Blue Cove, Delaware
Morgan was enjoying a mug of hazelnut-mocha coffee when Broots appeared
in the doorway, looking strained.
"What is it?"
He sighed and walked in. "Yuri's gone."
She slammed the mug down on the desk, ignoring the coffee that immediately
sloshed out of it and onto the desk. "What do you mean 'gone?'"
"I mean 'gone' as in not here anymore," Broots clarified. "When
his breakfast was taken in this morning, his room was empty."
"He escaped?" she demanded in amazement.
"Actually, it seems like he was let out," the head of Security
told her. "The footage shows that
"Valentine," Morgan interrupted resignedly. "Right?"
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed readily, putting the DSA player her
carried onto the desk and loading in a disk, which he played for her.
She watched it in silence before looking up at him.
"Call the Board," she instructed, picking up her phone to put
a call through to Jarod. "Let's see if we can work out how it was
done, and then maybe we can figure out a way to find him."
* * * * * * * * *
DFW International Airport
The car dropped Jarod off at the doors of the airport and he hurried
inside alone, having insisted that he could manage. He was, he had admitted
to himself earlier, sick and tired of having people running around for
him all the time, and just wanted to regain some of his independence,
which was the reason he had refused to wait for Sebastian's jet to return
from Phoenix, Arizona, where it had been taken earlier the night before,
explaining that he could be in Dover faster if he took a public flight.
The fact that he had progressed so quickly from a wheelchair to a cane,
and that his doctors and therapist felt that, in a couple of weeks, he
could probably get rid of that as well, was comforting. He hated needing
to use anything to get around.
Sighing deeply and feeling a twinge of pain in his left thigh where the
bullet had been removed, he took a firmer hold on the bag he was carrying
and made his way over to the ticket counter. The next plane for Dover
left in a little under an hour, so, after taking his boarding pass, he
turned and headed for a stall where he could buy a newspaper.
He had almost reached it when a group passed him on their way to the
exit, something bumping against his back, throwing him off balance. A
hand grabbed his arm just before he fell full length, supporting him until
he found his feet, and Jarod fought to regain his breath before looking
up to meet the brown eyes of the man who had helped him. The man grinned,
white teeth contrasting sharply with his dark skin.
"A little shaky on the pins there, aren't you, son?"
"You could say that," Jarod agreed, from between gritted teeth,
as pain made it difficult to put his foot on the ground and red-hot needles
seemed to be poking into his side.
The stranger helped him over to a nearby café, seating him at
a table and signaling for a waitress to bring coffee. Jarod momentarily
rested his head back against the wall behind him, opening his eyes again
to look at the man opposite, guessing that he was probably in his sixties
or seventies, his hair sprinkled with gray.
"You're welcome." The man grinned again, holding out his right
"Jarod." The Pretender shook the offered hand before busying
himself with the coffee that was placed in front of him.
"If you don't mind me saying so," Patrick commented, "it's
a little unusual to see a person of your age so limited in their movements."
"I had an accident," Jarod explained, deciding a little white
lie was preferable to the truth, "almost two months ago." He
reached into his pocket and took out a painkiller, which he swallowed
with the first mouthful of coffee.
The older man thoughtfully stirred his own drink but refrained from further
comment, changing the subject. "Were you meeting someone, or flying
"Going myself." Jarod checked his watch. "But I've still
got about 45 minutes 'till the plane leaves."
"It's a nuisance, isn't it?" Patrick remarked, grinning. "I
did a little flying in my time."
"Actually, I was a doctor, but I went around and lectured or treated
"Oh, really?" Jarod was interested. "GP?"
"Surgeon." The man glanced down at his hands, and Jarod eyed
his long, tapered fingers. "But I retired a few years ago."
"It's demanding work," the younger man offered. "But very
Patrick arched an eyebrow. "You're in the medical field?"
Not today, Jarod thought wryly. Unfortunately. "I
know a lot of people who are," he stated.
Nodding, the other man glanced at his watch and then finished the last
of the coffee in his mug as Jarod did likewise. "Want me to help
you to the gate?"
"Only if you let me pay," the younger man retorted, seeing
that Patrick was about to argue, before he finally laughed and nodded.
"I guess you must be wanting your independence, or you wouldn't
be trying to push yourself so fast," he conceded, taking the bag
once Jarod had paid the bill and then providing a supportive arm until
he was on his feet.
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
"This is footage from Yuri's room," Morgan told the people
gathered around the table, starting the DSA, which was projected on a
The lights dimmed, the group watching in silence as the door of the room
opened and a figure slipped through. Yuri continued to sleep as the point
of the needle went into the back of his hand and there was a pause until
Lucian woke the man. Yuri was facing the camera as he got out of bed,
obviously waiting for orders. Morgan paused the footage.
"Tests have shown that a sedative was put into Yuri's food last
night. We're already investigating who did it." She met the eye of
her head of security and saw him nod. "What we aren't sure of is
exactly what drug Lucian gave, to make Yuri go with him."
"Well, it can't be Aurora," Jarod put in, from his seat at
the end of the table. "One shot wouldn't be enough to addict him
to it, and there haven't been any hints that he was on it before now,
"We've been testing him for it on a weekly basis, just in case,"
one of the other woman responded quickly. "The last test was yesterday,
and it was clear."
"My own guess would be Supernova," Morgan put in. "From
what I know of it, not only would Yuri go with him that readily, but Valentine
-- Lucian, I should say -- would be able to wake him up, despite having
had him sedated the night before. Either that, or he must have known,
to the very second, when the sedative would wear off, and that seems unlikely.
" She switched the lights on again, sitting down and looking around
at the assembled group. "Who else knows about that drug?"
"All work on Supernova was halted more than four months ago,"
a woman from further down the table claimed. "Dr. Fenigor stated
that a higher authority had called for its cessation. He took our research."
"Who knows about this?" the head of SIS demanded.
"Not many people," the scientist confessed. "Most of those
working on it were found to be part of the group that was addicted to
Aurora. I don't know what's happened to them now."
Morgan nodded, knowing that many of those people were even now down in
the infirmary, slowly recovering from their addictions.
"It seems like that's what it is, then," she stated slowly.
"Was any of the research salvaged from Fenigor's visit?"
"I don't think so, Miss Ritter," the woman replied thoughtfully.
"The others were very keen to hand it all over to Dr. Fenigor. I
guess that was because of Aurora."
Morgan responded to that with a curt nod. "Fine. We'll do some digging,
then. And, if anyone can find anything about Supernova, we want to know
The group rose to leave the room, deep in thought. Morgan disconnected
the wires leading from the screen to the DSA player, before turning to
find that Jarod was still sitting in his chair, raising an eyebrow at
him. "What do you think we should do now?"
"We need to find out about Supernova," he stated firmly. "That's
the key. When we know that, we can make this place more secure and stop
Lucian getting in."
"I don't really know." Jarod ran a hand through his hair, exhaling
slowly. "Lucian will definitely take him underground, and we won't
find them until he wants us to, even if we get every single Centre employee
on the continent looking for them. My guess is that he'll try to draw
one or both of us to wherever he's holding Yuri. We're the people he's
got the main problems with. We destroyed the hub of his empire."
Morgan nodded slightly, thinking of Lucian's threat against her son and
thankful that he was safe at Sanctuary. They left the room, going along
the hallway to the elevator, Jarod's face taking on an even more grim
expression as they got in.
"We'll need to do some more serious research into Supernova,"
he told her. "Not only because of Yuri, 'though I do want to sort
that out, always assuming we can find him, but in case anyone else we
haven't yet suspected is on it."
Her blue eyes swung around to him. "You think they could be?"
"I'm not sure," he responded. "I would have thought that
Lucian would have taken care of anyone who might have been in a position
to be betray him, but if that description of Supernova's right, all he
would have to do is tell them they've never met him before and they wouldn't
remember who he was."
"So what's the next step?" she prompted. "Do another test
on everybody, looking specifically for puncture wounds and patches? Work
up a testing protocol for it?"
"That's one stage, yes," he agreed. "To test, though,
we'll need a formula and I don't seem to be getting far with that yet,
so let's go through Fenigor's offices, both here and at Donoterase. It's
just possible that there might be some bits and pieces floating around.
And we can ask the scientists who might have worked on it what they knew,
even those on Aurora. That also goes for anyone in any of the other stations
who might have known."
"Voorhees knew something about it," she informed him, as they
entered her office. "That's where the primaries were done, before
the research was moved here." Turning to the computer, she booted
it up, opening the video discussion program as Jarod continued.
"It might be worth suggesting that he and Winston do checks on their
staff, both for Aurora and for anything else that suggests Supernova has
been given to anyone. I can't imagine Lucian would have restricted his
actions to just the Centre."
Morgan groaned. "This is looking bigger every minute."
"Yes, he certainly planned it well," Jarod mused, sitting down
carefully in a chair on the other side of the desk. "Just think what
would have happened if we hadn't stopped him when we did."
Morgan rested her chin on the palm of her hand. "Have we really
stopped him, though? I mean, sure, some of his supporters are gone, but
there must be more we don't know about."
"The fact that he hasn't attempted any grand coup to recover his
former possessions suggests to me that it's going to take time before
he's got enough clout to threaten us," Jarod responded. "My
guess is that, so far, all he can manage are these isolated attacks."
"And at least we won't have to fear any threats from inside the
organization, like we would have if Lyle or Cox had still been alive."
She sighed, leaning back in her chair. "Broots has made major changes
to the security system, so Lucian's got less chance than before
"Except that he somehow got in to smuggle Yuri out," Jarod
reminded her. "It's possible that he's got supporters on the inside
even now, probably still on Supernova, and until we find them, we'll never
be able to be sure that any threat he poses is gone."
"Personally," Morgan growled, knowing he was right, "I
won't consider that threat gone until his body is lying in front of me,
thanks to a dose of high-velocity lead poisoning."
The call Morgan had made to South Africa was answered, the head of the
Pretoriat appearing on the screen.
"Good afternoon, Miss Ritter," Jock Voorhees smiled. "What
can I do for you?"
"Mr. Voorhees, I'm afraid we still have a problem with Lucian."
She outlined Yuri's abduction and saw his face fall. "It's even more
important," she concluded, "for us to work out the composition
of Supernova, so that an antidote can be created. I'd be grateful if you
could make sure you've sent everything relevant to it."
"Yes, of course," he agreed immediately. Standing, he went
over to the filing cabinet behind him and pulled out a drawer, returning
to his seat and opening it on the desk. "Let's see," he checked
through the papers, "the early test results; our scientists who worked
on the project; the contents of earlier versions of the drug
"What?" Jarod and Morgan demanded simultaneously, and the man
"You must have this," he protested. "The whole contents
of this file was scanned and sent to you two weeks ago. I've got a receipt
to prove you received it."
Morgan opened her email records and found the relevant message. "This
email only contains two attachments," she responded. "I'll get
Broots to look into the possibility that it was intercepted and altered.
Meantime, can you fax me those details?"
"Certainly," Voorhees answered grimly. "And I'll have
out security check whether our system has been infiltrated."
"Please do," she answered, hearing the fax machine ring. "Thank
you, Mr. Voorhees. I appreciate your help."
"You're welcome, Miss Ritter," he smiled warmly. "Good
The screen went black and Morgan collected the sheets from the fax machine,
handing them over to Jarod. "I hope this helps."
"I'm sure it will," he responded grimly, folding them and putting
them into the inside pocket of his leather jacket, his fingers wrapping
around the curved top of his cane. "If Valentine was trying to stop
us from getting them, it has to."
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Jarod pulled off his jeans and draped them over a nearby chair, making
sure that his cane leant on the seat properly and wouldn't fall to the
floor, before lying back against the pillow and turning off the light.
Tucking his left arm behind his head, the right lying on his stomach,
he sighed deeply and stared at the ceiling.
The streetlights and trees outside the window of his apartment cast shadows
onto the ceiling of the room, and the moon was just visible from where
he lay, the waning slit of silver shining in his eyes. For a moment, Jarod
remembered the night of his initial escape from the Centre. He hadn't
known what to expect from the world outside, but he could still remember
seeing the large silver crescent hanging in the sky, and wondering how
it managed to stay up there. Drowsily, Jarod remembered that it was now
six years since his initial escape, smiling at the thought, even as his
The room smelt like blood and death, and he felt a heavy weight in
his hand, looking down to find that it was a gun. Then he felt the sensation
of movement around him, looking up to see crowds of people suddenly and
inexplicably part. Lights from overhead shone down on the blond hair as
the woman stalked along the hallway and approached him. In his mind, he
knew there was only one way to stop her, lifting the gun and aiming carefully.
It jerked slightly in his hand, and he saw her suddenly stop, staring
at him, her expression one of almost innocent confusion, as she put her
hand to the place on her chest where the red spot had suddenly flowered.
Her knees trembled, then gave, and she sank down onto the marble floor,
her eyes open but unblinking, their blue depths staring blindly at him.
The guilt he thought should have been overwhelming him instead felt
strangely like a sense of victory, and he struggled to understand it.
Her body lay in front of him, and he slowly walked over to it, reaching
down to touch it, to make sure she was really dead. He fought against
the feeling of success, forcing it away, until finally it gave, and he
felt the guilt he had expected rising up inside him. The gun in his hand
provided him with a way to punish himself for what he had done, and, before
he could change his mind, he stuck the muzzle into his mouth, noticing
idly, as he pulled the trigger, that his left hand was missing a thumb.
Jarod stared at the ceiling for a second, his heart pounding like a trip-hammer
in his chest, before slowly pulling himself into a sitting position, fighting
to catch his breath. Clutching his head in his hands, he leaned forward,
resting his elbows on his knees and wondering why he had decided to stay
down in Blue Cove instead of going back down to Texas, where, thanks to
Elizabeth, dreams such as this would never bother him again. But, he thought,
as he got out of bed and, leaning on his cane, made his way into the small
kitchenette to get himself a drink, trying to control the way his limbs
still trembled, he had promised Morgan that he would stay down in Delaware
until Yuri had been found, so that they could use his antidote, or else
try to come up with something else if it didn't work.
Filling a glass from the tap, he leaned against the counter, wiping the
perspiration from his face with a shaking hand and making an inward vow
that he wouldn't sleep again until he was back in Dallas and could do
so peacefully. He would have to hope that they found Yuri soon, he thought,
as he sat down on a chair at the kitchen table, or else he would have
to fly back to Dallas, just so he could sleep. Realizing that what he
was thinking was ridiculous, he checked the time and then swallowed the
last mouthful of water. 4:17am. Shaking his head in disgust, Jarod booted
up the laptop and began concentrating on Supernova, knowing that, tonight
at least, he wouldn't be able to sleep again.
* * * * * * * * *
Margaret felt the strong arms of her husband around her as she slowly
emerged from sleep and sighed contentedly into her pillow. This was what
she had missed most, during all those years of separation. Although her
anxiety for her sons had been overwhelming, her loneliness was often equally
"Hi," his voice murmured softly in her ear. "How about
one whole extravagant minute to ourselves before we have to go through
the daily ritual of being invaded by our grandchildren?"
She smiled up at him, pushing a strand of hair out of her eyes, and warmly
returned his kiss. "It's a lovely thought," she agreed, before
suddenly eyeing the clock, "but if we stay here for too much longer,
we won't get a chance to shower before breakfast."
Before they could say any more, the door banged loudly back against the
wall and three children, one blond and two dark, hurled themselves onto
"Gamma," Gabriel complained, burrowing in under the covers,
"when's Daddy coming back?"
"As soon he can," Margaret told him, smoothing the rumpled
hair with one hand and stopping the eager puppy from joining his master
on the bed with the other. "You know he's got lots of work to do.
He told you that before he left."
"Uh huh." He nodded, rolling himself up tightly in her blankets,
as his cousins snuggled into their grandfather's arms.
"Gran'pa," Tempest began, "I painted a pitcher for you
"Did you, sweetheart?" Michael Charles asked tenderly, cuddling
Uriel with his other arm. "Well, that was very nice of you."
"I was goin' to bring it up to show you, but Helen said it was still
wet. Will you come an' see it now?"
"Not right now," the man protested. "But after I'm dressed
and I've had breakfast, I will, okay?"
"Okay," Tempest chirped cheerfully, beaming and revealing the
dimples in her cheeks.
Rebecca appeared in the doorway a moment later and the three children
ran to her, leaving their grandparents to get up. Margaret headed for
the shower, hearing her husband begin to hum as he lathered his face for
Having completed her shower, her hair hanging damply around her shoulders,
Margaret had just pulled on a pair of slacks and was wriggling into her
sweater when she heard a noise from the doorway, turning to find her daughter
She held out her arms and the young woman walked into them, returning
her embrace with more than usual vigor. Margaret became immediately concerned,
pulling back and looking down into the girl's brown eyes, seeing the lines
on her face that bespoke tension. She hadn't said a word, the older woman
noticed anxiously, and guided Emily over to the sofa.
"What is it, baby?" she asked gently. "What's wrong?"
I don't know," Emily murmured, her eyes filling.
"It's Yuri -- Paul -- I
I don't even know what to call him
Jarod had already told both his parents the truth about the relationship,
including sketchy details of Yuri's actions, but also emphasizing the
fact that Yuri had put his life and freedom on the line to save Emily
from Lyle. Margaret tightened her hold around her daughter's shoulders,
staying silent and waiting for any further explanation from the young
woman. When none came, she drew back slightly and looked down.
"What do you feel about him?" she finally asked, gently smoothing
her daughter's hair.
Emily shrugged, her eyes fixed on the floor of the room. Margaret saw
her husband poke his head around the door and gestured with her eyes for
him not to interrupt. Nodding, he retreated back into the bathroom and,
a moment later, the shower was turned on.
"Do you still love him?"
"Yes," Emily wailed, desperately sniffing back tears. "But
I can't! He lied to me! How can I love someone like that?!"
Margaret's voice was soft. "Is that what you're really upset about
-- that he didn't tell you the truth about himself?"
There was a pause, before Emily nodded. "I can't
she forced out. "He is
what he is because of
done to him. That wasn't all his fault. He had choices, though
Margaret gently kissed Emily's hair. "Baby, if you try to deal with
everything at once, you won't be able to cope with it all. You need to
deal with one thing at a time. And you might even find that, when one
thing is easier to cope with, the rest might be, too."
Emily's brown eyes rolled up to focus on her mother's face. "So
how do I do it?"
Her mother smiled, her heart warmed by this situation, despite knowing
how painful it must be for her daughter. Mentally searching for a solution,
her mind came back to her daughter's statement about the lies Yuri had
told, and she knew this was what she needed.
"Em," she began gently," do you still say your prayers
at night, like you used to when you were a little girl?"
Emily shot her mother a startled look. "Of course."
"All of it?" Margaret curiously raised an eyebrow. "You
don't leave out any of the 'Our Father,' for instance?"
Her companion was silent for a moment, before her eyes suddenly widened.
"You mean, the part about forgiving those who sin against us?"
"Exactly." Margaret recommenced stroking the brown hair. "Yuri
did what he did because he was trying to protect you, from what had been
done to him and, at least partly, from the type of person he was when
he wasn't with you." She hugged Emily more tightly. "The man
you love, no matter what his name is, is the one whose company you enjoy,
who makes you laugh, who loves you for what you are, and, in this case,
who risked everything, including his own life, to save yours."
what he did was wrong," Emily murmured brokenly.
"But he's still
"People change, my darling," Margaret urged lovingly, cutting
her short before she could use the name that the media had given the man.
"They never stay the same, just like the caterpillars you used to
collect as a child. Remember how disappointed you were when the first
one changed into a butterfly?"
Emily smiled weakly, her head nodding as it rested against her mother's
shoulder. "But after that it was fun to see them change."
"Watching people change can be fun, too," the older woman assured
her. "And seeing how you grow and change is an important part of
life. Sharing those changes and seeing them in a person you love is wonderful."
She hugged her daughter firmly. "Despite everything that happened,
your father and I still have a wonderful marriage. We've had time together,
including those special few years with our children, and now we have the
future to spend together. I only hope that you'll find someone as special
to you to share your life with."
"And Yuri could be that person?" Emily suggested softly.
"He could," Margaret agreed. "But you won't know for sure
until you untangle your feelings for him and about him." She slipped
a finger under her daughter's chin and turned her face up so that she
could look into her daughter's brown eyes. "That's a decision only
you can make, Emily, and you shouldn't rush into it. Decide what you want
for yourself before thinking about anyone else."
Nodding, Emily gave her mother a final hug before slowly getting to her
feet. At that moment, her father came out of the bathroom and she went
over to hug him also. Michael Charles returned the embrace warmly, but
cast a concerned look at his wife. Margaret mouthed the word 'later' and
picked up her hairbrush from her bedside table, looking into the mirror
that hung on the wall and beginning to do her hair.
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Early morning sun was streaming in through the windows when Jarod entered
his office. He had just sat down at his desk and placed his cane on the
floor when he looked up to see that one of the files he wanted lay on
a table on the far side of the room. Sighing in aggravation, about to
reach down and get the cane, he decided instead to try to manage without
it, hoping no one, particularly Sydney, would come in and catch him. He
rose from his seat and gingerly crossed the room, in the process of reaching
down to pick up the papers when he heard a sound from behind him, turning
guiltily as quickly as safety would allow, and staring in amazement as
he immediately recognized his visitor.
"Nicholas!" He was unable to keep the surprise out of his voice,
before a sudden reason for the young man's visit occurred to him, at the
same time wondering why Sydney would have come to the Centre so early.
"Oh, have you come to see your father?"
The younger man swallowed nervously. "Actually, I
I came to
"Me?" Jarod's eyebrows rose abruptly and he stared in confusion.
"Can I come in?"
"Oh, o-of course." Jarod waved at an armchair. "Take a
seat." He picked up the folder and moved back to the desk, bending
down to pick up his cane and returning to sit down on the sofa.
"Sydney told me," Nicholas began hesitantly, his eyes lighting
briefly on the cane before swinging back to Jarod's face, "about
the takeover, and you being shot."
"Did he?" Jarod knew that Nicholas was trying to lead the conversation
in a certain direction, and that he wasn't being particularly helpful,
but he didn't know the best things to say in order to make it easier for
thought I'd be here," Nicholas remarked, his
eyes traveling around the room. "I mean, I've heard about it from
Mom ever since I was a little kid, how I should stay away from here, so
I never expected to just -- walk in the door."
"I can imagine," Jarod agreed. "I certainly never expected
to come back here again, let alone ever willingly work for the Centre
Nicholas shifted uncomfortably in the chair, fixing his eyes on the floor.
"I guess you're probably wondering why I came."
Jarod didn't respond.
"I don't know you," the young man continued. "I mean,
I know about you. Sydney talks about you a lot to Mom, and she's told
me what she knows about your bond with him, but the only time I saw you
was when I thought you were going to kill Mr. Lyle, and that was really
before I figured out the strong connection between you and my father."
"That probably didn't create the best first impression," Jarod
agreed, and saw a tiny smile curl the corners of Nicholas' mouth.
"Did he tell you that we stayed in touch after that whole thing
in the Appalachians?"
"Sydney doesn't have to clear his actions with me," Jarod stated.
"If I hadn't wanted him to know about you, I wouldn't have told him."
Nicholas nodded, looking up to finally meet his eye. "Mom told me
about that. Why did you do it?"
"I wanted to give Sydney a gift. Something precious," Jarod
stated softly, remembering the glimpses he had had of moments that the
psychiatrist had shared with his son and, which had, at the time, been
most painful to Jarod, the discussion they had had outside the hospital
in which George Stamatis had lain, dying. "He -- I thought he'd always
rejected the things I'd given him before, and I hoped that, knowing how
important family is to him, he might not reject you."
There was a long moment of silence, before Nicholas finally looked at
the older man once more. "Could I see your old room, where you grew
Jarod's initial instinct was to refuse, but he was starting to understand
what Nicholas wanted. He wanted to know how different their lives had
been, and what kind of a person he might have become if their roles had
been reversed. And that was certainly his right. There was no harm in
it, and no benefit in refusing.
"I can show you two of them," the Pretender responded, slowly
getting to his feet. His thoughts dwelt on the former Chairman, now incarcerated
in the first cell Jarod had inhabited when he had been brought to the
Centre. He couldn't show that to Nicholas. For those who knew what the
old man had done, the imprisonment seemed just, but not to someone with
as little knowledge of the Centre as Nicholas had. "One's in use
right now," he continued, "but the others are free."
The two men walked to the elevator and rode it down to SL-12. Stopping
outside the room, Jarod placed his hand on the print reader and the door
slid open. He kept an eye on the young man and saw his eyes widen as he
looked around the room, which appeared no different from the last time
Jarod had come down here to visit Yuri, except, of course, that it was
"I was here from 1988 until 1996," Jarod stated, as Nicholas
descended the steps to the lower level of the room. "And then for
a month after I was brought back, about a year ago."
"Just here?" Nicholas demanded. "All the time?"
"When I was on my own, yes," Jarod agreed, "which was
mostly only in the early morning and at night. But if I was working on
a sim that wasn't being overseen, then I could sometimes do it here. Otherwise,
I'd be in the sim lab, which is a couple of doors down the hall."
He waved a hand in demonstration. "It looks kind of like this room,
but without the bed."
Nicholas turned to face him. "And before '88?"
Jarod waited until the young man returned to his side and they left the
room, the door hissing into place behind them. The elevator carried them
further to SL-22, as Nicholas stared at the row of buttons.
"There are 26 levels under the ground here?"
"Actually, there are 27 sub-levels, but the lowest one is burned
out." Jarod made a mental note to suggest to Morgan that they send
people down there and clean it out so that it could be used and the ghosts
of Raines' experiments could finally be exorcised.
The doors slid silently open and Jarod led the way down the familiar
hallway to the first real room he had ever had at the Centre, using a
card chained to his belt to open the door. This room was considerably
smaller than the first, and a long period of disuse had left it filthy.
Nicholas' face bore an expression of disgust.
"And you lived down here for how long?"
"Almost 20 years." Jarod looked around fondly. "Actually,
this was my favorite room."
Nicholas shot him a look that seemed to suggest he was crazy. "Why?"
Jarod sighed deeply, raising a cloud of dust, which made the younger
man cough violently, and the Pretender waited until he stopped before
answering the question. "Sydney was responsible for me moving into
this room, at Christmastime, several years after I was brought to the
Centre. Each day I'd wake up in time for Sydney to come into the room."
Jarod smiled at the memory. "It gave me something to look forward
to every morning."
"I wouldn't put a dog down here," Nicholas stated in disgust.
"A rat, maybe
"Well, that's what they saw me as," Jarod told him quietly.
"They created the mazes and it was my job to run through them every
why Sydney means so much to you?" Nicholas asked
"Yes, it is," Jarod replied honestly. "He was my only
constant for 33 years. Well, that and the work I had to do. But he was
also the only person who ever gave me any encouragement. Nobody else was
ever willing to acknowledge that I'd done good work or had been helpful.
But he always was."
He turned, meeting the younger man's eye steadily.
"You're his son, Nicholas, and that makes your relationship with
Sydney very different from mine. You're his child, and the child of the
woman he loves. I'm a person he saw every day, and he was the man who
made me who I am today. If it wasn't for him, I'd be -- well, I'm not
sure, exactly, but nothing like I am." His thoughts rested briefly
on Damon and then on Yuri, but he refused to even consider being like
that. "Our situations are really too different to compare."
"You're very special to him," Nicholas offered and Jarod nodded.
"I know. We had a chance to talk after he had his stroke."
He walked with the younger man out to the hallway and back to the elevator.
"How do you know so much about me?"
Jarod half-smiled. "About a year after I got out, I began to look
into Sydney's past and discovered details about Michelle. She'd worked
with me a little, and I'd been able to see the way Sydney felt about her.
I wondered what happened to her and started to do a little investigation.
Then I found out about her marriage, and you, and I thought Sydney should
know. That's why I left a copy of your birth certificate at one of the
places I'd lived for a while. I figured he'd want to meet you, and see
The men returned to Jarod's office, Nicholas sitting down again in the
armchair and Jarod taking the one opposite. The strained, nervous expression
had faded from the younger man's face, but there was still hesitation
evident in his eyes.
"Sometimes," he faltered, "I think that you're
his son, too."
Jarod nodded silently, feeling that nothing he could say would help this
to be any easier.
"And, if you're his son," Nicholas continued hesitantly, "then
that kind of makes you my brother."
"Yes, it does," Jarod agreed quietly, steadily meeting the
gaze of the man opposite. He injected as much warmth into his voice as
he could. "I'd like to be your brother, Nicholas. I'd like to get
to know you better. All I know now is the paper trail written about you
-- school grades and that kind of thing. That's not the real you."
Nicholas looked startled. "You read my report cards?"
"Straight A's in English," Jarod teased. "But that C minus
in 8th grade math must have really hurt."
"Yeah, well," Nicholas grinned sheepishly, "I had a crush
on a girl in my class that year, and
and schoolwork went out the window," Jarod laughed.
"I can imagine." He reached into the pocket of his jacket and
pulled out a business card. "This is my email and my cell phone number.
I'd really like us to keep in contact."
"I'd like that, too," the younger man agreed, accepting the
card, his shyness obviously abating as he took a similar card out of his
pocket, handing it over. "And maybe you could come and spend Christmas
with us this year."
Jarod thought of the forthcoming holiday, now only a few months away.
The year had gone so quickly that he had barely had time to think about
it, but it would be wonderful to have plans so far in advance, and he
smiled warmly in return as he accepted the card.
"I'd love to."
* * * * * * * * *
The car pulled off the road and down a short track, to a clearing. Valentine
put on the brake and then turned to the man in the passenger seat.
"Come with me."
Yuri heard the words, feeling the cool metal of the door handle on his
skin and the wind brush his face as he stepped out of the car. And yet,
at the same time, it wasn't him. Something had taken over, and was controlling
everything he said or did, and that 'something' did whatever Valentine
ordered. It was a terrifying experience for Yuri to have no control over
his own body, and he wondered what Valentine had in mind, that he had
risked going back into the Centre to get him out.
A building loomed in front of them out of the evening gloom, and Yuri
felt his feet walk towards it, struggling to change the direction in which
he was moving, but unable to do so. It looked like a large abandoned factory,
with several of the highest windows smashed, but the reflective glass
in the others was still whole. Valentine opened the door and waved him
inside, and although Yuri wasn't happy about having his back to the other
man at any time, suspicious of his motives, there was nothing he could
do about it.
"They might find us here eventually," Valentine suggested,
and pulled a sheet of paper out of his jacket pocket, unfolding it onto
the large table in the middle of the room in which they stood. "But
they'll have to come from this direction," he ran a finger along
the road that led to the building, "so we'll see them before they
He continued to talk, outlining a plan by which they could get away quickly
if they needed to, and a part of Yuri's brain listened to it, the rest
thinking of his current situation and wondering what the reaction to his
disappearance from the Centre would be. Sydney had emphasized the fact
that he was being trusted to act on his word, and that there were no guards
in the hallways outside of his room, as if testing his resolve to abide
by the decision he had made to hand himself in at the end of the takeover.
Now, Yuri thought ruefully, it would look like he had taken advantage
of that trust to escape, and he wished that Valentine had never thought
to get his revenge against the Centre, and particularly Miss Ritter and
Jarod, in this particular way.
Valentine waved at a chair that stood near one of the large windows,
and the enigma in control of his body sat in it, giving him further time
to think. Yuri wondered how, if he ever managed to get out of this and
back to the Centre, he would be punished, thinking longingly of the connection
that Jarod had put into his room to the security system at Sanctuary.
Sydney knew how important that cable was to him, having often come into
the room when he was using it, watching his daughter as she played with
her small friends. He was sure that it would be the first thing taken
away from him.
He groaned inwardly at the thought, once more trying to regain control
of his own body, aware, as Valentine had been during the battle, that
he could overpower the other man and get away. But it was impossible for
him to even lift a finger of his own accord, and he wondered what he had
been given. None of the drugs he had read about suggested anything that
would strip him so totally of strength, but he contemplated the possibility
that no one yet knew of this side-effect. The worst of it was that, unless
they found a way to nullify it, he would never be able to tell them.