Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.
- Hal Borland
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THE LOST TIME
A shrill shriek echoed across the entire neighborhood. A shriek enough to send chills down your spine. The entire neighborhood had gathered around my house along with cops and the firefighters. When the door opened, a lady was lying on the marble floor with warm blood running like a river across the house. For me, it was just another Monday. Same college, same friends. It was not something that an 18 year old kid could even dream of.
I remember it well.
I was pedaling towards the apartment, wondering what was cooked.
Everyone looking at me with sorrow.
My heartbeats increasing by every second, I went in to find my mother lying cold on the floor, warm tears rolling down my eyes, all the sweet memories flooding my brain while my eyes were trying to escape the sight.
It was unknown. Why, when and how? My mother had no enemies. She had paid off all the debt. She was just a sweet, affectionate woman trying to make ends meet to see her son in a better place.
What was known was that no one had entered the house, there were no signs of any activity taking place except the kitchen where it happened. The kitchen had everything in place. The only thing that was out of place was a kitchen knife deep inside my mother’s back.
My neighbor Miss Sally told me that she was feeding her baby when he heard the sound. She heard a name being called out loud.
It was my name - Tom.
“Tommmmmmmmm” my mom shouted
“Yes mommmm” I shouted back
I knew she was calling me for breakfast but I was too preoccupied thinking about ‘Influence’ by Omega, the project I was asked to test. It was all too exciting. My mom’s ex-boyfriend Brad showing up, telling us how sorry he was to come in without informing, how important it was for him to give me this opportunity. It all fitted too well.
I ran down the stairs towards the kitchen where muffins were just out of the oven.
“Took you long enough!”, she scoffed
With a silly grin I sat down waiting. My mother was the world’s most beautiful and kind hearted woman I had ever met. ‘Treat everyone equally’ and ‘a problem is as bad as it looks’ were the two things she always tried to embody in me.
Her name was Linda. She was in her 40’s; slim, brown hair, skin like chocolate, smile that would make even turn Attila the Hun into a sober guy. She was a bank accountant working tirelessly to provide two square meals and run the household to the best of her ability. She had taken an off today. Lucky for me, it meant having her company and delicious food when I came home.
Finishing the meal, I kissed her goodbye and went out to face the world.
My college was like a small little world in its own. I studied at the Simple Folk Community College in Hallenfolk. I was studying mechanical engineering and so far I was loving it. The college had students from different backgrounds. So, it was a very versatile place to be. I really didn’t have many friends. Those who I could call my friends were either going to a party or busy in their own work. Having a simple background, I could not afford to spend on parties and hence, tried my best to make the loose ends meet.
Working with Omega was sure to be a life changer for my mother and me. I rejoiced. Brad worked at Omega and they were in need of someone who could test their new Augmented Reality product ‘INFLUENCE’ before launching it in the market and Brad believed I was the most suitable option they had. ‘INFLUENCE’ was a product which worked like a headset. “You wear it over your head and the inbuilt system runs a simulation based on an algorithm which made it look and feel like reality” were his words.
This product was the first off its kind if launched in the market. Other companies had offered small scale augmented realities. For instance the most popular augmented reality system was the ‘TENNIS 2000’ which made the user experience the joy of playing tennis without being in one. ‘INFLUENCE’ on the other hand was very ambitious. It wanted to recreate scenes which we see in movies and read in books - zombie invasions, terrorist attacks, ninja fighting. They had left no leaf unturned.
I had started to like Brad. He didn’t seem to be a bad guy. He was a tall, muscular, green eyed man in his 40’s. He was someone who would lift anyone’s spirits up and be ready to help anyone who needed it. “Maybe that’s why mom liked him” I mumbled.
He had shown up unexpectedly at our house on Monday night. Mom had not come and I had no option but to let him in.
He told me about his work and how lucky he was to know me and offered me to test out the product. Knowing about the crunch, he offered to pay me 500$ which was a hard amount to resist. Soon, Brad had befriended me and we ended up talking about a whole lot of stuff when my mom entered.
“BRAD!” stupefied, she exclaimed.
“LINDA!” He exclaimed and went over to hug my mom while she was still processing his presence in our house.
“Sweetie could you leave Brad and me alone for a while? It looks like we need to have a talk”, I went up the stairs wondering what it could be.
“You have no place here Brad. How dare you show up at my house?”
“I am very sorry to have come without your permission, but if it was not something serious, I would have not stepped in here”
“Five minutes Brad, you have five minutes to explain and don’t show me your face ever again”
“I need my son Linda” Brad said gravely.
“How dare you even take his name? He is not your son. You soon left after he was born and when you are in need he becomes yours?”
“You don’t understand. I had to go. I had no other option. I have always loved both of you”
“I don’t...” before Linda could speak anything, Brad kissed her and she gave in.
He made her sit and explained everything. Soon Linda agreed.
Before leaving Brad promised Linda that we would never let them both go.
“When does Tom get to know about his father, Brad?”
“When the time is right” said Brad and went out.
Brad was supposed to pick me up. I was waiting since the past 15 minutes when a black Audi rolled past me and opening the door, Brad stepped out.
“Hey there Tom! Sorry to keep you waiting”
I was too dumbfounded to say anything. I never knew about Brad’s background other than that off his occupation, but it looked like it was a pretty good one.
I sat in while Brad took the liberty of taking my bag and keeping it on the backseat.
Brad watched me with his keen green eyes while I took in the interiors of the car.
“How was your day?”, he suddenly asked.
“It was good.” I replied, not wanting to get into a conversation.
Almost as if he understood what I wanted, he played music as we drove past the traffic lights and the unseeing eyes.
“Wake up Tom!” he said as he caressed my hair.
I woke up with a start, feeling a discomfort at Brad touching me. “Why did he always have to touch me?” I thought.
We had reached Oracle. As we moved in, there were a series of security checks taking place.
“These people are pretty cautious about their stuff.” I muttered.
Brad heard me and said in a rather amused tone “If they didn’t, then how would you test the product anyway?”
I ignored him and soon we entered the building. It was a centralized air conditioned building with glass walls where each room had something interesting happening,capturing my attention. One room had a robot, the upper part of it which was being worked on.
“If INFLUENCE worked out in the market, the robot would be launched as an aid to everyone” said Brad noticing me staring at the figure.
We soon reached our room. Entering, there was a cubicle with a glass panel holding a headset which I supposed was the ‘INFLUENCE’
On my right were various charts and blueprints showing how the headset was designed and the various prototypes they had made. On the left was a huge circuit board where a few technicians were working.
One of them stood up and walked towards us. He was a man in his 60’s. Grey hair, deep blue eyes, the one who you could pour your heart out to and know that he would not spill it and in fact would advise you on it.
“Shall we begin Tom?” he said winking at me.
I quietly went to the cubicle and put the headset on. It was pretty comfortable and felt light on my face. I couldn’t have been any more excited. I had been waiting for this since the previous day and finally it was happening.
“Okay Tom, we will begin the simulation. Don’t worry about a thing. We have ensured that this prototype is functional and would not cause any harm. In case of an emergency we have a doctor in this facility at a moment’s notice.”
I was alarmed. He said it was a prototype while Brad had mentioned it being the final product which was about to be launched. Brad had lied to me, he had lied to mom. I couldn’t forgive him. A certain degree of anger and disgust began to swell up inside me.
“In the next 5 seconds you would be expecting a reality where you are a detective who has broken into a serial killer’s house and your aim is to shoot him. Remember Tom, your actions will have consequences. Think wisely and enjoy.” said the man.
This was really starting to get weird and uncomfortable. Soon the display which was black, danced in an array of colors blinding me for a moment and suddenly it all became clear. I could see the room, Brad, and the cubicle where I was standing. The only difference was that there was a health bar on the top right corner of my display and a timer.
“Tom I want you walk slowly and enter the door on your right. We have made a room which will have the construction for the reality. Being a prototype, we are still developing to use it without any aid.”
I entered the room. The room was a contrast to the other rooms in the facility. It was set up as a bedroom. There was a king sized bed which had four soft pillows on it and a small kid around six years was sitting crying and a man whose face was invisible in the shadow of the light trying to protect her.
I looked at myself. My clothing had changed. I was wearing a green coloured cargo pant along with a bullet proof vest. I had a gun in my hand.
I heard a voice somewhere announce ‘TEST 1 INITIATED. ENVIRONMENT LOADED. CHOICES CREATED’. I guess it was time to see what happens.
Taking a deep breath and summoning all my might I said in a rather stern voice,
“Step aside and no one will get hurt. You’ve hidden long enough.”
The man in the shadow gave a wicked laugh and said,
“No one kills Jade. Not you, not Mark. Jade is immortal”
So the man’s name was Jade after all. It made sense. The name was taken from a real criminal named Jade Shaw who was responsible for the mass murder of over twenty people in an old age home. If I recollected correctly he was killed along with his daughter in a sting operation.
“Think wisely jade” I said “your daughter is around. You don’t want anything to happen to your daughter. Give in”
Feeling I was trying to harm his daughter to get him to his knees, He came at me yelling “Not my daughter you son of a bitch!” and grabbed my arm. His arm went through me, but the vividness made me feel like a real life scenario.
I tried to swing it aside and we ended crashing on a table next to me which had a picture of him and his daughter. His daughter, innocent as ever started to shout “Leave my dada alone, my dada harm no one!” while sobbing hysterically.
“Don’t worry for a minute Lilly!”, he exclaimed “Dada will get done with this asshole in a minute.”, he said looking at me. He picked up a broken table leg and swung at me and at the same time I tried to shoot him. His bat hit my arm and I ended up firing the shot towards the right.
I HAD SHOT LILLY. However I was not harmed in anyway. If it were a reality, things would have taken a different turn altogether.
Jade broke down. Sobbing he muttered “Why Lilly? She was a harmless girl who only wanted her Dada to be safe. Dada let you down Lilly…Dada let everyone down”, he muttered sobbing.
I said feeling sorry, “Only if you had cooperated Jade, none of this would have happened.”
“It’s your fault.”, he said softly.
“IT’S YOUR FAULT YOU PIECE OF SHIT THAT THE LOVE OF MY LIFE IS NO MORE!!” he exclaimed as he swung towards me.
Suddenly a voice came out,
“Stop Tom, don’t do anything!” The simulation had shut down.
“We have incurred a technical problem, kindly bear with us while we resolve it and please at all times, keep the influencer worn, do not remove it.”
‘INFLUENCER’ huh? I muttered. That’s what they call this headset. While I was thinking about how dull they were at giving that name, suddenly the entire sequence that I had gone through came back and seemed to roll back, like a movie playing backwards.
I relieved the entire scenario as a third person watching myself fight against the criminal. Suddenly the door opened and the headset was taken out of my head and I was rushed towards a doctor. The bright light blinded my eye for a minute and as my eyes became comfortable to the surroundings. I saw the circuit board emitting smoke and people making some changes in the wiring.
The old technician came towards me along with Brad who looked quite disturbed.
“Are you alright? I am sorry, we ended up having a major technical issue.”
“What happened?” I asked,
“Sorry I don’t think I am at the liberty to explain it to you.” He said
Brad cut him yelling, “You better bloody tell him what happened! The kid is a part of it. He deserves to know what danger he was in.”
With a long sigh, the technician began to explain it to me, as simply as possible.
“Look Tom, this is a machine, just like any other machine.The robot you saw on your way in is also a machine. Sometimes it’s possible that a machine gets a few errors and it’s often solved. This was no different.” He said looking up at Brad. It didn’t seem that Brad liked the answer and with a huge sigh he further continued
“One of our mechanical engineers made a circuit mistake. He ended up wiring the simulation into the robot’s motherboard which in turn was connected to your influencer as both of our products work on the same motherboard designed by us. If the robot was fully developed, Jade’s feelings would have been the robots identity and you the cause of his misery. He could have physically attacked you but luckily the upper body of the robot was only connected and the only thing that happened was the robot taking your name and promising you would pay for it. We shut down the robot and nothing can happen now. However the robot’s thinking and reasoning ability has somehow copied itself on the influence project and we are working on removing it. You have no need to worry.” he said smiling.
While returning home, I replayed the entire scenario in my head over and over like a movie. It was too real. I could have sworn that Lilly felt real and her scream still rung in my ears.
Brad knew his mistake. He tried looking towards me hoping to strike up a conversation. Fifteen minutes passed by and I had not uttered a word. I was annoyed. Actually hurt. He had broken everyone’s trust and trust is something which takes years to build and a second to break.
Getting annoyed at his own self he blurted, “Look kid, I know I lied but it was because your mom and you could have a little financial help. Even you know how hard your mother is working”
“GODDAMMIT MOVE THE BLOODY CAR!” he hissed honking at the car ahead of him. I snapped back at him rather in an indignant fashion,
“Listen up, I never asked for your help and neither did my mom. You were who came with the proposition. We never asked for it. Besides it was your own greed that brought you to me. If you had cared about me or Linda on the first place, you would have never dumped her, which you did like a heartless asshole that you are”
He suddenly stopped the car at the pavement. Summoning all his patience he told me in a cold voice,
“You better know your place. I’m not saying a thing understanding that you felt cheated and you don’t seem to understand why I left or helped you in the first place. Now if you don’t shut your trap, I’ll drop you off here and cheers to you finding your way back home.”
Soon we reached home. I had kept quiet throughout the journey. When I reached home, I was greeted by mom, sweet as ever. Sensing a wave of fatigue washing over me, she told me to sleep and that I should tell her everything that happened later. I didn’t need someone telling me twice. I crashed on my bed and was sound asleep.
But little had I known that it was just the beginning.
I woke up with a start. Sweat was dripping from my forehead. I hadn’t really forgotten the events that had taken place the previous day. I decided to jog for an hour before carrying on with my daily routine. Mom was fast asleep, so it made no sense disturbing her.
During that hour of jog, I realized how quick technology was advancing and how uncertain the dangers of technology can be. It could either make or break our world. I had read enough novels to know what artificial intelligence taking over the world looked like. Suddenly I received a message. It was from Brad. It said that he was sorry for whatever happened. He did what he thought was right. He thought the best for the both of us and was always there if we needed him. I was still mad at him but I couldn’t be mad at him anymore. He was a sweet guy and I had almost forgiven him.
Soon I received a ‘Where the hell are you’ message from Mom, and all the thoughts about technology and its effects were left behind as I headed home to explain why I was out early in the morning without informing her.
Soon I was busy with my day and it got over the way it normally does. No one knew about my involvement with Oracle. It was better to keep it a secret, I believed.
I could not believe my eyes. My world was taken away from me and I didn’t know who took it from me, without a tinge of mercy.
I had no one except Brad to call up. He was the only one I knew who I could go to when nobody was around. He reached within 15 minutes.He took me in his arms and only said “I’m there for you”.
I broke down.
I began shouting at him telling it was his fault it all happened without knowing what really had happened. I was hugging him and crying at the same time. Watching me in tears, he couldn’t help himself. He broke down too and what he told me then, changed my life completely.
“Tom” he said wiping his tears, “There is something you need to know. I’m sorry it was hidden from you all this while but it was for your betterment. Your father didn’t die in a car accident on his way home”
A deadly silence rang through my ears, my heartbeats palpitating by every passing minute.
“I’m your father Tom.” he said. “You’re my child!” he exclaimed. Tears running down his cheeks he hugged me and he told me that he would explain everything and right now we will find all our answers at Oracle Industries.
How could he be my father! I told myself over and over. Why did mom have to lie? And why were we heading to the Oracle Industries during such a moment when we needed to find how my mom died.
Oracle was an hour’s drive from my home. I’ve been on this road before, but this time it felt different. Knowing Brad was my father changed everything. My life had taken a turn of events and I didn’t know what to expect ahead. I was tempted to ask Brad all the questions bubbling inside me but I decided to keep quiet and see how it all plays out. Sooner or later I will have all my answers.
We soon reached Oracle. It looked the same from outside but when we went inside, that’s where things got wicked.
The glass walls were in pieces, medical aid was being to given countless people. We increased our pace and reached the room where influence was being developed. We entered and took in the entire picture.
People were rushing from one place to another. Some on the circuit board while some on the robot which was for some reason connected to influence and a couple of technicians were working on it. A similar face saw us and quickened his pace towards us. His eyes showed concern and his body looked weak. It was the old technician who had greeted us.
“What brings you here?” he asked rather alarmed.
Before I could speak, Brad said in a rather unpleasant manner, “We have a very good reason to be here but I think we would like to know your story first”
The man sighed and said, “Influence got out of hand. It looks like the simulation somehow got connected to the robot and he took on Jades character and uploaded a virtual form of itself on our mainframe and due to this there has been a merger between the augmented reality and reality as we know it.
“How could that even be possible?” I protested
“It’s something like this. We have all our employee and visitor details on our mainframe. It’s our policy to store everyone’s complete information. Now Jade has uploaded itself on it and he had access to every single person’s complete information. From where he/she stays, who lives with them, their complete history and even information about them from the internet. He has taken the form of a passive reality.” he shuddered.
“You m...mean my mom’s d...death was caused by Jade?” I stammered.
Everyone in the room stopped and look at me with dread. The technician looked at me horrified and said “Yes it’s very likely. As in the simulation you killed his daughter, he must have wanted to extract his revenge and entered your house via the electrical circuits. Sensing you were not there, he attacked your mom.”
Brad took him by his collar and hissed “It’s all your fault. Before calling Tom you should have known the dangers” and pushed him back
The man stumbled and said “I’m sorry about your mother but we may still have a way to find a solution and try and get things back to the way they were”
“HOW??” both of us yelled.
“So this scanner is going to help us scan Jade? And this extractor will absorb Jade’s digital body?” I said wearing the seat-belt.
“Looks like it.” said Brad revving up the engine.
“We need to go to your house to have a look at the digital footprints and from there we would get our lead.”
“Okay.” I said holding back my tears. I missed my mom and was ready go to any extent for her.
We soon reached home. The body had been long taken and the house was empty. Summoning my courage, we searched the house for any digital footprint. After an hour of searching for it we had our lead.
Jade has entered through the Television Antenna and followed Linda into the kitchen where he found it possible to control metallic objects and used the ability to stab her without any evidence.
“Your mom loved this house.” Brad sighed.
“I still remember, when you were 3 years old you would only eat food when I gave it to you. You never let Linda feed you.” he said laughing teary eyed.
“I promise you Tom, I’ll explain everything soon” he said reassuring me.
All I could do was nod. If I had spoken, I would have cried. Brad called up Oracle and sent the footprints to the lab. In the next 15 minutes we got a call.
“Head over to 21 street, flat 29, Miss Melony. She was our former employee and has an 8 year old daughter named Lilly. We feel that’s where Jade would go, assuming she is his daughter. It’s quite possible that he might try to attack Melony, so head there ASAP”
It took us 17 minutes to reach there. Brad tried calling her but she didn’t pick up. We quickened our haste to the house
The door was unlocked. We entered the house and we heard a scream from above. We rushed up the stairs to find Miss Melony pacifying her daughter who was crying uncontrollably. She was shocked to see Brad, but he quickly explained everything and as he was about to end, the metallic bed started to shake.
We knew it was Jade. That was the only possible explanation.
“You’re hurting your daughter Jade. Don’t do what you did before.” I said.
The bed stopped shaking but the television suddenly switched on where a series of channels began to switch rapidly and we heard a message out of it.
“One remembers always who hurt them. I don’t forget. Lilly is with them.”
“Okay Jade come and take your daughter. She’s sitting here waiting for you”. The television stopped and suddenly Lilly giggled. She said she felt something funny touch her hand. I aimed at her hand and pressed the button on the extractor.
All the lights went off and when they came back on, everything seemed quite. We got a call from Oracle saying Jade has been captured.
We rushed to Oracle.
All the traffic lights, cars, peddlers and weather seemed to form a hazy shape. I could not focus on anything except the fact that Jade was captured and finally justice would be done to my mother. Brad looked weary but his eyes were at ease as if he knew it would all be alright. It felt good to see that nevertheless.
We soon reached Oracle.
“Well done Tom, you saved Miss Melony and her daughter and the countless lives that were at Brand’s disposal.” Said the old technician.
I couldn’t handle it. I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. Brad swooped at me hugging me, trying to reassure me that things would be alright.
The old man suddenly spoke, “When your mother died, it looks like her thoughts during that moment got attached to brads digital signature. You can hear what you mother had in her mind and maybe find solace in it son.”
The Digital screen in front of us crackled to life and it had the following words.
‘I wish Tom knew Brad was his father. I didn’t want to lie that his dad was killed in a car crash. I hope he understands that If Brad would have stayed with us, he would have put us in danger. Before joining Oracle, he was the chief of security, he was with the U.S Tactical Unit. During that time he had a made a few enemies and he had to go into a hideout for a year or two. He wanted to comeback but his situation didn’t let him. You’re the best thing that ever happened to him. I love you’
“I love you dad” I said hugging him.
“I love you too…son” he said, hugging me back.