TG Universes & Series:
The Center: Best Served Cold -
Author's Note: Here's six, things are still moving a bit slow but it'll get there. I'd like to thank mittfh for all the help with England and djkauf for all the wonderful editing.
I snapped awake, my heart pounding like a drum in my chest. I nearly smacked my head on the seat in front of me and was a bit confused for a second. I looked around, noticing that this wasn’t my room in the Center. I groaned. I was on a plane, flying over the Atlantic toward England. I rubbed the back of my neck then turned to look out the window. There were still clouds streaking past and the sky was a midnight blue in color. I turned to the girl sitting next to me. Diana was asleep too, apparently the flight got to her as well. I looked past her over to Emma and Stella. Both of them were looking at me, concern on their faces.
“You have another one?”
Once again, I couldn’t talk back because I’d look like a nut. So instead, I nodded my head.
Emma sighed but Stella was the one who spoke. “You need to tell someone about them.” Before I could shake my head, she shook hers. “Enough of this brave soldier shit either. This isn’t healthy. You’re hurting inside and Dr. Tipps can help. I want you to call and make an appointment with her, maybe even one with the shrink at Chairmont.”
I shook my head. Emma spoke this time. “You’re doing it and that’s final.”
The look on both of their faces was enough to leave me stunned. It wasn’t just anger; the two of them were genuinely concerned for me. I sighed and nodded. I’m not sure if I would but at least it would get them off my back. I could handle the dreams and everything else. They weren’t the problem; it was the feeling I had when I woke and realized they were dreams. In the dreams, I was happy because Trish was there and the two of us were living the life that we should have been living. Away from missions and the Center and someone trying to kill us every time we walked out the door. The dream world was peaceful---save for the end---and I didn’t want that to stop. I wasn’t ready for it to stop. I wasn’t ready to let go.
Stella narrowed her eyes at me. I don’t think she believed me. The two of us had only been roommates for such a short time but already we’ve been able to pick up each other’s subtleties. I think she knew I was lying and didn’t like it. I turned away from her, back to the window. I heard Stella’s huff. I didn’t care. Well, I cared but there wasn’t much I could do about it. As soon as we landed and got to the school then maybe the three of us could have an actual conversation instead of a one sided they talk and I nod conversation.
I continued to look out the window for a little bit until I felt the pressure on my bladder. I groaned; trying to remember the last time I went to the bathroom. I took a deep breath, slowly got to my feet and slipped past Diana. She mumbled and fidgeted a bit but I was able to slip past her without waking her up. I passed a flight attendant in her tight skirt suit but she only smiled. I walked past her and slowly made my way down the aisle. Most people didn’t even look but there was a pair of frat guys who gave me a once over, lingering a bit longer than I would have liked on my bare legs.
I tried to ignore them but it’s pretty hard when they’re staring at you even after you walk past them. Near the bathroom was a single guy, sleeping with his head on his chest. I looked at him for a split second and stopped. There was something about him, something familiar. I gave him a second look: he had black hair, wore a pair of wire-framed glasses and had a beard. He didn’t look like anyone I knew but there was something. I stared for a few seconds longer and sighed, finally deciding that I was being too paranoid lately. I shrugged and slipped into the bathroom. It didn’t take me long. It was too cramped in there to want to spend a lot of time. As I was washing my hands, I looked at the strange girl staring back at me. There was no way I could pretend to be someone else for a week, especially someone who looked like that.
I groaned and shut off the sink. As I got out of the bathroom, a flight attendant came up to me.
“Please head back to your seat, miss,” she said smiling. “We will be landing in a few minutes.”
I nodded and moved up the aisle, glaring at the pervy jackasses as I passed. I got to my seat just as the pilot came over the PA and told us to fasten our seatbelts.
About an hour after the plane landed at Birmingham International Airport, the group of us were ushered into three waiting vans, one chaperone per each. There were about twenty of us girls altogether, I’m not sure if that was big for a band or small. I don’t have much experience with those kinds of things and all the stuff that Connor put into my head was all but gone. I know I found myself sitting in the middle of a seat, Emma on one side and Stella on the other. The three of us made sure that as soon as we landed that we weren’t separated. Diana was in the van with us too, as well as a couple of other girls: Charlotte, Rachel and Courtney. All three of them played the clarinet; Diana was a flute player. She told me all about it on the plane. Thankfully she and the others were friends and were busy chatting it up, going on and on about Joe Jonas.
There are some things that I hate about being a girl.
Emma and Stella looked about as disinterested in the topic as well. They were sitting silently, Stella tugging on the end of her short skirt every few seconds. I didn’t blame her; they were far too short. I kept looking at my legs and groaning. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d exposed that much skin in the open. When not in the Center---wearing those dreadful uniforms---I usually wore jeans or gray cargos. I also got away with wearing my boots. But none of those were packed in my suitcase or duffel. Mrs. Fine made sure that the three of us were the prim and proper young ladies that we were supposed to be. So our wardrobes now consisted of lots of skirts and dresses. The three of us groaned when she had told us that.
I took a chance to look out the window. The sun was now starting to go down, turning the green English country into a dim gray. I could still see lush green pastures but the light was slowly disappearing. In the dark, they still looked vibrant to me but there was something about seeing green in the light that made all the difference. I think the road we were on was called the M5; it was one of the major thoroughfares in the country. According to the driver, it would take at least another hour or so to get to Chairmont. So all I could do was sit back and enjoy the scenery.
“Can you see anything out there?” asked Stella, she was the one next to the window.
I’d been leaning over her so I leaned back when I answered “Nothing but green and cows.”
She took a look. “I can’t see anything.”
“Are you three friends?” said a voice, it belonged to Rachel I think.
I turned to her and put on that fake smile of mine. She was a short, plump girl with freckles. I opened my mouth to answer but Diana beat me to it.
“Of course they’re friends, they’re from the same school,” she said, rolling her eyes. “They all play the cello too. How close are the three of you?”
Rachel looked at Courtney and Charlotte smiling. “Real close.”
“I’m sure it’s the same with them,” said Diana and then she turned to me. “Is your school much different than ours?”
I bit my lip. Why in the hell did she have to ask that now, after all Connor’s mojo was gone? So I bluffed it. “I’m not sure, what’s yours like?”
That got the four of them started. They launched into a description of their school, going on and on about all the places. They talked for twenty minutes, sometimes interrupting one another to say something. I smiled, exchanging looks with my two teammates. They smiled mischievously back at me.
When they were finally finished, Emma answered:
"Yep, pretty much the same.”
After that, the four girls went back into their own world, talking about whatever it is that normal girls talked about. I say normal because the three of us were far from it, of course. Emma and Stella had only been real girls for about three weeks total and me; I was a mess. A real girl maybe but as far from normal as one can get. How many girls do you know hold grudges against killing bastards and have bullets with their names on it. I have the bullet by the way; it’s in my duffel, along with the fake book, laptop and scrambled phone.
“So you want to talk about the dream?” whispered Stella in my ear.
I sighed. “Can this wait until later?”
“No” she said, nodding to Emma. “We need to get this out of the way.”
I nodded. “I was in my house, the one that Trish and I would have lived in, the same one that’s been appearing in the others. I was in my room and there was a knock on the door and Trish told me to get it. I went downstairs and opened the door…” I flushed and looked at Emma. “And Brad was there.”
Emma interrupted. “My brother? What was he doing in your dream?”
I groaned. “Do I really have to answer that?”
Emma opened her mouth but Stella cut her off. “No. So what happened?”
“He asked me to join him and his friends on a trip to the local diner. I was reluctant but Trish forced me to go and when we got to the diner, Dekker was there. I confronted him and I think he shot me.”
“How many times has he killed you now?”
I sighed. “This was the first.”
The last few dreams---the ones before the last two---he’s only appeared and glared at me. There was never any dialogue until the one the other night, the one where I knew I was dreaming. Before that, my dreams were just dreams, with me unaware of the fact that I was even in one. Most of the time Dekker didn’t even appear. He just sort of popped up and stared at me a bit then faded away. Now they were escalating, getting more and more intense. Hell, he actually attacked me in this one. I shuddered at the thought and found myself with my head in Stella’s lap; she began stroking my hair. The other girls looked over at us, concerned. Emma waved them off, saying it was my “time of the month”. I’d have to get her back for that one later.
I stayed that way---my head on Stella’s lap---for the rest of the ride.
I raised my head and looked out the van window. We were stopped now, the other two vans parked ahead of us. I saw one of the other chaperones getting out, talking to one of the drivers. I looked beyond her and at the building. It was enormous, it didn’t look much like a castle in real life but it was sure bigger than I would have expected. It was made of gray stone and had a couple of gables and peaks. It looked like something from one of those old black and white movies; it even had a balcony or two.
Stella piped up. “It’s like a mini-Hogwarts.”
I groaned. I wasn’t a fan. Stella had all seven books back in our room and tried to talk me into reading them but I have other things on my mind. There’s no time for recreational reading in our line of work. Somehow, she found the time. I guess she’s not as busy as I am.
“Girls” said our chaperone, a plump woman with curly red hair; I think her name was Miss Bronson or something like that. “You need to stay in the van while I coordinate with the other chaperones.”
Miss Bronson opened the door, pulling her coat around her and stepped outside. I watched as she walked over to the two vans. The other two chaperones got out, one was Miss Beak Face and the other was a tall, gray haired man. That surprised me. I didn’t get to meet all the chaperones at the airport. It was kind of surprising to see a man working at an all girl’s school but I suppose it happened. He looked like someone who might be a force to reckon with. He was tall, had a square jaw and sharp penetrating eyes. He turned his head and our eyes locked, it was almost as if he was penetrating my brain. I didn’t turn away though. I took up the challenge. After a few seconds, he smiled and turned away on his own.
I looked past him and back toward the Chairmont. The large double doors were now opening and a tall woman was emerging. She walked slowly down the stone steps on three-inch heels. She looked severe, a woman who you didn’t want to mess with. Her hair was held high on her head in a bun and she wore a tweed jacket and skirt. I smiled, this had to the Head Mistress. I searched my memory, Miss Pennington I think her name was.
“Definitely not Professor Dumbledore” said Stella, a bit of sadness in her voice.
The woman walked over to the three chaperones and they started to talk. I cracked the window and listened. The woman introduced herself as Margaret Pennington, so I’d been right about that. The male teacher was Mr. Carter. They were discussing room arrangements. A couple of random girls were dropped and then I heard our names mentioned.
“I have the three new additions placed right near one another,” said Miss Pennington. “I’ve already informed the girls they’ll be sharing rooms with, so everything is all set.”
Miss Bronson nodded. “They’re such good dears.”
After that, they went on to talk about other things, mainly the concert and things like that. I rolled up the window, muffling some of the conversation. I could still hear it but I ignored it. I leaned off Stella; she smiled at me. I could still see what was going on though and after a minute or two, Miss Bronson returned.
She opened the door. “Ok girls. We’re going to walk into the school as a group. We’ve arrived just in time for evening mass and then it’s off to bed with you dears. In the morning there will be breakfast in the Grand Hall and then an assembly for introductions.”
“Maybe it is Hogwarts,” mumbled Stella, I rolled my eyes.
I’m not familiar with Harry Potter in the least but Stella was a fanatic so as we walked down the halls she told me how much this was like Hogwarts and how much it wasn’t. The similarities were staggering in some places. Like the suits of armor, this place actually had several of them lining the hallways. They even had spears and things. Everything else was kind of Old World too, the floors were made of wood, there were tapestries dangling from the walls and ceiling. In the main foyer there was a large wooden staircase leading up to the second floor. When we entered the foyer, we were actually in the main part of the house. Apparently, the school was once the old Chairmont Estate, Lord Henry Chairmont donated it in his will after his death about two hundred years ago. There were two wings, dormitories were in the left and schoolrooms were in the right.
The Great Hall was actually located right behind the main foyer. The Chapel was actually behind the Estate. It was built fifty years ago. We had to walk through a meandering hedge maze and lush garden to get there. I’m not going to bore you with Mass because it was boring. I’m not a religious person, never have been and never will be. God and I weren’t great friends. There were a lot of kids who grew up like me who felt the same way. If there were a God then he wouldn’t have made our parents abandon us or some such. Me, I just never had time for flights of fancy. So even though I was pretending to be the good little Catholic schoolgirl, in reality I was itching to get out of there.
I got my wish two hours later.
Now a small group of us were walking down the hall of the dormitory, being led to our rooms. Stella squealed with delight when it was announced that the school had Houses---just like in the books. She squealed even more so when a girl about our age announced she was a Prefect and that for the duration of our stay we’d be living in Norwood House, attending Sixth form classes. So the girl, Janet Long, was leading us down the hall. Finally, we stopped at a door and she knocked. There was a scramble on the other side and then the door opened.
A bespectacled girl in a nightgown was standing there. Janet turned to Emma. “Emma Jones, you’ll be bunking with Clarice Martin, the two of you Yanks should get along nicely.”
I stared intently at the girl. I tried to see if there was any of Dekker in her. But this girl was short and had red hair. If she was Dekker’s kid, there was very little family resemblance. Emma smiled at the girl, hefted her suitcase, duffel and cello all in one hand. In her other hand she carried a field hockey stick. The other girls in our little group gasped at her strength. I glared at her. She may have been Wonder Woman back home but here she was supposed to be a normal girl. I think she realized what she’d done but it was too late now.
“I work out a lot,” she said sheepishly, trying to save face.
Janet nodded, clearly bored. Emma followed Clarice into the room and the door closed. The room next door was meant for someone else. It went like that door the hall, each of the girls with us being shoved off into other rooms. Mrs. Fine made our room arrangements beforehand. I didn’t know who I was going to bunk with but she made sure the three of us were stuck with American girls. It was to help us cut down on the search or something like that. When Stella went into her room with a girl named Brittany, I smiled. There was a lot of potential there. She was blonde, had the same look of Dekker and even looked a bit snobbish like him. When she saw Stella, she gave her the once over and I think she actually sighed. When Stella went into the room and the door closed, I heard the stuck up girl say, “You’ll do nicely.”
I was the only one left now.
“Here we are” said Janet, giving me the once over. “This is Karen’s room, you Hoodies should get along real well.”
She knocked on the door and a few seconds later, it opened. There was no way the girl standing before was any relation to Dekker. For one thing, she had shoulder length black hair and for another, she looked Japanese. She smiled at me but didn’t even look at Janet. Janet didn’t say anything either. She nodded to me and then walked away. I rolled my eyes.
Karen looked up at me; she had to be no more than five feet. “Wow you’re tall.”
I smiled. Then thought of something. “I get that a lot”
Not really but it was something to help segue into her allowing me into her private sanctuary. Karen didn’t say anything else though. Instead, she took the suitcase from me and half carried, half dragged it into the room. I was surprised by how spacious it was. There were two beds, one on either side of the room. Her side was decorated with punk band posters and lots of crazy color. It looked like the room of someone who’d been here a while. I looked at my bed; there was a folded blanket and a stack of pillows on it. There was nothing on the walls save for a little mirror. There was a desk by the window with a little lamp and a dresser. It reminded me a little bit of my old room in the Syndicate. That brought a little pang to my heart, thinking about how Trish and I painstakingly came up with ways to decorate it.
Karen carried my suitcase over to the bed and dropped it on the floor next to it. I easily carried the duffel and cello into the room. I found a place for the cello in the spacious closet; apparently we both had one. Her’s was jam packed with clothes, including several hooded sweatshirts. I nodded, now I knew why Janet said we’d get along so well. I did a crash course on some British slang before our flight yesterday. Hoodies were what they called people who wore hooded sweatshirts all the time. Apparently Karen and I had that in common. But whereas her’s was probably a fashion statement, mine was meant to keep a lot of that dreaded sun and bright light away.
I started to unpack, first the suitcase then the duffel. I half paid attention to all the clothes that Rebecca Logan was supposed to wear. Karen looked at them though and I’m sure she was thinking the same thing I was: gag me. When I got to unpacking the duffel, she saw the laptop but didn’t say anything. When I took out my phone, she gasped.
“They’re not going to let you keep that,” she said.
I held the phone tightly. “But it’s my lifeline.”
Karen chewed her lip. Unlike the other girls I’d seen, she was the only one not wearing a nightgown. She was dressed in a Sid Vicious t-shirt over a pair of gray bed pants. She looked comfortable; the others looked like they were presenting themselves for inspection.
“I suppose you could hide it, you’re only going to be here for a week, right?”
I nodded. “Well if you don’t tell then I won’t and if you’re quiet, I’ll even let you use it.”
She smiled weakly. “I don’t have anyone to call.”
I stopped unpacking, leaving my fake book lying on the bed. I turned to her, seeing the sadness in her face. There was something about her that felt off. I took a deep breath and asked her if anything was wrong. She shook her head and sat on her bed. I pushed a little and got some of her life story. She was the daughter of the Japanese Ambassador to Great Britain, her father a stoic Japanese man, her mother was American. Her parents apparently meant in college. But neither one of them wanted her around so they shipped her off here. It kind of sucked and I felt pretty bad for her. She then told me how it was to be the only Asian girl here and some of the cold shoulders the other girls gave her. I looked around the room and I came to the conclusion it was a little more than her ethnicity that they shunned her for. She was a rebel and in a place like this, I’m not sure if that was a good thing or not.
We talked for a few hours while I unpacked. She helped. She kept grimacing at my clothes until she couldn’t take it anymore.
“You seem cool Becca,” she said, taking a pale yellow dress from my duffel. “So why do you dress like this.”
I groaned. “I am cool. My mother, not so much. She felt I should dress all prim and proper and not in my usual.”
I quickly painted a mental picture for her, describing my usual wardrobe. She smiled a lot. Then I told her about my hair and what I was forced to do with it.
She frowned at that.
“That must suck,” she said as we put the last of my heinous clothes away. Her face lit up after that. “We’re taking you guys into town tomorrow after the assembly, maybe you and I can sneak away and do some clothes shopping. There’s a lot of great stores around here.”
I smiled at that.
“I think you and I will become fast friends.”
I could become friends with this girl. Maybe it’d help distract me from Dekker and my one woman mission to put a bullet in his head.
After packing, someone knocked on the door and announced it was lights out. I fake yawned. I wasn’t tired in the least, not after sleeping on the plane. Karen looked exhausted though. She told me about the day they were planning for us tomorrow, which apparently was going to start at six am. I groaned over that one. Then I undressed out of my stuffy schoolgirl uniform and into a pair of gray pajamas. Mrs. Fine tried to get me to pack something more girly but I drew the line there. My pajamas would not be seen by anyone but me and Karen of course. So after putting on my PJs, the two of us got into bed. I lay there for a while, listening as Karen slowly settled into her sleep. About twenty minutes later, I slipped out from underneath the covers and over to the desk. I booted up the laptop, ran it through the program to scramble the signal and then logged into the system. It didn’t take long for me to reroute to the Center servers where a technician there hooked me into the Mobile Command Center.
I smiled when Barry’s face appeared on the screen. He smiled too.
“You look different without all the purple,” he said, yawning.
“Nice to see you too.”
He smiled. “What’s it like there?”
“Hogwartish, according to Stella.”
He smiled at that but didn’t make a comment. Barry wasn’t a fan either, at least not as far as I knew. It was strange because we’d been together for a couple of months and though we were pretty hot and heavy, I didn’t really know all that much about him. I suppose that was ok when we were prisoners together in Section Four but now I figured he’d open up a little more. But every time we were together, we did a lot of making out and very little talking. I liked it a lot at first but lately it’s like the only thing we seem to know how to do. I try talking but he just brushes off most of my questions with one-syllable answers. Just like a typical guy.
“You find any candidates yet?”
“Maybe” I said, “put Kit on.”
He nodded and disappeared from my screen. A few seconds later, Kit’s smiling face appeared. “Hey Sarge, you have a half naked pillow fight yet?”
I rolled my eyes. She was as bad as a guy. I ignored the question. Instead, I filled her in on some of the girls, telling her about Emma’s roommate and then telling her about Britney. “She’s the best candidate so far. She’s tall, blonde and snobbish. She even looks a little bit like him.”
Kit nodded. “What about yours?”
I smiled. “Unless Dekker is the Japanese Ambassador to Great Britain, I don’t think so.”
Kit laughed. “I think you might have noticed that.”
I filled her in on a few other details while Barry apparently did a search on Brittany. It didn’t take long. He handed Kit a piece of paper and she read it quickly before telling me what Barry found out. “According to this, Brittany’s father is a business man, her last name is Smith. Her mother is dead and she’s been living at the school since she was about ten or so. She and her father don’t really see one another much.”
She was sounding more and more like our target. “She might be the one. I’ll have Stella try to get to know her better.”
Kit nodded. “Samson will bug the room tomorrow when you’re at your assembly thing. We’ll try to get one on her as well.”
I nodded. “Where’s Connor?”
Kit groaned. Apparently, she wasn’t a big fan of him either. “We were able to get him into Martin’s School for Boys as well. We put him and Brad down as cousins; the two of them are bunking together. Tomorrow morning when your group goes into town, Connor and Brad will meet you and he’ll do his thing again.”
I shuddered. I was definitely not looking forward to that.
Kit filled me in on her end of things. She was all tapped into the school’s security and their communications. The MCU was disguised as a florist van, parked a couple of blocks from the school. From that position, they’d be able to monitor everything that goes on inside the hallowed halls of Chairmont. She was also trying to see if she could place some small surveillance cameras up in the most used places in the building to keep an eye on things. As part of the op, the Headmistress was the only one who knew we weren’t who we appeared to be. It was a risky move but we needed full cooperation if we were to act. But she still thought we were there to uncover some kind of illegal computer hacking ring. Our cover was as three FBI agents, looking for a supposed link in the school. She tried to deny any involvement with her girls but Mrs. Fine was pretty convincing.
After a few more questions, I ended the conversation with Kit. I shut down and sighed, leaning back in the chair. One of these girls was connected to Dekker and as soon as we found her, I was going to make her tell me about her father through any means necessary. I put the laptop away and went to bed, pulling the bullet from my pocket and staring at it until I drifted off to sleep.
Photo Credit: Model AJ Stewart
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