DiscoverYoung Adult

Automaton Nation

By

Synopsis

Automaton Nation is perfect for fans of Twilight and Hunger Games, where the stakes are high, love is unexpected, and characters survive in a dystopian world. Val Tate, daughter of a prominent scientist, falls in love with robotic Dat against her parents’ objections.

AUTOMATON NATION

Encounter

Chapter 1

Dat’s sensors nearly overheated, and his circuitry was on high alert. He stood among his coworkers, waiting for the Gala to begin.  They stood by him in stoic deference. He fidgeted and sighed. Being a Sous Chef both excited and terrified him. But it was the young woman with the auburn hair and jade-green eyes in bright blue, seated at the head table that caught his attention.  His acute vision zeroed in on her delicate features and slender figure. His right eye twitched with a signal to his brain waves.

Who’s that? Big eyes and long hair equals beauty, according to my highly developed sensations.  Need to be near her to see for myself.

The reflection from the chandeliers sparkled on the tables with plates of Mushroom Risotto with Truffles, Chinese Kung Pao grasshopper entree, and Rat Snake soup that Dat had prepared. His chest heaved with pride, and he wondered if the governor knew that these dishes were his specialties with the shortage of meat. Dat believed, after this night, that it would be announced that he had become the Chef for the Grand Old Capitol Hotel, the favored place for the governor and her high-level constituents.

I must live up to Tony De LaFleur’s name, my mentor. They tell me my talents come from him.

The hotel’s ballroom shimmered with vintage elegance and bustled with the sounds of excited guests. A robotic harpist and violinist played softly in the background. Five hundred people gathered today by invitation only, their names known in elite circles. 

Dat felt honored to be a part of this celebration, having just emerged from conception. His perfect French and upscale manners added to his pedigree. Dat smirked and realized he had nothing to worry about.  

A hush fell over the room as Governor Thompson stepped up to the podium, her blunt cut chestnut hair and stern gray eyes behind opaque glasses added to the severity of her stance.

“Good evening. I’m Governor Andrea Thompson. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome our guests from all over the world to our beloved Capitol City, once called Sacramento, in California and its surrounding island communities.

“Second, be aware that security is tight, and everyone’s eye prints have been scanned before entering the building to protect you from rogue robots. Even though our curfew’s intact, our intel has instructed us to be aware of increased tension due to our recent robot protests. As you know, an employee of Robot International was attacked last Monday evening at ten p.m. after leaving the building. It could be a coincidence…but don’t be alarmed, your safety is our priority.

“Everything tonight was prepared by our special team of Model 500 robots, created by the chief scientist, Dr. Rod Tate of Robots International. His Genealogy Project paved the way for these human-like androids to perform even greater tasks than previous models. I will let Dr. Tate explain this project.”

Dat shifted his eyes toward the table in the middle of the room, where the young woman clapped vigorously.  She beamed as her father spoke in commanding tones.

“Many celebrities, scientists, and leaders have supported this project by donating their actual brains at death. Yes, offered up for RI to infuse them into these robots to preserve their legacy and talents. That makes these Model 500s able to take on their donor’s traits and idiosyncrasies. One even told me….”

The words faded from his brain as he watched the young woman whispering to her mother and laughing at the joke. Then she turned toward him and smiled brightly. His power supply jolted, and his circuitry went a little haywire. Dat found it hard to contain himself. His legs felt like mush, and he needed to sit down. But he kept himself upright alongside his other coworkers who seemed unmoved by anything going on around them. Their stiff postures and expressionless faces unnerved him.

Can’t they see what I see? She’s looking at me now.

Dr. Tate continued and gazed upon the group with pride.

“We have lined up each of these unique Model 500s to be inspected. You will see that they are the top of the line. More human than the Model 100 domestics and Model 300 technics with softer skin and emotional capabilities due to their sensitivity tracks. Each one is different and available for purchase. Their complete profiles and photos have been provided to you. Does anyone want to bid?”

Their gazes turned toward him and his cohorts. Horrified, Dat looked at their longing stares. His knees weakened as many pointed at him.

Can’t move. Why are they staring?

“Model 500s, please circle around the tables,” said the governor.

She gestured for the robots to move forward and pressed a button on her com watch.

Dat hesitated as the others marched past him.  But a twitch in his brain activated his sensors, and he quickly followed the group. His legs propelled him around the room, and he heard the crowd’s gasps and cries of surprise. His instincts told him to stop, make eye contact, and smile broadly. 

I’m not sure what’s going on, but now I can check out the girl.

A couple took his arm and asked him a question.

“Enough of this vegetarian stuff. Can you make Chateaubriand? It’s a favorite of mine. It says you speak French.  Can you speak a few words?” the man in a black tux and teal shirt asked.

He blurted out the words, trying to impress the couple.

“Bien sur, Monsieur.  J'adore cuisiner Chateaubriand.”

“Honey, that sounded good, but what did he say?” said the man.

“Babe, he said, ‘Of course, sir. I love cooking Chateaubriand.’ And he’s so adorable with his big brown eyes and politeness. And he has the sculpted hands of a chef,” said the woman, in a matching teal gown, her numerous rings sparkling as she held up her bid sign.

Dat was ushered around the room, stopped by interested parties, prompted by questions, touched mostly by females, and asked about his specifications (weight, height, age, and even IQ). The combination of strong chiseled features, olive skin, and curious eyes gave him an advantage. Soon he passed the young woman, Dr. Tate’s daughter. Their eyes locked, and voltage sparked through his circuits. She touched his arm.

“Hey, guy. What’s your name? You seem so real to me,” she said. Her jade eyes penetrated through him.

What do I say to her? Talk to her now.

“I’m…Dat.  Vous aimez les cupcakes au chocolat? Je peux les faire pour toi.”

Where did that come from? Am I French?

The young woman laughed.

“Mom…he knows French. Wants to make chocolate cupcakes for me. Let’s bring him home with us.”

His eyes sparkled, and he managed a smile as Dat gazed at the mother and daughter. He could barely hear the bid process in the background. But his precious moment was interrupted by a bid. His acute hearing perked up.

A spotlight appeared on Dat.

“$100,000 for the French-speaking chef, Dat,” said a man.

“Any other bids? Going once, twice…”

Dat turned to see who wanted him. He hoped the scientist would bid higher.

The young woman nudged her father.

Dat’s circuits became electrified. 

“Honey, I can’t bid on my creations,” whispered Dr. Tate.

Dat picked up his comment.

“$150,000 for the chef who makes chocolate cupcakes,” said an older man with thick black glasses, sitting at Dr. Tate’s table.

Everyone laughed.

“$300,000,” said the woman with the rings.

The room became silent.

“Anyone bid higher? Going once, going twice. Sold for $300,000. Largest bid yet. You can claim Dat at the end of the evening,” said the auctioneer.

He whirled around to see the couple in teal, their eyes glazing over at the sight of their new possession. His chest tightened, and his sensors lit up inside him. Immobilized, he stood in the middle of the large room, fear and anxiety overtaking his sensitivity trackers. Dat’s dream of being the Chef for the Grand Old Capitol Hotel was now gone. And the girl…never to see her again. She glanced at him with a slight smile on her face.

A crash alerted the guests, and Dat ran for cover.  A slight humming caught his attention, and he glanced out a side window to see what seemed like a series of metal birds whizzing by. He sensed danger, but no one else did, even the other Model 500s. The loud chatter and laughter of the guests muffled the incoming buzzing that intensified as they hit the large skylight in the middle of the room. 

Like a swarm of bees, tiny drones dropped from the chandeliers and began firing at the tables below. A lady sipping her champagne slumped in her chair upon being hit. Suddenly the laughter was now replaced by the continual buzzing and shooting. Another woman screamed as the patrons were being picked off one by one. Many ducked under the tables. Cries and shrieking echoed throughout the massive room. 

Lights clicked off. Shattered pieces of nanocrystal rained down from the ceiling as the demolished skylight opened up to reveal a metallic army with their silver armbands and gear as they touched down on the ground. Shots fired. Tables turned over. The dark army, shrouded in jet black, blended into the background, shooting at the terrified guests as they tried to flee. A stampede of people rushed to escape. 

“Activate the weapons. Secure the building. Move to kill,” the governor screamed.

From his place behind a column in the room, Dat’s x-ray vision focused on the mayhem surrounding him. Many of the police force fell like timber as the army’s shots picked them off one by one. Their blood splattered everywhere, and the stench of death and urine flowed through the once beautiful room with its stained carpets, broken chandeliers, and toppled tables of uneaten food. 

Dat dropped and crawled along the ground, sensing danger. Many of his coworkers rushed toward the exits. The couple who bought him had vanished. He heard moaning. He sensed a female presence. Dat searched for the young woman with the illuminating jade-green eyes and found her under the main table where he had been a few minutes earlier. She was crying softly, her small hand covered in blood, and there was a jagged cut on her forehead. He sprinted over to her in thirty seconds.

“Help me …please. I can’t find my parents,” she said.

The lens in Dat’s eyes zoomed onto the white cloth napkins from the table. His right brain signaled the word bandage, so he wrapped her hand and applied another to her forehead. Her frightened eyes looked to him for comfort.

“Got to go now. Help you get out of here,” he said.

Dat shielded her from the chaos around them, guiding her toward the exit. They tripped on a body of a woman in a white lace dress, now turning a dark shade of rose. He felt the young woman shake, and she moved in closer to his protective embrace. 

“Keep moving. We’re almost there…to safety,” Dat said.

His sensors activating as electricity surged inside him.   He rushed past, brushing the sleeve of another. Dat’s eyes widened as the figure now rammed into his shoulder.

Keep going…must save her. Move on.

It seemed like hours, but it was only minutes as they trudged along in the darkness, stepping over bodies, hearing the wounded’s moans, the roar of ambulances and their labored breathing. 

Dat ignored his new danger impulses. People bumped into them, pushing them forward. Someone stepped on the young woman’s heel, and she stumbled. He grabbed her free hand and guided her along as she limped toward the exit.  His laser eyes cut a path before them in the room’s darkness. Only a ray of light from the skylight illuminated a portion of the room. They pushed through the last of the crowds, the ones who made it from the horrors of the mechanical army.

He heard her sigh as they reached the doorway to the front lobby. The young woman spotted her mother, standing against the wall. 

“I thought I lost you. So sorry, Val…we got pushed out by the crowd. So glad you’re safe, but…” said her mother. They hugged, and tears flowed down their faces. Then her mother smiled at Dat.

“He helped me get out…saved me. Where’s Daddy?” cried the young woman.

Her mother slumped as she started to fall to the ground. Dat ran to help her up.

“He was shot multiple times and taken to the hospital. Think it was a drone. He could barely talk, but told me to stay here for you,” her mother said.

Val clung to her mother and Dat as her sobs grew louder.

The couple in teal, their clothes marked in blood spotted him and waved. They stumbled toward them, their faces drawn and bodies trembling.

“Dat…you’re okay. We’re the Landers…we purchased you and want to take you home with us. Let’s get out of here; we’ve barely escaped with our lives,” said the woman, running toward him.

“Happy to know you’re in one piece, buddy,” shouted the man in the tux.

Val and her mother turned toward the couple.

“Your…he saved my daughter’s life.” 

Dat looked at them sheepishly. His circuits burned, and his sensitivity trackers fired up, making him feel embarrassed.

“That’s our Dat. We certainly picked a good one. I’m Elise Landers, and this is my husband, Arnold. I’m sure we’ll be in touch when this is over. I’m so freaked out. What a nightmare this has been…it’s like a warzone here.  So much bloodshed and a ton of ambulances. It’s rumored to be caused by some robot terrorist group, heard from a governor’s source, right here on my com watch. They let all the big donors know.”

Bad robots? Not logical. Must be something else.

Val’s mother gave Elise a quizzical look. Then her com watch vibrated.

“Got to take this incoming message from the governor…my boss. Nice to meet you both. Rod is at the hospital…Val is fine.  About this latest attack--here is my strategy…” 

Val’s mom walked toward the entrance, showing her ID. Val lingered and gave him a quick squeeze.

Maybe, there was a chance I’d see her again or not. 

“Dat, we’ve been cleared, and it’s time to go before…” said Elise. They pulled him toward the entrance.

I’m theirs? Wait, I’m a chef. 

A swat team in battle gear rushed past them. Dat’s sensitive hearing picked up their conversation.

“We had this locked up tight. Must have been an inside job. Heads will roll if the governor finds out.”

Dat’s sensitivity trackers told him to act like his guardians, and he would get out of here alive. He needed to blend in and be human in order to survive.


About the author

Cynthia Kumanchik is a former public relations and marketing professional who now writes young adult and women’s novels. She is a member of the SCBWI and Pasadena Area Writers Society. Visit her at www.cynthiakumanchik.com or @Ckumanchik. view profile

Published on June 04, 2020

70000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Young Adult

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