Datura’s presence seeped and oozed through every nook and cranny of Facility 4 like a malignant creeper vine, wrapping herself around the insecurities of the rank and file and worming her way through their thoughts. Once the Facility was fully inundated with her mental presence, that’s when the real fun would start. Manipulating the thoughts of other’s – keeping secrets safe, that wasn’t fun. Datura liked to constrict and strangle the minds of the weak and watch as their lives began to crumble under her great weight. It was all just a game – did you leave the stove on? How sure are you? No, you didn’t forget the baby in the car, your husband has him – it’s fine. As she flexed her muscles and took stock of the Facility, she could feel them scurrying under furniture and hiding from the sweeping floodlight of her mental gaze like the roaches they were. All these pathetic, fragile specimens going about their everyday lives with nothing, but their paltry wits. How did they live like this, with no real power?

Not for long She thought to herself, that’s exactly how they lived.

Travis Stein carried a breakfast tray laden with a veritable, if limited, feast – a stack of bacon that stood nearly as tall as the cup of orange juice next to the plate and half a loaf of raison toast to boot. Johnny followed closely behind him with a tray and feast of his own – much more traditional fare was piled on every spare surface of the cafeteria tray such that Johnny looked to be pulling some bizarre levitating breakfast street magic show as he walked down the hallway.

As the pair turned the corner, Travis saw an armed guard standing to the left of the secure airlock that served as the entrance to his office – after having been in the meeting yesterday when Elle had threatened to fire the entire security staff, he didn’t think much of it, just that some new protocol was being put in place. New protocol was the order of the day in a government job, especially one this highly classified; if Travis let himself he’d be mummified in red tape by lunch, so he tried not to worry about that sort of thing and go with the flow as best he could.

As they approached, Travis could see the man carried the standard issue, short barreled M4 assault rifle that the last guard force had, and wore the same vaguely military black cargo pants, matched with black boots, black shirt and black body armor – the sort of outfit that had you looking for little Totenkopf insignias. For the most part, everything about this guard looked the same as the last security crew he’d seen in the Facility, except for the fact he was standing outside Eluria”s dormitory… And his face. The last crew looked like men on a 9-5, collecting a pay check, but this man had that look Travis had become uncomfortably familiar with – a barely restrained rage lurking just behind the eyes, inviting you to serve up a passable excuse to have violence visited upon you. Travis made note of the grenades that seemed to have been added to the standard load out and thought it odd – what would they need grenades for?

“Hey, what’s up man? I’m Travis Stein – head caretaker for Eluria in there. I guess you’re with the new guard force, huh? I don’t know how much you heard about that, but the Director fired the last guys yesterday, it was pretty crazy.”

“I’m well aware who you are, Doctor Stein – Director Phleer filled me in about your identity and role in the Facility. As for me, I’ll have to introduce myself since we don’t seem to be working in a professional environment here – I’m First Sergeant Wolf Thompson, I’m the NCOIC (Non commissioned officer in charge) of the guard force, my call sign is Raid 1 and you can call me whichever of those as it pleases you, but I’m not your ‘man’ Doctor Stein, I hope that’s clear.”

Jesus, fuckin’ prick Travis was caught off guard by the open hostility of the new guard sergeant, but managed to keep his balance.

“That’s fine, First Sergeant, that’s fine…” Travis badged himself through the airlock and moved to make his way into the office and settle in for breakfast when he was disturbed by a commotion behind him. The clatter of cheap, mass produced plastic plates and metal cutlery filled the otherwise silent hallway for the two seconds of silence that proceeded Johnny losing his cool.

“What the fuck’s your problem, you stupid prick mother fucker?!”

Travis dashed through the airlock to set his tray down – there was no telling what was coming next, but he didn’t think a plate full of bacon was going to do him much good, regardless of the coming confrontations outcome – and ran back out to try to diffuse the situation between Johnny and Wolf.

“Whoah, whoah, whoah Johnny, let’s take it easy man. What’s the problem here guys?”

“This stupid piece of shit just fuckin’ checked me like we’re on ice skates or some bullshit!” Johnny fumed, practically frothing at the mouth in anger and probably a not insignificant amount of pain from his internal injuries from years ago.

“Authorized personnel Mr. Jones,” was all Wolf Thompson had to say in justification of his actions.

“You limp dick mother fucker, I’m the fucking janitor – I’ve got a higher clearance than you do, you stupid fuck! I clean the whole building, you know – fuckin’ janitor?! I’m authorized everywhere.”

“That’s all well and good, Mr. Jones – come back with a mop and a bucket and I’ll be happy to allow your entry. I’m surprised you’re not familiar with the concept if your clearance is so high – you need both an appropriate level of clearance and a need to know to access certain information or areas. So as I said, when you come back with a mop and a bucket I’ll be happy to let you in, in the meantime this isn’t the DFAC (Dining Facility) nor the break room so I suggest you move along. And hurry back with that mop, your breakfast isn’t going to clean itself up…”

That was the line – too fucking much for Johnny Jones, too much by fucking half.

1SG Wolf Thompson stood with balled fists crossed across his chest, shoulders squared with feet and Travis wasn’t sure if he was imagining things in the light, but it honestly looked like Thompson had his chin jutting out in anticipation of Johnny’s first punch. Almost too late, Travis realized that was exactly what was happening here – the barely restrained rage was about to step out of the cage with a latch built for show.

Travis stepped in between the antagonistic 1SG and his old friend John Jones to help avert a crisis in the making – Johnny wouldn’t have lasted a second in a knock down drag out with Thompson between the age and size differences and Johnny’s old injuries playing havoc on his insides. Travis had never asked, not wanting to pry into matters he wasn’t invited to, but he had caught sight of a table full of pill bottles when walking past Johnny’s bedroom once a few months ago. He might look fine on the outside, just a little slow and a little sore, but on the inside he was dying fast and he didn’t need an ass beating to help speed him along a track he was already careening down.

Travis “woke up” only a few seconds after Johnny threw his first punch, but it was more than enough time for Wolf Thompson to get his rocks off.

Johnny lay face down in a small pool of his own blood, face already beginning to swell and at least one tooth lost in the scuffle, with his hands cuffed behind his back. His arms hung limply from the small of his back – unconscious.

“Now, see, I thought you two were friends, so I was a little surprised when your friend just stuck you in the jaw like that, Doctor. I had to protect you from further assault – all standard procedure.” Wolf said, with a caustic smile that was, in itself, further invitation to violence.

Travis Stein had always been smarter than his friend Johnny and every once in a while it played out to his benefit.

“I understand First Sergeant. Have you called the medics yet? He’s going to need to get checked out.”

“Of course, like I said, just following standard procedure – I’m sure they’ll be on their way up shortly, along with a few of my men to handle this investigation.”

Piece of shit Travis thought to himself. It was one thing to leap at any excuse to get into a fight or to take an unjustified shot, but then to follow up with paperwork like this? Real low. Travis and Johnny had both been brought up believing that real men didn’t do paperwork people they had a problem with – you take a man out back and when you come back inside the problem is solved. Paperwork was for POGs (People Other than Grunts) and women – the sort of riff raff that wouldn’t make it a day in the type of places Johnny, Travis and, he assumed Wolf too, had cut their teeth. It said something about Wolf’s character that he was willing to stoop so low.

“Is he okay?” Eluria felt the delicate nature of the situation she was in. She didn’t personally care about John Jones, and had actually never even met him, but she knew how important he was to Doctor Stein. She could feel the anxiety about the situation pouring off him in waves that felt almost like physical pain to her. “What can I do, Doctor Stein?”

“Travis. Travis is fine – I think we’re well beyond last names here. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve read your file, I’ve briefed people on your powers – I can recite your capabilities down to a T, but sometimes I feel like I don’t even know what you’re capable of. I don’t even know what I could ask you to do, let alone what would actually be possible for you to do. Johnny’s in the medical wing, recovering. He’s awake and the docs don’t seem to think there’s any permanent damage to his brain or his face. It’s mostly his pride and his job I’m worried about honestly. I just hope his seniority and my vouching for him is worth more than whatever bullshit Thompson has to say.”

“Just – just don’t leave me out of the loop. Keep me informed and I’ll do what I can to help you both, Travis.”

“Thank you, Eluria. That means more than you know.” He had to resist the urge to call her “kiddo”, he was sure she’d hate it and rail on about how she wasn’t a child. He also thought it would offend her on a more personal level because of the child’s crush she seemed to have on him and the over the top reaction she’d had to him needing to speak with Eleanor.

“What now?”

“For starters, I’ve got to go talk to Director Phleer and get this sorted out. I have to make sure Johnny doesn’t lose his job and and see what I can do about getting someone else assigned to your dormitory, if we have to have an armed guard at all.”

“Mmmm, Corporal Krans was telling me there’d probably be some changes around here after that meeting – me threatening to kill and maim people.” Eluria mumbled, embarrassed at her childish anger in the meeting. “If you can, you should see if you can get him as the door guard instead of that crazy new guy.”

“Yeah?” Travis asked in his most teasing tone, with eyebrows raised.

“No! Not like that!” Eluria screeched at him, turning cherry red. “He’s just nice, trust worthy. That’s all…”

Travis simply pressed the attack “Oh yeah?!”, drawing it out this time and bringing his eyebrows to maximum height.

Eluria’s response was a wordless screech of frustration.

“He’s just nice! After I left the meeting and Mrs. Bitch Face was firing all of the security because they wouldn’t come get me, he did. He came to check on me and then sat in here with me until you got back this morning. Well, before that. He was gone when I woke up.”

“And how do you know he can be trusted?” Travis asked, all pretense of playfulness gone from his voice, replaced by suspicion and distrust.

“I raided his brain. Everything, inside and out. I know everything there is to know about him and his life, including a whole bunch of sex stuff I really didn’t want to know about him and his pregnant wife.”

“I thought you didn’t do that, didn’t peek?”

“I don’t do that to you, Travis. Everyone else is fair game, especially people sent by Bitch Face to make sure I’m not breaking out of the facility. I had to be sure he wasn’t coming to hurt me, I couldn’t take any chances.”

Travis was always pleasantly surprised at how well Eluria seemed to be able to channel the more mature, world wise side of herself when she needed to.

“Okay. So he’s on the up and up. I feel like you rifling through his brain is a much better test of character and trustworthiness than I could come up with. I’ll be sure to bring it up when I talk to Mrs. Bitch Face.” Travis winked at Eluria.

With that, Travis set off for Director Phleer’s office, completely unaware of the plot he was embroiling himself in exactly as Datura had planned when she flexed the muscles of her creeper vine earlier this morning.

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