Reputation Precedes You

a story
2021-04-15 11:12:58
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Lucas M Buford sat at his desk looking at his typewriter in exasperation. He was staring intently at the chapter on calculating the energy for a gear train for a book he planned to give his future students. However he was finding the whole thing more tedious than expected and found it difficult staying on task. Casting his eyes across his office, he could see a mess of blueprints, contracts, and bills. Who knew starting a school was such a headache. He knew if he had a few moments to kill he could sneak away, disappearing into his workshop, pushing aside the paperwork, and tinkering to his heart’s content. He was invigorated from his recent trip, but he knew time was of the essence if he was to open the school on schedule. Although, if he was the dean, owner, and maybe one of the professors then what would it hurt if the school opened a little late? Outside, he could hear a commotion. He rolled his eyes and groaned. Tracey was arguing with someone, and they had made it to the second floor. Was it Cromwell? Was it someone he owed money to? Was it some budding inventor here to pitch their trainwreck of an invention to him? Lucas rose from his chair, hearing his legs creak and groan as if they were the metal prosthetic instead of his right hand. He checked his pocket watch. “Oh, look at the time,” he mumbled to himself, “Out of the office…” He walked up to his coat rack to fetch his suit jacket and top hat. He would leave through the employee back entrance through the workshop to avoid any arguing admirers. He could hear Tracey raising her voice. “Mr. Buford!” came her voice, finally. Buford’s heart skipped a beat. Skret’s shoes, they had made it past her. Or did they? He would have to hurry if— The door to his office opened up, and Buford was caught mid-step as three men entered, Tracey trailing right behind them. Lucas found himself cursing that he didn’t lock that door. All his thoughts clouded over with fear when he noticed that two of the men were Bobbies and the third was standing a little too confidently for his liking. His survival instincts kicked in as he smiled warmly and held out his hand to Tracey. “Lucas—” Tracey started. “It’s all right, thank you very much, Tracey,” smiled Lucas, “Gentlemen! Welcome. I am Lucas Meriweather Buford and how can I be of assistance?” “The pleasure is all mine,” smiled the man leading the two Bobbies, “Forgive the intrusion. You are a very hard man to get a hold of, Mr. Buford.” The man held out the badge of a police officer. Lucas couldn’t read it from where he stood, but he could tell it was ornate. Buford continued to smile. So far, so good. No yelling or threats. “Name’s Adrian Sandoval, I am the Department Chief of the Sorditudo police force and all Bobbies on tour.” Did Lucas start sweating? He had recognized that name. Judge Sandoval, as he knew him, was all the rage in the paper these days since he arrested the previous Chief. Lucas did not allow his smile to falter, “Your reputation precedes you, Chief Sandoval. Or is it Sheriff?” “Haven’t landed on one yet,” said Sandoval, “I hope you don’t mind, I need a moment of your time.” “I always have time for our brave men and women in black,” said Lucas, who nodded at Tracey to dismiss her, “Please, won’t you have a seat, gentlemen?” “Thank you,” said Sandoval. Sandoval approached Lucas’ office desk while the two Bobbies split up, walking about the office looking around. Lucas suppressed a sigh. He hated people who insisted on self guided tours through his office. He gestured to a seat before sitting himself. Sandoval sat across from him. Sandoval was an older gentleman. He was well dressed, however a noticeable layer of dust and grime could be spotted on his pants and boots. Lucas was already calculating the cleaning bill for the chair and carpet in his head. He physically looked like any other judge Buford had seen: tired and commanding. A hint of dark circles under his eyes. However, Sandoval did not give off this impression in his demeanor. He walked with purpose. He took note of the room while being mindful of social norms. He was calm and collected, but the way his eyes scanned Lucas’ desk made Sandoval feel like a predator. He was by no means tired, he was here with a purpose. Lucas had met auditors who didn’t feel so threatening. Sandoval raised his eyebrows, noticing Lucas’ gaze. He smiled warmly and gestured to the typewriter. “Writing, I see,” said Sandoval, “I hope we aren’t interrupting the next great masterpiece.” “Technical manuals, hardly my magnum opus,” said Lucas, “For the students. There’s been so much to write and prepare for those eager minds wishing to get into the craft.” “The craft,” nodded Sandoval, “I believe I remember hearing about that somewhere. Your new school. An institute of technology. How thrilling.” “There is a lot of fulfillment to be had in passing down your knowledge to the next generation,” smiled Lucas, “If I can get over the mountain of paperwork first.” “Yes, passing down the knowledge,” said Sandoval, “Not a common point of opinion for businessmen. Am I right to say there really isn’t a school for technology or automatons in Antiford?” “Nothing proper,” explained Lucas, “The royal academy has tried classes from time-to-time on the skills required and the general theory. I believe there’s a man accepting apprentices in Argenstrath, but I haven’t verified his credentials as such. No, the young inventor today would be better off struggling as many of my staff did, learning on the job with an automaton business - which of course is a lot of time and expense for the automaton industry when hiring anyone. I aim to change that.” “To bolster your employee pool?” asked Sandoval, “Or to breed competition?” “Well, I…” Buford collected his thoughts, “A rising tide lifts all ships, as it were. My industry has struggled behind secrecy and espionage. There’s been a lot of unnecessary pain, caused by my own action and of our rivals. I’m hoping to right a lot of those wrongs. Let’s call it a professional obligation to my fellow man.” Sandoval smiled, his eyes searching Lucas’, “Righting wrongs. Now, Mr. Buford, we’re on the same page. You see, that’s a big part of why I am out here. Righting old wrongs.” “And that’s what you’re here about?” “I’m here, Mr. Buford, because men and women, powerful men and women, out here in the Istoki have taken it upon themselves to take control,” Sandoval sat a little straighter, “I am here to regulate. You see, no one is above the law. However there are individuals who obtain power, develop a specific set of skills, or invent a new, world changing technology, and they begin to… believe they are above the law.” Sandoval leaned forward, just slightly. Buford felt his gaze as one could feel sunlight. As if the very thoughts of Sandoval were pushing against his skin. Lucas was used to dealing with individuals who spoke without revealing their true intentions. At once, he was on the defense. He bottled up his anger, and changed tactics. He leaned back in his chair, and watched his opponent plan his next move. “So you think the papers are missing the point when they praise the take down of an outlaw or a pirate?” “What is a pirate?” said Sandoval, “A person with undeserved power. An individual with a ship. An individual with a group of friends or brainless followers. A group with guns. These give them power. Power they chose to oppress others. Through theft. Through intimidation. They begin to believe the laws don’t apply to them. Laws of ownership. Laws of decency. They begin to believe they even have power over life and death.” Sandoval leaned back in his own chair, “We demonize them. We call them ‘pirates’. We call them ‘outlaws’. We call them ‘degenerates’. However, we overlook others like them. You see, power isn’t just a ship with some guns. Could be political power. Could be religious power. Could be economic power. The istoki is filled with charismatic leaders promising salvation to uneducated, poor, and defenseless masses. Eventually, they all prove just as deadly, just as dangerous, as any pirate.” A noise was heard in the next room. Lucas glanced to his side, seeing Adele step into the room. Adele was an automaton designed to present as female. She stood slightly over five feet tall and wore regular clothing and shoes over her metal skin and casing. Her face was intricately designed to copy a human face. The two Bobbies turned to her, but they didn’t approach. Sandoval looked over, a smile forming. He rose, examining Adele. Adele looked to each of the figures in the room. Her gaze falling on Lucas. She signed, “I heard strange men. I’ve come to protect.” Buford gave a curt nod. He returned his attention to Sandoval. “And then there’s others,” said Sandoval, “They gain abilities. They gain knowledge. They revolutionize their world. Hailed as saviors. Hailed as… geniuses. They scoff at the past. Archaic concepts such as law and order begin to feel like another technical challenge to overcome.” “I suppose men like us can breathe easier knowing the laws of our government are protected,” smiled Lucas, “when there’s always brave men, like you, to fight for the every-man.” Sandoval nodded, “Men like us…” Sandoval approached Adele. He leaned forward so he could look her in the eyes. Sandoval could observe the clinking gears moving inside of her. Adele’s aperture’s closed a little, giving her the impression of squinting. She leaned back from him, pulling her hands up to her chest in a defensive gesture. Lucas found his own eyes narrowing in anger. “They are just machines,” said Sandoval, “Gears and levers. Springs and pistons. Your science.” "I feel they are 'just machines' as much as your words are 'just conversation'," Lucas brought his hands together in a thoughtful peak in front of him, "If I may, Sandoval, You are trying my patience." Sandoval blinked, turning to look at the inventor. He stood up. "I think you comprehend why I am here," said Sandoval, "I have come west to stomp out the embers of lawlessness. I have come as the reckoning to ne’er-do-wells in the Istoki." Buford rose from his chair, placing his hands carefully on the desk, "Then explain to me how it is you find yourself in my office." "Forgive me if I don't trust you," said Sandoval, "The file on you is quite miraculous. A man capable of turning out walking death machines is not someone you underestimate." "Wise words," smiled Buford, "I am not to be underestimated." "I hope not," said Sandoval, his steps bringing him closer to Buford's desk, "However, I would hate to contemplate what would happen should an investigation lead me to your doorstep, Mr. Buford." "I should hope the only reason you wind up at my doorstep again is to purchase something," said Buford, "I fail to see how my inventions or I would ever turn up in a criminal investigation." "Are you trying to convince me you are incapable of creating your machines of war again?" "I am simply stating I am far from the first or only inventor capable of creating machines of war. To suggest otherwise would be… narrow minded." Sandoval nodded, "Any further dealings with our southern neighbors?" "I assured the government already that I fulfilled my end of the transaction and am not seeking such a business venture in the future," Buford gestured to his desk, "I have a school to open." Sandoval narrowed his eyes, "Yes." "Yes." There was silence for an instant before Buford said, "If you don't mind, gentlemen. I would like you to leave. Although I always have time for guests, I am afraid I've had my fill of interrogators." Sandoval took one last look around the room, his eyes lingering on Adelle. His face returned to the cold smile. "Alright, Mr. Buford. I'm sure you're a busy man. I trust you have no plans to leave Astam in the near future?" Buford couldn't keep a sarcastic 'Ha' from escaping. He shook his head. "Unlikely. I practically built this town." Sandoval turned and walked to the door. The two Bobbies fell in behind him, heading to the door. Sandoval paused, for a moment, next to Adelle. She held her hands nervously in front of her chest. Her mechanical eyes were wide, tracking Sandoval with cold intensity.. Sandoval reached up to his hat and tipped the brim ever so slightly. "Little lady." Adelle’s fists clenched. Her head tilted, her metal eyes shot to Buford, quickly. Buford lifted his hand, motioning downward in a non-verbal cue to stand by. Her eyes looked back to Sandoval, her fists relaxing beside her. Sandoval chuckled, and turned to his men. "Bolts and screws," he said. And with that, he marched out of the office. His two officers followed after him, silent. Buford remained standing, listening to the sounds of footfalls as they walked down the short hall. His doors slowly began to shut, and Adelle began to nervously walk towards him. Buford walked around his desk. He lifted up his arms as if to offer a hug. The gesture invited Adelle to pick up her pace to a run as she slammed into his embrace, burying her head in his chest. He began to adjust Adele’s dials on her back as a way to reset her. Without a way to resolve her defensive programming, she would continue to be on high alert for threats. He liked thinking of it as comforting her. "There, there," said Buford, "It'll be alright." But Buford did not know if it would be alright. He was beginning to believe the government’s yoke was getting tighter and tighter. He could only hope his school would change his public outlook. Perhaps if he could be seen as a teacher, the image of Lucas the weapons maker would fade.