The Dark Dawn — This is what it is called.
And no, the sun did not die that day; nor was it a solar eclipse. I wish it was either of the two. It was the day I found out that I am a mass murderer.
“And for the murder of 7 billion, 65 million, 432 thousand and 100 people, the court pron… cough cough.. pronounce.. cough cough.. Mr. Shantesh guilty.” The judge said and wiped his mouth with a white handkerchief. Spots of blood filled the white canvas and infuriated the judge even more.
“You dog. You merciless scoundrel.” The judge roared and had to be controlled by the attendant.
“You will be hanged to death, publicly. Tomorrow at 7 am, exactly 3 days after the events of the dark dawn.” The judge said.
Shantesh stood in front of the whole courtroom with his head down. Tears started to form in his eyes and he could barely see his feet. A few droplets found there way to his cheek and then to the ground too. However, he accepted the punishment without any argument. He was too stunned to retaliate.
I want to say that I knew about it all. At least, the death would not seem so… meek.
Shantesh had never felt this energetic in his life. The first day at office, he felt like he could conquer the world. He met everyone with a huge smile on his face, shaking hands with every person on the street and jumping up and down on every other step. He was receiving the same response in return as well. The people loved him, cheered for his success and helped him if he faltered. He felt he could do no wrong!
“Shantesh! I know its your first day but relax.” His boss said sharply although her face showed that she was simply amused.
“Sorry Neha! I just can’t control it. I have wanted to be a lawyer forever and now that I am here, the biggest law firm in the world, I just can’t keep it in.” Shantesh said and pumped his fist.
“Hahaha..” Laughing hard, Neha sneezed.
“Bless you!” Shantesh said smiling.
“It is getting worse you know. My cold is increasing by the day.”
“Don’t worry. You know what they say about cold. At best, it takes seven days; at worst, a week.” Shantesh said.
‘Violent epidemic has hit Japan, with over a million people getting ill. No one knows how that happened but most suddenly woke up with feeling shivers and fevers. This day had the maximum leaves in Tokyo ever.’
“Hello mom! How are you?” Shantesh asked with concern.
“I am fine. Don’t you worry about me. Its just a little cold.” Shantesh’s mother said and asked about Shantesh. The whole conversation after that was about Shantesh’s life with the topic of his mother’s illness never came. With his father passing when he was 12, his mother was all his life.
“Please take care.” Shantesh said with concern.
“I will. Love you.”
“Love you too ma.”
“Wait! Did you hear about the aliens?” His mom suddenly said.
“The news is showing that scientists have found some sort of portal from which aliens can come through.
“It must be a fake mom. Don’t take it seriously.” Shantesh said.
“Ok son! Take care.”
“You too. Bbye.”
Shantesh cut the phone and immediately opened the news. He was curious!
The news that day was the beginning of our… my troubles.
‘The portal is a very small one — 4 feet by 3 feet — and it has no visible markings except for an occasional spark. Scientists are unable to see what lies beyond the portal but the preliminary tests show that the place beyond the portal is inhabitable to a certain extent. The quantity of CO2 is higher than our earth but the oxygen to nitrogen ratio is optimal with traces of water vapors also present. Further tests are awaited. In the meantime, the location has been secured by the government and is not being disclosed.’
The news was by one of Shantesh’s favorite news channels. It was his most credible source of information on television so he decided to dig a bit deeper. Internet opened immediately and he found plethora of faff moving around but for all practical purposes it was authentic information. The government had declined to comment further except that they had found a portal and were testing if it was safe.
“Wow! This actually might be true. Another world. Wonder what it would have.”
For every action there is a repercussion somewhere!
“Major Charm. What is the report?” Xi asked his close friend formally.
“Sir, the situation is under control but the subject is panicking. She has lost a lot of blood and while we are recording her every word, most have stopped making sense.”
“Thank you Major Charm.” Xi said as they both entered his office. He closed the door.
“Heck Xi! What have you thrown at me this time? I am out of my depth here.”
“I know Charm but you know I don’t trust anyone more than you. Please explain to me what the hell is happening.”
“As far as scientists say, she is not an alien. She has human physiology with subtle changes that can be attributed to the different kind of environment. She is dying Xi and we can’t do anything to save her. She says gibberish most of the time now. The only thing constant is the name Shantesh. She says that name and cries. If someone else says that name, she becomes delirious. This Shantesh guy is either her boyfriend or someone who killed her boyfriend. We don’t know! We don’t know so much!” Charm said angrily banging the table. His anger always stopped him from getting promotions but Xi knew that in crisis he was the best person to turn to. He was Xi’s oldest friend, mentor, and best man in Xi’s wedding.
“How much time does she have?” Xi said focusing on what he understood best — a person in peril.
“We can’t say, perhaps a few hours, a couple of days but not more than that. We are trying to make it comfortable for her now.”
“Ok. Let’s focus on the portal then and we can…” Xi was interrupted in the middle by a knock on the door.
“Come in.” Xi said.
“Sir! There has been a new development and Ms. Yasmin wants to talk to you immediately. She has something to show.”
“Alright, lets go!” Xi said thinking what new hell has come.
In a few minutes, Xi and Charm were standing in front of a bobbing Yasmin. She was a ball of energy and got excited easily. However, she was one of the best programmers in his team and was an expert in facial recognitions and mass surveillance.
“So, I had a crazy idea and decided to test it.” Yasmin said.
“Of course.” Charm said under his breath to Xi. Xi looked at him scandalously.
“I ran a facial recognition of this girl across the planet. It was just a hunch but it matched.”
“What!” Both Charm and Xi said in unison.
“Yes. She has a doppelganger on our planet. I have taken the liberty to get her to our facility. I hope you do not mind that but I think we can find something here.”
“Its alright Yasmin. You have that authority.” Xi said. Being young, Yasmin always tended to ask people before doing something. It was good that she was taking initiatives, Xi thought.
Could I have changed anything, if I knew earlier? No, probably not.
Kifi looked at her doppelganger and felt a sudden spark of energy.
“Hi Kifi. I am Commander Xi. I am sure Yasmin must have briefed you about the situation. To be honest, even we don’t know what we are expecting but please let us know if you find something.”
“Can I meet her?” Kifi asked.
Xi looked at Charm and after his nod, approved Kifi’s entry. Kifi entered the room and looked at the sleeping girl. She looked tired, wrinkled and frail but it was her. The girl opened her eyes and looked at Kifi. Kifi took her hand in her own.
“He will kill everyone. Shantesh… Shantesh will kill everyone. Please stop him. Punish him.”
The girl said crying.
“We will stop him. We will stop Shantesh. Please tell me where are you from?” Kifi said to her softly.
“Earth.” The girl said and started to seize. Kifi was taken out as doctors entered.
Xi stood patiently and Charm walked worried till the doctors came out with the bad news.
“We could not save her.”
Xi grimly nodded.
Everyone turned to see Kifi coughing. She was getting ill. Yasmin immediately moved towards Kifi and let Kifi fall on her shoulder. The doctors took a look at her but no visible reasons were found for the sudden cough and weakness. In a span of 2 hours, she also got cold and the fainted.
The whole ordeal lasted around 5 hours. After that, she was completely fine.
“It was weird.” Major Charm said.
Although, no one said anything, Xi was too mature to consider this a coincidence that Kifi became sick suddenly after her doppelganger died. He could understand the fainting but the coughing, sneezing and the blood were not a result of that. He knew that Charm also was thinking on the same lines.
“Yasmin, please keep our guest for a few more days. She needs care after the trauma she has been through. Kifi, I insist.” Xi said in a tone he rarely used. It was an order but with all the politeness he could muster. Both of the girls felt that their father had just ordered them to stay in their room. They simply nodded.
After the two girls went, Xi immediately ordered one member of Yasmin’s team to find all people with the name Shantesh and also send a bot with camera to the other side.
“Charm, come with me.” Xi said and moved towards his room.
“We need to send some one in there.” Charm said as soon as they entered the room.
“And fast. I want to know what is happening on the other side. If these two things are coincidental, it is alright.”
“But coincidences do not happen.” Charm said completing Xi’s thoughts.
“I want to find out about Shantesh.”
Am I a victim or a culprit? Maybe, it is my fault.
“The report says that the war is still on.” Charm informed Xi.
“And our soldier?”
“He has planted the cameras in a few places and they are transmitting information but he is lost to us.” Charm said in his rare somber tone.
There was a silence in the room that they both understood was for their fallen comrade. After a minute or so Charm spoke again.
“We have the face. Yasmin is searching for that person here.”
“You think we can do something to protect the other world?”
“I don’t know. But I think the bigger problem is the Kalpe papers that got leaked.” Charm said looking at the muted news running on a screen.
The whole world knew about their mission!
Xi didn’t know what to do or who to turn to in the situation. He wanted to vanish and go to summer beach with his family. Instead, he was answering questions of the media, the president and the whole world about a new world they knew nothing about. Suddenly, there were groups that wanted revenge for the crimes done on that planet. For once, Xi didn’t have any idea what to do and for the first time, even Charm was silent.
“Sir! We have found him. His name is Shantesh on this world as well.” Yasmin came into the room and blurted out.
Xi looked at her and immediately nodded her to guide him. Protocols are for a time of peace. This was a war, even if on a different world.
Finally, I don’t think it matters.
“But sir, its not right.” Xi pleaded.
“It doesn’t matter anymore. The pressure of the people is very high. The whole world… cough.. cough.. You see. A whole world is destroyed. Someone has to take the blame.” President said while wheezing and coughing.
Even Xi was feeling the effects. He knew something terrible has happened on the other side. All communication was destroyed and everyone on the planet was sick, except for one — Shantesh.
Shantesh was the only one who wasn’t ill. They had monitored him carefully since they had found him. He was one of the most ordinary people Xi had ever seen. Xi couldn’t believe that the person who was the definition of average on this world is the cause of a catastrophe on another. However, the proofs were clear enough.
People were rallying against Shantesh and Xi had to get him in custody for his protection. He thought he could keep Shantesh safe from this madness. How wrong he was!
“The order is passed. Please do the needful.” The president said dismissively and the line got cut.
“I can’t be a part of it Xi.” Charm said immediately.
Xi nodded and Charm left the room. Xi knew that Charm would try to free Shantesh but both he and Charm knew that he would fail.
This war will end with the death of the only non-sick person on the planet.
Shantesh stood in front of the whole crowd looking at him with loathing. He knew what was happening but understood none of it. He had panicked initially but made peace with it eventually.
The noose was put on his neck and tightened.
“Cough.. cough..” Shantesh’s last.