When the vessel a b is filled, the water will overflow and run into the funnel, filling the pedestal g h k l and emptying the vessel a b; in like manner, when the pedestal is full, the water will overflow through the siphon m n x and empty the pedestal; and, as this becomes empty, the air will enter through the mouth r to fill up the void that is left.
- "An Automaton which Drinks," Hero of Alexandria, Treatise on Pneumatics, 1st cent. ad
We are to avoid much, but there is nothing to fill up the void that is left; and so it is as mere automata we are to journey through life.
- "Wonder and Progress," P. W. Perfitt, The Pathfinder, 1859
"I have seen automatons before, Mr. Stern," said the Cardinal. "I have seen automatons in England and Cathay. I have seen automatons in Japan that can serve tea and bow without spilling a drop, and I have seen automatons in France that can write with a quill. In Arabia, I have seen automatons that can play music and even one that can play chess. In London, Babbage is building a machine that can think. I even saw that French defecating duck, though I think Monsieur de Vaucanson might be a bit funny in the head. In short," he finished, steepling his thin fingers to resemble the cathedral whose back rooms they were in, "In short, Mr. Stern, it will take quite a lot to impress me. What makes your automatons special, Mr. Stern? What can they do that the others can't?"
Cardinal Gottlieb was the Church's science officer, or maybe its scientific advisor. No official title indicated his position more than his personal sway with the Pope, who wanted to bring the Church into the modern era. The Cardinal had told Stern earlier, at the beginning of a now tense conversation, "I am a man of reason, like yourself. I am the Church's ambassador to the empirical world, and I fuse the light of the Word with the light of the scientific method. It was I who measured the mass of the human soul as seven and a half pounds, and also I who determined that the enormous bones discovered in Wales were evidence of a Pre-Adamic race of giants, thus preventing the contradiction of the Scripture." He obviously meant these as boasts, but Stern scoffed.
"You are clearly extremely committed to your work, and that none could deny. I am glad to see this, and firmly believe that you indeed should be . . . committed."
Then, the Cardinal had merely pushed his glasses up his nose and grimaced. Now, he repeated his question, with icicles hanging from his words: "What, Mr. Stern, make your new automatons special? What can they do that others cannot?"
"Doctor," said Stern.
"What? They're doctors?"
"No. I am. Doctor Stern," said Dr. Stern.
Gottlieb smirked. "Apologies, of course, Dr. Stern. I am also a doctor. A Doctor of Theology."
Stern made no reply to this.
"So, I will ask one final time: What makes your automatons special, Dr. Stern?"
"Automata," replied the doctor. And then he said, "They pray."
Before being briefed about the Clocks, after meeting Dr. Stern, before the carriage accident that killed him, yet after waking up that morning, before signing his name on a piece of paper that would ruin his life, yet after nursing his tea for ten minutes longer than necessary, Cardinal Theophilus Amadeus Gottlieb discussed automata with one Ulrich Stern in the eighth pew of the cathedral over which Gottlieb presided.
"I met a man once who swore that we were doomed by their hand," he said, trying to make it look as if he was passing on a laughable snippet of ignorance. "He said the automatons would rise up and overthrow mankind. We would all be killed, or slaves, or something worse. He said the revolution was coming, and that we're all sh - we're all sitting ducks." To his right, the motionless face of Dr. Stern almost smiled.
"Automata. And I'm sure you told him not to be ridiculous, my dear shepherd. Mechanical men have no soul, no will, no individual agency or mind of their own. They do only what they are commanded to, without exception. Even Babbage's soon-to-be engine," he said, nodding at Gottlieb's earlier reference, "which will think, at least in the sense that it will process information, will only think about what it is told to think about by its operator. They are no more a threat to the great powers or the Church than a clock, wound and maintained by the human hand, utterly and completely under its power and doing its bidding, yet accomplishing its task to a greater precision than any human brain could ever hope to achieve. They are tools," he said, firmly, "of whomever wields them, whomever's hands they're in. Don't you want that to be a wise and benevolent power?"
Gottlieb did. He did very much so.
Gottlieb led him to the cellar.
"Whatever do you mean? How can a machine pray? And why would we want it to?"
Stern smiled. "An automaton carries out whatever mechanical task it has been programmed to do, with perfect precision and perpetual devotion. This can include lighting candles, distributing sacrament, collecting alms, and generally acting as a church beadle. In addition, as I have noted on my travels, the Orientals believe that prayer may itself be a mechanical action."
"Blasphemy," muttered Gottlieb, but he listened intently.
"They reason that, as long as a prayer is vibrations in the air caused by throats, it might as well be the same in any form. So writing down a prayer is the same as saying it. Of course, once on paper, the human act is in the interpretation of meaningless marks, so waving the prayer as a flag is exactly equivalent to saying it, as well, and, after all, why not? This decided, it is clear that it needn't be a person who physically moves the paper, just as long as it gets done. So they write out their prayers, however many hundreds or even thousands of times, inside these great wheels, and turn them: by hand, by wind, by water, wheels the size of a thimble, or the size of a tower. The wheel spins, and the prayer is recited, over and over and over, by the wind, by the water. And the world is bettered by that little amount each time. Surely it cannot be said that their primitive superstition is more sophisticated than our own. There cannot be any theological objection, and no harm could come of such an experiment. That is what my machines can do, Mr. Gottlieb. And they can recite a new prayer each and every morning, a glorious Amen! to the Lord, all of their little paper reels and their little needled cylinders, and burn it afterward, and still get up, trundle down the aisle, and sweep the floors. Each and every one of Stern's Devout and Devoted Theological Devices makes the world that much of a better place."
The automata were sent out over the holiday, but the Cardinal's own cathedral was the first to try out the innovation, which made the church look very forward and progressive indeed, yes sir, while still tithing the serfs and granting the Baron monthly indulgences. They resembled in their outward appearance other mainstays of the halls, in that they were modeled after the architecture of the vaulted arches and Gothic stained glass windows, after the clean, rising parallel lines of the organ, the straight horizontals of the rows upon rows of oaken pews, and the spiraling twists of the box stairwells creeping up the hallowed walls to the shadowed canopy of the lofty ceiling. They rolled up and down the carpeted aisle on religiously oiled castors every Sunday, each extending in its elegantly-carved wood and brass arms surplus hymnals, and retracting into its geared confines proffered cash for the alms box. And all the while, the rainfall patter of the wheels turning, transmitting wishes and hopes and dreams higher than the clouds, to return as happiness and charity and fortune.
It was on a Thursday, four weeks after the machines had been cranked up and set loose on the flocks, that Johannes, the priest's nephew and the best alto in the small parish of Dustig, fell out the window of the bell tower at noon and onto the toothy plane of the churchyard. Two days later, Frau Luftenwelle took ill, and was gone within a week. The bell ringer, who had, at the adoption of the new technology, been promoted to Clockmaster, giving him authority over what were now commonly deemed the Clocks, put Rupert and Thou-Shalt-Not-Take-the-Lord's-Name-in-Vain up to double capacity. Most of the Clocks, which were now in seven churches in Germany and abroad and being shipped to eighteen more, had been named after saints, biblical verses, or commandments, and Rupert, as well as Christopher at the Graz Cathedral and Lorenzo de Roma in St. Peter's, actually were functional reliquaries of their eponyms, as well.
That Monday, Cardinal Gottlieb was struck by a speeding gig while circumambulating the churchyard after services, and a replacement was selected from the cardinalry at Vienna. Cardinal Amphoreus Teitelbach carried no empirical pretensions, and got on well with Stern and his workmen for the two months he was running the cathedral, until the bronze clapper from the Great Bell in the church tower came loose and a new overseer was required, new blood and a body that could keep it on the inside. Cardinal Freitauer took up the mantle with a more pragmatic air, and an anxious eye darting to the ceiling every now and again. After the granite projectile of a crumbling gargoyle struck and killed the third priest in the same square meter of the yard, he called Stern to the cathedral to speak, and opened the door himself, psalter clutched in white knuckles and reinforced mitre donned.
"The Office of Holy Statistics reports that at this accelerated rate of operation, automatic prayers now constitute a majority of all worship. This, only deployed across perhaps a hundred churches in the world. None can say my machines are not pulling their weight, Cardinal."
"No, no, not at all, quite the reverse, I merely wished to discuss further upgrades to the paper drums on the earlier models. With the recent string of tragedies, especially on hallowed ground, most all the superiors think it best to increase the operation of the Clocks to as powerful an output as possible."
"I see. While the Mark-Ones are probably not going to be able to be overwound any further without damage to the spring banks, I'm sure I could install any number of various drivewheel and belt improvements in the Threes and Fours."
"Good, good. Your workmen may come in later this week. The bishops have decided that the Clocks shouldn't operate on Sundays. A bit silly if you ask me, especially considering that it is the only day of the week in the past few months on which some poor soul has not perished on church grounds. Almost tempting fate to turn off the prayers when they're needed most, you know. And already it's strange to be in the church without them, they've become such a familiar sight in the halls. The only day they aren't praying, and it's . . . ."
A fleeting shade of uncertainty passed across Freitauer's face, and he looked into the steely eye of the inventor. "I'm sure I must have asked you this-"
"You have not," replied Stern, without shifting his gaze.
The Cardinal continued to speak, and although he seemed to realize he had happened upon the correct question, he also appeared not to expect an answer, instead watching absent-mindedly as the recently rewound Cyril-and-Methodius performed a delicate three-point turn in the aisle. "Dr. Stern . . . what are the automata praying for?"