Clank! Bang! Slam! “Damn this place is noisy” Elliot snapped awake. Not that he had much to compare it to, as he couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t live inside the machine complex, all 6 miles of hallway, and twenty something odd inhabitants. The others were not terribly friendly, but that was ok. Elliot saw himself as a loner anyway
The job was easy, standard procedure. Turn this dial to this setting at this time, kind of stuff. Day in and day out. The machines had to be manned around the clock, there was no downtime, not recently, not even within memory, living or dead, maybe not ever. In fact, the concept of downtime didn’t exist, it was meaningless, truly without meaning. Just like the concept of zero before the Mayans and Muslims invented it.
Sitting up straight and trying to remember what he did yesterday, Elliot tried stepping through his day minute by minute, and got nowhere. “They all seems to blend together, don’t they”, was all he could think. It all seemed so sad and pointless. The same thoughts, the same motions, the mediocrity of it all. Elliot sighed, but put the thoughts out of his mind. He’d had such thoughts before, but this was different. More now, more in the moment than it had ever been before. Something had changed.
Hands on the edge of the bed and using all his limbs to stand this early in the morning, he pushed himself upright and walked deliberately toward the door, then out into the hallway. As he walked toward It, what was just noises in the distance became positively deafening. Noise, motion, vibration, smoke. Taste seemed to be the only sense that wasn’t overwhelmed.
The Machine itself was enormous, or at least, as enormous as a man made machine could be and still fit inside Elliot’s mind without blowing it. Like a great steam engine, it sat in the middle of the complex with hallways radiating outward in opposite directions. The piston was probably 175 feet long and 15 feet wide, and it’s attached arm swung through the air in what from a few miles away probably seemed to be a reasonable speed, but from right next to it was downright terrifying. The potential energy of that much mass moving at such a high rate was awe inspiring even without taking gravity into effect. The huge arm swung through a dark slot in the floor. When all was said and done there was a tremendous amount of kinetic energy being created.
But, there was a mystery. No on knew where the energy came from to make the engine run, nor what below the floor the huge machine was moving. It was always their job to keep it running with no excuses, although no one could quite remember who gave them their marching orders in the first place. Sure, things went wrong from time to time, and minor subsystems had to be shutdown to be fixed or replaced, but the Machine itself never stopped. There were, of course, backups and spares for everything, and the sheer simplicity of the arm and piston structure were such that they could keep as long as it was fed properly.
Elliot walked past a another he knew only as, Jim, and said “Hey, Jim, I was thinking. What if something happened to force us to stop It? Is that even possible?”
“Why would you stop it?”, said Jim.
“In an emergency, if it were going to blow up or something…”
“Oh”, exhaled Jim, “well, I don’t think that it’s ever been used, but I know that there is a master switch somewhere down on level 2. But, I don’t think it’s ever been used and I don’t know what would happen if you did.”
Elliot looked skeptical, “What do you mean ‘don’t know what would happen’ ?”
“I’m just saying that we have no idea what this thing actually does. What it’s holding the whole place together, and we turn it off and have no way of getting it started again?”
“Good point, Jim”, Elliot verbally agreed, if only to end the conversation and continue walking on.
“I can’t believe the machine has never been stopped”, he thought. There were no bosses or elders or wise men to charge with the question. There was only this slight flame that had begun to kindle in Elliot’s thoughts. A small part of him that had begun to realize that what he was doing now was not living. Living required change, and change was something only he could create.
Work that day went like it always did, and by the end of the day, exhaustion swept over him and he laid himself down for rest. But during the night something strange happened. Elliot dreamt for the first time in memory, living or dead, and he saw himself illuminated while the others reflected. One out of many he stood, above and out of proportion.
In an instant he sprang to life, sat up, and then stood up, seemingly for the very first time in his life. Out the door and down the hall and past The Machine, over to the stairs that led down to level 2. Having never been down there before, it was all new to Elliot, but he instinctively knew where to go. It was in the belly of the beast so to speak. Around the corner and through the door, there it was. Underneath countless years of grime and soot, it was obviously very un-used. A large 4 inch around red button and with the word “STOP” written above it. The text was barely visible, and given another year, entirely invisible.
But this was not another year, this was now, and he had to know. His hand reached up, unshakable and strong, and with palm out, Elliot pushed all of this weight behind his outstretched arm, so as not to give the switch nor himself the chance to change their minds.
Bang! went the circuit. And the enormous arm of the nearly perpetual motion Machine began to slow. And strangely, along with it went the feeling and drive in Elliot’s legs.
Confused, he reached out to grab something to help right himself as he fell to the floor, but he found that his arms too had begun to disobey.
The arm swung slower and slower, giving up it’s kinetic energy in heat which filled the great hall as everyone looked in disbelief at what was happening. They too felt faint, both from shock of the moment and the sudden lack of power to move. Falling prostrate to the quickly slowing machine, they used their last to look up and wonder how it had happened. How the unthinkable could occur.
Elliot too was sharing most of these thoughts, but he knew exactly what had happened. And as his vision slowly dimmed he suddenly read what was written across the wall above the red stop button. “Unmanned Power Station #12”.
He instantly knew what this meant, and as the last drip of power flowed through his circuits he finally felt alive. If only for brief moment.