"Any news?", Shakur enquired as he sat down heavily on the only available settee. Juno had been looking out of the window lost in thoughts and Shakur's entry caused a minor disruption in his train of thoughts irritating him to no ends. He looked up at the tired face of Shakur and his irritation evaporated. Shakur's young face appeared exhausted.
"Nothing good so far!", he muttered but Shakur was not going to be content with that answer.
"So, we can't turn the Muavens back into humans?', he asked and Juno nodded.
"All my experiments have failed", he said. He was very particular about the truth even if he was not very happy with the version of truth staring at his face. He was going to be 63 next month and he was not going to temper his truth down just because someone might feel bad. Shakur was used to Juno's self loathing.
"You just need to look at the process with new set of eyes." Shakur said even as he fanned himself with his hand towel. Even though the sun was way beyond the horizon, the land still seethed.
"I already told you", Juno sniffed, "The process seems to be an irreversible one. The cellular structure of humans doesn't change easily. We have tried that so many times in our bid to make a better human being. The new structure always fails.It seems to be a very poor decision on part of the Federation to persist with the strategies that have already been marked as failures. For many years, they don't do anything and then suddenly they start on this useless experiment to turn humans into Muavens. The process once initiated can't be reversed. The new cellular structure of the Muavens is not stable so the victims are going to die a horrible death and we can't do anything but just watch them die."
Shakur listened to Juno's rant in silence.
"When you tell me that the new cellular structure will fail, how much time would it take?"
"It depends", Juno replied.
"Still", Shakur persisted, "would you say a timeframe of 1 day would be good enough for the symptoms to show?"
"A day would not be enough!", he said weakly, "and so far the Muavens seem to be sticking together."
Shakur winced at the use of the word 'sticking' for the Muavens.
"I visited them today", he said. Juno was aghast.
"I had requested you to not do so!", Juno pleaded with Shakur, "We have no idea of how badly this affects them. You might think of them as the Muavens or even humans but sadly that is not true anymore. Those people", Juno had to struggle to utter the word humans for the green entities, "might attack you. Their minds may get unhinged first."
"That's ok!", Shakur dismissed Juno's concerns with a wave of his hands, "In any case I won't be able to pay them a visit tomorrow. It seems the Federation is busy fencing the area for I saw some pods erecting fences all around. I gave them the slip and headed home!"
"You have been very injudicious in your actions", Juno reprimanded him but Shakur smiled mischievously. Juno had been very concerned about Shakur's rage at being orphaned by the Federation but as things panned out his concerns were slowly allayed when he saw the way Shakur interacted with the imp Puru and with Petya with whom he intended to start a family. There was a loud rap on the door and then Puru waltzed in the room. It was more of a leap for he crash landed somewhere near Shakur.
"Ha!", Puru shouted, "I scared you, didn't I?"
"Of course, you did!", Shakur tried to catch hold of Puru but he managed to evade Shakur's grasp.
"I heard you had a terrifying dream last night!", Shakur decided to taunt Puru a bit for he knew that the topic of his nighmares always managed to rile Puru but he was pleasantly surprised when Puru gave him a big smile.
"Actually I wanted to tell you something", Puru said as he hopped from one spot to another, "The dreams of green men are gone now!"
"That's a very good news!", Juno applauded it and Puru beamed again.
"You saw a green man", Shakur said, "and your fear of green men are gone!"
"yes", Puru skipped and hopped.
"So, why did you cry out loudly last night?"
Puru stuck his tongue out at Shakur and then he ran towards Juno and flung himself on to his lap.
"I followed your advice", Puru said, "You told me to not be scared of what I see for that is not really happened and I was able to see that the men who were muddy didn't change into green men!"
"Slow down", Shakur pleaded with Puru, "Tell me from the beginning!"
Puru smiled beatifically.
"In my dream I saw a man press some buttons and then walk up to the window to take a look inside. He then sees a lot of green men in pain. That always scared me but Juno told me to not be afraid of them so I didn't run away. Then I saw that there were some men who came out of the ground and they were not green. They had mud on their faces and on their bodies that made them look like monsters but they were not monsters."
"No, they were no monsters", Juno supported Puru, "They couldn't have turned into monsters."
"Yes", Puru said, "because they had mud on their bodies. That's why!"
"You are right!", Juno took out a small piece of candy and Puru took it from him with a smile and a polite thanks. Then he scampered out of Juno's lap and dashed outside. When he ran past Shakur he waved at Shakur once but Shakur didn't try to catch him. Puru ran out of the room a trifle disappointed but then he looked at the candy in his hand and was all smiles as he tore off the wrappings of the candy.
"What is this about mud?", Puru was intrigued.
"Puru has had amazing dreams", Juno said, "I actually no longer call them dreams. They are more of visions."
"Green men! Hiding in mud!", Puru whispered, "What is the vision here?"
Juno took some moments to ponder over it. Meanwhile Petya ambled towards them. She was lugging a basket full of herbs and vegetables. Juno waved at her to join them. She sat beside Shakur who grew flushed at her proximity. Juno feigned ignorance of the change in demeanour of Shakur and began speaking of his observations on the dreams of Puru.
"We have been unable to track Puru's parents. You know it very well that Puru one day made his way to our village and has stayed with us ever since. The Federation stopped caring for us a long time back. They are more concerned about their enchanting domes and their awful society where the rulers take everything they want from the masses who struggle all their lives for basic necessities. Anyways, I don't want to speak about them. Coming back to Puru, it came as a huge surprise to me when I saw him one day walk in our village. Someone suggested that some people might have tried to escape the prison domes and might have got attacked by the Federation guards who for some reason spared the life of Puru. In any case, I was unable to find any sign of violence around our village. And so Puru's presence in our village mystified me. After some three months of his arrival, we first heard of the program Muaven. Many poor folks had been forced into becoming Muavens, a supposedly better version of humans. One batch of the Muavens landed quite near to our village when we first encountered them. They looked so beautiful! All the women had flawless white skins with perfect raven black hairs. And the lips were so luscious. Beautiful! All the men had blonde hair and handsome physique! We were astounded at their beauty. Then the guards arrived and beat us all black and blue. That was a very sad day for us."
He looked at Shakur with sad eyes. Shakur averted his gaze.
"That day you lost your parents, Shakur! And Petya, you lost your father. The guards should not have attacked us so badly. I understand that we were not welcome in their pretty village but by attacking us so brutally they crossed a line. Now they are building fences to keep them away from us. They should have done that earlier! There was no point in killing our men! But from our limited interaction, I had begun to suspect that the Federation was meddling with genetic structure again. Then we got a distress call from another village that lay 120 miles from here. You and I had gone there, Shakur! Do you remember how difficult it was to row the boat upstream?"
Shakur grunted. The river was flooded because of rains and it was impossible to make the boat go upstream. They were unable to even walk on the banks because the jungle had claimed them. Then Shakur had got an idea. He tied the boat to one of the overhanging branch so that it didn't keep getting knocked downstream. Once that was done, he tied a rope to another branch that seemed to be strong enough to hold on to their combined weights. Then he pulled the boat ahead using the branches to fight off the current. It was painful and super slow but it had done the trick. They had finally managed to reach the village that had asked for help. They had found the entire village to be reduced to mere rubble. There were only two survivors, one of them was insane who couldn't even recount what happened to him and the other a very injured woman who died shortly. Before dying, the woman had told them of how the Federation had sent one of its pods to attack them. All the able bodied men, women and kids were arrested. The rest of them were killed. Some of them had tried escaping to the jungle but the soldiers tracked them and killed everyone of them. Shakur and Juno had tried to bring the maniac with them but he took off from them and managed to disappear in the jungle.
"Then one day we found a dead Muaven washed up near our village. We drag him inside, we start checking his vitals, we check his genes and discover that the Muaven was a human whose cellular structure was modified. The poor fellow had died because of failure of his internal organs. Then more bodies began to wash up. I think I saw at least 22 bodies. Then the soldiers once again intervened and our supply of dead Muavens stopped. Two days back you told me that a new shipment of Muavens has been offloaded in the village especially created for them. With the fences all around, we would never know what happens to them but by now we have a fair idea of it all."
"Then Clara and her team arrived" Petya said absent mindedly. Juno nodded his head.
"Clara worked as a healer in one of the domes. She learnt about the unusual experiments and got so scared that she escaped from the dome where she lived."
"I can't believe that the guards would simply abandon their posts so that she could escape." Shakur spoke. He didn't trust Clara and he made no show of hiding his distaste for her. The feeling was mutual and Clara avoided Shakur like a plague. It was true that Clara's account of her prison escape was ludicrous. She claimed that the guards stopped patrolling the gates and seizing her opportunity she and her gang had safely made their way out of the dome.
"What will she get from here?" Juno asked and spread his hands helplessly.
"Perhaps she is here for Puru," Shakur said. Petya looked at him with fearful eyes, trying to figure out if he were joking or if he were serious. She had begun to love Puru as her own son and the mere thought of forcible separation from Puru alarmed her. Shakur kept staring at something near his feet, squinting a bit.
"Don't be alarmed, Petya" Juno said. "I have placed a tracking device on Puru and I have told him about the danger. He is a sharp kid. I don't think anyone would be able to kidnap him so easily. But then coming to your question, why would anyone want to kidnap Puru?"
"I don't know" muttered Shakur.
"I have run all the tests, Shakur," Juno said. "You raised this point some time back too."
"What tests?" Petya glanced at Juno.
"I got this idea that Puru is actually a Muaven" Shakur whispered.
"He is hundred percent human", Juno said. Petya kept staring at Shakur but he didn't raise his gaze to meet her. He didn't her to know about his concerns. He knew she would feel hurt about it.
"Well, coming back to our story," Juno said. "Clara told us about the huge machine that uses a new kind of ray to drastically alter the genetic and cellular structure of humans. She was able to read only some of the reports, especially related to the temporariness of the changes on the human bodies. However it was more than enough for her to realize that the Federation has set its eyes on making a lot of Muavens. The Federation head Tarak has always spoken of giving the world to a better race. He had never hidden his disgust for his fellow human beings. So it is quite clear that if there has to be a head of operation for Project Muaven, it has to be him. The humans living in the domes are not safe."
"What about the green men?" Shakur asked. He seemed to be tired. Juno sighed.
"The green men are the first stage of the transformation of a human into a Muaven. The Muaven sheds the green skin in his final transformation."
"And the mud?" Shakur asked again.
"I can't make heads or tails of it but it seems that Puru believes that if humans hide under mud, they will be protected from the transforming rays."
Juno fished around in his pockets and took out one small page.
"This is a message that we received from one of the villages located in the nilgiri hills. The people over there were attacked by the Federation soldiers but some of them managed to escape and hide in the caves. They now claim to see a gigantic machine being built. The description of the machines seem identical to what Clara saw in the dome."
Here Juno's voice faltered but then he regained his composure.
"It is quite clear that the Federation is using the gigantic machines to turn us all into Muavens. The Federation believes that the time for humans is over and that now it is time for a new breed of super humans to take over the Earth. However we have also learnt that the project Muavens has been a spectacular failure. So I don't understand why Tarak is still going after making all of us Muavens."
Shakur shuddered at the thought. Night had descended rather quickly and it was quite dark in Juno's hut.
"Shakur, I want you to travel to the dome from where Clara escaped," Juno said. Shakur looked up at him but he couldn't see his expression for it was quite dark inside.
"To do what?"
"Just look around and bring me back news."
"You want me to check if all people inside dome have become Muavens?"
Juno didn't reply to Shakur's question. Petya's hand had by now slipped over Shakur's hand. She pressed it slowly. Shakur couldn't understand her message. Was she trying to warn him off his mission? Was she trying to encourage him?"
"I will go," he said.
For a moment Petya's hand froze. Then she pressed it warmly.
"I will go with him" she said. From her tone it was clear that there was no point aruging with her.
"Take Puru with you" Juno said. This time both Shakur and Petya were surprised.
"He will enjoy his time away from this dead village. Leave tomorrow."
Shakur and Petya left Juno's hut and ambled towards their own hut. They found Puru playing outside the hut, chasing some fireflies. He left the fireflies alone when he saw them coming and raced to meet them on the steps of their hut. Shakur picked him up and threw him up. Puru squealed in delight. He and Puru helped Petya in fixing dinner and then in fixing their beds. By the time beds were rolled, they were so sleepy that they simply collapsed and slept till morning.