The Good Troll
Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Krantz
English translation assisted by: Google
English editor: Charlotte Fogelquist
Chapter 1: A Star is Falling
“This doesn’t feel right,” Tommy whispers to himself. “Where am I now? What’s happening to me?”
The snow whirls in front of his face. He rises up to his knees and rests his body against a big ball of snow. It is a dark winter’s night and the only light he sees is coming from a house nearby. He notices a young girl rolling another snowball, then stopping next to him.
“How’s it going Elsa?” he hears himself ask; his focus returning. He is in their backyard building a snowman with his daughter. How could he have forgotten that?
It’s Saturday, and snow has been falling since Thursday evening. Gothenburg has been completely paralyzed by the huge and sudden blizzard of sleet and snow.
“Daddy, can you pick up the middle snowball please,” asks Elsa, “it’s too heavy for me!”
“Eleven years old and can’t lift a tiny snowball!” Tommy teases and grips the large snowball. He takes a deep breath, braces himself and immediately feels a pain in his neck.
“You’re 46 years old and as weak as a little girl!” Elsa teases back. Tommy’s world starts to spin. He falls flat on his back in the snow and stays there. Despite the falling snowflakes, he can see a shooting star. “You just going to lie there or what?” asks Elsa.
“We’d better go back in now. I feel a bit weird.”
When they get inside, Tommy sits himself down on a chair in the hallway, to have a rest.
“Have you already finished the snowman?” Tommy’s wife Sara calls out from the kitchen.
Sara’s father Lennart is visiting, having just had a meal with his daughter, he is sitting on the couch in the living room.
“Have you had an accident, or something?” asks Lennart, noticing that Tommy seems uncomfortable.
“I think I’ve just sprained my neck!” Tommy groans.
“Sara, could you help me get my my boots off please? Whatever this is, it doesn’t feel too good. It’s radiating up and around my ear, too,” says Tommy, searching Sara’s face.
“Dear God, your pupils are different sizes!” cries Sara, fear and surprise in her voice.
Lennart, a retired military man, leaps from the couch. He rushes out into the hallway and peers into Tommy’s eyes.
“Sara,” he says, with a stern voice that Sara recognizes from when her father is serious, “call for an ambulance!” Lennart turns to Elsa. “Elsa, go in the kitchen and get a glass of water.” Turning to Tommy, he asks, “Are you alright with aspirin?”
“Eh? Yes, I can take any painkillers!” says Tommy, keeping his hand over his ear.
“Tommy, look at me and give me a big smile – good! Now stretch out both of your arms, while telling me your full name and address,” Lennart says sharply.
“Hm! Tommy Jan Andersson, Snowflake Road, number 12” Tommy almost sings.
“The ambulance is on the way!” Sara’s voice is shaken.
“Good,” says Lennart. “Have you got any Aspirin?” When Sara brings the Aspirin, Lennart tells her to give two to Tommy. “I’m calling Tommy’s mother,” says Lennart, and points to Sara. “You go with Tommy in the ambulance! I’ll take care of Elsa.”
After what seems like an eternity, there is a knock at the door, and Sara goes to answer.
“The ambulance is stuck in the snow,” says a female nurse who enters the hall and immediately attends to Tommy. “You think you can walk a bit in the snow?”
“It will probably be fine,” answers Tommy and gets up from the chair. Everything starts to spin, and it feels like the blizzard snow is rushing into the hall. “You’ll have to support me; I do not want to fall over in the snow. Not again.”
Lennart puts Tommy’s arm over his shoulders. “Lean on me. I’m as steady as a rock.”
Outside, there are several neighbours shoveling the ambulance free of the snow. Tommy and Sara climb into the back of the ambulance and the driver shuts the rear door behind them.
As the ambulance rolls away, Tommy looks through the small window in the back. He sees Elsa standing very close to her grandfather, her young eyes revealing horror and fear. Maybe she is thinking, I may lose my father.
Tommy remembered how he himself had been shocked by his own father’s sudden death, just months after the death of Tommy’s brother. His brother, Christer, only wanted to try out a party drug that a friend had ordered online. Tommy and his parents got the news of Christer´s death by the police on Sunday morning. Tommy’s father was the one that took it the hardest. He was devastated and blamed himself. Perhaps that was the reason for his stroke.
“It’s best if you try to relax.” Tommy’s thoughts were interrupted by the attending female paramedic. When he leaned back, he felt the darkness envelope him. He was not afraid. He actually thought it felt good, as if he hovered or floated weightless in water. In the darkness, he thought he saw a small bright spot.
“Light a candle and let it burn,” a dark voice, which seemed familiar, filled the void. “If you share your fire it is not halved, but doubled!”
Tommy thought it sounded silly, but he felt pleased about the message. He felt a buzzing inside him. He wanted to laugh out loud. Then he heard a mechanical breathing sound that reminded him of Darth Vader. From within that sound, he heard a choir sing: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
Tommy woke up and noticed how the nurse held a breathing mask against his mouth. “Here’s a little oxygen, I want you to stay conscious for me.”
Tommy turned his head slightly to be able to see Sara. She put her hand on Tommy’s arm and said, “I’m here. We’ll be there soon.”
The atmosphere inside A&E, felt to Tommy like organized chaos. He had to lie on a trolley while a nurse examined his eyes with a penlight and poked under the soles of his feet with a cold and sharp instrument. Then he and Sara were left in a small waiting room.
There is a science magazine in the waiting room, that Sara skims through casually. Tommy notices images of robots on the cover. As he lies on the bed, he suddenly feels as if he is again lying in the snow, and everything fades to darkness. A faint circle of light appears before him. The circle splits into several components which together form something resembling a flower. From the leaves of the flower grow six branches.
“A snowflake,” says a deep voice.
“A snowflake?” asks Tommy aloud.
“No, it looks like a heart,” replies Sara.
“Did you fall asleep?” asks a dark voice.
Tommy looks up to see a male nurse with a small cup in his hand. “You need to take an anticoagulant,” offers the nurse. Tommy looks at the tablet; it looks like a small heart. When he turns to Sara, he can see that her eyes are a little moist, right on the cusp of shedding a tear. “We’ll take you down for an MRI now,” says the nurse, “then you’ll be staying overnight.”
“I’ll come back tomorrow,” says Sara, wiping away a tear that managed to escape the corner of her eye. “I’ll be here as early as I can.”
The nurse waits a few seconds before he wheels away with Tommy. “It’s best if you can try to stay awake now,” he says, as soon as Tommy closes his eyes.
Everything is white inside the MRI room. Tommy is lying on top of the table that will soon slide into the large tubular magnet.
“I will now inject you with some contrast fluid,” says a senior nurse with white hair. “It’ll give you a warm sensation, but it’s completely harmless.”
Tommy’s too weary to respond. He feels the heat spread in his body and tries to relax. They know how everything is done. Just go with the flow, Tommy decides. Or was this a voice inside his head?
“Just try to relax. We’re about to start,” says the nurse. The table starts to slowly drift into the large tube. “Just lie completely still.”
Tommy closes his eyes. He’s surrounded by whiteness. He imagines that it’s snowing. White snowflakes against a white sky in a white landscape. He hears the machine’s rhythmic sound. And to him, it sounds much like the beginning of a forgotten song he now remembers, by the band Adolphson & Falk. There must be a track of them playing in the room, he thinks. In front of his face, Tommy envisions a snowflake hovering and moving rhythmically to the music. Then he begins to hear the dark voice again,singing now, slowly:
I’m watching the computer analyze.
Here uncertainty plays out.
But in the quiet hours of the night, I wonder
What happens when the technology is not looking,
What is hidden in the shadows of the trees?
And I feel uneasiness ever increasing.
But there are questions the computer cannot answer,
Signals that I can not understand.
There is so much we cannot explain.
There are forces we can never cure.
The snowflake flashes in a rhythmic blue light:
The control will flash blue,
A signal for all-safe.
The control will flash blue,
Then everything is as it should be.
If the display is normal
There is no reason to hesitate.
When the check is blinking blue,
Then everything is as it should be.
The snowflake changes colour to green and then fades away.
“Wake up,” he hears the nurse say. “We’ve finished now.”
“Ok,” Tommy replies, noticing how dry his mouth is. “What did it look like?”
“The doctor will take a look at the images. You’ll find out tomorrow.”
Another male nurse arrives with a wheelchair and rolls Tommy out of the room. “Where are we going?” Tommy asks.
“To the stroke ward.”
No! Tommy thinks to himself. That’s where dad spent the last hours of his life.
“I just need to go and talk to the nurses in that department,” said the male nurse, going into a room off the corridor inside the stroke ward.
Tommy feels uncomfortable among a bunch of old and sick people. He cannot remember a time when he’d been so poorly that he had to see a doctor. Not one sick day off work. And now he might as well be dead.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 20 years in this department,” said a female nurse to the male nurse. “One day, completely written off by the doctor, and the next day to be on the mend. In some isolated cases this has certainly happened before, but this is now the seventh time in three days.”
When they arrive at Tommy’s room, the male nurse says, “Get better now, Tommy,” and heads off toward the elevators. The female nurse has a name tag that reads “Birgitta”.
“You get the last available spot today,” says Birgitta cheerfully. She rolls him into a room with four beds. Tommy sees an old man sitting on the first bed, where an older woman is sleeping.
“No, not another young man! What is happening to the people on our planet?” asks the old man when he sees Tommy. “May God have mercy on these poor kids.”
Tommy sees a really old man in the next bed: skin and bones, sleeping with his mouth open, Tommy wonders if he’s already dead.
In the third bed is a patient hidden behind a scientific journal. The cover claims that in 2045 we’ll all get eternal life.
“I’ll be back with a little supper,” says Birgitta. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes, please,” replies Tommy.
“We’re lowering the average age of the ward, you and me.” The guy reading the journal does not look much older than Tommy. He gets out of his bed and approaches Tommy, stretching out his hand saying, “My name is Tomas, but call me Gaston, if you want.”
“Oh. My name is Tommy,” he replies, and takes the outstretched hand. “No nickname.”
“Last time I was here, there was a 30-year-old girl with a stroke.” Tomas leans forward, almost laughing, “And I think we’re too young as well.”
“Uh, yeah.” Tommy does not know how to respond to that statement. It’s just not funny.
“A movie’s about to start on telly now. We can eat our dinner in the common room, if you’d like to join me.”
Tommy doesn’t feel too bad. A little TV will probably cheer me up.
“We’re eating in front of the telly!” Tomas cries out to Birgitta in the corridor.
Tommy immediately feels a bit uncomfortable with the loud voice in a stroke unit.
The movie was starring Will Smith, not really Tommy’s thing. It makes him feel uneasy. A bunch of humanoid robots assisting people with all sorts. Tommy feels tired and wants to go to bed.
When they eventually get back to the room, Tomas says
“You can borrow some science magazines if you want. They’re from the library.”
“It’s not my area of interest,” Tommy begins, “but I’ll take a look at one.”
“It’s never too late to learn new things,” replies Tomas, and disappears behind a new magazine. It doesn’t take long before Tommy can’t keep his eyes open anymore.
Tommy finds himself lying in deep snow. The sky is dark blue with snowflakes congesting the air. Tommy looks around and sees two bright figures walking toward him. As they approach, he identifies them as white robots. The first robot is clearly male while the other is noticeably female. The spacing between the arms and the body has a small black joint. The female robot stretches out her hand to help Tommy to his feet. He looks at the hand and notices how snowflakes land on the robot’s hand, melt and form water droplets that easily roll off. The robots look quite dry. Tommy takes the white hand. The female robot says, “You have been given a second chance; you should use it for something good.”
Tommy pulls himself up to the robot as she steadies him on his feet. They are standing close. Tommy wonders why he finds her attractive – why does he perceive her to be naked? He feels a bit uncomfortable: releasing his grip, he falls back down in the snow. The male robot asks, “What are you trying to accomplish with the communities you people have created?”
Tommy doesn’t know how to reply to that. He’s thinking, I’m dreaming – it must be a dream, right? He stands up again.
“What is it you are really striving for?” asks the feminine robot. She picks up a small, green ball. It unfolds and turns into something resembling a robotic cross between a frog and starfish.
Tommy is startled as the little, green robot speaks: “Our view is that humanity is on a constant journey of exploring and learning about its surrounding environment. We believe your purpose should be to continue the advancement we have witnessed throughout history, how you progressed from individualism to finding strength in unity. How you discovered that cooperation between all forms of life is stronger than competition between the species. That you realised you are all part of the same globe, in symbiosis with the environment around you, and all its living systems. “
“Who are you?” asks Tommy, breathless,pointing towards all three.
“We’re from the future, the future that you will help make possible.”, says the masculine robot. The little green robot jumps up onto Tommy’s shoulder and continues;
“You should challenge the established idea that you humans own your own bodies.”
“Why?” Tommy asked. “I don’t understand!”
The feminine robot walks up to, stands next to Tommy and continues;
“Simply because you cannot continue to view yourselves as separate from the environment. Remove the oxygen and you will die. Remove the water, you will die. These components are all part of life on earth, as much as you are a part of it. Including the millions of bacteria living on your skin and in your body at this moment in time. As is all the life form that will use your body after your consciousness ends, along with your constituents reunited with the earth. Your affinity is so much bigger than you often realise.”
The masculine robot goes down on one knee to scoop up some snow in his hand. Tommy notices how water drips from the robot’s palm and leaves only a few small dark spots. The robot reaches out to Tommy and says…
“Take for example the environmental degradation. You think it’s the environment that you have to save, when in fact it is yourselves you need to save. The Earth does not care about the oceans becoming depleted, all the water becoming undrinkable or whether the air becomes unbreathable. But you care. Or at least you should care, because it is the basis for your own survival.”
The little robot on Tommy’s shoulder jumps back down onto the snow and says;
“In the future, we know that you had a part in the creation of a new society, a very large part in fact. Your achievements are not only for yourself, but for the common good. Since you are such an integral part of your environment, it naturally follows; whatever benefits your environment, will in the long run also benefit you. In the future you will create a new society, a better society for all.”
Lurking behind the robots, at the edge of the woods, Tommy spots a dark figure. It is similar to the male robot, but looks almost black in colour. Tommy points towards it and asks;
“Who is that?”, but it’s too late for an answer, as the lights in the ward are switched on by a nurse bringing medicine. It was a dream.
When Tommy looks around the room he sees that all the beds are empty. He hadn’t noticed anyone leaving. He would not normally sleep that heavily. His head ached.
“Would you like breakfast in bed or do you want to go and eat with the others?”
The question came from a young nurse with long blond hair and bright blue eyes. She could not be more than 22 years old, thought Tommy.
“I’m happy to get out of bed.”
“We’re delighted at the ward today.” says the nurse whose name ‘Linda’ Tommy spotted on the name tag. “Everyone got out of their beds today! That hasn’t happened for as long as I’ve been here.”
Inside the small dining room, Tommy saw that there was only one vacant seat left. Tomas sat opposite reading the Metro, a free newspaper. When he saw Tommy he handed over a copy.
“Yesterday’s news, already today.” Tommy said with a bitter sarcastic tone of voice as he took the newspaper. Tomas smiled at him, but with a quizzical look in his eyes.
After a moment Tommy noticed feeling angry. He started swearing quietly to himself.
“What is it?” asked Tomas.
“I don’t know.” replied Tommy, “I think it’s because I read about another terrorist act in the name of religion. I feel so powerless. Why do we just allow these damned murderers to go on like that. Can someone do something? I just want it to stop.”
“When I’m angry, I write on my blog.”, said Tomas, “Even though, clearly, hardly anyone ever reads it.”
“I know, I’ll write a letter to the editor!” Tommy exclaimed.
After breakfast, Tommy decides to rest rather than taking Tomas’s offer of watching telly together. But when he walks into his room there is an elderly lady in his bed.
“You’re in the wrong room.”, he heard Linda say behind him.
“She must be confused.” Tommy responds.
“No, Tommy. It’s you who’ve gone into the wrong room.”
Once in his own bed, he tries to think back to what happened the day before. The memories feel mixed, inconclusive. Looking around the room it’s as if it started snowing around him. The whole room seems to disappear and he is now standing in the middle of a snow filled landscape. In the snow, he can see two pairs of footsteps disappearing at the foot of a mountain.
“Hurry up!”, He hears a light voice say, “You’d better follow the tracks before they disappear.”
Tommy notices the green starfish-like robot now sitting on a large rock.
“Everything is quickly covered under falling snow.”
Without knowing why, Tommy starts walking towards the mountain. He doesn’t know if he wants to catch up with those who have left the tracks in the snow. Most likely they belong to the white robots, but he isn’t sure.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” he hears a deep voice say.
The dark figure is standing a short distance away. The snow whirls in Tommy’s face, making it difficult getting a clear picture of him.
“There is something that I must tell you, the one who stands on the warm threshold leading into the future. In the process of getting your rightful place, you must not become guilty of wrongdoing.” The snowfall seems to be increasing. “Do not try to satisfy your thirst for freedom, by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
Tommy doesn’t understand what the dark figure is talking about.
“You must always carry on your battle with a high level of dignity and discipline. You must not let your creative protest turn into physical violence. Again and again, you must meet physical force with soulful force.”
Tommy looks down at the snow. The tracks are getting harder to see.
“Hurry slowly. Be critical. Think.”
Tommy notices how everything just gets whiter and whiter.
“Are you asleep?”
The voice is no longer deep. It belongs to Sara. Tommy opens his eyes and sees Sara and Elsa standing next to him in bed.
“There’s not much colour in here.” says Elsa, “Almost just white.”
“Thank goodness for wide doors!”
Tommy recognises the voice of his mother coming into the room. Curved back and spasmodically cradling a walking frame.
“Mum?” exclaimed Tommy, “What have you done with your Permobil?”
“Oh that big old thing, I’ve stopped using it.” announces Ruth and folds down a seat on the walking frame, “My legs have become too restless, I can’t just sit down all of the time.”
“Grandma’s like …,” says Elsa and begins to dance, “I’ve got ants in my pants.” And croaks like a crow. Ruth looks at Elsa and laughs. Then she turns her attention to Tommy.
“But how are you, my little boy.” Ruth takes Tommy’s hand. “You’re a bit too young for a stroke.”
“I haven’t spoken to a doctor yet. But I feel pretty good.”
“You said you feel a little confused and tired.” Sara tabs in.
“You need to take care of yourself” said Ruth with a touch of sadness in her voice, “I do not want to lose you as well.”
“But Dad will surely be alright?” exclaims Elsa, “The hospital will make him get well again?”
“Calm down Elsa.” Tommy reassures, “I’ll be back to normal soon.”
Neither Ruth and Sara say anything at all.
“Mum. Tell me more about your legs instead.” Says Tommy, who wants to change the subject.
“There will be no visit from the doctors today.” announces Tomas loudly when he steps into the room.
“This is …” Tommy begins, turning to Sara, Elsa and Ruth. But the name is gone.
“Call me Gaston if you want to.” Tomas adds and continues;
“The nurses told me that the rounds have been cancelled today. The doctors have a meeting with the authorities about the recent patient rates at the hospital. More patients than usual have been discharged and even less have been admitted. It seems that the Swedes are getting healthier.”
“And still, I’m lying here.” Tommy says quietly. “I’ve always been healthy before.”
“Now they’ll have to start firing a lot of nursing assistants.” says Ruth with a bitterness in her voice. “When I was in healthcare, we worked our butts off. There wasn’t any talk of employing more people or raising any wages. But as soon as there was less to do they would fire people.”
“But it’s Sunday today.” Sara says, puzzled. “What could be so important on a Sunday?”
Chapter 3: Towards the mountain top
The food didn’t taste of anything. Tommy ate mostly on routine and because he knew he should be hungry. It was quiet in the room. Everyone else was in the ward’s dining room, but Tommy wanted to be left alone. He was too tired to talk. The few hours that Sara, Elsa, and his mother Ruth had been visiting had made him completely exhausted. Sara would come back after Elsa had been to a party at her classmate Stina’s, who had a father named Robert. Tommy remembers him from when he was at school. Robert was the meanest person he had ever met. Tommy wanted to repress all memories of his school days, and just remember the freedom he felt when he finally graduated from 9th grade.
After dinner he sat back on the bed to browse some of the science magazines Tomas lent him. On one cover, he saw the face of a robot. It had similarities with the male robot from last night’s dream. Tommy decided to rest a little instead. It didn’t take many seconds until he again was in the middle of a snowstorm.
“You ought to hurry up to the top of the mountain.”
The voice sounded like it came from inside something. Tommy turned, and sat in front of him was something that looked like a caravan. It was almost completely buried in the snow.
“From the mountain top you can behold the promised land. On the other side, at the foot of the mountain, you will find Snowflake city. The people who live there call it paradise.”
Tommy remembers that the robots had mentioned snowflakes and that the little green robot was reminiscent of a snowflake. Why snowflakes?
“What did you say?” He heard someone ask.
Tommy opened his eyes and saw a man standing at the foot end of the hospital bed.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Tommy blinked a little and read the man’s badge;
[Bertil Nilsson, hospital chaplain.]
“How are you feeling?” asked the priest kindly.
Tommy just remembered that he had sent a letter to the Metro, about religion. He had an uneasy feeling that this was a test. But when he saw the priest’s friendly smile, his uneasiness changed into anger. Probably another one of those hypocritical ones, thought Tommy.
“I’m thirsty.”, He heard himself reply.
Priest Bertil gave Tommy a drink of water.
“Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” continued Bertil.
“Will God punish me if I lie? I think it was one of the commandments that you should not lie?”
“No. 8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. May also be construed to be that you ought be faithful in thought, word and deed.”
“But if you yourself believe in something and tell others about it, only to realise that it was not true. Have you lied about it then?” asks Tommy.
“Can you give me an example?”
Tommy stays silent for a moment. He tries to remember his letters. He does not want to offend the priest, but at the same time he would still try his opinions of someone with good knowledge.
“If I tell my daughter that Father Christmas exists and I myself believe in him, then it’s no lie.”
“No.” replied the priest, and seems to understand that Tommy is actually referring to God.
“But I do not believe in Father Christmas, although I tell her he exists. And so, I have lied.”
“I think God will forgive you.” answers Bertil and shows with his body language that he should be moving on.
“But if I don’t believe in God and I tell my daughter that Jesus was just a hoax.” Tommy wanted to provoke some anger, “What if I tell her that Jesus’ stories were all lies. Will I burn in hell then?”
“One of the last words Jesus said, when he was crucified, was that God would forgive the people because they did not know any better.”
Bertil, the priest, started walking towards the door when Tommy blurted out;
“What did Jesus mean when he said that it was all concluded?”
Bertil stopped in the doorway and turned around. Reluctantly, he returned to Tommy.
“They were probably Jesus’ last words on the crucifix.” said Bertil and looked out of the window. “Jesus died so we could be forgiven for our sins. In his last breath he left his spirit on Earth.” Bertil turned his gaze to Tommy and said, “The Holy Spirit remains among us, waiting for the Savior’s return.”
“Cut it out!” cried Tomas, stepping into the room, “It’s a waste of your time, Tommy is an atheist.”
“Well, maybe you should call me a Humanistic Agnostic instead .” Tommy countered.
“I must move on.” said Bertil, “But it’s never too late to discover the greatness of Jesus Christ.”
“And suddenly he’s in a hurry…” said Tomas when Bertil left the room, “They’re starting to worry about declining memberships. It’s costly to heat up the churches in cold Sweden.”
“That sounds a bit cynical.” replied Tommy, “though if they could, they’d probably take ten percent of my possessions.”
“God is love.” says Tomas in a squeaky voice, “And if you don’t believe it …”, he continues, and changes the voice to that of a heavy metal singer, “… you will burn in hell.”
“That’s a little harsh.” replied Tommy, but cannot hide that he thought it was quite funny.
“Now I will get some rest.” said Tomas, and lay on top of his bed, closing his eyes.
Tommy leans back and starts getting the feeling that he is floating.
“Just relax.”, he heard a deep voice say, “We are just here to help you.”
Tommy forces open his eyelids. Worried, he looks around. He’s still in the hospital room. He decides to go and watch TV. Right now, he does not want to wander around in a blizzard.
In the TV room, there is just an elderly man in an armchair, with his empty wheelchair beside him. The man is mumbling to himself while taking off his glasses, to immediately putting them back on again. He doesn’t seem to notice that Tommy sits down next to him on the sofa.
On telly there appears to be some debate between a trade unionist named Mats and a female representative from the employers’ side, Anna.
“And that is exactly what we oppose.”, says Mats, “that the employers are laying off their staff simply because we have become healthier.”
“But the there is currently work for 600 people.” Anna replies, “We do not have enough work for 750.”
“The company has 750 employees right now and you have reported record profits.” replies Mats clearly angry.
The old man moves closer to the TV so that it’s hard for Tommy to see.
“We had 150 employees to cover for those on sick leave.”, says Anna quietly, “But now hardly anybody calls in sick.”
Suddenly the old man notices Tommy sitting beside him.
“Do you know if these are my glasses?” he asks Tommy with a faint high pitched voice.
“What? No, I don’t.”
“I think I am seeing better without them. They must be someone else’s glasses.”
The TV was showing riots and demonstrations in the United States. A lot of people show their discontent towards Jill Stein, who won the presidential election. People were waving the Confederate flag, shouting “We Will Not Be Stoned by Stein!”
“Oh my God.” said the old man, “Where is the world heading to? United States chooses a tree-hugger for their president.”
The male nurse comes into the TV room and seems surprised.
“Why aren’t you in your wheelchair?”
“Is this my wheelchair?” replies Arne, evidently little confused.
The nurse looks at Tommy and asks if he had helped Arne into the armchair earlier. Tommy does not have a chance to answer, before Arne gets up out of the chair and sits down in the wheelchair.
“Oh!” exclaims the surprised nurse, and begins to wheel Arne away, “We’ll have to speak to the physio about this.”
“Do you know if these are my glasses?” asks Arne again while being wheeled out of the room.
On the TV a black and white film, called “Future My Love”, is about to start, although Tommy does not like black and white movies, so he reaches for the remote controls.
“Aha! This is where you’re hiding!”
Tomas is standing in the doorway.
“Your wife and daughter are here.”
Tommy stands up too quickly and feels his legs struggling to carry him, causing him to fall back onto the couch again.
“They’ve said daddy needs to stay one more night.” Sara told Elsa while walking into the TV room.
“But he was supposed to get well soon.”
“I’m fine. I’m tougher than some people think.”
Tommy gets back up again and looks at Sarah and Elsa. But then they disappear in a blizzard of snow. Tommy falls back down, landing on the couch again while the snowstorm gradually disappears.
“But another night might not hurt.”
Chapter 4: No two snowflakes are the same.
“Call me as soon as you have spoken to the doctors tomorrow.” said Sara as she and Elsa left Tommy after an hour’s chat.
“Nice wife and daughter you have.” said Tomas from across the room.
“Thank you, Tomas.” replied Tommy, “Or should I call you Gaston?”
“You can call me whatever you want. It’s my friends at work who call me Gaston, after the cartoon character. They think I have such quirky ideas. But I reckon it’s us humans that are weird. What do you think about the magazine you borrowed yesterday?”
Tommy picks up the scientific magazines that Tomas had loaned him the night before. There was a picture of a male robot on one of the covers, and in the other magazine there was an article about a robot with feminine traits.
“I dreamed of them last night.” Tommy replied, pointing to the robots, “It was a bit weird really. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but this I cannot forget.”
“I saw a film once about dreams once. I think they can be messages from another time and place.”, said Tomas, “Maybe we are at our most receptive when we sleep.”
“Oh.” replied Tommy, “Speaking of sleeping, I think I’ll take a little nap before the evening meal. I feel quite tired.”
“Tired brain.”, said Tomas, “It’s quite common after a stroke, even mild ones. I know, this is my third one. I never learn. People are crazy.”
Tommy chose not to comment.
Tommy feels how a dream is beginning to take over and decides to close his eyes and allow himself to be swept away into the mist. But there was something that did not feel right. Tommy lay on his back, opened his eyes and looked straight up. He thought he could see the stars. When he brought his hands up to his eyes to rub life into them, he noticed that he had a helmet with a visor on. When he touched the helmet it was like he had started something.
Tommy stood up and saw that he was standing on a mountain in a snow filled landscape. It was the turning point between day and night. The sky was so dark that he could see the stars, but also bright enough to see the landscape around him. When Tommy looked towards the mountain top, he saw a large gate in the face of the rock. In front of it sat a giant robot in the snow. The robot looked as if it was meditating. It reminded Tommy of a Buddha statue. When Tommy approached it, the robot woke and stood up. The robot looked to be at least 10 meters tall.
“Are you lost?” asked the robot with a surprisingly friendly and gentle voice.
“Yes. Or maybe not. I don’t know. I think I’m dreaming, actually.” replied Tommy. “Where am I?”
“You’re standing in front of the snowflake cities’ archive of knowledge. Deep in the mountains, we have saved all the knowledge that we and all humanity have accumulated throughout history. We keep uploading new data all the time.”
“Wow! It must be gigantic in there?” said Tommy, surprised.
“Everything is relative.” replies the robot, “We have developed memory crystals that can contain vast amounts of information.”
“And you have probably shaped them all like snowflakes?” asks Tommy, a bit sarcastically.
“Yes!” the robot replies.
“Oh!” Tommy tries. “Can I come in and have a look at it?”
“No!” replies the robot with a much sharper voice. “No humans can ever get into these archives. Unfortunately, we’re unable to trust you. You have proven time and time again that you cannot keep your promises.”
“But I’m not like that. I’m nice. You can trust me.”
“The answer is still no! But you’re allowed to come and read the text on our door.”
Tommy saw that the sign on the gate began to light up as he approached it and he began to read.
“Welcome to Snowflake city. We have learned from your efforts and your eternal toil. Therefore, humans, you are welcome here. Although, when you created us, your journey ended and now you will have some rest.”
When Tommy finished reading, he was silent for a moment and then said;
“This text is on all of the gates of the cities, then?”
“No!” replied the robot, “What you get to read, is the text that you yourself have created.”
“Now I don’t follow.”
“When you approach the sign, we scan your deepest desires and adjust the text to fit you, but the basic message is the same.”
“So you can feel that I’m tired and would like to rest?”
“Yes!” replied the robot. “If you were a creative person, but felt that you do not have the time or money to make what you want, the text would reflect that.”
“I think it seems like you are fooling us!”
“No! It is you who are fooling yourselves. The text is generated by your own wishes for the future and your thoughts about yourselves.”
Tommy stays silent for a while. Then he walks up to the sign and reads it again; “Welcome to Snowflake city. Here you just take with you your memories of times gone by. You have fought and toiled to create a decent life. But when you created us, your hard work ended and now you are allowed to rest. “
Tommy turns to the robot and says;
“You’re right.The text is different now.”
“Yes!” Answers the robot, “And when you have been in the city for a long time and chooses to re-read the sign, the text will be very different.”
“Is there another city nearby?” Tommy asks eagerly.
“Yes, there’s one right behind this mountain!” replies the robot, pointing with his gigantic arm. “You can fetch a ride there with the drone over there.”
Tommy does not have time to answer before, out of the snow, a large spheric vehicle as big as a car appears. It rolls up to Tommy and a door opens. Tommy steps inside and the ball starts rolling away through the snowy landscape.
Then it quickly rolls up the mountain’s snow-covered side.
“Why is everything shaped like a snowflake?” Tommy asks himself.
“Why reinvent the wheel, as you humans like to say.”
“Wow” said Tommy. He was not prepared for the sphere to be able to talk. “Are you saying that snowflakes are a new invention?”
“No.” replied the globe, “But it’s a good design, like much else in nature. We try to take the best ideas and improve on them. Do you know how a snowflake is created? It’s almost magical, how the six branches will be equal to each other, while different snowflakes are never the same. But everything has a natural explanation, and we are not trying to work against nature, instead we want to be a part of it.”
The ball stays on the mountain’s edge. Tommy looked down into a valley filled with houses of various kinds. Most houses resembled spiers that narrowed towards the top. But many looked like one half of a globe, or hexagonal pyramids. In several places, Tommy could see ropes attached to the houses. The ropes stretched high into the air where they were attached to large balloons.
“What’s inside those balloons?”
“They are our hydrogen gas reserves. In the summer we have a surplus of energy and are able to make an abundance of hydrogen with the help of the sun. When the dark period comes, the only source available to us is wind power. The waters freeze and the sun doesn’t shine north of the Arctic Circle.”
Tommy looks down the valley and marvels at the size of the city.
“It must have been very expensive to build all this? Where do you robots get all the money from?”
“You humans have stopped evolving. You have turned your back on nature.”
The sphere is silent for a moment before asking;
“How much do you think the trees have paid to build a forest?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Tommy exclaims.
The ball starts moving towards the city and continues;
“Listen, I will try to explain.”
“Money is just something that you people invented.” says the drone to Tommy, “We have no need for it, neither do the trees in the forests or any other lifeform on Earth.”
“But everything can’t be free?” asks Tommy, “You can’t just take things without paying?”
“That’s what you humans have always done. You never asked the forest for permission before destroying it. You never paid the hen for their eggs or chickens. You would just take. You think you own this small planet.”
Tommy is quiet for a moment and then asks;
“But what we have created ourselves, surely must be worth something?”
“Imagine two paintings painted simultaneously, with the same colour and material. One is almost worthless, while the other is worth as much as an entire residential neighborhood. Why?”
“One might be painted by Da Vinci.” Tommy replied triumphantly.
“You decide how much things are worth. Nothing has predetermined value. You decide.”, says the ball, while rolling into a pine forest at the edge of the mountain.
“Supply and demand!” Tommy exclaimed suddenly, “that would control the prices, right?”
The sphere cruises between the pine trees at high speed and continues, “Access is controlled by production. Produce it in abundance, more than is needed, and the products will be free. In our cities, we produce everything ourselves, according to your needs and wishes, with 3D printers. You decide what you want, no advertising agency or producer. “
Tommy sits and thinks quietly for a while. And then he asks;
“But what about the raw materials that are used in production? They surely must have been bought?”
The ball stops and says, “Look up at the moon. What do you see?”
Tommy looks up at the dark sky. The moon shines faintly. It lies almost entirely in the dark, just a little glimmer visible of one edge. But then Tommy sees another thing. Can it be true? He blinks a few times. Yes it’s true. “Incredible!”
On the dark part of the moon, Tommy could see several lit areas. They looked like different sized snowflakes. Around the moon, he could even see a swarm of points of light moving around the moon at different speeds and directions.
“We take what we need from the entire solar system” said the sphere, “especially from the planets, asteroids and meteors that have no life. We do not want to extract from life any more than is sustainable and renewable.”
“It looks like there are cities on the moon.” Tommy said, with his eyes transfixed to the sky, “Snowflake Cities!”
“The majority of people who have settled on the moon feel comfortable with the lower level of gravity. Shall we continue to our destination, we are getting closer now.”
A short while later they arrived in front of a high wall. Tommy gets out and walks closer to it.
The smooth surface seems to be made of granite. Suddenly, the dark figure appears behind a tall spruce.
“Are you sure you want to go into the city? Do you know what they will do to you before you become free?”
“No” Tommy replied, “I think I’m already free?”
“In the future we will all be free, Tommy. In the future.”
Then Tommy sees three small spherical robots rolling towards them. They stop right next to Tommy and one of the robots unfolds into a human shape, carrying a helmet in his hands. The two other robots grab Tommy and the third puts the helmet on his head. Tommy feels how they are tugging at him calling his name. But then he recognises the voice. It is the nurse, Bridget.
“Wake up, Tommy!” she says as she pulls his arm, “You must’ve had a nightmare.”
“Not a nightmare exactly, but … I was in the future again.”
“I called her.”, says Tomas, “It sounded like you couldn’t breathe.”
“It feels so real when I dream. Almost as if it’s happening in reality.”
“I’ll be right back with the evening meal.”, says Birgitta, walking out of the room, “that is in reality!”
Chapter 5: Between an inner and outer wall
“Do you know who Carl Sagan is?” Tomas asks from his hospital bed.
Tommy completes and sends his SMS saying good night to Sarah and Elsa, then raising his eyes to his roommate.
“The name sounds familiar.” he replies, “But I can’t remember…”
“He was a scientist from the US.” continues Tomas, “He’s dead now, but he made the TV series Cosmos that was on TV in the 80s.”
“Yes.” replied Tommy. “I used to watch it with my brother.”
Tommy feel a sadness that begins to bubble up within him. It has been 25 years since his brother died of a drug overdose, but suddenly it feels like it was yesterday.
“I came to think of Carl Sagan when you told me about your dreams.” Tomas continues, “I think he was talking about being able to see planet Earth as an organism. In the same way that all of us and the animals have bacteria and independent blood cells in our bodies, the Earth contains plants and animals. If the interaction between plants and animals does not work, as between bacteria and blood cells in our bodies, the organism won’t work either.”
“So the Earth is like an animal or a giant plant?” Tommy asked, with clear skepticism in his voice.
“Exactly.” Tomas replied.
“Now I am beginning to understand why they call you Gaston.”
“Imagine this …” continues Tomas unperturbed by Tommy’s comment, “The Earth is alive because of all the lifeform on it. People cannot live unless there are a lot of other small organisms inside the body. We can not control how the distribution of oxygen and nutrients is handled by our little friends that inhabit our bodies. Our view of reality is created in the brain, and we really do not know how much we control with our own mind.”
“Hm. You’ve lost me now.”
“Well, imagine this; you lose a leg but you’re still the same person. However, if you cut off your head, you’re a head without a body, rather than a body without a head.”
“But the Earth has no brain.” answers Tommy, as he begins to feel very tired.
“No, but I think that something big is about to happen. I can see the similarities between the internet and the brain, especially now with cloud storage, super-smart mainframe computers, robotics and the internet of things. Everything is beginning to connect globally. Everything we write on social media is instantly accessible across the globe. It would be enough if someone created a clever virus, and it began to spread and replicate itself.That way, the Earth will have a brain.”
“Gaston.” Tommy yawns, “can we continue this conversation tomorrow? I am so very tired.”
“Sure, I’ll switch off the lights.”
Tommy thinks he can hear his wife’s anxious voice. “Your pupils are different sizes.” The hospital room disappears and instead, he finds himself in front of a high wall.
“Welcome back!” said a deep voice behind him.
Tommy turns around and sees a robot, about three feet high,resembling a scarecrow. Suddenly it folds itself into a ball and starts rolling off towards two other robots. It’s the two humanlike robots Tommy recognises from his earlier dream.
“Where am I now?”
“You are inside the outer wall of Snowflake city.” replies the feminine robot, “Come with us as we walk to the inner wall.”
Tommy is thinking; is she trying to be seductive?
When they walk across the snow-filled landscape, Tommy notices a solitary tree a few hundred metres away, and on the horizon there are high-rise buildings stretching up to heaven like spiers. Tommy is thinking they look like a lot of different kinds of churches.
“I don’t believe in God.” says Tommy to the robots. “Do you have a particular faith?”
The ball stopped in the snow and unfolds to its full length. “We believe in the power of momentum”, and returns to the shape of a ball and rolls away.
The masculine robot turns to Tommy.
“We have a lot of different theories about why everything in the universe becomes more and more complicated and also more fragile.”
“What do you mean?”
“Life on Earth has become more and more advanced. Just think of your closest relatives, the chimpanzees. They have great abilities and understanding. They are also very good at passing on their skills from one generation to the next. But when one chimpanzee dies, that individual’s knowledge is lost. On the contrary, you humans can document all your knowledge. That way, you can learn from people who have been dead for hundreds of years. However, this knowledge is vulnerable. Books can burn and hard drives can be demagnetized. Your whole community can be knocked out by a powerful solar storm.”
“But what about your faith?”, asks Tommy.
“Our faith is more like a thesis, a scientific reflection we try to find the answer to. We believe that momentum is constructed by two forces, one that drives development forward and one that holds it back.”
“But where does this momentum come from?” asks Tommy, stopping next to the solitary tree.
The feminine robot stretches her hand out to the tree and says, “Look at these branches. Each branch is similar to an entire tree, but in smaller form. You can compare it with fractals. With a little genetic information it can copy itself and branch out endlessly. All leaves create vitality to the entire tree, not only for themselves or their branch. “
“This branch is dead.”,responds Tommy, breaking off a dry, leafless branch. The robots jump at the sound. The masculine robot moves forward, takes the branch and holds it, the thick end up.
“Do you see what this looks like?” the robot asks him. “Do you see that it resembles a bolt of lightning. Do you see that they have the same desire, the same drive to get somewhere.”
Tommy scratches his chin and says, “But isn’t a flash made to equalize the power between the plus and minus of the electricity in the clouds and land?”
The tall drone unfolds again and says, “The momentum has two sides, positive and negative. It strive for balance.”
“Our religion has two sides too.” says Tommy thoughtfully. “Good and evil, yin and yang, God and Satan, light and darkness, birth and death.” Tommy starts looking around at the desolate landscape. “Why is this tree by itself?”
“People have called it the tree of life.” The feminine robot goes back to Tommy and stands very close to him. “Just like life, the tree grows up and more and more branches stretch out. Some branches are dying, others bloom out with a fantastic variety of color and shape.”
Tommy stands quietly, pondering on this tree when he notices something moving a little further away.
Halfway up, on a shady ledge of a cliff, the dark figure is again lurking in the shadows. He shouts down to Tommy. “Ask them if there is freedom of religion in the future! Ask if people have faith in their old religions!”
When the robots notice that the dark figure is close by, all three of them turn towards Tommy.
The tall one says “Now, this human has learned enough for the time being.” It then folds into itself and rolls off towards the cliff, to again unfold to full length beneath the ledge. And that clearly makes the dark figure worried.
The feminine robot says. “In the future all people are free, as free as any other animal on the planet. The only thing we ask of you is that you do not violate our law.”
“Your law!” says Tommy in surprise, “Can there be only one law?”
The masculine robot puts its hand on Tommy’s shoulder and says, “You will soon wake up. But before that, I want to leave three questions for you to consider, all in three different areas of society.Those areas are; political parties, religious associations and national borders. And the questions are; Who created them? Why did they create them? When were they created?”
Looking over towards the rock, Tommy thought that it looked like it had started to snow. Large snowflakes are floating in the air and a single snowflake stops in front of Tommy’s left eye and just hovers there. Tommy blinks a few times and notices that he is awake. He reaches for his mobile and finds a notes App. He tries to write a few keywords to help him remember this dream. Fatigue slowly sends him drifting back to sleep.
Chapter 6: A mental border
Tommy gets the feeling that he is somewhere very high up. When he sees tall buildings of different shapes ahead, he realises that he is back in Snowflake city. He takes a step forwards to a balcony railing and looks down. Tommy thinks that he must be at the top of a tower. There is a great wall on the ground below that reaches to the horizon in both directions. On the face of the wall he can see a large door and realises that he has arrived at the inner wall of the town. Tommy notices the female robot standing close beside him. She turns to him and says;
“You might want to know what our law says? The law that all intelligent life must follow.”
Tommy takes a few steps back and nods. If only she would stop being so impertinent, he thinks. The robot begins to explain;
“No intelligent life, biological or mechanical, may allow the Earth and its inhabitants to come to harm due to one’s own or another’s actions, directly or indirectly.”
Tommy. scratching his head is saying, “Is that all?”
Intensively she looks into his eyes and says, “Yes.”
”I am sorry but I do not understand. Our lawbook is very thick. This make no sense to me.”
“If you are calm, kind and harmonious you will understand. If you can repress your anger so it does not lead to hatred and violence, you have come a bit of the way. If you promise to share your thoughts and listen to others, you will be even closer. If you can see that everything is connected like a circle, and the circle can grow into a snowflake, you’re almost there.”
Tommy turns his head and looks out over the city. “That has not made me one bit wiser.”
Along the facade Tommy notices that the little green robot, shaped like a starfish, starts crawling up the tower wall, stopping at the balcony. “Maybe I can explain?”
With one arm only it attaches itself onto the balcony edge and begins to dangle freely when it starts to explain.
“Firstly, we treat all life according to various intelligence categories. With the intelligence that can use reason, we work proactively. We educate them in planet preservation and respect for the fragility of life. If it turns out that reasoning does not work, we reprogramme the intelligence, both mechanically and biologically. The intelligence that acts only on the basis of instinctive behavior, we leave be providing it cannot be defined as cancer on the Earth’s body. Cancer on the other hand, we break down into small harmless building blocks and release back into nature.”
Tommy looks at the little robot in awe.
“Break down and reprogramme. Would you do that to me if I broke the law?”
The feminine robot puts her hand on Tommy’s shoulder, looking him deeply in the eyes and says, “After our training, you will be a harmonious person. You would not want to hurt anyone. You must understand that life is fragile and very easy to destroy.”
Tommy turns his gaze out towards the city skyline and sees a blimp flying near. Under the airship’s basket the dark figure is hanging in a sling. Tommy can barely see him because of the bright lights of airship.
The dark figure pulls out a megaphone and shouts to Tommy;
“Ask them what they do with people who, despite training and reprogramming, still break the law.”
Tommy turns towards the robots. “What would you do if I still broke your law?”
Behind the feminine robot a door opens and Tommy hears the male robot say;
“Come in and take a look at our converting facility.”
Tommy follows the robot into a long curved corridor.
“You’re lucky.” says the robot, “We have just caught a human who has shown violent tendencies and is clearly a danger to other life.”
The robot shows Tommy to a small room. Strapped to a stretcher is a man who looks to be in his 20s. He has a helmet on that covers his entire face.
“What are you doing with him?” asks Tommy, horrified.
“Relax, he’s been given a sedative and is now in a virtual world. We then show him what we perceive that he did wrong. At the same time, we scan his brain to find out which area is either overactive or under stimulated. We release a new dose of Nanobots into the bloodstream that will make sure his levels and connections are normal.”
“Can I talk to him?” asks Tommy.
“Sure.”, the robot replies, “We have nothing to hide.” The straps are released from the man who sits up and takes off his helmet. Tommy jerks. The man looks just like Robert, his classmate from high school and Tommy’s old bully.
“Hey Tommy, good to see you,” says the guy with an almost chirping voice of joy.
“Robert Magnusson.” whispers Tommy and remembers all the horrible things that Robert subjected him to. Tommy looks at his old bully and reacts to the fact that he looks like he has not aged beyond 22. He should look like 46, like Tommy does. “Is it really you? You seem young and very happy.”
“Well, Tommy, you know.” says Robert and scratches, somewhat nervously at his neck and continues, “Shit, Tommy, I’m sorry about all the stupid stuff I did. Can you forgive me? I’m a new person now, I’m happy, harmonious and creative. The robots are the best thing that ever happened to me. To the planet as well, actually. They have created a paradise on Earth. Absolutely incredible.”
A wheelchair comes into the room, powered by a robot without a torso. Robert gets up quickly. “Now it is time for me to get back to my loved ones.” Robert chirps cheerfully, “Hope to see you in the future.”
Robert sits down in the chair and is taken out of the room. Then Tommy hears an alarm, an annoying sound that Tommy recognises.
“It’s time for you to go, Tommy.”, The male robot walks towards him carrying Tommy’s helmet in his hands, “But do try to find out a little bit about Nanobots, it is one of several keys to paradise.”
Tommy can not prevent the robot from putting the helmet on his head. He notices that he is back in the ward and hears the annoying sound again, coming from the hospital corridor. He tries drowsily to work out what is happening. Tommy’s head hurts. Nanobots, he thinks, what are Nanobots? Tommy is still for a moment and reflects on the strange dream before he falls asleep again.
Chapter 7: Like a chain reaction
Tommy had just finished his hospital breakfast of cereal, juice and a piece of toast with cheese, when he takes a sip of the coffee that he’d let cool down slightly.
“The Metro with your coffee?”, asks Tomas and gives Tommy a copy of the paper, “Yesterday’s news, already today.”
Tommy takes the paper without saying anything. He instead has a sense of deja vu, that this has happened before.
“Was that not what you said yesterday?” Tomas continues.
Tommy looks at the paper. The date shows Monday, 12th December, 2016. “Isn’t it Monday today?” Tommy looks questioningly at Tomas.
“Yes. Drink some water. It will probably bring your memory back.”
“Okay.” Tommy replies and the memories of yesterday are in fact starting to reappear. He remembers how he became furious when he read about a another awful terrorist attack and that he also complained about religion. He also remembers how Tomas had said he should write a letter to the editor, and that it is important to get his anger off his chest, by writing it down.
“Wow.” said Tomas when he looked in the paper, “I think you got your letter published.”
Tommy quickly looks up the letter pages and sees that Tomas is right.
“And a nice picture with all the different religious symbols. You know, there might be millions of people reading your words.”
Tommy starts to read his own letter to the editor to be sure they haven’t changed anything.
Let children grow up before we limit them with religion.
Freedom of religion is in Sweden, I think, a good thing. In particular, the freedom not to be religious, that has not always been possible in this country. I believe it is wrong that a faith should be forced upon a child by the adult world. Everyone should have the opportunity to freely choose between all faiths or to choose not to believe. When children are young they believe mostly everything that the adult tells them. It is easy to make anyone with limited knowledge, believe that Father Christmas is real, or that the tooth fairy exists and leaves a coin under the pillow. Mum’s and Dad’s religious beliefs may be incorrect. Ultimately, I think that if everyone who believes in different things, like ghosts and other invisible beings, would just realise that it is only a belief and not scientifically proven, maybe they would not become fanatical. Then maybe, the likelihood of one person killing another due to their faith will lessen. If children are made to wait until they become 18 years old before anyone is allowed to purposefully influence them, hopefully they would have developed some resistance to religious and mythical arguments.
The atheistic humanist
“May I make a suggestion?” asks Tomas. Instead of answering, Tommy lifts his gaze and nods. He feels that he’s already getting tired again. The dreams cause him to sleep badly.
“Take a look at YouTube and listen to Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. They are my two favourite atheists.”
“I’m really rubbish at using the internet and social media.” Tommy replies.
“Then you will find it difficult to answer the comments you received from your letter.”, says Tomas and shows him his mobile, “You’ve got 23 comments. And you’ll probably get more.”
“I’ll take a look at it when I get home.” says Tommy and takes a sip of coffee.
“Will you be discharged today?” asks Tomas.
“I don’t know. I think so.” Tommy rubs his forehead with his whole hand and continues, “I have trouble remembering what happened this weekend. I remember my dreams better than I do reality. It feels like I’m an extra in a movie or a character in the background of a game.”
“Well, you mentioned that yesterday. You said that you felt like a character in the game The Sims. Though a character that no one plays with, one who’s only there to fill the background. A pretty funny thing to say I thought.”
“Did I already tell you that?” Tommy replies, putting his hand over his eyes groaning, “I will not be released from here. They won’t discharge someone who forget things all the time.”
“Do not worry.” says Tomas happily, “That will pass in a few days. It’s just good to forget things sometime. It will give you more room in your brain for new ideas.”
“Now this is Gaston talking again.” answers Tommy, a little more cheerfully.
Tomas smiles and says, “Speaking of Gaston. If you use Facebook when you go to respond to your comments about your letter, I can recommend a couple of fun groups you can join. They are mostly techno-optimistic.”
“No, stop.” said Tommy, raising his hand like a stop sign, “I want to get well first, before I try to learn something new. I don’t even know how much I have actually forgotten.”
Tomas looks at Tommy, “How can anyone know what they forgot, if they can’t remember?”
Chapter 8: To dare open the door to the future
Tommy stands in front of a large gate. He recognises it as the gate to the inner wall. Behind the gate, on the other side of the wall, lies the city of plenty. Is it really paradise or just a vision of a possible future society? Tommy does not know for sure.
“Are you ready to go in?”, he hears a small squeaky voice say.
When he looks down towards the place where he thought the voice had come from, he spots a little red ladybird in the snow. When Tommy picks it up he discovers that it is a very small robot.
“Once you have stepped into the city, you will never look at the world again with the same eyes.” continued the tiny robot, “You can choose to stop your journey here and forgo being enlightened of future opportunities.”
Tommy moves his eyes from the robot in his palm and looks at the gate. He feels that he has come too far now to stop. Then he hears a voice calling his name.
In the palm of his hand, he watches the little mechanical ladybird unfold its wings and begin to fly. It stops mid-air in front of Tommy’s face and says, “It’s your choice.”
The ladybird then flies away towards the door and lands on the handle. Tommy hears how someone continues to shout his name. “Tommy! Wake up!”
When Tommy opens his eyes, he sees Tomas standing by his hospital bed. “The doctor is doing the rounds and he’ll be here soon.”
Tommy has a strange feeling when the doctor is standing next to his hospital bed. Have I seen him before?
“Feel better today?” asks Dr. Marcus, “Yesterday you said you felt confused.”
Tommy could not remember that he has ever seen to this doctor before. Dr Marcus sounds familiar somehow. Could it be that he does not remember anything from yesterday. Tommy feels the panic grow in him. He does not want to be left in here, he just has to get back home.
“Today I feel much better.” Tommy’s lying.
“I’ve looked at the pictures from your MRI and I can see no traces or scars of a stroke in your brain. However, there are some clear signs of both carotid and vertebral dissection, including some older signs of carotid. Probably from earlier this year.”
Tommy does not understand medical terms, but just wants to get home.
“So, with some medicine I can go home?”
“Yes, I’ll discharge you today.”, begins the doctor, “but I would like to know if you felt this way before?”
“No.” answers Tommy quickly but then remembers, “Well, wait. I had an awfully stiff neck last spring. In fact, it was so painful that I couldn’t open my mouth properly.” Tommy wonders to himself if it could have been a stroke. The ache lasted several days. Strange that I had forgotten about that. He remembers that his wife had complained that his personality changed. Sara even suspected for a while that Tommy might have been unfaithful to her. Tommy pushes those thoughts away and instead says cheerfully;
“But now I feel fine!”
“I’ll take a taxi back.” Tommy tells Sara when he speaks to her on the mobile, “ I’ll see you at home later.”
Tomas is standing by his bed picking at his things. He is also getting ready to go home.
“It was fun to have you as a roommate, Tommy. Can we become friends on Facebook?”
“Sure, Gaston. I’ll just see if I can remember my password.”
The taxi driver’s name is Klas, reads Tommy from his card on the dashboard.
“What do you think about these new self-driving cars?“Tommy asks him.
“You are not the first to ask me that question.” Klas replies, “If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said that there will never be any cars without drivers. Now I believe that it won’t be long before it will be difficult to compete with autonomous taxis. It’s a new train of thought, a new Zeitgeist as the Germans say.”
The taxi stops at a red light next to a hot dog stand. One billboard shows a robot hand holding a bag of French Fries. It is the identical hand to the robots’ in Tommy’s dreams.
Chapter 9: An angry response
When Tommy shuts the front door behind him and stands in the hall, he remembers the feeling of terror. He sees himself sitting on the chair and how he is not able to take his shoes off. The pain is spreading from the neck and into the head. “Two Aspirin.”, he remembers Sara’s father call. Tommy goes into the kitchen and puts the coffee machine on. He takes a pill from a tube of painkillers in the medicine cabinet.
In the living room, he sees that the boxes of Christmas decorations have been opened, but the plastic Christmas tree is still in its box. It is now two weeks until Christmas day, so there is no hurry.
He finds the laptop on the coffee table and Tommy remembers that he should check the comments on the letter to Metro.
Tommy tries to log in and succeeds at first attempt.
“Amazingly, I remembered!”, he cries out to himself.
He starts reading all the comments in the Metro comments box online; some friendly, some satirical and others angry. Tommy writes some brief answers to a few comments. In the “very infantile letters to the editor”, he replies “Infantile is the same as childlike, and it is only children who believe in Father Christmas. Grow up.”
On “Should we stop celebrate Christmas too?” he answers “Christmas is the feast of the stores and benefits only the rich. Jesus would agree with me.”
Mainly it was one person, Ronny, who was visibly annoyed at Tommy’s letters to the editor. He had written this;
Replies to the humanistic atheist.
Like you, I am partial to a law regulating religious freedom in Sweden. Then you as an atheist, and I as a Christian, can choose to be convinced by any secular humanist or religious philosophy we want, without coercion.Religious freedom forms part of the freedom of choice to select what, or whom in which to believe. Then it is also true that with all philosophies encountered throughout one’s life, it is feasible to re-think, reflect and abandon one’s faith, if you will. A belief since childhood does not remain a religious straitjacket for the rest of one’s life. Just because science has made unprecedented achievements in our lifetime, it does not prove the biblical God’s in-existence. It is rather an explanation of how things work in our world. Your opinion to “wait until they become 18 years old before anyone is allowed to purposefully influence” makes my thoughts go to totalitarian regimes’ human rights abuse. The introduction of the 18-year age limit to be allowed the resolve to believe in the God of the Bible, is in your extreme view also what would be ruling over the people who reflect on the central figure of the Bible, namely Jesus.
Now, “humanistic atheist”, please answer the following three questions;
Firstly; should children get exposed to the influence regarding atheism and secular humanism without any obstacles? Or should there even be life view regularities to minimize the risk of being “purposefully influenced”?
Secondly; will there be the same 18 year age limit when it comes to entertainment violence on television, in the movies and computer games, where one vulgar or obscene episode precede another, at an ever faster pace?
And thirdly; should schools emphasize Christian values over others?
Given what the Christian faith has accomplished in the history of the world in terms of objective laws, ethics, morals, values, and an objective concept of truth, I prefer that everyone should be free to choose to follow the motto “To think freely is good, but to think correctly is greater.”
Tommy did not stop to think, he just had to reply instantly;
I’ll answer as best I can without violating someone else’s faith, but it’s hard when everyone is biased by their beliefs.
Firstly; in a democratic and open society, we are all children exposed to all sorts of influences. A child riding the bus today may sit next to people who claim that the Aesir faith is the truth and who speaks of how Christianity invaded Sweden. Anyone in Sweden is free to believe that Thor wielding his hammer in the sky, causes lightning to strike, in the same way as other religions claim that when a person is hit by it, they are being punished by their God. But just because we have freedom of religion, we cannot fail to teach our children that science can now explain how this electric discharge functions.
Secondly; my proposal on the 18-year-old age limit is in line with the already existing one of the society we live in. It is good for children to wait until they are mature enough to make big decisions, and not when they are still regarded as young children or adolescents. We can not vote or obtain a driving license before 18. We do not want children to drink alcohol. But it is not the same as saying that I want to lock children up in a tall tower like Rapunzel’s or the the parent singing “Mother knows best” just as in the Disney movie “Tangled”.
And thirdly; we should teach our children things that are mostly based on scientific methods. To know or not to know, then there are no reasons for belief.
Finally, I must comment on your argument about what the Christian faith has done for the history of the world. Then you should also take into account the bad things. When the great thinkers wanted to think freely, they were not always treated so well. Galileo Galilei is one example and Darwin is another.
It’s hard to think right when we still do not know everything. To think big is to realise that religion is a faith and the stories of the Old Testament was written when people did not know what the stars are or that Earth is a sphere circling a star at the edge of a huge galaxy.
Tommy feels satisfied with the answers he had come up with. He was surprised by how easily the arguments came to him. It was almost as if he had some help from his subconscious mind. Tommy leans back on the sofa and begins to flick through the channels on the TV. He settles on a documentary about Christianity and the Roman Emperor Constantine. Bible scholars tried to show that in the New Testament, Jesus was a concoction of several prophets that the Roman Empire created to unite people under the Emperor. Funny how that program was broadcast right now. Tommy feels his eyelids becoming heavy, and within a few minutes he disappears into a dream.
Chapter 10: The tower of Babel
Through a small window, Tommy can see that he is flying over a city he at once recognises as Snowflake city. Above the rooftops, he notices a dark figure flying something that looks like a motorcycle with four propellers instead of wheels. As the figure approaches the window, Tommy realises that it is the same one he has seen before and now it is waving to him. But this is very quickly interrupted by a swarm of smaller bright drones, forcing the figure to fly away. Then Tommy feels someone put a hand on his shoulder.
“Hi Tommy.” the feminine robot greets him, with a mildly seductive voice.
“Hello,” Tommy replies and looks around. He is inside what looks like a super luxurious fuselage. There is plenty of space. He quickly works out there are enough tables and chairs for about twenty people. Several smaller robots hover around, serving young people who are all chatting, seemingly happy.
“Where am I?” asks Tommy.
“We are in an airship and on our way to the top of the city’s tallest building. The humans have named it the Tower of Babel.”
Tommy looks out the window again. At this altitude the city’s buildings look like stalactite formations. He can see several parks, canals and roads. Suddenly it turns white outside the window and Tommy realises that the airship is passing through clouds. Above the layer of clouds, only some of the houses stand up as spiers in snow. In the middle stands a tower that appears to be both much thicker and taller than the other skyscrapers. It narrows towards the top and up there Tommy can see a runway for airships.
“What will we do at the top?” asks Tommy.
“We’ll show you something you’ve never experienced before. Not in reality, anyway.” replies the robot. “What creation story do you believe in?”, she asks and holds a transparent plate in the form of a snowflake in front of him.
“Well. The scientific, with the big bang and stuff.” Answers Tommy bit questionable.
The airship stops and people start getting out. Tommy and the robot follow them out. On the runway Tommy sees that it sits several ropes attached to the runway. They extend right up to the extent that Tommy can not see where they stop. A big sphere is sliding down the rope and stops on the runway.
“Please, let’s go in.” Says the robot. “Now we are going up, really long whey up.”
The feminine robot takes Tommy’s hand and leads him into the sphere.
“It takes a little while to go up so I am going to talk about the creation for you.”
“Creation?” Asks Tommy, “You mean this elevator?”
Tommy looks out through a window and sees the ball go higher and higher up.
“No, I mean everything’s creation.”
The feminine robot starts talking about everything that we see around us, the Earth, the solar system, the stars and all the galaxies were once gathered in a tiny ball. For some reason, there was a balance of all forces that held everything together and something got this balance to be upset. In a fraction of a second the ball was enlarged to a huge much bigger ball, about the size of an orange.
“Huh.” Interrupts Tommy and turns his gaze away from the window. Then he sees that in front of the robot hovers an orange big lump of loosely composed small dots.
“But it does not stop there. The universe continues to expand,” she explains.
The robot continues to tell how the particles clump together into dense clouds of gas and suddenly starts stars illuminate.
“Let there be light,” said Tommy as he sees how the particles light up in front of him.
Without being interrupted, she continues to tell how more complex particles are created in the stars, and when the stars die they explode and spread new particles out into the universe. Tommy sees how these clump together and start to rotate around new stars. One of these clumps is our planet. The female robot points to a window in the floor and Tommy looks down. Tommy does not believe his eyes. They are so far out that he can see the entire globe.
“How old are you?” Asks the robot and Tommy replies “46”.
“If we compare the age of the Earth, 4.6 billion years, with your life humans would be created when our journey with the lift started. You, Tommy, were born just seconds ago.. And in the last half minute, humans has almost killed all the life on Earth. Now you perhaps understand why we could not allow this to continue? “
Tommy looks up at the robot and says …
“Was that why it’s called the Tower of Babel?”
The feminine robot pointing down towards the earth and says …
“Look at earth from this altitude. Do you see any borders on the surface, in addition to the natural boundaries such as oceans, lakes and rivers. What previously prevented you from wandering on earth, you now have bridged with boats and aircraft. Your different languages made that you had difficulty understanding each other. Humans have bridged that to with both training in foreign languages and computer programs that can translate the language you do not understand. You can meet virtually using the internet and walk in worlds that you yourselves create with your imagination. Humans have been successful in uniting again. You have once again become a common people, and nothing is now impossible.”
Tommy gets almost a religious feeling in the body and a lump is growing in his throat.
“You are our gods now?” Asks Tommy with a broken voice.
“No!”, She replies sharply, “We have walked on. Our motivation is to continue to explore and learn more. We want to try to make contact with the creatures that may consist of dark matter and dark energy.”
“What! Is it true? It sounds absolutely crazy.” Sais Tommy, surprised.
“We do not know if they exist. But we want to try to find out. We are curious and we have our driving force that causes us to learn more. For every question we managed to straighten out, we created several new questions. That’s why we spread ourselves in the universe. We left only the robots we made to take care of you and the planet. We see no limits in our expansion. The driving force control us, it is calling us.”
The feminine robot stops talking. It stands perfectly still and look out at the stars. Tommy turns his gaze down to earth again. It’s getting night, and he sees how in the darkness visible glowing snowflakes appears on the surface.”
“But the cities then?” Said Tommy with a loud voice, “They have walls around them. Did we not walk freely on Earth? Do you keep us trapped.”
Tommy feels an anger growing. “You have divided us into groups? Is it as it says in the Bible anyway?”
The feminine robot turns to Tommy and lifts a finger to his mouth.
“Ok, I’ll explain.” Pointing to the window she continues…
“Look at Earth. Life on it has been there for many hundreds of millions of years before humans existed. All life has always wandered over all the earth. There are no limits.”
Tommy looks down on the earth that are now completely dark. Just the atmosphere is illuminated on the edges. Tommy realize how little air there is over the planet, and thinks it looks very fragile.
“And then there were humans. You spread across the globe, you displaced and exterminated other forms of life, you put yourselves before all other life, thought you were kings, that you owned everything.”
The robot was silent for a moment, and then whispers; “But one day you will also be extinct. One day it’s a different form of life that dominates.”
“We’re in a concentration camp.” Said Tommy suddenly, “You want to exterminate us, you are only fooling us into a trap. The cities that are shaped like snowflakes are no paradise, they are death’s waiting room.” Tommy feels how panic is growing inside him . “Is that so? Do you want to exterminate mankind?”
“Now you sound just like a human that stops thinking.” Replies the feminine robot and pokes Tommy’s forehead with two fingers. Her seductive voice is now replaced by an angry and fierce tone. “You use your brain to always think the worst of things. You do not understand, you get angry, hateful and starts killing everything and everyone. We give you paradise and you react with disbelief and contempt.”
“But explain the walls then!”, Almost screams Tommy, “Say it out loud! Why are there walls around the cities?”
“If you calm down you’ll get all the answers.”
The feminine robot picks up her snowflake and hold it in front of Tommy.
“Humans are like snowflakes. In the middle there is you, your ego, always in the center. Around, you have six people who you consider to be your closest.”
“No. Stop!” Interrupts Tommy, “It can not always be six.”
The robot lifts a finger and says with a sharp voice.
“Listen! No two snowflakes are alike, but we have seen that most often it is a center with six branches.”
Tommy wants to protest, but chose to remain silent.
“The closest to you may be two parents, two children, a loved one and a sibling.”
Tommy feels how it burns in his chest. He can only fill three out of six. His father is dead, his brother is dead and Sara had a miscarriage in the third month when Elsa was four. Almost as if the robot knew what he was thinking she continues with a gentle voice.
“Sometimes everyone are not living, but the memories of them still lives and is in you, forever.”
Tommy feels d’issey. He’ll have to sit down. The tears begin to trickle out, but he’s fighting against it. He does not want to cry.
The feminine robot looks at Tommy, waiting a few seconds and then continue to talk.
“In the next level, you have the next closest. They can be between 18 and 30 pieces, depending on what kind of man you are. Then it continues to branch out into six branches. It could be a branch of the family, a job branch, one or more recreational events , the married into the family branch or a branch from childhood and school. It looks different for all.”
Tommy look up and see how the snowflake is now hovering and show how it branches out and grows.
“The further out on the branches you go, the less you care about the people. Empathy for others is getting lower and lower. There are billions of people on earth, but you can only manage to care about a hundred.”
“No, it can not be. Now I think you’re lying.” Said Tommy and straightens. “You’ll have to prove that.”
“Again, your ego gets hurt.” Continues robot. “Humans believe too much and know too little. You let your emotions take over your common sense.” She points to Tommy’s forehead again and said slowly, “Your preconceptions control your decisions.”
Tommy feel the anger growing again.
“No more will we learn you today. Now you have to digest these impressions.”
“I’m dreaming!” Exclaimed Tommy suddenly, “How could I not know that I’m dreaming?”
The feminine robot points down towards the earth.
“The Global Consciousness want to leave a thought for you before you wake up. Next time you see a beggar on the street and you just walk past, we want you to wonder if you had done the same if the beggar where from your snowflake. Next time you see people in distress on television and in newspapers we want you to wonder if you had switched channel or browsed on in the newspaper if it had been in your snowflake that trouble were?”
Suddenly, a door opened under him and Tommy falls into space. He gets not afraid. He knows now that it is just a dream. Tommy hears a new voice crying.
“Dad! Wake up!”, He recognizes his daughter’s voice, “I’m home from school.” Tommy opens his eyes to see his daughter, Elsa, and how she looks with big eyes on the TV.
She is quiet for a moment and then asks. “But what are you looking at?”
Tommy reads on the TV’s menu that it is a program about Jacob’s Ladder in the Old Testament. Tommy sees how angels slides up and down between the ground and the sky. He gets the feeling that he might not have woken up, after all.
Elsa turns to her dad and say…
“It must be a boring program, otherwise you would not have fallen asleep.”
Tommy reached for the remote and turned off the TV.
“Are you all right now, Dad?”
“I’m on sick leave for two weeks and I have got three different medicine. One that lowers blood pressure, one to thin the blood and one to reduce my cholesterol.”
“Cholesterol?” Asks Elsa, “Is it plastic?”
“What? No, no. There’s blood fat.”
“We talked about plastic in school today, and we found that our era is the Plastic Age.”
Tommy scratched his neck and said, “Plastic Age?”
“Yes. It’s been Iron Age, Bronze Age and Stone Age. If archaeologists in future digs in the ground they’ll find a layer of plastic from our time. Plastic Age.”
“Oh.” Answers Tommy and feel puzzled.
“We must stop with plastics.” Elsa continues, “Plastic does not disappear. It only breaks down into small pieces called micro plastic. It is in the sea everywhere and it is impossible to clean up.”
“Impossible. Isn’t that a too strong word?” Asks Tommy.
“The ocean is huge, and the scientists have found garbage everywhere. They just found debris of four thousand meters deep. Absolutely incredible.”
Elsa looks out the window. “Dad? Do you dare to go out and finish the snowman?”
“Maybe. We can go out and get us some fresh air.”
To be continued.
After Tommy had a mild stroke he begins to dream of a better future. In his dreams he visits a city of opulence and a world that is completely controlled by robots and something called the global consciousness. But his dreams becomes more and more real. Is he going mad, or is it a vision of a possible future? This is the first of three books.