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Apr/May 2017 Fiction

The Kinoapparat

by Mike Malloy

Photographic image © 2017 Stuart Gelzer

Photographic image © 2017 Stuart Gelzer


Meine Damen und Herren,

Perhaps you have heard the rumors circulating in Weir. They concern a variation on the "magic lantern." Doubtless there is not a citizen of Weir who does not recall the lantern's power to enkindle excitement, anticipation, and fear.

You hand your ticket to a beshawled gypsy and enter by a low door into a dark room. There you sit on a bench facing a blank wall. Presently, through miasmatic smoke, you perceive images projected through the medium of light: leering, hideous skeletons; jocund, garrulous demons; cackling, febrile witches.

If we credit gossip, the magic lantern has been resurrected in the guise of the Kinoapparat. The device has been developed at the offices of that man of science with a "reputation," Herr Doktor Geshmak.

Enormously fat, Geshmak resembles a geometric sphere made flesh. He favors checkered suits, bowler hats, and small round glasses. His roundness gives him the look of a child's lost balloon, which floats in whatever direction the wind dictates.

The Kino-Apparat captures the image of any sensible entity. This image resides in the Apparat, from which it can be projected (in flat form) on any surface. Allegedly, the image can be stored in coils of glass or nonferrous metal. Purportedly, the device has been tested on living beings—stray cats, rabbits, finally a dog. No word yet on human experimentation.

It is the opinion of this correspondent that attempting to capture the image of a man would be dangerous—an affront to the dignity of man, who was formed in imago dei.

I remain...

Your man in Nebbach,

B. Blok

 

Meine Damen und Herren,

Further word on that man of science with a "reputation," Herr Doktor Geshmak. My source reminds me he is the same Geshmak famed for manufacture of automata. These "auto-matic men" are designed after the human body, with cogs, gears, and mechanisma in place of flesh. Purportedly, these automata are built for labor—so that a reliable force of machine men might supplant the role now held by the swarthier peoples of our Empire.

However, the good Doktor allegedly employs his automata for more unseemly purposes. You will forgive me if I go not into greater detail. This is a Christian paper for a Christian Empire.

I remain...

Your man in Nebbach,

B. Blok

 

Meine Damen und Herren,

Weir was ablaze last night. Our Jews celebrated Poorim, our Christians the Feast of St. Zeinur, and the Zarathustrians some devilry. But I was nowhere near these revelries. As your correspondent, my task was to stand beneath electric light in the laboratory of Herr Doktor Geshmak, notebook and pencil in hand, waiting for the unveiling of the Kinoapparat.

In the milling crowd I spotted exemplars of every imperial caste: Sarts, Jews, Hindoos, Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Germans, and Bulgars. Gentlepeople mixed with underworld kingpins. Cadaverously thin men in shabby tuxedoes circulated, bearing silver trays on which were piled conical glasses of pink champagne, pickled herring with dill, and roasted eggplant with walnut paste. The smell of wet wool and water permeated the air, for the evening was damp in Nebbach's southern districts.

The exhibition was promised to start at nine, according to the flyers affixed to every lamppost, trolleybus, and elektrichka in town. At a quarter to ten the good Doktor sauntered on stage. His movements disgusted me. In order to amplify his voice, he spoke into a horn.

Here, dear readers, are his remarks:

"Citizens of Weir! It has been said that man alone creates representations. From cave paintings to modern art, we strive to transcribe ever-flowing reality into eternal image. Tonight we open a new front in that war. The war on death. For that which has been re-presented and preserved on film can never die, but will live forever... in a kind of shadow life. Meine damen und herren, I give you... the Kinoapparat!"

With a flourish the portly Doktor pulled a cloth from a mesh enclosure, within which sat the implement.

How can I describe the impression made by this machine? I felt like a man gone to a fortuneteller, presented with a tarot never before seen, filled with woodcuts inscrutable and sinister. The machine was made primarily of metal, but placed within a wooden casing. It had one glassy, iridescent eye, which gazed with cyclopean malice. The thing stood on a rickety contraption of folding wood and wheels, which expanded or contracted like a concertina bellows.

"I require," sounded Geshmak, "a volunteer!"

His eyes swept the crowd, landing on a young woman near the stage. Her hair was bobbed, her dress short. She approached the stage, ascended the steps, and stood between Geshmak and the machine.

"I am glad," quoth Geshmak, "that a great beauty has volunteered for this experiment. It is a crime what time does to beauty. The lithe and vibrant young creature before you will, in the trial of a few years, become a wrinkled, simpering hag. Must we accept such cruelty at the hands of time? No! We can preserve this woman's beauty by capturing it with the Kinoapparat. We will take her three dimensions and render them two, preserving her beauty forever on celluloid. Observe. My darling, what is your name?"

"Dasha."

"Charmed," said he. "Please, my dear, stand before the contraption's eye." The woman did so, smiling, though I noticed a tremor in her hands. Geshmak approached the machine and wound a crank, the sort you might see on a meatgrinder. I could not restrain from gasping as the lid of that machine's eye slid open, revealing the glassy aperture.

Dasha changed instantaneously. She flickered for a moment—like a candle flame by an open window—then disappeared.

Spectators screamed.

Until the Doktor raised his hands, silencing them. He opened a cabinet on the side of the device and removed a small glass bulb.

"Do not be afraid, meine dammen und herren," he said. "Dasha is not dead. She lives on, and will live, forever, in here." He tapped the bulb. "Behold." Then he placed the bulb in a metal receptacle on top of the Kinoapparat, through which he projected light. Suddenly, Dasha was back, moving about the stage, once more smiling.

But she was flat, dear readers—totally flat! When she turned to one side, she was nearly invisible—only a thin black line suggested she had any mass.

"You have lost a third dimension," said the Doktor, "but gained eternal life!"

I remain...

Your man in Nebbach,

B. Blok

 

Meine Damen und Herren,

Many developments, since last I wrote on Herr Doktor Geshmak.

Foto-graphy spread like the cholera through Nebbach. Gentlewomen of girth like the way flattening flatters their figures. Beyond aesthetic or egoistic benefits, there are practical advantages. One can slip through cracks under doors or between walls, thus accessing many hitherto forbidden areas. One can also travel cheaply by means of the post, folding oneself into a modest envelope or package. I am told the process is unsettling at first, but becomes second nature.

After Nebbach's winds scattered the first few brave souls, it was quickly discovered that lead weights attached to one's shoes alleviate the problem of two-dimensional people being blown away. This expedient functions in all but the worst weather.

Further effects: once the body is flattened by the Apparat, one's emotions flatten, too. One knows—but does not trouble about—one's problems. Society dames, once shut-ins from anxiety, now walk the streets in comfort.

Yet—while the Apparat ameliorates despair, it also dilutes elation. One source, nameless, confided that she grew restless after weeks of living "flat." She admits her greatest joy now derives from slipping into others' homes unnoticed and observing their intimate relations—sharing their lives vicariously. She says their existence seems more real than her own. She avoids detection by standing sideways.

My readers will appreciate the sinister implications of restless, invisible individuals compelled to monitor others' lives. It is the opinion of this correspondent that the Kinoapparat is a matter for our empire's constabulary and courts.

I remain...

Your man in Nebbach,

B. Blok

 

Meine Damen und Herren,

You will not think me foolish if I consume a moment of your time by describing the Kino-walk now visible in Nebbach.

The practitioner: any gentleperson who has had him or herself flattened by the Kinoapparat.

What it resembles: the motion of scrap paper borne by the breeze, or the flopping of fish on dry land. It is the movement of something flat negotiating three-dimensional space. The body gyrates up and down, like an inchworm. The effect on the viewer is ghastly.

I ask you, dear reader, to imagine yourself on a street near the grand canal. Men in top hats and women in shawls promenade. Hindoos hawk blackened corn from a stall. Soldiers in epaulets and surtouts drill. You perceive an unfamiliar shape crossing the canal. When it turns, at a certain angle, you see a man, but it rotates and you realize it is flat. It propels itself by grotesque, eldritch undulations. You may ask yourself: is this a citizen of Weir? But I ask you, dear reader: is it a man?

I remain...

Your man in Nebbach,

B. Blok

 

Meine Damen und Herren,

While en route to an interview, I had the impression I was followed. The night was dark and still, the streets devoid of pedestrians (I, having a journalist's internal passport, was permitted to walk the streets after curfew). A sulfurous smell emanated from the canal, and gaslamps cast a wan light over cobbled streets. The only sounds were my footfalls, the distant drilling of soldiers, and the scurrying of rats.

Presently I noted a new sensation, more overpowering than the miasmatic influence of the dismal canal. It was a sound. A dragging, scuffling, scurrying sound, as of someone dragging something over pavement. I examined my surroundings, but saw nothing. I reflected, however, that an individual flattened by the Kinoapparat could, in the shadows, be all but undetectable. Shuddering with terror and revulsion, I hastened to my interview.

My subject was none other than Dr. Geshmak. You can imagine my surprise when I opened the laboratory door and discovered—not the corpulent monstrosity of old—but a svelte, youthful figure. Nevertheless, it was the same man.

"Herr Blok," said Geshmak, "You are surprised to find me thus. Let me explain. I am the first test subject for a new use of the Kinoapparat. I captured my image, rendering myself flat. Then my assistants clamped my flattened image to the three dimensional chassis of an automaton."

"You mean," I asked the Doktor, "that beneath your flesh lies a meshwork of cogs and gears?"

"Precisely," replied the Doktor. "In this form I am impervious to pestilence and age. I am also strong as steel. Imagine," said he, "the use of such technology. No longer will our soldiers die, our women don widow's weeds. Anyone who wishes, who has the means, can live forever."

"But what kind of life will they have?" I asked. "Life without conclusion has no meaning, no peace. Like a day without a night, will not we be driven mad by the perpetual shining of a deathless sun? And how will we live on this earth without the salubrious effects of disease and death? Like prey without a predator, we will consume our natural resources and be subject to famine—but unable to die."

The Doktor only laughed. "You lack imagination," he said. "As our empire has colonized the lesser khanates of this world, so will our species colonize the stars. We will make the deserts of Mars bloom, then proceed outward, to every planet and moon of our solar system. Men, re-corded with the Kinoapparat, need not worry over the pressures of darkest space. They can live as easily in Siberia as at the bottom of the sea—or on the moons of Jupiter. They are the men of the future."

"But what of their souls?" I asked.

"A meaningless superstition," quoth Geshmak.

"Then you are not a Christian," I said.

"Your Christ promised eternal life," said Geshmak. "I have delivered it."

Taking my leave of the Doktor, I pondered: what kind of life is it he promises? Is it life, or a waking death?

I remain...

Your man in Nebbach,

B. Blok

 

Meine Damen und Herren,

Events in Weir proceed apace. Our armies consist of 60 percent Kino men. I need not relate our stunning victories in Viseria, Tiflis, and Tartary. Every day our empire bathes in glory and blood. The Kino man can no longer be identified by undulating movements and flat appearance. Thanks to the automata of Dr. Geshmak, anyone could be a Kino man.

I remain a critic of the Doktor. I know he has me followed. I assume, dear readers, that even as I type these words, I am being observed. Privacy is a forgotten dream for me. The invisibility of the Kino man means he always could be watching me—so that even if he is not, still I cannot feel safe.

Next month they voyage to Mars. A titanic missile, dwarfing the tallest battlements of Nebbach, is constructed southwest of the city. The fires that must be stoked to propel it will claim dozens of lower-caste lives. How like sacrifices to Moloch they are. At the root of this lies the mad dream of Geshmak. I fear him as no other. There is nothing left to do. In these columns I tried to sound the alarm about the fell power of these images, but none have heard.

As I write these words, I am troubled. I feel it will not be long before I hear the scratching, shuffling noise of a 1,000 Kino men moving, worm-like and with evident malice, toward me—to silence me at last. Next to my typewriter sits a carbine revolver. Perhaps I can eliminate a few of them before their hideous, oscillating flesh smothers and murders me.

But hark, dear reader! The latch of my study door turns, seemingly of its own accord. The hour is nigh. Farewell to this body. Perhaps at the end of days I shall have another.

I remain...

Your man in Nebbach,

B. Blok

 

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