Three hundred years into the future…
Mohit woke up to the pain. He was sure his stomach was being torn asunder from the inside. It was as if the weight inside was a living thing, moving down from his belly to his groin. A low mewl escaped his mouth, through clenched teeth and drawn lips. The bright lights glaring down at him only increased his sense of disorientation. The male nurses, all in white, were holding his legs apart on what appeared to be an operating table.
“I…don’t understand. I should remember something. I have to... Please what are you doing to me?”
“Keep the knees bent. Keep them bent. Don’t straighten your legs,” yelled a male nurse, the one that looked like a boxer. His clean shaven face was bleak, his grip, made of iron, as he clenched Mohit’s legs. They trembled with the effort, his thighs shaking in protest, calf muscles knotted and taut.
“Let me go…” Mohit pleaded. His head was strapped to the table, he could only move his eyes and all he saw was the boxer-nurse’s grim face and deadpan eyes. His hands were strapped too, to the sides of the table.
“Give me a sedative. Please.”
The other male nurse who was dabbing Mohit’s sweaty forehead shook his head.
“That’s not how it works, Mr. Lal. You know that,” he whispered, almost sensually.
“Oh God! Please, I…can’t hold on. Its too much.”
The third nurse, a woman of indeterminate age with hair like dried twigs and sagging lips, gazed at a closed circuit TV monitor.
“Push!” She said suddenly, whipping her head towards Mohit.
“Push, you bastard. Push for your life.”
“What should I push. I am all tied up?”
“Push like you want to take a shit.”
Even through the haze of pain, Mohit felt that she was being rude.
“Push,” she snarled, displaying jagged yellow teeth.
Mohit pushed. The pain only spiked. Right from the centre of his stomach all the way down to his crotch. It was so sharp, he couldn’t breathe.
“Keep pushing, Lal. Keep pushing,” said the woman, staring intently into the monitor.
Mohit finally had enough air in his lungs to scream. The pain moved. It moved. From his stomach towards his crotch. His penis felt like needles were being pushed into it, one after the other.
Tears rolling down his eyes, Mohit screamed again. And again.
“Push!” Yelled the nurse, somehow angry that he wasn’t paying attention to her.
“Push you bastard or you’ll die.”
“Cut it open! Stop the pain!”
“That’s not what’s happening here, Lal. You are a mimic. Push!”
Mohit let out a fart. It sounded wet. And stank. The boxer crunched his face in disgust, but he held on to Mohit’s legs.
“Please, stop this.”
Another fart. This time longer. Before he could control it, slimy brown-grey ooze dribbled onto the operating table filling the room with the stench of rot . The boxer’s face was furious as he glared at the helpless man on the table. But, he held on to the legs. The pain had now fully relocated to Mohit’s crotch. His groin was on fire with the penis somehow hardened and throbbing. His bloated testicles felt like unbearable weight crushing him onto the operating table.
He could not control the piss from flooding the table. It was a mess. The Boxer held on. The woman was staring intently into the TV monitor, muttering something under her breadth.
A final fart rattled into the room, spraying fine speckles of faeces on the table and on the hands of the boxer from underneath the gown Mohit was wearing. Mohit opened his mouth soundlessly, the cords in his neck sticking out, eyes reddened and wild. Then, he slumped back onto the table.
“He’s out cold,” said the male nurse standing at the head of the operating table. “What’s happening over there.”
The female nurse shrugged, “It’s done. It’s over.”
“This one was worse than the rest. I’ve never seen anyone resist so much,” said the boxer.
“Or suffer so much, for that matter,” said the woman. “The fool.”
The male nurse by the head of the table didn’t say anything though his eyes were bright with excitement.
“It turns you on, doesn’t it, the pain, you sick fuck?” The boxer accused.
The nurse smiled, a stretching of lips that did not quite reach the glazed eyes of a maniac in lust. It sent jitters down the boxer’s spine.
“We all have our kinks,” said the sadist nurse, still caressing the forehead of the unconscious Mohit.
Disgusted, the boxer finally let go of Mohit’s legs.
“Clean him up,” barked the woman, switching off the monitor. “And, put on his clothes. Vish, no orifice plundering this time around, do you hear.”
Vish made a face at her, but nodded.
It was two hours till the time Mohit regained his consciousness. He found himself in a room smelling of antiseptic. White plastic curtains were drawn around his bed blinding him to the rest of the room. He could hear people moaning. At least one to his right and the other to his left. His limbs were no longer bound. He tried to pull himself up. Pain shot through to his groin. Like someone had slit him open from stomach to crotch.
“Do something,” he yelled. He did not know if there was anyone around to listen to him but he yelled again anyway. “Hey, do something!”
“Shut up!” Came his neighbour’s feeble voice. “There is no one here, idiot.”
“Who are you?”
“None of your business. Just don’t talk.”
Mohit lay back on the pillows.
“What now?” He asked anyway.
“Now? They’ll kick you out in an hour and that’s it.”
“Kick me out?”
“Yeah, your job’s done.”
“What about the baby?”
“Don’t make me laugh, stupid. We don’t get the babies. We didn’t even deliver them.”
“But, I am the father.”
“That’s for sure. That’s how the procedure works. It’s a test, right? if you aren’t the father, the machine would have never allowed you to sync.”
“So, I have a right to the baby.”
“Really? Where were you living till now, on the moon? Don’t you know the law?”
Mohit did not answer, he just closed his eyes shut. It wasn’t fair, the law. After all, he was the father. He should have rights.
His neighbour’s voice infiltrated his thoughts. “Listen pal, just sign the damn papers and move on and don’t think about women again, if you want to live out your life in peace.”
“That’s for sure,” Mohit muttered, a little angrily.
It was a few hours before he heard the door to the room open. The curtains were drawn by the boxer-nurse.
“Someone to see you,” he growled. A dapper man stepped out from behind the mass of the boxer, his face impassive.
“Mr. Lal, I am Purohit, I represent your wife, Anamika Sharma.”
Mohit did not say anything.
“As agreed, you must sign the release papers for the child and the separation papers. Are you aware of your rights?”
“There are none. You have no right over the child nor over your wife. You will go back to your life, to your work. Sixty percent of all your income will be deducted at source and paid over to your wife’s account as alimony. You own an apartment, fifty percent of that property now belongs to your wife. You have invested in shares to the tune of three lakh Indian rupees. The return on that as of now is ten percent as per your app and the declaration you have filed before the Income tax department. Thirty percent of that belongs to your wife and child. Here is the contract, read it and sign.”
“And if I don’t?”
“As per the law, refusal to own up to the pre-nuptial agreement will result in complete forfeiture of all your assets, current and whatever you make in the future. I don’t think you’ll like that.”
“I don’t,” Mohit cried.
“Good, sign it. I’ll wait outside.”
“This isn’t fair.”
“That’s the nuptial law. When the wife delivers the baby, the husband will neurally participate in the delivery, experiencing the pain she does, only, it is fifteen percent higher for him to compensate for the nine months of pregnancy that the wife suffers. After that, he will financially contribute. The divorce is the conclusion of every nuptial process. The husband has no rights thereafter over wife or child.”
“If it is such a suffering, why go through with it,” Mohit pounced on the lawyer.
“That’s her choice, Mr. Lal.”
Mohit grabbed the contract that the lawyer extended to him. “Give me a pen.”
He signed the contract and thrust it back at the lawyer.
“Thank you, Mr. Lal. Have a good life.”
Three days later, Mohit was back at his desk at the lab. The pain in his stomach was just a dull throb now, thanks mostly to the painkillers.
The lab was state-of-the-art, providing scientists with every conceivable asset for their research. It was located deep within the forests of the Corbett Tiger Sanctuary. There were no real tigers for the last hundred years, only those created by splicing. But the park retained its name. Mohit worked on DNA manipulation. He was what the popular press called a ‘Splicist’, a scientist who specialised in developing new species. God knows the world needed splicists. With almost all animals facing extinction, except for the human race, ‘the alpha predator’.
The effort was to reintroduce as many of the animal species as possible. The most important of them were the bugs and the bees. Without them, the Earth would die. Unfortunately, some of the species were extinct. Their DNA lost, the only way out was splicing. Mixing breeds to ‘manufacture’ animals that most closely resembled the originals. Professor Mistri, his boss and mentor, was the foremost authority in the world on splicing. His latest endeavour was to build on an antiquated theory of Albert Einstein’s and to see if he could bring back DNA from other ‘Super-Earths’. Even for this time and age, it was considered advanced, bordering on science fiction.
A tall man, lanky, with loose fitting clothes, plopped himself down on the swivel chair next to Mohit.
“So, how did it go?”
“Smita said she’ll never put me through something like that.”
Mohit barked out a laugh. “Didn’t you sign pre-nuptials?”
“All pre-nuptials include clauses binding husbands to neuro-delivery process.”
“It’s there. But, she can waive that right.”
Wait till she gets labour pains. All waivers will be waived.”
“It’s all about the relationship.”
“Ashish, I am not really interested about relationships anymore. I am interested in my work. That’s all there is left for me.”
“Oh, we received something from the professor by 3Dp.” 3Dp is short for 3D posts using similar techniques like 3D printing.
“Do you have it?”
“Yeah, but it makes no sense.”
“Let me see it, please.”
Ashish pulled open a draw. He pulled out a thin A4 sized envelope. Mohit grabbed it from his friend and colleague and flipped open the lid of the envelope.
He slid out a piece of paper. On it was the English alphabet ‘A’.
On the side of the paper, almost on the border, a few letters were handwritten. To read the letters, Mohit had to flip the page horizontally. At that angle the ‘A’ looked like a U with a bridge in between the two arms of the ‘U’. The words were, ‘ER-B’ and next to it, the word ‘destroy’. On the bottom of the page was written, ‘It starts microscopically small and then it grows. And it devours.’
“Do you understand it?” Ashish asked.
Mohit shook his head. “Not yet,” he said. “The professor was very close to a breakthrough, right? Only the spliceling, Leela, knew about it. Where are they?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did this get here.”
“It was on my desk when I came in two days ago. Tried reaching you but they said you were locked up in the clinic in Mumbai. So, I went in search of the professor. There’s no trace of him, no travel plans, no information with his office. He simply upped and disappeared and Leela too.”
“Doesn’t seem like him at all,” Mohit observed. “What’s the institute saying?”
At that moment, as if on cue, the doors to the lab opened and a man strode in. A man that both scientists did not quite get to hobnob with everyday. He was the ‘Dean’, head of the institute and who many people believed was as good as Mistri. Only, he chose administration of the institute rather than work in it. His name was S. Subramaniam. Everyone called him Subbu.
“Not a moment to lose, Mohit and Ashish, go to bunker 62 and document everything that’s happened there,” he roared.
“Bunker 62, isn’t that the Bug Bunker?”
“Mistri was last seen in the bunker and I think his work should be documented?”
“What do you mean, last seen?”
“Get going! No time for small talk.”
“It’s a hundred kilometres away. We can reach only by nightfall.”
“Is that a problem?”
Mohit shook his head. “Not at all, I mean to say that’s the latest we can reach there.”
The Dean nodded smartly. “Be careful.”
“What do you mean?” Ashish asked.
He shrugged. “Just be careful.”
It was in most parts a smooth ride in the Range Rover. They still took five hours to cover the distance. That was because the last leg of the journey was practically down the side of a mountain with no road, just a ghost of a path. The vehicle took it in good stride but it was just too bumpy to attempt any speed.
“Why the hell is this bunker so deep into the jungle, Vishwasji?” Ashish asked the fourth passenger in the car, Vishwas Gandhi, the head of their security detail.
“Because it was necessary,” said Gandhi.
“That really doesn’t answer the question.”
A shrug from Gandhi
“He doesn’t know,” Mohit winked at his friend. The fact that they were in the rear while the head of security rode shotgun with the driver helped in concealing the tongue-in-cheek suggestion.
“Mohit Bhai, I know exactly what you’re getting at,” said Gandhi, breaking into a knowing smile.
“Oh Come on, Gandhi, be honest with us. It kind of goes with your name.”
“Something to do with worms and their holes. It’s a top secret research project under the auspices of the government.”
Ashish was perplexed. “Why is the government interested in worms?”
“Beats me,” said Gandhi, with that knowing smile.
“And we need to document worms? We don’t know the first thing about them.”
“Or…maybe we do,” said Mohit.
Yes, we do know something about wormholes,” Mohit speculated.
“From when did we…Oh!”
“The top secret project the professor was working on. No one knew anything about it except it that it has to do with an antiquated theory of Einstein’s,” Mohit finished the sentence for Ashish.
Did the professor figure out how to make a wormhole work?, Mohit wondered. Wormholes were microscopic, unstable and definitely not safe passage.
The vehicle came to a grinding halt, the gravelly echo of its tyres finally coming to an end. It was pitch dark. The building ahead of them, nicknamed as ‘Bunker 62’, was just a silhouette. It wasn’t really a bunker in the true sense of the term. Why these facilities were ever named bunkers was lost in time. A sense of dread surrounded them. A nameless fear. Was it because of the ‘wormhole’ conversation or was it just the setting of a buzzing jungle at night and a dark, apparently abandoned building. No one knew for sure. But it was there. The dread. Like a thick cloak burdened around their shoulders.
“Gentlemen, we need to head into the building,” Gandhi barked.
He pulled out a flashlight clipped to his belt. Gandhi was dressed in a pale grey T-shirt, cargoes and climbing boots, as opposed to the scientists who were in white coats and pale coloured pants with soft leather shoes.
All four doors of the car opened simultaneously and the occupants stepped out into the jungle. It was cold. It usually was, in November.
“Why aren’t there any lights?” The driver asked.
“I came with you in the car, didn’t I?” Gandhi snapped. “How the hell am I supposed to know?”
The driver opened the rear door of the vehicle. When he emerged again he was holding a crowbar.
“Why do you need that?” Mohit barked, now a little alarmed.
The driver shrugged. “Maybe to pry the door open,” he muttered.
Soon, they reached the front door of the building. Gandhi nudged the door and it swung smoothly inward.
“At least its not locked. We don’t need the crowbar,” Mohit declared.
The driver was holding the crowbar with both hands as they walked into the building. They emerged into a rectangular hall, massive in size. There was a door on the opposite end of the hall with not a single piece of furniture in between. The floor was glistening, as if it was wet. A single battery operated emergency lamp threw hazy light across the room.
“The building must be powered by a generator, just like ours,” Ashish noted.
“Yes,” said Gandhi.
“Know where it is?”
“As a matter of fact I do. There’s a switch in here that powers the generator.”
Gandhi pointed his flashlight across the hall towards a corner. “Let me see if I can turn it on.”
“Be careful,” Ashish warned.
“I don’t know. Just…be careful.”
Soon the building was flooded with light. the scientists heaved a sigh of relief. They were standing on a polished granite floor. The group headed now towards the door leading further into the building.
“Where’s the lab?” Mohit asked.
“Subterranean level 3,” Gandhi answered.
“How do we go down there?”
“We can take the elevator or the stairs.”
“I suggest the stairs,” Ashish advised. Everyone ignored him.
The elevator doors opened, the little digital sign above the door proclaiming that it was subterranean level 3. The foursome found themselves again in pitch darkness.
“What the hell?” Ashish barked. Clearly the elevator had power. Why not the level?
Gandhi unholstered his flashlight again. The scientists switched on the lights on their mobile Devices. Under the collective lights, they saw a foyer with a counter and a few seats. About fifteen feet ahead was a wall and to the extreme left of the wall was a door. The place was deathly quite, the very air was still. There was a sliver of foulness in the air, like rotten butter.
When they opened the door, which was of reinforced steel, but unlocked, the stench was at once overpowering. The air inside the lab was turbulent. Somehow. That was the only word that popped into Mohit’s mind. Turbulent.
And then they heard the scream. It came from afar and reached them in a moment. Like the horn of a passing vehicle.
“W-what the hell was that?”
“Why am I feeling so breathless?” The driver muttered, holding his throat. “Breathless”, he whispered, his face contorting and twisting.
“Get out of here, wait in the hall,” Gandhi barked.
The driver ran towards the metal door like a drunk. Soon he was out in the hall, collapsed in one of the sofas. The rest of them ventured into the lab. It was a cavernous room, built out of solid rock, foreboding and majestic at the same time, like being in the presence of a great monster.
“What’s that whooshing sound?” Mohit queried.
“Sounds like a waterfall!” Gandhi observed.
They walked into the darkness, sidestepping tables, chairs and equipment.
“Stop! Don’t come any further,” the voice was ghostly, as if the turbulent wind inside the room was speaking to them.
“Who’s there? Step forward,” Gandhi snapped. He pulled out a mean looking handgun, pointing it towards the voice.
“Stop, turn back while you still can,” said the hollow voice, which to Mohit sounded almost familiar.
“Step forward or I will blow you to kingdom come,” Gandhi snarled.
There was a flash. A blink of an eye. Professor Mistri stood by them. The scientists stared in morbid fascination.
“Professor, what happened to you?”
Half of the rotund man’s face was melting. An eye was down to his cheek, part of his nose was gone, flowing like some putrid mucus down his mouth. The teeth were mishapen, twisted.
“Didn’t you get my note?” The hollow voice cried.
“We did. Couldn’t…good God. You were warning us,” Mohit cried. “ER-B. Einstein Rosen Bridge. A wormhole! You did it.”
The man leaned against one of the tables, his head in his hands. When he pulled his hands away, his skin stuck to the palms of his hands like melted cheese.
“Oh good God!” Mohit grunted.
“Go…burn this place…go,” the professor fell to the ground.
“What happened to you?”
“Tried to enter…should have dived…dying” whimpered the professor. His legs were liquifying, the blood mixing with melted flesh and bones.
“Go!” The voice that came out was not the professor’s. It was from somewhere else though it did come out of his mouth.
The three of them whirled around. When they reached the lab door they found it was locked. From the inside. They didn’t know the code to punch on the dialler to unlock it. They called out to the driver, who, last they saw, was collapsed in the foyer.
A whimper. From inside the room.
There was someone else.
Gandhi whirled around, his flashlight panning across the darkened lab. The scientists pointed the light from their devices in other directions. Mohit switched on his mobile phone camera. It was easier to see through the camera. It would pick up images even in the darkness.
The figure was huddled on its haunches, long hair hiding its face.
“Look at this,” he whispered to the other two. They crowded around him. It shook its head, at first slightly, then vigorously, as if it were trying to break free of invisible shackles.
It raised its head. It had once been Leela, the professor’s human/ Ape Spiceling. Now, it was something else. A drooling man-sized thing. Greyish speckles of dead skin sprayed out like dandruff from diseased hair when the thing shook itself. And then it was hurtling towards them, mouth open as if it did not have a jaw. A thing of nightmares!
It came straight at them. The three men stood rooted to their spots for a split second before Gandhi grabbed Ashish and ran into the lab. Mohit did not budge. The creature saw the moving men running diagonal to it. It was a V. Mohit stood at the arrow head while the creature was approaching them from the left while Gandhi and Ashish fled to the right.
The creature did not stop when its prey split themselves. It just turned forty five degrees without once slowing down. It cut across to the fleeing figures, and pounced on them. Gandhi’s flashlight went flying.
Screams! Flashes of gunfire.
Mohit heard flesh and bone ripped. The sound like wood shredding. Mohit did not think. Instinctively he knew he had to find the wormhole. Dive into it. It would take him away from this place of nightmares. There was no other way out.
He could assume that the Leela-creature had locked the door shut. He switched off his flashlight, anyway Gandhi’s flashlight was on the floor, throwing light, showing him the way into the lab. By the light of the flashlight, Mohit saw the creature huddled over the quivering blood and flesh that had minutes ago been his companions. It was devouring them.
‘Spliced.’ That was the only word Mohit’s mind threw at him. Leela was spliced to become something else altogether from the gentle creature she had been. A carnivore, a raging beast. Experiment gone bad?
No time for that. He moved away from the creature, towards the side walls of the lab and diagonally forward. Towards the ‘whoosh’ from the lab’s centre. His escape route, however dicey it was. The Einstein-Rosen Bridge.
As far as he could recall, it was like the Alphabet ‘U’, tipped sideways, representing time-space. A line connected them, the wormhole linking both points. Theory was, it was microscopic but it could enlarge in space. Did it? It was not a time-traveling portal, just a tenacious path from one part of space to another.
It was his only hope.
The whooshing was closer now, louder. Theory was that the mouth of the wormhole was like a black hole, drawing all light into it. He followed the whoosh of air, now reverberating like a waterfall. In the confines of the lab, it was thunderous. The bridge was widening.
The wail of the Leela-creature was loud as she pounced on the scientist. Mohit screamed. Now, he was running with the creature right behind him, speckles of its dried up skin spraying around like water from sprinklers. Her stench was overpowering. Rotten butter.
Mohit could see the wormhole now. Like a twister he had seen on national geographic, except that it was inverted with the mouth open to the ceiling of the lab and…the funnel was through the mouth of a man, lying dead on a table.
The corpse was shaking and heaving like a boat in a storm. Behind him was the Leela-creature, gaining ground by the moment. Ahead of him, the open mouth of the ER-B funnel. A bony hand grabbed at his shoulder and would have ripped it open if the scientist hadn’t slipped. Mohit fell to the ground, rolled, got up using the same momentum and was again running. The whooshing mouth of the wormhole was right ahead of him. the scientist dived. The wormhole swallowed him whole.
He was in a great big well of wind and power. Lightening streaks rushed like mad thoughts, the thunder that followed was deafening. Mohit felt every fibre of his body rending. Like someone was ripping out all the nails of his limbs at the same time. he lost all consciousness.
The Leela-creature giggled. And sobbed. It was all alone.
Mohit woke up to the pain. He was sure his stomach was being torn asunder from the inside. It was as if the weight inside was a living thing, moving down from his belly to his groin. A low mewl escaped his mouth, through clenched teeth and drawn lips. The bright lights glaring down at him only increased his sense of disorientation. The male nurses all in white were holding his legs apart on what appeared to be an operating table.
“I…don’t understand. I should remember something. I have to... Please what are you doing to me?”
“Keep the knees bent. Keep them bent. Don’t straighten your legs,” yelled a male nurse, the one that looked like a boxer. His clean shaven face was bleak, his grip, made of iron as he clenched Mohit’s legs. They trembled with the effort, his thighs shaking in protest, calf muscles knotted and taut.
“Let me go…” Mohit pleaded.