The Orphan Hunter
by Lou Antonelli
It looked like a post-apocalyptic ruin.
But it was only a crapped-up
abandoned Texas truck stop.
Bob Tully carefully guided his rusting
pickup through the scattered
patches of weeds in the crumbling parking lot and pulled up alongside a
shiny new SUV.
Both men got out, and they shook hands.
“Dom Tessicini with Mid-Tex Properties,”
said the second man. Tully
held out his hand.
“Bob Tully,” he said. “Great to meet you
Tessicini smiled genially. “I’ve never
met an orphan hunter before,”
he said. “Thanks for coming.”
Tully followed as Tessicini walked
towards the shuttered store. “This
place is being torn down next week to make way for a new highway exit
ramp,” he said. “This is your one chance to grab anything you want.”
“I guess stuff’s been picked through
“Yes, but there’s still at least a dozen
abandoned machines left
behind. Three or four candy machines, two soda machines, a newspaper
rack, and one machine--I don’t know what it is.”
Tessicini opened the padlock on a fence
and the men walked to a
covered patio behind the dilapidated store.
“This was where the employees smoked,”
he said. “We stashed the
abandoned machines here.”
Tully began to walk along the row of
derelict machines. Tessicini
followed him. “I’ve never figured out why some businesses never reclaim
their vending machines,” he said. “We made sure everyone got a notice
when the truck stop closed.”
“Some vending businesses are so
competitive a route manager won’t
admit he’s lost a location,” said Tully. “Sometimes it’s easier to
forget a machine than transport it back to the warehouse.” He tugged at
the door of a newspaper vending machine. “Then they become abandoned,
so it’s left to a guy like me to take the little orphan machine home,
rehab it--and maybe sell it again.” He lightly pounded on the plastic
front of a soda vending machine. “No use for these, too big and too
He stopped in front of a waist-high
machine that looked like a cross
between a stainless steel drinking fountain and a Wurlitzer jukebox.
”Okay, I’ve been doing this for 35 years, I’ve never seen one of these
before. What is it?”
“Damned if I know. I told you, I didn’t
know what one of these was.”
“But these were all inside the truck
stop, weren’t they?”
Tessicini pointed. “Not that one. We
found it dropped off in front
of the store a week or two after it closed. The guys doing the
inventory just pulled it back here with all the rest of the junk.”
Tully scratched his chin. He grabbed the
machine and tried to rock
it. ”Damn thing is heavy, solid. I can’t see where it opens.”
“Oh, I tried to open it a few times. I
Tully looked around it.
“Well, fuck, I don’t even see a power
“You can haul it off for scrap for all I
care,” said Tessicini.
“I suppose I will,” said Tully. “I like
* * *
Back in his workshop, Tully unloaded the candy machines and newspaper
rack before he turned his attention to the mystery machine.
Balancing it on his hand truck, he
guessed it weighed at least 200
pounds. Once he set it down on the concrete floor, he took a clean rag
and wiped off the dust and grime.
He gave it the gimlet eye.
“This thing looks like it was an
expensive piece of equipment,” he
said to himself. He walked around it. “I don’t even know if it is a
vending machine. I wonder if it is a stolen piece of equipment, like
from a hospital.”
He rapped the colored enamel top with
“Somebody probably just wanted to dump
the evidence, and that closed
truck stop was as good a place as any.”
He rapped the top twice.
There was a loud snap as a door popped
open on the side.
He peered around and saw an outlet. “Ah,
now we’re getting
He went over to a reel and pulled out a
thick extension cord. He
plugged it in and the lights dimmed.
“Sonofabitch is drawing a lot of juice,”
he muttered as the room
filled with the piercing whine of a capacitor charging.
Tully took a few steps back. “I hope
something lights up,” he said,
raising an eyebrow. “Because I have no idea what I’m doing.”
The whine stopped, and was replaced by a
strong humming. The top of
the machine rose up as armatures shot out from the sides. Beneath,
shining alloy tubes pushed the body of the machine up like a
Tully fell backwards onto the floor,
startled as colors began to
dance across the shiny surfaces of the device.
At the top, a dome pivoted upwards and
it took Tully a moment to
realize it appeared as a human face. He half rolled over and scrambled
to his feet. As he did, he turned away. As he jumped to his feet and
looked back, he saw it had transformed into the image of a young woman,
with panes of colored hair like stained glass, and a series of rectangular
ivory-colored buttons across her chest. He staggered back up against a
candy machine. The machine stood there, impassive as the hum
“What the heck are you!” he blurted out.
Her eyes opened. “I am a Wurlitzer
Jukebox Recreation Simulacrum.
Model 2300,” she said in an unnervingly lifelike fashion. “You may call
She turned her head. “You look afraid.
Have I done something wrong?”
“You’re a robot,” he said flatly.
“A rather outdated term,” she said. “You
still speak in 20th century
Tully stood straight. “I can’t help it,
I was born in 1957.”
“That’s irrational, that would make you
327 years old,” she said.
He leaned forward. “What year do you
think it is?”
“One hundred and six, 2284 old style,”
He took a step forward. “Are you
“Of course not, I’m an entertainment
unit, I have no offensive
capabilities,” she said.
“Well, you’ve been shanghaied, as we say
in the 21st century. It’s
is 2017, old style I guess, and I found you in a scrap heap.”
Wurley remained impassive for a moment.
“I recall being deactivated
at the resort I was assigned to,” she said. “I assumed I would be
reactivated in a similar setting.”
“Is time travel normal where you come
“Not at all. It is experimental at best,
dangerous--uniformly fatal to living organisms.”
“Well, somebody obviously time-traveled
you,” said Tully, “and then
dropped your deactivated self on the side of the road.”
“Thank you for reactivating me, then,”
He slowly walked around her. “I can see
the nod to the old fashioned
record machines that were copied by your designers. So you are a music
player of some kind?”
“Yes, I can dance, accompanied or
unaccompanied, or remain
“Is that all you do?”
“I am not designed to realistically
mimic the human form, I am not
dual programmable with a sexual surrogate function.”
She turned her head to face him as he
walked around her. “What is
“I am self-employed. I’m called an
orphan hunter. I search for and
buy abandoned mechanical vending machines, restore or recondition them,
and resell them. I found you in a lot of machines behind a closed
“You were not aware of my function?”
“Shut down and shut up as you were, no,
not at all.”
“If what you say is true, you are not
familiar with models such as
myself,” she said. “If this is the year 163 B.C., as you assert.”
Tully shrugged. “Okay.”
He stood in front of her. “Now what?”
“In the absence of any other
instructions, I should obey yours,” she
Her gaze shifted past him. “This is
fascinating. All these forms of
He looked around, and looked back at
her. “For a robot, you look
“This is like a museum of my origins.”
Tully snapped his fingers. “Hey, many of
these machines are broken.
Could you help me fix them?”
She looked him in the eye. “I would
enjoy that very much.”
“Then we can work together, and maybe
somewhere down the line, we
can find a clue as to how you got here,” he said. “I have some clothes
inside the house left over from an old girlfriend.”
He smiled. “It will be good to have some
* * *
A man and a woman with a floppy hat got out of the shiny pick-up and
walked over to a man by a van outside a closed supermarket.
“You’re welcome to anything left
inside,” he said. “We have two soda
machines, a claw and grab, six candy machines, and out back on the
loading dock, there’s some machine--I have no idea what it is.”
Tully glanced at his companion.
From under her hat a bright eye
gleamed, and she smiled.
© 2017 Lou Antonelli
Bio: Mr. Lou Antonelli has had 109 short stories published in 14
years, as well as three collections and one novel. He is a two-time
finalist for the Hugo award and a finalist for the Sidewise Award for
Aphelion published his short story "Video Killed the Radio Star" in
E-mail: Lou Antonelli
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