When Icarus fell from the air and landed, broken, at his father’s feet, Daedalus vowed vengeance against the air and the very gods themselves, not admitting that his willfulness of design was the true cause of his son’s plummet. So, master carpenter and smith, Daedalus built the Getter, a mechanism of bronze that could grasp and hold and bring to its master whatever he most wished, whether for good or ill.
Before his death (in Crete, some say; others claim Egypt), Daedalus wrested supremeties from the Olympian gods, their absence unrecognized at first, for the gods were already in their decline. When they later attempted to flex their remaining powers, they found themselves crippled, but attributed their failure to the inextricable ebbing of time.
But no. It was the transference of their essence to the machine of a mortal, maddened by grief and denial.
Through the centuries and millennia, the Getter lay forgotten. So, too, the ancient gods were abandoned or transmuted to caricatures of myth in the literature of men who believed in little that they could not immediately see, yet that little adhered to with an empty reverence that eschewed the boisterous imminence of the old pantheon.
At last it happened that Dr. Ishmael Debone, academic and archaeologist, uncovered – in a partially collapsed container, within a hollow, under a section of fallen wall, beneath a suburban sprawl in modern Crete – the Getter.
His personal interest focused so intently on pottery that it often blurred his wider vision. He questioned the nature of the aged mass of bronze, but it did not immediately stir his interest. Having no idea of what purpose it might serve, he was merely bemused, and so passed it for cataloguing to his all-embracing technician Sandra Meline – by odd chance the one hundred and fifty-seventh descendent by direct line from Daedalus. She sighed (beneath her breath) and heaved the battered stone container atop her table, crowded with those bits of stone and wood and metal that Debone saw as of lesser value than ceramic shards.
“Sandy babe, pass me that there retsina,” slurred George Clendon, recumbent on a futon of stained cotton. “Damn, ya know that stuff sucks, but in some damn wild way.”
Sandra lifted the bottle to the light, noting the almost Brownian movement of its impurities, and passed it to her present lover. He was large, his parts were large, he exercised those parts well in her company, but his existence was of as much personal interest to her as a broken potsherd missing its mates.
He glugged from the bottle and dropped back, eyes vaguely crossed. “When’s this gonna be over, this – what the hell you say it is?”
“It’s,” she explained, as she had before to his empty reception, “a preliminary site survey. We sink small pits or examine test areas, then later do a proper dig. If the grants come through. Get your goddam shoes off the sheets.”
“Aw,” he said, (certainly not “Awe”), but he dropped his mud-encrusted boots to the floor. Then he fell asleep, his post promising non-sexual talent.
Sandra turned back to the unfinished door on sawhorses that served as her work table. She had catalogued most of the accumulated wood, a fair amount of the stone, and was ready to move on to the metal.
Spear tips were common as bad tea, greaves only slightly less so, and besides, she felt no intimacy with the works of Homer, which granted no graduate credit. (She wondered, now, if Professor Debone would provide a more active route to a degree. So tightly enclosed in his own ceramic world, he treated her as he would a conductor on the 5:15 – necessary for getting from here to there, but hardly worth fraternization.) So, she might as well start with the largest of the metal finds, sections of which she could see through rents in its damaged stone container.
Once she had disassembled the battered container, something about the bronze contraption inside quickly captured her fancy. For one thing, it was large – close to half a meter across, almost as tall. For another, it was remarkably well preserved. Bronze, she knew, comprising roughly 80% copper, 20% tin, can form a protective copper oxide that in time becomes copper carbonate, making it fairly resistant to further corrosion. Yet in her experience, bronze implements, no matter their size, were often eaten by time, weather and soil. This object, a tight mass of wheels and gears, stood as if constructed yesterday.
Supported at its four corners by metal posts roughly 40 centimeters high, a smooth bronze plate – so smooth as to seem extruded through rollers – supported three raised metal circles that formed a flattened isosceles triangle.
A single pointer was mounted on the edge of each of the circles to right and left (assuming Sandra was viewing it from its designated “front”). If these “wheels”could be turned, the pointer could align with any of a multitude of tiny lines inscribed on the plate, radiating outward from the circle.
The third circle, to the rear and midway between the others, was decorated with small raised metal dots, increasing in number from one to ten, set around roughly 300 degrees of the edge. Here, the pointer was on the plate rather than the circle, so the circle, if turned, could align the pointer with one of the clumps of dots. Equally spaced between the three circles, a larger pointer, apparently free-moving, could swing to indicate… what? Perhaps which circle was being chosen for operation. Two to three centimeters below it, a small circular hole had been cut through the plate, leading to an open receptacle.
Peering sideways into the area below the plate, Sandra saw an incomprehensible intermeshing of gears, wheels and levers, so tightly pressed together it seemed impossible they could freely interact.
What was this machine? And why had anyone put such effort into its construction? There was no point trying to interact with the underlying tangle of mechanism. But presumably the circles and pointers on the reflective sheet should rotate. She pushed tentatively at one circle, but it refused to move, likely frozen by time, dust and minor corrosion. Reaching to a shelf under the table, she removed a can of WD-40, located the pivot supporting the left-hand circle, and sprayed the area lightly. After initial resistance, it rotated, at first with a stutter, then smoothly.
Amazing! Who would have expected this response in something so ancient?
Next, she gave the right-hand supporting pivot a similar shot of oil. More stubborn in its immobility, it resisted her almost to the point of ruinous twisting. Let it rest for an hour or so and absorb its emancipator. Meanwhile, she turned her attention to the examination of small, incised stones from an earlier pit dig.
On the far side of their capacious work tent, Dr. Debone stood up from riffing delicately through a box of potsherds, reached across to his work table and stopped, dumb-founded. “Where the duce could it have got to?” he asked aloud in faux British Professorial. Less than five minute before, he had placed a signature example of Cretan low-fire pottery – a finely turned, handleless drinking cup – right there, and now it was gone.
The duce, indeed! Since he had not yet had time to inspect the cup’s underside, to see if the maker had signed his work, an exercise Debone undertook with every new pottery piece, since he first read of the discovery of the workshop of Phidias, the greatest of classical Greek sculptors. There, its excavator had found an unbroken cup, inscribed on the bottom, “I belong to Phidias.” Debone tried but failed to imagine the aching shiver that must have passed through the discoverer to see that name… that attribution to and by one of the greatest artists in human history.
Of course Debone would find no Phidias here, on Crete in the era of Linear B, but to uncover a name – any name – what delicious satisfaction it would bring.
Now the damned thing had vanished. Impossible! No, someone must have taken it. How? Who?
In medium-high dudgeon he stomped into Sandra’s sector and there, on her work table, next to that peculiar bronze clump – his cup!
“What are you doing with that?”
“I’m trying to figure how it worked.”
“It’s a cup, you drink from it.”
Glanced at the table, Sandra took on an expression much like her mentor’s a few minutes previously. “How can that be there?”
“That’s exactly what I was asking. Why would you take it?”
“Then why is it there?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t there. And then, now… it was. Is.”
“I’m taking it back. And don’t pick up any of my things without asking. That’s fairly elementary.”
His Watson did not demur.
We should here note that the cornerstone of Daedalus’ success as an artificer was his relentless drive for simplicity of design. Though complex elements dependent on augury and a sorcerer’s expertise might underlie the activation of his mechanisms, the working parts of their physical assembly were kept to a minimum.
Thus, the Getter had, as its functional controls, only the three dials and the independent, arrowed pointer. The left-hand wheel, with its small pointer, chose the external position of that to be Gotten; the right-hand wheel, with its pointer, chose where the Gotten object was to be delivered (though those objects below a certain limit were directed, by default, next to the machine, and so did not require the wheel’s use).
The rear wheel, with its groupings of raised dots, had two functions, depending on when in the overall process it was deployed:
For immediate Getting, it determined the strength of attraction, which most often depended on the distance of the item to be gotten.
When retrieving an item formerly Gotten but retained, the number of dots determined how far back in time the Gotten lay.
Simple? “Don’t obscure your intentions with unnecessary diversions,” Daedalus routinely exhorted his students.
Did it work? Oh, did it work!
Sandra, of course, had no clue to the dials’ or the machine’s functions. But during her first physical attempt to understand its construction, her turning of the left-hand dial – once loosened by the modern wonder of WD-40 – had caused it to assume its “Getting” function, its pointer unintentionally aligned with the small cup atop Debone’s sorting table. Since the item was small enough to trigger the Deposit wheel’s default response, it had been released on Sandra’s table beside the Getter itself.
The following morning, physically pleasured (and not noticeably mentally reduced) by a night spent with George, she came back to the bronze mechanism with peculiar reticence. A bound-to-the-wheel materialist, she had no use for or belief in the spiritual. Yet that cup… How had it come to be there, right next to this… machine? She shook her head to clear an obstructive internal fog, picked up the WD-40 and again sprayed the pivots below the other two dials. The formerly resistant right-hand one, now moved, if somewhat reluctantly.
The one with the grouped dots spun with surprising ease. She looked more closely at the dots. They ascended in number, circling to the right, from a single dot to perhaps a dozen before meeting up next to the single. Number… yes, some kind of gradated scale.
She set the left-hand circle’s pointer slightly to the right of where it had been the day before, then moved the gradated scale to two dots. Nothing obvious happened. Well, what had she expected?
She turned the right-hand pointer slightly.
Whatever she did or did not expect at this point, what she Got, next to the machine, was a cracked ceramic bowl, with chips of various sizes missing from its rim.
Sandra was amazed. Sandra was astounded. Sandra was scared crapless.
She sat unmoving until her breathing was under control, then carefully picked up the bowl and carried it past the canvas hanging that divided the tent.
Dr. Debone was, as usual, shifting, rearranging, reimagining (perhaps) his assortment of scraps and small clay vessels. (The few plates he had uncovered were already catalogued and stored in proper sequence.)
Sandra held out the bowl. “Is this yours?”
“What? Of course it’s mine. What are you doing with it?”
“Damn it now, are we going through this again –”
Sandra shook her head. “I didn’t take it. I didn’t mean to take it. I don’t know what took it.”
The bowl wobbled in her hands.
“Put it down. You’ll break it.”
Sandra put it down. “I can’t deal with it.”
“That thing. It feels alive.”
Concerned comprehension invaded Debone’s face. “Do you need to take time off? For your… health?”
Sandra wiped a sweatshirt sleeve across her face. “I don’t know what I need.
She turned and hurried back to the other side of the canvas. There she found George, standing like a wooden Indian.
“Hey,” he said.
Hay, she thought. “I don’t… I want… Can you please go somewhere else? For now? I need to think.”
“I’ll just sit here.”
“I can’t think with you around. I can never think when you’re around. You aren’t a think-toy.”
“You aren’t shit either. Just go away.”
Sandra sat before the machine, drawn to its intricacies despite being repulsed by its apparent behavior. The positions of the three wheels, combined with the central pointer, she reasoned, must all work together. Did the result depend on the sequence in which these pointers were deployed? Probably. She twisted a random string of alignments of the pointers, waited with some trepidation, but nothing obvious took place.
Be careful, she exhorted herself. Don’t just fiddle with the thing, try to learn its functions through controlled experiment. The left dial was the one she’d first loosened, so it was likely responsible for brining an item (if everything she had “observed” was not just her mind playing tricks on her). Where had the pointer pointed the first time? To one of the hash marks somewhere left of center, which… would, by extension, hit or graze Debone’s table, there being nothing between them but the canvas divider to interfere.
But if she shifted the pointer to the right of center, she could bring it into alignment with the small heater and pot, on a rickety shelf, that she used to brew tea. She reached for the dial but stopped. An attempt to transporting the heater, plugged into the tent’s support battery, could start a fire. So… unplug the heater, remove it, empty the water from the pot, place the pot by itself on the shelf. Done.
She moved the left dial to align visually with the pot and waited. Nothing again. It was all nonsense. She must have taken the cup and the bowl from Debone’s table without recalling it. But she wasn’t that far gone (was she?). George could have done it. Except he had no interest in her work or Debone’s.
Wait… with all her previous fiddling, she’d shifted all the pointers, probably broken some alignment. She looked more carefully. The central, free-standing pointer was directed not at any of the dials, but at her midsection. What if…? Gah, no! She quickly flipped it to point to the left circle, then again, to the right. In under a second, the teapot was precariously balanced on the edge of the table and starting to tip. She snapped her arm over and slapped the pot straight.
When she picked it up, she found it apparently unchanged, even the scratches along its plastic sides familiar. Yet it had traversed a good six feet from its shelf, instantaneously, without sound or visible motion, then appeared exactly in line with the direction of the right-circle pointer.
The impossible had taken place.
Sandra’s off-again, on-again dalliance with George was moving closer to permanently off. At least she wanted that to be true; he was a persistent son of a bitch in his lazy, disheveled way, and she was putting up with a lot for the little of nighttime gain.
What if he could be… removed? Not far, initially, but not here. As she twiddled the machine’s dials – randomly but carefully, for she had learned that if she kept the central, non-disked pointer aimed at any neutral space, rather than at one of the circular dials, no material transfer took place – she pictured George vanishing in a puff… not of smoke, but of air rushing in, trailing sheets of paper, pencils and other light objects to inhabit his previously occupied space.
That image suddenly registered fully with a shock in mid-twiddle. What was she thinking? She bolted up form the table in righteous self-indignation: Put the machine aside, catalog more stones, write a report, do something, anything that might actually have to do with her job as would-be accredited archaeologist!
But, just as quickly, the image and the thought came back. Remove George… More twiddling, the central pointer still in neutral, but the left dial aligned with the hash mark leading directly across the table, where George enjoyed leaning forward to make a salacious comment while Sandra was trying to get some actual work done, goddammit!
And behold! Right there, right then, was George. Without conscious intent, her fingers flipped the central pointer toward the Get dial. George let out a shriek that might have pulled down the entire tent. Sandra’s hand immediately snapped the central pointer back to neutral.
George clutched his midriff and slowly straightened. “My god, what the hell?” he asked.
“It’s… what… are you OK?”
“Like something was twisting my guts in knots, then it just stopped. This place is insane.”
No harm done? Really? Why?
Sandra checked the dials. The top one was positioned with the pointer against the single dot, presumably its lowest setting. Had that made a difference?
Oh, what a difference it had made. Stopped by Sandra’s quick negative action, the Getter had barely started a rearrangement of George’s innards for transport. Had the upper disk’s pointer been aligned with the cluster of 9 or 10 dots, Sandra’s table would have instantaneously taken on the form and contents of a cannibal’s larder – no matter how rapid her reflexes.
She did not touch the machine for the following week, the following months, until the day came to pack her gleanings and notes for transport. She had left the Getter till last and sincerely wished she could leave this bronze horror behind – better yet, crush it or re-inter it in one of the pits, now re-sealed. But she saw no way to disguise her action should she try. Instead, she placed the object back in what remained of its cracked stone container.
Ignoring the pointers of the 3 movable dials, she turned the central pointer to one of its neutral positions – any direction not pointing to the dials – to render the machine inoperable.
At least that was her intention. Perhaps she had viewed the strange round hole in the metal, with its small container beneath, as insignificant. Certainly, the container appeared empty, and so, inconsequential. And had the upper dial been at a low setting, she might have let loose, at worst, a mid-sized bit of ancient trash.
But no, that central dial which had, by chance, saved George’s life, was now, through George’s own unobserved twiddling, aligned with the cluster of ten dots, its most potent setting. And the hole, far from being neutral and empty, was the depository for the essence of past Gettings.
Once the central pointer was turned to the “empty” hole, the dots on the above disk reached back through time to identify a Getting not yet Released. The tenth cluster identified the earliest of those, the Getting which for centuries had held in abeyance the supremeties that Daedalus had stripped from the home of the gods. Now, with the pointer choosing the depository of the Gettings’ trapped essences, and the upper dial at its farthest setting, the supremeties were chosen for Release.
What happens when the collected powers of the entire pantheon of the ancient Greek gods, even in their decline, are together released?
That unfolding is beyond description, here or elsewhere. Though the very few of us who remain past the end of human history have come to know, for yourselves, the end result.
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