The Metal Menagerie

Michael Panush

Steele City was the most technologically advanced metropolis in the world, a sprawling expanse of endless skyscrapers, seething slums and churning factories that was the heart of American robot production. The rooftop gardens were where the rich went to unwind and none was more prestigious or luxurious than Arcadia. It existed on a high steel plateau, divided into neat sections separated by artful wrought-iron fences. There was an open air lounge, where fine liquors banned by Prohibition were served by a lifelike robot bartender, a mechanical garden where iron trees grew and gem-tipped flowers bloomed and - most exclusive of all - the Metal Menagerie. That was where the three members Iron and Glass Detective Agency was summoned for an important case.

They walked past the various gilded cages, all surrounded wide enclosures that resembled Zen gardens mixed with factory floors. Robotic animals moved around their homes, while complex machines dispensed coals and fuel that served as food for the artificial creatures. Zero Deuce, the Automated Iron Investigator Robot model 02, stared through the bars of one cage with his round, softly glowing eyes and watching a metal deer extend its jointed, graceful neck to lick at a glistening pool of oil with a rubber tongue. He had been built with emotions to help understand and solve cases, but mankind's need to make robotic animals was one thing he couldn't quite figure out.

Deuce's young creator, twelve-year-old child prodigy Philo Glass, pointed down the aisle. It ended in a neat square, set with benches and a small bubbling fountain. "There's Mr. Steele," Philo explained. "I suppose he'll want to talk and tells us why he brought us here." He looked back at the metal deer. "But I have to say, I kind of wanted to visit. It's incredible to look at these animals."

"Not for the price of admission they're charging." Harriet Steele, the Iron and Glass Detective Agency's secretary, replied. "Jesus H. Christ. It costs a small fortune just to get into this fancy rooftop ashtray. Of course, folks like my father have fortunes to spare." Harriet's father was Ransom Steele II, current leader of Steele Industries and one of the most powerful men in the city that his family had founded and run for over a generation. It didn't take an advanced thinker to realize that Harriet didn't much care for her family line.

They walked down into the little square. Ransom Steele II was standing next to another man, looking over the artificial zoo. Steele was a thin man with a pleasant grandfatherly face, a charcoal pinstriped suit and a red bowtie. He and his companion turned to regard the Iron and Glass Detective Agency. Deuce was a spindly robot in a trench coat, suit and vest, sleeves covering his metal limbs and a fedora shading his glowing yellow eyes and otherwise featureless steel face. Philo Glass was a scrawny boy with bright green eyes behind round spectacles, a newsboy cap, an lime argyle vest and red tie, and a pair of Buster Browns. Harriet wore a smart long dress and woman's trench coat, a cloche hat held over her fashionably bobbed nut brown hair. They must have made an exhibit that was almost as interesting as the animals in the cages.

Steele stepped up to make the introductions. "Master Philo, Mr. Zero and Harriet - I'm delighted you could make it. We've got a case of some delicacy for you." He waved a hand to the man next to him, a short and portly fellow wearing a snow white suit and black tie. He had a tangled white beard that belonged on the chin of a goat. "This is Dr. Gustav Eckheardt. He's a equal parts taxidermist, engineer and necromancer and the Metal Menagerie is his creation."

Dr. Eckheardt bowed his head respectfully to Philo. "It is an honor to meet you, Master Philo. The work of your father, Professor Aurelius Glass, is unparalleled." He held out his hand and Philo gingerly gave it a shake. "And your own work is no different. The Iron Investigator is a masterwork, young sir, and it makes my heart pound to be standing near it."

"Him, actually," Philo said. "But thank you very much, sir. I'm sure my father would be pleased."

"Of course," Steele added. "Now, if you'll follow me." He started to walk past the fountain and down another row of cages. Deuce, his friends and Dr. Eckheardt followed. They walked to the largest exhibit in the zoo, a massive field of tall bamboo shoots and overturned logs, creating the illusion of a grassy jungle. Bright brown and gold tiger's eye stones had been worked into the bars. They gleamed in the morning sun. There was no animal, metal or not, inside the cage.

With a sigh, Dr. Eckheardt pointed to the empty cage. "This was to be the crown jewel of the Metal Menagerie - a robotic tiger of the utmost craftsmanship. Many of my animal creations are mere simulacra. They run about and play and eat, as animals do, but they have no instinct, no wild soul. For the tiger, I tried something different and I believe I have succeeded in creating a true beast that just happens to be made of metal. The tiger is alive. It has feelings and a kind of nobility. Like its fleshy cousins, it can be dangerous. For that reason, it must be caged." He rested a hand on the bars and seemed to sink down, like the strength had gone out of his legs. "And last night, it was stolen."

"Oh dear," Philo whispered. "What happened, sir?"

"A zeppelin flew over the zoo," Dr. Eckheardt explained. "A small one, perhaps a personal dirigible. The bottom platform opened and magnetized cords extended. They wrapped up the tiger, picked it up and simply flew away with it. I have not seen my tiger since."

"Describe the zeppelin," Deuce said. His internal mechanisms told him to be blunt.

"Well, it was dark in color..." Dr. Eckheardt tried. "With an olive green gasbag. Quite unremarkable, really, and I saw very little of it. The theft occurred in the night. I was asleep in my workshop and ran out when I heard the engine, just in time to see it fly away." He lowered his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "Not much to work on."

Harriet gave him a comforting smile. "It's enough, buddy."

"It will have to be." Steele's constant smile flickered, a desert mirage flashing away. "You see, there's to be an important banquet tonight at Arcadia Gardens and Steele Industries will have some very important guests. A worthy crowd of potential investors will be attending and so will some over men in the robot business. Nicanor De Witt, that cretin from De Witt Metals, will even be there." He turned to face Deuce and Philo. "We need that tiger. It represents the pinnacle of Steele Industries' commitment to lifelike robotics. Having an empty cage is unacceptable."

"So that's what this all about?" Harriet asked. "You not looking like a fool in front of your rich friends?" She added a smile to her acidic comment. "Don't worry, pops. We'll get your fancy toy back for you." She turned back to Deuce. "Any ideas, boss? Potential leads?"

Deuce nodded. "The theft was most likely done by an experienced aeronautical robber. There are few locations in Steele City frequented by those of that professions. One of those, the saloon known as the Crow's Nest, is approximately twelve minutes and three seconds away from the Arcadia Gardens. Perhaps our culprit or his associates is residing there."

"Could be worth a look," Harriet agreed. "Let's go."

Dr. Eckheardt stepped a little closer to Deuce as the Iron Investigator turned. "Brilliant!" he whispered. "It is a true mimic of biological life. The mannerisms, the thought processes, and even the reactions to stimuli are all like those of a real man." He grinned down at Philo. "You have perhaps bested even me, young sir."

"Well, I wouldn't say that, sir. I just followed my father's blueprints and made only a few minor changes," Philo said politely. "And anyway, I think Mr. Zero really is alive. He's not mimicking anything, you know. He's a real person who just happens to be made of metal."

"Of course, that is just what a mimic would say," Dr. Eckheardt replied.

Deuce didn't like this line of questioning. He had an inquisitive mind, which existed to break down and solve problems. Turning that mind on himself was unappealing. Was there some aspect of real life to him? Or was he just a metal puppet, dancing along to a role written out and burned into his electronic brain? Deuce didn't want to decide. He walked past Philo and Dr. Eckheardt, without giving them time to talk. Philo quickly waved goodbye and scrambled after him, Harriet close behind. They walked back through the Metal Menagerie and the robot animals in their cages and then back to the edge of the Arcadia Gardens. A small dock was there, jutting out into the sky. The Iron and Glass Detective Agency's flying car, a sleek Phaeton Aeromobile, was resting on the landing pad. They got inside and Deuce drove, anxious to be in the air and away from the odd robot zoo.

It took them twelve minutes and four seconds to reach the Crow's Nest, which was located halfway up another of Steele City's towering skyscrapers. The Crow's Nest looked like some oversized native hut wedged into the side of the building, with a pointed wooden roof and rickety docks extending out into the air around a spider web of cords and safety netting. Biplanes, flying cars and even some small zeppelins were docked while their pilots drank inside. Deuce brought the Phaeton to a halt on one of the landing pads and they hopped out and walked to the saloon. Bat wings doors led to a round chamber surrounding a circular bar. Propellers, levers and other aviation detritus blanketed the walls. Deuce, Harriet and Philo stood in the doorway. Deuce scanned the bar.

The boy seemed to love the atmosphere. "Cripes!" he said happily. "Look at all those swell pictures of planes. I really love that magazine, Weird Sky Stories, and I think this place would fit right in." He pointed to the nearest table, where a couple of old aviators in peaked caps and leather flight jackets were sipping whiskey. "They look like they're just resting between adventures." Then he pointed to the very back, in the shadow recess of the bar. "And that lady with the red hair looks like she's got a jetpack sitting next to her!"

Philo's words made Deuce's eyes flash to the corner. He saw a young woman, maybe a year or two older than Harriet, sitting alone and drinking a tall bottle of rum as she read the Steele City Sentinel. She was a redhead, her hair in a boy's short cut, and wore a mud brown leather jacket with a sheepskin lined collar. Deuce's elaborate criminal files identified her in a second.

"She's Maeve Corcoran," he explained. "Known as the Banshee and wanted throughout Steele City for upper story robberies." Deuce reached into his coat. His hand settled on the revolver in his shoulder-holster. It had standard bullets loaded right now, but additional specialized ammunition rested in his coat. "I think that warrants questioning."

"Oh, the Banshee?" Philo asked. "I've read about her in the papers. She only robs from the wealthiest mansions and I think she gives some of her proceeds to the poor." He stared at her in admiration. "She's kind of like a modern day Robin Hood, I guess."

"Is she dangerous?" Harriet asked, putting a protective hand on Philo's shoulder.

Deuce scanned his records, keeping his eye on Philo too. He wanted no harm to come to the boy. "She's gone out of her way not harm victims. She's skilled enough so that she doesn't have to." Deuce nodded to Harriet. "Still, stay close to me and prepare." He stared across the Crow's Nest. Philo and Harvey followed. They approached Maeve Corcoran's table.

The aviatrix stared up from her paper. Her eyes seemed permanently pinched, like she was squaring up whatever she was looking at and preparing for a fight. Maeve's eyes were doubled, a pair of round goggles resting on her forehead. She raised the glass of dark rum and drank, then set down the newspaper. "A robot gentleman walks into a bar," Maeve said, before Deuce could speak. "Sounds like the set-up for some bad joke. I'll be damned if I know the punch line." She had a slight Irish lilt to her low, relaxed tone.

"Maeve Corcoran?" Deuce asked.

"A dear friend of mine," Maeve replied. "You've got some message for her, perhaps?"

Harriet stepped closer to the table. "The name's Harriet Steele, sister. The metal man's called Zero Deuce and the pipsqueak's Philo Glass. We're with a detective agency investigating a robbery at the Arcadia Gardens. A fancy metal tiger was pinched and I bet you know something about it." She tapped the table. "You spill right now and we won't take this any further."

Maeve looked up at Deuce. "So Johnny Law's got a metal friend," she said.

"We just want the t-tiger returned, ma'am," Philo said quietly. "Nothing more." Then he craned his neck, looking at the seat next to her. "Um, I'm sorry if you mind me asking, but is that a jetpack you have sitting next to you?"

"Indeed it is," Maeve said. "I'll show you how it works."

She moved faster than Deuce thought she would. Maeve first grabbed the bottle of whiskey and swung it hard into his face. The bottle cracked and shattered. Dark rum spilled over his eyes. It clung to them and it was like looking out at a world splotched with black mud. Then Maeve roughly pushed him and Harriet aside, grabbed a strap from her jetpack, and ran through the bar. Her hand came up from her jacket, a Mauser pistol aimed and firing. Deuce pulled his revolver as well. He stepped in front of Philo as Maeve fired. Her shot flew past Deuce and crashed into a steel propeller in the corner. It spun the propeller's blades. Deuce tracked her with the pistol, but couldn't make the shot. She was moving too fast. Instead, he urged his long metal legs to run and pounded after her.

They raced through the bar, rushing past the surprised patrons darting for cover. Maeve leapt through the doors, already slipping the jetpack onto her shoulders. Deuce followed her outside. He twisted his head around to Philo and Harriet. "Get the Phaeton!" he cried, increasing the volume of his voice. "Follow us!" He doubled his pace, his boots clicking on the wooden dock. Maeve was at the edge, fingering the control to her jetpack. It was resting on her hip, connected to the double set of oversized tubes strapped to her back.

The jetpack roared to life. Fire erupted from the tubes. Maeve's feet left the ground - just as Deuce reached her. He lunged up and his fingers wrapped around her ankle. Maeve swore and then they were both plummeting off the dock and falling down through the smoky Steele City sky. Maeve's jetpack pulse and they flew upwards, narrowly avoiding a bloated, trundling zeppelin. The wind tore at Deuce's face, making his trench coat billow. Maeve kept speeding down, weaving past more areal traffic as she made a rapid descent. Maeve zoomed against a stream of biplanes and flying cars. She whipped past them, zooming between wings and weaving under an aeromobile as she tried to shake Deuce. He clung on like a limpet, twisting to the side to avoid being swiped by a wing as Maeve left the stream of traffic and lost altitude.

She looked down at Deuce. "You crazy bleeding robot!" she cried. "Got a malfunction in your brain? Blow a spark plug? You'll kill us both, for God's sake!" She leveled her pistol and fired at him. The shot burned past Deuce's shoulder, scratching the metal. Deuce still held on with both hands. "Will you not get the message and leave me alone?" Maeve demanded.

"You'd better land," Deuce explained. "For your own preservation."

Behind them, the Phaeton started to barrel down. Harriet was behind the wheel and Philo was in the passenger seat, pointing excitedly at Deuce and Maeve. The Phaeton was descending as well. Maeve cursed and angled the jetpack down, then gave it another burst. She rocketed straight towards a causeway, a broad band of metal connecting two skyscrapers in an aerial bridge. Maeve flew lower and lower, heading straight for the causeway. She was going to pass over it and try to smash Deuce into the length of metal. They flew closer. Deuce had seconds to act. He reached up with his second hand and doubled his grip. He pulled himself up, but his extended, flailing left leg still banged hard against the railing. The metal of his leg was dented. Well-dressed pedestrians on the walkway scrambled away as Maeve rocketed past. The Phaeton soared closer to them.

"I will not let go," Deuce called to her. "You had better land."

"And you had better get your clanking self to some junkyard where you belong, you robot wretch!" Maeve roared. "All right, all right. I'll put you down and answer your goddamn questions." She swooped around and then pointed to a spidery construction site, a collection of steel bars set above a half-finished skyscraper. "That'll do fair enough," Maeve said. She flew for the construction site, carrying Deuce along. The Phaeton soared after.

Maeve selected a corrugated metal platform near the top of the construction site. She settled down above the platform, the flames of her jetpack going a cool blue before winking off altogether. Maeve's feet touched down on the platform. Deuce clattered next to her. He looked up at her and straightened his leg. "A rough landing," he said, as he withdrew his revolver and pointed it at her.

"Good," Maeve replied. "You deserve it."

The Phaeton rolled to a halt behind them, hovering on a cushion of air. Harriet lowered it gently, parking the aeromobile on the edge of the platform. She stepped out and tested it with one foot, then opened the door for Philo. He eased out gingerly. All of them surrounded Maeve. She still had her pistol in her holster, but hadn't drawn. Deuce had her covered, so he doubted that she'd try anything. His knowledge of human psychology told him that Maeve Corcoran wanted to live.

Before Deuce could begin the interrogation, Philo stepped closer to Maeve. "I just want to apologize, ma'am," he said. "For interrupting your drink and then chasing you. It was rude and we really don't want to hurt you or to cause you any trouble. My name is Philo Glass and I promise that we'll treat you well and make sure that you don't get arrested or in trouble or anything." He smiled weakly. "Is that okay?"

Maeve looked at Philo like he had done an amusing dance. "I've never had a copper who apologizes after throwing on the cuffs," she said. "But then again, I've never had a copper small enough for short pants neither."

Deuce chose that moment to intervene. "The tiger robbery," he explained. "Of Arcadia Gardens. Were you involved?"

"Aye, I was," Maeve replied. "Not that you can prove it. And it was work for hire too. You think I got the room in my little apartment for some great mechanical tiger to be running about? There's barely room for me." She glared at Harriet. "We don't all got penthouses from our rich fathers. But I'll tell you nothing more. I swear that on my soul."

"We could turn you in," Harriet pointed out.

"Then do it," Maeve hissed. "I've broken out of prisons before. Countless times." She was daring them and Deuce didn't like it. "My life's been one difficulty after another. You can pile more on, Mr. Robot, but you can't crush me."

"But we don't want to crush you at all, ma'am" Philo said. "We just need to find this tiger. Please, can you help us out? Just a little clue or something?"

As Deuce watched, Maeve seemed to soften. She looked at Philo and then removed her goggles. "It ain't in my nature to go telling the law about my affairs. I've learned not to trust it. But you're asking politely and I reckon I can trust a child." She turned back to Deuce. "There's not much to say. Anonymous fellow hired me. Didn't share no details about himself. He provided the zeppelin and the instructions. I lifted the mechanical cat, delivered the zeppelin to a warehouse over by the Foundries and that was the end of it."

She was hiding something, holding back just a little more. Deuce was preparing his question when he saw something else, out of the corner of his eye. His vision zoomed in on it. There was an aeromobile, a dark green Nash that seemed chosen for how unremarkable it was. But this car had something unique about it. There was the long barrel of a sniper rifle protruding from the back window and taking aim at Maeve. Deuce increased the zoom function in his own eyes. The rifle was in the hand of a robot, a gunbot of the type commonly called a Long Shot. That spindly robot had one eye extended, poking out from its face like a giant telescope had been wedged into its metal skin. They were snipers, long range killers that could wield any weapon with deadly accuracy. Another robot, a generic gunbot, was at the wheel of the auto. Both models were made by many companies and Deuce wasn't close enough to get the details. There was no time for studying either.

He grabbed Maeve's hand and yanked her back. "Shrink!" he cried. "Produce a smaller target!"

"Hands off, you clanking constable-" Maeve shouted, but Deuce had already put a hand on her shoulder and pushed. Maeve was forced down and then the rifle cracked through the air. The shot cracked past Maeve's head and ricocheted off a nearby steel girder, drawing a shower of sparks. The Long Shot fired again and this time Maeve threw herself hard to the ground. She pulled her own pistol. Deuce did the same. He looked back at the Nash. It was soaring closer.

"Protect the boy!" he ordered Harriet as panic surged in his circuitry. The Nash was making a pass, zooming closer to them. The Long Shot's rifle blazed again. This time, the bullet hummed past Maeve's shoulder and struck the side of the Phaeton. Harriet grabbed Philo and yanked him back, close to the edge of the platform. The terrible drop was below them, but it was as far away from the gunbots as possible. Deuce hated it, hated the proximity of his friends to such danger. He wanted those robots gone and Maeve seemed to have the same idea. She had her Mauser pistol out and opened fire, holding the boxy gun with both hands and blasting out wild shots as the Nash rolled past. They wouldn't do nearly enough damage. Deuce had a better idea.

He snapped open the cylinder of his revolver and slid out one of the normal shells, then reached into the pocket of his trench coat. He withdrew a specially built precision shell, one designed for taking out long range targets. Deuce placed the round into the cylinder and clicked it shut, then took careful aim. His advanced vision did the rest. He moved the gun to face the driver of the Nash as it drew closer. The shot seemed to take hours to line up.

Maeve glared at him. "What're you doing, you metal lummox?" she demanded. "Taking a snooze?"

"Incorrect." Deuce gently fingered the trigger. The precision bullet hummed through the air, carving a blued path of wind as it reached the Nash. It shattered the front window and blasted the driver's metal head to scrap. Sparks flew behind the windshield and the aeromobile careened suddenly to the side. It began to drop, gathering speed as it fell. A towering billboard, an animated display featuring a grinning buffoon drinking the same soft drink endlessly, broke the flying car's fall. Both were covered in a cloud of dark smoke, red fire, and twisted metal. The remains of the Nash tumbled down, rattling their way to the distant street.

The notes of the explosion drifted back up the street. Deuce slid his revolver back into his coat. He turned to Maeve, who was coming to her feet. She looked back at Harriet and Philo. "You're all right?" she asked. "The boy's well?"

"I'm okay, thank you," Philo answered.

"G-good. I'm glad." Maeve squared her shoulders.

The Long Shot's bullets were obviously meant for Maeve. Deuce decided to bring it up. "They were trying to exterminate you," he said. "Doubtlessly, the gunbots were sent by your former employers, hoping to erase a potential witness to the crime."

"And they failed, didn't they?" Maeve asked. Her hand dropped the controls for her jetpack. "Now, I think I've answered enough of your wretched questions. I'm going to fly away. If you've a mind to, you can grab on and I'll drag you with me. This time, I think you'll fall. What'll be, Mr. Deuce?"

Deuce considered trying to restrain Maeve- but it was clear her would get no more information from her, unless she wanted to share. "We will be at Arcadia Gardens," he said. "Searching for more clues. If you recall more information, find us there."

I'll keep it in mind," Maeve said. "Now so long - and good riddance!" She leapt off the edge of the platform and tumbled down, freefalling for a few feet before the rockets of jetpack roared to life. Maeve soared off, a trail of smoke leading afterwards and forming a gray bridge through the sky. Maeve spiraled around and leveled out, then zoomed into the forest of broad skyscrapers. She was gone from view in a manner of seconds.

The members of the Iron and Glass Detective Agency watched her go. "Some twist," Harriet muttered.

"I think she's very nice," Philo said. He looked up at Deuce. "Well, Mr. Deuce, what do you think we should do now? We know a little bit more about the theft, but we still don't know who hired Maeve Corcoran and we don't know where the robotic tiger is."

"We should still return to Arcadia Gardens," Deuce said. He started walking towards the Phaeton. "We can explain these recent occurrences to Dr. Eckheardt and Mr. Steele. Perhaps they may have more information for us as well. It is worth the short journey." Of course, there wasn't really anything else that they could do. Deuce chose not to vocalize that point. He slipped behind the wheel of the Phaeton and waited until Harriet and Philo were aboard. Then he started the engine and soared into the air. He was up and flying before he looked back at his two passengers. "Do you consider me a mimic of life?" The question seemed to boil out of his speakers before he could comprehend it. "Like Dr. Eckheardt said?"

Harriet shook her head. "He didn't know what he was talking about."

"He's a skilled inventor - but I think he was wrong as well," Philo added. "You were created to be like a person, Mr. Deuce. And I think you are. I just have to watch you a little and see how much you care for Miss Steele and me and I know that you're just as nice as anyone with flesh and blood."

They were comforting words - but Deuce didn't feel comforted as he drove to Arcadia Gardens.

This time, Deuce drove over the Metal Menagerie and chose to land the aeromobile in the center of the exhibits. He parked neatly beside the bubbling, angular fountain, with the gilded bars and robotic animals on all sides, then popped open the door and stepped out. Harriet and Philo joined him and they looked down the aisles. There was no sign of Dr. Eckheardt or Ransom Steele II. For some reason, Deuce began to feel a little uneasy. Intuition could not be programmed and it was doubtlessly the silence broken only by the metal animals rustling about in their enclosures that brought on the feeling or uncertainty.

Philo stepped into the nearest aisle. He took a few steps away from the square and Deuce and Harriet trailed after him. "Mr. Steele?" Philo called in his piping voice. "Dr. Eckheardt?"As if in answer, a metal whine echoed back down the aisle. Deuce saw a set of golden bars gleaming in the early afternoon sun as it swung wide. "That's odd," Philo said. He looked back at his friends. "Is one of the cages broken or something? It looks like it just opened up?"

Then Deuce's auditory sensors picked up metal claws clicking on the gold brick pathway. He stepped in front of Philo and Harriet, feeling a bit of panic creep into him. The boy was right. One of the enclosures had indeed opened by itself. The robotic animals inside, created to follow savage instincts, were making their way down the aisle. They walked into view, shining in the sun and extending their gleaming bodies in freedom. Deuce's panic grew. Now he could see what automaton animals had been unleashed and knew that his friends were in danger.

A pack of about a dozen robotic wolves were pawing lithely towards them. Their metal jaws opened, revealing rubber tongues and long, white fangs. Metal claws extended from gray steel paws, which clicked on the floor. The long snouts of the wolves twisted to face Deuce, Harriet and Philo. As one, the pack began to howl. The howls came out clanking and cold, whistling from between the wolves' jaws like the whistles of trains. Then their long limbs coiled and they began to charge. They scampered over the pathway, running straight for their intended prey.

Deuce moved quickly. "Stand back," he said. "Allow my resilient form to take the damage." He drew the revolver from his coat as the wolves drew closer. There was hardly any time to aim. The first wolf leapt into the air and Deuce's pistol fired. The shot blasted into the wolf's open mouth, ripping cogs and gears from the mechanical brain of the animal. It came down, crashing and clanking before rolling to a stop. Then another wolf reached Deuce. It lunged for his leg. Metal jaws clamped shut, shredding his coat and dragging him down.

More wolves reached them. One dashed past Deuce and charged for Harriet. "Back off, Fido!" Harriet cried. She swung her purse and bashed it against the wolf's face. The metal canine emitted squeaking whimpers and darted back. Harriet reached inside her purse and withdrew a snub-nosed revolver. She raised the gun and fired, blasting a shot through the belly of the wolf. The shot pinged against the metal and dented it. The wolf blasted sparks from its mouth and sank down. Another wolf surged out behind it and tried to strike at Harriet from the side.

"Don't-" Philo cried. He stepped close to Harriet and grabbed the wolf's back. It twisted its head around, its jaws flashing. Philo let go of the wolf, but the beast's claws reached out and lashed at his arm. Philo cried out loud. Blood was trickling down to the cuff of his collared shirt.

The organic members of the Iron and Glass Detective Agency wouldn't last long against steel wolves. Deuce had to help them fast. He forgot his revolver and reached out to grab the throat of the wolf gnawing on his leg. His fingers tightened around the wolf's neck. Deuce picked it up and came to his feet, dragging his wounded leg upright. The wolf twitched and struggled, its claws lashing against Deuce's chest. Deuce hurled the wolf back - straight into the rest of the charging pack. The metal body bashed against the other wolves. Then Deuce turned and raised his gun. He fired twice and blasted down the wolf attacking Philo.

"Move," he ordered, and started to run back. He grabbed Harriet's shoulder and turned her around, then did the same to Philo. The cut on the boy's arm wasn't deep, but the sight of the injury still made Deuce feel like his innards were rusting. They ran down the aisle, gaining in speed and then making a swift set of turns. The wolves did not follow.

But before he could feel relief, Deuce heard another thunderous clank of machinery. He glanced back and saw another cage swing open. Deuce knew how humans would often use profanity when something they disliked was occurring. If this situation didn't call for it, Deuce didn't know what did. A hulking metal form stepped onto the brick pathway. It was a metal rhinoceros, a jointed and armored tank of a beast with a pair of glowing red eyes and a nose tipped with a long, spiked horn. The metal legs pulsed and steam rushed out from the rhino's nostrils.

It was going to charge. Deuce tried his hand at profanity. "Curses on God and mothers," he said. "Run!" He added an exclamation and turned to run. Philo tried to run as well - and promptly fell to the aisle and tumbled down. The rhino broke into a charge. Its bulky iron legs rammed down hard on the bricks and the whole creature sounded like a junkyard rolling down a hill. Deuce grabbed Philo and picked up the boy, carrying him in his arms as he forced his battered legs to move. Harriet ran next to him and they pounded down the aisle. The rhinoceros was close behind, thrusting its heavy horn into the air as steam billowed around it.

The aisle twisted around. Deuce and Harriet ran and Philo struggled to hold on. "Ah, no," Harriet muttered. She pointed up ahead. The pathway dead-ended in another square, this one decorated with a single metal oak tree in the middle. Harriet and Deuce raced past the tree and reached the high brick wall. It was too difficult to climb. The rhino galloped into the square next. It simply charged at the tree and tore into its with its horn. Steel shattered. The tree was smashed to the side. Then the rhinoceros stood there, glaring at Deuce and Harriet. Deuce drew out his revolver and clutched Philo, trying to find some place to hide the boy while he distracted the rhino. Even his advanced brain could not come up with an answer. The rhino lowered its horn and charged.

The heavy legs pounded across the square. Steam rushed out from the nostrils. But as the rhinoceros charged, it began to slow. Its stocky legs struck the ground less and less often and its horn drooped. It went from a gallop to a trot and then was moving in slow motion. Finally, the rhino came to a sudden halt. Its horn was inches from Deuce and Philo. The rhino's red eyes died. The last burst of steam left is nose.

"Cripes!" Philo whispered. Deuce carefully set him down.

Before they could wonder what had caused the sudden stop, Dr. Eckheardt raced into the square. A complex controlling apparatus, resembling an oversized metal book covered with buttons and levers, was under his arm. "My apologies!" he cried. "My most sincere apologies! I cannot conceive what could have opened the cages when you arrived!" He hurried to Deuce, Harriet and Philo. "Were you harmed? Please tell me you were not harmed?"

"Nothing that cannot be repaired," Deuce explained. Harriet was already taking a bandage from her purse and sliding it over Philo's cut. "But what could have opened the cages and released the robotic animals?"

Dr. Eckheardt's face was red and frightened. "I do not know," he said. "The control room was unguarded. I never thought there was any reason to guard it..." He shook his head rapidly. "I suppose anyone could really have waltzed in and opened the cages once they saw your flying automobile returning."

"Who could have observed our vehicle returning, then?" Deuce asked.

"Well, there's the gardeners and technicians - a few zookeepers." Dr. Eckheardt shook his head. "Quite a lot of people. I saw it from the gardens, where I was waiting with Mr. Steele for the guests to arrive. A few of them have already shown up."

"My father likes nothing more than to greet his fellow bigwigs," Harriet explained. "You'd better take us to him, Dr. Eckheardt - after getting someone to clean up the rhinoceros and the wolves, of course." She nodded to Philo. "You doing okay, kid? How's the arm?"

"It stings a little, but it's okay." Philo smiled at Dr. Eckheardt. "Can we see the garden?"

"Right this way, young sir," Dr. Eckheardt explained. He led them past the sputtering metal rhino and back into the aisle. They walked through the zoo, passing some technicians who Dr. Eckheardt instructed, and then headed out of the Metal Menagerie. After going under a tall wrought-iron gate, they stepped onto a field of absurdly soft felt grass and entered the garden. Deuce felt the grass crunch under his boots and stared at their surroundings. It was a strange and unsettling place.

The garden was an almost exact replica of its botanical counterpart - only done entirely in precious metals and jewels. Slim ivory trees were draped with roses cut from precious rubies. Sapphire petals gleamed on glass stems in orderly rows. Topaz sunflowers spun about on their stalks, as different pieces of the garden seemed to move and bloom with sudden jolts of motion. There were flowerbeds, a few tall and graceful shade trees, and a couple benches surrounding a winding path. Ransom Steele II was sitting on one of the benches, wearing a straw boater's hat and enjoying the artificial foliage. He looked up from a humming metal bumblebee zooming between the flowers as Dr. Eckheardt, Deuce, Harriet and Philo walked over to join them.

Steele came to his feet and nodded approvingly. "Well," he said. "Any progress to report?"

"A little bit, pops. Drips and drabs." Harriet counted on her fingers. "We found out the woman who conducted the robbery, only she was working for parties unknown and they still have the metal tiger. Someone tried to kill her. Then we come back here and someone tries to kill us. So we know at least one thing about whoever masterminded the tiger heist - they're dangerous and more than willing to kill to see their plans protected."

"My goodness," Steele said. "You're all right?"

"Nothing that can't be repaired," Philo answered, exchanging a nod with Deuce.

Then another fellow came walking their way through the garden. He was a slim man, wearing a dark gray suit and vest with pale pinstripes. He sported a pale tie marked with curling designs and carried an ivory cigarette holder between his teeth. His chin was pointed, giving his face an angular look like it was an arrow facing some intended target. He raised the cigarette holder and twirled it around in a mocking salute of Steele.

With a sigh, Steele pointed to the newcomer. "This is Nicanor De Witt," he said. "Owner of De Witt Metals and one of my many competitors in the robot trade. Dear Nicanor chose to visit a little early, before the party's properly gotten started." He nodded to De Witt. "Where you were you, Nicanor? You just tramped off when I wasn't looking."

"Had to see the sights, old boy," Nicanor De Witt replied. He turned to Harriet and his grin increased. "And I'm seeing another one right now. This your daughter, Ransom? She looks as smart as her old man, but quite a bit more beautiful." Then his eyes settled on Deuce. "And this must be the Iron Investigator, the sole surviving model!" He stepped closer to Deuce and looked the robotic detective up and down. "Impressive design, I must admit. However..." He trailed off.

"Yes, sir?" Philo asked.

"It's creation was utterly futile." De Witt reached out and patted Deuce's metal cheek. Deuce could feel the thin fingers of the executive, drumming against his skin. "Nobody wants a robot that is such a close replica of life. Sure, they'll tolerate them as curiosities. Put them behind bars in a zoo, like the ones you've got here. But have one walking around on its own power? Solving crimes? I'm afraid not, my friend. It's too close for comfort in the minds of most people - and most people are prospective customers." He turned back to Deuce. "I'm sorry, Mr. Deuce, but you're bound for the scrap heap."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," Deuce replied.

De Witt's grin didn't fade. He turned back to Steele. "Well, I think it's about time for the party to get started, isn't it? Why don't we head over to that Metal Menagerie of yours and see what creatures are waiting for us there?" He had another long drag on his cigarette and swaggered down the path, heading towards the zoo.

Steele came to his feet afterwards and adjusted his hat. "He's right, the smug little upstart," he said. "We'd better get going. With no tiger to look forwards to, unfortunately." He pointed to Deuce. "But at least there's other things Steele Industries can show off. Come along now, Dr. Eckheardt, Harriet." He motioned for them to join him and started walking.

Deuce, Harriet and Philo followed. "Don't mind their dumb cracks, boss," Harriet explained. "They don't know what they're talking about."

"They clearly don't," Philo agreed. "You're not a replica - you're a metal man - and people everywhere think you're swell." His voice lowered as looked at the gates to the zoo. "I certainly do. The kindness you've shown to me, after my father d-disappeared, only someone with real compassion would do that. And you've always looked out for me and tried to make sure I'm safe and happy. You've been a friend. Other robots - and a lot of people - can't do that. "

"Thank you," Deuce replied. The boy's words did improve his mood - but not much.

In a matter of minutes, the guests began to arrive and Ransom Steele's party began. They were some of the most powerful businessmen in the world, accompanied by their well-dressed wives and more than a few bodyguards. Robotic servants strolled about in tuxedos, offering tall glasses of wine, while a few more gunbots were kept around the perimeter. Steele held court in the main square, near the fountain, and most of the guests congregated there. Deuce and his friends stood there as well, watching everything and keeping an anxious eye for any clues. Harriet took a glass of wine from a passing butler bot and sipped it slowly. The robotic animals moved about in their cages, watching as the guests stared at them.

The party-goers stared at Deuce as well. He could feel their eyes and his auditory sensors picked up their curious whispers. Deuce knew he shouldn't have been surprised. He was an exhibit, just like any of the mechanical creatures in their enclosures. They could look at him and be amused and surprised - feeling a detached kind of interest at the robot who mimicked a man just like the other robots mimicked animals. Deuce hated it. He felt like the eyes were casting spots of rust across his skin and it would soon grow to consume and destroy him. He couldn't stand it. Deuce suddenly turned and left the main square. He headed away, walking past the aisle of exhibits and leaving the fountain behind. Harriet and Philo ran after him.

"Mr. Deuce!" Philo scrambled to catch up to Deuce. "Are you okay? Where are you going?"

He walked another several steps before coming to an abrupt halt and letting his friends reach him. They stood before a cage featuring a large metal tree, where robotic apes climbed and swung from their bulky, jointed arms. Further down the aisle, at the far wall of the Metal Menagerie, a pair of Steele Industries gunbots stood guard. Deuce turned and looked back at Philo and Harriet.

Harriet seemed to know the answer. "You don't like the silver spoon crowd running their eyes all over you." She tightened her lips. "I know. I feel the same way."

"But you are not an Iron Investigator," Deuce pointed out.

"Sure - but I'm the daughter of Ransom Steele II. And I'm not wandering around on the arm of my handsome beau or attending some prime woman's university. Nope, I'm working as a secretary to an Iron Investigator and a pint-sized genius. That makes me a curiosity, just like you and just like Philo here. It doesn't exactly feel good. But I do my best not to let it bother me."

Before Deuce could respond, he heard a commotion coming from behind. Philo pointed. "What's going on over there?" he wondered. Deuce turned and saw the gunbots moving in on another figure, who had seemingly dropped out of the sky on a trail of smoke. They had thick-barreled automatic pistols drawn and were menacing the woman with the jetpack. The flash of red hair marked her as Maeve 'the Banshee' Corcoran. Deuce spun around and broke into a run, hurrying to meet the gunbots. His friends joined him.

Deuce rushed between the gunbots. Maeve was fingering her own holster. "Tell these cash register gunsels to back the Hell off. I've come in peace, I swear it." Her eyes blazed at Deuce. "We need to talk," she explained.

"She comes in peace," Deuce said. He waved his hand to the gunbots. They stepped back and holstered their pistols. This model of gunbots could not speak and only understood rudimentary orders. They heeded Deuce's words. Deuce turned back to Maeve. "May I make an inquiry?" he asked. "Why did you return? We did not part on good terms."

"True enough," Maeve agreed. "But I thought a little after you left." She looked at Philo. "The boy was polite to me. He was kind and he seems a good sort." Her eyes darted back to Deuce. "And you care for him, you and the Steele girl both. That's obvious just from watching you. So I can tell that you ain't some wind-up toy, playing detective. You're a man and a good man at that. It's a rarity in this world and I felt poorly for leaving you go with no information, especially after you saved my hide from that sniper. So I'm back, to tell you what I know."

There was no time to consider the import of Maeve's words. "I thought you said the buyer was anonymous?" Harriet asked. "Kept himself hidden or something, so you didn't know a thing about him beside what he wanted?"

"He did wear a mask, aye," Maeve said. "So there's not much I can help you with. But I do recall one detail. He was smoking from a big ivory cigarette holder. Expensive trinket, it was, and I could tell he didn't like to be without it." She shrugged. "Does that help?"

Deuce's mind whirred. "It does." He thought instantly to Nicanor De Witt - who had an ivory cigarette holder. De Witt had been absent from Ransom Steele II when the robot animals were unleashed from their cages. He could have slipped into the control panels and let the beasts free. He had a motive too. De Witt Metals was a direct competitor of Steele Industries. They specialized in mass-produced, unthinking robots, not the kind of masterworks - like the tiger and Zero Deuce- that Steele Industries occasionally dabbled in. But what exactly was Deuce's plan? Now that he had the metal tiger, what was he going to do with it?

The rumble of a zeppelin interrupted Deuce's thoughts. Harriet looked up. "Nuts," she said. The zeppelin, a small-sized and non-descript aircraft, was swooping low over the Metal Menagarie. Robots piloted it. A hatch in the bottom of the undercarriage began to winch open. "Let me guess, Maeve," Harriet said. "That's the zeppelin you flew when you pinched the tiger."

"The very one," Maeve agreed.

The zeppelin began to sweep lower, its shadow washing over the aisle and the animals in their cages. Deuce turned and started to run after it, Maeve by his side. Philo and Harriet followed. They hurried past the enclosures and reached the main square, the fountain and the party again. The zeppelin had stopped. Its shadow darkened the fountain. The guests stared at the zeppelin, sipping their wine and wondering if this was some entertainment planned by Ransom Steele II. The bottom hatch finished opening. A shadowy hole looked back at the square. A low growl, a mechanical rumble like an extended roll of thunder, came down from the undercarriage.

Steele hurried to Deuce's side. "What's going on?" he demanded. Dr. Eckheardt was next to the tycoon. The scientist and inventor was breathing heavily, obviously made nervous by the dark roar coming from the zeppelin.

"Nicanor De Witt is the culprit," Deuce explained. "He stole the tiger. Now's he going to give it back."

"The tiger is extremely dangerous!" Dr. Eckheardt cried. "And I was not able to install an off-switch before the party. It will give into its savage instincts and fall upon the guests!" He clasped his hands in terror. "Oh, it will be a slaughter!"

"And a fiasco for the company," Steele muttered.

As they spoke, a striped metal form shot down from the zeppelin. It hurtled down and landed straight in the fountain. The stone fountain shattered. The rocks spilled and bounced across the courtyard. Guests stumbled back. The dust cleared and there stood the robotic tiger. It was a bit bigger than a normal jungle cat, with lean legs fitting to its body with rounded joints. Heavy steel claws extended with a clank. The tiger had glowing green eye and brilliantly white curved teeth. The painted stripes made it look like it was bathed in shadow. The tiger strolled away from the fountain, seemingly without feeling a scratch. It faced the guests and roared again. Every inch of the tiger seemed poised to pounce - and to kill.

"Oh dear," Philo said quietly.

Deuce knew he had to stop the tiger. He drew his revolver. Maeve and Harriet had pulled their own pistols. "Open fire," Deuce ordered. "Attract its attention. Lead it away from organic targets." He pulled the trigger. Harriet's snub-nosed pistol and Maeve's Mauser cracked away together. The shots struck the steel hide of the tiger. Party guests screamed and ran. The tiger roared. The shots pinged off its striped flank. It turned its glowing green eyes on Deuce, Harriet and Maeve and pounced.

They turned to run, the tiger bounding after them. "Miss Steele! Mr. Deuce - Harriet, Zero!" Philo cried. "Wait -I can help, find some way to shut off the tiger and-" But he had no time to finish his thought, as they had darted past him and were running down the pathway. The other metal animals stirred in their cages. They roared and hooting, honking and clanking in a chorus of mechanical animal sounds. The whole Metal Menagerie seemed to be coming alive, making a symphony to cheer on the charging tiger. Deuce didn't bother heading into any of the side passageways. He simply ran through the zoo, out to the wrought-iron gate with the tiger close behind.

After leaving the zoo, Harriet, Deuce and Maeve reached the artificial garden. They stepped over the felt grass and their shoes crunched on expensive, jeweled flowers. The tiger lunged after them. Its claws shredded the grass as its eyes settled on Deuce. The Iron Investigator knew that his fleshy friends wouldn't survive an attack from the tiger.

"Stand back!" Deuce ordered Maeve and Harriet. "Allow me to attract its attention!"

"You malfunctioning, boss?" Harriet asked. "That cat will tear you apart!"

"Perhaps." Deuce replied. "But I can be repaired." He turned his revolver on the tiger and fired again. His bullet cracked between the tiger's eyes, bouncing off the striped forehead and making a loud and pealing ring. That got the beast's attention.

It lunged for him. Deuce ran back. He rushed past the ivory oak tree and then saw the edge of the Arcadia Garden. There was only a thin brass railing between him and the sheer drop, countless stories to the hard streets of Steele City. Deuce turned back to the tiger. It was pawing towards him, its jointed tail waving over its head like a cobra preparing to strike. Deuce took another step back and then the tiger launched into the air. No noise came from the springing limbs or the tawny body as it sailed through the air. The tiger struck down like a striped cannonball. Heavy claws gouged into Deuce's chest, cutting up strips of metal. The heavy teeth clamped shut on his throat. He raised his revolver and fired again, blasting the remaining shots into the tiger's belly.

Behind him, Maeve fingered the controls of her jetpack. "You're a wretched robot who should be bound for the scrap yard, Deuce," she said. "But you don't deserve to be a ball of yarn for an overgrown toy kitty." She made her jetpack roar. Her boots left the ground. Deuce saw Maeve speed across the garden, flying over the jeweled flowers. She spun around and raised both boots. They rammed into the side of the tiger. Her whole weight was pushed against the metal cat. The ringing resounded through the garden.

The force knocked the tiger back. It crashed into the brass railing, the sheer weight of the animal shattered it. Deuce stumbled back and raised his revolver. The tiger was holding on, reaching out with its claws for one final swipe. Deuce leveled his revolver. The gun barked. The bullet took the tiger in the face. The shot knocked the tiger back and it fell. Deuce ran to the railing and looked down. He saw the striped form of the tiger, plummeting down below the garden. The tiger's legs flailed and then it was gone, vanished in the smoke of Steel City. Deuce listened. He could hear the crash and crumple as the tiger struck down. The beast was finished.

Deuce reeled back. He sank down to his knees, but still swiveled around to see Maeve hovering in the air. "You had better leave," Deuce said. Several Gunbots, Philo, Steele, and Dr. Eckheardt were running through the garden. Maeve would doubtlessly be questioned if she stayed.

"Aye," Maeve agreed. "Be seeing you, metal man." She waved to Harriet and then increased the power of her jetpack and rocketed off into the clear sky. Deuce turned around and let himself collapse for good. Philo ran to him. It was nice to know that his care for Philo gave him a small measure of humanity - enough for Maeve Corcoran to notice at least. Deuce finally lowered his revolver and let his guard down.

A while later, Philo was making his repairs as Steele and Dr. Eckheardt came by to talk. Most of the other guests had left, including Nicanor De Witt. They were alone in the garden, all the fantastic artificial plants gleaming like fallen fire in the evening light. Philo's hands were busy, his tools working rapidly to repair the damage tiger claws had dealt to Deuce's chest. Steele approached him with a wide smile and held out his hand. Deuce gave it a shake.

"Well done, Mr. Deuce," Steele explained. "Well done indeed."

"But we could not prove De Witt was behind stealing the tiger robot," Philo pointed out.

Steele shrugged. "A small matter. Rumors have always began to spread about De Witt's underhanded business dealings. I can do all in my power to speed them on their way and De Witt Metal's business shall suffer. In the mean time, your splendid reaction ensured that no guests were harmed, and your vigorous display of combat proves that Steele Industries is producing some of the most advanced robots in the world."

"That's all it was?" Harriet asked. "An advertisement for your products?"

"A fortuitous coincidence," Steele replied. "Nothing more. Though it is a shame about the tiger."

Dr. Eckheardt hung his head. "Yes," he agreed. "The poor beast. It was simply too vicious, too lifelike, and so it met its destruction. Perhaps the world is not yet ready for robots that truly mimic life."

Philo looked up from his work. "Maybe," he said. "But, sir, what about robots that are extensions of life?" His eyes went to Deuce's face. It was clear what he meant. Deuce felt a little pride at the boy's loyalty, like a warm mechanism pulsing in his metal chest. "Do you think the world is ready for them?"

"I do not know, young sir," Dr. Eckheardt answered. "I simply am not sure." He nodded again and then he and Steele headed off. As they departed, Philo slammed Deuce's chest shut. His miniature welding torch swept down, sealing the work he had done. The repairs were finished. He stood back and watched as Deuce came back to his feet.

Deuce gently patted the boy's head. "Thank you," he said. "The gratitude is not just for the repairs."

"I know," Philo agreed. He turned to Harriet. "Can we go and see the animals?" he asked. "Before we leave?"

"It is getting a little late, kid," Harriet said. "Close to your bedtime. But we can walk around for a little, as long as no robot creatures try to eat us." She extended her hand to Deuce. He took it. Philo stood between them. They walked away from the shimmering mechanical garden and headed past the wrought-iron gates, strolling together into the Metal Menagerie.

-The End-

17