Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia
Jacob lay in the bed, his eyes closed and the fingers of one hand
wrapped in Jordan's, who sat beside him, tears glistening in his eyes.
Every breath from the small body was painfully audible, accompanied by
a slight sigh of pain as he exhaled. A sound from the doorway brought
Jordan's eyes to it, the tears slipping down his cheeks at the expression
of sadness on Jarod's face. Walking over, Jarod wrapped his arms firmly
around Jordan, squeezing gently and kissing him on the top of his head.
"It's better this way," Jarod whispered softly in Jordan's
ear, feeling the boy begin to shake with sobs. "I know, son. I know
how much it hurts."
As Jarod finished speaking, Jacob opened his eyes, weakly holding
out a hand to the man, who stepped over and took it. Sliding an arm around
Jacob's shoulders, Jarod lifted him into his arms, sitting down on the
bed and covering the thin, frail body with a blanket. Holding out his
other arm, Jarod watched Jordan move to sit beside him on the mattress,
placing his arm around Jordan's shoulders. Jacob stretched out an agonizingly
thin arm so that he could touch Jordan, dark, pain-filled eyes turned
up to the young man's face.
"Daddy," he wheezed softly, tears appearing in his eyes
as Jordan's eyes filled again.
Major Charles entered the room with a prepared syringe. Removing the
cap from the IV assembly that was already inserted in Jacob's arm, the
man injected the contents, stepping back from the bed and looking down
into the small face, the tenseness of which revealed what he suffered.
Slowly, as the pain eased, the lines around his eyes and lips began to
fade. Jacob's eyelids slid together and he relaxed in Jarod's arms, drug-induced
sleep bringing him merciful release from the agony as his body slowly
Jordan awoke with a sob, burying his face in the pillow as the tears
flowed, hot and constant, out of his eyes. After a moment, he felt a hand
gently rubbing his back and rolled over to look up into Lauren's green
eyes, which glowed with sympathy, made even more obvious by the dark green
of her silk pajamas.
"It's hard, I know," she told him, blotting away the traces
of tears with a tissue and then tucking it into his hand. "But over
time it will get easier, Jordan, I promise. Eventually, it won't hurt
He nodded, rubbing his nose on the tissue. Lauren picked up a damp cloth
from the bedside table and gently wiped his eyes and face with it. Jordan
struggled into a sitting position, looking down to find that the blankets
had tangled themselves around his legs and were damp, the pajamas he wore
also soaked with perspiration.
"Why don't you go and have a cool shower?" the woman suggested.
"I'm sure you won't feel like trying to sleep again."
"Yeah, I guess
Even the effort of speaking brought him to the brink of tears yet again,
and Jordan turned his face away as he began to extricate himself from
the bedclothes. Stepping away from the bed, Lauren watched him climb out
of it, placing a hand on the young man's shoulder as he stood beside her.
Gently drawing him into her arms, the woman felt him hesitate before he
began to sob against her shoulder, his arms clinging tightly around her
"It's okay," she soothed gently in his ear. "Let it out,
Jordan. There's nothing wrong with showing how you felt about him. I know
you loved him. He was a part of you. How could you help it? So you're
allowed to miss him now."
Sobs interspersed with soft moans, revealing his inner agony, Jordan
found himself gasping for breath, pain catching in his chest. The memory
of Jacob's face when he had first tasted ice cream slid into Jordan's
mind, and his fingers involuntarily clutched at Lauren's top as her hand
rubbed his back in smooth, regular motions. Paul appeared in the doorway,
a glass of water in his hand, and Lauren indicated the bedside table with
a nod. Her husband placed his hand on her shoulder with a loving squeeze,
before he left the room. Lauren, her own eyes glistening with sympathetic
tears, didn't speak again, letting the boy's grief flow unimpeded.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod gathered the papers about Jacob together, feeding thick bundles
of them into the shredder attached to the side of his workstation. The
pages were chewed into long, thin strands, which could then be recycled,
and he sighed deeply as he disposed of the last one, wishing that there
had been a different conclusion to the one that had occurred. A twinge
of pain as he straightened in the chair revealed that, miraculous though
Namir's work had been, his body was still healing from the injuries Lyle's
bullet had caused.
Suddenly, a different pain clutched at his chest, forcing him to gasp
aloud as his hands clenched into fists. Briefly, he wondered if he was
having a heart attack, but even as the Pretender reached for the phone
to summon help, an image of Jordan appeared in his mind's eye, the young
man sobbing wildly, and immediately Jarod understood. Leaning back in
his chair, he shut his eyes, forcing himself to relax and trying to expand
his knowledge of what his clone was feeling. The source wasn't hard to
find. With his understanding of what was upsetting Jordan, his own sorrow
at Jacob's death increased.
Reaching out for the computer, he started up the video-call program,
sipping a glass of water on his desk to ease the pain in his throat as
he waited for it to be answered. Several seconds later, Paul's face appeared
on the screen, a look of surprise evident in his eyes.
"How'd you know?" he demanded quietly.
"Lucky guess," Jarod responded. "Is he okay?"
"That depends what you call 'okay,'" the other man told him.
"He's not in a fit state to talk, if that's what you mean."
In the background, Jarod saw Lauren open a door and step into the room
in which Paul sat. She glanced at the corner of the living room where
the computer was set up and came over as she obviously recognized the
person on the screen.
"Jordan said you might call," she offered with a half-smile.
"He guessed you'd probably pick up on what he was feeling."
"'Pick up on' is probably an understatement," the American
retorted drily. "It hit me like an express train. How is he?"
"Right now, not too good," she admitted slowly. "But it'll
get easier, Jarod. He's letting himself cry, and that's the best thing
he can do. He's more worried about the way it's affecting you."
"Don't worry about me," the Pretender retorted. "Tell
him not to either. I've got plenty to keep me busy here. I'll be fine."
"I doubt he'll believe you, but we can try," Paul told the
other man with a faint grin.
Jarod arched an eyebrow. "You don't think I'm busy?"
"I don't think you're fine," the doctor stated bluntly, professionally
eyeing him. "And neither would Jordan, if he saw you now. You've
got a couple of days before he'll probably want to talk to you, Jarod.
Make sure you're at least trying to look yourself by then, okay?"
"And not the 'yourself' you were when I first saw you," Lauren
put in, laughing. "We'll excuse the tan, but otherwise you've got
some work to do."
Jarod smiled, relieved that he had made the decision to allow Jordan
to go, knowing that, in an atmosphere such as Lauren and Paul were providing,
the pain of the child's death would ease even faster, and his eyes glowed
gratefully as he smartly saluted the screen. "I'll do my best to
obey doctors' orders."
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Morgan took up the first of the letters her secretary had just delivered,
arching an eyebrow when she failed to recognize the writing, and then
slit the top. Pulling out the letter, she found that it came from a minister
in Parishville, New York, and her interest increased ten-fold.
Dear Madam, the letter began.
I received a visit yesterday from a Miss Kim Ritter, who told me that
she was associated with you and that you had lately inherited the property
commonly known as Ammon House. I would beg you, for your own security,
not to consider ever selling the property. Perhaps you have read of the
threats in earlier wills from the Woods family regarding the ghost that
haunts it. If not, might I suggest that you investigate those before making
any decisions, and be assured that the threat is real, as is the ghost.
Miss Ritter suggested that you might want to consider consecrating
the site and handing it to the Church. Let me say that this is probably
one of the best uses for an otherwise useless site, and that I will assist
you in any way I can. I would also encourage, if you have sufficient funds,
that the grave of a certain Mr. Hugh Woods, currently buried in the grounds
of the Jackson Asylum, Ware, Massachusetts, be exhumed and transferred
to the grounds of Ammon House, here in Parishville.
Let me conclude by saying that, before I moved to Parishville, I was
skeptical of all but religious forms of the supernatural; however, 15
years of attending Parishville parishioners has convinced me that my former
judgment was in error. I beg you, for your own sake, not to make the same
mistake. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at the
Fr. Edward (Ned) Kelly.
Thoughtfully, Morgan dropped the letter back onto her desk, gazing at
the neat writing. This acted to confirm her increasing suspicions that
something did exist at that house, and that simply razing it to the ground,
as she had originally considered doing, would be a bad move.
Putting the letter into the scanner, she saved the file and then attached
it to an email, sending it off immediately. A moment later, as she had
predicted, her computer announced a video call. She activated the program
and saw Jarod waving the sheet of paper at her.
"Did you read it?"
"Of course I read it," he snapped. "Why are you getting
involved with Ammon House?"
"I don't have a choice." She told him about Cox's will, which
had left the property to the Centre. "It wouldn't have happened if
you hadn't told the trustees about him," she concluded accusingly.
Jarod ignored this. "What are you going to do with it?"
"I don't know." She sighed. "At first it was tempting
just to bulldoze it to the ground, but I'm having second thoughts."
"So you won't just dismiss it as fantasy?"
"Would you?" she shot back. "Or have you conveniently
forgotten what happened to you, that day and night we spent there?"
She saw him shudder faintly, but he changed the subject. "Would
you consider doing what Father Kelly suggests?"
"It seems like the only option," Morgan admitted. "And
otherwise it's a useless piece of property. If we do it, it's at least
being used for something productive."
On the screen, Jarod relaxed visibly, leaning back in his chair. "That's
probably the best."
The woman nodded, changing the subject. "How's Jordan?"
Jarod's expression immediately became tense. "Right now, he's not
doing so well," he admitted. "But I hope it'll get better."
He swallowed hard. "And Merritt?"
"She's having a ball," Morgan smiled. "She'll probably
come back to demand a stable of horses."
"And a wardrobe of Parisian-style clothes, like the ones you brought
back from your little jaunt," he teased lightly. "How is Peter,
"Mr. Winston is fine," she responded tightly, and he
raised an eyebrow.
"Come on, Morgan, I know you like the guy. There's nothing wrong
"I don't have the time or the energy to get involved in any sort
of relationship right now," she told him firmly. "And neither
"Was that a mutual agreement?"
She could see a thoughtful expression on Jarod's face, but he evidently
decided not to press any further.
"How's my baby?" she asked, before he could say anything.
"Just fine," Jarod smiled. "He loves the books you gave
him for his birthday. He's learned every one by heart already, and reads
them all the time."
"And how's that little ball of fluff you gave him?" she asked.
"What's he calling it?"
"Toto, after the dog in the Wizard of Oz," the man replied.
"And he's a devoted little thing. Follows Gabriel everywhere. Our
son doesn't even need the leash I gave him, except when they go out to
the park or somewhere." He suddenly chuckled. "Actually, it's
Toto that gets to hear our son reading those books, most of the time.
He's a real orator."
"When are you coming back up?"
"Not sure." Jarod rested his chin in his hand with what Morgan
suspected was a weary sigh. "I've handed over the projects you wanted
me to look at, so unless something turns up for me, not for a while. And
I do need to keep an eye on Alexander here."
She nodded. "I think we've dealt with all the emergency stuff here,
so you might be done."
"I'll live in hope," he joked. "Was there anything else?"
"Not that I can think of. I'll call you if there is."
"Make sure you do." He smiled. "Talk to you later."
The screen went blank and she picked up the phone to call Kim and have
her begin to arrange for the conversion of Ammon House into a graveyard.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod rolled the chair into the gym and over to the corner that had been
set up for rehabilitation. A physiotherapist Sebastian had hired was already
there, checking he had everything that would be needed for the forthcoming
session, and Steve turned as he heard the chair approach, his brown hair
gleaming in the powerful overhead lights.
"Ready for an hour or two of hell, Jarod?" he suggested with
The Pretender sighed in mock-resignation, feeling a thrill of excitement
in the pit of his stomach at the man's eager tones, but he looked around
warily. This was part of the game. "What have you got in store for
me this morning?"
Steve waved towards a pair of long parallel bars, standing waist-height
off the ground. "I thought, today, we might try a little walking.
How about it?"
Jarod's glance this time was genuinely suspicious. "I'm ready for
"I wouldn't suggest it if you weren't," the man responded seriously,
before his features cracked into a more familiar grin. "I didn't
spend that long at physiotherapist's school and just come out with a degree
in torment and torture, you know." He heard footsteps and looked
over Jarod's left shoulder. "Well, look who's arrived."
The injured man looked around sharply to find his mother and father approaching
and rolled his eyes. "No pressure," he muttered sarcastically.
"Well, I thought, as you love showing off so much," Steve teased,
pulling up two chairs a short distance from the bars, "you might
like an appreciative and enthusiastic audience."
One of the other therapists came over at Steve's wave and waited until
Jarod had maneuvered the chair into position before taking up a stance
"Okay," Steve directed, "now you're going to use your
upper body strength to get on your feet and to hold yourself up. At this
stage, all your feet will be doing is directing you."
Jarod's hands closed around the bars and he rested his lower arms on
the smooth wood, feeling his grip for a moment, before using his strength
to haul himself into an upright position. Pain was flashing both up and
down his body from the point in his thigh where the bullet was removed,
but it was no worse than it had been on other sessions and he ignored
"Your chair's gone, Jarod," Steve warned him. "If you
fall back or lose your balance, Bill and I will catch you. The chair will
be waiting for you at the other end."
Jarod eyed him. "I have to trust you?" he ground out painfully.
The brown-eyed man grinned. "'Fraid so. Now, move your hands, one
by one along the bars, until you're leaning forward. Then step out with
your left leg, leaving all your weight on the uninjured side."
Much to his aggravation, Jarod was unable to make his foot lift fully
off the ground, and could only manage an awkward shuffle. Automatically,
he raised his right foot, pain in his hip causing him to gasp and buckle
at the waist and knees. Instantly, four hands grabbed him and held him
up. Out of the corner of his eye, Jarod saw that his parents were also
both half-out of their seats, ready to come to his aid.
"I never said this would be easy," Steve reminded him, helping
him cautiously straighten until he was standing again. "Don't lift
your right foot properly yet. Slide it along the ground so that it still
takes some of the weight. We'll get to lifting later, when your legs and
back are stronger."
Nodding and gritting his teeth, Jarod managed to slide his foot forward
several inches. The other followed, and he stopped to catch his breath,
seeing the tense look on his father's face, and the tight hold Michael
had on Margaret's hand. His father's anxiety seemed to diminish Jarod's
own fear of falling, which had been holding him back, and he managed another
two steps with more confidence.
"Fantastic!" Steve urged eagerly. "Only six more and you
can sit down."
The wheelchair seemed a long way away as Jarod looked at it over Steve's
shoulder, and his feet felt like solid blocks of cement. Six steps, he
thought. Well, that's only three per leg. Here goes
He moved his hands forward, one by one, and forced his feet in the same
direction. Two down. Jarod repeated the process, breathing heavily, his
arms aching from so much strain, and feeling sweat pour down his face
to soak the collar of his t-shirt. Another two. This was, Jarod thought
fleetingly, as he shuffled his left foot forward again, definitely the
hardest thing he'd ever done.
His wheelchair felt like the most comfortable thing he had ever sat in,
as he all but collapsed onto the seat. It took him a moment to catch his
breath, lifting a trembling hand to wipe the sweat off his face, before
making the mistake of looking up at the therapist.
"Ready for another go?" Steve asked cheerfully, and Jarod sighed
deeply, knowing that there was no way to get out of it.
"Two seconds," he begged breathlessly.
"One," the therapist compromised, taking a bottle of water
and a towel from Bill and offering it.
Jarod gulped down several mouthfuls of water and wiped his face and neck,
feeling that his t-shirt was sticking to him. When he was breathing normally
again, feeling the adrenalin course through him as the knowledge and satisfaction
of what he had done struck home, he gave the bottle and towel back, wiped
his hands on his pants and then took firm hold of the bars again. He was
going to get back on his feet again, and the sooner, the better. It would
involve a lot of hard work, and pain, but he couldn't think of a single
thing in his life that hadn't. And this was so much better than a sim.
This was real.
* * * * * * * * *
Mason felt the pleasure inside him wane and knew it was time for his
next dose of the drug that made him feel so wonderful. Even as he thought
this, the door of his room slid open and Mr. Lee appeared, the usual paraphernalia
in his hands.
"How are you this morning?" the man queried cheerfully.
"Fine," the Pretender told him, "as always."
"I'm sure you are." Lee chuckled. "It was good of me to
bring you here, wasn't it?"
"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," Mason told him sincerely,
accepting the filled syringe and tourniquet, and seeing the older man
immediately turn and leave the room. Although this was out of character
for their meetings, with a discussion of work usually following on from
the injection of the drug, Mason was able to dismiss it with a shrug.
He went over to the bed, sitting down and rolling up his sleeve. His
eyes rested briefly on a row of dots along the veins in his arm, wondering
vaguely when he was going to be switched to patches, as had been promised,
but he didn't bother to pursue the thought as he tightened the tourniquet
and slid the point of the needle in under his skin.
While he depressed the plunger, he wondered at the fact that the syringe
seemed to be so much thicker than usual, but it didn't trouble him. Nobody
would ever hurt him here. He did good work for them, and they repaid him
by letting him stay happy. That was all that mattered now, feeling like
this, with no highs or lows, and nothing bothering him during the days
of work and long nights of blissful dreams, a stark contrast to the trouble-filled
days that had preceded his return to the Asian station, in the company
of the Cat and Mr. Lee. That time, full of stress and tension, was an
unpleasant, but rapidly fading, memory, and he decided never to think
about it again, if he could avoid it. After all, there were so many other,
better things he could think about instead, like his work and his family.
Removing the needle and tourniquet from his arm, Mason wrapped the thin
strap around the empty plastic tube and placed it neatly on his bedside
Warmth seemed to flow through him, and he looked around in wonder, surprised
at the speed with which the drug had taken hold, the room appearing brighter
than it had before, the lights on the ceiling glowing a brilliant yellow.
A sudden urge to move came over him, and he got up off the bed, beginning
to frantically pace the length of his small room. Something dripped onto
his hands and he looked down to find that something red was oozing out
of his nose, but he couldn't identify it, for some reason, so it didn't
Time seemed to pass quickly as Mason continued to pace, unable to settle,
but he slowly felt his legs begin to tremble and became aware of a sudden
longing to lie down, returning to the bed. Going to sit down on it, however,
he caught his foot on the edge of the single step that led up to it, amazed
to find that things seemed to move in slow motion as he fell.
He thought he felt hands come up to catch him just before his body hit
the bed, easing him down onto it, and he beamed at the feeling of happiness
that seemed to burn inside him. Minute sounds in the room, which he usually
barely noticed, gradually magnified into a soft background orchestra as
lights burned brightly, both in the ceiling and on the desk, where a lit
Gradually, as he enjoyed the feeling of pleasure, Mason found himself
yawning, his legs hanging limply over the edge of the bed, and it dawned
on him that he was tired. With no work to do, there was no reason for
him to stay awake, so he let himself drift. The world around him seemed
warm, filled with pleasure so powerful that he hoped it would never ended.
His eyelids drooped, growing heavier, as the lights in the room seemed
to dim, and he yawned again, feeling the urge to sleep creep in on him.
Before he could give in to it, however, a shape seemed to appear on the
edge of his increasingly blurred vision, and he smiled drowsily as the
features became familiar.
"Sun-Chai," he murmured happily. "You came back to me."
A laugh seemed to break through the room and he looked down into the
little face that he could remember so well from his photo, which Lee had
taken away, promising to frame and give back.
"Dominique," Mason mumbled, reaching out for the girl who was
nestled in her mother's arms. "I wanted to see you so much."
Holding up his arms was too hard, and he let them fall back onto the
bed, watching the woman sit on the mattress beside him and feeling the
pressure of his daughter as she crawled over onto his chest.
"I love you," he told them drowsily, "both of you, so
much. You're the most important things in the world to me."
He had other things that he wanted to say, but talking was too difficult,
and he believed that they understood anyway. The warm body of his daughter
snuggled up against his neck and he let his eyelids slide closed, sighing
thankfully into the darkness. A dull pounding was audible in his ears
and he listened to it, feeling hands gently stroke his face. Gradually
the pounding became slower and softer, finally dying away as he let himself
fall into the black.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod's arms were still trembling as his father pushed the chair out
of the elevator and along the hall to his room, and Jarod could feel his
mother's hand resting on his shoulder.
"I'm so proud of you, baby," she told him, as they entered
the living room of his apartment. "That was hard, I know."
He turned the chair and then reached up to hug her, loving the feel of
her arms around his back as she returned the embrace.
"I love you, Mom," he assured her, feeling her lightly kiss
"I love you, too, Jarod," she smiled, kissing the top of his
head and then retreating to the doorway with her husband. "We can
come and bring you down for dinner, if you want."
"I'll call you if I need you," he promised, waiting until they
were gone before stretching his aching arms with a soft groan and then
rolling the chair over to his workstation, turning on his computer.
His desk was almost clear now, having, with a heavy heart, shredded most
of the notes about Jacob, filing those he thought might be useful one
day. Wisely, Jarod had distanced himself from taking on anything new,
either from the Centre or Sanctuary, until he was both physically and
emotionally ready for it. He was tired after his mornings of therapy,
and then his son and the other children expected him to spend time with
them every afternoon. Until he could do all that, and still have energy
left over, Jarod knew he couldn't cope with anything more.
His computer announced an incoming video message at the same moment as
a fax machine that Sebastian had installed on his desk began first to
ring and then to spew out paper. Putting in his password, Jarod connected
the call and then glanced at the fax's cover sheet, smiling as the face
appeared on the screen.
The older man's smile was warm and his eyes intently studied the Pretender's
face. "How are you feeling, Jarod?"
"Fine," came the brusque and somewhat untruthful reply. "What's
Sydney shot him a skeptical look, but didn't comment. "I'm sending
you my latest report on Yuri," he stated. "I thought you might
"Thank you." Jarod picked up the pages as the machine finished
and shuffled them into a neat pile. "How's he doing?"
"He has good and bad days," Sydney admitted. "But I don't
think he's going to cause any serious trouble."
"He did turn himself in voluntarily," Jarod reminded the older
man. "He won't always like it, but he wouldn't be likely to try to
"I agree." Sydney nodded. "And we also wouldn't be getting
the projects sorted as quickly without his help."
"He's still doing that?"
"For the moment, yes," the psychiatrist replied. "Once
they're done, then they can be gone into in more detail by the various
teams of therapists. After that, we'll probably get him involved in some
of the less vital projects, until we're sure that he can be trusted. When
we do, he can probably be involved in more high-security stuff."
Jarod stacked his right hand over his left fist and rested his chin on
it. "So what's he doing, apart from sitting in his room all day,
"He has physical therapy sessions every second day, to help his
"And that's it?" Jarod arched an eyebrow. "He's not having
an exercise session every day?"
"You think it would be advisable?" Sydney suggested.
"Definitely." Jarod sighed. "At the end of most days at
the Centre, I was mentally pretty drained, but I always had a lot of physical
energy. I often got edgy, just 'cos there was no way to get rid of it."
"You certainly had plenty of that when you were younger," he
was told wryly, and grinned.
"Oh, I had to keep you on your toes," he teased, before becoming
more serious. "If I was making Yuri's daily program, I'd insist that
there was a physical session of some sort each day. It doesn't really
matter what it is."
"I'll suggest it, the next time I talk to Morgan." Sydney made
a note on a pad of paper on the desk in front of him, looking up again
as a thought obviously struck him. "How's Alexander?"
"He's doing much better," Jarod enthused. "He's confident
enough to come down for meals on his own now, rather than waiting until
I come and get him, and," he chuckled, "he used the phone for
the first time yesterday."
The psychiatrist laughed. "Well, I'm impressed. I thought it would
take a lot longer." He raised an eyebrow. "Who did he call?"
"Me, actually." Jarod smiled. "But it's a good start."
"It certainly is," Sydney agreed.
"He's a lot calmer, too," the younger man offered. "He
doesn't get so easily frustrated, if he can't get an answer first time.
Instead, he works through the problem and his actions, step by step, to
see where he went wrong."
"That's definitely an achievement," Sydney mused. "I'm
very impressed, Jarod. You've managed a lot with him, in a short space
"I had a good teacher myself," the Pretender retorted, and
Sydney smiled, before examining him more closely.
"Are you sure you're all right, Jarod? You look tired."
The Pretender grinned faintly. "I just had a pretty hard therapy
session, but," he glowed, "I finally got back on my feet today."
Sydney's face lit up. "You did? That's wonderful! I'm so glad!"
Jarod felt something warm settle inside his chest at the older man's
obvious delight, knowing that it was further proof of how much Sydney
cared about him. They discussed Jarod's progress for a few minutes, and
then ended the call. The Pretender stared at the screen for a moment,
before reactivating the program, knowing that there was a young man on
the other side of the world who also needed to be reminded how important
* * * * * * * * *
Paul and Lauren's House
Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia
Jordan finished a sheet of mathematical problems that the school in Dallas
had faxed over to him and set it aside to be sent back that evening, when
it would be cheaper. He spent an hour or so each morning doing his homework,
before the three people had breakfast together and left for the base.
His computer announced an incoming video message and he activated it,
grinning at the sight of his father.
Jarod smiled warmly in return. "How's it going, son?"
"It's good to talk to another American," Jordan joked. "I
think I'm starting to lose my accent."
The man's eyes widened in surprise. "What, have you and Merritt
split up or something? Weren't you talking every night, and draining my
bank account with the bills?"
Jordan grinned, aware that he was probably blushing. "I mean, apart
Jarod chuckled, winking at him. "I didn't think so. So what's been
"I got to fly the plane back to base yesterday," Jordan announced
proudly. "It was great!"
"Are you going to take after your grandfather, and be a professional
pilot?" Jarod suggested.
"I haven't really decided." Jordan thought inwardly that he
could never be satisfied working with a machine, but he didn't really
want to talk about that now. He planned to discuss his future with his
father when he returned to America. In the meantime, Jarod's health was
more important, and he looked at him closely. "Are you okay?"
"Fine, son," Jarod assured him. "I started walking again
"Hey, that's great," Jordan cheered. "So you should be
walking properly by the time I get home?"
"I certainly plan to, although," Jarod added quickly, "I
don't think I'll be up to a race by then."
"Gee, I might win," the young man laughed. "That'd be
a new experience!"
"You'd never let me forget it," Jarod returned. "So I
think that can wait."
"Aw, man!" Jordan complained. "You're no fun, Dad!"
Jarod chuckled softly, changing the subject. "Have you been doing
anything apart from flying, up there?"
"I met John, you know, Lauren's friend, the Aborigine, a couple
of days ago," Jordan told him. "He gave me a couple of lessons
in bushcraft. Hopefully he'll come back in a few days and he can show
me a few more things."
"It sounds great," Jarod told him. "But I wouldn't count
on it. He could never be guaranteed to be in a specific place at any given
time when I was there. You'll have to be patient."
"I'll just wait and see," Jordan agreed. "But I hope so.
He's a really nice guy, and I can talk to him in his own language now,
which is pretty cool."
"It sure is," Jarod agreed, then a pleasant chime rang through
the room, and the man smiled. "That sounds like the dinner bell.
I'll talk to you soon, son. I love you."
"I love you, too, Dad, and I'm having a great time here."
Jarod's smile was full of warmth and love. "I'm so glad to hear
it, Jordan. I hope today's just as good."
Jordan felt loved and secure as he shut down the computer, knowing his
father was still thinking about him, even at this great distance. A smile
on his face, he left his room and went into the big living area to lay
the table for breakfast.
* * * * * * * * *
The man's platinum blond hair reflected the sun as he got out of his
car and entered the building, a bag slung over his shoulders. The woman
at the desk barely spared him a glance as she gave him his tag and room
number, but the dark-skinned man he encountered in the elevator greeted
"What have you been up to?" Trevor asked eagerly, and the other
"Bits and pieces. A lot of travel. Even heading back home, every
"Back to England?" the psychic suggested with a knowing wink,
and his companion chuckled. He had been practicing a few accents lately,
but here, where he was known, he reverted to his older habits, for a sense
of continuity, despite knowing that a number of people, Trevor included,
saw through the deception.
"So what's been going on here?" the blond queried. "Any
further backlash from the battle?"
"A few injuries still healing, but life's settling down," Trevor
responded. "Work's starting up again, and the daily meetings are
"Ramona up to that?"
"Not yet," the other man admitted. "Maybe in a few weeks.
But I'm doing her work while she gets better."
The doors opened and, with a backward grin, Trevor left the car, which
rode up to the residence level and deposited its occupant in the hallway.
He strolled along the hall, dropping his bag onto the bed and opening
it. But before he could take anything out, he heard a sob from the next
He hesitated for a moment, before heading for the door. He didn't really
want to get involved with any of the people here. He had come back only
because, here, he was provided a free roof over his head, and because
he wanted some time without work, for a change. Since the murder of his
boss and the disappearance of the other remaining 'ghost,' not to mention
his destruction of the Pakor Frozen Foods building and, of course, the
takeover of the Centre, he had decided to lie low for a while, and there
was no place better than this one.
Still, he was drawn to the sound of sobbing in the next room, seeing
the name 'Keely MacKenzie' on a nameplate on the door as he pushed it
open and quietly entered.
A girl with dark blond hair lay on the bed, both hands clutching at her
stomach as she writhed in obvious pain, an occasional sob escaping from
her mouth. Suddenly, as if sensing him there, she opened big brown eyes
and stared at him for a moment, before struggling to sit up.
"Who are you?"
"I'm a friend," the man offered, "of your brother."
He drew closer to the bed, caught up by the look of suffering on the girl's
face, fetching a damp cloth from the bathroom and returning to sit on
the side of the bed, gently wiping her face with it. "What's the
Between sobs and gasps of pain, she explained about the medication and
how it made her feel. A thoughtful expression spread over the man's face
as he listened, the situation reminding him unavoidably of Mimi, although
these were two very different girls. Keely's head lay quietly on his knee,
and she seemed to enjoy his ministrations. He straightened the blankets
around her after gently placing her head against the pillow and stroking
the messy hair.
"Do you know what it was you were being given?" he asked gently,
and she waved vaguely at the other side of the room towards her workstation.
"Jordan left the folder there when he went to Australia, so Jarod
would know where it was when he wanted it."
The man already knew about Jordan, and was unsurprised to hear that Jarod
had been working on a way to ease the problems their abilities caused
the pyrokinetics, also knowing the success he had had with Sebastian.
He rose and covered Keely with the blankets before stepping over to find
the folder. His eyes ran over the list of contents of the stabilizing
medication, and he nodded slowly, knowing how effective it would be. However,
it was obvious, both from her sickness and from notes written in two almost
identical, scripts, that Keely was displaying some sort of reaction to
one or more of the components.
can you help me?" a muffled voice begged from the
bed, and he felt emotion tug gently at his heart, nodding slowly as he
turned to see the pleading expression in her eyes.
"Yes, Keely," he promised softly, going over to sit down on
the side of the bed and recommence the gentle stroking of her hair. "Of
course I'll help."
* * * * * * * * *
Taylor Family Property
Yarragon, Victoria, Australia
"Keep your heels out," called a voice from the fence, and Merritt
looked over her shoulder to see Peta leaning against the post, eyeing
her critically. Nodding to show that she had understood, the girl did
as she was told in the few seconds before the horse took off over the
jump. Coming down, the animal's rear hoofs flicked up water from the small
pool as he landed and Merritt laughed as it gave her a cold shower before
directing the animal over to the fence.
"How'd I do?"
"Excellently," Peta told her, rubbing the horse's nose. "If
you keep going this well, we might see about putting you in as a competitor
in the jumping at the Farm Show."
"Hey, that'd be cool!" Merritt exclaimed, as she dismounted.
"You mean there's like prizes and stuff?"
"Especially stuff," the woman laughed. "When you've finished
giving him a rub down and cleaned the saddle, come and help me bake some
"Sure." Eagerly, Merritt walked the horse around the paddock
several times to cool it down before leading it in the direction of the
Steve caught up with his mother just as she was about to enter the house,
slinging an arm around her shoulders.
"Did I hear something about baking?"
"Bread, yes," Peta teased. "No cakes. But we could do
with someone to help knead."
"Well, would you look at the time?" Steve exclaimed immediately,
looking at his wrist and, when that proved to be bare, picking up that
of his mother to eye her watch. "Sorry, Mum, I would have loved to
stay and help but
if it's not sweet, you're not interested," the woman
joked. "Okay, fine. Shoo. We don't want you messing up the kitchen
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod stepped carefully down onto the first stair, feeling warm water
lapping around his ankles, and hung his cane on the raised handrail that
had recently been put in, enviously watching Sebastian dive cleanly into
"I can't wait to do that," a voice behind him muttered, and
Jarod grinned at his half-brother.
"Me, too," he agreed, watching Ethan ease out of his wheelchair
and, supported by Bill, sit down on the first step, the water reaching
his waist. As he slid down onto the next, it came halfway up his chest
and then, on the third step, up to his neck.
"Jarod, over here," Steve called, and the Pretender struck
out for the therapist, using sidestroke, which would least aggravate his
The man strapped a barely-inflated flotation device around each ankle,
and Jarod grimaced at what he knew was coming. At first, he had been scornful
of the lack of air in the objects, but he had quickly discovered that
it was very hard work, fighting to keep his feet under control. With the
floats on, they had a bad habit of going off in different directions from
the way they were meant to. His legs generally ached for an hour after
His right hand holding the rail and his left on his waist, Jarod was
reminded of his time in Russia with the Bolshoi Ballet. Suppressing a
grin with difficulty, he concentrated on his left foot, fighting to keep
it in a straight line through the water, which seemed determined to make
life hard for him.
"Good," Steve enthused. "Much better than yesterday!"
Jarod's eyes rolled up to glare at him. "I fell over yesterday,"
he reminded the other man acidly.
"And you haven't today -- yet," Steve added laughingly, before
becoming more serious. "Honestly, Jarod, you're doing really, really
well. If you keep this up, I'll set you a program to do in the gym and
the pool without my assistance, so that you can improve faster."
Glowing inwardly at the praise, Jarod nodded and concentrated on finishing
the set of exercises. A lane was set aside for rehab, and he took the
kickboard Steve offered, thinking that the far end looked horrendously
far away as he began the first lap. But he could feel his muscles gradually
getting stronger and recovering from the multiple injuries that the bullet
had caused as it bounced around inside him. He was also almost back to
a normal diet, and was no longer waking in pain every morning. It all
showed him that, soon enough, he would be able to walk properly and, Steve
had assured him, only have scars and odd aches and pains to remind him
of what had happened.
The worst of the pain was emotional, a heavy weight that lay on his heart
as he passed Faith's old room every day, on his way to the elevator. Even
this, however, was slowly becoming easier to bear. He wept less often,
preferring to rejoice in their time together instead of focusing on the
long years apart, and the hot fire of love, as he had known it would,
was gradually dying down, continuing to glow in the reminder of his friendship,
but no longer burning him with the memories of what, now, could never
* * * * * * * * *
RFDS Office, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia
Paul escorted Jordan out to the hangar where Lauren was working, oil
splashing her overalls as she worked on a plane's engine. Rachael lay
in a bassinette nearby, gurgling at intervals.
"Now that's what I like to see," the man remarked with a grin,
folding his arms and leaning against the wing of the plane. "A woman
She shot him a laughing glance as Jordan pulled on a pair of overalls
hanging on the wall. "Would you like me to give you a loving hug,
Eyeing his crisp white shirt, Paul watched his wife rise to her feet
and took a hurried step back. "Uh, that's okay. You keep working
and I'll see what Pete Tingay's up to."
Lauren rolled her eyes as she sat down again and the man left the hangar.
"And I always thought he loved me!"
Jordan gave her a faint grin before turning his attention to the engine.
"What're you doing?"
"General maintenance." She pushed a strand of hair off her
face, streaking her forehead with a smear of black. "Worked with
"The only one I ever worked on was at Barrow," he told her.
"It wasn't an airplane motor."
She gave him a quick overview of the parts, showing how a number of them
worked and the way they came apart for cleaning. As he began to work,
she straightened up and walked over to the corner in which a large number
of parts sat on and around a workbench.
"How come you learned that?" the young man asked, as she began
repairing damage to part of the engine from another plane.
Lauren laughed, dimples showing in her cheeks. "After your Dad and
I crashed, I decided that I never wanted to be stuck in a situation like
that again, so I did a few courses and now and then I give the mechanics
here a hand, especially to my own baby." She gave the plane a loving
pat, then wiped the black handprint off with a grease rag. "When
we had to do an emergency landing, a few months before Rachael was born,
it came in very handy."
Jordan's eyes were wide. "Were you injured?"
"Fortunately, not this time. Paul got sunburned while he was 'helping,'
and I'm using that word in the very loosest possible terms, of course,
but otherwise we were okay. And we were up in the air again inside of
an hour." She tightened a nut and then smiled at the young man. "I
hear you're not a bad pilot."
He shrugged. "I
it's kind of fun. I like it."
"I'm doing a stunt course this afternoon, after I finish. Want to
Jordan's eyes sparkled, his mental anguish momentarily forgotten in the
excitement of something new. "You mean like flying upside down and
stuff like that?"
"Yup." She replaced a cover, tightening it as she spoke. "Maybe
you could learn while you're up here. It's only twenty minutes from our
place by bike and I'm sure your dad won't mind."
"Yeah, I guess he won't." Jordan gave a half-shrug, giving
the part he was cleaning a final wipe and looking around to make sure
he hadn't missed anything before beginning to reassemble it. "I don't
know if he's ever done it."
"You could teach him when you went back," the woman laughed.
"And I bet that would be a new experience for both of you."