No Sky For Machines
Second. Minutes. Hours.
Days, weeks, months.
Rinse and repeat.
There’s a corner of the window where I see a sliver of sky. I feel naughty, like I’m cheating, breaking the law. Ironic that I should be worried about that, considering there is no law any longer. But I do worry, I do feel naughty, and all the while I’m looking at that window, I’ve got my ears pricked for any sign that I’m soon to be in company. I’m on the lookout, lest somebody catches me looking.
I’m also on the lookout because I’m protecting my territory.
Can’t have anyone else in my corner, watching my sliver of sky.
A good thing there’s no longer a need for food. I’d be oh so hungry. And there’d be fighting and squabbling and rending limb from limb. Just like old times.
Old times are so old now. They’re long gone. But sometimes I get glimmers of recollection, like a blur of movement glimpsed just over the shoulder. Only, when I turn to look, it’s gone. I end up wondering if it was ever there at all.
I’m talking about recollections from my own life, not general knowledge that every creature possesses and retains. There are certain things one can never forget, because we are not permitted to forget them. Personal histories don’t count. It’s the other things that we are programmed to remember.
The thing is, we’re breaking down. We’re malfunctioning more and more. Not that it really matters; nobody is relying on us anymore. But it can be exhausting, having a mind that works as it should only some of the time. Even if it doesn’t matter to anyone else, it matters to us.
Because we’re all we have left.
The cell is dark.
My eyes have long since adjusted, but I still think about the fabled sun. I wonder what might happen to my eyes if I ever saw it again.
In my head there are stories of creatures who looked into the sun only to lost their vision. It’s inconceivable, the idea of not being able to see. I would lose my sliver of sky if that happened.
That can’t ever happen.
I suppose that explains why I fear the sun.
I remember when a fellow of mine asked of our drill sergeant a question. He asked about the sun and the sky, and whether heaven waited up above them both. “Heaven? What the hell’s that? No, no my friend—no heaven for you. You’re a machine. Forget about sunlight, forget about rain. Forget it all, because you’ve got a job to do. No heaven for you.”
We exchanged glances, shrugs, and I thought, Makes sense.
Don’t get me wrong. The sky isn’t particularly bright. It hasn’t been bright in a long time. I’ve always found that the best way to explain it is through quoting poetry. The old rhyme explains it all nicely:
“Night falls and creatures roam
Along the streets ‘fore sun-up
But soon they will discover that
Eternal night has risen up…”
The Eternal Night is all they used to be able to talk about. It was all over the news media, wallpapers and holovision and advertising hovercraft. I wasn’t there to see it myself. Rather, I’ve heard the stories passed down through generations, and I’ve read about them in history logs. I recall one woman’s words, and here I paraphrase:
“It was like the street crazies had taken over—suddenly it was perfectly the norm to proclaim that the Apocalypse had come. We were all going to burn in hellfire and damnation. There would never be a heaven because we had forsaken it, because we were sinners to the very core and this was our penance. The world had gone mad, and we were in the middle of it. Insanity was a pandemic and we were swept away along with everyone.”
Those words, “ETERNAL NIGHT”, plastered everywhere. I can almost picture it in my shorting mind, see the dire words emblazoned all over. I can almost smell the fear and the dirt and the blood and the smoke. Chemical fumes from destroyed industrial plants. The salt of tears flowing freely. The putrid promise of a world coming to an end.
I can almost taste disaster on my tongue.
Except I taste nothing anymore. All I can do is dream.
I’m a sinner, I know. But I’ve forgotten how I sinned.
Sometimes I think about it, and I wonder if I did something really bad. Did I hurt someone? Did I kill someone? Did I join a dissenting cause in opposition of my government? Maybe I spoke ill of the dead. Or the living. Even I know that in the world we live in, speaking ill of the wrong person can get you killed.
I’m not supposed to remember. My mind was formatted for only a certain amount of memory. But though I know what I’m meant for and what I’m not, sometimes I have these…desires. Sometimes I have these longings that lie outside my set parameters. Sometimes I want to remember other things.
Like where I came from.
And what I did to get in here.
What was my crime?
I gaze up at the window, waiting for the dawn. Insofar as it can be called a dawn anymore. Like I said, we’re in the Eternal Night and the sky only lightens somewhat during daylight hours. That word, ‘daylight’, makes no sense anymore, but people still use it. It’s a vestige of a world long gone, and there are a lot of those around. The saying Good morning is still in use, even though there is no real morning anymore. There is still talk of living to see another day, even though none of us have seen a day in far too long to count, and may never see one again.
Oh, and none of us is technically alive any longer.
There’s no such thing as sunlight and shade. There’s moonshadow, and I like that just fine. But history tells me that the shadows created by the strategic fall of sunlight is far more dramatic; the shadows unfathomably richer. I have a hard time grasping that, and I suppose I will never manage. But it’s one of those things I think about when I shouldn’t. It’s one of those things I wish for.
There is a wall in this place that is the most dramatic shade of blue. I’m told that this shade is the same as a daytime sky. I stare at my sliver of real sky, and then I think about the blue of that wall. And all I can really do is doubt. The really young ones have a habit of exaggerating, and I’m convinced they’re exaggerating about this too. I have never read in any history book about a sky being blue. They focus not so much on facts but on historical events. I have read up heartily on all those things. And not once, anywhere that I could see, did any historian of old mention a blue sky.
I’d have to see it for myself to believe it.
I suppose that means I never will.
Time passes and I’m mostly alone. I’m getting a little rusty. In some places, mildew has formed. I feel the occasional tickle, and I wonder why that part of my machinery is still functioning. I suppose there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. Most of my senses still work, in fits and starts at least. The only one that’s gone entirely is my sense of smell. For that, I am grateful. Experience tells me that I should be grateful. I can’t quite remember why, but I’m taking my processor’s word for it.
For the most part, the sense of touch is useless. Taste isn’t much use either, but sometimes it can be…inconvenient. Certain tastes I get in my mouth remind me of the fact that I can no longer smell, and that I’m grateful for that. I am no longer able to connect the two concepts in any logical way, but I know enough to know I’m better off avoiding doing so.
Let us consider the other senses, though. Hearing is fundamental. It keeps me on my guard, ready for any new arrival. But by far the most invaluable sense is that of sight, which allows me to see my sliver of sky.
As long as I can see that, I can dream.
Second. Minutes. Hours.
Days, weeks, months.
Two years. Three.
Time passes and I lose count of everything.
I lose my senses one by one.
Finally I have only two left: seeing and hearing.
Then it happens. The day arrives that I lose my sight. That’s when I know my the old drill sergeant was right. There is no heaven, not for cold, wired machines. There is to be no heaven, no sunlight for the likes of me.
I stay there at the window, sightless and alone.
Cruelly, the last one to go is that of hearing, so that I hear the moment my end approaches. I hear the distant shouts, the shuffling of booted feet growing ever louder. I hear my cell door clanking open, voices louder now. Rough voices belonging to creatures with no regard for what’s left of me.
I hear my own rusted feet scraping across the stone floor, and I hear the disassembly as it happens. I hear the flicking of a switch, and then my hearing is fading too. Fading slowly away, as everything else has.