It was gone teatime when Zelda and Master Dorje appeared wheeling a shopping trolley piled high with junk. Dorje cautiously isolated the readout mechanism and digging out a box of gears and worms began to ferret around in that section of the Analytical Engine’s mainframe immediately behind the blue boy. Meanwhile Zelda, utilising a watchmaker’s screwdriver, detached the lad’s writing hand. She then produced a medium sized tea chest, the contents of which were to remain a mystery to the surrounding, fascinated company.
“What does all that stuff do?”
“What’s in the box?”
“Is it safe?”
A large Papier-mâché ‘morning glory’ gramophone horn protruded from the top of the box and a twangy spring steel strip stuck out of a hole in the side. Zelda donned Chat-style goggles and pulled a welding torch from the supermarket trolley.
“What haven’t you got in that workshop of yours, Dorje?” asked Augusta with a mixture of exasperation and admiration.
Soon Zelda had firmly affixed the steel strip to the wrist tendons of the automaton. The resultant fire damage to its blue sleeve and the writing desk were deemed to be repairable if and when the opportunity presented itself.
“Ready,” she announced.
Master Dorje threw the Readout lever again. An unnerving whirring and grinding emanated from the mainframe, the lad’s arm quivered and a tinny voice issued forth from the trumpet.
“Hm, just needs a little tweak,” said Zelda delving into the tea chest.
“There,” she said, “ask it a question.”
“Ah, you’ll have to type into the teleprinter input port.”
“But that’s ten minutes walk away, round the other side,” said Lady Augusta.
“Am I supposed to think of everything?” The geek was becoming petulant.
“With me, your ladyship.” Slasher stepped up. “We’ll be in charge of the input. Zelda, you and Master Dorje look after your contraption. The rest of you spread out, shouting distance apart, relay messages back and forth.” The exact positioning of the gang round the perimeter of Augusta’s machine was hotly debated, resulted in one minor scuffle and was finally resolved when Aunty Stella took charge. All were in place by the time Slasher and Mrs King had reached the teleprinter terminal.
“What shall we ask it?”
“Something straightforward,” suggested Slasher.
Augusta typed, WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND OUT SO FAR?
The machine whirred. “DO YOU WANT THE GOOD NEW…S OR THE BAD NEW…S FIR…ST?”
“It’s being sarcastic,” shouted Phoebles.
“Just relay the message, Phoebs,” shouted Aunty Stella.
“Is that the message?”
“Look,” shouted Augusta. “Can we have some discipline please?”
GOOD NEWS FIRST.
“THE…RE IS NO GOOD NEW…S.”
“Great!” AND THE BAD NEWS?
“YOU A…RE ALL GOIN…G TO DIE.”
“This is going really well,” muttered Slasher.
“Can we junk your machine and go back to making it up as we go along, please?” shouted Phoebles.
“When? Where? Why?” shouted Boz.
COULD YOU BE A LITTLE LESS APOCALYPTIC? typed Augusta. MAKE A SPECIFIC PREDICTION.
“OK. PREDIC…TION: TOMO…RROW LUNCH…TIME – E S T – FOXNEW…S WILL RE…PORT THAT – IN AN AMBI…TIOUS EXPERI…MENT, A 70,600 TONNE…S, 280 METRE…S (920 FT) LONG DRONE CAR…RIER LA…DEN WI…TH LAS…ERS, CAME…RAS AND OTH…ER SEN…SORS – BUT WITH NO ONE’…S HANDS ON THE WHEEL – HAS BEEN DE…PLOYED BY THE WEB-BASED UB…ER TECHNO…LOGIES INC ON…TO THE CHA…LLENGING SEAS OF THE NOR…TH ATLAN…TIC – STEE…RING ITS…ELF TO PRESEL…ECTED CO-ORDI…NATES OFF THE EURO…PEAN SEA…BOARD — AUTON…OMOUS DRON…ES – PRE-PROG…RAMMED FROM THE SAFET…Y OF UBER’…S SAN FRAN…CISCO HEAD…QUARTERS WILL BE DIREC…TED AT STRA…REGIC TAR…GETS WI…THIN THE ROGUE AN…ARCHY.
“THEN …YOU …DIE!”
Everyone rushed round to join Slasher and Augusta.
“What on earth is it this time?” said Boz.
“CIA black ops again,” said Slasher. “They’re still in with Les Chats.”
Ginsbergbear puffed on his briar. “Zelda, can you hack an aircraft carrier that’s on autopilot?”
“Not remotely,” replied the geek. “I’d need to be onboard.”
“Good as done,” said Dark Flo. “I’ll alert Beryl.” She took out her smart-phone, looked disappointed, tried holding it above her head. “No signal. We need to get back to the Den.”
“How will we possibly find this drone carrier in the middle of the Atlantic?” said Ferdy.”
“No problem,” said Lady Augusta. “I’ll get Mr Doom and Gloom here to calculate a Latitude and Longitude for it.”