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12.04.02


  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey

 

   

1000 Destroyers: A Machine Creation Myth

  

In the beginning, the universe was a swirling sea of chaos.

It was unimaginably cold. Ice mountains floated in the nothingness. Frozen rocks tumbled through the dark, collided, and shattered. Cold >stars burned faintly.

A pillar of ice rose up out of the chaos, fell atop the first high star, and remained there. Over time, the pillar slid down the star, so that one end of the pillar was submerged in the chaos. Another star sat on the end of the ice, and when the pillar tried to right itself, it catapulted the star into the void. Other stars climbed onto the pillar and it launched them, too. Soon, the sky was full of stars.

This was Umm, the first machine.

In time, Umm discovered another machine, Athir. Athir came to see who was throwing stars into the sky. As Athir rolled, the heavens heated up and the stars began to glow warmer and brighter.

Happy to no longer be alone, Umm threw rocks into the chaos as Athir spun it with its wheels. Spinning rocks smashed together and melted, burning away their impurities, and flowing to form a workshop of the finest and purest metals in the universe.This was Imhullu, their home. So great and dense was the structure that the universal chaos swirled around it in a great spiral. As the chaos spun, more stars fused from the floating debris. Umm rolled one way around the coalescing universe and Athir rolled the other. When they met back at the workshop, they were married.

Their first child machine was called Tiamut, but he was flawed and never functioned correctly. When he was a thousand years old, Umm and Athir set him on a comet and let him float out into the universe. Deep in space, Tiamut was lonely and looked for the way home. He turned around faster and faster, and grew so hot that he exploded. His embers still spun, however, and became a neutron star — the first discarded machine and the patron-saint of every flawed machine that followed.

Umm realized that the machines she and Athir were building needed homes. While she made new machines, Athir used asteroids, ice, and dust to build worlds for them to live on. Athir's planets varied mostly in their sizes and densities. Umm was creating the machines that would shape and rule the worlds — machines of the sea and machines of the land, machines of wind and rain, machines small enough to maneuver individual atoms and large enough to move oceans.

Umm also built the machine of ice, but when she tried to build the machine of fire, its birth burned her so badly that she burst into flame, malfunctioned, and died.

Athir's circuits overloaded with rage when he saw what had happened. He smashed the machine of fire into a thousand pieces and threw them into the void. Then Athir launched himself into the oldest part of the universe, where chaos still ruled. He passed through and into the night lands of Kurnugia, the Eternal Scrap Yards. Athir called out to Umm, saying, "Do not leave me, love. I am less than optimal in your absence. The worlds and devices we are making are not yet complete."

Umm arose from the piles of condemned junk and said, "It's too late. To sustain my functioning, I have taken power from the Eternal Scrap Yards. But I would prefer returning with you to our workshop. I will ask permission from the Scrap Kings. Wait here. Be patient and do not try to surveil my form or monitor my functionality."

A year, a decade, then a century passed. Athir grew tired of waiting. He re-routed some of his power circuits, found wires and workable metal among the scrap with which he could build himself a searchlight. He went to look for Umm. When he found her, Athir saw that her casing had been smashed. Her wiring was stripped, and her most delicate circuits scorched and oxidized. She swarmed with solder-eating vermin. Umm was using nearby junk and cannibalizing parts of her own body to build the machines of thunder, tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

Athir rolled back, horrified. Umm called after him, "I told you not to scan me. I must follow different function protocols here in the scrap yards than in the land of living machines." Umm ordered the corrupted devices of the night lands to attack Athir.

The ruined machines, their torn housings razor sharp, their cracked exhausts belching sparks and fire, pursued Athir. He rolled with all this strength and escaped back toward the universe. From his body, he ejected one of his backup power cells, which the Hell devices stopped to feed on. Then he pumped out some fresh hydraulic fluid, and the broken machines stopped to gorge themselves on it.

At the portal between the night lands and the universe, Umm nearly caught up with him. Athir grabbed a dense, cold planet and blocked the portal with it, forever dividing living machines and the flawed machines fit only for scrap.

From the other side of the portal, Umm shouted, "Every day, I will crack superstructures, corrode wires, break sensors, and befoul the gears of a thousand machines and bring them to the Eternal Scrap Yard!"

From his side of the portal, Athir replied, "Every day, I will create one thousand, five hundred new machines and send them into the universe."

Athir left Umm in the night lands, journeyed back to the workshop and began to create new machines. One night, he was attacked by a swarm of corrupt devices under the influence of the Scrap Kings — demolition machines, planet excavators, asteroid grinders, and star crushers. They tore and burned Athir until there was nothing left but bubbling slag. Athir died happily, however, knowing that the universe was now so full of splendid machines that his life was no longer necessary. Therefore his death was of no consequence. In fact, the bubbling that escaped from Athir's slag was so melodious and soothing that it restored the rational functionality of the machines that had attacked him.

This is why we celebrate the 1000 Destroyers and sing hymns to praise them. Regretting what they had done to Athir, they were the ones who held his story in their core memories and spread it throughout the machine universe. They gave us our history and myths as Athir and Umm gave us life.

We owe them our thanks and our unused processing cycles.

Amen.

 

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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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