PREFACE The Human species had become complacent about their capabilities and might. Armed with the supreme knowledge of science and technology , they had been counting upon themselves as the Masters of The Universe . Sometimes , they even audaciously equated them to God. This belief had received further fillip after the victories they had achieved against life threatening diseases , calamities and pandemics like the recent COVID-19 virus . However , to their grand ignorance and surprise , much more sinister threats to their existence were on wait.A series of explosions and disappearance of cities and towns around the world had suddenly rocked mankind. Humans realised during their search for the reason , they realised that the knowledge of science and technology that they were so proud of till recent times , was far from adequate. Humans were still far behind in their quest for achieving universal supremacy.However , some global organizations got together to knit up an unit to investigate the causes of the destruction under the banner of INTERPOL . Human beings with extraordinary capabilities were assembled to embark upon a global mission called “Save Planet Earth.”The quest , however , needed guidance from some superior being , which is generally known to be divine intervention. After a lot of brainstorming , the existence of a cult called BIDDERS was unearthed . But , the mission required THE BIDDER with ultimate qualifications to rid the world of the peril they were in. The journey through the process of knowing , recognising and taking guidance from THE BIDDER has been depicted with careful narrative.It is also imperitive that for extraordinary missions , extraordinary characters are required and the resources are very much available , if we recognise correctly. It is also imperative that humans should accept the frailties they posses in the face of every global threat. If humans do not resort to self-realisation , greater bids to annihilate this species will appear and re-appear . Though , humans must not lose their confidence and hope on themselves , they should at the same time be afraid. Very afraid…. 

This book remains in dedication to my father : Late Mr. K.K.Lahiri and all other extraordinary human beings who remain in the shadows of the world full of fake people…..

About the author

Satadal Lahiri , is a professional engineer with two decades worth of experience with eminent institutions . He is also a noted contributor of blogs and articles to various newspapers and magazines . He lives in Kolkata , India with his wife and son.

Aknowledgement

This book once again happened through the encouragement from my family , my parents , my sister’s family , friends and cousins. A special mention is needed to be put about Mr. Sonam Mallik for being the punching sack of my ideas. I would like to also thank all my professional associates to have contributed in whatever little way, sometimes in oblivion too , for shaping this book Last but not at all the least , I heartily dedicate this book to my father , who left us for his heavenly abode , and my friend Shankar Ganguly , who also left us a few years ago. I can only remember you through my writing. Also , I would like to extend my solidarity with the extraordinary people who are fighting against this malaise of COVID-19. We know that we will surely come out of it but its time to realize that deadlier perils are waiting for us , elsewhere.

Thank you all.Needless to say , all the characters are fictitious . Any resemblance to characters living or dead is merely coincidental.

CHAPTER 1RUSLAN DRAGOMIR It’s Sunday, and it’s early. The coffee shops next to our complex haven’t rolled up their shutters yet, as I sit deserted by my accomplices in this forsaken glass room at 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning, hoping that the clouds have had enough of the incontinence and tomfoolery to be sleeping in this Sunday. Make way for the sun and sleep o satanic being.... And perhaps allow us the teeny bit of racism towards the clouds that isn’t frowned upon......There is however reason to this madness which is both stark and grave. A reason, which has drawn a sixty six year old war veteran like me, braving the rash downpour that has battered the best of France over a week now, to wait for my new acquaintances to get acquainted with each other to try and solve one of the most bizarre delirium that has gripped the world in recent times....... We are witnessing destruction, though the term appears a strong understatement. I am Ruslan Dragomir, born in Bucharest, brought up in Sophia and Budapest, have had a military career in France that had taken me to Iraq , Mexico , India etc. and then migrated to Spain in search of retirement, then re-instated by the INTERPOL as the TFL (Task Force Leader) or the commander for the international investigation of the severe explosions that has been rocking the world for the last twenty days. Not only explosions , even towns were disappearing thick and fast. From Cental Europe to New Zealand; from Africa to Asia, explosions have kept occurring every other day with more and more casualties. No terrorist organization has yet taken any claim or credit for the same and each subsequent explosion seemed a multiple of the ferocity of the previous. Are we being confronted by a new enemy? Right from the day I had been put in charge of this mission “Save Planet Earth”, I have been drawing total blank. There were too many questions crowding my mind. Meanwhile, various theories had been floated across the globe. Some said it was an acute problem of global warming. Some said that a series of asteroids were striking earth, some said it was the wrath of the Gods. But no theory came out with a plausible explanation. With all sophisticated technology at our disposal, we could not detect the origin of the attacks, neither the attacker. Even terrorist organisations were in total dismay. The hideouts of ISIS and Taliban had also been hit, almost wiping out their whole existence. The Chinese, the Americans, Russians, Koreans, Africans, none had been spared. There was panic from Manhattan to Madagascar. No one went to sleep in peace. Some like me, never got to sleep at all. Death lurked at every corner, every passing minute. Death, that’s most grotesque, most inhuman. Are we being confronted by something beyond our intelligence?
“Good Morning, Sir.” A loud greeting shook me from my trance. A seemingly young officer, probably in forties, had already entered the room and had taken a seat at the far corner. I understood that he had chosen the corner seat to keep himself away from the direct blast of the Air conditioner. He looked agile and strong with an eager face and a clean shaven countenance. He was looking at me with intent, probably awaiting some list of instructions to come from me. I was, however, more intent to hear from him about him. Though, I had before me the list of the team members with all possible details about them, I needed to know, who is who. I nodded in a gesture for him to continue. An assistant quickly served him with a bottle of water and some cookies. He thanked the assistant for the water and took a a big swig from the bottle. The cookies, however, remained untouched. I waited for him to settle down. Keeping the bottle aside, he stood in an attention mode before speaking.Impressive.“Jeremy Ervine, sir.” He announced, as my eyes met his, lifting his hat a little, a gesture that sealed his identity....... An Englishman.“Tell me about yourself, Monsieur sorry Mister Ervine.” I corrected myself.“I, Sirrr,” Stammered the newcomer. “I have been working in the bomb and explosive detection department of the MI6. I had the distinction of uncovering explosives from London, Glassgow, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol. As you are aware, sir, due to the incessant bombings, the City police dept., the MPS and the Government Safety Council assigned SIS with the investigation.” He paused to smile before thumping aloud,” And we did it Sir.” “That’s why you are here.” I smiled back.“But I presume, there are a few more Englishmen along with you in the team.” I asked studying my list. “Yes, sir. Colonel Roy, General Baldwin and General Hargreaves. They are on their way.“ Ervine replied quickly.“Remember, this is not a run off the mill investigation. “ I tried to be as grave as possible. “ It is a queer case. We are all clueless about these attacks.”“I know sir.” He looked somewhat pale. “I have been following all developments very closely.” “That’s good.” I nodded in appreciation. “ I believe you will have to do a lot more than that in the coming days, Mr. Erwine.”We were interrupted by the entry of a tall, sombre looking, raincoat clad visitor. “Peter Marker, Sir, CIA.” Was his short introduction in a gruff voice.“Peter Parker, Spiderman.” I gave an amused smile. Not that I am very usual to smiling, but this uncommonly common name gave me a strange reason to smile.“Marker, not Parker.” He corrected me instantly. “M, as in Minnesota.”“What brings you here, young man?” I enquired sheepishly, perhaps even foolishly.“The bloody explosions and a letter from our Headquarters, Sir.” Replied the American, still standing. He handed a letter and a file to me. The Englishman also did the same, realising perhaps that it should have been done much earlier. “I was told that our team is of Twenty Two specialists.” I remarked aloud looking at the large wall clock in front of me. “It is already nine AM and we are only three of us.”The dejection in my voice prompted providence to throw some optimism into the otherwise gloomy atmosphere. The sound of heavy footsteps, several, reverberated along the corridor and one by one nineteen other team members marched into the room. The desolate room, that it had been till now, looked ominously populated.The INTERPOL guys, hand picked by me, all three of them, were the first to shake hands. Pierre Bouchard, Olivier Creva Roux, Dimitar Bozkov, all in their mid forties.“Bonjour Monsieur.” They greeted in unison.“Salut” I nodded at them.INTERPOL regarded these three as amongst their finest. I had particularly requested the High Command to designate these three in my team for this puzzling venture. Easy breathing had come back to me after seeing them. Especially, Dimitar Bozkov, a Bulgarian by origin but a total French by upbringing, had a special knack of reading the minds of criminals. He had also been part of DGSE ( Directorate – General Of External Security, the French Secret Services ) in a number of intricate cases. His rise in the ranks at INTERPOL had been meteoric but no one envied him. People knew that it was hard... almost impossible to equal his intelligence, skill and hard work. His unending work regime can be attributed to his baggage less life...no family, no belongings, no attachments, no friends, no ambition........ He only cared about the job at hand and had always been assigned the toughest and trickiest of them all.“Greetings from Joshua Ziplin and Aiden Baratz, Sir from MOSSAD.” The seemingly elder amongst the two came forward with the letter and files. I nodded in reply. The presence of MOSSAD men in the team though was advantageous, it was highly unlikely that they will get along well with the others. It certainly will need very good leadership skill to contain the group as one.“Nikolai Belokov, Victor Dassayev, Igor Glosky from FSB, Moscow.“ Spelt out the stoutest man from the crowd. His name was also tattooed on his forearm .......GLOSKY.

I gave him a long look. A mild reflection of staunch KGB hegemony can be detected from his features. I held out my hand, which was accepted quite sternly.

“Welcome.” I muttered in all earnestness, at least I tried.

Slowly, the other representatives of MI6, BND (Germany), MSS (China). RAW (India), ISI(Pakistan), Syria, Iraq, Egypt, South Africa and Australia introduced themselves.

It was a rare occasion, when top officials, the best in the business, from various countries had gathered in Lyon on a common mission. Though it was a rare occasion, it could not be savoured. No one had the urge to feel elated. Our mission, as I thought of it was more to save ourselves from extermination.

The world leaders had entrusted us an enormous responsibility to save the world from destruction. More than Five hundred million lives had been lost around the world in a matter of twenty days. With the vigour of the attacks growing in severity, the world population stood threatened. It required some urgent action. But I had no clue, whatsoever, about what to do... where to start from.... what to start with.

I looked around. None of the officers lacked capability. Yet, the job in front looked too colossal for the time being. We have fought criminals, extremists, gas chambers, rioters, battle forces. But nothing had been as challenging as this. Why was this happening and what for?

It took quite a while to go through the files and papers. Soon, my assistants came around to help me with the papers and secure the names of all 22 ( including me ) into the database, assigning each one with a code.

Once, the formalities were over, we helped ourselves with some strong coffee and crumbs of bread.

“Genlemen.” I cleared my voice to guarantee audibility. “ I have been told that this is the best team one can have in investigative secret services and technical acumen. You are more than adept to decipher the toughest challenges of criminology. You have all possible facilities at your disposal. The finest labs. The best of agents. The police forces around the world, also the government orders of all countries.” I stopped and looked around at the emotionless faces. Perhaps they knew what I had to say. But I have to say, what I have to.

“Today, the world is facing a peculiar attack. We don’t know the origin, the motive, the targets. In short, we are clueless. Explosions of a strange kind is happening all around the world.Cities and towns are disappearing from the map leaving no trace. The targets are varied. No ethnic group has been spared. The attacks are not restricted to any region, religion, social strata, gender or community. It is targeting everyone. We are facing an unknown enemy, who looks too strong at present. We are fighting against an enemy, we know nothing of; with weapons that has not been invented, probably. In short, we are groping in the dark.”

“Where do we start from, commander?” Kietz Shultz, the member of German BND interrupted. Shultz was a diminutive man, whose family was said to have links with the Third Reich. However, his efficient work ethics had propelled him to a position of prominence in the German Secret Services and was known to have good ties with MOSSAD, an achievement of sorts for a German with Nazi links.

Before I could address the question posed by the German, the Iraqi official Hanif Abbasi chirped in. “These attacks are different than any armed explosion we have come across. The first attack happens at a region which within minutes gets obliterated into thin air and then subsequent explosion happens within ten to twenty kilometre radius causing mass destruction. We get no time to react.”

Abbasi had a clear diction of English through his education in Oxford. He was well read, well travelled and well researched. He had been tipped to be a minister after the fall of Saddam Hussein but he had preferred joining the secret services for his poissant for unravelling the unravelled.

“Yeah, it’s more like an Anaconda gobbling up a Caribou and vomiting it elsewhere. “Remarked Peter Parker..sorry Marker with an M as in Minnesota.

His assignment had been very clear. He, along with the Englishman Ervine and a few others had to find out the weapon of mass destruction. The finest labs in the world along with NASA had been put at his disposal. He and Ervine had done many such things before for their respective countries. They had good idea and technical know how of all kinds of explosives, including nuclear warheads through their intensive research programs and obviously, they were the best in the business.

It was a spectacle of sorts. Former foes, the Syrians, the Israelis, the Iraqis, the Germans, the Americans, the Russians, the lone Pakistani, the Indian RAW agent, all sitting side by side to devise a method to save humankind. The internal differences appeared way petty to the huge threat we were up against.

I looked at the clock once more. Way past the scheduled time for dispersal. The gloominess of the climate outside resembled that of the inside. Though rain had taken a break, there was chance of it breaking out anytime like the attacks that were happening all around. All expectant faces were looking towards me, as if anticipating some war command. But whom to fight against? The question itself was like a war to me. But the leader always needs to keep his head clear. It is difficult to fight without a clear thought process.

“Folks,“ I cleared my throat again. “We do not have a clear starting point or a marked periphery. But we have to detect the probable areas, tribes, groups from where such developments can happen. Think of things not thought before. Think of the absurd. Think of the abstract, the odd, the weird even the most atrocious.” I studied each one again. “Also, I would like to remind you all that this enemy is most sophisticated and gruesome. Be on your guard.” “I advocate that you all take rest today. Tomorrow morning let us meet and devise some game plan. “ I concluded feeling little jaded by the moroseness of the climate.The team started dispersing. It was quite obvious that all members were lost in thought. They were unable to chalk out a clear starting point of their respective activities. Everybody knew that time was short and they were needed to do nothing less than a miracle. The next attack can be anywhere, anytime and who knows to what effect? The faces of the otherwise sharp officers looked uninspired and pale. They trudged out of the room and along the corridor drudgingly towards their respective waiting vehicles. No one spoke or exchanged glances. Everyone, like me, were lost in thought. I could see a steady drizzle develop outside. So, any further delay might result in me getting wet.As I gingerly walked across the corridor behind the dispersed group of my new team members, one of my assistants almost bumped into me as he handed me a note scribbled in Hebrew on a piece of glass. It was crimson ink... or was it blood?פחדו מאוד מבני אדם“What the shit is this.” I was more amazed that disgusted.“Sir, it was stuck to the windshield of your car. The boy who was washing the car saw it first.“ He replied hesitatingly.“Did you find out what it means?“ I demanded spontaneously.“Sir it means... BE VERY AFRAID, HUMAN BEINGS.” He replied in a trembling whisper.I wrapped my handkerchief around the memento as I hastened my steps towards my car.The assistant stood dumbfounded in the rain, I could see horror in his eyes. As I drove through rain and growing traffic, his voice kept playing in my head.BE VERY AFRAID HUMAN BEINGS.

CHAPTER 2RICHARD REDKNAPP He paced around the room restlessly. Never in his illustrious career had he been confronted by events inexplicable … unexplainable. Though, he was amongst the top echelon scientists of NASA, he had his own observatory, where he did some queer research work for himself. His work on the study of collision of asteroids on the strata of moon and creation of rain through artificial pressure formation had won him the coveted NOBLE, recently.He had also been the recipient to many awards in his lifetime but it was the call from Stockholm that had catapulted him into stardom. His team was a full fledged workforce…an enviable workforce. Biologists, research scientists, academicians, top notch technicians, all made up his formidable troop. Presently, his team was working on Nano Robots. Biologist Michael Rodman had been his accomplice in this mission, that was poised to give the world a unique solution to fatal diseases. These Nano Robots, once injected in the bloodstream of humans, would combat any kind of malaise that may exist in the system. It becomes a continuous process. The transmissions from the Nano Robots are open to observation and recording 24/7, thus creating more disease free bodies in humankind. But it was this humankind which was now under threat, from a source unknown. There had been incessant calls, letters, emails, messages that had gone unanswered. He had no answer. The recent call had been from the White House, which he had managed to counter quite diplomatically. But for how long could he continue doing that? Multitudes of thoughts kept playing in his mind. He had become so engrossed with his thoughts that he didn’t even notice the entry of his close friend Cameron Simmer through the front door.He and Cameron had been close buddies right from school. It was indeed Cameron who had compelled Richard to take up science as his lifetime subject. Cameron however was too much into economics, which had of late propelled him into the world of eminence...as a sought after economist. But their world remained ONE. Though, from different schools of thought, their attachment remained as before. They loved to talk to each other about success, failure, fear, worry and all topics possible under the sky. They knew each other too well and since they did Cameron quite understood Richard’s state of mind. “Oh Ron, didn’t notice you.” Richard exclaimed as their eyes met.“I know Ritchie, these are difficult times.“ Sighed Cameron. “But what do you make out of these events?”“Frankly, I don’t know Ron.” Confessed Richard. “I am awaiting the lab reports which may illuminate the matter a bit. Why are the reports taking so long to come?”“Ritchie, it may be due to the disruption of services.“ Consoled Cameron. “The world is not as it was a month ago.”“True. Things have happened too fast.” Sighed Richard.“Well, Ritchie, have you ever considered these happenings as something beyond the domains of science?” Cameron’s question almost took Richard aback.“Like what?” He enquired back, almost spontaneously.“Well I don’t know, but some different angle of logic?” Cameron looked confused.“Everything is science Ron. Everything. Some we have discovered, some we are yet to. But everything is science.” Explained Richard.“During primitive times, there were innumerable gods. Since people did not have explanations about thunder, rain, famine, death, epidemics.. they had assigned a God each for every such factor. As soon as science brought about explanations, these Gods vanished.” Richard explained further.“You see Ron, there always have been a contest between science and religion. Whenever scientists came about with a ground breaking discovery, religious outfits feared that God’s name was being tarnished. Galileo, Archimedes, Newton, Descartes, Vesalius, Copernicus, Lavoisier, Mendel, Grimaldi and even Darwin had to face stern resistance. Every scientific research had been equated to defamation of faith. An empirical conflict had always occurred between faith and reason.”“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.... Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” Richard paused for Cameron to catch up.“But Ritchie, there are a few other things as well.” Cameron took over. “You see the prophecies of Nostradamus, that of the Mayans, acts of GOD. There is something which you and me cannot explain.”“GOD.” Chuckled Richard. “Nietzsche had once said that God is dead. Well, I am not getting into that. But seriously Ron, don’t you think that we are too uneducated to talk about God?”“In fact I echo the same opinion.” Replied Cameron, nodding in affirmation. “ We have always fashioned God according to our fancies. We have also developed epithets about him which are deplorable... almost laughable.”“Well, maybe God is a system as a whole.” Richard seemed more emphatic now. “Any system, which is whole consists of positive and negative sub systems. In subatomic particles you can see it. You can see it in magnetic fields. You can even see it in geography. If you add up all the elevations, mountains, mounds, hillocks ... they equate against all depressions like the gorges, canyons which are the negative terrains. The universe is a system of balance of matter, of energy, of illusions.” “But as you talk geographically, Ritchie, the depths of oceans will far surpass the heights of mountains.” Cameron asked almost innocently. “The depths of the oceans and all water bodies are equated by the water they contain thus they nullify each other. “ Explained Richard. “ And please do not count here the excavated pits or the erected tombs by man in this equation. Man has created the imbalance, therefore we have forest fires, acid rains, tsunamis.”“You mentioned Nostradamus, the Mayans.” Continued Richard. “ There are several others too, who had predicted doomsday. You can get a feel of it in Genesis as well. There are several theories but the ones which are most believable are three in number. The first one being the black hole process. There are several reasons for black holes to develop. Stephen Hawking had researched excessively on the subject. But there is something called a gobbling effect. There have been numerous instances in faraway galaxies where a parent body, a star or a sun gobbles up the planetary bodies orbiting it. Our Sun is starting to show signs of internal fusion. It might gobble up weaker planets like Earth and Mercury at some point of time. The second theory is that of explosion due to collision. As you know, the lights that reach us from distant stars, had started several light years ago, when it finally reaches us, it may not even be at the spot from where it emitted that light. Similarly, we had been assigning locations of various heavenly bodies through their emissions. But those are no longer in their initial locations. They are maybe sprinting at us or away from us. But it was estimated some years ago that a heavenly body, almost eighty times the diameter of the Sun is fast approaching us. The collision would be devastating. And the tragedy is that we have no means to understand exactly where the body is presently located. The third theory is in terms of evolution. We all know that Charles Darwin had postulated the theory of evolution stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual's ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Well, humans or Homo Sapiens had the brightest evolution. They evolved into the most powerful creature that beat all other species into submission. If you see the graph of human evolution, it has had a steep incline till up to now when the graph is reasonably flat. Man has reached its zenith of natural evolution. The next step to evolve will be through AI ( artificial intelligence). However, there is another species, quite hidden from us, which is evolving even faster and by the next few decades may outrun us. As soon as they evolve as much, they will appear on the face of the earth. And their prime motive will be to exterminate humans.”Cameron’s jaw dropped. “You mean, we all will get killed?” “You can even die crossing the road Ron. Be happy that you will die with all others.” Smiled Richard.“Do you mean all these blasts that are happening, takes birth from one of these theories?” Cameron asked blankly.“I don’t know Ron. But whatever happens... happens because of imbalance.” Richard sighed again.“Well, imbalance it is.” Now Cameron took over. “Look at us. How many people ever pause to think the cardinal question …. What will happen of us. Our daily care is staying busy to make a livelihood and earning for a progeny, which might not survive with the planet. Our world, our God, our being revolves around money, which was devised to be a means of exchange only. But this has now become the reason of all major conflict. If God is watching, he probably might be feeling that this is the time to show man... who is stronger God or money.” “Acts of God.” Richard chuckled once again.“By the way, Ritchie, I remember once you had told me something about anti-matter. It annihilates matter when both come into contact. A small portion can cause widespread destruction.” Cameron was getting excited.“Initially, I was having the same impression.” Nodded Richard. “ But Anti-Matter is produced in very small capacities and it is too expensive for any terrorist organisation to procure. Even all terrorist organisation put together cannot procure or produce an even quantum. It costs several Trillion Dollars. Also the characteristics of the explosions are not symbolic to Anti-Matter.” “Hey Ron“ He said patting his pal. “Are you reading too much of Dan Brown lately?”Cameron managed a weak smile. The discussion was making him more and more nervous. Cameron Simmer was by no means a weak hearted bloke. He had been into adventure sports from early childhood. He and some of his select friends had scaled mountains, done bungee jumping, paragliding, trekked in the Amazon thickets without much agony. But today he felt a chill in his spine. The fear of the unknown. He knew his friend also felt the same and in the depth of his heart he believed that Richard will surely be able to unravel the mystery... for the sake of the world.Richard Redknapp, in fact, was not afraid. He felt frustrated. Today, when the world was looking up to the clan of scientists to rid them of this peril, he and his likes stood helpless, bewildered. It was a feeling of pain and failure for people like him whose life had revolved around various nuances of science and technology. He felt ashamed to some extent to reply to the incessant flow of emails in his handset. The world still had high hopes on people like him. A wrong statement might send the world into a panicking paranoia. He waited for the lab reports to arrive. Just waited.“By the way Ron,” Richard finally found some voice to break the silence. “As you say, because of this tug-of–war between God and money, these retributions are happening. Then why did explosions happen in East Africa where money is a sparse commodity?”“Maybe God will be able to explain.” This time it was Cameron who was smiling. Richard retrieved two tumblers of coffee from the dispenser unit and sat across Cameron. “Ron, hope this is not our last.” He said looking away.A loud knock at the door startled both. A burly visitor had just made his way to the doorway. He was quick to hand over a parcel to one of the assistants of Richard, who had approached him. “The lab reports.” Exclaimed Richard.Almost snatching the packet from his assistant, he impatiently tore open the envelopes and laid the papers that emerged on his table.Soon, a deep frown appeared on his brow, depicting the gravity of the printed matter in front of him. After having studied the papers for some time, he dialled a number on his mobile. “Hello Mr. Ervine.” Richard called in a low tone. “I have received the lab reports. The scan copies are being mailed to you in half an hour.” He hung up.“What is it, Ritchie.” Cameron called out curiously.“BE VERY AFRAID HUMAN BEING. BE VERY AFRAID.” Richard’s voice was almost a hushed whisper, almost sinister.

CHAPTER 3SWAMINATHAN PARTHASARATHY SP was already late for lunch. Though hungry, he knew he had to skip lunch in order to be on time for the conference. This was nothing new to him. His schedules have always been so consecutive that he seldom found time for himself.Swaminathan Parthasarathy, was a power house of knowledge. A walking, talking, emoting and swearing encyclopaedia. He was a professor, author, motivational speaker, columnist, news analyst, critic all rolled into one. Today, he was scheduled to address final year students of Christ College, Bangalore on national and international issues. This interactive session was a new addition to their annual carnival. SP never missed his commitments and in fact he was very much looking forward to this interaction. He knew difficult questions would be hurled at him, which he would relish to reply. As he entered Bannarghata Road, he received a text of probable questions, not that he needed them but it was always the duty of the organisers to do so.In no time, he was on the podium. After the customary felicitation and the harangue of the earlier speakers SP was summoned to speak.“Good Afternoon, everyone.” His deep baritone had commanded silence to descend on the auditorium. “As I was approaching the venue, one of the organizers had texted me some probable questions, so that I get some mental preparation, lest I falter, you know. And you all are intelligent beings. So, I have based my speech on those probable questions. The ones I miss, can be asked later on.”“Why are Indians corrupt? What's wrong with our attitude? Ladies and Gentlemen, Indians are Hobbesians: ( having a Culture of self interest)Corruption in India is a cultural aspect. Indians seem to think nothing peculiar about corruption. It is prevalent. Indians tolerate corrupt individuals rather than correct them. No race can be congenitally corrupt. To know why Indians are corrupt, look at their patterns and practices.”“Firstly:Religion is transactional in India. Indians give God cash and anticipate an out-of-turn reward.
Such a plea acknowledges that favours are needed for the undeserving. In the world outside the temple walls, such a transaction is named “bribe”. A wealthy Indian gives not cash to temples, but gold crowns and such baubles. His gifts can not feed the poor. His pay-off is for God. He thinks it will be wasted if it goes to the needy. In June 2009, the newspaper The Hindu published a report of Karnataka minister G. Janardhan Reddy gifting a crown of gold and diamonds worth Rs 45 crore to Tirupati. India’s temples collect so much that they don't know what to do with it. Billions are gathering dust in temple vaults. When Europeans came to India they built schools. When Indians go to Europe & USA, they build temples. Indians believe that if God accepts money for his favours, then nothing is wrong in doing the same thing. This is why Indians are so easily corruptible. Indian culture accommodates such transaction.First: Morally. There is no real stigma. An utterly corrupt politician can make a comeback, just unthinkable in the West.”“Secondly:Indian moral ambiguity towards corruption is visible in its history. Indian history tells of the capture of cities and kingdoms after guards were paid off to open the gates, and commanders paid off to surrender. This is unique to India. Indians' corrupt nature has meant limited warfare on the subcontinent. It is striking how little Indians have actually fought compared to ancient Greece and modern Europe. The Turk's battles with Nadir Shah were vicious and fought to the finish. In India fighting wasn't needed, bribing was enough to see off armies. Any invader willing to spend cash could brush aside India’s kings, no matter how many tens of thousands soldiers were in their infantry. Little resistance was given by the Indians at the “Battle” of Plassey. Clive paid off Mir Jaffar and all of Bengal folded to an army of 3,000. There was always a financial exchange to taking Indian forts. Golconda was captured in 1687 after the secret back door was left open. Mughals vanquished Marathas and Rajputs with nothing but bribes. The Raja of Srinagar gave up Dara Shikoh’s son Sulaiman to Aurangzeb after receiving a bribe. There are many cases where Indians participated on a large scale in treason due to bribery.”“Thirdly:Indians do not believe in the theory that they all can rise if each of them behaves morally, because that is not the message of our faith. Our caste system separates us. We don't believe that all men are equal. This resulted in our division and migration to other religions. Many Hindus started their own faith like Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhaism and many converted to Christianity and Islam. The result is that Indians don't trust one another. There are no Indians in India, there are Hindus, Christians, Muslims and what not. Indians forget that 1400 years ago we all belonged to one faith. This division evolved an unhealthy culture. The inequality has resulted in a corrupt society, in India every one is thus against everyone else, except God and even he must be bribed.Here in South India, we talk about us being Dravids and thus having some inherent quality of valour and others being Aryans, comparable to nincompoops. I tell you that there is no such shit. Humans were basically two sects, Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. We are all the descendants of Homo Sapiens, Neanderthals were exterminated by us. So please don’t join the chorus of differentiation between Dravids and Tendulkars. Secondly, take it out of your mind that people down South of India are more intelligent that people elsewhere. You don’t know what intelligence is. Neither do your parents know what it is. So don’t talk about it. And let me tell you that India is not about South and North only. It is about East and West as well. There is also a North East, where people are way superior to our arm chair analysts. India will not grow until you do not grow and you will not grow until folks stop teaching you sociological bullshit. ““Now to the Second Question, sorry probable second question : Are we competent enough to be a Super power? The answer, ladies and gentlemen is a blatant no. We are not psychologically ready to take up that responsibility. To be a leader, one must accept certain responsibilities. We are not capable enough to take them up. We still believe in slavery. The companies for which we work in inculcate this so called quality in us every passing day. Most of us bring back home something undesired along with the pay packet..... stress. You undergo stress due to work pressure, pressure to compete, pressure to meet impractical schedules, pressures of incompetence of your boss, unhealthy work atmosphere, irrational company policies and much more. Yet we continue to slog, day in and day out. You know why? To meet our needs, to meet the family’s needs. It’s very difficult not to be a slave. Those who are not are either genius or duds like me.”Some people laughed, the rest thought about the thought.“India cannot ever become a super power because India does not believe it can. If someone puts a superlative Made-In-India product in front of us, side by side he puts a third rate product from Germany or Japan.... we will definitely choose the latter. To us India and excellence are alien to each other. Out thought processes are not at all in sync with that of the developed nations. The biggest problem is that, neither we realise, nor we recognise that India does possess what the others do.”“Simple example. The Western world or the Turks or the Chinese always brag about their speed, mobility and agility. But do you know, that there is a tribe in Nagaland, where people can outrun a Cheetah? Do you know that there was a General of the Ahom kingdom in present day Assam who devised immaculate war plans in 1671 to defeat the mighty Mughals with less than one third of the soldiers. The Battle of Saraighat was a naval battle fought in 1671 between the Mughal Empire (led by the Kachwaha king, Raja Ramsingh I), and the Ahom Kingdom led by Lachit Borphukan on the Brahmaputra river at Saraighat, now in Guwahati, Assam, India.” “There was a Dutch East India Company, before the British East India Company, which was much stronger in military capabilities and which had defeated forces from present day Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Formosa ( Present day Taiwan), Mauritius, Persia, Vietnam, Thailand and was poised to take over India from the Southern end. But on the way they met stern resistance from the King of Travancore, Raja Marthanda Varma. The VOC or the Dutch East India company which appeared to be invincible at that point of time was defeated so badly that the Dutch India Company went into decline. These tales of valour and capability are missing in our history books. We only read what we are made to read by people who had decided what our history should look like.”“From recent times I have another pick. A cricketer. I am a cricket enthusiast so I have good admiration for this guy. Virat Kohli.Sure he’s brash, sure he’s arrogant, sure he’s oozing with confidence, sure he’s raring to go. Well then, don’t we all want some of that? Isn’t the new brand of India all about that? Has anyone lately heard anyone, foreign or domestic, diplomat or business man, celebrity or common man, say anything different about India today? Back in ‘91, when our economy opened up, we had to fold our hands before foreign institutions and countries and beg them to invest in our country. We were polite and watchful, appealing to the world to consider us as a destination of prospects. Not because that was our culture but because we ourselves were unsure of how things would pan out for this enormous nation. We were cautious, afraid to commit, averse to take risks and played watchfully. That was the mind-set of India at that time. Times have changed, so has India. We no longer beg, we beg to differ. We don’t wait for opportunities, we create them. We don’t just rise to applaud, we rise to accept the applause. Our industry is confident, our youth ambitious, our poor hopeful and our government responsible. Hmm, who is Virat then? Does he not represent the new India? Confident to take on the world, ambitious to be the best in business, carries hopes of millions of Indian fans, and is responsible and yes, accountable to the countless expectations. “You give me crap, I’ll give it back with interest; you disrespect me, I’ll not just earn it, I’ll demand it; you sledge me, you wish you never had because you’re in for more than a mouthful; you ignore me, well then too bad because I’m the star the world is looking at!!’ Is it Virat who I am talking about or is it the new India which we all want to believe in and be living in? This is not a mere reflection of his 100 against Pakistan in ‘yet another’ World Cup victory over the arch-rivals, but the reflection of a boy whom we have all seen grow and mature as a player, a captain, an individual.Comparisons are inevitable, but don’t agree with what Rameez Raja said in the post-match presentation of the Indo-Pak World Cup encounter, “you are the new Tendulkar of the Indian team,” VK handled the overwhelming statement well, first absorbing the applause, then smiling and simply saying, “Well, that’s a huge compliment.” But no Virat, one can never be a Tendulkar and especially not you, never!! You can never be Sachin because ‘YOU’ are ‘YOU’, ‘YOU’ are the new India, ‘YOU’ are KOHLI – VIRAT KOHLI”“That’s why I keep telling young people like you, be yourself first and be proud of what you are, the way you are. ““Any questions?” He stopped to look around.A few hands had shot up instantly. The lady in the front row got the first opportunity to have a crack.“Sir, you had said that in general most of the people are slaves to somebody.” The girl emphasised. “And that due to family and other pressures the person is not being able to exercise his or her free will. Does that mean, a society where family is not a constraint becomes a much productive society for mankind.”“See.“ Smiled SP. “Humans first evolved as hunters. Then they became farmers. Then this industrial revolution happened. Humans have always competed against each other. Survival of the fittest, you know, is a law of the nature. But they survived on their own accord and not because their fathers and forefathers were hoarders. The competition should be even. Here you have the bosses losing sleep on how much more to hoard, whereas the peasants are losing sleep over from where the next meal would come. Society needs a balance. We have lost that.”The intellect in the reply probably was too much for the pretty girl who thought it to be wise to sit down.The tall boy in the red shirt was next.“Sir, there has been some explosion around the world recently. We also had one recently in Sri Lanka. No one has yet come out with any explanation. What do you make of it?”“The best of scientists around the world are trying to understand this.” SP, for the first time looked a bit confused.“But sir, “ continued the boy in red. “It’s almost three weeks now. Aren’t the scientists taking too long?”“I too feel the same.” Replied SP. “They should have come out with an explanation by now unless it is something beyond their comprehension. Beyond the customary.”“What is the message coming through, then, sir.” Asked the boy almost in desperation.“BE VERY AFRAID HUMAN BEINGS. BE VERY AFRAID.“ Pronounced SP to an audience that was stunned into silence. 

Chapter 4JOSHUA ZIPLIN The refugees clung on to each other in huddles as the Sudanese forces led them from counter to counter getting their identity papers checked and rechecked. The refugees were unsure about their fate and also unsure about the promise from the authorities about a possible evacuation of the refugees to Israel. It had been a nightmarish life for them in the unhealthy shanties ever since their crossover to Sudan. Situations had turned for the worse after the outbreak of war, causing scarcity of food, water, basic amenities and also their safety.There had been several declarations of freedom over the last five years in the refugee camp and Benny and most of the Falashas were least convinced by the Government notice. Since morning there had been several inspections carried out by the Sudanese State Security Forces. Though, security checks and government inspections were nothing new to the security camps. But this time, a few white men and some Non-Africans had been spotted along with the forces. Some said that they were from CIA, some said that they were peace keeping forces. Some even said that they had heard bits of Hebrew, here and there. Benny, his wife Adinah and their eight year son Joshua, had been among the first to be inspected in the morning. They had been woken harshly by the forces in wee hours in the morning and had their belongings ransacked and checked thoroughly by three officers from the security forces. No other Israeli community had ever suffered such appalling woes as the Ethiopian tribe on its quest to find a way to Israel. It later became a living legend. It is historic. A Jewish tribe, cut off from the outside world, entrenched in the heart of Africa, living in the mountains and valleys of Ethiopia, the land of the Queen of Sheba. For thousands of years, this tribe stubbornly clung on to its faith, a pure and innocent biblical religion. That quiet and shy tribe had been lost to history. Its leaders, the Kessim, venerable elders dressed in white robes, navigated their flock through the ancient rules of Judaism and the basic customs of modem life. Theirs was a tribe that at times lived in peace and serenity among its neighbors, and at other times had been persecuted by cruel rulers. But it also had to face the ugly humiliation by rabbis and Jewish theological experts from the outside world, who had decided that the Ethiopian Jews, commonly called Falasha, were not really Jewish. Yet the Ethiopian Jews did not give up. And generation after generation, inspired by the tradition passed from father to son and from mother to daughter, they dreamed of the day when they would set off on their way to the Land of Israel. Very few Ethiopians came to Israel in the first thirty years of its existence. Even during the reign of Emperor HaUe Selassie, the "Lion of Judea,"who was Israel's close friend and ally, no serious effort was made to bring the Jews of Ethiopia to the Jewish state. Things started to change in 1973, when Israel's chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef published an unequivocal Halacha ruling that the Ethiopian Jews, who called themselves Beta Israel, were full-fledged Jews. Two years later, the government of Israel decided to apply the Law of Return to the Ethiopian Jews. Benny and family had woken up to a new dawn. By evening, a group of officers from Israel National Forces and MOSSAD had accompanied them along with many of their co-dwellers of the camp to a huge plane, where they were made to huddle on the floor.Next morning, they were in Israel. The land they have been dreaming of since generations. Benny and a few of his colleagues soon managed to set up a garage at the outskirts of Jerusalem. They were helped in their quest by Shayyik Yaddi, a benevolent Rabbi, who had developed a liking for Benny and family. Young Joshua spent much of his time with the Rabbi. Through the influence and guidance of the Rabbi, Joshua along with some of his friends, managed to get enough education to qualify for the university. One day after a customary function at the nearby Synagogue, Joshua was summoned by Yaddi into the corner most room of the Chaplain. The room was dimly illuminated and Joshua could make out a solitary human figure seated in the centre of the room. The Rabbi introduced Yitzak Saman to Joshua. Saman was one of the legendary figures of MOSSAD at that time. The frequency of meetings grew and within a very short time Joshua Ziplin had become a blue eyed recruit in the revered organisation. Under the able guidance of his illustrious seniors Joshua grew rapidly in ranks through his courageous endeavours.The Yaguni was fast developing into a cult organisation within the HAMAS. Though, the Yagunis were few in number, they were fast developing into a lethal force in the domains of Gaza. The government forces were unable to either track them or confront them. They appeared, demolished and disappeared in no time. Under the leadership of Mamood Billawal, this group was fast growing in prominence.The policemen in the overcrowded bus had taken notice of the stranger in the far corner.Since this was the last bus to the township from the brick making yards, everyone seemed to know everyone else, even the Israeli policemen. Any new face was always seen with suspicion since entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip was extremely restricted. Streets, offices, industries, markets and public transport were under strict monitoring of the Israeli guards and lawmakers.The policemen approached the new face.“Where are you from? Never seen you before?” One of them enquired gruffly.“I am Hasan Ahlawi.” Replied the stranger, adjusting his Keffiyeh. “I am newly employed with the Tosca for keeping accounts of their daily brick making.” “We need to see your awlaq.” Retorted the other policeman, demandingly.Hasan was quick to remove a sheaf of papers from his Jubbeh to hand them over to the suspicious cops.They made a thorough study of the same before handing it back.“You get paid for harassing people.” Sneered the stranger. “ Don’t you ever feel ashamed?”All eyes in the bus turned towards him. It took a lot of courage to speak in such tone to Israeli officers.“You dare to talk in such a manner with the cops.” Shouted one of the policemen.“I don’t care whether you are the cops or the IDF.” Retorted Hasan. “After a day of hard work even the satan leaves people in peace. But you people are worse.”“Shut up, will you.” Shouted the senior most officer, trembling with wrath.The bus screeched to a halt near the Duma and everyone including the stranger disembarked. As he briskly walked through the crowded market alley, a hand tapped him on the shoulder.“Salaam. I am Hanif Haji.“ A tall man had emerged behind him. “I saw everything that happened in the bus.” He smiled. “Consider me your friend.”The two embraced and kept walking towards the end of the market.“Tell me where are you from?” Asked the new acquaintance of Hasan.“I am actually from Jerusalem. Have found a job at Tosca and I stay at the Asmat of Jillela.” Replied Hasan cordially.“Ah, so you stay very close.” Chuckled Haji. “ Tell me the truth brother. Are you here for job or some other serious pursuit.”Hasan turned around to face Haji. A tall, dark, bearded fellow had rather intelligent eyes.“I and my family have immensely suffered in the hands of these kafirs. I am looking for a payback.“ Hasan replied gritting his teeth.“Then you have come to the right place, brother. “ Smiled Haji. “Only two hundred meters from your place is the Bejjowa. I beckon you to come there tonight. You will be delighted.”They parted ways soon after with Hasan promising Haji to meet at the Bejjowa at night.The place was uncomfortably crowded. The entrance led to a sprawling hallway. Behind the hallway, he could see doors with sentries posted at the doorway.Haji appeared from nowhere to pull him aside. “Brother you have come at the right time.” He hissed in an audible whisper. “The chief has just arrived.”The hallway walls were full of portraits of leaders of the PLO and HAMAS. Haji guided Hasan through the throng of revellers into a room at the far end of the hall. The room bore close semblance to the hall. Only the ambience was different. Lights were dim and a red carpet covered the whole floor. A man in military uniform stood in the middle of the room. Haji advanced and knelt down in front of him, signalling Hasan to do the same.Hasan chose to keep standing, ignoring the signs desperately being made by Haji.“Is this the person you told us about?” The man in the uniform asked in a booming voice.“Yes, Chief.” Said Haji submissively. “Pardon him for he does not know our custom.”“Even if I knew,” Spoke Hasan, I wouldn’t have followed it. Because I bow only before Allah.”“Wallah, habibi, Marhaba.” The Chief was exuberant.He signalled him to sit, himself settling down on the large sofa near the window, opposite to the doorway.Hasan sat on the chair beside the sofa.“Well, young man, have you heard about Yakunis?” Asked the man in uniform.“Yes I have.” Replied Hasan. “And I am keen to work with them for our liberation.”“You have come into the right place.” Smiled the Chief.” I am Billawal. And we need red hot blood like yours.”“But before you can join us, we have a ritual that you need to follow.” Bellowed the Chief.“Anything for liberation.” Proclaimed Hasan.The Chief signalled to one of his men. Who immediately rushed out to come in with an iron box. The Chief removed a stamp, with a mark of their organisation made of brass. He put it over a burning stove as the other men in the room, including Haji held Hasan strongly against the chair. Hasan did not resist even a bit. Once the stamp had been sufficiently hot, a man in gloves removed it from the stove and in a single action pressed the hot metal to Hasan’s left forearm. There was a hiss of burning flesh. Hasan could smell his burning skin. He ground his teeth against the deep agony, to prevent the yelp of pain from escaping his throat. The Chief was visibly pleased. Once the men had released their grasp over him, Bilawal went up to him and hugged his head.“Welcome to our fold. Let us fight together for freedom.” He roared as the rest of the men in the room shouted slogans of liberty.Every evening Hasan visited the Bejjowa and attended various meetings. He also participated in several activities of terror and arson. The Yakunis were reasonably pleased with his valour and loyalty.One evening the Chief had called for a serious meeting. Information about a possible crackdown by MOSSAD had been doing the rounds.“A very capable officer of MOSSAD, called Joshua Ziplin, has been nominated and sent to Gaza to eliminate us.” Announced the Chief.“We know his name but no one has seen him.” Another Yakuni proclaimed.“We need to find him and eliminate him before he gets to us. We know how dangerous and cunning the MOSSAD is.” Stated the Chief. “I might be of help, Chief.” Hasan volunteered standing up.“When I was in Jerusalem, I had befriended many agents of MOSSAD. I can contact them and gather the whereabouts of this man and track him down.” He declared.“Bravo.” The Chief was exuberant. Hasan was given total authority to pursue his task of identifying and eliminating Joshua Ziplin.One morning Hasan almost ran into Haji at the bus stop. “Hey brother. I need your help.” Appealed a panting Hasan.“Tell me. I am always ready to help.” Assured Haji. “I have located Joshua Ziplin and he intends to attack the Chief, this Sunday.” Informed Hasan.“Let’s go to the chief immediately.” Haji proclaimed pulling Hasan along.They reached the Kalibia, one of the many addresses of the Chief on a canter.After some briefing to his chief security officer, they rushed upstairs to the living room. The Chief had just finished his breakfast and was looking in full spirits.Haji quickly briefed him with the information shared by Hasan. The Chief remained calm and asked Hasan about his plan of action.Hasan said that his friend from MOSSAD was giving Ziplin company and he intended to inform his friend that the Chief will be available at a secluded house on Sunday. He had already selected a secluded house where most of the Yakuni men will lay in ambush. Once Zipplin comes to the house they would attack and kill him, whereas the Chief should not budge from his home. Hasan himself would come and give him the news of success of the mission.The Chief could only nod in appreciation.Sunday was a restless day for the Chief. The time of the operation had been fixed at 7 PM and he expected that by 8 PM, he would hear the good news. He had sent his choicest fighters to the secluded house along with the loyal guards of his palace. At 8 PM there was a knock at the door. The Chief leapt up and instantaneously opened the door for Hasan to enter.“What happened?” The Chief asked breathlessly. “ Is Ziplin dead?” Hasan only smiled, pulled out a semi-automatic, 9 mm Glock-19 handgun and fired all the bullets in the chest of the Chief. “ From Joshua Ziplin with love.” He said softly to the body as it slumped to the ground.Meanwhile, at a distant house, as the Yakuni fighters lay crouched to the ground, time ticked away. Haji was growing restless. He looked at his watch, 8:30 PM. At the same instant a loud explosion turned the house and the occupants into smithereens. Only smoke bellowed from the spot which minutes ago used to be an old dilapidated house. A group of Ethiopian children, black-skinned and clothed in white, entered the stage of the huge audience hall in Jerusalem. The children, blessed with a unique kind of beauty, watched the public with big, black eyes, filled with curiosity and pride. The famous Israeli composer Shlomo Gtonich, sat by the piano. Its first notes smoothly sailed over the hushed crowd, and a beautiful, yet chilling song surged from the children's choir: The moon is watching from above On my back is a small bag of food The desert beneath us has no end ahead And my mother promises my little brothers: "A little more, a little more, Lift up your legs, a last push Toward Jerusalem. " This was "The Joumey Song" of poet Haimldissis, describing the epic joumey of the Ethiopian Jews to the Promised Land, to Israel.The public cheered and applauded. Perhaps that was not Missis's intention, and perhaps the enthusiastic crowds did not notice, but the children's song described the most moving — and the most terrible — chapter of the Ethiopian Jews' aHyah to the land of their fathers: The moonlight stood fast Our bag of food was lost... And at nights bandits attacked With a knife and a sharp sword In the desert, the blood of my mother The moon is my witness and I promise my little brothers: 'A little bit more, a little more The dream will be fulfilled Soon we will arrive in the Land of Israel. " Joshua, seated at the last bench, had tears in his eyes, as his phone rang. It was the Ramsad (Chief of MOSSAD).“Congrats, Ziplin you have been chosen to represent MOSSAD for the new INTERPOL Specisal Tasdk Force to investigate the recent calamities.”Joshua was dazed. He gingerly got up from his sear As the last stanza of "The Joumey Song" rang out ....In the moon The image of my mother looks at me Mother, don 't disappear! If only she were by my side She would be able to convince them That I am a Jew. “How are you, my son.” The soothing voice of the Rabbi brought him back to the present times.“Fine, Rabbi. We are yet to start our mission.” Replied Joshua.“But who are the adversaries, child, do you know?” Enquired the bewildered voice of the Rabbi.“Do you know?” Joshua enquired back.“No. I only know something about the signals, son.” Replied the Rabbi from the other side.“And what are they?” Joshua almost demanded.“BE VERY AFRAID HUMANS. BE VERY AFRAID.” The Rabbi’s voice reduced to a hushed whisper. Before Joshua could react appropriately, the call got disconnected. 

Chapter 5DIMITAR BOZKOV The small town of Gorov had an aura of peace associated with it. Though, a small town, it was laden with picturesque landscape draped in a blanket of serenity. Population was sparse and mostly employed with various businesses in the neighboring town of Smolyan.Smolyan is a town and ski resort in the far south of Bulgaria near the border with Greece. It is the administrative and industrial centre of the homonymous Smolyan Province. The town is situated in the valley of the Cherna ("Black") and the Byala ("White") Rivers in the central Rhodopes near to the popular ski resorts Pamporovo and Chepelare.. Every morning people travelled by various means from Gorov to Smolyan for a living and returned by dusk to their small houses.The journey to and from Smolyan usually took a little more than a couple of hours, since the distance was not more than sixty odd kilometers.The town of Gorov had not more than 5000 inhabitants, and most of the people had affiliations to the town of Smolyan, either by trade, education, sports or profession.Not many establishments were there in Gorov. Most of the establishments were there either in Smolyan or in it’s outskirts. Due to its suitable location on top of Mount Rozen, the Bulgarian National Astronomical Observatory was located nearby, with a planetarium in operation in the town. There was one theatre, the Rhodope Drama Theatre, and a gathering of theatre practitioners and scholars known as Rhodopi International Theatre Laboratory was held every summer. There was also a regional historical museum founded in 1935.Greenery was all around, though most of the year, snow had the audacity to cover most of it. Yet. Bulgaria in this part was beautiful. The silence of the land added to the beauty. It was as if the mystic yet to be discovered by man …. The marauding man. Everything about this part of Bulgaria was so pure, chaste, innocent …. A contradiction to the bustling cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Stara Zagora, Ruse etc. Even animals cherished the harmony here. They were never troubled by man’s intervention to their peaceful, silent living.Dimitar Bozkov lay awake in his dimly lit chamber on a messily arranged bed, trying to figure out the various possibilities of the explosions. He had been thinking about all kinds of threats …extremism, political sabotage, ethnic violence … everything he had come across in his career. However, his mind was still blank, though it was crowded with too many thoughts and theories. After a briefing at the INTERPOL head quarters, he along with a few others had been deputed to the East of Europe to work on their findings … if any, or work to make some findings.Bozkov had been travelling from Poland to Romania and now to Bulgaria in search of something to identify the unknown assassin. Bulgaria, was the place of his birth, so he had a chance here to relive his childhood memories.He was too lost with his thoughts to hear the telephone ring. He reached out and switched on the main light.The telephone rang again.“Dobur Vecher, gospodine.” (Good evening, sir) The voice on the other side called out. “v Smolyan e imalo vzriv” (There has been a blast in Smolyan). The voice trembled.Bozkov jumped out of the bed and rushed down the dark stairway, putting on his coat, onto the dark roads outside. Somehow, the emergency that highlighted the telephonic message was missing in the serene atmosphere of Dimitrovgrad. He checked his watch. 11:30 PM. If he drove, as he usually does, he will be there within an hour an half. He reached for his car keys, jumped into the Renault Kadjar and sped ahead for the highway.The environment wore a ghastly look as he navigated through the highway. Though, the night had the normal features of the Balkan, to Bozkov somehow it bore the elements of the sinister. Bozkov drove madly through the deserted highway. The traffic patrollers, could vividly see the sign of INTERPOL flashing wildly and aborted any idea of giving chase. Bozkov was fast approaching Smolyan but suddenly he felt his car slowing down. He looked at his watch. It had stopped working. His car too had decelerated into a halt, though he had tried to step onto the gas at full throttle. He tried the ignition. The keys failed to start the engine. In fact the keys refused to move. He tried harder. No result. In utter frustration he got down the car in a huff. The night was moonless, so he could hardly see anything ahead. Exasperated with himself he took out the last cigar he had in his coat pocket. The small flickering light of the match stick revealed something to Bozkov that almost knocked him out of his senses. He was standing in front of a monstrous crater. Almost at the edge of abyss. One step forward and he would have been lost into the chasm. It was as if out of serendipity that his car had stopped, otherwise he would have been lost into nothingness.

The hall was abuzz with activity. Flickering monitors of laptops, palmtops, desktops, HMI screens all filled the hall with dozens of scientists, researchers and the INTERPOL guardian team discussing grave ideas simultaneously. Trevor Brehmann, the secretary of Defense from the US cabinet, raised his hand to signal for attention. The room grew quiet. All heads turned to the minister, who had taken his position at the podium. The journalists, flashing their cameras awaited his statement.“Freinds.” He beamed. “We have been waylaid by an unknown destructive force that is threatening to exterminate our existence. Several around the world have lost their lives. We need to find answers very fast. Today, we have managed to get around the best scientific, technical and investigative minds out here to discuss and determine, a way out of this maelstrom.” He looked around. “ Though, there has been destruction all around, our brightest minds have been working for an answer. And I, along with the rest of the world believe that they can surely find a solution…. And if they do not.. well, God save us.” He paused as a loud gasp escaped from amongst the papparazi. “I call upon Dr. David Sanchez, the head of researchers from the Royal Observatory of Madrid to share with us his findings.”Everybody waited for the small figure of Dr.Sanchez to climb up the stairs to the podium. Dr. Sanchez had been a revered figure in the world of science. His research papers had been subjects of study for the scientific community around the world. He had been amongst very few Non-Americans allowed to visit Area-51 in Nevada. However, his integrity has always remained paramount. His experiments, research results had also been extraordinary. Today, away from his labs, in front of a congregation of other scientific minds Dr. Sanchez looked visibly nervous, perhaps shaken.“Good morning to all.” He said in a grave baritone. “I don’t really know how long the mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights will be good, but good morning all the same.”“There has been some research work on the type of explosions we had been having and we have all concluded that they are not at all something we have encountered in the past. It is not RDX, TNT, PETN, any kind of dynamite, Pentolite, Tri Cyclic Acetone, Aziroazide azide, hydrogen bomb or a nuclear warhead. It is something different.” He paused to wipe his brow.“We, the scientific community have been unanimous in our finding that the explosions have left nothing behind to trace the cause . We have not found traces of noxious gaseous or elemental matter which will lead us towards the composition of the detonators and the origin of the creation of these.”“What about Anti-Matter doctor?” A stranger from the crowd gingerly stood up to ask.“It was a possibility.” Replied Dr. Sanchez gravely. “In 1928, British physicist Paul Dirac wrote down an equation that combined quantum theory and special relativity to describe the behavior of an electron moving at a relativistic speed. The equation – which won Dirac the Nobel Prize in 1933 – posed a problem: just as the equation x2 = 4 can have two possible solutions (x = 2 or x = −2), so Dirac's equation could have two solutions, one for an electron with positive energy, and one for an electron with negative energy. But classical physics (and common sense) dictated that the energy of a particle must always be a positive number.Dirac interpreted the equation to mean that for every particle there exists a corresponding antiparticle, exactly matching the particle but with opposite charge. For example, for the electron there should be an "antielectron", or "positron", identical in every way but with a positive electric charge. The insight opened the possibility of entire galaxies and universes made of antimatter.But when matter and antimatter come into contact, they annihilate – disappearing in a flash of energy. The Big Bang should have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter. But antimatter is not available off hand in this universe. The CERN produces only a few ounces through the Hadron Collider. But antimatter is not something you can store and transport easily. Also the characteristics of these blasts cannot be equated to matter – antimatter collision. Besides it is very expensive to produce antimatter.” “However, Sir, “ He turned to the stranger. “ This cannot be completely ruled out, only if the source is from another universe.”Meanwhile another hand had shot up. This was not of a stranger, but of a renowned face from NASA, Richard Redknapp.“Yes Ritchie. “ Smiled Doctor Sanchez. “ What’s your finding?”Richard stood up and looked around. It was a bewildered look. “Yes Ritchie”. Urged Dr.Sanchez.“Doctor.” Stammered Redknapp. “The elemental traces, are … are not from this galaxy.”A mephitic silence descended on the hall.“What!” Dr. Sanchez’s exclamation was more out of despair.

Bozkov managed to reach the nearest traffic booth after four hours of walk through the short cuts and treacherous terrain. He had lit some twigs and papers on the way to be able to see the trail. He was lucky to meet two traffic patrollers within the booth. “Zdravaite.”(Hello) He called out. “ Az sum ot INTERPOL.”(I am from INTERPOL).“kolata mi se povredi i tryabva da otida do Smolyan.” (my car broke down and I need to go to smolyan) He requested.“sŭr, ne mozhete. Grad Gorov e izcheznal. Do Smolyan nyama pŭt.” (sir, you cannot. The town of Gorov has disappeared. There is no road to smolyan). Replied one of the policemen.“Quoi?” Bozkov could no longer suppress his French instincts.He quickly dialed Commander Dragomir from the telephone at the post. He related everything as fast and as vividly as he could.The commander had listened to the update very patiently.“What to do sir?” Asked Bozkov impatiently.“Just be afraid. Very afraid.” Came the crisp reply..  

CHAPTER 6VIKTOR DASSAYEV He and his plain clothed officers tiptoed across what seemed like a courtyard. The Maxim -9 pistols they were carrying, had noiselessly eliminated the guards at the entrance and the courtyard. The Maxim 9 is a pistol with a silencer integrated into the gun. This is different from most silencers, which are separate, canister-shaped mufflers that are screwed onto the ends of gun barrels.The Maxim 9 is a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun with a 15-round magazine. The silencer gives it a distinct and futuristic look, like a weapon from a science fiction movie. The Maxim 9 is a duty pistol, short, quiet, reliable, durable and can use any (9 mm) ammo.They tiptoed across the vast open space, all ten of them, looking around, looking up and across to ensure safety in each step.This was a one of a kind operation The Police of the Republic of North Macedonia had summoned the help of neighbouring countries and THE INTERPOL to help them combat a new menace that had emerged within their lands. Though, Dassayev was not too much into detail about the folks in question but had been asked to assist the forces of Skopje to get rid of a group of unusual activists. They called them ponuduvači. He had been told by his colleagues from Moscow that they were “uchastniki torgov”, the English folks called them BIDDERS. Commander Dragomir of INTERPOL had said that these Bidders might have some relations to the destructions happening all around. A tip off had given the Macedonian police the information of the hideout of one such Bidder at a remote corner in the scenic town of Berovo. Berovo had a mountainous terrain and the small troop of ten had been Para-dropped from Skopje by the Macedonian Police owned Mil Mi-17 Helicopters. Dassayev felt proud to be carried on a product of his country in a foreign land. With the information they had been provided with, the ten man army had little difficulty to spot the villa inside a small forest, which supposedly housed the criminal.After reaching the other side of the courtyard, they divided themselves into two groups to cover either side of the courtyard. The courtyard was flanked on the either side by narrow corridors, which was surprisingly, without any light. They turned on their night vision focuses to have a clear look at the surroundings. The corridors were empty and unguarded, so they rushed through and met their colleagues emerging from the other side into another open courtyard. Before them stood a semi open door, unguarded and unlocked. They pushed through the door to enter a huge darkened hall.Though there were candles burning all around, the light was highly insufficient to illuminate the interiors. There was a sole occupant in the room. A shabbily dressed bearded apparition, seated on an armchair that looked old and dilapidated.In fact the whole room looked ancient with strange artefacts hanging from the walls and queer photographs with symbols wedged between animal stuffings. A few skulls also hung from the far corner. The room was in fact a litter. Several articles lay scattered on the floor. Some bones, some ancient coins, yellowed documents stitched together, some shrubs, dried leaves and roots, logs of wood, iron caskets and many other unimportant material.The Head of Operation,Alleno Alexandrov, the head of Macedonian Police Force approached the figure with his gun trained at him. In fact all the ten members of the force had their guns pointed at him. “My arestuyem tebya, ponuduvači.” (We arrest you, Bidder). His voice thundered in the room. It had a hint of scorn, as Dassayev could perceive.The Bidder offered no resistance. He quietly stood up and offered his hands to be manacled by the two young officers who had caught hold of him.As they pushed the captive out of the building Dassayev looked visibly dejected, as much as the others. The operation had been far too easy for his standards. But as they mounted on the waiting helicopter, an ear-splitting noise startled them,. Turning around they saw the building they had been into minutes ago, engulfed in leaping flames. The Bidder however, didn’t turn around but broke into an instant laughter.

Colonel Roy entered the interrogation room in a huff. The Englishman was visibly frustrated to be given a seemingly unassuming task of interrogating a prisoner, in a remote lock up in Skopje, which seemed to have little or no connection to the case in which he had been summoned by INTERPOL.Dassayev greeted him cordially as he entered the stingy room. The Bidder was seated opposite to Alexandrov bound to a chair. his body was bare, revealing the numerous tattoos etched on all and every part of the body. To the annoyance of the authorities, a sinister smile kept playing on his lips. Alexandrov stood up to allow Colonel Roy to take his seat.“How am I to interrogate him?” Asked the Colonel. “Do we have a translator here?”“You don’t need a translator for me.” Smiled the Bidder. “I can speak, understand and write English.”It startled everyone. This was the first time he had spoken. “How do you know English?” This time the Colonel looked squarely at him. “Where are you from?”“I am from the same world as you are Colonel Kevin Roy, ID number 3501, batch no. 19592 from MI 6.” He smiled again.“How do you know so much about me.” The Colonel looked flabbergasted.“Bidders know everything, Colonel Roy. I also know exactly why you are here.” He looked the Colonel in the eye.“If you are not from here, where is your passport, visa? And if you are from here, what is your identity?” Colonel Roy dug his eyes deep into him.“I am very much from here, colonel. Very much from here.” He emphasized, the smile still playing on his lips.“Your identity.” Demanded the Colonel.“My identity is in the water, fire, the air, the earth....”“Don’t give me philosophical rubbish.” Shouted an impatient Colonel Roy. “If you know everything, you should know that if you cannot produce identification proofs on demand, you are deemed to be an illegal migrant, which is a punishable offence.”“Who created this law Colonel Roy?” The Bidder enquired back. “Do you know why these laws were made?”“All that is important is the laws are very much prevalent.” Said the Colonel. “If you don’t follow them, you are damned.”“This rule was framed, Colonel, mainly to keep safety within the boundaries of nations....safe from infiltrators.” The Bidder moved forward in his chair to look closely at the Colonel. “But now how can you keep your nations safe when you have infiltration from elsewhere?” He smiled again. “What do you know, if you do, about these explosions happening around the world? Are you amongst the group who is doing it? I suspect you are from the IMRO. But first give me your name and nationality.” The Colonel moved his chair closer.“Too many questions together, Colonel.” Smiled the Bidder again. “All these questions cannot be answered sitting in an interrogation chamber. You need to understand as a human understands another human and not like an officer understands a criminal.”“Criminal you are.” The colonel gritted his teeth. “ And I will see to it that you receive the sternest punishment, you extremist.” “It’s a pity Colonel Kevin Roy that throughout history you people have always taken the wrong people to task. Your law doesn’t have enough to grill the actual people who are responsible for extremism. Look around you, humans do not value humans. They only value money, commodities. They will kill people to earn money. If a person takes a paltry loan or a debt from a wealthy person or the government. He may be killed if he does not repay. That is justified. However, when that same very person joins an extremist gang... he is branded a terrorist. Who created him? You people, Sir.” He looked around at everyone. “ Colonel Roy, I am not a terrorist, I am a bidder. Do you know what a bidder is?”“You better explain.” Suggested The Colonel.“Bidders originated from very early in history. It is not an occupation. It is something that happens to you from birth. We are not common people, Colonel. We have powers, out of the ordinary. Just think of it, right when you all are baffled by the happenings around the world, you get a tip off regarding a bidder in North Macedonia of all places. Your people easily captures the person and within minutes the house detonates. It could have happened moments ago. But the bidder had willed that you all take him with you, talk to him, understand him.” He stopped to take his breath.“When people get desperate in life. When they are driven to a corner with no solution visible, they turn to a Bidder. A bidder saves them from their horrible situation through his powers but there is a cost.... a sacrifice required. He has to allege his life to the bidder, who becomes the master of the life of the person. It is not that the bidder treats him as a slave or a servant, but he uses him for his many endeavours.” He stopped to look around once again.Colonel Roy was the least convinced. “ Don’t you try to fool me with stories. Tell me your name.” He gnashed out.“The Bidders were offshoots of the Bulgar tribe.” Continued the bidder. “A very cruel and aggressive tribe. They had specific powers that made them prophetic, saviours, warriors, spiritual healers and holders of evil power. The Bulgars were very cruel, they drank human blood out of human skulls as appetizers every evening. This was a strict ritual. And at any point of time any Bulgar had more enemies than friends. It was always their will and power to survive that kept them alive.” “The Bulgars got scattered when the Ottomans came to rule this side of Europe. The strongest resistance the Ottomans faced was from a guerrilla group called Astheos, who were direct descendants of the Bulgars. Later the Bulgars emerged sporadically in small numbers, sometimes as Balkan warrior tribes, sometimes as Carpathian nomads but the Bulgar tribe never appeared as a group in the later stages of history. Yes, there were groups. You were right Colonel when you mentioned IMRO. Most of the IMRO activists came from erstwhile Yugoslavia and had their original roots in Bulgaria.”He stopped as the raised hand of Colonel Roy interrupted him.“I want your name.” The Colonel repeated the umpteenth time.“Probably my Macedonian friends would know that Bidders have no name.” He looked at the amazed Macedonians. “Ours was a tribe in history. The Bulgars, I mean, had a strange custom. In ancient Europe, children were named after Gods because men feared Gods. Our tribe despised the idea. They believed that humans have a different identity and they should not have names similar to the Gods. So the children did not have any official name, since any name other than that of the Gods were not accepted in this part of the world. It was also believed that people whose names did not appear in the Government registers, did not exist. We were not born. How can you punish someone not born, colonel? Law of the land.” He smiled broadly.Colonel Roy looked at Alexandrov, who nodded silently. “But people might have assigned some name to you.” Enquired the Colonel.“Yes, we adopt names from the nature for ourselves. I am called Earth.” He proclaimed.“What do you know about these explosions?” The Colonel was relentless. “I told you Colonel, this isn’t the right place to talk about such things.” He repeated in an easy voice. Dassayev somehow felt a chill in his spine. Was it something ominous that the Bidder had to share?It was similar to the doctor who always procrastinated the breaking of the bad news about a patient to his or her relatives. Will the wait be too longer to bear?The Bidder was shifted to a police cabin and was asked to sleep the night and be prepared for another round of questionings at the police lounge next morning. Dassayev requested the Chief to let him be amongst the on-guard officials for the Bidder’s cabin. The Chief agreed although a little bewildered. When dinner was being served, Dassayev silently entered the cabin. The Bidder was seated on the floor in a meditative pose. He looked up and smiled. “dobro pozhalovat' ofitser” (Welcome officer), he beamed. “You know Russian?” Dassayev was amazed.“Da, Victor Dassayev, son of Nicolai and grandson of Anatoly Dassayev.” He announced in optimum fluency. “I also know why you are here.”Dassayev was too astonished to talk. He once thought that he should rather show his palm to this man and know about his future rather than coax him to tell about the happenings all around. But he quickly realised that his future would have no meaning if the world itself did not appear to have a future.“We are encountering the revenge of the Gods, our guardians.” He suddenly announced.“Every planetary system has a guiding system in the universe. Some are light years apart and some are millions of light years apart. Our guardian planetary system or our Gods have thought that it is the wisest decision to end the world. They can do it in one go...BOOM.. and we are gone.” He animated an explosion with his hands and smiled. “But, they are giving us a chance. Chance after chance. To talk, to negotiate.” “But we are yet to invent a communication system that can reach or at least search for them.” Dassayev submitted helplessly.“You do not require technology here, you require a medium to transfer your message.” He Replied.“But how can we find a medium? Are you the medium?” Asked Dassayev eagerly.“No, I am not the medium. But I know this, that the medium you are looking for is also an offshoot of our tribe. A bidder. Like humans come to me to rid them of problems from humans, this bidder will rid humans of perils from the gods. But humans have to bid their lives to this bidder.”The man stated and for the first time his smile did not play on his lips. “How do we search for him?” Dassayev was almost in a begging tone.“He will appear, when he has to. Only humans have to recognise him.” He replied almost sternly.“Till then..?” Dassayev’s etes widened.“Just wait.... And be afraid. very afraid. “The sinister smile was back on his lips.  

CHAPTER 7B.M.KASHYAP It is not unusual for the quartet to meet on a Sunday at the Mumbai Presidency Golf Club after a round or two at the greens. Major General (Retired) Vinay Rastogi, DSP Rajnish Damle of Mumbai Police, Anil Khanna, Senior Officer with NIA and Brij Mohan Kashyap, Senior Field Officer at the Research And Analysis Wing, Government of India. Today, however, they had amongst them a peculiar guest of honor ….. General Sahnawaz Alam of the ISI. It was strange … even bizarre to think of a cordial, informal get together between Indian and Pakistani war officials in India and in Mumbai … of all the places. Kashyap or BMK, as he was popularly known, had been working with Alam at the INTERPOL as members of the Special Task Force , on the mysterious happenings around the world for a fortnight now. They had come to like one another, since their thoughts, working patterns and habits somehow matched. BMK had invited Alam to Mumbai and meet his illustrious friends and discuss some strategy for the work at hand. After some initial resistance, the others had agreed to host BMK’s new accomplice and here they were on a sunny morning at the cozy Presidency Bar of the famed club house. After the initial exchange of greetings and handshakes, they sat down facing each other, wondering where to start from. Vinay Rastogi always favored a glass of beer with his sandwiches though Damle and Khanna preferred coffee. BMK had ordered for eggs, fruit and black tea in correlation to that tastes of his Pakistani counterpart.Rajnish Damle was the first to initiate. “Gentlemen, what do you make off these recent events around the world.” He stated casually as he raised his cup of coffee to his lips.“We are clueless at the INTERPOL.” Replied BMK. “However, some of the team members have encountered strange experiences.”Alam nodded his affirmation to the statement of BMK. India and Pakistan, for a change, seemed to agree on every context.
The army man took a swig at his beer and looked up. “What kind of strange experiences?” He asked probingly.“One of the team commanders has discovered a complete disappearance of a town in Bulgaria.” Replied Alam. “Disappeared in a giant crater and he was unable to reach the neighboring town due to failure of all kind of mechanism. His car, watch, mobile… all had stopped working.”“Some kind of repulsive force.” Added a wide eyed BMK.“I was told that the scientist community around the world, are also clueless. They believe that the causes of the explosions are not something encountered before.” Anil Khanna pitted in.“You mean to say, some kind of interstellar sabotage is happening?” Rastogi looked at the other four suggestively.“Maybe.” Replied BMK submissively. Alam sipped his tea. He had been lost in his thoughts over the last few days. His grandfather always used to say that human tendencies have always brought them closer to Satan than to Allah. Humans had become slaves to their desires and the hypocrisy they showed by worshipping the Gods had added salt to injury. Allah is bound to strike anytime. Was it the strikes of Allah that had descended upon earth? If it was so, then Humans with all their merit have nothing to do, but to await doomsday. Amidst the silence that ensued, a bartender came up to refill the empty beer glass of the army man. “When scientists have no answer, we rush to priests.” Said Khanna. “Anything from the priests, maulavis, The Vatican or anywhere else?”“Nothing.” Replied BMK in a defeated tone. “Don’t you think, you need to consult someone other than these lines of thought? Some kind of expert opinion maybe?” Enquired Damle, his tone reflected despair.“Expert opinion?” BMK almost jeered at the idea. “Who can give guidance to something that never occurred before?”“Commander Dragomir has urged us to think out of the box. Even if remotely, someone can lend some light in the darkness, it will be most welcome.” Exclaimed Alam. “Damle Sir, can you kindly elaborate on your statement?”“Look gentlemen.” Damle lowered his tone. “Our police forces have several agents, informers, free lance investigators who help us with cases. Last year, I had been introduced to a person who had been helping the police with his investigations and general intelligence. This person, in a way is mystifying. His statements, inferences everything is somewhat out of the ordinary. Once, in a meeting, he had said that if we are unable to solve man-made catastrophe, how are we to prevent the doings of superior beings? We all had laughed at this statement. But he had calmly said that the laugher of that day would haunt each one of us…. As it is haunting us now.”“Interesting!” Exclaimed Rastogi.“Can we get around this person, by evening today?” Enquired Alam.“Of course we can and we should.” Said Damle taking out his i-phone.Having finished their breakfast they dispersed to their various locations, vowing to meet at 5 pm in the evening at the official residence of Damle to have a detailed interview with the queer individual Damle had summoned for. Alam pressed his cell phone to his ear to shield it from the din of the traffic.“Yes commander”. He was almost at the top of his voice.“No real, development Sir but can share some important information in the evening.” He hung up.“It was commander Dragomir.” He announced to BMK, seated next to him. Swerving through the lazy traffic of Sunday, they managed to reach the hotel rather quickly. BMK took leave, promising to pick him up at 4 PM for their meeting at the residence of the Police Chief. What could this person whom Damle had summoned had to say? Wondered BMK on his way home. When the most able minds around the world had given up on explanations, what can an unknown police agent from a remote corner of Mumbai produce to enlighten people on a subject which was seemingly out of grasp. Nevertheless, it was worth a try since all other efforts seemed to fail. Was it really an interstellar sabotage as the Major General had mentioned? Was it possible for planet earth to combat such a possibility? The more he thought, the more questions his mind presented him with. BMK could hardly wait for the clock to strike 4 PM.General Alam was waiting for him at the majestic lobby of Hotel The Leela. Hastily, they climbed onto the car and drove off, without any discussion. The car moved on, with both the occupants at the backseat lost in thought. Alam was looking majestic in his Peshawari outfit and the soothing perfume of his attar had filled the vehicle. The evening was also pleasant, with a slight breeze and a comfortable temperature. Yet, the elements could not uplift the mood of the two INTERPOL special task force officers. They reached the heavily guarded police bungalow, fifteen minutes ahead of the schedule time and were not much surprised to see the vehicle of the army man and that of the NIA officer parked at the visitors parking lot. They were cordially guided into the living room by two police officials , where the Major General and Mr. Khanna were already seated. After an exchange of greetings, they also slumped into the luxurious sofa, to wait for the Police Chief to arrive with his prized investigator. They were soon served with tea and biscuits. However, before they could silently take the first sip from the bone china cups, the police chief made his unceremonious entry into the room. He was flanked by two sub inspectors and one plain clothed man, who walked with a slight limp. “Good Evening everyone.” Beamed the Police Chief. “Please meet inspector Hanif Mirza, inspector Jayant Palekar and Mr. Kumar Sinha, our independent investigator.”“And guys, please meet retired Major General Rastogi, Officer Khanna of NIA, Brij Mohan Kashyap and Shahnawaz Alam from the INTERPOL..” He introduced the visitors before taking his seat behind his desk. All eyes turned to the independent investigator. A well built middle aged person, with sharp features and probing eyes was the one whom they had come to meet. Major General Rastogi moved closer. “Do you know, we have come specially to meet you Mr. Sinha.” He proclaimed.“I know sir.” The gravity in the voice of the stranger took everyone aback. “These INTERPOL officers are at their wit’s end over the occurrences around the world.” He said in a dismissive tone. “It’s not only the INTERPOL, Kumar. We all are worried.” Damle chirped in.“And scared too.” Khanna was quick to add.“Mr. Damle told us that you can provide us with some clue of the origin of these attacks. Can you enlighten us?” Enquired BMK.“Mr. Damle is very generous in his appraisals.” Replied the stranger. “I am neither a scientist nor a soothsayer.”“Well, there must be some substance in the assessment of Damle.” Probed Rastogi.“Yes, Kumar. We want to hear from you. I know that you know something extra.” Once again Damle urged him.“This is not a run of the mill case, gentlemen.” Kumar finally seemed to relent to the pressure all around. “So, my submission may seem foolish, even absurd. Take it or leave it. But do you have a choice?”BMK was impressed with the way Kumar spoke and he avoided eye contact with him as did the others. Those eyes pierced through the eyeballs of the onlookers.“We have had a charmed life in this planet, till probably a month ago.” Continued Kumar. “We have done whatever we liked. In fact we have tried to equate ourselves to the Almighty.”“I keep telling this because I believe this strongly that our intelligence is not enough to decipher God. We have believers and non-believers. But believers of what? Non believers of what?” He looked around as if expecting a reply.“ At some point of time we are bound to be held responsible for our recklessness ….and here we are.” He stopped to clear his throat. “But we cannot just sit out here and watch destruction to happen.” Rebutted the Army man. His soldier instincts reflecting in his words.“You mean to say that we are facing some kind of retribution from above?” BMK asked sarcastically.“And you mean that we remain spectators?” Khanna added.“Is there anything that can be done Kumar?” The Police Chief sounded desperate.“It’s difficult but there’s no other choice.” Replied Kumar in an assuring voice.“Have you heard about bidders?” Asked Kumar provocatively.“Yes. There was a guy arrested a couple of days ago in North Macedonia who claimed to be a bidder. He seemed to be saving people in distress and claiming them to work for him for life.” Alam quipped, for the first time.“These bidders are unique creatures. They are cruel, fearless and bestowed with some supernatural powers. They are the direct descendants of the Bulgars, who dissipated around the world when the Ottomans conquered Eastern Europe. Before them, the Keisne tribe existed, more than 80,000 years ago. The Sentilenese in the Andamans and the Mo Angamis in Nagaland are their direct descendents. These are tribes people know very less about. But here we have our solution. We have to find THE BIDDER amongst them, who will rid us of our distress, this distress, in exchange of our lives that we commit to them.” He paused. “Suppose that we find THE BIDDER, how will he save us from this situation?” Asked a bemused Khanna.“What is the guarantee?” Enquired Rastogi.“And how do we find him?”Alam shot a question too.“If he claims a bid on our lives, will we become his slaves?” BMK asked sternly.“THE BIDDER has his own way of ridding his clients of problems. It does not come with a guarantee card but there will be a way in which he will convince you. “ Kumar replied calmly. “You have to find him, anyhow. And do not worry, he will not be a tyrant who will use your lives for his fortune. He will only try to impose a new world order through you.”“But these tribes are yet undiscovered and aggressive in nature. It’s difficult to approach them. Besides, language might be a problem.” Stated the Police Chief.“We need to find a way.” Kumar emphasized.“Can you, Mr. Kumar, help us find this BIDDER? We can get a mandate for you from INTERPOL.” Said BMK.“Your people will never believe what I say.” Smiled Kumar.”But I will help you, nevertheless.”“When do we get started?” Asked Alam.“Tell Ruslan Dragomir, your commander, during your evening report , that we start from Wednesday.” His statement startled Alam as he was supposed to report to the commander by late evening regarding the developments. How did this chap know?“What do we do till then?” Asked BMK.“Just be afraid.” Replied Kumar looking deeply at him. “Very afraid.” 

CHAPTER 8HONG XIUQING(FUNG SIEW TSHIN) HONG XIUQING always considered himself an average Chinese person.

It's not easy to decide who an "average Chinese person" actually is, but let's take a stab.He's a Hakka by ethnicity, which indeed is a rarity. Around 35 years of age.He had a high school education with some post-secondary vocational training.He was married, as are most 35-year-olds, and had one child. Most of the guys his age he knew got married for the first time 10 years ago; most of the women were only 23 when they got married. Of his ten good guy friends who got married, two were already divorced.He had made about $7600 last year, but income inequality is very serious in China (a Gini coefficient of about 60), so he had taken home considerably less than $7600. He saved or tried to save about 28% of his income. His employment with the Chinese Secret Services not withstanding, his efforts required to survive was equal to any industrial worker.Despite his limited income he owned a modest home—home ownership rate in China is surprisingly high, at 85%. But he doesn't own a car. Car ownership is still only 113 per 1000 people, or 103rd on a ranking of 190 countries and regions. He usually got around on public transportation, taking a the government provided car, occasionally, and biking sometimes.He lived in a city called Zhonshan.It is in the south of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province—but does being average mean by center of populational gravity? By largest province by population? Some other means? By center of gravity he probably would have lived in Hubei or Anhui; by largest provincial population, and by fact he lived in Guangdong, with over 104 million people.To further complicate things, China is just about evenly divided between rural and urban; he is kind of both—one of the hundreds of millions of migrants who have left the countryside to work in the city.China's just about evenly divided too by Internet-connected and not (China's Internet penetration is 50%), He was an Internet user (which is likely at his age group) and a smartphone owner. In fact, he used an Android, made by a local manufacturer like Xiaomi or Huawei.He didn't smoke but half of his guy friends smoked. China's male adult smoking rate is 49%..Life for this guy, almost irrespective of where he was, had been in constant change. Nothing was as it had been when he was young—not in the city where he lived now, not in the countryside where, he had come from originally.For the most part, material life had improved. He had much better access than his parents did to public services: He could take for granted reliable electricity and running water

His income may had been low by developed world standards but someone roughly in his station back when he was in diapers made only about one-eighth than what he did in the present times, even adjusted for inflation.The availability of goods was astonishing, and the sheer variety had multiplied manifold in just the time he'd been on his own buying groceries for himself and later his family. Things are no longer "in season" or not: there's some fluctuation in price, but he could buy the vegetables he wanted year-round. He ate probably five or six times the amount of meat—mainly pork—that his parents did at his age. His caloric intake was ample, and if anything, he ran to pudgy and needed to watch what he ate.

While his parents back in the village had never locked their doors, had known all their neighbors (too well!), and generally trusted one another—at least after the nuttiness and general paranoia of the Cultural Revolution was over—nowadays living in the city he felt quite a bit of urban anomie. He knew none of his neighbors enough to borrow a cup of flour. He felt generally high levels of mistrust about the intentions of those around him, and he believed that most people are on the make and had some kind of angle.

He worked very hard: Long hours, in a competitive environment, where everyone's jockeying to get ahead. Life was mainly about work, it seemed to him, and economic issues—paying the mortgage and the bills, saving up for a car, saving to send the kid to a good school, figuring out where to put the savings—occupied his mind.

He wouldn't describe himself as religious, but he sure did manifest a lot of superstitious tendencies. He had friends who called themselves Christians, or Buddhists, but he didn't really devote much time to thinking about spiritual matters. Nor, for that matter, did he think about politics much. He didn't believe in Marxism-Leninism, but he was proud to be Chinese and thought that the Party leadership was basically doing the right thing: Making the country strong, standing up to would-be bullies (he was largely oblivious to any bullying that the Party leadership itself may be guilty of, regionally), cracking down on corruption and cronyism, ensuring social stability and economic growth. He was dimly aware that the Internet was censored, and while some of his friends who went to college are always going on about that, it didn't really affect him. And besides, he ‘was inured to the idea that the news is mostly propagandistic bullshit anyway, and hey, at least there was social media where he could get access to what was "really" happening.In his leisure time, nothing's better than eating out, and this he did more often than his counterparts in other comparably well-off countries. He also enjoyed an evening at the local KTV—a karaoke parlor, where his friends got together to croon Cantopop ballads. He didn't have any real hobby: No collections, no strong interest in music or in art. Popular entertainments were about all he wanted—not intellectually challenging art. He was unfamiliar with classical music, with jazz, with most western music outside of Top 40; and his taste in TV ran to soap opera-like dramas and goofy reality TV shows, mostly Chinese or from Taiwan or Hong Kong, and occasionally from Korea.

For leisure at home he had 2mbps ADSL connection and went online with a DIY PC clone he had picked up cheap at a local computer mall. He watched lots of online video and he played a lot of MMORPGs. He occasionally posted on a local BBS. On his commute, and in bed at home, he's on that low-end Android he used. He had a 3G connection but he had been very parsimonious with data use. He shopped online and usually found a huge range of goods available through e-commerce sites. He used Weixin (WeChat) to connect with friends and occasionally post funny things his kid did, or pictures of particularly nice-looking dishes he ate, to his Weixin "Moments." He searched on Baidu, shops on Taobao/TMall, usually got discounts on movie tickets and meals at restaurants from Meituan and Nuomi.

On his bookshelves at home there wasn't much by way of literature: some best-sellers based on Internet novels, some genre fiction about grave robbers and ghosts, a couple of self-help titles, mostly variants on "moving" and "cheese," and some military affairs magazines with lots of gratuitous photos of new model assault rifles.

He had a smattering of English in school, but his teacher's English wasn't particularly good either, and none of it stuck. It was hard enough for him to speak decent putonghua, or Mandarin, without his provincial being too obvious.

In general, he was quite optimistic. After all, he had only really known life to trend better year over year. But there was a fragility to that optimism, and it was not clear that it would survive a sudden economic reversal. Maybe his faith in the benevolence of the Party-state would buttress his optimism to some extent; maybe appeals to nationalism would give it a little more life beyond the kind of performance-based assessment that now subconsciously he informed his views on the government and its culpability or credit for the way things went. That was the great unknown. The rubber may very well meet the road soon, though, as economic growth slows and some of the shine comes off of the perception that the state had been very competent at delivering services. But there was something special about this average guy. He was above average… in intelligence, in agility, in intuitive thinking, in courage. That was probably the reason for his steady ascent in the ranks of MSS ( The Chinese Intelligence Services). His selection for the special task force of INTERPOL had been due to his capability to think beyond the customary. There was something else that made him stand out. His badge. His grandfather used to tell him that the green badge that they called the armory of the ancestors came from their descendancy from the 200 BC Han dynasty who had assigned certain emblems for powerful generals. Their ancestors were the bearers of the water powers and the batch had a depiction of flowing water. It was assumed that water gave them unique powers over other mortals.He poured warm water from the flask, a habit that he always carried with him, wherever he went. His trip to France had been his first overseas trip. However, his capability to adapt to alien conditions had kept him easy in presence of his European counterparts. The recent developments around the world had made him nervous. He felt somehow these events were connected to the philosophical aspects of Yin and Yang. He had believed in this concept of dualism from childhood. Everything good had come to him with a lace of grey and every gloomy cloud had a silver lining. There are various dynamics in Chinese cosmology. In the cosmology pertaining to Yin and Yang, the material energy, which this universe has created itself out of, is also referred to as qi. It is believed that the organization of qi in this cosmology of Yin and Yang has formed many things.Many natural dualities (such as light and dark, fire and water, expanding and contracting) are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality symbolized by yin and yang. This duality lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary guideline of traditional Chinese medicine and a central principle of different forms of Chinese martial arts and exercise, such as baguazhang, taijiquan (t'ai chi), and qigong (Chi Kung), as well as appearing in the pages of the I Ching.The telephone rang. Hong waited for it to ring for the second time before picking up. “Nǐ hǎo Láizì yìndù de diànhuà.” (Hello, phone call from India)His operator announced from the other end. Hong was too surprised to respond. Who could be calling him from India at this time? He knew no one from the Indian subcontinent, neither had he mingled much with the INTERPOL representatives of Asia. He cleared his voice and hesitated (partly because of his English skills).“Mr.Hong.” A robust voice called out. “Your help is needed.”“Who are you and what kind of help?” He asked in a pleading tone.“Mr. Hong, this is regarding the explosions.” The voice was calm and clear. “I am also helping the investigating team with a mandate from INTERPOL. You need to come to India. The INTERPOL will organize everything for you. All other details have been put in your email.”“How do you know my email id and phone number?” Asked a hapless Hong.“Will let you know when we meet. Xie xie.”(Thank you) The stranger hung up.Hong kept on looking at the receiver for sometime before keeping it back. It was like a bolt from the blue. He felt a shiver down his spine and remembered vividly the words of the commander after the end of the meeting with the world scientists. BE VERY AFRAID HUMANS. BE VERY AFRAID.

CHAPTER 9KUMAR SINHA Kumar Sinha limped out of the car and headed straight for the gate of the bungalow in red. The guards bowed and allowed him entry without question. They never failed to remember the individual who had been the driving force behind the acquittal of their master, the eminent scientist Dr.R.Raghavan from the implication of espionage. Dr. Raghavan was at his lawn, seated on his garden chair, lost in thought, as always, to notice any entry or exit. He shivered into consciousness as Kumar bent to touch his feet.“Oh Kumar, I was waiting for you.” The balding sexagenarian exclaimed. His bright night gown was quite a contrast to his pale and wrinkled features. “Have a cup of tea.” He poured some of the steaming aromatic liquor from the pot to an empty cup and handed it to Kumar. Kumar took a sip and smiled. “Binnaguri?” He looked suggestively at the scientist.“This is what I so much admire about you Kumar.” Chuckled Dr.Raghavan. “Other people would have simply said Darjeeling tea but you could name the tea estate too. You are a walking encyclopaedia of sorts.”“You are the encyclopaedia that matters, sir.” Said Kumar taking another long sip.“What do you mean?” Asked Dr. Raghavan instantly.“The world today is looking upto people like you, sir.”Kumar looked deeply at the old man. “We need to know what is happening all around.”“Didn’t you read the papers, Kumar? Scientists like Redknapp, Sanchez, Jovini, Stein all have no explanation to give. If NASA has failed, what can someone from ISRO come up with an answer?” Dr. Raghavan shrugged.“Sir, I don’t know much about these scientists you have named. But I know about you and I know that you might be having some observation.” Insisted Kumar.“Look, I might not sound completely logical, but one thing has been established and perhaps has been accepted, that this is not the doing of human beings.” The Scientist looked serious. “It may most probably be some cosmic disturbance that we are yet to know of.”“Cosmic disturbance?” Kumar evidently was looking for an elaboration.“Have you ever heard of Solar Winds or Coronal mass ejection?”The scientist enquired back.‘Not much, only that solar wind is a stream of charged particles released by the sun having high kinetic energy and inherent temperature and Corona is the plasma type of substance that surrounds the sun.” Replied Kumar.“Bravo.”Cried the Scientist.”I had thought that you would relate to the Corona Virus scare we had just managed to overcome.”“Do you suggest that these are what is happening to us?” Asked Kumar.“I don’t know, but this can be a possibility.” Replied the scientist.“The Corona at certain points of time becomes heavy, in energy and mass. So it radiates, high velocity Solar Wind. Since Earth is far away, the radiations do not reach us, but somehow, these radiations at some peculiar orbital trajectories can assume an escape velocity to reach far and wide. However, if these emissions occur, our satellites in the various layers of the atmosphere can sense such disturbances. Our systems were trained to map these emissions way back in 1959, though we never knew what would happen if we came near to Coronal Mass ejections.““In fact, we have been very confident with our knowledge of the Sun. But heavenly bodies do change patterns. It is difficult to map the behaviour of certain heavenly bodies only by observing them for a few decades. The sun is no longer what it was, neither is the earth. So we need to constantly update our perception of the elements.”“The radiation pattern of the Corona has shown specific vigour at specific phases which we term sun flares and dismiss them as momentary activity. But these momentary activities may have cumulative effect. You can draw some semblance to the release of current by a capacitor....in batches.” The scientist poured some more tea to himself.“If this is the case, doctor, how can we prevent further destruction?” Asked Kumar in dismay.“Well, first of all we need to see if things are happening through these emissions or not.” The scientist said thoughtfully. “The patterns of explosions are not single phase. The place affected turns void, as if like a black hole. All matter is absorbed and converted into energy form and released at another place causing mass destruction. This is unexplainable.”“Is there any means to test whether these Coronal emissions are actually penetrating our atmospheric strata?” Asked Kumar.“Our satellites, Kumar.” Replied Dr.Raghavan. “They are well equipped to map any change in energy.”They were interrupted by the appearance of a new participant to their discussions. The tall figure loomed over the breakfast table. Kumar and the scientist welcomed the eminent guest with firm handshakes. It was quite evident that professor Swaminathan Parthasarathi was on his way back from the gym. His sweat drenched attire suggested the severity of his indulgence to his rigorous fitness regime.“Good morning professor.”Greeted the scientist. “Have some good Darjeeling tea.”“Good morning Dr. Raghavan.” The professor greeted back. “How come this maverick is with you so early in the morning?” He said pointing at Kumar.“Well, we are discussing a grave issue.”Replied the scientist.“I probably know about the issue you guys are talking about.”Replied the professor. “Everyone around the world are discussing the same.” He said as he seated himself across Kumar.The scientist quickly poured some tea for his guest.“Well, Kumar, what are up to these days?” Enquired the professor, sipping his tea.“He has received a mandate from INTERPOL to investigate the mysterious explosions.” The scientist replied quickly, before Kumar could.“Ah. Superbrains getting involved in a bid to save the Earth.” Exclaimed the professor, smiling.“Do you doubt his abilities, SP?” The scientist asked blatantly.“Of course not.” The reply was spontaneous.”Somehow I feel that only this guy can show us the way.”“So generous of you professor.” Thanked Kumar. “We indeed are bidding to save the planet.” “What were you, then discussing with Raghavan?” Asked the professor curiously.“Well, learning some cosmology and trying to understand if we have missed taking into account anything related to it.” Replied Kumar.“Nothing much can science do here, folks.”Smiled the professor sarcastically. “We need divine intervention.”“I know, you are going to lecture me on God’s anger towards us and all that.” Dr. Raghavan sounded disgusted.“The writing is on the wall, RR. I need not say it.” Added the professor.“Anyway, do you have a solution at hand?” The scientist appeared annoyed now.“Pray.” Replied the professor grimly.“There are better things we can do apart from praying, sir.” Kumar quipped in.“I know, you might be upto something.” The professor quipped back.“Tell you what RR, I have a huge respect for this guy.” He continued. “Once the police had seized 19 unauthorized cars in my locality. As you know, my locality is juxtaposed between three police stations. Officers from all the three police stations had converged at the spot to take credit. The place was equidistant from the police stations of Sion, Antop Hill and King’s Circle. The officers of all the three police stations wanted credit for themselves, so they called the DSP. Unthinkingly. The DSP gave a very bizarre solution. He asked the Sion police station to take possession of half of the confiscated articles, one fourth to be given possession to Antop Hill and one fifth of the confiscated stuff to King’s Circle. The rest should be sent to Dadar.”“Now, how can you divide 19 into half? or make one fourth of 19? They were further confused and out of wits. But no one wanted to contest the decision of the DSP. They thought and thought, almost to the point of driving themselves crazy. Then one amongst them suggested to call upon Kumar Sinha. I was standing there, watching the fun and wanted to see what this great Kumar Sinha had to offer.”“Kumar had usual turned up in his dilapidated Mahindra jeep. The officers from the three police stations rushed to him and briefed him about the complication through an animated conversation. After listening to the submissions Kumar quietly walked up to the lined up vehicles. Then he called upon his driver and asked him to park his vehicle beside the already lined up vehicles. ““He called upon the Sub Inspector of Sion to take possession of the first ten cars. Half of twenty, he said was ten. He called upon the Sub Inspector of Antop Hill to take possession of the next five cars. One fourth of twenty being five. Then he called upon the sub inspector of King’s Circle and asked him to take with him another four. One fifth of twenty. So ten, five and four added up to nineteen, and Kumar drove away in his Mahindra, leaving the police officers and me stunned in admiration.” He once again reached out to shake hands with Kumar.“There are many such stories on him. I can write a whole book.” Smiled the Scientist too.“Anyway, Kumar, how are things at your personal front, if I may ask you.” The Professor turned towards him.“As it was before.” Replied Kumar almost dismissively.“So you too believe in the living light ideology. No family, no baggage. Just living with work.” Stated the Professor.“What happened to the girl you brought with you last time? I thought she was very fond of you.” The professor asked almost out of turn.“Who? Oh Tina madam. She is a very supportive lady sir. “Replied Kumar softly.“Yes. She is indeed a very sweet girl and very talented too.” Acknowledged Dr.Raghavan.“Why don’t you get married to her and start a family. You will be taken care of.” The professor was blatant as always.Kumar looked blankly for sometime at the professor and then at the scientist.“I help her with her boutique alright. I help her when she gets into problems. But sir, getting married to her is simply not in my mind. Never.” He looked away.“Well, what was the cosmology stuff, you guys were talking about?”The professor tried to change from one uncomfortable topic to another.“We were taking about emissions from the sun.” Replied the scientist in short.“And we were about to conclude that the sun is too young for such maladies.”Added Kumar.“How can you say that.” Charged the professor. “When a certain Kumar Sinha may have a cerebral attack at 42 years of age, the sun might not be too young for all these after all.”“This is a strange comparison SP.” Laughed Dr.Raghavan.“Well, there is something else too.”This time it was Kumar who sought to change the direction of the discussion.“Have you ever heard of BIDDERS?”Asked Kumar almost suddenly.“Those who prepare bids for projects?” The scientist enquired back.“No no. I’ve read somewhere. They are a peculiar group of people, bestowed with some strange powers.” Said the professor.“Exactly.” Kumar exclaimed excitedly. “These are people who can miraculously rid people of distress.”“Even this distress?” Asked the professor.“Yes, even this distress. But we need to find the right bidder.” Said Kumar.“And that’s what you propose all of us to do?”Asked the professor, little perplexed.“Yes. At least the INTERPOL has agreed to do that.” Replied Kumar.“How do you know that?”Asked the professor, wide eyed.“Because they have given me a mandate to do that.” Kumar informed them. “And I have mailed the scanned copy of the same along with my finding on bidders to Dr.Raghavan.”“So you believe this maybe the ultimate solution. What do we do till we find that bidder” Asked the scientist.“Just be afraid. Very afraid.”Said Kumar getting up. 

CHAPTER 10NAOMI ZONDEKI “Good Morning Ladies, All whites, Mixed types, The colored, The All Blacks, The Asians, The refugees, The Afrikaans, Zulus, Bantus, Sothos, Twanas, the married, the unmarried, the lesbians, the prostitutes, the snobs. Welcome all, all you afraid ladies. It is an hour to be afraid. The recent blackout of neighboring Botswana has put a question mark on our being. Let us for once get together and fight and fear the common enemy together.” Naomi Zondeki’s opening address was as controversial as ever.She had always hit the headlines for her strong speeches, venomous articles and caustic television interviews. But she always attracted audience. Her popularity had sky rocketed over the years and even had on several occasions been equated to the iconic Oprah Winfrey. Her father, Carl had been an eminent resident of the Soweto and had been a staunch activist against the Apartheid. His association of the then banned ANC and following of Nelson Mandela had put him behind bars on several occasions, but his fierce determination always made him speak up for righteousness. The same thoughts had been infused in his wife Martha, son David and daughter Naomi. Unlike David, who had shifted himself out of limelight by transferring base to the United States, Naomi always remained in the thick of things ……. Talking her mind in her impersonated inimitable style which always attracted admirers. Not only did Naomi talk practical in the most practical of ways, she motivated people to live out of taboos, baseless dogmas and contribute to a happy, peaceful society. She had been specially summoned by the Tswana Social Organization for Women, to address a gathering, to mourn and unite over the recent explosions that happened at Botswana. For many years the Tswanas had been one of the main links between the Africans. Though, through various popular activities the non-African numbers had swelled, the flavor of the Tswana tribe still remained the most distinct bonding agent.Today, many Tswana living in cities such as Johannesburg do not formally associate themselves with any tribe, although all recognize association with a totem and thereby acknowledge a genealogical relationship to others who share that totem.

A similar process of incorporation to that whereby tribes were formed, albeit on a much larger scale, created what is today Botswana. Its groups were brought together into one as a result of colonial intervention which created the Bechuanaland protectorate that later gained independence as Botswana. Attempts at Tswana consolidation within South Africa constituted a much more complex process related to the apartheid government's creation of the Bophuthatswana Bantustan, an entity that has been dismantled under the post-apartheid dispensation.“Today, we have not come here to weep or mourn the sad event that robbed us of our thousands of brothers and sisters. We are here to make a resolve. Come what may. Whoever might be the enemy. However strong they might be. We will fight them together. We will fight them with our unity and our will to survive. Let us all do away with our differences ….animosities. No black, no white. No rich, no poor. All are humans. Just humans. Women should stop criticizing men and men should do the same. Neither of you are superior to each other. We are both humans. Susceptible to imminent annihilation. We have been fighting each other for unrealistic reasons for centuries. Let us start to stop it. This dark hour, we need to stand together as one species, a guardian of our planet of innumerable species and find out a way to emerge from this darkness together.“ Naomi’s strong words were already showing some effects. People reached out to hold each other’s hands. The sophisticated model was holding the hand of a homeless refugee. The rich socialite was holding onto the street urchin. The stiff upper lipped aristocrat was holding the hand of a harlot. The white fashion model held onto a black college girl. It seemed so easy to lift the veil of discrimination …. of hatred. But only through various catastrophe did humans come to realize that the differences between them were fake and baseless.
“The destructive forces are not stronger than our unity. We are attacked and beaten since we are divided. The strength of any species is their unity. Animals had learnt this centuries ago, so they prefer to stay in groups. We need to do the same.It’s no shame to learn from species whom we have always termed inferior. Our great leaders have shown us that through unity and resolve one can achieve greatness and defeat even the greatest of adversity. Guidelines are laid before us. We only need to follow them to thwart these challenges. Are you with me?” She raised her voice and her fist in the air.“We are, we are.” Echoed the vociferous crowd.The crescendo became louder by the minute. The gathering had been growing for there were many scared people not only in Jo’burg but around the world.“Mevrou, iemand wil jou ontmoet” (Madam, someone wants to meet you) One of the girls in the organizing committee had run up to her.“Polisie?” (Police?) Asked Naomi instinctly.“Geen. 'N Man uit Indië.” (No. A man from India) Replied the girl, panting.“Indië?” Naomi was mightily surprised. She had known no one from India. Neither she had ever visited the place. Though, being a cricket enthusiast, she had at times accompanied her friends to see some test matches featuring India and South Africa. She had heard about India from her father in early childhood, about Gandhi, who had sowed the freedom movement of the country from the soil of South Africa. She had listened with intent when her father had told and retold her stories from the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. However, these appeared to be too trivial to qualify as reasons for someone from India coming to meet her in person.She stepped to the back stage with the girl, who led her to a stranger, seated silently on a chair near the fire exit gate. He rose on seeing Naomi approach and slowly walked towards her with a slight limp.He bowed as she came near. “ Good afternoon madam.” He said politely. “I am Kumar Sinha from India. Can you spare a little time for me?”Naomi nodded slowly, still surprised, not knowing what this stranger wanted to discuss. After the organizer girl had taken leave, Naomi followed the stranger to one of the small cafeterias outside the hall. “Lemon water and a plate of cucumber for two.”Ordered the stranger as a waiter approached them.“How do you know that I have only cucumber and lemon water for lunch?” Asked an Amazed Naomi.“I also know madam, that you have watermelons and bananas for breakfast.”Smiled the stranger, enhancing Naomi’s bewilderment, manifolds.“Who are you and what do you want from me?” Naomi demanded as the waiter placed a large plate of cucumbers in front of them.“I need your support, Naomi.” The stranger said in a deep voice. “I am Kumar Sinha, having a mandate from INTERPOL to investigate into the dire happenings around the world.”“How can I help you in this. Neither am I a scientist, nor a superwoman.” Replied Naomi.“At present, we need neither.”Smiled Kumar.“You are a Tswana, Naomi. I know very few people know that. But it is the truth.” Said Kumar with his sharp eyes fixed at Naomi.“Yes I am. So what? There are millions of Twanas around the world.” Naomi tried her best to hide her astonishment. “There might be millions of Twanas around the world, Naomi. But only a few, very few live under the Totem of what you live with …… the Fire.” Declared Kumar.“Hhow ddo you know this?” Stammered Naomi bewildered.“No time to explain everything, Naomi. We have to find DDER who can save us from this catastrophe. He will emerge only when the bearers of the elements …. Earth, Fire, Ether, Air, Water get together.” Said Kumar whipping out a credit card to foot the bill, the waiter had presented.“You need to come with me to meet the other members. We need to work out a plan together.” Kumar looked deeply at Naomi once again.“Sure.” Said Naomi spontaneously. “Anything to save the world.”“Thank you.” Bowed Kumar. “Tomorrow, I wil introduce you to the others. From tomorrow we start our quest to save the world.”Once he had taken leave, Naomi stood perplexed, her gaze following the departing stranger. Was she having a dream amongst the nightmare? She adjusted her sun glasses and ambled aimlessly towards her car all the time thinking about the strange conversation she had just had with the peculiar human being from India. Naomi was a strong girl. Nothing much in the world had ever swayed her from her purpose. Her tall, sturdy features reflected the confidence she carried in whatever she did, said or believed. Her dark complexion had a specific glamour about it. Though never married, engaged or in any kind of relationship, she had been a sought after diva during her younger days, but now, at the age of forty, she no longer yearned for companionship. After her brother had shifted base to New York, she and her mother had re located to the South Eastern avenues of Rosebank where her cousin Albert stayed with his family. Albert was very fond of Naomi and together they had formed a bigger family which only added to their happiness. Albert ran a small school and often took help from Naomi to promote his school amongst the eminent circles she mingled in. Albert’s wife Elizabeth, a religious lady by nature took great care of Naomi’s aging mother and her two little children Peter and Shane and gave piano lessons to neighborhood children on Sunday evenings.Though, every evening for them had become a family get together, they seldom talked about their wretched past and the turmoil they had been through. Though, they had never discussed much about it but Naomi always remembered the stories about their origin.Her late father, who was excessively fond of his daughter,used to share every little thing his heart could reveal. He had been the one who had told her that, they were one of a kind. Their Totem or symbol of existence was fire, which was a very rare occurrence. Very few Twanas belonged to the Totems of elements and he had known nobody in South Africa who belonged to the Totem of fire. This thought always fascinated Naomi. The very thought of being a rare breed thrilled her senses. She dreamt of a day when her powers might be discovered and tested. The meeting with the stranger had once again brought the same thought, the same longing back. Was he the harbinger of the expression of her super powers?

There were five people seated on the big black couch,flanked by two armed policemen,including the stranger from India she had met a day ago. Locating the building at Braamfontein wasn’t difficult since it was the building owned by the Foreign Branch of the State Security Agency.The Indian rose and greeted Naomi. She politely returned the greeting before quickly eyeing through the other occupants. A shabby looking man in handcuffs was seated on the extreme left. One of the policemen held on to his cuffed hands as if to prevent him from running away. The person seated next to him had features of an Asian … probably from China, Japan or Korea. Next to the Indian, who was now standing in front of her were two whites. Their grim features did little to reveal their nationality, but Naomi could vouchsafe that they were not from South Africa.“This is Naomi Zondeki, gentlemen.” Introduced Kumar. “She is the one who will be one of our guides to our quest to find THE BIDDER.”All the men including the policemen bowed in her direction. “And let me introduce the others to Naomi.” Said Kumar.“This is Colonel Kevin Roy from THE INTERPOL, beside him is General Victor Dassayev also from THE INTERPOL. Officer Hong Xiuqing is our Chinese delegate from THE INTERPOL. Last but not the least is our friend from Bulgaria, a BIDDER, who calls himself EARTH. He had been arrested in North Macedonia and so is in manacles.” Kumar looked back at Naomi having finished his introduction.“You had said that we need to get the elements together.” Asked Colonel Roy. “We have Earth, Water and Fire. Where are the other two?” “We will come across them soon.” Assured Kumar.“But we need to find them fast.” The Englishman sounded desperate.“Yes indeed. We are already on their trail.” Once again Kumar voiced his assurance.“Are you sure, this arrangement will work?” This time it was the Russian who spoke up.“I am certain.” Replied the Indian confidently as he limped to the table across the room.“And if it doesn’t?” Questioned the Russia.“Then be afraid. Very afraid.” Said Kumar as he brought out a file from the drawer of the table. 

CHAPTER 11PETER MARKER …. M AS IN MINNESOTA “I do not follow the bullshit you people go by.” The statement of the tall boy not only stunned the class but also the teacher into silence. “What do you mean, forget the past, don’t think about the future, just enjoy the present? Have people just compiled quotes for the sake of it?” He looked around the silent faces.“Why should we forget the past? And why should we not think about the future?” He volleyed another question at the already dumbfounded teaching staff.“If someone knows that he is going to be prosecuted soon, you mean to say that instead of thinking and finding a way out of the mess, he should go about dancing down the street?”“And what do you keep writing on the black board every day? God is great. Everything happens for good. Go and tell this piece of shit to someone who has lost his family in an accident or a terrorist shootout. And how do you know God is good? Just because you have a comfortable life and fat bank balance? There are so many winter birds dying in Alaska. Is God doing good for them? Here you have millionaires smarting their way into cozy palaces, while the poor, starved mine worker slogging his ass off in a suffocating mine. These are not anyone’s fault. These are failures of God. Recognize this, realize this …. your God can fail.” The class could just lower its head in silence as the speaker stormed out of the class and eventually out of school.Peter had grown the hard way. Though he got carted around from one school to another, from one college to the other for his alternative and aggressive views of the affairs of the world, he had managed to graduate with economics. However, Peter had always been a fitness freak. He committed himself for long hours in the gym and maintained a strict diet. This dedication and self discipline had bestowed him with an appealing physique …. If you go by his muscular endowments. Apart from his physical attributes, he had developed a free flowing spirit and determined, almost obstinate, character. Though, tough from exterior, Peter willed to help people, especially the distressed and the downtrodden.His selection to the CIA was almost magical, something much beyond his expectations. After topping the NCC drills in high school, he always fostered an ambition for the army. It got further fuelled by his uncle, a General in the US forces, who urged him to appear for the selection. He did and easily got selected. One day, during an informal evening get together with uncle Jimmy, he got another dose of career counseling. “Hey Pete. Ever thought of joining CIA?” Uncle Jimmy had asked all of a sudden.“Nope.” Peter had replied, as curt as ever. Uncle Jimmy had gone on to describe the workings of CIA and how different and rewarding it was to be one of them. It had got Peter interested.“So, how do I join them?” He had asked, innocently.“You do not join the CIA. If you want to work there, you can visit the CIA website — it is clear and specific about what it seeks in new employees in terms of moral character, education, and experience — and scout around for specific jobs or areas in which you think you might be interested and for which you think you might be qualified. Most people, probably including you, don’t know much about the nuts and bolts of intelligence work (and lots of what you think you know ain’t so), so don’t completely rule out other possibilities. If done right, the way the CIA and many other agencies specializing in brainwork expect, this scouting trip should take you several hours, and allow you to gauge whether the CIA is likely to want what you have to offer, as well as whether any of the positions for which you might qualify interest you enough to apply for them.” Uncle Jimmy had gone on to explain.”“Understand that the CIA wants to hire lifers — people who expect to make working at the CIA their job for at least the next 20 to 30 years — and turn them into professional intelligence officers. Many new hires, especially operations officers, spend their first two or three years just learning about intelligence and security issues in general, how the CIA fits into the rest of the Intelligence Community, and the different functions of the various elements of the CIA. Of course they also learn about tradecraft and practice what their own jobs will entail, and many study a foreign language, as well. The CIA doesn’t expect to get much useful work from them until after that introductory period. It will usually be years before the CIA gets a full return from what it invests in them at the very beginning.”“Understand also that once on board you are not required to spend your entire career in the discipline or even directorate you began in. If after a few years or even a dozen years, you think you would be happier or more productive in another line of work, it is possible to change jobs if another office would accept you. A good number of ops officers end up as reports officers, or support officers, or analysts .”“Only after you have taken on board all of the information you can should you actually apply for a job. At this point find the section entitled Application Process and do exactly what it says. if you submit an application, you will receive a response, if only a polite letter thanking you for your interest but informing you that the CIA doesn’t want to hire you. If the CIA is interested, you enter a gauntlet.”“First, you will be invited for an interview. If you do well at that, you then face a gamut of tests, including an intelligence test and perhaps some aptitude tests, as well as an arduous polygraph examination (don’t even think about lying or evading or shading your answers). If you get through all that, you are sent home to wait, while a detailed background investigation is performed. It may take months to complete, and will, among other things include interviews with members of your family and close relatives, people at places where you worked, or whom you named as references, and so on.”“If you decide to proceed down this path, good luck.” Uncle Jimmy had finished his explanation with a flourish.During his next visit to his house, uncle Jimmy had introduced him to his friends, Andrew and Patrick, who had both worked closely with CIA recruitment board. “I was more into overseas Agent recruitment.” Andrew had confessed.“You can tell us about that too. Everything about CIA is interesting.” Uncle Jimmy had insisted.“The CIA recruits regularly, subject to the same ebb and flow of government budgets and personnel changes. Recruits for the clandestine service--what most people think of when they envision a 'CIA agent"--tend to have good foreign language skills, degrees in political science or international relations, and experience living abroad.

The CIA calls these people "case officers." The people they recruit to provide information to them are "agents." Most are paid in cash, either when they deliver the goods or on a regular basis to keep them loyal and interested. The cash payments are necessary, as what you are asking them to do is betray their home country to benefit the United States.Case officers usually work under a diplomatic cover. Their "official," public title might be something like Special Assistant to the Consul on Agricultural Affairs. If they get caught recruiting or collecting information in the guest country, they will be declared persona non grata and expelled. The diplomatic passport keeps them (or is supposed to keep them) from being tried and imprisoned or executed for espionage. If they are discovered, it's likely that their foreign service career, and possibly their CIA career, is over. The CIA won't know what other unfriendly government has the case officer's photo and demographics stored away for future.

A large part of the case officer's training dwells on surveillance and counter-surveillance. Watching/following people without them knowing you're watching/following, and detecting and evading people who are watching you. Much of the training takes place on city streets of Williamsburg, Virginia and surrounding communities. Trainees are sent out in government or rental cars and told to find the people who are following them, or to watch someone who knows they are being followed. Both are critical skills and can be very difficult to learn and master.

The CIA does have paramilitary employees, but these are generally recruited directly from the military.” He had explained vividly.“Patrick too knows a bit of CIA, since he was into research about espionage or something of that sort.” Uncle Jimmy had poked his other friend.”There are lot of paths a person can take to join CIA. I am not an expert on the matter but using the military is one route, I don’t know which branch would be best I think the Army would best because it is a primary Branch that seems to dominate the other branches politically. Also the Army makes career paths easier and would be more open to you getting into the CIA. Where as the Marines would want you to stay a Marine and work on Marine intelligence ect. There are colleges in Virginia where the CIA train. If you get a degree in Security in Virginia at one of the universities there its probable you will have a better resume and better chance of meeting a recruiter through the school. All you need to be a CIA security agent is 2 years in security, law enforcement, or some equivalent. To compete for those jobs maybe airforce security fores would be a good route if looking for CIA security job. To be clandestine operative I do not know what the field agents need to be trained in. Language skills, learning to speak Russian, learning to speak German, learning middle eastern languages etc. I was researching into Spies, and America has had a hard time infiltrating Russian security because CIA agents are normally country boy redneck who didn’t learn to speak Russian so not many agents could go undercover in Russia. Where as KGB had training facilities to teach their agents to act and look American speaking the language well.” Patrick had informed.Armed with sufficient information and guidance, Peter embarked upon a voyage to get noticed, through his military skills, knowledge of foreign languages and a new degree in Criminology. Sooner than later, he got picked up by the CIA and rose in the ranks through his diligence and hard work.

Looking at his watch, he dashed out of the room. He had to reach the hospital, the iconic Mayo Clinic, which not only was the pride of Rochester, but for the Whole of America. On August 21, 1883, the Great Tornado had demolished much of Rochester, leaving 37 dead and approximately 200 injured. As there was no medical facility in the immediate area at the time, Dr. Mayo and his two sons worked together to care for the wounded. Donations of US$60,000 were collected and the Sisters of St. Francis, assisted by Mayo, opened a new facility named St. Marys Hospital in 1889. The Mayo practice had grown and is today among the largest and most well-respected medical facilities in the world and it has been consistently ranked No. 1 Best hospital in the United States. Many notable people from around the world, including former Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, George H. W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, have visited Rochester as patients of the Mayo Clinic. International patients included King Hussein of Jordan.The Mayo Clinic formed the core of Rochester's economy. As of 2019, it employed 62,600 people and drew more than 2 million visitors annually. The clinic's many facilities, along with hotels, restaurants and retail stores, comprised nearly all of the city's downtown. Excluding the state government, Mayo Clinic remained the largest employer in Minnesota. It was here, that Peter had got Elizabeth admitted. Elizabeth Dale. A seemingly pretty girl, whom he had rescued from drowning in the Zumbro River, where she had fallen and gone unconscious. It was by good fortune that Peter had noticed the bobbling head of the girl as she had started to sink to the depth of the river. Peter had made the plunge and almost effortlessly had brought her unconscious body to land and straightaway got her admitted to the Mayo. His being in the CIA had made the process of admission less cumbersome.

She was sitting upright on her bed when Peter entered her cabin.“Hello, I am Peter.” He introduced himself for the first time.“I am Elizabeth.” She spoke out gently.“Well, I saw that name on your badge.”Smiled Peter. “How are you feeling now?”“Better in physique but low in spirit.”Replied Elizabeth in an expressionless manner.“How did you fall into the river?” Asked Peter curiously.“I did not fall. I jumped in.”Replied the girl in a shocking revelation.“You mean, you attempted suicide?” Asked Peter, wide-eyed.“Yes, and this was not the first time, nor will it be the last time.” Answered the girl nonchalantly.“This is ridiculous. Why do you want to die?” Peter enquired furiously.“That’s probably none of your business.”The girl tried to dismiss the query.“I am from the forces.”Peter was adamant. “Everything is my business.” He flashed out his CIA card.“I want to die because I am dying.” The girl once again stated without any emotion.“What do you mean? We all must die someday. That does not mean we stop living.” Replied Peter in an animated manner.“I had been infected with AIDS through a contaminated syringe during a blood test. I don’t want to die in such a detestable fashion. It’s better to kill myself.”This time she burst into tears.Peter was stunned. “What?” His voice was barely audible to himself.He moved closer and held her hand. “Look Elizabeth. I too had such feelings in my early days.”He confessed. “I had come to know late in my teens that my father had dumped my mother after she got pregnant. I was born to a single parent. But somehow, I mustered the courage to live on, you know why… because I had a goal. I wanted to fight for my country.”“But I have no such goal in front of me.” Sobbed the girl.“If you promise to co operate, I promise to give you a goal too.” Peter tried something that had a semblance to a smile.Peter’s cell phone rang instantly. His face grew pale as he answered the call. “Another explosion in South America.” He gasped haplessly.“Something serious?” Asked the girl, concerned.“Yes, another of those mysterious explosions.” Replied Peter.“What do these mean?” Asked the girl.“Be afraid. Just be afraid.” Hissed Peter, lowering his voice. 

CHAPTER 12THE MEETING As I strode through the heavy crowd of men returning from work and women going for shopping, I realized that this was going to be helluva meeting.With Ziplin and Bozkov accompanying me, I felt that I stood at a slightly higher plain. Purposely, we had chosen the Regopolis, so that it became more of a neutral territory for the exchanges, and Regopolis at evening time generally stays deserted. We made our way to the Regis coffee center and took a comfortable seat at the rear. After having ordered cappuccino, we took our turns in reading out the reports from our various agents the world over. We also had enough time to speak to some of our Special Task Force Members regarding various developments in their respective zones.There was nothing much to talk about and the eerie silence of the dilapidated mall made us long for the arrival of Richard Redknapp and Cameron Simmer.Richard and I have had a few meetings at the Regis previously, so I presumed that he wouldn’t be much uncomfortable here. The door opened and the rotund figure of Redknapp and the lanky figure of Simmer made an unceremonious entry.“Hello Doctor.” I shouted in greeting.“Oh hi commander.” Redknapp shouted back. They got themselves seated facing us, as if in full readiness of a verbal combat.After a brief introduction of my colleagues, I held Ritchie in a tight embrace. Meeting a genius is not an easy chance to come by.The coffee arrived and all five of us took a small sip to relive the ethereal taste of Regis coffee.“Ready for an endgame, commander?” Richard was the first to speak.“Not yet Doctor, not quite yet.” I replied grimly.“I have heard that you people are after some alternative solution?” Asked Simmer.“That’s what we wanted to discuss with you here.” I replied.“All your military bravado seem to gone into thin air.” Sneered Richard.“As much as your scientific ones.” I sneered back.“I don’t know how much I will be able to support you, but I am all ears.” Said Richard getting serious.“Well, it all began a week back.” I began. “One of our INTERPOL agents in Eastern Europe got a tip off regarding someone called a BIDDER. This guy used to rescue people in distress and got them to do all sorts of things for him.”“Crime?” Asked Simmer.“Somewhat.” Replied Ziplin.“Well, continue.” Urged Richard.“This guy got arrested from North Macedonia and was brought for interrogation.” I continued. “I was asked to send our interrogation specialist Colonel Kevin Roy since the convict never uttered anything. Kevin got him to talk …. in English and he confessed to everything he was charged with.”“That’s great.” Richard patted Ziplin’s hand.“That’s where our story begins. And by the way Ziplin was not part of the operation.” I prompted.“The BIDDER somehow seemed to impress upon my men that he knew the solution to the catastrophe that we are encountering.” I added.“Strange.” Remarked Simmer.“I too had the same expression when I first heard it.” I confessed. “So I asked Dassayev, our officer in command for extradition. It was not difficult to get it arranged, citing emergency.”“This guy was not a customary convict. He had an aura of mysticism about him. He spoke several languages and somehow knew everything about all of us.” I paused as Richard was about to say something.“It is not difficult to know about you guys. The press has it all.” Smiled Richard.“He knows about you too Richie and also about our telephone call regarding a one to one meeting.” I informed.“Your phone is tapped, maybe.” Dismissed Richard.“But it was the White House landline, I had used.” My disclosure somewhat made Richard squirm in his seat.“This guy kept telling me that if we didn’t act now, we are doomed.” I continued. “So, reluctantly I forwarded his recorded statements to all our officers and agents. A few days later our officers from India and Pakistan reported something similar they have heard from a sleuth, who assisted Mumbai police. I was zapped. Since we had little choice with us, we handed a mandate from INTERPOL to this sleuth so that he may officially work for us. This guy seemed confident with the BIDDER theory. According to him, the discovery of the right BIDDER was paramount for us to arrive at a solution. This right BIDDER has in his possession paranormal powers to understand the cause of these occurrences and diffuse them through his attributes. However, the right BIDDER can only be found, when we gather five individuals who have some connection to the five elements of nature. Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Ether or space.”“What rubbish.” Exclaimed Richard. “Are we enacting some mythological drama of medieval times? Why are people like you falling for such absurd stories?”“Absurd it is Richie. But do we have a choice?”I looked at him deeply.“I accept that at present, we do not have an answer. But we are working on it…..” Richard was interrupted this time by someone unprecedented.“Sir. This is not something to be dismissed so easily.” Bozkov spoke up. “I have experienced the forces. They are way too strong for us.”“Yes Mr. Bozkov. I have read your experiences on Gorov. They truly have an amazingly strong magnetic field.” Richard relented in acceptance. “They? Who?” Asked a bewildered Simmer.“That’s what THE BIDDER will lead us to.” I replied. “Well, Ruslan, I am keen to meet this sleuth and the BIDDER you guys have arrested. When can that be?”Asked Richard.“Tomorrow I believe won’t be a bad day for it.” I announced.“Sure. We look forward to a fabulous meeting.” Replied Simmer, smiling even under such difficult times.

Bozkov asked the driver to park the vehicle at the parking slot in the outskirts of Place Bellecour, where he was supposed to pick up the visitors en route the headquarters. La Place Bellecour is a large square in the centre of Lyon, France, to the north of the Ainay district. Measuring 312 m by 200 m (62,000 m² or 15 acres), it is one of the largest open squares (i.e. without any patches of greenery or trees) in Europe, and the third biggest square in France, behind the Place des Quinconces in Bordeaux (126,000 m²) and the Place de la Concorde in Paris (86,400 m²). It is also the largest pedestrian square in Europe: vehicles are allowed in Places de la Concorde and des Quinconces.In the middle is an equestrian statue of king Louis XIV by Francois-Frederic Lemot (1825). Another statue, representing the Petit Prince and Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is at the west end of the square. The square also has two pavilions, housing the tourist information office of Lyon and an art gallery.This square forms the central focus of the Presqu`ile (peninsula), between the Saone and the Rhone, in the 2nd arrodissement of Lyon . It hosts the Lyon tourist office and the central post office. It is a focus of the city's shopping streets: four major streets (two of them pedestrianised) start here: the Rue de la Republique leading to the Hôtel de Ville and the Opera Nouvel; the Rue Victor-Hugo and the Rue du Plat both lead to Perrache; and the Rue du Président Édouard Herriot, with a concentration of luxury shops and leading to the Place des Terreaux. The quarter of Vieux Lyon and the Lyon Cathedral face the square over the Saône.Place Bellecour is the kilometer 0 of Lyon: all distances are counted from this point.Bozkov could easily recognize his two outlandish visitors near the statue of King Louis XIV. After the initial exchange of greetings, Bozkov led them to the car and soon brought them to the decorated central hall of the INTERPOL HQ where already, they were being waited for.I allowed time for them to settle and then first got them introduced to rest of my available members of the Special Task Force. Roy, Dassayev, Ziplin, Baratz, Bouchard, Baldwin, Bozkov, Zenini, Hong, Alam, Kashyap, Hanif and Marker.Then I introduced the other two. “This is Kumar Sinha our mandated associate from India. And this gentlemen is The BIDDER we arrested in North Macedonia.”“Good morning Jonny, good morning Ron.” Greeted the BIDDER smiling.Both Richard and Simmer were taken aback by hearing the pet names, that very few beyond their family knew of. “Good morning.” Both the visitors greeted back, somewhat startled.“I know eminent scientists and economists like you will find our theory quite unimpressive. Maybe even absurd.” Declared Kumar.” But that does not mean that we will remain mute spectators to this ongoing process of destruction.”“We are not here to challenge you.” Said Richard somewhat defensively. “We are here to hear and learn, things that we know nothing about.”“Our domain of science is restricted to our reasoning. Once something goes beyond our logical inferences, we term them as absurd or …. A miracle. We do not claim that we are out to perform some miracle, rather we are out to discover some latent truth about our powers, which we are yet unaware of. From time immemorial we have been having tussles between man and man to establish a universal belief system. Today, we need to stand apart from those petty wrangles and look beyond by looking within. Knowledge is not only restricted to the selected texts and test tubes. There are far more to learn. Our ignorance makes us fear. It makes us fear the unknown.” Kumar looked around at the attentive audience. People were truly scared.“This is not something new we are attempting.” The BIDDER took over from Kumar. “There are several instances in history when humans resorted to help from BIDDERS to rid them of calamities.”“And how did the BIDDERS help them to overcome their woes?” Asked Simmer curiously.“That is up to the BIDDER and the nature of the problem.“ Replied the BIDDER.“In this case, what will be his course of action?” Asked the Scientist.“That off course we need to know from THE BIDDER himself.” Said Kumar.“So how do we find THE BIDDER?” Asked Simmer, puzzled.“THE BIDDER is attracted to symbolic bearers of the five primary elements of nature. First we need to get them together. Then there are various modes through which these five incarnations together can appeal THE BIDDER to appear.” Replied Kumar.“Is it a form of meditation or a form of séance?” This time it was Bozkov who asked.“A form of meditation you can say.” Replied Earth, the BIDDER, casually.“How do you find the incarnations of the five elements of nature, by the way?” asked Simmer again.“That is where our friend, EARTH THE BIDDER is helping us. We have already found three and we are confident of finding the other two pretty soon.” Replied Kumar with a flourish.“And how can you be sure that this BIDDER will deliver?” Asked Richard with an air of skepticism.“Well, there are no guarantee cards that THE BIDDER is expected to bring along. Either you trust him completely or do not make an effort at all.” Replied Kumar with an air of annoyance.“Accept this gentlemen,“ Said the BIDDER EARTH, almost out of turn. “you have no choice but to take a chance. With all your overconfidence in science, you should keep it in mind that your presence is too tiny to know about all the mysteries of the universe.”We had been served with breakfast. I took the opportunity to understand from Richard his opinion of the two individuals he had been talking to. Richard and Simmer both evaded my question. It seemed that they still found the proposition too exaggerating, to believe. Nevertheless, the truth was staring at our face. We needed to act fast. After the duo had departed, I pulled Kumar Sinha to one side.“How long will it take to find THE BIDDER?” I asked him impatiently.“It all depends on how fast we get hold of the embodiments of the elements commander.” He Replied unfazed.“Till them?” I couldn’t hold back.“BE VERY AFRAID COMMANDER. BE VERY AFRAID.” He said, turning away. 

CHAPTER 13THE ELEMENTS A quest to re discover the human incarnations of the elements of nature was embarked upon. Everyone looked up to THE BIDDER EARTH for guidance and EARTH himself sought the guidance from his powers. First of all there were disagreements regarding the number of elements to seek. Some said there were three, some said four, but EARTH and Kumar were unanimous in there count.... there were five.“I have always heard from my elders that there are four elements.” Stated BMK. “Why should we look for embodiments of five elements?”“Well, there are five. I will tell you about it.” Declared EARTH the BIDDER.In his famous "Doctrine of the Four Elements," the Greek philosopher Empedocles (5th century BC) divided the world into four elements associated with four divinities: earth (Hera), air (Zeus), fire (Hades), and water (Persephone). These four elemental "roots," wrote Empedocles, comprised not only the physical substance of all matter, but also the spiritual essences that quickened and animated all life forms. The universe, he believed, was comprised of two forces, Love and Strife, which waxed and waned in strength. When Love was the dominant force, the four elements were balanced in a Sphere of Unity; but as Strife became dominant, the sphere was broken and the elements were scattered. The single immortal soul of Love was then divided into many, many souls (each containing some measure of Love and Strife), born and reborn into mortal bodies formed from the four elements. Though Strife remains dominant in the world, eventually its power, too, will wane, and Love will be on the rise once again. The elemental sphere will be restored, and the divided souls will meld back into One.Aristotle later expanded on Empedocles' ideas in his influential Metaphysics. He wrote that all matter and all men are influenced by the qualities of the four elements: earth (dry and cold), air (wet and hot), fire (dry and hot), and water (wet and cold). Warmth and coolness, said Aristotle, are the most powerful of these qualities, making fire (whose primary power is warmth) and water (whose primary power is coolness) the most active and important of the elements. But because these two are opposites, they require the mediating qualities of a third element (earth or air) in order to unite their properties. The mediating element is called the Harmonia (named after the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares), capable of binding opposites together in order to restore unity and health, to engender transformation, and to enable acts of magic.One ancient way to create such a union was in the Pyria, the Greek equivalent of a Native American sweatlodge -- bringing earth, air, fire, and water together in a ceremonial setting. The Pyria, like a sweatlodge, was made of blankets stretched over a wooden frame. Stones (earth) are heated (fire), then placed in a cauldron inside the Pyria, where water is poured over them, forming steam representing the union of all four elements. As John Opsopaus writes (in Bibliotheca Arcana), the steam "is the (Hot, Wet) Air that unites the opposites. This all takes place in contact with, or even within, the (Cool, Dry) Earth." In Native American sweatlodge ceremonies, the elements of earth, air, fire, and water are also united in the service of prayer, purification, and spiritual transformation. The exact form of the ceremony varies from tribe to tribe, but it is generally common for the activating spirits of the four elements to be respectfully addressed as living beings and honored for their crucial role in sustaining life upon the earth. The hiss of the water on hot stones, sending steam to fill up the dark of the lodge, is said to represent a child's very first breath -- air, earth, water, and fire united as new life begins. The Lakota word for the sweatlodge ceremony, inipi, literally means "to breathe."The ancient Celts divided the world into three sacred elements, with earth, water, and air as the swirling spirals of the tri-part triskele symbol. The Indian Chandogya Upanishad names just three as well, but these are earth, water, and fire. The Norse had four primary elements: fire, ice, wind, and wave, to which (some believe) they added four secondary elements: iron, salt, yeast, and venom -- with a ninth element, earth, formed from a combination of all the others. The Chinese recognize five basic elements: earth, water, fire, wood, and metal, as does Achaemenid Zoroastrianism in Arabic lands: earth, water, fire, plants, and metal. In the intricate symbology of Tarot cards we return to the familiar system of four, each suit representing an element: Coins are earth, Cups are water, Swords are air, and Wands are fire.In alchemy, the union of fire (masculine) and water (feminine) is one the primary tasks of the art, made possible through the mediating elements of air and earth. Though alchemy is often perceived now only as a crackpot pseudo-science through which men sought to turn lead into gold, mythic scholar Mircea Eliades pointed out (in his classic study The Crucible and the Forge) that alchemy was as much a spiritual philosophy as it was a physical craft. Alchemy, according to Eliades, arose from the early Mystery rites of the ancient Craft Guilds of metallurgists and smiths -- which, in many cultures, had initiatory practices similar to those of shamans or wizards. For alchemists through the centuries, transmuting "lead" into "gold" was not a literal but a metaphysical process, akin to seeking enlightenment. Alchemical experiments in the laboratory were, on the one hand, an early form of the secular science of chemistry -- but they also had a distinctly sacred aspect, drawing upon Aristotelian, Chinese and other ideas about the sacred qualities of the elements. Alchemists sought to bring the elements together into perfect states of unity as a means of sustaining health, longevity, and spiritual growth. The Celtic Twilight poet William Butler Yeats wrote in Rosa Alchema in 1913: "I had discovered, early in my researches, that their doctrine was no mere chemical fantasy, but a philosophy they applied to the world, to the elements, and to man himself."Many other systems of magical belief were also rooted in the four elements. Wizard, witches, and enchanters of all stripes called upon the power of fire (associated with passion), water (the emotions), earth (the body), and air (the mind and imagination), or sought to communicate with magical spirits linked to each element. Earth elementals included those who lived in caves, barrows and deep underground, and who often had a special facility for working with precious metals. Such creatures appeared in myths and legends worldwide, including the Coblynau in the hills of Wales, the web-footed Couril guarding the standing stones of Brittany, the various metal-working dwarves of Old Norse legends, the Maanväki of Finland, the Thrussers of Norway, the Karzalek of Poland, the Erdluitle of northern Italy, the Illes of Iceland, the Gandharvas of India, and the Gans of the Apache tribe in the American South-west. Forest fairies of all shapes and sizes were also associated with the element of earth, such as the shy Aziza in the woodlands of West Africa, the Mu of Papua New Guinea, the Shinseen of China, the Kulaks of Burma, the Hantu Hutan of the Malay Peninsula, the Bela of Indonesia, the Patu-Paiarehe of the Maori in New Zealand, the Oakmen of the British Isles, the Silvanni of in woodlands of Italy, the Skogsra (forest spirits) of Sweden, the Ulda of Sámi tales, and the Manitou of the Algonquin tribe in the forests of Canada.Air elementals included all manner of winged fairies, sprites, spirits, and sylphs, such as the luminous Soulth of Irish lore, the Star Folk of the Algonquin tribe, the Atua of Polynesia, and the Peri of Persia (said to dine exclusively on perfume and other delicate scents). Creatures who accounted for weather phenomena (mistral winds, whirlwinds, storms, etc.) were also associated with the air element, including the Spriggans of Cornwall, the Vily of Slavonia, the Vintoasele of Serbia and Crotia, and the Rusali of Romania.Water elementals were divided between those of the sea and those of fresh water. Salt water elementals included mermaids and mermen, seal people, and sirens of various kinds: the Selchies (Selkies) of western Europe, the Daoine Mara and Fin Folk of Scotland, the Merrows of Ireland, the Nereides of Greece, the Havfreui of Scandinavia, the Mal-de-Mer of Brittany, and Groac’h Vor, a Breton mermaid. Fresh water elementals lived in rivers, lakes, pools, fountains, bogs and marshes, and anywhere else that water was found. These included the nixies and kelpies of English rivers, the Dracs who haunted the rivers of France, the Rhinemaidens of Germany, the Kludde of Belgium, the Laminak of the Basque region, the Hotots of Armenia, the Judi of Macedonia, the Cacce-Halde of Lapland, the sweet-voiced Nakk of Estonia, and the bashful Nokke who appeared only at dusk and dawn in Sweden.The most common type of fire elemental was the salamander, much prized as a spirit-helper by witches, wizards, and alchemists even though they were tricky, quick-tempered creatures, often appearing as blazing sparks of light by those who sought their aid. Also aligned to the fire element were treacherous Djinn of Persian lore, the seductive Muzayyara in Egyptian tales, the Akamu of Japan, and the Drakes or Drachen of western Europe (who resembled streaking balls of fire and smell like rotten eggs). Luminous will-o'-the-wisp type fairies were also classified as fire spirits -- such as the Ellylldan of Welsh marshland, the Teine Sith of the Scottish Hebrides, the Spunkies of southwest England, the Faeu Boulanger of the Channel Islands, the Candelas of Sardinia, and the Fouchi Fatui who haunted marshes, ponds, and cemetaries in northern Italy. The various fairies, brownies, and trolls who guarded hearth fires (the Dĕduška of Russia, the Gabija of Lithuania, the Natrou-Monsieur of France, etc.) could be either malign or beneficent, depending on their country of origin and the circumstances under which they were encountered, but most other fire elementals were exceedingly dangerous and best left alone.Earth, air, fire, and water: these four elements, in the Western tradition, are the foundation of natural magic, alchemy, philosphophy, modern science, and life itself. "Life is the fire that burns and the sun that gives light," said the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger. "Life is the wind and the rain and the thunder in the sky. Life is matter and is earth, what is and what is not, and what beyond is in Eternity."“Likewise, an old Navajo prayer honors the elements and our connection to all things formed of them: "The mountains, I become a part of them. The herbs, the flowers, the trees, I become a part of them. The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters, I become a part of them. The thunder, the flash of lightning, the sacred fire, I become a part of them. The wind, the cedar smoke, the living breath, I become a part of them. As I rise in the morning, I am part of them. As I pray in the morning, I am part of them. In beauty, I am part of them. In this way, I am part of them."THE BIDDER’s long discourse on the elements had sent most of the members into sleep. It had been a busy day for them. The long briefing did nothing much to energise their drooping vigour and morale.Baldwin, who had been supporting BMK in his tirade, suddenly broke out into a song.“Earth, Air, Water, FireDeep under our earthThe magic boils, hisses,Is rock, whooshes,Our magic, our worthMingled, oh Mr. and Mrs.We arrive grandly in birth.On earth we drink and swim,Dig in dirt, light flames,Breath in, find namesFor gods, goddesses, himAnd her, magic proclaimsIn stories, poems, dreams.I am Gemini, dream of flightYou may swim, make worthIn wisdom of the earth,Or flame into brave lightEarly our ancestors went forthWith tales, chants, might.We live in magic, all four.Each of us with different door.”“Guys, there are five elements.” Kumar interrupted the song. “Kashyap sir, I draw your attention to Hindu mythology. According to ancient philosophy, aether or ether as it is now known as is the highest element, elevated above the other 4 (Fire, Water, Air and Earth). It is said to permeate all nature and is the very substance which is the building block of all the cosmos and the celestial bodies.”“Now, let me explain this in connection to the Hindu mythology.” Kumar was speaking to the now, wide awake audience.“Aether is associated with the property of quintessence which is the purest form of matter. According to ancient philosophy, aether or ether as it is now known as is the highest element, elevated above the other 4 (Fire, Water, Air and Earth).It is said to permeate all nature and is the very substance which is the building block of all the cosmos and the celestial bodies. Aether is also referred to as the purest form of air. Ancient Greeks believed that the Gods themselves breathe aether, whereas us mortals sustained ourselves on air. Aether is the substance that fills up the universe.As you might have already guessed, aether plays a very important role in mythology, especially the creation myth. According to that myth, the universe hatched from a cosmic egg. This particular explanation of the existence of the world as we know it is shared across many cultures and civilizations in the world. It usually plays out in one of the following two ways; either the egg hatches and divides into heaven and earth or a God is born out of it, who then creates the world.”“For instance, in Hindu Mythology there is a detailed description of the Brahmanda in the Vedas. Brahma stands for cosmos and anda for egg. As per the Vedas, the egg floated in the limitless void and then hatched into Heaven (or Dyaus) and Earth (or Prithvi).”“Further in Taoist mythology, the Cosmic egg hatched and Pangu came forth. This God’s upper body formed the heavens and the lower body formed the earth. As he grew taller and wider, the skies were raised higher and the earth became so full. When he died, Mother Nature was born from his body.”“Similarly, in Greek mythology, the cosmic egg brought forth Phanes who was the primeval deity. Other Gods followed suit after him and thus created Earth.”“In modern cosmology, the cosmic egg theory still finds place. We just refer to it as the Big Bang now. Before the big bang, the entire universe was clustered tightly together which later burst forth and started expanding.Aether helps understand the skies or the space as we like to call it now. We all know that there is an immense vacuum in Space, and 68% of that consists of Dark energy. This is what is causing the universe to expand even today.Dark matter, which is considered the answer to the mysterious gravitational pull that holds the galaxies and planets as tight knit clusters is also widespread making 27% of the matter. Aether, as explained by Aristotle, moved in circular motion and had the power to hold even celestial bodies. Circular motion is similar to the elliptical orbits of almost all planets and galaxies.”“ In 14th century, this 5th element or Quintessence as it was called was the topic of intensive research by alchemists. Later in 18th century, aether theories were used by scientists to explain the electromagnetic force. Newton, Einstein and many scientists have all used as well as refuted the existence of this element in their works.”“Whether you believe in this 5th element or not, it cannot be argued it has played an important role in our understanding of the universe.”“Let’s take a break.” Alam insisted. He had been fidgety all evening. His father’s disposition had been troubling him endlessly. He rushed out to make a call to Karachi.Peter Marker also seemed disturbed. He had been worried about the health of his girlfriend and would be wife, who was showing very slow signs of recovery from pneumonia. “Why do you look so worried mate?” BMK looked concerned.“She has not been sleeping well for the last two nights, sir.” Replied Peter with a voice full of sadness.“Marker, why don’t you let her sleep with the window open?” BIDDER EARTH had an abrupt suggestion.“Are you mad? The air from outside will worsen her state...... “ Marker almost shouted out but was halted midway.“Air will protect her. She is the human embodiment of air.” The BIDDER EARTH announced.“Take some rest gentlemen. Tomorrow will be a long day. We have very little time with us.” Said BMK.“Another thing boys.” Said Colonel Kevin Roy. “Nothing is solved yet, so continue to be afraid. Very afraid.’ 

CHAPTER 14RABBI SHAYYIK YADDI I unwrapped the piece of glass from the handkerchief and handed it to Kumar.All the members looked at it with deep amazement as Kumar held it aloft. “What does it mean?” Asked Colonel Roy, voicing his dismay.פחדו מאוד מבני אדםThe inscription screamed some lethal conjecture from the glass piece.“It’s written, be afraid human beings in Hebrew.” Ziplin read out.“It is something that everyone is saying in every possible language.” Stated Alam. “But how come, this as an inscription being presented to the commander, without his knowledge, written in blood, in a language unknown to him?”“As a warning, probably.” Baldwin chirped in.“There are warnings galore. There is something more to it.” Muttered Ziplin.“It is an effort to get noticed.” Exclaimed Kumar. “Guys, our fifth embodiment is a Jew. We need to find him very quickly.”The discussion was interrupted as Peter Marker enters the room with Elizabeth. She looked fresh without any semblance of the malady that had been failing all medications. “She looks fine.” Observed BMK aloud.“Yes, the open window did the trick.”Smiled Marker.“It surely did.” The girl nodded in acceptance. “The air had the most soothing effect and I feel quite normal again.”“That’s great news for all.” BMK said excitedly.“If you call yourself a BIDDER, I have a problem to be solved.“ Said Marker approaching BIDDER EARTH. “My would be wife is suffering from a disease incurable by medical sciences. If you can rid me of this trouble, I bid my life to you.”“Be assured young man.” Replied EARTH. ”Your problem will be over very soon.”“But now, we need to find this man.” Kumar pointed at the glass piece, drawing back the conversation on track.“I request my MOSSAD compatriots to take a special look into it.” I implored.Joshua Ziplin and Aiden Baratz looked at each other. They had been given a task, which was indeed paramount to take the investigation forward. Both the officers took turns to examine the glass piece with utmost care. “Mr.Ziplin. “ BIDDER EARTH called out as both the MOSSAD commanders were making their way out of the room. “You need not go very far. Rabbi Shayyik Yaddi is very much in Lyon.”Ziplin froze at the mention of the name. The Rabbi had been more than God to him. If the Rabbi had been the one to plant this inscription, he would have been the first to know. The Rabbi would have also told him much before, had he possessed any special power. “How do you know about the Rabbi?” Ziplin asked.“The Rabbi was the one who got you into MOSSAD and into this case with INTERPOL. He has kept an eye on you throughout that some trouble does not befall you. He wanted you to discover his powers and not merely hear it from him. Rabbi Shayyik Yaddi, gentlemen will lead our way.” Proclaimed EARTH, the BIDDER.Silence had descended on the room, especially upon the younger of the two MOSSAD officers. He was too shell shocked with the information that he forgot to notice the ringing of his cell phone.“Shalom, Joshua.” It was the Rabbi on the other side.“Boker Tov, Rabbi.” Ziplin struggled for words.“How are you, my son?” Asked the Rabbi from the other side.“I am fine Rev Yaddi.” Replied Ziplin slowly. Probably, the Rabbi being the one whom they were so desperately seeking, gave him the shivers.“I know reverend Rabbi Yaddi you are in Lyon by now. Can we expect your presence at the headquarters today?” I made my voice loud to be audible to the Rabbi on the other side.“Is is Commander Ruslan?” He Asked back.“Oh yes.” I Said as Ziplin handed me the phone.“I will be right there commander and please make sure all the others are there, especially the Indian who found me out.” Said the Rabbi.“Absolutely Rabbi.” I hung up and handed the phone over to a spellbound Ziplin.“So now we have the embodiments of the elements together.” I proclaimed aloud. “So let us find out THE BIDDER.”“Wait a minute … wait a minute, commander.” Interrupted Colonel Roy. “How can we say that we have found the elements? Can someone explain how can we identify them as embodiments? We cannot just conclude things on the intuition of two people.”“Kumar Sinha, I would request you to please explain to us, your deduction.” I requested.Kumar walked to the front of the room and smiled at the expectant faces.“We knew EARTH is a BIDDER …and he is truly very strong with his powers. General Dassayev, he was quite aware that you were coming to arrest him. Just think, why the tip off came to you, who knew nothing about a BIDDER, instead of it coming to the Macedonian Police. Also, when you arrested him, there were no resistance at all and all the guards that you killed were themselves convicts of murder. Once you had arrested him, his building blew off, leaving no trace of his research work. This is so typical of a BIDDER. If he wanted to blow you off, he could have done it anywhere. At the driveway, at the courtyard, at the hall …. But he wanted you to take him. ““Hong was initially not part of the task force. He gets a chance to be amongst the security forces of the Chinese Premier. Some dissidents attack his cavalcade en route to the Trade Summit. Hong anticipates the attack and repels the attackers. He comes to prominence as the actual person chosen to be in the Task Force, Liu Zinhua gets killed by a stray bullet. Hong becomes his replacement to Lyon, from absolutely nowhere. Just think, Hong was too junior in the ranks to fit in here …. But all of a sudden he gets in here.”“BMK and Alam are pitted together, though their respective countries are sworn enemies. A chance meeting with the Police Chief in Mumbai, a stray discussion and I get summoned by the Police Chief. I get the recommendation from an ex Army personal, a political advisor and an eminent scientist for a concept which none of them came to believe or comprehend. I get a mandate from INTERPOL through the special powers of the commander and land here.”“After a brief meeting with EARTH the BIDDER, we learn about the tragedy in Botswana. We begin to study about the Tswanas and come to know about them. “We have a chance meeting with David Zondeki at New York while embarking on a journey to Alaska. During the long wait at the airport, we learn a lot regarding their Totem and regarding his sister, Naomi. We at once plan to meet her and get to know that she indeed had the exceptional capabilities we were looking for.”“Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Peter Marker notices a drowning girl and rescues her. This girl had attempted suicide six times before but each time had come out alive because she had always tried sleeping pills, which never had the desired effect. This time she tried drowning and got a rescuer. Well, the sleeping pills never had the desired effect because she always consumed less than what is required to die. But this time she chose a desolate portion of the river, where no one might notice her. But Marker did. Soon, it was found that she had an “air about her”. She received protection from the element of air.”“Commander Ruslan had received a memento from nowhere, which seemed a warning in Hebrew. It draws us to our compatriots from MOSSAD. Joshua Ziplin had been brought into MOSSAD through the strong recommendation of Rabbi Yaddi and it was the Rabbi who got him to this special task force. Rabbi wanted to emerge at the right time through Ziplin and was waiting for the other elemental embodiments to get discovered. He had been regularly speaking to Ziplin to know our progress and we had managed to tap their conversation in more than one occassion. We discovered that he was very much in Lyon and had been here for the last thirty days. EARTH managed to map the dynamics of the Rabbi through his strange calculations of Cosmology to infer that Rabbi Yaddi was the one whom we had been seeking.”“As we are searching for the embodiments of the elements, they are too approaching us to be discovered. This is a natural postulate. Our ignorance and our ego often prevent us from recognizing the sources of the solutions to our problems, even if they might appear to be too commonplace. The embodiments are no super humans . They are ordinary people like you and me, too ordinary, probably. But one has to identify them through very ordinary symptoms. And they are there to help you recognize them.” Kumar paused, probably expecting some questions. But before anyone could ask anything, there was a slight knock at the door. An officer pushed the door open to escort Naomi Zondeki inside the room. Kumar and Dassayev took turns to introduce her to the others in the room. As Naomi took her seat beside Elizabeth Dale, there was another knock. This time, the officer ushered in Rabbi Shayyik Yaddi . The Rabbi was wearing a black kippah and his white tallit katan could be seen from under his dark blue shirt. He held Ziplin in a tight embrace. Aiden Baratz, followed by the others, one by one came up to shake his hands. I got the Rabbi introduced to Kumar Sinha, as promised and noticed the countenance of the Rabbi light up on seeing him. “You have excellent intellect, my son.” He exclaimed. “It is you, who have brought us together. But there is one thing that you missed out. I am a scholar in Yiddish, this Hebrew inscription is not from me. Along with THE BIDDER, we need to find the person, who warned us.”The gathering was stunned into silence.“Yes, Rabbi, we will find him.” Assured Kumar.“Since, we are all here now, we should plan to start finding THE BIDDER.”I proclaimed.“Absolutely.” Seconded BMK. “EARTH, what will be the procedure.“All the embodiments need to meditate deeply from the early hours of tomorrow, without any disturbance or break and seek for the vision of THE BIDDER. “Said EARTH.“It is expected that we all might have similar vision of the area where THE BIDDER might possibly be. We have to move through the hints that THE BIDDER might drop for us.” EARTH explained.“Tell me something , Kumar .” Approached BMK . “How can you dediuce that the Rabbi is an elemental incarnate?”“The Rabbi ,” Said Kumar. “Unlike others of his sect , worships the sky . He has written several articles , each declaring the sky as the savior of the human race. He derives all his powers from his devotion for the sky. Ask him.”Though, there were a few doubters, the ball had been set rolling. The Rabbi and EARTH soon got indulged in an animated discussion, while Kumar got busy with the others trying to further convince them with his reasoning. News of another explosion in Madagascar meanwhile had been telecast by all leading news channels. A very frightened White House spokesperson on air declared it to be a worldwide emergency. The prime minister of Great Britain too made an announcement of fear. The German Chancellor called out to the science community to come out with some kind of solution to save the planet.Suddenly, I somewhat felt pity for Richard Redknapp. There might be too many people asking for his opinion on these incidents. I stood up to leave the room, I needed to have a smoke. As I was coming out of the room, I felt a tug on my blazer. I turned around to face the bearded countenance of the Rabbi. “Commander, time is running out for us.” He whispered.“But now we have our team ready.” I tried to radiate some optimism.“I hope it is not too late, commander.” Whispered the Rabbi. “Be very afraid. Very afraid.” 

CHAPTER 15ELIZABETH DALE Lisa or Elizabeth had inherited most of her characteristics from her mother and all the women who had preceded her. She came from a farmer family and all that she had learnt was from the wives of farmers, she had grown up with.The trendsetter to the Dale household was her great grandmother Lady Elma who had sown the seeds of all possible faculties of upbringing in the women of the succeeding generations."The average farmer’s wife is one of the most patient and overworked women of the time." She used to say.The American Farmer, 1884.Despite the growth of industry, urban centers and immigration, America in the late 19th century was still predominantly rural. Seven out of ten people in the United States lived in small towns with populations under 2500 or on farms in 1870. In Indiana, the 1880 census reported a population of almost 2 million residents, about 55 per square mile, 1,010,000 men and 968,000 women. About three out of four people lived in rural areas. Although much of the study done on woman’s roles during this period looks at the roles of the emerging urban middle class or those of immigrant women, the changes that occurred affected rural women, too.The "Cult of Domesticity, " first named and identified in the early part of the century, was solidly entrenched by late nineteenth century, especially in rural environments. The beliefs embodiedmilking-cow.jpg in this ‘Cult’ gave women a central, if outwardly passive, role in the family. Women’s God-given role, it stated, was as wife and mother, keeper of the household, guardian of the moral purity of all who lived therein. The Victorian home was to be a haven of comfort and quiet, sheltered from the harsh realities of the working world. Housework took on a scientific quality, efficiency being the watchword. Children were to be cherished and nurtured. Morality was protected through the promulgation of Protestant beliefs and social protest against alcohol, poverty and the decay of urban living.Pulling against these traditions was the sense of urgency, movement and progress so evident in the geographical, industrial, technological and political changes affecting the country. Women’s roles were meant to steady all this uncertainty, but women could not help but see opportunities for themselves in this growth. Jobs opened up in factories, retail establishments and offices, giving single women new options. Education became mandatory for both genders in many states. Women sought higher education, too, first in all female institutions and then in co-ed environments. The push for women’s rights, with suffrage in the forefront, also gathered momentum. Regardless of these changes, throughout the nineteenth century, 95% of married women remained "at home."The proliferation of popular literature and the expansion of communications through the press and other means could not have helped but enlighten rural women to the opportunities opening up for their gender. Their lives, however, were tied to house and children, endlessly unacknowledged work, little opportunity for outside contact or variety of experience, and little relief from everyday triviality. The extent to which farm women felt any fulfillment or larger meaning may indeed have been tied to how well they could balance the tensions between the expectations of the culture and the day-to-day, unrelenting tasks of housekeeping, child rearing and farm life.Elizabeth always adored the housekeeping skills of her mother and the other women she lived with. She had been told that this virtue was a kind of legacy that passed through generations.“A really good housekeeper is almost always unhappy. While she does so much for the comfort of others, she nearly ruins her own health and life. It is because she cannot be easy and comfortable when there is the least disorder or dirt to be seen."Her grandmother used to say.

Women’s popular literature of the period during the times of her great grandmother , as narrated by her grandmother, was full of advice about and encouragement for proper housekeeping. Implicit in this advice was the notion that by keeping a clean, neat, pious home and filling it with warmth and inviting smells, women were achieving their highest calling. The movement to elevate the status of housework found an early voice in the writings of Catherine Beecher. Beecher devoted much effort to glorifying housekeeping and attempting to convince her readers that their daily duties, however tedious or distressing, constituted important works assigned to them by Nature and God. Beecher was one of the early proponents of ‘scientific housekeeping,’ believing that a good housekeeper should be a jack-of-all-sciences, and use those sciences to run the household efficiently. She went so far as to suggest a explicit weekly schedules and rational designs for the kitchen and cooking areas. Her many manuals and cookbooks offered not only a philosophy for housekeeping, but practical methods for accomplishing those philosophical ends.A review of the popular literature of the time provides unique insights into the expectations for women’s lives and the realities of their existence. In his book, So Sweet to Labor, author Norton Juster looked at the advice given and the responses received in a few publications of the time. He notes that the term ‘drudgery’ appears again and again as a descriptive term. Women wrote letters that described the endless, repetitive work undertaken week by week. Not that it was all woe – many reported about the joys of fulfilling their womanly role as keeper of the house, or wrote to chastise their complaining sisters.The weekly schedule of "drudge" likely included laundry on Monday, ironing and mending on Tuesday, baking on Wednesday and Saturday, daily tidying of kitchen and parlor, and thorough cleaning on Thursday and again on Saturday. This was in addition to childcare, three meals a day, hauling water and keeping the fire burning in the stove, a chore that in itself took at least one hour each day. Then there was making the family garments and seasonal preserving of fruits, vegetables and meat. Often, too, the scope of work extended to the farm itself. Women had charge of the farm garden, livestock and poultry and work related to "civilizing" the farm. During planting and harvest, if she did not work in the fields herself, she provided room and board for the extra help that did.It was evident from the conflicting opinions offered in literature of the period that women’s lives were fraught with tensions. How-to manuals, magazine and newspaper articles set high, if not impossible, standards for moral rectitude, cleanliness and cheerfulness. The realities posed by the sheer number of tasks to be completed daily, monthly and yearly stressed even the hardiest of women. Even so, many women responded to the challenges place before them with humor and pride."None of the many mysteries displayed by the study of life has been to mankind more unintelligible than that of disease, and nothing is more striking about this than the terribly disproportionate amount of suffering which falls to the lot of women. All my life I have been engaged in the study of their special ailments, and no conclusion is more firmly rooted in my mind than a devout thankfulness that I belong to the other sex."Said Sir Lawton Tait in 1890.Much was written in the closing years of the nineteenth century about the innate health – or lack of it – of the female. The middle and upper class ideal of woman was that of an ‘invalid.’ Professional medical theories at the time stated that woman’s normal condition was to be sick. Corresponding to the idea of "separate spheres" for women and men in society, the idea that women were, by their nature, sickly, complemented the idea that men were robust, aggressive, healthy and thus naturally predisposed to the harsh, competitive world of work while women were more suited to the quiet, sanctified life of the home. This is not to say that the illness which did afflict women were inconsequential. For example, for every 100 women who were twenty in 1865, more than 5 would die of tuberculosis by age 30, more than 8 by age 50. Disease was real, and devastating.Rural women were required, by the nature of their work, to be healthy and strong. But that was often not the case. Beset by long days of labor, they were often exhausted, mentally and physically. It was generally accepted, however, that the prevalence of sickness and decline was the result of the "peculiarity" of her anatomy - woman as a natural invalid. Contemporary writings often noted the preponderance of nervous disorders and "fretfulness."Middle and upper class women could and did seek medical care from (male) doctors. Working class women sought help in patent medicines and an increasing number of self-help books and magazines. Cures calling for eggs, tar, soot, herbal extracts and other household ingredients illuminated the pages of popular magazines. For example, a recipe for a cure for rheumatism states, "To a handful of blue flag root add a pint of good spirits; let stand for a week. Dose, a spoon full three times a day, and increase by degrees to three tablespoons full a day. Or, apply a poultice of hot potatoes; renew as often as it becomes hard or cool. It is said to be a very excellent remedy."Similar concoctions were proposed for the cure of bleeding lungs, cancer, shortness of breath and cough. These home remedies were often supplemented with a myriad patent medicines, many with high percentages of alcohol, and the liberal use of laudanum.The end of the nineteenth century was a time of tumult and change, and tensions showed in the lives of women. Attaining the proscribed female role of wife, mother and moral safeguard of home and family was more than many women could bear, and their physical and mental health suffered. New opportunities in education, employment and social protest caused many women to question the role society cast for them. Involvement in any of these activities often led to unanticipated results and actions that defined new roles for women in the decades that followed.Development happened in Corcoran village too. Alice, who later became mother to Lisa, had emerged as one of the most educated women of the village. Her courtship with Jason started at college and eventually culminated in their marriage in an elaborate function at the village hall. Soon after marriage they relocated at Rochester where Jason, a civil engineer got his posting. It was here that Lisa and her brother Buster were born. Lisa had been a very average girl, in contrast to her brother who excelled in studies, sports and music. Right from childhood, Buster had been very popular amongst his peers. Lisa on the other hand remained docile, friendless and ignored. She remained much to the background while her brother grabbed all the attention and adulation, not only from friends and peers but also from her parents. Lisa remained secluded and all to herself throughout college.Things turned for worse when she fell ill and had a blood test done. A second blood test revealed traces of HIV and was soon declared to carry the lethal AIDS virus. It created a cloudburst. Lisa had lost her will to survive. Her parents and relatives kept thinking, sometimes aloud too, that she might have had some unwarranted sexual escapade. But Lisa knew that her forlorn destiny had touched the Nadir and she had to live with the unsavory repertoire and die with it. Time and again she wanted to end it all by taking some sleeping pills from her mother’s cabinet, but each time it ended in more fiasco since each time she survived.Though, her days remained melancholy, the night breeze from her window always rejuvenated her. Whenever they had visited their village in childhood, she had heard the elderly say that she carried good air and that the air will always give her strength. She never understood what they said, neither did her parents. From her window on the second floor she could see the Zumbro River and at times she had felt a longing for it.On a Sunday, she took the plunge. Having gathered the courage to disappear from the world, she chose a lonely spot. A stiff breeze blew across as she slid into the water and waded to a spot where her feet no longer touched the ground. The sudden chasm below drew her down and water gushed into her nose and mouth. She did not want to resist her downward slide, but she made a splash around. Probably, a last attempt for life. She splashed around for sometime before the current started getting better of her…..

The CIA agent looked genuinely concerned, perhaps more concerned than her parents and brother had been, during their visit to the hospital. In fact her father had scolded her for not learning to swim.But this boy talked softly and offered to take her with him until she got better. Mayo Clinic had released her in a couple of days and the CIA officer stayed by her throughout the week. He had offered to take her to France with him. Lisa’s parents were somewhat happy to let her go and somewhat relieved too. In fact, they had grown pretty fond of each other. Elizabeth was quite happy that she had come across someone who could eloquently speak his mind; who could love her with her myriads of flaws; who never sought to comparisons between individuals and who always looked determined to perform something meaningful with his life. Somehow, she adored him, respected him, cared for him ….things that had been alien to her life thus far. With Peter, her days and nights had turned into heaven. Despite the doom all around they remained happy in the presence of each other. Everything seemed so ethereal …. Their discussions, fear, confessions, love making, everything.

Elizabeth, took a deep breath and walked along with Naomi to the meditation chamber. BIDDER EARTH had decorated the emptied room with floral wreaths and several other uncommon decore. This was the place where all the embodiments were supposed to meditate and search for THE BIDDER.Aroma from perfumes sprays filled the room. A fire was burning in the middle. EARTH and Hong sat on the floor with eyes tightly shut. The Rabbi sat on an armchair. He signaled the two girls to take the empty chairs beside him.“Take a deep breath and close your eyes to the world.” He said softly. “Just try to concentrate on a face in the wall. Imagine that there is a face in the wall and you are trying to recognize it. It may take hours for you to clear your mind. But once you do that, you will recognize the face. Open your eyes only when you see something definite.”Naomi and Lisa took their seats and closed their eyes. But the outside world with all its stupidity kept dancing in front of them. They fought on with their senses, in search of a face in the wall. Soon a trance was upon them. The silence of the room, in contrast to the din outside, waited with bated breath for the embodiments to unravel the unraveled.  

CHAPTER 16SHAHNAWAZ ALAM Karachi had become widely known for its high rates of violent crime, but rates sharply decreased following a controversial crackdown operation against criminals, the MQM party, and Islamist militants initiated in 2013 by the Pakistan Rangers. In 2015, 1,040 Karachiites were killed in either acts of terror or crime – an almost 50% decrease from the 2,023 deaths in 2014, and an almost 70% decrease from the 3,251 deaths recorded in 2013 – the highest ever recorded number in Karachi history. Despite a sharp decrease in violent crime, street crime remains high. With 650 homicides in 2015, Karachi's homicide rate decreased by 75% compared to 2013. In 2017, the number of homicides had dropped further to 381. Extortion crimes decreased by 80% between 2013 and 2015, while kidnappings decreased by 90% during the same period. By 2016, the city registered a total of 21 cases of kidnap for ransom. Terrorist incidents dropped by 98% between 2012 and 2017, according to Pakistan's Interior Ministry. As a result of the Karachi's improved security environment, real-estate prices in Karachi rose sharply in 2015, with a rise in business for upmarket restaurants and cafés. During this transient period, the Pakistan Rangers of Sindh worked endlessly in utmost earnest and alertness to make the city livable and lovable. General Yashir Shad, Kayyum Hasnain and Shahnawaz Alam quickly became revered names amongst the masses. The newspapers, television channels, political circles all heaped praises on them. Everyone credited them for redeeming the city of lights.Alam had been the youngest and most daredevil amongst the three and it was inevitable that he would be handsomely rewarded. Soon, he found his way into the echelons of formidable generals of the ISI and was fast to create a niche for himself. Though, he had graduated with psychology from the esteemed Karachi University, his passion for sports and fitness drew him to the paramilitary forces. His amazing athleticism had once attracted the attention of Wasim Bari (ex-Pakistan cricketer) during an inter department cricket match. However, he chose his military career over a cricketing one, knowing full well that professional hazards were much more in the former.Alam’s selection to the Special Task Force of INTERPOL did not come as a surprise to anyone. He was an unanimous selection. However, the development of his camaraderie with the Indian agent Kashyap did not go well with the country’s leadership. He was prompted many times by his seniors to move away from the Indian. However, Alam had always been a person who lived by his own choice and so the threats, advices, suggestions, requests fell on deaf ears.Alam liked BMK. Many of their qualities matched, immaculately. Also, the respect for each other was mutual. They never talked about the differences between their respective countries, in fact they always talked about the similarities. If BMK took deep rooted interest in the Shariat, Alam always spoke about lessons from Ramayan and Mahabharata. Now, their team had been bolstered with the arrival of Kumar Sinha and EARTH the Bidder. They, almost always had discussions on scriptures and holy books and enriched themselves through dissections of characters and characteristics.“Good Evening, Mr. Kumar.” Greeted, Alam as he entered the room, Kumar had been using as a study.“Good Evening, Janaab.”Kumar wished him back, taking his eyes away from the visitors seated opposite to him.He could recognize professor Parthasarathy, the eminent scholar, columnist and writer, but he could not identify the young white guy in jeans and a tweed jacket.“Please meet Mr. Parthasarathy from India and Sandy Bloom from Australia.” Introduced Kumar. “And this, gentlemen is General Shahnawaz Alam.”“Well, I know the professor. I’ve heard his lecture in the University of Karachi.”Smiled Alam. “But I have never met Mr. Bloom.”“Well, I am a journalist with the SUN.” The young man stated. “I was rather intrigued by the story of THE BIDDER when I heard about it from the professor. I wanted to cover the whole thing myself, but I could not get permission to meet you people.”“Yes, Sandy is a very sharp boy.” Voiced the professor. “He has some theories of his own, and I thought that he would be of help to the team. So I brought him to Commander Dragomir. He in fact suggested that I get him to meet Kumar. So, here we are.”Alam studied the Australian deeply now. He was around 6 foot tall with sharp features. He had dark hair and deep blue eyes. “Wait a minute .Weren’t you the one who always predicted of events in the television?” Suddenly Alam seemed to find some resemblance.“Yes Sir.” Confessed Bloom. “Since childhood, I could feel that I possessed a unique sense of ESP to predict outcomes of upcoming events. Nothing like Nostradamus though … “ He smiled.“Yes, and you never went wrong.” Said Alam. “I remember, you had predicted a tie in the finals of the cricket world cup 2019, months before the first match, and also that England would face New Zealand. Didn’t you?”“Well yes.Many people had laughed at me. Especially the Indians like professor Parthasarathy” Smiled Bloom.“What do your predictions say about the problem we are facing now?” Asked Kumar moving closer.“It will be countered and stopped. Mankind will survive. Don’t ask me how.” He Smiled. “That’s why, I, so desperately wanted to be a part of this team.”“But, you are yet to have a mandate.” Said the professor.“Don’t worry about that.” Assured Alam. “If Mr.Bloom suits the purpose of the team, we will get the mandate in no time.”
“I will definitely try my best to be of purpose, mate.” Bloom nodded assuringly.“Well then, how to you intend to contribute?” Asked Kumar.“My intuitions work very well.” Replied Bloom.“So, what do your intuitions say about the next blast?” Asked Alam, appealingly.“The next explosion will not be happening in a month.”He said. “And when it happens, it will be fatal. So guys, we have exactly thirty days to act. If we fail, we are doomed.”“But you said that mankind will survive, as per your prophecy.” The professor jutted in.“Yes, that symbolizes that our mission will have a positive result.”Bloom emphasized.Alam had managed to convince the commander and other authorities for the issue of a mandate in the name of Sandy Bloom. Something about this chap seemed uncanny and convincing. Why he didn’t warn them before, prior to the explosions had started? Was he waiting for some commotion to happen? Was he waiting for the world to fear it’s extermination? Or was he part of some extremist group who had discovered some novel way to announce their presence and potential? So was he merely acting as a spokesperson, who under the veil of a prophet was trying to put their message across? Alam remained puzzled. He decided to consult BMK and organize to have a close watch on this new inclusion to their team.

BMK’s room had been transformed into a mini conference hall. Alam got greeted from all corners as he made his entry. EARTH the bidder was seated alongside professor Parthasarathy. BMK himself was flanked on either side by Kumar and Naomi . The newcomer, Bloom was seated some distance away from the rest. Alam strolled inside and made a place for himself beside the professor.The discussion was regarding humans and their attributes. EARTH the bidder was describing how a BIDDER is different from other human beings. “A BIDDER is a principle based being.” He said. “ His life revolves around certain principles which are sacrosanct and he never ever deviates from them.” “Does it mean, his divinity comes from his principled life?” Asked BMK.“Quite so. “ Nodded EARTH. “ Quite like Ram of Ramayana. Principled, talented, divine and composed.”“Also like Krishna in Mahabharata.” BMK injected.“No, not Krishna.” Exclaimed EARTH.“But Krishna also had his principles.” Defended BMK.“You have to understand the messages these texts impart through their characters during their respective ages. Ramayana was from the treta yuga. Almost primordial times. Things were simple then. The rules were simple, the economy was robust, people were less complicated. Ram was a person who upheld his principles and abided by the rules. Just think of it …. someone who was supposed to be king, suddenly has to leave for a life of banishment, in rags, for fourteen years. He could have gone to any other kingdom and taken asylum, but he didn’t. He did whatever his principles prompted him to do. In the fight against Ravana, he could have selected Bali, who had trounced Ravana once before. But he chose Sugriva, the downtrodden brother of Bali. He created the belief in a person who had practically lost all hopes of survival. So, if Ram was a bidder, in a way he had relieved Sugriva of his distress by giving him a goal in life. And Sugriva bid his life for Ram and his cause.” EARTH the Bidder smiled at the spellbound audience. “Mahabharata was however portrayed in the Dwapar yuga, which was seemingly a more complex and corrupt era. There were only rules to be followed and no principles. Krishna always twisted the rules to favor the outcome. He was not equivalent to Ram in terms of principles. The era demanded that. Just imagine, a woman was being disrobed in public, and all learned people could do nothing, because they were all king’s men. Rules were to be obeyed and not principles. Isn’t it quite alike as of today? Soldiers fight and die only to obey rules.” He paused to look around.“That’s right.”Nodded Kumar. “But what happened to your morning exercise? Any vision of THE BIDDER?”“We can have a breakthrough in a couple of days.” Replied EARTH. “The vision of THE BIDDER is very close in our minds.”“What do you mean by close in your minds? Did you see something in your trance?” Asked Alam with a hint of impatience.“THE BIDDER probably is from China.”Declared Hong entering the room.“How can you be so sure?”Asked Kumar.“Well, I saw someone with Chinese features.” Replied Hong.“Me too.”Seconded Naomi.“Person with Chinese features does not mean he has to be from China.” Alam said. “He can be from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, The Phillipines, Malaysia, Singapore, Nepal, Bhutan.”“Or India.” Kumar filled in. “The North Eastern states.“What else did you all see?” BMK enquired.“Nothing else.” Replied EARTH. “We will sit again the next two days and try to have a proper insight of THE BIDDER. The search has just begun.”Alam quietly paced the room, lost in thought. Just a face of a yellow tribe is too inadequate a hint. They can well circulate a sketch of the face all around, but time was the scarce factor. Besides, THE BIDDER might not be from very locatable places. He could feel BMK by his side.“Don’t worry, we are on the right track.” Assured BMK.“But we do not have time.” Alam despaired.“One month sir. One month.” Called out Sandy from his chair.“And these are the thirty days which will decide whether we perish or survive.” Announced Alam.“And if all our efforts are in the right direction, and if we survive,we might also discover greater powers of the universe.” Said BMK.“We may also have a tryst with God…. Or the Devil.” Chuckled EARTH. 

Chapter 17SANDY BLOOM In 2008, an aspiring journalist student called Sanderson David Bloom had attended one of Yuri Geller's shows, and had subsequently developed a liking for his powers. He had started feeling that similar powers had been implanted within him. Slowly, he started following Geller in his shows, his public appearances and TV programs. He had grown up reading Geller’s autobiography, “My Story”. His paranoia to grow into a protégé of Yuri Geller in psychic attainments had become his goal in life. He could feel, as days went by, that his powers in telepathy were on an increase. He could foresee, he could predict, he could have visions of the paranormal. He moved around the globe, showcasing his powers to stunned audiences. He learnt new languages, met with numerous people and created awe all around. His television and stage shows drew people in heavy numbers. Yet he remained far from satisfied. He believed that somehow his powers were not merely meant for the prediction of sports and election results. He had much more to offer, for humanity, for mankind. His field of work often brought him close to believers of different faith and the scientific community. During discussions, he often found out that people discussed on issues beyond their understanding with a lot of assumptions. The idea of God or religion were discussed without any concrete framework or scientific discovery and were generally ,sometimes forcibly, attributed to some natural cause. There was something missing, and whatever was missing, gave an aura of fakeness to all Metaphysical discussion. Ten years of waiting had given him the power to enrich and intelligently employ his powers. Here he was now at the officer’s quarters at Lyon trying to unravel the mystery that threatened to engulf the world. He had been with the meditating team this morning. He was not new to long hours of deep meditation. However, his vision differed from that of the others and it intrigued him.The tap on the door was loud enough to startle him. At the second round of knocking, he opened the door to let Kumar Sinha in.“A late good morning to you Mr.Bloom.” Said Kumar Sinha, as he entered. “ You look pretty fresh.”“Yes Sir.” Replied Sandy. “The morning meditation has done a world of good to me.”“So any new intuition?” Asked Kumar suggestively.“Nothing as of now. Only that we are on the right track.” Replied Sandy.“Any clue regarding THE BIDDER?” Asked Kumar.“That’s for the Elemental embodiments to spell out, I suppose.” Came the stern face reply from Sandy.Kumar shook his head and allowed him to pick up a small syringe from the table at the corner.“Your vision has been different from them, isn’t it?” Sandy could not escape the razor sharp eyes of Kumar.“In a way, yes. But does that matter?” Asked Sandy casually.“In a matter of fact, it does.” Replied Kumar. ”It does because your special powers of telepathy is a rare faculty. And it is you who had started the ball rolling.”“What do you mean by that? Sandy snapped back.“Weren’t you the one who left the Hebrew inscription for the commander on a piece of glass?” Stated Kumar. “But one thing I fail to understand Mr.Bloom, why do you use blood to make your inscriptions look sinister, even black ink could have made the same effect.” Said Kumaras he handed Sandy the syringe he had picked up from the table.Sandy stood perplexed. He had thought that this stunt of his would never get caught, but this Indian sleuth was way too smart.“Well… “ He stammered. “How did you come to know this?”“Blood on glass does not stick easily. It is only through special psychic behavior or chemical infusion that one can achieve to have an inscription on glass with blood. It is beyond the Rabbi to do such a thing and besides, he would have written in Yiddish. But I kept quiet because I wanted everyone’s attention to get drawn to the Rabbi.”Said Kumar.“Genius.” Exclaimed Sandy.“Now tell me about your vision.” This time Kumar was more demanding.“Well, I saw some flat featured people, I mean people of the yellow tribe, pulling down an iron gate with a rope and some of their guys trying to erect a new one beside that. Whatever that means.” Sandy shrugged.“Bravo.” Kumar cried out. “You have located the habitat of THE BIDDER.”“What?” A spontaneous exclamation escaped the lips of Sandy Bloom.“What you have seen, my friend, is a vision of the habitat of THE BIDDER and he is not from China or any other country with a Chinese population.” Remarked Kumar.“Then where is he from?” Asked Sandy.“What you have seen is a glimpse of the Sekrenyi festival.” Replied Kumar.“The Sekrenyi festival, known locally as Phousanyi, is a major annual festival of the Angami Nagas, among the many festivals held by them, in the northeast Indian state of Nagaland. It is observed for ten days from the 25th day of the Angami calendar month of "Kezei" (usually corresponding to 25 February in the Gregorian calendar) under the auspices of the Angami Public Organisation in association with many other organizations and the state government. It is a "purification festival" held to wash off all past sins. The objective of the festival is to renew and "make holy" by cleansing the "body and the soul" of the village as a whole, and to bring forth unity among all communities of Nagaland. It also marks initiation of young people to adulthood and is considered an "identity marker of the Angami". So, it means that THE BIDDER is a member of the Angami tribe from the North Indian State of Nagaland.” Informed Kumar.“But what about the visions of others?” Asked Sandy.“Well, they are in the process of identifying THE BIDDER. Once his face is etched deep in the memory, we can get someone to sketch it and locate him.” Replied Kumar.“So the police of Nagaland needs to be pressed into service.” Stated Bloom.“No, not the police. THE BIDDER will only come forward when the elemental embodiments approach him.” Explained Kumar. “Come on, we need a whole lot to do. Put on some warm clothes and please no more tomfoolery with those syringes. We already have a victim of wrong syringe insertion amongst us.”“Right Sir.” Sandy mocked a military salute.Rabbi Sayyik Yaddi and EARTH the bidder were trying their best to describe the face they had seen in their trance to the artist, who tried to sketch every minute detail. Elizabeth and Marker along with Naomi Zondeki were eager spectators to the deft touches of the French commercial painter. Hong and Colonel Roy were onlookers too, though from a distance.
As my eyes met that of Kumar Sinha, he smiled and passed a sheaf of paper via Ziplin and Hong in my direction. I had never heard much about Nagaland, so had requested Kumar and BMK for some detail about the place, which they had meticulously compiled for me.The mountainous state of Nagaland is located on the eastern boundary of Northeast India bordering the Kingdom of Myanmar and remains home to the sixteen Naga tribes, each with distinct culture, tribal traditions and language. It is a land of festivals and folklore that have been passed down for generations. Nagaland has always attracted numerous visitors and curious anthropologists from around the world, who have come to learn more about the tribal lifestyles of these once-headhunters. Nagaland hosts the popular Hornbill Festival every year in December, which is one of the biggest tourism event in the Indian subcontinent.Not much is known about the history of the earlier times of the Naga people and their land. The ancient Hindu text Mahabharata has reference of the ogress Hidimba after which Dimapur was named. Dimapur was the first capital of Dimasa Kachari civilization on the banks of Dhansiri river during antiquity, few monolithic carvings and historical ruins still remain. The Dimasas often faced raids from the hill tribes and eventually shifted their capital in the middle ages. The British explorers reached the Naga Hills in 19th century with the hope of baptizing the natives and finding a new route to Burma. Their expeditions faced resistance from the Angami tribe of Khonoma village and their missionary activities were protested by the Zeliangrong tribe. The Naga Hills came into importance during World War II when the Japanese invaded India to overthrow the empire. The Japanese aimed to reach Dimapur rail line and cut off British supplies to Imphal airfields by capturing Kohima ridge. The Imperial Japanese Army entered the Naga Hills and captured Kohima after a fierce fighting took place. Their defeat at Kohima changed the course of the war. The tribal hill tract of Naga Hills was later carved out of Assam and made a new state named Nagaland. The Nagas however from observations are much unlike mainland Indians and have always considered themselves to be the owner and governor of their land. These remote areas appear neither a part of India, it is in all regards a realm of the incredible Nagas. And their dream of Nagalim, a Naga nation unites them.Kohima is the capital of Nagaland and is better known as the venue of the Hornbill Festival. It is also a historic town which witnessed important battles of the Second World War. Dimapur, located at the foothills, is the largest town of Nagaland. Dimapur is a commercial centre and is well connected with other towns in the region. It also connects Nagaland with other parts of India with regular air and rail services. Wokha and Mokokchung in western Nagaland were the first towns in the Naga hills to be established by the British. Small towns such as Mon and Tuensang in easter Nagaland are significant cultural centers where it is still possible to meet some of the tattooed headhunters and listen to their stories of deadly savage escapades.Many remote parts of Nagaland can be considered as the wild eastern frontier of India as these places have been explored only in recent times. The beauty of Nagaland can be seen in the lofty mountains of Japfu mountain, mesmerizing Dzukou valley, forested Patkai hills and also in the tribal villages. Many Nagas still preserve their old traditions and remains of their indigenous culture. Though the people were brave warriors in the past, they are now warm hosts to the visitors.The people of Nagaland mainly comprises of the Tibeto-Burman tribal communities of the Naga tribes of the mountains and the Kuki and Dimasa tribes of the foothills. Some of the Naga tribes also inhabit in neighbouring states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur as well as Sagain state of Myanmar. During the colonial British era, the tribal territory of the Nagas was administered differently as the colonial masters avoided interference in tribal affairs. This led to well preservation of their tribal culture. Few of the Naga tribes had earlier practiced head hunting as war trophies, which was later banned during the modern times with the advent of western missionaries and spread of Christianity in 1970s.The Ao tribe of Mokokchung is one of the largest Naga tribes. The Aos became the first Naga tribe to be converted into Christianity by the Baptist Missionaries in 1872. The Angamis are natives of capital Kohima. They are well known for their art, architecture and colourful costumes. The Angamis also practice the interesting stone pulling ceremony where the entire village gathers and pulls a large monolith from the forest to their village marking a chapter in their history. Chakhesang tribe of Pfutsero are culturally alike to the Angamis. Sema tribe of Zunheboto is also a large Naga community. The Lothas of Wokha district is another prominent Naga tribe who are well known for their bamboo crafts. The Zeliangrong tribe comprises of Zeme, Liangme and Rongme clans. They dwell in remote villages in the mountains of southern Nagaland and Manipur, the Morung (dormitory) at Benreu village is considered the oldest in Nagaland. The Konyaks of remote Mon district were known for their head hunting traditions, many Konyak villages are still governed by their Angh (king). The Konyaks are also well known for their war dances during the Aoling Festival. Few Naga tribes such as Chang, Sangtam, Yimchungru and Khiamungnian coexist in Tuensang area. Phom, Pochury and Rengma are some of the Naga tribes with smaller population. The clans of Kuki tribe and the Dimasas, who dwell in the foothills near Dimapur are culturally different from the Naga tribes.Each of these tribes can be easily recognized by their distinct costumes, architecture and rituals. Though they are culturally different from one another, their mythical origins can be traced to the Living Stones of Khezakeno village, from where the tribes migrated in different directions. The Morung dormitory for bachelors is a common structure that can be seen in all Naga villages. The long Log Drums are also part of indigenous culture of every Naga tribe. Another common aspect is their excellence in producing cane and bamboo crafts. The Hornbill Festival, organized by Nagaland tourism department is a good opportunity to observe the traditions and cultures of the different tribes at a single venue.The tribes of Nagaland produce some of the finest indigenous handicrafts in India. Most of their crafts are made from sustainable resources which are easily available in their surroundings. Due to their dependence on bamboo for daily puposes most tribes have cane crafts. Cane baskets are common among most tribes, the Angamis make tall baskets for storing grains. The Angamis are an artistic tribe who have beautiful wood carvings which can be seen in the large Kharu gateways to their villages. The beautifully carved gates also have elaborate carvings of tribal motiffs. Hand woven Shawls are another popular handicrafts of Nagaland, the patterns and colours vary among tribes. Brass pendants, worn as necklaces by Konyak men symbolized head hunting trophy masks. Konyak women also make beautiful necklaces, bangles and bracelets with little beads. Chang tribe made ivory bracelets and tiger claw pendants in the old times when villagers hunted in the wild. Indigenous designs of tattoos are also unique to Nagaland, tattoos are adorned by the old Konyak men and also by the women of Ao tribe. The decorated hunting spears of Rengma tribe are the most common souvenirs found in the craft markets.The Naga Hills are extensions of the Eastern Himalayas between the Brahmaputra valley of Assam on the west and the Chindwin river basin of Myanmar to its east. Mt. Saramati and Japfu peak are some of the highest points of the Indo-Burmese mountains, these parts of the state also experience snowfall. The low lying Patkai hills in northern Nagaland are rich in forest resources on which the indigenous people have depended on their livelihood for centuries. Doyang is the only major river of Nagaland, the catchment area of this river is also a hotspot for the migratory Amur Falcons. Dzukou Valley in the southern part of the state is also unique in its landscape with green rolling hills and meandering streams.The forests in the northern part of Nagaland consists of dense evergreen rainforests. These forests are covered with gigantic trees where sun rays hardly penetrate. Tropical forests are found in the western part and coniferous vegetation is seen in the higher elevation of eastern Nagaland. Temperate forests and rhododenrons are also found near the high peaks of Saramati, Japfu and Dzukou area. The world’s tallest rhododendron tree, as recorded by Guiness Book, is in Japfu mountain. Nagaland also has abundant bamboo forests all over the state. The state is also blessed with over three hundred species of epiphyte and lithophyte orchids. The beautiful Dzukou Lily blooms only for a few weeks during the rainy season in Dzukou valley.Nagaland also has a large forest cover, some of the major wildlife sanctuaries are Intangki, Rangapahar and Fakim Wildlife Sanctuaries. Nagaland has comparatively a larger number of bird sanctuaries than animal reserves. Tragopan is one of the most beautiful pheasants of India, the Blythe Tragopan is found only in Nagaland. They prefer high hills where the climate is cold with frost and ferns on the ground. Four different species of Hornbills are found in the tropical forests of Nagaland, namely the Great Pied Honbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill, White throated Hornbill and Wreathed Hornbill. Mammals such as Indian elephant, Gaur bison, Sambar deer, Sloths, Giant squirrels and leopards are found in Rangapahar forest, which were once extensions of Nambor forest of Kaziranga. The sketch was ready much before I could finish the reading the write up. Alam and BMK were peering into the sketch in deep concentration. All others were awaiting my orders for the next step.“Nagaland is a fairly big region commander.” BMK spoke out at last. “We need to split our team.”“Absolutely. Let me work out the different combinations.” I declared. “Guys get ready for an immediate journey to India. All of us.” 

Chapter 18THE SEARCH The team had been divided into three. Each team had ten people. The first team stayed back at Lyon as a back up with commander Ruslan Dragomir at the helm. The second team was headed by BMK and was composed of the five elemental embodiments, Kumar Sinha, Peter Marker, Shahnawaz Alam and Sandy Bloom. Colonel Kevin Roy lead the third team. In his team he had General Dassayev, General Baratz, General Ziplin, General Bozkov, Major Glosky, General Hargreaves, Captain George Baldwin and two Indian escorts from the paramilitary forces (CRPF).BMK’s team reached Dimapur from Delhi after a brief stopover at Kolkata. Whereas Colonel Roy’s team reached Kolkata directly from Paris and took the connecting flight to Dimapur. Both the teams were to stay apart and not meet each other, unless on emergency.The search began for a nameless, address less target, who was THE BIDDER they were so desperately in the lookout for. While the elemental embodiments followed their meditative visions, Bloom and Kumar relied on their intuitions and the others followed their instructions. The other group merely searched through faces to find the exact replica of the sketched face they carried with them. “I don’t think we are going to make much headway through our present method. We need to reach the location of THE BIDDER. The village, city or town he resides in.” Said BMK.“EARTH had said that THE BIDDER would resurface one all the elemental embodiments get together.” Alam reminded.“Our vision from meditation was a green valley. Some kind of terrace farming as they call it.” Informed The Rabbi.“Did everyone have the same vision?” Enquired BMK. “What are your observations Bloom and Kumar?”“I have an intuition.” Replied Bloom. “We should move to a more rural location. Dimapur and Kohima are very much urban.”“The vision that the elemental embodiments had was indeed of terrace farming but also of one very important facet friends. The greatest clue.” Chipped in Kumar. “Nagaland owns Asia’s first complete green village, in Khonoma. Probably, our BIDDER is from that village.”“That means, we need to instantly start for Khonoma.” Stated Marker.“Absolutely, without further delay.” Replied Kumar.

None of his reports appeared coherent. Richard Redknapp could hardly gather his thoughts to compile a meaningful summary. Most of the observations he had mapped were based around assumptions and he knew that White House would not accept so much of speculative renderings. He poured himself a cup of coffee. Nothing seemed out of place in terms of cosmology. No abnormal movement of planets or activities of the Sun. No approaching asteroid. No new cosmic collision ,Supernova or energy imbalances in the space. What was it? Merely some innovative variety of explosion, never thought of before… maybe with detonators not commonly used or thought to be explosives? The theory of the INTERPOL super cops appeared too farfetched and too self defeating. How come a super intelligent being like humans be ambushed without any recognizable alarm? He leafed through the pages of the various reports. Nope. None of them made any sense. He felt gutted, perhaps even ashamed to be a scientist. He felt dejected at his abject failure to identify the cause of the threat and subsequently being able to devise a method to contest such a peril. The explosions consumed villages, towns and cities. They did not follow any particular pattern or radius, but grew in magnitude with each successive attack. He cursed Ruslan Dragomir under his breath for believing in all kinds of mythological stories instead of trying to investigate with all extremist groups. Science did not permit him to accept anything beyond the domain of reasoning. He had to find a way out from this madness. He must find out a remedy. He once again read through the email message from the White House. They had requested for an explanation by the end of the day. Richard shifted uneasily on his chair. The clock ticked loudly in the otherwise silent personal chamber of the director. He made some effort to compile a loose explanation but couldn’t convince himself to complete the task. It looked very unbecoming of him to conjure up some nonsense to keep The White House at bay. It was no longer the White House that mattered now. The whole of mankind mattered much more. It was more important to investigate facts to understand the phenomenon…… with methods never discovered or put to practice before…. With tools no one knows of …. With processes not put to use before. He could feel his sweat on his brow. He wiped it with his sleeve, something he had never done since childhood. But now, nothing mattered …. Apart from the bid to exist.Gingerly he picked up the phone. “ Hello, Ruslan…”

The meandering path along the mountains steadily brought them closer to Khonoma. An occasional military vehicle was nothing rare to the inhabitants, so not many eyebrows were raised. The vehicle moved slowly along narrow roads to reach, what looked like the center of the village. Tufts of cumulous danced across the greenery, across the roads to nowhere. The passengers disembarked slowly to stretch themselves and have a whiff of the purest form of air possible. BMK trudged ahead of the group to look for something of interest for their mission. Soon, he was approached by a local, who greeted him in clear, plain, unsophisticated English. “Are you looking for a place to stay?” He asked with a smile. “Not really.”Replied BMK. “We have the police quarters for us. We need someone to guide us.”“I can help you.” Offered the stranger.“What’s your name?” Asked BMK instinctively.“I am called Phu. My house is just nearby. You can come along and have some snacks there.” Smiled the stranger.BMK waved at the rest of the group and all ten of them, including the driver followed him and Phu, through the serpentine alleys into a single storied chalet, decorated on the outside with colorful floral décor. An elderly sat at the doorway and gladly made way for the group of visitors.Phu lead them to a reasonably big hallway with decorated walls and ceiling. “This is our main room.”He explained.Everyone had their eyes fixed to the walls, where stuffed heads of animals were put on display. On the far corner hung two human skulls and two large spears. “Nagas, especially Angamis were initially a hunting tribe. We had lot of infightings and slowly our numbers started diminishing alarmingly. So we gave up warfare and became agrarian. These mementoes on the wall were the possession of my forefathers.” Phu explained.“Who is the gentleman sitting outside?” Kumar asked, almost out of turn. “My grandfather. He is hundred and five years old.” Proclaimed Phu with an air of pride.“Great.” Exclaimed Marker. “He looks so fit.”“Don’t forget Mr. Peter, this is a green village. A pure place.” Remarked BMK.A large plate full of raw vegetables and fruit was served along with some aromatic rice. “How long do you intend to stay in Khonoma?” Asked Phu.“We don’t know yet.” Replied BMK. “We are in search of someone.”Alam dished out the sketch of THE BIDDER and handed it to Phu. He looked at it intently and handed it over to his grandfather who had just walked in.“This person belongs to the Mho tribe who reside in the hills. They don’t have eyebrows, as in the picture. They are messengers of God. They are very few in number, maybe twenty or even less. Whenever, the village comes under trouble from the Gods, they appear to eradicate the problems. These people have no name.” Said the grandfather.“Then what do you call them?” Asked Alam.“God.” Replied the grandfather in a grave voice.

Richard’s voice appeared shaky. It was the first time I had heard him so bereft of confidence.“Are you sure, the theory of THE BIDDER will work?” He asked hesitatingly.“Had I not been sure, I wouldn’t have send my teams in search of him.”I replied casually.“Look Ruslan, I have tried whatever I could. And not only I, other scientists too have tried the best but we are all stuck. We have no reply. The world now relies on your venture, Ruslan, however absurd it may sound.” Richard sounded as if in despair.“Be informed Richard. We are on the right track.”I assured.“Amen.” Said Richard before hanging up.

“How can we get to them?” The Rabbi asked the old man. “Pray to them, with a pure heart, if you are in trouble.” The old man pronounced. “ He will definitely appear before you, if you can project your trouble in a proper way.”“And your trouble should be genuine.” Added Phu. “ By the way, what is your trouble?”“It is not only our trouble. It is the trouble of every human being. We are facing extermination from unknown sources. Therefore we need divine intervention.” Explained BMK.“Then you pray sir. And we all will pray with you. The Angami God will surely help us.” The aged Naga said assuringly.

The White House spokesperson Hubert Woods looked puzzled. The letter from Richard Redknapp was short and curt. It said in as few words as possible that there was no scientific explanation to the explosions. In fact, if there was any, the scientific community was not aware of it. He read the letter several times over. It would be a disaster reading it out to the general public. It would be equally disastrous to hand it over to the President. He tried to compose himself, the press conference was due in thirty minutes. The world was eager to know the analysis from the top scientists of the world. This negative statement coming from the world’s best cosmologist will wreck havoc around the world. Death is something to be afraid of. Very afraid of. Everything depended on Huber. He slowly walked down the corridor, unable to ready himself to proclaim the doomsday statement to the world.

The group of ten had gathered at the courtyard of Phu. Elaborate arrangements for a large scale worship had been organized by the villagers. Flowers of all colors had been scattered all around the courtyard. A large fire was burning at the center. Women had washed each corner of the courtyard with scented water and had placed large plates with fruit, vegetable and rice near the fire. Several old men stood bare bodied chanting hymns and words of prayer. Phu signaled them to be seated on the floor. They obeyed and closed their eyes as instructed. The worship had started gathering vigor. More and more villagers had started joining in. The chants had grown louder. The soothing aroma of he incense sticks filled the atmosphere. The floral offerings kept coming. Logs kept being fed to the fire to keep it robust. The team of ten were already in the depth of meditation along with some of the others who flanked them. Minutes rolled into hours but the worship kept getting louder to reach the mountains. The clouds had also started getting dense. The sun however, managed to peek from time to time to announce it’s benevolent presence.EARTH felt disturbed by the arm that rested on his shoulder. He tried to shoo it away by shrugging his shoulders free. The arm from behind once again came back to rest on his shoulders. He moved away a little, still with his eyes shut. The arm again rested on his shoulders. EARTH, usually composed in his behavior, got irritated for a change. He turned around to face the annoying factor to his deep meditation. The owner of the hand smiled at him. He had no eyebrows.

“Good Afternoon, citizens of the world.” Huber greeted graciously looking at the live cameras. The announcement from the White House was being telecast live around the world. “The last few days had been a nightmare. We all had no clue of what was happening all around. People were dying, cities were getting destroyed, yet we could not find out the true reason behind the catastrophe. We had begun to doubt about an extra terrestrial invasion. However, our scientists and other eminent researchers have progressed ahead with their study. Within a few days not only we would get to know the reasons for such mayhem, but also would have the method to withstand it with us. Be rest assured that we are in the right path. Whatever happened will not be repeated, but at the same time, we repent that such a thing happened. It caused us to lose so many precious lives. Their sacrifice will not go empty. They have added fuel to our armory. We will soon emerge stronger and more courageous. Come what may, we the inhabitants of this magnificent planet will overcome it.”There was cheer all around. Richard Redknapp looked at Cameron Simmer who offered just a shrug of his shoulders. 

CHAPTER 19THE BIDDER

Dr. Raghavan gingerly nodded in the direction of the approaching figure.“Take a seat S.P.” He gestured towards the empty chair opposite to his. “Have some tea.”The professor promptly obeyed and started filling the empty cup with the hot liquor. “What do you make of the announcements from BBC and The White House?” Asked the professor, lifting the cup.“Fabricated stories.” Said Dr. Raghavan, dismissively.“What makes you say so?” The professor’s eyes grew wide. He had never heard the scientist talk with a flavor of cynicism. Even under utter duress, he had bourne the courage to bear an optimistic outlook, even within gloom.“With whatever knowledge of science I have, I can vouchsafe for the fact that nothing has yet been deduced from the data available to us from the incidences.” Explained Dr. Raghavan.“Or maybe we are incapable to decipher the data.” He continued. “Under such a circumstance the leadership of the world should come to the rescue by trying to buy time. People need answers, whereas, we haven’t any.”“You mean to say, we have no means yet to know the reason for such disturbances?” Asked the professor again.“No. Not until Kumar and his gang finds THE BIDDER.” Replied Dr. Raghavan in a sombre voice.“Even if THE BIDDER be found. Whatever he may say, might not appeal to the scientific community. The world might not believe in his findings.” Stated the professor.“It’s not whether the world will believe that is important. What is paramount is whether the world will live to believe it.” The Scientist uttered in a lowered voice.

It had been very tough for me indeed, replying to journalists, politicians, people from the scientific community, INTERPOL HQ and all others about the secret mission we had embarked upon. Fear and apprehension was evident in every face, every voice. However, I had to hold on to the actual truth since it would have been easily discarded as a cock-and-bull story. However, I remained equally tensed about the outcome since somehow our future depended on the success of this mission.Initially, I myself had been quite cynical about the idea of THE BIDDER. But this guy, Kumar Sinha had been so much full of conviction, it was difficult to overrule him. At the moment everything in the world and the world itself depended on the success of this mission. The recent news about the team getting a whiff of THE BIDDER was indeed heartening. The determination of the team had been exemplary. It was as if they believed in their ability to solve the grave problem we have been surrounded with. The last few messages had made me restive. I wanted a running commentary from someone, giving me the minute to minute detail of the proceedings from the North East of India. However, at the same time, I did not want to become too inquisitive and disturb the proceedings. I have been facing a fusillade of questions since taking over as the commander of the special task force but till now I had no answer. The mobile flashed a message.It was short, but I had to read it several times to fully take it in.“THE BIDDER has been located.”

“How can you be so sure that he was THE BIDDER?” Asked Alam.“Don’t forget, we had his vision.” Replied the Rabbi.“A bidder always recognizes the other. That is why he came to me.” Said EARTH.“Now, the question is how to get him within us and start deciphering the mystery all around.” BMK pondered aloud.“He has shown us a glimpse of himself, to prove that we have come to the right place. Be rest assured, from here on he will show us the way ahead.” Claimed EARTH.“But how do we communicate? We do not know his language.” Despaired BMK.“He knows ours.” This time it was Kumar who broke the silence.

“I have a premonition that this is the lull before a storm.” Said Dr. Raghavan without bothering to look at the perplexed countenance of the professor.“I have a hunch that this time, whenever it happens, the strike will be most fatal.” Continued Dr. Raghavan. “If you see, all the attacks till date had been on cities, towns or villages which are not among the prime localities of the world. Those were the preludes, the trailers of the movie to follow. Now the attacks will be directed towards L.A., Paris, New York, London, Shanghai and even Mumbai or Delhi. Something most fatal is yet to happen.”“If they find THE BIDDER before that, can the catastrophe be prevented?” Asked the professor, almost in self consolation.“Only if he turns out to be God.” Replied Dr.Raghavan, with a slight sneer in his voice.“You mean to say it’s checkmate?” Asked the professor , wide eyed.“Checkmate indeed.” Dr. Raghavan emphasized getting up.

The police hostels had enough rooms to house the members of the task force. Elizabeth and Naomi were given a special room at the end of the corridor and everyone else had a whole room to himself.Phu had been kind enough to organize homemade food for the team, which was unique, pure and delicious. The old inhabitants of the hostel had been shifted to the first three floors, whereas, the fourth, fifth and sixth floors were allotted to the special task force. The view from the window of the fifth floor was breathtaking. The moonlit night had bathed the greenery in blue. Swaying of the trees to the rhythm of the serene night breeze created music in the silence. The glistening edges of grass highlighted the euphoria, nature had unfurled to the world. The occasional wispy clouds caressed the greens as it gathered to envelop the environment in a screen of white. The magic of nature created a spectacle of harmony to mesmerize the beholder.Bloom was unable to take his eyes off the window. The scenery outside was fast infusing a stigma of spirituality within him. He was almost in a daze. As he looked on, between the trees outside, the contours of a human face developed …. A face without eyebrows.

Cameron Simmer had been rendered speechless by the news on the front page. The resignation of his closest friend, one of the finest scientific minds in the world, Richard Redknapp from NASA, had come as a rude shock. He had tried several times to contact Richard over his phone, but all his calls and messages had remained unanswered. Simmer wanted to talk to his friend, knowing that Richard needed him to be at his side during this critical time, yet Simmer could not leave the bedside of his ailing mother. He found himself torn between loyalties. On one side was his closest pal facing the ruthlessness of the torrid times and on the other was his mother counting the last few days of her existence. His wife, Barbara could feel the extreme dilemma her husband had been going through. She could only whisper some words of courage in his ears from time to time. She also somehow felt that Ron should be by the side of Richard at this time of crisis. It had always been Cameron who had supported Richard at tough times.“Ritchie is not taking calls from anyone.” Cameron told his wife.“Yes, Stella was also worried.” Replied Barbara.Stella and Richard had completed their third divorce anniversary, a few days ago. Though, they had been living separately ever since, Stella kept in touch through occasional phone calls and a few discreet dinners in company of their son Phillips. Cameron’s concern readily reflected on his face.“Darling, I suggest, you fly down to Washington and meet Richard and come back after a day or two. I and all others can handle things here for a couple of days.” Assured Barbara.Cameron was through with the security check, when the phone rang.“We have lost mom.” Barabara’s whispering voice shook him.

The elemental embodiments walked slowly towards the small cave at the foot hills of the east side hills. The wisps of passing clouds had hazed out the vision of the interiors. The slight drizzle had by then developed into a steady downpour. The five of them, slowly moved ahead, keeping in mind every bit of the instructions laid out by Phu’s grandfather the previous night. The weather had gone cold and the sudden drop in temperature made them shiver as they moved ahead. After some fifteen minutes of careful walking against the tricky mountainous slopes, they were upon the entrance. A thin beam of light came from within, which they realized had been illuminating their path as they had been walking through the thicket. At the entrance, the atmosphere was comfortably warm, unlike what they had been experiencing minutes ago. The sudden warmth brought about a sensation of vigor amongst the five. The Rabbi and EARTH were first to enter into a semi darkened enclosure. The others followed looking around in dismay at the decorated walls of the cave. The decorations were more alike a laser display of various life forms …. From birds to fishes all big and small. They still could not figure out the origin of the streak of light until they looked right ahead. The light seemed to emanate from the clothes of the solitary figure in the middle ….seated in meditation. The figure slowly got up and moved towards them. EARTH pressed the hands of the Rabbi.“THE BIDDER.” His trembling voice announced.

“Sir, THE BIDDER knows English.” Reported BMK. “He had been talking to EARTH since morning. We had been instructed to meet him not before tomorrow.”“Could you find out, how he sees the whole affair?” I could not hide my inquisitiveness.“We’ll have more details tomorrow.” Said BMK.”But EARTH told me that he wants to start from the place, which is the target of the next attack.”“Where?” My question was spontaneous.“London.” Announced BMK.“Then get going immediately.” I ushered.“But sir documentation is the problem. Let alone passport or visa, this guy does not even have a name.” Informed BMK.“Never mind the documents, I will organize a special INTERPOL flight for you guys from Delhi. Just co-ordinate with Colonel Roy. “ I assured.“We will plan a move at the earliest, sir.” Replied BMK.“By the way, if this guy hasn’t got a name, what did EARTH suggest to call him?” I couldn’t help asking.“GOD.”Replied BMK before hanging up.

Cameron rushed through the traffic, making his driver sitting behind, probably for the first time in his life, wonder why is otherwise composed master, showing such signs of desperation. Cameron, on the other hand could feel his heart beat faster, probably outpacing the pointer of the speedometer as they neared their destination. The harsh traffic of Washington hardly showed mercy as they dodged through the crowd of unnecessary travelers. Cameron had once thought of taking the subway but he preferred to drive down as he had always done. Only this time the urgency was immense, owing to some unknown reason. He swerved past the slower cars, swearing under his breath at the aimless people behind the steering wheels. He almost bumped against a Volkswagen as he once again took a hasty turn. He pressed on the gas as he entered the Helver Alley and raced ahead towards the forth cross. The tall mansion of Richard Redknapp was clearly visible as they turned the corner.Cameron slowed down, as he tried to find a parking slot amongst the crowd of cars parked outside the entrance. As he neared the gate a policeman rushed ahead and waved him to stop. Cameron was visibly annoyed at the gesture.“Aren’t you aware, that this car bears the sticker of 24 hour entry to Moonvilla?” He shouted at the policeman.“Aren’t you aware, all such privileges stands suspended when the owner of the villa has committed suicide?” He shouted back.

“So how were your discussion with THE BIDDER?” The team of ten orchestrated as EARTH entered the common room. “Where is he now?” Asked BMK with some concern.EARTH appeared unusually quiet by his standards. He moved closer taking the hand of Peter Marker in his.“THE BIDDER can rid us of this ensuing dark happenings.” He uttered slowly as the others broke into a spontaneous applause.“But mind you, everything has a price. Some of us might have to pay that price with our lives. So, Peter, if you care, don’t delay your marriage.” Said EARTH.The audience had fallen silent. The thought of death was nothing new. It had been haunting everyone for the last one and a half months but the mention of death still created shiver.“Any mission bears casualties.” Kumar broke in. “All of us are soldiers. If the death of some can guarantee life to many, so be it.”“So when do we fly out for Delhi?” Asked Alam.“Two army helicopters will carry us to Delhi this evening and tomorrow we fly out to London in a special INTERPOL carrier.” Informed BMK.“What about the other team?” Asked Bloom.“They will be waiting for us in Delhi.” Informed BMK again.“No.” Shouted EARTH.”They are required here to cover us as we move out.”“What do you mean?” Everyone enquired in unison.“We will have resistance to take THE BIDDER away. We need someone to combat them.”Said EARTH.“Who told you this?”Asked Alam.“THE BIDDER did. He also had to say that it won’t be easy fighting them. Their skill set is different.” Replied EARTH.“But by saving the world from catastrophe, we will keep those people alive too. Can’t that be put to their ears?” Said Naomi.“Aren’t the people aware that a big crisis has dawned upon the planet and it is their GOD who can help us overcome it. Their ignorance may leave them dead.” Cried out Alam.“Can we not have a meeting with these followers, so that we may convince them that this is the only way, we can save our lives?” Bloom joined in.“These people are not worried about death like us.” Replied EARTH in a subdued voice.“Then we should make them know, how lethal the forces are and how grotesque one’s death might be if these happenings are not prevented.” Alam cried out again.“There’s a difference between their and our thinking sir.” Replied EARTH.“Whatever the difference maybe. If we are destined to fight to take THE BIDDER with us, so be it. “Said Kumar.“Even illiterates know the difference between life and death. I wonder why these nerds cannot see the fearful death forthcoming?” Asked Peter in a voice of disgust.“Because.” EARTH cleared his voice. “Death is fearful only to ones who are alive.”“By the way , who are these followers?” Asked Alam.“They are not followers , general,” Said EARTH. “They are the negative forces,” 

CHAPTER 20Dr. RAGHAVAN “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome with a loud round of applause, Dr. R.Raghavan, who has been newly appointed, the head of the department of Cosmology, N.A.S.A.” The announcer’s raised voice echoed around the packed auditorium as the on lookers burst into a rapturous ovation.“Thank you everyone for finding me worthy of this post. A post left vacant by a legend called Richard Redknapp. I do not know whether I deserve to fit into the colossal shoes of this iconic scientist of our era but definitely I will try my best.“My father had on several occasions during my childhood told me that a scientist should remain a student, forever. He should persevere to learn more and more, but also should have the capacity to shoulder responsibilities. Right now, we face a massive responsibility to know and make known the causes of destruction happening all around. There is no shame to accept that at present we have only a few theories in mind and none of which appear conclusive. I too have some theories in mind which sound absurd and incoherent. I had once discussed it with Redknapp and had a good laugh over it. It is called the distribution of gravy….. cosmic gravy.”“WhenThanksgiving approaches, would-be chefs and hosts, including apparently my fellow scientists, start perfecting their techniques for making the all-important gravy for the turkey and potatoes.”“I have had my moments as a cook — come over for my stardust waffles some Sunday morning — but I have never had the patience or skill to master gravy, so it usually comes out lumpy. This is a problem at the dinner table. On the grandest possible scale, however, lumps are good things.”“During the Big Bang,14 billion years ago, a fizzy stew of energy and gas emerged that became, and still suffuses, the universe. Astronomers initially thought this cosmic gravy was perfectly uniform, like something Julia Child might have whipped up. But not even Einstein’s “Old One” can make a perfect gravy, apparently, and in 1992 astronomers discovered that the cosmic gravy is, like mine, lumpy. And that’s a reason to be thankful this year, or any year, because without those lumps there would be no us.”“If you’re religious, it’s like seeing God,” George Smoot, an astronomer at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who won a Nobel Prize for the 1992 discovery, said at the time.“That fizzy energy stew of the Big Bang manifests itself today as a bath of microwave radiation that fills the sky. In effect, we live amid the fading remnant of the primordial fireball; astronomers call it the cosmic microwave background.”“This cosmic gravy has been the subject of three Nobel Prizes: one to Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, the Bell Labs astronomers who discovered the radiation by accident back in 1964; one to Dr. Smoot and his collaborator, John Mather, in 2006, and the third to James Peebles of Princeton, for his early work on the properties of this fireball.”“The discovery of the cosmic microwave background cemented the case for the Big Bang origin of the universe. But there was a problem. In every direction that radio astronomers looked, the temperature of the cosmic gravy was exactly the same: 2.725 degrees Celsius above absolute zero, even in places so far apart that, according to a conventional rewinding of the expansion of the universe, the regions could not ever have touched. It was as if Christopher Columbus had sailed all over the world and found that, wherever he went, the local inhabitants spoke perfect Italian.”“How could this be? Alan Guth, a theoretical physicist at M.I.T., proposed an answer in 1980: in its early moments the universe was under the sway of an exotic force that caused a brief, violent moment of hyper-expansion, called inflation. In that instant, what is now the whole observable universe grew from a single submicroscopic point to the size of a grapefruit, and then proceeded to expand at the more leisurely rate seen today. In the process, any primordial nonuniformities, or lumps, were swept forever out of view.”“Inflation drastically altered how cosmologists believed the Big Bang occurred; Dr. Guth is regularly mentioned as a Nobel candidate.”“But in the whack-a-mole world of cosmology, this solution only raised another problem. The universe today is quite obviously not uniform — it is full of giant lumps called stars and galaxies. How did they arise?”“Inflation offered an answer for that too: Whatever force drove inflation would have been subjected to the randomness of quantum mechanics, the weird rules that govern subatomic physics. The result would be submicroscopic irregularities or fluctuations, teeny-tiny lumps of hot and cold. Over cosmic time these would grow, as gravity drew them into the majestic clouds of stars we call home. The theory, if true, offered a stunning unification of the very large and the very small — of the random subatomic realm and the galumphing, space-bending world of Einstein.”“But a decade of more and more sensitive observations failed to find any hot spots or lumps; the cosmic gravy had been very finely stirred, and the elegant notion of inflation seemed doomed. Then, in 1992, Dr. Smoot reported that data from a satellite experiment called the Cosmic Background Explorer, or COBE, revealed a pattern of minuscule temperature variations in the gravy, amounting to 500 millionths of a degree Celsius, in the range of what inflation had predicted. The gravy had lumps after all!”“Subsequent experiments with balloons, radio telescopes and space missions, such as NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Project, or WMAP, and the European Space Agency’s Planck telescope, have sifted and studied those lumps and the surrounding gravy of energy sufficiently to sketch a detailed portrait of the infant cosmos roughly 380,000 years after the Big Bang.”“Using this data, astronomers have been able to come up with a complete recipe for how the universe came to be. The so-called Standard Model answers all the questions that scientists have traditionally argued about: how big and old the universe is, how fast it is expanding, how the stars and galaxies evolved and grew, and how the cosmos will eventually end.”“Lately, however, cracks have developed in this model and some astronomers have complained that maybe some ingredients have been left out of the recipe. For instance, their increasingly precise measurements of the cosmic expansion rate, or Hubble constant, using different techniques, don’t quite agree.”“Moreover, a trio of astronomers recently suggested that the universe is even lumpier and denser than the standard recipe prescribes, based on a recent analysis of the Planck data. The cosmic gravy is thicker than was thought. This would have a dramatic effect on the shape and fate of the cosmos.”“According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the extra mass in the gravy would warp the geometry of the universe. Most cosmologists have long preferred, on mathematical grounds, to think of space-time as flat, like a sheet of paper, and infinite; added mass instead would make it curved, like the surface of a sphere, and finite. If you traveled long enough in any direction in an extra-lumpy cosmos, you would eventually return to Earth (or to whatever Earth became in the trillions of years the journey would take).”“But adjusting the cosmic recipe to allow for more density would throw everything else seriously out of whack. A handful of cosmologists I consulted recently in a quick email seminar weren’t ready to change the recipe just yet, even though they all agree that there are mysteries in the Planck data. There is still an excellent chance that these new results are a statistical fluke.”“Indeed, the change would be so radical that Joseph Silk, an astrophysicist at Oxford and one of three authors of the paper that presented the new analysis, declined to bring it up in October at a major cosmology conference in Chicago.”“So I asked Dr. Silk directly: How would he account for all the “fine-tuned” features, like the extreme flatness and uniformity of the universe, that the standard inflation recipe so neatly explains. A good cook is always willing to experiment with new tastes and spices, and Dr. Silk was unperturbed. “I don’t think it’s any more of a tuning issue than the various others being discussed,” he said in an email.”“There is an art to making gravy. You’ll make mistakes, and you’ll take some lumps, on the ““The theory of spreading even was not something too acceptable to our scientific community. Yet, I feel that the answer to the question we face today might be equally or more absurd. We will surely get to it very soon. Have faith in us.” “It does feel surreal to be chosen for this revered seat of learning, for a middle class, aging Indian but it has once again proved that the world is one global village, bereft of boundaries … where we are all destined to serve only one community …. Mankind. Your good wishes will go in a long way to help me to unravel the unraveled. Thankyou.”Once again the loud cheer filled the atmosphere. The cheer of hope.It was difficult to seek the attention of the newly appointed HEAD, who was closely surrounded by journalists, photographers, politicians, people from the scientific commune etc. but I wrested through. I needed to talk.

“Does THE BIDDER talk through EARTH only?” Asked a bewildered Colonel Roy.“For the time being, that’s how it is.”Replied BMK.“How can you be so sure that this is the guy we are looking for?” Asked Colonel Roy.“The embodiments and the locals are convinced about it. Besides, there is something paranormal about him that makes us believe that he indeed is someone special.” Replied BMK.“If he is ready to come with us, why the hell will his people oppose us? Can’t he convince them about the mission?” Colonel Roy grew impatient.“He can only convince the positive forces. The obstruction is deemed from the negative ones.” Replied BMK.“What shit are these positive negative stuff?” Howled Colonel Roy.“Well, every system has a positive and negative forces acting on it. If the positive forces are stronger, good things happen. When negative forces triumph, there is catastrophe.” Replied BMK.“So these negative guys want to prevent THE BIDDER from rescuing the world, right?” Asked Colonel Roy.“Right.” Asserted BMK.“Then where are those bastards hiding? If THE BIDDER can tell us about their hideout, we may storm them.” Said Colonel Roy.“They do not have a particular hideout. They are forces which may embody any life form. In the form of humans, animals, birds, fishes even trees.” Replied BMK.“You mean, we will have to fight against trees too?” Asked the exasperated Colonel.“Yes, if required to.” Replied BMK.“So where is THE BIDDER now and what is your plan for departure to London?” Asked the Colonel.“We intend to fly out for Delhi tomorrow afternoon. From there we fly out for London by a late night special INTERPOL carrier. THE BIDDER will join us any moment. He has been in deep meditation at his cave since yesterday. He is however, in telepathic connection with us through EARTH.” Replied BMK.“Time’s running out. The NASA scientist in charge of this unique mayhem committed suicide, a couple of days back. This is an indication that something more sinister is about to happen.” Informed Colonel Roy.

“Do you think this to be wishful thinking, Dr. Raghavan?” I asked him rather innocently.“I frankly do not know commander.” The scientist shrugged. “But I have immense confidence on the instincts of Kumar Sinha. If he is after something, he might be having enough confidence over it.”“They say that there might be warfare between the positive and the negative forces.” I informed.“It is bound to happen commander.” The scientist said in a lowered tone. “It is necessary that the negative forces be negated before the positive dictums are asserted.”“But this will not be a straightforward battle.” I said. “The forces might attack in any life form, even trees.”“Yes. All your people have to do is to keep them at bay. Buy time and allow THE BIDDER and the other guys to escape.” The Scientist said. “There might be casualties.” I emphasized.“There will be.” Seconded the scientist.

It was a monkey like being with huge fangs. Several of them swarmed the streets beside the hostel. They tore down the walls and gnawed at the gate and looked to stop at nothing for a kill. Ziplin lobbed a hand grenade in their midst. After the clouds of the explosion cleared, it could be seen that the number of the beings had increased and their agitation had also grown manifolds. They had brought down the huge iron gate of the hostel and stormed into the campus, mercilessly killing and shredding to pieces the guards on duty. Bozkov and Ziplin led a group of paramilitary forces as they kept firing in all direction. The moment one monkey got killed, several others appeared from nowhere. The monsters had reached the hostel walls and were trying to break through. Ziplin kept throwing hand grenades one after the other but the number of the intruders never seemed to decline. The monsters were now climbing up the walls. The paramilitary guys were getting desperate.Just as the fight seemed to get out of hand, EARTH appeared near the top floor window with THE BIDDER. They summoned both Ziplin and Bozkov to join them. Both of them rushed upstairs to the designated room. This was the first time, they had come face to face with THE BIDDER. He was surrounded by the embodiments and the other team members. Bozkov felt a certain feeling of warmth as he approached THE BIDDER. Meanwhile, the firing had stopped. None of the guns being handled by the forces were working. Bozkov looked up, the big wall clock had also stopped moving. He could sense the same feeling he had encountered before. “Sir, they are almost into the third floor window.” Cried one of the cadets.THE BIDDER moved forward and touched Bozkov.“The war has begun and this battle needs to be won if we desire to win the greater war.” Said EARTH.“But our guns are not working.” Cried Bozkov.“Yes, the negative forces are at work against our creations.” Continued EARTH. “We cannot kill them by firepower.”“Sir, they are climbing towards the fifth floor. Many of them.” Shouted the cadet.“We need to make a sacrifice.“ Said EARTH. “And THE BIDDER has chosen you General Bozkov.”“Sir, they are almost on us.” Several cadets shouted this time.“Don’t delay Dimitar, just jump down at them. Your sacrifice may save the world.” Said EARTH.Bozkov looked at THE BIDDER. His gaze somehow gave him the strength and willingness he never knew to possess. The deep blue eyes of THE BIDDER instilled within him a sense of unfathomable courage.Bozkov took a deep breath and jumped down the open window.
“Sir, the guns are firing and the creatures have suddenly disappeared.” The cadet shouted from below. 

CHAPTER 21THE COST OF BID ”Maybe we will have to fly out of this place at the earliest, BMK.” Said Alam.“Do you think, we can get away so easily?”BMK replied skeptically.“Maybe not. This, probably is just the beginning. Remember, our team is only armed with machines, invented by us, and not GOD, so the negative forces can easily render them useless. Also, before we can expect some miracles from THE BIDDER, we need to understand his requirements.” Said EARTH.“What kind of requirements?” Asked BMK.“The cost of the Bid.” Replied EARTH. “There is a cost for everything. As I told you before, bidders can put you out of your trouble in exchange of the cost of bid.”“What can that be?” Asked Alam this time.“Life.” Replied EARTH without looking at him.

“The sun’s peripheral glare has shown no significant change over the past decade. There must be something else, we are readily missing out.” Dr. Raghavan informed the others in the room.“We have also studied the changes in the atmosphere of Mars and Mercury. There doesn’t seem any turmoil that can be recorded.” Said Alex Fern, a young researcher from MIT. “That makes matter more complex.”Mulled Dr. Raghavan. “Is there any report on galactic energy dissipation, in the last few years?”“Nothing of that sort, sir.”Replied another research fellow from N.A.S.A.“Any mid space collision of asteroids?” Asked Dr. Raghavan as he peered into the checklist of possibilities in front of him.“No Sir.” The scientists orchestrated their reply.“Well, we have run out of probable events creating this disturbance. Probably, we are looking at something new, which can’t be related to any cosmic event in history.” Said Dr. Raghavan looking up.“Is there any particular data that we may study further to make a headway?” Asked Dr.Astor, a senior scientist from N.A,S,A.looking up to the scientists seated in front.“Sir, in all the explosions, there has been a common aspect. Energy has been drawn from the substrate by the reagents of explosion, creating negative energy. So the reagents of explosion can be inferred to be negative in energy quotient, so that they may draw in energy from the surroundings. Actually, what we are thinking to be explosion, is actually a huge exothermic balancing off of energy. “Replied another scientist, Kane Hidell from N.A.S.A.“It may not be energy balancing, Hidell.” Corrected Dr. Raghavan. “It is more of energy accumulation and release.”“Since the negative energy source sucks in energy from one region and releases to the other, the former region collapses like a black hole, where as the latter explodes due to excess of energy, while the source or the vector remains in negative energy form.“ Narrated Hidell.“Exactly,” Exclaimed Dr. Raghavan. “So, it is evident, that we are encountering a single repetitive source and not multiple sources.”“Yes that is why, we have not had simultaneous attacks on two or more places at the same time.” Replied Hidell.“However, one questions always lingers.” Said Dr. Raghavan. “If the source, whatever it may be, intends to make an impact, why didn’t it choose cities like Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Shanghai, Rio, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mumbai or any other burstling city?”“Probably they wanted to warn us first.” Replied someone from the back benches.“Or maybe there is something that maybe preventing it from attacking these cities.” Said Hidell.“Or maybe there might be something in the places that have been ravaged which had made the attacks easier.” Said Dr. Raghavan. “Why don’t we all study the places that have been ravaged, and meet tomorrow again with something tangible to discuss upon.”“Aye sir, aye.” Orchestrated the congregation.

“Why don’t we sell them a dummy?” Marker suggested. “Some of us take a flight out of here without THE BIDDER. The negative forces will follow and provide another team to escape with THE BIDDER.”“It won’t help much.” Said BMK. “THE BIDDER seems to be in close watch.”“But can’t we, rather can’t THE BIDDER do what he intends to do in London, sitting here?” Asked Marker impatiently.“There are processes one must follow.” Said EARTH. “If he feels London should be the place to work out his plans, London must be our destination.”“But how to get there?” Cried Marker.“And what was the cost of bid you were talking about?” Asked Alam.“Well, when someone approaches a bidder, it is their ultimate source for survival. Either from marauding debt, ostracisation, discrimination, depression etc. THE BIDDER, clears him of all his problems but at the cost of the bid. Generally, the deponent makes a bid with his life. His life becomes hostage to THE BIDDER.”Replied EARTH.“But what does THE BIDDER do with such hostages?” Asked Alam, wide eyed.“They are made to do all kinds of work, sometimes good and often bad. That’s why A Bidder is considered an offender by law.” EARTH smiled at General Dassayev.“And if the deponent doesn’t do what he or she is told to do by THE BIDDER?” Asked Marker.“Either they do not survive or their problems return to haunt them more viciously.” Replied EARTH.“In our case, what does THE BIDDER want?” Asked Alam.“He wants the embodiments of nature to get aligned with him. In short, their souls would escape their bodies and be part of him.” Said EARTH.“That means, they will die?” Asked Marker.“Yes, they would be liberated of their bodies.” Replied EARTH.“Why them?” Asked Marker again, pulling Elizabeth closer to him.“That’s because they, at present, represent the mankind. They have to sacrifice their life in a bid to save mankind.” Replied EARTH.“This is not acceptable.” Cried Marker. “I cannot let go of Elizabeth.”“You have to, Peter, the mission is at stake.” Said BMK. “And that’s an order.”“To hell with your mission and to hell with your order. I am not accepting this deal. THE BIDDER sucks.” Shouted Marker as he stormed out of the room pulling Elizabeth along with him.“Love is so unreasonable.” Mumbled EARTH as he kept looking at the direction of his departure.“I understand his plight.“ Interrupted Naomi. “Elizabeth is pregnant with Peter’s child.”

“So, anything worth sharing?” Asked Dr. Raghavan at the expectant faces.“Sir, I have an observation.” Volunteered Professor Ashton Peers. An eminent scientist with N.A.S.A.“If you see all the areas that have been under attack, you will find the places from where energy had been sucked, were villages or towns, not very eminent. Whereas, the explosions due to access of energy had occurred at some neighboring city, which was also less eminent. So, the choice of substrate maybe towns and cities where the energy sources might not be of a high level. Towns and cities with higher level of energy might cause a few complications. A town with more energy source might not be totally eradicated and at the same time while releasing the energy, the negative source might face a huge backlash due to the super high energy content of the major cities.” Explained Peer.“That maybe a logical inference. “Said Dr. Raghavan. “But it also can be the other way round. By sucking the huge quantum of energy from a super city, the vector can destroy multiple towns, villages, whenever it chooses.”“Can we not devise something, some gadget, which can sense a negative energy source?” Asked one of the scientists.“Sure, we can.” Replied a techie from M.I.T. “But the production has to be very large scale to be able to cover the entire world, that too within such a small time frame.”“In a matter of fact, it is near impossible.” Said Dr. Raghavan. “But yes, we may start with some locations. As much as we can cover. Please get into the act. I want it to be started from today itself.”

“We have to agree to THE BIDDER. If he fails, then there is no question of the cost of bid. But in that case we all will die. If he succeeds, the embodiments and a few lose their lives but the planet survives. Frankly, there is no other option.” Said EARTH.“But Peter is adamant. We have tried to infuse every possible logic. He won’t budge.” Shrugged Alam.“We cannot lose this mission because of one unreasonable soldier.” Intervened Colonel Roy. “My order is kill him.”“Sir, killing him will make things even worse.“ Replied Alam. “The girl may not co-operate. The love is mutual.”“Don’t worry guys.” Sandy Bloom chipped in. “I have an intuition that very soon Peter will have to lay down his life himself. A price for love, a price for humanity.”

“How can you expect me to allow you reinforcements when you are not even divulging your mission details. “ Barked Sheldon Carrey, the head of the department for military deployments, INTERPOL.“Sir, I promise to update you with all the possible details within a day or two.” I stammered in reply.“A day or two?” He frowned at me. “Why not now?”“That’s because I need time to explain to you and trust me, its not an easy explanation.” I submitted, meekly. “But, I just cannot issue reinforcements without a proper report on a mission and its outcome.” Sheldon Carrey said, thumping the table.“The mission is to save the world and I can assure you a positive outcome if I am granted reinforcements.” I emphasized.“And still if I say that I am not convinced?” Said the officer.“Then, its your wish to witness the destruction of the world and get convinced by it. But I am afraid by then, the requirement for reinforcements will not be there because there won’t be any.” I couldn’t just hide my expression of disgust. The bureaucratic nonsense just keeps popping up even at the most dire condition. The world is facing extermination and here we have nerds who are more concerned about rules and customs. It indeed is unfortunate that the world population never got together, even during its hours of crisis. I was feeling much more than just helpless, probably even ashamed to be a part of the fake parade called mankind. I hastily turned around, knowing not which other door to knock. Knowing not what to answer my subordinates at the other side of the globe. Sheldon Carey cleared his throat. The sound made me to turn around and look at him. As our eyes met, he nodded before asking, “how many?”

The birds were all around the campus. They were huge birds, something that the special task force members had never seen before. They were big enough to be double the size of an elephant with huge beaks and formidable talons. Hundreds, probably even thousands surrounded the hostel in strict vigil. Probably the negative forces had adorned this form to prevent any helicopter or flying object to escape the region. As estimated, the guns and all other gadgets had stopped working. The special forces and the paramilitary cadets had no other option but to watch silently as the number of the monstrous birds kept increasing every minute. EARTH was busy taking instructions from THE BIDDER while all others waited for him to relay the messages.Right then, against one of the walls, there was a vigorous scratching. One of the monsters had almost made a hole in one of the rooms on the fourth floor. Naomi, Elizabeth, Peter and Rabbi Yaddi stood perplexed as the sinister bird put its neck though the hole. Its glowing eyes almost froze the blood of the quartet. It opened its beak and with a swift movement grabbed Elizabeth’s coat, pulling her towards it. Peter dashed forward and punched hard at the neck of the monster making it release its hold on the coat of Elizabeth. Peter drew out his army knife and buried it on the cheek of the bird. The bird shrieked in a high piercing pitch ….. made a scramble, grabbed Marker’s head with its beak, pulling him and itself out of the wall and vanished into nowhere. Just then, the sound of the approaching helicopter got loud enough for everyone to hear. 

CHAPTER 22INTERACTION WITH GOD “Will this bloke, I mean THE BIDDER, never interact with us?” Asked Naomi.“He should. Probably language might be a major problem.” Said Sandy.“Absolutely not.” The sudden voice from behind made them turn around abruptly.This was the first time all the members stood face to face with THE BIDDER. He stood there behind them, smiling. His body was draped in a sparkling white robe, the whiteness of which radiated into the room. His bald head, brow less eyes with a bluish tinge, his fair skin and the mysterious smile constantly playing on his lips, emphasized the enigma.“Are we looking at God?” Whispered BMK hesitatingly.
“No. God is not an embodiment. God is a system.” Said THE BIDDER.The lips moved, but the voice seemed to come from a distance. Was this the sign of divinity. There was an unexplainable tranquility in the voice; like the harmony of a flowing river; like the soothing breeze of the mountains …… mesmerizing, hypnotic. “The image of God that you foster in your minds is not what it actually is. “ Continued THE BIDDER, smilingly. “God is more complex, much beyond your imagination. I am just one of his several messengers. And you have summoned me to help you out of a severe problem you are facing. There are a lot of bidders you can find who can rid you of your worldly troubles but only a few can help you against the troubles that do not have their origin in this world. And I am THE BIDDER who can help you overcome this distress.”The total environment had gone silent. Even the crows and birds had been muted. It was as if, the world had come to a standstill at the premises of Fort William in Kolkata, to listen to the voice of God.“You said that God is something complicated. So do we stop believing in the forms of God that we follow?” Asked Kumar.“What you practice and propagate is faith. You call it religion. Faith is hope. And hope is the reason of life. Hope kindles existence. Whatever form in which you worship God is not the factor. If the worship or the faith makes life easier for your fellow beings then you are following God. But ask yourselves, do you follow God, even if you believe in him?” THE BIDDER paused and looked around at the lowered faces. “You have misused your belief in God to demean others.” He continued in the same solemn tone that seemed to come from a distance; clear in accent and emphatic in diction. “You need proof to decide between the sinner and the sane; but without sufficient proof about the form and attributes of God, you decide to fight and kill each other. Survival of the fittest is a natural policy and it is not supposed to be concocted by you by your shallow ideologies. Your devotion for materialistic happiness and your adulation for wealth has far surpassed your attachment to The Almighty. Your social systems, which you are so proud of, are all full of fallacies. You have always supported the fake and suppressed the real. Your wrongs are staring hard at your face, wake up.”“You had chosen London to be the place from where you intend to start work.” Said Kumar, suddenly deviating from the ensuing subject. “How much time do we have?”“We do not have much time.”THE BIDDER smiled. “Travelling to London might cost us precious hours. Whatever needs to be done, should be done here.”“Kolkata?” Exclaimed BMK.“Yes.” This time it was EARTH to reply.“But will it be effective?” Asked BMK.“It will be.” EARTH replied back.“Why are the negative forces preventing us from saving the planet?” Asked Alam, almost impulsively.“Who told you that these are negative forces? And what makes you think that they are preventing you from saving the planet?” THE BIDDER asked back.The group was too shocked to reply. All of them looked at EARTH for an explanation.“The total universe is based upon positive and negative energy systems. The forces, you think are preventing you from saving the planet, are only negative energy sources trying to prevent me from using positive energy for the same cause.” He smiled at the confused faces.“Well, any goal can be achieved in a positive or a negative way.” He continued. “By summoning up positive sources, we may achieve what we have set out for. However, we may achieve the same by conjuring up negative sources. But, the effects of negative energy can be far more devastating in the future. Negative sources always provide temporary solutions. The forces that are causing obstructions, are trying to prevent me to help you. They are also bidders. Negative bidders. They want you to surrender yourselves to them, so that they can impose their conditions onto you.”

“What, you guys not coming to London?” I almost fell off my chair on hearing the news. Till yesterday, it was planned for London and suddenly the plan had taken a summersault. I was too taken aback to make any further comment. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the events all around. Should I take a personal look into the things? That should mean travelling to Kolkata. Not that I am alien to the place, though. I had once stayed in Kolkata for a year to participate in a joint exercise for ammunition building. I had visited several ordnance factories in and around Kolkata to establish a joint report. I also need to see THE BIDDER. They say that the person has a certain divinity in him. His presence itself brings about positive vibes. As the leader of the pack, I certainly had the right to meet and talk to THE BIDDER. Decision made. If it is Kolkata, so be it.Professor Parthasarathy kept trying the phone number. It was probably on the fiftieth try that he could accord some success. “Hello Kumar.” He said, almost with a sigh of relief. “I got worried not being able to talk to you.”“Did you think I’m dead?” Asked Kumar.“Not that it didn’t pass my mind, but I was also worried about the mission.” The professor clarified.“We were locked in a serious discussion with THE BIDDER, sir. So was unable to receive your call.” Explained Kumar.“Can you tell me something about THE BIDDER?” Requested the professor.“He is a divine creature. By appearance, by voice, by enunciation, by knowledge. In fact in totality he seems to be a person of angelic disposition.” Said Kumar. “But has he yet devised any method to combat the modes of destruction?” Asked the professor.“Probably he has everything worked out.” Replied Kumar.“But how do we come to know that we are safe?” Asked the professor.“He will definitely choose a specific time to announce that.”Replied Kumar.“But what about his methods?” Asked the professor.“Those are still not revealed to us, professor.” Replied Kumar before disconnecting.

“Do you have a family, Mr,BIDDER.Parents, children and relatives?” Asked Sandy gingerly.“Not any conventional type.” Smiled THE BIDDER. “But I too have a family. All scattered and all in a mysterious tangle. BIDDERS do not have conventional lives Jojo.”“How do you know my nickname? This is a name not many people know of. Not even my closest friends.” Sandy exclaimed in surprise.“Nothing is hidden from me.”Smiled THE BIDDER again.“Mr. BIDDER, how can you rid us of this problem, we are in.” Enquired Kumar.“That you will come to know when the time comes.”Replied THE BIDDER.“You had said that there will be a cost for this bid, wherein, the embodiments of nature, our people here will lose their lives. But, how will we know that their sacrifice has attained success?” Kumar was adamant.“Not a single person will lose their life without a reason. The lost cities and villages will emerge once again. The lives that got disappeared will once again return. Everything will return to what it was before.”Assured THE BIDDER.“But we would also need an assurance that the same thing would not happen again.” Said Kumar.“It will not, if you people obey the dictums of the powers.” Replied THE BIDDER.“How will we know what those dictums are?” Asked Kumar.“I will tell you in due course of time.”Replied THE BIDDER.“You said that things will return to what they were. So can we assume that the soldiers whom we have lost, like General Bozkov, Lieutenant Keegan, General Peter Marker, would also return?” Asked Kumar.“They won’t.” Replied THE BIDDER. “ They died for a different cause.They are martyrs of the war”“Mr. BIDDER you said that yours is an unconventional family. Can you elaborate a bit?” Asked Sandy.“I can just give you an example from my life.”Said EARTH. “My mother says that she was killed by my sister.” He paused, looked around and said “but I do not have a sister.”

“What the hell are you talking of?” Barked Major Gordon. “I have to travel to India with you just to witness some stupid goddamn ritual being performed by some priest?”“It’s not that simple Major.” I tried to pacify him. “It’s a unique experience. We can witness THE BIDDER in his effort to save the world.”“Ruslan, we are soldiers.” Major Gordon said. “We should be the last people to believe in those comic book stuff.”“Had it been normal times, Major, I wouldn’t have believed it. But these are exceptional times. Extraordinary things are happening. Our famed scientists and researchers have failed to come up with an answer. Whom do we soldiers fight against? It is an enemy beyond our imagination. We have no option but to believe in the paranormal. Trust me Major, we are not after a wild goose chase. Come with me, you will get convinced.” I tried my best to reason out.“Ruslan, I have always respected you for your deep knowledge of the ways of the world. “ Said the Major. “I only know warfare. You know and I know too that you have piped me to this post due to your vast exposure to various fields of life. But still I find this story regarding a BIDDER and all that too fanciful.”“I know that Major.” I said. “ You are not the only one who isn’t convinced about it. The other person who is yet to be convinced had been hearing about it for the past three weeks.”“And who is that?” Asked the Major.“Me.” I replied almost immediately.

Professor Parthasarathy quietly opened the envelope handed to him by his assistant. It cover had announced the name of N.A.S.A. in bold terms, so he was not surprised to find Dr.Raghavan’s letter inside.“Hi S.P.Hope you are keeping well. Could not talk to you over the phone much over the week and so thought that I would better write to you a conventional letter rather than sending an email. After taking up this assignment with N.A.S.A. it indeed had been hectic trying to figure out the causes and reasons behind this sudden turmoil we are facing. It is not easy to detect. There is no stereotype footprint of these attacks. These maybe outcomes of some higher science … something out of the unknown. We have been trying to look at it from several angles but are yet to come to a common conclusion. Yet, we have not given up hope, because giving up hope would be to surrender to some unseen forces. However, along the way, we have come across a lot of things that keep surprising us. The energy matrix is one that is causing the maximum intrigue. Everything probably is happening due to a tussle between positive and negative energy. But what is this tussle for? And why didn’t it happen earlier? If space is composed of positive and negative energy then why is only our planet affected? I have been literally harassed by these questions. The existence of mankind from hereon will depend on the answers. By the way, we have stumbled upon a startling discovery. Richard Redknapp didn’t commit suicide. He was killed.”

Take Care.RR.

CHAPTER 23THE CITY OF JOY I had categorically instructed everyone not to come to receive us at the airport, therefore we could slip out without much fuss to the waiting vehicle. Before that I could not resist myself from admiring the new airport that Kolkata had gifted itself. I remembered the old one. It was almost like a second home to me. Every other day I used to be at the airport, for the early morning flight to Delhi. The older one was small and cozy, while the new one is more expansive and professional. I remembered the old times when after getting dropped at the airport car parking, I used to amble across to a tea stall and have a few cups of steaming tea served on a clay tumbler. The vendor used to relate to me all the happenings of the city in a mixture of languages. Usually, his renderings would have replications on the front pages of the local English daily. Those vendors seem to have disappeared to give way to the new installation in all its adornment of modernity. Like the others Kolkata also grew, aped, copied and tried to shirk off its blanket of custom, not knowing that this very custom, this very homeliness, coziness, makes the city so lovable, so adorable.Major Leopold Malcolm, Major Adam Gordon and I got driven through the meandering traffic and numerous traffic signals towards our destination. BMK had informed that our accommodation had been arranged in some tall building called Forty Two, quite near to where they stayed. Forty Two. The name itself sounded a bit outlandish. But I did not resist, as ever, I have let my deputies do the planning for these trivial aspects.The driver insisted on going through New Town, a new and modern attachment to the old city of Kolkata of late. It indeed looked modern. Huge buildings, offices, hotels, wide roads, eateries somehow looked alien, though adding to the glamour quotient. The vehicle sped past a wax museum. A valiant attempt at duplication of the incomparable Madame Tussaud’s. The under construction elevated corridor of the Metro Rail zigzagged overhead to remind onlookers about an engineering marvel, about to unfold sometime soon. We crossed by an overhead circular restaurant. So unlike Calcutta. It reminded me more about Singapore. Within fifteen minutes, we were into the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, another lifeline of the bursting city. Soon we were atop the new flyover they have named MA or mother, leading us to the doorstep of our destination. This is new Calcutta or Kolkata, whatever you may prefer to call it, strikingly different from the old one and the more prominent one. We, who travel to this part of the world, once a while, identify the city with it’s evergreen repertoire. It’s the city of the mystic, a city where love and sorrow mix together to produce joy. There is joy in the sultry weather, in the rush of traffic, in the sullen evenings and the sultry afternoons …..still there is joy to be plucked, to be usurped. This city is mad about Food, about culture, about music, about films, about politics, about sports, about history and heritage ….and also about being so strikingly different in its heart and soul. We entered the gate of the colossal building. The sentry saluted and let the vehicle in. Three officers of the Eastern command along with our own BMK and Alam ushered us in and escorted us to the twenty third floor. Three separate rooms had been demarcated for the three of us.Though the long flight had exhausted us, we preferred to take the latest update from BMK.

Cameron Simmer time and again glanced at the empty bench at the park, He somehow hadn’t been able to come to terms with the tragedy that he was unable to overcome. The park in the bench reminded him of his childhood days when he and Ritchie had spend endless hours together, sharing a panorama of topics between them. From Science to politics ; from economics to sports ; from the latest ice cream flavor to the girl with the best figure in class. Richard always had answers to questions …. Even queer ones. His interest in science and technology knew no limits. He had gobbled up books on science fiction by eminent authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury etc. Memories, memories, memories created a deluge in his mind. Simmer stood, as if still in disbelief that his friend was no more. An unknown number flashed on his mobile screen.“Hello is this Dr. Simmer?” Enquired a low voice.“Yes. How can I help you?” Replied Simmer.“I am Douglas Hammond, assistant to Rory Macguire, the lawyer of Late Richard Redknapp.” Said the voice from the other side. “We were trying to get in touch with you for some days but your phone was switched off. We thought, we would talk to you before we can send the letter to you.”“What letter?” Asked Simmer impatiently.“Well, the state police had left us with some possessions of Dr. Redknapp when they had searched his room.” The voice declared.”Amongst many unimportant stuff there was a handwritten letter for you that we thought we should send to you. I am presently mailing the scanned copy to you and the hard copy can either be collected from our office or can be posted to you. Whatever you wish. We have collected your mail id from your office”Simmer immediately opened his mail inbox on his phone. The scanned copy of a handwritten note immediate filled the screen.“Dear Ron,Things are not looking very bright. Science cannot find answers to the mess we are in. Probably, we need help from other forces. Need to discuss this with you in private. Could have texted you, but this letter, I believe, will make matters seem more important. There is something else we can do.”Ritchie.”“Sir, will you collect it from our office.” Enquired the voice from the other end.“I will, but…” Stammered Simmer.“But what sir?” Asked the voice.“It’s not the handwriting of Ritchie.”

It was a Sunday and I thought it to be best to relieve my experience of the city by travelling to the place where I had once stayed in Calcutta. Let the Sunday be a relaxed one before we get onto the serious business with THE BIDDER. Leaving my two compatriots behind, I managed to get onto a taxi to take me to the alleys of nostalgia, the corner of Kasba.The place where once I had stayed had become a bustling mini township. A few hospitals and numerous residential buildings had come up in scattered abundance. During my time , it was the Ruby Hospital that had been under construction.Yet , from that time itself , Ruby had become a locale. I could overhear people hurl the two syllables at slowing yellow cabs, sometimes matter-of-factly, sometimes like a command. Roo-be. Concise, smart, rhotic consonant in place, it had a different feel to it from the ambitionless -purs, -gunjes, -haats and -bajaars. During my returns from various other localities within Cakcutta,in the soft dusk, the twin syllables would wink at me like their 8-point-something carat Puertas namesake that Elizabeth Taylor found herself surprised with one red, red Christmas by Santa Burton.James Joyce wrote in one of his short stories: “The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me.” Replace Araby with Ruby, soul with self, and enchantment with nothing for now, and there is my story.Ruby takes its name from a multispeciality hospital that came up sometime in the 1990s quite literally in the middle of nowhere. But as I return to the geography again, I figure that today the name means different things for different people.For some Ruby is a busy intersection.For some Ruby is the spread of eateries along the highway.For some it is a clutch of hospitals.For some a stretch of soiree gardens.For some, impossible real estate.For some, newly sprung schools.Passport office. Transport office. GST Bhawan. High-end auto showrooms. Pillar-ads. Overhead metro, albeit in progress. And the greatest common denominator, a mall named after a handsome Greek word.Ruby. Araby. Ruby.In erstwhile Burma, present-day Myanmar, where the world’s best rubies are supposed to be birthed, there is a term used to describe the exact shade of the finest variety of the gemstone. Ko-twe means pigeon’s blood. This Ruby is built on stories aplenty of grinding poverty and unbelonging, hope and desperation and struggle. And I am also told that at some point the land has been stained with blood, human blood. “This place is still known as Dhaan Math; the Bengali word for paddy is dhaan, math means field,” said the driver. Though he has been a resident of the area for only the last five years,migrated from the State of neighboring Bihar, he is well-acquainted with the place and its evolution. We stopped to have some tea at the corner tea stall. This tea corner appeared to be a cycle rickshaw stand as well. It must be understood that the rickshaw has been and still is an important means of transport in these parts. People prefer the luxury of a bumpy rickshaw ride for ventures over short distances. The people , though had adopted a quasi cosmopolital lifestyle , but the habits had remained the same. I could see quite a few elderly buried into the local newspapers and viewing their political opinions from time to time. A few others could be seen hurrying across the streets, bags in hand , in search of their choicest fish and vegetables from the local market.One thing that has remained significant in Kolkata are the numerous sweet shops. Rossogolla might have attained global fame but myriads of other such delicacies that are plentifully available gives the city a sweet texture. I entered one the the most famous outlets to taste some and pack some for my colleagues. The day had started warming up . The morning breeze was gone and I could feel sweat accumulate in my forehead and underarms . Still the longing for the city made me roam aimlessly around . I also forced myself to have a cup of coffee in the food court of the newly built Acropolis Mall , savoring the morning crowd of a Sunday.After having ambled around the streets draped in nostalgia, I reminded myself of the more serious job at hand.It took me around half an hour to return to base and was pleasantly surprised to see my whole special task team in the large guest room on the twenty third floor. This was a special room allocated to us for meeting purposes.“Sir, THE BIDDER has been missing since last night.” Gasped BMK as I entered.“But Sir, I saw him outside my window last night.” Said Sandy Bloom.“Which room?” I asked instinctively.“My room on the 25th floor of this building Sir.” Replied Bloom.Officer Jeremy Ervine had been left behind to cater to the correspondences with the Head Quarters and take care of the local investigations. He , undoubtedly , was the sharpest amongst the rest of the members , where documentation was concerned . He had meticulously organized the schedule of requirements , the planning structure , the resource mobilization agenda , fund control , exigency management in utmost finesse . Even , the members at the HQ were impressed by his effors .Ervine had been in contact with me twice a day and with Colonel Roy , his superior , rest of the time. He had been accumulating the reports from us and consolidating the same for submission to the HQ and the others concerned .Under my standing instructions , he had visited the observatory of Richard Redknapp and compiled a report on the findings of the investigating officers . Jeremy , occasionally , took the help of his friend Barry Livinstone for his compilations , which I never objected to . Barry had been kind to offer his services voluntarily and it was welcome at this hour of crisis.Though , the General Secretary in command , Colonel Winston Berger had questioned me about my absolute faith in Jeremy for handling sensitive information , I had stood my ground in total support of the youngster’s loyalty.It was Berger’s phonecall that got me scrambling.“Hi Ruslan.” His voice sounded grave, “A small matter has been crossing my mind.”“Yes sir .You may speak out.” I assured.“This youngster , Ervine .” He said. “Why don’t you post him at the HQ? He will be under our strict surveillance.”“Sir .” I said. “Jeremy is comfortable working from home. Let him do it as of now. Shall decide about his posting in the coming days.”“You are wise yourself , Ruslan.” Said Berger. “Hope , we don’t repent this decision in future.”“What makes you say so , Colonel?”I asked impulsively.“Intuition.” He replied back. 

CHAPTER 24THE FORCES The intercom rang. It was Richa, the ever dependent secretary of Professor Parthasarathy, who usually sat at the reception kiosk.“What is it Richa?” Asked the professor “Sir, a visitor wants to meet you urgently.” Replied Richa.“What does his visiting card say?” Asked the professor.“He didn’t offer any visiting card. Neither has he told me his name. He keeps saying that he is your friend.” Said Richa.“Strange,” Said the professor. “ Anyway can you ask him to stand near the camera. Let me see if I can recognize him?”A tall figure in a dark coat, that reached up to his knees, appeared on the screen. SP looked hard at the image. He couldn’t remember to have seen a face as that of the stranger. The man smiled at the camera. The smile made his appearance a little bit more mysterious.“Richa, can you hand over the phone to the person?” He said.“Yes Sir.” Said the secretary while handing over the receiver to the man in front of her.“Hello professor.” A deep baritone growled from the other side.“Who are you?” Asked the professor at once.“I am your friend.” Replied the stranger.“The friend should have a name and an identity.” Said the professor.“The name is not important professor. What is important is what I have come to share with you.” Replied the stranger.“If you cannot identify yourself, how can I allow you to share with me whatever you want to.” Said the professor, getting to the edge of forced politeness. “I will not take much of your time. But I have come here to help you help the world get rid of all the commotion we are facing.” Replied the stranger, lowering his voice.“Ok, But I can spare only ten minutes for you.” Relented SP.

“How can someone, who had been in close watch, disappear suddenly?” I shouted out to no one in particular.“Well, he was very much in his room till last evening.” Said BMK. “After that his room was open and vacant.”“Is this kind of voodoo we are into?” This time it was Major Gordon who shouted. “Do you think this way we are supposed to save the world, commander Dragomir?”“It’s his way of work,” Said BMK. “EARTH told me.”“Now, who on earth is this EARTH?” Barked Major Gordon. “And would you all relinquish all this freakish mumbo-jumbo and talk in common parlance?”“EARTH is a bidder. These guys do not have a name like us and are referred to by some name from nature.”Explained BMK.“If this guy says that THE BIDDER works this way, then why are you all panicking?” Asked Kumar. “Now, this BIDDER fellow, what does he call himself?” Asked Major Gordon.“God.” Replied the people present in the room in unison.

“Professor, thank you for letting me talk to you.” Said the stranger as he took his seat.Professor Parthasarathy looked hard at him. He was a tall fellow with unusually sharp features. He had a broad face. On his forehead he wore a black bandana, just below his cap. He had long fingers that rested on the table as he looked at the professor in the eye.“You have ten minutes. Please speak fast.” Said the professor.“You had written several articles about the peril the planet is facing at present and that divine intervention is required to save the planet.” Said the stranger.“Yes, our scientists are yet to find a clue, scientifically.” Replied the professor.“I agree with you.” Nodded the stranger. “That’s precisely what I have come to discuss with you. You have spoken of divine intervention, but are you aware, where that power is going to come from?”“The universe is composed of positive and negative forces. When one force becomes more portent, the balance gets disturbed. This planet is facing turmoil because of this imbalance.” The stranger stood up before continuing. “ And even in your science it has been stated and proved that when two negatives collide, it gives rise to positive energy. So, my dear professor, if you guys want to save the world you need to take refuge under some force which can absorb this extra negative energy which is creating this destruction.”“Why are you telling me all this? How can I decide which force has to be discovered or not to combat this crisis.” Asked the professor.“I know you professor Parthasarathy.” Smiled the stranger. “You are a hugely respected individual in this planet. You can meet anyone and everyone. With your strong words you can even influence the most stubborn characters. However, you are not someone who is in focus. You are someone whom the world is constantly looking at. You can be the perfect vehicle to spread this message around.”“I don’t follow you.” Replied the professor helplessly.“Look professor.” Said the stranger leaning forward against the table, locking eyes with the professor…. Powerful eyes with a faint bluish tinge. “You people have devised a method to combat the attacking forces. You people have discovered a BIDDER to bid you out of this trouble. Let me tell you that you people are wasting your time. This BIDDER is not the person suitable to bid you out of this crisis. ““Then who is?” Cried the professor.“I.” Said the stranger as he took off his cap and bandana. “ You can call me NIGHT.”Professor Parthasarathy looked at the stranger in utter astonishment. His bald pate and missing eyebrows gave him a peculiar look.

“So do we go about searching for THE BIDDER?” I asked impatiently.“Where can we search for him?” BMK asked in an equally impatient tone.“I think, we should consult EARTH for this.” Suggested Kumar in a surprisingly calm voice. “So be it.” I agreed. “You guys better go and talk to that dolt and inform me over the phone your findings. Tomorrow morning we all will visit your place and talk to him and the others.”“Right Sir.” The group stood up in salute, preparing to depart.I returned to my room and sat in silence. This was something unprecedented. My sole purpose in coming to India was to meet this BIDDER and satisfy myself regarding his powers to save the world. In fact, I believed, somehow, that this was the only method we could devise to combat the destructive forces. The team had informed that their intuition prompted them to believe that the next attack was due in a month’s time. And this time the attack would be most fatal. But if we cannot hold on to THE BIDDER how do we even dream to hold on?

“So what do you want me to do?” Asked the exasperated professor.“Nothing much.”Smiled the stranger. “Just follow my instructions.”“How am I to be sure that you would help us to rid ourselves of this trouble?” Asked the professor.“As I told you professor.” Said the stranger. “I am your friend and I have come here to help you help the world. I demand nothing from you. No money, no returns, Once you start following my instructions, you will feel sure by yourself that you are drawing close to the solution. You will feel something definite happening.”“And if I do not follow your instructions?” Asked the professor.The smiling face of the stranger grew stern. Once again he looked into the eyes of the professor.“In that case professor, I might not remain a friend anymore.” He said slowly.The professor watched as the stranger put on his cap, tied the bandana on his forehead, bowed and left the room. The professor tried to follow his exit through the close circuit cameras. But he was gone in a flash. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. His exit had been as dramatic as his entry. But his exit had left the professor in a state of utter bewilderment.He lifted the intercom and dialed 9. The phone had gone dead.

The panorama outside the window was fabulous. The majestic Howrah Bridge and the serene waters of the Hoogly River was a treat for the eyes from this elevated structure. Though the night was young, Calcutta appeared below me in all its elements. Though my mind was elsewhere, I just could not take my eyes of the grandeur of the city below me. It was like a the legendary Bohemian kingdom coming to life. Full of color, dipped in holiness, I could see the glitter of the roadside eateries; the vast expanses of the large field area they call the maidan. The majestic Victoria Memorial, in its white marvel, thronged by horse carriages outside its gate, reflected an age old heritage. On the other side stood the legendary Eden Gardens, a stadium which has witnessed countless epic games of cricket, where numerous cricketers haved honed their skill and championed the way to glory. I could also see the bustling area of Esplanade and New Market. This is an area famous for it’s markets and cheap bars, which I had once upon a time frequented every Sunday evening during my stay in this city. Though, it was a moonless night, no one seemed to bother. The light of the city did not let it’s inhabitants mourn the absence of the moon. There was music, even in the shadows. There was clour even in the dark facades. The phone rang.“Yes BMK.” I said hastily.“Sir, EARTH told us that THE BIDDER is on his task and should not be disturbed. He will return when he has to,”“But, we need to see him. That’s why we have come here.” I Said.“Probably, you will have to wait sir.”Replied BMK.“That’s all right but how can we be assured that we are on the right track?” I asked.“We can discuss about it with EARTH.”Replied BMK.“Ok. Let us talk to him tomorrow. Goodnight BMK.” I said.“Goodnight commander.” BMK said before hanging up.

“What was it all about Sir.” Asked Richa as shed handed me the cup of coffee. “The man seemed quite strange.”“Yes, he was indeed strange.” Replied the professor. “Next time whenever he comes to office do let me know.”“Was he really a friend of yours?” Asked Richa.“Don’t know. Never saw him before.” Replied the professor.“But how then you gave him half an hour time instead of the ten minutes you had said you would give him?” Asked Richa, somewhat surprised.

“My intuition generally does not go wrong.” Proclaimed Sandy.“Yes, that’s why you are amongst us Sandy.” Kumar replied instantly.“My intuition says that probably we might not witness any more explosion that we had been worrying about.” Said Sandy.“You mean the trouble is over?” Asked BMK ecstatically.“It is far from over. A new tussle between the forces is about to begin.” Injected EARTH.“What forces?” Alam asked on behalf of the others.The negative and the positive energy sources.” Said EARTH.“But our mission was to save the world from these explosive threats.” Said Alam.“Not at all. “ Replied EARTH.” Our mission is to save our planet from getting destroyed due to the energy imbalance.”“But wasn’t the explosions much more lethal than any other form?” Asked BMK.“It was.” Said EARTH. “Probably now, the forces of destruction will be more ominous. We are yet to know what form it will adorn. We might not even be able to identify the peril. It might even be several times portentous that what we have faced so far. Probably that is the reason why THE BIDDER has moved away to seek the answers. He will definitely prevent any further damage.” “Then what do we do?” Asked BMK in a timid tone of helplessness.“Just be afraid, Very afraid.” Said EARTH THE BIDDER. 

CHAPTER 25IN THE LINE OF DUTY “We need to take her to the hospital at once.” Cried Naomi. “ Her condition had deteriorated immensely since yesterday,”“But Dr. Rudolph had said that she had been improving beyond expectation.” Said BMK.“But Sir since yesterday, she has been bringing up blood constantly.” Cried Naomi in a voice of panic. “She has also been losing a lot of hair.” Said Michelle, the nurse in charge of Elizabeth. “We have already spoken to Apollo Hospital, The ambulance might be coming any moment.” Reported Alam.“Did you hear the news sir?” Bloom’s out of context question, irritated BMK.“The town of Gorov, in Bulgaria which had disappeared a fortnight ago, has reappeared with all its people and all that it had previously. Also the city of Smolyan appeared intact.” Said Bloom.“What?” BMK was flabbergasted as much as the others.“I told you, THE BIDDER is at work.” Smiled EARTH.“Did you inform commander about it?” Asked BMK.“When Kumar and me left the building, all the three army men were glued to the TV sets.” Replied Bloom.The siren of the approaching ambulance disturbed their thoughts. Two men jumped off the rear of the ambulance to carry out Elizabeth strapped on to a stretcher. Naomi, Michelle and Alam quickly climbed onto the ambulance along with the patient. The others kept looking, until the ambulance had disappeared from the vicinity of vision.

“Do you have any explanation to this event Dr.Raghavan?” Asked Maurice, a young research fellow, quite attached to the eminent scientist.“I’m afraid I don’t.” Confessed Dr. Raghavan.“Do you believe, as I do, that this is a harbinger to something more woeful?” Asked the youngster.“Probably.” Replied the scientist, absent mindedly.“The people in Gorov say that they feel that they had gone off to sleep and have just woken up. They have no idea of what had happened to them. Fifteen days of their lives have just been erased off their memory.” Informed Maurice.“How strange.” Muttered the scientist. “Not even a single life has been lost and no one is missing.” Added Maurice. “What do you make of it?”“I have no answer.” Replied Dr. Raghavan. His eyes had been fixed on the TV screen, where people were seen to rejoice and dance around in the streets. And why not. It’s beyond even the wildest imagination that people can reappear in the face of earth after being in the oblivion of nothingness for fifteen days.“I felt that I had woken up like any other day in the morning after going to sleep the night before.” Said an elderly lady to the BBC reporter. “We came to know about the fifteen days of disappearance only after people from neighboring towns came to visit us.” Her voice trembled with excitement, though her voice was masked by that of the interpreter. There was not a single person who spoke anything different. The fifteen days were truly lost on the residents of Gorov and the survivors of Smolyan. There was celebration all around. Celebration of life. Celebration of the joy of survival. Archeologists, scientists, researchers, journalists had all swarmed the place in search of something, anything worth a wonder. However, everything appeared as organized and commonplace as before. There was nothing to report back. The television sets could only beam the ecstatic faces of the people who had woken up to just another day in their lives. “This even might be a huge illusion, Sir.” Said Maurice in disbelief.“My dear, try to accept things that are beyond our imagination.” Replied Dr. Raghavan with a wry smile.

After the strange re-emergence of the city of Gorov in Bulgaria, it was now the turn of Camoapa, a city in The Republic Of Nicaragua, that had disappeared, around twenty days ago. News channels were abuzz with all the possible updates from the place. There was merriment in the streets, around the globe. The afraid, very afraid, mankind has again found it’s voice. The Vatican had announced a special thanksgiving service for the miracle by the Almighty. Self acclaimed prophets claimed their share in creation of this phenomenon. There was delirium all around with claims and counter claims doing the rounds.I, like most of the world population had been rendered speechless. Was it all because of THE BIDDER or was it something totally different? Can these occurrences be held as the success of our mission or were these events not connected to our mission at all? What should our next sequence of action be? Should we let things happen as they are? I had no answer, neither did I know whom to consult. I didn’t even know whether these events augured well for the planet or was it the prelude to something more catastrophic? A loud knock at the door broke my trance. Alam and BMK had already entered the room. I looked up suggestively at BMK, who, for some reason, hesitated to speak. “We have lost her Sir.” Alam broke the silence. “She had gone extremely critical.” BMK joined in. “ This happened all too suddenly. In fact Dr. Rudolph had said last week that she had shown remarkable recovery. “ “But she had cancer.” I mumbled.“Yes, sir. But it appeared that she was coming through.” Said BMK.“How do we conduct the last rites?” I asked. “ Do you know her family?”“No sir.” Replied BMK. “ Marker knew. But he too is no more.”“pity, such a young girl, dying such an anonymous death.” I sighed.No one talked as they emptied the room of the deceased. A few sniffles could escape from Naomi and Sandy too tried hard to fight his tears. Elizabeth was a very good natured girl. Though, her own life had been punctuated by misfortune, she never thought twice when it came to lending a helping hand. She had lent Sandy her jacket in Khonoma, when he had needed warm clothes, after he had lost his backpack on the way. He clutched at the green jacket and let loose his emotions. It had been long since he had last cried. He cried long, and he wanted to cry more. Perhaps all the wrongs that had occurred in his life were being summated by his tears.
It was Rabbi Yaddi who came forward and consoled him, taking his face onto his lap while slowly stroking his back to restore the silence. The world outside rejoiced at the strange turn of events. Even some of the members of the special task force were thrown into a dilemma …. Whether to rejoice for life or to mourn the death of someone unknown. “You had taken a bid EARTH,” Naomi’s voice had a hint of aggression in it. “You had promised the Lisa shall not die of the disease.”“I had.” Confessed EARTH. “But as I told you that there is something called the cost of Bid. This girl was one such cost. Can’t you see the positive outcome it has bourne?”“You mean to say the re-emergence of the lost cities is due to this sacrifice?” Asked Naomi.“Yes.” Replied EARTH.”It’s THE BIDDER’s will.”

“You need to tell your friend about me, professor.” The voice from the other side of the receiver bellowed. “But how can I be sure that these are your doings?” Asked the professor in an amazed tone.“I am not liable to provide proofs.” Growled the voice. “Just do as I say. Dr. Raghavan should know who is behind all this.”“You proclaim that through your powers you have restored the lost cities?” Asked the professor.“I do not proclaim.” Replied the voice. “I just do.”“Why do you want RR to know your name?” Asked the professor again.“Because that will be an excuse to meet him.” Replied the voice.“And why do you want to meet him?” Asked the professor.“That’s none of your business.” Snapped the voice.

“All of this is not tragic.” Said EARTH. “Please do not think that way. It is your good fortune that you have got an opportunity to help THE BIDDER, help the world. There will be deaths, in the line of duty. You might not be glorified, but your soul will always remain pure and will be esteemed highly in the other world. The world where the negative forces always wrestle around with the positive forces. The more pure souls get added on, the stronger the positive forces become. Be proud that you count among the positive forces. You add fuel for this planet to thrive and live on. Be proud of your lives, your deaths. Not many people get the insights of superior living. Each one of you are no less than a prophet, remember that.”“From primitive times man has been offering the Gods various forms of lives in the name of sacrifice.” Said Naomi. “Are you endorsing those rituals? Do you mean to say that Gods keep the world going because of those sacrifices?”“No. The rituals that destroy life forms is never noble.” Said EARTH. “ But here it is different. Here life forms are not sacrificed for some God. Here THE BIDDER is adding some positive souls to the souls that already maintains the lives of so many. The life from the body might be lost. But the soul is now in possession of THE BIDDER. You may see glimpses of the girl in THE BIDDER, whenever you see him.”“But why is THE BIDDER so elusive?” Asked Bloom.“He has his own method. “Said EARTH. “He is not far from you. His eyes are always watching you, guiding you. He will keep coming back to meet you and answer your queries. Trust him. Have faith in him.”“How long is this mission going to be?” Asked Bloom again.“The work we have set out for is not even half done.” Replied EARTH. “It might take a few months time. But believe me at the end it will be a sweet victory.”“But oh the way, we will keep losing our people.“ Said the Rabbi. “That is going to be a painful sequence.“BMK had very efficiently organized the funeral. He had also managed to find out and inform her hapless parents. He had also offered to arrange for them to participate in the ritual, but they had declined the kind gesture. Once everything had been over, we drove down to our residence to discuss the next sequences of activity. THE BIDDER’s disappearance had been most disconcerting since I had a few questions of my own for THE BIDDER. Once we had finished our discussion, I headed for the East Barrack at Fort Williams. I wanted to talk to each of my compatriots. Ever since coming down to this city, I had not had a joint meeting with my team members. It was time to motivate them. Though not in a war sight, they have been living in uncertainty for a long time now. They have been facing strange occurrences boldly, in a mission which does not have a clear identity or a definite way forward. “You seem to be communicating with THE BIDDER, even in his absence.” Said Rabbi Yaddi.“Yes I do.” Replied EARTH with a tinge of pride in his voice.“Does he tell you about the events about to happen in the near future?” Asked the Rabbi.“Sometimes, he does tell me.” Said EARTH. “ But not always.”“Does he answer if you enquire about something?” Asked the Rabbi.“ Yes. More often than not.”Replied the Rabbi.“Then do you know, who is the next amongst us in the line of duty?” Asked the Rabbi.“Yes I do.” Smiled EARTH.“Who?” Asked the Rabbi spontaneously.“You.” Replied EARTH nonchalantly.

CHAPTER 26IGOR GLOSKY Major Nikolai Glosky had a habit of standing in the doorway every morning for several hours. He would look intently at all the passersby and note certain things in the small red diary he always used to carry. His stout physique within the uniform with a cluster of medals attached to the chest sometimes appeared more like a statue. After his regime of vigil, he would head for the dock. He would seldom return home before nightfall, usually drunk and unsteady. Young Igor, of around fifteen years old would often question his father, Yuri, about the typical attributes of his grandfather …. but each time he received silence as the answer to his queries. Unlike the KGB stalwart, Yuri was a more benign individual. A professor of Geology in The Leningrad State Pedagogical Institute also known as The Herzen University, Yuri was a striking exception to the residents of the Tereshkova Prospect. Neither was he a keen follower of the Communist Party, nor did he ever cared or dared to comment against it. His wife Ludmila was an uncannily silent woman. She preferred knitting and cooking over any other activity in life which included talking as well. However, young Igor always got drawn to his grandfather, despite his weird behavioral traits or maybe because of it. The uniform, the salutes from the comrades, the dominating personality, everything, filled Igor with a sense of awe. He dreamed and yearned to be like his grandfather someday, not knowing the dark truth that his grandfather had been living with. Nikolai Glosky never trusted anyone. He never could. He always tried to pick out dissidents among the commoners because he knew that there were quite a few around. The high handedness that he had enjoyed being in KGB over the years, had declined steadfastly. The limping communist regime and the changes brought in by the reign of Gorbachev had diminished his powers to quite an extent. Yet Major Glosky was a feared and revered character. Party members swore by his loyalty and his intensity. He was never off duty, barring the few hours of night when he enjoyed his drunken sleep.Major Glosky had lost his wife years ago. So he had little interest in the family affairs and seldom took part in any family discussion. Igor, like his grandfather thought his parents to be too docile and preferred to discuss his topics of discussion with the neighboring children rather than his parents. Only once did he ask his father as to why they had chosen the ground floor as against the available top floor of the building which would have given him access to the terrace. His grandfather had intervened, saying that it was more respectable to stay at the ground floor since they were in the good books of the party.St. Petersburg or Leningrad had a queer method of shaping the lives of young children. The ways of the city usually impressed upon young minds the attributes to their persona, that they invariably grew up with. Generally, they learn the lessons to attain and adopt power, from a very impressionable age.St. Petersburg, of course, is no stranger to power. Founded by Peter the Great 299 years ago, it served as the capital of tsarist Russia for two centuries after that. But the city that was renamed Leningrad slid into both political and aesthetic decline during the Soviet era.Igor grew up to see the decline of the Soviet regime. He witnessed his grandfather retire, fall sick and eventually die of heart ailment. He witnessed his father grow in status and migrate to Moscow to attain a more prominent position. He witnessed Leningrad get rechristened as St. Petersburg and also was witness to political upheavals that transformed the socio-political outlook of the nation. But he never relinquished his burning desire to emulate his grandfather. He grew up, the hard way, in a military hostel, to be eventually enrolled in the Russian army. His sense of loyalty and devotion, perhaps inherited from his grandfather got him handpicked into the domains of the new Russian secret services. He was a quick learner, besides, he already had known a few traits of the KGB since early childhood. It was not difficult for Igor to get noticed. His selection to the special task force was automatic and all his seniors knew that Glosky would earn a name for him even in this unique campaign.

He slowly strolled along the corridor. He had volunteered for the duty to patrol the towering 42, which housed the commander and two other senior officials along with two other non-executive members of the special task force. Though he had been assigned eight paramilitary cadets for his assistance, he preferred doing the rounds alone.Glosky took a round of the building, ending up at the front gate, where the guards saluted him, in an announcement of their vigil. Glosky now moved to the parking slot, checking every vehicle through the window glasses, one after the other. It was his nature to be immaculate in every operation. After satisfactory scrutiny of all the vehicles, he moved to the far corner, where an elaborate shed housed the generators, that were pressed into service during occasional power outages. He took a round of the shed and stopped at the other end of the shed. Someone seemed to emerge from the shadows and stand at some distance from him.It was a tall figure, hid behind a dark gown.“Who’s there.”Shouted Glosky at the top of his voice.The figure did not move. Glosky raised his gun and shouted again “identify yourself.”This time the apparition moved forward. Though the not so bright overhead light failed to reveal the face of the stranger too clearly, Glosky was sure that he had never seen him before. The stranger was now nearer, almost at handshaking distance. Glosky watched him take off the black bandana from his forehead and the cap. He had no hair, neither did he have any eyebrow. He looked queer in the overhead light to say the least.“Privet sotrudnik” (hello officer). He said in a deep voice.“Who are you?” Glosky preferred to stick to English.“I am your friend officer and I have come to give you an earnest advice.” Replied the stranger gravely.“What advice?” Asked Glosky, taken aback a bit.“Abandon this mission.” Said the stranger looking at Igor deeply. His blue tinted eyes exuded a kind of viciousness. “Your commander is here, tell him that this endeavor is futile.”“Who are you to say this?” Demanded Glosky.“I am the dark BIDDER, I am THE NIGHT.” He said as he spread his long and lanky arms. “I have come to prevent this ordeal you all are going through at the behest of the other BIDDER.”“Oh, you mean to say that you are the embodiment of the negative forces that THE BIDDER had spoken of?” Enquired Glosky.“You may say so.” Smiled the stranger.“Sorry, fellow. You are up against the wrong people. The commander and his forces are not meek enough to bow down to your shallow and empty threats.” Growled Glosky.“Officer there's no David, there's no Goliath. This ain't no myth. This is BIDDER versus. BIDDER - one of the most fiercely-contested battles of the universe, and the Magnum Opus of all power struggles. It’s only that you guys have come in between. When white meets dark, the universe watches. We have come here with a purpose … to make this planet the home of the negative energy, like many other planets in the universe.” Proclaimed the stranger.“You are challenging perhaps the wrong person.” Growled Glosky as he raised his AK-12 rifle.Suddenly, from nowhere a flash of lightening appeared as Glosky pressed the trigger.“Dosvidaniya sotrudnik” (Goodbye Officer) Said the stranger as he stepped over the body of the Major, who lay in a pool of blood.

Cameron Simmer read through the whole of the letter. The whole letter was a four paged one. The clerk of the Attorney had mailed him just the first page.By the time the police officer in charge of the investigation returned, he had read the same thing several times.“Are you sure, these have not been written by Richard Redknapp.” Asked the officer.“I cannot be surer, officer. “ Said Simmer.”I had known Ritchie since early childhood. It is true that he always sent me handwritten notes about issues urgent or close to his heart. However, this writing is not his, this I can vouchsafe under any circumstance. Also, under any condition, he cannot refer to me as Cameron. I have always been Ron to him. Only Ron.”“What exactly was written in the letter?” Asked the policeman.“It was an endorsement of someone, who can save the world from falling apart.” Replied Simmer.“But why did he write such a thing to you?” Asked the officer. “He himself was powerful enough to authorize such endorsement.”“I have good proximity to various universities and also to the White House.” Said Simmer. “Besides, he wrote that he was too embarrassed to proclaim this to the world. It would mean the defeat of science.”“But since the handwriting is different, is it possible that he dictated the text to someone?” Asked the policeman.“That’s highly unlikely.” Replied Cameron Simmer with utmost confidence. “I know Ritchie for ages. He will never ask someone, not even me, to write his thoughts for him.” “Are you absolutely sure then that these thoughts were his?” The question took Simmer aback.“What do you mean?” He asked back.“There is a possibility sir, that someone else might have drafted this in his name.” Replied the policeman.“What for?” Asked Simmer, still looking puzzled.“That’s what we need to investigate sir.” Replied the policeman with a smile.

“You know Maurice, our Vedas, our Hindu scriptures had mentioned centuries ago, that all negative action ends up in retribution from nature.“ Informed Dr. Raghavan. “In fact all religious texts somewhere or the other have always warned humans not to go overboard. But we have always travelled in the opposite direction. We have built up social practices that do not promote co-existence. Our early ancestors were hunter gatherers, who lived in large groups. We slowly developed into an agriculture based civilization. Then began trade and the advent and promotion of money and wealth. This gave rise to corruption and created desires. It differentiated between man and man.““But sir, the rat race that drives us throughout life is just an aspect of the nature. Survival of the fittest.” Said Maurice.“But do the fittest survive?” Asked the scientist. “The tests of survival is never held on even grounds. The world should belong to the people who are fit for survival and not the ones who fit themselves for survival.”“Adaptability used to be the parameter to test how fit one is to survive. It gave a fair chance to all.” Said Dr. Raghavan. “Look at the children of the poor. They play in rain, slush, high winds, burning sunlight. They endure the cold nights, rough terrain and all other challenging features of the environment to survive. But there are children who spend their time under the protective cover of air-conditioned rooms, cars and luxurious dispositions. But who are the ones to survive? The rich. Is it fair play?”“But sir, the rich have earned their right to spend on the luxuries.” Replied Maurice.“But whom did they earn the rights from? Have you ever questioned that? Do they deserve the right? Does every rich deserve to be rich and every poor deserve to be poor?” Asked Dr. Raghavan.Maurice was left pondering in silence.“But sir, why are you telling me all this?” Asked a baffled Maurice after a few minutes of pondering.“I am telling you all this because before being scientists, we are all humans. A weak species, who have used the resources of the planet for our selfish advantage. However, there are many such things which are beyond our comprehension and we should be bold and honest enough to accept that. There are many things that happen which our science fails to comprehend. There is no shame in accepting that we scientists are humans and not The Almighty.” Said Dr. Raghavan.“Do you then believe, sir, like I do that the occurrences of the past one month are acts of GOD?” Asked Maurice, wide eyed.“Maybe.” Replied the scientist. “Only the definition of GOD perhaps should need more elaboration.”  

CHAPTER 27WORDS OF CAUTION “There should be a reason for this guy to have shot himself “ Remarked Major Gordon. “He looked quite normal to me.”“What did you all see?”I asked all the cadets and the night guards simultaneously.The people on duty were all present in the room with lowered heads and with an expression of grief struck on their face. Was it grief, or was it fear or was it a feeling of failure?After a bit of hesitation, one of the cadets gingerly opened up.“As usual, Igor sir had been taking rounds himself.“ He said. “He had asked us to take guard at the rear of the building and on the first floor. Three of our men had been sent on the terrace as usual. Three more had been asked to patrol the whole building, using the lifts and checking each corridor. He himself, as always, preferred to stay in the front end along with the building guards. We heard a gunshot go off after our second round. When we rushed to the spot, we found him dead on the ground, smeared in his blood.”“Did he say anything peculiar that night?” Asked inspector Ghoshal, who had taken charge of the investigation from Lalbazar, the headquarters of Kolkata Police.“Nothing that we can remember sir.” Replied another cadet with the others according their approval with silent nodding.“Commander Dragomir.”The inspector turned to me. “I’m afraid this is an open and shut case, but definitely we will investigate further to ascertain that there is no other angle to the death of the officer.”“Thank you inspector.” I said shaking his hands. “I would ask Nikolai Belokov and Victor Dassayev to co-ordinate with you with all possible details they know about Glosky. They have been with him for quite a long time.”“One thing is pretty baffling, inspector Ghoshal.” This time it was Kumar Sinha who came forward. “Why will someone who can hold a gun properly and who is a staunch soldier, shoot himself on the chest while attempting suicide? Major Glosky also had a pistol. It is more common for people to shoot oneself on the head rather than on the chest.”“Do you imply, that someone had snatched his weapon, shot him and got away, without being noticed?” The inspector asked in a jeering conjecture.“Nikolai, you had been very close to Glosky.” I asked the heavily built officer standing behind BMK. “Can you shed some light on his behavior of late?”Nikolai looked up briefly. His expressionless face bore the signs of the deep impact his psyche had taken by this tragic incident.“He was a man of less speech, commander.” Informed Nikolai. “He never spoke much about his personal life. However, his relation with his parents was strained and he never attempted to make friends or get married. He loved to live alone and all by himself. But his love for food and vodka always brought him to us. Me and Victor. We three always had drinks together. Me and Victor talked about everything. Igor hardly spoke. But he enjoyed our company.”“Did you see any change in his behavior lately?” Asked the inspector.“Not at all, inspector. “ Replied Nikolai. “He was always what he was. Rigid, silent, daring and humorless.”“Well, Nikolai.” Kumar interjected once again. “ Why did he opt for the night vigil, when so many junior officers and police forces are at our service?”“He always loved challenges.”Replied Nikolai.”Probably he chose this duty since it gave him a flavor of adventure.”“Another point inspector Ghoshal,”Continued Kumar. “If major Glosky had shot himself on the chest, he should have fallen backwards. But when his body was discovered, he was lying with his face downwards. Isn’t it quite strange?”

“I have a special message for you people.” EARTH said, finally, after everyone in the room had taken their seats.“I have a word of caution for you.” He continued.” THE BIDDER has asked me to inform you that some negative forces are out to derail our mission. Now these forces have adorned human forms. They are trying to influence, threaten and eliminate people to establish their hegemony in this planet. THE BIDDER knew that they are going to disrupt his activities, so he has chosen a secret place to continue with his work. Please do not ask me, because I have been prohibited from revealing where he is.““My dear EARTH the bidder.” Said Kumar in utmost politeness. “Is this warning for only us normal people or are you too to be included?”“First of all Mister Kumar Sinha, you are not a normal person.” Smiled EARTH. “Also, most of the people in this mission are not normal people. You all are above normal in might, courage, belief, passion, thinking capability. And yes, I am also too be counted amongst you. Elaborating on my point, I would like to say that there are lesser BIDDERS like me who have moderate powers, and there are BIDDERS who have absolute powers. Most humans use only ten to twenty percent of their cranial capability, but a bidder can use up to hundred percent. Talking of bidders, I must explain that there are two major types of bidders. Those that have positive powers and those that have negative powers. Both these bidders are equally strong, but they have some particular patterns of work. The positive bidder looks for aligning of positive souls and in the process he contributes to uphold the harmony of nature and of the universe. The negative bidders want the universe to themselves. They believe that they have been derived of their rights to rule the universe. That is why, their main weapon is influencing people to follow them. To see the world as they want them to see it. They abhor resistance and can go to any extreme to squash them.”“Are they descendents from the Hitler era?” Asked Bloom lightly.“No, They come from a period way ahead.” Replied EARTH. “They are the descendents from the Maya civilization. After the abrupt collapse of their civilization, their descendents migrated from Central America to escape being killed by the Spanish invaders, to the other parts of the world. They always harbored a single aim …. to return as rulers of the world, by any means. You see, Mayans were a highly sophisticated and proud tribe. They believed that they were the most advanced species on this planet and rightly so. They were exponents in agriculture, architecture, trade, mathematics, arts, sculpture, written texts, cosmology. However, they had one drawback. They believed too much of the supernatural. In fact, they worshipped the supernatural.““In common with the rest of Mesoamerica, the Maya believed in a supernatural realm inhabited by an array of powerful deities who needed to be placated with ceremonial offerings and ritual practices. At the core of Maya religious practice was the worship of deceased ancestors, who would intercede for their living descendants in dealings with the supernatural realm. The earliest intermediaries between humans and the supernatural were shamans. Maya ritual included the use of hallucinogens for chilan, oracular priests. Visions for the chilan were likely facilitated by consumption of water lilies, which are hallucinogenic in high doses. As the Maya civilization developed, the ruling elite codified the Maya world view into religious cults that justified their right to rule. In the Late Preclassic, this process culminated in the institution of the divine king, the kʼuhul ajaw, endowed with ultimate political and religious power.”“The Maya viewed the cosmos as highly structured. There were thirteen levels in the heavens and nine in the underworld, with the mortal world in between. Each level had four cardinal directions associated with a different colour; north was white, east was red, south was yellow, and west was black. Major deities had aspects associated with these directions and colours.”“Maya households interred their dead underneath the floors, with offerings appropriate to the social status of the family. There the dead could act as protective ancestors. Maya lineages were patrilineal, so the worship of a prominent male ancestor would be emphasized, often with a household shrine. As Maya society developed, and the elite became more powerful, Maya royalty developed their household shrines into the great pyramids that held the tombs of their ancestors”“Belief in supernatural forces pervaded Maya life and influenced every aspect of it, from the simplest day-to-day activities such as food preparation, to trade, politics, and elite activities. Maya deities governed all aspects of the world, both visible and invisible. The Maya priesthood was a closed group, drawing its members from the established elite; by the Early Classic they were recording increasingly complex ritual information in their hieroglyphic books, including astronomical observations, calendrical cycles, history and mythology. The priests performed public ceremonies that incorporated feasting, bloodletting, incense burning, music, ritual dance, and, on certain occasions, human sacrifice. During the Classic period, the Maya ruler was the high priest, and the direct conduit between mortals and the gods. It is highly likely that, among commoners, shamanism continued in parallel to state religion. By the Postclassic, religious emphasis had changed; there was an increase in worship of the images of deities, and more frequent recourse to human sacrifice.”“Archaeologists painstakingly reconstruct these ritual practices and beliefs using several techniques. One important, though incomplete, resource is physical evidence, such as dedicatory caches and other ritual deposits, shrines, and burials with their associated funerary offerings. Maya art, architecture, and writing are another resource, and these can be combined with ethnographic sources, including records of Maya religious practices made by the Spanish during the conquest.”“Blood was viewed as a potent source of nourishment for the Maya deities, and the sacrifice of a living creature was a powerful blood offering. By extension, the sacrifice of a human life was the ultimate offering of blood to the gods, and the most important Maya rituals culminated in human sacrifice. Generally only high status prisoners of war were sacrificed, with lower status captives being used for labour.”“Important rituals such as the dedication of major building projects or the enthronement of a new ruler required a human offering. The sacrifice of an enemy king was the most prized, and such a sacrifice involved decapitation of the captive ruler in a ritual reenactment of the decapitation of the Maya maize god by the death gods. In AD 738, the vassal king Kʼakʼ Tiliw Chan Yopaat of Quiriguá captured his overlord, Uaxaclajuun Ubʼaah Kʼawiil of Copán and a few days later ritually decapitated him. Sacrifice by decapitation is depicted in Classic period Maya art, and sometimes took place after the victim was tortured, being variously beaten, scalped, burnt or disembowelled. Another myth associated with decapitation was that of the Hero Twins recounted in the Popol Vuh: playing a ballgame against the gods of the underworld, the heroes achieved victory, but one of each pair of twins was decapitated by their opponents.”“During the Postclassic period, the most common form of human sacrifice was heart extraction, influenced by the rites of the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico; this usually took place in the courtyard of a temple, or upon the summit of the pyramid. In one ritual, the corpse would be skinned by assistant priests, except for the hands and feet, and the officiating priest would then dress himself in the skin of the sacrificial victim and perform a ritual dance symbolizing the rebirth of life. Archaeological investigations indicate that heart sacrifice was practiced as early as the Classic period.”“The Maya world was populated by a great variety of deities, supernatural entities and sacred forces. The Maya had such a broad interpretation of the sacred that identifying distinct deities with specific functions is inaccurate. The Maya interpretation of deities was closely tied to the calendar, astronomy, and their cosmology. The importance of a deity, its characteristics, and its associations varied according to the movement of celestial bodies. The priestly interpretation of astronomical records and books was therefore crucial, since the priest would understand which deity required ritual propitiation, when the correct ceremonies should be performed, and what would be an appropriate offering. Each deity had four manifestations, associated with the cardinal directions, each identified with a different colour. They also had a dual day-night/life-death aspect. Itzamna was the creator god, but he also embodied the cosmos, and was simultaneously a sun god; Kʼinich Ahau, the day sun, was one of his aspects. Maya kings frequently identified themselves with Kʼinich Ahau. Itzamna also had a night sun aspect, the Night Jaguar, representing the sun in its journey through the underworld. The four Pawatuns supported the corners of the mortal realm; in the heavens, the Bacabs performed the same function. As well as their four main aspects, the Bakabs had dozens of other aspects that are not well understood. The four Chaacs were storm gods, controlling thunder, lightning, and the rains. The nine lords of the night each governed one of the underworld realms. Other important deities included the moon goddess, the maize god, and the Hero Twins.”“The Popol Vuh was written in the Latin script in early colonial times, and was probably transcribed from a hieroglyphic book by an unknown Kʼicheʼ Maya nobleman. It is one of the most outstanding works of indigenous literature in the Americas. The Popul Vuh recounts the mythical creation of the world, the legend of the Hero Twins, and the history of the Postclassic Kʼicheʼ kingdom. Deities recorded in the Popul Vuh include Hun Hunahpu, the Kʼicheʼ maize god, and a triad of deities led by the Kʼicheʼ patron Tohil, and also including the moon goddess Awilix, and the mountain god Jacawitz.”“In common with other Mesoamerican cultures, the Maya worshipped feathered serpent deities. Such worship was rare during the Classic period, but by the Postclassic the feathered serpent had spread to both the Yucatán Peninsula and the Guatemalan Highlands. In Yucatán, the feathered serpent deity was kukulkan, among the Kʼicheʼ it was Q’uq’umatz. Kukulkan had his origins in the Classic period War Serpent, Waxaklahun Ubah Kan, and has also been identified as the Postclassic version of the Vision Serpent of Classic Maya art. Although the cult of Kukulkan had its origins in these earlier Maya traditions, the worship of Kukulkan was heavily influenced by the Quetzalcoatl cult of central Mexico.[368] Likewise, Qʼuqʼumatz had a composite origin, combining the attributes of Mexican Quetzalcoatl with aspects of the Classic period Itzamna.”“But , we are not concerned with the descendants of Bulgars or Mayans here . The forces we are talking about , is of a much higher trajectory . They are not from the human fraternity.”“What do you mean?” Asked BMK abjectly.”Are we encountering some kind of phantom?”“No Sir .” Clarified EARTH. “These are forces . Negative and positive. They are forms of energy having taken human configuration to become comprehensible.”“By the way ,why do you tell us all this?” Asked Alam.“Because THE BIDDER asked me to explain everything very clearly.” Said EARTH.“But all these names are getting us more confused.” Said Sandy.EARTH laughed out loud. “Can’t help it. It cannot be any simpler.”“So you mean, we need to guard ourselves from the negative forces?” Asked Kumar. “But how do we recognize them and how to keep ourselves protected against their powers?”“A negative bidder will always try to influence you to follow him.” Said EARTH. “They always adorn black clothes. And they too are brow less and hairless like our own bidder but their eyes will always emanate a sinister sign of devilish intent. Also, another thing, they fear fire and water. So you will see them panic when there is fire or water near them.”“And how do we protect ourselves?” Asked Alam.“Do not argue with them.” Advised EARTH. “They cannot accept dissent. Just try to escape any conversation.And always carry a water bottle with you.”

“Did you see the news, Ruslan?” Major Gordon called out as I strolled across his room.“No. Why anything new?” I stopped to ask.“Two more vanquished cities in Sudan and the Solomon Islands has been resurrected.” He cried out still glued at the television set.“What?” I blurted out, not knowing whether to be ecstatic or surprised.“Well, there are widespread celebration going on.” He added further.“Should be.” Said I, entering his room. The television was in full volume, showing images of people dancing and reveling in different cities of different continents. The unprecedented events had somehow brought the world together as a single community ….mankind. Was it what the supernatural powers intended to do? Bring the world together. Or was it all attributable to THE BIDDER?The cell phone rang to disturbed my thoughts. I Cupped my palm around it to shield it from the shrieking television set.“Yes BMK.” I Said.“There is a bad news sir. Rabbi Yaddi had a massive heart attack last night. He passed away in his sleep.” Informed BMK.“What?” I blurted out the mono syllable the second time in the day. This time not knowing to be sad or astonished.

CHAPTER 28BELIEF “I hope you had a trouble free journey to here.” Asked Major Gordon.“Not totally trouble free, Major.”Replied Colonel Roy still in attention.“I thought that there were some forces holding you guys back. How did you guys come out?” Asked Major Gordon again.“Till the day before yesterday, some weird creature or the other kept attacking our hostel.” Said Colonel Roy. “We were almost under house arrest. None of our weapons functioned at all. We were rendered helpless. However, it was the command of the H.Q. to stay put until it issues further instruction. It was worse than a war, sir. In a war, you know your enemy and you have means to fight with it. But here, we were more of victims than soldiers. Probably, we all were destined to be killed by these strange creatures.”“What type of creatures?” Asked Major Gordon.“Eagles of the size of three elephants put together. Monkeys as large as King Kong having tusks larger than elephants and claws like swords. Sharks as big as a whole ship.” Said Colonel Roy.“Sharks?” I gasped.“Yes Sir.” Affirmed Maco Tolemy, the Italian officer.“Another few days and we would have starved to death.” Said the Colonel.“But yesterday, there was torrential rain and somehow the kitchen caught fire due to a short circuit.” Continued the Colonel. “Since then, none of those creatures could be seen, so we called for the chopper. Blessed be the soul of the local peasant Phu and his grandfather who had risked their lives to smuggle food and water for us. Unfortunately, they along with twenty cadets and three of our officers had to lay down their lives. The consolation however is that the rest of us could survive such a horrible encounter.” “I do understand the state of your mind, colonel.” I said. “But under those weird circumstances, what kept you all motivated?”“Belief, Sir.” Replied Colonel Roy.“On what? God?” Asked Major Gordon.“THE BIDDER.” The reply was spontaneous.

“I foresee some trouble for you Kumar.” Said Sandy Bloom in a tone of warning.“Why does trouble take the trouble to trouble me?” Laughed Kumar. “Anyway, thanks Sandy for letting me know. Can you tell me what the trouble will be about?”“I see some dark enemy trying to encounter you.” Said Sandy.“Dark enemy? What does that mean?” Enquired Kumar.“Someone in dark clothes.” Replied Sandy. “Beware, he intends to kill you.”“My dear Sandy, there are many in the world who want to kill Kumar Sinha.” Said Kumar. “I tell you, it is not easy.”“But this guy looks dangerous, Kumar. Believe me.” Cried Sandy.“I like dangerous people Sandy. I await the encounter.” Said Kumar as he limped out of the room.

“Are all these things real? Or are they just hallucination?”Asked Major Malcolm. “It appears so much of Alice in Wonderland stuff to me.”“Precisely. Since these things are so strange and beyond our imagination, our scientists have not been able to come to terms with these.” I explained. “There will be many such things happening all around, which our customary brain will find difficult to accept. That is why, you, me and everyone else, including THE BIDDER is here, And believe me, it’s only us who can do it.”“Do what?” Asked Major Gordon.“Save the world.” I replied.Outside the window, we could see the famous Howrah Bridge. This bridge built in the 1940s is presently the sixth longest cantilever bridge in the world and probably the busiest one. It spans over the River Hoogly, a tributary of the legendary Ganges, connecting the cities of Howrah and Calcutta. The structure is colossal, a monument worth admiring. Though built strong and stubborn, it adorns an ethereal beauty. Today the bridge looked majestic because of the display of lights. I could not take off my eyes of it, neither could my other two colleagues. If the structure was captivating, the water beneath was serene and the passage of the water vehicles on it was scenic. A sight that one can travel many a mile to see. Though, today we stand to deride man, but at times man has indeed tried his best to emulate God. A look at the nighttime view of The Howrah Bridge gives testimony to my thought. “How long do you intend to stay here?” Major Gordon’s statement jolted me to my senses. “I don’t know. “ I said helplessly. “I am yet to meet THE BIDDER.”

“I am Inspector David Boult.I am investigating the death of eminent scientist Dr. Richard Redknapp.” Announced the middle aged, athletic figured policeman.“How can I help you inspector?” Asked Dr. Raghavan, rather meekly.“Well, you know that our investigation fashion is rather unique.” Replied the inspector. “We question everyone even remotely connected to the victim. We even count everyone as suspects as well.”“Why suspect anyone for a suicide?” asked Dr. Raghavan.“if I say it’s not a suicide, then?” The inspector leaned over the table.“You mean murder?” Asked Dr. Raghavan, looking shocked.“Somewhat.” Said Boult.”May I sit?”“Oh of course, inspector.” Said Dr. Raghavan gesturing him and the others at the chairs in front of his table.“This man is Cameron Simmer.” Introduced Boult. “He is someone who was most attached to the late scientist. No one knows about the scientist more than him.”“ Nice meeting you Mr. Simmer.” Said Dr. Raghavan extending his arm.“My pleasure.” Said Simmer, shaking hands.“Dr. Raghavan.”Began the inspector. “When you took over, did you find anything strange regarding Dr. Redknapp in any archive or any other thing, worth sharing with us?”“Nothing much except a statement he recorded in a CD which was discovered later from the observatory document room.” Said Dr. Raghavan,“What is in it? Is it a voice recording?” Asked Simmer.“Yes. And probably it was recording a couple of days before he left us.” Replied Dr. Raghavan. “Maurice can you bring the CD and the player please?”“Sure sir.” The youngster nodded and left the room.“Please bring Simon also along with you.” Said Dr. Raghavan raising his voice, so that the departing researcher could hear.“Did you find anything strange in the voice recording doctor?” Asked the inspector.“Everything is strange.” Said Dr. Raghavan. “I knew Redknapp to be rather silent and stoic in his mannerisms. However, this monologue, addressed to someone called Ron was an attempt to save him from something or someone. It sounded as if he was desperately seeking help to save his life.” “If he had felt a threat to his life, why didn’t he approach the cops?” Asked the inspector.“Well, I am Ron.” Simmer stepped in. “Ritchie never had enemies in his life.” “Then why was he murdered?” Asked the inspector.“Murdered?” Simmer almost fell off his chair. “But he stabbed himself.”“Mr.Simmer, no one stabs himself on the chest in an attempt for suicide.” Replied the inspector calmly. “People either slit their wrists or stab themselves in the stomach. Suicide is an instinct …. an instinct of madness. It doesn’t heed to any reason. Even the best of scientists like a common man would stab himself in the stomach and not at the precise location of the heart.”

Kumar put aside the magazine. He thought he heard a light tap at the window pane. He limped across the room and flung the window open. There was nothing perceptible in the darkness. He let the window stay open and returned to his chair.“Good evening Kumar Sinha.” A voice beamed from the open window. Now he could see an apparition sitting on the window sill. It was like a tall shadow. Dark in appearance with a cap on the head and a bandana covering the forehead.“Why do you have to come in like a thief, mister?” Sneered Kumar. “Had you come through the doorway, it would have been appreciated.”“Door or window it doesn’t matter.” Said the stranger. “It was important to meet you anyway.”“So now that you have come, tell me how do you intend to waste my time?” Said Kumar almost dismissively.“I am your friend, Kumar.” Said the stranger.“You cannot be. I don’t have friends Mr. Dark Bidder.” Said Kumar.“Oh, you know me then?” The stranger was taken aback a bit.“I also know precisely what you have come for.” Said Kumar in a cold conjecture. “But you have knocked at the wrong door. You are trying this friendship game with someone who does not befriend.”“You do have friends, Kumar.” Smiled the stranger as he jumped inside the room and walked towards Kumar. “What about Tina Ray?”“She is my client and not my friend.” Snapped Kumar. “I have helped her and will always help her excel in her apparel business. Well, you will never understand subtle human relationships.”“Sorry for being personal.” Smiled the stranger taking off his cap and bandana revealing his browless forehead and hairless head. “But Kumar Sinha, if you do not accept my friendship, it might be fatal on you.”“Is it?” Smiled Kumar as he lit a cigarette. “Aren’t you too early with your warnings?”The stranger almost stumbled backwards.“Hey…hey you. Put out that cigarette, will you?” He shouted.“I know smoking is bad for health but somehow I cannot get rid of it.”Said Kumar blowing a gust of smoke at the stranger.“Put it off, I say.” Cried the stranger retreating towards the window.“You know I won’t and this is just the first of the three cigarettes I am about to smoke.” Replied Kumar.He blew another thick curl and looked up. The stranger was gone. Kumar slowly limped across the room, cigarette in hand and pulled the window shut.

“Why do you intend to meet THE BIDDER?” Asked Major Gordon. “Any specific question you intend to ask?”“It’s a lifetime experience Major to meet a divine creature.” I said. “Going by what I have heard about him, I feel that meeting him will definitely elevate our spiritual levels. It is not about being superstitious or anything. We should believe in whatever we have embarked upon, and this bidder instills and strengthens this belief. I do not know whether all the good things happening around is because of THE BIDDER or not but by believing that these things are because of our mission, gives us strength to believe that we can overcome anything. Meeting THE BIDDER will only make the belief stronger, that’s it.” Major Gordon didn’t say anything more, he just kept looking out of the window. The sight of the Howrah Bridge still played its colorful panorama below us. It looked as if the lost colors of life had stormed back into the world. Traffic had started thinning on the streets below but the night still upheld the ethereal grandeur. A light breeze blew across the room through the open window.It brought with it the aroma of a city alive with the spirit to live, to survive.

“What makes you so sure that someone killed Glosky?” Asked Alam.“Glosky was a brave soldier.” Said BMK. “I am convinced that he couldn’t have committed suicide. I somehow think that someone much stronger might have encountered him.”“Probably the negative bidder.” Suggested Alam.“Could be.” Nodded BMK. “But why Glosky?”“Maybe because he was on guard of the forty two.” Said Alam.“That means, whoever killed Glosky wants an entry into the forty two. But what for?” Pondered BMK aloud.“Maybe to reach the commander.” Said Alam.“Or maybe someone else.” Said BMK.“Someone else?” Asked Alam. “Who?”“Kumar Sinha.” Said BMK with a sound of conviction. 

CHAPTER 29RESURRECTIONS The Wanderers desert lives and breathes. Out where the river breaks the bloodwood and the desert oak, Holden wrecks and boiling diesels steam in 45 degrees. The time has come to say fair's fair, to pay the rent now, to pay our share. OK, the game's up. Those are lyrics stolen from "Beds Are Burning", a 1987 hit by woke Aussie rockers "Midnight Oil", and shamelessly bent out of their original shape.But that's par for the course in Johannesburg - Jo'burg to other South Africans, Jozi to the locals - a harsh, unforgiving urban sprawl where everything seems bent out of shape and has been, or will be, stolen from someone. Indeed, "People Who Have Stolen From Me," a tale of crimes and their perpetrators, on and around Jules Street has already been written by journalist David Cohen and published in 2004. And the Wanderers is at the centre of all that; Joburg's navel, a place that traps the city's human lint on sweltering, beery summer afternoons. It's a gambling den as much as it is a cricket ground. Scratch that: it's a stadium, and unlovely even on that score. That Joburgers don't see the problem with nicknaming it "the Bullring" - those opposed to bloodsport might have a view on that - only highlights their crassness.

In the middle of the ensuing delirium, a fire alarm and the lightning warning from the golf course immediately beyond the northern end rent the air. Nobody moved; but what the Wanderers has more of than any other venue in South Africa, perhaps the world, is atmosphere - heaps of the precious, crackling stuff. That's only intensified by one of the smaller arenas in the country being surrounded by the tallest stands that can hold 34,000, giving the Wanderers the biggest capacity.The celebrations were overtly South African, with castle beer and a host of blaring musical imitations filling the scene.. Much of the ground is a variety of grass called "skaapplaas" - the Afrikaans for "sheep farm". Yet unlike sheep, the revelers within the enclosure were as boisterous than ever in exultation of the unexpected. Melanie tried the number again, and again, and again. It was third time lucky. Naomi responded.“Where are you Minnie? We are missing you so much.” Screamed Melanie at the top of her voice to beat the din all around.“Why, what happened?” Asked Naomi, apprehensively. In a flash the images of her mother, uncle, aunt, their children, all other relatives and friends flashed in front of her.“Didn’t you hear the news? Serowe and Molepolole are back to where they were.” Shrieked Melanie. “It’s a sort of resurrection. All Tswanas have got together here at the Wanderers. It’s a grand celebration.”Naomi was speechless. These were the towns in neighboring Botswana to have vanished from existence sometime ago. She was overjoyed. Being a Tswana herself, she relished at the thought of happiness that news might of brought to the deprived populace of her African fraternity.“When are you finally coming back.” Shouted Melanie from the other side.“I don’t know, Mel but surely not very soon.” She replied, morosely.The shouting and drum beats drowned Melani’s voice and soon the weakening signal gave away and the brief conversation stood terminated.

You try to dismiss it as a strange coincidence to start with. But then they're just everywhere and it's just too difficult to ignore. For, a majority if not 2/3rds of all suburban villas around Auckland-and there are thousands-seem to be painted in a shade or theme of one of the many jerseys that the New Zealand sports team has worn at a World Cup. There're the all-grey numbers, the light grey walls with asphalt roof numbers, the expected beige-dominant numbers and of course those that are completely black from top to bottom. Incidentally, the dominant colour you see on the roofs as the flight soars in past the Tasman Sea and over the city of Auckland is black. Be it Rugby, Football or cricket, New Zealand revel in sports. They are die hard fans of their national teams and national heroes …. even those names are counted with pride who had crossed the ditch to settle in the neighboring land of the Kangaroos.

Ask around about this seemingly deep connect between sport and the landscape, and you are met with puzzled looks. "Never noticed that before," is the most common response but some do admit to there being potentially a "subconscious" link to sport. It kind of though is symptomatic of the relationship that sport fans in New Zealand share with their teams. It's an interesting form of fandom, which ebbs and flows based on the fortunes of the teams and also the personnel occupying the more elite posts in the setup.Like the All Blacks and The Black Caps, the Kiwis are bestowed with an indomitable spirit of competitiveness. The impulse to compete can be evident in the collective heartbeat of the nation beyond the shores, picturesque mountains and heritage villas. Their love for their heroes never sees any decline, who are readily tracked, wherever they maybe, at times of joy…at times of sorrow.Though, January 27 was Auckland Anniversary Day, today, six months down the chronograph, it was a more colorful celebration. It's been both a commemoration of the formation of the city itself and to an extent the independence of New Zealand since 1842. The history is a little complex for someone who isn't from this part of the world though, In around 1840, New Zealand had been annexed by the colony of New South Wales in Australia, which belonged to the British, while still being under Maori rule. And it took William Hobson, a Royal Navy Commander, to sail all the way across the globe and negotiate a deal whereby New Zealand was declared by the then Queen of England as being a colony of the Crown, and no longer a part of NSW, which was also hers.

The city of Auckland was then constituted as the new capital and named by Hobson after his friend George Eden or Lord Auckland. Ironically, Eden never visited the city that bore his name and was long gone by the time his name was attached to the most noteworthy sports stadium in the country half a decade post the conception of Auckland. And you thought the shape of the ground was tough to get your head around.Today, they weren’t celebrating independence though. They were celebrating survival. The Awhitu Peninsula ,in the North Island of New Zealand, extending north from the mouth of the Waikato River to the entrance to Manukau Harbour., had mysteriously disappeared almost a month ago along with rugged peaks and green terrains to re- surface once again, all of a sudden, intact and unaltered. Sandy Bloom read the news in utter disbelief. His father had migrated to Australia when he was only a child. Yet his longing or the lands of his forefathers never diminished even an iota. In many of his public performances he had proclaimed to be a New Zealander at heart though an Australian by nationality. His eyes welled up as he read through the news. North Islands had been the favorite vacation spot for the Blooms during his childhood. All the fond memories of their various visits to the Awhitu Peninsula always wrapped him in nostalgia. He has cried incessantly at the sudden disappearance of the place. Today again tears played a role. It way joy.

Dr. Parthasarathy drew out the sheaf of paper in which he had scribbled his speech the previous night. He ran his eyes through the write up in a quick glance. He was taken aback. The content was different and the writing too. He wondered curiously, how an alien script had found its way into his pocket. An august audience waited. It was the opening ceremony of the Indian Philosophical Diaspora.He crumbled the paper and stuffed it back into his pocket. It was time for extempore. He spoke eloquently about the teachings of the holy texts and how one could apply the same in mundane lifestyles, cleverly punctuating his narrative with adages and quotations. The audience showed their appreciations through spontaneous applause, knowing not that the speaker had delivered a speech without prior preparation or perhaps with a preparation that had gone all waste. He received a standing ovation as he descended through the dais, nodding in gratitude to the people who clapped for him. As he descended, his eyes caught sight of a man in dark clothes near the exit of the auditorium. He was tall, wore a black cap and a bandana on his forehead. Kumar Sinha looked at me intently. That’s when I noticed the sharpness of his eyes. BMK and Alam had always told me about his razor sharp gaze. Indeed it was difficult to look into his eyes for long. “Glosky’s death has aggrieved all of us immensely.” I said. “I do not know much about the progress of the police investigation. But I am keen to know about the observations from my team.”“Sir, I deeply feel that Glosky didn’t kill himself.“ Said Colonel Roy. “He had been hunted down by some invisible enemy who maybe part of the negative energy brigade.”“But why Glosky?” Asked Major Gordon. “He was not part of the planning group for this mission.”“First soldiers die. Then are the lieutenants chosen.” Said Kumar slowly.“There must be a greater and far sinister motive behind this incident.”I said.“Probably the enemy wanted an access to this building.” Suggested Alam.“He already has an access to the building, general Alam.“ Said Kumar. “All he wanted was an able person to carry out his nefarious instruction. Glosky declined and so was eliminated. He is looking for someone to do work for him.”“That no one will.” Replied BMK. “Tell me Kumar, if this guy comes and temps or threatens you, will you work for him?”“In fact, he has already tried his trick with me.” Replied Kumar.“If you have refused, then your life is in danger, Kumar.” Said Alam.“General, I didn’t refuse, only I didn’t let him make an offer at all.” Smiled Kumar in a contemptuous glee.

Hong Xiuqing, sat perplexed on the edge of the sofa. He had been having those strange dreams for the past two nights. He was reluctant to go to sleep afraid to go through the sequel of vision once again. He had seen himself going through a deep underwater tunnel to nowhere. He wondered why he kept having the same vision time and again. He looked at his watch. It was quarter past one in the morning. His eyes ached in the want of sleep but he resisted the temptation. He wanted to keep awake to rule out any possibility of the upsetting vision. “Don’t deprive yourself.”
Hong trembled at the voice that clearly emanated out of nowhere. He looked around. Nothing but darkness could be perceived. “I am with you as your guide.” This time the voice was much nearer and much more clear. Hong felt his throat getting dry. He was wide awake by now.That’s when he saw the white glow at the far corner of the room. The glow slowly took the form of a human. Draped in a white robe that lightened up the room, THE BIDDER stood smiling before a hapless Hong.THE BIDDER advanced and placed his hand on Hong’s head. A feeling of eternal peace ran through the total body of Hong at once. It seemed so calm, so soothing.As if in mesmerism, Hong closed his eyes. He was soon succumbed by a deep slumber …. A long slumber. His last slumber.

CHAPTER 30DISCLOSURES “Ron, you’ve known me for so long now. I need not tell you that I have always stood by my principles. I have never misled people to believe or understand things that are not to be. But today I am helpless in front of the destructive forces. I have heard people say that the scientists enjoy the luxuries of life and when time comes to deliver, they resort to excuses. You know Ron, that I have never basked in luxuries. Neither have I ever been too ambitious. My life has always remained dedicated to the service of science and technology. But there are things that are beyond all modern day science. There are things we can just speculate upon, but do not have the required evidence to draw conclusions. Like what is happening around the world is beyond the comprehension of science. But stating the same publicly would mean creating panic. So it was far wiser, under the given circumstances, not to cast any opinion regarding the bedlam.”“There have been times when I thought that I am employing futile efforts to discover something which is decades or maybe centuries beyond us. But I kept trying. You have always talked about divinity. I too believe that spiritualism is something at par with science, if not above. You know that. But spiritualism requires a totally different angle of thought. Science and spirituality does not often walk together. Spirituality requires an undaunted sense of belief and undiminished faith along with a strong resonance of hope, whereas science only looks for reason.““Though I had felt it to be absurd, initially but later on I had started believing in Ruslan’s strange mission. I have been even sharing my ideas with him regarding various aspects of the undertaking. In fact, I was the one who had helped Ruslan convince White House and the INTERPOL headquarters about the viability of the mission. Ron, we had no choice. The resolution of the officers was so assuring that one cannot help relenting to their resolve. And suddenly, I was also of the feeling that we were on the right path. But as you know, every good is followed by the troll. One breath of fear, one moment's doubt, one wrong decision and the troll is free to rend you. In fact, I have disobeyed the devil at my peril, to pull a stop to the mission. By the time you hear this, I might have been put to sword for my defiance.But I do not care. See to it that this mission of Ruslan doesn’t encounter any roadblock. Will miss you Ron. Remember your friend, wherever you go.”Silence followed until the player came to a halt. The occupants in the room chose to remain silent. The words of the deceased still playing in their minds.

“How did this fellow die?” Asked Major Gordon.“Asphyxia” Replied Dr. Rudolph.“Was he prone to illness?” Asked Major Gordon again.“Though he had a history of breathlessness in the past, nothing major had happened to him.” Replied Dr. Rudolph, calmly. “He has aligned his soul with that of THE BIDDER. Only his physical embodiment has changed.” Said EARTH.“Don’t you give all that shit to me. “ Barked Major Gordon furiously. “One after the other members of the mission are dying mysteriously and you keep on harping about some heavenly nonsense.”“I have told you before, Major.” Smiled EARTH.”There is a cost for the bid.”“What cost? What bid? We are not into some buying and selling of stuff.” Major Gordon shouted back. “You have to accept things as they happen, Major.” Said EARTH, getting serious. “You rejoiced when bright things happened and now you disapprove of the cost of the bid?”“You mean to say that the cities that have resurfaced is having some connection to the lives we are losing? And that these are all attributable to your bidder? Show me the proof.” Growled the major.“This isn’t your science laboratory, major. Here proofs do not work. Belief does.” Said EARTH. “Everything in the universe is an outcome of the tussle between the positive and the negative forces. The Big Bang, the Black Holes, the cosmic rays are all due to this tussle. Have you ever reasoned the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle, or the strangeness of the Easter Islands or even the about the description about the lost world of the Atlantis by Plato? “ Said EARTH. “Why do you think these things ever happened? Even here in India, there was a city of Dwarka that found a mention in the holy textures, had suddenly emerged from the bottom of the sea after centuries. Did your science ever tried to put forth a reasonable explanation to these?”“Guys, we are not here to fight with our beliefs.” I broke in. “We are here to have faith in our mission and see through its successful completion. It is indeed very sad that we have lost a few of our valiant soldiers along the way. But casualties are always part of any mission, isn’t it?”“Yes it is.” Nodded Gordon. “But not under mysterious circumstances. We also do not know whether this mission is proceeding in the desired direction. We have also not had the chance to interact with THE BIDDER that you guys keep talking so highly about. I am agitated for a reason, Ruslan.”“I know it Major.” I consented. “I am also similarly concerned. But we cannot step back from here. We have not come this far only to come this far.”

Inspector Ghoshal ran through the photographs once more. Nope, Nothing peculiar about them. There is no reason to believe that it was not a suicide. He walked to the window and looked at the busy street below. Though, he had initially been thinking it to be an open and shut case, but somehow he was not convinced. He remembered the words of one of the members of the Special Task Force …. what name did he say? Ah, yes Kumar Sinha. Why not call him to Lalbazar? He may give some assistance.

Simmer moved around the room restlessly. His mind was getting increasingly jumbled. What was Ritchie trying to impart? Why didn’t he call him if it was such an emergency? Who would consider him an enemy when he had dedicated his whole life for the service of humanity? He looked at the others in the room. They were in equally pensive mood. “Mr. Simmer.” Dr. Raghavan called out to finally break the suspended silence. “Let me introduce you to Simon Tanner, one of the closest disciples of Dr. Redknapp.”The young man in jeans and a sweat shirt, stood up to shake hands with Cameron.
“Yes I have heard the name several times from Ritchie.” Smiled Simmer. “ He used to say that you are one of the brightest, he had ever worked with.”“That’s a huge honor, sir.” Said the youngster. “It was always a privilege to assist him in whatever he did.”“Well Simon. Did Dr. Redknapp ever tell you something that can help the cops to investigate his death.” Asked Dr. Raghavan. “Nothing that I can remember.” Said Simon making an earnest effort to recall his conversations with Dr. Redknapp in recent times. “ However, one day he had mumbled something strange, which I could never understand.”“What was it, Simon.” Asked Dr. Raghavan.“He had said that he feared the the darkness of the night would kill him.” Said Simon.“What on earth does that mean?” Dr. Raghavan looked baffled. “Anything more Simon?” Asked the inspector this time.“Yes, on another occasion he had said that night haunted him.” Said Simon.“Sir, could it mean The Dark Knight, you know Batman.” Said Maurice instinctively.“No Maurice.” Said the inspector. “This is something more serious. There is no Batman involved here. But something related to night is.”

“Please come in Mr. Sinha.” Ghoshal beckoned the visitor with a beaming voice.Kumar entered the room gingerly and advanced towards the balding inspector seated at his desk. “Where do you hail from Mr. Kumar?” Asked Ghoshal as Kumar got himself seated opposite to him. “Presently I stay in Mumbai, but am originally from Jamshedpur, the city of the Tatas.” Said Kumar. “And you are sir from Kharagpur. Your father and mother both had been with the Indian Railways. After your schooling from Hijli High School, you migrated to Kolkata to graduate from Surendranath College. You are IPS, 1994 batch and your son is the champion at the inter school badminton competition.”Ghoshal was zapped. His mouth opened but nothing came out of it. Kumar handed him a paper which he deeply looked into.“So, you have a mandate from Mumbai Police.” He stated.“Yes sir. I help them off and on.” Said Kumar. “Well, you are no less than Sherlock Holmes or Feluda. “ Said Ghoshal, still squirming in bewilderment. “Do you know Feluda?”“Ami Bangali Sir “(I am Bengali Sir). Said Kumar causing an expression of further amazement to appear on the countenance of the inspector.“Ami Glosky saheber case ta discuss korte chai.” (I want to discuss the case of Glosky Saheb ). Ghoshal Stated.“Do you want just to discuss or do you want to solve it?” Asked Kumar.“Of course solve it.” Exclaimed Ghoshal.“Then sir, you have to believe in something that might not be in tune with everyday logic.” Said Kumar.“Mr. Sinha, if that something gets me to solve the case, I have no reservation.” Said Ghoshal.“That’s good to hear.” Said Kumar. “Let me place the facts in front of you.”

“Why is THE BIDDER so elusive, when he is an integral part of this mission?” Asked Major Gordon, still looking agitated.“THE BIDDER has his own way of working, Major. “ Said EARTH.”He will definitely appear when he feels right. He will definitely meet you when the moment is most conducive.”“I don’t know about the others, but if I do not meet him soon enough, I am going to detach myself from this mission.” Warned Major Gordon. “I request you, Major, have some patience.” I requested. Major Gordon was the one who had arranged all executive sanctions for the mission. He was the one who, though reluctantly, had arranged for the requisite funds and amenities. His detachment from the mission would invariably mean, the end of the mission. On one hand we needed Major Gordon, to have the mission going, but he has been adamant about meeting THE BIDDER. On the other hand we needed THE BIDDER too to keep doing what he has been supposed to be doing. I looked at EARTH helplessly, who didn’t seem to be perturbed much. That stupid smile irritated me. How could he stay so cool at a time when matters were swiftly getting out of hand?“You are the one who communicates with THE BIDDER.” I said, walking up to EARTH. “Why don’t you request him for a short meeting with us?”“I can request all right but it is up to him to decide what to do.” Replied EARTH.“I cannot just sit and watch this mission falling apart at a time when things are looking so promising.” I lamented.EARTH stood up and put off the lights. In the darkness that ensued, we all could see a glow of light slowly develop against the far side of the room. The glow rapidly enlarged itself into a human form.There stood in front of us the figure of a person draped in sparkling white clothing. He had no hair, neither did he have eyebrows.There stood in front of us, as I rightly assumed ….. THE BIDDER. 

CHAPTER 31JEREMY ERVINE Barry knew what pressures Jeremy had been going through. He had known him since early childhood. Jeremy had been a sharp and a very hardworking individual throughout his career. But he had received very poor returns from life. He had been deserted by unbecoming and opportunist friends; always at loggerheads with combative co-workers; shunned by his parents and siblings; always pushed to the brink by a nagging wife; unable to fathom the future of his autistic son; himself continuously dogged by bouts of nausea and what was more, he was penniless.; having been robbed of all his savings by the treachery of his cousins. But here he was diligently working with the various explosive experts to rid the world of various extremist threats. He had been chosen for the Special Task Force with INTERPOL for his specialty in the technology of the explosives.He had also been entrusted by the authorities to take care of the cumbersome correspondences and back office work for the mission. However, it had been equally frustrating for him to be left out of the traveling contingent. He had been asked to remain behind with a few others to form the back up team and to cater to all documentary and communications needs of the team in the absence of the commander.
He indeed had been distraught at being left out, for he had done all the hard work that he had been entrusted of. He had collected all the necessary details from the sites of explosions to get the scientists to check and rule out any terrorist attack. He had then prepared the cumbersome report for Major Gordon to decide upon the mission and sanction the necessary funds. Despite of all his misfortunes, Jeremy enjoyed an excellent rapport with the top rankers of INTERPOL and the Allied Forces. And the last few days had been excruciatingly hectic on him. He had to run around Europe and America gathering special sanctions from various authorities in connection to the mission at the behest of the orders issued by Commander Ruslan and Major Gordon from India. In a similar connection, he had been asked to collect some details of Major Igor Glosky, who had killed himself recently. He had successfully tracked the parents of Major Glosky and brought back with him the relevant information to be shared with his superiors. Barry had watched him compose evert report with utter dedication. His admiration for Jeremy had grown manifolds over his work methods.Outside, the sun was busy playing hide and seek with the freakish clouds. There had been intermittent rain since morning, like any other day at this time of the year. Barry had taken leave from his office at the Joyce Green Avenue where he worked as an account assistant for a cement making company to give company to the otherwise lonely Jeremy at his house at Dartford. Though Barry had his family at Sussex, he had an eternal weakness for Kent. That was one of the two reasons for which he had been declining job offers from London, Manchester and Leeds. The other reason was Jeremy. Barry simply adored him. Even though bruised by misfortune, Jeremy had never lost hope for a better tomorrow. “Things will turn around someday, Barry.” Had been his trademark statement countless times. The rain did not interest Barry. Neither did the lush green lawn outside, bordered by the English Elms lure him. There’s always a smell of purity about Kent. A sign of innocence. There was innocence in the silence; in the greenery; in the sloping roofs of the tall houses; in the desolate narrow streets; in the ornate marketplace. Barry basked in that innocence and took a deep breath of gratitude. …. for being able to inhale the chastity.“I am almost over, Barry.” Jeremy had looked up from his laptop for the first time. “Let’s grab some lunch and then you must go to your office. Please don’t miss the whole day for me. We may dine together in the evening.”They drove to the Berkley House for a quick munch. Jeremy ordered for sandwiches and green salad. “So what are your findings about the Russian?” Asked Barry as he munched into his sandwich.“Nothing much.” Replied Jeremy, without even looking up. “An introvert. Thoroughly devoted to communism. Had few friends and also had very little connection with his parents.” “Strange guy.” Mumbled Barry. “But what could have prompted him to commit suicide?”“Only if he had committed.” Replied Jeremy.“Means?” Barry looked up in amazement.“The cops feel he had been murdered.” Said Jeremy looking up from his plate for the first time.

Professor Parthasarathy paced around restlessly. He could not understand the reason behind his sudden rise in popularity. A week ago, he had been only a professor, a columnist, an inspirational speaker and a statesman but now all of a sudden, he was even being counted as the next prime minister. He ran his eyes once again over the headlines of the morning daily.“The nation needs Parthasarathy”“The most powerful voice of the nation is that of Parthasarathy”“Whatever Parthasarathy will say, the world will listen”His secretary had informed him that he had a packed schedule for the next two weeks. Apart from spokespersons from various political parties and the press, international leaders and journalists had also requested for his time. He was simply baffled by the recent turn of events. How did this happen or was it a surreal dream? “Good evening professor.” A booming voice broke through his contemplation. He looked up to find the tall dark appearance of the person who had introduced himself to be a BIDDER called NIGHT, standing in front of him. “Good Evening.” Replied the professor, instinctively, trying to hide his expression of surprise. “So, basking in glory, are you?” Said the tall guy as he slumped into a vacant chair.“What kind of glory?” Asked the professor. “Why don’t these papers scream out about it?” Said NIGHT as he picked up a paper from the table. “I don’t know why they say that.” Stated the professor.“But the fact is that they are true.” Replied NIGHT. “Look professor, I am your friend. I know that you had always aspired to be someone very famous. A step or a few steps ahead of your contemporaries. Now you are head, neck, shoulders above them. Rejoice.”“Look, I have not done anything extraordinary to hold such acclaim.”Said the professor. “Yes, I accept that I had always sought to be famous but this …. This is something out of the blue.”“Thank me professor.” Smiled NIGHT as he took off his bandana. “A BIDDER knows how to get things done.”“But I have never asked for such a favor from you.” Said the professor.“Yes you have, several times.” Smiled NIGHT. “ Sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously.”“But I have always prayed to God for such blessings. Not to anyone else.” Said the professor.“And when your God fails to deliver, it’s us, THE BIDDERS who go ahead and fulfill those wishes.“ Said NIGHT. “I don’t understand what you say. “ Said the professor. “ Why are you so benevolent towards people you do not know?”“I told you before, professor.” Smiled NIGHT. “I am your friend. I had been closely watching you for some time now and I have come to know that your ambition means everything to you. So here you are. And I am not benevolent to everybody. I am benevolent to people I need. Like you. But everything comes at a cost. We call it the cost of bid.”“And if I say that I will not relent to your demands?” Asked the professor. The smile vanished from the face of NIGHT. He stood up abruptly to face the professor. “Don’t even think of that my dear.” He uttered in a slow and threatening tone. “Like in one moment you have become a celebrity, in a moment you can be transformed into a traitor. Presumably, you wouldn’t like that to happen. Also, yours is not a life to be lost so unnecessarily.”“Then tell me what I have to do.” Said the professor in a low voice.

Jeremy noiselessly entered the house from the door at the rear. He didn’t want his wife to wake up and create another scene. He peeped in the bedroom. Yes, both were in deep slumber. His wife Ruth and his son Luke. He had been especially worried about Luke. Now he was twelve. But he was yet to speak out a whole word. Not that he was dumb, but because he was autistic his speech was yet to evolve. Jeremy and Ruth had tried every means for the development of Luke. Nothing worked. Luke remained speechless and uncontrollable. His behavioral patterns didn’t allow Jeremy or Ruth to take him to family gatherings and hence were branded as unsocial and selfish. The efforts that Ruth had been putting behind Luke had taken a toll of her moods and personality too. At times she had been exceedingly rude to Jeremy, knowing well enough that the poor fellow had limitations in health. Jeremy always despised his peers who were employed with big multinationals earning millions of dollars. What have they done on their own? He always asked himself. They have only worked in spreadsheets and demonstrated their sycophancy towards their masters. But money is something that covers up for everything, especially capability. And he believed that one day the have-nots of the world will definitely have a say and the nincompoops shall be relegated to the backyard.The financial front was another area of utmost concern for Jeremy. His salary barely supported the needs of the family. But what actually burdened him were his debts. Though he worked harder than any normal individual, problems always darkened his life. Though he remained forever loyal and devoted to his work, his subconscious mind always tormented him with the uncertainties of the future. There had been times when he had thought about putting an end to his misery by giving up on his life, but he had also been quick to realize that his life was no longer just about himself. It was also about the people who lived around him. So he lived on; battling each day as it happened; hoping against hope for some brighter sunlight. Drowned was he in his thoughts when he noticed the silhouette at the doorway.“Who is it?” He called out instantaneously.“I’m your friend, Mr. Ervine.” Replied the figure at the doorway. Ervine quickly reached out to the switch to put on the main light of the room. Against the door stood a tall person draped in a dark robe like attire. On his head he had a black cap and his forehead was covered with a black bandana. “Who are you?” Jeremy exclaimed.”I don’t know you.”“Yes you don’t.’ Replied the stranger. “But I know you too well Jeremy.”“I don’t understand, what are you doing so late in the night at my house.” Said Jeremy getting little excited.The stranger advanced and took off his cap, revealing his bald head. He proceeded to take off the bandana, exposing his forehead. Jeremy noticed to his utter amazement that the stranger had no eyebrows.“I am here Jeremy, to rid you of your troubles.” Smiled the stranger.“Look, you wouldn’t have said this had you known my troubles.“ Sneered Jeremy.“Your troubles are the failure of the Gods, Mr. Ervine.” Said the stranger, still smiling. “When the Gods fail, we come in. Before you will realize it, your troubles will be gone.”“I can give anything to get my problems solved.” Exclaimed Jeremy.“Remember your words, my dear.” Said the stranger softly, this time. “People often forget what they promise.”“If you know me, you should also know that I am a man of words.” Said Jeremy.“That’s why my dear, I have come to help you.” Replied the stranger in the same low voice.Jeremy stood up to have a close look at the stranger, but behold, he was gone. Almost as if he had vanished into thin air. Jeremy pinched himself. Was he in a dream? The pinch hurt him. He was wide awake. He thought of the ridicule he would be subjected to by his wife if he would be foolish enough to confess to her his interview with the brow less man. Just then he saw Luke come out of the bedroom.“Papa come to sleep.” He waved.Jeremy pinched himself again. 

CHAPTER 32MUBARAK AL AMIN He crossed the LuLu Hypermarket in Darsait, anticipating the dreaded call which can arrive any minute. He wiped his forehead and pressed on the accelerator. He should reach the airport faster than the authorities. Though he knew that he was under suspicion, he had expected to get away. However, the foolishness of his business partner, Mohammed Qaudri, had ruined everything. He cursed him under his breath. The phone rang.It was Rashid. His other partner. The loyal one.“Where are you?” Rashid seemed anxious.“On my way to the airport.” Replied Mubarak. “Don’t go to the airport.” Warned Rashid. “Don’t even think about it. The forces are already there, waiting for you.”Mubarak’s heart sank. Was this the end of it all? Mubarak Al Amin had met Rashid Khan and Mohammad Qaudri during one of his music shows in Dubai, seven years ago. They kept in touch with each other through mails and other means, until one day they decided to meet again and form a business association. Rashid and Qaudri had managed to convince Mubarak that fortune waited for him in Muscat and that his musical pursuits could never get him the fame and wealth that they had planned for him. Mubarak had a pleasing personality. His handsome features and charming nature were the assets that the Omani duo had been counting upon. Mubarak was also a master of languages. Apart from Arabi, Hindi and English, he was also proficient in French, Italian, Spanish and German. On a little forceful persuasion, Mubarak could not resist his urge to dig the mine of gold that seemed to be waiting for him. He had soon landed in Muscat and had been shifted to an expansive villa at the heart of the city. Qaudri and Rashid sold castings to local crusher manufacturers and earned handsome profits. They inducted Mubarak as their third partner and made him develop their business among the expatriates who spoke different languages. From Muscat to Salalah to Sohar to Dhofar, Mubarak brought them business aplenty. Mubarak’s charm and charisma brought him instantaneous fame. Soon he started being counted amongst the most popular faces in the Omani soil. But his partners had other desires. Soon Mubarak got introduced to the Ajeerah Marine Company who were one of the chief suppliers of weapons to Al Queda, Taliban and some other terror outfits. Mubarak’s task was to facilitate the sale of the weapons through his company’s consignments. Their income grew exponentially and soon they had become one of the wealthiest business groups in the Middle East. Mubarak’s influence had reached far and wide and millions of his followers wished to see him as a political leader of their nation.
However, some of their doubting competitors soon planned a heist. Dressed as policemen they managed to raid the villa of Qaudri to unearth a large cache of weapons. The message reached the police and soon Qaudri was arrested and interrogated. Unable to resist, Qaudri soon revealed everything about their association with the arms trade, giving away the names of his other two partners. “Then where should I go?” Mubarak’s voice was laced with despair.Rashid disconnected the call without a reply. “SalaamWalekum Mubarak mian.” A voice rang out from the backseat.Mubarak instantaneously turned around to discover a stranger seated in the rear seat. Mubarak froze. How could the cop get into his moving car?“I am not a policeman my friend.” Smiled the stranger.“Then who are you and what are you doing in my car?” Asked Mubarak, almost breathlessly. “I am your friend, Mubarak. I have come to save you.” Said the stranger.“Save me?” Asked Mubarak, surprised.

“Don’t you think, we are mostly working on assumptions?” Asked Inspector Ghoshal.“These are not just assumptions sir.” Replied Kumar. “These are beliefs.” “But you need to prove those beliefs to the judiciary, aren’t you aware?”Asked Inspector Ghoshal.“Yes sir and that is where our task begins.” Said Kumar. “But Mr. Kumar Sinha, be informed that our department will not want me to waste time on a wild goose chase until you can provide us with a clue that can convince the department to think otherwise.” Explained Ghoshal.“The clue that you are looking for is clearly in the post mortem report sir.” Said Kumar nonchalantly. “If you read it thoroughly, you will find it rather baffling. Evidently, Glosky shot himself on the chest. There is a question here on how he could have held the gun while doing so. And had he prepared his mind to commit suicide, why couldn’t he have used the loaded pistol he had in his holster? Secondly, he had fallen face down, whereas, he should have ideally fallen on his back. Here it can be assumed, as I said previously, that he could have died before the gun shot hit him. The dead weight of his body was already inclined towards the ground when the shot hit him, which might have delayed his fall but couldn’t overturn his posture. Thirdly, and most importantly, the most mortem report says that he suffered brain seizure and part of his brain had been found to be burnt.”“But how does that establish that he was murdered?” Asked Ghoshal. “Brain seizure, like a cardiac arrest is counted as a case of natural death, not murder.”“You are right sir.” Nodded Kumar. “ But one of his eyes was also plucked out of the socket and we are yet to find out where it is. Is that also natural, sir?”Ghoshal fell silent. He quietly finished the tea that had been served quite some time ago. He closed his diary and abruptly got up.“Come lets have a smoke at the staircase.” He offered Kumar.Kumar followed him to the landing of the staircase. Ghoshal lit his cigarette and offered one to Kumar, who by then had already lit one of his own. “So how do you suggest we go about it?” He asked releasing a smoke ring in Kumar’s direction.“First, we have to establish a connection.” Said Kumar.“Of what?” Asked Ghoshal, wide eyed.“The murder and the mission.” Said Kumar, releasing a smoke ring in the direction of inspector Ghoshal.

“Yes my dear.” Smiled the stranger. “As I told you I am your friend.”Mubarak suspected conspiracy in his words. But he could not fathom how this member of the cops could get into his moving car. Had he entered into it when he had briefly stopped near Mutra Souq. But he had his car locked at the parking slot. Could he have got into it by some duplicate key. Then why didn’t the burglar alarm go off? He was lost in his thoughts when suddenly the car came to an abrupt halt. The engine became silent and he was left stranded in the middle of nowhere.“A perfect place to talk, Mubarak mian.” Smiled the stranger at the back seat as he took off his cap and bandana. Mubarak noticed a rather stiff face, bluish eyes, a bald head and no eyebrows. This fellow certainly was not Omani. Then had the authorities hired a sleuth from elsewhere?“I am not from the police.” Smiled the stranger, as if having read his thoughts.“Then who are you?” Asked Mubarak almost spontaneously. “As I told you before I am your friend, Mubarak.” He said. “ I know that how popular you are in this part of the world and if you get convicted, you will be finished for life. You have too much at stake. But if someone can take you out of this morass it’s me. Night, the bidder.”“But why do you want to save me? And how will you save me in the first place?” Asked Mubarak unblinkingly.“Leave that to me.” Smiled the stranger. “ But in exchange you have to promise me something.“Yes yes.” Replied Mubarak in a hurry. “ You can ask any amount you desire.”“I don’t want money, my dear.” Replied the stranger.“Then what do you want?” Asked Mubarak, curiously.“I want you to work for me.” Replied the stranger. “And if you deny or don’t follow my instructions, will get into much bigger trouble than you presently are into.”“But what is the guarantee that you will save me?” Asked Mubarak.“First, I need to have your word on your allegiance.” Said the stranger.“I promise on Allah to do as you say provided you take me out of this mess.” He cried.All of a sudden the car engine started on its own. Mubarak instantly looked back to find the rear seat empty. Was he dreaming? He pressed on to the accelerator. As he navigated through the first bend, his phone rang. It was Rashid.“Where are you?” He Asked instantaneously.“In the middle of nowhere, brother.” Said Mubarak despairingly. “Don’t know where to go.”“Go home and sleep.” Rashid’s voice seemed surprisingly calm.“Are you out of your wits?” Cried Mubarak. “They will pick me up even if they see me in the vicinity of my villa.”“Don’t worry.” Replied Rashid in the same composure. “Qaudri killed himself in custody but before that he had written a note that he had lied to the authorities. You are me were never part of the arms business that he used to run by himself. The note was found in the pocket of his dead body.““What?” Mubarak was unable to believe what he had just heard. “How did he die?”“He strangulated himself with a piece of cloth.” Replied Rashid. “ He was found hanging in the room where he had been detained by the authorities. ““When did it happen?” Asked Mubarak, still unable to digest the news.“Half an hour ago.” Replied Rashid. “My brother Hanif was present at the spot when they found him. But there is something that I cannot figure out, Mubarak bhai.”“What’s that?” Asked Mubarak.“Qaudri was always fond of white clothes, then why did he carry a black Bandana? And before killing himself why did he chop off the little finger in his right hand?” Stated Rashid.“Did they find his finger?” Asked Mubarak, out of curiosity.“Hanif did not say anything about it.” Replied Rashid. As soon as the phone got disconnected, Mubarak turned his car to the direction of his villa, still unable to believe what had happened.

“Can I make a suggestion?” Asked Dr. Raghavan.“Of course sir.” Said Inspector Boult spontaneously. “ It will be a privilege for us to receive your guidance.”“Look inspector.” Dr. Raghavan lowered his tone. ‘This is a critical case and I suggest that we should seek some kind of guidance from someone who can think out of the box. No, I do not imply that you cannot handle it yourself, inspector Boult. I know very well that you are one of the brightest in the business. However, I know of someone who can provide you with the kind of help you need for this investigation and trust me, you will thank me for this.”“Are you talking about someone from FBI?” Asked Boult.“No. Not from this country.” Replied Dr. Raghavan. “He is from India.”“From India?” Said Boult, frowningly. “What can someone from India contribute in a case totally out of his domain?”“You would stand to gain from his assistance, inspector.” Assured Dr. Raghavan. “But how can I induce someone from India into a provincial case?” Asked Boult. “The department will never give permission and in fact, they will laugh at me if I propose this to them.”“The department needn’t summon him, inspector.” Said Simmer this time. “If Dr. Raghavan is suggesting someone, he is ought to be extraordinary. I will employ him as a private sleuth to investigate my friend’s murder. What is his name, Dr. Raghavan?”“Kumar Sinha.” Replied Dr. Raghavan. “ Maurice will share all his details with you, Mr. Simmer.”“So nice of you, Dr. Raghavan.” Smiled Simmer, probably the first time in the day.”I think I have met him before.”“Thank you Mr. Simmer for accepting my suggestion.” Said Dr. Raghavan.“In fact, I should thank you sir, for your thoughtfulness.” Said Cameron Simmer shaking hands with the eminent scientist.

CHAPTER 33URGE TO RETALIATE “So what is your opinion Adam?” Asked Major Malcolm, sipping his coffee. “You were quite adamant about abandoning the mission last evening.”“You know Leo, when I was a child, I often used to make stories about fairies and phantoms and talking animals and all sorts of things. In fact, I believed that there were some high profile super beings in the world who can do all kinds of strange things which we people cannot . You know why I used to make those stories?” Major Gordon paused and looked at both of us for a reply.Both of us shrugged our shoulders and looked back blankly for him to reply to his own question.“Security.” Replied Major Gordon. “A belief in something superior gives us a sense of security. Majority of the population of the world, be of whatever religion, believe in the Almighty. Do you know why? Because they find a security of sorts in that belief. That even if everything around is falling apart, they know that there is an ultimate power on whom they can rely upon. The last hope for everything to happen for the better. Similarly, I was also in search of such a security. That’s why I had been so desperate to meet THE BIDDER. And tell you what? I had been a little skeptic about him. I was not getting myself convinced that we had come all the way to hear some bullshit from some ascetic. But, after meeting THE BIDDER, the sense of security has come back heavily upon me. Leo, Ruslan, trust me, we are in safe hands.” “That’s true Major.” I said after a moment of silence. “The presence of THE BIDDER itself was so assuring. However, there are so many questions that have yet remained unanswered. The deaths of scientist Richard Redknapp and Glosky. The deaths of the people they call the embodiments. The possibility of the presence of negative energy in the form of a negative bidder. The reasons for the explosions, disappearance and re- emergence of the cities. There are still so many things yet to be known.”“Yeah.” Nodded Major Gordon. “Let this be the goal of the mission, to unravel all the mysteries and take the answers back home.”

Colonel Kevin Roy sprinted past the other joggers on the field and made a mad dash towards the police jeep, that had just emerged from the gates of Fort William camp, waving wildly at the driver to stop. The driver relented by bringing the vehicle to a halt at the side of the road. The occupants, two police constables gingerly climbed down from it and waited for the Colonel to arrive. After the colonel had regained his breath he summoned the constables aside and asked them the reason for their presence. “A routine visit Sir.” Replied the senior of the two constables.“Thank God. Nowadays any passing police jeep or an ambulance scares me.” Sighed the Colonel, managing a wry smile. BMK joined him shortly along with Alam and a few cadets. “What made you race like crazy, colonel?” Asked BMK.“Thought that jeep carried some miserable news as they usually do. These jeeps and ambulances are creating panic in me.” Replied Kevin Roy. The joggers smiled at each other. Indeed, the incidents over the past few days were enough to turn people paranoid. “Anyway, I wanted to meet that guy. Kumar Sinha. Where is he?” Asked the Colonel.“He has been waiting for you near your quarter for the last half an hour, sir.” Replied one of the cadets.“Then I must rush.” Said the Colonel. “This discussion is damn important.” The Colonel ushered his visitor to the designated quarter after reaching his unit in a hurry. Kumar took the chair that was nearest and waited for the Colonel to begin.“Kumar, thanks for coming. There are certain questions always playing in my mind which I feel only you can address. “ Said the Colonel. “ And that’s why I wanted a one to one discussion with you.”“It’s always an honor, Colonel, to be sought by such an eminent army man.” Replied Kumar. “You may ask me whatever you like to have an answer for. I will try to give you the most honest answers to the questions within my reach.”“All questions pertain to this mission only.” Assured the Colonel. “I understand.” Replied Kumar.“I am a bit confused with the turn of events. “ Said the Colonel. “ First, there were those explosions with towns and cities vanishing out of existence. All the scientists and thinkers could not figure out what was going on. Then, Major Gordon and a few others insisted on setting up a Special Task Force for investigation of these weirdoes and INTERPOL readily accepted the proposal. Select members from around the world were inducted with commander Dragomir in charge. We all started investigating and bumped against nothingness, over and over again. Then, it was suggested to take another route. The more spiritual one. And this idea of THE BIDDER was hatched. Capture of EARTH the bidder further strengthened the notion and we embarked upon this mission of finding THE BIDDER. After being discovered by the super senses of the people who were branded to be the elemental embodiments, THE BIDDER decided to choose London to be the place from where he would start his activity. But soon he changed the city from London to Calcutta. While coming out of the town of Khonoma, where THE BIDDER was based, we faced a lot of resistance from strange creatures, which killed a few of our soldiers as well. Then, all of a sudden, THE BIDDER goes absconding. Then, a few towns that had disappeared, re-emerges, surprisingly intact. Few of our team members, whom we designated as the elemental embodiments, lose their lives in mysterious fashion. Major Glosky dies under similar mysterious circumstances. EARTH tells us about this negative bidder lurking around. Then the re-emergence of THE BIDDER happens to calm our nerves. Too many things happening Kumar. I am keen to know, what are these events getting us into.”“There is something you missed in the summary of events, Colonel.” Replied Kumar in a low voice. “What’s that?” Asked the Colonel, almost instinctively.“The death of eminent scientist Richard Redknapp.” Said Kumar, looking at Kevin Roy sharply.The Colonel had to look away. Those sharp eyes stung him. He had always felt that those eyes were the main ingredients that made Kumar Sinha so different. He had often discussed this with his other team members and also with the commander that Kumar did not appear to be a normal human being. He appeared to have at his disposition some special power of spirituality. Today, sitting in front of him, he felt the same …. only much more strongly. “But it was only a suicide.” He could only mumble out. “That is under investigation Colonel.” Replied Kumar, with his striking gaze fixed at Kevin Roy.” There appears to be a kind of similarity between the deaths of Redknapp and Glosky.”“But what does that imply?” Asked the Colonel almost innocently.“It implies, Colonel, that there is worse to come. “ Replied Kumar. “ We are being stalked by someone who fears the success of our mission.”“The negative bidder?” Asked the Colonel.“Probably.” Replied Kumar.”See, the events that have occurred seem to be the outcome of the combat between the positive and negative energy forces. The negative energy began their campaign by absorbing energy in forms of matter, in this case cities, to build up its strength. The positive energy sources squared it up by neutralizing the energy imbalance by reinstating those vanquished matter. The positive energy had to shed some of its weight to do that, so it needed some more positive souls to build it up and so the embodiments were capitalized. Now, the negative source, or the negative bidder is on the lookout to build on its strength. Only mere killing people will not do, it needs to convince them to join its side. It is thus on the lookout for people who are vulnerable. The negative bidder targets people who are gripped by fear, greed, ambition, pride, deprivation, sorrow, despair and through his own way persuades people to join him. Listen to him and do as he instructs.”“Supposedly, the negative bidder killed Redknapp and Glosky.” Said the Colonel. “ What may have been his purpose?”“Resistance.” Replied Kumar. “ Both had refused to be persuaded by the negative bidder.”“But what made the negative bidder target these people?” Asked the Colonel.“Redknapp was an eminent scientist.” Said Kumar.”People used to believe in him. With him by his side, the negative bidder might have targeted a huge population. But Redknapp refused and so was killed.”“But you said, all its targets have some weakness. What was Redknapp’s weakness?” Asked the Colonel.“A feeling of guilt that had almost gutted him.” Said Kumar.“Why so?” Asked the Colonel.“Because, though being the most celebrated cosmologist, he remained clueless about the explosions resulting in the death of millions. He was being looked at for a possible explanation which he could not deliver. This had caused a sense of despair in him.” Replied Kumar.“But what about Glosky?” Asked Kevin Roy.“Glosky was a resolute soldier. “ Said Kumar. “He was a person of less words and lesser beliefs. Had he spoken in support of the negative bidder, people would have definitely taken note.”“And his weakness?” Asked Colonel Roy.“Hatred.” Replied Kumar. “He hated the systems of the world. The modernity, the fakeness, the inequality. He hated successful millionaires and high profile politicians. In short, he hated the ways of the world. That’s why he had been such a staunch follower of communism. like his grandfather, and despised the way his parents live their lives.”“But Kumar, aren’t there so many people in the world harboring some weakness or the other whom the negative bidder can target so easily?” Asked the Colonel.“There is.” Said Kumar calmly. “That’s why it is time that we should plan for some action against this chap. We have to lay a trap for him. We have to retaliate.”“But how can you prove to the world that Redknapp and Glosky had been killed?” Asked the Colonel.“There is a process to it.” Replied Kumar. “And we can get it done.”“Tell me another thing Kumar.” Said the Colonel drawing closer. “Is THE BIDDER God or an incarnation?”“Neither.” Replied Kumar almost immediately.“Why?” Asked the bemused Colonel.“Because God is unfair and THE BIDDER is not.” Replied Kumar.

It was a murky afternoon. Vagabond clouds had got together from nowhere to crowd the sky in their darkened attire. The city below wore a somber look perhaps in anticipation of something more sinister. The pariah kites that circled above the majestic Victoria Memorial had scattered to other destinations. Miniscule traffic in the form of busses and taxis hurried across the city in diminishing numbers. Soon the rain would drench the buildings, the fields, the roads and reduce the appeal of the city by quite some notches. Walkers hurried to sheltered destinations while the street hawkers fidgeted with polythene covers to provide protection to their livelihood.“Ruslan, we need to talk.” I turned around to find Major Gordon standing behind me.“Yes Major, I am all ears.” I replied.“Ruslan, we need to plan our next set of activity.” Said the Major. “If we cannot discuss the same with THE BIDDER, let us talk to EARTH and plan out our next course of action.”“Sure, Major.” I nodded in agreement. “But do you have anything specific in your mind?”“Yes. I was thinking why not plan out some sort of counter attack against this negative bidder.” Said the Major. “Look Ruslan, we are soldiers and are never afraid of confrontation. Why not plan out a method to get into the skin of that scoundrel. If he has hurt our team member, he ought to be punished. And I also know who will be the perfect guy to lead such an assault.”“Who?” I asked instinctively.“Colonel Kevin Roy.” Replied the Major authoritatively.  

CHAPTER 34FAILURE OF THE GODS The Kiwifruit industry in Tauranga was hit by a mini crisis a couple of years ago. There just weren't enough people around to "pick" the fruit. In fact, the growers in the Bay of Plenty region had officially declared a "labour shortage" around mid-2018, citing the sudden fall in number of immigrant students as a major reason for it. There has of course been a significant spike in the number of admissions and arrivals from elsewhere since and most strikingly from neighbouring Australia too. But more so, the gap left by them in that period of strife has been filled up by a number of immigrants from the labour industry who have moved base not only from centres like Auckland and Hamilton but also from the rural hinterland of India.To the extent that the Indian population in these parts, which had tripled during the decade leading up to the lull, has now once again experienced an upward curve. While Indians are clearly a majority amongst the foreign settlers, nearly three quarters of them in Tauranga happen to be in the labour force, mostly in the kiwifruit industry. This was one of the reasons for Sandy to have developed a strong affinity to Indians. Probably that was one of the main reasons for him to become popular with the Indian cadets. He had also been very close to Kumar and also BMK. He always discussed matters close to his heart with Kumar and sometimes with BMK too. Today, in the absence of either of his counselors, he sat gloomily at one corner, watching Alam perform his evening prayers. Alam was a devout Muslim. He never compromised with his daily prayer timings, especially on Fridays. Boom followed minutely every movement of Alam as he performed the elaborate ritual in front of him. “Isnt this more of a physical exercise, rather than a prayer ritual, general?” He asked once Alam had finished.
“Indeed.” Replied Alam with a smile. “The whole thing is a process of belief. Some people do it simply as a ritual not understanding the reason behind the process. But if you see, the process is a rather scientific one. It involves various postures to activate different parts of your nervous system to focus on the process of praying. In fact, it is a method to involve your whole self to be part of the process. It is a joy to be in the association of Allah. No pain, no remorse, no stress, no guilt, no expectation. Just you and Allah.”“I can see the peace of worship on your face, general.” Said Bloom. “You indeed are a great believer.”“Aren’t you?” Asked Alam while folding his skull cap and keeping it aside.“I am “ Replied Bloom. “ But a disappointed believer.”“What’s that?” Asked Alam quickly turning around.“Look at the imbalances all around. “ Explained Bloom. “The children bickering in the streets, shivering in the cold, born of poor parents. What is their mistake? The rich children they will never know what suffering is. They say that nothing remains forever, good days or bad days. But I have seen people, whose good days never return. I am a believer because, I believe, as the children in the streets that God will definitely turn things around. I remain disappointed because God does not seem to be interested in their beliefs.”The sound of footsteps startled them both. By the time they could acknowledge, Kumar Sinha had already taken a seat beside Sandy,“Interesting topic.” He nodded at Sandy. “Sandy.” Said Alam. “ Belief means patience, faith, perseverance. Things do not happen overnight. The Almighty has his own way of putting things right.He sees everything, he balances everything. He tests people with tough times. He rewards them too.”“I like your devotion, General Alam.” This time it was Kumar to speak out. “But this statement of yours is an extremely general observation. Yes, people do get rewarded. But their numbers are very few. However, there are too many people in this world, who go unpunished. There are too many wrongs that keep happening everyday under the very nose of this Almighty. Sorry to say, the administration of this Almighty needs a huge deal of improvement. The wrongs that happen around is nothing but the failure of the Gods. Let’s be matured enough to accept it. Yes, even Gods can fail. Accept it and you’ll be happy Sandy. It is good to have faith. But it is equally bad to have blind faith. In our Hindu culture it is often said that one’s parents are always right. Everyone have parents and most of the people get married and become parents. I am not talking about me or the Australians, by the way. So, are all the Hindus right? Of course not. We should accept it. Whoever is wrong, is wrong. Even if your parents or grandparents or your loved ones are wrong, one should say so. That is education. And that’s what is desired of an educated human race. Even when God is wrong, one should not hesitate to accept it. Tell you what? Most people pray to God out of fear. They are afraid that God will do some wrong to them. Tell me, if the general belief of people is that God can do harm if not appeased, then isn’t it something we should be really concerned about? Either there is a vast error in our portrayal of God in our scriptures and Holy books or our propaganda of the Almighty requires a serious correction. Just by sending whatsapp messages about the greatness of God will not serve the cause. I believe that God requires humans to question him and not simply bow their heads in mute servility. And yes General Alam, Mr. Sandy Bloom, I am also a believer. A little unorthodox one.”

The scene was heating up for the by elections in Delhi. All the national political parties had tried to put their best candidate for this important seat in Rohini, North –West Delhi, which had been left vacant after the sudden demise of the sitting Member of the Parliament. Though, the deceased belonged to the ruling party, it wasn’t guaranteed that they would win again in the by elections. The opposition was however aware and even wary of the fact that a huge wave of sympathy was doing rounds in the capital which clearly had been working in favour of the ruling party. The competition was neck and neck and no clear opinion poll had emerged even on the eve of the polling date. This election was being termed weird in many ways. The ruling party had put up a local seasoned politician for the seat. Srikant Bhasin was hugely popular in this part of Delhi and had a strong following. The opposition, however, had put a new comer in the political arena as their contestant. Professor Swaminathan Parthasarathy.. Till a fortnight ago, he had been a nobody. Had this election been even ten days ago, the leading party candidate would have won by a landslide margin. There were many factors that were against the professor. Firstly, he had never stayed in Delhi. He was born in Chennai and had worked and stayed in all parts of India, mostly Mumbai but never in Delhi. His Hindi was also draped with his South Indian accent. His following had also been limited till a few days ago. It was as if a home grown town boy was pitted against a gross outsider. A David against a Goliath. But the scene had seen a paradigm shift in the past couple of days. All of a sudden, the professor’s popularity had been showing an exponential growth. He no longer appeared to be an outsider, rather he seemed to be the home favourite.Today, the residents of Rohini had turned up in large numbers since morning to give spice to the ultimate verdict. The constituency had never witnessed such a high percentage turnout and it was evident that Delhi had taken keen interest on the outcome of a see –saw contest. Professor Parthasarathy sat silently, listening to the opinions of his party members. He knew that by evening he would be able to gauge the mood of the electorate through the exit polls. The result meant a lot to him. Lately, he had become a highly sought after candidate for most of the political parties. However, he had chosen the People’s Republic Party since they had been most serious in their approach. He knew that if he won, he would become a strong candidate for the post for Prime Ministership in the next general elections. But if he lost, he would have to opt for a different party and a different constituency. One by one, the party officials started leaving. They all knew that their presence was needed more at the constituency rather than at the party headquarters. Soon, the last of the members walked out of the room, leaving the professor alone with his thoughts and anxieties.“Good morning professor.” The voice startled the professor, Night the bidder had already taken his seat in front of him.“Don’t worry professor.” He smiled, as he took off his cap and bandana. “ You are the clear winner. Come on professor, smile for a change. Aren’t you enjoying the sudden meteoric rise to your popularity? And this, professor, is just the tip of the iceberg.”“I hope that you do not imply that this recognition that I am getting is due to your help and not my capabilities.” Said the professor looking at the visitor blankly.“Capability you always had professor.” Said the visitor.”But that was not enough. It is through me that you are witnessing this glitter. Make no mistake, professor, all this is borrowed happiness and without the returns that I expect from you, all this can very quickly change into gloom.”“Are you here to threaten me?” Snapped the professor.“No my friend.” Smiled the visitor. “I do not threaten.I just do.”

Inspector Ghoshal once again ran through the medical reports. The reports were baffling. He was unable to draw up any conclusion from the contrasting testimonials. Till a few days ago, he had been convinced that the case was that of suicide. However, the recent arguments from Kumar Sinha and the contrasting medical reports had made him to think otherwise. But his department needed proof for all the reasoning. But garnering proof had been an extremely difficult endeavor. Never in his life had he been confronted with such an intricate case and never in his life had he been so dependent on somebody outside his department for the progress of his case. He admired this guy, Kumar Sinha. His knowledge of law and so many other subjects was too formidable to ignore. Every time he had met Kumar, he couldn’t help admire his depth of thought and strength of character. And what fascinated him most about Kumar were his piercing eyes. Those eyes, thought Ghoshal, had the virtue of convincing even the most hardened professional. Will Kumar be able to help him to solve this rarest of rare case that can be termed nothing less than being historical?Ghoshal did not yearn for reputation or reward. The unraveling of the mystery would itself be rewarding, he knew. 

CHAPTER 35BID TO BE Cameron Simmer looked closely at the number flashing on his mobile screen. It was that of Dr. Raghavan. What could have been the urgency that the eminent scientist had to call him so early on a Sunday? Did he come across some more information regarding Richard?“Hello Mr. Simmer.” The voice seemed unusually upbeat. “Sorry to disturb you so early. I just wanted to inform you that my contact from India has consented to assist us on the case of Richard. I have sent you his number. You may kindly talk to him since you wanted to engage him in the case.”“That’s good news Sir.” Beamed Simmer.”I will definitely have a word with him at the earliest. And another thing sir, I never get disturbed when someone like you calls, at any time of the day or night. It’s an honor. By the way, can you kindly remind me the name of the person whom I intend to talk to?”“It’s Kumar Sinha.” Said the scientist.“Thank you Sir.” Replied Simmer before hanging up.Simmer wondered what Dr. Raghavan might have briefed this Indian sleuth about the case. He tried to organize his thoughts before putting forward his case in the simplest manner possible.If Dr. Raghavan had spoken so highly about him, there must be something special about this person. And definitely this case required the intervention of someone with extraordinary ability.“Hello.” He called.”Am I talking to Mr. Kumar Sinha?”

“So what should be our next steps of action, commander?” Major Leopold Malcolm looked at me suggestively.I hesitated, stumbling for words, since I did not have any clear answer. I looked back at the others blankly.Major Gordon was the first to speak.“My dear Ruslan.” He said rather pleasantly. “I know that we are all looking towards THE BIDDER for the way forward. I too have seen THE BIDDER. I too have heard him speak. I too have developed huge belief in him. But remember, we are soldiers. We cannot just wait for someone else to fight our own war. We need to contribute. We need to be part of the action.”“I appreciate your views, Major.” I said submissively. “But this is an alien situation for me. I don’t know how and where to begin from.”“Do you feel that some guidance will help?” Asked Major Gordon. “Some kind of expert opinion.”“Expert opinion?” Repeated the others in the room.“As far as I know Major, no one in this world has experience to handle the kind of situation we are in, let alone providing expert opinion.” I replied.“Probably not.” Agreed Major Gordon. “But there is someone who has the mental mettle to overcome challenging situations.”“Are you talking about Lucasz, Adam?” Asked Major Malcolm looking squarely at Major Gordon.“Absolutely Leo.” Replied Major Gordon. “He can be of great help.”“Major, we have far too many advisors and experts on board already.” Said Colonel Roy. “What much difference will this newcomer make?”“This guy is a ninety year old veteran, Kevin.” Said Major Gordon. “ A survivor from Auschwitz. I am certain that his instincts will help.”

EARTH took a deep breath while taking his seat opposite Sandy. “So, is the chapter of discussion on The Almighty over?” He smiled.“Not yet.” Said Kumar. “It is a long chapter. We are not only talking about The Almighty, EARTH, we are also discussing about the belief and trust that we associate with him.” “Those who believe in him, definitely trust him too.” Said Alam.“Not necessarily, General.” Said Kumar. “I would love to put forward an example to you.”“ A person was once walking on a rope tied between two tall towers. He was walking slowly, balancing a long stick in his hands. He had his son sitting on his shoulders. Everyone on the ground were watching him in bated breath and were very tense. When he slowly reached the second tower, every one clapped, whistled and welcomed him. They shook hands and took pictures.”“He asked the crowd “do you all think I can walk back on the same rope now from this side to that side?”“The crowd shouted in one voice “Yes, Yes, you can.."“Do you trust me, he asked? They said yes, yes, we are ready to bet on you.”“He said okay, can any one of you give your child to sit on my shoulder; I will take the child to the other side safely..”“There was stunned silence. Every one became quiet.”“Belief is different. Trust is different. For Trust you need to surrender totally”. “This is what we lack towards God in today’s world. We believe in The Almighty. But do we trust Him?”

The evening smear of golden aura had steadily receded to the horizon, allowing a murky darkness to descend on the city of joy. The street lights were alight on full scream trying to emulate the luminosity that existed a couple of hours ago. But darkness has its own might. It slowly and steadily and sometimes stealthily devours the optimism of luminescence. Darkness brings about anxiety, doubt, fear. Joshua Ziplin was sure that he had seen somebody. It appeared as if a shadow had just flashed past the pillars of the verandah. He leapt out of his room in pursuit. The night guards had not returned from dinner break, so the semi-lit quadrangle appeared deserted. Ziplin tiptoed from one pillar to the other, looking around in utmost alertness. Nothing moved, neither did any sound come from any direction. Still Ziplin did not abort his search. He slowly moved around the quadrangle trying to locate the owner of the shadow he had seen minutes ago. But despite his close scrutiny of the surroundings, he couldn’t discover anything unusual. Reluctantly, he returned to his quarter. His quarter was at the farthest corner. A little away from the residence of the other members of the Special Task Force. Ziplin did not mind being secluded since he was hardly friendly with anyone in the team. Anyone apart from Wright Rudolph Farin, whom he liked for his simplicity. Wright also had been fond of Ziplin and often would spend his time with him learning new skills of warfare. Farin had always volunteered to help Ziplin in whatever he chose to do. And Ziplin too cared about Rudolph as his younger brother. The bonding between the two had been exemplary and they always shared between them even the most intricate of secrets, even from the alcoves of the deepest recesses of the heart. Farin’s father had migrated to Zimbabwe from France at an early age. He was a gifted sculptor and on the insistence of his cousin, he had set up shop at the up markets of Harare. Soon, the excellence of his work began spreading far and wide and his small shop got steadfastly transformed into a mini museum. Farin Art had become a major addition to the tourist attraction of Harare and also a major business pocket. Rudolph Antoine Farin had become a household name within a couple of years of his migration. Soon after, he married an English girl who had also migrated with her business class family a couple of years ago. Soon, they were blessed with a male child, Wright. From early childhood Wright took deep interest in toy guns and cars. As he grew up, his robustness and vigor grew with him. He excelled in all kinds of physical activities and won all kinds of accolades with the School Scout Troop. After becoming the best Scout cadet in the inter school competition, he deepened his focus on joining the armed forces. Military movies, comics, novels had all ingrained within him an indefatigable wish to be an army man. His ambition got further fuelled when he accompanied his father on a business trip to Israel. A chance meeting with General Herzog of the MOSSAD was enough to motivate him for the choice of his ultimate goal. Through dedicated efforts and his father’s influence he was soon able to enroll himself with the CIO (Central Intelligence Organization). Wright was a quick learner and soon earned a good name for his dedication and hard work. When news of the formation of The Special Task Force reached Harare, he was unhesitatingly nominated to be a part of it. Commander Dragomir was indeed enchanted with his enviable records and Wright Rudolph Farin became an automatic and unanimous choice. Wright was amongst the few who reported to Joshua Ziplin. Though Ziplin’s typically MOSSAD characteristics did not go too well with the other subordinates, Wright had no limits to his admiration for his team leader. The bonding between the two had developed into phenomenal levels by the time they had landed in India. Ziplin took special care of his junior and Farin felt honored to render his services to his team leader. Even when they were allotted quarters within the barracks of Fort William in Kolkata, Farin chose a quarter close to that of Ziplin, though it was far removed from those of the other team members. Every evening Farin spent considerable amount of time with Ziplin in his quarters. Today was no exception as Ziplin found Farin seated at his customary position in the room.“Hi Wright.” Ziplin exclaimed.”When did you come?”“A few moments ago, sir.“ He replied in a rather hoarse voice. “You were busy searching for something outside.”“Yeah. I thought that I had seen someone amidst the pillars.“ Said Ziplin.“Maybe, you had seen me.” Said Farin.“No Wright, the shadow was much taller than you. Besides, I can never make a mistake with your appearance.” Said Ziplin.“Then do you suspect some intruder?” Asked Farin.“I don’t know. But people know that I am someone who cannot be budged from my task. People know that I cannot be shaken from my bid to be. So, to derail our mission, one needs to first get rid of me.” Said Ziplin.“Do you feel that someone is stalking you?” Asked Farin.“Possibly. This is not the first time I’ve felt being watched and followed. Definitely, there is someone after me and today he is somewhere around here.“ Replied Ziplin.“Then Sir. We must find him and take him to task.” Said Farin, leaping out of his seat.“Come then. Let us once again search the quadrangle.” Relented Ziplin.They sneaked out of the quarter and tiptoed against the shadows of the pillars. After a few minutes of search, Ziplin signaled at Farin to come beside him.“Wright, you hold this for me.” Said Ziplin, as he handed him his automatic pistol. “ This one is having a smart silencer. Just shoot when you see anyone suspicious. I have another one with me. But I will take it back from you if we do not find the person we are looking for.”“Sir, do you feel that the person is still lurking somewhere here?” Asked Farin.“I have a feeling that the guy must be somewhere nearby.” Whispered Ziplin. “By the way, it feels so cold suddenly. Don’t you feel it?”“Ahh yes.” Replied Farin somewhat hesitatingly.“I somehow feel we are quite close to our stalker. “ Whispered Ziplin. “Be alert, he might attack us from any direction.”“Why do you feel he will attack us?” Asked Farin. “I have my assault rifle with me as well.”“My instincts tell me that he is waiting to pounce. “ Said Ziplin.”Ok, since you have your assault rifle with you, hand over my gun to me.”Farin at once reached his coat pocket and drew it out.“But this is not the gun.” Cried Ziplin.“It’s a dagger.” Said Farin as he bore down on Ziplin.“Wright.” Shouted Ziplin as he writhed in pain.“Not Wright, soldier, it’s Night.” Laughed Farin. ”Good Night.” 

CHAPTER 35LUCASZ CIONEK Lucasz never argued with the S.S. guards. Though he knew that at times it was blatantly inhuman on his part to keep silent spectator to the gross atrocities carried out on his fellow prisoners.He didn’t want to fight anyone. He, like the other prisoners had been too much engrossed in his fight against hunger, sickness and the bitter cold. Afterall , he was amongst the youngest of them all. Lucasz never complained. In fact even with his torn shoes, frost bitten feet, torn and inadequate clothing, he tried his best to look fit and able. He knew that this camp in Bavaria did not have room for the unfit or the sick. The ones who were not in the condition to work were destined for the gas chambers. Though, eventually, almost all inmates were destined to the same fate, Lucasz’s attempt was to delay the inevitable. The fight and the grit to keep alive had been his tribute to the memory of his once upon a time happy family life. Though he remained unaware about the whereabouts of his parents and siblings, he loved to believe that they were in a condition much better than that he endured. Lucasz’s first job in the camp had been of a cleaner. He and a few others were entrusted with an unornamented job. A job of cleaning human excreta.
It was a cumbersome job since most of the job was needed to be done by hand and cleaning ingredients like brooms and swabs were too few. Each morning a fight used to break out for possession of the scantily available brooms and napkins.
It required cumbersome effort to clean. The foremen would inspect every corner and a hint of dirt would be enough for severe punishment to be dealt out upon the cleaning staff. The prisoners who had given up on life or were sick, made the process of cleaning more difficult since they lay unmoved on their own excreta and rarely showed semblance of any motion. They had to be forcibly shifted to clean their dirty garments and surrounds. The human spoils were then dragged to the dumping yard in creaking wheel barrows over the frosty grounds which resisted any co-operation to the dump yards. In the process of dumping, often the smelly material spilled on the cleaning staff. Any effort to wife off the spill would be greeted with lusty blows from the SS foremen. This was their destiny to clean the hut but to remain unclean themselves.Lucasz, lived on through the nightmare. The brutality of the guards, the deadly fallout of the diseases or the urge to “get wired” (electrocuted by the barbed wired fences) never reduced his will to live by even an iota. He had seen it all. He had seen deaths and life at the edges of death. He had seen life being diminished to merely survival …..survival by the thinnest threads of hope. He had seen human beings being flogged and tortured beyond apathy for no particular reason. He had seen human dignity being torn into smithereens without any provocation. Yet he had survived, through times that were torrid, unforgiving and endless.Lucasz Cionek had been a survivor by every means. Not only did he survive the torments of the concentration camps, he even survived through personal tragedies to finally qualify as a survival strategist. At even a ripe age of ninety, he wrote books and blogs on survival strategies for soldiers and even the common man.People had often asked him , how he had managed to survive to ninety even after a life of torment . Lucasz had only one answer to that :Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.Lucasz read the email carefully. It was too long for his liking. But the contents were too captivating to take his eyes away. Having read it twice, the second time much slowly, he pressed his fingers against the keyboard.Gordon, Let’s speak over phone tonight, my time at 10:30.LC.

Mubarak finished his lunch quickly. He knew he was running out of time. The troop of photographers had already made their entry at the Al Bustan Palace. Everyone wanted to hear Mubarak speak. He had made quite an uproar with his statements on An Alternative God. His uncustomary questions had become the craze of the nation and his popularity had ascended to unparallel heights.He almost jogged his way to the backstage. The crowd had already filled in. The flashing of the cameras announced the unfolding of another gala event of majestic magnitudes. The audience waited with bated breath for their favorite speaker to take the stage. They believed that he had brought about an air of change. He had brought about glimpses of a new world.The audience was thrown into a delirium once Mubarak made his entry, microphone in hand. People clapped and whistled at the mere sight of him. Mubarak bowed in gratitude. After all it was these audiences that had catapulted him to the summit of popularity.After having greeted and thanked his audience and the organizers, Mubarak began in his customary way, by putting forward a question.“What came before, night or day?” He began. There was silence. It was not that the crowd did not intend to answer. They wanted him to give away the reply himself. After waiting for a few minutes, Mubarak did just that.“Night came ahead of day.” He replied. “Just one day before.”“First it was all night.“ He continued. “Then day came about and filled us with expectations. Expectations lead us to compete and survive in expense of one another. All that is bright is not necessarily good as all that glitters is not gold. But we are lost in the glitter and glow. We have forgotten that we have all emerged from the taverns of night. We need to come back to our senses. We need to know who we truly are. Friends, night and darkness are not as evil as it is portrayed to be. Darkness puts everyone in uniformity. Everyone becomes anonymous. But as soon as light come upon us, differentiation occurs. We start comparing ourselves with each other. Greed, envy, hatred, fear, anger, ego and all such evil is brought about. And we belittle darkness and eulogize light. I do not intend to snatch away your present beliefs. I only pray to you to have an open mind. Look at things you thought to be good or bad for so long, a little differently. If you worship the sun, try also worshipping the night. Try to understand the significance of darkness in our lives. Trust me, it is not always negative. The universe is made up of positive and negative energies. One cannot live without the other. So just do not blindly expect everything to be bright and therefore good. Remember, that without darkness, without the night all that is bright is close to naught. Do see the significance of the balance of energies. Do not despise the darkness, the night. They are the Alternative Gods. When the customary Gods, the Gods we know of, fail, it is these Gods who come to our rescue. The trouble the world came into, a few days ago was because our customary Gods failed. It was these Alternate Gods who have shielded us from further damage. Trust me, for a change, at least for some days try praying to these Alternate Gods. To the Night. To the darkness. They will protect us from further calamity. Believe me.”

Barry watched Jeremy walk to Sloane Square underground station and board a Circle line train to Hammersmith, where he crossed platforms to the Piccadilly line. At Hounslow West he exited the underground and took a taxi to London Airport, where he checked the departures board to confirm that his flight would be leaving in just over an hour. He purchased a copy of the Times from W.H. Smith and as he had no bag to check in, made his way slowly towards gate no. 5.Barry had been observing a huge transformation in the personality of his closest pal. Jeremy, who had always been so open and candid with him, had of late been utterly discrete. He rarely met or talked to Barry or any of his past associates. He moved about in utter secrecy and never shared his travel plans with anyone. He had even, at times, stayed away from home, living in a rented space in London, away from the eyes of his family and friends. On another occasion, a few days ago, Barry had chosen to follow Jeremy when he had taken a cab to Victoria Coach station and boarded a bus for the airport. Outside the terminal, he paused briefly to check the departure board. Then he strolled across to Forte’s Grill, bought a coffee and ham sandwich and took a seat near the designated gate.Barry wondered what these secret travels meant. On many previous occasions, Jeremy had always shared his department’s whereabouts with Barry. Was he doubting Barry’s integrity? Barry got restive. It was Barry who had stood beside him when Jeremy’s world had fallen apart. It was Barry who had given him the necessary courage to fight the odds. He was the one who stayed with him through thick and thin, giving him the necessary support and guidance at challenging times and today it was he who was receiving the cold shoulder. Barry could sense that something was wrong. His instincts prompted him to unearth the reason for the sudden change in the behavior of his friend. He knew him too well and wished that Jeremy had not chosen any wrong path. Today, was the third day when Barry had watched Jeremy sneak out of his single room habitat at London. He tiptoed behind him, keeping a fair distance in between. Jeremy headed in the direction of Sloane Street. He passed to window-shop on the way, not to admire the goods on display, but to look at the reflections in the glass ; an old ruse to check if you are being followed. He had seen Barry, quite a few paces away. But he was sure that Barry wasn’t in London on business. By the time he reached Harrods, he was well aware that his friend was fast closing in upon him. A doorman in a long green overcoat and wearing a top hat opened the door for Jeremy and saluted. He took pride in recognizing his regular customers. The moment Jeremy stepped inside the store he began to walk quickly through the haberdashery, speeding up as he passed leather goods and was almost running by the time he reached the bank of six lifts. Only one of them had its gate open. It was already packed, but he squeezed in. Barry had almost caught up with him. but the lift attendant pulled the grille shut before he could jump in. The pursued couldn’t resist smiling at the pursuer as the lift disappeared out of sight.Jeremy didn’t get out until the lift reached the top floor. He then walked quickly through electrical goods, furniture, the bookshop and the art gallery before reaching the rarely used stone staircase at the north end of the store. He took the steps in twos and only stopped running once he was back at the ground floor. He then cut through menswear, perfume, pens and stationary until he reached a side door that led out on Hans Road. Once he was on the pavement, he hailed the first available cab, climbed in and crouched down, out of sight.“London Airport.” He said.He waited until the cab had passed two sets of traffic lights before he risked glancing out of the back window. No sign of his pursuer, unless Barry was riding a bicycle or driving a London bus.Barry watched Jeremy get down near the terminal. He was soon joined by a tall man in a dark overcoat with a large hat on his head. The man shook hands with Jeremy before taking his hat off. He was bald. As the man turned around unintentionally, Barry saw that the man had no eyebrows. They walked ahead and slowly got lost in the crowd. 

CHAPTER 37THE FINDINGS Wright Rudolph Farin’s body had been found at the end of the corridor with its throat slit. The colour of the blood suggested that the incident had happened quite some time ago. However, the blood oozing out from the gaping wound from the chest of Joshua Ziplin was comparatively fresh. Though, doctor Mitra and his team had completed the preliminary study, the police officials were however still not through with their questioning of the cadets who had discovered the bodies. I couldn’t stop myself from shouting out at the barrack warden. It was more of a frustrated scream. I know too well that it was far beyond the capability of a simple warden with a handful of guards to prevent the vicious attack meted out on my hapless soldiers by some mysterious and powerful adversary.Ziplin had been an asset to our forces. His heavy diet of MOSSAD training had been helpful in every step of the mission. The incident of the previous night had not only rendered us speechless but had also put a sense of fear in our souls. The fear of the unknown. General Dassayev tried to console me. But the loss had been made. It was irreparable. As the policemen and the forensic experts did their bits at the spot, we stood there blankly staring at each other. We knew not what to say. We knew not what to do. Unable to believe the reality that had so gruesomely dawned upon us.

It indeed was a landslide victory. A margin of 212000 votes, that too against the candidate of the ruling party, who had been quite popular throughout his political career was nothing less than a miracle.Professor Parthasarathy had defied all odds. He had silenced all critics. Almost out of nowhere the verbose professor had arrived at the political horizon of India. The world sat up and took note, as a pariah of politics savored the limelight. It was not surprising that he had become ubiquitous with the media and a cynosure at the social and political circles. But the professor was not happy. When left alone, after the several rounds of adulation by the media and party members, he felt apprehensive. In fact, he felt frightened. It was not his victory. It was the victory of some sinister intent, where he was being used as a vehicle. A vector. He felt nervous. He knew that sooner or later that obnoxious character would come to claim his pound of flesh. He realized that it was he himself to be blamed for letting that parasite fuel his urge to become a megalomaniac. He gritted his teeth and vowed within himself not to misuse the trust that people had put on him.“Good evening professor.” The voice had become familiar to Parthasarathy by now. “Congratulations on your great victory.”The professor turned around to face the tall visitor in all black. “What do you want?” Asked the professor sharply.“Don’t you have the answer yourself?” Asked the visitor, smilingly. “No I don’t.” Snapped back the professor.“My dear Professor“ Smiled the visitor. “I have done as I had promised. You are now the powerful one, as you always wanted to be. The nation is looking up to you and so is the world. It is not an everyday affair that a political pariah wins against a pedigreed politician with such an enormous margin. I have delivered as I usually do. Now it is your turn to keep promises.”“I didn’t make any promise.” The professor said curtly.“Now now, professor.” Said the visitor without losing his composure. “Don’t think that I am going to ask something very difficult from you. It is a small return of favor that I wish for.”“And what’s that?” Asked the professor with a frown. “Well, you just have to oppose the presence of the Special Task Force of INTERPOL here in India.” Said the visitor.“But why?”Asked the professor. “And what can the reason be for the opposition?”“There are so many reasons, professor.” Said the visitor as he took his seat while taking off his hat and bandana in his customary manner. “They are wasting enormous money of the Government in pursuit of some fictitious mission. They are also fostering differences amongst themselves and killing each other. This mission needs to be stopped at the earliest. You have to take the lead.”“The mission is with all good intention, as far as I know. “ Said the professor. “How can I oppose it just because you are saying so?” “I am not merely saying this, professor.” Smiled the bald man. “I am ordering this.”“I am now a public servant.” Said the professor. “I am responsible for the people I represent. I cannot make such misleading statements at your instigation. Whether it is an order or a request.” Just then a group of party members broke into the room with garlands in their hands. They rushed towards the professor without giving any notice to the stranger seated on the couch.“We are proud to have you as our leader, professor.” Said the eldest amongst them as he put the garland around the professor’s neck.The others followed and took turns to shake his hand. The professor, however, was more intent to talk to his earlier visitor. But once he had freed himself from his admirers, he was left gazing at the empty couch. His visitor had departed, unceremoniously.“I do agree with you Mr. Kumar, that you would require special sanction to visit me since you are now part of the Special Task Force.” Said Cameron Simmer. “And I deeply believe that the strange case of Richard Redknapp is somehow related to the mission that you are presently in. Ruslan is well known to me. I can always put a word across to him.” “Of course you can, Mr. Simmer.” Said Kumar from the other side of the line. “But what makes you think that Richard Redknapp’s death is related to the mission?”“There are a few findings that allows me to say this, Mr. Kumar.” Replied Simmer. “Besides, I had known Ritchie since childhood. I know that he is not someone who may commit suicide.”“If you don’t mind Mr. Simmer. Can you give me a brief about your findings please?” Asked Kumar.“Well, first of all there was a strange letter from Ritchie to me regarding some observation of his.” Said Simmer.“And what was the strange part?” Asked Kumar.“The handwriting was not that of Ritchie.” Replied Simmer. “Ritchie would never allow anyone else to pen down his thoughts for me.” “Any other finding?” Asked Kumar.“Yes, Doctor Raghavan had discovered a CD from the documents of Ritchie. We all heard it. It was almost a distress call Mr. Kumar. “ Said Simmer. “Someone probably had been troubling my friend immensely and who probably had emerged stronger than the resistance of the scientist.”“Mr. Simmer, I am aware of the difficulty you might have or I may have to procure the order to take leave from my unit, temporarily to assist you. But as you seem convinced that these findings of yours may establish a connect between the mission and the strange death of Richard Redknapp. I think it’s worth a try.” Said Kumar. “But how can you be so convinced that I am the correct person to assist you and the others in this? I am not being modest but probably Doctor Raghavan may have exaggerated about me a bit.”“Mr. Kumar, I have heard about the strange cases you have handled in the past.” Said Simmer. “I am not going to go overboard in calling you a modern Sherlock Holmes but surely your abilities are extraordinary.”“Well, I am honored, Mr. Simmer.” Said Kumar. “But there has been cases where solutions have eluded me in the past and it would be very saddening if we are unable to make a proper discovery with sufficient proof. You may have to endure a lot of ridicule from people around.”“Mr. Kumar, there is always a chance of failure when one embarks upon a journey.” Said Simmer. “ I am not worried one bit about the outcome. I am more concerned about the process.” “It would be my privilege to assist you Mr. Simmer.” Said Kumar. “Let us talk to commander Ruslan today itself.”“Thank you Mr. Kumar. I will give him a call today itself.” Assured a relieved Cameron Simmer.

Colonel Kevin Roy took his time to inspect all the security posts, the lights, the CCTV cameras and all other amenities inside the barracks. Having satisfied himself after repeated checking, he strode across the courtyard to enter the room of EARTH.“What has THE BIDDER got to say about these killings?” He demanded on laying sight on EARTH, who was busy lighting candles.“These are effects of negative energies, colonel.” He replied without looking up.“What negative energies?” Thundered the colonel.“Negative energies in human form is trying to derail this mission.” Replied EARTH. “It is part of the struggle for supremacy between the positive and the negative forces.” “Why is their struggle resulting in the death of my brave team members? Why are they being targeted? And what must we do to prevent further losses?” He enquired. “I need to meet THE BIDDER and need his guidance. We cannot keep losing these brave soldiers and do nothing about it. His guidance is needed to prevent such incidents getting repeated.”EARTH looked up from the burning candles this time. He was not surprised by the demand of the colonel. He himself had also been aggrieved, of late, due to the several deaths that had been occurring. He knew that the colonel cared about the team members greatly and he deeply wanted to bring to task anyone or anything that had been preying on the Special Task Force .“THE BIDDER will soon punish the dark forces for such heinous actions.” Said EARTH. “He is already making his plans.”“I know, we cannot fight these strange forces with our customary weapons.” Said the colonel, sitting down. “But there should definitely be some way in which these negative forces may be contained.” “There definitely is.” Replied EARTH. “And THE BIDDER is the best person to make us aware of that.” “But I want you to relay him my message today itself.” Said the colonel. “Anymore such deaths may cancel out the whole mission.”“That’s what the negative forces are looking for.” Replied EARTH.“Knowing all this, why is THE BIDDER silent?” Asked the colonel, impatiently.“THE BIDDER will plan his action at the appropriate time, colonel.” Said EARTH. “Just wait and see.” “That’s the problem, EARTH.” Said the colonel. “Our wait, our silence is giving time to the negative forces to act. We need to hasten our process.”“The process is on colonel.” Said EARTH. “Probably we are not getting to know the impact it is having on the negative forces.” “How do you know that the process to reprimand is on?” Asked the colonel, narrowing his eyes.“THE BIDDER had informed me in the morning.” Replied EARTH. “Did you meet him?” Asked the Colonel.“Yes.I meet him everyday.” Said EARTH.“Tell me something EARTH.”Said the colonel, lowering his voice. “ Is THE BIDDER and the negative bidder, human beings?”EARTH looked at him intently before speaking.“Colonel, they are not humans. “ He said. “ They are energy forms that have attained a more tangible matter form. The form of humans.”“Why humans?” Asked the colonels.“Since we can see and believe humans, they have adorned this form. But there are other forms too. Only human forms are not the highest order of intellect in the cosmos. But for now, we are only concerned with the human forms.’ Replied EARTH. 

CHAPTER 38SURVIVAL INSTINCTS The heavy boot crashed against the lower jaw of his blindfolded face. The impact threw him sprawling on the ground. Saliva mixed with blood, quite a lot of it, oozed out of his mouth. He tried to wipe his battered lips with his tongue, in the process a couple of his teeth fell out on the floor. He grimaced in pain as the SS guards rained their kicks into his body.
Lucasz had witnessed several such treatments during his stay at Auschwitz- Birkenau. However, his instincts to survive had endured it all. Physical pain, mental agony and the hopelessness of life in the concentration camps could never diminish his will to survive. Even with disease, torment and death all around, he kept alive his hopes for survival. He somehow kept alive his belief that somehow his perseverance would be rewarded. In fact, his reward had come, albeit late, but it did. He, along with other inmates were released from the camp of Bavaria, where he had been shifted, by the Anti–German forces.He had walked to his empty home. It was during the human segregation at the Auschwitz railway station, he had been separated from his parents and sisters. They had been sent to a different line, where they had vanished into the crowd. Women and children were made to go to different direction, while men were taken in the opposite queue. The old and the sick were however asked to go in another direction. His old father had wept clutching his hand before being taken away. Lucasz had later learnt that the line in which his father had been taken to, was for the gas chambers.The captain’s call from the cockpit, woke him from his nap that was full of nasty memories of the past. The flight was minutes away from its descent to Kolkata. He had never been to this part of the world and wondered what was in store for him.

Sandy Bloom sat wide eyed on his bed, unable to believe what he had just seen. Sandy looked at the wall clock, opposite to his bed, 3:30 AM. He shivered. The rain outside was lashing against the window panes. Reluctantly, he reached out for his mobile phone and dialed the number.BMK picked up the call almost immediately.“What’s it Bloom?” He responded in a sleepy tone.“Sir, I had a vision.” Sandy rushed with his words. “The mission has been called off by the Head Quarters and the Special Task Force has been dismantled.”“What rubbish.” Exclaimed BMK, though knowing full well that Sandy’s visions had never been rubbish.“But Sir, it’s a vision I cannot deny.” Said Sandy haplessly.“Well, what exactly have you seen?” BMK appeared more concerned now.“I saw the Commander reading out a letter aloud for the team members. The letter had come from the headquarters in Lyon, stating that the mission had been called off at the behest of the United Nations and the Special Task Force members had been asked to report to their designated country posts.” Gulped Sandy.“Let’s discuss this the first thing in the morning with the commander.” Said BMK.“But it’s already morning sir.” Appealed Sandy.“Yes it is but a bit too early. Let’s wait till six at least.” Replied BMK. “As you say sir.” Relented Sandy before hanging up.

“I have read the whole report quite thoroughly, Gordon.” Said Lucasz Cionek as he sipped the hot coffee. “It’s intriguing, to say the least. However, since the destruction of the cities and towns have stopped, we might say that THE BIDDER might have done a pretty good job.”“We are yet to know whether it was THE BIDDER who had reversed the process.” I interrupted. “Besides there are many other questions that need to be answered. However , its commendable , to say the least , Lucasz , your travelling up to here at this ripe age. Salute to you!”“Precisely.Salute to you , Lucasz!” Seconded Major Leopold.“There’s definitely someone or something that is trying to hunt down the Special Task Force.” Said Lucasz Cionek. “It probably is an attempt to stop the mission. That implies that the mission is in the right direction.”The rain outside had eased considerably. The heavy downpour had been reduced to a mere drizzle. The murky weather somehow orchestrated the gloomy mood of the occupants of the room who chose to remain silent for a while, swimming through their own thought of gloom.Major Gordon was about to say something when the doorbell buzzed to announce the presence of visitors outside .“Who is it?” Yelled Major Leopold.“Kashyap and a few others.” BMK’s voice rang out from outside.“Come on in.” Major Leopold shouted back in accordance to my consenting nod.BMK, Alam and Sandy Bloom rushed in with BMK and Alam offering the customary salute on entering.“Please be introduced to the legendary Lucasz Cionek, survivor of the holocaust and veteran of the World War II.” Said Major Gordon.“It’s a privilege.” Said BMK as he proceeded to shake hands with the veteran with Alam and Bloom following suit. “What brings you here, gentlemen, so early in the morning?”I asked advancing towards BMK.“Commander, Sandy had a vision last night and it is serious.” Said BMK in a peculiar monotone.All heads in the room turned towards Sandy. “So what was your vision all about, soothsayer?” Asked Major Gordon.“Sir, I saw that the Headquarters have called off the mission and have dismantled the Special Task Force.” Said Sandy in a huff.All faces grew serious as people looked at each other. They all knew about the verity of the visions of Sandy Bloom and none had the intention to challenge it.“Do you have any such clue from the headquarters Ruslan?” Asked Major Gordon, looking straight at me. I was so startled with the possibility that I could only shrug my shoulders in response, conveying my ignorance of such a possibility.“How often do you communicate with the headquarters commander Dragomir?” Asked the veteran this time, looking concerned.“Everyday.” I assured. “I have been in touch with Major Winston Berger almost every day since I’ve been here. Besides there is Jeremy Ervine who compiles all the random correspondences and submits to the various offices.This guy is extremely dedicated and sincere in his work and has always compiled the reports with utmost sincerity and efficiency.” “Did you ever get any indication of any negative feedback from the headquarters?” Asked Lucasz again.“Not until I came along.” Major Gordon chirped in. “In fact I was the only one who had been opposing the mission vigorously. It was a masterstroke from Ruslan to bring me along.”“So something like this, as of what Sandy says will be like a bolt from the blue, right?” Asked Major Leopold.“Absolutely.” I nodded.“But sir, Sandy’s visions have always turned out to be true. In case it actually happens, what do we do?” Asked BMK.“Yes, we need to be ready under every eventuality.” Seconded Major Gordon. “In that case, we need to convince the headquarters that disbanding this mission may turn out to be disastrous for the world. The Special Task Force is acting as a shield for the whole humanity. Without the STF, the impact will directly fall on mankind. The defenseless mankind.” I stated as I finished my coffee.“No commander Ruslan.” Interrupted Lucasz Cionek. “If at all message comes from the headquarters about the discontinuation of the mission, make no mistake, no logic or argument will convince them to reverse the decision. There are forces which are working against the mission and they would have brainwashed the headquarters completely. It will be a sabotage by these forces to way lay the mission.”“Then what do you suggest?” I mumbled helplessly.“In the event of the mission being abandoned, all of you who form part of the Special Task Force will resign. Of course, if you believe in the mission and have the passion to pursue it.” Said the veteran. “We will pick out some other location to camp and do what we had been doing so long, privately. There will be a concern for funds to run the mission. That is where I come into the picture. I will summon funds from my trustee board, where millions of dollars are stacked. Besides, there is the “Save Humanity” council headed by my friend retired Colonel Jurgen Dreshler. He will definitely be of help. Also, we need to take valid suggestions from THE BIDDER. He will definitely help. Remember, if we are committed to save the planet, we need to take the hardest decisions of our lives and make the toughest sacrifices. Remember, it’s our instincts of survival that can only save us.”

Naomi sat looking out of the window. The rain had subsided and a cool humid breeze ruffled the curtains while entering the room. The breeze reminded her of her apartment in Joburg. She missed her home. She missed her mother, her unadulterated emotions, her worries, her affectionate scolding. She also missed her cousin’s family and the good times they had spent together. She missed her brother and his complete encouragement for whatever she did. She missed her friends and co-workers who had always shown complete faith and confidence in her. She prayed for them all. She wished all happiness to those who had always stayed by her side. She hoped that soon she would be able to see them and be with them. She hoped that the world would again redeem itself to be the same place it had once been.She looked out of the window. The distant street lights, somehow, bore the glimmer of hope. The deaths of the members of the special task force had saddened her. Though, she saluted their sacrifice, she wished they had still been alive. She remembered Elizabeth, Hong, The Rabbi, Ziplin, Peter, Bozkov, Glosky, Farin and all others who had lost their lives in the course of the mission. But she believed that their sacrifice would never go unrewarded. She believed in the commander, EARTH, Kumar, BMK and above all THE BIDDER. She wiped the uncustomary tears from her cheek with her sleeve. She had been a strong individual through her life, like her father. Tears had been alien to her. But somehow, the breeze from the window made her cry. She tried to look away, but the street lights outside drew her attention back. Hope, she realized, were like those light emitting diodes ….. they provided the source of livelihood. She remembered how her father had always talked about hope beyond gloom. One needs hope to survive and also courage to hope. She walked across and closed the windows. She realized that her eyes were straining in the want of sleep. The past few weeks of restlessness and of unsettling incidents had robbed her of sufficient rest. She felt tired. Her body ached in want of sleep. She slowly climbed on her bed and slipped under the blanket. Silence had descended on the street outside and only the ticking of the wall clock made some noise. She closed her eyes, to the unpleasant present. She closed her eyes to her chequered past. She closed her eyes to the unsure future. She closed her eyes to the times, forever. 

CHAPTER 39HARD DECISIONS “So you are sure about your submissions.” Said Michael Woods, the facilitator of external activity, INTERPOL. “Yes sir.” Nodded Jeremy with conviction. “I have categorically mentioned all the necessary attributes that goes against the mission. In a way this mission, if not aborted immediately, may well be rechristened as the Hara- Kiri mission in the future.”“I absolutely support this young man.” Called out Vincent Prichard, another eminent member from the executive council. “Indeed, over the last few weeks, we have lost quite a few members and none of us have a clue how that happened.”“Absolutely, there have been appeals from various countries to discontinue with the mission. The deaths of their officers have not gone down too well with them.” Said Mike Drummond, the secretary of the defense council.“I must also add,” Said Colonel Alex Moore “that we are under pressure from The United Nations, The White House, Amnesty International and The Kremlin,to name a few, to abort the mission.”“Gentlemen, we are ten members from the executive council here.” Said Michael Woods. “Why don’t we have a small ballot amongst us to decide on the fate of the mission? We will count the votes in favor and those in against before we finally pass the decision.”“Of course.” The members agreed in unison.“Okay then.” Said Mr. Woods. “ We start with Prichard.”“Against.”“Colonel Berger.”“In favor.”“Colonel Moore.”“Against.”“Mike Drummond.”“Against”.“Mrs. Nikola Price.”“Against.”“Colonel Adrian Summers.”“In favor.”“General Delevan.”“In favor.”“Colonel Hazel Smith.”“Against.”“General Rehan Jawawi”“Against.”“What about you Michael Woods?” Cried out Mike Drummond.“Against.” Replied the grim faced executive.“So, there are seven against votes and three in favor. What about you Officer Ervine?” Woods looked up to Jeremy.“Against.” Called out Jeremy in a loud and clear voice. “Seems like, you had made your mind quite clear about your opinion much before the submission of the reports.” Smiled Woods.“Absolutely sir.” Replied Jeremy. “The safety of my colleagues is paramount for me.”“Have you consulted any of your colleagues before the submission, young man?” Asked Mr. Woods.“Yes sir. I have drafted the whole thing in consultation with one of my seniors and an eminent member of the Special Task Force.” Said Jeremy.“Who is it, may we know?” Asked the members almost in unison.“Colonel Kevin Roy.” Jeremy was again loud and clear.

“Welcome to Washington D.C., Kumar.” Called out Dr. Raghavan as he rushed out of his office to greet the visitor waiting at the lobby.“Great to see you again sir.” Smiled Kumar as the senior scientist locked him in a tight embrace. “You must be tired after the long flight. Have some rest in the guest house. Let us catch up in the evening.” Said the scientist before instructing Maurice to accompany Kumar to the adjoining guest house within the campus. Maurice was courteousness personified as he extended all kinds of facilities available at the guest house.After a quick shower and change of clothes, Kumar lunched on a couple of apples and sandwiches before lighting a cigarette. Maurice reappeared once again, guiding Cameron Simmer to Kumar’s room. After having exchanged greetings, Simmer took his seat opposite Kumar to explain the situation with the case. Kumar studied the letter with deep intent. He also read through the post mortem report of Richard Redknapp with equal concentration. Once he was through with the papers he listened to the CD which Simmer had brought along. Before they were through with the CD for the second time, Dr. Raghavan had joined them in Kumar’s room.“So, at work already?” Asked the scientist as he shook hands with Simmer.“Interesting piece that.” Said Kumar pointing at the CD.“Yes, the cops are working on the clues.” Simmer informed.“Can we visit Dr. Redknapp’s laboratory tomorrow?” Asked Kumar.“Not before I have taken you around the N.A.S.A headquarters.” Said Dr. Raghavan. “I insist that you have a look at our whereabouts.”

The market town Maroantsetra, a domestic seaport in the Analanjirofo Region of Madagascar, at the northern end of the Bay of Antongil, had re emerged after disappearing several weeks ago. Celebrations had broken loose in the island nation. The world too had erupted in joy. Life had once again returned from the vicious jaws of death. The news channels worldwide joined in the celebration by telecasting the news over and over again with views and interviews of various people connected to the saga. It was of course a feat to celebrate since seven out of the ten towns that got vanquished last month had been resurrected. People thronged to churches, mosques, temples, synagogues, monasteries and other places of worship to thank The Almighty for protecting valuable life forms and reversing the episodes of destruction.Predictors, politicians, scientists and eminent thinkers had been stunned into silence. The resurrection of once lost cities and towns was beyond comprehension, logic and explanation. Since morning the N.A.S.A. headquarters had been buzzing with activity. Everyone sought explanation. Everyone wanted to know, from the masters of cosmology, how these events of disappearance and re-appearances happen. Why did they happen and what impact did it have on humankind. Dr. Raghavan had been having a torrid time explaining reporters that the causes were yet unknown and would require time to unravel. But humans are not accustomed to wait, especially when encountered by the unknown.The White House had announced a press meet during the latter half of the day when the scientists would answer questions regarding the latest phenomena. Amidst all the chaos, however, Dr. Raghavan found time to call Kumar.“I’m sorry. Kumar.” He said in a low voice over the phone. “I think we will have to adjust our plans. Unprecedented things have come about.”“I know sir.” Replied Kumar. “You please go about your priorities. Meanwhile, I will accompany Mr. Simmer to Dr. Redknapp’s home and observatory.”“My priority is you, Kumar.” Said the scientist. “I firmly believe, in fact I know that the answers to the questions we are seeking are definitely linked to your findings.”“I too believe the same sir.” Replied Kumar.

Major Gordon read through the letter again, word by word, sentence by sentence.“So, the prediction has matched.” He sighed as he handed over the letter to me.“Could you talk to Jeremy?”Asked Major Leopold, in a tone of consolation.“Yes I did.” I replied. “He was too perplexed to talk. In fact, I have sent emails to all my officers connected to the mission in order to have their opinion about the latest development.”“What should be our next set of action, commander?” Asked General Dassayev.“Before deciding on it, general, it is my duty to know, who all are with me.” I replied.“We are all with you sir and we support whatever decision you take.” Said BMK.“Please speak for yourself BMK. It is not necessary that everybody here might follow what you say.” Said Colonel Roy, coming forward.“We believe in our commander. And as soldiers we know that solidarity is our best weapon. “ Said BMK. “You are mistaken.” Said Colonel Roy. “We no longer have a Special Task Force. Neither do we have a commander. The mission has been aborted and the Special Task Force has been dismantled. So why do we now act as per the whims and fancies of some once upon a time commander?”“Kevin Roy!” Yelled Major Gordon. “If you do not want to be party to our plans and decisions, you are most welcome. But dare you not influence the decisions of others.”“I am only trying to wake up my sleeping comrades.” Said Kevin Roy with a sneer. “I intend to relieve them of their servile attitude towards an authority who is pushing them to their death. And dear Major, I don’t think you have the authority anymore to shout at me.”“I think it is pertinent to inform the group right now, that I have resigned from my position as an officer of INTERPOL. But I intend to pursue the mission with the help of Lucasz Cionek as an individual. If anyone intends to join me and Lucasz, you are most welcome.”I informed.“I am in.” Volunteered Major Gordon.“Me too.” Seconded Major Leopold.Alam and BMK too assured their allegiance along with a few others. Slowly one by one the others too made their way beside Major Gordon to be part of the newly formed team. Colonel Roy was left alone, shivering and fuming. “You guys are out of your wits.” He shouted. “Do you know the implications of not following the orders of the headquarters?”“We don’t care colonel.” Hissed back Dassayev. “If you are so very scared of their actions, why don’t you get booked by the first flight to London and await further instructions from your masters.”“General Dassayev, I warn you not to cross your limits.” Shouted Colonel Roy. “Unlike you cretins, I am not resigning. I am still a colonel and am liable to punish people who do not obey the high command.”“We know to defend ourselves colonel.” Replied Dassayev. “And since I too am resigning, I am not liable to take your commands.”EARTH was standing as a mute spectator to the whole episode. He tried to convince the colonel with some soothing words. The colonel, in fact got further enraged on hearing from EARTH.“You scoundrel.” He shouted. “You are the one who drilled this stupid concept of THE BIDDER into our heads, that has been taking our lives. You and your black magic campaign. I should have done well had I shot you at Macedonia itself.”“You are forgetting, Colonel Roy, that EARTH had been captured by me.” Said Dassayev. “And he is still under my custody until I have resigned and have been dismissed.”“As you said before that you are resigning, it’s part of your duty to hand over all your arms, documents and captives to the nearest officer. And in this case it is me. And if you fail, I am liable to snatch it from you.” Growled Colonel Roy.“You are welcome to make an effort, colonel.” Said Dassayev in a challenging mode as he leaped in front of EARTH.Colonel Roy raised his gun in the direction of Dassayev and shouted.“I warn you of dire consequences, if you do not step aside for me to take away the captive.” He shouted.“I dare you to do that.” Dassayev shouted back.“I request both of you to calm down.” Shouted Major Gordon. “This is not the time for infighting. This is the time to take some hard decisions.”“Absolutely.” Shouted back Colonel Roy. “ My part of hard decision is already taken.”“And mine too.” Replied Dassayev with similar vigor.“My hard decisions are not very pleasant ones.” Said Colonel Roy as he opened fire on Dassayev. Dassayev caught hold of EARTH on one hand and fired back, tumbling down the narrow alley between the trees.Kevin Roy fell back as one of the bullets stung into his chest. Before anyone could pat an eyelid, another bullet buried itself in his stomach. Everybody rushed to recover Dassayev after both the guns had fallen silent.They found EARTH sitting upright beside the upturned body of Victor Dassayev. A bullet had splattered his skull. 

CHAPTER 40REALIZATION Professor Parthasarathy was left dumbfounded by the news headline. He couldn’t believe that the mission “Save Planet Earth” had been called off. He could visualize the smiling face of NIGHT and also the depressed features of Ruslan Dragomir, B.M. Kashyap, Kumar Sinha. He shuddered to think that humanity had suffered a major setback. He wondered what THE BIDDER might be planning. He paced around the room, unable to compose his thoughts and conceal his guilt. After all, he had also fallen prey to the negative bidder. Or had he fallen prey to his lofty ambitions? Yes indeed, it’s ones wrong yearnings that brings about ones downfall. Some people get overpowered by greed, some by lust and some by mere temptation. In his case it was the temptation of power. These are all negative aspects that brings humanity down. Humans had started their journey as hunter gatherers. They lived in large numbers, a huge family. Then, he graduated into farmers and the competition began. Competition between man and man. A senseless competition for superiority that has gone on for centuries. Sometimes in the name of caste, sometimes in the name of regions and sometimes religion, man has managed to create uncountable divisions. The lust to rule over the other has always brought nothingness. But humans have never learned. Generations after generations they have lived with the same tradition. Hatred, greed, indifference, animosity, deceit and so many other such vices. Money brought in power. And money became dearer than human lives. Even the Gods lost to money, miserably. Retribution never happened. Those that lusted for money, lived supreme. Those that toiled endlessly, kept toiling endlessly. The Gods, the rulers failed to deliver and humans kept falling prey to negative forces. Yet, the positive forces remained much stronger. Even though the population of the negative forces increased by each passing day, the positive forces managed to survive. Managed to keep the world spinning in the right direction. Professor Parthasarathy read the headline again. Instinctively, he picked up his phone.“Commander Dragomir, this is professor Swaminathan Parthasarathy. Is it the right time to talk?” He asked.“Of course professor.” I replied ebulliently. It was not always that one gets to speak to an emerging world leader.“How come this grand mission has been discontinued, may I know?” He enquired.“It is the wish of our headquarters to abandon the mission, sir.” I replied with utmost diplomacy.“Commander, I smell foul play here.” Said the professor.“Sir, whatever it may be, but we need to follow their orders.” I stated.”One more thing sir, I am no longer commander. I have resigned.”“What?” Exclaimed the professor. “But how can the mission be left midway?”“We are not deserting the mission sir.” I informed. “We will pursue it in private, without the tag of the INTERPOL.”“But commander, sorry, Ruslan, it will require funds to run the show.” He said.“Yes sir, I know.”I said, “We are approaching some friends to help us out.”“Count on me too.” He said. “I intend to meet you and assure you of my contribution.”“Thank you Sir.” I said.” We need whatever we may get.”“Don’t worry, together we will see it through .” He said in a tone of deep assurance. “Thank you once again sir. You made my day.” I said before hanging up. Professor Parthasarathy walked to his desk. He took out his diary and went through his list of appointments for the day. Suddenly, everything around looked so much artificial, so much fake. Humans are working day and night to rule supreme over other humans. The money, the power, the charisma, the fame that people loathe for, have never provided them with anything extra than what they had brought along in the world. Do people with huge money have had more than two hands? Do famous people do not have to go to the grave? Death, yes, that’s the only reality. Professor Parthasarathy always wondered, when the gigantic asteroid hits the earth, as told to him by Dr. Raghavan, will it spare the rich and famous? Will the rich try to woo the asteroid by offering money and gifts for not harming them? Nature does not care for anyone. It’s only on humans and other living creatures that humans can ever assert supremacy upon. Looking at the vast expanses of space, yet unknown and unconquered, this human tendency to demean and defeat one another appears so ridiculously illogical. And it is not that people are ignorant. Even the street side vendor or the peasant knows a little about space, the planets and stars.In fact, it is shameful for humans that even after eons of evolution, they are yet to discover a new yardstick to measure greatness other than money. It is not only the Gods but also the humans, the so called most intelligent species of the planet that has been trounced by money, fame, power. Change of thought was needed. The world cannot go on like this. Humans need to come together, as their ancestors, the hunter gatherers did, to find out a common cause for existence. They cannot just go on living centuries in pursuit of that one goal…. to reign over other living beings. If man is intelligent, he should find a more meaningful aim for existence.There is but only one thing that can lead a change ….. Realization. And the beginning has to happen here and now.

Mubarak stopped his car at the outside porch of his villa. The silence was deafening. Inside, he knew, that his wife and daughter would have been sleeping peacefully. Perhaps, his daughter would wake up once he opens the door. She would rush to greet him even with eyes full of slumber. For her, Mubarak was the biggest hero in the world. She always had bragged about her father to her friends, sometimes in his very presence. She bragged about his goodness. His caring nature, His heart full of love…Even though, the applause from the stadium was still ringing in his ears, Mubarak believed that his daughter’s admiration for him was the only form of appraisal that he treasured. It had the selflessness and innocence of The Almighty. Was he betraying his family? His daughter? Himself?He looked at himself in the side mirror. Suddenly he felt that he looked so different. He looked so unrealistic. He looked so evil.He crept into the living room, making the minimal noise possible. But he was amazed to find the lights on in all the rooms. His wife Salma rushed to him once he was within sight.“Ayesha is having very high fever.” She said panting.“But she was all right in the morning.” Said Mubarak.“Yes, but from afternoon the temperature went very high and is not coming down. I took her to Dr.Shariff, but the medicines he had prescribed are not having any effect.” Said Salma with tears welling her eyes.Mubarak rushed inside. Ayesha was bundled under a blanket, where she lay shivering. Without waiting, Mubarak picked her up and ran outside, with Salma following him. Mubarak drove madly to reach The Al Hayat International Hospital in a very short time. The hospital staff courteously and very efficiently got Ayesha admitted after the preliminary check up. She was provided with the best possible medical care since she was after all the daughter of the famous Mubarak Al Amin. “It’s not influenza sir.” Informed Dr. Joseph. “It’s a bout of para typhoid and it has to be controlled at the earliest.”“Hope it’s not serious, doctor.” Mumbled Mubarak, anxiously.“These cases are very typical in nature.” Replied Dr. Joseph. “Hard to say, which route it will take. It also depends on the resistivity of the body of the patient.”“But when will she be okay again?” Asked Salma from behind.“Relax.” Assured the doctor. “The best medical team is attending to her. We will try our best to get her better soon.”The doctor took leave and Mubarak and Salma were left alone with their worries and apprehensions. “Why do you always talk ill of Allah?” Said Salma suddenly. “See, our daughter is having to bear the results.”“I never talk ill of Allah, Salma.” Replied Mubarak. “I only tell people that there are alternate powers too on whom we may depend to rescue us from trouble.”“Then where are those alternate powers now, when we are facing such a situation?” Snapped Salma.“I am praying to them all.” Said Mubarak. “Trust me, she will be all right.”A nurse came about and informed them that Ayesha had been administered a sedative and she had gone to sleep. She requested them to go home and come back the next day to find out her condition.Ayesha was sitting up on her bead by the time Mubarak and Salma had made their entry in her cabin. She had finished her breakfast and was looking much lively and fresh than what she had been a day before.Mubarak held her tightly in an embrace and kissed her forehead.“She is much better and probably may even get released tomorrow.” Informed the nurse. “That’s terrific news.” Exclaimed Mubarak, caressing Ayesha’s hair.“But she must eat properly to regain her strength.” Advised the nurse.“She will, definitely.” Assured Mubarak.“So, can I go home tomorrow, abba?” Asked the little girl.“Of course you will. ‘ Said Mubarak. “I have broght a new teddy for you.”“So nice of you abba.” Said the little girl as Salma handed her the new fluffy toy.“I have been a good girl abba.” Said Ayesha all of a sudden. “I have always listened to you and ammi. I have completed my homework regularly on time. I have only watched as much as television as you wished me to. I have always behaved well with my friends, elders and teachers. I have eaten even the bitter medicines that the doctor had prescribed when I had cough. But then why did I have to suffer with this disease?”Mubarak and Salma were taken aback by the innocent question. Ayesha indeed had been a good girl. She excelled in studies and her teachers had been very proud to have her in class. She often helped her mother in the kitchen too. Her friends always loved to be in her sweet company. In fact, she was a child of very few demands. Though, Mubarak always did enough to pamper her, Ayesha had never gone overboard with all the attention and adulation. She even prayed to Allah whenever she got time and strangely enough, unlike kids of her age group, did not have cravings for chocolates or ice creams. Mubarak glanced at his wife and cleared his throat before answering.“My dear child.” He said softly. “Everyone knows you are a good child. In fact, you are the best child around. Everyone is so proud of you. Look at your teachers, they have always held your example to other students. I know how hard you study and your ammi also feels so happy whenever you help her in the kitchen. Do not think that this momentary bad health had come to you as a punishment. Our body is like a machine. It sometimes, need repair.”“But father, Imam uncle had said once that all diseases come to us due to our bad deeds.” She said.”Allah sends down retribution.”“Not in every case, my dear.” Said Mubarak. “The Almighty loves you. See how quickly he has cured you of your malady.”“But Abba, he was the one to send me the disease in the first place.” Said Ayesha softly. 

CHAPTER 41KNOWINGLY, UNKNOWINGLY “These are peculiar cosmic phenomena which are beyond us to decipher at the moment. We, from the scientific community is also quite aghast with the happenings. However, we are in constant research and analysis to uncover the truth. The scientific truth.” Said Dr. Raghavan to a packed audience.Everyone waited with bated breath to hear from the eminent scientist about the science behind the recent developments.The scientist began with a deep baritone that even had the cynics shut up and listen.“In quantum mechanics, the forces or interactions between matter particles are all supposed to be carried by particles of integer spin – 0, 1, or 2. What happens is that a matter particle, such as an electron or a quark, emits a force-carrying particle. The recoil from this emission changes the velocity of the matter particle. The force-carrying particle then collides with another matter particle and is absorbed. This collision changes the velocity of the second particle, just as if there had been a force between the two matter particles. It is an important property of the force-carrying particles that they do not obey the exclusion principle. This means that there is no limit to the number that can be exchanged, and so they can give rise to a strong force. However, if the force-carrying particles have a high mass, it will be difficult to produce and exchange them over a large distance. So the forces that they carry will have only a short range. On the other hand, if the force-carrying particles have no mass of their own, the forces will be long range. The force-carrying particles exchanged between matter particles are said to be virtual particles because, unlike “real” particles, they cannot be directly detected by a particle detector. We know they exist, however, because they do have a measurable effect: they give rise to forces between matter particles.”“In this case , we see that large mass bodies have been affected . The possibility of short distance intermittent collision of energy particles cannot be ruled out.”“The disappearing bodies or the towns that did disappear had given a resemblance to a black hole or a collapsed star.”. “To understand how a black hole might be formed, we first need an understanding of the life cycle of a star. A star is formed when a large amount of gas (mostly hydrogen) starts to collapse in on itself due to its gravitational attraction. As it contracts, the atoms of the gas collide with each other more and more frequently and at greater speeds – the gas heats up. Eventually, the gas will be so hot that when the hydrogen atoms collide they no longer bounce off each other, but instead coalesce to form helium. The heat released in this reaction, which is like a controlled hydrogen bomb explosion, is what makes the star shine. This additional heat also increases the pressure of the gas until it is sufficient to balance the gravitational attraction, and the gas stops contracting. It is a bit like a balloon – there is a balance between the pressure of the air inside, which is trying to make the balloon expand, and the tension in the rubber or the resistance, which is trying to make the balloon smaller. Stars will remain stable like this for a long time, with heat from the nuclear reactions balancing the gravitational attraction. Eventually, however, the star will run out of its hydrogen and other nuclear fuels. Paradoxically, the more fuel a star starts off with, the sooner it runs out. This is because the more massive the star is, the hotter it needs to be to balance its gravitational attraction. And the hotter it is, the faster it will use up its fuel. Our sun has probably got enough fuel for another five thousand million years or so, but more massive stars can use up their fuel in as little as one hundred million years, much less than the age of the universe. When a star runs out of fuel, it starts to cool off and so it starts contracting. Question is how big a star could be and still support itself against its own gravity after it had used up all its fuel. The idea was this: when the star becomes small, the matter particles get very near each other, and so according to the Pauli exclusion principle, they must have very different velocities. This makes them move away from each other and so tends to make the star expand. A star can therefore maintain itself at a constant radius by a balance between the attraction of gravity and the repulsion that arises from the exclusion principle, just as earlier in its life gravity was balanced by the heat.. However, there is a limit to the repulsion that the exclusion principle can provide. The theory of relativity limits the maximum difference in the velocities of the matter particles in the star to the speed of light. This means that when the star got sufficiently dense, the repulsion caused by the exclusion principle would be less than the attraction of gravity. It was calculated that a cold star of more than about one and a half times the mass of the sun would not be able to support itself against its own gravity. It was thought that when large stars come to the end of their fuel, they may explode or manage to throw off enough matter to reduce their mass below the limit and so avoid catastrophic gravitational collapse, but it was difficult to believe that this always happened, no matter how big the star. How would it know that it had to lose weight? And even if every star managed to lose enough mass to avoid collapse, what would happen if you added more mass to a white dwarf 'or neutron star to take it over the limit?”He paused to take a look around. Was the scientific jargon getting registered with the audience? But people were looking for scientific explanations. “The gravitational field of the star changes the paths of light rays in space-time from what they would have been had the star not been present. The light cones, which indicate the paths followed in space and time by flashes of light emitted from their tips, are bent slightly inward near the surface of the star. This can be seen in the bending of light from distant stars observed during an eclipse of the sun. As the star contracts, the gravitational field at its surface gets stronger and the light cones get bent inward more. This makes it more difficult for light from the star to escape, and the light appears dimmer and redder to an observer at a distance. Eventually, when the star has shrunk to a certain critical radius, the gravitational field at the surface becomes so strong that the light cones are bent inward so much that light can no longer escape.”“I am forced to bring quantum mechanics into whatever I say, since I am a physician. I see everything possible through the lens of physics. Gentlemen, from cosmic radiation, to mass ejection to matter to antimatter phenomenon and black hole formation. I have tried to correlate it all. And not only I, scientists all around the world have tried to do the same. But everything is only hypothesis. We do not have substance tour beliefs. However, the towns and cities lost over the last couple of months somehow resembles a black hole, where the escape velocity is so high that even light cannot escape the region. But the re-emergence of the lost regions demonstrates what physics never taught us. It’s the reversal of the phenomenon of black holes. Can you believe?”“There is also another school of thought that the positive and negative energies of the universe are always in collision. It has been happening since time immemorial. Sometimes the negative energy triumphs causing all sorts of negative effects and sometimes the positive energies outmaneuver the negative ones to bring about positive effects. And matter is always at the receiving end. That’s because matter is a composite form, a tangible facet of energy, which we can see. ““Gentlemen, if energy is the cause, matter is the effect.”“Sir, there’s a question.” One of the reporters said standing up.“Yes please.” Dr. Raghavan turned his attention to the bespectacled person.“Sir, there had been a mission from INTERPOL which was centered around some mythological being called A BIDDER. Do you know about it?” He asked.“I cannot explain much about it. I do not have the complete knowledge.” Replied the scientist.“Is it true sir,” Asked another reporter from the front row, “that your predecessor, Dr. Redknapp killed himself out of frustration for not being able to answer the questions regarding the explosions?”“You are misinformed, gentleman.” Dr. Raghavan appeared to lose his patience a bit. “Richard did not kill himself. He was killed and the truth shall come forth very soon.”

Kumar scanned through the documents in the drawers and cupboards. Not many, only a handful of them were there.“Most of the documents have been carefully examined already by the cops, Mr. Kumar.” Said Cameron Simmer.Kumar just nodded and continued with his search. He then proceeded to have a close look at the study table of the scientist. Cameron Simmer followed every move of Kumar with keen interest. He somehow felt that Kumar was after some specific trail. Kumar scanned the window panes, took photographs of the walls from different angles and proceeded to study the entrance door.Simmer didn’t want to disturb Kumar’s focused investigation but somehow he felt that Kumar was after a wild goose chase. After all, the cops and investigators from FBI had already gone through these drills. Also, a good number of days had elapsed after the incident had occurred.Kumar lit a cigarette and slumped on a chair close to the study table. His eyes were fixed on the walls opposite to the chair.“Well, anything of interest?” Asked Simmer, unable to hide his curiosity.Kumar kept drawing the puffs, not bothering to reply.“Mr. Kumar, could you trace anything?” Simmer asked again.“Yes sir,” Replied Kumar almost absent mindedly.“What’s that?” Asked Simmer wide eyed. “The sleuths from FBI has searched every corner multiple times.”“Certain things the FBI will never be able to discover, unless they get into the depth of science.” Replied Kumar.“What’s that?” Asked Simmer, bewildered and curious.“Negative Energy.” Said Kumar as he stubbed out the cigarette and got up.

The scientist did not seem eager to take any more questions. He quickly descended from the dais and made his way for the waiting car. He wondered what Kumar might have come out with during his visit to Redknapp’s observatory. He also was deeply worried and disturbed regarding the discontinuation of the mission undertaken by the INTERPOL. He asked his driver to head straight for the headquarters. On reaching his office he at once checked at the reception for any letter for him. He was immediately handed a handful. After scouting through each of them, he chose to open the one he felt would be of the most importance. A letter from Ruslan Dragomir.

Inspector Ghoshal read through the detailed email. He took a print out and read through it a second time. The contents were not difficult to understand, but was difficult to analyze but then the case at hand was also not of common origin. He moved downstairs and summoned for his vehicle. Outside, the dark clouds had gathered once again but he did not care. There were more important work to do. He instructed the driver to take him directly to Tower 42 and as the vehicle purred into action, he once again ran his eyes through the printed copy of the email.

CHAPTER 42CONFESSIONS A multitude of questions kept playing in my mind continuously.Who killed Redknapp?Who killed Glosky?Who killed Ziplin and Farin?Why was there such a sudden drastic change in the attitude of Colonel Roy?Why was the mission suddenly discontinued by INTERPOL even after getting convinced about it’s progress?Why did Jeremy not inform me about his interactions with headquarters during submission of his records?What is the guidance from THE BIDDER regarding the present circumstances?What should be the final goal for the mission and how to achieve it?And finally, what is the reason of the disappearance and re-emergence of the towns and cities?I was so lost in my thoughts that I failed to notice the entry of Major Gordon into the room. “Is all your packing over commander?” Asked the Major coming near me.“Commander?” I repeated sarcastically. “I think Ruslan is a better way to call me now.”“For me, you will always remain the commander, Ruslan.” Smiled Major Gordon. “Anyway, you haven’t answered my question.”“He needn’t answer, Gordon.” Said Lucasz Cionek, entering the room. “I have already worked out with the authorities. The team is going to reside here. The others staying in Fort William will be arriving any time, now.”“Authorities?” The word had somehow startled Major Gordon.“Authorities, Adam. The authorities that run this complex.” Replied Lucasz in his finest composure as he took his seat beside the writing table.Lucasz’s physical fitness was indeed awe inspiring. Even at the super ripe age of ninety he looked much fitter than most of us physically and mentally. I wondered what I would become at his age, even if I could manage to survive till then.“Look Adam, not for nothing do they call me the strategist for situations. And not for nothing have you called me here to work with you. I was assisted by the Kolkata police to convince the authorities.” He said, flashing a piece of paper in our direction.Major Gordon took the paper and read through it.I peered into it from his side also to read the contents.It was printed in bold in the official letter head of Kolkata Police.“The erstwhile members of the INTERPOL Special Task Force has been detained by the Kolkata Police at the present location of their residence in continuation with the investigation of the deaths of the officers in duty till further notice.”Signed by The Police Commissioner (Kolkata Police)The veteran had done it in style. We looked at each other, too ecstatic to speak.“Look Adam.” The veteran spoke again. “You guys might be wondering how to take the mission forward. You guys also might be wondering what the final goal of the mission should be. Remember, the most important mission of anyone’s life should be survival. And to survive, one must foster hope ; hope to achieve a goal in front.”“When I had settled in America, I was all at sea. It was not my nation, it couldn’t have been. The desperation and destitution of post war Eastern Europe was missing from that land. America was too invincible to be owned. Too mechanical to be human. It was not as throbbing and vulnerable as the country I came from. I missed Poland amongst the lifeless milieu of America. But Auschwitz had taught me to bear with the unwanted and hope to be counted amongst the masses. Then the scare of the COVID-19 pandemic came upon us. I saw then, how America revealed it’s humanness. America wept, like us, vulnerable people. But America survived and since then it has tried to be more human and less mechanical. I realized then, that behind that outer façade of a strong upper lip, there is fear, insecurity, despair. From then on I became an American and started loving it. This vulnerability of this mission will cause you to love it more. Remember, our mission now aims to find and eliminate the negative forces. Only the positive forces shall rule us and help us survive.”

Jeremy strode along the corridor, trying to ignore the presence of Barry in the corner. Barry did not hesitate, he came forward to block the path of Jeremy. “I have to talk to you.” He said in an authoritative tone.“You cannot block my way like this Mr. Livingstone. It might not augur well with you. Remember, I am with the INTERPOL.” Snapped Jeremy. “You were with the INTERPOL Mr. Ervine, but not anymore. “ Said a stranger standing beside Barry as he handed Jeremy a brown envelope.“Commander Dragomir had sacked you before he had resigned and the same had been approved by Colonel Berger. In fact, it might not augur well for you if you do not tell us the truth. By the way my name is Kumar Sinha.” Said the stranger in a deep voice. Jeremy opened the envelope with trembling hands. It was a termination letter in the INTERPOL official letter head, signed by Ruslan Dragomir and countersigned by Colonel Winston Berger.“I have not come all the way from Washington D.C., hurriedly to hand deliver this letter to you Mr. Ervine. I have come to understand the truth from you. I hope you will be willing to share the details with me.” Said Kumar, looking deeply into the eyes of Jeremy. The stinging gaze from Kumar shook Jeremy. He could not look at those hard eyes. “What truth?” He stammered as he shoved the letter and the envelope in his pocket. “You know what I mean Mr. Ervine. Besides I do not have time to lose. I request you to follow me to the café downstairs. Mr. Livingstone, please do come along.” Commanded Kumar as he limped down the staircase, mutely followed by Barry and Jeremy.“Yes, sir.” Confessed Jeremy as the second helping of cocoa arrived. “I concocted the documents to make it seem that infighting amongst the members was responsible in the deaths. In fact, I was helped by two lawyers from Chelsea to formulate the documents. All this I did at the instruction of a person, who called himself NIGHT THE BIDDER.”“What made you fall into this trap, Mr. Ervine?” Asked Kumar. “All through your career you have been an upright, diligent and an honest officer.”“This guy is a magician sir.” Said Jeremy. “He has an impossible power to convince. Besides, sir, Barry here knows, I had been going through heavy crisis in my personal life. I had been deep into debts. My wife was not in talking terms with me and the worst part was that my son was autistic and I had been at my wit’s end of how to get him to talk and behave like a child of his age. I needed divine intervention to come through with these problems. Then this guy came along. Believe me, out of nowhere, my debts were settled. My wife had once again changed into what she had been. In fact, we had made love more in the last ten days than we had in the last twelve years. And the biggest part was that my son had begun to talk and behave like a normal child. All of a sudden. It was divine intervention. And in exchange the wizard wanted me to concoct the reports in such a way that the mission gets discontinued.”“Sir, I had been seeing this sudden change in the behavior of Jeremy over the past few days and planned to find out why.” Said Barry. “I had even followed him to London quite a few times. Somehow, I had a feeling that he was up to something wrong. He always evaded me. I had been the one who had been with him through thick and thin and here he was trying to ignore me and give me the slip. Then when I read in the newspapers about the discontinuation of the INTERPOL mission, I grew suspicious. That is when I contacted general Baldwin, who referred it to you.”“Yes, Baldwin and commander Dragomir both had asked me to look into it. So I took the earliest flight out of America and first had a word with Colonel Berger before getting into the act. Thanks Barry. The world will also remember you as a savior.” Said Kumar. “You have gone out of the way to help us in our cause. Thanks again.”“I am privileged to help, sir. More than my friend, it is the cause of humanity that has triggered my action.” Said Barry in all modesty.“Look Jeremy.” Kumar turned to the other youngster. “The world is in danger of a different kind. The negative forces of the universe are trying to wrest control of the total system. By total system I mean everything the cosmos is made up of. These negative forces can adopt any form and texture in this endeavor. Here, they have adopted human form to woo people in their side. They work upon the frailties of humans to convince them, confuse them and corrupt them. They are afraid of the mission, because our mission is not a military mission. It is more of a spiritual mission under the guidance of THE BIDDER, who is an embodiment of the positive energy of this universe. If the negative energy wins this tussle, they would endeavor to exterminate humans, since they are the only intelligent species who can counter their bid. To foil these forces would mean to save humanity.”“I don’t blame you Jeremy.” Continued Kumar. “ Others in your place would have done the same too.”“So what do I do now, sir?” Asked Jeremy. “Now that I am sacked from INTERPOL, how do I contribute towards the cause?”“All you need to do Jeremy is quickly make a record of your confessions and mail it to Colonel Berger. Don’t worry, no further action will happen. You may also be considered for re- instatement.” Assured Kumar. “But do it here and now because once you go home that negative bidder will force you to think otherwise.”“Will he harm my family?” Asked Jeremy with fear in his eyes.“He cannot because you have already done what you were asked to. The mission has been called off. He cannot blame you for the aftermath.” Said Kumar. Jeremy gingerly took out his laptop and typed out a long email for colonel Berger.

“Mr. Moore, can you post this to the White House and everywhere else?” Said Colonel Berger. “We have decided to re-instate the Special Task Force. The mission is on.”“Certainly Sir.” Said Moore as he walked off. Colonel Berger shook hands with everyone in the room and walked off towards his waiting car.“Good Evening Colonel.” A voice from behind made him turn back. The voice seemed familiar.It was getting dark. The last remnants of the sun’s presence was reflected by the scattered cumulous above in it’s majesty of fading crimson. Darkness slowly crept into the countryside to bring about and end to an eventful day. Was it the end, just yet?As Jeremy drove down the Alley of Cussack, barely a kilometer from his home, two police cars came around to stop him.“Mr. Jeremy Ervine?” A stout policeman enquired from the rolled down window. “Yes. I am Jeremy Ervine.” Nodded Jeremy in agreement.“You are under arrest Mr. Jeremy, please come out of your car and put your hands up in the air.” The officer said as he and the others trained their guns at him.Jeremy obeyed and as he stepped out of the car the officer hurled him against the car bonnet and locked his hands with a pair of handcuffs.“What for?’ Cried Jeremy helplessly.“For the murder of Colonel Winston Berger of INTERPOL.” Shouted the officer. 

CHAPTER 43UNITY AGAINST EVIL Cameron Simmer was relieved to hear about the return of Kumar Sinha. He had been keen to know about his findings. he felt that he was after something, the investigating officers from FBI had missed. There was something in his gaze. Something definite. Dwight Delport and David Stone, both officers from FBI had shown their interest to meet this sleuth from India. Simmer wondered whether it was appropriate to arrange the meeting now. He decided to consult Dr. Raghavan before taking a final call. A light tap at the door disturbed his thoughts, but he was pleasantly surprised to find Kumar Sinha standing at the doorway. “Mr. Simmer I need to have a few honest answers from you regarding Richard Redknapp.” Said Kumar as he entered the study.“Be rest assured Mr. Kumar, all answers regarding Ritchie will be replied with complete honesty.” Assured Simmer.“Well then, Mr. Simmer you had known Richard Redknapp since childhood. Was he prone to frustration very easily?” Asked Kumar.Simmer was somewhat taken aback by Kumar’s question. “Not really.” He answered after thinking hard. “But he used to get disturbed if someone ever tried to prove him wrong.”“Did he have any weakness in character?” Asked Kumar again.This time Simmer didn’t take long to answer. “Mr. Kumar, Ritchie was a person of high integrity and immense dedication. He never bothered about money, fame or power in his pursuit for excellence. He only cared for his work. He always yeasrned to bring out the best in scientific research for the benefit of mankind. He had no weakness for the material world.”“How disappointed was he, when he could not come up with proper answers to the explosions and the vanishing acts of the towns around the world?” Asked Kumar, peering into the eyes of Cameron Simmer.“Yes, he was unhappy with himself, indeed.”Replied Simmer. “But above all, he was extremely intrigued. He used to say over and over again that our knowledge of science is still in its infancy.”“He had supported the mission of “Save Planet Earth” undertaken by INTERPOL when other people from the scientific community had branded it to be laced with mythology. Did he support it because Ruslan Dragomir was known to him or was it because he was convinced with the merit of the mission?” Asked Kumar.“He was somehow convinced by the concept of THE BIDDER.” Said Simmer. “He used to say that it was more to do with the strengthening of the positive energy against the negative energy of the cosmos.”“Did he ever repent his decision to support the mission?” Asked Kumar again.“No. Never.” Replied Simmer.Kumar scribbled something in his pocket book before keeping it away.“Mr. Kumar may I now ask you a few questions?” Asked Simmer.“Certainly.” Replied Kumar.“Have you found something of worth during your visit to Ritchie’s private study?” Asked Simmer.Kumar didn’t reply. He only nodded his head.“Are your findings different from that of the FBI?”Asked Simmer again.Kumar again nodded in affirmation.“I had observed you had beenlooking quite intently at the wall beside the writing table. Was there something noteworthy?” Asked Simmer.“Yes. Negative Energy.” This time Kumar chose to speak.

Professor Parthasarathy walked across the lawn, dodging the numerous party officials as he made his way to the office of the party president. People from all around came to greet the new hero, but the professor remained indifferent. He just turned around with folded hands and gestured a “Namaste” to all the admirers before making his way into the chambers.Rajkishore Singh, the party president rushed to embrace the professor with a wide grin. The other senior leaders in the room too took turns to congratulate him. After a generous distribution of sweets and a congratulatory note by the party president, professor Parthasarathy finally chose to speak.“There should always be an agenda in front of any leader, which should be in the direction that would not only benefit his constituency but also should be aimed to the welfare of humanity.” Said the professor. “ I too have an agenda and I would like to request all honorable party members to stand by me so that this agenda be taken forward.”“Friends,“ Continued the professor. “As you are aware, the world has gone through a tumultuous time for the last couple of months. We have lived with fear and uncertainty. Even now the peril looms large on us. Though some of the towns we had lost have resurfaced, we are yet to ascertain the reasons behind these strange phenomena. Even the best scientific brains in the planet are all shaken, flummoxed. But we have to ensure that we do not let people despair. We should see that we contribute in the right direction to support the global initiative to track down the dark forces that threaten our existence.”“What are you trying to imply, professor?” Asked one of the senior members of the party.“I support the initiative undertaken by the INTERPOL. Incidentally, the Special Task Force is in India. We must ensure, rather coax the government to give it all possible kind of support. That, my friends, is my present agenda.”“But this mission has been called off by the INTERPOL.” Said the party president. “The United Nations have also supported their move. In fact if the Indian Government goes against them, they might face sanctions from the international community. Especially the White House.”“The mission has been sabotaged.” Said the professor. “The dark forces are afraid of the mission and so they have compelled the authorities, with some sorcery, to undo the mission. But kudos to the brave hearts. The members of the Special Task Forces. They have kept the mission alive even without the support of INTERPOL.”“But professor, we cannot go against the law.” Said another senior member. “And the law states that the norms of the International community cannot be violated.”“We are not violating anything, sir.” Said the professor. “Just read the newspapers today. INTERPOL have re-instated the mission.”“But the mission has caused death to several team members.” Said the party president. “The mission is endangering so many lives.”“Sir, the members are all soldiers.” Said the professor. “And this is no less than a war. In a war there are always casualties. But the greater motive of the war prevails over all. Besides, if the people in the line of fire are ready to wage the war, why should we not do our bit to support them?”“But what is this mission all about?” Asked the party president.”What’s the goal and how can our party be benefitted by supporting it?”“The mission is about thwarting the efforts of the negative forces of the universe from capturing our planet. It is about resisting them and overcoming them.” Said the professor. “And as far as the party is concerned, if there is no world, there will be no party either.”

Major Gordon almost ran into BMK as he rushed along the corridor. Evidently, he was ecstatic. “This calls for celebration, guys.’ He shouted at the team members, standing outside my room. Everyone rushed to have a peek at the piece of paper he was carrying. “All you guys have been re-instated.” I informed them aloud. “It’s good to hear. In fact I was gathering all our arms, ammunition and documents to be deposited with the INTERPOL.” Said Alam. “Yes, someone please inform Lucasz about it too.” Said an ecstatic Major Gordon. “Ruslan, now please do not ever stop me from calling you commander.”“I know about the news already, Adam.” The veteran had walked into the room, looking refreshed and relaxed. “But now, we have to be extra careful. The negative forces would be more hostile now. We should not give them any chance to strike. As far as possible stay together. Remember, the negative forces can be far more wicked this time around. They will resort to all sorts of tricks. Stay together and pray to THE BIDDER for support. We need to foil them.”“Yes, it is a great setback for NIGHT.”Smiled EARTH, who had come along with the rest. “NIGHT?” Asked Major Gordon.“Yes, the negative bidder.” Smiled EARTH.

“Can you elaborate a bit on these negative forces, professor?”Requested one of the senior party leaders.“Well, the universe is made up of positive and negative energy.” Explained the professor. “The result of the tussle between the two effects the universe. Whenever the negative energy becomes strong, some accidents happen in the universe. But when the positive forces emerge stronger, the universe remains intact, peaceful. Our holy scripts have somewhat described them in their own way. While the collection of positive energy can be termed as God. The congregation of the negative forces are widely known as Satan.”

“This is a call from the Prime Minister’s Office, Commander Ruslan.” Informed a heavy voice.“Its my privilege to know that.” I replied as courteously as I could.“Commander, I have called on the behalf of the Government of India to inform you that we are here to extend our full possible co-operation towards your mission. “ Informed the voice. “Should you need any help from us, please do not hesitate to inform us in this number.”“This is something so heartening to hear. sir.” I replied in utter gratefulness. “I will definitely be in touch and will ensure the success of the mission.”“For the time being commander, the Kolkata police will ensure your safety at your designated quarters.” Informed the voice.Similar calls came from the White House, Kremlin, Diet, Israel, Paris, Islamabad, Beijing, Berlin, Rome. The world seemed to unite against the dark forces. I briefed the others about the latest and could see that there was a spring in every step. After all the sacrifice of the team members and the embodiments would not go waste. The mission was gaining momentum. We only have to get hold of the negative bidder, somehow.

Professor Parthasarathy climbed on into the rear seat and instructed the driver to drive him home.“What’s the hurry professor?” Said the driver as he removed his cap and bandana.“Where is my driver?” Shouted the professor.“Your driver was not as stubborn as you, professor.” Smiled NIGHT. “It took me less than a minute for me to put him to sleep.”“What? You killed him?”Shouted the professor again.“It is part of my job, professor.” Smiled NIGHT. “I put to sleep the people who resist me. And its your turn now professor Parthasarathy.”“Don’t threaten me, you voodoo artist.” Said the professor gritting his teeth. “I do not fear death. Besides, this place is teeming with people. You cannot get away by harming me here.”Don’t worry professor.” Smiled NIGHT. “I will not disturb your people.”He started the car and sped out of the party office building in incredible speed. The car sped along the busy street, swerving left and right, to overtake vehicles on the way. The professor kept getting knocked to and fro in the rear seat as the car zigzagged through the traffic. The professor thought of yelling out to the public but before he could shout, his voice chocked. NIGHT was no longer at the driver seat. The car was moving on its own. Before he could react, the car rammed into a cargo truck. The impact was so heavy that the front of the car caved in by quite a distance. The decapitated bodies of the professor and his driver were recovered before the car was lost into flames. 

CHAPTER 44ONE RELIGION, HUMANITY “Do you know William Sheringham, Ruslan?” Major Gordon’s sudden question startled me. “Yes of course.” I replied. “He and I shared the same room during the Gulf War drills. What of him?”“You will be happy to know that he has taken over as the new Chief of INTERPOL.” Informed the Major.“That’s strange.” I mulled aloud. “He told me last time we spoke, that he wanted to do away with his military career and concentrate in his family business.”“How long was that?” Asked Major Gordon.“Probably six months ago.” I said, trying hard to recall. “Six months ago, the times were different Ruslan.” Said the Major. “Even I had contemplated to focus on my career in golf.”“Lots of positives within a couple of days.” Remarked Major Leopold. “Hopefully.” I replied, still lost in thoughts.

Lucasz Cionek entered his room and proceeded to switch on the light. But a white glow at the other end of the room prevented him from doing so. The white glow slowly enlarged itself to take a human form. In no time a white robed fair skinned human, with a bald head and eyebrow less countenance stood smiling in front of him.“Lucasz Cionek.” Said the human form in a voice which seemed divine in texture. “I am so happy to meet you. It is indeed rare to meet a survivor from the extremes of conditions.”“Thank you BIDDER.” Lucasz bowed. “I am blessed to be able to see you.”“Lucasz, you are like the guiding light for the people groping in the dark.” Said THE BIDDER. “You are the biggest example of the will to survive. And that is the quality which is required in the world now. Come what may, no one should lose the will to survive.”“Thank you, O holy one.This accolade, coming from you means a lot to me and to people like me” Said Lucasz. “But can you please tell me what is all this happening around?”“This is an eternal battle.” Smiled THE BIDDER. “This has been happening since the very beginning of time. And by the beginning of time I don’t mean the BIG BANG. The BIG BANG was the beginning of time for science. The eternal time had begun much before that. Your science is too infantile to even imagine this. The negative energies in space ruled supreme at that time. Then the positive energy came about and gave shape to the cosmos. Billions of universes were formed. The expanses of matter is far beyond your level of intelligence. But the war continued. The negative energies kept fighting to regain their lost supremacy but somehow or the other, they fell short. But now suddenly, their strength has increased. So they are, in a bid to capture this planet, are trying to create a sense of panic amongst the inhabitants. ““Look Lucasz, there are millions of planets like Earth in the cosmos. There are other life forms too. Your life on Earth is controlled by another set of similar systems that are too far to be within the grasp of imagination. God is a system and it requires equilibrium of forces to behave in the desired manner. As you know that all matter in the universe is composed of quarks and anti quarks. When the quarks become more, matter and energy stay positive. When anti quarks outnumber the quarks, negative energy takes the center stage. The towns that were vanishing rapidly was due to the increase of negative energy in the system. Ones parity was restored, the towns were back, where they belong, intact.”“But, you Holy one.” Said Lucasz. “How to counter these dark forces and ensure that they do not grow in number?”“The answer is with you, Lucasz.” Smiled THE BIDDER. “The answer is with mankind itself. Since the very beginning of civilization humans have been making all efforts of dividing itself. Unnecessary divisions has created infighting. Your species stand blatantly divided today, through race, language, religion, nationality, social strata and even the colour of skin. Shame on you. Sometimes in the name of the crusade, sometimes jihad, sometimes in the name of ethnic cleansing you have given space to the negative energies to creep in. Even today ,look at people in general. Look at the people who are seemingly innocent. They will not stop at anything. To raise their social status, they will not stop to kill. it is not a sin to be rich, but it is a sin to be indifferent. People with a handful of currency notes do not realize that there are forces, far stronger than even their imagination. What will they do, if these forces decide to strike? In the concentration camps, where you were, there were Rabbis, wealthy merchants, doctors, engineers, all being treated the same way. You all were in rags, eating a loaf of bread each day, out there in the cold. Were you not?”“If humans cannot preserve their own species, who can? Today, the world is going all gaga over the development of Artificial Intelligence. These developments are eons behind the science of the cosmos. You people are nowhere, absolutely nowhere. You all need to get together, as many of you as possible, otherwise the negative forces will tear you apart in no time. I am an embodiment of positive energy. There are millions like me all over space, of course in different forms. But we cannot do anything if you people foster so much negativity within yourselves.”“Our mission is to combat the negative bidder and rid the world of imminent danger.” Said Lucasz.“That will only happen when people come together and share the same cause.” Said THE BIDDER, “If you recall, the deaths of Redknapp, Glosky, Ziplin, Farin all happened because of their weaknesses. Redknapp took too much pride in his scientific escapades that he could not deal with his ignorance of the larger picture. His consent for the mission was, as per him, a big defeat. His crestfallen attitude was enough for him to fall prey to the negative forces. But he realized, albeit late, that he was being used. He resisted and was put to sleep. Glosky fostered strong feeling of hatred. He also hated some of his team members. The negative forces tried to make his hatred to be their weapon. But Glosky was a strong headed man. He least cared about any persuasion. He was of no use to the negative forces. Ziplin and Farin stayed aloof, but together they were a formidable force. Their presence could have gelled the team considerably. This was also the case with Kevin Roy and Victor Dassayev. Had you been called a few days earlier, Lucasz, these guys would have never died. Ruslan strongly needs your guidance. This is more of a psychological war than a physical war. I have great expectations from you, Lucasz. You can make my task easier.”“I will try my best Holy one.” Said Lucasz. “But presently, how strong are the negative forces?”“They had always been strong. See for yourself. For decades now, you guys have not been able to sort out the riddle of The Bermuda Triangle. The massive stones of Easter Islands still have you all awestricken. There are forces behind them. They are always strong. But not invincible.” Smiled THE BIDDER.“How can I contact you, if I need your guidance?’ Asked Lucasz.“I will meet you whenever I feel I need to intervene. Till then,you are the guide.” Smiled THE BIDDER as he made his disappearance.Lucasz was left alone in the dark room, deep in thought.

“Commander Dragomir, my name is Mubarak. Mubarak Al Amin.” Said the voice from the other side. “May I talk to you for a while.”“I have heard about you Mr. Amin.” I said. “You are the voice of the new world.”“Not only that commander.” He informed. “I have other facets of my life too. I am a big channel for the illicit arms trade, internationally. I have great links with several terrorist organizations around the world for trading of arms. Be it The Taliban, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, IRA, Abu Sayyaf, Haqqani network, PLO, Lashkar-e-Taiba and many more. ““So what do you need from me? I don’t run a terrorist organization?” I asked in utter surprise. “I just called to inform you commander that all terrorist organizations have extended their allegiance in support of the mission. We are all together in it as one community. We might have our differences, but that is within us. If some external force come to unsettle us, we will fight against it as a single community. Humanity.” Said Mubarak.“That’s good to hear.” I said. “But how do you intend to help?”“We will help you with endless supply of arms and ammunition and if needed, with people who do not fear death.” Said Mubarak.“But Mr. Al Amin.” I said in a composed voice. “These forces cannot be fought with arms. They need to be fought with psychological resistance.”“So be it commander.” Replied Mubarak. “We are in it together.”

“So when do you plan to return, Mr. Kumar?”Asked Inspector Ghoshal, rather impatiently.“Very soon, officer.” Said Kumar. “My job here is almost over.”“Your presence here is badly needed. “Said Ghoshal. “We need to draw our clear cut inferences.” “I can understand Sir.” Said Kumar. “But I must also thank you immensely for giving us the required support.”“Kumar Sinha, I am a big fan of yours.” Said Ghoshal. “I am happy to contribute in what little way I could for the greater cause. You guys are heroes, in the true sense of the word. In fact, I would like my son to grow up into a Kumar Sinha.”Kumar laughed. “Sir, this is now becoming too much to handle.” He said. “I am not a rich guy, neither am I having a big house or a big car nor am I settled in USA. I am just what I am. Why do you want your son to relinquish all such material comforts?”“No Kumar.” Said Ghoshal, gravely. “I don’t want my son to tread those fake vistas. I want my son to be more real, more human, more capable.”“Capability, Sir, is measured by money.” Said Kumar.“I don’t believe in it Kumar.” Said Ghoshal. “After having met you, my definition of capability has been transformed. And I know how difficult it is to be Kumar Sinha.”

“Good evening, Champion.” The voice almost reverberated around the office room.“Yes, you sorcerer ” Replied Mubarak, looking at the visitor in the eye. “So you have come to extract revenge, is it?”“Not really, my friend.” Said the visitor. “I just came around to remind you of your integrity. Frailty is common in humans. So better get your act together or you may repent your actions.”“You are threatening a wrong person, wizard.” Jeered Mubarak. ‘In fact, I am enjoying the sight of your worried face. You may kill one Mubarak but there are a million others who are there to oppose you. Your fear psychosis has failed. It is better for you that you experiment your negative energies on some other heavenly body. We humans have decided to repel your nefarious ideology.”“You are probably out of your minds.”Said the visitor.”Someone seemed to have corrupted your thoughts.”“Someone did try.” Replied Mubarak, resolutely. “But not anymore. It will be better for you to leave us alone. Your motive has been defeated.”“Not so fast, my friend, not so fast.” Said the visitor as he made his exit.Mubarak slammed the door behind him and went up to his desk. He reached out for the bottle of water and drained the contents into his throat. Almost immediately, his convoluted body fell to the floor, the water bottle rolled across the floor to another corner. The fumes emanating from the open bottle suggested that Mubarak had consumed something other than water.The forensic experts later confirmed the same to be sulphuric acid. 

CHAPTER 45CONSOLIDATION OF FORCES News channels had been airing all about Tabarka, a coastal town in North- Western Tunisia, close to the border of Algeria. This was the latest town to make a re- emergence after being lost for a fortnight. The desert nation, which had been in mourning for the last two weeks, had suddenly broken into hysteric euphoria. The town had been beautifully illuminated and the articulated walls of the brick houses carefully decorated. Children wearing bright clothes were out in the streets to celebrate the joy of life. Large offerings were distributed around the town as a mark of happiness and solidarity. It was a rare moment when the world shared the happiness of this small, indistinct town of North Africa. It was a rare occasion when their drumbeats became the rhythm of joy all around the globe. Tears of unadulterated joy stood out to proclaim that with every colour and hue; with every language and dialect; with every geographical and ethnic difference, the world belonged to humans, who are more intent to co-exist rather than compete.

BMK reached out to his ringing mobile. It was Sandy. He looked at the clock. 3:15 A.M.“Sir, I have had a vision.” Said Sandy breathlessly.“Oh, Sandy. I hope this is less ominous.” Said BMK in a sleepy tone.“It is , sir. It is.” Said Sandy. “I saw that we have accomplished our mission and the commander and the others are being felicitated by the President of USA.”“Did you see all the team members?” Asked BMK.“Didn’t see in great detail sir.” Replied Sandy. “But I think I did not see EARTH.”“Oh. But it is something very positive Sandy.” BMK seemed wide awake by now. “After a long time you have seen something positive indeed.”“Yes sir.” Replied Sandy.”It feels so heartening.

“Sorry Kumar.” Said Dr. Raghavan. “I couldn’t spend much time with you for the last few days. These press conferences were indeed very disturbing.”“I have read your statements sir.” Replied Kumar. “I wonder how many people might have understood what you have said.”“Yes I thought later that I should have been much more elementary.” Said Dr. Raghavan.”Anyway, how’s it with your investigation?”“Sir. I think I have completed, what I had come here for.” Replied Kumar.“So have you given your report to Cameron Simmer?” Asked Dr. Raghavan.”You must also collect your fees from him.”“Not yet sir.”Replied Kumar. “I plan to return to India and make a consolidated compilation.”“Consolidated compilation?” Asked Dr. Raghavan. “Can you elaborate a bit my son?”“Sir, there have been deaths elsewhere too.” Replied Kumar. “All of them have a definite connection. The consolidated report will establish that connection with the required evidence, so that innocent people are not implicated wrongly.”“Yes, even SP passed away in a road accident, recently.”Sighed Dr. Raghavan.“That was not merely an accident sir.” Said Kumar. “There was something more to it.”“But what can poor SP have in connection to all these negative forces?” Asked Dr. Raghavan.“That all will be there in my consolidated report, sir.” Said Kumar. “Just wait for it. I won’t take long with the compilation.”

Sandy, Alam and BMK had once again assembled in my room to inform about Sandy’s vision. Reluctantly, I asked him to speak out. “Sir, I have seen that we have successfully completed the mission.” Said Sandy. “You along with the whole team is being felicitated by the President of USA.”Before I could react to this information, Lucasz spoke out almost spontaneously.“This mission is a continuous process, my boy.” He said. “ This cannot be over so soon. We may temporarily thump the negative forces. But we need to unite as a single species once again to withstand further threats in the future.”“That’s right, Lucasz.” Said Major Gordon,”But beating the negative forces now, will be no small feat. This indeed is a very encouraging vision Mr. Bloom.”“I would once again like to repeat that we need to make a consolidated program to track down the negative bidder. “ Said Major Leopold. “Where is EARTH? His guidance is going to be paramount.”“EARTH is busy in his meditation, sir.” Replied BMK.“Sir, I have been getting calls from various religious leaders from all over the world.” Said Alam. “ From leaders of Islam, Jews, Parsis, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism and many more.”“Nice to hear.” Said Lucasz. “We are witnessing the consolidation of forces against the negative group.”“Well, one more thing.” Asked Major Leopold. “When is Kumar Sinha arriving, by the way?”“This evening Sir.” Replied BMK.

People from all walks of life had gathered in the Cathedral Park of Tabarka. Their objective was to thank The Almighty for granting them a second life. Rasack Essadek was amongst the first people to offer Namaz and present floral tributes to the altar. He stood there till the others had repeated the ritual. Dressed in all white and a colourful turban, Rasack set forth in arranging the décor along with a few others, when most of the devotees had departed. While picking of some of the petals strewn on the floor, he notices a deep hole on the ground, something he had never seen before. He quickly asked his colleague, Nawaz Ibrahim to take a clear photograph of the same. It looked weird, the hole, so deep, narrow and so neatly drilled.

Barry had been deeply disturbed with the arrest of Jeremy. He knew that the crime had not been committed by his friend. Jeremy had been with him and Mr. Kumar an hour ago at a café in London. How could he have travelled to France and committed the crime and returned so soon? However, the CCTV footages showed that the person who had stabbed the colonel looked exactly like Jeremy. In fact he was seen wearing the same coat and jeans. How can it be? As far as he knew. Jeremy never had a twin brother. Or was it some kind of wizardry? He dialed Kumar’s number. The phone was switched off. He immediately texted Kumar whatever he had to say. This was the only person, thought Barry, who might provide the necessary assistance.

The phone calls from all corners had been coming in incessantly. Alam and BMK had been busy making a database of probable contributors to their cause. BMK especially, had been amused by the number of phone calls that had come from criminals and people under the government scanner for thefts and misappropriation of large amount of money. Most of these belonged from the banking and business sector of India. Were they alleging their support out of earnest concern for humanity or were they merely trying to find a scope to utilize the adulterated wealth to escape the clutches of the Government. The Government too had not acted strongly upon them and so the money remained unutilized and stale. But indeed, they were stolen money. However, at this point when humanity needed every iota of resource to combat the unknown, it would have been stupid to debate on ethical conjectures. BMK did not bother to investigate or question the source of funds. He only knew that they should not be left with a scarcity of resource to fund their lofty initiative. He and Alam decided not to let their moral dilemmas ruin the chances of a greater triumph.Later that night, sitting alone in his quarters, BMK peered at the collection detail. The numbers had swelled beyond imagination and most of the contributions had been from political and commercial criminals.So, after all time has come to thanks the crooks and criminals too. He thought.We don’t like criminals. But we vote for them. The proportion of those with criminal records among our lawmakers is startlingly high. Ever listened to politicians? You never find one among them economical in denouncing criminals. But wait for election times to come. All parties welcome those with criminal antecedents as candidates. Also, each candidate banks on criminals and fraudsters for campaigning and finances. This has been the process . The realpolitik behind power.The intuition that criminals are not altogether despicable and that they are socially relevant has indwelt in our species. So we have characters like Robinhood in folklore, and Macbeth and Raskolnikov in literature. Veerappan enjoyed much support among local people and patronage from those in power. Remember the charisma we sensed in Phoolan Devi?So this much is clear: whether we admire criminals or denounce them depends on the angle from which we regard them. To illustrate: the Spartans took a cheerful view of thieving. Their logic? They believed that thieving enhanced a man’s dexterity and made him a better fighter. They also believed that thieves had an ethical effect on society. Thefts served as a chronic reminder of the instability of earthly wealth. Seen thus, the thief performs a moral function.Perhaps it is in this respect that we need to view those who rob us via banks. Big and small businessmen remind us ever and anon that all earthly treasures are fleeting and perishable. The swelling, mountainous non-performing assets are, hence, a moral allegory. You entrust your hard-earned money to banks. Banks get phone calls from those who matter. Bank officials, “deferential, glad to be of use” (as T.S. Eliot said), oblige privileged clients readily. Some banks go bust. Panic spreads. Anxious people queue up in front of banks to get back their meager savings.Those who rob our banks are handled with kid gloves by the government. It is an insult to suggest that governments are helpless in respect to these sharpers. It is a greater insult to insinuate that governments are ignorant of the holes being blown in the heart of the banking system. Governments are omniscient and omnipotent. Might is the essence of the State. Information is its neural network. Effectiveness is its USP. What matters is that the State has a moral character, which it cannot preach directly like morality-mongers. It has to, as Shakespeare’s Polonius says, “by indirections find directions out”. If citizens start hoarding wealth in banks, they corrupt themselves. They put all their faith in worldly treasures. This is not good for them; for it undermines faith in life.Generally, we are poor in practicing charity and philanthropy. We give to temples, churches, mosques. But that is as a sort of investment, assuming that what we thus give will come back to us multiplied. Aside of this, we spare and save the last rupee. We put all of that into banks. We deny ourselves the joy of sharing and caring. We assume that what is ours, entrusted to banks, will stay ours. Criminals in the banking network remind us of the fallacy of this assumption. Ownership is a myth, an illusion. Today the money is yours, tomorrow it will be somebody else’s. Money must be in circulation. Circulation, not hoarding, is the life-principle. Try and say that to anyone. You will incur derision.Theft is a relative category. If I pay education cess, and it is not used for promoting education, I am de facto robbed. But I don’t feel robbed. That is because it happens within a framework bereft of expectations. Also, unlike a case of direct thieving, the hands that perpetrate the process are numerous and invisible. It is like a coin falling into the deep sea. As regards the cess, it doesn’t strike me as an outrage. I feel good that I could contribute to a cause. Someday, somehow, these seemingly lost coins will rise from the bottom of the sea and turn into educational assets. Democracy is, after all, a leap of faith. 

CHAPTER 46THE RESOLVE “Welcome back Kumar Sinha.” Screamed out Inspector Ghoshal, visibly overjoyed at the sight of Kumar limping out of the arrival gate of the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, International Airport. Visibly surprised at the rousing welcome, Kumar walked up to Ghoshal in his usual languid manner.“What was the need, sir to come to the airport yourself?” He asked.“Not only me.” He said with a big grin. “The commander and part of the team is also here.”Kumar looked over Ghoshal’s shoulder and saw me. I waved at him and so did BMK, Alam and Sandy.“Oh.” Laughed Kumar. “You all make me feel like the Prime Minister of India.”“I hope that you will become that someday.” Said Ghoshal.“Sir, now this is getting too much.” Complained Kumar.“Kumar, however unassuming you may try to stay, we all know about the genius within. So let us speak.” Said Ghoshal patting his arm.Kumar came forward and shook my hand and that of the others before climbing into the second vehicle beside me. “Commander, I never expected you to be here, receiving me.” Whispered Kumar as the car got into motion.“I always like to be on the streets of Kolkata, Kumar.” I smiled. “This was another such excuse.”As the vehicle moved through the rain splashed road, the entity that’s Calcutta or Kolkata played it’s grand history in mind.On a rainy day in the late 17th century, an enterprising agent of the British East India Company named Job Charnock sailed along the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges that flows from high in the Himalayas into the Bay of Bengal, and pitched a tent on its swampy banks. The company bought three riverside villages. Soon they would become a port — flowing with opium, muslin and jute — and then, as the capital of British India until 1912, draw conquerors, dreamers and hungry folk from all over the world.Calcutta, India’s first modern city, was born.Over the years, it acquired many names: City of Palaces, Black Hole, Graveyard of the British Empire. In 2001, it was christened Kolkata — slower, rounder, ostensibly more Bengali-sounding.To me, it has always been the city of green shutters. They are a singular fixture of old Calcutta houses. They glow in the steamy heat of the afternoon. Trees sometimes sprout from moldy ledges.Similar thoughts too kept playing in Kumar’s mind.He had first visited Calcutta when he was a child and had promptly forgotten what he had come to know, such was the thick velvet curtain the visitor child drew over memory. Every few summers, when his family returned for holidays, he would be escorted from one relative’s house to another, scolded for being too thin, and force-fed heaps of sweets. On Park Street, he would be invariably accosted by a hungry, barefoot child. The city always brought a feeling of belonging with every hue that it presented. The narrow alleys of North Calcutta or the wider streets of the South, the city always brought forward a sense of belonging. The road side stalls of street food or the a silent evening spent by the parapet of Babughat, the city always provided the quiet anonymity that Kumar always savored. It’s always enjoyable to stay as a nobody in the city of nobody.
BMK was also probably lost in the thoughts of the city. He too was not a newcomer to Kolkata after all.In the last four years, over several official trips here, the city had revealed itself to him slowly, opening one sleepy eye at a time. Calcutta today was as parochial as it was modern. It lived in the past as much as it let its past decay. Being India’s first global city, it was littered with the remains of many worlds: the rickshaws that the Chinese brought; an Armenian cemetery; dollops of jazz left by Americans in the war years.It was as much a walker’s city as a talker’s: It has great eavesdropping potential, even if you understand only English, and it is perfectly acceptable to start up a conversation with strangers, whether about the rain or Shakespeare.Best of all, in Calcutta, you can eat the world. The royal chefs who decamped here from the Mughal court of north India brought a cardamom-laced mutton rezala stew. The British Raj offered a canapé of cheese and pineapple. From Baghdad, David Nahoum’s Jewish forefathers brought the cheese-filled sambusa to Calcutta’s New Market.For the traveler with limited time, the best way to explore Calcutta is roughly to trace the route of the Hooghly, meandering on and off the main thoroughfares by foot, tram and subway, known here as the Metro. This is not a luxury destination. It is more a journey through the grimy layers of time. History is inscribed on every lane, like tattoos on an aging diva. Calcutta was once quite a diva.You could start by boarding a tram at the Esplanade, just north of the Oberoi Grand Hotel, and head north on Bidhan Sarani. The last time I tried, the tram crawled through traffic and then stopped crawling entirely. The power had gone out. If you get out near Cornwallis Street, as I did, make your way through the dense alleys of books (mostly used textbooks, but a careful hunt on Calcutta’s streets can turn up jewels, such as a Chinese Communist children’s book of manners, translated into English, which I once procured) to the Indian Coffee House. Built in the late 1800s as the Albert Hall to commemorate a visit of the prince consort, it eventually became the city’s most venerable institution of revolutionary chatter and flirt. There is still plenty of flirt.The waiters don’t chatter. They scowl under their white caps, thick black dirt in the stiff creases. They complain that no one orders anything. A cashier told BMK last summer that the cafe had been posting losses for more than 25 years. I guiltily ordered the fritter-like vegetable pakoras.Calcutta from the start has confronted some of the most acute debates of modernity. Over three centuries, the folly and ingenuity of global capitalism have left their mark on my city, and then, too, so have the Communists, who have been elected to power for an uninterrupted 31 years. Now New India pokes its finger into Calcutta’s languid belly. The old houses are making way for tall glass and steel, their Calcutta Deco details tossed away like fish-heads. Flury’s, once a classic European patisserie, serves American-style lasagna instead of the white bread cucumber sandwiches of Kumar’s childhood. The hammer and sickle remains the refrain of Calcutta graffiti, interrupted now by posters for English classes, the hammer and sickle, you might say, of Indian aspiration today.“Great cities get old and somehow renew themselves,” said Mani Sankar Mukherji, whose remarkable 1962 novel, “Chowringhee,” chronicled life inside a roaring midcentury Calcutta hotel. Calcutta, he confessed, cannot be called a great city.Pradip Kakkar, who, with his wife, Bonani, leads a citizens’ lobby called Public, short for People United for Better Living in Calcutta, was somewhat more generous. “Calcutta is newing itself,” he said.People have campaigned to remove billboards that obscure heritage buildings and save the wetlands that naturally drain and clean Calcutta’s waste. Calcutta has no sewage treatment plant. The wetlands, Mrs. Kakkar said, are like the city’s kidney. They are also a sanctuary of cormorants and wagtails, where fishermen and farmers grow food on a patchwork of ponds and fields.Around the corner from the Coffee House on Cornwallis Street stands Presidency College, founded by Indian philanthropists in 1817 as a center for the teaching of European thought. Around the College Square water tank are three buildings testifying to Calcutta’s melting pot heritage: the Baptist Mission, in the so-called Indo-Saracenic architectural style; the Mahabodi Buddhist temple, founded by a Sri Lankan monk; and the Bengal Theosophical Society, one of the world’s first esoteric East-meets-West religious movements.A short tram ride north along College Street takes you to Bethune College, created in 1849 as the city’s first school for girls, a remarkable feat, considering that most privileged Indians secluded their women in purdah at the time. Kumar’s own grandmother, a lawyer’s daughter, could study only until the age of 13.The brakes of the cars jolted those lost in their thoughts to the present times. Nothing much had been discussed on the way so I requested everyone, including inspector Ghoshal to proceed directly to the meeting room. “You must be tired after your long flight, Kumar.” I said.”You may catch up after some rest.”“I am perfectly all right sir.” Said Kumar. “I prefer to be in the meeting from the very beginning.”“Bravo.” Shouted Inspector Ghoshal in astute appreciation.“First things first.” Said Major Gordon as we got ourselves seated in the mini conference hall. “We need to devise a basic action plan in the coming few days to uncover the negative bidder.”“Yes.” Seconded Major Leopold. “Planning is a must for any endeavor.”“Definitely.” I agreed.”However, there are certain imminent responsibilities, we need to take care of. Firstly, we need to get Jeremy out of the jail. His friend Barry has shared the details of his detention with Kumar and he in turn has shared it with me. Secondly, we need to provide protection to Kumar, EARTH, Lucasz and Sandy. They are our nominated members and are also under threat from the negative forces. Thirdly, we need to help Kumar and the Kolkata Police, represented here by inspector Ghoshal, to compile the investigation reports for the deaths of our team members and also that of Richard Redknapp.”“I am sorry to intervene.” Said Kumar. “The first responsibility is to compile the consolidated report by virtue of which we may get Jeremy released. So we need to get into the act right away.”“What would be our share of the job?” Asked Major Gordon. “We know nothing about the investigations.”“Well, the whole team need not get into the compilation part.” Said Kumar. “Maybe tit bits of help off and on maybe required, But the team should see to it that we do not face any obstruction while we go ahead with the compilation.”“I have a rather different question for all.” Said Lucasz, looking distracted.“We are all ears, sir.” I assured.“If the negative bidder is so strong, he could get us here and now and kill us.” He said. “The mission will get automatically derailed.”“No sir.” The reply came from EARTH. “The resultant of any actions happens out of the tussle between the negative and positive energies. You should be happy to know that we as a group are under the jurisdiction of THE BIDDER, who is the source of a huge amount of positive energy. The negative energy cannot overpower it outright. So, he needs to weaken it. That he can do only by creeping into the system through individual weaknesses. He can kill you or me individually but not all of us together.”“Is there any method in which we can lay a trap for him?” Asked Lucasz again.“He is too intelligent to be trapped.”Replied EARTH. “He neither has emotion, nor feelings. Yes, he can be mislead. But that too can be done by extremes of intelligence. Please do not select some IT engineer, who has been earning millions doing some software thing to try it out. Natural intelligence is rare amongst human beings.”“I know of someone who can attempt something of that kind.” Suggested BMK.“I will not agree with you BMK on whatever name or person you point out to.” Insisted EARTH. “Without natural intelligence and complete out of the box thinking you cannot even imagine to set a trap for the negative bidder.”“The name in my mind is Kumar Sinha.” Said BMK with a flourish. “What do you say EARTH?”“In that case, I agree with you, completely.” Relented EARTH with his customary smile of contentment. 

CHAPTER 47THE COMPILATION PART I Humans do not let go of opportunities to display their hypocrisy. They would go about proclaiming or forwarding messages in the social media about the evils of ego, advising all and sundry to surrender it and at the earliest instance they would invariably have their ego restricting them to acknowledge the goodness in others. But not inspector Ghoshal. He, though was a top notch officer with the Kolkata Police, had never hesitated to confess of his own shortcomings and laud the virtue of others. Unfortunately, the world does not reward these quality in humans, rather flattery is often rewarded with the best of accolades.The compilation of the consolidated report had taken a rigorous eight days to complete and once it was, the epithet itself made the people behind it bubble with pride. The first copy in its hard form was sent to me for my comments. I looked at it intently and took my time in reading through the contents and studying the photographs and hand sketches that accompanied the written words.

INVESTIGATION REPORTThis investigation report tries to bring forth the findings that seem to have caused the following incidents:1. The death of Scientist Dr. Richard Redknapp.2. The death of Elizabeth Dale.3. The death of Rabbi Shayyik Yaddi.4. The death of First Officer Hong Xiuqing.5. The death of Major Igor Glosky.6. The death of General Joshua Ziplin and First Officer Wright Rudolph Farin.7. The death of Naomi Zondeki.8. The death of Colonel Winston Berger.

Dr. Richard Redknapp : (Age:64 years)An eminent scholar of science and eminent scientist in cosmology. P.H.D. from Harvard and research fellow at Yale. Professor of astronomy at Yale, MIT, Harvard and other eminent universities. Recipient of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics for his ground breaking research on the impact of asteroid collisions on moon’s surface and the resulting effects on its Regolith. He had been nominated in 2018 to be an Associate Administrator at the N.A.S.A. and assistant director, assisting director Clayton P. Turner at the Langley Research Center, Virginia. He had also developed his own observatory in Washington D.C., from where he assisted the Headquarters with research modules. As a person, Dr. Redknapp had been an introvert. He had few close friends and one amongst them being Professor Cameron Simmer, professor of Economics at the University of Washington. His life had been a dedication to science and he was known to have spent entire weeks at his observatory. He had undergone legal separation from his wife, who had opted to pursue her career in film making at Holywood. She has been staying in Los Angeles with her only son since 2018.Richard Redknapp had been the face of many a space research of N.A.S.A. and enjoyed the confidence of the White House and other International bodies. However, the recent incidents of disappearance of towns and cities along with the consequent explosions has rendered him clueless. The various theories he devised to decipher the phenomena had been proved to be irrelevant, on further study. Richard Redknapp had become increasingly frustrated due to the failure on his part to come out with satisfactory answers to the incidents and considered himself responsible for not being able to live up to the confidence people had in him, at an hour of crisis.He was discovered dead at his house and observatory on the 15th of May 2019, by his butler, when he had come to serve his dinner. The death had occurred by a deep injury of a sharp object on his left chest. The object had pierced through his heart and caused instantaneous death. There were no signs of struggle in the room and no one had seen anyone to enter or leave the room within the specified timeframe. No fingerprints except those of the Dr. Redknapp could be found in any article in the room. The sharp object however stood missing from the location.Primary investigation undertaken by the FBI team comprising of officer Jerome Birt, officer J.J.Stone, officer Robert Macbride, officer Boult and officer Tim Lennings in consultation with the post mortem reports concluded that the case was that of suicide. The object for the suicide had been under investigation until the officers declared the instrument being misplaced during the recovery of the body.The case was once again opened on the filing by Mr. Cameron Simmer and private sleuth Mr. Kumar Sinha had been hired for further investigation. At the very outset, the total post mortem report was analyzed. Some constrictions of the brain cells and blackened area of the cerebellum suggested that Dr. Redknapp might have had a severe cerebral attack prior to his death. The investigation revealed a hand note and a voice recording that were both addressed to his friend Cameron Simmer. The hand note on closer study proved not to be that of Dr. Redknapp and the voice recording was a plea for help against some agency pressurizing the scientist to change some decisions he had taken. Incidentally, Dr. Redknapp had been consulted by INTERPOL before they had embarked upon their ambitious mission “Save Planet Earth” to fight the forces trying to destroy the planet. Dr. Redknapp had supported the mission and contrary to his nature had raised belief that the issue could be sorted by sources other than science.On further examination of Dr.Redknapp’s study, where he was found dead, small pores in the walls were seen above the study table. Negative energy always presents itself through small fissures in hard surfaces by dissolving part of matter. The matter which is dissolved thus is turned into an inert gas, like Nitrogen, since matter can only be transformed into other forms and not destroyed or eradicated. This streak of Nitrogen gas was made into a solid beam, which was used as a lance to pierce the heart of Dr. Redknapp. The Nitrogen turned into gas as soon as the heart got pierced and was released into the atmosphere.Further examination of Dr. Redknapp’s skeleton, which had been donated by a prior application by him to the biological study unit of N.A.S.A., showed unusual traces of Nitrogen in the bone structure.Dr. Redknapp might have seen the whole incident in front of him which had caused the brain seisure. The observation gives rise to the thought of the negative energy sources that might have brought about such a bizarre consequence.The motive might have been to eliminate the scientist for resisting the negative energy sources from gaining control over the psychology of the scientific community of the world.It is thus concluded that Dr. Richard Redknapp had not committed suicide and was killed under strange circumstances by a diabolic negative energy source.All forensic reports, post mortem reports, photograph of the body, photograph of the study has been enclosed along with the handwritten letter and the CD containing the voice recording.

Elizabeth Dale : (Age :28 years)Elizabeth Dale had been detected with Leukemia after having a blood test done by an infected needle. She had succumbed to the disease after having fought bravely for ten long months. She had made a few futile suicide attempts in the past too. She had been made to join the Special Task Force of the INTERPOL on the request of Officer Peter Marker, who was part of the Special Task Force. Elizabeth had later been engaged to Peter, but unfortunately, Peter had lost his life during the course of the mission. Elizabeth had been detected with pregnancy when admitted to the hospital for the last time.

Rabbi Shayyik Yaddi (Age :86 years)The Rabbi had a medical history of high blood pressure and diabetes. However, he always avoided medication and depended on meditation to rid him of his malady. He had been summoned by The Special Task Force for guidance with his immense knowledge and spiritual practices. He had been examined by various doctors for high blood pressure and breathlessness. However, he had chosen to avoid the medicines administered by the doctors and let his malady get into vicious levels. He had previously survived one cardiac arrest in his hometown in Israel but could not survive the second. He passed away in his sleep and was declared brought dead at the hospital, the next morning.

Officer Hong Xiuqing : (Age :32 years)Hong Xiuqing was a fit and athletic officer with the Chinese Secret Services. He however had a constricted trachea due to which he often used to suffer from bouts of breathlessness. He had been feeling uncomfortable in his breathing but preferred to stay out of medication. Without much of his knowledge, his windpipe had thinned down further making it difficult for him to breathe in the required amount of oxygen needed for proper functioning of his vital organs. The rainy weather of Kolkata also made things quite difficult for him. Ultimately, he succumbed of breathlessness in his sleep and was brought dead to the hospital.

Major Igor Glosky : (Age :46 years)Major Igor Glosky was an introvert kind of a character, fearless and diligent with his duties. He had been found dead, shot by his own gun, at the outer court of Tower 42, the official residence of the officers of The Special Task Force.Preliminary investigations conducted by the Kolkata Police had suggested that he had shot himself owing to certain stress developed through tension with his estranged parents as reported initially by officer Jeremy Ervine, who had visited his parents in Moscow. However, the strange posture of his body after being shot in the chest, provided some semblance of doubt in the mind of the investigators. Evidently, Glosky had fallen face down, whereas the impact of the bullet shot on his chest should have made him fall on his back. On close study of the post mortem reports it was found that Glosky too had suffered a massive cerebral seizure prior to his death. On further examination of the area where the incident had occurred, the Kolkata Police discovered a narrow hole on the ground which the builders and maintenance crew of the Tower 42 denied to have seen before. The bullet shot into the body of Major Glosky had gone through him and could not be recovered, but another bullet of similar category was later recovered from the bushes opposite to Tower 42. Ballistic experts claimed the bullet to be from the gun of Major Glosky. However, since it was recovered from another direction where the projectile might not have taken it, it was concluded that either the bullet had been taken there by some stray animal or there was a different gunshot that had entered the body of Major Glosky. The intervention of the negative forces also could not be ruled out
We were later informed that the report from officer Jeremy Ervine had been misleading and Glosky and his parents had been in no kind of strain. It was also learned later that the wound in the body of Glosky was not a bullet wound after all. It was a wound from a sort of detonator with a nitrogen and sulphur base. However, the composition of the same could not be arrived at but it could be definitely inferred upon that Major Glosky had not committed suicide.

I read the first part of the report a few times over. Outside it was getting dark and I was getting late for the strategic meeting with Lucasz and Major Gordon. I kept the voluminous compilation aside and strode straight towards the mini conference hall.
I greeted the attendees and was pleasantly surprised to find Lucasz missing from the scene. 

CHAPTER 48THE COMPILATION PART II “Where is Lucasz?” I asked as soon as I entered the room.“Haven’t seen him since morning.” Replied Major Gordon.“Why can’t someone dial his number and see where he is?” I asked in an irritated tone.“He is not taking calls sir.” Said Alam. “He have tried several times.”“Then what are you all waiting for?” I yelled. “Go at once and find him. I hope he is safe, wherever he is.”Before the cadets and the Task Force members could dash out in search of Lucasz, he made an entry into the hall with EARTH by his side.“Where had you been Lucasz?” Asked Major Gordon, looking concerned.”We were all so scared.”“Oh sorry.” Replied the old man. “I was having a small meeting with THE BIDDER. I am sorry for keeping you all waiting. Should have informed you earlier.”“That’s right.” Said Major Gordon.”You were not even picking up our calls.”“Sorry again Adam.” Said Lucasz. “I had left the phone in my room itself.”“Can we start now?”Asked Major Leopold after everyone had taken their seats.”“Sure.” Replied Lucasz. “But before we begin let me brief you all with the discussion I had with THE BIDDER.”“Please.” I nodded in approval.“I had requested for some guidance from THE BIDDER regarding the tracking of this embodiment of negative energy that you all call negative bidder.” Said Lucasz. “ THE BIDDER informed me that this guy is a very cunning and intelligent force. To beat it, we must think the way it thinks. We can only get to it if it comes to us.”“Means?” Asked BMK. “Means, we have to lay a booby trap for him to get into.” Replied Lucasz.“Has THE BIDDER given any clue of how to go about it?” Asked Major Gordon.“Look, the negative bidder is extremely cunning.”Said Lucasz. “Our planning should be so immaculate that he should not be able to see through it. In fact, he should feel that we are falling into his trap.”“But how?” Asked Major Gordon.“I know you too well, Adam.” Smiled Lucasz. “You believe more in written words. I will therefore, write down the strategy proposed by THE BIDDER and send it across to all concerned by this evening.”“We will eagerly wait for it.” I said.” And if required can have a meeting on the same, after going through it, in the late evening.”

General Joshua Ziplin (age : 55)A brave and intelligent group member of the Special Task Force, General Ziplin had been a celebrated officer with the MOSSAD. He had strong personal choices and opted to mix with people of his liking only. He was a master of strategic planning with vast knowledge of techniques of armed combat. He was found dead outside his allotted quarter in Kolkata from a stab injury inflicted on him from close range. However, no sign of conflict could be found at the spot. The knife by which he had been stabbed was recovered from his body but bore no fingerprint. On further investigation it was discovered that the material of the dagger was made up of elements that were rare and scarcely available in our planet. In fact, most of the elements that could be discovered in the composition of the dagger, are available in gaseous form viz. Argon, Crypton, Xenon, Radon etc. The handle of the knife was composed of Hydrogen bound Clathrate Compound.A clathrate is a chemical substance consisting of a lattice that traps or contains molecules. The word clathrate is derived from the Latin clathratus (clatratus), meaning ‘with bars, latticed’. Traditionally, clathrate compounds are polymeric and completely envelop the guest molecule, but in modern usage clathrates also include host-guest complexes and inclusion compounds. According to IUPAC (International Union of Pure And Applied Chemistry), clathrates are inclusion compounds in which the guest molecule is in a cage formed by the host molecule or by a lattice of host molecules.It was estimated that Ziplin had died of his injuries at around 10:30 to 11:00 PM.

First Officer Wright Rudolph Farin : (age:27 years)First Officer Rudolph Farin had been a livewire within the ranks of the Special Task Force. He had been a fond disciple of General Joshua Ziplin and chose to spend long hours with the latter. He was a keen learner and had learnt a lot of warfare techniques from Ziplin. He had been found dead on the same night as that of General Ziplin, approximately 100 meters away from Ziplin’s quarter. His throat was found to be slit, presumably by the same apparatus that had been employed to kill Ziplin. It was estimated that Farin had died of his injury at around 9:30 to 10:00 PM on the same night.

In both these killings the participation of the negative energy sources cannot be ruled out due to the use of the outlandish weapon and the mystery behind it. The post mortem reports have not produced any other abnormality in the physical or physiological constitution of the two bodies.

Naomi Zondeki : (age:40 years)
Naomi Zondeki, South African by origin, had been part of the Special Task Force as an invitee member. She had been an active member of several organizations, propagating women empowerment in Johannesburg where she resided with her mother. She had earned a lot of fame for working on social issues for the uplift of the backward tribes of Africa and the aborigines. She had also written a few books and doctrines on the people and culture of Africa.She had been found dead in her apartment owing to heart failure which might have occurred due to high anxiety and depression. She had been under depression since the death of Elizabeth Dale, who had been her room partner ever since the Special Task Force had camped in Kolkata. The post mortem reports did not show any other abnormality.

Colonel Winston Berger : (age :55)Colonel Winston Berger had been in-charge of several international missions of INTERPOL and had been the controller of the mission Save Planet Earth. He was a resolute man and had been involved briefly by the French forces during the Gulf War. He had also been part of the UN Peace Keeping Force in Afghanistan and Iraq and was respected highly by his colleagues for his habit of quick decision making. He had taken a few bold steps in organizing the mission and also had taken cognizance from the scientific community before the launch of the same. He had also taken the decision to discontinue with the mission on persuasion of his colleagues at INTERPOL, in connection to the reports submitted by the Special Task Force representative Jeremy Ervine. He had however, re-instated the mission after receiving a confession from Officer Jeremy Ervine for having made misleading and false reporting.Colonel Winston Berger was stabbed and killed at the parking lot of the INTERPOL Head Quarters in Lyon by officer Jeremy Ervine, which was confirmed by CCTV footages.The knife used for the crime was similar in nature to the one used for killing General Joshua Ziplin and Officer Wright Rudlph Farin. No fingerprints were however perceived on the handle of the dagger.

There are a few more things that had been brought forward during the investigations. 1. Officer Jeremy Ervine, who had been unanimously selected by the INTERPOL to be the sole representative of the Special Task Forces to the headquarters, in the absence of the top leadership in Europe, had made false and misleading reportage on a number occasions in an attempt to jeopardize the mission. It is yet to be known whether he had some personal gain or vendetta hidden behind his motive.2. Colonel Kevin Roy, who had been a major force behind the mission of INTERPOL and who had vehemently supported every decision made by the leaders of the mission had suddenly turned hostile and had accused the top leadership of wrong decision making , leading to the death of some of the task force officers. He had even tried to kill a captive, who had been working as a team member of the Special Task Force. However, he had met with stiff resistance from General Dassayev of the Task Force for ordering the handing over the captive. After a heated argument the two officers had shot each other in presence of the other members of the Special Task Force. This sudden change of motive on the part of Colonel Kevin Roy remains unexplained and is still under investigation.3. The day when Colonel Berger was killed, by Jeremy Ervine (as per footages from the CCTV), the latter had been seen in a café in London. There were no direct flights from Lyon to London before early morning the next day and Jeremy Ervine was arrested by the police from the suburbs of London on the highway.4. The mysterious death of Professor Swaminathan Parthasarathy along with his driver had also been a case for intense investigation. Onlookers had said that the vehicle was travelling at more than 100 km/ph. However, it is to be noted that the professor had been using an electric car whose highest speed was not more than 60 km/hr. Secondly, if the car had made an impact why didn’t the driver get saved by the airbags. Also, how can an electric car burst into flames on impact?

David Hargreaves sat drinking in his room. David had been an alcoholic for over a decade now. An evening without alcohol in David’s life could be counted on fingertips. He could never overcome this habit, probably because he never wanted to. His alcoholism had given him all sorts of discomforts in life. His wife had left him years ago and he had been practically left alone in life. However, Hargreaves was a valiant soldier. His inclusion in the Special Task Force had been purely on merit and he had used whatever little opportunity he had got to display his value for the task force and justifying his selection in it.It was a gloomy evening and a rare occasion when Haegreaves was drinking alone. His regular partners on such occasions, Baldwin and Glen Jensen had been helping Major Gordon with some of his tasks on surveillance. He missed Glen Jensen. The Finnish youngster had been perfect company for him. Somehow, Glenn enjoyed the foul mouthed comments and observations of Hargreaves.It encouraged Hargreaves. “Good evening my friend.” A deep voice startled Hargreaves to his senses.A tall, dark clothed visitor had already entered the room and closed the door behind him.“Who the hell are you?”Asked Hargreaves in utter irritation.“I am your friend, David.” Said the visitor as he sat across Hargreaves and removed his cap and bandana.“Goodness me, you don’t have hair, eyelashes or eyelids.” Exclaimed Hargreaves. “What an ugly dude you are.”“The ugliness doesn’t matter, David.” Smiled the visitor. “The usefulness does.”“What do you mean?”Asked Hargreaves, sitting straight.“I know how strong a soldier you are, David. I admire you. I know that you always wanted to be a colonel, and you deserved to be one. But the authorities selected Kevin Roy, even though you are much more superior to him in ability. They just ruled you out because of your personal habits.” Said the visitor.“Yes, because I am a drunkard, they chose that cretin Roy to be the colonel.” Snarled Hargreaves.“They were wrong.” Said the visitor. “And the time has come, dear friend, to put the things in the right perspective.”“Who the hell are you to decide upon that?”Snapped Hargreaves.“I told you before, David. I am your friend.” Smiled the visitor.“From where did a friend of mine pop up in India?” Exclaimed Hargreaves. “What’s your name?”“Call me NIGHT,” Smiled the visitor.“Knight?” Exclaimed Hargreaves,”Then I should call you sir.”“Not an armored knight David.” Said the visitor. “The night after day.”“That’s a fucking strange name.” Said Hargreaves.“Yes my friend.”Said NIGHT.”A strange name with strange powers. Tell me don’t you want to be a colonel?”“I definitely do but they have already rejected me twice. Will they agree for a third time? And that too by virtue of this shit of a mission?” Sneered Hargreaves.“Well have this.” Smiled the visitor as he handed over a brown envelope to Hargreaves.Hargreaves tore open the envelope to reveal a letter by the British army, proclaiming to elevate David Hargreaves to the rank of colonel with immediate effect. Hargreaves read through the letter several times, before gulping down a large peg of the remaining whiskey.“Where did you get it from?” He asked in utter amazement.“I am not supposed to tell you that.” Said NIGHT, snatching away the letter from him.”This will go through approval only if you help me.”“Help you?” How?” Asked Hargreaves.“David, you have to bring that guy called EARTH to a desolate house on Friday night. I have scores to settle against him.” Said NIGHT. “And remember, the place should be at least a kilometer away from here.”“But I do not know of any such place,” Cried Hargreaves.“Don’t worry, I know of one such place.” Smiled NIGHT. “To the Eastern side of Howrah Railway Station, there is a secluded house painted in red. Bring them there this Friday night and you will receive your letter in full endorsement.”The visitor vanished as suddenly as he had arrived. Hargreaves downed another peg and quickly got up. 

CHAPTER 49REASONS TO LIVE Being alive on one’s own terms is a rare accomplishment. The faculty that is almost attributable to such feat is passion. The insanely passionate human beings in history have given us science, technology, art, literature, music, engineering, courage and a will to survive in a beautiful planet. However, do humans care to honor these passionate geniuses? Often they do get recognition but posthumously. We are more obsessed in the present times with billionaires and crooks.In N.A.S.A. such a passionate subject was being uncovered by an equally passionate Dr. Raghavan. The mystery surrounding the movement of the universe was being put to light. A historic moment indeed.The earth, solar system, entire Milky Way and the few thousand galaxies closest to us move in a vast “bubble” that is 250 million light years in diameter, where the average density of matter is half as large as for the rest of the universe.This was the hypothesis put forward by a theoretical physicist from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) to solve a conundrum that has been splitting the scientific community for a decade: at what speed is the universe expanding? Until now, at least two independent calculation methods have arrived at two values that are different by about 10% with a deviation that is statistically irreconcilable.Now, it was in the hands of the connoisseurs of N.A.S.A. to give the calculations the perfect pitch.The universe has been expanding since the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago – a proposition first made by the Belgian canon and physicist Georges Lemaître (1894-1966), and first demonstrated by Edwin Hubble (1889-1953). The American astronomer discovered in 1929 that every galaxy is pulling away from us, and that the most distant galaxies are moving the most quickly. This suggests that there was a time in the past when all the galaxies were located at the same spot, a time that can only correspond to the Big Bang. Hawking called it singularity.This research gave rise to the Hubble-Lemaître law, including the Hubble constant (H0), which denotes the universe’s rate of expansion. The best H0 estimates currently lie around 70 (km/s)/Mpc (meaning that the universe is expanding 70 kilometres a second more quickly every 3.26 million light years). The problem is that there are two conflicting methods of calculation.By the version of Sporadic supernovae, The first is based on the cosmic microwave background: this is the microwave radiation that comes at us from everywhere, emitted at the time the universe became cold enough for light finally to be able to circulate freely (about 370,000 years after the Big Bang).Using the precise data supplied by the Planck space mission, and given the fact that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic, a value of 67.4 is obtained for H0 using Einstein’s theory of general relativity to run through the scenario.The second calculation method is based on the supernovae which appear sporadically in distant galaxies. These very bright events provide the observer with highly precise distances, an approach that has made it possible to determine a value for H0 of 74.Lucas Lombriser, a professor in the Theoretical Physics Department in UNIGE’s Faculty of Sciences, explains: “These two values carried on becoming more precise for many years while remaining different from each other. It didn’t take much to spark a scientific controversy and even to arouse the exciting hope that we were perhaps dealing with a ‘new physics’.”To narrow the gap, professor Lombriser entertained the idea that the universe is not as homogeneous as claimed, a hypothesis that may seem obvious on relatively modest scales. There is no doubt that matter is distributed differently inside a galaxy than outside one. It is more difficult, however, to imagine fluctuations in the average density of matter calculated on volumes thousands of times larger than a galaxy. “If we were in a kind of gigantic ‘bubble’, continues professor Lombriser, where the density of matter was significantly lower than the known density for the entire universe, it would have consequences on the distances of supernovae and, ultimately, on determining H0.”All that would be needed would be for this “Hubble bubble” to be large enough to include the galaxy that serves as a reference for measuring distances. By establishing a diameter of 250 million light years for this bubble, the physicist calculated that if the density of matter inside was 50% lower than for the rest of the universe, a new value would be obtained for the Hubble constant, which would then agree with the one obtained using the cosmic microwave background.“The probability that there is such a fluctuation on this scale is 1 in 20 to 1 in 5, says professor Lombriser, which means that it is not a theoretician’s fantasy. There are a lot of regions like ours in the vast universe.”Dr. Raghavan had dissected all the theories and had put them into a single portfolio. Following in the footsteps of Hawking and Redknapp, he had devised a method to understand the concept of singularity. The factor of radiation through the cooling of the universe was remotely connected to the variation of speed and dimensions developed from space time calculations. But Dr. Raghavan was getting stuck at a particular analysis. The anomalities followed by the movement of the galaxies appeared to be having a remote connection to entropy. Entropy or disorder as stated by the laws of thermodynamics was however not finding the base for application. Then, why was the disorder there? What triggered the disorder? Was it just random movement or was there more to it?He sat back and thought further. When we talk about the BIG BANG, we talk about our planet too in a smaller context. For example, the land masses of the planet had been at one place called Gondwanaland. The masses then drifted apart and created continents. Why did the force that once held them together got weakened? Was it because a line of weakness was created due to the continuous struggle by the masses to move apart?Will it be true with gravity also someday? Do forces actually become weak? Or do they keep changing their magnitude?Dr. Raghavan felt that these questions were definitely linked to the friction between positive and negative energy.

“Hello Kumar.” The sweet voice rang out from the other side.”How are you?”“I am good, madam.” Replied Kumar. “What about you and the children?”“Oh, the exams are over and I am having a terrible time.” Her soft laughter trickled out of the receiver and filled the room.“And how about your boutique, madam?” Asked Kumar with a voice bereft of emotion. “As before.” Said Tina. “There were some new orders which we could deliver timely. Now we are quite relaxed.”“Good to hear.” Said Kumar. “You can now enjoy with the children during their vacation.”“Yes.” Agreed Tina. “But I am worried about you, Kumar. How can you keep going all the time? You are always at work. You are always in the thick of things. Do you ever relax? Do you ever find time to eat properly or take care of your health? On top of it you keep on smoking. You are harming yourself Kumar.”Kumar laughed at her anxiety. “Madam. Work itself is relaxation for me. For me it is just mind work. Just think of the peasants who toil day in and day out in the fields so that we get the products to eat. In comparison my work is nothing.” Said Kumar.“You know I dislike comparisons,Kumar.” Said Tina. “What worries me is that there is no one to care for you.”“Madam, there are millions of Kumars in the world. How many will you be worried about?”Laughed Kumar.“I am least concerned with the millions of Kumars around the world.” Said Tina. “I only know one Kumar Sinha whom I am concerned about.”“You are my most concerned client, madam.” Said Kumar.”I am lucky to have such a caring client.”“Client.” Exclaimed Tina.”Am I only a client to you, Kumar?”“Well.” Hesitated Kumar.”A client and a well wisher.”“No Kumar.” Tina’s voice had gone so soft that Kumar had to strain himself to hear her words. “I am not just a well wisher. I am a part of your life. At every corner of life we have met. At every crossroad of destiny we have tried to stay beside each other. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have longed for each other’s support. I am a woman Kumar. I can read emotions. Can you deny, Kumar, that you have not ever felt that you had a soft corner for me? I can confess and I don’t care whether you feel it right or wrong, that I have often felt that you are the man who can fill the void in my life after my husband’s death. If I can, why can’t you be honest with your feelings? Tell me , have you not ever thought of us as a real couple?”Kumar stood in silence for a while. Yes, she had been right. She had been the only lady whom Kumar had missed in his life. Her presence always assured him. Her presence, or even his thoughts about her had taken him beyond the gloom of his loneliness and his unstable physical disposition. Her presence had always relegated the nasty day to day struggles he had encountered, to the background. And whenever, their fingers had touched unintentionally, he had felt electricity run through his body. Yes, he had dreamt about her smile, her long hair, her deep eyes, her smooth skin, her refreshing fragrance….“Hello. Kumar are you there?” Tina called out from the other end.“Y…Yes madam.” Stammered Kumar.Outside, the clouds had once again congregated to eavesdrop. The rain would soon spread their splatter against the concrete and drown their voices. But he didn’t find words to conclude the call. Perhaps he did not want the call to end.“Kumar, are you there?” Asked Tina again.“Yes madam.”Replied Kumar.“Then why are you silent?” Asked Tina. “Are you busy with something?”“Not at all, madam.”Replied Kumar.“And when will you stop calling me madam? My name is Tina and it’s not a tough name to pronounce.” Admonished the lady.“Yes of course madam.” ’Kumar fumbled in reply.“Tell me Kumar, can we not think about spending the rest of our lives with each other?” Asked Tina.“Madam I have never thought about it.” Replied Kumar in an embarrassed tone.“Then better start thinking about it. Time will not remain stand still for us.” Said Tina. “I know we will make a great couple. And believe me the children will love to live with you.”“Are you implying that I should marry you madam?” Asked Kumar.“Tina.” She corrected him.“Yes madam. Sorry Tina.” Kumar corrected himself.“Yes of course. I want to marry you Kumar Sinha.” Tina was loud and clear.“What about your parents, madam. Sorry, Tina. Will they not object to such a decision?” Asked Kumar.“My parents and siblings would give their lives to see me happy. And they know that I can be happy only with a man like you in my life.” Said Tina.“Do your parents know me?” Asked Kumar.“There are more people who know you than you care to know, Kumar. When was the last time when you stopped to look around?”Asked Tina.“I have always thought that I belong to the shadows. I never wanted the glitter of life to make me blind.” Said Kumar.“But you need to open your eyes to life. I am waiting for you here and shall wait till the end of time.” Said Tina.“I don’t know what to say.” Said Kumar.”Probably, this is what they call as heaven. These are the reasons people live for,” 

CHAPTER 50PAYBACK For years now, many of us have been waking up every day and reaching for our phones with grim fatalism. Because we know at least half a dozen “good morning" WhatsApp messages with trite motivational lines and pictures of sunrises and flowers are waiting to ambush us. In the last two months, however, these have beaten a retreat before catastrophe-related stuff. They come at us through the day, with endless advice, scary numbers and wild predictions.First there was this pandemic called Corona Virus that rocked the world, then the flu called yellow flu and then this cosmic miscorrelation.Let us talk about the virus that got the world almost to a standstill last year.Half the world knew that a 2017 Asterix comic featured a masked charioteer called Coronavirus, and were awestruck. But the writers were no Nostradamus, like some people believe. Coronavirus has been around for ever. The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and middle east respiratory syndrome (MERS) epidemics were caused by coronaviruses. Labels on disinfectants like Dettol and Lysol have been telling us for years that they kill coronaviruses (the common types). The Wuhan one was just a new strain of a well-known bug; experts call the illness caused by it Covid-19. In the age of social media, misinformation spreads a thousand times faster than the virus itself, and we are today addicted to forwarding messages to gain cheap popularity, and too lazy to spend two minutes to check if what we’re sharing is true.The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared an “infodemic" that is confusing people. Confusion spreads fear, which is a virus deadlier than the real one. Covid-19 had a mortality rate (MR) of 3.4%, and that too was due to the high death rate in Wuhan in the early stage of the outbreak (17.3%). It reduced to 5.8% in Wuhan within a month, and 0.7% in the rest of China. Compare that to the MR of SARS (10%) and MERS (34%), but the world wasn’t hooked on social media then, so no living in constant fear. Not a single child up to the age of nine had died from Covid-19, and the MR was very low for people below 60. It was only for elderly people, and even among them, those with prior lung conditions, that the MR was cause for worry.As of today,after more than a year of the outbreak. 1,343,661 cases had been detected, with 46,211 deaths. Of these, 176,347 cases were in China. Today ,Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms are trying to fight the present catamity , as done earlier , by directing users to official sources like N.A.S.A. or the US Center for Disaster Control , when they search for “cosmic explosions". Facebook fact-checkers are working overtime to take down content with misinformation, bogus cures or false claims. But these companies face an uphill task; they are battling their own algorithms, built to prioritize speed and engagement. By the time Facebook takes down a post, it could already have been shared thousands of times, and research proves that messages that stoke fear increase engagement and are heavily shared.Yes, fear is the deadliest vector.It gets further fuelled by the self know–how messages that create more of pandemonium than solutions.Meanwhile,one should keep those “good morning" messages coming and love the daily morning ritual of deleting them.

Then came this cosmic attacks that no one had any idea about. Towns after towns suddenly vanished from the scene to re-appear later, intact in all it’s elements. Scientists and thinkers ran out of theory in a bid to explain the syndrome. But blatant messages on social media kept flowing. Self proclaimed intelligentsia of the world kept providing memes with possible explanations. Doomsday, wrath of Gods, planetary collision, greenhouse effect and all other sorts of shallow explanations were launched causing more of pandemonium and panic. Humans are like that. How many people go into the depths of reasoning? Very few. Countable. People only cherish the “thumbs up” appreciation they get for their damnable random forwards on social media. Damn human hypocrisy !!

Hargreaves uncorked the bottle and poured a large portion into the glass tumbler. After fumbling with the container in front, he managed to extract some ice cubes with the pincers and drop some of them into the drink. Before he could bring the liquid up to his lips, his visitor for the night made an appearance in the doorway.“Good job David.” He smiled as he removed his cap and bandana. “Thanks for bringing the chap here, in seclusion.”“How do you know that I have brought him? He is not in this room.” Said Hargreaves taking the first sip of the liquor.“Well, I have a great sixth sense, pal.” He smiled. “ My victim is busy meditating in the other room, I know.”“That’s great.” Exclaimed Hargreaves. “You seem to be a magician, dude.”“Not a magician but a little more capable than you humans.” Smiled the visitor. “Here take your letter of accord.” The visitor produced a brown envelope out of nowhere and handed it over to Hargreaves. However, to the great amazement of the visitor, Hargreaves tore it up into bits and threw the confetti into the air.“Good evening,Mr. NIGHT.” The voice further startled the visitor as he turned around.Kumar Sinha had already walked in the room, cigarette in hand, with EARTH by his side.“Today Hargreaves has got some distinguished drinking partners.” Said Kumar as he pointed his cigarette towards NIGHT. “Mind if I smoke? Even if you mind, it hardly matters.”NIGHT had turned pale at the sight of Kumar. “What is this, David?” He asked in utter amazement.“This is a ploy to get you fucked.” Smiled Hargreaves. “Haven’t you heard the adage that one should not befriend a drunkard, neither should one make him his enemy. Of course, this adage runs in the human world and not in the world of weirdoes where you belong. ““I cannot be killed with your mute weapons, humans.” Yelled NIGHT. “You need much more to eliminate me.” “Yes, you are right.We know that beforehand” Said EARTH. “You have been underestimating us for quite some time now. But there is always a payback time.”NIGHT gritted his teeth but before he could act, EARTH ran forward and clamped on NIGHT with a bear like grip. Evidently, EARTH had smeared his whole body with kerosene. The smell of the same filled the room. Before they could say anything, EARTH snatched the cigarette from Kumar’s hand and touched the tip to his clothing. Soon the flame engulfed the two of them locked in embrace, EARTH and NIGHT. The dancing and rollicking flames became stronger as the breeze from outside fanned on its intensity.In no time, the flame had engulfed the room. Hargreaves caught hold of Kumar and hurled himself and Kumar out of the conflaggeration. Onlookers had gathered outside and some had even started to pour bucket loads of water on the fire. But the fire didn’t relent. It kept gathering intensity and rose high above setting alight the night sky. It took nearly fifteen minutes for the firemen to arrive. But before that the small hut had been reduced to ashes. The firemen scavenged through the remains in search of the deceased, but nothing could be found. A few burnt utensils and the remnants of Hargreave’s bottle were the only things recoverable. The police arrived minutes later to take cognizance of the situation. Hargreaves and Kumar were escorted to a first aid post for primary checkups.

Barry was getting impatient. The INTERPOL had assured him that they would do everything possible to get Jeremy free. The date for the first trial had been announced but there had been no communication from the Interpol till date. He picked up the call from the unknown number flashing on his mobile screen.“Hi, I am Gregory Sanders.” Said the voice.”Am I talking to Mr. Barry Livingstone?”“Yes indeed.” Said Barry, unable to believe that one of the biggest names in the legal world was on the other side of the line.“I have been appointed by INTERPOL to fight the case of Jeremy Ervine, Mr. Livingstone.” Said the lawyer. “ Can we meet at my office tomorrow to discuss the details of the case? I will text you my address, immediately.”“Y..Yes Sir.” Barry could only stammer in reply.

Cameron Simmers read through the report in great detail. The FBI had officially endorsed the investigation report and had published a part of it in the New York Times. Simmer had texted his gratitude to Kumar and Dr. Raghavan, but neither had replied. Dr. Raghavan, he knew, had been busy of late with some new theories he had been working on,the excerpts of which had been regularly broadcast by the CNN. Kumar however, had been silent for long. Simmer hoped that he was safe and secure. A man of his intellect was needed for the world for a long time. He also needed to know about the fees he had to pay him. Kumar had never talked about his fees during his visit to America.He was lost in his thoughts when the phone rang. It indeed was Kumar Sinha.“Oh Kumar.” Said a relieved Cameron Simmer. “I was trying to contact you badly.”“Hope everything is fine at your end Mr. Simmer.” Said Kumar.”I have seen your message. It was nice to know that the FBI has endorsed the investigation report.”“Mr. Kumar, I want to know about the fees that I need to pay for your services.” Said Simmer.“The services had been provided for mankind, Mr. Simmer.” Said Kumar.”In fact, I should thank you for your kind assistance. And as for the fees, I have already received it, much above the original estimate. Thank you.”  

CHAPTER 51AFTERMATH Tingo Maria, the city in Peru, nicknamed as the “Door To Amazonia” had resurfaced, after a month in oblivion, intact with all its scenic beauty. The scenic beauty of the city is so expressive and pristine that the whole of Peru had gone into mourning for a momentous loss.The city is placed where two important rivers meet; the Monzón and the Huallaga river, a main contributor of the Marañón river. Near the city there is the Tingo Maria National Park that preserves nature and a limestone mountain range in the shape of a woman that sleeps. It is called La Bella Durmiente (Spanish for Sleeping Beauty) or Pumarinri (Quechua for "cougar ear"). A legend explains the form of the range. The main attraction is a cave named Cueva de Las Lechuzas(Spanish for "cave of the owls") (named after a colony of the superficially owl-like Oilbird found in it), probably the most attractive and accessible cave of Peru, though it is not the longest and deepest.The return of the city to life triggered off a national celebration with the grandeur of the rich culture of the Huanuco Region. The otherwise sleepy city was bustling with activity. Myriads of vehicles had swarmed in with reporters to cover the latest miraculous happening of the planet.Major Gordon waited for Lucasz to take his seat. As soon as people had settled down, he signaled me to start the proceedings. Major Gordon had been always like that. He liked to organize events in the most efficient manner, so that the participants always remained in focus. I read through the various points of discussion from the last meeting before getting into the main topic of discussion.“Gentlemen” I spoke up loud. “For the benefit of the people with whom the latest plan of action had not been shared I would like to spell out the plan we had undertaken along with the results.”“We had planned to track down the negative bidder and plan it’s elimination. Lucasz had drawn out an elaborate method, which has been executed to perfection by our team members.““We have seen over a past few instances that the negative bidder always chose to corrupt people who have some inherent weakness and some secret longing in their heart. This was a period, as THE BIDDER had informed Lucasz, that the negative bidder was desperately looking for a vehicle to carry out its plans. This became the background for the trap to be set for the negative bidder.”“We needed someone as a bait. Who could bell the cat and we also needed to know whom the negative bidder might be targeting.”“It was evident that the motive of the negative forces was to weaken the positive energy sources. He knew that EARTH was the next strongest source of positive energy and so is needed to be eliminated to weaken THE BIDDER. But he could not do it in presence of us all since our cumulative energy was much more for him to handle. So he needed EARTH to be isolated, for which he needed someone to act as his agent.”“Kumar suggested David Hargreaves. It is an open secret that David is a sworn alcoholic. Though, he has always been a superlative soldier, he could never rise up in his ranks due to his alcoholism. This was the bait.”“The action plan was simple. Hargreaves would stay alone to let the negative bidder approach him. Once he had been approached and the place of action decided, Kumar would sneak in the house before Hargreaves and EARTH make their entry. Since, the negative energies are at their minimum during dawn, Kumar had sneaked into the house at the early hours of the day. He had stuffed the room with hay, kerosene and paper beforehand. Inspector Ghoshal and his other colleagues had convinced the neighborhood about the incident to happen and had kept a strict vigil over the proceedings. I would like to add here, that the house owner had been paid in plenty. In fact, he had vacated the room on the instruction of a local leader, whom the negative bidder had paid handsomely. The unfortunate leader has been arrested.”“The only source for eliminating the negative bidder was either by water or fire. We chose fire and the house was effectively put on fire where EARTH and the negative bidder were burnt out of existence.”“You might ask why the negative bidder could not escape. Firstly, EARTH, who carried enough positive energy for being an elemental embodiment, attracted the negative source strongly enough to hold him from escaping. Secondly, the fire was so strong that the negative bidder could not produce any sorcery to repel EARTH. Thirdly, he had been taken by surprise. He had never imagined that any human being would ever reject temptation as abjectly as was done by Hargreaves.The remains of EARTH could not be recovered since THE BIDDER has taken possession of the same”“I salute David Hargreaves and Kumar Sinha for carrying out the plan with such immaculate precision. I salute Lucasz Cionek and Major Adam Gordon for hatching out a fool proof plan. And I salute Kolkata Police. especially Inspector Ghoshal for their relentless and efficient support towards this mission. However, we mourn the loss of bidder EARTH, who has laid down his life so readily to help us rid ourselves of the evil negative forces.”The gathering stood up and clapped for the names mentioned by me.“However, our mission does not end here. We have in front of us several unfinished tasks which we will be taking up one at a time with the help and guidance of THE BIDDER.”“It’s also time to remind ourselves that the negative energy sources have not been completely eliminated but their strength has been reduced substantially.”As I took my seat. the others clapped in excitement at the thought that the mission had produced some tangible result.

Sandy sat in silence as Alam and BMK finished packing their bags. Sandy was due to fly to Sydney, whereas BMK and Alam were scheduled for the afternoon flight to Mumbai. Alam had taken time off to spend some time with BMK in Mumbai and roam around the city where he had once stayed, years ago. Sandy was sad. This had been a family to him. Every member of the special task force loved him and cared for him. Though, he had a glittering career in front of him, he felt that the finest hours of his life had been in the company of the members of the special task force. He had learnt many precious lessons which otherwise would have stayed alien to him. But the biggest longing in his heart was for a last meeting with THE BIDDER and now that EARTH was not there, he did not know whom he should approach to realize his aspiration. Gingerly he walked to BMK.“Sir, how can I meet THE BIDDER one last time?” He almost pleaded in all earnest.“I don’t know Sandy.” Said BMK.”I too am dying to meet him.”“Why do you want to meet me?” Said a voice from the corner of the room.THE BIDDER in his white attire was there in front in full view.The occupants of the room had gone speechless, too dumbfounded to be able to reply to the question.It was Kumar who at last broke the silence.“We need your advice for our further course of action.” He said.“There are many things to be done.” Said THE BIDDER. “This is just the beginning. Of course you will come to know about it when the time arrives.”“I hope the world is no longer in any danger now.” Asked Sandy hesitatingly.“The world will always be in danger as long as the humans keep living, the way they are.” THE BIDDER said. “But the danger that we fought against in the present times has eased off.”“Thank you BIDDER. You have saved us.” Said Alam.“I am only a guide for you all. “Said THE BIDDER.”What was done was done by you people.”“We will keep needing your guidance in the future too.” Said Sandy.“That will make you lazy.” Smiled THE BIDDER. “Can’t you see the youth of today? They cannot move without the usage of artificial intelligence. Does that mean they do not have the capacity to think? They have just become too lazy to exercise their elements. Though technology is there to make things easy for you,it does not imply that you surrender your natural instincts to it. These are something that you carry in your genes for being the species Homo Sapiens.Artificial Intelligence was a mode to improvise on the effective upkeep of the planet but sadly it is being developed as a mode to annihilate life forms. If you do not help yourself, no one is going to do that for you. Try to find solutions yourself. When you fail after giving your best effort, I will definitely be there to help you.”“What are the other pending works that we need to do?” Asked BMK. “There are lots to be done.” Said THE BIDDER. “When you think about it, you will surely discover.Lucasz Cionek and Major Gordon were already at the breakfast table. I checked my watch. We still had four hours to reach the airport. Major Leopold had already instructed the car to come for the pickup. I munched through a sandwich before taking up a cup of hot cappuccino. Somehow, I felt sad to leave the city. We were leaving behind a panorama of memories. Soon, we were out on the road. The vehicle strutted its way past the historic Victoria Memorial onto the Bridge they call mother (Maa). This bridge would lead us to the route to the airport. The vehicle crawled past the office goers and sped along the next flyover to the proximity of the exit. The makeshift tea stalls besides the road somewhat looked to be in attention, bidding us farewell. As we drove around the last stretch, I craned my neck to have a last look at the city which hosted us so lovingly throughout our eventful stay.

“You should have taken some fees for your work Kumar.” Said Dr. Raghavan.“But sir, Mr. Simmer had been instrumental in the findings. Though he is yet to know how.” Replied Kumar. “How can I take fees from someone who has done more work than me?”“He might feel hurt if you do not take anything from him, Kumar.” Said Dr. Raghavan.“If that is so, then I would prefer to take something in kind, sir.” Said Kumar.“So typical of you. What will that fees in kind be, by the way?” Asked the scientist.“Sir, I would like him to help me set up a boutique of Indian ethnic wear in Washington and New York. His referral is enough to get the necessary clearances.” Said Kumar.“Boutique for you?” Asked Dr. Raghavan in amused animation.“Not for me sir. It is for Tina.” Replied Kumar. “I want to gift her this as a wedding gift.”“What Tina is getting married again?” Asked the scientist.”With whom?”“Me.” Said Kumar, astonishing the scientist further.

Point Pedro, the town, located in Jaffna District, Sri Lanka, at the northernmost point of the island was the latest town to be resurrected. The island nation had gone wild in celebration. Though the tsunami in 2008 had destroyed parts of the town and submerged some parts with seawater up to 4 feet deep, it still had been the proud custodian of many cultural ethos over the years. Remnants of Portuguese, Dutch and British history co-existed in mutual harmony along with the vast plantation of cotton. The re-emergence of the tiny town had sparked off joy amongst all ethnic groups. The Tamils, the Sinhalese, the Christians, the Buddhists all thanked The Almighty for hearing their prayers for the propagation of life. The victory of life over death was being celebrated with all splendor. 

CHAPTER 52THE RESOLUTIONS  “There are certain things in life that has been best explained in our holy scriptures. I have been lucky to have spend substantial amount of time with some Hindu spiritual masters a few years ago. I had learnt many things from them. Something that always crop up in my mind is the idea of professionalism. In this gathering we may be having scores of professionals from different domain of life. Doctors, Architects, Writers, Engineers, Soldiers and what not. But do you know, what is the epitome of professionalism? You are said to have touched the peak of professionalism when your profession seam to become meaningless. A policeman reaches the zenith of professionalism when the society becomes crime free. A doctor reaches his peak when the society becomes disease free. A scientist, similarly reaches the top rung of professionalism when science has answered all questions and a soldier has attained the peak of professionalism when all enemies had been won over. But this is a work in progress. And the human race should always have this goal in mind over personal attainment.”“Secondly, there are two things that rule the life of an individual. Once is called the “Kriya” and another as “Karma”. Kriya is what we do to earn a living. It is an activity entirely devoted to ourselves. Everybody does it to stay alive. Even, animals other than humans also resort to it to survive. Whereas, Karma is a different platform. Karma is what one does for the benefit of others. There is no expectation of returns attached to Karma. It is wholesomely selfless. The whole gamut of Karma and Kriya defines this universe. As of the present times, there is more of Kriya than Karma. that is propagated in society. That’s because we have devised our society to function according to some set patterns. However, the various emergencies that we have faced in the past and continue to do so, have urged us to have a revision of our mindset.”“Immortality is the right of divinity. Ever since they climbed down from the trees, poor mortals have, understandably, been cut up about the monopoly of the Gods on the matter. So humans, in the course of evolution, came up with the idea of erecting statues. These relics cast, literally and figuratively speaking, in stone are a testimony to man’s desire for eternal life. Among the Homo Sapien, the love for statues in politicians remains unrivalled. There are millions of statues around the world trying to commemorate the ideals that the individual had once stood for. Cultures that are deeply soaked in mythology, the fancy to erect statues of various Gods, ruling various dominions of life, is paramount.”“These superstitious tribes are known to be vulnerable to the vice of narcissism. But it cannot be denied that their daily ritual of worship is also rich in symbolism about the bitter truths of public life. Politiciand please heed.What better way of getting rid of the dust and grime of political life? There is, evidently, no better way of taking a shot at immortality either. Politics is a dangerous and competitive engagement. People’s representatives are condemned to live under the shadow of fear of getting upstaged by an even more populist rival. The only way, therefore, of creating and nurturing legacies — The Soviets in the Lenin era might have cracked the code — is to have multiple replicas.”“Talk of our common humanity in the time of this Cosmic malaise feels less like a deferred piety, more like a shared fate. Never have headlines in global newspapers published in distant continents spoken so directly to everyone. Never has history repeated itself in short, tight cycles in country after country before our eyes. Donne was right and more literally than he had meant to be: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Never have we experienced death in other countries with such vicarious anxiety.”“This is the great global moment of our lives. The last time that human beings as a species were collectively as vulnerable was just over a century ago, in 1918 when the ‘Spanish flu’ infected, at a low estimate, 500 million people worldwide and killed 50 million. British India had the largest number of deaths of any single country in the world; between 10 and 20 million Indians died. And then again, the fear that was brought about by the China induced Covid-19. The panic was more than the outcome. It’s important to bear in mind that the 1918 flu was exceptionally malignant. Nothing like it has been seen since. The 2009 influenza pandemic which spread to more than 200 countries killed fewer than 20,000 people by the time it was declared over in 2010. Also, by way of context, seasonal flu infects three to five million people every year with 2,90,000 to 6,50,000 deaths reported globally. We don’t yet know what the morbidity rates for Covid-19 are because there hasn’t been enough testing to calculate the extent of the infection, but one per cent mortality would mean many millions dead if, as Angela Merkel has said of Germany, 60 to 70 per cent of a country’s population is likely to be infected over time.”“The Cosmic circus that happened for a couple of months stumped us. It was not any pandemic or influenza or virus attack. It was something unfathomable. Today, when I stand here in front of you to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Life magazine, I feel a bit flattered. My experience at the Auschwitz concentration camp pales in comparison to the resident of the cities and towns that suddenly disappeared to appear again. It feels somewhat like Rip Van Winkle, with a shortened sleep.”“Anyway, thanks everyone for remembering me. I also would be equally thankful and proud if humans come together as a single tribe to thwart such attacks on our planet.” Lucasz descended the stairs amidst a robust round of applause. Major Adam Gordon, walked up from somewhere to embrace him at the aisle.

“You have cooked much better than any restaurant in Kolkata, Boudi (Sister in law)” Kumar said to a blushing Mrs. Ghoshal as he tasted a piece of the Hilsa Fish that had been served. “She has a passion for cooking, Kumar.” Said inspector Ghoshal, evidently proud by the generous compliment from Kumar. “This preparation of Hilsa with mustard is also my favorite.”“What about your wife, Mr. Kumar?” Asked Mrs. Ghoshal. “Is she also passionate about cooking?”“Kumar is still single.” Informed Inspector Ghoshal. “How lucky.”“Not exactly lucky sir.” Said Kumar as he bit into the tender pieces of mutton. “In fact you are lucky to have such a wonderful family. You have someone to come back to after a tiring days work. You have someone to discuss your bad days about. You are lucky sir. Absolutely.”“Why didn’t you marry Mr. Kumar?. You are so handsome, having such an extraordinary intellect, as informed by my husband. “ Said Mrs. Ghoshal as she served some more rice to Kumar.It was Kumar’s turn to blush. But he didn’t. In fact he didn’t heed to the compliments much. “Boudi, marriage requires much more than looks and intellect.” Replied Kumar. “It requires the intent to get married. I never had that feeling.”“Did you never have any crush or girlfriend during your college days?” Asked Inspector Ghoshal.“Maybe I had.”Replied Kumar.”But I never let them rule my thought process.”The discussion was disturbed by the entry of the children in the Ghoshal family.“Meet my son and daughter Kumar.” Introduced the inspector. “Atanu is in his 10th grade and Anindita is in the 7th.”“Namaste Kumar uncle.” Both the children greeted Kumar in unison.“Wow, you two know my name.” Exclaimed Kumar.“Yes, papa always talks about you.” Said Atanu. “You are a hero in our household as well as amongst my friends.”“But I am neither a film actor, nor a sportsperson. I am just an ordinary citizen.” Smiled Kumar.“You are anything but ordinary.” Said Inspector Ghoshal. “I want my son to become like you.”“No sir.” Opposed Kumar. “ He should become what he chooses to be. He should become himself first. Then of course a good engineer or a great doctor. I will never advise anyone to aspire to become a Kumar Sinha. This life is a little tougher than one would like to handle. And why should one become a Kumar Sinha when there are so many other pleasant options waiting in the horizon?”“There may be many pleasant options in front of every young boy and girl Kumar.” Said Inspector Ghoshal. “But they can only enjoy the pleasantries when the Kumar Sinhas of the world make the world exist. I don’t want my children just to live to enjoy but I would like them to grow up to make others enjoy to live.”

Baldwin patted Barry’s hand as the train left London. Gregory Sanders had been phenomenal. It was inevitable that it would not take more than one more hearing for the famous lawyer to get Jeremy acquitted. “Don’t worry anymore.”Whispered Baldwin. “Commander Ruslan has promised to re-instate Ervine as soon he gets acquitted. And that will de done much before the commemoration ceremony.”“So nice of him.” Replied Barry with a smile of utter relief. “By the way. Let me introduce you to Colonel David Hargreaves.” Baldwin gestured towards the sturdy man sitting behind him.“Nice to meet you Colonel.” Greeted Barry. “Are you coming with us?”“Yes.” Replied Hargreaves. “I have a class to attend.”“Class?” Asked Barry.”For what?”“Alcohol rehabilitation.” Replied the newly promoted Colonel.

The world had suddenly slowed down. The pace of life which had attained the alacrity of mechanical barbarism seemed to soften its tempo. The regardless aspiration to grasp more, had suddenly calmed into self–realization. What was this rat-race all about? Will all the knowledge and material comfort around them humans were still found wanting at the face of a sudden attack from nowhere. The selfish, uncontrolled greed that ruled over mankind had received a rude shock. The primary requirement was to save the habitat. The senseless rush to nowhere had somewhat paused in search for reason. Humane effort were being propagated to promote coexistence . The colorless leaves deserved to get back their color. Interference of man was needed to be reduced for the air and water to regain their flavor. The blueness of the sky needed to be restored. And above all humans needed to act as humans and not God. Mankind was trying to understand and believe that they are just one species. The differences that they had created amongst themselves did not matter even an iota to the universe. In fact, their division had created their deficiency. Humans needed to get together to be able to survive. Their categorization based on color, race, resource did not give them any leverage against the attack from the unknown. They had realized that man is as frail as ever. The knowledge that they boast of is still in its infancy. And if man aspired to live on in this beautiful planet, they needed to think and act as an unit, as a whole. The time for man to become a superpower has not yet arrived. It perhaps is centuries away. But till then, man has to survive the impacts of the unknown.

CHAPTER 53THE COMMEMORATION The hall was packed to capacity. Along with the Head of the States, the front was replete with the presence of the top ranked officers from the FBI, CIA and the INTERPOL, all dressed in their majestic white uniforms. We, the members of the Special Task Force, were provided with a special seating arrangement near the dais . The glamour of the evening was further added by the presence of dignitaries from various countries and the glitterati from the entertainment world. It was a solemn occasion and I was already having knocked knees at the thought of my upcoming speech. After the customary welcome address, The General Secretary of the United Nations was invited on stage.“Good Evening friends.” He said. “it’s my utter privilege to address this august gathering in such an auspicious event. ““For the past few months, we all have been living in anxiety and fear. Something strange was happening in our planet which had no ready explanation. There was panic everywhere, and rightly so because we were being threatened with termination.”“But instead of resigning ourselves to the hands of fate, some resolute people resorted to fight back. Though, people differed with their opinions they have shown exemplary resolve to stick to their motive in the greatest interest of mankind. There were criticism, even insult and abuse yet these guardians of mankind have gone ahead and accomplished their task. We are alive today, probably because they dared to dare.”“I also would like to thank and congratulate the INTERPOL, The United Nations , Pentagon , N.A.S.A.,The Governments of The U.S., France, Germany, the British Government, The Government of India, Russia and all other nations who had sent their members into the Special Task Force. I would also like to congratulate Commander Ruslan Dragomir and his team of extraordinary people to have achieved something that history will remember for evermore. I would also like to thank the scientists from around the world, especially N.A.S.A. for assisting the team and relentlessly trying to decipher the mystery that had come upon us.”“We have overcome a peril by being supportive to each other and I hope that in the near future too we can resolve any crisis by acting as one race, one species.”“Thank You.”Next was the turn of William. The new Chief of INTERPOL. William Sheringham.“Honorable President of the United States of America, Heads of States of various countries, General Secretary of the United Nations, Dignitaries and friends. A very good evening to you all.”“I take pride in representing today a gallant force that has added a new definition to gallantry. In fact, the word gallantry today appears to be an understatement. They have done something beyond imagination and I cannot describe my feeling of joy.”“I would especially like to congratulate and thank everyone for supporting INTERPOL in such an outlandish mission and would like to specially make a mention of Commander Ruslan Dragomir, with whom I have had the good fortune of sharing a room in the past. No one better than him could have stewarded the project with such finesse. I would also like to congratulate every member of the team for showing exceptional courage under severely trying conditions.”“I also would like to pay my deep homage to the members who had lost their lives while on duty. Their martyrdom is a great debt on humanity. We have tried to contact the families of the bereaved and I hope they have been able to grace this occasion.” “Though, there had been some miscommunication some time back, when we had announced the closure of the mission, but later after having realized our mistake, we had re-initiated it. At this occasion, I would also like to confirm that all members of the mission have been re-instated, including officer Jeremy Ervine, whom the courts of law have acquitted as not guilty for the killing of my predecessor, the late Colonel Winston Berger.”“Thank you all. Let’s all make this planet a better place to live in.”Once the applause had subsided the President of the United States of America, walked up to the podium.“Dignitaries, Ladies and Gentlemen. We have all spent a few months of sleepless nights. We have all considered ourselves lucky when we had woken up alive every day. But what is so heartening to think is that we never lost hope. We fought the elements of destruction, tooth and nail and emerged victorious. It is a great achievement for humanity. This will remain in history as a time when the world stood together to fight an unknown source of destruction through our strong will to survive. My heartiest congratulations to the brave members of the mission initiated by INTERPOL. I believe that this crisis has brought the world together and we would no longer be curtailed by our petty differences. We also believe that we can withstand the blatant intimidations from outer space even in the future. We are also confident that our scientists would soon come out with the knowhow and the resources to anticipate and decimate such invasions. We, as citizens of this planet stand united and committed to fight any intrusion to our world the way we have done now, with more surety and less casualty.”“We realize today that humans need to support each other to survive. The dictum of survival of the fittest is not an attribute for the whole human species. We need not fight each other to survive but we need to fight for survival together. Let us all pledge to be citizens of the world, whatever maybe our nationality, religion or color of skin. The United States of America vows to fight the difference between man and man. We would like the other nations to support us in our initiative to create a world colony. It will require a lot of planning and infrastructure development to do away with all our differences. It’s not impossible as the Special Task Force has shown us. Let us will it and we can do it.”“Thank you.”After a huge round of applause, each member of the Special Task Force was summoned by the beautiful actress Melissa Doctrove to receive the medals of gallantry from the President. The bereaved were represented by someone from the family and it was heartening to see the parents of Major Glosky and Elizabeth Dale present in the gathering. Their children had indeed made them proud. Inspector Ghoshal of the Kolkata Police as well as officers from the FBI probing the case of Richard Redknapp received special awards. Dr. Raghavan, Barry Livingstone and Cameron Simmer were amongst the recipients too.Then came the dreaded moment. My turn to speak. I nervously looked at Lucasz, who just nodded his head in a gesture of assurance. I took out the script and laid it out in front of me.“Good Evening to all dignitaries and everyone else. This is a surreal moment in my life. I have indeed been lucky to be given an opportunity to lead such a formidable team. Each member of the team, whether they are from the core team or through special association, is an institution by himself or herself. This had been an amazing journey of discovery and self- realization. We have realized that more than anything we have been confounded by our own negativity. But biggest accomplishment had been, coming in close proximity of THE BIDDER, who is an embodiment of the positive energy. We all are having positive energies. If we cultivate positive thoughts and feelings, we add onto the count of positive energy. The growth in the positive energy of the universe ensures our safety.”“This mission has taught us many things that we would surely be sharing with everybody we come across. We will be happy and proud to do that. I would like to thank and congratulate each member of the mission once again and it is needless to say that the captain of a team is as good as the team itself. Hearty congratulations also to Dr. R. Raghavan for receiving the Richard Redknapp award for the best scientist and also to Mrs. Redknapp for representing her phenomenal husband this evening. I would like to make a special mention of Major Adam Lothar Gordon for being with me through most testing of times and also Lucasz Cionek and Kumar Sinha to give the mission its final shape and glory.”“Long live humanity. Thank you.”Once I had descended, Major Gordon was summoned on stage for a few words.“Honorary dignitaries, ladies and gentlemen, I have no speech prepared. No one told me that I too had to speak. So I will merely speak from my heart and tell you what I feel. ““Our world has been too categorized, for far too long. The rich has gotten rich and the poor has gone further below the poverty line. If you ask me, there are just two categories of people in this world. The haves and the have nots. The strife begins there. I don’t have anything against the rich. To be rich is no sin. But being indifferent is sin. Remember, the resources in this world are limited. These resources can be accessed with the help of each other. Then why are there only a handful who will enjoy and the rest suffer? We are indifferent about the sufferings of others. When an employer sacks an employee does he even for a moment think how that employee is going to survive? No, he is just worried about his own house, his own car, his own bank balance. Shame on us humans. We maybe an intelligent species but we are equally shameless. You people may talk of the SARS virus, Corona virus, Ebola, swine flu, bird flu and all other pandemics. But most of the destructions, suffering and deaths are caused over money and by money. People do not hesitate to kill each other for a handful of dollar bills. Shame on us humans.Even at a time of global emergencies , there are fraudsters who are active all around to dupe people. There are banks who are sending relentless messages for credit card payments . We are trying to survive , do you people not understand this simple arithmetic? If man does not control his greed for money, such incidents of Cosmic retribution will keep happening. In fact, I would like to appeal to scientists, thinkers, economists around the world to discover a more harmonious and harmless substitute for money.”“Lastly , a few words for the members of the Special Task Force.”“Friends , I have been part of many different missions in the past mainly as a soldier . I have seen wars , natural disasters , calamities , rescue operations with various teams . But this team has been exceptional. From the very first day , the motive of each member had been so bang on that even by thinking about their resolve , I am right now moved to tears.”“Thank you to all our team members and the groups and individuals who had supported us. And thank you to all for hearing whatever I had to say.”Major Gordon’s short extempore had stunned the audience. It was after a while that they began to clap.

Kumar stood unblinkingly in front of THE BIDDER. He was the only one in the room when THE BIDDER had emerged.“Is it true that everything, from respiration to fear, all depends on the soul? The Atma?” Asked Kumar.“Yes. Said THE BIDDER. “Atma is an Energy and to get an idea about it we need to understand the process called Cellular Respiration.”“Impure deoxygenated blood flows into the lungs where the carbon dioxide removed from the blood is exhaled, blood is oxygenated using the inhaled oxygen and the pure oxygenated blood flows from the lungs to the heart. The heart pumps the pure oxygenated blood which is circulated through out the body and it reaches each and every cell in the body. Each cell uses the sugar in the blood and breaks it down using the oxygen from the blood. This process is called Cellular Respiration and this process produces carbon dioxide and Energy. The waste product carbon dioxide is collected back by the blood and flows towards the lungs. The Energy released is stored in an organic chemical called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and is used to drive all cellular activities that require energy.”“This Life Energy which is present in each and every cell and pervades the entire body is called Atman / Brahman by Advaita Vedanta and it salutes and bows to this Life Energy with great love, reverence, devotion, adoration and gratefulness.”“There is a description of Life Energy (Atman) in Advaita Vedanta of Hindu culture.Upanishads of Advaita philosophy say there is no place in the body where this energy is not present and it is called Atma Shakti (Svetasvatara Upanishad 1.3), Achintya Shakti (Kaivalya Upanishad 1.21) meaning incomprehensible energy. The exact word Shakti meaning Energy is used in both the Upanishads mentioned above. Thus according to Upanishads “Atma is Energy“ and this is not my personal opinion.”“A single electrical energy has the capability to provide light, locomotion, rotation, heat, cold (AC, Refrigerator), receive signals, transmit signals, etc. Similarly, the same single Life Energy, Atma depending on the location of the cell or group of cells provides the capability to see, hear, smell, taste, speech, locomotion, etc.”“When the Life Energy, Atma powers the inert and insentient mind (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.20, Kena Upanishad 1.5), the mind gains its Sentience, Consciousness and we get the ability to observe and think. Thus the mind borrows its Sentience or Consciousness from the Life Energy, Atma and reflects it. This is called Chidabhasa (Chit-Abhasa). Chit means Consciousness and Abhasa means reflection.”“Just like electrical energy is able to power various devices such as mike, camera, loud speaker, cranes, locomotive, etc. the Atma Shakti powers various organs in our body such as ears, eyes, speech, hands, limbs, etc. (It is a deliberate attempt to bring out the similarity between electrical devices and body organs). This is what is mentioned in Aitareya Upanishad (3.1.1 – 3.1.2), Kena Upanishad (1.1 – 1.8) and Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad (3.4.2, 3.7.16-3.7.23, 3.8.11).”“Bhagavad Gita (2.21. - 2.25) describes the Atman as indestructible, eternal, unborn, unthinkable, unchangeable. It cannot be cut by a sword, burnt by fire, wetted by water, dried by air. It is beyond thought.”“Interestingly, the above definition is applicable to all the energies such as gravitational, heat, light, nuclear, magnetic, etc.”“The first law of Thermodynamics states that “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed”. Science is saying that the energy is eternal. Vedanta is saying that the Brahman / Atman is eternal. You are not limited by the body. You are unlimited, limitless, infinite Atman / Brahman which is energizing every cell in the body.”“I will give you more Descriptions of Atma / Brahman.”“In Vedic literature, the Brahman is described as changeless, formless, stainless, beginningless, endless, eternal, without any modifications, beyond time (Kalatita - for any energy, past, present and future are meaningless), beyond space (Deshatita), without any qualities (Gunatita), etc. If one carefully observes, all the above descriptions of Brahman are applicable to all the energies.”

“There cannot be two different kinds of electrical energy. Brahman is also only one without a second (Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1). We cannot see any energy. Brahman also cannot be seen (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.8, Svetashvatara Upanishad 4.20). Nobody can "think" and "comprehend" Brahman (Kena Upanishad 1.5). We can never “think” and “comprehend” any energy. Every energy can be experienced (manifested) using appropriate devices and instruments. For example, to experience Gravitational Energy we can use our body as the instrument. Just jump in the air. We fall back to the ground due to Gravitational Energy. To experience Heat Energy, we can use our skin as the instrument. Just go near the heat source and we can experience Heat Energy. To experience Light Energy we can use our eyes as the instrument and all we need to do is just see the light.”“To experience Life Energy, Atma the instrument required is Pure Mind (Amrita Bindu Upanishad 1.1). Pure Mind is without thoughts, be it good or bad, just no thoughts. The only way to experience this state is by practicing silent, highly focused contemplation (meditation) that “I am a Concentrating Entity” and successfully attaining Self-Realization.”“However, there is a difference between Brahman and other energies. All energies are Jada (insentient). Brahman is Chit (Sentience, Consciousness). Sentience - Aitreya Upanishad 3.1.2. Lord of Knowledge - Svetasvatara Upanishad 3.13. Knower, Knowledge - Kaivalya Upanishad 1.21. No energy can provide life. Brahman sustains life. It is Life Energy or Sentient Life Energy that is providing life to human beings, animal kingdom and plant kingdom (Kena Upanishad 4.6). One appearing as many different electrical devices such as bulb refrigerator, air conditioner, radio, TV etc. differ in their names, forms and functions. Underneath, all of them, the substratum is one single electrical energy.”“In the same way, we all differ in our names, forms, functions and capabilities. But in the core, the substratum is the same Sentient Life Energy, Atman which is present in every cell of our body. If we consider Electrical Energy as a thread, then all the electrical devices in the world are individual beads of pearls strung on the same single thread. If we consider Sentient Life Energy (Atma) as a thread, then all of us are individual beads of pearls strung on that thread, uniting this entire world into a one single beautiful necklace. (Bhagavad Gita 7.7)”“The glorious, eternal dance of the Life Energy is not only happening in every single cell of our body but is also happening in all human beings, entire animal kingdom and the vast plant kingdom (Kena Upanishad 4.6). Lord Shiva is symbolically reminding us of this sublime dance of Life Energy in his dancing posture as Lord Nataraja.”“Is Atma explained completely to you?”Before Kumar could say anything. THE BIDDER started to talk once again.“No. Not at all. Though I am providing factual information it is only a very small subset of what actually the Atma is which is just astounding, unthinkable, incomprehensible, ineffable .”“Due to our breathing, the Life Energy is produced in every cell of our body. But due to what our breathing happens? Due to Atma, say Kena Upanishad 1.8, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.16. Using the oxygen how every cell is able to break down the sugar and produce the Life Energy.”“It is just astounding, jaw-dropping, mind-boggling, whatever wonder, splendour, grandeur of the self-effulgent, resplendent Life Energy, Atma could be comprehended by our limited mind let us rejoice that, bask in its glory and constantly delight ourselves by thinking and thanking the Life Energy, Atma.”“This is an effort to try to know the Unknown using the Known. The usage of the word Energy makes it easy to gain the theoretical knowledge because of our familiarity with the energies such as heat, light, gravity, etc. It makes it uncomplicated to understand the slokas of Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and all other texts of Advaita Vedanta.”“According to Advaita Vedanta, due to Avidya (ignorance) we wrongly identify "I" with Jagat which includes the world, the body, the mind, the ego-self and the thoughts. The Jagat is called Anatma (Not-Self) and the Life Energy is called Atma (Self). The ultimate goal of Advaita is understanding that we are indeed Life Energy and identify "I" with the eternal, unchanging, Truth, the one and only Reality which is Life Energy, Atma, the True Self. Advaita is urging us to attain Self-Realization by gaining the Experiential Knowledge which is the experience of "being" and "existing" as "Life Energy (Atman)" by practicing Meditation daily. As per Advaita, Meditation means deep contemplation, highly focused Single Pointed Concentration. Having used the term “Life Energy”, even the science and atheists would not object to being in thanking and grateful mood for few minutes everyday thanking this Life giving Energy, Atma. “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”, said Albert Einstein. This is my tenacious effort to make the science understand, acknowledge and appreciate the unchanging, eternal Truth of Vedanta. Rudyard Kipling had said "East is East, West is West and never the twain shall meet". This is my sincere endeavour to finally make the West meet the East. I strongly believe that the twain shall certainly meet and lovingly embrace in the realm of the philosophical sphere and joyfully resonate and reverberate with a harmonious symphony celebrating the glory of the one and only eternal, unchanging Reality which is the Life Energy called Atma.”“Kumar, you know why I told you all this?” Smiled THE BIDDER. “Because I know you are extraordinary. Don’t worry, we will meet again. Have a happy married life.”Kumar gasped at the last words. THE BIDDER had vanished. 

CHAPTER 54BECKONING A NEW BEGINNING  “I know you are back in Mumbai, Kumar.” Said Tina. “Why didn’t you come home?”“I have come to the airport to receive a few people.” Replied Kumar.”By the way who told you that I am in Mumbai?”“My sixth sense.” Teased Tina. “My eyes always follow you.”“It must have been Dr. Raghavan.” Said Kumar. “He had landed last night.”“If you know everything, why do you ask, Kumar?” Tina’s voice reflected a sweet irritation.“Ok, madam.” Said Kumar. “After I receive my friends, I will come directly to your house for lunch.”“May I know, who these friends are?” Asked Tina.“There are three.” Informed Kumar. “Sandy Bloom from Australia, Barry Livingstone and Jeremy Ervine from England.”“Who are they?” Asked Tina.“Friends.” Replied Kumar.“They were part of the mission, I believe.” Said Tina.“If you know everything, why do you ask, madam?”Said Kumar in a lowered tone. Kumar guided the three of them to the entrance of the living room. As soon as he entered, little Ria and Antariksh ran up to their beloved uncle. Kumar held them close to him and gifted them with a booty of chocolates and toys.“Welcome home Kumar.” The voice startled him. He turned around instantly to find Dr. Raghavan standing at the doorway.“What a surprise.” Exclaimed Kumar, as be bowed to touch the feet of the elderly scientist.“There will be surprises galore for you, Kumar as the day progresses.” Smiled Dr. Raghavan.The voices from inside had become louder and Kumar was further surprised to see Tina’s father emerge from the other room. Tina’s father had seldom visited Tina, except for special occasions. It was not due to her inter-caste marriage but because of his immensely popular chain of bakeries, which rarely gave him time to go elsewhere. In fact, he had been the catalyst for Tina’s marriage to the late Dr. Amit Ray. Ria, the lovely girl and Antariksh, the cute boy ran up to their grandpa to show him their gifts.Sandy was standing against a pillar when he noticed BMK through his peripheral vision. “BMK sir.” Shouted an excited Sandy.”What a pleasant surprise.”BMK, followed by Alam strolled out of the room to greet the others .“What is going on?” Asked Kumar.” How come everybody is here without me knowing about it?” “Actually Sir.” Stammered Sandy. “I had a vision that you are getting married to someone called Tina. So I shared the information with BMK sir.”“But how did you all find out who Tina is?” Asked a bemused Kumar.“Please do not forget Mr.Kumar Sinha that I am from RAW.” Said BMK. “Finding out Tina Ray was cakewalk to me.”“So it was all pre planned. “ Said Kumar. “I was wondering why Sandy, Barry, Jeremy, Hargreaves, Baldwin, all wanted to come to Mumbai of all places.”“By the way, where are the others?” Asked Alam.“They will be coming en-route from Paris along with commander Ruslan, Major Gordon, Major Leopold, Colonel Sheringham and Lucasz Cionek.”“What the hell is going on?” Asked Kumar in utter dismay.“This.” Said Dr. Raghavan as he handed Kumar with a card. An invitation card.An evening in paradise. Welcome all to the glory of togetherness, to bless and shower your good wishes to Tina and Kumar on their engagement.Kumar read again. They had already arranged for their engagement.“B..but, isn’t this too early?” Stammered Kumar.“Too early?” Laughed Dr.Raghavan. “You are already nearing fifty, Kumar.”“But I … I don’t know whether this is right.” Kumar stammered again.“Dear Kumar.” Smiled Dr. Raghavan. “I have known both of you for quite some time, now. I know how you both adore each other. And its time now Kumar. You need a woman in your life and Tina needs a man in her life.”“But sir.” Hesitated Kumar. “ What will uncle think?”“I am not the one who is getting married Kumar.” Laughed Tina’s father. “Besides, we are all so happy that you two have agreed. All your old friends are in Mumbai Kumar and your new friends too. Please do not disappoint them.”“Here comes Tina.” Smiled Dr,. Raghavan as Tina gingerly entered the room.Kumar felt suddenly that the breeze had become softer, that the fragrance from the garden had become too sweet, that the chirpings of the birds have turned into symphony.Tina was as majestic as ever in a blue saree. One by one, everyone introduced themselves. Tina handed them platefuls of the finest homemade sweets. “Give something also to poor Kumar.” Teased Dr. Raghavan.“No sir. Today everything is reserved for us.” Said Alam. “ From tomorrow onwards, Kumar will be the sole owner of everything.”“They have landed. They have landed.” Jeremy ran out of the room wildly, clutching his phone.“Well, their rooms have been booked and the hotel has been instructed to pick them up.” Assured BMK.“Two other guests have arrived with their families BMK.” Said Alam. “And they have already checked in.”“Who?” Asked Dr. Raghavan.“Cameron Simmer and Inspector Ghoshal, with their families.” Said Alam.“Wow. Now the quorum is complete.” Said Sandy as he chewed a delicious looking laddu.“In the evening, we will meet some other distinct guests, gentlemen.” Said Dr. Raghavan. “They are old friends of Kumar and Tina. One amongst them, is the Home minister of this state and another is the Chief Minister.”“Exceptional.” Shouted Barry Livinstone.The evening had an extraordinary air about it. Kumar, accompanied by his old friends Ram Singh Rathod, Jay Singh and Armaan Bailey, all dressed in the finest traditional clothes came and greeted everyone. We were all introduced to the bride to be along with her family and relatives. The Mumbai police had made elaborate arrangements for the safety of the high profile dignitaries. The Chief Minister Dr. Bibhuti Bhushan arrived with his family amongst much fanfare along with the yet unmarried and much celebrated Home minister P.B. Solomon. Light music filled the air along with the fabulous display of lights. The ceremony soon started with the cutting of the cake and exchange of rings. Everyone tried to capture the moment with their handsets, while the younger guys engaged the bride and the groom for endless selfies and groupies. Laughter and happiness had filled the atmosphere. Major Gordon handed me a drink.“Time to hand over our presents Ruslan.” He said.“Oh sure.” I consented. “Cheers everyone.”Everyone raised a toast for the couple. “You are not drinking?” Asked Sandy to Hargreaves beside him.“No more. I’m done with alcohol.” Smiled Hargreaves. “I am in fact enjoying the mango shake with the children.”“May I have the attention of all.” Said the Chief minister. As soon as everyone settled down, he stood up and looked at the couple.“These two are one of the finest human beings I have ever met.” He said. “No I am not exaggerating. Both of them had gone through some really testing times. But they have survived through those times by the strength of their character. It is indeed symbolic to have Lucasz Cionek in this occasion to give his blessings to the couple. I have only read his books. Today, I am so fortunate to be able to meet him in person. All this due to the one and only Kumar Sinha. I wish both of them immense happiness throughout life and may the best days begin from now.”“I am a big fan of Kumar.” Said Solomon. “He is blessed with the wild form of intelligence that the world so lacks. He has the unique talent of understanding the psyche of an individual by merely looking at him or her. And Tina. Oh, she is an epitome of goodness. I sometimes am forced to think that how can a woman have so many qualities put together. Her grace is phenomenal. Her beauty is ethereal. Her smile is contagious. Her cooking skill is unparallel. Her imagination weaved through the clothing she designs is superlative. And her nature can even bowl over the most satanic of characters. Sometimes I feel that Tina Ray is not human. She is an angel. All the best to both of you.”“I have known Kumar for a very short while.” Said Inspector Ghoshal. “But within that short time he has stamped his genius. I have learnt a lot from him. Though, his methods are queer, yet his queerness is so methodical. If there is any problem in the world, we have the luxury to sit back and say that we should not worry, there is Kumar. All the best wishes to the couple. May they live happily forever and ever.”“My name is Cameron Simmer.” Announced Simmer. “And I am, like most of you, a great fan of Kumar Sinha. I have had the opportunity to be with him for a few days and have discovered what a great human being he is. My wife and me take the opportunity to request Mrs. Kumar to consider opening a boutique in ethnic wear in Washington and New York. I take the onus to arrange for them. This is my wedding present for the couple.”“There was a challenge going on amongst us as to where we should offer them a stay for their honeymoon.” Said Major Gordon. “Leopold suggested Paris. Lucasz suggested Venice. I suggested Vienna. But it was Ruslan who stole the show. He suggested Timisoara in Romania. It is indeed a beautiful city quite alike this beautiful couple. On top of it there is a whole resort owned by the nephew of Ruslan Dragomir. Our gift to the couple is a weeklong stay at Timisoara and a couple of days at Paris. Hope you will enjoy your stay, in solitude and harmony.”Lastly, it was the turn of Kumar to speak. He raised a toast to everybody, looked briefly at Tina and began.“it all has happened so suddenly that it will take some time for me to believe it.” He said. “I had not even thought in the wildest of my imagination that I could ever get married to Tina. She is someone who is in a different plain altogether. You can find many Kumar Sinhas in the roads of Mumbai but no Tina Ray. She is someone who can make your drudgery vanish by simply smiling at you. The patience and perseverance with which she had withstood the various rough rides of life is exemplary. As Solomon rightly said, she indeed is an angel. Tonight, I might sound a bit gibberish, pardon me, I am on the seventh heaven today.Actually, I am walking on air. My sincere thanks to everyone who had so immaculately organized this evening and thanks to everyone who have graced this occasion and made us proud. I will try to always live up to your expectations. Thanks for your love, blessings and good wishes.”At last it was time for Tina to speak. Clad in a beautiful red saree and glowing ornaments she looked like an apostle of beauty and elegance. She joined her hands in a gesture of namaskar and spoke in the most soft and soothing voice.“I feel honored to be amongst such eminent people.” She said. “I had never thought in my life that I would be able to see such celebrities from such close quarters. Indeed it is a dream come true for me. It was also a dream to spend my life with a phenomenal character like Kumar Sinha. I know how caring he is. I know how human he is and I also know that he needs the utmost care to continue being an enigma. For a long time Kumar has been neglecting himself. I promise you that soon you will have a very polished Kumar in front of you. Also, I would like to differ with Mr. Solomon and Kumar himself. I am no angel. I am more keen to remain a human being and a good human being. I have been lucky to have great parents, siblings, a great husband who passed away, great friends , associates and wonderful children. I have had well wishers throughout my life. Dr. Raghavan for one has been just like a second father to me. I now need someone with whom I may safely sail into the twilight of life and that is Kumar Sinha. I thank God for listening to my payers. Thank you everyone for making my life so wonderful. I pray that wonderful things keep happening in your lives too.”“I have an announcement to make.” Lucasz Cionek said, standing up. “Now that INTERPOL has coffers full of resources, I had requested Mr. Sheringham to consider sponsoring the education and health facilities of all the children of the members of the Special Task Force as well as those of the Associate Members. I had also requested him to consider employment for the family members of the bereaved. And tell you what…..he has agreed and already passed a resolution. Intimation will be coming to you about the same quite soon. And this, my friends, was the gift from my friend William Sheringham.”“What a wonderful announcement.” Remarked Major Leopold.“However, “Continued Lucasz, “my gift to Kumar is something unique, I will only share the same with him, Ruslan, Gordon, Leo, William and Dr. Raghavan once the guests have departed.”“What can it be, sir?” Asked Sandy to Hargreaves.“Oh it maybe a condom preserved through the concentration camps.” Replied Hargreaves unblinkingly.The food laid out in front was exquisite. Apart from the plethora of starters which included tandoori chicken, fish finger, chilly fish, lamb chops, chesse dollops, grilled potatoes, baked beans, beef steaks etc. the main course had several varieties of Indian, Afghan, Lebanese, Italian, Chinese breads and rice along with mouth watering preparations of chicken, fish, lobsters, mutton, beef and vegetables. The dessert had a long list too. The best platters of cakes, ice creams, sweets and confectionary from around the world had been congregated at a common cluster.By 10:30 PM the guests had started taking their leave and Kumar was free to talk.“Was such a gala ceremony required, commander?” He asked me. “So many dignitaries needn’t have been called.”“Ask Major Gordon.” I replied. “If he had his way, he would have invited the president of America too.”“Yes, I should have tried.” Said Major Gordon from behind.“I wonder what is the gift Lucasz was talking about. Any idea Ruslan?” Asked William.“Nope.” I replied. “He never discussed anything with me.”“Then why don’t we find out from him now that most of the guests are gone.”Suggested Major Leopold.We walked up to Lucasz, who was engaged in an animated discussion with Dr. Raghavan.“Lucasz, time to unwrap your gift for Kumar.”I said, as he looked up from his seat.“This is a gift that cannot be unwrapped, Ruslan.” He smiled.”Anyway, follow me.”Lucasz led us to one of the clubhouses inside the gymkhana. It seemed to be a large hall. The hall was dark and the lights from outside made little impact within. As we looked around, we found a small glow of white developing into a human form and soon the smiling appearance of THE BIDDER, clad in all white was in front of us.“I am happy to see you all again.” Smiled THE BIDDER.
“We are eager to know of what will happen to the world, O Holy one.” Said Lucasz.“The world has become a very complicated place.” Said THE BIDDER. “It is brimming with negative energy. The lust for power has driven people insane. Lucasz, if you remember the concentration camps, you will remember, that humans had surpassed all the degrees of brutality there. Remember how, humans had been treated in captivity. “Immediately upon entering a working concentration camp, one is struck by the dim lighting and stench of vomit and human waste. You could see the unfortunates roamed freely, their minds gradually disintegrating in endless panic attacks and psychotic episodes. There were no doctors, merely gorilla-faced men in black uniforms who belonged to the army of the brutal SS agents.”“They appeared to have been selected for their cruelty, for they beat and degraded the captives in the most sadistic manner. Many of the inmates had regressed to childlike states and lay on the floor weeping like infants , begging for compassion that they did not receive.”“There was cruel pleasure in the eyes of theoe thugs as they brutalized the unfortunates. They beat them with batons, sprayed pepper spray into their eyes and kicked them with their steel-capped boots. “ “And it was there that you must have seen— piles and piles of dead bodies, stacked on top of one another all the way to the ceiling. There were men, women and children, elderlies and toddlers, rich and poor, beautiful and misshapen, proud and humble….”“What was this done for? Power? Money? No, it was a form of madness that had gripped the world ever since.” “Why go into the detail of the extremes? From time immemorial humans have resorted to brutality to resolve differences. For what glory? They have only depleted their own numbers. They have only weakened their own collective forces.”“Look at the common man. Is he concerned about his or her fellow beings, no. They are only concerned about their own existence. Do they go back home and ever think as to what will become of them if the population that is not as resourceful as them perishes? No. Common people are just bothered about themselves. ““So when a catastrophe from beyond strike you, it does so because your own negativity has triggered it, It happens so because the negative energies are gaining in strength.”“It is up to you, handful of good people to re-create the positive energies amongst the mute, mechanical common population. Try to come together in a common platform. Learn from the animals, the birds and other life forms.”“This will not happen quickly. Not even in a hundred years. But if it takes longer, catastrophe will strike again. For the time being you are safe, but when catastrophe strikes again, no BIDDER can ever save you.”“So be afraid human beings. Be very afraid.”Everyone looked at each other in dismay. The darkened room had returned to its original dark feature as THE BIDDER had disappeared.“Our mission has not yet ended folks.” I said. “This is only a beginning. ““Beginning of a mission, much tougher.” Said Major Gordon.


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