I floated in a blank field of white. A
low rumble pervaded the space.
Out of the blank field sounded a mighty contralto voice.
obnoxious banging was loud enough to wake the dead. What a shame you're lit up
like a little star. It made you so much easier to find.
"You wanted me to find you,"
I said. "And speaking of dead, I have a few people I'd like you to revive.
You're the only one around here who can do it."
Turn off your light and look at me before you make a request like that.
"My light? I thought it was your
From somewhere beyond the light came a
sound like a thousand electric motors, followed by a mighty gust of wind. The
light around me faded. I was left in darkness. The motors ceased, but the
was a powerful enchantment of yours, said the machine, but not enough to challenge me. No one of
your size can challenge me.
"I'll take that into
consideration," I said. "But the enchantment was from my friend, not
me. My friend is the wizard. I'm just a humble shaman, trying to gain an
audience with a god. Isn't that what we do? Try to meet the gods halfway? I
gotta tell you, I don't trust half the stuff the books tell me about shamaning,
and it's not like there's anyone else in the city for me to ask...not that I've
bothered to look, come to think of it. I bet I could ask my sister. Anyway,
here I am, just hoping you'll see fit to grant —"
You make too much noise in my head for one so small. Who are you?
And where have you come from, little shaman?
Avenue in Brooklyn."
Brooklyn? You're from the Center?
Excellent. I'll add you and your little wizard friend to my city. I was going
to let you go after a while, but considering how much damage you two have done
since we spoke last, I think you're no better than the ones who have come
before. You're going to stay for a long, long time.
"Do you know where my friend is? Can I see her?"
light went out a while ago. If she's not at the end of the line of destruction
she wrought, I have no idea where she is. You can't expect me to keep perfect
track of everything that goes on within me, can you? Not at your size. Maybe my
efficient and organized immune system will find her, and bring her to where I
can make use of her. Or maybe she's completely lost.
Lost in the machine. In the dark. I liked
the dark. Jo didn't. Likely as not she was going to get snagged by a robot arm
and — I had to put on a brave face.
"You want to add us to the city,
is that it? Here's a deal. You let me go. I find my friend and bring her to the
city. We stay there. You get both of us instead of just little old me. In
return, you revive whatever Wax People, Cardboard People, etc. that broke into
pieces when they fell from Up New York. That way, you get more people to
populate your city, plus a shaman and a wizard. What do you say?"
like a better bargain for me than for you. Forgive me for being a trifle
suspicious of your terms.
"Look, I just want to see the wax
people alive again and find my friend. You can either take this deal, or leave
to me that when you find your friend, you will bring her to the city. Swear
that you will not interfere with my plans for her.
This bargain was getting harder. What
was Ms. Machine likely to do? How was she going to keep us forever?
it or leave it, said the machine.
"Fine," I said. "I swear
to bring my friend Jo to your city, and to do nothing, nor say anything, that
would interfere with your plans for her."
your word, and I will uphold my end of the bargain.
"One last question," I said.
"How big are you?"
shall show you in a form you can comprehend.
I heard a metallic creaking, and a line
of white light appeared before me on the horizon. No. Not the horizon. It
wasn't curved like the horizon, and it seemed to stretch twice as far.
The creaking continued as I watched the
line thicken into a thin, tapered ovoid. Within the light was a dark band,
running from one side of the ovoid to the other in a shallow curve. The light
on the left of the band was almost white; the light to the right of the band
The thin ovoid became a thicker ovoid,
an almond shape. A circular void of darkness appeared to the right of the blue
light. To its right was more blue light, then the band, then white light again.
The creaking stopped with a mighty
metallic thud, and there before me was an eye.
"I can't —"
The next thing I knew, there was a
regular-sized face in front of me. An iron face. Blank, unchanging.
I looked around. Here stood the iron
people, still, waiting for me to come back with the souls of the waxen men.
But the Waxen still lay in pieces on
the ground, unmoving. Here I stood, having brought back nothing tangible.
The iron people were staring at the
pieces. Then they looked up at me.
They clanked their iron fists into
their iron palms.
I quickly signed wait and help me. They
kept pounding. I signed Please and I and soft. Some of them stopped pounding, and signed yes and good.
Well, this wasn't going to end well if
I stayed here. But what could I do? Speed Walk out of there? Through iron? Into
an unknown path?
Slim chance of survival versus
certainty of death. No contest. I unfocused my eyes and flexed my
fingers, spun three times, and strode forward.
The Speed Walk is a waking dream-state
that requires a Shaman to fix two things in their mind: the path they wish to
take, and the goal. All other considerations are ignored. All obstacles are illusions. There is only the path, and the goal, and every building goes by in
a blur. Every person goes by in a blur, except the beggars, who have a gravity
the dream state cannot ignore, and are visible from a long way off. Speed Walking is an easy way to spot the beggars in a crowd and reach them quickly, if
that is your will. By the same token, Speed Walking makes them easy to avoid.
They see you going by, but the cannot catch you.
The Speed Walk requires one to fix the
path in one's mind. This was tricky, because I had no idea what I was stepping
into besides darkness. My first gamble, here, was that picturing a long dark
hallway full of pipes would fulfill this requirement. The second gamble was
that "outside the circle of iron people" would work as a valid
I strode forward, and the iron people
became a blur. Slow iron hands reached out to grab me and passed through. Slow
iron feet stamped and I could hear them only as a distant thud.
As far as I'm aware, the Speed Walk does
not work outside of New York. It must be a New York thing, what with all the
people rushing through the busy town. You walk fast and you talk fast and you
eat fast on the way, and outsiders believe our minutes are shorter, which is
true by a few Yoctoseconds (more each year as Coyote gnaws at the borders). But
mostly it's the culture. We work harder and faster to earn more money to spend
it more quickly than people do in small towns, and we all live under
great stress, and that makes everything seem slower to us even as we're moving
fast, so we don't notice the difference even if the outsiders do. There's that,
and the fact that the Subway means we basically walk everywhere, so we have to
walk fast, which makes life seem more frantic in NY than any place besides
D.C., and perhaps LA. All I'm really doing is taking that hustle and amplifying
it to serve my purposes. The City says "walk fast", and I obey to a
greater degree than what was asked of me.
Stopping is a bit of a problem. I have
no drag chutes, and no anti-lock brakes. I wish! All I can do is hit the ground
rolling and hope nothing sharp is in my way. That's part of the reason I always
wear a padded leather jacket and skullcap -- imagine doing a sudden somersault
on hard concrete. I learned about that the hard way, the first time. I don't
care if I look like some kind of Punk. Punk's not dead anyway.
This particular Speed Walk wasn't
stopping, though. I whooshed through iron people and the open doorway and into
the metal hallway full of wires not pipes and I wasn't coming close to slowing
down and I didn't know where I was going and at this rate I would walk right
out of the machine altogether and
and my feet struck something hard, and
I tripped, and barely managed to turn my fall into a somersault, and rolled
quite a ways before stopping.
Now who could possibly have caught me?
I turned around. There in the midst of
the hallway, between me and a distant throng of iron figures, was two halves of
an iron person. The legs were standing, idly shifting their weight. The upper
half, a male-patterned body, was staring straight at me. He elbowed the legs,
which leapt into a loud tap-dance. Then he held out his hands.
So this was a beggar. And yet,
something of a pantomime of one, for surely the iron people didn't need money
or food? And yet, he'd been solid and real while I was walking, which meant he
was begging for something.
I signed, what do you want?
He signed help me.
I signed If you help me.
help me first. Help us.
Name have sign: he flapped his hand below his chin
twice. Help Pig. Help friends.
He tapped the legs twice, who turned
towards him. He tapped on them in a complex pattern that sounded like Morse
code. The legs proceeded to the wall and gave them a deafening, shattering kick, exposing a hole. Pig gestured for me
to follow, as he and Legs McGee disappeared through it.
I wasn't certain about following them,
but I heard a lot of stomping feet from the room I had escaped, and I figured
staying here was about as wise as trying to Speedwalk through an unfamiliar
machine. Wherever Pig was going, he probably knew what he was doing.
Of course, that didn't mean he fully understood
how fragile a being of flesh and bone was, which was why he was willing to lead
me on a path beneath grasping robotic arms and whirring plates. Had I a head of
thick, poofy hair, they would have snatched the hair away, along with most of
my scalp. Maybe grab me and send my various body parts on separate tours of the
machine. Those fancy blue currents of energy didn't look friendly either, and I
wasn't sure if a leather jacket would keep me safe from them. But if I had to
stoop, so did the people following me. I wasn't sure if anyone was following me
-- their clatter would have been drowned out by the noise of the machine.
Still, I kept looking behind me for the shift of a shadow beneath the blue
My guides stopped. Pig clambered up
onto Legs, and proceeded to bang twice on one of the pipes.
A circle of the floor turned as it
rose, and dark, brown, metal hands lifted the slab. Pig and Legs McGee slipped
through the opening, and I followed.
I found myself in a small room filled
with bronze body parts, and no few wax ones either. And some background music.
Something from a '60s sci-fi movie. That was a nice touch. A dim yellow light,
in one of those industrial light-cage things, lit the room.
The bronze figure set the slab down
with a thud, and turned to me. This was the figure of a short-haired woman, not detailed
save for the metal grille set in the midst of her eternally open mouth, and the
crank on her cheek. Pig and Legs McGee stood behind her.
She turned the crank. Hello, said a man's voice, this is a recording, said a woman's
voice. Bits and pieces of those who have
come before, said the recording, and indeed, each word was in a distinct
voice. This call will be monitored for
the purposes of quality control.
"Fair enough", I said.
Many have come before. Many have sought to improve us, or save us, or
escape, and all have failed. We do not wish to be saved. Pig here says you were
in a trance. Were you speaking to the Machine?
"That is correct. I made a deal
with her. She forgives the destruction I wrought, lets me go and find my
friend, and revives everyone who broke in the fall. In exchange, I stay with my
friend in the city forever, and we don't interfere in her plans for us."
using the life of your friend. Not just your own, but someone you care about.
yeah, now that you mention it, it does seem a little -- "
had no chance to ask your friend if she wanted in on this bargain.
of the people who came before you told me of a book called the...I can't
remember. Spell it out, Pig?
Pig signed the letters
The bronze woman continued. One of the stories in there is about aman
who gambles and keeps losing until he finally decides to wager the lives of his
family. He was gambling against someone who had weighted dice. And you were
negotiating from a similar position of weakness, and you bargained with
something that doesn't even belong to you. You traded the life of a
"For the lives of a lot of people
I don't know. Yeah, I imagine Jo is going to be mad when she finds out...but
what do you mean, similar position of weakness? The Machine wasn't playing with
loaded dice. We weren't even gambling."
honey, the Machine always plays with loaded dice. That's part of how a city
"I thought she just wanted to
populate her city, is all. I figured she'd put us in a dollhouse or something
city? HER city? Who says it belongs to her? She just runs the damn thing. Who
said it wasn't already populated? Did you ever think to ask?Did you have any
idea what you were agreeing to?
She strode over to a lever on the wall,
and yanked it. The far wall rumbled and shook, and pulled back to reveal a metal
platform, hanging above a space wider and taller than I could see. It was a
network of narrow, branching, almost root-like streets outlined in glowing blue,
running between low buildings, and in the very center stood a massive, twisting
shape of metal, resembling a tree, save for the areas where the surface was torn away in jagged sheets. Behind this structure was a network of criss-crossing girders that resembled the hollow interior of bird bones. High in the structure, twelve great green lights clung to the area around an exposure.
With the power from this place, she's been populating her city for a very long time. What do you think the factory makes?
"Anything it wants, I expect.
But...I thought Big Chief and his crowd made all the metal people and stuck
them in Up New York. I thought you and the iron people and the wax people were
intruders on this place."
no. I have no idea who this Big Chief is, and I haven't heard of any Up New
York, but if there are any Metal People up there, they came from here.
"Uh, yeah, about that...Up New
did you do?
"What makes you think I did
a tourist. You tend to leave heavy footprints. You, especially, have demonstrated extreme impulse and recklessness, which means you've probably ruined more than one -- Oh, I'm getting too down again. I'll be nicer. Tell me, what happened?
"Their air-defense system
registered me and my friend as intruders and basically destroyed the entire
Well. I'm very sorry. Seems like a bit of a design flaw there. Anyway, the
machine wants you and your friend to be stuck on that tree in a state of
eternal servitude. See? If she can use your power, she has enough to control
the tree. Then she can sweep away everything we've built and re-make everything
"So you're saying she wants to
play at being Donald Trump."
who idea who that is, but possibly. Anyway, you're even more of a prize than
the previous twelve people to come by, because you pledged to do whatever she
tells you to do. So you can't even resist, unlike the people who are currently
stuck on the tree. Unless you want her to renege on the bargain, and snuff a
bunch of strangers. You see what you've gotten yourself into?
"I said I wouldn't interfere. That
doesn't mean you can't interfere. That doesn't mean the people down there can't
interfere. And my friend will be perfectly willing to raise hell as well."
I crossed my arms. "I think I left some wiggle room. Didn't I?"
other people to fight your battles is --
"Realpolitik. I can't be risking my very important life, you know. That's what got Richard the Lionheart killed, and Valens, and —"
and that attitude is why people talk about Anarchy as a political philosophy. You have
got to be better than that. Look, here's what we're begging you: leave.
Pig frantically signed No. Save W-I-Z-A-R-D-S please. I tried
not to look like I had noticed.
bronze lady kept talking. This city
is a living thing. It's not your toy, it's not something you can fool around in
like it's your playground the way you've treated so many other places. You
can't save the people who are on the tree already. Just find a way out of this
machine heart and never tell anyone where you've gone.
"How do you know where else I've
been? The only other person who's travelled with me is Jo. She's the only one
who could know where I've gone."
Who did you tell where you were going?
"My Mom, I always tell her
where...wait. When did you see her? Where is she?"
in the city, I expect. If you leave the city, I can try to find her and tell
her where you've gone. She shouldn't be too hard to find in the midst of a
bunch of metal people.
"First of all, you don't know my
Mom. Secondly, I'm not going to let you speak for me, especially to my own Mother. I'm going to find her and find Jo
and then I'll figure out what to do with the Wizards. If you want to help,
follow me. Otherwise, stay here with your broken people."
the tree can't --
I strode out to the metal platform and
down its set of wobbly stairs, down to the city below.