Krish woke up with a start. His breath smelled like shit and his body ached all over. He tried to move his legs around and found that he could not. He looked around in panic. He was in a too pristine room, it was as if it had been stripped forcibly of everything. Chills ran through his body. He was strapped to a metallic bed with a thin mattress. Thin but strong cords snaked around his wrists and ankles, preventing any kind of movement. There was a sense of nothingness to the room. It smelled of nothing. There was nobody, it had no windows. It was just lit up by the garish glow of artificial lights. He heard footsteps in the distance. That’s when he first registered the two chairs by his bedside. He was connected to a strange looking machine that had multiple buttons, labelled FP2, T3, T4, F7, P4 etc. He racked his brains to come up with an explanation. How had this happened? Where was he? What was that strange machine? He had been divested of his clothing and was wearing what appeared to be standard hospital garb. The first thought that came to his mind was organ trafficking. Unnerved, he looked for evidence to support that possibility. A few feet away lay a door and panels of what appeared to be translucent glass. He could make out two or three shadowy outlines. He decided to lie still and pretend to be asleep.
“No, Mr. Sharma. No use pretending to be asleep. We know what you are thinking” The motion sensor operated doors opened and in came two people wearing white coats. One was a balding man in his late forties or early fifties with a wiry build, and the other was a woman wearing a red baseball cap, jeans and a black t-shirt. The woman held his attention immediately. That gait, those hands! The curve of her lips, he didn’t know why but Krish instantly felt like he knew that woman.
“I see that you remember Dr. Nirali”. The man spoke in an amused tone. “I know you!” Krish blurted out. “No you don’t, Mr. Sharma. Let me take your vitals and EEG. Please relax.” she said, without removing her cap. “Show me your face! Where am I? Who are you people?” he demanded to know. She went about wordlessly, while he kept throwing questions at them. “Please stay still, this will hurt.” she said, swiftly jabbing a needle into his side.
“WHAT DID YOU INJECT ME WITH? I don’t know who you are, but let me tell you that I have a very wealthy brother who will pay anything for my release. Please, let me go.” Krish’s bravado left him and he broke down, terrified at what they would do to him next. “Shut up” she said, the composure in her voice cracking. Her voice had an icy edge to it. Completely belying it was the warmth of her grip on his shoulder as she pressed him down, her lips close to his ear whispering without barely moving “Stay neutral because they can read your thoughts via emotional cues”. He forced himself to do as she said, reluctantly trusting her despite his misgivings. The man said “You are at Paramjyothi.”
“What! You have put me in an abandoned mental hospital? You cannot illegally detain me like this!” Krish screamed. “You are mistaken” the man said silkily. “It is neither a mental hospital, nor is it abandoned. It is a research facility. Not everyone in the experimentation cells is… cooperative like you. You have been very good.” The man patted his left shoulder. Krish’s eyes pooled with tears of rage and helplessness. “Remove these chains and then take me on, you bastard!” he cried out, voice choked with emotion.
“Oh but it wouldn’t be a fair fight, Mr. Sharma.” he said, moving his white coat to the side an inch or two to show Krish the concealed weapon he was carrying.” What kind of scientist carries guns? Who are you guys really? Why did you bring me here? Where am I? Please tell me.” Krish said, looking at Nirali. “We are not at liberty to answer those questions” she said stiffly. “Then who is? I demand to see whoever is in charge here” he stated firmly.
The doors slid open to reveal a man in his late thirties, in a dark suit, hair parted mussily to the side. One ear was pierced. He strode in confidently like a man who knew his way about the place. He had eyes for none but Nirali, and came to a halt where she stood. “Hello darling” he said, pulling her to him for a swift kiss. “Saad, my good man. I hope you won’t mind if I don’t kiss you” The two men laughed, while her lips quirked upwards in the semblance of a smile. Something twisted painfully in Krish’s gut.
“Anil Anna, you know these people? I don’t understand.” The smile disappeared from the man’s face as he turned to Krish. “Ah, little bro. Hello to you too. Vitals stable? EEG okay? He hasn’t been giving too much trouble? Does the dosage need to be increased, Saad?” She passed him the files, while the latter replied unctuously “No Sir, he has been very cooperative. Everything is stable as you can see. We don’t think we need to increase the dosage. However, he has been full of questions.”
“Has he, now? What do you wish to know brother?” Anil Sharma said, turning to his brother with a slightly feral grin. Letting his guard down a little now that his brother was there, Krish threw a bunch of questions. “You are right. Ordinarily, scientists don’t carry guns. But Saad is not just a scientist, that is one of the many hats he dons. Heck, I am not even sure Saad Ali is his real name. However I would suggest that you not try his patience because he can be quite unpleasant when he wishes to be. This is not just a research facility. This is a top secret Government one, we report directly to the Prime Minister. As for why we are here, I am not sure how much I should tell you but seeing as how you will be dead soon anyway… I guess there is no harm in telling you. My lovely wife here has been working on techniques that allow us to not only access your innermost thoughts but even possibly, alter the state of your consciousness. You are here to test out our Thought Harvesting program. Whether those changes are permanent or not remains to be seen. Pretty cool, huh?” Anil said.
“Why?” Krish asked, taken aback. “We can use this to weed out potential terrorists, for one.” He said with a casual wave of his hand. “That is a violation of the citizens’ right to privacy. This is illegal. It is a violation of our fundamental rights as citizens of India!” Krish said, gasping out his words, because of the hand painfully pressing down on his shoulders as he tried to get up.
“When the safety of a billion people is at stake, there has to be some give and take” the man said, dismissively. In a small, totally defeated voice Krish asked “Why did you say that I would be dead soon? Do you plan on killing me?”
His brother shook his head and said with a sigh, “About a year ago, you were diagnosed with a terminal, incurable illness which leaves your brain in perfect condition even as the rest of your body starts to shut down. As a man from a military background who frequently suffered from PTSD, you were the perfect guinea pig to attempt Thought Harvesting on.”
The pieces started falling into place in his mind, but something that his brother said had Krish feeling a bit disoriented. “Wait, does this mean you planted false memories in my mind?” He asked Anil.
Anil tapped his nose, saying “Remember when you said that you knew Nirali? That was a false memory we planted in you. Can the memories be activated at will?” Anil asked, turning to Dr. Ali.
“It has to be done preferably when the person is asleep, else it could cause the individual to hallucinate severely, induce seizures or even death.”
“Do you think we can do it now with minimal damage to him?” Anil asked, ignoring his brother’s panic stricken expression. Dr. Ali nodded and took out a small device that looked like a pager. Activating it with his voice, he typed a few commands in. He then went over to the strange machine and turned the regulators on for multiple regions of the brain and pressed a button, sending a mild current of electricity to commence the manipulation of the memory trace, within the brain.
“Memories” flooded Krish’s mind with a startling rapidity that left him reeling.