(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
The ceasefire ended as suddenly as it had started. The stillness inside the trailer gave way to fighting as the agents engaged the cousins once more.
The bikes outside were also getting closer. Soon, a third agent jumped in from the right, getting his arms and one leg over the top of the side panel.
‘Hold tight!’ Uncle Silver’s voice came from the cabin. ‘I’m going to try something!’
The truck swerved; first left, then right, then left again.
Uncle Silver’s trick put a pause to the fighting. Everyone held on to the sides to prevent from being tossed about. The man who had been climbing lost his balance and fell, but unfortunately, he fell inside. Uncle Silver continued the swerving to deter others from following in.
Ravi readied the umbrella in one hand. He had to be prepared to strike at an agent the moment there was an opportunity to move. Madhu and Anurag could only take care of so many.
But it was futile. Above them, he noticed a rope-ladder descending from the helicopter. Three agents were climbing down it. One by one, the men jumped into the trailer. With that, they vastly outnumbered the resistance, at least in terms of skill.
Ravi swung the umbrella at an agent, but the man almost lazily deflected it with one hand. The man’s other fist got Ravi in the chest, putting the fight out of him. Subro was dealt with just as easily, picked up from behind the Captura and incapacitated.
Then, all six of the men focused on the cousins. Anurag was first to go down, screaming as he clutched at his left side. Madhu followed him before long.
After that, an agent put his head and an arm through the cabin’s rear window, grabbing Uncle Silver’s collar. He ordered the old man to pull the truck to the side.
Five minutes later Ravi, Subro, Madhu, Anurag and Uncle Silver were all kneeling down by the side of the road, hands tied behind their backs. Ms. Dixit paced in front of them.
‘All that trouble, for nothing!’ she laughed. ‘Your tricks are growing old. There used to be an element of surprise about your family. Now you’re almost… predictable! Can you guess how we sniffed you out? Any of you?’
Nobody answered her. All of them were looking down, resentful in their failure.
‘No, I expected as much,’ she went on. ‘We wouldn’t be here if you did. Let me tell you, then. It’s because you lot always run! At the first sign of danger, what have you always done? Gathered your things and disappeared! Another town, another life; over and over and over!
‘After yesterday’s events, I had my men keep watch on all the city exits. You move, we come for you. That was the plan. And I must admit, I almost expected it not to work. Surely, you would pull something new this time? I was even a little eager to see what. But I guess I overestimated. Running is all you know! Disappointing!’
One of the agents brought the Captura to her. Laying it down beside her, he said, ‘The device looks undamaged, ma’am. Some new multiple-plate mechanism has been fixed on. All the InstaCopies they shot today are in here.’
‘Good! Very good! New mechanisms and stuff; how exciting! Thank you, Selvarajan. This kind of makes up for your lacklustre performance today. Now, did you also carry the plans? Please, tell me you did.’
‘They’re here, ma’am,’ a voice called out from the truck.
‘Fantastic! What a great day it is! And the looks on your faces? They’re the icing on the cake!’
Ravi heard some movement and turned to see Madhu try to get up. An agent behind her immediately caught her by the shoulder, forcing her back down. With the other hand, he pulled out a gun and pressed it against the back of her head.
‘Don’t move!’ he ordered.
‘Stupid girl,’ Ms. Dixit laughed, ‘Do you have a death wish? I’ll grant it, if you’re so eager!’
Ravi looked at the others. Anurag seemed distracted by the pain in his side; he was arching his body that way and grimacing. Subro was shivering with fright; no surprise there. Uncle Silver was dejectedly looking at the road. All the while, Madhu continued to struggle, despite being at gunpoint. That troubled Ravi.
‘What—what do you intend to do?’ he spoke up, if nothing else, just to distract them. To delay them. ‘With the Captura, with the plans, what do you hope to gain? You had it gathering dust, in some secluded room for so long. Why are you so eager to have it back?’
Ms. Dixit smiled at him. ‘Oh, Ravi, Ravi, Ravi. I had such hopes for you. You seemed so interesting. Did you have to join the other side?’
‘The other side doesn’t have murderers,’ Ravi chanced, meeting her eyes with a glare.
‘Murderers? Is that what they told you? That’s harsh.’
Madhu struggled some more. Uncle Silver spat on the road.
‘Not all killings are murders, Ravi,’ Ms. Dixit continued, ignoring the reactions. ‘Soldiers kill enemies; are they murderers? The police gun down evil-doers; are they murderers? No. Sometimes you need to kill, Ravi. For the greater good. Wouldn’t you agree?’
‘I’m sure every murderer has twisted justifications like that to tell themselves. But what your Company has done has nothing to do with the greater good. You people coveted something and you killed those who kept you from having it! That’s cold-blooded!’
‘Ah, but you don’t see the entire picture! We want that object, the Captura, for the good of the world, Ravi. With the power of that device, we can eliminate so much misery in the world. Wars can be averted, thievery can be dissuaded, murders can be put to an end.’
‘But for years, decades, these people have denied it to us, just because they can as the inventors! Shouldn’t denying a good cause be considered a crime? They’re the criminals, Ravi! Criminals who stop us from doing good. Tell me, is it so wrong to snatch it from them, whatever it takes, if that means we can build a better world?’
Ravi didn’t know how to reply to that. He looked at Madhu and her family. None of them met his gaze.
‘What are you talking about? How does the Captura help with something like that?’ he asked.
‘Good question! I see this is beginning to interest you. Tell me, are you afraid of ghosts?’
‘Ghosts, do the frighten you?’
‘Umm, maybe… I mean, I’m not sure they exist, but as a child I used to be afraid, a little.’
‘Yes, good, was it because of the stories you read or heard?’
‘I guess… What is the point of this?’
‘The point is, Ravi, people are afraid of ghosts. More so than they care to let on. Phantasy Publishing itself is famous for thousands of ghost stories, which have been encouraging this fear for some years now.
‘And I’m willing to bet, you’re lying when you say that you were only a little scared as a child. You’ve probably almost wet your pants at some point. Maybe at a sudden sound in the house when no one else was home, or at the feeling of someone following you when you were walking alone at dark. Everyone is mortally afraid of ghosts!’
‘Okay, so what?’
‘Well, don’t you see it? The Captura shows us these ghosts! Figures that we can’t normally see, but are seen around us in InstaCopies. Eyes, teeth, claws. Dr. Shekhar Raman himself said that these figures actually exist, but are invisible to the human eye. Ghosts are real, Ravi. And people are afraid of them. Do you see where I’m going?’
‘Not—not really. What has this got to do with the better world you were talking about?’
‘Everything!’ Ms. Dixit’s eyes were wide with excitement. ‘This device lets us see ghosts. Imagine that with some development of the technology, especially with Dr. Raman’s notes, we could find a way to communicate with these ghosts, negotiate with them, and get them on our side! They would give us the power to build the world we desire.’
‘What? That’s also a lot of wishful thinking. Even if the technology develops enough, and that’s not a small challenge, you’re assuming that the ghosts will just work with you. How do you know for sure?’
‘If they don’t comply, we will find ways to make them comply!’
‘So they don’t get a vote either?’
‘It’s all for the greater good, Ravi. Why can’t you see it? With the ghosts behind us, people will fear us. They won’t dare go against our authority, not when that means facing their darkest fears. Do you see it now? We will be able to shape the world, just the way we want it! A world with no crime; a world of peace; a world much better than the one we have now!’
‘That’s not for the greater good of the world. It’s only for the greater good of your Company. You wish to establish a dictatorship, with you at the top!’
‘A dictatorship, yes, but a good one. A peaceful dictatorship, if you will.’
‘There is no such thing. There can never be.’
‘Then, I’m afraid, this chat is over. I’m disappointed in you, Ravi. If you’re not with us, we can do away with you. You will join the others.’
She began to walk back to the helicopter. ‘Take care of them,’ she announced to her men, ‘Bring the device and the notes, when you’re done.’
A strange silence followed. Some of the agents quietly moved and positioned themselves before the captives. They aimed their guns like a firing squad. One man had his fist up in the military gesture for waiting.
Any moment now, that fist would go down, and the guns would do their job.
Time slowed down for Ravi. He had heard that one’s life flashes before the eyes when one is faced with certain death. But all he felt was empty; his body limp, and his mind a silent spectator. He knew there was nothing he could do. Whether he ran, or struggled, or crouched, or begged, or did nothing at all, the outcome would be the same. He chose the last option.
Madhu didn’t. He could hear her still struggling, even as he literally smelt death in the air. He could see that her struggles only urged the men to hurry up. Which was okay. The quicker the better, he thought.
The lead agent’s fist dropped.