That's what the sign warned me. Frostbite. I wasn't cold at all, but the sign held to its warning.
At the foot of the machine, I could believe it. I was dwarfed by brass and glass and cubes and levers, spiderwebs drawn taught between shining blue pillars. Fragile and Brobdignagian.
You will get frostbite if you stand here too long.
But how could I walk away? I was awestruck I couldn't just move along.
I watched the machinery, twisting and shining with the strange inner light of its own strange processes. I was like the rest of the tourists, gaping in wonder at its functions.
We all wondered: what does it do?
Something wonderful, we were assured.
You will get frostbite if you stand here too long, though.
I tried to trace out logic in its movement. To find a purpose in its subtleties. I was far from the first - I am humbled to admit, I was far from the cleverest.
Sometimes I saw a pattern in it, a tiny bit of logic that suggested a purpose. Theories formed and evaporated as the machine throbbed and glowed, too magnificent for a single human mind. I got a headache just thinking about it. Better than most - some tourists developed a permanent case of epilepsy before they ever got frostbite.
I saw galaxies inside it, with smiling Renaissance suns and goofy bumbling comets. Clockwork gears ticked to an alien rhythm that defied my attempts at decipherment.
Like all the others, all I could do was stare and stare and wonder.
When I saw my fingers turning blue, I felt sad. I was tempted to stay, to sacrifice my fingers for a tiny shred of comprehension, but I knew I wouldn't get any closer. I tore myself away, and walked up the stairs, past the concession stands and admission booths, and I went back to the parking lot and drove home.
I left a little piece of my heart there. I imagine it died of frostbite, because I never found it again.