Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The Medicine

Aeshwarya didn’t know if she was more angry or more in pain. She cleaned up the blood and threw blood stained clothes in the dustbin. She hated when it creeped up on her. No time to prep. She knew that she must dispose off all of that soon but right now, she just wanted to relax. Aeshwarya was tired and done for the night.

She looked at Rita and her pain (and anger) increased. She had heard so much that girls who stay together get on the same cycle. No such thing happened between her and Rita. Rita was sleeping like a baby who had nothing to care for. Aeshwarya felt jealous of Rita. Rita didn’t go through this much pain. Heck! She was more productive during such situations than Aeshwarya was on a regular day.

“She could care for me.” Aeshwarya whispered to herself and then lied down on the bed. The cramps were killing her but she tried to fall asleep by forcefully closing her eyes. No such luck favoured her. Today was an especially troubling night for her. She wished Rita would bake her special cookies for her. Those were extremely helpful in getting her mood up but she decided not to wake Rita for this. It would be extremely selfish.

Aeshwarya willed herself to reduce the pain and focus on sleep. Slowly, she felt the pain to recede. She didn’t know if this was actually happening or was in her mind but at least she was feeling better. Just then, Rita turned and hugged Aeshwarya. She put her leg over Aeshwarya and put her hand across Aeshwarya’s tummy.

Wind knocked off Aeshwarya and tears came to her eyes. The pain that she thought was going away came back with vengeance.

“RITA!!!” Aeshwarya shouted with pain. Rita woke up startled.

“Aeshwarya! What happened?” Rita said somnolent. Aeshwarya remained silent trying to control her pain.

Rita looked at Aeshwarya holding her stomach and saw the filled dustbin.

“When?” Rita asked Aeshwarya.

“A few hours ago.” Aeshwarya whispered.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Rita said. A hint of disappointment crept into her voice.

“Didn’t.. Trouble..” Aeshwarya said in broken tones.

“Idiot.” Rita said and went out of the room. She tried calling Rita and was really furious. She was in pain and Rita was the one leaving the room.

Aeshwarya kept lying in the bed upset at the unfairness of the situation when Rita came back.

“Here is the medicine I had bought for you. This should give you some relief. I had also baked some cookies yesterday for this. Take it.” Rita said shoving a biscuit in Aeshwarya’s mouth.

“Mmphh.. Wurpphhh..” Aeshwarya said with her mouth full.

“Yeah.. yeah.. I know.” Rita said nonchalantly and opened a bottle of balm and started massaging Aeshwarya’s stomach.

“What are you doing?” Aeshwarya asked swollowing the cookies.

“I learned this a few days back. It should ease up the pain.” Rita said.

“You did this for me? Where did you learn this?” Aeshwarya asked taking another cookie.

“Youtube.” Rita said blushing.

Aeshwarya laughed despite the pain.

“I love you.” Aeshwarya said.

“Take the medicine.” Rita replied continuing the massage.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Creation of the Destroyer

“Are you really sure?” The Devil asked the third time. Vijay looked at him annoyed.

“Are YOU really sure that you are the devil? I had expected you to coerce me into this and here it seems that you almost don’t want me to sign the papers.” Vijay said inking the paper to sell his soul to the Devil.

“I just want you to be sure. More than once before, I have been short-changed by people pleading ignorance and what not.” The Devil said smiling. Her voice was oily and when Vijay had first heard the voice, a shiver had ran through his body. His whole body was covered with goose-bumps and he had felt a hundred licks all over him — and not the puppy licks, licks of a beast tasting his prey.

Even now, her voice creeped him out. But the offer was too tempting — all the success he wants and all for his soul. That measly useless piece of crap that he had not find any use for anyways.

“As long as you keep your end of the bargain. There are no catches or glitches like I have seen in the movies.” Vijay said sternly.

“Of course not. Your life would be the epitome of perfection as long as you are alive.” The Devil slithered. Vijay felt like an eel had tried to roll through his oesophagus.

“And you aren’t going to kill me right now?” Vijay confirmed. He had asked these and a hundred more questions before even thinking about signing. However, Devil’s continuous ‘Are you sure?’ had made him unsure.

“Of course not. You will live a long and full life. Minimum 50 more years. I can’t tell the exact time because God doesn’t allow that.” Devil said, her voice filled with regret.

This was the first-time Devil had mentioned God. Vijay’s interest piqued.

“He is more powerful than you, God, I mean?”

“More powerful, I don’t know. Is your hand more powerful than your whole body? It can hurt your body and even kill it, after all. But it would die immediately afterwards too. Similarly, it is difficult to gauge God in terms of power. He is not an entity. He just is.” Devil said in a pensive tone. For the first time, her voice didn’t seem slimy to Vijay but thoughtful. Suddenly Vijay realised something.

“You are the most powerful being in the universe.” Vijay said with awe.

“That I am.” Devil said coming back into her element.

“Then how can someone cheat you?” Vijay asked excitedly. He hoped that Devil might accidentally give him a way to save his soul. It would be excellent to con the Devil, thought Vijay.

A glint came into the Devil’s eyes and was gone.

“Oh, you know. People would say that they didn’t know that the contract said this and that and would plead mercy. God would melt like an ice-cream in a desert and the soul would slip through my hands.”

Vijay smiled. The Devil might be powerful but he wasn’t too bright.

“But you have a contract.” Vijay asked innocently.

“Bah! Contract or no contract. God always falls for genuine ignorance.” Devil said with annoyance. However, his face shown with a radiance.

“So how does asking a hundred times help. A person can still remain ignorant.” Vijay asked reaching close to the key to fool the Devil.

“That’s true. But, occasionally, someone gets curious and asks me the details on how to defeat me. After I’ve told him or her the whole details, feigning ignorance is impossible. That person is then mine. Ah, I see that you have signed the contract. Good.” The Devil said and took the paper out of Vijay’s hand.

Vijay looked at her, blood drained out of his face.

“I am the fool, ain’t I?” Vijay said in a small voice.

“Well. You are still getting what you came here for. But now, once you die, you will be mine, no backsies.” Devil’s lips curled like a fox.

“The contract doesn’t mention what you will do with my soul. Doesn’t that count.” Vijay asked hopefully. Suddenly, the idea of his soul in the hands of the most powerful and cunning creature in the world didn’t seem that mundane.

“Aww.. Caring for your itsy-bitsy soul now. So cute.” Devil said, her laugh sounding in Vijay’s whole body. Devil vanished as the laughter reverberated in Vijay’s rib-cage.

That was the moment he remembered all his life. A life filled with success at every corner. Everything he touched turned to gold. It took him less than six months to fulfil his every desire. The next few years went in finding new ways to succeed.

He became a rich businessman, then turned to curing the world’s most dire diseases and shifted to make the world a better place.

Eventually, he became president of a country and then was able to even unite the whole world under him. That was the task that finally challenged his soul-worthy contract. It took him years to bring people together and cooperate instead of compete with each other.

During his last days, he saw the whole world with pride. He had truly changed the world for the better. He knew it won’t last forever but at least there would be a blip in the timeline where humans were in excellent form and his name would be on it.

Drawing his last breath, he felt he had done his soul justice.

“Hello, old friend.” A crackling voice greeted Vijay.

Vijay smiled looking at the Devil. She hadn’t aged a minute since he last saw her. Vijay also realised that he was also the same youth that had signed the contract. His body was in front of him, now decaying. He could feel every decomposition in his body but none of the pain or suffering attached to it.

“You think I did my soul justice.” Vijay asked the Devil despite not feeling the need of the answer.

“I love how you have built the world. But I am more excited to see how you will destroy it.” Devil said in her oily voice.

Vijay looked at her confused. Devil gave him a page.

“This holds what I will do with your soul. I hope you like it.”

Vijay looked at the page and a thousand expressions changed on his face. The last expression was of acceptance and peace.

“I shouldn’t be surprised.” Vijay said and stretched his hand towards the Devil. The Devil took the hand and the two merged for a second and then separated.

“Thank you.” The glowing soul said in a dreamy feminine voice. Vijay had never heard a more melodious voice in his life.

“Now what?” Vijay said in a greasy tone. His voice was grating to his own ears and the rasp made him irk.

“Now, you find someone to take your place.” The glowing soul spoke.

“And until then…” Vijay asked.

“Until then, you will destroy everything you ever created. I will be gone in a few seconds. Do you want to know anything else?” The voice said. Vijay couldn’t believe he ever thought this voice to be slimy.

“If I’m the creator and I’m the destroyer, is there any God?” Vijay asked.

“You know.” The melodious voice said and vanished.

Vijay knew. He realised that he knew.

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

Jenny & Jennifer

The weather was reflecting the mood of the moment. The clouds were getting darker and the temperature had dropped a few degrees. Jenny slurped the ice-chocolate smoothie while Animesh scratched his beard. Five days on the road has not given him the opportunity to peel off the grass on his face.

‘At least Jenny is having fun.’ He thought bitterly. He had tried his best to explain to Jenny the current situation but she wouldn’t understand. It took a lot for Jenny to care about something. Animesh was a worry-wart. He didn’t believe it was possible that these two are related in any way but they were.

“Do you think we will survive this?” Jenny asked nonchalantly. Animesh looked at her shocked. The way she talked about dying flabbergasted him.

“We will survive.” Animesh said strongly, more to himself. Jenny nodded and gorged herself with the pancake.

Animesh remembered the first time he had seen Jenny. She was a tiny baby just out of her mother’s womb. Jennifer had left after the delivery and Jenny was the last memory of his wife. Luckily, Jenny was blessed. Jennifer came from a race of long-lived and almost immortal people. Jenny got the same genes from her mother. She was strong and almost a replica of her mother. Hence, Animesh named her Jenny.

He hoped that Jenny get to see her mother one day but that was only possible if Jenny could ascend. Unfortunately, Jenny had absolutely no interest in that. For her, a bowl of ice-cream was more important than gaining immortality.

“Jenny. We must complete this assignment. It would help you get stronger.” Animesh urged.

“Urghh.. Not again. I’ve told you a hundred times. I have no interest in meeting a mother who left me.” Jenny said but started finishing the meal. Despite all her rebellious nature, she did listen to Animesh and that was his only respite. He hoped that it would last long enough for her to ascend. She was already 12 and he dreaded the teenage years that were coming.

Jenny and Animesh looked at their target. He was a bounty hunter and he realised that the best way for Jenny to ascend was to assist him. Jenny had a long list of powers most of which the two were still discovering.

“I think we can abduct her if we go from that side.” Animesh whispered to Jenny. Jenny looked at him and smiled. She jumped from the 10-foot tall building just in front of the target. She had incredible strength and durability so Animesh was not anxious, just annoyed.

Animesh started his descent from the building while keeping an eye on Jenny. The target was surprised by Jenny’s sudden arrival but she quickly gained her composure and swung her hand at Jenny. Jenny dodged it and punched the target back. Animesh hoped Jenny was pulling her punches. Animesh didn’t want to take the target in two pieces.

Animesh came down and turned to see the fight. Jenny was still fighting unable to land a punch on the target. The target was faster than Jenny and that was saying something.

“Aarghh.” Jenny shouted as blood came gushing out of her side. Animesh ran to her to help her. The target turned and there was a large blade in her hand. A hand that was connected to the most beautiful face in the world.

Animesh kept looking at Jennifer who was stunned as well. Jenny took advantage of the situation and hit Jennifer with all her might.

“No Jenny.” Animesh shouted a bit too late. Jennifer lay crumpled on the ground. Animesh ran towards her.

“Jenny. This is Jennifer, your mother.” Animesh said in one breath. “Jennifer. I am so sorry.” He continued looking at Jennifer. She was now sitting on the ground pinching her back to check the pain.

“She’s strong. Stronger than me. Not fast enough though.” Jennifer said clinically.

“Yeah. She’s still learning.” Animesh said proudly.

Jenny kept looking at the two.

“We have to take her for the bounty.” Finally, Jenny said.

“We won’t take her Jenny. She’s your mother.” Animesh said. Jenny stayed quiet but her brows frowned.

“How have you been? Why are you here?” Animesh asked softly.

“I am good. I was here on a mission to confiscate an element that was illegally brought to Earth. I suppose my bounty is given by the government?”

“Yeah.”

“They would do anything to capture me.”

“But I don’t understand why they would send me to capture you. They know that I won’t do that.”

“Maybe because while you won’t, the others can’t. You are the only one who has ever captured me.” Jennifer said and smiled. She stood up and looked at Jenny once more.

“Is she ready?” Animesh asked tentatively.

“Not yet. But her progress is immense. She will soon be ready to ascend. You have done well Animesh.” Jennifer said and kissed him. Animesh kissed her back, giving Jenny her first awkward moment with her parents. She had been completely silent during the whole ordeal. She didn’t understand what was happening.

“Why did you leave us? Why can’t you stay with us?” Jenny said finally. Jennifer looked at her daughter and smiled.

“Because there has to be an Astra in position. My mother died a few days after you were born. So, I had to take her place. Now, until someone can take my place, I can’t leave.”

“Why can’t someone else take your place right now?”

“Because she isn’t ready yet.” Jennifer said and brushed Jenny’s cheeks.

“That’s why you want to train me faster so that I can take her place and she can come back to you?” Jenny asked Animesh with piercing eyes. The color drained off Animesh’s face.

“No. Until she is alive, you will only take her place if you want to. I just want you to be ready when that moment comes.” Animesh blabbered.

“Animesh can have only one of the Jenny’s.” Jennifer said in a calm and soothing voice.

“We three can never be together.” Jenny said in a meek voice. Jennifer shook her head with pain.

“But only you can bring your parents together.” Jennifer said as she began to glow.

“It’s time?” Animesh said.

“Yes my love. Till we meet again. Bye Jenny.”

Jenny kept looking as her mother’s glow brightened and then vanished.

“Let’s train dad. I’ll bring you two together.” Jenny said and held her father’s hand.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

I’m sure of it

“This is Ishaan, my boyfriend.” Rahul said gesturing towards Ishaan.

“Hello Mr. Ishaan. It is very umm… interesting to meet you.” Jitura said with her lips pursed. She was looking curiously at the two of them, even discounting the alien part.

Rahul and Ishaan were among the first delegates to be sent to the solar system of Pright. It was only recently that Earth had discovered inter-galactic space travel and immediately they had discovered a universe teeming with planets, beings and higher powers. The planet of Pright was 2 units above Earth in technology and were the last civilization to join the UGoB — the big universe club. That’s why they were given the responsibility of initiating Earth. They had already spent almost 15000 years in UGoB, and were known for their genetically advanced systems.

“You don’t seem to approve.” Rahul asks blandly. It had taken years for homosexuality to become accepted on Earth. The fact that this fight might have to be done on a universal scale sickened him.

“Approve of what?” Jitura asked.

“Of me and Ishaan.”

“You mean the fact that two members of the same gender being in a relationship. My apologies if I gave that signal to you. I had no intention of offending you. I have never met two prightoneutrals before. It is just a very new… or rather very old concept on our planet.”

“Old concept.”

“Yes. Our documents say that similar beings, called prightoneutral also lived in our planet around 5000 years but they were wiped out around 2000 years ago. Since then, there have been no such documented cases.” Jitura said smiling as she told the history of her planet. She had been excited about the opportunity of meeting aliens for the first time.

“Wiped out. How?” Rahul said, his face turning ashen and his voice became louder.

“Oh my! I think I angered you. I am extremely sorry. I have no intention for that. You are our imminent guests. I am new at this. Please don’t complain about me to the elders.” Jitura muttered.

Rahul quickly realised that he was talking to a young Prightian who was probably part of the hospitality team. Her face showed immense fear and and shame at not doing her job properly. Rahul recaliberated himself. He was an ambassador of his planet and the worst thing that can happen is him ruining the two planet’s relationships.

“I am sorry. I am not angry. It just seems odd that something so fundamental to a being was removed. On our planet also, there was some resistance in acceptance of homosexuals but eventually it was accepted. There was some discrimination but a large-scale extermination was never a thought.” Rahul said in a voice as soothing as possible. He looked at Ishaan who returned a sheepish look. Here they were, two gay men trying to console an alien that they were not angry that her specie wiped out the gay people in their society.

“What? Extermination? Oh no! Nothing like that could ever happen on our planet. I think there is some confusion. We didn’t kill the prightoneutral. And why would we discriminate. It’s not like there is a difference between prightoneutral and prightoactive. There population simply started to drop and since the past 2000 years, there have been no documented cases.” Jitura said her voice confused.

“Oh. Wow! That’s interesting. And I sure am glad that there was no discrimination. Then how did they vanish?” Rahul asked.

“There are many theories. Some say that the environment is responsible for that. There has been a change in the environmental change in the past few thousand years and many Prightians believe that it is responsible for the extinction of prightoneutrals. Some other say that it is a punishment from the creator. Some other say that because prightoneutrals don’t reproduce so that’s why the gene is dying out. Some say that there was a virus that targeted only prightoneutrals.”

Rahul’s face twitched at hearing the reasons. He also knew why Ishaan was snickering. Many of these reasons were given for the existence of homosexuals on Earth. He realised that when people don’t know the answer they default to the three or four reasons they already know. And apparently, those reasons transcend planets.

“What do you think?” Rahul asked.

“I think they are all wrong, honestly.” Now that Rahul and Ishaan were smiling, Jitura said coming back to her sprightly self. “There is a new research going on and I think it is the closest to what might have actually happened.”

“What is the research?” Ishaan spoke for the first time. His scientific heart skipped a beat hearing the word research.

“It says that the drop in prightoneutrals coincides with a social trend that had started around 5000 years ago.”

“A social trend started a reduction in prightoneutrals?”

“Yeah. The research says that while our genetic manipulation techniques are over 20000 years old, they really took off around 10000 years ago. And even in that, it was only 5000 years ago that our specie started using them for a procreation. Designer Prightian babies started spawning. The research hypothesizes that while no one was against prightoneutrals, the prightoactives weren’t actively choosing that their babies be prightoneutral. Thus, the population of prightoneutrals started to drop. And while various research was made to see if there was a disease affecting them, no one actually gave this a thought that this might be the cause.” Jitura explained with a lot of hand gestures.

“It is a very interesting research Jitura. Can you please tell me how can I read it myself.” Ishaan asked.

“Sure. I will send it to you.” Jitura said.

“Thank you.” Ishaan replied.

“So, you guys rest. I will come back in sometime and show you around.” Jitura said as she left them in their room.

“Thanks Jitura. It would be great to see the city and it was a great pleasure to talk to you.” Rahul replied.

Once Jitura was gone, Rahul laid down on the bed to process what he had just heard.

“She has sent the research on my device. It is a very interesting piece. Do you reckon the same might happen on Earth as well if genetics is that advanced?” Ishaan asked.

“I’m sure of it.” Rahul replied.