He played with the brochure in his hands,it played a video loop of people.People working,adventuring, laughing,people having a good time.With a sigh he paused the brochure and took a look around.The place was extremely clean .It almost looked like a hospital. there were no shades except white.The plants kept beside the chair in front of him were the only exception.
There was a flat screen right in front of him it said “Nav Jeevan”. He didnt know what those words meant, apart from that that they were Hindu or Sanskrit.After a wait of about five minutes the door behind him opened. “I apologize for the wait Mr.Peters.” the woman walked past him and sat in the chair facing him. “Its okay.” He replied.The woman was wearing a colorful saree which had a calming effect on him.She was observing him with a welcoming smile on her face. After a eternity she said “I talked to Dr.Maddock, Your psychologist.He said you had some interest in the work we do.”
“Dr.Maddock has been my psychologist for about a year now,He knows me even better than I do myself.He suggested me to your institution after my incident.” He said. “Yes your failed suicide attempt.” she said. He was a little surprised at the straight forwardness ,but he figured it was for the best . “Did Dr.Maddock ever tell you what we do here?” She asked. “Yes,but I would prefer it if you made it clearer for me” He replied.
She stood up and walked towards the window .There was a table beside it with vases and glasses of varying sizes. Pouring a red liquid into a glass she walked towards him and held the glass out.He took the glass hesitantly and took a sip.A refreshing calm hit his nerves.He closed his eyes just to completely experience the taste. “Pomogranate juice,Tasty isnt it?” She said. “Hmm,Very” he said.
“Nav Jeevan or new life was founded in 2090,by the three extraordinary psychologists.Primarily met with heavy criticism the founders through experimentation made this institute the pinnacle of psychological advancement.With Over 200 branches all over the world ,we are the best at psychological diagnosis and treatment around the world. Nav jeevan had only one goal , To find meaning in life , to find a purpose for all this complexity which revolves around an Individual.” She paused ” I take it you have depression and suicidal tendencies.” her question was met with silence. “Speak freely ,there is no judgement here,only healing.” she said reassuringly.
“Last time I used a razor” He showed her the scars. “It has been difficult for me, My wife and I lost a child a year back,after three months my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer , I lost her too.” he looked at his wrists again and gently traced the scars with his fingers. “I am extremely saddened to hear that,It is a horrible thing to have happened to a person,I cannot imagine what you must be going through.” She said. She took his hands and wrapped hers around them.
“I believe we can help you heal,make you whole again.”
“Lets start with the basics first, Im Mina Patel but you can call me Mina. These are some forms that I need you to read. I will need your consent scan at the end.” She said while handing him a tablet. He nodded and started reading the forms. Standard terms of service, Non Disclosure Agreements and at the end, the fee structure. “This is expensive, too expensive for me. I’m still paying the Medical debt from Clara’s ,my wife’s treatment. I don’t think I can afford this.” he said. Returning the tablet to the glass table in front of him ,he started playing with his scar again. “I’m sorry to hear that.These fees have a specific purpose,we use cutting edge technologies,advanced safety checks,and our patients get to stay at our housing quadrant for the entire duration of their treatment.” Mina justified. “I understand,but at this point in time I don’t have much money to spare.I don’t think I would be able to.” He got up and offered a handshake to Mina.
“Mr.Peters, we also have one other option.It was created just for candidates like you.” Mina gestured him to his seat. “It is called the Early Adopters Initiative or EAI ” she pointed to the flat screen above her and a video titled “ EAI – Affordable Treatments for Everyone!” started playing.
Peters sat up in his seat. “Early Adopters Initiative is a opportunity for you to get your treatment at no cost!” the voice said “The Early Adopters Initiative or EAI uses the exact same treatment techniques but includes experimental modules which will help make these treatments better for others but you get to try them before anyone else!” He looked at Mina, “Like a clinical trial?” “Exactly,just like a clinical trial.” she smiled and the video resumed. “We are in need of test subjects just like you constantly! we need our research to be tested , Improved and and re-tested to perfection. Here you can help us by being our clinical subject and taking part in our surveys.This helps both, the patient as well as our organization! You can ask one of our counselors if EAI is suitable for you!” A smiley face popped up on the screen signaling that the video was over.
“What do you think Mr.Peters? I think this could really help you.” Mr.Peters looked at the smiley face on the screen.Biting the inside of his cheek,He looked at Mina,she was waiting with her hands clasped together, staring at him.
“Alright,I will do it.” he said. “Great!” Mina said with joy in her eyes. A wave of relief hit her. “Could you please wait while I have a talk with one of our counselors?” She left the room without waiting for his answer. His eyes followed her.
A sharp beeping noise alerted him towards the screen.It had turned black, only for a single green dot in the middle. “Excellent work P! You have outdone yourself! Remember, BE ALERT , we will meet soon.”
The green dot vanished and the screen was replaced by the smiley face once again.
Mina walked towards the supervisor station, “I got one !” she said to the supervisor, Steve. He smiled , his eyes sparkled with approval. “Excellent work Mina,I’m really glad you made it.” He took the tablet from her hands and Scrolled through Peters profile. “This is good.” he said under his breath. “An Ideal subject , no immediate family,negligible amount of funds and depressed out of his mind.”
“Its the perfect cocktail of opportunity!” Mina said.
“I was unsure if you would be able to complete your quota for this month,but you have put my doubts to rest.”
He looked into her eyes “I hope you are ready for a celebration” he said. She tucked her hair behind her ear, “Sure ,I just need to confirm Mr.Peters application,get his consent scan and appoint him a counselor.”
“I would suggest-” He looked at the screen in front of him swiping through active counselors. “This guy,Mr Andrews ,a newbie with promising test scores from our recruitment round. Given Mr.Peters profile, it would not be a hard assignment for him ” He hit the Call button on screen “Mr.Andrews, you have been appointed a case, Mr. Peters,the details will be available to you shortly ,the subject is waiting in NJM-16.” Steve ended the call and looked at Mina.
She crumpled the ends for her saree with her hand. “Why did you do that? This is my case ,appointing a counselor was my job,why are you trying to babysit me?”
Steve looked around and pressed the privacy button that frosted the stations glass.
“You barely completed your quota this month,last month you were about to be fired , remember who saved you? ” Mina looked at him,starting to question all of her choices.
“You are still under my supervision ,If you fuck up,it is all on me.”
“Also don’t forget it was you who were at my quarters that night to say ‘Thank you’ ”
“So, Go be a good girl and process this guy through the system.” he tossed the tablet across the table,it landed in Mina’s lap.
She looked at Steve with anger in her eyes.
“NOW!” he said with an edge to his voice.
She mumbled fuck you under her breath ,got up and slammed the door behind her.
Steve bit his lower lip . He clicked a button and the visibility of the station was restored.
The door opened with a ding. Peters looked back ,a thin boyish looking man entered the room looking at a tablet in his hands.
“Mr.Peters is it.” he said. “Yes”, Peters sat straight in his chair leaning over trying to peek into the tablet.
“Alright.” The man bent down and pressed something making it ‘click’.
“Now we are safe” He said to peters. “What do you mean safe ?” peters said.
“Show me your ID Mark.” the man said.
Peters reluctantly cuffed his shirt and revealed the ID mark on his forearm. The man took peters wrist and put on a heavy bracelet on it, he slid it over his ID mark and a beep from the bracelet confirmed the position. “What are you going to do ?” Peters asked. The unexpected silence from the man was hardly comforting. The man slipped a chip into the bracelet , “Just relax, it would be clear in a few moments.” he said. The man pressed a button on the bracelet and it started vibrating. “Is it supposed to do that?” Peters asked the man. The bracelet noticeably started getting warmer. “Its getting hot.” Peters tried to pull his wrist, but the man didn’t let go. The bracelet was now getting unbearably hot. Peters screamed, yanking at his arm, but the man was holding on tightly. The man pressed a button on the bracelet.Peters vision got hazy. “What are you doing to-” before he could finish protesting his body went limp falling forward and his head banged on the glass table with a loud thud.
“Fuck!” The man got up and lifted peters head and sat him back on the chair. “Sorry P.” he looked at the watch and then the door. Peters eyes were almost closed,they moved side to side rapidly. His body started twitching.
The man looked at peters while biting the nail off of his thumb.
After a few minutes the twitching stopped and his eyes came to a halt.
The bracelet beeped,peters came out of his nano sleep. He rubbed at the spot where his head had hit the table. “Ow,How the fuck did this happen.” He looked at the man standing above him. “Andrews” he said shaking his head. He took off the bracelet. “You have the prints?” Peters asked Andrews. “ Right here ” Andrews handed him a tablet. “I’m really sorry for the bump,it happened so fast,I could not-” he was interrupted “Its fine.Be careful next time.” Peters looked at the tablet ,scrolling through the prints.
“Excellent,Now lets see what these assholes are hiding.”
Peters was recruited by “CIGGARA” over a year ago. His recruitment was not a typical one. CIGGARA was a closed group made up of mathematicians,coders,puzzle masters and activists.Once every Three years CIGGARA would hold a global contest using only one puzzle.This puzzle would be displayed to pre-selected individuals and no one else.Solving this puzzle would then dominate their life for the next three years which was the deadline .Nobody knew what happened to those who passed ,they would just vanish without a trace.This mystery was a cause of lot of rumors among the general public.Some said the winners were taken to a completely different reality.Some said that the puzzlemasters were aliens and the puzzles were a tool used by them to take the best individuals back to their home planets.Some say CIGGARA was a council that controlled the worlds economy.The theories were endless. There was no way to be sure about the intent of the puzzles.
Peters had just listen to some neural oscillations which were psychoactive in nature.Stumbling through his house he sat down on the chair and was watching kids cartoons while being blasted out of his mind. His mindless stare into the color vomit of the program was broken when a big monochromatic cicada appeared on the screen and a steady sound played in the background similar to the TV alarms they used to have during an emergency.
“WRITE DOWN THE PUZZLE”
the screen said.
Peters got up,took support of the nearby table. His vision was hazy from the waves,stumbling he searched for a paper. The table was a mess of textbooks,Story books ,Novels and a diary titled “2020” he picked it up and fell back into the chair.He reached over to his right ear and pulled out a pencil.
“YOU HAVE TWENTY SIX THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY HOURS LEFT”
He scribbled down the puzzle furiously and once he was done the colorful vomit showed up on his screen once again.He looked up at the ceiling and couldn’t tell when he fell asleep.
Peters woke up with the paper in his hands, it said “CIGGARA” and had a sequence of numbers under them.He went over to his kitchen clutching the paper and pressed open the cooling unit. He took out a flask of coldbrew and emptied it into his mouth while looking at the paper through the corner of his eyes.
“Alright lets get to work.” He said to an nonexistent audience.
The next few months Peters went completely psychotic. He would scream at the paper,throw things around and would decorate the walls of his home with possible solutions.His home was transformed into a archaic display of a Mental Institution. He barely slept,even when he did sleep his fingers would be counting imaginary numbers , very often he would mutter drivel while asleep and then hear the recordings in the morning. He was under the influence of so many stimulants that his eyes would sometimes twitch uncontrollably.
After six months of hell,Peters finally left home and went to a ice cream shop and sat on the stool which was always at a ridiculous height. He opened up his wallet , his daughters photo was the first thing he saw. She would’ve have been six years old today. “What can I get you sir?” the attendant at the counter asked.
“A bubblegum swirl with cherries” He said without looking up. It was her favorite. He finished the ice-cream and recalled their last visit to the shop.He remembered her smiling face,the laughter and her little kiss on his cheek.
He got up shaking his head and as he was leaving he stopped in his tracks.Frozen outside the shop, He started tracing out imaginary numbers in front of him. looking up and down, again and again. As his fingers wrote a final number on the fictional board of the street infront of him, he looked up and smiled. “Thank you honey.” He rushed home happy and full of new found vigor.He reached his apartment and pulled the paper from its resting place ,tearing it slightly .
He turned over the paper, took out a pencil and scribbled the solution. He clutched the paper almost crumpling it and started laughing. He laughed for almost an hour with tears streaming down his cheek.He slept on the floor that day and woke up two days later.
When he woke up, his Screen was blasting the same alarm tone it had six months ago. There was an image of an cicada on the screen. The words read “WELCOME TO CIGGARA PETERS,YOU WILL BE CONTACTED SOON, PLEASE BE READY WITH A BAG OF YOUR BELONGINGS.” the screen went blank again.