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



The next day, Neel awoke from a fitful sleep and went to school. He tried to act as normal as possible, but his mind was completely elsewhere. He was supposed to meet Arjun that afternoon. A new thought had occurred to him which was disturbing him considerably. He had reviewed his present position and realized something which brought a terrible wrench to his heart.

At two, Arjun met him in the same dusty old car. After some questions about his health, they both lapsed into silence. Neel sat with his head laid back as he listlessly watched the traffic flow around them. Arjun glanced at him intently but remained quiet.

First they went to a small but immaculately kept clinic on the outskirts of the city. They showed a card to the head nurse, and were taken immediately to a private theatre ward. A doctor came in, exchanged a brief nod with Arjun and told Neel to take off his shirt. The wounds on his back were examined and redressed, the doctor not attempting to engage them in conversation once, or even asking their names. It was over within minutes.

Then they were on their way again. When they reached Swan Labs, he was taken straight to the main building, where he found Negi and Premi sitting talking quietly together in the lobby.

"Hey, kid." Negi called out as they entered. He and Premi came forward to meet them, their eyes filled with concern. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine." Neel said. He was conscious of a sense of security as he stood with his three trainers. "And thanks for helping me get back home that night." He stared fixedly at a spot on the ground, embarrassed to dwell again on the failed mission.

"We're proud of you, Neel." Premi said abruptly.

"What?" Neel's head whipped up in surprise.

"You were in such horrible shape, and you still managed to get out of the complex." Negi said. "Do you know how many experienced soldiers would be dead if they had been in your position?"

"I blew the mission." Neel said, his voice unexpectedly bitter. "You don't have to lie to make me feel better. If I hadn't grown so overconfident-"

"Mistakes would still have been made." Premi said coolly. "We're not lying. Just because you are an Alpha soldier does not mean you are perfect."

"Some slip-ups are inevitable during missions, kid." Negi said sagely. "We were actually amazed it took you three assignments to make one. And thank god you did, otherwise we wouldn't have found out about your PTSD condition. It could've eaten away at your mind for years without anyone knowing about it."

"You have to stop blaming yourself for what happened that night, Neel." Arjun warned him quietly. "Unnecessary guilt will not help you during therapy." Neel nodded soberly.

"Now we know what it is, and we can get to work curing it." Premi said. "Doctor Fahim will help you resolve the problem, and then you'll be stronger than ever."

"Yeah, that's how you have to see this experience." Negi added. "You've learnt pretty much all you can in the gym. Now it's time for your mind to work out its kinks. So good luck, kid." He clapped Neel on his back. "Remember, it's all in your head, and you're in charge of your head, not this PTSD thing." Neel managed a small smile while Premi smiled encouragingly at him as well.

"Doctor Fahim is waiting for you in his office." Arjun said to him quietly. "Good luck." Neel nodded, and looked at his trainers one last time. Then he turned to the stairs and made his way up.

When he arrived at Doctor Fahim's office it was empty. He waited for a few minutes, and then the doctor entered, greeting him with a smile.

"Good afternoon, Neel." he said. "You should be feeling better today."

"I do." Neel lied. "Last night's rest was all I needed."

"Your back?"

"It's getting better." Neel said, twisting around slightly to show him. "It doesn't hurt anymore and the wounds are just scabs now. They'll be gone soon. The doctor said I can take off the bandages tomorrow."

"Good. I think we should start with your treatment as soon as possible." the doctor said. "Post trauma therapy is not my field of expertise, but we can't trust a strange doctor with your past. I believe I know enough to help you. I will begin by telling you that I myself have had some very personal experiences in this field."

Neel said nothing, suddenly feeling awkward as he looked at Doctor Fahim. The doctor noticed his expression, his eyes studying Neel shrewdly.

"Divya has already told you about my past." he said quietly. His piercing gaze made Neel feel like an intruder on an extremely private matter. He nodded dumbly.

"Then that saves me a long explanation." Doctor Fahim said with a sigh.

"I'm sorry about what happened to your wife and son, sir." Neel said quietly.

"Thank you." Doctor Fahim said. He was silent for a long time. When he spoke again, his voice was soft but calm. "After my son died, I went into depression. The two people who had meant the most to me had died because I had failed to take care of them. The work that had cost me my family, the goal we were trying to achieve, seemed a fantastic dream that could never be a reality. For a long time, I was completely useless. I consulted several psychiatric experts to assist me in dealing with the guilt and loneliness and the depression. But none of them could help."

"So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I read every book on the subject that I could lay my hands on. I corresponded with all the colleagues I had worked with who had experience in the area. The completely different field of research itself helped pull me out of my slump by giving me something new to focus on. And now I may say with some confidence that I know just as much about the subject as any other psychiatrist. However," he leaned in and stared at Neel intently. "The choice is up to you, and it is a very important one. If you feel like you would rather have the help of a true professional, or would like to try more reliable forms of therapy, I will personally make sure you get the best help possible." But Neel shook his head.

"I want you to do it, sir." he said. "I won't be able to trust anyone else as much as I do you." he hesitated for a moment. "But I want to know something first." he said, trying to speak calmly. "And I don't want you to lie, or try to avoid the question. Please." He looked up at Doctor Fahim, who stared back for a moment in silence, and then nodded slowly.

"Project Alpha." Neel said. "What's going to happen to my part in it? Will I still be allowed to continue with the missions?"

Doctor Fahim stared at Neel for several moments more without answering. But at last he spoke quietly, "No, Neel. What happened that day showed us how blind we were. You are still young, and you were almost killed. You survived bullets and getting hit by a car but you won't always be so lucky. We forgot to take your emotional age into the equation, the wisdom which can only come through experience. You can see why your continuing with this mission would be a bad idea when you have such a severe case of PTSD. The government can't let you be a part of the project unless you are one hundred percent fit."

Neel nodded, his heart heavy. He had been expecting this. There was nothing he could think of to say in opposition to the decision.

"But that is not important now." Doctor Fahim said. "The project will continue in some other form. We will find out what Mehta is doing. The most important thing for you, however, is to get better as soon as possible." Neel nodded again slowly.

"Then that is going to be our new goal from now on." Doctor Fahim rose to his feet. "I see you are still feeling shaken. Perhaps it would not be wise to start today. We will begin your therapy from tomorrow. Arjun will come get you in a few minutes. Go home, rest well, spend some time with your friends and family, and try to think as little about this as possible until tomorrow." The doctor placed a hand on his shoulder. "As frightening as all of this is, you must do your best to stay positive. Therapy will be difficult, and will require all the concentration you ever invested in your training if your condition is to improve even a little. I will see you tomorrow. Take care of yourself until then." Neel nodded again.

Doctor Fahim walked out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Neel stared at the ground, thinking. Every time he had talked with Doctor Fahim before, he had always told him that he would be able to master his senses, his powers, and any exercises they threw at him. But this time, he had not said once that he would be completely cured one day.

Several feet away from the door, General Bakshi stood waiting for Doctor Fahim, having once again listened in on a conversation in a private room.

"Well, General," Doctor Fahim said heavily, "it seems you were right all along. It was unwise to entrust such grueling work to a teenager. But I thank you and Mr. Rai for allowing our team to remain in contact with him long enough to help him overcome his disorder. I feel I owe it to him to help him deal with it."

The General nodded, but his mind seemed to be far away. He was staring at the door of Doctor Fahim's office. "He is certainly a remarkable boy." he spoke quietly, almost to himself. "And he handled the case very well up till now. It seems almost a pity…" He stood lost in thought for a moment, but then he remembered what had caused the accident, and focused his attention on the new problem. "You realize, of course, what said night's events signify?" he said, walking side by side with the Doctor down the corridor.

"Yes" Doctor Fahim said grimly. "Mehta somehow knew about Project Alpha. He knew about Neel's abilities and how to use them against him. This can only mean one thing."

The General nodded again. "There is a traitor among us…"

And so the final days of Neel's epoch at Swan Labs began. The atmosphere there was different now. Swan Labs had transformed overnight from the place where he was taught to be a soldier, to the place he visited to get help for his mental disorder. Instead of training for combat, Neel now had one hour sessions with Doctor Fahim.

On the first day of therapy, Neel sat in Doctor Fahim's office. A much more squashy and comfortable couch had been brought in, and Neel sat on it facing the doctor.

"Comfortable?" Doctor Fahim asked him. Neel nodded.

"All right." Doctor Fahim leaned forward, his gaze intent. "The purpose of these sessions, Neel, is to help to understand your problem, and then to work together to cure it. Shall we begin?" Neel nodded again slowly.

"Now, you had never experienced anything similar to what happened at Phlicer Complex before that night?"

"No." Neel said. "At least-" He stopped and frowned, his mind chasing an old memory.

"Take your time." Doctor Fahim said encouragingly.

"I do remember something." Neel said slowly, thinking hard. "At the hospital, when I woke up. I remembered the accident, and then," he stopped, remembering the violent shudder that had passed through his entire frame at that moment. "I felt really scared." he said in a whisper, his eyes far off. "For a moment I couldn't breathe. I felt like I was going to die…"

His voice trailed away, and there was silence in the room. Doctor Fahim leaned back in his chair. "And then?" he asked quietly.

"Then I had trouble seeing and hearing properly." Neel said slowly. "Then you and Divya came in. And I forgot about it."

"And you never experienced such a feeling again? While you were on your cycle, for instance? Or perhaps when you passed that particular road again?" Neel shook his head.

"Then I will try to make you understand precisely what happened to you that day." Doctor Fahim said. "When you had the accident, it sent an enormous amount of powerful signals to your mind. You were racked with pain, and you were conscious throughout the whole experience. This very painful, very powerful memory was thus deeply etched into your subconscious. And now whenever your mind recalls that incident, or sees a situation that reminds you of that incident, your mind automatically replays those experiences. These flashbacks remind you of the pain and helplessness you felt that day as if it were happening all over again, triggering extreme fear responses in your body, and prevents your reacting normally to the situation. That is the root of the problem."

"But then why didn't it ever happen earlier?" Neel objected. "I was fine for months after the accident. I rode every day on my cycle. I passed that road many times. I never felt anything then."

"Do you remember your mental state when we met for the first time?" Doctor Fahim asked. "From the moment we explained what had happened to you after the accident, you have spent every waking moment of your life trying to keep your mind under control. It is an unusually intense form of mediation and self discipline that you have had to learn to keep your abilities under control."

"But without our knowing about it, that practice had another effect on your mind as well. The memories of the accident were suppressed completely by your conscious mind. The exercises you learnt with Arjun, the time you spent studying your powers, and the sheer volume of new and unexpected events that took place in your life occupied your attention so completely that there was no space left for the PTSD. It stayed locked away in your subconscious, perhaps only appearing in your dreams occasionally in the form of nightmares."

Neel nodded. He could certainly remember those. At the time, he had failed to realize the significance of those dreams. "So what changed?"

"A number of factors were at play as you stood in front of the car outside Phlicer complex." Doctor Fahim said. "You were in incredible pain from the noise machine and the bullets. The drug was at work within your body, lowering your mental defenses and rapidly numbing the conscious part of your brain. You were disoriented and scared. You had grown over confident from your past successes," Neel shifted uncomfortably in chair. "And the defeat at the hands of Mehta had had a crippling effect on your mind. That was the first time since the accident that you were in such a uniquely vulnerable position."

"And it was at that psychological moment that you saw a car, similar in design and build to the car that had once very nearly killed you, coming towards you at full speed. The scene triggered a fusillade of memories and emotions, from the sub conscious to the conscious part of your mind, and your condition was brought to the front of your mind with tremendous force in a way that you were completely unprepared for. And that was your first experience with a PTSD attack."

Neel sat staring at Doctor Fahim as he finished talking. He knew it was all true. As the doctor had been speaking, he had almost been able to see every moment in the chain of events in his mind. He felt amazed now that the attack had come after so many months, and that he had managed to operate normally with the condition inside his mind for so long.

"And now that you know why it happened, how it happened, and exactly what you are up against, we can get to work on solving it." Doctor Fahim said. "We will travel together through your memories and confront your fears. We will help you accept what happened that day, and move on from it. And for that to happened I need your complete trust and cooperation. Do you feel confident enough to make this journey with me?" Neel nodded. "How long will it take for me to get better?" he asked.

"That will depend upon you." Doctor Fahim. "Every person has different ways of coping with anxiety. The more willing you are to meet this head on, the better your brain will function, and the faster this process will be. So, I will ask you again. Are you ready?" Neel nodded. Doctor Fahim had helped him see the condition in a clearer light, and understanding it helped lessen some of his fear. Now he was determined to do all he could to get better as soon as possible.

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