I will take the outside assignment – A short story by Piyush Jain

28th April, 2026, Tuesday, Bangalore
10:43 pm
The summer has been unusually warm this year and the heat is getting a bit stifling with no sign of wind. The city famous for its cool weather even in summers has seen mercury rising to record levels north of 40 degrees. The night sky is dark with a cloud cover sitting still, making the entire environment akin to living in a pressure cooker. It has been a long day and I have been longing to catch some winks. The latest assignment I am on; has challenged me more than I had anticipated.

I have been working on developing algorithms to analyze behavioral patterns of criminals by the data collected through sensory networks. These algorithms will help predict criminal behavior in real time to help crime prevention teams take proactive action. The first phase of the algorithm trials bore mixed results, but I am confident that with the refinements I am doing today we will be ready to launch the solution in Bangalore Central Prison by next week.

I have been on this project for about a year now. This is my 2nd assignment with Illumium Technologies Inc. I had joined Illumium Technologies after completing my doctorate in Sensory Information and behavioral science from Institute of Science (ISc) 3 years ago. I had always dreamt of joining this firm founded by Dr. Venkatraman. He has been a pioneer of intelligent and auto learning sensory networks that are changing human lives in unimaginable ways. I never had the chance to meet him personally and was longing for the day I could interact with him.

As I stand ruminating on my future the buzzer on my eWrist band starts buzzing. It is red light. ‘Oh No, this can’t be happening’, I think as I rush inside. Myriad thoughts cross my mind as to why the buzz at this late hour even as I press the red light on the band. It immediately lights up and projects a red luminescent holographic screen above my hand matching my eye level. It is a video message from my program director, Roshni. ‘Play’, I instruct and the video starts playing. It’s a brief message. Roshni is asking me to be in our T-tower office by 5 am for a meeting with the President at 5:30 am. She will meet me at the reception. It is URGENT. With that the video switches off and the red luminescent screen disappears. What could this be about? Why does the President want to see me urgently? With these thoughts in my mind, I rush back to my workstation, log the instruction to notify me on the build in the morning; set the alarm on my eWritst for 4 am and retreat to my bedroom to catch some sleep.

29th April, 2026, Wednesday, Bangalore
4:00 am
Brrrrrzzzzzzzzz……Brrrrrrzzzzzzzz……my eWrist alarm is ticked off and I am wide awake. It is still dark outside and I have 30 minutes to get ready and be in office by 5 am to meet Roshini. I jump off the bed and rush to the bathroom. My eWrist has already sent my body vitals to the iShower for it to adjust water temperature accordingly. I brush, shave, clean the bowels, take shower and get dressed. It is 4:25 am. I put on my gGlass and switch it on to check any important messages. My gGlass display comes on and on the backdrop of bright snowy peaks and clear blue skies, it outlays the following snapshot

Msgs 35 Heart Rate 92 bpm
Emails 103 BP 120/90 mmHg
Notifications 88 BMI 24.1
News Updates 231 Sleep Index Bordering Restlessness

Weather Forecast Sunny, Clear Skies Temperature H : 39C, L : 21C
Pedometer 201 steps Calories 11

‘Open Mail’, I whisper as I grab my Jeep keys and head out the door. As I catch the elevator and zoom down 75 floors, I glance through emails. There is nothing that alarms me. My build has gone well and the code is now ready for test. There is no further message from Roshni. I voice over the message to Ankit, my test lead to validate the code and drop me a note by evening today. I set my out-of-office calendar to inform that I am away for urgent meetings till noon. I then press the blue button on my eWrist to take me off the grid for my team. They cannot disturb me now till noon.

I have never been to T-Tower before. It is the most imposing and secluded building in our sprawling campus next to East Expressway. The building houses advanced research group where only eminent scientists, researchers and technocrats have permission to work. As I leave the basement of my apartments, the first rays of sun break out painting the dawn sky in a hue of colors. It is a sight to behold and one that I have not seen in months. Sadly today is not the day to enjoy as I push the pedal of my Jeep and vrooom towards the East expressway.

It is 4:57 am, as I turn into the parking lot. I have 3 minutes to reach the reception. I park in the first unmarked parking lot near the main entrance to the office and sprint my way into the building. As I glide through the turnstiles, I see Roshni waiting for me with an impatient look on her face.
I wave to her and smile and she smiles back. She is looking her daintiest best today.

‘Morning Roshni’, I shout as I approach her.
‘Morning, MJ. Thank you for making it on time, this is critical. Let’s move to the meeting room. The meeting will start in 30 minutes’

Roshni and I move towards the elevator. As we speed through the long corridor towards the elevator, I am mesmerized by the displays on the wall. They show the history of the company with all the amazing inventions they have done in the past 25 years. As we end the corridor and enter the lobby, I get to see the most amazing sight of my life. Right in front of me is the Wall of Fame that adorns the best and the brightest of engineers, technocrats and scientists who have contributed to the success of this amazing enterprise. Right in the center of the lobby is a huge bronze statue of Steve Jobs, whom our founder and President Dr. Venkat admires a lot.

As we reach the elevators at the end of the lobby, Roshni instead of taking the elevators straight ahead, turns right and heads straight to what looks like a blank white wall with a sensor on the left. She raises her eWrist to the sensor and all of a sudden the white wall slides to the left and we enter a stark white room. As I stand their gaping, the room suddenly starts moving and then I realize that it’s an elevator. The room has no display and so I have no idea what floor we were heading to. 10-15 seconds pass and then the elevator hisses to a stop and the wall across us slides to its left beckoning us to move out. As we step out of the elevator, I am awestruck by what I see. Here, 90 floors high we are standing in a corridor that is all glass and nothing else. For a moment I feel creepy and dizzy as I step on the glass and peer down to see our sprawling and beautiful campus.

‘Move fast, I need to brief you before the meeting’, says Roshni in an impatient tone as she rushes across the corridor to the room right across.

I am feeling giddy in my guts by the glass floor as I move forward. A few steps and I decide that if I don’t look down and run across then I would be safe and so I sprint across the corridor.

‘Wait, you can’t enter the room on your own’, gushes Roshni as she too sprints behind me towards the room.

We reach the room and Roshni again raises her eWrist to the scanner on the left for the door to open. As we step inside the room, the lights come on and soft melodious Mozart music fills the air. The room has no furniture except two chairs and a table. The floor is pristine white and the walls are all glass giving perhaps the most magnificent view of our sprawling metropolis below.

‘Would you like some coffee and toast? I am famished’, says Roshni, as she sits on the chair and taps the table in the center.

‘Yeah sure, Cappuccino for me’, as I stride behind her.

The table comes to life with the latest news updates and breakfast menu in the top right corner. Roshni places the order for our coffees and toasts, sits back and nods at me to sit down. I sit on the chair opposite her and wait for her to say something.

‘Roshni, tell me why am I here?’ I ask her.

‘Relax, MJ. Let the coffee and toasts come. We still have 10 minutes to the meeting with President. That’s a lot of time for me to brief you’, she smiles.

Soon there is a buzz to my left and there is a small opening in the wall and out rolls a tray with our coffee and toasts. Roshni stands up and picks the tray.

‘How much do you know about Advance Research that we do here’, she asks as she keeps the tray down and gestures me to help myself.

‘Not much. I have been reading about it on our company blogs and that’s about it’, I mutter as I pick up my cappuccino.

‘At advanced research we do some really state-of-the-art work, most of which is highly confidential. In fact it is so confidential that barring a few high ranking individuals, the teams that work here also are not aware beyond the work assigned to them. Only the President and his Research council are aware of all the pieces to the puzzle’, she points as she finishes her toast and grabs her cappuccino.

I stare at her in silence, nodding my head in anticipation to know why I am here

‘President has been following your work, since you joined. He has taken a liking of sorts for you. He believes you have the drive and hunger for what he plans for you to do. He has been personally involved in selecting projects for you in order to prepare you. He thinks you are ready now’, she continues as she takes another gulp of her coffee.

I continue to look at her in silence.
‘Come, It’s time to meet the President’, she smiles, gets up and moves towards the center of the room.
I drop the half munched toast on the table, take a last mouthful of coffee and tip toe behind her.

Its 5:30 am and the lights dim inside the room. I see a glass cylinder rise from the floor and it is lighted by luminescent glow. Suddenly I see a 3D holographic image of Dr. Venkat standing in front of me. He is looking at me and smiling.

‘How are you MJ?’ he enquires in the deep baritone voice of his as he extends his hand to shake mine.

‘I am fff..fine Dr. Venkat’, I fumble as my nervousness gets the better of me.

I am awestruck on seeing him. This is the day I had been waiting ever since I had joined and now I got a chance to interact with him. It feels strange to shake hands with his holographic image, but I am privileged all the same.

‘MJ, I have called you because I have a special assignment for you. I want you to move outside and take charge of the Hydro Sensor program’, he instructs me with an expectant look.
‘Outside! I am not sure I understand. Are you asking me to leave the company? I reply back in a somewhat startled tone. My mind is wondering ‘did I hear it wrong. Did he mean onsite?’

‘Yes Outside’, he repeats.

‘I am sorry sir, but I still don’t get it. Do you mean onsite to our headquarters?’ I opine back

‘No I mean OUTSIDE! And that means, I want you to travel to the MOON’, he replies with a chuckle.

I am flabbergasted now. I look around to Roshni and she has a wide smile on her face as if she is enjoying the joke Dr. Venkat is playing on me. I turn back to look at him and he too is smiling, but I can sense a glint in his eye which is an indication that he is serious.

‘But Dr. Venkat, I am sorry, I don’t think I understand’, I reply to him with a confused look on my face.

‘Son, Let me show you something that will clear your confusion’, he urges me and points me to pick up the Virtuoso VR glasses that appear on a glass table next to his hologram.

I pick up the glasses and put them on and look at him. He now points me to look at the walls around me and snaps his fingers. Immediately the room is transformed into an ultra-high definition virtual tour of the Moon. I feel as if I am standing on the moon and can sense the lunar regolith under my feet.

‘MJ, turn to your right and nod your head to move forward’, instructs Dr. Venkat.

I nod my head the image starts moving making me feel as if I am moving forward on the moon. As I walk a few steps, I seem to be stepping on the edge of a large crater. As I look down the crater, I see a large metal structure with Illumium Technologies Inc. written on its side. As I stand near the rim of the crater, I hear Dr. Venkat’s speaking to me.

‘MJ, this is our secret facility on the moon involved in setting up a lab to research frozen ice particles in moon crust. For the past one year we have been engaged in digging deep wells near the south pole crater using limited scope nuclear blasts and placing highly sensitive sensors in these wells.’

‘Move forward into the crater’, instructs Dr. Venkat.

As I move slowly into the crater, I can again hear Dr. Venkat’s voice.

‘Phase 1 is complete and sensors have been installed. We now need you go there and develop algorithms that can activate these sensors to map, measure and analyze the chemical properties of moon crust. We need to understand the chemical compounds of frozen ice in these crusts and how to de-couple these compounds and bring them back to earth. On earth we intent to use these compounds to de-salinate sea water and help alleviate water problems of our world.’

‘Hope you now understand, why I summoned for you and want you to travel outside our earth to save our earth’, opined Dr. Venkat as he gestures me to take off the VR glasses.

I remove the glasses and stand there transfixed by what I have just seen and heard. I glance at Roshni, who is standing with folded hands and then look at Dr. Venkat, who is looking at me with an expectant expression waiting for my answer.

‘I will take this Outside Assignment, Dr. Venkat.’ I nearly scream in excitement.

‘That’s fabulous. I knew you would not say no. Welcome aboard Advanced Research.’, says Dr. Venkat, sounding pleased.

‘Roshni, initiate the lunar trip for MJ and file for his lunar work permit. Get him signed up for lunar training and travel certification today. Start with bio-medical tests, followed by physical attribute tests and then assign him to Capt. Rajiv Verma to prepare him for lunar travel and operations. We need him prepared to travel and move to the outside location in 2 months’, instructs Dr. Venkat.

‘Good luck MJ, I know you will do us proud’, and with that Dr. Venkat signs off and the holographic image disappears.

Roshni and I step out of the room. I am all excited and delighted. Walking on glass is no longer creepy for me. As I move through the corridor, my eWrist starts buzzing. I glance at it and its 12:30 pm and I am back on the grid for my friends to reach. It’s a call from my friend and team mate Sandeep. I decide to take the call.

‘WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?’ shouts Sandeep.

‘I had an important meeting’, I reply defensively to him.

‘Don’t you dare fool me man, I am sure you must have switched off your phone. Are you daydreaming again? Where are you now?’ cries Sandeep.

I look around and realize that I am in the central library of the company. What am I doing here? Where is Roshni. She had walked out with me just a while back. What’s wrong? Did I get time transported by Dr. Venkat. What is this I am holding in my hand? Oh, it is a book on Java programming.

I look around and see Sandeep coming towards me with an angry look

‘MJ, MJ, where have you been? Our delivery manager Ram Mohan has been trying to reach you since past 2 hours. He urgently wants to meet you in regard to an onsite assignment’, urges Sandeep as he shakes me by my shoulders.

I look at him with dazed eyes and then in a moment I am jerked in to reality. I must have dozed off while reading java programming and had this wonderful dream of an outside assignment. ‘How does it matter, if not outside, I will take up this onsite assignment’, I murmur.

‘I will take this Onsite assignment, Ram Mohan’, I scream with excitement and run out of the central library to meet him.

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Nadal inspired me !

I have not been a great Rafael Nadal fan, primarily because I am a Roger Federer fan and you know how it goes when you like one player more than the other. Your fan-ship overrides all other emotions and even if Nadal plays better than Federer, which he has been doing consistently, you still don’t like him because you like Federer.

However, the 2014 Australian Open final made me like Rafael Nadal. Not because he was not playing Federer and so I could root for him safely as the best bet to win the tournament. I liked him because the way he played on the game inspite of his injury. Many would say, that he was being a fool to continue playing with injury, that it would have hampered his career long term, so on and so forth. However, what I saw in Nadal that evening made me his fan and like him as a true champion. What I saw was that here was a true champion who played the sport not for his wins and his reasons. He played sport to respect it and his opponents. He could have easily chosen to walkaway citing injury and hand over the championship to Wawrinka, but by playing on he respected Wawrinka’s shot at the championship. He wanted Wawrinka to earn it the hard way so that he could cherish the championship and his first grand slam victory. This was going to be the biggest moment in Stan’s career and he did not want him get it easy. Champions know the value of hardwork and how much a win would mean to a first timer if he gets to win it fair and square. There was a lesson by Nadal for Stan as he won his first grand slam, that you can be champion only if you respect the sport and your opponent and make sure that you never let it easy for anyone to take your crown.

Hoping for Nadal to recover soon so that he can come back and show us why champions are made of sterner stuff and true champions truly inspire others.

As for Stan, he took his first steps towards being a champion and playing along side the greats of this era, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, would surely rub on him in becoming better in the future.

Come general elections and political scene heating up

As the general elections of 2014 appear on the horizon, the political scene is headed for an exciting showdown.

What was mainly a two horse race for the center between NaMo’s promise of change to the GOP’s fervor to exploit coalition dynamics, is now turning into an interesting and unpredictable  battle with AAP in the fray after their dynamic victory in Delhi. AAP has certainly shaken the political cocktail so much so that even James Bond would prefer it stirred and not shaken for once.

BJP exploited the anti UPA rhetoric to the fullest extent possible for winning the state elections, but going forward it would be prudent for them to focus more on the developmental and economic issues. They need to be mindful of what happened to them in 2009, when they had the early advantage in bashing the PM, but come elections the wind was taken out of their sail and we all know what happened. Hence, it is better of BJP can focus more on national issues of importance to the people of this country rather than just focusing on the shortcomings of UPA.

For AAP, this is a greenfield. Victory in Delhi is a good start. However, their early days in governance are turning out to be more media rhetoric than actual success on the ground. While it is the messiah-of-aam-aadmi tag that has propelled them on the political scene, it is better if they convince the people to let them focus on governance in order to achieve results. They have started somethings good, but giving into people pressure for every issue is not the way to govern. Since they have no real experience of governance, it is better they start small, gain useful experience and then attempt to make an impact; they so much promised. However, from what is being seen they are in a hurry to right every wrong and there is a fear that they are going to fade away as fast as they came.

GOP is the oldest hand, but stands the most vulnerable at this time. However, ignoring them would be at one’s own peril. They have the maximum experience with coalition politics and given the way regional parties now dominate the national scene, it may not be a surprise if they cobble up yet another coalition and forge UPA III on the nation. Today, they can be attributed as the dark horse in the election race and often we have seen dark horses blind everyone and race to victory.

So lets sit back and see the scene unfold. All of us have our duty to do what is right for the country and hopefully the people of this nation will make the right choices this time round.

Where has Casio gone missing?

As I browse through new gadgets and products at CES 2014, I wonder where has Casio gone missing?

This year CES 14 is being dominated by wearable computing devices. Right from fitness bands to social watches to eye wear, there are new and striking products in the wearable category. Almost all of them are focusing on social net connectivity, fitness and wellbeing data and live information relay.

Seeing them, I am reminded of Casio watches nearly a decade back, when they had introduced sensors to measure your heart beat and blood pressure in their watches or calculators in their watches. Those watches were certainly ahead of their time, but now as the world rapidly moves to wearable device category; question is why is Casio not in the fore front? They have an extremely high hold on digital technology (given their watches and calculators and other computing devices) and they have had a head start on sensory technologies embedded in watches. Then why are they missing? If Sony can enter the space then why not Casio? If only they dad they exploited their expertise now, perhaps they would have been leaders in this space.

Is it Japanese conservatism that is preventing them to re-enter the space that they did not see much success earlier? Japanese companies have been pinnacle of innovation for decades but off late they are no notable consumer products from them (barring Sony to some extent and Nintendo with Wii for a couple years). They seem to be losing the race to their Asian neighbors in China and South Korea.

I have been a “made-in-japan” product fan and I hope the innovation wave hits the nation again to develop world class consumer products that we used to so proudly own in the past.

Does Imagination have a shelf life?

Today’s news on extreme weather conditions in US due to Polar Vortex makes you think if imagination has a shelf life before it is no longer imagination, but is reality !

Looking at the frozen Michigan lake with the backdrop of Chicago skyline reminds me of the Roland Emmerich’s 2004 disaster movie “The day after tomorrow”. I remember, when the movie was released people were wondering can such a thing happen and today Polar Vortex has turned that imagination into reality.

There are scores of such examples especially in the sci-fi genre, where what was considered as a figment of imagination of the writer, author or movie maker is now reality. Remember Arthur C. Clarke’s path breaking 2001: space odyssey where he had imagined space travel beyond the realms of Moon and today we have probes like Voyager entering the interstellar space. Remember Star Wars and Star Trek having holographic virtual images of people taking to each other and today we have Tele presence gear in meetings

So what explains this? Should we say that authors/writers/movie makers are far sighted and are seeing things that can be turned into reality or is it just happenstance. My view is that in case of nature, perhaps there are phenomenon that we are beginning to unravel and that is helping us weave an imagination that could be reality someday. However, in case of scientific invention and discovery, it is perhaps the ubiquitous nature of human endeavor to make the impossible, possible that is helping us turn imagination to reality. Others are welcome to share their views

Move over Movies and Cricket, Politics is the new time pass

Thanks to NaMo’s fire brand campaign, AAP’s game changing election win and Congress’ numerous blunders, one thing that is trending is Politics. Take any conversation be it in coffee shops, be it in the canteen during lunch hour, be it the small talk over corporate meetings or be it on Facebook and twitter, everyone is passionately engaged in discussing about politics and upcoming elections. It is interesting to see people who always thought politics to be drab now find it intellectually stimulating.

Elections 2014 are certainly going to see a change of trend in Indian Politics. More and more learned class are now actively engaged in expressing their views and showing their willingness to participate in the electoral process. This can only be good for the country on the long run. We are already seeing the effects of people involvement in what happened with AAP and as more and more people get involved, it can only improve.

Lets calls this trend to be Indian-Political-Awakening and if it were to be plotted on Gartner’s hype curve, it would be placed on the curve rising towards peak of inflated expectations. What follows is the trough of disillusionment and that is what can happen post 2014 elections if we end up with a kichdi scenario with no clear winners leading to a cobbling of compromising coalitions. However, as a nation it is important for us to go this path to reach to slope of enlightenment that can last this nation for generations to come

So to say, I am loving this time pass and debates that ensue around the political positioning that takes place as we near the 2014 elections. Lets keep it going !!

Sherlock stories are immortal

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should be the credited as a genius writer. His stories on Sherlock Holmes continue to intrigue and entertain millions across generations for over a century now.

Countless adaptations of his stories across movies and TV have not dulled the audience into ennui. The latest offing on this immortalized detective is the BBC version of Sherlock. Season 3 started yesterday and I must say that is an exciting modern take on ageless hero. While I anticipate season 3, I am also catching up on the previous seasons and I must say I am enjoying thoroughly. Its been a long while since I was addicted to anything worth watching on TV and Sherlock certainly seems to have got me addicted.

Benedict Cumberbatch is a superb actior and his portrayal of Sherlock borders on engaging cocktail of charisma and arrogance. His performance is riveting and holds you for nearly 2 hours that each story takes. He is well supported by Martin Freeman as John Watson.

I recommend for all mystery lovers to not miss the latest and by far the most enigmatic portrayal of Sherlock. The series is produced by BBC and for India audiences it comes on AXN channel on Fridays 10 pm.