The Automaton

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Dave’s mornings always started the same way. Random thoughts and images drifting around his foggy morning mind. Coffee, brush teeth, get dressed, get in car, work. A few songs on the radio later, Dave found himself in his little cubicle. Like an assembly line, emails are sent, edited, revised, and re-sent. Dave felt the heavy weight of fatigue and boredom slowly pressures him. A few emails later, it was his lunch break. He went to the same place he always goes to get lunch; the same people are always there. He sat down in the park like he always did, all the same people walked by. He waved hello, it was, after all, polite. Somebody sat next to him; they exchanged a few words about where they got their lunches, what they were doing. It was, after all, polite. A few bites of his sandwich later, the automaton descended on Hartford.

It did not fall from the sky, but it did not quite land either. It floated down in a single line. It was completely erect in posture, like an obedient soldier. There was no sound when it landed. It just sort of gently rested on the ground. Its look, however, was what was most shocking. Its shape was completely human; excepting it had no face to speak of. The figure of the thing was that of a well exercised human, almost resembling the body of the Vetruvian Man. It had a soft glow to it, as if there were a light bulb where its heart would be. Everyone in the park instantly stopped what they were doing. It was as if the earth had stopped spinning. Then, the automaton raised his hand and began its protocol.
With its hand raised, the machine emitted such a sound that words can barely describe it. Its pitch was low enough to hear, but high enough for it to feel like needles being shoved sharply into your ears. It changed in tone in a repeating pattern, but that was barely noticeable at the time. Some people collapsed right then and there. Other squirmed in the dirt, clutching their ears as if someone was trying to steal them. Some just stared. Dave was one of those people. His ears hurt, yes, but he could not help but stare at its form. Its near-perfection. Its lack of expression. He saw a few people dialing numbers on their cell-phones. Then, the noise stopped.
The reactions were mixed. Most people ran screaming in any given direction. Those that were calling people on their cell-phones were quickly forced to join the mob or be trampled; those that were hypnotized by the automaton just let themselves get pushed and shoved. The police arrived shortly. The policemen got out of their cars and looked at the machine for awhile. Dave had a feeling that the officers were as hypnotized as he was. Then, without warning, one of the fat policemen took out his gun and fired a single shot. The silence breaking report broke many people out of their trance, but the bullet itself did nothing to the machine. Then, the sounds came again, this time accompanied by flashing lights. The policemen soon ran into their cars and drove away. With that- with the embodiment of order running with their tails between their legs- everyone began to run.
And it was panic in the streets now. Terror spread through Hartford like a disease, everybody was running for reasons some people didn’t quite understand. Televisions in store windows showed news broadcasts of it all, with shaky reporters doing their best to explain what was going on, but inevitably failing. Dave, however, had not left his bench in the park. He’s not going anywhere, he thought, why do I have to run? And then, Dave began to think.
He had one of those rare moments when a flow of thoughts and ideas comes at you so fast you almost don’t know what happened. It was as if random pieces of a puzzle were coming together, and Dave could now infer what the whole picture was. It was a crazy idea, insane almost. It made perfect sense, though. He remembered that in 2nd grade he was told how humans have terrible hearing. “The high frequencies some animals make to communicate are unintelligible by humans…” The teacher had said. He remembered seeing Close Encounters when he was young. His startling conclusion thumped around in his brain, seemingly itching for a way out. Then, Dave approached The Automaton. The crowd of people pushed against him, he was fighting the current of this mighty flooding river of frightened and misunderstood drones, all running because the person next to them was running. He could barely see above them all. When he finally escaped the crowd, he stood directly in front of The Automaton. Dave was then frozen in his ptracks; he looked up at The Automaton and realized how similar he and it were. They both followed protocol, as that is what they were wired to do. They did only what was needed of them, and not what they wanted. His sympathy now overtook his fear, and with all of his newfound courage, he yelled,
“Hello.” He felt afraid then, because the flashes and noises had stopped. The faceless head turned downward at Dave. The two of them stood there, motionless, and Dave was overcome with sympathy. He said it again,
“Hello.” The Automaton sympathized with Dave.
“Hello,” said The Automaton.





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