G O T H A M C I T Y
Highway 204 Northbound
The vanity plate on the back was REDBIRD.
For day to day commuting for work, Dick had an unmarked police version of a Chevrolet Impala. For personal trips, he had something far less practical.
His feet alternated pressure on the pedals, as he eased back on the gas and engaged the clutch. His right hand smoothly guided the transmission, manually guiding the gearshift. Then he let off the clutch and opened it up as he hit the foot of Trigate Bridge into Gotham.
“What about Freddy?” the man asked, letting off the gas and shifting the car into neutral. Inertia carried them, coasting along as the pair headed into the more clustered nature of traffic inside the city. They were continuing the line the discussion from yesterday, about Toyboy having a name of his own.
Toyboy was perched up against the passenger window like a puppy. “The killer from Nightmare on Elm Street?” the doll uttered in reply, which seemed to be his answer.
Every name that Dick came up with seemed to be a serial killer or theatrical psychopath. “How about...” the man began, pausing as he navigated from out of the left lane and into position for the ramp that would put them on Plumber Street. “...Damian?”
“The kid from the Omen?” To be honest, until Toyboy had said the name of the film, Dick had completely forgotten about that one. Son of the Devil? Psychotic little bastard? Yeah, Dick could understand when Toyboy’s final answer was, “Pass.”
Returning his hand to the gearshift, Dick downshifted into third and then let the car coast in neutral along the contour of the ramp before he engaged the gear and gave the engine some gas again. “There’s always Winslow,” the man deadpanned with a wry grin.
“Ugh,” Toyboy uttered. “Hard pass.”
The lines on Dick’s face shifted as he flashed a smile. It seemed a rare occasion now. Another trait that he’d picked up from Bruce, perhaps.
Turning off of Plumber, Dick pointed the car down West 47th. In the distance, the S.T.A.R. Labs building could be seen up ahead.
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“He asked for a drink of water?”
It had been awhile since Dick had been inside of Dr. Charles lab space. It was certainly an improvement over the cold storage area where they’d pulled Toyboy from out of the mortuary-style closet. Examining a Picasso print on the wall, Dick casually answered, “Said his coolant levels were low.” Turning back toward the interior of the room, the man stepped over to where Toyboy was seated on a counter top. Placing a hand on the doll’s back, he added, “Now, I’ve never had a robot before, so I wasn’t sure how often I should bring him in for an oil change.”
An eyebrow slipped up high on Sarah’s brow. “Interesting,” the woman remarked, before shifting attention from Dick to the child-like simulacrum. “So you have self-awareness of your own diagnostics?”
“Isn’t it like when the ‘check engine’ light comes on?”
“That’s a sensor,” Sarah offered in reply, giving a shake of her head. “Binary function. On or off. The car doesn’t tell you which sensor or what, specifically, to check.” Crossing her arms, she took a deep breath before she said, “This is a level of artificial intelligence we can’t pull off in 2019. Schott did this in 1980?”
“‘82 or ‘84, ma’am,” Toyboy noted. When both adults looked down at him, he gave a shrug and said, “I was kinda a work in progress for awhile.”
Sarah just blinked. Then a second time. A shake of her head, and the woman said, “All right, get his shirt off and I’ll see if I can find the computer cart.”
Immediately, Toyboy raised his arms up. Dick reached over to pull the shirt off and then set it down behind him. The half-naked doll waited there, until Sarah returned, wheeling in the same computer cart that they’d used from earlier. Two coaxial cables and a slew of thinner wires came out. Sarah handed the first coaxial cable to Toyboy, for connecting to the naval port. The second she passed to Dick.
Running a hand up along the nape of the doll’s neck, the man’s fingers found the port concealed in the hair and plugged the coaxial cable into the base of the boy’s skull. As they did, Sarah had an old laptop out and was starting to pull up a MS DOS window.
“Looks like one of his recirculating pumps is off-line,” the woman noted after another moment. Opening a second window, she typed a series of commands. Then paused to review the return before adding, “And total volume is below nominal.”
Dick was definitely not going to claim to be an expert in nuclear reactors generally. Horton Cell ones even less so. “So what, does he just cycle water around in there?”
Stepping away from the computer cart for a moment, Sarah sat down at her normal workstation and pulled up her files on Toyboy. The flatscreen television on the wall suddenly lit up, as Sarah displayed a photo of Toyboy’s body, with several wire diagrams overlaid. “It’s an interesting concept. Schott basically copied the pathways of the body,” Sarah commented, as the wire diagram highlighted in a variety of colors to denote the different identified components. “You probably don’t notice that Toyboy’s not breathing, because he does respirate. As the coolant loops filter through the lungs, there’s a gas exchange that vents through a sinus cavity to the mouth and nose. It gives Toyboy the illusion of having warm, moist breath.”
Standing up, the woman stepped over toward the screen and motioned with her hand to indicate the yellow colored diagram. “The primary coolant loop is a double helix originating in the abdomen, with the stomach divided into storage tanks that are retained and cycled through what you might call his intestines.”
Indicating the blue component next, she continued. “His heart is where the reactor is located,” she noted, indicating a mechanical organ that was precisely where Dick would have imagined a heart to have been. “Two chambers, a right ventricle and a left ventricle, housing the Horton Cells, though Schott appears to have made a major design flaw here.”
Dick looked from the illustrated schematic over to the woman. “Why do you say that?”
“The physical construct restricts Toyboy’s maximum power output,” Sarah remarked, pointing to the mechanical heart. Then, she offered, “My guess is that Schott just didn’t have any experience in reactor design. If he had full access to his Horton Cells, you could probably run all of Gotham City off him.”
Dick gave a slight laugh at that thought. “He doesn’t seem hindered much by that flaw,” the man remarked dryly.
Now it was Sarah’s turn to shrug. “I’ll need to get a team together to look at that pump,” the woman remarked, with a glance over to Dick. “The issue could be mechanical, electrical, software, firmware...” Turning back toward where Toyboy was sitting patiently atop the counter, with the laptop and cables plugged into him, the woman remarked, “I’d say it might take us some time to get it fixed, but I’d be talking years. If not decades.”
Dick did a double take at that announcement. “Sarah, I’m too old to be Nightwing and we’ve got a serial child killer on the loose,” the man uttered bluntly. “Toyboy’s the one who found those thirteen kids under the storage center and fought off their kidnapper. I’d like to have him back out there this week.”
A sigh. “Dick, Toyboy’s amazing by modern standards. But he’s not operating off modern standards. He’s running 1980’s era technology,” Sarah remarked, turning to face the man as she continued. “Even if we do manage to get his coolant system fully functional again, I’m not sure we’re going to be able to keep doing this.”
Motioning to the computer cart and the admittedly dated HP laptop on it, she commented, “This is the only laptop we have that still has a version of DOS on it. We should have thrown it away five or seven years ago, but Cindy in the cybernetics lab likes the autoCAD program on it because it’s what she used to compose her doctoral thesis, but if this laptop shits the bed or gets replaced…”
“Would it ever be possible to get Toyboy running modern software?”
“Dick, Toyboy shouldn't be possible at all,” Sarah countered, a tad more passionately than he’d expected. “The technology of 1982 didn’t have the capability to do what Schott wanted it to do, so he created his own programming language. In an era where an operating system would have been about a hundred lines of code, if that, Toyboy’s composed of millions of lines that we don’t understand, let alone begin to decipher.”
This time it was Dick who gave a heavy sigh. Glancing up at the ceiling, for a moment it was clear that the man was debating what he was about to do next. Then, finally, he reaching inside of his coat and pulled out a small case. Opening the case, he produced an SD card in the palm of his hand.
Sarah just had a quizzical look on her face. “What’s that?”
“The Rosetta Stone,” Dick stated dryly, holding it out for her to take. “If there’s something not there, I can go through what I have in storage and see if there’s a blueprint of schematic that I hadn’t scanned.”
Taking the SD card with the fingers of both hands, Sarah Charles just stared at the small chip, as though still having trouble digesting the reality of what Dick had just handed her. “You’ve had this the whole time.”
It wasn’t a question.
“We spent ten years trying to reverse engineer Toyboy and you had the master files the whole time?” the woman barked, looking up at Dick with nothing shy of hell’s own fury.
Dick just gave a shrug. Stepping back over to Toyboy, he ruffled the doll’s hair as he passed toward the door. “Read the notes about Toyboy’s heart,” the man offered cryptically, as he stood by the exit.
“I think you’ll find something there.”