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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33. Chapter Thirty-Two: The 7 Confess

 

 

Behind them was the cliff; to their left was the road, blocked by a van. In front of them was a steep climb, blocked by men with guns, and to their right was a forest. They would be safe if they could just get there, Arjun though.

                His heart skipped a beat.

                Thrown out of the van was everyone that was missing. All the family members, all the tools, and Chandan and Danny. They were all together.

                Vijay stood in front of everyone, next to the tall leader with the biggest gun. Liberty was by his side. Looking round, Arjun was relieved to see one person missing: Alyssa.

                Calvin and Balraj were held next to the van, separate from everyone else.

                There were so many guns. Arjun had never seen so many guns in his life.

                Mehtar held his phone, and was ready to call the police.

                'Baba, don't.' Arjun pleaded with his father. 'We cannot call the police!'

                Mehtar frowned. 'Why not?'

                'Because we are all guilty of something.' Chandan explained. 'Though some of us, like Arjun, might get away with shorter sentences.'

                Mehtar's face fell. 'You are criminals?'

                'Not yet.' Suneep muttered. 'We haven't been condemned.'

                The leader smiled, and introduced himself. 'Well done, Suneep. My name is Gopi, and I am your enemy. But why don't we put things in perspective? You are my enemy. To us, you are the bad guys.'

                'You're trying to kill us.' Josha muttered. 'We're not trying to kill you.'

                The man snarled. 'But you have killed many people.'

                'You used us!'

                'We cannot force you to do something you do not want.'

                'I don't want to crash your plane.' Arjun said bitterly.

                The man smiled now. 'And yet your actions will lead to it. Gentlemen, I take you round the mountain to see a new perspective. We are not the bad guys. Calvin and Balraj are.'

                'We have nothing to do with this!' Chandan cried. 'Let us go!'

                Gopi frowned again. 'Nothing to do with this? You have harmed us in so many ways, killed so many of our men. I'm afraid we have to kill you, to put an end to it all.'

                Chandan paled. 'What? Who... what men of yours have we killed?'

                'Many in the attacks.'

                'Why were they at the BSI?'

                'To keep an eye on Calvin, Vijay, and Balraj, of course, as well as to protect the students! You have been surprisingly aggressive towards us.'

                'We did not know that!'

                'Then you are used too easily.'

                Arjun turned to face Balraj, his face aghast. 'They used us?'

                'They used you too!' Balraj cried, before his mouth was covered by a guard.

                'Wait.' Mehmet stepped in. 'What is this fighting all about? What are you fighting for?'

                'We don't usually fight.' Gopi replied, happy enough to chat. 'We're National Welfare – INDependent. Perhaps you have heard of us?’

Mehmet nodded, but everyone else remained confused. Sighing, Gopi briefly explained things.

‘We're meant to make sure that the country is able to sustain itself.'

                'And you?' Arjun asked Calvin.

                'We're International Welfare - IndAid. We make sure India's relations with other countries are friendly.'

                'Then why are you fighting!?'

                'They ask for financial aid.' Gopi said. 'Which has handicapped our nation for too long.'

                'They ask for forced labour!' Balraj cried. 'And a ridiculous increase in the lower caste wages! It would run India into the ground!'

                'That is what aid is doing!' Gopi cried angrily.

                Calvin ignored the man. 'Arjun, they were on the verge of cutting off aid from America. We had to stop them.' Arjun blinked as Calvin finished. 'We started the Muslim attack. It was bound to happen anyway, because of Mehmet's silly promise.'

                'Arjun, we needed aid!' Balraj pleaded, and this time the guard did not bother covering his mouth.                 'When the Americans saw the state of the BSI they continued to give. We saved India!'

                'You destroyed it!' Gopi shot back. 'All for the sake of money. Men,' he said, turning to Arjun and his friends, 'do you really think these government officials hand the money out to the public? Of course not! I mean, honestly, if they really wanted to help India they would have stopped spending all their money following you around and given it to the poor!

                ‘And on top of all these greed, they deliberately had our best workers killed! You,’ he turned back to Calvin and Balraj, 'introduced murder into a department that is all about policies and paperwork – not war! You've mucked up the whole system!'

                'Do you think we don't have families to support!?' Balraj suddenly screamed.

                'I worked my own way out of poverty!' Calvin added. 'I just took what I could get!'

                Arjun frowned. 'You know.' He muttered. 'I am almost not sure who the bad guys are.'

                ‘It’s not us, Arjun!’ Balraj shot back. ‘Listen, this is very important. That paper I let you keep for safe keeping – I did not realise you had the original. INDependent shut those websites down. You can’t find them in a search anymore. And why did they shut them down?’

                Calvin took over. ‘Because of the information they were spilling.’

                Arjun shook his head, terribly confused. ‘But all the paper listed was a series of sites that went on about hacked websites and blown up offices…’

                ‘Financial aid offices!’ Balraj shouted, and it was as if a light had been switched on for Arjun.

                Of course! He had it now.

                ‘So,’ he began, ‘INDependent destroyed offices of those giving out aid because they believe such aid will ruin India. In the process many people died, so you can use that information against them. And on top of that all they hacked websites – banking websites – in some cases even siphoning the money out of accounts… into… theirs?’ He turned to Gopi.

                Gopi growled. ‘You think we are that selfish? We did nothing of the kind. The money we took we gave to our workers; we used it to take care of the Australians. We were not foolhardy, Arjun.’

                Vijay was confused. 'Wait... Gopi… aren’t you responsible for all the bad things?'

                Gopi rolled his eyes. 'I knew you were confused. Everybody, let me tell you, Vijay is probably the only honest person working in the department of International Welfare, or IndAid. Vijay, they started it – and by they I mean you – and we retaliated with the Hindu attack. Only a few people died in that one, all of them from the middle and upper classes. That way they could not ask for aid.'

                'You killed Kannan.' Danny muttered hatefully.

                'No!' Gopi cried, and Balraj sighed.

'That was us.'

                Danny was horrified. 'Why?!' He screamed. 'Balraj, how could you do that?!'

                'He was poor!' Balraj shot back. 'And our job is about encouraging aid. We cannot do that while they are constantly trying to get rid of it. Because of this, if people are not immediately provided with situations to aid, we will lose their support all together!'

                ‘Be honest!’ Gopi shot back, and the 7 began to realise just how intense this feud was. ‘You don’t care about the people of India at all! All you want is money! And you’re completely obsessed with achieving your goal.’

                ‘And what exactly do you think that goal is, Gopi?’ Balraj replied bitterly.

                ‘The extinction of INDependent, and every organisation like us!’

                Balraj said nothing in reply to this, so the 7 assumed he was correct.

                Danny scowled, and Gopi continued. 'Kidnapping the Australians seemed like an effective way of discouraging aid, so we set about that. Please remember, this is only because they had kidnapped many of our men in return for aid. There was never any interest in Vijay's cousin, but we were glad he joined us. They shot Sanjay in an immediate attempt to win him back.

‘We stole Braj's epi-pen because the first thing Vijay did when he had a moment alone with one of our men was to try and kill him. That was because he was convinced we had killed Sanjay. And…’he paused. ‘Is anyone following?’

There were a few blank looks, and Gopi sighed.

‘I really would like you to understand this. Perhaps you might be able to figure out a way to end this. A way that does not involve death and pain.’

Arjun really could not see how such a thing could be possible.

                ‘Anyway,’ Gopi continued, ‘they were unhappy about the Australians being kidnapped and Vijay switching sides, so they decided to kill two birds with one stone. They killed Vijay's uncle. No, Chandan, they were not after you at all.    

                ‘That was their last move, but now it is our turn, and we have put things together so sweetly that we will win, and this silly, illegal war will be over. And, like you said, you cannot involve the police. You are no more innocent than us.'

                'What did you do?!' Karuna screamed, turning to her son in horror.

                Arjun was ashamed, but he knew it was time. He had to tell them what was going on. He had to explain why they hadn’t simply called the police and gotten things over and done with.

                'It was the night before BSI closed down. Josha thought it was because of money and wanted to fix it, so he went to the local bank.'

                Josha shuddered. 'I held a gun up to the banker's face. Poor Bikram – I'd dragged him along. The alarm rung and we fled. Men began chasing us, shooting, and Bikram was so scared he just took off in the first car he saw. Together, we had stolen a car.'

                'Mehmet saw us.' Bikram continued. 'And jumped in the car, screaming at us to stop. We did, and ran into the dark streets. We ran into someone, who insisted they would call the police. It seemed like a man...'

                Mehmet gulped. 'They went for me, and I lunged at them. It was only when they fell bleeding to the ground that I realised I'd just assaulted a woman. We ran off in a huge panic, and soon Danny and Chandan found us. They said we had been stupid to sneak outside against rules, and had looked for us. We ran into a police officer, though everything would have been fine if something hadn't of fallen out of Danny's pocket.'

                'Drugs.' Danny finished. 'I was slowly breaking my addiction, but still used a little every now and then. Of course, it is still illegal. Fortunately the night was so dark he could not identify me. He was about to shine the light on my face when Chandan stepped in.'

                Chandan smiled, completely unhappy. 'I assaulted a police officer. I just didn't think.'

                'Arjun showed up next with Suneep.' Mehmet took over again. 'In a car borrowed from one of his Indian friends. He was being very brave driving it around – especially since he did not have an Indian license. Anyway, police cars came chasing after it, and we were all screaming at Arjun. He was frightened, and broke many road rules. It was dark, and the head lights were not working, so he could not see how much he was speeding for a long time.'

                All went silent, and Arjun realised he was meant to finish the story. He did so reluctantly. 'I eventually lost control of the car. We jumped out before it crashed into the military building. The gates caught on fire – it looked like an attack. We ran off, petrified, and got hardly any sleep that night. The only one who saw was Vijay. He stood, lit up by the flames, watching as we ran away. We did not know why he was there. No-one else saw us.' Arjun looked up, and the shocked reactions of those around him did not come as a surprise.

                Liberty, too, was astounded. 'I thought you were innocent.' She muttered. 'How could you be so stupid to become tainted?'

                'It does not matter.' Suneep muttered. 'At the end of the day no-one is innocent. We can always be proved guilty of something. Just not as dramatic as mine.'

                Liberty frowned. 'What did you do?'

                Suneep sighed and quivered. 'On the way back we were attacked by drunken thugs. One came at me with a knife... I usually say the knife slipped, but to be honest, I think, self-consciously, I moved it towards him. I killed him, Liberty. I can be sentenced for murder!'

                'Manslaughter.' Gopi corrected. 'But you've no idea how good that night was for us. Now we're nearly one hundred percent sure that the police will never know anything about this.'

                'We should tell them.' Arjun mumbled.

                'It would still be too complicated.' Balraj replied. 'You cannot just arrest large government agencies.'

                'Do we really have to die?' David (the Australian) called out.

                Gopi turned to Balraj, who turned to Vijay. The answer was an indirect yes.

                'Please don't.' Calvin pleaded.

                'Will you stop warring with us?' Gopi asked. 'And make it once again a war with words and papers?'

                Calvin turned to Balraj, who shook his head. 'It is not that simple. Thanks to you we need constant aid.'

                'Their deaths will risk the stop of aid anyway!'

                'Yes, but their lives will certainly put an end to it. You give me a tough choice: these people, or India?'

                'India.' Calvin said, as if it were the obvious choice. Then he realised what it would mean. 'Oh.'

                ‘We will give the paper back!’ Arjun tried, though he knew it was useless. ‘We’ll give it back to you!’

                ‘Fools.’ Gopi sneered in reply. ‘There are seven copies, and your families are now all witness to our testimony. It is easier to let you all die.’

                ‘Why did you even drag our families into this mess?’ Josha said quietly, unusually patient (though seething inside). ‘Why were they ever in danger?’

                Gopi frowned confusedly. ‘Well, you tell me. Whatever induced you to tell them about the list you were given? – the one you thought was completely insignificant.’

                Mehmet raised his hand, as if asking permission to speak. ‘What are you talking about?’

                ‘Yeah!’ Danny agreed. ‘I didn’t tell anyone anything. They didn’t know anything until about five minutes ago, when you spilled the beans.’

                There was a long pause.

                Calvin chuckled bitterly. ‘And that,’ he said, ‘is why the bad guy should never monologue.’

                The guard beside him slapped him across the face, but Calvin didn’t really care.

                Suddenly, without warning, Gopi let out a loud cry of rage and anger. Walking up to Balraj, he began pushing the man violently, screaming as he did so.

                ‘You lied!’ He roared. ‘I should not be surprised, but I am! You told me they had shown their families! You told me that you had put it in their care for the sake of witnesses! Do you think I wanted to drag so many people into this mess needlessly?! There were only 7 copies, weren’t there!? Weren’t there!?’

                Balraj did not hesitate to answer. ‘Yes.’ He replied, but he sounded ashamed.

                Arjun was the first to understand what was going on.

                He felt all the anger sapped from his body in an instant, and all that was left was such an extreme feeling of dismay that it felt as if he’d been slammed into a brick wall.

                ‘You lied to us.’ He said at last, his voice barely even a whisper. ‘You lied. You told us… that we would need to save our families. That you would call us back when we needed to save them. You…’ His voice caught, and he said no more. Only looked Balraj in the eye – and then turned away.

                ‘Arjun!’ Balraj wailed, and there was real grief in his voice. ‘You do not understand! We needed those papers, and I did not even want to involve you, but the organisation said – once they had found out you had taken copies – they said it was all for the best. That it would give us time to plan something that could end everything. That we only had to wait a few more years. Then we could reveal INDependent’s plan to kill you all, as well as all the other terrible crimes they’d committed.

                ‘But I knew the only way we’d ever get you back was if your families were in danger. And so I told them your families knew everything. So really, I didn’t lie. I did exactly what I said I would, I…’

                ‘You said you were our friend.’ Suneep interrupted. ‘And you promised Arjun you would help us. So you lied.’

                Nothing more was said. Gopi glared at Balraj (as did most everybody) and Arjun refused to look at him. Finally, Balraj hung his head in shame.

                Slowly, Gopi walked away from the traitor, back to his previous position in front of the group.

                ‘I’m sorry.’ He began quietly. ‘But now your families do know everything. They must die too. And the Australians were meant to die from the start, though of course it will look like IndAid as done everything via Arjun.’

                'You can't kill us!' Chandan cried. 'You don't have Alyssa!'

                The man smiled, but it was not a happy smile. 'She is waiting for you on a plane heading to Australia. Unfortunately there will be other people on that flight too, but never mind. I'm not killing them, Arjun is.'

                ‘Okay,’ Suneep interrupted, feeling slightly playful in the face of death, ‘what is with that? How come you absolutely have to kill us all at once?’

                Gopi scowled. ‘We couldn’t afford to tip one of you off.’ He replied. ‘After all, if you of you died, wouldn’t you have all run? And if we killed the Australians prematurely, what would have induced you to stay in India? No, you would have just come, taken your families and left.’

                Suneep shrugged. ‘Sounds reasonable enough to me.’

                Arjun frowned, distracted by a previous comment concerning him. 'You cannot force me on that plane.'

                'I know that.’ Gopi returned. ‘I can't force you to blow it up either. So I'm going to let you do your own thing.' Arjun's jaw was firmly set, and he nodded, determination burning in his eyes. ‘That’s why I brought motivation for you.' Gopi suddenly finished, reaching behind him.

                Arjun's face fell, and his reaction was amazing. Suneep hadn't even made out what it was that Gopi had dragged in front of him, all he had seen was a gun pointed at its head and Arjun's reaction. He assumed it was a person, because Arjun was screaming madly. There was fear in his eyes. A fear that was so strong it almost equated to madness. His usually soft voice was gone, replaced with desperate cries of 'no!' and 'let him go!' He was being held back by three men, and fought against them with all his might. Soon another man joined the three. But it was the eyes Suneep couldn't get over. How petrified they seemed!

                'I'll get on the plane!' He screamed. 'I'll get on, I promise! Just let him go!'

                Suneep was astounded. 'You would kill us all for one child?!'

                'Suneep, I can save us!' Arjun replied, speaking in very rapid Nepali, so that no-one even noticed other than his Nepali peers. 'When I scream go, I want you to run into the forest. Please take him.'

                Suneep held Arjun's gaze for a moment. It was intense – burningly intense. Then he nodded.

                Arjun turned back to the man, to the small boy. 'Please, let them take him. Let him go, do not kill him!'

                Gopi did not seem to believe Arjun, so he persisted.

                'Please!' Arjun screamed, even more desperate. His vision began to blur, his face was warming, and he knew hopeless tears would soon run down. 'Take me!' He screamed. 'Take me!'

                Gopi shrugged, and waved his hand. Arjun was led towards the man, where he obligingly held a gun to his head and pushed the child away. Slowly, and under close surveillance, Suneep picked up the child – about three years old he guessed – and stepped back.

                There was an awkward silence. No-one was sure who the child was, or why Arjun had reacted so strongly, except, of course, for the side that had brought him out. No-one was sure how they were going to escape either, though Suneep knew Arjun's plan was their only hope.

                Arjun's mind was racing. He had to think carefully. He had just been played, he knew that. But he couldn't help it. To make up for it, his next move had to be completely unpredictable.

                'I want to join you.' He declared boldly. He instantly had everyone's attention.

                'What?' Gopi asked.

                'I want to help you. I will crash that plane; you only have to let the children go.'

                Suneep wasn't sure if that was the signal or not, but everyone was staring at Arjun, so he figured it was now or never. Turning to Bikram, he nodded. Bikram nodded back. Suneep held onto the boy a little tighter and then ran. The others were close behind.

                'Hey!' One of the guards shouted, as they entered the forest.

                Suneep had been here before. He knew where to go. The group ran quickly, and was well and truly out of sight in a matter of seconds.

                'Go after them!' Gopi screamed. 'They cannot have gone far!' The men nodded and ran off. Turning back to Arjun, Gopi sighed. 'Well done. But you are still getting on that plane.'

                Arjun nodded. He knew he had to.

 

 

 

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