01 Feb There’s Something Between the Gears
Good day, prospective Evolutionist! You’re reading this because you believe the human species is on the decline. You believe there is only one logical path forward: the human species must evolve. And you believe there is only one way to accomplish such a feat: through technology. The Industrial Evolutionists have heard your call and share your interest. We’ve spent years researching this issue and believe we have found a solution, a way forward. If you’re interested in learning more, we urge you to follow the directions to this address…
Lucas held the flyer between his fingers, skimming it over once again. It contained a bunch of preachy nonsense about “the glory of the machines” and whatnot. Parts of it didn’t make much sense, and the flyer itself looked as if it had been made in Microsoft Word in five minutes. Fairly ironic considering it went on and on about “using technology to its fullest” and “reaping the benefits of doing so.”
To put it lightly, the Industrial Evolutionist movement was not what he was expecting when he was told he would be investigating possible cultist activity. He had gone undercover before and dealt with overzealous religious people, but never a combination of the two. So it was with great uncertainty he agreed to investigate the Industrial Evolutionists. His boss hadn’t told him much (or at least, he couldn’t remember much; his memory of the assignment’s overview was a bit murky), but he was handed the flyer and told it would explain what he needed to know.
The flyer had given an overview of the movement’s ideals (the proper use of technology, humanity’s dependence and continued dependence on machines, and the proposed “evolutionary path” humanity should take), but little more; he still didn’t quite know what he was investigating. He was to be on the lookout for possible cult activity, but nothing about the Industrial Evolutionists screamed “cultist”. Sure, they seemed like a bunch of misguided optimists following an unrealistic idea, but the same could be said, whether true or not, about every religion.
Still, the idea of posing as an initiative and infiltrating a cult was certainly intriguing. He looked out his car window and at the Evolutionist’s so-called “compound”. In reality, the commune’s place of meeting equated to little more than a rundown warehouse, right smack in the middle of the city’s industrial district. The place looked long abandoned: the windows were boarded up with rotting wood, there were cracks in the concrete running up the walls, chips in dulled, red paint, and not a single mark identifying the building as the Industrial Evolutionist’s meeting area. That raised a few questions right off the bat: were the followers here illegally? And if so, how long? Of course, it wasn’t like he could ask the questions without arousing suspicion.
Lucas gazed carefully at the types of people that casually strolled into the warehouse. Men, women, young, old, of all shapes and sizes ducked through the door and out of sight. Most seemed to have an at best, cautious, and at worst, paranoid, look about them. They shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably and consistently glanced over their shoulders checking to see if they were being watched (which, in all fairness, they were). Lucas counted around fifty before he stepped out of his car and into the cool night. The breeze nipped at the back of his neck as he checked the time. 11:50. Just about time for the meeting to begin.
He pulled his coat up, his hat over his face, and thrust his hands into his pockets as he began to cross the street. He didn’t make it far however, before he felt someone crash into him from behind. He whirled around instinctively and saw a young woman, her head mostly obscured by a gray hood, smiling up at him in embarrassment.
“Sorry!” she exclaimed quickly, “I wasn’t paying attention, and you just jumped out of your car and I totally didn’t see you there!”
Lucas smiled back calmly, wanting to have a friendly demeanor towards these followers, “It’s alright,” he said cooly, “Hey, I’m actually fairly new here. Are you part of the Industrial Evolution movement? I could use some directions and guidance if you could…” he motioned to the warehouse, letting his words trail off.
“Oh! No, I’m not – well, I am – but I don’t-” she hurriedly fished a crumpled flyer similar to the one Lucas held out of her pocket, “This is my first meeting too! I mean, I got this letter about a week ago, and it seemed sort of interesting, and I wanted to learn more so I – came here! Uh, this is the right place, right? I mean, I know you just said-”
“Assuming the address on that paper is correct, then yeah, this is the right place.”
“Right! But I don’t know, it just seems sort of, uh, gross? It’s all broke up and… ugly. I don’t know, I just kind of expected more. Hey! Um, if you don’t mind me asking, where did you get your letter? Uh, you do have one, right? A flyer like this?” She held up her paper.
“I got one in the mail like you.” In all honesty, Lucas hadn’t thought about it nor had an answer prepared. Hers seemed to work well enough.
“Oh, you did? Oh. Cool. Yeah, yeah, weird, huh? How they just “know” to send you one?” Lucas took note of the her uneasiness around the subject, “Oh! I’m Alyssa, by the way!” She stuck out her hand eagerly, changing the subject.
“Ian James,” Lucas replied, shaking her hand graciously, “It’s getting pretty chilly out here, Alyssa. We should head inside and hope someone else can tell us where to go from there.”
“Smart!” She agreed and followed beside him as he crossed the street.
They walked in silence as Lucas thought to himself. She’s bit enthusiastic, but seems harmless. If this is the kind of company the Industrial Evolutionists are attracting, then there shouldn’t be any real issues.
They approached the rusted and faded door to the warehouse. Lucas held the door for Alyssa; she smiled and pretended to curtsy before heading inside. Lucas followed her in, instantly feeling a wave of warm air across his face. He stepped inside, gazing at the sixty or so people around him who chatted among themselves happily about a variety of mundane topics. The room was well lit, attributed to a series of lights overhead, yet there was a hazy fog above the crowd, dimming the lights and insulating the heat. It smelled of coal, smoke, and another odor Lucas couldn’t quite place. Rows of folding chairs had been set up in front of a wooden platform that acted as a stage of sorts. On top of the platform sat a podium and a large rectangular object with a cloth draped over it. Lucas tried to make out any features of the object, but they were obscured by the cloth. The object was around thirty feet long and twenty feet high; the fog around the room seemed to emanate from beneath the cloth.
“Ian!” Lucas looked about the room and saw Alyssa sitting down, patting a seat next to her. She had since removed her hood and let her long brown hair flow down her shoulders. Lucas made his way over to her and sat down, deciding it best to try and blend in instead of immediately asking questions to the other followers in the room. A few of the other people had sat down as well, scattered amongst the room, but most stood around in groups. Lucas listened in to some of the nearby conversations.
“… Who do you think it will be tonight? I’m going to volunteer, but I doubt Father Mason will select me.”
“… I see there are some new people here. It’s really good to see that the movement has expanded its appeal. God knows we’ll need them.”
“… Sacrifice? No, it’s a merging of one being into another. Sacrifice is too broad a term.”
That last one made Lucas a bit wary. Most casual conversations didn’t revolve around the term, “sacrifice”. He wished he knew what led up to that line, but couldn’t directly ask without raising suspicion. Something was wrong, but he didn’t have any evidence or idea as to what was wrong. He didn’t let his concern show on his face however, instead staring straight ahead, emotionless. After a good while, he turned to Alyssa, who had been humming an uneven tune to herself amidst the commotion.
“So…” he began, catching her attention, “Do you know anything about the Industrial Evolution movement?”
She scratched the back of her neck and paused before answering, “Not much. I mean, I read what the letter said, and decided to do some further research over the internet, but that’s about it. I get the gist about what the movement is about, but not much more than that.”
“Really? What’d you find online? I didn’t even think to look anything up.” Truthfully, Lucas had done extensive research over the internet, but had been unable to find any mention of the Industrial Evolutionists. He was surprised and a bit suspicious that Alyssa had dug anything up.
“Well, as you can probably guess by the name, it’s an extension of the Industrial Revolution – or at least, the basic idea of the Revolution. It’s like… machinery revolutionized and continues to improve the human lifestyle, so – wait, that’s a bad way of putting it. Okay, so think of it like this: machinery is a natural extension of humanity and thus, should be the focus for advancing the human species. It’s the next step in evolution. Does that make sense?”
“Good! That’s the core belief behind the movement. There are some…” her tone grew uncomfortable, “other parts of the movement centering around the worship of some grand machine entity, but I didn’t think that was really-”
Now Lucas was interested, “Hang on. What kind of worship? Tell me about this entity.”
“Oh… Well, a name kept popping up as I read through the articles. So-Saitys. I don’t really know anything else-”
“Who is this, ‘So-Saitys?’ Some kind of god? A demon maybe?”
“I – I don’t really know. I think ‘demon’ would be closer than ‘god’, but that’s probably not the best term to use.”
“Hail So-Saitys! The Infernal Machine!” Lucas and Alyssa turned to the voice behind them and saw an older, grimy man coming towards them. His face was stretched wide in an eager grin and stained with sickly gray patches blotted all over. He placed his hands on Alyssa’s and Lucas’s chairs and Lucas could see that they were covered in gray patches as well.
“Always good to see a few fresh faces!” the man continued, “I’m Father Mason, by the way; I lead the Industrial Evolutionists. I’m quite surprised in your knowledge of us, young lady. Most come to these meetings without any advanced knowledge of the movement, but I can see that you’ve done your research.” Alyssa smiled at him without saying a word.
“I’m Ian, by the way,” Lucas said, breaking the silence. Father Mason smiled at him and nodded. Lucas continued, “Ian James. This is Alyssa. Can you tell me more about So-Saitys? I wasn’t aware of his part in this movement.”
“Ahhh, I find your desire for knowledge quite refreshing, Mr. James. Just sit tight, and listen in to the sermon, and all of your questions will be answered.”
Lucas smiled and nodded, before holding out his hand, “Alright, will do. I look forward to learning more about this movement.”
Father Mason shook Lucas’s hand, “As do I look forward to teaching it. It was nice meeting you two! I hope you stick around for the entire sermon.” With that, he walked towards the platform, stopping every now and then to greet and chat with the other members of the crowd. Once he finally stepped onto the platform, a wave of urgency swept through the crowd, silencing them as they hurried to find seats. There was very little chatter left by the time Father Mason began to speak. Lucas sat intently, listening with great interest. He could certainly see the cult roots beginning to take form.
“Good evening everyone!” Father Mason’s voice bellowed throughout the warehouse, “I’m so glad to see that so many of you are here tonight. There are a few new faces in the crowd as well – that really warms my heart. To see that our little commune is visibly growing, well, it gives an old man hope.
“But you didn’t come here tonight to listen me ramble. You came here because you’re concerned for the future of the human species!” There were a few cheers from the crowd. Lucas stayed silent and leaned back in his chair. “You’re here because no one else has the courage to do what we do! You’re here because the governments of the world have turned a blind eye to our plight! Your cries for assistance, your pleas for attention, your worries and concerns have fallen on deaf ears! These other so-called ‘religious movements’ have turned you away! They have been corrupted by commercialism, idealistic principles, and simple human neglect! We are the last hope for humanity! We do what we must because no else is able!” Cheers sounded throughout the warehouse once again, more enthusiastic than the last. Lucas joined in as well, grinning despite it all. These people were obviously crazy, taking them down would be no trouble at all.
“You are all here for a reason!” Father Mason continued, pacing around the wooden platform, “You have all been chosen by the great So-Saitys to lead humanity in the coming days! None of your appearances here are accidental!” Father Mason seemed to glare in Lucas’s direction upon uttering that line. Lucas smirked, finding the irony in that statement amusing. He glanced over at Alyssa, expecting to find her cheering and shouting. Instead, she sat quietly, fidgeting with her hands uneasily.
Lucas leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Are you feeling alright? You look a bit on edge.”
“What? Oh! No, I’m just a bit anxious is all. This is all so much to take in at once.”
“We have the tools to forge our destiny, but yet – they go unused! They sit in the corner, collecting dust, only used in the most trivial circumstances! I say, no more! Not since the Industrial Revolution has technology changed the lives of so many! In these coming days, I intend to drag humanity to glory, whether they are willing or not! I refuse to let our species suffer because some people were afraid of progress!” Father Mason paused, letting the crowd cheer in agreement. Despite having no idea what he was talking about, Lucas stood up and cheered Father Mason on. He enjoyed playing the part of an eager and empty-minded cultist.
“So-Saitys has given us the instruments of our future and the opportunity to put them to work! We simply provide the fuel to the fire, the manpower necessary to operate such machinery. In a way, we drive our own species forward every time we operate the Infernal Machine! And that is why we are here tonight! To advance the human species, we must run the Machine! We must run the So-Saitys Machine! That is our purpose! We must feed the Machine! We must feed So-Saitys! We must let him complete his task!”
Amongst the praise for So-Saitys, Father Mason removed the sheet from the object on stage, revealing a large, mechanical contraption. It was a large piece of industrial machinery, a steel box full of numerous exposed, turning gears and cogs. Dials and gauges lined the side, next to a series of pistons and pipes leaking steam. Sparks danced from loose wires and the fog that covered the room emanated from a smokestack near the top of the machine. There was a large turning crank on the side of the machine, connected to a large sequence of gears and belts. There appeared to be an input chute of sorts near one of the ends of the device, large enough for a person to squeeze through. The apparatus emitted a muffled humming sound, amidst the clinking sounds of metal smacking upon metal.
Lucas sat back in his chair and examined the scene before him. The rest of the crowd was ecstatic, some leaping from their chairs and attempting to approach the machine, with which Father Mason shooed them away. The room filled with a thicker haze and the sounds of machinery appeared to grow louder as the crowd’s combined voices rose. Alyssa sat back, eyeing the machine onstage curiously. Lucas was a bit concerned about the machine’s purpose, but tried his best to hide it. These people were harmless so far, but he worried that he knew the exact purpose of the machinery before him. Despite this, he resolved not to break his cover, no matter what happened next. If these people really were dangerous, then he’d need to play his cards right.
“Not what you were expecting, huh?” Lucas turned to see Alyssa grinning wryly at him, “Ian, I – I like you. I know you’re new to this, but I really think you should leave. Some things are going to happen in the next few minutes that you want no part in.”
Lucas looked at her quizzically, afraid at what she was getting at. Nonetheless, he had to stay, regardless. “Are you kidding? Just when it’s getting interesting! No way – I need to know more.”
Alyssa hesitated and then shook her head, “There are forces at play here beyond you or me. You want no part in their quarrel.”
Before Lucas could respond, Father Mason began his speech again, “And here he is! So-Saitys, the Infernal Machine! Who among you, my brothers, is worthy of joining him? Who among you wishes to feed the machine? To use your body as a driving force in humanity’s evolution? Who among you wishes to throw your body upon his gears and into the pits of eternity?” Numerous figures in the crowd shot up, raising their hands and begging for the opportunity. Lucas sat still, breaking into a cold sweat as he dreaded what was going to happen. Father Mason gazed around the room, pointing at various followers and shaking his head. After about a minute of this, he held up a hand, urging silence, and continuing his sermon, “I appreciate your eagerness, my brothers, but tonight is a special occasion. You see, there is a special guest among us. So-Saitys has sent us a body.”
There were hushed murmurs among the crowd. Lucas kept his down and his eyes fixed on the Machine, trying to avoid suspicion. He was confident that he hadn’t been detected. It wasn’t possible. There was no way they could have detected him, right? Father Mason paced around the platform before settling down behind the podium. He gazed directly at Lucas as he spoke, “Yes, this person may believe they have infiltrated our inner sanctum, but they are only here because So-Saitys wills it. This person has been sent to us to serve not only as fuel to the Machine, but as an example. To show that we are not a force to be trifled with! To show that So-Saitys holds the power! To show that we are the future of humanity!” Lucas gulped and looked around quickly searching for the nearest exit. There stood around thirty people between him and the door, if he made a dash for it in the next few seconds, he might have a chance…
He turned to stand up only to see Alyssa had risen from her chair as well. She moved in his direction brandishing a sizable pistol in her hand. Thinking quickly, Lucas leapt at her, reaching for the gun before she had a chance to train it on him. She yelped in surprise and the two fell to the ground, fighting for the weapon. Alyssa grabbed at the gun and tried to roll away, but Lucas managed to pin her arm and wrestle the gun away.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Alyssa snarled, “You’re going to ruin everything!”
“I’m not letting you crazy bastards anywhere near me!” Lucas stood up, pointing the pistol at the nearby followers who had risen to investigate the commotion. He slowly backed his way towards the door as the the crowd moved to clear a path for him. Alyssa leapt up and started bolting towards the door. Lucas pointed the pistol in her direction, and she stopped, throwing her hands up instinctively. “Oh no you don’t!” Lucas shouted, “All of you are just going to stay put while I-”
“You idiot!” Alyssa shouted, moving towards him, “I’m not with them! I’m-”
“Ah! I see Mr. James has already apprehended the suspect!” Father Mason’s voice gleefully echoed across the walls, “Bring her to me. Bring me the follower of Lud!”
Lucas lowered his gun in confusion and stepped away. Alyssa darted towards him frantically, “Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me! Please! Anything’s better than-” she shouted, but Lucas stepped further away, trying to make sense of the situation.
The crowd converged on the two, shuffling past Lucas and towards Alyssa. She fought and kicked them away, but was soon overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people before her. She screamed and yelled obscenities at the men and women around her as they dragged her towards Father Mason. Meanwhile, Lucas received praise and pats on the back as those around him thanked him for disarming the “Luddite”.
“Fucking machinists!” Alyssa screeched, “You follow a false entity, a box of moving parts! May Lud curse all of you whores! Your machine is nothing more than that – a fucking machine! You achieve nothing but pointless death! You fucking-”
Four followers carried Alyssa by her limbs to Father Mason through the crowd, while the others stood to observe the chaos. Once there, they bound her arms and legs in rope and tied a piece of cloth around her mouth. She bit down and attempted to scream more curses at them, but Father Mason’s voice overpowered hers, “It is true! What we have before us is a follower of Lud! A filthy Luddite, come to disrupt our actions and progress. This regressive serves as a reminder that So-Saitys is not without his enemies, those that would impede his purpose. Lud! Brother of So-Saitys and the lesser of the two! This demon, this creature, this negative force – cannot be bothered to confront the Infernal Machine directly, so he sends his minions to do his work for him. But they meet the same fate as Lud would! They throw their lives away in a senseless attempt to turn off the Machine! We will not let them! We will keep the gears turning! We will keep So-Saitys satiated!”
The rest of the Industrial Evolutionists cheered and called for the Machine to be run. Alyssa struggled against her bonds as the followers on stage picked her up and carried her to the input chute. Lucas stood frozen in shock, trying to comprehend what was happening. This was his fault, wasn’t it? If he hadn’t… no, there was nothing he could have done. He then remembered the weapon he held in his hand and ran towards the stage. He pointed the pistol at Father Mason and shouted for the followers to release Alyssa. They paid him no heed and placed Alyssa in the input chute as she tried to wriggle free. She looked at Lucas, her eyes wide in fear and attempted to say something, but was unable to. Father Mason moved towards the crank, but Lucas kept the pistol trained on him.
Father Mason stopped and grinned at Lucas, “Mr. James, ahem excuse me, Lucas, please put that down. What – oh, don’t look so surprised! The Machine tells me many things. I know who you are, I know what you’re doing here, but more importantly, I know what you’re going to do next. You have no part in this. You care not about the war between So-Saitys and Lud. You care not about our group, nor our rivals. You see a group of ‘cultists’ – and I use that term loosely – about to ‘sacrifice’ – and I use that term loosely as well – a young woman to a demon machine of sorts. You play the part of the third party, the police, the hero. You wish to save her and put the rest of us behind bars. You’re nothing if not noble, Lucas. But what you don’t know is how So-Saitys works. Take a look at these.” He pointed to the gray patches covering his face, “These are signs of strain, of wear and tear. They show that So-Saitys uses my body as a vessel for his influence. Signs of possession, if you will.”
“Why are you telling me this? Just remove Alyssa from the machine and-”
“Why? Why, take a look at your hands, Mr. Lucas! I do find it quite beneficial that we shook hands earlier tonight. It’s like the signing of a pact!”
Lucas kept the pistol trained on Father Mason as he pulled one of his hands closer to his face. He could see the same diseased patches that covered Father Mason’s face now covered his hand and arm as well. He lowered the gun and checked his other arm as well, finding it to be covered in patches as well. He looked at Father Mason helplessly, “You… I… I don’t feel right.” Indeed, Lucas had felt a nauseating presence take root within his body. He stumbled and nearly fell, before bracing himself against the Machine. Alyssa screamed something at him, but it was lost amidst the sudden scraping of metal and turning of gears. Steam hissed and conveyors rattled inside his skull as Lucas tried to gain his bearings. He reached out, trying to pull himself up, and his hands found their way to the crank beside the Machine. His vision blurred as smoke, whether real or not, obscured his sight.
“Turn the crank, Lucas. Run the Machine.” Father Mason’s voice was the only thing Lucas could hear. It was so commanding, so imperative, so crucial that Lucas turn the crank. He had to turn the crank. He had to run the Machine. He had to feed So-Saitys. He had no choice.
Lucas began to turn the crank. The Machine roared to life, its gears spinning and its cogs grinding against one another. Steam escaped into the open air, pistons pushed themselves upwards and downwards, and conveyor belts began to roll. There was a muffled screaming coming from inside the Machine somewhere, but Lucas ignored it. It was essential that he keep turning the crank. After a few moments, the Machine began to produce a different noise. Instead of metal pounding and scraping against metal, he could hear the metal striking a much softer surface and pressing it down with more ease. Something was caught between the cogs as they fought to keep turning. Steam no longer hissed; a new liquid simply dripped from the pipes onto the equipment beneath. A much more revolting smell entered the warehouse. A mix of flesh, coal, and whatever other bodily fluids had been squeezed from Alyssa penetrated Lucas’s nostrils. He fought off the urge to vomit and focused on turning the crank.
The temperature in the entire building increased as the screams of agony slowly died off. The crank became increasingly more difficult to turn, as if Lucas was actively fighting against something in the Machine. He powered through, feeling blasts of hot air around him as the sweat fell down his face. Blades spinned within the machine, drills bore through flesh and bone, and Lucas hoped Alyssa had expired quickly, lest she feel the Machine literally tear her apart. But he could not stop, he knew that no matter what, he had to finish turning the crank.
There was a ding, and a whistle went off. The crank refused to budge, and Lucas released it, crumpling to the floor and clasping his head. Lucas could hear a distant cheering in the background, but focused on the pain inside his head. Despite not turning the crank anymore, the sounds of machinery remained, and grew louder within his mind. He could all but feel the steam flowing through his veins, the pulleys in his arms turning as he fumbled around on the floor and the teeth of the gears pushing on the inside of his skull. A fire roared in his chest as his body consumed coal and fuel. He wanted it to stop – oh, it needed to stop – oh God why wouldn’t it stop – he wasn’t a machine, he was a person, a person, a person, a person-
“Do you wish for it to stop, Lucas?” Father Mason seemed to read his thoughts.
He hadn’t realized he had said those things out loud. He mumbled something under his breath that sounded like a vague, “Yes,” but wasn’t sure it could be heard over the sounds of the machinery.
“Step into the Machine, Lucas,” Father Mason guided him gently. Yes, yes that was where he needed to go. Into the bigger machine. He was a machine too – right? It made sense to give his parts to the larger Machine. It needed to complete its purpose after all. Fuel, fuel, fuel! It needed fuel! He was fuel! Right? He could already feel the Machine inside him – the gray spots on his arms were markings. Marking him as a machine. He was defective. He needed to upgrade. He didn’t want to be obsolete. He stepped into the chute and waited. Nothing happened. He needed to turn the crank! But he couldn’t, a human needed to, and he was no longer human.
“Easy Lucas, you’ll be with So-Saitys soon enough.” That sounded perfect. So-Saitys would understand him, would shelter him, would cater to his needs. After all, he was a machine too, they were perfect for one another.
“I’m impressed, Lucas,” Father Mason said as he took his place beside the crank, “Most people go insane after a possession. But not you. You’re very strong willed. And you have a place with So-Saitys. What you don’t know, Lucas, is that this Machine isn’t So-Saitys. This is the delivery chute. He’s more glorious than you can imagine. Hail So-Saitys! The Infernal Machine!” His words were repeated by the other humans in the room, but not Lucas. Lucas braced for the embrace of So-Saitys. As Father Mason turned the crank, Lucas slid down, beneath the machine, and caught a glimpse of the true entirety of So-Saitys.
The So-Saitys Machine stretched on for miles beneath the earth, filled to the brim with moving parts and machinery. Bits of flesh clung to it, and it almost seemed sentient. It breathed between the gears. It could see him between the gears. It talked to him between the gears. But Lucas knew better: it was nothing more than a machine, it couldn’t have been alive. Lucas knew he was important – that he would keep the machine running, ensuring that it fulfilled its purpose, whatever that may be. Before Lucas spent hours being processed through the entirety of the device, he agreed with Father Mason: it was more glorious than he could have imagined.