Short story on a group's adventure in the snow
|Kunal squinted his eyes. A crease furrowed his forehead as he turned back to the motley crew gazing up at him with hope. All pervasive white blinded them. Unpunctuated by vegetation, the landscape stretched endlessly as far as the eye could see.
"We've lost the signal." His voice was matter-of-fact, but the slight edge in his tone was not lost on the group.
Reshma, chirpier than the rest, spoke up. "It can't be far. It was beeping like crazy a few minutes ago." She was a tall girl, long black hair flowing down her shoulders and eyes that spoke of extreme intelligence. Now the hair was tamed tightly in a bun, and her beautiful face attempted a semblance of a smile.
Venkat wasn't into all this coerced bonhomie. "Well, a four-mile radius is such good odds." He was the tallest amongst the three of them, well over six and a half feet, towering over Kunal, a foot shorter.
They had set out early that morning, heaving backpacks mostly containing digging implements and gadgets. After many years of frustration, this was their chance to make the biggest discovery of mankind.
Each one ached for the ultimate prize that now seemed to be tantalizingly close. Searing cold and hostile terrain notwithstanding, the team was ready to go to any lengths to find the holy grail.
The glimmer of hope came randomly. A tagged polar bear slipped in a crevice, and the resulting spikes at the headquarters went berserk.
Kunal was the natural leader, a Ph.D. from Stanford, and a penchant for strange physics phenomenon. The bear's signals had set off frantic wheels of motion. It was amazing how quick the government machinery moved when it felt the need to. Kunal handpicked Reshma and Venkat, not particularly for their ability to maintain secrecy. Still, for the immense talent each brought to the mission. One of the few people in the world with expertise in unexplained phenomena, Venkat was also pragmatic and not swayed by emotion or confirmation bias. In fact, he went out of his way to provide explanations for the eeriest of findings.
Reshma was the data person. Her strong sense of intuition and her superior command of mathematics held her in good stead in the elite scientific community.
Now, the sole thought that occupied their brains was anything but science. They were lost despite all the technology at their disposal.
Inaction pained them, and they refused to be beaten by nature. Kunal made a decision.
"By Reshma's calculations, we were heading NNW and, on this bearing," he said, jabbing his finger on the compass.
Venkat nodded and added, "Let's put a marker here so we can find our way back to this spot."
The work done, the three trudged on in the unending whiteness. Snow started to fall in floating flakes, slowly intensifying, almost blurring their march. A light breeze impeded their progress further.
Almost two in the afternoon, and the sun had begun to lose its sheen, and they knew they had a couple of hours of daylight left.
"We'll keep going for an hour and turn back," Kunal yelled at his compatriots as the breeze had turned into an icy wind.
Venkat grunted. None of them wanted to give up. Kunal sensed it, but he was responsible for his team and was going to take no chances.
Forty-five minutes later, the trio paused out of exhaustion. Snow hit them in healthy-sized flakes.
Reshma pointed at something behind Kunal's back. Were their eyes deceiving them? A tiny flicker of light showed up about fifty yards ahead.
Venkat, not one for outbursts of emotion, let out a yelp and ran towards it. Kunal and Reshma followed, trying their best to keep up with Venkat's long strides in the unyielding snow.
Venkat stopped. A blue flame shone brightly in the clearing ahead. That wasn't what arrested their movement.
The flame illuminated the person sitting next to it. Dressed simply in a loincloth made of tiger skin, the man's face exuded serenity and calm. The inclement weather made no impact on his bare blue body that was smooth and muscular. A low hum emanated from somewhere deep inside him as he sat on the ground with his eyes closed.
Time stood still.
The man opened his eyes and looked directly at them with a beatific smile.
"You have waited long for this day, Kunal," his voice reverberated as if they were listening to a multi-speaker audio system.
"Who?" was all Kunal could muster. Reshma and Venkat stared wordlessly.
His voice was gentle and soothing. "Very few come here, and being here means only one thing."
Venkat extricated himself from his paralysis and got out one word. "What?"
"Humans who attain ultimate knowledge and have elevated their minds beyond pettiness find their way here."
Reshma could not contain herself. "Are…are…you Shiva?"
Again, the smile but no confirmation.
"Now that you are here, you need to know this. Time passes very differently here. When you return, everyone you know will be dead. A few hundred years have gone by in the last few minutes of your time."
"You will return and help mankind through times ahead and save humans from themselves. You will know what to do."
Without preamble, he stepped back into the blue light. The light brightened for a second, and then there was only the hard ground and the snow.
Venkat heard a beep and grabbed his cellphone from his pocket. A full signal! But the date!
It read 4th September 2214.