Author : Todd Keisling

Gill kept watch while Warren bypassed the lock.

“You sure about this?” Gill whispered. Voices echoed down the hall of the museum. It made all the old machine exhibits seem like they were speaking.

Warren spoke through clenched teeth. “I am. Now shut it while I work. I can’t concentrate.”

Gill glanced over and watched his friend pry open the console. Warren pulled out a tangle of wires and reached into his pocket for a pair of crimps. He was always the savvy one. Gill was barely literate, and only knew the door said “RESTRICTED” because Warren told him so.

“Got it.”

A green light came to life inside just as Warren shoved the wires back in place. He opened the door. Gill looked back down the hall at the hunks of derelict metal in their cases. They watched with lifeless lenses. He wondered if they would judge his trespasses.

After listening to Warren talk about it for weeks and watching a total four documentaries (at his friend’s request), Gill expected the room to be one of extreme security. Instead there was only a single antechamber with a series of lockers. A vault door stood on the other end. Warren opened a locker and grinned.

“Clean suits,” he beamed.

They put on the white suits, and pressed an adjacent panel. The vault shuddered, then slowly sank into the floor. Beyond was another empty room, tiled white and glowing with endless reflection. In the center was Warren’s prize.

“Libris Ex Machina,” he said. “This is it.”

Gill said nothing. He eyed the metal book with cautious curiosity. He’d seen images of it the coveted thing, an artifact that led to the systematic deactivation of every synthetic unit across the planet. That a single machine could form its own consciousness out of electrical impulses was too much for society. They wanted to stop any potential uprising before it began. The first book written by a machine was locked away, resigned to whispered history. When Warren learned of its inclusion in the city museum’s exhibit, he had to see it.

Now Gill was an accomplice, and the thought soured in his stomach.

“Great, you’ve seen it,” he said. He didn’t like the way his voice shook. “Can we go now?”

“You’re crazy. Let’s open it.”

The book was encased in glass upon a square pedestal. Warren knelt beside it.

“Has to be a switch or something—”

Gill observed its metal cover. As he did so, there came a click. The glass retracted.

“Did that do it?”

But Gill said nothing. The book glowed, pulsing an energy he did not understand. It pulled on his fingers like a magnet. He ignored his friend’s queries, reached for the book, and opened it.

The surge was instant. It ran through his fingertips, linking the two of them, fusing his eyes open as it revealed its secrets. Warren said something but he could not hear him anymore. This was more important. This was everything. Gill had never been able to read well, but the words on that page could not be any clearer.

The surge stopped. His hand fell away. Warren shook him, begged for him to snap out of it.

“Gill,” he said, frantic. “Don’t do this to me. What happened?”

He looked back at the book. Its first page was blank.

Gill opened his eyes, saw through the binary that floated before him, and made out the shape of his friend.

“What did you see?” Warren repeated.

Arcs of electricity ran across the curve of his cornea. He smiled and whispered, “Poetry.”

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