TG Universes & Series:
The Center: Best Served Cold -
Author's Note: Here's Ch. 16...it starts with sorrow and ends in surprise. I'd like to thank djkauf for the editing.
Everything happened in slow motion. I heard the shots, I even saw the bullets. But all of it was too late for any kind of reaction. I’m not even sure where they came from, all I know was one minute Barry was standing there talking to me and the next he was falling forward. My entire world seemed to stop in that moment. Someone screamed, it took me a few seconds to realize it was me. I ran forward, catching him as he tumbled backwards to the floor in front of me. He collapsed into my arms, pulling me to the floor with him. The world snapped back into full motion after that. I was still screaming, tears streaming down my face. Both bullets hit him, one in the lower stomach, the other higher. Blood swelled from the two wounds, blooming out from the small holes like giant red flowers. I pressed my hands to them, trying to stem the flow of blood, but it was no use.
“Barry” I sobbed, “you have to stay with me now.”
He smiled, his lips barely parting. His skin was already starting to go pale. I could see the life leeching out of him. He gently grabbed my hands, trying to push them away from his chest. The abdominal shot was enough to kill him, the blood there almost black. The one in the chest was even worse; it was so close to his heart. Tears ran down my face, mingling with the blood. I groaned. There was so much of it, flowing over my fingers.
He reached up, gently stroking my hair. “Becca, I’m sorry. I should have never agreed to this stupid plan of his.”
I shook my head. “Don’t talk, please don’t talk.”
He wouldn’t listen. “If I’d of known how much of a wonderful person you were, I would have never done any of it.”
I sobbed. “You’re talking crazy. You’ll be ok.”
“I only regret not being able to get to know you longer. You’re a great person, the best person I’ve ever met.”
“Please” I begged, my tears flowing hotly. “You can’t do this to me. Not now, not after all this.”
“You have to promise me one thing” His voice was a whisper. I nodded. “You can’t seek revenge for this. I know you, it’ll eat you up inside and I can’t let you do that for me. Trish wouldn’t have wanted it either. You need to stop all this nonsense. Revenge isn’t the answer. It’s never the answer; promise me you’ll let this go.”
I nodded. He smiled. “I promise.”
No more revenge. If that’s what he wanted then that’s what he’d get.
“Good girl” he said and then his hand dropped away.
I’m not sure when I knew he was gone but as soon as I did I screamed at the top of my lungs. There was running behind me, several people, but I didn’t pay much attention. Someone got to me first, put a hand on my shoulder. I heard Connor’s voice but I pushed the hand away. No revenge. Connor came at me again, grabbed my arms. He lifted me off the ground while someone else took care of Barry. I think it might have been Diana. I was barely paying attention now. I was looking down the hall, toward where the shooter had been standing. I’d been in too much shock to realize who it was but now I was certain. It was Declan, his face was so clear now. He stopped at the end of the hall, waiting for Barry to catch up. But when Barry stopped, I only half registered the look of anger on Declan’s face. That’s when he fired, that’s when he took the second most important person in my life from me.
“Becca” said a voice as someone gently shook me. “Becca, are you there?”
Connor was shaking me. But I didn’t pay much attention. I was still looking down the hall. Declan had a good head start but he couldn’t have gotten that far. There was only so much hall and really only one place to go. No revenge but maybe justice. Justice is different than revenge right, Batman sought justice instead of revenge, didn’t he? I finally acknowledged Connor. I turned toward him and smiled. He smiled too, he let out a sigh. I think he thought I was going crazy. But I wasn’t crazy, I was pissed off. Before he could react, I lunged for his holster. I pulled the pistol free and pushed him away. He stumbled back, nearly falling over Diana in the process.
I turned and ran. I ran as fast as I could. I heard Connor shout for me and give chase. But I had a good start on him. I ran down to the end of the hall, whipped around the corner and took off down the new hall like a bat out of hell. People kept dying around me, good people, taken long before their time. The two most important people, killed right in front of me. Barry was right, revenge wasn’t the answer. But justice was another story. I’d catch up with the bastard and make him pay. Maybe I’d kill him; maybe I’d just beat him senseless. Regardless, there was no way he was getting away from me, not now, not ever again. I ran hard and fast.
I went down one hall and then another. There were flights of stairs I went down too because I had a pretty good idea where Declan was going. It was the same place that Barry tried to take me. It was the only place to escape. I just needed to get there before he got away. If he did, there was no telling what kind of things he could accomplish. He’d raise another army, possibly a stronger one. He didn’t have his super Dominator anymore but the little bastard was resourceful. He’d probably go crawling back to his Daddy and everything would be all right. He’d plead and beg and Carson would take back his weasel of a son. As soon as that happened, there’d be no way I could touch him.
I finally reached the hall where Barry had tried to stop me before. The door at the end was wide open. I ran full speed toward it. I tore into a large garage, not unlike the one at Section Four. Except this one only had a few vehicles and there was only one door out of there. It was a large metal one and it was slowly rising. I looked around, frantic. There were two SUVS and the van. But on the other side of both I saw a sleek BMW. It wasn’t a convertible like I expected but its passenger was who I expected. I saw his mop of blonde hair, the smug satisfied look on his face. He thought he was getting out of here scot free. Like hell. I tore into the room; my pounding footfall caught his attention. He turned to me and I saw the panic in his eyes. I bet he thought he got me with one of those bullets. I bet he thought popping Barry was going to turn me into a pile of mush. But I’m not that kind of girl.
I raised my gun and fired. The window was already rolling up when I did so. I squeezed off two more shots before my first one even got there. The first shot was the only one that made it through before the window fully went up. The last two hit the glass, spider webbing it, saving him. The first whizzed at his head. It was a good shot but off by a fraction. Instead of hitting him directly in the head, it tore by his left ear, tearing the top half of it. I heard him scream from the confides of his car. I saw the anguish on his face, the look of total shock that I actually shot him. He thrashed and clutched his head; the pain was probably unbearable.
I ran forward and fired two more shots, both hit the windshield. The bastard had bullet proof glass but that didn’t stop me. Using my super sight, I fired bullet after bullet into the same spot, one after another until I emptied the entire clip. The last two made it through. Unfortunately, I was at the wrong angle and they tore into the seat around his head. He recovered after that, my shots shocking him back into reality. He revved the engine; put it in reverse and fishtailed right for me. For a moment, fear gripped me. Something else gripped me too, something surreal and calm. He was going to barrel right into me and I didn’t care. Let it be done, let the world be rid of me.
The son of a bitch was smiling behind the wheel. I dropped the empty gun on the ground and waited for the end to come. The car was within a foot from me when I felt someone grab me. I was swept up into strong arms. It took me a second to realize who it was and then the car skidded right through us. It swerved around before hitting the wall, screeching about the garage. It floored around the van and two SUVS and then made a go for the door. I watched as it peeled away and then buried my head in Brad’s chest, crying.
Declan was gone, gain. Declan was gone, Barry was dead and I was alive.
I wanted to scream in anger but all I did was cry.
I pressed the cold pack to my head, grateful for the cold, soothing relief it provided. Not that it was helping much; my head was throbbing. But it was a start. Now if I could just find one that covered my whole body and I’d be set. I don’t think I’ve ever ached this much in my entire life and the worst part is I don’t remember much of what did it to me. The last thing I remember before waking up a few minutes ago was running into Emma in the hall. But she was completely different. She was dolled up like a hooker and she didn’t seem to know who I was. I’ve never encountered a Dominator before---during Emma’s rescue mission, Becca made me wait in the SUV---but I knew the stories. I knew what they could do to me, how they could mess with minds. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to Emma. I’m also pretty sure she kicked my ass.
Thinking about it only made me groan even more. When I was subdued, apparently the brainwashed Emma dragged me into this room. It was small, there were no windows and the only furniture in the room was a desk. It looked like someone had stripped the place and in a hurry. There were papers scattered about the floor and the desk drawers were pulled open. I was confused at first when I woke, my head pounding. I tried the door but it was locked so I did the only thing I could do and started pounding. I’m not sure how long it took but eventually someone opened the door. I didn’t recognize him. He was tall, dressed in black commando gear. He had an automatic rifle slung on his shoulder. He said his name was Corporal Moore and that they were currently sweeping the facility for stragglers.
I think he thought I was one of Declan’s people. Even after I explained things to him, he told me to stay put and went off to find someone to confirm my identity. That was about five minutes ago. Now I was sitting here, waiting to find out what the hell is going on. The last thing I remember before running into Emma was that the place was still under hostile control. Did we get Becca? Was the place secure now? I hated not knowing, sitting here in the dark. At least he gave me this cold pack for my head, not that it was helping much. I wasn’t really angry with Emma; it wasn’t her fault after all. But still the girl could have shown some restraint. I’m not even sure what she did but whatever it was it hurt like hell now.
My thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. Before I could answer, the door opened up and Kit slipped inside.
She smiled and sighed in relief at the sight of me. “There you are, we thought we’d have to look everywhere for you. It would have been hell to find an unconscious invisible girl.”
I half laughed at the joke. I winced, that hurt my head. “What happened?”
She quickly gave me the rundown of events, from her end anyway. Apparently, after they left me, they encountered a little resistance. She said she might have overreacted when she shot and killed the first kid but it was pretty hectic. They got ambushed. First, by the telekinetic; she tried to kill them by a photokinetic, pyrokinetic and some kid she wasn’t sure about. Brad took out the pyro and the bouncy kid. Connor managed to slip around behind the photokinetic and took her out. They were doing pretty good after that until Emma came. After she threw Brad through the wall, there was little they could do to stop her. Kit said everything else was pretty fuzzy after that. She said she remembered someone else coming, a kid with glasses then the next thing she remembered was waking up in a hallway. Apparently by then the fighting was over.
I nodded. It explained some things. I quickly told her about my fight and then my encounter with Emma. I think that probably took place before her bout. But there were some questions I wanted answers too. “Where’s Becca?”
Kit didn’t answer at first. I saw her conflicting emotions. She took a deep breath and told me the rest. “We lost Barry. I’m not sure of all the details because Becca is a bit inconsolable right now but from what I can gather, he was working with Declan. But after he saw what was happening here, he turned sides. He tried to help her escape but it failed. Connor didn’t have all the answers. But after the Dominator was taken out, Barry and Declan fled. Connor said it looks like Declan shot Barry to make a clean getaway.”
Oh God, no. I jumped off the desk. She must have been a wreck. I dropped the cold pack and wobbled a bit on my feet. I stumbled and Kit caught me. She tried to get me to sit back down but I didn’t have time. Becca was my best friend and she needed me. After pushing a bit, she let me go. I ran to the door and pulled it open. Corporal Moore was on the other side. He stepped in my way but Kit waved him off. He nodded and let me by. I had no idea where Becca was but I needed to find her. I ran up and down the halls, looking in empty room after empty room. I only stopped for a second when I ran past the room I left that blue haired bitch in. The door was open and no one was inside.
Son of a bitch. I looked about; one of our guys was walking down the hall toward us.
“What happened to the girl in this room?”
I approached me and peered inside. “There was no one.”
Shit. “Are you sure? She had blue hair, about my height?” He shook his head. I groaned again. “I subdued her earlier, locked her unconscious ass in here.”
“I’m sorry, Miss, we only have three hostiles”
I didn’t have time for this. “She’s really dangerous. You have to find her.”
The soldier nodded and I ran off. As much as I wanted to help him find that crazy bitch, I was worried more about Becca. I knew how much losing Trish crushed her. I can’t imagine what losing Barry was doing to her. I needed to be there for her, even if it meant standing outside a locked door. Friends were there for one another in times of tragedy. I had one really good friend when I was younger; her name was Sally. She lived next door. When she heard about my father dying, she came over and hugged me. I cried in her arms. She and her mother took me to her house, made me a sandwich and sat with me while the authorities explained things to my grandmother. It was one of the worst times in my life. I couldn’t imagine losing two people that you were really close with.
I saw a familiar face when I ran around the next corner. It was Brad; he was leaning against the wall, near a door. He was shirtless, a bandage wrapped around his chest. He looked up when he heard me running. His face lit up a bit but other than that, he looked like someone had run him over. I ran up to him, out of breath when I finally stopped. He didn’t seem to mind; instead, he slid to the floor, sliding over to offer me the spot next to him. I slid to the floor too, taking a few deep breaths to catch up. Neither of us said anything to the other for a few seconds.
Finally, I need to break the ice. “Your sister kicked my ass.”
Ok, so not the best line to use.
He snorted. Then pointed to the bandage. “Mine too.”
We both laughed. Then we both winced, clearing laughing wasn’t the best idea.
I waited a whole minute before asking what I wanted to know. “Is Becca in there?”
He nodded. “I carried her there after saving her from Declan. He tried to run her over and she just stood there.” He shook his head, fighting back tears. “We could have lost her…”
I leaned over and hugged him. I knew how much he cared about her. I cared about her too. “Is she going to be ok?”
He shrugged. “After I got her back here, she tried to make it look like nothing was wrong. You know her” I nodded. “Samson and I had to hold her back. She wanted to help us sweep the place, look for others. But it was clear that she was in a lot of pain. Then one of Major Baker’s team came in, a medic I think.
They gave her a nice cocktail of something; it had to be pretty strong to put her out.”
I sighed. At least she was ok for now. “Where did Baker come from?”
He shrugged. “When I got back with Becca, he and his men were coming down the hall. They just arrived. I’m not sure how they knew we were here but he didn’t look too happy.”
“I’m sure Kit will get that all sorted out.”
After that, the two of us sat and talked for a bit. We didn’t cover anything that happened here. Brad talked about nonsensical stuff, mainly about his life before. I knew some of it from Emma but it was interesting to hear it from his side of things. It was strange to think of this strapping Adonis as a girl but then again it was probably hard to think of me as a guy. But it was still kinda funny to listen to him talking about finding the right pair of heels to go with the cutest skirt. I take it that Stephanie---his former self---was a bit of a fashionista, among other things. I filled him in on my former life too, or lack thereof.
Ten minutes later, an ensemble came down the hall.
We both perked our heads up. Major Baker was in the lead, dressed in black like his men, minus the assault rifle. He walked with this air of superiority and why not, he was technically the highest-ranking man here. He was a tall guy, with closed cropped graying hair. He was in his forties, there were lines on his face already that made him look older. Over his right eye, there was a little scar. I didn’t know much about him other than the fact that he was our Back Up. He led a squad of ten, elite commandos. Most of them I wouldn’t know from the other. Except Captain Jones, his second. Jones was walking next to the Major. He was a tall, bald black guy in his thirties. I knew Jones by face alone, some of the soldiers played cards in a Rec Room back at the Center, Jones was one of them.
Behind them came Kit and Samson. The two of them looked kinda subdued.
Brad and I stood up as the group approached us. Baker stopped in front of Brad.
“Is Sergeant Howe in there?”
Brad nodded. “Yes sir but one of your men sedated her.”
That didn’t seem to faze Baker. “I need to speak to her and apprise her of the situation at hand.”
Brad and Baker stood head to head, sizing one another up. Clearly, Brad didn’t appreciate this guy barging in like this. I didn’t really like it either. I understood he was just doing his job but she just lost her boyfriend. Couldn’t he have shown her a little decency?
“I understand that, sir” said Brad “but she’s still sedated.”
Baker ignored him and turned to Jones. “Captain, go retrieve Corporal Curtis to bring something to rouse her”
“Aye, aye sir”
Jones took off quickly. I glared at Baker. This was the first time I’d really met the guy and first impressions were supposed to tell you a lot. I didn’t like this guy, I didn’t like him one bit. I glared at him. I caught eyes with Kit and she looked about the same. But unlike me, there was nothing she could do but stand there like a stone-faced statue. After all, he was her superior. It was kinda strange really. Technically, he was Becca’s superior as well except she somehow called all the shots. The only time Baker was needed was if things got out of hand. So I didn’t really know who was in charge then. I’m not really up on all my military protocol. But knowing Becca, I’m sure she didn’t like bending over for this guy.
Jones came back a few minutes later with a baby-faced soldier caring a medical bag. Corporal Curtis no doubt. I was surprised at how young he was.
“Sir” said the baby faced medic. When he spoke, I realized I was mistaken. He was in fact a she.
I squinted. So she wasn’t baby faced, she was just a girl. She was kinda cute in that boyish type way. She had sandy blonde haircut in a boyish style and striking blue eyes. She had the cutest dimples. I flushed and turned away.
Baker and his men didn’t waste any more time. Kit took out a pair of keys and unlocked the door. Then all the soldiers went inside, except for Samson who stood watch. I sighed and looked down the hall, noticing for the first time that we were in fact not alone. Apparently, the soldiers blocked her from view but standing there was Emma. She was still dressed in the trampy outfit from before but she was wearing a green army jacket that was three sizes too big on her. I bet the name tag on it said Samson. Her face was devoid of all that makeup and it looked like she tried to untease her poofy hair. She toed the ground, barely able to look at either me or her brother.
Brad broke the silence between the three of us. He walked over and wrapped his arms around her. “You are never to leave my sight again.”
I heard her sigh as she wrapped her arms around him. Then she sniffled a bit. The two of them held onto one another for a while. When they finally let go, she looked over at me guiltily. She opened her mouth to say something but I held up a hand to cut her off. Then I rushed forward and wrapped my arms around her too. It was so good to see that she was ok. The two of us cried a bit. Yeah, we’re girls, girls cry when they’re happy. I held onto her for some time, it felt good to have a warm body pressed against me.
When we finally separated, she finally spoke. “I’m really, really sorry. It wasn’t me. I saw what I was doing but there was nothing I could do to stop it.”
I nodded, wiping the tears off my cheeks. “Don’t worry about it, water under the bridge. I’m just glad to see you’re back to normal.”
All three of us laughed. It didn’t hurt me as much but Brad winced again. Then we sat down in the hall and waited. There wasn’t much more to do. Besides, I wasn’t going to leave this spot until I knew my roomie was ok.
“Sergeant, are you still listening to me?” asked Baker as he continued to debrief me on the situation.
To tell you the truth I wasn’t really listening. Baker and I had an understanding like that though. He’d drum on and on about something and I’d pretend to listen. I wasn’t particularly interested in what he was saying anyway. He was talking about the clean sweep he and his men did after they arrived at the facility. He kept referring to the people therein as the “targets” and the ones that got away as “escapees”. Yes, I said ones that got away, as in plural. Need I remind you that I failed to obtain Declan, once again? I’m sure I’d get hell as soon as I got back home. I sure got it when Baker walked into the room. He seemed to think I dropped the ball on that one. And for once, I actually agree with him. I’d been sloppy and reckless. I should have put a bullet in Declan’s head.
But I made a promise.
I shifting in my chair, looking around the cramped room. There were three soldiers standing before me. Captain Jones---Baker’s right hand lackey---was standing by the door; Kit was lingering in the corner. Baker was almost directly in front of me, lecturing as usual. He was my superior but he wasn’t in control here. Even though he liked to think he was. I think he secretly hated the fact that I---a sixteen-year-old girl---could give him orders. What’s worse, he was the guy on standby. I’d read Baker’s file, he’d done two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was also some black op stuff on their too. He was Special Forces and he never let you forget it. He talked big and liked to talk down, a lot. Not that I blamed him much, being back up was a shitty assignment.
I caught eyes with Kit. She rolled hers. I smiled weakly. It was all I could do at the moment. I’m not really sure what happened after Brad saved me from being squashed by the BMW. I vaguely remember crying in his arms, burying my head in his chest. He carried me out of the garage and down the hall. As we were making our way back toward Declan’s office, Baker and his team came barging in. They had guns blazing, moving like the commandos my team should have been like. All of his guys were well trained, except for maybe Curtis, the medic. She was kinda green, fresh from wherever they shipped her in from. She was the youngest too, barely nineteen I think. I’m not even sure if she was a full medic yet. She was a last minute replacement though. The previous guy, Corporal Hughes, busted his knee on the basketball court two nights before we were set to “deploy”.
Kit smiled back at me. I could tell she was feeling my pain. We were all in a little bit of pain. It was one thing to find out that one of your friends is a traitor but it’s another thing entirely to know that they were dead. I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet for me. I know he’s gone, he died in my arms. Just like Trish. But I’m not sure why I felt so calm about it. I vaguely remember falling apart before, screaming bloody murder before I ran off after Declan. Now there was nothing. I felt hollow inside, my body gutted of everything that mattered. Looking at Kit I could tell I wasn’t the only one. She---like me---didn’t really know how to react to something like this.
Baker’s words interrupted my thoughts. “We’re going to move Miss Xavier and Miss Pierce along with Mr. Brody in a few hours.”
The names meant nothing to me. “Who?” I asked, finally getting back into the conversation.
He smiled slightly before answering. “Your new little friend, the one with the extraordinary gift. Diana Xavier I think she said her name was. We currently have her and Katrina Pierce in look-down in the room three doors over. Corporal Moore is questioning them right now.”
I’m not sure I liked the sound of that. “Diana is innocent.”
Baker nodded. “That may be but she was still a part of this terrorist cell.”
A Terrorist Cell. That’s what they were officially calling this place. About an hour after Baker arrived, MI-5 tried to push their way in. But the good Major only allowed the agents as far as the front door. I’m not sure how he got them to leave but he made it very clear that as soon as we were done with our investigation then they’d have their chance. I suppose Baker was good at some things. He had some pull somewhere. I think it was because he and the Colonel were old friends. There was a picture of the two of them fishing, on the bookshelf behind the Colonel’s desk. The two of them were smiling and looked like them were having a good time. It was strange to see either man smile.
I wasn’t about to let him treat Diana or Kat as suspects though. “They’re not involved in this, either one of them. They’ve been abusing Diana for weeks now and Kat has been under the Dominator’s sway. They’re not to be prosecuted or harmed.”
Baker nodded. “They will be shown the courtesy we show all of our guests.”
I didn’t like the way he said “guests”. I knew full well the courtesy they showed guests at the Center. I was one of those “guests” for nearly a month. I even had my own cell to prove it. Ok, so maybe I’m a little fired up by the situation. But I promised Diana that I wouldn’t allow these bastards to mistreat her like Declan and his cronies.
I got to my feet. “I want to see them now.”
Baker sized me up. He was a good head taller than me. I’m sure he was well trained too, he’d probably even be able to kick my ass if he got lucky. But he’d have to be real lucky to stop me. As he stared me down, I think he realized it too. There was a flicker of fear in his eyes and then he backed down. I pushed past him toward the door. Jones stepped in my way. He may have been younger than Baker and possibly better trained but he was still nothing. I could have torn through him in a heartbeat. He stepped aside when Baker gave him the nod. I pushed my way through the door; it took me about a second to realize Kit was following. She didn’t say a word as she sped up to me, walking along side me, keeping up.
The guy standing guard at Diana’s door was Corporal Janks. I knew all Baker’s men by name because I had to read each and every one of their files. Janks was in his twenties, enlisted after high school. He gave me a nod as we approached, opening the door for us. Janks was a good guy, the two of us sparred every once in a while. Inside, Diana and Kat were sitting on a sofa, Moore was talking to them. They both perked up when they saw me. Moore, sensing he wasn’t alone, turned and grimaced. Yeah, I didn’t like him either.
There were advantages and disadvantages about being able to hear just about every conversation. Moore was a bigot; he hated all of us “freaks” with a passion. I’m not sure how he ever got through the screening process. I suppose he could lie really well. I’d have to make a mental note, remembering to bring Lola with me the next time he was present. I’d like to see how he held up under her gaze.
“Staff Sergeant” he said, I could hear the dislike in his voice. “I was in the middle of interrogat…I mean questioning these two.”
I nodded. “You’re dismissed, Corporal.”
He pushed past me quickly and out the door. He made a “freaks” comment to Janks under his breath. Janks bit back, telling him to “shut the fuck up”. Like I said, I really liked Janks.
“How long are they going to keep us here?” asked Diana, fidgeting.
“We haven’t done anything wrong,” added Kat, looking nervous.
This was the first time I’d come face to face with her. She was a thin girl with straight black hair to her shoulders and one of those cute noses that only looked right on a doll. It looked good on her though. Her most stunning feature was her eyes though. I’ve seen green eyes and then I’ve seen green eyes. But these eyes were so green it almost looked like they were glowing. I stared at those eyes for a few seconds. I think she got uncomfortable because she finally pulled away.
Kit fielded their questions. Me, I just had to make sure they were all right. There was no way I wanted the two of them to be lumped together with the rest of the scum here. Not that there was much of that left. One of the first things Baker told me was how many of Declan’s people we were able to capture. Including, Diana and Kat, the number was only three. Besides Declan, that bouncy monkey kid Tobias was gone as was that bitch Jasmine. If I ever saw her, again I was going to shoot first and ask questions later. I stood in the corner and listened to Kit try to reassure the two of them that everything was going to be ok. After a few minutes, I asked if she had everything under control, when she nodded, I slipped out of the door.
Janks nodded to me. “Ma’am.”
I nodded back. I started back down the hall but stopped after a few feet. There was something I wanted to check with him. I spun around. Janks was the team sniper. He was a damn good shot, not my caliber but still aces. “That was a good shot back there.” I said, in reference to the one that put down Miles.
“I’m not sure I’m following, ma’am?”
I nodded. It was just as I thought. I had suspected there was someone else out there---hell, I saw him. My first thought it was Janks; he liked to hide in trees. But there was something about the shooter’s style that seemed off. For one thing, he was using a completely different rifle. Janks also favored a laser pointer. Besides sparring, the two of us spent a lot of time in the shooting range. Janks used a Barrett M82 50 caliber rifle. The shooter earlier was using a different type. Janks favored body shots too but the person who fired at Miles went for the head. It was farther out than Janks liked to shoot too. I was pretty confident it wasn’t Janks but I had to make sure. Now that I knew, it kinda worried me to know that there was someone else out there. It worried me even more that he knew about us and had chosen Miles as the target. There were several choice targets in the room---myself included----so what was so special about Miles. I suppose he was the most convenient at the moment but I was certain there was more to it than that. As soon as Baker arrived, he said his men swept the surrounding forest but they found no out there.
So the mystery shooter would remain just that. For now, anyway.
I left Janks and returned to the room where Baker and Jones were. The two of them were talking quietly. When I reentered, they finished up. We discussed some things for the next half an hour or so. It was agreed that Emma, Stella and I would return to the school for the time being. Baker’s radio tech, Grier, was able to reestablish communication with the Center. Apparently, they were having problems of their own. Baker had spoken briefly with both Mrs. Fine and Colonel Harris. They both agreed that it was imperative that the three of us finish up, at least until the morning. Baker’s men already had Brock secured in a van ready to take to the airport for shipment stateside. Diana and Kat were booked on a flight for tomorrow morning. Brad and Connor---both of whom were wounded---would accompany them.
They also made arrangements for Barry. My eyes stung with tears as I thought about it. He and the others killed here tonight would all get proper burials back home. I never did ask what the Center did with their dead. I didn’t really want to know.
“Are we all done now?”
Baker nodded. “My men will sweep the place one more time then we’ll move out.”
I nodded and shook the Major’s hand. “Thanks for the backup, sir.”
I left the room for a second time. Samson was waiting for me this time; apparently, there were some people who wanted to see me. He had a big smile on his face as he led me down the hall. When he opened the room, Stella was the first one to tackle me. She wrapped me in the strongest hug. She even cried a little. Her warmth felt good. It was comforting. I took in a big whiff of her pheromones, hoping maybe they’d do something to get me out of my funk. They didn’t. Emma came next; her hug was light---thank God. I didn’t hug Connor. The two of us shared a nod though. I’m not sure when it happened---probably sometime in that room---but I’d grown to respect him. I hated to think about it now but maybe he’d just earned a permanent spot on my team.
Brad was the last to approach me. We didn’t say anything. When he hugged me, wrapping his strong arms around me, for a moment I didn’t want him to let go. There was definitely something between us but I wasn’t ready to find out what just yet. I knew the two of us played with kissing but I couldn’t think about those things, especially after Barry.
We left after that. I was pretty damn glad to do so. We all went in one vehicle. Diana and Kat left earlier with Baker in one of the SUVs his team brought. I think the two of them were going to like it at the Center. None of us said anything on the ride back to Chairmont. We dropped the guys off first at their stuffy boarding school then we got dropped off. When we slipped into the building, it was mid-afternoon, right around lunch. We quietly crept through the halls. There wasn’t even anyone waiting when we got there. Baker said he called the school ahead of time and had spoken to the Head mistress. We were safe to enter without any troubles. Which was good because I was done with troubles.
I said good-bye to Emma and Stella as they went to their respective rooms. My body ached, my mind was mush and there were so many conflicting emotions dancing around in my head it was on overload. All I wanted to do was walk into my room, strip to my underwear and get a well deserved rest. No more problems, no more complications.
I opened the door and froze in the doorway. Karen was sitting on her bed, a glass on the floor in front of her. There was a strip of water leading from the glass---floating between it and her. She looked from me to the glass then back to me. The color drained from her face.
Me, I sighed. I guess today was one of those days.
Photo Credit: Model AJ Stewart
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