Doctor Navi—the Ocean Dominion doctor from the company’s earliest days, a gaunt man with shifty eyes that scurried right and left like a rat’s—had replaced the charred inch of Izar’s bone with a platinum chip that he’d claimed would make Izar’s wrist as strong as an anvil. As Izar examined his wrist now, he smiled dryly to think that he, the wielder of metal, contained metal also within him.
When he looked up, his glance fell on Castor, and he recognized intuitively that it was time. He strode toward the robot. Looming to more than three times Izar’s six-foot-four height, Castor stood in an immense tank of water with a bullet proof glass boundary.
Izar knew Castor better than any man he had ever known. So profoundly did he relate to Castor, in fact, that, to his own bemusement, he had taken a knife and carved a hook-shaped scar into the side of the robot’s jaw to match his own.
His own hands had laid Castor’s flesh with the densest of metal alloys, and his own fingers had shaped Castor’s skin with zinc-galvanized steel, to prevent corrosion underwater. He had ensured Castor’s legs weighed more than one ton each, to enable the robot to retain his balance on an uneven ocean floor. He had slid magnets into the soles of Castor’s feet, in order to attract jewels, and he had also added a sieve of sensors, to separate the valuable materials from the worthless ones. He had inserted suction conduits as nerves inside Castor’s legs, to convey the precious metals and minerals to the cylindrical storage vaults in his vertebrae.
He had crafted and embedded a circular bronze shield of Ocean Dominion onto Castor’s chest, with Castor’s name written atop it. Behind the shield, he had inserted a vault that he’d loaded with hundreds of bullets. They were not ordinary bullets, but bullets that he had himself designed—cylindrical and streamlined, in order to counter water resistance. He had arranged them in concentric circles in Castor’s chest, as though artillery were an art.
He had also programmed Castor with a self-defense instinct. For instance, if any merperson were to touch Castor during a mining mission, let alone try to stop him, Castor would shoot the intruder. Izar had loaded long-range cameras inside Castor’s eye sockets, so that Izar would be able to view the robot’s underwater surroundings on a computer screen, and amplify or override Castor’s self-defense instinct by remote control, if necessary.
As a lobster has two different claws, one a crusher, and the other a pincer, Izar had given Castor two different arms, one a crusher, and the other what he called a dragon. At twice the circumference of his right arm, Castor’s left arm was the crusher, capable of pulverizing strata into sediment in a matter of seconds. Castor’s right arm, the dragon, was intended to blast fire; it was on this arm that Izar’s dreams hung.
Mentally, Izar ran through how he hoped it would work tonight.
Upon the push of a button on Izar’s remote control, Castor would grow instantly hot, like an electric burner plate. His heat would transform some of his surrounding water into vapor. Catalyst chemicals would fly out of the glands along the sides of his neck, tearing apart the oxygen atoms in water vapor from their hydrogen companions, and compelling them to bond with one another to form oxygen gas. The gas would then funnel into Castor’s dragon arm through a one-way distillation chamber inserted in his skin, designed to permit only oxygen gas. The oxygen would spark the combustion chemicals loaded in Castor’s arm: sulfur, red phosphorus, potassium chlorate, and the finest of glass powders—the elements of matchsticks. Castor’s arm would then crook at the elbow and a blaze would spew forth. Through the continuous cycle of heat, water vapor, and oxygen distillation, Castor’s fire would be self-sustaining, able to continue as long as the combustion chemicals lasted, or as long as Izar permitted through his remote control.
Izar snatched his crimson-covered journal off the floor, then climbed the ladder alongside the tank of water. He disembarked upon the platform above Castor’s head, which resembled a wide diving board but had a steel-grid base. Kneeling on the platform, he looked at the two objects lying there.
The first was a battery. Bending forward at the waist, Izar dipped his arm in the tank of water up to his elbow and inserted the battery in Castor’s skull. The size of a textbook, it fit perfectly, metal sliding reassuringly inside metal. The second object was a remote control. Grasping it with trembling fingers, Izar held it over Castor’s head. In his other hand, he clutched his journal, also above Castor’s head. If his attempt at underwater fire failed, he would drop the journal in the water.
He pushed the button on the remote control.
Heat began to emanate immediately out of Castor. The water roiled in disconcerted ripples and, in the span of a minute, the air above the tank grew as moist and humid as that in a sauna. A bead of sweat trickled down Izar’s temple, paused over the scar along his jaw, then dripped off and disappeared into the tank of water. Chains of perspiration dribbled down his back, mingling to form sticky sheets.
Castor’s head swiveled side to side. This showed Izar that at least the first part was done; Castor had reached a sufficiently high temperature, and his glands were spraying catalyst chemicals into his surroundings. Next, the process of creating oxygen gas from water vapor also seemed to transpire without incident, evidenced by the streams of bubbles that erupted in the water.
Izar’s hands were so drenched with sweat that the cover of his journal felt slippery between his fingers, like a fish trying to escape. He placed the remote control down on the platform but continued to dangle the journal above the tank. Victory was not yet assured, not nearly—the most difficult part remained.
A thunderous rumble sounded as Castor’s right arm lifted slowly from his side to crook at his elbow. Izar’s jaw stiffened and he stared at Castor without blinking. In his anticipation, he could not breathe—the fire would blaze forth now or else never—
An orange-red flame pounded through the water. A horizontal cannon of fire, it flowed continuous and consistent like lava, as inextinguishable as a ray of sunshine.
The journal slipped from Izar’s fingers. His other hand caught it just before it struck the surface of the water, and placed it feebly next to his knees.
He had done it. His relief was so tremendous that, closing his eyes, he swayed on the platform on his knees, as though in a hypnotist’s trance. “Well done, son,” Antares would say when Izar told him. Izar had waited twenty-five years to hear those words.
Izar opened his eyes and gazed at the fire below. A flaming key, it would sear open the door to his future. Within a week, he would set up an assembly line, and, using the instructions in his journal, would commence the process of creating thousands of Castors. Each would be a foot soldier in the mission of underwater fire.
Deposits of jewels were richest in the areas where merpeople lived. (Izar had overlaid maps of the ocean floor’s topography with maps of merpeople population centers, and the maps matched precisely.) Castor would turn their homes and gardens to rubble in order to extract the precious metals and minerals beneath. Merpeople would have nowhere to live, nothing to eat. By the end of the year, they would be extinct. Their extinction would be an important side benefit of Castor: Merpeople had killed Izar’s biological parents, and Castor would kill them.