1927 – Release date in Germany of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis
Maria checks her wristwatch. Mechanical arms indicate fifteen minutes past the hour of nine.
With an involuntary movement, her own arms stretch out on each side. She stands close to the wall, as if she’s holding the building in place.
Her wrist remains out of view, but the wall in front of her has become a giant watch face. Lights around the dial shift, and Maria repositions her arms to indicate twenty-five after eleven.
She feels a tug at the center of each hand, as if a bolt runs through her palm and out the back, attaching her to the mechanism on the wall. Lights shift to indicate noon, and she raises both arms, claps hands directly over her head.
She’s certain she serves a higher purpose than a mere timepiece.
Positions four and fifty.
Her memories confuse her. Once, she lived as a woman named Hel. Then she was the Maschinenmensch–a robotic approximation that brought Hel back into existence.
Positions eight and five.
She imagines her life as Maria, remembers an inspirational speech she delivered to oppressed workers. They followed the bidding of vast machines, granting power to an above-ground city of towers and airships.
Bolts tug at her hands, forcing her inattentive arms to positions five and thirty-five. Another memory assaults her: kidnapped, her mind transferred to the Maschinenmensch through electric currents; a torturous stretching of her skin over a ball-and-socket skeleton.
Indicator lights insist on the most contorted position: one and six. She has no power to disobey.
The large clock is the shape of her world. Its face is her own face: the civilized structure of time scrambled into meaningless segments. Maria cannot remember if she is human or machine.
Positions two and forty.
She follows her instructions, puppet hands dragged along an indifferent dial, while an empty city grinds overhead.