TG Universes & Series:
The Center: Best Served Cold -
Author's Note: Here's Chapter five...finally. Sorry it took so long but I was having problems getting it just right. Its another slow chapter but I promise things will pick up soon. There's a little scene that sets things up for a side story I want to do with some of my other characters when this one is over. I'd like to thank djkauf for the editing and everyone else who had a hand in helping me get this one done...you know who you are.
“I look like a dweeb,” I said, staring at my reflection in the mirror.
Stella came up behind me. She didn’t look any better. The two of us were in the airport bathroom, getting changed into our “school uniforms.” At least she looked somewhat like herself, me I looked like a totally different person. Gone were my purple eyes---made muddy brown by contacts--- and my streak was covered up with a bad dye job. My hair was still black but it didn’t look the same with a little barrette in it. Yeah, I said barrette. Apparently, my look kind of skewed toward rebellious and made me stand out too much. Mrs. Fine wanted the three of us to look as normal as possible. I’m not sure how normal my fake glasses looked. They were a new design of Barry’s, seeing as I couldn’t exactly wear my sunglasses. They were a tempered glass; supposedly, they’d keep the dangerous light from my eyes. But they still looked pretty much like normal glass. I’m not sure how he does it.
“You look cute,” said Stella as her reflection buttoned the last of the top tow buttons of her white blouse.
“You guys should consider yourselves lucky,” shouted Emma from one of the stalls behind us. These pigtails make me look like a four year old.”
I couldn’t argue with that. But with my glasses and the uniform, I was a definite dork.
“Here” said Stella, holding up a blue blazer. “Put this on so that when they come in here to get us we look somewhat ready.”
The “they” she was referring too were the school chaperones. I’m not talking about Center ones either. I’m talking about the three teachers from Our Lady of Angels, the school that we were supposedly from. The chaperones and the other girls in the band knew we weren’t but we were supposed to be from a sister school from another city. How many Catholic schools are there that are called Our Lady of Angels? Whatever the number, there weren’t enough nuns out there to get me to wear that stupid hat the other girls were wearing.
I huffed as I slipped on the navy blue blazer, trying not to think about all the naughty Catholic schoolgirl jokes that were rolling around in my head. I looked down and groaned. From the patent leather shoes on my feet to the white knee socks and pleated blue plaid skirt, I looked like an extra for a Britney Spears video. All except the blue blazer of course. I fingered the crest; it was some fancy something or other. It still made me look like a dweeb.
I bet you’re kind of confused huh? Well, let me see if I can backtrack a bit.
After the others left the room, it was just him and us three girls. Mrs. Fine was in the other room, talking to Corporal Samson. Apparently, he was going to lead the rest of my team over tonight, getting things set up for our arrival. It would seem that Stella, Emma and I wouldn’t be shipping out until the girls from Our Lady of Angels did. The whole itinerary was sitting on the table in front of me, in an unopened folder. I was concentrating on Connor and the way he was looking at us. It was hard to believe this creep was ever a girl, especially the way he kept looking at our chests. Didn’t he have any common courtesy or at least respect for his former gender.
I wanted to lean over the table, grab his head and slam it as hard as I could into the far wall. Of course, that wouldn’t solve anything but it would sure make me feel better. Instead, I fidgeted in my seat, trying to turn my body so that he didn’t have such a good view of my assets.
He looked a little upset. “You’re the shy type I see.”
I snorted. “No, I’m the type that’ll kick your ass.”
My threat didn’t seem to bother him. “Feisty huh? I like those types too.”
I groaned and got to my feet. He didn’t even move as I made to grab for him. Instead, Emma was there, putting a strong hand on my shoulder. She didn’t use much force but she pushed me back into my chair. Connor smirked; I think the little prick found it amusing. I wonder how amusing he’d find it after I ordered Emma to put his ass through the wall. Not that I would but I could surely threaten him with it.
He turned his attention to her. “You’re a strong one. What do you bench?”
She shrugged. “525 without breaking a sweat.”
So it turns out that Emma’s density manipulation was a strange thing indeed. It made her body rock hard and nearly indestructible but it also turned out that it gave her a lot of strength too. The day after she arrived, they ran her through a battery of tests. During her power training, they had her hitting a lot of force sensors and things like that. One of her punches could generate close to a thousand pounds of force, way over the limit to kill a human being. That was if she pushed it though. She had a lot of power and she could use it to varying degrees. As far as her bench pressing went, 525 was her lightest. I’m not sure what they finally clocked as her heaviest but it was over seven hundred pounds. So Emma was definitely not someone to mess with.
“You’re quite the little Juggernaut huh,” he said with a smile. “The sweet and delicate prima donna who can throw a pickup truck through a wall.”
It was an over exaggeration but I bet she could lift a car at least.
She was about to open her mouth to say more but just then the door opened and Mrs. Fine walked into the room. She was carrying more folders. I looked at them and groaned. Her folders meant the four of us were probably going to be here forever. She set them down on the table in front of her then slid them over to Connor. He winked at me and then opened the first one, smiling. What the hell was that all about?
“Now girls” she said as she took a seat. “While Mr. Jackson reads, I’ll fill you in on your exact mission parameters.”
I turned my attention away from Connor and listened intently as Mrs. F laid down the law. It was pretty much a rehash of before but with a few added details. The three of us were now from Detroit and we were the best of friends---like that was hard to fake. It was only coincidence that the three of us could play cello---yeah right. She told us to open our folders and look at the info inside. As soon as I opened mine, I saw a doctored photo of myself. It looked like me except for some added differences. I groaned. No purple eyes, no streak, glasses. I looked like a dork and what was with the name. No longer was I Rebecca Howe---at least for the next week or so---I was now Rebecca Logan. According to my file, I was the only child of Dr. Frederick Logan and his wife, Cheryl. There were no pictures of my fake parents though.
Underneath the first page there was another, it appeared to be a transcript. It was from the Detroit branch of Our Lady of Angels, the school the three of us apparently attended. It had everything, including fake extra curriculums and schedules. There were a few pages of it; I was kind of impressed. When the Center created a false ID, they really went all out. It even had a fact sheet of useless crap I was supposed to remember about my fake life in case anyone asked. I was an Aquarius; I had a dog named Scootle---what the hell kind of name is that---and a cat called Barker. I raised my eyebrow at Mrs. F after reading that.
The rest of the folder was a layout of the Detroit school, including a map and places of interest that we should know. Under that was a layout of the British school, Chairmont, stuff that we’d have to memorize if we wanted to complete our mission. I skimmed it quickly, hoping I’d get a chance to thoroughly look at it later.
“All done” said Connor; his voice was annoying, oozing with confidence.
Mrs. Fine nodded. “You can look at those later girls. You need to give Mr. Jackson your full and undivided attention now.”
He turned to me. “If you don’t mind, Sergeant, I think I’ll start with you?”
I looked at Mrs. Fine as Connor stood up and walked over, taking the seat next to me. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing to worry about Miss Howe” she said confidently. “Mr. Jackson needs to have physical contact with his subject in order for his gift to work.”
Connor nodded and raised his hands toward my head. I grabbed the nearest one. “And what the hell is he doing?”
Mrs. Fine sighed. “The information in the folder is for you. He’s read it all and now he’s going to use his gift to put that information in your head.”
You’ve got to be shitting me. I glared at him. He smirked and easily pulled his arm from my grip. It surprised me how strong he was.
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
Before I knew what was happening, he put his hands on my temples. I squirmed; his palms were ice cold. At first, I panicked a bit but then there was this relaxing calm. I closed my eyes and let it flow through me. Then something happened. I’m not really sure how to describe it. Images started popping into my head, first slowly then rapidly. They were too fast to keep track off but the calming feeling kept me from screaming out. I’m not sure how long it lasted but he was done before I knew it. He let go of my head and I opened my eyes. I was a little woozy and swayed a bit.
He smiled. “It’s a little daunting at first but after a few more times you’ll get used to it.”
“A few more times?” I asked groggily.
Mrs. Fine nodded. “This is just a test run, to get the three of you used to it. Mr. Jackson’s gift only works for about twenty-four hours on his subjects. After that he needs to redo it.”
My grogginess faded and he moved on to Emma. “Does that mean he’s coming with us?”
Please say no. Mrs. Fine nodded. “You don’t mind, do you? He’s not a member of your team of course; consider him a temporary addition. He has extensive combat training, much like your friend Mr. Lomax, except Jackson actually processing the information into his head.”
I nodded. “I feel like I’ve been violated.”
I closed my eyes and suddenly something came to me. I thought about the cello and then I knew everything about it. It came as a rush of images; it was nauseating. I opened my eyes and groaned, rubbing my temples. How in the hell was I going to be able to sleep at night? I heard a moan from my left and turned to see Emma and Stella looking groggy and rubbing their temples. Connor smiled and then walked back to his seat, he winked at me as he passed. I gave him the finger, which Mrs. F frowned at.
“Now that you’ve all been given a bit of Mr. Jackson’s magic, I can officially dismiss you.”
My two teammates got to their feet, wobbling like two drunken Sorority girls. They actually leaned into one another as they stumbled for the door. I couldn’t help but smile a bit. But there was no way I was going to stand until I was one hundred percent sure; I wasn’t going to fall on my ass. I watched as Emma helped steady Stella and the two of them walked toward the door together.
“Wait out in the hallway girls; I need to discuss a few things with the Sergeant.”
They looked at me, I nodded and they left.
I turned to Mrs. Fine. “You have something for me, I take it?”
She nodded. She walked over to a corner in the room and retrieved a box then walked back over to the table. She set the box down and took two items out of it: a laptop and a pink sequined cell phone.
“This is an encrypted laptop; password protected for only your use, not even Mr. Morrison can use it.” I nodded, it was a little extreme but I understood the security.
“And the girly phone?”
She picked it up. “It’s set up with a scrambler. It will wire calls directly through Specialist Rodriguez in the Mobile Command Unit. She’ll handle all go between calls between you and me for the entirety of the mission.”
I nodded. “You suspect something too?”
She didn’t nod. She just looked over at Connor and narrowed her eyes at him. He smiled, bowed his head quickly and made a mad dash for the door. She didn’t talk until he closed it. “We have reason to believe there might be a security leak. We had a similar incident happen at Beta site and the coincidence of your friend Mr. St .James showing up at Section One cant’ be overlooked.”
I nodded, wondering when we’d start talking about it. “You think we have a traitor?”
“There’s a strong possibility that that might be the case.”
“I can bring Barry in on this; he’s really good with these things.”
“No” she said quickly. “There are only four people in the know about this, two of them sitting in this room. Colonel Harris and WO Keyes have given you full authorization to act accordingly. They’ve given me the same authority. If a mole is discovered, by either of us, we have the go ahead to terminate him or her by any means necessary.”
“One more thing” she said and reached into the box, taking out what looked like a big dictionary.
I groaned; she was giving me a book. “I don’t need one of those.”
She set it on the table and opened it up. I was fairly surprised. It wasn’t a book, it was a hollowed out compartment, shaped suspiciously like a Beretta. I smiled at her and she nodded. She closed the book and slid it across the table to me.
“You’re the only member of the school team that will go in armed. I’ve already cleared it with airport security on both ends so you’ll have no problems.”
I took the book and tucked it under my arm. “Thank you ma’am”
She nodded, putting the laptop and cell phone back into the box. “I’ll have these put with your things.” She straightened the front of her blazer. “Now we need to get you and the others down to wardrobe for a fitting.”
I groaned. The things I did for the good of humanity.
“Hi, I’m Diana Spencer,” said the blonde as she sat in the seat next to me.
I turned from looking out the window and smiled at her. She was wearing a uniform similar to mine and had a big smile. She looked like one of those girls who wanted to be friends with everyone. She had shoulder length blonde hair and straight bangs. I looked beyond her and saw Emma and Stella sitting together in the aisle across from us. I inwardly groaned. How was it that I got Miss Perky and they got to sit together? I stared at them for a few more seconds before I realized that Diana was asking me a question.
“Sorry” I said, looking back at her with that fake smile I’ve learned to adapt to any situation. “I’m Rebecca Logan.”
I shook her hand. “You’re from Michigan, right?”
Images flooded into my brain and I winced slightly. It’d been two days since Connor did his first mind whammy on the three of us. After the first initial “time”, the images faded from our heads. Connor gave us another go right before we left yesterday. I looked at my watch quickly, it’d be only a few more hours before the info started to fade. If I was going to answer questions about where I lived, now had to be the time. So Diana asked me questions and I did my best to answer them. We talked through the take off which was fine by me because I’m a little wary about this whole flying thing. I’ve been on the Center’s private jet a few times but this was the first time I’d ever flown commercial before.
After getting everything, she could out of me she started talking about herself. She liked that apparently. She yakked for about an hour, telling me everything. In the end, I think I knew more about her than my fake self. I smiled through the whole conversation, wondering if she was going to test me when she was done. The girl liked to talk and I didn’t so it worked out real well. Every once and a while I caught Stella or Emma staring at me over Diana’s shoulder. Both of them were either smiling or snickering. I wanted to smack both of them.
“You look like you’re having fun,” said Stella, utilizing my super hearing and knowing I couldn’t respond.
I glared at her and she got the biggest smile. She was so going to get it later. After another hour, Diana finally ran out of things to say. Instead, the flight attendant brought her a girly mag and she got lost in it. I sighed and turned toward the window, taking a look. We were over the ocean now but all I could see were glimpses of blue through the clouds. Our plane left at eleven in the morning New York time and we’d be in the air about seven hours or so.
Technically, in New York time we’d land in England at six o’clock at night. But in Greenwich Mean Time, it’d be about eleven o’clock at night. How confusing is that? I tried not to think about. Instead, I could help but think about an incident that happened as we were leaving.
We were getting our gear ready, loading our bags into the van. I was heading back into the building when Barry’s friend Coop appeared at the end of the hall. He was holding a stack of papers, trying to get my attention. At the time, I barely noticed him because we were in a rush to get to the private airstrip. Now that I thought back to it, I think he might have been trying to get my attention. I’m not sure why I ignored him. Thinking about it made me groan. It was possible that he had more info to tell. I made a mental note to ask about him at my next check in point.
I looked at my watch. It was in about twelve hours, once the three of us were settled.
“You look at your watch a lot,” said Diana, apparently she was done with her magazine.
“I’m obsessed with time and schedules.”
She nodded. “My father is just like that.”
This led into another hour or so of her telling me all about her father and his Insurance business. I wanted to scream; in fact, I did inside my head. Stella snickered and I glared at her some more. She was so dead as soon as we landed. Diana stopped talking about her father when she yawned. Which got me yawning, too. Then she turned away, back to another magazine. Me, I turned back to the window, my mind drifting back to Brad of all people. Thinking about him brought a smile to my face. I knew I shouldn’t have been, I was with Barry after all but there was something about Brad that I couldn’t get out of my head. He was so different from Barry and thinking about him helped me forget all about Dekker and killing him. I yawned, closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
“Becca, honey, there’s someone at the door for you.”
I sighed, getting up form my bed. There was always someone at the door for me lately. People seemed to be coming out of the woodwork, wanting to be friends with the new girl. Not that I was complaining, but it wasn’t anyone that I really wanted to hang with. Most of them were annoying people, just trying to get brownie points by talking to the freaky Goth chick. Yesterday for instance, I went to the door and found a gaggle of cheerleaders standing there. Their leader---a blonde named Samantha---thought maybe we could hang a bit. So I took them up to my room and they asked twenty questions. It didn’t take me long to realize it was some kind of freak outreach program and they were trying to convert me into one of them.
I trudged out of my room and down the stairs. I could hear Mom in the kitchen, doing the dishes. It was just after dinner so whoever was coming around at this hour was probably starved for attention. The door was right at the end of our narrow staircase. It had one of those windows that had frosted glass or whatever they call it. I could see a person standing behind it and unless one of the girl’s basketball team members was here to see me, I could tell it was a guy. I was about to grab the knob and open the door when I caught my reflection in the front hall mirror. He caused a great deal of confusion. It was me and yet it looked wrong. I turned to get a better look, frowning. Since when did I have brown eyes and what was up with my hair? I left the door and walked over to the mirror, giving myself a real good once over.
I touched my face, ran my fingers through my hair and blinked my eyes a few times. It was definitely me but there was something off about me. I bit my lip and the person at the door knocked again, louder this time. I turned to it but couldn’t seem to peel myself away from the door.
“Honestly” said my mother, coming out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a dishtowel. “You’re standing right in front of it and you can’t bother to answer it.”
I shrugged and she shook her head. She tossed me the towel and opened the door. I was on the opposite side so I couldn’t see who it was.
“Hi ma’am, I’m Brad Ford, I go to school with Rebecca.”
Brad Ford? Rebecca? No one called me Rebecca except my mother and that was only when she was pissed at me. Like last week when I accidentally dropped a tray of ice cubes on the cat. Hey, you try walking when he weaves through your legs like that.
My mother looked around the door at me. “There’s a nice young man here to see you.”
Young man, really, could my mom sound any older. She was practically young enough to be my older sister and she had to call him a young man. She did give me this look though, waggling her eyebrows at me. Yeah real mature. I stuck my tongue out at her and stepped around the side of the door, taking a look at Mr. Brad Ford. I wanted to eep. I knew him; he was in a couple of classes. He was tall and fair, golden blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes. Al l the girls were after him. He was Captain of the JV Basketball team and President of our sophomore class. Ok so I knew him but I didn’t know this was him. I mean I knew the face but not the name…you know what, forget it.
He smiled at me, running a hair through his curly locks. “Hey, ah Becca, right?” I nodded and he sighed. “A couple of us are going down to Green’s. It’s a diner around the block, we were wondering if you wanted to tag along.”
I looked past him at the truck parked out in front of my house. There were five or six kids in the back seat. They all looked like the In Crowd. I looked to the passenger seat, seeing a blonde haired girl that was just as gorgeous as Brad. I remembered hearing he had a twin, Emma or something, the kids at school called them the “Golden Duo” or some crap like that.
I looked back at him. “Is this more Freak Outreach?”
My mother smacked me in the back of the head. “She’d love to go.”
She gave me a shove in the back, right into Brad’s chest. I flushed with embarrassment. I turned to snap at my mother and she threw my hoodie at me. Before I could make a comment, she shut the door in my face. Thanks for that, Mom. I turned to Brad and smiled sheepishly. He smiled back.
“Was that your mother?” I nodded. “Isn’t she a little young?”
I sighed. “Long story” I shrugged on my hoodie. “I don’t want to explain it. Let’s just go to this place and get the torture over with.”
Brad didn’t say anything as the two of us walked across my lawn to the truck. There was no room in the cab of course so I was forced to get into the back with the others. As I was climbing in, a black guy grabbed my forearm and pulled me up. Then a pink haired girl slid over, making room for me. I smiled. What was she doing with them? This was the In Crowd, all the guys wearing letter jackets and she was a freak like me. They all introduced themselves: Cori---Miss Pink Hair---was the only girl. The others were Brad’s teammates, Connor, Barry and Marcus. Barry was kind of cute in that strange kind of way and Connor, I didn’t like the way he kept staring at my chest.
We drove to the diner in relative silence. Why they decided to drag me along was beyond me. I was the new girl, social suicide as far as they were concerned. No one came and took the new girl anywhere. Yet these guys seemed to think it was ok to hang with me? What gives? I guess I can’t complain. All I would have done was sit up in my room and throw darts at pictures of celebs I cut from teen magazines. I don’t read them but they make good target practice.
The diner was small and fifties-like. We got a booth, which ended up being two, the girls---me, Cori and Emma in one---the guys in the other.
Cori and Emma seemed to be friends which was weird because Cori was clearly the School Outcast and Emma was Prom Queen. But the two of them got a long real well. They were talking about the mall, chatting like old friends. Finally, they turned their attention to me:
“Have you been to the Center yet, Becca?”
Emma laughed. “It’s the mall. We call it that because it’s the center of town, it’s practically where all the kids hang out, it’s almost like a second school.”
I shook my head. “Mom and I don’t get out much.”
“Can I take your orders, girls” asked an annoyed voice.
I looked up to see a middle-aged waitress with black and white hair. I looked at her nametag, it said Miranda. She looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. I squinted at her and she winked at me. How freaky was that? I looked around the rest of the room; there was no one else in here except for a man in a green suit. Yea, he was wearing green; I didn’t even know they made green suits. What was up with that? As if he knew I was staring at him, he slowly turned from his counter seat and looked at me.
The blood froze in my veins and the world seemed to melt away. I knew him, I knew him really well.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Dekker stood up and the counter faded away. The diner faded too. The girls, Cori and Emma were still chatting about the Center when they dissolved into nothingness. I looked at the guys, both Brad and Barry looked at me, they both reached for me. I reached for them and then they too dissolved away along with everyone else. Soon it was just me and Dekker, standing in a black void, face to face.
“You look really cute in that school girl outfit, Howe,” he said with a smirk.
I looked down and sure enough, I was dressed like a Catholic schoolgirl. When did that happen? In fact, when did I realize that he was Dekker and this was another one of my dreams? How did I even know it was a dream?
I looked around the room, looking for a weapon. If this was my dream then I had control. I found what I was looking for quickly enough. I snatched a knife off one of the tables, holding it toward him, keeping him at arm’s length.
He laughed. “You’re not in charge here, Howe,” he said and the knife melted in my hand. “This is my world and in my world I make the rules.”
He pulled a gun from his belt and pulled the trigger, firing three times into my chest. I stumbled backwards and fell. I continued to fall until darkness swallowed me and then I screamed…
Photo Credit: Model AJ Stewart
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