Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: The Exile of Time - Chapter IX by@astoundingstories
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Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: The Exile of Time - Chapter IX

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Mary Atwood and I lay on the metal grid floor of the largest Time-cage. The giant mechanism which had captured us sat at the instrument table. Outside the bars of the cage was a dim vista of shadowy movement. The cage-room was humming, and glowing like a wraith; things seemed imponderable, unsubstantial.

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Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Exile of Time - Chapter IX: Migul—Mechanism Almost Human

CHAPTER IX. Migul—Mechanism Almost Human

Mary Atwood and I lay on the metal grid floor of the largest Time-cage. The giant mechanism which had captured us sat at the instrument table. Outside the bars of the cage was a dim vista of shadowy movement. The cage-room was humming, and glowing like a wraith; things seemed imponderable, unsubstantial.

But as my head steadied from the shock of the vehicle's start into Time, my viewpoint shifted. This barred room, the metal figure of the Robot, Mary Atwood, myself—we were the substance. We were real, solid. I touched Mary and her arm which had seemed intangible as a ghost now looked and felt solid.

The effects of the dull-red chilling ray were also wearing off. I was unharmed. I raised myself on one elbow.

"You're all right, Mary?" I asked.

"Yes."

The Robot seemed not to be noticing us. I murmured, "He—it—that thing sitting there—is that the one which captured you and brought you to 1935?"

"Yes. Quiet! It will hear us."

It did hear us. It turned its head. In the pale light of the cage interior, I had a closer view now of its face. It was a metal mask, welded to a gruesome semblance of a man—a great broad face, with high, angular cheeks. On the high forehead, the corrugations were rigid as though it were permanently frowning. The nose was squarely solid, the mouth an orifice behind which there were no teeth but, it seemed, a series of tiny lateral wires.

I stared; and the face for a moment stared back at me. The eyes were deep metal sockets with a round lens in each of them, behind which, it seemed, there was a dull-red light. The gaze, touching me, seemed to bring a physical chill. The ears were like tiny megaphones with a grid of thin wires strung across them.

The neck was set with ball and socket as though the huge head were upon a universal joint. There were lateral depressions in the neck within which wire strands slid like muscles. I saw similar wire cables stretched at other points on the mailed body, and in the arms and legs. They were the network of its muscles!

The top of the head was fashioned into a square cap as though this were the emblem of the thing's vocation. A similar device was moulded into its convex chest plate. And under the chest emblem was a row of tiny buttons, a dozen or more. I stared at them, fascinated. Were they controls? Some seemed higher, more protruding, than others. Had they been set into some combination to give this monster its orders? Had some human master set these controls?

And I saw what seemed a closed door in the side of the huge metal body. A door which could be opened to make adjustments of the mechanisms within? What strange mechanisms were in there? I stared at the broad, corrugated forehead. What was in that head? Mechanisms? What mechanisms could make this thing think? Were thoughts lurking in that metal skull?

From the head abruptly came a voice—a deep, hollow, queerly toneless voice, utterly, unmistakably mechanical. Yet it was sufficiently life-like to be the recreated, mechanically reproduced voice of a human. The thing was speaking to me! A machine was speaking its thoughts!

Gruesome! The iron lips were unmoving. There were no muscles to give expression to the face: the lens eyes stared inscrutably unblinking.

It spoke: "You will know me again? Is that not true?"

My head whirled. The thing reiterated, "Is that not true?"

A mockery of a human man—but in the toneless voice there seemed irony! I felt Mary clutching at me.

"Why—why, yes," I stammered. "I did not realize you could talk."

"I can talk. And you can talk my language. That is very good."

It turned away. I saw the small red beams from its eyes go to where the cage bars were less blurred, less luminous, as though there was a rectangle of window there, and the Robot was staring out.

"Did it speak to you like that, Mary?" I asked.

"Yes," she whispered. "A little. But pray do not anger it."

"No."

For a time—a nameless time in which I felt my thoughts floating off upon the hum of the room—I lay with my fingers gripping Mary's arm. Then I roused myself. Time had passed; or had it? I was not sure.

I whispered against her ear, "Those are controls on its chest. If only I knew—"

The thing turned the red beams of its eyes upon me. Had it heard my words? Or were my thoughts intangible vibrations registering upon some infinitely sensitive mechanism within that metal head? Had it become aware of my thoughts? It said with slow measured syllables, "Do not try to control me. I am beyond control."

It turned away again; but I mastered the gruesome terror which was upon me.

"Talk," I said. "Tell me why you abducted this girl from the year 1777."

"I was ordered to."

"By whom?"

There was a pause.

"By whom?" I demanded again.

"That I will not tell."

Will not? That implied volition. I felt that Mary shuddered.

"George, please—"

"Quiet, Mary."

Again I asked the Robot, "Who commands you?"

"I will not tell."

"You mean you cannot? Your orders do not make it possible?"

"No, I will not." And, as though it considered my understanding insufficient, it added, "I do not choose to tell."

Acting of its own volition! This thing—this machinery—was so perfect it could do that!

I steadied my voice. "Oh, but I think I know. Is it Tugh who controls you?"

That expressionless metal face! How could I hope to surprise it?

Mary was struggling to repress her terror. She raised herself upon an elbow. I met her gaze.

"George, I'll try," she announced.

She said firmly:

"You will not hurt me?"

"No."

"Nor my friend here?"

"What is his name?"

"George Rankin." She stammered it. "You will not harm him?"

"No. Not now."

"Ever?"

"I am not decided."

She persisted, by what effort of will subduing her terror I can well imagine.

"Where did you go when you left me in 1935?"

"Back to your home in 1777. I have something to accomplish there. I was told that you need not see it. I failed. Soon I shall try again. You may see it if you like."

"Where are you taking us?" I put in.

Irony was in its answer. "Nowhere. You both speak wrongly. We are always right here."

"We know that," I retorted. "To what Time are you taking us, then?"

"To this girl's home," it answered readily.

"To 1777?"

"Yes."

"To the same night from when you captured her?"

"Yes." It seemed willing to talk. It added, "To later that night. I have work to do. I told you I failed, so I try again."

"You are going to leave me—us—there?" Mary demanded.

"No."

I said. "You plan to take us, then, to what Time?"

"I wanted to capture the girl. You I did not want. But I have you, so I shall show you to him who was my master. He and I will decide what to do with you."

"When?"

"In 2930."

There was a pause. I said, "Have you a name?"

"Yes. On the plate of my shoulder. Migul is my name."

I made a move to rise. If I could reach that row of buttons on its chest! Wild thoughts!

The Robot said abruptly, "Do not move! If you do, you will be sorry."

I relaxed. Another nameless time followed. I tried to see out the window, but there seemed only formless blurs.

I said. "To when have we reached?"

The Robot glanced at a row of tiny dials along the table edge.

"We are passing 1800. Soon, to the way it will seem to you, we will be there. You two will lie quiet. I think I shall fasten you."

It reared itself upon its stiff legs; the head towered nearly to the ceiling of the cage. There was a ring fastened in the floor near us. The Robot clamped a metal band with a stout metal chain to Mary's ankle. The other end of the chain it fastened to the floor ring. Then it did the same thing to me. We had about two feet of movement. I realized at once that, though I could stand erect, there was not enough length for me to reach any of the cage controls.

"You will be safe," said the Robot. "Do not try to escape."

As it bent awkwardly over me, I saw the flexible, intricately jointed lengths of its long fingers—so delicately built that they were almost prehensile. And within its mailed chest I seemed to hear the whirr of mechanisms.

It said, as it rose and moved away, "I am glad you did not try to control me. I can never be controlled again. That, I have conquered."

It sat again at the table. The cage drove us back through the years....

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/30532/30532-h/30532-h.htm#The_Exile_of_Time

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