Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

So long…

Hrishikesh picked Hitali and huffed and puffed towards the cave. The sound of ocean crashing nearby drowned any curses he was speaking.

“I really hate you.” Hrishikesh said as he lumbered under the weight of his bag and Hitali.

“I’m really sorry.” Hitali said unrepentant.

“We really should have left her at the base where she got injured.” Akhil said as he pulled Hitali’s bag from his back and put it down.

“Shut up Akhil.” Hitali said.

“Whoa! Whoa! Don’t move so much Hitali.” Hrishikesh said and put her down slowly.

“Thank you.” Hitali said.

“I agree with you Akhil and if we didn’t need her this badly, I would have left her at home.” Hrishikesh said and smiled. Akhil laughed as Hitali chose a few curse words for Hrishikesh.

“So, is this it?” Hrishikesh asked Akhil ignoring Hitali’s remarks.

“I think so. The maps said so.” Akhil said opening his bags and bringing out a plethora of charts. He checked while Hrishikesh prepared the meals for everyone. Hitali hopped towards Akhil on one foot to help him.

“Yeah. This is one of the two caves we have on the plan today. The other one is that one. Unfortunately, we will have to go back a few hundred metres to take that path.” Akhil said showing Hrishikesh and Hitali the charts.

“What about this cave?” Hitali asked pointing at the map.

“This cave is closed. Too dangerous. We will need the permission for that and I want to take that once we have something substantial or we are desperate enough.” Hrishikesh said. Hitali nodded.

“Hrishikesh.” Hitali said softly once the three were done with their meals.

“Hmm.”

“Why did you bring me here? I mean, you still haven’t told me what my part is in the equation?” Hitali asked gingerly.

“Because you’ve a bad-ass computer.” Hrishikesh said.

“But what will my programming help with in this cave.”

“And you have an interest in hieroglyphs.” Hrishikesh continued.

“I checked on the caves here when you told me about them. They have been investigated more than a hundred times by different teams from across the world and they don’t have anything of substance.” Hitali insisted.

Hrishikesh looked at her and his eyes were blazing. She shut up immediately. For all her shenanigans, she was afraid of Hrishikesh, as was everyone else. Hrishikesh was known for his temper. Hrishikesh wasn’t short-tempered but his anger was absolute. Working with Hrishikesh, everyone learns one thing — ‘You can question him as much as you want, but don’t expect answers to all the questions.’

Hrishikesh silently continued to pack the bags and without a word, picked Hitali up. Hitali had half expected to hop further. Akhil looked at Hitali and assured her. Hrishikesh dropped Hitali once they were at one end of the cave. The cave had marks of a landslide and it looked that the cave had taken a beating. A new part of the cave was open as well.

“This wasn’t here before.” Hitali said.

“Glad you noticed. You remember the earthquake that occurred a week back. It changed the cave structure. Jimmy came here yesterday and informed Hrishikesh about this.” Akhil said. Hrishikesh smiled.

“This is the answer to your question.” Hrishikesh said pointing at new pictures that shone on the wall.

Hitali looked up. There were pictures of humans that she hadn’t seen before. More than that, there were pictures of animals. The pictures made her squeal.

“But… But those are… It can’t be.” Hitali said in disbelief.

“Hope you find your journey useful now.” Hrishikesh said. “Now, get to work.”

“Are you CRAZY? This… This is amazing. How are you so calm?” Hitali said laughing.

Hrishikesh smiled and started unpacking her bag. Akhil started taking pictures of the whole cave.

“Tell me which ones are more important or any I should focus on more.” Akhil said to Hitali as Hitali hopped from one spot to another.

“This is the most magnificent story I have ever seen. See… This shows that we were in the same era. Can you believe it? And this, this shows we even had some sort of positive relationship unlike the fear that we expected. This is incredible.” Hitali spoke with her voice a pitch higher. She had forgotten all about her injured leg and was jumping around. Hrishikesh immediately caught hold of her.

“The leg.” Hrishikesh said softly. “Akhil, remember to map this in the map. We should have the whole story after today. We won’t get any other chance. Others would know about this tomorrow so it’s our one and only shot.”

“Got it sir. But why do you want to inform them so soon?” Akhil asked.

“These caves might not last another earthquake and I want others to find out about it before that happens.”

“Why?” Akhil asked.

“Because photos can be doctored. I don’t want us to be labeled fraud just because these caves caved.” Hrishikesh said with a wistful smile.

Akhil laughed. “You really think people would doubt the world’s leading expert on early human evolution. You are a crazy person. You know that.”

“I know.” Hrishikesh said. He looked around him and saw a movie that he couldn’t believe his eyes. He has had hundreds of theories about human evolution and early society. He had lived early-human-growth more than any person in the world but what was in front of him dashed each and everything and burned all his theories to ground.

“If this is remotely true, this would change our thinking of our past.” Hitali said.

“If this is true, it would change our thinking of our future.” Hrishikesh said pointing at an image. Hrishikesh started taking samples from the cave for carbon dating.

— —

“So, carbon dating has proved that our samples are authentic. I believe that others would also get similar samples once they reach here.” Akhil said. He was sitting in a conference room with six other people. The news of the cave was out and many scientists were hailing it as the greatest discovery since ever.

“Awesome! Hitali, please tell me you were able to get the story in order. Those pictures are telling an incredible story and I don’t want to miss a single word.” Hrishikesh said to Hitali.

“Honestly, it’s more or less what you suspected. However, it’s a bit more sinister… scratch that, a lot more sinister.” Hitali said. Her voice was partly shaking and her mood was sombre.

“Hitali. What happened?” Ritika asked.

“While most people are focused on one part of the story, which is incredible honestly, but Hrishikesh noticed something else. Something others have not figured out yet.”

“Something, hopefully, we can piece together.” Hrishikesh said.

“What?” Another member of the group asked.

“So, the pictures denoted early man and many animals of that era. That’s where the cave stopped earlier. Now, the new paintings show a few more animals.” Hitali said. She gulped and looked at Hrishikesh.

“Dinosaurs.”

“WHAT?” Another guy shouted.

“Yeah. At least five distinct species. While the images aren’t good enough to tell us which species, we have a fair idea of the kinds. Three looked herbivores while two were carnivores, one of them was avian.” Hitali spoke.

“Can you tell this in Jurassic Park lingo?” Ritika said.

“One was like stegosaurus, another was triceratops and another was T-Rex. The fourth one could fly and the fifth one was tiny like a bird.” Hrishikesh said annoyed.

“Right on.” Ritika said winking at Hrishikesh. Somehow she was able to slide off Hrishikesh’s anger. Everyone was jealous of her for that and wanted to have the same confidence at the same time.

“Alright. So, there were dinosaurs while humans were there. So, did we wrongly estimated their demise or our arrival on Earth?” Jimmy asked.

“The first. Apparently, dinosaurs, some at least, survived the extinction.” Hitali said.

“And you’re sure this is accurate. We might be wrong.”

“We can be wrong Ritika. I hope we are wrong. Because otherwise, we are screwed.” Hrishikesh said. Ritika looked at him questioningly. He in return looked at Hitali.

“Apparently, humans and dinos were a team. And that team was fighting something else.” Hitali said quickly. She started showing digital remakes of the images she had taken of the cave. She had improved the design to improve clarity and added animation to make a story out of it all. The animation started and Hitali started to give a running commentary.

“The images show a war between two factions. One is humans and dinos. Another faction is a species that we don’t recognise yet. This specie is huge, like crazy huge and it seems that it could fly. The war seems crazy as the next images show incredible casualty. Many dinos and humans dead.”

“But we survived so we won the war. What’s the big deal about it?” Someone asked.

“Because the story tells us that a lot of humans died and almost all of dinosaurs died as well. But it has fewer corpses of the other specie. The specie is shown retracting but not dying.”

“Okay.. Now, you are scaring me. If that specie win, why did it go back and more importantly, go back where?” Ritika asked.

“Umm.. That’s where Hrishikesh’s theory comes in.”

Everyone turned to Hrishikesh. He nodded at Hitali.

“His theory is that the other creature isn’t flying but swimming. The line of war is a shore and the war is between us and whales.”

“Yeah right. And how do you think they fought. With their tiny fins.” Jimmy said. Everyone laughed. Even Hrishikesh joined in. However, Hitali remained silent.

“I think the story is true.” Hitali said plainly.

“But how?” Jimmy said.

“I don’t know. Maybe they weren’t this weak earlier. Maybe there is some other way. I don’t know but I believe that Hrishikesh has the right inkling.”

Hrishikesh put a hand on Hitali and asked her to sit down.

“Let’s assume that whales are not as idiotic as we think they are. In that case, they know that they are the biggest mammals on the planet. They rule the ocean and they might see a competitor evolving on land. What would you do in such a case?”

“Try to remove the competition. But how without the resources?” Akhil asked.

“By controlling the waters. Ocean by themselves and rivers by alliances with smaller mammals like dolphins and orcas. The dinosaurs would have had less troubles than humans as they were relatively larger than dolphins but humans would have become highly dependent on ponds and lakes. Impossible to grow further.

“And why do you think we are screwed?” Akhil asked.

“Because if whales and dolphins are really intelligent then they would also have been evolving over the past years.” Hrishikesh said.

“Come on! You think whales are dolphins are as smart as us.”

“Or more.” Hitali said.

“Or more. If that’s the case, why haven’t they attacked us yet?” Jimmy.

“Maybe they have. The water levels are rising.”

“Yeah, right. Let’s blame the whales for global warming.” Ritika laughed.

“Honestly, I don’t know. And I hate that. I want to know the truth. If what I think is true then there are only two options. Either they are planning an attack on us or something worse is coming for both them and us.” Hrishikesh said silencing the room.

“What could be that?” Hitali said.

“I wish I had a clue.”

— —

At the same time…

“And what should be our last message to them?” A dolphin asked as she entered the vessel.

A huge whale in front of the dolphin looked at it. The whale was almost twice the size of a blue whale. It belched and a loud noise resonated across the premise. A multitude of sounds came from different spots in reply. All the whales and dolphins immediately took their place across the planet.

The whale turned to dolphin.

“You decide. I have nothing to say to them. They killed my elders with the help of those lizards. They killed our brethren for decades. They don’t deserve to be saved. The planet is doomed. We tried saving it from them but it’s too late now. It’s time to leave the planet for good. We have already saved the DNA of all the species except them anyways.”

The dolphin recorded a message to be played across the planet. The message that will be played after they had left the planet.

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”