So a while back, in the month of December, I’d taken part in the Times Write India contest where you are given a paragraph written by an eminent author and you have to build a story around it. Now the paragraph given had all the makings of a soppy love story but I wanted to try and make things different/interesting. I wanted it to stand out among all the other entries. It’s my first short story so I’m eager to hear any feedback you have for me. Just let me know in the comments.
(Oh and I marked the given paragraph in bold so you can know how far I took the plot and ran with it)
RAW Headquarters – New Delhi
“Kiara! Stop sleeping!! Singh wants to see us now”
Kiara jumped up, sleeping on duty was the easiest way to land yourself an extra shift. “I’ll be right there, let me freshen up. It’s been a rough couple of nights what with the stakeout and all” she told Rishan.
Kiara Sinha and Rishan Jacob had been friends as long as anyone could remember, right from kindergarden. And it helped to have a friend with you when out on the field with RAW, where they worked as special agents.
As Rishan waited for her, his mind wandered. Mostly to Diya. Diya Rameshwaran. His girlfriend for over a year now and soon to be fiancé. She was different from any other girl he had ever dated. Usually relationships came to an end when he had to suddenly disappear in the middle of a date without any explanation. A career in intelligence didn’t leave much room for a social life. He had never even had a serious relationship, until he had met Diya. At first he thought it was too good to be true. To meet a gorgeous girl and hit it off instantly was stuff of movies and fiction novels. She worked in Software at Hooli and they had met at a bar where both had stopped for a drink after a late night’s work. That was over a year ago, and he thanked his stars every single day that he had forgotten to file a report and had to stay in late that day. At the start, she too was irritated with the disappearing acts but she stuck with him. Very career driven, she too had had to burn the midnight oil many times at work. And finally admitting that he was a special agent was much easier than he ever thought it would be. After that they became closer than ever, she became a trusted confidante with whom he could share everything. He was sure that he wanted her to be his bride and he was just waiting for the right time to pop the question. Lately she was buried in her work as she was heading over to Goa for a conference, and he felt he should wait till after.
“Snap out of it jackass!! She’ll wait for you, Singh won’t”, said Kiara laughing, she had never seen her friend so head over heels in love.
Captain Singh was waiting for them along with a slim gentleman who looked extremely nervous. “Thank you for coming in agents, I’d like you to meet Mr. Bakshi” he gestured to the other man. “He is the CEO of Aviato, his own start-up, but more importantly, he is an expert hacker who has helped us countless times in the past.” Bakshi took over “Let me explain my situation to you. My company is releasing some ground breaking technology soon and I am due to make a presentation at TechCrunch in Goa. It’s one of the foremost technological conferences in India and we have to make a good impression. But earlier today, I received this.” He took out his smartphone and showed an item from his inbox-WE KNOW YOU’RE GOING TO GOA. YOU SHOULD BOOK A ONE-WAY TICKET. YOU’RE NOT COMING BACK, WE GUARANTEE THAT. “Normally I just ignore these kind of threats but I ran a back-trace to see who and where it was from and I ran into a brick wall. Whoever this is, he’s serious. So I got in touch with Singh who I know from before. And yeah…” he trailed off. “Basically what do you two say to a trip to Goa? You’ll be eyes and ears on the ground. Where he goes, you go. You leave in a couple of days. In or out?” barked Singh. Kiara hesitated, but Rishan immediately chimed “Always up for it boss!”
After the briefing was concluded, Kiara caught up to her partner. “You moron! You’re girlfriend is going to be at the same conference, you really want to go on a mission there!!” The thing is, special agents are sent out in pairs and why Kiara and Rishan made a good team is because they were always sent out under cover as a couple. This was usually the norm but because they knew each other in and out, they made a convincing couple. “Oh I explained the whole system to Diya, she’s cool with it.” “But still, you realize you’re girlfriend is there but you’ll be pretending that you’re married to someone else.” “Relax dude, it’ll be fine!!” “You do know that you can’t sneak off and meet her right? If I’m coming you’re gonna have to be a professional.” Rishan reassured her that it would all go well, he was so happy. What better time and place to propose than sunset in Goa!!
Back at home, as Rishan had expected, Diya was ecstatic when she heard the news. He wondered how he was so lucky to have such a cool girlfriend. She totally understood that he would have to act like he was with Kiara but they made plans to meet secretly on the beach at night.
Meanwhile the killer could not have been more pleasantly surprised. Now the exact names of the agents on duty and even their itinerary were known. All the hard work put into gathering intelligence had borne fruit. Deciding to take the same flight so as to keep a closer eye on them, the killer reflected that things had gotten a whole lot simpler.
TechCrunch was a two day conference held annually where start-ups and companies could come and show off their work to a large scale audience. It helped with funding and it also served as the first phase of marketing. A good performance here could go a long way in generating buzz about a new product, cornering the market.
Debabrata Bakshi was nervous. He had his own couple of personal security guards as well as the two RAW agents. They seemed upto the task but still, his mind was not at ease. Probably years of hacking and breaking into systems had taught him that there was always a way to get your target. Still it was only two days, a limited window. He knew he had placed a target on his back when he, a hacker, had decided to side with the law enforcement agencies. His presentation was scheduled late on the second afternoon so he had time on his hands. He knew his code was ground breaking so his rivals would do anything to get it or just to sabotage him from making this presentation. As he boarded his flight, he knew that he absolutely HAD to make it perfect.
Four rows behind, Rishaan was in high spirits. Not only had Diya booked on the same flight as them, she even managed to get the seat directly adjacent to Kiara and him. But they had decided that he should sit on the isle, in case a threat manifested itself during the flight.
In the middle of the flight, Kiara woke up to go to the washroom. When she returned, she was too lazy to push her way into the middle seat. And with Rishaan readily offering to shift seats, the seating arrangement changed. With 20 minutes still remaining for the flight to land, a sleep starved Kiara took another power nap, this time holding Rishaan’s right hand more firmly. Rishaan’s other hand, though, nervously moved to touch Diya’s. Her heart skipped a beat. Diya pulled her hand away. But a defiant Rishaan held her wrist again, this time firmly and more reassuringly. The changing behavioral dynamics between the three perhaps gave out a foreboding of what was to come in Goa.
When the flight landed at the Dabolim Airport, Rishaan felt uncanny…his excitement seemed replaced by an unknown fear that he found very difficult to decipher. He had thought it was cute when Diya didn’t even want to hold his hand during the flight. She was so innocent, she didn’t want to jeopardize the mission so it had taken a long time to convince her about the late night rendezvous he had planned.
The killer settled into the hotel thinking it was all going according to plan. Perhaps a slight twinge of regret on what had to happen to the agent, this would probably destroy him. Sadly that was unavoidable, Bakshi should never have gone over to the government. The killer thought back to all the time spent breaking into secure servers, they could have been set for life. Instead it had been 3 years in prison, all because of that turncoat. It was personal now. Bakshi had to die.
The first day passed relatively uneventfully, Kiara and Rishan spent the day staking out the conference itself, looking for anything or anyone suspicious. Bakshi had locked himself in his room saying he would try and trace the email. The two surly security personnel stood guard outside ensuring that no one could get in or out of the room. Safety, temporary if that, Bakshi thought.
Later, Rishan went to meet Diya at the beach. The representative from Hooli, she had spent the day on the conference floor. She seemed a bit restless to him, which was normal he thought. her own presentation was the next day. He decided to wait to ask her.
He strolled back to Bakshi’s room to see it abuzz with activity. “Where’ve you been Romeo!!” Kiara chided him, “Bakshi managed to trace the email.”
“That’s the problem, I couldn’t find out exactly who it was, but they’re on the hotel network. Whoever they are, they’re here. But the problem is, I think I accidentally alerted them when I tried to locate their machine….” As if in answer to his thought an email alert popped up, “SO YOU HAVE A DEATH WISH. AND YOU KNOW I’M IN YOUR HOTEL,LAST CHANCE. SKIP TOWN OR DIE”
“So it is a hacker, but I can’t leave now, not after coming so far.” “There are 39 members in the hall tomorrow to attend the presentation, maybe we can see if anyone of them has a hacking background” So they split the 39 profiles and began the work. They searched everything, work profiles, histories, government and RAW databases…. everything. Bakshi even tried to contact his old friends, which was hard as he was now an outcast from that community. At the end of which, they just had a pile of files, none of which seemed to give any idea who the killer was.
By morning, the tension was palpable. There were still no concrete leads. Breakfast was a somber affair, room service that was pre-tasted by security. And everyone was still stumped as to how this mysterious stranger seemed to be one step ahead the whole way. Everyone was just counting down till 2pm, the start of the presentation. The room itself seemed secure but no one really felt safe. It was as if they were just waiting for something to happen.
And everything burst into life around 11. Two gunshots were heard in the hallway, both security personnel were instantly on it, weapons out bursting to find out what was going on. More gunshots, screams, sounds of a struggle, followed by deathly silence. Rishan, ever the impatient one, went to investigate. He was shocked. One security guard was slumped against the wall, bleeding from a bullet wound, dead. The other one was lying on the floor, seemingly knocked out. And most surprisingly, amidst all this chaos, Diya.
Back in the room, Bakshi was desperately going through all of their work. Kiara was desperate to find out what was going on but she had to protect the target, as long as Bakshi was here, the killer would have to come. She cocked her weapon and waited.
“What are you doing here Diya!! We have to get you out, there’s a killer on the loose”. Rishan ran towards her. She started sobbing, “I’m so… so sorry Rishan”. This made no sense to him but he had to keep her safe, had to get her out of here somehow.
“Kiara!! There’s only 38 files here, we missed one.” “That’s impossible!! Check again.” They both began to leaf through the files and there was one missing. They heard a woman’s voice in the corridor. Diya. “No, no way he did that!!!” She scanned all of them and it was as she had feared. Rishan had assumed Diya innocent and left her out. Sometimes, something just clicks in our minds and it’s as if the whole jigsaw puzzle solves itself in that instant. Working late at software, how she was always fine with Rishan going on missions, how she always understood whenever he had to drop everything and go on a job, how she was okay going to the same conference as her boyfriend when he was posing as he was with someone else. And Kiara knew that Rishan was in great danger, “RISHAAANN GET OUT OF THERE!!”
“I didn’t want it to happen this way Rishan, you have to know that.” He thought she was delirious with shock, all colour had drained from her face and she looked completely emotionless, it was scary. “You have to get out of here Diya, there’s a madman on the loose!!” “It’ll all be over soon”, she held him close. But something wasn’t right. It made no sense, “Diya how did you even get up here….” And at that instant he heard Kiara shout from the other room. All the missions they shared, he’d never heard so much fear in her voice. Just then she burst through cocked and fired. With all his training, he immediately got out of the way, ducking and rolling for cover, he looked up and to his surprise, Diya had done the same! Then it all made sense to him… how his whole life this past year had been so perfect… it had all been a lie…. Anger filled in him, how could she!! A whole year, all the plans, all the information. He felt completely betrayed.
He knows. And it’s broken him, Kiara thought. Whatever doubts she had vanished and she readied her weapon, taking aim at Diya. Gunshots in the air again, this time Kiara found her mark. It caught her right in the shoulder just as she was drawing her own weapon. Kiara charged. Unarmed and hurt, Diya was no match for her. She was quickly subdued. They had won, but at what cost? Kiara looked over to see her friend, battered, broken, a tear rolling down his cheek and on the floor, an unopened wedding ring box.
It turns out Diya Ramakrishnan was just an alias. Her real name was Poorna Ganguly and a few years earlier she and Bakshi were in a cyber gang together. When Bakshi turned, over 40 hackers had all gone to prison, including Poorna. 3 years in prison hadn’t reformed her. She was consumed with rage to make sure that Bakshi paid for what he had done. Once out, she disappeared and reemerged as Diya and socially engineered her way into Rishan’s life. She knew he had helped out RAW and a little digging had given her Rishan’s name. She knew that Bakshi would go straight to RAW when a threat emerged and she figured that this could get her intelligence, Rishan himself getting selected for the mission was a complication. An expert hacker, it was simple for her to fake her employment in Hooli so far as to get into the conference as their representative.
Rishan was completely shell shocked and received a severe reprimand for spilling secrets, but everyone went easy on him. Love is blind and a harsh mistress. He had learned this the hard way. Now he was back to the field, along with Kiara. Life was getting back to normal.
Bakshi’s presentation was a hit and Aviato is now well on it’s way to becoming a giant in the industry.