June 22, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

By Roy Kongnyuy

Friday 3rd June


This story was part of our spring sci-fi short story competition.

My people were born from the earth, in the darkness of caves, shielded from the burning Sun. The elders say to be weary of its brilliance, for it cannot be trusted; the light will beat us back to the earth someday. From dust to dust they say. We are told to avert our eyes from its piercing rays, for many have gone blind, mad, or worse. I don’t like to disobey my elders and their laws, but I’m a stubborn one. I know I ought not gaze, but there’s something about the way it glows, so glorious, like gold… 
 
Peaking from below the Eastern horizon was the scarlet-blood Sun. It was sunrise. I liked to wake up early so I could witness dawn break. I watched it rise in awe. With it now hovering above the horizon I asked myself: what race of men live in the land of the rising Sun? They must be warriors of terrifying strength.  

Then, I could make out a figure in the distance, bathed in light. It had to be Bongo, my thickset friend; he was fat enough that he could have blocked even the rising Sun if his mother didn’t force him to fetch firewood in the mornings. Even from afar I could tell Bongo wasn’t carrying much. He would usually carry a mountain of logs on each shoulder! Why was he empty handed? 

Firewood was taken from the scorched bad-lands south of the village. Here the trees were hollow and black yet, we are told, filled with the rays of the Sun. Then it struck me; the figure approached not from the South but the East. I gripped my spear tight. I studied its steps in perfect silence; unlike Bongo’s boisterous bounds, this figure moved with clumsy grace. Like a sparrow with one broken wing, I could sense the figure struggling not to touch the ground. Here was a stranger in our land. The Sun had now risen further; no longer cast in shadow, I could clearly make out the stranger. My heart trembled…marching towards our village was a creature whose skin shone brilliant like bronze and whose eyes pierced blue like lightning – a giant metal man!  

Frozen in terror, I was unable to let out a whimper, let alone the tribal war cry needed to alert the other warriors. My petrified soul knew what my lips would never dare to confess: our entire tribe, armed even with our most sacred iron weapons would be like grasshoppers in its path. Suddenly, it lifted its head and looked straight at me. I felt its gaze close the chasm between us – how could it see me with such piercing vision? With the swiftness of a storm, the creature blitzed towards me. Now only an arm’s length away, I cowered in its shadow, totally paralysed. The metal giant was the size of one and a half men and shook the ground with a low hum. Its feet were bare, and it wore no loin cloth – no clothing at all. His face was carved like stone, and his expression terrible, as if bleeding with sorrow.  
 Looking down with those dreadful eyes, he spoke in a tongue which I understood, uttering in a thunderous voice:

 
“I AM THE AUTOMATON OF THE CITY OF GOLD.” 

Gently it touched my temples, sending a jolt of lightning down my spine. Then the giant collapsed. With a deep rumble it hit the ground face first. On its back were intricate metallic wings and engraved on its nape were strange symbols which read: “ΤΑΛΩΝΤΑΛΩΝ.” With this my legs became weak, and my head began to spin. I collapsed onto the ground and fell into a deep sleep. 

            … 

I awoke in a cave. The high elders had taken me up a mountain into their abode. Many gathered around me with expressions of concern. My grandfather, one of the wise ones, made his way through the aged crowd and stood by me. 
 
“My boy, tell me what it said to you…” 

I told him everything. 
 

“Son, you have been touched by an ancient one…one of the sentinels of the lost city of gold…” Shaka spoke, chief over the northern villages. “You talk of those guardians of old – their power was legendary! My men intend to secure the giant so it can never harm this tribe.” 
 

Shaka’s goons had taken the sleeping sentinel deep underground. There he was plotting to reanimate the giant, so it could serve his dark ambition. 

When all had left, my grandfather remained. 

“Grandpa…what is an automaton?” I asked him.  

“My boy, an automaton is a perfect servant.” 

“A servant to whom grandpa?” 

He was silent for a long time. Then with a glint in his eye he said, “A servant to the will for which it was created.”