Nura was having a great day. Her classes at the college went well, she got an A in yet another assignment, her teachers loved her, and very soon, she was going to graduate and start earning her own living—life could not have been more perfect.
She went out that night with her friends to first shop and then celebrate. They were checking out new glossy ‘skins’ with features like ‘glitter’ for night clubs and ‘stealth’ if they wanted some privacy. Nura had been saving up her points for months to be able to afford the latest, most fashionable skins. She tried one on and liked it instantly—it made her look sexy and enigmatic, adding to the mystery surrounding her and her name…
Nura. Was it from the Arabic ‘Nur’ or from the Hebrew ‘Norah?’ She didn’t know. She was raised in a government facility after her parents ran out of all their points and extra lives and were therefore ‘retired.’ She was only a small child back then; she was told this later when she grew up.
But she had no regrets now because her life was perfect…well, almost perfect. She looked at herself in the mirror and noticed her eyes. They still looked glassy. She told herself yet again that she should see someone about that. Sometimes she felt something was not quite right with her eyes…
Shunning the thought out of her mind, she turned back and went outside the trial area. On seeing her in this new skin, her friends let out a ‘hoo-hoo’ in chorus signalling their approval. So it was decided—she bought the new skin right then and there and came out of the store wearing it. She did not have time to go home and change—they were getting late for the Club.
The Club was the most happening place she had known for all her life. It was one of those places where one could show everyone how they felt deep down inside; the whole space was kind of surreal. A green ‘cloud’ hovered over everyone’s head that had their photo, their nickname, their mood and any other information they would like to share about themselves. She changed her mood to ‘I can’t be more happy today!’ and went in. She had clicked a picture of herself in the new skin—she looked like a real beauty in her new black and glimmering skin. She could see that everyone was noticing her cloud, she was getting connect requests from so many strangers—this had never happened before.
It was very hard for her to control her excitement, but she knew she had to shrug it off —it was just not cool. She changed her mood to ‘Thinking about life!’ and went to the bar area with her friends to get some drinks. The Club was very crowded that night, people were forced to walk through each other and she was beginning to get annoyed by how people were taking advantage of that. She changed her mood to ‘I STING,’ and set her stinger on low, so that others could be forced to be more careful around her. Just
then someone bumped into her by mistake and got stung. His drink fell out of his hand. Nura was embarrassed, she turned her stinger off. The guy was kneeling on the floor, his head bent down, looking at his feet, absorbing the pain. She held out her hand to help him get up and said ‘I am so sorry!’ He looked up at her, their eyes met, and something inside them moved. They felt as if they knew each other, or as if they were meant to know each other, they could not quite put their finger on it. But anyway, Nura asked him if he wanted to dance with her. He of course said yes, and they went over to the dance floor.
The Club had the most celebrated and popular dance floor in the whole city. It had an elevator that went right through the floor, so that people could come in straight to the floor, dance, and leave directly from the floor. They were automatically charged points for all the drinks and food, so they could come and go whenever they pleased.
Nura and her new friend, Kai, began swaying softly to the music. They put in their request for a romantic song, and soon, other couples were swaying around them to the most popular romantic song of their generation, their motions synchronised. While dancing, Nura came to where the elevator was. The elevator came down and went right through Nura but she didn’t care this time. She couldn’t take her eyes off of Kai’s. She wondered if he could read her feelings. Kai’s face was almost impassive, he looked happy, but did he like her?
After the dance, they wanted some privacy so they decided to go to the Aeroplane Runaway restaurant. It was a bit far from the Club, but the privacy and the open space there was worth it. When they reached Aeroplane Runaway, they found many couples sitting together. Many more would have been there in stealth mode, not visible to others. They found what looked like an empty spot on the runway and lied down. The airport was busy at this hour too, but that was not unusual. People had jobs to do and points to earn to be able to afford nights such these. They stared into the sky. It was empty at first but then Kai asked Nura, if she would like to connect with him, and she said she would like that very much and so they connected and then he chose his favourite night theme. The sky got lit up with stars in a flash. Nura and Kai saw the night stars shimmering in the vast black expanse of the sky and at once felt at ease. They could see all the different constellations too. Kai also used the ‘Shooting Star’ effect, even though it cost a bundle. When Nura saw a shooting star travel through their sky, she chuckled with delight and Kai thought that he could give anything in the world to see her this happy and fascinated.
They lay there, with their backs on the runway, staring into the starry sky, wondering what their future holds for them. They were so lost in each other’s company that they didn’t even notice that an aeroplane went right through them and flew into their night sky. Both Kai and Nura had been alone all their life. Their parents, like the parents of so many young people of their generation, just didn’t have enough points to go on living. Their sources of income were modest, but the latest technology and features were all just so expensive.
They looked at each other and moved in closer. They turned on their stealth mode and spent the whole night there together. When morning came, Kai woke up with a start. His point metre was beeping, it was on low. He felt slightly embarrassed but Nura didn’t care. She gave him some of her points and they both left the Aeroplane Runaway together, hand in hand—she for her classes, and he for work. They knew they had to work even harder now to be able to have these beautiful moments of togetherness.
Nura was quite distracted during all her classes the next day. All she could think about was Kai and what she felt for him. Her friends teased her all day too, extracting promises from her that they would get to meet the new couple and witness their chemistry soon. After her classes, Nura went for her part-time shift at the Café near her college and from their went straight home. She had been connected to Kai all day long and they knew what the other was doing all throughout the day. They were sending messages to each other too. They had plans to meet up at Nura’s place later in the evening.
Nura had recently moved into a small apartment after living in a hostel for almost all her life. She was happy to finally have a place of her own, and now there was Kai, the person with whom she was starting the next chapter of her life.
Kai worked hard all day long. But while attending his meetings, giving presentations and writing emails, all he could think about was Nura. For the first time in his life he felt there was a goal in his life, something—or rather someone—to work for. He hadn’t felt like this about anyone else before.
In the evening, after wrapping up work, he went to the nearby grocery store, bought some flowers for Nura, picked up a bottle of wine, and went to her place on foot. He didn’t like walking very much, with some extra points he could reach wherever he wanted to go in a flash, but he had to save his points now. Save his points for both of them.
When he arrived, Nura was making dinner. She had read all about what Kai liked and disliked on his profile page, and she knew exactly what to make.
After dinner, they settled down on the couch and came close again. He held out his hand and reached for her heart. She opened it for him and he read her life story, how she, like him, had been alone almost all her life. She wanted to see his heart too, and he opened it and she saw herself there, and how much he loved her. They came closer and went to sleep in each other’s arms again. Next day was Sunday and they could sleep till late. Sunday morning they made plans to visit the beach and then have dinner at a quiet restaurant nearby.
At the beach they saw many families playing in the sand, sun-bathing and swimming. They settled down on the sand and started looking at the waves. Kai asked her if she would like to read something together and then he opened a book of poetry, written many years ago, and displayed it in the space before them so that they could read it together.
Kai told her that he had always found poetry pointless, but after meeting her, he suddenly had an urge to say, read, hear something different, something he hasn’t thought of before. Nura looked at him and smiled. They both started reading together. The lines had a strange effect on them. The whole book was like a manual on love and life and it explained to them how and why the felt the way they did for each other. In many poems, the poet spoke at length about a happy future together – he and his love sharing their joys and sorrows with each other every step of the way throughout eternity. Kai and Nura moved closer still to assure each other and themselves that this was to be their future too.
Nura noticed that at one place the poet spoke of eyes that talked. She looked at Kai’s eyes, she couldn’t see anything, any feeling. She asked him what he saw in her eyes. He said he saw himself, Nura laughed and asked, anything else? “Do my eyes talk?” Kai said he wan’t sure. He hadn’t seen anyone’s eyes talking ever in his life. “Maybe it is an expensive update”, he said, “let me check on the ‘store’.”
For sure, the store was full of all kinds of wonderful things they could spend their points on. They searched for “eyes”, and they got all kinds of eyelashes, eyebrows, and different eye colours. One feature called, ‘Eye Talk’ caught their eyes. They read the specifications. ‘Eye Talk’ could sense up to five different emotions and could express them through one’s eyes with five different intensity levels. A further update allowed them to mix emotions too. They checked the price and it was way out of budget. They knew they wanted it and they knew they would have to work hard to earn it.
That night after dinner they went to Nura’s place again. Once more they held each other’s hands and went to sleep together. Next morning Nura met her friends in college and they wanted to know all about her new boyfriend and what they did together, and if they did IT yet. Nura didn’t understand them at first, but then something started to ring a bell, she searched the store for ‘Do IT’; and for sure it was there:
Your ticket to ultimate ecstasy, your first out of body experience with the one you love.
She quickly messaged Kai about it, and then the next second regretted it. She was embarrassed, she should have waited for Kai to bring this up. But it was done, Kai sent her his heart and kisses in return, and said he is working double hard now so that he can afford tickets for both of them. Nura said she will start working full time too very soon, and that they had nothing to worry about.
They started spending their days immersed in work and their nights in each others arms. They did a lot of research on ‘Do IT’ but there was not much information out there. ‘Do IT’ made you take an oath of secrecy. If you violated it, you could be retired forever. But there were raving reviews everywhere, hence it’s popularity and exorbitant price. Nura and Kai would have to work for months to be able to afford one trip, but they were determined. Nura wondered if ‘Eye Talk’ is needed for an enhanced ‘Do IT’ experience, and so she called their office. The customer care officer told her that she and her partner already had everything needed to have a complete and successful ‘Do IT’ experience, the executive said, he had checked that personally. Nura didn’t quite get the last part, but was relieved. That meant they could go on the trip sooner.
Several months passed. Nura and Kai had worked hard and had saved up enough for one trip. They bought their tickets. They were sent detailed instructions for the night of the journey. They had to spend it at a familiar place, where no-one would disturb them. They chose Nura’s place that night and settled down on the couch again. The instructions were clear, they were just supposed to go to sleep and ‘Do IT’ would take it from there.
When Nura woke up, she found herself lying on a large white bed in a dark room. She saw Kai, he was her Kai, but he looked and felt different. Her body too was different. She touched his face, and he woke up too. They both looked at each other. Their skins looked different. Normally, when she took off her skin, her body was green and so was Kai’s, but here they were a different color now. She was almost white as snow, while he was a little darker. She touched him again, it felt so different, it felt so good.
Just then the roof of the room blinked, and a display was turned on. They saw two people, looking like their new selves, doing something like a kiss. The display encouraged them to try it. They tried it, their lips pressed together and slowly moving, it was not like how they had kissed before. Nura wanted to know how Kai felt so she checked their connection, but there was no connection. They looked at the display again, and they saw that the two people on the screen were looking into each other’s eyes. They did that too, and to their surprise, their new eyes could talk, they knew exactly what the other person felt. They were so moved, they kissed again, this time much more passionately. These new bodies, there was something about them, they could feel each other really for the first time. They had slept in each other’s arms so many times, but that was different, it didn’t feel like this. They were getting tired of kissing and touching each other, they felt they needed something else, something that would bring them even closer and so they looked at the display and they knew what to do next. They spent the whole night together again, but like human couples do.
Next morning Nura found herself back in her home, on her couch with Kai sleeping by her side. She had only vague memories of what had happened. She knew it felt really good, she hadn’t felt like this ever before, but what was it that happened to their bodies there? She wasn’t sure. Soon, Kai also woke up and they embraced each other. They felt so complete and content. They now knew why ‘Do IT’ was so popular. The path ahead was clear—work hard, earn more and more points, and go on another trip.
Many months passed before they could afford another round of ‘Do IT’. But when they did go for the second time, they were even more exhilarated and tired than before. The video was different—it was showing them more details, more techniques. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves and made each other quite tired again. Next morning, they were back in their world and resumed their lives as normal.
They decided to get married after a few weeks. They were sure no one could make them any happier than they were with each other. By then they had also saved enough for ‘Eye Talk’, so that when they looked into each other’s eyes and said ‘I do’, their friends and guests were surprised to see their eyes glistening with tears. These were tears of immense happiness, of finally finding someone to share one’s life and one’s soul with.
Marriage brought good luck, as they both got promotions and started earning much more than before. Their trips to ‘Do IT’ also became more frequent and they starting thinking about their first child. By now they knew that anything new that they wanted, would already be on the store, and sure it was, another program from the company that made ‘Do IT’, it was called ‘Do BABY’ and had ‘Starter’, ‘Pro’, ‘Difficult’ plans. The ‘Starter’ was the cheapest and they went for that. Soon, they found themselves back in the same room, with another set of video instructions.
The ‘Do BABY’ plan involved going on a ‘Do IT’ trip several times and Nura started to get tired. Tired of that fact that even though she liked these trips, she didn’t have even a faintest idea about what was happening to her when she was on them. What were they doing to their memories?
One night while making love, she asked Kai, “Don’t you wonder what this place is. Why are we so different here? What happens to our bodies?” Kai did not have any answers. But he said he loved it, and would give anything in the world to make this journey last forever.
That night when Kai fell asleep, Nura got up from the bed. At first, she was scared if she would be able to walk or not, but as soon as she stood up on her feet, she knew she could walk. There were two doors in the otherwise empty room. She tried one of the doors, it was locked. She tried the other one, it opened. Inside, it seemed like a washroom, but different. She used it and came out. She looked for windows in the room, there were none. There was no way of knowing what was outside, but she wanted to know. Just then she heard some sounds coming from outside the room, through the other door. She could hear people walking by briskly and talking very fast, talking about putting someone to sleep. Before she could get back to bed, someone opened the door and came in. She was shocked to see Nura standing by the door. ‘You didn’t go to sleep?’, she asked her, and Nura said she had to use the washroom. The woman seemed convinced, and got out of Nura’s way. Nura went to the washroom again and washed her face. When she came out of the washroom, the woman asked her to go back to sleep. Next morning, Nura and Kai were back again, back to their world, remembering nothing about last night.
But Nura kept feeling uneasy, as if something had happened that night, she could not quite understand or recall what. She decided to find out more about the place when they go there next. During their next trip, after Kai fell asleep she got up again, and sat by the door. She again heard some people talking outside, they seemed to be moving from one room to another. She then heard the sound of some footsteps approaching their room, she stood up beside the door, she wanted to go out this time, her plan was to run out as soon as the door opened.
On opening the door, the woman found Nura up again. Before she could say anything, Nura pushed her and ran out of the room. The woman raised an alarm, and some men started chasing Nura. She found herself running through several different corridors, with many rooms. Some of them were open and she saw that they were just like the one where she and Kai used to spend their ‘Do IT’ nights. She saw some couples too, some sleeping, some looking at the screen, some being taken away from these rooms to some place else.
Nura kept running, running as fast as she could, she knew she would be caught soon, she did not know what would happen to her when they did catch her, or how many points would she lose, but she told herself, I have to know, I have to find out.
She must have run several hundred metres when she saw an exit into another hall, she tried to open the door but it was locked. She could see inside through the glass. She saw people like her new self, in her new body, sitting on an easy chairs, with their eyes closed and a machine placed on their head. There must have been hundreds of them, sitting like that. Some chairs were empty. On some chairs there were some other machines, machines to keep the legs moving, and machines to exercise their arms. There were screens all over the room, screens with people having bodies like the real her walking around, sitting, working, talking, writing, sleeping, laughing, crying and even dancing.
She didn’t know what to make of it. She thought she caught a glimpse of Kai on one of the screens but just then the guards caught her and sedated her. She had to find a way to retain this memory but she couldn’t. She tried to resist but nothing worked, no-one in the big hall could hear her screams and these guards didn’t seem to care. As she was falling asleep, she felt her body being dragged down the corridors.
Next morning, Nura woke up in a cell. She knew it was a prison cell, but it looked different. It was in the ‘Do IT’ world. She hadn’t gone back to normal, did she die, is she stuck here? She started crying, “Oh, what have I done, what have I done.”
An old woman was sitting in the same cell. She was mumbling, ‘this is real, that is not real, this real, that is not real’ over and over. But Nura did not know what she meant. All she knew was that she had made a big mistake, Kai must have gone back without her, he must be worried about her, what would they tell him, would they tell him she is dead? But she is not, at least she doesn’t think so. She is just stuck in this world, in this new body.
She went up to the old woman and asked her what she was saying. The old woman looked at her, shook her head, smiled and said, ‘My daughter, this is real, that is not real’. ‘What do you mean this is real?’, she asked, but the old woman did not say anything.
Nura started thinking about all the things she saw in that hall. It just didn’t make any sense. What were those people doing? What were all those machines? Was that Kai I saw? She started screaming on top of her voice, “Help, help! Please let me go!”
On hearing her voice, one of the guards alerted someone, and very soon a man came to visit her in the cell. He took her to another room to talk to her and ask her some questions. Once they were alone, he asked her if she realised she had violated several clauses of the ‘Do IT’ policy and there were severe consequences of doing that. She apologised and tried to explain herself, she said she just wanted to know what was going on, she wanted to know why this felt so different, so real, but that she was really very sorry. She wanted to go back to her old life.
The official listened to her impassively. He said, “We usually deal with these cases very firmly, but it has come to our attention that you are pregnant. I have a proposal for you, if you are willing to hear me out.”
She nodded her head emphatically and he continued, “You have two choices, you can choose to retain what you know. If you do, you will live in that room forever, with that old woman. Or you can choose to forget and go back to your life. There will be some restrictions, you will not be allowed to come back here for another year, but since you are pregnant, it wouldn’t matter, would it? You can go back to your husband, have your baby and start a new life if you choose to let go of this memory for ever.”
“Yes, I want to go back”, she said crying. “Please I want to go back to my Kai. I want my family back. I am so sorry for all this.”
“Then in that case, please sign these forms and give them back to me. I knew that it was not difficult decision, I would have done the same thing myself but I had to give you a choice. That’s the law.”, he said, handing over the forms to her.
Nura signed all the papers and was taken to another room to be prepped for her departure. She was escorted along several winding corridors flanked on both sides by big halls. Most of them had people sitting on chairs wearing the same machines on their heads, there must have been hundreds and hundreds of them. She also saw a room full of small babies, being fed milk through small tubes, lying in their cribs, with similar but smaller machines on their heads. Finally, they reached a small room, one of the ‘Do IT’ ones, and they made her lie down on the large white bed. She closed her eyes, she felt relieved to be going back to her own world, away from all this.
Several months passed. Kai and Nura were blessed with their first child. They named him Nuki. One day, when Kai came back home, Nura and their baby, Nuki, were ready to go out for the evening. They had plans to drop off Nuki at their friend’s place who was kind enough to agree to baby-sit so that they could enjoy a quiet romantic, evening together. The ‘Do IT’ restriction was going to end soon and they wanted to plan their next trip.
As they came out into the street, Nura bumped into a man, and dropped her purse. The man bent down to pick it up. As he was getting up, he smiled at her and apologised. She looked at his face, he seemed familiar. She asked him, “Excuse me, do I know you?”. He smiled and said, “Perhaps!”. Just then Kai walked up to them to find out if everything was okay. The man apologised and scurried away.
Nura looked back to see where he was going, his cloud was on and it read ‘Do IT FOREVER!”. Kai saw what Nura was reading; he said he was disgusted by that man, hitting on a mother and a wife in front of her family.
Later that night, as she was holding and comforting baby Nuki in her arms, Nura suddenly remembered the stranger’s message, “Do IT FOREVER!”. She checked its price on the store, it cost a fortune, but made a very tempting promise:
You can stay in the ‘Do IT’ world forever, till your death, and contribute to all the different missions of the ‘Do’ group of programs.
Back in the ‘Do IT’ world, the official who had spoken to Nura many months back, went to the main hall to see her. He stood beside her body, and saw her on the screen, reading about “Do IT FOREVER!”. He smiled and shook his head, she had got his message. As he was leaving, he looked at Nura’s body again—she seemed asleep, but he knew she was not, she was wide awake, just in another world.
Back in his room, he settled on his chair again and put his machine back on his head. Outside, the sun had almost set but he could still see the remnants of the city through the window, its buildings now half collapsed and empty but still giving one a glimpse of how the world used to be before they fell into a smaller dimension. On the panel, he selected where he wanted to go and as the view on his window changed, he laid back to enjoy his evening.