I dreamed I was floating high above Raven City. I saw everything. Every building. Every person. Everything was so clear. Sitting next to the city was the Force. Its thick walls had caved on in Drayton. My home sat in ruins and no one in Raven City even noticed—or cared. From up here, I could see just how similar they both were. I never noticed it before. Taking my eyes off the strange sight, I expanded my horizons. A dry desert surrounded the two cities in an endless scorching sea of treachery. I knew there was more to the world than Drayton and Raven City, I just didn't think I'd ever see it. I opened my eyes. I hope yesterday was a dream. I'd give anything to wake up in my shack. As I stared at the white ceiling, it dawned on me. It's white. It's clean...Man, it wasn't a dream. I sat up, now aware that I had been sleeping on a white bed seemingly made of clouds.
"Wow, this is really soft," I whispered.
"They treat us pretty good here," Audrey called from the next room.
Her voice caught me off guard and I jumped. I made my way into a kitchen where I found Audrey at the stove cooking something.
"How often do you do that? You know, listen in on people?"
"Just when they aren't paying attention."
"What are you doing here?"
"This is my place."
"Really? Then why am I here? You didn't...you know, did you?"
"Ew, no. Get over yourself. You've got a sick mind."
She took something off the stove and set it on a plate. I looked at the table.
"I've never seen so much food. You expecting company?"
Audrey stopped moving. For a moment, I could have sworn she looked at me with that that same sad look she gave me at the coliseum.
"Just us. This is...pretty typical for breakfast." She paused as she noticed my confusion. "You know, food you eat in the morning."
"I know what breakfast is. This is the most food I've ever seen on a table, especially for just two people."
She gave me an irritated look, which was mixed with sadness and pity.
"What is all this?"
"I'm not falling for that again."
"No, I'm serious. I swear. I haven't seen this stuff before."
"It's pancakes, bacon, eggs, toast with butter and jam, and grits. You want anything to drink?"
Audrey fished through a refrigerator as I sat at the table.
"You got any beer? Wine maybe?"
"The legal drinking age is twenty-one. You're twenty. I'm nineteen so sorry, but no alcohol," she answered as she continued rummaging through the fridge.
I looked over at her. I noticed that her shirt had revealed a little bit of her back. A scar? It was small, but I could see the end of a rather crude-looking scar.
"So, is training dangerous? I mean, does it get more intense?" I asked.
"Depends on what we're working on. Usually, the first day's as intense as it gets," she replied as she approached the table.
"What about when we go to other cities? Do we have to fight people?"
"Not normally. Ninety percent of the time, the people we're after run. We arrest them and hand them over to the city's government."
"Then, what's with the scar? The one on your back."
My question caught Audrey off guard. She dropped the jar of mayo she was holding. I scooped it up before it shattered on the white tile floor. Audrey swiftly took the jar out of my hand and put it on the table before sitting down.
She slammed her fork down.
"It's none of our business, okay? Just drop it."
I wonder what happened. Despite my peaked curiosity, I dropped the topic and began eating. I could feel her watching me.
"'Well' what?" I asked as I chewed on a piece of toast.
"That's it? You're not gonna say anything else?" Audrey demanded.
"You said it's none of my business. You're right, it's not. I asked, you gave me an answer. End of story."
Audrey looked at me in disbelief, most likely shocked that I would respect her privacy. She picked up her fork again but something on her mind stopped her from eating.
"...Not all of us who have these enhanced abilities come from Raven City."
That was all she said as she pretended nothing had happened between us just now. I grinned to myself. I've cracked the wall around her heart.
After we ate, Audrey led me to CORE. This time, she took me to Robert Corey's office.
"Sir, I've brought Nick," she said through the door.
I jumped back as the door opened a moment later. No one was behind it.
"Okay, what just happened?" I asked.
"It's electronic. Push a button and you don't have to get up to answer the door."
"Huh, I want one of those."
Audrey grabbed my arm and pulled me inside. The first thing I noticed was the walls. They were covered with shelves of books.
"A library for an office. I'm dead. I've got to be dead and I'm in Heaven."
"Do you appreciate literature, Nick?" Corey asked from an oak desk in the back of the room.
"Yeah. Robert Frost. Emily Dickinson. The classics."
"Perhaps you could borrow some of these books if you can help us with a task first."
"Task? What kind of task?"
Corey pushed a button on his desk and a hollow screen was projected onto the wall behind me. A man's picture popped up.
"Arnold Sek. He is the prime suspect in the case of his family's murder. Unfortunately, the government hasn't been able to find him. I suspect he is hiding at a friend or family member's home. I would like to send you and Audrey to find Mr. Sek and hand him over to the government. This will be your first assignment in the field," Corey explained.
"Sir, he can't control his ability yet. Besides, don't the rookies usually go through a three-week training course?" Audrey pushed.
"Yes, but I want to go about Nick's training differently. Yesterday's session was the first where you have been unable to initiate a newcomer's abilities. You are my best pupil, Audrey. I believe that you are fully capable of handling Mr. Sek if Nick is unable to apprehend him."
I could tell that Audrey was seething with rage. No wonder Robert Corey always talks with her. She's the teacher's pet. She doesn't like anyone trying to steal her spotlight. That's why she despises me so much. I'm not even trying and I'm already getting the hand of this whole enhanced-senses thing.
"I'll try to stay out of your way," I said.
She knew I wouldn't so she pretended not to hear me.
"Where are traveling to?"
Audrey nodded and left. I was about to follow her when Corey called out to me.
"Nick, you might need these."
He laid a pair of handcuffs and a badge on the desk. I picked up the badge and turned it over in my hands. It had CORE's acronym on it. The only other thing it had was a long number. No picture and no name.
"CORE's operatives are supposed to be anonymous. If any of Strayfort's government stops you, show them the badge. Once they look your number up in CORE's database, they will acknowledge your status as one of our operatives. You may only use it to get out of trouble and only on assignments. Am I clear?" Corey asked.
I slid the badge in my back pocket and twirled the handcuffs around on my finger as I left the room.