THE WHEEL THAT TURNS THE WORLD
"You will be in charge of the museum," he said, handing me the key.
The museum was a brick building in the park; circular, windowless and with a thick, weathered wooden door. The key was large and made of iron, bringing to mind a gaoler’s key. Inside the door, wide curved steps led underground, two small semi-circular, anterooms either side of the steps held refreshments for the visitors, or maybe they were more like pilgrims to the museum.
I had visited the museum often as it was not far from my home, but holding the key was a great responsibility. It had to be unlocked at sunrise and locked up late in the evening.
The steps led down into a huge room underground and onto a large viewing gallery. Like all of the interior, the floor and walls were pale, butter-coloured stone. The stair rail was wood, as was the rail atop the waist-high wall between the gallery and the wheel.
The wheel. That was what they all came to see, that and the room where the wheel’s engineers had sat and designed their masterpiece. The engineers’ room was preserved behind glass panels behind and to the left of the great wheel. Because its design had taken more than one generation to create and then build, the engineers’ room contained sturdy wooden writing desks, abacuses, thick paper (replaced regularly so it did not go yellow and spoil the effect) with equations and sketches, and fountain pens from the earliest engineers; all laid out as though the occupants had merely left for refreshment. Then there were more modern desks with computers, calculators and biros, lined paper with random jottings, annotated printouts and computer micro-disks. Finally in one corner was the legacy of the Last Engineer, the 3D light-tank with its hand-manipulable solid holo-images, though like the computers this was defunct.
Though the engineers’ room was interesting, especially to historians, most came to see the wheel or at least that part of it that could be seen since it was so huge that only part of the rim was ever visible at a time. The visible rim stretched from the shadows in the furthest corner and plunged down into the vast yawning darkened pit below. In the lighted space between pit and corner, visitors could see part of the wheel. It was built of metal, appearing like a huge version of a steam-engine wheel, with metal spokes that joined the rim to the hub which resided invisible in the darkness of the pit. The axle and other machinery was so far under ground that it was inaudible and only the susurrus of air caused by the rim was audible when the museum was empty. It turned steadily, not fast, nor slow, in the darkness.
In the early days some had kept vigil hoping to see the entire rim as the days passed. Now they could only visit during opening hours and had long agreed that vigil and fasting was pointless as no-one could tell when a whole rotation had been completed, at least not just by watching the wheel turn through space. There were reports of people jumping from the gallery into the pit, their shrieks diminished into silence, but no-impact was ever heard. Maybe they fell forever, since no stain appeared on the wheel. Now there were slim vertical bars preventing death-leaps. The bars did not unduly spoil the view of the wheel and their necessity was accepted - after all what would happen if someone fell into the mechanism and jammed the wheel?
No-one knows how much the wheel weighs, its diameter or speed, and the sophisticated equipment of the engineers is now defunct. Once such equipment had been commonplace across the world; now only dead screens and empty light-tanks were found in museums. Maybe other parts of the mechanism to which this wheel belonged is viewed by people in other museums, in other lands. Maybe a piston, or cog rises high above the Pyramids, protected by a great glass dome long since sand-blasted into opacity. Travel is uncommon enough that not even the museum keepers know and the fragmented peoples of the world no longer communicate with ease across such distances. Here in this museum we watch the our part of the great mechanism, the huge Wheel that Drives the World and know that as long as it turns, the world turns in the heaven and turns around the great hub that we call the sun.