The Locomotive Man. PROLOGUE
A common question asked by man now is
where is the line between man and machine drawn? With the growth of
AIs and the more humanoid appearance of robots being developed by
various corporations, the distinction has become less and less clear.
Adding to the question is the problem of groups like the Vahzliok
who use living tissue fused to man made frames, and the Clockwork
who use mental patterns of a living individual to power robotic shells
equipped with limited AI.
As current as these issues seem, the questions
have been posed long before the advent of the computer. Indeed, at
the turn of the century mankind began working with various forms of
automatons with a passion. Items of clockwork, spring power, and even
steam power became the rage for a time. One of the most impressive
feats of engineering was the mysterious “chess player.”
Kempelen’s mechanical chess player was one of the most famous automata
of all time. The automaton, produced in 1770, bested a host of chess
experts, European royals, and celebrities in live chess matches. The
automaton chess player fascinated the public because it not only imitated
human behavior, it appeared to be a “thinking machine.” German inventor
and showman Johann Maelzel brought the device to the U.S. in 1826,
where it sparked heated debates among audiences and journalists about
the mystery of its operation. However, an 1837 newspaper expose revealed
the presence of an assistant concealed inside the cabinet (Source:
Mary Hillier, Automata and Mechanical Toys: An Illustrated History
(London: Jupiter Books, 1976).
The idea of a “thinking machine” so
sparked the imagination of several inventors that, even though the
chess player was proven a hoax, they tried to make a true “thinking
So inspired, a group of engineers in Chicago decided not
to be outdone by the Austrian. They began work on an automated man
of their own. However, their man soon became a symbol of the strength
of American ingenuity. They didn’t want just something that sat at
a table, but something that would fire the hearts of men with pride.
So IronHorse, The Locomotive Man, was born.
The men from Chicago were
train mechanics and engineers, but it took the spark of brilliance
of one Edward Thorp to make the machine come off the blue-print pages.
He was the one who designed the brilliant gear houses for the arms
and hands, he was the one who built the boiler and regulators for
the steam pressure, and he was the one who designed the body. Some
called the initial structure a monstrosity, but others saw it as a
representative of the railroad. Tall, strong, and powerful above all
else. The machine man was billed as “A marvel of American Know-how.
A True Thinking Machine!”
On October 14th 1864, IronHorse was filled
with his first load of coal and activated. The automaton began to
act brilliantly. He worked on the railroads by laying track, hammering
spikes, and even dragging boxcars by sheer brute force. He was a marvel
indeed, and was paraded about by several rail-barons as a symbol for
the times. He could do almost anything and was many times stronger
and faster than any human.
However, IronHorse in reality was little
better than Wolfgang von Kempelen’s mechanical chess player. Edward
Thorp, the man who invented the automaton, was also it’s heart and
brain. The automaton was actually the world’s first “powered armor”
if you will. Mr. Thorp was so desperate to have his dream live that
when he could not get IronHorse to function on it’s own, he found
a way to drive it himself. Not realizing the other things he accomplished,
he kept it a secret except from a select circle.
Being a meek man,
Mr. Thorp also gave into the whims of the Rail-Barons at the drop
of a hat. He rode in the belly of the machine for far longer than
he should have, and was exposed to doses of coal smoke and heat that
would eventually end his life as he knew it.
But something odd happened.
It was after a 12 hour day displaying the prowess of the mechanical
man that Ed Thorp’s body began to finally give out. He had done every
little show the Rail-Barons had asked and was so exhausted at the
end of the day that he collapsed inside the machine and drifted to
sleep. Heedless of the fumes and the heat, Ed Thorp died, and became
The Rail-Baron of Arizona at the time was showing
off IronHorse as a way of distracting attention from him stealing
land as well as artifacts from sacred Indian sides. Needless to say,
the resident Hopi Shaman saw this as an affront to his people, and
to the sacred land. The Shaman, who’s name is lost to history, was
a keeper of old knowledge and paths. He knew of the spirits and of
the things the Rail-Baron was after. He also knew that a hero was
needed to help his people, and defend the things buried by the old
A hero made for the white man, would now become a hero for all
men. The shaman had stolen into the work grounds for the displays
IronHorse put on. He stole up to the massive metal man, and pressed
his palm on the chest of the thing. The shaman knew the truth of the
automaton, but also could feel the strong mind, but weak will behind
He could feel Ed Thorp begin to fade away and shook his head.
The ritual he performed is unknown, but only its effects will be described
here. Being dismayed at the hollowness of both the machine for being
a tool and nothing more, and the weakness of the man but brilliance…
he fused the two.
Ed’s body died, but his mind, spirit, and will were
now bound to a body of strength, conviction, and willpower.
the true birth of IronHorse.
The next morning when the being who was
Ed awoke, he felt someone open the main boilerplate on his machine…
but it felt like someone was pushing food directly into his stomach.
He shouted and looked angrily at the mechanic who stood loose jawed
in awe… The automaton never talked before, but now not only did it
talk, but moved and acted like never before!
The new IronHorse had
no clue what had happened to him. But somehow, and for some reason
he didn’t care. This new life felt right all of a sudden. All his
lost convictions were restored. Where once was weakness of willpower,
there was strength to spare. Where once was no self confidence, there
was now enough for a hundred men!
He looked about and felt as if he
had wasted his first life, and had made a mockery of what IronHorse
could be. And he thought he would change that right now!
by performing the show, but then stopping mid act and decrying the
activities of the Rail-Baron. He spoke eloquently and pleaded for
the Hopi tribe. He rallied the people and soon they joined him in
trying to drive the Baron out.
The Rail-Baron sent men… Tough men,
the best gunmen and mercenaries money could buy. But none could stand
up to the awesome strength of IronHorse. Those he could not reason
with, dealt with the same fists that could drive railroad spikes with
a flick of the wrist. With a vent of steam and a haymaker he sent
more than one tough flying out of the town and the tribal lands. he
began to fight for the people, driving off more than the Rail-Baron’s
men, but outlaws, rustlers, and anyone else who hurt others.
had become the man Ed Thorp always wanted to be. A Hero.
the strongest of men can come to fall eventually. A trap was laid
by the Baron. A simple bait and switch on his part led IronHorse out
of town on a false lead while he burned the town and the reservation
to the ground. The Baron killed the townsfolk to the last and stole
every last artifact he had originally come for.
From there he was
able to lay the blame for the entire thing on IronHorse. With money
well spent, and bribes well placed, he had testimony of the mechanical
man performing the most heinous of deeds. There was no one to defend
IronHorse either, and even though he fought the charges it was eventually
decreed that he WAS just a machine and therefore had no rights. IronHorse
was property, and as such could be dismantled at whim.
he had no other choice IronHorse submitted to the law, but not before
vowing revenge. He swore that somewhere, someday, he would reclaim
what was stolen and show that he was an innocent man.
They took him
apart piece by piece and roughly stuffed him into several crates.
As soon as his head came off his body, IronHorse ceased to be.
crate was shuffled off to one warehouse or another. kept in legal
limbo by the rail-Baron. Despite cries to release the once “mechanical
marvel” he hid IronHorse simply because he did not want to be tormented
further by the machine.
Soon memory of the Locomotive man was replaced
by other marvels and stories and the crate was inherited by the descendants
of the Rail-Baron. Their empire had grown vast, but the relatives
were greedy and thoughtless. They began to sell off much of the “Junk
their relative had spent most of his life accumulating.
Some of the
more clever relatives realized many things were items of power and
snatched them up long before they reached the auction blocks. It seemed
the Rail-Baron struck upon something long ago, something about how
to become something more than what he was, and how it all came back
to something called the Annak… The items he had stolen and acquired
over the years were to accomplish some goal, but it all fell apart
at his untimely and unsolved murder. The clever descendants kept these
items, or at least the items they knew had power.
The remains of IronHorse
on the other hand were sold off to the highest bidder as an oddity
and nothing more. The family having no idea what the metal man truly
The crate began the rounds again and soon found itself in the
backroom of Paragon City’s museum. A winning hand at a game of poker
secured the crate for the “steam power extravaganza” exhibit the museum
It had been almost 100 years since all the parts of IronHorse
were assembled, and yet, despite the age and battering the metal body
had taken, he looked remarkably good. A young technician named Maria
put him together and cleaned him up for the display. It was many months
of hard work restoring this lost oddity. She considered this machine
a bit of history and folklore that was lost and took pride in repairing
One night, on a whim, she filled his boilerplate with coal and
checked his steam valves. Everything was theoretically still functional,
and she was damn curious if the Locomotive Man really even worked.
When she started up the boiler, she got far more than she expected.
There was a wheeze, a rush of steam, a groan, and a tough voice began
“Lady… Can y’all tell me what I missed?”