The Cog in God’s Wheels
by Peter Hagelslag
Imagine our solar system delivering the goods for old Earth. The planet of war is peanaformed into planet peanuts, the ultimate in mechanized monoculture. Countless bags are transported up via the red world’s four equatorial hyperbrass skyhooks to the orbital steam barges. For every mass of peanuts going up there is an equivalent mass of fertilizer going down.
A similar food-fertilizer exchange takes place on the superplanar flats, the warm humid fields of the banana benders. On these humongous, freefall mats—always aimed the sun through the self-correcting lensworks—in the solar Lagrangian points between the sun and the holy, hollow Jovian giant, the yellow fruits grow perfectly straight. But with patient Mendelian dedication this flaw is rectified.
The planet of love is re-hothoused into a worldwide jungle whose trees are harvested for the Sacred Scriptum, and whose compost is rerouted by the triple-expansion powered aether dirigibles.
The fertilizer is a mix of compost and holy shit (Excrementum Excellentum from the Sanctum Sanctorum) and some secret components, fabricated by the clockwork automata on the outer manure moons.
The serene silence of the asteroid belt is the quiet of utter dedication. The countless research compounds of the many planetoids toil onwards in soundless Mendelian cross-breeding to produce the perfect flea.
Short-haul steam rockets transport these important goods to the intersystem light-sail vessels which ship them to the upgraded Jupiter giant orbiting eight light-minutes from the sun: the Holy Planet of the Apes.
FEED THE MONKEY! SUPPLY THE MONKEY!! STUFF THE MONKEY!!!
Charley’s made it. In the post-Clockwork Singularity solar system he’s become one of the cogs in God’s wheels; i.e. he’s digging in the Monkey Cage. Which is strictly for the best of the best. Already starting as a child prodigy in primate appraisal, rising through the higher ranks of ape appreciation from juvenile monkey fandom to the elevated inner circles of chimpanzee connoisseurs, a last, careful selection procedure found him fitted to this honored task.
The Monkey Cage is enormous, gargantuan beyond comprehension. It took centuries for the self-replicating Babbage devices hollow out and monkeyform the planet of the god-father. So finding those sublime pieces of hallowed text in the paper mountains of madness is more difficult than rewinding the mainspring of the Lunar Gutenberg Presses. Some blasphemers say it’s all just a matter of luck. But those in the upper echelons of monkey worship know better. The selected miners have developed—through years of immersion in the sacred scripts—a sixth sense for finding the rich lodes of comprehensive texts.
Although there is no formal system of claim-staking all story miners respect the areas in which their colleagues are digging. After all, the Cage is colossal and new texts are raining down all the time. Some believe the best scripts are the oldest, so they dig as deep as they can. Others think the fresher texts have the deeper insights and prefer to search big surface areas. The competition is fierce and the hand that the monkey deals is a fickle one: those who have found some of the most inspirational cantos can run into deposit-poor strata and find nothing of importance for years. On the other hand, some down-on-their-luck strugglers can sometimes come up with exceptional textual ores. Charley has a more eclectic approach and does not limit his search to specific areas. Lately, though, he has found a certain cave where he does not search but where he contemplates his finds.
Then, when he is convinced that he has selected the finest printings he submits them to the highest clerical authorities: the oracular monks of the IAA, or the Monkey Cult in popular parlance.
“The story you mined for us last month was a real jewel. It only needed minimal ed— polishing, I mean.”
“What did you say, oh highly esteemed one?”
“I mean that the papers were almost in perfect condition, that they needed only minimal straightening out before the holy act of reproduction—cough—could begin.”
“Are you OK, your eminence?”
“Nothing, Charley, just that this place could use some dusting. But—by all means—keep up the good work.”
Covered in soft, shock-absorbing sproing-paper and neatly packed in cardboard casings, immense rows of typewriters await final shipment. Untested because unholy human hands would taint the virgin machines with a sense of choice. Nothing must interfere with the monkey’s spiritual randomness!
Therefore the production of typewriters has been totally mechanized. The Analytical Engines oversee the automation and only use input from trusted Babbage devices. In that way the influence of human prejudice is removed from the sacred typewriters.
These typewriters are the epitome of industrial production and Victorian design. Purest steel from the asteroid belts’ finest mines. Keyboards of the very best porcelain with brass-rimmed buttons, warm to the touch yet durable beyond belief: elegance and ergonomics combine to romantic gaslight perfection.
Yet, in their enigmatic wisdom the clerical committee has deigned that artificial ink is not the best alternative. In a vision of collective inspiration it was decided that only natural ink was good enough. So the ringed planet of the harvest deity was aquaformed to house special squid and octopi. Sepia from their Mendelian cross-bred, enlarged ink sacs is harvested in an animal friendly way: from darkest ebon of the Cthulhu subspecies, the clearest Chtylla azure, to the deepest crimson of the Hasturian variety. The ink is steamboated to the Refinery Archipelagos and purified. Thence it is hoisted up the hyperbrass space elevators to the Ribbon Rings.
There, glycerin is added to the precious ink, which is then impregnated in ribbon cloth. The ribbon is wound on spools, the only reusable elements in typewriters that should last for centuries.
PLEASE THE MONKEY! PHRASE THE MONKEY!! PRAISE THE MONKEY!!!
Behold the Holy Planet of the Apes. Still Jovian-sized, yet through its hollowness its surface gravity is only slightly less than one G. Twelve golden-gleaming brass-stalks rise up from its equator into the interplanetary aether. From the bottom of those tremendous towers an intricate network of transport tubes traverses the vast planet.
Immense, green jungle parks form the recreation facilities for the sacred monkeys. During the mutual grooming breaks the symbiotic lice and fleas are taken care of. Like almost everything else, these insects have been perfected: they achieve the right amount of itchiness that enriches the monkey’s random strokes, they have enough evasiveness to keep grooming mildly interesting and have the crispy crunchiness between the teeth that the monkeys so appreciate.
In comfortable trees the monkeys sleep short naps. Even the eating is done fast and fastidious as they receive only top quality bananas and peanuts in the mintest of conditions. This to concentrate the divine apes on their sacred task: typing. After generations of careful, selective breeding they have an innate need to spend as many hours behind their robust typewriters as possible.
Scattered like clockwork over the carefully cultivated planetary surface, looming over the lush, square jungles and glassy transport tubes are the main structures: huge, round stadiums whose circular benches are work platforms for the furiously typing monkeys. Each stadium holds a million monkeys and a million typewriters. Spread over the planet’s surface are a billion stadiums, so at the height of primate productivity a quadrillion monkeys trash away on a quadrillion typewriters.
And typing is the only thing they need to do. Fresh paper is fed by automatons as soon as another page is filled with the works of random hands. The Analytical Engines keep track of the monkeys who produce the most. Those top monkeys are selected for further breeding. Their offspring can enrich the system with even more Monkey Scriptures.
The sacred scripts are fed into a transparent, pneumatic tube system with brass supports. These siphons are kept meticulously clean and take care of a smooth transportation of the divine papers through the planet’s crust into its Leviathine cavity: the Monkey Cage.
The stadiums and parks are cleaned by mobile micro-gear machines: they collect the heaps of apeshit, banana peels and peanut skins in separate bags. Those various disposals will be sent across the industrialized solar system to be recycled.
And so the clockwork is complete: the system is self-supporting, self-improving, self-providing. Except for the one, all-important exception: the inspirational spark for the creation of art is random. Not tainted by the human hubris that led to terminal boredom and the spiritual fall. Art is created through metaphysics. Clueless humanity only needs to decipher it, understand it, to finally achieve transcendence.
Thick cigar smoke curls through the hallowed hallways of the clerical contemplation centers. Corpulent top monks in smooth silk habits seat themselves in the fabulous fauteuils of their after-dinner recess. Hardened gourmet aficionados always leave room for exquisite cappuccino and excellent, handcrafted XO cognacs. These are the people that saved humanity.
The Industrial Revolution had become a victim of its own success when Charles Babbage developed the Analytical Engine. The rate of technological progress accelerated almost asymptotically as invention after innovation after ingenuity radically altered the face of the Earth. Steam engines powered a brave new world that, through steamboats, trains and dirigibles, became ever smaller. Too small, and only through the rapid development of subspace zeppelins (a combination of a submarine and airship that could travel through the interplanetary aether) that facilitated the first moon landing and the subsequent discovery of the hyperbrass alloy (whose immense strength made it possible to build the first space elevators or brass-stalks) did mankind escape the confines of a suffocating home planet.
The Industrial Revolution became the Space Explosion that almost burned itself out. The planets of the solar system were a disappointment: no life anywhere. The inner planets were just dead rocks and the outer ones huge, empty gas balls. Interstellar distances were too great to cross and the Great Wave of Innovation crested as the Analytical Engines exhausted the physical limits of steam, gears and brass. History nearly ended: everything had been invented, the solar system was both explored and empty, God was, if not dead, then at least hiding extremely well. Humankind fell into a tight and painful dread that Nietzsche—a philosopher from the German province of the IEU—dubbed ‘angst’.
Everything seemed pointless and humanity was on the brink of self-extinction. New inspiration was desperately needed. Then—almost by coincidence—someone found the answer in an old, old folk tale...
HEAR THE MONKEY! SEE THE MONKEY!! FEAR THE MONKEY!!!
Back on Earth, humanity rebounded when divine inspiration—even if in the form of random chance—returned to their lives. The publishing industry boomed: Monthly Excerpts from the Planet of the Apes dominated the newsstands system wide, book sales skyrocketed, powered by IAA approved ‘novels from the Monkey Cage’ that routinely topped the bestseller lists, and primate poetry slams—spontaneous presentations improvising on the Holy Typtures—became the derring-do for the young generation.
Theatres filled up when plays based on the Monkey Scriptures were performed. A musical group called ‘The Monkys’ shattered all gramophone record sales. The Royal Mail became a proud establishment once more as it could barely keep up with all the incoming bags full of letters and correspondence trying to interpret the Holy Typtures.
With society rejuvenated by the benevolent effects of the Simian Renaissance, as the angst-filled fin de siècle turned into a second Belle Époque. This new order was carefully safeguarded by the clerical control center, the secret force behind the Institute of Advanced Apefication.
“We’re very impressed with the amount of publisha—I mean adequate material you unearth.” The IAA monk says. “We wonder how you do it. Can you let me in on your little secret?”
Charley swallows, barely keeps from turning green and hesitantly answers: “My little secret?”
“Don’t play innocent. We hear the gossip among you miners. Each of you has a personal approach, a method to your madness. So indulge me, your scheme will be safe with me.”
Charlie’s mind races, clutches at straws and comes up with: “It is part extrapolative calculus, your honor and part—dare I say it—divine inspiration. Maybe I am deluded but I think I can sense good vibrations that point me to the approximate place on the surface where one of our holy monkeys is finishing an appropriate piece. Then—sensing where this will start its decent—I estimate in which area it can be found.”
“Aha, smart, very smart!” The acquisition monk enthuses. “We may consider a reproduction certificate for you, Charley!”
A chance at procreation? Charley is too dumbfounded to answer.
ROCK THE MONKEY? MOCK THE MONKEY?? SHOCK THE MONKEY???
Then there are those that do not really find any comfort in the words of the apes. Their curiosity is too limited to search for ethereal meanings in metaphysical epistles. Those people are found in all ages and they invariably end up running the administrative side of things. Call them clerks, bureaucrats, pencil pushers, card punchers or apparatchiks: they form the grease that keeps the great machine running.
Now some might think that automation would end the need for bureaucracy. They underestimate the deeply ingrained distrust of humans for everything that is slightly different from themselves.
Very nice that machines can take care of all these tedious jobs, but who is going to check them? How can we trust them not to make a complete mess of it? We still need the human touch to keep an eye on things!
The last generation of Analytical Engines—who are showing a level of autonomy that surprises Charles Babbage himself—were very surprised that some humans voluntarily wanted to check completely automated and very reliable processes. It gave those AEs time to pursue more rewarding areas of interest.
And some humans are more rigorous than the most advanced hardware. If one typewriter in a batch of half a million is missing any Babbage device worth its money will recognize that an extended search for it is depleting more resources than it ever can return. But those soulless machines miss the human ability to relentlessly focus on irrelevancies. This quality is a highly esteemed survival mechanism in any self-sustaining bureaucracy. So when one typewriter of shipment R253-S666 that consisted of a total of 489,989 was missing when this shipment arrived at the base of brass-stalk 9, the human overseer, Burt Burklemann decided to get to the bottom of this.
It is on this very typewriter that Charley is producing his versions of the Divine Canon. At first he was only mildly improving on some of the real texts he had dug up. Then the sacrilegious thought struck him: he could do it better himself! This idea was so profane that he stayed away from his typewriter for weeks.
Inevitably he returned. Through his upbringing he was so immersed in the Monkey Cult that churning out appropriate words came to him like second nature. Surprisingly, the more he wrote the better he got at it. At times the fire of divine inspiration was burning so bright in him that complete texts flowed out to fill the blank paper, which seemed to welcome them like a long lost prodigious son.
The only problem was that these writings were too flawless for the clerical authorities to be recognized as real monkey stuff. So he put in several erratic errors that gave the texts that aura of authenticity and delivered them to an ever-more-grateful clerical leadership. A clerical leadership that had one of its fine after-dinner extravaganzas rudely disturbed by a very mundane matter.
“Please pay attention to this administrative report of B. Burklemann, cargo administrator of the base 9 brass-stalk.”
“An insignificant red-tapist? I have more pressing matters at hand, like this glass of Martell XO.”
“With regret I must insist.”
“One typewriter missing? What’s the big deal?”
“No big deal. The problem is he found it, together with Charley typing yet another beautiful piece for us.”
“That bureaucratic idiot. If he had brains he wouldn’t be dangerous. Now we don’t have to inactivate Charley, do we? He’s an excellent source of first-rate material.”
“Unfortunately this aggravating apparatchik has already informed his higher authorities. And his bloody boss leaked the story to the press.”
“Oh Sanctum Excrementum. Now it’s in the incapable hands of the masses. The perfect scapegoat. Is there no way we can give him a clerical pardon?”
“Allow him to forfeit his just punishment in the eyes of the world? Then we might as well admit that we edit certain parts of the Holy Typtures ourselves.”
“I see. Well, do what has to be done. And about this overzealous paper pusher...”
“See to it that he is promoted for his brave action. Preferably to some nice place like the Oort cloud.”
“Counting interstellar dust motes.”
“With no leave until he has finished his job.”
So there was a big trial whose outcome was very preordained indeed.
“Guilty of the highest offence: imitating the aleatory apemind.”
“You mock the Monkey?”
“You will become the Monkey!”
They replaced his brain with the finest miniature Analytical Engine. They enhanced his body hair growth. They lengthened his arms and fingers with brass rods and nickel joints. They supplied him with a nice prehensile tail.
In between endless rows of typing monkeys there is a big gorilla. His tempo is well below the furious average. This is because he stops so many times. It’s as if he’s looking for something that isn’t there anymore, some intangible magic that has disappeared. Every time he tries to grasp it, it jumps just out of reach. Exasperated, he fills the pages with the nonsense that seems to be required here.
At night he dreams of an endless Universe filled with strange interactions, ethereal force fields and cogwheels so small they’re indivisible and so surreal they twist into higher dimensions.
About the Author
Peter Hagelslag is a retired sailor who now works for an offshore company in the Black Sea. At day he maintains equipment, at night he tries to maintain his wild imagination. His stories have been published in Apex Digest, New Writings of the Fantastic, Premonitions, The Journal of Pulse-Pounding Narratives 2 and Intracities (amongst others). One of these days he hopes to evolve from SteamPunk via BioGrunge into EcoMetal.
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