The Man-Machine
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When I went to bed that night, I briefly imagined snuggling up to him. The pressure of his legs pressed against mine, the warmth of his back on my chin, the soft smoothness of his skin. Then the moment passed, and I clutched the pillow a little tighter.

I don't remember how I first met him, really. It feels so long ago. All I remember is that we met, we spoke, we ate, and I fell in love. I hid it from everyone. Even myself. I wasn't scared of what I felt - I had no reason to be. I see now that I hid it because I didn't know if it was real. I was terrified of tricking myself into being something I wasn't. I still don't know if I am. I don't think I want to either. But I think I loved him nonetheless, and I regret that I never found out.

I never told him that I loved him. I still don't know if I did. I wanted to be near him. I wanted to be with him. I wanted to do things with him, both innocent and depraved. But I never wanted to say that I loved him. I don't think I ever felt comfortable doing so. Not even with my parents. I said the words, but I don't think that I meant them. I wish I could have. I wish I had an ounce of his courage.

Our paths diverged early on, with rumors of an upcoming revolt at a slave auction in the inner City. Ion, of course, would be there. He knew that my sympathies lay with his, and so he beseeched my presence at the revolt. Having a prince of Cogwork present would lend the freedom movements within the City immeasurable credulity. Seeking only to be near him, I of course acquiesced and remained mum, eager to participate in the revolution. Yet as the day came, I confess that I grew craven and afraid. When the day came, I feigned illness. But the pain and fear within my belly were real. They were not born of the autocracy, nor their enforcers, nor even the thought of being seen with Ion … but of my father.

Even as a man of iron, I feared my father's wrath and sought his approval desperately. I would have debased myself for a kind word of his. I alternated between desperate desire and fervent hatred. I deluded myself into thinking that I had a reason to hate my father. I deluded myself into thinking that I did not in fact owe all my privilege, intelligence, and luxuries to his own intelligence, tenacity, and hard work. I deluded myself into thinking that my difficulties had meaning. Under my father's watchful eye, I wanted for nothing. I was a prince in the City.

The City. Looking back on it now, its former gleaming skyscrapers now appear as formless smudges in my mind's eye. I can remember setpieces, places, bits and images that appear as vivid now as they did so many years ago - yet surely age must have distorted the memories, such that I perceive them as the people in Plato's cave perceived the shadows on the walls.

We spent innumerable hours in the City, wandering between the buildings, venturing from their shadows into the cobblestone plazas. I can only assume that onlookers believed me to be his master - though if anything, the opposite was true. Once we attended a fair in the City together, sampling the local delicacies and watching the street performers. We shared some exotic foodstuff found only in the East, thin strands of wheat that you wound together and ate, enjoying the texture and its cool bland taste. Together we greedily gulped it all down, only to find ourselves fighting for the last strand. Our lips almost met - we pulled back as though struck by lightning.

Too wrapped up in my own concerns over the moment, I let him finish the strand, and then let myself be coerced into buying more to hand out to the local underclass. I forgot the moment during our interactions with the underclass - as a child of privilege, I found it deliciously exotic, though to him it must have been home. Only now, looking back, do I realize that he was planting the seeds of his rebellion during the tenderness of our youth. How naive I must have appeared to him - how bland and rote my thinking must have been.

The two of us were polar opposites, really. I was a child of nobility - born of machines, expected to fulfill the dreams of my parents: of building, servicing, and controlling the machines which birthed me. I don't think I ever had a dream of my own. Ion, though… Ion was born of slaves. Nobody had any dreams for him, so he made his own. He fought his way to the heights with which I had been gifted.

Thus did his revolutionary dreams clash with my own stagnant desires. Though the revolt failed and its leaders hanged, Ion continued to push forward. He began producing and distributing a manifesto: his vision for a better world that called for an end to the Empire and its abuses. He begged me to help him distribute his work, by accessing the duplicators in the heart of the City and producing thousands upon thousands of copies of his manifesto. As a prince of Cogwork, the Machines of the City were open to me. I merely needed the courage to use them.

I lacked that courage. I was far too dependent on my privilege to allow any sort of shift to the Culture. I lied to him again - I pretended that my class was not allowed into the Machines, to keep us safe for our eventual rule. Ion must have seen through my falsehoods - and I continue to wonder why he did not simply cast me aside that very moment - but he allowed me to hide behind my lies and continued anyways. He stole into the Machines that very night and produced thousands of his manifestos. I found a manifesto in my very bedchamber upon arising the next morning.

The passion, discipline, and tenacity within him terrified me. He was everything I wanted to be, and he entranced me. I idolized him. I wanted to be him. I wanted for nothing except self-assuredness. The certainty that I had made my own path. The certainty that everything I did was because I wanted to. I wanted the certainty that I deserved everything I had. I wanted to kiss him. To reach out and touch him and caress his face. To receive a part of his ambition and persistence and intelligence and discipline. Even now I can feel my face flush at the thoughts.

Faced with my own cowardice, I grew ever more certain that I was unfit to be in Ion's presence. From then on I attempted to avoid him whenever possible. He sought me out instead, and after some weeks managed to corner me in university and coerce me to attend a play with him. Unable to develop a satisfactory excuse, I conceded and accompanied him. The performance was shockingly subversive for the Culture: telling the story of a Cogwork noble robbing the homes of Daeva royalty in order to free his lover, a slave in the arena. I was astounded that the City's rulers would allow such a play to be produced. Indeed, as the play reached its zenith, the City's enforcers stormed the theatre and clapped chains on all in attendance.

We spent the night together, though not in any desirable way. Ion spent that time educating me on the horrific abuses being perpetrated by the ruling class on the City's inhabitants, and how my own family, the Cogwork, were complicit in their crimes. I was aghast by the accusations, yet could not deny them - the irons we wore were unmistakably forged in the fires of the Machine. That night I swore my allegiance to his cause, though how much of it was to the cause and not to him I do not know.

I,I,I,I… I still don't know that much about him. Did we ever really talk about ourselves? Did he know about my parents? I know my parents didn't know of him. Even looking past the obvious, I don't think I would have wanted them to. I wanted to shut everyone out. I enjoyed shutting them all out. Forcing them to open me up, and then just as quickly shutting them out again. I needed the validation that they cared about me - that they cared enough to keep opening me up again, even though I didn't want to be opened at all. Ion never opened me up. But I thought he wanted to, and I was content with that delusion. Was it a delusion? Perhaps. I do enjoy deluding myself. I even deluded myself into believing I had any kind of honor at all.

In the morn, when my father came to retrieve me, Ion begged me to renounce him, the evils my family was complicit in, and the privilege that came at the cost of the downtrodden and the infirm. I promised him that I would. And when the time came, I looked into my father's eyes, and I fell at his feet and begged for his mercy. I renounced my first love out of fear and shame and a deep, programmed insecurity that demanded I debase myself for the merest shred of his approval. As he led me away from the cell, I averted my eyes from Ion - terrified to see the look in his eyes.

Many days after, my father informed me that he was sending me to my more orthodox relatives in the West the following day. It would straighten me out, he claimed, and stamp out my wild rebelliousness. Little did he realize I had done that myself, with my own act of betrayal. The night before my departure, I awoke to find Ion in my bed. He said nothing, and so too did I. What was there to say? How could I atone for my grievous betrayal? For my sin against my brother?

I reached out to him, still lost for words, but he said nothing. He simply took my hand and kissed it, and I understood what needed to be done.

I departed early that morning, certain beyond a doubt that I would never return. Sitting astride my mechanical horse as it galloped across the sand, I watched the sun rise against the horizon. At midday I turned around to look at the City, and watched as great pillars of flesh consumed it, clawing up at its great forges and towers and tearing them apart.

When I went to bed that night, in the desert sands, I briefly imagined snuggling up to him. The pressure of his legs pressed against mine, the warmth of his back on my chin, the soft smoothness of his skin. Then the moment passed, and I clutched my pillow a little tighter.

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