25 Minutes – a thriller
Illustration by: Amitava Chandra, courtesy, Unish Kuri.
An easy-to-read downloadable PDF version of this story can be downloaded by clicking this link.
Jimmy’s version (11.05 AM)
“The Metro station?” the girl looked questioningly. I looked at her.
“This way,” I answered, pointing my thumb towards the Metro rail station.
I have to repeat this reply at least two hundred times in a day. My little tea-coffee joint Jimmy’s Hotties is a two minutes’ walk from the Metro…the tube-rail station of sector five of Salt Lake, Kolkata. My joint is merely a five by five kiosk with three sides open but does fair share of business. Luckily the New Writers’ Building, the state government administrative house has come up right opposite my kiosk two years back in 2013.
During the great worldwide economic depression of 2009-2010 many large information technology companies closed their shutters and departed. The vast township of Salt Lake looked like a haunted city then.
My father established this stall many years ago and looked after its affairs till a few years back. The old aluminum kettle was still used on the gas stove to make tea those days. Now everyone uses slick machines for making tea and coffee. From 2011 onwards the market improved again. And the new Writers’ Building started coming up at that time. Now this is our state Chief Minister’s address.
“Thanks”…the girl left. Pretty girl…poor thing, there was a huge plaster in her arm.
“Tea,” a man of about twenty five stood in front of my counter. A printed white Che Guevara portrait frowned at me from his black tee shirt.
“How many, Sir?” My routine question.
“Can’t see anyone else around! So, one cup would be enough,” he looked around and replied.
“The Chief Minister hasn’t yet entered office I suppose.” he continued.
“Telling me, Sir?” I said.
“No.” He said. He was on his cell phone. His sunglasses are his cell phone. These days you can’t make out who’s talking to whom.
“Has the Chief Minister entered?”
“Are you talking to me now?” I asked.
“No. Her convoy comes at eleven. Will arrive any time now.”
Within a minute the Chief Minister’s convoy approached noisily.
“Thanks.” The boy spoke over his sunglass phone. “I’m entering now. The Chief Minister has arrived. Navin Goel has already entered, I can see his car.”
The guy left in a hurry leaving half his tea unfinished.
Ten minutes after this, the massive video billboard across the road suddenly blacked out. In a gust of wind something must have come and hit it… I stared in surprise. A train was passing overhead noisily. I noticed a crack across the huge video billboard screen.
Suddenly there were hooters screaming from everywhere. Or maybe, it was coming from the direction of the government building. Something must have happened inside the Writers’ Building. Security forces were running towards the Writers’ Building. Has anyone attacked the Chief Minister? I crossed the road and walked curiously towards the government building. What could have happened?
I saw the time – 11.30 AM.
Rahul’s version (11.05 AM)
Our car halted right behind Naveen Goel’s Mercedes. While getting off, I told Natasha to keep the audio recorder on.
“Sure,” said Natasha, “All the best.”
I asked a police constable posted at the gate of the government house when the Chief Minister was expected to arrive. He wasn’t sure. He looked away.
I had to spend time. I thought of having a cup of tea from Jimmy’s Hotties, a stall across the street. Crossing the road was a pain – traffic has increased immensely in the last 4-5 years. But pollution level has definitely come down.
At the tea-stall I briefly exchanged glances with a pretty girl with a plastered arm. She was probably looking at the picture of Che Guevera on my shirt. A lot of people look at it. She left as I stepped in front of the tea stall. I sipped my cup of lemon tea. Natasha called me, her voice was screaming from my sunglass-phone, “Why did you cross the road? “
“The Chief Minister hasn’t yet entered office I suppose,” I replied her.
Immediately I heard the convoy approaching. I paid the boy and left, leaving my tea half-finished. The security guy at the gate asked for my appointment letter. I missed a few heartbeats. Because even though the letter I was carrying was genuine, the time and date had been altered. The security supervisor frisked me and asked, “Carrying any electronic gadgets?”
“Nothing officer, except the sunglasses,” I smiled. I chose to remain silent about my electronic button. The electronic button on my shirt could record any sound within 500 meters.
“Can I enter, then?”
“No, the Chief Minister is in a meeting, the red light is on. Please wait here for some time.”
So, she’s in a meeting with Naveen Goel. And that’s exactly what I wish to hear. It could be the subject of my next article. I had to move closer, in order for my button microphone to receive the conversation inside.
“I’m sitting here next to the door,” I said.
Once I go near the door, I’d be able to enter somehow. As if like a warning the red light was glaring at me from the top of Chief Minister’s door at the end of the corridor. I knocked the door. The Chief Minister’s bodyguard peeked from Chief Minister’s room with an automatic rifle in his hand, “What do you want? Can’t you see the Chief Minister is busy?” He pointed towards the red light above the door.
“The Chief Minister has called me to attend this meeting.” I blurted out as I pushed the door and entered.
“What’s this? What do you think you are doing? I’ll get you arrested,” shouted the security personnel pushing me back.
I could see the Chief Minister Maya Bannerjee. Naveen Goel sat facing her.
“Ma’am, I’m Rahul Sen from ‘People’s Democracy’, the weekly. I raised my voice and said, “If you could tell me why you have called Naveen Goel today, ma’am.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“How strange! How can a reporter enter like this, breaking all protocol?” The Chief Minister was visibly annoyed.
“Get out!” A security officer caught me by my collar.
“Easy, brother,” I tried to smile.
Naveen Goel stood up excitedly and pointed at me, “This is the guy. He’s the one who wrote misleading reports about ‘InGeneers’ to malign us. He’s trying to spoil our reputation and hinder the project.”
I couldn’t stay any longer; not even for a minute. After coming out of the Chief Minister’s room, I was harassed once again by the security officer outside the room.
“What’s the matter? Didn’t I tell you to wait? Why did you enter?” Before I could answer, I heard the radio transmitter tucked in his belt raising alarm, “Calling Security supervisor!”
“Vijayprakash Singh here, go ahead,” he replied.
“Sir, please come inside. The Chief Minister has been shot just now.”
“My goodness!” he rushed towards the Chief Minister’s room.
I shuddered. I knew I should move out from here at once Not only did I enter under false identity; I forced myself into the Chief Minister’s room.
I walked towards the ground floor in quick steps. Suddenly hooters and alarms went off from all directions. I saw many more armed police officers and security guards coming in hordes. It took a minute to reach ground floor. I entered the toilet, opened my black tee shirt, and shoved it into the cistern.
I came out in a red sleeveless vest. Now I’ve got to look for Natasha.
My watch showed 11.30 AM.
Vijayprakash Singh’s version (11.05 AM)
My job—security supervisor to the Chief Minister is not at all romantic. It is grueling.
The man, who handed over the letter saying, ‘I have a meeting with the Chief Minister at eleven hundred hours,’ looked impressive. I could make out immediately that he was a VIP. Ten years into this job; I can recognize VIPs at one glance. I saw the name, Naveen Goel, CEO, InGeneers. It sounds like ‘engineers’, but is spelt differently; as if it has some hidden connotation.
“Please take a seat, Sir.” I paged the security of Chief Minister’s convoy over the radio transmitter. He replied that they were just one kilometer from the Government house.
“Sir, the Chief Minister is just one kilometer away,” I informed Naveen Goel, the visitor.
Within five minutes the Chief Minister arrived. Meeting started; the light over the door turned red. It suggests, no one should disturb at this time.
One more visitor appeared. A young man in his twenties, wearing a black tee shirt flashing a picture of Che Guevara. I checked his appointment paper and identity proof. He had an appointment. He told me he was working for an NGO – a non government benevolent organization. My junior frisked him and I told him to wait. I had to take a call after this. After talking over the phone for about four minutes I was shocked to see that the boy in black tee shirt was being shoved out from the room. I lost my cool. Son of a bitch!
“What’s the matter? Didn’t I tell you to wait? Why did you enter?” I shouted.
Before he could reply I heard Raghubir, one of the bodyguards of the Chief Minister paging over the radio transmitter, “Sir, please come inside. The Chief Minister has been shot just now.” There was normal excitement in his voice.
“My goodness!” I exclaimed and entered Chief Minister’s room. I entered and made a quick scan. The Chief Minister was lying on her belly on the floor beside her chair. The two bodyguards—Raghubir and Hardeep Singh made body-shields and covered her… a standard practice in such a situation.
“Is she hit?” I asked.
Thank God, I thought. Is anyone hit then? Who fired the gun? Was there a firing at all? In a moment I got some of the answers. I spotted Naveen Goel lying prostate on the floor—a wound on his chest. Thick blood was flowing on to the ground.
So, there was indeed a firing, and it missed the Chief Minister. It struck Naveen Goel. There was no one else in the room, except the two bodyguards. Was it fired through the window? There was only one open window. I ran towards it. The room is on the third floor. Nobody was seen running away on the street below. And if fired from below, it would have hit the ceiling. There was no building right on the opposite side. Far away I could see the wetlands of fisheries. A hundred meters away was the tube railway line of the East-West Metro. I saw a train rumbling away.
Where is the second visitor? The man who barged in without permission? I rushed out. Where did he go? He’d be caught for sure. His identity papers were with us, scanned. Of course those might be false.
I used the radio transmitter – “A guy around twenty five is walking out in a black tee-shirt… with a white Che Guevara face on the tee. Catch him.”
I started running towards ground floor. Others triggered the hooter. We’ve got to catch him.
It was 11.30 AM.
Naveen Goel’s version (11:05 AM)
I saw the watch. Just reached the Chief Minister’s office; there was no sign of her.
I’m the head of ‘InGeneers’. The name of my organization is unique – it is a portmanteau of 3 words; ‘In’ for India, ‘gene’ and ‘engineer’. Yes, we are an Indian company working with genetic engineering. I’m a molecular biologist myself.
The Chief Minister just entered. She had called me. I made a quick call to my office from my specs-phone. “I’m entering Chief Minister’s cabin. Where is Papa?”
“Papa is in position” replied my office.
“Convey my regards to Papa”. I disconnected. Papa is a code word – Papa is the international code for ‘P’ and P stands for Priyanka. Priyanka has been assigned a special task.
It would have been foolish to call her myself. So there’s someone in between. Today is a crucial day for us. It can turn out to be the end of our project. The research work carried on by ‘InGeneers’ could come to a complete halt. In 2011 our research started under the patronage of the then Chief Minister Tathagata Bhattacharya. It started as just a research project. But now I can vouch for the fact that our company has taken this research to the level of art. We are working towards increasing the speed of man. And it could definitely be used in sports, defense and industry. But for all good work done—there is always a group of people trying to put a stick in your spokes. And unfortunately that has happened to us too. Some people from our own country had started raising objection to our project. And now many others from various countries have joined in the protest. That is why the Chief Minister of this state, Ms. Maya Bannerjee has called me today.
After entering her office and exchanging formal greetings, I was asked to sit facing her. I had a quick glance at the open window behind the Chief Minister.
“Mr. Goel, let me cut it short. I’m proud that a company like ‘InGeneers’ is working in my state. And I hope your organization and your project will draw the world’s attention towards my state, but not for the wrong reasons.”
“Wrong reasons are man-made,” I smiled. “The controversies are created by some media. Our company has never done anything illegal, and will never do so. Our aim is noble. First there was the airplane, and then came the supersonic plane. Similarly first there was man, and now we are trying to design a super-fast man.”
“I know all this, Mr. Goel. But the point is, you are violating human rights in trying to do so. You are experimenting with human beings, like guinea-pigs. You are endangering them,” replied the Chief Minister.
“That is not true. It was published in a weekly, the ‘People’s Democracy’… a perfect example of yellow journalism by an irresponsible, attention greedy reporter, Rahul Sen. After that a few popular social networks had carried the news and it started a worldwide commotion.” I clarified.
“Amnesty International has also got involved, Mr. Goel.”
“You go through this presentation madam; it will give you a clear idea about the way we work, and what we are trying to achieve.”
“Leave it Mr. Goel; there’s no need of a presentation. I got hold of some information about your company. Sorry to say, I had to resort to the intelligence bureau of police for that.”
I was taken aback for a while. This means, not only the media, but also the police detectives are after us.
“You have opened another company, ‘Bio Kynematics’ haven’t you, Mr. Goel? So that if one is closed down for irregularities, you can still carry on your activities in another name, isn’t that the reason you started the other organization, Mr. Goel?”
Our dialogue was going from bad to worse. I was of course prepared for such a situation. In case negotiations failed, my alternative plan was ready.
At this time the Chief Minister had to take a phone call. I took the opportunity to make a call from my specs-phone. “Plan A has failed. Execute plan B. Tell Papa, the mission is on,” I whispered to my office.
The Chief Minister looked at me and said, “You’d do me and yourself a favor if you could maintain a little more transparency in your functioning, Mr. Goel. I heard InGeneers is like a fortress. Nobody can enter it. Is that so?”
“Is that wrong? Every organization has the right to maintain its own privacy, is that wrong ma’am?” I asked.
“That is true. But since a controversy has cropped up, you better maintain transparency. You are not doing anything detrimental to the nation, so what’s your problem? Allow our inspectors to have a look at your laboratories.”
Suddenly there was a commotion at the door. I saw journalist Rahul Sen. He had forced himself in without permission. He was thrown out, but Chief Minister was a little shocked; she lost her words.
I looked at my watch—11.29 AM.
Then at the window.
A East-West Metro train was passing noisily. I quickly looked at the Chief Minister. Then suddenly, it was as if someone poured hot molten lead into my chest. Before I fell from my chair I saw blood oozing out from the left of my chest and a sharp pain shutting out my senses.
Then it went dark.
Priyanka’s version (11:05 AM)
I looked at my watch. 11.05 AM.
I was supposed to reach the metro station at sector five by 11. I’ve never been to this station before. I decided to wait at a tea stall Jimmy’s Hotties.
“The Metro station…?” I asked the guy at the kiosk.
“This way”, answered the guy at the counter. Another young man in a black tee shirt also pointed at the station. He was staring at my plastered arm. I saw a Che Guevara portrait printed on his tee. We exchanged glances once before I left for the station.
I bought a ticket up to Central station and walked up to the platform. Soon the train arrived. But I waited for the instruction and let the train go.
I have a pseudonym—P or Papa. I’m a molecular biologist. Once I was a pupil of Naveen Goel; now an employee of InGeneers. On the advice of my teacher and boss, Naveen Goel, I opted to become the test subject of the Super Fast Human Project. Today I’m the first super fast human in the world. I can do in one hundredth of the time what others can do at normal speed. So, my world is entirely different. I see everything around me move slowly –at one hundredth of my speed. I never feel I’m very fast; only others around me seem to move like a slow motion movie.
Nobody knows about me yet. The time has not arrived. I’m still at an experimental stage. And for this secrecy I rarely go out into the world. Today is an exception. I’ve come out on a mission. I’m told to be very careful and keep pace with the normal world.
I was hoping I’d finally get a call today that the mission is called off. But instead, the message came, that the mission is on. So, I have to complete my assignment.
I got into the steel-colored train. There were very few commuters. It was moving in slow motion, like slow motion movie footage.
I have to check the built-in long distance rifle inside the plaster of my arm. The rifle had a camera with it. In the lens of my sunglasses, I can see the image of the camera if I wish to. The train emerged from the station, traveling at a height of 30 feet from the ground. I could see the massive video billboard from the window. Some advertisement film was on. I aimed the rifle by raising my plastered arm casually towards the window. I could see the image in my glasses. At the press of the trigger in my pocket a bullet shot off cracking the billboard right across. It is not possible for ordinary humans to see the details I could see when it broke from end to end.
Perfect; I smiled to myself.
Now, my next target was the Chief Minister’s window.
The train, now moving at 60 kilometers per hour will pass the Chief Minister’s window soon. At this speed, no ordinary person can pass a bullet through a one-meter-wide window. The train is covering 1000 meters in a minute. So, to pass the window it will take only 0.06 second. But that is the common man’s calculation. Since I’m 100 times faster I will get full 6 seconds before the train passes the window… enough for me to make a perfect job.
The window was approaching. There, I can see her, Goel is sitting opposite the Chief Minister. I lifted my plastered arm. My mission today is to shoot the Chief Minister. Naveen thinks the Chief Minister’s sudden death will put an end to his crisis for the time being, and he would get some time to finish the project. By the time the new Chief Minister takes over and notices this issue, the controversy will lose its punch.
I pressed the trigger and the bullet flew off.
Who was hit, the Chief Minister? No, it was Naveen Goel.
Was it my mistake? No. I never miss my target.
Naveen’s death was supposed to be in my hand. And why not? I had volunteered for this secret project at his word. But why did he have to suppress the truth? It is violation of human rights… a crime!
Naveen had told me my speed will increase a hundred times. But he never told me that my life-span will also decrease a hundred times. According to normal parameters my death will come 100 times faster, within one year. Actually my body-clock has been reset with a hundred times faster speed. I discovered this fact myself from Naveen’s lab, from his computer. I suspected when I first saw faint signs of wrinkles on my arm, I was only twenty five. Why did he hide this—I asked myself many times. I wanted to live.
That was when I took the decision; Naveen Goel’s end will be in my hands.
My mission is accomplished. Time: 11:30 AM.