Short story-
By Ajinkya Naik

It was a dream that started it all. There was no thought to hold on to, just what was in front of her. The view of speeding vehicles from high up above the bridge. “Adamina.” She whispered, before throwing herself under a heavy concrete transport truck.

Adamina awoke from her sleep in a cold sweat. She picked up her phone and sat on the bed with her reading glasses. Her husband, Indra slept silently next to her. A quick google search on dream interpretations revealed that the dream can suggest making a choice in life. The bridge indicated the crossing over to another path. “Forgive me lord. I am trying real hard.” Adamina prayed. People cope in their lives in different ways, this was hers.

Everyone knew Adamina and her husband but no one knew a thing about them.

The couple chose an apartment isolated from the community. They Had no car, no cable tv. Rent was always paid on the first of the month. They went to church on Sundays, grocery shopping on Mondays and mowed their lawn on a Friday once a month. If you asked someone in the neighborhood, people would kindly tell you about the sober couple who kept to themselves. But other than that, they Could offer very little information. Nobody had an idea that This flow of their carefully structured life was about to come to an end. It was the news of Adamina’s sister’s death that shook the couple from their routine lifestyle. The message of the dream was clear now. The girl in the dream was not her but her sister. Celesthina was her twin.

“The day before her suicide she was given an assignment. A system they wanted cracked.” Rudra told Adamina in private. He introduced himself as Celesthina’s colleague at the Funeral. “I know you have many questions but this is the only answer I have. We all looked up to her. May her soul rest in peace.” He slid a drive into Adamina’s coat along with his contact information. Adamina remembered her childhood days. The time when she and Celesthina would spend days solving puzzles, crosswords, math games, brain teasers, anything they could get their hands on to compete with each other. Celesthina would always win. She had an innate talent for numbers and codes. The value of her gift was only recognized when she got recruited as a cryptographer by the research and analysis wing.

Adamina sat next to her husband that evening while he worked on the accessing the password protected drive. It was an easy job for Indra with his experience from the time he served in military. Adamina watched him thinking mostly about how he was the only family she had left now. To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.’ She remembered a quote by Nietzsche. To their disappointment all the files on the drive were encrypted. “Is this why she was killed?” asked Indra. The question took her by surprise. “why do you assume she was killed?”

“why else would that man give ‘you’ the drive?”

Adamina dialled the number RUDRA had given her at the funeral. The call went to voicemail, no name given. Adamina hung up. Replaying the events of what had happened, Adamina realized there was a missing piece in the block. The standard protocol in a case like Celesthina would be to hand the drive to the agency. Rudra’s whole act seemed like a scripted performance Adamina knew she was being played but couldn’t understand the tune.

Adamina agreed to Indra’s suggestion of getting the content deciphered with the help of an old friend from the military.  Later that night Adamina browsed through various files on her laptop and came across their old family pictures. Memories she had locked far away came rushing back to her. The frustration of seeing herself fall apart after her parent’s separation, the pride and honour of seeing Celesthina excel in every school competition. Adamina’s thoughts were suddenly diverted to Celesthina’s mail box. The most recent mail was a saved, unsent draft, addressed to Adamina. The content of the mail consisted of three lines-

‘Figure an odd crypto game. Rhythm can assemble. Stand guard, trust instincts, recognise adjustments.’

She could make no sense out of this. The first and foremost perception was that it was a warning. She rushed to the living room and unlocked a secret compartment from underneath one of the drawers in the wall unit. Adamina looked at her gun, her past, the one she had locked away for good. She had sworn to never use it but if Celesthina’s message was a warning then their lives were in danger and she needed to be ready.

Next day, Adamina’s doubts were confirmed when Indra was followed on his way back home from the meeting with his friend.  “Something is not right,” INDRA said, his worry taking over. His friend could not fully decrypt the contents of the files, but they found something else, the source of those files did not belong to Celesthina. The files were from a compromised system of a person named Sydney. Of whatever they could analyse, the person was trying to track a guy named ‘BISHOP’.  “Do you know any of these people?” the names created a storm in her mind. She knew Sydney and wished she’d never met her. Sydney was a Chinese agent. An agent from the time of the Sino- Indian war. From the time her life went to hell.

“No.” Adamina replied, the information played havoc with her mind. “Get some sleep. We’ll find a way to get past this.” Indra kissed her lightly on her forehead before retiring to bed. That night Adamina watched her husband for several minutes, as she lay next to him in bed. Remembering the strong, caring man she had married. Remembering their wedding. Remembering the ill-fated day, Indra was taken in as a prisoner of war by the Chinese and the 10 long years she suffered without him. Remembering what they made her do, for his return. She remembered the day she betrayed her country by killing an Indian officer as part of their orders. She remembered the day, twenty years ago, the alias name—BISHOP–she had created for herself.

“Figure an odd crypto game, rhythm can assemble. Stand guard, trust instincts, recognise adjustments.”  A small device blinked on the dashboard inside Bharat’s car as Adamina read the message out to him. The device was designed to tamper radio waves, a precaution Bharat always took to prevent anyone from spying on their conversation. Adamina first made contact with him during the war. The man once in the same situation as her, watched her back on many missions. His reasons for betrayal towards his country were unknown. But the Chinese at that time had many countrymen underneath their finger who succumbed to their every order. A certain trust develops between people who have sailed together on the same sinking ship. Bharat knew that the meeting was urgent, for no other reason would they risk contact. The last time, the meeting was by Adamina when she suspected a threat against her husband after his return. Bharat quietly took care of the men pursuing him making sure their bodies were never found. “maybe the message was something personal.” BHARAT said. “doesn’t look anything personal to me.” “well, you were twins. Twins tend to think alike. Try to figure it out.” Adamina got what he was implying. They were once very close to each other. They’ d spend every waking hour with each other. She’d start a sentence and Celesthina would finish it. She’d get hurt and Celesthina would cry. But that was a long time ago.

Adamina tells Bharat a secret she had kept for years. A file She had made, data of all the operations she had executed. Names, time, objectives- every detail was logged. It was an insurance policy for her and Indra in case something happened to him in prison or to her, while she executed the dangerous missions. She spent most of those days fearing for their lives. She’d always imagine the easiest options to go out if something did happen to her. A bullet in her head topped the list. A quick flash and it was done. She had formed a rosy picture of a life after death from all the books she had read on afterlife and near-death experiences. They talked about family reunifications, happiness and celebrations on the other side after passing the test called life. she’d believe in any absurdity in those tough times. Bharat advises her to make arrangements as There was no easy way out from this. She had become a mark. Celesthina figured this and tried to send her that warning message. The thought of Celesthina finding out about her sister’s sins, before her death, made Adamina feel ashamed. she blamed herself for her sister’s death when it should have been her. To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. She knew danger was close. A cross over to another path was the only way. Some big move had to be made. But if she and her husband were to survive this, together, then first, she had to come clean with her husband.

Indra had passed all the levels of skepticism as Adamina confessed to her unforgiving acts. He frantically paced back and forth in the room. Adamina could only imagine what was going through his mind. Indra had always spoken highly of his service in the military. His loyalty, pride and honour were something he valued dearly. If only he could understand that whatever she did was for him. “where is the file I’d like to see it.” Indra asked. Adamina touched her pendant.  A pendant Indra had bought her before their marriage. She unlocked two screws at the back. Removed a small covering to reveal a tiny chip. The chip itself was the size of her thumb. “We have to take care of this. Its going to be hard to get this off our backs but I think my friends in the service can help.” Adamina knew what was to follow if she took that path. Incarceration, if she was lucky. Death, if not. “I wish you had told me earlier.” INDRA said before storming off into his room.

Adamina sat there thinking of other ways out of this situation but only found dead ends. Things would never be the same from here on. She sat in front of her laptop, going through Celesthina’s files, her pictures, that message. She closed her eyes and put in a prayer, for Celesthina’s safe journey to heaven. She reminisced over the good old times, remembering the amusing memory when Celesthina and she would exchange coded messages during their school exams. If caught, their act would always be pardoned as the examiners could never figure out the messages. To the world, it was gibberish. That thought made Adamina suddenly jump out of her chair and pull out Celesthina mail.

She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life–the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build–begin to crumble around her.

She recognized the adjustments, found the rhythm. She remembered the simple game they played as children where a single letter from the word would serve as a key to a hidden message. The rhythm could be first letter of each word, or the second, or third, but remained consistent and formed the pattern. In this message the cracked key was the 2nd letter. She read the message again, only this time she Singled out the key letter.

Figure an odd crypto game.

Rhythm can assemble.

Stand guard, trust instincts, recognise adjustments.

The hidden message was decoded – ‘INDRA HAS TURNED.’

Adamina felt suddenly as if something had fallen down, inside her throat, to her stomach, something cold and empty, a feeling of getting sucked in a deep, dark hole. She raced to grab her hidden gun, picked it up, but Before she could take any action Indra had a gun aimed at her head. “Sorry Adamina” He said. He waved her to lower the gun. Adamina did not move.

In that moment she considered the fact that Indra was now working for the Chinese. And a ruse was designed to convince Adamina to reveal the location of the chip. She wondered if it was Indra who killed Celesthina. But she did not have the opportunity to discover the truth.

“what is going to happen is you are going to hand me that chip and walk away.”

Adamina looked at her husband. Questioning if the person standing in front of her was even the real Indra. she had no way to find out. All she had now was a solution to her problems. A common solution for all great problems.

“we both know, no matter what happens to the chip, neither of us are getting out of here alive.”

“well in that case there is only one thing to do.” The sound of the safety switch, go off on his gun warned Adamina of his next move. she pulled out her gun in that split second and fired.

In investigations, everyone had interesting theories about what happened between the couple. “there was something odd about the couple.” A person from the neighbourhood said. But other than assumptions he could offer no other information. Their bodies went through a standard autopsy. Reports were filed, classified, and closed.

When the officers found the bodies, they wondered if she felt any pain. “I think it’s the best way to go. A quick flash and its done.” Adamina’s hands still clutched onto the gun and the pendant -Defiant even in death- the pendant was taken into the evidence locker. It’s secrets and truths lost to the world forever.

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