Moses looks from table to table. There are things here they can use, including ammunition.
You tried to kill us, Moses says. We mean to take your property as forfeit, leaving you your hide – and you should count yourself lucky.
Take what you want, replies the harlequin, for anyway the value’s in the building of a thing, not in the possessing of what’s been built.
Maybe we’ll stay the night, Moses goes on. Save us the work of a campsite for once.
He’s a proclaimer, ain’t he? Do what you want.
So the brothers bed down in the terminal for the night.
Well after midnight Moses is unable to sleep, and he can hear his brother’s snores echoing through the wide corridors of the terminal. He rises and goes to the harlequin’s workshop, where he finds the little man still diligently at work by the light of an oil lamp.
You don’t sleep much, Moses says.
Sleep’s a fool’s game, ain’t it? The more you take it, the more you gotta have it.
Fair enough. I never took to it much anyway.
So they talk, the two men. The harlequin speaks mostly to himself – which is how, Moses guesses, he has kept his voice alive for so many years. Moses himself is simply the incident – an accidental audience for the man’s soliloquy. But there is something to admire in the harlequin’s speech. He employs big notions everywhere, a tinkerer of ideas as well as machines. The world to him is a world of toys. He must have been something back before everything happened. A genius of something – maybe a scientist or an artist or a philosopher.
They talk, and the terminal sleeps around them, and the harlequin’s hands are always moving. Moses lights a cigar and tells of the places he has been, the things he has seen.
The world’s a wide place, he says. Wider than you think. Even tiny places have got wide histories. Do you believe it?
Oh I believe it, says the harlequin, tapping his ear as though that is where his belief were contained.
Then Moses goes on to talk about his brother, Abraham, and the evil things he has done. The man goes on tinkering as Moses speaks, and Moses is grateful for not having to meet his eyes. And he is pleased to see that craft and creation can continue even in the hearing of such monstrous deeds. He is no good man himself, he explains to the little artisan hunched over the workbench, but he does believe in certain things: order and obligation, conduct and code. There has to be a logic to such things. There’s got to be. Because otherwise everything is a goddamn shambles – and the dead getting up and walking’ll be the least of it. Life comes and goes, and what it’s contingent upon is a mystery even to the wisest man – but order, that’s something else altogether. Maybe just a creation of man, but still and all maybe his most beautiful one.
Moses explains to the harlequin that it is his contract – his duty – to protect his brother, but that it ain’t the world’s duty to do so. The world has been, Moses says, a pretty fair arbiter of things so far as he can tell. So how come it goes so light on Abraham Todd?
The mind’s a puny machine, ain’t it? the harlequin says. Most of em are rust and fissure all through. What’s the oil that keeps em running smooth? Anyone’s guess. Some people think machines are built to follow expectation, that a machine not performing to expectation ain’t no machine at all. Me, I think different, ain’t I? Every machine its own miniature god circling its own miniature earth.
Meaning, the harlequin says and turns on his stool to look Moses in the eye for the first time in the conversation, your code is your soul – don’t expect em all to look alike.
They talk more, and the insomniac night wears on. You would think the world could get no emptier – but in the hours before dawn, you might as well be alone on the earth. Even over the palaver by the oil lamp, the two consorting figures are only accidental and temporary mates. They speak, truth be told, not to each other but to some haunted version of themselves.
In the morning, Moses wakes his brother and tells him it’s time to go. They gather what ammo and supplies they can carry from the harlequin’s room.
You tried to kill us, Moses explains.
You’ve got a right to it, ain’t you? So take it. People abide.
What they take isn’t much, since they are accustomed to travelling light. When they have zipped up their satchels, the harlequin stands gazing at them with a sly smile.
There’s what you took, and then there’s what you should of taken, he says. You overlooked the biggest prizes.
What prizes? Abraham asks petulantly.
Something for each of you, the harlequin says and moves to the opposite side of the room where he shoves aside piles of blueprints and diagrams to reveal a massive metal chest. Moses recognizes it as a deep freeze, like a refrigerator toppled over onto its back – but since there is no electricity, the thing has become simple storage.
The harlequin lifts the lid and shuffles around in the contents of the chest until he finds what he’s looking for. He tugs at it for a moment until he manages to pull it free with both hands. He has trouble lifting it, and as soon as it clears the edge of the chest, he lets it fall with a heavy clank to the ground.
Made it with my own hands, the harlequin says, but I weren’t mighty enough to lift it, were I? He’s a big one, though.
He indicates with a nod of the head that he is referring to Moses, so Moses goes and takes the object from him.
It is a brutal-looking weapon – a twisted and carnivalesque instrument of destruction. Constructed on the base of an iron pipe about the length of a great sword, there are blades welded on every which way. Dagger blades and hatchet blades. Kitchen-knife blades bent at spidery angles. There are blades all the way up and down the shaft of the iron pipe, but an increasing number towards the end, where a vicious iron spike protrudes from the tip. The grip is simple and inelegant – layers of duct tape wrapped around the base of the pipe.
It can be used to swipe or cudgel or pierce. But any way it moves, Moses can tell, it will whistle sticky death through its path. He lifts it, feels the tremendous heft of it. A slow weapon, graceless and nasty. It’s not surprising that the harlequin cannot use it – Moses is barely able to hold it aloft comfortably with all the strength of both arms.
But he looks closely at it – the colours of the welded metal where the blades come together, the elemental blues and blacks and greens and browns. The distilling of metal into liquid and then the cohering of liquid into strength.
There is an awesome ugliness to the thing, and Moses admires it.