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Science Fiction Short Story

14 Jun 0 0

The Day After

- Dr M H Srinarahari

"Has anything been done in the past?" questioned Dilip without looking directly into the glazing eyes of his partner. He continued to decode the data got on the computer monitor screen in the space module.

"I don't know much about it", said Deepak indifferently while opening a food capsule packet. Then, looking at Dilip inquisitively, he continued to speak casually, "These computers are so advanced that I am afraid how can we infer the works done in the 20th century."

"I hope that at least we can retrieve the information from the CD-ROM's, isn't it?" retorted Dilip.

"Would you like to have a capsule 'zilonsky' or 'yeastroi' for breakfast – I mean to begin the day with–?" questioned Deepak.

"Oh! That's an odd thing to begin the day with; they will all spoil the cerebral part partially. So often, we forget the time and date. By the by what day is this?"

Abruptly adjusting his voice to the computer code language, Deepak promptly answered, "10:40:12:12,02,2504".

Momentarily it gave Dilip an insight into his nostalgic memory by recalling what had prompted him to join the mission and explore the wonderful land in one of the planets of the Alpha Centauri Major. He thought he could fulfil his long-cherished ambition of becoming a space voyager and remembered how many light-years they have already passed and spent after leaving mother earth. A sudden chill went up his nerves to think whether he would ever return to his homeland. This particular sudden thought created an impact to get an idea to contact his grandmother, who lived in Mumbai in India. Immediately a memory image of his grandma appeared before him. He recollected her face, which was always buoyant with cheerful smiles. Her smiling face just enlarged in his memory paths. At once, he asked, "Deepak, can we get the authenticated information from Susan?"

"Of course, but why can't we make use of the time machine to travel back to the twentieth century and collect firsthand information?" Deepak spoke intermittently, gulping the food capsule one after the other without the aid of 'H O'

"No, No," said Dilip, "I was told that the 20th century was a fascinating world and people had still a dilemma which one to adapt- medievalist thought or the advanced technology. I am afraid that we may be caught in the web in that emotional world and might not come back at all."

"Okay, before that, let's go through the computer abstract first; what were they terming this kind of speculations in those days," spoke Deepak thinking loudly and searching for a keyword in his thought processes.

"I think extrapolation, or one minute, let me rewind my memory tank; please allow me a minute more–theories, thought experiment-no, sorry I am not getting it."

"Shall I check the inventions of the 20th century–?" Dilip suggested. "Wait a minute. I know there is a lot of difference between inventions and discoveries. Or shall I try the keys to study the 20th century culture–"

"Let me try", concentrating upon the computer screen; he screamed, "Oh my God, the machine gives me 20159515 keywords!"

"Now you can try the -what they used to call -internet- ha! Ha! Ha! The point is they had country codes at the end -that too abbreviated. Anyhow you can try one of them."

"Web sites were represented by www during those days as initial letters – I remember it when I was checking one of the mails one day and accidentally, I discovered that they were making use of such primitive ideas!" added Dilip.

"No, no, it is not useful as there are thousands of combinations- I think it is just like searching for a book which has no classifications at all," replied Deepak.

"Eureka, I found it. During those days, the future speculations were recorded in Science fiction. Directly, you apply the key. Let's give it a try." The impetus created in him was the flash of the word 'Eureka', which hinted him the scientist Archimedes. Thus, a glow sparkled in the eyes of Dilip. It reminded him of the scientist's discovery and made him laugh. No doubt he remembered his name by the process of a methodical formation of a sequence of letters of English alphabets beginning with 'A'. But without exhibiting his inner joy at the discovery, he further started to dig the past with the probable keywords. Finally, it came to his mind how -a motive behind his thought was particularly true of the fact- "Always already there" – a medievalist ideology- even now holds good in this post- super industrial era.

Dilip had speculated that the present thought processes were not helpful to unravel the mysteries of the past. Thus, he had realized that the solutions were always present in the minds of the thinkers of the twentieth century.

Without a second thought, Dilip operated the computer to get the data with a key -Science fiction of the 20th century. He was again put into a dilemma which one to choose among the keywords- play, performance, poetry, ballet, opera, songs, folklore, essays, novels, newspaper clippings, novels, movements, drama, films, videos, CD's, short stories, criticism, theses, dissertations, journals, magazines, seminars, conventions, conferences, meetings, interviews, Hugo, Nebula, Nobel, Jnana Peeth, award speeches, commentaries, biodata, year-wise bibliographies, subject index, reviews, history, myth, titles, matter stored in microfiche, microfilms, book forms, and online services etc., For a moment, he became dizzy and momentarily restless.

Dilip became desperate. He remembered the caution given before he left for the present mission," when everything fails, try patience." Hence, he left the computer desk and began to eat breakfast. Meanwhile, he pondered over the right key to operate to reach his goal. Suddenly an idea crept into his mind how he would have been confused if he had born a few centuries back. Then he made up his mind not to give up hope. The thought gave him relief, and ultimately, he thought it might not be challenging for him to pursue his present quest. Getting technical information precisely made it easy for him to refer any book he chose through his computer to the library where the astronomical data was recorded in any galaxies or even to the New York library within a fraction of a second. He had been professionally trained to contact any professional expert in the field, or he could have made a data search of the billions of billion records. But he has failed in the present quest, as neither any book on record nor his insight helped him because the scientists and technologists are not facing any human problems in the present century. Robots had storage of memories. They assisted the human masters in every walk of life.

But it was a primitive idea to store the history in their memory banks in robots as the scientists had speculated that they were beyond the legendary periphery of information to be stored. In other words, robots were equipped with the current problems and the possible solutions. So the astronomers thought that it was the lacuna in the present day set up.

However, Space travellers like Deepak and Dilip had a belief in scientific humanism. While Dilip was eating the breakfast, Deepak, after obtaining permission from the former to operate the computer, sat there quietly to continue their quest for information. Deepak's movement of his fingers reminded Dilip of the act of playing over the piano as in the case of ball dances of the nineteenth century. Of course, he had not seen one like that even in the film, but he could recollect what his aunt had narrated in one of her stories during his childhood. However, he did not make a direct comment because ends were more important than the means. Deepak at first thought, and after that, without making a delay, pressed the keys. The dancing fingers stopped automatically, Dilip saw that Deepak had become a statue. Dilip got up to see the fantastic result on the screen. Perhaps, Deepak might have opted for the list of Science fiction writers. It seemed to him that the list would never end. However, he skimmed through the list: Zeleny, Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany, Vladimir Nabokov, William Wu, William Burroughs, Sterling, Spinrad, Ray Bradbury, Philip, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Heinlein, Jayanth Narlikar, Isaac Asimov, Jack London, Herbert Wells, Dinker, Deshponde, Brian Aldis, Bhoosanurmutt, Arthur Clarke, Alan Dean, Aggarwal–Deepak felt giddy. He couldn't come to any satisfactory conclusion to choose any particular author randomly. Hence, they decided to contact grand old lady Susan. First, Deepak tried to establish contact over visi-phone. It was reported by one of her robots, which was on night duty, that she was asleep, as it was 2 A.M. However, the decent robot answered that she would be asked to contact them immediately when she gets up.

It was much surprising for them that they had an emergency call from the Earth. This time Dilip responded to the call. A robot was speaking at the other end. Dilip's face enlarged, still broadening his smiles while answering the call. Again, the same robot Verne belonged to Susan, which informed him that Susan was so sensitive that she woke up the moment he had given a call previously. Dilip could again hear the polite, polished words of the robot before it handed the speaker to Susan. There was a pause before she spoke. Dilip could speculate that the delay caused by her in speaking to him was precise because she might be asking the robot's help in recording their conversation over the extension circuit.

When Dilip spoke first, the grandmother could not control her passion. However, she spoke in between her joyous sobs. She expressed her loneliness. She cursed the scientists for having eradicated the pollution problem, which had given rise to long life.

She contemplated that it was nice if she had been in the past centuries as death might have taken away the lives of human beings even before they anticipated death. The woman wept for her misfortunes as she was forced to stay alone although she had children, grandchildren and relatives. The two astronauts felt like running to her, hug her, and demonstrate that they were prepared to leave everything for her in definitive terms. At that time, they thought that they should not have accepted the present job. They cursed the pattern of society, which was responsible for segregating the older adults from their kith and kin under the pretext of the so-called generation gap. Unlike the past century, there was no job for the older adults in bringing up their progenies. The advancement in technology had replaced these responsibilities with expert robots. In the words of Susan, the condition was as worse as the conditions of a child born to a surrogate mother. She opined that at least there was a human element, which had prevailed in the past. After formal greetings and usual enquiries, Susan questioned Dilip the cause for calling her in the dead of night.

The grandson was carried away by the pang of emotional sensibilities for a moment. Then, gradually, but steadily, he picked up the momentum in reaching the streamline of his thought, which had bothered them very badly since that morning.

He addressed calmly, "Dear Ma, in my childhood days, you had enlightened me with regard to many things by narrating stories and incidents about your earlier centuries. In those stories, you had reiterated that their speculations and innumerable theories have brought solace to today's human beings. Moreover, you had once told me that whenever we cannot find solutions to a certain problem of today, could, however, be found -the clues- in the philosophy of the previous generations, wherein one may find hints for the same. In other words, the future, sorry, Ma the present problems we have already been dealt with by our predecessors, but, now, we can term it to be postulated, isn't it?"

Thinking aloud, Susan replied that, in a way, she agrees with his views, but soon she said that she has to reconsider the same leisurely. As she spoke, the confidence in her grew with time. Ultimately, Dilip spoke," Mum, as you know from a long time that we have been taking up several deep space explorations since we entered into service. We have reached a saturated point where it is difficult for us to pull on for the rest of our lives.

Robots, of course, can serve us better, but we feel after so many years of experience that they are not human beings."

Meanwhile, the grandmother interrupted, "Quite interesting. Why can't you come over here to live with me now?"

"Sorry, Mum, we are far away from you, and it takes a long time to reach you. Secondly, the present assignment will take a few more decades to complete. Just if you can allow us some more time to fulfil our ambition–"

"Never mind, at least you can view me, can't you?" retorted the old lady. They ordered the robots to arrange for a tridimensional device for the rest of their talk. Once the contact was established, they had no difficulty in a face-to-face talk.

Though the astronauts noticed a few wrinkles over the grandmother's face, they thought, ultimately, the man had succeeded in solving the ageing problem to some extent. Moreover, they knew well how the man had fought against infections in the last two centuries. But the project was incomplete due to many more reasons. In this regard, Dilip remembered the oft-quoted remark of his father, "Man is the enemy of man".

Susan asked Dilip to continue. Dilip resumed his argument, "Mum, it is difficult to shift a section of the society to a New World. Robots themselves cannot develop a cult by themselves. Hence, it is in our opinion that we can try to create human beings here–"

"Oh! Stop that you cannot become Gods!" the woman objected.

"But Mum, please understand our problems," this time Deepak humbly requested the grandmother. Now, Dilip continued his argument with a strong determination. More they argued the gap seemed widening. At one point, the lady thought of disconnecting the tridimensional device. But in this world, how could one draw up a conclusion upon the tangle of love and affection. Finally, the boys succeeded in their attempts only by praising her.

Extraordinary talents. Of course, one has to admit that love has a wonderful power, which could revitalize the strength of the relationship in terms of light-years.

Afterr calming herself down from the highest level of disgust and hatre, Susand, started to narrate in a low but confident voice the history of artificial human creation. She said a sensuous poet among the Romantic Movement at the beginning of the nineteenth century; he was none other than P. B. Shelley. He had a scientific ideology also.

His wife was Mary Shelley. She was the pioneer Science, fiction writer. She began to approach the problem similar to the astronauts. Victor, the protagonist of the novel Frankenstein -the Modern Prometheus (1818), explored these possibilities. His Faustian makeup could create a monster; in turn, it destroyed his creator and family members. Deepak interrupted, "Okay, Mum, why didn't he create a human being instead of a monster?"

Susan answered with a pause, "Wait a minute, I was coming to that point. During those days, there was progress in science and not in technology. Hence, he did it with whatever material he had. But, of course, he had difficulty assembling the human organs. So, he used to manage with oversized organs to imitate the human anatomy."

Though Dilip had many questions to ask at this stage. He suppressed his

Inquisitiveness to store more information at that time. Hence, Susan continued her narration uninterruptedly, "Of course, there were different thought experiments like Karl Capek's Rossums' Universal Robots (1921) and Heinlein's Helen O' Loy and other works in the twentieth century."

"As the needs grew day by day, the man began to explore more in this field. Instead of humanoids, Robots became popular in that century. At the end of the millennium, there were about 33,000 robots serving humanity on Earth alone, out of which the USA had the prestigious record of possessing about 7000 robots. The majority of them were only the pick and keep type."

Deepak was growing impatient now after hearing grand ma's stale stories. His pale eyes could neither stop her narration nor bring her on the track.

Further, Susan informed with immense conviction, "Isaac Asimov alone could deal with this kind of problem tactfully in his Robotistic works." Then, Dilip placing back the empty coffee capsules on the tray, questioned, "But I have skimmed through the abstract of other authors who have contributed in the field, just to name a few- Clarke, H.B. Fyfe, Arun Manday, and others?" Susan could retort with the same speed and intensity, "I was speaking of the most representative authors of the millennium."

He was the first to experiment with the fictional Three Laws of Robotics- of course, they have realized later that his thought experiments came true in due course. Later Asimov modified them as the Three Laws of Humanics. And in turn, they were called since then the Zeroeth law. He had created two humaniform robots, namely, Daneel Olivaw and Jander. In addition, he had created a telepathic robot Giskard also. You can also watch two classic movies, namely The Bicentennial Man and I, Robot, based on his novelsThese were the classic examples of creativity.

Deepak could not tolerate more. Hence, cutting short her speech, he made an ultimate attempt to pose the primary drive of their motive of consulting her, "Has he created a robot or a human being in turn which could create human beings?"

The lady did not utter any word for more than a minute. After that, she spoke, "Perhaps, it seems that he has suggested somewhere this idea. Perhaps– oh! Yes! He has mentioned this fact in one of the interviews with–Yes–with–Fitz Gerald and others in the State University Department. Perhaps, the idea might be of the latter–no. Asimov might have complimented his innovative idea. But, as far as I can recollect, they haven't tried." Even before she finished her sentence, Dilip enquired," Mum, what might be the reasons for not attempting to make human beings by them or so far not tried?"

Susan pensively examined the movements of the eyeballs of Dilip over the tridimensional device and finally retorted, "First, you can guess what might be the reason." Dilip slowly but steadily began to communicate without giving much attention to his way of articulation; the words came like the one from a dreamy world:

I think Man has a fascination for himself rather than his creations. He has a psychological fear that ,the created beings might subvert the present set-up of society in the future. Moreover, man has an ego-centred nature which has prevented him from creating his replica either in the form of a humaniform robot or clone human beings by biological means. But, mum, what bothers me most is that is there any law laid down in the past in making a man? I mean, any general observation made in the common behaviour of man? Or in other words, is there any observation regarding the baseline for the creation of human behaviour. In a way what makes a human a human being?"

Susan said, "My son, you may be surprised to know that this has been the subject of discussion ever since the immortal bard Shakespeare took to writing. In his plays, Shakespeare has experimented with the variation of man's character like ambition, jealousy, procrastinating nature etc., Man's nature is unpredictable. However, I can give you a hint, which I came across while I was going through a file on computer captions. It was a catchy one. It was used in one of the study centres in India – Indo-American Research Center for International Studies, Hyderabad. That is, 'If you find someone without a smile, give him one of yours' -that may give you a hint for your further experimentation. Deepak spontaneously questioned, "Does the pronoun `him' refer that only 'men' lack the sense of humour?"

Susan replied, "No, boy, since you live in the twenty-fifth century, you take everything literally. You can't understand the conventional meaning. The pronoun 'he' referred to both the sexes till the end of the last millennium."

With a sigh of relief, Dilip thanked her for providing one of the clues in the process of making a human being. He assured that they would try to create a human being remaining in the module. They also assured her that they would bring the new man and the woman of their creation to her residence as soon as they land on Earth. By then, the robots were laying the table for lunch in the module. With an inexplicable smile, Susan also began to take her breakfast after breaking contact with them.

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