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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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