Eleanor Phleer, 37, Director of Exorcorp and project lead for a highly classified government contract known only as “The Bouquet” was nearly drowning in the depths of a very unfamiliar sensation, she was treading good order and discipline while barely able to keep her head above the insurrection. She’d just ordered what she’d previously thought to be her crack team of security personnel after Exorcorp Facility number four’s most high value target and still thirty, perhaps fifty seconds later that same security team stood in the exact position they had been when she’d issued the order, to a man.

“Are you motherfuckers serious?! Who here makes too much fucking money? Who here can afford to be fired tomorrow, because I swear on my goddamn clearance, the last man standing in this room loses his fucking job, do you hear me?!”

Elle stood in figurative shock – it had been a literal decade since she could snap her fingers without bringing a room to attention, she honestly didn’t know what to do. At a complete loss for what to do in the face of this anarchy, Elle Phleer threw her hands up in a gesture we’ve all come to know as the universal non verbal communication of “What the fuck?!”

Master Sergeant ( MSG ) Darrel Firth, senior officer of the security task force in the Exorcorp 4 facility was the first to step forward and address Director Phleer, as he should have been.

“Ma’am, I think I speak for the entire security staff when I say that I took that young lady’s threat very seriously and that my ability to walk and to provide for my family as a man is much more important than this particular job. If you fire me, I can get a new job, I can reenlist in the Army and fast track into Special Operations – my livelihood is nearly guaranteed with my skill level and resume. If I go after that girl and attempt to restrain her in any way, there’s a very good chance I won’t be able to feed myself, let alone take down targets shooting with my off hand at three hundred meters. I’d like to apologize for our perceived loyalty, but at a certain point the risk outweighs the reward and we have reached that point.”

Director Phleer was incensed – manic, furious and both deadly calm at once.

“Gentleman, to be blunt – pack your shit. If you all stand with MSG Firth then you do not have a job as tomorrow at 6 AM.”

One man, out of perhaps fifteen in the room, moved at that. The threat of losing one’s job can be very powerful in the right circumstance.

“I’ll handle it Ms. Phleer.” For his loyalty, he received nothing more than a passing glance. Regardless of his actions today, live or die, Eleanor Phleer would not remember that man in three months and wouldn’t recognize his bloody corpse if she was standing overtop it.

MSG Firth seemed to have a unique understanding of his subordinates and followed the fool hardy soldier out the conference room door.

“David, wait!” MSG Firth yelled down the hallway to his rapidly advancing troop. David Krans was a nice young man with a hard work ethic and a good head on his shoulders – MSG Firth didn’t want his corpse on his conscience.

David didn’t respond to his senior and kept up his advance down the hallway, a soft jog, after his ordered quarry.

“David, that kid could kill you, so I swear to all that I consider holy, if you don’t stop right this fucking second I will shoot your punk ass in the fuckin’ leg and stop you myself.” MSG Firth gave a brief and silent prayer that this kid wasn’t some kind of zealot and wasn’t going to make him shoot him to stop him. It was a very legitimate fear – he was on orders to restrain the girl and if he was shot by his commanding officer while attempting to do so then he wasn’t technically disobeying orders while also keeping himself out of a wheelchair.

Please don’t fucking do this, please don’t make me shoot you.

Mercifully, David stopped and did a quick heel turn to address MSG Firth.

“Master Sergeant?”

“Listen kid, I fuckin’ get it. You guys might not think so, but I read your jackets. One kid at home, pregnant wife’s got one more in the oven, a lien on your house – the whole shebang. I get it, I’m damn near ready to retire, I can afford to spite that cunt, but you can’t. That’s fine, but take a fuckin’ second and listen to me. Give me your gun, give me your grenades, give me your baton, give me your taser and give me your cuffs. Give me every offensive capability you have and when you’re coming up on that girl, the whole goddamn way – every step – you think calm, peaceful thoughts. Think about how you’re just a stupid fuckin’ kid trying not to lose his job, that you’re not there to hurt her or scare her – you know what, matter fact just take off your whole fuckin’ kit. No body armor at all. She can read your mind from a mile away I heard, so you make yourself small and weak and you make it damn clear you’re just there to check in on her and politely ask that she doesn’t leave the building so she doesn’t fuckin’ cripple you and you don’t lose your job. You think you can do that, David?”

“Roger Master Sergeant, I got it.” The young recruit, fresh out of whatever Special Operations unit he came from – maybe 75th, maybe MARSOC, maybe SEALS – stripped off his kit, leaving all his spare magazines and grenades in the pouches on his body armor as he handed it over. Lastly, he popped the mag out of his shorty M4 and racked it back to eject the round in the chamber before handing it over.

“Thank you, MSG. I was real worried you were coming down here to rip my ass.”

“Don’t worry about it, kid. Don’t worry about a thing. Worst case – absolute worst case – you make it down the end of that hallway and she repaints the wall with you? Your family will be taken care of – Exorcorp’s got way better insurance than the Army ever fuckin’ dreamed about. You just remember what I said, slow, calm and non threatening, you got it? I don’t want to have to give your wife a fuckin’ flag, you got me, I fuckin’ hate that stupid ass bullshit.”

“Roger, MSG – like you said, slow, calm, non threatening. I’ll be fine.”

“Good. Fuckin’ good. Let me tell you, kid, when you get off today – and you’re fuckin’ going to because you’re not going to scare that girl and she’s not going to hurt you – you owe me a fuckin’ beer.”

Hearing the slight deviance from formality, David took a chance and poked his MSG with a little stick.

“Yeah, roger that big sarge, I’ll owe you a mug for stressing you out and you’ll owe me a pitcher for being a little bitch.” David didn’t stick around to see how well his joke went over with MSG Firth – he was only a month on the job and he didn’t figure that would go over real fuckin’ well in any circumstance, but this one – if this one even. He cracked a wry smile as he spun on his heel and jogged down the hallway, thinking Peter Pan thoughts all the way.

“Fuckin’ punk ass motherfucker…” MSG Firth chuckled to himself as his recruit did the airborne shuffle down the hallway. MSG Firth could have fucked him down, made little David snuffy beat his face until he got tired, but he was doing a brave thing – there’s a time and a place to bust a man’s balls and it’s after he comes back alive, not while he’s charging the machine gun nest.

“Eluria? Did I say that right? That’s what Doctor Stein called you, back in the meeting?” The young soldier queried, with all the peace he could manage in heart and mind, completely disarmed and unprotected.

Eluria had sensed the man, really just a boy, but a man to her, ages ago and knew he was as sweet as pie and twice as soft. Corporal Krans wouldn’t have hurt her if she struck him first and gave him a free shot, so she wasn’t alarmed when he called out to her.

“Yes, Corporal, that’s correct – good ear.” She practically sang to him from her end of the hallway.

“How’d you know my rank?!” Corporal Krans questioned, a little alarmed because the official uniform of security at Facility 4 bore no distinct insignia of unit nor rank.

“Oh, Corporal, I know everything about you. I took a leisurely swim in your brain, soaking in your memories and basking in your surface thoughts. I know your wife’s name is Elizabeth and that you like to do a very bad Macho Man Randy Savage impression where you mention her. I know she’s pregnant and that it will be a boy. I know neither of you really like the idea of naming a potential son after you – you both feel it’s vain. I know your wife favors Toby for a boy and that you think it’s a name that’ll get you stuffed into a locker and roughed up in the gym showers and you’d really prefer something more solid like Jack or Thomas. As much as I’d have preferred not to, I know that you help your pregnant wife shave her… bits. You see, Corporal Krans, I know everything there is to know about you and if I so chose, I could write your history from here on out as if you were my personal play thing.”

Corporal David Krans was very uneasy at hearing all this – those were intimate details that no one could have no known. He’d never expressed any distaste with the name Toby, as much as he hated it – he liked to give his wife everything she wanted, even if he didn’t personally agree with it. He was beginning to wish he had brought his gun with him.

“There’s no need to fear, Corporal Krans – I’m only as big a threat to you as you are to me, and I’ve read the deepest darkest parts of your mind so I think we’re both going to be just fine. Why don’t you come in and watch TV with me? I don’t get to talk to very many people in the flesh – really it’s just me and Doctor Stein as far as the flesh goes.” Eluria sent out a very small wave of ease and comfort – enough to calm the young man’s emotions, but not enough to make him suspect anything was awry.

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