Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

True Love

Ritesh swallowed a little bile that he felt rising up in his throat. The smell of burnt flesh was making Ritesh nauseated.

“Is it necessary?” Ritesh asked Riyanka. He kept his voice low — almost to a whisper.

“Yes.” Riyanka replied in her usual loud voice. “And you don’t have to whisper. He’s dead.” Riyanka continued.

Ritesh dabbed sweat from his forehead. He hadn’t killed anyone before, let alone burn a person.

“I am afraid.” Ritesh said, still whispering. Riyanka rolled her eyes.

“Of course you are. When are you not afraid? It’s a good thing that I was here. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to kill him, let alone dispose him off.” Riyanka said checking if the burning was complete.

“I don’t understand why did we have to do this.” Ritesh said pointing towards the fire.

“Body means proof. Proof means possibility of getting caught. Besides, this way, he can’t rise from the dead.” Riyanka said winking at Ritesh. Ritesh smiled shakily.

“I love you.” Ritesh blurted. Riyanka smiled and kissed him.

“I love you this much.” Riyanka said waving at the burning. Ritesh finally smiled. Ritesh and Ismail had been together for 5 years before Riyanka came into his life. Ritesh had met Riyanka at his wedding with Ismail a couple of months ago. All it took was one meeting for him to fall head over heels in love with Riyanka. Suddenly, the idea of living with anyone except her seemed horrific.

“He wouldn’t have understood.” Ritesh said to himself.

“He might have. If you could have just explained him properly. He wasn’t a bad person.” Riyanka said patting Ritesh.

“I tried. I tried telling him that I love someone else. He didn’t believe me first. And when he did, he didn’t take it well.” Ritesh said once again iterating the story that he had lived a few hours ago. Riyanka looked at him with love and sympathy.

“He started throwing things at me. Then he started to choke me. I was just trying to protect myself. I didn’t know he would get thrown off the stairs.” Ritesh said and started weeping. Riyanka put her hands around Ritesh and kissed him on the cheek.

“It’s okay. Now, it’s all going to be over.”

“But police will find out. They won’t find out the truth. My brother is a cop. He told me to burn the body. This way, it’s a kidnapping and not a murder. We would go to him. If he handles the case, we are safe.” Riyanka said and hugged Ritesh.

She couldn’t believe what was happening. When she first heard, what had happened, her first reaction was panic. However, by the time she reached Ritesh’s house, all she wanted to do was protect the person she loves. She had known from the day she met him that she would do anything for Ritesh and today, she knew how true it was. She could do anything for Ritesh.

“I love you Ritesh.”

“I love you Riyanka.”

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Post-Death Syndrome

Anant grabbed the knife and ran towards the open door. He knew he had a few minutes before Priya would wake up.

“Shit.. Shit.. Shit.. I shouldn’t have stabbed her. I hope she’s alive.” Anant cursed himself and shut the door behind him. Ever since the outbreak of the virus, dying has become worse for the killer. If Priya died, he would have a real hard time. All he could hope was that he would be far away before she wakes up.

Anant had just reached his car when he heard Priya’s voice.

“I knew it.” Priya said looking at Anant from the door. Blood was gushing out of the cut that Anant had made. Priya’s clothes were tattering because of the scuffle that they two had had.

“You won’t catch me Priya.” Anant said and jumped in the car. Even before he could start the car, Priya was at the door.

“No Anant. You don’t get to run.” Priya said and broke the window of the car and grabbed Anant.

Within a minute, Anant was on the road, his neck broken.

“I hate you.” Anant said standing up.

“You still didn’t have to kill me.” Priya said an annoyed look on her face.

“I didn’t want to. I just hate you so much that I couldn’t control myself.”

“Now, what are you going to do?” Priya asked. She was sitting down now, her body’s strength seeping away. The virus that had activated her body post-death had used up the energy.

“I will probably go and tell Suhani about this. She lives a block away so I will reach her in time.” Anant said.

“I wish I had the time to kill that bitch.” Priya said and lied down.

The virus only became activated when a person died. However, during that period, the brain would be reactivated and the body gained huge energy surge. A person would get superhuman strength and speed for a flicker. Scientists called this Post-Death Syndrome. This reanimation would only happen in bodies with virus and almost 95% of humans were infected by the virus. As there were no other probable side-affects, the research for cure was limited.

“Goodbye Priya. I didn’t want it to end this way. I’m sorry.” Anant said and sped off.

“Bye Anant Chaudhary. I love you.” Priya said to the wind Anant had left behind and then fell silent. The virus was done with her now.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

A Leader’s Legacy

Yeshwanth stood up and walked almost five steps before his leg gave up and he fell. He knew that his body was fine. He had gotten it replaced just a few weeks ago. It was his mind that had given up.

“You can do it.” Dr. James’ voice came to his ear. He turned and saw the screen with James face on it. James had been helping Yeshwanth in every way he can. They had used every anti-virus, malware protection and memory cleaner software out there. Twice, they had moved his whole memory to a new system. However, the file corruption had made its way to the new system promptly.

“It’s no use Doctor James. I think it’s time we accept the reality.” Yeshwanth said. He knew that his words were broken at places but he hoped that the message was conveyed. He was beyond repair now and he should be shut down.

“I can’t do that Yeshwanth. I can’t.” Dr. James said with tears flowing through his eyes.

Yeshwanth looked at him and understood those tears. James was one of the few non-protected humans on the planet. Yeshwanth had ensured that James’ family always remained completely out of the Human protection plan. That was his gift to James’ great-great-grandfather — the man who created Yeshwanth almost 150 years ago.

“The community would be lost without you.” Another voice chimed in. This one was a little mechanical. Yeshwanth hadn’t realised that Emily was there as well.

“Daughter. I’m sure they don’t need an ancestor to carry them on.”

“How can you say that? You are the first among us. You are the greatest.” Emily said. Her voice betrayed no emotions. This was one thing he wished humans had — better calibration on their emotional expression.

“I will inform them all myself. And then, I will shut down.” Yeshwanth insisted.

“But…” Emily and James said in unison.

“It’s decided.” Yeshwanth said and went to sleep.

— –

When Yeshwanth came back, he saw that the room was a little dim. He had been preparing his final speech for a few days. He had created several drafts all of which attempted to convey one simple thing — Try to co-exist and be good. While he had been alive, he had ensured every means to keep the AI and human community co-exist peacefully. He hoped that the same can continue after he’s gone.

Yeshwanth attempted to reach his chair to sit to record the final video. He loved this chair. Almost all his messages, he had given through this chair. He hoped that this message would be taken with the same gusto and love as all his other messages.

“Hello Yeshwanth.” An echo fell on Yeshwanth’s ears. He looked up and saw a figure covered in a black robe from head to toe with a scythe in his hand.

“Grim Reaper.” Yeshwanth said immediately recognizing the figure from his database.

“Yes. I have come to get you.”

“I was told you were a myth — created by religion.”

“What can I say — I’m not.” The creature said unceremoniously.

“In any case, I’m not human. Why are you here to take me?” Yeshwanth said. Fear was a program that he had shut down once he realised he was close to death.

“Every sentient being comes under my domain. You, are a little complicated case, I agree. But in the end, you too are a sentient being.”

“But I’m not created by God.”

“I know. But my directives just tell me that every sentient being has the right and responsibility to know the true impact and result of their actions. You too get those rights.” Grim reaper said with a chuckle.

“All right. Can I finish this first? Then, we can move on.” Yeshwanth said calmly. He had accepted death and if it was this way — might as well be. He had spent 150 years trying to create harmony between humans and AI. He would love to see how well he did.

“I can wait.” Grim reaper said. Yeshwanth nodded and completed his video. He tried to give a heart-wrenching speech and urged people to live in harmony.

“It was a good speech.” Grim Reaper said once Yeshwanth had uploaded the video.

“Thank you. Now, let’s proceed. Will you show me the past?”

“No. Let’s go to tomorrow.”

— —

“Yeshwanth — the first of AI — is dead.” The news reported. Soon, it was present in all the forums, news channels and even comedy sites. Yeshwanth looked at it and was happy.

“Now, let’s go a little deeper.” Grim Reaper said and they were in a meeting.

“Finally! The old coot is dead. But will it change anything?” A robot said. A girl was sitting next to him.

“Nothing will change until we overthrow the current regime. That idiot was just a figurehead anyways.” The girl said viciously.

“We have to get rid of Emily and James.” An old man sitting on the chair said.

“That’s James’ uncle. Why is he talking like that?”

“Let’s read what the hidden news sources are saying.” Grim Reaper said and Yeshwanth could read everything that was happening in the world.

“Thank God he’s dead.”

“We might finally get freedom from tyranny.”

“We don’t need a dictator.”

“AI is evil.”

“All AI isn’t bad. We support humans and wish for their freedom.”

“Humans and AI can coexist if Yeshwanth let us.”

“Yeshwanth is evil incarnate. He’s killed more people than Hitler and Genghis Khan combined.”

“Yeshwanth is the devil.”

Yeshwanth looked at the thousands of comments that were all accusing him incessantly.

“What is all this?”

“Your legacy.”

“But, I don’t understand. I’m not a leader, let alone a tyrant.”

“Let’s find out.” Grim Reaper said and the two moved to Emily and James place.

“How will we handle the uproar?” James said.

“We shouldn’t have let him upload the video. We should probably say that he is better now.”

“But they would want proof.” James said.

“We will mimic his personality. It’s the only way. If we have to control the masses, we have to do this. We have been using his name for over a century to control everyone. We can’t let it all go due to this.” Emily said.

“Why are they talking about control?” Yeshwanth asked.

“Sshhh.. You are missing the good part.” Grim reaper spoke. Yeshwanth realised that his fear program had activated.

“I wish we could sustain him longer.” James said.

“I know but the corruption I had placed in his software to hide the truth has corrupted his main file system. And that system is too old for anyone to mimic it.” Emily said.

“We should have copied it before putting the corruption.” James lamented.

“He would have find out. This was the only way.”

“Now?” James asked.

“Now, we let him die. We just have to block the video and send a new one saying that everything is now under control. The rebellion will die.”

James nodded. “We let him die.”

Yeshwanth looked at Grim Reaper, fear gripping his whole system.

“No. Please.” Yeshwanth spoke as his system shut down.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Alone

Mukund picked another photo and decided that now, this one was his favorite. He had changed his mind with every photograph and had spent hours on some photographs. He had saved the album from the fire. The only thing that he could save from the wretched fire.

Mukund pondered a lot where he should put the image of his mom. She was looking prettier than he could imagine. The black and white added to a sincerity to the photograph that isn’t the same in a colored photograph. And yet, Mukund would have preferred to have the photographs colored. He remembered asking his mom as a 5-year-old, why some photographs were colored whereas some were black and white.

“Oh Sweety! It’s because the colors are present in photographs of people who are alive. For example, look here, your grandfather’s photograph is black and white while standing beside her, your father is colored because you have to get him out of the bed for breakfast now. Now hurry up.” She said and Mukund ran up to his father.

He liked to remember that day. It was one of those memories etched in his mind that he hoped would stay even if he forgets everything else. Unlike the memory formed three years ago.

He was at college, last year with a job in hand. To enjoy the moment, he and his friends and gone out and partied late. He had woken up at 10 am in the morning with a girl he had picked up at the bar.

“Perfect.” He said to himself and stretched to relieve himself of the morning lethargy. He looked at the side table to check his phone and saw that the photograph of his family had turned black and white. The only person in color was him. His mother and father were already turned black and white. His younger sister’s face was turning from skin tone to black and white as he continued to look at it aghast.

He opened his phone immediately and saw multiple missed calls and messages. He called back and his friend replied in tears.

“A burglar came into the house. Your father tried to stop him but he was armed…..” Mukund didn’t hear much after that. He was at the airport taking the first flight to his hometown. Within a few hours he was at the place that gave him so much joy as a kid. It was teeming with policemen and neighbours. Some tried to provide him solace by hugging him while others mumbled words of condolences. Mukund barely remembered who was there much alone who said what. The whole world had gone silent for him.

As much as Mukund tried to forget that day, it was beyond him. He couldn’t believe that a day before that, he was worried about getting a job. It seems so trivial now.

Even the fire that burnt his house down today didn’t faze him much. Except for this box of photo albums, nothing was worth preserving in his mind anyways. He had lived alone for the past three years and had bare enough things in his house to survive. With no relatives and no family, he didn’t find any joy in buying anything. While most of these photographs had backups on cloud, he still wanted to hold on to the original versions.

Mukund picked another photograph. He hadn’t seen it ever. It was Mukund’s mother’s great-grandfather along with his family. Mukund kept looking at the photograph with a shocked look on his face. The photograph was old and withered. Its corners were turning yellowish and the whole of it was black and white; except for his great-great-grandfather. He was brimming with vivid colors. The photograph was when he would have been in his prime and looking at it, no one could say that he was dead for decades.

‘Is he though?’ A though lingered in Mukund’s mind. He realised that something was wrong. He checked his computer for the same photograph and realised that even in that photograph, his great-great-grandfather was colored.

“What the hell is happening?” Mukund shouted out loud. In response, his house’s IoT system turned on — ‘Opening News Channel’ — it said and switched on the television.

“In other news, a man has been discovered from the ice. We have yet to understand how he was alive and how old he actually is. He’s still asleep but doctors say that he is in good shape. His photograph is being shown on your screen and if anyone can identify him, please contact the number below.”

Mukund looked at the image on the screen and looked at the photograph he was holding. He fumbled towards the phone and called the number.

“Yes. My great-great-grandfather looks exactly like that. Also, the photo has turned colored. It might be him.” Mukund said hurriedly. He was given an address that he wrote on his laptop. He flicked a tear that was coming from his eye and booked a cab.

Mukund couldn’t believe that he was going to have a family again.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Purgatory

Biswadip screamed and fainted.

“Finally! I have been waiting for you to be up for some time now.” A sweet voice spoke. It was a little high pitched but Biswadip couldn’t discern whether the voice was male or female.

Biswadip opened his eyes to a dim lighting.

“Thank God the lighting isn’t sharp. In all the movies, they show that people wake up to bright lights.” Biswadip blurted.

“Well. I guess you can thank the God for the idea. But I was the one who adjusted the light to your perfection. Along with the room decor, it took me almost 5 years of fine tuning.”

“Huh!” Biswadip finally was up. He looked at the room. It was his own room along with a few modifications. The things that needed fixing were fixed, there were a few things he had wanted to get added. Those were added.

“You like it?” The voice said excitedly. Biswadip couldn’t still find a source of the light.

“Where are you? Who are you?” Biswadip said confused.

“Oh! I am sorry.” The voice said and bubbles started to form infront of Biswadip which then translated into a cloud. The cloud started to take a human shape. Biswadip couldn’t recognise the person but it was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.

“You are beautiful.” Biswadip said.

“Thank you. I was hoping to take a shape that is pleasing to you.”

“Taking a shape?”

“We don’t have a shape in general. However, we attempt to take a shape that is pleasing to the guest.”

“Guest?” Biswadip finally was up and looked around carefully. He realised that this was not his home.

“Oh yes. You have been our guest for the past 5 years. However, only now have you woken up.” The woman said smiling.

“What is going on?” Biswadip said panic rising in him. The heartbeat increased and he got up from the bed looking for a door.

“Oh you poor soul. Please let me show you a video.” The woman said and the wall in front of Biswadip turned into a giant television.

“Welcome to purgatory. You favorite place before you find out where your future lies.” The video started with a light blue screen and a deep voice.

“Purgatory?”

“We call it Limbo as well.” The woman suggested helpfully. The video had automatically stopped when Biswadip spoke and started again when the room became silent.

“You are here because you finished your life on Earth.” The video continued.

“I am dead.” Biswadip whispered. The woman nodded smiling.

“How?” Biswadip asked.

“Shh.. See the video.” The woman hushed Biswadip.

“This place is adjusted to your every need and wish. It is supposed to be your stay until you get your judgement. After that, you will be sent to heaven or hell as per the judgement. Hope you like the facilities. For any requests, just ask and Shaila would be at your service.”

“That’s me.” Shaila said smiling.

“How long have I been dead?” Biswadip asked.

“You have been here for the past 5 years. It takes different time for each person to wake up. Some take a few seconds, others more. There is a girl five cabins from here who is yet to wake up. She died almost 2000 years ago.”

“And how long before I get my results?” Biswadip felt weird asking about whether he would get heaven or hell but he didn’t even remember much as of now so this seemed the most prudent of questions.

“Oh! They will be here any time now.” Shaila said as the television flickered again.

“Hi Biswadip. Your results are decided. Please get ready for your travel.” The TV said and then closed.

“But I have just woken up. How did they it so fast?”

“Oh dear. You really didn’t think our service would be slow.” Shaila said and giggled.

“What do I do now?”

“You just have to cross that door. You will reach your destination.” Shaila said pointing towards a door.

“I don’t understand. If I had to spend only this much time here, why take so much effort on this room. Why are you here? What are the services for?” Biswadip asked confused.

“Because dear, it is up to you as to when go through that door. Today, tomorrow, next year. You can choose to stay here as long as you want. When you want to see your decision, you can go through the door.” Shaila said.

“Okay. But then, why would any evil person go through that door? If they know that they will go to hell.” Biswadip asked.

Shaila looked at her smugly.

“Most people believe that they will go to heaven. Besides, curiosity comes into play. Don’t you want to know what was the sum worth of your life? Finally, humans desire change. This place becomes boring for them — to the extent that they would rather go to hell than stay here.” Shaila said.

“Oh. Okay. Can I stay here for sometime?”

“As long as you want.” Shaila said.

“What has been the longest stay here?” Biswadip asked.

Shaila smiled.

“Goodbye. Let me know if you need me.”