Immerse yourself in The Machine, a story by Danny Ballan from The Antichrist short story collection. Listen to the story with original music composed for the story and sound effects that will take you right in the middle of the action of the story.
Welcome to a new episode from The Insatiable Writer Podcast. Today’s episode is Stories, and in Stories, it’s not just that I try to read a story for you, but I do my best to help you live the story and feel everything that is happening in the story. So without further ado, let’s start with our story for today and this story is called The Machine from my short story collection, The Antichrist.
Sam was waiting in the long single line for his turn at The Machine. He had been waiting for over three hours, but he had to come on that day, or he would miss the opportunity to get a better future. The people in line could not talk to each other, so there was only the sheer sound of joints moving, legs hitting the uniform pants’ cloth worn by everyone, and the unified well-hidden faint stomp every three hundred and sixty-five seconds. It took The Machine one second to analyze every day in a human’s life over the past year.
Sam thought to himself as he did the year before, and for some years before he wouldn’t care to remember how many, “What the hell am I doing here? Coming here every year for a chance at a better life when I know this will never happen.” But he kept on showing up every year, anyway.
The Machine was the genius design of the World Initiative Government or the WIG. They passed new laws after the Last Great War to prevent any future conflict. Humanity was on the brink of extinction after nuclear bombs were a common means of retaliation, and sometimes, they were the most predictable response. Back then, there was always one country teaching another country a lesson, and yes, everybody made sure that everybody understood their lesson well.
The WIG came in after the Last Great War as they called it and unified the remaining humans from around the world and brought them to one of the few fertile places left on the planet which was outside Nineveh in old Iraq.
Fifty brothers ranked up all the way from Brother Fifty to Brother One. They ran the whole show as members of the WIG. Elections were illegal after it was the fault of one referendum which allowed the first nuclear missile launch that started the war eighty years ago. The whole government was like one big flight of stairs — on top, there was Brother One; at the bottom, there was Brother Fifty, and below that, there was everybody else. Whenever one brother stepped down or died, the one below would step up to fill the new empty spot in a counter-domino effect until the 50th spot was empty, and The Machine would pick one from the rest of the people to fill it. the Brothers invented the machine, and the machine did choose all the Brothers.
It was the first Brother One who designed The Machine. The Machine is a simple neurotransmission reader that can read all thoughts and ideas a person has had all his life, and based on that reading, The Machine decides the level of potential each citizen has, which will in turn affect the future of that individual for the coming year. The first Brother One thought he would have everybody examined by The Machine once a year hoping to change their potential and their fate. So that’s why everyone showed up at their scheduled annual appraisal by The Machine. Everybody dreams of being a brother for everything multiplies when you are a brother — women, money, land, and power; not only once but fifty times from Brother Fifty to Brother One. It was a modern version of the communo-capitalist system.
Sam had the same potential for years. Every year, he would come fearing that he might violate the free right to be assessed once a year by The Machine. However, his potential had never been enough for anything better than a blue-collar job. He might have been luckier than some others who had the dirtiest and hardest of jobs in the mines and at the Great Sewers Processing Plant; even processing shit bears a fancy name.
Sam had been standing in line for almost an entire day waiting for his turn and having to hear the silent rumble of thousands of people moving about every six minutes. He had already counted the fifty-four people ahead of him, twice. He still had about seven hours to wait, “plenty of time to come up with a rebellion,” Sam thought with a faint smile on his face, but soon his smile disappeared, as he looked at one guard who was staring at him.
“How many times have people been coming to this stupid machine to tell them about their destinies as if it were a god? I hate to believe a programmable machine gets to decide my fate.” Sam thought as he remembered the machine he read about in the only book he had hidden in his mattress as reading was illegal after it was the reason that brought the very idea of the nuclear bomb to life in the first place; that was what the WIG thought anyway when they confiscated all pre-war books collected by people over the years. Sam had only one book left; it was about a story that happened in England and France during the time of the French Revolution, and a stupid man sacrificed his life for another man at the end of the story, but Sam found a picture stuck on the back cover. The picture was of a man he knew nothing about. The letters that referred to the man’s name were washed off and half-burned as was most of the book. What Sam liked about that picture and that man was the way he looked in his black beret with the golden star in the middle. The red color that filled the background of the picture was so vivid that Sam felt it almost filled his heart with real blood as he kept looking at it more than reading the book itself, especially with all the missing pages and the half-burnt ones. The story as far as he understood was not that interesting to Sam. He once talked to his friend about that man in the picture, but he never mentioned to anyone that he still had the book; he claimed to have turned in the book to the Nuclear Thought Purification Organization that started about ten years ago when the WIG passed laws to handle the third phase of the book ban.
Sam was paddling through these thoughts when he stopped to calculate again, and he figured he had about one hour left to wait. He had less than half an hour to have the Machine assess him before he would not have to think about it for yet another year.
Sam was close now to the outer casing of The Machine which was clean and shiny as a mirror. Sam looked at his reflection and felt happy with the way he looked. He had inherited the looks of his father or his mother; he would never know — making a family or staying connected to any form of family was illegal after the famous incident when a father killed a guard as the latter came to take his son on the one-way trip to work for the WIG on one of their many secret projects. They passed the law right after they executed the father, and it had been over forty years with no families at all. Reproduction, as the WIG called it, took place in specialized labs and during Dark Sexual Congregations, which the WIG announced whenever they saw fit. They announced one or two a month, at least, but these were only the official DSCs announced to the public.
There was only one man in front of Sam, and he came to see more features of his reflection in the shiny casing of The Machine. His eyes widened in disbelief as he looked closer. Sam was wearing a black beret and had the same shabby beard. When he lifted his head up, it was as if this picture on the forgotten book was his own. It suddenly felt as if he was a part of a stolen history, an ambiguous present, and an uncertain future. The man in front of Sam just fed himself into The Machine. Sam had a strange feeling. It felt as if these six minutes were an age, but a young and fleeting one Sam had to decide what to do with before it was too late.
The one-minute-left beep marked the longest wait Sam had ever had in his life. His heart was beating a hundred times a second. Now the 10-second countdown began. All the memories flashed in his mind, the burnt book with that man at the back, his fantasies about his random father and unknown mother, and his long wait like an animal in line to get into the slaughterhouse. Everything flashed in Sam’s mind when the final beep announced the five-second window he had before getting inside The Machine. The entire process went like clockwork and it always ran according to schedule. Only this time, second six ticked and Sam was still outside.
The guards looked amazed at the first couple of seconds then they moved towards The Machine’s door, but Sam was at an advantage there, because the door stood higher than the heads of the guards, and the only way the guards would reach Sam’s stand was through the one-man-wide stairs all the way to the top. They ordered the other men behind Sam in line to move away, and that bought Sam precious time to take up what he thought would be his last stand. He did not know what he was up to, or why he was doing what he was doing. There was this strange feeling that he might be the fool man at the guillotine at the end of the book, only he had no one to sacrifice for, or maybe he was that man on the back cover.
The guards moved the other men away and were ready to stop Sam. Sam was lucky that all lethal weapons were illegal, so he was not in range of anybody’s bullets, only their clubs. Sam was a well-built man with a height advantage, so he could take down four guards before they got a hold of him. By the time they cuffed him, one brother had come to the scene of that bizarre incident.
Sam didn’t care what might happen to him. He was not planning to be in this situation, but he saw his friend on the book cover smiling at him, so Sam smiled back.
“You must have a good reason to smile in this situation. Do say, what is funny?” The brother asked Sam.
“I have nothing to lose now. I am who I am. I have been afraid all my life, and I failed in your stupid machine’s tests year after year, and for what, a stupid promotion for a few more meals a month, or a chance to get an invitation to one of your DSCs? I don’t care about that anymore. I know who I want to be, and that’s me, only me. Like it or not, I look like that man in the book I hid from you and read again and again and again. You look down on us from your lavish palaces and see us as small as cockroaches you could crush any day, and you get to decide who we should be as if you were gods. To legitimize that and make fools of us all, you made that stupid machine of yours, and we have been your slaves ever since; not anymore brother, not anymore.” Sam was shocked at hearing his own words coming out of his own mouth. He was even more amazed than when he refused to go inside The Machine. He knew it was him all along, but he liked to think his book friend was a hero or something and that what he did and said would have made his hero proud.
From the shadows of the room where they were holding Sam, an older man appeared. The man was wearing the same brothers’ robe, but he seemed to have been of a higher rank because the first brother bowed to him and moved away.
“You will pass in The Machine no matter what you do or say. We are not dictators as you claim; we would have killed you or locked you away if we were. We will give you another chance to pass into The Machine and see your destiny.” The elder brother added no more words but gave a sign to the guards to take him back to The Machine, and Sam said nothing.
Six minutes inside The Machine and Sam could not believe he was still alive and did not know what to think now after what the elder brother said. He never lived enough to think about his destiny.
Sam could not believe his eyes when he got out of The Machine. His assessment was better than last year. It was way better than anything he had ever dreamed of. He was to become the newest member of the WIG, Brother Fifty, and one of the older brothers is about to step down and give room for Sam’s inclusion in the WIG.
People on the other side of The Machine cheered, and Sam thought he was dreaming or even dead. He had an official brothers’ robe to wear and on his way inside the official building, he saw the same elderly brother, only this time without his robe, making his way out of the official facility.
Sam rushed to the man and shook his hand, “How did you know sir? How did you decide, or was it The Machine?”
The elderly brother looked deeply in Sam’s eyes as if he was looking into a mirror, “I did not, my boy, neither did the machine; you did.” Then he said nothing more and went on his way out.
So that was our story, the Machine. I hope you like the story and I hope you like the music and the special effects, and remember this is a process in the making, so improvement can happen at any level at any time. And I’m doing my best to make it even better in the episodes to come. That being said, I would love to thank you very much for listening to this episode from The Insatiable Writer Podcast. And now I will leave you with the soundtrack that I created specifically for this story, The Machine. Enjoy, and I will see you next time.