Why don’t you fix me?
I can’t help myself.
Why don’t you fix me?
You know I’m fading still.
–Fix Me, Icon For Hire
Gears ground together, poorly lubricated and having accumulated much dirt in the grimy underbelly of Torzikov. The once beautiful brass finish of his plated body was now tarnished from the soot and extreme heat being so close to a lava river. His left eye died long ago, the blue illumination which he perceived through now a blackened, useless orb. Several occasions caused him to want to pluck it out, but while his strength failed due to leaky fluid veins, the mount for his eye was as strong as ever.
He struggled through the compact tenements to his master’s workshop. He never understood why she remained down in the pits, or why she refused to fix or dismantle him for parts. With AI still intact by some strange, machine god miracle, he asked several times. Every time, though, he was dismissed to fetch parts, or she left the room never to bring up the subject again. There was some glimmer in her eye, he thought, when she looked at him. It was equal parts fondness, hatred, and pity.
The workshop took up the entire bottom two floors of a building. Each building lifted up into the black sky, becoming the foundation for the city proper some hundred feet up. Structural supports would creak under the strain of holding up the nobility, the people of means, and he knew master could go up there at any time. She had a pass, there were petitions from hopeful patrons so that she would make them great works of comfort and beauty. Every time, she turned them away in a lavish way. But a no was a no, and every business suitor would send a dejected follow up letter. Some were wrathful, others mournful. A few became arrogant that she could not be as talented as the myths surrounding her, and others told her she was a lava drowned fool without a sense of the finer things.
A bell above the door rang when he entered. If that didn’t give him away, surely the whirling sounds of his ill-maintained parts would. A gear snagged, and clanked in a repetitive cadence. Master said, “Put the parts on table three.” She didn’t look up from her welding, the bright blue flame hypnotizing to the one good eye of the clockwork man.
When he put the box down, the gear was still snagging. He could feel it grinding down the brass. Soon his right arm would have severely limited functionality. A quick thunk to his arm, and the gear stopped snagging, spinning as it was meant to. But he was aware of his body, and he knew the gear wouldn’t last much longer.
Again he looked to his master as she worked on some modern marvel, no doubt. It would help the people down below and give them a new life, one with as much ease as the gentry up above. Or so he hoped.
He said, “I have delivered the box.” The voice was a metallic sound, faded from his younger days ten years, three months, and fourteen days ago. Four years, five months, and two days ago she stopped promising a new voice box.
She looked up for a moment, and even through her goggles he could make out her eyes. They were beautiful, and exquisite masterpiece no doubt put there by her own master, her own creator. However, after near forty years, her creator continued to maintain her, or gave her the ability to maintain herself. If only she cared that much about her clockwork servant. The pump for his lubricants felt strange, a pull on it like something was wrong. However, a quick internal diagnostics showed nothing to be the matter.
She said, “I saw. Did you need something?” The blue flame of her torch guttered and died.
Something came over the brass man at that moment. He blurted out, “Fix me.”
The words pulled again on the valves and pumps in his chest. Was his AI giving him new sensations? It had been a while before he absorbed new information, and rarely did he ever bring in emotional stimuli.
She gave out a quick snort of laughter. “No,” she said, then took her ignitor and clicked it a few times in front of the nozzel of her torch until it caught and sparked a blue flame.
“Please. I am fading. I am blind. My liquids are near empty, my gears worn and chipped, and even my AI is acting strangely.” He approached her, moving his arms clumsily. Though the gear caught again, it was not making movement in his right arm easy as the machine tried to find the right movement again.
This gave her pause. Then she turned off the torch and put it down, lifting up her goggles. It was difficult to notice, but there were thick soot lines which showed how dirty her face actually was. “What do you mean your AI is acting strangely?” She approached him and started to look into his eyes, though spending the greatest amount of time on his left. “Your eyes dilate.”
“What? What does it mean, master? What does it mean that it feels like the pumps and valves in my chest are being tugged on most painfully. I should not feel pain.”
She dug around for a screwdriver and opened up his chest plate. All his workings were working just fine, if aged and leaky, but they were all in place. “This is excellent. This is great news.” She kissed his cheek and steam blew out of the back of his head. Never had her lips pressed against him. “On the table with you. I need to make a phone call.”
He went to lay on the table, waiting, his chest exposed, still aching. His master picked up the phone, a new invention of the past few years, newer than he was, and she said, excitedly, “Doctor Hostoff, please. Yes, I’ll wait.” There was impatient tapping of her foot. “Dimitri, it’s Alexandria. You won’t believe it. He’s feeling emotions.” Another pause. “Of course I’m talking about our brass man. He is feeling emotional pain. We did it. I’ll bring him right up in the morning. Need to polish him up first, make him serviceable.” A pause. “Of course it was worth it, and Dimitri, don’t question my methods. AI isn’t a human. We can treat them as we please. I’ll see you in the morning. Be waiting at the university.”
The clockwork man understood. He was being used, a tool to his master. In the early days she said she loved him. But that was many years ago, he thought, as she approached him with glee, and started to work on repairing his countless broken parts. It felt like his chest sprung a lubricant leak, yet he never looked so shiny.