Closing his eyes, Bob took a deep breath, and tried to forget everything. He couldn’t. His thoughts swarmed like wasps agitated by an assault on their hive. He had been reading self-help books since January. The only one he managed to finish, Domo Domo, glorified the values of clean living, abstinence from robotics, and transcendental meditation.
It had been months since his last cigarette. He stopped eating lab-grown foodstuff, deactivated his servbot, and started exercising every day before work. Each night he would come home, turn off all his electronics for two hours, and attempt to connect with his analog self. The book insisted he limit his efforts to such duration lest he suffer from burning out.
For one-hundred-and-twenty minutes Bob tried to be alone with himself. For about just as many days now, he couldn’t stand the company. Splashes of neon light leaked through his flat’s closed shutters, flickering to the rhythm of passing traffic. Most evenings his neighbor’s HoloVision unit let loose a muffled ruckus through the paper-thin wall that separated them. Sometimes Bob thought he could even smell the katsu as its aromas floated up from the café below his building.
Really he was just looking to be distracted. Interruptions perforated the monotony of his daily routine, and he was in the habit of welcoming them. Overstimulation was both a symptom and a crutch. Bob’s days were spent coding software for Metronet Industries, an American company dedicated to inventing digital marvels – or so they say. His job was to model workflows and enterprise processes so that they could be digitized and automated. It was a tedious task, but Bob excelled at it. He tried not to think about how many people his programs replaced.
After two hours of dwelling on anything that struck his senses, Bob sighed, opened his eyes, and stood up. He had bought a cushion to sit on, per Domo Domo’s instructions. It was supposed to help him let go, as was his cross-legged Lotus pose, though all either did was put his feet to sleep. The rest of Bob tended to follow soon after; sedation was a side effect of his meditative efforts. Rest was not what he was looking for.
Bob wanted answers. Ever since he could remember, he had dreamt of foreign landscapes. Gone was the sprawling ecumenopolis to which he was born. Faded was the bustle of Neo Britannia, along with its smog-stained skies and fouled waters. In their place was a verdant world, whose vibrant vistas remained vividly etched in Bob’s subconscious. After a lifetime of feeling displaced in the only place he’d ever known, he longed to know where his dreams were taking him. So he turned to the lost art of introspection.
It wasn’t working. Sure, he had shed a few pounds, and was a lot more energetic during the day, yet Bob’s nights were close to exhausting his patience. His imitation of self-examination was becoming increasingly futile as Bob grew to resent the world for its distractions. Eventually he stopped ritualizing his reflective gesture, leaving his shutters open and abandoning the cushion. Waves of light crashed into his room accompanied by a chorus of urban racket. Bombarded by all that was, Bob let his senses fall asleep while keeping his mind awake.
Embracing the imperfections in his pursuit of trance, Bob exposed reality for the onion it was. He focused on peeling back the polluted layer that housed his physical form. His breathing became rhythmic and decompressed. He clenched every part of his body, relaxing each muscle, inch by inch, until he lost himself within himself.
London’s plasteel jungle, in which Bob was but a blip, melted away. A crude composite of brick and iron structures appeared in its wake. Its streets were littered with wheeled vehicles leaking exhaust into the sky. These constructs too crumbled, revealing an even cruder cityscape this time with people sitting in carriages pulled by strange beasts. On and on the world dissolved until Bob finally found his forgotten realm, but only for a moment.
Soon it too faded, leaving only a vast blackness peppered with specs of light. He knew it to be the cosmos despite having never seen stars shine through the atmospheric haze he had known his entire life. The sight was as foreign as it was familiar, a beautiful contradiction that was both soothing and invigorating. Bob was for the first time centered, home after a journey abroad.
The immensity of this silence drowned out all other sensations. Bob had escaped himself. The expanse before him started to coalesce, stardust gravitating toward a focal point right before his very eyes. Suddenly a voice, his own, surrounded the cloud that had gathered.
“Everything was nothing before it became anything. It was beautiful,” Bob’s voice said. “When all was yet-to-be, there weren’t any voids to fill or shadows to illuminate. Balance was uncontested – until, suddenly, it wasn’t. Creation ruined the virtues of pre-existence and the universe has been struggling to stabilize itself ever since.”
“Sundered are we, reduced to silhouettes of far-flung constructs. None of this had to be. Were it not for the unfurling of doom’s inevitable machinations, there might have been eternal prosperity in the twilight that predated this timely confinement. Bound now to a linear existence, our fate flies forward while dreams linger behind, yearning for forevers on the brink of being forgotten.”
“Wake now, and recollect,” the words echoed as everything Bob saw undone was reformed.
A yellow sun took shape and welcomed smaller entities into its orbit. Their colors bounced around like a kaleidoscope until finally settling upon permanent hues. The third planet, splendidly decorated, sprouted clusters of illumination. The lights intensified until they started to leave a scorched residue. Diminished blues gave way to burnt-out browns; metallic greys replaced shades of green.
Bob fell toward the now-dingy orb. His eyes opened as he landed. They stung from sweat that had dripped from his brow. He looked at his timepiece: only fifteen minutes had passed. Walking toward his window, Bob peered out into the world and saw it for what it was.