The Automaton Archive – Hailey Mead

The Automaton Archive

February 1, 2024

Standing in a fluorescent-lit basement of a dilapidated warehouse in the middle of nowhere, Nevada, Dr. Zimmer rummages through one of the many metal file cabinets: Edgewood Arsenal Drug Experiments, The Peacekeeper Rail Garrison, Project Iceworm. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has tasked him with sorting through a recently discovered archive of scientific files from the World War II era as they prepare to digitize them. Skimming over early 20th-century case studies and experiments, he sorts them into piles of their respective scientific branches: cosmology, pathology, medicine. It is a task perfectly suited for the 60-year-old science historian since he can finally see the mounds of primary sources he has studied for decades. After hours of sorting through files his energy subsidies and his eyes become lazy as he skims over titles: Atomic Bomb Fissions, The FP-45 Liberator, The Guatemalan Syphilis Study. He is on autopilot until an unfamiliar title catches his eye: The Automaton Archive. He clutches the bulging folder of papers held together by a leather binding and sets it down on the wooden desk. Putting his glasses on, he adjusts his desk lamp onto the brown-stained papers. He carefully opens the folder to reveal a report of roughly a hundred pages. Sitting on top is a cover page with an experiment brief front and center:

On March 26, 1942, 10 humanoids, Automatons, are to be sent to the archipelago 400 miles West of Peru for one year of observation on their self-advancement and colonization. 

His eyes of curiosity and excitement grow, bewildered in disbelief. Was this possible in 1942? The first programmable robot was invented nearly a decade later. His eyebrows furrow as he flips to the end pages in hopes of finding images, hypotheses, or results. On the last page:

Automatons are programmed with experimental human brain capacities: a. Learning b. Reasoning c. Perception d. Language-understanding e. Problem-solving. Through observation of the 10 Automatons, the feasibility of artificial intelligence being sent on interplanetary missions in preparation for human colonization can be better understood.

He flips past the last page in the report. Where are the results? Dr. Zimmer heads to the hallway and into an adjacent room “Dr. Calvin… have you ever heard of The Automaton Archives?” The 40-year-old female, packing sorted piles into crates, responds: “What was that?” Dr. Zimmer sets the folder down on a desk in the middle of the room and the two analyze the documents for countless hours. No results are found. Dr. Calvin, looking down at the scattered papers, reads: “This is an experimental plan… no results.”  For the next several months, a small group of scientists and historians try to trace the study but no other information on The Automaton Archives surfaces. Sitting in the NAS office, Dr. Calvin turns to a page in the report found in Nevada and points: “Dr. Zimmer… we have the archipelago coordinates.” 

July 30, 2024

After seven days aboard the RSS Endeavor, Dr. Zimmer, standing atop the ship’s nest at dusk, spots a small group of islands with a telescope. Surrounded by the orange sea, the archipelago appears vegetated but uninhabited. Was it a hoax? No signs of life or humans… or artificial intelligence. The twenty-three crew members of scientists and historians venture to the ship’s railing. Reducing their speed, they drift closer and closer toward a small island with a rocky hill. A rancid smell begins to fill the air. The crew stares in fascination at the island while trying to ignore their sense of smell. However, the scent becomes intolerable and the crew freezes as the source of the smell is uncovered. The rocky hill is not rocky and is not even a hill. Instead, a mound of almost five hundred human bodies is piled fifty feet high. The bodies have flesh rotting off metal frames. A giant pile of limbs, wires, flesh, and metal. The report said there were ten? The crew is silent as they stare in fascinated fear. The RSS drops an anchor a hundred feet off the island as they jot notes, take samples, and spy on the island. An hour after their arrival, a metal stomping noise reverberates. Suddenly a thirty-foot tall ragged hybrid of metal and flesh appears from behind the pile and, an automaton, charges toward the beach.