Travis burst into Director Phleer’s office and immediately began shouting at her, while the door was still swinging to slam shut behind him.

“Listen, Elle! This shit isn’t going to fly. That new firm you’ve got running the security contract is being headed up by a real piece of shit. He put Johnny in the hospital this morning after he goaded him into a fight. I don’t want that mother fucker guarding Eluria’s dormitory either. I’d prefer Corporal Krans, but whoever gets assigned, I won’t have Wolf Thompson standing outside my office all day, one way or the other.”

Datura’s creeper vines of consciousness wrapped around Travis Stein’s appendages so that every action he took was a sickening pantomime of free will, her little puppet on anger strings.

Travis left his empty threat hanging in the air. If he left, Eluria would certainly be less cooperative, a bigger pain to deal with, but in all honesty he didn’t believe he was bringing anything to the table someone else couldn’t and he honestly didn’t know why he’d made the threat.

Eleanor Phleer regarded Travis Stein with fury and curiosity. She’d never known the man to be so fervent about anything. He was generally mild mannered and a little bit of a push over. Was he so incensed about his friend getting hurt that he actually figured out where his balls had been stashed and decided to grab hold of them? In any case, even if this all weren’t part of a greater scheme, he was right. It wouldn’t do to have the security contractors roughing up permanent staff, in any circumstances, and she was very agreeable about the proposed replacement with CPL Krans, but, of course, she couldn’t give in so easily to an underling who was yelling at her. What sort of message would that send? He’d think her weak, think that he could run her – no. Fuck no. She was the Alpha bitch here and she would make sure all these men knew it.

“Doctor Stein, take your seat and remember yourself as you do. I am the Director of this Facility and the next time you speak to me in such a manner, I promise you, will be the last. Are we clear?” She snarled.

“Yes, Director. I apologize.” Travis had been cowed back into his usual meek servitude.

“Good. Now, onto our problem with the guard force. I will see that the altercation between First Sergeant Thompson and John Jones is thoroughly investigated and we’ll have him moved. I’ll ask about having Corporal Krans assigned to your office on a trial basis. If one hair on your head is out of line, rest assured Thompson will be right back at his original post and you will be out on your ass. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Director. Thank you.”

“Good. Now that we’ve settled that, I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to talk to you anyway. Eluria is set to start her first session of field testing in six months. You will have until then to study her behavior as you recommended. In the meantime, the Facility as a whole and a specific contingent of staff will be preparing for our departure to Maryland. We’ll be stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds for six months where Eluria’s capabilities will be tested and pushed to their full extremes. As her personal caretaker and de facto physician and psychologist you will, of course, be accompanying her to provide for her needs on the trip.” Travis was actually a little surprised that his recommendations were being followed so closely to the letter. He was being given the full six months he’d initially requested to study Eluria’s behaviors and reactions to better prepare for the practical testing she’d be undergoing. It would be a very stressful time for her and he needed to be personally sure that she would be able to handle the entire ordeal.

“That… that, sounds great Director. Thank you. I imagine the General wasn’t very pleased about this. Thank you, again. Assuming Eluria meets the qualifications of the program, what will the next step be after the Proving Grounds?”

“If we’re successful at the Proving Grounds, we’ll return to the Facility and take a month of down time before we move on to practical testing and combat training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”

“With the CAG (Combat Action Group) guys?”

“Yes, we’ll be working directly with Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta for the first part of the practical testing and combat training. Assuming everything is on track at that point, we’ll be running the gamut with various military units around the world until we find the optimum fit, or no fit, for someone of Eluria’s capabilities.”

“No fit? What happens if she doesn’t fit with any of the units we train with?”

“There’s been discussion about Eluria being in charge of her own contingent of Laoton Scale individuals, but at this point I think that’s mostly the General’s wet dream.”

“Oh, wow. I don’t know if that’s an amazingly good or bad idea… “

“yes, hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.”

“Hopefully. Is there anything else, Director?”

“No, that will be all. Thank you Travis. Get to work, every day you’re not working with Eluria is a day we’re behind. I’ll send Corporal Krans up with lunch for the three of you.”

“Sure thing, Elle. Thank you.”

Travis left Director Phleers office and made his way back to his office to decompress. He and Eluria need to do some serious talking about all these new developments.

As Doctor Stein left, Datura breathed a heady sigh of excitement that seemed to flow through the very vents of the Facility itself. When she was done insinuating herself into the underpinnings of the Facility they would cease to be separate entities – she wouldn’t be in the Facility, she would just be it. And then it would burn.

Travis and Eluria sat on a park bench overlooking the water as the sun began to set. Eluria didn’t know why, but the Facility had begun to make her anxious. It just felt so stuffy and closed off, like there was no air flow and she was wrapped inside a blanket.

“So, now we have as much time as we need – what did Mrs. Bitch Face say?”

“For starters, we should be getting Corporal Krans, but it’s on a trial basis – so we have to make sure we dot are Ps and Qs or we’ll be right back with First Sergeant Thompson.”

Eluria laughed softly to herself, “It’s ‘dot your ‘i’s and cross your ’t’s’ or ‘mind your ‘p’s and ‘q’s’ – you mixed them all together.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. We’ve just got to be on good behavior. We’re all on thin ice after my screaming at the Director earlier today and you threatening to kill a General the day before.”

Eluria huffed out a great big breath, lest anyone forget she was a teenage girl, rolled her eyes and said “Fine.” in that long, drawn out way that pouty children do. She even crossed her arms for good measure.

“That brings me to my next point. When we get back, we’ll officially be starting six months of behavioral study. I need to make a thorough analysis of your personality and how you react to various stressors. We need to know that you can maintain your composure under stress and that you can keep a hold on your powers when you’re emotional or stressed out.”

“Well, that’s stupid. I’m fine! I can already do all that stuff.”

Travis turned to look at Eluria with raised eyebrows and tell tale silence.

“What? I can!” She protested, but was only met with more silence.

“Ugh! Fine!” Again, that teenage elongation, “Maybe I have some stuff to work on.”

“Just the tiniest bit, I’m sure. We need to make sure your powers don’t flare or falter in an intense situation, unlessyou mean them to and are in total control. After six months, you and I and half the Facility, I’m sure, will take a trip up to Maryland where your real testing will begin. I imagine there’ll be plenty of high ranking military guys there, watching you, making sure you can actually do what they’ve been told you can do.”

The pause was so pregnant, anyone, but a teenage girl would have been telling him to cut the shit and tell him what the actual bad news was, but Eluria was still only 15 years old, despite how she could present herself at time, so she was still busy having her own personal meltdown about being forced into the training, or so Travis thought.

“To Maryland? That’s so far! We’ll have to take a plane, right? Like, we almost have to – that’s so far to drive, and for so many people if half the Facility is going like you said! I’ve never been on a plane!”

“I thought you’d traveled all over the world?”

“I have, but just in people’s consciousnesses, borrowing their bodies. I just am where I want to be, I never even thought about using someone to take a plane ride. It’s not the same anyway. This will be me! I’m going to actually leave the Facility in my own body! I’m so excited!” Eluria was bubbling over with joy. If she kept it up much longer, she might start to draw attention; Travis had to burst her bubble quickly, as much as he hated to.

“After Maryland, we’ll be going down to North Carolina to work with an Army unit down there. To start your actual combat training.”

“Combat training? No. I don’t want to hurt people, Travis! That was the whole point! You’re supposed to be keeping me out of that! I thought you were supposed to be rescuing me?!”

“I am, I am! I just don’t know how! And North Carolina won’t be anything special. It’s just more tests – these ones will just be harder and you’ll have to work in a team for them. It’s just combat preparation, not actual combat. Look, we’re going to get you out. I don’t know how yet, but you’re not going to have to hurt anyone. We’ll figure it out, Eluria. I promise.”

“Don’t let me down, Travis. Don’t make me be a bad guy.”

“I won’t, Eluria. I promise.” Travis was promising things he wasn’t entirely sure he could deliver, but his pairing with Eluria was no chance encounter. His entire life, all his lives, had led up to his meeting the comatose girl. That had to count for something, right?

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