Tick tock – Fernando Autran

Tick tock, the clock goes, over and over again. It never stops, never ceases, in the realm of gears. It is the central rhythm in the mechanical melody of the clock tower. It makes all the pieces dance in harmony. It raises from the great engine, filling everything with its inexorable tone. The song that defines the existence of the gears, and makes sure that they keep the great machine alive as it travels through the land of the manufactured in its massive tracks.

Everything ran as it should, and every piece was in its place, or at least that was how it looked. The music didn’t sound the same everywhere. The artificial orchestra was unusually persistent in a single location. A dirty and noisy room deep inside the machine. The music reverberated there as if it wanted to make sure that it reached even the tiniest corner of the chamber.

A dirty light full of grease illuminated the place. At its center, a strange figure worked on the machines: An exquisite human-sized porcelain doll. She dressed from head to toe in a combination between a red dress and a blue janitor suit with shiny yellow boots. Despite all the dirt in the room, her suit was clean as if the dust and oil were reluctant to even touch her.

She had a perfectly symmetrical pale face with two red cheeks and bright blue eyes. Her hair was orange and collected in two braids with blue ribbons at the end. It was a lovely face indeed. The way it could show expressions despite its artificial nature could fool anyone into thinking she was a real girl. The articulations in her hands were barely visible and they moved with mechanical precision, a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Whoever the creator was, they managed to insert the spark of life into her with ease. She was a diamond in a mountain of coal.

As for what was inside the dress? If someone could put his ear on her chest, he would hear thousands of tiny gears moving at once in perfect harmony. She took care of her maintenance with diligence, you wouldn’t hear a single joint grind. Surrounding such perfect clockwork was a hydraulic skeleton and around it muscles made of strings of metal as thin as a hair. A special white plastic acted as her skin, its texture as soft as that of a baby.

Watching her work was mesmerizing. She moved from one valve to the other with inhuman grace. Her movement had something hypnotic in it. She moved with the elegance of a ballet dancer, dodging even the tiniest particle of dust. She had the speed of a leopard, switching places in the room in seconds. Not once she tripped or hesitated, a dance so perfect that only a machine could perform it.

She watched the ever-changing numbers of the boards and adjusted the valves and levers according to the sacred pattern installed in her. She didn’t need to think about it, she could feel what the machines needed. They produced steam jets now and again signaling their satisfaction with her work.

Sometimes she had to take the tools and make some minor repairs, but it was nothing that she couldn’t handle. She didn’t need to stop for rest, which was curious. She remembered being “tired” a long time ago, but she no longer knew what “tired” was. Something to do with not being capable of moving, but she could run all the time as long as she had energy in her core.

Her skills were so magnificent that she could pass along a broken gear and fix it before her foot ever hit the ground. The strange thing was that she didn’t remember where she learned her skills. She thought that she learned them from practice and from listening to the machines.

One of the few things she didn’t like about her situation was her boss. A rude teddy bear supervised her work from a cabin. He rarely left the place, preferring to shout his orders at her from behind the window, before going back to read files. She had tried talking to him a couple of times, but he always dismissed her.

She sometimes stopped when she needed to perform maintenance on herself or recharge her core. She didn’t like these moments at all. Disturbing scenes would play out in her head, scenes of strange places and strange people, scenes of games and laughter…and scenes of horror and despair.

She wasn’t sure if these scenes were dreams or memories, or what even dreams or memories were for that matter. She didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. Despite everything, a part of her welcomed them. As crazy and weird as they were, they provided some novelty in her never-ending routine.

She had one recurring dream that disturbed her. It was a sunny day, she was in some strange place full of stores and noise with her family having a happy time (did she had a family? what was a family? why was it so difficult to remember?) when an army of evil toys would appear and kill everyone.

She ran away scared, trying to find refuge, but the toys always found her. Her last hope was Mr. Tuck. It was a toy that her big brother made for her. It had a trench-coat, a hat and a pair of dark glasses because he was a bit shy. He unsheathed his red sword and fought the evil toys to protect her. It was useless, the bad toys always overwhelmed him in the end. Then, they grabbed her and took her to the sharp place full of knives, where the patched man awaited.

A shiver ran down her body whenever that part came. She wanted to know more, but phantom pains would run all over her body when she tried to remember. Even though she knew she couldn’t feel the pain, she felt it, what was pain by the way? Images full of red liquid, and gross slimy things that pulsated came to mind. The patched man changed her from the inside out, one piece at a time, till nothing was left of her previous self.

She didn’t know what these bizarre dreams could mean. Perhaps one of the pieces in her head was loose, but when she pulled her head out to inspect it she didn’t find anything wrong, no errors in her mechanical brain. Maybe she could check out her insides later to see if one of the gears near her energy core was malfunctioning. Power fluctuations could affect mental processes.

The great machine slowed down sometimes, which gave her some time for herself. She spent it in a small workshop that she made with spare parts, creating trinkets to play with. Her favorite toys were a tiny family that looked like the family in her dreams. They had their own mechanisms allowing her to animate them and play with them for hours. She did it because they gave her a feeling of peace and serenity that the machine could not.

Her days passed in the form of a comfortable routine. The fact that she was serving an important purpose inside the great machine made her proud, even though she didn’t remember choosing it. The nature of this purpose was irrelevant, what mattered was that it was important, something to be proud of, for what is a worker without purpose? Less than nothing.

One day, after another round of self-maintenance, the boards appeared empty. It never happened. Someone knocked on the door. It also never happened. Nobody ever came here that she remembered. Curious…did the room always had a door? As far as she knew you could only exit through the cabin of the teddy bear.

The teddy bear looked as confused as her. He frowned, took his baton, and went to answer the door. The moment he opened it, a red flash surged through it. It cut the teddy bear in half with a ripping sound, spraying his stuffing all over the room. Both sides fell to the floor floating like feathers. It was quite horrifying, but she didn’t feel sad. He was always so rude. A rude ending for a rude person.

A familiar figure with a red sword and a trench coat appeared through the opening. It took off his dark glasses, looked at her with his amber eyes and said:

“Jane, I finally found you. We have to stop this infernal device if we ever hope to get back home. Lord Gitgor made a mistake when he put the secrets of this machine in your head. Let’s make sure it’s the last one he makes.”

“What? Who are you?”

“You know who I am. Look deep inside you.”

She shook her head.

“No, it can’t be. That would mean…”

She walked back horrified. He took a magnet from his pocket.

“I’m sorry for this, but we don’t have much time.”

He hit her head with the magnet, and she remembered.

First, sensation of familiarity, then memories hit her like lightning. Her name was Jane, and she used to be a regular girl. Then the evil toys came and kidnapped her, but she didn’t know why. They took her to a horrible iron tower where they… She screamed.

The memories of her ordeal at the operation table came back. The thing was that, although she didn’t feel any pain, she did have to see with horrifying fascination as they hollowed her out and butchered her body. Only to put her back together as some sort of cold mechanical doll, and yet, despite all of that, the worst part was yet to come.

She remembered the patched man’s face, full of pride, telling her that they had improved her, taking away all non-essential features, and leaving only clockwork perfection. Only one thing remained that could ruin his work: her memories. They didn’t have enough butchering her body, they did have to butcher her mind too.

The feeling of having something poking inside her head, taking away pieces of her life, the blocks of what made her who she was, it went beyond desperation. Bit by bit she felt her identity disappear into oblivion. She always cried even though she could not remember why. In the end, the only thing left of her was an obedient servant.

She stopped screaming. Now she just wanted to cry, but no tears came out of her eyes. She felt them in her mind, but when she touched her face, there was nothing, only cold, lifeless plastic. Her face could show sadness, but no crying whatsoever, it was not necessary.

Even the sensation of touching was different. She knew that she was touching something, but there wasn’t any physical feeling. The information came from her mind, telling what she was touching: the texture, the temperature, and how much pressure she was applying. Information with no sensation whatsoever.

The experience was the same for the rest of her body. She moved her limbs around, twisting them in impossible ways. Her mind screamed telling her that she should be feeling pain, but she didn’t. Then she realized something vital: she wasn’t breathing.

She tried to put air in her lungs, but the reflex wasn’t there. Her mind went into panic mode, she grabbed her throat, air, she wanted air, she needed air. She should be suffocating, why wasn’t she suffocating?

“Air I need air! I can’t feel anything! I…”

Mr. Tuck grabbed her.

“Shhhh, Look at this.”

He picked a necklace with a coin from his other pocket and turned it in front of her eyes. Jane stopped struggling. The coin silenced her anguish, submerging her in a state of dizziness. She managed to calm down. She kneeled on the floor, trying to collect her thoughts.

“Again, I’m sorry, but I needed you back right now, they are tracking me.”

Jane said nothing. She looked at her beautifully articulated hands, moved her fingers, watched the articulations working, so well done, and so artificial. She stood up, she was getting used to not feeling, to just give orders to her body without any physical sensations.

In a way, it was liberating. Her mechanical body had many advantages, and not feeling pain was the least of it. She didn’t have to worry about eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom. A recharge now and then and she was ready to go. Not that it made her miss her real body any less.

She sighed or at least made the gesture. She stopped when she realized that she didn’t breathe anymore.

“Thank you.”

Mr Tuck nodded. He put his glasses back.

“I was merely performing my duty as your protector.”

Jane closed her fists. She approached the console and tear it up to pieces in a matter of seconds. With one final punch, she destroyed it, launching pieces everywhere. The whole room protested before it went silent.

“Come on, we have a lot of destroying to do.”

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