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I floated in a blank field of white. A low rumble pervaded the space.

Out of the blank field sounded a mighty contralto voice.

Your obnoxious banging was loud enough to wake the dead. What a shame you're lit up like a little star. It made you so much easier to find. 

"You wanted me to find you," I said. "And speaking of dead, I have a few people I'd like you to revive. You're the only one around here who can do it." 

Oh? Turn off your light and look at me before you make a request like that.

"My light? I thought it was your light."

One moment, then.

From somewhere beyond the light came a sound like a thousand electric motors, followed by a mighty gust of wind. The light around me faded. I was left in darkness. The motors ceased, but the rumble continued.

That was a powerful enchantment of yours, said the machine, but not enough to challenge me. No one of your size can challenge me.

"I'll take that into consideration," I said. "But the enchantment was from my friend, not me. My friend is the wizard. I'm just a humble shaman, trying to gain an audience with a god. Isn't that what we do? Try to meet the gods halfway? I gotta tell you, I don't trust half the stuff the books tell me about shamaning, and it's not like there's anyone else in the city for me to ask...not that I've bothered to look, come to think of it. I bet I could ask my sister. Anyway, here I am, just hoping you'll see fit to grant —"

Silence. You make too much noise in my head for one so small. Who are you?

"Patricia...Snapdragon-McFisticuff."

Really.

"Scout's honor."

And where have you come from, little shaman?

"From Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn."

 Brooklyn? You're from the Center? Excellent. I'll add you and your little wizard friend to my city. I was going to let you go after a while, but considering how much damage you two have done since we spoke last, I think you're no better than the ones who have come before. You're going to stay for a long, long time.

"Do you know where my friend is? Can I see her?"

Her light went out a while ago. If she's not at the end of the line of destruction she wrought, I have no idea where she is. You can't expect me to keep perfect track of everything that goes on within me, can you? Not at your size. Maybe my efficient and organized immune system will find her, and bring her to where I can make use of her. Or maybe she's completely lost.

Lost in the machine. In the dark. I liked the dark. Jo didn't. Likely as not she was going to get snagged by a robot arm and I had to put on a brave face.

"You want to add us to the city, is that it? Here's a deal. You let me go. I find my friend and bring her to the city. We stay there. You get both of us instead of just little old me. In return, you revive whatever Wax People, Cardboard People, etc. that broke into pieces when they fell from Up New York. That way, you get more people to populate your city, plus a shaman and a wizard. What do you say?"

That...sounds like a better bargain for me than for you. Forgive me for being a trifle suspicious of your terms.

"Look, I just want to see the wax people alive again and find my friend. You can either take this deal, or leave it."

Swear to me that when you find your friend, you will bring her to the city. Swear that you will not interfere with my plans for her.

This bargain was getting harder. What was Ms. Machine likely to do? How was she going to keep us forever?

Take it or leave it, said the machine.

"Fine," I said. "I swear to bring my friend Jo to your city, and to do nothing, nor say anything, that would interfere with your plans for her."

Keep your word, and I will uphold my end of the bargain.

"One last question," I said.

Yes?

"How big are you?" 

I shall show you in a form you can comprehend.

I heard a metallic creaking, and a line of white light appeared before me on the horizon. No. Not the horizon. It wasn't curved like the horizon, and it seemed to stretch twice as far.

The creaking continued as I watched the line thicken into a thin, tapered ovoid. Within the light was a dark band, running from one side of the ovoid to the other in a shallow curve. The light on the left of the band was almost white; the light to the right of the band was blue.

The thin ovoid became a thicker ovoid, an almond shape. A circular void of darkness appeared to the right of the blue light. To its right was more blue light, then the band, then white light again.

The creaking stopped with a mighty metallic thud, and there before me was an eye.

One eye.

"I can't —"

...

The next thing I knew, there was a regular-sized face in front of me. An iron face. Blank, unchanging. Regular-sized. Reassuring

I looked around. Here stood the iron people, still, waiting for me to come back with the souls of the waxen men.

But the Waxen still lay in pieces on the ground, unmoving. Here I stood, having brought back nothing tangible.

The iron people were staring at the pieces. Then they looked up at me.

They clanked their iron fists into their iron palms.

I quickly signed wait and help me. They kept pounding. I signed Please and I and soft. Some of them stopped pounding, and signed yes and good.

Well, this wasn't going to end well if I stayed here. But what could I do? Speed Walk out of there? Through iron? Into an unknown path?

Slim chance of survival versus certainty of death. No contest. I unfocused my eyes and  flexed my fingers, spun three times, and strode forward.

The Speed Walk is a waking dream-state that requires a Shaman to fix two things in their mind: the path they wish to take, and the goal. All other considerations are ignored. All obstacles are illusions. There is only the path, and the goal, and every building goes by in a blur. Every person goes by in a blur, except the beggars, who have a gravity the dream state cannot ignore, and are visible from a long way off. Speed Walking is an easy way to spot the beggars in a crowd and reach them quickly, if that is your will. By the same token, Speed Walking makes them easy to avoid. They see you going by, but the cannot catch you.

The Speed Walk requires one to fix the path in one's mind. This was tricky, because I had no idea what I was stepping into besides darkness. My first gamble, here, was that picturing a long dark hallway full of pipes would fulfill this requirement. The second gamble was that "outside the circle of iron people" would work as a valid destination.

I strode forward, and the iron people became a blur. Slow iron hands reached out to grab me and passed through. Slow iron feet stamped and I could hear them only as a distant thud.

As far as I'm aware, the Speed Walk does not work outside of New York. It must be a New York thing, what with all the people rushing through the busy town. You walk fast and you talk fast and you eat fast on the way, and outsiders believe our minutes are shorter, which is true by a few Yoctoseconds (more each year as Coyote gnaws at the borders). But mostly it's the culture. We work harder and faster to earn more money to spend it more quickly than people do in small towns, and  we all live under great stress, and that makes everything seem slower to us even as we're moving fast, so we don't notice the difference even if the outsiders do. There's that, and the fact that the Subway means we basically walk everywhere, so we have to walk fast, which makes life seem more frantic in NY than any place besides D.C., and perhaps LA. All I'm really doing is taking that hustle and amplifying it to serve my purposes. The City says "walk fast", and I obey to a greater degree than what was asked of me.

Stopping is a bit of a problem. I have no drag chutes, and no anti-lock brakes. I wish! All I can do is hit the ground rolling and hope nothing sharp is in my way. That's part of the reason I always wear a padded leather jacket and skullcap -- imagine doing a sudden somersault on hard concrete. I learned about that the hard way, the first time. I don't care if I look like some kind of Punk. Punk's not dead anyway.

This particular Speed Walk wasn't stopping, though. I whooshed through iron people and the open doorway and into the metal hallway full of wires not pipes and I wasn't coming close to slowing down and I didn't know where I was going and at this rate I would walk right out of the machine altogether and

and my feet struck something hard, and I tripped, and barely managed to turn my fall into a somersault, and rolled quite a ways before stopping.

Now who could possibly have caught me?

I turned around. There in the midst of the hallway, between me and a distant throng of iron figures, was two halves of an iron person. The legs were standing, idly shifting their weight. The upper half, a male-patterned body, was staring straight at me. He elbowed the legs, which leapt into a loud tap-dance. Then he held out his hands.

So this was a beggar. And yet, something of a pantomime of one, for surely the iron people didn't need money or food? And yet, he'd been solid and real while I was walking, which meant he was begging for something.

I signed, what do you want?

He signed help me.

I signed  If you help me.

You help me first. Help us.

Tell name please.

P-I-G. Name have sign: he flapped his hand below his chin twice. Help Pig. Help friends.

Who? How?

He tapped the legs twice, who turned towards him. He tapped on them in a complex pattern that sounded like Morse code. The legs proceeded to the wall and gave them a deafening, shattering kick, exposing a hole. Pig gestured for me to follow, as he and Legs McGee disappeared through it.

I wasn't certain about following them, but I heard a lot of stomping feet from the room I had escaped, and I figured staying here was about as wise as trying to Speedwalk through an unfamiliar machine. Wherever Pig was going, he probably knew what he was doing.

...

Of course, that didn't mean he fully understood how fragile a being of flesh and bone was, which was why he was willing to lead me on a path beneath grasping robotic arms and whirring plates. Had I a head of thick, poofy hair, they would have snatched the hair away, along with most of my scalp. Maybe grab me and send my various body parts on separate tours of the machine. Those fancy blue currents of energy didn't look friendly either, and I wasn't sure if a leather jacket would keep me safe from them. But if I had to stoop, so did the people following me. I wasn't sure if anyone was following me -- their clatter would have been drowned out by the noise of the machine. Still, I kept looking behind me for the shift of a shadow beneath the blue glow.

My guides stopped. Pig clambered up onto Legs, and proceeded to bang twice on one of the pipes.

A circle of the floor turned as it rose, and dark, brown, metal hands lifted the slab. Pig and Legs McGee slipped through the opening, and I followed.

I found myself in a small room filled with bronze body parts, and no few wax ones either.  And some background music. Something from a '60s sci-fi movie. That was a nice touch. A dim yellow light, in one of those industrial light-cage things, lit the room.

The bronze figure set the slab down with a thud, and turned to me. This was the figure of a short-haired woman, not detailed save for the metal grille set in the midst of her eternally open mouth, and the crank on her cheek. Pig and Legs McGee stood behind her.

She turned the crank. Hello, said a man's voice, this is a recording, said a woman's voice. Bits and pieces of those who have come before, said the recording, and indeed, each word was in a distinct voice. This call will be monitored for the purposes of quality control.

"
Fair enough", I said.

Many have come before. Many have sought to  improve us, or save us, or escape, and all have failed. We do not wish to be saved. Pig here says you were in a trance. Were you speaking to the Machine?

"That is correct. I made a deal with her. She forgives the destruction I wrought, lets me go and find my friend, and revives everyone who broke in the fall. In exchange, I stay with my friend in the city forever, and we don't interfere in her plans for us."

You...bargained using the life of your friend. Not just your own, but someone you care about.

"Well, yeah, now that you mention it, it does seem a little -- "

You had no chance to ask your friend if she wanted in on this bargain.

"Well -- "

One of the people who came before you told me of a book called the...I can't remember. Spell it out, Pig?

Pig signed the letters M-A-H-A-B-H-A-R-A-T-A.

The bronze woman continued. One of the stories in there is about aman who gambles and keeps losing until he finally decides to wager the lives of his family. He was gambling against someone who had weighted dice. And you were negotiating from a similar position of weakness, and you bargained with something that doesn't even belong to you. You traded the life of a friend  --

"For the lives of a lot of people I don't know. Yeah, I imagine Jo is going to be mad when she finds out...but what do you mean, similar position of weakness? The Machine wasn't playing with loaded dice. We weren't even gambling."

Oh, honey, the Machine always plays with loaded dice. That's part of how a city works.

"I thought she just wanted to populate her city, is all. I figured she'd put us in a dollhouse or something and —”

Her city? HER city? Who says it belongs to her? She just runs the damn thing. Who said it wasn't already populated? Did you ever think to ask?Did you have any idea what you were agreeing to?

She strode over to a lever on the wall, and yanked it. The far wall rumbled and shook, and pulled back to reveal a metal platform, hanging above a space wider and taller than I could see. It was a network of narrow, branching, almost root-like streets outlined in glowing blue, running between low buildings, and in the very center stood a massive, twisting shape of metal, resembling a tree, save for the areas where the surface was torn away in jagged sheets. Behind this structure was a network of criss-crossing girders that resembled the hollow interior of bird bones. High in the structure, twelve great green lights clung to the area around an exposure.

With the power from this place, she's been populating her city for a very long time. What do you think the factory makes?

"Anything it wants, I expect. But...I thought Big Chief and his crowd made all the metal people and stuck them in Up New York. I thought you and the iron people and the wax people were intruders on this place."

No, no. I have no idea who this Big Chief is, and I haven't heard of any Up New York, but if there are any Metal People up there, they came from here.

"Uh, yeah, about that...Up New York..."

What did you do?

"What makes you think I did anything?"

You're a tourist. You tend to leave heavy footprints. You, especially, have demonstrated extreme impulse and recklessness, which means you've probably ruined more than one --  Oh, I'm getting too down again. I'll be nicer. Tell me, what happened?

"Their air-defense system registered me and my friend as intruders and basically destroyed the entire place."

Oh. Well. I'm very sorry. Seems like a bit of a design flaw there. Anyway, the machine wants you and your friend to be stuck on that tree in a state of eternal servitude. See? If she can use your power, she has enough to control the tree. Then she can sweep away everything we've built and re-make everything her way.

"So you're saying she wants to play at being Donald Trump." 

 No who idea who that is, but possibly. Anyway, you're even more of a prize than the previous twelve people to come by, because you pledged to do whatever she tells you to do. So you can't even resist, unlike the people who are currently stuck on the tree. Unless you want her to renege on the bargain, and snuff a bunch of strangers. You see what you've gotten yourself into?

"I said I wouldn't interfere. That doesn't mean you can't interfere. That doesn't mean the people down there can't interfere. And my friend will be perfectly willing to raise hell as well." I crossed my arms. "I think I left some wiggle room. Didn't I?"

Forcing other people to fight your battles is --

"Realpolitik. I can't be risking my very important life, you know. That's what got Richard the Lionheart killed, and Valens, and —"

Right, and that attitude is why people talk about Anarchy as a political philosophy. You have got to be better than that. Look, here's what we're begging you: leave.

Pig frantically signed No. Save W-I-Z-A-R-D-S please. I tried not to look like I had noticed.

 The bronze lady kept talking.  This city is a living thing. It's not your toy, it's not something you can fool around in like it's your playground the way you've treated so many other places. You can't save the people who are on the tree already. Just find a way out of this machine heart and never tell anyone where you've gone.

"How do you know where else I've been? The only other person who's travelled with me is Jo. She's the only one who could know where I've gone."

Oh? Who did you tell where you were going?

"My Mom, I always tell her where...wait. When did you see her? Where is she?"

Somewhere in the city, I expect. If you leave the city, I can try to find her and tell her where you've gone. She shouldn't be too hard to find in the midst of a bunch of metal people.

"First of all, you don't know my Mom. Secondly, I'm not going to let you speak for me, especially to my own Mother. I'm going to find her and find Jo and then I'll figure out what to do with the Wizards. If you want to help, follow me. Otherwise, stay here with your broken people."

But the tree can't --

I strode out to the metal platform and down its set of wobbly stairs, down to the city below.

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