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: Here's Ch. 7. There's a lot of cool bad guy stuff in this one, including the villain monologue. Just for clarification, Samson and Rodriguez have changed ranks. After consulting with an expert, I've made Samson a Corporal and Rodriguez a Specialist. I haven't fixed this in the previous chapters yet but I will sometime today. I liked to Arina for the military help and Lilith for the expert editing.
Kit fired another burst behind her as we ran, hitting the imaginary beast in the face.
“Stop wasting your ammo.” I shouted as I ran alongside her.
The neon lion was still hot on our trail, thundering down the hall behind us. There was no sign of it letting up either. What the hell was this kid’s range? With Declan it was close proximity and with Scarlet you had to in at least the room with her. But whoever this person was they seemed to be to link the illusion to the person, allowing them massive control. It was absolutely insane but it was damn useful. I wonder if there’s any way we can turn this person.
“More zombies.” Cori screamed.
Up ahead I saw them, lumbering toward us. There were six this time. They were still quite a distance ahead of us but they were definitely a problem. WE were now cut off and the lion was closing fast. Son of a bitch.
“What’s the plan, Sarge?”
I looked up and down the hall. Most of the rooms were little offices with flimsy doors. Even if the zombies and the lion were illusions they were still powerful. I wasn’t sure if they could hurt us or not but I wasn’t going to take that chance. I finally spotted some salvation though. Three doors up was a sturdy metal door. It had a keypad and a CCTV camera mounted on the wall across from it. Clearly it was a room that was more secure than others. Was it the security room we were looking for? I pointed it out and we all ran for it. Kit tried the door handle but of course it was locked.
“Can you bypass the lock?”
“Not without the right equipment.”
I groaned then looked at Cori. She was hugging pretty close to the wall, shaking uncontrollably. She was looking at the zombies. I grabbed her shoulders and turned her to face me. Kit sent another burst at the charging lion, it slowly some but it was still coming. She screamed about not having a lot of time. I ignored her for the moment.
“Cori can you get a reading off the keypad?”
She nodded. There were tears streaming down her face as she pulled off one of her gloves. She touched the pad and her entire body tensed up. When I looked into her eyes, I saw them go completely white. When she opened her mouth, she started rattling off a bunch of information. It was a rapid stream of data and a lot of names. She was talking too fast for me to make it out but apparently it was all the people who touched the keypad. She kept going and going. Her eyes were moving a mile a minute and her hand was twitching. I wasn’t sure if I should pull her away or if I was supposed to let her keep going.
After about a minute, her fingers flew to the buttons, punching them in a sequence. The door hissed and popped up. Cori gasped and slumped to the ground. She wasn’t unconscious but her breathing was shallow and her heart was beating at a faster pace. I pulled her to her feet and pushed into the room. Kit followed close behind, switching targets from the lion and zombies. She emptied her second magazine as I pushed the door shut. Seconds later, something heavy slammed into it. Luckily for us I got the lock in place just in time.
When I turned around I got a good look at our sanctuary.
We were definitely in the security room. There was a large console and on the wall in front of it there were several large screens. Most of them showed images, with angles of several rooms constantly changing. On the screen we saw Team B running for their lives, a swarm of what appeared to be giant wasps chasing after them. On another screen there was a group of Black Suits shooting at giant spiders. There were several screens with small groups fighting off strange and unusual things. Apparently we weren’t the only Syndicate students who decided to turn on their masters. I tried to find the students but they didn’t appear on any of the screens. So it meant they were either smarty to avoid the cameras or they were in a room that didn’t have any.
“Kit, can you access personnel files from here?”
She was sitting at the console, typing away. She wasn’t as fast as Barry but she was moving a lot faster than I could. Two of screens switching from camera view and became normal computer screens. Several tabs and boxes kept flying up and disappearing. Kit worked furiously for about two minutes straight. Finally she sighed and shook her head.
The lion banged on the door again, Cori was in the corner, in a fetal position. She was sobbing uncontrollably now. I so wanted to comfort her but there were too many things going on right to play mother. I wanted to kick myself for it but it was true. A few seconds after the lion, came the repetitive banging of human hands. The zombies are here now too. I looked at the door, wondering exactly how much it could hold up. It had looked pretty sturdy but I’m sure it wasn’t tested against a giant lion and a horde of zombies.
‘How about getting us into the upper floors?”
Kit started typing and sighed. “I need a password.”
Cori spoke up through her crying: “StetsonViper1.”
We didn’t bother to second guess her. Kit typed in the password and the screen changed. We both smiled as it was accepted and Kit was able to access more parts of the security mainframe. She brought up the protocols to unlock the upper doors. On the other screens, the views switched to these rooms as they all unlocked. Kit explained that it looked like someone tried to put the facility into lockdown but failed because they didn’t have the right code. Half the facility was in lock down while the other was open to whatever. Communications was taken off-line first then main power. The power that Barry cut was apparently the auxiliary power.
“How long has this place been like this?”
She shrugged. “I’m gonna guess a few days maybe.”
Cori spoke again: “Sixteen people accessed the door outside. Most of them were standard personnel but two days ago the Chief of Security Martin Stetson was here. He accessed the door and tried to lock down the place but he didn’t have access to the security system anymore. Someone locked him out.”
“You got that off the keypad?”
She shook her head. “I touched the console when I came into the room.”
“Where is Stetson now?” asked Kit.
Cori shook her head again. “My ability only works when I touch things that other people touch. I only get their thoughts and feelings from that particular moment. Wherever he went after here I don’t know. I’d have to find something he touched after leaving this room.”
“Is there anything more you can do?”
She shook her head. “Whoever locked Stetson out must have tried to regain control of the base. They must have rerouted it to another computer somewhere because most of the stuff is wiped clean here. That very same person locked down the upper floors and left the lower ones open and vulnerable.”
“Sounds like someone was trying to keep something out.”
‘Or something in” added Kit.
So that was the big picture. It still left us in a very sticky situation. I could hear the lion and zombies trying to get into the room. They weren’t pounding as hard anymore but they were still out. But it was even worse than that because they were at the only exit. I looked around the room for a second time but there was nothing. There was a couple of filing cabinets with empty drawers, a desk with nothing on it and a small fridge which was cleared out days ago. The room had been stripped like the others but it made me curious as to why the security system was left running. Maybe whoever rerouted the security program needed it still on in here to work? I’m not a computer whiz so I didn’t have all the answers.
Kit seemed to realize what I was doing and was doing the same. She was the one who found a solution though: the vent. She pointed up with her laser sight, directing it at the grate about ten feet above our heads. It was the best solution but it would be tight squeeze. I told her this and she shrugged off her pack. I did the same, smiling. Cori still sat in the corner. She had stopped crying but now she was rocking back and forth. I needed to get her out of here before she had a serious mental breakdown.
Kit and I pushed the two filing cabinets under the vent. Then she hopped up onto them to see what we were dealing with. There were four bolts holding the grate in place. She pulled a screwdriver and her own bolt cutters from a vest pocket. She went to work and it didn’t take her long. One by one she removed the bolts then very slowly she eased the grate covering up and away.
“I’ll take a peek, ma’am.”
She climbed up into the vent, only her feet were dangling. I stood and waited, still holding the cabinets steady. A minute or two later, she poked her head back down. She gave me an all clear sign and climbed fully into the vent. I got Cori, she was a bit reluctant to leave her corner but when I told her we were leaving, she jumped to her feet. I held the cabinets as she climbed up into the ceiling. I climbed up next, getting my legs in just as a large explosive sound came from the door. It nearly pulled me out of the vent as the lion crashed into the room, tearing the cabinets out from under me. I felt a hand on my wrist as I was pulled away from the opening.
“You ok, Becca?” asked Cori, apparently recovered from her earlier shock.
“I’m good, thanks.”
Cori nodded. She let go of my wrist quickly even though she was wearing her gloves. I smiled sheepishly at her. She didn’t smile back; instead she turned and started following Kit down the vent. It was a tight squeeze even without our packs. I’m so glad I’m not claustrophobic. I’m also glad that we managed to get out of there in the nick of time. That damn lion nearly crushed me. I could see why Kit would be afraid of such a thing. At least I was pretty sure it was Kit’s fear. I sure as hell wasn’t afraid of a giant neon lion. Well not before this day anyway. I bit my lip, trying to focus. I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about fears. Marcus said we needed to concentrate on only the good things. But that was my problem, I had no good things. I had some pretty luke warm things but there was nothing really good in my life. Not anyone. Trish was the best thing that had ever happened to me and she was gone.
“There’s a room up here” Kit called down the vent shaft, her voice echoing and killing my super ears.
"Scope it out but be careful.”
“ No problem, Sarge.”
This Sarge thing was really starting to bother me. I didn’t feel like a Sarge at all. Sergeants were big brawny men with massive biceps, thin mustaches and real attitudes. Me, I was lucky if I could put my shoes on straight. Or high heels as the case was now. I smiled, thinking about my boots. This morning when we were getting dressed, I pushed the combat boots aside and I put on my regular boots. They wouldn’t let me wear them around school but there was no way they were going to stop me from wearing them on missions. When Mrs. Fine saw them and frowned but Kris smiled and winked.
At least she was now on my side.
I listened as Kit kicked the vent free and dropped into the room below her. It was at least a minute before her green light shot up from the floor below. That was the ok signal. I ushered Cori forward and she did so rather quickly. She slipped down into the room into Kit’s arms. I went next, dropping quickly and handing softly.
This room looked like some kind of lounge. It was bigger than the security room with a couple of circular tables and some vending machines. There was a counter with a sink along the far wall and an empty water cooler in the corner. On the wall was a blank bulletin board and near the door was an empty trash basket. It was definitely clear that this place was cleaned out.
“Someone gave us some bad Intel,” said Kit as she looked around the room. “I mean isn’t this place supposed to swarming with goons and not zombies.”
“Clearly they cleaned the place out after our satellite photos were taken.”
“I thought they were pretty up to date on those things,” said Cori, fiddling with the faucet but nothing was coming out.
“We’ll find more answers when we get upstairs,” I said, hoping that it was the truth.
Kit nodded and opened the door. She stepped out into the hall, looked both ways then gave us the all clear signal.
The second floor stairwell had at one time been cut off with a large metal fire door. But as we ran up the stairs, we found the door wide open. I stopped my team before we moved any further. I wasn’t sure what we were going to find. True there didn’t appear to be any Black Suits roaming this place except on the outside; it might be a different story up here. The top two floors were after all sectioned off from the rest of the place.
I gave Kit the signal and she stepped into the hall first, moving with a stealth and precision that she had yet exhibited. She and Samson were both interesting soldiers. Though they had excellent records, neither one had seen any combat. They were desk jockeys up until a few weeks ago when they were recruited into the Center. Beforehand, Kit worked in some stuffy communications room and Samson was an engineer. They both had combat training but only the basic kind. When Samson came to the Center, he went right into Demo. Kit stayed in computers and was currently working under Mrs. Stapleton, until Kris temporarily reassigned her to me.
Kit came back to the stairs, nodding her head. “The hall is clear for the moment,” she said, pulling out her Sig Sauer. She was now all out of ammo for her P90.
“Take the rear, Kit and I’ll take point.”
I moved into the hall first, followed by Cori. She was doing exactly what I told her to do and I couldn’t have been more proud. She wasn’t a soldier and I don’t think she ever could be one. That was a good thing. Being a soldier was a nasty sort of business. The only reason I was one was because of my lack of skill. I couldn’t throw fireballs or shoot lightning from my fingertips. Being a Non-Kinetic didn’t make me less of a person but it seemed to make me the perfect person for whatever this job was. This morning, Kris told me it was stealth and infiltration. Because of my senses, I was the perfect person for the job. When I asked her why we weren’t trying to take the place out, she told me that the place was all but gone to begin with.
I wonder if she knew how gone it really was. We figured they were going to abandon it but we never thought they’d move this quick. As the three of us moved down the hall, we couldn’t help but feel a little shocked. Like the rest of the facility, the top floors were just as deserted. But they weren’t nearly as clean as the bottom ones.
I fired a shot as soon as I saw him. It was a Black Suit, a live one. I hit him in the face and he dropped just as quickly as he appeared. I heard three more coming behind him and two coming behind us. Two shots rang out behind me and I knew those guys were gone. The three in front of me had MP5s and were getting into range to fire. I fired first. I hit one in the throat and another in the chest. The last one shoot a burst down the hall, most of which went into his fallen comrades. A stray shot grazed Kit; I heard her curse behind me. I shot the son of a bitch in the head.
I ran to Kit, seeing her clasping her right thigh. Her heart was beating a mile a minute and she was rapidly breathing. But the bullet never went in her flesh. It grazed her and zipped off down the hall. Cori pulled some bandages from her vest and began to wound them around Kit’s leg.
“God damn it” the Specialist cursed. “I knew I shouldn’t have worn that red shirt today.”
Cori was the only one who snorted, so apparently whatever cultural reference I missed seemed to be a lot funnier than I thought.
I bent down next to Kit. “Are you going to be ok to move?”
She nodded. “Just a flesh wound, Sarge.”
Flesh wound or not, there was no way we could stay out in the open. Apparently we were all wrong in our assessment of this place being deserted. It was now very clear that the top floors had been isolated from the bottom. But did that mean that there were no illusions up there? I wasn't about to find out. I put my head underneath Kit’s arm and helped her to her feet. Cori did the same on the other side and three of us hobbled slowly down the hall. I was upset that she’s gotten shot but kind of glad it wasn’t me. I was tired of getting shot. I didn’t mind getting shot at but as soon as one of those bullets hit me then that was another story entirely.
“You see that?” asked Cori, pointing down the hall. “There’s a light.”
I looked where she was pointing and sure enough there was a light. It was coming from the room dead ahead, directly at the end of the hall. It had a glass door with a name on the front: DR. G, PHILLPS, DIRECTOR. I knew that name; I think it was the guy who ran this place. He was some kind of biochemist or something.
We hobbled to the door. I listened before we entered. There was clearly someone inside because I could hear them breathing. I could also hear them cocking a pistol. Son of a bitch. I pushed Cori and Kit against the far wall and rolled out of the way just as three rounds shattered the glass, right where the three of us had been standing. More shots were fired but all of those hit somewhere inside the room. I listened and heard the click of an empty gun. I kicked the door open, Reta out in front of me.
It was quite a large room with hardwood floors, topaz colored walls and funky tapestries. There was a large picture of the Double Helix above a wooden desk. Behind the desk, cowering was a little man with a bald head. I could hear him sniveling and crying. I could also smell urine. I crinkled my nose, almost gagging. The room was a scattered mess with papers strewn about and garbage piled in the corner. Clearly Dr. Phillips had been a prisoner of his office for at least a day or two.
“Don’t shot, I’ve got no more bullets.”
A small pistol flew over the desk and landed at my feet. I kicked it out into the hall.
“Dr. Grayson Phillips?” I asked.
The little man’s head poked up. He was shaking like a leaf, sweat running down his brow. He had bags under his eyes and was in need of a definite shower. He looked right at me but couldn’t see anything because he was in the dark and didn’t have goggles.
“You’re her aren’t you?” he asked with a quavering little voice. “The one who took out Section Four?”
I kept Reta pointed at his head. I didn’t answer his question. “Why don’t you come out from behind there and tell me what the hell is going on here?”
“Why should I, you’re just going to kill me like you killed poor Peter?”
I sighed. Why did they always have to be so difficult? “I didn’t kill Zero, Declan Carson did.”
The little man seemed to think it over for a second. He squinted his eyes, trying to see me in the dark but when he failed he finally stood up. He put his hands in the air and walked around the desk. Kit slipped away from Cori and grabbed the doctor. She pulled his hands behind his back and secured them with a plastic tie. She pushed him into a nearby chair and pointed her gun at him.
“Am I to be like Langston too?”
Langston, wasn’t that the guy Xiang picked up in Colorado?
I nodded. “You’re now in custody of Homeland Security,” I said, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about. “You’ll be taken from this place and brought to one of our facilities where you will be questioned properly.”
He seemed to quiver some more. “Its Carson and Simms you want, they’re the bad guys. I’m just the middle man, like Zarkov and Dekker.”
The mention of Mr. Green perked my interest. But I needed to follow the chain of questions through its proper course. “Who’s Simms?”
“He’s Carson’s number two man. They sometimes refer to him as Mr. Two. Carson may be in charge but it’s Simms who does all the heavy lifting.”
"What’s Dekker’s pull in all this?”
Phillips shook his head. “I don’t know. He showed up here a couple weeks ago. He told me we had been compromised and that he was moving everything.”
Kit stepped up. “What about your students? Are they included in the everything?”
Phillips blubbered. “They’re all gone, all of them, except her.”
The way he said “her” made me think that the girl in question was the very same one that was causing all these illusions. I nodded to Kit and she nodded back. Clearly she figured it out too. Cori was oblivious but she was busy with her own thing. She was walking around the office, touching the walls, running her fingers along the furniture. Phillips seemed agitated as she walked around him. Even though he couldn’t see her, everyone knew if someone was walking around you in the dark. I watched her work for a few more seconds then turned back to our prisoner. I listened to his heart, the beat was faster than usual but because he was scared. If he was lying he had found some way to fool my super ears.
“Tell me about her?”
He gulped. “Her name is Melanie Crane, she’s Subject 0F02-Beta, she’s one of our first. We picked her up about ten years ago from the streets of New York. It was purely accidental. It was well before Carson got involved and before they even called us the Syndicate. A patrol officer found her scavenging in the garbage in an alley and brought her to one of the local shelters. She was a boy then, named Ethan Boone, and he was so sweet. The cutest six year old in the world. Ethan didn’t start to exhibit until about a week later. He started causing people to have horrible nightmares. One of his foster mothers actually put a power drill to her temple to get rid of the visions. Ethan transformed then. We didn’t know about the water or that there were more like him. The state didn’t know what to do with him or rather her so they sent him to a psychiatric hospital.
“They brought me in after a battery of tests and concluded she was a genetic abnormality. I thought it was kind of a breakthrough and tried to tell my peers. But no one believed me. I was a laughing stock. They revoked my tenure at the university and forced me to live in the slums. But I continued my research. I adopted Ethan and renamed him Melanie. She chose her own last name, after the Scarecrow from those Batman comics she liked to read. She thought it was kind of fitting. When she got closer to puberty she discovered that not only could she create nightmares but that she could manifest them in the waking world.
“It was a marvelous breakthrough for both of us. That’s when Jason Carson contacted me. I’m not sure how he found me but he seemed to share a love for my research. There was something else too. He introduced me to his daughter, Francesca but when I met her I found a boy. He told me what happened and I knew immediately the implications of such a breakthrough. Where I was excited, Carson seemed to be appalled. He didn’t want a special child, he wanted his daughter back. I tried to tell him it was impossible to reverse a mutation of this magnitude but he wouldn’t listen. He told me he’d give me anything I wanted just so long as I could fix his little girl. I needed money to further fund my research so I accepted.
The doctor paused and panted. He wiped his sweaty brow on his forehead, fidgeting because of the dampness in his crotch. He took a couple of death breaths before he talked again.
“He and I founded the Syndicate together. At first we did marvelous things together and I thought we were making great progress but things changed when other kids started to pop up exhibiting different gifts. Carson became obsessed that one of these kids had to have the cure he was looking for. Though this was the first facility, Carson created other ones as well. He brought in a German Behaviorist named Stromberg and she started to take over my research. She renamed Melanie Subject 0F02-Beta and Francesca as Subject 0B01-Alpha. Though they allowed me to keep Melanie, they moved Declan to Section Four in the northwest.
“Things changed after that. Suddenly it stopped being about genetics and cures and more about control and weapons. Carson still wanted to cure his little girl but he also wanted the ultimate weapon. He thought he could do both. But he stretched himself too thin and cut too many corners. He made mistakes. First it was a few failed retrievals then it was the whole fiasco with the BMC and finally he just gave up. Things fell apart about two months and I think you know the rest.”
I was awestruck. I wasn’t sure what to say. There were so many questions and so many answers. I didn’t even know where to begin but Kit sure did. She asked the question that was on the tip of my tongue:
“Where the hell did the students from this place go?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. When Dekker showed up a few weeks ago, he said something about moving all my research to Facility X.”
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
“That was the first I’d ever heard of it.”
“So if everything was moved from here, what’s Melanie still doing here?”
Phillips sighed. “She was the last bit we needed to move. As she matured, she got unstable. She started manifesting illusions at an alarming rate. We put her in a medically induced coma and it worked, it worked until a few days ago. I’m not sure what happened. She started to show signs of waking, slow things first. She would move her fingers or wiggle her toes. We tried to keep her under but it wasn’t working anymore. Everything came to a head when we put her in a cryo chamber. We were in the process of taking her to the Loading Bay when she woke up. Her first illusions killed the entire security detail, except for Stetson. He ran to the security room to try to lock the place down. I ran in the opposite direction, back toward my office. I managed to stop him from activating the facility’s self destruct just in time.”
“He was going to blow the place up?” I found that a little harsh.
Phillips nodded. “He perceived Melanie as the greatest threat to mankind. He wanted to eradicate her. I had to stop him; she’s my child after all. So I used my command code and locked him out of the system.”
“Where is he now?”
Phillips shook his head. “He probably went after Melanie. She got out of her containment and fled into the basement. There’s some escape tunnels down there. Melanie knew about them, she helped me design them.”
“You let a psychopath help you design this place?” asked Kit.
“She’s not a psycho; she’s my daughter” he snapped.
I shot Kit a look. This was not the time to upset the man with the answers.
“Does Melanie know how to access the tunnels?”
“I don’t know. She’s a very smart girl, it’s possible but she’s need two pass keys to do so. Fortunately she already has mine.”
“Where’s the other?”
“Stetson has it.”
“Where is the tunnel access point?”
“Through the Server rooms.”
Son of a bitch. If she was done there now, there’s no telling what she could do to the others. We had to get down there and fast.
“Get the doctor, he’s coming with us. Hopefully he can talk this girl down.”
Kit nodded and pulled Phillips to his feet. He was panting heavily but he was no longer crying.
“You have to promise you won’t hurt her. She’s a good girl; she just wants to leave this place. She’s been a prisoner here for so long. You of all people have to understand that.”
I sighed. Then I felt the back of my head, I could feel the scar left by the surgery there. I smiled at him and nodded.
We started leading Phillips toward the door; I was in lead with Cori right behind. Kit took up the rear, dragging Phillips by the back of his white lab coat. When we got to the door, I heard the shot before it shattered the window. But it was too fast for a reaction. It blew out the back of Phillips’ head, sending blood and gray matter splattering all over the room. A split second later, we all dropped to the floor. Kit threw herself on top of Cori, waiting for the second shot but it never came. I snapped toward the window and zoomed out. At first I saw nothing but then I spotted a dark figure on one of the other buildings. He was holding a high powered rifle and was dressed from head to toe in black. I couldn’t see his face but there was something about him. My fears were confirmed when he stood up and waved. It was something about that wave that tipped me off.
There was no doubt about it, it was definitely Declan.
Photo Credit: MeetMeByTheLake2Nite
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