MOONRISER – THE SEARCH FOR A LOST BEHEMOTH
“Breakfast is ready, Sudhir. Come quick, you getting late for duty.” My Mom called out as I frantically polished my shoes and put them on. Before going to the dining hall, I looked at myself in the mirror and checked my attire.
“Never… never does my day go without thinking about you, Dad. I wish you were here to see me wearing this uniform.” I thought to myself as I put on my badge that had my rank and name on it – Lieutenant Commander Sudhir Malhotra.
I walked to the dining table and sat down to have my breakfast as my Mom placed a glass of milk. The very moment, there was a knock on the door and our servant lady opened it. It was Chandni.
“Oh, look at our little kid. Still not had your glass of milk, I see?” Chandni mocked at me and started giggling uncontrollably.
“As if I am not a human if I drink milk. Seriously!!” I reacted with a scowl.
“You both are still kids. You are grownups now so stop fighting. Grab a chair, Chandni. Have breakfast with us.” Said my Mom, as Chandni did the same.
She sat next to me, took a bite from my plate and then asked, “Did you check your inbox?”
“No, not yet. Why?” I asked.
“It is about Ambrose Uncle. He has been promoted as a Vice Admiral.” Chandni answered.
I stared at her and then smiled. Indeed, it was really a big news. Even my Mom heard it and felt happy. At the same time, she remembered something and looked away from us.
“Mom, what happened? Everything alright?” I asked.
“Nothing, really. It is just that… there was a time when I was angry with him in regards to your Dad’s disappearance yet he was the one who always supported us… supported you when the time came. Your Dad would also have been very happy had he been here.” Mom answered, she started to weep while she said it.
She wiped her tears and then sprouting a smile, said, “I have no issues with him, Sudhir. Besides, it has been many years. I may not have accepted the fact that your Dad is no more, yet Ambrose was his best friend and just like Chandni… he always used to drop by to have a cup of tea with your Dad. Many a times, he would come to pick your Dad up and drop him back home too.
Give him my regards, Sudhir and yes, do tell him to come and meet us sometimes. We owe him for whatever he has done for your Dad… and for us.”
I smiled too and nodded my head in agreement. After breakfast, Chandni and I left for work. We reached the ISS office and could see a lot of hustle and bustle going on in the ISS ground.
“We are on time for the ceremony. Go ahead, Chandni, I will park the car and come.” I said.
Chandni agreed, she got off the car and walked towards the ISS ground. I parked the car and while coming out, was greeted by my squad member, Lieutenant Rizwan.
“Right on time for the ceremony. Let us head to the ground and grab seats for the squad.” Said Rizwan.
“You said it. Let us rush. Chandni should have grabbed seats for us.” I responded.
“If not, I will knock her head… and you are not stopping me from doing that.” Said Rizwan.
“Oh, as always. You can count on that. I am not interfering between brother and sister. Though I should warn you, if it turns into a war, I have to interfere… maybe, raise a disciplinary action against both of you.” I said, pretending to be a hardened leader.
“Woah, brother… easy! There is no war, besides, she is your love… and in relation, my sister-in-law, so I am not going to mess with you on that.” Said Rizwan, nudging me and I could only blush and look away.
People had already started to gather at the ISS ground and it was slowly getting crowded.
“I am aware of the fact that Ambrose has a separate fan base worldwide but this is insane. We have delegates from the WRDO too presiding in this ceremony.” Said Rizwan.
“Not just any delegate, Rizwan. Look, it is the WRDO defense chief. This is history in the making.” I exclaimed.
The WRDO chief along with other dignitaries were chatting with Ambrose and it was very much animated. Rizwan and I spotted Chandni who called out to us.
“Hmm… Rizwan, looks like it is your day today. Look who is standing with Chandni.” I said, this time giving a nudge to Rizwan.
“No way!! Rooma!! Chandni never told me that she had made friends with her.” Said a surprised Rizwan.
“Looks like Chandni got to know that you have a crush on her. Your sister is doing her job yet you wanted to knock her head.” I commented.
“Yeah, right! What gives, she has decided to start a relationship bureau for the staff of ISS. She would do good in that business yet here she is working hard to listen to the POTENTIALS chatter.” Said Rizwan.
“Speaking of POTENTIALS, we also need to keep our eyes open. There are a lot of people here, high profile dignitaries too… solid chance for anyone to attack.” I said as I started to look at everyone suspiciously.
“I wouldn’t deny that. Let us stay positive… and let me build a bit of courage to speak to Rooma.” Said Rizwan walking ahead of me.
As they came forward, Chandni introduced Rooma to both of us.
“Rooma, she has just been promoted to a Sub-Lieutenant and has been assigned to Joseph’s squad.” Chandni introduced Rooma.
“Great! Joseph’s squad, eh! Rizwan and Joseph don’t go well together. Boy, you have got a challenge up ahead.” I thought as I looked at Rizwan, the latter was also looking at me and it was quite evident from his face that he was also thinking the same.
“Rooma, my squad members… Lt. Com. Sudhir Malhotra and Lt. Rizwan Khan.” We were introduced to Rooma, while I shook hands with her confidently, Rizwan was staring at her and Rooma was obviously finding it weird.
I nudged Rizwan and the latter behaved as though he came out of a trance. He shook hands with her and Rooma could only giggle at his antics. We then heard the sound of trumpets which indicated that the ceremony had officially begin and we were asked to be seated.
The Admiral greeted us and then explained the premise of the ceremony, and after speaking about the accomplishments of Ambrose, called him on stage to confer the badge of the Vice Admiral. Amidst a huge round of applause, Ambrose got up on stage and once he came face to face with the admiral, he saluted the latter.
The Admiral took a box from a soldier and opened it. A flying cam zoomed in on it and everyone was able to see the badge on a huge screen installed, there was another applause as the Admiral took the badge from the box and then attached it on to the breast pocket of Ambrose’s uniform. The latter still standing fast saluted the admiral again and then walked towards the audience. We stood in honor of the new vice admiral and with a blare of the trumpets again, Vice Admiral Ambrose saluted the audience. While the dignitaries and the ISS staff including us returned the salute, the civilians especially the families of ISS staff continued clapping. Once the ceremony was over, we decided to meet Ambrose.
“Would you like to meet Ambrose Sir?” Rizwan asked Rooma, obviously trying to hit on her.
“I don’t know… and I am not sure. It has been about 2 years that I have been serving with the ISS, however, I look at all these big guys and I find myself so small and insecure. Kind of like demotivated as to whether I will ever reach the same level as they are in now.” Said Rooma.
Rizwan and I could make out that insecurity in her voice. Even though she was promoted as a Sub-Lieutenant, she was still unsure about her achievement, however little it may seem to be to many.
“A promotion doesn’t decide the bravery or honor of a soldier. It is the deeds that you perform that decides what you are and what you can achieve. You have been promoted and that is a big step in itself. There are those like my squad leader who has achieved success and rank because of the deeds that he had performed and then, there are those who are still below trying their best but feeling insecure.
You want to be motivated; you want to be a winner… then you need to be around winners like Ambrose. The more you spend your time knowing about them and learning about them, and the achievements they have that has brought them to this position… the more you will understand what you should do to be like them… maybe, better than them.
You are getting an opportunity to meet a person like Ambrose and here you are, feeling insecure. Why? Because he is a Vice Admiral now. He didn’t achieve all this in a single day or night, it took him years and sure enough, you will achieve the same if you have the same confidence and virtue as the likes of him.” Said Rizwan.
Chandni and I could only stare at him, none of us expected him to say such words. I looked at Rooma and she looked motivated. She grabbed Rizwan’s hand and said, “Alright, then you are doing the honor of introducing me to him. Deal!”
There was a twinkle in Rizwan’s eyes, I looked at Chandni who looked back and then whispered in my ears, “Jackpot.”
We then walked towards Ambrose who noticed us, he was speaking to someone and took his permission to speak to us.
“Congratulations, Ambrose Sir. We are all proud of you.” Said Chandni.
We shook hands with him and he responded in his usual style, “Thank you so much, officers. And I owe you people and every other soldier over here for my success. I am hosting a party in this honor and you guys are all invited… actually, not invited, you are going to join me to plan this party. I can’t do this myself.”
“Of course, and without a doubt, we are always there to help. Just tell us when you are hosting the party and we will be there early enough to set things up for the guest.” Said Rizwan.
“Ah! See, I know I could count on you people. You will know it soon enough. Right now, I need you people at the briefing area as fast as possible. Not the right area to discuss why…. but you will know why.” Said Ambrose.
We looked at each other and nodded our heads in agreement realizing that the spies of ISS would have found something. Before, Ambrose walked away, I spoke up, “Sir, I… ah…”
Ambrose looked at me and was confused at my hesitation to speak, he smiled and asked, “What is it, Sudhir?”
“My Mom… she knows about your achievement and congratulated you for it. She… actually invited you to come sometime to our home.” I said.
Ambrose was silent for some time and this confused me. Slowly, a smile sprouted and the former answered, “We have a mission to complete today. Let us finish it… and then, we will see your Mom together.”
I was relieved at that statement and smiled back.
After about 20 minutes, while we walked towards the briefing room, we were joined by our 4th squad mate, Daljeet.
“Where were you for so long? We were all at the function and looking for you here and there!” Chandni asked.
“I am sorry. I was finishing up my presentation on ‘HOW TO CAPTURE AND INTEROGGATE POTENTIALS?’.” Answered Daljeet, and we stopped in our paths.
Daljeet looked at us confused while we looked each other and slapped our foreheads.
“Still not got out of your weird ideas, have you?” asked Rizwan.
“Weird ideas!! You know the kind of problem we are facing with these POTENTIALS? Everyone is trying to find a solution to the problem yet no one… no one has found the perfect one. I am at least doing some service by giving as many ideas as possible yet you people… my own team continues to demotivate me.” Daljeet explained.
“We are not trying to demotivate you, Daljeet. We are just trying to stop you from making a fool of yourself.” Said Chandni.
“I agree on that. Daljeet, you are a master in terms of networking and technology, and no one can beat you on that but regarding POTENTIALS… the last time you presented something, you were made a laughing stock. I was called by the higher ups to have you sacked from the team and the ISS.” I said.
“Sacked? Me? Honestly?” Daljeet asked, he was shocked indeed along with the others.
“You are making that up, aren’t you?” asked Rizwan.
“I am not joking, people. I am serious. You listen to his idea and even you will feel the same way the higher ups felt.” I explained and the others could only nod their heads in disagreement.
I continued, “His idea was to utilize the state-of-the-art tracking feature that was installed a few days back on one of the space stations. The tracking system has the ability to categorize people as normal civilians, soldiers, laborers, doctors etc. That system is still in the testing stage on Space Station One and Daljeet wants to utilize that to seek out the POTENTIALS.”
Chandni and Rizwan were dumbfounded. While Rizwan shook his head in disbelief, Chandni couldn’t help laughing and commented, “You have guts, Daljeet. You walked up to the higher ups and gave this idea.”
“It was not a bad idea. I still stand by it. I see no reason why I should have been sacked for it.” Said Daljeet.
“You were going to give the WRDO and the ISS a run for their money. The world is bigger than this, Daljeet. The economy of a few countries is in turmoil because of the rise of THE FIRE and here you are proposing something that can make a lot of people involved bankrupt.” I explained.
Daljeet stared at me and then thought for a moment, a smile spouted and he slowly walked towards me and hugged me tightly. It looked weird and I could see a lot of people staring at us. Rizwan started laughing while Chandni was giggling uncontrollably.
“So, it is budget problem? Why didn’t you tell me before? Now, I know what needs to be done.” Exclaimed Daljeet, and I could only look to the heavens to give my dear friend some sanity.
That very Moment, Joseph came with his squad and I could sense trouble.
“Sudhir, it is evident that you have a team of good-for-nothing soldiers. Hard to believe that you people are still able to survive the missions given to you.” Joseph started, while the others were angered by that comment, for me it was like a bad habit that I just did not want to leave or change from.
“Come to the point, Joseph.” I said with an air of authority, and as usual it was welcomed with a silence that made even the most experienced higher ups stare at me in wonder.
Joseph and I belonged to the same batch. While I was not the one who believed in being in the public eye for every reason, Joseph longed for recognition from the higher ups. Not that he didn’t get it considering he was a lieutenant now and a leader of a squad… and what is more, he had gone on more missions than me, yet the fact that I am a Lt. Com with lesser missions than him is something that he cribbed about.
Since my promotion to my current status, Joseph had always looked for opportunities to get under my skin. Chandni and Rizwan had told me many a times to complain about this. I could have but that is where the issue is. The man standing in front of me and talking shit about my team was a hardened soldier with a high success rate, a man anyone can count upon… his only downside being, his unusual lack of concern for his squad mates.
Joseph looked around sensing that silence, it was eerie and he cleared his throat and started, “Rooma is my new squad mate. However, I see your boy, Rizwan here trying to flirt with her for no reason.”
Rizwan was taken aback, he looked at Rooma and nodded his head in disagreement. Rooma, however, was smiling and winked at him. This made things easy and I continued to stand firm listening to Joseph’s nonsense.
“I do not trust you or your squad mates and that is the reason why I ask you to teach your errand boy here to learn manners and keep distance. What are you up to, Sudhir? You want a new squad mate. Not happy with yours, or may be, Chandni is no more your favorite and you seem to have found someone else to ogle your eyes on and using Rizwan as a medium to get her attention.” Said Joseph.
Chandni, Rizwan and Daljeet were angered, they came forward to protest but I stopped them. Rooma was also taken aback by that comment. She had just met us and looked at us with scrutiny and it was obvious. This was Joseph’s way of belittling me and making me lose my temper. Anyone in my place would have already punched him but I still stood firm.
I walked forward with my arms behind my back, looked at Joseph from top to bottom and then said, “You are a man filled with insecurities. You fear failure yet you are one of the most sought-after soldiers in terms of any dangerous mission. I have seen your ‘game’, Joseph and I can sense that you are a coward and always make your colleagues do the job for you while you take all the glory.
And what did you say, your squad mate, is it? How many squad mates are you going to have… or let me put it this way, how many squad mates are you going to kill to fulfil your accomplishments?”
Joseph was taken aback by that question; he was tensed and a sweat dropped down from the side of his forehead. He looked at his squad mates, they knew what I was talking about.
“It has been 9 years that you have been in service and 4 years as a squad leader yet look at the number of times your squad mates have changed. A lot of them have asked for transfer or change because you are an incompetent leader while 2 soldiers have already lost their lives because of your stupid judgements on the field.
Do not cross your limits, Joseph or else… I will do what a few soldiers in the history of battles have done, killed a fellow soldier for incompetency.”
The last sentence was enough to make Joseph back track a bit. The others who were having fun while the former was belittling me were quick to realize that they were also replacements and could only hang their head in shame, except for Rooma who was looking at me with admiration.
Joseph, not the kind of man to lose, was now angry and grabbed hold of my collar and said, “You think you are better than me. You think you can outrank me. You… you are a son of a loser. Son of a man who couldn’t protect ISS’s biggest asset. A man who not only died but even took with him 1000 of the best soldiers and crew men to a place of no return. You don’t deserve to be here. You deserve to die the same way as your Dad.”
I was shocked beyond words. I now realized his anger; he was not the only one. There were indeed a lot of people who believed that more than ISS, it was my Dad who should be blamed for the loss of the MOONRISER. I knew that I to had live with that but I never knew the hatred that people had for that loss, a hatred directed towards my family too. Joseph’s eyes said everything. I could have punched him, killed him at that moment without my hands shivering… but I couldn’t. I could only look at him with a sense of concern.
“Joseph, stand down and back away from him. I order you.” It was Ambrose.
Joseph’s anger had vanished. He reacted as though a ghost had called out to him. He was not his senses. Indeed, when he looked at me and saw himself holding my collar, he let go and backed away. I was confused considering I could make out that he was feeling ashamed at doing it.
“I am sorry, Sir. I am sorry.” Joseph apologized.
I was still staring at him in disbelief and turned around to see my squad mates. They were in disbelief too.
Ambrose started to speak, “There is a war going on and none of us over here, not even my seniors have the time to handle a disciplinary issue meeting involving 2 of the best soldiers of ISS behaving like kids in a playground. We have a mission to discuss and I need the support of everyone to see to it that it is successful. Am I clear on this?”
Every soldier standing there, including me, replied in unison, “Sir, yes, Sir.”
We all dispersed from there and prepared ourselves for the meeting, however, my mind still kept going back to the antic that Joseph just displayed.
“What happened?” Chandni asked looking concerned.
“There is a reason for hatred, Chandni, there is always a reason but in the case of Joseph, it was something else. It was not hatred, it was not anger… it was something else, it was like as though… for a few moments, I could see a child who had a lost a toy and was now begging… craving… to give his toy back.” I answered.
“I don’t understand. The legacy of MOONRISER is tied to you. I don’t see why Joseph should be so emotionally attached to that.” Chandni responded.
“You are wrong, Chandni. It is not about my Dad or me. MOONRISER’S legacy is tied to all those who built it, assembled it… designed it from scratch. It had the legacy of ISS attached to it. The legacy of our nation. It was more than a ship, Chandni. It was a legacy in itself. I intend to find that ship. I intend to find it and bring it back to where it belongs. In time, I will find it… and with it, all the answers to the question that everyone has regarding its disappearance.” I said.
Chandni smiled and said, “Know this, Sudhir. We are all with you on this. We will find it together and bring it back. Don’t worry.”
I smiled back and then looked outside, at the very place where the ISS MOONRISER first lifted off.
The meeting began after 10 minutes with Commander Bannerjee first showing some pictures and videos of a site that the spies had brought in. There were close to 50 squads in that room which meant that something big was going to happen.
“What you are looking at is a site which is believed to be a school. Not any kind of school, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a school that houses and trains POTENTIALS. Our spies were able to go as deep as possible to find every piece of information about this site. Going far as to even interrogating a soldier of THE FIRE to learn the secret of this school.
Needless to say, the soldier was killed to avoid leakages. It is our turn now to see to it that we extract all POTENTIALS from there and bring them to our ‘civilization’ so as to put some sense into their brains. The army is also with us in this mission to clear out our enemies considering we don’t know the exact number that is in the site. What is even more doubtful is the fact that the said POTENTIALS may already be ready for war and will take up arms against us.
So, we need to be wary of this. Fire your weapons if you are confident that the one standing in front of you is your enemy. If not, control your trigger finger.” The Commander explained the situation.
He switched off the screen and the lights were turned on.
“Any questions?” the Commander asked.
“Sir, is there any secret base within the site or under it? Were the spies able to see that?” I asked.
The question was welcomed with raised eyebrows. Some were concerned, some smiled at me feeling impressed and then, there were those… like Joseph, who scowled at me.
“Indeed, a very good question, Sudhir… and the answer is… YES.” Said the Commander, and there were murmurs in the room.
“If we look at just the site, there may be close to 5000 enemy soldiers inside… well, that is what the spies indicated but they did talk about an underground bunker or a base which may house many more. It could also be the same base where the POTENTIALS are brainwashed and trained. So… you people have an added responsibility.
Now, here is the plan. While the army will attack the base going full frontal, we will drop from an altitude of 15000 ft behind enemy lines. We are good at creating the element of surprise and therefore, I would LOVE that you people keep up that legacy.
Let us show these bastards of THE FIRE that we are not here to bow down to their incompetent beliefs and ideologies. Let us show them who is the BOSS.” All the people, including my squad in the room were greatly motivated by that speech and we replied in unison, “Sir, yes, Sir.”
Post the meeting, we suited up for the mission and were walking towards the nearest drop ship. Ambrose was there overseeing the process, he spotted my squad and called out to us. We obliged and walked up to him.
“As always you are going behind enemy lines. This war has been going on for far too long and on every mission that we keep sending our brave men and women, I live with the hope that we might find something that can put an end to this.
We have the same hopes again with this mission so keep your eyes open for anything that can be important… does not matter if you get the approval or not.” Said Ambrose.
We nodded our heads in agreement. Ambrose then walked a few steps away from everyone and then called out to me. Confused, I walked up to him, he looked at me and asked, “Are you alright?”
I didn’t understand the question at first but then I remembered the fight that just happened between Joseph and me.
“It is ok, Sir. I am aware of the hatred that people have towards my Dad. I cannot change their thoughts but if there is anything that I can do… for my Dad, for my family, it is to do my duty and fulfil my responsibilities. That is the least I can do.” I said.
“You Dad was a brave man and I know it. It does not matter what the worlds says about him or you or every one of us. Besides, the world is bigger than this, it still holds secrets… secrets which are hard to comprehend at the moment.
We are like a child that is impatiently waiting for an answer to every question. The disappearance of MOONRISER… and your Dad has not only left a void but has also led to so many unanswered questions. What is even more disturbing is that we are not sure where to start and where to find the answers.” Said a concerned Ambrose.
“Don’t worry, Sir. There is old saying that TRUTH never lies hidden for a long time. When the time comes… and it will most certainly will… we will find the answers. For now, this mission comes first. We are on the verge of a discovery, if I am not wrong and let us hope, this can be an answer to this never-ending war.” I said.
Ambrose was impressed and he patted my shoulder. He then nodded his head indicating to proceed. I saluted him and then ran back to my squad. Together, we got into a transport ship along with the others and put on our seatbelts.
“Anything you want to share?” Asked Rizwan.
“Pretty sure, it was about the incident involving Joseph.” Chandni commented.
“Yeah, pretty much but we will talk about that later. Right now, concentrate on the mission.” I said as I cocked my rifle and was satisfied with the sound it made.