Friday, September 2, 2011
Things were better back then. Brighter, somehow. More hopeful.
Humankind seemed on top of the world, with political revolutions overthrowing the seats of entrenched power one by one and an industrial one, made of iron and driven by steam, making anything seem possible.
Zeppelins sailed the skies, trains blazed across continents, and the cities… sweet Creator, the cities. Never before in history had such throngs of humanity piled upon one another in so concentrated a way, no wonder there was such an explosion of creativity. Not a week went by without a new technological marvel being unleashed upon the world, and the art and culture seemed freer and wilder than anyone even a generation previous could have possibly imagined.
There were problems, of course, all eras have their problems. No one seemed able to do anything about the bands of sky-pirates preying on the commercial zeppelins, for example, and plenty of the gadgeteers who created the age’s marvels were unquestionably mad. But nevertheless, things were looking up. Maybe not for the poor, crowded into squalled ghettos and forced to work longer hours than was strictly speaking healthy in the factories, but for mankind overall. Things were happening everyday that once would have been thought impossible.
And then, one day, a man conquered life itself.
Not death, death was still beyond any man’s control, but as that first iron/copper golem clanked and wheezed and struggled up out of the darkness into consciousness the power to give life stopped being the exclusive property of the Almighty. And with life at humanity’s command, could death be all that far behind?
Little did anyone know those first golems were the beginning of the end.
They could be created, to be sure, but at such massive expense that only a few dozen ever actually were. Fortunes were sunk into attempts at mass production, and those fortunes were in turn lost, with nothing to show for the work but shattered dreams. Many were the enterprising young industrialists who wound up tying their own nooses after watching all they’d worked for slip away, and by the time the century turned all such attempts to turn coal into life were abandoned. It seemed as though humanity’d outgrown it’s taste for miracles.
Oh, the cities were still there, and technology marched on, but it was all different somehow, and as the century wore on this became clearer and clearer. Two Great Wars and myriad smaller ones seemed to rob mankind of it’s wonder, and though people were living longer, and on the whole materially better, something indefinable was missing. Mr. Ford could easily have mass produced golems using his remarkable methods, but he was content simply to grow wealthy and it never occurred to him to want to strive for more. It did occur to Mr. Disney, but he never thought to introduce the magic he brought to his films into the real world. In every genius some small part was missing. So the handful of golems, of us, were all there would ever be.
And when one by one we broke down and died, like all relics of bygone ages that make no sense in the modern world must, those who once had built us, who’d once held the world in the palms of their hands, quickly forgot us.
We died and went unmourned, but for our remembrances of one another.
It wasn’t quick, we were well built at least, but as years became decades became generations a few dozen became a handful, became a few, became nobody but me.
And now I wait, because soon it will be my turn, and when the gears in my chest wind down there’ll be none left to even notice.
It’s funny, but though the world is so much larger now than once it was, it seems much smaller. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Wonders exist now that my creator would weep with joy at the sight of. The globe can be circled in hours, not weeks, and a machine the size of a world carries the sum total of all human knowledge and makes it available to all, downloading it directly into a human mind via a small jack at the back of the skull.
Even Earth itself cannot hold humanity in it’s grasp, the first colonies on Mars were founded a decade ago, and there’s speculation the moons of Jupiter might be next. By rights the world should be a paradise.
The ghettos have, over the years, grown to swallow the cities that once they were but an unfortunate part of, and a small, squalid life of toil in service to the wealthy few is now the rule, not the exception. The rich, or those with power within the mega-corporations that have usurped elected governments, have the world at their fingertips and behave with the arrogance of Gods, and the masses cower before them.
Oh, there’s talk of “runners” stealing information from the megacorps and giving it to the masses, but every runner I’ve ever met is only in it for his or her own personal gain. Half the time they’re working for one corp and stealing from another. The idea of doing something solely to benefit mankind seems, like golems and zeppelins and revolution, to have been lost to the ages.
So here I wait, in this odd, alien world, to break down and finally shed these mortal coils. And when my time comes, I can not say I’ll miss this world.
And yet when I remember what could have been, remember the sights and sounds and energy and the feeling that anything was possible, I can’t help yearn for days gone by. For the days when zeppelins soared…