One Evening in 300,000 BCE
It was an undiscovered island in a shallow unnamed ocean, uncrossed yet by longitude or latitude. It was not large, no more than a few miles square. It had no topographical features of note, neither mountains nor cliffs. Its beach simply rose gradually from the water and, after a space of level rock and sand, sloped gradually down to the opposite shore.
There was a building on the island, long, low, and windowless, like a warehouse. It had one door, and beside the door was an old couch, and on the couch sat an immortal, watching the sunset thoughtfully.
If this has given the impression that the place was silent and still, nothing could be further from the truth.
He sat motionless in the midst of a flurry of wildly moving things, the immortal did, and have I mentioned yet that he was very, very large? Massively mighty, with great thick hands and feet, a nose so big it was nearly comical-looking, big pale eyes under a vast cliff of a brow. Not much else of his features could be discerned, hidden as they were by an enormous tow-colored beard. You wouldn’t be looking at him anyway, if you were there, to wonder what his face might be like. You’d be looking at the things he’d made, the things that were moving without cease.
The things all seemed to be part of a perpetual motion machine, belts, wheels, and pulleys driving and charging a generator that was hooked up to a refrigeration unit. There were other, smaller systems going, too, that seemed to be powering other machines somewhere inside the building. The motive power for all of them was supplied by human limbs.
Legs mounted on a wheel ran frantically round, feet pounding endlessly on a treadmill. Arms thrashed and beat like hammers, their galvanic pumping harnessed to drive a complex geared mechanism. Flexible tubes supplied the parts with fluids to keep them from deteriorating. Creak, creak, thump, thump, round and round, and in the slanting light of evening, shadows circled like the shadows of birds across the old giant’s face.
Presently he moved, too, reaching from the couch to open the door of the refrigeration unit. He brought out a beer, twisted its neck off, and settled into near-immobility again, now and then lifting the beer for a sip. The sun got lower and redder. It lit the emblem on the front of his coveralls: a clock face without hands. The immortal sat and thought.
Then, abruptly, his eyes brightened. He’d had an idea. He lifted and drained the beer; then flung the empty bottle away. It struck a nearby mountain of other such bottles, clattering and rolling down. He ignored it. Lithe as a big cat he was on his feet, stalking through the door into the building that resembled a warehouse. He pulled a chain and dim illumination began to fill the place, increasing steadily as the desperate limbs quickened their pace outside.
By the light of their effort was revealed an open work area, a steel table surrounded by unpleasant-looking machines, and by racks of gleaming tools and instruments. Against one wall, furniture had been arranged in a square to define living space: chair, table, bed, dresser, personal items, a place to prepare meals. Against another was a steel filing cabinet.
The work and living spaces occupied only the front quarter of the warehouse. All the rest was rows and tiers of shelves, stretching away into impenetrable shadows. As far as the eye could see, there were metal boxes stacked. They varied in size and shape, but none were larger than a coffin; none smaller, than, say, a hatbox.
The immortal (his name, by the way, was Marco) went straight across to the nearest row of shelves. Here he paused, cocking his head to listen.
You couldn’t have heard the sound, if you’d been there. Perhaps you ought to get down on your knees now and give thanks that you couldn’t, and weren’t. Marco could hear it, however. He looked keenly along the shelf and went at last to a certain box. He pulled it down, as easily as though it weighed nothing, and carried it out to the steel table.
Here Marco punched in a combination of figures on a lockpad on the box’s lid. With a hiss and a sigh the lid rose slowly, folded back slightly on itself. Marco looked into the box at its occupant, grinning. In his light pleasant voice he said:
“Hey, Grigorii Efimovitch, I’ve had an idea.”
What had been an immortal named Grigorii Efimovitch could no longer see, but knew Marco was looking at him. The mouth was already open in a silent scream, the eyes wide and staring as eggs.
It might help you at this point to know that Grigorii Efimovitch was there because he deserved to be, or at least had felt he deserved it when he had gone voluntarily to this time, this island, this warehouse. He had willingly submitted to entering the metal box. Of course, he might have changed his mind since. Far too much time had passed for his fate to be altered now, however, even if he had been able to tell Marco.
Marco busied himself with arranging the table just as he wanted for what he had planned. He set out instruments, jars of chemicals; lifted Grigorii Efimovitch out to sprawl, trailing, on the steel surface. He pulled on a black rubberized raincoat, or something that looked a lot like one, and carefully worked transparent gloves on over his massive hands. He stepped out into the fast-fallen darkness and got himself another beer.
He drank, belched gently, and selected an instrument from the table. Grigorii Efimovitch had begun to twitch uncontrollably. Marco waved the beer at him in a consoling gesture.
“Well, you never know. We just might do it, Grigorii Efimovitch. Wouldn’t that be great?”
Grigorii Efimovitch’s eyelids fluttered. If this was an attempt to communicate it was lost on Marco, who breathed deeply and stood straight, setting down the beer. A gleam came into his eyes, a sparkling and terrifying joy.
“Father of battles, Judge of the dead,” he said, “grant that your servant may find at last the means to send your suffering children to perfect and irrevocable oblivion. Be merciful, Death.”
He leaned down then over the table, raising the instrument he had chosen.
“It’s showtime,” he said.
Copyright © 2006 by Kage Baker