This is the next chapter in the story Dhivya Balaji started. Go here to read the first chapter before reading this.
“This is going to change the world as we know it Rohan”, exclaimed Varun, his excitement causing him to spill the coffee on Rohan’s back.
“Watch it!”, shouted Rohan as he felt the hot coffee drench his back.
Rohan was sitting in front of his laptop on a chair with Varun leaning against it.
“I’m so sorry” said Varun while trying to wipe the coffee stain from Rohan’s back using his other hand that wasn’t holding the coffee. “But this is path breaking Rohan”
“There is still a lot to be done but yes this is a step forward”, agreed Rohan.
Rohan returned his gaze back at the glass window that partitioned the room they were in. On the other side of the window was an empty room. But it was not empty moments ago. Varun and Rohan witnessed a world come to life inside that room. As he saw the empty room, Rohan did not think think about the years of research and work he did to accomplish the miracle, which even Varun knew would impact our very existence. No, Rohan’s thoughts were all on Rhea and how finally he could help her. With his thoughts on Rhea he glanced at his laptop screen which read SIMULATION ENDED.
“What do you mean?”, queried Varun.
This snapped Rohan back as he turned to look at Varun sipping his coffee and looking quizzically at Rohan.
“Well, I’m still forced to use non-player characters (NPC) as a way to sustain the augmented reality whenever the subject’s conscious mind starts rejecting the constructs.”
“The who and the what now?”
“NPC Varun. Every time a subject realizes that there is something wrong with the scenario we project to them, I have programmed the system to bring in a person the subject trusts or is comfortable with to reinforce the conditioning.”
Varun looked confused at Rohan. Seeing this Rohan took a deep breath to start explaining again before he was cut off by a phone call. He saw it was Rhea, he knew she would be on her way home and wouldn’t call him if it wasn’t an emergency. He signaled to Varun that he needed to take the call and walked out of the room to the corridor. He swiped the screen to attend her call while looking outside the building at the sky. He could see dark clouds gathering signaling the rains to come. He hoped Rhea would not be stuck somewhere when the rains come. He put the phone to his ear and said, “Hello Rhea”.
Within five minutes of ending his call with Rhea, Rohan had excused himself from the meeting with Varun and was about to unplug his laptop from a terminal on a wall below the glass window, when he heard the crackling sound of lightning and the second later office went dark.
“Guess the lightning caused a power outage. The generator should kick in soon”, said Varun.
Rohan could still make out Varun’s face from the glow of his laptop screen.
“Could you grab my laptop bag Varun?”, said Rohan pointing to the table beside them.
A few seconds later the power came back just as Varun said. Rohan was about to shut his laptop down when he saw a message on his screen blinking that said SIMULATION IN PROGRESS. He didn’t remember turning it back on. He looked across the glass window and saw nothing in the room across his. He thought he might’ve pressed some button while the power was out. His doubts were soon forgotten as he remembered Rhea. He tried to stop the simulation but his laptop wouldn’t respond. He had no time to waste so Rohan just unplugged the wire connecting his laptop to the terminal, and shoved the laptop inside his laptop bag. He walked quickly out of the room and realized Varun hadn’t spoken a word since the power came back. Rohan went down the lift to get out of the building. He was about to exit the building when he heard his name being called. He turned to see it was the receptionist.
“Varun, your laptop bag is open” she said smiling.
“Thanks, my fiancé would kill me if I tore this bag”, he replied sheepishly while closing the zipper on his bag.
He took one fleeting glance at the receptionist table and saw her not smiling anymore. He noticed the clock behind her and realized he was late, so without giving much thought about the receptionist he hurried out to his bike and was on the road soon. It started raining and Rohan cursed himself for letting Rhea wait in this rain. He twisted the accelerator as the bike roared its way to the bus stop.
As Rohan was about to reach the bus stop, he looked to see if Rhea was waiting for him there hoping he wasn’t late. He saw a car parked near a banyan tree bordering the bus stop. Something felt familiar to Rohan about this car. As he neared it he recognized it as Varun’s car. But Rohan had no time to think about it as he suddenly noticed a dead carcass and had to quickly steer his bike away from hitting it. He came to a stop near the tree behind Varun’s car and mounted off his bike was about to put the bike on its stand when he heard a scream of a woman. A scream he recognized as Rhea’s and it came from the front of the car. Without thinking he let his beloved bike fall on the ground and threw his laptop bag over it.
“Rhea!”, shouted Rohan as he made his way to the car.
But Rhea didn’t respond. She was covering her mouth and as if on a trance she bent down. Rohan stepped forward to get a clear view of what she was bending over while his mind raced over a thousand questions. He couldn’t make the situation out and was wondering what made Rhea step out into the rain. But the minute he reached the front of the car all the questions were silenced and his mind went blank. He saw Rhea bent over a man’s body. It was his friend Varun lying motionless.
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