Variations on a Schema
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Sister-Legate Trunnion had arranged the meeting in Regulator Maintenance Room 25b. Though her freshly Standardized ears had no trouble hearing over the inspiring din of the Cathedral of Industry, she was unsure of her visitor. Either way, the task at hand allowed for no distractions. Hence, the comparative quiet of the temporarily-deactivated 25b. Although sitting there, beneath the twin brass spheres of the regulator, she couldn't tell if the visitor minded. Or had even noticed. She re-straightened the papers placed at perfect right angles before her, Standardized throat ticking softly as it engaged her speaking linkages.

"If you're comfortable, we can begin, Mister… Chase."

Chase said nothing. He had not said anything since the meeting had began, only handed her a damp, gray business card stained with something acrid. On it were three words.

THE FACTORY
CHASE

His face was a broken, ravaged mess of corroded iron and weeping chemical effluent. It collapsed into a mouth with jagged porcelain teeth, and spoke in a voice like a loose bolt passing through a live steam turbine.

"What is it the Cogwork Orthodox Church needs, Sister Trunnion?"

She hesitated. The face was bad enough. Broken enough. The voice was worse. The other Factory representatives hadn't been as unpleasant. It took considerable effort to not lash out at him. She took some solace in the fact that he hadn't used the second half of her title. Only partial knowledge of her role in the Orthodoxy could make him much more willing to divulge useful information.

"We've been having some… concerns. About the-"

"Invariable Transmission? What seems to be the trouble?"

She glanced down at the neatly type-written papers, their plain black ink stark in the soothing actinic glow of the single arc lamp that illuminated 25b. Production was up, praise be. Standardization was surging forward like the great rampaging juggernaught of Industry that was the Steed of God. And yet… Well, that was the reason she was here.

"Let me preface this by saying that the Transmission's performance has been nothing less than spectacular. We're moving well ahead of schedule now, and the Church Patriarchs are confident that Standardization will be able to overcome the Maxwellite heresy within the year."

Chase leaned forwards, planting unevenly-fingered hands on the tabletop. Where they touched the polished brass, they left spreading rainbow stains that disturbed Trunnion to her very core.

"I sense a 'but', Sister Trunnion. Come on, out with it. The working relationship between the Factory and the… Cogwork Orthodoxy can be nothing if not open and honest."

She inhaled deeply, accordion-pleated lungs expanding like stubby wings. The Lord was her Schematic, and as part of his Design she could not- would not falter. If her suspicions were true, the next few minutes would be crucial, not just for her but for the future of the Church.

"As I said before, we have concerns about the design."

Chase had no eyebrows, but part of his face shifted in a way that was unquestionably a cocking motion.

"The… design? Our technicians were very thorough in incorporating it into your fabrication systems. I'm sure you know this, but we at the Factory are extremely impressed with the prodigious levels of mass-production you've created here. Manufacturing on a level that rivals those… what do you call them, Mark Twenty-Fours they h-"

Her lip twisted at the memory of the technicians, their plastic- plastic- bodies skittering organically over the machines, aligning camshafts and tightening belts between the consecrated bronze assembly line and the twisted, horrid, irregular-

"It's not about integration. It's about design. We feel that the construction and form of the Transmission is… inappropriate for placement in a church. Your machinery, though undoubtedly effective, is- is obscene, Mr. Chase."

Chase laughed incredulously, little spatters of… something landing on the papers before her. It took her great effort and the rigidity of a Standardized spine to keep from recoiling.

"After two weeks of successful operation, you're raising doubts about aesthetics, Sister Trunnion? I find that hard to believe, frankly," he said, wetly.

Then, drawing a tightly-bound sheathe of ragged dot-matrix paper from one of the pockets of his incongruously immaculate suit, he spread it atop the puddles left by his hands on the table, letting the blueprints for the Transmission fan out before him. Trunnion shuddered at them. Oh, to be sure she could admire the machinery on a detached level- the gearboxes that curved in on themselves, engines intersecting engines, steam ducts that tesseracted in impossible shapes, but-

"It's- it's messy," she blurted out, despite herself. Chase cocked an eyebrow again.

"Messy. Sister Trunnion, if you can't take this seriously I-"

She stood, torque surging through her planetary-gear knees.

"I am," she hissed, "entirely serious. This is not a matter for levity, Mr. Chase. Do you know what messy means? Messy means disorder. Messy means un-Standardized. Messy means a Broken God. I do not expect you or your Factory to believe, Mr. Chase. Though I would very much like to see you Standardized, I respect your right to choose otherwise. What I cannot respect is the blasphemy in gearworks you call an Invariable Transmission. There is no order here. There is no unified plan. There are clever ideas, and a cute attempt at systematic organization, but what you have laid before me- what you have arrogantly installed as is in our fabrication line, is a mess. There are portions of this machine," she said through clenched steel teeth, "which are decentralized. You even use," she spat, "microcontrollers in the central gearshaft."

He raised dripping hands in a pathetic attempt at conciliation.

"Sister Trunnion, we did our utmost to abide by the requirements you gave us, and made minimal use of electronics in the version of the Transmission we licensed to you, but the fact remains that without some level of digital data input the-"

Deep in her gut, a cog missed a tooth, and for a single instant she lost control. Without thinking, she slapped him across the face, feeling the rough texture of his "skin" grating against her stinging palm.

"You will not use that word in a house of God!"

For a time there was silence, save for the distant rumble of machinery. Then Chase stood. No, he did not stand. He grew. He loomed. Bits of him crumbled and fell apart, columns of dust staining the air until it congealed into something solid, his face tumbling in on itself until it was a blackened pit with broken machinery churning away in spastic agony at its core. Chase- no, the Factory- spoke, and Its voice was pollution and waste- not Flesh, no, something far less comprehensible- the sound of a clock being smashed with a hammer, over and over and over and over-

"Trunnion. You would presume to lecture The Factory about your little electronic heresy. Do not trouble yourself. The Factory knows your story. You would have the Factory abandon data. You feel that such a flow of information is unnatural. Unmechanical. Obscene. You would claim that the transistor and the relay and the integrated circuit ape the will of God. You would claim that electricity convinces Man that He can do what was limited to God. Yours is a God of Design. Yours is a God who tells His children 'go forth, and build in my image.'"

Above them, the twin spheres of the regulator creaked and moaned as they oxidized, little flakes of green tumbling into the expanding maw of the Factory. Trunnion sat paralyzed, choking on the fumes of industrial putrescence it poured forth with each irregular, laboured breath.

"The Factory does not doubt the existence of your God. You have made the error of presuming that The Factory cares. Your God builds in patterns and lines and grid squares and standardized precision-machined clockworks, each gear in its appointed place, each bolt tightened just so. The Factory has no God. The Factory builds. The Factory tears and rips and digests and excretes and what it excretes is the future. Know this, Trunnion. Know this-"

-The walls fell away, melting as they did so, and in their place a blackened, tar-sticky landscape like a cancerous lung after excision, and in it two ancient, ruined towers- one of bronze and smoke, one of translucent plastic and glowing lights. Two ruined towers, tumbled and strewn across the sticky blackness of a planet that was heaving and sweating technology, machines birthing machines which ate themselves and made more, a purposeless cancer of ingenuity-

"Your pathetic 'Cogwork' Orthodox Church will last, Trunnion. So will the Church of Maxwellism. You will come to blows and for a time one side might well seem to triumph over the other, but both will survive. And through it all, a carcinoma in the brain of Mankind, The Factory will wait. And when your last steam boiler cools to stillness and their final fibre-optic cable goes dim, the Factory will still be there. We are the cancer of ingenuity. We are the cancer of creation. And what is cancer, if not Flesh?"

The words smote Trunnion in the pit of her stomach like a drop-hammer, the impact duelling with a faint flicker of triumph. It was true, then. Her throat linkages seized. In a panic she clawed at her neck, feeling the oily sheen of toxins jar at the gears therein, make them slip and derail. The Factory, though it had no face- The Factory smiled.

"And what is most amusing is that when that happens- when The Factory wins, and rest assured it will, your Church will die knowing that it broke first. Your enemies never asked for The Factory's help. You did. And that fact will metastatise in your very souls forever."

And suddenly 25b returned, Chase sitting placidly across from her in a pool of his own filth. Re-rolling his blueprint, he tucked it back into his jacket.

"Now then, Sister Trunnion, if there's nothing else to discuss I will be going. Good day to you."

She sat bolt upright, silent as he left the room. Deep in her chest, clockworks ticked, but otherwise she was still. With no small hesitation, a robed head glanced through the doorway of 25b, taking in the chemical puddles and the rigid figure of the Sister.

"Sister-Legate? Was the meeting a success? Has the Factory representative agreed to our suggestions?"

She turned to look at him, movements slow and precise.

"Brother Camshaft. No, unfortunately. The Invariable Transmission will remain as it is."

Camshaft seemed to stagger, a moment of organic weakness making him lean on the doorframe with one Standardized claw, its brassworks still bearing the remains of the sacred oils from the construction process. Camshaft was young, but what he lacked in experience Trunnion knew he made up for in zeal.

"Then the Church Patriarchs were correct? The Factory is-"

She nodded, apparently pondering.

"The Factory is not to be trusted. We will have to shift production schemas accordingly."

He came closer, his newly-mechanized gait still unsteady.

"But the Transmission is already installed! Isn't it too late, Sister-Legate?"

She took a deep breath, lungs hissing, and stood. Above her, Regulator 25b let out a rumble of waking machinery and began to rotate with increasing speed, brass spheres shining amidst a radiant cloud of of exhaust steam. The arc lamp above crackled, blue-white glare intensifying. Against the growing thunder of machinery that now matched the rest of the Cathedral of Industry, she had to roar to be heard.

"Brother Camshaft! You are young, still. Not yet fully Standardized. You have not yet come to fully appreciate the teachings of the Cogwork Orthodoxy, or its power."

He had to squint against the mechanical radiance surrounding her, the red-hot glow of the steam pipes lending her brass skin a fiery red tinge.

"Sister- er, Legate Trunnion, I don't understand!"

"Our worst fears have been realised. We are beset on all sides by heresy and the iniquities of the Flesh. But our God is a draftsman. Our God is an architect. Our God standardizes."

She smiled, revealing a mouthful of steel teeth tipped with cutting diamonds.

"Our God, Brother Camshaft, has a plan."

Around them, Industry roared its war-cry.

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