The Center: Face of the Enemy -
One month has passed since escaping the Syndicate and Becca is now in The Center. But everything is far from good. Even though she's escaped the Syndicate, she's not sure if she can trust the Center.
Author's Note: My original plan was to post Ch. 6 and 7 together but I decided that it was better to stretch things out a bit. This chapter is part one of the Section One infiltration mission. After this there should be only two or three more chapters left of this story.
I looked at Clara sitting across from me, her face was kind of green and she looked as if she was going to throw up. She wasn’t the only one either; all my team looked a little queasy, including the two soldiers. We were a green team, fresh faced and inexperienced. As I looked from face to face I couldn’t help but think none of them were ready for this, most importantly me. I’ve never led anything like this before. Kris and the Colonel said I was a component leader but I’m not sure if I believed that. What I did in the Syndicate I did to survive and that mission in Vermont was a fluke. In Vermont I barely got out of there with my life and now they wanted me to do it again.
This time I was in charge.
After leaving the Center that morning, the group of us filed into a black van, there wasn’t enough room for all of us in one of those SUVs. Private Samson drove, I sat shotgun. I spent the ride to our small airfield, going over the mission details. It was pretty straightforward: we’d enter the compound from the rear and split into two teams: Barry, Marcus, Clara and Samson would go and secure the computer room. I would lead Rodriguez and Cori through the main parts of the facility, trying to get a bead on Green. That’s where Cori’s specialty was going to come in handy. Our job on this mission was all about protecting her. We needed to get her to touch as much stuff as possible and hope she got a reading.
On the plane, I filled everyone else in on the plan. Cori ran off to the bathroom in the back and we all heard her throwing up. I think all of us wanted to as well but we kept it. When Cori came back she was sheepish and apologetic. Marcus did his best to comfort her. The only one in the group who didn’t looked too bad Barry. He looked like he was ready and rearing to go.
“How much longer until we land?” asked Clara, looking agitatedly toward the window?
I looked at my watch. “Another couple of minutes” She groaned. “Have you ever flown before?”
She nodded. “I’m not a big fan of it”
I decided to change topics, to keep her mind off things. “Have you heard anything from Donovan?”
It was a sore subject with her but I was hoping to keep her mind distracted. Mattie told me yesterday that a few days after arriving at the Center, her old e-mail account got a hit. The sender didn’t leave a name but called herself Flamegirl0F02. So she knew it was from Beatrice. Apparently shortly after crossing the border, Bee and Sara went their own way. Gideon had tried to talk them out of it but they were adamant to start their lives over. They were a bit upset about not taking Rachel but she needed serious medical attention for her leg, the Doc only fixed her up to the best of his knowledge. The last Beatrice knew, the others were going way north, to some place that Gideon had up there. When I heard it I was glad to know they were ok.
“Donnie isn’t the writing type” She seemed a bit off put by that. “If I know him he’s probably frolicking through the woods, sleeping in a cave and eating off the land. He said he used to do things like that even before the Change”.
“I’m sure he’s thinking about you?”
She smiled and nodded.
The rest of the plane ride we all sat in silence. Everyone had their little thing they were doing. Marcus was opening the pockets of his combat vest, taking things out and putting them back. Barry was typing away on his laptop, oblivious to the world around him. Cori was sitting as far apart from the others as possible; her hands on her lap, staring straight ahead. I felt kind of bad for her. It must have been hard not being able to touch anything without getting whatever it is that she got. Though it was different than my situation I kind of knew how she felt.
The two soldiers were doing soldier things. Samson was checking his equipment, making sure everything was ship shape and functioning correctly. His rifle was in several pieces, all scattered about on the floor and the seat next to him. His partner, Rodriguez was a different sort. She told us to call her Kit and made sure we didn’t forget it. She was the only female grunt at the base and told us that we girls needed to stick together. She said it didn’t matter if we used to have a penis between our legs. Kit was a spiritual person too. At the moment she was sitting in her seat, reciting the Bible to herself under her breath, holding a rosary.
“Two minutes” shouted the pilot over the intercom.
I nodded and cleared my throat. “Ok people. When we get to the strip there will two SUVs waiting. Private Samson is now official leader of Team B. He will take Barry, Marcus and Clara and you’ll secure the security and computer rooms. I’ll take Team A and do a sweep of the facility. As soon as we get into the facility its radio silence until we secure it. Is that understood?”
Everyone nodded their heads. Me, I let out my breath and sighed. I’m glad that part's over.
We touched down and scrambled out to our respective vehicles. There was a gray haired soldier driving ours, he said to call him Cougar. No one argued. I took shotgun again and Kit ushered Cori into the back. When we were situated I gave the go ahead and the two vehicles moved out. As soon as we were off, I opened one of my left vest pockets and pulled out the small map I had there. I opened it up and looked it over. It was a rough outline of the facility, made from the different schematics and photos we had. I found a good insertion point in the back, through an exhaust fan. Once inside all we had to do was shimmy up the shaft and hopefully come out in one of the storage rooms that I marked.
Let’s hope it’s that simple.
Section One was located right on the coast. Officially it was Farming Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Carson Inc. It was a large complex with three main buildings; the one we were hoping to insert from was located facing the road. The other two buildings were facing the ocean, the main one actually built right into the bluff it was situated on. The facility was surrounded by a twelve foot tall electric security fence, had two guard posts and too many CCTV cameras to count. According to Trish’s stolen info, there was a battalion of sixty Black Suits plus twenty staff members. The man in charge was Grayson Phillips, some mucky muck Bio-whatever. That part of the packet kind of bored me.
We pulled up about two hours after touching down at a little airstrip in the middle of nowhere. Cougar and the other driver, Manx---gotta love cat code names---told us they were required to wait the maximum of four hours for us. If we weren’t out of there by then we were on our own. I nodded my understanding and let my team go to work. Samson went to work. He took a device from one of his vest pockets and pointed it at the fence. It looked very similar to the Frager but much more high-tech. When he pushed a button, the fence fizzed.
“We’re good to go”. He pulled a pair of bolt cutters from another pocket and cut us a path.
We all passed through, single file, I made sure Cori and Clara were between the two soldiers, they were only ones not armed. Once on the other side of the fence, I stopped the team and made them spread out. I took a listen. There were six guards marching the perimeter, spaced far enough apart that we could take them out one at a time. But the whole idea was to be discreet. As part of that discretion my plan called for the old Blind and Grab. I located our target: one of the guard posts. It was a little building, with two men stationed at it. The one on the outside had an M-15; the one on the inside was sitting at a little console.
“Switch to greenies” I said into my throat mike.
“Greenies” were actually poison filled dart rounds. They were a Barry invention. Apparently the kid with the black eyes and lips was named Dixon. He was our resident Poison guy. His official title was Toxiokinetic but everyone called him a Poisonpath. He could secrete poison from his body through saliva and pores. But the largest amount came from his urine. It was horribly disgusting but extremely useful. For months the Center had been trying to find a field application for it and was at a loss until Barry devised the Pee Darts as they were so humorous called. He coined the phrase greenies because the urine was actually green.
I pulled a green marked clip from my belt and stuck it into a modified pistol we were calling the Pee Gun---yes I know someone has a perverse sense of humor. Everyone was equipped with one except Clara and Cori. Neither of them had logged any time with firearms yet. At first they were a bit wary about giving me one too because Mr. Lions had yet run me through the paces. But the Colonel and Mr. Weiss vouched for me. Lions wasn’t too happy but I promised as soon as this mission was over that I’d let him run whatever tests on me he wanted.
I took point as we approached the post. The others fell behind me because I had better accuracy. I pegged the outside guard first, putting my first round in his neck. One round was all it took apparently. Dixon’s poison was the equivalent to that of a poison dart frog, arguably the most poisonous animal in the world. When the dart hit the guard, it didn’t take him long to convulse and die. I counted about a minute, so it was possible Dixon was more poisonous than the frog. The Greenies had never actually been field tested before, except on lab rats. I was kind of impressed and creeped out at the same time. I was also worried for whoever Dixon decided to date.
The guard in the box seemed to notice his friend was missing. He looked out the window and I put a dart in his forehead. He died just as quickly as the first. Kit gave me a strange look as I ordered everyone to the post. We moved quickly. I glanced at the guard outside. It was not a pretty sight: his veins were visibly green and there was green foam around the corners of his mouth. The scariest thing were his eyes, they were bloodshot and bulging. I hope I never piss Dixon off.
“Barry get to work in there” I said, pointing to the console. “Make them as blind as a bat”.
He nodded as he and Samson rushed into the little building. I didn’t stick around to see what they were up too. Instead I motioned to Kit and she whipped out a little digital recorder. Her official title was tactical support but her expertise was in communications. The recorder was for posterity. She was to record anything we encountered, inside and outside of the place. It was supposed to give the guys back at Alpha some idea of what we were facing. The recorder had a direct feed back to the Center and though we couldn’t communicate with those watching it, they could at least she the shit storm we were about to walk into.
Kit started recording the body of the guard.
I stood close by, providing accurate cover where needed. That’s when I heard him, one of the sentry guards. He was coming around the corner of the far building. I heard him before I saw him. When he came into view, I knew we were screwed. I snapped up the Pee Gun and fired. Unfortunately range was an issue with these things. The dart fell short by several feet. The guard took notice and raised his weapon. Two shots rang out to my left and the guard dropped. I snapped around and saw Marcus pointing his Glock, the barrel still smoking. He looked at me, winked and holstered his weapon.
My heart fluttered a bit. I’d never seen anyone draw a weapon and fire that fast in my life. I’d only just fired my own gun and split second later, Marcus had his out. I smiled at him, hoping Barry wasn’t the jealous type.
His voice came over my earpiece, startling me. ‘I’m in. Do you want me to shut the place down?”
“Kill everything but make it systematic, like a rolling blackout”.
I looked at the building in front of me and the windows. One by one the little light squares all went dark. I was too far away from the building to hear the panic but I’m sure everyone was frantic inside. I went back to the Box, Kit right at my side, Cori and Clara at my heels. Barry then proceeded to reroute the camera feed onto his laptop. Kit and I crowded into the booth around the console. On Barry’s monitor, several different rooms and angles flashed by. They were all moving too quickly to make out most of what was going on. But Barry was able to see everything. When the flashing stopped, he told us the key places we needed to go: mainly labs and the control room. He said his team would take the server room, where he could get a good hack into the place. He looked to Samson for acknowledgement.
“You’re the geek kid; I’m only in charge because of my rank”.
“Ok, we’re going silent from this point on. All communication is going to be through signs until we split up. We’re entering enemy territory now and they don’t play nice” I looked at Cori and Clara. “Cori you need to stick to me or Kit like glue, is that understood?”
Samson ruffled Clara’s hair. “Don’t worry; I’ll take real good care of Little Miss Gloom”.
"If you don’t, I’m definitely going to cut off your hand”.
“You can count on me, Sarge”.
I wasn’t sure if I liked being called Sarge or not. Barry and Clara raised their eyebrows. Apparently no one informed them of my new status.
Barry finished up then we set out as a team. I was well versed in combat signs and hand signals, it was in one of the many books that Greg forced down my throat. I wonder if he knew I’d be using all that knowledge against the Syndicate one day. I gave the sign to follow and the one to stay alert. We kept to the wall, moving from shadow to shadow. It was much easier because the sun had gone down hours ago. Though we woke at five am, the prep and the flight was quite long and drawn out. Then there was the drive from the airstrip to the facility. By the time we actually got here it was well after dark. It made things all the easier for me. I was wearing the SS but I didn’t need my hood or glasses now.
We encountered the second of the six guards. Samson dropped him with a Greenie. We didn’t bother to stay around to watch him die. Two more sentries joined their dead comrades a few minutes later. The last two lucked out because we found the fan before we found them. Samson stepped forward, revealing how well he was trained in demo. He applied a small shape charge to the metal cage around the now dormant blades. He set it for ten seconds, giving us just enough time to get clear. There was a thudding pop and a good size hole torn in the metal.
Marcus was our grapple hook guy. He had this wicked looking gun he’d been carrying on his back. On the end was the piton hook. He fired it into the shaft and a spool of thick, high tensile rope spooled behind it. According to the schematics, the storage room was three floors below ground, about a two hundred foot climb down the shaft. It was a straight drop. Samson went first because he had the most training. Marcus went next followed by Cori and Clara. I wanted the two of them down as quickly as possible.
Barry looked wearily down the shaft when it was his turn. “You sure there’s no other way?” he asked nervously.
I looked at Kit and we exchanged a wicked smile. “Well, you could always knock on the front door and ask them nicely”.
We both laughed. Barry frowned. He checked to make sure his laptop was securely attached to his chest then he went down the shaft, wailing the whole way down. Kit and I laughed again.
“He’s something else” she said with a smirk.
“You have no idea”
Learning to repel was not in my Syndicate training so essentially I was as wary as Barry was. When I looked down the shaft and saw Samson at the bottom waiting, my morale perked up a little. But it was squashed again when I realized exactly how much room was actually in the shaft. It was like two feet by two feet, barely enough room to fit someone laden down with gear. I wasn’t as heavily loaded as Samson or Kit but I wasn’t as light as Cori either. I had a combat vest, a pack, my two side arms---the P Gun and Reta---as well as a small shotgun Weiss forced me to take. I told him I wasn’t trained in it but he insisted.
“We don’t have all day, ma’am” said Kit, looking over her shoulder.
So I went. I didn’t wail on my way down but it wasn’t fun either. It felt weird to have this harness around your waist and up your crotch. Samson and Marcus had gone over the basics of it with us all hours ago. They explained all about the harness and the ropes and hooking the thingy right. I only half paid attention---like usual---but it was all coming back to me now as I slid quickly down the rope. It didn’t take long for me to reach the bottom of the shaft. Samson caught me as I reached the bottom and unhooked me quickly so Kit could make her descend.
As soon as I was unhooked, Kit came down. She moved a lot faster and with much more grace than me.
She gave me a thumbs up and a wink. I stuck my tongue out at her. Okay, it wasn’t very commander like but I was new at this whole in charge thing. She smiled, waving the recorder in my face. I wanted to flip her the bird but instead I signaled her to move out.
The shaft had a little floor grate, underneath was the storage room. Samson cut through the grating with a small blowtorch. He was the man of a thousand gadgets. When he was through, he and Marcus slowly pulled up the cut grating and set it aside. Samson raised his gun. The rifle he had been disassembling in the plane was actually a P90, a nice little submachine gun used all around the world by military and police. It was compact and packed a powerful little punch. Samson had called it his “pride and joy”.
Samson dropped down first. Marcus followed a few seconds later. I stayed near the grate opening, waiting for their signal. Each one had a pen light; Marcus had a red one and Samson a green. After a few seconds, the green light shined up, signaling everything was clear.
Barry went next followed by Cori and Clara. Kit and I took up the rear. She dropped then I did. In the storage room the others put on their night vision goggles but I didn’t have too. I saw the room in brilliant color. It was a good size, crammed with large wooden boxes. I looked at several labels; most of them were medical supplies. I searched out the door and saw the security lock. This place was just as high-tech as Section Four. Samson motioned at the lock, wanting to blow it but I shook my head. I listened out into the hallway. I listened for a few minutes, finding the quiet strangely disturbing.
I motioned Barry over and he took care of the door. He had his own little gadgets too. He pulled this little thing that looked like a screwdriver out of his vest. He ran it along the base of the lock and all the buttons lit up in an opening sequence. There was a hiss and door clicked open. During the morning prep session, Barry said the locks would be on a different circuit than the lights and he’d been right. That’s why it was adamant that we got to the security room and shut this whole place down. Barry had originally volunteered for the job himself but I told him I really needed him to get to those servers. According to Trish’s stolen data, Section One was the hub of the Syndicate. It was their brain child and mother ship. Barry’s job was to clone the mainframe and then fry the hell out of it.
I opened the door and Samson went out first once again. This guy is really earning his keep. I wonder if I can recommend him for a promotion.
I stepped out behind him, pulling out my little map. I pointed left down the hall, signaling Samson to go that way. He nodded. He pointed two fingers at each of his team members and pointed down the hall too. I gave both Barry and Clara a hug for luck. My hug lasted a bit longer with Barry though. I wanted to kiss him but I didn’t want it to end up on Kit’s recording. She gave me an impish smile. I watched with a heavy heart as Samson led two of my best friends down a hall and around the corner. I listened to the four of them for a while until they got too far away for me to hear.
“They’ll be ok,” Kit whispered in my ear, giving my arm a good squeeze.
I nodded then pointed down the hall, in the opposite direction of Barry and the others.
The inside layout of Section One was drastically different than Section Four. Section Four was clearly set up to function as a school as well as a facility. But Section One didn’t have any dormitories, at least none that appeared on my schematics. The main facility, the building we were currently slinking around in, only had four levels. The top two were administrative and the bottom two were the functional ones. The bottom floor or the fourth floor was mainly made up of Servers and some auxiliary labs. The third floor, the one we were currently on was made up of the main labs and the security station. Up above us was administration where we needed to go in order to get into the main terminal. But in order to do that we needed to take out all of the base’s security. Technically, Barry should have been with us but apparently Kit was pretty skilled with a computer too. During prep, she rattled off something about MIT. I'm not sure if that meant she just attended or if she graduated from it.
We were half way to the security room when I heard something ahead. I pulled my two companions to a stop, motioning down the hall. Though they didn’t hear anything, I could clearly hear the sound of two persons coming our way. I sighed, beginning to wonder if there was actually anyone in this place at all. We’d been running down corridor after corridor, all of them empty. It was strangely quiet, far too quiet for something as important as Section One. It made me wonder if they knew we were coming. A lot of the rooms we came across were bare: desks scattered with useless spread sheets and chairs toppled over. Room after room was like that, completely stripped and barren.
“What do you hear?” asked Kit in a soft voice, risking communication silence.
“Some company, finally,” I pointed ahead, showing her two fingers. “You go left and I’ll take right.”
She nodded, raising her P Gun.
But as the persons got closer, I knew something was wrong. They didn’t have the heavy footfall of soldiers. They were moving slow, dragging their feet. There was something else too: I couldn’t hear anything from them. There was no beating hearts, no rapid breathing. I couldn’t even smell sweat. What I could smell confused the hell out of me: it was death.
As the two persons came into view, Cori gasped and gripped my shoulder tightly. Luckily for her she was wearing her gloves. Unluckily for the rest of us, the two Black Suits coming for us looked very much dead. One had his head twisted at an odd angle and the other had a rather large hole in his chest. They were walking real slow, dragging their feet. Neither was making a sound but they smelled absolutely horrible. It was clear that they’d been dead for quite some time.
“Tell me those aren’t what I think they are?”
“Ok, they’re not zombies.”
Kit cursed. She quickly switched from her P Gun to the MP5 that was hanging from her shoulder strap. I holstered my own little dart shooter and switched to Reta. We fired at the same time. The burst of the semi-automatic machine gun and my quick, rapid pistol shots echoed down the hall. Our bullets tore into the two men lumbering toward us. Kit’s fire shredded her zombie to bits and I hit the head of mine with each shot. We dropped them both, panting heavily when we were down. Kit actually emptied the whole of her magazine. She expelled the empty and replaced it with a new. I still had a few rounds left in my clip.
We were so busy reloading that we didn’t notice the obvious. But Cori did and she pointed it out to us: “Where the hell did they go?”
Sure enough, where two very dead bodies should have been was nothing but empty hall.
“What the fuck is going on here?” asked Kit, not caring about saving face on her little recording anymore.
“We need to keep moving, I have a pretty good idea but we can’t stay here to debate about it”
I took the lead down the hall, Cori practically on my heels. Kit took up the rear, covering my back. We moved quickly, guns raised and at the ready. We passed several more empty rooms and side halls. We got nervous at every opening, waiting for some other kind of attack. I was pretty certain we were dealing with a nasty Dominator. One who had a wicked sense of humor? It was clear that Section One was a bust, abandoned and stripped a while ago. From the empty rooms and quiet halls I was pretty certain it happened around the same time I bailed from Section Four. Mrs. Fine told us this morning that the Syndicate appeared to be cleaning house but she was confident that it was going to be a long and arduous process.
At the end of the hall, my earpiece buzzed. Samson’s voice came over the wire, panting: “You guys see dragons?”
Kit and I shared a laugh. “It was zombies over here”.
“What the fuck is going on?” asked the panting Private.
Marcus got on the line: "I think we’re dealing with someone who can tap into fear, ma’am”.
"Can you get any readings at all?”
Marcus sighed. “Someone is powerful enough to shield their mind from me. But Clara claims she can feel a lot of pain. Then Samson mentioned his childhood fear of dragons and things made sense.”
“You were afraid of dragons?” Kit laughed.
“You ever seen Fantasia. That dragon in there made me piss my pants when I was a kid.”
“I’m afraid of zombies.” said Cori softly from behind me.
I turned and squeezed her hand. “It’s ok, they’re not real.” Then loud enough so it could be heard, “It's just some sick fuck messing with your mind.”
Marcus came back on. “I was able to shield the minds of everyone here but I don’t have enough strength to reach you guys. I’m sorry but it looks like you’re on your own”.
“You got any tips?”
“Clear your minds and concentrate on something that makes you feel good. Dominators feed off of weakness and pain. They like bad thoughts and memories. Powerful ones that use illusions like to mess with things like fear and sadness. If you concentrate on one thing then the other stuff can’t affect you and they have no power.”
“So think happy thoughts,” scoffed Kit. “We’re in a fricking Disney movie now.”
“Cut it Kit.”
“Sorry ma’am, I’m just a little edgy.”
“You need to relax, Private,” said Marcus over the comm.
Marcus said something else but his words were lost in the roar that came down the hallway. Cori screamed and Kit let go with another rapid burst of machine gun fire. I didn't bother wasting any ammo myself because there was no way that the giant lion before us was real. It had to be twelve feet tall it was neon green. I smirked, wondering if this was the best thing whoever it was could muster.
I smirked. “You’re going to have to do better than that.”
The Neon Lion roared and charged down the hall at us.
Photo Credit: MeetMeByTheLake2Nite
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