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

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

Too Old

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 Ajay. 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, Ajay 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.” Ajay 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?” Ajay 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 Ajay constituted as triple vision he had heard about recently. This kid could see more colors than Ajay 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.’ Ajay thought.

“My name is Kryznk.” The kid said. Three individuals were looking towards Ajay wondrously. Ajay assumed they were Kryznk’s parents. Ajay 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.

Ajay 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. Ajay 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, Ajay 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 Ajay more incentive to learn the language.

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

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

“Can you bring these items for me?” Ajay 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 Ajay needed was no longer easily available. Ajay 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 Ajay 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. Ajay 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 Ajay could have never guessed it.

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

Ajay sat down and ate the food while looking at the itinerary for the next week. As part of the deal, Ajay 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.’ Ajay thought to himself as he munched down on some chicken and rice.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Rule

It was not what Nishit had expected but he went with the flow anyways. He knew that the amount of time it would take to change the whole plan was more and the effort tedious. Better to just follow along the plan and make a switch at the last moment.

“Tricky stuff.” A voice said in his head. The first time it had happened, Nishit had jumped a few feet in the air. Now, it was a voice which was sometimes a council, other times an annoyance but almost always, a friend.

“Yeah. But no other way.” Nishit whispered. For some reason, this voice wasn’t able to hear his thoughts. He had to explicitly state the words from his mouth. Even if whispered inaudibly, it would work but not before that. He sometimes wondered why it was so.

“May I suggest an alternative.” The voice said with glee. This was a bad sign. Despite all the good things about the voice, there was one major flaw.

“We can try to switch now instead of later.” The voice said.

“We would die if we did that.” Nishit said annoyed.

“And the downside being?” The voice said genuinely confused. The voice was extremely suicidal. This meant that almost all first advice from the voice was risky and dangerous. Nishit had learned this the hard way. Luckily he escaped unscathed from the event, primarily because he was skeptical of the advice during the early days.

“Any other advice?” Nishit asked patiently. The voice went silent for some time and then spoke.

“Don’t make the switch at all. Instead, make the switch irrelevant.”

“How?”

“Credibility is required for the action she’s taking. No credibility, no result would come from her action.”

“You really think that would work.”

“Better than switching.” The voice said seriously.

“We will own the High Tower then.” Nishit said smiling.

“Yes. And we can jump off it too.” The voice said again filled with glee.

Nishit knew what he had to do. To own the High Tower was his biggest dream. And he knew that it wasn’t possible until Minerva left the High Tower. Nishit had been trying to find various methods, most unsucessful to get the High Tower. That was before the voice.

The voice, for all its flaws, was cunning. All its plans (the non-suicidal ones) were spot on and never failed.

Minerva sighed and got to bed. She was tired but knew that she won’t be able to get more than a couple of hours of sleep. She didn’t remember the last time when she had slept without someone waking her up for any of the umpteen stupid reasons.

If there was one thing that Minerva wanted, it was to leave the High Tower and live a life of peace and rest. Unfortunately, the law of the land dictated that the only way to change the ruler in the high tower was to overthrow him or her. Besides, the people won’t let her live in peace if she left the Tower. Enemies would still find her a threat and try to kill her. She wasn’t bothered by the fear of death as much as annoyance of attempts.

“What are you thinking? You are doing the right thing.” Minerva said to her mulling over the events that had just transpired. Nishit was her favorite enemy. While others were toiling for the High Tower, Nishit was actually working for the people. He wasn’t even ambitious before Minerva got into his head. She couldn’t hear his thoughts but whatever he talked about was gentle and made her happy. Nishit was the right heir to her.

Unfortunately, the only way for him to rule over the High Tower was to remove her.

“I hope it works as well as I have planned it.” Minerva said to herself before putting on the blanket. If all went as she wanted, within a year, she would be sleeping as much as she wants without anyone every coming to torture her. It would be Nishit’s problem then.