MB&F Balthazar: A Hero Story Of No Robot Left Behind
The following is my ‘fan fiction’ account of Melchior and Balthazar.
The date is October 31, 2057, and the little town of Rockwell, Maine is celebrating something special – but what they celebrate is very different to all of the surrounding towns, and every city across America for that matter, as people dress up as ghosts, ghouls, pirates, and princesses in honor of Halloween.
No, Rockwell is celebrating an anniversary of sorts, and this is the big one: 100 years ago something extraordinary happened, an event that changed the town forever.
You see, that was when the town was invaded by the U.S. military and almost wiped off the map by a nuclear warhead. The reason for the nearly all-out war? The military was fighting an iron giant. One hundred years ago this month, a giant mechanical robot appeared out of the sky like a meteorite, causing quite the brouhaha. The resulting scuffle between the military and the gargantuan robot ended with the machine saving the town by sacrificing itself to the nuclear missile intended to destroy it.
Every year since, the town gathers to pay tribute and celebrate the “life” of the great mechanical man. Little did they know that on this 100th anniversary, a new iron giant would arrive, drawn by a distress call sent from that first visitor to Rockwell.
The new robot’s name: Balthazar.
After traveling at around one-tenth the speed of light from the nearby Barnard’s Star (roughly six light years away), Balthazar settled into a stealth orbit around the earth back in 2016, 41 years ago.
Hiding behind the dark side of the moon, Balthazar watched and waited for the right time to descend.
The robot had to carry out certain mission objectives, including locating the source of the distress signal, discovering the events leading to the distress signal being sent, and finding some clue as to the fate of the robot on the original recon mission.
Balthazar discovered that the location of the distress call centered on a populated area near the coast of a large landmass, so it focused its observation efforts on these coordinates.
On this Halloween night, Balthazar noticed a dramatic increase in activity in the town as well as the sudden appearance of many micro robots, which were about half the size of the humans elsewhere in the town. It calculated that now was the time to make contact, especially since its moon phase indicator was showing that this planet’s moon will only appear as a waxing crescent 21 percent full, which should provide suitable darkness to move around unnoticed until the moment was right.
Upon touching down on the outskirts of town, the robot scanned the surroundings in 20-second intervals via retrograde thermal scanners located in what humans would call eye sockets. This allowed sufficient time to scan a full 360 degrees at a distance of 500 meters. Thanks to Balthazar’s ability to swivel 180 degrees at its midpoint, it could scan the entire area without needing to step around and risk creating a disturbance.
With its two control faces, one scanned the area while the other projected a heads-up display of the town’s geography. The robot’s spinning quantum gyroscopic brain, positioned on top of its head under an impenetrable clear dome, went into double duty and began to overlay possible human locations onto the topography.
It checked the power reserve meter to verify it had enough energy reserves should something go wrong on this rendezvous. Balthazar had 33.2 of its 35 days of energy reserves still stored in its five internal mainspring energy cells. Once Balthazar knew its systems were in order and the area was deserted, it slowly proceeded, making its way into town and pausing every so often to scan the area again and adjust the map details.
Trying to remain unnoticed while standing 16 meters tall requires stealthy movements, so an extremely accurate map is critical to make this a walk in the park – which soon became a literal walk in the park. Specifically Iron Giant Memorial Park, just off the center of town. In it stands a small (by comparison) statue resembling Balthazar’s lost comrade. The robot pauses to honor its missing partner, Melchior, before moving toward the festivities nearer the city center.
For an 18-ton robot, Balthazar moved surprisingly silently when necessary. The townsfolk and host of micro robots packed the city square; main street was aglow with lights, lanterns shaped like robots, and the laughter of children emanating from the micro robots hobbling along rather awkwardly.
Further thermal scans revealed that the micro robots were in fact cardboard costumes housing children. Balthazar wondered if this was an elaborate ruse to confuse. The answer came just minutes later as the Iron Giant costume contest was announced over a loudspeaker and, scanning databanks accumulated over the past four decades, Balthazar understood the context of what it was observing.
Slipping between buildings and standing in the shadows of the alleyways, there was little chance that a townsperson would catch sight of the towering machine. Before the beginning of the Iron Giant costume contest a short film was played that inadvertently answered almost every single mission objective the robot had: it was a retrospective covering the events of 100 years ago, describing just what happened to the sender of the distress signal.
Watching the film, Balthazar learned that Melchior had been presumably destroyed in a bid to save the local humans from a large weapon. The only objective it left unanswered was to ascertain the current whereabouts of any wreckage from Melchior.
The robot waited a little while longer, which according to the mechanical clock dials spinning on its torso turned out to be precisely 45 minutes, while the costume contest resulted in a parade of tiny fake robots moving across a small stage. It was during this spectacle that Balthazar understood that the time had come for it to reveal itself to the people, completing the circle that had begun a century prior.
The winner of the costume contest, a small boy named Hogarth Clearwater, waddled onto the stage in a rather convincing outfit to the cheers of the crowd. As he was being handed a small statuette shaped nearly identically to the statue in Iron Giant Memorial Park, Balthazar made a move into the spotlights behind the stage. The cheers turned to shrieks . . . and then to silence.
The towering robot looked out over the townspeople and saw them transfixed with horror, shock, awe, and a lingering fascination. The crowd clearly did not know what to make of the new visitor as nobody alive, even the oldest among them, had any living memory of the first mechanical giant to visit them. However, a small boy, the winner of the costume contest, had a very specific reaction.
Hogarth walked toward the foot of the giant, took off the cardboard robot head and stuck out his right costume robot arm and yelled, “HI, I’M HOGARTH. NICE TO MEET YOU, SIR!”
Balthazar understood the boy since after years of observation it spoke the humans’ language, so the gesture of friendship was not lost on the giant. It quickly lowered its massive body down into a kneeling position, causing shrieks of concern from the townspeople. But Hogarth stood strong, arm outstretched and ready to shake the giant’s massive hand.
Balthazar extended its clawed hand, and then one of its claw-shaped fingers. Hogarth grabbed hold and with all his might held on as the giant shook him vigorously. At this, the crowd roared into life, assured by the interaction that this robot was, like its predecessor, actually a gentle giant. Balthazar stood and surveyed the crowd before raising one arm and waving a wide hello.
The crowd roared even louder.
The mechanical smile built into the robot’s control face helped to win over the crowd; it didn’t dare display the other control face resembling an angry mechanical skull, used only in times of defensive aggression to intimidate and threaten.
Balthazar was a reconnaissance machine and therefore only held a shield and no serious weaponry. The shield even contained a variety of technical equipment as well as the robot’s energy-charging equipment. Balthazar was all bark and no bite, but the townspeople had no way to know this.
The conversation between Balthazar and the residents of Rockwell, Maine began slowly as people were still struggling to believe what they were seeing. But soon enough the large machine was sitting on the ground, legs out, learning all about the town’s experience after the Iron Giant saved them and filling them in with details about where both of the robots came from. This conversation lasted into the wee hours of the morning before the townspeople started to filter out, wandering home in an amazed stupor.
Balthazar had made contact and it was as good as it could have been, but the search for Melchior’s wreckage still remained. The townspeople bid the giant farewell the next day as Balthazar walked out of the city to complete its last mission objective. It knew that even if the Melchior had been ripped apart, its components should still be around as the material the two were built with was nearly indestructible and highly (yet harmlessly) radioactive.
There was also a remote possibility that, due to a self-reassembling program embedded in the processing center, Melchior might have made an attempt to reassemble before running low on power. Therefore, Balthazar utilized its multitude of sensors to detect the specific radioactive signature of the components and methodically seek them out.
After a few days of high-altitude flight coupled with wide-angle scanning, the sensors picked up a ping. The signature coming from the northern hemisphere was unmistakable. The ping directed Balthazar to an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, an island the humans called Iceland. Utilizing local maps and the topographical scans it had assembled, Balthazar was able to pinpoint the radioactive signature to a formation named the Langjökull Glacier on the western side of the island.
Balthazar touched down in deep snow, though it barely covered its feet. The search began with sensors scouring the landscape. Within minutes a signal was targeted coming from underneath a large hill less than a kilometer away. On reaching the hill, Balthazar turned its claw hands into giant shovels and began swiveling and scooping the snow and ice away.
The robot’s great size and speed made short work of the shoveling action until finally a solid sheet of ice appeared with a ghostly shape underneath. Using its thermal scanners, Balthazar could barely make out the shape of an almost complete Melchior 15 meters below the surface.
Balthazar knew that if the robot had not been able to charge, it was very likely dead. However, if circumstances had been favorable, Melchior may still be in a low power standby mode. It sent a radio burst to Melchior through the ice in a last-ditch effort to make contact. And waited.
Within minutes, the frozen Melchior, though encased in hundreds of tons of ice, opened its eyes . . . and smiled.
Thus ends the imagined history of Melchior and Balthazar, two robot clocks designed by MB&F and built by the masterful clockmakers at L’Epée 1839. The newest creation, Balthazar, is an incredible mechanical treat, one that inspired my imagination. I encourage you to let it inspire your imagination and interest to learn more!
For more information, please visit www.mbandf.com/en/machines/co-creations/balthazar.
Body: 39.4 x 23.8 (depending on position of the arms) x 12.4 cm (boot size) in steel, brass, and bronze materials; 180 degree rotation, pivoting arms, shoulders, claws; 8.2 kg weight
Movement: manual winding L’Epée 1839 in-house designed and manufactured movement with 35 days’ power reserve
Functions: slow jumping hours, minutes, retrograde seconds in 20-second portions (eyes); power reserve, moon phase
Limitation: 50 pieces in each armor color: black, silver, blue, or green
Price: 52,000 Swiss francs