(also available in the new 'Cerebral Munitions' collections, but still here for free...)
That’s what it was.
An embarrassment on the mind’s windshield. Excuses and backup plans acting like nothing more than paltry attempts to clean it off from our ever so consequential field of vision.
We’re not stuck we’re flying blind, Bernard Landry thought quietly to himself, sitting in his own individual capsule, one of sixty four in this particular device, which was advancing ever forward on a landscape that was always vaguely familiar but could never spur on a genuine memory of times past.
Bernard held onto the levers and gears that was his responsibility with steely resolve, despite his now middling hopes that all this was going to work out somehow. He heard the mysterious and always somehow distant technology that surrounded him belch and stutter, and start to count in his head how long it had been since he had heard the familiar shredding noise that suggested to him that everything was in working order.
The shredding noise was always the thing that people first complained about once they were picked up and not in so many words propositioned. Bernard got used to it quicker than most, so it took on the sound of comfort, success, and perfection. God knows where the noise came from and what it meant, but he wasn’t being torn to pieces while it sounded, which is sometimes all you can ask for in these unusual circumstances. And those that never got the hang of the whirring, grinding, and metallic squealing, well, who needs them, bundle them all into the exhaust hatch and blow the floor out next time we crawl over a relatively calm body of water.
‘We’! Ha! Hilarious, Bernard! Like a big happy family or something. How long had he been here? Months, certainly. Didn’t take long for the never really explained camaraderie to get the best of him and now he’s here doing his menial part to make sure this thing does whatever it does better than yesterday. Leaky? Plug it. Bumpy? Smooth it out. Jammed? Don’t force it, get a bigger hammer.
He seemed to patch up these setbacks quicker than most, so it became inevitable that people started to call him. Literally call him, yelling from wherever they were inside this thing for advice. He’d slowly struck up a friendship with one guy, in part because he was close enough that they only had to talk ‘strongly’, as Bernard called it, as opposed to outright yelling.
“It’s not doing it anymore!” this one guy announced, “anybody else?”
“Same problem”, Bernard replied, yanking once again on what he named the ‘the reverse’.
“It’s me”, Bernard replied, trying harder than ever to place the voice around him. What does his capsule look like? Is it identical? Maybe he has a whole damn room to himself somewhere.
“You see that up there?”
“You think someone should take a look at it?”
“Hell, I know someone should take a look at it.”
“So are you gonna…”
“Hell, I don’t know the first thing about it.”
And so there was a pause. Not long, but long enough for Bernard to think for a minute that the whole conversation could have just been in his head.
Garbage, he couldn’t help thinking to himself as he once again stuck his hands in his pockets and felt the scraps of paper, the gum wrapper, and the three coins that hadn’t seen the artificial light above him in all these months. It was his link to a before time. A reminder that it there were other forms of real. But the thought of what these things were just depressed him. This was all that he had on him. Tattered bits of refuse you’d quickly consign to the gutter. No wallet, no book, no phone, nothing that could be used to signify that he had something of worth. Or was and is something of worth. Best you invest your time in this then, right? Make the most of the hand you’re dealt, even if you don’t know the first thing about the game being played.
And then a wholly alien wheeze shook the entire contraption, sending Bernard off his jumpseat and a foot into the air, smashing him into the left side of the capsule and then back down onto the hard plastic. His elbow and ass took most of the hit, but his first thought went to his suddenly screaming testicles, down there all by themselves with no protection save the dusty, tattered navy blue slacks he’d been wearing since they first picked him up.
“Urrghhhhh”, Bernard moaned, holding his crotch and breathing sharply to help push the pain away. But there was barely time for that because his entire capsule was slowly tilting to one side, a doubtful whine echoing through the epic machine. What he had to carefully deduce when it came to the cracked visual interface he could tell by intuition from the new and strange sounds.
It’s all going to break. Momentarily. Soon. Something will have to happen. It can’t keep going on like this. I’m practically an expert on this goddamn thing by now. Smoke’s probably pouring out of it by the truckload. We’re going to explode or something big is going to fall off or a leg will get stuck in a hole or something and we’ll all rot here in one place.
The ‘window’ as his near-friend called the screen flickered the shot of the unremarkable landscape ahead of them. It wasn’t flipping over like he was. His steel mesh ceiling was quickly becoming the floor. But as soon as he put his full weight on it, it gave way, and he tumbled out of his cage for the first time since waking up in it way back when.
Out. No, not out. Into another part of this beast’s belly. Passing through like food in the digestive system. Or a coffee cup in a waste treatment plant. Can’t go on forever, though.
But deep in the fleshy mechanical workings of his heart he wondered.
|If you choose chains, are you still free?|