Abuzz

The mechanical gears of my little man swung, and chimed the noon. Deep inside his plastic box of a chest, no grooves or chutes visible on its milky soft surface, his clockwork heart ticked and tocked. It beat a tinkling, mechanical beat, the clink of teeth tapping interlocking teeth, softly, unswerving, time ticking on, his life a measurable and audible affair. One, two, three…the life inside him was abuzz with looping knocks of brass on sterling steel. One, two, three…marching on round feet made of cymbals, crash and pa-rum-pum pa-rum-pum pa-pa-pa-pa rum-pum-pum.

I had built him out of the pieces left over from my war machines. His glass eyes were the headlamps of a small tank, his hands were the claws of a rappelling creature. And he had no mouth, just a corn cob pipe I was fond of smoking in the laboratory. When he built up enough steam out it shot from his clattering face.

All the little robot was meant to do was walk and puff and chime the hour, like a marching clock with bright, surprised eyes. He worked. That was really the point, to build something that worked, something that worked at nothing at all, not war or production, that worked, that was all. He worked for twelve hours to march to one side of the laboratory, and then the pulleys in his box would roll his cymbal feet around and march him back the way he’d come, to the other wall, to midnight.

The cats were afraid of him at first. They were curious, getting in his way when they understood he preferred to trudge in a straight line. They curled themselves into balls an hour ahead of his path, and, half-napping, waited for him to bump into them. They would paw and bat his head, while his gears shimmered under his smooth box of a torso to turn him, clicking, out of the cats’ reach, back to the matter at hand. He and I were very alike, eyes bright and fathomless, trained to the exclusion of all other absurdities to the absurdity of our tasks.

He worked. And I worked. My little robot and I were slaves together, pa-rum-pum pa-pa-pa-pa.

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