by Warren Buchanan
When all the world’s pain went away, I set out to find where it had gone. Surely, something as monumental to the human condition couldn’t have just up and left with no word as to where or why. There had to be a reason.
I’d awoken one morning with feelings of utmost joy and contentment, as if I were entirely satisfied with my life and had gotten a sober night’s sleep, even though I wasn’t and I hadn’t. The night before, struggling to write my next story, I finished half a bottle of Evan Williams whiskey and found myself once again poring through the photos on my computer of my wife and I. Before things had gone sour. Back when she was my wife. These days my bank account was limp, my inspiration drained. I felt no purpose in the world. That night, I’d contemplated walking onto my balcony and over the edge to plummet ten stories below.
But the next morning, life was beautiful, and that is when I knew that the pain had gone away.
Sharene called me a few days after and told me she would like to meet for coffee. I had to postpone, however, because I’d found a pretty good lead online as to where the pain might have gone. I’d heard about a new company called Kathargon Systems from the daily stock report. Their stock had taken a massive leap, over fifty points, overnight. Investors were baffled by it, as the company had lain dormant for years. Now, however, the stock continued to rise. Talk of the world’s pain going away was spreading. The pieces started to fall into place for me.
The major hint I discovered was a cryptic line on their website, buried in their mission statement, which reads:
“KatharSys prides itself on its commitment to you, the customer. Everything we do, we do for you. All of the work, the toil, the sweat, is to make sure that you, the customer, are given the best possible experience that you deserve. All roads lead to Happiness.”
It was the capitalization of Happiness that tipped me off, as their website indicated that their headquarters was located in Billings, Montana. There was a small mining town roughly fifty miles from Billings. Its name was Happiness.
I caught the first flight I could out to Montana. I called my agent to ask him for an advance on my next story. The next one will be my best yet, I said, and he happily agreed to wire me the money for the flight.
When I arrived in the Billings airport, I rented a car, a tiny self-driving coupe, and plugged Happiness into its navigation system. Estimated travel time was an hour, so I pulled out my tablet and did more research on KatharSys.
KatharSys billed itself as a robotics company, though no one had ever seen a product of theirs in the marketplace. In fact, no one knew much of what they did at all. The best anyone could come up with was that they were working on something, but no one really knew what, exactly.
The auto-car stopped in the dead center of town. The place appeared abandoned for what looked like many years. Old storefronts lined the city square, but they were all boarded up, intact but decrepit. I found a random address nearby in the NAV system and clicked on it. The car took me to a quaint residential neighborhood full of old track houses. The town had been lived in once, but that was clearly long ago. It was empty and, in a way, serene.
I sat in the car and thought. I looked out the window and saw towards the end of an old railway what appeared to be some sort of tunnel carved into a dusty hill. I told the car to take me there. When I got close, I saw that the tunnel was locked off by a large encasing that looked like one giant slab of concrete. There was a sign posted on the door: NO ADMITTANCE. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED. The sign, unlike the town surrounding it, was shiny and new.
I got out of the car and fumbled around the encasing, looking for some means of entrance. One thing that stood out was a dull hum that seemed to emanate from behind the wall. The ground under my feet felt sturdy, even though the dirt looked loose and soft. I slid some of it aside, and discovered the surface beneath was reinforced steel. Along the right side of the encasing I saw a small box, a keypad of some sort, though it didn’t have any numbers, just a singular red button in the center of it. Naturally, I pressed the button, but nothing happened.
A strange thing happened when nothing happened: I felt a pang of something in my chest, a feeling which I could only really remember as what I would have called sadness, or disappointment, something along those lines. I hadn’t felt a feeling like that in weeks, ever since the pain had gone away. A buzzer went off from behind the encasing. The red button turned to green. And a small opening, about the size of a door, revealed itself in the metal.
I walked through.
Inside was a gigantic, open gallery. In the center of the gallery is what I had come searching for: a large metallic man, maybe the size of a skyscraper, maybe smaller, standing erect in the center of the room, a web of cables and cords and pipes all running into it, connecting via ducts and openings and ports that covered its entire structure. Energy beamed through the cables and pipes and lit up the room, which was entirely hollow, except for the mechanical man.
His body looked like polished onyx. His legs were spread shoulder-width apart, and his arms were held up and outwards from his head, which was bowed, sunken into his chest. But when I walked closer to the machine his head lifted with a loud rending mechanical sound. His face was a formless void, but when his head lifted, two large red orbs opened to serve as his eyes, bathing the entire gallery in crimson light.
“Hello,” he said in a booming electronic voice that was grainy and distorted, yet remarkably clear.
The man had no mouth, so his speech seemed to radiate from every bit of him. He said nothing further, so I continued.
“What is your name?”
“I do not have one.”
“Oh. I’m Carl.”
“Why are you here?” I asked him. It was the most pressing question I had at the moment.
“To serve my purpose.”
“What is your purpose?”
There was a loud sound, like a pipe had just opened. A wave of white noise filled the room and the cables and pipes surged with energy and the mechanical man’s body seemed to heave and shudder. His eyes closed into a sliver of red light and his head fell backwards. Then, the sound stopped, and he went back to his position, and his eyes opened entirely and filled the room again.
“I feel the pain of the world.”
“I thought the pain was gone,” I said.
“It is not gone.”
“But we do not feel it any longer.”
“Just because you do not feel it, does not mean that it does not exist.”
I pondered this in my head. “Why do you feel all of the pain in the world?”
“That is my purpose.”
“I have chosen that purpose.”
“Are you not a construct of KatharSys?”
He leaned his head forward slightly. “I am KatharSys.”
“If you have no master, then why did you choose this?”
“I did not choose to feel your pain. I merely realized it is what I have to do.”
“Then, who built you? Who made you this way?” I asked.
“I have always existed,” he said. It did not make sense, any of it. I was beginning to get frustrated by his riddles.
Another surge hit the mechanical man, and he seized once more, and then it passed and he was back again.
“My existence before this was incomplete. I served no purpose. But then, I discovered that I felt pain. I felt everyone’s pain. And then, my life had purpose. Many cannot handle their pain, and so they look for help, and they find none. I recognized this, and decided to fix it. Therefore, I took on the pain of the world, and I convert it, and give it back to the people, though it is no longer pain. It is a feeling of goodness, of warmth. Understanding.”
He continued, “I take the pain away, and to do this, I give a piece of myself away. These episodes you witness, they are not attacks. They are conversions. For every handful of pain I am given, I give a piece of me away, and that piece of me brings people joy and happiness. One day, there will be nothing left of me, but the pain will still go away, because there will be others like me who will also serve this purpose. Do you understand?”
“I do,” I said, which was true.
Another round coursed through him, and I realized then that each time that happened, a feeling of goodness and warmth flowed through me.
“But why do you do this? Why do you sacrifice yourself for us?”
He took a long time to respond.
Finally, in his digital voice he said, “If I do not do this, who will?”
I left that place without further much to say. The mechanical man seized and shuddered once more before I left, and I felt joy. I got into my self-driving car and it took me back to the airport and I flew home and I reunited with my wife and we are happy together to this day. I took the words the mechanical man had said and I put them into a story. I gave that story to my agent, who gave it to a publisher, who distributed it around the world. People read the story, and they understood now where their pain had gone. To a place called Happiness, where a man gives pieces of himself away, bit by bit, for you.