The Christ of Clockwork
It's a foggy day in London, but the fog is uncharacteristically crisp today. The usual sounds of metal on metal are suspiciously absent, too, being replaced by shouting, chanting, and steel-toed boots scrapping on mossy cobble. London finds herself amidst a strike. Again.
Following yet another critical landship boiler malfunction in the Southern front, the parliament is laying more and more blame on the steelworkers, refiners, engineers, and other such people. Some say that steel is getting weaker, as the soot in the London air keeps getting baked into the ingots. Some say that the mechanics have been slacking off on riveting due to all the gin they've been drinking . The mechanics counter by saying that they've always been drinking gin and slacking off. Chaos ensues.
A motley gang of folks managed to gather on the streets. Revolutionaries, workers, entertained housewives, they all chant their own slogans and ping pebbles off the helmets of strikebreaker dreadnaughts, who stand before all somewhat important landmarks, waiting for an excuse to blast a striker with steam.
Strikes like these don't usually get too far. There are simply too many unemployed wretches in London who would kill to take the position of any fired worker. Even street urchins would haul coke to blast furnaces to buy peppermint humbugs. Despite all this, you still came, squeezed between sooty overalls and sootier children, instead of reading a fine book back at your lodgings. You are here to spread truth. Babbage has proven that machines can be made to think, but Her Fearsome Majesty uses it to make war instead of focusing on important things, like bringing about the second coming of Christ.
"He will come again in his glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end..." Such is what was foretold, but the prophets of yore never specified how Christ will return. The canon preached by the Church of Clockwork says that humanity can bring Him back. With the creation of an intricate thinking machine, His spirit can return and use it as His mortal vessel. It's a nice story, and it certainly gets people to join, but do people believe it? Do you believe it? The Church has indeed just finished work on a clockwork brain. That's why you're here at the strike, anyway. It's finally time to let the people witness the Great Work.
The crowd shouts, the constables hold strenuous constraint. A dreadnaught seems one tomato-throw away from steaming the rioters alive. The gathering is approaching their boiling point. Then, a fellow spots you. Then another. Then some more.
"Looky, Jim! It's a living saint!"
Heads turn. Sussurations weave between voices of protest. Handfuls of beer bottles are lowered. You walk towards the front of the crowd, dress gliding over the stained cobblestone. In your hands is a long, double-sided blade. The hands of the Great Clock of Westminster, liberated and forged into an elegant weapon. A holy relic of sorts. Suddenly, you hear the unmistakable noise of steel hooves destroying pavement. An armoured man, no, centaur comes galloping your way! Armour plates clang against each other, soot erupts out from his chassis, light shimmers from his chest-mounted 12-pounder gun. Brunswick, Patron Saint of Saltpetre.
"I have told them! Mathilda! The Christ is ready! We shall finally show the people what we have promised!" He booms, almost as loud as his cannon can fire. "Now that you're here, let us head to the church!"
You stand for a second. The Christ is ready? Last you saw it, a team of engineers were still calibrating in a frenzy.
Just before you could ask Brunswick, a smaller fellow finally catches up. He walks with ease, despite wearing thick overalls and a cumbersome diver's helmet. Saint Otto, of Iron.
"Mathilda! Talk some sense into him! The Christ isn't ready yet!" His voice echoes under his helmet. "He can barely do more than recite Bible verses! We can't deceive the people! It's barely more sophisticated than a book sorter!"
"There is no deceit here, my friend! Is it not miracle enough that machines can quote scripture!? Otto! The next time we get such a riled up crowd may be years from now! Years!"
Brunswick is a boisterous one of many public appearances, seemingly too... unsaintly... to be a saint. Meanwhile whenever Otto works for the cause, he does so in office and on paper, so barely anyone knows that he's canonised at all. You, however, are well known. The legendary Mathilda, of Oil of Vitriol, Patron Saint of chemists and pharmacists. You look at your blade, stolen from Great Clock of Westminster. A slap in the face of Her Fearsome Majesty. The people will listen to you, and you listen to your cause. The Church of Clockwork, in virtue of being founded by those against the Church of England, has a few things to say about workers' rights. Perhaps in between lines of scriptures, you can get the machine to inspire the masses.
Meanwhile, the sea of protesters begin to dry. People are getting tired, dreadnaughts are starting to leave, ladies are running out of tomatoes to throw. It would seem that the protest will fizzle out again, like most unorganised riots in the past. You won't let that happen though. You are the locus this crowd needs.
You run up to Saint Brunswick, who is still arguing with Otto, and slam your sword against his cannon. A resounding clang. The soldiers, constables, and raggedy workers all turn to face you. You drive your sword into the ground and shout: "Brethren! Believers! We gather you today to deliver unto you all a miracle! With a thinking engine for a mortal vessel, our Lord and Savior walks our sullied earth once more!"
The people buzz with excitement again, the constables start to swing their cudgels in worry: "False prophets! Citizens! Heed the Church of England!" It is covered up by Saint Brunswick's hollers and his rapid, celebratory cannonfire. Saint Otto walks up to you, calm but full of discontent, like an unfed house cat: "I am all for the movement, Mathilda, but must we lie?"
"Brunswick is right. There is no time. Our church is at the brink of being completely outlawed." Otto pauses, then nods his head. "Yes... For the people. I shall inform the mechanics."
You rile up the crowd for half an hour as the other living saints slowly trickle in. They come up and ask if this is really happening, if the Christ shall finally be revealed to the world. You nod each time. They stand in a line, reverent and still. The Saints of Progress, Saint Victor, Saint Thomas, Saint Alice, Saint Silo (hunched over a polished rifle)... as well as the Saints of Persons, Saint Farce, Saint Fault, Saint Fluke, Saint Folly (picking up his wedding dress in a scrunched up ball) all make way for a lumbering machine, draped in canvas. The Christ of Clockwork.
When all is in place, two mechanics run up and yank the canvas off to reveal a mess of cogs, boilers, and pipes. Stacks of gears stretch into the sky, and in front of all the metalwork, a face of Christ. The engineers crank a lever taller than a horse. Once. Twice. Ka-Klang! The machine springs to life. Pistons shriek, pipes tremble, the crowd watches as a gilded smokestack slowly rises. It jolts to a halt, spews smoke in what can only be described as an explosion, and then chimes out "Westminster Quarters" on a set of bells. Some folks draw crosses and mutter "amen". Even some of the constables lower their cudgels to observe the spectacle. Finally, a panel flips, and a scroll rolls out into the gap in the crowd. The machine extends a grip claw with a fountain pen. It will speak now, for the first time to the public.
The people are silent, the living saints stand in reverence, even the constables and strike breakers lower their weapons and watch in curiosity. The Christ of Clockwork lifts it's pen-arm slowly, accompanied with rapid ticking. The parchment shifts and tightens. The pen moves to write in cursive that can pass as either sloppy or avant-garde: "Am I returned to life by you, My Child?"
People squint and move closer to get a better look. Brunswick shoves them aside to reads the writing for them.
The Christ's hand continues, occasionally letting out a short bell jingle: "Bless you, my child." Brunswick reads in his booming voice.
"My Lord,", you call for the Christ, who slowly turns its wooden head to face you, accompanied with the groan of pig iron, "Your people gather before you today! What divine wisdom do you have for us in this trying time?"
Gear towers tick rapidly, levers actuate, steam bellows. The parchment extends, its arm continues to write, and Brunswick continues to read: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
The paupers in the crowd let out a tired cheer. The constables eye them with indifference. The Christ and Brunswick continues:
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!" Brunswick raises his voice even more, somehow.
Another cheer from the crowd, a bit more raucous.
"Workers of the world, unite!" Brunswick reads as he lifts his fist. Wait, is the Christ really writing that? The crowd stirs. Strikebreaker start frantically shouting. You see Saint Otto nervously tightens the bolts on his helmet and glances at you. You discretely knock the side of the machine. Can't it be more subtle?
"You have nothing to lose but your chains!" Brunswick starts to look more and more rapturous. Another cheer, another ruckus. Oh bother. It's about to get messy.
Indeed, the Christ didn't get far before more dreadnaughts arrive. Behind them are a few absolutely livid priests, who shout with their bibles in their hand: "This is blasphemy! Shut it down! Shut it all down!"
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account!" Brunswick flips his hands at the priests in way too crass to describe couthfully. Well, that did it.
Immediately after the first cudgel was swung, the crowd erupts. The dreadnaughts barrel towards the Christ of Clockwork while your followers desperately try to push them back. Brunswick, itching for the fight, has to be held back by five living saints. "If we fight back, our movement is doomed!" You shout to him with little effect.
In the chaos, you hear the shriek of metal striking metal. You turn around to find the dreadnaughts tearing at the Christ, along with the priests who swing at it with sledgehammers. Cogs fly, rivets buckle and shoot out like bullets. Before you could say anything, a gaping hole is left on the side of the Christ. The attackers look at it, confused. A dreadnaught reaches into the machine and pulls out a scrawny fellow, hunched over like a wet cat.
The act is up. The Church of Clockwork never really got close to creating a thinking engine, let alone resurrecting Jesus. The whole time, an eager (and extremely unsubtle) revolutionary has been operating a facade of a machine from inside. The story of a Christ of Clockwork was just much more effective at spreading ideas than soapbox speakers.
A priests jumps onto the broken machine, looking as smug as ever, about to gloat this embarrassing scheme to the whole crowd. Thankfully, for the moment, the people are still trading fisticuffs. For the movement, you need to do something, now....
LIVING SAINT KILLS BISHOP DURING PROTEST AFTER MECHANICAL CHRIST DESTROYED
During workers' strike beside parliament this Thursday, the Church of Clockwork reveals their long-promised Christ of Clockwork. The machine was said to bring about the second coming of Christ by hosting the saviour's soul in a thinking engine. Suspicions soon arise after the machine began to quote radical socialist literature, and a bishop of the Church of England accused it of being a false prophet.
In the ensuing chaos, dreadnaughts, under orders from the Church of England, destroy the Christ of Clockwork. A Bishop (who will go nameless by request) climbed above the machine to speak, but was then attacked and killed by Saint Mathilda, the Living Saint of Oil of Vitriol of the Church of Clockwork. The crowd swiftly dispersed after the bloodshed, despite other Living Saints attempting to group them and continue the strike.
Saint Otto, of Iron, defends Saint Mathilda during meetings and hearings, citing self-defence, as the Christ can be considered a sentient being, who was killed by command of the Bishop. Further settling of the case depends on whether or not parliament and Her Fearsome Majesty will rule mechanical life as being on-par with human beings.
"I can't believe you would act so impulsively." Saint Otto says from beneath his diving helmet, tossing the newspaper aside, "Months of paperwork and dialogue wasted from this one blunder. Do you know how hard I work to keep our movement legal?"
"Cheer up, Otto, I think Mathilda did the right thing. At least the people don't know that the Christ required an operator." Brunswick says, much more quiet than usual.
"They'll inevitably find out... I attended another meeting today, and the constabulary will seize the machine for analysis... It's not a matter of if they find out, but rather when." Otto shakes his head, "If only you all listened. The Christ was not ready."
Meanwhile, locked in an evidence chamber and surrounded by people with excessive eyewear, the ruined Christ of Clockwork lies motionless. Its damage evokes the aesthetics of antiquated Greek statues. Engineers mark gear trains, differentials, the pulleys and levers of different shapes and sizes. Finally, a particularly sooty mechanic stands up, stretches, and points at the gaping hole in the side of the machine.
"I don't think those controls are all for turning on the engine. These are for locomotion, but I think this one operates the writing arm? See?" She nudges a lever, and the pen shakes erratically.
"No, no, I think the key arms are just jumbled up from being smashed. See here? And here?" Another mechanic tugs on a crooked connection beam, which snaps in his hand.
A knock on the door: "Word from th' hi'er-ups" a raggedy boy pops in, somehow more scuffed than the battered machine, "Th' tellin me ta tell you te wait til th' royal enginers come round t'morrer." He passes the mechanic a letter with more stamps than words. They give it a quick glance and passed a few pennies to the child. The gaslamps were off and the rooms were locked by the end of the hour. The constables and mechanics were more than happy to rest.
In the darkness, coils and escapements spring to life. With a lopsided tick-a-tick, half-shredded papyrus rolls out from the broken Christ while the pen arm jolts and jitters. Then everything is silent again. On the parchment it reads, in squiggles and ink blots:
"Thou shalt not kill."