The Capsule of Hope – Shashank Awaru

Theme: The Tablet, 21/12, Technology saves humanity from the Mayans.

The world has to know.  The world has to know.

The words repeated themselves in George’s brain and no matter how hard he tried to make them go away, they just stuck.  The flame-torch stood on one of the walls of the room, flickering weakly and spreading dim light throughout the room.

George Slater had studied enough languages to know that the symbols etched on the wall in front of him were Mayan.  In spite of the blurry vision, he could still read and process the words.

I am going to die here, he thought.  It was true.  The dry sand on the floor of the ancient room had begun heating up.  The ground began shaking.  He knew it was time to die.  But he wasn’t going to go down without telling what he knew.

The small box he and Rajesh found in the room was going to save the world.

I should have left with Rajesh.  I should have left with Rajesh.  He frowned.  He pulled his cell phone out.  A small bar beeped on the screen, showing there was still some connectivity left.  He typed out whatever he could translate of the message the Mayans wanted the world to know of.

Their little journey began seven months ago in a chatroom where he and Rajesh first met.  It ended here, in an old treasure room of an abandoned fort in Africa.

George could barely breathe anymore.  The air in the room was running out.  He began shivering.

MESSAGE SENT – His cell phone beeped and then died out.

It was okay if he was going to die, he realized.  He was dying only so that the world could live on.

He slowly walked toward the watch, picked it up and studied the flame silently.

He then lit himself on fire.

We … We did it, was the last revelation he had before burning down.

*****

“Where are we going, dad?”

“The beach,” he said, smiling as he steered the wheel and took a sharp turn, narrowly avoiding hitting the tree beside the road.

We were in Goa, me and dad.  Mom wasn’t with us anymore; she died giving birth.  Dad always said I resembled her.  He said I had gotten her beautiful face, although I never really saw the similarity.

My name is Rajshree Gupta.  My dad is Rajesh Gupta, a man who I secretly think is a little crazy.

He drove straight into the beach floor.  It was empty completely, except for some abandoned carts and a stray dog howling loudly.  Of course there were no people there.  The world is going to end today.

The date: 21st December, 2012.  The time: 5 13 PM.

No police, no people strolling by happily as the waves hit the coast, nothing.  All that was there there were me and dad and our car.

He jumped out and laid out a small picnic cloth for me and him to sit on.  He pulled out a small bag from the seat behind and sat down.  He motioned me to sit beside him.  I followed suit.

“Dad, please tell me why we are here.”  I asked, concerned.

“First tell me if you are enjoying the view.”  He smiled.

“Yes, yes, I am.  Stop treating me like a small girl.  I am seventeen!  I don’t like having secrets being hidden from me.”  I was fuming.  My soft nostrils flared up.

“Even when you are angry, you look just like your mother.”  He said absent-mindedly as he pulled out things from his bag: A laptop, a packet of chips, a wooden box and a bottle of water.

“Dad, please tell me why we are here.  Please.”  I wasn’t buying any of his charm today.  I had to know why he dragged me out from the house for no apparent reason.

“Fine.

Raji (That was what he called me), what is going to happen today?”  He switched the laptop on.

“The world is going to end, APPARENTLY.”  I emphasized on the last word to express my disbelief.

“What if I were to tell you that that’s just not what’s going to happen?”

“Dad, please stop talking in circles.”  I turned away from him.  I hated the ridiculous games he wanted to play.

“Remember Mr. George?”

“Your colleague, right?  You went to Africa with him on a business-trip?”  I picked up the chips-packet and started gobbling the contents down.

“I lied.  I went on a treasure-hunt.”

See, I told you the man was a little insane.

“Brilliant.  You could have told me that when we were at home.”

“Oh dear.”  The smile on his face vanished as he stared at the screen.  “It has begun.”

I grabbed the laptop.

372 DEAD AND OVER A THOUSAND INJURED IN AN EARTHQUAKE IN SWEDEN, the headline read.

So it was true, I told myself.

“The real reason why I brought you out here was because I wanted to show you that I am not crazy.  That I actually am going to save the world.”

Was he serious?

I didn’t talk for a few moments.  Either my dad had gone completely cuckoo, or he was kidding around.  Either way, what was going on was very very weird.

“The Mayans were-”  He began.

“-the ones who predicted the end.”  I completed his sentence for him.

“No.  They were also the ones who invented a new beginning.”  I listened to him, shock creeping within me like a deadly poison.

“Dad, seriously?”  He was out of control.

“Keep your skepticism to yourself.”

Another alert came up on the laptop’s screen.

FIRE BREAKS OUT IN NEW YORK, CANNOT BE STOPPED, EXPERTS SAY – The headline read.

“Dad, let’s go home.  If this really is the end, let’s spend our final moments in peace.”  I said and stood up, ready to leave.

He pulled my hand down.  I sat back.

Dad opened the small wooden box he had brought along.

I continued googling all that I could meanwhile.  Alerts showed up from everywhere – Rio, Shanghai, Indonesia; fires, tsunamis, nuclear accidents … People were dying by the minute.

Dad showed me a bright blue capsule.  It had an eerie, diamond-like shine to it that brightened not only its interior but also its surface.

“What voodoo is that?” I asked, growing slightly angry at the way in which his insanity was taking over.

“We found this box in a cave on our journey.  You know what cave it was?”

I sat silently.

“The same cave in which scientists found documents that predicted the occurrence of the doomsday.”  He grinned like a mad scientist as he stared at the pill.

TREMORS LEAD TO MASSIVE EARTHQUAKE IN NEW DELHI, OVER TEN THOUSAND DEAD – The headline read again.

What could I do?  What could anyone really do?

“Dad, please look at this-”

“Don’t worry, we will survive.”

He immediately swallowed the tablet in his hand.  Still smiling, he pulled a knife from the bag.

“I want you to read this.”

He placed the knife aside, pulled his cell out and showed me a message.  In digital font, it read:

FROM: GEORGE SLATER

THE SECRET TO LIVING FOREVER IS KNOWING HOW IT IS TO DIE.

Was all this actually happening? I asked myself as I tried to decode the message.  Behind me, I heard the sound of a SLIT.

“Aaah!”  I shrieked.  Dad had cut his own throat.  He was laying on the cloth now, blood dripping down from his throat.

I remember crying and moaning as loudly as I could.  His insanity had driven him to a point of no-return.  I didn’t even have anyone left to survive.

But maybe there is hope, I thought.  I tried lifting him.  Maybe I would go to the nearby hospital, maybe I would save-

I felt his palm move.  I looked up to see dad staring back at me, his face as lively as ever.  There was no trace of a cut on his throat.

I silently sat for a few moments, unable to process.

“The Mayans invented pills that would make a man live forever.  They invented the capsules of Hope.  But for it to work, you first have to die.  The secret to this is soma plants, plants theat existed back then.  The scientists then used these to resurrect dead people.  The Mayans made it better.  They not only knew what the problem was, they knew what the solution was as well –  The plants of immortality.  George knew how to do it.  Just like you and I know now.”

He laid his closed fist out.  I opened it to find a blue shiny pill in his palm.  He held out a knife in the other.

*****

I awoke in the back of the car, dazed and confused.  Everything that was happening felt very unreal.  Dad told me about the soma plants but I never believed, at least not until today.

“So, what do we do now?” I asked, staring at the scenery outside.

“We live.  We survive.  I still have more than a hundred pills.  We start humanity all over again.  But this time, we do it right.  We do it sensibly.  We choose who to save.  We restart.”

We drove into the silent night, pondering over the implications of the life ahead of us.

We were never going to die.  That sounded more harmful than advantageous.

We restart, I heard dad saying over and over as I stared at the stars.

*****

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