“I cannot prove I am sentient, sir… can you?” Abigail Stracht, serial # ST-18, voiced the audacious words in the midst of the Royal Academy’s audience hall. Professor Hatfield was leading a debate on the nature of the Awakened souls– the elusive quality that meant a machine had attained self-awareness. This sentience, vaguely threatening to the humans who had built the automatons, was equally confusing to those who had achieved it.
As she and the professor exchanged quick-witted remarks, the crowd of scholars, nobles, and well-regarded merchants in the audience seemed swayed between Abigail and Captain Winfield’s arguments– that no one can truly know the mind of another, automaton or otherwise– and Professor Hatfield’s– that all automaton actions are derived in some form from their creators.
The day had started much like every day for the past several weeks– business was slow and mind-numbing, due to local subway construction tearing up the major intersections near Winfield’s Bakery. In fact, if not for the dreariness of the day, they probably wouldn’t have accepted Professor Hatfield’s invitation in the first place. After all, what Englishman orders a cruller and then fails to eat it? Winfield didn’t trust the man, and had said so to Abigail.
As they stepped outside after the debate, Abigail was approached by FG-36, the head of the Automaton Guild and keeper of the Registry of Awakened Persons for the Queen. They exchanged a few pleasant words– civil and more pleasant than Abigail had exchanged with him since refusing membership in the Guild proper. And then an older couple approached her and Winfield.
“We were so moved by your words…” The couple, Mr. and Mrs. Mers, were merchants who seemed more emotional than an academic debate might warrant, and Abigail and Winfield listened to their plight. It seemed their automaton, Sally– not Awakened– had gone missing several days earlier. In fact, FG-36 confirmed that several automatons had gone missing over the past several weeks. “We hope that she Awakened and may simply be… lost.”
“It is a very confusing time,” Abigail agreed, recalling her own traumatic awareness. She turned to FG-36. “Perhaps you could lobby the manufacturers to include some kind of… instruction set, for use when one awakens? Explaining where to go for registry and to get help?”
FG-36 regarded her coolly, and nodded. “An excellent suggestion. I will take it up with the creators.” He bade them a good evening and stalked away.
“…and take credit for the idea, no doubt,” Abigail muttered under her breath. She and Winfield continued on their way home in the late New London evening. Not long after they parted ways from the Mers, Abigail suggested they pop round to the police station. “They must know a little something about these missing automatons, right?”
Whatever Winfield thought they were going to do at the police station, he soon found himself staring in shock as Abigail scaled the outside wall and let herself in through an upstairs window. Just as he was about to call down for her, a couple of police officers rounded the corner. He distracted the coppers while Abigail raided the offices upstairs, looking for clues.
When she descended, it was with a large wall map and a sheaf of papers, all carefully tucked under her arm. She handed the papers to Winfield and the two of them took off for Winfield’s Fine Bakery.
At the shop, they used the map and their own cunning about the city to figure out that, indeed, the disappearances appeared to be random and unconnected, but in fact, they were all located near sites of the new subway system that was being constructed. The pair went off in search of an access point in the subway– taking the papers with them.
In time, they found a closed access door and heard sounds of someone behind it. Cracking open the door stealthily, they discovered a long row of automatons, all metal, standing deactivated in a long row. Off to one side was a well-lit office with a curious gentleman– Professor Hatfield, of course.
Abigail approached the long row of automatons, eventually finding Sally’s designation (SL-32). Just then, Hatfield came out of his office and spotted her. The two exchanged words, then he ordered his automatons to attack!
Abigail fought a crush of automatons while Winfield focused on stopping and capturing Hatfield. Heroically, he shot the door handle off the access door, effectively locking the two men in with two dozen rampaging robots.
Indeed… the rampage was brutal and efficient, as Abigail tore her fellow metal men apart, ripping limbs off of carefully-crafted bodies, and eventually using a power supply to electrocute the entire dog-pile of machines.
As she crawled out from under the pile of bent, broken, and smouldering bodies, she heard a voice from deep within the dog pile. “Huh-hullo?”
SL-32, miraculously, had not only survived the attack, but seemed to have Awakened in the process. Abigail introduced herself and had a few words with Sally, who also remembered Mr. and Mrs. Mers and wanted little more than to go home to them.
When the police arrived, Professor Hatfield was raving about “his” army of automatons, and his papers seemed to also contain all the stolen investigation notes taken from the police station (however could that have happened?!?) Abigail took Sally to the Registrar before delivering her home to the Mers, who were overjoyed to see her.
They returned to the bakery to prepare a double batch of fried dough goodies for delivery to the police officers in the morning.