Travis’ breakfast tray was a terrible attempt at a conceptual architecture as art display – a precariously balanced stack of bacon towered over his tray, tilting and jostling with each step he took down the hallway. His orange juice stood, stoically watching the impending doom of the bacon edifice, and the raison toast was too busy trying to keep its own balance to notice either of them.
Johnny was a scant few steps behind him with his own breakfast banquet with bacon, sausage, eggs, hash browns, toasts, corned beef and hash, eggs Benedict, fresh fruit of at least four varieties, fried french toast sticks, little single serving syrup packets, pancake wrapped sausages on a stick, actual pancakes and a few boxes of single serving children’s cereal boxes, a glass of milk and a glass of orange juice were all elegantly stacked into a culinary coliseum – all eyes were on the bowl of oatmeal in the center who would be the first to die.
As they turned the corner, a sense of deja vu pervaded the hallway when, Travis saw an armed guard standing outside the door to the airlocks at the entrance of Eluria’s dormitory and his office.
Johnny took in the same sight, was wrapped in the same sense of deja vu, and would have been ashamed to admit a small font of dread welled in his stomach and sat heavy like a stone.
As they came closer to the inevitable, Travis’ change in posture put Johnny at ease – if Travis wasn’t worried about this guy then Johnny needn’t be either. Travis was relieved to see Corporal Krans outside as opposed to First Sergeant Thompson.
“Morning fellas. That’s quite the haul you’ve got there Doctor, a solid plate full of bacon. I hear that’s bad for your heart.”
“Probably, but if it was good for me, it’d taste like shit. Besides, working here, I don’t think I’ll live long enough for the fuckin’ bacon to kill me – especially with First Sergeant Thompson running around here roided out of his fucking mind looking for a fight.”
“Yeah, I heard you two had some trouble the other day. It’s what brings me here, by order of Director Phleer herself – First Sergeant wasn’t happy about that at all, I’m officially on the shit list.”
“Shit man, I’m sorry about that. I personally requested your presence here, on behalf of Eluria. Apparently you made a good impression the other day.”
“Don’t worry about it, Doctor. I assume the First Sergeant will be on his way out before long, and this post is probably the most interesting and the best for my career, as far as building security goes.”
“Hopefully not too fuckin’ interesting. Hold this for a second, please?” Travis handed Corporal Krans his breakfast tray and badged himself through the airlock, motioning for him and Johnny to follow.
“Uh, Doctor?” Corporal Krans asked, hesitantly “I’m not actually authorized in your office, I’m just the door guard.”
“My understanding is that it’s a bit of a gray area and I’m hereby using what pitiable authority I have here to authorize you, so hurry up and get the fuck in here so we can eat. If this blows up, it’s on me and you were just following orders, right?”
“Sounds great, just trying to cover my ass.”
Once they’d all made their way through the airlocks, not an easy feat getting three people and two absurdly large breakfasts through the airlock without either of them closing and spilling something, Travis sat down at his terminal and ran through the morning checks.
“Sorry about that guys, I need to get some more chairs in here.”
Johnny dismissed him with a grunting mouth full of food and Krans waved him off. “It’s fine, I’ve only merited a chair for like six months now, you know how it is. I’m still used to sitting on the floor.”
Travis definitely knew “how it was”, generally only sergeants and up actually got somewhere to sit. If there were enough chairs, corporals got to sit too, but usually not.
Everything appeared normal, the biometrics showed Eluria as “asleep” and a quick lifting of the black paper he’d taped over that section of his camera bank showed that she was doing her usual comatose routine – she generally didn’t sleep, but instead projected her consciousness somewhere during the night until around nine in the morning. She’d told Travis she liked to give him time to get into his morning routine – to wakeup and eat some food and just kind of relax for a little bit before he went to get her breakfast and was officially “working” for the day.
His emails were similarly mundane and he was able to just sit and enjoy his stack of bacon and toast until his instant messenger sounded a hateful ping at him.
EPhleer: I’ve got paperwork for you up here.
TStein: I’ll be right up, Director.
EPhleer: Take your time. Your proposal is back and it’s been approved with a few caveats.
TStein: Roger. Sending CPL Krans up now. Thank you.
“Corporal Krans -”
“You can really just call me David, or Krans if David is too much.”
“Got it. Would you mind going up to the Director’s office for me and grabbing some paperwork she has for me, Krans?”
“No problem, I’ll be back shortly.”
“Close the door Corporal, and sit.”
Director Phleer paused momentarily as she waited for the door to swing closed.
“I was hoping he’d send you up here in his stead, counting on it actually. I’ve known Doctor Stein for many years and he’s been a little lazy for all of them. I know it’s your first day and you can’t have learned much yet, but tell me what you’ve heard so far.”
“Not much at all, ma’am. He and his friend, the Janitor – ”
“John Jones, I know him.”
“eat breakfast together in his office and he told me to come in as well, even after I told him I wasn’t authorized. That’s really all I’ve heard this morning, nothing too exciting covert intelligence wise.”
“That’s fine, Corporal – that reminds me! First Sergeant Thompson will be presiding over your promotion ceremony tomorrow, I’m told. Obviously you can’t invite any family or friends, but you will have a quick to-do.”
“Thank you Director! Thank you so much.” Krans was beside himself in disbelief, he hadn’t thought his role in this little espionage racket was actually going to be of any benefit to him in the short term, especially this soon.
“I did what I said I would, Sergeant Krans. To all concerned parties, your justification for promotion is your new found seniority within the security force; your time in the facility, your experience with personnel and the building itself as well as our routines and the work we do here are invaluable and you’re being recognized as the asset you are to our new security force with a promotion. Easy enough to remember?”
“Yes, ma’am. I won’t fuck it up.”
“I expect not, Sergeant. Believe me, if you do fuck it up, it’ll be the last thing you fuck up. I hope you’re clear on that. Now, as I was saying before – I didn’t expect anything ground breaking out of your new position in the first day, but keep your eyes and ears open. Between my desire to hear your reports and Doctor Stein’s laziness, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you daily. Don’t leave anything out, you won’t know what details are important at first, so I want to know everything.”
“That’ll be all Sergeant. Take those files back to Doctor Stein, I’m sure he’ll be very interested in them and you might get to see something exciting when you accompany him, as well.”
Once, newly promoted, Sergeant Krans gave Doctor Stein the paperwork he’d received from the Director, the anteroom office was a flurry of manic activity – emails, internet searches, phone calls – Travis Stein was working with eight arms and he still needed two more.
“Yes ma’am, I’d like to rent out your bowling alley.”
“From five to eleven at night, if possible, every night next week or as soon as possible if not next week?”
“No, ma’am, it’s a fairly small party, refreshments won’t be necessary.”
“Actually, ma’am, it’d be best if there weren’t any employees present…”
“I understand ma’am, do you have any free time today? I’d like to come speak to you about this in person.”
“Excellent, I’ll see you then. Thank you and have a nice day ma’am.” Doctor Stein hung up the phone with a little bit too much force and switched to his computer where he began a furious typing spree.
“Alright Krans, I’ve got a lunch date with this bowling alley. I need you to run upstairs to the Director’s office and grab the check from her. This woman says she won’t let me rent the bowling alley with no employees present, safety reasons – all that bullshit. We’re going to buy her out of that safety conscious attitude she’s got. Oh, also, on your way back, grab Eluria some breakfast for me as well, would you? I think she should just about be in the land of the living again.”
Travis spent the rest of the time until lunch in a haze of manic productivity. He had so much to do. Research back up bowling alleys, figure out the logistics of all the people he’d need to join him and Eluria on this little excursion of theirs, the transportation for everyone. This whole thing was his baby, down to the uniforms – he was thinking he’d have everyone travel in what they called roughs, the lowest standard of business casual possible whilst still being well dressed. They didn’t want to attract too much attention, but they didn’t want to go too far in the other direction and look shady either, that wouldn’t do them any good in this situation.
Travis rocketed through the airlocks into Eluria’s dormitory.
“Eluria!” He screamed, not realizing she was lying down on the couch just to his right.
“I’m right here, Travis. What are you freaking out about?” He had an air of excitement surrounding him and didn’t feel or look at all worried, just the opposite, his skin seemed to be alight with enthusiasm and he was practically shaking with anticipation to tell her something.
“I got it! I got us the bowling alley! We’ve got it every night next week, no staff, off the books, they’re bringing in extra bowling balls from another location – the works! Everything we need to keep working on your baseline! It’s great news!”
Eluria didn’t share his excitement, but she tried to hide it – she still had no idea how Travis would react to finding out that she wasn’t nearly as powerful as he’d been led to believe. It didn’t even occur to the teenage side, the side she most often reacted as when she was in some kind of trouble or worried or in a bad mood, of her to soften the blow by telling Travis herself before he found out while testing her. She was doing her best to hide her anxiety about the bowling alley from him. But everyone’s seen a teenager’s best and it’s rarely good enough.
Travis could tell something was wrong with Eluria, she was only pretending to be excited with him about the bowling alley. She must be nervous about it. He thought to himself.
“Have you got everything?” Travis asked Eluria for, like, the ten thousandth time. Ugh!
“Yes, Travis. We’re going to be gone for one night, not even the whole night. I have everything I’ll need to be outside of the facility for a whole six hours!”
“I’m just making sure. This is our only chance, if this doesn’t go right we’re not going to be able to leave the Facility at all until we head up to Maryland.”
“I know – I know, this is important. You’re just doing the concerned parent thing and it’s driving me crazy. Can we just go?”
Travis loaded up in to a black SUV with Eluria sitting between him and Corporal Krans. Two of the security team we’re in the front seat, another three in the back, as well as an additional sixteen between the lead and trailing SUVs. Travis had requested two medics be present, so he assumed they were included in their entourage somewhere. Everyone was dressed in smart jeans and button down shirts or short sleeve polos and everyone had their own personal bowling ball bag – most of which were undoubtably packed with guns and not bowling balls. Each man, including Doctor Stein, also wore a small and easily concealed pistol on their hip. Nobody noticed Datura straddling one of the men in the trailing SUV.
Travis hadn’t been invited to the security briefing, but Corporal Krans had given him the broad strokes – things were going to go exactly as planned tonight. Any hiccups were going to dealt with mercilessly. There was a sanitation team on stand by and pretty much everyone in the chain of command from Director Phleer and upward was sitting by their red phone, the land line used to communicate highly classified information back and forth – usually things of a disastrous nature, waiting to hear the exercise had been an abject failure. Travis was betting his life on proving them wrong. Either way, he’d told Johnny everything he needed to know down in the bunker. If this exercise got sanitized, things would be okay. Like Johnny always said, what’s dead? Travis wouldn’t even know he was dead.
The ride to the bowling alley was uneventful, but if the tension inside their own SUV was anything to judge it against, Travis thought their little convoy could probably power a small town with their heartbeats when they turned on to the road the bowling alley was on and it was actually in sight.
Travis bounded out of his SUV when they’d barely come to a complete stop, even the most ignorant of passerby would have been able to tell something here wasn’t right by watching Travis for all of ten seconds. He was a long time out of clandestine operations and it showed, glaringly.
He immediately accosted Wolf Thompson.
“I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page before tonight really gets under way, Wolf.”
Wolf gave a sigh of resignation before he answered, he didn’t know it, but he and Eluria had both had enough of Travis Stein hours ago.
“Yes, you’re fucking this cat. I’m just holding the tail. Holding the tail is the security piece and we’ve got that handled.”
“Good. Now tell me how this is going to go, real quick.”
“We’re going to unload, informally, you and Eluria will follow the lead security team in, making sure to stay clustered within the security team. Everyone is going to do their best to chat casually. You need to position yourself in a fatherly or boy friendly manner around Eluria and we’ll all get inside. Once we’re inside. I’ll put a man on both sides of every entrance and exit to the building, we’ll do a quick black out and then I hand it off to you.”
“Double layer newspaper over every transparent surface in the building. It shouldn’t take more than ten minutes with the guys we’ve got. We’ve got several rolls of duct tape and plenty of newspaper. I’m sure you heard at least a little bit about the security briefing – you can think what you want of me, but if this thing goes tits up tonight, I’m in the same building as you and I doubt the sanitation team is going to be making distinctions between dumbass scientists and guys just here doing their jobs, so I really want this to go off without any bullshit.”
And me Doctor, what should I do Doctor? What should I do? Datura teased the anxious Doctor Stein, silently, pressing ever so gently on the already throbbing vein of emotions flowing through him.
“Got it, I suppose we’re under way.”
Around them, everyone had begun unpacking their bowling paraphernalia in a facsimile of normalcy, making small talk and milling about, trying not to look too conspicuous as they waited for Doctor Stein to get Eluria out of the SUV. Datura slipped out of the trailing SUV and posted herself up at the door with a smug little grin, watching the shit show of a black op unfold around her.
The first few security men were through the door with Travis and Eluria close behind, immediately the shooters began unzipping their bags and pulling out sub machine guns, fully loaded with rounds chambered and ready to go – not their usual load out, but more subtle and easier to pack than the short barreled M4s they usually had. No grenades were included in the load out for tonight, Travis noticed, but then again that was probably the sanitation team’s territory, he mused. Once the trailing security team was in place the doors closed behind them and the locks clicked into place. The security team exploded into motion and the black out was complete in less than ten minutes, as promised. Wolf took hold of the cats tail and handed the scruff of the neck off to Travis with an exaggerated bow and hand flourish.
No one had noticed Datura’s presence yet, not that she worried that they would – she wasn’t an amateur like the little princess on display here. She was smoothing out their brains every second she was with them, wiping all trace of herself out of their conscious minds and memories even as they looked right at her – likely doing serious permanent damage, but she didn’t know for sure or and wouldn’t have cared if she had.
“Alright, Eluria, it’s just you and me. All these other guys aren’t here at all. Let me know when you’re ready to start.”
Eluria was physically shaking, in anticipation Travis mistakenly thought.
The first bowling ball went up with no issue, as did the next five or six. At fifteen bowling balls, Eluria was shaking violently and breathing in starts and fits.
Travis tried to make his voice as soothing as possible, “It’s just you and me. No problems, you’re doing fine.”
“I can’t do it, Travis.”
To Datura’s sense of emotional perception, Eluria seemed to be a bright, human shaped blaze burning through the bowling alley floor. She was angry, anxious, scared – just red all over. Datura pressed down roughly on the hot point of Eluria’s emotions.
“Yes you can – you’ve got this. Easy day, you’ve only got fifteen in the air, that’s no big deal at all. Just recenter yourself, get your focus back.” Tension crept into Travis’ voice, his tone became more stern and his volume rose.
“I have my focus Travis. I’m concentrating, I just can’t do it.”
Datura pressed down harder, sending out little whispers of ‘encouragement’ to Eluria’s subconscious – You’re right. You can’t do it. You’re weak, you’re not cut out for this. Just give up.
“Stop that. You’re getting down on yourself because it’s taking work. You’re plenty strong, this is nothing. You’ve got this, now just do it!” Travis took a very hard tone with Eluria and raised his voice well past the breaking point for social acceptability.
“Travis! I can’t fucking do it, okay? I can’t.” She threw back vehemently.
“Cut the shit Eluria and fucking do it!” He screamed.
Datura brought the full force of her power to bear and slammed down onto the Eluria’s insecurity and fear – of course she was rewarded with fireworks.
Eluria let loose a wordless shriek and the fifteen bowling balls she had held aloft went flying through the roof and the walls. Everyone was silent for two or three seconds, trying to do the rough calculations on how far they’d flown – like waiting for the thunder clap after a lightning bolt. The distant crashes, breaking glass and car alarms told everyone that the bowling balls had gone far enough that they wouldn’t escape notice.
“Fuck. We’re fucked.” Travis eulogized himself.
Author’s Note: Part 14 and it’s large.
This is the first part that has had any real editing done to it. I went over it, my girlfriend went over it and then I implemented her changes and made a few more of my own this morning, so let me know what you think – I’ve gone through the settings and done my best to remove all obstacles to commenting. You don’t need to be registered as far as I know, a name and email aren’t required to comment and all comments are automatically approved and will have to be manually moderated later – so no barriers to discussion in so far as I can control.
Also, I officially have a page up at Muse’s Success, a web fiction rating and review website. I’d really appreciate it if you’d stop by there to rate¹ the story, review² the story and add any relevant tags² to the story to aid other users in finding it in the search.
1: Doesn’t require user registration with the website
2: Does require user registration with the website