TG Universes & Series:
The Center: Best Served Cold -
Author's Note: Here's Chapter Two. Becca learns something really interesting about Trish in this chapter that I think might surprise a few people. I like to thank djkauf for the wonderful editing and Drakira for allowing to bounce ideas off of him.
I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew it was morning. I groaned when I opened my eyes, blinking them a few times. I was still lying on top of my covers, the bullet clutched in my hand. I opened my hand and stared at it, the writing side was facing my palm. I set it on my bedside table and sat up. I looked down at myself and smiled. Sometime in the middle of the night, I must have stripped off my gray sweats and tank top. Looking down at myself now, I saw the Wonder Woman cami and underwear that Barry bought me. It was my usual sleep wear these days. He bought it for me after I came back from the mission to Section One. I think he felt bad for fumbling things, but it wasn’t really his fault. We all kind of fumbled that mission. It was a cute gesture and what girl doesn’t like presents.
Wearing them made me feel good too. It made Barry all that much closer to me each and every night. The two of us hit a little rough patch there for a bit but ever since Section One; things were really hot and heavy. It was like being in the Syndicate all over again, the spark was definitely back in our relationship. I was a bit worried about him for a second though, especially with all my notes. You remember those. Well after the first initial few, they disappeared. Then they started up again after I came back from Grayson Pharmaceuticals. I was certain now that whoever was writing them was definitely trying to warn me about Barry. I kept getting the same ones too: HE’S A CHEAT, HE’S A FRAUD, HE’S A LIAR. They were all pretty much the same thing.
The only person I ever showed them to was Stella. She was concerned and thought I should bring them to Mrs. Fine. But I was convinced that someone was having fun with me. Barry was faithful; he was more faithful than Emma’s dog, Klondike. And if he was cheating on me, he’d have to learn super speed powers real fast to get away from my wrath.
I stretched and looked over at Stella’s bed. It was empty, like most mornings. Stella was an Early Bird. She liked to get up at the crack of dawn and get her day started. I guess Mike McIntosh---Stella’s former self---was kind of a couch potato. Now she was out to prove that they were two completely different people. She took up running. The Center had an indoor track and Stella ran several laps every morning. Then she ran laps around the exterior buildings. She tried to get me to go with her but I’m not a morning person, for obvious reasons.
I looked at the clock and sighed. Ten am, just like I liked it. It was early enough to still be considered morning and late enough to avoid all the fitness nuts. There were a lot of those---more than I cared to have. Stella was one of many and she was giddy about it too. Me, I liked the room. The more I could sit in here in the dark, the better. I only liked to use the Second Skin when I had to; it was kind of tight and a bit restricting. I was technically not supposed to feel anything; it was supposed to be like it wasn’t even there. And it was true for the most part but every once in a while I could feel it. It kind of gave me the creeps.
But I begrudgingly put it on. I had to strip out of my Wonder Woman clothes and then pulled the skin on. I kept it around me most of the time, lying nearby. If one were to stumble into my room and look at it, they might see what looked like a shed human skin. It was lightweight and see-through and as soon as it was on my body, you couldn’t even tell it was there. So after pulling it on, I walked over to the window, opened the dark curtains and pulled up the blinds. The glass was tempered, so even without the skin; the light wouldn’t bother me. Stella liked to close the curtains for me in the morning to allow me to get some extra sleep. She looked out for me more than she should have. I looked out for her a bit, too. We were like sisters now, thanks to our bonding. I don’t think I really need to go into that again, it’s kind of embarrassing. Suffice to say she and I were a lot closer than most roommates and let’s leave it at that. Am I attracted to her? I’m not sure if I can answer that without blushing.
I turned away from the window and looked at the door. I heard her coming before she even got there. It was one of my more favorite abilities. I knew who it was, too. I smiled, waiting for the knock.
“Come in Mattie, the door’s unlocked.”
The door opened a bit, allowing a beam of hall light to cut into the darkness. Mattie stepped slowly into the room, closing the door behind her. She looked about, squinting in the dark. She couldn’t see me but I could see everything she was doing. I liked watching people struggle a bit. I had a little fun smiling at them before I pitied them and turned on the lights. Barry got annoyed with it a lot and was currently working on a pair of night vision contact lenses.
“Are you done torturing me, yet?’ asked Mattie, as she fumbled along the wall for the light switch.
I leaned over and clicked on my bedside lamp, illuminating the gloom. Mattie winced, shielding her eyes. I loved it when normal people clicked on a light in a dark room. She frowned at my smile. Then she looked me up and down, giving me a smile of her own. I looked down, realizing I put the Wonder Woman stuff back on. I flushed red. I tried to keep things like this private, not even Stella knew about them.
I snatched the blanket off the bed, covering myself up. “You weren’t supposed to see that.”
She laughed. “Too late.”
I grabbed a pillow and threw it at her; she took it right in the face. We both had a good laugh. No matter how bad I was feeling; Mattie could always make me laugh. I guess that’s what best friends are for. I’m not sure if I could handle this place without her. She’s my rock, my one person I can lean on no matter what. I’d like to even go so far as calling her my conscience but there’s some things that not even Mattie can talk me out of. She knew all about my plans for Dekker, including the bullet. She thought I was taking things a little too far and I politely told her to mind her own damn business. She was my best friend but not even, she was going to stop me from killing the son of a bitch.
‘You look like you’re in a better mood.”
I sighed. “I mask my feelings well.”
In truth, I still felt like shit. Lack of sleep can do that too you. Besides I had a lot on my mind, first and foremost was Dekker. Second was Dr. V or Thompson or whoever she was. When I first heard she tried to kill herself I was kind of pissed. She was a coward who couldn’t even attempt to do the honorable thing. She was never a decent human being to begin with, but at least she could have tried to cooperate with us. Carson and Dekker needed to be stopped. She had answers; that I was certain of. We only got to question her a little bit and she claimed to be nothing more than a glorified secretary now. Apparently, my putting Section Four out of business kind of ruined her career. No tears were shed on my part.
“You want to tell me about it?”She asked, referring to my dream.
I sighed and nodded. “It was at the house, the one that Trish and I were planning to live at. It was my life but it was different, like I never went to the Syndicate. I was happy, we were happy. Then everything changed. Dekker was there and my blissful fantasy shattered.” I started crying, I’m not even sure why. “Then we were in the garage and Trish was talking to me. It was like she was speaking to me from beyond the grave…”
I couldn’t continue. Mattie came over and wrapped me in a hug. I cried a bit on her shoulder. I couldn’t remember the last time I cried, I think it was for Trish. Mattie held me for a while, letting me sob it all out. It didn’t take long. Afterwards, she wiped away my tears and smiled weakly. I stared into her blue eyes and wanted nothing more than to cry on her shoulder all day. But what kind of example would that have set.
I slowly pulled away. “Thanks” I said softly, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “I needed that.”
She smiled. “You should really tell this all to Dr. T you know. She’s really good; she helped me when I first got here.”
I nodded, but I didn’t really mean it. I didn’t need some shrink to mess around with my head. All she’d do is try and talk me out of revenge. Hey, I knew it was wrong and in the end it would probably get me kicked out of this place but I didn’t care. Dekker was going to die. He was going to pay for what he did to Trish and I was going to do it to him. I’m sure Dr. Tipps could help me get over it but I didn’t want that. I wanted this pain; I wanted this anger. It was a part of me and without I’d be nothing.
Mattie frowned at me. “You’re grimacing.”
I sighed. “I have a lot on my mind.”
She shook her head. “The only thing you should have on your mind is getting dressed before you miss any more of your morning classes.”
I looked back at the clock and cursed. It was about quarter after now. I’d already missed two classes due to my sleeping in. Mrs. Fine was probably going to be on my ass about it later. My attendance was shoddy at best lately. For the past couple of weeks, my mind hasn’t really been on schoolwork. A lot of the teachers were letting it slide but I’m sure that’d only last for so long. The Staff Sergeant on my name badge only got me so far. It garnered a certain amount of respect and allowed me some privileges but even I knew when I was overstepping those privileges. I don’t think I was prepared to face whatever punishment was deemed appropriate for missing any more classes.
So I bit my lip, trudged over to my dresser and pulled open several drawers at once. I groaned, staring at the dull gray clothing inside. Stella was neat and hung her uniforms in the closet. Me, I was a slob and stuffed them all in a drawer. Mattie came over, shaking her head and took out the clothes I needed. She tossed them on the bed.
“I’ll wait out in the hall, don’t make us late.”
I nodded. “Thanks, Mats.”
She smiled, shook her head and left the room.
We just made it for the third class of the day. We slipped into the room just in the nick of time, any second later and the teacher would have locked the door. Trust me; he does that. In fact, he was standing there, his hand on the knob when the two of us slipped inside. Everyone in the room turned toward, the only faces I recognized were Barry’s and groan, Lola’s. How did I miss that she was in one of my classes. The rest of the kids were strangers, most of them I’d probably never get to know. There were a lot of newbies, some of them coming in almost every day now. I’d been here a little over a month, almost two now I think. Since walking out of that room of mine, I think there were at least twenty more students.
Many of the fresh faces were in this classroom in fact. When I first started classes here, there were only ten of us in the room with a lot of empty seats. Now there were about twenty, only a seat or two to spare. In fact, Mattie and I took the last ones. She glared at me; she was a brown noser, so she usually liked to sit in the front. The teacher, Mr. Royce, stopped staring at us and walked back to the front of the classroom to continue his lesson. It was history, today’s topic the Panama Canal. I only half paid attention.
There used to be only one set of teachers but now with so many kids coming, more kept showing up with them. Royce was one of the newer ones; apparently, he got here while I was bringing in Emma and her twin brother, Brad. He was an older guy, retired military I think. He was stern and grumpy. I’d only been in his class for about a week or so and I don’t think I’d ever seen the guy smile so far.
There were was some talk about sending a lot of the newbies to Beta site. We had a meeting about it the other day. I only half paid attention to that, too. But they conferenced in Xiang via video so she could be there too. There was even some talk about Gamma site too. I’m not sure but they were still looking for personnel to volunteer to head that one up. I’m not the volunteering type, especially to roast some place in the desert.
“You eating lunch with us today?” asked Mattie’s voice as it drifted over to me.
I turned to her and nodded. She and I communicated via whispers. Actually, she usually whispered at me and I did a series of nods. I was the only one in the room who could actually hear her thanks to my supersonic hearing. Unfortunately, my nod didn’t go unnoticed.
“Miss Howe, pay attention” said a gruff voice from the front of the room as a piece of chalk soared at my head.
Luckily, for me I heard it coming and snapped around, snatching it from the air before it smacked with my forehead. I snapped the foul white thing in half, dropping it to the floor. Mr. Royce glared at me. I don’t think he liked being showed up in his own classroom. Like I said ex-military, probably Marines. The guy definitely had a stick up his ass.
I guess today was my lucky day. “That’s Sergeant,” I said.
“It's not Miss” I said coldly “most people around here refer to me as Sergeant.”
I definitely wasn’t in the mood to deal with asses who thought they were far superior to everyone else. I knew Royce’s type. The throwing of the chalk was a dead giveaway. He thought I wasn’t paying attention and was going to catch me off guard. I spent a long time in the Syndicate with jackasses just like him. He thought he was God’s gift to the world and that everything he said was so damn important. He was lean and mean, sure, but the guy stopped being tough when Reagan was in office. Now he was old---probably pushing sixty---any bite he had left was long gone. I’m sure he was a snarling wolf in his day but now he was a neutered mutt.
“Well then” he said, putting his arms behind his back. “If we’re pulling rank then you can call me Major and refer to me as sir.”
I smirked; I couldn’t help it. He was grasping for some semblance of control. But looking around the room, I could tell he’d lost it long ago. Most of the kids assembled here, all in their spiffy gray uniforms, they were in charge. I think he knew that too. He even cast around the room too, doing it quickly. All the fresh faces were on me, not him. But that didn’t stop him from trying to take control again.
“I like my students to pay attention while I’m teaching.”
“I heard every word you said.”
“I highly doubt that” he said, “You were too busy goofing off with Miss Yeager.”
At the Syndicate, they gave Mattie the last name of Waite just like they gave me the name Rebecca Howe. But unlike me, she decided to change it. She kept her new first name though---apparently, she was the one who gave it to herself---but she changed her last. She went with Yeager, like Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the Sound Barrier. Many of my fellow students had a sense of humor when it came to naming themselves, like Stella and Emma. Me, I could never really find anything better suited than Becca Howe. Besides Trish knew that name and I had no intention of changing it because of that.
“Unlike you, most of the rest of my teachers take the time to read their dossiers on all their students.”
He glared at me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I have enhanced senses. Like hearing. I can hear everything in this room and quite possibly the one next door too if I try hard enough.”
One of the new kids mumbled “cool” while the others laughed softly. Royce wasn’t amused because his face got a little red with anger. But he was beaten and he knew it. Instead of trying to argue back, he huffed and went back to the front of the room. He continued the lesson right where he left off. I sat with my head held a little higher. Barry turned in his seat in front of me and frowned. I saw it in his eyes; he was telling me I had gone too far. He was right of course. I just hated asses like Royce who thought they could beat little people because they were convinced they were better than them. Quentin Dekker was like that.
Royce taught the rest of his class the way he should have without trying to single out another student. I think I ended up teaching him a lesson and for the first time in a while, I felt pretty good. When the class was over, I caught him taking out his iPhone, probably making a call to the boss. I didn’t care. I was already on all their shit lists anyway. I shrugged it off and followed Mattie into the hall. I used to have a different schedule but seeing as there were so many new kids, things had to be rearranged. They tried to make it as simple as possible but I still had to pull the slip out of my book to take a look. As I was doing so, Barry came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist.
It was exactly what I needed. “You’re in a good mood this morning, babe.”
I sighed. “Rough night.”
I nodded, turning so that I could wrap my arms around him, laying my head gently on his chest. I loved Barry; he was one of the only things left in the world that I did love. He was there with me, in the “trenches” as we liked to call it. He knew what I was going through. Though he didn’t know Trish as well as say Mattie, Clara or I did---she worked with the females at the Syndicate---he did know what it was like to lose someone. It’s hard to forget that with everything going on that there were other casualties in our war with the Syndicate. I try not to think about Max and Natasha but it’s hard not to. Max was Barry’s best friend. There were only three guys at the Syndicate, well four if you wanted to count that slime Declan. Barry, Max and Donovan had been close, like brothers. Though he didn’t mourn for Max right away, the night after our escape, I heard him crying in the motel room. I think Max’s death was hard on all of us. I’d definitely never forget it, seeing as he died saving my life. I know I might have a one-track mind and all, wanting to punish Dekker for killing Trish but Max was just as important too. Partially because of his little sister. He wrote her a letter, telling her everything. I mailed it to her a few days after we busted out of the Syndicate. I knew it wasn’t the smartest thing to do but I owed it to Max, I promised him I’d do it, too. I wanted to hand deliver it myself but Gideon wouldn’t allow it. But maybe someday, when I got the free time I’d go and visit her.
“You listening” asked Barry, his voice finally registering.
“I’m in my own little world,” I said softly, still holding him tightly.
He sighed. “I asked if you enjoyed yourself just now.”
Here we go. I pulled away and looked up at him; he was only a few inches taller. He had the same frown on his face from the classroom.
“The asshole deserved it.”
“I’m sure he did but that didn’t mean you had to give to him.”
He reached for me and I pushed him hand away, groaning. “He was an arrogant jackass who thought he was better than me, better than the rest of us.”
Barry nodded. “That might be but he’s still the teacher. Jackass or not, you should have showed him some respect.”
That pissed me off. My anger flared. “Respect. I’m never showing any jackasses like him respect.”
“He’s not Dekker.”
I slapped him. The sound was loud. The hall was mostly empty, only a few kids around. So the slap echoed about, drawing the attention of everyone. Mattie was only standing a few feet away. She reached for me and I brushed her off. I wasn’t in the mood for one of her touchy feely happy hugs at the moment. I cast her a look and she took a step back. The others were looking at me too. Barry slowly reached up and touched his face, there was a red hand mark forming. I wasn’t sorry, I’d never be sorry for that remark. Royce was just like Dekker, most of them here were, they were just good at hiding it.
I looked about, still angry. “What the fuck are all you looking at?”
There were a few murmurs.
I growled and stormed off, stalking to my next classroom. I only got about half way before my anger subsided and the realization of what I’d done caught up with me. It hit my chest like a brick. I seized up and ran into the nearest bathroom. I half stumbled, half crawled into a stall. I didn’t bother to close the door as I collapsed and bawled my eyes out. I cried for a long time. I think it was the longest cry I’d had, since Trish of course. I was so preoccupied that I didn’t even hear the bathroom door open. I did hear the distinct sound of high heels on tile though. I turned my head and looked up at Mrs. Fine as she stood before the stall, frowning down at me.
“You and I need to talk,” she said softly.
I nodded and slowly got to my feet.
“You’ve had a busy morning,” said Mrs. Fine, as I drummed my fingers on her desk.
“So he did call you, I thought he might.”
She sighed. The two of us were in her office, I was trying my hardest not to be intimidated but she kind of did that with everyone one. After she ambushed me in the bathroom, she called my next teacher and told her I was going to be busy and not to expect me. It[‘s one thing to be caught crying by your boss but it’s another thing entirely to be in her crosshairs. Mrs. Fine was technically head of security but I think she handled a lot more than that. Officially, Kris and the Colonel were in charge of this place but most of my dealings were done through Mrs. F. I guess it had something to do with her being my direct superior and all.
“You made quite an impression on Major Royce,” she said as cold as ever.
“He’s an ass.”
She nodded. “That he is. But that’s still no excuse for your behavior.”
I stopped drumming and held my hand out to her. “Smack me on the wrist and let’s call it a day.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “You’re in a difficult spot, Rebecca.” I groaned; everyone else called me Becca but her. It was either Rebecca or Miss Howe. “Your behavior as of late has been anything but satisfactory.”
“I’ve had a bad couple of weeks.”
She sighed. “You’re not the first person to have lost someone around here you know, not by a long shot. There are a lot of students here who have lost loved ones, some of them a lot closer than Trish was to you.”
I opened my mouth to speak but I couldn’t find the right words. Partly because she was right. I’d only known Trish for a little while but it was enough. I’ve been bounced around from one foster home to the next, never staying anywhere long enough for anyone to care. I thought that’s how life was supposed to be until I ended up in the Syndicate. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse they did. Trish was the only beacon of light in the whole place. She looked out for me, she took care of me. She was the mother I never had and I loved her for it.
I started to tear up. “What do you know about it?”
Mrs. Fine sighed. “When I recruited Trish she was young, too young but she was idealistic and wanted to make a difference. We paid to send her to medical school you know, took care of her entire education. She was in a bad place when I got to her, much like you are now. She had never really gotten over the death of her sister and her parents were not much help. When she came to me she was a broken young woman, much like you are now.”
I sighed. So this was the speech. I was wondering which one was going to give it to me. I thought it was going to be Dr. Tipps, she seemed the type. A lot of shrinks were like that. They tried one tactic and when it didn’t work, they tried something else. I’d seen it all before. A lot of social workers tried the same tack and it never worked. At least not with me. Authority figures were like that sometimes, they just couldn’t accept the fact that sometimes you can’t help everyone.
“That’s all nice and all but I’m not interested.”
Mrs. Fine sighed. “You sound just like her.”
That pissed me off. My anger flared and I jumped to me feet, tears streaming down my face. “Who are you to say that?”
“I’m her aunt.”
It was like a blow to the chest, a bullet right in the gut. All my anger, all my rage, everything that was bottled up seemed to slip away, everything that is except the tears. I collapsed back into the chair, unable to speak. Her aunt? I looked at Mrs. Fine; I mean I really looked at her. I scrutinized her real good and then I saw it. It was there, just a little bit but it was there. I saw a bit of Trish in her, around the eyes maybe. But how was that possible? I opened my mouth to speak and closed it again.
Mrs. Fine opened her top desk drawer and took out a photo, setting it on the desktop, turning it to face me. I looked down at it and sure enough, she was in it. It was her and a much younger picture of Trish; it was a high school graduation picture I think. Trish was wearing a blue cap and gown, a huge smiled on her face. She was holding her diploma in front of her so the photographer got a good shot of it. I reached out and gently touched it, rubbing my finger over Trish’s face. She looked so happy there, the smile on her face bigger than any I ever saw at the Syndicate.
“I didn’t know,” I said softly. “The only family she talked about was her sister.”
“Her mother and I were the best of friends growing up” said Mrs. Fine “but as often happens, as we grew older, we grew apart. She got married, I went my own way. I was always close with my nieces though and I’m sad to admit, Patricia was my favorite.”
I nodded, still teary eyed. “She said I reminded her of her sister.”
“You do” said Mrs. Fine “a lot.”
Mrs. Fine took the picture and put it back in her drawer. She cleared her throat and opened another drawer. She took out a key, placing it on the desk. “This is the key to her storage locker. When an agent dies, all of their personal possessions are brought to a storage unit we keep nearby. Seeing as she considered you her family, I thought you might like it. There’s not much of course, just the things from her apartment here. Most of her stuff was in Oregon and sadly the Syndicate confiscated it.”
I nodded, reaching over and taking the key. I held it in my hand and then pressed it against my chest, over my heart. “Can we go there now?”
Mrs. Fine nodded, standing up. “You’re going to need me to get access to it but I don’t see why the two of us can’t go down there and take a look.”
I smiled; it spread across my whole face. “Thank you.”
I got up too, practically jumping from the chair. This didn’t change anything of course. I was still going to kill Dekker but at least now, I had something more of Trish’s, something to help me get to know her better. Maybe a lot of things, it was the stuff from her apartment after all. I racked my brain as we walked toward the door, trying to decide what kind of person she was. I’d only known her inside the Syndicate and I knew her to be a kind, warm person. I knew nothing of her life outside of it but I knew it had to be just as warm and just as welcoming.
Mrs. F. went in front of me, opening the door. The two of us stepped into the hall and then her iPhone went off. I groaned, of course. She nodded, holding up her finger to tell me to wait a second. We both stepped into her office and I listened to her phone conversation, it’s hard not too when you’ve got super hearing.
“Fine speaking,” she said, not bothering to talk in a hushed tone.
“This is Lynchburg,” said a male voice on the other line, he was one of the guys from the clinic.
“Go ahead, doctor.”
“It’s Miranda Thompson, ma’am” said Lynchburg. The mention of her name peeked my interest. “There’s been a development.”
“I understand. I’ll make the arrangements with the morgue.”
Lynchburg laughed. “Not that kind of development, ma’am. She’s awake.”
That’s all I heard. I didn’t even wait for Fine to get off the phone. I took off, running down the hall as fast as I could. “She’s awake” kept bouncing around in my head, over and over again. Dr. V’s awake, finally. I clutched the key in my hand as tight as I could as I ran. I’m going to find him, Trish and when I do, I’m going to make him squeal before I kill his sorry ass.
Photo Credit: Model AJ Stewart
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