As the mystery unfolds, Jai and Param find themselves even more helpless. Will they be ready to accept the bitter truth? Here is the finale of the gripping tale – ‘That Girl on the Highway!’
Annie had been asked to extend her stay in the hospital. Due care was in place for her. She finally felt safe. While staring through the window next to her hospital bed, the beautifully curated gardens, triggered a not so old memory in her.
That thought was still so vivid. She had stepped out of her office for a small break. Her office was located on the Gachibowli highway; it was part of a big office complex. The outer boundary encircling the office complex consisted of a beautiful garden adjoining a parking lot. She loved spending time alone at her favourite spot. She would sit on that special bench of hers and would gaze at the highway as the vehicles whizzed past by.
That day was just like any other. It was quite late and she felt drained out. After finishing up the pacifier protocol, she went outside at her favourite point to catch some fresh air. That’s where she had met him for the first time.
“So, what do you do?” Annie had asked. “You mean, apart from stalking beautiful girls in the office parking.” joked Jamie.
48 hours of non-stop investigation, evidence collection and intense grilling of every single office staff after the surprise raid at the Meta-Code office, made sure that Param and Jai had enough information to join the dots.
Param started “Well to their credit, they have made a significant advancement to what you feel is just theory. No one else across the world has made such progress till now.”
He held a device in his hand “They have this microchip which needs to be inserted into a chip-slot. This slot is connected with 2 wires running through these sleek panels.”
“Looks like a simple stethoscope.” interrupted Jai.
“Yeah, only just, these special wires are sensitive to even the feeblest vibration frequencies around. The sleek panels aim at protecting the wires from damage.”
“What are these circular pads at the end of both the wires?” Jai asked, pointing his fingers animatedly towards the device.
“They seem to perform the same function as the ECG pads that are stuck to the human body.”
“How does it work?”
“Well, the subject is required to stick these pads on the forehead region. Every thought that passes through our brain has a frequency. This device tries to latch on that frequency and stores the messages as binary data in the microchip planted in the chip slot.”
Param explained further while Jai watched in astonishment “The microchip which stores the data is then installed in this machine.” He was pointing at a big monitor panel connected to a rectangular black box. The black box had a slot engraved in it for the chip to be inserted.
“Once you insert the chip in this box, the magic begins. The complex algorithm sets into motion which aims at converting this binary data into a readable and observable form. If you notice, it has its own power system as it is required to be on 24×7. The data crunching is happening in the backend as we speak and the results get displayed here on the monitor.”
“If it is so simple, what was the fuss all about?” asked Jai.
Param smiled, “I am reminded of what my professor used to say back in the college days – Deepest secrets of the universe are hidden beneath the simplest structures; one needs to have an eye to unearth it.”
He continued “This is just a crude form Jai, imagine the first working model of the wheel that man would have invented centuries ago. Gradually, he perfected the art. Sorry to disappoint you, yes it’s simple. Of course, it can be worked upon to be more sophisticated, it can be jazzed up a bit as well to make it look like science fiction. But all that happens later. This, my friend, is another giant leap for mankind.”
Jai had started growing fond of these conversations with Param. He wanted to ask a question but thought Param would sooner or later answer it himself.
Param excitedly continued, “Now imagine when we scale it up. This is a small setup for minuscule sample size but when thousands and millions of people start getting added in the database, just imagine the volume that we have to deal with, and the kind of infrastructure that would be needed to support this new-age monster!”
Jai started, “Lucky you Param, this answered your curiosity. My riddle is still unsolved. There is no one by the name Jamie here. Since she told you, he met her in office parking, we scanned the employee database of all the companies working here. Only 12 Jamies found and none of them has any link with Annie.”
“What about Annie?”
“Well she didn’t have many friends here, she mostly kept to herself. I have been told she was the youngest of the lot, a brilliant student roped in as an intern for this project. She was handpicked by Vikram.”
“I don’t know about being an intern but here she seemed more like a lab rat for this experiment.”
Jai was confused and looked at Param for answers. He explained, “I observed that all the test results and data are only related with Annie. They basically needed someone to test this on and they got one. Ambitious, passionate and intelligent.”
Jai felt the puzzles were slowly fitting in together “So tell me about the side effects now. Even after constant grilling, no one mentioned a thing.”
Param answered assertively, “Annie could record and hence got access to her own thoughts, even the unconscious ones. A human brain has more than 50,000 thoughts in a day.” Jai was amazed to know this.
Param continued “It’s quite believable that too much exposure to this data was overwhelming for her. It would have been difficult for her to process everything. This would have led to heightened anxiety levels, hallucinations, extreme reactions, mood swings etc.”
Jai chimed in, “I questioned one of her colleagues, named Manish, he had seen her talking to herself, multiple times. Especially in the last 3 months, the frequency and intensity of her abnormal behaviour had increased. Most of the times she was found sitting all by herself on the garden bench. They nicknamed her, The highway girl.”
Param thought for a while and said, “Now it makes sense, why they have this pacifier protocol. After every test run, she was given a dose of Benzodiazepine to calm her down. Even her blood tests pointed towards this. As a young intern, she just kept following instructions.”
Jai was shocked to hear this but maintained calm. “So, we have a strong build-up for Annie, but my 2 questions are still unsolved.”
“I have a hunch, that we have the answer but I am afraid you won’t be able to prove it with evidence,” mumbled Param.
Jai looked at him, trying to make some sense. Param continued, “Isn’t it too much of a coincidence that she met Jamie three months ago, she started showing signs of extreme behavioural changes since last three months and as per the data analysis – repeated spikes in her heart-rate, blood pressure etc. have also been observed since last three months.”
“What does that mean?”
“This may mean, there is no real Jamie. She created one in her thoughts. Her brain might have got on overdrive, trying to process much more than what it can handle.”
Jai was perplexed, he wanted to express but did not know how. Param continued “In simple terms, all of this could have messed up the functioning of her brain. She could have started projecting her thoughts on the outside, creating an ideal man whom she desired, who could reflect the same mix-up of emotions that she was feeling within, who could take actions which she could not take in real-life. Her own split personality, a stronger version of hers.”
“She said that I am Jamie, the one who killed Greg.” Jai wondered.
“I must add that, all of this is a possibility. None of her test results have a data match for Jamie, which means, no thoughts related to him, at least till the last test run. We can never be sure.”
“But this doesn’t add up” said Jai “If she met Jamie, three months ago then why are there no matches for him”
“Good question Jai” exclaimed Param “That’s where our assumption becomes strong. Remember, I told you, our brain receives data through our sensory organs. It then records this as memories. So, If Jamie was real, his memory should have been recorded. However, if he is just a projection, then Annie can easily manipulate her thought patterns.”
Jai was feeling too numb to witness all of this “Explain that again please.”
“In order to avoid bearing the guilt or responsibility of their own actions; patients sometimes create an imaginary person and make themselves believe that he/she is real.”
Param continued “One more thing, when we scanned her test results, we came across matches for Greg. Recordings related to him also revealed sudden spikes in her readings like heart-rate etc.”
Jai added “Thoughts causing intense anger, revenge, hatred; but why, what was her issue with Greg?”
Param looked disturbed, it was difficult to share this “Thoughts which were hidden deep within, got up to the surface through this experiment. She had intense memories of child abuse. Greg was the aggressor. She must have had extreme hatred buried within her. Multiple records, which means…”
“Higher the number of negative thoughts, higher the intensity of her negative emotions towards Greg. Hence, higher the probability of taking negative action.” Jai held his head between his palms.
“This would have been a very disturbing experience for Annie.” explained Param
Jai, the police officer, tried hard to maintain balance and objectivity in his thought process “We might be tempted to say that Greg deserved what he got. However, an act of murder is still punishable by law. Annie had a strong reason to harm Greg.”
“You can never prove it. Law does not act as per probabilistic assumptions” Param reminded Jai
Both men became silent, trying to digest the facts they just uncovered.
Jai once again shared, “The complaint with cybercrime was just a sham to distract us. It was Annie who had filed a complaint against Meta-Code under the pretext of Data Privacy issues – Unauthorized access and storage of confidential personal information.”
Param was still not able to understand.
Jai explained, “Currently there is no law which recognizes or defines this kind of data. It is not considered as a legally acceptable or enforceable form of information/evidence. She knew not much could be done to Meta-Code, but it would be enough to shut down the ‘secret’ project.”
“Which meant no more test runs. No test runs mean no risk of having any thought recordings for Greg’s murder.” Added Param.
“Is she a victim or a schemer?” Jai sighed. “How do I prove the existence of an imaginary man or that she is the man herself!”
“Even if you do, her condition does not make her fit to be prosecuted I guess” noted Param
“Hmm…I still have no idea how she killed Greg without any trace.”
“Well, that only she can answer,” concluded Param.
Annie stared at the hospital window, soaking in the beauty of the sunset, she felt a familiar loving presence. She smiled and turned her head to where Jamie was sitting. He looked at her with a beaming smile.
“So you came back finally.” She said
“I had to, there’s work to be done. But seriously, Jamie? You have a better imagination than that.”
“Name is not important, love, it was need of the hour. The project shut down, so there is no Jaime in the system. What more do you need? By the way, how did you work your magic on my dear uncle?”
“There are many ways my dear, why do you worry? Did you know a simple castor seed can become a lethal poison? A poison which does not leave any trace. Uncle Greg must have enjoyed his last dinner. He was happily surprised that you went with him!”
“Yeah, happy moments, they lasted long enough for your magic to take over.” Annie gave a big smile and continued, “The work is not done yet. We have two more now who might know our little secret.”
If one could peep through that window, he would have observed that Annie was talking with herself…
– Darpan Jha
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.