The whistle blew.
Dripping sweat, the young man looked up. Perspiration ran into his eyes, and his work out clothes were stuck to his body. He didn’t gasp, though, his breaths coming deep and even. He assumed an ‘at-ease’ position, hands clasped behind his back as he awaited instruction.
‘That was good, but not good enough,’ the voice barked. ‘You have to be faster – you’re capable of it, I know you are.’
Veera nodded, and when the whistle blew again, he got onto the still running treadmill, falling easily into step and running uphill at seven kilometres per hour. He increased the speed so that it read 7.5 kmph.
He was only seventeen years old, but he could not remember a day in his life that he hasn’t spent in training. The only other person he has ever seen is his trainer, Dr. Gangadhar, who is not the type to indulge in small talk.
Half an hour later, Dr. Gangadhar blew the whistle again. Time for his studies. Veera pressed a button, recording his time on the treadmill for the day before stepping off the machine. After a few basic stretches, he showered, and changed into clean clothing. Dr. Gangadhar is already waiting for him in the other room, laptop fired up and ready to begin classes.
The concept of a ‘school’ has come up in Veera’s lessons from time to time, and though he knows of it theoretically, Veera has only been outside the house once a month, and always in the company of the doctor. Dr. Gangadhar has told him he is here for a purpose, and that he would know his mission soon enough – when he was ready. That was one reason he worked so hard at his training, the curiosity about his secret mission nagged at him, he couldn’t wait until Dr. Gangadhar deemed him ready and told him what was the reason behind his training.
As he swung the door open, Dr. Gangadhar looked up from his copy of Cell, the journal he was reading. He waved Veera to a chair, and tossed the journal aside.
‘Today, we start with a basic understanding of biotechnology,’ he said, pointing to a slide show presentation on his screen. ‘Pay attention, because this is important.’
Veera was doing push ups in his room when Dr. Gangadhar entered. He immediately sprang up into an ‘at-ease’ position, closing his mouth on his gasps for breath, hoping the doctor would ignore them.
‘Good news,’ the older man said, not looking up from the folder in his hands. ‘I think you’re finally ready.’
At that, Veera let out a breath, and Dr. Gangadhar looked up. Veera tried to control the grin that stretched his face, but he couldn’t have helped it if he had tried. The doctor looked at him a for a long moment as if seeing him for the first time. With a start, Veera realised that the doctor looked tired. His normally clean shaven face was shadowed by a slight stubble, and his eyes were bloodshot behind his smudged glasses.
‘Veera,’ he said, and his voice sounded unsure for the first time – ‘I really hope you are truly ready for this.’
After a moment, his uncertainty seemed to pass, because he walked over to the little table in a corner of the large room, pulling out a chair and motioning Veera to join him.
Veera’s room wasn’t furnished like that of a typical teenager, there were no posters on the walls, no shelves full of books or CDs or videogames. Instead, it looked like a room in a better class of gymnasium. Posters detailing lethal moves from various martial arts hung on the walls, interspersed with motivational posters with a very Spartan outlook.
As Veera sat down across from the doctor, the older man opened the file, showing the contents to him.
‘This is Daksha,’ he said, pulling out a grainy, black and white photograph. It showed a man with powerful jaws and a neat french beard, wearing glasses and a lab coat. His urbane shell cracked when it reached his eyes, however, which were close set and small, and looked angry. ‘He is currently the head of the Rajiv Gandhi Centre For Biotechnology.’ The doctor dropped the photograph on the table top as if he was holding something slimy, and his voice became ugly as he went on: ‘He killed your mother.’
At that Veera looked up, shocked. It had long been obvious to him that the doctor was his father, the similarities between the face he saw in the mirror everyday and the man who was his trainer, his caretaker and his only family in the world was very evident. For some reason, though, the doctor preferred to be called just that, ‘Doctor’, and never Baba, or Appa or father.
Veera had never pondered too much on it. The doctor was good to him, he took care of him, clothed him and fed him, what did it matter how Veera was supposed to address him?
He had wondered about his mother, though. Everything he had learned in his studies indicated that the female parent was usually the one more given to nuturing and caring, and while the doctor was a good enough parent in his own way, Veera would have liked to have met his mother. He had always wondered what had happened to her, his earliest questions about her had gone unanswered by the doctor, who had ignored them until Veera had learnt to stop asking.
Veera had seen her picture, though, just once. The doctor had left his laptop unattended one day, having forgotten to lock it when he had stepped out to answer a call from a client. Veera, being naturally curious, had taken the chance to snoop, and had seen the picture of a beautiful lady as the laptop’s wallpaper. Before he could study the picture for more than a minute, Veera had heard the doctor returning, and had had to step away.
Now, recalling that hazy memory of a happy smile and laughing eyes, Veera felt a curious hitch in his heartbeat. That beautiful person, killed – by this beast of a man? He looked again at the photograph of Daksha, picking it up to bring it closer to the light and looking into his eyes. Veera could almost believe that he had hooves instead of feet.
‘What happened?’ Veera asked, supressing the tremble in his voice.
‘It was because of corruption, of course, like everything else in this accursed country,’ Dr. Gangadhar spat. ‘We were research scientists in the RGCB. Daksha was the head of the Pharmacogenetics department, then, and we were working on a new anti-cancer drug. We came to know that a new drug Daksha had tested on some subjects had killed them. They were cancer patients from Government hospitals, so no one bothered to even follow up on them. Except for Gauri. She knew something was wrong, and she showed me the reports. Daksha had hushed everything up, because he had sunk millions into developing the drug himself, via a secret biotech company he owned. He couldn’t afford to have the drug fail. So he killed her. Made it look like a lab accident, that she burned because of a faulty burner, but I knew the truth.’ Dr. Gangadhar banged his fist on the table, before calming himself. ‘The police did nothing to help, of course, Daksha had them all in his pockets.’
‘In the end, I resigned, and put out the rumor that I had comitted suicide.’ Dr. Gangadhar’s eyes glittered as he looked up at Veera. ‘By now, Daksha should have grown complacent – and careless.’
‘Which is where you come in.’ Dr. Gangadhar looked up, his eyes determined as he stared hard at Veera. ‘Will you help me avenge your mother?’
Veera could only nod, his head too full of jumbled thoughts to speak. ‘Of course,’ he finally said, and Dr. Gangadhar gave one of his brief, rare smiles.
It had been easy enough to enter the lab, he had snuck in with a college tour scheduled for the RGCB Open Day, when the lab was opened to the public and any queries they may ask. It had only been too simple to tag along with the group and break away when they reached the Pharmacogenetics lab, as Dr. Gangadhar had instructed him.
As Veera bent to place his eye against the retinal scan, he tried to calm his racing heart. Dr. Gangadhar had assured him that all he had to do was place his eye against the sensor, and he would be let into the lab. All of Veera’s studies into basic biology had told him this couldn’t be possible, though. Each person’s retina was unique to them, it was the reason why this particular type of lock was so effective. How could the machine be fooled into thinking he was Dr. Gangadhar? Evidently that was what the good doctor expected, that he would still be entered into the database as a person with clearance to the lab – claiming that the centre wouldn’t have changed their security protocols, because government organisations were lax in that matter.
As the screen before him flashed blue and the door hissed open, Veera blinked in surprise. Though he shouldn’t have doubted the doctor, he was still surprised that he had been let inside so easily.
Choosing a likely spot to hide, Veera waited for Daksha, as he had been instructed.
When Daksha finally entered the lab, Veera almost didn’t recognise him. The photograph Dr. Gangadhar had shown him had clearly been an old one, because in the intervening years, Daksha had put on more weight, and his hair was touched with grey. His face had a careworn look, and he hunched over his laptop on his table with a sigh.
Veera waited until the director of the RGCB was alone in the lab before stepping out of his hiding place.
The older man squinted up at him, falling back in his chair when he recognised him. ‘You’re–you’re dead!’ he said, his voice trembling.
‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,’ Veera replied, as Dr. Gangadhar had instructed him.
‘Don’t worry, though,’ he went on, enjoying the way his mother’s killer squirmed. ‘I’ll make sure you’re dead.’
With that, Veera raised the gun in his hand, shot Daksha twice in the head, and left.
But not before making a large bonfire of Daksha’s laptop, and all his notes.
Something was wrong. There was no evidence of it, but as Veera entered the quiet house, he sensed it.
Veera would have expected Dr. Gangadhar to be waiting for him, restless and impatient to hear how his mission went. After all, he had been waiting seventeen years for this day.
Veera closed the door behind him, and went deeper into the house, passing the training room, the kitchen, his bedroom, before finally reaching the doctor’s bedroom. For a long moment, he hovered outside the door that stood slightly ajar, feeling hesitant, for some reason. Finally, Veera shook off the strange unease and knocked, then entered.
Dr. Gangadhar was sitting up in bed, the blankets up to his chest. A cold foreboding clutched Veera’s heart, and he ran to the doctor. His fears were confirmed. The base of the doctor’s throat was blue, and it was evident he had poisoned himself.
His head in a whirl, Veera looked down at what the doctor held in his hands. It was a photograph of Gauri; his wife, and a folded piece of paper. Taking it in trembling hands, Veera read:
By now I should be dead, and that means we both are free. I know you would have completed your mission, there was never any doubt in my mind that you would.
Before the explanation, I owe you an apology. Your life these many years has not been a typical one, you have trained as if you were a soldier, when really you should have been in a college somewhere, laughing with friends and hanging out in canteens and movie theatres. I took that away from you – for my revenge – and I am sorry.
By now you would have guessed that you aren’t my son, Veera. You’re my clone. Gauri died before we could have any children, and I couldn’t have entrusted my life’s work to a stranger for hire.
I wanted Daksha to die by my hand.
And we were successful.
I can go now, knowing that our Gauri has had the justice she deserves.
Now you deserve to be free. Live your life the way you see fit.
A/N: In Indian mythology, Veerabhadra, an aspect of Shiva, sprang from a lock of the latter’s hair when Shiva called him into being in order to kill Daksha, who had led to the death of Shiva’s wife, Sati. Gangadhar and Gauri are other names for Shiva and Sati respectively.
-Um. Yeah. One of my stranger ones. Sorry for the lateness, my internet was down for a while, and I could only post this today.
Thanks for reading, all comments and concrit are very welcome. =)