(Book 2: Hello, Can You Fear Me?)
‘Huh?’ Subro stared funnily at Sharmila. ‘I have an ability?’
She answered him patiently. ‘How many times do you feel like you know things, but you can’t explain how, and people around you do not understand what you are talking about?’
‘I — I — what?’ Subro was clearly having trouble making sense of it.
Ravi thought about it too. He remembered how readily Subro had spun around to take InstaCopies of the audience a little while back, before Ravi had even finished instructing him. He thought about how the painter regularly cracked jokes that made no sense to anyone else.
‘That happens quite often, actually,’ Ravi admitted.
‘I’m sure,’ said Sharmila, without taking her eyes off Subro. ‘Those are instances when you use the ability. But because you haven’t had any training, you’ve not honed the skill at all. You put it to ridiculous uses.’
‘Fourth wall breaks aren’t ridiculous,’ Subro complained. ‘Ridiculously awesome, maybe, but—’
‘Maybe,’ Sharmila cut him. ‘On the other hand, you haven’t realised who I am yet, so there’s that.’
‘What? Why? Who are you?’
‘Why don’t you figure it out yourself?’ she challenged him.
‘What was your name? Sharmila?’ He thought for a bit. ‘Sharmila… Shar… mila… Shar… Sharu… Shoru… Shoru? Is it you?’
‘Yes, good!’ she exclaimed.
‘You know her?’ Ravi asked Subro.
‘Wow! Yeah, yeah, she’s my cousin. Knew her by nickname only. Haven’t seen her in a decade!’ He turned to Sharmila. ‘So then, your brother would be… Motu?’
Sharmila actually smiled. ‘His good name is Abhijit. He’s no longer chubby, after all.’
‘Ohh, guess you two should interchange your nicknames then. He’s shoru and you’re motu now!’
Anurag wasn’t pleased with the sudden friendliness. ‘Great,’ he scoffed. ‘Engaging in vernacular humour with the enemy, are we?’
‘Come on, man!’ Subro groaned. ‘This is my cousin-sister! She’s not our enemy!’
‘Just “cousin” would be fine,’ Ravi lectured, but no one heard him.
‘If you’d seen what her brother did to us,’ said Anurag, ‘you wouldn’t be so sure!’
‘Hey, he destroyed the Captura!’ Subro argued ‘No one’s as pissed at him as me! Frankly, I’ve never really liked him, even as a kid. Him, it’s okay to hate, but Sharmila, we can trust, okay?’
‘No, not okay. This doesn’t sound like a smart idea. At all.’
‘Why not?’ Sharmila asked, ‘Did you not see my brother blast me with the same lightning he attacked you with? Didn’t you see the look on his face as he threatened me? He has become obsessed with uplifting our family name, at whatever cost. He thinks I’m a disgrace for not doing the same. All I want is to find him and talk some sense into him. Trust me, we’re on the same side.’
‘She’s telling the truth,’ said Subro, ‘I believe her. My, umm, intuition tells me so! Let’s drop this argument, okay?’
Anurag sighed, but he didn’t press on.
After another period of silence, Madhu chose to ask, ‘So, let’s say you’ve convinced us to go after your brother, the question is, where? How do we find him?’
Sharmila seemed to lose some of her confidence. ‘Of that, I am sorry to say, I have no clue. It took me weeks just to find him here after he disappeared from home. When you people took credit for the article exposing the Company, I expected him to come after you, so I decided to get close and wait.’
Suddenly, her eyes shot to Ravi’s shoes. ‘I had no idea how to get myself across. I didn’t know if I could trust you. One wrong word could get me on your bad side. So I kept mum. Thankfully, Subro arrived, and his intuition helped me through.’
She smiled a little but it faded as quickly as it had come. ‘It was all for nothing, though. I was completely useless today. I couldn’t stop Dada or get him to come back. Who knows where he is now. It’ll be a wonder if we can find him before he does whatever it is he’s planning.’
‘I hate to brag,’ began Subro, ‘but I may be the “wonder” you’re looking for!’
‘What?’ said Sharmila, skewing her brows.
‘You said I possess the same intuition ability as Motu — umm, as Abhijit — didn’t you?’
‘The same ability, yes, but nowhere close to his level. You have no control over it, do you? And you won’t have it anytime soon either. If only you hadn’t run away from your family, you would have been trained properly too.’
‘Yeah, there’s no way I wouldn’t have run away from that authoritarian place. But this is not about me trying to find him. I think I have an idea about where he’s going.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘While I was knocked out just now, I had a crazy dream, a horrible nightmare. It didn’t make much sense then, but after hearing what you said, what you all said, I feel like it was a sort of premonition.’
‘That,’ Sharmila said, ‘that’s possible! You’re not actively skilled, but your subconscious mind has been using this ability for a long time. It could have shown you something important! What did you see?!’
‘Well, it was very dreamy and confusing and all that; not clear in the least. But I saw a man. Didn’t recognise him then, but it had to have been him — Abhijit!’
‘Okay, what else?’
‘Umm, he had a weird instrument with him. I guess it was the Echorder?’
‘What?!’ Uncle Silver blurted. ‘Describe it!’
‘Umm, there was this trumpet sort of thing on one end, and umm, this grill sort of thing in a box shape, supported on a stand? And between them, there was this round plate, like a disc, and it was rotating.’
‘That’s it!!’ Uncle Silver exclaimed, almost shouting. ‘That’s the Echorder! Amazing how you could dream of it when you’ve never looked upon it before.’
‘So you saw a vision of Dada with the Echorder, before he actually made away with it,’ Sharmila noted. ‘That’s definitely a premonition, something he was yet to do. Could you make out anything about the location?’
Subro thought for a bit. ‘Again, it was really hazy, but I think — I think it was some sort of a temple.’
‘Okay, hmm, no. There are hundreds of temples in the city, not to mention thousands in the country. We need something more specific. Think! There must’ve been something else! Did you see which God was being worshipped? That could bring down the number…’
‘No, but there were large bells, a lot of them, hanging from the ceiling. Does that help?’
‘That’s every temple, ever! Anything else you could see about the place? Anything at all?
‘Umm, I don’t know, I think I’m forgetting the details…’
‘What about your other senses? Did you smell anything, or hear, or feel anything else?’
‘Hmm, yes! There was chanting. Like a chorus of many voices, only, there was no one else present. It was soft at first, then it kept getting louder, until it was all I could hear! And your brother, Abhijit, he just sat there on the floor, motionless.’
‘Disembodied voices?’ Sharmila asked, mostly to herself. ‘Could be the sound of the ghosts through the Echorder… What happened then? You said it was a nightmare?’
‘Yes it was! I was watching him from the shadows and I thought I was well hidden, but then the chanting stopped abruptly and he opened his eyes. He looked straight at me. His eyes — they weren’t human! There was an evil light in them. And I felt like he was staring right into my soul. I was frozen!
‘I tried to scream, but I couldn’t; tried to run, but my legs wouldn’t move. And then he got up, grinning so wide it should have hurt. He moved towards me, and it was the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen. Every part of his body was moving, this way and that. His head was wobbling randomly, his hands were flying about, his legs were twisting awkwardly. But he managed to get to me. And then he pounced on me, gripping my neck with his hands, crushing it. The last thing I saw were those scary eyes!
‘Then I woke up, paralysed in fear. I just stayed there for a minute, telling myself it was just a dream… If this was a premonition, am I going to go through it again?’
‘Who knows?’ said Sharmila. ‘Since you used the ability unconsciously, there’s no telling how much of it was the premonition and how much was pure dream.’
‘Hey,’ Ravi said reassuringly to Subro, ‘didn’t you tell me something about you being popular and therefore unlikely to be killed? I’m sure that was a use of your intuition. You’ll be fine!’
‘Well, we’ll see, I guess,’ Subro said simply.
‘Okay, what do we do now?’ Anurag asked urgently. ‘It’s clear that we need to find this temple as soon as we can. But how?’
‘And who knows when this Abhijit plans to go there,’ said Madhu. ‘What if he’s heading there right now?’
‘Worrying about that gets us nowhere,’ said Sharmila. ‘I believe Subro was shown the vision for a reason. If we try to act on it, we might get somewhere. I suggest we try to have Subro visit all the temples nearby. Perhaps one of them will jog his memory.’
‘But you yourself said,’ Ravi told her, ‘there are a ridiculous number of temples to search. Plus we’re not sure it will be one from this city.’
‘Let’s go step by step,’ Anurag suggested. ‘First we search around this area, then broaden our search over the city, then if we still don’t find it, we decide our next move, okay?’
‘I might be able to help with the search,’ Uncle Silver said. ‘Instead of having Subro visit all temples, we can use our numbers to our advantage. We can cover multiple temples at the same time.’
‘But only Subro knows what we’re looking for,’ Sharmila countered.
‘I know, but he doesn’t need to visit them all, just see what they look like, right? InstaCopies of the temples should suffice.’
‘But the Captura is broken,’ Ravi pointed out.
‘True, and it’s a shame! I’d built so many new features into it, it’ll take a while before I can build all that back again. However, a bare-bones Captura or two like we had until three months ago? That’s easy. I even have spare parts that I could just put together! Give me till tonight and I’ll have two devices ready.’
‘That’s brilliant, Papa!’ said Anurag with a broad smile. ‘While you work, we can start the search with Subro and cover some ground today itself. Get ready for some temple-hopping, guys! We’ll be at it till night.’
‘Now hold on, all of you!’ Subro’s tone suggested that he’d discovered a major flaw in the plan.
‘What is it?’ Ravi asked.
‘Aren’t you guys forgetting something?’ the young artist looked around at everyone intensely.
‘Forgetting what?’ Anurag asked, his temple creased.
‘The party!’ Subro announced with a flourish of his hands. ‘We drink tonight, remember?’
There were groans and disapproval all around.
‘This isn’t quite the time for celebrations, Subro,’ Madhu told him, surprised at needing to spell it out.
‘I disagree. Anurag missed the party last time and tonight was supposed to make up for it. No way in hell am I allowing anything or anyone to cancel that. Especially not my jerk of a cousin-brother! We party tonight and that’s final!’
‘Perhaps that’s not too bad,’ Uncle Silver commented. ‘You young people have fun tonight, while I get the devices ready.’
‘You have to come for a bit too, Uncle,’ Subro insisted.
‘Haha, sure, I will. Now let’s get out of this place, shall we?’
As they looked around, not everyone happy with the decision, they realised that they were one of the last people left inside the auditorium. Rescue teams had arrived and they were helping to carry the injured away.
Slowly, Ravi and the others gathered their things and made their way out.