The Justice Machine

The pock-marked scabs that dotted the treeless, barren landscape on the face of our stronghold city, Labrinthia, were what held the valued remnants of that old 2110 nuclear holocaust: the mangled airplanes, cars, trucks, trains, and other salvageable engine parts needed to build it: the Iustitia Machina, the automaton that we hoped would be the ultimate solution for our social ills. The bombs had taken away our foodstuffs, while the people either starved, or killed and pillaged. In the face of such scarcity, all life had almost ended itself on Earth. And with the institutions of the old world having been long carved hollow by the fallout, the machine was what we’d aspired to be our Ark: a cocoon from which we’d hoped all misanthropy would molt, while justice, truth—Ratio, our salvation and regained dignity—would triumphantly emerge.

The mechanism itself was a massive, gangling organism of crankshafts, pistons, spinning belts and combustion whirs, spewing exhaust fumes that billowed up and up, defecating into the sun. It spat out punch cards: instructions taken to the head of the formalist priests, Solomon, who would interpret these etchings, surrounded by the murmurings of the city’s innermost dwellers. He would sit atop his wooden rocking chair—that paramount symbol of refined wisdom, and the only wooden thing left in this whole world—and scrawl out statements into the sand before him: For every instance of (∀ ); there exists (∃ ); is an element of (∈ ); and so forth, until each and every Labrinthian had their own set of daily instructions for which to conduct all civic affairs.

Thus, the day’s work was given, justice was meted out, and—for awhile—the people had faith.

And so it was, according to such precise instruction, that the sadi-toriums were built to house the rapists and murderers, the petrol junkies were issued supplements of grain whiskey to soothe their nerves, and through much tedium, the machine carbureted communal solutions with the fervor of a twin diesel.

It wasn’t until we’d experienced such great abundance that the once destitute eyes of the Labyrinth city’s denizens began to gloss over with greed—wanting not only enough, but in excess of the daily carni-plant rations (for that was our only crop, in those days)—that Solomon had considered it wise to make assumptions regarding the punch cards, and to consider it “doubly wise,” as the formalists remarked, to regard the day-to-day regimen of the Iustitia Machina as merely a half-measure of greatness.

Rather, they wished to give birth to Moralis Perfecta, which many were wary of, given the machine’s limited, analog resources—its lack of digital processing capacities (such technology had long since been lost). Nevertheless, the Machina itself would not issue any such edict to pursue these “full” measures via punch card, so the people eventually voted to pursue it themselves.

To do so, as Solomon had advised, the day’s punch cards were generated, but then re-purposed as interconnected strips that now fed the machine—with a nautilus belt added, drawing a pulley system into an infinite digression of π (3.1415926… and so forth).

We fed the machine that morning, and it thus began to issue forth a new set of punch cards: the ones that we now know led to the foundations of all music and poetry, all art and beauty. As noon approached, the people rejoiced at first. Soon, however, mirth turned to uncertainty, turned into madness, and Labrinthia began to digress back into disorder and panic.

As citizen rose against citizen in civil chaos, the automaton began to shift its millions of valves and pistons, contorting itself smaller and smaller as the people watched on in a mixture of horror and wonder. As it screeched, hissed, revved, and wailed, eventually, Iustitia Machina began to take on a humanesque form: with steel arms, axle legs, and the face that was the mixture between what some compared to Eve, while others saw the insides of an automatic transmission.

The machine slowly became a young woman, and, as the people watched on, some began to question among themselves, “What do we do that is right? To whom do we look for solutions?”

To which that perfect form said nothing, but reached into itself, and produced a mirror—by which every Labrinthian gazed into, and finally saw the solution to every social dilemma that needed to be seen.

(Image:, “Machine”)

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3 thoughts on “The Justice Machine”

  1. innatejames says:

    I liked the updated steampunk element you introduced with the punch cards. The idea that technology in 2110 would revert back to what we were using in the 80s reminded me of steam engines. I thought the story succeeded in establishing a fable with the plural narrator. I wanted to know about how the everyday people in Labrinthia were functioning without wood: what did they live in? What is a carni-plant crop? I just wanted to be able to visualize the world a little more.

    1. Thank you for the feedback! I think I had about three versions of this story that I had to pin down into 750 words, but still wanted to build a much bigger world. I probably could have succeeded at conveying more with just the right sentences.

  2. I like your steam punk take on the prompt. You made me believe that a world could be run by punch cards and that your narrator understood the whole process. I wasn’t sure about the ending, but as your comment above suggests, I think this could be a much longer story where all would be explained.

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