(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
From getting robbed to somehow securing a job, Ravi’s day had been eventful indeed. Never would he have imagined that things could get even crazier. Here he was now, sitting in his own little cabin at a reputed publishing house. Quite impressive! he told himself.
Of course, not everything was positive. His pay, for instance, was far from decent; in spite of needing to work extra hours every day. But, in exchange, his food and stay would be looked after, so perhaps things weren’t so bad.
He turned his thoughts to the task at hand. He was to have his version of the recruitment ad ready for circulation. Time to get this draft to the design team.
As a matter of convenience, he wouldn’t need to physically deliver the instructions at all. Working for a sizeable company like Phantasy Publishing had its perks, such as the latest technology being in place. In this instance, he was about to make use of something he’d heard a lot about, though never seen before—a TransCab.
The instrument had a modest appearance. It was set within a recess in the side wall and resembled a simple, square cabinet with a glass, sliding door. What gave its greater importance away were the items next to it—a small lightbulb, a keypad and an instruction chart. Indeed, this was no ordinary storage cabinet. It was a device for transferring items across the building; a transfer cabinet; a TransCab.
Ravi walked to the device and slid open its door. This activated a soft light that illuminated the spacious, cubic interior. Carefully placing his draft inside, he closed the door shut again.
The adjacent chart told him which destination code to use for the design department. He simply pressed the corresponding buttons on the keypad; a childlike excitement bubbling in him.
At once, the cabinet door locked itself with a sharp click, the indication bulb lighting up orange. A dampened sound of little motors revving up behind the wall came next. As Ravi watched through the glass, he saw the entire inner portion of the cabinet detach from the door and shoot up—away from view—carrying his draft safely along. Where it had been a moment ago, only a hollow, vertical shaft remained visible, part of a network connecting to every single room in the building.
Technology never ceases to amaze me, Ravi thought, smiling.
A little later, the indication light turned off—a signal that his item had been delivered. With that taken care of, Ravi plopped back on his seat. Now he had only to wait till the finished version came back to him for approval.
The wait was much briefer than he had imagined. Barely back to reliving the crazy day, Ravi heard the hum of motors again; the cabinet had returned. The indicator blinked to let him know he had an item to retrieve.
Ravi jumped to pick up the paper he’d been sent through the TrabsCab. He could hardly control his excitement. How could he? It was final version of his own concept. Words he’d come up with were printed in nice, elegant fonts, set neatly in a delightful template, and accompanied by the brilliant illustration of a… typewriter holding a pen in its cartoony hand?
That last bit killed his mood entirely. He’d asked for “a writer brandishing a pen with confidence”, not a typewriter! Ravi looked at the astonishing piece of art for a good moment, left eye twitching. He failed to grasp how anyone could have messed up so badly.
Nevertheless, he got himself a fresh piece of paper and wrote down a corrective note for the design team:
Not a typewriter! Show an actual person brandishing the pen with extreme confidence.
He sent it back through the TransCab, all the while shaking his head in disbelief.
The response this time took longer to arrive, so he hoped that the team was working on it more carefully. When it came, he immediately checked the artwork and was pleased to see that the typewriter had been done away with.
In its place was an impressively skilled sketch of an attractive girl, flourishing a pen as she wrote with a lot of confidence. So much, in fact, that her lips were stretched out in what looked like a malevolent grin, and her eyes were demonically bulging out!
Ravi groaned, stumped at how needlessly difficult this design team was making his job. Still, taking a deep breath, he transferred his thoughts on to paper:
Don’t exaggerate her expression! Make it subtle, with a little gleam in her eyes and a pleasant smile on her lips.
Another round of exchanges later, Ravi picked up the third version from the TransCab. As instructed, the girl’s eyes had been made to look more human now, shining with confidence, and there was also a “pleasant smile” on her face. Literally, those two words were actually pasted across her jaw!
‘Now they’re just toying with me!’ Ravi crumpled the paper and flung it to one corner of the room. He didn’t have it in him to go on with this nonsense.
Right at that moment, the door to his room opened and a figure walked in, the smell of cigarette-smoke following. ‘Hey, relax, man,’ the figure said, his voice sounding strangely familiar. ‘Just a welcoming prank for the new guy. Calm down!’
Ravi stared at the person, recognising the green kurta, the cigarette and the large umbrella. ‘You…’ he muttered, ignoring the umbrella being carried around in doors, ‘you’re that painter!’
‘Oh, come on!’ the painter groaned, rolling his eyes. ‘I know the author is new at this, but can’t he at least come up with a less clichéd plot?’
‘Cut the crap!’ Ravi barked, having had enough nonsense for a day. ‘Give my stuff back at once!’
‘Ah, okay, look, you’re pissed. I get it. But let’s go about this calmly, alright? Look, I’ll give you a good reason why you shouldn’t chase after me right now.’ He turned about and dashed out of the room, laughing. ‘Because I’ve got longer legs!’
Ravi chased after him in a mad run. He reached out the door just in time to see the painter slip into an emergency stairwell. Ravi followed as fast as his legs could take him. However, the painter had spoken the truth about their difference in speed. Ravi stormed down the stairs, but he had no sight of his target at all. He was relying instead on the ever-more-distant sounds of his quarry’s footfalls.
In the end, he reached the bottommost floor, where the only exit led to a dimly lit corridor straight out of a horror story. Not a soul was to be seen. Even the footsteps had died down. Damn it! Where did that scoundrel go off to?
He moved cautiously through the dim corridor. A door in the distance seemed to be open; he walked toward it. Signs pasted on the walls warned him to “KEEP OUT!” and as he approached, he saw that the door itself was labelled “RESTRICTED”. But he ignored the cautions.
It paid off; he found his target inside.
The painter was standing hunched in the middle of the room, admiring an item with the utmost awe. The object of his fascination looked like a black, metallic shoebox, double the regular size, with little knobs and levers all over. A short, dark cloth hung from its rear, like a cape. At the front of the box, an accordion-like pyramid stuck out, ending in a palm-sized, glass lens that pointed at Ravi.
The thing rested on an unremarkable table in the centre of the mostly barren room. The only other item worth noting was what looked like an open umbrella—without shaft and handle—clamped on a tall stand beside the table. The inside of the unfolded canopy faced Ravi. An unlit lightbulb had been fitted where the shaft would normally join.
Ravi walked in. He could hear the painter talking to himself: ‘…this doing here? I’ve searched so long. In the basement of my workplace! Am I dreaming?’
But for all Ravi cared, the painter could go through his awestruck moment after he had returned what was stolen.
‘I’ve found you at last,’ Ravi announced. ‘There’s no escape now! Give me back—’
‘Shh!’ The painter waved a hand without so much as looking up. ‘Give me a minute here. You’ve no idea how many years I’ve waited for this.’
‘Don’t you dare shush me!’ Ravi stomped in like he was about to deal some serious damage. ‘I don’t give a rat’s ass how long you’ve waited! What about the years of hard work you stole from me?’
But the painter had had enough as well. Raising his voice in return, he yelled, ‘Didn’t I tell you to wait one minute?’ He picked up a wired switch from the table, forcing the button on it stiffly, his face contorting in frustration.
A terribly bright light flashed at Ravi from the umbrella setup. He felt a burning in his eyes, as though he’d seen the sun through a telescope. Tears started to run down both his cheeks. He blinked and rubbed and squinted frantically, but there was nothing he could see. His vision had been shrouded in complete whiteness.