Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Misery and Love

It was but a drop of love in the ocean of misery. But a drop was enough. The misery burnt through his flesh again and again, melted the bones separate but the love fused them again. This combination of misery and love, poison and nectar, loss and hope didn’t let him die and wasn’t enough for him to thrive.

Thus, in a limbo, he kept waiting for the misery to kill him. He didn’t dare hope that he would get some more love to get out of the situation.

Not before he met her. She wasn’t a ray of sunshine but an eclipse. She was not the caregiver but the bone-breaker. She was nothing men want in a woman and everything they fear. And yet, somehow, she brought for him what he didn’t have, what he couldn’t have — love.

“Isn’t it a good thing that neither of us are looking for something serious.” She said callously. Shivani was chewing gum and spit it with aim at the dustbin. Perfect shot.

Deeptam nodded and remained silent. He had heard half of it and didn’t care about any of it. He didn’t even like Shivani much. They were less in a relationship and more two people ending up in the same place by design. Deeptam’s therapist had suggested him to go out more and her hobbies were least repulsive to him of all the people he knew. In fact, he used to go alone to most places and it was only accidentally that they had met the first time and even the second time.

Now, she would ask him to go somewhere, he would say yes as it was better than wallowing in his own sorrow and the relationship moved forward in a weird manner.

She had initiated the kiss and alcohol had more stake in their first-time sex than either of them. Shivani didn’t notice all of that. She was enjoying her life enough to not notice these frivolous things. And Deeptam was happy with that. His past relationships had suffered because of these expectations. His last relationship had ended with Neeti telling him that he should die. He had agreed with her.

“You know you are really weird. I had expected that at least your expression would change when I say that.” Shivani said and smiled.

“Sorry to disappoint you.” Deeptam said monotonously.

“Nevermind. Tell me something. My friends are planning a trip to the mountains this weekend. Are you up for it?”

“Yeah, sure.” Deeptam said.

Deeptam shivered at the idea of mountains and trembled thinking about her friends. He had met them once and had disliked all of them. They would never shut up and had something to say on everything. More than once, Deeptam wanted to scream at them — “You don’t know anything about depression so shut up.” — but he decided against it. What did he know either?

“Awesome!” She said and started typing furiously on her phone.

“It’s booked.” Shivani said.

The first time she had done this, Deeptam had almost choked on his drink. How can someone be so fast and why was she asking him at the last second. Now, he knew better. The plan truly was made at the last minute. Shivani was a straight zero or one girl. If she didn’t want to go, she would’ve just said no. She didn’t plan or strategise in life. That was boring for her.

While it didn’t surprise him now, he could still feel his heart beat increase. His mouth was drying and his hands were becoming moist and cold.

“I’ll come from the loo.” Shivani said and left the table. Deeptam took advantage of the time and popped a pill. His therapist had advised him to take one whenever he felt a panic attack coming. He still prefer to hide this from Shivani. They had been together for almost one year and he didn’t feel comfortable enough to share that part of his life with her yet. She believed she was dating a normal person and Deeptam wanted it to be that way as long as possible. Besides, he didn’t know how she’ll react knowing his tryst with panic, depression and medication.

“Hey, I’m back!” Shivani said and sat on Deeptam’t lap.

“What are you doing?” Deeptam said alarmed.

“Just shut up and let me have this.” Shivani said and put her arms around him. Then, she kissed him long and hard.

<In the washroom>

“Hello.” Shivani said.

“Hey. Where are you? Is he with you?” A gentle female voice replied.

“Yeah he is outside taking his medicine.” Shivani said on the phone.

“I can’t believe you are with him since one year. How can you handle him?”

“There’s nothing to handle Neeti.” Shivani said in a cold but gentle voice. She didn’t like Neeti but needed her.

“Are you joking? He is a corpse which can move and nothing more. Anyways, why did you call me?” Neeti asked.

“We were planning to take a trip to the mountains. We’ve never been to mountains. I am.. I am..” Shivani stuttered thinking of the right word.

“Scared that he might jump.” Neeti gave her the right words.

“Yeah.” Shivani said bitterly.

“We went to mountains once. No, he won’t jump. Honestly, I don’t think he has the courage to do even that.” Neeti said laughing. Shivani closed her eyes and controlled her temper.

“Thanks.” Shivani said.

“No problem.” Neeti said.

“Bye.” Shivani said and cut the phone.

The first time she’d met him, she knew there was something wrong with him. The second time, she knew what. However, she still met him the third time and the fourth and so on. Now, she was completely in love with him. While, she didn’t show it lest he gets scared of this, she knew that she was in this for the long haul.

This meant that she had to bring him out of his current situation. She started talking to his therapist. The therapist didn’t tell her the details of her conversations with Deeptam but advised Shivani enough to work with. When Deeptam told her that Neeti was his previous girlfriend, she reached out to Neeti to know more about Deeptam’s past.

She hated Neeti but Neeti was valuable to her. Hence, every time Shivani wanted to punch Neeti, she closed her eyes and did that in her imagination. Then, she just kissed Deeptam and melted in his arms.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

OMD Clan

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Prashanth screamed and threw the device in front of him across the room. The device took a journey around the room and returned to its position. Prashanth was prone to temper tantrums and most of his gadgets were self-aligning and nigh indestructible.

“I’m assuming you have some bad news.” Shrent said casually licking his food. His tongue would take slow slurps that broke down the food immediately and then he would absorb it through his tongue.

“Oh no! I have wonderful news. Earth has successfully made their bid to enter the ODM clan (Order of Distance Monitoring).”

Shrent shook vigorously, almost shuddering, which Prashanth had come to understand as laughing.

“Oh Shut up!” Prashanth said.

“So, which law did they break in doing so and what are the repercussions?” Shrent asked while continuing his eating.

“Law 36(a), subsection 5. I just talked to the representative from the planet and she informed me that the individual who discovered it is out of their reach. It’s on us now to find him and manage this whole thing.”

Shrent stopped eating at looked at Prashanth incredulously.

“Wow! I always believed that it can only be done knowingly.” Shrent said.

“So did I. But apparently, people can accidentally open the 17th dimension and screw everything for shits and giggles.” Prashanth said bitterly.

Being the head of ODM has beaten all joy out of Prashanth’s life. He had been doing it for the past 530 epitakes, where 1 epitake translated to roughly 1500 earth-years. He was already the longest serving person and was wishing to see retirement soon. And now this happens. A new species entering the ODM clan means a lot of work. The rules and laws need to be established, sharing of information, creation of legal pathways and elevation of that species while making the transition smooth are all part of ODM’s job description. Other species want to talk to this new species and many times, like in Earth’s case, the specie doesn’t know any alien life.

This would mean sensitisation of that specie as well towards alien. Lots and lots of work. And Earth has entered by breaking one of the most crucial laws. It would be insane.

“We can’t punish the specie or that individual. First entry rule absolves the species of any damage done by them in their first successful attempt at Space-travel. If we aren’t sharing out technology with them, we can’t blame them for the collateral damage that happens in their attempts.” Shrent said.

“I know.. I know.. But you really think the species which gets affected by this stupid individual will care about it. We are potentially looking at an inter-species war if some severe damage is caused by this individual.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll catch him. Honestly, I am still astonished and impressed by the fact that Earth entered ODM through the 17th dimension. This hasn’t been done since the closing of that dimension. How did it get opened?”

“I don’t have the details yet but I think he was able to open it from the inside. Our team is working on that. We can’t have that happening again. At least not accidentally.” Prashanth hissed.

“Prashanth. We think we have discovered something that might help us get a clue. The team on Earth has recovered a video footage of the first attempt by that individual. There is an alien specie that we could see in the melting metal. We have recognised that specie as a youngling of Deek from Star system 8kz83. As per reports, they did observe the 17th dimension impact but it was limited and the youngling is safe as well. The room of that child was melted but situation has been managed. We believe that the individual might have made a trip to an area close to this location.” Jitra said coming into the room.

“Alright. Send the search party. I want reports as soon as something comes out. How did the talks with Deek council go?”

“Honestly, they were quite delighted to know that another specie is joining ODM. But you know them Prashanth. Nothing can keep them down. However, their attempts to improve the onboarding system will get a lot of steam due to this.” Jitra replied.

“Bah! We can’t just hand over the space-travel technology to anyone who finds out about Krit particles.”

“But you know Prashanth how they think about the matter. If it was up to Deek, half the universe would have space-travel technology.”

Prashanth thought and shuddered. Deek were one of the most friendly species in the world. Too friendly, if someone asked Prashanth. They shared all their technologies with everyone and were often caught smuggling high technologies to primitive species. Heck! Earth’s space travel mission would have failed if not for Deek’s interference.

“And we are sure that Deek’s have nothing to do with this discovery by the individual?” Prashanth asked suddenly.

“I will have to check that. But do you really think they would do that? Scratch that. Do you really think we can do anything even if we find out that they did something?” Jitra said amusingly.

Prashanth laughed.

“You are right. Deeks are… well Deeks.”

Deeks were one of the most powerful specie in the universe and the idea that someone could actually hold them responsible for their actions was laughable. The only reason they were not ruling the whole universe was because they had no interest in doing it.

Perhaps due to this, many species, even advanced ones, believed that Deeks were probably Gods or some sort of descendants of Gods. No other known specie predates them and they are the only specie to successfully create another sentient specie.

Prashanth didn’t believe all this, but he was relieved that this individual was in Deeks territory. If they can capture him before he leaves their area, no lasting damage would happen.

“Prashanth. One more thing.” Jitra said, her tone turning sombre. Prashanth looked at her expectantly.

“We are unable to properly close the 17th Dimension. I think the opening has left some damage to our lock system.”

“Then we have to fix it.”

“Yes. I was thinking that we should involve Kanika in this.”

“Who’s Kanika?”

“She’s the life-partner of the individual who breached the 17th dimension.”

“How will she help?”

“As per the conversation with our contacts, it was she who calculated the values that enabled this travel. I think she would be a great asset to us, both right now and in long term.”

“Hmm.. Interesting take. Do one thing. Bring her on board for the 17th dimension. If her work is good, we will take this further. I will personally monitor her progress. A human with such calibre might do wonders in a few epitakes.”

“Yes, but sir. Humans have extremely short life-spans.”

“That’s alright. Shrent can manipulate her biology to change that.” Prashanth said looking at Shrent. Shrent shuddered and shook.

“That’s a damn lucky couple. The individual lands amongst the Deeks and his partner receives agelessness. That’s mighty punishment for committing biggest crime in ODM’s list.” Shrent said and continued shuddering. Jitra started to snicker and Prashanth started to smile.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The 17th Dimension

Srikanth knew it was only a matter of time before the world would find out. However, Srikanth had not thought that he wouldn’t even get time to say sorry or goodbye to his family. The government could work incredibly fast if they wanted to.

Luckily, he was faster.

— —

“Srikanth, can you please tell me what are you working on?” Kanika asked urgently.

“Of course. As soon as it’s finished, you will be the first person to know it.” Srikanth said mischievously.

Kanika fumed and the left the room. Srikanth laughed and returned to his machine. Since the discovery of Krit particles, the whole world had gone mad. And no one had gone madder than Srikanth. These particles not only held the secrets of the universe, they could also be a possible way to travel through other dimensions.

After the string theory failed to combine all the equations together, scientists realised that they needed something more to make the connection. Juan Krit was the person who discovered Krit particles — a unit of energy that could traverse through 89 dimensions (78 more than the measly string theory could produce) and were the fundamental unit of almost everything.

The catch, of course, was that because these particles existed in all planes, they never manifested in any particular plane completely — the primary reason that they couldn’t be discovered before Juan Krit changed the world.

“Srikanth. SRIKANTH..”

“Huh! What?” Srikanth replied, dazed.

“Eat something and take some rest. You can work on this later.” Kanika said in an even tone. It was clear to Srikanth that she was on the verge of bursting.

“What time is it?” He asked.

“It has been almost 28 hours since I last came here. You haven’t eaten anything or slept.” Kanika said and Srikanth knew he had to stop.

“Any progress?” Kanika asked softly once her demand was met.

“There is. But I’m not sure if it’s in the right direction. The Krit particles are behaving almost predictably. However, the behavior is highly restricted. And when I try to increase the behavioural range, the unpredictability increases exponentially.”

Kanika nodded. Kanika had helped him in getting the theoretical calculations for the device but the practical experiments were Srikanth’s domain and expertise.

“Can you recalculate the numbers for a new variable system?” Srikanth asked.

“I can but how will that help?” Kanika asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it will open the door from the other side or something. What if we are stuck in 3-Dimensions because the door to other dimensions are shut from that end.” Srikanth said. “I know I am babbling but please humour me.” Srikanth smiled weakly.

“Only if you take proper rest first.”

Srikanth nodded.

The next day when he woke up, Kanika was already gone to work. She had calculated three new variable systems overnight and left a note as well.

‘ I have made some changes in the current variable system as well. Your idea about the locked door gave me some new thoughts that I have incorporated in this. Try them today.’ The message said.

Srikanth felt a pang of jealousy and pride in the same wave. If not for Kanika, his research would have been dead slow. Any other scientist in the world would have taken at least a week for this kind of equation manipulation. He wished he was half as good at theoretical stuff as Kanika.

When the two had first met, Kanika would often laugh at how slow Srikanth was in Physics. The fact that it was just before Srikanth’s Phd thesis defence didn’t help boost his confidence. However, her confidence and intelligence attracted him to no end.

As for Kanika, she was blown away by Srikanth’s Phd. It was a practical implementation of one of her own theoretical designs. She hadn’t expected it to become reality in her lifetime, let alone see someone do it just for their dissertation.

With the discovery of Krit particles, both shifted their study on them and when Kanika discovered a way to travel across the universe through the other dimensions, Srikanth got to work. Three years hence, he was still working.

Kanika’s theory received multiple changes from Srikanth and Srikanth received several updates on improving the design from Kanika and the work continued.

For the past six months, Srikanth was just working on getting the variables right. The device was ready to work.

“Today, I will make you work.” Srikanth said to the silent machine in front of him.

It happened almost in a flash. He input the new variable system and as soon as he started the machine, the room went dark. A creature the size of a large rat glowed and produced a ‘reet’ sound. It was furrier and looked harmless but it existed only for a second.

The machine was intact but the rest of the metal in the room had melted. Luckily, Srikanth was outside the room in a glass chamber which had survived. His phone rang.

“Hello.”

“What happened?” A shrieking voice came from the other end. It was Kanika.

“How do you know?”

“I got a call from some government orgranization telling that you have done something and they are going to take you in.”

“The new variable systems worked Kanika. I saw some creature as well. It might have been a multi-dimensional being or from other part of the universe. I don’t know yet but it worked.” Srikanth said excitedly.

“And now they will take it all away.” Kanika said softly.

“NO! I will not let them do that.” Srikanth said and heard a loud bang on the door.

“They are here.”

“Srikanth. Don’t do something stupid.” Kanika shouted over the phone.

“I’m not letting them take our research.” Srikanth shouted and jumped into the machine.

The machine was perfectly intact and the screen finally told him what had happened. The journey had been through two extra dimensions and the creature had been an alien from this universe itself. He had finally created something that could travel the universe.

Srikanth saw them in front of him. Eight people in full body armour with guns. He pushed the button.

“NO!!” A voice came from behind the eight people.

“What now sir.” One soldier asked the woman.

“Now, we hope that he is caught by the ODM before he dies.” The girl replied.

— —

“What do you mean he might not make it?” Kanika asked the girl sitting in front of her.

“Ms. Kanika. The device that your husband has built travels through 17th dimension. That dimension is not allowed for travel by ODM, that is, Order of Distance Monitoring.”

“But why is that? And what will ODM do?”

“Hopefully, they will catch him.”

“Hopefully?”

“Unlike the other dimensions, 17th dimension is not safe. In fact, half of your house’s metal is melted because of that. And the location where it must have opened also would have suffered similar fate. We have no news yet but let’s hope there haven’t been any casualties.”

“That’s why it’s closed from inside.” Kanika whispered.

“Yes. However, he was able to open it somehow.”

“My new calculations did that.” Kanika said.

“You really are the best in the world Ms. Kanika. However, I wish you had made way for the other dimensions. They are.. err.. quite safe.”

“But if you knew then why don’t we travel like that right now.”

“ODM doesn’t supply technology. They just regulate it. So, we will have to build the device ourselves. Which scientists like you and Srikanth are doing and so is the government.”

“Then why did ODM contact you.”

“Once we discovered Krit particles, they contacted us. Most civilisations are able to discover universe travel after the discovery of Krit particles, per ODM.”

“Uh. Ok.” Kanika said and went silent. She prayed for Srikanth and hoped that ODM would find him.

“Don’t worry. ODM will find him.” The girl said softly putting her hand on Kanika’s shoulder.

“But what after that. Will he be considered a criminal and punished?” Kanika asked.

“As long as the damage is not huge, we might be able to save him. It’s his first time, our first time. However, if someone has died…” The girl trailed off.

‘Where are you Srikanth?’ Kanika thought miserably.

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.”

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The Battle Within

It was the last time Ashita talked to Akshay. She never found out what happened to him afterwards. It’s not that his thought didn’t come to him. His memory was like an eclipse that would come and go without actually affecting her except for an event that was worth remembering for the time being.

However, today, it was more persistent.

“Maybe he has died or something.” Her husband, Ritesh, said with a yawn. She immediately laughed.

“I hate you. I shouldn’t share anything with you.” She said with mock anger.

“Seriously. Check the Facebook. If he’s fine, he might be there.” Ritesh said pushing his laptop to her.

“I haven’t done that in 10 years. Why would I want to do that now?”

“It might help.”

She bit her lip and typed his name. His last post was 3 hours ago.

‘Excited to be in Goa. #Lifeisfun’

Even after 10 years, it pinched her a little.

“So, he’s having fun in Goa.” She said bitterly to him.

“Of course. You always hated when he had fun. Maybe that’s why you were missing him.” Ritesh said casually.

“I am not MISSING him. I just remembered him.” She said forcefully.

“Of course. I meant I was missing him.” Ritesh said and winked.

She hit him on his hand and then turned to go to sleep. She wished she could forget what happened after 10 years but it seemed that it wasn’t so.

“I love you Ashita.” Ritesh said and kissed her cheek. Ashita placed her hand on his face and kissed him back.

Ritesh had laughed at Ashita’s moment but he wished that he could feel as callous as he said. Ashita’s first love, perhaps her only love was Akshay. Akshay and Ashita were together for around one year but that was enough for Ashita to fall in love with Akshay and then fall out as well.

Akshay and Ashita were supposed to get married, too. However, things changed in ways that Ashita had never explained to Ritesh, and they broke up. After that, she agreed to marry Ritesh.

It was an arranged marriage. Ashita had told him about Akshay on their first meeting. Ritesh hadn’t taken it seriously.

“Well… You were one year with him. I hope we stay longer than that. I think I can beat him easily.” Ritesh had said then. Now, he wasn’t as sure that time was that good a healer. The first year was tougher than he’d thought it would be, and they did not even have a physical relationship.

Ritesh and Ashita were simply roommates.

Then one day, he came home and found the whole dinner in a romantic setting. The music played as Ashita danced with him. He didn’t understand any of it but when she kissed, he realised that maybe, finally, he had won.

Ashita and Ritesh had been happy over these past 9 years, sharing a life they both were in love with. However, Ritesh sometimes saw a sadness in her eyes that he could directly attribute to ten years ago. He sometimes would joke to ensure that she felt comfortable sharing with him but he knew that he would never take Akshay’s place in Ashita’s life.

“Ritesh.” Ashita whispered.

“Yeah.”

“I never-ever miss him.” She whispered and then grew silent.

“Still not telling me?” He whispered in her ear. She shook her head vigorously, her face on the other side of the bed.

He kissed her head from behind.

“I will wait to qualify.” She nodded and snuggled into Ritesh.

Ashita could remember that day vividly. However, she didn’t want to forget that day. She wanted to change it. What she hated the most about that day was that she still couldn’t think of Akshay with hatred. She forgave him and she was disgusted with herself for that.

“Come on. We are about to get married. What did you expect?” Akshay said casually.

“Not this. I am not your property.” Ashita said indignantly.

“Don’t be like that love. He’s my friend. And it’s not like he isn’t going to have sex with you. He’ll just be there when we have sex. I promise.”

“No. I have no interest in any of this. And please, you’ll never discuss this with me again.” Ashita said, horrified.

“Dude. This is wrong. You should have discussed with her before you came to me. You can’t do this to me.” Akshay’s friend said to him angrily.

“I’m not backing out. I’ll make her agree.”

“You’ve already had your share so you better.”

“What is he talking about?” Ashita asked Rohan.

“We have already had a threesome with my wife. He said that he had already talked to you and you were in.” Akshay’s friend said bluntly. “Uncool man. You lied to me and her.” He said to Akshay.

“It’s all cool buddy. I just need to talk to her in private.” Akshay said. His friend left the room.

“Listen. You have to have sex with him. I don’t have a choice.” Akshay insisted.

“HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND? And when did you have sex with his wife?” Ashita said.

“Last week. We were drunk and it just happened. Now, I have to pay him back somehow.” Akshay babbled.

“You cheated on me.” Ashita whispered.

“It’s not like I had sex with his wife alone. He was also there. It was a threesome. Like it would be today.”

“NO. And we are done.” Ashita said and got up to leave.

“Wait. ASHITA.” Akshay said and held Ashita’s arm. Ashita resisted but Akshay didn’t let her go and started taking her clothes off.

“Trust me. Once you are in the mood, it would be alright.” Akshay said and pushed Ashita on the bed.

“What are you doing? LET ME GO!” Ashita shouted as Akshay tried to tear her clothes. Akshay kept her down.

“AKSHAY! What the hell are you doing?” A voice came and Akshay was thrown off the bed. Akshay’s friend had came back hearing Ashita’s shouts. He covered Ashita in the blanket and brought her outside the bedroom.”

Akshay looked at the two as if waking from a trance.

“Have you gone mad?” Akshay’s friend shouted at Akshay while Ashita sat stunned.

“I.. I’m sorry Ashita.” Akshay said weakly.

Ashita pulled out her engagement ring and threw it on the ground. She picked a new set of clothes from her clothes already in Akshay’s house and packed the rest. Within an hour, she was at her home, trying to explain to her family why she was no longer with Akshay. She had cried for days, weeks after that. Her parents decided the best course was to get her married and she didn’t have energy to even fight that.

Ashita got lucky with Ritesh. Their first night, and many nights after that, she had half expected a repeat of her last day with Akshay. However, Ritesh never pushed himself on her. It took her more than a year to take the initiative and Ritesh waited.

Ashita loved Ritesh but she just didn’t want him to share her burden. Even if she had to sometimes laugh at Ritesh’s joke about missing Akshay. She didn’t miss Akshay, she never could. She only wished she had slapped him that day or gone to police. She wished she wasn’t stunned into inaction. And she wished that Akshay wasn’t so damn happy with his life.

She sat down and shook Ritesh.

“Wh.. What?” Ritesh said rubbing his eyes. Ashita waited for Ritesh to open his eyes properly.

“Listen to me, very carefully.”

“Yeah.” Ritesh said steeling himself. The last thing he wanted was to find out that she wanted to go back to Akshay.

“I love you. I know I don’t say it often enough but I do. I love you with all my heart.”

“Err… Actually, this is the first time you have said it to me.” Ritesh said sheepishly.

Ashita burned red. She hadn’t realised that she hadn’t ever said it out loud.

“I haven’t said that in ten years.” She whispered. Ritesh shook his head smiling.

“Okay. I’m sorry for that, but I do. I love you.” Ashita said.

“I know.” Ritesh said calmly but his heart was filled with warmth. Ashita hugged him tightly and kissed him.

“Ashita.”

“Mmmm..”

“Do I qualify now?” Ritesh said hopefully.

“Nope.” Ashita said and nuzzled his nose.