Some people are fortunate enough to know what's it's like to be
There are others who disagree -- they know what it's like to walk the
-- Axiom, "My Baby's Gone"
Blue Cove, Delaware
The sweeper heard a dull hum and turned to see an electric wheelchair
approaching him along the hall. Opening the door he was standing in front
of, he stepped aside to let the man in and then followed him into the
office. The man in the wheelchair turned it to face him.
"Did you want something, Sam?"
Sam nodded at a small pile of folders on the desk. "That's the information
you asked me to find for you."
The dark-haired man glanced sharply at them before nodding at the sweeper.
"Is that all, sir?"
"For the moment. I'll let you know."
Sam knew he was being dismissed, but he had something he wanted to say.
It was just turning out to be even more difficult that he had expected.
The man looked up, his dark eyes boring into the sweeper.
"Was there something else, Sam?"
Sighing, Sam examined the floor for a moment before looking up again.
"I wanted to say -- sorry." He hesitated briefly, before continuing,
his voice pleading with the other man to understand. "I didn't have
a choice, Mr. Charles. Honest, I didn't. If I hadn't done what they wanted,
they would have killed my family."
Jarod pushed the folders aside, placing his hands on the desk in front
of him, his expression one of skepticism. "Considering your brother
was out of their reach in 1998, I can't really understand why you continued
to feel that way."
Sam straightened. "I had my wife and daughter to protect."
Resting his head on one hand, Jarod scrutinized the other man. "And
yet, despite knowing how I must have felt, you did everything you could
to keep me apart from my family?"
"Not everything," Sam protested immediately. "Who do you
think sent you the information about your mother, a few years back?"
Jarod's eyes narrowed. "I thought that was Angelo."
Sam shook his head. "I saw the photo that Sydney sent to you of
your mother, and I was off-duty, trying to find some information I could
send to Frau Berkstresser, when I found the site you put up. The file
about your mother was in among some stuff that I'd taken from Mr. Raines'
office, so I packaged it up and sent it off to Miami."
"And you sent it by courier because there was less chance of it
being traced to you, considering how many things the Centre sends that
way every day," Jarod stated thoughtfully.
"And because I wanted to get it out of Raines' hands quickly,"
Sam added. He exhaled slowly. "I didn't want them to suspect me,
so I flew to Miami as soon as Broots got the lead on you. I knew you were
probably there, but I couldn't stop them from going, because it would
have looked bad for me."
Jarod nodded thoughtfully while Sam waited nervously for his response.
The sweeper knew, from his experience with his boss, how important Jarod
was to her, and consequently that he would be likely to play a role in
the future of the Centre, if only an advisory one. The last thing Sam
wanted was for his life to remain as uncertain as it had been for the
previous nine years, and if this man didn't trust him, that was likely
to continue. Finally, Jarod's gaze became more focused.
"Where does your primary loyalty lie, Sam?"
"With Miss P -- Miss Ritter," the sweeper responded promptly,
correcting his small slip and using the name all staff members had been
instructed to remember.
"So why did you work with Lyle when I was dragged back, a few years
ago, rather than guarding her at the hospital?"
"Lyle kept me with him all the time and wouldn't let me go to her,"
Sam told him. "He knew about my brother, and my family, and he used
the same threats everyone else did. I had no choice but to do what he
Jarod arched an eyebrow. "Was that button on your jacket already
loose, or are my teeth really as sharp as I thought they were?"
Sam smiled faintly. "There were a few broken threads. I had no idea
that had Lyle predicted what you'd do. I honestly hoped you might have
managed to escape." He clasped his hands behind his back and straightened
his shoulders, the amusement dissolving. "I saw my brother put through
a lot of the same types of experiments that you were, and I've got a pretty
good idea of how it might have been for you. When I came to the Centre,
I was immediately put on Miss Ritter's staff and I thought that, by working
for her as well as I could, I'd have the best chance of saving the people
I care about. Even when she was put onto the pursuit, I wanted to keep
working for her, because so much time away from the Centre gave me a reason
for not providing as much information to Die Fakultät." He closed
his eyes briefly and swallowed a lump in his throat. "I never want
to be a spy, or to deceive people, but I had no choice."
When he finally ran out of words, Jarod spoke. "What does your daughter
Sam readily reached into the pocket of his suit coat, suppressing his
astonishment as the change of subject, and extracted the photo, offering
it. He saw Jarod's eyes slowly travel over his baby daughter's little
round face and big, dark eyes, with the smile that was so like her mother's,
and then the man looked up.
"I guess all both of us really want is to protect the people most
valuable to us."
The sweeper's confusion must have shown on his face, because Jarod suddenly
smiled. "Have you ever discussed with Morgan the possibility of a
regular job, which would let you stay in Blue Cove, rather than having
to fly off at any time, with no warning? After all, it must be hard to
be away from your wife and daughter, knowing that you might miss the most
important stages in her development. Would you like me to suggest it to
Almost speechless, Sam was only able to manage a jerky nod. "That
I would appreciate it, sir."
"Jarod, Sam," the Pretender corrected quietly, as he handed
back the photo. "My name is Jarod."
* * * * * * * * *
As Sam left the office, Jarod reached for the first file. However, his
eyes widened as he found that it was empty, and he was about to call the
sweeper back and demand answers when a soft voice spoke from the far side
of the room.
"Don't you think it's better to let the past remain that way, Jarod?"
The Pretender's eyes widened in surprise as he looked up to see the psychiatrist
step out of the doorway that connected the neighboring offices.
"What are you doing here?"
"I stopped by to collect a few things." Sydney tapped the pile
of papers in his arms. "And I found Sam in my old office, going through
my files. He told me what he was looking for, and who asked him for that
information." Sydney's head tilted slightly to one side. "Is
it in your best interests to go looking for those answers, now or any
Jarod sighed deeply, letting the folder fall shut. "I have to know,
Sydney," he growled. "I have to know what happened after, and
what led up to it. Then maybe I can stop wondering."
"And start wondering about something else." Sydney approached
the desk to sit down in the chair that stood in front of it with an answering
sigh, taking a thick bundle of pages from his pocket and placing them
on the desk. "I thought you would've known by now that even having
all the answers doesn't get rid of the questions. It just presents new
"I want the answer to this one," the younger man explained
quietly, his tones full of anguish as he reached out to gather the pages
to him. "It was my fault that Kenny was killed. The least I can do
is find out what happened after that."
Nodding, Sydney rose to his feet. "Where's Alexander?"
"I took him back to his room," Jarod replied, somewhat distractedly,
as he glanced over the first page. "He was a little overwhelmed and
needed the comfort of familiar surroundings, however dismal."
"I'm not surprised." Sydney smiled faintly. "I'll see
Jarod barely noticed the older man leave, the fact that he was alone
registering only faintly in his consciousness, his eyes running over the
notes he had received, revealing the details of the plan to introduce
Jarod to Damon, a situation which had begun even before the sim had been
given, Jarod's actions having been predicted in advance. He felt something
in his stomach clench as he saw the extent of the plan, even to giving
Kenny more free time to spend with Jarod in the days leading up to the
sim's delivery, and the Pretender felt his eyes burn with tears.
Putting the pages down, he sorted them rapidly according to subject,
written along the top of each sheet, averting his eyes from the details,
and slid them into the files from which they had originally come, finally
taking up the last file Sam had retrieved for him. Jarod's fingers tightened
around the manila folder as he saw that the body had been taken from the
room and down to the testing facilities, where it had been experimented
on for the next few days, before being cremated and the ashes dumped in
the sea. Jarod's lashes were wet and he felt pain catch in his chest as
he finally raised his head to stare blankly out of the large window in
front of him, gasping for breath.
Two hands suddenly came down to rest on his shoulders, squeezing gently
as he jumped slightly.
"Are you okay?"
Shrugging, he shut the folder and pushed it aside, tilting his head back
to find Morgan's blue eyes looking down at him, full of concern.
"Did Sydney tell you?" he finally asked, gruffly.
"I saw Daddy come out, looking worried." She half-smiled. "He
doesn't look like that unless there's something really wrong, so I thought
I'd check on you."
Nodding, he straightened in the chair, feeling her hands lift off his
shoulders as Morgan walked around to the other side of the desk and sat
"How's it going?" he enquired, not from any curiosity but simply
to break the silence.
"Busy," the woman sighed, flipping her hair back over her shoulder.
"There was so much going on that I really didn't know about."
She suddenly grinned, her eyes sparkling. "If the old Chairman was
in any state to listen, I'd drag him over the coals about it."
Jarod smiled faintly. "Which decade was he in this morning, when
you went down to see him?"
"When I arrived, he seemed to have been reliving a meeting from
the early days of the Centre. He was into the 70s when I left."
"You know it's going to kill him eventually."
Morgan arched an eyebrow, her voice cool. "Does it look like I care?"
Jarod decided to change the subject. "When are you going down to
Her face immediately softened from its formerly hard lines, a smile dancing
around the corners of her mouth. "Tomorrow. I've arranged to make
sure I have every weekend free, except for work I can do out of the office,
so that I can fly up to see him for Friday and Saturday nights. I want
to be the person who puts him to bed on Sundays and then I'll fly back
Jarod nodded, smiling slightly himself. "He'll be pleased."
"I checked it all over with Sebastian and he doesn't mind. Even
offered me one of his jets to come back each Sunday." She smiled,
before her expression suddenly became curious. "He said to tell you
he had something he wanted to talk to you about whenever you went down
Nodding, Jarod glanced at a calendar on his desk, before looking back
at her. "Your doctors say I should definitely be fit enough to fly
in a few days."
Jarod looked forward to this move with eager anticipation. His exhaustion
did not only come from his gunshot wound. He barely slept, up here in
Delaware, nightmares full of blood and pain and guilt waiting for him
as soon as he closed his eyes. It had been so long since he had had to
battle his demons in his sleep for longer than a single night that he
had forgotten how terrible they were. Not a night passed without them
coming to wake him after only an hour or two. Jarod knew his progress
was slower than it ought to have been, and he put that down to a lack
of sleep. When he was back in Texas, he thought eagerly, then he could
really improve, turning his attention back to Morgan as she responded
to his statement.
She smiled in satisfaction. "Ethan should be up to it then, too.
You can go up together. He's dy -- can't wait to see his son again."
"I can imagine." Jarod overlooked the slip, both of them knowing
just how close their brother had come to losing his life during the takeover.
"I'll tell him when I go up to see him tonight."
Morgan raised an eyebrow, her eyes traveling over his face. "What
else do you have to do today?"
Jarod pressed a button on the keyboard of his computer to deactivate
the screensaver and turned the screen to show the woman a list of projects
that he had selected to work on during the time in which he was forced
to stay at the Centre, beginning to discuss them with her.
* * * * * * * * *
The two men stood outside the room and looked in through the small pane
of glass in the door to where the woman lay on her side, her hand lying
gently across her swollen stomach and her eyes closed.
"How is she?"
"Like I told you after it happened, she'll survive, and her baby's
still alive." The blond-haired man pointed out the fetal heartbeat
monitor. "She originally had bruised kidneys, as far as the doctor
could tell, but that seems to have healed. She's still got a couple of
broken ribs on her right side, and we thought for a while that Delius
had broken her arm, but it turned out that it was only a bad sprain."
His brow creased in concern. "But it's her lack of response that's
got us most worried. She'll do anything you tell her to -- lift a leg,
roll onto her side -- but she won't eat and she won't speak."
Alastair's brow creased in concern. "You told her what happened?"
"Oh, yes," Peter Winston agreed at once. "But I really
don't know how much she took in, or really believed."
The younger man looked up. "Did you tell her -- yourself?"
Winston nodded. "She seemed to listen, but never responded and continued
to refuse food." His voice became more anxious. "I don't know
how much longer she and her baby can go on, with what they're receiving
"She didn't believe you," Alastair explained, hoping that what
he was about to say wouldn't cause offence. "After all, you were
the person who arranged for her son to be taken away, and she's so unwell
now that she probably can't even remember why it was necessary."
"Christ!" Winston ran a hand through his hair. "I never
even gave that a thought." He turned away from the door, shoulders
slumping. "Geeze, if only I'd thought
"It's okay." About to put his hand on the other man's arm,
the former subject thought better of it and kept his hand in his pocket.
"Let me talk to her. Maybe I can do something."
"I hope you can." Peter's eyes were anxious. "I promised
Joseph I'd keep her safe. Pathetic bloody job I did of it."
Without responding to that, the younger man placed his hand on the door,
and, after a second of hesitation, pushed it open. His eyes fixed on the
woman in the bed, he believed that he saw her tense, but the machine showing
her heartbeat never altered its constant rhythm. Walking to the bedside,
he pulled up a chair and reached out to gently place his hand on that
of the woman.
"Julia?" he murmured softly. "I know you're awake. Come
on, little sister. Look at me."
It wasn't a genuine biological relationship, but when they had been brought
to this place, both of them still struggling to recover from severe bouts
of meningitis, it had given them comfort. He, having no contact with his
brother, had mourned the loss of family, and she had been so terrified
that he had wasted no time in providing what affection he could. The tie
was strong now, and her response to it was immediate, the heavy eyelids
lifting and the dark eyes fixing on him.
"Alastair," she breathed, relief evident in her eyes, before
they suddenly became filled with panic and devastation, and her fingers
tightened around his as she made a small sound in her throat, almost like
a whimper. "They caught you? I didn't tell them where you were, I
swear! I didn't tell them anything!"
"Shh." He brushed the hair off her face before stroking her
cheek with the backs of his fingers. "No, Julia. It's not like that.
They didn't catch me. Peter Winston asked me to come, after he took over
from the Herr Direktor." Alastair moved the chair closer to the bed.
"It's over, Julia. The nightmare we lived with for so many years
is finished. We're free now. All of us."
Her eyes registered her confusion and panic, and he could imagine the
thoughts that were going through her mind. She thought he was being forced
into saying this, or had been drugged and lied to, and she wasn't going
to accept it, wouldn't be tricked into believing it. He had to stop her
before she retreated, even away from him, back into herself, to escape
from her future.
"Didn't you see it?" he urged gently, easing his other hand
between her cheek and the pillow, and cupping it in his palm. "It
was a great victory, Julia, and Mr. Parker -- do you remember him? --
he was locked up in the darkest room in the whole of the Centre, never
to see the light of day again, just like he was planning to do with us.
Jarod was one of the people who arranged it all. I'm sure you remember
Jarod. He helped me with all those jokes when we were sick. Remember?
He's looking forward to seeing you again, but not as much as Joseph and
Peter are. And Uriel, too. He can't wait to see his Mommy. And Ethan's
looking forward to meeting you, to find out what the mother of his son
She shook her head, her eyes slowly filled with tears, which began to
soak into her pillow, some rolling down her nose and dripping off the
I saw it," she whispered, gasping for breath. "I
die. I saw Ethan die, too. How can you say they're waiting
for me? Are they going to
kill me?" she whimpered, looking
around with wide eyes. "Is that why you're here?"
Alastair inwardly cursed the fact that he had thought to mention them,
shaking his head as he wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"No, Julia," he soothed. "No, they aren't dead. You might
have seen it, but they aren't, I promise. They were badly injured, but
they're still alive, and at the place we'll be going, just like your sons."
At the mention of her children, she began to sob, and her free arm tightened
around her stomach.
"It's true, little sister," he assured her softly, bringing
his face even closer to hers, so that she was still able to see him through
her blurred vision. "I wouldn't lie to you, Julia, you know that.
I was going to bring Joseph with me, but he didn't want to leave his sons,
and the children have to stay together as much as possible. That's,"
he paused briefly, smiling, "that's why Rebecca didn't come with
me either. But I've told her so much about you and she can't wait to meet
you. And Tempest, that's her daughter, she knows about you, too. Uriel
told all the other children about you. He's so proud to have a mommy.
And he can't wait to have a baby sister. He keeps asking Joseph when you're
coming, so that he can meet her."
She mutely shook her head, seeming to shrink away from him, and he released
his hold on her hand, reaching into the pocket of his jacket and pulling
out a small book. Flipping through the pages, he found the one he wanted
and turned the album to show her a photo of Rebecca and little Peter,
who was wrapped in the quilt his mother had made him and waving delightedly
at the camera. Alastair saw the color come back into Julia's bottom lip
as she bit it to stop a gasp from escaping, but she couldn't prevent her
eyes filling with tears once more as they turned up to his.
wasn't a dream?" she begged breathlessly, and he
shook his head, smiling.
"It looked like it, I know," he agreed softly. "But it
was all true, even if you mixed it up with other things." He slid
an arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer to him and letting her
head rest on his shoulder. "When you're strong enough," he promised,
"we'll fly over there and you can see your boys and Joseph again.
When I left, they were setting up a special room for you." Alastair
described the fun that the children had had, helping them to paint the
walls and put up pictures, making the room as different from Julia's room
in Berlin as it was possible to be, and the man felt tears sliding down
onto his shirt as she sobbed, gasping occasionally from the pain but letting
the emotion flow in a way that Alastair knew could only be good for her.
can we go?" she finally asked, her voice still
interspersed with sobs, even as she was calming.
"The moment you're strong enough," he vowed, beginning to rock
her gently. "You need to sleep and eat properly for that to happen.
But, when it does, then we'll go, I promise."
She nodded, snuggling closer to him before relaxing in his arms. Alastair
fixed his attention on the heart-rate monitor, listening as the beeping
gradually slowed, waiting several minutes longer to ensure that she was
asleep before easing her back onto the bed and covering her warmly with
the blankets. Standing, he looked down to find that her features were
more relaxed than they had been when he had entered the room, a tiny smile
curling her lips and a last tear still clinging to her cheek. Gently brushing
it away, he bent down and kissed her cheek before turning away from the
bed and leaving the room.
A gray-suited man waiting in the hall, opposite the door, came to attention
as he appeared. "The Herr Winston asked you to go up to his office
when you came out, sir."
"Thank you," Alastair responded quietly, before looking back
in through the door. "Will you be in this place all afternoon?"
he asked after a moment, and the guard nodded.
"The Herr Winston told me to stay here and that I was to page you
whenever the patient woke up, sir."
Nodding in response, and without another word, Alastair turned towards
the elevator, riding it up to the floor on which the director's office
was located. Maria Thermann sat at her desk in the outer office and gave
him a warm smile as he appeared.
"You're to go in right away," she told him, pressing a button
on the phone, at which a dull buzz could be heard in the other office,
despite the closed door, which opened a second later to show Winston in
Alastair couldn't help hesitating briefly on the threshold, before walking
over to the chair to which Peter Winston directed him with a wave.
" the older man stopped, as if unable to finish,
and the psychic filled the gap.
"She'll be okay," Alastair promised, as much to himself as
to the man opposite. "In a few days, she'll be better."
The blond man sighed with obvious relief. "Thank God for that,"
he breathed, before reaching out for a folder and drawing it closer, finally
looking up. "I wanted to ask you a favor," Peter began, before
correcting himself. "Another one." Pausing briefly, he continued,
his words seeming to fall over each other in his eagerness to get them
out. "I wonder if you'd consider working here, as a paid employee.
We're changing the direction of our work, and I think you'd be very useful
The younger man froze at the offer, unable to prevent his heart from
suddenly beating faster and his breath catching in his throat as his fingers
tightened around the arm of the chair in which he was seated. Winston
seemed to understand what he felt, because he sat back in his seat and
shut the folder.
"This isn't a trick," he assured the other man. "If you
want to say no, that's fine. No one but the two of us know, and I know
you have reasons to be attached to America."
"My family is there," Alastair explained. "Not just my
"Sam! Of course, I'd forgotten about him. No," Peter stated
calmly. "Forget I asked. If I'd thought, I would never have made
the offer. Of course you have to go back there. And I assume you'll take
Julia with you?"
"That was the plan," the psychic responded hesitantly. "Unless
you had other ideas
"No, no, I think that would be the best," Winston assured him.
"Did Sebastian MacKenzie arrange transport, or
"He said that I was to call him and he'd send a plane over,"
Alastair interrupted, suddenly feeling desperate to have this interview
over. Peter Winston seemed to understand this, because he rose to his
"Lunch will be served in the cafeteria from midday," he told
the former subject, "which is on the second floor. It won't cost
you anything. Or you can go into the city and buy yourself something,
if you'd prefer it." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a
beeper, offering it. "If Julia wakes, we can let you know on this."
Accepting it, hoping that there were no secondary motives in the older
man's actions, Alastair left the office and hurried up the stairs to the
room he had been given on his arrival, thankfully closing the door behind
him and leaning against it with a grateful sigh. He didn't want to be
here, but he'd been unable to refuse Joseph's plea that he go, as soon
as they knew Delius had been removed from power, to find out how Julia
was. Now he was counting down the hours until he could leave, swearing
to himself that, once back on American soil, he would never return to
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Morgan hesitated on the threshold of her old office to see the occupant
frowning over a long list of papers.
He looked up, the frown disappearing, replaced by a grin. "Good
morning, Miss Ritter. What can I do for you?"
"What are you doing?"
"Trying to work out how much of the current security measures we
need and what we can remove from the system." He turned a sheet around
as she sat down, taking his seat again. "This is a list of all the
old cameras, and most of them will be removed in the next three days."
"Are they from the old rooms?"
"Yes." He turned the screen, showing her a 3D model of the
Centre, with each existing camera in red. She stared at it for a moment.
"Where did you get that?"
Broots shifted uncomfortably in his seat for a second before responding.
"Jarod, actually. He had it made up before the take-over and he gave
me a copy. We put the cameras on together."
"I never knew you two were such good friends," she remarked
"Well, he helped me a little," Broots confessed. "I mean,
I wouldn't have Debbie if it wasn't for him and that's pretty important."
"Is she back from your brother's yet?"
"I'm going to get her tomorrow," the color deepened in his
face, "with Kim."
Morgan raised an amused eyebrow, but decided not to push the point. "So
you're taking the day off, then?"
"Just tomorrow." The head of Security's voice was confident.
"Everything's in hand, and Warwick can deal with any problems that
might come up."
"Fine." The woman nodded curtly. "Just make sure that
you don't strip us of security entirely."
"No, ma'am," he agreed readily. "We'll still have cameras
in the halls, and the system on the cell level will remain in place, as
will the one in the infirmary. We're also going to still have security
on the fringes of the property. But the individual cameras in the former
subjects' rooms and the offices will be dismantled."
"Good." She nodded and stood up, smiling. "I knew you'd
be good at this work, Lazslo. And you haven't disappointed me. Thank you
for proving me right."
He smiled shyly, turning back to his computer. "You're welcome."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod placed his hand on the lock and heard it disengage as it recognized
his print. The door slid open and he wheeled inside, seeing Yuri look
up briefly before lowering his head again.
"They said you got shot," the younger Pretender greeted him,
eyes refocused on the book resting on his knee. "Are you okay?"
"I'm alive." Jarod heard the door slide shut behind him as
he steered the chair down a ramp that had been installed on one side of
the raised platform. "It'll take time, but I should recover fully."
He nodded at Yuri's leg. "How about you?"
"It's fine," came the brusque retort.
"No, it's not," Jarod responded thoughtfully, noting the lines
around Yuri's mouth. "I'll have them bring you painkillers a couple
of times every day. Whether you take them or not is up to you."
Jarod propped his elbow on the armrest of the chair and leaned his head
on his hand. "If we left you to suffer, we'd be no better than the
people we took over from."
Yuri finally looked up, his dark eyes flashing. "What do you want,
"I came to find out how you were doing." Jarod nodded at a
computer standing in the corner. "I've kept an eye on what you've
been working on, and there's a few more projects I think you might want
to consider, now that you've finished so many of the preliminaries."
"Your daughter." Jarod's voice was steady. "I've uploaded
all the biological information, as well as what we could find from Allegra's
file. There's got to be a way to stop that degeneration, we just have
to find it. It's a race against the clock, but luckily," his voice
shook slightly, "we've got more time than we did with Jacob."
Yuri had already lowered his head at the term Jarod had used but looked
up sharply again at the conclusion of the sentence. "I
he began awkwardly. "I'm sorry, Jarod."
"It was always going to happen," the older man stated, his
voice deepening to a soft, pain-filled growl. "If only we'd found
out more about him in time
" He trailed off, his eyes trained
on the floor for a moment, before focusing on the other man. "I don't
want to lose that fight against time again, and we've got the advantages
here that we didn't have there, so there's no reason we can't do it."
"I understand." Yuri glanced at the computer, and Jarod guessed
that he was already planning to spend all of his waking moments on the
project, just as Jarod himself had labored for his son's son. The other
Pretender suddenly looked up again. "You said 'a few more projects.'
What else is there?"
Jarod exhaled slowly. "Sydney said he showed you all the children.
Do you remember Gideon?"
Yuri thought for a second before nodding.
"He's likely to have similar problems to Michaela -- in fact, quite
a few of those kids could. Those who have gifts that require conscious
effort, or actually affect their surroundings -- telekinetics, pyrokinetics,
healers -- they're all at risk from this degeneration. We might be lucky
enough to find a treatment that will only need minor adjustments to the
process to work for all of them, or we might have to create new, individual
processes for each one. In the next month or so, once things calm down
in Texas, I'm going to have CT and MRI machines bought and scans done
on them, plus other adults with similar gifts, but it's too unsettled
right now. Many of them are still trying to recover from serious injuries
and couldn't deal with complicated tests. Others are up to their necks
in work to cover for the missing people and don't need extra complications.
Until it settles, we've only got normal biological data available."
"I'll do what I can," Yuri vowed.
Jarod smiled faintly. "I don't know whether you'll want to use it,
but I had a private camera link to the playroom of the Prometheus Building
put onto your computer. It's a separate camera from the security system
there, so no one will care if it's on at weird times or moves independently.
You can use it whenever you want."
"Why?" the other Pretender snapped.
The older man sighed sadly. "This situation was what you wanted,
Yuri, and what you felt you deserved for the things you did. Whether I
agree with that or not is moot. But I don't want to cut you off from the
world, or the things that are most valuable to you. It would be the quickest
way to make you feel angry or resentful."
"Most valuable?" Yuri mocked. "You have one connected
to Emily, too?"
"No," Jarod confessed softly, seeing the pain that contorted
the younger man's features. "One of the most valuable, then. Is that
Yuri had turned away, risen slowly to his feet and limped heavily towards
the bed on the opposite side of the room. Jarod was about to leave, but
the other man's voice stopped him.
"How is she?"
"She's hurt," Jarod confessed honestly. "Not physically,
but emotionally and mentally. She's been worried about me -- all my family
were -- and she's still hurting from what she found out about the man
she loved, the one she thought she knew."
There was silence from the other man, and Jarod thought of something
that had occurred to him earlier, and which was a secondary reason for
"Mind if I change the subject?"
"Please do," Yuri growled.
"As you might have guessed," Jarod began, "Morgan and
her security team are looking around for any other potential threats.
I just wanted to know whether what you did was under your own initiative,
or whether there was someone else, pulling the strings, backstage. Was
it as a favor to anyone, or your own idea? Was there a defining moment,
or was it planned?"
There was a moment of silence, during which Jarod expected a refusal,
before the younger man turned and looked at his visitor. His face was
calm as he returned to the sofa on which he had been sitting when Jarod
arrived and, in an emotionless monotone, described the scene in the car,
listening to the poem and the music that had accompanied it. When he finished,
there was another moment of silence.
"Why did you kill the man who saved your life?" Jarod finally
asked. "Wasn't there any feeling of justice that stopped you?"
Yuri laughed mockingly. "Justice? What part did justice play in
this place? When was anyone in this entire hellhole of a building ever
just to us?"
Jarod nodded, forced to accept this. "So why the change? You moved
from Centre contacts to the Centre staff themselves. Was it a conscious
decision, or just opportunity?"
"A little of both." Yuri stared down at his hands. "I'd
always intended to go after the big-shots, if I ever had that chance.
I always dreamed about one day even maybe getting the chance to knock
off Raines himself." He raised his head, and Jarod could see his
eyes gleaming with fury, but he knew that the younger man's anger was
focused solely on one person, and that person was dead. Suddenly they
swung in his direction, full of curiosity. "Didn't you ever think
about it, Jarod? Consider the way it would have felt to get a little of
your own back?"
"Yes, of course," Jarod confessed. "But then I thought
about what my family and Sydney would think if I let that side of me take
over. I weighed up revenge and the good opinions of the people I loved
and valued most, and I made my decision. That was one of the reasons I
escaped from the Centre in the first place." He told the younger
man a little about his first meeting with Damon and the consequences of
it. "I felt that I had a decision to make," he concluded. "I
could become like him, or I could become a better person than he was.
If I'd decided to become like him, I never would have bothered escaping
in the first place."
Yuri's shoulders were bowed and his head was once more lowered by the
time Jarod finished this speech. Rather than saying any more, Jarod turned
the chair and headed for the door, opening it in a heavy silence and leaving
the room without a farewell.
* * * * * * * * *
Sebastian sat at the head of the table and looked along the length of
it, resting sad eyes on each of the seats that had regularly been occupied
by those who had not survived the conflict. Of those who had volunteered
for the mission, more than half had received injuries of varying degrees,
and nearly a quarter had been killed.
To distract himself from the depressing statistics, he looked down at
his hands, seeing the many tiny scars and marks, all that remained of
the injuries he had sustained as a result of the lapses in his inability
to control his pyrokenetic abilities. Now, with the medication Jarod had
made for him, the chances of that happening were greatly reduced, and,
which he now knew was better, without the problems that Aurora would have
caused. Having seen evidence of the drug's power, not only in the prisoners
at the Centre and the Seraphim's caregivers but even in his own sister,
he was exceedingly grateful that he hadn't ever begun it.
Standing, he pushed back the chair and left the room, running up the
stairs to the residence level and along to knock on a particular door.
When there was silence inside, he pushed it open and hesitantly entered,
suddenly hearing the sound of retching from the bathroom.
"Keely?" he called in concern. "Are you okay? What is
There was a moment of silence before the door was pulled partly open,
and he could see his sister curled up on the floor beside the ceramic
toilet bowl, brushing the hair back from her face with an unsteady hand
as tears stood out in her eyes. He hurried over to grab the facecloth
from the basin, soaking it in cold water before gently washing her face
"What's wrong, sweetheart?" he prompted gently, smoothing her
hair as she leaned against him and began to sob. "Are you getting
sick, or is it something else?"
it's the medication Jarod made for me," she choked
out, turning red-rimmed eyes up to his face. "It helps with stopping
me from setting things on fire, but it makes me feel awful."
Sebastian turned his head, kissing her hair gently. "Why didn't
you say something before?"
were busy," Keely reminded him, as he lifted her
to her feet and supported her out into the bedroom. "It didn't start
until after you left for Blue Cove, and I was too scared to stop taking
it, in case I'd forgotten how to control it."
"Oh, baby." He helped her lie down on the bed, mentally kicking
himself for not calling more often to find out how she was, rather than
the one or two calls he'd managed during the hectic weeks of preparation,
and which had left little time for personal details, although, Sebastian
thought guilty, he had always managed to find time to ask about Gideon.
"You still should have said something, if not to me then at least
"Jordan said that we should only go to him for emergencies, because
it hurt him when he had to heal somebody." Her eyes closed in exhaustion,
but her breath still caught, showing both her pain and muffed sobs.
Sebastian stored the comment away in his mind to be discussed later and
picked up the phone beside his sister's bed, asking that Namir be sent
to the room and, after a moment of thought, for Elizabeth also. When they
arrived, he gave them a brief run-down of what had occurred and then went
to his office to get in touch with the doctors in Blue Cove and find out
if Jarod could fly down to Texas any sooner than anticipated.
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Jarod checked that everything he needed was within arms' reach and then
removed the left-hand arm of the chair, easing himself onto the sofa and
sliding back until he was sitting properly on it, feeling a stab of pain
in his chest as he did so. He was at least thankful that the discomfort
he had initially felt, even when sitting, was now gone, but he was also
looking forward to getting rid of the wheelchair and walking again, although
that was apparently still some time off.
Looking around, he knew that he had been given a suite usually reserved
for visiting international dignitaries, but, luxury or not, it was still
the Centre and he was aware of that. In addition to the usual benefits
that came with the room, he also had a nurse on call, 24 hours, but so
far he hadn't had to call her, and had no intention of doing so.
Sighing, he settled back against the cushions and slowly lifted his legs
onto the footstool, briefly resting his head against the back of the sofa
before moving his laptop onto his knees, opening a file and picking up
the notes he had written that day about the people he had worked with.
The work itself was very interesting, and the fact that he could help
those who had been in a position with which he could so closely empathize
made it more valuable still, but the paperwork was a continual bugbear.
Still, it had to be done, and this was as good a time as any.
When the phone rang, Jarod groaned aloud before reaching out to answer
it, knowing from the tone that it was an internal call.
"Mr. Charles? You have visitors."
Stifling another groan, Jarod glanced at the wheelchair, then at the
papers scattered all over the sofa around him. "Can you have somebody
bring them down?"
The call was disconnected and Jarod began gathering the papers together,
trying to rapidly sort them as he did so. Closing the laptop, he was reaching
over to put it on the table when the newly sorted sheets slid off his
lap and scattered all over the floor. His curse rang through the room,
just as the door opened.
"Temper, temper," an Australian voice scolded laughingly. "It's
not that bad, the Yank."
Jarod looked up sharply at the male figure who stood in the doorway,
his brown hair gleaming in the light from the hallway, grinning broadly.
"For Pete's sake," the Pretender exclaimed in amazement. "Steve
Taylor! What on earth are you doing here?"
The younger man laughed. "Are you going to invite me -- us, I should
say -- in, or do we have to stay on the doorstep?"
"We?" Jarod looked past him as Steve stepped into the room,
his smile broadening as Lauren appeared behind him, a small bundle in
her arms. The older man nodded at the sweeper, who closed the door, before
turning his attention back to his visitors. "Sorry I didn't come
down and meet you, but
"Don't worry, Jarod," Lauren assured him. "We understand."
She approached the sofa and was leaning over to kiss him when he saw the
bundle in her arms move and looked down to find two round eyes staring
back at him from a bunny-rug.
"What on earth
?" he gasped, gazing at the small face
for a moment before looking up at the woman. "When?!"
Lauren gently placed the small baby into the man's arms before moving
back to sit in an armchair opposite. "She's three months old. Rachael
"Yours?" he asked, as Steve sat down, and the woman smiled
"Paul's and mine, yes. I sent a letter with photos to your dad,
in Barrow, but it was sent back, so I thought I'd wait until I could tell
"She's beautiful," Jarod remarked, looking down into the large
green eyes, which gazed back at him placidly. "Congratulations."
"Thanks." Lauren smiled. "Actually, that was why I was
able to come to, well, you know." She stopped awkwardly, before continuing.
"I'm on maternity leave. If she wasn't still being breastfed, I might
have left her back with Paul, but -- "
"No way," Steve interposed, grinning. "You couldn't bear
to be parted from her!"
"Paul has to be," Lauren retorted somewhat sharply, and Jarod
looked up to catch a glimpse of a thin band of gold on the woman's left
"I bet your mom and dad are happy," he suggested with a grin,
and she laughed.
"Ecstatic. She's their first grandchild, you know, and they're so
possessive that, if we lived down in Melbourne, we'd probably never see
"So you're still up in Katherine?"
"The arrangements are still pretty much the same as when you were
there," she agreed. "But we bought a house and sold the apartment
so that there was enough room for all three of us, and it's within walking
distance of the base. Whenever Paul gets a break, he comes home, so he
sees a lot of his daughter."
Jarod looked down again as the baby's fingers curled around his little
finger and held tightly, his smile becoming slightly tense as he realized
that he had never had the opportunity to experience this with either of
his sons. It seemed that the other people in the room picked up on his
feelings, a fact proven by Lauren's next words.
"Actually, Jarod, we're not here just so that you can meet Rachael.
We had a suggestion -- about Jordan."
The Pretender looked up sharply. "What about him?" he asked
Lauren's eyes strayed briefly over to the wheelchair before looking back
at him, and she took in a deep breath before speaking again. "I was
We thought about inviting Jordan back with us -- to Australia.
He needs to get away from where he is now, and you're going to be up to
your neck in work, not to mention everything else." Her eyes rested
once more, thoughtfully, on the electric wheelchair. "My suggestion
is that we take Jordan, and Merritt, if her mother agrees, back with us.
When everything settles down here, and Jordan's over everything that's
happened, they can come back."
Jarod exhaled slowly, his eyes fixed thoughtfully on the floor. It would
certainly solve some of the problems that he had already anticipated,
namely the depth of involvement of his work with the Centre, and his recovery
from the gunshot wound, but the pain of Jacob's loss ran nearly as deep
in him as it did in Jordan, and having the younger man with him seemed
to sometimes make that a little easier.
"He'd get all the necessary education," Lauren pursued, willfully
misunderstanding Jarod's lack of response. "We'll make sure of that,
and he'll also be out of doors most days. Whether he comes up with Paul
and me to Katherine, stays down in Yarragon with Mum, Dad and Steve, or
goes off with Mark, you can guarantee that."
There was a long moment of silence before Jarod finally spoke.
"I can't answer it right away," he told her. "I'm not
going to make any decisions without his input." He grinned faintly,
thankfully changing the subject. "It was bad enough when they did
that to me."
"You were in no fit state to make your own decisions then,"
Lauren told him tartly, grinning. "It's nice to see that things have
changed a bit."