Value your Present

A perfect stranger, anchored in his chair by the enormous glass window overlooking the lush green pastures, was moving his fingers using predefined air gestures. It seemed as if he was tapping and scrolling some screen. Maria gazed in awe.

“Am I in a dream? Is it the effect of watching sci-fi movies frequently? Did they mix something in my drink at the house party yesterday or am I in some amusement park?” She was perplexed. Restlessness set in.  “What in the world is happening?” She wondered in disgust.

The people around were expressionless strangers. “Ah!” She remembered. “This has got to do something with the strange bearded, taxi driver in orbed glasses. But then, why would he drive me in here?” Maria choked. Her throat was dry. She stretched her neck to look for a water dispenser. Alas! There was none. There wasn’t any table, no paintings on the wall, no magazine holder, inside, what seemed to be an office structured rightly; maybe not so precisely.  

She guessed, “Maybe these guys moved in recently and are yet to furnish the space.” As she opened her mouth to speak, a gorgeous young lady, with blonde hair stepped in and handed her 2 spherical dots that looked slimy and opaque. Startled, Maria looked up. Though she was formally dressed with her hair neatly tied, she seemed odd. The lady stood firm and erect as if she was in some trance. 

Befuddled, Maria took the opaque dots. She fumbled through her overcoat pocket. Her cell phone was missing, and the handbag wasn’t there either. Maria thought she must have lost her mind. The black-suited guy, who has been standing quietly in one corner, budged for the first time. He walked up to Maria and, pointing at her palm, advised her to consume them. She felt frantic and decided to take control.

“Are you telling me to eat these?” She questioned. 

“You seem thirsty. These molecule dots will quench your thirst.” The assistant replied. 

“No, they can’t. I need water. Can I get some water please?” Maria was on the verge of losing her temper.

Mr. Sullivan seemed to have overheard the conversation. He moved in, in a seated position, looked straight into Maria’s eyes, and started to explain. He told her about the edible water balls, the Ooho, and directed her to peel the skin before consuming. After much hesitation, she popped them in. Somehow, the 2 little balls did their magic. Impatient as she was, Maria decided to speak. 

“Holy God! Have I gone insane, or is this real?” Maria thought to herself. “Where am I and which place is this exactly?” Why am I here, and who are you guys exactly?” She needed to know the truth. She thought of her mom. “What time is it now, and where is my cell phone and handbag? What have you done to my belongings? Am I kidnapped? But for what?” Questions gushed out of her mouth. “Enough! I need to go home now. Everyone must be dead worried. Darn! It seems to be midday. I missed work.” She could not stop herself from vocalizing her thoughts.

Maria sneaked a glance at Mr. Sullivan. Though deadpan, he was spiffy and wore a sober personality. His face was smooth, and without a single sign of ageing. She wondered about his age. He seemed sporty. Maria guessed that he was one of those diet-conscious, gym hoppers who love to abide by the book. For Mr Sullivan, it was his first encounter with a creature like Maria. Yet, his attitude showed no sign of aggravation. He knew all about her. She wasn’t a stranger to him. Not anymore.

A lady in her mid-twenties, and an editor by profession, Maria belonged to a humble family of four, with her mom, dad and a younger brother, who studied at the nearby university. Though her office was a few blocks away, her late-ins were a regular. Most days she missed the carpool. Once she narrowly escaped from getting hit by a speeding car when she rushed to halt a taxi. She felt haggard and failed to drag herself out of bed each morning. Yet, she couldn’t help but stay awake till late hours to manage her workload. Maria wished for a different life, a Robot as her assistant and silky days for her comfort.

That morning, as Maria hurried to hail a taxi, she stepped on something solid and bent to check. It was a broken antique watch. With no one in sight, she picked it up, reasoning that someone must have dropped it by mistake. She kept it inside her purse and decided to deposit it at the police station, on her way back, in the evening.

Luckily then, Maria noticed a taxi stationed at the corner of the street. She thought it was her lucky day as she will reach the office on time. Her boss would definitely notice. She felt relieved. Getting a taxi at wee hours has been a Herculean task. “It’ll be a pleasant surprise for all to see me step in on time. I’ll mark it as a new beginning.” Maria’s thought bubbles bubbled in glee.

She knocked on the car window to wake the driver, who seemed to have dozed off. The white-bearded man, in his fifties, with a Ben Hogan flat cap, woke up with a jerk. Wearing a smile, he rolled the glass down and greeted Maria. She hopped onto the backseat and hailed the driver to step on the gas pedal. She told him to head towards Hoxton street, and greeted him back. The driver peeked through the rearview mirror and replied, “Yes, ma’am.”

The car stopped at a signal. Maria was busy on her phone when the driver initiated a conversation, “You seem to have a busy morning.” Maria nodded her head in affirmation. He continued. “I must say, work keeps humans pretty busy.” 

With her eyes glued on her cell phone, Maria replied, “Well, we are quite busy in there, you know. I’m an editor at Writogram, a team that runs an online interactive platform to encourage and support authors from every walk of life. We need to be on our mark, constantly.”

“I can well understand that, ma’am. Yet, you seem to be a bit at ease this morning.” The cabbie stated.

“Ah, I must say, you have a keen eye to notice that.” Maria appreciated it. “Well, I must thank you for that. If not for you, this would have been another hectic morning for me. You deserve a pat.” Maria looked up smiling. The twinkly-eyed old man turned, grinned like a Cheshire cat, and replied, “It is your day, ma’am. I had to be here.”

That’s all Maria could remember from the morning’s occurrence. She tried to recollect but in vain. It seemed as if every event beyond that moment was deleted from her memory. She felt nervous sitting in that vacant space with invisible electronic systems, automated seats, and among weird strangers, who gave her dots for water. Maria was puzzled.

There were acres of lush green fields, as far as her vision could reach, but she failed to trace any sign of habitation. In fact, there were no buildings, visible lanes and canals, cross-roads,  flyovers, Ferris wheel, amusement park. Nothing. All she saw were brilliantly designed flying cars, plying passengers, and several other spherical, cylindrical, cubical structures which were stationed between measured distances. She felt bizarre. The stress brought her down. She was human, after all.

Maria jolted, petrified. The faces of her dear ones flashed randomly. She broke into tears as it was too much for her to bear. She pinched herself to reassure that it wasn’t a dream. As she moved to walk out of that outlandish place, she noticed that the room had no visible exit point. She searched every nook and cranny but failed to find even an electronic control system. Helpless, she returned to the ‘visible’ seat like a docile child. Her stomach rumbled. She guessed it was hunger.  With the urge to speak, she looked up at a snail’s pace and broke into a hysterical fit of laughter. The taxi driver was there, standing right beside Mr Sullivan.

She smirked. “Ah-ha! There you are. I had a hunch, that you are one from the team. So, it was all planned. Where’s the rest of the crew hiding? C’mon, let’s call this off. I had enough. I give up. Make it quick. Please return my belongings. I need to call mom and notify my office too. Hope I don’t get fired because of your prank. I just…”

A pregnant silence crept in as Mr Sullivan interrupted, to inform that she is completely off the beam. He meant it. 

“Maria, this is 3050. You are in the year 3050, and you are here because you wished for this, cailín. You will be the single anthro who has  been brought into our world.” Having said that, Mr Sullivan motioned his fingers in the air. A huge screen flashed in front of Maria. Startled, her pupils enlarged as she saw herself with every listed detail.

“Sorry, I couldn’t comprehend that. Can you be more specific as to where I am and what this fiasco is all about? It’s not funny anymore.” Maria felt a twitch. “Are you guys from the secret service? Like, the CIA, RAW or the FBI? Is it something to do with my company, an employee, some inside information you need, some data, a chip, or… what, to be exact? Tell me.” Maria was anxious to know so that she could sort and leave.

“You have been transported in because you wanted to experience the advanced world. You’ve been complaining about the daily turmoil. Here, you will not need to rush to get a taxi, neither will you need to work till late hours. Our embedded system will do it all. You can work with the data team and manage the records of the newly compiled Bots. You will report to no one. We can access all through our distinctly designed integral system.”

Maria’s head started to spin. She felt as if she’ll faint again. Regaining her senses, she rubbed her eyes, paced around the room, stared outside, and looked back at the strange guy who jabbered words that made no sense. She took a deep breath. 

“How can I be in some year that is yet and far to come? How in the world is this possible? What crap are you saying? 

“And…Bots? What Bots?” Maria inquisitively enquired.  She couldn’t add up. “Please stop confusing me. I can’t take this anymore.”  It was implausible. The reality seemed to be a movie plot. 

Mr. Sullivan went on explaining, while Maria stared at him in awe. The specifics, the elucidations, were beyond her grasp. “I meant Robots. Our world has no humans. Except you. Till your presence gets terminated.” Mr. Sullivan replied.

“A world without human presence? This can’t be for real. Or, is it true? The invention to exhibit creativity, and take engineering to a different level, result in this? It was to ease life and not to get erased. No way.” Maria felt bothered. At last, all added up and made sense as to why these walking caricatures seemed odd. Yet, very astonishing it is that they looked no different than a real human, that their gestures were not timed. Their reactions complemented Maria’s actions, and choice of words was accurate. Except, for their skin texture, and skeleton symmetry, that seemed more than perfect. It was scary, though.

She so wished this was all a dream, for, she could not imagine her life without family and friends. She suddenly missed her old life. She missed those hasty mornings, the laughter and the reprimand, fights with her brother, that last house party, the music, and all the noise suddenly felt like a sweet symphony. The memories from the past made her crave to go back. She wanted to be alive, for, here, the silence was tormenting. The missing warmth made her shiver. 

Strange we humans are. We keep yearning for the indefinite. At first, we seek for the unknown. And then, long for the known, when we fail to embrace the freshly laid challenges. At times, we create situations, and at times, situations create us. We dream of touching the pinnacle and complain about getting pricked. We desire to live within the sphere, yet get desperate to sneak out, once suffocated. We assume much, analyze less. We eye for the glittery perk, yet fall flat, under its load. We tread on, tirelessly. 

Maria had her answers. She knew she couldn’t survive even for a day in that ‘World of the Future.’ She stood up and took a step towards Mr. Sullivan. She looked straight into his eyes; into his ocean blue pupils and stared for a while. There was no flicker.

“I am glad to be the chosen one to enter your world. A world some humans like me wish for. I do understand that my presence here is the outcome of my desire to experience smooth days. Yet, I would love to go back to the world I belong to. The world I’ve seen since birth and be with my loved ones, whose care keeps me alive. I  request you to transport me back to the time I belong. I would rather wish the world to be as it is in 2020, and wouldn’t prefer to see this year. I prefer my present world, with its humans and humdrum. I am clear on my desires now. I chose to return.” Maria felt relieved.

Mr. Sullivan looked relaxed. It seemed as if he had a hunch of the outcome. Maria wondered of her silliness and feared the world she was in. “Will the future be as she experienced? Wouldn’t there be humans then?” The thoughts scared her. Yet, she believed that this was just a dream, mere confusion, some super digitized sci-fi prank setup. As she stood staring at the unbelievable reality beyond those glass windows, the taxi driver followed in. Maria looked at him; both smiled as their eyes met, for they knew about the forthcoming moments. She hugged him, for, she was human after all.  

“Maria…Maria…Maria…wake up. Open your eyes. The doctor is here. Maria…Maria…what’s happening to you baby? Please talk to mama. Look, dad and John are here. Sweetheart, say something. How did this happen? Where have you been for the whole day? How did you sleep off in the park? Why didn’t you go to work? Did someone trouble you? Were you drugged? Open your eyes. See mama’s here.” Maria’s parents looked frantic.

She heard the faint voices, but her eyes felt heavy. All looked blurry. Her mom kept worrying about her state. The light of the torch pierced through her pupils. Maria felt as if she was drugged. Her head felt heavy. She tried to speak, but all that came out was, “Water, water.” She wanted to laugh out loud, but the drowsy state allowed only a smile. She sensed the relief around her.

Maria knew for sure that no one would believe her story if she ever spoke the truth. They will laugh and mock. She couldn’t possibly tell anyone that she was taken to the future where robots ruled the world and then was returned safely. Maybe her friends will think she went on drugs. No way could she share the miraculous yet implausible story with anyone, except for her best mate – her diary. It would be a secret she will need to keep safe forever. 

In all the hustle, Maria wished she could talk to one person, about what the future will look like. Maybe, they will stop modifying the robots if they hear, and believe in her story. For, Maria guessed that no human in their sane mind can ever imagine a world run by bots. Neither can they accept the truth about the non-existence of human beings. Irrespective of how easy that life seemed, it will not have the warmth of love, and empathy of the humans in flesh and blood. Every time the events flashed in her mind, her knees shook in fear. Strangely, she felt a connection with the taxi driver and Mr. Sullivan. Strange, yet she missed them. 

“What a mind-boggling, adventurous trip I had to the time, that is waiting for its time.” Maria smiled all by herself.

She smirked. “Ah-ha! There you are. I had a hunch, that you are one from the team. So, it was all planned. Where’s the rest of the crew hiding? C’mon, let’s call this off. I had enough. I give up. Make it quick. Please return my belongings. I need to call mom and notify my office too. Hope I don’t get fired because of your prank. I just…”

A pregnant silence crept in as Mr. Sullivan interrupted, to inform that she was completely off the beam. He meant it.  “Maria, this is 3050. You are in the year 3050, and, you’re here, coz you wanted to be here, cailín. You are the single anthro to be ever brought in to our world.” Once again, Mr. Sullivan motioned his fingers in the air. A huge screen flashed open right in front of Maria. Startled, her pupils enlarged. There, she could see herself with every listed detail.

“Sorry, I couldn’t comprehend that. Can you be more specific as to where I am and what this fiasco is all about? It’s not funny anymore.” Maria felt a twitch. “Are you guys from the secret service? Like, the CIA, RAW or the FBI? Is it something to do with my company, an employee, you need some inside information, some data, a chip, or… what, to be exact? Tell me.” Maria was anxious to know so that she could sort and leave.

“You are transported in coz you wanted to experience the advanced world. You’ve been complaining about the daily turmoil. Here, you will not need to rush to get a taxi, neither will you need to work till late hours. Our embedded system will do it all. You can work with the data team and manage the records of the newly compiled Bots. You will report to no one. We can access all through our distinctly designed integral system.”

Maria’s head started to spin. She felt as if she’ll faint again. Regaining her senses, she rubbed her eyes, paced around the room, stared outside, looked back at the strange guy who jabbered words that made no sense. She took a deep breath. 

“How can I be in some year that is yet and far to come. How in the world is this possible? What crap are you saying?  “And…Bots? What Bots?” Maria inquisitively enquired. She couldn’t add up. “Please stop confusing me. I can’t take this anymore.”  It was implausible. The reality seemed to be a movie plot. 

Mr. Sullivan went on explaining, while Maria stared at him in awe. The specifics, the elucidations, were beyond her grasp. “I meant, Robots. Our world has no Human. Except you. Till your presence gets terminated.” Mr. Sullivan replied.

“A world without human presence? This can’t be real. Or, is it true? The invention done to exhibit creativity and take engineering to a different level, led to this? It was to ease life, and not to get erased? No way.” Maria felt annoyed. At last, all added up and made sense as to why these walking caricatures seemed odd. Yet, very astonishing it is, that they looked no different than a real human, that their gestures were not timed. Their reactions complemented Maria’s actions. Their choice of words was accurate. Except for their skin texture and skeleton symmetry, that seemed more than perfect. It was scary though. 

She so wished this was all a dream, for, she could not imagine her life without family and friends. She suddenly missed her old life. She missed those hasty mornings, the laughter and the reprimand, fights with her brother, that last house party, the music, and all the noise suddenly felt like a sweet symphony. The memories from the past made her crave to go back. She wanted to be alive, for, here, the silence was tormenting. The missing warmth made her shiver. 

Strange, we humans are. We keep yearning for the indefinite. At first, we seek the unknown, and then, long for the known, when we fail to embrace the freshly laid challenges. At times, we create situations and at times, a situation creates us. We dream of touching the pinnacle and complain about getting pricked. We desire to live within the sphere, yet, get desperate to sneak out once suffocated. We assume much; analyse less. We eye for the glittery perk, yet fall flat under its load. We tread on though, tirelessly. 

Maria had her answers. She knew she couldn’t survive even for a day in that ‘World of the Future.’ She stood up and took a step towards Mr. Sullivan. She looked straight into his eyes; into his ocean blue pupils and stared for a while. There was no flicker. 

“I am glad I could be the chosen one to enter your world. Rather, a world some humans like me wish for. I do understand that my presence here is the outcome of my desire to experience smooth days. Yet, despite all, I would love to be back to the world where I belong; the world I’ve known since birth. Be with my loved ones, whose care keeps me alive. I thus request you to kindly transport me back to the time I belong. I would rather wish the world to be as it is in 2020, and wouldn’t prefer to see this year. I prefer my present world, with its humans and humdrum. I am clear on my desires now. I chose to return.” Maria felt relieved. 

Somehow, Mr. Sullivan seemed relaxed. Guess, he knew of the outcome. Maria sighed, relieved. She wondered how silly she has been and she feared of the world she is in. Will the future be this what she experienced? Won’t there be humans left? The very thought scared Maria. Yet, she believed that this is just a dream, some confusion, or some super digitalised setup for a sci-fi prank. As she stood staring at the unbelievable reality outside, the taxi driver joined in. Maria looked at him and they both smiled. This time, both knew about the coming moments. She couldn’t help but hug him. She is human after all.  

“Maria…Maria…Maria…wake up, open your eyes. The doctor’s here. Maria…Maria…what’s happening to you. Poor baby, talk to mama. Look, dad and John’s here too. Try to speak, sweetheart. How did this happen? Where have you been all this while? How did you sleep off in the park? Why didn’t you go to work today? Did someone trouble you? Were you drugged? Open your eyes, see, mama’s here.” Maria’s parents were frantic. 

She could hear faint voices of her mom and dad but her eyes felt heavy. All looked blurry. It seemed as if she was drugged. The next moment, Maria could feel the piercing beam of light from the doctor’s torch. She couldn’t speak. Her head felt heavy. Slowly she tried to speak. “Water…water,” was all that came out of her mouth. It almost made her laugh loud but the drowsy state could allow just a smile. She sensed a sigh of relief around her. Her mom couldn’t stop but express her worry.

Maria knew for sure that no one would believe her story if she ever spoke the truth. They will laugh and mock. She couldn’t possibly tell anyone that she was taken to the future where bots ruled the world and then was returned safely. Maybe her friends will think she went on drugs. No way could she share the miraculous yet implausible story with anyone, except for her best mate – her diary. It would be a secret she will need to keep safe forever. 

In all the hustle, Maria wished she could notify someone, at least to one other human about what the future will look like. Maybe, they will lessen or stop modifying the robots if they hear and believe in her story. For, Maria believed, that no human in their sane mind can imagine of a world run by bots or accept the truth about the non- existence of human beings. No matter how easy that life would be, it will not have the warmth of love and empathy of the humans in flesh and blood. Each time the events flashed in her mind, she felt the chill. In all, she felt a strange connection with the taxi driver and Mr. Sullivan. Strange, yet she missed them. 

“What a mind-boggling, adventurous trip I had, to the time, that is waiting for its time.” Maria smiled all by herself.
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