“I’m telling you, it’s the Canites”, Marko said. He tore off his helmet, tossing it on the floor in front of his panel. “The prophets warned us! The reports from the other side said–”
“Calm down!”, the magistrate said. “Remember your discipline, or I’ll have you run out of here like a temperamental child!”
Marko immediately turned red, embarrassed that he’d let his emotions run so high. He turned to look back at the magistrate, hoping he wasn’t in trouble. He tried to see any register of emotion through the magistrate’s mask, but couldn’t.
The magistrate sat still for a moment, shoulders broad and chin up. Then his chin gave the slightest of drops, and Marko let out a quiet sigh of relief.
“Look,” said the magistrate, as calmly as possible, “Canites aren’t real. They’ve never been real. They are just stories to scare the little ones with, and your toddlerhood isn’t relevant here.”
The magistrate looked at the counters on the panels in front of him. They were fluctuating, but they weren’t too unstable. Yet. He stood up from his chair on the platform, first looking down on Marko, a show of continued strength that Mark acknowledged by looking away.
The magistrate looked out towards the massive gears, interlocked and slowly moving far into the distance. The rotating gears filled a vision of mechanical hell, their fiery glow from underneath dancing in tune with the gears.
“Magistrate, I don’t know if you can see gear 125H from here, but it’s…”, Marko said, trailing off. He looked down at his feet, not wanting to continue.
“It’s what, Marko?”, the magistrate said. “Spit it out.”
“It’s dark underneath,” Marko said quietly, as if he didn’t want to say it at all.
“That’s preposterous. The gears are never dark, they haven’t been dark since the days of the Old Five and they certainly aren’t now. More toddler stories, Marko?”
The magistrate looked down at Marko, waiting impatiently for an answer. Marko had none.
“It has to be just an overage, or an exhaust extremity,” the magistrate said.
The magistrate looked back out through the glass, but 125H was too far away to see without plenoscopes. He looked again at the panel, and while the readouts were certainly fluctuating, they weren’t outside the norm by much.
Marko looked up at the magistrate, and spouted his theory again. “Look at the temperature beneath the gear, sir. Look at the structural integrity line of the south spoke. These things don’t just happen, it’s something we’ve never seen before.”
“Canites are there, eating things,” Marko said. “If they gears go out, they’ll eat us.”
“Enough with the Canites crap, Marko, or I’ll send you down to the brig,” the magistrate said. He didn’t bother looking at Marko when he said it, his eyes were drawn to a small indicator on the panel. It flashed a line over and over again, but what it said wasn’t possible.
The line on the panel read, “connection and structural loss imminent: 125H South 6B”. Then suddenly the entire panel went black, something that had not happened in a thousand years. It flickered back on, fully red but in weak light.
“On the gods,” the magistrate whispered. He shook his head out of it, and screamed at Marko. “Get down to Transport 5-V now!”
Marko jumped at the magistrate’s scream, startled by a volume he’d never heard before from a commander. “Yes sir, I’ll–” he blurted out, but before he could finish the entire room violently shook.
Both men were knocked to the floor, banging into the panels around them. All of the panels turned bright red, an error at every gear. Then they all flickered and went black. The room was filled with only the glow from beneath the gears. The magistrate stood up, holding on to the edges of the panels in case the room shook again. He looked out, and saw the impossible.
Across the landscape of gears, the glow had faded. He realized that the gears had stopped. All of them. But, somehow, the constant flickering of the glow hadn’t stopped. It’s as if the gears were still spinning, constantly altering the light from below.
The magistrate jumped down the small stairs leading to Marko’s operations level. He stopped at the front of the area, and leaned closer to the glass wall separating the control room from the outside world. He looked down into the gap between his gear and next, trying to find to reason for the continued flickering. Between the tall cogs of the gears, shadows jumped back and forth. Shadows that seemed sharper than they should.
“It’s Canites, sir,” Marko said quietly. “And before they’re done with the gears, they will be eating us too. We’re just bones now, sir.”
The magistrate leaned back from the glass. He removed his helmet, and peered out into the distant mechanical landscape.
“You’re not just bones, Marko. Some will survive, not all of the gears could possibly fall. The larger ones, the original gears like we’re on, will be just fine.”
Marko raised up, shocked. “They eat everything sir! Even the big gears! We have to run or hide or something!”
The magistrate took a step back from the glass, lowering his head. He shook his head back and forth slowly, as if denying what he could see in front of him.
Marko slumped back down, and stared at the floor in defeat.
The magistrate turned, walking over to Marko. “Not everything can be eaten, not the big gears. Even when they are early like this,” the magistrate said.
Marko looked up at the magistrate, confused. What he saw filled him with terror, and try as he might he couldn’t step back. His mind was filled with a vision of teeth, as if tiny gears in the darkness of a mouth.
“Sorry Marko, running or hiding won’t help. And we never leave the bones.”
Copyright 2013 Russell Dickerson, All Rights Reserved.