CountDown : Start of Journey

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Chapter 1 – Beginning

May 15, 2021, RAW Headquarters, Delhi.

The office of Y.S Goyal, Joint Secretary for Special Operations.

News Reporter, “On April 13, 2021, three simultaneous blasts occurred in three different locations in three states, including Kashmir valley in Jammu and Kashmir, Mandawa in Rajasthan, and Lakhpat in Gujarat. However, the strangest thing about the blasts is that seven people died in Kashmir valley, but no one died in Mandawa and Lakhpat. Was it a failure, or was it their intention? Until now, no one except the one who initiated the blasts knows why this happened. No information has been provided until now by the investigation team…”

As the reporter continues speaking in the background, Y.S. Goyal, the Joint Secretary, says, “Samprit, it’s been more than a month since the attack and we still don’t have any leads in the case.”

Samprit replies, “Sir, we are trying our best to investigate, but we haven’t got any clues to make a lead in the case.”

“I have made you the investigating officer of this case for a reason. I don’t want to hear any excuses from you; I want results.”

“Sir…”

“Samprit, enough of this nonsense! Now leave and get me some information.”

Samprit simply nods and leaves the office.

Y.S. Goyal, the Joint Secretary of RAW, was a 54-year-old man with no child and a wife who died after a few months of marriage. He was stocky, had long brown-black hair and a fair complexion, with an oval face, heavy lower lips, and a French beard. His eyes were mink brown, and his eyebrows were thin. He handles the cases related to terrorist attacks or any foreign operations. Cases of sleeper cells present or new groups formed to initiate an attack in the country use to fall in his portfolio.

He once worked with Samprit Singh’s father, Gurvinder Singh Sodhi, as a spy for RAW. In 2012, Gurvinder Singh and Y.S. Goyal were sent to Singapore for a mission in which Gurvinder lost his life, and Goyal got injured. It took six months for him to recover, and he got promoted to the Joint Secretary position after that, so he didn’t need to go to the field for any mission.

Along with this he also prepares the officers who later works under him. Samprit is one of them.

Samprit was twenty when Gurvinder had lost his life, but instead of leaving the country and staying safe, he prepared well and got trained under Goyal. He completed his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from a local college in 2014, and after training for two years, he joined RAW in 2016.

He was tall, with a good physique and brown complexion. He had an oblong face, with a turban on his head, and arched eyebrows above almond-shaped hazel eyes. He had a long beard and a black moustache. He was a good Sikh like his father. He looked very similar to his father, because of which Goyal was personally interested in training him. As his father lost his life on duty, he was offered the job, and he accepted it and worked hard to do well. In these four years of service, he has solved many cases and proved that he is one of the best officers in RAW.

After leaving the office, Samprit goes to his colleagues Anand and Raj, who were his best friends and members of the team handling the case.

Raj was 29 years old. He cleared NDA(exam after 12 to join armed forces) and joined RAW in 2015. He was a man of average height, with a muscular body, fair skin tone, oval face with a thin moustache, small black eyes, and dark eyebrows. He got married in 2016 after getting a job in RAW. He had a son and a daughter aged four and one years, respectively.

Anand was 30 years old; he completed his graduation in 2013, cleared CDS(exam after graduation to join armed forces), and joined RAW in 2016. He was tall and thin, with a V-line face, a clean shave, short black hair, dark eyebrows, and large oval brown eyes. He stayed with his parents. He got divorced in 2018, when his wife was pregnant, and who later gave birth to a girl. His daughter was around 2 years old at that time.

Samprit asks, “Guys, did we get any lead in the case?”

Anand and Raj at the same time reply, “No.”

Samprit says, “But we need to get some clues to solve the case. Goyal sir is putting a lot of pressure.”

Raj replies, “But Samprit, we have been working since last month. The only thing we got is a virtual face image of those seven who died in the blast in the valley, and nothing else, not even their names. We tried to find their relatives, friends, or anyone who knows them, but we got nothing.”

“And how did we try to find this? Only on our computer and by contacting the local police officer; we don’t even know whether they are investigating the case properly or not.”

Anand counters, “But Samprit, why are we trying to solve this case? Many other important cases are being given to others instead of us. And what we will do after finding the culprit? The two blasts which occurred in Mandawa and Lakhpat failed. I think those attackers were new and after creating such a mess, most probably, their men will kill them for such stupidity.”

Samprit replies, “Anand, Goyal sir, has given this case to us. This means that there is something hidden in the case. Even after a month, the media is still going on about the blasts. We are assuming that those attackers have been killed, but what if they are not? I don’t think they were unsuccessful in the attack. Maybe this is a warning to us that something big is going to happen. I have many doubts regarding this case and want to solve it as soon as possible. And for that, we need to visit Kashmir valley, Mandawa, and Lakhpat to interrogate and find clues that will lead us to the culprit.”

Raj says, “Ok, I will arrange everything for us by 17th May; we will start from Kashmir valley, then Mandawa, and then Lakhpat. We will interrogate the local people and will see what the local officers have collected so far. We will also try to find the family members of those seven who lost their lives in the Kashmir valley attack.”

******

May 17, 2021

New Delhi Railway Station

There was an announcement being made on the station’s speaker, which said, “Train number 12425, the New Delhi-Jammu Tawi Rajdhani Express, will depart from platform number 14 at 22:40 without any delay.”

Samprit asked Anand and Raj to move to platform 14 and grab their seat, as New Delhi was the beginning station, and the train will be present on the platform while the announcement on the speaker was going on for other trains. All three get inside the train and get settled in their reserved seats, waiting for the train to depart. Only a few people were aware that they were going to the site for the interrogation so that they can see what was happening over there.

******

May 18, 2021

Jammu Tawi Railway Station

The train arrives later than the allotted time. Instead of 5:45, they reach at 6:17 in the morning—exactly 32 minutes late. After reaching Jammu Tawi Station, the three need to hire a taxi or bus to reach Kashmir valley. The Kashmir valley is around 330 km away from the station, which means that the other eight to nine hours will be wasted in reaching the destination. But since it is the path to Kashmir valley, it is not less than heaven. The beauty of nature distracts all three from their mission for a few hours.

******

May 18, 2021

Kashmir Valley

They reach Kashmir valley at around 5 in the evening. They check-in into their rooms and freshen up, acting like tourists so no one can hide anything. They visit the market at night and tried to ask simple questions about the blast, but don’t get any new or important information. All they come to know about the blast was that it occurred at noon, when most of the people were taking a nap or were busy indoors. Therefore, there were no eyewitnesses to see how the blast occurred. However, after the blast, many people gathered at the spot, as the noise was too loud. After a few minutes, the local police arrived at the spot and sealed it. For a few days, interrogations were held, but as time passed, everything became normal. Because now this was normal for the people staying there.

The three investigators spend a few hours there and then go back to their room, as it was getting late, and all three were tired. They need to go to the village, the very next morning, to conduct interrogations.

******

May 19, 2021

Kashmir Valley

As they don’t want to make people think that something is different about them, they took a car for rent and visited some tourist places, during which they were probably discussing the case. After a while, they visit the spot of the blast. They try to find clues by searching nearby places. And after spending around two hours, they found some mechanical parts, which they collected and leave. In the evening, they visited the local people who used to stay near the place of the blast, all they come to know was that no one who died in the blast was local, and no one knows anything about them. They were very tired of asking the same questions, over and over, to so many people, so they reached their room earlier than planned and decide to talk to the police the next day.

******

May 20, 2021

Kashmir valley police station

They informed the local police officers about their investigation and asked about their investigation. The reply from the officer was that they missed those mechanical parts somehow, but they tried to enquire with every villager, only to find that no one knew anything about blast or those seven people. The locals had no information about them. The condition of the bodies was so bad that no one was able to recognize them. However, when they sent the body for postmortem, a virtual face image was created, which was sent to them.

“Did you send photos to all nearby police stations to cross-check if someone was from a nearby village?”, he asked.

“Sir, we had sent all images to nearby police stations, but there was no identification from their side.”

“Samprit, what if we show the images on television and ask the viewers to tell us if they know them?”, added Raj.

Samprit replies, “Maybe we can, but it will create hype in the media. I need to ask Goyal sir, first.”

Anand speaks up, “Officer, did you cross-check those photos with your criminal records?”

The officer replies, “Sorry, sir, but we only have access to the areas under our domain. Since they didn’t belong to this area, we didn’t verify with our records, and we don’t have access to other area’s criminal records.”

“Raj, ask someone from our office to take a look at the records and even ask Goyal sir if we can show those photos on the news or not.”

Raj replies, “Okay.”

Samprit, “Officer, do not tell anyone that we were here.”

“Okay, sir, we won’t.”

With this information, Samprit, Raj, and Anand went back to their hotel room. They were planning to leave the next day, but something very strange happened. A letter was dropped outside the door of Samprit’s room at around midnight. Samprit was asleep, but Anand happens to be in the corridor, smoking near one of the windows on the opposite side. When he tried to catch the one who has dropped the letter, the person was able to outrun him, vanishing, seemingly, into thin air. Anand doesn’t understand what just happened. He picked the letter, delivered in a standard white envelope without any postage on the front but Samprit’s name written in bold black letters, knocks on the door of Samprit’s room till he wakes up, tells him about the letter, and goes inside to peruse the contents of the letter with his colleague.

Samprit, still groggy, sits on his bed, opens the letter, rubs his eyes, and reads.

Sir, I cannot disclose my identity, but I have some information for you. I have been following you since yesterday, when you were interrogating the villagers. I wanted to tell you everything then and there, but since that was possibly harmful to me, I waited for the correct time. Hence, I am writing you this letter. Two of the seven who died in the blast were my friends. We were together for the last three years. However, I recently got to know that they two were a member of a sleeper cell working for the agency from Pakistan. Sir, I don’t know much about that, but they were constantly active on Yammer. It is a social site for companies, where they can create a platform for their workers for official work and meetings. They both were not working in any company, but they were a member of indiagame.com on Yammer. Again, I don’t know much about this, but I hope this will help you. And sir, one more request—please do not try to find me.

Anand comments, “Samprit, we don’t know who left the letter. How can we believe this information?”

Samprit nods and replies, “You are right, but we don’t have any other option. There is no harm in verifying this information. Ask our technical team to find out everything they can about indiagame.com and Yammer. Also, we are leaving for Mandawa tomorrow. Pack your bags and ask Raj to do the same.”

Anand replies, “Alright. As you say.”

Saying this, Anand left the room and goes to Raj’s room. There, he wakes up Raj, tells him everything, and asks him to pack his luggage.

Next morning, they left for Mandawa. While on the way there, Raj tells Samprit that none of the seven deceased men had been found to match anyone from criminal records, and Goyal has not approved their idea of showing those pictures on television. He reasons that it will make the attackers cautious, and since the news is still fresh, it will create more problems if they show these pictures on news channels. Soon, the three investigators reach Mandawa and start their investigation. There, again, they found similar mechanical parts, as in Kashmir valley, near the blast site. And again, no one knows anything about the blast—neither the locals nor the police.

Frustrated and disappointed, the three left for Lakhpat. The same thing happened at Lakhpat; they found mechanical parts there too, but nothing else—no one, including the locals and the police, knows anything. After three days of investigation, the investigating team has exactly zilch to show for the hours it put and the energy it expended in travelling and enquiries.

Even more frustrated and disappointed, the three left for Delhi on May 25, 2021, early in the morning, and reached on May 26. After reaching Delhi, they wanted to go to the headquarters, but they were tired and needed to freshen up. They left for their respective homes from the train station and planned to meet at the office next day.

Samprit lived alone in a flat near the RAW headquarters. Before the death of his father, the whole family stayed there. But afterwards, everyone except Samprit shifted to a villa on the outskirts of Delhi, owned by his father. He bought that villa for his retirement. But that day, Samprit went to that house. His family, including his mom, Gurmit Sodhi, sister Simrat Batra, and brother-in-law Pradeep Batra, stay there. Pradeep was an orphan, a blogger by profession, and mostly worked from home. Everyone was happy that Samprit came to that house, but his mom knew that something was off with him.

Later that night, she went to Samprit’s room and asked him what’s wrong. Samprit puts his head on her lap and tells her everything while she was stroking his head. He said that maybe he was wrong to choose RAW as a profession, maybe he should have chosen a 9 to 5 job. “Maybe”, Gurmit quoted. Let me share something with you she added. When Gurvinder died, you both were teenagers. It was very hard for me to handle everything. It was your nani who recommended that we should shift to this house. Can you guess why I agreed. So that you can leave everything behind and start your life from a new page, he answered. “No”, I can’t start my life from a new page. But instead, it would help you both to give life a fresh start. What I mean is that you can change your life when something happens to you but you surely can work such that others get the least possible effect from it. “Probably I am getting where you are heading towards mummy”, he replied with new hope in his voice.

******

May 27, 2021

RAW Headquarters

Cyber Cell Department

Samprit asked Jatin, “Did you find anything about indiagame.com and Yammer?”

Jatin was a 26-year-old data analyst and an ethical hacker for RAW. He is of moderate height, has a scrawny, frail physique, long, curly brown hair, and a beard. He wears round spectacles that cover his eyes and eyebrows on his long, angular face. He got engaged in early 2021 and was going to get married soon.

“Sir, Yammer is a social platform for the user to keep their chats and work secret within their organization. You need to register a domain with your organization, and it creates a platform for the members of the organization to share and chat privately within the organization. The domain indiagame.com is a member of Yammer, registered by a terrorist organization that operates from Karachi. Zakir Mohammed is the head of this organization. Probably he was the one behind the attack. Sir, if we focus on our case, I have shortlisted a few people who belong on our suspect list. Showing pictures on the computer he added, two of them were Rizvi Saeed and Yahim Mahida, both lost their lives in the Kashmir valley blast.

Anand asks, “But how do you know they died in the blast? We don’t have any details of anyone who died in the blast.”

Jatin replies, “Sir, pictures of all the deceased were given to me, and according to that, they both were among them.”

Samprit says, “Hmm… Go ahead.” Hope flowers in his heart.

Jatin continues, “So, Rizvi Saeed and Yahim Mahida were from Neelum district, which’s in PoK. They both were students at GDC Ganderbal, pursuing a B.A. in Islamic studies. Now to the other suspects. One was Mirza Bari, a member of indiagame.com, but we don’t know anything else about her, except that, like Razvi and Yahim, she was from Jammu and Kashmir.”

There are two members from Mandawa and Lakhpat each. Deepak Goel and Arjun Gupta are from Mandawa. Deepak Goel smuggles gold, fake foreign currencies, and girls from India to Pakistan. Arjun Gupta owns a Kirana store in Mandawa but is a member of indiagame.com, so maybe he is a spy. Pawan Chaudry and Faarish Razak are the last two suspects. Pawan is a bus driver who drives a bus from India to Pakistan and back. His family stays in Lakhpat, and he spends most of his time driving the bus. But sir, the interesting thing is that he goes on leave for three days once every fortnight and stays in Pakistan with Faarish Razak. He was married to an Indian woman, Simran, and had a son with her, but he also was married to Faarish and has a daughter with her. Last year, Pawan killed his wife Simran and bought Faarish to India on a fake passport and visa.”

Samprit asks, “Jatin, tell me, why doesn’t our cybersecurity cell know about all this?”

Jatin replies, “Because, sir, it’s a private domain, and no one can see this without the permission of Yammer or the domain owner. After your information, we hacked Yammer server to get access to indiagame.com domain.”

Samprit says, “We need to arrest them as soon as possible.”

Anand adds, “I will contact the local officer to arrest them and transfer them here as soon as possible.”

Samprit says, “Jatin, we have found some mechanical parts at the spot too. Can you determine for what exact purpose those parts are used?”

Jatin while having a look at those parts say, “Sir, I can, but it will take time.”

Samprit says, “Ok, but try to determine it as soon as possible.”

Samprit, Anand, and Raj left the department while discussing the case.

******

May 28, 2021,

RAW Headquarters

Interrogation Cell

All of the suspects were present at RAW headquarters, had been arrested and brought there, Samprit was going to interrogate them himself, one by one.

First, he started with Mirza Bari. It had been very difficult for his team to find Mirza Bari, as there was no information about her. However, with the help of a photo available on Yammer, they were able to track her down. During the interrogation, it was found that she smuggles kesar, also known as saffron, from India to Pakistan, via PoK, with members of indiagame.com. Along with the smuggling of kesar, she provides the information regarding LoC to them, because of which many terrorists have been able to cross the border. But she denied having any kind of involvement in the Kashmir Valley blast.

After Mirza Bari, Samprit interrogated Deepak Goel and Arjun Gupta. It was known that Deepak Goel smuggles gold, fake foreign currencies, and girls. But he has been doing all this because he was once caught, by the Pakistani authorities, for doing the same from Pakistan to India; as a result, he has been asked to do all this by Pakistani officials, who pressurized him. They were the ones who forced him to join indiagame.com. He has even tried to inform police officers, but no one listened to him. Arjun Gupta was an unofficial spy. There are officers in both countries who have been betraying their nation for money. Arjun Gupta worked under them. He was ready to lose his life, but he didn’t disclose their names. He had shared all his ways to send the information across the border, but he refused to share his handler’s name. Pawan Chaudry and Faarish Razak were the last to be interrogated. Farish Razak was the daughter of a relative of Zakir Mohammed. He planned to get her married to Pawan Chaudry, and then use him to send his men to India on his bus. Many militants have been sent by Zakir Mohammed till now, and it is hard to find them all. Overall, all these names were connected with terrorism, but none were related to the blasts. The only hope left is some information from those mechanical parts found near the blast sites.

Samprit left the interrogation cell and visited the Cyber Cell department to ask Jatin if he had found out how those mechanical parts were utilized.

“Jatin, do we have any leads on the use of those parts?”

Jatin replies, “Sir, those parts were used in drones. But the speciality of these drones is that they are fully solar-powered. They can fly for more than a year without any control. The controller needs to fix the location and speed, and the drone will automatically reach the destination. The controller can insert a maximum of five layovers. But sir, this drone was invented last year. An IT company in Bangalore introduced this drone in February 2020.”

Samprit says, “Raj, we need to visit this company as soon as possible. There must be some connection between this drone used in blasts and that company.”

Raj replies, “I will arrange a flight ticket for you to go to Bangalore tonight.”

“Why only me? Won’t you and Anand come with me?”

“I think it would be better for me and Anand to stay here, should we get any leads we need to travel anywhere else.”

“Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Alright, I will handle Bangalore, and you guys hold fort here. Let’s coordinate daily on the incoming information.”

******

May 28, 2021

Delhi Airport

It was an AirAsia flight. The departure time was 20:15 from Delhi Airport, the destination was Kempegowda International Airport, Bangalore, and the arrival time was 23:00 hours. Samprit checked into the hotel at around midnight. He planned to visit the company the next morning.

******

May 29, 2021

Bangalore

Samprit reached the IT company at around 10 am, introduced himself, and took an appointment to meet the manager. After talking to the manager, he came to know that two researchers had applied for the patent of that drone in February 2020, but at that time, the drone was not ready. They were sponsored by the company to complete their project under the company so that it could buy the patent, and it took around eight months for them to build that drone. And still, there were problems with the drone, so it has not been officially launched but is provided on demand and requires proper surveillance. In November 2020, the company started to provide drones. And until then, only 30 pieces have been delivered to the customers, which were reputed companies requiring that drone for very small-scale purposes.

Samprit obtained the information of those companies who have bought the drone and forwarded the same to Jatin, to confirm if the drones were still present in the company. Samprit also obtains details of the two researchers behind the drone and secretly goes to their house. The front door was locked, so he secretly waited for them to come home.

At around 8′o clock, they enter their home. Samprit cleverly entered closed the main door and uses his gun to frighten them. They ask Samprit about him with a shaking voice. Samprit introduced himself and said that he won’t harm them if they provide every piece of information about the drone. Both researchers agreed to tell everything to him but asked him not to disclose their secret anywhere else.

Suddenly, Samprit’s mobile ranged. It was Jatin’s call. He received the call and asked him what’s the matter.

“Sir, one drone is missing from a company situated in Delhi.”

Samprit replied, “Okay, we will discuss it later,” and hangs up on the call. Then he asked those researchers to carry on. They told him that they received a courier in January 2020, which contained the documents of research of self-operating solar drones. There was every detail in those documents, including the design, coding, and material to be used. They cross-examined the documents, which took around a month. After cross-examining, they showed those papers to the company and asked to sponsor them, to which the company agreed, but with certain conditions. They agreed with every condition because this could change their life forever. It took around nine months to create the drone. But still, there were different issues with the drone. They were not able to create an exact drone as per the papers but managed to create a self-operating solar drone with some limitations. And the company is now selling them to limited customers so that no issue is created in the future. They once again requested Samprit to keep this a secret. Samprit asked them to show the papers and prove that they got this in courier. They showed him the research paper, but they don’t have any proof regarding the courier. Samprit wanted to believe those two, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to take the chance. He issued an arrest warrant against both and went back to Delhi. While he was taking them to Delhi, he got a call from Y.S. Goyal about an email in his inbox. The strange thing was that email ID is provided to those who work for RAW and is a secret ID. And since only Samprit can open the mail, Y.S. Goyal asked Samprit to come as soon as possible. Samprit replied that he was on his way to Delhi having some clue regarding the case, although he was not sure whether the clue will help or not.

******

May 31, 2021

RAW Headquarters

Goyal asked, “Samprit, did you see the email?”

Samprit replied, “Yes, sir, at first, I thought the mail was a mistake, but I doubt.”

“Tell me more about it.”

“Sir, I was ready to leave Bangalore on May 29, with those two researchers, as they said that the drone was not their invention, but were unable to provide proof of the same. So, for interrogating them, I arrested them. When I was leaving, I got your call regarding the email, so I opened it and read it.”

“And what was there in the mail?”

“A phone number.”

“ ‘A phone number!’, Did you call that number?”

“Sir, I called the number. The caller tune said that I need to call on May 31, 2021, at exactly 9 pm.”

“So you doubt, whether it relates to this case or not. Anyways! Where are those two researchers?”

“They are in an interrogation cell, sir.”

“Hmmm. Ask Jatin to arrange the call in the Cyber Cell. Let’s see what this mailer have for us. Also, ask Raj and Anand to be present there.”

“Ok, sir.”

Samprit salutes Goyal, leaves the office, and relays Goyal’s instructions to Jatin, Raj, and Anand.

******

May 31, 2021

Cyber Cell Department

8:45 pm

Goyal asked, “Jatin, is all the preparation done?”

Jatin replies, “Sir, I have prepared everything, but I have something to say. I tried to track the number but the number is not present in the directories of any telecom company. I don’t know how they did this, but they are just brilliant. I don’t think we will be able to track them this easy.”

Samprit comments, “Jatin, are you out of your mind? We have the best technological prowess any intelligence agency can have. And you are a genius at this. You can track them.”

Goyal says, “Samprit, Maybe Jatin is right.”

“Sir, so why did you ask me to tell him to arrange all this?”

“Samprit, I wanted everyone to listen to this conversation. It will help all of us to understand the mindset of the attacker and step forward accordingly.”

It was very silent till 9′o clock. At 9′o clock, Samprit asked Jatin to call. The phone ranged, and a man received the call.

The man said, “Good evening, everyone.”

Samprit replied, “Good evening to you too, but why are you saying, everyone? I am the only one here.”

The reply came, “Sir, do you think I am stupid? I asked you to call me at 9′o clock. You are a RAW agent; so, won’t you try to track me?”

Samprit asked, “Why would I track you?”

“Because I have sent you a mail on an ID which only RAW members know about, and a RAW member I certainly am not. And since you are working on a project and I have sent you the mail, now I too am on your suspect list.”

Samprit asked, “Who are you, and what do you want? Why are you doing all this?”

“Sir, relax. I will tell you everything. Ask whatever you want to ask regarding the case.”

“Ok. First, tell me, how did you get this number?”

“Oo... So you found out that this number is not present in the directories of any company. It was pretty simple, we just made this a company non-usable number then erased it from directories of the company. Now we can use any type of service for free and avoid headache of getting traced.”

Samprit continued, “So what do you know about these blasts?”

“Everything! What do you want to know?”

“I want to know every single detail. You get me? Every single detail!” Samprit replied coldly.

“Ok, call me tomorrow at 11 am. I will tell you everything,” the man replied, followed by a clicking sound indicating he hung up.

Samprit shouts, “Wait…shit!”

He turned to Jatin.

“Jatin, were we able to track the location?”

“No, sir.”

Goyal says, “You all can leave for now. We will meet tomorrow, right here, at 11 am.”

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