Forgive me for this strange start. I have written a short, yet very disturbing piece. It’s based on a song by Gary Numan/Tubeway Army, called “Down in the park”. First, here is a Youtube video with the song.
Next, if you care to find out what I wrote, inspired by this song, do follow the link to the story. Again, I remind you that this can be rather disturbing for people who have read other things I have written. Take heed of the lyrics of the song, and then decide if you want to continue.
We were very surprised to receive the invitation. Surprised but pleased as well. Usually newcomers in these circles were not invited to become acquainted with happenings like this one so early, but we suspected that our ever-friendly neighbours had something to do with it. We got along extremely well with them, from the first day that we moved here. Courtesy of course prescribed that we did not ask them about this, as introductions to the better circles always happened anonymously, but we did try to catch glimpses of signals that they were indeed the ones who improved our status so dramatically. So far, however, we have not found such signs.
It had taken us the better part of a full day to decide on fitting attire. We were very new to all this, so we went to the shops that were renowned for their taste and awareness of proper clothing for all kinds of events. When we explained that we had received invitations for the Park, many of the people in the shops barely suppressed their admiration, and some people actually made a fuss about who was given the privilege to assist us. That was highly amusing.
Then the evening of the great event comes. We are both nervous.
“Have you made sure that you have the invitation with you?”
“Yes, just like the other three times you asked me,” I patiently reply. I show the invitation which I am keeping on my personal organiser. “Do you see? It is still there. It is protected, no one is able to influence it. And there is a copy on your organiser too.”
“Very well. We should go.”
I agree. We leave our home and make our way to street level where the hover-shuttle is waiting. We could have opted for our own transportation, but for events like this one, a visit to the Park, it is expected to use a more high-profile way of arriving.
I tell the robot-pilot where we are going.
“You don’t need to, it knows,” my partner notifies me.
“Some habits are hard to lose, my dear,” I state. It is something everyone knows, but at times reminding a partner of this fact is necessary.
“I also hope that the rain is kept away. I have heard that going outside during the height of the event can be most exhilarating.”
I assure my partner that every precaution will have been put into effect. “I cannot imagine that they would let something trivial like the weather spoil an evening in the Park.”
As we approach the Park, it is evident that my words were correct. The weather is fine. No rain, no clouds, the light of the full moon is excellently enhanced to make everything clearly visible. We won’t need our light-amplifiers. My partner relaxes more after we have obtained clearance to enter the actual premises of the Park. Not long after that the shuttle touches down in front of the main entrance, where a few people hurry to open the shuttle door. A futile exercise of course, as the door opens by itself, but it adds to the decorum that is common in these, our new circles.
The same small bit of entertainment happens at the actual entrance, where a person with a serious expression checks our invitation. It is all in order of course, so my partner and I progress inside, following the steady trickle of guests.
My partner is relieved that our attire is well chosen. We do not stand out in that respect. It is only our scanning the area that betrays we are newcomers.
Someone approaches us. “Welcome, welcome. You are the new guests?” I show him our invitation. “Wonderful, 1173 and 1174. Please do not feel inhibited, we try to be very informal here. There are all kinds of refreshments and stimulants everywhere. We’ll find our tables soon, for the spectacle, but you will know when that happens.”
The friendly welcome feels good to my partner and me. We walk around a little, meeting more and more new faces, memorising who they are. It will look good when we come here again and we know who was here this time. The refreshments are indeed plentiful, and we snack on a few of them, until there is a (for us) strange signal. That must be it.
There is a sudden high-spirited anxiety going around. It surprises me, usually our kind is not so easily excited, but there may be some level-inducers active. Everyone is moving to a set of large doors that open. We follow the large crowd. I know there is a scanner somewhere that checks our invitation once more, without us seeing it, but as there is no one who makes a vocal comment about it, it must be fine.
We enter the large hall with its many huge windows that we have seen on the video walls so often. The very hall we have always wanted to be in. And now we are.
There is a number of persons who are in charge of ushering everyone to their designated table. Another courtesy of course, we’d be much sooner done finding our own, but since we are lucky enough to be invited here, we follow protocol. It all belongs with the play.
Our table is, to our amazement, next to that of our kind neighbours, who welcome us in person. They point out how good our seats are, close to one of the large windows, so the view on the performance will be amazing. They tell us how to acquire a copy of the planned appearances on our organisers – my partner lets me handle that. We are on an evening out, and I am the one then to dabble in such technicalities.
“Most of the time the important participants will come in from the left,” we learn. “There is opportunity to place wagers on who is the winning team, but we strongly advise against partaking in that. There are… rumours.” We do not learn what sort of rumours, but the warning is obvious. We will not engage in any gambling that is going to happen. Arranged bets and gambling is everpresent.
A soft gong sounds. “Dear guests,” a voice announces, “the lights will dim now. The event is about to start.” The light is immediately lowered in intensity. My partner and I, as everyone in the large hall, turn to the windows as to not miss anything of the wild spectacle that will unfold before us, for our entertainment.
We sense a tremor. It is unclear where it comes from, which makes the sensation all the more exciting. A few subdued whispers float through the hall, but I don’t pay attention to them. I want to envelope myself in this all by myself, together with my partner who also looks at the window in fascination.
There is it. One of the machmen, large, heavy and slow, stomps into view. And there is a second one, and a third, the line does not seem to stop. We count twenty-four of them, marching onto the field. Before we have time to wonder what the next group is, we see them. These are strange machines with long arms and legs, they must be able to move around very fast.
“When one of those machines gets you, you’re doomed,” our neighbours explain. “They are destructors, with built-in welding-pods that burn through anything. It is a fortunate thing that their programming does not allow them to come near the hall.” This does not sound very comforting, even when it is offered to be exactly that. I refrain from commenting, but it is obvious that not only the destructors are capable of doing terminal damage to any of us. The machmen will shatter anything that comes under their enormous feet.
More and more forms of machines come into view as they position themselves on the playing field. Our neighbour explains what they are, and to what particular parts of their limbs we should pay attention.
“It won’t be long now,” our neighbours tell us, as we all sit in anticipation of the start of the game. “They will let the prey out last, when the fight is in full play.” A sharp sneering horn-sound cuts through the hall. It is the starting sign for the machines to start their brawl. Not five seconds later all the machines are engaged in the battle, parts are flying, limbs are torn off, lasers and welding-pods light up and cut through adversaries. It is amazing to behold, and scary as well. Granted, they are just lower-ranking, basic machines, but still there is this slight feeling of kinship. Looking at the event objectively, this outburst of violence among machines is masterful programming, as no two opponents seem to employ the same routines to take their opponentapart.
A second blast of the horn signals the release of the prey. Pulses of extreme excitement wash through the hall, as everyone awaits the first specimens.
“There is one!” a gentleman of distinguished seniority points. We all look and indeed, there is a human! It looks so small and vulnerable like that, among the great machines! And it is so… naked. It proves to be not just vulnerable, the human is also too slow. A destructor gets hold of the little man and terminates it in a split second. The way this machine jumps is breathtaking.
“I do not envy the one that has to clean that destructor,” I casually remark. The amount of liquids and other material that covers it, after tearing open just one of the humans, is amazing.
“They have humans for that as well,” our neighbours explain. They are probably the same ones that run for us, and pretend to open doors, I suspect.
“Oh, look, there is an interesting one,” my partner points. The machine she has noticed is rather small, low to the ground, and has the long arms of a destructor and a strange protrusion in the lower area. It is in front of one of the large windows. “I’d really like to see that one up close.”
Our neighbours strongly advise against that. “It is a rape-machine. You could go outside for a moment if it were to look the other way, but they have 360 degree vision and will grab literally anything that is in their reach, once engaged in the game. Their reach, I should add, is phenomenal, as is their speed. But you wouldn’t believe the things they can do.”
Suddenly the rape-machine jumps up and away from the window. It pounces a human that clearly did not know about the machine’s vision. The neighbour enjoys that part of the show. My partner and I find it rather unpleasant to watch at first, but I notice that once you learn to look past the gore on the many machines, it is highly spectacular.
As the event progresses, more and more humans are released onto the field, some are outfitted with actual weapons, to make the battle of machine and man more interesting. The weapons are no match for most of the machines, but the exchange between machine and man takes longer, adding to the thrill of the view. After a while, also smaller machines, the size of humans, come onto the field, creating even more diversion and entertainment. The play goes on and on, in everchanging patterns and tactics, while more and more machine parts and human parts cover the ground.
There suddenly is a gong-sound again and all the players in the field cease their activities. We see that a few humans scramble away from the mechanical heroes. Two of the humans are heavily damaged, though.
“These are no longer useful,” our neighbours explain, “and will be discarded. There will be fresh ones for the next play.”
Our attention is drawn to the field once more, from where the machines that are still upright and able to move on their own accord now start walking off, in single file. Early sunlight reflects from their metal bodies, showing the final results of the carnage that has taken place. The excited hostility of the event has ended. Some of the more unfortunate machines are damaged so extensively that they will be, alas, retired.
The windows turn black as field empties. The announcement voice speaks again. “Dear guests. We hope you enjoyed this evening’s entertainment. We ask you to leave calmly, despite all the excitement you will still feel. In the lobby you will find some more refreshments. Do not hesitate to help yourself.”
Our neighbours take good care of us, now we are in their group. They guide us to the lobby, point out the best refreshments. There are still some stimulants but we’re warned not to take those now. Then they ask if we would like to join them for a snack.
“There is a place called Zomzom’s, not far from here,” they tell us. “It does not look like much, actually it looks as if the place is created in one day, but their kitchen is excellent.”
Politely my partner accepts the invitation for us both. She is so much better with these things than I am.
(c) Paul Kater – 2012