This fiction has won the second prize in the Sci Fi Eclat competition of Techniche, 12 IIT Guwahati.
china, 22ND DECEMBER:
The room was dimly lit. It took a moment for him to remember how he got there. He didn’t remember much, but knew that he was in some deep, deep trouble.
His head hurt. He guessed they had probably tied him up for quite a long time, for his hands and legs were feeling numb for having sitting in one position for so long. His senses didn’t seem to be working too well. He wasn’t sure what he was seeing or hearing. Maybe it was because of the low light. He tried to look around for cameras that they might have placed in the room. But he couldn’t move his head much. Movements hurt! He didn’t understand. He couldn’t think… Even thinking hurt!
Slowly the pain increased. It felt as if his head was on fire. “Damn…” he said softly. But he wasn’t even sure if he had actually said it or not. His senses felt numb. His head was about to explode, he felt. He closed his eyes and left everything to fate.
INDIA, 8TH APRIL:
She searched for him in the noisy crowd of the Delhi railway station. Her heart was racing and she was growing impatient. It was after three long months that she was going to see her husband. He was a soldier in the Indian Army, at the rank of Captain. He would most probably get promoted now after his recent acts of bravery in the war with China. But awards could wait. She insisted he came straight home after the war got over. And so he did.
And then she saw him. He got down from the train and slung his army bag on his shoulder. “Shivam!” she yelled out. All heads turned towards. He looked at her too. And after two seconds, he smiled.
They walked towards each other. She could hardly contain herself from jumping up and down with joy.
“Hi, Tamanna,” he said and extended his hand out to her.
Her smile stopped. She took a step back. He never called her Tamanna; she was always his “Tannu”. And a handshake? That too when they were seeing each other after so long?
“What’s wrong, honey?” he said, and placing a hand on her shoulder
She shook her head. “No, nothing,” she said and smiled. He was home, and she shouldn’t be fussing about little things as these. Three months in the war zone could bring changes in anyone!
“You look so thin,” she commented. “Don’t they feed you in there?”
“No no… We have Pizza Huts at every other corner in the country border!” he said and laughed. She felt better when he cracked jokes. He really was back!
They went towards their car waiting outside the railway station. The driver seemed elated at his return. Even the maid at the house was overjoyed! “Madam seems so full of life now,” she told him. “I haven’t seen her face glow like that all the time that you were absent. She missed you.”
Tamanna noticed he wasn’t talking much to anyone. He looked tired and uninterested. This war had taken a heavy toll on his health, she saw.
They sat down together for lunch and the maid served them his favourite dishes.
“It’s delicious, sweetheart,” he said. Tamanna smiled.
“You have forgotten what you used to call me…” she said, and frowned.
Shivam looked at her, and after two seconds he said, “I didn’t understand, Tamanna. What happened?”
“Why aren’t you calling me Tannu?” she said, a little angrily.
“Madam ji, sir has arrived just today. Give him some time,” said the maid. “You two aren’t college kids anymore. Sir has grown up, but you haven’t!” Tamanna and Shivam giggled at the dining table seeing their long time house maid scolding Tamanna like that. Of course, she should let him settle down first, she realised.
He spent the rest of the day in their bedroom. Tamanna left him alone, thinking he might sleep in peace inside. But she always found him doing weird things. First, he didn’t sleep a wink, though his face showed tiredness. Secondly, he seemed quite different than what he was before. He hardly laughed, hardly seemed ‘human’. But she let it go, thinking it to be nothing but her imagination.
The next day went the same. He avoided people and mostly kept to himself. In the afternoon when he appeared to be taking a nap, she went and sat near him. His face was almost wrinkly, though he hadn’t even reached his thirties. She opened his laptop and browsed through some of the photos he had taken with his colleagues. In those photos he seemed the same cheerful man he always was. She couldn’t imagine why he seemed so indifferent after coming home.
The laptop made a buzzing sound. She checked her cell phone, but found nothing in there that might have caused interference.
“What are you looking at?”
Tamanna was startled to find Shivam wide awake right beside her. He had woken up without a sound.
“Just watching your photos,” she said. He sat up straight. The laptop made the same sound again.
“Is someone calling at your phone, honey?” she asked.
“No, there is no call,” he said, but the sound didn’t stop.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” he said suddenly and left the room. The sound continued for some time and died down as he went away. Tamanna stared after him. Was that her imagination again?
china, 12TH APRIL:
“Mr. Liang, they say you made a blunder in the Neuroinfo plan?” a short old man asked. The room was pin drop silent and that one person’s influence over every one else was profoundly visible.
“A small mistake, Sir,” the man sitting across the table replied, almost stammering.
“And what does your mistake cost us?” he asked.
“The nano chip didn’t firmly attach with the temporal lobe of the cerebrum. So we are not able to access much of his memory,” he said in one breath.
The man stared silently.
“So he isn’t remembering many things, and he isn’t forgetting things we want him to forget. But trouble can be avoided if we get our necessary information fast, and then we blow up those chips on his head and kill him.”
“And what if he gets caught before that? And what if it’s your entire fault that he got caught? Wouldn’t suspicions arise?”
Mr. Liang man gulped. He was sweating.
“I’m working on it, Sir,” he said. “We programmed him with many details that we had with us: about his wife, his servants, neighbours and colleagues. But not everything can be known, so we’re making sure he isn’t talking to too many people.”
The man on the other end was silent again. The entire room was silent again.
“I’ll make sure we get what we’re looking for, without fail.”
The short man leaned forward on the table. “You better make sure,” he said.
INDIA, 18TH APRIL:
The conference room was full of uniformed Army men. They were all excited, seeing each other for the first time since their fight with China. Shivam was there too, but he looked sullen and worried. He was hardly aware of what the General was speaking; he was inside his own “thoughts”. Suddenly he heard his own name being called out. “…for the excellent bravery shown by you, we have unanimously decided you to promote you to the rank of Major. We have seen your dedication and you have very well proved your trustworthiness.”
“Congratulations, Sir,” Tamanna piped up when he reached home. He didn’t smile back.
“You’re tired I guess,” she said. “Get some rest. I’ll serve you lunch.”
She went into the kitchen and started preparing his lunch. She was worried for him. ever since he came back, he has not been normal. There were many things he didn’t remember from the past. He didn’t talk much, and would often stay awake at night. He sometimes complained of the bed pricking him while it was quite soft, and at times he would shout at the dogs barking outside, while there were no dogs at all!
He suddenly entered the kitchen and stood leaning on the door.
“Are you hungry, dear?” she asked, placing the food inside the microwave.
“I’m hearing voices.”
She stood frozen for a moment when he said that. “What?”
“They tell me to do mean things. I’m not crazy, believe me. I hear them, like a record playing inside my ear. And I feel things too. As if there are invisible people surrounding me all the time.”
She walked up to him and made him sit down on the chair. “Relax,” she said. “You want some water?”
“No… I’m fine. They aren’t doing anything right now. But I know they will. And it’s beginning to get scary now.”
She placed a hand gently on his shoulder. “When did all this start?” she asked.
“Few days after the enemy released me from captivity…” he said.
“Honey, I must know this. What happened to you in the enemy camp? How did you run away? You always avoided talking about it but I need to know it now.”
He sat silent. He stared at her. His eyes showed fear.
“They’ll hurt me if I tell you. They know what I think, they know what I talk, or do. They can make me think things even and do things I don’t want to do.”
“Okay, calm down sweetheart,” she said to pacify him. she brought out the dish from the microwave.
“Gosh, how did this happen?” she cried out looking at the burnt dish. “I had set everything all right I suppose.”
“My head hurts…” he said softly. He covered his head with his hands and laid down on the table. He clutched at his hair.
He let such a loud cry that it froze Tamanna to the bone.
Tamanna was sitting with Eshan, Shivam’s best friend for ages. He was also a lieutenant like him. She told him everything going on with Shivam.
Eshan was thoughtful. “There are some things he had told me about his days of captivity…”
“What did he say?” she asked.
“He doesn’t remember much. All he remembers is sitting tied up to a chair and his head hurting… everything hurt. Even thinking hurt him. And sometimes he would feel pain where there was no reason to feel. Sometimes he heard voices too. All this happened sitting tied up in a room all alone…”
“I fear Alzheimer’s, Eshan,” she said. “It’s all too weird.”
“I fear something else in here…” he said. She looked at him questioningly.
“There were rumours that China was developing nanochips that can be implanted in a person’s brain, taking complete control over him.”
“What?” she exclaimed. “Is that even possible?”
“It is. These chips are made of silicon, and are virtually impossible to detect once they are implanted.”
“So what all can they do with such a chip inside him?”
“A hell LOT!” he cried out. “They can monitor his movements, hear his conversations or make him hear things that aren’t there. They can even send pain sensations or electrical jolts through signals. They can see him too. In 3D! Like a CT scan view.”
She was silent for a while. Alzheimer’s seemed like a better condition now. “How bad can it get?” she said when she found her voice back.
Shivam sat at his office staring at the ceiling. The voices have been torturing him for a long time, and he had lost all strength to fight them.
“You would be at peace if you just follow us,” they told him. “Open your mail. You’ll know what we want from you. follow the instructions and you’ll be a free man.”
He opened his laptop and connected to yahoo mail. There was a mail from some Mr. Chan Liang from China.
So the voices are real, he thought.
“Yes, they ARE real,” the voice replied.
“Where are we going, Eshan?” Tamanna asked him as she got inside his car. He had called her up early morning and told her to meet him.
“This friend of mine, Michael. He knows a lot about micro chip implantation. He can help us I think.”
“Are you so sure its chip implantation and nothing else?”
“No… I’m not hundred percent sure. But to clear the doubts we need his help too!”
Michael’s house was more like a lab. He didn’t have a wife or children and lived on his own. They narrated to him the happenings with Shivam to which he listened intently.
“It does look like micro chip implantation to me,” he said thoughtfully.
“Can you help?” Eshan asked.
“It’s risky. The brain is sensitive. And unlike other neurointerface, this chip can connect to most of cerebral cortex and has a much higher bandwidth. It can send and receive signals not just of primary sensory and motor information, but also higher order thoughts of the person.”
“So how do we destroy these chips?” Tamanna asked.
“We have to use Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP. Controlled EMP you can call them.”
Tamanna seemed to be at a loss. Being an Arts student, this discussion wasn’t making much sense to her.
“EMPs are waves which, when released, can disable any electronic gadget,” he said simply, avoiding all details.
“But we have to be careful. If these are really nanochips, they are very, very small and easy to miss. I don’t want to blow up his brain!”
Tamanna shuddered at the thought.
“Isn’t there any way to know for sure if it’s actually chip implantation on his brain or something else? Going to a psychiatrist seems so much safer.”
“We can know. By using Electroencephalography.”
Both Eshan and Tamanna looked at him with doubtful expressions again.
Michael cleared his throat. “By using computer enhanced EEGs, scientists can identify and isolate the brain’s low amplitude “emotion signature clusters”, synthesize them and store them on another computer.”
Eshan nodded. Tamanna still didn’t get a word. The conversation was beginning to get scarier now. Michael continued:
“By studying the subtle characteristic brainwave patterns that occur when a subject experiences a particular emotion, scientists have been able to identify the associated brainwave pattern and can now duplicate it.”
“Okay…” Tamanna said softly, nodding her head.
“These clusters are then placed on the silent sound carrier frequencies and will silently trigger the occurrence of the same basic emotion in another human being!”
“We have to act fast, but,” said Eshan. “He will soon lose his head like this. Just thinking about it makes me shudder!”
CHINA, 25TH APRIL:
Chan Liang stood in his laboratory. He had a hundred employees working under him, working day and night for years, just to create the world’s first nanochips that could be implanted in a human being’s brain. And now his hard work was bearing fruit.
“Sir, the victim has begun responding to our instructions,” his assistant told him. Chan smiled. “Did he see his mail?” he asked.
“Yes Sir, he has. And the sensitivity is getting stronger. We’re able to track more of his thoughts and feelings now. He’s completely under our control. We know he’s scared. We can even know the silent prayers to God that he says in his mind. He’s all ours.”
“Now we go for bigger things…” he said. “We have to use his expertise in computer hacking now. Do we have control over that part of his brain?”
“Fully, sir. We can make him do whatever we want to. It’s the left hemisphere of the cerebrum that we need now since it is responsible for all the logic abilities of a person. And the chip implanted in the frontal lobe of his brain is working as per our requirement.”
“Do it. Tell him what we need of him. He has to hack the main computer and send to us all the details on the arms and ammunitions projects of India. He has to make every computer accessible to us. He will have to create more ‘human robots’ like himself in India. I will soon have complete control over the Indian Army.” He beamed as he said it. He was so close to turning his dream into reality. And he wanted no mistake made!
INDIA, 25TH APRIL:
Tamanna thought of the interference she had experienced in his laptop that day as soon as he had woken up from sleep. It wasn’t because of her cell phone; it was because of the radio signals coming from China to his chip. The same could be the reason for the overcooked dish in the microwave the other day. Things were happening so fast, she hadn’t even got time to think about it, cry about it.
“Tamanna, little help over here,” Eshan yelled out from inside the room. He and Michael were busy setting up the equipments needed for producing controlled EMP.
She went in and stood staring at the things in wonder. “You had all these in your house?” she asked.
“I have everything in my house that could ever be needed for scientific experiments,” Michael said simply.
She helped him set up the apparatus. She didn’t understand the working. Nor was she interested to find it out at that moment. She only wanted to know that her husband was normal again!
“We’re ready. Now the next challenge is to bring him here!” Michael declared.
“Can’t we just tell him to come over?” she asked.
“We can. But he mustn’t know what’s going on. Remember, whatever he knows, they know. his thoughts, his conversations everything is being followed.”
“Make up some story, guys,” said Michael. “Some military test he has to undergo now before taking up a post of Major. Tell him that. He has already lost his mind to some extent so he wouldn’t try to even remember if there existed such a rule. He wouldn’t question!”
“Michael is right,” said Tamanna. “You have to talk to him Eshan. Make it sound as natural as you can. Just a casual test kind of thing!”
27th april, China:
Chan looked at the screens displaying the various brainwave patterns of his victim. His victim was strong. He was keeping his thoughts much under control. “Let me talk to him myself,” he said to his assistant.
The assistant agreed and stood up to make room for his boss to sit.
He started by sending him a pain sensation through the chip in the parietal lobe of the cerebrum. Shivam clenched his fists. He felt a burning sensation of knives cutting into his face, shoulders, elbows and other areas of his body.
“Are you going to work for us?” he sent him the message. Shivam heard it in his mind. “No,” he thought.
Chan heard it: a clear straight no from someone who was so much in pain already. He realised he was a tough person to break. He would have to torture him further.
He bombarded his whole body with electrical jolts and tremors. Shivam gritted his teeth. “There is nothing happening,” he told himself. “It’s all in the mind, all in the mind.”
Chan then zapped his brain with laser-like rays that made him feel as if his brain was going to blow up! He then caused severe cramping in his legs causing numbness from the base of the spinal cord to his toes.
Shivam finally yelled out, unable to bear it.
“So are you going to work for us now?” Chan asked again.
There was a blank moment at the other end. Chan saw he was debating in his mind what to say. He was in great pain. And at the same time he couldn’t go against his country. Chan wondered how strong the soldier would be now, and laughed at the thought.
Shivam took a deep breath, gathered up all his guts and uttered the word, loud and clear, “No.”
30th april, india:
Eshan and Shivam were driving towards Michael’s house. Eshan did as Michael had instructed him, telling Shivam it was a part of a medical test before becoming a Major.
Shivam looked ill from all the torture he was facing every day. he had dark circles and he looked starved and sleep deprived. Tamanna didn’t come with them, as it might arouse suspicions in his mind, letting the enemy know about it too.
They made him sit down on a chair and placed a helmet- like thing on his head.
“What kind of a test is this?” Shivam asked.
“Don’t worry. It’s just some new stuff that you soldiers are yet to be aware of!”
Shivam didn’t think much. His head hurt, his whole body hurt. So he simply let them carry on their work.
“Hold on, Shivam. It’ll hurt a little. Just bear with it, okay?” said Michael. He gestured to Eshan to stand out of the way. Their first objective was to find the exact location of the nanochips in his brain. For that there would have to be a signal sent from the other end.
“What did you do in China?” Michael suddenly asked.
Shivam’s eyes widened. He sat up straight. Michael used that reaction of his to track down the electrical impulses that were used to trigger his senses and the coordinates of the the nanochips in his brain were detected.
“I find Chinese girls cute. Don’t you?” Michael said to lighten the moment. Shivam relaxed. Chan relaxed. It was just a stupid test they are carrying out, he thought.
Michael carefully released the electromagnetic pulse towards his brain, aiming straight at the chip in the frontal lobe first. It hit the nanochip, disabling it immediately. Shivam got an electric jolt.
“What was that you just did?” he asked. His head hurt again. He felt dizzy.
“Sit straight, Shivam,” said Michael. “Everything will be explained later.”
He knew the enemy wouldn’t be able to cause any fatal harm to him so quickly. He next aimed for the chip and the parietal lobe, disabling it as easily as the ray passed through it.
In Chan’s laboratory, of his screens go blank. He wasn’t able to send signals to him, nor was he receiving much. He triggered the chip on the occipital lobe and tried to see, through Shivam’s eyes what all was going on in their place. but Shivam had kept his eyes closed and it proved useless.
Meanwhile Shivam bore with the pain of having the rays hit his brain and deactivating the tiny chips. Being exhausted, he fainted when the last of the four chips was destroyed.
Michael turned off the machines when he was done. He went towards him and put his ear to his heart.
“Did he survive that?” Eshan asked.
Michael nodded. “Rush him to the hospital right now!” he said.
2nd May, India:
The room was totally dark. He realised he was on a bed. The smell of medicines told him he was in the hospital. It took a moment for him to remember how he got there. He didn’t remember much, but knew that he was free from all troubles.
His head didn’t hurt. He felt light and easy.
Someone put a hand on his chest. He held it. “Tannu…” he said.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“I’m much better now. Can you turn on the lights? I want to see you…”
Tamanna said nothing. He waited, but there was no response.
“Tannu? What happened?”
“The lights are on, Shivam,” she said after a pause. “Can’t you see us?”
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