(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
After another long workday, Ravi and Subro headed out in secret at night. They had waited until all the employees had left, to take the ice-cream cart outside, unseen. Madhu had asked them to get the Captura along, so her uncle would have a better idea of what the special plates were for.
Of course, Ravi didn’t like this course of action 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 more carefree, leading the way almost at a jog.
At length, they arrived at the meeting spot – a medium-sized dhaba in a pretty nondescript part of town. The streets were mostly empty and though it wasn’t very late, the lights in the residential building 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 later, Ravi felt the cart slide away behind him. He tried to balance, but the way he’d been supporting himself caused him to fall to the street. The cart continued moving, and as Ravi raised his head, he saw a man in dark clothes make off with it.
‘Hey! WHAT THE HELL?’ Ravi found himself yelling. ‘Wait! WAIT!’
Subro arrived within seconds, as Ravi was still struggling to get up. Observing the scene, the painter remarked, ‘What in the world did you do your PhD in? Getting robbed?’
‘I DON’T WANT TO HEAR THAT FROM YOU!’ Ravi barked back, and then ran in the direction of the cart. Subro followed close behind.
Before they got very far, though, Ravi felt something suddenly tug at his collar. The pull was enough to make him tumble backwards, and he collided against Subro as both of them fell to the ground, Ravi for the second time in a minute.
At first, he thought it was the painter who’d pulled him, but as he reached for the back of his collar, Ravi found not a hand, but a hook pulling at it. He got the hook off of his collar and found that it was attached to a cord, tracing back to a figure behind them. Another cord led from Subro’s collar as well. Both ended in 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. But don’t worry, the Captura is safe with us.’
‘I KNEW IT!’ Ravi banged his fist on the road. ‘I knew it was a trap! I’m so stupid for letting you trick us!’
‘Yes, it’s a trick,’ Madhu said calmly, as she pressed a button on her arm-mounted device. With a whirr, the cords went coiling back inside it. ‘But not for you, for them.’ She pointed in the distance at the rooftops.
Ravi turned that way and he noticed two more dark-clothed figures jumping roof to roof hurriedly, chasing the one who’d made away with the cart. These two were dressed like the masked man Ravi and Subro had met in the basement of Fantasy Publishing.
‘Trust me, I’m not your enemy,’ Madhu went on. ‘We just needed to lose those guys. They’ve been watching you all this while. The Captura is safe; you’ll see it again. Come with me.’
‘Why? 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 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 about four blocks away, often slipping through dark alleyways people would normally avoid at this hour. They rushed on without a word, making as little sound as possible, as if through an unspoken agreement.
Soon, they reached a market street, the shops 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 inside, and then the shutters rose up a foot.
‘Follow me,’ said Madhu as she bent down, lay flat on the ground, then rolled under the metal, to the other side.
Ravi looked at Subro and the painter shrugged, before copying what Madhu had just done. Ravi sighed, and then he too followed suit.
The inside of the shop was almost entirely dark, save for one small nightlight. As Ravi got up, he noticed that all the windows were 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 huge machines.
Then the shutters went back down, and the light from outside was cut off as well, leaving only the dim nightlight
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 in multiple places.
‘Please feel at home, boys,’ the man chuckled at Ravi and Subro.
‘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 beamed, ‘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,’ the uncle said, ‘No surprise on the Company’s part there. It is just like them to stoop to such blackmail.’
Something about the portrait bothered Ravi, and 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 didn’t confirm or deny the claim.
‘That’s — that’s Dr. Raman,’ he said, astonished. ‘Dr. Shekhar Raman. The inventor of the Captura!’
‘Very good!’ the uncle exclaimed. ‘Now you know our ancestry. That is my great-great-grandfather!’