Monday, July 25, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 8: “A Friend for the Machinist” • by Jenna Hanchey

Welcome to Odin III, a grubby little mining world on the dark and dusty backside of nowhere. It’s a world where everything that’s worth having is already owned by Galactic Mining, and where people come to squander their hopes and lives, working for the company and dreaming of striking it big. It’s also a world where some very strange and peculiar things have begun to happen, and it all started about two weeks ago, in a bar called Weber’s Place, when Ray Cornwall didn’t just warp the fabric of space/time, he completely bent it…

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

“A Friend for the Machinist”

by Jenna Hanchey

Daraja Mapunda stood in front of the Wall before dawn, staring. Not at the red plasma barrier itself, mysteriously blocking a mountain pass beyond the eastern edge of town. But at the small mechanical box abandoned on the ground in front of it.

Crimson light flickered across the wood. The last time he’d seen the box, it had been shut tight. The capacity for both success and failure simultaneously held within.

Now, the crank had been turned and the lid was lifted. A smattering of mushrooms lay next to it. Only emptiness inside.

He felt empty too. It’d been so long since he had a friend. If the box was left here, open, then it must have worked. He’d been certain it would. His machines always did. But a part of him had hoped it wouldn’t.

Because that meant Susan was gone.

Kneeling slowly onto the dusty ground, Daraja bent to pick up the box. For a moment, he wished his machine worked in reverse. That if he just turned the crank in the opposite direction, the music would play backwards and spacetime would return to its original configuration.

“Ssst.” Daraja sucked his teeth. As if there was only a singular “before” to return to. And he wouldn’t go back even if he could.

As the first sun sent tendrils of light reaching over the horizon, Daraja gently closed the lid. Perhaps, like in that old Earth story, he had managed to keep in some hope.

Facing the Wall, Daraja said goodbye. “Kwa heri, Susan. Milima haikutani; binadamu hukutana.” We will meet, somewhere better.

Turning, the Machinist squinted at the rising sun. It was dangerous to be out with the predators lurking at night, but the box was more important. However it wouldn’t do for someone to see him and ask about why he’d been out before curfew lifted today.

Sticking to the shadows, he walked as quickly as his old body could back toward town, slipping into the sublevel entrance on the outskirts. He slowed down. He didn’t need to hurry here in the abandoned sections of the mines. No one entered the cellar if they could avoid it.

He was, as usual, alone.

* * *

Daraja couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken to someone, the day Susan first stumbled into his underground shop.

“Who are you? These tunnels are abandoned. People don’t work down here,” she said, leaning too heavily on the doorway.

I do,” he replied. He didn’t look up.

“What is that?” The voice was much closer this time, surprising him. His hand slipped, and a tiny gear fell from his tweezers. His curses turned to a sigh as he looked at the intruder. She was clearly high on the mine-mushrooms.

“A clockwork rock that dances,” he explained.

“Rocks don’t dance.” The woman snorted, half-falling into the chair on the other side of his workbench.

“You like to make statements about what can and cannot happen. You may wish to reconsider your perspective,” he said, smiling. Daraja liked this woman.

He found her frank questions and statements refreshing. After the manipulation and lies at Galactic Mining, it’d been easier for him to avoid people altogether than to feel constantly paranoid. He’d only trusted Frank, the bartender. The one person who learned his name instead of just calling him “Machinist.” “Daraja Mapunda” was apparently “too difficult” to pronounce, even though utterly phonetic. It never ceased to amaze him what proclivities humans decided to bring from Earth as they traveled to the far reaches of the galaxy.

Once Frank died, there was little reason to go topside. He hadn’t gone to the bar for the alcohol. He only ventured up to deliver remote-controlled boats to the toy store.

“Woah,” Susan said, interrupting his thoughts. Her head lolled back as she saw the shelves lining the walls. Floor-to-ceiling machines. Little clockwork toys—spinning ballerinas, mechanical mice, whirring waterfalls. A human-sized automaton propped in the corner. And on the other side, steam-powered trains and miniature flying ships. Even a Rube Goldberg-like apparatus stood against the back wall. “You’re old school.”

“I suppose I am now,” Daraja said. “I was not always. Once I made quantum and…other sorts of computers for Galactic.”

This caught her attention. “But not anymore?”

“Not anymore.”

“I don’t work for them anymore either!” She leaned over the table, excited but anxious. As if something hinged on his response.

“Good for you,” Daraja said firmly.

She grinned. “I’m Susan,” she said, sticking out her hand.

He grinned back. “I am Daraja, but you can call me Machinist.”

* * *

Dawn was breaking when the Machinist arrived back at his shop on sub-level 12, but it was always dark in the cellar. He switched on the lights, and they sputtered briefly before flaring to life.

The box felt heavy in his hand, as if it carried more than empty air and the possibility of hope. His eyes surveyed the shop, before landing on the perfect spot.

He picked up the clockwork rock. To all outward appearances it was just a rock, unless you found the small dial on the side. Unless you turned it. Unless you saw it dance. Sliding the box onto the shelf, he set the rock on top.

Only someone who already understood the rock would know what the box could do.

Breathing out, he ran a hand over his smoothly-shaved head. There were lots of half-finished projects strewn about the room. But he didn’t feel like working today.

For the first time in weeks, Daraja went topside during daylight. After he quit Galactic because of the terrible plans they created from his machines, he saw conspiracy everywhere. He couldn’t even build computers anymore. He went back to trusty cogs and gears and wind-up and steam. They had no double-meanings or hidden implications. They did exactly what you expected.

He could handle analog. But he couldn’t handle people.

Thankfully, there weren’t many out. He stepped out of the tunnels and walked towards town. Trying to get his bearings, he skirted around the towering Catholic church. He didn’t recognize many storefronts anymore, other than Weber’s Place. The old bar looked the same as ever. He paused in front of the deli. Something about it nagged at his senses. Shaking his head, he continued over to the lake and sat down on a bench. One of his boats was out on the water. Daraja spotted a man with a small child holding the remote on the far side. He couldn’t hear their laughter from here, but he could feel it in their motions.

“Hey there. Mind if I join you?”

“Oh.” Daraja looked up to see a woman whose resemblance to Frank made his heart skip a beat. “Certainly! It has been a long time, Ingrid. Do you remember me?”

“How could I forget? You and my dad used to be thick as thieves.” Ingrid sat down and nudged him with her shoulder. “Why don’t you come to the bar anymore? You know I run it now.”

“And you know I do not drink.”

“Yeah, yeah. I remember. But I miss you, Daraja.” Ingrid settled in, sprawling her legs. “You never spoke to me like a kid. And you always told me something new. And interesting.”

“Perhaps I have no more interesting stories, now. I am an old man who lives underground.”

“Who works underground. You don’t have to live there unless you want to.”

“Fair point,” Daraja chuckled.

“Every night, the same people come into the bar. With the same stories. And I listen, but,” Ingrid shrugged, “I never really talk to anyone, you know?”

Daraja shared a look with his best friend’s daughter. “Yes. I believe I do.”

“Tell me a story, Daraja. For old time’s sake.”

He thought for a second. “Let me tell you about a clockwork rock that dances.”


Jenna Hanchey
is a communication professor by day and a speculative fiction writer in the day. She lives in Reno and teaches courses at the University of Nevada on racism, colonialism, and communicating across difference. Her research examines neocolonialism in Western aid to Africa, and how Africans use Africanfuturism to imagine their own developmental futures. Somehow she manages to act, sing, and rock climb, too! Notable credits include Gwendolyn Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest and Elaine Wheeler in Night Watch. She's also a voice-actor, narrating the audiobooks in Emily S. Hurricane's Bloodlines series. Her fiction has also appeared in Daily Science Fiction and the Apex Microfiction Contest. Follow her adventures on Twitter (@jennahanchey) or at

Her most recent appearance in our virtual pages was “From Soulless to Soulful.”

In the meantime, stay tuned for Part 9 of The Odin Chronicles, “Sloane Dreams of Being,” by Travis Burnham, coming on Wednesday.



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