“All ready, sir. The guests are getting dressed now, and will be down for dinner shortly.”
The owner of the freshly burrowed enclave turned around, and flashed a pleasant smile.
“Thank you, Meyers. You have performed your duties this weekend brilliantly.”
The butler smiled. “And you’ve still overpaid me, sir.” He bowed and took his leave.
The prematurely retired scientist turned back his attention to the mountain side, which was presently filled with deeply overcast skies that turned a murkier shade of dark blue by the minute.
The worst hurricane in the history of North America, the CNN anchor had predicted earlier that morning. His British counterpart was instead directing viewers’ attention towards devastating earthquakes in Asia.
Altogether a bad day for Mother Earth, Anthony thought with a wry smile. But at least he and the six people he’d invited would have the time of their lives.
A few minutes later, the procession arrived, like a group of passengers who just disembarked from an intercontinental train at an exotic locale. Mr. Sameer Mehta, the well-known doctor was deeply intrigued by the freshly furnished new ‘house’ of his host. His wife too was intrigued, but by the lavishly designed interiors rather than the geography of the house. Being a nurse had never stood in the way of her aesthetic tastes.
Atul Vishwanath, true to the stereotype about actors, was instead raving about how luxuriously furnished his own room was. “Believe me,” he said to Ms. Julie Mary, the teacher, “It was better than any dressing room in my career!”
Srinivasan Karthikeyan smiled as he heard the actor, but his sharp mind was furiously calculating the costs of the entire endeavor. He was not proficient in the art of construction, but being a banker meant he knew just how much money was more or less required for different purposes. He was quietly impressed by Anthony D’Souza’s spending. Just where did the young fellow get hold of so much money?
“D’Souza,” Sameer Mehta declared as he surveyed the brightly lit circular dining table that was teeming with dishes both exotic and exquisite. “You, sir,” he said with a bright smile, “certainly know how to throw one hell of a weekend party!”
“Amen to that,” Julie Mary said, grinning as she thought about the bungee jumping she’d undertaken the previous day for the first time in her life. It was exhilarating.
“This is hands down, the best weekend of my life!” Atul declared, and for a moment his statement sounded genuine, his tone humbled. And then he added to everyone’s despair, “Except for the weekend in Toronto for IIFA!”
“Well, no amount of money spent by Anthony can be enough to arrange a beautiful girl drunk enough to sleep with you, Atul!”
Everyone cheered and laughed loudly as Santhosh Menon hurried into the dining hall, winking at the embarrassed looking actor.
They quickly settled down to have, what was later stated in unequivocal terms, as the best damn meal of their lives. Butler Meyers had outdone himself this time, by arranging for the best and most unique recipes from all over the world. The diners were men and women who’d never ventured any further in the culinary world than the occasional outdoor barbeque or imitation of Lebanese delicacies. Therefore their taste buds were stunned repeatedly by the brilliant range of dishes that seemed to represent the U.N. nations in the best possible light. Forty five minutes later, all seven of them lay in their cushioned sofas, facing each other as they did their best not to burp in utter satisfaction.
“That was bloody brilliant!” the usual reticent Srinivasan Karthikeyan declared loudly. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. As if to reconfirm the banker’s statement, the butler arrived with a platter of cigars.
“Anthony!” Santhosh cried in surprise. “Are you trying to seduce us?”
They chuckled, but the question did seem to linger in their minds for a minute longer. They’d never known the scientist to be such a generous man. The dinner itself would have cost a small fortune. Not to mention the previous two days of complete enjoyment. They steadied themselves, controlled the urge to burp, and waited for Anthony’s eventual confession. Had he won the Nobel Prize?
“So tell me already,” Atul, the least patient amongst them blurted out. “What’s the catch?”
He was staring at his host, and as the rings of smoke dissipated in front of him, he saw Anthony smile. He’d expected the thirty four year old scientist to feign surprise, at least eventually. But the man made no attempt at concealment. Instead, he turned to his right and looked at Santhosh.
“Shall we tell them about the Silver Atlas?”
Almost all of them caught the sudden change of expression on Santhosh’s face. His smile had been replaced by a frown, but more importantly, his muscles seemed to tense up for a second. And then he was his normal self again. “So that’s what you had up your sleeve,” he said with a smile. “Sure, let’s tell them.”
Anthony smiled and announced calmly. “I’ve never been a good narrator. Santhosh, on the other hand, is an excellent story teller. So, Santhosh, regale us, if you’d please, with the story of The Silver Atlas.”
It was an extravagantly exaggerated dramatic gesture, and it didn’t go unnoticed. But no one commented on it, for Anthony’s routine had succeeded in one crucial manner. They were all curious to know what was happening. They were dying to know what Anthony had planned to tell them in such a stylized manner.
All eyes were on Santhosh, and without any further hesitation, he cleared his throat and began the narration.
All of this starts a year ago. As most of you might remember, that was the time when Joseph D’Souza, Anthony’s father, died of a heart attack. Anthony was his only child, and naturally took the news pretty badly. They were extremely close, and for a few months, Anthony went into severe depression.
Like Anothony, Joseph D’Souza too was a scientist. Well, the truth is, Anthony aspires to be half the scientist Joseph D’Souza was. Joseph was one of the leading stars at CERN. Now some of you might know about CERN’s activities, but even if you don’t, I’ll tell you what you need to understand in order to comprehend this story. CERN had been spending all its recent years in an effort to understand the beginning of the universe. The Big Bang Theory, as we know it in popular culture.
Joseph was one of the main researchers on that project. They intended to use the Large Halderon Collider to try and recreate the initial beginnings of the universe. I won’t bore you with the details, and those of you who’ve been keeping tabs would have read about the project in the papers.
What the papers would not have told you, however, is that Joseph D’Souza began researching on a separate project, one that was an offshoot of the initial research. He became obsessed with the idea of replicating the beginning of the universe, but not just for research purpose. He wanted to see if it was actually possible.
“I’m sorry, I don’t follow.”
The teacher looked mildly embarrassed as she made the statement, and bowed her head immediately. Santhosh smiled in understanding. “I’m sorry, it was my fault. I didn’t make myself clear.”
He paused for a few moments, and then continued.
The initial experiment intended to utilize the Large Halderon Collider to recreate how the universe would have begun. But Joseph’s separate experiment sought something slightly different. He was convinced that if he miniaturized the calculations, and conducted the experiment in a controlled environment, he could, in essence, recreate the beginning of the universe, on a small scale. And not just the initial big bang. But the entire expansion, cooling and development of the universe. All from scratch!
There was deathly silence around the table as Anthony and Santhosh surveyed the others. Their eyes fixed on the doctor, who was grinning widely.
“What’s so funny?” his wife asked, half in whisper for she was still under the influence of the narration.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders, chuckled loudly and raised his eye brows towards Santhosh.
“Why don’t you tell her?” he asked, grinning again.
Santhosh felt mildly angry, but controlled his temper. The doctor was smart enough, after all.
“Sameer is smiling,” he said slowly, “because as a man of science he knows that the experiment could not possibly have worked.”
“It didn’t?” Julie cried, feeling as though the ending of a romance movie had been mutilated. “Why not?”
“Because it’s impossible, that’s why,” the doctor said contemptuously. “Else everyone would be doing it, wouldn’t they?”
The banker nodded his head, but his mind was already drifting off. His attention was brought back by his mobile, which buzzed violently.
“Please, excuse me for a second,” he said as he got up and moved towards the exit. “And please,” he said with a smile as he hovered near the door, “don’t continue the story without me?”
Santhosh smiled, grateful for the small compliment.
Outside in the darkened hallway, Srinivasan attended the call.
“Hello, Srini? Where are you?”
“I’m at a party at a friend’s place. D’Souza,” he added involuntarily.
The reaction was loud. “You’re at D’Souza’s place? What are the odds! I was calling to tell you about him! Remember we used to handle his father’s accounts?”
The banker did not remember, but pretended otherwise.
“Well, once the old man passed away, we prepared the bank statements according to his will. And a casual audit yesterday revealed that Anthony D’Souza’s been embezzling money from his dad’s trust fund account. The money, almost 2 million dollars, that was supposed to go to CERN Research Institute, is now missing!”
Srinivasan Karthikeyan let out a low whistle. That was a lot of money. It was a serious offense. And he’d never imagined the young man was capable of such an act. Stealing from his own dead father?
“Now that’s why I called you. I remember you telling me that you’re a friend of his. I just didn’t want you to end up in any business dealing with him. But turns out you’re in his house! You better get out before the cops raid the place!”
The banker paused and thought for a moment. “I don’t think he knows about the police. He seems very calm right now. Narrating a long drawn out story, in fact.”
“Maybe he’s just buying time till he can escape,” the caller suggested casually. “Anyways, lots of work here, got to go. You keep your nose clean, Srini.”
Pushing the phone back into his pocket, the middle aged, bald banker walked back to the dining hall, trying to understand the implications of what he’d heard. He checked his watch. It was a little over 8 in the evening. And yet Anthony was inside, listening to Santhosh’s story. He didn’t seem nervous. Why not?
“Ah, there you are, we were just about to start without you,” Santhosh said, signaling the banker to return to his seat.
Three months after his father passed away, Anthony finally had the courage to go to his office and clean out the space. It was a very emotional moment, as I’m sure he would tell you. He read through many of his father’s research files and books, and it evoked a lot of bittersweet memories for him.
However, what puzzled him the most was a letter that was stuck in the inner cupboard of his father’s study table. It was addressed to him directly, and dated three days before Joseph passed away. Intrigued, he began reading the letter.
Most of it is completely technical, but in the letter, Joseph tried to explain, like a man who sensed his time was near, all that he believed about the Silver Atlas. That is the code name he put for the secret project of his. I shall quote a few lines, paraphrased from that letter. Hopefully, my memory will not be too distorted. Anthony can correct me if I go wrong.
Joseph explained to his son that he was always bothered by how relative everything was. What was small to us definitely wasn’t small to an ant. What was big for us definitely wasn’t big for a giant in Tolkien’s world. So how exactly do we define size? Length, width, height, time? What is the yardstick?
“Use a scale?” Atul blurted loudly. He never was one for discretion, and interrupting a narrative wasn’t odd for him.
Santhosh nodded his head curtly, and fixed the actor with a cold stare. Then he continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted.
Of course, we have our instruments of measurement that lets us measure distance and time. But here’s the fascinating thing. Imagine if I or you were the size of an ant tomorrow. And we held a scale that was proportionally smaller in size as well. Then would we be able to distinguish between the one centimeter we measured today, and the one centimeter we measured yesterday, when we were full sized humans?
It was exactly this behavior, the behavior of relativity when it came to distance and time that bothered Joseph deeply. And then he began thinking, if the CERN’s main project of recreating the universe could be possible, why couldn’t it be possible to recreate it…in a miniature form?
And that is how Anthony was directed to a safety locker in a bank that housed a wooden box which he promptly took home. Inside that box, placed against soft, velvet cushions so that not the slightest of harm could come to it, was a perfectly spherical, silver misted ball.
“The Silver Atlas,” Anthony said with a flourish as he smiled broadly. “Or as my father initially wanted to say: the entire universe inside a football.”
Pandemonium broke out across the room. Men and women, who merely half an hour ago were slumped in their comfortable sofas, were now sitting on the edge of their seats, wildly gesticulating as they increasingly raised their voices in a bid to be heard.
“I don’t care what damn openness you claim to have, this is simply a stupid story!” Sameer Mehta finally bellowed, causing Julie Mary to shudder even though she was seated across the room from him. Sameer’s wife immediately accosted him for his rudeness, and he muttered a quick apology as he bowed his head and busied himself with relighting his extinguished cigar.
Anthony, who was poorly concealing his delight at their reactions, raised a hand to quell the clamor of voices, and instead pointed to Sameer Mehta.
“We shall let everyone voice their opinions, in a calm and orderly manner. Doctor?”
“It’s a science fiction story. A yarn that Santhosh is spinning because you asked him to entertain us after dinner.”
“And the good Doctor’s wife?”
The nurse, who’d over the years managed to quell her husband’s fiery academic temper, blushed, turned towards Santhosh undecidedly, and then managed to say, “I don’t believe it’s fully true. But I kind of wish it was.”
“Very well, and what does the actor have to say?”
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
His was the loudest, and significantly, only voice that howled with laughter. Anthony gave a curt smile and quickly moved on.
“I find it a bit incredulous. But I also know that people found many other things incredulous. Like the idea of the earth being round, the man reaching the moon, so on and so forth. But presently, I’d still say I wasn’t convinced by this story of yours. After all, I haven’t heard the technical explanation as to how it was done.”
Anthony nodded his head appreciatively. “Ms. Mary?” he asked the teacher.
Julie Mary appeared flustered as she struggled to word her reply. “I don’t know much about advanced science, but – oh well, I’ll admit it, it’s a fabulous idea. And I’ve known Santhosh long enough to know that he doesn’t lie about such things!”
The doctor raised his eye brow contemptuously, but refrained from commenting. His wife patted his hand complimentarily.
“I need to freshen up,” he said suddenly, and before his wife could ask him what the matter was, he’d left the room.
“Shall we wait for him?” the banker asked, looking around the room. All of them shook their heads. “It’s not like he’d want to hear it anyway,” the teacher remarked.
In the bathroom, the doctor angrily washed his face, and thought about the yarn that Santhosh had been telling them. It was in fact extremely stupid. He’d basically said that a complete universe, by way of an experiment, had been created in a spherical ball. Not only was that mind blowing, it broke a lot of laws of physics. Not that the doctor could point out which laws exactly. But still…
His anger was replaced by worry, as he thought of the wide smile that seemed to be etched on Anthony’s face. Why was the man so happy? Either he had in fact made a scientific breakthrough of such epic proportions that he could afford such extravagant celebrations. Or…he was losing it.
And being a doctor, Sameer Mehta knew which the likelier option was. He suddenly remembered hearing Anthony’s name being mentioned by a fellow doctor, a man who practiced psychiatry at the hospital. Almost a year ago, he’d remarked how profound an effect the death of his father had on Anthony D’Souza.
Sure, the man recovered since then. But how much? And how effectively? Then Sameer remembered that The Silver Atlas was Anthony’s father’s experiment. Reliving his father’s experiences…
“This is a like an extravagant Freudian mystery,” he grumbled as he opened the toilet door.
“I just realized,” Mrs. Mehta said slyly, “Santhosh, since you’re also a part of all this, what was your reaction to this so called Silver Atlas?”
“Your first reaction,” the banker emphasized.
Santhosh smiled like a magician whose trick had been exposed. “Well, to be honest, I thought Anthony was bat crazy!”
A round of laughter rippled through the room, and Anthony nodded his head in good jest.
But then their narrator turned serious. “I didn’t believe that the football shaped sphere he was holding in his palm contained an entire universe. It was too impossible to believe. But Anthony was convinced by his father’s rambling letter. In fact,” he turned to glance at his friend, “he even tried to prove it to me.”
“How?” Atul asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Well, he took the sphere to his lab, and with the help of an electron microscope, captured pictures.”
The whole room fell silent as though Santhosh had bellowed for them to keep quiet. The narrator dropped his voice lower as he leaned forward in his sofa, looking into the eyes of his curious fellow guests. He could see the inquisitiveness leaking from their eyes, and spreading throughout their faces.
“What – what did you see?” Julie Mary asked, clutching her handbag involuntarily.
Santhosh thought about what he’d seen when Anthony had emptied the contents of the brown envelope onto the table.
He raised his index finger, and slowly began twirling it in midair, as though to make concentric circles. His eyes were wide, as though he could see the picture enlarged in front of him, in the middle of the room.
“Black background, with creamish white haze in the center, that seemed to be shaped like a spinning concentric circle…”
Mrs. Mehta gasped. Atul flinched. Julie clenched her handbag while the doctor adjusted his spectacles, this time without a contemptuous look on his face.
The banker, the most composed of them all, leaned forward in confirmation. “You’re telling us, you actually – ”
Santhosh nodded his head. “It was the farthest the electron microscope could go. Anthony realized there was no way of getting any more pictures. But then again,” he added wryly, “I don’t think neither he nor I needed any more pictures…”
There was complete silence when he finished speaking. The doctor stared at the floor in front of him, looking undecided for a minute, then looked up at Anthony.
“It’s all a lie,” he declared loudly. “Do you have the photos with you now?”
The host shook his head softly, and it caused the doctor to yell even louder. “I knew it! It’s all a hoax. A flimsy story!”
Anthony D’Souza turned his attention towards the clock hanging from the wall. It was a little over 9 P.M. It was pitch dark outside, but from the faint glow of street lamps on the roadside, they could see trees swaying viciously in the wind.
“Ah, I almost forgot!” he cried, leaping to his feet, “We were supposed to have a cup of Hagen Das ice cream after dinner! Is it too late, or shall I get them?”
No one objected to the prospect of consuming one of the finest ice creams in the world, and Santhosh quickly volunteered to help Anthony. Once the two men were outside the room and in the hall way, Santhosh took Anthony aside quickly.
“Alright, what’s really going on?” he asked sharply, eying Anthony seriously.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean this whole….Gatsby style party you’re throwing. I’ve known you long enough to realize that’s not your style. So something must have happened. I want to know what. You’ve been acting really weird for the past few weeks.”
For a solitary moment, Anthony’s eyes widened, opening up a window into his soul. For a solitary moment, it seemed as though all his troubles surfaced to his face, revealing them to Santhosh. Only for a moment. And then a steely impassiveness passed over the host. He shrugged his shoulders, and refused to say anything.
“I’ll get the ice cream, you can help if you want.”
Gritting his teeth, Santhosh walked over to the pantry to grab a tray for the ice cream bowls. He searched the cupboards and would have called out to Anthony, but stopped just as he threw open the last cupboard door. Inside, stuffed to the side was a thick sack of yellowish white powder, with its top corner crudely cut off.
Santhosh stared at the sack for a moment, then pulled it closer to him. After watching it for a few seconds, he suppressed the urge to let out a yell. Slamming the cupboard door close, he stood in the pantry, panting slightly. He tried to think of what he had to do next.
Stay calm, he told himself. The only way to find out what’s happening is to stay calm and wait for things to unfold.
He walked back towards the living room, still unable to understand why there was an opened sack of lethal poison in Anthony’s cupboard. One thing was for sure. Anthony was not to be trusted…
“It’s all just gone over my head, I’m afraid,” Julie Mary said meekly after hearing Anthony speak.
With great patience, the host turned in his sofa to face the teacher, and started again. “As I said, my father knew a brilliant scientist who worked with SETI, that is, Search for Extra Terrestrials. That man had formulated a hybrid metal, an amalgamation of three separate substances that would have unique properties when it came to transmission of data.”
He paused, thinking of the best way to explain the matter. “He created a machine, sort of like a typewriter with a huge dish and an antenna, that was, at least hypothetically speaking, capable of transmitting data over huge distances. The principle of his invention was that our conventional forms of communication were too close to make contact with extra-terrestrial life forms. It would take countless light years for data to reach them, and for it to return back to us. This device, in essence, would greatly shorten that time frame. At least, in theory.”
“Why in theory?” Atul asked, by now adopting a more somber and serious attitude in keeping with the atmosphere in the room.
“Well, we haven’t been able to test it out yet. Not like there are friendly Martians waiting to reply to us, is it?” Santhosh said with a wry smile.
“So you’re saying that there’s a device capable of communicating with life forms that are present far, far away, but we can’t be sure that it works, because we haven’t been able to receive a reply yet?” The banker clarified.
“So that either means the device doesn’t work, or there aren’t any extra-terrestrials out there!” The doctor declared.
“Quite true,” Anthony said softly. “But that’s not the point of Santhosh’s story, is it?”
Santhosh shook his head, and cast his gaze around the room once again.
Anthony was convinced that we could use the device to communicate with the people inside the Silver Atlas.
“Think about it!” he cried over and over again that night. “We have definite proof that there are galaxies inside that sphere. Which means, deep, deep down inside, there must be a planet like our Earth? And if there is, then on that planet must be humans who are dying to communicate with us!”
It was both fantastic, and absurd, but Anthony’s will prevailed. He set up the device, placed the Silver Atlas over it, suspended in midair, and typed a message : ‘Anybody there? Let’s communicate’
“This is getting ridiculous,” the doctor complained loudly.
“Sameer!” his wife hissed.
“C’mon, you can’t really fall for this, can you? I mean, imagine if that ball thingy had things in perfect proportion to real life universe. Do you know how small the earth in that ball would be? Miniscule. I don’t even think nanotechnology could find that damn green planet!”
“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Santhosh said sagely. “Till fifty years ago, we never dreamed of nanotechnology. Now we know that there’s more to life than just what we can see. What if nanotechnology is just a primitive science later on? What if we discovered that we could delve more into time and space?”
“Or as my father would have said,” Anthony added, “how small is small?”
“Alright, so what happened then?” Julie Mary wanted to know.
We waited for three days. Anthony was like a mad man, constantly checking his device for a reply. That was when he began formulating his theories about the Silver Atlas.
“Maybe they haven’t developed technology capable of communicating with us,” he pondered. “I mean, my father created this universe less than a year ago. Which means, even if we assume that time moves faster in smaller spaces, it’s still not possibly enough time for their earth to reach our age, is it?”
I didn’t know what to say to him. In my mind, it was part fantasy, and part scientific anomaly that we couldn’t begin to comprehend. After five days had passed, we were about to give up.
That’s when it happened.
At 9 in the evening, just as we were about to sit down for dinner, Anthony heard the typewriter. He almost overturned the dining table in his hurry to get to it. What we saw made both of us delirious with excitement.
‘Greetings. Sure, let’s communicate. How are you?’
There was complete silence in the room. Santhosh surveyed his fellow guests, wondering if they bought the story. But what was really pressing his mind was the sack of poison he’d seen in the kitchen. He’d known Anthony for several years now. He’d never detected a murderous instinct in him. There had to be an explanation, he thought desperately. Even so, he made sure to keep an eye on any drinks that would be served.
“What did you communicate with – with them?” Mrs. Mehta asked.
Anthony smiled. “It was confusing at first, but soon we began exchanging information seamlessly. It was amazing. You see, I began collecting information about public figures. Presidents, country names, things like that. And that’s when it occurred to me. We had so many differences!”
“Differences?” the banker asked with a frown.
“Yes! The parallel universe theory. You see, theirs was a completely different Earth, where a different set of circumstances would have kicked in. So they couldn’t possibly have our own presidents, our own countries. History would have taken a much different course for them!”
His wild enthusiasm wasn’t infecting the rest in the room. They looked skeptical.
“So basically you’re telling us that you received a bunch of information that was unknown to you. That’s it?” Atul asked, feeling underwhelmed.
Suddenly the window rattled loudly, and they jumped in their seats.
“Dear lord, it’s a bloody hurricane,” Mrs. Mehta said. Her husband added, “And we’re stuck here with this lunatic!”
Everyone turned their heads towards him in surprise. He was unapologetic. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to listen to this anymore. What you are telling us is pure fiction. And not very researched fiction either. I’ve had enough of it.”
He said it with forcefulness, and surprisingly, Anthony nodded his head in support.
“Well, you don’t have to worry, in that case,” he said gloomily. “What I haven’t told you was that there was a break in at my house a month ago. The scoundrels trashed the place…and stole the Silver Atlas.”
He fell silent, and it was evident just how devastated he felt.
“I’m sorry, Anthony,” Julie Mary said sympathetically.
“Well, I’ve gone over it in my head,” Anthony continued, this time with a hint of venom in his voice, “And the only people who had access to my place, and had spare keys, are in this room.”
He stopped, and stared at his guests one by one.
Atul got the hint quickly, and looked amused. “And what, you think we broke in and stole your football? C’mon man, we didn’t even know about that thing till just now!”
“Are you actually accusing us of breaking into your house?” the Doctor asked. He was feeling increasingly concerned. Such a baseless accusation was worrying. It meant the fellow wasn’t fully sound mentally.
Santhosh looked uneasy, but the color in his face was drained when he saw the butler enter into the room with seven glasses of champagne. A thought flashed through his mind. The sack of poison.
“I was just kidding!” Anthony cried out jovially, suddenly looking cheerful. “C’mon, let’s all just drink to celebrate the end of a silly story.”
Santhosh leapt to his feet and hurried towards Anthony. “Before you serve the drinks,” he commanded the butler, “I need to speak to our host first. Alone.”
He pulled Anthony out of the room and looked at him angrily. “Alright, what the hell are you doing?”
“What do you mean?” Anthony asked, though his acting was lousy.
“I know you’ve poisoned those drinks, Anthony. What the hell are you trying to do? Murder all of us?”
The smile vanished from Anthony’s face, and he looked enraged. “Well, since we’re revealing secrets, I’ll reveal one as well. I know it was you who broke into my house. And you who stole the Silver Atlas.”
Santhosh bowed his head, but didn’t say anything.
“What did you do with it?” Anthony asked.
“I – I destroyed it,” Santhosh said softly. Then he looked up pleadingly. “It was ungodly, Anthony. At first I thought we were just imagining things. But then I realized that your father actually did manage to create a miniature universe. And that’s violating everything that God stands for. I mean, your father actually dared to play God, Anthony!”
His host listened impassively, and then tapped his shoulder. “Fine, I just wanted to hear the truth,” he said quietly. “Now, let’s go inside. There’s something I need to show you.”
They reentered the room, and Anthony signaled to the butler. Promptly, six sheets of paper were distributed amongst the guests.
“This,” Anthony announced, “is an exchange that I’ve printed out so that all of you can read it. Atul, would the actor in you please narrate it for us?”
Atul quickly obliged.
“Sorry,” he read out, “Have bad news. Research project has been terminated. University ordered staff to abort experiment. Really sorry.”
He looked up in confusion.
Anthony realized that everyone else was looking to him as well. Including Santhosh.
“This is dated 7th July,” Santhosh said slowly, trying to make sense of it.
“Was this sent from – from the Silver Atlas?” Julie Mary asked.
There was a deep silence as they waited for their host to reply. Slowly, Anthony walked towards the tray and picked up the glasses of champagne.
“This is dated 7th July,” he said softly, walking towards the doctor and his wife. “Don’t drink this,” he said quietly, “let’s all say cheers first?”
The doctor nodded.
“The break in at my house happened eight days later.”
He paused, waiting for the implication to set it. “So that means you were still able to communicate with the Silver Atlas after it was stolen!” Atul cried in surprise.
Santhosh immediately objected. “But that’s not possible!”
“Because – because I destroyed the sphere. Shattered it completely.”
He bowed his in shame, avoiding Anthony’s glance. The rest of the guests looked towards their host in confusion.
“Then I don’t understand,” the Doctor complained. “What is this talk of experiment being aborted and such?”
Anthony closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and said softly, “My father was right. Everything is relative. Space and time. A giant could hold a human in his palm, and the human could hold an ant in his palm. But here’s the interesting thing,” he said, leaning forward, “can’t the giant be held in the palm of a bigger giant?”
There was pin drop silence. And then the doctor gasped first. Followed by the banker.
Pacing towards the reinforced glass window, Anthony surveyed the violent winds sweeping through the mountain side.
“By now about two tsunamis and five earthquakes would have been reported around the world. We won’t get any broadcast on the T.V. and the Internet cables are most probably down as well,” he said solemnly.
“I’ve estimated that we have till 10 P.M.” he said finally, turning around to face his guests.
They looked horror struck.
“You mean – the experiment –” Atul spluttered, unable to fully comprehend the magnitude of what Anthony had said.
The banker turned pensive, and chuckled softly to himself. “So that’s why you stole all that money, huh?” He was greatly impressed now by what Anthony had achieved. The large house burrowed into the mountain side. Best possible protection. Reinforced glass windows. Lavish weekend. It had all been planned.
Anthony placed the last of the champagne glasses in front of his guests, and then raised his in the air.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are the closest and dearest friends of mine. And now I propose that we have one last toast, before the lights go out. The Silver Atlas is set to be destroyed shortly. The last few minutes will be terrible to endure, what with our entire universe getting destroyed. I don’t intend to experience all of that. This champagne has been laced with poison strong enough to kill us painlessly. Let’s go out drinking, shall we?”