Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chapter 15: The Countdown is on!

A fast paced suspense thriller from the highly enthusiastic team members of Team 'Supernova'.

Read the previous part of the story here. To start reading the story from beginning, check the first post here.

The train hadn’t stopped at Kota and now it was nearing midnight. There was a scheduled stop at Ratlam, but Shekhar knew that the train wasn’t going to stop there as well.

Hats off to whoever planned this entire hijack, he thought. Hijacking a passenger train and that too the Mumbai Rajdhani! Some serious planning ought to have taken place. We have no way to exit the train and no way to contact the outside world.

But as far as Shekhar knew the home minister was involved in this. Sarkar could easily have made sure no media channels take up the issue for a few hours. But with the train not stopping at Kota, clearly the authorities know something is wrong. There ought to be high alert by now! The entire country would be glued to their TV sets right now following minute by minute updates.

The scene inside the train hadn’t been very good these past 7 hours. Shekhar, Cyrus and Jennifer were the topic of discussion everywhere. They were after all, the only three names that the hijacker had taken on the public address system.


“Why don’t you just give whatever those hijackers want? Why are you risking so many lives?” they had been asked again and again. None of the three could explain the gravity of the situation to their co-passengers, nor could they explain how giving away the information that Sasha wanted could put the entire country at risk.

“You shall all be safe, please don’t worry,” that’s all Shekhar had managed to tell them.

Someone had also tried to break open the emergency window. But just like the main doors, even the windows were sealed from outside. There was no use trying to break open the glass, you faced almost certain death if you threw yourself out from this fast running train. Sitting inside, at least there was the hope of the train stopping. Someone had also suggested imitating the acts of the hero from the old Hindi film The Burning Train, but was soon to realize that there was a difference between a film and real life and actually no one was ready to climb up on the train’s roof from the rubber-joints between any two bogies.

There was the sound of the train changing tracks, signaling the approach of a major station, but the train wasn’t slowing down a bit. As Shekhar peered out of the window, the platform of Ratlam station passed in a blur.

The speakers came to life and Sasha’s voice boomed out of it again.

“Do not worry dear passengers. The train isn’t going to stop anywhere before Mumbai. But there is a clause here: I need some very important information from three people on this train. If I get it before the train enters Mumbai suburban region around 7 in the morning, all is going to be well. The driver, who awaits instructions from me, is going to make sure the train runs safe and reaches Mumbai Central station safe. Highly placed people in the railway ministry are making sure the train gets a free track to run. So do not worry. There won’t be an accident. Go to sleep. Everyone, except the three people I need information from. And in case I do not get the information, things will be very different in the last hour of your journey. The sixteenth hour of this Rajdhani Express’s run could be the last hour in your lives. 7 hours, that’s all you have right now. The countdown is on.”

The voice tailed off with a hysterical laugh as usual.

There was a sudden increase in the voices in the compartment following the announcement. It was certain that no one was going to sleep tonight. Difficult times lay ahead for everyone, most of all, for Shekhar, Cyrus and Jennifer.

A lot of passengers were headed their way. They had no clue how to deal with the passengers. After about half an hour of trying to convince them to go to bed and not be worried and telling them that the information Sasha wanted would be delivered to him by the morning, the crowd dispersed. Finally, Shekhar, Cyrus and Jennifer sat down and tried to calm themselves down.

“Is he mad? Even if we give him the information, he is not going to get down safely from the train. I am sure there is huge troop movement happening right now. He would be caught as soon as the train stops at Mumbai,” Cyrus blurted out.

“Not if Sarkar is involved. He is the home minister; he would have loads of things under his control. He could easily arrange for an air-lift for Sasha from a running train even before the train enters Mumbai region,” Jennifer said.

“Even if it is about this information, how do we know that Sarkar has been able to extract the other part of the document from my wife Tara? And if he has been able to get it from her, I don’t think I would see my wife or daughter alive now. Tara knows a lot, much more than even I know, he wouldn’t want her to blabber things out in the media,” said Shekhar confidently.

Cyrus and Jennifer didn’t say anything now.

As the train sped towards its destination, the voices had gone down. Even if fear gripped each of the passengers on the Rajdhani Express, the one thing that was on everyone’s head was what would happen in the sixteenth hour.

***

Tara switched from one TV channel to another. What was just a rumour circulating through the media till a few hours ago had now been confirmed with the Rajdhani Express not making its scheduled stops. There was frantic activity going on at the Kota platform with passengers criticizing the railway authorities.

“How can the train not stop? Was it a mistake or something serious is happening?” a lady was shouting into a TV crew’s camera.

“There are rumours of a hijack. Is it true? My entire family is on that train!” an old man was spotted saying.

The railway minister had not made a statement yet. No official statements were out, apart from the station masters at Kota and Ratlam confirming that the train hadn’t stopped.

The Ratlam station master said, “We got information from Kota that the train hadn’t made its scheduled stop and there had been no contact with the driver, break van guard, TTE or any of the railway staff on the train. It seems mobile connectivity has been completely cut off in the train and the walkie-talkie is not being responded to. All the stations on the Rajdhani’s route have been informed and the train is being kept on its normal route to Mumbai. Schedules of almost all the trains on the route from Kota to Mumbai have been affected and the track is being cleared for the Rajdhani. Although there are clear indications, but we can’t say that it is a hijack yet.”

“Since there has been no demand from any organisation yet, we cannot be sure that it is a hijack. It could be a fault with the train engine or something else. We are still waiting for official statement from the railway ministry,” Tara heard a news channel reporter saying in the hustle of activity at Ratlam station.

How can they be so stupid? There are clear indications of a hijack. Just run the story guys, she prayed.

Shekhar was not reachable and with the appearance of Sarkar at her doorstep, things were crystal clear. If she hands over those documents about Xombie to Sarkar, the entire nation would be at threat. She couldn’t do it. But then her husband was in that train and the train might never stop without an accident. Hand over the documents and pray for her husband’s safe homecoming or not hand it over and make sure the train faces accident?

She paced in the hall, keeping an eye on the news. She dialed her editor’s number and immediately cut it off. She mustn’t contact her editor with the confirmed hijacking news. It would be too risky and would raise loads of questions that would risk her family’s safety. The Xombie information must not come out in the media- it would make the efforts of hundreds of people working since years go in vain. Moreover, it would simply send the entire country into panic. No one would know what to do- save the few hundred lives on the train or an entire country of a billion people?

Sarkar would be back anytime now. Tara had her eyes on the laptop every now and then. No security alarm had gone off yet, and she prayed none goes off soon.

May be I could talk to Sarkar? He is the Home Minister, why is he even involved in this thing? He is already at a level of high power with direct access to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. Or is it someone else who is controlling the entire plot- both the train’s hijack and Sarkar? Tara’s chain of thoughts seemed to go endlessly. She had a lot of questions and the only person who could probably answer them right now was Sarkar himself.

It had been tricky but Tara had been able to insert the micro-tracking chip inside Sarkar’s shirt pocket just when he was getting up to leave. What she saw on the laptop screen right now surprised her. The green dot indicating Sarkar’s position was stationed at a very familiar location. How is this possible? Does this mean Sarkar is actually taking instructions from someone? Out of all people in the world, Sarkar is actually working with Mr.Aryan Ahuja, their former next door neighbor at Lonavala?


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