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.”

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Lost and Fighting

The brightly lit room reminded Zeenat of the last time she had seen Rajendra. Three years had passed and as much as Zeenat missed him, she knew that it was for the better that the two of them were not together. She had been nothing but a rot in Rajendra’s life and the best thing he ever did was to throw her from his life. She did wish she could change but now, even she didn’t believe that she could change, let alone anyone else.

Zeenat picked up the medicines that were assigned to her and gulped them down in on go. She remembered the days when swallowing even one pill was impossible for her. Now, she was a pro. The medical facility had taught her this, if nothing else. This place where Rajendra had left her after the attack she had last time. When she had accidentally killed his mother. How could he forgive her for that?

She slowly moved back to the room assigned to her. For three years that has been her schedule and she had followed it diligently. If she couldn’t give Rajendra her mom back, the least she could do was penance.

“Hello. Rajendra here.” Rajendra picked up the phone. He was absent-mindedly working on some modifications on his earlier presentations. He wasn’t going to present them so he had to ensure that the person who was going to do it doesn’t make a mess of it.

“Hi Rajendra. Her reports are with me.” Doctor spoke from the other end. Rajendra immediately shot up.

“What does it say?” Rajendra said with a nervousness.

“I think it is time we shift her.”

“No doctor. I can’t handle that.” Rajendra said sweating. He had thought the doctor might say something like that. He had prepared his whole speech for the moment.

“Last three years have been hell for me Doc! I can’t increase the pain for myself. You will have to find some other arrangements.”

“But Rajendra, this is getting more expensive by the day. The alternate is going to be cost-effective.” Doctor tried explaining.

“Cost isn’t an issue doc. I can get the money. But I can’t… ever since mom died. You have to understand. She’s the one. Only one.” Rajendra said his voice cracking up.

“But…” Doctor said his voice faltering.

“Any other news. Any good news.” Rajendra said changing the topic.

“If you can take it as such. Her life expectancy has increased. If her care is taken properly, she should be able to live a long life. The medicines, while not able to treat her psychological disorder, reduce the physical burden on her body.”

“Hmm.” Rajendra grunted.

“Actually that’s why I was saying that expenses would increase more. And it seemed that shifting her would be a good option.”

“No doctor. Shifting her is not an option.”

“Ok. By the way, will you be coming today?”

“To see her?”

“Yes and take the report as well.”

“I will drop by the evening.”

“Alright. Bye.” The doctor kept the phone hoping to convince Rajendra in person. He then went to the room to check on Rajendra’s patient.

“How’s she?” Rajendra asked.

“Stable. Maybe someday you will have her back.” Doctor spoke. Rajendra smiled.

“If only I could get both of my women back in my life, it would be back to being perfect.” Rajendra said.

Doctor nodded unable to say anything. As a doctor, he had learned that sometimes people should be left with their hope, as impossible as it maybe.

“And you are still adamant about Zeenat?” Doctor asked.

Rajendra looked through the glass window longingly. Then he steeled himself visibly.

“Yes. That’s her place.”

“Alright.”

“Doctor. Can I hold my mom’s hand?” Rajendra pleaded.

The two entered the room they were standing in front of. Rajendra’s mother was attached to multiple tubes and machines. Rajendra held her hand gingerly as if trying to grab a hand made of sand.

“The tubes are mostly for feeding. Her recovery is almost complete. I don’t know what will happen after that. Coma is something even we doctors do not understand completely.” Doctor repeated this line for the hundredth time.

Rajendra kissed his mother’s hand. He could still vividly remember the day Zeenat had that attack. When Zeenat had blacked out and his mother had tried to save his wife. While she was able to save Zeenat, Rajendra lost both of them that day. Her mother almost died and Zeenat went into a complete psychotic breakdown. All she would utter is that she killed Rajendra’s mom.

“I still feel Zeenat should be here. We can take better care of her. And how long will you work from home Rajendra?” The doctor said.

“Home is my work place now Doc. I won’t leave Zeenat for a second. She’s the love of my life and my mother didn’t save her so that Zeenat spends her whole life in the hospital.”

“She doesn’t even realise that she’s at home.” Doctor insisted.

“No she doesn’t. But the day she wakes up from whatever it is, I’ll be there, holding her.” Rajendra said with finality.

Doctor sighed.

“I am getting one more nurse assigned to your house.”

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Birth of a Master

The night was getting dark enough to hide even the darkest secrets of men. Satbir hoped that his secret was also safe in this night. He turned the corner and killed the first guy he saw. Then he moved to kill the second one. He felt lucky tonight that people were wandering alone in the night.

“Maybe it’s just God’s grace on me.” Satbir thought as he slit the throat of a woman with a baby. The baby started to bawl and by the time Satbir was done with the baby, lights begun to show from some of the windows.

“Spoke too soon of God’s grace.” Satbir said laughing and ran towards his shelter. He counted his kills in his head. Thirty-seven killed in which one was a baby and another was a child. This would mean that in all, the count would be 40. A child was counted as two men and a baby as three.

‘It is crueller to kill an infant than a man or a woman.’ He remembered his master’s words. The figure of 40 was respectable score but Satbir had hoped to touch the magical figure of 50. That was one more than what his master had achieved in one night for his initiation ceremony. Forty was decent enough to put him in top 5.

The rules of initiation are simple but following them without falling to temptation is hard. To become a member, one has to kill at least ten people in one night. One can’t be caught, seen or found out doing this. A person can’t go in any building, house or public, to complete the task. Only people walking on the road can be killed. This brought a lot of uncertainty in the system. However, the individual to be initiated was allowed to decide a date himself or herself. This helped counter the luck and many like Satbir even decide on a path and pattern to follow for maximum kills.

“Finally, I will be a member of the most prestigious clan in the world. I’ll be respected and revered by all.” Satbir thought to himself and went to bed still wishing that he had touch fifty. The highest ever was achieved by the founder — 50 in one night. In fact, if his master had touched 50, he would have become the head of the clan that day itself. Now, he was in line and might not even make it.

His master, often called the lenient one had taught him everything he knew. He was like a father to Satbir and he also treated Satbir like a son. Satbir didn’t know why his master was called the lenient. His master’s hard eyes and strong sense of justice both scared him and awed him. If his master thought something right, he would not stop for any emotion or any other reason. He almost bordered on cruel and with Satbir, it was more so.

“I’m not impressed.” Satbir’s master said. Satbir knew as much. His master had hoped that Satbir would surpass him.

“I’m sorry master.” Satbir said meekly.

“Nevertheless, it is a good score. Satbir can now be inducted on the path of the Kray.” Juman said. He was his master’s faithful advisor.

“What is the path of the Kray?” Satbir asked. His master ignored him.

“Do you think he can follow on the footsteps of great Jun-kray?” His master said to Juman.

“Oh yes, O lenient one.” Juman said with a smirk on his face.

Satbir looked at his master who had winced at the Juman’s address. Satbir knew that his master didn’t like being called that. However, it stuck and now nothing could change that. Satbir did wonder why his master was called so. Satbir had never felt any leniency from his master. If anything, he was harder than other teachers.

“Go now Satbir. Your path will be decided tomorrow. If it’s the path of Kray, we have a lot to do.”

“What is the path of Kray?” Satbir asked.

“As you know, there are leaders and masters. Leaders decide the direction that our clan would take and masters decide the kind of people our clan would have. The path of Kray is a unique training that makes you both. Usually, no one takes this path as it is harder than either. Named after the great Jun-Kray, who was both a master and a leader.” Juman explained in his drawling voice.

“Oh! Alright. Is that the path you took master?” Satbir asked.

“No! That wasn’t my path to take.” His master said in a tired voice. “Now go.”

— —

“You should tell him.” Juman said.

“No. I can’t.”

“He should know why you aren’t a leader. Why you chose the path of a master despite wanting to be a leader all your life.” Juman insisted.

“No one needs to know why I made my decisions. They are my decisions.”

“He doesn’t deserve to know why you stopped?” Juman exclaimed.

“What will I tell him Juman? That his parents were my 48th and 49th kill. That he was supposed to be my 50th but I couldn’t. Should I tell him that he’s the reason I stopped killing. I became a master instead of a leader because of him.”

“But he might be inspired by you.”

“Inspired to not kill. I don’t want that. I want him to become a leader. I want him to become the greatest. Besides, if we tell him, either he would be angry and feel betrayed that I killed his parents or he might follow my path and not kill anymore. No, Juman! This is for the best. Let me be.”

“Alright, O lenient one!” Juman said.

“You started this nickname, didn’t you?”

Juman smirked.