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First Steps
#1
The Kremlin was cold at this early hour but it was the middle of winter and could not be helped. As much as he wished to be home in bed Michael was sat at a sparsely decorated desk draped in layers of warm black cloth. The fine cut coat that was the outermost layer was fresh and crisp as befitted an officer of the Custody.

It was a perk along with the temporary office of his new found position. He even had his own receptionist. The old Russian man had a sharp eye for detail and formality among a list of credentials Michael would discover in due time.

Today however, was not time time. These were only the first steps in a long and dangerous journey. Valdir's demise was an unpleasant reminder of the pitfalls but it was not a lesson that passed unheeded.

At a quick tap on the door Michael raised his head from the datapad in his hand.

"Ahh, Sir,"
the slender, grey haired man poked his head through the door. "I happened to notice you have scheduled a meeting."
The surprise in his voice was well concealed but not hidden.

"Yes, it is almost time."


"I did observe that, sir."
A pause.

"Yes?"


"Well, as I am sure you know one of my tasks is managing your schedule. If I may offer a word of advice, such...abrupt meetings are often received poorly."


"Thank you for the advice, Leon."
Michael said. It was hard to dislike the man even if his words were of reproach. "Unfortunately, time does not stand still for me."


Leon nodded in grave understanding. One would think he had known Michael since birth. "Very well, sir. Is there anything you would like me to do?"


"No, that will be all. Send Dr. Weston in as soon as she arrives."



Edited by Michael Vellas, Nov 6 2014, 04:25 PM.
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#2
Torri arrived precisely on time. She was sharp in the crisp lines of her uniform skirt and jacket. Once in the Facility she would trade the ribbons and metals for something far more comfortable: a white lab-coat. Above the surface, however, she walked the Kremlin while keeping to the strictest of codes. Furthermore, she needed every bit of confidence to meet Commander Vellas again. The uniform gave her that. Hell, if she could, she'd walk into the office armed also.

Chin held up, gaze wary, she reported her arrival to the Commander's assistant. Knots churned her stomach, but she refused to let it show. Not in front of him. Please not in front of him.

The assistant insisted on opening the door for her. Fine. She kept her hands clenched behind her back anyway. Less chance for Michael to see them tremble.

"Thank-you,"
she said, voice tight, and entered.
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#3
Michael closed the datapad interface with slightly raised eyebrows as he heard Leon welcoming Dr. Weston. He insisted on the greatest of courtesy not just in the spirit of his duties but to give Michael ample time to prepare. A very keen minded man. He had half a mind to take him on as an assistant strategist, his age and position be damned.

As Leon opened the door, Michael stood, the bulk of his clothing fanning around him, his dignity held in check by the quality and significance of the uniform he wore. He immediately grasped the power, leaking a steady trickle through his body.

"Good morning, Dr. Weston. It is good to see you again,"

he said in a cool voice. He made a point of studying her with his power-enhanced gaze. It reminded him of the day when they had first met. She had walked in brimming with military authority, ready to lay down Nikolai's orders. Today she had come at his insistence, but her bearing was no less than it had been then.

Her uniform was perfectly crisp, although Michael wondered at the choice of clothing. A skirt in winter? His bones still ached with the incessant cold as it he was.

After his greeting, Michael resumed his seat neither too formal or too casual. He spun a net around the legs of the chair opposite to drag it out for the Dr. to sit on. A form of courtesy now outdated re-invented. "Please, take a seat. You have taken great interest in the Sickness and it's effects as one of the most trusted of Ascendacy's medical staff. Today- and I shall explain everything soon - you have a new task,"
he used the power to lift the contract from his desk 'handing' it to Dr. Weston, never taking his eyes from hers. "If you choose to accept."


Edited by Michael Vellas, Nov 12 2014, 06:36 PM.
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#4
Torri could keep a straight face against the most inane of officers, but she was not so well practiced when the office rearranged itself on the whims of magic. She sat, as requested, but only on the edge of the seat. Her hands lay in her lap, her ankles crossed beneath her. Her posture was doctor-straight, but the tension in her jaw was from nerves. She felt her teeth grind when the papers were transferred.

She glanced at the words, but her mind didn't comprehend them. She was focused too entirely on Michael's offer. How was he so calm? Military trained, yes, but in an academic capacity. His first battlefield experience was two weeks ago? He stared into the fires of his own making without a flinch.

Now it was Torri's turn. She looked up from the contract, really not having read it. "What is being asked of me, Commander?"
She laid the paper on the desk, pushing it back to him.
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#5
Michael watched and waited. He could not tell what ran through Dr. Weston's mind but he did not need to. Still, he ease back into his seat when she looked up and spoke without hesitation.

Michael immediately released the power and the wall between the world dropped. It did no reveal much, but his expression changed, allowing hints of exhaustion and concern over the daunting task ahead to float to the surface. It was difficult, but she had saved his life at least twice, likely more. If he was to proceed, he would need to change the way he dealt with people.

"Sorry,"
was the first step, delivered in a tight voice. "It was necessary."


He continued on without pause. "I have been tasked with overseeing the training of people like myself and the Ascendancy. You are the closest thing to a medical expert the Custody has."


Michael was not fond of the idea of the people he commanded being used as lab rats, but he could control it as much as possible with his position. "Instead of studying the sick and dying, you will be working with people like me,"
he made a point of holding her gaze. "Study and learn what you can. I can show people how, but I don't know why."


Michael hesitated a moment before finishing. Times were changing, and he had to adapt. "You are the only one I trust to do this."
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#6
Michael? Apologizing? Her normally drawn brows lifted in surprise, but she quickly smoothed the bewilderment away. In its place skirted annoyance. What was required that he felt the need to show off in front of her? But irritation was easier to hide. She'd been doing that her entire life. Her mother would have been proud.

As for Michael, she received his explanation clean as any briefing, but inwardly her mind raced. Unknowingly, he'd reminded Torri that the Ascendancy was just like him, or worse in that he was the one initiating these orders.

She couldn't imagine herself working alongside him everyday, but her own impression didn't matter. Michael may be posing the orders in the form of a request, but Torri knew better.

"I did little to ease their suffering, and if you, and the Ascendancy of course, can, then I will help."
Although nobody sane could foresee this kind of conversation, her answer sounded scripted. She didn't care. "But what you do is beyond what I can study. I wouldn't even know where to begin."


She didn't expect him to know either, but the task was too daunting to take on without a little cynicism.
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#7
His new-found diplomatic posturing was worn thin but if he could control the rage of power, he could damn well posture a few minutes longer.

"Of course you are not expected to provide immediate results. It is an area beyond anyone's realm of capability, but we must start somewhere. 'Rome was not built in a day', but eventually it became the greatest empire of the ancient world. I am confident that if anyone can make sense of it, it will be you."


Bah, it sounded stupid to him, but it seemed grandiose enough for Nikolai's standards. Nonetheless, he repressed a sigh of frustration at the formality of this nonsense. She had saved his life - even after learning about his powers - and he had trusted her with it. What did she hold back behind her impassive expression. He had thrown away his usual defences, perhaps that was not enough?

His frustration was directed at himself more than anything. His world had expanded dramatically and he was barely keeping afloat, and if it showed on his face, Dr. Weston would be one of a handful to ever see such weakness in him.

"You will receive whatever you think you need. A team of your choice, equipment, supplies. But enough of that."
His patience had lasted long enough. "You don't even know what you need, nor do I. I am not a frog to be dissected. We need to co-operate. I can explain what I understand, that can be our starting point."
He paused, remembering the nature of this 'offer'. "If you choose to accept."
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#8
The minutes went on in silence.

Wait. Had she not spoken aloud? She thought so. Maybe Michael didn't hear her? Maybe she was going crazy.

She cleared her throat. "Yes of course,"
but the answer was tense. "When I start a project, I always have an idea of what I might find. With you-"
she quickly corrected herself, "with this- I don't.."
She was in over head, that was certain.

He didn't need to bribe her with prestige or make it seem like she had a choice in the matter. Victoria Weston did not get out of bed every day because she hoped to name a cure after herself. She did it because it was her job. She made a committment to her country and lived to fulfill it. Simple enough. At least she told herself that it was simple. The ethical considerations alone were enough to drive her mad. So it was best to not linger on worries she can't control.

"I appreciate the offer, Commander, but I know orders when I hear them."
She drew herself straight and released a tightly held breath. "I'll start immediately. I already have samples from you and-"
she quickly snapped her jaw shut. Fuck me. She almost incriminated herself. She'd used her work as justification to find answers on her own; answers to questions her superiors hadn't wanted her to ask.

Her mind raced while she played off the wording as a common stutter. "If you could provide me samples from other members of your team, they will give me comparisons that I can use to build a database."



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#9
A silence stretched across the room until the tension was broken. Words came forth by Michael was just relieved he had no need to press the issue. The mix of conflicting emotions upon seeing Dr. Weston so distant bored into him like a parasite. He had done a poor job at explaining himself.

Why did he care what she thought? He had endured hatred and fear often enough. He felt wrung dry, and barely contained a sigh as the conversation flowed like the sea crashing against jagged rocks in a storm.

"You'll have your blood, but blood isn't enough. Nikolai might be ordering you, but it was my decision to choose how you would serve."


Michael leaned back and lifted his left hand to massage his temple. "There will be more than blood involved. Physical and psychological observation from multiple angles is required. I don't care how or why these powers work, but I do not rule half the world. What I do care about is preventing my people from becoming lab rats."


A possibility that was all too real, despite his power. Until he had a force strong enough to stand, he would have to make sure they did not crawl through broken glass.

"So, I am trusting you to lead this team. Keep them in check. My skills were useful at Mecca, but not in this matter. I can defend myself, but not an entire division of people who are likely confused and scared.



The memory of his trip to Slovakia was fresh. "I met a man like myself once."
It was best to keep the specifics a mystery lest anything better left alone reared its head. "He was convinced he was a demon. The village he lived in shunned him out of fear - I do not blame them for it - and so he eventually believed what they said. He kept his wife and daughter with him, but eventually even his wife believed. He killed her when she attempted to stab him. He killed his daughter in his delusion, when all he ever wanted was to protect her."


Michael leaned forward, willing Dr. Weston to understand. "I killed him."
Mentioning Nikolai actually did the deed was not the best of ideas. "But I did not kill the man who developed powers he did not ask for. I killed the pathetic creature he was driven by desperation and despair to become. This may just be following orders for you, but for the people under my command it will shape their very existence. We can create a force of heroes or monsters. This is the real reason you are here."


"So Dr. Weston, I will ask you once more. Will you lead this project? Can I trust you?"



Edited by Michael Vellas, Dec 9 2014, 08:00 AM.
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#10
He had done a poor job explaining himself, but poor-communication was pandemic among commanders. Torri wasn't even clear on what Michael was to the CCD. He was decked in a uniform that bore symbols of command, but then he said the orders came from Nikolai. Apparently Michael was on a first name basis with the Ascendancy, or what little respect he had for him had withered away since Mecca.

It seemed her orders were to determine how and why these powers work. She might add an additional question: why did they manifest in the Sickness.

Michael's story distracted her from mentally chasing the answer. The details were not too difficult to extrapolate, but the dry, near disdain, tone in which it was told made her stomach turn. Such language was not unknown to her. She understood the implications of killing the enemy, but the CCD was not at war with innocent men with strange powers.

Or were they?

The answer didn't matter. Torri served the Custody by keeping their citizens alive and well.
"I will protect them as if they were my own patients,"
she replied.

"I'll begin recruiting the team. Almost everyone will come from their current station at the Facility. Since it seems there is a cure for the Sickness, they'll be reassigned elsewhere anyway."


She assumed Michael knew about the secret facility, but given his protective nature, she doubted he approved of it.

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