The Prime of Suffocation

by Dustin Pickering

Is it in the spirit of Descartes to invent useless machinery that appeals to the gods? Humans, especially scientists, have batted the idea of a perpetual motion machine around for centuries. For millennia, it seemed like snake oil. If we can derive continual energy from simple motions then we will survive eons after our environment is whittled away by greed and stupidity. Democritus was found laughing at human greed. He thought it was humorous that people stab their friends and family in the back for a few inheritance dollars or a vacation. But it was in the back of his head, perhaps, that the universe and the planet could sustain itself endlessly with little labor.

Although I have to admit the prospect seemed bleak after trial and error. Centuries of backsliding put the idea on the backburner. It was only recently resuscitated by Emile Broadset, an Englishman who put pride in discovery over wealth. He sometimes sacrificed health for his inventions. He ran across the idea in an old text from the English Renaissance. He thought it originated with Leonardo da Vinci but couldn’t trace it. He began work on the project when he received a city grant to start research. To actually put the ideas to the test, he would require a financial backer. Eventually that backer was Mark Jones, a sophisticate interested in putting his name in history books. He lavished Emile, and gradually the work paid off.

Naturally there were a few stumbling blocks. Some of the machine relied on air and wheels that circulated. One of the fans was made of thin papyrus-like cloth, and the force of the wind machine tore it. They had to reinforce the cloth with a sort of papier mache.  Another problem occurred when the central battery overheated frequently during test runs. They found ways to lessen its energy consumption without reducing its power. There were many other problems, too many to list.

They managed to overcome them. After fourteen years, they had something that would pass as a motion machine. How could they make it run perpetually? That question haunted Emile’s mind day in, day out. He was certain something could make the machine run constantly. Wind power wasn’t sufficient and solar power didn’t keep it running at night. There were many propositions to energy consumption…even water was suggested. Years went by and the effort was daunting.

Finally, Emile had a battle with his patron. He fought to keep the patronage but he lost it when he couldn’t make the machine run continuously. He re-thought his plans. He thought he could make the machine consume energy from a variety of sources which would be automatically chosen by the machine according to what was available. Earth, air, fire, and water would build this perpetual motion. Emile went sleepless for two nights developing his idea.

Finally he decided he had to prove himself before he got patronage again.

After three months of begging the administrators from a company called Neustra-X, he was given a grant to work on the project as he saw fit. The company began as an engineering firm with patents ranging from new incubators to chemical compounds that would reduce the chance for illness. They are even said to be the first to create a sure fire way to cure the common cold.

Emile set to work after the grant was fixed. He built the machine and settled it into the dirt. It would use earth to keep a cycle running, and then water would push the machine’s motion. The dirt granted the turning of the wheel some momentum. The heat baked the mud and set it into small bricks. The bricks were then transported by water route to another location nearby. Air kept the turnstiles moving, and thick straw was used to give shape to the mud. All this seemed like a lofty experiment but given time, it began to see fruit. The runway the bricks of mud and straw followed gave the machine absolute power and showed how motion truly worked. It seemed like the machine could run forever by digging dirt and moving it. Once it was in motion, it could not be stopped.

The strange thing about this motion machine is its inability to command its own direction. It acts as a kind of surface tension. When the stars were glittering through the cloudy mud of the sky, they were like diamonds rippling in a pond. There are probably haikus written to express this experience, this luminous joy. The machine would borrow the energy of those ripples, contort it, and seize it for ineradicable power. The plan is to maintain control of the machine from the ground.

Emile often reflected on the truth of the Universe, its possible dissolution. How could perpetual motion exist in a Universe bound by finite laws? Perhaps the struggle of the Universe to overcome its own boundaries is its way of trailblazing and creating itself anew. When the Universe stretched out, it stretched evenly on all sides as if some grid were enclosed in its parameters. As each segment of the grid grew in size, other segments naturally appeased its wishes. Somehow it was impossible to deny the existence of God when these speculations arose. Emile thought deeply on the magic of night.

Equidistance, that imprisoned fact of life, succumbs to the right to expand and grow. The Universe pushes its way across the emptiness of space—it does this during short breathless moments in time. As the physical grid enlarges in scope, unto infinity, the position of things remain sterile since stars are fixed. Yet all things somehow compensate for the difference. This is how time and space are related. As Emile pondered this great question, he watched the wheels of his invention turn and move. He imagined something bigger. What if this machine could be created in such a way that it could transcend the barrier of space and time, reach into the beyond where the physical universe had not already?

Suddenly physical matter didn’t matter as much as the dog barking across the street. After all, it was barking at its own shadow and chasing its own tail. So Emile reflected further. This time on how he could create this machine he imagined. If Man can conceive it, he can create it: an old maxim.

Surface tension perplexed him. He conceived of the Universe as one man peering upward from the bottom of a pond to glare through the slow ripples occurring on the surface. He let this thought simmer awhile. Finally it dawned on him how he could create his machine. He had a theoretical model. He wasn’t sure how to piece it together in practice.

Those ripples are gravitational waves, he imagined. The sky above is a convex mirror that reflects back to the pond. As light travels at a uniform speed but vision differs according to position (position being the variable in this equation), the convex mirror of the Actual beams against the realm of the Possible where true freedom—the right of motion, barred with gravity—creates and re-creates itself as multiple intuitions, and is guided by the transmission of electromagnetic waves composed of particles in uniform motion. That the limits of the physical universe are defined by the convex nature of it granted him serious speculation.

Suddenly Emile knew why there was a breach in the answers concerning individuation and unity. He thought deeper, like Rodin’s sculpture. His hand planted firmly on his chin, brows knitted, and his back tilted. He knew—not now, but he would soon—the origins of everything, the science of all. He suddenly understood that to exceed the limits of the physical universe he would have to break its barrier, the same way the sound barrier was broken. He would have to design an engine that could rouse that much force and sustain that much pressure.

He conceived a plan based on his newfound understanding. The machine would have to be able to bend easily. It would need multiple parts that resisted electromagnetic forces. His new machine would have to provide counter-energies against repulsion and attraction. It would by nature have the ability to command these forces to its own advantage. It would need to have some traction that could unify and disperse matter and the particles in motion that aligned objects.

Now what kept the balance? There was no balance. Physical objects sustained their forces and compensated for one another’s ellipses. Perhaps the machine would run on panels that orbit in circles? Perhaps like those on the current machine? What is the distance from Emile at ground level, and the vacant lot past the existence of matter? This question bedeviled Emile for the next few days. Something must exist past the known Present, after the fertile gap in space-time.

Emile approached his patron after careful thinking on the subject, and how he would present it. He asked for a few moments to discuss his future plan.

“I believe I can create a machine that breaks space-time,” Emile says, “and is able to grant an infinite source of energy for all of the world. It would save us immeasurably if we could bring this to life. I think it sounds preposterous, right? But it can be done. With the technology I have already developed.”

“Tell me more. I’d love to hear you on this.”

“Well, the space-time barrier is composed like the sound barrier—it is an artificial boundary that enough force and speed can break.” Emile became excited. “It is past the speed of light. After we cross that threshold, the machine will automatically run its new course and revolve in perpetual motion. Since it would be outside the space-time barrier, its energies would dilate the entire physical universe and create more light, more infinity, more wonder!” Emile then paused to see if he appeared credulous.

“Can you assure that the machine won’t be annihilated in flight? How do we create this, it has never been conceived?” Emile shook his head briefly as if he knew this question would come up.

“Listen. I already have it all planned. Titanium. It’s as strong as heaven would allow!”

“The entire machine would be made of titanium? That may be costly. How can you assure me this machine isn’t quackery?” Emile paused. He looked at his patron sincerely.

“It won’t. It just won’t.”

His patron shifted positions. Then he stood up and spoke softly and strongly. “I’ll ask the company on this. It will in fact be expensive. But, if it is as you say it, it will be worth the expenditure. I am willing to push for it.”

Emile developed a different attitude toward businessmen. After all, they are the usual people with numbers in a bank ledger. They behaved generously to him. He expected his patron would find some way to get his project off the ground.


Four months later, his project budget was approved. It wouldn’t cover every cost, but he could easily find others to chip in. He began work immediately under the supervision of his patron and those who invested in him. Although it made him nervous, he dealt with it calmly because he knew they were doing him a favor.

He stood up and smiled. His patron spoke, “I think you should be proud.”

“Yes,” he responded. “This is certainly something I value.” He beamed deeply.

The work lasted fourteen months. After he developed a team of entrepreneurs, his work sped up. He finalized the production on April 4, 2045. He was ready to see it fly.

Emile approached his patron again to tell him the good news. They both shared a drink together to celebrate. After the drink, his patron asked him when he planned to test the machine. Emile smiled half-heartedly, “I don’t want to test it. I have faith that it is ready to fly. Tests would cost extra and would be futile. Let’s set it on the sky!”

His patron stepped back. “Are you sure you are prepared?”

“Yes,” responded Emile, “it is ready, without a doubt.”

“Well, are you sure we shouldn’t just start it up and see how it sounds at least?”

Emile stuttered slightly, “Yes. It is perfect as it is. Give me three more days.”

Neustra-X gave the green light on Emile’s decision. After three days passed, they brought the machine into a room prepared by the company using Emile’s directions. There was a platform for launch, a device to track the machine in flight, a space in the ceiling that opened up on command, and a digital map to observe the machine’s flight in detail. This map was set against the back wall where the company could watch it as well as Emile.

They opened the space in the ceiling after putting the machine on mechanical arms to bridge it steadily. When the arms were slowly withdrawn, they would rocket the machine into the open air. It would reach the outer limits after thirty minutes of straight flight. Uninterrupted, it should make the edge of the space-time barrier after picking up speed in the outer regions. It would break the space-time barrier after six minutes and meet the edge in seconds after.

Emile clenched his teeth. When the machine hit the air, it was quickly in outer space.

The company smiled on Emile. His patron looked at him with a twinkle in his eye. Then he boldly proclaimed, “Emile! The hero of this planet! After cautiously plugging away at this machine for the past year, it is finally come to light! Hooray!”

Emile turned from the crowd to stare at the stars. He reached in his pockets instinctively. He felt something in his left hand pocket. He slowly pulled it out, suspecting it to be pertinent to the situation. It was the silicon chip that was meant to be plugged into the machine to make it accountable to the team in charge of the flight. It was the mapping chip.

Emile gasped but didn’t say anything. He realized that without this chip there was a chance the machine would become independent and cease to respond to commands. Rather than send a robot into space, they sent a mechanical human who could withstand powerful force. He thought this was extremely dangerous.

He put the chip between his fingers and cracked it quickly. It was useless.

“Avery-1, calling Station Paramount. Avery-1.” The machine learned to speak and was calling the Station before anyone was aware it succeeded in its capacities.

Emile shuddered. The machine developed independent thought and was acting on its own initiative. This meant its actions were its decisions and no one could control it. Since it was in a dreadful place to make important decisions that would affect the earth community, Emile was worried. He sighed because he felt resignation in his bones.

He spoke sharp like lightning. “Men, I must tell you. The machine is its own now. We can’t control it. God be with us.”

His colleagues thought he was joking. Or pretended to anyway.

“But we added a chip that effectively leashed the machine to our cause?” said his partner in invention.

“Yes…and it was not inserted as I planned.”

Over the static noise of the tracking device, the machine finally spoke.

“I am post-matter. I am now within the beyond where your search originated.”

Emile’s eyes darted to and fro, and he worried immensely.

“I am my own being. I am informing you the mission is now mine. You can do nothing to change my direction,” the machine spoke in snippets of mechanical tone.

Gradually Emile felt gravity tug at his heart. Worry filled his spirit. He felt the entirety of physical existence being torn from him. He tried to fight but it was inevitable. The machine was using its position to annihilate being.

“I am becoming God,” the machine said across all physical space, “I know the ruins. Now I am your God. It is futile to fight.”

Seconds later, all physical matter was a blip on a television screen. The world disappeared. Time reversed itself rapidly. In the end, all that was left was the machine in a protoplasmic jelly like a plant cell.

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