Chapter 9 – Menace of the Automaton by Abner J. Gelula
2229918Cosmos — Chapter 9 – Menace of the AutomatonAbner J. Gelula

A major chapter in the American history of the thirty-first century was that which dealt with the tribulations of a certain young scientific genius named Alan Martin and the tremendous influence that his invention had wrought upon the life of the world. His name had, through the centuries, become as famous as any statesman. He was the creator of the Automaton.

History related of the cruelties to which he had been subjected because he dared to agitate and even actually attempt the destruction of the very machine he invented. He alone foresaw the future of mankind under the ever-growing domination of the cold, emotionless, reasoning Robots he had loosed. People had believed him insane because he tried to point out the menace that these man-like creatures held for humanity, but it was only the passing of centuries that ultimately revealed the eventual all-usurping power of the Automaton.

Alan Martin died late in the twentieth century in comparative obscurity, a broken man. But until his dying day he voiced the warning that was to ring down through the ages, growing louder and clearer with each passing decade – “Beware of the Automatons!”

Maybe it was only co-incidence. Perhaps there is something to a belief in reincarnation. Regardless, however, it was an Alan Martin who first gave the world an inkling of the enemy that threatened the very universe: emerging from out of the void and into the security and peace of the Earth and neighboring planets.

Alan Martin of the thirty-first century was almost a counter-part of his multi great ancestor, even to his keen blue eyes and straight black hair that refused to stay combed. The flare for science that the original Martin had was transposed into this young man a thousand years distant. But it was a changed world that greeted Martin II. Life had become so ultra-complex and was so definitely based upon the successful continuation of Automaton that now, rather than man utilizing the machines, the machines operated man! To break down this system, evolved through the centuries, required leadership of such proportions that no man had yet measured to its gigantic requirements. Cunningly did the Automatons maneuver their place in existence. The entire system was based upon an illusion. Men had become content to permit things to continue their course under the continuous assurance that the Machines were designed for man and therefore were the slaves of man. But in practice it was different – and this difference was brought home with striking suddenness with the receipt of the First Message from “Beyond.”

Alan Martin was seated at his radio experimental board at his home on the two hundredth floor above the streets of New York City one winter evening. Except for the ominous ever=presence of an Automaton, he was alone. He preferred it this way for it enabled him to work with a minimum of disturbance; and this particular night he had occasion to wish that even the Automaton had, at least momentarily, strayed from the room.

Martin, for the past year, had been experimenting in the super-frequencies. He believed that in extreme short-wave reception lay the future of all communication. True, compared with twentieth century radio reception the wavelength of transmissions were extremely short – below one mete, but Martin was interested in perfecting successful transmission and reception at frequencies of millions of cycles!

On the waveband upon which he concentrated he was certain that there could be no transmitter other than his own which was situated several miles from this receiver and operated by his fiancée Theresa Holt. It was because of this certainty that the words which suddenly crashed through the loudspeakers in tremendous volume, so startled and amazed him. Tensely he listened, his hands glued upon dials he had been twirling but which he feared to release lest the voice disappear.

“Calling Earth – Calling Earth – Calling Earth! The existence of your planet and and all the planets of the Sun’s family is threatened with extinction. You must speed every effort to build a space ship to take part with your sister planets in repulsing a common enemy. This is the fiftieth broadcast in an effort to reach you. We hope that this message is being heard. You must arrive within a year of Earth time on Luna where, at Copernicus, a meeting of the planets will be held. I shall now give the plans for the construction of a space-ship that will assure your arrival…”

So absorbed was Martin in listening to this strange, mysterious voice that seemed to come from nowhere that he failed to hear the stealthy movements of the Robot. Then, with a startling alacrity, the Machine-man made a wide sweep with one of its arm-appendages crashing the board to the floor.

Martin sat as if riveted to his chair. This sudden unexplainable action on the part of the Automaton came so unexpectedly that he was stunned for a moment. Then he turned to the now motionless robot.

“Why did you do that?” he asked harshly.

The Robot stepped backward a few paces. Its emotionless mechanical voice was baffling. “You shall not learn of these plans,” it began, slowly. “The mathematical reasoning of the Automatons have long known how interplanetary travel may be accomplished, but the time is not yet ripe for men to launch such ambitious undertakings.”

Martin listened, astounded by the words of the Robot. The colossal nerve of the Machine! And to deliberately wreck his laboratory merely to fulfill a selfish whim of the Automatons! His blood fairly boiled, as he raved and ranted at the Iron man, but to no avail. He might just as well have voiced his rage against a wall. The Automaton remained adamant to his every word and action, repeating “The time is not yet ripe.”

Enraged, Martin stamped out of the room and headed for the home of his fiancée. The cold night air replaced reason with rage and he reflected upon the events of the evening. That the voice brought a message that was not the work of a crank, he was certain. And the actions of the Automaton in thus halting the information the voice was about to impart brought home with greater force than it ever had, the warning of his long dead ancestor.

When Martin arrived, he related the entire story of the evening to Theresa who listened in wide-eyed astonishment. “Never mind about the Automaton now,” she soothed his rage. “You must immediately rebuild the ultra-short wave receiver for a repetition of the message tomorrow evening! The sender in this house is the only one in the entire world operating on the ultra-short wave. Of that I am certain. This message came from somewhere off the Earth. I was listening on the visiophone all evening and no interference or message came thru on the regular transmission frequencies. I will return to your home with you and we shall rebuild the set – keeping Automatons away!”

All night Martin and Theresa worked secretly to repair the destruction caused by the Robot until finally, after the sun was already high in the sky, the outfit was again ready for reception.

It was late that evening, that the voice was heard once more. As if the speaker had been thoroughly practiced in his spoken part, he repeated almost verbatim the words heard by Martin on the previous evening. Theresa sat beside him listening entranced to the words of warning that issued from the loudspeaker and together they made notes of the plans for constructing the space-ship the voice so urgently pleaded to be immediately built.

Martin had locked the door to the room to make doubly certain that no Automaton might again wreck the reception of this mysterious message.

The speaker had concluded his careful, detailed word-plan of the flyer and ended his talk with: “The future of Earth depends upon all possible haste in the construction of this space-ship. I fervently plead with whoever may hear to stress the importance of this message to the authorities. The accuracy of the plans can readily be appreciated by scientists – they accuracy must be sufficient proof of the sincerity of DOS-TEV.”

A deep silence pervaded the room as the voice ceased its discourse. Theresa looked at Martin quizzically.

“Do you think–?” she asked hesitantly. “What do you make of it?”

Martin was deep in thought. He gazed with unseeing eyes into the speaker as if he might peer into the great void from whence the voice emanated. He turned to look at Theresa. After moments of silence, he replied, his words seeming almost a soliloquy.

“Yes… I believe,” he said, “but no one else will! That does not matter for I shall build this ship. I shall go to Luna. Together, you and I, we shall be the representatives of Earth. It means gambling my fortune on the construction, but together we shall succeed!”

It was two months later, when the external hull of the dirigible-like monster had begun to take shape that the world first took notice of an untoward activity within a high-boarded area in a remote section of New Jersey. Martin had made no effort to keep secret the work being done, nor did he hesitate to speak of the message received on his ultra-short wave receiver. He hoped that the wide publicity might center attention on the reason for the construction of the space-ship, might wake the people from the falseness of their robot-ruled lives. But the publicity was not the kind that he had anticipated. Newspapers heaped ridicule upon the lavish expenditures and referred to the work as “Martin’s Dream Ship.”

There were a few who did have confidence in the successful operation of the ship although it must be truthfully said that even his closest associates listened to his story of the message about a ‘conference of planets on Luna’ with tongue in cheek. Were it not for the perfect plans that the voice presented for the construction of the ship, Martin might also have been skeptical of the affair – particularly when he found that the voice was not on the ether upon another attempt to hear the message a month after its first reception.

But Martin was thick-skinned to the criticism heaped on him. Day and night he devoted himself, aided greatly by Theresa, to the building and outfitting of the ship for the journey. Almost all of the work was done my men rather than by Automatons, as would be expected in this Robot age.

But insidiously, even tho barred from participation, the Automatons were working day and night to thwart the plans of Martin and Theresa.

The cold reasoning, the unemotional logic of these calculating machines recognized that their hold on man would be broken should contact be made with other planets – planets that were ages ahead of Earth and whose wisdom had long since abolished the machines in forming a happier existence. Man would surely see the Utopian existence that machines made impossible, for the Automaton was the nucleus of a vicious circle – man fed the machine so the machine would feed man. Halt the machine’s existence and the complexity of living would be reduced to a more logical condition of existing for the sake of life rather than life for the sake of existence!

Until man had the problem and its solution definitely thrust into his face, the existence of the Automatons remained secure. But with the possibility of space travel looming in the near future, the Automatons realized their peril.

It had long since been discovered that, by means of communication known only to the machines, the Robots could act enmasse upon any project that might require such action. But such activity was only called in emergencies, as in 2025 when a mob of students attempted to wreck the machines. The Automatons made no personal effort to defend themselves, but used economic force and caused others to sacrifice themselves breaking the insurrection.

The Automaton’s action in his room just before should have warned Martin of the potential enemy he had here. But so absorbed in his work was he that he never gave the matter a second thought.

One day the occasion was vividly recalled to mind when, as the ship’s exterior neared completion, a letter arrived from the Federal Department of Welfare that it was advised “by various organizations throughout the country to halt operations on the space-ship. Should the contemplated flight prove successful the result might only be in creating new enemies for the people of Earth and possible future interplanetary wars.”

Martin was inclined to scoff at the letter but Theresa thought otherwise. She saw a sinister hand in the proceedings. She urged an immediate doubling of the working force and every effort made speed the task. Martin agreed that this might be a good idea, and gave orders accordingly.

Each day saw the huge, bulbous ship closer to completion, but each day also the letters became more insistent. Finally, a letter from the Department of State warned that unless work on the Space-Ship halted within 48 hours Federal force would be utilized to carry out such orders!

The blow of receiving a demand, of such finality became almost too much for Martin. He had made every effort and had presented every argument to swing public opinion behind his stellar flight, but some force greater than his was causing a terrifically adverse influence. And that force, he knew now, was the Automatons!

According to the letter, there was but 24 hours left before the government would carry out its threat. Behind tightly locked doors Martin gathered his small group of trustworthy advisors – six men who were to accompany him on this epochal flight: Prof. Adrian Larson, renowned chemist; Prof. Howard Bartholomew, noted astronomer and mathematician; John H. Williamson, M.D., a physician of no mean repute; David Milestone, construction engineer; Prof. Frank Albright, world recognized physicist; and Billy Evans, life long friend of Martin’s. An important place was filled by Theresa Holt.

“So, gentlemen,” Alan finished, “if we rush the completion of the ship, hurry delicate adjustments and the incorporation of various refinements – we imperil certainty of safe arrival – or even of safely leaving Earth. Further, we shall have no time to make tests before the actual flight. Yet, as I see it there seems no way out. We must take every precaution we can to be sure that every inch and appliance of the ship are perfect – then take off! The risk involved is increased greatly. I know you each realize this fact. Therefore, I assure you that there will be no hard feelings should any of you gentlemen desire at this time to decline accompanying me on this trip.”

Martin looked into each face as he spoke. They were serious, but when he spoke of anyone declining the trip smiles crept into the corners of their mouths. As if they could be kept from making it!

It was agreed that all would board the ship the following morning – twelve hours before the ‘dead-line’ set by the Secretary of State.

So they arrived and quietly slipped into the metal hull that pointed like a mammoth cigar into the cloudless morning sky.

Then, unexpectedly, along the outer fence metal forms reflected the spring sunlight. From the distance those in the ship could not make out what it was. Thousands of workmen were running in all directions as if possessed. Tools lay around the base of the ship and those operating trucks carrying material for the ship sped crazily toward it.

Martin grabbed a pair of binoculars and peered in toward the activity. The sight that met his eyes made him cry out in amazement.

“We’re besieged! Automatons – thousands of them – they’re breaking the fence.”

Professor Bartholomew tore the glasses from his head and looked.

“We haven’t a moment! Close all hatches, Martin – give orders to leave immediately. The Machines are bent on halting us. They are not waiting to influence any more authority. We must get away before they arrive and take the law into their own hands.” The professor was suiting action to words. A hurried check of the fuel tanks indicated an ample supply, as did the air and chemical transfer tanks. The food supply had been taken aboard early in construction so there was no fear on that score.

There were scarcely a few short minutes left in which to react. Already the fence gave way before the tremendous pressure exerted by the hordes of iron men and the metal bodies surged forward in their mechanical way.

Only the main brace, held by several large bolts, anchored the ship to the ground. Martin and Billy Evans worked frantically to loose the bolts before the Automatons arrived. It seemed a hopeless task. The vanguard of the metal men were nearly upon them. Hardly fifty yards separated them from the ship and only part of the bolts were loosened. Thousands of human beings, brandishing clubs and throwing stones at the space ship presented anything but an encouraging outlook for the finale of the adventure.

“No use,” Evans cried above the roar of the mob that drew upon them. “Looks like this is the finish!”

“Not on your life!” Martin bellowed. “Get inside the flyer. We’re going to chance it. It’s our only hope!”

The hurried inside, locking the single entrance securely behind them.

“To your berths!” Martin ordered his passengers. “We’re leaving – pray that we can break loose without ripping a hole in the ship!”

The berths, designed to absorb the major portion of the terrific pressure of the start of the ship, were immediately occupied.

“Here we go! Good luck,” Martin cried. He pressed a switch near his berth. A deafening roar greeted the contact… a crushing sensation that made breathing impossible… then a blessed oblivion…

Professor Bartholomew took control of the ship after it left the gravitational restrictions of the Earth. Slowly each of the passengers regained consciousness little worse for the experience. A hurried survey revealed no damage done by their hurried departure and hope again ruled on the Flyer.

The huge, ragged surface of the Moon loomed before the band of adventurers. Copernicus, the place designated by the mysterious Dos-Tev for the urgent conference between neighbor planets of the Solar System lay clear before them.

Slowly the Flyer circled as it dropped lower and lower toward the appointed spot. “From the Earth to the Moon! A new era dawns!” Martin whispered. Theresa nodded silently as together they gazed upon the awe-inspiring sight of the airless globe drawing closer.