Work. It was the automaton’s sole purpose. It could speak, hear, and comprehend commands. It could not comprehend emotions. We were proud of our creations– these automatons. My masterpiece was a small one, at only four and a half feet tall. It was handy around my workshop, and looked like my late apprentice, who died after he was called away to war twenty years ago. I gave my automaton a few other features, to ensure he was not an eyesore, and his more artificial-looking parts were hidden from my eye. The only parts that looked man-made were the eyes, with their hollow pupils and transparent irises.
The eyes were strange to stare into, but I knew their every minuscule flaw, and knew how they made the thing’s eyes seem almost alive, save that glow through the parts that let me know: this was an abomination that I and the others in the guild had each made.
Others had great machines to test weapons, others to create them. Some had the golems for the purpose of medicine and more.
Mine was named Pebble, for the technique I used to make his delicate fingers. I used him to help me create music boxes. I played songs on the piano, and he attached the minuscule pins to the cylinder, so they would pluck the comb’s teeth and make beautiful sounds.
He was masterful, and I soon gave him more and more of my work as my fingers became sore. I had to teach him by hand how to play the piano, and hired a young composer to take over the piano lessons as my fingers became too stiff.
Pebble began to help me around my home and workshop. My eyes were not bad, and nor were my ears, so I still inspected every piece. Pebble hovered constantly, A light touch to my elbow now and then allowed me to keep upright in front of the young composer I hired, and I was grateful, although confused.
I had not programmed Pebble to know anything about aging, nor helping those who were old. His touch was very gentle– he knew his own strength. I was impressed. I only ingrained in him the knowledge of my craft.
Slowly, I paid more attention. Pebble watched me when he was not busy. He watched everything. Any time he heard a strange noise, he looked up. Any time I coughed, he looked at me and reached toward me.
He was more than I created.
I began to worry as word of an inspection came from the tinkerer’s guild arrived. They wished to see the automatons after hearing reports that they were becoming aware. I dismissed my composer and spent the time speaking slowly to Pebble. He acted much like a child– so easily distracted.
“Pebble, pay attention!” I ordered. He looked at me, and the focus of his eyes zoomed in. “Strangers will arrive soon– maybe a few days or weeks. When they arrive, you must act like an automaton. Do you understand? They will take you away and take you apart if they think you are alive.”
For long moments, Pebble stared at me before he pulled out a chalk tablet and wrote. “I do not want to be taken.”
His penmanship was decent, if shaky. “Do you understand what I’m asking you to act like?”
“You wish me to be what I was.”
“Act like it. Don’t become what you were before, but act like it.”
“You want me to be what I am not?”
I closed my eyes and prayed for patience from the Crone. “Never mind it. Just hide when they arrive, and if they call you, do not come out. On that day, you will respond only to my voice.”
He lowered his head and tilted it to one side slowly. “I will do this strange thing you ask, Master.” He rose, then wrote. “It is time for your tea. I will make it. Your knee is bad today.” He walked away, and I turned to watch him in wonder.
He understood far more than I expected. Absently, I furrowed my brows and licked a molar that was rather sore. I looked at the chalk board. For a few moments, I considered spraying finish on it and hiding it away. However, if someone found it, such a thing would lead to the destruction of my poor apprentice. I closed my eyes tightly and wiped the letters away once I was satisfied they were firmly in my head. As I opened my eyes, I regretted the empty slate. Almost, I could make out the letters. I forced myself to wipe them entirely. Once finished, I patted my hands off onto my apron and returned the slab to its proper place.
Pebble was right. My knee was bad. I almost collapsed, save that he returned to lead me to the kitchen. He watched me closely as we walked through the short hall. “Thank you.” I murmured as he helped me into a seat. The water hadn’t yet boiled, but all was prepared just the way I always did it.
Suddenly, he pulled the chair out and placed a warm blanket on my lap, then pushed the chair back to the table. My knee began to feel relief, and I closed my eyes for a few moments.
The sound of the whistling tea pot woke me, and Pebble poured my tea. I wrapped my sore fingers around the cup and sighed. “You are a gift, Pebble.”
He rested his hand on my shoulder and returned to whatever he had been doing. I half-dozed as I drank my tea.
Tomorrow, I decided, I would make a few arrangements for his future. Once the tea was finished, I began to nap again, only for Pebble’s light touch on my cheek to wake me. I looked up, and he helped me up. He needed the ability to speak on his own. I began to plot that issue out as he tucked me into my bed.
The next morning, I once more gave the composer boy a day off, saying that Pebble needed a few repairs. He left when I gave him his pay, and I had Pebble help me create the hardware needed to enable speech. Several times, when I stopped to think, he looked up and just watched me with those eerie eyes I gave him so long ago.
Finally, as the sun began to set, we finished the creation, and I installed it. As I hooked it into his power supply, he made several experimental noises, then shook his head. He couldn’t form words. His hands moved to remove the thing, and I stopped him. “For now, keep it. We can work on it another day, Pebble. I want you to be able to speak on your own.”
He lowered his hand, then leaned toward me and pressed the lower, featureless part of his face against my lips, then rose and began to help me to bed. Startled, I let him.
Again, morning came, and I urged my apprentice to only practice with his sounds at night or alone with me. He didn’t seem to care why, and merely nodded. After a few errands in the afternoon, I returned and went to bed.
On a whim, I wound up the first music box that Pebble made on his own, and fell asleep to its soothing melody.