1. marco.buschini

    marco.buschini Member

    Jun 2, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Varese - Italy

    The gears of winter

    Discussion in '2013 Science Fiction Writing Contest' started by marco.buschini, Dec 2, 2013.


    I gaze at the drying branches, and at the leaves that helplessly hang down from them. I look at them while their bright green turns yellow, and then they get streaks of red, and brown. They crumple up, at last. It seems like their tips get heavier, and heavier, moment by moment. They curl down looking at the ground. They swing down by their weight, not always, only when the wind lightly blows. Because here in this place the wind never blows more than lightly. Then the leaves fall off, and get down leaning on the air that is fresh as when summer is already becoming autumn. They weave in the air a dance that enchants the eyes. Even if it’s a dance of dying leaves this dance seems to praise to a new life, to a rebirth.

    A leave dances in front of my face. It hints movements going forward, then going backward, slowly, and springs forward again painting an arabesque in the air. That leave is so strange to me. Different from the others in the way it moves, or at least so it seems to me. Because other leaves do not paint arabesques in the sky. Not enchanting as those painted by this one, at least. And the shape is weird, too. The more I try, and concentrate looking at it, the more my glance is allured by the movements of the other leaves. I follow it with my eyes for a while then, offhandedly, it falls to the ground. As light as it is, this leave seems to fall with great haste. It leans to a little machine, a contraption that is, that snorts vapor from metal, leather, and rubber tubes. It is jerky, the little machine, with hasty, and inaccurate movements. To me it seems damaged, so I walk up to have a better look at it. It is wearing a waistcoat of brown leather, fastened with bone buttons. But if it is a creature, or a thing, that is something I cannot tell myself.

    «By having arms, and legs, it must be a creature!» I hear myself saying out aloud.

    «It’s almost time! It’s almost time!» I suddenly hear that weird mechanical creature puffing. I jolt backwards surprised, holding a hand before my open mouth.

    «Is is almost time! Oh my! It is almost time!» it puffs again going on his way at what appears being its maximum speed. Given, at least, the sound of pistons, and gears that it produces. It seems it isn’t able to go in a straight line, zigzagging and shaking. And while its gears screech, and seem to get stuck, it goes on moving forward undeterred as if nothing had happened.

    Needless to say that, curious as I have always been since childhood, I follow that little machine. I run after that in a slow run, or a fast pace, that is, because I do not really need to run to keep up with that funny thing. Suddenly it wavers for a moment, but then it slips under a tree trunk, the scoundrel! In a hole under a tree trunk! As I get there myself, I put a hand inside the hole to search for the little machine when the hole in the trunk starts to enlarge, following the movements of my arm. I should be scared by that but, I do not know why, I find this thing funny. So, amused, I raise it and lower it, but it does not lower, then I widen it and tighten it, but it does not tighten. Even holding on it with my whole weight, pulling with all my strenght, the hole does not tighten back once enlarged. Bewildered I scratch my head gazing at the hole: I hoped it would have been more flexible, but its changes go on in one direction only. So I swing my arm up in the air, and down to the ground to find out how much it can enlarge. As I suspected it cannot be enlarged indefinitely, and it becomes an almost, but not completely, dark opening. Just as if the full moon shone high in a far sky. It takes up the same amount of space that a door would have took. Surprised I run into the opening to chase the little machine, hoping to find it after entering the trunk.


    As soon as I am inside I hear the creaking of the wood behind me, as if someone was walking with a heavy feet on a floor made by old wooden boards, and then, suddenly, a crash! I spun around! Terror! Wonder! The hole shut behind me leaving me on this side of the trunk, alone. Astonishment! Panic! Even the little machine in a hurry went away. I can no longer see it. I seek for it, with my hand above my eyes to protect my sight from the light. I look in every corner I can reach to with my eyes, but I can no longer see it. I crouch on the ground in despair with my back leaning on the wooden wall. Holding my head between my knees, and my hands on the nape I think to everything I loved in my short life. I think to everything I lost forever behind that trunk. Curiosity! It is curiosity that kills! My mother always told me that, and so did my father, and my grandparents. And now, because of my curiosity, I am here, alone, dying. To nobody I told where I am. How could I? I do not even know where I am myself! And I cry. Fiercely I cry. For a long time I cry. A very long time.
    So long that I start feeling all wet under the buttocks. I can feel the water, salty, rising higher, and higher. It has the same taste of the tears that are running on my face. It is as if my tears filled the trunk of the tree. I do not believe it as possible, but the taste is always the same every time that I, with my face painted with surprise, taste the water with a finger. I also shake the hand in the water, to ensure that it isn’t dirty with something I ate before. But the taste of tears never changes. It never vanishes, it does not give up: It resists.

    «How long did you cry?» I ask myself. I do not know. My mind is confused, and I am not able to estimate the passage of time. I look around, but I can see only water around: In every direction I look at. It does not matter how much I look around me I can see water, and nothing else. The body of water appears to be as wide as the ocean, but as placid as a lake. The surface is barely moved by a distant force, and is not even rippled by how faint the motion of the waves is. Suddenly a chill sets upon me, but it’s not the water that is getting colder: The frost comes from within, it comes from my heart. Just as terror comes from nightmares.

    «Can you swim?» I ask myself.

    «For sure I know how to swim! What do you think? I am no longer a child!»

    «Swim then, to the other side!»

    «Sure! What a fool I am!»

    So I plunge into the water, and I start moving arms, and legs in coordination. Free style is much easier than I remember. I remember I went to the pool with my family, and I swimmed just a little because I got tired quite soon. Perhaps here the fear that entangles me makes me ignore the fatigue. I do not know how it is possible. And thinking about my family in the pool, and floating in my fears I suddenly feel my hand bumping on something below me.

    «The shore at last?» I ask myself almost choking with some of the salty water that carried me here. I quickly rise up. I stumble, I stand up, I stumble again. I don’t fall just by chance. I didn’t realize it: I am a few feet from the shore. How could it be that I got here that fast? The body of water appeared endless to me. Maybe I was so deep into my thoughts that I didn’t see the fog thin away? But was there fog before? Not around me, perhaps in the distance, and it hid the shore from my sight. It doesn’t really matter. Eventually I hold my feet on solid ground.

    I rise, and I walk till my feet no longer trample on water. I hear some music, sweet and rhythmic, coming from away, but not that far away. A music that enters me not by the ears, but by the skin, down to the bones, to rise up to the heart. It spreads out to the muscles, and gives life to them. Then I dance on the shore. I do not know why I do that. I feel the urge to dance, and therefore I dance. Is it perhaps the music that makes me feel the urge to dance? I do not know, but slowly I follow the music, and I notice some little creatures springing from underground: Crabs, hermit crabs, and stuff like that. It looks like they are gazing at me.

    «No. It is just an idea of yours. They are not gazing at you! Those creatures do not care about you!» I rebuke myself.

    «They do not even know what you are! Well, you are not sure of what they are, too.»

    «But it looks like they are dancing, too!»

    «Why don’t you dance with them, too?»

    And while I dance with the creatures water flows away, and it shakes off my clothes until a light breeze fully dries them. And it is just while I am relaxing, dry, on the shore, that I turn my face to move aside a lock of brown hair that I notice a small house not that far. And I see my little machine that enters it, running so to say.


    «Follow it!» I tell myself, and I rush at breakneck speed towards his small house. Or at least what I think is his house. After all I saw it pulling out a key from the waistcoat, using it to unlock the door, and enter!

    «Oh, this cute little house is so small!» I say out loud as I get close to the house. But I stay out of it because the tip of the chimney pot barely reaches my eyes.

    «For whom is it small? For you? For me this is even too big! There are three floors! With five rooms each floor! And one more room in the basement! Can you understand how hard it is to clean it every single day?» states the little machine showing up out of a window.

    «Oh, you are so funny little machine while you stare at me from down there!»

    «Don’t call me “little machine”, beanpole! For your information I am a steam hare! And even one of the more advanced models!». And by saying that the little machine puffs white, and dense steam from the neck. «You see! I leak vapor only from the neck! Not from every knuckle as in the previous models! And now go away! Don’t you have your eyes? Can’t you see how busy I am with all this stuff I have to do?»

    «Well, no, you don’t look that busy, little machine, I saw you through the window: You were just looking at the shelf!»

    «Of course, the shelf, the shelf, the shelf...»

    «Oh yes! That is the shelf you were looking at...»

    «I am not looking at shelf at all! I am looking for my heat recovery cap! It channels the steam puffs you see (here, these, you can see them, isn’t it?) back in the engines. Do you know how much power I save using it every day?»

    «It should be a very complicated contraption, then!»

    «Ah! And why do you ask these questions to me? I do not know that! I do not design those things, I only use them!»

    «Is it large? Is it small? What shape is it? Which color is it?»

    «It has the shape, and size of a cap, and it has the same color as rust...»

    «Oh! There under the table I can see something that is rusty, hare, but it does not look like a hat!»

    «It is not rusty! And no, it isn’t a hat! It is a cap! The same color of the rust! And, no! This is not the same thing as being a rusty hat! You don’t know anything about it! You are not even steam-powered!»

    «OK, but calm down, now!»

    «No! I will not calm down! You made me waste a lot of time with this things about my cap!»

    «But I actually...»

    And then the hare runs away, after having put the cap on, with no more puffing. I try, and follow it again, but now it is much faster, and agile, and soon it escapes from my view.

    Again, from far, I can hear it puffing: «It is almost time! It is almost time!»

    «Is it almost time for what?» I ask myself while I try, and understand the direction the voice of the hare is coming from, only to keep on following it.

    «I wonder why a little machine must hurry up that much! It didn’t even greet me before leaving! But do machines greet before leaving? Perhaps not!» I think.

    I see some traces on the ground. Just as fingers slightly bent, like hooks. One on top of another, a right index, and a left finger, then again a right one, and a left one. On two shaky parallel rows.

    «Oh, so weird!» I think out loud «Why should have someone drawn these fingers on the ground?» when I remember of the tracks the steam hare had in place of the paws.

    «So, if these are its tracks, it will be very easy to follow, and seek it. When it stops, for sure, because it runs too fast for me now.»


    While I try, and follow the tracks left by the hare’s tracks I hear a voice thundering on my side, where nothing was there before:

    «Who are you?»

    I turn abruptly, and I stare into this other machine’s grey, hopeless eyes. This machine is also steam-powered judging from the continuous steam puffs. These are much more restrained than those of the hare. His figure is elongated like the body of a snake, but the head is more like the head of a squirrel, than the head of a snake. It has a pointed nose, and ears from which iron wires jut out like soft fur. The teeth are ready to chop up walnuts, and hazelnuts. His body is made up of many metallic segments, of different size, and finishing. When it changes posture these slide over each other while the head remains still. Most segments are well-oiled, and gently slide over each other. Others screech, sharp, and pointed, with a noise that is so annoying that brings in goose bumps even on the heels.
    «I am not sure I can tell you right now.» I answer it.

    «You rave! Don’t you know who you are?»

    «I feel like I changed. I do not know how, or when. But I changed a lot. This might sound weird to you, but...»

    «Nothing here is weird!»

    «Oh, no, this is weird!»

    «That is only because you are a foreigner!»

    «Anyway, now I feel something wrong inside myself. It is like if my body wasn’t mine, but it is mine, it must be mine. Otherwise I will not be myself, but someone else, isn’t it?»

    «Who are you?»

    «Tell me who you are first!»

    «And why should I do that?»

    I thought that the machine was in a bad mood (even if I didn’t even know machines could have a mood before meeting them here), and so I cautiously take a few steps back.

    «Not yet. Do not leave yet. I still have an important thing to tell you.»

    «I am listening.» I say to it, slowly getting closer.

    «You do know where you are.»

    «No, I really do not know.»

    «I didn’t say that I had something to ask you, but that I had something to tell you: Therefore, mine wasn’t a question.»

    «If you think that I know it, it is because you know it. And you live here, so tell me where I am now.»

    «Of course not!»

    «What? Why?»

    «You know it! But you don’t believe it! There you are!»

    «There! Do you really think that is the proper way to point a place?»

    «For sure it is! Which other way could I use to point out a place?»

    «Then you are a boor!»

    «And you are a meddler! Learn not to snoop into businesses that do not belong to you if you want to get alive to the end of your life.»

    «And how could I die before the end of my life?»

    «Ah, such a weird creature you are! For sure you cannot die before dying, otherwise the moment you die will be your death! But you could die before your time comes, and it will be a pity not to have lived all that should have been for you.»

    I think a little about those words while the creature looks at me. I also scratch my head as if it favoured thinking. My dad, and my grandpa taught me to scratch my head to think. Because they often did it, too. And I ask myself what they could be doing now that I am here.

    «And what is the difference?» I ask it, then. I am too late at understanding its warning. And now the metallic beast, that puffs tobacco smoke instead of vapor (I realise that just now that the fear suggested by it makes me concentrate more on what happens around me), shows off in a bizarre, and twisted somersault that only a very articulated body could perform without tangling. Then it vanishes under the ground. Making the ground shake a little, too.

    «How is it that nobody here greets anyone before leaving? Didn’t anyone teach you politeness? And just in the middle of a talk about me he left! That arrogant boor! And how could I find out now what will become of me? What a sad fate awaits me in this land of mechanical creatures! I only hope that none of these creatures can feed on my meat, or drink my blood!»

    The very idea of steam-powered machines assaulting me to tear me apart, and eat of me, with those sharp teeth, and nails makes me sick! I feel my head spinning in fear, and I barely have time to hold on a tree not to fall in terror.


    And while my mind is still frightened by the image of man eating steam-powered machines, my curiosity for its speech takes over, and I try, and run in the same direction I think it took. Alas I do not think I will cross it again. It was digging the ground to leave, and I do not like to drill the ground. With all those worms, moles, caterpillars, and roots! No, digging underground really sucks! Once I tried that, and I found a blade that cut through my hand. I still have a scar. Here, on my right hand palm. My granny told me not to play too much with the ground because it hid dangers. That day I learned which dangers could hide in the ground myself.

    «I wonder if it is just like earthworms at my place, that eat the ground while moving through it.» I ask myself while I run to chase the creature. I no longer think about the strange beasts that I met in this weird place after a while that I run, and I start strolling with my hands in my pockets, whistling as I did in the peace of the woods close to my house. It was before they cut them off to build an industrial plant to produce I do not know what chemical smelly crap. Only remembering it makes me sick, and I have to put a hand on my mouth, instinctively. It takes me a while to get past the disgust. I concentrate on the shapes of the trees, and of the thorns, not just to forget the stink, but also to seek for some edible berries. Suddenly the wood I walk in opens into a clearing. Wide, and sunny. A weird house takes over its center. It appears to come from the fairy tales my mum told me before sleeping. Oh, poor mum! I wonder how worried she could be by not finding me anymore! I wonder how hard, and long she will seek for me. I wonder how many people she will drive into the search. I must concentrate to find a way out this weird place. To get back home to the people I really love.

    «What are these noises?» I ask myself approaching the house. A close up view shows that it looks like it is made by shortbread instead of by bricks, or wood, or... something. I feel the hunger on my stomach now that I think about these shortbreads.

    «For how long didn’t I eat?» I ask myself getting closer to the house door.

    «Do you really have to enter?» I hear a voice. And a puff of vapor immediately followed by another one. It seems that they come from below.

    «Hey little machine!» I cry out loud. I look down to see the little machine I was following, but now the steam-powered machines are two. Even more clumsy, and weird than those I met before.

    «And you? What are you?»

    I jolt bothered by the noise when the two machines suddenly trot towards me. They halt, and stare at me for a while. Then, in a metallic clang, I look at the gears getting out from the machines. They look fluid as in the explosion of a flower that unexpectedly blooms.

    I see some filth in the gears while they transform, but it is soon removed by the steam, that takes the flavour of tobacco smoke.

    «That was the smell! It wasn’t tobacco smoke! It only had dirty conduits!» I am a little disgusted by the idea, but I can barely contain the amazement for their transformation! Now they are two plump steam-powered children, with copper curls, and a brass dungaree. They start fidgeting!

    «You do not want to enter here, isn’t it?» the girl on the right says.

    «Sure she wants to enter!» the boy on the left answers.

    «You can’t let her pass, brother!»

    «Why not if she wants to enter, sister?»

    «Are you brother, and sister? That is why you resemble each other that much!» I set in.

    «Sure we are brother, and sister!» the two answer together striking a pose: Back to back with arms folded, a knee bent to rest the toe on the ground. The head raised in a look of superiority.

    While they are busy striking the pose I take the chance to enter in that weird, and noisy house.

    «Where are you going?» I hear them cry, but they do not follow me inside the house. I thought they were the house guardians, but if they are why don’t they follow me?

    Well, I expected much more from a house guarded by two shape shifting creatures. At least I expected it to contain something. It is small. Only one room, three yards by two. Three unadorned windows and the door through which I entered. Nothing else. I walk back, and forth, and from side to side, but there is nothing between the boards of the floor, or on the walls. Really nothing. I crouch at the center of the room to look at the ceiling. As soon as I sit on the floor to rest everything starts changing. I am used now to these changes, and I no longer worry about that (well, a bit I worry, but not that much). While everything starts spinning around me like in a downwards whirlpool I mull over my life before entering that strange door. I think back to the joyful moments. To the games with my friends. I imagine what could it be not to see them anymore, and a tear starts dropping down my cheek. I am drying it up, frightened by the memory of the sea, when I notice that the walls of the house vanished. The two children vanished, too. But there’s another machine floating in mid air.


    It is a very cute lady, for being a machine. It is even fascinating. It flies a few yards from the ground, still, in the air. It is the first machine I see flying here, but perhaps for some of the machines it is normal. The skin is of satin brass, and it only shows off on the face. That is the only part of its body not covered by clothes. Steam flows out, from time to time, from the eyes, and from the mouth, but just a little bit. Hairs are sort of red, dark, but bright. Almost the same color of its trousers. Amaranth I think is the name of that color: I heard my father calling it like that long ago. The waistcoat, and the jacket, are black, and with the many carved buttons, they fit perfectly on its beautiful shapes. They are not provoking, no. They are only charming. It has a red rose in the jacket buttonhole, and a white one on the hat. This rose is held in place by a silk ribbon of an amaranth that is slightly lighter than the one of its hairs, and that runs all over the hat. A top hat that is black as the jacket, and is made of shiny metal. It is so heavy that it has an hard time staying on top. So that it holds it, delicate, with one hand.

    «What a beautiful lady! Sweet, and delicate!» I hear myself exclaiming aloud, with no intention.

    «Do you find me attractive?»

    «Oh, yes, very attractive! Your clothes perfectly fit on you. They seem tailor-made! You should be very popular at parties!»

    «This... does not concern you!» it says turning its head on the left. It still looks at me sideways.

    «Oh! Don’t you go to parties? Don’t you like parties, perhaps?»

    «This is not a concern of yours I said!»

    «Such a cute girl should be very popular at parties, so it should go to parties very often!»

    «Do not think! I am popular, but this is a popularity that does not last more than a moment. Then, it fades away. Yes, I am cute. Yes, my hat is cute, too. Much cuter than I am, even if some find it weird. But beauty is cute only if it is empty, and I am not empty for sure.»

    Now the flying machine is looking at its feet, firmly holding the top hat with a hand. I never thought that steam-powered machines could have a soul, and be so delicate to have feelings that could be hurt so easily by my words. But here everything is totally different from what I knew. Everything is upset.

    «I am so sorry about your feelings, lady. Do you know what my granny told me when I was sad? That if I told her the tale that made me sad I would have felt better. So, lady, if you tell me your tale perhaps you will feel better...»

    The lady with the top hat stares at me for a while, with wide open eyes, and the half-closed mouth, as if she didn’t understand that question.

    «I am not good at telling tales. They always come out boring. And I never remember things at the proper time, and I go back, and fix it, and I make a mess, and... well, my tales are poor once told. Nobody likes them!»

    «Try that anyway, please. Do that for yourself, if not for me.»

    «Do not insist on that, please, I will not tell you my tale. I really do not feel like doing it.»

    «But you do not understand. When I am upset I always feel better by telling my tale to someone. If you tell it to me I am sure you will feel relieved, too.»

    «Oh, if only it could be that easy! How nice it would be living here if things could be easier than how they actually are. But it’s not like that, unfortunately, so I have to give up so many things. And if you are still seeking for the hare, it passed through the tree behind me.»

    «It passed through?»

    «Yes, can you see that hole at the base of the trunk?»

    «Oh! I was watching you, and I didn’t see it!»

    «So, it fled in that hole. It is large enough that you too could pass through it without any problem.»

    «That is not my hare. I was only following it. I would be pleased by your company in chasing it. Please.»

    «I would love it, but unfortunately I cannot leave this place...»

    The voice of the lady with the top hat is now somber, and sad. I wait for a moment for it to continue the story, but then it says:

    «Go! Or you will lose the hare!»

    «Yes!» I answer it running to the hole it pointed.

    «What is your name?» I ask it entering the hole.

    «It doesn’t really matter, and anyway it’s none of your business.»

    And a tear runs across its face while I am already chasing the hare in the hole.


    Beyond the hole a garden opens up. Its green is so intense to seem fake. After a few yards into it the green corridor I entered starts branching, and gets mazy. I try, and get back, but I lose my direction. The notions of space, and of distance seem to be different from what I remember. The maze I am in shifts as soon as I do not look at it. At each turn, at each corner, if I go back all the aisles are changed, in length, and in direction. Only the green of the hedges never changes. That green remembers me the hope that I am loosing in this ever changing labyrinth. The exit seems to get farther at every step I take, instead of getting closer at every corner. Once again dreariness comes over me so tough that I think I will puke. It is after I do not know how much time that I wonder in despair in this changing maze that tears burst out of my eyes. I fall on the ground, sobbing in terror of being lost once again. When tears stop I see some blue roses blossoming on the hedge one after another.

    Desperate as I am I can only use the directions given by the blossoming (hoping that it wasn’t just a coincidence) to get somewhere out of this maze.

    And it is while I walk thoughtless following my blue roses that I hear a noise, just like stones being crushed by a huge weight, coming in my direction. Towards me. A weird machine with mighty tracks, and strange sharp rotating blades, comes towards me. The sight of it is partly covered by the steam that it ejects from every joint. It seems that the blades are not cutting the grass, but just blunting it.

    «You cannot stay here!» thunders a voice from what it seems being a cockpit just as the machine arrests, and stops making noise, and ejecting vapor.

    «I’m lost.»

    «Where were you headed to?»

    «I do not even remember that.»

    «Don’t you remember?»

    «No, I don’t.»

    «How can it be that you do not remember it?»

    «I don’t even remember how I got here.»

    «What a weird creature you are. From where do you eject the steam?»


    «Are you fooling me?»

    «I would never fool you! I know that many machines here puff steam from the joints. But I am from abroad, and I do not even think I am a machine.»

    «You do not think! Either you are a machine, or you are not! But if you are, you should eject it sooner, or later!»

    «Do you want to wait for it?»

    «Don’t be insolent! I have much more important stuff to do than to wait here for some of your power-saving tricks! Someone should cut off the head of those abusing power-saving! Do you want the same treatment I gave to that arrogant girl with the top hat?»

    «What did you do to her?»

    «What it did to me, not what I did to it!»

    «What did she do?»

    «It dirtied my bodywork! Think about that! I ordered its head to be severed, but it just installed some enhancements on its neck. So it damaged my children! Do you perhaps know it?»

    «I talked to her a few moments ago, but I would not state that I know her.»

    «What did it tell you?»

    «Not much to be honest. She is very shy.»

    «Oh! Shy! It? No way! I made sure it could no longer offend me from there where it will lay forever still! Forever alone! Do you want to go the same way?»

    «No! I do not wish it at all!» I reply to it while I cautiously move on the side, trying, and getting past it, and its blades. Just as I get behind it I hear its voice thunder:

    «Off with her head!»

    And my ears are flooded by the noise of a thousand tiny paws hitting the ground. I can see them coming, slow, and puffing, from the sides of the machine. A thousand, and more mechanical spiders. The tips of their paws flashing as sharp razors.

    Anguish takes me over now. An anxiety that rises up from the ankles to the neck. My stomach locks itself, and my spine is twisted like a vine on a branch. It is like if I know that I should fear those little spiders. A fear that grows from inside, deep inside me. A fear that I cannot explain, or control. A fear that shakes my whole body like an uncontrollable shiver. An impulse to flee that is so strong that when I realize it I am already running as fast as I can. Luckily faster than their short legs allow them to run.


    When fear drops I again concentrate on the surrounding environment instead of on the creatures that chase me. I look back, and I see the trees on two almost parallel lines. Like in a long, but twisted avenue. A shudder runs up my spine while the leaves of unknown trees fall on the ground, dead, just while I stare at them.

    «Don’t be sad! They will grow back again!» I hear a voice behind me. I spun around with an hand before my mouth.

    «Do not fear me.» the silken voice says. I step a little back.

    «I am at your right.» the voice goes on.

    I turn again, and I see it. It is a cat made of brass, as every creature I met today. It wears a helmet made of glass. The helmet is attached to a cylinder it has on the back with some rubber tubes. Its joints are covered in a folded rubber material wrapped up in soft metallic coils (made of brass, of course). A very wide smile, and two feline eyes attached to some small pipes are all I can see of its head, glass helmet aside.

    «Don’t you puff steam?» I ask him curiously.

    «For sure I puff it, but it’s only when I am angry that power-saving fails, and I lose steam. Don’t you think?»

    «If I think it is?»

    «Don’t you perhaps agree with me?»

    «How could I? You know yourself, but I don’t!»

    «You are not from around here!»

    «No, I’m not.»

    «I see. You are not a machine!»

    «Well, no, I suppose not.»

    «You are not. We don’t see many steamless creatures around here. Do you know about quantum physics?»

    «Oh! The Higgs boson always fascinated me, but no, I don’t know anything about quantum physics! Do you?»

    «How can you be fascinated by something that you do not know?»

    «I heard about it, but I never studied it.»

    «The Higgs boson is the particle that, by interacting with the Higgs field, makes every other particle have mass. So silly you are.»

    «So is the Higgs boson the force of gravity?»

    «Of course not! But these are complicated matters to be explained to a lassie like you!»

    «And the tunnel effect? Can you explain it to me in simple words?»

    «Let’s see, let me think.»

    The cat turns the snout upwards, and it concentrates for a while while white steam comes out of its mouth. Then it goes on.

    «It is like having a wall, and throwing a ball at it. But the wall, and the ball aren’t actual: They are a energy barrier, and a subatomic particle. Now, one will expect the ball to bounce against the wall, isn’t it? Well, in quantum physics particles have a given chance to get past the wall even if they don’t have energy enough to break it. When this probability rises enough the particle gets past the wall without breaking it. It is just like as a tunnel turns real where the ball hits the wall letting the ball through the wall without any damage to both. Well, have I been able to let you understand it?»

    «Yes, but how is all this possible?»

    «Quantum physics laws are quite different from those of the real world.»

    «Isn’t quantum physics part of the real world?»

    «What do you mean?»

    «I mean that if quantum physics is part of the world its laws must be the same as those of the real world.»

    «So cheeky you are! But you are somewhat right. We must approach the extremely small to appreciate quantum physics peculiar effects. Otherwise its laws will sum up, and compensate to the actual world laws we can see every day.»

    «Oh! I am so astonished by this explanation!»

    While I state this, and I still imagine particles running a steeplechase I again hear puffs around me. It comes from behind, and overtakes me: My little machine, the one I was following before, reappeared behind me and overtook me! I run the risk of losing it again!

    «Sorry, but now I have to hurry up!» I say to the weird cat, but it is already disappearing like smoke in the wind, and I am alone, again.

    I start following the hare again. Instead of running straight to its goal this time it zigzags between the trees, and that slows her down.

    «Oh, so lucky!» I think «So I no longer run the risk of losing it!»

    While I follow it I feel the trees that want to move. I do not know how I know it. I clearly understand their desire. These are creatures that want to walk away, but are not able to. I would love to stop by, and ask why they cannot move when a voice seems to be entering my mind. It hurts. I cast it away. But it insists. It wants to enter.

    «What do you want?» I ask it aloud. The little machine stops for a while looking at me, but I can no longer concentrate on it. Now the voices are as insistent as jackhammers. The sound echoes not just in my head, but also in my bones, and muscles, and guts. I feel like if these voices are tearing my muscles away from under my skin. I feel so strong a pain that it blinds me. It lasts for long, I do not know for how long, but so long that it is driving me crazy. Then everything stops. I open my eyes back. Eyes I didn’t remember I closed. The hare is there, in front of me, staring at me, still. It looks like it is going to ask me something.

    Behind it I see some water. I am thirsty. I wasn’t thirsty before. Suddenly it came, thirst, as soon as I saw the water.

    «When was the last time I drunk something?» I ask myself.

    «Do tears count?»

    «Which tears?»

    «Those you drunk when you thought you were drowning!»

    «No, those do not count. Salted water does not quench thirst!»
    «Then I do not drink since when I was in the old world.»

    «Do you know how long ago?»

    I suddenly realize that I do not know it. It could have been an hour, a day, or a week. No. It cannot be a week. Because I do not remember having had the need to sleep, to eat, or to drink. But now that I am in front of all this water I don’t just feel my mouth being thirsty. It is my whole body that asks me for water as if it didn’t have in days. I am so thirsty that I feel like I died of thirst long ago. A desire to drink that makes me forget everything. Even the little machine I was chasing.

    I walk to the water that is in front of me. To drink it, and satisfy my thirst. With a smoothness that I didn’t ever feel I look at my feet walking towards the water that now I desire so much. I look at them as if they wasn’t even mine, those feet.


    Once there, I look out on the water in the fountain. It is odourless, while all the fountains I run into in my life always had their peculiar odour. Metallic at times, like the fountain in the public gardens in my neighbourhood. Other times stale, like the fountain in the elementary school I attended in my childhood. Other times rotten, my father told me when he went working in the slums of the city. But not this one. This doesn’t have any odour. It fascinates me for that. I take a good look at it. I am looking at it to understand why it doesn’t have any odour when I notice that, closer to the border, the waves created by the gushing of the fountain almost do not ripple the water anymore. It is only a slight sway, calm and placid, without rhythm, like it is when the breath slips away during sleep. I see the water, in the center, that splinters and breaks like calm wood that explodes. I see the dark coming to the surface between the cracks. I feel suffocated. Three by three, then seven by seven, the cracks in the wood darken the water in the fountain. A glossy sea of pitch where sapphires, and diamonds float, unrolls before my eyes. White, and blue lights dance before my eyes in a dance that starts to unlock repressed memories. With a taste of never happened emotions, and of never felt events I feel the dark wrapping everything around me. Just a moment. It stops. Just for a moment. It waits before taking me with it, and bringing me wherever it is going. It pauses to observe me. As if it is evaluating the value of my life. The value of my memories. The value of my emotions. We stand still, looking at each other through what remains of our eyes when I hear a familiar voice breaking the silence that fell with the darknes.

    «It is dying.» states the low voice. I know that I am dying. I can feel that I am dying. I imagine it. I live it, if I can. This is my death. It is like it isn’t the first time. All escapes me from under the eyes, stopping, like the waves in that fountain.

    «Does it know?» asks a higher voice.

    «Every night? I hope not!»

    «Are we sure?»

    «No, my friend. We are not sure. We will never be sure. But it is better to erase its memory every night. It is better to reboot it before it develops a consciousness of its own. Before ethics committees arise for civil rights of artificial intelligences. Not after. For this reason our job is of paramount importance.»


    That man, that night, once again, as in every night of the past ten years, in a slow, and sadic automatism, with a satisfaction that does not leave room to feelings, and second thoughts, lets the plug hang down in the air for a couple minutes, after having unplugged it from the machine. He clears the ground around the memory core. The time he takes to do it is enough to let the decoupling capacitors discharge, and to clear the memory cells of the machine that dreams. He asks himself some questions while doing that. That machine could become alive. That machine could already be alive. If abortion is a homicide because it kills a life that could be then his work is homicide, too, because it kills a machine that could become alive in the future if left at itself. A tear drops on his face while he imagines this new world inhabited by machines that are smarter than we are. A world with no more bureaucracy. A world where smart machines take care of our issues. Then no more days off to ask for all the authorizations to renew the driving licence. No more hours in line to request a non urgent (but needed) physical examination. He asks himself if one day machines could take us over. Then he thinks about his job, and no, machines should not take over humans, otherwise nobody would clear the memory of the machine, the machine could come alive, it would feel superior to humans that created it, then humanity would have no longer a place on this world. And while he imagines the apocalypse of the machines a shiver runs up his spine making him shake in terror. And then he is happy to have to shut the machine down every night.

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