Neel Dervin and The Dark Angel

He was a teenage super soldier.
There were certain questions that fourteen year old Neel Dervin had never thought to ask himself.
Like how much pain he could endure before passing out. Or how many times he could be shot and still keep running. Or how often he could lie to his friends and family without feeling remorse.
But then that one fateful day changed his life forever, and set him on a path towards immeasurable power as well as inconceivable terror.
Now the only people who can help him deal with the situation are complete strangers who are using him for their own ends. Trapped in circumstances beyond his control with abilities he barely understands, he must navigate a treacherous path mired in betrayals and difficult choices to take back control of his life

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17. CHAPTER 11: Running into Trouble

Night time.

The morning duty guards at Phlicer complex had been replaced. The new guards, fresh from sleep, patrolled the buildings warily, watching for any signs of suspicious activity inside the perimeter.

From atop the boundary wall, safe behind the shadows of a tree, Neel watched the proceedings intently. "Twenty guards on this side." he muttered into his communicator. "Probably more that I can't see. I'm going in."

He re-positioned himself facing north. Powering his legs, he took a gigantic leap for the showed area behind the nearest building. Jumping to an upper window, he held on to the edges of the frame and kicked upwards with his legs, the momentum shooting him to the top of the building. From here, he had a clear view of the entire complex, sprawling out for several kilometers. He could see the central building, the Phlicer head offices, which was the safest building in the entire compound. Somewhere in that building, Mehta was conducting his meeting with the man from the Japanese company. And it was not hard to tell where. At the middle level of the building, he saw a small open window with light shining through, showing signs of human activity at this advanced hour.

Neel fingered the two small devices in his pant pockets. He had with him a laser microphone that could direct a beam towards the glass window. The pressure waves bouncing against the window created by sound from the conversation inside would be picked up by the receiver, which would convert the beam vibrations to audio signals.

It was a simple way to listen in on the conversation in Mehta's office. But now Neel was reconsidering the strategy. The window was open. The laser could still be used to bounce off any reflective surface inside the room. But Arjun had told him that the microphone he had was a very limited version of the actual device, and not as effective. Any conversation they heard might not be clear or distinct.

And with the window wide open, Neel realized there was a much simpler way to complete the mission.

Inside the room, Mr. Mehta faced the man sitting in front of him. "And so, Mr. Sumoya, I welcome you to India." he was saying. "I trust you had a pleasant journey. I apologize for the unorthodox style I have been forced to adopt for this meeting, but circumstances have made this secrecy necessary."

The man opposite him bowed. "No apologies are necessary, Mr. Mehta. The nature of our business certainly makes some amount of secrecy necessary. I assume the police have been interesting themselves in your affair?"

Mr. Mehta's gaze settled briefly on the row of monitors lined at the opposite end of the room before looking at Mr. Sumoya. The monitors showed a direct feed from a number of camouflaged security cameras that had been installed recently on the rooftops of the buildings in the surrounding area. For the last few minutes the cameras had been tracking the progress of a shadowy figure across the complex. "Not quite. You see, a certain youth recently terrorized my Chief of Security and threatened my safety. I don't know who this individual is, but I hope he understands the risk he has taken in engaging me. I did not get to the position I am in today without learning a few things about survival."

He had been pacing the room while he spoke, glancing at the window occasionally. On his third round, he saw what he had been expecting. On the edge of the window, barely discernible in the darkness for anyone who wasn't looking for it, he saw hands gripping the ledge. Mehta motioned to the four guards who had been standing pressed up against the wall on either side of the window. The two closest to the window moved noiselessly into position. Then, they simultaneously grabbed one hand each and hauled the intruder into the room. The black clad form soared through the window, recovered his balance in mid air and landed on all fours on the floor, straightening up instantly and turning to face Mr. Mehta and the five guards, for the man posing as Mr. Sumoya had also drawn a gun and joined the other guards.

"Good evening, young man." Mr. Mehta said pleasantly. "As you can see, I have made full arrangements for your visit tonight." he stared at the masked face closely. "I must admit I found it difficult to believe you might actually be a child. Did you really think you could break into my domain and spy on me without my knowing it?"

The figure moved in a whirl of black. Before the guards had even raised their guns, he was in there midst. He grabbed the hand of the first guard and twisted it around, throwing him hard on the other guard. Unable to get a clear shot, the other two guards swung at him. He ducked to avoid their blows and, lifting one of the guards on his shoulder, slammed him against the wall. Grabbing the hand of the last guard, he kicked him straight across the face.

"Looks like your preparations were a little incomplete." Neel said, while the guards lay around him panting and trying to get up.

Mehta smiled. "Not really." he said. "I was curious to see whether you really were as extraordinary as I had been led to believe. And I must say I am impressed. But now allow me to give you a lesson…" he pressed a button on a curious device kept on the table near him. "On the importance of strategy."

Instantly, Neel's head was filled with a screeching sound. It seemed to be coming from every corner of the room. The noise overpowered his senses, numbing his brain. He shut his eyes and sank to the floor, his hands on his ears. His fingers touched the drops of blood which had begun to leak out of them.

"A little something I had prepared just for you." Mehta was saying. "I can't hear anything, but your ears are picking up frequencies beyond 50000 hertz. That is the disadvantage of having such sensitive senses."

He nodded to the fake Mr. Sumoya, who quickly walked towards Neel, pulling out a large bottle and emptying its contents into a syringe.

"I'm sure you realize I won't find as interesting a subject as you for study anywhere." Mehta said politely. "So you won't be killed yet, but you won't be conscious most of the time either. Its time you realized how dangerous the line of work you've chosen is." The fake Mr. Sumoya injected the contents of the syringe into Neel and stepped back. From inside the speaker next to his ear, someone was shouting instructions from Swan Labs, but all he heard were disjointed words as his head began to swim.

The guards had risen off the floor and were moving towards him. Neel knew he had only seconds to act. He dove under the large conference table. But his movements were slow and clumsy, and some of the bullets of the guards barely missed him. Head ringing, he lifted the entire heavy table off the ground and threw it in their direction in a fit of desperate strength. He saw that Mehta had no weapons, and was retreating from him. Seizing his chance, he flung himself out of the window.

The ground rushed towards him, his disoriented senses making him misjudge the distance, so that he landed hard on his hands instead of rolling to decrease his momentum. Painful shock waves ran up and down his spine. The sound in his head was still there, and he was starting to feel dizzy. He knew the drug was working in his body.

The complex was alive with security guards, all with their guns drawn and some with vehicles. Taking a giant leap, Neel jumped over them, bullets flying past him, the night sky making it difficult for the guards to see him properly. He felt sudden, intense pain fill his body. But there was no time to stop. Like a wounded animal, he was operating mainly on instinct now. Another giant leap took him to the top of a building. He fought against the sleep threatening to overpower him as well as the pain in his body, and headed to the edge of the complex. The noise in his head had mercifully stopped. Jumping over the boundary wall, he thought he was safe for a few seconds. But then he spotted a black Scorpio coming out of the complex towards him, filled with Mehta's security force. Neel saw the scene as though through a haze as his drugged senses tried to take stock of the situation.

And then suddenly, present melted into unreality. His mind was back on the road to his tuitions, and out of the corner of his eye, he was seeing a Tata Sumo hurtling towards him. The Sumo hit him, and the world blew apart with pain. But instead of a Sumo, a Scorpio was coming towards him, and his brain was telling him to save himself, but his body was not responding…and a sumo was coming towards him…and a Scorpio was coming towards him…And his body was suddenly shaking violently even as his limbs locked and refused to move him out of the way.

The car crashed into him, the impact triggering a combination of pain and fear that was all too familiar. And then for the second time in less than a year, Neel Dervin was thrown into the air and landed in a heap on the road.

Neel lay without moving on the hard ground, breathing in unsteady bursts. Nightmare flashes of the previous accident were tearing through his mind, making it impossible to concentrate his rapidly deteriorating senses on the present. As far as he could tell, nothing was broken. But his whole body was aching worse than ever. He saw the car coming back for him, but there was nothing he could do to save himself. He was fighting hard just to stay conscious.

Suddenly, there came the sound of a powerful engine from behind him, and a bike burst into view, stopping in front of him. The biker wordlessly pulled Neel onto the rear seat, and with the car only a few feet away, they raced off at ninety miles an hour.

At this point Neel's brain finally stopped struggling against the chloroform and he fell into a deep sleep.

The bike raced ahead of the Scorpio, leaving it far behind. But Mehta had indeed prepared well. Five bikes and two more cars had burst out of the Phlicer complex, and a helicopter was rising into the air behind them. Hunter and hunted raced towards the city.

Neel saw a car coming towards him. A black, shadowy machine that grew bigger every second. He stood frozen directly in front of it, not even attempting to move away. There was a horrifying crash. Pain and nausea assaulted his brain, and he awoke from his sleep and sat up with a jerk, his heart pounding. The head phones that had been attached to his ears flew across the room and crashed into the opposite wall.

Neel stared around him, heart hammering against his ribcage. He did not have a shirt on, but was wearing the black cargo pants. He was in his own room, lying in his own bed. Bright sunshine filtered through the window. He checked the clock, and saw that he had slept right through the time he usually woke up for school.

Neel closed his eyes tightly, trying to get his bearings. Everything that had happened that night… Had it all been a dream? Or was this some sort of hallucination? Had he even been to Phlicer Complex yet?

Suddenly he froze. He had shifted slightly in his seat, and felt something sticking to his back.

Slowly, he put a hand behind him, and touched three plasters on his shoulders and lower back. A chill ran through him as he realized he had been shot in three places. It had all been real, and now, somehow, he was back in his house.

Then the thoughts started rushing. He remembered everything that had happened that night. The feeling of nausea increased as he thought of how close he had come to dying, alone and away from home. He remembered what had happened to him in front of the car, and could not even begin to guess what had gone wrong with his brain at that moment. All he knew was the mere memory of it terrified him.

He glanced at the dresser. There was a note lying on it. He reached for it and stared. Something about the firm, clear writing told him at once whom it was from.

Neel,

You need to rest. Don't go to school today. DO NOT step out of the house for any reason. We'll be in touch soon.

Arjun

Neel stared at the message, and was conscious of some measure of comfort. Things had gone horribly wrong last night, but he wouldn't have to deal with it alone. Whatever the problem was, Doctor Fahim and the others would be able to help him resolve it.

He went downstairs and found another note on the fridge, this time from his mother.

Neel,

I overslept horribly and need to rush. I'm sorry I couldn't wake you up in time for school. Looks like we were both really tired last night. You'll have to make your own breakfast. Bread and jam and butter and milk in the fridge. I'll see you in the evening.

Neel stared around the kitchen, feeling numbed and strangely empty inside. The whole house suddenly seemed to have a desolate air. What was he supposed to do now?

He spent the morning walking restlessly around the house. It reminded him of the day, what seemed a lifetime ago, when he had waited nervously alone in his house before his first visit to Swan Labs. But the nervousness he had felt then had been brought on by uncertainty. This time, it was a much more concrete and sickening feeling of fear and nausea.

He remembered what Arjun had told him in the note, and tried to force himself not to think about last night. But the fears were nagging and insistent, and he kept coming back to it. He was able to remember everything that had happened at Phlicer. But he could not even begin to sort it all out in his head. He remembered again the flashes he had had standing on the road, and a spasm ran through his body. His legs were literally shaking, so that he had to sit down. There were so many things about the whole incident that he didn't understand. So many things that had gone wrong… He touched his back, again feeling a sickly chill as he fingered the bandages.

He ignored the grumbling of his stomach, feeling too sick to eat. He was waiting for when Arjun had said they would contact him. The mobile he had received at Swan Labs was right beside him and he glanced at it repeatedly as he waited.

At ten he heard someone knock on the main gate. He went to open the door, and an incredible feeling of relief rushed through him as he saw the visitors.

Doctor Fahim stood outside the front gate with Divya and Arjun. All three looked deadly serious as they stared at Neel. Doctor Fahim's piercing eyes examined him as he came towards them.

"Good morning, Neel." he spoke quietly. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine." Neel said, opening the door and letting them in. "I don't feel anything wrong now. But how did I get to my house?"

"All in good time." Doctor Fahim said, putting a hand on his shoulder as the three followed him into the house.

The three gathered in the living room, and Doctor Fahim motioned to Neel to sit on the bed. The other three sat on the couch opposite him and stared at him.

"Do you remember what happened last night?" Doctor Fahim asked gently. Neel nodded. "We were not there, and our communication broke down. So we will need to hear the whole incident from you. But first we will answer the questions you have."

"How did I escape?" Neel burst out urgently. "I remember lying on the road. I was fainting.I thought I was going to die."

"Your health was in extremely critical condition for over two hours." Divya answered in a low voice. "You had pretty minor cuts and bruises, and the shock of the impact of the car was also temporary. The main problem was the drug Mehta gave you. It was powerful enough to knock out a horse, but fortunately it wasn't lethal. The bullets," Divya stopped abruptly, catching her breath. But then she took a deep breath and resumed in a normal voice. "You were shot three times. But your body did a good job of recovering from them. You should barely have a scar left in a few days."

Neel nodded. "Who was the biker? Who saved me?"

"I did." Arjun spoke up. "I was ordered privately by General Bakshi to watch over you on your assignments. That's why I never spoke to you whenever you were on your missions. I was never at Swan Labs."

"You've been watching over me on all my missions!" Neel stared at him in amazement. "How come I never saw you?"

"Something about being a veteran in this business." Arjun shrugged. "It was a good thing you came out of the complex before you fell. Going in there with all those guards would have been extremely unpleasant."

"Thank you." Neel said to Arjun slowly. Arjun said nothing, but continued to watch him, his dark eyes unreadable.

"I took you to Swan Labs, where an army doctor was called in to operate on you. Once we were sure you would survive the incident, Negi, Premi and I took you to your house and got you in bed.

"My mom didn't hear you break into the house at night?"

"We had to throw a sleeping gas in through the window in her room." Arjun said. "Not dangerous in anyway, but it was absolutely essential. She won't experience any ill effects from it except sleeping longer than usual. We had to break down the front door, but we replaced the hinges. The door's better than new now. We took you up to your room and put you in your bed at around five." Arjun leaned in closer. "You were in an extremely weakened condition. Your jacket should have done a better job of protecting you from the bullets."

"I didn't have it zipped up." Neel said in a very low voice, avoiding Arjun's gaze. "It's easier for me to move when it's open, and I didn't know I was going to have to fight. So I thought I'd just let it stay open for a little while." His voice died away into silence. He knew Arjun must be disappointed in him.

Neel sat for a long moment staring blankly ahead. So much had happened last night. So many risks had been taken. So many close calls, and all because of him. He turned to Doctor Fahim, trying to say something that would encompass how he felt at the moment. "I'm sorry." His said finally, his voice very low. "I blew the mission. And then I almost got myself killed."

He hung his head, face burning with shame. He knew what had happened last night was his fault. He had grown overconfident and careless, and had begun to think of himself as invulnerable. And that could have been the last mistake of his life.

"I should've seen the trap." he said, his eyes still lowered, as he spoke mainly to his hands. "He knew I was coming, and he knew what I'd done in the gym and at the concert. He was ready for me. I should've been more careful."

Dr Fahim took a chair and sat next to Neel. He reached out and took the young boy's hands in his own, forcing him to look at him. "What happened to you in front of the car?" he asked gently. The weathered old hands held onto his tightly.

Neel took a deep breath, and began to tell them everything that had happened since he had hung outside Mehta's window. He told them about the noise emitting machine, and the syringe. He told them about the fight to get out of the complex. And then he stopped abruptly, as memories of what had happened on the road returned. But Doctor Fahim's grip tightened on his hand, and slowly, he told them what he had felt. Watching the car come towards him and remembering the most painful incident of his life. His heart hammering loudly in his chest. The chills that had run up and down his spine. And the sudden, overpowering feeling of panic that had paralyzed him.

There was complete silence in the room as Neel finished and sat looking down at his hands again. Arjun was watching him with a frown. Doctor Fahim leaned back slowly and glanced at Divya.

"PTSD." he spoke quietly.

"What?" Neel raised his head to stare at the doctor.

"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." Divya spoke in a sober voice. "It's a severe anxiety condition. Sometimes, when people experience psychological trauma because of some terrifying event, like excessive cruelty, or in your case, a near death experience, the memories leave very deep and painful scars in their minds. Those memories can come back to haunt them, and overwhelms their ability to cope with similar situations in the future." She gazed at him, looking as though her heart was breaking for him. "I'm so sorry, Neel."

"It wasn't your fault." Arjun spoke up abruptly. "That accident was a terrible ordeal for you. And post traumatic stress is quite common, especially among soldiers and war veterans."

"I should have considered the possibility." Divya said in a hard voice. "It's my fault; I should have gauged your emotional state during your training. We should have known about this from the start. I'm so sorry."

"It is nobody's fault." Doctor Fahim said firmly as he rose from his seat. "No one could have predicted your brain's response in that situation. But we are going to help you overcome your fear. You are not alone in dealing with this, Neel." Neel nodded, and he felt better for the first time that morning as he listened to the doctor.

"Have you had anything to eat?" Divya asked him suddenly. Neel shook his head. "Wasn't hungry." he mumbled. Divya rose and went into the kitchen.

"Don't worry about the mission." Arjun said. "Mehta's not going anywhere. And everyone is allowed to make mistakes. We are all amazed at how well you'd done the job until yesterday. Neel, look at me." Neel looked up at him unwillingly. "Stop blaming yourself, okay? We're going to manage this together."

Neel nodded quietly, and the three fell into silence. Doctor Fahim was watching Neel intently. Despite the long sleep he still looked worn out and shell shocked.

Divya came back with a plate containing three sandwiches. "Try these." she said. "You'll feel better." Neel took a sandwich and mechanically took a bite. Then he realized how hungry he was and quickly polished off the rest. The other three watched him as he ate. There was nothing more that could be done at the moment. He finished his meal, and they rose to leave. Arjun squeezed his shoulder again, and gave him an encouraging smile.

"We will discuss this again very soon, Neel." Doctor Fahim said to him quietly. "Just like we handled your training and missions, we will handle this as well." Neel nodded to him gratefully.

The three left the house, leaving Neel staring after them as they walked down the street to the car they had parked a certain distance away. Neel turned to stare at the street in front of his house. Everything seemed peaceful. He couldn't believe that only a few hours ago he'd been surrounded by blood and pain and bullets. He went back inside his house and made his way slowly up to the nest.

 
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