NUNTIUS EX MACHINA
(MESSAGE FROM THE MACHINE)
At the center of Meridian, consumed by the unending rains and murky grayness of the Maelstrom, a vast compound of spires and interconnecting tunnels, of vents belching steam and domes blurred by sluicing water, of massive girders and gears, it continued to stand, as it had for countless generations: the Machine. Within, metal ground relentlessly against metal, ironworks clanked and hissed—oily smoke and tar—its machinations maintained by its citizens, who worshiped its power and its strength without question or understanding of its true purpose or origin. The Machine created and the Machine destroyed. There was nothing but the Machine.
Immense halls and endless corridors circled and turned in labyrinthine patterns, coming round and through row upon row of cramped living units, then upon tunnels of odd, multicolored lights—sometimes coming to abrupt dead ends with seemingly no purpose, or spiraling downward before opening into spaces dark and dank and abandoned—plunging into huge factories where machines with mechanical arms toiled to construct and paint, conveyor belts hummed, glass was blown into various shapes, things spun and twirled and flew. And in each sector, no matter its purpose, a common room in which people gathered for meetings and discussions and, most importantly, HaloMachina, weekly services in which the Machine was celebrated and worshiped, the largest being the cathedral in sector one, deep within the Machine, at its very center, in which a strange device long thought to be no longer functioning began to blink and ring, having been silent and still for innumerable generations…
* * *
Bill Trident noticed it first while sweeping the floors. He stopped what he was doing and walked over to it. The light was a greasy yellow, blinking slowly, as if with a great effort, but the ringing coming from the mesh set into the wall behind the podium, beneath the great window of colorful glass depicting David the Enlightened, was shrill and insistent. Bill blinked at it and ground his teeth, as was his habit when faced with a situation in which he wasn’t sure what he should do. He propped his broom against the wall and reached his hand out. The device vibrated as it rung. He lifted it with a click and the ringing stopped. It remained attached by a wire to the wall. Bill waited a moment, then, when nothing happened, he placed the device back into place and shrugged. He picked up his broom and was just about to continue his duties when the ringing began again. Bill dropped his broom and ran to fetch Father Bodum.
Father Bodum lived at the end of a long hallway, an offshoot of the cathedral, windowless, terminating in a single round door, like the entrance to a vault, although it secured only modest living quarters. Bill rapped his knuckles on the metal, then, when he remembered the buzzer, pushed it once and then again and again.
After a minute or two, Bill could hear the lock being drawn and the door swung inward. “What?” Father Bodum said, stepping into the opening, looking strange, to Bill, in his civilian clothing.
“What is it, Bill?” Father Bodum said, a greenish light blinking from within his chambers.
“There’s, ah, something making noise.”
Father Bodum brought his hands up and put his fingers together so that they mirrored each other. “Yes. The Machine works in mysterious ways. Now, please let me be.” He began to swing the door shut.
“Ringing,” Bill said. “It’s ringing!”
Father Bodum sighed, holding the door. “What’s ringing?”
“Something by your podium, beneath the window.”
“There’s something ringing beneath the window? Beneath David’s Trial?”
Bill nodded his head vigorously. “Yeah, that’s right.”
Father Bodum held up his hands in surrender. “Fine,” he said, stepping out into the hallway and pulling the door shut. “Show me.”
* * *
Father Bodum bent to examine the device more closely. He squinted at the blinking yellow light. He reached for it, then drew his hand back. “Did you touch it?”
“No,” Bill said, shaking his head. “No way.”
Father Bodum sighed. “Good. It is a sign from the Machine.” He closed his fingers around the device and lifted.
The ringing ceased.
Bill looked on, eyes wide.
Father Bodum dropped to his knees and held the device up before him. “Let us pray,” he said. “Hallowed Machine, protector and provider…” He stopped and scowled at Bill.
“Oh,” Bill said, taking his knees beside Father Bodum.
“Sacred Machine, guardian in which we live, we thank you for this sign. It is by your machinations we are gladdened.” Father Bodum brought the device up to his face and kissed it lightly. “Amen.” He stood and prepared to replace it on the wall.
Hello? Anyone there?
Both Bill and Father Bodum jumped, startled.
“What?” Bill asked. “Who’s that?”
Father Bodum held up his hand for Bill to be quiet. He glanced upward at the window, at the depiction of the prophet in glass. The voice was coming from the mesh in the wall. “David? Is this David?” he asked. “This is Father Bodum.”
I must speak with Eli Sol, the voice said.
Father Bodum looked at Bill, who shrugged and shook his head. “There is no Eli here,” he said. “What may we do for you?”
Get me Eli Sol.
Father Bodum placed the device back into its cradle. “Stay here,” he said to Bill. “Do not touch it or let anyone near.”
“But where are you going?” Bill asked.
“I must seek the advice of others,” he said.
The device, once more, began to ring.
* * *
“It’s been ringing like this all night?” Gregor asked, the head engineer for sector one.
“Yes,” Father Bodum said, “unless you lift it up and then a voice asks for Eli Sol.”
“Eli Sol? Who’s that?”
Father Bodum lifted his hands and shook his head.
Gregor stared at the device. “Should I lift it up then?”
Father Bodum made a sound of exasperation. “You’re the engineer. You tell me.”
“We’ll wait for my team,” Gregor said.
They came minutes later, Gregor’s team of machinists. There were five of them, looking sleepy, their gray jumpsuits dishevelled. “What’s that, boss?” the one known as Henry asked.
“We don’t know,” Gregor answered. “We’re trying to figure that out. Any ideas?”
The machinists, three men and two women, leaned forward. When Henry began slowly to reach his hand out, Father Bodum said, “Stop that! This is a sacred place.”
Gregor sighed. “What would you like them to do?”
“I would like you to tell me what you think I should do about it,” Father Bodum said.
“Why don’t you go ahead then,” Gregor said, motioning Father Bodum forward.
Father Bodum stepped up between the huddled machinists and lifted the device from its cradle. “David? Are you there?”
Hello? Eli? Eli Sol?
Gregor and his team stared at the wall from where the voice was coming.
“Well?” Father Bodum said. “What’s next?”
Is Eli there? May I speak with Eli?
“I think we should find this Eli person.”
It was Father Bodum’s turn to sigh. He scowled and looked at the clueless faces before him. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, let’s do that.”