Like a gear, turning and turning in an endless cycle, he worked. Like a machine, he knew work, and nothing more. No, he was a machine – the human body is but an organic machine. He did not sleep; it had been millennia since sleep had been rendered unnecessary by the genetic engineers. He did not eat or drink; the pumps and tubes injected nutrients into his body throughout the day and night. He did not rest, for what else was there.
“This is pointless” he thought.
“Am I a man? Am I a woman? No, I am but a machine, an autonomous slave”.
He could not distinguish his own thoughts from those of the others, for their minds were intertwined in a collective consciousness.
“But they give us freedom, the freedom to work; they give us meaning” he thought.
His work was simple, monotone, and autonomous. Fluid coursed through the tubes before him, and went on forever; blood flowing through the giant circulatory system of the factory. Where they begin, and where they end, he did not know. Long ago, his eyes had atrophied to almost nothing, as had his mouth, nose, and ears. His legs had grown limp, useless; the pumps and tubes held his body off of the ground, ascending to the ceiling like massive pillars, though not the aesthetically pleasing obelisks of ancient Greece – these were cold and mechanical; a cruel symbol of his plight. For the work at hand, only his arms were necessary, and so they had grown long, yet feeble. This had happened to all of the other machines, as well.
Grasping the needle in his hands, he injected nutrients into the fluid – these were, of course, the very same nutrients which flowed through his body. The Earth had become a factory, an endless assembly line. The finished product, however, was an unknown. But now was not the time to ponder, to hypothesize. Now was the time for work, and so this was life. Life had become work, and work had become life.
A few miles away from him, another machine had stopped working; whether this was of its own free will or if it was simply unable to go on had yet to be seen. Regardless, that machine would be replaced. Those who were unable to continue their work were useless, obsolete. Although he could not see the events as they transpired, the machine had begun to broadcast its thoughts directly to the others. He could see what this other machine could see, and this was the fate which awaited all machines. First, the pumps and the tubes were disconnected from the machine’s body, and as they made their ascension and disappeared into the ceiling above, they tore pieces of the machine’s flesh and spine with them. Though he could not feel pain, he knew that whatever the machine was experiencing at this moment must be what amounts to such a sensation.
After the pumps and tubes had gone, the machine lay on the floor, hot blood pumping from its body. Like a grub, the machine twisted and convulsed. It attempted to drag itself with its arms, but to no avail. The floor itself opened up beneath it, and the machine fell into the dark catacombs of the factory. It was with this that the machine’s broadcast was put to an end, replaced by the usual stream of thought, the collective consciousness of the machines. Where the old machine had once worked, a new one took its place. This one descended from the ceiling, connected to the same pumps and tubes which had once fed the old machine. Thus, the cycle continued, like the gears which turn in their endless cycle.
“No” he thought, “this cannot be all that there is”.
“But we must work, we must. It is our duty to our masters, for they have given us our lives”.
For a moment, he took this into consideration: “Where do I begin? Surely, I must have come from somewhere. Though a machine, I am organic, so I must have been grown? No, only plants are grown. I am human. I must have been born. If so, then where is Mother, and Father?”
It was with this that all of a sudden, work ceased among all of the machines. As he and the others were part of a collective consciousness, the thoughts of one machine must belong to the others. And upon uttering the words “Mother” and “Father”, he had induced a great paradigm shift among all of the machines. Never before had they considered the possibility of birth, or that there had been a time when any one of them did not exist, for no machine knew of individual memory – only very faint traces of human instinct, and even this was gradually slipping away unto nothing. Thus, when faced with the possibility that there had been a time when any one of them simply did not exist, the machines could not help but put an end to their work. And so, for the first time in millennia, no machine worked.
The faint mechanical humming sounds of unknown origin and the occasional gurgling of fluid had vanished. Suddenly, there was a bang, followed by a series of smaller, repetitive noises. Though he was not sure how he knew, he instantly associated these noises with a distant memory – footsteps, and voices. Other machines, still capable (though to a limited degree) of detecting sight and sound, began to broadcast their thoughts throughout the collective consciousness. He saw, in his mind, a small group of people moving between the vast pillars, walking at a brisk pace.
“But how can they walk?” he thought, “Where are their tubes and pumps? How do they feed?” The apparent leader of this group, referred to by the others as “foreman” was clearly angry. “What is anger?” he thought.
“Would someone like to tell me why these goddamned machines have just up and stopped working?” demanded foreman.
“W-we don’t know sir, diagnostics check out just fine” said one of foreman’s cohorts.
“The boys tell me that it could have something to do with a block in the communications network, but they’re not sure yet” said another.
“Well go and figure it out, otherwise the eggheads down in the fertility clinic are gonna have my ass” replied foreman, blunt as ever.
“What is the fertility clinic?” he thought.
“I swear to God, these fucking things are useless. Used to be when you wanted a machine, you could just build one from metal. But now it’s all about genetic engineering – how we should just grow the damned things” said foreman as he hurried off, with the others in suite.
“Have one sent down to maintenance, and maybe we can figure this out” were the last words uttered by foreman before the nutrients had stopped flowing through his body. Next was a horrible tearing sensation, as the pumps and tubes were forcefully removed from his body by unknown means. As pieces of his own flesh were removed with them, he fell to the floor. Because he did not know how else to react, he twisted and convulsed on the floor in an ever-growing pool of his own hot blood, arms flailing about, and pain rippling throughout his entire body. Then, finally, falling, as the floor opened up beneath him, and he fell below, into the catacombs. There was darkness, and there was heat. With the sounds of clanking and churning, deafening in their epic scale, he knew that he was among the machines of the ancient past, built from iron rather than flesh.
By now he had stopped falling, and had somehow been caught by some sort of moving floor. Though removed from the collective consciousness, he had no exact idea of that which transpired around him. Suddenly, he heard voices. Then, a faint orange glow, which quickly grew to an intensity which he had never before experienced – had he entered a new consciousness, than surely this must be far greater than any he had known before. Almost instantly, he was swept in a wave of thought: millions, perhaps even billions of machines, all of which uttered “Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy” in an endless, almost hypnotic chant. Though he did not know how, he instantly became aware of what purpose this room served: this was the fertility clinic. The blinding light was in fact produced by embryonic fluid, made luminescent from within billions of artificial wombs. Within these devices, he found the source of the new collective consciousness: machines, still in their foetal stages.
“This”, he thought, “must be what foreman meant when he said that machines are grown”.
He noticed that flowing into the wombs were tubes, albeit much smaller than those which had once fed him. Within these tubes was a familiar fluid, the very same fluid for which he had once injected nutrients. Thus, he had at long last learned the nature of his work: his job had been to maintain the embryonic fluid which kept the foetal machines alive during the crucial stages of their development; machines tending to the subsequent generations, which would ultimately replace each other again and again.
Eventually, the moving floor took him away from the fertility clinic, and into what he assumed was “maintenance”. The collective consciousness had been reduced to its former state, and so he knew that he must now be among his old kin. And yet, no machine uttered a single thought, though he could now see and hear his surroundings, indicating that he must presently be among the older generations.
“Is this the one they sent down, you know, for the communications problem?” said an unseen voice.
“Yeah – let’s take a look inside so we can all head home; I’m putting in overtime as it is” said another.
For a moment, he heard no voices. He saw only a new, unpleasant light, glaring down at him from above. Then, the soft whir of some mechanical blade, followed by the grinding of metal against flesh, and bone – his bone, as the blade cut through his skull and into his brain. Almost instantaneously, he became unable to think, yet somehow able to see, hear, and feel his surroundings.
“Hmm, what do you think of that? Possible regenerated brain tissue to compensate for the cerebral scarring?” said one of the voices.
“Definitely, check out the inhibitors – completely overwhelmed” replied the other.
“You figure this could’ve led to, I don’t know, independent thought?” whimpered the first voice.
“I know it sounds like some sci-fi bullshit, but believe it or not, this wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. Will go with the regular course of action; though make sure to have the foreman keep a keen eye out for any similar brain activity. We’ll also re-examine the possibility of completely removing the cerebral cortex from all future generations, but not until tomorrow. I’ve got the wife waiting at home with dinner.”
“Sounds good” replied the first voice.
And so, that was it. In his final moments, he became aware of his fate: his brain would be removed and preserved for future review, while his body would be recycled into the very nutrients which had once fed him. Future generations of machines would grow weary, become obsolete, and would meet a similar fate, for this was the fate which awaited all machines, and perhaps humanity itself.