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The Gods Are Not Dead
A Philosophical Metaphysical Science Fiction Novel
By Abhaidev Posted in Fiction 48 min read
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The Gods Are Not Dead

by Abhaidev


Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.

–Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

Prologue

I am God.

But that is not my name. I was there before the beginning. I will be there after the end. In between, I manifest myself into various forms, living or non-living. I am one yet many.

Some people wonder whether I exist. Well, I am existence itself. Some people wonder whether I am all-knowing. Well, I am knowledge. And some wonder whether I am all-powerful. Well, they should know I am power. I am it. That’s it.

I am neither good nor am I bad. I am neither masculine nor am I feminine. I am neither indifferent nor am I concerned. I am both gross and divine. I am in pleasure and in pain. I am in joy as well as in suffering. I am what you like to believe I am.

People sacrifice themselves in my name. People hurt others in my name. Neither makes me glad. Nor does it make me sorrowful. Neither do I rejoice nor do I despair.

Humans like to worship me. Humans also like to loathe me. But howsoever they regard me, it is of no consequence. There is no one who is in my good books. And there is no one who is in my bad books, either. Heaven and hell are something humans create for themselves. Evil and good are people’s way of making things interesting.

I don’t want people to fear me, nor do I have anything to tell them. Those who can listen to me, hear not the words, but absolute silence. It is this silence people turn into expressions and sayings, and attribute them to me, trying their hard to describe me in totality, but always in vain.

I am not looking for a messenger, nor do I wish to save humans from anything. Yet, these saviours spring up from time to time on the timeline of eternity.

Some of these messengers mislead, including themselves, thereby prolonging the journey. Some of them bring people a step closer to me. But no matter how different these saviours are in their views and approach, they all agree on one point – I am not dead, and I will never be.

They all are right.

Chapter 1

“I have to,” the fisherman muttered to himself. “I have to catch a lot of it.”

Violent waves crashed on the shore. The sea was rough. Still, Shibu, the fisherman, was unaffected. All he could think of was catching as much fish as he could. With the help of five other men, he launched his old and decrepit boat into the sea waters and jumped onto it. The timing was perfect. The retreating wave dragged the old boat with it. Shibu was a skilled helmsman, after all. He thanked the five men who had helped him and paid them each a two-rupee coin.

From far away, the siren could be heard sounding across the shore.

“Can’t you hear the alarm?” Muna yelled at Shibu. “It’s a bad day today!”

“To hell with it!” Shibu shouted back at his concerned friend. “Every day is a bad day.” He grinned.

And leaving his bewildered friend behind, Shibu started rowing his boat away from the shore.

“Today I am going to be lucky,” he mumbled as he forced his way through. “I have to show her.”

His boat bobbed up and down with each passing wave. Undaunted and fearless, he doggedly rowed his boat forward. It was no ordinary day. His manhood had come into question. Therefore, it was necessary he proved his worth.  Once and for all.

Brimming with emotions, he rowed his small boat harder and harder. His arms ached. But that was not going to stop him.

“I have to show it to her,” he said aloud. “She needs to know.”

He was tired. The continuous rowing had taken a toll on his muscles. Nevertheless, he went on, though at a slower pace. So lost he was in his thoughts that he didn’t notice how far he had come. It was only after he stopped rowing that he came to his senses. He looked all around. There was no other fisherman to accompany him. All he could see was the clear blue waters of the sea and the horizon. The coast was no longer visible. He had gone too far. Too far away from the seashore.

This is the farthest I have come in my entire life!

Shibu trembled with fear. He was fishing despite the warning. He was fishing regardless of the forecast. The government had warned and duly informed the fishermen about a serious storm, advising them to refrain from fishing.

There were only a handful of daring fishermen who had turned a deaf ear to the siren and were fishing. But even these Rambos were sensible enough not to go too far. Shibu, however, had surpassed them all.

Here he was, alone in the vast sea, because of his irrational sentiments. In the middle of nowhere, because of his anger. Surprisingly, the sea had become calm.

Perhaps it is the lull before the storm, thought Shibu. Or perhaps the weather department got it wrong.

Shibu was not a suicidal or reckless man. He always paid attention to the warnings issued by the weather department and avoided fishing in bad weather. However, things weren’t the same today.

His wife, Bela, had questioned his manliness. According to the seminogram, the medical test he had undergone recently, he was an infertile man. Incapable of producing any offspring. He was shocked, indeed. And he was hurt too. The results were damaging to his ego. But what pained him more were the words that Bela had uttered.

“I am not a man? How dare she say that to me?” he yelled into the silence, clenching his fist in frustration and annoyance. “How dare she talk back to me?”

Shibu had physically assaulted her. He had given her a good beating. He was pretty sure that she would cry with pain for the entire week. It gave him a strange feeling thinking about that. He was pained and felt sorry for her, but at the same time, it all felt right to him.

“Yeah, she brought it upon herself,” he murmured again, bobbing his head. “I did nothing wrong. She deserved it.”

Shibu was so engrossed in his thoughts that he had forgotten where he was and for what. Moreover, he had forgotten that Bela too had hit him back. Right above his forehead, with a stick.

He put his hand over his head and felt a painful bulge. The blood was no longer oozing out of the wound. The blood had coagulated and a thick crust had formed over the affected area. Nevertheless, the skin was still swollen, and it ached.

All of a sudden, he had an urge to scratch the crust off. But he stopped, realising his wound was still fresh.

“Bitch!” he shouted in anger. “Just wait for me. What I did is not enough. You deserve more.”

Shibu uncoiled the nylon string from the reel, attached bait to three of the hooks and dropped it into the waters of the sea.

“I’ll show you who I am,” he murmured. “I prove to you my virility and my strength. So what if I can’t produce children? That doesn’t mean that I am less of a man!”

He waited for a few minutes until the slack in the string disappeared and it became taut. The tension in the string, which he held in his hands, made him realise that he had caught not one but multiple fish. He was excited and fired up.

His nerves settled down at last. Slowly, he started pulling the fishing line from the water. He was right. All lures at the three hooks were engaged and had succeeded in producing the desired result. One by one, he removed the fish from the hooks and threw them inside a big plastic box that lay in the middle of the boat. The three fish that he had caught were moderately sized. Big enough to fetch him some good money.

There is no one as good as me when it comes to handline fishing. Shibu smiled with delight. Yes, nobody is as good as me!

He attached the lure to the hooks and threw the string back into the water again. Five minutes later, he was ready to haul some more fish. The process continued for an hour until he was satisfied. It was a lucky day, for he had caught three dozen medium-sized fish in such a little time. It was enough for that day. He thought of turning his boat and returning home.

Shouldn’t I try catching a few more? he asked himself.

The next moment, out of the blue, he felt the icy finger of terror sliding into his spine. His breathing quickened, and he felt a knife at his throat.

I should have listened to others. He regretted his decision of fishing in that bad weather. I should have paid attention to the warning. He cursed himself for being an arrogant fool.

But it was too late. The best he could do now was not to waste any more time and start rowing his boat back to safety. He turned his little boat around and started rowing. His boat had gone only a few paces when a dolphin appeared next to him. He stopped in delight and wonder.

What was this about?

Meanwhile, the dolphin rested its body against the boat, causing it to tilt a little to one side.

“I don’t have any fish to give you!” Shibu shouted, his terror turning to rage. “Go away. Hunt it yourself!”

The dolphin grunted, uttering a clicking sound.

“Told you, I have nothing. Go away and leave me alone.”

The bottlenose dolphin wasn’t listening and continued uttering strange sounds. Shibu stood up to shoo the creature away, but what he saw moved him. The dolphin was bleeding, something was stuck in one of its fins. Shibu moved closer to the creature to get a better look: It was a flat cylindrical disk with numerous thin but long wavy spikes on its sides. The dolphin’s fin was stuck between two such spikes. Shibu understood why the dolphin was there; it was asking for his help. It was distressed and pleading for his assistance. Shibu felt sorry for the creature and came to its aid, took a couple of minutes, and carefully relieved the dolphin of the stress and burden. The flat cylindrical disk was exceptionally heavy. He threw the metallic article on his boat and focused his attention back on the dolphin.

Suddenly, it started squealing. It seemed like a cry of joy and gratitude as it circled the boat. It appeared as if the dolphin was performing some ritual. A minute later, the dolphin expressed its gratitude by jumping out of the water and performed that beautiful manoeuvre again and again.

“I know you are happy,” Shibu shouted, “and I too want to spend more time with you, but I must go. It’s not safe for me.”

The next moment, the dolphin disappeared into the depths of the sea as if it understood what the fisherman had said. Shibu got himself seated, but his eyes were glued to the article he had found. He took no time to realise it was a symbol of the sun. The wavy spikes at its side were none other than sunrays emanating from it. He could see the face carved on the disk. It dawned upon him that the disk referred to only Surya, the mighty Sun God.

The submerged city of Dwarka was known for its strange artefacts that regularly washed up on the shore. Most times, these articles comprised nothing but pieces of utensils and pottery made up of clay. Coming across such articles was, therefore, an everyday affair. What Shibu had discovered, however, was something different. When he looked at the metallic sun-shaped disc, he was overcome with felicity. He knew what he possessed was worth plenty of money, especially in the black market. It didn’t matter what metal it was—gold or brass, that the artefact belonged to the lost city of Dwarka was enough to fetch him some good cash.

Bela will certainly be pleased, he said to himself. What I have in my possession is a lottery ticket with the winning numbers. It would help us in buying the medicines for my infertility. Wait for me, Bela, here I come. All our troubles are going to be over. We will soon have enough money to solve our biggest misfortune.

Full of determination and joy, he rowed his boat towards where he had come from. It was no ordinary day. He had found a panacea for all his troubles. The metallic sun shaped disc was a gift from God, a sort of divine intervention, a blessing from the Almighty. Yes, that’s what he believed. Though he had lost his confidence in the Almighty, what he had stumbled upon in the middle of the sea had restored his faith completely. He now believed that the dolphin he had helped was none other than an angel in distress, and assisting that creature was part of a bigger plan. God had done his part. Now it was up to Shibu to do his bit and bring the divine scheme to fruition.

He took about half an hour of labour, and he was finally back to the shore. With the help of five more men, he parked his boat in a safe place. Few people dwelled on the beach, which was not strange at all, especially when the weather department had issued a warning against fishing that day. Luckily, Shibu didn’t have to wait. One fishmonger approached him.

“You are one heck of a fisherman, Shibu,” the fish dealer said, laying his weighing machine on the ground. “You don’t get scared, do you?”

With a condescending look on his face, Shibu chuckled. “Most fishermen here are sissies,” he bragged. “A little push and they get scared.” He passed the fish container to the fish dealer.

“But not you,” replied the cunning fish-seller, who felt it was best to play along and boost Shibu’s ego. “Nothing affects you!” he added, as he transferred the contents of the plastic container to the weighing machine.

Shibu curled his lip in a supercilious smile. “I do get affected,” he clarified, pretending to be modest, “but not so easily,” he added after a pause.

“Yeah.” The fish-dealer nodded. “Because of a few daring and audacious people like you, people will have fresh fish on their plates.”

Everyone knew Shibu was a humble-bragger. But they all put up with that as they knew his weakness. All they needed to do was flatter him a little, a little sweet-talking, to get the better end of the deal.

“That would be 450 rupees!” declared the fish dealer.

“But–”

“Let’s make five hundred,” insisted the cunning man again.

“Okay… all right… Shibu reluctantly accepted the money offered to him. “I am in a good mood today, otherwise…”

“What’s making you happy?” The fish-dealer feigned an inquisitive concern.

“Oh. It’s nothing.” A smile edged Shibu’s mouth. “I would like to keep it with myself,” he added.

“All right.” The fishmonger lifted the heavy sack of fresh fish on his shoulders. “Off I go!” He waved goodbye after picking up his weighing scale.

“One minute… Where is everyone?”

“Home, I think,” answered the fish-dealer without turning back. “You know, bad weather… plus something happened in the village.”

Shibu wondered what it could be. “Oh,” came the syllable from his mouth.

“Don’t ask me what! I don’t know a thing.”

“Okay… never mind, I am going there myself.”

Shibu waited for the fishmonger to walk away and when he was far enough, Shibu slid the heavy metallic disc into the jute sack. After he did so, he looked around to make sure nobody saw what he had just done. Yes, no one should know what he owned. He required complete secrecy. If anyone got to know, his plan of selling the artefact in the black market would be foiled. Thankfully, he was all alone and was pleased no one was there to ruin his scheme.

With some effort, he lifted the heavy sack and carried it on his back. He strode towards his village. It was so far a good day, and he didn’t want to spoil his mood by engaging in a prattle with other fellow fishermen. An air of superiority enveloped him all of a sudden. He thought he was better than others, better than all the people in his social circle. All such thoughts were because of the thing he carted on his back.

When he arrived in his village, he was surprised to find it deserted. The doors of most houses were locked. He remembered what the fishmonger had told him. Something terrible had happened in the village but to whom he didn’t know. Suddenly, he was overcome with trepidation and got cold feet, for he could see where all the people were. The house that the throng surrounded was none other but his own.

He rushed towards his abode to find out what the matter was. The villagers bore serious faces and were gossiping with each other. He couldn’t make out what they were talking. He couldn’t make out the individual voices. With every step he took, his heart pounded more and more. Finally, he arrived home. Muna was standing at the door as if he was guarding his house, preventing or supervising the entry and exit of the rest of the folk. The moment Muna noticed Shibu’s presence, his face turned pale and he dropped his head.

“What happened?” Shibu yelled. “What is this all about?”

The crowd turned quiet. The villagers turned grim-faced too. They expressed extreme pity in their eyes. A couple of ladies were crying silently. This threw Shibu off balance. He was petrified.

“Why doesn’t someone say anything?” Shibu bawled, eyes red with indignation. “What happened?” He shook Muna with all his strength. “What happened?” he echoed.

Muna raised his head and rested his palm on Shibu’s shoulder. His face had turned sombre, but he said nothing. Beads of sweat gleamed on his face. His eyes were misted with tears. Shibu looked at the apologetic faces of the other villagers with confusion and disbelief. All of them were silent too.

“For God’s sake, speak something!” Shibu cried. “What happened?” He fixed his eyes on Muna. “Is it about Bela?” He seized Muna by the shoulder and shook him violently. “Something happened to her?” He shook him again. “For God’s sake, say something.”

Muna bit his lips and moved aside. Once again, his head drooped. Shibu rushed inside, but what he saw shocked him to his core. He couldn’t believe his eyes. On the floor, lay his wife, pale and devoid of life. There was blood all around, much of which had coagulated.

“No, no, no.” Shibu burst into tears. “This can’t be!” He shook his head in disbelief. “This can’t be!” he repeated.

No one responded to his cries. Bela’s body lay lifeless. Everything in the small house was in its place. There was no sign of any struggle. Shibu dropped the sack on the ground and dashed towards the corpse. Tears gushed out of his eyes. He cradled Bela’s head in his hands and looked at her face. Though pale, she looked peaceful.

“Tell me that this is all a dream,” he cried aloud. “This can’t be true!” He nodded the very next moment. “It’s a dream, yes, an awful dream!”

He looked at Muna, who had entered the room.

“I am dreaming, isn’t it? This is all unreal, a figment of my imagination.”

Muna said nothing and looked at him with piteous eyes. Shibu started sobbing. It was not a dream nor was he hallucinating. Bela had left the world. Shibu’s eyes were still streaming with tears.

“No!” he cried again. “No!”

For a couple of minutes, he cried his heart out. Nobody interrupted him. He was all alone in his suffering, in his pain. Muna walked and placed his hand on his recently bereaved friend to comfort him. The weeping stopped, eventually.

“Who did it?” Shibu asked with resentment. “Who is the killer?” His eyes blazed with anger.

“She slit her throat,” replied Muna in a low voice.

“What? What did you say?”

“She slit her throat,” repeated Muna.

“Why would she do that?” Shibu asked, almost on the verge of crying again. Looking at the pale face of the corpse, he asked, “Why would you do that?” He shook the lifeless body. “Why would you do that, Bela?”

“The doctor told her she could never be a mother,” Muna went on. “She–” he struggled for a word. “A … an hour back.”

“Why?” cried Shibu. “It’s me who is to blame.” He hugged his wife’s dead body. “You were right. I am not a complete man.” A note of remorse crept into his voice. “I shouldn’t have hit you.” He shook his head. “What you said is true. I am not a complete man… I shouldn’t have hit you.”

A dreadful silence descended on the room. Neither of the men spoke. Shibu had wiped his tears. Like an insane man, he smiled suddenly. He put Bela’s head down and leapt to his feet and rushed towards the jute sack. A few moments later, he was back with the metallic sun disk in his hands.

“Look what I found,” he said to his dead spouse. “This will end all our miseries. We will have enough money for my treatment. There is nothing in this world that money can’t fix, nothing.” He laughed hysterically. “Now, wake up!” he instructed after a pause. “Get to your feet.”

But lifeless Bela was unmoved by his request and was stiff like a stone idol.

“I beseech you,” he shouted. “Come on. Get up!”

Seeing nothing happening, Shibu dropped to the ground and buried his forehead in his hand. He then closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He was an utterly dejected man who has lost all hope. Nothing could be done. The glass doesn’t fix when it gets broken into pieces. Shibu was aware of this. He was not a scientist but an illiterate man. Still, he instinctively knew what scientists call ‘the second law of thermodynamics’. The universe is moving towards a state of chaos and disorder, and nothing in the world can stop it. Such awareness about the world pained him further. Even the most stoic and rational people fail to accept reality at times. He was an ordinary illiterate man.

Muna comforted his aggrieved friend again. Shibu took some time, but he returned to his senses at last. There was no turning back. What was done was done. Nobody has the power to turn back the arrow of time. One must endure and move forward. The sadness in Shibu disappeared. He was now angry, instead. Angry at his deceased wife for making that stupid decision, mad at the world.

“I lost my parents a long time back,” he said in a low voice to Muna. “None of my siblings are alive. The only person who I could call my family was Bela.” There was a dreadful silence. “And now she has left me too,” he resumed at last. “How am I supposed to live? How am I supposed to spend the rest of my life?” His eyes flashed with anger the next moment. “Everyone is selfish, everyone. People don’t think about others.” He scoffed. “What a selfish woman! She had no right to kill herself. The bitch never cared about me, did she?  I am sure that she must be rotting in hell now.”

Muna felt an intense and irrepressible urge to protest. He wanted to object, for he thought one mustn’t speak ill of the deceased. Nevertheless, he said nothing. His friend was in shock and felt cheated.  Without a doubt, Shibu needed a person who could be all ears –a sympathetic listener, to vent out all his anger and frustration. He needed a sponge which could absorb all his tears, a person who could tolerate his cathartic discharge. So Muna decided to play that role. Once again, he placed his hand on Shibu’s shoulder to comfort him. There was a sinister silence for ten minutes. A couple of villagers peeped through the door and looked at the two men inside. But none dared to set foot in. It was a ghastly scene with blood splattered all around.

“We need to,” Shibu said at last, “make arrangements for the funeral.”

“I’ll do that,” Muna assured. “I have already ordered an ice block for the body. We will do it tomorrow.”

“The funeral?”

“Yes.” Muna nodded.

Silence crept into the room once again. But this time, it didn’t last long.

“Where did you find that?” Muna pointed at the sun-shaped disk.

“In the sea, while fishing.”

“Dwarka?” questioned Muna.

Shibu acknowledged by nodding his head.

“You shouldn’t have…” Muna shook his head. “Dwarka was cursed and so are all the things that belong to it. Look, what it brought upon us. Don’t you know that we must stay away from these artefacts? They bring nothing but bad luck.”

“I know,” Shibu said regretfully. “I know, I succumbed to my greed.”

“When did you get hold of it?”

“One-hour back.”

“Exactly the time when Bela…” Muna stopped. “It is not a coincidence,” he began again at last. “This thing…” He pointed towards the metallic disk again. “This stuff is an abomination. We must get rid of it.” His face turned sombre with determination. “What’s done is done, but if we keep this thing any longer–”

“I know…” Shibu cried, “I know.” He hid his face in his hands. “Take it to the police. I don’t need it. I don’t need anything.” He sighed.

“We don’t need to; the police are on their way.”

Shibu looked quizzically at his friend. “Why?” he asked.

“Nothing… just a formality. They would be asking some questions. It’s not a natural death, you know.”

“Yeah.” Shibu let out a deep breath. “I understand,” he added after a pause.

Suddenly, the widower stood up and rushed towards the sun-shaped disk. He lifted it and threw it outside his house with all the force he had.

“Get out of my life!” he shouted, eyes red with fury. “Get the hell out of my house!”

Chapter 2

Sanjeev Kumar, the head of the Department of Archaeology, Pune, lolled on his swivel chair, arms behind his head. The past few days had been hectic and tiresome. The reason was an artefact that had recently come into their possession. It was the sun-shaped disk belonging to the lost city of Dwarka.

Sanjeev was excited, for the discovery had serious implications. Not only the early human history needed to be rewritten, but the timeline of the Bronze Age required a fresh perspective too. Adding to the mystery was the composition of the disk. Despite being underwater for five millennia, the metal had hardly corroded, which suggested that the ancients of Dwarka knew of and were remarkably deft in the science of metallurgy and mining.

The disk was an anomaly. Like the famous iron pillar of Delhi, it made little sense. How could they achieve such a feat, which even modern-day men struggle to accomplish? Could it be that our history books needed a revision? Such were the thoughts boggling him and his team for the past two weeks. It was well known that the primitive men weren’t so primitive, after all. Mathematics, as well as architecture, had always been our forte. But an alloy that doesn’t corrode? It was exciting, undeniably mind-blowing.

The recent lab analysis reports were even more confounding. According to their calculations, the Dwarka sun disk was hollow. The team had also concluded that it was not the metal that was responsible for the weight of the disk in its entirety. There was something inside the hermetically sealed chamber, something dense, which was causing the disk to weigh thirteen kilograms. This substance was most probably something modern humans have yet not encountered. No such substance that dense, natural or artificial, was known to man.

“What could this hollow disk possibly contain?” Sanjeev asked himself. “From where is this extra 8.5 kilograms coming from?” he asked again, drumming his fingers on the table.

Such was the peculiarity and importance of this discovery that Sanjeev had supervised the whole affair himself. The ten days of wait was finally over. The historic day of probing the insides of the disk had arrived. His subordinates would drill a small hole in the disk. It was the best they could do, as cutting off the entire flat cylindrical disk into two halves was not an option. What they could do, however, was to probe the interior of the disk with a borescope camera and possibly retrieve some of that strange substance through the hole they were about to drill.

Sanjeev stood up and paced up and down his office. The momentous occasion was to arrive shortly. It enlivened and thrilled him, yet he felt apprehensive. What if the artefact contained some poisonous substance? What if they were opening a Pandora’s box? Such thoughts overwhelmed him, but it is human nature to unravel mysteries. It is human nature to first ask questions and then search for answers. If they lacked curiosity, they wouldn’t be living in a scientific age. If they didn’t yearn, they wouldn’t have put a flag on the surface of the moon.

“No matter what,” the director said aloud, “we must find this secret substance. No matter what the cost, we must learn where the weight of this disk is coming from.”

The last-minute hesitation and doubts disappeared. The self-talking that he had engaged in, worked at last. Once again, Sanjeev turned into an unwavering, resolute man. Yes, he was anxious again, but the stress he had was a good one, necessary to accomplish a challenging task. The disk was a blessing in disguise. For long, he had been trying hard to move up the career ladder. This was his chance. If he and his team got their hands on that strange substance and uncover the elusive secret, he will earn a reputation that will bring him not only laurels but also help him in etching his name on the pages of the history books.

He beamed with mirth. “I could very well be the new Columbus.” He nodded. “I could very well be the new Cunningham,” he said out loud.

He rushed towards the corner, where lay a coffee dispensing machine, and poured himself a cup of black coffee. Caffeine was what his body demanded. Hastily, he sipped from his Styrofoam cup. The strong and bitter taste of coffee lingered in his mouth. In his mind, persisted a feeling of contentment and triumph. Nothing could dissuade him now. Nothing could stop him from having success. His victory was imminent. Such were his beliefs after having a mouthful of that hot, black liquid.

“Sir.” A man knocked on the door.

But Sanjeev didn’t hear, for he was lost in his fancy world.

“Sir,” the employee repeated, raising his voice.

“Yeah?” replied Sanjeev, finally focusing his gaze on his minion. “What is it?” he said in a fake toneless voice.

“The setup is ready,” the meek man answered.

“Fine,” Sanjeev replied, hiding his excitement. “I am coming.”

He waited for his subordinate to disappear. And when that man was gone, he threw his half-filled cup into the dustbin. His eyes glinted with pleasure. He was high as a kite and rubbed his hands together in excitement. When his subordinate was no longer there, he felt free. His job demanded temperance from him, at least in front of his juniors. But alone in his office, there wasn’t any pressure on him to fake equanimity on his face. Impatiently, he looked at the movement of the second hand of his watch, for he knew no other way of stalling time. Five minutes later, he scuttled off to join his subordinates in the lab.

The lab assistants, Shreya and Arvind, had been waiting eagerly for the director. When Sanjeev arrived, they welcomed him and bowed a little. Both were wearing protective masks on their noses. Without wasting time, Arvind fetched one from the table and handed it over to his boss.

Sanjeev surveyed the two critically. “Are the cameras on?” he asked, as he was covering his nose with the mask.

“Yes, sir.” Arvind bobbed his head. “Everything as per your instructions.”

The director looked at him with solemn air. “What are we waiting for, then?” He gestured. “Let’s do it,” he gave them the green light.

Shreya picked up the drill and switched it on. The next moment, the room echoed with an annoying buzzing sound. The second she pushed the rotating drill bit against the surface of the metal disk, it broke.

“Uh-oh,” she uttered.

“What happened?” asked Sanjeev.

“The drill bit broke,” the woman replied, embarrassed.

“Use another one,” instructed the director.

Shreya changed the drill bit. “This should work,” she said. “It is titanium coated.”

“Why didn’t you–” Sanjeev objected. “Anyway, proceed,” he ordered.

The lady got back to work. Once again, the drill machine came to life. Producing an ugly sound, it bore through the hard surface of the disk.

“It’s in,” Shreya declared.

“Good!” The director almost clapped. “Now, get it out, but slowly!”

Carefully, the woman retracted the drill bit from the hole it had just made. The second it was out, the lab reverberated with a loud, cacophonous hissing sound.

“It’s coming from–” Arvind struggled for words. “The disk…”

“Get back!” Sanjeev shouted. “Both of you.”

With every second passing by, the hissing was getting louder and harsher. With their mouths agape, the three looked nervously at the artefact. Something was coming out, or rather wanted to come out. Like the whistle of the pressure cooker, the hissing was an early warning. It was as if the disk wanted to say, ‘Enough is enough. I can no longer hold this thing.’

The director was dumbstruck, and so were his assistants. They never anticipated such a situation. Panic-stricken, they stood motionless and stiff like lifeless mannequins, as if they were paralysed

“Something is about to come out,” the woman quavered.

“I know.” Sanjeev trembled with fear.

The discordant noise rose to a deafening crescendo. Out of the blue, it ceased. Emboldened by silence, the three curious individuals stepped forward. Scarcely had they moved closer when the disk started vibrating. The next moment, a large plume of thick yellow smoke violently gushed out of the hole they had drilled.

“What the–” the leader exclaimed. “Do you see…”

The thick yellow vapour rose into the air and concentrated together, forming a cloud. For a minute, it stayed there, stationary and still. However, it soon condensed into a bright yellow ball of fire, hung and suspended in the air by God knows what. The director and his assistants couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It defied all logic—the existence of such a thing. With each passing second, the brightness of the ball was increasing. So much so, it became almost difficult to look directly at it. Mesmerised and blinded by curiosity, Shreya brought her hand forward.

“Don’t touch it!” Sanjeev shrieked.

It was too late. Disturbed by physical contact, the ball started expanding. Shreya retracted her steps, and in haste, she lost her balance and fell to the ground. The whole lab was filled with bright light. Sanjeev squinted his eyes to gaze at the levitating, shining ball, but he could discern nothing. The next moment, there was an explosion. The shock wave threw the two men off-balance, and they too, like Shreya, landed on the floor. So intense was it that everything in the lab made of glass, everything fragile, broke into smithereens. The strange levitating ball had disappeared, but even a minute after the explosion, the ears of the three were ringing.

“We lost it,” Arvind said. “Nothing makes sense.”

They sprang to their feet and looked at each other. Thankfully, everyone was okay. Sanjeev removed his nose mask and sighed. There was no point in wearing that now. It was over. He would leave the lab empty-handed.

Sanjeev threw an irritated glance at Shreya. “I told you not to touch it,” he said with asperity.

The woman removed her mask too and felt his gaze but dared not return it. “I am extremely sorry, sir.” Her head drooped and her face flushed with embarrassment.

“What just happened?” Arvind said.

“I don’t know,” the exasperated leader replied, his brows furrowing in confusion. “I saw what you saw.” He bawled.

There was a brief pause. The two assistants looked at their boss with anticipation in their eyes.

“Weigh the disk again,” Sanjeev resumed at last. “Let’s check how heavy it is now.”

Arvind did what he was told, and after a few seconds he replied, “4.5 kilograms.”

“That’s what I thought.” Sanjeev bit his lower lip. “The mysterious substance is gone.” He gesticulated at them. “We were this close…” He held his forefinger and thumb half an inch apart. “This close…”

Silence crept into the room again. The three looked at each other. Their eyes flitted awkwardly. The assistants dared not utter a word.

“The cameras…” Sanjeev beamed with joy all of a sudden. “They must have recorded everything.”

“Yes, sir.” Arvind nodded.

“Get me the videos.”

As per his boss’s instructions, Arvind busied himself with retrieving the memory cards from the cameras installed at the corners.

“Strange!” Shreya said out loud.

“What is it?” asked Sanjeev, a look of concern on his face.

“The computer is not working,” she replied. “So is the digital spectrometer,” she added after a pause.

“The cameras are damaged too,” Arvind said at the top of his voice.

“It seems,” Sanjeev thought aloud, “an EMP blast accompanied the explosion.”

“The circuits are fried…” Arvind chimed in. “Everything electronic…” he couldn’t complete the sentence.

Sanjeev slammed his fist into the open palm of his other hand. “Everything is lost.” He shook his head. “Everything we worked for.”

“We can’t say for sure.” Arvind brought forward his hand. “We have these.” He offered three memory cards to his mentor.

“Fine,” Sanjeev replied in a listless manner. “Let’s check it.” There was a brief pause. “Though I am not that optimistic,” he added at last.

Leaving Shreya alone, the two men scooted out of the lab. Two minutes later, they in stood in an office next to a laptop, which was unaffected by the explosion. Though Sanjeev wasn’t hopeful, still his heart pounded. Even a slight chance, an iota of luck, could change his life forever. Arvind inserted the first memory card, but the computer didn’t detect its presence. He removed the card, blew air over it, and inserted it again. Still, there was no response. He tried it again with the second card, but it was all in vain. So disheartened Sanjeev was that he didn’t bother looking at the computer when Arvind was trying the third card.

“Told you.” He sighed. “It’s all futile!” He trudged out of the room, running his finger through his dishevelled hair.

Chapter 3

Far away from Earth, in Devloka, the abode of the Devas, Varuna lounged on his throne, impassively looking at his courtiers, rapidly tapping his fingertips on the armrest. Everyone in that large courtroom lacked enthusiasm. They were all there for the sake of it, perfunctorily going through unimportant issues. Like most days, it was a dull morning, for nothing interesting was going on. The relationships that Devloka had with other planets and realms were no longer strained, but peaceful. So were the internal affairs. Consequently, nothing in the known and accessible universe bothered the inhabitants of Devloka. Everything had stopped, and it wouldn’t be wrong if one called it a period of inactivity and listlessness.

No news is good news, but that’s the reason many governments and people in the administration turn negligent, complacent and inefficient. Nothing could be said about the leadership; the surveillance department of Devloka had lost its edge, for sure. As a result, Varuna and his ministers were oblivious to the recent event that had happened on Earth. Not all celestial beings were unaware. Not all extra-terrestrials had succumbed to ennui.

“His Majesty.” Sumitra, the assistant of Varuna, bowed. “Bhadraksh, the representative from Asurloka, seeks your permission to teleport here to this court.”

“Why?” Varuna screwed his eyes. “Why not a holographic call?”

“He is insisting on being physically present.”

“Really?” The ruler of Devloka raised his brows. “The matter is serious.” He readjusted himself on his throne. “Definitely serious.” And raising himself from what was almost a slumber, he shifted to a state of absolute alertness. “Why would they be wasting their energy resources on teleportation?”

Sumitra looked at the leader with avidity, seeking additional words from him, but the ruler was lost in his thoughts. At last, after a brief silence, the assistant spoke. “Shall I–”

“Yeah,” Varuna responded by nodding. “He has my permission.”

Varuna tapped on the smart glasses he was wearing, and a couple of seconds later, Bhadraksh materialised.

“Your Majesty.” Bhadraksh bowed his head.

He faced the other courtiers and bowed to them. Soon after receiving their acknowledgement, he looked at Varuna again.

“The chief of Asurloka,” Bhadraksh went on, “sends his best wishes and regards.”

“We wish him and the people of Asurloka the best of health too,” Varuna said. Assuming a solemn expression, he asked in a grave voice, “What brings you here?”

Bhadraksh had not expected Varuna to be so direct and quick. He took a deep breath and sighed. The matter was serious and pressing, as he was not communicating with the Devas telepathically. He was using his mouth. Only when the affairs were of utmost importance did the celestials resort to verbal communication.

“It’s about the Earth,” the representative of Asurloka said at last.

“Earth?” Varuna echoed.

“Yes, sir.” Bhadraksh bobbed his head a little. “The only celestial article we left on Earth has been discovered by humans.”

“What do you mean?” Varuna asked, furrowing his brows and narrowing his eyes.

“The Ajay Kavach has been unleashed!” Bhadraksh declared with great solemnity.

Varuna couldn’t believe his ears. “The invincible armour of Karna?” he asked, to make sure what he heard was right.

Without uttering a word, Bhadraksh conveyed his assent by nodding. Varuna turned towards one of his ministers who headed the Department of External Affairs.

“Why do I hear this from him?” he asked with righteous indignation. “What is our surveillance department doing?”

The embarrassed minister didn’t speak. He dropped his head instead and bit his lower lip.

Facing Bhadraksh once again, Varuna spoke, assuming a false air of indifference, “So, what about it?”

“We are concerned,” Bhadraksh protested, “that the Kavach may fall into the wrong hands.”

“What happens on Earth should be of no concern to us,” Varuna declared. “Moreover,” he went on, “if what you say is true, then the divine invincible armour will find the master who is worthy of it. Don’t you know it has a mind of its own?”

“If it is so, sir, why do we still monitor Earth?”

“Just for the sake of it. We monitor all the planets that can support life.”

“What if the best human of today is not as good as the worst man of the Dvapara era? We shouldn’t have left the Ajay Kavach on Earth. Humans don’t deserve celestial weapons. They are mostly violent beings, completely driven by their base instincts. Their motivations are generally ignoble and animalistic. If only Lord Indra–”

“Indra did what he thought was best to do in his position and in his times,” Varuna asserted. “After the gruesome war of Mahabharata, many of the Kaurava sympathisers resorted to terrorism. Krishna was protective of Yudhishthira and the other Pandavas. So, he asked Indra for divine armour. He thought it might come in handy in the future. Indra couldn’t say no to him; nobody could say no to Krishna. Had I been the ruler then, I too would have yielded to Krishna’s request. We can’t blame Indra. Krishna was such a charismatic figure. It’s a different thing altogether that he never used it. We should, therefore…” Varuna stopped speaking.

“Well.” Bhadraksh was persistent. “I am sure that if we ask Indra today-”

“Indra is no longer our leader.” Varuna gestured at his subject with anger, for he was a little offended. “There is no point harping on what he did or what he would do.”

“I apologise, sir, for my waywardness,” Bhadraksh said in a polite voice. “I was swayed by pressure. You see, our government is worried and concerned.” Vertical creases appeared on his forehead the next moment. “Every time,” the troubled ambassador went on, “humans got hold of our things, their planet slipped into a state of utter chaos, disarray and madness.”

“So, what does your government plan to do?” Varuna cocked his brow. “Retrieve the Kavach from Earth?”

“You are right, sir,” Bhadraksh assented by nodding. “We shouldn’t waste any time, and retrieve the article as soon as we can, as one second on our planet is equivalent to one hour on Earth. Perhaps things are already going out of our hands, as we speak.”

“Hold your horses!” Varuna sighed. After a long pause, he resumed, “We have seen what happens when celestials interfere with human lives. We have witnessed the failure of our past policies. That’s why when Indra’s tenure ended and I took over, the first thing I did was to sign the treaty with the then government of Asurloka. Don’t you know what agreement we arrived at?” He fixed his stern, accusing eyes on the ambassador. “We decided,” the ruler said with emphasis, “not to get in their way so that they could evolve naturally. Humans are better left alone. Look how far they have come on their own. Without our help, they have ushered Earth into a new scientific era. Without our assistance, the humans have caused their planet to enter a new epoch.” There was a short pause.

“Yes,” Varuna resumed, “there have been a few setbacks not so long ago. The two devastating world wars. The arms race, the age of nuclear weapons, I completely agree. Had we poked our nose into their affairs, the results would have been more awful and unpleasant. Indeed, they are reckless towards their environment. They are making their planet unliveable for every species by unprecedented, unchecked pollution. Nevertheless, they are slowly realising their follies. They are now aware and collectively working towards the healing process. Everything is self-correcting, everything comes to a balance, eventually.”

There was a brief pause again.

“It is a part of their spiritual journey,” Varuna continued, assuming a solemn expression. “Everything that happens is leading them here. Every damn action. All choices humans make. It’s all leading them here. Even an infant Deva knows that. This is the simplest truth.”

Silence crept in once again. Bhadraksh gazed at Varuna as if some injustice had been done to him, but he stayed quiet. Varuna judged his subject aptly.

“Your distrust of humans,” the monologue continued, “is justified. However, what is done is done. Let things take their course. Intervention in human lives is uncalled for.  We are better off watching them from far away. They are neither ready, nor they are mature enough to know about our existence. Moreover…” Varuna manufactured a chuckle. “There is this thing which humans of today call ‘The Butterfly Effect.’ Any change, however small it may be, results in something big and disastrous.” There was silence for a while, but soon Varuna added, “Well, I think I have made my position clear.” He sighed. “Don’t forget. We were once humans too.”

“Sir, you indeed have an unerring eye for what is essential.” Bhadraksh nodded. “You are certainly blessed with a keen vision for Devloka’s future,” he tried appeasing the ruler with his sweet words. “But this is bigger than any of us. It was we who left the Ajay Kavach behind. We should have recovered it when Krishna died but we didn’t. It was our mistake, so we should be mending and fixing it. I know we signed the treaty but our government insists on making an exception. Our ruler is seriously considering altering the agreement a bit. We are not going to take steps on our own. We believe that only through a discussion we can arrive at a peaceful resolution. Therefore, I request you to reconsider your position. Treaties are signed for the sake of convenience, but when they are deemed sacrosanct, as something which is carved in stone, it often becomes quite debilitating. You say we should not interfere. But haven’t we interfered already by not retrieving what is ours?”

Varuna realised at last that Bhadraksh was not ready to yield. It was not his fault, there was no point arguing with him. No rhetoric could persuade him. He was a messenger conveying the words of his employer. And this employer, the government of Asurloka, was not happy with the treaty anymore. After a long period of peace, there was finally a spark which could turn into a blazing fire if they didn’t deal with it at once. He, therefore, took Bhadraksh’s advice on board.

For a few moments, he looked at his courtiers and, after gauging their opinions on the matter telepathically, he flitted his gaze in Bhadraksh’s direction.

“I have received the opinions of my ministers on the subject,” he said. “We will think about it, for a lot of intricacies are involved. Give us some time, and we will hopefully make the necessary amendments in the treaty, which would be acceptable to both parties. Convey our message to your leadership and ask them to be in touch. We can’t alter the agreement on our own. I still maintain the view that we should wait and watch. But this is not a dictatorship. Our ministers are willing to pay heed to what your leadership has to say. Just don’t get too optimistic, it all depends on the discussion we have.”

“Thank you, sir.” Bhadraksh bowed his head. “But we have to be quick. We don’t have time.”

The ambassador then bowed before the rest of the courtiers and, in a snap, vanished altogether.


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