The 7 Innocents

John 7:24
'Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.'



Isaiah 64:6
'But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;'


It was when their problems seemed to wane that they escalated. The Australians all disappeared, and the seminary shut down. They were told to run for their lives. Told if they didn’t, their families would die. Told if they did, their families would still die.
They endeavoured to solve the mystery – one that threatened to destroy them and their families – but soon realised that to end it all, they must first find the Australians. But the closer they came to finding them, the more they began to see they should run and never come back.
The question, of course, is why they didn’t call the police.
The answer is simple.
You can’t avoid being condemned unless you’re innocent.
And these men are not.

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15. Chapter Fourteen: The 7 Days

 

 

‘The next action is not my fault either.’ Gopi continued. ‘It was a retaliation of the enemy.’

          ‘I am so confused.’ One of the new comers moaned, but he found himself ignored.

          Gopi continued, wondering how long he could speak before he was interrupted. Glancing at the clock, he decided to time himself.

          ‘IndAid was unhappy that one of their best men had switched to our side, and they were also unhappy that we had taken their ‘tools’. They decided to hurt us through Vijay, killing his uncle. It was a cruel attempt to get even, but it hurt only Vijay. At any rate, it made him determined never to go back, so perhaps – in a sick kind of way – it worked out for the better.’

          ‘A very sick way.’ The boss muttered, but he seemed to be warming to Gopi.

          Two minutes. He had managed two minutes.

          ‘So,’ one of the new workers began. He clearly hadn’t read the paper he had been given, because his next question was a very clueless one. ‘What comes next?’

 

Three Years Earlier:

 

Suneep remembered when they'd first arrived – 20 Australian exchange students, including two New Zealanders. He had determined to hate them all, as it was fairly clear that they were really only coming to the BSI for adventure. Besides, he didn't want to be distracted by them and lose sight of Arjun. For the most part, the Australians stuck together, and didn't mix much. But, eventually, they all fell into little groups.

            Suneep began to notice Alyssa. She seemed to know every-one, and remembered nearly every-one's names. Then, of course, there was Liberty, whom every-one knew. She was kind, but struggled remembering every-one's names, and only really knew a few people. This obviously bothered her though, and so she began sticking around Alyssa. The two were a great team. Alyssa was the quiet one who maintained friendships, while Liberty was outgoing and began them. All this was accomplished within the first six days.

            One day, as Suneep had passed the two girls, he had caught Liberty whisper, 'name?'

            Alyssa had replied, 'Suneep Vadin,' after which Liberty cried, 'hey, Suneep!'

            Suneep had smiled pleasantly, completely surprised that Alyssa already knew his name, and wondering how. Things became clear at dinner time, however, when every-one at his table whispered about the two in conversation.

            Balraj sat smiling, listening to the entire conversation. Then, obviously fed-up with the gossip, he had moved to sit with Arjun.

            The Australians were still rather new to the BSI, and – while they desired to mingle – they also wished to make a few close friends. So when they entered the dining room, Suneep was not surprised when the majority of the newcomers sat down with very specific groups. As for Liberty and Alyssa, however, they simply searched for the emptiest table and sat down. Suneep was a little surprised by this, especially as they sat at Arjun's table, but he was even more surprised when he realised Arjun and Balraj already seemed to know the two.

            'They sat there the first night.' Bikram explained when Suneep asked. 'Those were the first two people they met here at the BSI.'

            Suneep frowned, realising his problem with Arjun was only becoming worse.

            Each night after dinner, a few students always instigated a game of cards. These games were usually empty, but when Alyssa and Liberty began attending, numbers soared.

            Suneep had been walking to his room when he had passed Danny and Kannan, chatting happily.

            'Where are you going?' Suneep asked, curious.

            'To play cards.' Danny replied.

            'That daggy game? No-one plays cards but Samuel and Emu! Maybe Sanjay and Braj on a good night.'

            Danny smiled. 'Yes, but Alyssa and Liberty began playing.'

            Suneep shook his head. 'And so the numbers have grown? That is sad.'

            'No!' Kannan had replied. 'Not just because of them! There are other girls... people... too! Not just the Australians.'

            Suneep had raised his eyebrows quizzically. 'So... you treat this as a social night?'

            Kannan smiled. 'It is.'

            Suneep laughed and turned around. 'Fine. I will come to your social event.'

            The three had made their way back to the dining room which Suneep surprisedly found packed. Only a few of his friends weren't present, and neither was Arjun, as they were all studying. Just as Kannan had said, many girls were playing, and the mood seemed bright and relaxed.

            Suneep's full attention was given to Alyssa when he noticed she was talking to Shaktiah Nylah. The two were getting along beautifully.

            'Would you like to play, brothers?' Samuel called. 'We are playing cheat!'

            'That is not good Christian game.' Suneep teased.

            Liberty spoke up, and surprised him with her reply. 'Would you rather have a Bible quiz?'

            Suneep had raised his eyebrows, as all eyes turned to him expectantly. 'No.' He answered, sitting down.

            There was laughter, and Samuel began dealing the cards. Throughout the night, Suneep was occasionally able to speak to the two Australian girls. By the end of the night, he'd realised that – while they had freedom – they didn't know how to use it.

            'Come,' he said, as they left the building, 'I'll show you around tomorrow night. Meet me at the end of the street at six. I'll take you out for dinner.'

            Alyssa's face was absolutely priceless, and Liberty actually stammered. 'We'll have to check that we're free...' was the best she could manage.

            Suneep raised his eyebrows and smiled a little. 'You are worried? Good. I will bring a friend. You bring a friend too.' The girls hesitated. Shaktiah walked past, and Suneep quickly pulled her over. 'Shaktiah!' He cried. Then, much more discreetly, come out with us tomorrow night, if you can.'

            Shaktiah nodded. 'I should be able to. My grades are good.'

            Suneep smiled and turned to the other two girls. 'So then! You will come?'

            The two accepted a lot more readily than before.

            As the four parted ways and headed off to bed, Suneep's mind went mad. How was he going to get out? He'd never get permission. His grades were all right, but Dr. Ashwin was always worrying about him. And if he was caught he'd have to pay a ridiculous fine to the BSI.

            His other problem was going to be finding some-one who would take the same risk.

            Walking into his room, he wasn't too surprised to see not only Bikram, but also Josha and Chandan. The three looked at him and then continued talking.

            'Guys,' Suneep rudely interrupted them, 'who wants to go out with me tomorrow night?'

            'I cannot.' Came the unanimous reply. 'My grades aren't high enough.'

            Suneep nodded. 'So? We have a ladder.' He turned hopefully to Josha, but the man simply left without saying another word. 'I invited Alyssa, Liberty, and Shaktiah.' Suneep continued. 'I promised I'd bring a friend.'

            Bikram continued to shake his head. 'I have to study.'

            'You always say that.' Suneep replied. 'But you never seem to do it. You get B's, just like me.'

            Bikram seemed upset, and picked up some notes. 'I have to do well. I cannot fail.'

            'Who says you will fail?' Suneep cried.

            'Trust me. If I do not study, I will fail.'

            Suneep simply shrugged and turned to Chandan. After giving him puppy dog eyes for a while,             Chandan sighed. 'It does not work, Suneep.'

            'Will you come if I stop?'

            'No.'

            'I'm buying dinner.'

            'You'll be broke.'

            Suneep only raised his eyebrows. 'Tell you what.' He bargained. 'If we're caught, I'll pay your fine.'

            Chandan laughed. 'You can't afford that! Besides, it still affects grades...' Chandan stood up, as if to leave, and paused when he realised Suneep was still staring at him. 'Will we go to the market?' He asked.

            'I'll buy you Chucks.' Suneep replied.

            Chandan gulped, but nodded. 'I'm in.'

            Suneep smiled, as Chandan began to leave. 'Here, 5.45 tomorrow.'

 

'Hold still!' Suneep hissed, as the ladder began to slide.

            'Don't step on my head!' Chandan cried.

            'Ssh!' Suneep warned. 'We must not be caught.'

            Chandan steadied the ladder and Suneep scurried up the wall before he could move it again. Then he held the ladder, and Chandan struggled up. The two dragged the ladder over the wall and Suneep bravely went down first. Then he steadied the ladder for Chandan.

            'There is a hedge!' Chandan whispered distractedly.

            'Yes. It is perfect.'

            Chandan jumped down the last foot, and Suneep immediately hid the ladder in the hedge. 'Let's go.'

            The two walked quickly to the end of the street, where they waited briefly for the three girls to arrive.

            'Suneep,' Chandan suddenly asked, 'why are we doing this?'

            Suneep raised his eyebrows playfully. 'Because. I am bored. They are bored. I can fix that.' Chandan laughed, as the girls came into view.

            'Why did we not meet at the gate?' Shaktiah asked instantly.

            'Because.' Suneep replied. 'We have been arranging rickshaws.'

            Sure enough, there were two rickshaws waiting for the group.

            'It will be hard to split up five.' Alyssa observed.

            Suneep nodded and smiled teasingly. 'Who wants to come with me?' No-one volunteered.

            Chandan hopped into one of the rickshaws, and Liberty and Alyssa followed. Shaktiah was forced to go with Suneep. But the trip was only about six minutes long, and finished when the group reached the market.

            Suneep was obviously feeling generous that night, for he not only bought Chandan a pair of hot pink Converse shoes (which the girls found very amusing), but Liberty a pair of earrings and Alyssa a blue scarf.

            'No!' She had insisted. 'I don't need anything!'

            'You have ugly neck.' Suneep had replied. 'Cover it up.' Then, tying the scarf around her neck, he had paid for the item and left the shop.

            'Gee, thanks.' Alyssa had murmured, even though she knew he was just joking.

            'Don't worry.' Suneep replied. 'It matches your eyes – and they are very pretty.' Chandan laughed peculiarly.

            The group continued shopping, and every so often Liberty would say, 'Suneep, pull your pants up.' Suneep would refuse to do so, but eventually had to do it anyway.

            After a while, he paused to buy Shaktiah a gift. 'No!' She had insisted. 'Suneep, I do not want it.'

            'Nonsense,' he replied. 'It's a beautiful locket. You can fit two big pictures of me in it.'

            Shaktiah had laughed calmly, and given in to Suneep's nagging.

            'Suneep, you're going to be broke!' Alyssa cried at one point.

            Both he and Shaktiah had laughed, though no-one knew why.

            As the night progressed, Suneep began to feel more comfortable. He had only really felt uncomfortable with Alyssa, as she seemed to be piecing him together one small piece at a time. This bothered him greatly. At the same time, though, she seemed a lot like Shaktiah, who looked for the best in every-one and refused to see anything else. He only hoped Alyssa was the same, because if she was looking for faults, she would easily find them.

            Truth be told, but Alyssa and Liberty were trying to piece him together, and they didn't have much to go by. Chandan was not too hard. He was a bit of a follower, and often stuck around with some-one; but at the same time, he was a leader. Despite what every-one thought, the people he followed often ended up following him.

            He was a bit of a fashion lover too, and frequently wore interesting outfits. Tonight his hair was spiked, and he wore a beanie which he had cut the top off – his own idea, which he was very proud of. The 'thing' (as it was being called) was black, as was his jacket (which was nothing special). He wore black jeans and black Converse boots. He seemed to have an obsession with shoes – especially Converses. This was mainly because he couldn't afford them.

            Overall, he seemed to be a placid punk, who could probably be aggressive and violent if he wanted to. Both girls got the distinct impression that he'd had a sad life. The only hoped it would get better.

            Suneep was another story. Even his fashion was different. Suneep did not go out of his way when he dressed. He wore what he like, and wore his clothes until the literally died – especially his shoes, which were the only things he really went out of his way to find. Occasionally, however, he was possessed by a strange mood and went out of his way to look good.

            This was not one of those nights. Suneep wore a black beanie, as it was cold, and his hair was a little long, so visible. But it by no means came near to his shoulders – he was to masculine to allow that.

He wore baggy jeans, as always, which were not obviously baggy until he reached up or bent down. Being short, he trod on his cuffs, which were well and truly destroyed. He wore a black jacket just like Chandan, and Converse shoes completed his look. It was a cool look, but by no means try-hard, which was a little of what Chandan's was.

            Suneep seemed to be lazy, and often said that he was, but occasionally he would come across as deep and brilliant. He was obviously good at music, and had impressed all the Australians on their first day during chapel with his gifts. He had stood out while playing the drums because he looked suave, and naturally cool, and the job seemed too easy for him. Then – half-way through the program – he had changed instruments and played a simple electric guitar solo. It was simple enough, but he played it with great skill, and once again radiated competence. So, overall, the girls were just entirely confused with Suneep. But they enjoyed his company all the same.

            The group enjoyed the evening, and was very relaxed by the end of it. As they approached the entrance of the BSI, however, Suneep and Chandan became more tense, but only a little.

            'Okay, we will see you.' Suneep had suddenly said, standing still. Chandan hastily copied, and the girls were all very surprised.

            'What are you doing?' Liberty asked.

            Suneep raised his eyebrows. 'It is not our bed time yet.'

            'It's eleven PM.' Alyssa pointed out, having been pointing out the time for a while now.

            'Too early.' Suneep teased. 'Must wait for a least two more hours.'

            The girls had laughed, and walked the rest of the way themselves.

            Chandan and Suneep immediately ran to where their ladder was. They climbed over the wall quickly, and slipped carefully into their rooms.

            'Goodnight, dai.' Chandan whispered, as he waited for the girls to move inside the main building. As soon as they did, he bolted across the BSI to his room.

            'Goodnight, bhai.' Suneep returned, walking casually to his own room. He found Bikram hard at work.

            'How was your night?' His friend asked eventually.

'Good, dhanyabad.' Suneep returned. 'You should have come.'

            'I do not think so. This is very hard. I am not looking forward to the test on Friday.'

            Suneep panicked. 'Two days away!?' He cried. 'When did you find that out?'

            Bikram sighed. 'Remember when you fell asleep in class?' Suneep's face fell. 'Dr. Ashwin made us promise not to tell you, so you would learn a lesson. But, hey, I am too nice friend not to tell you!' Turning away angrily, he added, 'you know, if you went to bed earlier you wouldn't be so sleepy all day.'

            'But I am only tired at day. At night I wake up, and cannot fall asleep until at least 1 am. Sometimes not even till 2!'

            'Yes, so you skip breakfast at 7.'

            'A lot of people do!'

            'But you do not get up until 5 to 9, 5 minutes before class starts. Occasionally you get up earlier and have a shower.'

            'What's your point, bhai?'

            'Suneep!' Bikram cried, suddenly turning to face his friend. 'Being tired at day and awake at night is supposed to leave once you're not a teenager. Grow up!'

            Suneep was not one to argue, and simply raised his eyebrows. 'And you are mature?' he retorted.

            'No! But at least I do not make excuses for myself, Suneep. Take responsibility!'

            'I do, Bikram! I am lazy! See, it is my fault!'

            'Fix it, Suneep! That is what an adult would do!'

            'I am an adult.' Suneep replied coolly, sitting on his bed. Bikram scoffed and turned away. Suneep shrugged and got ready for bed. As he settled down, Bikram remained at his desk, studying hard. Suneep shrugged again, and pulled out a mini laptop. Plugging in some headphones, he began watching a movie.

Bikram went to bed half an hour later, but Suneep stayed up far longer than usual. He didn't go to sleep until 3 AM.

 

Suneep awoke.

            The curtains were open, the beds were made, and the room was light. He bolted out of bed.

            'No, no, no, no, no!' He cried to himself, rushing to change. He cried exasperatedly when the bell for class rung. 'Hurry, hurry, hurry!' He continuously muttered, doing up his shoelaces. Pulling on his beanie, he rushed out the door. He was starving, but he was clean – brushed teeth and all.

            He ran with his textbooks as quickly as he could, and jumped when Alyssa suddenly rounded the corner. She helpfully jumped out of the way, but he still dropped all his things.

            He frantically gathered his belonging, and the girl helped. He wondered why she was alone – it was unusual for her – but felt too pushed for time to ask. He was very surprised when she spoke.

            'I spoke to Bikram this morning. He is very frustrated with you – and himself – I hear.'

            Suneep froze, unsure of what he was meant to say. Alyssa surprised him again by continuing.

            'I know Shaktiah has given you Colossians 3:23, but I think I have a better one for you.' She stacked the last book on Suneep's pile and the two stood up. 'Proverbs 18:9.' She finished. 'Forgive me for saying so. But I am sure you have something for me.'

            With this, she smiled brightly, said goodbye, and walked off in the opposite direction to the one she'd been going in.

            Suneep quickly began running again. He reached class just as the last person sat down.

            He had difficulty concentrating, as his mind wondered what on earth had just happened. Had Alyssa been waiting for him? Why? Just to tell him a message? Why had Bikram told her anything? What did Proverbs 18:9 say? As discreetly as possible, Suneep looked the verse up.

            'A lazy person is as bad as some-one who destroys things.' He read aloud, in shock. Dr. Ashwin turned to face him immediately.

            'Pardon, Suneep?'

            Suneep looked up, terrified. 'Nothing, sir.'

            'What did you say?'

            'Nothing, sir.'

            Dr. Ashwin frowned and continued.

            Suddenly, it hit Suneep. Carefully, he began sorting through his things. Finally, he found a letter, as he expected. It was not addressed to any-one, and it did not say who it was from. He began reading it curiously, but all it said was: 'stay low. He knows.'

            'What?' Suneep muttered, quietly enough for Dr. Ashwin not to notice. 'Who know?' Then, sighing, he worked it out. Dr. Ashwin knew he had sneaked out last night. But why warn him? How was that going to help? He wondered if she'd warned Chandan.

            Class finished after what seemed to Suneep like an eternity, and he tried to collect his things before Dr. Ashwin caught him.

            'Suneep.' The man sternly spoke.

            Suneep's spirits sunk as he looked up. 'Yes, sir?'

            'I need to speak with you.'

            Suneep sighed, and waited until the others had gone.

            'I've spoken to Chandan already.' Dr. Ashwin abruptly started. 'And am excusing him and blaming you. He was bribed, and considering you had made a foolish decision that involved three girls, I rather think he made the right decision. It is you I have the problem with. Why did you do it? What was it for?'

            Suneep only shrugged and raised his eyebrows. 'I just felt like having fun, and they seemed bored.'

            Dr. Ashwin sighed and began to speak, when there was a knock. Looking up, he saw Alyssa.

'Miss Thorne!' He cried in surprise. 'What can I do for you?'

            'I have come to apologise.' Alyssa surprised him again. 'I did not realise any-one was breaking any rules last night.'

            Dr. Ashwin nodded. 'It is all right, Alyssa. It is not your fault. It is primarily Suneep's fault.'

            'What are the punishments for such offences?'

            Dr. Ashwin was taken back. 'Well, there is the fine. The effect it has on grades. And three offences of any kind result in being expelled.'

            'This is my first.' Suneep added.

            'For the year.' Dr. Ashwin cleared. 'Usually he gets at least two.'

            Alyssa nodded. 'Can I help?'

            Dr. Ashwin was completely confused. 'What do you mean?'

            'Can Suneep clear his record?'

            'Y- yes. But... only if his grades improve. He must also do well in manual labour, and obey BSI rules.'

            Alyssa nodded. 'Can I help?' She asked again.

            Dr. Ashwin shrugged. 'That is up to Suneep.'

            'Can he get off this one time?' Alyssa suddenly asked.

            Dr. Ashwin laughed. 'Fine!' He cried, surprising every-one. 'Fine, if he gets an A on Friday's test!'

            Alyssa smiled brightly. 'Thank you, Doctor!' Then, turning to Suneep, she said, 'come on dai.'

            Suneep did not argue, and followed the girl out as quickly as possible.

 

 

 

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