It is early morning and two men are standing in a barren field. They are wearing some dirty, cheap clothes. One of them is holding a loaded revolver, full of lead-copper bullets. Some distance from them lay the dead body of a man. Crows have flocked the cadaver, cutting through his clothes to get to his flesh. His camouflaged dress reveals that he’s a soldier.
“He is an Indian” one of the men shouts in local dialect, observing the color of the dead man’s dress. His sound reveals panic with what this means. “You shot an Indian soldier you fool” he growls at the other one.
“I didn’t knew he was an Indian. If he was, why did he shoot at us? Killed at-least 40 people in my village” the other one says, angry and surprised at this revelation.
“I don’t know. We need to ditch this gun…”
The other than disassembles his Do It Yourself revolver, and throws all components as far as he can, and in opposite directions…
Promptly the two men run away, leaving an Indian soldier on the Indian soil, waiting for the army to find his corpse, before the crows reduce it to bones. His eyes are wide open, as if he was searching for something in the sky. His fingers are clasped, as if in pain, or as if in faith. His mouth is open, as if he was trying to call someone before he died…
Few hours back…
Lt. Cdr. Mannu breathes heavily. Martha has recognized that he’s suffocating, as she had before.
“Menooo, Oxygen is 25% normal, 45% adverse”. She speaks in a calm, composed tone, with a hint of compassion and concern.
“Your body oxygen is going down at 2%, and body temperature is going up at 4%. Relax Menooo. Can you relax?” She asks, in a composed tone.
“Still can’t pronounce my name, eh Martha?” Mannu is thinking. “Insensitive robot”, a defiant smirk occupies his lips for an instant, and then escapes the next one, before Martha could sense it. He feels too weak to react physically. Martha continues to speak, asking him to relax, but Mannu knows he cannot resist. He doesn’t feel any better. He wants to press open the flask, to feel the warm air on his face. He feels suffocated, he is tempted to puke.
“Mannu, can you hear me?” operator speaks in a voice eerily similar to Mannu’s mother. “Son, relax. Take long breaths. Everything will be ok.”
“Twinkal twinkal little star, how I wonder what you are” operator recites nursery rhymes softly, in Mannu’s ears, in an attempt to calm him down. And even though, it’s a blatantly conspicuous attempt, it does calm him down. Mannu is transported to his childhood. He sees his nursery teacher, AnuWadhwa mam, and imagines himself looking up at her. He almost wishes that she does not look back. It pains a little; “you disappoint me”, she had said to him. But how beautiful she looks, just like a mother does. She is singing the rhyme and asking him to repeat it after her. Mannu repeats it after her, slowly, softly. As he recites the poem, he also calms down. His breathing returns to normal, body heat goes down.
“Twinkal twinkal…” operator continues in Mannu’s mother’s voice. Mannu’s eyes slowly get uncluttered. He gradually unclenches his fists, unholds the flask button.
“Alright, shut-up” Mannu says. Martha switches herself off. The operator also disconnects from Mannu’s node.
Mannu is in a squatting position, he closes his eyes. Things are almost back to normal. He can slowly let go of the memories: AnuWadhwa mam, Nysa-his digital teacher, his mother. Nysa slowly switches off in his mind, shrinking its humanobot form till it vanishes. Mannu’s breathing returns to normal.
He can hear faint noises from the sky, sounds of men and women moaning, speaking ecstatically in an alien language; these are advertisements being broadcasted by sales-bots, the last mile salesmen. These flying saucers project 3-dimentional ads, with the sky as their screen. They also carry an inventory of the products, mostly light weight items targeted specifically towards the rural populace where they are mostly centered. And to complete the transaction, they can accept digital payment on the point of sales, thus bridging the gap between advertisement and retailing, and earning their designation as a Salesmen. From its orgasmic tone, Mannu can make out that the advertisement currently being featured is related to some sex-related product, perhaps a pill, a condom or a sex-toy. Regulations regarding sexuality in television have become lax and, if they can prove relevance to their products, advertisers can show much more than just a couple holding hands. Mannu feels a lust to see it. However, the next moment a different ad starts playing, some high-end mobile phones this time.
The only other sound Mannu hears is the loud cries of his comrades, from other side of the camp. Only cries, no blast; the worse kind of death. These are biological weapons, 10 million antimatter viruses in each bomb. 100 viruses can devour an entire body in 15 seconds. They’re working on a shorter digestion cycle, so that the enemy dies with lesser pain, as per the UNFWUC Pakistan protocol on humane Inter-country warfare. Mannu’s father had laughed out loud one day, surprising everyone, upon reading about this protocol in the newspaper.
“They used to regulate on peace. Now they are regulating on war” He had said with a careless chuckle.
The antimatter viruses are increasing in number in Mannu’s vicinity, his AI (Artificial Intelligence) pal continuously updates his subconscious mind. The titanium alloy layer on his suit protects him, at-least for now. It hampers their consumption rate to 10-4cm per hour. This means that it’ll take them one year to eat away the one centimeter alloy layer on his suit.
The viruses are a recent phenomenon. Developed by a team of scientists working with R&D division of Google in the peaceful Switzerland, the original intent of these viruses was as a “permanent solution to electronic waste”, or at-least that’s what the Google press release had claimed, five years back:
“Scientist with Google’s newly created life sciences R&D team have discovered a new breed of intelligent viruses which feed on silicon and plastics. These single cell protozoans (a species of microorganisms) do not need oxygen to survive. They have been demonstrated to be capable enough to identify and move into inter-atomic cavities and derive energy from the movement of successive atoms. These organisms have shown special in-situ inclination towards ABS, polycarbonates (plastic types used in computers) and silicon. The researcher team says that this inclination could most probably be because of the higher inter-molecular space in plastics, but added that more research is needed to reveal the real causes behind their action…”
“cause behind their actions” Mannu had felt amused reading this last bit. “actions…”, as if they’re humans, who can choose their actions and suffer the consequences. No, these little bastards had no choice.
A year later, this is exactly what Google’s team found out. The only reason these viruses were seemingly devouring into plastics and silicon was because they had only been exposed to computer waste, which were predominantly comprised of silicon metals and alloys. It was only when the organisms were brought out of labs, that people became aware of their true potential. The superfast anaerobic digestive system of these things consumed an entire chimpanzee and converted it into some forms of energy, predominantly heat. “Eat, burn, die, and no shit!” a meme associated with them had become viral on the internet.
It was a big bang news at the time. Watching the electronic waste getting vanished in thin air in a matter of minutes left the viewers in awe.
“Where does it go, damn it?” Mannu saw himself ask one day, half rhetorically.
Rumors were always in the air, and within a few months, Google setup its new division, Google Defense. And the second product, after Google Eye off-course (erstwhile Google Maps, which now offered classified information as well and which was no more free. Instead it was charged so heavily that only few governments or ultra-wealthy people could afford it, mostly for defense related strategic purpose), was biological weapons. They called it traceless bomb. Everyone else called it anti-matter, perhaps a little too much inspired from Dan Brown’s novels.
Mannu is sitting in squatting position.
“Drinking water, please” he requests Martha.
“One minute please.” Martha says while she switches on the filter. It pumps up the water filtered from Mannu’s piss and delivers it in Mannu’s mouth. Mannu can’t help but make a sour face as the water drenches his tongue and the inside of his mouth.
“It’s piss for god’s sake” he thinks even as he knows that Martha can sense his disgust from the curve of his face and his physical expression. Mannu wants to curse Martha, for no apparent reason, so that she realizes, and the world realizes, that he’s frustrated, from not knowing whether to hate her or love her, to be suspicious of or to embrace Artificial Intelligence; for if he were to embrace her, wouldn’t it be almost like turning his back on his sister? He tries not to think about his sister; it confuses him. He doesn’t know what’s right and what’s wrong.
Mannu is resting his tired body and aching lungs, when for a moment he hears a faint sound, a light whistle, which gets louder the same instant. The AI pal senses deep fear from Mannu’s pulses…
In that single instant many things happen. His subconscious mind becomes aware of a known mortal danger, and the same moment it orders ‘someone’ to ‘press air-boosters’. The command occurs naturally, a result of many hours spent training the subconscious, becoming aware of its nuanced personality, controlling it through various techniques, and internalizing the key-words that can trigger specific actions. It has to be a part of the reflex action, as most often there is not enough time for the active mind to participate. Hence subconscious has to be very specific, the AI pal has to understand reasonably well if the command was a Dead order or a Random order . This one is a Dead-as-hell Order. Thus the very same instant that the command is given, that ‘someone’, Mannu’s Artificial Intelligence pal, presses open the nitro-boosters. The next second a jet of dormant oxy-nitride under high pressure blasts out from his suit and thrusts him up in the air, like a football. The same moment, a bomb explodes at the exact spot where Mannu was resting.
2 Dead order is a fictional army command which the person intends for it to be executed while fully knowing its consequences. Random order is a fictional command which is given by a human without being fully cognizant of the consequences. “Damn! I wish I was dead” is a Random order which will not be executed by the AI pal.