There was an old church on the main square. It was apart from the main businesses of the street, but not too far. But it was a couple of hallways from the elevator, making it a place where tourists seldom found. It was at the end of the street. The dead end of the street ran straight into its wooden arched double doors. Similar to Babylon, on each side of the door was a brazier always lit. It wasn’t an actual fire, of course, but it had large orbs over the door which flickered with warm, reddish light.
It was a strange place indeed. There was a construct here who went by the name Reverend. In all likelihood it was never properly named. He was a Helpmate 1. Like Rachel, he had removed the skin from his fingers, since it had worn out.
Actually, he was a Helpmate II, which was not a sentient model, despite looking very similar to the sentient Helpmate Porcelain Collection. Unlike the original Helpmate, he had no skin, only exposed mechanical parts and a composite plastic chassis, including an immobile, mask-like face.
Those familiar with constructs at all would know he wasn’t sentient because the Helpmate PC was exclusively feminine, whereas the Helpmate II added masculine bots to the lineup.
One might think that there was ridiculous, even sacrilegious, to have a non-sentient “reverend” in a church. But the visitors did not feel that way. A characteristic of virtual intelligence robots was that they were great listeners and gave lifelike replies, one could even say insights at times. However, since they were not truly intelligent (not self-aware) they had no agenda, no ulterior motives (no motives at all). And no opinions, only observations and facts. While they could give advice it was always seemingly objective, a mere explanation of the possible actions one could take, and the probable consequences. But no judgement, no moralizing, no authoritative tone. Just a comforting, and seemingly observant voice from an empty shell.
As it so happened, this was exactly what the people of Vermilion seemed to want in a priest. One of the most popular features of the Reverand was his willingness to take confession. One needn’t worry about confidentiality. He was programmed not to share information between humans, and if requested, he would actually delete the encounter when it ended. That way there was no accountability necessary — if you wanted to come to the Reverend for the first time every time, you could. And many did. This was unnecessary of course, but people figured that, since they were tired of confessing the same sins, it stood to reason that someone would get tired of hearing the same sins. Not a problem if you just deleted their memory.
The priest had a few automatic functions people were used to. The church was usually empty, but it did have visitors trickling in and out occasionally on most days. The priest was normally in sleep mode but when someone entered, it would bring itself online, say hello and light some incense.
Of course, the church no longer had services. Well, technically it did, but no one attended. The Reverend was programmed to perform a liturgical service every sunday morning. Since it was purely liturgical, and even the homilies were short, pre-scripted talks, this too proved a task ably accomplished by a non-sentient robot.
So every sunday, the Reverend would get up and speak to empty pews. Occasionally there was one or two people, or maybe one family who, for whatever reason, decided religion was what they needed right then. A service dutifully provided by the ever-helpful Helpmate.
Brick to construct in the church: How is it that a construct believes in god? God didn’t create you. We did.
The old church is a place where the lost souls go. There are constructs as well as humans here. It’s open all night, as a place for prayer. Brick sometimes ends up there as a result of wandering. You never know what sort of person you’ll see there. Each one is a mystery. People rarely enter together. They come alone and leave alone, sometimes have lonely conversations with one another.
It’s big and grand. The candles are always lit. Stained glass windows still intact, a skylight at the top. Ornate stone, now worn but still beautiful. Harsh wooden benches. It’s a strange place. Incense.
End old fragment.
How is it that a construct believes in God? God didn’t create you, we did. Of course Brick knew the answer. One might believe, as many constructs seemed to, that they were created by humans, and humans were created by God. One might of thought most constructs were atheists, if they had any opinion at all. But most, while they probably wouldn’t call it religion, they believed in some vague notion of intelligent design of the world. For humans, the intentionality of human beings’ existence was an open question not readily answered by science. For constructs, their origin as intentionally created beings was a matter of recent, well-documented history.
On today, Claire decided to visit the Reverend.
As usual, as she entered, the lights came on. A dim, comforting orange light. And The Reverend said “Hello, young lady.” and began lighting incense. “What’s troubling you?”
He didn’t ask about the troubles of everyone, and the ones he asked generally were troubled. One might say he was perceptive. In a sense, this was true. Others might say, more accurately, that he was programmed to read body language and facial expressions and respond accordingly. This for the most part worked well to give the illusion of emotional acuity.
Claire took a seat in the front row. Although she could have gone into the private confession booth, no one else was present, so it wasn’t necessary. In fact she hadn’t seen anyone on this floor on the way here, either.
As he was programmed, the priest sat on the same bench as her, but far enough away to allow personal space.
C: Did I tell you why I came here, Rev?
R: Yes. You want to find out what happened to your parents.
After an appropriately timed pause, he said, “How is your search going?”
C: I don’t know. Here’s the problem. I already know what happened to them. The basics I mean. Finding out the details seemed like some kind of important mission when I first came here, but now I’ve been asking myself. What’s the point?
“What’s the point?” Was exactly the kind of question the Reverend was ill-equipped to answer. It wasn’t its purpose to describe the purpose of other peoples’ lives. That’s what people liked about it. it was, however, adept at asking related questions, which sometimes passed as insightful or sympathetic. Active listening, it turned out, was very easy to program.
“What were you hoping to get out of learning the details of their death?” it said.
C: I don’t know. I thought maybe it would tell me something about myself, if I could better understand where I came from, then I could have some better idea where I’m going.
You know, I once had someone tell me I was lucky to be a foster child? I think it was because her dad was an alcoholic, and her mom had a lot of issues. So she was like, it sounds nice not to have parents. It’s like a blank slate.
I don’t think she understood how scary that can be. I feel like, yeah I’m a blank slate. The slate is blank. And that’s all it’ll ever be. I’m like the most boring, normal person you can imagine. No legacy to live up to, no cycle to break. Nothing. “
This is the part where a human would say something to contradict this mindset, but the Reverend was not prone to being contrary.
“Everyone has to find their own purpose in life. It’s not easy.” She wasn’t sure if this was a scripted response to existential questions, or a convincing improvisation.
C: Easy for you to say. Your purpose was decided before you were built. You were programmed to be like this, in this place, to say the things you say. What would you do if you weren’t pre-programmed to do anything?
Nothing, said the Reverend.
C: Exactly. Now you understand my problem. Or I guess I should say, that’s why you can’t understand it. I don’t know why I’m talking to you.
R: Do you have someone else you’d prefer to talk to?
Claire started. She had to remind herself that the Reverend was only programmed to ask questions that seemed helpful, not to be a smartass. But the question was too incisive. No, she said quietly.