Andrew gazed at the calculations on the screen for the umpteenth time. Yes, he was so close! He could feel the anticipation in the air around him. All his colleagues had retired for the night and he inwardly performed a celebratory jig. How fitting, that it would be him, who would lead humanity into a new era. It was, after all, his idea. Time travel. He scoffed at the nonchalance and derision of the investors who had turned him away. He had begged them to let him run his experiments; begged them again and again to give him money to scale up his prototype. I will show them all, Andrew thought; the taste of victory already sharp in his being. He checked and double-checked all the controls; until at last, satisfied, he dropped into his chair by the only window in his laboratory. The inky blue night sky glimmered with the twinkling of a billion stars. In just a few minutes, he would be the first man to behold the sky from a different time. Three hundred years; it seemed about a significant interval at which to explore the universe. Much would have changed in three hundred years. How would the sky look? What advances would humanity have made? Andrew was a hard-core optimist. Despite the dire situation the world was in right now, with the pandemic, the riots, the unrest and awakening of people to social issues; despite the otherwise tragic and horrifying assumptions of the masses for a destroyed and unlivable future, Andrew believed with all his heart that the future of mankind was bright. It had to be! Contrary to popular belief, Andrew knew that humans were the most resilient of all of life’s forces; that life itself was indomitable; and nothing or no one could shake his belief for a better tomorrow.
Andrew sipped the water in his glass. His last drink of the year 2020; in a few minutes, he would be having a drink in 2320! Would water still be water then? Humming to himself, Andrew tidied his workplace and recorded his last message. Hello people of earth! My fellow humans! If you are watching this, and I am nowhere to be found; then I would have successfully travelled in time to the year 2320! We have been working non-stop for the past decade to achieve what we have achieved… what I have achieved today. Andrew smiled into the camera. The Time Machine is ready for its maiden voyage! To quote another great man, “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” This is Andrew Stevens, signing off. Andrew switched the camera off, took a last, long look at the year 2020, outside his window; and proceeded to begin preparations for The Jump.
David looked around the cavernous work floor of his now empty office building. The place felt strange without the usual hum of people and monitors. He had received the notice to shut down business six days ago. He had been expecting it. Technological advancement had reached its zenith, and the nation had witnessed path breaking development in the field of science, medicine and space exploration. The last three centuries were immortalized at the diamond age for humankind. At last, the time had come to reap the fruits of centuries of labour. Capitalist ventures were being shut down left, right and centre; assets dissolved and distributed amongst its workforce. Corporations were struck down, the working class was dismantled and property was awarded to one and all; so that the people of the country could finally take a break, relax and live happily for the rest of their lives on this comfortable plateau of the bell curve. Three generations of Hemsworth men and women had built this industry from scratch, with extreme devotion and hard work; and now it was closing. The working class had thrown a huge party in the premises, celebrating the beginning of what they called ‘permanent retirement.’ David had been there, congratulating, smiling, shaking hands; all the while thinking of the plans and strategies he had chalked out for future progress and improvement, which now lay abandoned in the upstairs attic of his apartment.
His deputy, Nathan Mendoza, had approached him and instead of shaking his hands, had pulled him into a hug. Nathan had been with the Hemsworth family for decades; he was almost like family himself. Nathan had received a large share of the company assets, but he did not approve of the shutdown. Bad move by the government, Nathan had murmured. If you ask me, this ‘neo-Marxist ideology of taking from the rich and giving to the poor’ doesn’t work, and definitely doesn’t work for long. Someday soon, our resources will dwindle and then, we will wonder if shutting down offices was a wise decision. Same goes for that bill that delayed the plans for The Wall. You mark my words. David recalled the increasing number of protests he had witnessed in the past few months, decrying the government for delaying the erection of the wall around the borders. All the countries were self-sufficient now and international trade had been abolished. Nations around the globe had sealed themselves off and the new Socialist Regime was acting swiftly, to catch up to the status quo of the world outside. In their own country, refugees and immigrants from underdeveloped nations were thronging the country and the regime was still debating whether to build the wall or not. People were feeling restless, unsafe. Now, David stood in the empty office building, and heard the distant march of yet another protest, and he wondered what the future would bring.
Nathan sighed and lay back into the pillows on his hospital bed. The argument with his daughter had drained him of strength even faster than he had anticipated. Carrie had stormed out in a fit of rage when Nathan had told her he didn’t want to be saved into the ether. The company where he had worked for his entire life had been closed six days ago, and Nathan had been hospitalised soon after. Nathan was nearing his 130th birthday, and according to his doctors, imminent death due to degenerative organ failure. Nathan looked to the deepening red sky outside his window and whispered, “Not long my love, not long now.” His wife had passed away about five years ago. They had met when they had been teenagers; fallen in love and had tied the knot after living together for forty years and becoming proud parents of their angel Carrie. Having spent a lifetime together, the years without her, had weakened Nathan in body and in soul. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease of the pancreas about a year ago, and now, after more treatments and blood transfusions than he could imagine, he was finally ready to meet her. Nathan never spoke about this to anybody other than his daughter. Of course, the concept of heaven and hell, or even of souls, was frowned upon. The new age term was “consciousness”; and the new age solution to death was “saving” your consciousness in a microchip that could be inserted into any monitor by your guardian. The device and technology enabled the guardian to have a conversation with the digital personality of a being who had passed away. It wasn’t you necessarily, it was almost you, an expansive collection of a person’s online personality. They said it was the next best thing to the concept of afterlife, if there was such a thing. Well Nathan didn’t want any part of it. The technology had come to the commercial market in the last three years, which meant Cathy hadn’t had the opportunity to be saved; and Nathan didn’t want to be where Cathy wasn’t. He had lived long enough, five years more than he had ever wanted to. Sometimes, he wondered at the futility of an extended life with no meaning. Why would anyone want to live on for so long? Perhaps immortality had been a dream long ago, and it was almost a reality of the present day; but what was the point of just existing interminably with no purpose? Wouldn’t you rather live exuberantly for a few short years than have a dull, uneventful, exceedingly mediocre life? He had decided to take his chances with heaven. As for Carrie, well she will come around, Nathan sighed. Not long my love, he whispered.
Carrie slammed her car door shut and pummelled the steering wheel with her fists. She felt like screaming. Why wouldn’t he listen to me! It wasn’t as if they didn’t have money. They could afford it! Why didn’t he understand that she didn’t want to lose him!. Sure, she missed mom, but they couldn’t save her! And now she couldn’t save dad! Carrie screamed internally at the naïveté of her father. Does he really believe that he will be able to find mom in heaven? Such a nonsensical concept!, Carrie snorted. This is what happens when you close your eyes to the hard evidence of science and immerse yourself into the delusion of spirituality. Well, Carrie didn’t believe in such riff-raff; she was a woman of science. She revved up her engine and the car started smoothly, lifting Carrie off the rooftop parking space, into the designated entry for the air travel traffic. To Carrie’s delight, she found the air strip completely devoid of vehicles, except for a few trucks on official duty. She sailed into the auto-drive and allowed her thoughts to wander. Would she want herself to be saved? An image of her posh new bungalow in the sky flashed in her head. The one she had bought by using the money they had received from the government, when the corporation where dad worked was closed down. The house had a breath-taking view of the clouds on the far side where AT&C had not yet managed to get a permit for an air strip. Clean red skies, and slate grey fluffy clouds for as far as the eye could see. It was the house of her dreams; it was also completely empty. Carrie had registered onto the government approved database for searching partners, but two years down the line, and she still hadn’t found someone she wanted to live with. Sometimes she wondered why the government even bothered with matchmaking at all; was it really necessary to make it mandatory for people to find life partners on their website? But then she realised how the advent of hi-tech virtual reality and AI had limited the amount of time people spent outside in actual physical contact with other people; she understood that meeting people like their ancestors, in bars or at coffee shops, was laughably incorrigible. She pushed that thought away. Carrie wasn’t worried though. She was 59, there was still plenty of time to find someone approved by the government, fall in love and make a home together, like her mom and dad; perhaps have a baby. The field of medical science had seen some spectacular inventions in the last three centuries. The institution of marriage and ‘biological clock for women’ were archaic terms fading into non-existence. Women could be with whomever they wanted and could have their allotted quota of one baby, whenever they wanted. And with the improvement of average life expectancy to about 150 years, everyone had plenty of time. So much time, she thought to herself, and so little to do.
If she did end up saving herself, she thought, who would talk to her? She didn’t have anybody. Maybe it was better to… go on… as her father said. When she thought about it this way, her father’s reasons made some sense to her. He wanted to be with mom, and if unsaving was what brought him that hope, was it really so bad? Wouldn’t she want to go on herself, in the hope that she could find them together… somewhere? An automaton of the SNL corporation sixth gen, stood in a porta booth at the centre of the various intersections and lazily directed the air-borne vehicles. She could dimly make out the blaring of some kind of siren in the distance. Shaking herself, Carrie cleared her head and realized that it was way too early to be thinking of saving anyway. She had more money than ever in her lifetime and it was time to sit back and enjoy doing nothing. The future would bring whatever the future would bring. That was when the flying object hit her car and it exploded.
The wreckage fell out of the air strip, hundreds of miles below, on terra firma. Carrie was nowhere to be seen. Andrew, the person behind the wheel of the flying object, lay dazed in the middle of the road. As his eyes cleared he saw high up above him, a blanket of deep red. Red? He wondered what he was looking at when he saw birds zooming up ahead with unnatural speed. He blinked several times and stared dumbstruck as he realized that the sky was RED and the birds were CARS! Cars in the sky! Jettisoning across the air, this way and that. He had done it! He had come to the future! His experiment had worked! Happiness bubbled within the pit of his stomach; he couldn’t wait to go around and explore this world! Andrew had just made history! He was the first person in forever to have succeeded at time travel! He tried to lift his head up and felt a sharp pain in his neck and left leg; he must have fallen hard and broken some bones, he thought. As the cobwebs of darkness melted from the corners of his eyes, Andrew saw in the distance, a flicker of something dark and vibrant orange. Fire? His ears popped and he thought he heard screaming and the thunder of hundreds of feet, stampeding down the road in his direction. The mob was upon him in less than a minute. Andrew barely had time to register the words scrawled onto the placards; DOWN WITH COMMUNISM! …. JOBS BACK… LIFE… WHERE IS OUR WALL!…; there was a sudden sound of rushing wind as Andrew felt something hit him in the chest with the force of a sledgehammer. He rubbed at the spot with his hand and saw red on his fingers. Andrew stared up at the man who stood in front of him, looking at the rifle in his own hands; his face registering as much emotion as a blank canvas. The man moved on. Andrew fell back into a pool of his own blood, gurgling pitifully at the irony of it all. He couldn’t believe he had come so far, only to be struck down! Anger and disappointment rose within him. This couldn’t be it! This couldn’t be the future he and his countrymen had dreamed of! It couldn’t be! The world went about him; a world that was far more technologically superior than his own, and yet, still the same. So very much like the world of 300 years ago, where humanity stood on the precipice of what, to David’s, Nathan’s and Carrie’s forefathers, had seemed like the beginning of a revolution.
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