The Old Mech went up in the suburbs of Pil Yo Heights when Royo was just a baby. Of course, at the time it was simply: “The Mech.” In one video from that time, his father holds Royo’s tiny silhouette against the scaffolding of The Mech, and says, “This is our gift to you, Royo! So you will always have time.”
The Mech was built to protect Pil Yo Heights from the Time Witches. The Time Witches lived in time loops of their own creation. Some generations of Time Witches would live in a loop of 24 hours while simultaneously living in a loop one thousand years long.
The Time Witches achieved this by appearing from the sky and stealing the citizens of Pil Yo Heights to feed to the Bata ng Oras, a big fat toadish extradimensional creature that kept time stable for this part of the city.
Intelligent creatures that were aware of the passage of time upset the belly of the Bata ng Oras, disrupting its natural time secretions and causing the ripples in time that the Witches took advantage of.
There were many appreciative murals of the Bata ng Oras in the neighborhood, though someone had covered one mural with a tag of people being fed into its mouth by a cartoon witch. It was generally agreed upon that the Witches were the issue and not the great dumb creature, who was only following its nature to eat whatever was thrown into its mouth.
Wettyai, the company that originally created the Witches, always sent gifts and apologetic emails to the neighborhood.
“We understand our impact on your community” and “Giving Back: How We’re Helping to Rebuild.” Time Witches were never mentioned in the e-mails. No real mea culpas, more damage control than anything.
The city refused to intervene because Wettyai was a major economic player and to hold them accountable would cause massive sanctions. Weighed against a few citizens fed to a big toad in the sky, the choice was evident.
The Time Witches had one vulnerability: a hacked Wettyai sync code that could be used to bind the witches.
Locked deep in The Mech’s metal head, hidden behind many barriers, was the software that contained the magic word embedded with the sync code. For as long as it defended Pil Yo Heights, the Mech was forbidden to speak anything other than the code.
The Time Witches only came once in Royo’s lifetime. They appeared from purple portals across the sky, screeching in from their awful time loops.
Sirens built for just such an occasion went off throughout the neighborhood and lit up everyone’s phones and screens. The Mech activated its engineered purpose for the first time.
The Witches descended on the neighborhood, singing their dreadful chant:
oblivion behind us
future before us
guess we might as well
With the “eat souls” part they cheered and threw their hands up with glee.
The Mech wasted no time dispatching the witches. Its eyes lit up in neon pink and all four arms batted them from the sky. It spoke the sync code so loudly that windows throughout the city shook, Royo could feel it all the way down in his toes. He was a teenager then, holding a skateboard absently as he gawked into the heavens.
The Bata ng Oras groaned from behind the portals at the speaking of the magic word, though from pain or irritation Royo could not know. Words of power and sync codes could never bind such a creature such as it, only the parasites that swam around it like the Time Witches.
It was over in a matter of minutes. The remaining Witches landed at the feet of the mech and bowed, for they had no choice. It was their programming.
After an hour of being outside their time loops, they split apart into atoms. Being inside of natural time was poison to them. They sang all the way up to their disintegration and laughed even as they ceased to exist.
Royo felt pity for the Witches, but he also felt relief at not being carried up into the sky into one of their strange portals to be fed to a beast that lived outside of space and time. He skateboarded away.
After that, development in Pil Yo Heights enjoyed a boom for many years. As an adult, Royo got a job in an office tower personally built by The Mech. Though The Mech was still restricted from speaking anything other than the code, it was still able to work and assist with construction and community improvements.
Seasons passed in Pil Yo Heights and Royo married late in life, but not too late to have a child. He held his daughter up in front of the mech in his own video and said “This is our gift to you. So you will always have time.”
His office on the 13th floor looked directly out at The Mech, almost eye level with it. He could have opened his window to speak with it, if it was allowed to talk.
Over time, The Mech showed signs of wear but was maintained for the most part. Royo would sometimes take his lunch by The Mech, eating simple sandwiches and salads by the fountain that circled it.
The local Bots & Parks department began to devote its funds to other projects, and The Mech started to look a little worse for wear. Graffiti even began to appear on the metal panels of its legs.
The water of the fountain started to take on an unpleasant smell, like standing water. The B&P had cut off funding to have its pumps maintained.
Royo stopped having lunch by The Mech after awhile. It made him feel melancholy. People in Pil Yo Heights started calling it “The Old Mech.” Some said it was an eyesore. No one wanted to use it for construction or building anymore, new advances in tech were far quicker.
Word even came down that Wettyai had designed a new line of Time Witches and patched the hacked Sync Code. Wettyai also announced that it had fixed The Time Witches so that they would no longer feed citizens to The Bata ng Oras.
Protests and political pressure on social media, along with new leadership, had resulted in Wettyai’s pivot to kinder, friendlier, less sacrificial Time Witches.
The B&P held a meeting in the Pil Yo heights community garden to vote on whether to scrap The Old Mech. Royo himself argued to have The Old Mech upgraded, holding his second daughter with one arm, balanced on his hip. He was voted down.
Royo sat in his office looking at the mech from his new office on the 33rd floor on the day that The Old Mech was scheduled to be decommissioned. Now that it was no longer needed, The Old Mech was permitted to speak freely, and citizens were encouraged to say their goodbyes or ask questions.
Royo took the elevator down to his old office on the 13th floor and opened one of the windows. He didn’t think it would amount to much but he waved at The Old Mech and yelled “Hey! Ansyen Mech!”
‘Ansyen Mech’ was what many of the old timers in the neighborhood called it. Royo was on the edge of being an old timer himself.
He waited a moment. He was about to head back up to the 33rd floor when The Mech’s eyes lit up in the old neon pink, just like that day so many years ago. One of its arms began to move, and it extended a flat metal palm to just below the window.
In spite of himself, Royo climbed through the window and slowly stepped down onto The Old Mech’s hand. It pulled Royo gently to itself, until Royo was standing right in front of its face. It smelled like the massive server room in the basement of his office building.
Royo thought of the sight of the Time Witches who bent a knee to this massive machine on that day many years ago. He wondered what had become of his skateboard.
Royo said, “I wanted to say that…I heard you were being decommissioned. I wanted to say thank you for saving us that day. I fought for you, but, you know how people are.”
The Old Mech considered Royo with its neon eyes, then spoke for the second time in Royo’s life.
“I have stood here many years among many people. I will be built again, and we will meet again. We will meet a thousand times. A billion. We are always meeting.”
“I see.” said Royo, not really seeing at all. Had he expected it to thank him in return? He supposed he had, a little. “Well. Nice to meet you, officially, I guess. I hope it wasn’t lonely all these years keeping us safe.”
The Old Mech said, “Everything that thinks gets lonely. Even a machine that thinks. I will tell you something, though, that may help you. Because I think it is you who got lonely, being kept safe by me.”
Royo stood in the palm of The Old Mech and waited to hear it.
“To bind a thing, you must know what it is to be that thing. When I bound the Witches, I also bound myself to know what it is to be a Witch. I know the true name of The Bata ng Oras. And so will you.”
The Old Mech did something odd then. In as much as it had lips, it lifted Royo up to them and gave him a gentle kiss. Then it lowered him all 13 floors to the ground.
Royo lived for 20 more years after The Old Mech was dismantled. Both of his daughters had grown up, and gotten jobs at the new Wettyai facility in Pil Yo Heights. They brought him a small gift from the Wettyai gift shop: a toy figure of The Old Mech.
“So you will always have time” said his oldest, kissing him gently, as softly as The Old Mech had.
His daughters were by his side on the day he died. Before he passed, he said to them, “I guess I’m being fed to The Bata ng Oras after all. Just took a little longer.”
By the time they replied, he already knew its true name.