This story is by SAYANTI MAITRA and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
June 12th, 2338:
Two different sounds – each working against a pulse in time, each announcing the completion of one uniform rotation of an ongoing cycle….
Yet, so different.
One is from outside; another from within.
Machine and man.
These are the only sounds I hear, as I wait for the answer with bated breath. It seems a lifetime has passed before she answers,
For the first time in my life, I realize what pain is.
For the first time, this alien sensation fills my heart.
For the first time in a century, a solitary tear trickles down man’s cheek.
January 12th, 2338:
My grandfather William Benedict – a leading scientist of robotics and a pioneer of the new era in human civilization, rumored to have lost his mind in his later life – has died.
I never met my recluse grandfather. But being his sole heir, I must travel to his lone mansion in the mountains. Although I have complete faith in my robot PA, I can afford a maximum of two days there.
As I reach his place, a young woman opens the door with an eerie smile, a smile that actually reaches her eyes!
“Good evening. How can I help you?”
“I’m Nathanial Benedict…”
“Mr. Benedict! Please come inside. I’m Emily Green. I was your grandfather’s assistant.”
Huh! Who keeps a human assistant these days, when robots are much more efficient?
She continues, “As you were unavailable until tonight, I took the liberty to bury the body and do the rituals.”
“Your grandfather wanted to be buried in the old fashion, including the mourning rituals. I’m still in mourning.” She indicates towards her unfashionable black dress.
I roll my eyes. This woman is as mad as Grandfather. Mourning a man’s death! Do they think that they are still in the twenty-first century?! Come on, we have come too far from those uncivilized people who had nothing else to do but mope around about all those trivial things they called love, loss, compassion, attachment…
“W…What are these? These are all…”
“Illegal. I know.”
Her stony voice startles me from behind.
“But, Mr. Benedict, what I want to know is why you are loitering outside a secret room at this time of night. Is spying on dead peoples’ homes one of the trends in the new world?”
Although speechless at first, I compose myself quickly.
“You’re forgetting your place, Miss Green. I’m the new owner of this property, which includes room-full-of illegal materials. It is rightfully my concern. Had I not accidentally fallen and recognized the hollow sound of the floor, this underground room would have been hidden from me forever. I should report you to the authorities for hiding these vulgar things.”
She saunters silently into the dimly lit room and presses the keys of an alien looking machine at the center of the room.
A strange sound erupts from it, the kind of sound I have never heard before. I stand there awestruck at that unworldly sound. Something strange happens to me as if I am enchanted….
“Stop it. STOP IT! I know what you’re trying to do! It’s that witchcraft called….Music!”
“Does it sound vulgar to you?”
“Think, before you answer.”
“What is there to think? These are all traps to make human a lesser being. All these things in this room, these are all illegal, immoral and sinful.”
“Just like thinking earth moves round the sun was sinful or letting women be educated and work in every field alongside men was immoral?”
“In those cases, old concepts were the wrong ones. Mankind has progressed by embracing new ideas, not going backward.” I state vehemently
“You’re tired tonight. Go to sleep. And don’t make any hasty decision… Please.”
With that, she leaves me gaping at her retreating form.
January 14th, 2338:
I have finished the paperwork quickly. I am right on schedule and it is time to leave. But one conflict isn’t solved yet – what to do with the hidden room and Emily, its keeper?
Neither of us has mentioned that night. Emily’s nonchalance makes me doubt the whole incident as my imagination. But even to dream of something, one must have at least the slightest idea of the things he is dreaming of. And dreams aren’t that vivid.
Still, my wistful mind has been trying to disregard the incident as the wildest dream of my life, until Emily speaks, “What are your plans with the hidden room?”
Time to face the reality.
I straighten to my full height and say authoritatively, “We live in an ultra-modern world, where there is no place for these old sentimentalities. Anything that hinders the progress of science, technology or productivity, should be destroyed.”
Without uttering anything, the feisty woman starts to pull me towards the woods.
Truth be told, I possess the power to separate myself from her and return to my original plan. But this woman has bewitched me. She is so different from any person I have ever met. She makes me strangely curious.
Well, curiosity is scientific, isn’t it? And I should fully know this woman, because who knows what else she is hiding!
I try to defend my actions thus in my mind and follow her through the dense woods.
Finally, we reach a clearing. It is a valley covered with wild flowers of almost all colors imaginable. Butterflies are flying from flower to flower; a small stream is flowing leisurely….
Flowers, being quite unnecessary, are never cultivated or nurtured in the City. I have never seen so many flowers together in my life!
“Close your eyes. Take gentle breaths……”
Like a machine, I follow her command. But what I experience is far beyond the scope of any machine….
All my senses are transfixed.
The gentle breeze caresses my face… the fragrance of flowers…it is so….is it what they used to call ‘sweet’ long times ago?…there is a strange calmness around us, except for the gentle rippling of the stream, which enhances the effect instead of disturbing it…Wait!…what’s that? Another strange sound…no, sounds….they seem to come from far into the woods….as if by instinct, someone answers from the depth of my consciousness – this is the chirping of birds… birds!….My whole existence fades away from reality…All my previous beliefs, educations crumble in front of this surreal experience…It feels as if…as if, I have finally come back home.
June 11th, 2338:
After the incident at the valley, I agreed to stay a few days to experience these things first hand before making a final decision. Those ‘few days’ extended to five months.
In these five months, I have discovered a new world, a world forbidden by my previous educations, the world full of emotion, passion, poetry, music, the world which makes human beings different from other creatures and machines.
It was not an easy journey.
We, the people of the new world, have been raised to believe that feeling or expressing emotions is as unacceptable as roaming out on the streets naked; participating in any art is a moral weakness.
The books, musical instruments, paintings in the hidden room have the power to evoke emotion, thus illegal in the New World.
At first, I used to be in constant battle with myself. After loving a piece Emily played on the pianoforte, my mind started to scream with guilt. After marveling at the lines of Keats, my conscience tried to strangle me. While spending weeks wondering about the smile of Mona Lisa, my previous education warned me about the dangers of the heart.
But it’s too late now.
My heart is already affected and now it beats for her – Emily, my compassionate guide.
June 13th, 2338:
I won’t apologize for saying no to your proposal. Know that I love you dearly, but I can never be the woman you deserve.
Before I leave, I must inform you about another property of William which is rightfully yours, but which, I am afraid, I can’t give you.
Your grandfather was one of those scientists who campaigned in favor of the workforce of emotionless men and robots. But after an accident took his daughter from him, he started to question his stand. His robot PA didn’t inform him when the news came from the hospital, as he had instructed it not to disturb him for the next six hours. When he finally got the news and reached the hospital, all was lost. He couldn’t be with his daughter when she asked repeatedly for Daddy in her last moments.
Despite trying very hard, he failed to reverse the big change that was taking place. So he separated himself from everything and spent the rest of his life making his last creation in an effort to reduce the guilt.
The last creation of William Benedict is a robot which is EMotional Intelligent LovelY, in short EM.I.LY.