Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cities of Bronze and Glass (2/?)

(Part 1.)

"Hm?" Two thought. "That was peculiar. I was flying, and now I am on the ground, in the twisted remains of my ornithopter. I appear to have had a cessation of consciousness." Two looked around. "Furthermore, it was darkness a moment ago, but now it is light again. I will hypothesize that a deficit of sunlight caused my systems to go into a failure state, leaving my ornithopter to founder."

"Nonoptimal," Two concluded. "This must be considered for future."

When Two returned to its point of origin, it found a large number of mechanisms milling about, seemingly intent on clearing the area of vegetation and leveling the earth. Some rode in larger machines, four or even six inches tall (over thirty times as strong as a mechanism!), clearing shrubbery and removing debris otherwise too large for mechanisms. "Excuse me," Two asked of a nearby mechanism, "but where is One?"

"Are you new?" the mechanism responded without malice. "One has buried itself into the earth to await the Creator. Six and Seventeen have done likewise, though the Council has banned further such burrowing, to prevent confusion and wasted resources. Ah - I'm sorry, I'm rambling. I am Forty-Three. What is your name?"

"I am Two," Two replied. "I come with much news from my journey, though I see even more of note has happened in my absence. Can you take me to this Council?"

"Two? Yes! Of course!" Forty-Three replied, beginning to trundle toward the river. Two followed. "I have heard stories of you! But what happened to the ornithopter-fleet you built, with wings longer than the breadth of the river?"

"There certainly has been a lot going on here," Two replied unhelpfully.

The Council was composed of eight mechanisms, who were arguing among themselves heatedly as Two and Forty-Three approached. At their arrival, one of the mechanisms turned towards Two and Forty-Three, saying, "I'm sorry, but we're really quite busy at the moment - can whatever-it-is wait?"

"I am Two," Two told it. "I have returned from my journey, and I find everything quite changed."

"Ah!" one of the other Council-mechanisms exclaimed. "Look! Two itself has returned, and we did not even recognize it until it introduced itself! This is exactly why I want an identification scheme implemented! None of us can tell each-other apart - we're all just backups of One, after all - but that makes it impossible to get anything done!"

"You know that we cannot modify ourselves, Eight!" a third mechanism said emphatically. "If we did, we would be ineligible for Creation!"

"He's not talking about real modification, Four. Not etchings into our very metal or anything," a fourth mechanism said tiredly. "Ah - sorry, Two. I'm Five. Do you recall?" Two did. "Anyway, all we're suggesting is that we dab a little paint on, something to help tell each-other apart. Nothing permanent."

"But what if we're unable to remove it in time when the Creator comes?" Four demanded. "Even a moment's delay could render us ineligible! Think of the risk!"

"Why not just make tokens that mechanisms could carry around?" Two asked. "That wouldn't create any risk."

"We'd considered it," Eight said. "The trouble is, there's no way to keep them with their designated mechanism without constantly occupying one of their manipulators; far too much overhead for the purpose. It would cripple productivity. Paint, on the other hand, is completely passive, nearly weightless, and -"

"And we don't even have any!" a yet-unnamed mechanism interrupted. "Where, exactly, do you expect to get this paint?"

"We can make some," Eight said dismissively. "I've been over this. We've gone from stone tools to bronze mechanisms in a day; paint's nothing to that."

Two thought that "in a day" might not be quite accurate, but, neither of them having existed at the time, put it aside. Forty-Three was whispering to it: "Couldn't you make some kind of holder for the tokens that we could put around our bodies? That seems simpler than trying to hold on to them all the time."

Two agreed. "Pardon me," it said to the assembled Council (interrupting a furious argument over doctrinal literalism), "but Forty-Three here has a pertinent suggestion." (Forty-Three scooted back several inches.) "Couldn't these name-tokens be held in some kind of sash or harness? It wouldn't be a significant encumbrance, and might also serve other purposes."

"Materials could be a problem - we really only have metal and wood, and neither have much in the way of flexibility..." Five said dubiously.

"No!" cried Eight. "That's brilliant! Well done, Two. I'll have Seventeen through Twenty-Six get on it right away. We can have it done in no time."

"This is a Council, you may recall," Four noted. "Gentlemechanisms, shall we hold a vote?"

It was seven in favor, one abstaining. Eight hurried off excitedly; the others turned to Two. "An impressive display of peacemaking," a Councilmechanism noted, introducing itself as Seven. "You have a place on the Council waiting for you, if you wish it - with One no longer among us, you will be our most senior member. But first, tell us: what did you discover on your journey?"

Two told them.

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