Posted in Life and After

The Specimen

The News Reader’s impersonal drawl filled the air while the king ground his Sodium pincers in anger, “As unprecedented hatred rises in the air between citizens of different colonies, people can be seen rallying the streets with hydro-guns.

They are drowsing each other with Hydrogen Dioxide, melting countless people into puddles of nothingness. The monarchy seems to be clueless on how to stop the massacre. As the tension builds, they are now facing a very real possibility of war, which, so far, was considered a thing of fairytales from planet Urth…”

The king, of course, knew what needed to be done. But that move would be akin to admitting a grave mistake…not graceful at all. After all, it was only last year that their planet celebrated its victory in space research. Tremendous amount of money was invested to arrange a group of scientists travel to this solar system with nine planets, so they could bring live samples. The samples from the blue planet, Urth, were exceptionally alive with chatter. One of the specimens, some Trum, had offered to discuss openly about their society and political system. And, foolishly, he had consented.

Maybe it wouldn’t have caused so much damage if he hadn’t allowed public speeches. But he had thought it was rather ‘entertaining’ to see a specimen address the general public as he tried to copy their accent.

He started with the great things he had done in his own country. How he had started war with others who did not agree. Gradually, he started offering his opinion on everything…how it does not do well to allow races to mix, to share resources…how the current government wasn’t taking enough measures to support it own people… how people should rise to save their birthright from usurpers…

And people listened, transfixed.

Initially, people came in with requests about removing certain people from their colonies and, then, to remove certain colonies from the planet. He, too, agreed because it made sense to him then…until it didn’t. And then, all hell broke loose…

Not sure how hydro-guns came to be. They never had water, except for the samples collected from the blue planet. But now, it seems that they are building them in hundreds. The hydrogen dioxide reacts with sodium of their bodies and melts it. Nobody in their living memory remembered them fighting, but now…

If the madness didn’t stop, he will be facing a war soon, adding further water to their miseries.

Sighing, he did what was needed. He instructed a team of soldiers to load Trum on the waiting spaceship and dump him back to Urth.

Posted in Random Thoughts

Dreams and Crop Circles–Is this a Sign?

Earlier this morning, I had a dream that was on a fairytale-meets-star wars theme with princesses, prophecies, sabers and spaceships. As I sat down to prepare lunch, I was greated with this sight.

A dried top of bottle gourd had this design.

Had I been a supestitious person, I would have run out of my house declaring that Lord Ganesha (with elephant face) has visited my house in his triple face avatar. But thanks to the dream, I was on a Sci-Fi cum Fairytale mode. Hence, I decided it was a crop circle inside my house. You may say, “Hey, a crop circle is a circular pattern in crops.” I say:

  1. Bottle gourd is a crop.
  2. It’s top is circular.
  3. This one a has pattern, a pretty one too. Many progressive Indian women, henceforth, shall use it in their rangoli designs.

I wonder which TV channel to contact–

  • Aaj Tak that will turn it into Doomsday prophecy
  • NDTV that will call it the next attack of a deadly microbe
  • National Geographic that will call it a visitation from aliens and add it to their existing series of crop circles…

Any suggestions?

Hey! Small aliens that fit inside my fridge! Now that’s a plot for story. What do you say?

Posted in Life and After

Left Hook, Right Hook

His right hook was stronger than his left hook. So, he gathered the coriander leaves together with his left hook and waged a war against the errant leaves with his right. But they kept falling out, reminding him that quality of his remaining life depended on the new set of fingers his new bosses had ordered for him, if he was to keep his current job as a housekeeper and cook.

For 34 years, he had worked at a warehouse, using his pair of sturdy hooks to carry and store the wares to be housed, never missing the set of flexible fingers that his contemporary robots sported. So, when his owner decided that his model was too old to be repaired and sold him to willing owners, he felt jilted. New beginnings weren’t easy at his age. But having a new owner was better than being thrown in the junkyard, so he went quietly.

His new owners, an old man with a broken front teeth and an equal old squat woman with a traditional nose pin, took him to one of those ‘lesser’ engineers who work for the masses. How humiliating it was to be standing in the place along with all sort of riffraff!

Then came the big blow…He wasn’t fit for the new owners who needed a domestic robot. Being new to the whole robot-thing and not knowing better, they were fooled into buying an old industrial robot with hooks unaccustomed to the nuances of household work, especially cooking–a delicate art–that need a set of flexible fingers instead of hooks. His owners had openly regretted the choice, calling him a tin-box!

There could be no greater insult. He was made of Aerosteel used in making spaceships! He suggested them to rent him to another warehouse. He offered to work overtime to pay back their money. But even he knew it was a long shot. There was no guarantee a warehouse would hire a 34-year-old robot with obsolete technology.

That’s when the ‘lesser’ engineer became his saviour. He suggested updating his program to ‘Househelp’, and getting him two set of fingers, both easily available on GooglyFace.com. Since the fingers weren’t coming cheep, the old couple needed some persuasion. But they eventually relented since they had already invested 78 thousand bucks on the tin box, and ‘another 7 thousand wouldn’t kill them’.

Hence, the engineer quickly updated his program to Househelp before they could change their mind, deleting his Warehouse program by accident. He offered to order the sets of fingers from a ‘friend’ who would give them a ‘discount’ (his discount being 30% more than the market rate but the old couple would probably never find out).

So now, he was ‘home’ with his new owners awaiting his new body parts, and praying to God, if there was a God for robots, that the engineer would know how to install the fingers properly, else he would be stuck chopping coriander with a pair of hooks for the rest of his life.

Posted in Life and After

Raktbija (Blood seed)

Author’s note: Indian mythology talks about Asura Raktbija whose blood worked as seeds. Any drop of his blood that touched the ground grew as a new Raktbija, making him immortal. Goddess Kali fought against him by beheading him and collecting his blood in a bowl, and drinking it to the last drop ensuring not a single drop of blood touched the ground. Somehow, the story always intrigued me. Here is my take on it. 

This story is an ode to the scientific knowledge that existed in Ancient India. According to the researchers, a detailed classification of all living beings, including microbes existed. Various diseases were treated through herbal medication and if needed, operated on. There is proof of cosmetic and brain surgery at Nalanda University that existed 3000 years back. Charaka Sanhita, the medical treatise written by Maharishi Charaka, provides detailed treatment for numerous diseases that researchers are still working on decoding. 


I stopped only to change horses, riding day and night for 30 Prahar (42 hours) all the way to the capital. It was crucial to deliver the message urgently to the King. So, I was ushered in his private quarters where Queen Kali was busy with the young princes.

Har Har Mahadev!

“Messenger! You look pale and exhausted from the journey. Take a seat before you fall.” 

“I bring grave tidings, my lord. You might fell my head once you hear the news!”

“Do not be afraid! Tell me what you need to.”

“My lord, the entire Shakti unit is now possessed by the blood demon.”

King Mahadev’s face fell, “Two hundred of my finest men! All under the enemy’s command! Are you sure?”

I knew he would question my news. All for a a good reason too. The unit had fought against the world’s greatest fighters and never broke a sweat. “I am afraid so. I went close to their camp but did not enter. I could see all of them had discarded their uniforms and armour, and piled them under a tree. I saw blood dripping from their bodies and was worried that they were hurt but I could see no open wounds. It could be easily be the blood of the villagers who lived closeby. Their eyes were blood shot and nobody talked but grunted. There was an eerie silence that belied any possibility of them being humans. Hence, as a single man, I was wary to approach them.

I saw a lot of unfamiliar faces in the camp too. They weren’t fighters but coated with blood too. I scoured the general area and found no dead bodies or any sign of struggle. So, I don’t think our men are taken captive. The only other explanation is that they are possessed and hence, under the control of the demons.”

All of a sudden, I felt too exhausted to stand upright. Taking the seat I was offered earlier, I put my hands in my face. My brother was in that unit. I was at first name basis with every single person in that 200-strong team. That’s why, when the unit was sent to crush the demon attack in the village and they did not report back, I was chosen to bring their tidings. I could account for each one of them…I found each one of them possessed.

“How do you know they are possessed?” Queen Kali enquired. Her voice held a note of disbelief. If only she had seen the grisly sight herself. Seeing blood dripping from my brother face…Women! Unaware of my contempt, she continued, “My lord, if you do not mind, I would like to hear the whole account. It might bring the bigger picture to perspective.”

At her request, he King began recounting the tale. “One of our town offices received a missing person’s report about a group of 11. A family of 2 adults and 3 children was being too reclusive. When neighbours got too concerned, they broke down the door and found all of them hiding in a storeroom. They seemed possessed.”

“What do you mean by possessed?”

“Blood dripped from their bodies. They wouldn’t speak, only grunt. When they were told that they must be taken to Ashram for exorcism, they resisted vehemently and had to be forced into submission. So, a group of 6 strong men bound them and loaded them in bullock carts and started their journey to the closest Ashram. But the party never reached the place nor did they return. A search party of 10 soldiers was sent. They found all the eight adults hiding in the forest dripping blood.”

“And the children?”

“They killed the children, of course. That’s what demons do,” I  butted in, angry at her ignorance, but wilted under the cold stare of the queen, “or so the city council assumed when the soldiers didn’t find the children.”

“Isn’t that a lot to assume? Why didn’t they ask them?”

“They wouldn’t speak, only grunt and shake their heads in denial.”

“Don’t you feel this city council’s excuse is a little flimsy. They should have tried to get more information, but I guess, nobody wanted to get close to the possessed.”

Silence

The King continued, “The soldiers forced them to return to town where they were kept under lock and key. The soldiers, however stopped coming to the mess for food after two days of return. They complained of acute body pain. Since they had just dealt with demon, it was expected, so the priest from the local temple tied Raksha Sutra around their wrist. Three days later, they escaped with all the eight people they had brought in. The searchers found blood splattered on their beds and floor but no bodies.”

“What happened next?”

“That’s when the city council requested help and I sent a unit of 200 highly trained soldiers to deal with the demon-menace.”

“When the priest get ‘possessed’?”

“How did you know about him?” I asked, curious, since I never got a chance to relay this news to the King.

“Well, I have a theory,” was all she said.

The Kings face was alight with curiosity and I can’t deny I felt the same. “Two days later he had acute body pain. He wouldn’t speak. And, after three more days, his son woke up at night and found him drenched in blood. He tried to exorcise the demon by cutting open his veins. The priest died in the process. Now the demon possess his son. Some of the villagers I talked to told me they saw him with this demonic army too.”

“Interesting!”

I was incensed. People are dripping blood and this woman finds it interesting, but then, she’s a queen, isn’t she?

The king however still seemed curious, “Can I ask you who I am talking to? The Queen? Or the Raj Vaidya (Royal Doctor)?”

“Both. As a queen, I see that no one gave the chance to the victim to defend themselves, and accepted demonic possession as the only possibility. As the Raj Vaidya, I can see that all the victims had common symptoms: They all fell ill two days after touching another victim, hence touching their blood.” Again, she did not use the word ‘demon’ or ‘possessed’ but ‘victim’, and I could see that the king noted it too. She was, after all, a disciple of Mahrishi Charak, the greatest Physician and researcher in Biology ever born.

“They all lost ability to speak and started dripping blood after five days. It seems like the work of a Sanjata Krmi (infectious microbe) that spreads through blood. It probably breaks the skin cell walls so that it cannot contain blood. They could probably be facing internal bleeding too, but that remains to be seen. It could have infected their throat so that they lose the ability to speak. The pain could be making their eyes go red, or probably they are bleeding too.

We aren’t sure about the death toll since none of them stayed with society, but the disease seems specially fatal for children, since all three of the known cases died.”

“Then, why are they attacking people?”

“And who drew the first blood? Are you telling me that they fight unprovoked? They are saving themselves and their families. They are probably banding together for the fear of persecution. Else, why have they not expanded territory in the past two months?”

Silence

“My queen, as I said, there were no broken skin, no open wounds.”

“How closely did you look?”

Silence

The King sounded perplexed, “I’ve never heard of such a disease before…”

“There are some Sanjata Krmi that are capable of one or more symptoms, and they evolve overtime. So, it could either be an evolved disease, or could have transferred from animals they killed to eat. We can only find out once I can take samples of their blood and study.”

“But my love, if your theory is true, the infection spreads through blood. And if you touch it, you’ll get infected too. I can’t risk your life.”

“If my theory is true, you sent your men to kill people who were already dying. You risked their lives…”

All of a sudden, I had a renewed respect for our queen. If she was right, my brother wasn’t a demon, and there was a possibility of saving him too. “Is there anyway I can help you in this quest, my lady?”

“Prepare to travel again. Take two more soldiers. You will relay my orders to this camp and all the villages and towns around it. Nobody attacks these victims. Nobody goes close to their camp or touches anything they have touched. In case, anyone else comes up with similar symptoms, they shall be isolated along with their families but treated respectfully.”

Addressing the king, she continued, “My lord, I would need your orders to change the local housing plan in the closest city. We need clean empty rooms in one side to provide proper isolation chambers for the victims so that they stop infecting each other. The town council must provide free rations and three sets of clean clothes for each victim. This will to stop the victims from leaving camp and entering villages or forests for supplies. They are to be provided access to clean water in a tank closest to their housing. They shall not touch a well or pond. This will contain the disease from spreading to others and new victims will come forward rather than hide.

Meanwhile, I’ll prepare my team to travel tomorrow and reach there as soon as we could. We will prepare some medications that work on most blood infections. We will, then, take some blood samples, and see what else we can do to help the victims. But the least we can do for them is to give them a respectful life while it lasts.”

Posted in Life and After

The Phlebologist: The Complete Story

Author’s note: After sharing a short part of this story yesterday, I realised it wasn’t right to share a 2000 words story in six parts. Hence, I am sharing it all at one go. Here is my first Science Fiction. Let me know your thoughts through the Comments section.


2266 AD.

This assignment was a bad idea. The signs were evident right from the beginning—not sure how I missed them all. Maybe, the gold in sight had blinded me with its glare. Now I could do nothing but freak out inside this dark place, waiting for someone to return for me.

I wish I had missed that call from Mikhael, my employer, six days back. He had called me back from my vacation for the fourth time in a row. If I could spit venom, I would have killed his hologram that grew from my watch.

“You better make it worth my time. I’m killing my vacation for you. Again.”

But he knew exactly how to pacify me. “Petra dear, the client promises to weigh you in gold.”

With those golden words, he had all my attention. Nothing motivated me better than money. Love I had too much of—being a tall, curvy blond—and stopped counting after my 25th boyfriend.

“Can’t tell you the name for obvious reasons, but the client is a giant in the Blood Test industry. They own thousands of laboratories across Earth with the annual turnover of several billion dollars. They are looking for information about…”

“…Sangue Heder Labs,” I finished his thought. He nodded.

“Of course! The fastest-growing laboratory chain on Earth…I assume, our client is looking for the ground-breaking technology that diagnoses the complete list of diseases, including Cancer, from a single vial of blood, that too within minutes.” He nodded again.

The breakthrough was nothing short of a miracle and was all over the papers last year. By providing general health check-ups at unbelievably low rates, they had wiped out the smaller competition in a matter of months. Now, even bigger competitors were struggling to stay open.

 “I’m on it. I’ll have results in a week or less. Keep that gold ready.”

Day 1

My internet search was the first sign that I should have backed out.

In a universe connected tightly through the Universe Wide Web, celebrities can’t sneeze without someone publishing it. Yet, hardly any information existed about the most successful lab chain on Earth. All I found was that the Sangue Heder Labs were owned by Marco De Rossi, the youngest member of a multi-billionaire family. In 2099, his family was one of the first to move to Proxima Centauri B, the closest habitable planet. They traveled on the legendary Spaceship Noah’s Ark, which was loaded with seeds of all kinds and pairs of all variety of animals in the cryopreserved state. Most of them survived on Proxima, unlike Earth, populating the nearly empty planet in the next 200 years and became a wildlife preserve and favored travel destination for the super-rich celebrities around the known universe. But the family declined to share any pictures publicly throughout its 500 years history on Earth and Proxima, a practice Marco De Rossi seemed to have kept alive till date.

His company was equally elusive. Sangue Heder Labs’ website stated an address on Proxima as headquarter. They mentioned using an “ancient technique” to diagnose diseases from the blood. But there accuracy was up to three decimal digits. Was it possible with anything ancient?

Next, I contacted the patent office, off the record, only to find nothing. Sangue Heder Labs hadn’t patented the “technique”. Or maybe they couldn’t, if it really was ancient. To check whether there was any ‘ancient’ technique offering diagnosis through blood, I deep searched medical sites from Earth and Proxima, but to no avail. Some Proxima health resorts offered ancient healing through local herbs, animal extracts, and solar heat but there was nothing about diagnosis through blood.

The pictures left me wondering how it would be to live on a planet where trees still grew in forests and not pots. Someday, maybe I will too.

Day 2

The next day, I moved to Plan B, looking for the employees of Sangue Heder Labs on Social Media. Employees are a treasure of information. There is always someone complaining about their job and technology challenges. But soon, I realized that they probably had some employee agreement barring them because I found no one.

With a couple of days gone, I decided to contact them personally. Everybody has a price tag: some talk for money, others for ‘love’. But the contacts from the Earth Employee Benefits organization could not dig out a single email, address or phone number since both the organization and its employees were ‘foreign’ and protected by the inter-planetary laws.

I should have stopped then but my reputation as the best Industrial Spy on Earth wasn’t for nothing.

Day 3

I decided to catch an employee during a lunch break and strike a conversation. A couple of drinks and an attentive listener can loosen a tongue easily. Usually, they begin with the rant about too much workload, bad managers and difficult clients, and, with careful steering, can easily overstep the line of discretion and divulge their technology without really knowing.

So, I donned a brunette wig and boarded my trusted faded-grey copter—both common and anonymous. Blonds and stylish rides draw a lot of attention and blending in with the crowd was imperative for my job. I flew to the biggest Sangue Heder Lab and parked in the overcrowded rooftop parking of the Food Court next door. I sat down next to the biggest window and could see the reception of the lab through the glass wall as I ‘worked’ on my palmtop.

The receptionist was a tall gorgeous man with red hair, and suddenly I wanted to visit the lab just so that I could look at him closely. I shook my head to clear it. Where did that come from? A couple of lab technicians—different races but just as breath-taking—collected blood samples. Are all Proxima natives like that? Does fresh air and unprocessed food make you look like Roman Gods?

I waited at the cafeteria all afternoon. The Food court was busy but none of its clients were Lab employees, only the patrons nursing their pinpricks and their attendants. The closest couple was discussing the blood results they had received via email within a couple of minutes of tests. The stream of patients coming for tests never ceased, and nobody came out for lunch. The organization was probably ordering food and drinks for its employees to stop them from leaving their desk to eat. I gave up at midnight.

The facility was the biggest and busiest, so I decided to try at a smaller facility the next day.

Something wasn’t feeling right about this assignment—probably the fact that most of the clientele belonged to the low-income societies. They wouldn’t have been able to afford these tests if it wasn’t for Sangue Heder Labs. They all could have died without a diagnosis.

Conscience pricked me for a short moment.

Then it passed. I could see myself luxuriating at the Proxima resorts, looking like a Goddess, with fresh air and unprocessed food, and preferably with a boyfriend from the same planet.

Day 4

On day four, I took the Airbus to a different city and haunted the streets outside a different facility of the Sangue Heder Labs, on my uber-expensive featherweight ecobike. It was ideal for following people. When needed, I could simply fish it out of my purse, unfold it and get going at a moment’s notice. It removed the need to switch between following on foot or rush to the parking area to retrieve my coptor first.

I had planned to follow any employees out for a coffee or stroll, and meet them ‘by chance’.  When the female receptionist ventured out alone late evening, I saw an opening, but as I drew closer, I had an urge to walk over and touch her skin—so flawless that it glowed in the moonlight. Considering I am straight…

By the time I had collected my wits, she was gone and returned shortly with an icebox. The opportunity to strike a conversation had passed. I was exhausted and left for the day.

Day 5

Next day, I tried another facility. While I waited for the employees to walk out to a close by cafe for a break, I searched the employees online by uploading the pictures I had taken the day before. Nothing. One of the picture resembled one of the war prisoners from the First World War, but I wasn’t interested in ancient history right now.

No employee came out all day. At midnight, they closed the facility and all of them walked out together. I followed from a distance, hoping to catch one of them once they split-up at the Airbus station, but lost them once they turned into a dark street.

I should have given up then, considering the next move was too risky. But I was nothing, if not pig-headed.

Day 6

Now that I had tried everything else, I moved to Plan C—entering the facility. The plan was simple in theory. Get in close to closing time, hide behind something until the place closes up, and spy around after it is empty of people.

Simple…in theory.

In reality, it is too difficult to hide my 5’8” frame in a lab. Huge head offices are simpler with too many unused rooms to hide in, but labs are quite small with less number of rooms and usually no cover. I had seen it before. At that time, I had walked back out pretending I was looking for rest rooms, because Trespassing is a crime. Getting caught could earn me jail time, and my pictures in the news as an Industrial Spy could kill my anonymity and career.

So, I saved it for the most difficult and most paying cases. This one definitely qualified as both.

I had deliberately waited till Sunday, a public holiday, and chose the busiest close of the day hours to ensure that the facility was packed with people to give me the much-needed cover and more time to hunt for information, in case I didn’t get a space to hide.

Three technicians were collecting samples of fifteen patients at a time with three to four minutes between batches. With 75 patients ahead of me, I had 12-15 minutes, if I did not get a cover (which seemed like a greater probability). The hidden cameras in my earrings were already capturing footage. As soon as the technicians took samples from the people in the front, I quietly left my place.

I pretended as if I was looking for the washroom and, stealthily, slipped inside the door with the “Employees only” sign. The short lobby ended in a hall—no cover. I had a couple minutes at the most before the technician came out for more samples and discovered me. I should have turned back right then but the lure was too strong—I was a bat, blind and focused on the target alone.

I peeped in the hall. It looked like all offices. The room was bustling with activity and sounds of chit-chat. Several employees sat on comfortable chairs with the latest Palmtops. Some of them used huge Wall screens with virtual keypad holograms floating close to their fingers. Small racks of labeled blood vials sat atop a drinks table in the middle. There was no microscope in the sight to test the blood. The gray-haired man closest to me had just finished filling a blood report form on his Wall screen and sent it to the patient’s email.

I focused on him as he picked a vial, excited to finally know the trade secret of Sangue Heder Labs.

He took a long swig of the blood, swirled it in his mouth and started filling the blood report form.

I let out a tiny gasp.

Suddenly, all the eyes in the room zeroed on me. The gray-haired man I had been concentrating on was suddenly behind me and had blocked my retreat. His canines grew. I think I fainted.

I remember hearing a voice from afar. “Set her aside for dinner, Luke. We are trying to concentrate on work here.”

Now I lay inside my coffin, probably six feet underground, complete with fangs and all. Having tried unsuccessfully to claw my way out for a couple of hours, now I wait for them to come back for me. I hope they might give me a job too as a Phlebologist.

Posted in Life and After

The Phlebologist: Part 1

I wrote this story for a Sci-Fi magazine that turned it down. Since this is my first science fiction, I couldn’t help but share it. Since typically I write short stories, I have broken it down in a series. Let me know your thoughts through comments.

This assignment was a bad idea. The signs were evident right from the beginning—not sure how I missed them all. Maybe, the gold in sight had blinded me with its glare. Now I could do nothing but freak out inside this dark place, waiting for someone to return for me.

I wish I had missed that call from Mikhael, my employer, six days back. He had called me back from my vacation for the fourth time in a row. If I could spit venom, I would have killed his hologram that grew from my watch.

“You better make it worth my time. I’m killing my vacation for you. Again.”

But he knew exactly how to pacify me. “Petra dear, the client promises to weigh you in gold.”

With those golden words, he had all my attention. Nothing motivated me better than money. Love I had too much of—being a tall, curvy blond—and stopped counting after my 25th boyfriend.

“Can’t tell you the name for obvious reasons, but the client is a giant in the Blood Test industry. They own thousands of laboratories across Earth with the annual turnover of several billion dollars. They are looking for information about…”

“…Sangue Heder Labs,” I finished his thought. He nodded.

“Of course! The fastest-growing laboratory chain on Earth…I assume, our client is looking for the ground-breaking technology that diagnoses the complete list of diseases, including Cancer, from a single vial of blood, that too within minutes.” He nodded again.

The breakthrough was nothing short of a miracle and was all over the papers last year. By providing general health check-ups at unbelievably low rates, they had wiped out the smaller competition in a matter of months. Now, even bigger competitors were struggling to stay open.

 “I’m on it. I’ll have results in a week or less. Keep that gold ready.”

Day One

My internet search was the first sign that I should have backed out…

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow.