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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24. CHAPTER 18: A Face From The Past

Doctor Fahim watched the play of emotions on Divya's face: shock mingled with horror, confusion and anguish. He wished desperately that he could lessen the pain she was feeling. But there was nothing he could do. Divya was never meant to become a victim to this whole disaster. He had tried everything in his power to protect his protégé throughout this business, and now... now all he could do was try to explain. There was so much that she did not understand.

"I am sorry it has come to this, Divya." Doctor Fahim said, coming to stand in front of her and gazing at her sadly through the barred window. "You were never meant to become involved to this extent."

Divya said nothing, her mind still numb from shock. The one person she had trusted more than any other…

"I can't- I want you to understand… I had no choice …" For once the doctor was at a loss for words. He searched in his mind for a way to make her understand, but still no words came.

"It was you…" Divya whispered, her mind finally emerging from its state of shock. "All this time… wrecking the project… helping Mehta… trying to kill Neel." The doctor winced at every indictment, as though each accusation was physically hurting him. He did not seem like the Doctor Fahim she remembered, the man who had guided her for so many years, whose strength of character and honor were legendary. He simply looked like a feeble old man, whom a strong gust of wind might blow away.

"How did find out about me?" he asked finally in a soft voice. "My door was locked, yet you tried to force your way in. I barely had time to get the chloroform tablets. Obviously, you wanted to investigate my study. Why?"

Divya stared at him, breathing hard. "I remembered, when Neel was looking for the project Mehta was working on in the lab, you told him to look for an area where something human sized could be stored. Even though at that time we thought Mehta was involved in nuclear weapons research, and we had no idea he was conducting experiments on human subjects."

Doctor Fahim nodded slowly. "That was careless of me." he said. "But I was in an extremely disturbed state at that time. For an instant, I forgot caution."

"Then I searched through the files on project Kumbhkaran." Divya said. "I found a reference to Africa, and some of the basic elements used in the creation of the monster inside that container. It was the same compound used to create the serum in project Alpha." Divya stared at Doctor Fahim as though she was seeing him clearly for the first time. "You were helping Mehta all the time. You had betrayed us from the start."

But Doctor Fahim shook his head soberly. "Not in quite the way you believe."

Arjun followed the police sergeant down the line of cells to the second last one on the left. He nodded to the guard, who hesitated, looking at him uncertainly for a second. But the General's orders were clear: Do exactly as the man says as quickly as possible. The guard unlocked the cell where prisoner no. 39 was kept and gave the key to Arjun. Then he swung around wordlessly and went out of the corridor.

Arjun stared at the cell number, weighing his next move. He did not really hope for a great deal from this visit. But information was what they needed at the moment. He unlocked the door of the tiny cell, which contained only one prisoner.

Even in his striped prison clothes, Alok Mehta managed to look distinguished. The walls of the room were so dirty it was hard to tell what their original color was supposed to be. The room contained only a single cot with a paper thin blanket, which could hardly be of any help in cold weather. The entire hall stank with the smell of dozens of criminals, many of them squeezed into one room, few of whom felt inclined to take baths, and there was an air of repressed violence and despair in the atmosphere. But Mehta did not seem to notice these things. He was sitting comfortably on the cot, his back against the wall, making no attempt to avoid the dirt around him. Yet there was something in his manner which clearly signaled that he did not belong there.

On Arjun's arrival Mehta lifted his head and stared at him. Physically, the two men were complete opposites, Arjun's tanned features and broad shouldered build presenting a striking contrast to Mehta's thin frame and pale, almost white skin. Yet there was something similar about them which they both sensed in each other. Each had an impression of the force of the others personality, and knew neither could be frightened easily.

They stared at each other for a long moment, both there gazes steady. Mehta was watching him with the disturbingly impersonal gaze of a scientist inspecting a specimen. Arjun would have expected more of an emotion from a man whose empire had come crumbling down around him. Finally, he broke the silence.

"Why are you still doing this?" he asked, his voice tight with anger. "It's over, you've lost. What can you gain from these killings now?"

Mehta looked at him thoughtfully. "It will not be over till I say it is." he said. Then he smiled, a mere tightening of the corners of his mouth, as though he only did it to keep up the pretense of a normal conversation. "And yet, you must have realized I would not let you ruin my life and get away with it without getting some small revenge. Rules were broken, and now someone must pay."

"Who is your partner?" Arjun asked abruptly. "Who is the spy you placed in our midst?"

"I did not plant anyone anywhere." Mehta replied calmly, still watching him with the curiously intent gaze. "I have always had an inside source on project Alpha. I knew about that project before you were ever called in to it, before it was even given its name."

Arjun stared at him, trying to hide the shock he felt. "How?" he demanded finally. "How could you know? What have you done with Divya? And how did you get a bomb inside our headquarters?"

Mehta leaned forward, and for the first time, something like interest showed in his expression. "A bomb?" he repeated. "When did this happen?"

Arjun grabbed Mehta by the collar and threw him against the wall. "Don't push me." he growled. "You sent someone to plant a bomb in Doctor Fahim's study to kill him, and I want to know how you did it."

Mehta sat up straight, nodding thoughtfully. "So that's how he managed it." he muttered, almost to himself. "I was wondering how he would do it." He looked at Arjun, and for the first time seemed truly amused. "So you think Doctor Fahim is dead, and that I had him killed?"

Arjun stared at him, feeling strangely troubled by those expressionless eyes.

"I am afraid," Mehta said quietly, "there is a lot that you do not know about Doctor Fahim."

Doctor Fahim walked over to the center of the hall, to where the pile of equipment was kept. Suddenly, something vibrated in Divya's pocket. For a moment she was confused. Then she remembered the mobile she had taken earlier. Someone was calling her. She prayed it was Neel or Arjun or the General. Doctor Fahim was trying to compose himself. When he turned to face Divya again, he looked more like his old self.

"You deserve to know the truth, Divya. You need to know why I did all this." Doctor Fahim said. "Perhaps then you will understand the situation, and try to forgive me."

"How can you possibly explain this?" Divya asked, her pain turning to anger. Slowly, showing as little movement as possible, she put her hand in her pocket and pressed the speak button on the mobile. "You betrayed us all. Your mentor, your colleagues, your country. How could you do this? You were like a father to me. I trusted you."

Doctor Fahim flinched, as though the words had opened an old wound.

"Then perhaps it will be easier for you to understand." he whispered.

He glanced briefly at the container, then turned back to Divya.

"Almost a year ago, we were on the brink of perfecting the serum." Doctor Fahim said. "We were being funded by the Indian government, and after more than three decades of hard work, it seemed that I had at last succeeded. I dreamt of an army of super soldiers, deadly but loyal, powerful but humble, protecting our nation from the threats which usually cost us so much bloodshed and money. I felt that the debt I owed was finally paid."

"What debt?" Divya demanded.

"You will understand soon." Doctor Fahim said. "But first you need to know the truth about what has been happening at Swan Labs. The serum was almost finished, and the army officials were coming to see me in less than a month to confirm my discovery." Doctor Fahim paused, his eyes far away as he recalled that fateful night. "Alok Mehta had been following my career for many years. Even though the security around the project was extremely tight, Mehta knew all too well what I was working on. When the delegates from the government started to visit me often, he knew I had completed the project. One night he called me at my house." Doctor Fahim paused again, struggling to control his feelings. "He told me that he was fully aware of what I had been working on. He congratulated me on completing the project. He informed me that he had been working on something similar himself, which the Indian government was trying to find out about. He had repulsed all their attempts to uncover his secret, and he knew they were going to send a super soldier after him. He then told me about his own project. The work he had done to create his own army of enhanced humans. He left it up to me to decide what I should do about the matter."

Doctor Fahim looked extremely old as he sat slumped in his chair, his face drawn, his shoulders sagging. "Sleep was impossible that night. I had not felt such a tremendous mix of emotions since I first found out about the serum from Doctor Thompson, all those years ago. I was simultaneously exhilarated and horrified. I was paying the price for a mistake I had committed years ago. And yet, it was also the one chance fate had given me to redeem myself."

Divya wanted to know what the mistake was, but she also wanted to know what Doctor Fahim had done after getting the phone call. She said nothing, deciding to let Doctor Fahim tell it his own way.

"There was only one thought that was absolutely clear. I could not let the project continue. The work which would have been my salvation had suddenly become the bane of my existence. One way or another, I had to stop the work that I myself had started." Doctor Fahim sat for a moment, contemplating his long, thin fingers.

"But of course, it was not going to be so easy." he said finally, looking up at Divya again. "Too many people knew about the project. The Prime Minister was personally involved in the matter, and once the serum was passed to the army, the matter would pass out of my hands forever. I debated for days on which course to pursue. Then an idea occurred to me. What if the test subject exhibited some undesirable qualities after taking the serum? Some qualities that would prove the serum is bad for the health of the soldiers? I realized there was only one option left. If somehow, the serum could be made to look defective, the project would be scrapped. I only had to think of a way of making it seem so."

"And then I remembered a piece of information we had discovered during our studies. We had found that the serum worked even more powerfully on youngsters then adults. At the time, it had merely been more data to be filed away with the rest of the information about the serum, but now it gave me the beginning of a possible plan."

"What do you mean?" Divya demanded. "How could you plan Neel's involv-" She stopped abruptly, her eyes growing wide with horror as she understood what the doctor meant.

Doctor Fahim averted his face from Divya's accusing gaze. "It seemed like the only way. The project was going to go forward no matter what I said. But if an inexperienced youth was given the power, his blunders might shut down the project."

Doctor Fahim sighed, kneading his brow with his knuckles. "And so I made my plan. The plan was based on the soundest grounds based on the psychology of a fourteen year old. But that is the problem with scientific conjectures. A single fact overlooked, just one oversight in opinion, and the entire theory falls apart. The image I had in my mind of teenagers, the image most people of my age have about the very young, turned out to be erroneous."

"But how?" Divya demanded. "How could you carry out such a plan? What happened with Neel was just an accident." She was praying the doctor had not sunk as low as she feared.

"Accidents can be arranged." Doctor Fahim said softly. He stood up. "From the start, my plan depended on how well I knew the people I was working with. I knew the General disliked the idea of drawing a civilian scientist like me so deeply into national secrets, and he would not listen to any suggestion I had to make on whom to give the power of the serum to. The Minister is a more open-minded man, but even he would not accept such an outlandish idea. I needed to put them in a position where they would have no choice but to accept a teenage Alpha." Doctor Fahim paused, watching the stunned expression on Divya's face. And this was only the beginning.

"When you met me after the conference," he resumed. "I told you to take the serum personally to the lab. I had timed the whole day carefully. After you left, I alerted some men I had been forced to hire. In return for their services, I gave them some state of the art weaponry being designed specifically for Alpha soldiers that I had access to." The look of comprehension on Divya's face told Doctor Fahim that she had made the connection. They were the same men that Neel had stopped at the bank. He continued, "They were stupid men, only capable of following simple orders. They were even willing to go to jail for a while for the right price. They had two missions. One was to ensure that you met Neel at the traffic stop. When they saw Neel was getting ready to leave before the decided time, they punctured his cycle to make sure he was not too early. One of the men stayed in front of him all along the road, to make sure he was in time for the traffic stop."

"And so it was that you saw Neelanchan Dervin for the first time that day. The light turned green, Neel moved to the middle of the road, and the other man crashed into him right in front of you."

The horror and disgust Divya felt was so intense she felt nauseated. The doctor was still not looking at her. He went on with his narration, staring at the container, as though drawing strength from it to tell the story.

"I had been discussing the idea of a teenage soldier with you, and I knew that because of the respect you had for me, you would be more willing to believe in the idea than others. You also knew how quickly and efficiently the serum heals wounds. Therefore it was natural that your conscience would force you to give him the serum. You reacted to the situation like I knew you would, and Neel Dervin became our first Alpha soldier."

Divya's mind was in a whirl. She had been used. In a masterly manner, her every move had been guided without her ever being aware of it.

"Why Neel?" she asked finally, voice trembling. "He was just an ordinary, innocent boy. Why did you choose him to be the scapegoat?"

Doctor Fahim studied her quietly, deliberating how to explain it to her.

"I choose Neel…" he said finally, "precisely for that reason. Because he was a completely ordinary boy. I had to be careful while choosing the person who was to become the Alpha soldier. If I had chosen someone too weak, or too young, the army would not even have considered using them. Too old, and there would have been less chance of my plan working. I finally decided on a fourteen year old. I looked at the records of several schools, and observed many possible candidates. I decided to use Neel. He had no qualifications for the job other than his complete and total mediocrity. He was an only child. Father dead, mother away from home for long periods, and so having had a neglected childhood. He showed no brilliance in either studies or games. Had no hobbies or any quality which could set him apart as special or gifted. And his only knowledge of combat was through larger than life films and comics. Certainly not the material for a highly specialized and demanding job. The perfect boy for my purpose."

"But he proved you wrong, didn't he?" Divya interrupted triumphantly. "He handled the situation better than most veterans would have. You were wrong about him."

Doctor Fahim nodded gravely. "All through this business," he said. "My plans have been frustrated because of the unpredictability of the people involved. Throughout Neel's preparation, I expected him to be overwhelmed by his training, to show signs of breaking. I deliberately increased the work load of his training. But instead of buckling under the pressure, he showed a talent for the work in a way he had certainly never shown before. The serum increases the brain's memory but it does not affect the cognitive skills or work ethics of the subject. I was amazed, but convinced myself that the training was like playing for him, and he still did not understand the gravity of his position."

"I expected him to make a blunder while on a mission. The serum makes you powerful, but it does not make you invincible. I would use his mistake to convince our sponsors that the error occurred because there was something wrong with the serum, and stop the project then and there. I waited."

"And so Neel went on his first mission, and handled it like a professional, impressing even the General. I was shocked, but I managed to hide my nervousness."

Doctor Fahim stared at the ground.

"It seemed that I had been wrong in my plans, and I was in despair. Soon, the government would find out about Mehta."

"But then it happened. On his third mission. Neel had become overconfident. And Mehta knew more about him and his abilities than you all thought. Neel was very nearly killed. However, he managed to escape. He stood outside the Phlicer complex, and there again he almost died. I admit I had not expected that his first accident would have left such a deep impression on his mind, but it seemed that it was all for the best. He was hit by the car and it seemed it was finally over, but then…"

"But then the General's unpredictability cost me. All through this business he had been against using a teenager in the project, and I did not expect any problems from him. But though he was against the idea, he intended to do his duty. Without telling even me, he had Arjun keep an eye on Neel. And Neel survived yet again."

"But I was determined to make it the last time. After his near fatal mission, he was of course not allowed to continue with the assignment. In time, I found a way to blame the serum for Neel's collapse. The General and Mr. Rai accepted my diagnosis as an expert. The project was finished. The only problem left was Neel. I needed to ensure his absolute failure."

"Oh god…" Divya whispered, her voice filled with horror. It could not be true. Surely he could not have sunk even lower…

The doctor looked at her sadly. "I see you have understood." he said in a low voice.

"All those sessions Neel had with you trying to get over his fears." Divya said, sounding close to tears. "You weren't helping him. You were making it worse."

The doctor buried his head in his hands. He seemed to be going through an internal struggle too deep to put into words.

"After we found out about his condition." Doctor Fahim said, his voice muffled. "There was only one thing left to do. But the magnitude of the measures I would have to take was so great that I could not bring myself to do it. I genuinely tried to help him the first few times. But in trying to spare Neel, I was denying my other responsibility. And finally, I knew I had no choice. I used hypnotherapy to plant suggestions of his own failure in his mind. I started to bring his mind back to the moment when he felt the car crash into him. I made him dwell on it repeatedly, in rapid floods of memory that his mind could not tolerate in such high doses, so that by the end of the month, his fear had grown and become more savage and stronger than ever before. I was repulsed by what I had done, but I had achieved my aim. It was clear that Neel's will had been broken beyond repair… or so I thought."

"But then it happened. I got a phone call from Neel. It seemed as though he was saying goodbye. I did not understand the true meaning of the message until I watched the news about the bank robbery." Doctor Fahim fell silent, remembering the wonder and awe he had felt upon seeing Neel on the news. "I can't even imagine how he did it." he said. "The fear must have been multiplied a hundred times when he stood in front of the car for the third time. And yet, he managed to win through the fear. It was… one of the most amazing things I have ever seen." Divya remembered the expression on Doctor Fahim's face when they had seen Neel stop the car on the news.

"I almost broke down then." Doctor Fahim continued. "It seemed fate had ordained that my plan would never work. I did not know what to do. But then I decided. If I could not win one way, I would try another. If, by accident, I had chosen the perfect person for the job, I would use him to achieve my goal. And so I helped prepare Neel for his trip to the Phlicer lab. I watched him find the casket, and finally got the container away from Mehta's control."

There was a long silence. Divya's mind was in a whirl. She could not believe how easily they had all been fooled, how much danger Neel had been in, betrayed by someone he trusted so much.

"Why did you do it?" Divya asked, her voice filled with anger. "Betraying your friends, using us all as bait. Dear god, you almost broke Neel's will to live. How could you do that?"

"I had no choice Divya." Doctor Fahim said, misery etched deep across his face.

"Why do you say that?" Divya demanded. "Why is Mehta's project so important to you?"

Doctor Fahim took a deep, shuddering breadth. He seemed to be having trouble breathing. "I hear the pain in your voice." he whispered finally. "The pain is deeper because I was like a father to you, yet I betrayed you. What value would you place then, on actual ties of blood that connect us to our family? What would you say then, if I tell you that the person inside that container is my real son."

Divya stared at the tortured face of the doctor, struck dumb with shock.

Doctor Fahim nodded slowly. "Yes, Divya. This is my son Asif Fahim. And I am responsible for the state he is in today. I… and the serum."

Divya could not speak. She had gotten more shocks in one day than she had in years. Her mind was in a whirl, unable to process all the information.

"How…?" she whispered finally. "What do you mean?"

Doctor Fahim was silent for a long time, remembering once again those first few days, which seemed centuries ago now. How excited he had been when he had found out about Doctor Thompson's research. How eagerly he had helped his mentor uncover the secret of those apes. He had had so many hopes for the serum. And now he wished he had never heard of it.

"Thirty years ago," he said thickly. "I was a professor of bio chemistry in Delhi. I was extremely interested in practical research, and had published many papers on the properties of biocatalysts. These papers were acknowledged the world over. I had become quite famous among the members of my profession. But my personal life was in ruins. My wife, whom I loved more than anyone else in the world, had died while giving birth to our son. Asif was the living image of his mother. But he was born with severe birth defects. He was paralyzed from the waist down and at that time, since no therapy for paralysis was known, the disease was allowed to spread over his entire body. Most of the money I made went towards keeping him alive. But even then, he did not have a lot of hope for recovery."

"And then one day I received a call from Doctor Warren Thompson. He had taught me at one time and was very impressed by my aptitude for biochemistry. During one of his expeditions, he had found a natural phenomenon unlike anything the world had ever known, and he invited me to help him with his researches on it."

"I decided to accept his offer. My son was permanently installed in the hospital. I had been left enough money from my parents to keep us both going for a few years. And in my heart, I hoped Doctor Thompson's researches would find a cure for my son. So I packed my few belongings, arranged for the hospital to get regular payments for my son's care, and went to join Doctor Thompson."

"When I arrived at the camp, the doctor explained to me the nature of his discovery. I was amazed and delighted. My interest had always been in research and here was an opportunity to study something extraordinary. I confess, for a time I was so consumed by my work that I even forgot my son. I worked night and day with Doctor Thompson to understand the chimpanzee's unique neurology."

Doctor Fahim gazed at Divya. "You already know most of this story." he said. "However, there was one detail that I had always left out before. At that time, another young student had joined our research. His arrival was not planned, but he helped tremendously in our research."

Divya stared at him. Finally, she was starting to understand. "Alok Mehta." she whispered.

Doctor Fahim nodded. "When you were briefing Neel on Mehta's past, you mentioned that for some years he disappeared from India and was suspected to be involved with terrorist groups. One day the tribe's men brought a young man to Doctor Thompson. He was half dead with starvation and close to death. The tribesmen nursed him back to health. When he had recovered, he thanked us for our help but refused to tell us where he had come from. I do not know where he had traveled, or if he really was involved with terrorist groups, but I realize now he joined our group to hide himself. At first he merely helped with the manual labor, doing it far better than the tribesmen, but soon, he showed an outstanding aptitude for research. I and Doctor Thompson were too delighted with him to worry about his mysterious past. He was always polite and helpful, although he kept a certain distance between himself and everyone else. Together, we fell into our work with tremendous energy."

Doctor Fahim sighed, looking at Divya. "Those were good days. Our goals were simple and purely academic. Much like your and my days together at the beginning. There were no thoughts about personal gain. Simply the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Or so I thought…"

"Finally, after almost three years, we had succeeded in separating most of the elements present in the ape's bloodstream, identifying them and studying that one, fascinating new compound we had found. It only remained to apply the hormone's use to humanity."

"And then I remembered my son. I received a letter from the hospital stating that it could not keep in a patient who showed no sign of improvement, since they needed the room for other patients who had chances of recovery. No other hospital was willing to take him either. I had no choice; I brought my son to our research site."

Doctor Fahim sat in his chair, and for a while he seemed to be in a coma. He was staring at the container as though hoping it might speak to him.

"I was horrified at the change in Asif. He could not speak nor move. He was fourteen years old at the time, but for all intents and purposes, he was dead. I could not imagine the hopelessness he felt every day, and I, his father, could do nothing to help him. I felt miserable. Ashamed and helpless. I had neglected him for so many years. Doctor Thompson sympathized, but there was nothing he could do either. What was the use of all my knowledge if I could not save the person who meant the most to me? Every time I looked at him, I saw the face of Noor, who had been everything to me. I had failed them both."

Doctor Fahim buried his head in his hands again, his shoulders shaking. Divya did not know what to say. She could guess only too well what the story was leading up to.

"Those were difficult days for me." Doctor Fahim said, trying to control his shaking voice. "I lost control and began drinking heavily. In my depressed state, I had difficulty thinking clearly. Even my mind was losing control… and then, one day it happened."

"I came to my room very late that night. I had had too much to drink, but sleep would still not come. I sat staring at my son lying on his bed. Suddenly, I had an idea. The serum had proven to be quite effective on bonobos, who are the closest relatives to the human species. Why would it not work on my son? If I had been thinking clearly, I would never have done it. The serum was still very much in the experimental stage, and we had no idea how it would affect humans. But in my intoxicated condition, I convinced myself that it would work. I injected my son with the serum and… and…" Doctor Fahim looked as though he was wrestling with an internal seizure. "Asif's body started trembling… his body was rejecting the serum…. He went into convulsions, and fell out of the bed because of the shaking…" Tears were streaming down Doctor Fahim's eyes. The soul crushing torment in his eyes brought tears to Divya's as well. "And then… my son died."

"I could not believe what I had done. I sat on the floor with my son's dead body in my hands. I don't know how long I sat there. I was too shocked at what had happened to cry. Suddenly, I heard someone come into the room. It was Mehta. He had been sent by Doctor Thompson to check on me. He saw the empty serum bottle, the broken injection, and my son on the floor, and realized what had happened. He checked my son's wrist but there was no pulse to read. He helped me to my bed. He kept telling me not to worry, that he would handle everything. He told me to sleep and gave me some sleeping pills."

"I slept for eleven hours. When I woke up, I found the bed in my room was empty. Then I remembered what had happened. I was… well, it would be useless for me to try to explain how I felt. For a long time, it seemed I would simply go insane. The only thing which saved me from insanity was guilt. I was afraid people would say I had deliberately murdered my own son. That he had been a burden on me. More than the awful guilt, it hurt me to think what people would say about my family. I prayed Mehta had taken care of everything like he had said he would, and it seemed I was right. Dr Thompson informed me that Mehta had disappeared, taking samples of the serum with him. But at that moment I did not care at all about the serum. I was only relieved that Mehta had taken the awful burden of guilt off my shoulders."

"I fought back against depression I was feeling those days, and threw myself back into the project. My work became my life. I told Doctor Thompson my son had suffered a fatal heart attack and I had sent his body home to be cremated. I felt I owed it to my son to perfect the serum which had been unable to cure him."

"You know what happened after that. Doctor Thompson died, and I carried on the research alone. I became famous for my talents and achievements. You became my aide, and together, we finally managed to perfect the serum."

"But then I got Mehta's call, and he told me the truth about that night. My son had not died. His body had temporarily gone into a state of coma, but had later recovered. His body had become stronger, but he was still paralyzed. Mehta had taken away my son along with the serum samples, and over the years, conducted his own experiments to create a super soldier."

Doctor Fahim stared at Divya. He looked like a man who had seen hell itself. "Can you imagine what he did to my son?" he said in a low voice, his eyes brimming with tears, "Mehta wasn't interested in refining the serum. He only wanted to increase the strength of the subject. His research took a completely different path from ours. He pumped my son full of every conceivable steroid, and you can see the result in this container. Can you imagine what my son had to go through for all those years?"

Doctor Fahim fell silent, looking at the container, trying to still his shaking hands.

"Doctor, please." Divya whispered, her eyes filled with tears. "Let us help you. What you are doing is illegal. Please-"

"No one can help me." Doctor Fahim said quietly. 'If the government finds out, they will either kill Asif or use him as a guinea pig again. I cannot allow that. Asif is powerful now, but not invincible. If they had sent an army of Alpha soldiers after him, as they certainly would have once they found out about his existence, he would have been ripped to pieces. That is why I had to stop the project. And that is why I chose Neel. The life of my fourteen year old son for the life of another fourteen year old. The bomb I planted in my office should have exploded by now. People will think I am dead. Now I will take my son away from the world and no matter what it takes, I will find a way to cure him."

"And what will you do with me?" Divya asked.

The doctor turned away without saying anything, and Divya knew why. In spite of his betrayal, he was still essentially a peaceful man, and he was avoiding doing anything drastic about her.

She opened her mouth to plead with him again, but stopped as she heard a banging sound. She searched the room for the source of the noise and her blood froze.

The container had begun to tremble.

 
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