"This thing’s a search engine?”

“That’s right.” The device looked like something of a pipe organ, with tall, brass pipes protruding from a central chassis, yet it featured a typewriter’s keyboard instead of ivory keys. An array of thirty-some enigma-like rotors could be seen churning within its glass case. “A search engine, and an entirely mechanical one at that. Type anything you want here, and it will search the world for relevant content, no wires attached.”

“Mechanical? How does it connect to the internet?”

“It doesn’t.”

“It doesn’t?”

“Like I said, no wires attached. It drinks and processes atmospheric knowledge, straight from the wind. Those pipes siphon the air around us and sift through it for results.”

“What’s out there for it to find?”

“Quite a bit, actually.” the engineer stepped up to the machine. “Think about it this way. Whenever you speak, your voice propagates through the air as a vibration that becomes softer as it travels- yet it never entirely goes away. Though significantly quieter, it continues to drift inaudibly through the atmosphere forever. As such, every sentence that has ever been spoken is still out there, traveling from mouth to mouth, inhalation to exhalation. Even now, your lungs are filled with more words than you will ever speak. The search engine takes advantage of this fact; its inner filaments allow it to hear anything and everything drawn into its valves, no matter how quiet, and when words are processed by this interface,” she gestured towards the typewriter-shaped device at its center, “it sifts through all nearby whispers for anything related.”

“But how do you know if any of it’s true?”

“You don’t,” she replied. “Just like anything else.”

“Well, what does it know?”

“It doesn’t know anything, per se. It just listens carefully, and repeats what it hears.”

“Can we ask it something?”

“By all means.”

He paused for a moment, trying to think of the perfect question, then: “Ask it if there’s life after death.”

The engineer sighed. “Not being electronic doesn’t make it magical, you know.” she explained. “Everything that comes out of it is just a combination of other people's echoes.”

“Is there something wrong with the question?”

“No, I’m just trying to set some expectations. I’ll go ahead and ask, but is that really the question you want?”

“It is.”

“Very well.” She punched the keys, and the immortal query clicked into place on a series of painted punchcards: “Is there life after death?” Next, she pulled a leg-sized lever along the machine’s left flank. The rotors in its belly began to spin rapidly, and the pipes above roared with unpleasant dissonance. After about a minute or so of this noise, the sound diminished, and finally, a single piece of ticker tape screeched out of a knee-high printer. It was over. One of the inquisitors tore the paper from its slot, and together, they reviewed its output:

“We do not know if there is life after death,” it read. “But we do know that death hasn’t stopped us from answering.”

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