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Afterlife Kinshuk Sunil Science Fiction Copyright Š 2006, Kinshuk Sunil. All rights reserved.

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, business establishments, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Afterlife Kinshuk Sunil

A tale is unknown, unless it is told, A tale is forsaken, unless it is heard.

Contents 01. The End of a Dream ……………………………………………………. 02. A Breach of Trust ……………………………………………………. 03. The Launch ……...……….……………………………………………. 04. Unexpected Guests ……………………………………………………. 05. Ghosts in the Machine ……………………………………………………. 06. Inbound ……………………………………………………………………. 07. The Rabbit Hole ……………………………………………………………. 08. The Blue Screen of Death ……………………………………………. 09. Alice in Wonderland ……………………………………………………. 10. The Wanted Man ……………………………………………………. 11. Propaganda, No More ……………………………………………………. 12. Back Home …………………………………………………………….

07 17 30 xx xx xx xx xx xx xx xx xx

01. The End of a Dream The fire alarms started blaring. The red alarm lights were flashing all over this dark room in brief instants, revealing thick black smoke rising from the floor below and engulfing the whole room, as if embracing god. The scene was that of utter chaos. Pandemonium! He could hear wild screams – that of a young girl, and people running hither thither. The darkness was very dense - he could not even make out shapes in the darkness. The flame below was roaring, growing brighter with every moment. Suddenly, the roaring flames engulfed the room, with a thunderous sound. Bright red flames were all that he could see now, like the many tongues of a devil eagerly devouring all in its way. White-hot flames started licking his body, tenderly. This is my own little inferno, he thought, my own little pool of flickering life. He laughed a cold, mirthless, devilish laugh. *

Rahul Sharma woke up with a start. Instinctively, his hand reached for the alarm clock at his bedside table and he gently tapped the button that would turn the foul machine silent. A ringing silence filled the room. He looked up, taking stock of the room. Glancing at the other side of the bed, he could see that it was empty. She must be down, preparing breakfast. He smiled. The room was dark. He reached for the window-curtains and pulled them open. It was still early morning, and crimson rays filled the room dispelling some darkness but giving it a more ethereal hue. He touched his forehead. It was lined with drops of cold sweat. Wiping it, he stood up, standing barefooted on the cold bedroom floor. He could hear Shruti’s mischievous voice from somewhere outside the room, maybe the dining hall. She will need some more persuasion today! He walked into his dark bathroom and switched on the lights. The room shone with stark brilliance, blinding his eyes for an instant. As his eyes adjusted to the new luminescence, the bathroom slid into focus. Bending over the washbasin, turning the tap on, he felt cold water run on his palms. And as he felt the cool-ness and the calm of the cold water, taking in the world he belonged to, not the one he just left, the dream came back to him in harrowing detail. It was just a dream. Just A Dream! A dream, yet, the details of it were very realistic. The burning house closely resembled his home. He had seen himself burn and he was sure of it. He knew his family was caught into this chaos. He had not seen them, but he had heard Shruti scream and cry. Even though, he had not seen a single person - he could hardly make out any shape in that darkness, he was disturbed. Give in to superstitions, and dreams seen before sunrise were bound to be true. You do not believe in superstitions, Rahul. Do you?

Splashing a handful of water on his face, he looked up into the mirror. He did not look cold, nor was he very handsome. Rahul was a man of thirty-four; fairly young. His light hazel eyes, generally, radiated calmness, but, were now constricted in excess light and tension. He kept a small unkempt beard, which complemented his looks. He kept long hairs that betrayed the seriousness of his job, and though he was not wearing them right now, he liked to wear spectacles. That was his way of being a maverick, he wanted to look old fashioned and traditional.

He glanced at his deformed face reflected in the mirror. No! It was not deformed, he was smiling. * As he walked into the dining hall, he could not help suppressing his smile. Shruti was busy, sitting at the dining table, quibbling over her morning cereals in her sweet baby voice. “… No mamma, I want to eat major…” “No sweetie, this one is quite fine. See, this is so tasty… Mamma likes it so much.” “No! Not this one. I want that one… please mamma, not everyday!” Mansi was having a tough time feeding their seven-year-old daughter. She was a bit flustered by repeatedly trying to prove the advantages of vegetables and nutrition to a seven-year old. “Good Morning, honey! Why are you troubling mamma? Eat what mamma gives you to eat; it’s for your own good” “Good morning daddy!” she answered in a voice that suggested submission to authority. She pouted her lips in protest, but she surrendered, falling quite. That gave some muchneeded respite to Mansi. She retired into an empty chair and stared at his face, looking into his calm light-hazel eyes. Mansi had always wondered what was it that made Shruti obey her father. Was it affection? It did not seem so! Was it authority? No. Not authority for sure. Perhaps it was one of those things, she thought she would never learn. She had no idea! “Had a bad morning, dear?” She asked with concern, eyeing his disheveled hair. Rahul mumbled something that remotely sounded like “Just a dream…” “…must be the pre-launch anxieties!” she cut him short, with a matter-of-fact tone. “Maybe”. He wasn’t too sure. Then, as if she had waited all morning to do this - waiting for the right moment, for the right effect, she burst out: “They are talking about it everywhere these days! In the TV, Radio, on the Net! All you get to read, to see, to hear is Afterlife, Afterlife and Afterlife!” she complained. He smiled, patiently. There she goes again. “Now don’t you get me started about it again? It is the most in thing of the day. The technological marvel, isn’t it?”

“Well yes, but….” “No complaints then. You never get such wonderful things to…” “…that is no excuse…” “…gossip about, do you?” “…for… What? Gossip! You think we gossip about your games?” He laughed. It was always fun to see her loose control of her ‘emotions’. It did not happen that frequently to the Miss Calm-and-composed, as he used to call her in their college days. “Say it. Come on! Accept it. It’s just Boy’s Talk. You won’t understand it”, he declared with conviction. She had started a game; he was now playing with her, teasing her. This was his wild card, the joker in the pack, with which they solved all differences between them since their three-year long courtship. When he would be late at night, partying with his ‘pals’ and she would be stuffy about it, he would reply - “its just a boys thing, you being a girl wont understand how important it is for guys to associate in this fashion”, like their ‘slumber parties’. Hearing such crude, humorous replies would make her chuckle and the argument would end. She knew how to play this card, too. When she would be on a shopping spree, which, like all good boys, Rahul despises, and would let her know of his concerns, spat would come the reply – “It’s a girlie business, what would guys know about it?” This way they converted even the most controversial of topics that would have certainly ruined the lives of other couples into healthy, humorous, constructive discussions. In the past twelve years of their association, they had never had a big fight. When two people interact, differences are bound to be there, but they never had a ‘major’ difference. It worked again. This was something she liked about him. He was a serious, committed, hard working fellow. Nevertheless, he was also bestowed with a good sense of humor. He knew how to convert a tricky situation into a hilarious situation. He never waited for presumptions and prejudices to creep into his work; the moment he had an idea, he was ‘going in’ - as he used to call it. She smiled. Now, he has started! Let us see who wins this time, Mr. Plug-and-play. She was game, too. Never, in her life she would miss playing with Rahul, she would not let a discussion go wanting. If he asked for it, he will get it. She smiled mischievously. “OK! So, you boys have finally grown up, haven’t you? Now, its not lets-be-a-superhero or a murder-maniac games, it’s changed… it’s changed to a more mature lets-be-god games, hasn’t it, dear?”

She was playing on, and yet, the sarcasm was hard to miss for Rahul. “Look at it this way Mansi. It is for the good. Its technology, developm…” “And what good will a stupid game with a million gamers logged in from all over the world do? It would curb social discrimination, terrorism, and all such evils. Will it?” He frowned. She won’t give up easy. “Well, first of all remember the term. It is MMORPG! A massive multiplayer online role playing game and not stupid-game-with-a-million-players.” “Isn’t that the funny way of saying things, you tech people use, your M-M-O-R-P-G?” this was her most consistent of taunts. The moment he said anything for a proper term, even if that were about his workstation’s mice, she would retort in the same fashion – ‘the funny way of saying things’. “Well, what is it with you? You never used to react about things I am working on in this fashion! You know it well; it is my dream project, something I had been working on parttime for the last eight years. Is that the way you are going to treat the project?” He, indeed, was surprised by her aggressiveness. She sighed, realizing her mistake and gave in, surrendered. She realized her mistake, her problem. “Sorry honey. I am happy for you. It is just that everywhere you get to hear is the same thing. They are making it monotonous. It is never good to keep droning about a single thing. You see, everywhere they only have few things to talk about these days – the science behind Afterlife for which, they bring a bunch of neuro-scientists that scream at the top of their lungs at discussion shows, or media people discussing the moral and social complications. Then, there are those skeptics who keep on repeating only a single thing – will it be safe? I mean, come on people, wait for the thing! Be patient. A hundred people just won’t waste there five years of worthy time on an unreliable, immoral product, will they?” He swelled with pride. “You should not keep creating prejudices for the public. Why can’t they just wait a bit more and see for themselves? What is it, a bit more time to the launch, isn’t it? But, No! They have to rake the moolah… it’s their business. It is the same thing like… like, when a journalist asks a crash victim – ‘how did you feel when the crash happened?’ These guys… they just don’t care about anything else other than their bread. Has the media no responsibility?” He nodded. She fell silent. Blushing as if she had let him see too much than she intended. He kept surveying her for a moment, and then sighed in a low, long whistle. “Is that it or something else too?” he asked, his peculiar question.

It has always been like this with Mansi. She would rant about things she does not really believe in, to give her words a righteous cause. She was a simple girl - a homemaker who graduated in English literature. And as if to reflect her education, she had a taste that reflected her artistic inclination. She was not shrewd nor was she selfish, but she liked her creature comforts – the little bits of things that complemented her person and was very particular about them. She knew he had seen it. She knew he had anticipated it. She knew he had caught her bluff. Well, here goes then... “Oh nothing, honey! It’s nothing…” She shifted her feet guiltily. “…it’s just… it’s just… oh well!” she chuckled, “…it’s just that I miss that Heather’s show these days. It’s not that I am missing the season, oh no, not the season…” she looked at him to know if he was on the same page with her. “It’s just disturbing my schedule”. ‘Skejule’, she pronounced. Stumped, he stared at her for moments that felt like milliseconds to Rahul but aeons to Mansi. He just stared at her. “God! Girls!” he exclaimed and burst into a fit of uncontrolled, natural laughter. She joined in. The room boomed with their laughter. Hearing the joyous rhythm of their laughter, the little tyke, Shruti fumbled into the room. She liked looking at her parents laugh - they were such merry fellows. However, unfortunately, right now she had business at hand. “Mamma… pappa…” she cried in indignation, “…I am getting late for school. Drive me to school!” “Yes honey, in a moment” And so had begun his day. Hardly, he had thought about what laughing with your family, in your own home, at your own turf meant. How special, how healing it is. He had hardly worried about his dream all this while. He never got the chance to ponder, if it was the ‘pre-launch anxieties’ as Mansi had put it. If this is what life is supposed to be, life is bliss. He felt thankful for his happiness, for their happiness, everyone was not that lucky. Rahul had always wondered, had always tried to comprehend, but couldn’t ever – why families fell apart? He saw his world in his family; he did not need anyone else. Nothing was higher priority, not even his dreams and ambitions. His life revolved around his family. This was the pivot of his life. *

The clock was now showing ‘07:16A’. I would have even mentioned the seconds, but does it really matter? What matters is that it was still morning and about time for each of them to leave for work. No, Mansi was not employed. She was a homemaker - she tended to the routine chores of housekeeping. Her only indulgence every morning was to drive Shruti to her school, and then back home. Within minutes, they all were ready – house locked, bags packed, and lunch-boxes taken. Yes! Lunch-boxes, because Mansi didn’t consider eating stuff prepared outdoors as a healthy habit – it’s “unhygienic” as she would have put it, and also - “the best food is home-cooked food” as she would say, and so they – Rahul and Shruti had their lunchboxes with them as they walked out to the parking. Swiftly, in a fashion that reflects a long-time habit, Mansi took out her car keys from her purse, opened the rear doors, and made Shruti sit there comfortably, with the seat belts put on. Then, she took her place at the driver’s seat, wore her seat belts, started the engine, and gunned her blue Ford out to the main street. In the meanwhile, Rahul opened his Porsche convertible, sat down placidly, humming his favorite Sunstorm’s song. But, obviously, you don’t know the Sunstorms. Sunstorms was the most successful music group of his age. They specialized in Hip-hop, metal and rock music with a uniqueness of their own, which no competitor could beat. Moreover, their lyrics weren’t just some droning about emotions but reflected the profoundness of a brain at work. Rahul loved everything about their music. Therefore, he sat down placidly in his car, humming his favorite Sunstorms song (which for the records is ‘Will I?’), and started the engine. He, too, worked his way to the main road that connected the neighborhood with the city. Switching on the radio in the meanwhile, he looked cheerily out of his screen. A beautiful day shining under the sun waited for him. The welcoming lawns and gardens of the various houses in the neighborhood, watered-well plants, shining green leaves – he felt so full of life at this sight. Soon he passed the main gate of the complex. “Gloria Estates”, it read. And he made it a point to read it everyday. The words filled him with an unexplainable happiness. He had the best housing his money could afford, and why not? His family deserved the best. Crossing over the gateway he embarked on the main street of the city, the ‘arteries of a city’ some thinker had called them, and arteries they were. Rahul, at times, used to marvel on the simplicity, ingenuity, and necessity of roads and traffic. He used to ponder over the beginning of roads, how regular treading over grasslands by our prehistoric ancestors must have created the first common pathways – through jungles, through meadows, to the rich hunting grounds, perennial water reserves. How

soon, with development and civilization, trade emerged – barter and then commerce. Traffic grew, and with traffic grew prosperity of empires. Prosperity gave birth to insecurity, which in-turn demanded army. Soon, roads not only transferred goods and prosperity but also troops and destruction. While it took years to build a thriving city, it only took a couple of months for an army to march to it and another couple of days to pillage it, tear down its every structure and burn its every farmland. However, the story does not stop here. With empires came imperial ambitions. Empires waged wars, acquired new grounds, expanded their boundaries, and so expanded the network of roads. Soon, humanity mastered the oceans, and soon we scaled the continents. Global trade had emerged. And so forth the tale of civilization and development went on to the present day and in fact it was going on even today, and here he was - a small unit on that giant network. He drove on, barely noticing the songs and the discussion being aired on the radio. They were part of the ambience - he never listened to them, they just complemented the environment, made the world feel more real. Today was an exception, though. He suddenly heard something that was of interest to him. The radio jockey, speaking chirpily over his microphone was announcing in a triumphant tone – “…and friends this is just in, we are pleased to inform you that Futura Interactive have just confirmed the release date for ‘Afterlife’. Now ain’t that jolly good. And, guess what? The announced release date is that of May third… Whoa! Just three weeks from today, these people are in some hurry… Therefore, folks, do not forget to book your copies right away or you might be stuck in a long-long queue. And now, we have another request on…” Now, when did that happen? Rahul was not aware of any decision about the release date being made. So much work was yet to be done, Leo knew it and yet? Leo is going to get one, he has earned it for himself! For the first time in his driving history, Rahul wanted to run his way to his office, he wanted to over-speed. “Drive by the rules”, Mansi’s voice reminded him. He always abided by her words. After all, she was the mother of their home, and everybody follows what mother says… even her husband. Thus, fighting his urge to kill the devil, Rahul constrained himself to work his way to his office as normally as possible. Nevertheless, his red face and the crimson ears spoke of a different tale.

If you were to ask Rahul now – “What about your dream, the one you had this morning?” I bet all my money, down to the last penny, Rahul would have replied “Dream, what dream? That is my dream they are rushing with.” ***

02. A Breach of Trust Vincent Franco stood at the window in his room at the 32nd floor. He always enjoyed the panoramic sight from up here. We all are mighty individuals, proud of our existences, he thought, but from up here, we are just tiny specks of life, like ants, incapable, and insignificant. It was a re-assuring sight for him to see the city progress at its own speed. Everything was so normal. Normal? (Bah! Humbug). Vincent was a thin man, marred by years of hard work, bound together by tight deadlines and schedules. He looked quite old for a man of fifty-five. He had seen life, and he had a vast experience behind him. He had been working with Virtual Reality technology for the past twenty years and that was some achievement. His experience, his insight, his passion for his work, and his ‘jolly good’ nature were indispensable for his team, and hence for Futura Interactive. Looking down at the city, he remembered his first day with the project. Everyone was so excited. The project was very ambitious, something that no company had ever decided to try. The project required extensive research and new breakthroughs in science and manufacturing technology, and this in turn requires huge amounts of investment, capable people, and established infrastructure. Futura Interactive was not wanting on any of these counts, and Vincent believed it was about time to try this concept and of all the establishments - Futura Interactive was the best-suited one to try it. He was surprised to look at his own reflection in the windowpane. What was that he had ever expected? Nothing. He knew how treacherous, management people are. They have no regards for the people working on the thing, no regard for their opinions and estimates. After five long years, they had now started rushing to the end. Why is profit so important? Won’t a work well done, would be a work successful, too? Were they expecting competition for Afterlife? Did they think any other company could make an attempt like Afterlife that too in a month’s period? He knew he would never understand the management people, but he did not care. Until the moment he had a job to do, he was busy with his job with no moment to spare. When the job was done, he’d rather go on a short vacation with his family instead of pondering over the management. Preposterous!

Vincent returned to his desk. With another glance at the ‘awful piece of paper’, as he referred to the memo that arrived this morning, he launched his Project Management Interface on his workstation and sent a ‘Very Important’ meeting request to the top three of the project. Why do I have to be the one to disclose it to them? However, there are compromises the project manager has to make. He had just completed it and leaned back in his chair, in an attempt to relax when he heard agitated footsteps rushing towards his room. He had expected it. Of all the people working at Afterlife, Vincent knew this would be the man who’d come first. After all, you don’t mess with his son. “Good Morning Mr. Sharma”, said LISA. “What is this going on, Leo?” “Good morning, Rahul! Pretty early today!” “You are not answering me.” “Easy man… what would I answer you…? I had no idea myself. It just came in, this morning.” “You had no idea? Leo, you and me, we are the people who mess with the release date. And we both had no idea! What is the management playing at?” Rahul was very much agitated. “Have a look at this. This is the complete piece.” He handed the memo to Rahul. Rahul took it, and read the ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ over the memo. “Confidential? Is that some joke? Even the media knows! Everyone knows about it, in the whole wide world.” “Oh no, they don’t! They only know abut the release date… that’s all that they know… that piece of information is not confidential… be patient enough to read the whole of it.” Rahul looked, his mouth gaping in surprise, at Vincent. What could make Leo sound so defeated? Well, he’d soon find out. His eyes returned to the memo. He read it rapidly. The change in the texture of his face was apparent – terror filled his eyes, his face was distorted with protest, his nose flaring with anger… “What in the hell’s name…” he choked. “What in the world, are they planning to do? Do they have any idea?” he looked at Vincent, his eyes pleading for support. “Have they even cared to look at its design? It was not designed with probable backdoors. You know it Leo! It could spell disaster. Messing with the whole design and code, right now…” he resigned glumly in one of the chairs. “What are they playing at?”

“I’ll tell you what they are playing at! They are playing at a centuries old concept – profit. They want to make money. That’s all they want to do.” “But, you understand the complexities. We had testing to be done… even the alpha was not ready… all my way down here; I kept making plans for the testing… and boy! Backdoors?” Vincent nodded glumly. He understood what Rahul was feeling. He had expected it. He knew Rahul was not this weak, but there are liberties that people make with their dreams. Vincent understood. “And all they give us is three weeks? Leo, did you try telling them what they are tal…” “I did.” “And they won’t budge?” “They won’t budge.” “What is this – some sort of a freak show?” despair was evident in his voice. “Gear up young man! We have a lot to do.” Rahul straightened up. He knew Leo was right. They cannot afford wasting their time in protests. He had seen the memo. It had to be done. So what do we do now? As if Vincent heard his thoughts, he replied, “I have already sent a meeting request to you, James, Koehler, and Murathy. Go to your desk, power up, and then come back for the meeting in the Meeting Room Number 27. Ok? We need to hear their views and to decide how we have to go about it. Right?” “Right.” Rahul stood up with poise. With an attempt, he turned around, walked up to the door. The door opened, he put his left foot out, and stopped with a jerk. He turned to look back at Vincent. “All this won’t mess things, Leo. Will it? ” “No, it won’t. We’ll make sure it won’t!” He smiled in reassurance. He walked out into the office corridor, the door closed behind him with a swish. “Have a nice day, Mr. Sharma” chirped LISA. * Rahul’s office room was at the 29th floor. Decorated by many placards holding inspirational quotes and some plant pots, it by no means, looked like the office that would change the world. However, that was the reality.

The man who used to sit here was a science major in physics from a celebrated Indian university. From there he moved on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from where, he was handpicked by the Futura Interactive’s leading tech gurus. This lad was one of the brightest software engineers that Futura Interactive entertained on their payrolls. He was responsible for some of the most ingenious Virtual Reality technologies developed by Futura Interactive in the past decade, and as you must have guessed, he was the father of Afterlife. Well, let me say that in a more conventional way – Afterlife was the brainchild of Mr. Rahul Sharma. Rahul had been working part-time on the design of a simulation technology for military and scientific research, which he christened ‘NES3MA’ for ‘Neuro-Electric Simulation System for Scientific and Military Application’ and he pronounced it ‘Nessema’. With assistance of Prof. Henry Kinamoto, he developed a basic design prototype of his NES3MA and displayed it to the company’s top brass. It is unnecessary to say that they were impressed. The company then offered to fund their research and sponsor the technology, which Rahul gladly accepted. The company divided the project into two modules – one for the initial purpose, i.e., Scientific and Military Applications christened ‘NES3MA’ after its predecessor, while the later was being developed as a lite version of NES3MA as an MMORPG, it was re-christened as ‘Afterlife’. While research under the leadership of Prof. Kinamoto was still going on for perfection of simulation of complex senses, simulation system for Afterlife was ready. And it was assigned to Rahul to successfully create a stable and secure gaming environment using the lite NES3MA. While information related to Afterlife had been made public, nobody, other than the few working on it, knew about NES3MA. In short, While Prof. Kinamoto worked on the issues of simulation, Rahul had to ensure that the simulation always happens in a controlled environment. If this control was ever lost, mayhap, a disaster will strike. * Rahul was still very agitated as he retuned to his room. The door was locked. Fumbling for his Employee Identity card in the pockets of his jacket, he retrieved the card, swiped it at the security console, and waited for the door to open. All he got in return was a beep that meant default. He swiped the card again, but to no avail. Frustrated, he hammered the door with his fists, swore at it, and swiped the card again. The same default beep. Frustrated, he made to return the card back into the deeps of his pockets, when he realized the source of default. He was repeatedly trying to open the door, by swiping his social security card. Flustered, he searched for the employee

card, successfully retrieved it (he crosschecked it this time) and then swiped the card at the console. This time the door opened with a slight swish. “Welcome Mr. Rahul Sharma. Powering up your workstation. Mr. Vincent Franco has requested a ‘Very Important’ meeting with you in another 20 minutes. Have a pleasant day” said LISA in a fast and business-like tone of a secretary. LISA, or the Local Integrated Security Agent, was responsible for all the security systems at Futura Interactive Office Complex (referred to as FIG by the employees, FIG for Futura Interactive GmbH – the complete name of the company) and served as a digital secretary to all individuals having a security clearance of ‘B+’ and higher. No points for guessing, LISA was designed by Rahul and installed at the FIG Networks three years back. Prior to her, Futura Interactive relied upon the manual security network under the leadership of one Mr. Jeff Thompson. Since LISA, Mr. Thompson had retired. Walking into his room, Rahul pushed himself onto his chair. He sat there and gasped. Nothing is going right today! Involuntarily, his dream returned to him. Though distracted, Rahul turned his attention to his workstation. He launched his Team Collaboration Interface and accepted the request Leo had sent. He had to report to the Meeting Room Number 27 within 15 minutes. There was still a lot of time for that. The tone of the memo had told him that the job had to be done. Well then, what am I waiting for? Lemme check the possibilities... “LISA! Can you just get me a modular G2 render of the Afterlife design?” “In a moment, Sir!” she replied pompously, as if a war veteran reporting to his superior. As LISA started working upon the modular design of Afterlife, Rahul sat placidly observing his creation, and many thoughts passed through his grey matter in a succession of flashes. LISA was just not a set of pre-recorded replies. She was the brain-of-her-time, the mostintelligent-artificial-intelligence and even now, she was modestly unrivalled. With a team of more than fifty psychologists, neuro-scientists, psycholinguists and other such men (Rahul felt comfortable by referring to all these people including the ‘other such men’ by a single word – scientists; it encompassed all.) and his own team of software engineers. They worked non-stop, working out how the human brain deciphered all data related to languages – how we understood what was being said – context, meanings, and usage, how we framed our response and how we phrased it. The solution they came upon was not perfect – it was ‘satisfactorily’ perfect.

Work had gone for about two years with the programming team of Mr. James Martin, performing remarkably in very limited time. It had passed three year since LISA was put to use. Three very long years that felt like moments for Rahul. The concept for LISA was one of the oft-repeated concepts in software history – that of voice recognition and natural language processing. Rahul had added his own bit of Artificial Intelligence into it. While other softwares worked on a vocabulary built around keywords and as a reactive system, LISA was intelligent, as almost as a being. You just didn’t keep issuing orders to LISA in a restricted set of about hundred keywords, you could actually chat with her about various topics – from sports to weather, politics to movies, even your most confidential projects. LISA was a true, honest, and trustworthy friend. And she built her knowledgebase from all of her instances. LISA had been designed keeping snooping in mind, and Rahul had ensured LISA could never be turned into a spy. A complex system with manual overrides and manual checkpoints that was hidden from the general employee but known to some from the highest strata of the corporation, accomplished this. Industrial espionage and sabotage is inevitable, but LISA ensured two things – first, any act of espionage or sabotage would destroy the company (not in physical, but philosophical sense) and secondly, you’d need to be one of the owners of the company to bring it down in such a fashion. Although the concept seemed quite common, the inspiration for LISA was unique. Shruti had been about a year when work on LISA begun and LISA owned her birth to Shruti. Shruti was a late beginner – she started speaking later than normal, and all that while, Rahul had begun on his attempts to understand human cognizance. He was working on what was going on in her daughter’s mind and as the understanding of the subject grew, the designer in him outlived the father and by the time Shruti started speaking “Papa” (which sounded more like ‘phu phu’), Rahul was busy with data flows and entity relations, class designs and class structures for LISA. The result was history. Obstructing his thoughts, a blue vision stood hovering in his office space. He had marked a temporary stretch as his G2 Render Zone, and LISA always drew her renders at this point in space. G2 Render too was a Rahul Sharma design. It was a primitive holographic display technology, which operated on the premises of laser display. Nothing was spectacular about the G2 - it was a normal technology, which had been in existence for some time, Rahul only made it in a new flavor. However, there was something spectacular about G2 Displays, it was the blunder that re-christened it as G2 displays. The G2 stood for Glow Light, which was Rahul’s take on lasers, and Rahul originally referred to it as GL Displays. However, while preparing the handouts and other materials to be used for the launch ceremony, the technical writers made a small blunder – the

original documents that Rahul had drawn up used a cursive font for ‘L’ that resembled the shape ‘2’ quite closely. The technical writers instead of reading it as ‘L’ read it as ‘2’ and prepared the whole material. Rahul would never forget what followed. At the launch, Rahul walked on to the podium, a bit amused, as he had been welcomed to discuss his G2 technology with the press, instead of the GL technology. When he reached there and looked at the final material for the first time, Rahul could not afford gasping with astonishment – his GL technology had been turned into G2 technology and now he had to comply. Pausing several times during that presentation to pronounce ‘G2’ instead of ‘GL’ everywhere, Rahul had had enough but for the press. They had a field day talking about a technology about which even the designer was not sure! Futura interactive had looked into the matter and half an hour later, the editor responsible for the blunder had been sacked. Yet, The G2 Render’s story had become an integral chapter in the software blunders lore – the day ‘the’ designer fumbled. Rahul had always considered that as the biggest controversy of his life and had vowed to let nothing surpass it. He hardly knew the funny thing about life – the more you try to control it, the more it runs away. Life had already decided to add some spice in Mr. Sharma’s monotonous life, and he had no idea. This is the irony of life! * As he finally reached at the door marked ‘Meeting Room Number 27’, Rahul was hardly disturbed. His watch showed the time as 09:32AM and technically, he had been late by about 2 minutes for the meeting. He approached the door and it gave away, by a slight swish. The interiors of a plush room, tastefully decorated, on the 31st floor of the FIG building welcomed him. In the centre of the room was a small, round conference table that could accommodate six people. However, right now only four of these had been occupied. “Finally you come, Mr. Sharma. We all were waiting.” This time, LISA chose to reprimand him. “Yes. Thank You, LISA.” He attempted a smile and then faced the four people sitting before him – Vincent Franco, James Martin, S. Rama Murathy, and Gustaf Koehler. The lion, the elephant, the bull, and the fox. He smiled in an apologetic fashion and walked towards his seat. “I am sorry, gentlemen. I was caught with the subject of this meeting.” And then he looked towards the Lion.

* At FIG, almost every top-level employee had a nickname – some names were common noun for animals, some were phrases. But of all the people given a nickname, the four people sitting before Rahul were the most peculiar. Franco Vincent was called Leo, or the Lion. He was a charismatic leader. Under his supervision, teams worked at an unimaginable efficiency. He was also a strict disciplinarian at the work place and the biggest party-hog after hours. He believed in lead-by-example and hence everyone made him the king of the roost – the Lion. James Martin was the Tech Lead. He had years of experience at coding and his brain worked in ways incomprehensible. There had hardly ever been a problem to which Martin couldn’t find a solution. Years of on-the-desk routines, hamburgers, and diet coke had made him a beefy man – an Elephant. If I’d have introduced Rama Murathy at a more subtle background, say a marketplace, your first impression would have been – he’s a wrestler. Murathy believed in the sanctity of the body – the temple of the holy, and he took great care in maintaining a healthy body. According to him, this too was a service to god. “If all of us would take care of ourselves, even if only ourselves, all problems in this world would be taken care of.”, as he would say. Furthermore, he was a wrestler - not a physical wrestler, but a verbal one. He had studied a unique combination of subjects, a path that only the courageous tread, Law and Marketing, and it had earned him his rewards. He was on the acting capacity of the Legal Advisor and the Public Relations Officer for Afterlife. It was his achievements as a verbal wrestler that earned him the title of the Bull. Gustaf Koehler, on the other hand, was one of the most hated individuals at FIG. He was the Project Collaborator - it was his jurisdiction, at the least legally, that decided whether a project would be carried on by FIG or not. He was very cunning, as cunning as a Fox, in dealing with people and it was this cunningness that made him notorious to everyone – a status that union leaders enjoyed in the past decades. Rahul never enjoyed any interaction with Gustaf and would only entertain him when he had no other option. Seems like, today was such a day. Rahul was called The Designer. When Rahul looked at Vincent, Vincent saw eagerness in Rahul’s face – he had either very good or very bad news. However, such eagerness on Rahul’s part, usually, never bode well.

“I hope you understand Gustaf that being the project manager, I deem it my responsibility to inform the management through you that the company is expecting a major change at a very short notice. If it had been a minor revision…” “I understand your concern Vincent, but you know it is important.” Gustaf cut him short. Murathy’s eyebrows narrowed into thin lines. “I can very well presume that. Well, I’ll let Rahul talk about the issues in a moment. I am sure he has some news for us. But, first I need to enlighten all of us about the issue.” He faced Murathy and Martin. “We received a memo this morning. It requires us to implement some convenience features in the project that would facilitate certain power-users…” he looked towards Gustaf, and then back, “… to directly access private player-data”. Martin gasped, “You want to say… backdoors? I thought… it was… this was about the release date. But then…” his chin wobbled below his fat cheeks. “I accept that you see the gravity of the issue, Martin. And I believe…” Vincent looked towards Murathy, a bit amused, “…that even you understand the situation?” “Not in details, but, I get the general idea”. Murathy was cool about it. He could always preserve his calm in ‘tight’ situations. “I would also like to enforce that we need to keep the information in-house. LISA, I hope you are recording everything in the minutes?” “Yes, Leo.” She purred. “Very well! Rahul, please enlighten us.” Vincent sounded weary. But, his job was done. He could afford the luxury of ease, at least, for now. “Before I jump into the details, I’d like to draw your attention on certain issues. First of all…” Rahul started, his voice distorted with impatience, “we must remember that Afterlife was not designed around potential upheaval of code and certainly not around backdoors”, he frowned. “Secondly, the player data in consideration is being stored at every player’s individual bio-pods. This was done to ensure that no inside employee can ever, by any means, have an unauthorized access to the player’s data - something we are supposed to do now.” He paused, gulping some of his spit to wet his throat. “Moreover, this set of data was one of the most secured set.” He looked around, and then returned his gaze back at Gustaf. “Now, Gustaf, you give us three weeks to release the final release in the market?” “Yes”, Gustaf showed no emotion.

“If we cut short on beta testing, make compromises with further merchandising, cut out on documentation and test Afterlife only for the namesake, we’d still have only about a couple of days to implement the required features. Do you get the math?” On a better occasion, Gustaf would have taken insult at this question, but right now, he chose to remain calm. “I believe, I do” “Do you understand, Mr. Koehler? Does the company understand that we cannot redesign the required components even in a week? To implement it in a day or two, we would need to break through our own security features!” “Yes, but that would be temporarily”. “And what are we to understand by that?” Martin interjected. “Its simple, isn’t it? I wonder why you are not able to see it, or for that matter, why even Rahul is ignoring it…” Rahul tautened and glanced at Vincent for a moment before dedicating his attention back to Gustaf. “… It’s an old technique - we need to hurry now, but after release, we can take all the time in the world to work on the defects and release a security patch or something.” “And what if the security breach is exploited before that patch. Gustaf, look at the implications. FIG would have so much to loose”. This time it was Murathy. He was being a bit impatient but he was doing very well in deceiving any other rash emotion. “Oh! That could be done only by any one of use sitting here”, replied Gustaf, airily waving his hand, laughing. “It’s not that simple, Gustaf. What you need to understand is that a single bug in Afterlife can cause serious technical problems and with so many people ready to jump at our throats, we have zero-tolerance for risks. Do consider the nature of the project!” Rahul summarized. “What you need to understand, Gust…” started Vincent, but Gustaf cut him short again. “You all need to understand this, all of you. I don’t have a clue why this is being done. I was a bit surprised myself. But, I don’t see a reason why you people want to believe it is impossible to do, and shout it aloud. I don’t believe we can have any serious complications. I find the release-then-patch approach quite feasible. And I believe this is what we are going to do!” he concluded. “How many projects have you designed or programmed at, Koehler?” jibed Martin. Martin usually took offence very easily. Some ascribed it to his delicate job experience, some to personality defects, and some as his way to attend to the issues of self-sustenance. This beefy man, with his enormous paunch looked rather comical when angry – his eyes

narrowed into slits, his cheeks reddened and tautened into apples, his swift and heavy breathing making his ever-larger pouch jump every other instant. “Pardon me?” Gustaf was puzzled. This was a personal insult. “I fail to get your point.” “I want to know, how many big projects have you worked on? How much do you know about writing softwares?” “And how is that relevant?” “What you are asking for is like…” Martin paused, foraging for some example, “… a father asking god to give him his new-born with a brain tumor, only because he cant wait nine months for that baby to be completely formed… and, … and he’s suggesting god that he can always cure the tumor afterwards… by releasing a magical patch” Whoever said software-guys were creative people. Vincent shrugged. It was not going, as it should have. Martin had never been a wonderful visionary, finding clear words to reflect his thoughts. “Now, easy Martin. We don’t want all that crap in here. At least Gustaf has an apparent solution to the problem.” “The problem is Gustaf…” Rahul started again, he was disturbed - Martin’s example was, obviously, very disturbing “… in big and complicated projects, it is not easy to correct even small bugs with patches. It usually leads to a situation where a cascading cycle of bugs and errors render your product very infeasible.” “I got the point from Martin’s reference to my experience, thank you.” The ‘reference’ was cold and chilling. “I mean no offence, Gustaf. But try to understand our situation…” “I appreciate your emotions about the project. Passion for your work has always been the hallmark at FIG. But I am satisfied with the patching approach. I can’t see anything to the contrary. Moreover, you guys have no other solution.” Gustaf’s cold voice was chilling down to the spine, almost hurting. “We must not forget that it can also be a legal catastrophe. We cannot claim to any subscriber that his file is open for any peeping tom who has paid to see it. No one would subscribe then”, droned Murathy in an expert-of-the-subject tone. “Why not? We’ll claim the policy. Only that we would be claiming it in the fine print.” Gustaf winked and smiled, incredulously, “It would be right there - in our Privacy Policy… it has to be there. We can’t afford any suit against us for violation of privacy at this important juncture.” “You mean… but that’s… that’s very gross”

“Now let’s not be subjective – we have got a job to do and we have no time, why waste any time that we have in such obscure niceties?” “But why was the decision to release taken so abruptly. Vincent and me, why weren’t we informed? You see, you are thrusting this no-time clause on us, why?” “Please don’t presume that I run FIG. I have no information about what you are asking of me. But, we all know Max is getting senile.” “But…” Rahul volunteered, but was cut short by Gustaf. “What is it, now? Haven’t all questions been answered? Let’s not waste any time anymore, let’s add two and two to make four.” Gustaf concluded the meeting in a very abrupt fashion, something for which none was ready. Then, he looked towards Vincent who showed all signs of resentment. “I see…” frowned Vincent, “… you have done your homework well, Gustaf”. “Now, what am I to make out of that, Vincent?” Gustaf smiled again, incredulously. ***

03. The Launch Finally, its over. Thank goodness! Rahul sighed in a deep, long breath. He was standing in his bedroom balcony, gazing at the peaceful heaven above him. This was his favorite indulgence. The placid blue with twinkling life offered much needed tranquility in this man’s hectic schedules. It inspired him to work and reminded him that he is a very small unit in a greater whole. It reminded him not to get complacent about his work and his achievements, that he was only doing that which was pre-ordained. Spiritual? Rahul never thought he was, but he could never deny the existence of a superior force – Nature. Nature was his god, nature was his religion, and nature was his inspiration. Whenever, he was caught in a tight situation, nature offered him a safe haven. At times, when he had no solution to an all-imposing problem, he would find the solution right in front of him - in nature. He had used the behavioral studies of ant movements for his path-finding algorithms, architecture of beehives for his data structure definitions, the working of the human brain for electronic simulation, and so forth. He believed that god is an all-designer – he designed the hardware, he designed the software and then he built the machine too. Rahul belonged to an old school of thought – the being possesses all information in the universe; he has answers to all complex problems; all he has to do is delve into his self and look for the answers. However, Rahul’s belief was a bit different. While he wondered if he knew everything about the big bang, he was sure that all answers are spread in front of our eyes in nature – they just need to be observed. Rahul had always made observations and hence Rahul had never stopped surprising the world with his innovations. Nevertheless, every time in retrospect, he felt that the innovation was just common sense and nothing special. Talking about retrospect, we should return to Rahul where we left him for he was looking back at things, in retrospect. These last few days, to be specific – last three weeks. The last three weeks had been a blur. After that peculiar and abnormal meeting with Gustaf, where Gustaf had simple pushed a predetermined course of action on the Afterlife Development Team, the days just rushed by. The days begun with urgent design meets in which the design team created a list of all security features that needed either to be redesigned or bypassed. This list needed to be

exhaustive and detailed to ensure that when they start patching the system, they tackle every issue. Lest something should escape attention, it might create a big controversy. This was a hectic job, because the security features were strewn all around the code. The bigger problem was tackling individual bio-pods. Data thievery, not unlike any other cyber crime, is inevitable. In order to ensure that no employee at FIG, in any circumstance, might be able to indulge in any thievery, the decision to store the user files at individual pods was taken. This will not eradicate the possibility, just decrease it. Now, the problem that Rahul faced was a simple one, simple yet imposing. The design team had defined a new protocol for the Afterlife Servers hosted at ALGAS to interact with the pods. The protocol Afterlife Communication Guidelines 0.6, or AL06 for short was a set of rules that the servers and the individual pods would use for any interaction, i.e., any data transfer. The protocol was designed around low traffic and low latency, as every pod only needed information about the game renders, which included the sight, sound, and smell information. Fortunately, Afterlife being an MMORPG had a central game server. So all data was hosted on the central servers at the ALGAS complex. These servers had all the game data that were a set of electric signals, Zeros and Ones, which represented the electric signal sequence to be streamed to the brain to re-create the sight, sound, and smell of the particular scene. This traffic was easy to propagate even when about 25000 gamers were connected to every server system and considering ten such server systems at place, ALGAS boasted of supporting a whopping 250000 users at the same instance. This was indeed a large number. Although Afterlife boasted of unprecedented technology and hence extremely high demand in its target market, 250000 gamers at the same instant was still a big number. As days passed, the development team had to code as many as 147 security check bypasses and 32 backdoors into the security protocol of AL06. None of the development team was happy about the numbers, they were too many. Yet, they were thrust into this releasethen-patch madness. Rahul was starting to become skeptic. He was afraid what if they had a cascading failure and lost control even of one pod. The result could be disastrous. In the worst case, when AL06 lost control of a pod, which is still connected to the servers, the player would become confused and delusional. Until the time he is in a quite environment with his eyes closed and no distracting smells present, he would happily enjoy the game world. However, if any of the above three pre-requisites were violated, he would have two stream of information. He would be seeing the game world overlapped on the real world, or he would be hearing sounds that do not exist or smells that are nowhere to be. And since the pod has lost control, the player will not be able to log out. A simpler mind might suggest that the pod be taken of in such a worse case scenario; however, that would be a disaster in itself. Since the technology was new and never been tested on humans, apes showed a disturbing trend. Physically removing the pods resulted in rapture of the neural channel of the area where the pod was worn. If this would be

true for humans too, physically removing the pod meant paralyzing the hand you worn the pod on. Unfortunately, Futura Interactive was in too much haste to launch the product. They had commercial contracts to be honored and believed that technology can be perfected in time. When the design team had reported the paralyzing results, the management had advised the team to ensure that the people never needed to remove the pods physically without logging out from the servers and legitimately closing the alternate stream. Similarly, they cut on testing the final prototype and hurried towards merchandising. The move to announce the release date to the concurrently with the development team was taken only to force Vincent and his team to not delay the work. And no delay was made. The team knew the inherent dangers of their product, but they were also sure that in ideal circumstances, here ideal were the 98% of the circumstances, no mishap will occur. The other 2% of the circumstances depended heavily on pranksters and mischievous people, who no matter how safe the product, ended up hurting someone with it in someway. Thus, on May Third, Rahul Sharma was going to present the whole world a product that was sanely safe and technologically better than all existing competition. He knew nothing could go wrong now. The launch was only two days away. He kept gazing at the stars when Mansi approached from behind. She had just finished cleaning the kitchen. Tired and exhausted, yet, she looked so beautiful in her casual white top and blue jeans. This was one of her most favorite dresses. She thought white supplemented her best. “That must seem so long?” she said, voicing his thoughts. Just two days left, and yet it felt so long. His thoughts had come back to his progeny and the eight long years that it took in making. Two more days and the dream will come true. He turned around, eyeing her and said, “It’s been tough for both of us, these years.” He said apologetically. He was feeling sorry for troubling Mansi. “Oh! Don’t be a ridiculous git.” “After all of this is over, we’d go on a trip somewhere in the mountains. What say you?” “That would be fun,” she said, brightly. He turned around. Holding the railings, he leant into the cool breeze. His eyes were full of accomplishment, with life. He looks so young and energetic.

She walked to his side and stood there, looking at the view. “Isn’t this beautiful?” “Yes, dear! It is.” “It has to be. I will always get the best for my family.” She giggled mischievously. “It will always be, since we are together.” * “Is it morning this soon?” “Yes, it is! And I’d rather you be fresh and ready for office. Come on, wake up.” “Oh yeah, in a moment” He grunted and switched the alarm off. Rising up, he shifted into a sitting posture. She drew open the curtains and the room filled with early morning light. Form the bedside table he picked up his spectacles and wore them. “How do I look?” he asked pompously. “Yeah! You are my Tom Cruise.” She laughed. They laughed merrily. “Now off you go to get ready. Come on, go, go, go!” “Aye aye Sarge!” he retorted, laughing. Making a mock salute to Mansi, he ventured into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. * Twenty minutes later, he was sitting at the dining table, eating a slice of peanut-butter sandwich and reading the newspaper. “So what are they screaming all about, now?” she asked, amused with the photographs on the front page. “The same old thing… that Afterlife is not safe for humans. We haven’t tested it and all such crap. I wonder where they get their information from.” He replied rather enjoying himself. “Well, everybody loves a conspiracy!” He turned his gaze to Shruti who was now walking into the room all dressed and charged up for a fun day. “Hiya sweetie, how are you doing?”

“I am doing fine daddy, thank you”. She said in her pompous baby ways. “Come here, come to daddy.” He gestured with his arms wide open and she walked into his arms. Raising her and making her comfortable on his lap, he continued. “So what is little Shruti gonna do today?” “I will read. Mamma says I should try and read Tom Sawyer.” “And do you wanna read Tom Sawyer” he said in a mock baby voice. He was playing with her. “No” she replied, shaking her head. “Then what will you read dear?” She looked towards her mother and after ensuring that she was busy making sandwiches and had left father and daughter free for their talks, she leaned towards Rahul’s ears… “I want to read Harry Potter.” She whispered in a tone suggesting a conspiracy-inbrewing. Rahul chuckled. “That’s a very old book sweetie; I used to read it when I was young. Why don’t you try Little Tony and his Friends?” She pouted her lips, “Tony is so stupid”. “Really?” he mused. She replied by nodding a yes. He laughed at her gestures “Well then…” he whispered “... I guess you can read Potter, but tell your mamma too. You should not lie to her” and he winked. “Thank you daddy”, she beamed. “Now, what conspiracy is in brewing?” Mansi mused. “We are deciding how to revolt against the tyrant mother.” “Oh My!” she mocked. “What has she done now?” “Well, she won’t let us read what we want to.” Shruti was a silent spectator. She understood her father was fighting her case and all that she had to do was silently watch her mother for signs of weaknesses, when she can pursue her further. She was eyeing her suspiciously. “Now, now, Rahul. She should read the classics, it builds character.” She complained. “I don’t know about character but it did help me have a sound sleep. Come on; let her read what she wants. Potter ain’t bad! Just get her the habit of reading, make her a voracious reader and she’ll learn to value the classics too.” She made a disapproving face. “Come on I read Potter and I never read any classic, know what you’d say to that?” “I’d say that since you liked Potter you want to pass on the crush to your daughter.”

He, actually, laughed on it. She also felt she said a funny thing. “Ok! Since I also read Compiler Theory and the 7076S Architecture, I know Potter has just the right blend for her. It is my expertise after all. Now don’t you complain?” He said, with a mock protest in his voice and his hands rose, as if surrendering to an invisible victor. “That’s no bargain! I am the mother. I know what’s good for the child, not the care-free, irresponsible father.” She egged him on. “Do you remember how we stood in queues just to have our own copies? And how you would not share my copy, you simply wanted one of your own? I do not think you were being ‘carefree’ or ‘irresponsible’. Now what would you say to that?” Mansi frowned. Well, yes, they were young and reckless. But that was fourteen years ago. “You really haven’t grown up much since then?” she jibed, in continuation of her thoughts. “Shruti is just seven. She needs better stories not the one’s that’d break her heart by killing her favorite characters. She must read something soft. Why not Little Tony and…” He cut her short. “Tony is so stupid”, he said, pouting his lips in a fashion that should remind us of ten minutes earlier. “Uh…. Well you want Potter, so Potter it is. Have it your way. I have already got loads to do.” “Thank you, mamma.” Shruti was quick to jump on that and ran towards the bookshelf to get her copy. Rahul, simply smiled, looking at the face of Mansi. Looking straight into her eyes. The lights were still not gone. Enervate, he thought. “And you mister…” she pointed her right index finger at him, “don’t you keep celebrating your victory. Finish your breakfast; you have to leave for the meeting.” “I have the issue on my agenda. Thank you ma’m.” he rose from his chair in a Victorian fashion, after completing his breakfast, and walked away. * Today, the Gold Pod was going to be mastered and the finer details of the launch were to be rehearsed. Every person was going to be present at the FIG complex. Later in the evening, Henry and family was going to visit Rahul and family. Throughout that uneventful day, Rahul kept thinking about the eight years that were Afterlife in making. Eight long years. And, honestly, the only hassle had come just three weeks before completion. That was a pretty odd thing. Maxillian Kurz had made some rash decisions but they did not do much damage. In his speech to the team, Max referred to a number of market forces that forced the irrational haste. He emphasized that FIG has authorized the best servers at ALGAS, even

better than the requested servers and that the acceptable load was now 300,000 players at the same instant. Max, further, promised that he had profound faith in the development team’s abilities and hence would like to enforce that they should not loose faith and entertain notions like a failure of the system or exploitation of any back door or such. He emphasized that the team need not worry about the lack of human testing. “Apes are the next best to humans and if they say ‘good product’, we know it’s a good product”, he said. He also announced that Murathy and Rahul would be performing the launch ceremony at the expo, scheduled for May 3. This caused the torrent of thoughts within Rahul’s mind come to a halt abruptly. His speech was ready, but he was more of a ‘spontaneous’ person. He kept a note of issues on the agenda, points he has to refer to in his presentation, facts to be quoted but his speech was not a pre-determined text but a result of the real-time processing of his brain. Inadvertently, thoughts of how he first got the idea for NES3MA came back to him. He had been sitting in a darkened movie theatre watching one of his all time favorites. The year was 2003. He was only fourteen – a young school-going boy, watching the fantasy of the ‘Matrix Revolutions’. It had been then that he thought how cool would it be if he could go into the matrix. The idea of being a slave and used for energy generation as a battery wasn’t his cup of tea, but he wanted to enter the matrix. He wanted to follow the rabbit deep down the rabbit hole. He wanted the matrix to have him. But it was just a movie. Not reality. Simply, fiction. Fiction – a small word that started defining a young boy’s ambition. He was intelligent, he knew it. He was smart and hard working, why can’t he work on and create technologies that would diminish the fine line between reality and fiction. Young Rahul now had an ambition. His earlier ambition of becoming an engineer now seemed timid. With one of the most powerful tools he had in his hand – the Internet, he started working on his research. It was then that he landed on the ‘Brain in the Vat’ theories. They were complex, very complex indeed. He was scared of all the information. He got caught into the eternal debate of whether the theory be true or false. He discussed it with his friends. The discussions used to begin with enthusiasm but eventually his friends would loose the enthusiasm. They had much more important topics on their mind – sports, assignments, girls, hangouts, movies… Rahul on the other hand started taking interest in psychology, physics, and other sciences. He never compromised with his studies and regular lifestyle but pursuing science to achieve his dreams became a hobby. You can always do a hobby, any day, anytime. You don’t get bored of them. His hobby remained alive. He started increasing

his knowledge. He soon found the best subject complementing the sciences were literature. His favorites? HG Wells, of course. But he soon moved on to Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, and Stephen King. Their story telling fascinated him, captivated him. Then of course, there was Harry Potter – an addiction for Rahul, which he’ll never quit. Therefore, through fun and work, study and literature, hobbies and enthusiasm, young Rahul grew. He was an intelligent student. He worked hard at school. Soon, he moved into the coveted Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He took up Computer Science as his specialization and pursued his dreams. It was here at IIT that he met Mansi. Ask me, what a graduate in English literature was doing at IIT and indulge me! She was the daughter of his Software Engineering professor, Prof Mittal. And it had been Rahul’s frequent visits to the Mittal’s that brought them together. Then, Potter played the cupid. And so had begun their courtship, scattered around the campus, the city, and the country. And so had progressed his engineering. Filled with new vigor and a new will to master the world, Rahul cruised full-speed along his graduation. However, like all good things, his graduation came to an end and so came the convocation day. He smiled remembering his black scholarly robes. He applied and won a scholarship at MIT, later. With eagerness and enthusiasm, he moved on to MIT but he had to leave Mansi back in India. Internet was his savior again. Throughout his two years at MIT, he performed stupendously – awing his professors and inspiring his colleagues. At the end of the MS, companies came calling where Kinamoto handpicked Rahul for tenure at Futura. After moving to Cologne, where FIG Headquarters are located, Rahul went back to India. There, he married Mansi and started a new life with her at Cologne. Life was beautiful. It became more so. “Rahul a word, if you may please” Max said. His wizened, old face shone with a glory about-to-befall him. No doubt, he is going senile. “Sure Max. Anything you say”. They retired into a more recluse corner of the hall. “I owe you an apology, Rahul. Forcing an end to a glorious campaign is one thing we all hate” he smiled in a kind, fatherly way. “It’s alright Max! It had to end one day. This way, we save a lot of cost.”

Rahul smiled, but in reality, he would have preferred otherwise. But there is no point complaining. “However, you must know Max. What we did was not only unethical but also unwarranted. Though, I must add, I rest satisfied.” “Yes, yes. I was afraid, this was coming.” Max replied warmly. “You see, Rahul, running such a big corporation calls for sacrifices. I hope you understand.” “Absolutely” “Then don’t worry your heart. Let things be the way they are.” He paused to look up at Rahul, and then continued. “Don’t let the press tear you into pieces tomorrow, Rahul. Let the apes lie low.” “Don’t beat a sweat about it Max. You have nothing to be worried about.” * The phone was ringing. “Mamma, shall I pick it up?” “No sweetie, I am just coming” Mansi walked in hurriedly to the Sharma’s Living Room and picked up the phone. “Hello” “Hi dear! It is me.” “Yes, Rahul?” “Listen, I just called to say that I’ll be a little late today and Henri is not coming for dinner. We’ve got to tweak up the things a bit for tomorrow.” “You sure honey, everything is fine?” He laughed from the other end. “Yes, yes. Everything is fine. Don’t you worry! It’s not the first time I am being overworked.” She chuckled. “Well then, I’ll see you at dinner.” “Hopefully.” He hung up. *

All the preparations for the launch had been completed weeks ago, Rahul always kept on repeating things, practicing them until the last moment. He wanted things to be perfect and he wouldn’t take anything less than that. For the purpose, he had visited the expo a number of times last three days and was acquainting himself with the environment and the set up. So that there are no lastminute surprises. Murathy wasn’t this squeamish about perfection – that was natural to him. Their roles had been decided too. Murathy would be handling the press after the launch presentation, which was to be handled by the Designer. Evening faded into night, which faded quite swiftly into the morning. Rahul started from his home to the FIG Complex. There the whole retinue assembled and then the entourage made its way to the expo. Mansi and Shruti would be present there all by themselves. After everyone was set and the initial functions completed. At eleven o’clock in the morning, Rahul set forth to start what was being waited for since the past 3 years by every person in the modern world. * All the events were going on as scheduled. Throngs of people were present within the complex, living up every second of the celebration of technology. Rahul was one of them too. Never in his life had he felt so wonderful. There it is; the day has come. Today a dream takes form, a corporeal form. And the designer will glow with creative pride; a father will proudly watch his son conquer the world. All satisfaction was for Rahul. There could not be any exceptions. Nothing had felt this good to Rahul in his whole life. Not even Shruti’s birth was this beautiful. Everything, today, was on a backseat. Today was the day only for the designer and the designed. “Ladies and Gentlemen! We have waited for so long and yet every additional second’s wait seems like an eternity. Today we witness a historical event, the first of its kind. However, I am not the person worthy of the honor to unravel it for you. So let me invite the designer to introduce the technology we have been waiting for the last three years. Mister Rahul Sharma from Futura Interactive.” The announcer’s part is done. Now, comes my turn. As Rahul walked to the podium, he received an applause he had never got. Its anticipation. Don’t worry, sweetie, I can handle it.

Afterlife Kinshuk Sunil Started: Monday, March 27, 2006 Last Modified: Saturday, December 30, 2006 Modified Time: 9:58:00 PM Revision: 1842 Edit time: 46076 minutes Characters: 58483 Words: 12426 Pages: 40


A Science Fiction Novel I am working on