Plight of the Transformer is a story told in eight episodes, posted serially by me, your captivated host, Cheeseburger Brown. Chapters: 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8
"What legacy can the short claim when all events are overlaid by the fictions of manipulators?"
Our story concludes:
Tourists are tourists are tourists; queues are queues are queues.
As we crossed the gangway from shore to ship I blended by pointing a disposable camera toward the hazy domes and steeples of old, sinking Venice to snap off a couple of poor imitations of popular postcards. The crowd surrounding me babbled in German, Japanese, Italian, French. A bloom of pigeons burst from the Piazza San Marco and took to the skies as an inky, swirling mass. "Oooh, Maman -- regard les oiseaux la!"
I snapped a picture: blurry grey streaks against featureless azure. Dreadful.
At the top of the ramp I was lavished with three seconds of attention and one second of eye contact from two fresh-faced, dimple-cheeked girls in matching starched white blouses and cruelly short blue skirts emblazoned with faux-Naval insignias. "Benvenuto!" they cheered in chorus.
"I'm on the C deck," I said helpfully, offering up my boarding pass.
They pointed the way, smiling with rosy cheeks, careless and weightless. It was an infectious perfume, and I found myself smiling back at them. After all, in two more paces I would be on my way to leaving Italy, to wind my way back to Bess with the prize in hand. To be sure, things were looking up for this tired transformer.
I wheeled my luggage to my cabin, dodging a clump of giggling children as I experimented with the keycard to find the orientation that would cause the door handle to release. Once inside I tucked my things away before heading up to the deck to watch our departure, taking with me the only element of my cargo too precious to be out of sight: the book satchel.
Outside, I draped my hands over the railing and leaned, taking in a mix of moist, sea air and the fumes of a thousand diesel engines working to cloak the underlying stench of the canals. The crisp white triangles of sailboats caught the sun and shone. Motorboats growled as they cut the waves. Birds wheeled. Pop music reached me tinnily from tourists' party boats and the yachts of the rich.
I looked out over the Adriatic and pondered how much history had happened here -- how many crossings, for war or trade or immigration, and how many eyes had gazed out over these blue sparkles and wondered whether the world had an end. How many had challenged that horizon? Odysseus, long ago, for one. I wondered whether he had been a man, a myth, or a monster of the long.
How much of history was theirs, and how much was ours? Was every great act of men to be subsumed by the sad realization that mortal people did nothing but fuss inconsequentially in the shadows of our true masters?
What legacy can the short claim when all events are overlaid by the fictions of manipulators?
Had we ever achieved anything on our own?
I found myself becoming depressed. The cruise ship's horn gave a mighty blast, frightening up another cloud of birds. The children scampering around the deck hooted and cheered. Their parents smiled and touched their heads, lingering over their soft hair and uncreased brows. At the side of the ship I saw the shore-crew retract the gangway and untether the massive mooring cables. We were clear. We were free. In moments, the Veneto would recede behind me.
The ship rumbled, the puddles on the deck quivering with interference patterns. Smoke rose from the exhaust towers. Spume kicked up at the stern.
We began to move.
I released a breath I had not realized I had been holding.
Back on shore well-wishers were waving. It didn't seem to matter to whom they were signaling -- everyone waved back, as people had been waving to and from departing ships from this port for millennia. I waved, too.
My wave faltered, however, as I observed a disturbance among the well-wishers. Someone was pushing their way to the front lines, shoving people aside rudely. The crowd parted and a stalky figure in a dark cowl appeared at the edge of the pier. He looked to the ship and then, without hesitation, climbed over the fence and leapt into the water.
A few seconds later he surfaced and began to swim.
"Good Lord..." I muttered. "Lallo!"
As he pressed powerful on in dedicated pursuit of the cruise ship I wandered back from the rail. I tore my eyes away and increased my pace, first dodging and striding through the others on deck and then jogging with the satchel banging against my hip in harried rhythm.
I rounded the foredeck and then slipped into the shadow of the ship's castle, coming to a stretch of deck virtually unoccupied by passengers. Everybody wanted to watch Venice disappear, and nobody wanted to stand in the cool, winter shade.
I hefted myself over the railing and dropped into a bright orange lifeboat. I quickly scanned the emergency procedures mounted on the side and then unhitched the ties and awkwardly lowered myself side by side until the lifeboat touched water. As we were dragged along with the ship a steady spray assailed me from the bow until I managed to release the clamps that held the dinghy in place.
The next moment the ship was drawing away from me. I felt a little sad to be forced to relinquish my Underwood. It had been with me for years. Never the less: duty is duty.
The ship's waves eased me gently further from the wake. As I watched the tall, rounded stern chug away I saw Lallo splash his way alongside. He grabbed the rim of a bolted portal and hauled his waterlogged body out of the sea, shaking his head like a dog to clear the drips. And then, relentlessly, tirelessly, fearlessly, the juggernaut began climbing the hull.
I whistled quietly to myself. There was no denying how impressive it was. He was unstoppable.
I had to laugh. I had to smile. It was clear that the beast would pursue me all the way to England. His tenacity was beyond measure. But this did not frighten me, but rather inspired me -- there was something irresistible about the thrill of the hunt, common from cave man to transformer alike. Knowing he would be tracking me at every step made me feel alive.
I do so enjoy a challenge.
The ship continued on. The tide was coming in so even without effort my little orange boat was bobbing purposefully back to the city. Once there, I would be obliged to hastily arrange new transport. Until then, there was nothing I could do.
I unzipped the satchel and felt around. Though the Jamijama remained safely wrapped, I had managed to steal away with a couple of other volumes. I had finished On Castor & Pollux, so I chose instead a book that had ended up stuck in my jacket when I fled the estate of Ziusudra: a compact tome with frayed pages and a cracked leather cover. I opened it to the faded title page: IESVS ET AVTOMATON.
"Jesus and the Robot?" I echoed aloud, curiosity piqued.
Gulls wheeled. The shadows lengthened. With each gentle wave the lifeboat drifted surely toward shore. I predicted that I had some twenty minutes before I would again be called to rapid action.
I stretched. I yawned. I lay back in the boat and propped up the book on my chest. Waiting is waiting, patience is patience -- why fret ineffectually when a moment of relaxation is within reach?
The cruise ship with Lallo aboard began to descend below the horizon. I was sure I would see him again soon. In a way, I was relieved he hadn't been killed -- such a remarkable specimen! Such a strange friendship we almost had! How as opponents we would dance!
With a contented sigh I turned the page and started to read.