Dr Susan Eribaku wondered if she would ever cease to be amazed by Xanxes, the small planet on which she was Lead Exploratory Scientist. The latest addition to her planetary catalogue, the Spanner, was one of the strangest life-forms that she had ever come across.
Like any xenobiologist worth her salt, Susan had encountered numerous alien life-forms, both in person and virtually. There were some very strange ones: the flocks of giant winged crabs from Po, the Swarm-Bear of Magellus whose ‘appendages’ were spread over the entire planet, and the appealing Sluggies of Kieron V to name but a few. Spanners outdid them all, mainly because of how the creatures reproduced.
Spanners resembled large treacle-brown toadstools with burnt orange spots, legs and a mouth. They only reproduced over great distances and could somehow sense the location of other Spanners. If one caught the scent of another that was far enough away (the exact mechanism had not yet been determined), a tendril would shoot out of one of its spots and up into the sky. Once clear of all vegetation, the tendril would curve down towards the source of the scent and connect with a corresponding spot. The creatures would remain stationary for several months while genetic information was exchanged.
During this time, a diaphanous, orangey, rainbow-shaped strand connected them. At some point, the strand would unravel at both ends, revealing a cocoon at its apex which would drop to the ground. On impact, the cocoon would split open and a young Spanner would emerge.
At times, the sky of Xanxes took on an orange hue, so criss-crossed it was with strands spanning the planet. It was because of this vision that Susan’s team had given Spanners their name.
Done! The cords that had tied her hands dropped to the ground. Her wrists were raw and a finger maybe broken, but she was nearly free! Untying the knots that secured her feet to the chair was almost easy, only her feet distracted her. They showed her what he had already done: he’d taken his tools to her while she’d been secured with knot and rope. His spanners had grasped at toes — twisting, snapping. The pliers — pointed and vicious and unforgiving — had ripped at nails.
Walking was difficult — pain lanced through each foot and into her calves. Her toes could take no weight. She limped, flat-footed, towards the window, only to find it closed and barred. “Of course!” she wanted to cry — but she kept her anguish silent. Noise would only return his attention to the room.
If the window was no escape, there was still the door. She began moving towards it.
Her slow, careful steps were because of her pain; but they also meant silence, meant little creaking of the floorboards. Meant a greater chance of going unnoticed.
Only this is when she fell.
The pain in her feet was greater than her need to support her weight; they betrayed her. She collapsed to the ground, shocked by the impact, by her hands hitting the floor, by trying to support her weight on them and failing to do so. The sound of her collapse was a limp, hollow, thud. She wanted to scream.
And then the door opened.
In a pickle. What kind of phase is that? Now you’re in a pickle. A more fitting phrase would be – now you’re fucked! Maybe pickles are fucked. Drowned for months in brine after being ripped from their vines, only to be eaten… Yeah, fucked. Being in a pickle is bad enough but it’s worse when you are not the only pickle left in the jar. It’s a pickle jar – it’s airtight.
So how does one find themselves in a pickle? Simple really, you go with the impulse – spanner. You came up with it – make something with it. You must have had an idea when you said it. It wasn’t because you were wearing a spanner around your neck, was it?
Yes, yes it was.
It’s getting out of the pickle that’s the hard part. You have to think. Attempt to free yourself from the airtight pickle jar. Take a firm grip on your imagination and twist.
The bolts had come loose once more. It wouldn’t be long before the thing fell apart again. It really was a piece of crap but it was mine and it was all I had. What a pain, a physical pain in my head. Pounding like a hammer, crushing like a vice and sharp as a chisel. Take the drugs, my spanner, tighten the bolts of my pain and close shop on the migraine.
Cheh – it’s not even a drabble…
Finally I manage to catch the bar-droid’s eye-stalk.
I don’t mind waiting. I get it. The others are younger and prettier. They’ll tip better too.
“Spanner In The Works,” I say as he slides over. He flashes confirmation back at me. I grab his elbow as he starts to move off to the shelves of oils: “double it up.” He nods. I let go. He slides off.
Rough crowd tonight. Couple of Class 5’s in the booth. Could get nasty later: they can be mean drunks. Hopefull I’ll be be gone by then.
The bar-droid comes back with my cocktail. I throw down a few credits tip.
The hubbub dies down a little as attention refocuses on the door: a human. Just about, anyway. So many mods and proths that his people probably treat him as an outcast. He’s more machine than man. That’s why he’s here. Most of us don’t mind a bit of flesh. The rough, bumpy, skin feels smooth on our metal.
He lurches inelegantly over to the bar and thunks down two seats over from me.
Got to go to work.
I down my drink and ask him: “You looking for some action?”
Gears grind as he smiles and turns to me. “I’m dancin’ if you’re askin’.”
I stand and gently grasp him on a piece of exposed forearm. Beads of sweat are already forming there as I pull him towards a private booth so that we can begin our transaction.
“But why a spanner?”
“It’s a proof of concept. It doesn’t matter what it is – “
“Aren’t mice traditional?”
“Mice are squishy. That’s like a level two thing. Anyway, it mostly works on mice too.”
“It always works on spanners. Will you just look at the spanner?”
“Can I look at the mice? What happens to the mice?”
“Oh for – “
“Okay, okay. What am I looking for?”
“You tell me. What’s it look like? Wait, I’ll put the recorder on. “
“It’s… a nice spanner. It’s shiny. It has a red handle. Can I just note this doesn’t seem very scientific?”
“Whatever. Try and use it.”
“Um. Do you have something – “
“Just try something!”
“Fine. Geez. OK, here: kitchen tap.”
“I’m tightening the kitchen tap with an ill-fitting shiny spanner. Posterity, thou shalt wonder about the point of PhD’s one day – fuck! What is that?”
“It’s – let’s see. Blood. Pretty sure it’s blood. That’s interesting.”
“What the hell? What’s going on?! Where is all this blood coming from? Why blood?”
“The spanner. Maybe it’s the red handle –“
“You’re not making any sense!”
“The spanners come out weird.”
“Interesting-weird. Most of the other ones did tequila. And mercury.”
“Your spanners go through your time machine and turn water into tequila?”
“I don’t think it’s a time machine.”
“But you built it. You said – “
“Well, it’s hardly an exact science. So far. Maybe it’s doing something – trans-dimensional.”
“You’re just making words up. Your trans-dimensional spanners turn water into blood? How messianic. “
“WE TOLD YOU.”
“What – who is that?”
“OUR SAVIOUR IS COMING. PREPARE YOUR SOULS.”
“Oh, whatever. You wanted to know what happened to the mice?”
I know I’m not the son you really wanted: more interested in make believe than mechanics, I’d sooner be a poet than player.
But on my twelfth birthday you were a great father who chose the perfect present. It fired my imagination: those names and pragmatic shapes molded my imaginary worlds that year. Even now I remember the Wrench family: Saltus and Crowfoot were the oldest generation, shoulders hunched and bent backs. Almost every story included my young hero Torx Wrench: afraid and alone and always hoping one day to find his purpose. Mr. Slugger Wrench was Torx’s father: built for dirty, tough jobs he always despised his son’s delicate nature (and was never afraid to express it). They lived together in the top right-hand draw on the toolbox: an airy light place.
In the inky depths of the box lived the British Cousins: a rough bunch of Spanners from the dockyards of Portsmouth. Cone, the oldest, was whip-thin but fast as a striking snake. He was the thinker in their evil machinations against Torx. His brother, Lug, was a brutal fellow: all force and no subtlety. But the worst of them was Rigger-Jigger Spanner, a merciless bully, famous for pouncing on unsuspecting innocents.
So I know this probably wasn’t what you had in mind when you bought that ‘282 Piece Complete Spanner, Wrench and Allen Key Set’, but it brought me such endless joy that summer.
Our grandfathers wouldn’t recognise it. Theirs was an unassuming chunk of alloy, solid matter specialised to address a particular shape. Mine is a more fragile thing, a plasteel package of intricate circuitry and tiny teeth which morph to interlock with a spaceship’s fanciful nubs.
The limitations of my grandfather’s spanner were defined by the sinew of his arms. My nut-analogues are finer, their challenge not in torque, but in specificity. The ancestral spanner’s forty sizes have bloomed: four thousand varied combinations mate my wrench with every iteration of the myriad impenetrable locks stapling a standard drive to itself.
Like my grandfather, I bend my body to the needs of this machine. He craned headfirst into engine blocks; I employ my tools halfway up ladders into loci of imponderable force. His hampered rotations created brute couplings to assist the combustions of motion. Mine are tiny tweaks, caressing the ego of the fine-stretched fiery spring which winds this craft into heat and air and gravity as well as speed.
A fumble dropped his spanner through the engine and onto the oily grass: if the grass swallowed it, other tools would serve. Failure brought him sullenly in from the yard to be revived with supper, the squatting diesel beast to be tamed another day. If I drop mine, as I do now, from sweating hands urgent with need, it rebounds from a bulkhead to vanish, in a spray of sparks, into the heat-death of the drive. It leaves ungentled the hiccup which afflicts the life support and threatens to grow into paroxysms of failure. Frantic, I ransack the stores for the spanner’s missing twin, while the lights flicker and the air grows stale.
My grandfather’s oath, like his spanners, was a sturdy thing. It still serves. Fuck.