The Machine

I fretted over the tiniest details. I had no choice. The complexity of the machine allowed for no interim testing to enable me to gradually build confidence in the eventual success of my endeavor. Instead, like a gambler staking everything on a single throw of the dice, I pursued only a single, final, objective: a machine which operated correctly when completed and engaged. To that end, I labored over every stage of the design and assembly, knowing that even the slightest mistake anywhere in the sequence would mean utter failure, for the complexity of the machine also allowed for no second chances. Either it operated successfully when used the first time, or it would be rendered an unrecoverable heap of ash.

So I bent my back to the task before me, striving for perfection at every step. This meant total devotion to my goal, disregarding all other aspects of my life, or as I came to think of them: distractions. My health suffered, but I considered that merely part of the cost. My already slight frame withered to a pale ghostly image of my former self as I ignored my most essential needs in favor of my single-minded endeavor. In time, I came to feel I was nearing completion, but again the inherent complexity frustrated me as it fogged my perception of progress, leaving me numbly unaware of how much work remained in my task.

Exhaustion became my constant companion, informing every small decision along the way, threatening to overtake me entirely, leaving me as nothing but dust, when suddenly, the finish flashed brilliantly before me. With my stores of energy nearly empty, my goal of the completed machine was now within my reach. With one last surge of effort, I raced to complete the machine and before long I stood back and admired the final product of my labors.

My efforts had scarcely afforded me the time to serve the basic needs of my existence, let alone contemplation of my chances of success. Even if it had, I would not have indulged myself in thoughts of whether the completed machine would operate properly or not. Not only would that be a frivolous waste of precious time, but it also would surely tempt fate. There is no more certain way to ensure the failure of an enterprise than to engage in fanciful visions of a successful outcome.

So, when the machine stood there before me, I was not equipped with mental images of what it would be like to operate it. Instead, I found myself gazing at it blankly, feeling compelled to proceed, but ill-prepared to know what to expect.

It was in this state of numbness that I leaned forward, placed a toaster on the machine’s platform, slowly raised my hand to the power control, and engaged the switch. Designed to absorb the energy it required from its surroundings, it slowly hummed to life.

For what must have been a long time, I stood there motionless, waiting for some indication one way or the other, success or failure. Just when my mind was overcoming the exhaustion and rising to full awareness that nothing was happening, I noticed a glimmer to my right. I turned my head and slowly apprehended something faint and transparent. It slowly emerged as a distinct object – a perfect duplicate of the toaster I had placed on the machine. The full appreciation that the machine had worked successfully crept over me slowly, infusing my consciousness to develop into the full realization that my efforts had led to success. That dull awareness gave way to a sense of jubilation. I was overcome with joy as I beheld that exquisite duplicate of the toaster. It was perfect in every detail.

I was completely absorbed in the admiration of the duplicate. So absorbed that it was some time before I noticed a glimmer beginning to surround it. When I did notice it, I could not understand what the unexpected apparition was. The original toaster was the sole object on the machine’s platform. I watched with wonder as the new glimmer slowly took shape.

I stood there dumbfounded as it slowly occurred to me what was happening. The duplicate toaster was slowly being enveloped by a duplicate of the machine itself. I examined it closely and it was perfect in every detail, down to the engaged power switch. It was at that moment that my attention was drawn to a new glimmer nearby. Now entirely confused, I was confounded to be confronted by yet another toaster, slowly taking shape.

I looked back and forth from this new duplicate toaster and the duplicate machine. Like a thunderclap, the realization hit me that this unexpected duplicate machine was not only perfect in every detail, but it was functioning, and creating yet another duplicate of the toaster. I stood there in bewilderment as this new toaster was slowly enveloped by yet another version of the machine which was yet again a perfect duplicate of the original, down to the engaged power switch. At that moment, I noticed another glimmer was materializing nearby.

I watched in wonderment as this process repeated itself several more times. At this point, a concern shook me from my reverie when the full appreciation of the consequences of this unchecked duplication fell upon me. It was already getting crowded in the room. If it continued, this runaway duplication would proceed endlessly. Nothing could stop it.

Frantically, I rushed to the latest incarnation of the machine and fumbled with the power switch, attempting to turn it off. But it was not yet material enough for me to press it. When it finally was, and I switched it off, it was too late. By then, the glimmer of a new duplicate was already irreversibly appearing. I repeated this process several more times, but each time failing to disengage the power before the formation of the next duplicate was underway. Not only that, but the pace of the duplication was accelerating with each new iteration.

The room filled, then the walls creaked. They gave way with a shudder as new duplicates emerged, bursting through the room’s confines into the world beyond. As the rapid and inexorable spread of the machines began to cover the face of the earth and fill the seas, I found a narrow space and sat down. The exhaustion overtook me and I descended into a thick and heavy darkness. I slept.