Sunday 10 June 2012

Short Story 2012 Longlist, Arka Datta

No Today No Tomorrow

The basement of Neel’s house was a mess, not because he never used it but because he did all the time. This is where he stays for days, sometimes for weeks. It was a dark place with one corner brightly lit. That’s where he was standing with a blackboard, full of equations, in front of him. His sleep deprived eyes was fixed on the board. Sleep was a liability to him, just like food or going out of the house. His weak body was trembling with excitement. He thought he is going to get a breakthrough tonight, just like every other night for last six years, with each one ending with disappointment. 

“Somewhere in these messed up numbers, there is some pattern. There has to be, but where are you my boy? Its enough already” Neel murmured.

He was so intensely involved with his thoughts that it took the door bell five rings to grab Neel’s attention. He chose to ignore it at first but the bell kept ringing. Finally he gave up and came upstairs. He looked at the clock to see that it was a little too late for visitors. 11pm is an awkward social timing, at least for him. Neel lived in center of Noida and his locality was a very peaceful one with no history of violence. Neel was not scared of it either but he was sad about wasting his time attending some unwanted company. 

Neel opened the door and in front of him was standing a man, dressed in a long raincoat. The man was about Neel’s stature but he was at least 20 years older as it seemed to Neel. What stuck him more was the raincoat on a dry summer night.
The visitor coughed up slowly and said, “Ahh! Here you are!” and forced passed Neel to enter the drawing room.

“Just the way I last remember it” said the man as he sat on the sofa with his legs stretched.
Neel tried to remember this man. He looked familiar most certainly but Neel could not remember who he was or where they have met before. Then again, he tends to forget faces too often with his brain busy with his research all the time. Neel used to remember important people by assigning one of his equations for their name. Even if he new the man, he was not important enough to be signed with one, Neel thought.   

“Sorry! I actually cannot place you right. Do I know you mister….?”
“Yes you most certainly do Neel” said the man. “… and it’s quite natural actually.”
“And why is that mister…. What did you say your name was?”

”I did not yet. You can call me professor for now. The reason you can’t recognize me is because people can’t recognize themselves without a mirror.”
“If it’s a joke then I don’t get it” Neel said, sounding genuinely surprised.
“No! It’s not a joke. You must sit down for what I have to say, rather request you about.”  
Neel sat on the chair opposite to the man, with his mind still searching for the face in his memory.
“What kind of request?”

“I would make it less straight forward if I could, but there is not much time left for that. You must stop your research today, right now.”
The words were alien to Neel. Not because nobody have ever asked him to stop his research but because nobody even knew about it. He was sitting in front of a man, whom he cannot even remember, and he was completely shocked by the fact that the man knew about the research.
“Nobody knows about that” Neel said with his voice firm. “How on earth do you know about it?”
“You still don’t see it Neel? Look at my eyes, hear my voice, and try to recognize me. You will have your answers once you recognize me.”

Neel looked at the man hard. He had exact Neel’s eyes but they were wiser. He had more wrinkles on his face than his supposed age should have. The voice was an entirely new one for him, as much Neel could remember, but the way that man was talking was known to him. 

“Please tell me who you are actually. I can’t remember you, yet you know about me more than anyone else. How do you know about the research?”
The man took a deep breath and slowly said, “I am no one else than you. Cannot you recognize your own face? I am your 22 years older self Neel.”
Neel was almost about to jump up and drag that man out of the house when his scientific mind took over. He was just about to reject an idea that he was trying to prove for last 6 years. He sacrificed everything about life just to make time traveling possible and in front of him sitting was the testimony of his success. Neel remembered he read somewhere that even twins don’t find each other’s similarity and his situation was like that, much like that. He found it hard to talk for several minutes and when he did, it was blabbering.         

“I… I am actually going to be successful with it? I mean I already did? Oh god! Is it happening for real?
For a second he thought he was hallucinating with over workload. That seemed more legit as an explanation but he wanted to believe everything as truth. He wanted to be assured that his sacrifices are not going to vain. He felt ecstasy, not like anything he ever felt before.
“Tell me it’s all true. Tell me how the future looks like. Is it better? Will my invention bring changes? Will I win a Nobel Prize?”
Neel was trembling with excitement and he was shouting his every word. He was panting. He looked at his future self with eyes full of questions.

“I can’t tell you all that but I can, and must, tell you that you have to stop it right now. If you don’t, well, then you will be the one responsible for the end of the world as we know it.”   
“But.. but....” Neel took a deep breath to calm down before his next words and said, “But you did. That means I will too, no matter what. Isn’t it the very basic idea that I, as a matter of fact you too, had to start with?”
“Yes! Ideas were all I had and most of them were proven wrong except the fact that time traveling is possible. I wish it was not true. I made a mistake Neel and I don’t want you to repeat it. You still have the chance to save our world and save…. Her.”

“Her? Who are you talking about?”
Future Neel sat up straight now, with his face covered with his palms. He was sobbing but Neel didn’t understand why. A straight from science fiction invention and a Nobel Prize meant life time of happiness for him. Still his future self was crying in front of him. 

Neel lowered down his voice and said slowly, “Please don’t cry. Tell me what it is. Tell me what happened. If you are me, which I really hope to be true, then you must know me. Hell! You must know yourself. Would you settle for not knowing the facts being in my place?”
Future Neel looked up and said, “I know I won’t and I will have to tell you things that you are better of not knowing. But I have to, for her, for the rest of the world that can still be saved.”
“Tell me about her.” Neel said and waited as the man in front of him held back rest of the tears and started to tell him the story of the future.

“She, Ruksha, died in front of me. Died because of me and I could not do a thing. She will be your wife some day too. The most beautiful woman in the world, not only by her looks, which she was too, but by heart also. She will love you more than you ever expect and she will die because of you. She was more powerful than my invention, more prestigious than a damn Nobel Prize, and she died because of me. Don’t do that Neel. Don’t go ahead with the research.” 

“That is sad. I am sorry but what option do I have? It has happened to you and that means it will happen to me too. How can I change what have already happened?”
“For that I have to tell you what happens once you take the final step. You may not understand some of it as you have not discovered few key notes of the invention yet. You have to understand one thing that is, with no today, there is no tomorrow.”
“Well, am I walking on the right path at least?” Neel asked, worried.  

“If by right path you mean changing the DNA to give human the power to time travel then yes, you are walking on the right path. However, there are many things that you have to discover to complete your work. You must not continue with the research.”
“First, please tell me how my and your life can be different?”

“Because, one thing that you don’t know is, the phenomenon that happens once you travel to a different time. It’s not as simple as going back and forth, and neither it is the way you think it is. We just don’t go to the future and come back. We just don’t go to the past and come back. Its not what most of your priors thought.”
“No? Then what it is?”
“Once you travel to a different time, you create a different time tunnel. The one, where you were, keeps moving on its natural course and you end up with a place, much similar to yours, but with an independent time path of its own.”  

“You mean, every time someone time travels, they create different time tunnels? And what happens when they return?” Neel asked with his mind racing. He was exited with the new information. The fact, that he was going to discover it on his own, made it more exciting for him.
“When they return, Neel, they return to another time tunnel. Because of my, well, yours to be, invention, the world will have thousands of time tunnels. Same people, same world, same everything is going on according to the nature’s course. Yet, everything is different. You see Neel, no matter how many tunnels are there, the world will go the way it supposes to be but the traveler will be in a place, on a time, where they should not be. You see what a disorder that is?”

Neel sat back for a moment, letting the information get in his system. He had thousands of questions about the scientific justification of the facts but the question that he asked surprised him too.

“What happened to her?”
“Her? I hope by her you mean Ruksha but not your invention.”
“Just tell me what happened to your wife? What that has to do with the time travel?”
“Ruksha died with cancer, caused by the very invention of mine.”
“It causes cancer? Please tell me time traveling doesn’t cause cancer. I am not ready to accept that, no way.”
“Oh! But it did. It was the beginning of it Neel. I was about to take the injection for the very first time but she rejected it. She insisted to do it together. I tried to make her understand how dangerous it was but she didn’t care. The first time I traveled through time, she was with me. As a matter of fact, it was our marriage day where we traveled back to.”

“Do you mean I will make the invention after marriage? How far am I from that?”
“Your marriage? Two mere years to that and three more for the night you will take her to past.”     
“Five years? Five more years? No! I can’t just simply accept it. Please tell me how to do it? Why don’t we make it fast?”
“Because, Neel, you are not going to. You can’t just kill your wife with cancer.”
“Didn’t you find any way to prevent it?”
“Well, it took me another few months, from the day I found about the flaw, to make time traveling cancer free. When I finished, I declared it to the world. Time just started to fly. I was blind with the flashes of ovation from the world and I didn’t care that my wife was loosing her health.”
“When did you find out?”

”Few weeks later, when we were taking a flight to Florida, she just fainted while talking to me.”
Future Neel chocked with pain. He took some time before he could speak again.
“The pain of loosing her was much more than the happiness of the invention. You still have time, a lot of it, just move on. Forget about the research.”
“Cancer; won’t there be a cure for it in the future? Haven’t you searched for it?”
“It took human another ninety years to have a definite answer for cancer. The machinery was so advanced that it could not be created in our time. And, as you know, it’s only us, living beings, which can travel through time but not the lifeless objects, without a DNA to work with.”
“Couldn’t you take her to the future?”
“No Neel. She was too weak to travel between times. She would die even before I could take her there.”
“There is another thing I can’t understand. You could go way past and change things to make me stop. May be you could go to the time when I was still a child?”
“No! I could not. This is the furthermost I could come. My health couldn’t take me more.”
“Why not? You look healthy enough to me.”

Future Neel smiled a little and looked at Neel’s eyes but didn’t say anything.
“Oh come on!” Neel shouted, “Now don’t tell me I am going to have cancer too.”
“I wish I could say that. It took cancer some time to get me, but eventually it did.”

“Well, now I know what will happen. I will never get married to her. I simply won’t inject me before perfecting it. It will be different in my time, I promise you that. Don’t worry.”
“You don’t see it, do you? You will meet her in few weeks, and when you do, you will fall in love. You just don’t know how helpless you will be, just like I was. You can’t ignore that. Unlike the hormone you are creating, the love hormone is real, and much stronger than you can ever imagine. 

You won’t be able to ignore it, ignore her.”
“I will make it cancer free. Yes! I can always make it cancer free.”
“How do you know that? Don’t take that risk.”
Neel was about to say something when suddenly the man in front of him started to shake.
“I… I have to go. I am not strong enough to stay this long, but I will come back. Think about it please.”

And, with that, the man vanished in thin air, leaving behind the raincoat and trouser he was wearing. For the first time Neel realized that the man wasn’t wearing any shoe. And how could he, when he couldn’t make nonliving things travel. 

‘He must have picked it up from somewhere here’ Neel thought and went down back to his basement. He was burning with inspiration and pride. He looked at the blackboard, with full concentration. He was not ready to wait for another five years. He wanted to finish it as soon as possible. The Glory was waiting in the future for him. He heard a noise and turned around. His older self was standing in there, panting. This time there was not a piece of cloth on him and he was visibly in a lot of pain. 

“What are you doing here again? I promised you I will make things different this time. Do you want to die? Just go back, take some rest old man. I have a lot of work to do.”
“I have just realized something. In the future, every time I went there, no matter which time tunnel or which era, the time traveling was real and you were the inventor. Don’t you see it Neel, as long as you exist, there will be no change.”
For the first time Neel noticed that his future self had a gun in his hands. He pointed it right at him. ‘It was a little too easy’ Neel thought, as he keeps this gun in the kitchen shelf and the future Neel knew that naturally. 

“You need to calm yourself down mister. You are surely under a lot of stress. Go back to your time, take rest for few days and come back. We will talk about it then. Just don’t shoot me, or as a matter of fact, yourself.”
“I am sorry Neel” the man said with his eyes full of tears. “But this is needed to be done, for the future, for Ruksha to live even if not as my wife.”

Neel tried to run but a shot was already fired. He felt a burning sensation on his waist and then another one on his back, right behind the heart. He stretched out his hands to hold on to something but it was only air. He fell down and everything started to become hazy and darker than his basement ever was. The future Neel was on the ground too, trembling with an unknown pain running through every cell of his body, and just before everything went black for both of them, he remembered his own words to Neel; “With no today, there is no tomorrow.”

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