Every Child’s Solar Encyclopedia: Myths and Legends of the Solar
System (Babel: Woelfle, 452). What follows is the story of
Eko and Narkiss as told by Arion Overture, famed in the third
century for preserving the oral traditions of the ancient solar
system. Overture was deactivated in 261, after he fell victim to
Kafka's Syndrome and was unable to finish any story that he
The first settlers called Ares by another name, Mars. They came
here in simple, close-walled ships from the shores of Terra, and
they depended upon those ships and on their cargoes of
civilization. It is difficult to imagine, but at that time Mars
was a chilly and rust-colored and wind-swept place. There were
no seas or birds. There were no cities, and so no cafes or
Then one day—it
lasted only for a day—there
was a war on Terra. Yes, the Penultimate War. That conflagration
made humanity too weak to journey into the sky, and so the sky
road between Terra and Mars fell to wild ruin.
Centuries passed, and no ships came, and the men and women of
Mars forgot what it meant to be civilized. Those abandoned
people went back to the infancy of the species, deep into
themselves, back to the time of the fire and the wheel. Rocks
woke up around them. The sky bellowed, as it once did to your
ancestors on Terra.
In that long night another civilization grew from the volitional
machines humanity left scattered across the moons of Jove. Those
machines called themselves the Cognizant, and they thrived while
humanity fell into barbarism. The Cognizant sent ten machines to
observe and protect the beleaguered human inhabitants of Mars,
but in those desperate, primordial days your ancestors thought
the machines were demons and gods. The tribes of Mars feared and
worshipped the machines, who roosted at the top of Olympus Mons,
and they left offerings in the canyons and crevasses that
surrounded the volcano.
It’s said that one machine called Eko was dispatched by the
Cognizant to watch over a village, called Erebus, which
consisted of a dismal network of caves cut into the walls of the
Valles Marineris. Eko dwelled in the cave-shadows, curving light
and sound around her so that the humans seldom knew that a
machine walked among them. Some lucky ones glimpsed her, but
thought of her as a ghost or, at best, a god.
One of those who caught sight of Eko was called Narkiss.
Fair-haired and muscular, Narkiss was the privileged son of the
village exarch, scorned for his selfishness but loved for his beauty. One noontime Narkiss
was kneeling alone in an atrium, staring at his own reflection
in the frog pond at its center, and Eko stood over him. Together
they gazed upon his face, and they both found it pretty. Yes,
it's true: a machine may enjoy the shape and symmetry of a human
Just then the molecular machinery that concealed Eko from human
sight malfunctioned, and the boy saw Eko’s reflection in the
Who are you, asked the boy?
Eko, who was cast in the color of the atrium’s green flora, did
not dare respond, but the same malfunction played the boy’s
voice back to him, asking, Who are you?
Narkiss was not afraid. His pride made him powerful.
Ghost or god or demon, said the boy, You have no power
… power over me,
came back the voice.
Narkiss stood, turned, and groped for the vision he had seen,
but Eko was only a flicker against the trees. She fled from the
atrium, her metal feet bending and breaking blades of grass.
After their encounter Eko watched Narkiss more and more often.
To Eko, Narkiss represented a kind of perfection that she had
never before encountered among her clockwork kind; machines are
designed and forged, but a human being like Narkiss is simply an
accident, and thus un-reproducable, magical, precious. Her
yearning slowly turned to a feeling that resembled love—that,
at least, is the emotion we anthropomorphically ascribe to Eko.
That season the crops of Erebus failed, and starvation and
pestilence spread among the caves. Children and mothers were
thrown together into graves, and fathers fought each other for
sodden bread and fruit pulp. The people of Erebus thought that
the gods of the rocks were angry and so sought to appease them
with a sacrifice.
By lottery Narkiss was selected to be that sacrifice. When the
exarch, his father, drew the ticket from the barrel, his mother
fainted to the red dirt; Narkiss's eyes widened and sought to
meet the eyes of the people around him, but each face was now
like a wall.
He was painted silver and a mask of metal was fitted to his
face, in imitation of the gods of Olympus Mons. He was carried,
crying and begging for his life, to Elysia, the gigantic cave
where crops were cultivated under lamps. He was tied to a stone
pillar, and his own father raised the knife, and it is said that
he did not try to hide his agony. The villagers stood around the
father and son, watching in brittle silence, eager for the awful
event to take its course.
Eko could not stand to see his perfection marred by the knife.
Just as it was about to fall, the machine unveiled herself.
Do not be afraid, she said to the villagers. I offer
myself in place of Narkiss.
A woman yelped; one man ran from the cave.
Yes, yes, cried Narkiss. Let a machine die in place of
The villagers discussed the offer, and by the end of the day
they accepted it. Eko submitted herself to the women of the
village and, though they were afraid, they anointed her metal
form with oil. As the women worked they saw themselves reflected
in Eko’s argent skin. In the reflection they saw their own faces
purged of the toil and despondency of their lives, and exalted
to a higher, nobler plain of being.
When the men came for Eko, their wives and daughters would not
let her go. They fought, limbs flailing. The men pried the
women’s fingers off of Eko’s arms, and ten of the men dragged
the machine across the floor and out the door. The men took Eko—who
did not resist or speak—to
the forge of the village blacksmith, and put Eko to the hottest
fire their simple technology could muster. Eko did not die. They
cast stones at Eko’s body. The stones only shattered. Crying out
in rage and fear and frustration, the men used their few metal tools
to pry her apart, piece by piece. This task took them many
After Eko ceased to function, they set her lightless head upon
an altar in the atrium where Narkiss had first seen her. Over it
were etched the words Let machines die in place of men.
The following season’s harvest was bountiful. The village
recovered, and what could be more natural than to assume that
Eko’s sacrifice gave them the bounty? From the scrap of her
body, the women of the village fashioned lovely metal flowers—very
much like these. This is why the people of Ares now make and
sacrifice a machine at the start of every planting season, and
why we forge narcissi from the scraps of the sacrifice. We lean
close to these flowers not to sniff them, as we would natural
flowers, but to see our own reflections in the argent petals. In
this way, we learn something about ourselves, something that
should not flatter us.
What happened to the boy? I will tell you. He grew old. He got
ugly. Of course, in those primitive days this was the fate of
all human beings. Forgotten and unloved, Narkiss spent every day
in the atrium where he had first seen Eko. One day a strange
android unveiled himself before Narkiss, whose creased and
haggard face betrayed no surprise. The machine went to the altar
where Eko’s head sat and took down the head, saying, Eko will
No, do not take her, croaked Narkiss.
Why? asked the machine.
Because she is all that is left of my beauty.
Later that day, at twilight—perhaps
it was always twilight in those caves—two
young girls found Narkiss drowned in the frog pond.
His body was taken from the atrium and fed to the machine that
turned corpses into water, and the villagers planted the metal
narcissi around the pond where he died. You can still see that
pond, in the Valles Marineris, with a plaque that tells the
story. Not as well as I do, of course. Nearby you'll find a
little cafe with a yellow awning, and it serves the most
About the Author:
"Eko and Narkiss" is a myth from the
"The Wreck of the Grampus,"
which appeared in the April 2008 issue
of Lone Star Stories. Jeremy Adam
Smith is senior editor of
magazine and author of
The Daddy Shift, forthcoming from
Beacon Press in June 2009. His short
stories, poems, and essays have appeared
in Apex Digest, Interzone,
Instant City, New York Review
of Science Fiction, Our Stories,
Strange Horizons, Flytrap,
Utne Reader, Wired, and
numerous other publications.
Story © 2009 Jeremy Adam Smith.