Hardware

The Jaquet Droz Signing Machine Signs Papers Mechanically So You Don’t Have To

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High above a scorched Earth, in a sleek yacht tethered to the tip of the Terra Two spindle, Chancellor Herman Worthy was doing paperwork. His cleaner bots were all asleep and his assistant, a lithe android build to look like a long-dead 2000s era actress, was in her charging case. It was good to be alone.

His body was dead. All that was left was his mind. But long, before he died, almost a hundred years ago, he had a curiosity made. It was an automaton, mechanically powered, that could sign his name just in the same way that he once signed his name using his own living hand. A few pumps of the primer, courtesy of his sensor-tipped remote grippers, and the machine sprang to life, gears turning, a carefully calibrated pen sliding over smooth parchment. The inspiration for this wondrous thing, Jaquet Droz, was a watchmaker and roboticist who lived in the 18th century. A company, rendered defunct after the Third War, took his name and made beautiful watches, for a time, as well as this thing, a thing they called a Signing Machine.

Built in 2014, the company had asked Worthy to sign his name using a sensitive pantograph. A watchmaker then recreated the motions of his hand using metal gearing, allowing Worthy’s signature to be copied unto infinity. It was a trifle, back then, but now that Worthy’s mind was in a chunk of biostorage and his responsibilities few, it was sometimes good to watch the Signing Machine do its business. He signed requisitions, space exploration chits, and finally came to a document that was headed in bold red and bore a few spare lines.

If he signed this paper, it said, Terra Two and Terra Three could begin tearing through the Earth looking for ore. They would not stop until the planet was small enough to push into the sun. In short, this order would destroy his home world.

Worthy thought of the dead caverns of New York, a flooded Venice, the water sickly yellow. He thought of the forests that had shattered under countless bombs, the bones of cyborg soldiers buried in the dry loam of what was Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Germany. He thought of his father’s tomb, ornate as a palace, rising on a crest of Green-Wood Cemetery in what was left of Brooklyn.

All these ghosts, like the ghost trapped in this Signing Machine. The ghosts of the flesh.

The actuator whirred in indecision and then primed the Signing Machine for action. A few strokes later it was done. Earth would soon be part of the sun. The end was here.

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