Literature & Fiction | 21 Chapters
Author: Abhinav Singh
Trying to protect his pregnant wife, scientist Ashwin Rathore gets killed – unexpectedly and unwantedly. A deadly force lurks in the murk that wants her too, but why? Is it because she works for and with the military and Intelligence teams in the country, or is it because she knows something that no one else does?
The black Maruti Gypsy with Army number plates was parked by the road, its two occupants patiently waiting. The road itself, flanked with dense trees on both sides, was like a large snake making its way through the belly of the forest.
“We’ve been waiting for hours in this godforsaken place and I’m not getting any younger. When do we get to see some action?” Mahesh Mehta groaned, slapping on his arm, in an attempt to squash a pestering mosquito.
The luminous dial of his watch glowed one o’clock in the darkness and the sound of hooting owls made him nervous.
“Hold your horses, Mehta ji,” his escort, also his driver, retorted. “I’m done with your whining over the past hour, sir. You will know when I know,” he said.
He wore an Army uniform, an insignia of three chakras on his shoulders. The nameplate on his chest read, ‘Captain Ravindra Choudhary.’
“I’m too old for these stakeout jobs you know,” grumbled Mehta, his fingers spidering over the laptop. Mehta was a compulsive chatterer when he was nervous.
“You know, five years back, I could hack into any secure server in Pakistan or China, just sitting in my office. But now my eyes hurt if I spend more than an hour on this damn laptop.”
“You are an indispensable asset to Indian intelligence Mehta ji and there is no denying that.” The captain had a smile, which made Mehta jittery.
“So let’s go through the plan again. I don’t want any last minute surprises,” Mehta said.
“Oh come on sir. We have been through the nuts and bolts of this about hundred times in the past hour.”
The man’s annoyance was evident as he started to list out the sequence of events about to happen.
“Okay, for one last time—an armed convoy will pass through this road in some time. A commando team will pursue it and your job is to block the ‘distress signal’ transmitted from the vehicle. After this, the team will take control over the convoy and try to acquire its contents. There is nothing more to it.”
“Well maybe for you. But there is a lot to take care of, from my end. So just answer my questions,” Mehta said.
“Alright Mehta ji, shoot.” The soldier dropped his head out of boredom.
“What would be the speed of the trucks?”
“At least a hundred kilometers per hour.”
“What is the time window in which I have to hack and block the signals?” Mehta said.
“About a hundred and eighty seconds.”
Then, Mehta went into a trance talking to himself and his laptop, “Let’s see, that’s about three minutes—moving at a speed of about a hundred kmph… hmm… what would the clearance code of the distress signal be?” Mehta said.
“It will be a Code Ten, Mehta ji,” came a nervous answer. The captain’s right hand was slowly pushing toward his waist, reaching for the sidearm.
Mehta was busy tinkering, completely naive of the captain’s intention. “A Distress Code Ten! Are you guys boosting a nuclear warhead or something?”
D-X, or Distress Code Ten, was an SOS code sent out to nearest Airforce and Army bases in moments of extreme crisis in the country. Say if the convoy of the President or prime minister was under attack or a nuclear warhead was attacked or stolen, these signals, coded with information about the nature and location of the crises, would be sent out.
A prompt action team of two MIGs and a Rudra chopper would take off in minutes to contain the situation along with a ground team of the elite commandos of the National Security Guard.
The captain tried to keep his tone casual. “No Mahesh ji we are not here to rob a nuke; how many times have you been debriefed that…?”
“It’s a training exercise. I know… I know,” Mehta said and smiled.
He completely missed the expression on his companion’s face. Beads of sweat formed over the latter’s forehead and his hand slowly moved away from the holster of the weapon.
Mehta’s smile had turned into mild laughter.
“What is it?” the captain asked.
“I’ve been through my fair share of training exercises before and do you know what I felt each time I was in such a drill?”
“I have a feeling that you will tell me even if I say no.”
“Oh come on captain, don’t be a killjoy. You see, every time I am in a training exercise, it feels like having sex with a woman who is faking an orgasm.”
“What?” the captain smiled in surprise.
“You know, when it ain’t real but she makes it sound real.” Mehta started to laugh heartily.
“You are a jolly old man when you are not whining. Do you know that?”
“And you are a handsome young man when you are smiling, captain.” Mehta placed his hand on his shoulder and said, “Do you know how to distinguish between a real and fake orgasm?”
“I am not that experienced sir,” the captain replied.
“Come on my boy. Humor me. I will give you two tries to get it right.”
“I don’t know, by the woman’s voice?”
“Nope. Last try.”
“By her attitude, eyes, body language. What is it?” The captain seemed irritated.
Mehta extended his head dramatically, to reach the captain’s ear. “This is the secret of experience, my man. The truth is that you can never find out if it is real or fake unless the woman tells you.” Mehta burst in a fit of laughter after saying this.
“Same goes with these training exercises. You can never tell the difference unless the command authority tells you,” he said after regaining his composure.
The captain was laughing. “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” he said. “Anyway, how are things at the Intelligence Bureau?”
“I’ll tell you how thing are. The people are losing their minds at the bureau.” Mehta was back to his whiny self. “They are giving field jobs to women now. I don’t know what’s wrong with the planners in this country.”
He paused and spoke again, “I feel nauseated,” he said, as he took out a pill from a box and forced it down his throat. The night outside was black with some unfamiliar jungle sounds. It was now two and a person rigorously trained in combat sat beside him with a gun around his waist. He could feel the creeps run down his spine.
“You know, I loved the field missions in my prime, but the desk has got the better of me,” Mahesh said looking at his companion; the captain just returned a smile.
“You don’t speak much, do you?” Mehta grumbled back at him.
Their conversation was interrupted with a phone call to the captain. He picked up the call and then disconnected it in about ten seconds, without saying a word.
He started the engine and told Mehta, “The wait is over sir. How far do we have to be from the trucks for the jammer to work?” he asked, pointing to a black device in the car, yellow and green LEDs blipping on its surface.
“Not more than two hundred meters,” Mehta promptly answered and before he could say anything more, two black monster trucks thundered past, clocking about 120 kilometers per hour.
The driver pushed the gas as hard as he could and the black offroader leaped off the gravel, like a panther chasing its prey.
“Are we getting a signal?” The diver asked Mehta as if his life depended on it.
“No, not yet.”
“Well then, get on with it,” the driver barked at Mehta.
“Could you go a tad slower? My insides are hurting and I may vomit any time. High speed pursuit isn’t my cup of tea.” Mehta grabbed hold of the sidebar with his left hand while trying to type something into his computer.
“No time Mehta ji…” the man tried to lower his tone, “vomit outside the window if you have to.”
The vehicle kept up its pace.
“Okay I got the frequency. It appears they are in radio silence and are using a satellite uplink.”
“No time for details sir, you have less than twenty seconds.”
And it’s done!” said Mehta pushing some buttons on his laptop.
“Good job sir, well done,” the man said. Before Mehta could reply, two more Gypsies came out of the darkness and flanked the trucks. Mahesh’s companion preferred to stay behind and out of action.
Two harpoon like objects emerged from the Gypsies’ windows. Metal arrows propelled out from these harpoons, slamming into the body of the trucks.
They emitted blue and white sparks after piercing through the metal frame of the trucks. Within twenty seconds, the containers came to an absolute halt, their engines dead.
“Wow! You guys used Electro Magnetic Pulse guns to kill the trucks. I didn’t know they were being used by Indian Army.” Mehta was excited as he tried to open the door to get a better look at the instrument.
“Mehta ji, stop. This is as far as we can go,” the captain said in a stern voice and Mehta shut the door, placing himself back on the passenger seat.
A swift action team of ten commandos, wearing gas masks slithered out of the cars, tossing four disc-shaped objects which stuck to the glass windows.
“Mehta ji, cover your ears!” The driver shouted, pressing both his palms against his ears.
“What? Why?” Mehta seemed confused.
The next thing he felt was his head nearly exploding. A high-pitched, shrieking noise was emitted by the discs, which shattered the bulletproof glass of the trucks.
The occupants of the trucks had started shooting from the cover of the cabin. Some bullets hit the commandos, who were apparently protected by Kevlar Vests.
The bullet noises were reverberating through the jungle. The offense team refrained from shooting back, their leader shouting repeatedly, “Non-lethal fire only!”
Mehta was stumped, watching the rendezvous unfold through the windshield. “Are they using real bullets in a training exercise?” he said with a dread in his voice.
“No way sir, they are not real bullets, just blanks or velocity rounds… can’t you see that no one is hurt?” replied the man. But Mehta had coordinated a few field missions in his lifetime to know that something was dodgy. A weird sensation in his stomach made him nauseous.
Pink-colored fumes filled the cabin of those trucks emitting from gas grenades in the thick of the crossfire. The shooting ceased in a matter of minutes as the men fighting to protect the truck went unconscious.
Five commandos swiftly made way to the backside of the container trying to bust the locks as the rest kept guard of the cabins.
“Timing is crucial here Mehta ji. There will be a distress signal relayed to the base as soon as the locks blow,” the man said.
“Don’t worry. I got it covered.”
He was sweating, shivering to his bones when a large commercial trailer truck passed by his Gypsy and halted beside the first truck, which was mostly out of his sight.
This was a car carrier! A few new cars were already on it. Mehta couldn’t see much but a large object, resembling a machine, was being loaded onto the trailer.
The giant carrier sped away into nothingness after loading the cargo. The commandos went back to their Gypsies and vanished in darkness leaving back the trucks and its occupants, unconscious.
“Mehta ji we are done here, all thanks to your technical help.” The captain switched the engine on, and steered the Gypsy to the right.
“Are these men dead?” Sweat trickled down his bald head endlessly.
“No sir they are just unconscious, may be for an hour or two. A medical team is en route as we speak.” The driver was overly reassuring but the look on Mehta’s face suggested that he would soil his pants at any time.
“What have you taken?” he asked to his driver in a whisper.
“Classified sir, can’t tell you about it.” Mehta couldn’t help but notice that they were government trucks commonly used to transport sensitive cargo. He was terrified at the consequences of what he had done.
“Can I switch on the car lights? I have to settle my things.”
The driver nodded in affirmation and Mehta began putting his instruments back in the bag.
He glanced outside the rolled up window shields in extreme thoughtfulness. “Are you sure I won’t be indicted for this?” Mahesh asked while looking out the window, with his back to the diver.
“Don’t worry Mehta ji, nobody is coming for you, but you were wrong about one thing though,” the captain said.
“About what?” Mehta promptly inquired, looking away from the captain, at the dense trees passing by through the rolled up window.
“This ain’t a fake orgasm but a real one,” the captain said and pulled out the gun, pointing it to his head in the next moment.
Mehta saw this action unfold, in the reflection of the window, and that’s when his survival instinct and old training kicked in.
He flipped around in a lightning action and hit the gun. The bullet got diverted, grazing his bald temple and hitting the windshield. Glass from the shattering screen hit the driver’s eyes and he lost control. The car slammed into a large tree by the roadside, and everything went black.
When Mehta regained consciousness from the knockout, the dashboard clock showed half past three. The driver’s head was smashed against the steering wheel, face covered in blood. His skull had been fractured from the mortal blow.
Mehta tried to move his hands and legs and to his relief he had miraculously survived with all limbs in place. He went on to check the dead man’s pockets and after taking his gun and phone, pushed him out of the door beside the tree. He shifted to the driver’s seat and turned the key.
The Gypsy wouldn’t start! “Oh come on, give me something for God’s sake,” Mehta shouted in desperation, his eyes, blood-red in fear and shock.
He tried the ignition about ten times over before his prayers were answered. He reversed the vehicle to put it back on the road and raced away.
The realization of speed or time was lost on him, until the city lights illuminated the sky beyond the horizon giving him a sense of hope. The cold morning air hitting his ears relaxed his nerves a bit.
After an hour of driving he spotted a desolate farm a few hundred yards to his left. He swerved to the left along the bumpy path and stopped the jeep behind some mango trees near the farm. There was a large but shallow pit close by. He took his belongings out of the Gypsy and placed them below one of the trees.
He wanted to run but the reflection in the rear view mirror left him stumped in fear. His face and head were covered in blood with some glass fragments sticking to his bald head. He washed his face to remove stains and tried to pull the fragments out. The pain was excruciating.
He covered his head and face with a rag that he found in the Gypsy and looked around to double check if anyone was watching.
Placing the gear in neural, he started pushing the Gypsy with all his strength. After five minutes of hard work, it dropped into the pit with a loud thud.
He trudged to the road side and began walking tirelessly toward the city, until he found a bus, which he waved to a stop and boarded it.
“What the hell have I got into?” he grumbled looking out of the window at the morning sunshine from the vanilla sky.
In a wrinkled blue suit, the tail of his white shirt peeking out, Vikas Nagar was making his way through the corridors of the North Block at Raisina Hill. His short legs were struggling to take strides. His bald head was drenched in sweat and face in absolute distress when he reached his destination, gasping for breath.
“Shukla ji, please inform sir that I’m here,” he told the person sitting in front of him as he grabbed the half-full plastic bottle from the table and took a swig. Water dribbled from the side of his mouth as he gasped.
“No need, I was asked to escort you inside as soon as you came.” The man got up and motioned Vikas Nagar to move along. The man was the secretary to the prime minister.
“What is the matter Vikas ji, you look terrible today,” the secretary tried to break the silence as Nagar took heavy steps to the inner office. “PM sir is in a bad mood too. Is everything alright?”
“It’s need to know, Shukla ji. The PM will tell you himself, if needed,” Vikas Nagar said as he went inside the room.
“He should have knocked first. Common etiquette is dying these days,” grumbled Shukla as he walked back to the outer office.
Vikas noticed that the atmosphere was brewing with anxiety. The prime minister, Home Minister and Minister of Defence were mumbling. Two defence officers were seated on a couch, their faces restless.
“Vikas ji, do you realize the fix we are in? How can we lose such sensitive cargo?” The Home Minister was shouting at him as Nagar walked a few steps further.
The question came as a surprise, but he kept his calm. “The Intelligence Bureau is investigating sir. But this was a routine operation and protocols were followed to the letter.”
His job was to handle crises as head of the Joint Intelligence Committee of India. And today, his worst nightmare had just come true.
A valuable cargo was in transit from The Atomic Research Centre to The Defence Research and Development (DRDO) facility. A group of fifteen trained commandos and convoy of two trucks were attacked at two hours past midnight. The cargo itself had disappeared.
“What could be the implications of this, Nagar?” The PM asked as he stood at the corner of his office, staring at the manicured lawns of the North Block through his window, deep in profound thought.
“Devastating sir! If activated, this weapon could totally paralyze any city for days, maybe months, leaving us wide open to any kind of attack. Perpetrators can even shut down our defence systems, not to mention the heavy financial burden of rebuilding a city from scratch.” Nagar was a straight shooter during the times of crisis and his answer killed the PM’s reverie.
“Nagar, this is a classified weapon. Only a few people know that this weapon even exists. No one in this room knew about the transit except the Vice Admiral here and me,” the PM said, pointing to an officer standing by his side. “How on earth can anyone steal it?”
“We are investigating sir but it appears that the Distress Level X was scrambled or hacked,” Nagar replied.
“But it’s not possible! Not without the authorization codes. Only the PM has them,” the query came from a man with three stars on his shoulders—Vice Admiral Shailendra Rawat.
The Vice Admiral was the chief of the Strategic Forces Command, a special unit which protected the transit, placement and storage of Indian nuclear weapons. It was an SFC convoy that was attacked and he had all reasons to break a sweat that night.
“We don’t know that yet,” Nagar said. “With all due respect sir, it was beyond my jurisdiction to know anything about the defence protocols on this weapon.”
Nagar seemed confused at the volley of questions raining on him. The nature of the heist and transit of the weapon weren’t his responsibility. It was the job of Strategic Forces Command!
“How many men did we lose?” the PM asked the Vice Admiral.
Rawat paused a moment to adjust to the gravity of his answer. “None, the people who stole it didn’t fire a single shot at the escort party,” he replied.
Silence prevailed in the room. Everyone was lost, introspecting the possible reasons and implications of such a strange heist.
“The perpetrators used some kind of nerve agent, which left our commandos disoriented. Three of them have regained consciousness but are still suffering from amnesia. The doctors are assessing if it is permanent,” the Vice Admiral filled in the details.
“Who are these people? Kashmiri militants, Pakistani ISI?” The Home Minister was hyperventilating.
“Whoever they were, they had help from within, especially from the IB.” A voice from a corner of the room caught Nagar’s attention. This man was patiently listening, but all heads turned when he spoke.
“Nagar, this is Colonel Raghuvaran, he is an asset of the Military Intelligence.” the PM said placing his hand on Vikas Nagar’s shoulder. “I have given him the charge of investigations, owing to the nature of the crisis but he will seek your assistance,” He announced.
Colonel Srinivas Raghuvaran was a man in his mid-forties, stood six feet tall and was a Kargil war hero. His decorations included Vir Chakra and three Sena medals. A cold air of madness surrounded him that intimidated his peers and struck fear in the spine of the enemy.
“How do you know that we have a breach in the IB?” Nagar seemed vexed at his accusation.
“Does a name, Mahesh Mehta, ring any bells?” the colonel said.
Nagar seemed to recognize the name from somewhere when it struck him. “Yes, yes, he is the head of surveillance division at the IB branch in Mumbai. What about him?”
“He was found dead today at nine hundred hours, hanging from a ceiling fan, of a lodge room, near BT station,” the colonel added after a pause. “We found some glass fragments in his scalp which belonged to one of the vehicles used in the heist.”
“I’m still confused colonel. What has Mehta got to do with this?”
“Mehta had the skill to hack or scramble the Code X Distress protocol,” Raghuvaran replied, standing up from the couch.
Vikas Nagar smiled. “Colonel, Mehta was a nobody. I doubt this very much that he even knew about the weapon, let alone steal it.”
Raghuvaran trudged toward Nagar and handed him a file. “About thirty kilometers from the rendezvous point, where the convoy was attacked, we found an Army Gypsy dumped in the marsh.
Within the Gypsy, were some clues to Mehta’s whereabouts. We also have an eye witness who saw him pushing a black Maruti Gypsy into the marsh.”
Colonel then put on an uppity smile and said, “We didn’t know then that it was Mehta but we suspected that it was a hacker’s job. So we ran a search on the best hackers in the country, only to find that Mehta had not reported in his office for the past three days.”
“How could he? It was way above his pay grade.” Nagar looked confused at the information.
“No he couldn’t, not unless someone was helping him.” The colonel opened the last page of the file for Secretary Nagar to see. There was a photograph and some documents in it that looked like call records and bank account details.
One look at the photograph and the secretary spiked in resentment. “You are out of your mind colonel! She is one of the most decorated officers of the Indian intelligence.”
“I knew you would say that. Even the PM couldn’t believe it,” the colonel smiled. “But I’ve strong evidence, all here,” the colonel tapped at the file with his index finger.
Nagar stared at the colonel, squinting and his teeth clenched in anger. “You are slamming all this on IB, but you fail to see a simple fact that all weapons used in the heist belonged to the Army,” he said.
“Gentlemen please!” the PM interrupted. “There is a dangerous weapon on the loose. Five heads of states are visiting us at the Independence Day celebrations. We are in a tight situation here and your dissension is not helping.”
“Sir, ‘tight’ would be an understatement,” the colonel said. “The device stolen is KALI.x It weighs about four tonnes and can easily be disguised as common machinery. If placed on the top of a high rise and activated, it has the capacity to generate electromagnetic pulses strong enough to fry electronic systems of an entire city.”