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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13. CHAPTER 7: Evolution

 

Neel’s life had settled into the new routine. He attended school. At two thirty, he left for Swan labs and stayed there for two hours.

 

        His time at the laboratory complex was slowly changing him. He didn’t even notice it at first. But gradually, his punches and kicks became smoother and more accurate. His balance improved. The number of laps he could run around the field increased steadily. The techniques of parkour that Arjun was teaching him were slowly, and by dint of regular practice, becoming a part of his natural reflexes.

 

        He always had something new to learn. As soon as he seemed on the verge of mastering a technique, he was introduced to something new and even more difficult. He learnt how to block punches, dodge hits and to counter attack. He learnt how to run steadily for hours without slowing down. He learnt how to use his limbs to lift his entire body over obstacles without decreasing his speed for an instant. Vaults, wall crawls, climb ups, drops and the like were taught to him daily. Continuous climbing, made extremely difficult for normal people because their hands had to support the weight of their bodies, meant nothing to Neel’s powerful arms.

 

        He should have been overwhelmed by the flood of training, but it seemed his trainers were right. He was able to process all the information he gained, as long as he was paying attention, and he practiced his exercises daily in his room whenever he could find the time. He felt like a new born child who was just learning to use his senses and limbs to understand the  new world around him and explore his surroundings. It was difficult as well as fascinating work.        

       

        They were also teaching his about the nerve clusters in the human body that made for prime attacking points. A strong enough strike to the area resulted in unconsciousness. Neel was taught to identify those spots, although he never used them in the sparring sessions. Arjun had told him that they were to be useful for when he needed to finish a fight quickly.

 

        A large and highly detailed map of Delhi and the surrounding areas had been pinned to the wall in the hall. Neel was informed by Arjun that he was supposed to memorize the layout of the city, with every road, street, back alley and building. Neel had stared at the map in disbelief, finding it difficult to believe that he could accomplish such a gigantic and complicated task. But Arjun had been firm. Neel wasn’t even sure whether this exercise was going to be particularly useful, but he did as was directed. Although it had seemed impossible at first, every day he committed another part of the city to memory, and slowly the map began to take root in his mind.

 

         From time to time, Doctor Fahim or Divya called him from his training and asked him various questions about his general health. How many hours did he sleep at night these days? Was he hungrier since the accident, or had his appetite remain unchanged? Did it seem as though his hair or nails were growing unusually rapidly? How exactly had his hearing and eyesight been affected by the intake of the serum? Was his sense of taste affected as well? Tests were done on him often. He had been told that Divya was preparing a detailed list of his complete health and well being. Even with all the interest the military was taking in him, he was still part of a scientific experiment, and the more they learnt from his experiences the better.

 

        There were also quite a few times that he met General Bakshi and the Defense Minister, Mr. Rai. The latter was usually very kind to him, and inquired as to how his training was going. General Bakshi rarely spoke but watched him narrowly, and at the time of their visits Neel was convinced the General was watching his training closely through the painted window. The knowledge only served to increase his sense of discomfort. Neel knew the general did not like him. And even though the General never said anything negative to him, his relentlessly forbidding gaze had an intimidating effect on Neel.

 

        Two months into the training, Neel was becoming remarkably proficient in his fighting style. His coaches did not praise him too much, but they were very pleased and more than a little surprised with his quick grasp of the various techniques. He sparred regularly with the three, keeping his speed as low as possible, and began to learn to hold his own in a fight against them depending solely on his skills.

 

        The first few days had been hard, with Neel too busy keeping his strength in check to worry about technique. Like Arjun had said, there was an upper limit to his normal strength beyond which it turned into super strength, and he needed to learn precisely how much force he needed to produce to achieve balance in his strikes. The first few weeks had been particularly dangerous for his three trainers, and most of the sessions ended with them clutching some part of their body in pain that had come in contact with Neel’s fists or feet, with Neel apologizing profusely to them. After the first few sessions his trainers began to wear extra strong padding materials during the spars, so that no serious damage would be done to them while Neel learned to handle his strength. And Neel was finally beginning to learn that control. The sessions now became more about skill than brute strength, and helped him greatly in learning to become a skilled fighter.

 

        One day Neel had done his warming up routine, and was waiting to begin his exercises. He bent to tie his shoelaces more tightly. One of the problems of his new found speed was that the friction from his speed wore the soles off the shoes he wore very quickly. He was regularly supplied with brand new and very expensive shoes, but wore through them just as quickly.

 

        “You’ve done well so far.” Arjun was saying as Negi and Premi stood next to him. “But now it’s time you learn something a little more difficult.”

 

        “Okay, I’m ready.” Neel said, standing up and facing Arjun.

 

        Arjun brought out his hand from behind his back. He was holding a gun.

 

        “This is a Beretta 92 semi automatic pistol.” Arjun said quietly as Neel stared at the gun. Negi and Premi were watching him intently. Neel looked up at from the gun to Arjun.

 

        “So there are going to be a lot of guns involved in this kind of business?”He said slowly, even as he realized it was a silly question.

 

        “Yes, quite a few.” Arjun said gravely. “But you can handle them, trust me. Close your eyes.” Neel obeyed him. “Now accelerate your brain speed like we practiced.”

 

        Neel took a deep breath and pushed his mind’s attention inward. His heart beat increased, and he focused his mind, slowly willing it to increase the speed of his thoughts until they blurred past at a blinding speed. He opened his eyes, and now the world was moving in slow motion around him.

 

        Arjun raised the gun, and fired.

 

        Neel jumped violently and then backed away rapidly, his heart hammering. The sound of the bullet leaving the gun had been louder than anything he had heard before. It was like an explosion inside his brain. Arjun stared at him while he tried to slow his brain down. It was made considerably harder by the tingling of his nerves.

 

        “The sound cannot hurt you or your eardrums.” Arjun’s voice came over the ringing in his ears. “It can, however, give you excellent warning and ample time to dodge the bullet. You will have to get used to that sound. Again.”

 

        Neel hesitated, staring at the gun. Arjun did not lower the weapon. Slowly, Neel stepped forward again. He closed his eyes and again forced his mind to speed up.

 

        Arjun waited for a moment. Neel nodded, gritting his teeth. Again, Arjun fired a shot.

 

        The sound assaulted his ears again, but this time Neel did not turn away. He saw the bullet leave the gun, and followed its progress until it buried itself in the wall in front of them.

 

        Neel closed his eyes briefly and slowed his brain down.

 

        “You saw the bullet?” Arjun asked him.

 

        Neel nodded. “It was still pretty fast.” he said. “But I saw it.”

 

        “Which is why we will now start a new part of your training.” Arjun said. “Until now, you have been taught things a normal person is taught. You will now be taught techniques that your enhanced mind will find useful.” He brought Neel to the centre of the hall and stood in front of him.

 

         “There are certain things that you are now capable of which an average human would find impossible to do.” he said. “One of the biggest advantages you have now is that your reflexes are much, much better than everyone else’s. The speed with which a normal human views a situation, recognizes the danger, decides how to handle it, and then acts accordingly is considerably slower than yours. In dangerous situations, that gives you an amazing edge.”

 

        Neel nodded. It was true that the speed of his reflexes was even faster than his running speed. Those reflexes had already been of great use to him in learning the parkour techniques Arjun was teaching him. Split second timing was essential in parkour for planning the next move during a run, and that split second meant a great deal more time for Neel than it would have for anyone else.

 

        “A bullet does not move in a completely straight line from the time it leaves the barrel of the gun to the time it reaches its target.” Arjun was saying. “Rather, it rises after leaving the barrel and then immediately begins to drop. A lot of factors affect its speed and direction. I will teach you to understand that path so that you can dodge bullets effectively. Are you ready?” Neel nodded.

 

        “Then let’s begin.” Arjun said as he raised the gun again.

 

                                                   *  *  *

 

        Arjun had taken to driving him around the city for a while after picking him up in the afternoon. The length of the drives depended on how well Neel remembered the places he had memorized in the map. Apparently Arjun had already committed the entire city map to his memory. He would drive them around the city, asking Neel where he thought they were, and correcting him when he answered incorrectly. Arjun did not seem annoyed that Neel’s memory of the map wasn’t perfect yet and did not yell at him, for which Neel was grateful.

 

         His practice with guns was improving. At first, he had practiced with color pellets. They left a bright, accusing spot on his clothes whenever he failed to dodge correctly. Nevertheless, Neel quite enjoyed those sessions. As he continued practice, his speed and movements improved, until he was able to dodge all the pellets easily.

 

        That was when Arjun introduced the rubber bullets. These were much faster than the color pellets, and much more dangerous. Rubber bullets can fracture ribs and break bones in the normal human body. Neel’s increased bone density meant he was not in danger of that, yet the bullets were quite painful when they hit him.

 

        It was then that Neel understood the importance of the technique that Arjun was teaching him. While dodging the color pellets, he had concentrated on individual pellets and dodged them one at a time, something his speed allowed him to do with ease. But this technique did not work when he was up against the much faster rubber bullets fired at him from multiple points.

 

        Neel learned to follow the trajectory of the bullet to judge where it would hit before it left the barrel. He learnt to follow the sweep of the barrel to see where it would trace a line with the bullets, the velocity of a shot according to Neel’s increased brain speed, their parabolic path, and even the coriolis effect of the Earth’s rotation on long range projectiles. Arjun had an extraordinarily keen knowledge of the subject, and he carefully told Neel the signs to look for, from the eyes of the shooter to the angle of the barrel. These skills came slowly, and during the first few sessions, Neel was hit so many times that he lost count. But as Arjun repeatedly pointed out, it would come to him eventually. It was simply a matter of practice, practice and more practice.

 

        “We don’t expect you to grasp the whole thing right away.” Negi said after the first session while Neel stood before them, wincing as he felt the sore spots all over his body.

 

        “But I hope I learn it soon.” Neel said, feeling a bruise on his arm. Luckily, his accelerated healing meant the bruise would be gone very soon. “I don’t really fancy going through this every day.”

 

        “It’ll come to you.” Arjun said, placing a hand on his shoulder, an uncharacteristically personal gesture on his part. “But you already proved something much more important today. More important than any skill or technique we could teach you here.”

 

        “What’s that?” Neel asked, looking up at him in surprise.

 

        “You proved you have courage.” Arjun said as he smiled at the young boy. “You didn’t give up. You kept getting hit and falling down, but then you also kept on getting up and coming back for more.”

 

        “And that is not a quality we see in many people.” Premi added, while Negi nodded vigorously. “I know a lot of men who would have collapsed after the first hit and been unable to get up again. But you didn’t. Anyone can be brave when they’re winning, but it takes a special type of courage to get hurt and continue fighting.”

 

        “Yeah, well.” Neel shrugged, staring at the floor in embarrassment. “It just never occurred to me that I should stop. I really wanted to learn the technique.”

 

        “Well, keep thinking like that and you’ll learn it in no time.” Arjun said, squeezing his shoulder briefly. “Now go change, our time is almost up.”

 

                                    * * *

 

         One time, three months after the training had begun, Neel walked onto the exercise mat for his daily sparring session. He closed his eyes and slowly opened them again. The world slowed down around him, and Negi came towards him in slow motion. They sparred for a few minutes, during which Negi could not land a single blow on him. Finally, Negi stopped, panting. Neel stopped as well, grinning at him.

 

        “Stop smirking at me, kid. It’s not nice to laugh at a poor old man.” Negi wheezed as he put a hand to his chest. It was getting harder and harder to keep up with the fourteen year old these days.

 

        “You’re not old.” Neel laughed. “And I’m just glad I’m improving, that’s all.”

 

        “That was very good.” Arjun said. “You’ve certainly learnt to use your speed and reflexes to your advantage in a fight.”

 

        “Thanks.” Neel said, still grinning. 

 

        “So how about we try something new today?” Arjun suggested.

 

        Neel nodded. “Like what?”

 

        Premi stepped onto the mat as well. He came to stand next to Negi and assumed a fighting stance.

 

        Negi grinned at Neel, who now looked alarmed. “Scared, kid? When was the last time you saw a fight in real life where the odds were one on one?”

 

        “You need to learn to hold your own against multiple attackers.” Arjun said quietly. “It’s never going to be as simple as defeating one opponent at a time.”

 

        Neel nodded slowly, his grin fading as he took his position again. He closed his eyes briefly and opened them again. At a nod from Arjun, Negi and Premi came towards him.

 

        Negi kicked out at Neel, and he blocked the kick easily, raising his other arm to block his punches. His eyes were trained on Negi’s hands, and he did not see Premi deliver a kick to his leg. Neel crashed to the ground before he could plan a counter.

 

        He recovered quickly, and again assumed the position. Premi met him this time. The two grappled, and Neel was too distracted keeping an eye on Premi to notice that Negi had moved behind him.

 

        The next moment, his entire body was pulled back from the shoulders, and he was thrown head over heels on the floor from behind by Negi.

 

        The sparring continued along similar lines. Neel was generally able to block one, but the other usually got through his defenses.

 

        “It’s a little different from movies, isn’t it?” Arjun asked when half the time was up, as Negi and Premi stepped back panting. Neel got up from the mat looking depressed, after having been thrown face first into the mat yet again.

 

        Neel nodded. “I couldn’t see them both at the same time.” He said in a slightly defensive voice.

 

         “Nor can anyone else.” Premi said. “You, however, have other senses which more than make up for that deficiency.”

 

        “Close your eyes.” Arjun said. Neel complied. “But don’t increase your speed this time. Focus on your surroundings like we practiced.”

 

        Neel stood motionless as he concentrated. They had done this often enough during guided meditation.

 

        “You can feel it, can’t you?” Arjun voice had grown very quiet. “The sound of footsteps. Of our breathing. Listen closely enough, and you can even feel the wind whistle when we move our hands and feet. Your ears can tell you just as much as your eyes did.”

 

        Neel nodded slowly, frowning as he concentrated. He was beginning to get an idea of what Arjun wanted him to do. He let his hearing take the place of his eyesight, and the background sounds that he usually worked so hard to ignore came to the forefront of his mind. He was aware of his surroundings in a way that would have been completely impossible before his accident. He could hear the wind moving nears his ears, the scrape of his feet on the mat as he shifted slightly on his soles, the birds chirping far away in the open field. He could even hear the beating of the hearts of the three men around him.

 

        Suddenly something stirred nearby. Neel glanced in the direction even as he kept his eyes closed. The heart beat was growing louder as the person came up to him. Neel could hear him breathing softly and evenly. He concentrated harder.

 

        A hand moved, the air moving around it with a whistling sound, too low for anyone but Neel to hear. He ducked, and the hand passed over his head. He backed away quickly, and felt someone else breathing behind him. He heard the soft graze of a foot on the ground, and knew a kick was coming. That was when his instincts took over.

 

        Neel turned, and jumped. He landed clear of the second attacker, his eyes still closed. He landed on his feet, and was standing erect and ready before his attacker could even turn. He grabbed the person swiftly, his iron grip impossible to shake off. The next second, Neel had shoved his second attacker into the first one.  

 

        Neel opened his eyes. Negi and Premi was lying in a heap on the floor, staring up at him.

 

        “Congratulation.” Arjun’s voice broke the silence in the hall. His smile was very wide. “You learnt the first lesson without our teaching it to you.” His dark eyes bored into Neel’s. “And for the first time, you fought like an Alpha soldier.”

                                            

                                                        * * *

 

        Roughly four months had passed since his training had begun. Neel was driving with Premi on a trip around the city before heading home. The exercise had become a regular feature of his training, and Neel now knew the city well. Which was a good thing, since Premi did not seem to have as good a knowledge of the city as Arjun did.

 

        “This is Guru Ravidas road, right?” Premi said, watching the buildings around them.

 

        “Don Bosco.” Neel corrected him. He wasn’t sure whether Premi really didn’t know or was just testing him. It was much later than usual, and he was thinking of some excuse to tell his mother when he got home.

 

        “I’ll take your word for it.” Premi said. “So, how do you feel about the training? Any complaints or the like?”

 

        “No way.” Neel said emphatically. “I feel in control of my body and my mind now. And it’s only because of all the training you guys have given me.”

 

        “That’s good to know.” Premi said. He glanced at Neel. “And may I say, on our part, we could not have asked for a better pupil. Your hard work is what allowed you to achieve this transformation.”

 

        Neel stared at him. He felt a lot closer to his trainers now then he had at the beginning, and was conscious of a desire to tell Premi just how much the three of them had helped him. “I wanted to thank you guys.” he said slowly. “I was really scared in the beginning, when I woke up in the hospital, and then when I went home that first day. I never thought I’d be able to act normal again. I almost went insane thinking about it.” He hesitated for a moment, but then continued, “You know, I got the feeling, at the beginning, that you didn’t really like me. But you still helped me get control over my body and use it properly. And I’m really grateful for that.”

 

        “Neel, please understand, it was never as simple as liking or disliking you.” Premi said gravely. “You have no idea how unorthodox this whole operation is, and the stakes involved are sky high. I was just reserving my judgment of your ability until I knew what kind of a trainee you’d be.” Premi turned to smile at him. It was a genuine smile. “And when I did, I was impressed. Along with Captain Shukla and Negi.”

 

        Neel grinned back. “Thanks.”

 

        “And thank you.” Premi said, his eyes back on the road.

 

        “For what?”

 

        “For not making fun of my surname.” Premi turned to him with an unexpectedly comical grimace. “I’d had to deal with that all through school and the army. The jokes come easily when your surname means ‘lover’.”

 

        Despite the gloomy surroundings, Neel burst out laughing. “I was too nervous to even think about how funny your name is.” he said as he settled back to watch the street they were on, still chuckling.

 

        They were in a seedy part of the city now, with broken down shacks and piles of garbage on either sides of the road. Neel had passed through the part with Arjun a few times, but had never actually entered the area.

 

        “I have to show you something.” Premi said, stopping the car. Neel looked at him in surprise. “You need to become comfortable with this kind of environment. And driving by it in a car will not help you do so.” Neel nodded and got out of the car as well.

 

        They walked down a back alley, Premi pointing out certain landmarks of the street as they made their way deeper into the area. They reached the middle of the alleyway, still talking. The entire area was deserted, and looked like it had been uninhabited for some time.

 

        A rustling sound reached Neel’s ears as some bags were pushed aside, and he knew something was wrong seconds before it happened.

 

        The attackers were upon them before Premi could turn. One of them seized him from behind and flung him into the side of a building. He hit his head hard on the wall, and a grunt of pain escaped his lips. The attackers turned, their eyes dark with deadly purpose as they made their way towards Neel.

 

        Neel stood unmoving. The surprise and ferocity of the attack had momentarily frozen his mind. Before he could respond, before he could even think about fighting back, he had been seized by his collar and thrown headfirst into a wall as well.

 

        Neel got to his feet to see Premi fighting both the men at the same time. Premi was an expert fighter, but he was no match for the two men, who were both moving with deadly precision. It was only a matter of time before he would fall.

 

        Neel rushed forward to help. Bizarrely, the one time he needed to speed up, his brain was moving at an excruciatingly slow speed. The movements of the two attackers seemed lightning fast.

 

        Neel moved forward and grabbed one of the men from behind, dragging him back. The man stood no chance against his strength.

 

        But then Neel felt a strange reluctance and uncertainty steal over him. One part of his mind was warning him to hold back, to maintain the secrecy of his identity, even as another part was shouting at him to do what was needed to get the situation under control as quickly as possible. This situation was like nothing he could have imagined. It was not a sparring session at the hall. There were no neatly padded mattresses to practice on, and no comforting presence of his coaches in the corner to turn to if things got out of hand.

 

        There was only violence, immediate and terrifying in its sudden appearance in the shadowy and grimy surroundings. The fast and savage assault made the fourteen year old retreat into a shell. This was no playground tussle, or a movie fight viewed safely from the sidelines. Hearing the ugly smack of punches being traded and the fierce grunts of the attackers, Neel experienced a fear that seemed to cripple his ability to fight back. The punch he threw at his assailant had none of the science and precision that his coaches had worked so hard to teach him. It was a wild blow, weak and poorly aimed. It was the result of panic. The man dodged it easily.

 

        Neel tried to grapple with the two assailants, but they had an excellent knowledge of combat. Neel was on his back again within moments, staring up at the murky sky. He could hear Premi valiantly get up yet again, calling out to him urgently.

 

        A moment later, Neel heard a sound that was much more menacing than any other he had heard that night. The sharp click of a gun being loaded.

 

        Neel raised himself off the ground to a sitting position. One of the men had pulled out a pistol, and was pointing it at Premi.

 

        At that moment, a distant and strangely detached part of Neel’s mind took over. He closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again, everything had slowed down. There was no uncertainty within him now. The bullet from the gun could not be allowed anywhere near Premi.  

 

        By the time that the man had raised the gun to half his shoulder level, Neel was already moving.

 

        The shorter assailant had been watching his progress. He shot out a hand, hard and fast, aiming for the eyes and bridge of the nose of the young boy.

 

        The hand was seized in an iron grip and twisted backwards. Before the man could react, his body was sent flying backwards into a wall.

 

        The second’s delay had given the other man time to point the gun at Neel and fire. The bullet tore through the space where Neel had been standing, but he was already gone.

 

        The man fired in a circle, the bullets burying themselves in the wall, and flying off into the distance. Neel dodged a bullet which passed within inches of his skin. He grabbed the gun and crushed the barrel.

 

        The assailant moved fluidly through the little distance left between them. The next second a series of hard, punishing punches drove through the air at Neel. He blocked them, and stayed his ground.

 

        A punch to his head from behind made him turn. The other attacker had joined them, and now both the men were attacking him with redoubled fury.

 

        Neel ducked and dodged their blows, blocking their kicks and punches. Not even their combined force was enough to push him back. There was no longer any hesitancy in Neel’s movements. He could hear the grunts of the other two men. He knew he was not supposed to do any permanent damage, but was equally aware that he could hurt them so badly that they would not be able to get up again for some time. He was in control now. 

 

        The battle raged for several more seconds, the sound of the men’s labored breathing and the beating of hands and feet against hardened flesh. A punch sent one of the assailants staggering back, wincing. The other man was shoved back violently enough to throw him onto the floor on his back.

 

        They recovered, although it took them longer to get back to their feet this time, and were back on the attack. Again Neel met them. Idly, the distant part of his mind wondered who they were. Did this mean someone knew about his involvement with the project? They would need to be kept conscious for interrogation. Should he knock them both out, or wait for Premi’s signal?

 

        Again, the men fell on the floor in front of him, and he stood in front of them, poised and ready. This time, however, they did not get up, but remained sitting on the ground, panting.

 

        It was then that Neel noticed that Premi was just standing there, watching him intently. He seemed unharmed, but had not made the slightest attempt to help Neel. In the dim light, Neel saw a slight smile playing across his face. Neel stared at him, then back at his two assailants. One was tall and broad shouldered. The other was short and stocky and powerfully built.

 

        In three rapid steps Neel stood directly in front of them. He peeled the mask off the face of the smaller man to see Negi grinning up at him.

 

        “Oh, come on!” Neel groaned. The other man peeled off his own mask to reveal the face of Arjun. Premi laughed and came forward, clapping Neel on his back.

 

        “Congratulations.” he said. “Not many people can do what you did to these two.”

 

        “This was just an exercise?” Neel asked, helping Negi get up. “You could have told me. I was so scared!”

 

        “Not as scared as I was when you punched me.” Negi said, leaning heavily on Neel and wincing slightly. “I think a rib got cracked.”

 

        “Oh man, I’m so sorry.” Neel said in alarm. “I was trying to keep my strength down. But I thought you were going to kill us or something. And then Arjun pulled out that gun and started waving it around.”

 

        “Which I did with the utmost care.” Arjun remarked, smiling at Neel as he supported Negi’s other shoulder. “The first bullet was a rubber one. Once I was sure you could handle it, I used real ones.”

 

        “Sorry about the ruse, Neel.” Premi added. “We needed to make sure you wouldn’t panic in a real combat situation. We had to know you were prepared to face the real thing.”    

 

        “Yeah, I understand.” Neel shook his head ruefully. “And I did panic at first. I had no idea what to do. It was all so crazy and sudden. It was really scary.”

 

        They continued towards the car, the night once again calm and peaceful. By the time they had left the ominous side alley and were on the main road, Neel had forgotten his fear, and was talking excitedly about the fight.

 

        “I just froze at first.” He said eagerly to the other three. “I couldn’t believe it was really happening. Then I saw the gun pointing at Premi, and it was like something just snapped in my brain, and I knew I could do this.”

 

        “And a couple of seconds later, something snapped in my stomach, and I knew I was looking at a cracked rib.” Negi grinned, even as he winced slightly. “Excellent hand lock, by the way. I think that one even surprised Arjun.”

 

        “It did.” Arjun agreed. “I was expecting a punch but this was actually preferable.”

 

        “Yeah, I know I had to get the gun away quick, but I didn’t want to knock you out or anything either, you know, in case of interrogation later or something.” Neel explained. “So I just decided to wait till you were both too tired to fight.”

 

        Arjun left Negi’s side and Premi took his place, supporting Negi’s side instead. Arjun hung back a little from the others. He could hear Neel still talking rapidly, “I still wasn’t sure if you guys knew that I was super strong and all, so I didn’t want to show too much of my strength.”

 

        Arjun took out his mobile and dialed a number, watching the three walk towards the car, Neel still happily discussing every punch and kick with the other two in great detail.

 

        For a moment the phone rang, and then General Bakshi picked up. Arjun stared at Neel’s back as he spoke into the receiver.

 

        “He’s ready.”

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