(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
The sound of the gunshot wasn’t even loud. It didn’t feel satisfying to be taken out by a silenced shot. Ravi felt the world fading from his eyes. The deathly smell was growing stronger by the second. Someone fell to the floor beside him. He knew he would follow soon. The pain wasn’t very bad, though, and he was grateful. Another person fell to their fate.
Wait, there is no pain!
His vision returned. It had only been his mind playing tricks; showing him what he’d expected to see.
The people fallen on the road were the agents, he realised.
But his thoughts were interrupted as a figure in red dashed past him — Madhu. She was heading in the direction of the helicopter.
He looked that way and noticed the bag with the Captura lying on the road. The agent who’d been carrying it to the helicopter was also passed out.
Ravi turned to look at Subro, only to find the painter reciprocate. With wide eyes and curt nods alone, they communicated their intentions and arrived at an agreement. Then, within a second and without a sound, both were on their feet, and they ran to the bag.
Ravi reached it first, falling to his knees again, beside it. Hands still tied, he caught the head of the zipper with his teeth and pulled urgently at it.
When Subro arrived, he too brought his face down close to Ravi’s, and bit at the end of the bag to pull it the other way. Like wild dogs fighting over their catch, they got the bag open.
Then, with some nudging and shoving, using their knees, they had the Captura out. Now, the problem was to get the device on its stand. How would they achieve that without using their hands?
Meanwhile, Madhu had reached the helicopter, where Ms. Dixit was just beginning to board. Madhu approached from the side and head-butted the woman with all her might, throwing Ms. Dixit to the road, on to her backside.
Uncle Silver arrived where the boys were. ‘Let’s lift it up together,’ he told Ravi.
The two of them sandwiched the Captura from either side, with their shoulders, and in this way they picked the device up from the road.
The wired switch of the device dangled below. Ravi kicked at it with one knee and tried to catch it with his mouth. On the third try, he was successful.
As he caught the switch between his teeth, the Captura took an unnecessary shot. But with the multi-plate implementation, it wasn’t much of a problem. The new plate loaded instantly, and they moved forward.
By this time, Subro had ducked under the curtain at the device’s rear, and he began to shout instructions to the other two: ‘Get closer! More! Damn it; can’t zoom in without hands. Come on! Closer, closer! Ok, to the left, to the left! A little closer! Now, hold still. Ravi, take a shot!’
Ravi bit at the switch and heard the plates roll. Then, he realised what the subject of the shot had been.
Ms. Dixit was up on her feet again and had drawn up a revolver. She was pointing it straight at Madhu.
‘STUPID GIRL!’ Ms. Dixit screamed, shaking the gun threateningly. ‘What did you hope to achieve? What did any of you hope to achieve? Why can’t you just accept your fates? Wasting my time with such pointless struggles!’
Madhu stood silent, possibly calculating her options: her hands were still tied behind her; she was at gunpoint, but Ms. Dixit was the only one left to deal with; the agents were all passed out.
‘I’ve had quite enough,’ Ms. Dixit grunted. ‘Now, you will pay the price, bitch!’
Madhu had ducked sideways even as Ms. Dixit had been speaking, and the woman fired her gun just a fraction of a second later.
Madhu’s movement was as graceful as ever, her body arching away to her left side to avoid the shot. In that same move, she raised her right leg high and struck at Ms. Dixit’s extended hand, causing the gun to fly a good twenty metres. But Madhu didn’t pause there. Using the momentum of her kick to spin herself around, her other leg swung forward with an even more powerful kick.
Her heel made contact with Ms. Dixit’s skull. The force of it spun the woman around and threw her aside. She tried to balance, but her high-heels made it extra difficult — one leg twisting at a painful angle, she went down screaming in agony.
Madhu said condescendingly to her, ‘Of all people, I thought you would be the last to underestimate a girl!’
There were only groans in response.
Ravi was almost surprised he didn’t feel sorry for the woman. He found himself more worried about whether he’d bitten at the switch of the Captura at the right moments. He hoped the shots would come out decent, given the conditions in which they were taken.
His thoughts were cut short by Madhu again, as she ran back. ‘Anurag!’ she called out.
Ravi realised that the boy had been missing in all this action. Looking back, he found Anurag still at the place where they’d been kneeling. He didn’t look too well, trying to clutch at his side.
Madhu reached him and crouched down by his side. She said something to him and he nodded. Then, she helped him rise, supporting him on his weaker side. Hands still behind their backs, they walked slowly towards the others.
In the meantime, Uncle Silver urged Ravi and Subro on. ‘Let’s load the device and plans in the chopper,’ he said.
‘The truck will take too long; we’re bound to run into reinforcements. The chopper will be quicker. We’re hijacking it.’
‘Can you pilot it?’
‘It will be a dream come true,’ he laughed.
Ravi and Uncle Silver walked to the helicopter, the Captura still sandwiched between them. Subro took care of the bag with Dr. Raman’s notes, putting one leg through its strap and dragging it along. Madhu and Anurag arrived last.
It was then that Ravi spoke his mind: ‘All right, just one thing. There’s a change of plans. We’re no longer skipping town.’
‘What do you have in mind?’
He didn’t answer immediately. Once everything was loaded, and everyone’s hands were untied and they were all seated, he finally said, ‘Next stop, Phantasy Publishing.’
Nobody said much as the helicopter took off and headed back towards the city.
It was still before working hours when the group landed on the roof of the company building. Their arrival wasn’t awaited — so far, so good. Ms. Dixit had told them about her agents being positioned at the edges of the city. It would take them some time to return by road, and that is if they if they did consider that their enemies would head for the Company headquarters.
As soon as he could, Ravi made for the secret room in the basement and got straight to work. He pulled some papers before him, had Subro bring him all the InstaCopies they’d taken and began to scribble down notes in a hurry.
The others let him work in peace, settling in the farthest corner of the room, where Madhu tended to Anurag’s wound. Thankfully, the damage didn’t seem to be anything too serious.
They spoke in whispers, though Ravi was too focused in his work to be distracted. There was only one point in their conversation, when his attention was diverted, although he didn’t turn his head to show interest.
‘So, I’ve been wondering,’ said Subro, ‘What was up with the agents passing out in unison? That felt so random!’
‘That was close,’ Madhu answered him with the hint of a shudder. ‘It was a colourless sleeping gas, quite potent, with immediate effect. I had a secret canister on my waist, but getting to it was difficult with the restraints. On top of that, I couldn’t let them know what I was up to, so I tried to act like I was putting up a fight. It almost didn’t work. Thank god that one shot didn’t hit anyone!’
Subro considered the answer for a moment, then asked the follow-up that Ravi himself would have, had the painter waited any longer. ‘Potent sleeping gas? Why didn’t it affect us, then? I guess Dixit was out of range, but we were right there!’
Uncle Silver laughed at that. ‘I put the antidote in our morning tea! Forgot to tell you, I guess.’
A while later, Ravi wrapped up his writing. He laid some of the InstaCopies beside certain notes, then shuffled things around for a bit, taking some InstaCopies out and putting others in their place. Then, he looked at the whole again. Finally, he was satisfied.
‘I’m done,’ he announced.
The others joined him to see what he’d created, Anurag looking much better now. Glancing down at the pages on the floor, they saw that Ravi had come up with a short article, which had InstaCopies serving as illustrations:
SIGHTINGS OF TERRIFYING DEMONS
I admit the above title is trying too hard, but I promise you, this piece deserves all the attention it can get. Please bear with me, and I will show you proof that there are dangerous beings living amongst us.
These creatures are in our city, hidden in plain sight, and very capable of causing harm. It is my belief that we should all be aware of them and of the powers they hold, so that we are prepared to take action. Otherwise, I fear that it may soon be too late to do anything.
The proof I present here has been obtained by myself and my partner, though we do not name ourselves, yet. Our anonymity is solely due to the fact that the means of getting this evidence wasn’t exactly lawful. Still, I give you my word that our intentions are purely for the betterment of our world. In fact, it is my hope that the law will be updated to allow for more of such revelations in the future, empowering the people — you — to be aware of such monsters, before they come for you.
Without further ado, let me show you what we have been able to gather up about these devils.
After the introduction, a number of InstaCopies followed, with captions under each. The first was a family portrait of Madhu, Anurag and Uncle Silver. They’d taken this one last evening. A blue halo hung slightly above Anurag’s head. The caption read:
For our findings, we focused on this family. These are the descendants of the inventor of the Captura — the device that enabled us to record the images, called InstaCopies, which you here see. Do not miss the halo in the image.
The next one was from when they were being chased by the one bike. The man at the back was standing up and pointing his gun straight at the viewer. A translucent silvery shape was coiling around his arm like a snake.
And these are the people who were chasing the family, their objective being to get the Captura, no matter the consequences. Notice the wispy snake!
More images of the battle that had ensued, followed: the cousins taking cover from gunshots; agents climbing in to the truck; agents fighting aggressively against the cousins; the helicopter arriving; and so on. Under each image, Ravi had described the scene and especially pointed out what the ghosts in them were up to.
The second-last InstaCopy was of Ms. Dixit pointing a gun at Madhu. There were four ghosts in the image, all of them huddled between Madhu and the gun, almost as if trying to protect her. Ravi’s writing read:
Enough with my explanations. Let me now ask you, do you see the demons in these images? The ones we should be really scared of? Are they the random gassy masses, floating about everywhere? Or are they the people tormenting a family for generations, prepared to kill for their cause?
The next picture showed Madhu kicking the gun from Ms. Dixit’s hand, and underneath it was written:
I hope that you’ve come to the same conclusion that we have. And I hope that you will help us bring down these demons in our society. Yesterday, they were after the family; today, they will be after us; and tomorrow, they could come for you. I implore you, let us put a stop to this Company, before it is too late.
Anurag was the first to speak. ‘Wow, this is brilliant! Using images and text together; it’s a ground-breaking concept! And the way you’ve structured it — it’s perfect! You’re a true genius, Ravi!’
‘Why, thank you!’
‘Hmm, I agree,’ Uncle Silver joined in. ‘You’ve tackled two problems in one go. How clever! And let’s not forget, Subro, the way you’ve framed these shots contribute greatly to the impact of the article. Hmm, yes, my great-great-grandfather would have been proud. Thank you, both of you!’
‘Really?’ Subro blushed. ‘Thank you! Your words mean the world to me!’
‘You are too kind, Uncle,’ said Ravi.
‘I for one am especially fond of this last InstaCopy!’ This was Madhu. ‘Love the way my ankles are in focus, kicking away that gun! Just the way I want girls portrayed in art!’
‘Again with that!’ Subro groaned mockingly ‘But, I’m glad you like it!’
As the kids laughed, though, Uncle Silver seemed a little distracted. He bent down and picked up an InstaCopy from the discarded pile, then another, and one more.
‘Your article paints these ghosts a positive image,’ he noted, ‘But these ones are a little disconcerting.’
He showed the InstaCopies that had caught his eye to the others. Unlike the ones in the article, a lot of them had the ghosts acting less passive or even looking ominous. One of them contained a wisp grinning maliciously, another had a figure trying to choke Madhu, and one had a spirit threateningly pointing a claw straight at the viewer.
The eerie silence was only broken by a question from Uncle Silver, ‘Are you sure, you’re making the correct choice here?’
‘Priorities, uncle,’ Ravi answered softly. ‘Right now, getting the Company checked is more important, and that means the world needs to perceive the Company as the bigger threat. Once they are dealt with, I promise you, I will concentrate on this.’
‘Good. But don’t wait on it too long. It could turn out for the worse.’
‘So now, what’s the next course of action?’
‘Right, we don’t have much time,’ Ravi said urgently. ‘The agents could be here any minute, and then this would all have been for nothing! Before that, we’ve got to get to the printer and get copies of my article made. After that, we get the hell out of this accursed place and spread the story around.’
‘Let’s hurry then,’ Subro said. ‘The printing machine is eight floors above us!’
‘All right,’ Uncle Silver said. ‘Let us help you too.’
‘Okay, come along then.’
Ravi wrapped up his draft while the others collected the bags. Then the five of them headed out of the room hurriedly.
But just as they were at the door, Subro paused like something bothered him. The others went on ahead.
Finally, he mused aloud, ‘That’s weird… Why isn’t there a “Next Chapter” below? Is the story over? No, no, of course not. I guess it’s one of those things then, where the next time you read about us, some three months will have passed. Well, at least this means I’ll get to say something I’ve always wanted to!’
He turned back and ran to catch up with the others, as he announced: ‘To be continued…’