Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sara over at Fiction Fusion. Don’t miss Sara’s creative story, or the other submissions!
Last week’s story was a short Steampunk Character sketch, and my plan is to incorporate the characters into a new chapter or two in “Clockwork Deacon.” Different writers have their own ideas of what elements to include in the Steampunk genre. Some include supernatural elements such as zombies and vampires, or alternate dimensions, or time travel, and some even include a little magic. That’s the beauty of fiction – we write the rules for our world. Myself, I prefer to stick to the idea of the kinds of things that could have been theoretically possible, given the scientific laws we know at this time, applied to the scenario of Victorian Era Mad Science. In essence, sticking to this world, but with a hypothetical divergence in history.
As such, Steampunk can easily retain the potential in Christian Fiction. It was fun to play with the idea of a character whose ability to communicate is severely limited, and with whom so much is left as an enigma. How the other characters in Loma Roja deal with Deacon, and their perceptions of him, gave me a great deal of story material. I especially liked how this played out in this chapter.
From “Clockwork Deacon”
It might have seemed strange, that Loma Roja had an Automaton in the town before a typewriter, but that was how it happened. Oddly enough, the Reverend was responsible for both. A conference in Phoenix called him away from the small town, and when he returned, he brought back the Underwood with him.
The device was something of a curiosity, and folks made a special trip to the pastor's study to view the marvelous writing machine. He extolled its advantages, particularly those of readable archives of sermon notes and church records, though there was some speculation that the man had simply discovered a new toy.
He retreated to the study in the evening, and locked the door. Deacon waited in the corner, while he began to type out notes. The typewriter was positioned on the desk to that Deacon could easily see what the Reverend was doing. He said nothing to the Automaton, and gave no indication that he required anything from the copper servant.
He would glance from time to time at the metal face, and then return to the typing. Each night, he took the paper from the machine, and locked it in a drawer of his desk. A fresh sheet of paper remained in the typewriter, and the Reverend would retire to bed, leaving Deacon in the study.
Mrs. Randolph placed his breakfast in front of him. AJust what are you up to all these nights in there, all by yourself?@ she asked.
AI'm not all by myself,@ Reverend Randolph replied. ADeacon is with me.@
AAll right, so you're not by yourself. What are you two doing in there?@
AI am working on a project, that I would rather not divulge at the moment,@ he said.
AWell, I would ask Deacon, but he wouldn't be able to answer me anyway. It just concerns me that you're staying up so late every night.@
He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. AIt's nothing to worry about, my dear. I assure you, I won't over-tax myself on this.@
After breakfast, he went to his study, and looked at the paper in the typewriter. The paper was blank, and Deacon had gone about his chores for the day. He heaved a sigh, and started on his sermon notes for the next meeting of the church.
That night, he locked the door of the study, and pulled a chair in front of Deacon. In one hand, he held a sign with large letters. ADeacon, do you know what this says?@ he asked.
Deacon looked at the sign, and gave a single nod.
ACan you read the sign, or do you know what it says based on what has been taught to you previously?@
There was no response.
AHow clumsy of me. I asked the question in a manner that you cannot answer with a simple yes or no. Deacon, can you read?@
The head clicked side to side.
ACan you learn?@
He processed the question, and then gave his nod.
ADeacon, if you learned to read, then you would be able to write as well. You would be able to communicate with us in more than just gestures, or just by nodding or shaking your head. Do you understand?@
AI do not expect you to master penmanship, but I believe you can easily learn to use the typewriter. Have you been watching me use it these past couple of weeks?@
ADo you understand its function?@
The single side to side shake.
AThe typewriter is a machine that imprints letters onto a sheet of paper, that anyone who knows how to read can then understand. These letters, when grouped together in a specific order, represent the words we speak. You could put words onto paper, that I could know what you are thinking. Do you understand?@
Deacon nodded again.
Reverend Randolph went to his shelf, and removed a children's reading primer. He turned to the first page, and began with the letter 'A'. It was difficult to judge how well Deacon understood the lessons, since he could not repeat back the information being imparted to him. At the end of the evening, though, the pastor put a fresh sheet of blank paper into the typewriter, and had Deacon stand over it.
ADo you see the letter 'A' on the typewriter, Deacon? If so, press the key.@
The mechanical hand reached forward, and typed a single letter.
His excitement turned to disappointment. AThat is the letter 'H'. Look at the 'A' in this book again, Deacon, and see if you can find it on the typewriter.@
It took four more tries before Deacon struck the correct key. Subsequent letters of the alphabet took similar numbers of attempts, and by the time it late enough to call it a night, he'd barely made it through half the alphabet. ATomorrow evening, Deacon. We'll resume tomorrow evening.@
The next evening, he started back at the letter 'A', and was pleased to find that, at least he didn't have to start all over again. Deacon correctly identified each letter he had successfully learned the night before. Before they finished that night, Deacon knew the entire alphabet.
Over the next week, though, teaching him how to use the alphabet proved to be an even greater challenge. Still using the children's primer, Rev. Randolph prompted Deacon to form simple words. He would type the letters as the pastor dictated them, but when told to type the word 'cat,' the Automaton sat there and waited.
ADeacon, do you understand what a cat is?@ He felt like he was giving a scolding to a recalcitrant child. AI have explained what letters form the word cat, and you know where these letters are located on the typewriter. It should be a simple matter, then for you to write the word.@
Deacon rested in front of the typewriter, as still as if he were waiting in the back of the church for services to finish.
Reverend Randolph settled into his chair, next to the Automaton. His voice became soft and pensive. AYou've been part of this family almost as long as my sons have, and a part of this community for all the years since we moved here. We can speak to you, and you respond to us with your actions, but do you know how much we long to have you respond to us in the means that we understand best?@
That was the frustration; he spoke candidly, and yet Deacon gave no indication of the statement having any impact upon him. He neither inclined his head to look at the Reverend, nor gave any gesture whatsoever to offer any clue to what his response might be.
AYou learn so many things that we never expected you to learn, nor that we even thought to teach you. You simply learned by watching us, or maybe by reasoning out the process in your own mind. Surely, you can learn this, can you not? Surely, the thought processes built into your mind must mimic our own in some way, or least be able to be translated into words we can understand. All the things you've done for this family and this town, there must be wisdom and intellect within you. Surely, you can either confirm or deny that with a simple yes or no answer?@
Deacon still did not respond, and the minister lowered his head into his hands. Lord, is this how we are to Thee? Dost Thou ask us questions, and we go about our daily lives as if we did not even hear Thee? Does my my spirit remain quiet and unresponsive, when Thou tryest to teach me how better to pray? Lord, am I to Thee even half as good a servant as Deacon is to me? I would that I could confidently say 'yes,' but Lord, I know if I tell Deacon to go and work here, he will go. How many times hast Thou commanded me to go and serve, and I have instead gone about my own business instead of Thine? Father in Heaven, what could he teach me, if Deacon could but speak?
There was a touch on his shoulder, and he raised his face to look at the Automaton standing over him. The static eyes were turned his way, and one hand rested on him in a close approximation of a supportive gesture, before the face turned towards the door and Deacon rolled away.
Rev. Randolph stood and followed, retrieving the key from the door after Deacon had unlocked it and passed through. The Automaton led him outside, and to the dark area behind the church, away from any light escaping from nearby windows. The copper face turned skyward, and stared out at the myriads of stars shining overhead.
The Pastor looked up also, wondering if there were something out there special to see, or if Deacon's focus was on a particular asterism, but he could not discern anything beyond the general area the gaze was aimed at.
ADo you wonder about the stars, Deacon? With words, you can ask questions, and maybe receive answers.@
He just stood, staring, and not moving.
Rev. Randolph sighed, trying to fathom whatever might be holding Deacon's attention. He quoted the first Scripture to come to mind. AWhen I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him? For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.@
The clockwork sound of motion drew his eyes away from the sky. Deacon nodded at him, and then rolled to his shed. The door of the shed closed, and he was left alone in the dark.
I don't understand. Did he bring me out here just to get me to quote that Psalm? Or did that Psalm satisfy whatever question he had in his head? Was it for him, or for me? If man is a little lower than the angels, what does that make Deacon? If we question why God would be mindful of men, what must that imply to Deacon? He is a most complicated device of man's ingenuity, and yet, compared to all that God has made, he is as insignificant as those toys that he made for Christmas some years ago.
I am as insignificant as one of those toys, and I am in infinitely more complicated creation of God's ingenuity. I can't even puzzle out the workings of a less complicated toy. He turned his eyes back towards the house and the study. I'm not even sure how the typewriter works, yet, I can't help but feel that Deacon studied it that first night, and deciphered every mechanical detail of the machine. So, why can't he make use of it the way it is intended to be used?
He returned his gaze to the stars for a while, before retiring to bed.