A novelette by Bharat Dogra
Introduction–How different will be the world 50 years from now? If the tendencies of domination and exploitation which are a major cause of distress even today get aggravated greatly in the future conditions of escalating climate change and other serious threats, how will life shape up then, and where will humanity then search for hope?
Chapter 4: Battle
As per the secret message people moving away from the forest drifted here and there for some time to create some confusion among the authorities who were closely monitoring their activities, all the time moving towards the desired direction, but then gained speed after some time and marched quickly towards Gate 4.
Meanwhile the soldiers of TT 17 had been waiting for people to start returning along village paths. They had even received message about the end of the meeting but returning people were still not visible. After waiting for some time they got worried and contacted their commander. The commander made quick inquiries which revealed that the people who had left the forest were moving towards Gate 4. Then he quickly contacted the Commander of Gate 4 Unit.
Peter, he said, I am worried that most of the people at the forest meeting are moving towards Gate 4 instead of taking the paths back to their settlements.
Yes, we have already noticed this movement. My soldiers spoke to locals and they said that they are only coming here for a ritual at a sacred place near the gate. But anyway don’t worry. If they come much closer to the gate we will kill them , or else we will drive them back towards their settlement paths.
–That will be good. I have my men posted there with their super guns. Do you need any additional help?
No, not at all. I have more than enough soldiers and arms.
The commander disconnected, fully satisfied that everything was all right. The competence of Peter had never been in doubt. He was regarded as perhaps the most competent commander in the TT 17 army. His tension relieved, he lit a cigarette and told his waiting soldiers to remain at their posts as people are likely to come to the settlement paths some time later.
Meanwhile almost all the people who left the forest meeting reached near Gate 4.
Suddenly very hectic activity started on the other side. The huge gate was thrown open and at the call of their leaders people rushed towards it. On the other side a large number of automated vehicles were in complete readiness. People were immediately taken on board and within two minutes they were at the gate of a huge building. This had been constructed as the strongest possible shelter which could withstand the most destructive bombing . Soldiers guided the representatives to very quickly enter the building and then all automated gates of the shelter were shut down.
Meanwhile it started raining very heavily and very strong gales of wind lashed out . But by then all representatives were safely inside the building, guarded and protected by Peter and 200 soldiers of his unit.
Anita set the priorities right by asking Janet and Lin to finalize the charter of demands and have a few copies ready. Peter arranged secretarial help for them.
It took some time for several representatives to realize what exactly had happened. Soon they realized that very violent attacks on their way back to their villages and settlements had been planned by TT authorities, and to avoid this their leaders had sought the help of a friendly commander of TT military who was willing to help them. Now they were safe in this building and could negotiate their demands from the safety of this building.
They learnt much later the TT authorities had been planning for this attack for a long time and, on the other hand, their leaders too had been planning for ensuring safety for a long time.
They had not eaten for a long time. With a sense of safety the hunger pangs started working and everyone had a strong urge to eat immediately. There was more than enough storage of expensive dry food and Peter had the storage doors opened. Now people could help themselves to as many packets of raisins, cashew nuts and almonds, and they did! With food came laughter and jokes, and a sense of being at ‘home’.
A minor commotion arose, however, when a few men spotted a storage of expensive liquor as well and rushed for this. Anita was livid when she heard this. However Mohammed soon brought the situation under control by pushing out these men from this particular storage room and getting it locked again.
Peter took Anita aside for a quick word—Our first step is completed as everyone is inside the shelter. My soldiers here have assured me that if required they are willing to sacrifice their life to provide protection to all the people here. But Cyrul is not going to accept this takeover silently and he is likely to plan something very sinister before we can open our negotiations with the CEO office. So kindly discuss all possibilities and our course of action with your colleagues while I will also quickly have a round of discussion with my colleagues.
Peter pointed to a lavishly furnished conference room. Anita called her close colleagues in and they settled down on the huge sofas around the shining table, feeling happy and content in strange surroundings.
Ashfaq opened the meeting—Friends it is great that we have managed to reach the safety of this shelter, thanks to the unexpected help we received from our soldier brothers led by Peter. This is a very critical time for us and we have to quickly decide how to move forward from this very uncertain situation. Cyrul would surely be planning some big mischief. We must move before he has the time for this. We should immediately try to get some sympathy and support at world level. Then we will be able to negotiate from a position of strength with the CEO office. So we need a discussion on this but before this we should approve the final version of the charter of demands.
Janet quickly read out the brief charter and it was immediately approved as there was nothing new in this.
Anita said—Here we should add just one sentence that there should be complete and unconditional pardon for Peter and all his soldiers who have helped us.
This was approved and Janet quickly added this sentence in the master document.
The discussion started and a few suggestions were made. But they were soon interrupted by alarming sounds of people shrieking in a part of the building.
Anita and other participants in the meeting rushed towards this spot. They saw that some persons had fainted and Peter along with a few soldiers was trying to revive them, at the same time asking other people not to crowd around them. However apparently he too was very disturbed.
What happened Peter, Anita asked in alarm.
Peter quietly pointed towards the other side of the room.
As Anita and her close colleagues watched closely, they saw to their horror and amazement thousands and thousands of tiny one-inch metal figures, carrying even smaller gun-like weapons in their hands. Their numbers were increasing by the second, as they squeezed themselves and moved in from any small opening in the shelter.
Peter explained– These are mini-robot soldiers. Obvious Cyrul must have planned this additional warfare against you in advance. He has acted much before we could have imagined. These mini-robot soldiers have been airdropped on this shelter. They are programmed to attack any human being with their poison weapons which can cause serious harm to most people and even kill some of them. We are told about these mini-robot soldiers in our training but this is the first time that I have seen their actual deployment.
Can’t anything be done to stop them, Anita asked in sheer desperation.
Nothing that I know, Peter replied gloomily. These people who have fainted are the ones who tried to crush or kick the mini-robots, and so were the first to be attacked by them. My guess is that these robot- soldiers will take about half an hour to assemble in full force as it is not easy to find too many small openings in this shelter for their entry. Then after showing their full force Cyrul will ask us all to surrender unconditionally!
Is there nothing we can do to stop this? Is there no option before us?
None that occurs to me immediately. But we need to think and think fast. I will have a very quick round with soldiers and you have a quick round with your colleagues. Let us then meet within 15 minutes and take a quick decision before Cyrul contacts us.
Anita and colleagues returned to the conference room but hardly any views could emerge to meet the new situation. Meanwhile Julian reported that panic had started spreading among many representatives.
What shall we do, asked a desperate looking Janet.
Anyway we are determined to fight till the last, Ashfaq repeated what he had always been saying.
But you cannot ignore this new dangerous situation which we did not anticipate at all and so are not prepared for this at all, Anita said.
Are you suggesting that we should agree to surrender?
But before the discussion could become more intense and heated, Peter rushed in all of a sudden.
Anita, he shouted, the CEO is already on the big screen, and he wants to speak to only you. He said this is most urgent.
Anita feared the worst now. She guessed she will now be asked to surrender unconditionally and the surrender will involve all the leaders, representatives and all the soldiers helping them including of course their commander Peter.
What are the soldiers saying Peter? What do you suggest?
We will go by what you decide. We are in this together now.
Her legs trembling, her heart pounding , Anita somehow summoned the courage to stand up. For support she took Janet with her and the two of them walked behind Peter who guided them towards the big screen, others following.
Surprisingly the CEO was extremely polite. Anita thought he is just being deceptive before saying something very harsh and cruel.
But the CEO continued to be very polite—Anita, I am approaching you for some very urgent help which we need from you.
Anita was completely taken by surprise but she tried her best to maintain her calm and get her priorities right.
But how can I help with these mini-robots attacking us?
Oh, just give me two minutes.
The CEO went off the screen. Soon Anita, Peter and all the others heaved a big sigh of relief as all the standing mini-robots suddenly fell down. Clearly they had been de-activated by their remote controllers. Soon the CEO reappeared on the screen.
Are things OK now?
–Anita as you know a big storm is raging outside. Extremely heavy, unprecedented rains had in fact started right in the morning in the higher mountains. As a result a huge landslide fell right into the river and an artificial lake was formed. This can burst any moment now and the big waves will pass by TT 17 in about five hours time. We have a weak stretch at Embankment 5 which can be breached by these big waves. If this happens much of TT 17 will be shattered by high waves and then later these waves can also enter CC 17 to cause destruction there as well.
Anita quickly assimilated the gravity of the situation.
–So how do you want us to help?
—Our soldiers and workers with automated transport and other machines are already on the job bringing massive amounts of sand and rocks to reinforce the weak embankment but they cannot work fast enough to complete the work in time. Machines can not achieve much in this emergency by themselves and ingenuity of local human beings is needed for planning the work keeping in view the special emergency needs and local conditions. We need thousands of villagers to join the work immediately. Their hard work for the next four or five hours, combined with their familiarity with local conditions and skills for such work alone can save the situation.
— We also know and understand that only an urgent appeal made by you with a strong sense of urgency will bring them immediately to the embankment to contribute with their work and skills immediately in these stormy conditions. Needless to add they will be more than adequately compensated for their work later.
Anita responded–I am only too eager to help in such a situation. But just now my hands are tied by an agreement reached by all our representatives regarding a charter of most essential demands. We can cooperate from a position of dignity and full involvement only if our most essential demands are accepted. Kindly accept this charter of demands and then not only will I immediately issue the appeal you ask for but in addition I will personally reach embankment 5 with all the representatives and soldiers here and we will all work at the site with local workers, villagers and soldiers to ensure the success of the protection effort well in time.
Thank you. Kindly show me your charter of demands.
Janet immediately produced the document from her bag and it was shown on the screen.
The CEO reflected for a short while. Then, with some hesitation he said, Okay we accept all your demands.
Anita sought a reassurance—And this includes unconditional pardon for all soldiers and the commander who helped us.
Yes. We will prepare a written acceptance while you are making the appeal and give it to you, but let us please try to save time as much as possible.
Anita talked quickly to Ashfaq while Peter made preparations for telecasting the urgent appeal to villagers by Anita.
Soon Ashfaq conveyed the news of acceptance of the entire charter of demands by the CEO. This led to a lot of cheering and the representatives willingly accepted to contribute to protection work even in stormy conditions. As they prepared to leave for the work-site they helped themselves to many more packets of cashew nuts and raisins, stuffing in their pockets what they could not eat immediately.
Full automated transport quickly carried the entire group of thousands of people to embankment 5 work sites. Already the results of the appeal made by Anita only a short while back were visible and people were pouring in from nearby villages to contribute to the protection effort.
The total strength of workers toiling for protection peaked to over 20000 and the protection work was completed well in time. Around 10 p.m. the flood wave came and passed this vulnerable stretch without causing any breach. A big roar of applause arose from the workers and soldiers. For the first time in many years TT soldiers danced with CC villagers in a big show of joy and thanks. Meanwhile bulky packets of high-class hot cooked food had been delivered by TT hotels and everyone ate well before leaving .
Anita and all representatives went back to spend the night in the same shelter from where they would be sent back to their villages and settlements in officially arranged transport next morning. News of their safety as well as the success of their efforts and acceptance of their charter of demands had already been telecast , bringing much joy to the people of CC17 after a very long time. Cyrul had already been sacked and the implementation of the charter of demands will start next morning, it was telecast in the late night official news bulletin. This came with news of officially expressed thanks from the CEO to Anita and CC representatives and villagers for saving so many human lives with their courage , hard work and prompt response.
It was revealed much later that the CEO was also under pressure to roll back the policy of excessive aggression from the Federation of TT Areas which had communicated to him in the afternoon that such extreme aggression is to be used only after possibilities of reconciliation have been tried adequately first. Hence the CEO was anyway under pressure to give up the line advocated by Cyrul in the past and come closer to the viewpoint of Jeremy which advocated a higher reliance on negotiating for peaceful solutions.
To be continued….
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author whose work has also been recognized in the form of several prestigious awards. He has written extensively on environmental and other increasing threats of future years in books like ‘Planet in Peril’ and ‘Protecting Earth for Children.’ His collection of Hindi short stories is titled Sachai Ki Kasam ( Under Oath for Truth) and collecton of Hindi poems is titled Kathin Daur Mein Ummeed ( Hope in Difficult Times).