A low-ceilinged, dimly-lit apartment-cum-work space was hardly a conducive atmosphere for some of the most ground-breaking research that the world had ever seen.
" Just a little more GODDAMN TIME! ... " Rajesh yelled, brushing the clutter of papers, reference books, and a laptop off the table top. He was a diminutive, unhealthy looking fellow, clearly someone who had spent entirely too much time indoors. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, and sported greying hair, but despite that, he exuded an intimidating aura, which coupled with his scholarly good-looks, lent him an impression of formidable intelligence. Definitely someone you'd want on your side.
"Ah yes! ... But, that's almost always the problem isn't it? " A hitherto unnoticed man stepped out of the shadows, a kindly smile on his face. He seemed bemused, like the mirthful, resigned expression of an old man who just couldn't explain to his 5 year old grandson where babies came from. He was old, with a flowing white beard, eccentric half-moon glasses, and a look in his eyes that possessed the boundless depth of age. But, despite that, he had an odd child-like bounce in his step.
Rajesh started, completely taken aback. He sucked in a breath, and held it, pushing up his glasses with a practiced flourish so they could perch more comfortably on his nose, as if to give the old man a chance to perhaps clarify; some sort of token of professional courtesy. In all rights, he should have been scared, but somehow, the stranger's presence there seemed to bring with it a strange, almost artificial calm. Nevertheless, it would be stupid of him to just assume that the stranger meant him no harm, and he began to edge slowly towards his revolver drawer. What could he be after? The research? ... But how did he come to find out about that? More importantly, would he be willing to kill for it?
"How did you get in?" Rajesh asked, bluntly, in such an even tone that, given the circumstances, he surprised himself. 'Good, good ... just ask him questions ... and keep stalling ... just like those American movies ... "
"I think you'll soon find that it does not matter ... not after you know that I can also do this ... " He gestured gracefully, with some sort of wooden twig in his hand.
To Rajesh's complete and utter shock, wispy tendrils of some manner of dense, purplish haze began to cascade upon one another, seemingly condensing and solidifying. As Rajesh looked on, dumbfounded, a plush leather armchair now stood before him where nothing had just a moment ago.
"We both know that you aren't quite as surprised as you're expression would have me believe ... " The newcomer paused here, as if weighing his next words carefully.
"In fact, you have been desperately awaiting some sign, some display to convince you that those were not just the ramblings of old age."
"I have no idea what you are talking about ... "
He knew perfectly well, but he had to be sure.
An uncomfortably long silence, in which the newcomer conjured up an ornate box in much the similar fashion as he had the chair, and pulled out what looked like a chunk of Turkish delight from it. He bit into it slowly and sparingly, but clearly, relishing the taste entirely.
"Your father, Rajesh. All those mutterings and ramblings that you chalked up to senility and old age; well, I'm afraid that was just an inevitable consequence of suppressing rather strongly ingrained memories."
Rajesh decided to abandon all pretense now. It was all true, everything that his father had said, everything that he so obsessively rambled on about. It was the reason that he was declared senile and hospitalized here in Delhi, where he'd remained until his final breath. But this was amazing ... by Vishnu it was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to him. It confirmed everything that he had long since suspected. This would change everything ... it mattered not now that he was unjustly and unceremoniously dismissed form his post as head scientist on the top secret 'super-soldier' program that he had headed for DRDO; it did not matter that he was discredited and shamed before the entire scientific community, his name dragged through the mud; it did not matter that years of laborious research had yielded absolutely no viable results; no, because this, if he could explore it, would point his career in a whole new direction. Magic exists! ; what the old man had just performed was no parlor trick. All of his dad's notes, all those equations, those formulations ... they would all make sense ... he was sure of it. He just needed that opportunity. This would be his claim to fame ... his chance at glory.
He looked towards the old man, noticing that he now had a frown plastered on his face. Rajesh had a fleeting impression that the old man somehow knew what he was thinking, but dismissed it instantly ... mind reading? ... he was sure they didn't have that ... what folly!
"You knew my father then ... how, may I ask? " Rajesh said, composedly.
"No, no ... not personally I'm afraid. In fact I only met him once, but the circumstances then were hardly what one would call amiable ... " He stopped chewing into the turkish delight at this point, and solemnly placed the box down; a sad look crossed his face. Rajesh had an irking suspicion why.
"You mentioned something about suppressing memories ... " Rajesh paused here, noticing that the look on the old man's face was growing increasingly pained. It was all the confirmation he needed.
"You did that to him ... didn't you?' he seethed. It was nearly impossible for him to keep the fury out of his tone, so he let it flow freely. "He had somehow learnt something he shouldn't have, something about your ways and customs. I'd imagine, seeing as no one is aware of your kind, that this is viewed as a serious transgression, and that steps had to be taken to ensure that he was silenced." he was only mildly aware now that the words were flowing in an ominous crescendo.
All of a sudden, he felt nothing but irrepressible hatred and anger towards the wizened old man who sat before him, which was surprising given his composed and even-headed nature. This was the reason his family was torn apart, the reason that he grew up without a father and an emotionally withdrawn, practically non-existent mother.
The old man sighed, placing a sombre hand over his eyes.
"You are ... an extremely perceptive young man ... I must say I ... " he began, bowing his head down.
"YOU KILLED HIM! ... YOU'RE THE REASON HE'S DEAD ... AND YOU JUST SIT THERE WITH YOUR SELF-RIGHTEOUS ... AAH FUCK! ... " He threw his hands up in resignation, trying to stem the flow angry tears now threatening to burst out. He took in a deep breath, and ran one hand over his face in an attempt to calm himself. No ... no ... this wouldn't do ... there was no point in getting angry at this man ... he was probably just doing his job, following orders ... and besides, Rajesh was not a vindictive person by nature.
The old man looked up, a pleading look now plastered on his face. "You must understand ... he was bent on revealing those findings to the muggle world at large and ...
"I'm sorry ... the what world?" Rajesh fumed.
" Muggle - meaning non-magical people, and as I was saying, it just wouldn't do for muggles to find out about our kind ... you must understand ... it is human nature ... they will come to see our gift as a power that they cannot tap into, and not before long, a threat to their very existence ...
"Yes ... I can see where you're going ... World War III just asking to happen right? ... I understand your government's motive with this 'law' ... " He was staring intently at the old man, a scathing frown plastered on his face. But he understood, the consequences would have been disastrous. In fact, he couldn't really understand why he had such a violent knee-jerk reaction to that. It wasn't like he was and his father were on the best of terms anyway, and his death really wasn't the old man's fault.
"The Statute Of Secrecy, yes ..." His voice had all but lost its tone of superiority, as if in some sort of humbled repentance.
"Indeed ... I am quite sure that your government has been doing this kind of thing a lot; I daresay it must be easy to keep an entire civilization a secret, with or without magical means ..." He trailed off.
A long silence.
"String theory." The old man said, breaking the now unbearable silence. It seemed that he had now regained his composure.
Rajesh looked at him, quizzically. But he knew all too well where the old man was going with this.
"You want details? ... In fact, how do you know about that? My father's notes?" Rajesh replied. His gaze turned stern, but the old man didn't so much as cringe. It seemed the time for hostilities had passed, and business was at hand. And the old man looked like he meant business. Besides, the scientist in Rajesh could not resist an opportunity to explain things that were beyond most people. A show of scholarly condescension was just what his aching nerves needed right then.
A short chuckle.
"My boy, I practically came up with String Theory. Any serious magical theoretician is in touch with the developments in the world of theoretical physics. It provides a certain perverse kind of 'comic relief' to watch muggle scientists stumble in the dark with ideas that are so clearly above their comprehension." By this time the old man seemed to be fighting hard to keep the smile off his face.
"But, admittedly, your kind does come up with interesting insights ever so often, so, we keep tabs. At times we also intervene and point you in the right direction, hence catalyzing the birth of milestones in physics. Case in point : String Theory."
Rajesh gave of an 'harrumph' of indignation. "You honestly expect me to believe that ... "
"I never place my expectations in trivialities of that sort. What you do or do not believe is of no consequential concern to me. I do, however expect one thing of you." The smile slid off his face as abruptly as it had appeared. Business was at hand again.
Rajesh sensed that this was his cue to drop the argument, and somehow, he thought it wise that he took the old man's cues.
"And that would be ... "
"Your full cooperation, which, believe me, is entirely within my power to just take." the old man said, testily.
"But you wouldn't do that ... " Rajesh said, a slightly cautious edge to his voice.
"You will be handsomely compensated, I can assure you that much."
Rajesh took in a deep breath, composing himself. He had made his decision long back. This was just too good to pass up.
"Lets talk strings then ... "
"Indeed ... lets ... "
"I will assume henceforth that you have a considerable working knowledge of the theory ... so I am going to quit, as the British say, 'dallying'."
"Looks like everyone's on the same page then." The old man reclined in his plush leather armchair, and crossed his fingers, now peering directly over them at Rajesh. It was a frighteningly intimidating look, but Rajesh was unperturbed.
"Except, I don't know your name ... "
"You can call me Albus."
A short pause. Then Rajesh began.
"As my father's notes would have me believe, The Theory of Magic and it's properties tie in very nicely with String Theory. Essentially, what my father was getting at, is that magical folk are different from non-magical folk in that they have been endowed, through the course of evolution, with the ability to manipulate the vibrational modes of these subatomic strings. For example ... when magicians summon light, they modulate the vibrational states of the open-ended strings, which produces photons, and hence, illumination. My father has explained the birth of such 'string control' by assuming the insertion of an alien mutagen at some point during the course of human evolutionary history. Hence, a new segment of genetic code that would somehow enable magical folk to control matter by manipulating strings, and produce the awesome effects that we have come to lump under the category 'magic'. This has to have happened fairly recently, given that magical folk have effectively segregated themselves from non-magical folk, and formed entire civilizations in secret."
" Hmm ... yes ... at least as recent as the birth of human civilization. Indeed, if magical folk hadn't realized the need to segregate themselves from non-magical folk, our species would have annihilated itself through war. And such realization could only have come if they had developed these powers concomitantly with the birth of civilization. I see what you're getting at."Albus paused here, a thoughtful look crossing his features.
"But how exactly is string theory is the perfect way to approach a consistent 'Theory of Magic' ? "
" 'D-branes' and the 'Calabi-Yau Manifold' ... "
"Ah ... I see ... "
Another awkward pause, renting the air with the weight of unasked questions.
"What ... what exactly do you want me to do for you ... I mean I ...
"I need you to reverse engineer the super-soldier serum that you have been working on for the DRDO. I need it to be potent enough to magnify one's mana and metabolic rate a hundred-fold." Albus replied. It was startlingly blunt, and almost sounded rehearsed.
Rajesh stared at him, dumbfounded. " I wouldn't even know where to begin with that ... I mean ... I ... the project was a dead end. They threw me out. This ... this is a futile pursuit ... I ... " he spat, flustered.
"Not if I point you in the right direction. You have your father's notes, I'll provide you with the missing links. You are the best man for the job." Albus' gaze seem to intensify at this point, almost as if that would drive the point home better.
"It can be done" he finished, letting the unsettling silence take over again.
" I ... " Rajesh wanted to argue, but then decided against it. It's wasn't as if he had better things to do with his life anyway; he decided to settle for quizzing the old man.
"What do you want it for anyway? ... planning to build yourself some kind of biogenetically-enhanced army?" he said, blithely.
Albus chuckled. Rajesh hated that chuckle. It was almost condescending, but not quite. It made him feel rather like an ignorant child.
" I have my reasons. You will learn of them in due time."
Rajesh stared at him, sizing him up. But there was no besting this man, that much he could tell. He gave in, throwing his hands up in frustration, and letting out a pointedly audible groan "Fine ... since it looks like you are dictating all the terms here, and there's nothing I can do about it, why don't we just move on ... "
"And once again, we are on the same page." He chuckled. "You are very good at that now aren't you?"
Rajesh ignored this. He found that he was appreciating Albus' particular brand of humor less and less by the minute.
"So ... what ... you have a secret lair for me to work out of?" Rajesh said, the caustic edge to his voice more pronounced than before.
Albus chuckled. Again. "Actually, I do. Something very much to that effect."
Albus slowed down his brisk pace to a trot. There was no hurry. Such an unfounded sense of urgency; clearly indicative of old age, and definitely an impediment to his otherwise fine-tuned senses.
A soft whoosh, intangible to all but the most well-trained of ears.
"Minerva, you made it."
A soft cry of indignation. "And when have I ever turned you down. Always the tone of surprise isn't it?"
Albus chuckled. "Quite ... "
The closely packed houses of Little Whinging, and the downtrodden atmosphere it brought with it seemed to borrow nothing from the air of purposefulness surrounding Albus.
He stopped abruptly.
"This is it ... "
"Are you quite sure about this Albus? ... " Minerva said, a slight weariness to her tone.
"The decision has been made ... It is the only way Minerva ... "
He lifted up a syringe, holding what appeared to be a viscous semi-transparent fluid. Rajesh had told him that a single dose should suffice. He tapped the syringe once, and then, with an elegant flourish, produced a small bundle in his free hand. On closer inspection, it appeared that he was carrying a baby boy, wrapped up snugly in two layers of cotton blankets, and sleeping soundly. A small lightning bolt shaped scar was just visible below an incipient mat of hair that. Minerva was slightly thrown by the abrupt cuteness that was now facing her, but Albus did not betray any change in composure. He calmly brought the syringe up to the soft skin of the baby's forearm, and with a cold purposefulness that almost frightened Minerva, injected the fluid into the baby's bloodstream. The baby stirred, ever so slightly, but with a wave of his hand, Albus commanded the child back to the last dreamless sleep he would ever have the pleasure of experiencing.