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

Marriage

Siddharth stood at the end of the cliff contemplating suicide. Rishika was sitting in the car, waiting for her husband to come back from peeing.

This was the summary of a relationship that had completed five years two days ago. A day hadn’t gone by when Siddharth didn’t think that he was better off dead. A day hadn’t gone when Siddharth thought of leaving Rishika.

Rishika on the other hand was madly in love with Siddharth. She had loved Siddharth since the first day she met him. The two had arranged marriage and while Rishika had gotten everything she had ever asked for, Siddharth had lost everything.

“I can’t marry you Siddharth. I can’t go against my parents.” These were the last words of his first love. These were the words that pushed Siddharth into marrying Rishika and these were the words that taunted and tortured him every day.

Siddharth threw his cigarette stub in the lake below. He would be next. Siddharth didn’t know how to swim and it would just take a few minutes before he would finally be free of his pain. A pain which he couldn’t share with Rishika. In the past five years, he had tried to tell Rishika about his past but he just could never share it.

“What would I say? That my greatest regret is marrying you instead of her.” Siddharth said, almost whispered and finally took his step towards the lake. His heartbeat increased in anticipation. He tried not looking down at the lake and simply walked as if on a footpath.

“Nice lake Siddharth.” Rishika said holding Siddharth’s hand. Siddharth turned sharply and saw Rishika looking at the lake beside her.

“When did you come?”

“Just now. I was getting bored and I realised that you must have found something interesting.” Rishika said admiring the view around her, oblivious to the scene.

“Yeah. It’s an interesting lake. Quite deep too.” Siddharth said with a longing. He felt he shouldn’t have smoked the cigarette. It took a lot of time.

“Do you wanna jump?” Rishika asked point blank to Siddharth.

“What?” Siddharth said flabbergasted.

“Yeah. It would be great fun. I love cliff diving.” Rishika said holding Siddharth’s hand. “We can dive in together.”

“I don’t know how to swim.” Siddharth said. The last thing he wanted to do was dying in a way to make Rishika a suspect.

“Don’t worry. I won’t let anything happen to you.” Rishika said squeezing his hand. “Now, let’s jump.” Rishika spoke and pulled Siddharth along for the jump.

Siddharth’s mind was filled with images of his first love, slowly being substituted by Rishika’s face. Things had indeed changed over the past 5 years. Maybe, in the past 5 minutes.

Rishika helped Siddharth get off the lake and the two reached back the car half dried. The rest they wiped out by the towel.

“Rishika. I haven’t told you about Shraddha. I am sorry but you should know.” Siddharth began. Rishika nodded and sat in the car attentively. Siddharth started his part with Shraddha and didn’t stop for the next an hour. He told everything about the relationship, the breakup, his marriage upto today’s suicide attempt.

“I’m sorry Rishika. I am just a broken person who can’t ever be healed.” Siddharth said with his head hanging.

“Your mom told me about Shraddha even before our marriage. She told me that you are not in a good place and I will need to work hard to keep this relationship alive. There’s a reason we had a 6-month courtship. I wanted to be sure.”

“Sure of me?”

“Sure of the fact that every time you think of jumping of a cliff, I am there to hold your hand.”

“You knew but didn’t say anything?” Siddharth asked, slightly impressed.

“I hoped one day you would tell. Besides, even if I force it, it wouldn’t have changed anything.”

“You are awesome!” Siddharth said looking at her, his mouth opened agape.

“I know.” Rishika said smiling. “And now what? Are you still committed to committing suicide?” Rishika said with a smirk. Siddharth smiled.

“No. My commitment to committing suicide is over.”

“Good.” Rishika said and kissed Siddharth, her husband for the umpteenth time and Siddharth, his love for the first time.

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.