Stephen sat at the very edge of his seat. His fingers danced the quickstep over the keyboard as he hunched over his computer, eyes never leaving the screen. He was nearing the end of his special project and couldn’t wait to test it out. With the swipe of a finger, his timebot would be able to instantly take the world ten years forward in time.

Stephen hadn’t invented a time machine, though – just a lens to show a dying world what it was capable of.

For the last three years, he had been researching, designing, coding – developing, Visio. Visio, if it worked, would revolutionize the way the world saw itself; would question reality itself. And what was reality anyway, but a projection of the mind, thought Stephen. The human mind was capable of not only feeling, but also blocking sensations of pain, capable of imagining water in a desert where there was none… of slowing down bodily functions through meditation. The human mind was even capable of imagining an alternate reality altogether – the future.

The mind can play its clever tricks on you, thought Stephen, but what is truly real is that which touches the heart. The thought took him back briefly to a moment in the past – he had been on Level 9 of the Marauders of the Ancient Ark, when the phone had been gently, but firmly, taken from his hands by his father. He’d protested and looked up at his father, who only smiled and motioned with his chin to something up ahead. He’d looked, unwilling – and gasped audibly. Up ahead in the clearing in the forest, just ahead of their safari jeep, stood a tigress, straight-backed and regal. Two steps behind her, chasing each other’s tails, were her three little cubs. The tigress looked towards their jeep, her piercing eyes assessing them; then, with a dismissive turn of her head, she continued to walk across the flat grass, her cubs now alert and bounding after her. The moment was one of a grace and beauty that Stephen had never thought possible and had never again experienced.

That trip to the National Park had sparked something – Stephen started looking up. He saw people plugged into their little screens, tangled in wires and themselves – heads bent over their phones and tabs like praying mantis; if a stegosaurus were to be struck by a meteorite and collapsed in front of them with an earth-shattering crash, they wouldn’t even know. Stephen hadn’t traded away his console, but his energies were now focused on changing the game.

Done! He exclaimed to himself as he punched in the last strands of code and stood up, hands stretched high up in air. He hadn’t slept in three days, pushing his body to cooperate with his racing mind. One last thing now – he strode over to the table and opened the window, filling the room with crimson light. Outside his penthouse apartment, the air was thick with smoke and the sounds of the street wafted up to him. Stephen dragged his work table to the window and set up the tripod on it.

Carefully, he placed the console screen on it and focused on the scene outside the open window - thick clouds of angry, grey smoke and tops of even greyer buildings. The heat was visible in waves and Stephen winced and squinted. Now he positioned himself behind the console and, his heart thudding against his chest, pushed the power button.

Nothing happened.

The device appeared to be on, but showed no change. Stephen frowned and leaned closer to the screen, examining it with a tinge of gloom. But there in the corner, in tiny luminous green numbers, the date read - 10 June 2030. With a salty smidgen of hope, Stephen almost tripped on his own feet in his haste as he picked up the birdbath from the corner of the room where it had waited patiently. Carefully, he placed it on the window sill, filled it with some water from a bottle and quickly took up his position behind the screen again.

As Stephen watched, the screen flickered for a just second. Then, an orange spark settled itself on the birdbath and was joined by another, and another – soon the birdbath was full of tiny orange and gold twittering digital birds, filling the speakers with birdsong. Before his eyes, tiny green digital plants began to sprout along the building edges and the grey clouds on the screen began to clear, revealing baby blue skies. In one corner of the screen, the data poured in – 550 bird trips to and fro, 300% increase in bird population, 400% increase in tree cover, 100% improved air quality and visibility, noise levels… Stephen blinked. He let out a little laugh, mopping his forehead and relaxing his shoulders. Visio was a success!

Outside of the screen, the grey skies and orange birdbath remained unfazed, ignorant of the transformation their screen selves were seeing. With Visio, Stephen could sell possibility and hope – “Turn on the screen to see the potential of every little act in real time!” “The future in your pocket – backed by science and math!” “Bring back the Earth – let Visio tell you how!”

Stephen closed his eyes and smiled to himself.

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