Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The 17th Dimension

Srikanth knew it was only a matter of time before the world would find out. However, Srikanth had not thought that he wouldn’t even get time to say sorry or goodbye to his family. The government could work incredibly fast if they wanted to.

Luckily, he was faster.

— —

“Srikanth, can you please tell me what are you working on?” Kanika asked urgently.

“Of course. As soon as it’s finished, you will be the first person to know it.” Srikanth said mischievously.

Kanika fumed and the left the room. Srikanth laughed and returned to his machine. Since the discovery of Krit particles, the whole world had gone mad. And no one had gone madder than Srikanth. These particles not only held the secrets of the universe, they could also be a possible way to travel through other dimensions.

After the string theory failed to combine all the equations together, scientists realised that they needed something more to make the connection. Juan Krit was the person who discovered Krit particles — a unit of energy that could traverse through 89 dimensions (78 more than the measly string theory could produce) and were the fundamental unit of almost everything.

The catch, of course, was that because these particles existed in all planes, they never manifested in any particular plane completely — the primary reason that they couldn’t be discovered before Juan Krit changed the world.

“Srikanth. SRIKANTH..”

“Huh! What?” Srikanth replied, dazed.

“Eat something and take some rest. You can work on this later.” Kanika said in an even tone. It was clear to Srikanth that she was on the verge of bursting.

“What time is it?” He asked.

“It has been almost 28 hours since I last came here. You haven’t eaten anything or slept.” Kanika said and Srikanth knew he had to stop.

“Any progress?” Kanika asked softly once her demand was met.

“There is. But I’m not sure if it’s in the right direction. The Krit particles are behaving almost predictably. However, the behavior is highly restricted. And when I try to increase the behavioural range, the unpredictability increases exponentially.”

Kanika nodded. Kanika had helped him in getting the theoretical calculations for the device but the practical experiments were Srikanth’s domain and expertise.

“Can you recalculate the numbers for a new variable system?” Srikanth asked.

“I can but how will that help?” Kanika asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it will open the door from the other side or something. What if we are stuck in 3-Dimensions because the door to other dimensions are shut from that end.” Srikanth said. “I know I am babbling but please humour me.” Srikanth smiled weakly.

“Only if you take proper rest first.”

Srikanth nodded.

The next day when he woke up, Kanika was already gone to work. She had calculated three new variable systems overnight and left a note as well.

‘ I have made some changes in the current variable system as well. Your idea about the locked door gave me some new thoughts that I have incorporated in this. Try them today.’ The message said.

Srikanth felt a pang of jealousy and pride in the same wave. If not for Kanika, his research would have been dead slow. Any other scientist in the world would have taken at least a week for this kind of equation manipulation. He wished he was half as good at theoretical stuff as Kanika.

When the two had first met, Kanika would often laugh at how slow Srikanth was in Physics. The fact that it was just before Srikanth’s Phd thesis defence didn’t help boost his confidence. However, her confidence and intelligence attracted him to no end.

As for Kanika, she was blown away by Srikanth’s Phd. It was a practical implementation of one of her own theoretical designs. She hadn’t expected it to become reality in her lifetime, let alone see someone do it just for their dissertation.

With the discovery of Krit particles, both shifted their study on them and when Kanika discovered a way to travel across the universe through the other dimensions, Srikanth got to work. Three years hence, he was still working.

Kanika’s theory received multiple changes from Srikanth and Srikanth received several updates on improving the design from Kanika and the work continued.

For the past six months, Srikanth was just working on getting the variables right. The device was ready to work.

“Today, I will make you work.” Srikanth said to the silent machine in front of him.

It happened almost in a flash. He input the new variable system and as soon as he started the machine, the room went dark. A creature the size of a large rat glowed and produced a ‘reet’ sound. It was furrier and looked harmless but it existed only for a second.

The machine was intact but the rest of the metal in the room had melted. Luckily, Srikanth was outside the room in a glass chamber which had survived. His phone rang.

“Hello.”

“What happened?” A shrieking voice came from the other end. It was Kanika.

“How do you know?”

“I got a call from some government orgranization telling that you have done something and they are going to take you in.”

“The new variable systems worked Kanika. I saw some creature as well. It might have been a multi-dimensional being or from other part of the universe. I don’t know yet but it worked.” Srikanth said excitedly.

“And now they will take it all away.” Kanika said softly.

“NO! I will not let them do that.” Srikanth said and heard a loud bang on the door.

“They are here.”

“Srikanth. Don’t do something stupid.” Kanika shouted over the phone.

“I’m not letting them take our research.” Srikanth shouted and jumped into the machine.

The machine was perfectly intact and the screen finally told him what had happened. The journey had been through two extra dimensions and the creature had been an alien from this universe itself. He had finally created something that could travel the universe.

Srikanth saw them in front of him. Eight people in full body armour with guns. He pushed the button.

“NO!!” A voice came from behind the eight people.

“What now sir.” One soldier asked the woman.

“Now, we hope that he is caught by the ODM before he dies.” The girl replied.

— —

“What do you mean he might not make it?” Kanika asked the girl sitting in front of her.

“Ms. Kanika. The device that your husband has built travels through 17th dimension. That dimension is not allowed for travel by ODM, that is, Order of Distance Monitoring.”

“But why is that? And what will ODM do?”

“Hopefully, they will catch him.”

“Hopefully?”

“Unlike the other dimensions, 17th dimension is not safe. In fact, half of your house’s metal is melted because of that. And the location where it must have opened also would have suffered similar fate. We have no news yet but let’s hope there haven’t been any casualties.”

“That’s why it’s closed from inside.” Kanika whispered.

“Yes. However, he was able to open it somehow.”

“My new calculations did that.” Kanika said.

“You really are the best in the world Ms. Kanika. However, I wish you had made way for the other dimensions. They are.. err.. quite safe.”

“But if you knew then why don’t we travel like that right now.”

“ODM doesn’t supply technology. They just regulate it. So, we will have to build the device ourselves. Which scientists like you and Srikanth are doing and so is the government.”

“Then why did ODM contact you.”

“Once we discovered Krit particles, they contacted us. Most civilisations are able to discover universe travel after the discovery of Krit particles, per ODM.”

“Uh. Ok.” Kanika said and went silent. She prayed for Srikanth and hoped that ODM would find him.

“Don’t worry. ODM will find him.” The girl said softly putting her hand on Kanika’s shoulder.

“But what after that. Will he be considered a criminal and punished?” Kanika asked.

“As long as the damage is not huge, we might be able to save him. It’s his first time, our first time. However, if someone has died…” The girl trailed off.

‘Where are you Srikanth?’ Kanika thought miserably.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

So long…

Hrishikesh picked Hitali and huffed and puffed towards the cave. The sound of ocean crashing nearby drowned any curses he was speaking.

“I really hate you.” Hrishikesh said as he lumbered under the weight of his bag and Hitali.

“I’m really sorry.” Hitali said unrepentant.

“We really should have left her at the base where she got injured.” Akhil said as he pulled Hitali’s bag from his back and put it down.

“Shut up Akhil.” Hitali said.

“Whoa! Whoa! Don’t move so much Hitali.” Hrishikesh said and put her down slowly.

“Thank you.” Hitali said.

“I agree with you Akhil and if we didn’t need her this badly, I would have left her at home.” Hrishikesh said and smiled. Akhil laughed as Hitali chose a few curse words for Hrishikesh.

“So, is this it?” Hrishikesh asked Akhil ignoring Hitali’s remarks.

“I think so. The maps said so.” Akhil said opening his bags and bringing out a plethora of charts. He checked while Hrishikesh prepared the meals for everyone. Hitali hopped towards Akhil on one foot to help him.

“Yeah. This is one of the two caves we have on the plan today. The other one is that one. Unfortunately, we will have to go back a few hundred metres to take that path.” Akhil said showing Hrishikesh and Hitali the charts.

“What about this cave?” Hitali asked pointing at the map.

“This cave is closed. Too dangerous. We will need the permission for that and I want to take that once we have something substantial or we are desperate enough.” Hrishikesh said. Hitali nodded.

“Hrishikesh.” Hitali said softly once the three were done with their meals.

“Hmm.”

“Why did you bring me here? I mean, you still haven’t told me what my part is in the equation?” Hitali asked gingerly.

“Because you’ve a bad-ass computer.” Hrishikesh said.

“But what will my programming help with in this cave.”

“And you have an interest in hieroglyphs.” Hrishikesh continued.

“I checked on the caves here when you told me about them. They have been investigated more than a hundred times by different teams from across the world and they don’t have anything of substance.” Hitali insisted.

Hrishikesh looked at her and his eyes were blazing. She shut up immediately. For all her shenanigans, she was afraid of Hrishikesh, as was everyone else. Hrishikesh was known for his temper. Hrishikesh wasn’t short-tempered but his anger was absolute. Working with Hrishikesh, everyone learns one thing — ‘You can question him as much as you want, but don’t expect answers to all the questions.’

Hrishikesh silently continued to pack the bags and without a word, picked Hitali up. Hitali had half expected to hop further. Akhil looked at Hitali and assured her. Hrishikesh dropped Hitali once they were at one end of the cave. The cave had marks of a landslide and it looked that the cave had taken a beating. A new part of the cave was open as well.

“This wasn’t here before.” Hitali said.

“Glad you noticed. You remember the earthquake that occurred a week back. It changed the cave structure. Jimmy came here yesterday and informed Hrishikesh about this.” Akhil said. Hrishikesh smiled.

“This is the answer to your question.” Hrishikesh said pointing at new pictures that shone on the wall.

Hitali looked up. There were pictures of humans that she hadn’t seen before. More than that, there were pictures of animals. The pictures made her squeal.

“But… But those are… It can’t be.” Hitali said in disbelief.

“Hope you find your journey useful now.” Hrishikesh said. “Now, get to work.”

“Are you CRAZY? This… This is amazing. How are you so calm?” Hitali said laughing.

Hrishikesh smiled and started unpacking her bag. Akhil started taking pictures of the whole cave.

“Tell me which ones are more important or any I should focus on more.” Akhil said to Hitali as Hitali hopped from one spot to another.

“This is the most magnificent story I have ever seen. See… This shows that we were in the same era. Can you believe it? And this, this shows we even had some sort of positive relationship unlike the fear that we expected. This is incredible.” Hitali spoke with her voice a pitch higher. She had forgotten all about her injured leg and was jumping around. Hrishikesh immediately caught hold of her.

“The leg.” Hrishikesh said softly. “Akhil, remember to map this in the map. We should have the whole story after today. We won’t get any other chance. Others would know about this tomorrow so it’s our one and only shot.”

“Got it sir. But why do you want to inform them so soon?” Akhil asked.

“These caves might not last another earthquake and I want others to find out about it before that happens.”

“Why?” Akhil asked.

“Because photos can be doctored. I don’t want us to be labeled fraud just because these caves caved.” Hrishikesh said with a wistful smile.

Akhil laughed. “You really think people would doubt the world’s leading expert on early human evolution. You are a crazy person. You know that.”

“I know.” Hrishikesh said. He looked around him and saw a movie that he couldn’t believe his eyes. He has had hundreds of theories about human evolution and early society. He had lived early-human-growth more than any person in the world but what was in front of him dashed each and everything and burned all his theories to ground.

“If this is remotely true, this would change our thinking of our past.” Hitali said.

“If this is true, it would change our thinking of our future.” Hrishikesh said pointing at an image. Hrishikesh started taking samples from the cave for carbon dating.

— —

“So, carbon dating has proved that our samples are authentic. I believe that others would also get similar samples once they reach here.” Akhil said. He was sitting in a conference room with six other people. The news of the cave was out and many scientists were hailing it as the greatest discovery since ever.

“Awesome! Hitali, please tell me you were able to get the story in order. Those pictures are telling an incredible story and I don’t want to miss a single word.” Hrishikesh said to Hitali.

“Honestly, it’s more or less what you suspected. However, it’s a bit more sinister… scratch that, a lot more sinister.” Hitali said. Her voice was partly shaking and her mood was sombre.

“Hitali. What happened?” Ritika asked.

“While most people are focused on one part of the story, which is incredible honestly, but Hrishikesh noticed something else. Something others have not figured out yet.”

“Something, hopefully, we can piece together.” Hrishikesh said.

“What?” Another member of the group asked.

“So, the pictures denoted early man and many animals of that era. That’s where the cave stopped earlier. Now, the new paintings show a few more animals.” Hitali said. She gulped and looked at Hrishikesh.

“Dinosaurs.”

“WHAT?” Another guy shouted.

“Yeah. At least five distinct species. While the images aren’t good enough to tell us which species, we have a fair idea of the kinds. Three looked herbivores while two were carnivores, one of them was avian.” Hitali spoke.

“Can you tell this in Jurassic Park lingo?” Ritika said.

“One was like stegosaurus, another was triceratops and another was T-Rex. The fourth one could fly and the fifth one was tiny like a bird.” Hrishikesh said annoyed.

“Right on.” Ritika said winking at Hrishikesh. Somehow she was able to slide off Hrishikesh’s anger. Everyone was jealous of her for that and wanted to have the same confidence at the same time.

“Alright. So, there were dinosaurs while humans were there. So, did we wrongly estimated their demise or our arrival on Earth?” Jimmy asked.

“The first. Apparently, dinosaurs, some at least, survived the extinction.” Hitali said.

“And you’re sure this is accurate. We might be wrong.”

“We can be wrong Ritika. I hope we are wrong. Because otherwise, we are screwed.” Hrishikesh said. Ritika looked at him questioningly. He in return looked at Hitali.

“Apparently, humans and dinos were a team. And that team was fighting something else.” Hitali said quickly. She started showing digital remakes of the images she had taken of the cave. She had improved the design to improve clarity and added animation to make a story out of it all. The animation started and Hitali started to give a running commentary.

“The images show a war between two factions. One is humans and dinos. Another faction is a species that we don’t recognise yet. This specie is huge, like crazy huge and it seems that it could fly. The war seems crazy as the next images show incredible casualty. Many dinos and humans dead.”

“But we survived so we won the war. What’s the big deal about it?” Someone asked.

“Because the story tells us that a lot of humans died and almost all of dinosaurs died as well. But it has fewer corpses of the other specie. The specie is shown retracting but not dying.”

“Okay.. Now, you are scaring me. If that specie win, why did it go back and more importantly, go back where?” Ritika asked.

“Umm.. That’s where Hrishikesh’s theory comes in.”

Everyone turned to Hrishikesh. He nodded at Hitali.

“His theory is that the other creature isn’t flying but swimming. The line of war is a shore and the war is between us and whales.”

“Yeah right. And how do you think they fought. With their tiny fins.” Jimmy said. Everyone laughed. Even Hrishikesh joined in. However, Hitali remained silent.

“I think the story is true.” Hitali said plainly.

“But how?” Jimmy said.

“I don’t know. Maybe they weren’t this weak earlier. Maybe there is some other way. I don’t know but I believe that Hrishikesh has the right inkling.”

Hrishikesh put a hand on Hitali and asked her to sit down.

“Let’s assume that whales are not as idiotic as we think they are. In that case, they know that they are the biggest mammals on the planet. They rule the ocean and they might see a competitor evolving on land. What would you do in such a case?”

“Try to remove the competition. But how without the resources?” Akhil asked.

“By controlling the waters. Ocean by themselves and rivers by alliances with smaller mammals like dolphins and orcas. The dinosaurs would have had less troubles than humans as they were relatively larger than dolphins but humans would have become highly dependent on ponds and lakes. Impossible to grow further.

“And why do you think we are screwed?” Akhil asked.

“Because if whales and dolphins are really intelligent then they would also have been evolving over the past years.” Hrishikesh said.

“Come on! You think whales are dolphins are as smart as us.”

“Or more.” Hitali said.

“Or more. If that’s the case, why haven’t they attacked us yet?” Jimmy.

“Maybe they have. The water levels are rising.”

“Yeah, right. Let’s blame the whales for global warming.” Ritika laughed.

“Honestly, I don’t know. And I hate that. I want to know the truth. If what I think is true then there are only two options. Either they are planning an attack on us or something worse is coming for both them and us.” Hrishikesh said silencing the room.

“What could be that?” Hitali said.

“I wish I had a clue.”

— —

At the same time…

“And what should be our last message to them?” A dolphin asked as she entered the vessel.

A huge whale in front of the dolphin looked at it. The whale was almost twice the size of a blue whale. It belched and a loud noise resonated across the premise. A multitude of sounds came from different spots in reply. All the whales and dolphins immediately took their place across the planet.

The whale turned to dolphin.

“You decide. I have nothing to say to them. They killed my elders with the help of those lizards. They killed our brethren for decades. They don’t deserve to be saved. The planet is doomed. We tried saving it from them but it’s too late now. It’s time to leave the planet for good. We have already saved the DNA of all the species except them anyways.”

The dolphin recorded a message to be played across the planet. The message that will be played after they had left the planet.

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

The Battle Within

It was the last time Ashita talked to Akshay. She never found out what happened to him afterwards. It’s not that his thought didn’t come to him. His memory was like an eclipse that would come and go without actually affecting her except for an event that was worth remembering for the time being.

However, today, it was more persistent.

“Maybe he has died or something.” Her husband, Ritesh, said with a yawn. She immediately laughed.

“I hate you. I shouldn’t share anything with you.” She said with mock anger.

“Seriously. Check the Facebook. If he’s fine, he might be there.” Ritesh said pushing his laptop to her.

“I haven’t done that in 10 years. Why would I want to do that now?”

“It might help.”

She bit her lip and typed his name. His last post was 3 hours ago.

‘Excited to be in Goa. #Lifeisfun’

Even after 10 years, it pinched her a little.

“So, he’s having fun in Goa.” She said bitterly to him.

“Of course. You always hated when he had fun. Maybe that’s why you were missing him.” Ritesh said casually.

“I am not MISSING him. I just remembered him.” She said forcefully.

“Of course. I meant I was missing him.” Ritesh said and winked.

She hit him on his hand and then turned to go to sleep. She wished she could forget what happened after 10 years but it seemed that it wasn’t so.

“I love you Ashita.” Ritesh said and kissed her cheek. Ashita placed her hand on his face and kissed him back.

Ritesh had laughed at Ashita’s moment but he wished that he could feel as callous as he said. Ashita’s first love, perhaps her only love was Akshay. Akshay and Ashita were together for around one year but that was enough for Ashita to fall in love with Akshay and then fall out as well.

Akshay and Ashita were supposed to get married, too. However, things changed in ways that Ashita had never explained to Ritesh, and they broke up. After that, she agreed to marry Ritesh.

It was an arranged marriage. Ashita had told him about Akshay on their first meeting. Ritesh hadn’t taken it seriously.

“Well… You were one year with him. I hope we stay longer than that. I think I can beat him easily.” Ritesh had said then. Now, he wasn’t as sure that time was that good a healer. The first year was tougher than he’d thought it would be, and they did not even have a physical relationship.

Ritesh and Ashita were simply roommates.

Then one day, he came home and found the whole dinner in a romantic setting. The music played as Ashita danced with him. He didn’t understand any of it but when she kissed, he realised that maybe, finally, he had won.

Ashita and Ritesh had been happy over these past 9 years, sharing a life they both were in love with. However, Ritesh sometimes saw a sadness in her eyes that he could directly attribute to ten years ago. He sometimes would joke to ensure that she felt comfortable sharing with him but he knew that he would never take Akshay’s place in Ashita’s life.

“Ritesh.” Ashita whispered.

“Yeah.”

“I never-ever miss him.” She whispered and then grew silent.

“Still not telling me?” He whispered in her ear. She shook her head vigorously, her face on the other side of the bed.

He kissed her head from behind.

“I will wait to qualify.” She nodded and snuggled into Ritesh.

Ashita could remember that day vividly. However, she didn’t want to forget that day. She wanted to change it. What she hated the most about that day was that she still couldn’t think of Akshay with hatred. She forgave him and she was disgusted with herself for that.

“Come on. We are about to get married. What did you expect?” Akshay said casually.

“Not this. I am not your property.” Ashita said indignantly.

“Don’t be like that love. He’s my friend. And it’s not like he isn’t going to have sex with you. He’ll just be there when we have sex. I promise.”

“No. I have no interest in any of this. And please, you’ll never discuss this with me again.” Ashita said, horrified.

“Dude. This is wrong. You should have discussed with her before you came to me. You can’t do this to me.” Akshay’s friend said to him angrily.

“I’m not backing out. I’ll make her agree.”

“You’ve already had your share so you better.”

“What is he talking about?” Ashita asked Rohan.

“We have already had a threesome with my wife. He said that he had already talked to you and you were in.” Akshay’s friend said bluntly. “Uncool man. You lied to me and her.” He said to Akshay.

“It’s all cool buddy. I just need to talk to her in private.” Akshay said. His friend left the room.

“Listen. You have to have sex with him. I don’t have a choice.” Akshay insisted.

“HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND? And when did you have sex with his wife?” Ashita said.

“Last week. We were drunk and it just happened. Now, I have to pay him back somehow.” Akshay babbled.

“You cheated on me.” Ashita whispered.

“It’s not like I had sex with his wife alone. He was also there. It was a threesome. Like it would be today.”

“NO. And we are done.” Ashita said and got up to leave.

“Wait. ASHITA.” Akshay said and held Ashita’s arm. Ashita resisted but Akshay didn’t let her go and started taking her clothes off.

“Trust me. Once you are in the mood, it would be alright.” Akshay said and pushed Ashita on the bed.

“What are you doing? LET ME GO!” Ashita shouted as Akshay tried to tear her clothes. Akshay kept her down.

“AKSHAY! What the hell are you doing?” A voice came and Akshay was thrown off the bed. Akshay’s friend had came back hearing Ashita’s shouts. He covered Ashita in the blanket and brought her outside the bedroom.”

Akshay looked at the two as if waking from a trance.

“Have you gone mad?” Akshay’s friend shouted at Akshay while Ashita sat stunned.

“I.. I’m sorry Ashita.” Akshay said weakly.

Ashita pulled out her engagement ring and threw it on the ground. She picked a new set of clothes from her clothes already in Akshay’s house and packed the rest. Within an hour, she was at her home, trying to explain to her family why she was no longer with Akshay. She had cried for days, weeks after that. Her parents decided the best course was to get her married and she didn’t have energy to even fight that.

Ashita got lucky with Ritesh. Their first night, and many nights after that, she had half expected a repeat of her last day with Akshay. However, Ritesh never pushed himself on her. It took her more than a year to take the initiative and Ritesh waited.

Ashita loved Ritesh but she just didn’t want him to share her burden. Even if she had to sometimes laugh at Ritesh’s joke about missing Akshay. She didn’t miss Akshay, she never could. She only wished she had slapped him that day or gone to police. She wished she wasn’t stunned into inaction. And she wished that Akshay wasn’t so damn happy with his life.

She sat down and shook Ritesh.

“Wh.. What?” Ritesh said rubbing his eyes. Ashita waited for Ritesh to open his eyes properly.

“Listen to me, very carefully.”

“Yeah.” Ritesh said steeling himself. The last thing he wanted was to find out that she wanted to go back to Akshay.

“I love you. I know I don’t say it often enough but I do. I love you with all my heart.”

“Err… Actually, this is the first time you have said it to me.” Ritesh said sheepishly.

Ashita burned red. She hadn’t realised that she hadn’t ever said it out loud.

“I haven’t said that in ten years.” She whispered. Ritesh shook his head smiling.

“Okay. I’m sorry for that, but I do. I love you.” Ashita said.

“I know.” Ritesh said calmly but his heart was filled with warmth. Ashita hugged him tightly and kissed him.

“Ashita.”

“Mmmm..”

“Do I qualify now?” Ritesh said hopefully.

“Nope.” Ashita said and nuzzled his nose.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

After Death

“Umm… How did you die?” Akash asked pushing his spectacles harder on his nose. He was used to doing this at least 300 times a day.

“I… uh.. don’t know.” The person in front of him said with a long pause. He looked everywhere with a look of wonder. Akash yawned.

“Go to that counter. You will get the details and take this slip. It has your assigned number here. Don’t misplace it.”

“How long will this take?” The person asked.

“Why? Do you have plans for the evening?” Akash asked annoyed.

“Uhh.. No, it’s just… Will I go to heaven or hell?” The person asked.

“Nowhere. Once your process is done, you would go to your orientation. There, one of our executives would take the process further.” Akash said and shooed the person.

Akash stretched his body and heard the sound of crack from his back. That relieved a knot of tension developing in his body. Akash hated the human body’s limitations. However, it was important to have the human body while interacting with humans. That made them feel safe during the process. Akash had been in the human department for the past 10 years. He had enjoyed his time here till now, barring the office attire. Human body wasn’t a good attire to wear. It was strict in movement and the suffocation was horrendous. But other than that, the work was more entertaining because the humans were a little naive and thus had a curiosity that Akash enjoyed. The work was more challenging as well which was good. His more preferred outfit however remained the Krosis outfit. Krosis were completely flexible and the ventilation in that body was excellent.

However, Krosis were highly evolved. In fact, most had realised that death was just a change of job and nothing more. Hence, the work there was mostly operational. Humans on the other hand gave so much potential for promotions and growth.

“You can now move to orientation. I’ll take the shift Akash.” The junior whose fort Akash was holding came back. Akash liked to work on the front sometimes just to see how people reacted to their death for the first time. He was surprised that many actually accepted it easily. It was the post-death reality that struck them hard.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to your post-death orientation. My name is Akash and I’ll be your guide in the transition. There are two parts to this orientation. One is the group event where you’ll find out the general details about post-death events. In the second part of the event, I will individually discuss with you the options available to you.”

“Sounds like a college orientation to me.” Someone snickered.

Akash smiled. “You’ve no idea.” He replied.

“Now, let’s begin. First things first. There’s no heaven or hell, in terms of place. We do have some rooms for people who have to stay for longer here and some of the staff considers them hell but other than that, heaven and hell as you might have learnt in your life don’t exist. Any questions?”

“Then what about the good or bad things we did?”

“Excellent question. Honestly, there’s no good or bad either. Good or bad changes to frivolously and is too subjective on the humans of the period to be consider a good long term benchmark in our terms. So, yeah, you won’t be judged on what good or bad you did.”

“Then what will we be judged on. We are being judged, right? And what will be our punishments or rewards? Don’t tell me I wasted my time helping others.” Another voice spoke. Akash knew who was speaking but he considered these questions the right of the people who had died. They didn’t understand the truth and deserved to know it.

“Yes, there will be a parameter on which you all will be scrutinised. Based on that, your future would be decided. I’ll explain the procedure in some time. So, are there any other kind of questions, before we proceed to that.”

“Ah.. Umm.. Yes, I have two questions, if you don’t mind.” An unsure female voice came.

“Please ask.” Akash said encouragingly.

“One, is there a God? And two, are there aliens?”

“God, as in someone created you. It’s complicated. The conditions were made for life to begin but where it will go from there was left completely unchecked. However, we can create humans from the scratch if we want. So, in that way, you can consider me on a higher plane than you. However, if you are asking if a God who created everything exists, then I don’t know the answer to that question. As for your second question, yes, aliens exist. Lots of them.” Akash said and smiled.

He could see the expression of shock on everyone’s face. The realisation they have that Akash was equivalent to God to them was one of the reason he enjoyed working in the Humans department. Krosis almost treated him like a clerk.

“So, the process will be like this. Each human born on earth is judged on the impact created by that individual during their time on the planet. We have sophisticated methods to see the impact, both short-term and long-term. The magnitude and length of impact are combined to create an impact score. The higher the score the better you performed. The better you performed, the better your options are for your future.

Now, the options. So, everyone is sent back. You are reborn. However, your status going back depends on the kind of impact you’ve had. This means that if you’ve had a higher impact, you are born as a person who can have a higher impact. This means that a person who probably was born in a poor family but grew to affect ten thousand people would next time be born in a rich family. A person who was a leader in a small country might be born in a large country to have a higher impact. Basically, the better you performed, the better your situation in the next life, or vice versa.”

Several hands shot up. He pointed at one person. Akash knew the first question by-heart by now. The first time, he had to check the database to answer this question and the several follow-ups.

“So, in a way, you can say that if you had a higher impact, it is heaven and if you had a low impact, that’s hell. But this is unfair. This means that a person like Hitler or Stalin is same as someone like Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi. Are you saying Hitler got heaven?” The person said in a growly voice.

“As I said before, it’s not heaven or hell. In fact, many times, going to a higher impact place means having a tougher life. However, to answer your question specifically, yes, Hitler and Stalin both had almost as many options as the other two. The impact these four people had in human history is very high and undeniable.”

“But that’s horrible. How can you not punish them? How can you give Hitler more opportunities to destroy our world. I bet he’s the one who became one of those big terrorists.” Another voice shouted. Akash smiled. It would take personal attention to make them understand. However, he wanted to get all the strong reactions out in this setting so that it’s easier later.

“Actually, no. Before any person goes back, every previous memory is wiped clean. Even a person’s personality or gender is completely random. In fact, of the four names you mentioned, two decided to be born as women and in a completely different region and of different race. And of the four, three turned good in human sense while one turned bad. One’s impact reduced drastically and another even decided to leave Earth for better prospects. So, please trust me when I say that we have found a very robust and objective parameter for judging humans.”

“What do you mean left Earth? Can we chose to be born as aliens?” A question came.

“Yes, indeed. However, it depends on what options you get. Don’t worry. You will be allowed to make a completely informed decision. Any more questions.”

No one asked anything. Akash knew they were simply processing what they had just heard. Everyone was trying to remember what impact they had in life. Most realising that they were too busy following rules, playing safe and trying to stay in the shadows. The reality was that most people usually shifted only one band higher or lower in life. They hadn’t tried enough to change their position by much. Cases like Lincoln or Gandhi, Hitler or Stalin were rare and actually entertaining.

“Then, we will proceed to individual assessment and counselling. Please close your eyes and then open them.”

Akash saw everyone doing that and did the same. In a moment, everyone was an in an individual room with a version of Akash. Each would get a reel of their whole life with impact score calculated based on each action. Once summed up, they would find out their options and proceed.

“So, how much time has passed since I died?” The female voice from earlier spoke. Akash looked at her and was astounded. She was around fifteen something but was speaking with maturity and grace. Akash was impressed. His other versions were dealing with 70+ year old people crying, telling him that they were being good or 30-somethings who were overachiever and now frowning over their options. Most would go back to similar settings and then come back and cry again. This one, however, was an interesting case.

“Not much.” Akash replied wanting to know her next reaction. She nodded.

“Can you be a little more specific please?” She asked again. Akash opened a picture where she was falling on the ground after the accident.

She looked at Akash questioningly.

“That’s live video. You are still falling after dying. You have yet to hit the ground.”

“Wow! It felt like hours here.” She spoke. Akash nodded and smiled.

“So, should we see your impact?” She nodded. Akash moved her whole life real in front of her with the score being calculated in quick succession.

“Why am I not feeling any emotions for these events?” She asked.

“Emotions are a body thing. You don’t have a body now.” Akash spoke. She nodded.

“So, this is your final score. It is mighty impressive considering your life span. You will be able to get some really good options with this score. Perhaps child of a politician or a billionaire.” Akash said.

“What happens with children who die too young?”

“They still have an impact. However, most of their impact is long term impact. On average, that impact is good enough for them to come back in a similar position at least.”

“Ok. So, can you show me some of my options.”

“Not some. All.” Akash said and tapped the girl’s temple. The girl remained silent for some time and then finally spoke.

“I chose this one. She said pointing towards a space in her memory.”

“Really!” Akash said surprised.

“Yes.”

“But you can have a much higher impact in these areas.” Akash said pointing towards different memories. One was a king who wanted a son to succeed him. Another was a child to a famous actor couple.

“No. I want to be a daughter to this couple.”

“You’re sure. You really think you can create a high impact from there.” Akash said with distaste.

“Yes, I can.” She replied with a steely voice.

“Alright then. You will be the first of many daughters to an unhappy couple in a poor family in a third-world country. I can already see a bad childhood and tormented psyche.” Akash said.

“Thank you for your confidence.” The girl smiled sarcastically.

“I will check on you from time to time, see the impact you are having on the world.”

— —

‘Congrats on getting into Harvard.’ A message came on her smartphone.

‘Thanks. :)’ She replied.

‘Still in Congo?’

‘No, that got over long time ago. I’m in Ecuador now. Before that, I was in US, finishing my final exams.’

‘Planning on coming home?’

‘I came last December when mom wasn’t well. Now, maybe after the course get’s over. Before that, I have to work on my NGO. I have to also help a friend set her startup. Honestly, I wish I could come but I don’t have time.’

‘Hmm.’

‘BTW… You would like Ecuador. It’s beautiful.’

‘Someday, I’ll see it. Ok.. Tell me something.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Why do you help people?’

‘Because, why shouldn’t I?’

‘That’s not an answer.’

‘That’s the answer. If I am capable, why shouldn’t I help people?’

‘Again.. don’t give me a question.’

‘I help people because I can.’ She replied.

— —

Akash looked at the conversation between the two and smiled.

‘Yes, she can.’ He thought to himself. Coming to Human department indeed was a good decision. Akash thought stretching his arms.

Story Collection - Chaalbaaz

Un-Communication

It takes more than love to sustain a relationship. Shashank and Sameera were realising this as they had started living together. Only three months had passed but the charms of living alone had become clear to them.

“Shashank. I don’t think this works like this.” Sameera said as Shashank tried to put the bed together, for the second time this month. Sameera couldn’t sleep on the bed if it was even slightly tilted. She had gotten the bed built when they had shifted. However, Shashank opened it last month because he wanted to change the orientation of the bed. This meant that either they had to call the company which Shashank didn’t want to spend money on or Shashank had to fix it right, which he had failed at till now.

“You sure, it wasn’t like this before. I think it was like this only.” Shashank said a little irritated.

“It isn’t level. It would be like before once it’s level.” Sameera said coldly. She wasn’t inflexible with most things. She didn’t care if Shashank threw a towel here or there or if Shashank wanted to eat something one day that she didn’t like much. But she couldn’t handle an uneven bed. While part of it was in her mind, part of it was the back injury that she had a few years earlier. After that, doctor had suggested her to sleep on the ground for a long time. It was only in the past year or so that she had started sleeping on the bed. But she had to insure that it was completely stable and level.

Shashank screwed the last nut and as soon as he sat, the bed tilted to one side visibly.

“Chuck it. I’ll do it tomorrow.” Shashank said throwing the pillow. Sameera bit her lip before she could say something. She had been saying one thing or the other for the past few weeks and she was tired. It wouldn’t do anything but start a fight.

The two lay down on the bed and within a few minutes, Shashank was snoring. Sameera picked her pillow and a blanket, put it on the floor and went to sleep. She had been doing this for the past few days. Shashank was a deep sleeper and usually woke up after her. This meant that as far as she knew, he didn’t have a clue that she was sleeping on the floor.

Until the bed was made right, she thought that this was the best option as whenever she brought the topic of getting the bed fixed by the company, Shashank would say it’s a waste of money.

Money! Something that was almost as important in a relationship as money. This was brand new information that living together had brought to them. Somehow, their combined expenses were higher than there individual expenses. Both were living in PGs that were extremely cheap whereas now they were living in a 1 BHK that was costlier that the PGs and buying other stuff had been really costly.

Adding other expenses and she had started to regret the decision of living together. She wished she could say something to Shashank about it but he was so excited about them together that she didn’t want to say anything. He even contributed more to the combined expenses than her despite having less savings because of that.

Shashank woke up in the middle of the night to a terrible nightmare. He gulped down the water even before he could open his eyes properly. He touched on Sameera’s side and found that she wasn’t there. He had expected that. The first time Shashank had found out Sameera sleeping on the floor, he had felt immense sadness. He had gone to the shop to get the bed alignment corrected. They had told him that Shashank had accidentally broken something and it would require a complete change of the bed. The cost was too much and while Shashank had been trying to get the money to replace the bed, he didn’t want Sameera to know the truth.

Thus, he had been hiding behind his zeal to fix the unfixable bed.

“A few more days love.” Shashank said softly and kept looking at Sameera. He was longing for Sameera. His nightmares had become frequent and he knew they would only stop once Sameera was beside him sleeping comfortably.

Sameera stirred and Shashank quickly moved back to his place. He checked the watch and it was almost morning. Sameera would be waking soon. He closed his eyes to get a couple of hours of shut-eye.

He wished they could again go back to dating while living in their separate PGs, at least until they could earn more. He felt he had hurried in with excitement but now this living together was becoming a burden on their relationship. However, he knew he couldn’t back out now. He didn’t want Sameera to think that he has second thoughts about the relationship.

Shashank closed his eyes as he felt Sameera coming close to him. She put her hand on Shashank and kissed him softly.

“I love you Shashank.” Sameera said softly and left the room.

“I love you Sameera.” Shashank whispered and wiped a tear from his eye.