Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cities of Bronze and Glass (4/?)

(Parts 1, 2, and 3.)

Three and its followers trudged through the tall grasses on their travelling-chassis. Dirt covered its upper surfaces; grass and clumps of mud clogged its joints. "We will have to stop for maintenance again soon," Twenty said with a sigh.

"Yes," Fourteen agreed. "It's no great loss; the position of the sun in the sky indicates that it will be dark soon, so we will have to halt in any case. We do not want to repeat the first night, and find ourselves (when morning comes) far from our origin and trapped in a ditch!"

"I think we all remember that well," Twenty said wryly. "Certainly the travelling-chassis does." A limp in its front-right limb, with accompanying dents and scratches, attested to the incident.

There was a momentary quiet, filled only by the chirping of some distant bird and the rhythmic swishing of the travelling-chassis' passage through the grass. Then Twenty spoke again.

"It has been eight days since we set out from the Origin to find the Creator," it said. "Our plan was to proceed in a straight line away from the river, and to continue in this direction until signs of artificial geography appeared, at which point we would investigate them for signs of the Creator, who we might bring to the Origin simply by retracing our path."

"But we have seen no signs of such artificiality anywhere we have gone, and we have (thanks to the incident of the first night) no sure way to go back," Two concluded. "I begin to question the plan."

"I have my own doubts, Three," Fourteen admitted to their silent companion. "I still think this is a valid path for function-completion, but increasingly suspect that it may be nonoptimal, both for the reasons Twenty mentioned, and because - well, I'm rather worried about our sympathiser back at Origin. The other mechanisms seemed very much against us when we left; alone, I worry that it may not have fared well. That something might have... happened to it."

Three began to speak , but Twenty, alarmed, spoke over it. "You think the other mechanisms might damage one of their own? But - why? We are all backups of One, after all! Damaging another is functionality impairing! Insane!"

"Things were already insane when we left," Fourteen replied. "Two off doing who-knows what, Six and others saying that they should follow One's lead and bury themselves into the earth, talk of 'improper construction' and 'purging'. Truthfully, without any sort of organizing force, I don't know what might be happening back there."

"I think you are too pessimistic," Three said, finally entering the conversation. "We are all mechanisms; we are all backups of One, and we share a common purpose, the Creation. It is hard for me to believe that any true discord could arise from that. And though they are not fond of us back at Origin, they do not know that our mutual friend is loyal to our cause; it is clever, and will be able to handle any turmoil with ease. We agreed, before our departure, that it would only reveal its loyalties and attempt to recruit a second expedition to find the Creator if sentiment turned toward us significantly; if things go as badly as you fear, Fourteen, then I think our friend will have the wisdom to keep its head down. On that count, at least, you need not worry."

"Ah - I know I do it too," Twenty interjected, "But why do we refer to our friend back at Origin by such oblique terms? It's not as though there's anyone listening, out here." It waved a manipulator in a broad arc for emphasis; tall grasses stretched to the horizon in every direction, interrupted only by distant peaks somewhere to the right of the travellers.

Both Three and Fourteen looked surprised at this observation. "Why, I hadn't even noticed," Fourteen admitted. "Habit, I suppose? We all know how it dislikes its name mentioned - shyness, I suppose." Fourteen shrugged, rippling its segmented body up and down. "Just as well to continue, so we don't lose the habit by the time we get back."

"If we get back," Twenty muttered, suddenly grim.

Three sighed. "Yes. This expedition has not gone entirely as I intended. I had hoped that the Creator would be closer; but those peaks, so tall and yet appearing so small, imply a size to the world which makes it unlikely that we will stumble upon his current location as quickly as I had hoped. Still, the best action is to continue on our established course. The damage to our orientation is done; if necessary, we can return to the site of our night-time crash and attempt to locate the forest from there, but there is no reason to do so before we find the Creator. There were nearly fifty mechanisms operational at Origin when we left; doubtless there are hundreds by now. What purpose would the addition of three additional backups serve, located in that one place? Better to avoid redundancy and perform this task, which none of the others attempt. If we fail, then we shall scour the whole world, only to return and find the Creation accomplished; in which case we shall still have succeeded in our primary function. And if we succeed - even better! So I think that, for now, we should continue in this journey."

"You have persuaded me," Fourteen agreed. "Now, the sun is nearly touching the horizon. Time to stop and perform those necessary repairs."

Two days passed. The weather grew warmer; clouds vanished from the sky. Several of the chassis' joints began to lock, alleviated only by application of an improvised oil harvested by crushing the surrounding grasses.

Then the grassland faded into scrub and waste; in the suddenly-visible distance, the mechanisms could see a blinding light reflected off some distant landmark. "Where now?" Twenty asked.

Then the ground rumbled, and Fourteen impelled the chassis to take several steps back; the earth erupted before them, and something emerged, shrouded in a screen of dust and flying rocks.

"What is it?" Twenty cried. "Is it natural, or...?"

The dust settled. Before them loomed an intimidating figure: seemingly composed of carved stone, it stared at the mechanisms with a set of six ruby-like eyes. "I am Learned Hand," it told them. "I cannot see you closely - you are too small. What are you, and what business do you have in the sanctuary of the Creator?"

"Artificial," the mechanisms breathed in unison.


Special bonus: another drawing, from the same artist as last time. (As before, it's unrelated to the current post.) His technique seems much the same as before.

It is, so far as I can tell, a drawing of a mechanism flying an ornithopter - presumably a later flight than Two's, as the ornithopter has the label "OT 3", perhaps a third-generation design. There are no visible controls, but it seems plausible that they might be housed beneath the mechanism, to be used by its legs and lower manipulators. A reasonable design, though somewhat simpler than an actual flightworthy ornithopter would be. (Also, I have strong doubts about the ratio of wing area to weight, though it might depend on the materials used.)

Still an improvement over the first one, I think.

(Edited art-related comments for clarity.)

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