Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The Last One

Whenever I used to watch the tales of immortal beings — I used to get a thrill. Part of it was because how idiotic it all looked. Whenever people envisioned immortality, they would picture vampires or other similar creatures. Hideous, heinous and horrible. Either that, or it was pictured that it was happening through some scientific discovery that was only available to the rich. The third option of course was to be a god. All in all, being immortal was considered either a curse or a boon. It wasn’t an option available for humans.

The second reason for the thrill was because I’m immortal. I know… I know… You are surprised. I know what you people are thinking — “Come on Arvindraj. Surely you are joking. You don’t look over 25. How can you be immortal?”

But you see, that’s the thing. 25 is the peak human physical age. And I stopped at that point. My body doesn’t age and I simply regenerate any tissue or damage. Diseases are rare and infrequent. And most don’t affect my perfect immune system.

Now, I’m not here to brag about how awesome living forever is. I mean don’t get me wrong — it’s awesome — but there is more to this than just living forever. You have to watch your people go.

Saying this, Arvindraj clicked the camera and shut it down. He couldn’t carry on any further. He sat there for a few minutes thinking about the last time he had to let go. That was the most pain he had ever felt in his entire life. 500 years have passed since that incident and yet, he has not yet forgotten the day his species, sans him, ceased to exist.

Over the past 3500 years, he had lived through many catastrophes including the great floods and the bubonic plague. He had seen the people he love pass away. His friends, kids, their grandkids and so many more people. However, he had never anticipated in his dreams that he would ever see the end of human race.

“We seemed so durable.” Arvindraj said to himself before a flash light brought him to the reality.

“I’m sorry Mr. Human. Can you give me your autograph?” A small kid asked in a grating tone. The sound reminded him of turning wheels screeching on the road. His English was clearly broken and weak.

“Sure, kid. What’s your name?” Arvindraj asked the kid. He was around 3 feet tall, with three feet. One of the feet was basically a wheel that could balance on itself. There were twelve eyes that Arvindraj constituted as triple vision he had heard about recently. This kid could see more colors than Arvindraj could imagine. His hair were small tentacles that could be used for smelling and he had gotten one of his hand replaced by a mechanical arm.

‘Typical Homo Supreme kid.’ Arvindraj thought.

“My name is Kryznk.” The kid said. Three individuals were looking towards Arvindraj wondrously. Arvindraj assumed they were Kryznk’s parents. Arvindraj couldn’t distinguish between the parents as mother or father. He found it difficult to do with Homo Supreme. Especially since they had three sets of DNA, aside from the multiple machine parts.

Arvindraj wrote a few words in English and then in another language that he knew was Kryznk’s local tongue.

“You can speak this language.” Kryznk said awe-struck. Arvindraj had heard this tone several times. Most Homo Supreme people assumed that he was some prehistoric creature who would barely understand what they were saying. And while it was true that Homo Supremes were more intelligent due to their two brain structure, Arvindraj was no slouch. He had over the millennia learnt hundreds of languages and he could pick them up as quickly as any Homo Supreme. Besides, the fact that all Homo Supremes speak the same language gave Arvindraj more incentive to learn the language.

“Kryznk!” One of the parents’ whispered. Arvindraj was sure that the parent must have spoken more but it was difficult for Arvindraj to pick up the frequency. The kid however seemed to understand.

“I will go. Bye.” The kid said and left Arvindraj. Arvindraj looked around the room and checked the clock. He decided to call it a day. Arvindraj went to the reception area of the hotel where he was staying.

“Can you bring these items for me?” Arvindraj said giving the creature his list. This person had only three eyes and one of them was a compound eye and a second one was bionic.

The creature nodded. The kind of food Arvindraj needed was no longer easily available. Arvindraj knew that if he wasn’t on government payroll, he wouldn’t probably even be able to afford most of it. Thankfully, once Homo Supreme government realised that Arvindraj was immortal and the last of his species, they decided to keep him on their expense.

It was soon after the last human mother gave birth to a Homo Supreme baby with her husband, who was a homo supreme. Arvindraj had always thought that human race would end in a war. Instead, they were just assimilated into a superior race. It was no anti-climactic that Arvindraj could have never guessed it.

“Your food sir.” A person with tiny wings gave him the food and went away.

Arvindraj sat down and ate the food while looking at the itinerary for the next week. As part of the deal, Arvindraj had to attend 12 exhibitions every year where he was paraded along with several near-extinct species. This, along with weekly tests to see how he was immortal were the two conditions that helped him escape confinement.

‘With each Homo Supreme connected via hive mind, running away would have been futile anyways.’ Arvindraj thought to himself as he munched down on some chicken and rice.

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

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.

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.