Science Fiction and Fantasy | An Indian Experience

Hathoda: The Robbery By Sudarshan Purohit |
Issue 7

Hathoda: The Robbery By Sudarshan Purohit

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It was Harry’s idea to use the Hathoda crisis to loot the bank and get away with it.

They’d been announcing for months that the Hathoda was potentially radioactive, and it would probably release strange gases into the atmosphere. When it struck the earth, anyone who wasn’t in one of the government’s SLEEP chambers would likely be killed off.

As a result, the police forces would be starting from a week before the crash—from the June 11th onwards. They’d be talking to everyone in their area for anyone willing to get into the chambers early and reduce the rush during the last couple of days. It would be chaos.

Animals were being dumped in herds into the chambers in advance. People wanted to go into suspended animation with their families, so they were rushing to families in their hometowns. Others wanted to wake up in some out of the way places, so there were rushes to the Mauritius, Ibiza, Bhutan, Goa, Cancun, etc. The period of sleep of the earth’s children was going to be three to six months—or whenever the sensors decided the atmosphere was safe.

In all of this crisis, who would care for two guys breaking into a Mumbai bank at midnight and making off with all the money? And everyone was too occupied to notice that two men making their way to Sikkim carried unusually large bags.

Or that the names they gave to the police when they signed up for the SLEEP chambers were ‘Santa Singh and Banta Singh’. Or that they had agreed to be ‘Canaries’—a smaller set of people who would get woken up about a week before all the other people, and would have the chance to abort the process in case they found there was still danger in the air. It was just part of the chaos.

§   §   §   
When Amarpreet came back to consciousness, the first thing he was conscious of was the silence. He could remember the noise and chaos of the evening when he and Harry had lay down in the chambers to be prodded into suspended animation.

Then it had been crowds everywhere, people yelling in all languages, the volunteers working in muted panic to get people in as soon as possible, the trucks driving up to the huge tents with the chambers, loaded full of still more people—Now all he could hear was a slight breeze ruffling the trees.

He sniffed the air cautiously before getting up. It seemed all right—and without all the dust and smoke it’d had earlier. As he stood up and walked around his coffin-sized chamber to the little pouch containing his clothes—plastic stuff, all the volunteers could arrange—he looked around the tent to see if Harry was up too.

It struck now how ragged the tent looked. It was hardly more than tatters. Three months out in the rain and sun had done this—and whatever the Hathoda had released in the atmosphere. Across the tent, Harry was putting on his clothes too. Now noticing that he was up, Harry waved at him and gave him a big thumbs-up sign. They had done it!

They were the only two canaries in their tent of ten people. Quickly they finished the fitness test performed by the control board in their tent—blood samples and whatnot, and hurried out into the open. They would have to come back here every day to rerun the tests, until the week was over. It was an irritating obligation, but they shouldn’t stand out from the crowd now.

Other people were emerging from the tents cautiously. They waved to those who looked familiar, then walked through the over-run grass towards the road. Or rather, where the road had been. Because when they got there, the tar road had almost vanished, taken over by the jungle’s creeping, all-powerful roots.

Thankfully, the place they had stashed the loot was not more than a kilometre away. They looked around to make sure no one was watching, then plunged through the undergrowth and headed for the spot. They’d marked it well, in preparation for this possibility. The radiation from the comet hadn’t harmed the plants in any way it seemed—quite the contrary.

As they headed away from the camp, a public address system began blaring out details for the people who were awake. General safety tips, emergency procedures, suchlike. The noise soon faded as they got to the jungle.

The loot was just behind a hillock by a river. They were pretty sure they’d found the place, but somehow the shovels and pickaxes they’d hidden nearby were gone. There wasn’t any point in digging the stuff up right now, of course, because things would probably not get back to normal for many months. (Had they known what the comet would do to people, they’d have known it would actually be years.)

But, they had the intuition that getting the stuff out of here and into a place in the city would be impossible once things started getting organized.

They broke off sticks from the trees nearby and started digging. They’d hidden the bags about a foot deep, and for a while they were just clearing the space of grass before starting the serious digging. Soon their grunts of effort mingled with the faint sounds coming from the loudspeakers of the camp.

After half an hour, it seemed they had been digging in the wrong spot after all. There was nothing in the earth—At one point Harry thought they’d got it, but it was just a few scraps of rotten paper. They kept going for a little while more, though, before stopping in disgust and sitting back against a nearby tree. Maybe it was that spot at *that* hillock. They went over and started digging, already with a vague suspicion of error in their minds.

It took three more tries before they realized that either someone had stolen the money from their hiding place, or they had hopelessly lost it. The sky was beginning to get dark. Exhausted, they leaned against yet another tree and thought of their course of action. It had all been for nothing—they had lost the money, they needn’t have come this far from Mumbai, their planning had gone to waste. Amarpreet grew sombre at the thought. The realization sapped his strength and he threw away the broken branch in his hands.

The Public address system was still announcing instructions. He listened to it for the first time. Suddenly his face grew ashen. “Listen, Harry, listen to that!” he said.

Harry heard it then—the date and time for when they had to report back for medical tests. The date and time and YEAR. The money hadn’t been stolen. Nor had they missed the spot. It had simply rotted away in the meantime. For the date was almost 65 years after they had first gone to sleep.

The two looked at each other. There really was nothing they could do now.

Note: Read the complete Hathoda Series:

Cover pic by texaus1.

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A software professional, Sudarshan was born and brought up in India and currently works in the city he grew up in - Poona, India.