(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
Collecting his thoughts for a long, long time, Ravi muttered at last, ‘Another needless delay comes up. Just what I needed!’
‘Relax, man,’ Subro said, getting up from where he’d been lying since the masked man had attacked. ‘We’ll do fine. I’m feeling confident!’
‘Really? Even though we got only a week’s time where you had asked for two? That’s optimistic.’
‘It’s fine!’ Subro laughed. ‘You should always ask for more than you’re gonna need. People are going to give you less anyway. This is just the sort of outside knowledge I was telling you about, back at the market.’
‘Don’t you remind me about that! And give back—’
‘Anyway, let’s start working on this challenge now, shall we?’
‘Yes… no, wait… not immediately.’
‘What? Umm, we don’t really have a lot of time…’
‘Well, Mister Outside Knowledge, who’s going to do your job at the office? She never said anything about giving us any leave!’ Ravi jerked his thumb towards the exit, where Ms. Dixit had been standing.
‘Well, no, but isn’t that implied?’
‘Not really. Get this — right now we’re at her mercy. What we can’t afford to do is to work on assumptions and have her use it against us. Besides, suddenly skipping work raises suspicion, something she very clearly advised us against. So, for now, all we can do is to work on this thing during our off-times.’
‘Hmm, now you put it that way, I guess you’re right… Damn! So let’s meet after work, then? I’ll try to think of something; you do too. We can manage this, I know it!’
‘Fine, whatever,’ Ravi muttered. He left Subro’s umbrella on the table, beside the Captura, before walking on to the exit. ‘Your over-optimism is getting on my nerves. I’ll see you in the evening, and you better bring my stuff!’
It was already tea-time when Ravi returned to his cabin. Work went smoother this time. The next version of the pamphlet to arrive from the design team was perfect. He forwarded it for printing, and with that, his regular job for the day was done.
He still had his contractual overtime work remaining, though, which involved reading through manuscript submissions and marking the more interesting ones. He got to that now so he could focus on the Captura later.
He’d reached well into the last manuscript for the day, when his door opened. Subro walked in again, umbrella still in hand and a cigarette in his teeth.
‘Can’t you knock?’ Ravi groaned, returning to the script but not before noting the absence of his belongings.
‘Every second is precious,’ Subro laughed.
Ravi realised he wouldn’t get back to his flow with the script, not with the painter around. He scribbled the word “Interesting” on its front page and put the document away. ‘Well then, have you thought up a plan?’
Subro shrugged. ‘I’m not really a planning sorta guy. I just do things, you know? If you ask me, I think we should take the Captura out onto the streets and experiment away! We’ll definitely figure something out like that.’
Ravi sighed. ‘You know, we can’t just take it anywhere. That peculiar contraption is bound to attract attention!’
‘Well, lucky for us, I’m really good at deception. Wouldn’t you agree?’ He smirked. ‘I might even have some rough ideas already.’
‘Fine…’ Ravi exhaled. ‘Another thing; tell me about the patches you were showing before. Didn’t you say, the device doesn’t even function properly?’
‘Ah, yes. The ghosting. Hmm, it’s a long story.’
‘I’ll need to know it.’
‘Ahh… alright then, let me tell you about the history of the Captura.’ Subro sat himself opposite Ravi, and after a long drag of his cigarette, he began:
‘This was about a hundred years ago. Dr. Shekhar Raman, a relatively unknown scientist, came up with a bizarre theory. He proposed, the light reflecting off of everyday objects could be focused onto a plate of special material, and an image of those objects could then be recorded on the plate.’
‘Like you demonstrated in the room?’
‘Exactly. Now, like any breakthrough science, it sounded quite crazy at first. Still, he worked on it in his small workshop, and his first few efforts gained him some recognition in the scientific community.’
‘This is how he built the Captura?’
‘Yes, well, a prototype of it anyway. The first-ever Captura dealt with only lights and shadows, reproducing them as pure black-and-white images. Imagine black silhouettes against a white canvas. It was rather simple. What’s more? Although it required twenty minutes of light-exposure to function, the material that he used for the plates retained the copies for merely five minutes!
‘From what I’ve read, even this first model produced patches similar to the ones you noticed today. But Dr. Raman explained them away as a consequence of minor faults in the equipment. He predicted, the anomalies would be gone once higher-grade materials were used.’
‘So, either he was wrong,’ Ravi thought aloud, ‘or the device we saw was an early prototype, correct?’
‘I’m getting there. Soon after, he got some people to fund his project and was able to develop it further. At this point, the clarity of the images improved a lot, thanks to the industry-grade equipment he then had access to. Instead of just black-and-white, he was able to add shades of grey, so the InstaCopies started to look quite realistic. Slowly, the photosensitive plates also got better at retaining images, until one day he claimed they would last a lifetime!
‘Meanwhile, he experimented with colours too. At first, this involved submerging the exposed plates in special chemicals within a dark room. But a few years down the line, he came up with a new type of plate that directly captured the colours!
‘However, while the end result was being perfected, his prediction about the patches never came true. In fact, they only got clearer and sharper as the technology developed. People who had modelled for InstaCopies in the test runs started to nervously question about the shapes appearing around them in the images. A lot of these blotches seemed to have eyes, limbs and teeth!’
Ravi gulped. ‘What in the world are they?’
Subro ignored the question. He continued, ‘In the end, Dr. Raman was forced to recheck his theory to figure out what was causing the problem. He even consulted some of the greatest minds who lived during that time, but not one of them could find a fault!
‘At last, he concluded that since the equipment was behaving as it should, the blotches being captured probably exist around us but are beyond the human-eye’s ability to detect; at least, under normal conditions.’
A chill ran down Ravi’s spine. He recalled stories about “art-monsters” that had terrified him as a child.
‘This was not received well by the people,’ Subro went on. ‘Although Dr. Raman was eager to know more about the mysterious phenomena, most considered it a dangerous thing to pursue. It didn’t help that some of those who were involved with the project started to suffer unfortunate incidents: first, someone got into an accident; then another went missing; and a third committed suicide!
‘It wasn’t long until the technology was widely regarded as “unsafe,” and all of the people who had been backing it, opted out. Soon, even the government passed a ban on further research, and that was the end of it. The Captura never reached the public. It passed down through history as mere horror story and superstition!’
‘Wow!’ Ravi took a moment to straighten himself. ‘The more I learn about this, the more I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into! Just what does this company want with such technology?’
‘That’s an unnecessary thought,’ Subro was quick to say. ‘Let’s focus on putting the Captura to good use and try to learn more about how it works, okay?’
‘All right,’ Ravi said, not entirely convinced. ‘What did you have in mind for not being seen?’
At that, the artist got up with a smile. He picked up a pen and some papers from Ravi’s desk and began to scribble wholeheartedly. The amount of focus that he suddenly displayed shocked Ravi.
A minute later, Subro handed the paper over to his colleague. ‘Here’s a list of things I’ll need to build what I’m thinking of. Can you get these from the market? Meet me at the Captura room when you’re done. I should have a blueprint ready by then.’
Ravi studied the list. ‘Cycle-wheels, wooden boards, saw, hammer, nails… ice-cream?’
‘Just get them! You’ll understand later.’ Subro had a smug smile on him. ‘And don’t worry, I’ll sponsor the shopping. Believe it or not, I found a loaded wallet this morning!’ He took a small, blue leather purse out from his pocket.
‘Hey! That’s mine!’ Ravi yelled.
‘Yup! Consider it all yours; a gift from me. More soon! Now go quickly, before the markets shut down.’
Ravi glared at the painter, debating whether to land a fist into the artist’s stupid face. But instead, he got up as loudly as he could manage, snatched the wallet from Subro’s hand and marched out of the room, slamming the door shut as he went.
Two hours later, Ravi was back inside the building, heading for the basement. He was carrying three monstrous bags worth of stuff that he’d bought at the market, dragging them all to the room with the Captura. No sooner did he reach than he collapsed on to the ground, panting.
Subro was also on the floor, sitting cross-legged next to the table at the centre. He had been admiring a detailed diagram that he’d drawn up on a large chart-paper spread out before him.
Hearing Ravi’s arrival, the painter looked up and said, ‘Thanks, man! Now you can rest. My turn to work.’
Ravi groaned in agreement. The crazy day had taken such a toll on him, even the cold, hard floor felt awfully comfortable. The last thing Ravi heard was the painter unpacking the bags, before he drifted off into a much needed sleep…
A sudden, violent jerk woke Ravi up after what felt like only a minute. The first thing he spotted was the jerk’s bright and cheery face.
‘Wake up, sleepyhead,’ Subro said, sing-songly. ‘You’ve been out for over three hours! I’m finished with the work. Come, check it out!’
It took a huge amount of effort on Ravi’s part to not roll over to the other side and get five more minutes of shuteye. He sat up slowly, rubbing his head and face, before glancing towards where Subro had been working. But his eyes refused to focus. It took half a minute for him to finally see the product of the artist’s labour — an ice-cream cart.
‘What do you think?’ Subro asked, excited. Then, without waiting for a reply, he went on to explain how he and Ravi could use the cart to take the Captura outside without drawing attention. He talked about how one of them would push the cart, while the other would hide inside, with the Captura, clicking InstaCopies of interesting subjects.
Ravi stayed silent the entire time, only half paying attention in his sleepy state.
‘It looks snug, but don’t worry, there’s enough space inside,’ Subro went on. ‘And of course, there’s room for actual ice-cream too, should we happen to get some customers.’
Ravi might have been more impressed, had he not been woken up just to hear Subro boasting. He found his attention diverting to something else, something he felt he had been ignoring for a while.
The next moment, his stomach let out a loud growl, and he realised that he hadn’t eaten anything since morning. He looked at Subro, embarrassed, and found that the painter had stopped talking.
Subro eyed Ravi with a curious smile, then retrieved an item from the cart he’d built, waving it at Ravi.
‘Ice candy?’ the painter offered.