(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
There had never been a day when Ravi had felt more exasperated. Sure, given his studious nature, he had had prior experience of being ridiculed, even bullied. So much so that he had grown immune to that sort of annoyance a long time ago.
But this painter was on a completely different level. In just one day, the artist had managed to rob Ravi, prank him and deprive him of his eyesight. This was getting out of hand too fast.
His eyes still watering, Ravi cursed. He could barely keep his voice from quivering. ‘What have you done to me, you son of a witch! I should have known you practised black magic!’
The painter simply laughed. ‘Now, now. No need for name-calling. The blindness is temporary. It’ll pass in a minute.’
Ravi felt some relief at that, but it didn’t affect the amount of hate he harboured. When his sight did return, the painter would be in big trouble.
‘While you’re too blind to be a good vantage point, though,’ the artist continued, ‘allow me to break this “third-person limited” narration style and help the story along!’
And just like that, the painter began narrating:
‘I went back to admiring the Captura. It probably looked nothing more than a strange box to those who didn’t know what it was, but to me it looked absolutely stunning! I knew it’s function all too well. In fact, I’d used it against Ravi only half as a defence tactic; my other intention being to finally test it out!
‘“The bright flash just now was no black magic,” I told the young writer, while noticing his frustration growing, especially at having to listen to me narrating. Anyway. “It was used to illuminate the subject; in this instance, you.”
‘Caressing the front of the Captura, I explained, “The light reflected by the subject travels through this lens.” I brushed my fingers along the length of the device. “Then it is focused and sent through the dark interiors, finally hitting the photosensitive plate at the end.” I slid my hand under the black cloth hanging at the rear and retrieved a thin, envelope-sized plate from inside. “A permanent copy of the instant is captured here—an InstaCopy! Isn’t it amazing?”
‘As I turned to face Ravi again, I heard something approaching from that direction, then a figure jumped at me, and before I knew it—’
‘Enough with the blabbering!’ Ravi yelled, gripping the painter’s collar with both hands, ready to do something he knew he would regret later. His eyesight was almost recovered.
‘Wait, wait, wait!’ the painter begged. ‘Aren’t you curious at all to see your InstaCopy?’ He pulled the plate up, waving it invitingly.
Still holding on to the collar, Ravi glanced sideways at the thing, trying to focus. It was not what he had expected.
The plate had a metallic border. Framed within was what seemed to be a very realistic portrait of Ravi as he had stomped in through the entrance. The level of details on the piece was breath-taking. Ravi had not seen anything close to it in the works of the most famous artists.
But it wasn’t quite like looking into a mirror, either. The colours, for one, were slightly distorted, giving it an almost psychedelic appearance. And aside from that were random blobs and smears, which looked more a part of the image than, say, paint spills; as difficult as that was to imagine.
‘What in the world is this supposed to be?’ Ravi frowned.
‘Glad you asked!’ The painter grinned like he’d been expecting the question. ‘This ghosting effect’s why the Captura technology got banned in the first place. This here’s why it isn’t a commonplace device, like it should’ve been!’
He opened his mouth again, to elaborate, but the loud voice that reverberated around the room was not his: ‘And that there, is also your death sentence!’
Ravi and the painter both whirled around to find a figure standing at the door, clothed from head to toe in black. The only skin that showed was a little slit around the eyes, between a turban on the head and a cloth pulled up from below. Around the newcomer’s waist was a belt of dark grey pouches.
‘You shouldn’t have come here,’ the man said. ‘Those who have seen the secrets of our Company must be eliminated!’ As if to prove his seriousness, he drew one gleaming knife into each hand, marching in.
Ravi’s hands let go of the painter’s collar, limply falling to his sides. He turned to look at the artist, his helpless expression growing into irritation once again. ‘You’re nothing but trouble!’ Ravi complained, though the blaming did nothing to relieve him. ‘I can’t die here! I have an ambition to fulfil!’
The painter, in the meantime, had been too calm for the situation. ‘Let me deal with this,’ he said coolly, dropping his cigarette on the floor and putting it out with his sandal. Then, with the click of a button, he used the Captura’s bright flash again, this time on the man in black.
Quicker than the artist, though, the stranger pulled something out of a pouch and slipped it over his eyes—a pair of sunglasses. ‘You think we wouldn’t be equipped against our own technology?’ he mocked, before dashing forward, screaming, ‘Now die!’
In a second, he covered the distance to the painter. He jumped at him and knocked him down, causing the painter’s umbrella to fly away. He pinned the helpless artist to the floor, crossing both knives at the guy’s throat, ready to do a nasty job.
‘Stop!’ Ravi screamed, and when that didn’t elicit any response, he added, ‘Stop, or I smash this thing to pieces!’
It worked. The man turned around to find Ravi holding up the painter’s large umbrella with both hands. His body was arched back and he was ready to strike at the device—the Captura—with full force.
The man paused for a while, then laughed, ‘And so what if you break it? We can build another!’
‘Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. But I can tell that this device is very important to you. In any case, you will be after me when you are done with him, so this is my only option. What will you choose?’
A sound of merry laughter filled the room, but it didn’t belong to any of the men in there. As Ravi turned toward it, he found yet another figure standing at the door — the woman from the interview.
‘Hahaha! I knew you were an interesting one, Ravi,’ she said, leaning against the frame of the door. ‘Tell me, what is it you want with the Captura?’
‘I don’t really—’ Ravi began, but he was cut off.
‘I do!’ The painter strained his neck out from behind the stranger. ‘There’s a lot I want to try. I’ve looked for it for as long as I can remember, spent years dreaming what I would do with it!’
Then he paused, his mental gears apparently on overdrive, before continuing. ‘Tell you what, Ms. Dixit. Give me two weeks. Two weeks, and I’m confident I can come up with a really profitable plan for the company. What do you say?’
‘Profitable?’ the interviewer, Ms. Dixit, laughed. ‘You do realise, this technology is illegal!’
‘I know,’ the painter said, and Ravi almost sensed a glee in his tone. ‘But I’m sure it can be put to better use than gathering dust in this secret room. That too, without any more risk than having it here. Like I said, give me two weeks. You won’t regret it!’
Ms. Dixit seemed to ponder on the proposal. But when she spoke, she didn’t address the artist. ‘What about you, Ravi? What do you make of this? If you think it’s worth it, I might consider giving you boys a week.’
Before Ravi could answer, the painter began, ‘You’ll say yes, right? Ravi? You said you can’t die here. Say yes! Trust me, I’m the only one who can give your stuff back… Okay, that was a stupid thing to bring up, but—’
‘SHUT UP!’ Ravi yelled, then turned to Ms. Dixit. ‘You don’t give me much choice. It’s either this or death, isn’t it?’
Ms. Dixit only smiled.
‘Well,’ Ravi continued, ‘this painter—’
‘Subrojit Ray,’ the painter interjected again. ‘Call me Subro!’
‘This… guy…’ Ravi said, shutting Subro up with a murderous glare, ‘he’s the most dishonest, least trustworthy person I’ve ever come across!’
‘Ravi, please!’ Subro cried.
Ravi ignored him. ‘But if there’s one other thing I’ve noticed today, it is that he is really, really passionate about the Captura-whatever. I think—I think I can trust that.’
Subro sighed, his eyes welling up.
‘You don’t disappoint, Ravi!’ Ms. Dixit sounded very pleased. ‘Very well. You have a week.’ Then, addressing the man in black, she said, ‘Let them be.’
As the man got up and walked out of the room, Ms. Dixit turned to Ravi again. ‘Remember, the device is illegal and you must not be seen with it anywhere. My agents will be watching you at all times. Try anything funny, like informing the authorities, and you will be dealt with. Get caught with the device for your stupidity, and you can expect no better. Believe me, my men are well trained.’
She smiled at Ravi, waved a hand and added, ‘Other than that, good luck!’ She exited with a wink, leaving the boys in silent contemplation.