Metropolis, Chapter 14: Death to the Machines

by Thea von Harbou

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A vault, like the vault of a sepulchre — human heads so closely crowded as to produce the effect of clods of a freshly ploughed field. All faces turned to one point: to the source of a light, as mild as God. Candles burnt with sword-like flames. Slender, lustrous swords of light stood in a circle around the head of a girl.

Freder stood pressed into the background of the arch — so far from the girl that he perceived of her face nothing but the shimmer of its pallor, the wonder of the eyes, and the blood-red mouth. His eyes hung upon this blood-red mouth as though it were the middle point of the earth, to which, by eternal law, his blood must pour down. Tantalizing was this mouth. All the Seven Deadly Sins had such a mouth. The woman on the scarlet-colored beast, who bore the name Babylon on her forehead, had such a mouth.

He pressed both hands to his eyes in order no longer to see this mouth of deadly sin.

Now he heard more clearly. Yes, that was her voice, the voice which sounded as though God could refuse it nothing. Was that really it? The voice came from out the blood-red mouth. It was like a flame, hot and pointed. It was full of a wicked sweetness.

The voice said, “My brothers…”

But no peace proceeded from out these words. Little red snakes hissed through the air. The air was hot — an agony to breathe.

Groaning heavily, Freder opened his eyes.

Dark, angry waves were the heads before him. These waves frothed, raged, and roared. Here and there a hand shot up into the air. Words sprang up, foam flecks of the surf. But the voice of the girl was like a tongue of fire, drawing, enticing, burning above the heads.

“Which is more pleasant: water or wine?”

Wine is more pleasant!”

“Who drinks the water?

We!

“Who drinks the wine?

“The masters! The masters of the machines!

“Which is more pleasant: meat or dry bread?”

Meat is more pleasant!”

“Who eats the dry bread?

We!

“Who eats the meat?

“The masters! The masters of the machines!

“Which is more pleasant to wear: blue linen or white silk?”

White silk is more pleasant to wear!”

“Who wears the blue linen?

We!

“Who wears the white silk?

“The masters! The sons of the masters!”

“Where is it more pleasant to live: upon or under the earth?”

“It is more pleasant to live upon the earth!”

“Who lives under the earth?”

We!

“Who lives upon the earth?”

“The masters! The masters of the machines!

“Where are your wives?

“In misery!”

“Where are your children?

“In misery!

“What do your wives do?

“They starve!

“What do your children do?”

“They cry!

“What do the wives of the masters of the machines do?”

“They feast!

“What do the children of the masters of the machines do?”

“They play!

“Who are the providers?

We!

“Who are the squanderers?

“The masters! The masters of the machines!

“What are you?

Slaves!

No! What are you?”

Dogs!

No! What are you?”

“Tell us! Tell us!

“You are fools! Blockheads! Blockheads! Throughout your morning, your midday, your evening, your night, the machine howls for food, for food, for food! You are the food! You are the living food! The machine devours you like fodder and then spews you up again! Why do you batten the machines with your bodies? Why do you oil the joints of the machines with your brains? Why do you not let the machines starve, you fools? Why do you not let them perish, blockheads? Why do you feed them?! The more you feed them, the more they greed for your flesh, for your bones, for your brains. You are ten thousand! You are a hundred thousand! Why do you not throw yourselves — a hundred-thousand murdering fists — upon the machines and strike them dead? You are the masters of the machines — you! Not the others who walk in their white silk! Turn the world about! Stand the world on its head! Murder the living and the dead! Take the inheritance from living and dead! You have waited long enough! The hour has come!

A voice shouted from among the multitude, “Lead us on, Maria!”

A mighty wave — all the heads broke forward. The blood-red mouth of the girl laughed and flamed. The eyes above it flamed, huge and greenish black. She raised her arms with an unspeakably difficult, burden-raising, sweet, mad gesture. The slim body grew and stretched itself up. The girl’s hands touched above her hair-parting. Over her shoulders, her breasts, her hips, her knees, there ran an incessant, barely perceptible trembling. It was as though the girl were carried higher and higher by this trembling, though she did not move her feet.

She said, “Come! Come! I will lead you! I will dance the dance of death before you! I will dance the dance of the murderers before you!”

The multitude moaned. The multitude gasped. The multitude stretched out its hands. The multitude bowed head and neck low, as though its shoulders, its backs, should be a carpet for the girl. The multitude fell on its knees with a groan, one single beast felled with the hatchet. The girl raised her foot and stepped upon the neck of the outstretched beast.

A voice shouted out, sobbing with rage and pain, “You are not Maria!”

The multitude turned around. The multitude saw a man standing in the background of the arch, a man from whose shoulders the coat had fallen. Under the coat he wore the white silk. The man was more ghastly to see than one who has bled to death. He stretched out his hand and pointed to the girl. He yelled out, “You are not Maria! No! You are not Maria!

The heads of the multitude stared at the man who was a stranger among them, who wore the white silk.

“You are not Maria!” he yelled. “Maria preaches peace — and not murder!

The eyes of the multitude began to glare dangerously.

The girl stood bolt upright in the neck of the multitude. She began to totter. It seemed as though she would fall — fall over onto her white face in which the blood-red mouth — the mouth of deadly sin, flamed like hellfire.

But she did not fall. She held herself upright. She swayed slightly, but she held herself upright. She stretched out her arm and pointed at Freder, calling in a voice which sounded like glass, “Look! Look! The son of Joh Fredersen! The son of Joh Fredersen is among you!”

The multitude shouted. The multitude hurled itself around. The multitude made to lay hold of the son of Joh Fredersen.

He did not resist. He stood pressed against the wall. He stared at the girl with a gaze in which belief in eternal damnation was to be read. It seemed as if he were already dead, and as though his lifeless body were falling, ghostlike upon the fists of those who wished to murder him.

A voice roared, “Dog in white silken skin!”

An arm shot up; a knife flashed out.

Upon the billowing neck of the multitude stood the girl. It was as if the knife came flying from out her eyes.

But before the knife could plunge into the white silk which covered the heart of the son of Joh Fredersen, a man threw himself as a shield before his breast, and the knife ripped open blue linen. Blue linen was dyed purple-red.

Brothers!” said the man. Dying, yet standing upright, he was covering the son of Joh Fredersen with his whole body. He turned his head a little to catch Freder’s glance. He said with a smile which was transfigured in pain, “Brothers…”

Freder recognized him. It was Georgi. It was number eleven-thousand eight-hundred and eleven which was now going out, and which, going out, was protecting him.

He wanted to push past Georgi. But the dying man stood like one crucified, with outstretched arms and hands clawing into the edge of the niches which were behind him. He held his eyes, which were like jewels, fixedly set on the multitude which was storming towards him.

“Brothers…” he said. “Murderers… brother murderers…” said the dying mouth.

The multitude left him alone and raced on. On the shoulders of the multitude the girl was dancing and singing. She sang with her blood-red mouth of deadly sin!

“We’ve passed sentence upon the machines! We have condemned the machines to death! The machines must die — to hell with them! Death! Death! Death to the machines!

Like the rush of a thousand wings, the step of the multitude thundered through the narrow passages of the City of the Dead. The girl’s voice died away. The steps died away. Georgi loosened his hands and pitched forward.

Freder caught him. He sank upon his knee. Georgi’s head fell upon his breast.

“Warn… warn… the town…” said Georgi.

“And are you dying?” gave Freder as answer. His bewildered eyes ran along the walls in the niches of which slept the thousand-year-old dead. “There is no justice in this world!”

Uttermost justice…” said eleven-thousand eight-hundred and eleven. “From weakness — sin… From sin — atonement. Warn… the town! Warn…”

“I’m going to leave you alone!

“I beg you to… beg you!”

Freder got up, despair in his eyes. He ran to the passage, in which the multitude had died away.

“Not that way!” said Georgi. “You won’t get through that way anymore!”

“I know no other way…”

“I’ll take you…”

“You are dying, Georgi! The first step is your death!

“Won’t you warn the town? Do you want to be an accessory?

“Come!” said Freder.

He raised Georgi up. With his hand pressed to his wound, the man began to run.

“Pick up your lamp and come!” said Georgi. He ran so that Freder could hardly follow him. Into the ten-thousand-year-old dust dripped the blood which welled up from the freshly inflicted wound. He held Freder’s arm clasped, pulling him forwards.

Hurry!” he murmured. “Hurry — there’s not time to lose!

Passages — crossings — passages — steps — passages — a flight of stairs which led steeply upward… Georgi fell at the first step. Freder wanted to hold him. He pushed him away.

“Hurry!” he said. He indicated the stairs with his head. “Up! You can’t go wrong now… hurry up!”

“And you, Georgi? And you–?”

“I–” said Georgi, turning his head to the wall, “–I am not going to answer anymore questions…”

Freder let go of Georgi’s hand. He began to run up the stairs. Night embraced him — the night of Metropolis — this light-mad, drunken night.

Everything was still the same as usual. Nothing indicated the storm which was to break out from inside the earth, under Metropolis, to murder the machine-city.

But it seemed to Joh Fredersen’s son as if the stones were giving way under his feet — as though he heard in the air the rushing of wings — the rushing of the wings of strange monsters: beings with women’s bodies and snakes’ heads — beings, half-bull, half-angel — devils adorned with crowns — human-faced lions…

It seemed to him as if he saw Death sitting on the New Tower of Babel, in hat and wide cloak, whetting his propped up scythe…

He reached the New Tower of Babel. Everything was as usual. The dawn was fighting the first fight with the early morning. He looked for his father. He did not find him. Nobody could say where Joh Fredersen had gone at midnight.

The brainpan of the New Tower of Babel was empty.

Freder wiped from his brow the sweat which was running in drops over his temples. “I must find my father!” he said. “I must call him — cost what it may!”

Men with servants’ eyes looked at him — men who knew nothing apart from blind obedience, who could not advise, still less help.

Joh Fredersen’s son stepped into his father’s place, at the table where his great father used to sit. He was as white as the silk which he wore as he stretched out his hand and pressed his fingers on the little blue metal place, which no man ever touched apart from Joh Fredersen.

Then the great Metropolis began to roar. Then she raised her voice — her Behemoth-voice. But she was not screaming for food — no, she was roaring: Danger

Above the gigantic city, above the slumbering city, the monster-voice roared: Danger! Danger!

A barely perceptible trembling ran through the New Tower of Babel, as if the earth which bore it were shuddering, frightened by a dream, betwixt sleeping and waking.

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