The teams were ready. This was the most awaited event of the year. It marked the 50th year of the Player Unknown’s Battleground (PUBG) ‘live’ tournament, wherein the players would be entering ‘in’ the game for real.
Various modifications over the last 75 years had enabled this. And the onset of the ‘live’ PUBG had destroyed all other sports. Only the best players represented their country and the qualifier games ensured that only 14 teams remained for the final tournament.
The only difference being the players wouldn’t get killed for real. They would just be in shock for a few minutes; and then would go off-field.
Muthuswamy was one of the players representing India, along with Tejas, Girish and Heena. India had made it to the final fourteen and the game was about to begin.
The players were seated in the airplanes and as it flew over the battleground, they jumped off. The parachutes landed them in different areas of the ground. They had to wear a romper with a jacket, and they could communicate through a small chip attached to their ears. They could see each other through the special spectacles and hence could warn their teammates of an impending danger or guide them towards any object of use, even if they were on the other side of the battleground. The killings began.
“Tejas, be careful, a car is approaching you…” Muthu shouted. “Run…run…”
“Muthu, you turn left, there’s some ammunition… grab it…” Girish said.
“Careful, Girish…. Shit!” Heena exclaimed.
Girish died by a mine explosion. “It’s okay, we are still three of us. We can do this. We need to hurry. The safe zone is getting smaller.” Muthu stated.
Unfortunately, a few minutes later, Tejas was killed by an unknown player.
Muthu and Heena remained; but in spite of trying their best, they lost to the team of Sweden.
Once out of the game, Muthu stormed to his friend’s house.
“Donald… Damn it, we lost again… this is the fifth consecutive year, where in spite of being so close…so close to winning, we lost.” The veins in his temples throbbed.
“Relax, Muthu. It’s only a game. Start practicing for next year.” Donald patted him and offered him a mask attached to a cylinder of Himalayan fresh air.
They lived in times where fresh air from the bygone era was a luxurious commodity and could be purchased by the elite for their families.
“Why can’t the players die for real? That way we would have less competition every year.” He said pacing the room while running his hand over his bald head.
“That isn’t possible, Muthu. Remember, you would risk dying too.” Donald tried to placate him.
“But we should do something… I want to win this game, we can at least make them paralyzed for a year or two… yes… that can be done…” Muthu jumped in joy.
Donald did not like his best friend’s thoughts. “Are you mad? For goodness sake Muthu, you cannot play with anyone’s life for a game…”
“I can change the codes, I know I can do this.” He urged.
“No, it will not work that way. These are already the modifications of the original game. Only if you modify the first version of it, can it work.”
“Oh, Donald, thank you so much for the brilliant idea… I’m going to do exactly what you suggested.” The devious glint in Muthu’s eyes made Donald’s heart thump.
“Muthu, don’t be crazy. You know you cannot do such a thing.”
“Donald, is the time capsule repaired?”
Without waiting for an answer, Muthu ran towards the special room where the time capsule lay. It was used by the authorities to transport trained men and women into the past and bring the air from that atmosphere in pressurized containers which they would then sell to those willing to buy. So far, it was a thriving business.
Currently, the capsule had a malfunction and Donald was the scientist in charge for correcting the glitches.
Muthu opened the door; he was adept at hacking codes; and entered the room. He reached for the head gear of the capsule and smiled at the blinking light. It suggested that the machine was working.
He entered the year and place where he wanted to go. January 2017, South Korea. He wore the head gear, attached the chip for returning back to his scalp and pressed the button….
Just then Donald barged into the room… “Muthuswamy… wait… It doesn’t work properly yet. You will not be able to come back.” But Muthu was already gone.
Donald cradled his head between his hands. “Why Muthu, why the craze for a stupid game? The machine isn’t fixed. It will alter you and you may not even reach your destination…”
Muthu squinted as he opened his eyes to a bright light. He got up and rubbed them. He saw that he was in a cramped street and a few kids were looking at him and laughing. Then he looked at himself. Oh no, I forgot to change my romper. No wonder they find this weird.
Sighing, he tried to establish whether he was in South Korea. But, the people looked very much Indian. Like his ancestors. He widened his eyes and touched his bald head for the chip only to find that his hair had grown long. But, he could feel the chip. When he touched his face, he discovered that had a beard too. Horrified at this discovery, he began to run amok and collided with a woman. She shouted, “Mad man. See and go.”
Muthu sat down in the middle of the street. How foolish of me… I came here without any plan… how do I reach Korea now?
The woman whom he had collided with asked, “Hello? What happen? Your name?’
He looked at her with his tear stricken face and tried to speak. “I… I…. M…Mu…Muthu…”
Why the hell can’t I talk? He thought.
“Muthu, come. I help you. I Smita. Where your house?” She looked so sincere, that Muthu hugged her and started weeping more.
“K…Ko..Korea…” He stammered.
“What? I no understand. Come.” With that, she dragged him to her small room.
Muthu was so exhausted that he went into a deep slumber the moment he lay down on the mattress.
After a while, he woke up sweating to Donald’s words. He was saying something about the time capsule. But Muthu couldn’t recollect. He only remembered Donald saying that it wasn’t working properly.
Now that he was refreshed, he needed a plan. He had to go to South Korea and get into the team of Brendan Greene, at any cost.
But, how can I reach there? I don’t even have a passport and my hair and beard? Crap, I need a mirror…
He had to find that woman, Smita, and ask her for a change of clothes along with a mirror. He looked around the dingy room.
“Muthu, eat.” Smita came in from outside with some fruits.
He was grateful to her. “T..Th..Thank you,” he managed to say. “C..Cl..Cl..clothes?” He wanted to say men’s clothes but he hoped she would get the point.
“I ask Mala. She give husband clothes. Wait, I come.”
Muthu followed her outside and saw her entering a house at the corner of the street. Smita was talking to a woman who had long hair, round face and when Mala smiled… Muthu’s heart skipped a beat. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid his eyes on.
He was so engrossed in staring at her, that he did not realize when Smita came back and offered him a pant and a shirt.
“You adjust in this.” She said. “He fat, you thin. I put safety pin in pant. I help to tight it?”
Muthu widened his eyes when he realized the implication of that. “N..No… You g..go.”
With the clothes taken care of, he looked at himself in the small mirror that Smita brought. He liked what he saw. The long hair and beard suited him. But he knew that all these were minor things, he was a man on a mission. He couldn’t waste time.
The next morning, Mala came knocking on the door, and Muthu still sleepy, opened the door with a yawn. He immediately sobered on seeing her.
“I come to tell you, Smita gone for work. You need help?”
Wow, what a beauty. He smiled goofily.
“Muthu? Need help?” Mala asked again.
He snapped out of his daydream. “Wa…watch, Ch..chain, sell…Wh..Where?”
A plan had formed in his head overnight. He would sell the watch and the platinum chain that he was wearing. It would certainly get him enough to buy a ticket to South Korea. Smita had told him about agents who make fake passports. He would have to make do with one. And he had to arrange for a laptop through which he could email Mr. Greene and send samples of his work.
To his utter delight, Mala accompanied him to the shops that offered him a decent amount for both his things, more than what he had expected.
“Cl…clot…clothes?” He asked her. She showed him some street side shops from where he purchased a couple of shirts and pants.
Whilst navigating the streets of the city, he came across many people; both young and old; engrossed in their phones. He managed to peep into a few phones and saw that they were either browsing the social media sites or playing games. He smiled when he thought about how the launch of PUBG in a few months was going to change the gaming world forever.
He also found a shop that gave computers on rent on hourly basis. He later came to know that they were called cyber cafes.
He was from an era of fingertops in which a small device held on the finger would project the screen on a wall or on any surface that one desired. The laptops and the desktops in the cyber cafes were primitive according to him, but he was still fascinated by them.
Over the next two days, Muthu got acquainted with the way of living of these people and also emailed his targets in Korea. He was not surprised when he got an instant reply. After all, he was amongst the best coders of his time. They needed his educational certificates and then he would be ready to go.
Getting those certificates and the passport was a big hurdle. He had to make up some excuse for the certificates.
That evening, Smita appeared upset. She was pacing the small room and muttering something in a language that he did not understand. “How you come here?” She threw a pointed look at him.
“L…lost. No re..remember.” He gestured.
“Your brain okay? Where your family?”
He couldn’t tell her that his family was 200 years in the future. He twisted his fingers and ran his fingers in his hair.
“That Mani… Mala’s husband, he angry. Mala with you full day. I tell him you lost. Go Kuria. No passport. Bag lost. Need help… He tell bad word to you and me. You no talk with her.” She said joining her hands.
Muthu held his palm over his mouth and smiled. He liked Mala. But her husband being angry meant, Mala liked him back too.
“S…so..sorry?” He told Smita.
Just then, there was a commotion outside. Everyone was asking to watch the television. Apparently, some life changing announcement was being made.
Curious, Muthu followed the crowd and managed to squeeze himself in front of the television at a neighbor’s house. A man wearing a coat with a white beard was saying something. And the people were hurling abuses at him. Not making head or tail out of it, he reached back to Smita’s house.
“Wh..who he?” Muthu asked.
“Which world you from? Who he? How you ask? He prime minister. Say all money zero.” She started crying.
Muthu was glad that the topic of which world was he from deflected. When the meaning of money becoming zero sunk, all color drained off from his face. He had collected a lakh by selling his possessions and now everything was nil. He flopped down on the floor with a thud and cursed. He also wondered, how the hell he landed in November when he had entered January in the time capsule.
With all these thoughts racing in his mind, he couldn’t sleep.
The next morning, he came to know that the airports were accepting the old currency. He promptly booked a ticket, for a week later. He knew he was taking a risk, but if he delayed, then he would be back to square one. And it would take him years to reach Korea.
He again mailed the team stating the currency problem in the country and how he couldn’t find his certificates as they were stolen. It would take a lot of time to get the duplicates and he did not want to miss the chance of being in the team that would change the gaming world for good.
He hooted in the café, when they accepted his reason and offered him a place in their team. He was to join as soon as he could. Muthu laughed at how gullible they were…but he also patted himself for the excellent coder that he was that no one could refuse him for his talent.
Back at Smita’s, another surprise awaited him. Mala was there with her husband. Mani gave him a package and told him to go to his country as soon as he could. Muthu was over the moon when he saw that it was a passport. He was another step closer to his goal.
While leaving, Mala gave him something when her husband was not looking. It was a soft green kerchief with her number on it. Muthu smiled.
The next few days passed in a blur. On 14th November, 2016, Muthuswamy reached South Korea.
He received a warm welcome at their office. They were surprised when they found that Muthu stammered, but his intelligence made up for that. The game module was almost in its finishing stages and many trials were being carried out. The first ‘early access’ model was slated for a March 2017 release and Muthu had to do his job before that.
He could either change a code or incorporate a set of bugs that couldn’t be modified even hundreds of years later. He wanted the players to be paralyzed for a period of 12 months during his era.
In spite of being so close in achieving what he had set out to, Muthu couldn’t sleep properly. Mala’s beautiful face would keep him up. And the weird dreams that he would keep getting; of an eagle in a nest with open eyes, its curved beak and those pointed claws… He couldn’t figure it out.
Adjusting in this time period had taken a toll on his health. He would have constipation one day and loose motions the next. His colleagues often teased him, but he couldn’t understand what they meant.
One morning, as Muthu entered, everyone else left. He shrugged. That was what he had wanted. A chance to be alone with the program. A few minutes and he would be altering something that was akin to modern art in his world. He got to work with the complex codes and added one minor change that wouldn’t be noticed. He was on his last set, when he heard footsteps heading in his direction. He turned to see and in that second, he pressed something else than what he intended to.
The implications of his slip of the finger would be felt 200 years later when real players would be ‘in’ the game.
Muthu got back to his table and saw that his colleagues entered with masks on their faces. It was then that he realized what they were talking about. He felt embarrassed about his nose blindness and vowed to get treated.
Later that night, Muthu was ecstatic. He had achieved his goal and it was time to go back and win all those tournaments that he deserved to. He pressed the chip on his scalp to activate the sensor, but nothing happened.
He tried repeatedly, but it did not work. He resigned to sleep while deciding to try again in the morning. In his sleep, Donald’s words came back to him… “It doesn’t work properly yet… you will never be able to come back….”
Muthu jolted awake in horror. What was the use of all this if he couldn’t go back and win? He paced the room and kept trying. When all his attempts failed, he hugged himself and cried… He cried himself to sleep. He again saw the eagle in his dreams.
Over the next few days, he accepted his fate. He wondered if he could go back to India and meet Mala. Or he could start some venture of his own. The eagle in his dreams definitely meant something…may be he would soar to great heights with his talent? Mission ‘surviving in the 21st century’ had started.
Shankarnarayan stormed into Donald’s house.
“Damn this PUBG tournament! Every time I lose, I get this gas problem and loose motions that make me so weak, I cannot participate for almost a year… Can’t we do something about it?”
“Relax, Shankar. It’s only a game.” Donald patted him and offered a mask of Himalayan fresh air.
“Is the time capsule repaired? I’m going back in time and changing the codes of the original version…”
All the characters in the above story (except Brendan Greene) are fictional. Any resemblance to any person whether living or dead is purely coincidental.
Source of knowledge about PUBG: Author’s personal experience and Wikipedia.