Kage Baker was much given to repeated dreams.

There were specific dreams she dreamed repeatedly – those usually went on until she assigned meaning to them, and satisfied whatever subconscious rash was breaking out in  her mind. One of those set her to reading alchemy, researching the ethos behind it. It turns out there really is a step-by-step DIY procedure for attaining the Philosopher’s Stone, but it’s in code. It only works once you’ve deciphered the code, and while there are hundreds of supposed volumes doing just that, few of them agree with one another … and none of them work. Kage learned some interesting ways to fake making gold from lead, though, which she felt was a good addition to her social tricks inventory. Even at the cost of ruining a couple of perfectly good saucepans to melt the lead.

She had other dreams, broader in topic, that fell into cycles. No specific dream repeated, but the general setting recurred over and over.  The most frequent of those was what she called Budapest On A Tuesday Night, where she found herself  riding endlessly on a bus through a crumbling, benighted Eastern European city … the bus was dark and almost empty; so were the streets, where drifts of black dust rippled up over broken curbs and leafless trees loomed in the headlights. All the empty cities in her books rose from those dreams.

From early childhood, Kage also dreamed of clockwork. It fascinated her – she dissected many, many aging alarm clocks, to familiarize herself with their general anatomy. By the time she was in high school, she was also putting them back together – I remember her triumph the first time she got one re-assembled with no parts left over! On one of the clocks – a big brass wind-up model – she somehow lost the hands during the disassemble procedure: but she managed to get it back together without them. Then she had a clock that ticked lustily but never showed the time … that image became the sigil of the Operatives in Dr. Zeus, the badge of servitude imposed on them by their corporate masters.

The same clock ticked on her desk for years. When it finally kicked the jam jar, she replaced it a clock-face from a craft store, carefully denuded of hands. She stuck it over some of the function lights on her copier, so the clock face lit up with a sweep of unknown and mysterious time when she printed out her stories. Kage had a funny relationship with clocks, and with time …

And with literal clockwork, too. From early childhood, she had recurring nightmares about machine parts appearing in her own body. She dreamed that mirrors would show her gears through a panel in her skull, or that one eye would be shown to house some glittering mechanical lens. She dreamed of pistons and gears under her skin, steel and ivory bones fitted together not with muscles and tendons, but mortices and tenons. Those images horrified her, but she could never shake them.

What she ultimately did with this idea, Dear Readers, should be obvious. Originally, the immortal operatives of the Company ran on clockwork; rather like Tik-Tok, the Clockwork Man of Oz (her favourite character in the books). She revised her concept when she began to consider practical problems like noise, and access panels, and industrial accidents and war injuries … and I nagged her into finally at least considering procedures utilizing nanotechnology and biochemistry and strange energies.

But because she was Kage, she endowed them with a profound life of the spirit. She wanted them to be human as well as machines. She wanted the boundary lines to be hard to see, even for the operatives. She felt that identifying one’s own soul was one of the benchmarks of humanity, and she gave that to her operatives. She made them work it out for themselves, though.

Materially, once Kage began to look at micrographs of all the cunning little machines scientists were whimsically constructing out of individual atoms, she was hooked. That stuff was elegant, it was art; it had STYLE.  And Kage loved STYLE.

The tiny carts and cars and windmills and graffiiti enchanted her – she agreed that nano-construction was what her immortals needed.  Bad dreams about gears and escapements under her own skin  led to the immortal cyborgs of Dr. Zeus. Nano-art made them work. A Model-T made of resin molecules, a Coca-Cola sign rendered in vanadinite crystals: even the  original gears were possible, constructed from individual atoms of silicon. To be practical, Kage embroidered circuitry in silver thread  on white cells, to power inhumanly accurate immune systems. Bones were reinforced with steel and porcelain. And for her, The Terminator movies became comedies …

So, what are little operatives made of? Recurring dreams. Science jokes. Nightmares. And straight from Kage’s own soul, the flame of spirit. Because gears and polished steel and strange crystals plated over exotic metals are only fashion.

Real STYLE comes from the soul.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to Tick-Tock

  1. Allison says:

    Gorgeous piece of writing! Truly enjoyed hearing about the dream derived operatives.


  2. Kate says:

    Thank you. Many hours were spent nailing down the details of how they work. Kage liked to make sure that she had all the details in her own head.


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