The Metamorphosis

-Chandirasekaran Kasiraman

Franz was climbing the tree to get a better view of the forest. They have been tracking the beast for the last 2 hours following a trail of greenish-blue viscous liquid along the floor of the forest. As it was inevitable that in another hour or so they will lose all the light and end up in dark, with no other source of light they had to finish the mission as soon as possible. As their hunts for the last 2 days were failure, first day because the beast could become invisible and second day as the beast managed to swim under the small river and hold its breath for hours at a stretch and when both he and Phil went in, it had already given them the slip; it would not at all be ideal to fail for 3rd day in a row, especially with the carnival approaching. It was a pride to be selected for hunting, with all the rigorous tests of both physical and mental levels. It would be ironic to have made this far and go empty handed at the carnival.

As Franz was losing his grip on the situation, the call for assistance came from Phil. It was a tune they had agreed on only recently, and hence was not so clear. It could either be that Phil had got sight of the beast or he was giving up finding it. As Franz rushed, those familiar hands pulled him behind a tree.

“Even a deaf can hear your foot from a mile away”. As Franz was about to retort, something caught his glimpse. On the tree about a mile from them was the beast. By its actions of pecking silently at its claws, one can safely assume that it had not heard them. Else it would have taken off in a dash for its dear life. So all that was left now was for Franz to initiate. Though Phil was the better shooter, they were training Franz’s shooting for the last few days as he could not wield close range weapons like X-250, C-390, etc. for any use. So they had to change Phil to do the dirty work with Franz being the long-range initiator.

Franz had to aim a AV series at the beast. Faster than a speeding bullet, closer to the speed of sound,  AV series fires a miniscule, high-pressured jet that delivers a formula of anaesthetic and venom directly into the body breaking into any protective shell. Traveling at around 340 meters per second, the device works similarly to a mosquito’s proboscis. As he was aiming the gun, he stepped on a twig and it broke the calmness. As the beast caught glimpse of Franz and Phil, it gave a look of understanding its imminent death. Franz fired, there was a mini-squeal and then it all disappeared. He had taken a clean shot for the first time in over a week. And they had completed the simulation successfully for the first time in 3 days. Phil was pumped up about their chances at the carnival. Still there was some sense of unease in Franz’s head. He could not fathom its depth at the moment

—————- x —————————————x—————–     

John was going to the carnival for the first time. His father, Matt had finally managed to scrape through enough money for 3 tickets with 3rd being for their servant Iforoid. Iforoid was a 6th generation Android tailor-made specifically for domestic work. Though in their small household of a father-son duo, there was not much chores to be done, Matt had purchased Iforoid at a second-hand shop to give John some company as he was busy working 18 hours to make ends meet. Even though all other children of his age had the much improved Sterling series androids that could play anything from chess to foosball, John wasn’t complaining. For him Iforoid was more than just any companion or friend, he was his only friend.

This year finally he need not wait for his classmates to make fun of him when he appears clueless about the happenings at the carnival. He need not be satisfied with all the second-grade narratives he was going to hear. He can see the carnage for real. With his very own eyes. Possibly a couple omni-culars would have been better, he could rewind it to watch replays of any sequence of the fight he desired, details he might have missed. But he wasn’t one to not understand the hardships of his father. He was highly matured for a 12 year old boy. As he and his father marched along with Iforoid struggling to keep up with the pace, mocked by several onlookers for what an android so many versions old is doing at the carnival. Someone passed a comment that SIGMOTRON had brought it over as they were going through a period of financial uncertainty and as a result this was the best they could bring for the carnival.

——————x———————————–x——————

Franz could not sleep that night. In the morning carnival was going to start.He was one among the gifted to have got the chance to hunt at such a young age. It is a dream for anyone at Pranderium to be a hunter at the carnival. Looking at his ceiling which was made of Glass present in Bose-Einstein-condensate state, giving him a good look of the night sky filled with all the stars and moon, all he could think of was different kind of defense mechanisms the corporations can come up with. Of course as always there was a good probability that invisibility will be there with every beast. But as power is limited and usage of anything outside solar panels was banned there had to be at least four-fifth of the duration the droids must be visible for energy acquisition. So invisibility was not an issue. There can be the fast-runners that are tough to aim for a shot. Although anything more than 200 metres a second was banned due to their potential to cause human casualties, still aiming any droid moving at 150 metres a second was a challenge. Even with those compound guns that offered predictive trajectories for bullets, it was tough to hit those targets. And then there were the toughest ones, the Noveroids. The ones that got their name from the German Novelles, that can survive and continue to process with even most of their parts lost. Only the richest corporations could afford the technology. These took the maximum amount of time to be searched and killed and usually were the last ones to die in the carnivals and hence the corporations holding this technologies obviously had the best chances of being crowned.

Even though there were rumours that these corporations managed to bribe the hunters to target their droids the last, rationally speaking it was tough to hunt them down. How would you kill any organism that can simply cut down any part damaged and run away and survive with the rest ? These Noveroids did just that, they had to be destroyed to their last single board to end their lives. They had to be burned. He and Phil had prepared a special strategy for hunting these Noveroids. They planned to scare them with shots to the body and drive them towards the traps and capture them and set them on methoxy-regia-fires. These fires were very effective in melting any alloys.

Though he did not think that they had any chances of victory, he felt capturing a noveroid and killing it would be a big enough achievement. Of the 8 corporation sponsored droids, if any team can manage to kill 3, practically victory can be assured. The ones from SIMON and BOSON corporations will be the toughest and definitely have some surprise in them. They were the behemoths of the industry and have shared the best Droid award for the last 8 years.No doubts considering the fact that only these two have access to the Noveroid technology. Then there was the G-Makers who always make the most durable droids that are tough to pierce through or damage. The SIGMOTRON; formed by 4 fresh-out-of-college grads, captured public imagination four years ago in its very first entry, after an ingenious design that made the droid extremely light-weight and superior aerodynamics that gave them the ability to turn around and change trajectories instantly. They were extremely tough to hit because of the intelligent algorithms that handled its complex maneuvering. Though they ended the runner-up at that year, financial woes soon followed as the company was spending a lot of money on projects that did not seem to give any results. As usual the conspiracy theorists came up with the explanation that the BOSON and SIMON had paid off the hunters to target SIGMOTRON bots first. Anyway no one is expecting SIGMOTRON to pull a rabbit out of the hat this time. If any, their participation in the event itself was in question till their spokeswoman issued a statement confirming it.

The rest were merely there to make up the numbers. It was not that big a challenge to hunt these decoys. The real fight was only for the other four bots. And usually all the four teams, initially fought for these small droids and always ended up splitting them 1 each. The winner mostly will be the one who hunted 2 or more of the big Four. As he contemplated what awaited him at the arena, the dawn seemed to grow nearer.He reminded himself that he needed atleast a few hours of proper sleep before the event. He turned off the temperature conditioner that kept the ceiling glass at the appropriate temperature to make it go total dark and tried to get some sleep.

—————x—————————————x——————

This was the day John had been eager to spectate live ever since he had heard of the carnival. In its olden form, the carnival used to mimic the gladiators fighting for dear life- with either an impending death or a rags to riches story to follow.Later as audience started demanding more blood and gore, it seemed impossible for the organisers to satisfy the audience’s thirst. Then came the first generation of humanoids that fought like humans, bled like humans and also died like humans. But it was not a good entertainment material as it was devoid of any emotions. Then they mixed it up a bit with a team of 8 humans squaring up against 8 droids. That was the worst edition ever.It merely lasted 18 minutes. All those poor souls were buried in a jiffy. Nevertheless, the organisers drastically modified the format. After all, humans must not die. It is the droids that must die. In its present form, the droids are programmed to not harm/maim/injure humans. They are strictly defensive in nature. The droid that survives the longest wins. And for humans it is which team that kills the most.

As the Haranguers sounded the first horns, the droids were lining up at the field. The Zeus droid made by BOSON systems was the first to enter. Being the reigning title holder, they had went all the way in making sure that Zeus won’t be put down without a considerable time-commitment. And none -of the human teams will want that. They would much rather prefer to finish off one of the smaller ones first.  The Simon systems model SI-2099 followed it leading the race for best among others.It was followed by Pi, Bologna(looked like a femaledroid), Nevermore, Raigin and Thunderkeg. Soon the crowd was murmuring in surprise after seeing the last one in the line. Named Kitty – spelled in bright golden colours was the last droid in the line-up. Looking nothing like the other droids in the field that were huge, loads of lights and had energy panels that needed constant recharging,etc.this was tiny – not more than the size of a real kitten,the youngling of the almost extinct cat family. SIGMOTRON had definitely pulled some rabbit out of the hat. There must be some catch to this kitty. As soon as the second horn blared the human contenders were being introduced as they made their way to the arena. The four teams, stood ready on their marks.At the stroke of the third horn the mike declared – “Let the Carnage begin “.

—————-x————————————-x——————-

As Franz and Phil made way to the arena, they were carefully analysing each of the droids.They were 3rd team in the line-up. They neglected Zeus and SI looking at the flag of the corporation on them. It would take a fool to go behind such humongous machines first. Though the kitty looked easy to take, they knew there was some catch with it and chose to keep it for later.Then they both after initial analysing decided they would go after Raigin made by the G–Makers first. It looked to be well-built at first. But Phil with his expertise of structural stabilities, was able to figure out that for the huge built of Raigin, its mobile parts all ran into a particular corner on its left. A single sharp blow over there would very surely bring it down.

As the horns blew and the crowd roared “Let the carnage begin” all the teams were on their feet.

Zeus and SI immediately took off in opposite directions. No team bothered to even look where they were running. Raigin was not so lucky. Franz fired a flurry of EM balls with his rifle at the strategic point of Raigin. These EM balls,on impact would stop all electrical activity at the region of impact. As team 2 too was looking to win the Raigin droid, there was a sense of urgency added to the mission. Then, as if by magic a couple of EM balls hit the target and as it was collapsing, Phil beat the team 2’s runner to the droid and threw 2 plasma grenades into its huge skeleton. As the droid went up in flames, the flag of G-makers rose in the air and landed in the hands of Phil. He forced it into his holder before rushing off towards Franz. Thus the first kill of the carnival landed to team 3.

—————x—————————————–x—————-

John and the rest of the audience was occupied with something else.They did not mind missing the first blood. Teams 1 and 4 were having a tough time out in the middle. They fell for the deception of the kitty. Deciding by the looks it seemed, they wanted to go on the kitty first. What followed was ruddy brilliant. The kitty just turned into one of the team members of team 1. It was apparently not as small as it looked. There was an invisible glass protruding from it on top. As soon as it caught the horn sound it snatched the pictures of all the contenders and chose one to imitate. Apparently with its extreme agility it managed to run in and mix with the contenders and morphed all aspects of the person it imitated including a new voice. This was new. It has never been seen earlier in any of the carnival games. SIGMOTRON were definitely not performing groundless work, they were definitely doing groundbreaking work.

Finally teams 1 and 4 decided to give up their quest and as soon as they lowered the weapons it turned invisible. So this was SIGMOTRON’s  masterplan. Have an invisible droid that can imitate the contenders while being visible for charging. They had arrived back on the scene with a bang.

The teams were killing the other droids right, left and centre. But no one paid any attention. They were searching for the kitty. As Si and Zeus fell, there was only kitty left with 3 going to team 3 and the other 4 being split evenly between teams 1 and 4. With no chance of winning, team 2 was already out of the game.

—————–x———————————-x———————

 

As the dust was settling, Franz was realizing he and Phil made a pretty good team. They were winning the carnival. Just 1 more beast to be finished. They soon realized it would be pretty much waste of time to stay on ground and search. They decided they would take positions up on trees and would not get down to avoid any confusions. They can shoot any time they see kitty on the ground in any form.

As Franz was seeing from his position he saw, kitty running away from team 4. He decided it was his chance. But the kitty had disappeared just before he could fire his shot. But it was visible only for a short amount of time. It can’t stay invisible for long. He knew it must soon become visible. So he was slowly making his way down the tree. He knew it must be somewhere near. Then he heard it. He turned around and saw Phil. But he knew it was not Phil. There was no reason for Phil to be limping. It was kitty with someone’s bullet having damaged its legs. He took the shot. The crowd roared in cheer. But there was no flags flying. He waited but still none flew out.

——————-x————————————x—————-

As Phil was seeing from his position, he saw kitty running away from team 4. He decided it was his chance. Cursing himself for not having the rifle for long range shots, he was slowly making his way down the tree. The kitty turned invisible. But the charge was low. With his sharp shooter vision, he was able to notice small flickering and he knew what it was. The kitty was making its way towards a rock. He knew he was not as fast as Franz in tree-boarding. In his hurry to get hold of it before it turns completely invisible, he tried to jump down the remaining height. As he landed with a thud he fractured a bone or two. As he got up, he caught the glimpse of Franz and gave a look of understanding of his imminent death.He froze, Franz fired and then it was all over.


—————x——————————————x—————

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about”

— Quote by Franz Kafka.


Both Franz and John were never the same again.

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