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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21. CHAPTER 15: Recklessly, Stupidly, Completely

On the following Monday night, Neel was sitting on the floor in his room with the lights turned off. It was the one place where he felt completely safe those days, shut away from the rest of the world while he tried to deal with his chaotic thoughts. The very faint light coming from the streetlamp outside was sufficient for his eyes. On his bed lay the Alpha soldier uniform. The mask was on top of his pillow. He had been told to bring it back to Swan Labs tomorrow. While he continued to be worsted by his condition, the project was being wrapped up.

As he sat in the near darkness, he was realizing the full magnitude of how completely and utterly he had failed. He had failed Doctor Fahim. He had failed his trainers. He had failed his country. He had failed everyone who had tried to help him. Even if he continued to go to Swan Labs for therapy, his life as an Alpha soldier was over, mere months after it had begun.

Mehta would walk away free. He had been detained in the country by the government because of some past evidence that they were trying to stall him with, but tomorrow was the last day they could stop him. After that, he would pay the fine for illegal possession of land and then leave the country, and most probably go to some secret location to carry out whatever he had planned.

And Neel could not stop him.

Despair gave way to a rising sense of impotent fury. Feelings that he had tried to ignore ever since his last, failed mission came to the front. What was the use of so much power when he could not use it? He was the most powerful human on the planet, and yet was completely useless! All the time and resources the government had invested in training him had been a giant waste. He had met Mehta only once, and had come away from the encounter a broken shell of helplessness.

And why?

Because he couldn't get over something that had happened almost a year ago.

There was no one to blame but himself. They had all been helpful. Even General Bakshi. If he hadn't told Arjun to watch over him on his missions, Neel would have died that night. Doctor Fahim had worked with him for hours every day. They were all doing what they could. He was the problem. All the opportunities he had been given, and he couldn't get over a stupid memory.

His thoughts became darker as his mind shifted to the past year, to all that had happened since the accident. That day, that one moment, had been the turning point. As he recalled the moment, which seemed a life time ago, he realized it had changed him in much deeper ways than simply the effects of the serum. In ways that he could not fully comprehend even now.

Perspective. The word suddenly appeared in his head, and he found himself thinking about what Mr. Pratap Dayal had said to them at the guest lecture. He had listened hard then, and his memory ensured he remembered every word. That was the word that Mr. Dayal had used. What was necessary in life was the right perspective. He had told them to look within, and ask themselves honest questions which would show what was truly important in their lives. Serious introspection would help them understand the situations they found themselves in.

Neel gazed at the uniform lying on his bed. He knew what was most important right now. And despite the way he was feeling, he knew that the real problem wasn't really about him. Stopping Mehta was the top priority. The mission he had been on was wasn't a practice session the military had set up for him. There had been a good reason why they had sent their most powerful, most secret weapon against Alok Mehta. Whatever he was planning was on a very large and dangerous scale, and meeting him once had been enough to understand why the government took the threat so seriously. Those disturbingly impassive eyes that seemed to know so much more than was possible…

His mind was going in a circle again. What was the use of these thoughts? He could not stop Mehta. He could not do anything in his condition. Useless and futile as he had become, he was not an Alpha soldier anymore. That was why he was hiding here, in what seemed the only safe place left in the world.

But was that the real reason? The question presented itself to him, and Neel suddenly stopped breathing. Was that really why he was avoiding the world?

Or was it because he had accepted his failure, and was now thinking of the next step in his life, and the thought of suicide did not scare him anymore?

This was what it had come to. Almost a year after the accident had spared his life, he was thinking about giving it up on his own. And that was the reason for the black depression that consumed him.

But then why didn't he do it? He had thought about it often enough in the past few days. He had contemplated ways and means. It had served as a dark kind of amusement in the twilight hours between staying awake and depressed before giving in to the nightmares in his sleep.

Then why hadn't he done it already?

Because… Neel buried his face in his hands as he finally admitted what seemed to him the biggest proof of his stupidity. Because he had still not given up hope. Somewhere deep inside him a stubborn grain of optimism remained that refused to admit he had lost. Something inside him persisted in believing he could still somehow win, and so persisted in prolonging the misery. A part of him, beaten and trampled underneath the weight of his disorder, still did not want to give up on life. Doctor Fahim had called it the greatest waste in the world. And he did not want that to be his case. He did not want to go out this way. He still remembered the days when he had been happy. He wanted to see life beyond what he felt at present. He wanted to see it for all that it could one day be.

But what was the use of such futile wishes? It turned out he had been right at the beginning, that first night back home. All those doubts he had had about his abilities. He had questioned whether he was good enough, and now he knew. It was exactly what he had realized that night. Nothing he had done before in his life had prepared him for this experience. He was not equipped to deal with what he was going through now. His training at Swan labs had not prepared him either. All those hours in the hall. On the field. In the control room. All it had done…

…All it had done was to teach him how to fight.

His breathing stopped again as he stared at the mask. A seemingly ordinary piece of cloth lying innocently on top of his pillow. It had been a symbol of the government's trust in him. It had been a symbol of the skilled fighter he had become after much hard work. But what was the use of that skill now? He had been forced into a situation where the fight was taking place in his head. And it was already over. He had lost. Repeatedly.

Suddenly Neel heard an explosion downstairs, breaking him out of his brooding reverie with an abrupt start. He stiffened, and the next moment was racing down the stairs. His mother was in the kitchen making food, and the TV was tuned to a news channel.

The reporter on the screen was hiding behind a police car. The camera showed brief images from behind the car of a scene of the outside of a bank, where several men holding rifles were shouting at a group of police officers.

"…and so the police and the robbers seem to have a standoff." the reporter shouted into the shaking camera. "The culprits are said to have highly advanced weapons, and the police force is very small. The fight is becoming more dangerous every second. But as usual, human tragedy is drawing many spectators who can't seem to understand the danger to their own lives."

Neel stood staring at the screen. The emotions coursing through him were too deep for words. His thoughts were in turmoil. His mother, his friends, Doctor Fahim. Everyone was telling him to be patient. Everyone was telling him to stay safe.

But he did not want to be patient any longer. He could not take another day of revisiting those memories. Of feeling the crippling fear. Of disappointing everyone around him. He could not take any more of a life that everyday became more of a burden that could not be borne any longer.

If the fight in his head could be given physical form… Something concrete that he could finally take a definitive stand against. Then he would know. Then he could decide once and for all, beyond any personal hopes or doubts, what kind of a grip the phobia had on him.

And Neel was suddenly filled with recklessness. It was a product of months of suppressed emotions, of being held back and self ostracized. He knew none of his well wishers would agree with him. But he was past caring. It was time to decide, one way or another, where his life was going.

"Mom?" Neel called out. "I have to go… get my library book from Aryan."

His mother appeared in the doorway of the kitchen with a frown. She looked at the clock. "It's almost 8: 30. Can't you wait till tomorrow?"

"No, it's really urgent. Please, mom." Neel said. "It won't take more than an hour."

His mother sighed. "Very well. Be as quick as you can."

Neel had already started walking before she had completed her sentence.

"Neel?" He turned. His mother was staring at him strangely. She had seen something in his expression. A hardness that had never been there before. It frightened her without her knowing why. She pushed the unreasonable feeling aside. Their part of the colony was quiet safe, and they had often gone out visiting even later at night and returned safely. "Be careful." she said finally.

Neel nodded. Then he turned and strode up to his room.

Doctor Fahim was sitting in his room, sunk in thought. The government finally had enough evidence to search Phlicer lab. But all through this operation, Mehta had been a step ahead of them, and he was afraid Mehta knew exactly what they were planning and was ready. Then there was the matter of the traitor. General Bakshi had admitted that, despite their careful investigations, the sheer magnitude of people Project Alpha involved made rooting out the spy an impossible task. The soldiers who were in charge of the daily maintenance of Swan Labs. The people who supplied them the equipment and built the tunnels. The technicians at secretariat where the project had first evolved. Any one of them could have heard or seen something that Mehta could have found out in exchange for a fee. The Minister of Defense had even suggested Divya be pulled off the case. But Doctor Fahim had refused to consider it. He knew Divya was not the traitor. This whole business was becoming uglier every day, with everyone feeling wary and unable to trust each other completely. Mehta had them all pointing fingers at each other without even leaving his office. If he were to get away…

But that could not be allowed that to happen at any cost. There was too much at stake for everyone involved.

His reverie was interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. He picked up the phone and saw it was a call from Neel.

"Good evening, Neel. Is there a problem?" Doctor Fahim asked.

"It's okay. I can handle it." Neel said. He sounded different. Older. "I just wanted to say… I'm sorry. I could've done so much more that I didn't. And for so long, I didn't even understand. I still don't, not all of it, but I think I'm beginning to get a better idea of it all."

"What do you mean?" Doctor Fahim asked, his brow furrowed.

There was a short pause at the other end. "You know, when you're a kid, you think the whole world revolves around you." Neel's voice was very quiet. "I didn't even realize it at the time. You don't try to think from anyone else's perspective. You don't realize everyone else have their own lives to live. That there are things that are important to them, and stuff they have to deal with, too."

"I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean." Doctor Fahim said gently.

"I've been trying to fight this memory for so long." Neel said. "It changed me so much, just thinking about it. … You know, I thought I had limits. Things that I thought I'd never do because they're just wrong. But now…I've done so many things I'm ashamed of. God, there are so many things I've done that I wish I could take back." His voice had begun to shake. "But I can't. And now I know what it feels like when you don't have a choice. I know what it's like to do something you don't want to, but you do it anyway, because all the choices you have are bad ones. The General made his choices. You made yours. So did Divya, and Arjun, and all the others. And now I have to make my own. And even though I know they'll end up hurting people, I have to do it anyway. It was stupid of me to think there could have been an ending where everyone was safe and unhurt. That's not possible."

"Neel, you must not give up hope." Dr Fahim said forcefully. "You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing, you hear me? We all have our Achilles heel no matter how powerful we believe we are. But we have to believe we can overcome our problems someday."

"It just seems like such a waste, you know… If you look back and see the mistakes you've made, it makes you feel like you've wasted something important… and it won't ever come back."

"It is not a waste if you learn from it." Doctor Fahim said quietly.

"Yeah… Well… that's all I wanted to say... Goodbye."

"Goodbye, Neel. Take care." Dr Fahim said heavily, ringing off. Vaguely, it occurred to him that Neel had said goodbye instead of goodnight, and he had followed suit. He would not be able to continue like this without finally snapping under the pressure. The doctor sank back into his reverie.

Neel stood atop a building opposite the bank. Police lights flashed and sirens wailed around him, almost drowning out all the shouting. The journey up to that point had been a nightmare. He had not trained for months. The flashbacks had plagued him all through the journey. Every honk of a horn, every squeal of a tire had sent fresh chills up his spine. He had tried to avoid roads as much as possible. The distractions had caused him to stumble several times. He had fallen three times during climbing and once hit his head hard enough on a roof railing to break the concrete. It was insane. Recklessly, stupidly, completely insane.

But still he kept going. And amidst all the panic he was also conscious of relief in finally doing something definite. He felt as though he was running away from everything that had conspired to turn his life into a nightmare, everything that had grown out of control in his life. He did not even know what he would do once he was actually at the bank against so many armed robbers without planning, and without the knowledge of the people at Swan Labs to assist him. Perhaps this was a different form of suicide. But he did not care anymore. The time for secrecy was past. It was time to do what he had wanted to do ever since he had gotten his powers. And if his phobia was going to stop him, well…

Either way, it was time to take back control of his life. No matter how brief that life might be. The determination that had carried him through the training and the earlier missions was still there, buried somewhere deep. And as he ran, memories of all his time at Swan Labs had come rushing back. Slowly, his body had again begun to move with the practiced skill of the past.

Watching the bank now, he saw that the situation had worsened. He counted twelve robbers, four inside the bank keeping everyone hostage, and eight outside keeping the police at bay. The crowd of onlookers had thickened and it was only a matter of time before someone was hurt.

And then suddenly Neel was transported back in time, to everything he had done wrong in the previous missions, the mistakes which had lead to the downfall of the hopes of so many people.

A voice seemed to echo in his head. It was telling him that he would not succeed. He'd heard it often enough in his nightmares.

He pushed the voice aside. Concentrating hard on his training and the mind control techniques the doctor had taught him, he jumped towards the roof of the bank.

But he couldn't rid himself of the image of a sumo hurtling towards him.

Inside the bank, the tension was palpable. The hostages were crouched on the floor, watching their jailers in fearful silence. Some of them were night shift workers at the bank, some customers, all of them just happening to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some fifteen minutes ago, they had come close to dying when one of the thieves outside had accidentally shot a police van, triggering a spate of firing from the other side. One of the thieves had wanted to kill some of the hostages then and there, to send across a message. But the leader had stopped him. The firing had finally ceased, and now they stood again in silence, an uneasy standoff.

The leader, Bisra, was pacing the room silently, inwardly cursing everyone he could think of. He was a well built man, with sinewy muscles in his arms, a high forehead and narrow, shrewd eyes. He knew the robbers were in trouble. The plan had gone horribly wrong. When they had first managed to get their hands on that weaponry, far beyond anything the police used, he had thought the whole thing was going to be cakewalk, provided they were careful. He had worked for months to get the plan in place. And now everything was going wrong. The car they had demanded had arrived. But it wasn't big enough to carry all of them and still have space left for the loot. Their guns were ridiculously heavy and difficult to use properly. The crowd outside was getting bigger every minute.

But the biggest problem was his teammates. They were the best he could find, but were now exhibiting the painful lack of thought and foresight which prevented them becoming anything more than hired guns and small time crooks. They were not able to cope with emergencies at all. He had had difficulty stopping them killing the hostages sometime back because they did not understand that the firing had been an accident, and if they started killing hostages the police would decide to enter the building to stop them, and then things could get from bad to worse.

Suddenly, from the back of the building came a grinding sound. The robbers spun, guns up and ready. Ahmed motioned for them to wait. He listened hard but no more sounds came. The first sound had been a strange one, almost like bending steel. He wondered if commandos had been sent in after them.

"Daya, go check in the back to see what that was." Bisra snapped to one of his team members, a hulking man who wielded a specially modified AK -47. He lumbered off. Ahmed's hand tightened on his gun. If there really were policemen in there, they would soon know…

Thirty seconds passed but no sound came. Ahmed was about to shout to Daya when he saw the door reopen. Someone entered the room. But it wasn't Daya.

A strange, black clad figure stood before them.

Neel surveyed the scene before him. There were a total of four robbers left. The fifth one, the one they called Daya, wasn't going to be moving anytime soon. The hostages were sitting huddled against a wall at the far end of the room, and two of the robbers were standing guard over them. The other two were guarding the two doors in the room. Upon seeing Neel, they had all leveled their guns at him. One of the robbers who were guarding the door gestured to the other one. He walked towards Neel, gun at the ready.

"Who are you?" he demanded aggressively, secure in the power of his gun, pushing at Neel's chest roughly with the butt of his rifle.

Neel considered saying something pacifying, perhaps to negotiate for the release of the hostages first. But he couldn't think of anything. Besides, he didn't need to be a behavior specialist to see that these were extremely nervous robbers, who could start shooting the hostages at the slightest provocation. And since they had taken the guns away from the hostage's faces, it seemed better to keep it that way.

His response, therefore, was to punch the robber unconscious.

Instantly, there was uproar. Three guns blew away at Neel, aiming for anything part of his body they could see. The problem was it was suddenly very hard to see him.

Neel dove out of the path of the bullets, feeling them miss him by inches. He could remember his training, but after more than a minute of dodging, he realized there was a problem.

The shower of bullets was fine, as long as they were all aimed at him. He had no idea how to rescue those hostages. All he could do was wait and hope the thieves would run out of ammunition soon.

At Swan Labs, Divya sat in front of the computer monitor. For days she had been searching the net for anything which could help Neel cope with his problem. The doctor had done all he could but it wasn't enough. Something was lacking, which left Neel Dervin defenseless, and she was afraid he really would stay that way forever.

Suddenly, she heard rapid footsteps outside the control room, and the next moment Arjun had burst in. He was breathing hard, as if he had come running. She saw an expression on his face that she could not identify at first. With a start she realized it was fear.

"What's wrong?" she asked, feeling anxious.

Arjun's reply was one word: "Neel."

Divya felt a knot tighten in her throat. "Is something wrong?" She managed.

Arjun nodded, his mouth set in a grim line. "You'd better come and see. In the general room." he turned and strode out of the room without waiting for her response.

Divya was right behind him.

The two raced across the lab towards the general room, where the big TV kept in a corner was turned on and tuned to a news channel. Dr Fahim entered the room at the same time she did, his face creased with worry. They all turned to the screen, where a scene of destruction greeted them, with a familiar, black clad figure at its center.

Neel ducked as a volley of bullets buried themselves in the wall behind him. The man with the narrow eyes was the only one who achieved some accuracy with the bullets. The other two had clearly never used rifles before and were firing wildly in his direction, sometimes missing him by more than a couple of feet, which made them even more dangerous, since he had a hard time telling where the next bullet would come from. Neel felt the cold indecision and panic stealing over him again.

Bisra was watching the intruder dodge the bullets with growing disbelief. "This is crazy." He thought, as Neel weaved around the shots at mind-boggling speed. "This isn't possible." But the truth was right before his eyes.

Bisra realized that he did not at all want to fight this freak any longer. He glanced sideways at his partners but it was obvious that they wouldn't be of any help. They were more scared than he was.

Suddenly, he remembered the insurance he had arranged for this type of situation, and leveled his gun at one of the hostages, a portly, middle aged client who had thrown chivalry to the winds and was cowering behind a female clerk. Raising his voice, Bisra bellowed across the room, "Stop or I'll shoot!" Everyone in the room froze, including the stranger.

"That's right!" Nasir yelled, swinging around towards the hostages as well.

And that was what galvanized Neel into action. Nasir was highly unstable in his excited state. As his finger tightened over the trigger, Neel raced to the table and grabbed the heavy bowl filled with sweets that was kept on the reception table. Swinging it over his head, he threw it hard at Nasir. The bowl connected with the barrel of the gun, knocking it aside a split second before it spewed fire. Knowing he had only seconds to act, Neel bounded towards the two men, knocking the third aside as he plowed through him. Reaching the two men, he picked them up and slammed them into the wall behind them. They connected with a sickening thud and slumped to the floor.

The only robber left was the one Neel had knocked out of his way. He was stirring feebly. Neel walked over to him and knelt beside him. A brief press to the nerve cluster at the base of his neck and he slumped down, unconscious.

There was a silence in the room as the hostages looked fearfully at him, as though he might start attacking them as well. Neel turned to the door.

The robbers outside had been watching the proceedings inside the bank in fascinated horror. But now they cast a terrified glance at him and scrambled into their car, there only aim to get as far away from Neel as possible. By the time he got to the door, they were twenty feet away.

Neel stepped out of the bank and was hit by a wave of camera lights. He saw the stunned spectators, including the police, watching him from the side road. Everyone had forgotten about the robbers, who were speeding away. One giant leap took Neel over the wall, and he stood facing the Safari. The Driver was too scared to reverse. He hit the accelerator and the car shot forward at full speed.

Noises echoed inside Neel's mind. He was hearing screaming, he was hearing crying, and he was watching his nightmare come to life.

Standing alone on the road with the car racing towards him, he froze, his brain numb.

Then his mind descended into chaos. Images flashed through his brain without rhyme or reason, his mind losing control as the terror enveloped him. Sumo… safari…. Scorpio… blood on the road… his blood…Pain… unbearable… all consuming… losing consciousness… fading…dying in pain… pain is dying…

The wave of fear was sudden and intense, more potent, a hundred times more powerful than during his sessions. Even more than the kind he had faced outside Phlicer complex. Neel's mind was a small boat caught in a tsunami, flooding out all reason, deadening his body and not allowing him to move.

Too slow…too weak…useless…the car was coming closer… stop the hurting… stop the pain…it was growing bigger… lying on the road…, his blood in front of him…a mountain of steel coming to consume him… blackness… intense...

He stood in the middle of the road like a lifeless puppet whose strings had been cut, knowing he was going to die tonight, and knowing exactly how painful it was going to be.

And then suddenly, having arrived at this point and waiting for the crash, he wasn't thinking about death anymore. He was thinking about everything he was leaving behind. Doctor Fahim and Divya talking to him in the hospital. Laughing and joking with Aryan and Priyanka on the rooftop. Prince wagging his tail to them in greeting. Hunting for the kitten in Aryan's room. Sitting with his classmates and listening to Mr. Dayal. Arjun, Premi and Negi pulling him into a hug. Racing with Nitin and Aryan through the city. His mother hugging him on the kitchen floor. The memories flowed unceasingly, and a new emotion began to well up inside him as his eyes became wet. The car continued to thunder towards him, but now it had somehow shrunk down to its actual size.

And then a distant part of his mind registered, out of the corner of his eye, a single reporter climbing over the wall, heaving a camcorder behind him, and running to the road to get a shot of him. The reporter was fixing his lens, his excited gaze on the camcorder, and running at full speed.

A tiny piece of upraised concrete, a sudden fall, and the reporter lay sprawled on the road, directly in the path of the car, still clutching the camera safely to his chest, recording Neel's demise. All he was aware of was the miraculous, black clad figure, and not the car roaring towards him from behind.

Neel stirred, his brain fighting to gain control. He felt as though he was moving through quicksand. He had stopped breathing, and his chest was constricted, suffocating him. But the reporter was on the floor, and he would not be able to get out of the way in time.

Neel walked faster, reason gaining a tiny foothold in his mind.

His breath was coming in short gasps now. His mind had accelerated on its own, and the car was suddenly slowed down ominously, exactly as in his nightmares. He took a step forward, and it was all he could do to keep his shaking legs from giving way beneath him and collapsing then and there. Another trembling step, and he remembered the blood covering the pavement in front of him, the bones sticking out of his chest. He shivered, shutting his eyes tightly. When he opened them again, the car was still moving, and the reporter was still in front of it.

Another step, and he felt some of the strength return to his legs. His nails were digging painfully into his palms. But he wasn't stumbling anymore. He bent forward, bracing his legs against the ground, just as he had done so many times in the open field at Swan Labs.

And suddenly, he was running at berserk speed. He passed the reporter, and ran straight towards the car. Using every ounce of strength he had. Running as if the demons in his head had finally emerged into the real world to give chase and drag him down forever. The car grew bigger and louder as he neared it, and in the instant before the impact, he saw his own reflection in the shiny steel bumper.

The next second, they collided.

The impact was incredible. Cold steel met hardened flesh, and the car's hood was crushed like paper. Neel's overwhelming momentum hit the car like a giant hammer. The car flew back, lifted literally off the ground, and crashed again onto the road, knocking its occupants unconscious. An air bag exploded inside the car, and then silence.

The reporters had reached the road, along with the spectators. The screaming was too mixed to be understood. The photographers were clicking madly, surrounding the black clad figure.

And Neel Dervin stood in the middle of the road, breathing heavily, blinking away the tears streaming down his eyes. In the heart of the crowd, yet separate from them. The feeling building up inside him so deep, so intense that he felt faint. Slowly, he raised his arms in triumph, and the crowd went insane.

Inside Swan Labs, a hushed silence permeated the lobby. The only sound coming was from the television. They saw Neel disable the robbers in the bank, and come outside. Then they saw him jump onto the middle of the highway.

All eyes were concentrated on the figure on the road. Arjun was gripping the back of a chair so hard his knuckles were whitened. Divya had a hand over her mouth and the doctor stood motionless, his heart hammering.

The black clad figure was looking extremely small and vulnerable. The car roared towards him at full speed.

But then the figure moved. He took a step, then another. Then suddenly his speed increased, and in the next second he had crashed into the vehicle in a blur of motion. It was over in less than a second.

The camera shook at the moment of the impact, and the people in the room shuddered as though they too had felt the icy hard metal smash into their bodies.

An earth shattering explosion, the scream of the crowds. And then it was all over.

The silence was more deafening than the explosion, the people on the street and the people in the room not quite being able to believe what had happened. But then the spell was broken, and the crowd was swarming over the road, shouting, and Neel had raised his arms in victory. They closed in around him. But one more giant leap, higher than any he had taken before, an incredible movement of pure joy, and he was gone.

Doctor Fahim stood staring at the TV. Tears were flowing down Divya's face. She lifted her head and met Arjun's gaze, who grinned fiercely, and strode over to hug her.

Over his back she saw the doctor. His face was buried in his hands, and for a moment she thought he was crying too. He looked up, and she saw a mixture of emotions on his face. Wonderment and disbelief, and something less easily identifiable. The next moment he stood up, looking happier and prouder than he had ever done before. He met Divya's gaze and laughed; mouthing a word she had no trouble understanding.

"Extraordinary."

At Phlicer lab, Malik Saket had been rushed to a TV monitor by one of the night guards, and now stood watching the news with a stony gaze. He had hoped the assassin had been killed, or at least badly wounded since his visit to Phlicer lab, and his disappearance for more than a month had almost made him believe it. But he had been wrong. Malik wondered if Mehta was watching this too.

The impact occurred, and the assassin stood on the road, arms uplifted.

Out in the open at last.

Malik's phone rang. He switched it on and heard Mehta's voice, brief and to the point.

"Start evacuations ASAP."

 
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