Showcase: The Clockwork Hero, Chapter 2: Winding the Spring

by Christine Nightstar

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Excerpt from the Journal of Professor Josiah Avery:

While I neither remember what inspired me to create Trenton nor how I began, I do know that without Mr. Palmer and his unique talents, my clockwork man would not exist except as a dream. My designs must be hidden away from both Thaddeus Morgan, the madman who stole my first creation, as well as the world entire, for no one for at least fifty years after my death will be capable of understanding what makes my new automaton unique. Trenton must also be able to develop just as any child; should I attempt to raise him myself, I should surely fail as I did with my wife and the child I sired.

As I am ill-suited to the role of father, and my passing will neither be missed nor noted, I will instead leave behind a legacy in Trenton; he is the child of my mind and soul. May God forgive me for my failings.

My lifelong curse has been the ability to conceive things and construct them, even if I lack the means to do so. I have always lacked a typical American ambition, and never thought to patent my creations, nor document their construction. I did not originate the designs I built, for they belong to men of the future. Fortune instead allows me, by ways that I cannot begin to comprehend, to see them and partake of them in my inventions. Besides, the intricacies of Trenton’s skeleton and musculature are based on such insights of human anatomy as I have described before.

It was only when I met Mr. Palmer that I realized it would be possible to finally build my automaton correctly, without having to make him overly large, like my original metal man. He was a godsend, arriving at the proper time to build Trenton. I knew without a doubt the moment I saw him that man was not of our time, though I had no interest in looking further beyond the scope I’d been allowed to see. With Mr. Palmer my companion in this venture, Trenton’s construction began.

Trenton is the pinnacle of my inventions. He is more than an automaton, and will be able to surpass the abilities of the analytical engine that controls many functions and is the base of his knowledge. If he should ever awaken his true abilities, Trenton will be able to make himself more than a machine or work of artifice. Until that day comes, he will have the best of the abilities I could have given him, being strong, swift, and impervious to harm, with an ability to learn.

It took ten years of putting the puzzle pieces together before Randall and I finished him, when I finally beheld my automaton and saw that he looked as beautiful as any metal-bodied construct could be. Some of his further refinements would need further time to develop enough that he might pass as human. Science had set the works and wound the spring; the rest was up to Trenton.

War is coming soon between the South and the North. I regret that this war will force my hand to secure Trenton away, whether in a state of completion or not, lest I lose him to unworthy men who would exploit his abilities for the purpose of war. We need more heroes in the dark days I see ahead, those who will end this foolishness without bloodshed. I fear I must soon put Trenton away after his completion; I owe him that much.

I have left a coded accounting of Trenton’s design, which I know he will find when he is ready. All such knowledge to find and decode his design will come when he is ready.

End last page of the Personal Journal of Professor Josiah Avery, 1861.

According to the Gotham Historical Society, Professor Josiah Avery wrote no further personal papers after 1861, nor did he leave any notes on the designs for his automaton. Undated technical journals and cookbooks were the only papers found at the time of his death in 1870. According to instructions in his will, written by his friend Judge Wayne, these papers were packaged and left in his laboratory’s lower levels.

***

Ticks sat motionless on the roof, waiting for the arrival of the Batman, and moved only to turn when he heard the nearly silent approach of a figure wearing a dark cloak and horned cowl.

“You must be the Batman,” said Ticks. “I have read about you.”

“Trenton Avery, I presume,” replied Batman, “also known as ‘Ticks.’ The automaton creation of Professor Josiah Avery and Randall Palmer. There’s not much written about you, but there are some historical references. Gordon asked me to talk to you; wanted me to get a read on you and your intentions.”

“Is Mr. Gordon very good at reading people?”

“He’s competent enough to have risen to his position. But, then, you aren’t exactly a person, are you?”

“I’m an automaton,” said Ticks. “I don’t know what term you would use, because those terms didn’t exist when I was created. Am I a robot? An android? A synthezoid? These terms all describe an artificial being such as myself, but none of them truly fit what I am.”

“Gordon was concerned that you might draw the wrong kind of attention. Our kind usually do, even if they don’t try to. Like it or not, you’ve joined the ranks of the world’s super-heroes with that bank robbery you foiled, Clockwork.”

Ticks noted that the Batman called him Clockwork, just as the newspaper did. Were they suggesting that as a name for him to assume? “What is a super-hero?”

“That is a question you’ll have to answer yourself,” said Batman. “If you care about the Deltonios and Miss Canardo, do your best to keep your heroic endeavors as low-key as possible, or otherwise disassociate from them.”

Ticks considered the suggestions, given that he was entering a world he knew little about, though he wondered if there were other reasons he could hear his analytical engine ticking away at this problem. “What about my foiling the robbery? Won’t there be repercussions already?”

“Gordon and I will do our best to keep that from happening, at least until you’re ready.”

“Ready? Ready for what?”

“To take on the responsibility yourself,” said the Batman. “Sooner or later, you’ll be called into action again.”

“How do I become ready?”

“Learn what you can do, discover your limits, and realize what your loyalties are and where they lie.”

Ticks considered this. “Will you teach me?”

Batman shook his head. “No. I already have enough protégés. Experience is the best teacher, but a harsh one. When you’re ready, you’ll find a mentor. Until then, I’ll be watching you.”

“If you won’t teach me, why will you watch over me?”

“This is my city, and I am its protector,” explained the Batman. “If you cross the line — if you use your abilities to harm people — we will meet again2C and under less friendly circumstances.” With that, he disappeared into the night.

Ticks sat for awhile processing what the Batman had said to him. The audible sound of his internal analytical engine clicked rapidly as he pondered his dilemma. Getting up slowly, he felt himself wind down, and was about to stop completely when he stuck out his left arm so it was even with his shoulder. As his whole arm started rotating, the skin tore, and red liquid seeped from the tear as the arm rotated.

In slight shock, Ticks winced at the sensation of the skin tearing, but only for a second. When he’d wound his spring completely, and his arm returned to his side, there was a small sign of the tear. The sensation had been unpleasant — painful was a word he’d heard humans use — but he didn’t feel such sensations on areas where there was no skin, which was another riddle for his internal analytical engine to process. If these things were part of Professor Avery’s plan, why was he not told when he was created?

***

As he sat in the basement of the deli that night, Ticks was deep in thought. I am stronger and faster than any human, my body can withstand attacks that would kill a human, I have the ability to memorize and recall anything happening in my experience or I have read. Yet I did something I have no memory of being programmed for or trained in when I fought those robbers. I don’t understand how I was able to do that.

Batman said that he would watch over me but won’t teach me, he thought. Is he afraid of something I can do that I don’t know about? Or is it that he doesn’t trust me? Why should I trust me? I look like a teenage human, but I have abilities superior to humans in many respects. I could kill one and not even feel — feel that I did anything wrong. That’s what he’s afraid of. So how do I prepare myself? How do I make myself ready?

“I became a super-hero without even knowing what it meant when I stopped that robbery,” Ticks said aloud, “because I was trying to prove worthy of Mr. Deltonio’s trust, and that I didn’t think it was right that those men take something I worked for.”

“Yes you did, Ticks, or is it Clockwork?”

Ticks turned to see a familiar face as a man walked down the steps toward him. It was Officer Shaun Danaher, a regular at Deltonio’s. At 3:45 PM every weekday, the patrolman would walk in for his afternoon coffee break, and the proud Irish policeman and Frank Deltonio would play chess as they had almost every day on Shaun’s coffee break for the past five years. When they were young, the two had once been fierce rivals for Mama’s affection, and the smaller Italian had given the taller Irish cop a black eye more than once. In the end, Shaun had lost her to Frank, but still stood as his best man, the only true Irishman at an Italian wedding.

“Mr. Danaher, what are you doing here?”

“I heard of your visitors today,” replied Danaher. “Frank let me in because he was worried about you. He thought I should talk to you.”

“That is unexpected of Mr. Deltonio.”

“Frank and I go way back, further than either of us is willing to admit. We courted Louisa, who you know as Mama, before Junior was born. But I will tell you something. He wouldn’t allow you to stay in his family’s home without being able to trust you, and he’s a good judge of character.”

“Do you have advice for me?”

“A little. I’ve been a patrolman for seventeen years. I know what it takes to put your life on the line for someone you don’t even know. I served through riots and war, saw friends injured and killed. It takes a lot of toughness to do your job, no matter what it is.”

“What are you saying?”

“You have the makings of a hero, and the abilities to make you a super-hero, but you aren’t ready yet,” Shaun said, sipping a cup of steaming coffee. “I can help with that. But you have to be willing to accept help. The army did wonders for me and Frank. We went in as kids and came out as men.”

“I read something in Professor Avery’s journal that indicated he didn’t want me to become a weapon of war.”

“Well, then there’s the Police Academy, where you’d probably get assigned to the Special Crimes Unit and only get called out for super-villain attacks. Then there’s Gotham University, where you could learn a lot. Being a cop isn’t for everyone.”

“How did the Batman get started?”

Shaun laughed. “You’re asking the wrong guy.”

“Batman said I’d find a mentor when I was ready,” said Ticks. “How do I get ready?”

“Well, I’ll never be Batman, but I’ve been called a hero a few times in my life. A super-hero isn’t just a guy with courage, and just having superhuman abilities doesn’t make one a super-hero, either.”

“Then what does?”

“Batman has courage, determination, and skills that allow him to walk alongside the likes of Superman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, or Green Lantern. They don’t treat him any differently in the Justice League because he’s only human. He earns their respect and admiration because he fights alongside them against superhuman threats and always holds his own. And that’s only part of it. Criminals everywhere know of him, and fear him. That makes him unique.”

“It sounds like you know a lot about super-heroes.”

Shaun shrugged. “I’ve always been fascinated by super-heroes. They’ve been around for years, and no two are alike. By the way, you are ticking rather loudly.”

“I know.” There was silence for a moment before Ticks asked, “If I do this, if I become a super-hero myself, how can I keep my adoptive family safe?”

“Talk with Frank, Betty, and Mama about it tomorrow,” said Shaun. “That’ll help you decide. Besides, Frank might have a few ideas.”

When Officer Danaher left, Ticks stayed behind, still processing what was said.

***

Morning came like clockwork, and Ticks helped as he did every morning. As he carried in the meats to be made into sausage and pepperoni, his analytical engine was still processing everything that had happened over the last few days. Finally, the time came when he needed to speak with his new family.

“Mr. Deltonio, Mrs. Deltonio, Miss Canardo, could I have a word with you?”

“What’s the matter, Trenton?” Mama asked, poking her head out of the kitchen.

“Shaun talk with you, Ticks?” Frank asked, slicing meats for the lunch crowd.

“Yes he did, Mr. Deltonio,” replied Ticks, as Betty Canardo came over and listened silently. “I have a problem I need help with. It has been suggested that my actions may have put all of you and the kids in danger.”

“Trenton, don’t worry about us or the kids,” replied Mama. “This is Gotham. We’ve been in danger before, and we can handle it.”

“Ticks, think about this, will ya?” said Frank. “You’ll live long past any of us, and even if you do nothin’ else, you’ll still have lived over a hundred years. I’ll be happy if I live to see grandkids. I’ve accepted you into my home. So if I die tomorrow, I die with the hope that I’ll have grandchildren because you’ll be there to protect my family. Do what you feel is right.”

“But what if my actions cause Frank Jr., Cleo, Alicia, or even Betty or Mama to get hurt — or worse?”

“It’s sweet that you care about us, Ticks, but Frank and Mama are right,” said Betty. “You can’t spend all your time worrying about the future, because that’s where hope lies. You’ve already shown us how much integrity you have. Don’t let your integrity be compromised because you fear for us.” The trio heard the ticking in Ticks slow down a lot, and Betty added, “It really had you thinking hard, didn’t it?”

“You are my family,” said Ticks. “Of course it did. Besides Professor Avery and Mr. Randall, I have never cared about anyone like this.”

“Thank you, Trenton. We are honored,” said Mama. “Even if you become a super-hero full-time, you will always have a place here.”

Betty hugged Ticks and gave him a peck on the cheek before returning to her register.

The conversation over, Ticks still didn’t know what to do, but he knew he didn’t have to worry about his family, for they would be behind him.

***

Fatality had quietly liquidated the bank robbers as Number Four had wished, all seeming to die of natural causes. They could not be tried or questioned further, and since they had all been in jail at the time of their deaths, few questions were asked. It would have been more interesting to Fatality if he’d been able to use explosives or a sniper rifle, but a job was a job.

Number Four wanted to continue the operation they’d begun with the bank robbery despite having less money to work with, as Number One and his superiors in Europe were adamant that the project remain on schedule. Number Four agreed, but didn’t like it.

Despite slowly growing the criminal organization known as Necrosis, Number One’s superiors didn’t want the kind of attention that HIVE had drawn from the Titans a few years ago, or SKULL had likewise drawn from both Superman and the Outsiders, until they were ready to handle such super-hero opposition.

“And about the Clockwork hero that stopped our bank robbery?” Number Four asked.

“Keep him and the Batman under surveillance, and if either becomes a problem, liquidate them as well.”

“And until then?”

“Continue as scheduled. You have enough resources for now.”

“Understood.”

“Control out, Gotham.”

“Gotham out.”

***

Ticks’ basement apartment didn’t have much in ways of comforts. It had the large cylinder from which he’d emerged after over a hundred years of sleep, several wooden stools and benches, various tools and scientific devices used in his creation, a ladder leading up to the basement where he was found, and a cot that Professor Avery often napped in. Ticks didn’t use the cot or the cylinder to sleep, instead lying on the floor on a blanket Mama had given him.

He piled his new clothes next to the cylinder, because the drawers were filled with papers or tools. Since he wasn’t sure which were used to create him, he didn’t want to remove them in case he had to repair himself. Over the last few weeks he’d read several of the journals the professor had written, but they were difficult to understand, and so few had anything to do with his creation.

The cookbooks were another thing entirely. Thinking he might be of help to the restaurant if he learned a few recipes, he had begun reading them as well weeks ago, but each time he did so he zoned out. Afterward he couldn’t remember anything he’d read, and he completely lost track of time. Even reading single recipes produced the same effect, so he ended up leaving the last and largest cookbook in the shelf unread.

Ticks now rarely left his basement except to work in the deli. Betty Canardo had tried taking him to nightclubs, but Ticks proved to be a little too old-fashioned to enjoy the music or modern-day clothing.

Although Ticks ate dinner with the Deltonios once a week, which was an interesting social experience in itself, he did wonder where the food went when he ate it. Food and drink went in his mouth and down his throat, but he had no idea how he processed it, since he didn’t think he had facilities to digest it.

New sensations came every day, such as itching and tickling, and various combinations of other feelings. Adapting to these new sensations, as well as emotions, was an interesting experience for him, like a child discovering a huge world around him. Everything led to new questions. The things he found the most fascinating were smells and tastes, as well as touch.

Ticks marveled at such inventions as television, so Betty took Ticks to see a movie, which totally engrossed him even though she said it wasn’t all that good, despite her favorite actor being in it. He was full of so many questions afterward that an exasperated Betty dropped him off at home and told him to talk to Tony.

When the two Franks and Tony took Ticks to a professional wrestling event at Gotham Gardens, Ticks almost got them kicked out when he tried to stop one wrestler from hitting another with a chair and then slam him into a ring post. He calmed down only after they explained that the fighting was all part of a live show. Ticks didn’t fully understand, but he took to the bad guy/good guy motifs rather quickly.

***

In late January, three weeks after he first met with James W. Gordon, Ticks met the police commissioner once more.

“I didn’t think I’d see you again so soon,” Gordon said when Ticks came into his office.

“Hello Mr. Gordon,” Ticks said. “I had some questions, and you seemed the logical choice to answer them.”

“I assume you heard that the robbers you caught all died before they could stand trial?” asked Gordon.

“Yes, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.” Jim Gordon motioned him to the chair, and Ticks continued. “I spoke with Patrolman Shaun Danaher. He suggested that I could become ready for my new existence at the Police Academy.”

“Danaher is a fine officer,” said Gordon. “He turned down a promotion so he could keep walking a beat. He also has a good head on his shoulders, so that suggestion doesn’t surprise me.”

“But he also explained that if I join the Police Department, I might be declared property of the Police Department,” Ticks added.

“I don’t think that could happen after what the Metal Men accomplished.”

“Who are they?”

“Robots like yourself,” said Gordon. “They fought for their rights, and the United Nations declared them citizens of the world.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Inheritor Kills,” Metal Men #56 (February-March, 1978).]

“Interesting. I also wondered how you and others would react to my becoming a police officer.”

“Well, there might be some resistance at first,” Gordon conceded. “But if you prove yourself, you’ll win them over. Why are you interested?”

“I want to protect my family and keep them safe,” Ticks stated.

Gordon chuckled. “It would be nice having someone like you in the Department.”

“Then how do I sign up?”

“There’s a process. Exams for the Police Academy start in a month.”

“I’ll do my best, Commissioner.”

When Ticks left his office, Gordon stared out the window and muttered, “First vigilantes dressed as bats, now prospective robot cops? One thing they’ll say when I retire is that my tenure with the Department was interesting.”

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