, Giles wordlessly invited the professor along on the next trip into the freezer.

What followed was a rapid snipping and shouting match as they cleared the small room of the bots, disabling them as they moved. The results: a pile of the curious creatures glimmering and wiggling helplessly in the fading late-afternoon light.

Stifling an unmanly giggle, Crothall surveyed his handiwork. At Giles’ curious, questioning glance, Reginald blurted, “They look like metal lobsters.”

And indeed they did.

Piled in a metal tub, discoloured from the various chemical baths that supplied its previous calling, the autobots clicked helplessly under the inspection of five pairs of curious eyes. Each about ten inches long, the description of “lobster” was more fitting than “lizard” though, really, the creatures mimicked nothing in nature. They were quick thinking, as evidenced by their previous manoeuvres, and therefore very human in how they moved—Jane’s claim that each contained a portion of a human brain was supported by their uncanny reasoning and plotting, a promise quickly confirmed by a quick peek within the metal carapace.

But it wasn’t disgust at their discovery that made Perrigordon turn away from their captives after a quick yet penetrating glance into the tubs. No, the man now finally exhibited curiosity over their surroundings, the warehouse the autotrons had led them to in MDOPFGIASA’s investigation. The place practically shouted “science” and displayed a goodly array of what he was sure was expensive equipment. Yet it lay abandoned—curious.

Had the autotrons discovered it and come en masse, the diabolical mechanations intent on its use? No, clever as they were, the little creatures weren’t equipped to manipulate some of the more complex machines. Besides which, the little monsters had been doing a rather good job tearing the place apart when Perridgordon and Spreenkerton caught them up. Eying some of the evidence of their destructive rampage, Dr. Perrigordon couldn’t suppress a shudder. That Ms. Temble over there might have been right to ask that they respect the life within the little monsters but the idea that those . . . those Things . . . had been crawling ‘round the city unchecked was disturbing to say the least. James fervently hoped that there were no more out there roaming free, that the autobots had been working together in a gang as he and Col. Spreenkerton had presumed.

“Hey,” Jane Temble’s voice cut across James’ thoughts, “I think you Yard gentlemen will need to do your thing on this place.” Her finger pointed to a pile of scrap. Four male heads swivelled to inspect the indicated pile, saw nought but twisted metal, wire, and other mechanical refuse.

“Do our thing?” Charming even in his mild reproof, Reginald moved alongside the woman, his eyes scanning the discarded pile of scrap.

“Your investigative magic. Figure out who was using this warehouse,” she fished out the item that had caught her attention, “And I’d be willing to wager you’ll find who made off with Mr. Harvey Whitlock.” Lifting the limp metal carapace of an unfinished autotron for them all to see. Jane let her words hang in the air, a promise as glittering and dark as the evidence she dangled in the fading light of the afternoon sun.