Beating Heart of Machine

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Hemaut didn't wait for Ollivan to ask a question, too excited about the results of his research. Finally everything the old man had been saying had come together into perfect, focused clarity. It was like putting on glasses after not even knowing you needed them. Having spent a day in recovery with little company beyond his own thoughts, Hemaut was able to concentrate on understanding the perspective Ollivan had been gradually, gently guiding him into. And in understanding that viewpoint, he saw the truth.

Hemaut spent another full day fine-tuning his new perspective and experimentally applying it to the world. As for his presentation, he would give this new lens to the rest of Machine. But first, it was time to pay homage to the teacher.

“I understand!” Hemaut declared in a voice thick with triumph as he strode through Ollivan's gearhouse. “I finally see everything that you've been trying to show me!”

The old man wasn't in the kitchen. Neither was he in the room with the bamboo furniture, though Tobbs was.

“Do you know where Ollivan is?” Hemaut asked him.

The labrador offered a few lazy thumps from his tail and nothing more.

Hemaut called for Ollivan, but received no response, so he stood in the narrow hallway that joined the two rooms and puzzled. Hemaut had never seen Ollivan anywhere but in his gearhouse, so it was difficult to imagine that he might be anywhere else. Especially not on Monday. But as Hemaut had too recently learned, the truth of a matter is revealed only if the matter is approached from the right angle. To assume that something will stay the same just because it has always been that way was the old perspective.

Hemaut was suddenly inspired. Perhaps Ollivan was behaving differently because it was a test. Hemaut had to prove that he truly understood what Ollivan was showing him. Or rather, that he was seeing the way that Ollivan saw. So Hemaut considered the situation again. The only certainty was that Ollivan could not be found in any of the usual places. So perhaps he could be found in an unusual place? Of course not. More logically, he would be in a new place that was distinctly usual. Perhaps his bedroom.

Hemaut was some time in finding a bedroom in the gearhouse, and was surprised to learn that Ollivan's residence continued in a sub-level which was larger by far than the above-ground structure. It all seemed much too large for a single old man to tend.That suspicion was reinforced when Hemaut saw how much of that vast space was given to machinery and controls not unlike that of the Archive.

With some timidity, Hemaut called out to Ollivan again, and was surprised to hear a response not far away, “Here.”

The old man was in a small room, stripped naked, lying in bed, hooked into Machine. “What did you figure out?”

Hemaut looked away from Ollivan at the walls, or the floor. Anywhere else besides the pale, wrinkled flesh was fine. “Um, did you want to get dressed?”

“I'll need a few more minutes still,” said Ollivan casually. “This bothers you, but it's what you get for coming early and barging in unannounced. But it's good too.”

Hemaut deflated a little. It wasn't a test; he was too busy with his new vision to look at the clock properly.

“I'd like to know what you think you know,” Ollivan said. “What are you so excited about that you needed to rush in here and encroach on my naked privacy?”

“I did what you asked with the blimp,” Hemaut said, studying the tiled floor, “And I saw what you meant, that a blimp could be anything according to the description in the Archive. And so could everything else.” Hemaut chanced a glance at Ollivan's face and was pleased to see it thoughtful. It was always a good sign to make Ollivan go thoughtful. Encouraged, he looked away again and continued. “So I realized that all of our reinventions aren't really what they were in the Accomplished Civilization. Based on such loose definitions, we could never hope to truly recreate those lost artifacts. We're so focused on trying to make them again that we've completely missed the point.”

“Did you happen to figure out what the point is?” Ollivan asked, his voice strangely eager and hinting of something that sounded like hope.

“The perfect Machine,” Hemaut said. “Everything I know of in the Archive is connected to Machine. We struggle to improve reinventions with no focus on the true engine that drives Machine forward. Civilization.”

“Yes.” Ollivan exhaled the word as if he had been holding it inside himself for years, a secret breath pulled in centuries ago that had never been released since.

“This civilization was meant to do more than serve Machine,” Hemaut continued. “Only it's purpose has been lost. We are wayward in perspective. We don't know what purpose we are intended to serve, so we strive for a perfect civilization, not understanding that our efforts were supposed to lead us to a single, undeniable truth. The civilization, the search, and Machine were all designed to serve a single purpose, only that purpose has died.”

“It what?” Ollivan asked, startled from his calm, and Hemaut smiled inside, because here he had reached a conclusion beyond the old man's intent.

“To be more precise,” Hemaut explained, “we have transcended that purpose. We have done so, because we have surpassed the so-called wonders of the Accomplished Civilization. We are now the more accomplished civilization. People back then couldn't dare to hope to achieve what he have done, and still we struggle to meet some arbitrary standard. That standard which is very purposefully absent. So we will always think little of ourselves. That is the old purpose which, with new understanding, we will discard.”

“Look at me!” Ollivan sounded fierce, and for once he looked it as well. Hemaut forced himself to follow the order, all smugness leaking out through the puncture of the elder's sharp glare. Ollivan sat up in his bed, and Hemaut noticed what a terrible chore it must be for him to hook into Machine. The old man's torso was a tangle of tubing, and his flesh was so thin, it seemed his body hung from the connections instead of it being the other way around. “Is this your transcended civilization?” Ollivan demanded. “This is what our ancestors couldn't dare to dream?”

Hemaut stared wordlessly at the gaunt frame.

“You can go now,” Ollivan said, laying down again. “And you can stay gone.”

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