By the time we got there, the sky was light grey. Dawn was almost here. We stumbled into the town, exhausted. I looked at Audrey. Her eyes were fading. She had reached her limit. She stumbled. I planted my feet and wrapped my arm around her.
"Rest. I'll take us where we need to go and find a phone."
Next thing I knew, Audrey collapsed. I moved instantly, sweeping her up in my arms. I carried her from house to house, trying to find someone with a phone who would also be willing to let us crash at their place for the day. Finally, the old man who answered the twenty-seventh door I banged on let us in. I laid Audrey down on a pallet in his 'living room.' To be honest, the whole house consisted of one giant room but the section we were in suggested this was where the old man entertained his guests. The old man seems a bit off. He kept muttering to himself in a language I didn't understand. Suddenly, he began speaking to me in a rush of mix-matched vowels, consonants, and phrases. Is this a foreign language or something? I have no clue what the guy is going on about.
"I-I'm sorry but I don't know what you're saying," I said.
For a moment, the man looked at me blankly.
"English? Where you from? How you 'ere?" he asked in a rough voice.
"I don't have time to explain. I need to use your phone. Please."
Again, the man looked at me blankly. Then, he walked stiffly to the other end of the house. What am I doing? Why don't I just take the phone? I could overpower him so easily. Why am I being polite? Is it because he's just trying to help? I don't feel uncomfortable around him. I should. I don't know him. This may not be Drayton but it doesn't mean I should let my guard down. The man came back and handed me something. It wasn't a phone. It was an old piece of metal. The object was covered in dried blood and rust. I tried rubbing it off. Vaguely, I made out the familiar logo of a raven's head with a sword in its mouth. I pulled out my CORE badge and compared the two.
"It's exactly the same," I whispered," Sir, where did you get this?"
"Canyon. Plane go down. Many bodies have metal pieces. We use for trade. Shiny like coin."
"A plane went down? When? How many people were on it?"
"Ten year. Fifty bodies. Monsters on Deadman's Island killed survivors."
"Ten years? Fifty people? CORE members? That doesn't make any sense. What were they doing?" I whispered to myself.
A phone was thrust into my face.
I took the phone from the man and dialed the number etched into my badge. As the phone rang, I stuffed the old badge into my pocket.
"CORE headquarters. We aim to bring peace to an unstable world. State your purpose," a woman's voice answered.
"My name is Nick. I'm a CORE agent. I need to speak to Dr. Robert Corey. It's a matter of life and death," I blurted.
"Hold for further instructions."
Pans rattled in the kitchen area. I glanced at Audrey asleep on the pallet.
"Nick. Are you alright? Is Audrey okay?" Corey's voice echoed.
He actually sounds genuinely concerned. Of course he'd be concerned, especially if his favorite operatives died.
"We're okay. Exhausted but alive."
"What happened? I've tried contacting you for hours. Did you make it to Strayfort?"
"No. The plane was sabotaged. It exploded."
"What about the pilot and flight attendant?"
My heart twisted and nausea crept up my throat as I remembered what happened.
"May their souls rest in peace...Alright, tell me your location."
"We're in some town south of Deadman's Island."
"Deadman's Island? That can't be a coincidence."
"...Nevermind. Disregard that for now. I will send a transportation team to the town. Wait at the entrance facing Deadman's Island. They will meet you there and take you the rest of the way to Strayfort."
"We're still going to Strayfort?"
"Of course. I gave you an assignment and I need you to see it through. Listen, Nick, this job is dangerous. You knew that when you accepted the badge. You are a CORE agent now. The assignments I give you are more important than even your lives. Innocent people will die if you don't complete these assignments. Capture Arnold Sek for starters."
I hesitated. Corey's words gave me a feeling of distrust and doubt.
"...Fine, but no airplanes. I'm staying on the ground from now on," I concluded.
"I agree. Get some rest. The team should be there by sundown. I need you rested and ready to go."
Corey hung up before I could say anything else. I looked up at the old man. He was staring at me.
"You are strong man. Strange. Not like others. A leader. A rebel," he said as if reading me.
I looked back at him in suspicion and curiosity. The man laid a bowl of soup-like stuff in front of me before limping back to the kitchen area. I looked distastefully at the slop inside the bowl. I hope that tastes better than it looks. Surprisingly, it did. It tasted fantastic. The herb flavor of basil and oregano brought out the taste of what I thought was potatoes. I could smell the slight, spicy aroma of pepper seeds that floated on the surface of the soup. It smells great. It tastes great. Best meal I've had since the breakfast buffet at Audrey's apartment in Raven City. I ate every bit of the soup and laid back on the hard floor. I let my heavy eyelids carry away the ache in my body as sleep slammed into me.