Archive for August, 2011
[Sorry – had too many other things to do today]
“I see,” said Enrico. “So all we have to do is find the homes or shops that bear these crests or symbols and deliver the letters there.”
“Precisely,” said Lorenzo. “There’s a set route in which we usually visit the houses when we’re delivering letters within the city. We usually start with Birmingham Manor and then travel around the city from west to east. Are you ready for your first task?”
“I believe so,” said Enrico.
“The carts are designed to be pushed by both of you, working together,” said Lorenzo. “Good luck.”
“You… are you mad?” Lorenzo asked.
“No, good sir, I simply care that much for him,” answered Richard.
“I look forward to getting to know you better. You are willing to work, though, correct?”
“From what I can gather, I don’t have a choice. It’s part of the spell.”
“So it is. I’ve seen transmuted attempt to shirk. They cannot. The spell simply forces them to work against their will. Some of them despise the tasks they are set at so much that they feel they simply must scream, even though they have no mouths. Unfortunately, that means that the rest of us have to hear them screaming in our own minds. It’s not pleasant.”
“I see. In any case, yes, of course I’m willing to work. Even if I did have a choice, I would still do it willingly.”
“Very well. That’s quite enough time for chat. Efficiency and hard work are expected of us transmuted, especially in the matter of delivering letters. Come here, and I’ll teach you how it’s done.”
“Are you the director of this operation?” Enrico inquired.
“In a sense,” said Lorenzo. “I’m only six weeks away from the end of my term of sentence, so I’ve been around for a long time by transmuted standards. I often volunteer to show newcomers what their jobs are. Markus knows this and considers me trustworthy to perform that function. Among ourselves, though, we really don’t have anything like a system of superiors and inferiors. We know we’re all criminals sentenced to the same punishment.”
“Oh,” said Enrico.
Lorenzo showed them to one of the handcarts. “These letters are all going to destinations within the city,” he explained. “They have all been sealed by their senders, but as you can see-” he took out one of the letters to show them- “they have all been marked on the other side with the crest or symbol of their intended recipients.”
“Isn’t it,” agreed Lorenzo. “But, from what people who knew me before have told me, when other people hear my voice in their mind, it sounds exactly like my voice did before.”
“Oh,” Enrico thought. “Well, that’s reassuring. Hey, Richard, are you hearing this?”
“No, I’m not. Can you send thoughts to more than one other person at once?”
“Yes, you can,” Lorenzo answered, “but only by consciously willing it. I’m doing it right now, as a demonstration. Hello, new Eighty-nine. I’m Lorenzo, what’s your real name?”
“Richard Pulsipher. Pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you, too. Aren’t you a native citizen?”
“Yes, actually I am. How can you tell? Do I still have an accent when you hear my voice in your mind?”
“No, you don’t. There are no accents in thought-speech among the transmuted. There are also no differences of language. I’m ‘hearing’ what you’re saying in Kelzian, and, if I’m not mistaken, you must be hearing what I’m saying in the language of $Kingdom.”
“That’s right! I am! Incredible! Have you been hearing my voice in Kelzian all this time, too, Enrico?”
“Yes, I have,” thought Enrico, “even though I know the language of $Kingdom very well.”
“What does my voice sound like?” thought Richard.
“It sounds completely natural.”
“This is how the spell ensures that all the transmuted can work together with no problems,” explained Lorenzo. “Many of us are from Kelzia, but not all of us are. And you, Mr. Pulsipher, how is it that you came to be transmuted? We’ve never had one of your people here before.”
“I know,” said Richard. “I believe I may be the very first of my people to be thus punished. Actually, I chose to bear half of Enrico’s punishment for him, to make it more bearable for him. I’m his friend.”
They ended up outside the entrance to a circular, freestanding tower with a conical roof. There were rows and rows of small handcarts surrounding it, each one consisting of a basket with a lid that could be tied down.
“This, newcomers, is the message depot,” said Markus. “It’s a good place to get you started. Most of the transmuted spend a lot of their time coming and going from this building. This is where we collect all the letters that people write to each other, sort them, and get them delivered. Every single one of those handcarts there has at least one letter in it. The ones on the east side have just come in from the countryside, and the ones on the west side are going out to various residences. Now, I don’t know where any of these things are going, but I do know that you transmuted people can all hear and talk to each other in your minds when you want to. You’ll have to ask one of the others where to take your handcarts. Follow me.”
Markus strode to the door of the tower and entered. Inside were several more carts and many long tables covered with letters. There were at least a dozen other transmuted people here, shuffling and sorting the letters.
“Oy!” Markus shouted to the room at large. “Hold up for a minute and listen up!”
All the activity in the room stopped immediately.
“These are your new numbers Eighty-eight and Eighty-nine,” said Markus. “This is their first day. Someone put them on a route and get them going. A short one, now. I don’t want them straying too far away.”
One of the transmuted nodded to Markus. He nodded back.
“Very well,” he said. “Twenty-eight here will give you your assignment. Goodbye.” Markus left.
“My name is Lorenzo,” said a disembodied voice in Enrico’s mind. “I’m currently number twenty-eight. Welcome.”
“I’m glad to meet you,” answered Enrico. “This is so strange, not being able to tell who is speaking at first.”
He and Richard moved down the stairs as quickly as they could. They couldn’t run quite as fast as they could have in their natural forms, but they were standing in front of the doorway in a few moments.
“That’s better,” said the man. “You newcomers, you always act out of turn at first. That won’t last long.”
“What’s he going to do to us to punish us?” Enrico thought. “It’s not like he can take away anything good. We don’t have anything good.”
“He can give us extra work, I suppose,” thought Richard.
“My name is Markus,” said the man in the doorway. “I am the Taskmaster for the Transmuted. As long as you are here, every time you get your marching orders, they will be coming from me. I’m told you’re only here for six months, and that you, Eighty-nine, are actually a native-born citizen and not a spell-dodger at all. I hope neither of you think that the amount of work you do is going to be any less than anyone else does just because your circumstances are different, though. It won’t be. You’re just more workers to me. In fact, I have your first assignment for you right now. Follow me.”
Enrico and Richard followed Markus out of the stable and across the castle grounds. This was the first time either of them had seen what was inside the castle walls, and they couldn’t help looking around at the strange, new sight. The entire place bustled with activity, with natural humans and transmuted ones alike attending to their various chores.
This new information only made the experience Enrico had just gone through harder to comprehend. He sat down on the floor in the middle of the central corridor of the stable and put his head in his hands. Richard sat right next to him, watching to see whether the other man would welcome an arm placed around his shoulders.
Enrico wanted to cry, but realized that this was now impossible, which only upset him more. Sitting down with his legs straight out in front of him, he took stock of what he had just become.
He had seen the transmuted many times before. They were a fairly common sight around $Kingdom. Many people from many different lands chose to come and live there, but some of them chose to do so in secret, avoiding the test of character and loyalty that had been in place there since the days of the current king’s grandfather. As for those who were caught doing so, as Enrico had been, this was what happened to them.
What made this transformed state a punishment was the fact that those who were in it were, in many ways, less than human. Their forms were similar to those they had in their natural human state- they still had two legs, two arms, a trunk, and a head- but their transmuted forms were more regular and measured than their natural forms. Their limbs were flat, sturdy brass bars, the trunk was a hollow rectangular box, and the head was perfectly spherical. All their joints were exposed and visible- ball-and-socket joints at the hips and shoulders, hinge joints at the knees, and an intricate sort of hybrid joint at the elbows, so that the mechanics of moving about were not very different from what they had been before the transmutation.
The hollow trunk had doors in the front and back sides, and the lower halves of their legs had spoked iron wheels and support struts built into them. The transmuted could kneel down, connect the support struts to the sides of the trunk, and travel on wheels instead of walking, carrying goods, and sometimes letters, within their hollow bodies. They often worked in teams to carry goods in large quantities. Since they were a little under four feet tall when standing, they always had to look up at the people they served, and this was even more true when they were on wheels.
Enrico lost himself in a dark cloud of horror, pondering all this. He didn’t know how long he sat there before he remembered that Richard was there, too.
“Richard,” he thought.
“Yes,” Richard replied. “I’m here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Anything. How I can be alive and yet not alive. How you can be here with me. How we are to live in these forms.”
“I don’t understand it, either. It is most strange. Such is magic, though.”
“Haven’t you ever met anyone who was punished with transmutation and then returned to normal?”
“I have. Those of us who have been through this don’t like to talk about it very much, though. We’re ashamed of it.”
“Oh. But after one completes this sentence, one’s life goes back to normal, does it not?”
“Well… mostly. We do go back to our families and our normal lives, but we bear the shame of having been caught and punished. You’re not quite the same person after being worked like a horse for a year, either. It’s hard to recover your confidence, your dignity. Some people never do.”
“Did you know that would happen to you when you agreed to take the punishment with me, Richard?”
“No. I didn’t. I was only thinking of you. A year is a long time.”
“It is. I can’t understand that, either. I only have to be like this for six months, because you took on half my punishment for me. Such a thing has never been heard of before. What makes me any better or more deserving than anyone else of my people?”
“I can’t compare you to all the rest of your people. I hadn’t really gotten to know any of them very well, before you.”
“Most of your people don’t get to know any of my people very well, not even when they are landlord and tenant.”
“Most of them either act as if their tenants aren’t there, or expect them to work as house servants as payment for their room and board.”
“Yes, I know.”
“You were different, though. Why?”
“I understood that you were working in the fields to earn both your own keep and freedom for your family. I respected that, and understood that it would just be too much for you to do my work in addition to your own, so I never expected you to.”
“But you didn’t pretend that I wasn’t there, either. You wanted to know about where I was from, and how I was getting on. You treated me like a person.”
“You are a person, Enrico, and so are every one of your people. Don’t ever forget that. Especially not now.”
Enrico started, suddenly remembering where they were and what had just happened to them.
“What are we doing, talking about all this?” he exclaimed. “You seem so calm! Don’t you realize that you’re a magical automaton? Aren’t you afraid?”
“I am,” answered Richard. “I’m choosing to think about you and how you feel, to keep my mind off how I feel.”
“But if you’re afraid, then we feel the same way!”
“True. At least we can be afraid together.”
“I don’t want to go up to my room yet.”
“Neither do I.”
“This strange thought-speech might work through walls, though.”
“Do you want to find out?”
Richard and Enrico climbed the stairs to the third level. Enrico went into room 88, and Richard went into room 89.
“Can you still hear me in your mind, Richard?” Enrico thought.
“I can,” Richard thought back. “I imagine you can hear me, too.”
“Yes. It’s not the same as being next to you, though.”
“No. Let’s go back out onto the walkway.”
The two transmuted men came out of the room and sat next to each other on the walkway. Richard decided to let his legs dangle over the edge. After seeing that Richard could do it without losing his balance and falling off the walkway, Enrico followed suit. He found that sitting this way was much more comfortable than sitting on the floor, as he had been previously. Transmuted knees were designed to only bend one way, just like natural human knees, so when Enrico had been sitting on the floor with his legs out in front of him, the wheels built into his lower legs had forced his knees to lock into place and his legs to rise up from the floor at an angle, rather than lying flat against it. His new mechanical hips could accommodate this, but it had nonetheless felt very unnatural. This felt much better.
Enrico held his left hand out, palm up. His forearms were made of two separate flat iron bars attached to different parts of the hybrid elbow joint, making this still possible for him. Richard put his right hand in Enrico’s left.
“How strange!” thought Enrico. “I can feel the weight of your hand, but not the sensation of our hands touching.”
“I feel no such sensation, either,” thought Richard. “Let us trade positions, so I may find out whether I feel the same thing.”
They did. “Indeed,” Richard thought, “it is the same with me. I feel the weight, but not the sensation.”
Enrico was dismayed to find that even the touch of another was denied to the transmuted, but he did not share this thought with Richard. He simply kept his hand where it was and took what comfort he could in the presence of another alongside him. They sat there, not sharing any thoughts with each other, for a long while.
A new, rough-sounding voice was shouting from the entrance to the stable. Enrico looked down from the third-level walkway and saw a burly man standing in the doorway.
“Is that you two up there?” The man was now looking right at Enrico and Richard. “I was told there were new occupants of rooms 88 and 89. What are you doing? Get down here this instant!”
“We were just trying to get used to all this!” Enrico thought desperately, before remembering that natural humans couldn’t hear the thoughts of the transmuted.
Rod pointed the rooms out to them.
“You won’t be spending very much time here,” he explained to them. “Transmuted men don’t sleep very much, but then again, they don’t need to. They spend most of their time working. You may stay here and adjust to things for now. Someone will come along to get you when you are needed.”
Rod left Enrico and Richard alone in the stable.
“I wish you could hear me, Richard,” Enrico thought hopelessly.
Within the swirling jumble of impressions in his traumatized mind, Richard’s voice suddenly sounded loudly and clearly.
“I can hear you, Enrico,” it said. “Can you hear me, too?”
“Yes! Yes, I can!” Enrico thought as hard as he could. “Are you thinking? And I can hear you?”
“Yes, I am just thinking,” Richard’s voice came again, “and apparently you can.”
“I had no idea the transmuted could do that!”
“Neither did I. You can’t hear everything I’m thinking about, can you?”
“No. To me, it sounds like your voice is coming from inside my mind. It’s just like we’re having a normal conversation.”
“That’s what it’s like for me, too. It seems others can only hear the thoughts that you want them to hear.”