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The Last Mechanical Monster: Eulogy

So what do you call a fanfic based off a webcomic based off an out of copyright Superman cartoon?

Me neither.

Inspired by Brian Fies' webcomic The Last Mechanical Monster.

The Last Mechanical Monster and related concepts, characters, and images are copyright Brian Fies and used here without permission.



Six weeks after Sparky died, my leg was finally healed and I was ready to head back to his lair.

Well, my lair now, I supposed. He'd willed it to me, thought I didn't know how I was going to be able to pay the estate taxes. Maybe if I could ever get all the rocks out from in front of the main door I could open it up as a tourist trap. Or do private tours for engineering grads who wanted a look at something from the Golden Age of Heroes.

So six weeks after I'd busted my leg, I was clinging to the side of the ledge leading to the back entrance. I remembered how badly it had scared me the first time when I didn't have pain twinges running up my hip from the cold as the Autumn wind blew against the cliff face. But I made it without killing myself and stepped inside, flicking the lights on when I entered.

I wondered if Con Ed was ever going to notice the power drain from that crazy MacGuyvered rig Sparky had set up. If I could figure out a way to keep the place, I'd need a safer and more legal arrangement. More money in other words. Sigh.

Without Sparky or his robot, it was unpleasantly quiet. Back in the day the great furnaces he had built would have been hissing and bubbling, providing the power he needed. His robot legion would have been creaking and buzzing as they moved about. It would have been alive.

But now Sparky was dead, along with his final creation, and the place was as quiet as a tomb. Smelled like it too. I guess he'd never got around to emptying Pail A that last day.

I looked around, feeling like a voyeur poking through the poor old man's things. I was trying to find anything resembling notes concerning his robots, I suppose. I know I didn't have a prayer of ever re-building one of his creations, but if I could find blueprints, notes, equations, something, it wouldn't feel like everything was lost.

After about an hour of searching the main control room, I felt, rather than heard, when He came in. A displacement in the lair's too still air. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise up, and I turned around slowly.

Sixty-odd years hadn't changed him much. There were wide silver streaks at the temples of his brill-creamed hair, and lines in his face that only accentuated the Clint Eastwood squint of his gaze. But he still wore the red and blue tights and the long red cape, which somehow was fluttering in a breeze that wasn't there as he floated a foot off the floor.

After his wife had died in the Seventies and he'd given up any pretense of being human, most of the world had forgotten him. He was still around, of course. The last relic of the original Golden Age, after the caped crusaders and flashing red streaks of lightning and the Amazons had all gone, He was still here. But he didn't talk to anyone, except sometimes to accept thanks from the survivors of whatever disaster he'd intervened in. He was Earth's lonely god, a living angel. Floating silently in judgment over weak, flawed Humanity.

And God forgive me, in that silent moment as he looked down on me, I hated him.

“What are you doing here?” I snapped, clutching the flashlight in my hand, fighting the urge to fling it at him.

“I'd heard your friend had died,” he said, his voice seeming to boom around the great control room, even though I would have sworn he was speaking more softly than I was. “I wanted to make sure he hadn't left anything dangerous behind.”

“There's nothing here,” I said, waving the flashlight around the chamber. “Just rusting iron.”

He nodded, floating down to the floor. Even standing there he was still a foot taller than I was. I hated the fact that I had to look up at him. “Then what are you looking for?” he asked.

“That's none of your business,” I snapped. My heart was beating faster as I felt my face burn red. “This is private property. You need to leave!”

“It's a dangerous climb along the cliff back there,” he said. “I'm not going to leave until I know you're safe.”

“Until I'm safe or until you're sure I'm 'safe'?” I demanded.

“Both,” he replied, not bothering to be offended. “He was a strange, angry man after he got out prison, or so I've been told. I'm surprised he trusted you.”

“He needed an assistant,” I said. “He was ninety-nine years old. His hands weren't steady enough to do the work anymore.”

“And yours were,” he said. “Did he offer you money?”

“No,” I retorted.

“Why then?”

“Because he was trying so hard, and I wanted...” I gulped back a sob. “I wanted to see it work, just one last time. I remember his legion marching down the boulevard when I was six years old, tall as trees. Mechanical wonders. I had never seen anything like them before. And I never would again. Not for sixty-five years, while he rotted in prison and the world changed so many times, so much he could barely recognize it when he came out.” I was crying now, the tears fogging up my round glasses. “Where were you, when he was rotting away? When the world should have been hailing him as a genius beside Edison and Einstein? He invented a real, working Artificial Intelligence, with just vacuum tubes and watchmaker gears. And no one saw it! No one cared!”

“No one saw it,” he said, his voice growing softer, “because all he did with it was rob jewelry stores.” Don't ask me where he was hiding it, but he pulled out a red handkerchief and handed it to me, as I sat down with a thump on the ramp leading to the control dais.

“Yeah,” I said, blowing my nose, feeling deflated, defeated. I caught my breath and went on, “If he had flown his legion to Washington, DC and marched them up Pennsylvania Ave. to present them to President Roosevelt, he could have made the cover of LIFE magazine. They would have called him a war hero. Can you imagine where we would be if he had been able to continue working on them, upgrading them through the Digital Age?”

“Can you imagine?” He frowned. “Drones are becoming more and more common, but at least they still have humans pressing the firing buttons. The only reason that there wasn't a massacre back in 1941 was because his vision was so narrow. Once he had built his robots, he never realized the implications of what he had created. I'm just as glad that he didn't.”

That knocked the wind out of me. A world of war robots? Maybe with the Rising Sun or Swastikas or Red Stars on their chests instead of an American flag? “That.... wouldn't have been so good,” I mumbled.

“No, it wouldn't have,” he said. He gestured around the empty chamber. “So I have to ask you again; What are you going to do with this place?”

“I don't know,” I admitted. “I just want... Want someone to remember him. Like I will.”

He was quiet for a moment, then he glanced towards the rear entrance. “It's getting dark. Would you like me to fly you out of here? I'd rather you not have to climb along that ledge again.”

“Thanks,” I agreed. And that's how I ended up flying with him back to where I'd parked my car. No wings, no propellers. Just the power of the yellow sun on a man born under a red one.

When I came back the next day, the boulders had been removed from the front entrance and the massive door opened silently at my touch, freshly oiled. By the end of the week Sparky's lair had been declared a state landmark, and I was getting inquiries from the local university about preserving his remaining papers and artifacts.

I'm still trying to talk Con Ed into running lines out there though.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
seawasp
May. 11th, 2015 11:38 am (UTC)
Very nicely done.
jeriendhal
May. 11th, 2015 11:45 am (UTC)
Thanks. When you get the time you should read the comic. It's not that long and is just about to end.
seawasp
May. 11th, 2015 06:03 pm (UTC)
Read it. Your Eulogy covers one of the obvious burning questions which is "Where is Superman?". Unless that's gonna be covered in whatever few pages remain.
jeriendhal
May. 11th, 2015 06:37 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure it can be, except obliquely. The Mechanical Monsters is out of copyright, but Superman isn't, so he can only use images of him directly clipped from the cartoon.
seawasp
May. 11th, 2015 07:11 pm (UTC)
It'd be easy. Silhouettes, shadows, and off-panel conversation. You don't need much to get it across. You do it verbally above -- you evoke the colors and images, but you don't use any specific names.

It's also interesting that you choose to say he's the last remnant. Why are the others gone? Why aren't there others who replaced them? Why, if there are no others, was there this brief burst of superhumans who appeared and then disappeared?
jeriendhal
May. 11th, 2015 10:03 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure. It seemed to me like Lillian's desire to help Sparky get the robot working properly came from a feeling that the magic had left the world. And could you imagine a giant robot setting fire to a library wouldn't attract every superhero in the Tri-State area, if there were any left?
seawasp
May. 11th, 2015 11:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, well, that's part of the mystery to me. Where ARE the heroes? If there aren't any, why were there any at all before?
seawasp
May. 13th, 2015 05:33 pm (UTC)
Replying to myself: I don't know for sure, but possibly the Fleischer cartoons didn't USE any other heroes? In that case, it'd make more sense. While your fanfic assumes the Usual Suspects existed, in the world of the cartoon, there was one, a singular unique individual, and no others.
jeriendhal
May. 13th, 2015 09:47 pm (UTC)
Your supposition makes more sense than mine. In a world with a single superhero, others may never evolve (and Brianiac would make the idea of an AI not that surprising)

BTW, as Fies pointed out to me, did you see the guy with the glasses in the back of the funeral scene?
seawasp
May. 13th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, I saw him, but that's a case of going TOO subtle -- I couldn't even be sure. A reference like that has to be clear, yet not actionable. :)
seawasp
May. 13th, 2015 05:31 pm (UTC)
Just posted this over in his comments section, because only when I was looking at that page did the gag finally hit me -- and hit me painfully:

Oh, DAMN YOU! I just got the joke about that tube that poor Sparky couldn't find! IL PU36 ESM -- Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator!!!!!

I haven't read other comments yet, so I'm sure I'm far from the first, but... DAMN YOU! That was PAINFUL!
jeriendhal
May. 13th, 2015 09:47 pm (UTC)
UUUuuuuuuggh.... I missed that too.
seawasp
May. 13th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
Brilliantly painful!
(Anonymous)
Apr. 7th, 2018 11:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you
Excellent ending, really good work!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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