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


2. CHAPTER 2: Alpha Child


It had not been a good day for fourteen year old Neel Dervin. He had gotten up late for school. He had forgotten to do the work and had been unable to submit his math homework at school, leading his teacher Ticolo to compare his ability to follow orders unfavorably to that of a monkey's. The front tire of his cycle had caught a pin and punctured just as he was setting out for his coaching institute, making him late for tuitions as he got the puncture repaired. And then the car had crashed into him, very nearly killing him.

Neel woke up feeling unusually drowsy. He opened his eyes to what seemed like a strange new reality. His mind was swimming, and he was experiencing a vague feeling of disorientation. His senses could not seem to focus very well. He was conscious of being under starched white sheets, sheets that did not belong to him. He lifted his head and registered that he was definitely not in his room. Again it seemed difficult to focus his eyes on anything. The room seemed very sharply defined and hazy at the same time. He was dimly conscious of someone getting up and leaving the room, but by the time he had looked around, the person was gone.

Neel sat up slowly in the bed, trying to get back his bearings. Bits and pieces of memory were hovering in his mind. An image floated through his brain. A car crashing into him. Blinding pain. Darkness. A violent shudder passed through Neel's frame as the images became clear, and his heart beat wildly. He stared around the room, reminding himself that he was safe now. He wasn't on the road any longer. He was perfectly safe, here in this room.

But where was here, exactly? Neel knew he was in some sort of a hospital room. An IV drip attached to a stand was placed next to the bed. A bedpan was kept nearby. Someone had placed flowers on the small table at the side of his bed.

Neel squeezed his eyes shut tightly. He was finding it almost impossible to focus his eyes. Images seemed very sharp when he looked at any one thing, but everything became a blur if he turned to look from one direction to another, as though he was watching them from a very fast moving car. He was also having trouble telling the depth of the images his mind was receiving. It was as though the entire world had suddenly become flat and two dimensional. Everything seemed far away and near at the same time. His arms seemed at once stretched thin and yet oddly bloated. There was a steady thumping in his ears. It took several moments for him to realize he was listening to his own heartbeat, louder and clearer than it had ever been before. He clutched the bed sheets tightly as panic rose inside him.

He still had his eyes closed when he heard footsteps outside the door. The sound of the door opening came to his ears. He opened his eyes and saw that a tall man with a lean frame and a young girl with long black hair tied back in a ponytail had entered the room. The girl closed the door behind her. The old man stared at Neel for a moment, and then said something quietly.

Neel stared at the man uncomprehendingly. The words had sounded as though they were coming from a badly tuned radio, garbled and indistinct, but loud. The old man came closer, still speaking.

It was then that Neel began to feel truly frightened. The man's words seemed incredibly slow. In fact, everything about the two newcomers, from their speech to their movements, seemed incredibly sluggish.

Everything he had ever heard about brain damage came rushing to Neel's mind. He sat up straight on the bed, looking at the two.

"What's happened to me? I can't understand anything you're saying." Neel spoke to the man in a frightened voice.

The words came out in a string of gibberish, too fast for Doctor Fahim or Divya to understand. The boy was beginning to move around uneasily in the bed, and his movements appeared bizarrely accelerated and abrupt.

Doctor Fahim and Divya glanced at each other. It was as they had expected. The boy's brain speed was much faster than normal now. Doctor Fahim motioned to Divya, who took the recorder out of her pocket. She held it in her palm and hit the play button.

The room was suddenly filled with meaningless noise, a message played at three times the normal speed, too fast for a normal person to make sense of.

Neel, however, could understand every word of the message. He stopped moving and froze, listening intently, his heart hammering against his chest.

"Calm down, Neel." the voice in the recorder said. It was Doctor Fahim's voice. "You are completely fine. In fact, you are better than fine. Everything around you seems to be in slow motion, but I can help you speed everything up. Please trust me. I can explain everything. But first I need you to slow your mind down a bit. I want you to close your eyes."

The same message played out three more times to make sure the young boy understood every word. Divya had been timing the message with her watch, and now hit pause.

Neel hesitated for a brief second. Doctor Fahim smiled encouragingly at him. Slowly, Neel closed his eyes.

Doctor Fahim nodded to Divya. Again, she hit the play button on the recorder.

"Very good." said the voice. "Relax. Take a deep breath. You are not the first person to experience these sensations. I can promise you that you can be in command of your mind again. You simply need to understand how to regain control over your senses. Open your eyes and focus on any one thing in the room. Ignore everything else."

Neel opened his eyes. He stared hard at the flowers on the table, forcing back the feeling of panic, and took deep breaths, trying to stop his heart from hammering against his chest. Slowly, speed returned to normal. The movements of the other two became faster and the speed of the watch on Divya's wrist returned to the normal rate.

"Well done." Doctor Fahim said, watching intently as Neel's movements became slower and more controlled.

Neel stared at the man. "Who are you?" he said, speaking carefully. He looked up at the girl who was watching him as well. "What's happening to me?" He continued to breathe slowly, his mind threatening to speed up again at any moment.

Doctor Fahim drew the chair up to the side of the bed and sat down. "That is what we would like to explain to you." he said gently. "My name is Doctor Fahim. I am a doctor of biotechnology. This is Divya Nayak. She is my personal aide."

"You suffered an accident two days ago." Divya said, coming to stand next to his bed. "Your injuries were very severe."

Neel nodded. "I remember." he said. "I was hit by a car. I thought I was going to die."

"That would certainly have been the outcome if Divya had not been there." Doctor Fahim said quietly. "Fortunately, Divya had in her possession a serum which saved your life. But that serum also changed you at a very fundamental level. Would you like to know how?"

Neel nodded, not trusting himself to speak as he stared at the two serious faces before him.

Doctor Fahim leaned back in his chair and looked at the young boy. "Tell me, Neel, do you know anything about a scientist named Doctor Warren Thompson?"

Neel stared at him in surprise and confusion. He did not know what the name had to do with his illness. But Doctor Fahim was waiting for an answer. Neel considered the question. Warren Thompson… The name stirred memories. Certain news he had heard in an educational program a long time ago. "I think I've heard his name." he said. He looked uncertainly at Doctor Fahim and Divya. "He discovered something important, right? People said he discovered big foot or something."

"Fictitious rumors fabricated for the benefit of the media." Doctor Fahim said. "In reality, Doctor Thompson discovered something much more important, a discovery which has such far reaching implications that the government has gone to great lengths to keep it a secret."

Doctor Fahim rose from his chair and offered it to Divya.

"I'm fine, sir." Divya said quickly.

"It is a question of manners, Divya." Doctor Fahim said. She reluctantly took the chair. Doctor Fahim walked over to the end of Neel's bed and looked at him.

"I was working with Doctor Thompson on a piece of research work that promised to be very intriguing." he resumed his narrative. "Doctor Thompson had found a family of apes in the African jungles. Although they numbered in a mere handful, the tribes people in the surrounding area did their best to avoid confrontations with them. The remarkable thing about these apes was their strength. They were much stronger than ordinary gorillas, capable of uprooting gigantic trees and throwing heavy boulders across amazing distances. Doctor Thompson tried his best to study them, but the apes were unused to human presence at such close quarters. They attacked his research team and the two local tribes which were helping him. It took more than a hundred men to stop them. In the end, only a single ape survived, which Doctor Thompson kept with himself. That ape also died soon afterwards, but he had collected enough samples to continue his study."

Doctor Fahim paused. Neel was listening intently now. Divya already knew all this, but she was listening closely as well. Doctor Fahim went on. "Doctor Thompson was an old mentor of mine. He called me in and told me about his research, and we worked together on studying the samples for five years. We discovered a new compound which mimicked the properties of an undiscovered hormone and was responsible for the remarkable strength of the apes."

Neel's mind began to lose control again, and the doctor's words became sluggish and incomprehensible once more. With a huge effort, he forced his mind to slow down.

"I'm sorry." he broke in, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. "But I don't see what this has to do with why I can't see or hear properly."

"I am coming to that." Doctor Fahim said gently. "Please bear with me a while longer. Your present situation is another link in a chain of events which were put in motion a very long time ago. You need to understand everything from the beginning in order to appreciate your unique condition."

Neel nodded and sat completely still, staring at Doctor Fahim.

"Doctor Thomson was getting on in his years, and the conditions under which we worked for so long were ill suited to his health." the doctor continued. There was a ring of sadness in his voice. Divya knew how deeply he had respected the man who had been his mentor for so long. "He died a year after we had returned from Africa. He left all his possessions to charity. But the samples and all his research work connected to our time in Africa he left to me. I worked alone on the project for twenty eight years, and it was developing into something truly remarkable. Divya became my assistant during that time, and together we succeeded in uncovering most of the secrets of that curious substance."

"At this point, however, our resources dried. We could not continue our research. It seemed as though we had come to the end of our work. And yet there was still so much left to accomplish."

"But then I received a call from a certain government official. Rumors of what I had been working on had reached the military, and the call I had gotten was from the defense Minister of India. I went to meet him, and a man named General Bakshi. They were willing to fund our research, and sponsor our project, provided the end result would be handed over to the army. I could think of no better solution. We would get the research money, and our work would be used to help protect the country."

Doctor Fahim looked at Neel. "That was three years ago." he said. "Since then, Divya and I have been working on perfecting the serum, and making it safe for human consumption. We devoted all our energies to uncovering its secrets, and applying the fantastic effects of the serum to augmenting the abilities of a normal human." Doctor Fahim's expression had become brooding. "Our work was finally completed a few weeks ago. Two days ago, we finalized the transfer of the serum to the army. Divya was taking the serum back from the army headquarters to our lab when she witnessed your accident." Doctor Fahim looked intently at Neel. "I should also mention that, one of the properties the serum dispenses is a drastically increased rate of healing."

Neel stared at the doctor in a daze. Finally, he understood why Doctor Fahim had been telling him all this. "So you…you gave me that serum?" The doctor nodded quietly.

"It was the only way." he said. "Without the serum you would have died long before you had arrived at the hospital. Your condition was far beyond human aid. And so Divya chose the one course of action that had a chance of helping you. She saved your life."

Neel stared at the doctor, and at Divya. Then he stared around the room, trying to process the information. According to the doctor, the serum made a person stronger, yet that was not what Neel had experienced when he had woken up. "You said I've changed." he said, his voice coming out a little hoarse. "What exactly does that mean?" He ran a cursory glance over his body. As far he could make out, everything seemed completely unchanged.

Doctor Fahim came and sat on the edge of his bed. "The serum was refined and made more potent, with more widespread effects on the nervous system then mere physical strength." he said. "Your senses, your speed, your strength, your stamina, everything has increased to a superhuman capacity."

Neel stared at him dumbly. Perhaps the words were supposed to make him feel important, or excited. All he was conscious of was a feeling of unreality.

There was a long pause. Neel was still staring at the doctor. "And I saw everything in slow motion just now because?…"

"Because your sensory nerves have become more receptive, and your response speed to external stimuli, along with everything else, has been enhanced." Doctor Fahim said. "Your brain is unused to processing information at the speed it is now receiving. It is an ability that you will have to learn to control. In fact, everything that you know about your body and its capabilities will have to be learnt again."

Again, Neel could only stare at the doctor. A part of his mind told him this was all ridiculous, that he was either dreaming or was the target of some giant practical joke. But it did not make the situation any less bizarre.

"There has to be a mistake." Neel said, looking helplessly at Doctor Fahim and Divya. "I don't feel any different. Just my eyes were messed up for a while. But I feel fine now."

Doctor Fahim nodded thoughtfully. He glanced around at Divya, who reached inside her bag and pulled out a solidly built steel rod about a foot long. She brought the rod forward and gave it to Doctor Fahim. He hefted the rod lightly in his hand, testing its weight and strength. "This seems like a good, strong piece of workmanship." he said. He handed the rod to Neel.

Neel took the rod reluctantly, and looked at Doctor Fahim. The two stared at each other for a moment.

"I think you know what I want you to do." Doctor Fahim said simply.

Neel returned his gaze to the rod. Slowly, he grasped the rod in both hands. He felt nothing new. What he did not notice was he was lifting the rod more easily than either Divya or Doctor Fahim had been able to.

Neel applied his strength at the ends of the rod. It bent very slightly. He continued building the pressure at the ends, feeling a sudden power surge through his hands. The rod twisted, and bent easily in his hands. In a sudden burst, he pulled at the ends of the rod hard.

There was a snapping sound, and the rod broke neatly into two. Neel was left holding an end in each hand, looking stunned at what he had just done.

Doctor Fahim and Divya stared in fascination at the two pieces of the rod, and the two young hands that held them. Even after all their research and preparation, it was strangely surreal to see the serum actually at work in a human.

"Despite the unexpected turn of events, I believe congratulations are in order, Divya." Doctor Fahim smiled, extending his hand.

Divya shook his hand, her laugh a little unsteady. "It's amazing, sir." she said.

The two turned. Neel was still looking stunned. Doctor Fahim took the two halves of the hand out of his hands and placed them on the side table. "The question that arises, Neel, is what now?"

"What do you mean?" Neel said.

"We rarely get to choose the paths fate lays down before us." Doctor Fahim said gravely. "But it is up to us to decide how we travel those paths. You are a part of a military experiment now. You can run faster, jump higher, punch harder than anyone else on earth. But just as you had problems with speed after you woke up, you will have other problems. You need to be trained in order to control your new abilities. We can help you."

Neel stared at the old man wordlessly. "And then what?" he asked. "What happens after you teach me how to control it?"

Doctor Fahim leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and joining the tips of his fingers together as he looked at Neel intently. "The original purpose of this experiment was to create an army of soldiers who would be superior in every way to their ordinary counterparts." he said. "But this sudden change of events has obliged us to modify our approach. It has now been decided to test your abilities first in a closely watched environment, and see whether your capabilities could be valuable to the government. At the very least, it has been decided that your situation can still be used to study the effects of the serum on the human body."

Neel kept quiet, not sure of what to say. The one thing he did know was that he did not like being talked of as some sort of a commodity, or a human guinea pig. Doctor Fahim noticed his expression.

"What it means," he said gently, "Is that we are offering you the chance to become the first Alpha Soldier."

Neel stared at him. "And if I refuse?"

Doctor Fahim sighed, leaning back. "Then we will think about taking another approach to the matter." he said. "But in any event, you will be kept under close watch from now on." The gentle eyes that stared into the young boys were filled with sympathy. "No matter what your decision is, I am afraid your life will never be the same again."

Again, Neel was struck dumb.

Doctor Fahim rose to his feet.

"I understand that it is a lot of information to receive in a few minutes, especially after having passed through such a harrowing experience." he said. "But you needed to know the truth. We will leave you to consider our proposal. Think about what I have said. We will be in contact with you soon." The doctor turned to the door. Divya took the two broken metal pieces from the table. "Good luck." She said with a small smile as she walked towards the door as well.

"Oh, and one more thing, Neel." Doctor Fahim said, pausing at the doorway. His eyes were very grave. "I'm afraid a certain amount of deception was necessary to explain your rapid recovery to your mother. We told her you crashed into Divya's sumo and suffered minor cuts and bruises, and a dislocated shoulder. It saved her from a lot of worry which she would undoubtedly have suffered from if she had known about the nature of the actual accident. Remember the story." Doctor Fahim stared at Neel and added gently. "And I advise you not to tell her about your new abilities until we have had a chance to discuss them again. Take care, Neel."

The two left, leaving Neel alone in the room, with only his chaotic thoughts for company.

Neel sank back onto his pillow, the feeling of unreality intensifying in his mind. He thought about what Doctor Fahim had told him, and what he had just done. The images in his brain flowed at a blinding speed. His mind had started to accelerate again.

The door opened, and Nurse Aarti entered. She closed the door behind her and came to stand at his side of the bed. She said something, the words again coming out frustratingly slow and indistinct.

Neel stared hard at the nurse's face, frantically trying to get his brain speed under control again. After what seemed like several minutes to him, speed returned to normal again.

"I'm sorry." Neel croaked. "What did you say?"

"I asked you how you were feeling." Nurse Aarti said, watching him with concern. "Do you feel any sort of a discomfort? Any pain in your body? Lightheadedness? Nausea?"

"No" Neel said. It was true. Despite his mind being in a whirl, he was aware that physically he felt better than he had ever done before. There was no pain from any wounds, nor any aches in his body.

"Well, you should let me know if you feel anything wrong even slightly, all right?" the nurse said. Neel nodded. She continued. "If you feel up to it, your mother is waiting downstairs. I told her she can see you as soon as we were sure you were capable of seeing visitors. I'll send her up now, shall I?"

"Yes, thanks." Neel said. The nurse stood up and went to the door, closing it softly behind her. Neel stared into space, concentrating on keeping his straying thoughts from disrupting his brain speed again.

The door opened, and Neel's mother entered the room. A mixture of anxiety and relief showed on her face as she hurried to his side.

"Neel" she whispered, her voice trembling slightly. She bent and kissed his forehead fervently. "Thank god you're awake. I was so worried."

"I'm fine, mom." Neel said with a reassuring smile. "Totally fine." His mother began to look him over anxiously, checking his body for injuries.

"Really, mom, I'm fine." Neel assured her again. He remembered the story Doctor Fahim had said they had told his mother. "I just twisted my shoulder a little."

"Oh, you be quiet." his mother whispered, her voice still tight with worry. "What do you know? They're trying to make it out to be a smaller injury than it is. But why would they have to bring you here in an ambulance if it wasn't serious? They had to operate on you!"

"They're just being careful." Neel offered. His mother ignored him, and continued to check his body. She leaned over the bed to examine his arm. The light from the lamp shone on her eyes, and he saw that they were bright with tears.

"Mom." Neel said in a low voice, placing a tentative hand on her shoulder. He tried to think of something soothing to say, but nothing came.

His mother stared down at him. Suddenly she folded her arms around him in a tight hug. He could feel her shoulders shaking. "My baby!" she whispered, stroking his hair softly. "Oh, my poor little Neelu. I was so afraid I was going to lose you." She kissed his forehead and hugged him again.

Neel lay frozen on the bed, staring at the door in front of him. He did not hug her back. To his mind had come the image of the rod breaking in his hands. And with it had come the terrifying thought that if he wasn't careful he might break her too. He kept his hands at side, desperately trying to think of something reassuring to say.

"I'm sorry, mom." he said, and his voice was suddenly unsteady as well. "But I'm all right now. I really am." He could not keep the tears from welling up in his own eyes. He could never have imagined that he would ever hear her sound so scared. The full horror of his accident hit him at the moment as he gazed up at his mother crying over him.

"Yes, you are." she said, wiping away his tears and kissing his forehead again. "You had a nasty accident, but now you are going to get better. I'm sorry, Neel. I don't want to upset you anymore. I've just been so worried that I started crying. But really, the doctors tell me you are going to recover completely. It was just a dislocated shoulder, after all."

Neel stared at her, and felt a sudden urge to tell her everything. About the serum, Doctor Fahim, about his recovery, and what had been happening to him ever since waking up. But then he remembered what Doctor Fahim had told him about keeping quiet about the serum just yet, and he imagined his mother's reaction if she found out just how serious the accident had really been. He kept quiet.

His mother had leaned back and was drying her eyes in her handkerchief. When she looked at him again, her worried expression had been replaced by a glare. "How could you be so careless, Neel? How many times have I told you to be careful on the road? Don't you know the people around here drive like maniacs? Thank god that girl's car was stopped! Do you have any idea what would have happened if you'd hit a moving car?"

"I'm really sorry, mom." Neel repeated meekly. "I was in a hurry. I guess I lost control. It won't happen again."

"That's right, first you almost lose your arm and worry me half to death, and then say it won't happen again." His mother sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. His mother had a small frame, and usually gave the impression of being thinner than she really was. Ever since Neel's childhood there had always been a slightly ragged edge to her, yet today she seemed even more worn out than usual. When she looked down at him again, she looked calmer. "The only good that can come of this is if you learn from your mistake, and never let it happen again." Neel nodded vigorously, and she bent down and smoothed his pillow, drawing his sheets more snugly over him. "Now you just concentrate on getting better. You're coming home tomorrow. Get some rest."

She made sure he was completely comfortable. As she bent down to smoothen the hair back over his forehead he saw that her eyes were very red, and dark circles had formed under her eyes as though she hadn't slept in a while. He felt a sharp stab of guilt at lying to her. Again he felt the urge to tell her, and again he restrained himself. His emotions were so mixed right now that it was difficult to even think about the accident, and he knew it would take him a long time to sort out his own feelings on the subject. Explanations would have to wait.

"I'm so grateful to that girl Divya." his mother said quietly. "You know, she came with you in the ambulance, and found out your name and school from the copies in your bag. Then she got my number from them and called me. Goodness knows what would have happened if she had just driven off after you crashed into her car, like so many of those drivers would have done."

"Yes, that was nice of her." Neel said. He stared at the door in front and continued slowly. "She didn't have to help me but she still did what she could. The world needs more people like that."

His mother smiled. "Don't worry about that now. Get some more rest." She gave him a final hug before kissing his forehead. "Sleep well, baby." she said softly as she rose to leave.

Sleep, however, was impossible. Alone with his thoughts, Neel's mind could no longer maintain control, and his brain sped up again. There were far too many things to think about. The project… his near death experience… Doctor Fahim and Divya Nayak…

And especially the doctor's proposal.

"The power you possess is greater than anything any human has ever experienced. You need to be trained in order to control it. We can help you."

By the time Neel fell asleep, he had come to a decision.

The next morning, Neel awoke feeling completely refreshed. The first thing he noticed was his eyesight had gotten fuzzy again. It took him ten minutes to regain control over his mind. He could view objects much more easily now, although it was definitely a bizarre experience. He was sitting in bed thinking about everything that had happened yesterday when the nurse who had attended to him the day before came in bearing a breakfast tray.

"Feeling all right?" she asked, setting the tray in front of him.

"Yeah, totally." Neel said, sitting up in his bed. He polished off the sterile food quickly, the sound of his own chewing and swallowing impossibly loud in his head. He had only eaten once yesterday and felt famished. "How long am I supposed to stay here?"

"Well, you seem to have recovered completely from your accident as well as the surgery." nurse Arti said with a wondering shake of her head. "Patients are usually required to stay a few more days, but someone seems to have cleared your way, and you can leave anytime you want. Your mother still wants you to stay one more day just to make sure."

Neel nodded as he ate the last morsel of food on the plate. It hadn't been exactly a feast, but he felt full now, and was able to think about the future a little more calmly.

"Do you need help going to the toilet?" the nurse asked matter of factly as she rose with the tray. "Or would you prefer a bedpan?"

"What?" Neel said in alarm. "No, no. Er… Thanks, but I can handle all that on my own."

"Okay then, I'll let you be." the nurse said, preparing to leave. "The gentleman and the girl who were here yesterday are waiting downstairs. They said to ask if you felt well enough to talk to them. Do you want to see them?"

"Oh." Neel said slowly. It was happening sooner than he had expected. "Well, okay, yeah. Could you tell them they can come here in about half an hour, please?"

"Very well." the nurse said. She left carrying the tray, leaving Neel alone with his thoughts again.

Exactly half an hour later, there was a knock on the door.

"Come in." Neel said, feeling a strange queasiness in his stomach that had nothing to do with his injury or the food.

The door opened and Doctor Fahim entered, followed by Divya, who closed the door behind her. The two came to stand at the side of his bed.

"Good morning, Neel." Doctor Fahim said. "I hope you had a good night's rest?"

"Yes, I did, sir." Neel said, watching them both nervously.

"Well, then." Doctor Fahim said, looking at him intently. "I hope you also had the chance to think about the conversation we had yesterday, and our offer to you."

"Yeah, I thought about it a bit." Neel said, and stopped, trying to play for some time.

"And?" Doctor Fahim prompted him gently.

Neel stared at him. "What happens if I say no?"

Doctor Fahim considered the question gravely. "You will have to learn to cope with your new abilities on your own." he said. "That in itself is no small task. You will have cost the country an important piece of technology and the possibilities it has." Dr Fahim stared at him quietly. "The only questions you need to ask yourself are these Neel; do you think you can handle this situation on your own? Or do you want to see what your full capabilities could be under the proper guidance?"

Neel nodded slowly. It was the question that had kept him awake all night. "Then I accept your offer, sir." he said.

"Excellent" the doctor said, smiling broadly at him. "Then we can now start this very interesting experiment. Your school has been told that, because of the shock you sustained from the accident, you won't be able to attend your classes for a week. Instead, you will come to the head quarters of this project every day. Starting tomorrow."

"I can learn everything in a week?" Neel asked in surprise.

"No, but you will only need an hour or so every day after school after the first part of your training is over." the doctor said.

"What about my mother?" Neel asked. "Can I tell her about this?"

Doctor Fahim sat down at the edge of his bed and looked at the young boy very seriously.

"I'm afraid not, Neel." he said quietly. "Not yet, at any rate. By agreeing to this experiment, you have become part of a top secret military project. This is a matter of the highest national security, and the stakes are higher than anything you can imagine. For now, we need to keep this a secret. Neither your family nor your friends can know about this part of your life. Not yet at any rate."

Neel nodded. "I understand." he said quietly and sighed, wondering if he was going to regret his decision.

"Divya will now tell you the particulars of tomorrow." Doctor Fahim said, rising to his feet. "Listen closely to her instructions, and we will get through this together. I will see you soon, Neel. Take care."

Doctor Fahim left the room. Divya came to sit in the chair next to the bed and smiled at Neel. "Feeling nervous?" she asked. She was very pretty, and there was a good natured quality to her smile. Neel suddenly felt a blush suffuse his cheeks.

"Just a bit." he admitted quietly, trying hard to make the admission sound casual.

Divya stared at the young boy, her smile slipping a little. He looked so young and vulnerable, lying on the hospital bed in the oversized gown. She felt a sudden stab of guilt at the strange and dangerous situation she had put him in. "Neel, I know there's no point in saying this now, but for what it's worth, I'm sorry I put you in this position." She said softly. "I know this must all be very confusing for you."

"No, come on, you don't have to apologize." Neel said quickly, blushing even more. "I mean, I would have died if you hadn't helped me." He stared up at her. "And I wanted to tell you, thank you for not just walking away."

"Well, your recovery is thanks enough." Divya smiled. She rummaged in her purse for the notes. "Now, there are some things you need to keep in mind for the day after tomorrow…"

Doctor Fahim had stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him. He made his way down the hall to the third door on the right. Entering the room quietly, he glanced at its lone occupant. General Bakshi stood at the end of the room looking out of the window. Doctor Fahim took out the mobile that the General had given him and placed it on a nearby table.

The mobile had a roving bug spyware installed that allowed the General to activate it from his own cell phone. The General had used the microphone and transmitter arrangement to listen to the entire conversation that had taken place in room 449, just as he had listened to the conversation that had occurred in Neel's room the day before. He did not turn as Doctor Fahim made his way towards him, but continued to gaze silently outside.

"So the boy has agreed." he said curtly as Doctor Fahim came to stand next to him.

"Afraid and uncertain and extremely nervous, but yes, he has agreed." Doctor Fahim said gravely.

The two men stood in silence for a moment, both looking out of the window at the front of the hospital, where a profusion of people and vehicles were crammed into a tight parking space.

"That was a completely unnecessary approach you used, pretending he had a choice in the matter." General Bakshi said, still without looking at Doctor Fahim.

"He needs to believe he himself has chosen to become a part of the project." Doctor Fahim said quietly. "Otherwise we will never be able to obtain his trust and cooperation."

"As if we did not have enough to worry about." the General muttered. "Now we have to waste time on the emotional problems of a teenager as well." General Bakshi finally turned to look at Doctor Fahim. His voice had an edge to it as he spoke. "As you yourself pointed out to the boy, the stakes involved in this matter are very high, doctor. The childish insecurities of a fourteen year old are the least of our worries at this point."

"These 'insecurities' need to be resolved from the start, if the project is to have any sort of a success, General." Dr Fahim looked at General Bakshi with a slight frown. "Your tough love approach would in this case be detrimental to the project. It is necessary that Neel learn to trust us if we are to help him get used to his new abilities and work with us. Without his cooperation this project will not succeed. Please try to remember that we are not discussing the training of one of your army recruits, but a young and impressionable boy. A boy, moreover, who has recently been through a singularly terrifying experience."

"An experience that would have been fatal, had it not been for the serum." the General retorted. "A serum that is the property of the Indian defense force. That makes the boy, at least in part, our property as well."

"That serum is not important." the doctor spoke quietly, but there was a hint of steel in his voice. "The boy is. I know you are more concerned with results, but I'm afraid I place a higher value on lives than on your ambitions for the army." the General was a tall man, but Doctor Fahim was taller still. No trace remained in Doctor Fahim's eyes of the gentleness that Neel had seen there. His hardened gaze reminded General Bakshi that this was no ordinary civilian he was talking to.

"Be that as it may, I hope you understand our agreement." the General said coldly. He walked over to the table and placed the mobile in his pocket. "This turn of events may have forced our hand, but at the first sign of incompetence in the boy, he will be removed immediately from the program, and we will find some other way to deal with this situation."

Doctor Fahim nodded, his gaze relaxing. "But in the meantime, while we try to make this new endeavor a success, I trust we will have your full support?"

"I shall perform my duty as is expected of me." the General said as he turned to leave the room.



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