“Did you not like the coffee? Wait, I’ll make you a fresh one,” cooed the Coffeematic-2000. Like it cared, thought Nelson. He watched the Silver-Brown machine pour out another cup of the steaming liquid. The cup was picked up carefully, its contents meticulously emptied into the nearby flowerpot and the cup itself thrown into the recycler. The sensors on the Coffeematic-2000 blipped once more and the machine sang, “Did you not like the coffee? Wait, I’ll make you a fresh one.” Nelson cursed himself for having wasted 200 credits on this chunk of metal. He wished he had bought the Acme Automatic Puppy instead. It would have at least fetched him his newspaper everyday.
Nelson would tell anyone who bothered to listen he was not a hermit. He simply stayed alone and loved his solitude more than his life. The only sign of his creative potential was the deep red board hanging on his door that read “Don’t knock.” For anyone who wishes to know, Nelson was 5’8’’, aged 52 and unshaven. His house was a run-down bungalow that almost seemed out of place in the sprawling metropolis. He had no neighbors; they had all left.
As a matter of fact, Nelson was the only living soul remaining in the Gamma quadrant of the city. He, of course, was least perturbed by it. He had his peace, his solitude and his T.V. (although he did regularly complain about the lack of interesting programmes to watch). Nonetheless, he was living the life of his dreams.
The T.V. turned itself in time for the evening news (not that there was much of it). A ruffled looking reporter read out the headlines. Quite clearly, he had been thrown in front of the camera against his wishes. Also quite clear was that he was not a professional reporter. The T.V. stations these days had to cope with a severe lack of staff. “The Exodar has landed on the earth again”, he said hastily. “Officials say this should be its last trip to Vesuvius. All remaining inhabitants of the Earth are ordered to board the ship within two days of today.” Nelson frowned at the reporter who was now gathering up his papers and cramming them into an out-of-sight briefcase. He turned off the T.V. just as a bunch of kids appeared on the screen advertising the latest Acme Gaming Console. “Great entertainment on the way to Vesuvius,” they chanted. “Asses,” Nelson muttered under his breath. He cursed again as there was a resounding knock at the door. “Can’t you see the sign?!” he shouted at his visitor beyond the door before getting up to answer it.
“Ah,” said Nelson as a way of greeting as he held the door ajar. “I should have known.” The unblinking, glassy eyes of a Robotron-4 stared back at him. Nelson was not at all impressed. “Didn’t your maker teach you how to read?!” He waved a furious fist at the unflinching robot.
“I am here to escort you to the Exodar,” said a pre-recorded voice. Nelson always felt these robots to be somewhat unrealistic. Their voice seemed to crackle out from somewhere near their chests. Talk about them resembling human beings. The designers had, no doubt, paid no attention to detail. Nelson waited to see if it had anything else to say. When he was sure that the robot had run out of words, he leant towards the robot till he could see his face reflected in its eyes. “I-am-not-coming,” he said clearly and precisely, “to-that-stupid-planet-of-yours.” That done, he retreated back into his home, feeling rather pleased with himself. “Please, allow me to carry your luggage,” he heard the robot say to no one in particular as he closed his door behind him.
The customary alarm woke Nelson up the next morning. He drew apart his curtains to let in the precious little light there was. It had been nearly 20 years since the sun had shone bright enough to wake a sleeping soul. Even today, Nelson observed, it was shrouded behind rust-colored clouds. Before they had left for Vesuvius, scientists had analyzed samples of these and found them to be a concoction of sulphur and nitrogen oxides among metallic compounds. The last edition of the Scientific Weekly reported, “… Inhaling a portion of these deadly clouds may result in hallucinations. Long term exposure contact with them is carcinogenic… and they smell like strong filtered coffee…” Another extract from the same journal said, “… As per reports and data, the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere, among many other resources, can only sustain life at its present scale for a few years. The Scientific Society recommends that all of mankind be shifted to a different life-supporting planet as soon as possible …”
Nelson, of course, had read neither of the extracts. All he knew was that the rusty clouds had been spewed out by factories and that everybody was being hauled off to the planet Vesuvius. He yawned lazily and headed for the door in anticipation of an awaiting newspaper. Much of the service infrastructure on Earth was still intact courtesy heavy automation. Power plants, dairy farms and the water supply were run by Robotrons – the line of efficient, programmable robots by Acme Corporation. It was these Robotrons that Nelson despised and that supplied him with newspapers.
However, this morning, Nelson was greeted, not merely by a newspaper but by a Robotron standing over it. “Vesuvius is an exciting planet full of opportunities. Please, allow me to carry your luggage,” it said without being prompted.
Nelson frowned at the stupid machine. “Have you been standing here all this while?” The robot merely stared back at him. Nelson shrugged, picked up his newspaper and headed back into the comforts of his home. The windmill visible outside his window rotated uselessly. It was surrounded by equally, if not more, useless solar panels. These had been installed by man in a feeble attempt to harness so-called ‘renewable’ energy. They had far from satisfied the ever-growing need for power. Ultimately, man had to fall back on nuclear power again.
Time until lunch passed by peacefully except for the odd muffled sounds of “Please, allow me to carry your luggage”. Then there was a smart rap on the door. Nelson groaned aloud. He pulled himself off his armchair and trudged to the door. He might have been mildly surprised to see a human standing at his doorstep, but did not bother to show it. “Didn’t your maker teach you how to read?!” he yelled.
The human was a young man who looked like an official of some sort. You can always tell by the way they dress and their posture when they stand. “Good afternoon, sir,” he said crisply.
Nelson was thoroughly unimpressed. “What do you want?”
“The Robotron was meant to escort you to the Exodar. It hadn’t returned yet, so I came down to check. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, everything is just fine. Have a good day.” Nelson proceeded to close the door.
“But sir,” said the young man’s voice before he could do so. “You have been ordered to board the Exodar.”
“And what if I don’t?”
“You will be left here, sir.”
“Good. Please do that. Leave me alone.”
“But sir, you will die here. There are only enough resources here to support mankind for 2 years.”
“That would be the case if all of mankind were here. But they have all left, you see. How long do you tink it will support me alone?”
The young man pondered for a moment. “You do have a point, sir.”
“Don’t I? And you want me to leave this paradise and head to your blasted planet?”
The young man was as bewildered as the Robotron beside him. Nelson grinned to himself; his little piece of success.
“What are those stupid houses that you are making them live in?” asked Nelson to kill the silence.
“Those are the latest Acme HomeBase, sir” the young man replied with a sense of pride. Nelson, for the first time, noticed the bronze plaque on his shirt that read ‘ACME’. “They are made entirely of Styrofoam and rubber.”
Nelson gave him a quizzical look. “Eh? What for?”
“That is for the earthquakes, sir. The Acme HomeBase shall never break, never collapse and never injure anyone.”
“Earthquakes you say?”
“Yes sir. There are about twenty of them everyday on the planer. That is why they call it the Vesuvius…” The young man heard his own voice trail away.
Nelson grinned broadly at the man, who was now staring up at the sky. A moment’s awkward silence later, Nelson broke the ice. “Well, I guess that is that. Have a nice trip to Vesuvius. And please, don’t write to me.”
“Err, sir… “, began the young man hesitantly as Nelson tried to close the door on him. “I am sure your place would have room for one more.”
Nelson’s voice was heard through the small crack left in the doorway. “Never is and never will be. And do take your doll back with you when you leave.”