by K.S. Khunkhao
A.S. (Anno Scientia) 112
The room was lifeless. There was no movement, only a sound – a mechanical sound.
The sound came from SEER-112 – an enormous machine located right in the middle of the room. Its giant mainframe was hanging from the ceiling like a reverse metallic dome. The sound it made was somewhat rhythmic, like breathing. There was a high-pitch tone alternating with a low one, with a short pause in between. The sound was not deafening, but it engulfed the entire area.
Outside the room was a different sound: softer, and less rhythmic. They were footsteps. Two pairs of feet were slowly approaching the metal door. They both sounded firm and confident, although one of them seemed to be more calculating. The metal door was highly-secured. It had a seven-digit numeric keypad and an electric anti-burglar system built in. When given the right command, the door and the keypad will be flooded with high-voltage electricity, preventing any physical contact. The system was regulated by SEER-112, as with almost every electrical applicant in the room that required a certain amount of ‘intelligence’ to function properly.
As the footsteps reached the door, they stopped. There was a barely-audible conversation going on right outside the door. The voices sounded familiar. It was Harold and Yoshi.
The door slid open.
“Oh, thank you SEER. We didn’t put in the code yet. Did you recognise our voice?” One of the men asked. It was the one with more calculating footsteps; it was Harold.
Two young men entered the room; one of them looked a little older. A big blue SEER-112 monitor was located right in front of the entrance.
“WELCOME, HAROLD AND YOSHI.” Seemed to be an indirect answer from the machine.
The message was screened from the left to the right in a smooth and gentle manner. When the message appeared on the monitor, there was a low-pitch electronic sound accompanying it. It was as if the machine was trying to say the words out loud.
“Oh well, long time no see, old pal.” Harold said back to the blue monitor before he continued walking to the middle of the room, towards the SEER-112 mainframe.
Yoshi, on the other hand, decided to walk to the gigantic window near the office desk without uttering anything. The window overlooked the magnificent floating city of Pacifia. This room was located at the top of the tallest building in the city. Every structure on the ground seemed like a drifting jellyfish, so small, so insignificant. The evening sun shone both on the majestic city below and on Yoshi’s face, which seemed to be almost as majestic. Silence filled the air until Harold broke it with an energetic claim from the middle of the room.
“Alright then, what are we waiting for? Let’s do this! Come here Yosh, give me a hand.”
There was a long pause before Yoshi replied, and he did so without turning from the window.
“Seriously, Harold. I don’t think that this is a good idea.”
“Oh, Newton helps me! I thought we have agreed on this!”
“I don’t know. I mean, yes, we’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into this, but when I’ve had some quiet moments to really think about it, I knew it wasn’t right. It’s against our nature.”
“Hey, what happened to you? Was it Maria? Has she been putting that philosophical bullcrap in your head again?”
“No. Actually, it’s not my wife. It’s my daughter.”
“What? This is a joke, right? You can’t be serious telling me that you believe what your less-than-a-decade-old daughter said about science!”
“No, this is not about science, Harold. It’s about life! Hope, wishes, surprises, anticipation, mystery, these are things that keep us going as a human, but by showing someone a future, you’re taking them all away. To know the future is not a blessing, it’s a curse!”
“Look, we’re not talking about a single life here Yosh. We’re talking about millions of lives! With enough funding and support, we can change the face of a civilization! At least give it a test run, would you? Imagine how much money we would get and how famous we will be if the government agrees to fund our massive project!”
“Ah, you see, that’s exactly what I’m afraid of. An extremely powerful device in the hands of the government?! No way. I say we destroy it – now, before some science-knows-what agents discover it.”
The room has become silent. The familiar electronic sound in the background had suddenly stopped. Yoshi noticed that Harold didn’t reply, so he took this opportunity to strike again when his friend was still vulnerable.
“Look, Harold, you know that I funded almost the whole thing, so I have the right to terminate it if I want to.”
Harold paused a little before he glanced upward towards the ceiling – a place where the machine’s mainframe was located.
“Well, that maybe true, but the one who lost more weight and got less sleep is me. So I’m sorry, but no, this is my work, too. And I can’t let you have the final decision.” Harold paused to inhale deeply before uttering further, this time his words seemed to come from somewhere deep inside him.
“Look, Yosh, I’m just sick of scraping off my father’s leftover. Even this building and this very lab used to be his old office, and you know that. It is time to show the world what you and I are capable of doing, not what we are capable of scavenging. But it has to start here, buddy. This will work. Trust me. And if it doesn’t then we’ll get rid of it and start working on something else, alright?”
After Harold finished his sentence, the whirring sound in the background suddenly stopped and silence once again inhibited the room. Yoshi let out a long sigh.
“You know, I have a feeling that I’m going to regret this.” Yoshi paused. This seemed to be an unusually long pause for Harold. Then finally Yoshi spoke.
“Alright… I’ll comply, just this once, for old time’s sake. But you have to promise me that if it doesn’t work like we had predicted or if anything bad happens, you’re going to destroy it, or if you won’t do it yourself, then promise that you will not get in my way.”
“On my father’s grave and my treasured I.Q., I promise.”
“Right, so who’s going in and who’s monitoring?”
“Well, since I’m the smarter one I will have to be at the monitor” Harold said half-jokingly “And you, my friend, will be blessed with an unprecedented privilege of seeing into the future – the first human to have such an opportunity!”
“If… the machine works.” Yoshi’s words were intended to serve both as a warning and a reminder to Harold.
“Of course it will…” Harold muttered softly to himself as he turned away from Yoshi and paced swiftly towards the blue monitor which was facing the room’s entrance. The familiar whirling sound now resumed to engulf the room. Yoshi slowly took his gaze off the grand city below and turned around to head for the ‘user’s chair’ in the middle of the room.
SEER-112 was a hallmark of invention in an age where there were hardly any other things except invention. By analysing the flow and pattern of every atom in the room to an exceptional resolution, the machine could give the user a glimpse of what is going to happen in the future at a specific time, in a specific area around its vicinity. The analyzed data would be transferred into neural messages and transported into the user’s memory storage in the brain, in a part called “the hippocampus”. That is, the data would come in the form of “memory of the future”. At the current state, however, the machine only had enough power to predict accurately within fourteen minutes and had a range of only several square metres around itself. Most importantly, the user will see a flash of the future clearly, but he or she will not see all the events leading to it. The machine’s performance could, of course, be improved with further progression in scientific knowledge and with more ‘resources’.
As Yoshi approached the user’s chair located directly beneath the SEER-112’s mainframe, there was a strange high-pitch sound emitting from the machine. The machine’s size was massive in comparison to other inventions in the laboratory. At the moment, its mainframe flickered various coloured lights like a city at night. On the other side of the room, Harold was preparing to weave his magic.
“SEER-112, display virtual keys.” Harold’s voice was strong and clear. The machine was designed to operate at the voice command of only Harold and Yoshi. After his command, a transparent piano- keyboard hybrid appeared in front of Harold. He then used all his fingers to ‘play’ with the keys proficiently like a grand pianist showing off his magnum opus. Numerous data ran through the blue monitor, faster than what a normal mind could comprehend. Each line was accompanied by a soft beeping noise. Then, after he hit the last ‘note’ on the key, the blue monitor showed the sentence “SEER-112: WAITING FOR COMMANDS”. This message was blinking at a constant rate as if it was urging Harold that it was more than ready for the task.
Yoshi, who has been sitting on the chair for quite some time, seemed to be quietly meditating. Harold broke the trance by shouting from the other side of the room.
“Alright, I want to test the very limit of our ingenious creation, my friend, so I set the timing for fourteen minutes. Are you ok with that?”
Yoshi turned to look at the transparent clock on the wall. It was 04:11pm. So Yoshi would receive an image of what he would see in the future at exactly 04:25pm.
“Can I say no?” Yoshi’s tone was a bit playful, which was rare. Harold noticed this, so he smiled. Then, without further ado, Harold gave the command to the machine. His voice was still as confident as the last time.
“SEER-112, initialize the future analysis program. Timing: Twenty-five minutes past four – Post Meridiem.”
And then it was the machine’s turn to weave its magic. At the very top of the blue monitor in front of Harold was the sentence “ANALYZING FLUCTUATIONS OF ATOMIC MATTERS…” Countless lines of data were running down from the top to the bottom with every single new line accompanied by strange electronic sound. To ordinary people’s ears such sound might be extremely irritating, but to Yoshi and especially Harold’s ears, it was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
After a while, the blue monitor changed and the sentence “TRANSFERRING DATA INTO NEURAL MESSAGES…” appeared. At the same time, in the middle of the room, the machine gently lowered down a transparent head-cover to envelop Yoshi’s entire skull. Myriad crystalline wires were to be seen everywhere inside the head-cover. There were lights running through each one of these tiny wires. Glowing. Dimming. And glowing once again.
More fascinating than the look was the sound. Right now the high and low pitch noises were alternating restlessly, as if the machine was trying to catch its breath in a grand marathon. On the chair, in the middle of the room, Yoshi’s eyes were blinking and twitching ceaselessly as the data from the future seeped into his brain. His body, however, seemed to be as still and as calm as the morning sea.
The whole process took much less than what was predicted by the theory. The familiar silence inhibited the room once again as the orchestra inside the machine’s mainframe played its last note. It now seemed to be resting.
Yoshi slowly opened his eyes, but as soon as his eyes were fully revealed, his eyebrows started to curl inward with what seemed to be a sense of great doubt. His face was pale and the sweat was starting to show on his forehead. His eyes were as blank as a space between stars. No one said anything for a brief moment, which seemed strangely long for someone who was anticipating something to happen.
“So…? How’s the future, Yosh?” Harold said, still merrily, as he left the blue monitor and approached Yoshi who was still sitting on the user’s chair. There was a loud beeping sound coming from SEER-112’s blue monitor, but it was ignored, as was Harold’s question.
Yoshi’s face seemed to be filled with strange curiosity as he stared into the nothingness in front of him. He was surely there physically, but mentally he was somewhere else.
“Are you ok buddy? Hey, look, if this is a joke you better stop it now, ‘cos I’m not laughing.” Harold’s merry tone was now replaced by a tone of great concern and, to a certain extent, fear. Yoshi finally gave a reply, but he still didn’t shift his gaze from that space in front of him.
“I… I don’t understand. There must be something wrong with the machine, or the theory, or maybe… maybe there is something wrong with my brain.”
“Com’on now, Yosh, hardly anything is beyond our capability of understanding. Just tell me what happened and we’ll analyze it together, just like old times remember? So, does the machine work or not?”
“Yes, the machine worked perfectly. The virtual memory was very vivid. Even the details and the feeling. It was so… real.”
“So what seemed to be the problem, then?” Harold’s voice became slightly harsher without him noticing it. After that question, Yoshi shifted his absent-minded gaze to look at Harold in the eyes for the first time. The shift happened so quickly that Harold suddenly felt frightened of Yoshi, but he did a decent job in hiding that fear.
“I don’t get it, Harold. I just don’t get it. But, it seems that at exactly 04:25pm…” Yoshi paused a little before continuing.
“…you will die by my hand!”
Everything in the room seemed to suddenly stop. And for a moment there was only the sound of… nothing.
Nothing at all.
Harold felt a turmoil building up from his stomach. His head which was normally filled with remarkable knowledge was now filled with utter blankness. His face was as pale as the cloudless moon.
Harold gathered his senses and resumed his breath which he didn’t realize had been absent, he then inhaled deeply and shot out a question with a tone opposite to when he was giving commands to the machine, it was tainted with doubt and uncertainty.
“Well, tell me, Yosh…” He paused a little. “So do you, um… do you have any intention of doing so?”
With that question, Yoshi’s head seemed to be pushed backward by an invisible force, his eyes no longer showed a sign of worry. They changed into anger.
“What? What do you take me for, a murderer? That was the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard! I would forgive you this once for I know that severe stress must have clouded your judgement, but do not ask me that kind of question again.”
“Well, ok, but then how would you explain that vision?”
“How would I know? Why don’t you tell me, is there anything you think you are hiding from me and would make me become so angry that I will kill you if I knew?”
Harold tried his best to control his turmoil of emotions. It seemed to be a very difficult task. “Alright, look, we should stop this nonsense immediately and start doing something. The clock’s ticking.”
“Doing something? Come back to your senses, Harold. If the machine worked then the fact that you will decide to do something about the future or whether or not I would comply to your decision would have already been included in the equation. Events are simply waiting to be unfold in the arrow of time! You, of all people, should know this very well.”
“Oh, very smart Yosh, so your ingenious idea is just to sit there and do nothing?! This is totally ridiculous. It’s my life at risk here and your best solution is to do nothing!” The anger in his mind kept feeding on the fear inside his heart.
“But isn’t ‘nothing’ precisely what I should do? I mean, it is me who controls myself, and if I’m not going to kill you then I’m not! No one can force me to do it if I don’t want to. And you, what you should do is leave this room immediately and go as far away as you can, at least for this next fourteen – which has already become twelve – minutes, so that I won’t be able to find you. Plus, the machine cannot calculate things outside the room, remember? So fate won’t be able to find you out there, if that makes sense.”
Harold hesitated a little before he unconsciously brought his right hand up to touch his lips, a gesture he always performed when he thought he has got a clever answer to something.
“Hm.. hang on, I’ve got an even better idea, but first you will need to tell me exactly what you saw.”
“Alright, whatever. But I can tell you now that we’re just wasting our precious time here.” Yoshi’s eyebrows curled inwards once again as he tried to recall the vision. He then closed his eyes tightly.
“You were lying on the ground in front of me. There was blood everywhere around you, and a lot of it on my hands. I was holding a plasma gun which pointed at your soulless body. Behind you was a door…
That door.” Yoshi said as he opened his eyes and pointed his finger towards the only door in the room. Harold’s face seemed to turn paler as he secretly examined the place where his body might be lying.
“Ok, good, at least now I know where to avoid standing!” He said half-jokingly before continuing with the next question “Now… is there any plasma gun in this room?” Harold asked, suppressing his slightly trembling voice.
“There was one that we used to study about thermal expansion in the vacuum a long time ago. If my memory still serves me well. I think it’s in the big drawer at my father’s old desk, near the window.”
Harold paused as he, once again, brought his right hand to touch his lips.
“Hm… alright, why don’t we try to do this in the safest way possible. I will get out of this room, but since you see my body near that door with a plasma gun in your hands, I will go and get that plasma gun, hold it close to me as I walk to that door, enter the code, and get out. All of this will happen while you’re staying right there on that chair, deal?”
Yoshi gave out a long sigh. “Look, this would be really easy if you just put your trust in me, not in the machine.”
“We are all machines, Yosh. Imperfect machines. That is why I’m trying to create a more perfect one.”
Harold paused a little before continuing in a much harsher tone, as if he was giving a command to SEER-112.
He then carefully turned around and slowly walked to the direction of the desk near the window. There were only the sound of Harold’s footsteps and the machine’s constant whir which had resumed quite some time ago. The air was filled with uncomfortable tension, but both Harold and Yoshi somehow tried to ignore this fact.
Harold searched the desk and its drawers. Then suddenly, as his hands thrashed through numerous scientific tools in the top drawer he shouted to Yoshi who was still sitting on the chair in the middle of the room.
“Hey! Where is the gun?!”
“Hm… someone might have already taken it away then. You know what? This is such a bloody waste of time! Just go to the door and leave the room already. I’m just gonna stick my butt here on this chair, alright?”
“Wait! I think I know where it is! It’s in that locker behind you. Yes, I moved it there after we used it for the heat absorption experiment last time. Could you check it for me?”
“Oh Einstein helps me! And I thought you didn’t want me to look for the gun. But yeah, sure, whatever.” Yoshi got off the chair and walked towards the locker.
Then, at that instant, he heard a strange combustion sound coming from behind. After a mere fraction of a second, he felt an extremely hot sensation on his back as his body flung forward. The pain was absolutely excruciating. He fell face-down onto the hard ground of the laboratory.
Harold, on the other side of the room, was moving away from the desk. His hands were holding the plasma gun close to his chest. The hands were still shaking. Countless tiny drops of sweat presented themselves on his forehead. He hurried his pace to reach the metallic door. As he was standing in front of the numeric keypad, he rubbed his palm against his shirt to dry the sweat off before entering the code. He pressed the code firmly, one by one, with an index finger – 2 1 5 7 7 3… but then, all of the sudden, in that split second, as his finger was going to land on the seventh digit, there was an exhausted – yet somewhat fierce – voice coming from one corner of the room.
“SEER-112, initiate the door security system!”
And before Harold’s finger could be lifted away from that last digit, an electrical surge quickly went through his body. It ran from the finger passed through the arm and down to the spine. His body twitched as it bounced away from the keypad. The plasma gun flew away from his hands towards the middle of the room as his muscles squirmed.
Yoshi was trying hard to crawl from the corner of the room towards the door. His back was greatly burnt by the heat from the plasma gun and he was bleeding heavily, but he was still alive.
At the same time, Harold was slowly recovering from the shock. He clumsily turned his body around to look for the plasma gun. His blurry vision suggested that it was lying somewhere between him and Yoshi. The gun, however, seemed to be lying closer to Yoshi. Harold gathered his last ounce of strength and sprang forward towards the object.
…but he was too late.
Right in the middle of the air, a plasma beam went directly into his chest. He bounced backward from its sheer impact and fell abruptly onto the ground behind him.
Yoshi, who was still lying on the floor, was trying hard to control his arrhythmic breath. He had to deliberately breathed in and out lest his breath would automatically stop. Eventually, he stood up with a plasma gun still pointing at Harold’s dead body. There was blood everywhere around Harold’s body, and a lot of his own blood on his hands.
A somewhat familiar scene.
The clock showed the time 04:25pm. Yoshi struggled with agony as he tried to walk to the speaker at the door. As soon as he reached it, he pressed the red button with his last reserve of strength and uttered with what seemed to be just a weary whisper.
“This is Yoshimada Mifune, please send an emergency unit up to the top floor. I’m severely injured. Repeat, send…” this was as far as his willpower could take him. His body slowly dropped itself on the ground with his back leaning against the door. His blood was painted on the door’s surface as his body was slowly sliding down. His feeble eyelids could barely keep themselves open. The last vision in front of him was blurry like a half-remembered dream, but he could still see that there was something appearing on the SEER-112’s blue monitor. A single sentence was slowly screened from the left to the right in its usual unhurried manner. The sentence was accompanied by a very familiar high-pitch sound.
“POTENTIAL THREATS: NULLIFIED”