He slid his fingers through the blinds, parting them ever so slightly, his eyes flinching at the sudden exposure to light a tad brighter than the muffled lamps in his rosewood laced office. The weather outside was pleasant. There aren’t many days that Kolkata boasts of pleasant weather. But the past few days had been a period of anomalous peaceful sunshine, and cool winds. Outside his window the beautifully constructed tech park stretched out, its lush green lawns and tropical foliage was supposed to induce calmness and serenity. For Shyam Sundar Shanmugham it had been nothing short of infuriating, a constant reminder of what he missed out on.
At 48, he was not just disillusioned with his corner office, he was fed up of it. Every single day for twenty years he had worked to get himself within the confines of this cubicle. Twenty years spent in getting a breathtaking view of a place which he could have visited for nothing.
A man lay sprawled on the grass staring up at the sky. He couldn’t make out his face. The thought of exchanging his life with him, if only for a few hours in the sun crossed his mind.
The role of a financial advisor in Sterryl Dych was a coveted job – a broad base comprising of more than ten thousand candidates was considered each year, from which just three were selected. He had been one of those three, a lifetime ago. He had grown with the company, instrumental in the growth of the company as well. And now all he wanted was to extricate himself from the coils that he had wrapped so tightly around himself, remove his indispensability, the umbilical cord that connected him to the womb of this money making behemoth.
A day off?
His wife wouldn’t be too happy about the fact that he had used up one of his leaves without her consent. Impulsiveness had never been his forte. He walked over to his desk, pushed a button on his EPABX, making it emit a choked static, into which he spoke, “Mrs. Bannerjee, please cancel all my appointments for the day, I wish to take the day off.” His instruction remained unrequited for a while, the static, an indication of Mrs. Bannerjee’s confusion at this unusual request. And then her voice crackled back, “Sir, you have an appointment with Mr. David Adhikari. Should I cancel th–”
“No. No. I think… what time is it?”
“Its your twelve O’ clock. In fact he is on his way right now as we speak.”
“Great. So can you cancel the ones after that…..”
“You also have Mr. Allwyn Lobo at three. And after that…”
“You know what. It’s ok. Thank you Mrs. Bannerjee.”
Static at the other end. And then, “So should I canc—“
“No, no. Forget I said anything.” Shyam laughed quietly, to pacify the urgency building up in Mrs. Bannerjee’s voice and then disconnected the line.
He sat down on his plush leather chair, as he stared at his laptop’s screen and sighed. The weight of his sigh caught him by surprise, even more than the relaxing effect it had on him. He repeated it, only to be let down. He got back to his work. Mr. David Adhikari would be here any minute and he abhorred the idea of going into a meeting, unprepared.
“Hello Mr. Shanmugham. I have been looking forward to meeting you. Did you get to take a look at the manifesto I sent you?”
“Your paper on the application to bionics and artificial genetic assimilation to robotics, you mean? Quite exhaustive, if I say so myself. More importantly juxtaposed with the kind of reports I read every day, it was rather entertaining. But what I do not understand is why do you want to meet me?”
“I would love to answer that question Mr. Shanmugham, but before that I would like to know what you thought of it.”
Shyam appraised the man sitting in front of him. David had sharp features, smooth skin, with an almost buttery sheen to it. He was physically quite frail, not too tall, dead set eyes, nothing remarkable there either. He had curly hair that had grown somewhat unkempt. A negligible attempt at combing it had been made, making them all slant sidewards, making his head resemble a coconut. But there was still something remarkably striking about the man, something that almost made him seem ethereal. And his demeanor betrayed a very serious man within the haphazard outfitting of a flannel shirt and mismatched corduroys.
“What I thought of it?” he sighed, again startled by its therapeutic effect on him. “You mean apart from the fact that it all read like science fiction. I thought it was a waste of time on your part, not only to have travelled all the way here from… from…
“From Toledo, but also to have created that manifesto. Are you finding what I am saying to be amusing David? Why are you smiling?”
The smile refused to leave David’s face as he looked at Shyam and said, “Then why am I here Shyam. Why have you decided to see me? Wouldn’t you rather be somewhere else? Even taking a stroll down that lovely lawn outside your office instead of meeting me?”
Shyam was a little taken aback with David’s presumption. It only fueled his animosity that much more as he picked up a sheaf of papers and flung it at David. “The only reason you are here with me is because I want to know how a 250 million dollar grant was sent across to your company three months ago from my personal savings account. Surely, you know what I am talking about David. URotate Robotics, your company has siphoned off the money without my knowledge. I have no recollection of this transaction, and how you and your company accomplished a scam of this magnitude befuddles not just me, but my bank as well. I thought that I should provide you with an opportunity to speak for yourself before I bring down the wrath of God wrapped neatly within a law suit on your scrawny little shoulders” growled Shyam menacingly his voice no louder than a whisper.
David reached within his briefcase and removed a small flash drive and handed it over to Shyam and said, “I think you will find what you seek, atleast in terms of an answer in a video file that you can find in that flash drive.”
“It better not be a virus, or that will further jeopardize your already fragile situation.”
“Don’t worry. I am quite sure you will find the video immensely captivating.”
Shyam inserted the flash drive into his laptop and opened the folder marked Shyam within it. He then opened the .MOV file inside. The very first frame of the film he was looking at sent a jolt through his senses. It was a shot of him, sitting in his office with David sitting right next to him. They were talking as though they were old friends, before they turned their attention to the camera. The other Shyam now looked straight into the camera lens almost as if he were looking straight at him. Shyam immediately paused the film and looked up at David incredulously and shouted, “What the hell is this??” But David kept smiling and nodded urging him to continue.
For the next half an hour Shyam watched, awestruck as he heard the words being spoken by his lookalike and David that were directed straight to him. And once the video was over he looked straight up at David.
“How can this true? How… how could it be real? Is it….”
David nodded, with a look of profound satisfaction on his face.
Shyam was in a state of shock. Tears streamed out from his eyes as his angst now transformed into rage. He flung his laptop, all the documents on his table against the wall, as he screamed out in defiance, “You lie! This” he said pointing in an arbitrary direction, his indication to what he had just seen, “this is some massive conspiracy to take away my wealth, my legacy, my years of hard work from me” and as the idea began to materialize within him, he pulled out his mobile phone from his pocket, “yes, yes, that’s what this is all about. I will bring down the cops on you. You goddamned con men. You will suffer for the rest of eternity locked up in some hell hole. Just you see.” He began to dial for the police.
David spoke calmly, “Why don’t you look out the window once before you make that call?”
Shyam was a little taken aback by this request, but he didn’t cut the call. Instead he allowed the line at the other end to ring while he went to the window and looked outside. The man who had been lying down in the lawn was now standing up and looking directly at his window.
The man was Shyam. And he was beaming, smiling grandly at him.
The call got connected and the voice at the other end of the phone could now be heard, “Mr. Shanmugham, don’t worry. Everything’s going to be alright.” He dropped the phone as if it were a hot piece of coal, shrinking away from it, as it dropped harmlessly onto the wooden floor. Shyam leaned his body against the wall of his office as his legs began to wobble, he shrank away from David, from his desk, from everything he considered familiar, for they all seemed ugly, somehow tainted.
“So I am the result of your experiment, the one you have mentioned in your manifesto. I am a humanoid, a replica of this Shyam?” he said, his voice a feeble distillate of what it used to be.
David nodded again.
“And my memories, the work I have done for so many years, my family?”
“Data fed into your hard drive which has been extracted through a process we refer to as Artificial Consciousness Transference or ACT, a binary replication of Shyam’s memories. It was a two month process that ran in parallel to the creation of what you could say is your physical self… your human self.”
David paused as he leaned forward and spoke.
“If you still don’t believe me, why don’t you reach over behind your ear and feel around. You might find something that shouldn’t be there.”
Shyam reluctantly slid his hand behind his head, his mind still shell shocked from the sheer weight of his revelations. He groped around the region David had mentioned, brushing past his hair and the cartilage of his ear, their tangible presence, stirring violent contradictions within him. And that’s when he felt it. A small plastic protrusion at the base of his ear. A button… no… more like a switch.
“That which you can feel right now is a kill switch Mr. Shanmugham. In the simplest of terms, that is the switch to shut you down. Although, we are considering changing the location of the killswitch as it is susceptible to accidental impact” the last bit he said almost to himself rather than to Shyam. “Do you understand now, that I am not lying to you, do you understand, what is going on? You are a replica, a robotic humanoid facsimile of Mr. Shyam Shanmugham. For the past few days you have been under our vigilance, as we monitored your efficacy, your ability to adapt to the real world and the delight quotient of the synchronization between Mr. Shanmugham’s memories and his mechanical double… although you are much more than that Shyam… you are the sum total of ten million years of evolution. Your architecture is so beautiful, so mellifluous that you aren’t even the slightest bit self aware. You, my friend, are the future. We build models like you, with not just a replication of the fiber but the subconscious of the human mind, and you can liberate the world. You wanted to be somewhere else, right Shyam? Look outside. That lawn where you wished to be, is where you are, basking, in the glorious sunshine, with a rich green carpet of grass below your skin. Imagine… Just imagine the possibilities. I know you can. It is a power I gave you myself.”
Shyam collapsed on his chair. He looked up distraught, and asked David, “Why did you need to tell me? Why not just switch me off remotely? I am sure you know a way to do so.”
David walked over to Shyam and slid his arm around his shoulders as he spoke. His fingers pausing at the kill switch as he said “Don’t you see? The tears rolling down your cheeks, your despair, your exultation, the confusion, the turmoil, the emotional catharsis that you are going through, it is invaluable data. This moment is one of pure divinity Shyam. It is a true replication of a man, meeting his God.”
Shyam lowered his head in submission, his body shivered as it waited for what he knew now to be inevitable. And he whispered, his words he knew could be heard only by himself, his tone almost sympathetic, “God has mercy”.
David pulled the switch.
Shyam woke up gasping for breath. He looked around, he was still in his office. It was 11:55 am. He had slept off. His EPABX had been beeping. He pressed the red button. Mrs. Bannerjee’s voice rang out “David Adhikari here to see you, sir.” He immediately went to the window and looked out. There was no one on the lawn. He felt the region around his ear, there was nothing there, atleast nothing uncharacteristic. He then walked over to his desk, pressed the red button and spoke into the machine, “Show him in please.”
There was no reply at the other end. Instead a few moments later Mrs. Bannerjee herself had opened the door to Mr. Shanmugham’s office and had allowed herself inside. She placed a piece of paper on his desk and said, “Mr. David had to leave. He said he had to attend to a matter of urgent importance. He wrote that note and told me that you would know what it meant.”
Shyam held down the piece of paper under a paper weight, thanked Mrs. Bannerjee and asked to be left alone. He then read what was written on the piece of paper and fell back on his seat, staring at the ceiling as he mulled over the words that were written on the piece of paper. He recognized the words from a book he had read back in his college days.
Life is wasted on the living.
The note fluttered on his desk being coaxed into motion by the airconditioner’s draft until it finally flew off and settled on the floor by the couch.