The darkest hour of the night comes just before dawn!

Shipra could not sleep. Later when she reflected on that fateful night, all she could recollect was the cagey pacing around the house while she waited for her brother Parikshit to call.

 Her day started well enough with her usual cup of coffee. She had looked forward to this day for the past many months. She had received the much awaited e-mail from her publishers and they had invited her to discuss the terms of her upcoming book. Shipra went back to her office to kick start her usually boring day in her job as a store manager in a Barnes & Noble book store in good spirits. Her co-worker Tina had teased her, after she broke the news, when their habitual customer neared their desk. “Mrs. Harris, soon you’ll be buying a first edition Shipra autographed by our celebrity here,”

Shipra blushed and sent the friendly customer on her way after billing quickly.

 In the midst of her celebratory dinner, Shipra had received a mysterious call from Parikshit. All she had heard was a – “Shipra – wait up for me at your house today after 9PM and don’t go out” before he hung up. Shipra was baffled. Her brother was an up and coming name in the field of cutting edge epidemiology and currently worked as an assistant to the last Nobel prize winner. He tended to dress neatly, eat fussily and generally behaved like a nonagenarian with a head cold. His habits were as predictable as they were boring. So why the mystery?

 Without further ado and after looking at her watch and exclaiming at the time, she waved a hasty goodbye to Tina and sped on her way. As time passed by, she had fidgeted and worried. It was unlike her brother to be late. When he had sneakily let himself in via her back door, she had started. Parikshit hastily held up a hand before she could start talking and said – “Shipra, sorry for all the stress this evening but believe me it’s important. There is no one else I can trust.” Before she could open her baffled mouth, Parikshit zipped open the bag he was carrying and handed here a container. “This box here is host to the most powerful pathogens humanity has ever discovered. Someone very bad is behind this. Keep it safely with you. I will come back before the night is over and take it back.” He beat a hasty retreat and took the same way he came.

 Shipra sat by her telephone mentally willing it to ring, hoping for a call or any news of her brother, while the clock ticked by. Suddenly at 2am in the morning, she heard heavy knocks on her door. She looked through the peephole to find two strange bulky men standing in the hallway. Completely alarmed, she hid herself in an alcove while she heard them rummaging in the house. After an unsuccessful search (she had the container with her), they left the house assuming it to be vacant. She had stepped out and let a relieved huff. Finally as the night sky was lit up with the brightening of the dawn, she heard Parikshit’s voice calling and his hand on her shoulder. She came to and realised she had slept off the intervening hours.

 Parikshit had responding to her questioning look with a “Hey sis, all safe now. You can hand over the container to me. I am taking it to a safe place to be destroyed” and had left the house. She looked at the now bright silver of dawn with a relief that came with the knowledge that the night was over and she celebrated the birth of the new day with her usual coffee.

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