Tempus Automata – six

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The whole of my vision went hazy before it all pixelated into a monochromatic gloom.  At the same time, the surprised intake of breath from the inventor filled my ears as he grabbed for my shoulder.   My systems struggled to make sense of what had just happened, but just as suddenly, the colors of the world rushed back into focus.

The grip on my shoulder lessened once my creator realized where we were.   Across a neighborhood street laid the place of my creation.   A vintage Oldsmobile with rocket fins drove past us as the inventor tried to see through his own window.  Abruptly, he stood up and ran to the sidewalk.  He stood there and scratched at his head before he made his way back to me.

“What did you do?” he asked.

With my limited vocabulary, I tried to explain what I had seen and done, “I… I plucked the time string that ran behind me…”

“Hmm, the time string?”  He rubbed at his forehead as he pondered at my meaning before he asked, “Explain to me what you saw before you plucked it.”

“Before my eyes lay a single string that stretched into the far distance while what lay in front of me were many that branched outward.  When I attempted to touch those that were in front of me, they moved away of their own accord.  But I could grasp the long one that stretched off behind me.”

“And you called them time strings?”

I nodded in the affirmative, but I couldn’t think of a way to articulate why I had said that.  He was quiet for a long period before he asked, “How far did we travel?”

I replied, “Four hundred and forty one feet.”

His eyes lit up as he wiggled in place, “By my calculations, we traveled one second backwards… in time!  Ha, ha!   How wondrous!”

Despite his age, he bounced and skipped around and each step seemed to buoy up the energy inside him.  A huge grin plastered itself across his face as he turned back to me, “We must hurry back and run another test!  Come along my friend!”

He hopped off in a hurry.  By the time he made it back to the sidewalk, he turned back to see me in the same spot.  He made his way back and looked down at where my torso ended and what existed of my unfinished legs jutted outward.

He smiled, “Looks like I’ll have to carry you back, Grigori.”

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Tempus Automata – five

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The rough edge of a large cardboard box pressed against the back of my skull, but that wasn’t quite right.  It was more a perception of sensory input from the mix of plastics and metal that formed our… my outer shell.  The caress of hands brushed against the edge of the cavity in my chest and each time a connection was made, it sent a shock through me.

My eyes blinked open and I could make out curly gray hair thinly scattered on the head of the inventor, my creator.  I looked on in wonder but the colors looked muted, separated by a thin tracking line that was constantly moving across my vision, “I… I see you.”

“And I see you, my friend,” he replied jovially.  “Bear with me just a little longer.  I am almost done getting this contraption plugged into you.”

I was conscious of his fingers as they rummaged around the inside of my chassis until there was a final satisfying click.  My systems struggled to process everything as new strings of data filled the passageways of my mind.  Strange new vistas opened up before my mechanical eyes.  Overlaying what was solidly in front of me were ghostly lines that segued into multiple directions forward but only a single glowing line behind.

“Power read outs are stable.”  The corners of my creator’s eyes crinkled, “It’s amazing what a bit of plutonium can do, isn’t it?  Now, hopefully no one will ever question how we got our hands on it.”

“What is… this?” I asked in wonder.

The inventor chuckled dryly, “Now that, my friend, is a mighty good question. “

He stared at something below my field of vision for a moment before he grabbed a dusty tome from inside the box that had held the mechanism; the mechanism that was now inside me.

“Excellent! This is a log of… oh my.”  Bemusement colored his words, “Well, it looks like we’ve experimented with this device numerous times before and many of those have ended in failure.”

But I ignored him.  I stared in wonder at the flickering lines that hovered in my vision.  Slowly, my hand extended out to touch them, but the ones that splintered outward wavered away from my fingertips.  When I brought my hand down in consternation, the long single one that continued behind me slid into my grasp.  As I reached out and held onto my creator, my fingers slid down the ghostly line just shy of where the branches split outward and I plucked.

Tempus Automata – four

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Once the vision dissipated, I leapt up and looked to my companion, but she only stared at the being with a sense of absolute disbelief.  My expression could only mirror hers as my hands clenched and unclenched while my mind went over the little that had been spoken.

But before I could summon a word to my lips, my companion shouted, “That’s preposterous!”

I nodded in agreement as she stumbled to her feet and continued, “How could your… your maker have received something from his past and have no memory of sending it!  That doesn’t make sense!”  As she continued on incredulously, her hands slid into fists.

In response, the being’s lips split into what could only be interpreted as a smile, but a smile from something that hadn’t used those muscles in years.   The entity waited until my traveling partner’s words dwindled down to a trickle before its voice boomed into the ether of this dead planet, “I have been present since before your forebears unearthed the spheres that laid waste to this world.  I have been alone for longer than you have lived and I have existed at times as more than a single entity…”

“That doesn’t belay the fact that what you say is impossible!” she shouted back.

“… and yet you trifle with me over a concept you cannot grasp.  Would you prefer me to continue my tale that you have traveled so far to hear or would you rather question me as to the reality of my existence?”

As she sucked in a breath to utter her response, I quickly interjected, “Susan, I for one, would like to hear the rest of the story.” At her angry look, I muttered abashedly, “I mean, we came all this way… and this individual must be the Watcher, right?”

The strange little monkey creature chittered loudly as my words faded into the deathly quiet, which only set me on edge.

Slightly mollified, Susan crossed her arms and dropped down to sit next to me.  I felt her body shift ever so slightly away before her toes began to tap against the pebbles that littered the ground around us.

The being’s empty eyes pulled at me.  I gazed into the twin voids and I sensed them tugging at my soul.  Strangely, I could feel Susan’s presence next to me grow closer until I felt entwined with her.  She must have felt it too, because her breathing escalated into short, rushed bursts.

Or maybe it was my own.  I could no longer tell us apart.

Tempus Automata – three

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“I can tell you of my existence… “

Its voice no longer spoke into the wind, but only grew louder within the mind.  The peculiar monkey creature seemed to snicker as both my companion and I pressed our hands to our ears and cried out in pain.

“…if that is what you truly wish.”

Papers flew haphazardly through the air of an archaic laboratory before they settled like leaflets on the ground during a revolution in full swing.  The dull eyes of what appeared to be a life sized doll stared blankly at the crazed man in the center of the room as he pulled at his hair.

“Oh, if I could go back in time!” cried the wizened inventor.  “If only to study with the master Pierre Jacquet-Droz and to finally grasp at the analog straws of memory and its relation to output.  To learn at the feet of Jacques de Vaucanson and in the fine construction of his pieces.”

With a huff, the inventor knelt and slowly gathered the loose sheaf of papers which now littered the floor.   He carefully laid the sheets down on his overburdened desk before his hands clenched the edge fiercely, “But why stop there?  Why not travel back to meet with Ben Franklin and his wondrous Philadelphia Man?  Why not go back to help Leonardo da Vinci build his mechanical knight?”

Another sigh escaped him as he stared at his creation, but the unresponsive camera lenses in the expressionless face only reflected his image back.   Sadness etched its way into the inventor’s cheeks as he turned away and settled back into the beaten leather chair at his desk.

A slight grin colored his lips, “If all of time was an option, why settle for only those?”  He sprung out of his chair and grabbed the hands of the doll, “We could go to Ancient Zhou and see how the great artificer Yan Shi made his dancing man.  We could even ask Jabir in Hayyan the secrets of the Book of Stones!”

The inventor spun back to his table and rifled through his old notebooks.  Pages were violently flipped through before a book would be launched over his shoulder or dropped to the floor.  His movements grew more frantic until his eyes spied the unopened box near the window.

“When did this one come in?” he muttered while he checked the delivery date.  “Last week, eh?  How did I miss it?”  A sardonic laugh burst from him, “How can I question mail sent to me by me but from long ago?  Oh, the eccentricities of life!”

His small pocketknife sawed at the fibrous tape that kept the box closed until he was able to rip the lid in two.    Glee lit his eyes as he withdrew a brass and copper instrument.  Gears clicked as he tripped the small levers.  The multiple readings across the face of the device indicated the time, placement in the galaxy and height above sea level.  He kept at it, but nothing seemed to happen.

Perturbed, he reached into the box and pulled out a handwritten note;

   The mechanism requires a power source. 

   Perhaps the project’s will do?

The inventor chortled as he brought the mechanism over and proceeded to install it inside the open cavity in the chest of his doll.  A wire was connected into the housing before the cover was replaced.

The eyes on the doll lit up and began to scan the laboratory before they settled on the inventor, “Creator.  How may I be of service?”

“Let’s see what wondrous things we can do, my friend.”

Tempus Automata – two

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My companion had ground to a complete stop before me and I had nearly walked right over her.  But when I looked at what held her eyes, I too stepped back in shock.

The being before us was like a man and yet unlike one.  It was sexless.  Its hide was run through with small fissures where it had dried under the harsh winds.  In some spots it had blackened with age.  Its hands loosely rested on the exposed rock that somehow resembled a chair; no a throne.  The skin over the fingers was cracked at the joints and metal, though pitted, shone through.  Its head hung forward and its eyes were closed.

Was this the Watcher?  What did it see with its eyes closed?  Did it still live or was it dead?

“Has our journey been a waste?” cried my companion.  “Was all this just to find another carcass among many?  Was it all for naught?”

My hand reached out to touch her shoulder, but I held back.  A small, simian-like creature had arrayed itself across the being’s shoulder and glared at us.  My companion moved away as the thing chittered at her in annoyance.  The strange little eyes of the ape spoke with a dark intellect as they bored into mine.  One of its hands rapped a repeating pattern against the large head of the being until the eyelids of it split open.

My companion and I crumpled under the strange gaze.  Its machine eyes measured us and we felt small in comparison.  It was hard not to look away, but we had come to this forsaken planet for this very meeting.  My companion fell to her knees and I joined her.  We clasped hands and whispered our request.

The being’s voice stuttered out from long disuse, “You wish to ask of me questions?”

We both nodded, though mine was with the slightest hesitation.

“You traveled all this way for that?  What would you ask of me that you couldn’t find elsewhere?”

The voice of my companion echoed out into the wind of this dead planet, “What are you?”

Tempus Automata – one

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The earth below us was broken.  Shards of stone jutted out into a sky as black as a cave.  But there was light.  The very cracks in the ground seemed to glow with it.

We had left the ruins of the city behind and followed this ancient trail out into the fractured peaks that lay on the western edge.   Strange weeds struggled to grow underfoot, but our steps turned them into dust.

Were the weeds truly alive?  Was anything on this Gods forsaken planet?

The stories of this world were whispered of in the darkest corners of the universe and they were believed to be the tales of madmen.

“There is no Earth to be found!” cried the naysayers.  “No Sol System on any star chart.”

Where the rumors say it hung in the night sky was a spot of blackness, blacker than the darkest night.  But one day, that fleck of blackness had faded and an ancient star system had lain in its center.

My companion and I had come to this ancient birthplace of the human species and we had come in search of answers.

“Answers to what?” you might ask.

What had happened here?  What had brought the denizens of the darkest domain back to this moribund sphere?  Where had they gone?  The answer would always be knowledge, be it forbidden or dangerous.

Time was of the essence as the days left for it to circle its dying star grew short.  Its magnetic field had begun to weaken and the atmosphere was dissipating into space.  The oceans had lost much of their moisture, but the waves continued to slap the lonely shores.

It was with a shock of surprise that we actually found our quarry seated amongst the bones of this corpse world.  We had believed it to be myth and fairytale, but our deepest hopes had been that there still lay a grain of truth in the legend, that the Watcher was real.

And it was.