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.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Jessica’s Fairy Tale

Jessica looked at her father, almost on the verge of tears.

“I don’t want a new mommy.” She said looking at Radhika with fear. Rajaram was uneasily looking at Radhika and Jessica. He had anticipated some friction from his five-year-old daughter but the sheer pain in Jessica’s voice shocked him.

Radhika’s face was unable to hide her surprise at Jessica’s straight out no.

“But honey, I thought you liked Radhika.” Rajaram asked gingerly. He controlled his emotions and tried to be as gentle as possible. It was essential for him that Jessica was ok with this. She had already told Radhika that Jessica had the veto power on their relationship.

“I don’t want a stepmom.” Jessica repeated herself closing her eyes. Tears started to stream from her eyes. She kept uttering the same phrase punctuated by sniffs and gulps.

“But Jessica…” Rajaram started before Radhika stopped him. She kept her hand Rajaram’s shoulder.

“It’s alright Rajaram.” Radhika said and stooped to face Jessica. She wiped Jessica’s tears and spoke softly.

“If that’s what you want, I won’t be your new mommy. I am sorry that we hurt you like this.” Radhika said.

Jessica opened her eyes and finally a smile spread on her face.

“You promise?” Jessica asked looking from Radhika to Rajaram. Rajaram never thought Jessica’s smile would hurt Rajaram but for once, he couldn’t help himself. He steeled himself. Jessica came first.

“Yes. We promise.” Rajaram said.

“Yes. We promise.” Radhika said. She stood up and looked at Rajaram. Rajaram could see in her eyes the pain he was feeling as well.

“It’s alright Raja.” Radhika said, her voice on the verge of cracking up. Rajaram tried to convey all his love through the silence that was expanding between them. The last time he had felt this pain was when Jessica’s mother was gone.

“Yay!” Jessica’s voice broke the silence and brought back Rajaram and Radhika to the reality. A reality in which they weren’t together anymore.

“I’ll leave.” Radhika said wiping a tear from her eye. Rajaram nodded. He knew this was the last time he was seeing Radhika.

“Don’t resent Jessica, please.” Radhika said softly to Rajaram. Jessica was now perfectly happy and had already started playing with her doll.

Rajaram nodded again, facing away from Radhika.

“Jessica. I’m going. You take care. I love you.” Radhika said and hugged her. She tried to fill the hug with all the love she had for Jessica. Over the past few months, she had come to love Jessica as her own daughter. Leaving her was as difficult as leaving Rajaram.

“Where are you going? We are to go to the park. You promised you would take me today.” Jessica said confused.

“You want to go to the park with me?” Radhika asked uncertainly.

“Of course! You promised. See, I got ready for this too.” Jessica said and showed her the frock she was wearing. It was the same frock Radhika had gifted Jessica a few weeks back.

“You like me?” Radhika asked tentatively.

Jessica slapped her forehead like Radhika was making no sense to her.

“Of course. I love you. Why would I want to go with you otherwise?” Jessica said matter-of-factly.

“And you want me to stay?” Jessica asked.

Jessica nodded.

“But you don’t want us to get married.” Rajaram added. Rajaram looked at Radhika and she looked as flabbergasted as Rajaram was feeling.

“No.”

“Do you wanna share why?” Rajaram asked curiously.

“I don’t want her to turn into an evil-stepmom.” Jessica said as it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“So you are trying to protect her.” Rajaram asked, this time amused.

“Obviously. I don’t want anything bad to happen to her.” Jessica said confidently.

“Ok. So, let me get this right. You want me and your daddy to stay together but not get married.” Radhika asked smiling, finally catching up on the joke.

Jessica nodded in agreement.

“Can we please go to the park now?”

“Yes. Just one more question honey.” Rajaram said.

“How would you feel if Radhika lives here with us?” Rajaram asked.

Jessica smiled the biggest smile Rajaram had ever seen.

“That would be so AWESOME!!” Jessica said shouting at the last word. “Will you live with us?” Jessica asked Radhika.

Radhika looked from Jessica to Rajaram, incredulously.

“Huh! I… guess… Yes.” Radhika said laughing.

“Yay!” Jessica shouted and hugged Radhika.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

To Keep the Flame Alive!

The charms were fading after 10 years of marriage. It had been 3 years since they had had a romantic dinner, the two of them. The sex too was more about getting it done than the enigma that it was during the time the two were dating. Still, it had not stopped completely.

Other than that, they were just two strangers living under the same room.

“Shashi, can you submit the bills this month.” Anjali asked.

“Hmm..” Shashi grunted without looking up from his phone. There was a time when Shashi and Anjali’s house had a no-mobile-on-the-dining-table rule. They would look at each other while eating smiling abound. Now, Anjali sat beside him and opened her mobile phone and replying to the messages.

“The kids.” Shashi said without looking up.

“School.” Anjali gave the monosyllabic reply. Rehan and Anshika were 7 and 3. Anshika had just started school.

Shashi and Anjali both left for office. In the same car, they travelled for over half an hour but no one spoke a word. Anjali dropped Shashi at his office and then left for another half an hour of travel. Their offices were at a triangle from their home and they both took turn every day in taking the car. This meant that everyday, one person was suffering. ‘A perfect metaphor for marriage’ — Shashi had joked when he had suggested this a long time ago; a time when he used to joke.

“Hey Shashi. Good morning.” Anvesha said with a beaming smile. Shashi looked at her and smiled back. Anvesha had joined the team a couple of months back and was under training. Once trained, she was to join Shashi’s team.

“So, what are your plans for the weekend?” Anvesha asked.

“Huh! Weekend?” Shashi asked.

“Oh my God! Don’t tell me you have forgotten it’s a Friday?” Anvesha asked in a squeaky voice.

Shashi smiled sheepishly.

“Ok. So, I was planning to check out that new place. Do you wanna join?”

“Alright.” Shashi said.

“Great.” Anvesha said.

Shashi messaged Anjali that he would be late and went on to his work.

“Hey Anjali.” Jayant softly said as Anjali was settling on her seat. She checked her phone and read Shashi’s message. Unsurprised, she kept the phone down.

“Hi Jayant. How are you?” Anjali said smiling.

“I’m good. A couple of us are planning a weekend getaway. You think you can join?”

“Ooh.. What’s the plan?”

“Same old. Go to a nearby resort, get smashed and forget how much we hate the weekdays.” Jayant said with a wink.

“Sounds fun. Who else is coming?” Anjali said.

“Uhh.. I have asked you. Will ask others as well.” Jayant said putting his hand on Anjali’s.

“Alright. I’m in. You ask others.” Anjali said putting her hand on his.

“You know Shashi. I have never met someone as sweet as you.” Anvesha slurred as she leaned on Shashi. The two had a dinner that moved slowly into drinks.

“Really Anvesha. I thought you would have met plenty of such people.” Shashi said grinning. Anvesha smiled at that.

“If only they were like you.” Anvesha cooed. Shashi opened the door of her house and helped her enter. Anvesha looked at Shashi longingly and then leaned towards him. Shashi looked at the whole ordeal and then picked Anvesha off her feet in his arms.

“Oh my!” Anvesha said as Shashi took her to the bedroom.

The doorbell rang and Anjali opened the door. Shashi entered smelling of alcohol and perfume.

“You’re late.” Anjali said.

“Huh! Yeah, sorry.” Shashi said and moved towards the bedroom quickly. Anjali followed him as he went into the bathroom.

“Shashi. What happened?” Anjali asked once Shashi was out. He had been able to remove the smell of perfume and alcohol to an extent but not completely. Shashi didn’t meet her eyes.

“It happened, didn’t it.” Anjali said, her breath held.

Shashi looked at Anjali and decided that lying won’t help. He nodded solemnly.

“Bitch!” Anjali said and roared with laughter. Shashi looked at her with anguish. Anjali looked at his puppy face and gave him a kiss.

“Now, tell me what happened.” Anjali said sitting on Shashi’s lap.

“As you had predicted, she got drunk and came on to me. Heck! She almost jumped on me to try and kiss me. And by God! Was she drunk. I had to pick her up and throw her on her bed.” Shashi said as Anjali played with his hair.

“I told you she had a thing for you.” Anjali said and hugged Shashi.

“I shouldn’t have taken that bet with you.” Shashi said sadly.

“Yup. And now, we go for the weekend trip.” Anjali cooed.

“Who else is going on that stupid trip?” Shashi asked.

“Jayant has asked me so he must be going at least. He said that he will ask others.” Anjali said.

“You know he won’t. No one else is going to be on that trip.” Shashi said sarcastically.

“I don’t care. The person whom I wanted to take is going now.” Anjali said and pulled Shashi’s cheeks.

“So, what next?” Shashi asked.

“Well, it’s your turn to set the bet.” Anjali said. Shashi smiled.

Despite the monotony of their relationship, the thought of cheating never occurred to either of them. The only thing that the two still had was the faithfulness the two had for each other. That, and their love for betting.