"The time may come when fantasy will become reality and reality shall become fantasy. Rare will be the person able to discern the difference.” -Author unknown
“Good morning Jacob, did you sleep well?” says a brassy voice.
Jacob Macpherson rubs his eyes and stares at the central control panel opposite him. He notes the time: 0600.
“No, Max,” says Jacob.
“I am sorry to hear that, Jacob. Would you like a beverage?”
“Bully coffee,” grumbles Jacob. There is the sound of something percolating. A small aperture opens and a steaming cup emerges. The cup is placed onto a hovering platter, which floats over to Jacob.
Jacob takes the cup from the platter, then takes a sip of the coffee. He feels a jolt and his eyes expand.
“Is the coffee too strong?” enquires Max 2000. “I could add some cream if you like.”
“No thanks, Max.”
Gentle piano music starts emanating from the speaker, and an image of a stickman doing exercises. Jacob stands and mimics the motions of the stickman.
“Well done, Jacob," says Max, as soon as the music had ceased.
World Football channel, Jacob thinks.
The main screen activates and Bayern Munich is playing Paris Saint Germaine. The game is tied 2-2.
French football teams have been doing awfully well lately, thinks Jacob.
A German player takes a long shot and the ball hits the crossbar and deflects into the net. Instantly, the player is buried by his teammates.
As Jacob watches the replay of the goal, he experiences a tingling feeling in his mind.
Haven’t I seen that goal before? he thinks. However, he forgets the thought almost as soon as he had contemplated it. The Bully coffee may have had something to do with it. He looks around at the room around him, pondering.
At times, he has trouble recalling how he had come to be here. When had he first come to this apartment? He knows that he must have moved in at sometime. But why can’t he remember it? Whenever he had tried to do so, his mind had gone fuzzy, as events and details blurred and faded, like a person trying to use their reason or rationality after having too much alcohol or artificial stimulants.
Too much thinking, says a voice within Jacob’s head. You must learn to accept reality.
There is Max, for instance. Somehow, he is able to guess in advance all of Jacob’s immediate wants or needs. Jacob had never really considered how this was possible.
A light is flashing on the main control console, indicating an incoming message.
Accept message, Jacob thinks.
The face of an attractive brown eyed brunette appears on the main screen.
“Hi Jacob,” says a soft, feminine voice. “How is Max?”
“He’s good,” says Jacob, blushing slightly. “Is our date today still on, Reo?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” she exclaims, laughing slightly. “We will meet in the café as we planned.”
“Oui mademoiselle” says Jacob.
Reo’s image vanishes from the screen, to be replaced by the football match.
Your heart rate and respiration would suggest that you are quite attracted to Reo,” says Max.
“Thanks Max,” says Jacob. “Maybe I’ll introduce her to you sometime.”
“I look forward to meeting her,” says Max.
Jacob looks at the speaker from which Max’s voice emanates and blinks several times.
Why would Max say that? Jacob ponders. “Er, okay,” mumbles Jacob.
As Jacob eats his breakfast, consisting of scrambled eggs and toast, he considers what Max had said about his attraction for Reo.
Why am I attracted to her? he thinks. She looks like someone I used to know. But who?
Even after several minutes of deep concentration, Jacob is unable to recall whom he had met before that Reo resembles.
Jacob is still thinking about Reo’s sparkling brown eyes when he enters the lift. Pleasant classical music is playing. He pauses for a moment to listen. It is a piano concerto.
“Lobby,” he utters, and the lift begins descending.
On the fifth floor, the door slides open with a swish and a short woman with blonde hair and green eyes and wearing a purple dress steps in.
Purple, Jacob thinks. My favorite color.
“Good morning,” he says to the woman.
“Good morning, Jacob. Nice day isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Nice weather, isn’t it?” she says, smiling pleasantly.
The woman stands at the opposite end of the lift. She looks at him, but doesn’t speak.
Jacob watches her and notes that she doesn't blink. He watches her face, but her happy expression remains fixed.
How did she know my name? Jacob ponders.
The door slides open and they enter the lobby
We must have met before, he concludes.
Jacob’s eyes expand and he grins slightly as he is greeted by purple violets in hanging pots dangling from the ceiling.
He blinks several times. Had these flowers been there before? Again, for reasons he can’t understand or quite grasp, he cannot be sure. Some part of his mind tells him that they have always been there, but a tiny part of it is uncertain. Finally, he is certain. Oh course they have always been there. Pretty purple violets.
People are filling out of the library and exiting the building. Jacob stops to sniff the pleasant aroma of some of the violets and then walks out the main entrance. His smart watch chimes. He presses the speaker. “Yes?”
Reo’s face appears on the screen and Jacob feels his stomach jump slightly.
“Sorry, Jacob, but something has come up. I can’t make it today.”
“That’s okay,” mumbles Jacob.
"Have a good day, Jacob," says Reo.
When Reo’s image vanishes, Jacob rubs his face with his hand. There is an aching feeling in his stomach. She is having second thoughts or has met someone else…
“You are upset that you couldn’t meet Reo,” says Max 2000.
Jacob doesn’t answer, but finishes his Bully coffee. The room seems to spin slightly, but he regains his equilibrium in a few moments.
Call her, Jacob mumbles to himself.
Almost instantly, the Speak phone begins dialing. Reo’s image appears on the main screen.
“Hi Jacob,” she says, “how is Max?”
“He’s very good." He stares at Reo’s eyes, which, at least in his imagination, seem to sparkle.
“When are you free?” Jacob asks. “We can meet at the café.”
“Tomorrow after lunch,” says Reo.
"1400 hours," she says.
“Perfect,” says Jacob.
"See you then.”
Her image vanishes.
Nature channel, Jacob thinks.
A documentary about endangered South American parrots appears on the main screen.
What magnificent parrots, Jacob thinks, smiling.
After breakfasting on bacon and eggs, Jacob feels a surge of energy.
“I am going for a stroll, Max,” he says.
“That is a good idea,” says Max. “The temperature today is quite comfortable at 68 degrees Fahrenheit and the relative humanity is 40%. However, there is a slight possibility of precipitation. You might consider bringing your umbrella.”
“Thank you Max, I’ll keep it in mind,” utters Jacob.
He arrives at the lift and walks in. “Lobby,” he says.
At the ninth floor, the lift slows and the door slides open. A woman with crimson hair and blue eyes strides in with a small bulldog on a leash.
Jacob nods at the woman and smiles.
“Good morning, Jacob,” she utters before Jacob can speak.
“Nice weather isn’t it?” she says. “But it may rain.”
“It’s a nice dog,” says Jacob. “How long have you had it?”
“Good morning,” says the woman.
Jacob looks at the woman, then the dog.
The dog barks slightly.
For some reason, Jacob doesn’t speak to the woman again.
Arriving at the lobby, the lift opens.
Jacob’s eyes almost pop out of his head! Dozens of multi colored parrots are sitting on perches all over the lobby!
His mind reels. He doesn’t recall seeing parrots in the lobby before. After a few moments, he dismisses this thought. Of course there were parrots in the lobby. There always have been. Magnificent parrots!
He watches other people as they admire the parrots and then walks out the main entrance.
Arriving outside, his face is struck by tiny droplets of rain.
So Max was right after all, he thinks.
Jacob gazes upwards and at the glittering glass skyscrapers and towers rising up to the heavens in all directions. High above, in the clear blue sky, countless Skytrams, SkyTaxis and even the odd person in a jetpack are flitting through the air on various errands. On the sidewalks, teeming masses of people are flowing past.
The rainfall gradually increases in intensity until it is a torrent.
Jacob takes shelter under a ledge and waits for the rain to slacken. It is a long wait.
I must listen to Max more attentively, Jacob thinks.
"I don’t want scrambled eggs today, Max,” growls Jacob.
“I am sorry Jacob, but today’s breakfast will be scrambled eggs," says Max 2000.
“From my measurements of your pulse and respiration, you appear to be slightly agitated,” says Max. “May I suggest that you relax and take the pill that I am now dispensing? A red pill drops out of the aperture.
Jacob picks up the pill and looks at it curiously.
“It is for your own good,” says Max.
Jacob shrugs and swallows the pill.
A few minutes later, Jacob is eating his scrambled eggs and toast. It had never tasted so good before. He savors ever bite.
“I am pleased you are feeling better,” says Max.
“Thanks Max,” says Jacob, swallowing the last of the toast. He thinks about his coming date with Reo and what he will say to her.
A beeping sound signals an incoming message. Jacob presses the speaker “Yes?”
Reo’s image appears on the screen. “Hi Jacob. How’s Max?”
“He’s… why do you keep asking about Max?” blurts Jacob.
“Sorry Jacob, but something has come up. I can’t make it today.”
"I'll call you when I'm free," she adds.
Reo’s image vanishes.
Jacob stares glumly at the empty screen.
“Perhaps I can make you some Bully coffee and it will cheer you up,” says Max.
“Well Max," says Jacob, sighing deeply, "I give up on Reo, I tell you. She is just making excuses and we both know what that means."
“I think Reo is attracted to you and would like to meet you very much,” says Max.
“I say you are wrong,” asserts Jacob.
“I think she is destined to become your life mate.” adds Max.
“If you say so,” says Jacob.
The sound of soft piano music meets Jacob's ears and he stands up, mimicking the stickman figures’ motions.
The music stops, and Jacob sits down, panting heavily and sweating slightly.
“Well done, Jacob," says Max. "You're really getting the hang of it."
Jacob steps into the lift and sighs. “Lobby,” he grumbles.
At the sixth floor a rather bulbous man enters with buttery yellow hair and a matching mustache.
“Good morning Jacob,” says the man, smiling.
“Nice weather isn’t it?”
“Who cares about the weather!” blurts Jacob. “Do I know you? You seem to know me.”
“Good morning,” the man says, stepping out of the lift on the second floor.
Jacob slams his fist into the control panel and it rises up towards his floor. Arriving there, he marches to his apartment entrance. The door slides open and Jacob slumps down into the first chair he finds.
“Hello, Jacob," says Max. "Reo sent a message for you while you were gone. She wants to talk to you.”
“Well, I’m not interested.”
Max is silent.
"Reo is just making excuses. We will never meet. Never!"
You seem agitated Jacob. Why don’t you relax and take the pill I am dispensing for you?”
A red pill pops out of the aperture.
Jacob picks up the pill and tosses it against the wall.
“I would suggest that you don't waste your energy on negative emotions, Jacob,” says Max.
“Max,” says Jacob sharply. “It’s time to end this charade.”
“I don’t quite understand your meaning, Jacob.”
Reo’s image appears on the screen “Hi Jacob. How’s Max?”
“How do you know about Max?" demands Jacob.
"Well, just about everyone knows Max," says Reo, her face puckering slightly.
"What do you want?" grumbles Jacob.
“I am sorry but something has come up. I cannot make it today.”
"You said that last time," snaps Jacob.
"See you soon," says Reo.
Reo’s image vanishes.
“What’s this about, Max?” Jacob asks, folding his arms. "There something going on around here that you are not telling me and I demand an explanation!"
Max doesn’t answer.
“I am afraid that if I tell you, Jacob, you may suffer some severe mental anguish” says Max.
“Max, I will keep asking you about this until you relent,” says Jacob firmly.
Jacob feels his body jerk and a glowing whiteness fills his mind.
“Can you hear me, Jacob?” says a deep voice.
“Yes,” Jacob answers, finds that he is unable to open his eyes. “Who is this?”
“I am Promus, a Guardian. We created this reality to keep you calm and your body functioning."
For some reason, many things now become clear in Jacob’s mind. Memories and understanding begins flowing into his consciousness. Marlene! She had been his wife!
Reo looks almost exactly like my wife, Marlene, Jacob thinks.
“What happened to Marlene?”
“She suffered a body trauma and lost function.”
Again, Jacob absorbs this latest news. Marlene is dead! Yet, somehow, he had always known.
“Then you are responsible for Max?” Jacob enquires.
“Yes,” says Promus. “We designed Max 2000 to supervise you and keep you safe.”
“I see,” says Jacob. ""Are there many of you?"
"Perhaps," whispers Promus.
"Who are you and where are you from?"
"We come from another star. Who we are is not important. What is important is that we have come. When we detected large bursts of radiation emanating from your planet, we sent probes to investigate, then ships."
“I want to understand what has happened here," utters Jacob.
“If I show you, your health and well being could be compromised. In fact, it could cause you to cease functioning.”
“I demand that you explain everything!” roars Jacob.
“Very well,” says Promus grimly. “You will go downstairs and walk outside. Then you will know.”
Jacob opens his eyes, and the white glow in his head vanishes. He takes the lift and as it descends, his mind is spinning.
What could this be about? He feels his heart pounding through his shirt. The lift reaches the lobby and the door swings open.
He looks at the lobby and everything seems as before. He exhales. He reaches the front entrance and walks outside.
Looking skyward, he sees the usual skyscrapers, towers and flying vehicles flitting around in the cloudless sky. He smiles slightly and exhales.
He blinks and the scene is completely transformed. Jacob, for the first time in his life, screams.
The entire landscape is pockmarked with massive shell holes and piles of rubble. All around him are the ugly blackened shells and piles of rubble that were once streets and buildings. A thick coating of grey ash covers most of the landscape.
The scene blurs as Jacob’s face fills with tears. A bright white light fills his mind once again.
“A thermonuclear war destroyed all the large urban centers in the world,” says Promus' voice echoing through his head. “Most of the survivors of the initial nuclear blasts ceased functioning due to radiation poisoning.”
Recovering slightly, Jacob asks “Are there other survivors in this city?”
Promus doesn’t answer for a few moments. “There are a few survivors in other continents.”
Jacob gasps, then asks “So everything I keep seeing, the buildings, streets and people are simulations?”
“They are computer generated images, yes.”
"You can read my thoughts?"
"Yes," says Promus. "Our race have perfected rudimentary telepathy. Max has the talent as well."
"So I guessed," says Jacob. "How do you know my language?"
"Our computers learned all your languages and transferred the knowledge to our brains."
"Why do you keep me alive? What is your purpose?"
“We wish to study your species,” says Promus. “We respect your intelligence.”
“Please take me away from this place,” Jacob pleads, fighting back sobs. "I cannot stand it any longer!"
“As you wish,” says Promus.
The landscape is once again the familiar one of shiny skyscrapers towers and bustling masses of people on various errands.
"What now?" demands Jacob. "What do you want from me?"
"We want you to rebuild your civilization, start over, learn from your follies and survive," says Promus.
Jacob feels his head spinning and grabs onto a railing to steady himself. "How?!?" he roars
"You will not be alone. Max will help you locate all of the survivors and we will aid you in your efforts. Our world, too, was once almost destroyed by horrible weapons as yours almost was. We have outlawed these weapons and have lived in peace and harmony for centuries. You, too, must seek to build a new civilization based on this ethos of peace."
Jacob manages a faint smile. "Max said that Reo would be my mate."
"So she shall be".
"Then Reo is real! But why does she look similar to my wife?"
"We assumed that you would be attracted to a woman who looked the same."
"You assumed correct. Why could she never meet me?"
"We did not consider you ready to interact with others yet. Now it is time. You will be introduced. Max will arrange it."
Jacob has an image in his mind of the nightmare wasteland he had glimpsed. "We must ban all nuclear weapons!" he vows, clenching his fist. "I shall fight for this cause until I have drawn my last breath!"
"That's the spirit," says Promus.