The Prophecy Machine – A short story

The Present

“Here he comes, our last guest for the evening!”, smiled Gerald soon after he answered the doorbell.

All those present in the hall turned towards the door at once and acknowledged his arrival. There were 4 of them – Ms Natalia, Mr Goodsmith, Mr Plunter and Mr Linton.

Willman, the editor of ‘Morning Reader’ – a leading national daily, in his early fifties, smiled in return and occupied the seat next to Natalia.

“Time for some the customary serve, gentlemen”, smiled Gerald. “And lady”, he added looking at Natalia, who was about to put up a complaining face.

Everyone rose to their feet and followed Gerald into the dining hall.

Gerald was the Mathematics professor in the University of Origiana. He was just over twenty five, and had the whole nation looking at him when at the age of eighteen he was awarded with National Science prize – country’s highest award in the field of science. His research work on ‘Mathematical model for optimal machine learning’ was widely referred and revered by AI scientists from all over the world.

“Melanie, help our guests with the wine”, he instructed the tall female soon after reaching the dining hall.

“Melanie will be the maid for the evening, gentlemen”, Gerald smiled.

“And lady”, added Natalia. “Time and again comes the need to make my presence felt”, she laughed.

There were murmurs, laughs and gentle talks once the fluid was served. Guests, all five of them began to wander in the hall exploring those beautiful paintings-antique ones, adorning the walls. Citations and awards received by Gerald sat prettily on the other wall facing east.

Though guests present had nationwide recognition and needed no introduction about each other, Gerald ran a formal round of introduction.

Mr Plunter was a nuclear chemist and Mr Linton was the country’s most revered advocate.

After about half an hour, the small crowd followed Gerald into another room that appeared to be his workstation. Illegible mathematical notations were seen all around – walls, papers lying on the ground, desks etc.

It was a dark room filled with machines of various shapes and sizes smothered in dust.

“Gentlemen and lady, this is why we are here today”, Gerald pointed at a small ugly looking machine with a tiny monitor that sat on top of the wooden table.

******************************************************************************

A Day in the Past

“We can’t fund you anymore Arthur. It’s been more than six years and we have seen no good sign”, said Potman- the man with a grey beard.

“You have to understand me in this regard Mr Potman. It’s of my understanding that when you are asking me regarding the status of the machine, you are in fact inquiring about its functional status and not being curious about its beauty”, Arthur tried a soft defense.

He paused for a while before continuing. “Let me tell you Sir, if it’s about looks, the machine is already looking gorgeous and you will fall in love with it the moment you look at it”, said Arthur and paused again to study the reactions of Potman and his other three companions.

“But”, he resumed. “If you are curious to know if the machine works, all that I can present right now is the sound of revolving gears that arises when I turn it on. Because, for machines like these, there are only two states-it works or it doesn’t work, there is nothing called -it half works.  And respected gentlemen, right now it’s not working”.

“I had told you Gentlemen, we shouldn’t have invested in this. You can never build a machine that predicts future. Prophecy is something that is beyond the limits of a machine”, Potman let out his fuss.

******************************************************************************

The Present

“Few years back I’d heard my father making a mention of it. But the question is, does it really work? Because, as we know it, this world is random. Every event that occurs is random. If randomness is something that we are dealing with, you can never predict an outcome of such event”, Natalia argued.

Natalia was a research head in Originian center of astrophysics.

“I am surprised that you are an advocate of theory that states that every event in the world is random”, Gerald raised his eyebrows.

“Madam Natalia, I understand that you are a scientist and so are you Mr Gerald. But, I don’t understand science”, Mr Goodsmith broke his long held silence. He was the chairman of ‘New way Investors’ – an investing firm.

“It’s of my understanding Mr Gerald”, he paused for a while and continued. “That I am invited here to look at your machine and buy it if I am impressed. Honestly speaking, I don’t really care what this world is – random or definite. But, if there is a machine that is going to predict the future accurately, I am gonna bloody buy it. And if it doesn’t work, your loss would be Natalia’s gain”. He ended it with a grin.

Plunter, the Nuclear Chemist didn’t appear happy.

******************************************************************************

A Day in the Past – conversation Continued

“Please shut it down Arthur. Its clangor is hard on my ears. It’s been almost an hour”, Potman complained.

Arthur turned off the machine and stood helplessly.

“I told you sir, it’s not ready”.

“It will never be”, said Potman.  “I don’t know how to put it across Arthur”, he thought for a while and took out a coin from his pocket.

“I will take the example of a coin Arthur, something we all have studied in our high school Mathematics. When you toss a coin, the chances of it falling on its head are as great as it falling on its tail. Probability 50 percent!”he paused for a while. “Every time you toss a coin, the outcome is purely random and so is every event in the world”.  

No one spoke.

“If you can accurately predict an outcome of a random event, it’s no more random. It’s definite”, he added.

“Exactly..!!”, exclaimed Arthur and took the coin from the man’s hand and started twirling it.

“When you toss a coin, the result of it depends on too many things- the weight of the coin, the height from the ground, the force with which and the angle at which you toss it. It also depends on the wind speed, the texture of the ground surface etc.

If you actually look at it, it’s just a mathematical equation with too many variables”, he stopped to look at Potman and his companion.

Everyone was listening.

“So is every other event in the world. They are all definite”, he paused again. “If you identify all the variables that can influence the outcome of an event, then prediction is all about solving that mathematical equation by filling in the right values of each those variables”, he smiled and tossed the coin.

The coin fell on its head!

******************************************************************************

The present

“Everything that we do is influenced by the events from the past. If you have chosen to drink the wine that Melanie has served you, it is because of the outcome of various individual events from past and its collective impact.  Individual events like, her choice to serve the drink, the availability of the wine, her presence in the house, your arrival, the present mood, body state etc. Each of these is again dependent on a set of other events. For example, she chose to serve the drink because I asked her to do. Now my decision to order the drink is again influenced on a bunch of events from the past, so on and so forth. Similar things could be said about your present mood, body state etc.

If I keep backtracking every event in the present to past, it shall all find its origin in the very first event that ever took place in the universe. The first ever event in the universe, gave rise to organic chain of events that took place in the past, taking place in the present and will take place in the future.

My machine understands this propagation of impact of events, in a way no one ever did”, Gerald proudly ran his fingers over the ugly looking machine.

“My dear friends, I think before debating on mathematical and what not theories, it would be better to ask our dear friend to show what his machine is capable of doing”, Willman voiced his opinion. The editor was invited, for he had been writing columns in the daily since long, ridiculing Gerald’s efforts in developing the machine. Gerald wanted to silence him, once for all.

“The machine says that its feeling privileged “said Gerald. “What do you want to foresee my dear guests?”

“How about the result of the Bar council elections? Mr. Linton is contesting” Willman exclaimed.

“You don’t need a machine to predict that, do you? Mr. Linton is going to have a cake walk in the elections, like he always did”, Goodsmith dismissed Willman’s suggestion.  Linton appeared pleased, but tried containing the emotion.

“How about stock prices?”, Willman suggested.

Natalia and Plunter posed objection stating their lack of interest and knowledge in stock market.

“How about something related to this hall that we are in? Something like, what’s going to happen in next one hour?” When he couldn’t see the gathering arriving at a unanimous agreement, Gerald threw in his opinion. After all, he was waiting to exhibit the machine’s prowess.

“You serious? Can your machine predict things as vague as these?”, Natalia sounded surprised.

“Nothing should stop us from trying” Gerald replied.

“So.. Gentlemen”, he paused to look at Natalia. “And you lady”, he floated a gentle smile towards her. “Time to know the future”, he said and ran his fingers over the keyboard. “Might take some time”, he added.

“How long?”asked Goodsmith.

“Twenty good minutes”, Gerald smiled.

******************************************************************************

A Day in the past – conversation continued

“Six more months. That’s all I am asking you. Your due patience can hand you the world’s most powerful machine”, pleaded Arthur.

“We are dealing with your favorite subject Arthur, the probability. As we see it, the probability that your machine will be ready in six months, is less than 0.5. But let’s offer you a discount here. We shall make assumptions. I shall assume that your machine will be ready in the stated period. However the probability that it would work perfectly would still remain the same. Less than 0.2”, Mr Potman tried putting a final nail in the coffin.

“So ‘No’ is going to be your final word?”, Arthur asked.

“There’s a ‘No’. And after that I would like to add two more words. ‘Good luck’“, Potman grinned. Everyone continued to stay silent.

“All right! You needn’t fund me anymore. But don’t come back to me with a lot of regrets and complaints, when after six months, I will be presenting the world with the most powerful machine that was ever built”.

“Regrets..! Ah. You wish..!”Potman issued his smirk.

******************************************************************************

The present

“I told you this machine is going to do a lot of bullshit”, said Willman – the editor. He didn’t appear to be pleased with what he saw.

Plunter stood up from his chair. “This doesn’t appear good. I think I will have to leave”, said he and kept his wineglass on the table.

Gerald stood in front of the machine, staring at the screen with his tense eyes. The machine had predicted that a death will be witnessed in the room, in an hour. “Nobody leaves the room”, he said in a shaky voice. “None of you!”

Plunter marched towards the door. “I’m leaving. I told you, I am not into this game”, he said. He appeared to be in hurry.

“You are not”, Willman spoke in cold voice. Plunter turned around. Willman had his pistol aimed at him.

“I am not certain if this machine can predict the future right. But with you showing eagerness to leave the room, the cloud of suspicion only gets denser”, Willman cast his doubts.

“My machine can never fail. If it has predicted something then it’s bound to happen”, said Gerald in his shaky little tone.

“You can’t force someone to stay here. Even I want to leave”, said Natalia.

“You are not”, said Willman while shifting his aim towards her. “What if one of you has planted something in this room that might lead to one of our deaths?”

“Melanie. Please lock the room from outside”, Willman ordered her.

The maid who was standing outside the door appeared to be horrified all this while. When Willman ordered her to close the door, she did so faithfully yet fearfully and stayed outside the hall.

******************************************************************************

Some other day in the past

“Pa.! Will it really work, the machine that you are going to build?”, the ten year old Gerald asked Arthur.

“Let’s keep this little secret between us”, he had said.

“What is it?”, the kid had asked in a curious tone.

“I don’t know if this is going to work”, Arthur had smiled.

Gerald – “Then why are you building it?”

Arthur – “To see if it works. Curiosity is some devil, isn’t it?”

He had laughed.

Gerald – “Pa..!”

Arthur – “Yes..!”

“Isn’t Uncle Frank building something similar?”, Gerald’s was curious .

“He was building something similar. Was..!”, Arthur smiled.

******************************************************************************

The present

“If you claim that your machine predicts it right, then we have an option”, said Natalia.

“What’s that?”, asked Gerald.

“Run the machine to check who will be the victim”, Natalia suggested.

“That’s a query too complex for my machine to handle”, Gerald adjusted his glasses while reaching for his hand kerchief.

A brief moment of silence loomed before Gerald spoke again.

“I don’t know if your machine could issue prophecy, but I now know one thing about it for sure. It has the power to melt your pride”, Natalia was in no mood to let go an opportunity to attack Gerald’s ego.

“Why are you not having the wine?” Willman posed a query and it was then that everyone realized it.  Everyone in the room was holding a wine glass, except for Gerald.

Willman shifted his aim towards Gerald and everyone dubiously looked at the glasses in their hands. The wine had invited their suspicion.

Gerald appeared humiliated, walked to each one of them, snatched their glasses and emptied them. When he was done with the last glass in the hall, he appeared to be vexed and threw an ugly glare at Willman.

“I didn’t say that you have poisoned us. It was just a casually inquiry”, Willman posed a wry smile.

The room returned to what could be aptly termed as normalcy – shell of quietness mixed with anxiety.

“What if you run a check on every individual present here, predicting the future of each one of us in turns?” Natalia suggested.

“That’s complex”, Gerald shrugged his shoulders.

Natalia – “about death? That should be a simple one”

Gerald – “I could do that”

“How much time would each check take?”, Willman asked.

Gerald – “Five minutes each”.

Linton – “Ah! You guys..! It’s a waste of t…”

He was yet to complete his sentence when Willman waved his pistol at him.

“All right! Have fun”, Linton exhibited his displeasure.

Goodsmith – “Six of us here. That would make it thirty minutes”.

“And we have around twenty five minutes left”, Gerald expressed his concern.

“Twenty six”, Willman corrected him.

“Twenty five minutes is all that we need”, said Natalia. Everyone looked at her.

“Come on Gerald, I expected something better from a mathematician of your stature”

“What?” he was still looking at her demanding an explanation.

“We just need to run five checks. And if none of five turns out to be a victim, then the one left is the one who is apparently going to die”, she explained while putting an extra stress on the word ‘apparently’.

“Gerald”, Willman exclaimed. “What are you looking at, just run your god damn machine”

Plunter continued to look unhappy, while Goodsmith had his complaining look at Linton, all through the scene.

Melanie continued to eavesdrop, standing behind the door. She appeared tensed! There was something wrong!

******************************************************************************

Yesterday

“Are you certain about the query that he is going to run?”, Person1 asked from the other end of the telephone line.

“Yes! He might have built the machine. But constructing queries in a way that machine understands it, is quite a challenge and takes time. A minor error and he might have to cut a sorry figure. Hence, he has decided the query that he is going to run tomorrow and has been rehearsing it”, Person2 explained.

Person1 – “And you sure that you will be able to manipulate the machine?”

Person2 – “You need not worry about that. When the machine runs tomorrow, it’s going to predict death. When he runs the second check, his name will pop out”

Person1 – “Great! But tell me one thing. The query for the second check, he has no clue that he might have to run it tomorrow. Would he be able to construct it tomorrow? Wouldn’t that be difficult? ”

Person2 – “That’s an easy one that even I could construct. Moreover, does it matter if he makes an error? Whether he makes an error or not, what it blurts out wouldn’t change. Not after I manipulate it”

Person1 laughed.

Person2 – “And what about your part?”

“You needn’t worry about that Melanie. I shall do it with a great perfection”, Natalia smiled.

******************************************************************************

The Present

The machine came to halt after displaying the result. Willman let out a sigh of relief after finding himself safe. Earlier, the checks against Goodsmith, Linton and Plunter had given similar result. They were all marked safe.

“With that we have only two of you left”, said Willman while still in possession of the pistol. “Good luck Gerald and you Ms Natalia”.

Both of them held their breath.

“We are running out of time. Run your stupid machine”, Natalia screamed. “And you better run your check on me”, she added.

******************************************************************************

Yesterday – Conversation continued

“Complaint as much as you would want to! But I still have my share of doubts. Is he really going to kill himself?” Natalia expressed her doubts.

“The way I know him, he would go to any extent to prove that his machine is right. People like Gerald, would kill themselves but not their ego”, said Melanie.

Natalia remained silent.

“Moreover, nothing should stop us from trying”, Melanie laughed.

******************************************************************************

The Present

“For god’s sake put those guns down”, Gerald screamed.

Willman looked at everyone. They seem to have bought Gerald’s concern and had their suspicious looks at Willman.

“Come on you guys.! Not me”, said Willman and kept his pistol on the table. He didn’t appear happy doing so.

The machine began to slow down. It was few more seconds before they knew the outcome.

Tension was only mounting. Natalia was only faking it. She knew what was going to happen.

******************************************************************************

Yesterday, Night

“You wouldn’t sleep tonight, would you?”, Melanie laughed.

“Answer my question, will you?”, the male voice on the other end of the phone sounded tensed.

“Okay.! Everything is set.! The machine is going to mark Natalia to be victim”, she replied.

“And you sure that he is going to kill her?”, he was far from being convinced.

“Yes.! And for the zillionth time I repeat! To prove his machine right, he is going to kill Natalia”, she was tired of explaining him. “I feel sorry for her. She is going to die for no good reason”, she let out a sigh.

“No good, you say? So you haven’t got the point, have you?”

“No..! Care explaining?”

“There are three people who are in contention for Goodsmith’s funding. Gerald, Natalia and me. Gerald has already built his product. If it works, Goodsmith is going to buy it”

“You needn’t tell me what I already know. I was the one who suggested the plan to you. If Gerald dies, Natalia and you will be left vying for the sponsorship”

“Yes..! But if I could somehow get Gerald into killing Natalia, then everything shall fall in place. I will have no one to compete with”

Melanie didn’t respond.

“So now you tell me, is Natalia dying for no good?”, he asked.

“No Mr Plunter. She isn’t”, Melanie smiled.

******************************************************************************

The Present

Standing behind the door, Melanie was soaked in sweat. When the machine had predicted death in the room, she was shocked.

When the machine had marked everyone apart from Gerald and Natalia as safe, it had sent chills down her spine. Something wasn’t right!

Gerald had run the last check – Is Natalia going to die in the hall?

Time was running out. In few seconds, they shall get an answer. Irrespective of whether the machine comes up with an ‘yes’ or ‘no’, they will be left with one minute.

‘If Natalia is marked safe, then it would mean that I am the one, who is going to die’, he was certain.

He knew one thing for sure; the machine can never go wrong. Or at least, he would not let it go wrong – Not in front of others.

******************************************************************************

Today, early in the morning

“Wait, what?”, Linton couldn’t come in terms with what Goodsmith had demanded.

“Do as I say. You could reserve your exclaims for later”, the latter instructed him.

“I have already instructed Melanie to rig the machine. She must have done it by now”, Linton sounded helpless.

“If I remember correctly, you had earlier described Melanie as one smart lass. That it would take her not more than ten minutes to manipulate the machine. Would you like to make an amendment to your earlier statement?”

“No.! But..”

“Good! In that case, we have all the time in the world. Ask her to reset her changes. Let the machine behave the way it is supposed to”, Goodsmith posed a wide smile, a fake one though.

“Mr Potman would be an unhappy man”

“Unhappy soul, you mean?”, Goodsmith offered a correction.

“Look Smith! There was a reason why your father had stopped funding it. There was a reason why he had asked me to see to it that the machine fails”, Linton tried explaining.

“I understand. My father had publicly ridiculed Arthur’s efforts, stating that Arthur is building a money eating machine. He went on further, saying that a million Stellars has been wasted on the machine and burning that much money in the hearth would have done far more good by helping one to beat the winter cold. My father did have a great sense of humor, didn’t he?”

“That was an alibi”

“What do you mean that was an alibi?”

“Your father Mr Potman had always despised the idea of building the machine. But since most of the board members were in its favor, he had no other go. However, he kept trying his best to stop the machine from taking shape”

“There was some Mr Frank, who was building a similar machine. He had died under mysterious circumstances. Did my father…” Goodsmith had his suspicion

“Oh.. For god’s sake Smith! Your father wouldn’t do that!” Linton found it hard to digest the accusation.

“Yet, he had no qualms about his death. He felt that the death of Frank had put an end to machine’s chances. However, his joy was short lived as Arthur came out of the blue and put forth a similar idea. Tell me one thing, what was my father’s intention? Why was he against the machine?”

“Your father had realized that such thing would only push the mankind into misery. We are happy as long as we don’t know tomorrow”

“What if I get to know that I have a better tomorrow? For instance, if I get to know that I am going to get a Million Stellars in cash, it would only make me happy”, Goodsmith scoffed at Linton’s argument.

“It’s the element of uncertainty that brings in excitement in your life. Without uncertainty, a thing called hope wouldn’t exist. It’s the hope that is the driving energy of the universe. And consider this! What if you get to know that there is something bad in store? Would it still make you happy?”

“Come on Linton. You are ruining my fun with your philosophies. I am an optimistic man”

“And perhaps you are a man with a great memory, who remembers his father’s dying wish”

Ensure that the machine never gets built?, Goodsmith laughed. “Yes! True..! But how is Melanie’s plan of manipulating the machine to predict a death is going to help us fulfill my father’s last wish?”, he asked.

“It’s going to predict Gerald’s death. Either he shall let the machine fail or he shall kill himself to prove the machine right. In either case, there’s no future for the machine”, Linton explained.

“Or we could just let it behave the way it is supposed to. See if it works for real. If it does, buy it. The debate on it pros and cons could wait”, Goodsmith tried convincing him.

“But…”, Linton tried not to give up, when Goodsmith cut him short.

“We don’t have much time left Uncle Linton, do we? Now do the sweet thing. Call up Melanie. Ask her to reset the machine”

******************************************************************************

The Present

From the exclamations that she heard from the hall, Melanie learnt that the machine had marked Natalia as safe.

‘Everything is happening as per her earlier plans. Is this an extreme case of coincidence? Or is there a possibility that Gerald has made an error in the second query?’  She was filled with thoughts.

******************************************************************************

Something about Melanie

When she sought an employment at Gerald’s house by posing as a maid, she had done so for a reason. She was Frank’s daughter. Frank, someone who had tried building a similar machine long before Arthur did. His efforts had come to a halt, when he had died under mysterious circumstances.

As a kid, Melanie had always believed that Arthur was responsible for her father’s death and that he had stolen her father’s idea. Alas, what could a child aged ten do? She thought that she would grow up one day, only to avenge her father’s death.

The destiny didn’t seem to be in agreement with her plans. Arthur had died even before she could do something about him.

When Linton learnt about Frank’s kid who held Arthur responsible for her father’s death, a kid filled with vengeance, he had found a way to carry out Mr Potman’s words.

Ensure that the machine never gets built’, was Mr Potman’s last words after learning that Gerald was trying to build what his father couldn’t.

Linton asked Melanie to work as a maid at Gerald’s and spy on him. Melanie was a smart kid. It was not only on Gerald that she had kept her eye on. She was secretly monitoring his research, his findings and every gear that went into the making of the machine.

When Gerald had claimed that he has built the machine, it didn’t take her long to draft a plan. She proposed in front of Linton, the plan of manipulating the machine. It was only later that she had realized it – Here was a chance for her to win a fortune, from more than one channel.

She secretly contacted Natalia and told her that she has a plan to get rid of Gerald and help Natalia in winning the ‘Newway Investors’ funding. She held a similar secret discussion same with Plunter.

It all looked in good shape, until Plunter had change in plans. He wanted the machine to point at Natalia and force Gerald into killing her. Carrying out Plunter’s task wouldn’t change anything for her – Natalia has already paid her and she wouldn’t be alive to question her. Gerald would anyway be charged with Natalia’s murder and he wouldn’t escape the death penalty.

She had stayed unperturbed, until the arrival of Linton’s call early in the morning. Linton had revoked his instruction. ‘Goodsmith wants to test the machine for real. He is curious to know if it actually works and if it does, he wants to buy it. So reset your changes’, he had said.

She would now need to repay the advance money that she had received from Plunter and Natalia.

*****************************************************************************

The Present

“Does it mean that you are going to be the victim?”, Natalia asked.

Gerald was lost in thoughts. He appeared to be tensed. ‘I know my machine. It can’t lie. But who is going to kill me?’

He noticed the pistol that Willman had earlier rested on the table. ‘Shouldn’t let anyone touch it’, he realized and quickly seized it from the table.

“Gerald.! Don’t panic. There’s a good chance that the machine has a bug. Look there’s no danger in the room. Please don’t panic”, Willman tried to calm him down.

Willman had no belief in the prophecy. However, gun in the hands of Gerald was of a significant concern.

‘Don’t panic. Yes. I shouldn’t.! There’s a good chance that a heart attack could kill me. Don’t panic. Stay calm’, Gerald tried taking deep breaths, while maintaining his firm grip over the pistol.

Time was running out. A minute away, before the fate would be decided. But whose fate? The Fate of Gerald or that of the Prophecy machine?

Or, did the wine indeed have minor proportions of poison. Since I have drank them all, is there a chance that they all have accumulated in dangerous proportions’, he tried giving it a thought.

“Nobody moves until the clock ticks. Nobody!” Gerald instructed everyone.

‘Everything is working as per plan’, Natalia felt.

Melanie has screwed up my plan. I shall not forgive her for this’, Plunter had anger bubbling up, something that he couldn’t display on his face.

‘Did she forget to reset her changes?’, Linton had his doubts.

‘Linton must have disobeyed my instruction. He must have told Melanie to stick to the original plan’, Goodsmith was contemplating.

If he continues to panic, he is going to die out of heart attack for sure. Or he might kill one of us. I shouldn’t have carried my pistol in the first place’, Willman continued to stay concerned.

Forty more seconds to go.

Melanie continued to stay behind the door and tried to figure out what was happening.

‘I remember, I am certain. I have undone my changes. The machine shouldn’t have predicted death in the first place. And now it’s hinting at the death of Gerald. Of course it was the original plan, but after the reset, it shouldn’t have behaved so’, Melanie was confused, terribly.

30 more seconds!

‘What if I don’t die? I can’t let the machine to be dismissed as a faulty invention. I can’t let that happen. Thirty more seconds. If nothing wrong is likely to happen, I shall make it happen. I have the gun. I could kill myself. Or is there a way that I don’t die and yet prove the machine right’, Gerald thought hard.

All of a sudden it occurred to him. ‘There’s a way!’. His eyes lit up.

“The machine had predicted death in the hall, hasn’t it?”, Gerald asked. Everyone nodded in confusion.

Gerald and checked the magazine. It was loaded.

“Gerald.. Easy on the gun, please!”, Willman had his heart pounding fast and loud.

“The machine has marked every one of you safe. Hasn’t it? Natalia, Mr Linton, Mr Goodsmith, Plunter and Willman. All five of you?”, he asked and slowly began to walk towards the door.

“That’s right”, Willman replied. Everyone continued to stay confused.

Natalia and Linton tried veiling their excitement. ‘This fool is going to kill himself’, they felt.

Gerald continued to walk towards the door. “Death in the hall! And all five of you are safe! Isn’t that right?”, Gerald repeated his question.

‘ Death in the hall. Five of them safe. If the machine is stating the truth, that would mean that Gerald is going to be the victim. ‘, Melanie repeated the words in her mind. ‘Wait! That doesn’t prove that Gerald is going to be the victim. There is also a chance that the Gerald might have made some mistake or..’, her eyes widened as she realized it.

‘Or there’s a good chance that..’ It was too late, by the time it occurred to her! All of a sudden, the door opened and Melanie who was leaning against it, lost her balance and fell inside.

“I am sorry Melanie Frank”, Gerald whispered in her ears.

Melanie appeared horrified. ‘So he knew my identity’

Five seconds left.

“I am doing this for my father. And you should be doing it for yours “, Gerald spoke in her ears.

Even before she could decipher the last line of his, he had fired six bullets into her chest! There were so many questions left unanswered.!

**THE END**

-CHAN

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The secret in the Time Capsule – A short story

“What did you write?” she sounded curious.

Rudwig smiled at her and pressed the paper into another fold. “Are you done yet?” he asked her, while putting the folded paper into an envelope.

“I thought I had all the time in the world”, she complained and buried her face back into the paper.

They were on the green grounds of Welsa, under one of the large Palmigo trees.

“But Willy will be here any minute. And I don’t want to include him in this game. This should stay between us, we two”, he issued his share of complaints. William was the other kid in the neighborhood. Rudwig had always insisted that Jenny should stay away from him.

“But Willy is a nice g..”, she was trying to put forth her argument, but Rudwig’s upset looks didn’t let her complete it.

After about five minutes, Jenny appeared content with whatever she had written. She looked at Rudwig and smiled.

“The paper, put it in that envelope”, he instructed her while pointing at the envelope that laid next to her.

After she pushed the folded paper into the envelope, he wrote their names on each of the envelope and sealed them in a plastic bag. He then put the sealed bag inside a large glass bottle and poured the blue colored liquid into it.

“What’s that?”, the ten year old Jenny asked him.

“I borrowed it from Uncle Hanks. He had told me that it prevents the paper from ageing and would keep it safe”, replied the eleven year old kid.

He then closed the lid of the bottle and lowered it into a hole that he had dug up in the ground. The 4 feet deep hole had taken him more than an hour to dig.

“So, what next?”, Jenny asked.

“So, we meet here after ten years and then we shall unbury this time capsule. We will then read each other’s secrets clear and loud”, he said.

“Ten years it is. Under no circumstances shall the capsule be unearthed before its time”, she giggled after making a loud announcement.

“Ten years it is”, he adjusted his hat to suggest that he would keep the word.

“Yes! Until then, my secret stays with me and yours stays with you. Nobody else should know the secret”, she smiled.

“Yes. Nobody! Except the time capsule”, he added and both of them laughed.

***********************************************************************

After two years, upon his father’s job transfer, Rudwig had to move to the city of Nuivenna.

“So when am I going to see you again?” Jenny had asked.

“In the summer break, I shall board the first train to Welsa”, he had promised.

“You shall write to me until then, wouldn’t you?” she had asked.

“Yes!” he had smiled.

“Keep away from the city habits”, she had smiled after issuing the instruction.

“And you..! You keep away from Willy”, he had laughed.

Weeks passed and then months. They wrote to each other every second day. Rudwig shared stories from his new school, the life in the city and much more. Jenny wrote about her music classes, her new pets, how Willy fixed her bicycle and much more. They also discussed about the trending topics like newly elected president of United States – Grover Cleveland and about the arrival of Statue of Liberty in New York.

Eight months passed and then all of a sudden Rudwig stopped receiving letters. He grew worried and wrote to her a couple of more times, but with no luck.

And then, on one day he received a letter from her parents informing him about her untimely demise. She had died due to the yellow fever.

He wept and wept for weeks. Her death had pushed him into a state of despair.

In the break of summer, he caught the first train to Welsa. Upon reaching Welsa, he straight away went to the green grounds. He spotted the Palmigo tree under which he and Jenny had buried the time capsule. He wanted to read Jenny’s secret.

He picked up a shovel and began digging. All of a sudden he remembered it- words from Jenny.

Ten years it is. Under no circumstances shall the capsule be unearthed before its time”, was the agreed upon word. That would be eight years from now.

He refilled the hole and walked back. He promised himself that he would return after eight years to open the time capsule.

***********************************************************************

After eight years..

Rudwig was in college now, pursuing his degree in art history. He had been waiting on his heels for the day he would be able to read Jenny’s secret. And when the day arrived, he rushed to Welsa.

Welsa was no more a town, but a large city.

When he reached the green grounds, he was heartbroken. On the once green grounds of Welsa, now stood a large factory guarded by tall brick walls. “Welsa steel factory”, the board read.

He knew where exactly the capsule was buried, for the old Palmigo tree was still there. Under the tree staring back at him was a large stone sculpture that stood as a pride of the factory. The capsule would be right underneath it, he knew.

He thought of placing a request in front of the corresponding authority, to allow him to displace the sculpture and dig up the ground beneath it. However, he was appalled when he learnt that the factory was owned by Willy’s father.

He feared that Willy might get to know about the time capsule and would try to break open the secret.

He travelled back to Nuivenna. “A day will come when I get to read Jenny’s secret. That will be the day when I will be the owner of this land and this factory will be brought down to rubbles. I shall wait until then”, he  had silently vowed.

***********************************************************************

He began working as a clerk for one of the businessmen of Nuivenna, who was into railroad constructions. He quit his job after a few years.  From the savings that he had, he started selling goods door to door. He sold items like perfume and other cosmetic products.

All that he was trying to do was to gather enough money to buy Willy’s factory.

In the year 1905, Vyzan – a neighbouring country had declared a war on Originia. The president had urged the Originian men to fight for the nation. Rudwig joined the army and participated in the war.

After 3 long years of battle, Originia won. Rudwig was one of those two hundred brave soldiers who were honoured with the President’s medal.

He travelled to Welsa during the snowy winter, to see if the factory still stood there. The factory was still there, but it had only grown larger. The tall brick walls were now replaced by steel gates, gates that surrounded a large acre including the old Palmigo tree.

However, when William learnt the news of Rudwig’s arrival, he rushed to meet him. He told him how dearly he had missed Rudwig all these years. He kept asking him about the tales of war and heaped praises on him for fighting for the country.

“How much would it cost me to buy this from you?”, Rudwig had asked after the tea, leaving William confused.

“Why would you want to buy the factory Rudy? My father wouldn’t allow that”, he had replied.

“You have built your empire on something that’s dear to my heart. Let it take years and decades. But a day will come for sure, when I will own this”, Rudwig had uttered those words.

**********************************************************************

Upon returning to Nuivenna, Rudwig invested the savings from his earlier business and his military rewards into the ferry service that a friend of his had started.

The business took off really well and earned Rudwig a good fortune. He bought a low cost ferry and started his own small scale cargo service.

Very soon he had competitors – William one of them. William had ventured into the business of Cargo shipment and had vessels of all sizes. Rudwig’s business started shrinking and his aversion towards William began growing the other way.

With every day passing William’s business grew only bigger. He had ventured into multiple business lines varying from health care to automobile, retail to real estate.

With whatever money he had, Rudwig left to Cercia, a neighbouring country. It was a poor state, fighting its socio-economic adversities. Rudwig bought a farm land and in parallel began a small money lending institution.

He began cultivating fiber crops and had the borrowers working for him in his land. His cotton exports grew bigger. Few years later, he stopped exporting raw cotton and decided to start his own cotton mill.

His business grew, but he was still not in a position to buy the steel factory from William. William had turned into a powerful businessman and was counted amongst the riches of Originia.

Rudwig developed thoughts of expanding into a new vertical. He discussed with the state, the need of owning military weapons and that manufacturing them would be a low cost affair than importing them.

With the state aid fund, Rudwig built defence machinery plant.  For ten good years, his company continued manufacturing arms and sold it to the government.

In the year 1914, the Great War broke out between the great economic powers. William, who was one of the most influential figures in Origiana by now, had urged the President of Origiana to promote peace amongst it’s neighbouring nations.

The President invited his neighbouring countries including Cercia to sign a peace treaty. Under this treaty, the countries were required to stay away from the war and had to stop investing in military weapons.

The President of Cercia signed the treaty and the government stopped its defence investment with an immediate effect. Rudwig had to shut down his weapon manufacturing plant. He understood this as a tactical game play by William to ruin his business.

The Great War stopped in the year 1918. Over the next five years Rudwig tried running various business but with no great luck.

Rudwig was fifty and unmarried. His lifetime goal had turned into bringing William to ruins, and to buy his steel factory. Rudwig had believed that it was William who had stood between him and the secret of Jenny hidden in the time capsule. A secret for which he was longing since years.

He started a small scale steel plant in Cercia. However, the quality of the ore available in the lands of Cercia was low, it didn’t flourish. He then re-began his money lending institution, this time at a larger scale. Over the next ten years, it grew into becoming the largest bank in Cercia – “J.R bank of Cercia”.

The sixty year old Rudwig, travelled to Welsa and met William. William was preparing for the presidential elections.

“How are you doing Rudy?”, William had greeted him.

“I am doing good. Good luck with your elections Willy”, he had wished him luck.

“I assume you are here with an offer to buy my factory”, William had smiled.

Rudwig understood it as William’s attempt at mocking him.

“No.! Not now! Not before you are forced into selling it to me”, he had said.

“Oh.! Rudy..! You could have it. I will be more than willing it give it away for you, as a gift”, William had offered.

“Not as a gift Willy. I had told you, I will force you into selling it to me”, Rudwig had smiled after declining his offer.

“But why not?” William had asked.

“Good luck with your elections”, was Rudwig’s response, before making an exit.

***********************************************************************

William won the elections and became the president of Origiana.

Meanwhile, Rudwig exploited his financial stature to gain a stronghold across the political ranks of Cercia.

He contested the next term elections and went onto become the president of Cercia. Over a period of five years, border disputes rouse between Origiana and Cercia.

William wanted to initiate peace talks with Rudwig, but men in the assembly urged William to wage a war against Cercia. William put forth his refusal to do so and stepped down from the presidential position.

The new president took over and declared a war against Cercia. Rudwig who had secretly revived the defence wing during his ongoing tenure, was well prepared for the war.

The war lasted for six months and Cercia had managed to defeat Origiana.

A month later, Rudwig  travelled to Origiana with a feel of pride of having won the war. He wanted to visit William and tell him that the time has arrived for him to take over his factory.

When he reached Origiana, he was devastated by the sight of pain and death of the people over there. He was heartbroken, for he believed that he was responsible for the sorrow of the country in which he once lived.

“Jenny wouldn’t be happy, if she was alive”, he thought. The guilt swarmed over and he disappeared silently.

No one heard from him for about a year or so.

**********************************************************************

“Willy..!”, he was struggling to keep his eyes open.

William had moistened eyes when he sat next to the bed on which Rudwig laid. They were in a hospital.

“How did you get to know that I was here?”, Rudwig asked.

“Rudy.!”, said William. “I think you need to rest”, he added. William’s grand kid brought a flower bouquet and placed it on the table besides the bed.

Rudwig was battling his life after developing serious heart conditions. He had grown pale and weak.

“Rest? That I would Willy, but only after I issue my apology to you, for having hated you”, he paused for a deep breath. “I need to apologize for all the agony that I brought upon the country”, he added.

William held his hand firmly and smiled. “I stayed away from the war, because I was afraid of being a sinner. If I were brave, I would have stayed in the position. I should have protected my people either by preventing the war or by winning it. I did neither of those”.

He continued, “War was inevitable Rudwig.  If not you, somebody else would have done it. No matter the choice that you made, you stood by your people and that is what matters”.

“ Oh.! Willy.!”, Rudwig was in tears. “You are bringing upon so much peace to the heart of a dying man”.

William smiled through his sadness and so did his family.

“If only you could do me one more favour”, Rudwig asked with a pleading eyes.

“I have my assumption Rudy. Now you tell me, if I have assumed it right?”, William asked.

“You could have all my wealth and all my fortune. I had earned it all for the only thing that mattered to me on this earth. For something that lies beneath your steel factory. Please let me have it and allow the man die in peace”, he sobbed while he pleaded.

William’s son stepped forward. He had the glass bottle in his hand. He placed the time capsule next to the bed.

Rudwig looked at William and then at the capsule in disbelief. He was looking at it finally. The glass bottle -soiled by the age, filled with pale blue fluid and inside which floated a sealed plastic bag.

Rudwig had no qualms and complaints. He didn’t want to know how William learnt about the time capsule, for the only thing that mattered now was to read Jenny’s secret.

He signalled William’s son to open the bottle for him. He took out the plastic bag and wiped it clean before handing it over to Rudwig.

Rudwig opened the bag with his trembling hands. He took out two folded papers from it. “Our secrets”, he laughed in joy through his tears. “Of mine and Jenny!”.

He opened them, but his struggling eyes couldn’t help him read. He handed them over to William’s son. “Could you read it for me, Son?” he asked.

He nodded and opened the first paper. The words were almost faded and faintly visible.

“Jenny is the most beautiful girl in the world and I love her”, he read it.

“Ah! Ha ha! That is my letter! This is embarrassing. Wrote it as a kid”, Rudwig laughed while offering justification. William’s family smiled.

“Read Jenny’s secret now, will you?”, he asked.

William’s son opened the other paper. The words were not as faded as those in the other letter.

“It says”, he paused and smiled. “Rudwig is the most handsome boy in the world and I love him”.

“See.! I knew..!”, Rudwig had exclaimed in joy before breathing his last. William smiled through his tears. He was content, for having seen his friend die in peace.

***********************************************************************

The day Jenny died; William had rushed to the green grounds. He had dug up the hole below the Palmigo tree and had unearthed the bottle. He had known about the Time capsule all along, he had watched Jenny and Rudwig burry the bottle under the tree.

He had opened the letters and had wept hard after reading them.

After slipping one of those letters into his pocket, he had torn a paper from his notebook and begun to write.

 

**THE END**

-CHAN

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

Thank you for reading this.

If you have liked this story, please share it with your friends. That would help me reach maximum readers, which I cannot otherwise. 🙂

I would also love to hear your feedback. You could provide yours by commenting here or by dropping an email to passionophoria@gmail.com.

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Dear Zindagi – A Detailed Analysis

 

It’s been long since I have written a detailed analysis of any movie – could be because none of the watch was motivating enough for me to write or could be that I haven’t watched some of the best movies that got released in the recent past.

“Dear Zindagi” – The latest offering from Gauri Shinde, stands as a testimony for the earlier accolades that she had received for her first outing – “English Vinglish”.

Being an ad filmmaker that she is, it’s for sure that every frame of the movie would be tidy – spick and span, Abundance of light and props only adding to the aesthetic decorum.

The movie might not be inspired from them, but it does remind you of “Good will hunting” and “Dead Poet’s Society” in parts.

********************************************************************************

Plot:

The movie revolves around the life of a female cinematographer Kaira (the loveable Alia), going through a phase of “Distress and Desperation” and how she, with the help of a psychiatrist Dr Jehangir Khan (our dear SRK) manages to overcome it.

It’s this very one lined plot of the movie, which manages to strike a chord with the audience with it’s personal touch.

“Phase of distress and desperation” is bound to visit everyone’s life, every now and then. The unwelcomed guest that it is, it does no gender biasing – treating men and women alike. That said, even I am not spared.

It’s highly improbable to prevent its visit, but what you could certainly do is – Mastering the art of getting yourselves out of it, as soon as you get into it.

At the surface layer it would appear that “Dear Zindagi” is trying to give life lessons on how you could help yourselves get out of the phase. But what it does in real is, asking us to identify our own specific ways of overcoming the distress.

Everyone has his/her sources of distress – job, love life, family, economy, social stigma etc. For Kaira, it’s her failed relationships and a childhood deprived of parental love.

Some of us are Kaira, some of us are Jehangir Khan and some of us are both of them. I think, audience identifying themselves with either or both these characters, is Gauri’s biggest victory as a writer and filmmaker

***********************************************************************************

Performances:

Time and again, Alia has reminded us that she is one of the best actresses that we have got. This movie is no exception. Wide range of emotions that she has brought on the screen, seemingly natural and pulled off with so much of an ease, proves her mettle as a brilliant actress.

Nothing could be more delighting than watching Shahrukh in such performance oriented roles – maintaining a good hand distance from his stardom. I can’t speak for others, but as a die-hard fan of his, I found him excellent in this role.

Angad and Kunal manage to impress in their brief appearances.

Yashaswini as Jackie, is also someone who might stay in your mind for quite some time, for her cute performance.

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MUSIC:

Amit Trivedi has worked magic with some of those numbers – that have shades of his earlier works in Lootera.

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WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN IMPROVED?

It’s of my personal opinion that the cinematographer part of her character has not been effectively written/ brought out. Several forced “superficial” elements put in to justify the cinematographer aspect. But that hasn’t done the movie any damage.

Her “childhood deprived of love” could have been much effectively depicted.

I don’t know if it exists for real – but the melodramatic family that she has including her uncle and aunt, appear far from real. I would discount that, considering it to be a creative liberty taken to entertain the audience.

*************************************************************************************

Bottom line:

You “might” like this movie, if you have loved – Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s society, Highway, Devil Wears Prada, Wake up Sid.

I wouldn’t say that every one of you might love the movie – A family that sat next to me, had their fair share of complaints.

But it’s certainly one the beautiful cinemas that I happened to watch in the recent past.

For the love towards SRK and for the love of Cinema…….!

-Chan