Extraordinary Machine

mmmExtraordinary Machine
by Lila Evans

The professor took the stage, his heart fluttered, hands shook and eyes watered. He could no longer differentiate between elation and fear, between necessity and desire. His only certainty was the knowledge that he had created something of such a vast magnitude, of such staggering consequence, something that the human race was by no means ready for. Yet it had been done.
The lights bore down on him like the florescent tails of a thousand comets. If he could see his colleagues he would surely lose his nerve. As it stood, the herculean stage lights created a veritable sea of ebony, an ignorant sea that he would soon part the waters of.
“Ladies and gentleman.” The Professor spoke. It was done. Any thoughts of destroying the machine, of never speaking of it again, of taking it apart bit by precious bit, that was lost. He had spoken. He must continue.
“Ladies and gentleman, I thank you all for coming out tonight, and I can assure you this instant that you won’t regret the trip. It is far too often that we as scientists overshoot. It is far too often that we take the grandeur of our ideas as the seed of God. That we crown ourselves as kings and queens of the infinite universe. That being said, the coronation may still take place. This may be the first time in all of history, that the invention outstrips the bravado. I have promised you something extraordinary, and something extraordinary is what I will deliver.”
The professor paused and in that pause he could feel the collective intake of breath. The lungs of the audience tensed as if underwater, awaiting the vital dose of oxygen. He could feel the exhilaration in every soul. They knew as well as he that his invention would spur a spiritual, mechanical and physical reformation. An awakening of every sense. His eyes flickered to the covered machine behind him, no bigger than a washing machine, but the power. The Professor felt a surge of blood whoosh through his temples.
“Before the unveiling, before I demonstrate…” The Professor swallowed his speech. There was too much to say. He could tell the black shadows in the auditorium everything. He could tell them of his years of struggle, of the building and destroying of dozens of machines. He could tell them of the nightmares and the paranoia. He could waste a thousand syllables, or he could show them. He crept backwards, feeling every inch a ghastly god as he tugged the white sheet from the machine and revealed a contraption of intense mechanical detailing. Was it an orrery? For tiny planets appeared to orbit the metallic vase of the center. Was it an X-ray? There were optics akin to those in the den of a medical practitioner. The Professor himself did not know. Somewhere between the idea and the assembly there had been a complete lack of rhyme or lucidity. He knew only that his extraordinary machine was like a fluke in genetics. It was a powerful mutation of incomprehensible robotics.
The audience was still and quiet as hunting lions, the Professor was not a gazelle however, but a lion of a different magnitude. The sight of the machine empowered and emboldened him to a preposterous degree.
A restless voice shattered the apprehensive calm and the Professor started, forgetting that he was in a room filled with spectres.
“We have heard this speech more than we have heard the national anthem.” The audacious voice remarked. “Words are nothing. Science is one field that requires demonstration. We are not men of fancy limericks. Show us this life-altering box of tin at work or squelch your boastful ravings.”
The Professor could not see the speaker, but he imagined a silver fork floating out into the dark crowd right into that cynical mouth. That restless soul would be eating his words.
“Very well.” The Professor bared his teeth in triumphant acquiescence as he stepped to the machine. The lights overhead were dimmed on the snap of the Professors’ fingers and the wide empty slide of the machine was projected onto the wall for all to see.
The Professor stooped to pick up the first of his test subjects. Unscrewing the lid of a glass jar, the professor reached inside and plucked out a garden snail and placed it gently upon the slide. The wall behind him was lit with the image of the tiny snail, which by a trick of the projection lights appeared as big as a large canine. The Professor’s hands trembled with a rabid trepidation as he fumbled with his machine. The first switch spun the planets and their metallic arms into a slow orbit. The pull of a lever cause the slide to make a downward ascent into the metallic vase. The snail was lowered out of sight, but its giant doppelganger was still visible upon the back wall.
The red-copper planets began to orbit faster and faster until they became no more than a dizzying blur. It became apparent at this point that something extraordinary was taking place within the bowels of the machine.
It began slowly at first, the snail on the screen began to oscillate and contract, as plants on video move on extreme fast forward. The glutinous body lost its pigment. The shell melted down and encased the body in a clear coating. A budding of tissue appeared around the mouth cavity. All of these infinitesimal alterations occurred in the span of a minute and then suddenly the machine gave a loud pop and the movements of the rotating arms came to a halt. There was a faint whirring as the slide was brought back to the surface and its mutated tenant emerged slithering in confused circles.
At that very moment the Professor wished that it was not so dark in the audience. He wished that each and every face could be projected onto the large screen as the snail was. He craved their awestruck reactions.
A phantom voice broke the silence. “What have we just witnessed?”
There were murmurs of goading curiosity.
“What has happened to the snail? What have you done to the creature?”
It was now the time to woo his captive spectators with the final revelation. He turned to the crowd.
“What you have just seen is something that in nature, takes hundreds of thousands of years. I have condensed time. We have just seen the ravages and tweaks of evolution over the span of one million years. The ordinary garden snail, when placed in the Evolution Machine, has evolved into a shell-skinned predator. It has grown rows of tiny teeth. Its body has been encased with a hard clear skin. It has become an efficient ruminating beast. “
The hum of whispers rushed up to the stage. The professor caught words here and there.
“If you think that the snail is spectacular, you should see what happens to a fruit fly, nature’s fastest evolving species.” The Professor inched to the side of the stage to fetch another of his creatures. “Now you shall see what becomes of a common rat.”
The audience fell back into strained silence as the Professor went through the motions with the grey rat. The machine was built to accommodate various sizes, up to something as large as a horse. It contracted like a beating heart as he dropped the stunned rat onto the slide.
“Now as we watch this evolution take place, I would like to point out that rats have remained quite static in their evolution, easily discernible as rodents even millions of years ago. Now we will see what happens to the static mammal when given several million years.”
The machine began to whir. Above on the projection the rat compressed and diminished in size. What began as a large rodent soon shrivelled away into a diminutive gnat. The machine clicked to a stop.
“Where did the rat go?” A desperate voice in the audience called out.
“The rat is still here.” The Professor gestured to the slide where the now miniscule rodent sat. “Note the size-diminishment, the antenna like projections on its forehead, the rearrangement of the mandibles. The common rat has become an insect-hybrid. It has become as systematic as an ant.”
There was a sudden rush of desire from the audience. A call for more and more. Everyone wanted to know what would happen if a cat was placed in the evolution machine. A crow. A dragonfly. A seal. A bat. A chimpanzee.
It was only a matter of seconds before the most obvious and harrowing notion was raised.
The Professor was sure that it came from the first bold voice who had dared to silence him. The voice rose above the crowd and deadened the room with one challenging word.
“Human.” The voice said. “What would happen if you put a human in the machine?”
The Professor salivated with scientific curiosity. “What would happen indeed!” It was the very question that the Professor had intended to uproot with the unveiling of the machine. But more than he desired debate and conjecture, the Professor yearned for vindication and movement. For eager volunteers to step forward and give themselves up to the machine. How could they do otherwise? Science is God. Science is the sun. The Evolution machine is the sacrificial altar, the link between deity and humanity.
The bold voice took on an identity as the man stood up, his sallow face caught a stage light and became a beacon in the crowd. “I volunteer myself for your extraordinary machine.”
“I’m sure that is quite illegal.” A more rational voice opined.
“I want to do it.” The bold man’s features twisted into fanatical lines at the thought of denial and the Professor was overcome with a ghastly hallucination. The bold man was a hyena. He was a vulture of the brain feasting upon the carrion of brilliant thought. He wanted to thieve the glory. He wanted to be the first to evolve. What would the inventor of the Evolution Machine be next to ‘the man who evolved.’ The Professor would become obsolete.
“No, no, no.” The Professor’s voice came out in a hysterical staccato as he tried to hide his true reason for the deprival of the bold man’s wishes. “It would be insane to test my machine upon a human being. There is no devolution. It is impossible. To evolve in the machine would be a permanent transformation. Nature cannot be reversed.”
The Professor did not buy his own words. Even as he tried to convince the audience of the lunacy of the bold man, the Professor had two fingers at his throat, loosening his tie. As the tie fell to the stage the Professor began to fiddle with trembling fingers at the mechanisms of the machine. A distraction was in order, the Professor was sure of it.
“Now I will fetch the next test-subject from off stage.” Quick as a dart the Professor bounded off stage. No sooner was he out of sight then he began a hectic strip. A furious madness overtook him as he stepped out of his suit and kicked off his loafers. There was no time to think, no time to question. Like jumping off a cliff into the water, or pulling off a band-aid, the act must be done without the brain catching wind of your temporary psychosis.
He dashed back out onto stage, no longer a gentleman, but a crazed streaker.
“He’s going to use it on himself.” The only voice that spoke was not a voice of fear. It was just a comment from the one person who could not resist to witness an act without making a narration of it. Everyone else held their tongues. Were they afraid? Were they excited? The Professor could not tell. Such is the nature of human curiosity. When one witnesses an accident, do they want to see a macabre scene of blood, or triumphant survivors walking away unharmed? The Professor did not know either, but as he made his wild sprint across stage he chanced upon the bold man’s face. The features were twisted into a mask that was quite horrific. It was a jealous scowl, a hideous glare of betrayal. That gargoyle face was the last sight that the Professor saw before he entered his machine. Not one colleague or a single audience member stepped forth to hold him back as he shrank into the bewildering contraption.
What happened next, the Professor could not see. It was for the eyes of the audience and the bold man alone.
Upon the screen, the Professor’s image began a terrible metamorphosis. Not a word left a mouth as the flesh of the Professor became soft as dough. The underlying muscles were seen to relax and fade. The body became amorphous in its skeletal build. The hair receded until there was nothing left. The pubic hair, under arm hair and facial hair dwindled to sporadic wisps. The cranium became engorged to a piebald pumpkin. The teeth shrank to round pygmy pearls. The room grew quieter still as breaths were held and hearts stopped. The fate of every human was mapped out on the grand wall, and the design was hideous and alien. The creature shrivelled thinner, the skin as translucent as the cap of a jellyfish. When the machine finally clicked to a stop with a startling bang there was nothing left to look at. The screen was blank.
The bold man stood amongst the mute crowd and warily approached the stage.
“There is nothing inside.” He told the others as he peered at the vacant interior of the machine. “The Professor has vanished.”
The bold man eyed the gauge. One million years. While the garden snail became a predator, and rats became as miniscule and efficient as ants, humans became ghastly decrepit aliens. The heinous jealousy of the bold man gave way to an undertow of loathing for himself. His hand inched up to his tie as he reset the gauge.

Leave a Reply