She hates the tests.
She hates the lab. She hates the equipment, the lights, the cold tiles. She always has.
She hates the feel of electrodes against her skin.
She hates the feeling that she's being measured. Like she's being reduced to equations… math… numbers.
She hates how the testing makes it even more obvious that she's different, abnormal. That she's a freak. That her abilities make her mysterious, uncanny, frightening.
She hasn't felt that way in a long time. What she has felt, instead, is the amazing warmth of being surrounded by family and friends. Hopper, Joyce, the Party. That sustaining warmth has a name. The people she cares about are called Home. It's overwhelming sometimes, when she thinks about how lucky she is, how much she is loved. They saved her. They have healed her.
But they can't erase the memories, not entirely.
Only one thing could have brought her back to this place.
She hates how the new, targeted testing forces her to use her powers in uncomfortable ways. It's like she's flexing muscles inside her head that she didn't know she had. Two weeks ago, the objective was a dumbbell. She had to levitate a series of dumbbells, to see how much weight she could keep suspended, and for how long.
Last week, she was spinning the dumbbells, twisting them in certain ways with her powers. "Radial Impulse, X-Y-Z Axis Isolation," the lab paperwork said.
She's starting to hate the dumbbells.
She hates being strapped into the gimbal chair, her head immobilized. Trapped. She was told why, something about measuring reaction forces, but she still hates it.
She hates the blindfold that is sometimes placed over her eyes, hiding the objective from her sight. It's called a control, but if anything, wearing the blindfold makes her lose control, her power flailing blindly around the room. She is so utterly drained after those sessions, after trying to Look without looking, that she can barely walk.
But most of all, she hates the reminders. The sights, the sounds, and especially the smells. The smell of metal, ozone, sweat and chlorine. They trigger vivid memories, from before. Often, they petrify her with flashbacks, visions she just has to ride out, sweating, trying not to scream. The visions are infinitely more vivid than the watery reflections of distant events that she can conjure in her mind. They are the nightmares of a resident test subject. A government asset. A dangerous weapon. A demon child. Guarded. Punished. A prisoner.
Only one thing makes her willing to relive that time.
She hates all the ways it's the same as before. But, in some ways… it's completely different. She's not a traumatized little girl anymore. She's a young woman with some education. She understands what's going on, for the most part. And she's not a prisoner. Not this time. There are no orderlies in white, no guards with guns to enforce her cooperation. There's no isolation cell.
She's free to leave. She can walk out the door anytime she wants. It's not even locked.
Only one thing keeps her here.
He extracted the promise with the threat of danger. Not danger to her, but to others. To everyone. She was free to refuse… and also, she had no choice at all. If she did nothing, people would die.
She promised him that she would do this. And she intends to keep that promise, no matter how long it takes. No matter how much she hates every second. No matter how many flashbacks she has to endure.
She will keep at it, until the work is finished. Until the limits of her power are fully explored. Until the threat is contained.
Until he's found all the answers he seeks.
"How do you feel? Ready to try again?" He's beside the chair, checking her straps. His white lab coat, immaculate as always, gleams under the fluorescent lights. His voice is dry, absent. She's known him since she was little. She can tell that his mind is far away, weighing the next hypothesis. Calculating.
"Yes. I guess so." She sighs, her ribcage straining against the harness.
"Good. We're getting some excellent results." He makes a note on his clipboard. He's not looking at her. "The recorder is still running. Whenever you're ready."
She glances at the objective, steels herself. She hates this. But she promised.
And she loves him.
"Okay… Mike," whispers Eleven.