1.8

Travis made his way down the myriad of tunnels and airlocks that let him in to his place of employment – Exorcorp, ostensibly a government research facility working on classified projects for the Department of Defense, which rang oddly true.

His head was pounding and his mouth tasted like liquid dog shit. Johnny had kept him up until nearly 2 AM drinking down in the bunker. They spent all that time talking about the old days, about hypothetical plans to break Eluria out – who was left of the old company to call, who would answer, who they weren’t sure they wanted to answer.

Johnny had been part of Travis’ squad in ’08. They’d gone through Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) together and had ended up in the same Battalion, Company and Squad as luck would have it. That wasn’t so uncommon back then, typically the majority of the Infantry kids would end up in the same Battalion each class, depending on whose “turn” it was to get new joes. Johnny had risen up through the ranks quickly and was all set to be a career military guy, blazing a trail through Special Operations and hopefully beyond when it had happened.

Their third deployment together, Johnny was a team leader being looked at to pick up his squad, planning on making Travis his alpha team leader if he could. They were running short squads back then, five men including the squad leader, so two man clears of entire compounds were routine. Travis had been the point man on the clear and he and Johnny were taking down rooms with a liquid efficiency. Johnny booted in the door, Travis flowed in and cleared in front and went to move along the wall when he heard Johnny scream at him to get down. Travis threw himself down and to the side while Johnny fired and took the bullet meant for Travis directly in the chest. Travis had completely missed the teenager sitting in the corner of the room holding an AK and Johnny had stepped up to take a bullet and a shot for him.

Johnny would tell you it wasn’t a big deal, just doing his job, you would have done the same – all that Ranger bullshit that they beat in to you. But it was more than that. Johnny took a bullet to the chest and was eventually medically discharged with more than a few permanent medical issues keeping him from being a shooter, his career and dream were cut short. That didn’t even get into the kid. They said the boy Johnny’d shot couldn’t have been a day over sixteen. The rest of the family had still been asleep when they were clearing, so they thought it was pretty likely he heard them and woken up to defend the family – the same as anyone in his position would try to do. Johnny put seven rounds in him. They started at around waist level and slowly climbed up his torso with the last shot making its way out of the back of his head via the right ear. His face had peeled off his skull like a cheap halloween mask and his brain had fallen out in two large chunks. Johnny wouldn’t talk to you about that unless you’d earned your stripes – “got some fuckin’ sand in your boots” as he’d say. Even if you did have some sand in your boots, you still weren’t likely to get the full story out of him. He’d never told Travis about the nightmares, but his wife had.

Once Johnny’d been evacuated, the squad leader had put Travis in charge of the Site Sensitive Exploitation (SSE) of the room. A few Afghan Partner Unit (APU) soldiers came in and translated paperwork, setting aside anything that seemed like it might be important evidence of terrorist activity. The brain moved around the room like one of those long exposure camera shots of a Roomba’s light as it cleaned a room – move it here to search behind this, but then move it there to lift that rug up. In the end Johnny had been fine, more or less, finishing up the deployment at Walter Reed while Travis sat and played with that kids’ brain every night for the next month and a half. They’d come home and Johnny was eventually bounced out of the Army. “That’s great son, but what have you done for us today?”

Johnny kept in touch with him throughout the rest of Travis’ very lack luster military career, if you could even call it that. They remained in each other’s nebulas throughout the years until Johnny had mentioned being laid off. Travis had him lined up to make about sixty grand in a very Gucci janitor position within a week. Typically these things take a little longer, but sometimes you can pull strings if the director knows what your dick tastes like.

So when Johnny wanted to drink until 2 AM on a weeknight, Travis fuckin’ did and didn’t whine about the hangover.

Travis dropped his security badge three times trying to get in to his “office”. Once inside, he found a memo on his desk that put him at a meeting starting roughly twenty minutes ago.

As he rushed through the airlocks, he tripped on an untied shoe lace and slammed bodily into the floor. Luckily he caught himself and managed to save his nose and teeth, but sprained a wrist in the process. All things at a price.

Travis jammed his finger reaching for the door to the stairs, he was already twenty five minutes late as it was – he didn’t have time for the shenanigans of the elevator. Travis finally arrived at the large conference room the meeting was being held in, but not without a scuffed shoe, a cut on his left hand and a twisted ankle on that last flight of stairs.

“General, Director – I apologize for my lateness.” Travis was surprised to see Eluria present, shackled to a chair. They were pretty little plastic shackles – most things were around here, like the guys in charge of building the containment structure and program for Eluria were under the impression she was Magneto – but shackles all the same. Markedly more comfortable and less rapey than metal shackles, Travis assumed.

Have some trouble getting down here, asshole? Eluria spoke directly into Travis’ head and he nearly choked on his water and told her she was a “fucking brat” aloud. In her pretty plastic shackled chair, Eluria sat expressionless and comatose much the same as she always did when the facility at large had eyes on her, no sign of anything amiss.

Are you fucking serious? That was you?! You’ve got to grow up Eluria. I don’t give a shit about Elle, she’s my fuckingboss! Right now, the only person who causes more stress in my life than her, is you! So stop. Stop being pissed at me, stop refusing to listen to me, stop fucking with me, and let me help you.

Eluria sat in silence, mental and verbal, across the room and did a surprising thing. For the first time in a number of years, far beyond the time Travis had worked at the facility, Eluria made a facial expression where everyone could see her. She glowered like she was doing her best Michael Phelps impression.

Fine. Let’s fix this.

“Travis, did you plan on answering the General’s question at any point today or…?” Elle Phleer trailed off leaving a plethora of implications hanging in the air above his head.

“Apologies sir, could you repeat it?”

General Crayton didn’t look the least bit bemused, but he repeated himself none the less. That was nice in a way, Travis, an old enlisted grunt, had a General repeating himself to him. Travis never had much respect for officers, but he could see a few tabs and all the usual badgers above the Generals obscene stack of ribbons on his dress uniform, so even if he hadn’t actually worked at some point, he was doing a passable job at pretending he had. General Crayton cleared his throat to speak.

“I said, Director Phleer tells me you’ve established verbal communication with the subject.”

“Ah, yes sir. She has communicated with me. She explicitly told me she didn’t want to kill people.”

“Well, son from the looks of Ms. Comatose over there, I don’t think her opinions on things are going to be too important to this project. So about that timeline – six months from conscious response for behavioral study and another six months for field study, was that correct?”

“Yes sir, however I think that might need to be adjusted again. Despite her classification as a Laoton Scale Zero, she’s biologically a fifteen year old girl rife with all the same issues as any non Laoton Scale child would be. She’s not fully in control of her emotions or her powers and she can be very volatile. Personally and professionally, I would recommend an extended time line of a minimum of five years before she’s field ready.”

A collective groan of dismay washed across the room – everyone had prematurely ejaculated at the same time and no one was happy about it.

“For fucks sake! First it was two months then, it was a year, now it’s five years! What’s next, when the fuckin’ war is over and we’re all speaking Arabic?! Then she’ll be of fucking use?!”

Travis was gambling on a long shot, fingers crossed it paid off – he really had no idea what to expect.

“I think it would be best to let Eluria weigh in on this, sir.” Travis looked expectantly toward Eluria, and the eyes of the entire room followed.

Hours seemed to tick by on the clock before Eluria deigned to answer the room’s baited breath.

She rolled her eyes upward from the floor and sneered at the General.

“I’m ready to go today. I can end your stupid war anytime I want if you can figure out how I’m supposed to do that without killing anyone.”

The ball was in the General’s court and he was a man used to dunking.

“Young lady, obviously I don’t expect you to understand the inner machinations of our military machine here, but I think it’s common knowledge that men die in war. Hiroshima, the greater good – is any of this ringing a bell? Do you get any kind of school in here or do you just sit around drooling on yourself all day?”

Travis felt a kind of heat in his head, a sensation of standing much too close to a burning building before it began to ignite the structures around it. He wasn’t sure if this was some consequence of his more intimate connection with Eluria or not, but no one else seemed to be reacting to it. Two neat little plastic plinks sounded from Eluria’s side of the table as her shackles fell from her wrists and she stood up from her chair.

Travis could see armed men all around the room moving to stand up and draw their firearms, but no one seemed to actually be moving – not frozen, just all struggling under a very heavy weight.

Eluria walked slowly across the room until she stood nearly nose to chest with the General, and then for good measure she lifted off her feet and gently into the air until she was precisely nose to nose with the man.

“I don’t like to be spoken to like that Mr. Crayton – I don’t think anyone does. I’ve said I don’t want to hurt people, but it doesn’t feel like people are really listening to me when I say that, you know?”

Travis looked on at Eluria with a tinge of fear, she seemed to be channeling the more worldly version of herself, the girl who spent her days living five lives at once outside the walls of the facility – that girl was far smarter and far less nice than the biological Eluria Travis had come to know.

“See, I keep saying I don’t want to hurt people General – I haven’t ever said I wouldn’t hurt them.”

The General’s face turned ghostly pale and he began to sweat profusely, almost as if he were hooked up to some switch and water line. He began to stutter an apology.

“So tell me General, do you have children? Would you like to?”

“I understand IunderstandIunderstandIunderstand!” He screamed, urgently.

“Do you? Have we come to an arrangement here then? I’ll gladly be of service to you, should you manage to find a way for me to do so, non violently?”

“Yes, yes – please let go!”

“Gentleman, what you all are experiencing is the pressure of my mind. I’m going to slowly ease that off of you and return you to your own faculties. Rest assured, the first man to respond to make an aggressive gesture toward me will spend the rest of his life in a rehab facility where he’ll reach toward the grand aspiration of operating a wheelchair without help, are we very clear on that? I do hope so gentleman, please don’t put your stupidity on my conscience. Now, General, Director Phleer – I think my necessity in this meeting has reached an end. You all may continue at your leisure, but I intend to go back to my dormitory and watch some TV.”

Eluria turned her back and walked out of the room without waiting for an answer.

Director Phleer burst into motion as soon as Eluria let go.

“Well, don’t just fucking stand there, go get her! She can’t be allowed to escape!”

No one moved.

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