IronHorse: The locomotive man CHAPTER 1

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

Maria still had that one simple phrase running through her head as she gazed at the metal man in wonder. It had been about three days since she had fired up IronHorse and she still could hear those first words ringing in her head.

And there he sat. Almost the exact same spot where she had left him last night. The only difference was he was watching a different tape, and a few more notebooks had been filled beside him.

Maria still was still reeling from meeting IronHorse, but soon he was far more shocked to find out over one hundred years had passed since he was last awake. His eye-visor seemed to change shades with his moods, and when she told him what year it was, well the usually bright red light went pink with shock.

“Two… THOUSAND and four?” He had asked. She nodded mutely. Heck she found it hard to talk and only barely mumbled the year as an answer to his first question.

“Two thousand… Holy Mary Mother of God… What happened? Did the courts forget about me? Guess so if over a hundred years passed…”

A massive gauntleted hand rose and smacked himself in the fore-head. He sank to the floor and sighed, steam escaping all of his joints.

“This’ll make it a SIGHT harder keepin’ my promise.”

Maria, after picking herself off the floor, came over to the locomotive man. Initially she thought he was weeping. Perhaps for some lost family or something. Instead, she found him scratching in the dirt with his finger. It was all numbers, ratios, and equations. Something she never fully understood.

“Whoof… By my reckoning… This load of coal ya’ filled me with should last about half a day. Only a half load huh? Worried I may have done something?”

Again Maria nodded and IronHorse snorted. The steam wiped the numbers off the floor in a cloud of dust.

“Y’all should really clean more. And despite whatever you heard… well probably read by now. I didn’t do anything like what the courts said I did. It was that damned Anthony Dumas.”

“Du… Dumas?” Maria stammered. The massive metal man nodded as he stood and looked about the room.

“Yep, Dumas. He was the bugger that framed me and stuck my bits here.” He ran a hand along the crate he was packed in. With a gentle squeeze he reduced it to splinters and smiled. “Nice to see my tomb become fuel for a new life.” Before Maria could act IronHorse has ripped the packing crate to shreds and pushed the majority of the aged wood into his furnace. He sighed as his eye-visor lit up with a brilliant ruby red flare.

“Man… That’s like eatin’ a 12 course meal after starvin’. Never tasted anything so good.”

Slamming his grate shut he dusted off his hands and then paused. A slight squeak from his wrist caught his attention. “Hey… Y’all got some oil here? Seems you missed a spot puttin’ me together.”

“What?” Maria whispered.

“I said… Y’all missed a spot puttin’ me together.” Her eyes were wide with shock. This seemed to let loose a series of laughs from the locomotive man.

“Look. You know my name but I don’t really know yours.”

“Ma… Maria. Maria Estavez.”

IronHorse thrust out his massive hand. “Well Maria, it’s a right pleasure meetin’ someone who knows good work like I am. Oh! And thanks for stickin’ up for me to your boss!”

“How… How did you know about that?”

“Heck I could hear you arguin’ with the curator about my significance for the exhibit above. Granted I’m not the best KNOWN historical steam powered thing, but I can damn well say I’m the most unique!” He gave a flex like a wrestler and tilted his head from side to side.

“I mean really, what riverboat could showoff like I do?” This lead to a series of giggles from Maria, and then full blown laughter.

“I’m nuts… I have to be… You CAN’T work like this. No WAY! I mean… I know the technology and I know all about you. You’re… well you’re impossible.”

“I get that a lot from the ladies.”

Maria blushed and shook her head. “O.K. then tin-man. Answer me this, how did you know what I was talking about with the curator before I put you together? How can you function like you do? And why should I trust you when the only written document about you is a court order to disassemble a malfunctioning piece of machinery? I mean really, besides that and a few show posters with your picture there is nothing historically about you other than conjecture and hearsay!”

IronHorse nodded to each point and then sat down. “O.K. first off I’m made outta Iron and Steel, no tin in me. Second, I don’t rightly know why I function why I do, but I’m willing to bet you don’t really know what makes yourself work either. We both may known the nuts and bolts of our bodies, but never really understand what makes them LIVE. I’m alive is all I can say. Don’t know how, and don’t really care. I just intend to enjoy it. As for the court thing, well if nothing more survives of that whole kangaroo court trial, you’re gonna just have to take my word that I won’t hurt you or anyone else who don’t deserve it. I give you my word on that. Oh… and I never really did like my pictures in those posters. Never got my head right.”

He stood and looked about before reaching over Maria’s head and grabbing a can simply labeled “Oil.” This he squirted onto his wrist and moved it about a bit.

“Sorry… that was drivin’ me nuts. Kinda like a sore joint to you. Now as for how I heard you before… I didn’t. Least not really. You see ever since they took me apart it’s like I’ve been sleeping and dreaming. I had no concept of time or people, just voices and sounds kinda filtered in and out. It was one helluva nap but it was restful… I heard you before I guess, and your muttering about how I am SO significant for the display above, as well as something about me being a masterpiece of machinery… I like that one by the way.”

Again Maria blushed but now was staring at IronHorse with rapt attention.

“So when you cracked open the crate I could feel light and hear sounds, but still it was filtered though sleep and dreams. Um… I will say that when I was taken apart it hurt like hell. They were not too kind let me tell you. But you… Heh… well you puttin’ me back together is the closest I’m ever likely to come to bein’ intimate with a woman. You touched all the right places if you get my drift. You’ve got some damn talented mechanics hands.”

Maria was now a brilliant shade of red and giggling while trying to hide her face. IronHorse laughed again and slapped his hands together.

“Oh lord don’t be ashamed! Not like I’m built anatomically correct! I’ll just take what I can get hun.” His eye visor warmed to a pale red, and she could tell he was smiling and joking with her.

“So uh… IronHorse… Now what?”

He paused and then sat down with an audible thump. He shook his head.

“Damn good question Maria… Damn good question. I think the first thing I should do is get caught up. I need to know what happened in the world while I was gone.”

This lead Maria to introduce him to the museum library. It was hard maneuvering IronHorse through the displays at night, partly because of his massive size and weight would only be supported in certain floors, and partly because he stopped every five feet to read or gawk at something.

“Holy crow…” He uttered when they finally hit the library. “Holy crow I HAVE missed a lot.”

Maria nodded and got him started on some books and set up a reading spot in the backrooms away from sight. From there she also covered for his disappearance from the storeroom by telling the curator the crate was empty and stuffed with rocks. He snorted his thoughts on the matter and haughtily stated that Maria was a fool for chasing down legends and dreams. “Ground yourself in the NOW young lady. In the NOW.” He always said. She wondered how the irony escaped him that this message came form a man who worked in a museum… and how he would feel if he met the living history and legend in their backrooms.

IronHorse for his part was a wonderful guest and apt scholar. he read voraciously and then insisted on seeing this “tele-vision thing.” He called it mind blowing and began to watch history unfold on DVD and tapes thereafter, reading to fill in the gaps. He gaped in awe when Statesman appeared and then flew, he marveled at the wonders of the city he had wound up in, and he was shocked to hear of how many wars had gone on since he was asleep.

“So many folks… So many I coulda helped… That Dumas character has a LOT to pay for now. Well… his family will… maybe… Can’t hold the sins of the father...”

He mumbled like that a lot, and took notes on everything. Especially mechanics. He jotted down things here and there and shook his head in wonder of all the changes he missed. Maria read the notebooks from time to time with him as he asked her questions and chatted with her. Many were notes about possible “upgrades.” His latest question was if he could replace his old boiler with something from one of the new locomotives. Like a diesel engine or one of the magnetic jobs like in Japan.

Maria found him charming, witty, funny, and above all charismatic. He joked, laughed, and never seemed to let things get him down. Oh he complained from time to time, but more often than not he just vented some steam and went back to what he was doing.

Three days, three days of constant reading, studying, watching, learning. His boiler was fed by coal Maria gathered, but he stated anything that could be burned he could use as fuel.

“Just some things are better than others. Kinda like the food you eat. I’ve developed a taste for things. Coal is the best but I like wood too. Paper is like candy, quick but not filling.”

As she reveled in the thoughts of the past three days IronHorse slowly stood and came over to her side. His eye visor was bright and cheerily red. He was smiling, and in a totally unexpected act he gave Maria a massive hug.

It was not cold, but warm. Warm metal, not too hard, and not too soft. Gentle but she could feel the strength in his body.

“Maria… I can’t thank you enough for savin’ me.” She smiled gently again and looked at him. “Now I wanna ask you a favor… I’ve been cooped up in here for three days… I wanna see this brave new world.”
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