An Impotent Illumination.

So this one has been a while in coming. And honestly, only because a friend pushed me. This is a short story (utter crass, I say, !) I wrote for a magazine that, in the end, decided not to publish it. 

Meh. Kids these days.

The man looked at the trigger in his hands. Then at the timer on his watch. Five minutes. Five minutes till the signal was strong enough. Till the plan came to fruition.

Five minutes till the world came to a grinding halt.

And they started it all over again.

It had been in the late 2020s that the first entirely autonomous organization, governed simply by a board of thirteen people, sprung up. The company ran itself, and had every operational base covered – finances, workforce, publicity, administration – every aspect, mass producing clothes and other apparel. The only humans the company employed were the thirteen that were responsible for opening doors that no amount of Artificial Neural Networks could be trained to or machines learn to do.

Politics,it seemed, was where the AI drew the line.

The Internet went crazy. The ratio of humans to machines in organizations had been going down around the world, but nothing of this stature had been planned or tried before.

After the first economic quarter the Company’s stock prices went up. The stock market oscillated violently. Numerous scams bubbled up. Fortunes were lost and made.

Rumors about the people behind it varied from a secret government organization to a collaboration of private, opulent multinationals to a group of crowd-sourced misanthropes. Explanations as to how it functioned spanned the spectrum, right from Computer Science at its peak to Aliens having made their first contact with a very naive and young human race.

Where the Internet did concur was the idea of “working for a living” coming to an end. A golden era where the machines did all the work and all you had to worry about was how well you lived.

The Arts flourished. Space exploration was being considered as the next big challenge. Nuclear fusion was on the verge of being tamed. The first comprehensive base was established on the Moon.

There was already an abundance of resources, the first asteroid having been mined in 2019; the treacherous NGNI-120C flew right between the Earth and the Moon.  Earth’s kitchen had been restocked. There was a new chef. And everyone at the table was hungry.

The second Company came up in 2030. It produced machine components. The board had ten people. The third had six.

No one had the dynamics figured out. At such a tumultuous time, who could ? Who could clearly say where this was headed ? Sure, there were heretics but when did that ever stop anything, or anyone ? There was no visionary; rather, there were too many. Everybody just rolled along, in one global, passive resonance, that this was where we wanted to go all along, this was the current mankind had been waiting to catch for over six thousand years.

The first blip came in 2043. In the form of a minor workers’ strike and subsequent riot on account of rampant layoffs.

There had been growing concerns about what to do with the working middle class which no longer had work and thus no longer earned money. The notion that money was no longer needed to explain one’s wealth was regarded, initially as a practical joke, then later with doubt and confusion. And the wealth and benefits of artificially intelligent autonomous beings taking charge of the daily so and so activities of the human race could not, or rather politically, would not be passed on to sections of the society which were weak, socially or economically.

As more and more robots got work done cheaply and efficiently, an increasing number of the people lost their jobs.

Assemble car parts ? We have a robot for that. Package products at the supermarket ? We built an automated system for that. Bank clerk ? We improved upon ATM machine and removed the human factor out of your banking experience! Are you a consultant ? Our Analytics sector handles that now !

A disruptive murmur, almost a whisper initially, creeped into the global commentary. “We can’t live this way !”, it said,”we need to work !”. It seemed to say,”We need work to define ourselves ! Where do we go from here ? What do we do with all this free time ?”

That line of thought was for the privileged though. The poorer sections of the society became poorer. They could not survive in such an intelligent, labor-less world, a world where the physical labors of man were scoffed as inefficient and erratic. Machines were better in every way; and who ever cared for the human factor in a football stadium with immaculate construction ? You either learned how to deal with such technology, or died trying to.

On the other end, curiously though, the extremely wealthy also started looking for the human factor. Hedonistic splurging could only satiate the human mind so. And soon even the plutocrats started displaying a deep desire to work , if only to apply their minds in something productive.

To calculate the orbit of the next inhabitable planet on their own without using the computers; to invest in the stock market and not use an intelligent algorithm to predict stock trends; to hear the scratch of pen on paper and not mindless mechanical clicks or capacitive touchscreens.

But it was the people who ran these companies that controlled the world now – the way it developed, the people who received the benefits, the way the media reported. Any rebellion against their system was systematically crushed, being reprimanded with bad publicity thereafter to squish any such further thoughts.

This generation still remembers what it was like to work. The next generation will be different. They will never know work. They will be easier to control.

It seemed even the rebellious thought so. Thus, before it was too late, a plan was hatched. A plan to end the tyranny of the AI, and to go back to where it all started, Something that would get them back to how things were and start from scratch, doing things correctly this time.

And so, here he was, holding the trigger to a satellite that held the largest EMP gun ever built, albeit not for the purpose he had in mind. The EMP (or Electro-magnetic Pulse) would render every technological device and machine, every AI on Earth useless, disrupting electromagnetic properties of the materials that were used to manufacture them, effectively throwing back human civilization to pre-millenial times. The mid-20th Century was the closest he could fathom, if not further back.

He wondered what would happen after he pressed the button. The communications base on the moon would certainly be the only technological hub to look to. All the intelligence supplied to the base would make sure that the human race never went to being as under-developed as they were back in the 1950s.

It would just give people on Earth enough time to wrangle power from a few and give it back to the many. The closest any one could come to to restart the complex machine that was human civilization.

Kind of like a second chance really, he thought, but funny, though, how nobody will ever see – 

The timer on his watch went off. Time was up. The end.

He pressed the button, firmly, keeping his finger there for a few seconds longer than necessary.

He could see the power grid failing, the power switching off, through his window. He lit a cigarette as his room went dark.

To a new beginning. 

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The accidental eavesdropper.

I recently submitted a story for the annual literary magazine of my college. It got printed. I didn’t want to post before it got printed. So here it is !

— — —

He woke up with his head throbbing. He opened his eyes slowly. It was dark outside.

It was night ! How long had he been out ? Where was he ? Marie will be furious !

As more of his environment swam into focus he saw that he was lying in a bush, a neat one at that. He tried getting up, using his arms to prop himself. But as soon as he did so, his arms gave way and he fell, his head spinning around.

Okay maybe I should lie here a bit longer. 

He heard a few hushed noises. Two, he discerned after a while. A stern voice, a woman’s was saying, “celebrating all right…flocks of owls, shooting stars…Diggle…never had much sense”. He supposed he was in someone’s garden, toppled over from all that partying the night before.

It came to him in flashes. He had been with strange people, dressed in different robes and pointy hats – he had met a few celebrating and hugging each other in his usual hangout place after work. They were so bent on celebrating that they had ordered several rounds for everyone present and had proceeded to go berserk, partying and gallivanting across London. And somehow he had gotten caught up in all that mess.

Marie would be furious.

He had gone all night and the next day with them celebrating god knows what ! It had been the craziest time of his life. He couldn’t figure out what had happened after a point in his memories, it was all so muddled up. They had been strange people though; all the while they had been chanting … some name – he couldn’t remember – and speaking their own language and waving small wooden sticks around as if they magicians or something.

His brief reminiscence was broken by the sound of a loud roar of a motor – an engine ?  It was quiet but in that quiet night, it was quite distinct. And near him. The owners of the voices were in the porch.

The voices seemed to have been waiting for this event. They greeted the third voice with questions. He grasped some more. “…fell asleep as we were flyin’ over Bristol”. This was the new voice speaking. Rough, heavy and labored.

The third person in the trio now spoke, a calm, old voice,”…scar forever… better get this over with.” Then someone sniffing, a rough, loud sniff and a “there there” from the lady again.

Robbers ? Odd group, if so.

They put something on the ground. He almost missed the soft thud of something being softly put down. Some more murmurs.

He realized he could almost get up on his own. But he dared not; these people were behaving strangely. He stayed put.

Then he heard shuffling of steps, and silent murmurs.

Probably saying their bloody goodbyes!

There was the motor again. And it softly receded into the distance.

Finally when heard no more and the motor was at a distance, he got up. By now, he had almost regained control of his limbs and was staggering out from the porch towards the gate of the house.

There was no sign of anyone. He looked around the neighborhood. It was a darker night than usual. None of the street lamps were on.

He looked at the porch. He saw a basket with a blanket inside it. He moved to check it out but turned, startled, as he saw something bright fly from the corner of his eye.

What was that ? 

Suddenly the night was bright again. The street lamps were lit. And the sound of the motor was gone.

Okay what did those guys make me drink ? 

Freaking out, he’d feel better when he was at home; he staggered out of the gate.

On his way out, he noticed a small sign, smartly placed, declaring the house to outsiders. But as he turned round the street the only thought which went through his mind was:  Marie will be furious !

He had forgotten all about the sign which had read:

No 4, Privet Drive.