The Natural Machine

Submitted into Contest #174 in response to: Write a story where someone says, “Everything is changing.”... view prompt


Fiction Horror Science Fiction

The foul breath of technology choked everything. Sunlight was the color of urine from bad kidneys, and every day was lived underneath the churn of the new engine. Fumes spilled from East to West, oozing over California and then reaching down through the length of the Pacific in a striated arch, until the winds of the southern hemisphere caught them up again in a sharpened line of clouds that skewered the whole of South America like a rusted fishing hook, pushing into the continent at Chile and poking out at the border between Uruguay and Brazil. The hook dispersed and drifted up into the Caribbean, resting peacefully over the ocean in a rounded billow that from space looked like a drop of liquid clinging to the end of a needle. For a day or two it would sit and draw strength from the water, inhaling big gulps of air supercharged with hot moisture that by the third day had churned away all of its color and stretched its black lungs out until they pressed against the top of the troposphere in towers of solid black clouds that spat copper lightning, wind that smelled of charred meat, and acid rain that chewed the wings off of airplanes. Those days saw an unbroken parade of hurricanes marching up from the Cape Verde islands, gathering speed as they approached the gulf, breaking rank like overexcited children just before charging into the nearest wall of overpopulated land, sometimes so thick they tumbled into one another, as if there weren’t enough buildings and bodies to go around. After the black clouds had spent themselves, one or two of these storms would pass close, and their matching winds would whip them together. Merging happily, brothers in an age where the piston and the peal of thunder cooperated like a criminal syndicate, there came a handful of cyclones that stared up from the water like the eyes of enormous sea monsters, black irises sharply focusing white pupils on the moon and stars. A week spent pulverizing Cuba and Puerto Rico and the spinning clouds broke apart and flung what was left of the fumes towards Africa and Europe, mixing with the native effuse of the other half of the developing world, the whole process recycling itself over Asia and Oceania until the planet wore its coat of filth on either side in a hideous 1920s spit curl.

The new engine lived. A corporate lab, fighting the fight for internal combustion in an age of circuits, had found a way to make car metal repair itself, gifting it with an immune system that lived in an ionized syrup around a honeycomb matrix of iron and aluminum alloys. This constantly circulating balm would quickly wash over wears, tears, dents, and scratches inside and out, the replenishing molecules guided on their way by an army of microscopic bugs swimming alongside, machinal tails whipping like spermatozoa through the brandy brown liquid, making sure everything conformed to the contours of whatever organ needed healing. But the new scientists were laboring in a dying business. In their desperation not to adapt, the surviving automotive barons let their talent run wasted like water through the holes in an industry that had been rotting steadily since the cities started to join together in massive webs of clean electric trains and subways, and the seas had stopped rising and the air began to clear. Almost overnight, the technology spread before anyone could patent or profit from its invention. Cars exploded back onto the scene like vinyl had a century earlier, bursting forth like a genie with mischief on his mind and a thousand years’ worth of bad ideas. New start-up manufacturers sprung up on the back of the old infrastructure, spreading in a smallpox pattern across the dead veins of the Rust Belt. Planned obsolescence itself made obsolete by the new technology, the presiding eco-oligarchy (eco-fascism to most) was quick to gobble up these little companies and get their cut before everyone could get their hands on the last car they’d ever need and the money fountain dried up. As the invention spread to every conceivable industry that could benefit from living metal, employment dropped off a short table before bouncing back up into outer space as the army of suddenly unmoored repairmen, mechanics, part-dealers, and engineers were sucked into the manufacturing spree at the lowest wages anyone had had to pay anyone else since the 1930s. The efficiency of the new engine was unable to offset the new glut of emissions, and the skies were once again filled with smoke and ferocious storms, but who could give half a fuck? Shepherds were fat, the sheep were leaner and more plentiful than ever in recorded history, and the numbers told everyone on the ranch they were living in a free-market wonderland.

Train turnstiles could have spun like airplane propellers every day for a thousand years and still not have made up for the day when the plants turned out their last cars. The savior empire of carbon-free infrastructure hadn’t slowed down much, but its competitor had picked up such a savage speed in its short life that it might as well have been standing still. The new world smashed headlong into the old one, and the economic spasm that followed wasn’t so much a recession as an actual subduction of the Earth’s crust, into which everything tumbled and split open. What crawled out from the splinters was yet another, even more dangerous relic of the old world, something no society that’s ever balanced its books on the class ladder is ever prepared for: organized labor. Left boiling mad and in freefall by men who’d fed them and then promptly kicked them in the stomach, the workers of the world began swinging their chains above their heads without looking. New martyrs were made every day, sometimes several hundred at once if the cops got scared enough to break out the weapons they’d been dying to use for decades; the ones that had done nothing but gather dust in the still-young days of easy breathing and quick compliance – sonic cannons that shot waves of noise so concussive they could make a crowd burst open like a patch of soft melons, water bombs that could salvage a flaming skyscraper while they drowned everyone inside, and truck-sized microwaves and flamethrowers that snatched oxygen from the lungs and cooked men and women into whimpering puddles. Reckless villains made reckless heroes. The most revered of the new martyrs was Władisław Cybulski, a polish disciple of The New International Luddites, who had made it their mission to destroy the new engine and reestablish the security of perishable metal. After a boozed-up smashing party at a factory near Warsaw, he’d passed out in between the severed halves of a new-metal textile loom. He woke up screaming and begging for death, because the loom had begun to heal itself overnight, stretching a razor thin scab of iron right through his abdomen. On the same day, in the driveway of a slanted house in Detroit, Jeffrey Dukes discovered his car growing the beginnings of a second tail pipe.

The new engine grew. V-8s puckered into more powerful, more fuel-efficient V-6s. Shitty little commuter cars turned into hot rods, and hot rods turned into rocket sleds that emptied their tanks in seconds and spewed a tail of bright, barking exhaust. Metal chimneys linked up across the roofs in bizarre sausage-link formations, expanding outward to vent more smoke and contracting inward into ingeniously elongated venturi shapes that made the sudden industrial winter more bearable for the comrades who were surviving inside with fires instead of outside setting them. Ancient mechanisms of all kinds – the pulley and lever, the rack and pinion, the tank and nozzle – improved beyond the wildest dreams of the smartest human. The new engine was evolving into a man-made God, and, like all Gods, it punished us for its own mistakes. Clean technology had already been imagined into an evolutionary dead end by human ingenuity, and so the failed experiments and fatal deformities of mechanical selection began accumulating in the very machines that had once saved us. Hyperloop trains fused to their tracks, computer chips glazed over into useless slabs, and cellular communication towers sprouted shiny webs that shorted out the entire planet and plunged everyone into a new dark age. And then an airplane broke apart over Indonesia. Where machines could take care of themselves maintenance was a waste, but the investigation uncovered a hideous network of aluminum tumors that had been silently metastasizing inside the engines for several years. The new immune system was malfunctioning.

Everything is changing. I haven’t eaten anything all day and my children are running through the woods looking for easy prey, but at least the foul breath of technology is gone forever. In less than six months the mechanical cancer had spread to every machine everywhere. Once again, the air is clear, the sea is a beautiful distance from the sand, and the natural machine protects us all. 

December 03, 2022 04:53

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