Heads & Tales 2021: HUM 243


The Tale of Nimsay
The Hungry Man and Squirrel
A Tale of Just Desserts
Earthly Tallies
The Ocean and the Cliffside
Amanita and Sunti
Philipan Stag and the Hunter
Between Two Kingdoms
Globe Light
The Dawn of our Sun
The Secret of Silencing
The Tale of Clyfar and Graddfa Tan
Three Hairs
Serenade for the Little Butterfly
The Demon’s Trials


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© Heads and Tales 2021


Serenade for the Little Butterfly

Xin Yin (Cindy) Fan, CivE’22

Art by Madelin Almonte, A’22

Dear stranger, I must thank you for having offered a spot around your fire that night, many moons ago. Having tred many a mile, I hope you will find what you seek at the end of this road, for I fear that this night might be my last. There are many regrets; one is not having the faculties to repay you sufficiently, for I have been a burden for much of this journey. Having given me company and fine ballads for many a night, might I offer a tale? This one may not be as fine a bard as you are, but I have told my fair share of stories. Do honor an old man’s final wish and listen carefully, for it is my hope that you commit it to memory and offer it to those fortunate enough to cross your path.

As we know well, in this world where life itself is withering away, enclaves of humanity persist. Per a remark my child once made: humanity has the tenacity of cockroaches. I once deigned to acknowledge this statement, but now find it most fitting as I cling to the sliver of vitality I have left. Yet, roaches do not possess a mind on par with that of a human being. Might I tell you that the whims of a child are the reason that blue spider lilies1 have infected the land?  Perhaps the dying Earth was divine retribution for the overzealousness of humanity to dabble in creation. But, I digress. Do forgive me, my mind is not as sharp as it once was.

Our tale begins in the city of Finleid, home to many factories producing the mechanical parts to house the latest artificial intelligence. In the center of the city, which was plunged into a perpetual darkness by the voluminous smog generated by the factories, stood an old bell tower. The bell tower, home to a father and his only daughter, was the birthplace of many an AI. The father, renowned as the Inventor, birthed each fledgling consciousness with his own hands before entrusting it to the factories to be granted a body of steel and aluminum.
The girl of garnet eyes, the father’s dear daughter, was a gifted creator. Albeit, contrary to the father’s attachment to machines, the child’s obsession was with living beings and biological matter. It is said that his child’s— henceforth referred to as ‘Eine’2— first memory was of a horde of red butterflies dancing in the air. The young one’s first words to the father were thus:

“Father, father, I wish to see butterflies with my own eyes.” Presenting the storybook he would often read to the child, Eine pointed at a picture of a creature fluttering with crystalline wings. The father was powerless to grant her wish, as these delicate creatures had long disappeared from the world. Not wanting to disappoint, he covered the walls of the tower with sketches and plans. And so, from his hands sprung a horde of red butterflies, fashioned from precious garnet and the strongest steel, in honor of his daughter’s crimson eyes. Lighting the child’s eyes with wonder and the walls of the tower with a crimson glow, the mechanical beings fluttered gently in the air.

Like a cat, little Eine snatched a red speck from the air, eyes rounding in shock as shards of steel dug into her small palm. “Father, father, the butterflies birthed from your hands are of garnet and steel! They do not live.”  The Inventor laughed. “They live as you do, my dear.” He opened the well-worn storybook and began to recite the tale of the treasure-hunter and the winged guides.

The young child, unhappy with her father’s deception, resolved to learn. And so, with access to the digital archives of the Inventor, she secretly did. As knowledge is followed by creation, she strived to instill life into the beings of the story. On the twelfth blue moon after the day of her first request, a hundred and forty four eggs verged on hatching. After so many years, success! The young one’s childhood wish was to come true. Eine, having carefully enshrined the eggs in a pithos, went to sleep. That night, she dreamt of an azure sky created by wings of cerulean, matching that of her own irises. 

On the second night, Eine peeked into the pithos and was ecstatic to see larvae in the container. Anticipating their growth, the child excitedly informed her father of the success. The father, upon seeing the writhing creatures consuming scraps of his daughter’s shredded dresses, stared at Eine in horror.

“Why! What have you done!” Wrenching the jar from the little one’s grasp, the Inventor marched from the bell tower. The child’s desperate pleas were greeted only by silence. Beating her small fits against the mahogany bricks that closed behind her father’s back, she dyed them a deeper merlot. Locked in her own home and the larvae taken, the child broke out in hysterics. Eine cried, but the tears would not come. Eine screamed, but her voice was not transmitted.  She sobbed and sobbed, but her father would not return. Her creation, gone! Her father, gone! What then, does she have left?

“I am scared, father. I am scared.” Eine whispered. “I do not wish to be alone.” The little girl curled in on herself and fell into a deep sleep.

The next she awoke, Eine found a box cradled in her arms and her father’s garnet butterflies confining her in a dome of red. They fluttered and fluttered, angering the little girl. “Begone with you! Red! Why is it always red?” Swinging her fists, the mechanical hoard scattered.

If father’s machines are here, then is this from father? Lifting the box, Eine found a message. On the lid, sigils delicately carved:

To you, without a name

The one whom you await shall not return.

Should you wish for the truth,

Open the door

Door? Pray tell, what door? Eine twirled in the middle of the tower, surveying the ring of mahogany bricks, which were now perches to the dastardly pests her father saw fit to send. There was never any door and she had never been outside. And truthfully, there was never any need. Her father clothed her, sheltered her, and granted her access to knowledge about the world outside. He warned her of the disintegration of life outside, and that there was no need to experience the poverty beyond the walls. But knowledge about the world outside, she knew in her mind, was not knowledge of the world. Perhaps, then, it was time to open the door. What would win? The fear of the unknown wired within or the curiosity cultivated over the years? In her hands, the box seemed to shudder with anticipation.

The box, for all its mystery, was locked by a mechanism. Eine recognized it clearly as a trinket her father conceived of before his departure. After a moment of thought, the girl connected the mechanical lock to the Inventor’s computer. The insurmountable wall to the satiety of her curiosity appeared to be a maze of code. Lines and lines of code dictated the function of the lock and kept the box securely closed. Surely, the Inventor must have thought it amusing to test her in an unfamiliar arena. 

Pouting, the girl hopped over to her wardrobe and swung the door open. Here, she hid precious treasures from the Inventor amidst the old dresses. From the pile of clothing, Eine pulled out three things: a small hammer, an encyclopedia, and a box of syringes. The simplest choice would be to destroy the container with the hammer. Unfortunately, that would also mean forfeiting whatever the box held. That simply wouldn’t do. Eine frowned in deep thought. Glancing at the thick tome sparked an idea as she recalled a tidbit she once found interesting. Turning the box with a delicate hand, she realized that the grain of wood on the bottom was straight. Stripping her syringes of their needles, the gleeful girl drove them into the wood along the grain line. The panel of wood split in half along the grain and caved outwards. From the bottom of the box, fluttering and fluttering, appeared the wings of cerulean blue.

The sea of living beings crashed against the walls, swallowing the perching machines save for one; a clever red butterfly had buried itself into the girl’s auburn hair.  The chip in the back of her neck throbbed with emotion. How beautiful. Everything was just as she dreamed, with one exception: her father’s eyes did not crinkle in pride. Was this why? Eine laughed as dust of steel and garnet rained down, and her children gnawed hungrily at the ceiling.

The insects gnawed and gnawed. She gathered all the dresses she owned and took off the one she wore. The insects gnawed and gnawed. Now dressed in her father’s boyhood clothes, the girl got to work. The insects gnawed and gnawed. Tight knots linked together old dresses to create a long rope. The swarm pierced through.

Eine ran up and up in a spiral. With a huff and a puff, the girl hauled herself from the  opening created and tied the rope to a canon of the bell. The child launched herself from the tower. Swinging to and fro from the rope, the bell at the other end rang a delightful melody. The beckoning toll called forth the citizens of the city. Curious dwellers appeared from every district.  The city of Finleid spreads outwards, with districts organized in rings around the central bell tower. In a city once illustrious for its beauty and Gothic-style architecture, heavy pollution ensured that one couldn’t see further than two buildings. The heart of the city were the factories, ever producing new machinery to serve the will of the people and ever contributing to the smog that keeps out the sky. The so-called ‘production-managers’ churned out new products every year to line their pockets with gold. Mind you, every year the quality of their product decreases. Quality aside, any automaton that is created eventually becomes integrated into the middle districts —a total of six— home to the ordinary folk. The people immerse themselves in mindless entertainments within the confines of their own homes. They frolic but do not procreate, pray but offer no charity, consume but do not create, and thus, slowly doom their own kind.  Finleid is sustained by the automata, unaware of the miserable fate that awaits them. The ninth3 and outermost district is but a graveyard for discarded automata, abandoned by their owners. Ah! Pity to the lost souls whose devotion were rewarded with scorn. Those improperly deactivated prowl the city mindlessly, purposeless. These vagabonds, upon hearing the ring of the bell, cried out rapturously: “Our creator seeks us!” for every automaton’s consciousness was born within that walled tower. Their gem-like eyes set upon a young child swinging to and fro.

“A child, a child!” The automata chorused upon seeing the blue-eyed girl.

“No, no, one of our own!” An automaton in the shape of a youth exclaimed.

“No, no, I am human!” Eine descended slowly.

“Human this one says, human this one says.” The automata laughed and laughed.

“No, no, I bleed as people do.” The girl slid down another length, the friction scraping the skin off her palms.

“You bleed but do not hurt, you bleed but do not hurt.” The automata chorused.

“No, no, I think as people do.” Eine shouted back, ever closer to the ground as the cerulean butterflies gnawed and gnawed at the fabric of the rope.

“Made to think, made to think.” An automaton agreed, tapping a panel at the back of their neck. The rope snaps. And so, the young being fell with a scream, plunging down to the crowd’s outstretched hands.

Eine lashed out with bruised hands, hitting a golden frame. The force knocked one of many portraits4 from its place at the side of the tower. Plop went Eine into the arms of the one at the forefront and crash went the painting onto the ground. The crowd uproared over the condition of the sacred symbol: an image of a red-eyed Eine and the Father.

“The Inventor and the Little Princess,” the automaton, eyes crinkling and body rusted from years of exposure to the elements, told the child being set down.

“Heart stopped from red flutterers’ poison,”  said twin androids. “Red ate red. Feast upon her eyes, they did.” One brother shuddered. “Good riddance.” The other one muttered about the Princess’ penchant for breaking prototype bodies. “Do all human children throw beakers when their experiments fail?” His brother shouted: “Well, at least you got the one without the cracks and scratches!” Eine’s eyes rounded as a portion of the crowd tried to break up the fight.

“Banned flutterers, he did,” offered another, an automaton named El.

“Now there are blue flutterers,” a woman-android carrying groceries, perhaps returning to a master’s home after a trip to the depot, pointed out.

“Banned too? Banned too?” The crowd shuffled, glancing at the swarm of blue butterflies, now chiseling away at a nearby factory. A group of farming androids lifted their pitchforks and hoes.

Shaking themself from their stupor, Eine yelled at the crowd. “Dead!” The little one cried out. “Father’s daughter, dead!”

“Then who am I of the same image, save for our complementary eyes?”

“One of us, one of us!” The crowd chorused.

“No, no!” The young being denied. The swarm dived into the crowd as the automaton scattered, hopping and sliding.

“Human I am not. Body of flesh, made to live and think. Neither am I automaton.” Eine announced. “An answer, I do not have. An answer, I will tell.” One day, the child believed, it will be found and told.

And so the young being, accompanied by a rambunctious lot and the devouring blue, set out to discover what a world beyond a perpetual night had to offer. However, that is a story for another time and one that is to be told by a different traveler.

That child was raised poorly but grew up brilliantly, if I do say so myself. Now then, shall we rest? This old man finds that a story is the finest precursor to a restful evening. Who am I really, you ask? To that query, I would like to sing:

To you, without a name

I believe,

You will find your answer in the story

That is being told

FIN (?)

1 A cherished one’s favorite flower was the lycoris radiata, known commonly as the red spider lily. It was the tradition of an olden culture to plant the flower as a tribute to the dead. She would have been fond of this azure variety, I think. How wretched am I to be this neglectful of that place of rest.
2 A ‘name’ of Germanic origins. If this old man didn’t know better, I would say it was a thoughtlessly given name.

3 The architects and planners of the city of Finleid are said to have received inspiration for the urban planning from verses of the bygone eras. Curiously, such literature has been rooted from the databases.

4 These portraits depict the incumbent ‘Inventor’ of the time and their family. Narcissistic lot they were, or rather, the First was. The historical title for the owner of the Tower was the ‘Creator’ before some bloke down the line came to their senses.