I pulled shut the decorated frontispiece, putting behind its cob-webs, spirals and polyhedrons.
Where had my travels led? Banks of metal thinking machines rested in neat identical rows, like tenement houses. Mechanical men strolled the tranquil lanes between.
I thought I knew this place. It was the legendary Domain of Pure Science. The empire of the empirical.
Then August Schiller crossed my path. I was not surprised that he should settle for this place as his personal Valkynne, though I was appalled at the state in which I found him.
His clothes were torn, his eyes had been cauterized, staring blankly, and blindly. He stumbled aimlessly around the mechanical, ordered paradise.
I asked, “Dr. Schiller, what has happened?”
“The machines repaired my eyes.”
The great bank of thinking machines grunted and groaned like bodybuilders at work as they pressed the weights of their information.
I touched Schiller’s face, not only for comfort, but also to identify my point in space to him. Schiller pulled away.
“Don’t touch me.”
“I came to rescue you.”
“I don’t need to be rescued. I don’t care about being blind. Everything is all right.”
From his pocket, Schiller produced a round mechanism. Slowly, and carefully, he screwed the object into the bone of an empty eye socket. “The machines have made me the most wondrous eye.
“You see this,” he said, regarding me with a bugged out lens. “It contains a microscope and a telescope.” Schiller snapped his fingers.
A group of mechanical men rolled out a chair, something a man could lean back into comfortably, something like a barber’s chair. August Schiller took his place upon the chair. The mechanical men popped scythes and saws from their arms, then began to descend on August Schiller.
“Now the rest of me will be remade.”
I threw a kick at the mechanical men, sending them clattering backward.
Schiller stood up. There were stars and planets not visible in the sky reflected on the lens in Schiller’s face. Then the lens bugged out and swiveled over to scan me.
“Do I know you?”
“I was your student. A long time ago.”
“Oh yes. Now I remember. Xyr. For a moment, I was afraid that I was losing my total recall. It is just that I hardly recognized you. Your face was obscured by all the bacteria I can now see, crawling all over your skin.”
“This is madness,” said I.
“No. Not madness. My journey took me through countless mystic dimensions and I’ve seen madness. Magic is madness. It is madness to shut out the senses or to be distracted by things that don’t exist. Mental muscles turn to flab. The tiniest bits of trivia seem pregnant with profound meaning. I am finished with magic.”
He stretched forth an arm, as if preparing to undertake some complex form of conjuration. In choreographed response, one of the near-by mechanical men activated its buzz saw hand.
The blade began to spin, then it danced along the length of Schiller’s arm, delicately flaying bunches of muscle from the bone.
Hot blood splattered across my face.
“To be finished with magic,” said I, “is to be finished with humanity. In your case, it is also to be finished with life.”
“What is the difference between organic and inorganic?” Schiller responded without a trace of pain in his voice, making me wonder what perfect anesthetic had been discovered in the realm of pure science. “My dear former student– you are suffering from carbon egocentricity.”
“I came to save you.”
With a single stroke, the mechanical surgeons demasked the skin from Schiller’s face, leaving the quivering, exposed muscles and tendons grimacing at me.
“Free from random associations and illusions of connectedness that come from a primitively wired brain, I’ll be able to dispense with the uncertainties that shackle our inquiries. I oppose the use of mere probability as a crutch in science. My goal is nothing less than the ideal limit of human knowledge, the unified science, flawless in its predictions, the ultimate formula that explains all phenomena. This is my idea of paradise. A clean, immortal, logical existence that doesn’t pull my soul in two directions.”
Schiller snapped the fingers of his one good hand. The mechanical men fell upon him, and this time I did not stop them.
Busily, efficiently, as passionless as clock works, the mechanical men stripped away the gore of Schiller’s humanity. Strings of meat, coils of intestine piled up on the ground. The spinning buzz saws sprayed chips of sawed bone. They dumped Schiller’s heart unceremoniously on top of his brain.
Cartilage and viscera were replaced with steel and plastic, pumps and springs.
I watched, I must confess, not without a certain amount of envy.
When August Schiller awoke again, a tiger pattern of braces held his new chrome cheeks in place.
Schiller said, “Now I can gather data, store it on unforgetting silicon, and spend the remainder of forever digesting it, with indifference.”
“So this is your Valkynne? You have achieved it.”
“Do you care?”
“Not at all.”
Paradise was simple. The key to having everything you want is not wanting anything.
THE END, ACCORDING TO LESLIE BLAKE
TO CONTINUE IN ORDINARY SEQUENCE, FOLLOWING NUMERICAL ORDER, FOR ZEKE RINGO’S ULTIMATE VERSION, NEXT TURN TO SEGMENT SEVENTEEN