(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
They were up at five in the morning, eyes just barely open. To add to that, the air was chilly, the kind that makes one want to dive back into bed and pull the blankets up all the way. But that wasn’t an option. Not for them. They needed to be away as soon as possible.
Madhu and Anurag were bustling about, packing the essentials and getting them out through the backdoor. Meanwhile Uncle Silver prepared tea.
Ravi and Subro were the only idle ones in the shuttered shop. It would be too risky and time-consuming for the boys to get their stuff from halfway across town, and there was no saying if Subro would even give back Ravi’s stolen luggage. But it wasn’t just that, either. The family was well-prepared for an emergency like this. Any help they could offer would only slow things down.
On their own, it took the cousins under fifteen minutes to wrap up, by which time the tea was also ready. The five of them gulped their cups down—as fast as they could without burning their throats—and then they were off.
It was Ravi’s first time in a motor vehicle, though he felt more on it sitting in the open trailer of Uncle Silver’s mini-truck. The type of automobile made sense for a repair-shop owner, but Ravi suspected a good reason for owning it was also the purpose it was serving today—a getaway vehicle.
Subro and Anurag were with him in the trailer, as was all the luggage. Uncle Silver and Madhu sat in the front cabin; him driving. A window at the back of the cabin allowed the two sides to communicate.
The journey had been going smoothly for the most part. The streets were deserted at this hour, and the truck cruised through at speed. In under thirty minutes, they were very nearly on the highway.
That was when things started to look bad.
A motorbike pulled up behind them from a side lane. Both men aboard wore black helmets, but the rest of their attire gave them away—agents of the Company.
‘Ravi! Hold on to the Captura!’ Anurag said urgently, pointing to one of the bags as he prepared for what was to come. ‘We have company,’ he announced for the benefit of Uncle Silver and Madhu. ‘Step on the accelerator, Papa!’
Ravi did as he was told, gripping the bag firmly in both hands. He felt the truck gain speed, but perhaps a little too late.
The agent who was riding pillion stood up, pulling out a small canister from his utility belt. He removed the pin at the top, and expertly flung the canister at the truck. It landed in the trailer with three loud clunks.
Subro ducked in one corner, shivering with fright, but somehow Ravi knew the canister wouldn’t be of an exploding variety. The Company wouldn’t risk damaging the Captura, would they?
Sure enough, it began spewing smoke all about. Anurag ran to the smoke-bomb and kicked it out of the vehicle.
Before the clouds could clear, the second attack came in the form of a three-fanged, metal claw that latched onto the bag Ravi was holding. Much like the device Madhu had used on them last evening, the claw was trailed by a thick cord that began tugging back as soon as its target was acquired.
Ravi felt the bag slipping from his grasp. He tried to hold on, but the pull was so strong, he couldn’t get his feet to stay rooted. He was forced to the very end of the trailer. Before he knew it, he hurtled over the foot-long back panel. The road was a speeding blur as he faced it. Instincts getting the better of him, his hands let go of the bag to support himself. Half outside the vehicle, upside down, he cursed at himself. Why do I keep getting robbed?
Meanwhile, the smoke had thinned in the trailer. Ravi climbed back to safety, meeting Anurag’s eyes, embarrassed. He managed a soft ‘Sorry…’
‘No worries,’ Anurag smiled back unexpectedly. ‘That bag was a decoy.’
Ravi half-opened his mouth, then spun his head back. When the bike emerged through the smoke-cloud, he saw that the bag had been unzipped. Nuts and bolts were spilling out from it onto the road. The agents dumped the bag aside and the bike roared ferociously, as they renewed their chase with doubled fury.
‘Need help, Madhu!’ Anurag called out. Then to Ravi he said, ‘The real bag’s with her. Maybe it’s time for you to get to work?’
Madhu joined them within moments, crawling effortlessly out from the cabin’s rear-window, bringing the actual Captura bag with her. Just as easily, the bike gained on them.
Ravi hurriedly accepted the bag from Madhu and retrieved the device from it. Setting it up, he ducked under the curtain at the back and looked through the lens. He focused it at the agents, and a chill went down his spine.
The man riding pillion had stood up again. In his hand was an unmistakable revolver. As the man pointed the weapon toward them, Ravi clicked his first shot. Instantly, a new plate auto-loaded in the Captura. Uncle Silver’s modification would allow a roll of multiple plates to cycle this way, saving precious time.
Just then, the gun fired, its sound muffled by a silencer.
The bullet struck metal even as Ravi’s view was blocked by something. He adjusted the Captura’s lens, zooming out to find that the back and side panels of the truck were now four-times their original height. Anurag let go of the lever that had allowed this life-saving alteration.
Ravi took a shot of the cousins crouching behind the back panel. But as the next plate loaded, he knew his framing had been off. He ducked away from the device and looked about for Subro. The painter was still cowering in one corner.
‘Get up, scaredy-cat!’ Ravi barked. ‘Help me out here. You’re more skilled at this, aren’t you? I’m no good with all this movement!’
Unwillingly, the painter raised his head. But he stayed put.
‘Besides, they won’t want to damage the device, so you’ll be safest,’ Ravi added, rolling his eyes at having to be manipulative.
At that, Subro acted quickly, covering the distance as fast as he could on all fours. He almost shoved Ravi away to get behind the device.
Ravi resisted the urge to swear. ‘Take a shot of the cousins taking cover,’ he instructed instead.
Meanwhile, judging from its sound, the bike was closer now, approaching from the left.
They saw an agent’s head rise above the side panel in that direction. The man took off his helmet and threw it away, his face still hidden behind cloth. He adjusted himself a little, balancing as he was on the seat of the bike. Then, in one swift move, the man somersaulted into the trailer, landing with a fighting stance at the ready.
Madhu and Anurag took him on.
‘Got that?’ Ravi asked Subro.
‘Yeah! Now one of them fighting—damn, too slow—umm, umm, okay got it!’
While the agent inside kept the cousins occupied, the one outside also attempted to get in. His gloved hands appeared, gripping the top of the truck’s left panel. A loud crash sounded—the man had abandoned his bike to join in on the action.
Ravi saw a chance. He moved to claw at the newcomer’s hands, hoping to upset the man’s grip. Before he could make contact, though, he was met with a kick to the side from the other agent. He fell back to near Subro’s feet.
‘Don’t try to take them on,’ Anurag called out mid-fight. ‘You’re. Not. Experienced,’ he added, punctuating his words with his strikes.
‘Grab something with a longer reach,’ Madhu suggested as she turned to deal with the agent climbing in.
Ravi got up, looking about. He caught sight of Subro’s umbrella. Picking it up, he swung the thing about himself a few times, getting a feel for it.
For the moment, he simply watched the cousins battling the agents. At times, he directed Subro to switch focus between the two fights. Both contests were so equally matched, they seemed almost choreographed. Neither side looked able to overpower the other.
Anurag’s style was akin to boxing; defensive postures for the most part, coupled with powerful strikes at the slightest lapses by his opponent. Madhu’s was more fluid; she twisted around to dodge and often spun to deliver kicks. The agents adapted equally well against both styles, even when they swapped opponents.
Ravi guessed that this was a game of stamina. The first side to tire out would lose.
Except, the agents suddenly seemed to give up. One of them backed away and then the other followed suit. They had their open palms raised before them, as if calling for a time-out, then crouched down at one side of the trailer.
Ravi couldn’t believe it. Did people take breaks in real fights? He found it ridiculous. But he also saw an opportunity. He could strike them now. He raised the umbrella in his hand and approached the closest agent.
However, Anurag caught him by the collar and pulled him down to the floor.
‘Why?’ Ravi asked, bewildered. Was Anurag willing to show respect to the people who deserved none?
‘Keep quiet,’ Anurag whispered. ‘We’re approaching a toll-booth. Neither side can afford the authorities to sniff up trouble. That’s a sure-shot way of losing the Captura.’
‘It’s ceasefire for now. Stay low.’
The vehicle slowed to a halt. Everybody inside the trailer was crouching down, deathly still. A while later, the truck started on its way again.
Ravi kept his eyes on the agents the whole time. The look in their eyes worried him. They were definitely smiling smugly underneath the masks.
He found out why in a minute.
The sound of another bike broke the tense silence. The noise only got louder as there seemed to be a second bike. The sound continued to grow! Were there four bikes? Six? Nine? A dozen? Somewhere close to that, defintely.
The cousins had been kept thoroughly occupied by two agents; how would they cope with any more? Ravi had no answer to that, and when Madhu and Anurag glanced at each other, they looked just as helpless.
As if that weren’t enough, another rough sound came to their attention, growing louder until it drowned out the others. This one was characterised by rapid successive bursts.
Ravi looked up to find a helicopter approaching. When it drew closer, he thought he saw Ms. Dixit among the passengers.