(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 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.
Satisfied, he turned his thoughts to the task at hand — getting his version of the recruitment ad ready for circulation. Okay, let’s get this draft to the design team.
As a matter of convenience, he didn’t need to physically deliver it at all. Working for a sizeable company like Phantasy Publishing had its privileges, 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 but never seen before — a TransCab.
The thing had a modest appearance. It was set within a recess on a side wall and resembled a simple, square cabinet with a glass, sliding door. What gave its greater importance away were the items set up 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, which led to a soft light illuminating the spacious cubic interior. Then, carefully placing his draft inside, he closed the door again, before consulting the adjacent guide. It told him that the destination code for the design department was “D4,” so he pressed the corresponding buttons on the keypad and waited with a childlike excitement.
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 could be heard next, followed by another few clicks. Then, 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, 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 to his seat. Now he had only to wait till the finished version was sent to him for approval.
But it was a shorter wait than he had imagined. Barely back to reliving the crazy day, Ravi heard the hum of motors again, as the cabinet returned. The indicator soon blinked to let him know that he had something to retrieve.
Ravi picked up the paper he’d been sent through the TrabsCab, unable to control his excitement. How could he? He was holding the final version of his own concept! Words he’d come up with, were printed in a nice elegant font, accompanied by smart design and 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 slightly, while 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.
Then he sent it back through the TransCab, all the while shaking his head in disbelief.
The response took longer to arrive, the second time around, 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 over-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 screamed, crumpling the paper and flinging 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 flew open 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! Nothing more.’
Ravi stared at the person, recognising the green kurta, the cigarette and the large umbrella. ‘You…’ he muttered, ‘you’re that painter!’
‘Oh, come on!’ the painter groaned, rolling his eyes, as he too recognised Ravi. ‘I know the author is new at this stuff, but can’t he 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. Ok, 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.’
Then the artist turned about and dashed out of the room as fast as he could. ‘BECAUSE I’VE GOT LONGER LEGS!’ he guffawed.
Ravi took some time to realise what had happened, but then, he also started into a mad run, reaching out of 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, 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, and even the footsteps had died down. Damn it! Where did that scoundrel go off to?
He moved cautiously through the dim corridor, to a door on the side wall that seemed open — probably his best shot. Signs pasted on the walls warned him to “KEEP OUT!” and as he approached the open door, he saw that it was labelled “RESTRICTED,” but he ignored them all.
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, only double the size, and with little knobs and levers all over. A short dark cloth hung from its rear, like a cape. At the front, an accordion-like pyramid struck out, which ended in a palm-sized, circular glass lens that pointed at Ravi.
The thing rested on an unremarkable table in the centre of the otherwise mostly barren room. The only other thing 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, and he noticed an unlit lightbulb fitted where the shaft would normally join.
Walking in through the door, Ravi heard the painter talking to himself: ‘This… what is this doing here? I’ve searched so long. In the basement of my office? 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. There’s no escape now! Give me back—’
‘Shh!’ The painter waved a hand at Ravi without so much as looking up. ‘Just 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 connected to the black box on the table, and pressed the button with full force, his face contorted with 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 starting to run down both cheeks, he blinked and rubbed his eyes frantically, but there was nothing he could see. His vision had been shrouded in complete whiteness.