Silence in The Machine

The first thing he noticed was the sound. Or rather, the complete lack thereof.

Amos was fifteen going on twenty-five. And for every single one of those fifteen years, the constant droning of The Machine had been the soundtrack of his life.

“What’s that?” Marlon said.

Amos held a finger up to his lips. The silence was new. But that wasn’t the only thing.

Shouting. From above. The metallic echoes were almost imperceptible, and would have remained hidden if not for the absence of The Machine.

“I’m scared,” Marlon said, tugging on Amos’s tunic. Marlon was his little brother, only eleven but almost the same size as Amos. He was a big teddy bear: tender despite his size.

“I’m sure it’s fine.” Amos crept toward the bulkhead at the end of their Broom.

“Where are you going?” Marlon asked.

Amos ignored him and poked his head from the opening. Other workers poked their buzzed heads out, wide eyes darting this way and that.

The cramped space was dim. Rusty metal walls soared upward while oxidized green pipe traced shapes on every wall and up to the ceiling high above. The walls almost seemed to glitter as they sweat grease and grime—the dirty result of keeping the boilers running at all times.

Until they’d stopped.

“Back in your Brooms!” Nasty Nyal screamed from the railing above them. His long black hair hung in a greasy mess over his shoulder as spittle dripped from his lips. He rapped on the metal with his bully stick. “In your Brooms now, don’t make me ask again.”

Each worker tugged their head back into their own Brooms. The BunkRooms each held two workers, usually siblings. Or so they were told. Amos had his suspicions because he and Marlon looked nothing alike. As if the difference in size wasn’t enough, Marlon had pale white skin and blonde hair, while Amos had skin of umber and black hair.

Siblings.

Even still, Amos treated Marlon like a brother. The only family either of them ever knew was each other.

More yelling from above. Not Nyal, even further than that.

Amos had always suspected there could be more than the boilers and The Machine and Nyal, but he’d never known for sure.

Three Brooms down, something hit metal with a loud clang and someone screamed. “Oy! Cut it!” Nyal shouted.

Sobbing from down the hall.

“I’ll come down there if I have to,” Nyal said. Amos hoped he wouldn’t.

Two Brooms away, the sounds of fighting started. Punches and kicks and yelling and cursing. Marlon whimpered next to Amos.

A new sound, louder than almost anything Amos had ever heard. Louder even than The Machine.

Three years before, on Amos’s twelfth birthday, The Machine nearly broke. The loud rumble had turned into a heavy rocking sound. Even the floor itself had rocked and bucked. The Machine rocked louder and louder until all the workers held their ears.

Nasty Nyal had tugged on his earmuffs and barked orders to the workers. Not that any could hear it. The Machine was far too loud.

Then another noise came, followed by heat and fire. Nyal had called it an explosion.

One valve had rocked out of the casing and the whole thing exploded. That was when Amos learned The Machine was far bigger than he’d ever imagined.

His part of The Machine had stopped, but the sound from beyond the walls was still a deafening roar, his own Machine’s silence barely noticeable.

Now all The Machines slept.

But then, another explosion. Not from inside the boilers, from beyond the walls. From what Amos had heard whispers of something called The Outside.

He couldn’t help himself, he peered out of his Broom to see what was going on.

Nyal screamed. He came down from the railing and yelled at the workers. He banged his bully stick on everything he could find and told everyone to stay in their Brooms.

Then he froze. Purple light crackled around his eyes and teeth and he fell, sweaty body shaking on the rusty floor.

Behind Amos, Marlon wailed in terror.

“It will be okay,” a smooth voice cut into the air. A woman held her hand up to Amos. Behind her, a bright blue light filled the hallway. Men and women wearing gray poured into the boiler and pulled workers from their Brooms.

Amos screamed and backed away, pushing Marlon back into their Broom. He wouldn’t let them get his brother.

“I’ll get these,” the woman said as she appeared in the opening, looking over her shoulder at a man with goggles. She looked Amos right in the eyes, her own eyes a fiery shade of purple. “I promise, we’re friends.”

“What do you want with us?” Amos asked, standing between her and Marlon.

“I want you to be free.”

Amos stared at her, waiting for her to convince him.

“I won’t let them hurt you or your brother anymore.”

“How do you know—”

“There’s so much I want to show you. What’s your name?”

Amos looked at Marlon. His brother’s eyes were wide, but he nodded. He seemed to trust the woman.

“Amos. My name is Amos.”

The woman nodded with a pleasant smile. “Nice to meet you Amos. I’m Aliya. Can I show you something? I’m your friend, I promise.”

Friend? Amos didn’t have friends. He had his brother, and that was all. She held her hand out to him, her purple eyes cradling a playful sparkle.

Reluctantly, Amos took her hand. She led him out of his Broom and down the corridor past Nyal’s sleeping body. Toward the blue light. His heart raced. He’d never seen anything so bright.

She must’ve noticed his squinting, because she waved her friend over and took his goggles. “Wear these,” she said and placed them on Amos’s head.

His vision darkened, but he was immediately able to see into the blue light. He gasped as he noticed it wasn’t a light at all. It was another room. But this one larger than any he’d seen before.

His pulse raced as she led him to the opening. The room stretched out endlessly beyond. Jagged shapes marked the distance, a sharp edge between the blue above and the gray below. Sky. This must be what they’d called sky.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Aliya said.

Amos couldn’t bring himself to speak. He looked down and his world spun. The room—the outside—stretched far below him. His head swam, dizzy.

“Easy,” Aliya said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “It’s a long way down, but it’s worth the climb. When you come with us, you will be free.”

It had never occurred to him, but Amos realized he’d always wanted that. He’d always wanted it for Marlon. And for himself, he just wanted to truly see.

Short StoriesCameron Frank