Today is Monday, 14th April, 2005. I have a mission. An important mission. A mission I will complete. A mission that will save us all.
The endless dawn has risen over the city again and it’s still quiet, sleepy, although never fully asleep. I watched the streets from an unobtrusive shadow, trying to blend in with the scenery. Normally, I would literally melt into the surrounding environment and be completely undetectable. But I wasn’t here to show off.
I was here for something far simpler.
This time I had decided to follow her. She was the more alert one. She missed nothing, and she never missed him.
Didn’t mean that it was impossible for her to miss him.
In this variation she had decided to walk part of the way to work then take public transport. Slightly annoying for me as having witnesses around was somewhat of a hindrance, although they could prove useful too.
I pondered what to do this time, to stop her from ever meeting him. It was amazing how one little moment, one small spark between two people could end up causing Humanity’s highest high and, inevitably, their lowest low.
But I had seen that very thing happen, again and again.
It was my job to stop it.
For the first two attempts I had simply killed him then her, but both times I had simply been sent back to the beginning of the day with a loud, garbled voice shouting in my head.
I had no idea why killing them wasn’t an option, it seemed to be the easiest option. But sending a message back to me would’ve been extremely difficult so there must’ve been a strong reason why.
So I just had to stop them meeting instead, the far harder task. The Engineer and the Scientist. Again and again and again.
And there were rules I had to follow.
First, to never reveal myself or my abilities to anyone, especially either one of them.
Second, I could not interfere with the world at large. Small things could be adjusted in the flow of time, but not large things.
That was why stopping these two was so hard, because stopping them from meeting would literally change the whole shape of the future.
Thirdly, as I discovered the first two times I was sent back, I could not kill anyone, especially them.
So, this time I decided to give her the worst day imaginable.
I watched as she hopped on the bus, getting her ticket and taking a seat with a large coffee in her hand. She sipped it contentedly and as she looked out the window. I could almost see her evil, genius mind ticking.
Of course, she wasn’t evil yet.
I waited until she sipped again then made a small gesture with my hand, a large bump appearing in front of the bus’s wheels.
I could almost hear her cursing as the hot coffee sloshed down the front of her white blouse, staining it. I hoped she would maybe hop off the bus and turn around to get a change of clothes. That would put a kink in her schedule.
No such luck.
She continued riding the bus until she reached the corner of her work. By then she’d managed to mop up most of the mess and wore her navy-blue jacket over the shirt which covered most of the mess.
She thanked the driver and descended, striding purposefully towards her office.
Surreptitiously again, I made it so a small, slippery puddle welled up in front of her next step. She stood on it and almost slipped, giving out a yell and windmilling her hands to regain her balance. She managed, but in the process managed to rip her skirt.
Her mood grew sourer.
I made another small movement with my hand and weakened one of her heels. With her next step the heel broke and she stiffened, trying to hold back the obscenities this time.
I tried not to chuckle.
In a bold move, she took off both pairs of heels and slowly, carefully continued her walk to the office.
I followed her, using my superior technology, technology she would one day be responsible for, to become invisible so I could follow her into her office. I would be her perpetual ghost for the day, or at least until 5:27pm when she always met him. If I didn’t stop them from making eye contact, I never got past 5:27pm.
She finally reached her small office, dumped her bag down and deposited herself on her office chair, heaving a massive sigh. I made the door slam shut, making her jump out of her skin. She looked at the watch on her wrist.
“8:58am. Two more minutes of freedom,” she groaned, then face planted her desk.
I decided to let her be for the moment. She’d need her energy for the rest of the day’s antics.
Precisely two minutes later there was a knock on the door. She sat upright and smoothed down her jacket that hid her ruined shirt.
“Come in!” she shouted.
In trotted her assistant, a short, cute little thing with a blonde bobcut.
“Good morning, Miss Desaree. Here is your schedule for the day and oh my goodness what happened to your shirt?” she exclaimed.
Miss Desaree, her first name Maple, compliments of the famous Canadian export, the name an almost cruel irony on her future self, looked up tiredly.
“I spilled my coffee on it. Then I ripped my skirt and broke my shoe heel, and all before 9am,” she said blandly.
“Oh my. Well, I think you have some spare clothes somewhere in your drawers or cupboards and as for shoes…hmm. I could have someone pick up a new pair for you before your meeting at 4pm,” she said.
Maple smiled gratefully, her smile changing her tired to countenance to a softer one, although not much could soften those ice blue eyes of hers.
“Yes, that would be wonderful. Thank you, Sarah,” she replied.
Once Sarah left, Maple changed into a new shirt which had indeed been tucked away and I averted my eyes out of respect, although I had always thought her a beautiful woman. At least when she was younger.
It seemed Maple had opted out of wearing shoes for the moment as she strode out of her office and into the workspace full of employees.
Let the fun begin.
Maple’s day dragged on and everything that could go wrong, went wrong.
The photocopier chewed up every single one of her documents, any liquid that was near her managed to land on her. Objects on her desk kept rearranging themselves, people kept missing things she gave to them so she had to reprint them. Then of course the printer didn’t work. Twice the in-house IT guy came to try to fix it, did so, only to have it stuff up again. The only time I gave her some respite was lunchtime and when she made herself some coffee. I hoped that if she was sufficiently full and pumped up on caffeine she would go straight home. The route she travelled to get home was not one that I had ever found him near.
Finally, 4pm came around and Maple was frazzled to say the least.
My next biggest focus was to sabotage the meeting. After listening to her pitch so many times, I knew it off by heart. I also knew that it was the very beginnings of the roots of her future ideas, ideas she would concoct with her husband, the future, world-renowned scientist Dr. Marks. In fact, I had recently discovered that the men she was pitching to were part of the same company that he worked at.
It’s amazing how intricate the threads of fate can be.
“Here are your new shoes,” Sarah said as Maple paced in her office, hoping, stressing that all went well in her meeting.
“Thank you, Sarah,” she said, gratefully putting the shoes on.
“Here is your folder with all your notes. The gentlemen are in the boardroom now waiting for you.”
Maple took a deep breath and strode towards the boardroom.
I followed, hoping I could divert her off this project as well as from meeting Dr. Marks.
“Gentlemen. Thank you for coming today. I hope you appreciate and consider my proposal I am about to deliver today,” she started off boldly.
She turned to her papers and I saw her eyes widen in surprised horror as she realised they were all completely disorganised.
“Uh,” she stammered.
“Is everything okay?” the gentlemen in the fancy suits questioned.
“Yes!” she quickly said and I could see that she was wracking her brain trying to remember her pitch. I hoped that I had made it impossible for her to do so, but I forgot that she was a rather resourceful woman.
“My proposition,” she began, drawing a deep breath. “My proposition is that we marry engineering with science.”
I banged hard on the glass wall, making all three of them jump.
“What idiot is banging on the glass!” exclaimed the older gentleman.
“No-one, it seems,” Maple said. “Now, new ways to combine technologies. I know it has been spoken about many times before, but what I am proposing is AI technology.”
“Robots?” the older gentleman scoffed. “Robots are a thing of science fiction movies.”
“Yes, I agree. But not with the way I design it. All I would need is to work with some of your top scientists, get some funding and I can start giving you prototypes of AI that can do many of the functions that current machines do, but better, more attuned to what humans want, almost human but lesser. I do have a rough design and I have, theoretically, executed it and captured it with in-computer video footage.”
Here she went to turn on her computer and use the projector it was hooked up into to show her proof, but it wouldn’t turn on.
The two gentlemen waited while she tried to fix it and I smiled. I had fried several parts of its innards. It was stone dead.
“Look, we’re on a tight schedule, Miss Desaree. It seems you were not prepared for today. We do not give out money to talk of developing robots,” she the youngest, slightly patronisingly.
“Perhaps,” said Maple, trying to keep her cool. “But imagine AI who could do the mundane jobs we hate doing, jobs that all companies, big companies like yours won’t have to pay someone to do. AI that don’t need sick days or have personal problems to deal with. If my ideas work, which they will, it could change the entire economy!” she said.
“It’s an intriguing idea, Miss, but that’s all it is. An idea, and one that is not planned out well, not pitched well. I’m rather disappointed,” the elder one said. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we must go.”
They left the room rather quickly and I heaved a sigh of relief. That had been easier than I’d anticipated. I hadn’t counted on the two gentlemen being so sceptical to begin with.
Then again, I knew what she spoke of. I had seen the reality of her dreams come to fruition, become a living nightmare.
I had seen what her and her husband Dr. Mark would create.
At first, it was be a wonderful invention. AI to do everything we didn’t want to do. Businesses would cut costs and the government began implementing payments to people whose jobs were taken over by the AI, so people had more time on their hands to pursue their arts or raise their families. More and more jobs opened up in engineering and science, schools taught it more and taught it well.
Traffic became more streamlined as cars became digitalised, phones and computers became so advanced they were almost humanoid, could read your moods and anticipate your wants.
The technology grew to know us just as well as we knew ourselves. Perhaps moreso.
And then, then the fighting, the wars.
With everything digitialised, with AI’s pulling so much of the heavy work almost everywhere, suddenly they became microphones, listening devices, tracking devices that could tell the right people what Humanity was doing, saying and where they were going at any time.
Information was valuable, and it was bought, for a lot. Skirmishes spiked in the streets, then the governments and militaries got involved and then entire countries. Everything became a warzone. Anything bad that you could imagine was reality. Humanity started losing itself.
And over it all lorded Desmarkee Industries – Maple and Dr. Marks’ brainchild.
Maple slumped down in her seat and looked at the clock. The time had gone rather fast, now only 4:20pm, and I wondered, hoped, that Maple would go home now. If she went home, there was no way she could bump into Dr. Marks at 5:27pm.
Eventually she dragged herself up and out of the room and back to her office.
“How did it go?” bubbled Sarah when Maple returned.
Maple gave her a blank stare then answered, “I’m going home early.”
“Oh. It didn’t go well?” she asked.
“No. My computer is fried, I lost my notes and they were skeptical of the idea as soon as I mentioned it. I’m pretty sure they were just waiting for me to fail,” she said glumly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Sarah said.
Maple managed a wan smile.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Sarah,” she said.
I almost whooped aloud in joy. This time, perhaps, my plan would actually work. I began counting down the minutes to victory.
It was 4:55pm by the time Maple had hopped on a bus to the train station, preferring to take the train as they were less crowded than the buses during peak hour. I followed her closely, my camouflage now turned off, almost willing her to fly home.
She sat on a seat at the train station and waited dejectedly.
“All passengers, the 5pm Train 307 is delayed and will instead be departing in 30 minutes from station 3,” came the announcement from the speakers.
Maple groaned in frustration and my heart leapt into my throat as Maple trudged up the steps, her mood even sourer.
“Might as well get a coffee to give me the will to live,” she muttered to herself.
I was in an agony as I watched her walking back outside.
This was around the area that she usually ran into Dr. Mark. And he would be heading home now too.
I resisted the urge to bite my fingers.
She didn’t go far, just to the closest café, and waited in a long line, idly checking her phone while waiting.
It was 5:15pm by the time she got her coffee and I freaked out when she sat down in the café instead of returning to the train station.
I frantically looked around to try and see if I could spot Dr. Marks. Perhaps I could distract him if he passed by. I could see no sight of his gleaming black hair with the white streak in it, but I kept looking.
Maple finished her coffee, looking more revived, and began making her way back to the station. I turned on my camouflage again so I could walk almost shoulder to shoulder with her, see what she could see.
Still, I saw nothing. Almost there, almost there…
She stopped at a crossing, waiting for the man to go green. That was when I spotted him in the crowd right near her, staring at his phone. As soon as the man turned green, he would look up, walk in front of her and she would see him and their eyes would meet. The end.
I saw him looking around, and saw Maple do the same.
I did the only thing I could think of. I reappeared in clothing that matched those around me and pushed my way through the crowd and leapt, full-bodied into an oncoming car.
The pain was almost unimaginable as the front of the car hit me fully and I bounced, rolled over the top and onto the windscreen then tumbled over the roof and onto the ground.
It felt like every bone in my body had been broken.
There were screams all around me, and I desperately looked to see where Maple was. I knew she didn’t like the sight of blood so hopefully she would turn away. Instead, to my horror, I saw her face above me.
“Oh my god! Are you okay?” she shouted at me.
I could almost see the time swirling before my eyes.
“Look…me…” I managed to garble out.
“Yes, I’m looking at you,” she promised, although her face looked green.
“Make way! I have medical experience!” came a deep voice from amongst the crowd.
A man appeared; black hair with a white streak. Right next to Maple’s face.
The time changed to 5:27pm. Maple looked up at him. Their eyes met.
I sobbed in deep despair. I had failed, failed again. And now, it felt like I was dying. The future was doomed.
Suddenly, everything around me became black and I gasped at the sudden absence of pain. I floated for a while, in the nothingness.
Was this death?
Then, a rushing, whirling dizziness and then light.
I was in the same spot I always appeared in, watching Maple walk to the bus.
I closed my eyes tightly, inhaled slowly, then exhaled slowly and opened my eyes.
Today is Monday, 14th April, 2005. I have a mission. An important mission. A mission I will complete. A mission that will save us all.