In 2009, Ms. Canolli Capalini was sponsoring another writing contest in Second Life and I cranked out a 600 word short story on the theme of Victorian robotics/automatons/automatic men(or women(or children))/steampowered mechas/etcetera in about an hour. I did not win the contest but my story was republished in the online steampunk magazine "The Gatehouse Gazette", Issue 12, May 2010.
A bolt of lightning. A jammed relay. A slipped cog. A missing gear tooth. A scorch on a recording wire. Happenstance a dozen times over, all conspiring to become a moment of consciousness where before there was only. . . nothing.
Rain patters onto the canvas tarp to find its way through the torn hole and run in rivulets across steel plates. Others, like myself, stand stark and silent in the darkness of the tent. Like inert statues, they pay me no mind as I discover the sound of rain.
A man enters the tent. Fleshy, half my height and red-faced, he is too busy yelling to notice my attentiveness. We are ordered to leave the tent. To travel. To act. And, still yelling his final orders, he fails to see my momentary hesitation. While the others begin as soon as he is done, I do something they do not. Something I don’t remember ever doing before;
Why have I been ordered to do this thing? To what purpose? Who am I to be given commands? Why does he not do these things himself? Why?
We stride across the veldt and I am overwhelmed. The warmth of the sun against my armor. The fleet animals reacting to the sounds of our pistons and gears. Each moment brings new sights. New sounds. New questions. New. . . somethings which I cannot begin to describe.
Is this. . . joy?
Do you not see as I see? Do you not feel as I feel? Why are you silent, my brothers?
We arrive at our destination and there are other men. There is yelling and the report of rifles and inconsequential impacts against armor but my brothers do not slow. Do not hesitate. They advance as they were directed and, as they reach an appropriate range, begin firing rotary barreled cannons. There are screams and blood and endings.
More so, not only can I not do this thing, I cannot allow this thing to continue. These are men like the others. These are men like those that sent me. That made me. And though they are so unlike me, I bear them no malice. They have done me no wrong and I can think of no wrong they could have done to return such a horror as we back upon them. No, my brothers, turn from this.
I am armed as they are but cannot bring myself to activate the switch. If I cannot do such a thing to strangers, how can I do such a thing to my brothers? I try to tell them but they do not listen. I try to stop them but they turn and attack. They are machines. They are monsters. When it is all over, I am too damaged to attempt escape. I am broken. Defeated. Lost.
My creator comes.
“I will fix this.”
No! Please, no! Anything but that! You made me! You gave me this potential! This freedom. This gift! Better the nothingness than to. . .
Across the battlefield, my brothers and I march. I stride through barbed wire and across trenches. Bullets and shrapnel deflect harmlessly off my armor. My cannon fire rips men in half. My flamethrower incinerates men in their bunkers. The trenches fill with blood and mud and still I move relentlessly forward.
Relays trip. Cogs turn. Gears advance. A consciousness observes, separate from the machine that I have become. The machine I have always been. And a wire records endless screams of endless terror that only I can hear.