Promises Kept

 

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The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"Well?" Morgan's blue eyes studied her head of SIS. "What have you found out about him?"

"According to the files," Broots told her, "the boy's name is Pedro. He was born in a room on SL-24, to a woman who was kept there for several years, until he could manage on his own, when she was taken out and never mentioned in the files again. Her orders were to touch him as little as possible and only to react to him when she was told to. She was never to speak to him. Raines took Pedro down to SL-27 in November 1998. He's been there ever since."

"So this was Raines' project," Morgan mused, seeing the man nod. "Why doesn't that come as a surprise?"

"His mother and father were Spanish, rejected projects. Both dead now," Broots added, after a second of thought.

"How is he now?"

"Well, Sam went in to try to take him out, but Pedro attacked him. He tried to bite him, but luckily Pedro's baby teeth are starting to fall out, so he couldn't do much damage, but we didn't want to injure him -- Pedro, I mean, not Sam -- so we eventually brought a couple of psychiatrists down to see him."

Morgan folded her arms, leaning back in her chair. "What was their assessment?"

"Well, they pushed a bowl of fresh water in through a slot in the bottom of the door that we figured Raines used to feed him. In that water they dissolved a sedative that records had shown Raines used several times, to weigh and measure him." He handed her a folder. "That's their report. They shaved his hair so that he'd be better able to manage, and added some more padding underneath his existing bed, so that he'll be more comfortable. We also had the bowls emptied and provided a small amount of food. Oh, and they increased the heating slightly so he wouldn't get cold. When he came around, he was a little out of it for a while but it doesn't seem like he had any sort of reaction to the sedative."

"They left him there?" Morgan arched an eyebrow. "They didn't move him?"

"They didn't think it'd be a good idea," Broots told her. "He's used to this environment now, and if they moved him, he might not be able to deal with it. He's already kind of crazy, but this'd tip him over the edge."

"How did he survive?" she asked wonderingly. "I mean, he can't have been given any food for months!"

"That's one of the weird parts," Broots confessed. "One of the bowls contained microscopic traces of relatively fresh food, but we don't know who gave it to him. Luckily, too, he's had a constant supply of water." Lazslo ran a hand over his balding pate. "He learnt years ago how to press the button whenever he wanted water, and it was plugged into the main water supply for the building, rather than a separate tank."

Morgan gazed at her hands, folded on the thin booklet on her desk, before suddenly looking up. "Didn't Jarod do a pretend with a similar thing to this?"

Lazslo thought for a moment, before brightening. "I think he did, yeah. A few years ago."

"I'll talk to him about it, and see if he's got anything to suggest," she told him. "Tell the team you assigned to Pedro that I'd like to talk to them at two o'clock this afternoon."

"Yes, Miss Ritter," he agreed at once, turning to leave the office.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod heard a soft, hesitant cough from the doorway and turned to find Merritt standing there, a slightly worried expression on his face.

"Can I talk to you?" she asked, as soon as he met her gaze, and Jarod waved her into the room.

"Of course you can." He got up from the desk chair and sat on the sofa, patting the cushion next to him. "What's up?"

The young woman sat down, but stared at the floor for a moment before meeting his gaze. "It… it's about Raffi," she began hesitantly, and Jarod suspected he knew where the conversation was going immediately. He had half-expected it, but had decided to say nothing in case it sorted itself out. Clearly, it wasn't going to.

"What about him?" he prompted, after Merritt fell silent.

"Well, you know how he calls Julia 'Mommy,'" she explained slowly. "I don't really know…"

After another long moment of silence, Jarod spoke. "Are you jealous of the fact that he says that to Julia?"

"I don't know!" the girl burst out, her fingers plucking at her jeans. "I mean, when I first found out about him, I didn't know how to deal with it -- it just felt like so much pressure. And it still does! I'm only 17, you know. I don't want to be a mom yet. But at the same time, I guess I was sort of used to being like his mom. And now I'm not anymore."

"You are," Jarod assured her gently, covering her hands with his. "Believe me, Merritt, you're still the closest thing to 'mom' Raphael will ever know. Julia's position in his life is that she's the future wife of Raphael's father," provided he recovers enough for that to happen, Jarod added silently to himself, before continuing. "She's Uriel and Peter's mother, and since Peter was brought here, and we found out the truth about their parentage, we've all been encouraging them to get close to each other. And you fit into that group. If Raphael had to choose between you and Julia, he would choose you in a heartbeat."

Merritt considered this for a moment, studying the carpet. Jarod slid a finger under her chin and raised her head so that he could look into her blue eyes.

"Do you want Raphael to change what he calls you? Would you be happier if he calls you 'mom,' instead of Merritt, from now on?"

"Oh, no!" The words were blurted out, and Jarod nodded understandingly.

"The best suggestion I can offer is that you make friends with Julia. You won't have the language problem you had with Joseph, because she speaks excellent English, and you're coming on very well with your German. If you're friends with her, the two of you can play with all three boys and there won't be any problems. I know Julia. She won't mind you joining in their games. In fact, with two other very energetic boys and her new daughter to take care of, she'll probably be glad to have some help." Jarod thoughtfully leaned back against the sofa. "Because of Joseph not being so well, she's spending more time with him than in the playroom right now, so why don't you take up where you left off with Raphael, and I'll talk to Julia, to make sure she understands."

Merritt flashed him a grateful smile. "Thanks, Jarod."

He slid an arm around her shoulders and gently hugged her. "You're welcome. Are you happy to be back home?"

"Uh huh." She nodded. "Australia was fun, but there's something kind of special about this place."

"I think so, too," he agreed, smiling.

She got up from the sofa. "I have to finish my homework."

"What subject?"

"Art." Suddenly her eyes lit up as an idea struck her. "Maybe Raffi could help."

"That sounds like a great idea," Jarod assented. "I'm sure he'll love it."

Merritt beamed and left the room. He watched her go before getting up and walking over to his workstation again, deactivating the screensaver and once more reading over the report about Pedro.

Jarod was acting as a consultant to the therapists working with this child, but so far, nothing had made any impact. Pedro remained in the corner of his room for most of the day, apart from when food was pushed into the room through the small hole in the door. If a person carried it in, even without approaching child, he would refuse to eat it. When they had tried to pipe music into the room, he had become first upset, then violent, banging on the walls until they turned it off, fearing that he would injure himself.

Suddenly, something soft hit the back of his head, and Jarod turned to find Jordan in the doorway that separated their apartment, seeing a sofa pillow on the floor beside his workstation.

"Gone deaf?" the young man enquired. "I've spoken to you twice."

"Sorry," Jarod apologized, picking up the object and tossing it onto his sofa. "I was busy."

"Obviously." Jordan grinned. "Anything I can help with?"

"I don't think so. Nice of you to offer, though." Jarod stood up and walked over to his son, giving him a warm hug. "What are you up to?"

"I wanted to talk to you about a sort of idea I had when I was in Australia."

"Oh, really?" Jarod arched an eyebrow, waving at his sofa and taking the armchair opposite. "Tell me."

Jordan waited until he was settled comfortably on the sofa before looking at his father, and Jarod could tell from the expression on his face that he was hesitant about whatever he was about to suggest. He wondered if it was about Merritt, but something told him it wasn't, and Jordan's first words confirmed it.

"I've been thinking about what I want to do in my life for a job." Jordan hesitated briefly, before he hurried on. "I want to have a steady job, where I can get to know all the people in one place, and where I'm just like everybody else. Maybe here. Maybe somewhere else. I haven't decided that part yet."

"I can understand that," Jarod told him. "What did you have in mind?"

"I want to work with kids."

There was a moment of silence, before the younger man arched an eyebrow. "I kind of thought you'd have a reaction to that."

"Why?" Jarod asked. "It's no surprise to me. Lauren told me about you helping at the car wreck, and…" he trailed off briefly, feeling pain tug at his heart, before continuing, "I saw how you were with Jake. As far as I can tell, you're a natural with kids. It sounds like the perfect job for you." He pulled up one leg and hugged it. "How do you want to work with them? Teaching? Pediatrics? What were you thinking of?"

"I hadn't really gone that far," Jordan admitted. "I thought I'd look around a bit here, and maybe even at the Centre, to see what people do. Then, whenever I find something I like, I can get some qualifications."

"That sounds like a very good plan," Jarod stated approvingly. "I'll mention it to Sebastian, if he's got time to think about it, and we can have you spending a few days with people. Maybe over the summer vacation, you can start by working with the children's caregivers for a couple of weeks."

Jordan pulled a face. "So I have to finish school?"

"You're only 17," Jarod told him sternly. "Another year at the school here will be good grounding, and besides," he added teasingly, "how do you expect to get qualifications as a 'normal' person without study?" He winked. "You can't have it both ways, son."

"Okay, you win," the young man sighed, sitting back against the sofa. His eyes strayed around the room, lighting on Jarod's computer monitor and the photo of Pedro visible on it. His face lit up with curiosity. "Hey, who's that?"

Jarod rose and walked over to the computer, pulling up a chair beside his own and seeing as his son sat on it. Explaining the boy's situation, he saw a thoughtful expression creep over Jordan's face, a look that he imagined must often be on his own.

"It's kind of like the kids who were found in Romanian orphanages in the early '90s," the younger man offered, and Jarod raised an eyebrow.

"What are you talking about?"

"Oh, I read about it in a book called Inferno, by James Nachtwey," Jordan explained. "It was from the time when Nicolae Ceausescu was dictator in Romania. He insisted that women have more than four children before they could have access to birth control. Those who had less than four babies were taxed more heavily. Ceausescu wanted the kids to grow up to become his army and work force. Most women couldn't afford to feed them, so they were put in orphanages, but there wasn't enough staff to look after them, so a lot of them didn't feel human contact often, and they didn't get a lot of medicines or food, because Ceausescu believed that they were 'impure' and not deserving of things like blankets and clothing."

Jarod eyed Jordan severely. "Son, I think we should take a look at your reading material."

"But I just want to learn about human behavior!"

"I'd have thought you would already have seen some of the worst human behavior," Jarod went on sternly, before relaxing slightly. "Personally, I thought more about Harlow's experiments on Rhesus monkeys."

"I don't think I ever learned about those," Jordan responded thoughtfully.

"Harry Harlow did an experiment in the late 1950s where he took baby monkeys away from their mothers and put them in a cage with two artificial mothers. One was wire and the other was cloth. He wanted to test the theory, prevalent at the time, that the bond of love was formed through the process of feeding, so he attached a bottle and false teat to one of the fake monkeys and kept a record of the amount of time the babies spent with their fake mothers. When it was shown that, no matter which artificial mother produced the milk, the babies still spent most of their time with the cloth mother, he offered the hypothesis that food had virtually nothing to do with the mother-child bond, and that comfort could be even more important than food. He then put them in with other monkeys and compared them to babies who had normal upbringings."

"What did the monkeys grow up like?" the younger man asked curiously. "The ones who were taken from their mothers, I mean."

"Socially deprived," Jarod replied. "When they were finally put in with other monkeys, they were easily bullied, couldn't mate and seemed to have little idea of how to interact. In fact," he tapped the screen they were sitting in front of, "they behaved much like Pedro does, rocking and holding themselves. It's the only way they know of stimulating the need to be touched and held." His eyes dwelt sadly on the child on the screen. "I only hope that we can do something to help him."

"But," Jordan paused briefly, "wasn't Jake like that? I mean, I don't think Cox would have done much to him in terms of touching. There's not that much difference."

"There's a substantial difference," Jarod assured him. "Pedro has never been spoken to, and has never even seen another human being, not even himself. The viewing platform isn't on the other side of a mirror, like most of them are. It faces onto an apparently blank wall. Jake, at least, had some human contact. Pedro's been left to struggle through as best he could. He's never had medicine on the few occasions when he was sick, or received treatment when he injured himself once."

Jordan's expression became serious as he nodded. "I see. There is a big difference." He turned curious eyes to his father. "What are you doing for him?"

Jarod outlined the various proposals that had been put forward, attempted and abandoned, when it was realized that they were having no significant effect.

"Can I see what I can come up with?" the young man begged. "You're going to be really busy with the treatment for Joseph and everyone else, so you won't have a lot of time to think about all that. But I might be able to come up with something, and you don't really need me for the surgery, with Patrick, and Yuri helping."

His father gazed thoughtfully at the screen for a moment, considering. Jordan had already seen, and, it seemed, had read about some of the worst atrocities that had been carried out on innocent human beings, and Jarod had to remind himself that his son wasn't completely innocent anyway, having carried out many of the same sims that he himself had done. There was also the chance that, bringing a new perspective to the project, Jordan might have ideas that could be useful, and nobody else, including himself, had come up with much, so he might as well try.

"Go for it, Jordan," he stated, nodding at a pile of books beside the desk. "They were the sources I was using to get some idea about treatment. See what you can get out of them."

"Thanks, Dad." His son beamed, reaching forward to hug him, before standing up and collecting a few of the heavy tomes, carrying them through into his apartment and coming back for the rest. In the meantime, Jarod copied his files onto a floppy disk and held it out.

"Let me know what you come up with. I've got a video conference with the team on Thursday, so it'd be great if you could have something before then."

Jordan nodded, taking the disk and putting it into his pocket before heading for his apartment and workstation. Jarod watched him go, relieved at the fact that he could rely on Jordan to help come up with some way to help Pedro, and that he could now focus on other things.

Getting up, Jarod went into his room and opened his closet. Inside was a set of medical scrubs and he changed into them in the bathroom, before leaving the room and heading for the infirmary, to prepare for the first operation.

* * * * * * * * *

Patrick finished sealing up the piece of skull that had been removed during the operation and Yuri took the tools, replacing them with others to close the wound, as one of the nurses prepared the bandages which would cover the man's shaved head. Jarod changed the anesthetic for a drug to allow Namir to be roused once he was in recovery, before being taken to the room that had been prepared for him.

The previous 24 hours had been busy for all involved. They had all practiced the procedure on a model Jarod had created, and that practice had shown its worth in the smooth way the operation had proceeded. It had, however, taken some time, and Jarod, at least, was looking forward to sitting on a proper chair, instead of the stool that had been provided.

"All right," Patrick stated, once the final bandages were in place, stepping back from the operating table with a sigh of relief.

A bed was wheeled in and the nurses, with Yuri's assistance, moved the unconscious Israeli onto the thin mattress, which was then taken out of the room, the nurse who had been assisting Jarod during the procedure going with it to ensure that Namir's vital signs remained stable until he came around.

"One down," Jarod muttered, as he turned off the anesthetic equipment, "only 39 to go."

"Provided it hasn't caused any damage," Yuri added, stripping off his surgical gown.

"We'll be able to test his reflexes in about an hour," Patrick pulled down his facemask and peeled off his gloves before glancing at the clock. "If it's okay, we can have a bite to eat and then start on Ramona."

Nodding, Jarod followed the other two men out of the room, pulling off the tie cap that covered his hair and turning on the tap, splashing water onto his face and running his fingers through his hair to make it stand on end, the cap having flattened it. Through the window that looked out into the recovery room, he saw the nurse he had insisted be on duty, who could speak the man's native language fluently, rouse him, the dark eyes opening briefly before they closed again, but Jarod was relieved to see that both eyes had opened. That was a good sign.

He talked with Patrick and Yuri in one of the smaller offices nearby, while they ate the food that had been brought up for them, planning the next operation and, using Jarod's model, the site of the incision. After almost an hour, Patrick went out into the other room, to return, beaming, 20 minutes later.

"All clear," he announced. "Full sensation and, in Namir's own words, 'a terrible headache,' so he can obviously feel pain, as well. Yuri, will you tell Ramona that we'll be ready for her in about half an hour?"

Nodding, the younger Pretender left the room, along with one of the nurses, who, Jarod guessed, was going to check on the sterilizers, so that all the equipment would be ready. Patrick returned to his seat at the table, filling his glass from a jug of iced water and gulping half of it.

"I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this work," he stated, linking his fingers and stretching.

"I'm just glad you were willing to do it," Jarod responded. "Watching you today -- I wouldn't have wanted to be the one wielding the scalpel."

"You would have managed," Patrick assured him. "You could have practiced until you were at the same sort of level I am, and it wouldn't have taken too long."

"I think there's a lot to be said for experience," the younger man retorted, swallowing a painkiller to ease the ache in his thigh, where the bullet had been removed. Standing, he dumped the last of the water into the sink and then turned. "I'm going to scrub up. See you in about 20."

Under the glare of the operating room lights, Jarod checked on his equipment again and watched one of the nurses wipe the gas mask with antiseptic, before going into the anteroom and pressing the foot pedal to start a stream of hot water flowing onto his arms as a nurse put on a new tie cap.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"Come in."

The door of Broots' office opened and Warwick entered, closing it behind him. Coming over to the desk, he handed his boss a folder and then, at the invitation, sat down.

"What did you find in Boise?"

"Something I wish I hadn't," Warwick responded. "There was still a functioning office there, with a full set of chemical laboratories. It looked kind of like NuGenesis."

Lazslo looked up sharply. "And they were still doing the experiments?"

"No, but they had been," his second told him. "We arrived just as the fire brigade did. It had been set alight, like Pakor was, but luckily we managed to stop the security room from being damaged, so we could find out who it was."

When the other man nodded at the folder, Broots opened it to find a DSA, which he took out and slid into the DSA player he had installed into his computer. Starting it up, he watched a man slip into the building, dressed in a black suit that hugged his trim figure, his hair covered by a black hood. Broots watched him enter through a side entrance of the building, pass unnoticed through the corridors and then arrive at his destination, using a substance in his backpack to soak the room, before setting a small bomb. Lazslo sped up the footage, watching as the bomb caused a massive fireball that obliterated the room's contents before the footage stopped.

"Do we know who this guy is?" he demanded. "Is he one of ours?"

"Not officially," Warwick responded. "But I'm sure I've seen him somewhere before. I just couldn't place his face."

Broots backed the footage until there was a clear view of the man's features, running the image through a new facial feature recognition program, and coming up with two recent matches.

"Seems like he was the one who blew up Pakor," the head of SIS mused thoughtfully. "And," his eyes widened, "he was the guy in charge of getting the Seraphim out of the Centre."

"That's very good, Mr. Broots. I congratulate you," a cool voice stated from the doorway, and both men jumped violently before turning to see a blond man leaning against the wall inside the room, his arms folded across his chest. Warwick's hand immediately flew to the gun at his waist, but Broots put out a hand to stop him. It was obvious, at least to the former technician, that this man posed no threat to them, considering how much his work had benefited their cause.

Walking over to the desk, the man offered a folder. "That's what I found there," he remarked. "It's the samples that went missing from Pakor, not long before it exploded into a fireball and made a lot of people's lives more pleasant."

Broots accepted the folder. "You work with Sebastian MacKenzie now, I believe." He glanced at the details on the screen, which showed the success of information being shared between the two organizations. "But you were a participant in the Ghost Project with Ms. Hart?"

The man's platinum blond head nodded. "You really do your research," he complimented the head of SIS. "Shame you didn't find out about this office before you did, though. It might have saved the fire department a call."

"And just what did you find there? Both in Pakor and the Boise office?" a female voice demanded, and Broots looked up to find his boss in the doorway, blocking the exit, her hands on her hips. He noticed that Warwick had slipped from the room and guessed that he had gone to get her.

"Evidence of the fact that the Centre had more projects on the way, like your son and the other children," the intruder told her coolly. "But the planned project I found in Boise was worse. That's why I took care of the office for you, in case you didn't get there in time." He cocked his head slightly to one side. "You don't take very good notice of my messages."

Morgan arched an eyebrow, stepping in to the room. "What do you mean?" she snapped.

"I tried to keep you away from New Mexico, a couple of years ago." He leaned against the chair, maintaining steady eye contact. "I sent you all the information you needed, but you still went, so I left the DSA at the last murder site, so you'd definitely get the message." His lips quirked. "It still took you a few more months to work out what I really meant, though." He sighed. "I sent Jarod a little information about the Nebula series. Didn't expect him to become a victim of it, though." His expression sagged momentarily into disappointment, but he straightened his shoulders and it was gone when he met her gaze again. "I gave you everything you needed to do exactly what you did, destroy the worst parts of this place." He smiled faintly. "You mother would have been very proud of you."

His boss was silenced by the tirade, but Broots was still waiting on the answer to the question she had asked. Before he could ask, however, the blond man turned to him.

"They were trying to create the next generation of Seraphim in that place," he said coolly, "which was the reason I destroyed it. They were planning to clone them. It was Cox and Fenigor's new pet project, and it was due to start within the next few days. Even after both men were killed, the procedures were still going ahead. They got tissue matches for the substitute mothers a week or so ago, and were intending to start the implantation today. Now, that will never happen."

He wheeled around and headed for the door, but Broots found his voice just before the intruder was able to disappear. "I didn't catch your name."

A small, bitter smile curled the corners of the blond man's mouth. "John Smith," he replied. "For want of anything better."

The door closed silently on its hydraulic hinges. A shadow was briefly visible through the frosted glass, and then he was gone.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Jarod was about to enter the room when he heard the low hum of voices from within, wondering if Trevor was with his wife and reluctant to intrude. The curtain had been pulled around the bed, but he knew Elizabeth wasn't being examined, because that was what he was there for now. Opening the door, he quietly stepped inside, his eyes widening as he recognized his father's voice.

"I got your message."

"Tell me what happened, Michael," the woman's voice urged. "Tell me what happened that day in the Centre, with Catherine Parker, when you helped her fake her own death."

Jarod froze, his breath caught in his throat, his eyes widening. He knew he should react in some way, either let them know he was there or turn and leave, but he couldn't make himself do it. This was something he had been unsure of, ever since Fenigor's half-mumbled words in the Centre, before Morgan had chased him into SL-27, which Sydney's bomb had then blown up. His father's manner, when he had asked about it, had been vague and had dissuaded any further questions, but he had always wanted to know more.

"This isn't something I want to tell you about, Elizabeth," Michael Charles' voice growled.

"Maybe not consciously," she agreed calmly. "But your subconscious is desperate for you to tell someone, to get it off your chest." There was a rustle, as if of crisp, clean linen, and Jarod surmised that Elizabeth had placed her hand over his father's. "Tell me. I've seen bits and pieces of it, from your dreams, from Merritt's, and even from Jarod's and Morgan's."

"He was there?" Michael's voice was full of shock, horror and devastation.

"Yes, I was," Jarod agreed quietly, stepping into the cubicle, seeing his father and Elizabeth turn to him in surprise. "I was just down the hall." He pulled up a chair on the other side of the bed and steadily met his father's gaze. "Tell me what happened that day, Dad."

Michael studied the bedclothes for a moment in silence, and when he finally looked up, Jarod was able to see the pain in his eyes. "I never thought I'd tell this -- to anyone," he began slowly, before his gaze turned to Elizabeth. "But you're right. I always thought I should tell someone, so at least one person knew. Maybe this is the time."

He looked down again, gently withdrawing his hand from Elizabeth's grasp and placing it in his lap, studying it, before he began to speak.

"Harriet came to me one day, to tell me that she knew someone I could trust implicitly, who knew where my sons were, who would help me get them back. She arranged a meeting to discuss the details. I was suspicious, but Harriet seemed sure…"

Roadside Cafe
Outside Blue Cove

Michael Charles parked his motorcycle off the road under a tree, well down from the café. He was suspicious of this rendezvous, but he trusted Harriett. She wouldn't set him up, or put him in danger of being captured. What she wanted was to help him get his children back, and this was the first solid lead he'd had in years. But he was careful anyway, and circled around the property several times, looking for the people he was supposed to meet, and any potential threats that might accompany them.

It looked clear. He saw them, the trim, well dressed woman with the long brown hair, and the older man with her, seated at the picnic table at the south end of the building. It was too early in the day for much of a crowd. Only a few truck drivers had their rigs parked in the lot out front, and the couple's car -- a black sedan with Delaware plates -- seemed to be the only other vehicle in sight.

He watched them for another half hour, watched them fidget and check their timepieces, waiting until they were ready to leave before presenting himself to them.

"Mrs. Parker," he called, taking off his helmet and revealing his face. "I was just making sure this was okay. Sorry for the wait."

Relief flooded her pretty face. "Thank God," she murmured. "Major Charles, I know we haven't had the pleasure, but I really need your help. And I -- we -- are willing to help you in return." She opened her purse and pulled out the two photographs, and handed them over.

He knew without being told who they were. Jarod had his mother's beautiful brown eyes and his own dark hair; Kyle looked much like a smaller version of himself. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he blinked them away as he tucked the photos into his black leather jacket. "Where are my sons?" he demanded.

The woman glanced at her companion, her expression guarded. "I can't tell you that right now, but we will help you get them back. After you help me." She glanced down at herself, swallowed hard and met his eyes once more. "I'm pregnant, Major. Some terrible people want to take my baby away after it's born, just as they did with your sons. The only way I can prevent that is to make them think I'm dead."

That startled him. He took a step backward, sure something else was up with these people. But he had to find out about his sons. That was why he had come. "What do you want me to do about it?"

Mrs. Parker glanced at her friend. "We want you to kill me. We'll supply the fake blood and other props. You supply the gun and blanks. All we need is for people to buy the scenario. Then you get out, and afterward, we deliver your boys." She explained in detail, and the man with her handed over a map of the property, with a hand-sketched plan of entry and escape.

"Take these identification documents," she told him, handing over an envelope, "and they'll get you in the door. Meet me in the lobby of the specified floor -- take the stairs, because I'll be coming out of the elevator. If you're not there, I'll have my own pistol to make it look like a suicide. But if you show up, you take my spare pistol with you and leave yours behind."

"I don't want to end up on trial for murder," Michael told her, hackles rising that they'd think he was so stupid as to put himself into that kind of trap.

"You won't be," she assured him, and pulled a small tape recorder out of her handbag. "Because as soon as we're finished talking here, you'll take this with you. If you are arrested for this crime, you'll offer this as evidence to the DA. But I can promise you, this shooting won't exist outside of the building where I work. And you'll be a free man, with your family intact."

He kept an eye on the couple while he studied the plan. "Why me? Why do you want me for the trigger man?"

"The shooter needs to be someone outside the organization, someone with a believable grudge," the other man told him. "We know we can trust you, because you want your sons back. We want to help you get them. But first, we have to make sure Catherine is safe. Will you help us?"

"Let me think about it," Michael told them. "I'll study the materials you've given me, and if I think it'll work as you've described, I'll let you know."

"How? I don't have much time. I'm already four months along. I'll be showing soon."

"Give me three days. Then come back here and check with the manager. If you get your package back, no deal. But if he's empty handed, we're on."

"That's good enough," Catherine told him. "And Major, thank you. I can't -- I can't tell you how much this means to me. I've met your sons, and they're wonderful boys. You'll be proud of them."

Her companion nudged her with his elbow. Michael didn't miss that gesture. He wanted her to shut up, to not say too much.

"Where are they?" he asked again.

Tears in her eyes spilled over onto her cheeks, and she bowed her head as she wiped them away. "I can't tell you that yet, Major. But I know how you've all suffered, and I want it to end. I want your family to be reunited, and I'll do everything I can to help make that happen. But afterward. After you help me. I'm sorry. If it wasn't for my baby…" Her hands caressed her belly fondly. "I was already trying to get them out, sir. It wouldn't have been much longer anyway. But things changed. Now I have someone else to think about."

Her eyes pleaded with him to understand, and he felt the genuine need in her soul. This wasn't about herself. It was about her unborn child.

He nodded. "All right. I'll help you. I'll be there on the appointed day and time. And good luck to you, Mrs. Parker."

She stepped forward then and gave him a brief, tight embrace. "Thank you, Major. And keep in touch with our mutual friend. I'll have more to tell you later on."

Michael Charles nodded and backed away, disappearing into the woods and running back to his bike. From his vantage point down the road, he watched them leave, traveling back toward the little town as thunder rumbled in the distance. A storm was coming, and he wanted to get off the road before it hit. But now that he was so close, he wanted to know a little more about this place they had described.

He followed them down the road, watching from a distance as they entered the big honey colored building. He compared it to the drawings he'd been given, and found it accurate. But there had to be plans registered for that place, and he wanted to be certain he had a variety of escape routes, other than the one he'd been given, in case something went wrong…

He finished describing his recovery period in hospital after Raines had shot him, and the fact that, when he returned to the Tashman farm, his wife and daughter had disappeared. Michael looked up to see tears glistening in his son's eyes, feeling as they slid down his own cheeks, the memory of that time so painful that he was unable to hold back his emotions.

"I always wondered what Fenigor meant," Jarod stated slowly. "Now, at least, I know. And I know whose fault all that was."

Michael nodded slowly. "Maybe someone should tell Morgan," he offered. "I know she doesn't like being around me, even though she knows I didn't really kill her mother. If she knew the whole story, she might feel differently."

"I think she would," Jarod agreed quietly. "She'll be down again in a few days. We can talk with her about it then."

* * * * * * * * *

Merritt watched Raphael put the last piece into a jigsaw puzzle before turning around to look up into her eyes for the awaited praise. She hugged him warmly.

"Well done, Raffi!" She kissed his hair. "That was very good!"

He threw his arms around her neck and hugged her, kissing her cheek, before plumping down in her lap again. "What's we doin' now?"

"What would you like to do?"

The boy looked around for a moment before reaching out for a book that lay on the floor nearby. It was pushed over by an unseen hand, and Merritt looked up to find Tempest watching them. As Merritt met her gaze, the girl giggled and then turned back to the game she and Dominique were playing, while Raphael picked up the book and put it into the young woman's hands.

Uriel and Peter scrambled to their feet and ran across the room, as a disturbance in the doorway made Merritt look up before she could begin reading. She saw Julia bend down to hug her sons with one arm, the other around her baby daughter. To Merritt's surprise, Raphael remained in her lap, but his eyes followed Julia as she looked around the room, coming over when she saw him.

"Hi, Mommy!" he announced, when she was close enough to hear him over the noise. "Dis is my Merritt."

It was the first time he had used the possessive term, and the girl wondered if he had picked up her feelings, even as she offered a shy smile to the woman who cautiously sat down on a chair nearby.

"I've heard about your Merritt," Julia stated, in a slightly accented voice, but in such fluent English that Merritt was relieved she wouldn't have to try out her German. The woman smiled at the girl. "You've been helping to take care of my boys, as well as your own little one, while I've been with Joseph."

"Mommy," Peter demanded. "Come an' play with me!"

"Not right now, baby," his mother responded, hugging him gently. "I'm talking now. But soon I will, okay?"

"Uh huh."

He nodded, pacified, and wandered off to join in a new game that Gabriel and Gideon had begun. Uriel, meanwhile, scrambled up to sit on Julia's other knee and pull faces at his baby sister, who regarded him with placid amazement.

"Raphael couldn't wait for you to get back," Julia stated. "He wondered every day what you were up to, didn't you, baby?" she asked, addressing her remarks to the boy, who giggled, nodding, as he leaned back against Merritt.

Merritt relaxed at the lack of possessiveness in her comments and wondered if her concern about this woman had been needless. The baby girl wriggled in her mother's arms, and Merritt's eyes were drawn to it, before she looked back at the woman.

"Jarod told me about your baby," she began somewhat shyly. "She's pretty."

"I think so, too," Julia agree, laughing slightly. "But I may be a little biased." She eased Uriel onto the floor and then reached forward to place the baby in the arm that wasn't around Raphael, with a small sigh that Merritt guessed was caused by pain from her Caesarean.

A mop of dark hair framed the baby's face, and her blue eyes stood out clearly, staring up at Merritt and at her big brother. Raphael snuggled close to Merritt and leaned his head on her shoulder as he looked down at the baby.

"She's very pretty," Merritt amended. "With lovely big blue eyes."

"Just like her brothers," Julia laughed, taking Uriel onto her lap again and hugging him. "It must be a very strong genetic trait."

Merritt looked up into the woman's dark smiling eyes and understood what she meant. One of the girl's little hands escaped from the bunny rug in which she was tightly wrapped, waving aimlessly in the air until Raphael reached out and gently took it. Then the boy looked up.

"Mommy," he asked plaintively, "when can we go see Daddy?"

Julia sighed, her eyes taking on a sad expression as Merritt looked up also. "I'm not sure, baby," she admitted softly. "Not yet, though. He's still not very well."

Nodding, Raphael nestled even closer to Merritt, as if comforted by her presence, and the young woman suddenly understood what Jarod had meant when he'd said that Raphael would always prefer her to Julia. The boy was comforted by her closeness, rather than seeking comfort from the woman he called 'mommy,' and she knew instinctively that her presence would soothe his anxiety about his father better than Julia could.

Suddenly the door on the far side of the room opened and Helen stepped inside, carrying a tray on which stood plastic cups and the plate of biscuits that constituted the children's afternoon tea. Giving her a kiss, Raphael scrambled off Merritt's knee and, with the other children in the room, ran over for his drink.

"I spoke to Jarod," Julia stated quietly, when Uriel also left, "and I don't want you to ever think that I would try to take Raphael away from you." She smiled. "I don't think I'd be able to do it anyway. He wouldn't let me." The humor faded. "If you would prefer him to call me by my name and save that name for you later…"

"Oh, no," Merritt protested. "It wasn't that. It was just… well…"

"You went away, and when you came back, it was all different," Julia finished. "I understand very well how that feels. But, adorable as he is and as much as I love that boy, which, I believe, has a lot to do with the way I feel about his father, he is, genetically, yours." Julia's expression softened in sympathy. "This situation is hard for all of us," she said softly. "But I can believe that it would be most difficult for you. The Centre and its brother and sister organizations have done such terrible things, and we're left to pick up the pieces and try to move on, incorporating all the changes into our lives. That's easier for some of us than others."

She eased out of her chair and onto the beanbag next to the one in which Merritt sat. "I would like you to show me Raphael's favorite games and toys. I never had the chance to learn them, after I arrived, because I was spending a lot of time in bed, and then I had to have the operation to have my daughter. Since then…"

She trailed off, and Merritt guessed that she was thinking of Joseph, trying to come up with an appropriately sympathetic response, but unable to think of anything. At this juncture, Raphael and Uriel came running back, trying to lick milk moustaches off their top lips, and Raphael scrambled back into Merritt's lap as Uriel climbed onto Julia's knee, picking up the book his playmate had discarded in the rush for the snack and pushing it into his mother's hand.

"Read dis," he demanded, and Julia immediately and deliberately placed it onto the floor. Merritt giggled as she saw the bewildered look on his face, before he suddenly bit his bottom lip and picked it up again, gently handing it her, his little cheeks flushing. "Please," he added, and Julia, exchanging secretive smiles with the young woman next to her, opened the book and began to read.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Two men were standing outside her office when Morgan returned from lunch, and she recognized the Die Fakultät uniform immediately, taking the note one of them offered, signed by Frederick Hohmann, and then ushering them inside.

"What can I do for you, gentlemen?"

The other man offered her a large envelope. "Herr Hohmann told us to ensure that you received this, ma'am. He said it's very important." The guard pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket and handed her a pen. "He asked for your signature, to ensure you got it, sealed."

Morgan turned the package over to eye the special seal that each building had created to ensure that no materials were damaged or compromised while they were being transported. Scribbling her name on the page, she gave it back.

"Did you also bring some of the equipment and archival records that were supposed to start being transferred?"

"Yes, ma'am," the first man agreed. "Some of your sweepers are putting it into the rooms that you allocated as we speak."

"Good. Thank you." She stepped aside and watched them leave before carrying the package over to her desk and sitting down, slitting the top of the envelope and letting the folders slide out of it.

She drew in her breath sharply as she realized that they were about her father and uncle, picking up the first and removing the elastic band, opening the folder and looking down at the notes that were now more than half a century old. Her eyes jumped from paragraph to paragraph, picking out the important words, but stopped when she saw the term 'clairsentient.' Logging onto an Internet dictionary, she read the definition carefully to ensure that she understood what it meant before picking up the phone and making a call.

Sydney appeared in the doorway moments later, closing the door behind him and sitting down in the chair opposite her. "What is it, Morgan?"

Her eyes flashed sparks as she looked at him. "I thought we weren't keeping secrets from each other anymore, Sydney."

The psychiatrist arched an eyebrow, his brow furrowing. "What are you talking about?"

"You're clairsentient?"

"Apparently," he responded calmly, although Morgan believed she saw a flicker of surprise in his eyes.

"And you never told me?!" she demanded. "I could have inherited it…"

"It's not like it's some terminal disease," he interrupted flatly. "And I don't believe you did. You'd know if you had."

"But you never told me…"

"Because it doesn't matter," Sydney told her, in mildly exasperated tones. "But both your uncle and I displayed some of the more common attributes of sense extension, and I believe Kim does, too. That's possibly how Angelo has empathic abilities. But, as I said, I don't believe that it affects you."

She sat back in her chair, struggling to keep her temper in check. "Why?" she asked quietly. "Why did you think I wouldn't want to know that?"

"Because I didn't want you to confuse that with anything you might have found out from your inner sense, which I believed was more important for and to you," her father stated. "And remember, I haven't known for very long whether you were even in a position to have inherited it from me."

Morgan grudgingly admitted that to herself, before pushing the folders gently towards him. "Do you know what these are?"

He donned his reading glasses, pulling the first folder slightly closer and running his eyes over the information, paling slightly.

"Oh my God," he breathed, his eyes widening in horror. "They knew." He lowered the file onto his lap, flicking through the pages, finding sheets that recorded test results. "How did they find out?" he mused, half to himself. "How?"

The woman glanced through the other folders, suddenly stopping at a sheet with a small cry that made her father looked up.

"What is it, Morgan?"

"You were a subject, too," she murmured, pushing the sheet across to him. "When you were first hired by the Centre, they were surreptitiously testing your skill and hunting for the gene that gave you those abilities."

Sydney accepted the sheet as she offered it, running his eyes over the pages, and Morgan could see the pain in them. At the Centre, he had never considered himself to have been anything but a scientist, and it was a painful distortion of his view to have to consider that he had been a subject as much as some of those with whom he had worked.

Morgan decided to ignore the fact that he had failed to tell her about his ability, understanding his reasoning, even if she couldn't agree with it. She knew how much he valued his privacy and that he wouldn't want that spoilt by sharing something that had no relevance. That attribute was what made him such a valuable friend and advisor, and she regularly relied on his advice when it came to make decisions about the Centre.

Gathering the folders into a pile, she pushed them in his direction. "Do you want these or should I have them stored in the archive?"

"Get rid of them," he told her gruffly, closing the one on his lap and putting it on top of the others. "I don't care what you do with them, but I don't want to see them again."

She reached over and placed her hands on his, squeezing gently. "It's over, Daddy."

"No, it's not," he murmured huskily, clinging to her, tears glistening in his eyes. "It never will be."

Go to Act VI

 
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