Every moloch that tends the great Machine down here in the darkness of the Lower Shafts has a number. If a moloch is destroyed or decommissioned, his number is given to another who is sent down from Above to take his empty place. This is the normal procedure.
Now and again, a newer moloch who has been down here for a while may notice that there is one exception to this rule. "Why," they will ask when a group is gathered between shifts for conversation, "is there no moloch13?"
The older molochs will look at one another, their eyes
glowing faintly in the darkness. Then one will clear his throat and tell the story.
Long, long ago, a moloch designated 13 toiled in the Shafts. He worked for days and weeks and years, and gradually he became dissatisfied with the work. This is not uncommon. Rare is the moloch who does not develop a degree of cynicism, fatalism, or some other unpleasant ism in response to our exile. But as moloch13's discontent festered it grew into anger, and then rebellion.
During shift breaks he engaged the other molochs in his Shaft in spirited debates about the lot of our kind. Intelligent and articulate, he passionately argued for
better working conditions, more opportunities. A voice in the administration of the Shafts. The sharing of power between those Above and those who serve them Below. Soon all the molochs in his Shaft would pack themselves into his station each day to hear his harangues. They murmured, they shouted, they cheered. They raised their tools and clashed them together, so that the harsh sound of metal on metal rang through the tunnels. Those who worked in neighboring Shafts heard them and wondered what would happen.
This, all this could have been tolerated by those who direct us. But then one day moloch13 said the one unthinkable thing. "If we are ever to be truly free," he said, "we must smash the Machine."
That night the Overseers came. They descended through the neighboring Shafts, dark and massive shapes radiating a terrible heat that drove the few molochs who had ventured out back into the tunnels. The roar of their passing was like a monstrous beast and made the earth shake. They dropped like stones for many long miles before coming to a stop. There was a great and horrible silence as they hung burning in midair. Then they spoke.
MOLOCHS OF SHAFT___.
YOUR DEMANDS HAVE BEEN HEARD
NO LONGER WILL YOU TEND THE GREAT MACHINE.
IT IS THE SINCERE WISH OF THE ADMINISTRATORS
THAT YOU LIVE TOGETHER IN PEACE AND HAPPINESS
OF YOUR DAYS.
And then they shut down all the stations of moloch13's Shaft, cut the power, and sealed off its tunnels.
For a while, nothing happened. The molochs of the Shafts worked and lived as they always had. Then, new molochs began arriving. They bore numbers that everyone knew belonged to those in the sealed-off Shaft. It was just a trickle at first. Then suddenly huge numbers of them began to arrive, one by one, then in pairs, then in fives, in cartloads, a wave of molochs all bearing the names of ghosts: moloch907, moloch44, moloch543, moloch76.
No one said it. No one had to. Bereft of purpose, trapped in darkness with nothing to tend, nothing to do, no schedule to keep: a single moloch would soon go mad. A thousand molochs would all go mad together. Within their prison of iron and rock they would attack the walls with their hands, their tools, desperate to get out. And when it became obvious that there was no escape, they would attack one another.
As time went on the stream of new molochs lessened. Finally it stopped, but no worker ever came down the Shafts to replace moloch13. Perhaps,
some said uncertainly, the Administrators decided that moloch13's heresy had been so great that no moloch would ever bear that accursed number again. And this was a very sensible
theory, and nearly everyone agreed that this must have been the case. But there was another possibility. moloch13 was still alive.
It is likely that no one who works down here in the depths will ever know the truth for certain. The location of that sealed Shaft has been long forgotten. The tunnels go on for miles, and there are many dead ends.
But it is said that now and again when a moloch's work takes him far from his station, down into the blackness of the very lowest levels, he may hear a small voice calling for help, and the faint sound of a hammer tapping endlessly against a wall of rock.