by Christine Nightstar
Over the last few weeks, Ticks had felt compelled to finish reading Professor Avery’s cookbooks, even though there were over a hundred of them, and he lost time whenever he read one.
After his second meeting with Police Commissioner Gordon, he came to the final cookbook, which was longer, wider, and thicker than all of the others. When he finished it, something happened within him. His analytical engine seemed to stop, and he a light emanated from his chest cavity.
What was happening to him?
No unpleasant sensations occurred, but he began to process information at increasing rates of speed. Something was changing him from within.
I understand now. I am not merely a machine, but a combination of machine and a type of magic that is rarely practiced: alchemy. I knew not what refinements Professor Avery gave me before, because I was not complete. I was created incomplete because man himself is created incomplete.
Within me are several things I am now aware of, including a Philosopher’s Stone that acts as my primary power source. My analytical engine has been replaced — no, transformed — into an alchemical matrix drive, allowing me to think, process, and imagine like a human brain. The spring that I once needed to wind no longer serves any mechanical function.
I now know that this is only the first step of an evolutionary process that may result in my becoming far more than Professor Avery had imagined. The cookbooks contain a code within them that unlocked this transformation, and I now can recall every moment I had previously lost before while reading them.
Ticks looked over his body and noticed that skin had grown over his feet and legs up to his waist, leaving only a band of exposed metal in his upper torso and waist.
Seeing himself in a mirror, Ticks realized that, while his face was much the same, he no longer looked like a teenage human, but a young man of twenty years or so. Further, a glance at a clock told him that three days had passed while the instructions within the code had transformed him, though it had only felt like seconds.
When he emerged from the basement into the deli, Frank and Mama looked confused at his altered appearance, and though he tried to explain what had happened to him, words didn’t seem to be enough. Betty Canardo smiled at his return to the living and complimented him on his maturing.
“I only wish some other men grew up as quickly as you did, Trenton,” Mama said, giving a scolding look over her two Franks.
“Thank you, Mama.”
“You called me Mama, and not Mrs. Deltonio,” she said with a smile. “That’s the first time you’ve done that.”
“It felt… right,” said Ticks. “Now that I know I can be part of your family, it seemed right.”
“You’ve changed so much, Ticks,” marveled Betty. “I can hardly believe how human you’ve become.”
“Thank you, Betty. I’m having trouble believing it myself.”
“So, Ticks you gonna sit down all day and talk, or are you going to work?” asked Frank. “We have to get ready for the lunch crowd, y’know.”
“All right, Frank, I’m going. I’m sorry about inconveniencing you the last few days.”
Frank smiled. “You can make up for it by working three times as hard.”
“Hey, Ticks, Miss Vale called and asked about you yesterday,” said Frank Jr., referring to reporter Vicki Vale, whom the young man swooned over whenever he saw her photo in the Gotham Gazette or Picture Magazine.
“I hope I don’t screw up your wedding plans too much, Junior, by talking to her today,” replied Ticks.
“Just don’t charm her too much, because I want her to know she’s mine,” Frank Jr. said, pretending to swoon.
Tony just wrapped his arms around Ticks and smiled up at him.
“That’s the best welcome back I’ve ever received, Tony,” replied Ticks. “Thank you.”
Time passed as Ticks spent his days working at the deli and getting used to his new size and expanded awareness of himself.
Soon enough, Deltonio’s Deli was hired to cater for a big party to be held on Valentine’s Day of this year, a particular event that Frank usually handled more often than not. The Policemen’s Ball, which was what everyone called the Policemen’s Benevolent Association Ball, was the biggest event on Frank’s calendar, and was attended by those high in the social strata like Bruce Wayne and others. Every off-duty police officer would be in attendance as well, thanks to unofficial orders from Commissioner Gordon, including even the socially challenged ones like Harvey Bullock.
Mama said one of the reasons that Frank took the job this time was so that Trenton could interact with a few more cops other than Shaun Danaher. Ticks didn’t mind helping with the event; in fact, he was starting to become excited over it.
Ticks hadn’t seen Frank stockpile so much food before. The refrigerator and the freezer were both stocked to capacity, and Mama was spending much more time baking breads than she usually did, all for the big event.
“How many police officers are there in Gotham City?” asked Ticks.
“Never enough to discourage the likes of Joker, Penguin, or Rupert Thorne,” Frank replied.
“About four thousand patrol officers, five hundred detectives, two hundred SWAT and Special Crimes Unit members, and about fifteen-hundred reserve or part-time officers.” Jim Gordon had entered the deli in time to hear the question.
“What can we do for you, Commissioner?” Ticks asked.
“I came to see how the preparations for the Ball were coming along,” replied Gordon. “Besides, I needed to get out of my office for awhile.”
“Not a good sign when the Police Commissioner is hiding from his job,” Mama said, pouring Gordon a cup of coffee. “Who is it this time?”
“No one in particular,” said Gordon. “Every year at this time the Mayor gets it in his head to send photographers to Police Central to show how good a job we’re doing, and how busy I and several other key officers are — snapping pictures of me working or on the phone. Makes it impossible for me to do any real work. So this year I took some advice and left before the photographer showed up. Damn politicians interfering in police matters. We have better things to do than to be models for the next election or public relations campaign.”
Gordon slumped into a booth, then got a good look at Ticks as he helped Frank carry meat to and from the fridge. “Something happen to you, Avery? You look different… older.”
“I grew up a bit, Commissioner.”
“I didn’t know that was possible,” Gordon said as he went back to his coffee. Robots growing up in Gotham City — that was something you didn’t hear every day. But in a world with Martian Manhunters and Amazon warriors, it was hard to be surprised about anything anymore.
The Policemen’s Ball, as it turned out, had to be the single most boring event that Ticks had attended so far. The conversation, not to mention the speeches by the Mayor and other individuals, were enough to put even Ticks asleep. He had found himself nearly teetering behind the serving tables several times, when he heard a voice.
“Don’t sway too much. You’ll fall into the appetizers.”
The voice came from a woman with long platinum blonde hair, a delicately beautiful face, and a killer figure. She wore a simple but elegant black dress with matching heels.
“Thanks for the warning,” Ticks replied in a half-mesmerized voice. “My name’s Trenton Avery.” He could feel a spark about her that he couldn’t with humans; immediately he knew that she was another robot or artificial life form like himself.
“You’re cute… Mr. Trenton Avery. I’m Tina Platt.”
“That’s a pretty name. Did your creator give it to you, or did you think it up yourself?”
Bruce Wayne had been watching the interaction between the two with great interest. Tina Platt, alias Platinum of the Metal Men, glanced over to him for guidance. A simple nod gave her the reassurance that it would be fine to speak with him openly about her true identity.
Ticks spent the whole night talking with Tina; it was the first time, Frank later said, that he had seen Ticks take such an interest in another person. He had seen Ticks talk to people many times before at the deli, but never about anything personal. Frank didn’t want to inquire into Ticks’ personal life, but as the robot’s acting father figure, his curiosity was piqued. There was something different about this platinum blonde bombshell that Ticks had picked up on. Ticks had even given her his address, which was an interesting first step. Frank was concerned that his robotic “son” might get his proverbial heart broken by the blond, when he suddenly realized that he had thought of Ticks as a son, one that Frank couldn’t be prouder of than any of his sons. Ticks had started calling Frank and Mama by those names recently because they were, as he called them, his family.
It was only after the Policemen’s Ball was over that Frank was able to take a moment to talk with Ticks again, while they were loading up the Deltonio’s Deli van.
“It looks like someone caught your eye tonight,” said Frank.
“Does it show?” asked Ticks, embarrassed. “Uh, yes, Tina was quite interesting.”
“Yes, it does,” said Frank. “And don’t worry — I don’t think Mama would object to anyone who can make you leave your duties to dance with a pretty girl. If it was Frank Jr. or Tony, I’d be more concerned.”
“Because they are your biological sons, and you want the best for them?” inquired Ticks.
“No,” laughed Frank as they loaded the truck, “because they have the same taste I did in women when I was their ages, and it took Mama and my rivalry with Shaun to get her to change that.”
“I thought Mama was your first love.”
“Not quite,” Frank admitted, “but she was the one I could never forget. I was always thinking about her, even when I wasn’t thinking about her.”
“Is that how you knew that you loved her?” asked Ticks.
“Well, not quite again. It was after she bailed me out of jail instead of Shaun that I started to realize that she was in love with me, and I was in love with her.”
Ticks seemed surprised. “Why were you in jail?”
“Drunk and disorderly conduct from a bar fight. Knocked out three cops before they got the cuffs on me. I think it was in Metropolis.”
“And Officer Danaher?”
“He’s the one that started the bar fight,” said Frank, “but he was my sergeant at the time.”
“How does Mama bailing you out instead of Officer Danaher equal you knowing that she was in love with you?”
Frank shook his head. “What’s important is that you found someone who’s attractive to you and who you find interesting.”
“But you haven’t answered my question, Frank,” Ticks noted.
“I explained all I care to explain,” Frank said decisively. “Now let’s finish loading those hot plates and get them home before we open in the morning.”
The man now using the alias of Temple Fugate had returned to Gotham City after an absence of many years because of a package that one of his old gang had sent him containing a copy of the Gotham Gazette featuring a headline about a “clockwork hero,” along with some research about the Batman’s activities of late, as well as that of his target: an actual, authentic clockwork robot created by the inventor Professor Josiah Avery, the second of two such creations. As soon as he realized what he was seeing, Fugate knew he had to have this automaton, not only because it would give him an edge over the competition, but also because he knew those upstarts from Star City and Ivy Town, Tockman and Clinton, would eventually set their sights on the same target.
The skin on the automaton could be easily removed, especially if it was a recent addition. Fugate wouldn’t want anything to depreciate its value or effectiveness. The automaton had been staying at Deltonio’s, a Gotham deli he was familiar with. Since the building was originally owned by Avery, Fugate figured that the automaton wouldn’t go far from where it was created so soon after reawakening, and had probably formed a bond with the family.
There was a tight schedule to the activity cycle of the building, one that Temple Fugate would exploit if he had to. But he would much rather lure the automaton away from a field that favored it to one that favored him.
And then there was the threat of Batman and any number of his allies. Fugate wasn’t quite ready to face the Dark Knight again after fourteen years, especially at the same time as the automaton, but if he did the Batman would find him a much more intelligent foe than he’d recall from all those years ago. His natural cunning had allowed him to skirt the law for many years now, but a recent deal made with a certain infernal powerbroker had made him the intellectual equal of any of his old enemy’s greatest foes.
The Clock, as he was once known, had hired local muscle and had some of his old gang keep an eye on the automaton. Dabney Kyle, once nicknamed Slugsy and now calling himself Temple Fugate, wouldn’t reveal himself until he was ready to chime in. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Batman’s First Case,” Detective Comics #265 (March, 1959).]