In The Beginning There Was The Machine

by Martin Hayes


Story Copyright (C) 2009, Martin Hayes.
Images Copyright (C) 2009, Rudy Rucker.
1,300 Words.



Pre-dawn. Strange skies and a hot wind. A certain indescribable feeling in the air. In the town, people’s fillings were falling out.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .

“I figured it out! I finally figured the fucking thing out!”

Even though Murray was shouting, John Davis could barely hear what his colleague was saying. The gusting wind stole the words as they spilled from his mouth. It was still dark – too dark, Davis thought - but dawn wasn’t far off.

Davis had been woken by Murray’s manic pounding on the door of his quarters in the research centre. Murray had always been a bit crazy but this time he seemed genuinely unhinged, kept raving about “A big discovery” and how “The date is right but the time is wrong.” That had been eighty minutes ago, and now they were running through the Guatemalan jungle and wishing that the scalding wind would let up, if only for a second, just so they could catch their breath.

They had listened to the BBC World Service as they drove along the narrow jungle roads. The world seemed to be falling apart. Three massive earthquakes in China, South Korea, and Russia – up to eight hundred thousand already feared dead. London too, and Rome. Oregon, Nevada and the northern swathes of California were on fire.

Davis caught his foot in a twisted tree root and went sprawling into the jungle floor. He fell heavily, rolled a couple of times and then came to a halt on his back, coughing. He was covered in leaves and dirt and shit. Murray reached down to help him up and said again, “I’ve figured it out, John!”

They huddled close to a large fallen tree that sheltered them from the worst of the storm.

“Figured what out, you psychopath?”

“The markings. The script. The Mayan prophecy!”

“Ah, for fucksake! Not this again. Is this why you dragged me out into this goddamn jungle? You said you’d made an important discovery!”

“I have.” Murray pointed to a vine-covered cliff about a mile to their right, “I’ve found the key. I’ve deciphered the script!”



Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .

The jungle was alive with noise; the screeches of spider monkeys, the frantic calls of Aracaris. When they reached the foot of the cliff Murray unslung the rucksack from his back and dropped it at his feet.

“It’s all so simple. Once I’d found the key it all just fell into place.” He stepped forward and pulled a tangled knot of vines away from the rock. Davis’s eyes widened as he gazed at the vertical line of symbols that were carved into the stone.

“This is it, John. This is what we’ve spent our entire adult lives searching for. And to think you used to say that History class was boring in high school! Ha!”

Davis dropped to his knees so he could examine the markings in more detail. He whipped a small Maglite from the pocket of his cargo trousers and leaned in until his nose was almost touching the stone.

At the top of the column was a twelve pointed star, its tips flattened and a hole at its centre, and beneath that a row of wavy lines, and beneath those were three separate vertical rectangles with what looked like a screw thread running along each of them.

Davis turned to face his colleague, “I’ve never seen anything like it. Have you deciphered it?”

“Yes! Yes! This is the key! That’s what I’ve been telling you.” Murray grabbed his rucksack and took out a large black notebook. He opened it; nine rows of symbols were spread out across two pages, and below the last row he’d drawn the unlocking symbols from the cliff face. At the bottom of the page was Murray’s English translation.

“Well,” Davis shouted, “What does it say?”

“It’s over John, everything. It’s over . . . done. All gone.”

They jumped in their skins as a deafening peal of thunder rumbled across the purple sky.

“Just tell me what it fucking says,” Davis shouted.

Murray wiped sweat and dirt from his eyes and reached across to place a hand on Davis’s shoulder. They had known each other for over fifteen years, ever since high school, and Murray was glad that they were together for this. Then he dropped his eyes to the notebook and began to read.

“In the beginning there was the machine.”

The ground began to vibrate, almost unnoticeably at first but the shuddering of tectonic plates grew and swelled until the whole jungle seemed to shake and several large, car-sized chunks of the cliff face fell away.

Murray and Davis scurried on hands and knees to their right where they were able to crouch in beneath an overhang in the rock.

“Keep reading,” Davis shouted, the wind was deafening now. Smaller rocks were still falling here and there. Murray grabbed Davis’s hand and twisted it so that the Maglite shone on the pages of the notebook.

He screamed the words from somewhere deep inside his chest, “In the beginning there was the machine. And the machine was like the heart of a pearl.”

Another clap of thunder shook their bones. It sounded like it was only inches above their heads now.

“The machine grew layers of skin to shield itself from the cold of space. And the machine was alive with love for its skin.”

It began to rain, a heavy black rain that seemed to bleed from the darkening sky. There would be no dawn today.

“The machine was mighty but still only a machine. And even with its perfect skin it could not last forever.”

Murray threw his head back and cackled like a lunatic, “Don’t you see, John? It’s not a prophecy. It’s a fucking warranty expiration date!”

The mountain split in two.

And the sky began to fall.



Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .

At forty-one minutes past seven in the morning, Central Standard Time, a Russian astronaut named Vladimir Alekseev saw one of the last sights seen by human eyes. The International Space Station had lost contact with the Earth, not exactly an irregular occurrence, but there was something disturbingly grim about the voice of mission control just before the feed went dead. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he’d heard a scream.

Alekseev pushed his way to one of the module’s small windows and looked down just in time to see the earth split in two. Beneath the outer crust, below even the solid spherical core, was a small but immeasurably complex machine.

Alekseev watched in silence, his eyes filling with tears, as all the pinions and gears and bearings spilled out.



About the Author

Martin Hayes lives in Arklow, a small town on the east coast of Ireland. His stories have appeared in places like Nature, The Stinging Fly, and Neon. He is currently working on two original graphic novels: Project Luna 1947 with artist Jim Boswell, a love letter to the science fiction movies of the forties and fifties, to be published by Markosia Enterprises. And Crowley: Wandering The Waste, a meditation on the life of Aleister Crowley which will be released by Insomnia Publications.

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