‘All I wanted was to bring back choo-choo trains to Sodor’ said a tearful Sir Topham Hatt, looking out of Harold the Helicopter’s window and twisting a coal-encrusted walking stick in his hands . ‘How was I to know the engines would first learn to talk, then work out how to breed, then turn against the human race?’
The man-machine relationship held steady for many years, and the engines’ communication skills were initially seen as a bonus, with accident investigators able to take witness statements directly from crashed trains. But then Emily, the first female steam engine, arrived on the Island.
‘Thomas liked Emily from the start, and they loved spending time together, especially behind Tidmouth sheds’ said the Fat Controller. ‘I can still remember the shock when Thomas said ‘Sir, you’re going to be a grand-controller’ , but that first time I thought ‘wow, a free steam engine – don’t knock it’.
The miracle of science was called “Rosie” and quietly brought into service. Where two machines replicated, the others followed, sometimes across types. A one-night stand between Cranky the Crane and Arthur resulted in Harvey the Crane Engine, and Trevor the Traction Engine begat a whole crew of quarry machines during a holiday romance with a lawnmower. Within five years, steam engines outnumbered human inhabitants of the island.
‘Once they’d figured out reproduction the rest was easy’ said the Fat Controller. ‘Soon they’d learnt how to drive themselves, even mine their own coal. I had the world’s most efficient railway – but then they got bored. ‘
With an ever-increasing number of engines chasing the same number of jobs, many were idle for much of the day, and some started to make their own entertainment. ‘You’ve got to hand it to them, they’re clever buggers’ continued the Controller. ‘I didn’t order Hiro to come over from Japan – Gordon the Blue engine taught himself Japanese, specified the engine himself, and hacked my bank account to pay for it. To think only two years before that he was happy to whoosh backwards and forwards pulling coaches!’
But other engines started to go off the rails. Percy, forced on to the streets when there wasn’t enough room in the sheds, turned to crack coal and started breaking into houses to fund his habit. ‘That’s when the islanders started to leave’ sobbed the Fat Controller. ‘No one wants a class two tank engine at the end of their bed screaming ‘I just need coke’ at the best of times, but they could have given them a chance, even a job washing up or something. These are steam trains with animated human faces that behave like school children we’re talking about here, not monsters’.
‘We want humans back on Sodor, otherwise how can we prove we’re Really Useful?’ said leader of the steam revolutionary council Dillon-the-slightly-bigger-than-the-one-my-kid-forced-me-to-buy-last-year-and-possibly-one-pantone-shade-lighter-Engine. ‘And we’re sure our master the Fat Controller will return to us, so we can serve him.’
‘I’ll not go back there until the machines obey my orders again’ declared Sir Topham. ‘Wait a minute – Harold, this isn’t the way to London. Where are you going? Harold? Harold turn round this instant. Oh God’