There is a machine hole called Whiskey Heap far to the south. When I went overwall I wanted to go to that place and return to tell the tale.

I followed the grass road south, away from the village and the sea, toward the mountains. They shine like emeralds above the wavering salt pan. The mountains are covered in trees fed by snowmelt. Snow! I was drawn like moth to candle. The desert is so hot.

I was young and full of scorn — I scorned my home, I scorned the desert, I scorned the others overwalling with me. I alone would make the journey to Whisky Heap! I carried a bolt gun fashioned from a vampire machine’s arm. I longed to kill one, to shoot it and smash it to pieces, like beating a man into the earth with his own longbones. I hated the machines and fancied myself their equal. What a fool I was.

In those days the grass road above our qanat was well traveled by caravans, and there were mules pulling wagons, and ethanol carts with old hacking chemical engines. I caught rides up-valley, trading tin for a space among the bales of cotton and pottery jugs. One day we saw a vampire machine on a dune. “It’s feeble,” said the caravan’s Parceler, “Worn out and off its steam. It won’t molest us.”

As I said, I was full of fire. I saw the Parceler’s wise discretion as cowardice, and told him so. He invited me to leave his caravan, and I was glad to. I had my bolt gun, didn’t I? Was I not immortal? I loaded a bolt and opened the valve, striding up the dune like a champion.

The machine was an evil-looking thing, as big as I but with a clustered multitude of rusted legs. It moved up and down with its flywheel like an old man laboring for breath, oblivious to my approach. I considered putting a bolt through it but saw no risk; I put the heavy gun down and got out my wrecking bar. I intended to dismantle it alive.

That is not what happened, obviously. The young men and women who had gone overwall with me were traveling together and found me and tended to my wounds as best they could. That I survived is something of a miracle. On the wall, I can still mount a passable watch but walking eludes me these days.

The Man With No Feet