by E. A. Blevins
Uncle Hubert, who was in fact Soren’s great-uncle and not his regular non-great uncle (of which he had two), owned a small repair shop behind the town square.
Soren liked Uncle Hubert’s repair shop. He liked the tangled wires and the parts stacked so high he couldn’t see over the top of them. He liked the work table, with its scratches and collection of old soda cans and the overflowing toolbox.
He especially liked the fact that Uncle Hubert didn’t make him do his homework.
These were all things Soren’s mother did not like about Uncle Hubert’s shop, but Uncle Hubert was family and didn’t charge to watch Soren when she needed to have her hair and nails done, so she let Soren bother his uncle instead of sit and complain at the salon.
Soren’s mother did not know how much Uncle Hubert knew about robots. When Soren told her all about what he’d learned, she told him she was glad he’d had fun and asked if he’d done his homework and let out a sharp sigh when he said no.
He didn’t know why she always asked when she already knew the answer.
Uncle Hubert let Soren take things apart so they could put them back together. He explained how things worked, and he even brought out some of his own projects and let Soren tinker inside them.
Some days, Uncle Hubert let Soren wield a big pen-shaped tool called a soldering iron that melted metal and didn’t look at all like an iron.
“What’s the biggest robot you’ve ever built?” asked Soren one day as Uncle Hubert prodded the innards of a toaster.
Uncle Hubert squinted at his work and adjusted the lamp by his elbow. “Biggest one had to be something like thirty feet tall. Big as a house.”
Soren could not imagine a robot as big as a house.
“That was back when I was Mechano, before everything became computer chips. Back then, robots were robots, not this watered down bluetooth generation where everything folds up to fit in your pocket.” He spat on the floor by his chair, leaving a wet glob on the cracked linoleum.
Soren turned his head and spat on the floor, but it wasn’t nearly as impressive as Uncle Hubert’s. When Soren turned back, Uncle Hubert had smushed his lips together in a thousand wrinkles of disapproval. Soren climbed onto the workbench stool next to his uncle and peered curiously into the toaster. “What else did you build?”
“Oh, lots of things. Mechanical sharks, giant spiders. This one time, I went to Japan and saw some of their mech, but they used computer chips and programs and remote controls. I prefer to use my hands to create something with my own blood and sweat. Get grease under my nails and dry my skin out with the heat of welding. You will never see me sitting at a computer typing.” The last word came out a little slurred as he twisted his mouth around, crossed his eyes, and mimicked using a keyboard. Moments later, he went back to the toaster.
“Can we build something together? Something big? As big as a house?”
Uncle Hubert shook his head. “I don’t do that anymore.”
“But you’re Mechano.”
“Was Mechano. That mantle isn’t meant to be kept. Gotta pass it on—one mechanical prodigy to the next. Been that way as far back as the industrial revolution.”
“Does that mean I’m the next Mechano?”
Uncle Hubert coughed. “Well, no. I passed the title on to a dwarf in Milwaukee about twenty years ago. That man could make laser golems out of cardboard and paper clips. But you can make your own legacy. Find your own protégé the way I did.”
Soren drooped, and Uncle Hubert put a hand on his shoulder.
“I tell you what. You get your parents to find you a nice toy robot and we’ll see about putting a laser in it.”
Soren couldn’t hold back his smile, which made Uncle Hubert laugh.
“You wait and see, kiddo. You’ll have your own thirty-footer in no time.”