by H-M Brown
NEW JERSEY, August 25, 2023 — If for one moment you told me, ‘There are farmlands in New Jersey', I for one would laugh my head off. New Jersey, farmlands, what do they grow? Mutant corn? That was the assignment bestowed upon me. See, there was this rumor that in the farmlands of Southern New Jersey, or South Jersey as the local called it, a new mode of transportation was invented. Yet, it was hard for me to believe that such a thing was made. What other mode of transportation could possibly be made in this era? My first thought when I watched science fiction programming on television, was teleportation. I dismissed it as such, a fiction. When I glazed through the notes of rumors and witness testimonials provided by my editor, I found what it said to be a joke. A giant robot? Please, people have seen such things in science fiction film and books. My first impression was that it was a waste of time, but did go to South Jersey to investigate anyway, to see what this robot story was all about.
Now for many of you who were asking ‘Farmlands in New Jersey?' I can assure you that this fact surprised me. When I traveled through New Jersey to get to Philadelphia from New York, nothing but tall steel buildings and factories surrounded me. The Newark-Jersey City area had grown in technology and that technological growth expanded across the Raritan Valley into Trenton, then south along the Delaware River ending in Camden. And yes, the Delaware River from Trenton to Philadelphia on both side of the river is one big chain of city that were once suburbs, now transformed into a metropolis. The train systems that ran from New Haven, Connecticut to Philadelphia now known today as the official Northeast Corridor, evolved into a never-ending tourist ride through a world of steel and glass one would find at an old World of Tomorrow Exhibition. The Meadowlands itself now seen as a giant sized Central Park from satellite photos, surrounded by a land of silver and lights. Only the Pinelands in the south and the Skylands on the edge of Appalachia in the northwest, remain as the last remnants of nature in the Garden State. As Ben Franklin once quoted ‘New Jersey is a barrel tapped at both ends.' That being the cities of New York and Philadelphia. These cities contributed to the population and urban influx in the state of New Jersey. Even the Jersey Shore had come to resemble Miami's shoreline of skyscrapers and highways alongside its untouched beaches. The technological region called Raritan Valley was home to more science scholars and MIT graduates than Silicon Valley today. For those who travel to Boston or to Washington will see nothing but one continuous city, surpassing that of the Greater Tokyo Area, which still is the largest single city and region in the world. The glitz and lights one would find in Tokyo, will find it here in this monstrous chain of cities. Now you understand my skeptic rhetoric when I say ‘New Jersey Farmlands'.
I drove down the New Jersey Turnpike and exited onto a County Highway, which is the equivalent of a State Highway, through the cities of Red Bank and Monmouth, following the route given in my notes. Thankfully, I know for a fact the Pinelands still do exist. So it came to no surprise when I crossed a bridge, leaving the techno city, that I found a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Pine Barrens'. I did not feel the same way about farmlands. Of course this road that I drove through was treacherous. Winding, two way, and small ditches that made it impossible for me to turn around when I started feeling the ridiculousness of this “news worthy” trip. The road forced me to keep going forward until I could find an intersection to turn around and go back.
In the end, I found an intersection, and as I prepared to turn around, I slammed the brakes. I was out of the forest and I was in shock. I stepped out of my car and the first sound I heard, was a cow mooing in the distance. There it was, out in the open, beyond the edge of the Pinelands, a farm. Cows were grazing, crops in bloom, though I did not know what crop it was, and horse stables. Yes, horse stables, where farmhands released them to ride freely around the open grass. I was in another world. Or, I may have traveled back in time. All that went away when a pick up truck stopped at the intersection and sounded the horn. It turned out I blocked the intersection. Suffering from culture shock, I approached the truck, and saw the license plate was from New Jersey. For a moment, I swore I was in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
I drove ahead on the same highway I was on. Taking my time, recovering from the shock, farm after farm, barn after barn, stable after stable. I looked back and could not see beyond the pines of what were once the technological cities of New Jersey. The residents do not seem surprised to see me. As it turned out they are not people who live in seclusion. It was I who lived in seclusion, exclusively living in the city and nowhere else.
The residents were living well with our times with the latest farm equipment to date. The town itself that I drove through was still colonial in nature. It was rich with history, but kept up with the progress of civilization as a whole. I asked the locals regarding the rumors of this giant robot. At first, they chuckled and snickered. I do not know if it was because I came from the city or I looked dumb to them. With that, I felt like the lead was a joke. Once they relaxed, they pointed me in the direction of a pair of brothers living in a place called Orwil Farms. They ridiculed them for pursuing what they called a flea circus. The farm was twenty miles southeast of the town and now I felt this was a wild goose chase. The townspeople said it was worth the trip and to go there. I did. What I did not realize was how out of the way this was. I am not even talking Boondocks here. This farm really was out of the way.
So I finally arrived at the entrance road leading into the Orwil Farms. It was a simple farm with a house at the end of the road. Tomatoes grew on one side and a vast empty land of nothing on the other side, and ahead of me, a very big barn with unusually large doors. When I came to a stop, there were two men exiting their house. I stepped out of my car and we introduced ourselves. The Orwil Brothers, George the oldest and Thomas the youngest, inherited the family farm after their parents passed away. I shared with them the information I had regarding the rumor of a giant robot. At first, they seemed hesitant and debated with each other for a while. I approached the barn door and had to lift my head so far back just to see that door in its entirety. My guess was that the door stood thirty feet high. Is the giant robot that big? What type of robot was it, if that was what it was?
The Orwil Brothers finished their deliberations and invited me to stay for their test run. They felt confident that it was time to share the world what they had built. The brothers led me inside the barn, where they worked on their invention. When the lights turned on, all I saw were blueprints, books, and notes. What a sham this was. No giant robot, just paper. They told me that their invention, called the Golem, was in an airfield five miles from their home. But before they showed me what it was, they allowed me to look over their research. Much to my surprise, I did not find one book on robots itself. There were computers, but mostly, there were medical books. The human anatomy, a model of the skeleton hanging off the pole they named Larry, and sports books depicting human movement from gymnastics to track and field. My first impression was that they made a human machine. A bionic human? A cyborg being? Have I stumbled onto the Frankenstein equivalent of the Wright Brothers? Or was the information a red herring and they were in fact making medical history?
I listened to their explanation of how the human body functions, how muscle memory worked, the strength of the skeletal system, and the flexibility of the human physiology. All sounded interesting but I was really more interested in the robot itself. They assured me it will all make sense when we get to the airfield, but first they had a series of tapes they recorded of each test they ran. First and foremost, I should let you all know that they were using old DVDs to record their tests. Very low tech and seemingly out of place in this age and era, but there it was, an old DVD player showing the giant robot. According to the tape, they started three years ago. I could not make out what they were doing, being that it was an old recording deice they used. From what I could make out of the footage was that the robot was nothing but a pair of legs with lower extremities. There was no chest or head at that time. The Orwil Brothers got it to take one-step, but it fell apart like a house of cards. The second DVD was from the following year. It had a chest and I could not tell who or what was in the chest. It made a horrific rumbling sound, like a truck stalling in a garage. Suddenly a plume of smoke covered the entire barn and the sound of fire extinguishers was all that was left of the video. In the final video, the robot was more complete. It looked like a human skinned alive. Upon a closer inspection, I grabbed one of the medical books and realized that the brothers modeled the giant robot after the human flesh and bone. The wires looked like muscle and tendons. The knee and elbow joints were perfect. The chest and rib cages was accurate. When the footages showed the arms moved, the wires flexed like a bodybuilder. It was remarkable. Unfortunately, the robot stalled and did not take a step. I want to see the robot more than ever.
The brother gathered all their research materials and tapes into a box. Together we rode in their pick up truck to the airfield. As we drove along the road, I learned that their family had been in America since the Industrial Revolution. They were working class citizens, with each generation of male and female serving every war America fought in to this date. There was not one technology an Orwil had not had their hands on, when first built in America's history. That became a fact when we arrived at the Pinelands Airfield, with flag blowing in the wind. The brothers took me the office first and introduced me to Alexander Cochrane, owner of the airfield. Photos taped to a wall dated as far back as 1915. The people in the photos were actually members of the Orwil family. Rows of war photos of their family in service uniforms included their eldest brother, John, currently serving the Front Line in Southeast Asia. There was also a picture of Great Great Grandpa William Orwil shaking hands with Thomas Edison himself beside the light bulb. Their Aunt Cathy, driving one of the first Model T's off the assembly line. A picture of Cousin Jeremiah ready to fly one of the first airplanes manufactured. This family experienced it all throughout American history. Strange as it was, I had to ask if they had a cave painting of one of their caveman ancestors at the first creation of fire.
I came to understand, that this family were witnesses of technological evolution. The experiences of these firsts, were a timeless memory and stories passed from generation to generation. For the Orwil Brothers themselves, they told me they would rather be the inventors this time instead of witnesses, hence the giant robot. I entered into the main hanger where there were old airplanes. Fighter planes from World War II, single engine airplanes, and dual propeller airplanes. Ancient compared to today's sonic engines used by planes today that go travel up to mach seven speeds. At the far end of the hangar, there was a large tarp covered statue. The brother prepared to bring it outside for a test run. As they opened the bay doors, I ran outside with Orwil brother's own camera and I started recording. George used their pick up truck to move the flatbed cart the Golem stood on. Thomas removed the tarp and what a statue it was. It had metal covering like a human skin over the mechanical flesh of the body. It had a head with face and yellow eyes. It was like soldier standing proud of what it was on top of the flatbed cart. It was very tall. George said it was twenty-five feet in height.
As I continued recording, I had a remarkable flash of insight. I remembered watching a documentary of the history of the airplane. From the angle I stood at, it felt like I was at Kitty Hawk as the Wright Brothers started their plane, preparing for flight. Only now, the Golem replaced the Glider in this newly recorded footage. The brother unhinged the truck that was towing the giant robot and I stood ready to watch it move, but it did not. I saw Thomas run back inside the hangar as George did a final check up of their masterpiece. I was waiting for quite some time as the elder Orwil finished his checklist. The younger Orwil arrived with a long ladder. I was definitely confused as I handed the camera over to Alexander. Once they perched the ladder on the body of the Golem, I asked George when the robot will move. Without answering, I heard a swishing sound. I stepped back and saw the chest of the robot opened wide like a cabinet. Sliding out of the cavity was a shell. It was completely black so I could not see inside. When it finished stretching out into the open, what appeared a top hatch or canopy, slid open like fighter plane and exposed a seat. Thomas shifted the ladder to lean onto the shell and climbed up. He sat inside and placed a helmet over his head. He waved for me to climb up and George held onto the ladder as I made my way to the top.
Inside was the most remarkable thing I had seen. An onboard computer with the latest operating system installed. There were four different sticks, two to control the arms and hands, designed with a twelve-axis control to allow the rotational movement of the shoulders, arms and wrists, and two to control the directions of the legs. Under his feet were two large accelerator pedals to the legs and feet. They would rotate like a bicycle, simulating the motion of the human legs. It looked more like an exercise bike, than an automobile's accelerator and brake pedals. Thomas was ready to take off and I climbed down. There I watched the canopy close up and the entire cockpit slid back inside the chest. Seeing that it was a completed machine, I asked George if they tested it before my arrival. The answer was no.
Once started, the rumbling sound of a truck was the noise the Golem made. Its yellow eyes lit up like a traffic light. The cart underneath the feet shock as if an earthquake had occurred. The wheel shook so hard, I feared it might break apart and send the machine crashing to the ground. Thomas sure took his time to move. It appeared that another setback would occur. Then it happened. The right leg lifted up and moved forward onto the ground below. There was slight vibration under our feet, but the robot did not collapse as I had seen in their video recordings. The left leg then set itself onto the ground and the Golem was off the flatbed cart. Like a bay taking its first steps, the root struggled a bit, or maybe, it was Thomas who struggled. It was hard to tell. Given the fact that what I first thought to be a typical robot that would walk on its own, or through a remote control, was in fact an actual vehicle in the form of a mechanical human. It really was a new form of transportation. Well, not as it seemed as each step the Golem took was clunky and slow. Soon I realized it would walk no faster than us humans. It was not a very convincing mode of transportation as I noted to George. He said this was not for transportation but for agricultural, construction, and shipping industries. In fact, I can see it for emergency use, firefighting, and rescue efforts as well. This piloted robot can contribute greatly to society as a whole.
I stood with a smile unlike any other as I realized that for the first time since the Wright Brother's flew their plane into the sky, I was watching a robot man take its first baby steps in a changing world. With its first step, the machine stopped and stood upright in place. It was a success as Thomas emerged from the cockpit and George planted the ladder so that they could celebrate. So many questions to ask, I did not know where to begin. I did not know how I could be able to explain in this article without sounding like a science fiction writer. For this one moment, this very spot, I imagined coming back here with my children and read to the plaque that marked the ‘first steps' of a new era in technology.
The Orwil Brothers were not done. Now that they got it to walk, George wanted to attempt the run. It was something they worked overnight for. To make sure every joint and mechanical muscle will operate as described in the medical books. I chuckled at the thought of the Golem pulling a cybernetic muscle or spraining its mechanical ankle, or dislocating its shoulder but I understood. See with a twenty-five foot tall machine such as this, the Orwil Brothers thought about balance. When we walk we sway our arms. That, they said, should be the key in theory to make their invention run like jogger or sprint like a track runner. That was what they felt will make or break this invention.
We all spent the night at the hangar as the dealt with the final diagnostics. I watched the two take out part of the outer skin exposing the wired muscles and metallic bone. As it turned out, they had been taking parts from an old junkyard and had them recycled in a steel mill in Pennsylvania. All forged into the skeletal system and skin of the Golem. The cockpit did indeed come from an old F-16 fighter plane, gutted renovated, and replaced with today's technology. The wired form of the muscle came from an old telecom station that had fiber optic cables. The legs used hydraulics from old trucks to handle the shock of each step. The operating system was the brain, but according to George, the heart of the machine was where I soon learned was what will change the world.
The engine. It was a twelve-stroke battery/engine hybrid, the first of it kind, designed to allow the machine to run like a track sprinter. More than that, it was electrical, a still unpopular and unaccepted source of energy for vehicles today. The battery was a lithium ion, the kind we have in our cell phones. Thomas carried a big block of salt they ordered from a salt mine in Utah. Climbing up the ladder, Thomas opened the back hatch and revealed a tank that had left over salt. He placed half of the chunk into the tank and filled it with water. He chopped it down and it dissolved in into salt water. Thomas gave me a small cup and just the scent alone was strong. One lick left my taste buds seeking both water to hydrate and sweets to kill the aftertaste. According to George, the tank heated up from the battery itself and two things happen. One, the lithium extracted from the salt water gave the battery its charge; second, the steam from boiled water fed into the engine. Once the water completely evaporated, salt was that was left. More salt and water was all that the battery/engine needed. Most importantly was that saltwater, was the only fuel it needed. Nothing else. Just going to the ocean alone could help replenish fuel.
As dawn approached, George was ready to make it run. Thomas, Alexander, and I got in the pickup truck after George started up the Golem. He took his first five steps and got it under control. The Golem picked up speed, its arms swaying back and forth with each stride like a jogger. Thomas recorded with the camera as Alexander drove and I watched the speedometer. The needle pointed at twenty-six. That was one over the average speed limit in the city. We ran the length of the landing strip, and at the end, we came to a stop. We turned around and ran back to the airfield. The Golem ran faster. The speed was at thirty-two. Looking up at it, the machine looked like an actual track runner, racing for the gold. The Orwil Brothers succeeded where many robotics experts have dreamed of doing. They made a humanoid machine walk and run naturally human. We arrived at the hangar. Steam poured out of the Golem, George emerged from the cockpit saying it ran out of fuel. He climbed down to the embrace of younger brother and they jumped for joy. I looked out at the field and stared at the footprints on the runway this machine made. A trail of the first run. Tracks, left behind like the first moon landing, but here on our earth. With one sprint, history has a new chapter to write. One where the world changed once again.
All rights reserved.
Status: Unpublished Work, ©2009 Henry-Michael Brown
A little sci-fi tale for everyone to enjoy.
I gave another rewrite to the short. Alot of grammatical errors and unnecessary sentences have been removed, but overall I think this is an improvement.
NOTE: I highly recommend reading The First Run in PDF Format as offered by Fictionaut. Or you can click on Font Size Change Button next to the PDF Option to enhance your reading experience. Both options are above the title of the story.
I encourage you all to take your time reading The First Run. There is no need to rush or feel you have to read it in one sitting.
Enjoy the story.