TG Universes & Series:
The Center: Best Served Cold -
Author's Note: Here's chapter four, a transition chapter. There's a couple of new characters introduced here and a few new places. I'd like to thank djkauf for the editing and everyone else for their comments to my question I posted in my last chapter. You'll be happy to know that I have every intention of continuing to write in this wonderful universe.
I sat in the briefing room, Mrs. Fine and Kris sitting across from me. The three of us were the only ones present; The Colonel was off on pressing matters. I’d only met him that once and he seemed busy then. He’d been busy a lot lately, going back and forth from here to the new Gamma site they were setting up in the desert. I guess I didn’t blame him; this place was starting to get to me, too. I’d been in the field twice so I guess I couldn’t really complain but there was just something about being cooped up here that was kind of unsettling. I needed to get out more and stretch my legs. I looked at the two women in front of me and then at the large monitors behind them and smiled.
“This is Chairmont Ladies College in _______, England,” said Mrs. Fine, pointing to one of the monitors behind her.
I looked up, seeing a castle looking building in the middle of a green countryside. It was kind of nice, a place to kick back and relax in.
“Is that the place Dekker’s been sending money to?”
Kris answered. “There are two hundred young women attending this school, from the ages of 12 to 18, out of those two hundred only fifteen are American. Ten of those fifteen check out, the other five are complete mysteries. If Quentin Dekker has a daughter, it’s a safe bet that she’s one of those five girls.”
I nodded. “Are we sure she’s American?”
“We’re not sure of anything at the moment,” said Mrs. Fine “We’ve been able to gather some information on Dekker. According to unnamed sources, he grew up in a small town in western New York, went to Brown and had an on again off again relationship with one Tracy Baxter. Miss Baxter, it would seem passed away a few years ago, its unknown if she had any children.”
“How in the hell can it be unknown, we’re the freaking US Government, don’t we have satellite laser beams that can scratch our asses.” Kris snorted. Mrs. Fine didn’t look amused but I pursued my course of questioning anyway. “Surely we can figure out if Dekker knocked her up or not.”
Mrs. Fine cleared her throat. “Miss Baxter was a free spirit. She didn’t exactly go to the college; Dekker met her in a bar. The two of them had a relationship for a few weeks and then she disappeared. She didn’t pop up onto the grid until her death, which was from a cocaine overdose. At the moment, that’s all we’ve been able to find on her.”
I sighed and nodded. So we didn’t know a damn thing. Boy, was this a waste of time.
Kris saw my frustration. “This doesn’t mean that Chairmont is a dead end. It just means that we need more information.”
I nodded. “So what’s the next course of action?”
Kris smiled. Mrs. Fine answered. “Infiltration of course.”
I smiled, too. It was about damn time.
After raiding Section One, Mrs. Fine called me into her office to put a proposal in front of me. She was creating a covert black op group for the Center; she called it Stealth Infiltration and Reconnaissance. The purpose of the team was to enter an environment ahead of a ground team and assess the situation, looking for any possible threat and gathering whatever Intel necessary for the other team to complete its mission. She wanted me to lead it. She figured with my unique skills and my penchant for getting into places through stealth, I was the perfect candidate. But that’s as far as it went unfortunately. There was no need for the team because there were no situations that really required us to act. So SIRS was put on the back burner. I brought it up when I went to pick up Donovan, Emma and Brad but the situation didn’t really call for it.
Now however it looked like it was our chance.
Mrs. Fine put some folders on the table, four of them. “These are just suggestions but I think the four individuals here would be ideal for the mission.”
I looked at the folder. “If I pick a team, I want them for every mission. I don’t want to have to pick and choose my guys each time I go out into the field, there’s too many variables to consider. When we’re not on missions we need to train and I can’t do that if I’ve got new guys each time.”
Mrs. Fine nodded. “Fair enough.” She looked at Kris, who nodded too. “This is your team, Sergeant. I think it only fair that you make all the rules.”
Now we’re talking. “Thank you, ma’am.”
I looked at the folders, not bothering to reach for them just yet. After she told me about SIRS, I already had a few members in mind. If we were going to be stealthy, then I needed someone with that kind of capability, so I’d already picked Stella. She was ideal for the job and though she only had a little field experience---she was with me when I made the pick up two weeks ago---she was ideal for this kind of thing. I kind of talked to her about it the other day, after she got back from one of her runs. Mr. Lions was having Ray work with her, trying to give her some combat training. She was doing pretty well, not ready for any serious hand-to-hand fights but good enough. Where she really excelled was weapons. She was a natural, not as good a shot as me but still a Grade A Sharpshooter.
The other member I had in mind was Barry. Ok, that one’s not hard to figure out. It’s not just because he’s my boyfriend either. He’s fantastic at what he does. There are only a few other people at the Center that can even come close to his skill with a computer---I can only think of two and one of them is at Beta site. Besides, there was no one else that I’d want on my team, backing me up in case the situation got rough.
Kris saw my smile. “You already have a team in mind, don’t you?”
I nodded. “I think I do.”
Mrs. Fine nodded too. Kris smirked. “Ok, well, go make the proposals to them and we’ll meet back here for an official debrief in a couple of hours.”
I stood up and took a deep breath. Now I just hope they’re not too mad at me for the way I’ve been acting lately.
I took a deep breath as I stood in front of Emma’s door. It was important that I do this a lot more subtly than I did with Stella a few minutes ago. I caught Stella leaving our room; she was on her way to her afternoon run. She ran three times a day: morning, afternoon and evening. Sometimes I did the evening run with her if I wasn’t too exhausted. She was just slipping out of the room, dressed in her tight little running shorts and loose t-shirt. Her running outfit drove me nuts and it took everything I had to stop from salivating. When she saw me, she hadn’t been too happy. I think she heard about my behavior this morning, apparently it was getting around campus. I might have been a little abrupt with her too, but I was kind of in a rush. I kind of told her to go to the debriefing room in a couple of hours instead of asking her to do so. She gave me a look, one that told me she wasn’t amused but she nodded her head. I think she was a little curious. When I told her about SIRS before she was kind of excited about it and I think she was excited now, even if she was trying to mask it with her disgust for me.
I took a deep breath and knocked on Emma’s door. There was a bark from the other side, followed by someone fumbling with the lock. When the door opened, I was a bit surprised. Lola was standing there, her eyes red from crying. I bit my lip. I’d completely forgotten I’d made her upset earlier. I can be such a spaz sometimes. When she saw me, I thought she was going to slam the door in my face. She probably would have too, if not for Klondike. He was Emma’s Siberian husky; one of the few hold overs from her old life as Steve---besides her hockey jersey of course. The dog pushed his way past Lola, wedging the door open with his body.
I smiled and dropped to my knee, allowing the dog to lick my face. I’d always wanted a dog but because of my constant moving around, it wasn’t very practical. Foster families kind of frowned on those things too, don’t ask me why. I scruffed behind his ears and scratched the bridge of his nose.
“Tell me you didn’t come all this way to play with the dog,” snapped Lola, this time she didn’t even attempt to hide her resentment.
I sighed and got to my feet. “I think I deserved that.”
“Yes you did,” she said, sniffling. She was dressed in a pair of pink pajamas; clearly, she wasn’t leaving the room anymore today.
I cleared my throat. “I’m looking for Emma, is she around?”
Lola shook her head. “She went to the library with Danni and a few others. We have a paper due for English class, which you would have known if you hadn’t skipped it this morning.”
This time she did cover her mouth. I groaned. English was now one of my morning classes. Even though we didn’t have the same classes, the teachers shared the same curriculum. So if they had a paper then I had a paper. That elicited another groan from me. That’s all I needed to worry about, especially on top of everything else.
Lola didn’t have more to say so she turned and dragged her feet back into the room, Klondike followed her. I bit my lip and looked down the hall. Then I looked back at Lola and sighed. I didn’t wait for an invitation and slipped into the room behind her, I don’t think she noticed. Emma had only been here two weeks but already her side of the room was decorated. She used her money to make it look very similar to home I guess. In fact, it looked almost like a replica of her old bedroom. We went there, after rescuing her from Dr. Gloria Strickland and her house of pain. Emma’s side of the room had the same posters---mainly video game characters and hockey players. The walls in the room were a neutral blue. There was a dog bed in the corner in-between two dressers, underneath a window.
Lola walked over to her bed, flopping down on it. She snatched a pillow and held it to her chest. I walked over and sat on the edge of Emma’s bed; Klondike padded over and put his head in my lap. Lola just stared at me, looking glummer than before.
I cleared my throat. “Look, I’m sorry about before…upsetting you, I mean. I sometimes run my mouth a little more than I should.”
She nodded. “You’re not the only one who’s lost someone, you know?”
This time I nodded. There were probably a lot of kids here who’d lost people. A couple of them even watched their parents die in the Emergence. I can’t imagine how rough that must have been. Ok, I can admit that I’m being a bit selfish, thinking that my pain is the only one that matters.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
She shook her head, a tear rolling down her cheek. “You better go before Emma decides to hit the rink.”
I nodded and got to my feet, sliding the dog’s head from my lap.
There were a lot of places the Center had, most of them to help with the different powers. The ice skating rink was used for those select few who could control ice and things like that. There were a couple of them out there, in fact, I knew one, but she was off wandering the wilds somewhere now. She’d never been at the Center either. Emma was an ice skater now. She still played hockey a bit but one of the female trainers, Miss Orville, saw some kind of potential in her. The day after I got Emma and her brother here, Miss Orville came and sought Emma out. Not a lot of people used the rink unless they were cryokinetics, but Miss Orville used it a lot. When she heard Emma had some ice experience, she thought maybe she could talk her into some figure skating.
It’s strange. For being such a big bad hockey player as Steve, Emma was a graceful angel on the ice, taking to it pretty quickly.
“I’d better go then.”
I left the room, hesitating at the door before leaving. I looked back at Lola; she waved me on so I left. Klondike followed, running along with me as we went. I guess it didn’t really matter as long as he kept up. There were only a few animals at the Center, Klondike and Miss Bonsai---Kris’ cat---being the only few that I saw. But there were others. A girl who lived down the hall from me had this thing with birds. When she arrived, they had to build a little aviary on the grounds for her. Then there was Donovan. He talked to wolves. The wolves weren’t really his pets but they lingered about the place, in constant watch. They sort of slipped into the role of perimeter guards. They didn’t live on the grounds but they patrolled it like it was their territory. I’m not sure how many of them there were but more arrived as soon as we got here.
Klondike kept up with me as I ran through the halls. We were making a good pace and then he ran ahead. At first I didn’t see where he was going until the figure came into view. He was a strange dog but like some many others, he was somehow affected by the Emergence too. When Stella Emerged I was close by and formed some kind of bond with her. There were a few others just like me.
Klondike was no different. He was close by to Emma and Brad when they Emerged. Dr. Tipps and Dr. L weren’t sure how but Klondike seemed to have bonded with both of the twins. It was almost like he could sense where they were at all times, no matter the distance. It was kind of cool I guess, and Emma loved it. Me, I think it would creep me out a bit. It’s bad enough that my roommate made my heart flutter every time I saw her.
“Hey boy” said Brad as Klondike ran up to him, sitting and wagging his tail.
Brad bent down, letting the dog lick him in the face. I blushed. Twice in one day, I wonder who’s stalking who now. Yeah, I checked with Mattie---texted her on my run to the computer room earlier actually---no one sent Brad looking for me. That thought made me blush even more. But at the same time, this was really good because now I didn’t have to go looking for him. When he saw me, he smiled and got to his feet, looking more handsome than earlier.
“We keep running into each other like this.”
He was apparently coming from the library, there was a book tucked under his arm. “Is your sister still in there?”
He paused, confused for a second. “Sister? Oh you mean Emma?”
He smacked himself in the forehead. “You confused me there for a sec. Still getting used to that.”
I laughed. “You wear the boxer shorts now.”
He nodded. “I think she’s still there but she had her skate bag with you so you better hurry.”
I smiled. “I need you to meet us in the debrief room in an hour.”
He nodded. “We going on a mission?”
“Something like that.”
I didn’t wait for him to say anything else. But I did lose my running companion as Klondike stayed behind. Brad had a bed in his room for the dog as well. I don’t think his roommate minded much though, seeing as it was Donnie. I think he kind of liked it actually; it kept him close to a canine so he wouldn’t go nuts.
I ran into the library and looked around. It wasn’t an overly large place but it did have two floors. The top one had more reference stuff; the bottom was stocked with pop culture things, mainly fiction. I looked around, scanning the several tables. There were a lot of kids today, barely a free seat in the place. I looked over at the reference desk, the librarian Mrs. Gold was sitting there quietly, reading an old copy of some lesser known Twain novel. She was a nice old lady, kind of grand-motherly with her gray hair and joyful disposition. In fact, a lot of people called her “Granny” which I don’t think she minded one bit.
I turned away from Granny and spotted Emma. She was sitting at a table with Danni and another girl I didn’t recognize. I start running a bit until Granny looked up from her paper, giving me this look. I slowed down to a trot then a quick walk. The girls at the table looked up at me as I approached. I think the unknown girl might have turned an off shade of white. I got that a lot. Most of the kids who didn’t know me had that reaction. I think I had a reputation as being a bad ass as well as being a freak. It kind of pissed me off but then again with my behavior lately, I guess I couldn’t really blame people for thinking that.
Emma looked up from her book. “Hi Beck” she said, her voice had a hint of worry in it.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not here to make anyone else cry and before you say anything” I was looking at Danni when I said this. “I have already apologized to Lola.”
Danni smiled. “She’s a bit sensitive and all, what with her brother dying recently and everything.”
I bit my lip. Damn, I’m really going to have to apologize to her now.
“Are you here to work on your paper?” asked the third girl at the table, the one I didn’t know.
I looked at her, trying to decide if she was familiar or not. She was a little thing with shoulder length black hair what looked like a tattoo of a star on her face. But when I squinted, I realized it was a birthmark. It looked kind of cute on her, like someone stuck one of those kindergarten star stickers on her cheek. It was horrible that I didn’t know this girl. But she looked so meek and quiet that I suppose anyone could have missed her.
Danni patted her hand. “Becca this is Vee. She’s new; they just brought her in a few days ago.”
No wonder I didn’t know her. Then I remembered something. I was in the hall a few days ago when they were bringing someone in. My eyes widened. There was no way this little thing could have been him though. The guy they were bringing in---Pre-Emergence---was huge. He had to have been six foot six and weighing three hundred pounds. There was no way this little girl could have been him, she looked to be about four feet tall and couldn’t have weighed more than sixty pounds.
“That’s me,” she said softly. “I was on the JV squad at my school, a linebacker.”
I groaned. I hated mind readers. I cursed. “Sorry.”
She smiled. “It’s ok,” she said softly again. “It kind of freaks me out too.”
Emma brought me back on topic. “Becca’s not here about her paper, she slept through class again.”
Don’t remind me. Vee smiled. “I’m actually looking for you,” I said, looking at Emma now. “The boss has given us the go ahead. I need you in the debriefing room in about an hour or so.”
Emma’s eyes widened. On the way to the Center, I briefly told her and her brother about SIRS too. I liked the way both of them handled themselves in Grayson. I could definitely see a bright future working with them. Density manipulators weren’t a dime a dozen and a pair of them was like winning the lottery. Emma would be real good for the situations in which we might have to blow cover and engage and Brad would be good for all the sneaking around, especially seeing as he could walk through walls. I read Marcus’s debrief, I knew all about what he did when the two of them were trapped in that room by that nut Anastasia. Brad was a quick thinker and I could definitely use that.
Emma groaned, looking at her skates. “Miss Orville isn’t going to be happy.”
“You can play ice ballerina later.”
Emma nodded. “You’re the boss, Sarge.”
She smiled when she said it because she knew I hated it when people called me Sarge. “You’ve been hanging around Samson too much.”
She blushed at that. This time I smiled. Corporal Samson was my constant tactical support, the two of us going on two missions together already, the last one being where we picked up Donnie and the twins. Samson took a shine to Emma, I mean who wouldn’t. Like her brother, she was gorgeous, like a Goddess who descended from the skies to be with us mortals. But even as pretty as she was, she was still very much a guy and I think Samson kind of liked that. She was sort of a guy’s girl, able to talk sports and video games while at the same time looking beautiful doing it. In the cafeteria, during most meals, a lot of the guys smiled and waved at her.
I didn’t stay around much after that. I nodded to the three of them and turned to walk out of the room. As I was doing so, someone got up from one of the tables and I ran into her. She snapped around, a sneer on her face. I groaned, it was that same girl from the computer hall earlier. Her red eyes flared at me.
“Watch it, you freak.”
I heard a chair slide behind me and suddenly Emma had her hand on my shoulder. “Becca she’s not worth it.”
My fists were clenched at my sides. I narrowed my eyes at the girl. “What the hell is your problem anyway?”
She flipped her long blonde hair. “My problem is clumsy girls who don’t watch where they’re going. That’s the third time you’ve run into me.”
One of the other girls at the table---she long sable colored hair---shook her head. “Samantha drop it, she’ll mop the floor with you.”
The other two girls at the table---I didn’t know any of them---nodded their heads. The girl, Samantha, sighed and slipped back into her chair. Samantha, huh, now I had a name for the face. I glared at her, trying to look as threatening as possible. The girl didn’t seem too worried though. She flipped her damn hair again and picked up a pencil. She held it between her fingers and smirked. The pencil started to turn red hot and then crumbled to ash. I smirked too. What was so impressive about that? Samantha looked smug though, thinking she’d scared me. In fact, she started filing her nails. I snatched the nail file from her hand and ran it across my arm, drawing blood but feeling no pain.
The other girls at the table looked like they were going to pee themselves.
Samantha stood up, touched the nail file. The little metal object got red, as if it was heating up. Any normal person probably would have dropped it and screamed out but not me. Me, I shrugged and faked a yawn. This time Samantha looked a little frightened.
“Girls” called Granny from her desk. “None of that here or I’ll call Mrs. Fine.”
That seemed to scare Samantha more than it did me. She dropped into her chair, abandoning her nail file. I dropped it in her lap; it was still red hot. She yelped a bit, jumping. I smirked, shrugged off Emma’s hand and walked confidently toward the door.
About an hour and a half later, everyone assembled in the debriefing room. I looked around the table; everyone that I wanted was there, including Kit and Samson. The two soldiers were sitting next to one another, at rapt attention. I looked at all the faces and smiled. This was it; this was the team that I imagined. I turned and looked at Barry sitting next to me; I took his hand and gave it a squeeze. He barely noticed, his head stuck in the laptop. I frowned and caught Brad’s gaze. The two of us stared at other longer than I wanted. It should have been uncomfortable considering our kiss was something else. But it wasn’t. Looking at him made me all warm and fuzzy inside. My feelings for him were wrong but I couldn’t help. They were escalated more when Barry pulled his hand from mine, a sign that he didn’t want any affection.
I huffed and looked at the rest of the people in the room. Emma was sitting between Stella and her brother. Klondike was lying on the floor next to her. The dog followed Brad into the room and even though Mrs. Fine frowned at it, she didn’t shoo him away. I think she was a big softy for the dog. I caught her giving him a treat a few days ago but she did it really discreetly. I turned my attention to Stella who was sitting on the other side of me; she was back in her school uniform, which made me frown a bit. Not that it would have been very professional for her to show up to this in her running clothes, I still would have loved to see her in those shorts again. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.
“Sergeant” said Mrs. Fine, looking around the room at those assembled. “Is this the team that you wanted?”
I looked at everyone and turned to her, nodding. “This is it, ma’am.”
She nodded and cleared her throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Stealth Infiltration and Reconnaissance Squad.”
My friends smiled. The two soldiers looked emotionless but I could tell they were happy too.
Mrs. Fine cleared her throat again. “Now that that’s out of the way, I can start this briefing.” She picked up a clicker from the circular table we were sitting at. She pointed it at the monitors, bringing up a picture of that castle school. “This is Chairmont Ladies College in _________, England.”
Everyone nodded. Mrs. Fine clicked again. Several more pictures of the place flipped across the screen as she clicked and explained what each were. She had shots of most of the building’s exterior and some of the interior as well. The interior ones didn’t look like they were public photos either. It looked like they sent someone into the school and took those pictures. It was kind of creepy, especially how fast they seemed to operate. The Center must have had a lot of pull.
Mrs. Fine finally clicked off the school and to a very familiar face. “This is Quentin Dekker aka Mr. Green” she said, looking at me before everyone else. “He was a Warden at Section Four and is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for a series of crimes, the top most being murder. After the destruction of Section Four, Dekker went off the grid for a month and then popped up again.” She clicked and the grainy image of him outside of Section One popped up. “This is the last known appearance of him before he fell off the grid again; this one was taken a few weeks ago, outside of the facility known as Section One.”
We all nodded. Mrs. Fine clicked again, this time an image of a group of girls in navy blue uniforms came up onto the screens. “This is the Concert Band for Our Lady of Angels School in _______, New York.” She clicked again, the screen switched to a close up of three girls; they were holding cellos. “These three are their cello section, sixteen years old, their names not important. In two days time, the Concert Band of Angels is taking a week-long field trip to a small school in London England. We’ve changed their itinerary. Now the girls will be playing a weeklong engagement at Chairmont Ladies College. “
Stella interrupted. “What does this have to do with Dekker?”
Mrs. Fine frowned at her, Stella lowered in her seat. “I was getting to that, Miss Griffin.”
She clicked again, bringing up a picture of those numbers I saw on Barry’s computer screen earlier today. “These are Quentin Dekker’s bank account records. Thanks to Mr. Morrison, we now know that Dekker has been wiring large sums of money to the school, we have reason to believe that he might have a child in attendance there.”
She clicked again, bringing up a picture of a woman with bleached blonde hair and a lot of makeup. “This is Tracy Baxter; we believe she might be the young woman’s mother.” She clicked and the images of several girls appeared, shrinking to fit the screen, one moving next to the other. “There are two hundred young women attending this school, only fifteen of them are American. These girls right here.” We all looked at the screen and nodded. “We have reason to believe that Dekker’s child is one of them.”
I looked intently at the screens but none of them looked anything like the slime ball. Maybe they took after their mother. “Are you planning on inserting us into the school to look for her?”
Mrs. Fine clicked back to the Band picture. “We’ve created emergencies for the three cello players families, leaving their three spots open. You three girls” She pointed to me, Emma and Stella. “Will be filling those vacant spots.”
I was the first one to speak up after the three of us were done groaning. “We don’t know how to play the cello?”
If Mrs. Fine ever smiled, she would have now. Instead, she pushed a button on the table intercom. “Send him in please.”
I turned and watched the door open and a kid with a mop of shaggy brown hair walk into the room. He had his hands in his pockets and walked with an air of confidence. He would have been kind of cute if not for the chip on his shoulder. He looked smug, looking around the room with muddy brown eyes. Those eyes locked on Stella for a second and then Emma. He smiled slightly at both of them. Then his eyes went to me and his smile got bigger. I shuddered. Great, a creep, that’s all I needed.
“Girls, this is Connor” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “He has a unique ability of taking information and placing it in the heads of others.”
I shuddered again. This creep was going to put stuff in my head.
“Heya ladies” he said, smiling widely.
I think all three of us dry heaved at the same time.
Photo Credit: Model AJ Stewart
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