(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
After another long workday, Ravi and Subro headed out in secret. In the cover of the night, they brought the ice-cream cart outside. Madhu had asked them to get the Captura along. Her uncle would need to examine the device itself in order to understand the plates they needed him to make for it.
Of course, Ravi didn’t like this course of action. Not one bit. As much as he knew it was their best option, he couldn’t see it as anything but a trap. Still, he pushed the cart on. Subro seemed far less concerned, leading the way almost at a jog.
At length, they arrived at the meeting spot—a medium-sized dhaba in a nondescript part of town. The streets here were deserted and the lights in the residential buildings opposite the eatery were already going out.
‘I’ll grab us something,’ Subro said.
Neither of them had had dinner yet, but thankfully they’d arrived with ten minutes to spare. Subro entered the dhaba while Ravi stayed back with the cart, leaning back on it as he watched his partner go.
That turned out to be a big mistake.
Barely three minutes had passed when Ravi felt the cart sliding away behind him. He tried to balance, but the way he had been supporting himself caused him to fall hard onto the street. The cart did not stop. Ravi raised his head only to see a man running off with it.
‘Hey! What the hell?’ Ravi yelled. ‘Wait! Wait!’
Subro arrived within seconds. Ravi was still struggling to get up. Taking in the scene, the painter remarked, ‘What in the world did you do your Ph.D. in? Getting robbed?’
‘I don’t want to hear that from you!’ Ravi barked. He ran after the cart. Subro followed close behind.
Before they got very far, though, Ravi felt a sudden tug at his collar. The pull was enough to make him tumble backwards. He collided against Subro and both of them fell to the ground—Ravi for the second time in a minute.
At first, he thought it was the painter who had pulled him. But as he reached for the back of his collar, Ravi found not a hand, but a hook, grabbing at it. He pulled it off his collar, noting that it was attached to a cord that traced back to a figure behind them. Another cord led from Subro’s collar. Both cables were disappearing into a device mounted on the figure’s right forearm.
The figure stepped forward and spoke in Madhu’s voice, ‘Sorry boys, we needed to do this. Don’t you worry, the Captura is safe with us.’
‘I knew it!’ Ravi banged his fist on the road. ‘I knew this was a trap! How could I let you trick us like this?’
‘Yes, it’s a trick,’ Madhu said calmly. She pressed a button on her arm-mounted device. With a whirr, the cords went coiling back into it. ‘But not for you, for them.’ She pointed in the distance at the rooftops.
Ravi turned to see a couple of dark-clothed figures jumping roof to roof hurriedly. They were chasing the one who had made away with the cart. These two were dressed like the masked man Ravi and Subro had encountered in the basement of Phantasy Publishing.
‘Trust me, I’m not your enemy,’ Madhu said. ‘We just needed to lose those guys. They’ve been watching you all this while. The Captura is safe; you’ll see it again. Now, come with me.’
‘How can you expect us to trust you?’ Ravi said, getting up.
‘Answers, later,’ Madhu promised. ‘Someplace safer, now!’
Subro was already up. ‘Sounds good to me,’ he said, then he asked Ravi, ‘I’m going with her, you coming?’
For the second time that day, Ravi kept silent and followed the painter against his own intuition.
Madhu led them. She often slipping through shady alleyways people would usually avoid given the hour. They rushed forth without a word, making as little sound as possible, as if through an unspoken agreement.
Soon, they reached a market street. The shops were all closed after business. A stench of fish was in the air. The three of them stopped before a large-sized repair shop.
Madhu walked up to the shutters and knocked a sequence on them. A few seconds later, some shuffling of feet could be heard from within, and then the shutters rose up by a foot.
‘Follow me,’ said Madhu as she bent down, lying flat on the ground, and rolled under the metal, to the other side.
Ravi exchanged a glance with Subro. The painter shrugged, then copied what the girl had just demonstrated. Ravi sighed, following suit.
The inside of the shop was almost entirely dark, save for one small nightlight. The first thing Ravi noticed was that the windows were all closed, lending a stuffy feel to the air. The walls were mostly bare, save for a rack of tools on one side and a portrait and wall-clock on another. Much of the floor space was taken up by heavy machines.
The shutters creaked back down, cutting off the light from outside. Only the dim nightlight remained lit.
Madhu spoke first. ‘Be mindful of the equipment in here. Try not to hurt yourself, or worse, damage any of the machines. And Subro, please put out that cigarette, you’ll choke us all!’
Subro did as he was told.
‘Your priorities will make the guests feel unwelcome, dear,’ a man’s voice laughed.
Ravi turned to look at the person who’d let them in—an elderly figure, probably in his fifties or sixties. His hairline had receded all the way to the back, while his grey beard was an inch long all over. A curious pair of multi-lens spectacles sat on his nose, and in his left hand, he carried what looked like a multi-utility walking stick. His work clothes were tattered and discoloured with paint stains here and there.
‘Please feel at home, boys,’ the man chuckled at them.
‘You must be Madhu’s uncle!’ Subro enthusiastically shook the man’s hand. ‘I heard you can help us with our problem?’
‘Which problem?’ Ravi couldn’t help pointing out. ‘The one that they stole from us?’
‘I understand your alarm,’ the elderly man said, beaming. ‘But please do not worry. I entrusted my son with that device. He will bring it here soon.’
Saying that, he checked the wall-clock, and Ravi followed his gaze. It was almost ten-thirty now.
‘I do hope so,’ Subro commented. ‘Our lives depend on it!’
Ravi looked at the portrait beside the clock—another elderly man’s face beamed at him from the frame.
‘Ah, yes,’ Madhu’s uncle said, ‘No surprise on the Company’s part. It is just like them to stoop to such blackmail.’
Something about the portrait bothered Ravi. He wondered what.
‘You know these people? This Company of theirs?’ Subro asked.
‘Of course! We go back a long way.’
Then Ravi realised it.
‘This portrait,’ Ravi finally said. ‘This is no painting. It’s an InstaCopy!’
‘What did you say?’ Subro spun around to look at it.
Ravi was confident of his deduction. The painting looked way too realistic and there were the weird blotches to boot. When Subro spoke, however, he did not confirm nor deny the claim.
‘That’s—that’s Dr. Raman,’ he said, astonished. ‘Dr. Shekhar Raman—the inventor of the Captura!’
‘Very good!’ the elderly man exclaimed. ‘Now you know our ancestry. That is my great-great-grandfather!’