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NDA

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After the bureaucratic rigmarole that was Jurassic World, running a shoestring budget NGO should be easy. It’s a fraction of the size, with no sponsors or financial incentives. They have a staff of three, four if you count the ancient coffee pot macgyvered by Franklin, and Claire absolutely did. People didn’t care about prehistoric death machines, as is their right.

Ideally, the champion types would take up her cause, but there’s a million real problems to keep them busy, because the world was a spinning disaster. Man made oil spills and climate change too. You don’t see anyone trying to save a forest fire.

Claire slumped over her desk. Their last venture didn’t get much support. Quite the opposite. Her phone is buried in a filing cabinet. She powered it down in a fit of rage and despair after the enth call from her sister asking if she’s okay. The answer is obvious, Karen. Take a hint.

There’s a shuffling of sneakers and papers and Claire groans, burrowing deeper into her arms. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“Too bad.” Zia kicked a waste bin closer to the desk and swept several days worth of office detritus into it. This included whatever paperwork she’d been attempting the days before, all appeals and pitches of their crackpot plans.

“Hey!”

Zia ignored her and opened the blinds. “Remember that petition?”

Claire groaned and squinted against the light. How could she not? It’s only the reason she’s locked up in their shoebox office space, hiding from the world. “What about it?”

“We got picked up by the Lockwood foundation.”

“I still don’t–”

Zia stared at her, eyebrows raised. “As in Benjamin Lockwood.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah.”

Claire was up in an instant, suddenly feeling like she was full of bees. God, she’d let it get to her hadn’t she? The room was in a state, papers and stationary and hell, is that her phone charger? Okay, get a new phone charger. Charge phone. This is why you don’t switch off, Claire!

“Earth to Dearing, hello?”

She blinked up at Zia, who was halfway through an explanation of something no doubt essential to the next forty eight to seventy two hours. “Sorry. Repeat that?”

Zia rolled her eyes but did as she asked. “The board thought it was a bad investment, but Lockwood’s still the majority holder, so we got money in the bank on some real strict conditions.” She drops her folder on Claire’s desk. “It’s all in there. I skimmed it, but dammit Claire, I’m a vet, not a businesswoman. We need you. Next time we tell you to take a break, take it.”

There’s a lot bundled up in Zia’s tone, but Claire’s too focused on the documents to pick that apart. She fell upon the folder like a starving woman, only to find the corresponding papers bound together with color coded paper clips. It’s a small detail, but for some reason it catches in her mind and causes a second of hesitation before she starts reading. “Give me a while, okay? I’ll figure this out and we’ll see where we can take this.”

“Did you even–” Zia takes a deep breath, holds it, lets it out. She shakes her head. “A while, fine. I’m going on a food run. Want anything? Besides more caffeine.”

Claire shrugged as if to say guilty and Zia huffed a laugh. Soon, it was just Claire Dearing and a pile of sensitive documents, just like the old days. Whoever put this together had been very thorough, sending redundancies and setting terms that were ironclad, water tight. Someone at the Lockwood foundation is worried about losing money on a stupid venture. Saving dinosaurs… Definitely very stupid. No chance at a return investment.

Dinosaurs are a high value commodity, but ultimately useless as military assets. If nothing else, the JW Disaster proved that biological weapons were best kept microscopic. No chance of a virus going rogue, at least not like a forty odd foot reptilian killing machine. Less mess. Anything that remained of the Hoskins camp had packed up and moved to UCAV drones, the hottest thing in the arms market. These days, eccentric billionaires are more likely to drop a couple million on shitty blockchain art than a live stegosaurus.

It’s not about what you know, she reminds herself. It’s what you don’t. Something that’s blindingly obvious yet unseen until it bites your head off. Like the Indominus, or skin cancer. Life finds a way, and these clones were a gravity well for chaos and tragedy. Maybe it’s best to leave them to it. Circle of life. Survival of the fittest.

No! Goddamnit Claire, you are not wasting years of your life just to give up now!

Reading papers. Deciding futures. Going back to that island, except now it’s a volcanic time bomb covered in feral biological experiments. Good. Bad. Horrible. Hahaha.

After a while, she stands and cringes at the snap crackle pop of every joint in her body. Didn’t miss that. Long hours work Claire, the one with bird’s nest hair and suitcases beneath her eyes. She wanders into their communal area to find Zia and Franklin eating a Proper Meal, what smells like hotpot on an electric stove. “How?”

Franklin hands her a mug full of steaming soup, grinning like a cat with the canary. “Because I am brilliant and resourceful, thank you for noticing Claire.”

Zia snorts and elbows him, nearly making him drop his soup. “I have a camp stove and Franklin has crazy college student recipes.”

“Three words,” he preens, handing Claire a plate of dumplings. “Frozen food aisle. Plus, crazy working hours means we caught bargain hours at the supermarket.”

Claire has a brief moment of vertigo. It seemed like yesterday she was a temp, a bright eyed young professional struggling to make ends meet and climb the ladder. Look where that got her. She broke out of her reverie and took a sip. It’s perfect. “Do I owe you?”

Zia shook her head, almost like she couldn’t believe it herself. “Nope. Griff managed it with the cash in our snack fund.”

Franklin cleaned his glasses, smirking. “Sometimes, my genius… It’s almost frightening.”

Just for that, Zia wadded up a scratch paper and chucked it at him.

“Hey!”

They lose some time like that, content with their food and their jokes and their lighthearted banter. Claire learns about the comings and goings outside of her paper cave. Franklin compiled a background check on the Hammond and Lockwood trusts and made a detective style pinboard on the most likely candidates to screw them over were. Zia went shopping and did errands and then went on a run. Then she visited the local pet shelter, because that’s how Zia relaxed.

Claire was lucky like that and just had athletic dinosaur adjacent people come into her life. It’s odd, like she was always meant for Jurassic World, even if it was never meant for her.

Eventually, the soup runs low and they’re hydrating. By now, Franklin has unveiled his Buzzfeed Unsolved vision board regarding the Inevitable Betrayal, as he so aptly put it. Claire hates to break it to him, but she has to. “Hammond and Lockwood had a parting of the ways after Lockwood’s daughter passed. Something about conflicting scientific visions, but I think it’s more to do with Hammond’s determination to build a theme park and profit off of prehistoric reptiles.”

Zia nodded in agreement. “Ethics, love that in a billionaire.”

“Technically, a millionaire. He directs a majority of his holdings and passive income to the Lockwood Foundation. Their focus is usually environmental, with the occasional humanitarian mission after natural disasters.”

“Still a huge corporation,” Franklin replied, drumming his fingers against his leg. Nervous tic, or thinking habit, Claire wasn’t sure. Thinking and anxiety usually went together, in her experience. “I checked. They diversified a lot. Don’t know about you, but I don’t trust them.”

“We don’t need them to be perfect, we just need their money.” Claire pauses. That’s something old Claire would say. Had she really slipped back into Park Director so easily? The more things change, the more they stay the same. She had experience, she had a skillset; that puts her above Franklin and Zia, who were dinosaur enthusiasts but never met the real thing.

That wasn’t exactly true. Franklin wasn’t a dinosaur enthusiast as much as he was interested in technology ethics. While his area was computer science, biological advances were just as important to him, if not more so. Science without a rule book freaked him out, especially the dino type where they made things up as they went.

Zia was in it for the animals. She loved living things, volunteered at the shelter and organised drives to keep strays out of pounds. Technically, “save the dinosaurs' ' was a side gig of hers, for all she specialized in prehistoric anatomy. She studied reptiles; coming up in herpetology in the shadow of Jurassic World, you’re definitely going to cover dinosaurs at some point.

Claire knows for a fact that Wu had his eyes on several promising up and coming experts, trying to scoop up the best talent for his experimental programs. Only the best for my babies, as he would say.

She comes back to the present. Zia and Franklin combed through the documents in the folder, peering at NDAs and terms of employment, project proposals and cost-benefit analysis graphs. Zia lifted up some reports from the old park and the problems that followed. She whistled. “They did their homework.”

“Some of these files are supposed to be redacted,” Franklin whistled, leafing through the scans. “High clearance. Or, you know, the other thing .”

Big companies are not afraid to go off the books or under the table. Something dangerous was at the corner of her mind, but she ignored it. She doesn’t need it to be perfect.

“I’ll meet with Lockwood to see if he means it. It’ll be small, probably some of his executives, not a big deal. Want to come with?”

Franklin shakes his head. “I’ll do some more digging.”

“I’ve got hours at the shelter.”

Guess that’s sorted.

. . .

It’s Lockwood and one executive. Because Lockwood’s schedule depends on medicine and hope, Claire’s left to meet with the other guy. It’s okay. Eli is nothing if not professional. It’s suspicious.

 

Claire still notices small signs. He defers to Lockwood like he’s constantly reminding himself to do it. He taps his index finger against the inside of his wrist, hands tucked together and innocuous enough but noticeable if you cared to look. They finish their debrief and Lockwood is wheeled away for his treatments and medicines, while Eli continues a half hearted pitch.

“What do you think about it? Honestly.”

Eli looks at her like she suggested something insane.

“We can’t work together if we aren’t on the same page.”

He takes a deep breath. Looks at her, evaluating. “Okay. Honest?”

“Mhm.”

“I think going back to that island is stupid. It makes no financial sense. Lockwood is dying and using his last wish to redeem himself to a dead man, and I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get into this business to get people killed.”

“Wow.” Claire absorbs. She did ask. “You don’t have to–”

Eli shook his head, like he’s reprimanding himself for saying anything. “I’m Lockwood’s executive manager, I do. Delegating a suicide mission isn’t a good look.”

"It's not..." It could be. Eli's not wrong. Jurassic World is a crumbling mess of questionable choices. Spare no expense, Hammond said, and Masrani did not. Eli isn't the kind of man who could afford luxury. Claire remembers his kind from Investors meetings and Sales pitches and stock consults.

They usually didn't care much for human life, and Claire could blame it or so many things- the dehumanising vantage point of vulture capitalism, a lack of ethics Courses in ABM tracks, apathy. Truth is, she was just like them. As much as she wanted to judge Eli for putting on fronts and getting in her way because of a financial dispute with his aging employer, she couldn't. She's done the same.

Eli sighs, cheeks and ears pinking. "I apologize. I shouldn’t – Let’s go over the plan, yes?”

So they do. It’s remarkably put together coming from a man who would do anything not to be here. His earlier outburst was smoothed over with that same cool front. Eli does not fidget. Eli cleans his glasses, and when he puts them on again, it’s like he returned as a whole new person.

He sighs, leaning back to survey the projections. “Eleven species, unspecified number of individual specimens. Miss Dearing,” and he hesitates, wets his lip, looks away. More cracks in the mask. “We need Grady.”

“Do we? Really.” She must sound petulant, but being stuck on that island with him is the furthest thing from okay. It makes sense. He’s a highly trained professional with an invaluable skill set and a unique experience with those animals and their environment. It would be foolish not to tap him, regardless of her personal hangups.

Eli purses his lips and shrugs in sympathy. “Yeah. I took the liberty of contacting him? I didn’t think he’d respond, but he was very interested in what Mr. Lockwood had to say.”

Claire froze. “Owen’s here?”

“Yesterday. He said he’d consider it.”

“Okay.” She couldn’t help but think of him. How Owen would look, evaluating Lockwood and his papers. Narrowed eyes, guarded posture, a slight, calculating incline of the head. Like Blue. He’d say yes. He had to. “Sounds like he’s in.”

“Okay!” Eli clasped his hands and smiled. “Hey, we’re nearly there.”

She couldn’t help it. She huffed a laugh at his quick shift in attitude. From extolling the perils of a doomed economic venture to bright-eyed grins over minor success. It reminded her of something. Someone.

No.

She chides herself before asking, “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

It startles a chuckle out of him, again with the delicate blush and rounding shoulders. “I didn’t think you remembered.”

She didn’t, but the evidence mounted until it couldn’t be ignored.

He’s so different, yet the same. She sees a stressed yuppie in a plain, worn suit, hands permanently shoved in the pockets. Nervous ticks and drummed up diplomacy, that was Eli Mills. Trying to run before he could walk, just like Lockwood and Hammond. Only, he didn’t sprint down the path of mad science and live recklessly. Just the opposite. He was twenty eight and held himself like he was forty, like anyone would if they’d fallen into executive manager of a multimillion NGO before thirty.

It’s difficult to reconcile then and now, but once she did, it’s undeniable. “You ran Lockwood’s fund since college, right?”

Eli made a face, like he was uncomfortable in the spotlight. “Yeah. He wanted someone young and idealistic to spend his fortune and I, uh, I used to be both.”

Claire laughs despite herself. He looks younger than last time she saw him, immaculately styled and neatly assembled, every bit the face of a multimillion dollar enterprise. “You’re good.”

He shook his head. “I try.”