IronHorse: 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.”

Wolfgang von 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 automaton.”

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 something more.

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 ones.

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 it.

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.

This was 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!

He began 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.

IronHorse had become the man Ed Thorp always wanted to be. A Hero.

But even 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.

Seeing that 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.

The 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 was.

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 was hosting.

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 him.

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 to cough.

“Lady… Can y’all tell me what I missed?”
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