They worked forever. They did not sleep. They did not have eyes so they did not need to close them.
The rattling in the dark was their song, the noise of their birth and the harbinger of their twilight. Here on earth it was always rattling. Men had made the Mytro in their own image and they had decidedly closed imaginations. If the Mytro had a shape, they knew it better than anyone but they were forced, by men, by the Mytro, to maintain the charade.
They were called Nayzuns – the Nameless Ones. Byt they had names and they knew the Mytro like a governess knows her charge.
The Nayzuns were born to know the shape, to build the shape, to complete the shape. When they saw the Mytro, the rails would not be rails at all, but strings of light connecting each living thing through the impossibility of space. They lived here in this massive Hangar at the edge of the world.
Now they all lifted their heads away from their work, like stalks of wheat bobbing away from a gust of wind. They glowed, gently, when something caught their attention and they glowed all at once. A few hours before they had heard the rails tell them of strangers on the Mytro. They had been listening for the strangers and they had finally heard them, somewhere down the line. The strangers had broken a train with their weapons. If there is one thing that couldn’t be condoned on the Mytro it was an act of destruction. The Mytro was angry.
The broken train was coming.
A car with shattered windows slowed to a halt by 411’s work area. Glass tinkled out of the metal frame and onto the ground where it disappeared in the darkness. The lights inside the car were winking on and off, the oil pumping mechanism that fed them failing intermittently, the tongues of flame dimming and rising.
411 was the train foreman. He called the younger ones to him and they shuffled out of the dark.
411 knew that the oil tank had been hit somewhere and the oil was leaking onto the ground, the smell rich like a loam of dead leaves. Although 411 did not know this, the Mytro on Earth was built like a cattle slaughterhouse, a system designed to soothe the monkey minds of the humans who rode it. To show them the Mytro as it really was, a skein of light that connected the world with the universe, would force them to face their insignificance.
The light from the car’s front headlight was useless in the repair bay. The vaults of this room disappeared into darkness where the Nayzuns slept, some curled like bats in their spaces, some being born in the attachment that was suspended from the ceiling like an impossible chandelier. But no light penetrated those dark quarters of the repair bay and no thing with eyes had ever seen their home.
Whether the room even had a ceiling, really, was still in doubt. When the Nayzuns were born they fell to the ground and began to work. When the Nayzuns died the Mytro took them somewhere where there was no mourning. But the Nayzuns rarely died these days. They were too busy and they had not had a young one in many years. The Mytro simply brought them back in time to live out a few more years. It was a cruel fate – to work forever and never die – but the Nayzuns knew no other one.
411 had been working longer than most. His number was quite small and he had been born early in the history of the Mytro. He had seen it grow, here, on Earth and he had seen it fail and disappear. He had seen it hidden then discovered. He loved it like his child for he could have no children. The humans had no idea what sort of power they had right under their plodding feet.
411 looked down the track that was not a track. The train with the shattered windows pitched and swayed as the Mytro’s machinery pitched it off of the tracks. The car settled with a thump on 411’s own small set of side tracks where it would be fixed. The younger Nayzun were already hard at work pulling out the broken windows and bringing new windows from the storage area. If there had been more light it would have looked like gigantic, long-limbed spiders scrabbling over the varnished wood of the Mytro car, their long fingers brushing glass into dark holes near the work area and fingertips softly scanning the surface of the train for imperfections.
The rails began to speak. There were men on the tracks now. They had an incomplete map so they would soon be swallowed. But if they kept riding they would break the tracks and the Mytro would roar and crash down on them and probably shut itself again. The Mytro was increasingly angry, now, and cruel. Once it tore down whole cities on a whim, brought floods and earthquakes where it could. It had, after all, the right-of-way.
411 remembered the Mytro, long ago, when men knew nothing of its powers. He remembered the first men that were sent howling down her tunnels
The Mytro had been known to 411’s people forever and his people had known the Mytro forever. The Mytro was their history entire. Their ancient stories, passed from father to child, once, long ago, spoke of the Mytro as the Way. She appeared to them as a shining thread through the darkness, the one confirmation that the universe had a reason. There was matter and there was the Mytro. She had had many names and many creatures claimed to control her, but now she was alone in her majesty.
The Nayzuns they were her workers, bent to her. They were willing workers to be sure, but slaves nonetheless. She fed them (they did not eat as humans did, but what the Mytro fed them was sufficient and the others often brought nourishment on her rails that they could not get here). She kept them young: he never aged for he was always brought forward in time, to assist the new ones, when they were born. The Mytro had evolved children out of them as sure as it had evolved away their eyes and evolved in their skills at track-laying, at tunnel building, at support. The Mytro bred them like a rare beast of burden, useful in all ways and specifically designed to survive only under its care.
So were they slaves? 411 did not think so, but now his way of life was being threatened.
For the second time in a century, humans wanted to take the Mytro and have it for themselves. These men had maps and they had knowledge of the Mytro that was dangerously incomplete. Their hunt would imperil everyone, including the Nayzuns.
The men were in the tunnels, now, their anger and fear and desire cascading through the skeins like a terrible song plucked on a spider’s web. He signaled to 227 further down the tunnel to move away. The train barreled through, the Mytro complaining in its voice of rattling, squealing, and hissing steam. The Mytro spoke through the machines. It spoke through steel and brass and wood. The Mytro was angry.
The Nayznuns now swarmed the train. In the dark the scents of the men and the girl were as clear as the smell of fire. The girl was sharp and floral. The Nayzuns had never seen flowers but they imagined they smelled good. The men smelled like anger and fear. Over it all was gunpowder, the propellant that had cause the Mytro so much trouble in the past. 411 could still remember the day a dead human rolled into the Repair Bay. The Nayzuns had swarmed the train and then froze. They wanted so much to touch this human, a woman who had been stabbed with a knife, but they could not. The Mytro wanted them to have no contact with the humans. Humans had diseases, they had death, and, more important, humans had Free Will. The Nayzuns let the car roll back into the dark and the Mytro swallowed the body, taking it far from Repair Bay, into parts of the skein that they had never seen.
The girl’s scent intrigued 411. He knew the girl was in grave danger, but he could do nothing. He walked down the center of the car, feeling for damage. The gunpowder smell was deeper here. It was a terrible smell. The younger Nayzuns deferred to him and seemed to melt away as he passed. 411 was a sub-conductor. He could stop the trains at any time but he knew it was not his place. The humans owned this stretch of track and they would have to solve this problem themselves.
By the headlight of the shattered train 411 looked like a stick man drawn by a lazy child, a mantis with long arms and longer legs, stretched out taut as a guitar string. His face, if he could be said to have one, was one with his neck and he only had a mouth. His visage was horrific and angelic at once. He and his kind had been mistaken for demons for centuries. One man, long ago, fell down into the Mytro and came back telling of demons manning the bellows of hell. After that the Nayzuns rarely left the Bay. The Nayzuns that tried to make contact with the humans had suffered such abuse every day since they told each other of that day, the day the humans could have listened. So they became set in their ways.
But something was drawing 411 to this girl. Was it her scent? Was it the crying of the rails when she was traveling? They seemed to see a need to protect her. 411 stopped to listen. The Mytro would tell him what to do.
Suddenly, a wind blew up along the tracks and ruffled the Nayzuns like a gale. The rails again.
Find her, the rails sang.
411 spoke: I am at your command. But do I go to the humans?
Find her, the rails sang. She is important to us.
Perhaps the Mytro was looking for sacrifices? thought 411.
What would a warrior give to move his troops into battle in a second, one moment an empty field of poppies the next moment a whirling nimbus of arrows, swords, and spiked shields? What would he give? His family? Himself? The Mytro was happy to extract her price. And promise endless riches to men foolish enough to believe her. What did men want? Complete control.
411 whistled to 227 and the other Nayzun approached.
Something is the matter, said 411, his voice the whisper of a wire brush on steel.
The man we hid said we were in danger again, said.
227, a older Nayzun, had been repairing the tunnel walls with a dark material that glittered with starlight.
411 thought of the man he was hiding. The Mytro didn’t yet know about this man.
What will you do? asked 227. You must bring his Key to us.
I will go up the tracks. Keep working. I will return.
Most Nayzuns never saw the inside of the stations. Only the old ones could do that. That is where 411 had met the man and where 411 learned of the man’s power. The young Nayzuns were relegated to tunnel repair, cleaning, and the like. They never felt the comfort of a cool wicker chair or a journey that wasn’t predicated on their work.
227 turned towards the wall abruptly and continued to patch the tunnel walls. Nayzuns rarely stood on ceremony or small-talk. Everything they could have said they have said. Their race was old and quiet as a night-shackled forest.
411 stood against the wall and waited for the next train to come. He hitched himself to it, spinning behind it like a wraith and rattled through the dark of the tunnels and through to where he had heard the shots. He didn’t have to ask the Mytro to take him there. The Mytro knew where to take him.