Z for Zero-sum (Part I)

Freida Dantas stepped out of the queue to look around. The machine wasn’t that far from here–only a few hundred more. She looked behind. The queue went on for as long as she could see. She too had started from the end of the queue many hours ago. The machine took only a second to judge, so the queue had kept moving continuously. But she worried if there were more hopefuls in the queue than seconds in a day. She had been queueing up religiously for her pronouncement every day since she had died.

She’d learned of the system the day she had arrived at the purgatory. Learned is probably not the best word to describe the process. She had woken up in the purgatory a week ago knowing about it instinctively, with no recollection of her prior life. She knew exactly when and where to queue up for the machine. The machine would tell her if it was her time to ascend to the heaven yet. She’d witnessed thousands of ascensions on her first day. The ascendants one after the other had stood under the

Blind Date

    "Make me one more," Mohit said to the bartender drowsily putting down the glass on the table. It was almost closing time on a Friday night. He found it difficult to even sit straight on the chair.
    "I think you have already had enough," said Mukesh. "Let's go home."
    "No. Let me drink. I need this. I need to forget. I need to..." he said sipping on the mocktail.
    "What are you talking about? This doesn't even have alcohol."
    "What?! Why didn't you...? Are you sure?"
    "Just get up. Let's go!" said Mukesh, swiping his mobile over the counter.
    They got up to leave. It had been a tough week for Mohit and it showed on his face. He thought he had found the love of his life, and then lost her too. The story began exactly a week ago, when Mohit was set up for a blind date by his parents.

    The car pulled over and stopped at the fancy restaurant where he was to meet her. He got out and the car drove itself to the parking spot. A mosquito buzzed past his ear. He slapped it hard and squished it against his new white shirt, which looked like a crime scene now.
    The doors parted as he entered the restaurant. It was a splendidly old-fashioned. Golden coloured chandeliers hung from a ceiling of pure white. The waiters were all dressed in dapper sleeveless jackets. The silverware looked expensive.
    He approached his table. The girl was already there. Before he had the chance to introduce himself, she shushed him and gestured him to sit down. Her attention was caught by two middle-aged men  one bald and one hairy  discussing busily on the table behind him. He noticed how radiant her skin looked and how cute the dimple was.
    When the bald man had stopped talking, she leaned towards Mohit and whispered softly, "That b-word! He thinks KKR can defeat CSK! That little b-word!"
    "Oh!", he leaned forward and replied in a mock whisper, "Then that man must really know his Cricket."
    She cupped her hands and gasped in an expression of mock surprise. "I already don't like you. You're disqualified!" she announced to him.
    "Fair enough," he said smiling. "I guess now we can concentrate on the food."
    "I guess," she said, and pinched in the menu from the table. "We are going Dutch, by the way."
    "I will pay. It's no trouble."
    "I know you can, but I insist."
    "It's just customary."
    "I'm meeting boys that my parents selected. I think that's enough customs for me," she said swiping away the menu. "Decided?"
    "Hmmm... Yea, I think so," he said, and called the waiter. A few minutes of him unsurely changing orders later, he looked at her, embarrassed.
    "So what do you do? I mean... besides killing innocent mosquitoes," she asked.
    He laughed. "That's just a hobby. I develop software by profession."
    "You're in IT?"
    "Ummm... Kind of," he said. "And what do you do?"
    "I reject boys on weekends and treat patients on weekdays."
    "Doctor? What kind?"
    "Dentist. Weren't you told anything about me?"
    "No. I didn't ask."
    "Hmmm...."
    A few minutes of light-hearted talk followed before the food arrived. The discussion continued into dinner. The topics varied from politics to physics. Everything about her felt nice. There were things they didn't agree on, but the way she presented them, he couldn't not respect them.
    They sat talking for quite some time after dinner. When the bill came, they swiped their mobiles over it. None of them wanted to budge. But it was late.
    "I think I'll be seeing you again, then," he said.
    "I sure do hope so," she said smiling.

    The only problem was that she was not the one he was supposed to meet that day. That would not have been a problem except because he never asked her name! It was a week since.
    He searched for her. He asked the restaurant owner. He searched on-line. But it was impossible to find her among the millions in the city. He was exhausted.
    As he stepped out of the bar, his mobile alerted him. He pressed a key and the hologram of a woman appeared over the screen. "You do not seem fit to drive at the moment. Your car's manual controls have been disabled for your own safety. You may override this by entering your unlock code, however this is not suggested." After a moment's pause, the voice continued. "Also, would you like me to set up a meeting with Minisha Sinha for tomorrow? You shared dinner with her last weekend."
    "Yes!" he said incredulously and looked at Mukesh. The OS had probably mined the data based on their device' location history and the splitting of bill between them.
    The nice lady in the mobile spoke again. "Okay. Meeting request sent." A message arrived a minute later. It was from Minisha. "Mohit. Nice name. I felt so stupid about not asking your name that day. I'm glad you could still find me. How about we meet on Sunday? I'm out of town right now. Is that fine?"
    "You have no idea how fine I am with that," he replied, grinning.


    This was supposed to be posted for the Write Over The Weekend that ended on 25th May, but I was not able to finish it on time. The theme was 'Magic'.
    To me, magic is the culmination of events that one cannot explain. Centuries ago, lightning was magic. A few decades ago, Facebook would have been magic. Today at the rate that data mining and big data are proceeding, we might soon start seeing their applications which sound like magic to us today. The technology in this story should be available commercially in less than a decade. Obviously it would come at the loss of personal privacy. A proper balance needs to be maintained between comfort and control.

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