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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3. CHAPTER 3: Unfamiliar Territory

 

 

CHAPTER 3: Unfamiliar Territory

The next evening Neel returned home with his mother. It was a relief to be able to get back to his house. His time alone in the hospital room had been spent in learning to keep his mind under control, a control that he found easier to maintain in peaceful surroundings. His mind had a disconcerting habit of speeding up whenever his attention slipped, and he had found that it was usually outside excitement that made him lose control.

The ride back had been extremely unpleasant. Alone in the quiet hospital room he had not realized just how acute his hearing had become. All through the trip home he had been starting from unexpected horns and traffic whistles. The chatter of passing groups of pedestrians had broken his concentration entirely. He had been pretending to sleep all though the ride to avoid talking or moving at all to hide his increased speed. It was only after turning into the quiet street in front of his house that the noises lessened slightly. It took several minutes of pretending to be drowsy after waking up to gain time to rebuild his concentration and get his speed under control.

While his mother paid the driver, Neel got out of the taxi and gazed up at his house. It was an old house, one of the earliest buildings in their colony. It showed its age in the weather stained walls, and the old coat of paint gave it a distinctly shabby appearance. It was where Neel and his mother had lived ever since his birth. On the left side, adjacent to their house, lived Mr. and Mrs. Ghosh with their daughter Priyanka. On the other side of the street stood the house of the Dases, the upper windows of their house shut tightly as usual. The street was deserted as darkness fell rapidly around them.

Neel stared around at the familiar scene. There was the feeling of comfort in returning home, but also something else. There was a sense of being alien to the well known surroundings, as though he was almost a new arrival to the house. He had returned from the hospital a vastly different person from before, and he found himself looking at the well-known surroundings through new eyes. It was an enhanced awareness of the environment, as though until the accident his senses had been clogged up, and he was now seeing and hearing things properly for the first time. It was an odd sensation, thrilling but also unsettling. He could count the tendrils of the fungus growing within one of the tiny cracks at the bottom of the wall. He could smell the scent of warm food coming from the house next to theirs. He could hear the distinct patter of different footsteps on the main road as though they were walking in front of him…

"Neel?" His mother's voice brought him back from his thoughts. She was looking at him anxiously, worried by the strange, vacant expression on his face as he stood staring at their house. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Neel said quickly, forcing his mind back from its wanderings. "It feels nice to be back." He went to stand before the front gate of their house. His mother stared at him for a moment before going to unlock the gate. Neel silently followed his mother inside their house, every step forward sending a barrage of information to his brain. He struggled to maintain a grasp on his mind as it threatened to speed up again.

The scene inside their home was as Neel remembered it. The small but cheerful kitchen. The stone basin and the cupboards filled with pots and pans. The drawing room in its semi tidy state, with the TV remote laying on the sofa. Kept opposite to the sofa was a large and comfortable bed, where they usually sat to watch the evening shows. Their house held a cramped air, as though it could barely squeeze in all the objects and furniture inside. But it held a cozy air, and it was the house he had grown up in.

"These last two days I've spent so much time in the office and at the hospital that the entire house is in a mess." His mother sighed, staring at the disorderly surroundings. She opened the fridge and peered inside. "Why don't you go freshen up in your room? You can rest for a while if you want to, or maybe get some fresh air on the terrace, and I'll call you when dinner will be ready."

"Okay." Neel said and made his way upstairs. He could hear the clink of cutlery from the kitchen as he pushed open the door to his room and entered.

The tiny study table in a corner. The bed pushed against the wall. The rickety cupboard which never shut properly, and which for some reason always opened at the slightest touch. The steel shelf where his books were kept. Save for some tidying up that his mother had done, everything was just as he had left it.

Neel could hear the sounds of his mother moving around downstairs preparing lunch as though she was right outside the door. He reached inside his sleeveless jacket and pulled out a packet that Divya had given him at the hospital. It had taken some effort to smuggle the packet out of the hospital without his mother noticing. Inside it was a pair of noise cancelling headphones, designed to block out sound near his ears while he slept. Divya had told him that, because of his enhanced hearing, he would find it very difficult to fall sleep unless he wore the headphones. For the last two days he had slept in a sound proof room in the hospital, and so had believed her to be exaggerating. But now that he was in his room, he realized he would definitely need them. His ears were picking up the sounds of cars and people walking on the road behind their house, the radio on in another house, the blast of the fan and the creaking of furniture, and every small creak coming from windows and doors. It might be possible to ignore the sounds when he was awake, but it would be impossible to sleep through it all.

Carefully, he opened the cupboard and unlocked the drawer inside. It was the only private space he had ever had. It contained some knick knacks from his childhood, along with a calculator, an unfinished Rubik's cube and a beautifully crafted leather wallet that rarely had any money in it. Inside the drawer was a secret compartment that even his mother did not know about. The compartment was empty, but now Neel opened it and placed the headphones inside.

He sank slowly onto his bed, its ancient joints creaking slightly under his weight, and sat staring around the room. His eyes fell on an old broken lamp that was kept stashed under the cupboard. His mother had intended to have it fixed someday, but now it lay beneath the cupboard almost forgotten. He went over to it and drew it out, running his hand over the metal handle. Grasping the handle in both hands, he applied pressure at the ends just like he had at the hospital. He felt again the surge of power in his hands, and the handle bent into an L shape. He stared at the curved metal, his heart pounding. Then he carefully unfolded it and placed it back.

The pounding of his heart was growing faster. He stood up and began to pace the room, thoughts racing through his head. His brain had begun to accelerate again. This time he did not try to control it, but finally gave free rein to its full speed. The ticking of the clock on the table slowed to a crawl as he strode quietly and swiftly across the room.

Superhuman capacity. That was what Doctor Fahim had called it. He had spent years developing the serum into what it now was. So apparently the way his brain was behaving was a good thing. The disconcerting sense of having objects near and away at the same time. The sounds from horns and loudspeakers that had assaulted his ears all the way from the hospital to his house. Watching everything around him moving at a crawl. That moment in the hospital when he had been afraid to hug his mother. All of this was supposed to be a good thing.

The tiny, darkened room seemed to close in around him, blotting out from his mind the comfort he had experienced while talking to Doctor Fahim. An attack of panic built up within him steadily. The doctor had promised they would help him control his new abilities, but he had no idea what those abilities even were. How could he ever act normally again, when he could barely keep his mind under control in quiet surroundings? He would have to keep his brain under constant supervision, every second of every day. One slip in public, and his secret would be out. He was not a trained soldier. He wasn't even an adult! He was a mediocre student with no outside interests, or any experience which would indicate a special aptitude for this kind of thing. He had never done anything before in his life that could have prepared him for this situation.

He could not help but think how Aryan would have been the perfect choice for the project. He had the confidence and intelligence that Neel could only wish for. He would have treated this whole experience as an adventure and jumped to the challenge. It would have been like a real life episode of Captain America or Wolverine or any other superhero from the comics they had grown up reading. But Neel could not summon that enthusiasm. All he felt was a sick worry. It was the worry he had experienced in the hospital upon waking up, when he thought his brain had been damaged, and when he had learnt about the serum and what it had done to him. He had spent hours deliberating upon the answer before giving it to Doctor Fahim, yet now he had to admit the decision he had made in the hospital had been a product of fear and uncertainty, and a not too well thought out impulse to mimic the heroes he had grown up watching. And now he was second guessing that decision.

But what choice had he had? And who could he have turned to for advice for making the decision? He lived alone with his mother. There was no one who could have helped him decide, no one to tell him what the right course to pursue was. He couldn't even tell anyone the truth about the accident. He felt yet again a sharp attack of loneliness as he stared around the silent room, as it dawned on him at that moment how truly on his own he was in this matter. The only people who could help him were those whom he had never met before, or knew anything about. How was he supposed to handle this situation?

The walking was not helping. His heart was beating so loud and hard it felt as though it would burst. Neel took several deep breaths, and slowly, his mind stopped racing. Difficult as it was, he began to finally accept the situation instead of second guessing the whole thing all over again. Abruptly, he sat down and forced his mind to slow down. He had found it helped to listen to the loud thumping of his heart and slow down with it. But it still took several minutes of internal wrestling before the ticking of the clock returned to its normal speed. He stared in silence at the wall opposite to him, feeling calmer as he accepted that there was nothing he could do for now. He had made the decision in the hospital, and as far as he knew it had been the right one. There was no use panicking now. He was not going to get answers right away. Only the meeting with Doctor Fahim tomorrow would help him understand his circumstances better.

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