Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Post-Death Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hate you.” Anant said standing up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

A Leader’s Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But…” Emily and James said in unison.

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

— –

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

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

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

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

“Yes. I have come to get you.”

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

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

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

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

“But I’m not created by God.”

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

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

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

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

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

“No. Let’s go to tomorrow.”

— —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank God he’s dead.”

“We might finally get freedom from tyranny.”

“We don’t need a dictator.”

“AI is evil.”

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

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

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

“Yeshwanth is the devil.”

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

“What is all this?”

“Your legacy.”

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

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

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

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

“But they would want proof.” James said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now?” James asked.

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

James nodded. “We let him die.”

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

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

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Faster

His breathing became haggard and his eyes expanded at the scene in front of him. She was already there.

“How?” Aarush said in a croaked voice.

In reply, she winked.

“You’re too slow puppy.” She said and gave him a peck on the lips. Only she could manage to make a kiss sarcastic.

Aarush ran back the whole way to see the footmarks but couldn’t find anything. She didn’t cross him. She simply started beside him and ended before him.

“5 km. And all I can see are my footmarks. You didn’t run, did you?” Aarush finally asked. The two had run the race for some time now. Aarush was a lot faster and while she had improved her speed, it would have taken her a long time to come closer to Aarush’s records.

“Well, to be honest, 15 seconds was a little too slow for my taste.” Anandini said with a mirth in her voice.

15 seconds! That was Aarush’s best record in 5 kms. The fastest man on the planet and the only person not allowed in any competitive sports despite not taking any drugs ever.

“You discovered it! YOU DID IT!” Aarush screamed all his confusion forgotten.

Anandini nodded.

“Oh my God! This is amazing.” Aarush said.

“Not yet. I need your help to perfect it. Right now, it’s 50–50 for me.”

“Show it to me.”

In reply she took a few steps from Aarush and ran towards him. She was fast! In a blink of an eye, she was just in front of Aarush running towards him like a bull towards a red cloth. Aarush braced himself for the impact and good thing too.

“OWW.” She screamed as she toppled into Aarush.

“Sorry.. Told you that I have to perfect it yet.”

“It’s alright. Do it again. I don’t mind bumping into you anyways.” Aarush said grinning.

Anandini again went a few steps back. This time increasing the distance to almost half a km and ran towards Aarush. Just as she was an inch away from Aarush, she vanished.

Aarush turned and saw her standing a few metres behind him.

“Damn that accuracy.” Aarush said laughing.

“No accuracy. I almost wasn’t able to do it this time as well.” Anandini said sheepishly.

“No problem. I will help you get better at it. But how did you discover it?” Aarush asked.

“I was going through your notes on quantum tunnelling. While the theory mostly pertains to molecular objects, it says that it is possible for any kind of object. So, I decided to give it a try. Honestly, I was just learning to be able to defeat you.” Anandini said grinning.

“No worries. This is the best outcome that could have come from your zeal to beat me. I am just glad that you didn’t get hurt.” Aarush said.

“Yeah. Somehow, quantum tunneling is a zero-one thing. Either you do it all well or you don’t do it at all. It doesn’t hurt you.”

“As far as we know till now. It would take time to find out all the repercussions. Let’s go.” Aarush said and kissed Anandini with all his love.

Aarush kept sitting looking through the notes. This was an almost abandoned project of his. He had realised that teleportation solution can be created through quantum tunnelling. He worked on creating a model but it didn’t work for him. Unluckily it worked for Anandini.

All his results led to the conclusion that the person doing the quantum tunnelling would suffer from a loss of life force. By how much margin, he wasn’t sure. This meant that he wasn’t sure when Anandini’s life force would end.

“You are worrying too much.” Anandini said smiling unconcerned.

“Well, I have to worry for the both of us.”

“Everything we do takes our life force. And if it was taking too much of it, I would have felt something.”

“Hmm.” Aarush just made a grunting noise and continued his investigation. He put a few monitoring devices on Anandini and started looking for a vein on her hand.

Anandini looked at her intently. He looked up at her and saw immense love.

“You knew.” Aarush immediately said.

“What?”

“You knew it’s repercussions. You did it anyways. You are feeling it, aren’t you?” Aarush said sharply.

“What if I am dying?” Anandini said without any change in tone.

“Then why did you do this. Just to beat me!” Aarush said exasperated.

“Silly boy! What if I was already dying?” Anandini whispered.

Aarush opened his mouth and then closed it. His hand remained frozen with the needle in his hand filled with Anandini’s blood. Then he moved to do tests on the samples without saying any word.

Anandini waited for a couple of hours saying nothing as Aarush did a plethora of tests on her samples.

He shoved her in all the machines he had.

“Why do you have so many machines?” Anandini exclaimed.

Aarush didn’t speak a single word. Anandini shut her mouth again. In his quest to become fast, he had accidentally become a doctor as well. He had extensively studied the human body and most of the machines were latest tech. Anandini had known all of it but still hoped to get some reaction.

“When did you find out? Aarush finally said holding a test tube and a scan in his hands.

“Last month.”

Aarush’s face was ashen. He sat down, kept looking at her and sniffed.

Anandini sat beside him and gave him a hug. Aarush didn’t say anything and just lay his head on her shoulder. Anandini could feel her top getting moist.

“Hey. On the bright side, you have a guinea pig to test the effects of quantum tunnelling.” Anandini said patting Aarush on his back.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Dihydrogen Monoxide

“Please. I can explain.” Anant whimpered. He was on the verge of tears. He looked around and all he could see were unknown faces and unknown creatures. The council was made up of creatures that he had never imagined or seen anywhere. The languages they spoke were incomprehensible to Anant. Yet, all of them were able to understand him perfectly. However, no one was giving Anant any notice. For them, he was simply sitting in chains and was a formality to be completed.

“I CAN EXPLAIN.” Anant spoke loudly. All eyes turned to him. A creature — male or female, Anant couldn’t identify — started speaking in squeals. It was sitting on a high chair and looked near regal. Anant looked at him gawking. The creature squealed at another creature who grunted in multiple ways and came closer to Anant. He picked a band and placed it around Anant. The band had two earplugs that were thrusted in Anant’s ears.

“You better be able to explain this. Your life depends on this Mr. Anant Yadav.” The creature on the chair spoke. Anant realised that it was the band that was helping them understand every language.

Anant gulped and realised for the first time that he didn’t know what he had to explain. He didn’t know why he was there.

“Can you please tell me why am I here?” Anant spoke in a small voice.

“You have been charged with holding large quantities of dihydrogen monoxide. Is it true?” The creature on the chair said. Anant guessed that the creature was angry about this.

“Yes. But what’s wrong with water?” Anant asked.

“Water?”

“That’s what it’s called on my planet — Earth.”

As soon as the words Earth were said by Anant, they were echoed by everyone around.

“He’s from Earth.”

“How did he reach this far?”

“What are we supposed to do now?”

“Should we contact Earth?”

“This is a disaster.”

“SILENCE!” The creature on the chair said. Anant imagined how it might have sounded as a squeal and grinned involuntarily.

“What is your name?” The creature asked.

“My name is Anant.”

“My name is Ytr.” The creature — Ytr — said. “You’ve put us in a terrible position Anant.”

“Why so? And what is wrong with water.”

“Dihydrogen Monoxide is the most powerful and perhaps most hated drug all around the galaxy. Almost every species has lost a great deal because of this substance. Therefore, this substance is banned throughout the universe with the punishment for holding this substance is life imprisonment and selling it will bring instant death penalty.”

“Wha?? How?? I mean, how can water be dangerous. It is life giving.” Anant spoke. He saw a few head shaking while others looked uncomfortably at each other.

“Anant. Water is not life giving. It’s the deadliest substance in the universe. It is able to break any and all compounds and thus is almost like a poison. However, in small quantities, it creates extreme hallucinations. Even a drop of water is enough for a member of my specie to be drugged for a whole day. A whole glass and death. The amount you have can destroy millions.” Ytr said and shivered. Anant guessed that Ytr had seen the effects first hand.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. My whole species — the Earth’s whole ecosystem depends on water. I can’t even believe that it’s not the same for everyone else. What do you use if not water?”

“That’s a tale for different time. For now, we have to decide what to do with you.” Ytr said.

“What do you mean?”

“How to punish you for this. Typically, the punishment is imprisonment.”

“But I didn’t know.”

“Yes, that’s why it is complicated.” Ytr said and nodded to the guard standing next to Anant. He yanked off the band from Anant’s neck.

Loud screeching, tapping, grunting and barking filled the room. To Anant, it felt that he was in an animal pound where the animals were being tortured. This went on for more than an hour before everyone fell silent.

Anant felt the band coming into his neck again.

“We won’t punish you.”

“Thank you.”

“We will however, wipe your memory and send you back on your way to Earth.”

“Why? I am an explorer. For decades, my planet has been searching for other inhabitants of the universe. We would love to be in contact with you and all the other species.” Anant said, for the first time, hopeful and smiling.

“We have known about Earth for some time now. It is a banned planet owing to the high amount of dihydrogen monoxide present in it. In fact, your whole solar system comes under a protection zone. No one can travel in that region.”

“But.. But.. You’ve known about us.”

“Yes. However, exposing our planets to yours is too risky. Thus, we have quarantined Earth and will keep it this way. We have discussed on the matter. And don’t worry. Once your mind is cleaned, you won’t remember a thing about this.” Ytr said and smiled politely.

“But we have a right to know that we are not alone.” Anant shouted.

“It’s for the greater good.” Ytr said and placed his hand on the table. That was taken as the sign that the meeting was over. Anant’s band was taken off and he could again only here gibberish.

“We have a right to know.” Anant once again shouted.

“We have a right to know.”

“We have a right to know.”

“We have a right to know.”

Anant woke up shouting these words. He was in his space ship as it was heading back to Earth. His mission had succeeded. He had recovered new samples that proved that humans could transition to other planets. He had hoped to find other life forms but for now, he knew that was a distant dream.

He looked at the screen and Earth was now visible.

“Home — here I come.”

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.