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


5. CHAPTER 3- Unfamiliar Territory- Part 3


The next day Neel got up at seven, and lay on his bed staring up at the ceiling. He had a week long holiday from school, during which time he would be working with Doctor Fahim on understanding and managing his new abilities. Thoughts about what was going to happen to his when he would meet the doctor filled his mind as he went slowly to the sink to brush his teeth.

Upon going downstairs for breakfast, he found his mother getting ready to go to office for an early shift. She greeted him with a hug and an enquiry about his health. After assuring her yet again that he felt fine, he went into the living room to turn on the television.

"So you just relax today, alright?" his mother called out from the kitchen as she prepared their breakfast. "I might be a little late, so I'm leaving your lunch in the fridge."

"Okay." he said. Neel knew she felt guilty about the amount of time she had to spend at the office. He wished she wouldn't worry so much. "I'll have lunch and then I'll go for a ride on my cycle. Just to stretch my legs."

"Don't be silly, Neel." his mother said, coming out of the kitchen and staring at him in surprise. "You can't go anywhere on your cycle. You need to rest. That's why you've gotten leave from school."

"Yeah, but mom, I'm sick of staying in a room all the time." Neel said. "The doctors told me to do some light exercise. I'll just ride over to the bridge for a while." The bridge offered a picturesque view of the area around it, and the giant steps built under it were often filled with people who came to enjoy the scenery.

His mother hesitated. "I don't know..." she said dubiously.

"Please, mom." Neel said earnestly. "I'll go crazy staying inside the house for so many days."

She sighed. "Fine, you can go. But don't ride fast, and come back soon. And be very, very careful." she ended with a warning glare.

"Thanks." Neel said with a grin. "Have fun at your office."

"Thank you, honey." His mother kissed him on his forehead and left.

Neel spent the morning roaming around the house, watching television, flipping through some magazines, working harder than ever to keep the speed of his mind under control, and feeling the pleasurable laziness which comes from bunking school. After a couple of hours however, the various speculations going through his mind about what was going to happen to him that day brought back the feeling of confinement he had experienced the day before. He went up to the terrace of his house, and entered the nest.

The nest was a little room on the terrace of Neel's house at the far edge. It had been there when Neel and his mother had moved in. No one knew what it was supposed to be. It had no roof at the top, so they had placed a makeshift covering of tin sheets on it which creaked loudly whenever the wind blew too hard. The windows and door of the room were also empty, and it was not possible to use it as an ordinary room. It had been nicknamed the nest by Neel's mother since Neel, Aryan and Priyanka used to spend so much time there when they had been very young. It had been a favorite playing area for them, and there still remained a blue chest beneath the bench in a corner of the room which was crammed with their old toys.

Neel sat on the three old benches, and gave himself up to speculating about what was going to him when he met Doctor Fahim. The doctor had said he was going to become a part of the experiment, and trained to use his powers correctly. Since this was a government operation, he was fairly certain that meant being trained like the soldiers in the army. He wondered whether he would be enlisted in the army or the navy or the air force when his training ended. Images from various movies filled his mind. His thoughts drifted dreamily through James Bond, Universal Soldier, The Matrix and The Terminator. Perhaps it would be cooler to be the T-1000 rather than 007. Or better yet, Neo. As he dwelt on the possible future, his imagination soared, and he became lost in daydreams where he had become the youngest army recruit in the history of the world, and saw himself felling thousands of enemies with effortless blows, forgetting for the moment that he had never been in any actual fights outside mock wrestling matches with Aryan on their beds, and the playground in the nursery, where the most he had ever done was roll around a lot in the dirt with a classmate until the teacher stopped them.

The daydreams only served to increase his feelings of nervousness and excitement, and he spent the rest of the time again wandering around the house, switching on the television, flipping through magazines and listening to songs, glancing repeatedly at the clock.

Finally, at ten o' clock he had a hasty lunch, barely noticing what he was eating. He headed for his cycle. The accident had left the cycle severely battered, and the handle and the carrier seat had had to be completely replaced. The tires had punctured on the day that the accident occurred. He had had them fixed before setting out for tuitions, and now they had been replaced as well. Except for the slightly skewed front end, the bike seemed reasonably fine. It had once belonged to his father, and he was very fond of it. He locked his house, pocketed the keys, swung onto his cycle and left.

Instead of going to the coaching institute, he headed to the spot Divya had told him about. It was outside a civic building. It seemed strange that a more private spot hadn't been picked for the meeting. Neel wondered what the coaching institute had been told about his absence. Presumably it wasn't a big a problem to solve for the people he was working with. He placed his cycle in the cycle stand outside the building and waited.

Exactly at eleven, a white, nondescript car with a dirty bumper and tinted glasses appeared on his side of the road, stopping in front of Neel.

He peered through the front window as it was rolled down. The car was empty except for the driver, a broad shouldered man with dark eyes and a quiet, watchful expression. His hair was cut short and he wore a plain, dark grey shirt. He had a slight, scraggly beard and moustache that did not hide the determined jaw. He stared intently at the young boy for a moment, as though silently assessing him.

"Hello, Neel." the man said finally in a deep, quiet voice, leaning out the side of the car. "I'm supposed to take you to Doctor Fahim."

Neel hesitated, realizing that he could be making a very big mistake by getting into the stranger's car. The man noted his hesitation and nodded in approval.

"Yes, you should be careful, and so should I." he said. "So why don't we confirm each other's identities first? I believe you've been told a password?"

"Oh, right." Neel said in relief. He had forgotten about the password. "My password is- Apha."

"Good." the driver said. The corners of the man's mouth twitched, as though he was trying to stop himself from smiling, before returning to a serious line. "And to that my reply is- Too young."

As Neel got into the car, he wondered who had chosen the passwords.

The car swung onto the main road, gliding past the other vehicles. Even in the traffic, the driver rarely touched speeds of less than seventy. Neel sat on the edge of his seat, feeling awkward and wondering what to do or say. He had a lot of questions to ask, but he wasn't sure how far he was supposed to trust the driver with information.

"You know, the seat won't bite you." the man said. Looking up, Neel saw the man glance at him out of the rear window, even as he steered the car expertly through the traffic.

Neel nodded, and sat back more comfortably in the seat. He looked at the man, intending to ask his name, but instead blurted out, "Where are we going?"

"You'll see soon." the man replied, his eyes on the road. "This is a top secret operation, and they've taken a lot of trouble to keep it that way."

"Who is 'they'?" Neel asked. "I've only met Doctor Fahim and Divya."

"Well, I suppose Doctor Fahim can be called the technical advisor." the man said. "The men in charge are very important people in their fields. You'll meet them all soon enough. So tell me, how have you been feeling these past few days?"

"Um… what do you mean by fine?" Neel asked cautiously. "How much do you know about me?"

The man stared impassively at the traffic in front of them. "Well, I know your name is Neelanchan Dervin. You're an only child and live with your mother at two eight nine A by two, Mira Street. You have a grandmother who lives in the village of Samar. You're a protestant Christian. You attend Elvitar's academy. Your school record is steady if unimpressive. You are not a member of any team or club and have few close friends. You were recently injured in an accident which has turned you into the first subject under project Alpha. You were contacted by Doctor Fahim and his aide Miss Divya Nayak. And now you are on your way to meeting them again." He glanced up at Neel In the rear view mirror. "So now I'm asking you again. How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine." Neel said, feeling quietly stunned.

The driver seemed to sense his reaction. "Don't worry." he said. "Any information pertaining to you is highly classified. I'm actually one of the very few people that know who you are. You can trust me."

Neel nodded, and knew he did. The man's manner was distant and reserved and he was still essentially a stranger, but there was a reassuring strength and honesty in his quiet, deep set eyes, eyes that seemed to have aged a lot in a short time.

Neel gave him a brief account of his health as it had been for the last few days. He also mentioned his enhanced senses, and how hard it was to keep his brain under control. The man received the information quietly, with brief nods, and the rest of the trip passed in silence.

After half an hour, Neel saw that they had come to the outskirts of the city. They seemed to be in a military area. All of the young men were sporting crew cut hair, and moved with the erect bearing of the military. After a few minutes, they pulled into a building with a large open ground, where Neel saw some young men marching in order to the side. The guard at the gate took a brief look at the driver's card and nodded to his partner. The gates swung open and the car swung around the opening, away from the marching soldiers and towards a small building. The driver took the car inside the building and stopped. Neel looked around, expecting to see Doctor Fahim. But the room was empty, and looked as though it had not been used for a long time. It only contained some rickety desks, a built in cupboard, and a pile of lumber in a corner. An ancient fan creaked from the wind that had blown in from their arrival.

"This complex is the training base for the fire fighting crew of Delhi." the driver said, getting out of the car and opening Neel's door. "We're inside one of their old offices, which were made in nineteen forty, during the time of India's war of independence." He walked over to an old switchboard, Neel behind him. He switched on two alternate buttons and pressed a hinge behind the board. Neel heard a click, but as far as he could tell, nothing happened.

"This place was also the site for the gathering of freedom fighters during the nineteen forties war effort." the man continued. "It had some very efficient escape routes which had been developed over a long period of time. We found references to this place in some old documents. So when plans were being made for the training program, we had the escape routes modified for our purpose after unearthing them. Literally." The man opened the cupboard and ran his fingers along the edge of the wood. Neel saw a tiny button, which seemed to have slid out of the wall. The man touched the button. The entire back wall of the cupboard swung open smoothly. Neel stepped around the man and peered inside. His jaw dropped.

He was staring into a very long tunnel. It was about ten feet by twelve feet wide and seemed to go on forever. Small bulbs embedded in the ceiling at intervals provided a weak and uncertain light. Neel's companion shut the gate behind them, and Neel was suddenly surrounded by near complete darkness and the smell of musty, dank earth. There was a small car a few feet away from them. The man led the way towards it, and the two settled inside.

If the man had driven fast before, it was nothing compared to his speed now. The car rarely touched speeds below ninety, and they swung around deeper into the tunnel, which undulated before them like a giant maze. Neel hung onto the side of the car, expecting every second to crash into a looming wall. He wondered how the man knew which turn to take.

When he asked this question over the loud wind, the man pointed towards the ground, where extremely thin neon markers had been placed which shone faintly in the gloom.

"All this secrecy is necessary." the man spoke. He knew Neel could hear him easily despite the wind rushing fiercely around them. "As long as this project was in the experimental stage, it was easy to keep it a secret, since hundreds of experiments are done in the army on various subjects, and it was easy to lose this one among them. But now that the operation has shifted beyond study to the practical stage, the secret will be harder to preserve. With the turn of events this project has taken after your accident, we need to maintain our secrecy for as long as possible. That's why the entire staff of the hospital you stayed at has been replaced and sent to different parts of the country, to avoid any possible trace back to you through the hospital. The information about your accident has been removed from the official records, the doctors who operated on you have been visited by our agents, and the newspapers that were intending to make a report about your accident have been suppressed. The coaching centre you attend has been bought to help keep an eye on you."

Neel stared ahead in silence, again feeling stunned. Since talking to Doctor Fahim he had been aware that the people he had become involved with had great authority, yet only now was he beginning to get a true idea of the vast extent of the power they wielded. An unconscious shiver ran through his body as they made their way through the seemingly never ending tunnel.

After twenty minutes of racing through the dark maze at breakneck speed, the man slowed down and brought the car to a stop in front of a wall with a great steel door at the end. He got out of the car and walked up to the door.

"You need to memorize the code." he said to Neel, who was right behind him. "It's your birthday backwards." The man punched in the numbers 5092 on the keypad next to the door. There was a grinding sound of heavy machinery moving unseen, and the door swung open inwards, letting in a blast of fresh air from the other side and revealing a storage room. Neel, who had been expecting something more impressive, felt nonplussed.

"This," the man said, moving to one side to let Neel in first. "Is Swan Laboratories."

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