To be, or not to be? Are we engineers aboard a space age air balloon or just figments of ‘another’ imagination.
A Story of Unanswerable Questions
By Lydia Trethewey
For the ENGINEERS DO IT IN THEIR OVERALLS Award
“But how can we be sure?”
Pushing red locks up his sweaty forehead Leon gazed beseechingly at his two co-workers. His eyes, watery and rodent-like, seemed to glow in the dim bowels of the air-ship.
“What are you on about?” Faye snapped, reaching across the workbench as a message printed out.
“I mean, how would you prove the existence of a soul?”
She rolled her eyes and tore the ticket along the perforated line. The header of the thin paper was stamped with the words PRIORITY: IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED.
She made a note of it.
SYM-1582QJ, otherwise known as Roger, patted his fleshy companion sympathetically.
“You’ll have to hold off discovering your soul til later,” Faye announced “another hole needs patching.”
A crackling voice sounded through the intercom.
“Engineers!” it barked “this is Reginald Shaw. Get to the upper surface immediately.”
“Yes sir, we’re on it.” Faye’s body stiffened to automatic attention.
“Don’t interrupt. This isn’t just another hole. It’s a propeller. The night-side is catching up, so if you don’t want us all to become popsicles get your asses into gear.”
You could almost hear his moustache hairs bristling.
With the lax urgency befitting engineers the three grabbed their gear and headed for the Elevator. As they left Faye noticed a message scribbled in chalk across one of the girders: Don’t forget the duct-tape.
A familiar greenness crept into Leon’s face as the Elevator accelerated. Tiny numbers flashed on the dirty screen. Level 1279 brought them into the great balloon itself, from the hulking city that burrowed into its belly like a tick.
The two humans inserted breathing tubes, double-checked harnesses.
Any possibility of talking was ripped away with the shriek of wind that greeted the opening doors. Below, a steady mechanical hum. Faye switched on her radio.
“…the existence of a soul?”
In the light of the naked star Leon’s hair looked more strawberry-blond than ginger.
Following the safety rail, Faye edged onto the airship’s surface. 6000 feet below desert stretched endlessly in all directions. From the horizon freezing shadows slid closer.
“Of course you don’t have a soul Leon,” Roger was saying reassuringly “self-obsession is generated from your neural impulses.
Faye smiled glibly.
“But why should I listen to you? I can’t even guarantee your existence. All I can be sure of is that I exist.”
The broken propeller flapped uselessly, torn along a previous repair.
“That’s a dangerous solipsism Leon. I would advise against such thinking.”
“Maybe none of us exist. Maybe we’re just the dream of a higher being!”
The robot made no reply.
Teeth grit, Faye reached for her welder.
From the very edge of the radio’s crackle echoed a quiet exclamation.
As she pivoted Faye caught sight of Roger just as he was whipped away into the air.
“It’s not real!” Leon screamed, wielding the cable-cutters.
Faye backed away.
“We’re just a dream Faye! The invention of an insane creator! Look around! A space-age airship? It makes no sense! It’s not real!”
He clawed at the air as if scrabbling for something solid.
“Leon—” Faye began cautiously, stepping forward.
With unexpected swiftness Leon brought the cable-cutters to her safety-line. Soundlessly Faye was swept backwards, upwards, launched towards the creeping darkness.
Panting, wind whipping his hair, Leon laughed hysterically.