Michael T. Weiss as Jarod Charles
Andrea Parker as Morgan Ritter/Catherine Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney Ritter
Jon Gries as Lazslo Broots
Guest Stars (in order of appearance):
Ryan Merriman as Jordan Charles
Ashley Peldon as Merritt Ritter
Rove McManus as Frederick Hohmann
Emilia Fox as Maria Thermann
Robert Duncan MacNeill as Peter Winston
Mandy Patinkin as Christian Schwartz
Sigrid Thornton as Elizabeth McCarty
John Daley as Cam
Denzel Washington as Trevor McCarty
Shaun Micallef as Warwick
Susan Gibney as Kim (Walker) Ritter
Paul Dillon as Angelo Ritter
Hugh Jackman as Sebastian MacKenzie
Angie Harmon as Ramona
Anjelica Huston as Lucian's mother
Alex Wexo as Young Jacob
George Clooney as Lucian Bruce
Paul Mercurio as Joseph Otto
David McCallum as Jock Voorhees
Ving Rhames as Daniel Pyne
David Boreanaz as Yuri
Leigh Taylor-Young as Michelle Stamatis
Colin Friels as William Stevens
Marisa Parker as Emily Charles
David Gallagher as Alexander
Justine Waddell as Julia Becker
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Samantha Mathis as Rebecca
Roxann Dawson as Nancy
Rebecca DeMornay as Sumi MacKenzie
James Marsters as Him
Sidney Poitier as Patrick
Sam Ayres as Sam Arnold
Oded Fehr as Namir
George Lazenby as Major Michael Charles Snr.
Kim Meyers as Margaret Charles
Richard Marcus as William Raines
Justin Hayward as David
Michelle Trachtenberg as Andromeda
Russell Crowe as Alastair Arnold
Darren Kennedy as Nicholas Stamatis
Winona Ryder as Amy
Reba McEntire as Helen
Tyler Christopher as Ethan Charles
And I will never see the sky the same way,
And I will learn to say good-bye to yesterday
And I will never cease to fly if held down,
And I will always reach too high
-- Vanessa Carlton, "Twilight"
"The plane," Morgan remarked with mock-disinterest, "has just landed."
Jarod picked up a napkin from the table and wiped the remainder of the chocolate ice cream from Gabriel's face, as Morgan waved over a waiter to pay their bill. After cleaning similar smears of strawberry from Raphael's cheeks, Jarod pushed the plates into the middle of the table and then lifted the two boys down from the raised chairs on which they sat. Looking around instinctively for his cane, he grinned at the remembrance that he no longer needed it, before swinging his leather jacket over his shoulders. Morgan, meanwhile, had paid for the drinks and ice creams. The group left the café and headed for the doors through which the passengers from the flight would appear.
Jordan and Merritt had begged to fly back first class, instead of going in one of Sebastian's jets, and Jarod and Morgan had finally agreed. It had been child's play to arrange for two of the men at Pele's Brisbane office to fly to America at company expense, with a short stopover in Melbourne on the way, to ensure that nothing went wrong during the flight. Pele staff that neither Jordan nor Merritt knew would meet the Australian men, and the young people would never need to know that they had been chaperoned, unless, of course, something went wrong. As there had been no messages received before or during the flight, it was assumed that nothing had.
The two boys were just beginning to get fidgety when the doors slid open and the first passengers exited. Jarod glimpsed the 'MEL' tag on someone's suitcase and knew that they would probably have been from the same flight, picking up Gabriel as Morgan took her baby brother in her arms, to prevent him being swept away in the rush.
"Daddy," Gabriel complained. "How come dey's takin' so long?"
Jarod grinned at the boy's impatience, trying to suppress his own. "Just a little longer, honey."
"It's takin' ages!" his son moaned.
Suddenly there was a yelp from Raphael, who wriggled frantically in Morgan's arms. She took a firmer hold of him, even as she began walking towards the end of the barrier. Jarod followed her in time to see the familiar face of his son, pushing a luggage trolley with one hand, the other around Merritt's back. The man couldn't help grinning, even as he hurried forward in time to see Merritt rush into Morgan's arms.
"Hey there, stranger," he remarked in Jordan's ear, seeing his son turn with a delighted grin.
"Hi, Dad!" Jordan's arms came around him in a firm hug, with care for Gabriel, who was looking a little pop-eyed when he was able to throw himself at his brother.
"Jo-den!" Gabriel beamed, placing an obviously wet kiss on his brother's cheek, which Jarod was pleased to see that his son didn't wipe away.
Jarod ushered the group out of the way of the people coming through the doors before he had the chance to greet Merritt. The young woman was now only an inch or two shorter than Morgan and was darkly tanned, as was Jordan, from her time in the Australian sun.
"It was a long flight," she complained, trying to smooth the hair Raphael's enthusiastic embrace had ruffled, while hanging on to him with the other arm as he cuddled her around the neck.
"Well, you would insist on taking a public plane," Jarod teased. "If you'd gone on the jet, it would have been direct -- and a lot quicker."
"First class was great," Jordan enthused, handing Gabriel to Morgan, as Jarod took charge of the luggage trolley on which the two cases and small cabin bags stood. "Real silver cutlery and china plates, and a proper bed!"
"As opposed to the flight you took over there," Morgan remarked lightly, "which had a real dining table and your own bedrooms."
Merritt giggled. "They were both great, just too long," she offered, her accent notably foreign and familiar to Jarod's ears. "Australia's great, but it's so far away!"
They exited the building, and a man standing beside a limousine, which stood by the main door, immediately opened the car's rear door, taking control of the trolley from Jarod and hefting the cases into the trunk as the travelers took their cabin bags. The group got into the car, which left the airport, heading for the Prometheus building, as the occupants began to talk about the previous few months.
Jarod looked Morgan, with Merritt beside her and Raphael in a booster seat, his face turned up to the young woman, his delight at her being back obvious in his eyes. Merritt kept her left arm around his waist, tightening it occasionally in a hug, and on one of these occasions Jarod saw the gold band on her forth finger, a small diamond gleaming in the dim light. He looked sharply at his elder son, who sat on the same seat, Gabriel between them, and could feel the happiness in Jordan's heart, tempered by his sadness over Jacob, but it was tolerable now, and Jordan could move on from that tragedy. It was obvious, however, that he would not have go on alone, and Jarod decided to remove any potential barriers that might stand in the way of their happiness.
"What did you bring me?" Gabriel demanded at this juncture, and Jordan grinned.
"Who said I brought you anything, little brother?"
"You promised!" the boy whined, and Jordan chuckled.
"I did promise, you're right," he agreed, hefting his bag onto the seat and opening it. Pulling out a gift, he put it on Gabriel's lap, taking out a similar one for Raphael.
The younger child eagerly ripped off the paper, turning the stuffed animal around to look at the face and turning confused eyes up to his brother.
"What is it?"
"It's a koala, Gabriel," Jordan explained. "Some people call it a koala bear, even though it isn't a member of the bear family." He pointed out the claws and the large, round ears. "It sits in trees all day, and eats leaves."
"What's mine?" Raphael asked Merritt, as he pulled the paper away from his brown toy, and she smiled.
"This is a kangaroo, Raffi," she explained. "It's got strong legs to jump, and a pouch to carry its babies in." She showed him the soft pouch, before reaching into the pocket of her jacket and pulling out her purse, extracting a photo. "See, that's me feeding the kangaroos that lived around the house where I was staying."
Raphael's blue eyes were wide as he looked at the photo. "Dey's big!" he proclaimed, and Merritt agreed, handing the photo to Morgan.
Jarod leaned over to speak quietly in his son's ear. "I hope you got something for every child."
Jordan nodded. "Eight different toys -- one each."
The older man smiled approbation, even as Gabriel eagerly reclaimed his brother's attention with demands to be told more about the koala.
* * * * * * * * *
Frederick Hohmann tapped lightly on the office door, glancing over his shoulder at Maria, who was sitting at her desk. "Have you talked to Herr Winston this morning?"
"No, sir," she answered readily. "But I don't usually see him 'till after nine, and it's only eight thirty now. He gets in earlier than I do, most days."
He nodded, placing his hand on the doorknob and, after a moment of hesitation, turning it. It was a thing he would never have dreamt of doing when the old Direktor was in power, but, thankfully, those days were now gone. When the silence from the office continued, he pushed the door wide, breath catching in his throat, his eyes widening as he saw the man draped across the desk.
"Is he there?" Maria's voice asked, and he felt her move to stand beside him. A choked cry forced itself out of her mouth as she took in the scene, turning horrified blue eyes up to him in his role as the authority figure present, and Frederick responded instantly.
Hurrying over to the desk, he placed two fingers on his boss's neck, although it was obvious from the dried blood on the floor that his death had taken place hours earlier.
"Call the infirmary," he ordered over his shoulder. "Get one of the doctors up here to confirm it."
Looking around the office, he saw that nothing was out of place, apart from the pages on the floor, which the force of Peter Winston's body hitting the desk could have caused. On instinct, he moved over to the filing cabinet, pulling out one of the drawers and flicking through the folders, seeing that the formerly thick file in which information about Lucian had been kept was empty. This only confirmed to the head of security that the depraved former head of the corporation was responsible. Taking out his cell phone, he arranged for increased security for the entrances, despite knowing that Lucian would probably have been gone for some time.
Two men from the infirmary appeared in the doorway, and Frederick left the room to go down to his own office and see what he could do to salvage the situation. The first and most important part, he knew, was a further tightening of security.
His deputy was waiting in his office when he arrived, and, from the look on his face, Frederick knew it was more bad news.
"Well, Christian?" he demanded impatiently. "What is it?"
Mr. Schwartz cleared his throat somewhat nervously. "It's Martin Delius."
Frederick's imagination leapt to Yuri and the abduction by Lucian, his head pounding as he tried not to imagine all the complications, but Christian Schwartz continued before he could utter them.
"We found his body in his cell this morning, sir. He was apparently murdered last night."
* * * * * * * * *
Elizabeth strolled down the hallway, glancing through the small panes of glass in the doors to see into the rooms she passed, finally stopping outside one and knocking.
The room contained a series of desks, a class facing a whiteboard, on which were written various mathematical equations. The gray-haired teacher stood beside it, and smiled at the visitor.
"What can I do for you, Elizabeth?"
"I want to borrow Cam, if I can," the younger woman responded. There was an instant jeer from the back of the room, and she fixed the perpetrator with a look that would have melted steel. "You watch yourself," she told him sweetly, her eyes lighting briefly on a young woman in the second row of seats, before jumping back to the young man who had made the sound, "or I might let slip about a dream or two you had last night."
In the deathly silence that followed this threat, Cam dropped his pen into the pencil case and put it and the math textbook into his desk, a gleeful grin on his face as he stood and came over to the door.
"My husband said you hadn't done your homework," Elizabeth explained, after shutting the door. "And, as I wanted to talk to you anyway, I thought I'd save you a little embarrassment."
"You're a lifesaver," he told her gratefully.
"I try." She led the way into the lift and then up the residential floor. Trevor was already waiting in the new suite he and his wife shared when they arrived, and Cam curled up in an armchair while the adults sat on the sofa.
"What's up?" the young man queried.
Trevor's brown eyes met Cam's. "Dr. Sydney Ritter," he said calmly. "What do you think of him?"
"Well, he seems nice enough," Cam began cautiously, not entirely sure what Trevor meant.
"You're losing your touch," the psychic remarked drily. "Or else you're just being a smart ass. You know what I mean."
"What makes you think there's anything?" the young man demanded. "I mean, yes, I've picked up a few bits and pieces, but you obviously know something, too, or I wouldn't be in here getting the 3rd degree."
Elizabeth laughed, resting her hands on the arms Trevor had wrapped around her waist, before becoming serious as she spoke. "His dreams are full of his brother, who died a few years ago."
"And that's so unusual?" Cam challenged.
"Wait," the woman told him. "It's not that simple. The conversations they have go beyond what most people can manage with those who've died. It's as if Jacob is still alive."
"Jacob!" The young man was startled. "Was there any connection ?"
"It's possible there was, yes," Trevor agreed sternly. "But it has no relevance, so let's keep to the topic here, so you don't miss more of algebra than you have to."
Cam snorted. "All of it's fine by me." He relaxed back in the chair. "Dr. Ritter is a very perceptive and sensitive person, but like with his dreams, it's not like usual sensitivities. It's almost like he's empathic, but not quite. It's more -- general than that."
"Tastes, smells, sounds," Elizabeth agreed. "Anything that affects the senses."
"ESP," Trevor suggested, but his wife shook her head.
"I think it's too limited to be ESP," she argued. "As I understand ESP, it would allow the individual to know things he wouldn't be able to sense in the normal world. Sydney's dreams suggest he's able to sense things in unusual situations. He might be in a room, for instance, and know what's happening in another, without being able to directly see it." She studied the carpet for a moment, before she looked up again. "There was a time, a few years ago, when he was temporarily blind. If he had ESP, he should still have been able to 'see' things from that time, but his visual memory of the period, at least as far as his dreams show it, is blank."
"Well, that knocks that idea out," her husband remarked.
"Why don't you just ask him?" Cam proposed. "I mean, if you ask him straight out, he'll probably be so surprised at anyone noticing that he'll tell you."
Elizabeth glanced up at her husband and nodded. "He was planning to go back to Blue Cove this morning, I think, so you might want to talk to Sebastian now."
"I will." Trevor kissed Elizabeth's hair and then released her, standing up and stretching. He shot a grin at Cam. "Back to algebra, kiddo."
"Aw, man!" Cam got out of the chair but hesitated, scuffing at the floor with the toe of his sneaker. "Isn't there anything else you want to talk about?"
"No," Elizabeth told him firmly. "Now shoo. I promised I'd go and see Angelique before lunch, and it's nearly 11 now."
Cam moved laggingly to the door, seeing Trevor heading down the corridor, before reluctantly going down the hall to the stairs and jogging up them, back to his math class.
* * * * * * * * *
Broots flipped through the Supernova files and then sorted them into order, before slotting them into one of the filing cabinets that lined the walls. At a knock on the door of his office, he looked up and called for the person to enter. Warwick opened the door and closed it behind himself, approaching the desk and handing over a folder.
"This is the report about the treatment of the Supernova victims," Warwick stated. "We finished the last doses this morning."
"And how's it going?"
"Well." Warwick smiled in satisfaction. "At this stage, we're getting them to write reports on what Lucian had them do. That should be finished in a day or two."
"Good work," Broots stated approvingly, accepting the report. "I'll let you know if there's anything else I need from you."
Warwick nodded and left the office. Broots glanced through the pages, seeing that the antidote Jarod had created for Supernova had worked effectively on all those whom tests had proven had been given the drug. The reports from the Supernova victims would provide further ways to secure the Centre from any further attack, and Broots was working on a report to present to the Board for still more improvements.
The door of his office opened and Kim stepped inside, letting the door fall shut behind herself, as she approached the desk.
"How's it going?"
"Fine," he told her somewhat absentmindedly, turning to the computer and making several notes before looking back at her again. "Was there something you wanted?"
"I need a copy of Cox's will about Ammon House, so that I can hand it over to Father Kelly."
"Oh, right." He pulled out the filing cabinet drawer containing the papers pertaining to Ammon House and withdrew the relevant envelope, handing it to her. "This is the original. If you could copy it and bring it back to me, that'd be great."
"Sure thing." She took it, sent a brief grin in his direction and then left the office.
Broots stared after her for a moment before shaking his head slightly and refocusing on his work again. Morgan would be back the following day, and she would expect to see the report before it was submitted to the Board. He could talk to Kim later that night when she came home with him, as she had begun doing on a regular basis, even after Debbie had come back from staying with his brother, but for now Lazslo had to concentrate on his work.
* * * * * * * * *
"If only Australia wasn't so far away," Jordan complained, and Jarod nodded in agreement from his prone position on the grass.
"You'll have to save up for another trip, some time in the future, for a honeymoon or something," he teased, seeing Merritt blush red and Jordan intently examine the ground of the custom-made park in which they were sitting. "And in the meantime," he suggested, seeing the young woman smother her third yawn in about ten minutes, "why don't you both go and unpack, and maybe have a nap, before dinner?"
"Sure." Jordan got out of the deckchair in which he had been sitting and waited until Merritt had hugged her mother before taking her hand and strolling back through the dappled light to the gray building that loomed behind them.
Jarod looked at the woman in the deckchair opposite. "That trip obviously achieved its aim."
"It sure did," she agreed. "And I'm glad Merritt was out of the way when Lucian took Yuri. I only wish we'd managed to keep hold of the sick bastard after we got Yuri back."
"No further sightings?" Jarod asked, reaching up to fill her glass from a jug of juice on the picnic table between them.
"Not yet." She sighed, accepting the glass and sipping the contents. "He's probably realized that just about every city has sweepers looking out for him. My guess is he'll probably flee the country, maybe to South America or somewhere."
"There aren't many places he could go," Jarod told her feelingly. "I should know."
"You hardly ever left the USA," she mused. "How come?"
He grinned. "A little thing called a passport, Morgan."
She cocked a skeptical eyebrow. "You forged how many fake IDs in six years?"
"True," he conceded. "Actually, it was really because I didn't want to lose track of what you were up to in Blue Cove. That's a major difference between Lucian and me. He has offices all over the world that he can visit or keep an eye on. I really only had the Centre. That meant I had to stay in the vicinity, so I knew where my trackers were."
Morgan nodded understandingly. "At least it's over now."
Jarod smiled wryly. "Want to know something weird? I actually kind of miss it."
She stared at him in amazement. "You you miss it?"
"Sometimes, yes," he confessed. "I miss the variety and the tension. It's so quiet around here that there are some days I feel like I'll go insane if I don't do something. I guess," he sighed ruefully, "I just wasn't meant to live a normal life."
He glanced over at the playground equipment Sebastian had had put into the stretch of bare ground that had been converted into a ready-made park for the Seraphim and other residents to enjoy, before casting an eye at the woman who had slipped down to join him on the picnic blanket, thinking that, despite his feelings of impatience, this was as close as he was going to get to his own family, with Gabriel and Raphael playing on the swing nearby.
Morgan reached out to touch the back of her hand to his forehead, her expression concerned but her eyes dancing with laughter. "You're delirious, Jarod! I think we need to call the infirmary."
He chuckled, pulling up some grass and throwing it at her. "I never knew you were the anxious type, except where your -- our son's concerned, of course," he added.
She sighed, her good humor gone. "I really don't want to go back tonight." Reaching forward, she put the glass on the table and then rolled onto her stomach, folded her arms and rested her chin on them, her eyes following her son as the boys ran over to the sandpit. "I'd love to transfer the Seraphim to Blue Cove, just to have Gabriel near me."
"And Sebastian would probably have you shot or something," Jarod told her obligingly. "He was devastated when he first learned about Gideon, but nothing would separate them now."
"Oh, I know it's wishful thinking," she retorted. "And I also know that he's so happy here, it would be cruel to move him back, but I miss him so much."
"When Lucian's out of the way," Jarod suggested, "you could probably run the Centre from here. Make us a permanent partner and move here. Sydney would probably come here, too, to be near you, Angelo and his grandchildren."
"And you," she added quickly, before looking thoughtful. "Do you really think I could run it from here?"
"Sebastian runs all his companies from here, and he's got plenty," Jarod replied immediately. "He spends his morning in meetings, and then his afternoons are free to spend with his son, or that's what happens on most days. I don't see why it should be any different with you. The Centre has an office here in Dallas, and you could move the major hub down here, if you were worried about losing control, being so far away." He grinned. "I know Broots would love the idea. Ramona told me what he said when the three of you came down here, before Gabriel and the others were rescued."
She smiled. "I'm sure he'd be happy, as long as I transferred Kim with him."
"They're really serious about that, huh?"
"Absolutely." She nodded. "And even better, Debbie thinks Kim's great. If they ever take it further, and I'm pretty sure Broots wants to, she'd probably love to have Kim as a step-mom."
"I'm glad." Jarod looked solemn. "Debbie deserves that sort of stability in her life."
"Yes," Morgan agreed, "she does." She sighed and rolled over to look up at him. "I've sometimes wondered, if I'd never got to know Debbie properly, whether I would have bothered going to see Gabriel before I knew he was my son, and not just my brother. Would I have loved him as much as I do?"
Jarod smiled slightly. "I don't think your mother would have let you do anything else."
"But I might not have paid attention to what she was trying to tell me," she argued. "Debbie was the first person who made me realize that I didn't have to be whatever 'Daddy' wanted me to be."
"Thank God she did," Jarod responded fervently, getting to his feet as Gabriel came running over, his clothes caked in wet sand. "Gabriel Charles, look at you!"
"I can't, Daddy!" his son protested. "It's all in de back!"
He turned to expose the streaks of green on the new pale blue shirt that had been purchased for the welcome at the airport and Jarod rolled his eyes.
"I'm sure I never behaved like that." He looked down at the woman lying on the rug. "He must have got it from your side of the family."
She snorted. "Well, why doesn't the former precocious infant take his son off and change him into some harder-wearing clothes and I'll call Broots, just to check that everything's okay and whether I really need to go back there tonight."
Jarod brushed as much of the sand off his son as he could before chasing the boys towards the building. Morgan watched them for a moment, smiling, before taking out her cell phone.
* * * * * * * * *
"What do you mean, Peter's dead?" the voice shrieked down the line, and Broots held the phone away from his ear until the receiver went silent.
"I only know what Christian from Berlin told me," he responded warily. "It seems Lucian shot him last night. And Delius is dead, too."
"Good riddance," Morgan spat. "He's no loss." She hesitated, her voice softening with grief. "But Peter Oh, Broots. I can't believe it."
"I I think you should come back up," Broots offered uncertainly. "Mr. Voorhees and Frederick Hohmann, the head of German security, want to talk to you as soon as possible."
"I'll be there in a few hours," she snapped. "And I want to see that report you're supposed to have for me about tightening our security."
"Y yes, ma'am."
The dial tone sounded in his ear and he dropped the phone back into the cradle before turning to his computer. The file was already open on his monitor, and he typed in the last few words of his report before beginning to print it out. Kim's hands came down on his shoulders and he turned to look up at her.
"Do you want me to pick Debbie up from school for you?"
"Please." He flashed her a tense smile, before suddenly looking thoughtful. "She was supposed to go and have a final fitting for her dress for the dance today. I was going to take you along with us anyhow, because of how much she likes knowing what you think of her clothes."
Kim smiled. "I'll take her. She can show you the dress once it's finished."
"Thanks." He watched her leave the office and then picked up the pages that had been printed, checking that they were all there before putting them into a folder and setting it aside.
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney paused in the doorway of the playroom to see that Angelo was sitting on the floor, two of the Seraphim in his lap, listening eagerly as one of the caregivers read the children a story. The psychiatrist thought it was time to take Angelo back to Blue Cove, wanting to have his son at home with him, where he could take care of him. He couldn't leave Angelo here any longer. He had a duty of care for the son he had let be all but destroyed, only wishing that Catherine had trusted him with the secret of who the boy really was, so that he could have begun earlier. With a rueful sigh, knowing how little his son would want to leave, Sydney was about to enter the room when a hand gently tapped his shoulder and he turned to find the building's owner beside him, to whom Jarod had introduced him not long after he and Angelo had first arrived here.
The older man nodded slightly, returning the Australian's handshake. "Mr. MacKenzie."
"Sebastian," the younger man corrected. "I wondered if I could have a word."
Curious, Sydney accompanied Sebastian to the elevator, watching as the car descended to one of the lower floors, finding himself in a hall lined with offices when the doors opened. He was led to one of the largest, about halfway down, and entered to find several people sitting in one corner. Ramona and three other people sat on the sofa. Three armchairs stood vacant, and Sebastian waved Sydney to one of these, taking another himself. Just as he sat down, Sydney heard soft, familiar footsteps, turning in time to see Jarod enter the room.
"Hope I didn't miss anything," he stated, as he sat down in the last empty armchair.
"We were just about to start," Sebastian informed him. "I hadn't even gotten around to doing the introductions yet." He turned to Sydney. "Dr. Ritter -- "
"Sydney," the psychiatrist amended, and Sebastian nodded slightly in acknowledgement, waving at each of those seated in the circle.
"Sydney, these are Trevor, his wife Elizabeth, Ramona and Cam." He suddenly grinned. "I think you already know my most recently attained board member of Pele Enterprises."
"You could say that," Sydney agreed, smiling, as Jarod chuckled.
"We've got a proposal for you," Sebastian began, dispensing with formalities, and Sydney tensed immediately. "We've seen how happy your son is here, and we wondered if you'd consider letting him stay -- for good."
Sydney's immediate instinct was to refuse. He had felt guilty, ever since learning the truth about Angelo, that he had done nothing to protect the defenseless child, and after discovering that the empath was his son, that guilt had only magnified. This offer, it seemed to him, would be throwing off the responsibility he had only recently adopted of the care of his son, who was so incapable of taking care of himself in the unfamiliar scenarios that the world would present to him.
"You've done a lot for Angelo," the young man Sebastian had introduced as Cam remarked softly, to Sydney's surprise. "I doubt that you need to feel guilty about it."
Wary, Sydney glanced at Jarod, who nodded, as if understanding, but deftly steered the topic to a different area, shooting a quick glance at Elizabeth before returning his gaze to the psychiatrist. "Angelique's happier than I've seen her in some time," he remarked. "And I'm sure that a large part of that is due to Angelo being here."
There was a moment of silence, which Trevor broke.
"It's just possible, Sydney," he began thoughtfully, "that we might be able to do something for your son. I don't say that we can get him to the level Jarod described to us, when you were using the treatment he designed, but we might be able to improve his communication skills, and hopefully also his concentration."
"How?" the psychiatrist returned, opening skeptical. "The neural pathways that were restored by the treatment collapsed again when it wasn't completed."
"You've seen the result of those people who are skilled in the art of healing," Elizabeth reminded him quietly. "As Angelo's current state was caused by tissue damage, there's a likelihood that they might be able to do something about it. Of course, it's been so long that the damaged tissue has already healed itself, which is why it might not be completely successful. All we can do is give it a go."
Sydney considered for a moment. He had certainly seen the results of those healers' skills -- the condition of the man beside him was evidence of their abilities.
"Well, you could try," he offered doubtfully. "I don't suppose it could do any more harm."
Sebastian nodded at Trevor, who made a note on a writing pad that rested on his knee. Then the dark-skinned man's gaze swung around once more to the older man, resting on him thoughtfully.
"Have you ever considered, Sydney," Trevor remarked, "that Angelo's ability as an empath must have had a biological foundation? Nothing that Raines did would have caused it in him."
"What are you implying?" the psychiatrist asked promptly.
"Nothing we've found would lead us to the conclusion that Catherine Parker had any empathic or extra-sensory perceptive abilities," the younger man stated. "Her 'Inner Sense' had nothing to do with the physical senses, as such," Trevor's gaze intensified, "which leaves us with Angelo's father."
Sydney straightened in his seat. "What are you trying to suggest, Mr. McCarty?"
Sebastian instantly raised an eyebrow. "Just out of interest," he stated quietly, "how did you know that was Trevor's last name? Nobody's used it since we entered the room."
"It's written on " Sydney's voice trailed off, his hand in the process of indicating the notepad that lay on Trevor's knee, and the surface of which was not visible from his seat.
Jarod reached over and tore off the sheet of paper, silently handing it to his mentor. On it, Sydney saw the words 'Trevor McCarty' and looked up again wordlessly.
There was a long pause before anyone spoke again.
"We believe it's a phenomenon called 'clairsentience,'" Trevor explained. "It means 'clear feeling' in French, and -- "
"I know what it means," Sydney replied sharply, his feeling of shock shattered by the assumption of ignorance. "I did grow up in France, you know."
Sebastian chuckled as Trevor was momentarily flummoxed, before managing to continue. "It's an extension of one or more of the senses. The clairsentient individual can feel things they wouldn't normally be able to, hearing things from further away than they would be able to do naturally, for example, or seeing things on the other side of closed doors or even just the other side of a room."
"Like when Jarod was coming before," Ramona interposed gently. "You heard it before the rest of us did."
"There's also an apparently stronger connection to the spirit world," Elizabeth put in. "It probably explains why your dreamed conversations with your brother are so much more real than those of others."
Sydney stared at her. "What do you know about my brother?"
She smiled slightly. "Sydney, everyone in this room, and most people in this building, have some sort of gift. You aren't alone."
The psychiatrist was immediately curious. Although his profession refuted the existence of 'gifts' such as these people claimed, he had had too much experience of the paranormal to dismiss it in the automatic way most of his professional colleagues did.
"You know we're not normal."
The sentence suddenly drifted into his mind, one that his brother had uttered decades earlier, and which he had automatically contradicted. They had been discussing unusual phenomenon, he recalled, after a lecture in which ESP and other phenomena had been presented and refuted by a lecturer in their psychiatry course.
"Of course we are," Sydney had insisted. "We've got two arms and two legs, like everyone else, don't we?"
Jacob chuckled, deep in his throat, as he hefted his bag over his shoulder, and then tapped the side of his head. "It's what in here that tells you whether you're normal or not. And I don't think any of the people here," he indicated the groups of people surrounding them, "know the sorts of things that we know."
Sydney blinked, refocusing on the group around him, seeing that Jarod had raised an eyebrow, as if waiting for him to comment, and the older man wondered briefly if he had ever discussed that conversation with his young prodigy. On consideration, he didn't believe that he had.
"We might be able to help you to hone that ability," Sebastian offered, "if you're interested."
Sydney met his gaze steadily, recovering his composure. "I've lived for almost 70 years with this in a basically latent state, Sebastian, if indeed it actually exists. I don't really want to become a highly tuned clairsentient at this stage. I've got enough to deal with, without it."
Sebastian nodded understandingly, nodding again at the other people in the room, who rose and quietly left it. Sydney looked at the page he still held, seeing the firmly inscribed handwriting, his eyes tracing the letters.
When he looked up again, only Jarod remained in the room, watching him, waiting for a reaction, and the older man raised an eyebrow interrogatively.
"How long have you known?"
"Since just after Morgan left." Jarod leaned back in his chair. "Sebastian and Trevor came to talk about it with me. But I've always wondered if there was something different about you."
"You're mocking me now," the psychiatrist replied sharply, and Jarod laughed, shaking his head.
"I wouldn't do that, Sydney. And I did always feel that way. But it wasn't something that I would've been able to pick up anyway. You're obviously receptive, rather than emitting your senses."
"You seem to have become quite an expert."
"I did a little research." He met the older man's gaze, a trace of humor in his dark eyes. "The way you taught me."
Sydney rolled his eyes. "I never taught you to research me!"
Jarod laughed. "I like to know what I'm talking about, as do you."
The psychiatrist stared at the paper in his hands again before slowly looking up. "I'm not going to tell Morgan about this."
The Pretender raised an eyebrow. "Why not? Do you think she won't understand?"
"It's a personal decision," Sydney snapped. "My decision."
"Of course it is," Jarod agreed quietly, standing and heading towards the door. "I just don't believe she'd be as surprised as you think."
* * * * * * * * *
Lucian sat at the window of his hotel room, his newly purchased laptop open in front of him, a file sitting idle. After a moment, the screensaver started, and the screen went black, before words began to scroll across it.
The Centre. Die Fakultät. The Asian Station. The Pretoriat.
Other names followed these, and then Lucian idly watched as the sequence restarted, planning what he would do when he once more had control of his empire. There would be no Triumvirate this time. Everyone would answer to him, and only to him. The basic organizational structures had always been sound -- his father had had a good understanding of organization -- but the old Triumvirate had always believed it had too much power. When he took over, that would change.
Pushing the chair back further, basking in the sunlight that streamed in through the window, he shut his eyes and thought of his most recent glories. Killing Peter Winston had been fun, but more for the knowledge of how it would affect Morgan than anything else. Lucian, aware of their shared history, had not missed the strong feelings the dead man had had for his American counterpart, and, whether the feelings had been reciprocated or not, he had no doubt that the loss of a friend, for a woman who had had so few of those, would be painful. It would also, he hoped, increase her own feelings of concern about her personal security.
But taking care of Delius had been a piece of personal revenge he had anticipated for years. Part of his training had been done in Germany, at the old office in Potsdam, before the new building in Berlin had been completed, and Martin Delius had enjoyed his apparent superiority over both Cox and Lucian himself during those years.
The devastating realization on Delius' face of who 'Valentine' really was had been wonderful, and he had made sure the man's death was as slow as he dared to make it. Certainly, it would have been agony, and he smiled at the thought. In fact, the persona of Valentine had been useful, and had lasted for a long time. He thought back to how it had begun, the smile slowly fading from his face.
Lucian tossed the handful of dirt onto his father's grave, glanced at his mother's dry eyes, and knew. Though the Centre inquest revealed the death was due to natural causes, Lucian sensed that it had been doctored, or at least influenced to read as it did. He nodded to her as she prepared to walk away, still trim and beautiful despite her years. He had her dark hair and eyes, his father's deep voice, and now, an empire to run.
He recalled the last conversation he'd had with his father before he died. Hermann had told him about the Triumvirate's quashing of several of his most necessary projects because of the human cost, refusing to see the Big Picture and how the end result would benefit mankind. They had also been prying into some of the projects housed on the lower floors, and that was someplace they simply had no business.
It was time, then, for a change in management. Lucian had been doing his research and knew which of the other senior executives would follow the company line, and not be squeamish about what had to be done. They were men who had already proven themselves by bringing in valuable subjects like Jarod, Kyle and Damon. They could be counted on to treat the commodities as property and not get sentimental about what was done to them.
That kind of strength was necessary in an organization like The Centre. Lucian had that strength himself, and expected nothing less of those who would work under him. The faint-hearted would be swept away to make room for those with spines made of steel.
He smiled as he watched his mother retreating toward the black limousine. After he finished rearranging the board of directors, he'd have a little personal vengeance to ice the cake. He pulled the stack of sanction orders from the inner pocket of his black suit, checked the names against the faces as they departed the graveside, and began to plan how best to remove them from office.
It would be a pleasure to take care of that himself. And that new doctor he'd seen in the halls, the one with the abject love of road kill, whose hobby was taxidermy, would come in quite handy as well. Lucian meant to keep these trophies as a reminder of his power, in the secret room that was his father's legacy.
But first, he'd have to make the young doctor's acquaintance and feel him out, to see if he'd be interested in such an unusual, yet artistic undertaking. If not, such a junior scientist was surely expendable as well. And as long as he had signed sanctions in his pocket for the Triumvirate, no one would question a lowly sweeper who was just carrying out orders. What he did with the remains was his own business.
He glanced at the headstone standing guard over the open grave and read the epitaph. It was standard schmaltz, not good enough for a man of Hermann Bruce's stature. But the date caught his eye, and he chuckled. The date of his father's death was immortalized in stone, reminding him of the transfer of power. People might not remember that event once Lucian went underground, but he would carry the reminder with him always.
Hermann Bruce, born August 20, 1915, died February 14, 1978.
That would be a splendid new name for his covert identity.
"See ya, Dad," he murmured with a brief salute. "Mom will
be here shortly."
Sydney looked over at where his older son was playing with some of the toys that he kept in the room he had been given upon his arrival at Sanctuary, toys that Angelique had brought up from the playroom for him. Sydney couldn't doubt that the little girl knew who her father was, although she still called him 'Angel' instead of the more usual 'Daddy'.
Morgan, when he had called to tell her what had been suggested, had been enthusiastic that they do everything possible to try and reverse the problems Raines had caused. She, in turn, had told him about Peter Winston, and Sydney had immediately volunteered to come up to Blue Cove, but she had insisted he stay with her twin brother, at least until they knew whether the treatment had had any effect.
The door of the room quietly opened, and three men entered. Trevor and Joseph hesitated in the doorway as Jarod approached the figure on the floor. The empath's blue eyes traveled from his friend's face to that of the healer, before nodding solemnly, as if understanding that what was going to happen would be for his benefit. Using the hand Jarod offered, he rose and moved over to the bed in the corner, scooting back until he was sitting properly on it.
Trevor followed Joseph over to the bed, stopping several paces away to watch the proceedings. Jarod had worried that having too many people in the room might upset Angelo or make things more difficult for Joseph. Sydney was grateful for that decision. He didn't want his son to become a spectacle.
Joseph quietly approached the bed, and the psychiatrist wondered at the expression on his face. It was almost resignation, mixed with a degree of fear, and he wondered how often, as a subject, he had been called upon to act as a healer when experiments had gone wrong at Die Fakultät, thinking at the same time how useful such a skilled individual would have been at the Centre. His gaze rested on his former student, remembering the few times he had been unable to control the results of sims, and Jarod had been injured. On those nights, Sydney had been unable to sleep, consumed with guilt that he hadn't prevented it, or passed the sim on to another pretender.
To distract himself from those thoughts, Sydney fixed his eyes on Angelo, sitting calmly on the bed. Sydney's breath caught silently in his throat as he saw Joseph's hands hover briefly over the empath's head, before coming to rest on either side of it.
"All right," the German stated quietly, his eyes fixed on the blue pair gazing up at him.
Jarod, whose hands rested lightly on Angelo's shoulders, felt something tingle in his fingers and glanced at Joseph, seeing that the healer's eyes were closed, his facial features tense. A moment of silence passed, before Jarod looked down at Angelo and saw that the younger man's gaze was focused keenly on Joseph. He wondered what it felt like for Angelo to have the healer's energy flowing through him, hopefully mending the damaged tissue, restoring neural pathways and making it easier to think and act.
Suddenly, a drop fell onto the empath's skin, and Jarod looked up sharply at the German, seeing that perspiration beaded his face, the color having faded from his cheeks, his breath coming with difficulty and his face twisted as if in pain. Remembering a discussion he had had with Joseph about his abilities, he wondered if the healer was absorbing the pain Angelo had felt when the original procedure had been performed on him, the pain of which had sent Timmy into a catatonic state. If that was the case, it was no wonder Joseph was suffering now.
Angelo reached up to grasp Jarod's hand, his fingers tightening around those of his old friend, and the Pretender looked back at the younger man's face.
"Jarod," he murmured softly, and the older man smiled.
An inarticulate sound made Jarod look up again in time to see Joseph, his eyes closed and face gray, sway on his feet. Trevor leapt forward to catch the healer as he slumped to the floor. Jarod threw himself down onto his knees beside the unconscious man, ignoring the pain this caused, checking for a pulse and meeting Trevor's gaze.
"Alert the infirmary and get a stretcher."
The psychic nodded curtly and bolted from the room, leaving Jarod to try to bring Joseph back to consciousness, as Sydney stepped over to the bedside and looked down at his son. The empath smiled up at the anxious man.
"Angelo!" Sydney breathed in relief, knowing at least that no further damage had been caused by the procedure, if Angelo still knew something as recently attained as that word.
The psychiatrist heard a faint groan from the man on the floor and his gaze flew from his son to the healer, who, his eyes still closed, was beginning to move. Jarod leaned over him in concern.
<"Joseph,"> he urged softly, in the man's native language. <"Wake up. Look at me. Come on.">
Sydney saw the healer's blue eyes slowly open, but they failed to focus on anything in the room. The door opened to reveal three men with a stretcher, who joined Jarod on the floor around the German man. Getting to his feet, Jarod returned to the bedside, taking the hand Angelo offered and looking at Sydney.
"We had a series of tests planned to check Angelo's state after the treatment," he finished, after a moment of thought, to select the right word.
"Were you going to do the tests yourself?"
"I'd intended to," Jarod responded slowly.
"I can do it, Dad," a voice from the doorway interrupted. "You go with Joseph."
The Pretender turned to find his elder son in the doorway, seeing the stretcher being taken along to the elevator behind him.
"All right, Jordan," he agreed immediately. "The papers are on the desk." He nodded towards the workstation in the corner before quickly leaving the room.
The psychiatrist watched him go, before turning his attention to the young man, who moved across to the desk with the same assurance that Jarod often showed. Sydney noticed, however, that Jordan avoided his eye, and sighed at the realization that the young man still seemed to see him as the Centre Operative he had been during their first meeting. Jordan collected the papers from the desk and quickly looked through them, before approaching the bed on which Angelo sat.
* * * * * * * * *
Morgan watched the security footage from Die Fakultät, anger simmering inside her as she saw Lucian slip into the building, presumably using the skills Ms. Hart had taught him to get past the guards.
"We've had motion detectors put on the doors, so he won't be able to do that again," the new head of Die Fakultät, Frederick Hohmann, assured her on the videoconference monitor. "All entrances are now secured in this manner."
"Ours are done in the same way," Jock Voorhees added. "We've also treated the people whom Lucian addicted to Aurora or injected with Supernova."
"So have we," Morgan stated. "The Aurora addicts are still being treated, but we've refined the treatment to make it easier for them." She picked up the report and held it so that the two men with whom she was speaking could see it. "I've sent you both copies of this. It's Broots' plan, and we believe it should take care of a lot of potential problems that could face us in future."
"Could you outline the main points for us now, Miss Ritter?" Frederick requested.
"Certainly." She looked down at the summary Broots had written for her. "First, no sweeper will be on duty alone. Lucian might overpower one person, but he won't be likely to overpower two."
"Very true," Jock agreed.
"Second, personal information will be removed from any computer that has external access. Only those off the network will contain personnel details. In fact, we're considering setting up specific machines for that exact task. It will hopefully eliminate any chance of hacking into that data. But, in case that isn't foolproof, all those who live outside the Centre will be given 24-hour security at their homes. Four sweepers will guard the perimeters of the homes belonging to executives at all times. If anyone else wants guards during the day or at other times, they can request them."
"Do you have enough staff for that?"
"We will, after step three," she stated firmly. "That is, we're going to close down the small offices in the United States. All those with a full-time staff of less than 30 will be permanently shut down and the staff transferred to Blue Cove. That will provide us with sufficient guards. I suggest you do the same."
"Actually, Miss Ritter, we had a better idea for our branch," Frederick offered. "During the next two months, we would like to close down and transfer our operations to the branch at Blue Cove. We had a very good offer for the building."
Morgan considered this for a brief moment. It would certainly be a good way to tighten security in the Centre, and she knew that she could trust this man. Her inner sense had assured her of that, and his name had been on the list she had received from Jarod. She looked at Broots, who was quietly consulting with Daniel Pyne, the two men sitting on the other side of the room. After a brief moment, he looked up and nodded.
"We can do that," he offered. "There are the residence rooms on SL-12, most of which are empty. Storage rooms can be constructed in the old cells."
"Start making the move, Mr. Hohmann," Morgan stated. "But do it slowly. With luck, Lucian might not realize exactly what's going on until you're safely here. But make sure every stage is well-guarded, so that he doesn't attack on the way."
"Of course, Miss Ritter," the German agreed. "I'll get everything organized and send a message to tell you when the first things will arrive."
"Good." She turned her attention to the South African. "Mr. Voorhees, can you tell me your plans for the next week or so?"
"We plan to take over the Asian station in Taiwan within the next week. We've been flying in staff over the past two days. The takeover should be complete within a few days. I'll send you a report once it's over."
"That sounds like the best course of action," Morgan agreed. "How many other stations in your area do you still have to take care of?"
"About a dozen or so," Voorhees responded. "We've secured those closest to us and we're now moving further afield. Some, like the one in New Zealand, are coming to us voluntarily."
"Perfect." Morgan nodded at Broots, who made a note on the pad he held. "Well, we sound like we'll all be busy for the next few days. How about another discussion in three days?"
"That sounds ideal, Miss Ritter," Frederick responded. "Three days, it is."
The screen went blank, and Morgan sat back in her chair, looking at Broots. "Arrange the rooms. We can easily add their projects to our rosters, with the extra staff."
"The new security staff from the offices in California will be arriving in two hours," Daniel offered.
"What about the offices there?"
"They'll keep a skeleton security staff on until Lucian is neutralized. After that, we can sell them and use the money for those projects we were planning."
"Hopefully, that won't take long." Morgan pushed her chair slightly back from the desk. She didn't want to be in the office now. The news that Peter had been killed had been painful, and she had had no time to digest it properly. Although she knew that she wasn't in love with him, it was still a painful thing to have lost a close friend, who had helped her achieve her mother's dream, and her own.
"We know that all those who will be left at the offices are free of any drugs," Broots continued. "Those who were addicted to Aurora and the others will be brought here, for us to keep an eye on them. Former addicts will only ever work with two or more non-addicts and the rosters for the next month are already drawn up. CGB is also going to be delivering a regular supply of those drugs Jarod created to keep cravings under control."
"Very organized," Morgan said crisply. "Good work, Lazslo. Was there anything else?"
"Not unless you had anything more that needed discussion," Broots replied, capping his pen and sliding it into the pocket of his shirt. "Except for one thing. Debbie has a school dance in a week's time, and she wanted to know if you'd come by this evening to see her dress and shoes."
The woman smiled faintly. "Sure. You can tell Debbie I'll be there at around six."
"Thank you, Miss Ritter," he responded warmly, gathering his things and leaving this office with the other man.
Morgan rested her arms on the desk and sank her head onto them. Something heavy seemed to be resting on her chest, and she took in a deep breath with difficulty. When her computer beeped, she moaned softly before activating the program. Jarod appeared on the screen, his expression one of concern.
"Are you all right?"
"You mean apart from the fact that I've just lost a close friend?" she demanded sharply.
"I'm sorry, Morgan," he apologized immediately. "I could come up and see you "
"How's Angelo?" she interrupted, and saw him smile.
"Do you want to talk to him?"
She arched a skeptical eyebrow. "Sure."
He turned in his chair. "Angelo! Come say hi to your sister."
A moment later, the empath appeared on the screen, and waved eagerly. "Hi, Morgan! How're you?"
Morgan felt her eyes widen at the clarity and readiness of his speech. Angelo giggled in obvious delight at her surprise, turning around to laugh at Jarod. The Pretender smiled in return and then placed his hand on Angelo's shoulder.
"Go down and bring Gabriel up from the playroom for me."
Nodding, Angelo sidled out of shot. His movements were more like those of an adult than Morgan had seen since Sydney had given Angelo the drug treatments, four and a half years earlier, but still retained something of their former childishness.
"It's a big improvement," she offered, and Jarod nodded.
"His attention span is better, and he can speak more fluently than he could before. But he's still very childish in what he enjoys, and he loves playing with the children. Especially Angelique."
Morgan felt suddenly sad, remembering what the girl had lost. "How is she?"
"Not bad." He looked thoughtful. "Not as good as she was at her best, when her mother was here, but gradually improving. Angelo being here is helping."
"Good." She nodded, before sighing. "Daddy called just before, to tell me what happened. How's Joseph?"
"Not so good." Jarod looked down briefly, before meeting her gaze again. "Unless we can work out what's wrong with him and treat it, I'm afraid he's probably going to deteriorate further."
"Doesn't he have children? One of the Seraphim's his, isn't it?"
"Two boys and a new daughter, and yes, Raphael's his son," the Pretender agreed gloomily. "And even if he does live, he might never improve on what he is now -- and he's not good."
"You'll help him," Morgan prompted confidently. "I'm sure you can."
"I hope so," Jarod stated, before his tone changed. "But that wasn't the reason I called, although I thought you'd want to see Angelo. Sebastian told me about Peter. Are you okay?"
She sighed heavily. "He was a friend, Jarod."
"I know he was," he replied sympathetically.
"I never had that many friends," she continued confidentially. "But he was a good friend."
"He wanted you to be more than that," the man offered quietly.
"I'm almost glad I didn't. I don't think I could have borne it, Jarod, if I had to go through it again, like I did with Thomas."
The first tear escaped from her eye and she looked down, wiping it away with an unsteady hand.
"Mine?" a hesitant voice suddenly asked, and she looked up to see Gabriel on the screen, looking at her out of anxious eyes.
"Hi, baby," she smiled weakly, swallowing the last of the salty droplets and the lump in her throat.
"Mommy's sad," he protested, his bottom lip protruding and starting to tremble, as he reached forward to press a chubby hand to the screen.
"Yes, Gabriel," she agreed softly, wiping her cheeks. "I am."
"Will you come home soon?" he asked eagerly, and Morgan wondered if she really needed to be in Blue Cove for the weekend.
"Of course she will," Jarod urged and she met his gaze, seeing the determination in his eyes. "I'm sure she can take a few days off without the world collapsing. She's got other people to help her deal with problems that might arise and they can always call her. It's only a few hours by plane, if she needs to go back."
Morgan nodded, realizing that he was right, and knowing also that a couple of days away from the Centre would give her time to get over the worst pain of Peter's murder. She could spend the rest of the week organizing everything, so there would be nothing to stop her from going.
"I'll be there, Gabriel," she told him, seeing his dark eyes light up in delight. "I promise."
* * * * * * * * *
"What do you think, Jordan?"
The young man rocked back on his heels, the carpet around him littered with scans, and studied each one for a few seconds before looking at his father.
"I don't know, Dad," he confessed. Looking up, he saw similar mystification in his father's eyes. "Have you got any ideas?"
"No, not really." Jarod gazed thoughtfully at the images, before picking up one and putting it onto a screen that had been wheeled into the apartment's living room. Studying it, the light illuminating the black and white image, he pointed at a tiny white dot, and then turned. "Would you agree that that's a blood clot?"
"But it's tiny!" Jordan protested. "There's no way it could cause so many problems on its own. Anyhow, it's not in the right place to cause lack of sensation. I mean, Joseph didn't even seem to feel anything anywhere on his left side when you tested him." He slid another scan into the screen. "For that to happen," he circled a place with his index finger, "it'd have to be in this area."
"But it would explain his collapse," Jarod replied, before suddenly grabbing a book that lay on the sofa and flipping it open to reveal a normal scan. Holding it up, he turned to his son. "What's the difference between this one and that?"
Jordan stepped closer and looked at the images, finally seeing what his father had presumably already noticed. "It it's smaller," he began slowly. "The whole section of the brain is smaller than the photo." He tapped the book. "Is that normal?"
"According to what the caption says, yes," Jarod replied. "Which means "
"The brain is shrinking, or," Jordan corrected, taking a closer look at the book, "maybe it's worse than that. I mean, if it was just shrinking, it'd still have the same shape, wouldn't it? It looks to me like parts of the brain tissue are actually missing, like maybe it's breaking down."
"That's a good point, son," Jarod agreed, taking a closer look, and flipping through the pages until he found one of another lobe, comparing that with the relevant scan. "But this looks normal. So it might be localized to one area of the brain."
Jordan thought for a moment, considering the possible causes and dwelling on solutions, when a horrifying thought struck him and he looked at the man beside him.
"Dad, do do you think this will only be affecting Joseph?"
He could see his father considering this, before suddenly realizing what he meant, his dark eyes widening. "You mean all of us could have the same problem?"
"Well, it's possible, isn't it?" Jordan argued. "I mean, we don't know what causes it, we didn't have any real idea of what would happen -- the only sign was the pain that Joseph said he felt when he used his skill, kind of like what happened with Faith."
"And both of them were forced to use their abilities on numerous occasions," Jarod mused softly, his eyes on the scans in front of him, but Jordan saw them mist slightly, until the man blinked. "So if other people weren't pushed that hard, or for as long, nobody might know "
"'Till they collapsed," Jordan finished for him. "And as we don't know what causes it, or how to treat it, we won't be able to do anything to help them -- or ourselves."
He saw his father swallow hard at that realization, fear lying cold in the pit of his own stomach, wondering if his brain was slowly falling apart inside his skull.
"If only we had an autopsy from Allegra," Jarod mused ruefully, "we'd know if she had the same problem, like I suspect she did."
"Wouldn't there be DSAs of her on record?" Jordan moved over to the computer in the corner and logged into the Centre's records, bringing up the dead electrokinetic's file, before realizing that his father was leaning over his shoulder.
"Just check her last few weeks," Jarod suggested. "If she wasn't up to standard, Lyle would never have had her transferred from Bear Island."
Nodding, Jordan opened the reports that had been written and enlarged the screen so that it was easier to read. "Reduction in power," he read aloud, scanning the information quickly, "some loss of co-ordination, lack of focus, periods of inattentiveness, short-circuiting locks and elevators, blowing the light in her room "
"So she lost control," Jarod concluded. "And it presumably wasn't conscious. She was on Aurora and wouldn't have wanted to disobey, in case they stopped giving it to her."
Jordan looked sharply over his shoulder, but he was relieved to see that his father wasn't visibly affected, instead obviously thinking about the woman who had received the drug, and the young man could also feel that Jarod's desire wasn't making itself felt, as it had in the past, at the mere mention of Aurora. The older man moved back to the workstation and flipped open a book about the different lobes of the brain and what they did.
"The parietal lobe," he murmured, "deals with perception of stimuli relating to touch, temperature, pressure and pain." He looked at his son. "That's probably the area most likely to be affected, in both Allegra and Joseph." Jarod moved over to look at the scans again. "The others all look fine, except for the parietal lobe."
He scratched his chin, wandering away from the screen towards the middle of the room. When he remained silent, Jordan spoke up.
"So how do we treat it?"
"I have no idea," Jarod confessed, clasping his hands behind his back as he turned to look at the young man. "And I don't think, from just Joseph's data, that we're going to be able to come up with anything."
"You mean we'll need to get more information, from other people?"
"Exactly." Jarod gathered the scans and slid them into the large envelope in which they had been delivered to his room, before glancing at his watch. "I've got a board meeting to discuss this now." He rested his hand on Jordan's shoulder. "Keep thinking, son, and I'll come back to tell you what they say."
"Sure." Jordan turned back to the computer, but his father's words kept circling in his mind. Keep thinking. If this was affecting him, too, he wondered, with a shudder, just how long he would be able to do that.
* * * * * * * * *
A low murmur of voices and gasps followed Jarod's announcement. The people sitting along the table turned to one another, fear obvious in their eyes, but he stepped forward and rapped on the wooden tabletop to get their attention.
"It's only a possibility at this stage," he assured them, as their voices died away into silence. "But I do want to test everyone here, to find out exactly who is affected, and how badly." Jarod turned to Sebastian. "Can we order some more MRI machines so that we can get through it faster?"
Sebastian nodded slowly. Jarod could see the panic and shock in his eyes, but he managed to control himself.
"Have them put into the spare room on the same floor as the infirmary, with the other one," the Australian directed, and Ramona made a note on the paper in front of her. "Check whether we need to change our existing procedures -- lead insulation, cell phone use, that kind of thing."
"Who's going to go through the results?" Trevor demanded. "Will we be bringing in trained staff to check them?"
"I was planning to do it myself," Jarod offered. "And I'm sure Jordan would be willing, too."
"Good." Sebastian nodded definitively. "As soon as the machines are set up, we'll arrange times for everybody to be scanned. We'll get messages out to people and let them know when they will be needed for their test. Once we have the results, we'll know where to go from there. Thank you, everyone."
The group around the table rose and Jarod took Joseph's scans down from the screen on which they had been displayed, switching it off before turning to find that Sebastian had remained in the boardroom.
"How serious is it, Jarod?" the Australian asked immediately.
The Pretender hesitated, trying to work out a way to soften the blow but still be honest. Sebastian turned on him, one hand resting on the boardroom table.
"I want the truth," he growled. "Tell me. It's bad, isn't it?"
"It could be," the older man offered somewhat hesitantly, as they left the room, heading down the hall. "If we can come up with a treatment, or if Joseph is the only person affected, then it won't be that bad. But otherwise "
Trailing off, he watched his boss's reaction out of the corner of his eye, seeing his shoulders sag slightly as he realized the possible impact of such news on his organization as well as the lives of his friends. In the Australian's office, Jarod took the seat on the other side of the desk as Sebastian sat down in his own chair.
"What else, Jarod?" Sebastian asked.
The Pretender inhaled deeply, sitting up straighter. "I'd like to request Yuri be transferred here from the Centre."
The pyrokenetic stared at him. "Why?"
"We need all the help we can get," Jarod returned quickly. "If Yuri's helping, we can get through the tests even faster, and he'll probably have suggestions for treatment."
Sebastian looked thoughtful. "How much can we trust him, though?"
Jarod arched an eyebrow. "You trust me, don't you?"
"Of course," came the prompt reply.
"Well, I trust him, on this point, at least. He's already been working on treatment for his daughter, and it will give us a good starting point. Without that, we'd be a lot further behind." Jarod leaned forward in his chair. "You could put him into his own room on one of the higher levels, if you want, and put a camera in there, to keep an eye on him. Maybe even set up a special security team, or have one sent here from Delaware."
Sebastian nodded. "All right," he finally conceded. "I'll talk to Ramona about setting something up for him."
"Thanks." Jarod flashed him a grin. "I'll call Morgan and discuss it with her. I already mentioned it to Sydney, and he's quite happy about it, even if he decides to go back to Blue Cove and leave Yuri here."
The Australian raised an eyebrow. "You knew I'd say yes?"
Jarod grinned. "I had a pretty good idea you would, but, as you're my boss, I had to get your okay before making any other plans."
"I'm glad you realize it," Sebastian retorted in mock-sternness, even as he picked up the phone to call Ramona and Jarod headed for the door.
* * * * * * * * *
Yuri paced the length of his room, stopping before he climbed the few steps leading to the door, to stare blankly at them, not seeing anything in front of him, only a small girl with brown hair and big brown eyes.
He would be in the same building as Michaela.
Moving over to his computer, he activated the camera link to Sanctuary's playroom, finding her among the other little bodies. Many adults were among the children, and he guessed that the news Jarod had given them meant that they were too distracted to work. Michaela sat alone for the moment. Sebastian was playing with Gideon, both of them wet, as was the corner in which they were playing. As Yuri watched, Dominique and Uriel ran over to join in, both squealing as they were squirted with water-filled guns.
He saw Jarod go over to the corner where the little girl was sitting and take a seat next to her on the floor, a book in his hand, one that the child read frequently. Yuri watched his daughter climb into the man's lap, snuggling against his chest as the Pretender opened the book. Gabriel ran up to sit with his father as the man began to read. Yuri sharply drew in his breath as Jarod glanced at the camera through which Yuri was watching the scene, instinctively pulling away from his computer as if the older man was actually able to see him. Obviously noticing the red light that indicated the camera was active, Jarod shot a somewhat sad smile at it before continuing to read.
A lump formed in Yuri's throat as he minimized the program, leaving a small window open so that he could continue to watch her, and opened the file Jarod had sent. He had already read through the information and knew what the problem was. He had begun to suspect that something similar had happened to his daughter's mother, resulting in her eventual death.
But he still hadn't made a decision about going to Dallas. Miss Ritter had made it obvious that this was his choice. No one could force him to go, if he didn't want to. That was how this new regime worked, and he appreciated the differences every day, most of all when Emily paid her daily visit. Her forgiveness had made incarceration easier to bear, but Yuri knew that he still deserved this.
Had he really earned the opportunity to go down to Dallas, to have further freedoms, and maybe even to see his daughter? He wouldn't be able to speak to her, of course, but even just to have the possible chance of seeing her -- did he really deserve it?
That he would work on the project was a given. He had already spent countless hours, before and after his abduction by Valentine, trying to solve the problem of what exactly had caused Allegra's death, but with no autopsy and few final details, it was difficult. He had found it hard to believe that her gradual deterioration would have so rapidly accelerated, and wondered if there had been some other influence involved. When he had presented that theory in a report Miss Ritter had asked for, she had agreed that it was possible. That sort of positive reinforcement was another of the many benefits that made this place so much better than it had been before.
Yuri wanted to discuss his uncertainty with Sydney, but Miss Ritter had said the older man was in Dallas, visiting Jarod and his grandchildren. The Pretender knew he didn't have long to make his decision. Jarod wanted him to come up to Dallas within the next 24 hours, if he came at all. The email he had sent gave the younger man the choice, but expressed Jarod's desire to have Yuri's active input and presence.
Suddenly the screen in front of Yuri flickered into life, the screensaver having activated during his contemplation, and the mechanical voice informed him that a video call was coming in. His brow furrowing, he entered the password Miss Ritter had provided. His expression sank into a relieved smile as he saw Sydney's familiar features on the screen. The Belgian gave a welcoming smile in return.
"Hello, Yuri. Morgan said that you were hoping to talk to me."
"Yes," the younger man agreed eagerly. "I wanted your advice "
* * * * * * * * *
Michelle carried in the basket of washing and began sorting it on the bench, folding the garments into three piles for herself, Sydney and her son. Her mind drifted to the new dress that hung in her wardrobe, and which Sydney had bought for her to wear at their wedding. With a sigh, she looked down at her ringless hands.
She had been putting off the wedding, refusing to set a definite date, wanting to tell him the truth about who she was first, but unable to bring herself to do it. He realized that she needed space, going down to Dallas with his daughter. He had invited her along, but she had declined. Nicholas had returned to his students, and so she was alone for the time being.
She knew it would be difficult, admitting that so much of what he knew about her was untrue. Her son, also, had to be told the truth. That would be even harder. She had covered up so much of his past, and wondered if this last part might be enough to tear him away from her forever.
Swallowing a painful lump in her throat, she wished that she had braved the threat, remained at the Centre and risked her brother's wrath. He wouldn't have killed her, she was sure. Then all the complications wouldn't have existed. But, as she carried washing into the room she and Sydney shared, she caught sight of his photo on the mantel and knew she couldn't have done anything other than what she did. Sydney's life had been at stake, and she couldn't have been so selfish as to put that at risk for her own interests. She only hoped, as she put away the washing, that her son and Sydney would both understand that.
* * * * * * * * *
The car pulled up in front of the large gray building, the bright flame logo emphasized by the dull color of the sky, and Jarod saw Morgan get out of the front seat, Yuri and two sweepers climbing out of the back. He sighed sadly when he saw the handcuffs around Yuri's wrists and the group of guards that went down to replace those from the Centre, even as he descended the stairs with his boss, knowing that Sebastian wasn't taking any chances.
Morgan ordered the sweepers back to the jet that had flown them down, and which would then fly back to Blue Cove, in case it was required. She moved to Jarod's side as Sebastian escorted Yuri into the building, and he slid his arm around her shoulders as they went up the steps, feeling her arm pass around his back, her head resting lightly on his shoulder.
"Where's my baby?"
"Waiting for you in your room," Jarod replied with a smile. "He's got a slight sniffle, so I didn't think he should be out here to meet you."
Morgan's expression was immediately anxious and she hurried into the building, Jarod following behind. The elevator carried them up to the residence level and she moved rapidly down the hall to the room she had been given, opening the door to find Jordan sitting on the floor with Gabriel on his lap, wrapped warmly in a blanket. The baby struggled to his feet and ran over to the door, hugging her around the neck as soon as she picked him up.
"Bine!" he beamed, his lips slightly parted so that he could breathe through an obviously blocked nose. His kisses were drier and his breath hotter than usual, and she turned to Jarod in concern.
"It's just a cold?"
"Just a cold," he assured her, as Jordan moved over to the doorway. "But I'd let him sleep in his own room tonight, if I were you, or he'll keep you awake for most of it." Jarod rolled his eyes. "He slept in my room last night and did a wonderful imitation of a steam-engine for most of it. I kept dreaming I was driving a train in the 19th century."
She smiled, picking up the blanket and wrapping it around her son, as Jordan left the room.
"And you can see if you're any more successful at making him take his medicine than I was," the man continued. "I never realized how awful cherry flavor was." He grimaced. "It tastes all right in PEZ. I don't know what they do to it."
He watched her sit down on the overstuffed armchair in the corner and take Gabriel on her lap, the blanket wrapped around him and her chin resting lightly on his head. He clutched fistfuls of her hair in his hands as it hung down around her face, and Jarod could already see his brown eyes drifting closed as Morgan began to read one of the books that had been lying on the table beside the chair. Smiling, he pulled the door almost closed behind him, going back along the hall to the elevator and riding it up to the topmost level of the actual building, below the sunroof, and on which one of the former storerooms had been converted into Yuri's new home. The apartment door stood open, and he headed in that direction.
" no guards outside your room," he heard Sebastian explaining, "but you'll be watched on the security cameras and you aren't to just wander around the building. If you want to go somewhere, call someone."
"Yes, sir," came Yuri's muted response. "Thank you."
Jarod stepped into the doorway and saw Sydney, Yuri and Sebastian on the far side of the room. The Australian waved him over as he continued.
"I understand you already know why you've been brought here."
Yuri nodded mutely, dropping his gaze briefly to the floor, blinking several times, before he looked up again.
"The other three MRI machines should be delivered within 24 hours," Sebastian stated, turning to Jarod as he spoke. "Apparently they ought to be ready for use the next day."
"Ramona and Trevor are drawing up rosters for people to come for their scans," Jarod replied. "I'd expect each to take about half an hour, tops."
Sebastian sighed deeply. "It's going to take some time, then."
"Hopefully, only a week or so, to get all the scans done," his employee told him. "And then we can work on a treatment."
"The sooner the better," the Australian growled softly, turning away and leaving the room.
"I'll leave you to get settled in," Jarod told Yuri, guessing that Sydney wanted some time to talk to the younger man. "Someone will bring you dinner in a few hours."
Jarod left the room, knowing that Yuri was torn about his feelings of being here. The thought of his proximity to his daughter was both joyful and agonizing to him, and Sebastian had quickly put the security team in place to watch him, anxious that he would sneak down to the playroom when he wasn't working, despite Jarod's assurance that he would have very little if any free time during the hours that the Seraphim would be awake. The deciding factor in Yuri allowing himself to be moved down here had been Jarod's belief that they would have a better chance of coming up with a cure for the problem if they were working together, and that face-to-face consultation would be quicker and easier than using even a computer interface.
Sighing, Jarod got out of the elevator on the residence floor and headed for his room and the book that lay on the sofa, which he would need to have read before the other MRI machines arrived, in order to know what he was doing when he had to run the tests.
* * * * * * * * *
The door swung open easily and the team swarmed inside, their weapons at the ready. More than one gagged at the sickly sweet stench of rotting corpses, including that of the body of the woman sitting at the reception desk. The men reached for the masks with which they had been provided in case of a gas attack, quickly pulling them on to block out the smell of decaying flesh. Stepping back out into the fresh air, the head of security at the Pretoriat, William Stevens, got out his cell phone, bringing up his boss's number and connecting the call, seeing many of his team come out to join him.
This job had been given to Stevens and his team after contact had been lost with the office and fears had arisen that they had joined Lucian. Now, of course, it would probably be impossible to tell whether that had actually occurred, but the South African suspected that Lucian was involved in this apparent mass-murder.
"We've got a probable list of subjects," Voorhees mused, after hearing what his head of security had to say, "so try to go through and get a head-count. Provide your team with whatever they need to get the job done. Get photos in case there are any recognizable characteristics. If they've all been taken care of, we'll send in a cleaner team to get rid of the remains."
"Yes, sir," William agreed. "And if we can recognize any of them, should we make up a list?"
"If possible, yes," Jock agreed tentatively. "It'd be useful to know whether Lucian has any of them with him. Just do what you can today. The clean-up team can put final figures together."
Disconnecting the call, Stevens turned to his team, all of whom had now escaped the dark, dank interior for the bright sunlight, and repeated the orders, sending several of the men back for their masks, so that the count could begin.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod was waiting in the lobby when Emily ventured into the building's interior, greeting her with a kiss and taking her bag.
"Michaela asked to see you first thing," he told her. "And we haven't told Yuri you were coming, in case you were held up for any reason."
She smiled. "You didn't have to tell Kayla?"
"No, we didn't," he agreed with a grin, as they got into the elevator. "I've got a room set up for you near mine and Mom and Dad's. Since we don't know how long you're going to stay, I thought it was better to give you somewhere at least semi-permanent."
"I thought Mom and Dad might have been down to see me, too."
"Another surprise," Jarod stated with a childishly gleeful grin. "They went out to do some shopping together. I thought we could just spring you on them later."
Emily laughed. "You are such a baby, Jarod!"
"Hey, I'm ten years older than you," he protested indignantly, as the elevator doors opened onto the nursery level and he put the bags to one side before going towards the doors with her. "Show some respect to your big brother."
She didn't have a chance to utter any of the remarks on the tip of her tongue in response to this as a brown-haired bundle of energy threw herself delightedly at Emily's legs.
"Em'ly!" Michaela shrieked. "Em'ly! Em'ly! Em'ly! Oh, Em'ly!"
"Okay, sweetie," she laughed, bending down to be on eye level with the girl. "It's good to see you, too."
The girl threw her arms around the woman's neck and hugged her tightly, kissing her warmly. "I missed you!"
"I've missed you, too," Emily told her, smiling. "But you'll get to see me every day from now on. Is that nice?"
"Yup!" The girl beamed as Emily carried her over to the pile of beanbags in the corner. "An' will you play hide 'n' seek wif me?"
"Of course I will," the woman promised, seeing Jarod go over to join in a game with his son and nodding a smiling greeting to Ethan. "If you want, I'll even tuck you into bed tonight and read you a story. Would you like that?"
"Ooooh, yes!" the girl squealed in delight, bouncing on her knee as they curled up together on the beanbags. "Goody, goody, goody!"
Emily read the girl's favorite book and helped color in a picture, before deciding that she couldn't wait any longer.
"I'm going to go see someone," she explained, seeing the girl's face fall slightly, "but I promise I'll be back soon. Before bedtime."
Michaela looked at her steadily for a second before nodding. "Okay. An' will you give me my baff and put on my PJs?"
"If you want me to," Emily agreed, smiling and thinking that this was almost like having a daughter of her own, without having had to go through all the labor and pregnancy.
Leaving the playroom, she followed the directions her brother had given, riding the elevator up to the top story and seeing the name on the temporary plate attached to the door. Yuri Singer. For a moment, she stared at it, taking a deep breath, before knocking.
She pushed open the door, seeing that Yuri was already standing, having clearly risen from his workstation, and she enjoyed the look of surprise on his face, melting quickly into pleasure, as he saw her, moving over to hug her. Their relationship had managed to regain some of its former affectionate behaviour. Only the most personal acts were unable to be performed, the camera always remaining in the backs of their minds, particularly to Emily, who, not having grown up with them, was more aware of their presence.
"I wondered if you'd find out that I'd been transferred up here," Yuri greeted her, guiding her over to the sofa in the middle of the room and sitting beside her, his arm around her shoulders.
"Jarod called me," she admitted. "Actually, right after you decided to come, but I thought I'd give you a little time to settle in first."
He reached forward to lightly kiss her forehead. "I've missed you."
"Me, too." She smiled. "There was this great opening on the staff at the Dallas Times Herald "
Yuri grinned at her teasing, kissing her fingers as she continued. "Did you really think I'd stay up there when you and all my family are down here?"
"Are you staying?"
His eyes were full of eagerness, and brightened further as she nodded. "For as long as you stay here," she promised, brushing the backs of her fingers down his cheek and then lightly touching her lips to his.
* * * * * * * * *
Morgan looked down at Gabriel, who lay in a nest of blankets in a corner of the room close to the radiator, Toto curled up beside him, one of the baby's arms wrapped around his pet. His face was flushed, but he was getting over his cold, now that she was forcing him to take his medicine, a thing Gabriel had managed to avoid with his father. There had been several scenes, but Morgan had been firm, and Gabriel had eventually yielded. A fit of sulking usually followed each dose, but they never lasted long.
She knelt beside her son, gently stroking his hair and bending down to kiss his cheek. She had been right to come here. The constant demands Gabriel placed on her attention, the time she was spending with her father, and Jarod's comforting but unobtrusive presence was helping her to recover from the pain of her loss. She occasionally thought of Peter, but only during her rare unoccupied moments, and they were very few indeed.
During those moments, her thoughts dwelt on their time together. He had been the man who had taken her virginity, a prize she knew he valued, and that was one more reason for his memory to stay fresh and tender within her. His humor had made her laugh, both on their date in America, now many months earlier, and on her more recent trip to Paris. She had been almost surprised at her reluctance to go then, but she had had to keep her promise. However, throughout those days, her thoughts had remained on those back in America, mostly on her son, on Merritt and on Jarod, who was still bedridden within the Centre. It had been surprising to her at the time, but showed where her true feelings lay. With that realization, she had come around to the idea that her future lay not with that old school friend, but with her family, and perhaps an even older friend than Peter.
She looked up to find Merritt in the doorway and stood up to hug her, walking her over to the sofa and sitting beside her.
"I haven't seen much of you this weekend," Morgan apologized. "But Jarod did say you wanted to see me, when we were talking during the week."
"Yeah, I I do," the young woman agreed, and Morgan saw her twisting the ring on her left hand. It took her mother a moment to notice which finger it was on, and she stared for a moment before gently drawing Merritt's left hand onto her lap.
"Is it about this?" she asked softly, tapping the sparkling diamond, and seeing her daughter's face flush red.
"Not not really," Merritt protested. "But it's kind of about the future, too, like that."
Morgan looked down at the thin band. "Is this from Jordan?"
The young woman nodded, her cheeks burning, before looking up to see the smile on Morgan's face, as the woman bent down to kiss her cheek.
"Congratulations, baby," Morgan murmured, hugging her, before drawing back to meet her gaze. "But you aren't going to hurry into it, are you?"
"Oh, no!" Merritt protested immediately, and Morgan hushed her, so she wouldn't wake Gabriel.
"You've got plenty of time," her mother reminded her. "Don't rush it."
"I won't," the girl vowed. "But I wanted to talk to you about something else. Jordan said he'd talk to you about this later." She drew her hand back and began twisting the ring again. "Momma, I got an idea about what I want to do for a job when I was in Australia."
Morgan slid her arm around her daughter's shoulders. "Tell me, baby."
"I want to be a vet," Merritt stated. "But 'specially a horse vet. I loved working with horses and I'd really like to keep doing it."
"That sounds like a great idea," Morgan responded warmly, unsurprised by the suggestion. "And I think you'd be very good at it. When you've finished your studies here, we'll see about getting you a place at university, to study veterinary medicine, and you could specialize from there."
Merritt hugged her. "I'm glad you like it," she said. "I was worried you'd think it was kind of silly."
"I'd love to see you in that kind of field," Morgan explained. "Actually, I'd love to see you working anywhere except the Centre."
Merritt pulled a face. "Don't take this the wrong way, Momma," she began, "but I'd never want to work there."
"Not even if we opened a stable?" Morgan teased. "We've got lots of room."
The young woman looked thoughtful. "Well, maybe in very extenuating circumstances "
Morgan chuckled. "Can you imagine me riding a horse?"
"About as easily as I'd imagine you riding an elephant," Merritt retorted, and Morgan thought she saw a knowing gleam in her daughter's blue eyes. "How is Peanuts Parker anyhow?"
"Bine has a effalunt?" a sleepy voice asked from the corner, and Morgan looked around in time to see her son crawling out of the nest, dragging his blanket with him. When he was close enough, she lifted him up onto her lap, tucking the blanket around his feet and rocking him gently, hoping he would fall asleep again, as she began to talk with her daughter about the work Merritt had been doing in school.
Jarod picked up the book that he had taken from the university library in Dallas about the correct way of reading the MRI scan results. He had borrowed several copies of it, and Jordan and Yuri already had two others. The machines were being unpacked and set up in the room beside the infirmary, in which Joseph lay, still only semi-conscious. Tests Jarod had done showed that the healer had apparently lost all feeling in the left side of his body, but had managed to move his right hand to touch Julia, whose voice he seemed to recognize when she came to see him.
The Pretender looked up to smile at the blond young man who stood nervously in the doorway and wave him into the room. Alexander entered hesitantly and approached the sofa.
"Can I do something for you, Alexander?"
"Well, I I saw all the things being delivered, down at the back entrance, all the boxes."
"Oh, yes," Jarod agreed, smiling. "The MRI machines."
"I was wondering if I could help -- a bit," Alexander asked quietly. His eyes strayed down to the book in Jarod's hand. "I always liked -- technology."
"How much have you used?" Jarod prompted.
"Not much, really," the young man admitted, somewhat reluctantly. "I mean, I never used it, but I saw a lot in the labs where I was working and stuff. And when I was in the infirmary, after I broke my arm, there was lots there."
Jarod picked up the book that lay on the other cushion of the sofa and held it out, smiling. "I'd be really glad if you would, Alexander. We've got a lot to do."
Alexander sat down on the very edge of the armchair cushion after accepting the book, his expression expectant. "Like what?"
After sighing deeply and dropping the book he held onto the sofa, Jarod explained the situation as much as he could, seeing a flash of fear appear in Alexander's eyes. It was obvious, however, that he was suppressing his anxiety in order to do whatever he could, wanting to be helpful.
Jarod glanced over his shoulder to find Jordan in the doorway that divided their apartments and waved him into the room, seeing the young man opposite tense slightly.
"Son, this is Alexander. He was brought here after you left for Australia. Alexander, this is my son, Jordan."
Jordan offered his right hand, and Jarod was pleased to see Alexander shake it, albeit nervously, without sending a confirmatory glance in the older man's direction. Jordan took a seat on the sofa beside his father, the index finger of his left hand in a similar place in the book to that at which his father was.
"So what happens now, Dad?"
Jarod smiled. "Within an hour, the machines should be ready for use downstairs, so we'll go and have a look, to make sure we know what we're doing before we start. Ramona and Trevor are making up rosters for all the residents, including us."
"How long d'you think it'll take to get through everyone?" Jordan asked curiously.
"It's hard to tell," the older man mused. "It'll depend on how long each test takes. Hopefully only a week or so." Jarod took a sheet of paper out of his pocket and spread it out on the coffee table, seeing the two young men lean over it. "We've got five 'rooms' made up from the large area next to the infirmary. The walls have been lined with lead."
"Five?" Alexander looked up. "Don't we only have four machines?"
"Yes, that's true," Jarod agreed. "But we need a room so that we can watch and record the test results." He attempted a weak grin. "We could be spending several days at a stretch in there, so we'd better like it."
"Jarod, Jordan and Alexander to the infirmary," the loudspeaker attached to the ceiling in the corner of the room announced, and the man rose to his feet.
"That sounds like us," he smiled. "Let's go take a look."
The elevator carried the trio down to the infirmary, and Jarod led the way along to the rooms that had been set aside for the machinery, entering what had formerly been a large, empty space and was now divided into five small rooms. One of the Sanctuary guards had been waiting in the hall and entered with them. Jarod turned to him.
"Will you bring Yuri down here, please?"
Nodding, the guard left the room, and Jarod went into the central space, seeing that it contained four windows, one looking out at each of the MRI machines. A large desk ran the entire length of the walls, except for the single door entrance, and the machines that would display and record the test results already stood waiting on the bench, along with four laptops that, Jarod hoped, had been networked so that information only needed to be entered once.
"Wow," Jordan mused. "They got this done really fast."
"It's necessary," Jarod returned grimly, comparing the machinery in front of him with that he had memorized from the book he had read.
At the sound of footsteps behind him, he turned to see Yuri, the guard walking behind him, step into the room. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the conflict of emotions in Jordan's eyes and guessed what his son was feeling. This was the man who had helped come up with treatments for Jacob, and for that Jordan owed him a lot. It was difficult to see him so closely guarded, and sometimes cuffed. Jarod was distracted as the guard gave him a sheet of paper, which he read and then took over to the wall, attaching it with a strip of Sellotape.
"We're starting the first scan at 8am tomorrow," he told the others in the room, running his eyes down the list of names and times. "And we're going to be busy."
"I'll say," Jordan agreed, moving up beside him and eyeing the list, before winking at his father. "Early night tonight, then."
"Absolutely," Jarod agreed, knowing that he was being teased as he ruffled his son's hair. He turned to Yuri. "I left a book in your room about all this. Did you get it?"
Nodding, Yuri showed that he was carrying it in the pocket of his black pants, and Jarod waved at the four consoles.
"Let's experiment for a little, so we know what we're doing."
Jarod watched as the others sat down in three of the four chairs, keeping an eye on Alexander as he took the fourth chair, but the youngest Pretender's expression revealed both his enthusiasm at this new experience and his determination to learn how to use it. Smiling, Jarod turned to his own machine and matched what he had read to the equipment in front of him, as the other Pretenders were doing.
After almost half an hour, when they were all confident that they could use the equipment easily and correctly, Yuri was escorted back to his room and Jarod turned to his son as an idea struck him.
"You know, Jordan," he suggested, "Alexander would probably love to see your greenhouse. Why don't you take him down?"
"Sure." Jordan turned to his new acquaintance. "Let me show you, Alexander. I think you'll like it. And you can help me with it, if you want."
Alexander smiled faintly. "That sounds really nice," he admitted, moving towards the door. "I like plants."
Jarod smiled at his son and watched the two young men leave the room before turning off the four screens and the laptops on which results could be recorded. As he was pushing in the last of the chairs, he heard the sound of quiet footsteps behind him, turning to find Julia, her baby girl in her arms, standing in the doorway. He went over and eased the warm bundle out of her grasp, guiding her over to a seat and taking one opposite, seeing the lack of color in her face and the concern in her eyes as she nervously chewed her bottom lip, her anxiety about Joseph obvious in her eyes.
<"He'll be okay,"> he promised softly. <"We're doing the best we can.">
Julia sent a weak smile in his direction. "You needn't lie to me, Jarod," she replied quietly, in his native language. "I know you're struggling. I used to be a pretender, too, remember?"
He sent her a curious glance, hoping to distract her. "How did they find out that you were able to do what you did in Berlin?"
She sighed, drawing the light jacket she wore more closely around her and running a hand through her hair.
"I made the mistake of naming the Herr Direktor before I had been introduced to him," she stated ruefully.
"Was that why you worked for him?"
"They thought that, if I knew that much about him, I'd know enough to be able to know what he was planning. I was supposed to be his secretary, but they were scared I'd see other documents I shouldn't have, like the memos about my son and daughter."
Jarod raised an eyebrow. "But wouldn't you know what they said without seeing them?"
She smiled. "I think they forgot about that."
He chuckled. "And I thought Germans were supposed to be logical thinkers." Jarod glanced at the technical equipment in the room before meeting her gaze again. "I was wondering whether you might want to give us a hand." Jarod reached into his pocket and pulled out the book, offering it to her. "Interested?"
Julia shook her head. "You have three competent pretenders to help you, Jarod. You don't need a woman pretending to be a pretender. And anyway," she sighed, "I really don't think I have the energy right now "
Jarod nodded, repocketing the book. "I understand." He stood, offering his free hand. "Shall we go see Joseph?"
When she nodded, he rose and gently but firmly prevented her from taking the baby, sliding his free arm around her shoulders as they left the room, heading for that in which the healer lay.
As they entered, the nurse sitting in the corner stood up, and, at a nod from Jarod, left the room. The psychic approached the bed, slipping into the chair beside it, and picked up the man's hand.
<"Joseph,"> she murmured quietly, in German. <"Can you hear me?">
There was a tiny movement in response from the man on the bed, a thing that had not happened since his collapse, and Jarod found himself holding his breath, his arms tightening slightly around the baby in his arms, as Julia leaned forward, tightening her grasp on the man's hand.
<"Liebst',"> she urged. <"It's Julia. Please, darling, look at me.">
A soft sigh broke the silence following Julia's plea, and Jarod looked at the child he held, but baby Mary was still fast asleep. Jarod looked up at the patient in time to see Joseph's eyelid flicker, before his right eye opened slightly. The left side of his face was still motionless, as was the whole left side of his body, but Jarod could see the fingers of Joseph's right hand move as they tightened around Julia's thumb. The Pretender stepped up to the bedside, placing a hand on the woman's shoulder, as the patient's mouth opened.
Julia picked up a piece of gauze from the bedside table, dampened it in a small bowl of water and dabbed at Joseph's white lips. The man's tongue eased out of his mouth and licked at the water that formed in the corner of his mouth, blinking several times, and then his gaze seemed to focus and he managed a lop-sided and very faint smile. After a long moment, his mouth opened and he was obviously struggling to speak.
<"What is it, Joseph?"> she asked. <"What do you want to say?">
Jarod looked around and saw a large notepad on the nurse's table. Putting Mary on her mother's lap, he seized the pad and a pen. Easing the healer's hand out of Julia's, he placed the pen gently between Joseph's fingers and slid the pad underneath his hand, supporting it at an angle so that the man in the bed could read what he wrote. The younger man seemed to understand what was wanted, because his fingers immediately tightened around the pen and he struggled to make it move. The pen managed to make several marks on the paper, before Joseph's eye shut in obvious exhaustion, perspiration standing out in beads on his forehead and slipping onto the pillow. Easing the paper out from beneath Joseph's hand, Jarod read the letters, managing to make the squiggles into two words, one below another.
<"Angelo?"> he asked finally. <"Did you want to know about Angelo?">
The white face nodded slightly on the pillow, Joseph's right eye opening again to focus on Jarod's face. The Pretender approached the bed, leaning over the pillow.
<"You did it, Joseph,"> he told the healer, forcing a wide smile. <"You managed to undo some of the damage that Raines caused. Not everything, but he's a lot better than he was. When you feel a little better, we'll bring him up to see you.">
Joseph blinked several times in agreement, managing another half-smile, and Jarod looked down at the paper again, managing to decipher the faint squiggles, thinking idly that it was fortunate the baby girl didn't have a longer name, or her father would never have managed to write it.
<"Your daughter is just fine, Joseph."> He placed the bundle against the crook of the man's right arm, seeing him drop the pen so that he could touch the small foot, his fingers tightening around it as Jarod continued. <"Your sons are, too. A little worried about you, of course, but they can also come and see you when you're better."> He gently placed a hand on the younger man's right shoulder. <"Rest now, Joseph. Get some sleep.">
The healer's eye slid closed immediately, and his fingers relaxed, as Jarod picked up the baby girl. He helped Julia to her feet, and gently guided her away from the bed.
"Let's leave him to sleep," he murmured in her ear. "We'll go down and get something to eat."
"What are you doing for him?" she murmured, audibly swallowing a lump in her throat, as they left the room and the nurse returned to take her seat.
Jarod outlined the treatment, most of which was to treat the blood clot. The brain condition was not treatable at this stage, although they were working on it. Now that he seemed to be conscious, they could begin physical therapy, but Jarod wasn't confident that it would do a lot of good. Joseph would continue to deteriorate as the brain tissue broke down, and the Pretender wondered privately if they should bring the man's sons in to see him while he could still recognize them, but he didn't want to suggest that, and hoped that nobody else would think of it, even as he guided the psychic out into the hall, heading for the elevator and the large dining room.
* * * * * * * * *
Grayson Parker walked in circles in the hallway outside the operating room, hands clasped behind his back, head down in thought. A lot was riding on this, and if it didn't work, he'd have to try another angle. The most important thing was not to lose Catherine, and she was treading a dangerously thin line at the moment.
Though he had no proof, he suspected she had been involved in the theft of several Centre projects over the last few years. The Triumvirate was in the dark about those, receiving dummy reports on the progress of the research, prettying it up so that they'd think the subjects came and went willingly, but Hermann Bruce knew the truth. He had been the one to pilot the programs from the beginning. He had not only given this particular project his blessing, he had even suggested the idea in a roundabout way.
Catherine's inner sense, combined with Major Charles' intelligence and inherent Pretender skills, would make a formidable being if they could just get that far in the process. At the moment, they were performing the insemination in conjunction with some other minor surgery she needed. She'd be none the wiser once she awakened, until the test came back positive. He'd need to make sure he romanced her once she was well enough, to provide an adequate cover.
He and Raines had it all planned. He just hoped nothing happened to complicate the process. There was always the danger with any surgical procedure that something could go wrong, and as he paced, he worried. She was far too valuable to lose, but they were going to harvest some of the extra eggs, just in case
Morgan stood behind the one-way glass that had been installed between the cell in which the old Chairman languished and the one next door, to allow him to be observed. A microphone allowed the person to hear what was being said. The old man talked almost constantly now, his voice hoarse and rough, but he never seemed to notice it. He had collapsed that morning and a doctor had examined him, giving his assessment that the man had only hours to live. Broots had begged her to come back from Dallas, not wanting the responsibility on his own shoulders.
Her face wore a glare as she listened to what he was saying. This wasn't new to her. For the first few weeks, all his ramblings had been transcribed and she had read them every night, hatred at his activities burning inside her. But when they became repetitive, she hadn't bothered to read the soliloquies anymore. This was an oft-visited topic, one she hated to hear about, being the one that had lead to the eventual murder of her mother.
"Call me when he's gone," she snapped to the sweeper in the corner, and the man nodded.
Leaving the room, she let the door slam shut, peering in through the small window to take her last look at the dying man, indifference replacing the hatred in her heart. She took a personal interest in all the projects except this one. This was the one she couldn't care less about.
* * * * * * * * *
"Slight degeneration in the frontal lobe," Yuri announced, setting the machine to print out the test results and making a note on the pad on the desk in front of him.
Jarod looked around to see the bed in the MRI slide out and Rebecca approach it from the corner of the room to pick up her daughter. He felt his heart sink. This was the first of the Seraphim to be scanned, and, as he watched Tempest's blond head droop sleepily onto her mother's shoulder, the result of the mild sedative that had been administered to keep her calm during the test, Jarod wondered how many more of the children would show signs of degeneration.
"Excuse me, Jarod," a voice asked from the doorway. "Will you come up to the nursery? Gabriel's a little upset."
Jarod got up as quickly as he could from his chair and moved past Ramona into the hall, waiting impatiently for the elevator. The nursery itself was empty, the children being kept in their rooms until they were taken down to be scanned, but howls were audible from Gabriel's room, and Jarod entered to find his son lying facedown on his bed, kicking his legs and hitting the mattress with small fists, as Sara stood nearby, a cup in her hand, her expression one of concern. Approaching the bed, Jarod gathered his son in his arms.
"What's the matter, Gabriel?" he asked anxiously.
His son howled, burying his face in Jarod's throat, and the man rocked him for a moment as the sobs became gradually less frequent, his cries decreasing in volume.
"All gone," the child moaned, looking up at his father accusingly. "You taked dem all away!"
"Who's all gone?"
"Evveybody!" Gabriel wailed. "Raffi an' Annie an' Gideon an' Uriel an' "
"No, honey," Jarod interrupted soothingly. "They're not gone, I promise. They're just sleeping."
He stood up, a still-sobbing Gabriel in his arms, and carried him across the hall into Angelique's room. The girl lay on her bed, covered with a light blanket, cheeks flushed and blond lashes lying on her cheeks, her chest rising and falling in deep, even breaths, her doll held in a relaxed grip. Nancy sat in the corner, and looked up as they entered, relief in her eyes when she saw Jarod.
"See, baby?" Jarod urged softly. "She's still here."
Gabriel nodded, hiccupping loudly, and reached out his hands for his small playmate, but Jarod gently caught them in his free hand.
"No, honey. We don't want to wake her up. But she'll be all right in a few hours, and then you can play with her. Okay?"
"Why, Daddy?" Gabriel demanded, as they went back into the hallway.
"We're going to do a special test," Jarod explained, walking back into Gabriel's room. "And, as it's very loud, we don't want to upset you, so we'll give you something so that you'll be asleep when it happens." He sat down on the boy's bed and cuddled him close. "I'd never do anything to hurt you, Gabriel," he promised solemnly. "Never, ever."
Still sniffing, his son hugged the man around the neck. "Love you, Daddy," he snuffled, and Jarod smiled.
"I love you too, baby." Taking up the cup from Sara, who retreated to the doorway and, after waiting for a moment to ensure she wasn't wanted, left the room, he held it out. "Will you drink this for me?"
Nodding, Gabriel took the cup and tasted the contents. Jarod watched him slowly sip the sedative medication, realizing that this proved beyond doubt the Seraphim's strong mental connection with each other, and which apparently continued during periods of natural sleep, if mere sedation had caused such upset in his son. The thought was repellent, but at the same time intriguing, and he wondered how far it extended. It suddenly occurred to him that, if surgery were required to treat this problem, they would have to find some way of keeping the conscious Seraphim calm while the others were under anesthetic. It only added to what was already looking like a major problem.
Gabriel handed back the empty mug, wrapping his arms around his father's neck and resting his head on Jarod's shoulder. Placing the mug back on the table, Jarod rose from the bed and went to the rocking chair in the corner, sitting down and covering Gabriel with the blanket that lay over one arm, starting the chair rocking as he hummed the lullaby his mother had taught him as a boy, and which Gabriel loved.
"Cree craw toad's foot "
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod watched as Sara carried Gabriel into the room and gently put him on the long, narrow bed, moving away and behind the protective lead wall as Alexander started the machine. The older man was unable to keep his eyes from the screen, seeing the images appear in rapid succession, searching desperately for any signs of degeneration. It was only once the scan was complete and the young man announced that it was clear that Jarod allowed himself to breathe freely again.
He had been the same during Jordan's scan, the night before. Of all those he was examining, the thought of his sons falling victim to the terrible affliction that had so far affected almost two dozen of Sanctuary's residents was one of his worst nightmares brought to life. He knew Jordan had been the same when Yuri was studying Jarod's own scan results, having felt his son's fear as the machine boomed around him.
The fact that, so far, none of the Pretenders had shown signs of deterioration made him wonder, for the first time, if there was a pattern, and he made a mental note to look for anything, even as Sara lifted Gabriel from the hard bed and Sebastian appeared with Gideon in the room containing the machine Jarod was controlling.
He had been intrigued by the differences in the brain scans for various people. No two scans had been completely identical, specific areas showing dramatic neural development depending on the person's skill. It made pinpointing the potential degeneration easier once the various patterns had been established.
Jarod had been secretly quite proud of the fact that the scan of his brain had shown such a dense neural network, much more so than even those of the other Pretenders. Gabriel's scan, too, had shown dramatic differences from those of the other Seraphim. The same pattern had been evident, although to a lesser degree, in Michael Charles' scan, Jarod having made sure that both his parents were put through the procedure, but more to look for possible problems such as blood clots that might have resulted in future strokes than to check for degeneration.
The fact that those he loved best were unaffected had been more than just a simple relief to him. It meant that he could focus his attention solely on treatments, not having to worry about them. Jarod only hoped that, when it came to using whatever was developed, he could distance himself enough to perform his role in whatever the procedure happened to be effectively.
* * * * * * * * *
Lucian looked indifferently out of the window of his hotel room towards the famous blue and white exterior of the old Winter Palace. The city's numerous glories were lost on the bitter man, as had been those of every other city that he had briefly stayed in. He had had several near run-ins with employees of his former organizations, and hatred had blossomed in his heart as he realized that all those people who had once been subservient to his name would now kill him the moment they saw him.
His greatest hatred was directed at his own failure. He had taken over a strong organization after the murder of his father 24 years earlier, strengthening it further by cleaning out the old members of the Triumvirate and replacing them with more loyal followers. Lucian believed that he had been close to the peak of his power, with some of his most awaited and potentially valuable projects on the verge of being started, projects that would have eclipsed those of his father, when it had all been wrenched away from him.
He knew, however, that there was only one key he needed to get it all back. As soon as he had that, those in power would willingly give him anything he wanted, even greater power, and while he laid the foundations for that seizure, he could plan his own future.
Lucian knew that he had been somewhat foolish in his methods. Hermann had succeeded by the full control of his power, and his son could now see where he had gone wrong in letting others feel they were in control. Had his father not been murdered, he could have built his empire in such a way that it would be indestructible, and it was now up to Lucian to ensure that happened. Not out of any paternal loyalty, but his own desire to cast glories onto his family's name.
There was a knock at his door and he opened it, allowing the maid to enter with his pre-ordered dinner. Eyeing her up and down, he noted her brown hair, blue eyes and slim build, knowing that he had found his first paving stone on the road to success.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod sat up straight and stretched his weary back, saving the file on which he was working, and which contained the reports to be given to the Sanctuary board about the MRI scans that had been performed on all residents of the building. He glanced at his watch, seeing that it was now almost midnight, and wiped the sleep from his eyes, trying to decide whether it was worthwhile going to bed or not, considering that he planned to get up in a few hours to fly to Blue Cove.
A small sound from the doorway made him turn to find his boss standing there, and he shut down the file. Switching off the screen, he stiffly got off the chair and came over to the Australian.
"I thought everyone would be asleep by now."
"I was thinking about the tests. Wondering about the results."
Jarod grinned feebly. "As boss, you should probably get a sneak peek."
He waved at one of the chairs and took the other, turning the screen back on and opening up one of the files on which the tabulated results had been recorded.
"Don't go through all this, J," Sebastian protested wearily. "Just an overview, eh? I don't have the time, energy or patience for details."
"Fine." Jarod leant back in his chair, wondering idly why Sebastian had happened to chance upon a similar nickname to that which Argyle had done. "The deterioration has shown up in people whose skills affect their environment or people around them. Telekinetics, electrokinetics, healers "
Jarod met his gaze steadily, seeing the flash of fear in his hazel eyes. "Yes, Sebastian."
There was a long moment of heavy silence before Sebastian spoke again.
The Pretender slid a hand through his hair. "She has one of the most advanced cases. Almost as bad as Joseph."
Sebastian exhaled slowly. "Do you know why?"
"We think it has to do with the length of time and intensity with which the gift has to be used. For example, Joseph has been forced to heal people basically on a daily basis for more than 25 years. Elizabeth has been removing nightmares for her whole life. Apart from her, those who've spent longest in the Centre or other captivity are most serious affected."
The Australian nodded knowingly, resting his head on his hands, and Jarod saw his index finger gently rub his temple. "So what do we do now?"
"Now," a female voice interrupted from the doorway, "you both go to bed. Deterioration or not, the few hours between now and when a normal person would get up won't make any difference."
The men looked up to find Elizabeth and Sumi in the doorway. Jarod saw Sebastian's eyes travel over his wife's face and then turn to him, understanding that the man was expressing concern about the woman he loved. Jarod was forced to nod slightly. The telepaths had all shown signs of deterioration. Those who hadn't were primarily the psychics, pretenders or empaths. Devastation flooded the younger man's features and he rose, walking over to the door to slide an arm around his wife's shoulders.
Jarod saw that, despite the light tone in which she had spoken, Elizabeth's expression was tense. He suspected that she had overheard what had been said, and Jarod could understand her fear. She was helping to nurse Joseph, and clearly dreaded becoming like that herself. He went over to the doorway and felt a firm hand come down on his arm.
"You've been working at that for almost 24 hours at a stretch, Jarod. Time for a break."
The four people remained silent as they walked through the infirmary to the elevator and up to the residence floor. Sumi and Sebastian disappeared into their room with murmured 'goodnights' and the other two walked along the hallway to Jarod's apartment. Elizabeth's lack of conversation was evidence to Jarod of her growing anxiety, and, as they stood in his doorway, the man hugged her gently.
"We're going to solve this, Elizabeth," he vowed softly, and she sent a faint smile in his direction.
"On our wedding night, Trevor told me he had seen that we would grow old together. At the time, I believed him." She swallowed hard. "If you couldn't, Jarod, would you at least be able to keep me alive for a few months. Nine, maybe? I don't really care what state I'd be in."
He placed a hand on either shoulder, turning her towards him, before slipping a hand under her chin and lifting it so that he would look into her eyes. "For your baby?"
Elizabeth's hand crept onto her stomach. "If he can't have me," she whispered, "I'd at least hope that Trevor could have our child." She blinked rapidly several times. "And maybe you'll have some way to stop him or her from suffering the same fate by then."
Jarod bent down to brush her cheek with his lips. "Elizabeth, please, trust me," he begged, feeling the burden of responsibility, not only for this woman but also for her unborn child and the dozens of others, settle on his shoulders. It was strangely, but not unpleasantly, familiar "We have a plan of attack for this. We'll do the very best we can. I don't think you need to worry about your child -- or yourself."
Her eyes rose to meet his gaze, and he could see the fear flickering in the brown depths as she inhaled deeply, before shaking herself slightly. "I'm sorry, Jarod. You don't need any more worries right now. You need to sleep."
He shot her a look of concern. "You probably shouldn't be alone right now."
"I'm not." She smiled faintly and rubbed a hand on her stomach. "Not anymore."
"No," he agreed somewhat uncertainly, as she turned away. "I guess you're not."
* * * * * * * * *
He silently entered the room, seeing, through the partly open bedroom door, Jarod stretched out on his bed, fully dressed and obviously sound asleep. His expression was calm, evidence of the skill of the woman pacing the halls outside, restless and unable to settle down with a book, as she usually did. As the blond man watched, a faint smile caused dimples to appear on the Pretender's cheeks and he curled up slightly on the bed, wrapping his arms round himself.
Turning away from the door, he moved over to the workstation. The files were in the place that he guessed they would be, knowing how orderly and neat Jarod had been trained to be. He silently extracted the folders about the current problem, seeing that one page was dedicated to each of the affected individuals, including the file number under which their records were stored. Joseph's was first, and he ran his finger down the list, stopping at Keely.
In the past few weeks, he realized that he had finally broken out of Centre programming enough to choose a woman who could be perfect for him. After he had successfully created a medication that would stabilize Keely's condition, without the side-effects of the former one, he had begun spending even more time with her, putting up with the good-natured teasing to which Sebastian subjected him. Now, knowing how much of a threat she faced from the deterioration of her brain, he wanted to know everything about the planned treatment.
Jarod had asked him to help with the scans, but his expertise was chemistry, not technology, so he had declined. He knew of nothing in the available arsenal of medications that would be any use in treating this condition, so he had watched, in fascination, the development of something to help it.
The sound of a soft 'ahem' from behind him made the man turn with a start to find the apartment's occupant in the bedroom doorway, wearing a different shirt from the one he had been wearing on the bed and rapidly doing up the garment.
"Did I wake you?"
After tucking in the shirt, Jarod came over and gently took the folder out of his hands. "I'm flying up to Blue Cove today, to talk to Morgan, and I want to be there before she leaves for work so I'm only away from here for as short a time a possible." He put the file into a bag that stood beside the workstation. "If you're looking for Keely's folder, this is it." He took out a file out from under a pile of others and offered it. The intruder hesitated briefly, before accepting the slender booklet.
"How bad is it?"
"Middle of the road. She's young, so it's not that severe, but at the same time, she's been forced to use her pyrokinesis regularly, so that's contributed to the degeneration of the tissue. Compared to her brother, she's pretty good, but if you look at people who were never at the Centre, she's a lot worse."
He collected a bundle of other pages from the desk, quickly flipped through them and put them in the bag.
"You can take a more detailed looked through that if you want. I have to get going. Just shut the door when you leave."
With a nod, Jarod swung his jacket over his shoulders and checked he had his wallet and phone before leaving the room. The blond man stared after him for a moment, before finally turning his attention to the file in his hands.
* * * * * * * * *
Morgan stretched luxuriously, before the aroma of Brazilian coffee registered and she sat up in a hurry. Her bedroom door was open, although she was sure she had shut it the night before, and her clothes lay draped over a chair beside the bed. She knew of only one man alive who could be so silent in his movements, and reached for her bathrobe as she got out of bed. Sliding her feet into slippers that lay beside the bed, she did up the sash as she left the room and descended the stairs.
"Jarod?" she called. "Where are you?"
"Kitchen," his voice responded, and she entered the room to find him sitting at the table, glancing through a pile of papers. He looked up when she appeared and smiled, but she could see anxiety in his eyes as she approached.
"The sweepers are supposed to tell me when anybody arrives."
He pulled up his left sleeve to display a red mark on his wrist, where hands had obviously held him. "I managed to persuade them not to."
"Apparently." She lightly touched the raw skin. "Are you just paying a surprise visit, or do you have a reason for this?"
Jarod smiled. "I have reasons for everything I do. Grab yourself some coffee and I'll tell you."
He walked with her into the living room, taking a seat in an armchair as she curled up on the sofa, one of her mohair rugs wrapped around her legs and feet, sipping the hot drink.
"So to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
"I wanted to update you on what's been happening at Sanctuary." He began with Joseph's current condition, and then told her about the MRIs that had been done. She felt something tighten inside her as he continued, finally holding up a hand to stop him, her voice tense.
"Is fine," he assured her. "His scans were clear, and so were Merritt's." His voice softened. "Don't you think that, if they hadn't been, I would have told you first, and earlier than this?"
She nodded curly, tucking the blanket more closely around herself, and put the mug on the table, thinking hard. "You said Sebastian would need it, so I'll assume Gideon will, too."
"Yes." He nodded. "So will Angelique, Michaela, Tempest and Raphael. They've only just begun to show signs of deterioration on their scans. This will be more of a preventative measure, to stop it from getting worse, we hope. That is, if it works for other people. If it doesn't, we won't do it to them."
Morgan swallowed a lump in her throat at the mention of her baby brother, and the other children of whom she had grown fond. "What happens," she asked thickly, "if this doesn't work? Or if it doesn't last?"
"We will have eliminated an option," Jarod responded thoughtfully. "I don't know what we'll do if it doesn't succeed -- we haven't really got a plan 'B' at this stage. There's no way to make brain tissue regrow on its own if it's breaking down, and it's not like with some other organs, where we could do transplants."
Despite knowing and appreciating that he was being completely honest with her, Morgan still felt horrified at the realization that nothing else could be done.
"So what happens now?"
"Now, we have to work out who will actually do the surgery and, when that happens, then we can start." He dropped the papers onto the coffee table. "If possible, I'd like you to come down when we operate on the children. When we began to sedate them for the MRI scans, those who hadn't received the medication were upset. It's only going to be worse when we have to anesthetize them, and we can't explain this sort of thing to children of that age, although we'll do our best."
Morgan arched an eyebrow. "Are you saying they knew that you were testing the others?"
"Exactly." Jarod met her gaze steadily. "Particularly if there were blood connections. Gabriel was most upset when we were testing Angelique, Uriel, Tempest and Raphael, for example, although he knew something was happening when we sedated the other three. My guess is that he'll need you there when three of his cousins are undergoing the procedure."
She nodded. "I'll be there, no matter what." Morgan glanced at her watch. "I have to get ready for work. Are you coming in to the Centre today?"
"No. I really need to get back there, so we can begin to make the arrangements." He glanced at his watch. "I did get through this a little quicker than I thought, though. The jet isn't due to leave for another hour." He smiled. "Is there anything I can do for you while I'm here?"
Morgan smiled sweetly back. "How nice are you feeling right now?"
"Probably nice enough to make you breakfast," he replied, adding teasingly, "Pop tarts okay?"
She picked up a cushion from the sofa and threw it at him, fleeing the room before Jarod could get his revenge.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod came straight from Dallas airport to the Prometheus building and up the first level, on which the offices were located, for the scheduled meeting. He entered the boardroom, seeing that people already sat along both sides of the table, but that the seat at the head was free. Sebastian waved him to it and he sat down.
"We have a possible treatment," Jarod began, and heard sighs of obvious relief from around the table. "Wait," he urged, "it's not that simple. It's a very risky procedure, and, if it fails, I don't know what else we can suggest."
"What is it?" Trevor asked quietly.
"Ironically enough, it's built on the foundations of a project the Centre was running, called Exodus, which was trying to use stem-cells to create new bodily organs."
"We know about it," Sebastian informed the Pretender, before he could launch into a description. "You asked us to do something about the hospital, remember? We did a little investigation of our own afterwards."
"I had forgotten, but that's good, because I don't have to go into detail," Jarod responded. "We hope that, by injecting stem cells into the brain's affected area, we can cause the brain tissue to rebuild itself."
Trevor visibly flinched. "You're going to take stem cells from fetuses?"
"I don't think it will be necessary to do so," the older man told him. "Having examined the research that's been done, I think we can probably achieve the same results using stem-cells from blood and possibly bone-marrow of the affected individual. There'll also be even less risk of rejection if we do it that way."
Heads were nodding their understanding around the table, but Jarod waited until they were still before he continued.
"There is another, potentially even bigger, problem," he warned, and the occupants of the room tensed as they turned, as one, in his direction. "That's the procedure itself. Firstly, we don't know what effect it will have if we just inject some cells into the brain. It's never been done before, as far as we know, so we've got nothing to work on."
"I think," Ramona offered quietly, "that we would all be willing to take that risk, considering the alternative."
"I can understand that," Jarod returned, "but more immediately, there's the problem of who will do the actual surgery."
Sebastian raised an eyebrow. "You won't?"
"I'll assist with it, or act as anesthetist," the Pretender told him firmly. "But there's no way I can stand for that length of time, not yet anyway. Each procedure will probably take upwards of eight hours, and I'm just not strong enough for that yet. Assisting is much easier than acting as primary surgeon. Also, this is an incredibly delicate operation. I'm really not sure that I've got enough skill to be able to do it. It would take years of practice to get the level of dexterity required." He studied his hands for a moment, before looking up again. "And on a more personal note, more than half of the Seraphim are going to need the procedure. The thought of being responsible for doing something like that to those children -- or any of you -- without knowing what will happen as a result, leaves me feeling more than a little uncomfortable."
"That's understandable," Sumi told him softly, her hand resting gently on that of her husband. "But if you won't, and I imagine Yuri won't, either, since his daughter will have to have the operation, then who will?"
Jarod nodded in agreement, but didn't speak. The other people around the table were also silent, obviously trying to think of people who might be able to help. Jarod's eyes traveled over the eight people seated on each side of him, seeing the anxiety on their faces and feeling almost guilty for the decision he had, with great difficulty, reached, the day before. Jarod outlined the research he had done into some of the more prominent neurosurgeons, not just in North America but around the world. He wasn't confident any of them would have the necessary qualifications or experience to perform the surgery, or be willing to participate in such a controversial exercise.
Even as he spoke, Jarod had surreptitiously been watching Trevor, who had been studying his hands intently, never even lifting his eyes when people spoke. Now, however, he looked up, and it was obvious to the Pretender that he had been inwardly battling with himself. Sebastian also saw the movement and turned to the psychic.
"What is it, Trevor?" he asked.
"I might know somebody," he offered hesitantly.
Jarod raised an eyebrow. "Who?"
The younger man sighed deeply again before speaking. "Have you ever heard of a Dr. Patrick McCarty?"
"I read about him, yes," Jarod agreed. "The article suggested that he was something out of the ordinary in the neurosurgery department. But he retired a few years ago."
"After his wife died," Trevor offered. "But he'd still be able to do it."
"Can you contact him?" Sumi asked eagerly, and Trevor nodded.
"I know where he is, yes." Trevor studied his hands again. "I could call him "
"Please do," Sebastian snapped, his impatience obvious. "We'll meet again when he arrives."
Jarod gathered his things, but grabbed Trevor's arm before the younger man could leave, as he was obviously eager to do.
"I have work to do," the psychic protested, but Jarod merely tightened his hold slightly.
"It can wait," he assured Trevor, guiding him back to his chair. "Is he your father?" he asked, and saw the dark-skinned man nod with obvious reluctance.
"We don't we didn't get on so well, in the past," he offered. "I haven't spoken to him for almost ten years."
"But you know he's still capable of carrying out the procedure?"
"I see him sometimes," Trevor admitted, tapping the side of his head. "But we haven't spoken for a long time, since my grandmother died."
Jarod looked at him sympathetically. "Want to tell me about it?"
"I guess I should, before he comes, so that someone understands," the psychic sighed. Standing, he moved to the far side of the room, staring at the screen showing the streets of Dallas. "When I was about four, I had my first psychic vision. I'd probably had them before that, without knowing what they were, but my grandmother was babysitting me that day, so I talked to her about it. She was gifted in the same way -- the ability comes down through my mother's side of the family -- and she helped me to understand what it meant."
The man clasped his hands behind his back with another deep sigh. "She warned me not to say anything about it to my parents. When I asked why, she said it was because they didn't believe in paranormal phenomenon."
"But," Jarod broke in, "wasn't your mother psychic?"
"Yes, she was," Trevor agreed, "but she fought it. She didn't want the sort of pressure that beset my grandmother. She'd seen her being ostracized or exploited for her skills -- she was the person everyone went to if they'd lost something, or wanted to know petty things, like the best time to buy a car or whatever. Behind her back, after she helped them, they'd laugh at her. My mother didn't want to be used by people, so she repressed her ability and refused to admit that I could have inherited it. Dad supported her. He didn't like the idea, either."
"But they found out you could do it?" Jarod suggested softly, and the younger man nodded.
"I made the mistake of saying something that I could only have known through using any psychic knowledge I might have, and the jig was up. My parents refused to listen to anything I might have found out that way, hoping that I'd stop listening to it, too, but my grandmother always supported and taught me. Then, when I was 24," his voice shook, "she passed away."
Jarod watched Trevor's shoulders tremble, thinking how fortunate he was, never to have had any of those sorts of problems with his own family. Of course, his abduction by the Centre had created a unique set of circumstances, but the thought of having similar arguments with his parents, with such dramatic results, was difficult for Jarod to contemplate. Briefly, he thought back to seeing his father for the first time at Pakor, the moment of instant recognition, and the delight in his father's eyes at seeing his son again after so long. It was all but impossible for Jarod to consider how his relationship with his father could have been anything other than what it was.
After examining the floor for a moment, Trevor's head lifted and he exhaled slowly. "The day after the funeral, I moved out of home. For a couple of weeks, I traveled, using money I'd saved when I worked various jobs in our town. Then, just before my 25th birthday, I met Sebastian. We got to know each other over the next few months, and, after he inherited Pele Enterprises, he invited me to work for him."
"And your parents?" Jarod asked quietly.
"Mom died five years ago. I went to the funeral, but I didn't talk to Dad. We hadn't had any contact during the intervening years, and I couldn't bring myself to say anything to him. Pride, I guess." He shrugged, his hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his neatly pressed pants, his shoulders hunched. "Dad retired just after she died. I don't really know what he's been doing since then, but I know he'd still be skilled enough to perform the surgery."
"Would you really be willing to have him here?"
"Jarod," Trevor turned and met the older man's gaze steadily, "if it saves Elizabeth's life, I'll put up with anything. Even having him here."
Sydney pulled the car into the driveway and was about to open the car door when he felt the nape of his neck prickle, as if he was being watched. He knew that Nicholas was away, teaching, and that Michelle had said she was going shopping. Her car wasn't there, and he had seen no movement inside the house, so he assumed she was still out. Therefore, he was probably alone, or as alone as he ever was.
His hand had just touched the cool metal of the handle when he felt the prickling on the back of his neck intensify, looking around sharply. Something sparkled in the dim light, slowly solidifying into the familiar image of his brother, as he had appeared in the time before the accident, sitting on the passenger seat.
"They were right, you know," Jacob began. "We are different."
Sydney exhaled slowly, turning his gaze towards the front of the vehicle. "I never really wanted to believe what you said."
"You think I didn't know that?" Jacob chuckled. "You always wanted to be the same as everybody else. But we aren't, and you just have to accept that."
"Yes, I suppose I do," Sydney agreed. "And I think I have accepted it."
"But you won't work with it." His brother's head tilted to one side. "Even though you should."
"Don't you think I have enough to deal with?" Sydney snapped. "What with Morgan, Angelo and Nicholas, not to mention my grandchildren and your daughter." He looked sharply at the translucent image on the passenger seat. "Have you seen her?"
"Every day of her life, in my mind," Jacob smiled. "I always dreamt about Alexis and wondered what had happened to her. I hoped Catherine would have managed to save her. That's why I told her about us."
Sydney shot a sideways glance at his brother. "Did you know about Catherine and me?"
"Of course." Jacob grinned. "I even knew about Morgan and Timmy. In fact, I often wondered why you didn't question it further."
"It wasn't that I didn't want to," Sydney confessed, "but I saw no reason to doubt it. The test result she showed me " He trailed off into silence. "Does Kim see you?"
"She doesn't know what she's looking for." Jacob's expression became somber. "Maybe, if she knew that, then she might."
"You want me to tell her?"
"Not right now. Maybe later." Jacob's fingers impatiently tapped his knee. "She's more involved in finding out about her mother than me. But it'll probably come. Eventually."
"I'm sure it will." Sydney smiled. "And whenever she's ready, I'll tell her about her father's legacy."
He opened the car door and got out, collecting his things from the trunk and looping his cane over his left arm while he unlocked the door and entered the house. His balance was better, although he still needed the cane for going up and down stairs. His left hand, too, was getting stronger. It was a positive sign, and, he privately admitted to himself, he had only been waiting to see if the healers had been able to help his son before asking for similar help himself, but that, of course, was now out of the question.
He sighed slightly as he closed the door and carried his things into the small room next to his and Michelle's bedroom that acted as a study. It had proved impossible to stay away from his work at the Centre, although he was less busy now that Yuri was down at Sanctuary. There were times when he considered moving down to Texas, but while Morgan continued to work in Blue Cove, he wanted to be close to her, and could travel down to see his son and grandchildren when he so desired without any problems. He acted as consultant on several of the more problematic projects at the Centre, and had some of his own, which was enough to keep him interested and busy without the burden of duty he had borne for so many years. Sydney now enjoyed his time at the Centre, which was a stark contrast to the way he had felt during the previous years.
* * * * * * * * *
Trevor nervously paced the empty lobby. He had left a message on his father's voicemail service, and had deliberately turned off his cell phone so that Patrick would be forced to leave a similar message, rather than actually speaking with him. The older man's voice had been non-committal when he had given the date and time he would arrive at the Prometheus Building. Trevor had tried to take comfort in the fact that he had at least said he was coming, and he knew his father would keep his word, but this wasn't an event he had ever imagined. Pride had stopped him from even addressing his father at his mother's funeral, and, as time went on, it seemed increasingly less likely that he could ever feel he belonged in his own family again. Those around him, here at Sanctuary, were like family, but there was still something missing, some sore part of his heart that he had believed wouldn't heal until he had a family of his own. But even after his marriage, it had continued to lurk there as a constant reminder of his past.
The heavy door swung open with its familiar creak, and, aware that he had the advantage of his eyes already being adjusted to the dim light, Trevor turned quickly. His father looked older than he had appeared at the burial, his black hair sprinkled with gray and his face more deeply lined. However, he retained his proud posture, head held high. Trevor took an involuntary step closer, remembering that, despite all their disagreements, this man was still his father, before forcing himself to wait and see how Patrick reacted.
"I'm so glad you called, son," the older man's voice offered, a little tentatively. "I've been trying to find you for some time."
"Why?" he blurted out involuntarily, and saw his father sigh.
"We were wrong, Trevor, your mother and I. We had no right to try to stop you from using your gift in any way you chose. We shouldn't have tried to make those decisions for you. They were yours, not ours."
The psychic felt his heart leap and a weight seemed to detach itself from his shoulders. Never, in his wildest dreams, had he imagined that he would hear those words.
"Your mother made me promise I'd tell you that one day," Patrick continued. "I was starting to believe I'd never have this opportunity."
"You never said anything to me at the funeral," Trevor offered hesitantly.
"You didn't really give me a chance," his father reprimanded gently. "It was barely over before you were in your car and gone. I kept hoping you'd turn up at home afterwards, but you never did."
"I didn't think you'd want to see me." The young man remembered the morning that he had 'seen' his mother's death and the period of uncertainty that had followed it, before he had finally decided to go to the funeral.
"I'd just lost your mother, Trevor," Patrick reminded him. "You were all I had left." He took a step closer. "You still are."
"You never remarried?"
His father smiled faintly. "Wouldn't you have known if I had? After all, you knew about your mother, even though it was never in the papers."
Trevor's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "It wasn't?"
"Everyone in town knew about it. The only other person I wanted to tell was you, and I had no idea where you were, or which paper I should put it in, so I didn't put it in any. When you turned up, it only proved what your mother suspected would happen."
Patrick sighed. "She knew she was dying, son, and that she wouldn't see you before she passed away. She also knew you'd be at the funeral, without being told about it. I think, towards the end, it took too much effort to ignore what she was being told, so she finally accepted it. One day, she told me that her greatest regret was that she wouldn't see you before she died. That was when I started trying to find you, but it was almost like you'd disappeared off the face of the earth." The older man swallowed hard. "There were times when I even believed that you must be dead."
Trevor thought guiltily of the credit cards in his wallet, taken out in the name the company, rather than in his own name. It hadn't been a conscious decision, being more convenient at the time, but he suddenly realized that part of the reason he had happily done so was to avoid being found by his parents.
"There were times when I thought about coming home," he suggested timidly. "But I was never sure if I'd be welcome."
His father's hands gently came to rest on his upper arms. "Trevor, you're our son. Of course we would have wanted you to come home. The day you left was the worst of my entire life, and even worse was the knowledge that I'd helped to drive you away. I think it was then that your mother and I really woke up to what we'd done, in trying to deny the thing that makes you so special."
Trevor stared at his father. "So you believe in it now?"
"I don't appear to have a choice," Patrick returned wryly. "Your grandmother spent virtually every day from the time you were four years old telling me I was a fool to doubt that it existed, and she warned that I could lose you forever if I kept behaving in that way. She was almost right. And your mother talked me into it, during the last days of her life." He shrugged. "I might be older, but I like to think I'm still flexible. I can't be skeptical of things that are right in front of my eyes, even if they contradict what I believed in for so many years."
The younger man sighed deeply in relief and pulled his father into his arms. Everything, even his anxiety about his wife, seemed easier to cope with now that this issue with his father had been resolved. Patrick's arms tightened around his back for a moment, and Trevor could feel his father inhale deeply as he straightened.
"I never thought I'd have the chance to hold you again, son."
"Neither did I," Trevor admitted with a smile. "But I'm glad we've got it."
Patrick smiled warmly in return, before his eyes roved around the lobby. "So what kind of place is this, anyway? You've got more security than Fort Knox."
The younger man chuckled. "You won't be able to be a skeptic here, Dad. We've got just about every kind of paranormal phenomenon going, apart from UFOs."
His father shot him an amused but dubious glance. "Tell me about it."
"I will." He waved at the elevators. "But first, I've got somebody I want you to meet."
* * * * * * * * *
Frederick Hohmann sighed as he turned to the last bundle of files, retrieved from a safety deposit box in the Deutsche Bank in Berlin. Going through his predecessor's personal files, he had found the details, along with a list of those who were to have access to it, should anything happen to him. Frederick had been gratified to find his name heading the list. It meant Peter Winston had intended him to take over the position to which the new German board had unanimously voted him after the American's murder.
The files had been personal, about various staff members working in the offices, and one about Martin Delius. Frederick had enjoyed disposing of that one after they had destroyed the older man's body. Now there were only a few more, a thick bundle, bound tightly with an elastic band, and the man was startled to find a hand-written note tucked under the band.
'Don't show Morgan.'
The German arched an eyebrow, easing off the elastic and opening the first booklet on the desk, picking up the few slips of paper that escaped and drifted to the floor. The handwriting, he noted immediately, was that of Wolfram Leiden. Curious, he looked at the dates that headed each page, seeing that they had been written during the Second World War. Turning to his computer, the man opened Leiden's personnel file, bringing up his work during that period and eyeing the detail that linked him to Dachau concentration camp.
He didn't even change his name, Frederick thought. Why didn't he ever stand trial after the war, like many of his contemporaries had to?
Knowing that he would never have an answer for that question, but suspecting Hermann Bruce to have been involved, he turned back to the files, sharply drawing in his breath as he recognized a familiar name. His eyes ran down the details in Leiden's personnel details once more, seeing that the man had been responsible for experiments carried out on Sydney and Jacob Ritter, believing that the notes in front of him were those made during that terrible period.
He felt unable to continue going through those details, as if it were an invasion of privacy. They rightfully belonged to Sydney and his family. His eyes dwelled on Peter Winston's note, trying to understand the man's motives but unable to do so.
"I'm sorry, Peter," he murmured aloud, as he found a large envelope in his desk drawer and slid the files into it, addressing it to Morgan at the Centre, before hunting out the names of men that he trusted to courier it to her. "But she should have it, not me."
* * * * * * * * *
The Pretender turned from the scans he was reviewing to smile at the man in the doorway. "Hey, Trevor. Can I do something for you?"
The younger man's answering smile was full of pride. "I want you to meet my dad."
He stepped aside, and Jarod's eyes widened as he recognized the man in the doorway. "Patrick!"
The older man stared for a moment, before chuckling. "Nice to see you again, Jarod."
Trevor's jaw drooped slightly, his astonishment obvious, but the older man had already seen the scans on the screens and stepped into the room, his professionalism automatically taking over.
Jarod's expression became serious. "This is the reason Trevor asked you to come here. We need your surgical skills."
Patrick looked doubtful. "Well, I haven't done it for a while."
"I happen to know that your instincts are still up to scratch," Jarod commented, a grin quirking the corners of his mouth, and the older man smiled acquiescence.
"Tell me what you want and I'll see what I can do."
Jarod stepped closer to the screens, seeing as Patrick did the same. "This is from Sebastian, one of the pyrokinetics."
The surgeon's brow creased slightly. "Pyrokinetic? You mean, like a fire-starter?"
"Exactly." Jarod pointed out the area of worst degeneration, before picking up a folder and taking out another scan, sliding it under the clip. "This is from Keely, his sister, and this one," he pointed at a third scan, "from his son, Gideon."
"Severe degeneration of the somatosensory cortex," Patrick murmured.
Jarod pointed out another scan. "This is from a hyper-empath, who has the ability to reflect and magnify a person's emotions."
Patrick arched an eyebrow, casting an amused look at his son. "I see what you mean, Trevor," he murmured, before taking a look at the image. "Moderate degeneration of the frontal lobe."
"Every condition shows different degeneration," Jarod explained, removing the images and replacing them with two others. "These are the scans of our healers."
The neurosurgeon's lips pursed. "Very severe lower parietal and somatosensory degeneration."
"Telekinetics," Jarod offered, putting up scans from Rebecca and her daughters, and keeping an interested eye on the older man, seeing his eyebrows rise.
"There's no central fissure," Patrick protested, stepping forward for a closer look. "Or at least, the tissue that filled the space has begun to degenerate, but it looks like the space would have been filled."
"That's what I thought," Jarod agreed. "To be honest, though, my concern is that the tissue of the frontal lobe has also begun to degenerate slightly." He took out a final sheet and slid it under the clip, stepping back without a word, casting an anxious glace at the psychic.
Patrick eyed the scan for a moment in silence, before leaning forward to examine it more closely. "The pons is almost completely degenerated," he stated quietly. "This person is about to lose the ability to co-ordinate the two sides of their body."
Trevor made a sound of protest in his throat and sat down heavily on a chair against the wall. The surgeon, after casting a concerned look at his son, inhaled deeply and turned to Jarod.
"What were you planning to do for these people?"
Jarod folded his arms across his chest and looked down at his feet for a moment, sighing deeply. "It's complicated," he finally admitted, looking up again, "and controversial."
Patrick's expression was immediately interested. "Tell me."
The Pretender drew the older man over to the table, sitting down as Patrick did and seeing Trevor pull a chair up to sit beside his father. Patrick placed a hand on his son's, and Jarod saw Trevor's fingers tighten around his father's.
"We're considering the possibility of injecting stem cells into the affected areas, in the hope they'll graft onto the degenerating tissue and grow into new brain tissue."
Patrick's lips pursed into a silent whistle of amazement as he sat back in the chair. "Controversial is an understatement, Jarod."
"I know." The man nodded. "The question is, with what you know of these types of operations, do you think it's possible?"
The older man rested his chin on his hands, looking down at the notes that were spread out on the table in front of him. "It's possible," he agreed hesitantly, and Jarod saw Trevor's eyes light up. "But it's going to be a very dangerous operation."
Jarod pulled a page out of his pocket, unfolded it and placed it in front of the surgeon, rising to put Joseph's scan back onto the screen. "This is a report of the man whose condition is most serious. It was his collapse that prompted the investigation."
Patrick studied the sheet, occasionally glancing up at the MRI results as if matching what he read to the areas of degeneration. "If we strike a nerve during the procedure," he stated slowly, "we run the risk of causing similar damage."
"That's the reason we wanted you involved," Jarod responded. "I don't have enough experience to reduce that risk in the way we do by having you here."
"There's a similar operation performed on epileptic children," Patrick mused. "Only, in that case, part of the brain is burnt away, to prevent seizures, rather than having something added to it. However, the technique would be much the same, until it came to releasing the cells."
"We're working on a new instrument that could be used during the surgery," Jarod explained. "It would be better able to release the cells into the right part of the brain than anything available on the market at the moment."
The older man raised an eyebrow as he looked up. "Who are you, Jarod? When we met, you said you weren't involved in medicine. But now "
Jarod grinned faintly. "It's complicated," he confessed.
"Apparently." Patrick rose to his feet, tapping the sheet. "Let me examine this individual and then we can go into the possible procedure in more detail."
* * * * * * * * *
Patrick withdrew to where Jarod waited in the doorway, seeing that his son had disappeared.
"How many other people are in this state?"
"Two others were found to have small clots," the younger man told him softly, watching a nurse cover the semi-conscious man and check on the IV. "We've started them on medication to break the clots into smaller pieces and we'll keep an eye on them. The only other person with a similar level of degeneration is the one you commented on." He broke off, looking over the older man's shoulder, and Patrick turned to see his son approaching with a dark-haired woman. Trevor's expression was both nervous and full of pride, telling his father that this woman was very special to him and that he was anxious for his father's approval.
"Liz, this is my Dad, Patrick," Trevor announced. "Dad, this is Elizabeth," Patrick saw Trevor's eyes sparkle with barely suppressed laughter as he briefly paused, before continuing hurriedly, "my wife."
The older man stared at his son briefly in amazement before laughing, shaking his head as he bent forward to kiss Elizabeth's cheek.
"Well, it's certainly a real pleasure to meet you," he greeted her, sending an amazed look at his son over the woman's shoulder as he hugged her, seeing Trevor grin sheepishly as he dug his foot into the linoleum floor, a gesture he had used regularly as a boy.
"It's lovely to meet you, too," Elizabeth replied warmly. "I've heard so much about you."
"We should leave you to talk about the surgery," Trevor stated, after a couple of minutes of casual conversation, taking his wife's hand. "Wasn't Angelique wanting your help with something when I came to get you?"
"Yes, she was," the woman agreed, casting a farewell smile at her father-in-law before going down the hall with her husband.
"She looks like a nice person," Patrick mused, watching them leave.
"She is," Jarod agreed quietly. "Very nice. You couldn't want a better daughter-in-law." He sighed, turning to face the surgeon. "She's also the person with the severe degeneration of the pons that you noticed before." He exhaled slowly. "And to complicate matters, she's also pregnant."
Patrick felt something sink in his chest as he looked at the younger man, seeing the sorrow in his dark eyes, suddenly understanding his son's reaction when they had mentioned it earlier and how Trevor had managed to overcome his pride to call his father after so long.
"How soon can we start the operations?" Patrick demanded abruptly, aware that he could at least try to do something about this, that the more time he spent sitting around mourning the fact that his son's wife's condition was potentially so serious, the less chance he would have of correcting it. "How far along are you with the planning?"
Jarod drew him along to a room that had been set up for an office and sent a guard to get one of the other residents, who would also be assisting with the surgery, before they began to discuss the possible procedure.
* * * * * * * * *
Broots looked around the dank interior of SL-27, watching as electricians erected lights on poles every few hundred feet to light the passageways so that the sweepers could more clearly see the rooms they had been directed to clear out. He wished Jarod had never thought of this place again, let alone mentioned to Morgan that it should be cleared out in case anything of use was left to find. He could have handed the operation over to Warwick, or set up a group from among his underlings, but Lazslo had finally decided to head the project himself, so that he could report immediately if anything important was found.
The sheer size of the level had resulted in him calling in all unoccupied sweepers and cleaners to help, and the large group scattered into the numerous rooms nearby. Broots strolled along the dark passageway, eyeing the many doors, thinking what a difference permanent lighting made, before opening the construction blueprint that Jarod had stolen years earlier, comparing it to his current location.
The basic layout was the same as the upper levels, containing a series of rooms marked as being for scientific laboratories, sim labs and accommodation suites. There was also a plan for a normal access point from the elevators that serviced the 26 other sub-levels and those above ground. The shaft had been dug, but a brake had been put in after the fire that had destroyed the area, at the point where SL-26 stopped and the level below it began. Broots had already arranged for this shaft to be made accessible and the elevators to be reprogrammed to include the lowest level, rather than requiring access to be only through the sewer port.
Parts of old computers had been retrieved from other rooms and were being taken to boxes that had been lowered on thick ropes into the lower level. These were hoisted up, to be transferred to a room that had been set aside near the hub of SIS for Broots and others to scan through later, in case any new information could be found.
Lazslo wandered away from the rooms that were being searched, from the area in which records had shown that the fire had started, and in which Sydney had set the bomb, watching as more of the spotlights were retrieved from the upper level and attached to tortion barriers along the hall, to light the rooms. Slowly it became possible to see to the end of the distant corridor, and he eyed the shattered panes of glass in the various doors that would have allowed guards and overseers to watch their projects, unable to tell whether the whitened panes had been caused by the heat of the fire or the repercussions of the explosion.
But as the hours wore on and increasingly more of the hallways were lit, he found areas that were not so badly damaged, that showed signs of being cleaned up after the blazes, patches visible in the walls and doors. Looking up, he saw that the ceiling of the hall way still black, but guessed that the rest of the area had been cleaned for some reason.
Suddenly, something made him stop short, looking around, trying to pinpoint what had attracted his attention.
"Sam!" he called back his shoulder, and the sweeper, who had volunteered for the task, hurried to his side.
"Get some people to take a closer look into these rooms here."
A team was quickly gathered, and Broots joined them, allocating himself a sub-corridor that led off the main one and from which he believed he had heard the sounds. Then it came again, the faint sound of scratching, a murmur, perhaps even a muffled whimper.
A door stood ajar a few feet away and he inched towards it, holding his flashlight out in front of him like it could protect him. Sam appeared beside him, the sweeper drawing his gun and going into the room ahead of the technician. Through the open door, Broots could see the other man's eyes widen, his mouth dropping open slightly as he stared at something inside the room, and the head of SIS quickly followed him inside.
He found himself standing in an observation room, fully kitted out in some of the most modern equipment that the Centre used, and much of which was still on, including the microphone that had allowed the sounds to travel into the corridor.
It was the contents of the room being observed that had caused Sam's emotions, and which also caused Broots to stare in disbelief as his eyes adjusted to the dim light.
The room contained a thin pile of blankets in one corner, a bowl of water and an overflowing bowl of what was probably excrement. The stench, although it didn't pass through the wall, could be easily imagined, despite the fan that continued to pump fresh air into the room, and Lazslo gagged at the mere thought of it. On the opposite side of the room lay a pile of bones, all of which had been gnawed bare.
Directly opposite the window, on the floor of the room, lay a pile of hair. At least, that was what the two men believed it was, after a quick consultation.
That was, until it moved.
"Oh, God," Broots breathed, seeing dark eyes peering out of the mass of hair, looking around the room, and then a thin arm appear momentarily before it drew back again. "It's a child!"
* * * * * * * * *
"Daddy," a voice called, breaking into Jarod's consciousness. "Daddeee!"
The man became aware of hands drumming on wood and came to full alertness, sitting up in bed to see his son standing up and banging his hands on the bedhead. As soon as he realized that he had the man's attention, Gabriel held out both hands.
"Daddy," he called again, urgently.
"What is it?" his father demanded grumpily.
"Annie needs your help!"
"Now?" Jarod looked at the clock in disbelief. "It's three a.m.! Angelique will be asleep, baby, just like everyone else."
"No!" Gabriel protested, his bottom lip protruding, and, Jarod thought fleetingly, looking very like his mother. "She needs help now!"
Jarod sighed, realizing he would get no rest until he showed Gabriel that his cousin was sound asleep, getting out of bed and putting on his bathrobe and slippers, before picking his son up and carrying him into the living room. Jordan was standing in the dividing doorway, looking sleepily astonished.
"What's going on, Dad?"
"Your baby brother's having nightmares," Jarod returned sharply, not at all happy with this turn of events. "Go back to bed, son. You have an exam later today."
"Okay. Call if you need me."
Jarod carried Gabriel along to the elevator and got in, making a firm, if somewhat unreasonable, mental note to teach his son to read a clock and never to make ridiculous suggestions like this again before at least six a.m., and preferably seven. The car descended the few floors, and slid open to reveal a darkened hall, but the sounds of panting and muffled sobs were audible from the corner where the door led to the stairs. Jarod hurried in that direction and found his niece, tears in her eyes, struggling to reach the handle of the closed door. Putting Gabriel on the floor, he swept the blond girl into his arms.
"What is it, princess?" he asked in concern. "What's wrong?"
"Lizbet," she wailed, resting her head against his chest and sobbing. "She falled down de stairs!"
"Are you sure?" he demanded. "You weren't dreaming?"
"She hurted!" Angelique sobbed. "She crying!"
Jarod knew that Angelique was comfortable around Elizabeth, and because of that a strong bond had grown between them Although she would never have the powerful biological connection that Angelique had shared with Faith, the Australian woman was starting to take the place of a mother in this motherless child's life.
Picking up Gabriel in his free arm, Jarod pushed open the door to the stairwell, stepping into the dimly lit space and immediately hearing the sound of muffled sobbing from somewhere below him in the semi-darkness. Gabriel had put his arms around his playmate and was holding her while she swallowed her tears, as Jarod began descending the stairs as quickly as he could without losing his still somewhat tentative balance.
Finally, almost eight floors down, as he reached the bottom of a flight of stairs, he could see her lying on the floor below him, her head on her arms, sobbing almost hysterically, so upset that she didn't even hear him approach or put the two children on the floor, jumping violently as he slid an arm around her shoulders and supported her into a sitting position.
"What is it?" he asked gently, smoothing her hair, as he wondered how long she had been there, seeing the cousins waiting a short distance away, holding hands. "What's wrong?"
"It's starting," Elizabeth wept, clutching his robe, making no pretences of the joviality she usually demonstrated. "I fell -- just the last couple of steps -- but I can't even walk anymore! My feet went in two different directions, like they got conflicting reports from my brain, and I couldn't do a thing about it!" She buried her face in his shoulder, sobbing violently, her terror obvious.
"You don't know that," Jarod offered softly, knowing this was false hope, as he stroked her hair.
"I do!" she wailed. "I've never tripped over my own feet in my life. You can't be a gymnast if you do, and I never had any problem with that!"
Jarod silently admitted the truth of this to himself, suspecting that this was, in fact, the start of the deterioration that would eventually leave this lively, cheerful woman in the same state as the man lying in the infirmary upstairs. His eyes slid over to Angelique, aware that, without treatment, she, too, would eventually suffer the same fate. It was an horrendous thought, one his brain repelled instantly.
"I'm going to get a stretcher and have you taken up to the infirmary," he told her gently, eyeing the call switch by the door of the stairwell that led onto the fifth floor, and which would alert security to their predicament. "I want to check you over and make sure everything's okay."
He hoped the fall hadn't caused any problems to her developing baby, but it seemed that she had only tripped down a few steps, so he hoped there wouldn't be any problems. But Jarod could see why this was happening so quickly. Blood was flowing down to help the baby grow, as well as to try to repair the dying tissue in her brain, throwing her blood pressure into disarray. That would, no doubt, be a further cause of her fall, but just that, alone, wouldn't be enough for a person with usually perfect balance. There had to be another cause, and considering what the conclusion -- not just his own, but also Patrick's and Yuri's -- about her future had been, it was the anticipated result, horrifying as that seemed.
By the time the stretcher arrived, Trevor had appeared, but whether he had seen a vision of the fall or he had been called, Jarod didn't know and didn't bother to ask. The psychic was obviously panic-stricken, but controlling it in an attempt to hide his feelings from his wife. One of the nurses tried to take the children to the nursery as the group moved out of the stairwell to the elevator, but both protested loudly and vigorously. However, Jarod refused to let them stay, finally pacifying them with promises to come and tell them how Elizabeth was as soon as he could.
Patrick appeared in the infirmary several minutes later, automatically taking charge. Jarod took notes from the quiet directions that the surgeon gave. While Patrick had the woman sent for an ultrasound, to check the condition of the fetus, Jarod called in the head of nighttime security, requesting him to wake Sebastian and Keely and get them into individual beds, with psychics to watch over their dreams in the old way, just in case the medication that had been created failed when they were asleep. Guards were to be posted along the hallway to answer questions if people were roused by nightmares, as he fully expected them to be.
Sighing wearily, Jarod let his head droop as he turned to go back to bed, before remembering the two children waiting for him in the nursery. Taking the elevator to the relevant floor, he went into his son's room first, but Gabriel had already fallen asleep, clutching the teddy bear Morgan had given him when he was still only a baby at the Centre. Jarod lightly kissed his son's cheek before leaving the room with a farewell pat for Toto, who was curled up on his dog-bed in the corner.
When Jarod went into Angelique's room, however, he saw the girl sit up in bed immediately. She held out her hands to him and he went over to sit next to her, gathering her in his arms, rocking her gently.
"It's all right, Angelique," he assured her softly, despite knowing that it wasn't, and her blue eyes filled with tears as she looked up at him.
"Lizbet going like Mommy gone," she moaned, and he felt his heart ache at the little voice. A hand suddenly came to rest on his arm and Jarod saw that Angelo was also in the bedroom with them.
The empath sat down on the bed beside his old friend and Jarod eased the girl onto her father's lap, seeing the pain in her eyes fade by degrees, as if she realized that she wouldn't be alone, even if another woman to whom she had grown close lost her fight against this terrible, silent enemy. Jarod saw Angelique's head come to rest on her father's shoulder, snuggling close to him as an expression of responsibility appeared on the empath's face.
At this juncture, the door opened and Nancy looked inside, indicating for Jarod to come out to join her. In the hallway, Jarod found Namir, moving out into the playroom with the Israeli at his suggestion, so that their conversation wouldn't disturb any of the other children who might be still sleeping.
"I know what happened," Namir stated calmly. "I want to help."
"No!" Jarod exploded, the tension of the night being released in that one syllable. His voice was still full of anger when he continued. "I won't let you put yourself at so much risk. You know what happened to Joseph!"
The foreign man's dark eyes placidly regarded him. "My Lord gave me my ability to heal. If He so desires, He can take it away again." Namir inhaled deeply, his chin rising. "I want you to use me as your test. You will have to perform the operation on someone first, and I want to be that one."
Jarod's eyes widened slightly. "You could die as a result."
"I have thought of this," Namir told him. "But I have no children requiring my guidance as a father, and no family to mourn me when I go."
"What about Ramona?" Jarod hazarded, knowing that a bond had been growing between the two people ever since the man's arrival at Sanctuary.
"I have spoken to her of it," Namir replied evenly. "She understands, and wishes to be the second volunteer."
Jarod was silent. Everything the healer had said was true, but so far Jarod had managed to forget that the operation would have to be performed on a living human being, and that the potential risk of causing irreparable damage was very great. Jarod was only thankful that the responsibility was on someone else, for a change.
"I'll talk to Patrick about it," he offered, continuing quietly. "Thank you."
Namir gave him a beaming smile. "You will accept," he stated knowingly. "I am sure of it."
A hand tugged on Jarod's bathrobe and he looked down to find Angelique next to him, one hand still clutching that of her father, her blue eyes expectant.
"Can I see Lizbet, Unca Jarod?"
The man hesitated, but knew that refusing would only increase the girl's distress. "All right," he agreed eventually, picking her up. "Just for a moment."
Namir disappeared into the stairwell as they came out into the lobby, but Angelo followed Jarod into the elevator, through the infirmary and into the room where Elizabeth lay, Trevor leaning over the bed, gently stroking her cheek with the tips of his fingers. He looked up as they entered, his eyes full of the emotion he felt.
Elizabeth's gaze turned to them, and Jarod could see the painkillers had had an effect, but that she was still overwrought, wishing she wasn't pregnant so she could be given something to soothe her shattered nerves.
"You see, Angelique," he muttered. "She's all right."
The girl reached out, and, after some hesitation, Jarod put her on the bed, seeing her nestle close to the woman.
"Lizbet," she murmured, and the woman's right arm curled around her.
"Thank you, sweetheart," Elizabeth whispered, her voice strained. "Thank you for getting Jarod."
Nodding earnestly, the child picked up the woman's left hand, which lay across her stomach, and took it on her lap, stroking it gently. "Lizbet sleepy," she muttered quietly, and Jarod shot a sharp glance in the girl's direction, suddenly realizing what she was doing as he saw the concentration in her eyes.
He was torn between stopping her, to keep her from hurting herself, and letting her continue, to give the woman the rest that she needed. Even as he was about to pick Angelique up, however, he remembered that she could, and probably would, have continued the process, even once he had removed her from the room. It seemed better to let her finish what would hopefully be a less damaging procedure, because of its more positive effects.
Elizabeth suddenly yawned, closing her eyes and relaxing back against the pillow, and Jarod saw a satisfied smile appear on Angelique's face, even as she released the woman's hand and turned to Jarod, holding out her arms to be picked up. Jarod lifted her off the bed, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her head on his shoulder. He turned to Trevor, who had watched the process silently, his hand resting on his wife's arm.
"I'll come back in a few hours," he told the psychic quietly. "Call me if you need anything."
The dark-skinned man nodded soberly, turning his attention back to his sleeping wife, and Jarod left the room, taking Angelo with him. In the lift lobby again, he looked at the girl in his arms.
"Where do you want to spend the rest of tonight, princess?"
She half-smiled, looking up at him. "'S nearly breakfast time, Unca Jarod."
He glanced at his watch, seeing that she was right and wondering how she knew. Noticing for the first time that he was still in his pajamas, he turned to Angelo.
"Will you go and bring Gabriel up to my room for me when he wakes up? Then, once I'm dressed, we can go down to breakfast together."
Nodding, the empath entered the stairs. He seemed to prefer them to the elevator, and Jarod had to wonder whether it had anything to do with his mother's faked death, even more than 30 years later. He got into the elevator when the car arrived, looking at Angelique as they ascended.
"Are you all right, sweetheart?"
She nodded soberly, resting her head against his chest. "Unca Jarod?" she asked softly.
"Is Lizbet gonna die, too?"
He lifted her so that she was on eye level with him. "I don't know, Angelique," he replied honestly.
Nodding again, she put her arms around his neck and hugged him, as the elevator doors opened and Jarod stepped out into the hallway, heading for his room.
* * * * * * * * *
The man's face was suddenly taut, his eyes flickering under closed lids, as the dream that hadn't come since the group returned after the battle made its presence felt. He moaned, trying to get away, clutching at his side, where a scar lay hidden under his pajama jacket
Michael Charles exited the stairwell minutes before the event and made his way to the elevator lobby. He heard the machinery whirring inside the shaft behind the closed doors, and knew she was on her way. In his pocket was his military pistol, loaded with blanks. In the other pocket was another pistol with live rounds, and in other pockets were more stashes of ammunition. He had his own escape routes chosen, some quick and direct in case things went wrong, others longer and more complicated, that would allow him to get away discreetly if all went well.
The doors opened, and he saw her there, her eyes wide and filled with fear. Her hands were trembling as she recognized him and stuck on the latex appliances that would simulate bullet wounds. Glancing at the empty corridor, she handed him a small squeeze bottle with a red liquid in it.
"Squeeze that on me," she ordered softly, her voice barely a whisper, and lifted her chin to allow him to aim at the artificial wounds.
Michael obeyed, and the finished product looked amazingly real. She stepped back into the elevator, popped a pill into her mouth and swallowed it, then tossed him her spare pistol, retrieved from her purse. She gave him the go-ahead, and he pulled both pistols.
"To make it look real," he promised. "Lie down."
She obeyed. He fired the military pistol once for effect so it would pass a forensics test, and shot a hole in the elevator with the other a second afterward. Dropping the pistol with the Circle of Fire insignia, he gave her a nod as he heard the screams and shouts, and took off toward the stairs as the doors began to close on her legs.
Just as he thought, someone in a security uniform burst out of the stairwell in anticipation of his retreat. It was a trap, as he suspected it might be. But he was sure Catherine's plea had been genuine. She had believed he would get away and get his sons -- he had seen that in her eyes. Which left her companion as the one who betrayed him.
Michael dashed down the corridor to another set of doors, these leading to a maintenance tunnel with a ladder that would take him a service elevator. He was fast, but not fast enough. Just as the doors closed on him, a shot rang out and hit him in the lower belly. He saw the man's face who pulled the trigger, and knew his suspicion had been correct. The man was the same one who had made the rendezvous with Catherine.
The major barely made it out to his bike, and from there, down the road and beyond. Oddly enough, there was no pursuit once he left the building, but that was a good thing. He had enough to do, just keeping his head and trying to stay conscious and on the motorcycle long enough to get to a hospital before he bled to death
Michael gasped aloud, sitting upright in bed, his heart pounding in his ears, his back throbbing, hearing a chime ring through the room, and realized that it was only a dream. Telling himself that, over and over, struggling to believe it, he leaned forward, burying his face in his hands, trying to erase the memory, suddenly feeling gentle hands on his shoulders, and then his wife's face pressed against his back. Turning, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close to him, holding her to convince himself of the reality of the current situation and wondering if he would ever really be able to forget
"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.
* * * * * * * * *
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."
"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 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.
* * * * * * * * *
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 "
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?"
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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?"
"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."
Jarod leaned over Yuri's shoulder as they studied the screen on which Namir's latest MRI results were being displayed. The machine began spitting out sheets of scans and Yuri saved the files as Jarod picked up the pages, sliding them onto the screen on which the older results already hung.
"It's hard to tell," Jarod admitted, finally superimposing one image onto another. "But I think there's a little growth."
Yuri sighed in obvious relief, opening the file on the computer beside his MRI screen and entering the details. "And that's after two weeks," he mused, seeing the healer helped off the bed by one of the nurses, his hair quickly growing back, a long, red line along the front of his head showing the location of the surgical site being buried under the dark curls. "If this keeps going, we could have all the results from everyone at the end of four weeks."
"Preliminary results," Jarod reminded him. "I still think it's going to take at least two more weeks with Namir until we know for sure whether it's actually going to continue working."
There was a soft sound of agreement from Yuri before they both fell silent, Jarod going over to the computer that stood beside the screen he commonly used and opening the file on which the list of operations were written. Thirty had already been completed, fifteen days of constant hard work, and all but those operated on the day before were now up and moving around. Ramona had had slight numbness in her left foot, which had been concerning, but it had thankfully worn off by the following morning, so they continued to operate.
In another six days, once all the adults who were affected had undergone the procedure, they would once more assess its progress in Namir, Ramona and the others who had volunteered to undergo the procedure early, before considering whether it was successful enough to use on the Seraphim.
"Jarod?" a voice asked, and he turned to find one of the nurses looking in. "Sumi's just woken up and wants to talk to you."
"One sec," he responded, saving the file and closing it down, before coming over to the door. A guard, who had been in the hallway, now moved into the room to keep an eye on Yuri. Sebastian had insisted that, apart from his own set of rooms, Yuri was never to be alone in any room in the building.
Sumi lay half-reclining in bed, her eyes closed, fingers wrapped in those of her husband, who sat beside her. The Australian looked up as he came in, and Jarod could see the anxiety in his boss's eyes, picking up the folder from the end of the bed and looking through the record of the woman's vital signs, before looking up again to see that her eyes were open. He smiled as he shut the thin booklet and moved closer to the bedside.
"You wanted to talk to me?"
The bandaged head nodded slightly on the pillow, and Jarod picked up a cup of ice chips from the table, spooning several between her slightly pale lips. After a moment, they moved again and managed to frame the words, her voice deep with drowsiness.
"Did you shave all my hair off?"
Jarod grinned. "Only on the left side," he assured her. "You can have the world's longest comb-over, once we take the bandages off, if you want."
She smiled faintly, closing her eyes again. Sebastian, who had managed a very faint smile at his wife's question, now rose from the seat as Jarod moved towards the door.
"When is it my turn?"
Jarod drew him into the hallway. "We want to do Joseph and Elizabeth first. We've been waiting to perfect the treatment, because their conditions make them more risky, but once they're done, we'll be calling you, so probably the day after tomorrow." He glanced at his watch, just as a chime rang through the hall, signaling that the dining room was starting to serve dinner. "We also want to make sure that Sumi's up, so she and Keely can take care of Gideon while you're under the anesthetic."
Sebastian folded his arms over his chest, staring at the floor. "You think he'll know?"
"I'm sure he will," Jarod responded firmly. "And we want to distress him as little as possible. But," he glanced at his watch, seeing that it was Monday, "you'll be up and around by Sunday, so as long as Sumi and Keely can keep him occupied, hopefully, he won't notice it too much."
The pyrokenetic raised an eyebrow. "That seems awfully fast."
"Not at all," Jarod assured him. "You'll have the procedure on Thursday, and, provided nothing goes wrong, you'll be sitting up and eating by Friday, with pain relief, of course, and out of bed by Saturday. And then Sunday," he teased, "we'll have you running races."
Sebastian smiled in appreciation of the joke, and then headed back into the room where his wife slept while Jarod headed for the elevator that would take him up to the dining room.
* * * * * * * * *
There was a soft sigh as a breeze blew through the grass, and Kim drew her coat more closely around her as she picked up the small bunch of flowers from the passenger seat and then got out of the car, shutting the door. The scene before her was so dramatically different from her last visit to this place that, for a moment, she could only stand and stare at the expanse of green. Moving forward, Kim pushed open the gate and stepped into the enclosed space, closing it behind her.
The wind changed, blowing from behind her, seeming to gently push her forward, and she moved over to the center of the area, putting up one hand to keep her hair from blowing into her face.
"I hope you're happy now," she murmured aloud, approaching the two graves, side by side.
Grass had already grown over the two mounds, and gravestones alerted any curious visitor to the identities of those buried there. Louise Asher and Hugh Woods. Lifting her eyes, Kim's gaze roamed around the area, noting from the positions of the trees where the house had once stood, a house that had resulted in so many deaths.
The trees bent in the wind, and she pushed her free hand deeper into her pocket, wondering if anyone else would consent to be buried on this formerly haunted ground, or whether the couple would have it to themselves for eternity.
Kneeling in front of the graves, she placed the small bunch of roses so that the petals lay on one mound and the paper around the stems touched the other, giving the headstone a light touch as she rose to her feet. Turning away, she headed back for her car, feeling that the wind had died down, smiling as she got into the vehicle and drove away.
* * * * * * * * *
The blond man heard the door open and looked over his shoulder to see Jarod quietly enter. He put the test tube he had been holding into a rack that stood on the bench and turned to face him.
"How's it going?" the Pretender asked, wandering in his direction.
"I think I've got it," he offered, and then explained the drug he had made, which, it was hoped would encourage growth of the implanted stem cells. He could see Jarod nod as he clarified the way he believed that it worked.
"I spoke to Shane," Jarod told him. "CGB is ready to begin mass-producing it as soon as you're happy with the formula."
Nodding, the blond man glanced at his notes again before looking at the other man once more.
"I take it you you haven't found anything," he offered hesitantly, feeling something sink inside him as the other man shook his head. Jarod spread his hands in a helpless gesture.
"I've looked everywhere I know," he explained quietly. "I can't find anything - no birth certificates, no photos, nothing. I can only assume that the Centre destroyed it all." He paused. "I'm sorry."
The bitterness of disappointment choked him. He had been hoping to find anything, even a name, that would link him to the world before his work at the Centre, but he had found nothing, so he had asked Jarod in the hope that the Pretender would have more luck. Now that option, too, had turned out to be hopeless. Exhaling slowly, he turned back to the bench at which he was working.
"I could keep trying," Jarod suggested, after a long period of silence, but the man slowly shook his head.
"There's probably no point," he murmured, before his head went up, straightening his shoulders. "I guess it's time to move on, make my own future, instead of hoping for a past that doesn't seem to exist."
"But you'll stay here?" Jarod prompted quickly. "You won't leave, just like that, won't leave Keely when she's so attached to you?" His voice lowered. "You saved my son and the others from exposure to Aurora. I owe you something for that. Something big. I wanted to help you when you asked, and I hate the fact that I couldn't. I didn't want to fail, John. I wanted to give you something that would have helped you as much as finding out about my family helped me." His dark eyes glittered suspiciously. "Don't think that I, or any of the children, or anyone else here, would forget you if you disappeared from our lives. You're known here. We'll keep thinking about you." His lips twisted into an almost bitter smile. "Maybe the Centre's training isn't as good as you think it is."
John laughed humorlessly. "What good is a memory of me when I don't even know who I am?"
"You could find out," Jarod suggested, leaning against a nearby chair. "Start today. Make a new life. Keep the best bits of the old one. Throw out the rest. Make believe it happened to someone else. Join the family of people here at Sanctuary; know that you're as gifted as any of the rest of us, and that you belong here. Make today your birthday and the start of everything you want your life to be."
The man thought this over for a couple of minutes. Now that he knew there was nothing that he could expect to find about his past, that idea was tempting. It wouldn't be easy to break out of the long years of training he had undergone, but it was possible. People needed him, and he would be able to work towards helping them, taking benevolent orders for a change, instead of those that were frequently the opposite. All the people here had suffered to a greater or lesser extent, because of the same place that had taken his life and his past; a place that was now gone. There was no more need for loyalty to it, or to his past. It could go.
He nodded, meeting the older man's gaze, deciding. And then he smiled. "I guess that makes it my birthday, then."
Jarod grinned. "You're doing awfully well for a newborn."
John laughed, feeling something lighten inside him at the teasing. He turned back to the work on the bench in front of him, knowing that Jarod was leaving, probably to tell Sebastian the result of their conversation, but then his voice came, asking one final question.
"By the way, what should we call you?"
The blond man shrugged, looking back over his shoulder. "Why change what works? I've been John Smith for a while now. Might as well leave it. It's as good as any other. What's in a name, anyhow?"
Jarod smiled sympathetically, understanding, and then quietly left the room.
* * * * * * * * *
Lucian finished wrapping the sheet around the body of the woman on the bed, reaching for his shirt and pulling it on to cover the scratches that marred his skin, both new ones from this more recent murder and those of the other four women who had fallen victim to him.
Gathering his things, he quietly left the room, piling them into his hired car, which he would dump when he was far enough away, and leaving the carpark beside the tall hotel.
That was the fifth murder.
He was sure that she would eventually get the message. He wanted to terrify her a little first and shake her up, make her wonder when he was coming, but the best part for Lucian was that he could decide exactly when that would be.
It hadn't been easy to find a woman with blue eyes in this town, but a backpacker had eventually succumbed to his charms and the offer of a night in a proper hotel, at his expense. Not that it had cost him a lot. In fact, these days, life wasn't costing him very much at all
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod squeezed the clear gel onto Elizabeth's visibly swollen belly and picked up the transducer, using it to spread the gel around enough for him to get clear pictures. It took several minutes, but finally he could see the rapid movement that signified a heartbeat. This wasn't Elizabeth's first ultrasound, and they had discovered the sex of the baby the previous week, but he could feel her tension, using his free hand to unclench the fingers that were wrapped around the edge of the bed on which she lay.
"It's all right," he assured her quietly. "She's still hanging in there."
A tear slipped out of the woman's eye and down her temple as she stared at the ceiling. Suddenly her gaze swung around to him. "Trevor dreamed about her yesterday."
He arched an eyebrow. "He did?"
"Yes." The word was soft, and her hand lightly touched a part of her stomach not covered by the clear gel. Another tear escaped from her eye and began a slow trek down her temple, to vanish in her hair. A small smile curled her lips. "He was dreaming about her life and what she would do. I can't help wondering," she broke off to sniff back more tears, "if it was a vision, not a dream. If she will survive and go on to live that life
Jarod put down the transducer and wrapped his hands around her fingers. "If it will help you," he urged quietly, "believe that. Hang on to that belief, and the knowledge that you've got something to live for now, even more than you did before. That she'll need you."
She smiled again, bitterly this time. "Faith said the same thing to you," she told him. "You don't remember it consciously, but you dream about it all the time."
Jarod busied himself with the ultrasound equipment again, blinking to clear his sight as his eyes misted.
"I just wanted you to know," she stated quietly, "in case I don't pull through this. I took it away, so it wouldn't upset you, but if I'm not here anymore, to do that for you, I want you to remember why you survived."
He cleaned the gel off her stomach without meeting her gaze, gently pulling down her nightgown and assisting her into the wheelchair she was using if she had to go anywhere, in an attempt to prevent her from falling again.
She grabbed his hand as he was about to steer the chair out of the room, looking up at him, and, although her eyes still glistened with tears, her expression was sympathetic.
"I -- I wouldn't have told you if if I didn't think you ought to know," she murmured.
Jarod bent down beside the chair, suddenly realizing that, although it was painful for him to hear, she was only doing what she thought was necessary, in case things went wrong. "Thank you," he stated softly, brushing a tear from her cheek. "I appreciate that."
Elizabeth clutched at his hands as her eyes filled again. "I'm scared, Jarod," she whispered.
"I know," he replied soothingly, sliding an arm around her shoulders and squeezing gently. "But, even though there are risks in your case that we haven't had to deal with before, we've done this quite a bit. We're getting pretty good at it."
Nodding, she sniffed and gave a watery smile. Jarod straightened up and pushed the chair along the hall to her room, seeing that Sumi was sitting in the armchair beside the bed, wrapped in a blanket, waiting to talk to her friend. Jarod went to tell Patrick the result of the ultrasound so that they could make final preparations for the operation, the following afternoon.
* * * * * * * * *
Sebastian was heading down the hall to his apartment to get something his wife wanted when he heard sobs and gasps from the room he had just passed. Going back, he paused for a moment before pushing the door open, seeing Trevor pacing the length of his apartment's living room, his head bowed and arms folded over his chest as tears streamed down his cheeks, soaking through the shirt he wore. Sebastian hesitated for a moment before closing the door behind himself.
"Trevor," he called quietly, questioningly. "What is it?"
The psychic turned, tear-tracks on his cheeks glistening in the overhead lights, his eyes red. For a moment, he started blankly at his visitor, before making an obvious effort to control himself.
"You saw something," the Australian stated knowingly. "What was it?"
Trevor sank onto the sofa, and Sebastian moved over to sit beside his friend. "My daughter," he murmured, sinking his face into his hands and beginning to weep again. "I saw my baby girl."
Sebastian brightened immediately. "So she'll survive! They both will!"
"I don't know!" Trevor burst out. "That's just it. I can't believe in myself anymore, not with the way things have happened!"
The pyrokenetic waited for a moment in silence, before asking a question. "What things?"
Gasping for air, fighting to stop the tears, it took a moment before Trevor was able to answer, but he finally got the words out. "I saw Jarod die," he reminded his friend, "and he's still alive. I never thought I'd see my father again and he's here. They were such big things, and I was so sure of them, but they were wrong. How can I possibly trust something this big to be right?"
Sebastian had no answer to this question, and knew that there was none, sliding his arm around his friend's shoulders and squeezing gently as Trevor continued to weep.
* * * * * * * * *
Jordan parked his hired car near the entrance to the large building, forced to suppress a shudder as he opened the door and got out, taking the bag of files he had made with him. A sweeper who stood guard at the front door opened it for him, and he ventured nervously into the dim interior, somewhat hesitantly approaching the desk. The receptionist glanced at him and then picked up an ID badge, which she was about to give him, before she hesitated. A second passed, before her expression cleared.
"Oh, you're Mr. Charles' son," she exclaimed, hurriedly putting the badge away. "I'm sorry, it took me a moment. Miss Ritter asked me to call her when you arrived, so if you'll put this on," she gave him a different tag with his name on it, "and take a seat, I'll let her know that you're here."
Jordan took the badge with a feeling of thankfulness, retreating to the chairs that stood against the wall and sitting down on one, clutching his bag to his chest and staring around at the marble room. Even the Prometheus lobby wasn't on the scale of this building, and its size and silence awed him.
"Jordan," a familiar voice announced, and Morgan stepped out of the elevator, passing through a metal detector and holding out her hand, lightly kissing his cheek. "I'm glad you got here okay."
She guided him through the security procedures, stating that he would have to go through them every time he entered the building, but he wouldn't have to wait for someone to come down and get him every day. Now that he had his pass, he could come and go as he pleased.
"Pleasant flight up? I heard there was a storm over Arkansas."
"Well, I'm glad I don't get airsick," he told her, relaxing at her casual tone. "It was certainly a little bumpy."
"I bet." She smiled, before looking at what he carried. "You brought clothes and things?"
"Of course," he agreed. "But I took them to the apartment Dad uses when he comes up. He said I could use it."
"I was going to offer you a room at my house," Morgan volunteered. "But it's up to you."
"I I think I'd prefer the apartment," he responded hesitantly. "I'm sort of looking forward to living on my own, for the first time."
"A bachelor pad, huh?" she teased, as they got into the elevator and she pressed the new button for the lowest floor. When he only nodded in response, she became more serious. "I know you've got all the information on Pedro that we've found, so you know what to expect. We still haven't moved him from his room in SL-27, to keep him as calm as possible until he gets more used to having people around again."
"That might take a while," Jordan stated thoughtfully, suddenly realizing how much he sounded like his father. "I understand the team haven't got far?"
"They seem to be a little short on ideas," Morgan agreed. "I'm looking forward to seeing what you can come up with. I hate seeing that poor baby down there, all alone"
They stepped out into a brightly lit corridor, which was full of people working in various rooms and also, much to Jordan's amazement, scrubbing the ceiling. He hesitated, watching them curiously, before hurrying after Morgan, who hadn't stopped.
"We've set up an office beside Pedro's room, expanding the observation room so that you'll be able to see him from your desk." She glanced apologetically over her shoulder. "If you'd prefer an office on one of the higher levels "
"I'd rather be as close to him as possible," Jordan interrupted. "I don't care so much about how far down I am. I'm used to being without windows."
"Of course you are," Morgan agreed. "I'd forgotten about the set-up in Sanctuary."
He nodded as she opened a door, which, Jordan saw, bore a plate with his name on it. Going into the office, he saw a desk and several shelves of books against the far wall, the wall closest to him bearing an observation window into the next room. Looking into the boy's room, he saw Pedro lying on a pile of blankets, staring at the ceiling. His fingers fiddled with a tattered edge of the top-most rug, his expression thoughtful.
"Jordan?" Morgan got his attention and drew him over to the desk. "You'll have your own phone number within an hour -- that's what they're working on in the hallway -- and here's the key," she placed the keyring in his hand. "You can send emails and internal memos from your computer, and access the mainframe and Internet. The cafeteria is on SL-11 and food is served all day," she winked, "or, if you're anything like your father, you'll probably prefer to use one of the vending machines on the same level."
Jordan grinned, as Morgan laughed, aware that he was probably blushing. Comparisons with the man from whom he had been created no longer bothered him; in fact, he was now proud to be likened to someone for whom other people had so much respect and affection. When Jordan thought back to the time before his feelings had changed, he could only wonder at his naïveté and foolish pride.
"You can arrange for something to take back to your apartment for dinner, if you want," Morgan continued. "Just let the staff know that when you're ordering." She smiled. "Any questions?"
"I think that's everything," he replied. "I'll let you know."
"You do that." Her hand rested lightly on his arm before she left the room, and he could hear her footsteps for several seconds before they were swallowed up by the other barely audible noises.
Stepping over to the observation window, Jordan turned on the speaker and then shoved his hands deep into the pockets of the black pants he wore, rocking back slightly on his heels as his eyes roamed around the boy's room.
His father had been right; this case was very different from Jacob. The room wasn't completely bare. Raines had had timber beams put into the walls for Pedro to climb, a couple of months after he had been put into that room, and several showed signs of teeth marks, evidence of the boy's boredom. One of the sweepers had confessed that, until Lucian had injected him with Supernova, several weeks before the boy was found, he had taken food down regularly. After he had been given the drug's antidote, he had resumed feeding Pedro, afraid to confess the child's situation to anyone but equally unwilling to let him starve. The boy had only been without food for five days in total, and now he was eating every day.
Jordan had seen much of the DSA footage and read all the information about Pedro. His hands resting on the window ledge, he closed his eyes and put himself in this child's position, feeling his fear at the sight of another person. All memory of his mother would most likely have faded by now, and even if it hadn't, all the evidence showed that she had been killed so reintroducing them would be impossible. They only person who had known about this project, other than Raines, had been Lucian, and, heartily approving of it, he would have made sure to take care of any witnesses.
Jordan's eyes opening, he looked at the child with sympathy as Pedro got off his bed, scrambling up the beams, swinging off the top one like a monkey. In fact, many of his movements were more animal than human, and Jordan knew that that would only add to his difficulties. Sighing, he went to his desk and sat down, starting up the computer.
* * * * * * * * *
Before Elizabeth had fully regained consciousness, Jarod had her moved to the room where the ultrasound was set up, to check on the condition of her baby. Her blood pressure had remained relatively constant during the procedure, and although its success couldn't yet be measured, she had at least survived. He sent Yuri to tell Trevor that his wife had come through, unsurprised to hear familiar footsteps as he began the ultrasound.
"Come in," he encouraged, without even looking around as the door opened. Trevor moved to the bedside and took his wife's hand, the anxiety evident in his eyes and the strained expression on his face. Although concentrating on the screen, Jarod saw Elizabeth's eyes open drowsily and she smiled at her husband from beneath the oxygen mask that covered her nose and mouth. The psychic's eyes filled, but he blinked the tears away to smile back, gently stroking her cheek. Patrick was also lingering in the doorway, waiting for the ultrasound result, his expression one of anxiety.
Jarod held his breath as he moved the transducer over her belly, only allowing himself to breathe again when he saw the quick, regular rhythm, slower than it had been on the earlier scan, but that was to be expected as a result of the anesthetic the fetus would have unavoidably absorbed. Standing, he bent over the bed.
"Elizabeth," he urged, gently shaking her shoulder until she opened sleepy brown eyes. "Sorry to wake you, but I wanted to tell you that your baby's just fine."
She smiled again, struggling to speak, her voice groggy. "I thought so."
The words were a faint murmur, barely audible, and her heavy eyelids slid down immediately as she relaxed into the pillow. Jarod smiled at Trevor, seeing the tension slowly begin to drain from the psychic's eyes, before waving at the men who stood in the doorway, waiting to transfer the bed into Elizabeth's room, Patrick having already disappeared into one of the other rooms.
He let one of the nurses take over the cleaning of the ultrasound equipment and, his eyes burning with exhaustion, caught up with the surgeon as he came out of the room in which Joseph lay, sedated after his procedure earlier that day. Julia, now well enough to be out of the infirmary and sleeping in the bedroom she had been given upon arriving at Sanctuary, could be seen through the small pane of unbreakable glass in the door, sitting beside the bed, feeding her baby.
"Go to bed, Jarod," Patrick ordered firmly, after eyeing him for a moment, "before you pass out on me."
The Pretender started to protest, but Patrick had already turned in to one of the other rooms. With a shrug, as he smothered a yawn, Jarod thought that the surgeon wouldn't have suggested if it he couldn't manage on his own and decided to do as he had been told. Yawning again, he got into the elevator and a moment later was deposited on the residence level.
In his room, he found that his bed had already been turned back and his pajamas lay on his pillow with a hot water bottle between the top and pants, keeping them warm. His bedside lamp burned dimly, and he hastily got changed, snuggling in under the covers with the hot bottle in the small of his back, hoping, as his eyes quickly drifted closed, that he would be too tired to be disturbed by nightmares.
* * * * * * * * *
The thought registered vaguely in his sleep-fogged mind, and Jarod's eyes opened, coming to rest on a steaming bowl that stood on his bedside table. Crackers lay on a plate next to it and, as he slowly pulled himself into a sitting position, he could see croutons floating in the thick red soup. Yawning, he stretched and then reached for the pillows on the floor, piling them behind his back. Drawing the tray onto his knees, he had eaten first cracker and tasted the soup before it occurred to him to wonder who had put it there, and who had put out his pajamas. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was almost nine, realizing that he had only been asleep for two hours, but that it had dramatically improved the way he felt.
"Em," he called knowingly. "I know you can hear me. Where are you?"
The door to his bedroom was pushed open as if by magic and his sister stepped into the room, Gabriel asleep in her arms. "Is the soup warm enough?" she asked, grinning. "Dad said tomato was always your favorite flavor when you were little."
He chuckled, before swallowing another spoonful. "It's fine. Just what I need."
"Well, when I realized you were going to sleep through dinner, I figured you'd need something to eat when you woke up." She sat down on the bed. "I talked to Yuri. Apparently Elizabeth hasn't had any problems since the surgery."
"Good," Jarod sighed in relief. "She was definitely one of the people we were most worried about. And if she's come through then I guess we shouldn't be too concerned about the children."
Emily's arms tightened instinctively around her nephew. "I guess not. I hope not, anyway."
He smiled sympathetically. "They're easy to love, aren't they?"
"Definitely." The woman looked down at the boy in her arms. "Actually, Gabriel was asking for you before, but he fell asleep while waiting for you to wake up."
"Like father, like son," the man responded, grinning, after eating the last cracker and swallowing the last of the soup. Before he could say anything else, the phone on the table beside his bed rang. He answered it quickly, before it could wake his son
"Jarod, are you up?" the voice on the other end demanded.
"Do you mean that in the literal sense," the Pretender responded, "or in the sense of having my eyes open and being able to respond relatively coherently to questions?"
Patrick chuckled. "Either will do. We'd like to have a meeting in about half an hour to discuss the children's operations. Can you be down in the office for that?"
"Sure," Jarod agreed, moving the tray back onto the bedside table. "And I'll even do my best to be awake for it."
"Very kind of you, I'm sure," the surgeon responded condescendingly. "Oh, and we've managed to cut back the amount of painkiller Elizabeth was receiving. She's been asleep for about an hour now, and the baby seemed to have settled when we did another ultrasound, 10 minutes ago."
"Great," Jarod replied eagerly. "I'll see you in 30 minutes."
Emily eased Gabriel into Jarod's arms, after he had hung up the phone, and carried the tray out into the living room. Wrapping the blanket more tightly around the sleeping child, Jarod smoothed his son's hair, lightly sliding the side of his index finger down the baby's round cheek, thankful he wouldn't have to see his son lying on the operating table, a brace holding his head still. It would be bad enough with the other children, but he honestly admitted to himself that, much as he loved them all, his son was the most special to him.
As if realizing the direction of his father's thoughts, Gabriel stirred, opening dark eyes to gaze up at the man for a moment, before snuggling closer, his fingers wrapping around Jarod's thumb.
"Daddy," he murmured sleepily, his eyes closing again.
Jarod wondered that he had so quickly adopted the new moniker, instead of continuing to call him by his name. Gabriel still more frequently called Morgan 'Mine' than 'Mommy' and the only reason Jarod could find for the anomaly was that he had spent more time face-to-face with his mother than his father before being removed from the Centre.
Lifting the boy slightly, he gently kissed the top of his head, stroking his soft hair and skin, wishing that he had had a chance to see his son grow up from the day he was born, instead of coming into his life at what seemed like such a late stage. He had missed the most important parts of his development, and that was something he would never get back. There were DSAs, of course, which Morgan had found in the old Chairman's office, and she had had copies made for him. He had spent his time in bed at the Centre watching them all, hours of footage, and had made a new section for them in his DSA case, finally bringing himself to destroy some of those he felt that he no longer needed. But it wasn't the same as being there to celebrate each milestone in person.
The bed bent and he looked up to find his sister sitting next to his feet, watching him. "I don't want to rush you," she remarked, "but you did say you'd be down there in 30 minutes, and almost 20 of that has gone."
Jarod gave his son one final cuddle and then handed him to her, getting out of bed as she left the room and heading into the bathroom for a quick shower.
* * * * * * * * *
"Is there any reason not to go ahead?"
Jarod looked up from the notes he had made after each operation. "Not that I can see."
"And we do seem to be having the desired effect," Yuri put in. "At least, the scans seem to show that. If we toss up doing it or not "
He trailed off into silence, staring at the table, and Patrick looked at him for a long moment before turning to Jarod. "Five children to do. One per day or should we squeeze them into three days?"
"My own personal feeling would be one each day," the older Pretender responded thoughtfully.
"Mine, too," Patrick agreed. "All right, any particular order?"
"Alphabetical by first name, for want of anything else." Jarod wrote the days and the names on his notepad. "Angelique, Gideon, Michaela, Raphael and Tempest. Monday through Friday of next week. That will give us the weekend to make sure everything's ready."
Patrick looked at the younger man opposite. "Yuri, you get that Wednesday off."
"Alexander's volunteered to do the anesthetic," Jarod put in, before Yuri could respond. "And I'll assist with the procedure."
"Good." Patrick could see the pained expression on Yuri's face, and softened. "You can take over their records, if you want. I'm sure you already know what to do."
This meant, as Yuri did already know, spending some hours with the person who had undergone the surgery on the previous day, charting their progress. Nodding silently, Yuri studied his hands, as Patrick looked back at Jarod.
"You want any days off?"
"I don't think so." He eyed the list. "We have parents for all of them, and Elizabeth will be up then, so she can sit with Angelique until it's time, along with Angelo. Angelique's the one I've got the most concern about." Patrick saw that Jarod was avoiding looking at Yuri, and noticed that he didn't say anything about Michaela. Sebastian would be on his feet again by then after his own surgery, allowing him to spend time with the children who still called him 'Daddy' before they were anesthetized.
"Good." Patrick glanced at his watch. "We'll start Sebastian's surgery at ten tomorrow morning, as he's the last, instead of seven."
"Sleeping in," Jarod grinned, as he also rose to his feet. "What a concept."
* * * * * * * * *
Jordan stood at the observation window, watching Pedro interact with the new toy bear that had been introduced to his room several days earlier, while he was asleep. At first he had been wary, but as time went on he began to interact more and more with the toy, and now he spent more time with it than he had on the bars, making a serious of strange noises that Jordan and the other psychiatrists guessed was his way of attempting to communicate.
It was late evening, Jordan knew, and soon he would leave for his apartment, but first he wanted to try something.
He had simulated this child so often that he had lost count and was beginning to believe that he could finally understand the way he thought and acted. It was very primitive, a simple mode of life that harkened back to caveman days, surviving against attack, eating, drinking and sleeping. Should they ever reveal the truth about this child to the outside world, it would provide strong evidence of what some scientists believed -- that only education separates modern man from his ancestors.
Making up his mind, Jordan put his hand on the handle of the door that led into the boy's room, checking that he had a key so he could let himself out again. Slowly, he pushed it open, seeing Pedro retreat to his bed at the first sign of movement, cringing into the corner, his dark eyes watching the intruder's every move. The young man saw that Pedro kept the toy bear behind him, as if trying to protect him from this new threat.
Jordan stopped just inside the door, not moving, readying himself to remain motionless for some time. This was the only way he could think of to adjust Pedro to the idea of there being others in the world, with whom he would eventually have to learn to interact. He would never be 'normal,' of course, but anything was an improvement on his current condition.
He stayed motionless for what he calculated was about five minutes, retreating out of the room at the end of that time and securing the door. Pedro still cringed on his bed, but Jordan knew that he would eventually come out and return to his play, as any wild animal did. Going over to the diary on his desk, he made a note of what he had done and another that reminded himself to watch the evening's DSA footage and find out exactly how long it was before Pedro came out.
This was the first step, he knew. There would be a lot of backward steps, but as long as he was consistent, Jordan was sure that he could eventually make this half-animal into a human being.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod glanced over the notes on the folder in his hand before pushing open the door of the room in which Angelique lay, sedated after surgery that had ended only a few hours earlier, jumping at the sight of the dark-haired man standing beside the bed.
"Namir, what are you doing?"
The Israeli's expression was guilty as he looked up, removing his hands from the girl's bandaged head. <"I doubt you would believe me if I said 'nothing,'"> he responded in his native language.
"You're darned right I won't," Jarod snapped. "We talked about this, using your skill until we knew whether your operation was successful. You agreed "
"I won't let the children suffer," the man responded heatedly. "I have done as you ordered for the last four weeks, but I will not watch children lying like this when I can help. It has been hard not to, with people who have become my friends, but you cannot expect me to hold back when I can make a difference to children. You would not."
Jarod felt his anger start to ebb away, knowing that the younger man only wanted to help. "You're a terrible patient," he complained, placing the folder on the table beside the bed.
"And you are so much better," Namir mocked, his angry expression dissolving and a broad grin streaking across his face. "You were out of bed two full days before the doctors said you should be, and came down to Sanctuary before you were allowed, also."
The Pretender fought to keep an answering grin away from his face, knowing that the healer was right. He leaned over the raised bedrails and slid a finger under the thick cap of bandages that hid the girl's shaved head to feel the temperature of the skin and check that it wasn't too warm, the first sign of an infection.
"It is healing well," the other man stated. "The doctor, Patrick, is very he has much skill."
"Yes, he does," Jarod agreed, running a gentle finger down the motionless girl's cheek.
It had been painful to see Angelique lying on the operating table, her head held tight in the frame while stem cells were inserted into her brain. He would have to do it four more times, and knew that they would be hard for him, particularly when he would have to actually help with Michaela's procedure. Jarod was thankful he had decided not to perform the actual operations. Doing what he did was difficult enough. That much responsibility would be a terrible weight to bear.
"Did it hurt?" he asked the healer curiously. "Did it hurt you to start her healing?"
"Not as before," the man responded as they left the room, heading in unspoken agreement for the elevator to go up to the roof. "Before I would feel the pain that the injured person was suffering. It could be that, because she feels nothing, I feel nothing. But also, where I would feel so tired after I had helped someone, now I do not feel that way."
Jarod nodded slowly, wondering how much it must have hurt Namir to have healed him after Lyle had shot him. "So you feel no pain?"
"I feel some," the man responded, "where the cells were put into me. Like I am working them, like using a muscle that is not warmed up properly. Not real pain, just a pull. Do you understand what I mean?"
"I think so." Jarod stretched out on the sun lounge under the glass ceiling, trying to simulate what it must have felt like. "So you think it's helped?"
"I believe so, yes," Namir agreed, smiling as Ramona came out onto the sundeck, strolling over to sit on the outdoor sofa beside him. "You will do more tests, though, to find out?"
"We plan to," Jarod replied, closing his eyes as the sun warmed his face. "After the children have all been operated on. Then we'll know for sure."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod wiped his face on the towel that was slung around his shoulders, still panting slightly from the workout he had had with Namir, following their discussion on the rooftop. As his sweats were soaked, he planned to have a cool shower before going down to play with his son.
But he stopped in the doorway of Morgan's room, seeing her sitting at the workstation, staring at a framed photo. As he stepped silently into the room, he could see that the frame contained an image of herself and Peter Winston back in their college days, and Jarod felt his heart ache at the amount of loss this woman had had to suffer in her life.
He hesitated, debating with himself whether to go in or if she preferred to be alone, not wanting to intrude on a private grieving session, but she spoke before he could decide.
"You can come in if you want to, Jarod."
Closing the door behind himself, he silently pulled up a chair beside hers, seeing that, although her expression was pained, her eyes were dry. For a moment, she continued to stare at the photo, before turning to him. He gently stroked the tips of his fingers down her cheek. Morgan reached up and took his hand, holding it in her lap.
"It's not fair," she murmured.
"I know," he agreed softly, sliding his free arm around her shoulders.
Her head came to rest against his shoulder and he lightly kissed her hair. For a moment, they sat there in silence, before she suddenly looked up.
"What do you think would have happened if Tommy hadn't been killed?"
Jarod smiled faintly, his heart aching at the memory of his friend and how much he had loved this woman. "I think you would have been very happy together."
"Like you and Faith," she murmured, studying his face with her eyes.
He nodded steadily. "I think the feelings were about as strong in both cases."
After a moment of silence, she spoke again. "Can you imagine our lives if the Centre hadn't ever existed?"
"No, I can't," he replied honestly. "It's affected every part of everything we've ever felt or done. I can't imagine what either of us would have been like without it."
"You've never even tried to simulate it?" she teased. "What kind of a pretender are you?"
He smiled again. "A realistic one," he replied honestly. "I only sim within the boundaries of what already exists. Like Barrow," he added, after a moment of thought. "I agree with what you said then -- that if the Centre had never existed, we might never have met. And that isn't something I ever wanted to try to imagine -- my life without you in it."
"For Pete's sake, Jarod," she exclaimed in astonishment. "I've made your life hell for the past six or more years!"
"New opportunities," he responded readily. "That's what you gave me the chance to experience."
"Determined optimist, aren't you?" she teased, and he could see that the pain had started to fade from her eyes.
"You can thank your father for that," Jarod told her softly. "He's the person who taught me how to be that way, with help from my parents for the first four years of my life."
"It almost makes us brother and sister," Morgan suggested.
"That makes what we did in Barrow even more wrong," Jarod remarked, his lips twitching.
"Who said it was wrong in the first place?" she demanded, and he raised an eyebrow.
"Let me see if I can remember who broke it off " he mused.
"Never mind," she interrupted hurriedly.
He leaned forward and lightly kissed her cheek. "Why don't we go down and have a swim?"
"Who says I brought a swimsuit with me?" Morgan asked.
"Who says you need one?" he replied, his eyes dancing.
"Actually, I did bring one, just in case," she told him.
"Darn it." Jarod snapped his fingers, standing up, his expression rueful. Morgan stood up also and eased into his arms, smiling at him.
"You've certainly learned a lot since you got out."
"You have no idea," he assured her sincerely, but something prevented him from the kiss that would have started it all. Jarod's eyes slid over to Peter Winston's photo on the workstation and he understood his reluctance, lightly kissing Morgan's cheek before letting her go. "I'll meet you down in the pool in 10 minutes, okay?"
She nodded, moving towards the bag that stood next to her bed, and he left the room, heading for his own.
* * * * * * * * *
Yuri entered the room, hearing his heart pounding in his ears, as it always did when he was in the same room as his daughter. Pain swelled in his chest as he looked down at her, lying on the bed, a sheet covering her, wires and tubes running out from under it to various pieces of equipment that lined the walls. Long brown lashes lay on her cheeks, and her face was void of expression, the sedative that flowed into her arm keeping her still, to prevent her from dislodging the bandage wrapped around her head, hiding the fact that her dark hair had been shaved off.
Picking up the folder from the end of the bed, he flipped it open on the wheeled table and pulled a pen from his pocket, writing down the details of pulse and respiration as they were shown on the screens. Running his eye down the notations, he saw the gradual improvement and stabilization of his daughter's vital signs over the past twelve hours. The only thing they were yet to test was whether the implanted cells would do what they were meant to: unite with existing cells and begin to grow. That would be at least two weeks away.
Returning the pen to his pocket, he closed the folder and replaced it in the small basket that hung on the end of the bed, turning to leave the room. A drowsy little voice stopped him.
Yuri froze, recognizing the voice from the security footage he had seen and heard, slowly turning to meet his daughter's gaze. A tiny, somewhat bitter smile twitched the corners of Yuri's mouth, as he swallowed the urge to cry.
"I'm nobody," he told her softly. "Nobody important."
"Evveybody's somebody, silly," she scolded sleepily, and raised her hand off the blanket, holding it out to him. "What's you's name?"
"Yuri," he said quietly, remaining in the doorway, unwilling to respond to her innocent, wordless plea in the way she wanted him to.
A step from behind him made the Pretender turn to find Sebastian in the doorway, and he moved aside to allow the Australian in, guessing that the security teams had overheard the conversation and alerted him. Stepping over to the bedside, Sebastian took the small hand that Michaela was still holding out and bent over her.
Out of the corner of his eye, Yuri saw the girl smile drowsily up at the tall man, and knew before she opened her mouth what the next word would be, trying to hurry out of the room, but not going fast enough to avoid hearing
Something seemed to tear inside his chest, and Yuri ran frantically to the stairs and up them to the suite of rooms that had been set aside for him, throwing himself face-down onto the sofa and weeping passionately and bitterly.
"Nobody," he whispered aloud, from between gritted teeth. "Less
Seizing one of the cushions, he pressed his face into it, muffling the sound of his sobs. He didn't know how much more of this he could take. The operations were almost over now, and surely he could go back up to the Centre, where he could try to forget about her, or at least not have to see and hear about her every day. Only one operation left, he thought. Maybe after it was over
But he couldn't bear to leave until he knew she was all right, back on her feet again, and that the treatment had had the desired effect. It would be at least two weeks until they could perform the first scan to look for change. Fourteen days, he told himself. As soon as that was over, he'd be able to go back to his room at the Centre, and, he vowed, as he wiped his eyes and went into the bathroom to splash his face with water, once back there, he'd never leave again.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod entered the room where the small boy was sitting in Merritt's lap, playing with the kangaroo she had brought back from Australia for him, Morgan sitting on a chair against the wall. All three looked up as Jarod walked in, and he smiled a greeting, holding out his hand to the boy.
"Come on, Raffi. Your turn."
All of the children had been shown the room in which they would receive the first of the drugs that would keep them unconscious for the whole procedure, and which was not the large, cold, sterile operating theatre but a smaller room nearby.
"Can I come?" Merritt asked, as the boy tightened his hold on her sleeve, and Jarod nodded with another smile.
He waited until Morgan had kissed her baby brother and watched Merritt get to her feet, Raphael in her arms. The child's hand was already coated with the anesthetic cream so that he wouldn't feel the needle being inserted, and, after getting up onto the high trolley with Raphael beside her, Merritt distracted him with one of the toys in the corner for that purpose. Jarod gently wiped away the cream and then slid the needle into the boys' vein, gently depressing the plunger, seeing him flinch slightly at the pressure.
After a few seconds, the child fell silent, his eyes wide and staring, the pupils dilated, and his arm drooping into his lap as his head sank back against Merritt's chest. Laying the unconscious child down on the trolley, Jarod gently closed the boy's eyes and covered him with a blanket that lay on the end of the bed, lifting the child-sized mask off the oxygen machine nearby and placing it over Raphael's mouth and nose, before looking up to see the girl's anxiety-filled blue eyes.
"It's okay," he assured her gently, as one of the nurses entered and turned on the equipment. The man took a step away from the bed and put an arm around her shoulders with a gentle squeeze. "It's meant to happen like that."
"He he just just stopped," she protested faintly, waving a feeble hand in demonstration.
"I know," he told her quietly. "But it's okay. Honest. That's exactly what's supposed to happen."
She nodded slowly as he and the nurse pushed the bed out of the room into the hallway, where two other nurses waited to move it into the operating theatre, in which Alexander would administer the actual anesthetic before assisting Jarod during the procedure. Jarod walked Merritt to the room where Morgan waited, having already explained the procedure to the woman, so that she would understand Merritt's concerns. Seeing the knowing look in her eyes as Morgan stood and came over to where Merritt waited, he flashed her a brief smile before heading down the hall to the room where he would scrub up.
* * * * * * * * *
"There's another one," David announced, handing the paper to his boss as he entered the office and taking a seat on the other side of the desk without waiting for an invitation. "In Italy this time."
"That's close to Die Fakultät," Jock Voorhees mused thoughtfully, as he picked up the paper and unfolded it.
"And it's the tenth victim," the other man remarked. "This is getting serious."
"It was always serious," Jock reminded him. "Murders usually are." He opened to the pages that were relevant to the case, seeing that a translation of the headline had been provided. "Is The Executioner Back?"
"Well, is he?" David demanded. "Has Yuri escaped? Gone on another killing spree?"
"According to a conversation I had with Sebastian and Jarod this morning, he's in Texas, helping with a problem there. It sounds like the issue is affecting him personally, so he wouldn't be likely to be escaping in order to commit more murders. Beside, all of these women were prostitutes, homeless women, backpackers or working in shops. There's no connection to the Centre."
"In one way," David mused, "there is." He cocked his head slightly to one side. "Do you have any of the other articles handy?"
Wondering what his underling meant, Voorhees extracted the file from a pile that lay on his desk and handed it over, watching David take out the photos of the nine other victims that had been cut out of the paper articles and lay them flat on the desk, putting that of the most recently killed woman beside them. Jock gazed at the photos for a moment, before realizing what David meant.
"Brown hair," he mused, "blue eyes, all about 5 foot 10 inches or a little taller, slender build "
"In other words," David finished for him curtly, "they all resemble Morgan Ritter." He sank back in his chair. "So it's probably a message, most likely from Lucian. He'll be coming for her eventually, and he wants her to know it."
Jock sank his head into his hands, his elbows resting on the desk. "Should we tell her?"
"I don't think we have a choice," David advised sagely. "Lucian wants her to get the message and if she doesn't get it from us, he might deliver it personally."
"Yeah, I'm okay," Merritt sniffed into her cell phone. "It was just a little scary."
"I'm sorry," Jordan soothed. "Would you like me to come down? I could be there in a few hours."
"No, it's okay," she replied, feeling Morgan's arm around her shoulders. "Momma's here. But can I call you later?"
"Of course you can," he assured her. "I love you, honey. Take care."
"Love you, too," she responded, wiping a tear from her cheek. "Talk to you tonight."
She hung up and reached forward to place the phone on the table, returning the hug that Morgan gave her.
"It'll be okay," the woman assured her, smoothing her hair. "I know it was scary, but at least it was quick. And he won't remember a thing about it later."
Nodding, Merritt tightened her hold around her mother's waist. A movement from the doorway drew her eyes there, and she smiled at the man who opened the door, surprised to feel Morgan tense.
"Major," the woman greeted him in frosty tones, and the man sighed.
"Miss Ritter," he responded formally, before smiling sympathetically at the girl. "Are you all right, Merritt?"
She nodded, giving her mother one final hug before letting go and sitting up straighter as the man came into the room, returning his attention to Morgan.
"I'd like to talk to you," he began, as he sat down, "about what happened to your mother."
"I don't believe that's necessary," Morgan replied haughtily, before relenting somewhat. "I already know you weren't responsible for her death," she continued more gently, "but it's still hard for me to get the image of her in the elevator out of my head."
"Maybe, if you know what really happened, you'll find that easier," the man suggested. For a long moment, he stared at the floor, his elbows resting on his knees, before looking up and beginning to talk. He described his meeting with Catherine and her companion, and the consequences of it, the day of the faked murder and his own narrow escape. Responding to the slight skepticism in her eyes, he showed her the scar on his stomach, adding details about the moments before firing the gun that he could only have known by being there.
By the time he finished, the coldness had vanished from Morgan's eyes, and Merritt knew that, although she would need time to think about it, she would end up being able to forgive the man, in a way that she had not been able to before. Merritt tried to imagine the woman from whom she had been made going through all that, and the mere thought made her feel sick, but then she was reminded of dreams that she had had before coming to this place, dreams that she had never fully understood, but which now made sense.
For several minutes, she listened to their conversation, hearing them ponder how early Catherine had know she was pregnant and when she had begun planning it, before she spoke.
"She knew right away, within a few weeks of the operation."
They both turned to her. "Are you sure, baby?" Morgan asked gently, and she nodded, describing one of her most regularly recurring dreams.
Catherine strolled the path outside the country house, her fingers trailing along the leaves leaning out toward her, not seeing the beauty of the woods that enveloped her favorite place. The test had come back positive, even though there was no way it could be true. She was pregnant, but she hadn't been intimate with her husband or any other man for months, even though Grayson had tried a few weeks earlier. She had rebuffed him, and he was enraged and beat her again.
She couldn't go to Sydney. As much as she wanted to talk to him about this, she couldn't tell him she was pregnant again. He would assume it was Grayson's baby, as he had with Morgan and the little lost one. She had lied to him about that, because it was the only thing that would keep him alive in that place. If Grayson knew or even suspected that her little angel wasn't his own flesh and blood, Morgan would be in danger as well. But Catherine knew the truth, and it would go with her to her grave.
Her hand absently rubbed across her flat abdomen, too aware of the life that stirred and grew in there, though it was still too small to show. No one knew but herself at this point. There was no way she could be carrying a baby, but someone had put it there, and she would find out who, and why. Already her mind had been toying with timetables, and there was only one opportunity when someone might have done this to her.
That left only one person to ask, one person who knew exactly what had happened during that procedure. She had asked for him there, because she trusted him. He had helped her before, during that awful time months earlier when Grayson had come so close to killing her. Raines had tried to mediate, but it was afterward that Grayson had taken his fists to her, when there was no one to help her, and only her baby to witness what he did.
She sighed. She would talk to Raines tomorrow, after she did a little digging on her own, to see if there was a new project in the works, with her name attached to it. Being the director of SIS gave her power enough to look into anything, but there was still a great deal kept hidden, off the books so the Triumvirate wouldn't see. She was preparing a full report for them on the children, hoping that would blow the lid off the underground projects, and get those unfortunate little ones sent home.
But that was the best she could do, especially now that she had another life to protect.
"Raines," Morgan hissed from between clenched teeth, her fists tight balls at her sides as she paced the room. "If only I could get hold of him "
"And he tried to pretend he didn't know anything about it," Merritt continued thoughtfully, as more memories rose to the surface, her anxiety about Raphael momentarily forgotten. "He told her he hadn't seen anything, but that he'd help her however he could
"I can't believe it," William said, gazing at the path as they walked among the hybrid fruit trees on one of the agricultural tracts well back from the main building. "You're sure you're pregnant?"
Catherine drew a shaky breath and nodded. "Absolutely. And I shouldn't be. Grayson and I haven't been Our marriage isn't doing well. We have separate bedrooms now, and have for nearly a year."
Raines nodded. "I wondered," he said softly, his deep voice growling. "I saw them harvesting your eggs during the procedure, but never dreamed they'd implant They couldn't have. During the surgery was the only time " He shook his head.
"Artificial insemination," she told him. "If you looked away for even a moment, they'd have been able to do that. And I know " She swallowed hard, her voice cracking with emotion. "I know who they chose for the father. Grayson had this done to me on purpose."
Raines stopped walking and met her eyes. Something looking like excitement or anger gleamed back at her from his watery gaze. "Who? Why? It doesn't make any sense, Catherine."
She straightened and put her shoulders back. "I'm gifted, in my own way, William," she admitted. "And they're hoping I'll pass that gift along to another of Major Charles's children."
He laughed. "You're joking!"
Catherine didn't smile. "I'm dead serious," she shot back. "I'm carrying Michael Charles's child." She handed over the memo she had found, requesting the sperm sample from Pakor storage.
Raines stared at it, shaking his head. "I can't believe it. I can't believe he'd do this to his own wife. What does he expect to happen to the child?"
She couldn't stop the tears as he looked at her again. "You know that already, William. It would be a project, just like the other children. Like Angelo and Jarod and Kyle."
His expression hardened. "We can't let that happen, Catherine," he growled. "We have to get you out of here."
"I know. But how? As long as I'm alive, he'd hunt me down. No place would be safe, and with a new baby, I'd be vulnerable. I couldn't travel fast enough to stay out of reach."
He nodded, his face grim. "Then we'll have to make sure he thinks you're dead."
She frowned. "Fake my death? But how?"
"Leave that to me. Let me think about it, and as soon as I come up with a plan, we'll talk again."
"All right. And thank you, William. I knew I could trust you."
He strolled off down the path, back the way they had come, and left her alone among the trees. Something tugged at her, trying to get her attention, but she was so distraught that she couldn't understand the message. He was right about what she needed to do. No one would look for a dead woman, but making it believable was the hard part. She didn't have a clue how to go about making that part of the plan work.
"If only she'd paid attention," Morgan murmured softly, stopping to stare at the floor. "If she had, she might have managed to survive somehow."
"I doubt that would have happened," Michael put in quietly. "They were obviously determined to get Ethan, by whatever means. I can't help wondering if Mr. Parker knew what Raines had done, and approved of it. He might have even been the person who gave the final order for her death."
"Or Hermann Bruce," Morgan suggested. "It sounds like something he might have tried, if he ever found out about the deception."
"But Catherine still trusted him. Raines, I mean," Merritt went on, a strange feeling growing in her, almost as if she was being used as a mouthpiece by the deceased woman. "And she was getting desperate. I think she would have gone along with anything Raines suggested."
Depression had been steadily gaining on her. She refused to take the medication Sydney prescribed because she wasn't sure if it would hurt the baby, and it was getting increasingly hard to concentrate, to force herself out of bed in the mornings and confront the day. Raines was taking too long, and she was getting desperate. In another month she'd start showing, and then it would become even more difficult for her to escape, once people knew.
She found a note from Raines, asking her to meet him at their usual place as soon as she arrived at work. The morning was overcast and threatened rain, but she didn't care. She hurried outside to the Biotract and found him standing there, glancing up at the sky, an umbrella already stretched over his head.
"What is it?" she asked softly.
"I know what we need to do," he told her with a smile. "But we'll need a third party. I can't trust anyone in the Centre to help with this. If word got back to Mr. Parker, if there was even a hint of conspiracy, he'd have the hounds out after you in a heartbeat."
"I know. So what do we do?"
"We could stage it as a suicide," he offered, "but you're Catholic. I'm not sure that would go over."
She felt her insides harden. "It probably would, with Grayson, anyway. I'm mentally unbalanced, remember? Crazy people kill themselves all the time."
"Still, we can't risk it. Write up a suicide note, just in case, and give it to me. But I'd rather we tried the alternative plan."
"We need to find someone with a personal vendetta against the Centre to help make it look like somebody came in and killed you. Somebody we can bargain with, who has something we can give them in return, for helping."
She pondered that as she stared down at her flat belly. "Someone like Major Charles." She lifted her head and stepped under the umbrella with him just as the first drops of rain began to fall. "Would you help me get his sons out, if he helps us?"
"Of course," he promised. "Kyle first, then Jarod." He smiled. "Do you know how to get in touch with him?"
"I have ways," she admitted. "People I can leave messages with."
"Good. Then set up a meeting with him, and we'll see if he'll help." Raines moved his free hand to touch her abdomen, placing his palm tenderly over it for a moment. "Are you going to tell him about this? That he's the father?"
"No," she answered immediately. "Not till I know the baby and I are safe."
Raines nodded approvingly, and released a pent-up breath. "Good. That would only complicate things." He eyed her, obviously thinking. "You probably shouldn't tell him where Jarod and Kyle are either. If he knows they're in the building, it would distract him. He might decide to go off looking for them, instead of helping us."
That made sense to her. "All right. You're probably right about that. But he'll need something, some kind of assurance "
"Give him a photo of the boys," Raines suggested. "And after I've got you safely squared away, I'll turn Jarod over to Major Charles as the final payment for his help."
She smiled. "I think that'll work, William," she breathed. "And as to the suicide angle, I'll get that note to you today. Might as well hedge our bets, right?"
"I'll have a more detailed plan ready when we meet with the major, including an escape route."
"Thank you," she said softly. "God bless you, William. I'm glad you're my friend." She sighed. "It won't be that hard making people think I'm despondent, you know. This whole situation is weighing on me so heavily I'm sure they'll believe it. Most of them, anyway." She sighed and bowed her head. "And with a little acting on my part, I'm sure I can convince the others."
Her head came up. "What about the wounds? The autopsy and other physical evidence?"
"I'll take care of that." He smiled. "I'm a doctor, remember?"
She embraced him, offered him a smile filled with gratitude, and took the umbrella he offered as she started back down the path in the rain.
Merritt blinked and refocused on her mother, seeing the tears sparkling in Morgan's eyes as she stared blankly at the floor. Merritt could feel pain, a deeper pain than was justified by her own reaction to what had occurred, and she wondered if the woman from whom she had been created was suffering somehow during this conversation.
"Your mother," Michael Charles stated softly, "was one of the strongest, bravest women that I've ever met, Morgan. She was simply unfortunate to fall in love with someone like Mr. Parker and to have worked at a place like the Centre."
The woman looked up, smiling weakly. "Thank you," she murmured.
He rose from his chair and came over, lightly kissing her cheek. "She'd have been very proud of you for finishing what she started. I believe that, once she knew what the Centre had done and was capable of, her aim became to free the children who were trapped inside it. You've done that for her."
"With help from your son," Morgan offered. "I couldn't have done it without him."
Merritt watched her mother return the man's hug before the sound of the door opening distracted all three from their conversation.
Jarod walked in, smiling. "It's over," he announced. "We're just moving Raphael into his room now." He held out a hand to the young woman. "Want to be there when he wakes up?"
Thoughts of Raines and Catherine fled her mind as Merritt jumped to her feet and ran across the room to him, feeling his arm slip around her shoulders as he guided her out of the room and down the hall. She already knew what Raffi would look like, having seen, in preparation for this time, the other three children on whom the surgery had been performed. Without a qualm, she moved over to the bedside, gently stroking the unconscious boy's cheek, his head swathed in bandages, which, Jarod explained, would prevent fluid accumulating along the incision, a situation that would have necessitated further surgery.
"He should be coming around any moment," Jarod murmured in her ear. "But he'll still be pretty out of it."
Even as he finished speaking, the boy's eyelids flickered and she bent over the bed. "Raffi?" she asked quietly, lovingly. "Are you waking up, baby?"
After another few moments, he opened drowsy, heavy-lidded eyes and she leaned down to lightly kiss his cheek. His right hand, untethered by the IV that was bandaged to his left arm, lifted up off the bed and she felt his fingers tangle in her hair.
"Mine," he murmured sleepily. "My Mewwitt."
"Yes, baby," she promised softly. "I'm right here."
She felt Jarod's hand on her shoulder as Raphael's grasp relaxed, his hand drooping back down onto the bed. She gently eased strands of long, brown hair out from between his chubby fingers and then sat in the chair Jarod pulled up for her beside the bed.
"I'll be in and out for the next few hours," he told her. "Do you want anything? Maybe a drink? A Coke or something?"
"That'd be nice." She smiled. "Thanks, Jarod."
"No worries," he told her in an exaggerated Australian accent, as he left the room, and she smiled as she resettled herself in the chair.
* * * * * * * * *
Rebecca stood beside the bed in which Tempest lay sedated, gently stroking the baby's cheek, feeling as first one and then a steady stream of tears began to trickle down her face. An arm that touched hers made her start, before turning to find her elder daughter beside her.
"What is it, Momma?"
The woman sighed, turning to face the girl and eyeing her short hair and the red scar across the top of her head. Andromeda had been lucky. Saltier Labs had managed to create a patch system for her to administer the drugs she needed to keep Kronos I in check, and she had come through the surgery without excessive bleeding, although Rebecca and several others had donated blood in case something had gone wrong. But she had still had to go through the surgery, and that was the reason for the guilt Rebecca was feeling now.
"It's not your fault, Momma," Andromeda protested, after her mother had hesitatingly explained this. "I don't blame you for it. I was thinking yesterday how lucky I was to be here, where it could be treated. If I'd stayed with the Hatchers, I might never have known until it was too late."
Rebecca pulled her daughter into her arms, feeling the girl's shorn head come to rest on her shoulder as she hugged her back.
"There's something else," Andromeda said, after a moment, looking up. "What is it?"
The woman kissed her daughter's forehead, smoothing her cheek. "I was thinking how sad it was that neither of my girls has a father now."
"We do!" the girl protested. "Alastair!"
"I meant a real dad, baby."
"But he's like a real dad," Andromeda claimed vigorously. "He does everything with us that a real dad does, and he's better than Lyle!"
"I know that," Rebecca agreed gently. "And I know he loves you both "
"Then that's all that matters," her daughter interrupted. "I heard Tempest call him 'daddy' for the first time, a few weeks ago."
"She did?" Rebecca's eyes lit up in delight.
"Uh huh. And if it'd help, I could call him that, too."
The psychic's heart was warmed by how willing her daughter was to make her mother happy and drew her closer, softly kissing her short hair. "Only if you really want to, baby," Rebecca urged.
Andromeda nodded, hugging her mother again. "I will," she said decisively. "I think he'll like it, too. He loved it when Tempest said it to him."
"I'm sure he will," Rebecca agreed, before jumping slightly as another hand came to rest gently on her shoulder, and she looked up into Alastair's glowing eyes as he wrapped his arms around them both.
* * * * * * * * *
Morgan glanced into the room as she passed, seeing Jarod on the sofa in his apartment, resting his head back against the cushions, his eyes closed, a half-full glass in his hand. Stopping, she pushed the door slightly more open with her free hand, supporting the sleeping Gabriel with her right arm.
"That's an understatement," he told her, without opening his eyes. "You can come in, if you want, but I won't be enthralling company."
Smiling, she entered the room, closing the door and walking over to the sofa. "Any company is better than finding an empty room with the bird flown, leaving only a red notebook behind."
Jarod chuckled softly, opening his eyes to watch her sit in the armchair opposite. "I was thinking today how nice it was not to have to keep my ears open for anyone coming in who shouldn't be there."
She nodded, lowering Gabriel to her lap and gently removing his thumb from his mouth. Stroking his dark hair and round cheek, she examined his baby features.
"We didn't do badly," she remarked, with a smile, looking up in time to see Jarod follow her gaze and nod.
"Considering we weren't even trying," he agreed, "and we probably had less to do with it than just about any other parents on earth."
"He's going to have your brains."
"And your instincts." Jarod grinned. "Lethal combination."
He ran a hand through his hair and leaned forward to put the half-empty glass on the coffee table, resting back against the cushions with a soft sigh.
"How many more?"
"That's the last operation," he stated in obvious relief. "We left the Seraphim 'till last, in case there were any side-effects or problems we hadn't counted on."
"But there weren't?"
"Thankfully, no." He exhaled deeply. "Not yet, anyway."
Morgan arched an eyebrow. "Have you got any reason to think there will be any?"
He shrugged. "Well, I guess, considering everyone's past the critical first 24 hours "
"Then stop looking for trouble," she ordered sharply. "If it's coming, it'll arrive soon enough."
Jarod grinned. "Yes, ma'am," he agreed readily.
A knock on the door made them both jump slightly, before Nancy peeped into the room. "Sorry if I'm interrupting anything," she began, "but you did say to come and get Gabriel at 11."
As Jarod glanced at his watch, Morgan stood up. "I'll bring him down to the nursery," she told the caregiver.
Nancy smiled. "Sure thing, Miss P Ritter," she corrected hurriedly and backed out of the room. Jarod looked up to see a darker expression cross Morgan's face.
"It's not her fault," he quietly reminded the woman. "She's hardly seen you since you made your name-change official."
"I know," Morgan growled softly. "But I hate that name now, even more than before."
Jarod nodded at their son, still sound asleep in his mother's arms. "Better get him into bed, before he wakes up again and refuses to go."
She nodded and left the room. He watched her go, before slowly, and with a groan at his feeling of exhaustion, getting off the sofa, going into his room to change into his pajamas. Returning to the living room, he went over to his bar-fridge and got out a small container of fresh strawberries, dipped in dark chocolate, which Sumi had given him the day before.
Curling up in a corner of the sofa, he filled his glass from a can of soft drink and turned on the TV, hoping not to find another appalling soap opera. Finally, after flicking several stations, he stopped at a film, taking a few seconds to remember what it was and where he had seen it before.
"The Man Who Fell To Earth, I think," a voice commented from the doorway, and he looked up to see Morgan standing there. She smiled and walked in, closing the door behind her and taking a seat on the sofa beside him. "I've been thinking about Barrow lately."
He half-smiled. "Any particular reason?"
She studied the floor for a moment, before looking up again. "Actually, I was wondering if you felt like playing that game again."
Jarod's brows drew together in mild confusion. "I I don't "
"Don't tell me you don't understand," she retorted, lips twitching slightly. She removed the glass from his hand and put it on the table, before moving closer, forcing him back against the arm of the sofa. "After all," she breathed, her lips almost touching his, "you are the genius."
He grinned, bringing up one hand to cup her cheek, his other arm curling around her waist and drawing her down to lie on top of him. "I love playing games," he whispered against her mouth.
"Don't I know it," she retorted, rolling her eyes, before kissing him, gently at first, then harder.
Her arms slid around his neck, her eyes closing, her breath light on his cheek. He drew her closer and wrapped both arms around her back, his hands running over her shirt and his fingers tangling in her hair.
"Jarod," she murmured, rearing back slightly to look down into his eyes.
"If anyone came in right now "
"You started it," he teased, realizing how infantile that sounded as the words came out of his mouth.
Somewhat awkwardly rising off the sofa, she helped him to his feet, picking up the strawberries, before she led him into the bedroom, closing the door firmly behind them.
* * * * * * * * *
A pleasant chime rang through the room, and Jarod drowsily lifted his head off the pillow, seeing that light was coming in under the door from the living room, before suddenly feeling the weight on his shoulder. It took less than a second for him to remember what had occurred the previous night and the early hours of that morning, and he tightened his hold around Morgan's shoulders, gently pressing his lips to her hair.
"You awake?" he asked softly.
"Uh huh," she agreed sleepily. "I want something that nice to wake me up every day, instead of my alarm clock blaring in my ear."
He chuckled. "I'll consider that a request. Give me a day or two and I'll see what I can make for you, or get Alexander to. He likes making things."
She raised herself on one elbow, sweeping her hair back over her shoulder and out of her face, and then gently touched her lips to his. "So do we have to rush down to breakfast or something?"
"Not exactly. They'll serve it for two hours. The dining room won't hold everyone at once." Jarod slid a hand down the bare skin on her arm. "But you might want to put some clothes on. Our son usually pays his early morning visit in a few minutes, and he might start asking questions if he sees you naked for the first time." He grinned. "Not that it isn't a pleasant sight "
Sitting up, he put on his boxer shorts and a black t-shirt, sliding back in between the sheets and watching Morgan put on a pair of black, lacy panties, as well as the shirt she had worn the day before, before rejoining him, rapidly doing up the buttons. Barely had she resettled herself against the pillow than the door opened abruptly and Gabriel clambered up onto the bed.
"Hi!" he announced cheerfully, scrambling in under the covers, between his parents. Morgan drew him into her arms, and he snuggled up against her, resting his head on her pillow.
"Did you sleep well, baby?"
"Uh huh." He nodded eagerly, cuddling her around the neck, before looking at his father. "Daddy, when's Jo-den comin' back?"
"I'm not too sure," Jarod replied thoughtfully. "Probably in a couple of weeks, but I'll ask him if he can come for a few days, to play with you, okay?"
"Yup!" Gabriel beamed, before his smile dimmed. "Mine, is you goin' back dere t'day, too?"
"I'm afraid so, sweetie," she replied, smoothing his hair. "But I'll be back on Friday."
"I'm going up today, as well, Gabriel," Jarod told him, "but I'll be back tonight."
"I'll do my very best," Jarod vowed, "but I won't promise, just in case something happens and I can't keep it."
Gabriel's dark eyes examined his father's face for a moment, before he solemnly nodded. "But if you was 'tuck up dere, you'd call me on de telephone," he said confidently.
"That I definitely would do," his father assured him, wrapping his arms around Morgan and thus including their son in the embrace.
"Okey-dokey," the baby agreed cheerfully, glancing slyly at his mother, who responded instantly.
"Where did you learn that, Gabriel?"
He giggled. "Dommie hearded somebody say it and she telled it to us."
Jarod rolled his eyes. "Dominique picks up everything," he muttered, remembering that that was the intention of her genetic make-up. Gabriel, meanwhile, stuck out his bottom lip, as his mother's expression remained stern, turning large, sorrowful, brown eyes up to his mother's blue ones.
"Is Mine angry wif me?"
She melted immediately, as Jarod knew she would, and the man was forced to hide a chuckle at his son's actions. "No, baby," she assured him with a hug. "I just don't like that phrase very much, so I don't want to hear you saying it anymore, okay?"
"Yup." He beamed again, before turning to his father. "I's hungry, Daddy."
Sighing, Jarod threw back the covers and got out of bed. "You stay here with Mommy, then, while I have a shower and shave," he told his son. "Then we'll go down for breakfast."
"Okay." Gabriel turned his attention to his mother, beginning to tell her a story, while Jarod took a clean t-shirt and change of underwear out of his closet and headed for the bathroom.
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney took Michelle's hand as they strolled along the streets, the sun slowly beginning to sink in the direction of the western horizon. She wandered closer to him so that her shoulder brushed his with every step they took, finishing the story she had been telling him and then falling silent. He looked down at her.
"Are you ready yet?" he asked gently. "Can we set a wedding date?"
She stopped, breaking loose from his grasp and turning away, staring blindly at the street. After a moment, he reached out and turned her so that she was facing him, the fingers of his left hand curled loosely around her upper arm, his fingers tightening around the top of his cane instead of her.
"Please, Michelle," he begged quietly. "I've waited so long "
"I can't, Sydney," she burst out. "There's so much you don't know about me!"
"Do you still love me?" he asked anxiously, and she stepped closer, into his arms, embracing him fervently.
"Of course I do," she responded warmly, lightly stroking his cheek with one hand. "And that's why I haven't let you do this yet. I don't want you to bind yourself to someone you don't even know!"
Don't know? he wanted to ask, but hesitated, sensing that there must be some great secret with which she had still not entrusted him, for whatever reason. He trusted her judgment, knew that if she hadn't told him something, there would be a solid basis for it, but the fact that it must be such a big secret she had even delayed their wedding, to which he believed she was looking as much as he was, hurt him more than a little.
"You can tell me anything," he urged gently, tightening his hold around her shoulders. "Anything at all."
She clung to him for a moment, before drawing back to look up into his eyes. After a moment, she nodded. "I should tell you," she murmured, in a trembling voice. "You and Nicholas. You deserve to know, both of you."
Another secret, Sydney thought ruefully. Something else to which his younger son would have to adjust, yet another change that he would have to make to his way of thinking. He had already had the shock of learning the truth about his real father, and it sounded like this would be just as big.
"Tell me first," he entreated, as they went back towards his house. "And then I can help you tell our son."
"No," she responded flatly, but he could hear the emotion in her voice, as strained as it had been when she had called to tell him that Nicholas had been kidnapped. "I have to tell you together."
Twenty minutes later, he and Nicholas were sitting on the sofa, watching Michelle as she paced the length of the living room, studying the carpet.
"For crying out loud," the young man burst out, after five long minutes of silence, "whatever it is, Mom, tell us!"
She exhaled deeply before turning to them, and Sydney could see the fear in her eyes. Walking over to the mantel, she took down a photo of herself and Nicholas that she had placed there and removed the back of the frame, extracting a piece of paper, which she unfolded, holding it in front of her fiancé and son. Sydney glanced at it before looking up at her.
"This is a certificate to change your name," he stated quietly, seeing her nod slightly. Looking at it again, he searched for the original name, finally taking it out of her hand, seeing his son staring at his mother in horrified confusion. It was a feeling Sydney understood, but that emotion dissolved into a maelstrom of mixed feelings as he saw the name on the file, recognizing it, and the more familiar name that had replaced it, probably only a few years after Hermann changed his name to Bruce.
"No," he protested faintly, looking up at her. "Not Heidegger. Please "
Michelle sank into an armchair, her expression one of helplessness, as she nodded. "Lucian is my nephew," she began softly, in a dull monotone, her eyes filling with tears. "Heidegger was my brother's name, before he changed it to Bruce after the war, to escape the Allies. He went around Europe and South America, looking for ex-Nazis who had been interested in eugenics, employing them in a new business he opened in Berlin, ostensibly a think-tank, but with a very different, secret, intended purpose."
Sydney looked down at the page again, not wanting to hear what he was being told. He didn't want to believe that the woman he loved was part of the family who had destroyed so many lives, but the proof was there in front of him, in black and white, and he was helpless to stop himself hearing the words that flowed from his fiancé.
"Hermann Bruce could never see the truth about the woman he'd married." Michelle's lips twisted into a bitter smile. "Keeping secrets has always been part of our family. No one dared to suggest that she'd killed him, but Lucian knew, or guessed. After he took over control of the Centre, a few years after you were born," she glanced up at her son, who was staring at the floor, "he killed his mother in retribution. As far as I know, that was his first murder."
The Belgian blinked tears out of his eyes, looking up at her sharply, seeing the guilty expression on her face, knowing that this was the truth. It explained everything to him: her survival, why she had never tried to contact him again, and he even knew why she had never told him before -- but all of that made it no less painful.
"You can't be," he murmured, his voice just audible. "You can't be related to him. Not Lucian. He's so so everything you aren't!"
Nicholas made a sound of protest that drew his parents' eyes to him as he looked up, his eyes full of tears. "Please, Mom," he begged, "tell me this is wrong." He snatched the page out of Sydney's hand and waved it at his mother. "Tell me you haven't lied to me about something else!"
Tears spilled out of Michelle's eyes and ran down her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "so, so sorry "
She stretched out her hands to him, but he dropped the page, jumped up off the sofa and ran out of the room. Seconds later, the front door slammed with a bang that made the windows rattle. As Michelle jumped to her feet to follow him, Sydney grabbed her hand.
"Leave him be," he told her firmly.
She sank down on the sofa beside him, weeping audibly, and, after a moment's hesitation, he put his arm around her shoulders, feeling her bury her face in his chest as she began to sob. Sydney reminded himself that he was in love with this woman, that he loved who she was, not what her name was, suddenly forced to think of the words with which he had counseled Yuri and Emily, his lips twisting into a bitter smile at the similarities, even as he began to stroke Michelle's hair.
* * * * * * * * *
Elizabeth felt Angelique's head gradually nod lower until it rested against her chest, her little hands lying relaxed around the rag doll in her arms, and the woman closed the book, tucking it in beside her leg, before gently stroking the child's short blond hair. The red scar was being rapidly hidden as her blond curls regrew, and Elizabeth looked up to see her own face with its shorn hair, a distorted reflection in the silver bedhead.
A tiny smile was reflected in the silver object as one of her first memories came back to her mind: standing in her room, her mother's lovely, shiny new scissors in her hand and the floor around her feet covered with brown curls, her hair short but uneven, with a long bit down the back, where her little hands can't reach.
"What are you doing, Lizzie?"
A quick, guilty look around the room. The knowledge of having done wrong. "Nothing, Mummy."
"What have you done?"
The motherly instinct that always knows. Quick, drop the scissors on the floor. Find somewhere to hide. But it's dark in the cupboard with the door shut. What's worse -- a smack or the dark? Then the door opens and there's a minute of terrible silence while you study your shoes and the floor.
"Elizabeth Natalie Merchant, what have you done?!"
Looking up into an expression you recognize as having seen when you mixed the milk and water together just before the visitors arrived, when you dug up all the flowers, and when you were trying to 'help' and dropped three glasses of red wine on the carpet. You're in awful trouble, and you know it. Cry. And then you're in Mummy's arms and being hugged.
"You silly, silly little girl. What did you do that for?"
Looking up into Mommy's brown eyes. You've always been told to tell the truth. "You told Daddy the scissors needed to be tried out first, b'fore you cut the special stuff for the dress for when Bobby gets the water put on his head."
A moment of stunned silence, before the sound of golden laughter, the best sound in the whole world, and Mummy's arms giving you another big hug. Then Mummy going over to the phone and telling someone they'll be there soon. In the car, and then in the shop where the man puts the big apron around you, while he shaves off the last of your hair and makes it smooth. Every time after that that you get a haircut, Mummy reminds you of it and shows you the photos she took, with the long piece of hair that the hairdresser cut off.
Elizabeth smothered a giggle, blinking the tears out of her eyes at that memory as she got out of the rocking chair and carried Angelique over to the bed, laying her down and gently covering her with the blankets, lightly kissing her pink cheek.
She hadn't thought of him for so long. He had been her best friend at school, and his parents had converted to Christianity, so he got baptized. Mummy had made the gown for his christening. And Elizabeth had made the bride's dress for his wedding, almost exactly 20 years later. But they had lost contact a short time after that, and he hadn't even turned up to her parents' funeral, although she had secretly hoped he would.
Turning away from the bed, she quietly left the room, hoping that Angelique hadn't picked up on her feelings. Her head was starting to ache, and she had just decided she would go and lie down when she heard soft footsteps behind her, turning to see Raphael standing in the doorway of his room, watching her with his bright blue eyes.
"Aren't you supposed to be having a nap?" she scolded, sounding harsher than she normally did because of the increasing pain in her head. Walking over, she picked up the little boy, noticing the expression of concern in his eyes.
"Yes, sweetie," she assured him, rubbing his back as he snuggled close. "Just a little headache."
These children were all so dear, she thought, as she carried him back into his room, tucking him into bed with a kiss, feeling that her headache was somewhat better and guessing he had done something to relieve it.
As she got into the elevator, she hoped that her daughter would be as sweet and generous as the Seraphim. Gently stroking her stomach, she headed in the direction of her apartment, praying that she would be as good a mother as her own mother had been, wishing the woman had lived to meet Trevor and their daughter.
Entering, she found Trevor at his desk, smiling at her before his expression quickly faded into one of concern. "What is it, baby?" he asked, getting up and coming over to her. "Headache?"
"You're a mind-reader," she murmured, leaning against him, feeling his hand lightly stroking her head before it lowered slightly and he gently massaged the top of her neck.
"Oh, that's good," she moaned softly, feeling the tension in her neck start to unravel and the ache in her head ease. "Where did you learn that?"
"Jarod taught me," Trevor admitted with a grin. "Apparently I'm a very apt pupil."
Guiding her over to the sofa, he helped her lie on it before sitting down and easing her head onto his lap, kissing the tips of his fingers and touching it to her forehead. She rested her hand on her stomach, feeling Trevor gently stroke her cheek.
"What are we going to call her?" she asked. "Or do you already know that bit?"
He chuckled noncommittally. "What was your mother's name?"
"Mummy," she replied, smiling sadly, and he smiled tenderly at her, smoothing his cool hand over her warm cheeks and forehead. "But everyone else called her Elli. Her name was Elinor."
"I like it," Trevor murmured, lightly stroking her upper arm, and she felt the gooseflesh rise at his touch. "Elinor Louise McCarty."
"So you did know," she declared triumphantly, sitting bolt upright, and he laughed softly, drawing her gently into his arms again, her head resting on his shoulder. "She'll probably have her father's gift for getting into trouble," Elizabeth went on teasingly, touching his cheek with the back of her hand and feeling the increased warmth. "How many times did you eat the dog's dinner?"
"Until his mother started saying what she was actually feeding him," a voice remarked lightly from the doorway, and both people looked up to find Patrick in the doorway. He chuckled, stepping into the room as Trevor waved him inside, and sat in the armchair opposite them.
"Tell me," Elizabeth asked eagerly, "what else did he do?"
"What didn't he do?" The older man rolled his eyes, laughing as his son placed his hands over his wife's ears so that she wouldn't hear what was said. Elizabeth wriggled out of Trevor's grasp and looked at her father-in-law.
"So he wasn't the perfect angel I've always imagined?" she asked, with just a hint of sarcasm.
Patrick grinned at the younger man, arching an eyebrow. "How much should I tell her, son?"
"Nothing!" Trevor protested immediately. "Nothing at all!"
"Well, where's the fun in that?" his father demanded, turning his attention to the woman. "He was a good boy," he began, "most of the time "
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod finished typing up the report Morgan had requested and began printing it out, looking over the notes he had written during the planning meeting that had finished about 20 minutes earlier.
Morgan was understandably concerned that the problem affecting so many of the residents down in Dallas might also occur to those at the Centre. She had requested that someone come up to help arrange the necessary equipment to conduct tests on those residents still living in the Centre and Jarod had volunteered so that he could come and see Jordan. It also gave him a chance to fulfill his promise to his baby son, and Jordan would fly back down with him for one night, before returning to keep working with Pedro.
When the report was printed, he inserted the pages into a Centre folder and made up a label to attach to it, before putting it into his OUT box. Emailing a copy to himself, he picked up the phone and requested somebody to collect the report from his office, before standing and starting to pack his papers into his bag, planning what time he and Jordan would arrive back in Dallas.
There was a knock on his door and then, at his call, it opened and the brown-haired sweeper entered. Jarod picked up the folder and held it out with a grin.
"Can you give this to Morgan, Kim?"
Her eyes twinkled. "Of course I can," she agreed slyly. "If I can manage to hold you at gunpoint, I can probably do anything."
Jarod chuckled softly. "Have you told your uncle about your colorful past?"
"Nah." She accepted the folder. "I don't know whether he could take it."
Walking to the door, she was just about to leave the office when Jarod's voice stopped her. "By the way," he commented lightly, "I thought you didn't do white picket fences and houses in the suburbs."
She looked back over her shoulder at him and winked. "Lazslo's house doesn't have a fence."
Laughing, he watched her leave the room before shutting down the computer, and then consulted his watch. Standing, he picked up his bag, answering the phone almost absentmindedly when it rang.
"Mr. Charles, there's a security alert in the lobby."
"So why are you calling me?" he snapped impatiently, not wanting to be held up.
"The individual in question asked to see you, sir," the woman on the other end explained. "Can you come down?"
"I'll be right there," he growled, slamming the phone down and putting aside his bag with a sigh, leaving the room.
The elevator doors slid open two floors lower, on ground level, and he stepped out into the lobby, seeing a familiar figure sitting in a chair, a sweeper on either side.
"Nicholas!" he exclaimed in astonishment. Stepping forward, he nodded at the sweepers, who moved aside, and then Jarod saw the younger man's red-rimmed, panic-filled eyes, hearing him gasping for breath. Turning to the woman at the reception desk, he gave an order. "I don't want to be disturbed. Not by anyone."
"Yes, sir," she agreed immediately, and then Jarod turned to Sydney's son.
"Come up to my office," he suggested quietly. "We can talk there."
The younger man rose and walked with him to the elevator, Jarod seeing the sweepers returning to their posts in and around the reception desk. As the doors closed them in, the Pretender turned anxiously to Nicholas.
"What is it?" he demanded at once.
"It it's my mom and me."
Jarod exhaled slowly. "Not Sydney?"
"Not directly, no," Nicholas admitted.
Relieved, Jarod guided Nicholas down the hall to his office and closed the door behind them both, locking it firmly. "Sit down," he directed, nodding at the sofa, taking the armchair opposite. "Now," Jarod began quietly, "tell me what's wrong."
Nicholas rested his elbows on his knees and sank his face into his hands briefly before looking up at the man opposite. "Do you know someone called Lucian Bruce?"
Jarod stiffened at the name, wondering if the man had been in contact with Nicholas, and if so, what he wanted. "Yes, I do," he responded, carefully keeping his voice neutral. "Why?"
"Sydney seemed to think he's pretty bad "
"I would agree with him," Jarod remarked quietly, before leaning forward. "How do you know him, Nicholas?"
"M Mom said she's related to him," came the response, from between trembling lips. "And he's my cousin, I think."
Jarod stared in stunned silence. He could see the devastation on Nicholas' face and understood it came from the realization that, yet again, part of his life had been concealed from him. Jarod was easily able to empathize with that feeling, and knew that Nicholas had guessed he would be able to understand. That was the reason he had come to find him.
"Tell me about it," Jarod stated calmly. "Let's see if we can work something out."
An expression of gratitude flashed across Nicholas' face. "What's Lucian like?"
"Not somebody you ever want to know, if you can help it," Jarod told him firmly. "If you can avoid him, it would be best for you."
"But," Jarod saw the conflict in his eyes and understood his torn loyalty, "he's family "
"Wait and see what happens," Jarod counseled. "You'll only ever meet Lucian if he wants you to, that much I can promise you. And if he wants to meet you, nothing you could do would stop him from finding you. He's that sort of person."
Nicholas nodded, but Jarod knew that he didn't really understand. How could he? No one in his limited experience would have been like Lucian Bruce, and although that was something that he should be grateful for, it only made this situation more difficult. Jarod focused on the younger man sitting opposite. "Tell me exactly what your mother told you."
The details were explained, including the fact that Michelle had changed her name to avoid being connected with Hermann Bruce in any way. It explained a lot to Jarod, including the reason that Michelle had been allowed to live when it was found that she was pregnant with Nicholas. He saw the anxiety that still lingered in Nicholas' eyes and believed he understood the cause of it, as well as the anger he could see rising in his nominal brother, now the initial shock had passed.
"I can understand why your mother didn't tell you," he stated thoughtfully.
"Why?" the younger man demanded angrily, getting to his feet and beginning to pace. "It seems like she's always hiding things from me. First, she didn't tell me the truth about my father, and now this! What next? That I'm adopted? That I'm not even human but belong to some Martian mother?!"
Jarod couldn't help chortling at that. "I doubt it," he responded in amusement. "You only have to look at yourself in the mirror to see who your parents are."
Nicholas sighed deeply and threw himself back onto the sofa, throwing his hands helplessly into the air, before letting them fall back onto his lap. "So why didn't she tell me?"
"Because, until only the last month or so, Lucian was still in control of the Centre," Jarod replied. "If she'd told you before that, then she would've had to tell Sydney, too, and he was working for Lucian. If anyone ever learned the truth about Lucian while he was still in control of the Centre, they would have been killed, because he wanted to keep his identity secret from everyone. She told you this as soon as she reasonably could, without risking your safety, or that of your father."
The phone rang suddenly, making both men jump, and Jarod got up to answer it, turning on the speakerphone.
"Mr. Charles, Dr. Ritter and Mrs. Stamatis asked to see you. They said it's important."
Jarod met Nicholas' gaze briefly, seeing the young man tense and the conflict of emotion in his eyes. "Ask them to wait," he directed. "I won't be long."
"Thank you, sir."
The older man returned to his chair. "You're going to have to make a decision," he reminded the man opposite. "But do try to remember that your mother did what she did because she wanted to protect you. I'm sure it's been hard for her, all these years, with these secrets weighing her down and not knowing how you'd react to the truth. I know it's hard for you, but don't forget her."
Nicholas stared at the floor. "It's hard to trust her sometimes," he murmured brokenly.
"You can always trust her to do what she believes is best for you," Jarod assured him sincerely. "Just like any mother would. And if it sometimes seems hard to understand why she did it, then you need to remember that she can only look at a situation from her own perspective, just as you can only see it from yours."
The younger man looked up to meet his gaze, his brown eyes slowly losing their expression of devastation, although the hurt remained. "What would you do, if you were me?"
"I'd talk to her," Jarod replied immediately. "I'd get her side of the story. I'd find out all there was to know about the situation. And if, at the end of it all, I was still just as confused and betrayed and angry as I feel right now, I'd talk to my father, who must be feeling exactly the same way." Jarod paused for a moment. "Don't forget that Sydney's just discovered the woman he's loved for more almost thirty years isn't who he thought she was. He must be feeling very much like you do right now, and the two of you could talk it out. That would be good for both of you."
Nicholas considered this for a moment, before looking up again. "I I hadn't really thought about that."
"It's hard to think of other people when your emotions are in turmoil," Jarod said sympathetically. "But sometimes you have to make that effort. And if there's someone else who will understand what you feel, that makes it easier to deal with, because you have someone else that you can discuss it with." He waited for a moment, and then, when Nicholas remained silent, Jarod stood up and walked over to his desk, picking up the phone to call the lobby. "Would you ask Dr. Ritter and Mrs. Stamatis to come up, please?"
Unlocking the door, he moved over to the filing cabinet and took out a file, opening it on top of the cabinet and searching through the pages. He had just found the one he wanted when there was a knock at the door and then it opened immediately.
"Jarod, I need to talk to you " Sydney began, and then broke off in the middle of the next word, as he saw his son sitting on the sofa. He turned, and it was obvious to Jarod that Michelle was in the hallway. "He's here."
Michelle hurried into the room and approached her son, hesitating a short step away. "I'm sorry, Nicholas," she began tearfully. "No matter what the danger, I should have told you the truth and let you make up your own mind." Michelle hung her head, her feelings of devastation and guilt obvious in both her red eyes and her strained voice. "I'm a terrible mother."
"No, Mom," Nicholas contradicted immediately. "You're not a terrible mother. You always did what you thought was best for me." He stood up and hugged her warmly, keeping his arm around her shoulders as he pulled back to look into her face. "Let's go home and talk about this."
Sydney turned to his former student as his fiancé and son left the office, astonishment written all over his face. "What did you say to him?"
Jarod shrugged slightly, smiling. "We just talked." He nodded after the departing pair. "Go with your family, Sydney. You'll need to take part in that discussion, and your son will need someone to talk to afterwards."
The older man took a step forward and hugged him, anxiety that the Pretender might be feeling excluded obvious in his eyes and the warmth of his embrace. "Thank you, Jarod."
"I've been feeling lately that I owed you a lot for keeping me safe from the worst of this place, Sydney," Jarod stated quietly, returning the hug. "Maybe, today, I've started to repay some of that debt."
"You don't owe me anything, Jarod," the psychiatrist assured him quickly. "Not a thing."
"Take this." Jarod offered the photo he had been getting from Lucian's file. "Nicholas will want to know what his cousin looks like. Actually," he added, after a second, handing over the folder with a sigh, "he'll probably want to know more than that. You haven't really told him that much about Lucian, have you?"
"Would you?" Sydney demanded, accepting the thick bundle. "Considering how upset he was -- understandably, of course, but still -- would you tell him that his cousin is a sick, twisted, mass-murderer?"
"Yes, I would," Jarod replied. "He'll never understand what made his mother change her name and lie to him for so many years if he doesn't know what kind of a man Lucian is. I think he really does need to know -- everything."
The psychiatrist sighed heavily. "I suppose you're right. And he'll need to know what this place was really like before the takeover, to fully understand why his mother kept it secret for so long."
"He'll understand once you tell him, though," Jarod said confidently.
Sydney raised an eyebrow. "You simulated him, didn't you?"
Jarod grinned as the older man opened the office door, and picked up the bag he had prepared of things to take back to Sanctuary. "Just like you taught me."
* * * * * * * * *
The elevator doors opened and the two little girls, one blond and one dark, stepped out into the lobby, holding hands.
"Dis is it?" Michaela asked, pointing at the first door she saw. Tempest thought for a moment and then nodded.
"I think so." She eyed the doorknob, which looked so high, and mentally tried to turn it, sighing as she realized it was locked and would therefore be a lot more difficult to open. "Is you gonna go in there?"
"No." Michaela shook her head slowly. She walked over and sat down on the floor with her back to the wall, beside the door. "I wait here an' when he come out, den "
"Okay." Tempest walked over and kissed her small playmate's cheek. "Does you want me to stay here, too?"
"'S okay," came the reply, as Michaela hugged her friend. "You go back down to de ovvers."
The down button for the elevator lit up and Tempest wandered over to the large silver doors, with a farewell wave to her friend as they slid open and she walked in. After they closed, Michaela got comfy on the floor and waited for the door beside her to open and her new friend to come out.
"I haven't seen her," the receptionist was saying, as Jarod and Jordan entered the building. "And I certainly would have stopped her before she went out. Of course I would!"
The men exchanged slightly confused glances and then shrugs as they got into the elevator. Their conversation was about the boy they had left in Blue Cove and his progress, and this topic lasted until the elevator doors opened onto the nursery floor, and a scene of unusual activity.
The large doors to the playroom stood wide, and two of the caregivers hurried into the elevator as soon as it arrived, barely giving Jarod and his son time to get out before the doors shut.
"What on earth ?" Jordan began, before grinning. "Is this what happens when I go away?"
"Maybe when I do," his father retorted.
"Jarod!" One of the caregivers met them as soon as they walked into the large room. "Have you seen Michaela this morning?"
"I've only just got back from Delaware," the Pretender explained, seeing Jordan go over to greet his fiancé with a kiss and join in the game his little brother was playing. "I haven't had a chance to see anyone. Is she missing?"
"For an hour!" Amy told him in a panic-stricken voice. "We thought she was in her room, but when we went in to look, she wasn't there. Then we thought she was hiding, but we've searched every room on this level, and every cupboard, and she's nowhere to be found!"
"Calm down," Jarod told her sharply, recognizing the rising hysteria in her tones. "You'll upset the other children."
The woman took several deep breaths before speaking again. "We've just arranged for security to begin searching the lower levels of the building, working their way up, but she could be anywhere by now!"
"Well, I can't imagine why she'd leave," the man stated calmly, "so we'll find her eventually. I'll take these up to Yuri," he tapped a bundle of files in his arms, work that he had been given to offer the younger Pretender, "and then I'll come and help you all look." He glanced at the group in the corner. "Why don't you ask the other children where she is? They'll probably know."
Amy turned and moved back to the corner where the other Seraphim were playing calmly with the stuffed animals that had been brought back for them from Australia. The sight struck Jarod as odd, considering the bustle that was going on around them, and he continued to dwell on it as he got into the elevator.
He nearly dropped the folders he was carrying as the elevator doors opened and he saw the little girl sitting on the floor outside the apartment.
"Michaela!" he exclaimed, hurrying over to pick her up. "Is this where you are? Everyone's looking for you! Have you been here all this time?"
She looked at him calmly. "I's waitin' for Yuri," she explained sedately.
The man's brow furrowed. "How do you know about Yuri?"
"I seed him one day, when I was sleepin'," she responded, giving him a beaming smile. "An' Tempes' said dat he lives here, so I's waitin' 'till he comes out."
"I'm taking you back down to the nursery," Jarod told her, turning to press the elevator call button, but before his fingers could touch it, the girl screamed, wriggling frantically in an attempt to get out of his arms before he carried her away. Jarod flinched as her shoe hit him in the thigh, where the bullet had been removed.
"Noooo!" she shrieked shrilly. "I wants to see Yuri! Not goin' back down! No!"
Jarod cuddled her, trying to calm her down, forgetting her abilities, until something sharp seemed to cut into him, causing him to freeze, his eyes popping in pain. The electricity shot through him, exiting through the soles of his feet and going into the building, causing the lights around them to flicker. Jarod fought to breathe, but the muscles in his chest refused to react to his mental orders, and he could only gasp vainly.
Gradually, as the long seconds passed, the agony faded, and he fought for air, slowly becoming aware, through a haze of pain, that Michaela had stopped screaming. As his sight cleared, Jarod saw she was looking at him out of wide, terrified eyes.
"It's all right," he panted, leaning weakly against the wall and pressing a hand to his forehead as it began to throb, seeing that the folders had fallen from his grasp, thankful he hadn't dropped her also.
"Unca Jarod," she whimpered timidly, flinching away from him as he gently stroked her shorn hair with a shaking hand, managing to avoid the long, red scar.
The skin on his arm was black in the places where it had made contact with her, and her clothes had black spots also, where the more powerful spurts of electricity had burst through. The smell of burnt hair and fabric lingered in the air as Jarod, having caught his breath, managed to lurch to his feet again, keeping a hand on the wall to maintain his balance.
"Are you okay, sweetie?" he asked softly, seeing that she was pale, her eyes still wide and full of panic.
"I didn' mean it, Unca Jarod," she wailed tearfully, before starting to cry, and he gathered her in both arms, holding her against his shoulder and gently rubbing her back as he rocked her.
"I know you didn't, Michaela," he soothed, stroking her hair and managing to control his trembling limbs, feeling his heart flutter in his chest. "It's all right, honey. Honest, it is. I'm okay now."
Privately, he wondered how many of the computers in the building had switched off and lights had blown. The nursery floor had been insulated before the children were rescued, to prevent this sort of thing happening, either from Michaela's electrokinesis, or a fire started by Gideon. Up here, however, there was no extra protection and the power could have traveled through several floors. Luckily, they were probably far enough above the offices that the large stores of data there should be safe, but he thought wryly that dinner would probably be burnt.
The door of Yuri's apartment suddenly opened and the occupant stepped out into the hallway, his eyes widening at the sight that met his gaze, but hesitating when he saw the girl in Jarod's arms. Michaela still had her face buried in Jarod's shoulder, clutching him around the neck, and he was able to feel her trembling as she continued to sob violently.
"Is is everything all right?" the younger Pretender asked hesitantly.
"It is now," Jarod assured him, nodding down at the files. "Can you get those for me?"
Stepping away, he picked up the phone hanging on the wall beside the elevator, as Yuri began to collect the folders and sheets of paper. Dialing the number of the nursery, he was unsurprised to hear it picked up at the first ring.
"It's okay, Helen," he assured the frantic woman. "I've found Michaela."
She heaved a relieved sigh. "Thank God for that. Will you bring her back?"
"Not right now. She's a little upset," he replied, after a brief pause to choose the right word. "I'll bring her down when she's feeling better."
"That's fine, Jarod," she told him. "Just so long as we know she's still in the building, and all right."
He hung up the phone and turned to find Yuri offering him the files, the man keeping an uncertain eye on the girl in Jarod's arms.
"I was bringing them up for you anyway, if you want them," Jarod told him, feeling his right arm start to throb from the pain of his burns. "Did Sebastian provide you with a first aid kit?"
"Uh, yeah," the younger man agreed warily, clutching the folders to his chest. Waving at the door, he followed them inside, seeing Jarod sit on the sofa and begin to take off Michaela's small top, checking her skin for burns.
Dropping the folders on his workstation, Yuri went into his bathroom and took the box down from the shelf where he kept it, carrying it out into the living room. Opening it onto the coffee table, he extracted a tube of burn cream and took out a roll of gauze bandage. Then he retreated to an armchair on the far side of the room, watching silently.
Picking up the tube of cream, Jarod removed the top and dabbed it onto the various scalds on Michaela's chest, which seemed to be the main area from which the electricity was emitted, although the palms of her little hands were also redder than usual, and he had small, starfish-like burns on his arms, one next to a scar he had to remind him of his test with Allegra, whilst still in the Centre. Presumably, if they were to concentrate her skill, she would need to be taught to focus her energy on her hands, to control the direction in which she could direct the electricity.
"Unca Jarod," she whimpered, looking up at him out of large, frightened, brown eyes.
"It's okay, sweetie," he soothed, picking up the gauze and using it to cover the burns, despite the fact that his arm was painful to use, and his feet were also throbbing. "This will help make it hurt less."
When her burns had been treated, he lifted her onto his lap, cuddling her against him and rocking her. She snuggled up against his chest, tears once more filling her eyes, until she again began to sob.
"Hey, none of that," he urged gently, lifting her so that her eyes were on a level with his. "Come on, honey, no more tears, okay? Everything's all right now."
"Of course I do." He lightly kissed her tear-stained cheek. "Does anywhere else hurt?"
Shaking her head slowly, she wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head down on his shoulder, but the change of position meant that she could see the man on the far side of the room, and she raised her head again, before pointing at him.
"I know, sweetie," Jarod replied, seeing the younger Pretender visibly stiffen. "Tempest was right. Yuri does live here."
She looked at him curiously. "You knows Yuri?"
Jarod smiled. "Yes, Michaela. Yuri and I," he looked up at the man opposite, arching an eyebrow slightly, "are friends."
"Why's he over dere?" she asked.
"I would imagine," Jarod suggested carefully, "that he didn't want to be in the way."
"But we's finished now," Michaela announced cheerfully, her normal confidence restored by the change of subject. Wriggling out of Jarod's hold, she plumped down on the sofa and patted the unoccupied cushion next to her with an expectant air. "Yuri," she called. "Come sit wif us."
"Please," Jarod prompted automatically.
"Please," she added.
Jarod could see the younger man's reluctance, but forced himself to stay silent and keep his face expressionless, not wanting to influence Yuri's decision in any way. Michaela, however, obviously understood his hesitation in another way. Jarod saw her face fall as she watched him consider the invitation.
"I isn't gonna hurt you," she promised pleadingly.
The pain on Yuri's face at that statement was obvious, and Jarod could imagine the mental pain it caused him, unable to help seeing the irony in that babyish statement.
"He knows that," Jarod assured her gently, seeing Yuri nod, a movement that Jarod suspected was involuntary. "He knows you wouldn't hurt him, sweetheart."
After a moment, the younger man rose from his chair and laggingly approached the sofa, taking the place Michaela had indicated. Immediately, she wriggled closer to him, and Jarod saw Yuri's fingers tighten around the arm of the sofa, in an attempt not to move away also, but he managed to remain still. The girl studied his face for a moment, before beaming.
"You's nice," she announced. "Jus' like I foughted, when I seed you."
Yuri was unable to completely conceal his internal emotional struggle, his jaw clenching several times and blinking back tears. Jarod saw one escape from his eye as Michaela snuggled close to him, wrapping her little arms as far around his waist as she could reach, but the Pretender wiped it away with his other hand before it could get far. The older man saw him hesitate, before his arm curled around the girl beside him, his movements obviously awkward.
Looking away, Jarod examined the skin on his arm, removing the top from the tube of cream and applying the cool, white substance to the blackened patches. He would obviously have to come up with medication to mute the little girl's ability, in the same way he had with the pyrokinetics, to prevent any further accidents. Applying the gauze bandage to his arm, he fastened it securely, wriggling his toes and feeling pain there also, knowing there would be burns from the exit wounds and hoping his socks wouldn't have stuck to the burnt skin, making them difficult to remove later.
When Jarod looked up again, Michaela's eyes were closed, her head resting against her father's chest, worn out from the use of energy and the emotion that always followed it. Yuri was looking down at her, gently stroking her hair, but he stopped the moment he felt Jarod's eyes on him.
"This was your decision, Yuri," Jarod reminded the younger man quietly, shooting a warning look at the camera on the wall, hoping to prevent anyone from interrupting, "not mine."
"I know," Yuri murmured, his eyes locked on the girl in his arms. "I don't deserve this."
"If you stay here, Michaela will pursue you," Jarod mused thoughtfully, looking down at the child's relaxed face, resting against her father's chest. "If you leave, she'll miss you. Maybe so much that she'd run away to find you, like she did today. There aren't many people she's developed strong connections with, but you and Emily are two of them."
Yuri's features folded into a glare as his eyes rolled up to the other man. "I don't want to have to deal with this."
"You don't have a choice," Jarod shot back. "Not now. You were given a choice about coming to help, and you agreed. You wanted to be close to her." He eyed the limp body lying against Yuri's side, and his lips twisted in bitter sympathy. "You can't get much closer than that."
The young man flinched away, but the child beside him only snuggled closer, her arms tightening around him, before she relaxed again.
"See what I mean?" Jarod arched an eyebrow. "You have a responsibility, Yuri. Michaela might not know who you are, but she knows you're special, and that's enough. She wants to be friends with you, and you've only got two options."
Standing, feeling the soles of his feet prickling painfully as he put weight on them, Jarod lifted the sleeping child out of Yuri's arms, gently disengaging her relaxed grip and rubbing a hand up and down her back as she whimpered.
"I'll be in my room, or the infirmary, and you have my cell phone number," he stated. "If you want to talk, call me."
Limping slightly, his thigh also throbbing, he left the room, seeing that the guards, who had been waiting on either side of the door in case they were needed, relaxed their stance as soon as he appeared. Pulling the door shut behind him, Jarod pressed the button for the elevator to take Michaela back down to the playroom and to tell the others what had happened, before getting treatment for his burnt feet.
* * * * * * * * *
Morgan switched off the headlights and got out of the car, ensuring she had her purse. Unclipping her gun, she carefully stored it in the glove compartment, rather than take it into the supermarket with her, locking her car door and closing it, before turning towards the building.
The lump of wood made solid contact with the side of her head, the dull thud satisfying to the man who swung the blunt implement, as she crumpled to the ground. He pulled something out of his pocket, picking up her limp hand, and slid the tip of the needle into the blood vessel, a flashlight held between his teeth so that he could see what he was doing. Injecting the sedative, he let her hand drop before putting the syringe back into his pocket and then walking over to a nearby car, driving it close enough that he could pull her body into the back seat without anyone being able to see.
The car drove away, and then there was silence.
* * * * * * * * *
The moon was high in the sky when the car pulled up in front of the gray building, and Jarod and his son came out onto the steps. Jordan wanted to be back to the Centre for a meeting with the other members of the team overseeing Pedro, so he had to leave early. The man gave his son a final hug and watched him run down the stairs. Jordan had, at his baby bother's pleading, stayed for two nights, but he had been so enthusiastic about his work during their discussions that Jarod hadn't even tried to dissuade Jordan from leaving, aware that his son had found a profession to keep him busy and, which was more important, happy.
The elevator carried Jarod back up to the residence floor and he glanced at his watch as he got out, thinking that he could have another two or so hours of sleep before his baby son would come in to wake him up. Outside the door to his room, he found Elizabeth, her hand raised to knock, and he was immediately concerned at the worried expression in her eyes.
"What is it?"
"It's the Seraphim," she told him, as he guided her into his room. "They're all dreaming about Morgan, that she's been abducted by the man who took Faith. And these are strong dreams, like the ones Trevor has when he's seen visions. I think it could be true."
Before Jarod could respond, his cell phone, lying on the workstation, began to ring, and he quickly picked it up, activating the call.
"Jarod, Morgan's missing." The words tumbled over each other, and the Pretender could hear the anxiety in Sydney's voice. "The sweepers at her house reported that she never came home last night. We found her car near the supermarket, her gun was in the glove compartment, but she's not there. There was blood on the ground near her car "
"Sydney, stop," Jarod protested, holding a hand up in a futile gesture of protest at the barrage of words, feeling his stomach tighten in anxiety. "What time did she leave the Centre last night?"
"Almost eleven." The psychiatrist's voice was strained. "Sam walked her to her car and then went home, but she never got there, and the store's security footage doesn't show that she ever went inside it."
"Do they have parking lot cameras?"
"Yes," Broots' voice put in, "but the light in the area where she parked her car was broken, so we couldn't see anything."
"Do we know who smashed it?"
"Just a group of kids," the head of SIS told him. "Teenagers."
Jarod thought for a moment. "Try to enhance the footage," he said finally. "I'm guessing the only person who'd try this would be Lucian, but we might as well make sure. I'll ask the Seraphim and other people here and see what they can tell me."
"I've already alerted the offices, nation-wide," Broots told him.
"Fine," Jarod stated curtly. "I'll call you when I know any more."
He cut the connection and looked at the woman. "It's true," he informed her. "Lucian took her last night. Probably the only reason the Seraphim haven't woken up in distress is because you took the dreams away from them."
"I can give them back," she offered hesitantly. "It won't be pleasant for them, but if it'll help them work out where Morgan's been taken "
"They'll work it out anyway," he replied curtly. "I'll go down now and find out what they can tell me. Go wake up your husband and Ethan, and bring them down to the playroom. They might be able to help."
Dropping his cell phone into his pocket, he hurried down the few flights of stairs and into the large playroom. As he opened the large doors, he heard wailing coming from the area in which the children slept and knew that Elizabeth had allowed the children to dream about the woman's abduction. Helen came out of the passageway that led to the bedrooms, relief in her eyes when she saw him.
"The children " she began anxiously, but he interrupted.
"I know. We need them, though."
He hurried into Gabriel's room, seeing that the boy was sobbing in Sara's arms. The child held out his arms as soon as his father appeared. Jarod lifted the baby into his arms, and Gabriel buried his face the man's neck, howling.
"Bring the other children in here," he directed, and the woman left the room to do so as Jarod looked down at his son.
"Where's Mommy?" he asked quietly. "Do you know?"
"She hurted," Gabriel wailed, before dissolving into frantic tears, burying his head in his father's shoulder. Jarod held him close and looked up as the Seraphim were brought into the room by their caregivers, running over to where he stood. Jarod sat down on the floor, Gabriel in his lap, and the other seven huddled close to him.
"Where is she?" he asked them, forcing himself to be calm. "Where's Aunty Morgan?"
Tempest had been staring at the floor, but she finally looked up at him, and Jarod saw the same light of knowledge in Uriel's eyes, but the boy let her speak.
"'S a big place'" the child told him, "Big an' all white, with a round thing on top, an' like door-things all over it, Unca Jarod."
That could be anywhere! Jarod thought in frustration, trying to think of a way to get her to pick a landmark that would be unique to only one city without confusing her. He forced himself to calm down when he saw Angelique flinch and tears fill her blue eyes.
"Dat was b'fore," Uriel piped up. "Now she's in a buildin'. All dark."
The children's parents joined the group, Angelo picking up his daughter and cuddling her, as the other Seraphim climbed into their parents' laps. Trevor, Elizabeth and several others hovered in the background with the caregivers.
"Washington DC," Ethan murmured, his eyes closed, his arms around his son. "Momma said "
"I'll get the jet prepped," Ramona offered, as Ethan trailed off. Sebastian, who held Gideon and Dominique in his lap, murmured into his wife's ear and she stood up and went over to say something to Trevor, who left the room.
There was silence for several minutes, before Jarod got to his feet. Ethan gave Uriel one last hug and then slid him onto Julia's lap, the woman sitting between him and Joseph, the healer seated in a wheelchair, his balance still unsteady, but therapy was treating the ongoing weakness on his left side. Jarod pulled out his cell phone and dialed Sydney's number. The psychiatrist answered on the first ring.
"Lucian took her to Washington DC," Jarod stated. "We'll fly up to meet you there. Have the local office start looking for them. And bring antidotes for Supernova and the others, just in case."
"Where?" Sydney asked, before he could hang up.
"We'll meet you outside the Capitol building." Hanging up, he slid the phone back into his pocket.
"I'm coming with you this time." Ethan's tone was firm and he looked up at his brother as if daring him to suggest otherwise.
Jarod barely had time to nod before Trevor returned, hurrying over to them with a black case in his hand. "I ordered a car for us," he put in. "Namir's coming, too, just in case."
The Pretender didn't want to think of Morgan possibly being injured, but knew that it made sense to take precautions, considering what his son had said, particularly now that the Israeli could heal without causing any damage to himself. Gabriel clung to his father, and Jarod gently disengaged his hands, lifting his face to look into his son's brown eyes.
"I'm going to find Mommy," he explained gently. "You stay here."
"Mine," the boy whimpered, as Jarod handed him to his caregiver, and Angelique leaned out of Angelo's arms, cuddling the boy when Sara was close enough to the empath for her little arms to reach.
Jarod, Trevor, Namir and Ethan left the room, hurrying to the elevator and riding it to the lobby. A car was already standing at the entrance, and as soon as they were inside, it drove off. Trevor opened the case on his knees, and Jarod heard Ethan sharply draw in his breath as he saw the guns inside, with numerous rounds of ammunition.
Jarod accepted the gun and holster Trevor gave him, unavoidably reminded of the last time he'd held a firearm, and its consequences. A cold shiver of fear ran down his spine, but he pushed it aside, concentrating on trying to form a plan of action for when they arrived in DC. He hated the fact that it was a five-hour flight, but there was no way to reduce it. All they could do was to make sure they were as well prepared as possible when they finally arrived.
* * * * * * * * *
Morgan could feel her head throbbing and managed to press a hand to her forehead, opening her eyes to a well-lit room, the brightness of the walls causing her to shade her eyes with her other hand. After a few seconds, her eyes adjusted, and then she lifted her head, feeling something trickle down the side of her face. Touching it, she saw that her fingertips had been reddened by blood.
"Ah, you're awake, Miss Parker oh, I'm sorry," a snide voice stated, making Morgan jump, "of course, that should be Miss Ritter."
She looked around wildly before finally seeing the raised platform, well above her head, encased in glass, in which the former head of the Centre stood, smirking. Automatically reaching for her gun, she looked down to find her holster empty at the same moment as she heard a soft chuckle from the man.
"You really think I'm stupid enough to leave you armed?" Lucian mocked. Reaching forward, he knocked on the glass walls around him. "This isn't bulletproof you know."
"What do you want?" she demanded.
"I'm keeping my promise to you," he responded coolly, but there was a strange light in his eyes that caused a thrill of cold fear to run down her spine. This man was definitely insane. "I said I wanted you willing, and although I had to do some of the hard work myself, you didn't protest too much."
Morgan's eyes flickered around the room as she struggled to her feet, and she saw the six doors that lined the walls, wondering where they led, before returning her gaze to Lucian's face. His expression was one of greed and pleasure, and she wondered what he was planning, before he raped and then murdered her, which, she was sure, was his intention.
"I don't know what you think you'll achieve by this," she told him, forcing a tone of anger into her voice. "Killing me won't get you your power back."
"Who said anything about killing you?" he asked in a surprised voice. "No, you're much more use to me alive than you ever could be dead, at least for the moment. You see," he mused, "unlike myself and the people my father and I put in to run my companies, your cohorts are bothered by those pesky little things called feelings. When I tell MacKenzie and Broots that I've got you, I think we can probably clock their reactions with an egg timer. I'll get my companies back and after I've enjoyed you for a while I'll decide what to do with you then." His eyes gleamed eagerly. "You're just the type of woman I've always wanted," he purred. "A bit of a fighting spirit."
"They'll kill you first," she spat.
"Oh, I don't think so," he responded evenly. "You see, they don't even know you're missing. Jarod is, even now, still working hard at the Centre."
He picked up a remote control and pointed it at a wall behind her, and she turned to see a large TV screen built into the wall, which flickered into life. She could see the familiar dark head bent over papers, writing busily, but her eyes roamed quickly around the visible parts of the office and she knew at once that it wasn't Jarod's. Morgan knew Jordan had been planning to come back to Delaware, but had stayed in Dallas with his family. It was conceivable that he was now there again, meaning that Lucian had been tricked by the very technology whose creation he had so celebrated.
Hope began to burn in her, knowing that both Broots and her father would be anxious if she didn't turn up for work that morning. She blessed the technician's idea to have sweepers at the houses of executive employees, who would report comings and goings, and knew that Sydney's first step would be to call Jarod in Dallas. In a short space of time, every Centre employee would be looking for her, and there weren't too many places they could be hiding. In the meantime, she would somehow have to hold off Lucian's attempts to get any closer to her
* * * * * * * * *
The jet was 30 minutes away from Ronald Reagan Washington National airport when Jarod's cell phone rang.
"Jarod, we've had a security breach," Broots' voice told him. "It started about 20 minutes ago."
"What are they looking for?"
"They tapped into the camera system, and the only ones that were activated are those that were put into Pedro's room for his team to observe what he was doing and the one that was already in the room next to it, which we set up for Jordan as an office."
Jarod looked at the table in front of him thoughtfully. "Try and trace it, Broots. I'd guess it's Lucian looking for something, so we might be able to narrow down the search area that way."
"Sure thing," the technician told him promptly. "Should I tell Jordan he's being watched?"
The Pretender thought for a moment. "Lucian could be listening in, so don't. If he's just watching him on camera, he probably can't do any harm, but have sweepers posted outside the room, and keep watch on the breach, just in case." The Pretender thought for a moment, listening to Broots repeat the orders. When the head of SIS was listening again, he added something that had just occurred to him. "Jordan might feel that he's being watched. If he does, you'd better send him a message from me to keep working normally. Lucian must have a reason, and we don't want to play into his hands, particularly if it puts Morgan in any danger."
"Got it." The call was disconnected and Jarod returned the phone to his pocket, telling his fellow passengers what had been said.
* * * * * * * * *
"What about Peter?" she demanded. "What did he do to you? Why did he have to die?"
Lucian was pacing the small, glassed-in room, watching her closely. "You don't get it, do you?" he demanded. "You don't see why I had to do it, why the Centre had to be mine."
"Explain it to me." Morgan struggled to suppress the small flutter of fear in her stomach as she watched him. "Tell me why."
"The psychiatrist's daughter," he sneered. "Inherited it, did we? The penchant for questions?"
"Did it have to do with your father?" she guessed, remembering what she had read about them in the files. "Was that why?"
"I would have expected you of all people to understand," he hissed. "You've spent years trying to keep up with 'Daddy.'"
His voice was as smooth as velvet, a soft purr, but Morgan wasn't as deceived. She already knew the lows to which this man could stoop, how dangerous he really was.
"I won't let him win," Lucian snarled softly. "I'm better than he is. Stronger. He was weak, the way he let my mother win when she killed him. Even Aunt Michelle never believed that I could be that strong, but she knows now. I'll show her, just as soon as I'm done here."
Oh, dear God, Morgan thought to herself as he stared down at her, his eyes glowing with a new, strange, mad intensity. He really is insane. Her fear increased, along with her determination not to show him how she felt. Momma, she thought desperately. Please, Momma. Don't let him kill me. I don't want to die.
Hang on, baby, Catherine's voice echoed in her ears. They're coming. Not long now. Just hang on a little longer. Keep him talking.
"What about all those women?" Morgan prompted, knowing that her mother was right. "I know it was you who killed them. What was that for? Why?"
A tiny smile played around corners of the man's mouth as he folded his arms over his chest and a look of pride appeared in his eyes.
"That was art," he affirmed smoothly. "They were so beautiful and so easy. They couldn't resist me. No one can, you know," he stated in a confidential tone that made Morgan shudder inside. "I loved how simple it was. They came with me so willingly, and they were so surprised when the time came for them to die."
He laughed, a deep husky laugh from deep within his chest, and then reached into his pocket, pulling out a scrap of fabric that Morgan recognized as that which he had stolen from her so many months before. His eyes glowed more fiercely as he stared down at her, but the rest of his face was expressionless, and Morgan felt her terror increase even further. She was going to die at this man's hands. There could be no doubt about that now.
"You're the one I really want, though," Lucian told her, and although his tone was still as soft and smooth as ever, Morgan detected a strange, almost hysterical note in it. "You're going to enjoy what I'll do to you," he purred, his dark eyes glowing like fire. "I'm very good at it, Morgan. I know that you appreciate fine things, and I'm the best you'll ever have. But then," he added in a careless tone, "you'd enjoy it no matter what I did to you. That's if I let you remember it."
He picked up a case and took out a syringe, holding it up to the light, and Morgan could guess at its contents. She shuddered at the thought that she could be under this madman's control. He had wanted her willing and she knew that if he had the chance to administer that drug, which she guessed to be Supernova, he could do whatever he wanted with her and she would be unable to resist.
Please Jarod, she thought desperately. Hurry!
* * * * * * * * *
Trevor, who had the best knowledge of Washington, pulled the limousine up in front of the Capitol Building, and Sydney and Sam approached it immediately, getting into the back seat. Namir sat in the front, beside Trevor, so there was just room for them all.
"Nobody's seen anything yet," Sam began. "We had a call from the office about 10 minutes ago, but no positive sightings."
Jarod's cell phone rang before anyone could respond to this, and he answered it at once.
"We've narrowed it down to a few blocks, north of the city," the technician told him. "It's coming from somewhere along 15th Street, probably in the area of Florida Avenue and Girard Street."
"Good work," Jarod told him curtly, repeating the directions to Trevor, who immediately steered the car into the moderately heavy traffic, heading for that part of town. "Can you narrow it down any more?"
"We'll keep trying," Broots assured him. "And I'll call the office and tell them to redirect the search to that area."
"Do that," the Pretender responded sharply, hanging up. He turned to his brother, who was sitting with his eyes closed, his mouth moving rapidly, and Jarod, reading his lips, realized that he was begging his mother to tell him where his sister was.
"What do we do when we get there?" Sam demanded. "We've got blocks to search!"
"And we've got just the person to make it easier," Trevor put in. The car's other occupants stared at him in confusion.
"Sydney," the psychic responded, glancing at the psychiatrist in the rearview mirror, and Jarod saw the stunned look on the older man's face, suddenly working out what Trevor meant.
"He's right," the Pretender agreed, and Sydney shot him a startled look. "At least try, Sydney," he pleaded. "We don't have time to waste. If Lucian realizes we're here, he'll kill her!"
"But how?" Sydney murmured back. "I don't know "
"I know a little, the basics of it, anyway," Jarod interrupted, before raising his voice. "Trevor, how long until we get to the area Broots talked about?"
"Ten, maybe 20 minutes," the psychic told him, "depending on the traffic."
"Hopefully that's long enough," Jarod replied, turning back to the older man and starting to guide him through the various tests that had appeared in books and on Internet sites designed to hone clairsentient abilities, unable to help thinking, as he did so, the irony of the fact that their former roles were now reversed.
"This is 15th Street," Trevor announced, almost 20 minutes later, as they turned right. "And there's Florida Avenue."
"Can you slow down a little?"
Sydney's voice was calm, and Jarod could see the determination in his eyes, knowing that he had realized he was the only chance to save his daughter. No other person's skill in that vehicle was as likely to succeed as his.
"Turn right," Ethan suddenly stated, and Trevor obeyed immediately, slowing the car to a crawl as it drove along the curb. Most of the houses were copies of each other, using the same color bricks and roofing tiles. However, a large two-storey building about halfway along the street, with few windows, caught Jarod's eye. As they pulled level with it, Sydney's gaze intensified.
"There," he said sharply, pointing at it, and Trevor stopped the car a few feet past the gate. Jarod picked up the case of guns that had been pushed under the seat and offered the contents to those who had joined the group in Washington. He was startled to see Sydney pull back his jacket to reveal his own firearm, closing the case as the psychiatrist swiftly attached a silencer and checked that his gun was loaded.
"The closest team is 20 minutes away," Sam announced, disconnecting his cell phone and producing his own gun. "Should we wait for them?"
"The longer he's alone with her, the more chance he has to kill her," Jarod responded.
"Let's do this," Namir ordered, automatically taking charge.
The healer jogged around the outside of the house to work out the best way of entering it, coming back to where the others waited just outside the gate, out of sight of any windows.
"There are three doors," he told them softly, "so we will split up. Sam, you and Ethan, Trevor, you come with me, and Jarod and Sydney."
"And if they're locked?" Sam asked.
"Shoot the locks," Trevor told him, glancing at the weapons. "All our guns have silencers."
At the word, the group split up, Jarod and Sydney moving towards the nearest door. Putting out a hand to the knob he expected to be locked, Jarod was surprised when it opened. Gun at the ready, he entered, Sydney behind him.
Two doors confronted him in the dim hall, bright light streaming through the gaps beneath them, providing sufficient illumination for Jarod to make out Sydney's features.
"Which one?" he hissed softly.
The older man was about to reply when he heard muffled voices from inside the main room. After a moment of concentration, using the methods Jarod had suggested to him in the car, he could make out some of what was being said.
"Well," Lucian's voice announced, "what a pleasant surprise. Sam and Mirage. Now we're only waiting for one more arrival, and then the whole, happy family will be together."
Sydney moved to the further door, waving Jarod at the closer one. It was obvious that Lucian was already aware of their arrival, and his next words confirmed that.
"I'd put those guns down, if I were you," the madman warned. "Otherwise your attempted rescue will be in vain and Morgan's head will have a very large hole in it." Sounds suggested that they had obeyed, and Lucian's tone changed. "That's better," he purred. "Now we only have to wait for Jarod."
Sydney began to frantically weigh up his options. It was probable that, when Jarod appeared, the former head of the organization would kill them all. The Pretender was only waiting for a signal from Sydney to enter the room, unable to hear what was being said through the thick walls.
"If he doesn't come soon," Lucian growled suddenly, "I'll take care of her anyway."
That tipped the scales, knowing that there would be a better chance of them all surviving if they obeyed Lucian's commands as much as possible, and Sydney nodded, opening his door slightly at the same moment as the younger man opened his, to cover the sound.
The room was brightly lit, and it took Sydney's eyes a second to adjust, seeing that Jarod had the same problem, which gave Lucian the advantage.
"So nice to see you," he greeted the Pretender. "Now put the gun down."
Jarod had no choice but to obey, and Sydney saw that the other four had also placed their guns on the floor.
"If anyone else is listening to this, at the Centre or somewhere else," Lucian announced, "I'd just like to say to Broots or MacKenzie that what happens in this room will be very similar to the way I'll treat you all, to get back what rightfully belongs to me."
Sydney could now see again, and peeped around the door to find that Lucian had his arm around Morgan's neck, his gun held to her temple. From the limp way she was standing, Sydney guessed that she had already had to fight Lucian off before their arrival, and that the effort had exhausted her. Trevor, Sam, Namir, Ethan and Jarod stood in front of the other doors in the room, and Sydney's door was behind Lucian. The psychiatrist hoped his earlier comments meant that Lucian had no idea he was there.
Lucian's head had turned slightly from one man to another, and now his gaze rested on the Israeli healer in front of him, moving the muzzle of the gun from Morgan's temple to aim it at the man.
"Physician," he sneered, "heal thyself."
The crack of the gun echoed around the room, but Namir managed to move quickly enough that he avoided the bullet.
"That says wonderful things for the way Israel trains its troops," Lucian remarked. "I wonder if they would be willing to work for him, after I offer them a little Aurora and Supernova, of course." He laughed. "There's nowhere for you to go now," he mocked. "Not like your escape last time, when you were trying to treat that wreck of a human being, who used to believe that he actually ran my organization."
Sydney saw that Sam had begun sidling towards his boss and only just managed to stop himself from calling out a warning, but Lucian had already noticed and swung around, pulling the trigger. Sam was thrown to the ground with the force of the blast, clutching at his shoulder. Jarod had begun to move in the sweeper's direction, but Lucian once more aimed the gun at Morgan's head.
"Take one more step and I'll kill the woman you love," he snarled. "And then Sam, too."
"He has a wife and a daughter," Jarod reminded the sociopath, from between clenched teeth, his face white with fury, as he halted.
"Tell me why I should care," Lucian demanded, before his tone became mocking once more. "You could've been such a success, Jarod, if you hadn't become such a damned do-gooder. You could have become as successful as Lyle, or Delius, who might have been a miserable piece of crap, but at least got somewhere in life. But you? You're just pathetic! Trying to help the little guy, right the wrongs, make the world a better place." From the motion of his head, Sydney guessed that Lucian had rolled his eyes. "You make me sick!"
Sydney could see that Sam's face was losing color as a pool of blood began to spread out behind him and the psychiatrist realized that the only way to save them all was to kill Lucian, and he was the only one who could do it.
He was suddenly reminded of the day he had been in a similar situation, when he knew that the only way to stop Raines from killing Jarod was to shoot him, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to shoot the man, aiming instead for his legs, hoping that it would give Jarod the chance to escape, but accidentally hitting the oxygen tank.
This time, however, he knew that he didn't have the luxury of missing. If that happened, they would all be dead. His fingers tightened around the gun, forcing his hand to stop trembling.
"And now it's time to die." Lucian looked around. "Let's see. Who first?"
His eyes slid from face to face, tightening his hold around Morgan's neck, and Sydney could hear a choking sound as her fingernails scratched uselessly at Lucian's arms, leaving red trails.
"Of course," Lucian declared, "the oldest first."
The madman aimed his gun at Jarod's chest.
"This won't hurt as much as when Lyle did it," he smirked. "I promise."
Sydney's arm steadied, his grasp firm around the metal in his hand, as he looked along the length of the gun to the back of Lucian's head, aware that this would be his only chance. Then his finger tightened around the trigger in a smooth motion.
Time seemed to slow as the bullet left the chamber with only a whisper, and his eyes followed its arc into the back of Lucian's head, seeing the madman thrown forward, his left arm still around Morgan's neck. The gun in the madman's hand fired as he fell, the bullet burying itself in the ground at the Pretender's feet.
Ethan dashed over to help his sister to her feet as Jarod and Namir rushed to Sam's side. Sydney stepped into the room and Morgan almost collapsed into his arms, her eyes glistening with tears as she buried her head in his shoulder, but only he heard her sobs and felt her shoulders heaving as she wept in relief. Trevor picked up his gun and released the safety, holding it at the ready and approaching Lucian's body, checking for a pulse.
Sounds of squealing brakes and stomping footsteps outside drew the group's attention as the doors were flung open to reveal groups of sweepers, their guns at the ready.
"You're too late," Sydney told them calmly. "It's over."
He pointed the body out to those who had not already seen it, and then the seven people left the sweepers to call in cleaners to take care of it, moving out through the dark hallway into the bright sunshine. The street was full of black sedans, and many of the neighbors had come out to see what was going on, but they were ignored as the group made their way to the limousine. Namir and Jarod assisted Sam into the rear seat of the limousine and the healer spent several more minutes working on him before stepping back.
"I have done what I can," he told Jarod. "His body must heal itself, also. But it will do so without any long-term problems, I believe, as the bullet passed through cleanly."
"Good." The Pretender led him to where Morgan leaned wearily against the trunk. Namir began to heal the wound on her forehead that had been caused by whatever Lucian had used to knock her out as Jarod pulled out his cell phone.
"We've got her," he announced, as the head of SIS answered on the first ring. "She's fine. And Lucian's dead."
There was a huge sigh of relief on the other end. "Thank God," Broots muttered.
"We're going to Sanctuary," Jarod told him. "Sydney, too." He raised an eyebrow at the sweeper, who shook his head. "But Sam will come back to Blue Cove with the jet, and he's going to need some first aid," Jarod finished. "So have a medical team standing by."
"Thanks, Jarod," Lazslo replied warmly. "I really appreciate that."
"Sydney did all the work," Jarod told him. "You should be thanking him."
He handed the phone to the psychiatrist and got into the car, slipping his arm around Morgan's shoulders as she got in beside him, Sam and Ethan opposite, color slowly coming back into the sweeper's face. Morgan leaned her head against his shoulder with a sigh of relief, and he gently stroked her hair. A moment later, Sydney got into the car, which headed back to the airport. Jarod arched an eyebrow at Namir, who was looking over his shoulder into the back seat of the vehicle.
"Just out of interest," he asked, "how do you feel?"
The Israeli gave him a beaming smile and ran a hand through his rapidly regrowing, dark hair. "Wonderful," he announced happily. "Just wonderful."
* * * * * * * * *
"Mine!" Gabriel wailed tearfully, running across the lobby, holding out his arms, and she caught him up in a warm hug, holding her against him, her view briefly misty from the tears in her eyes.
Jarod followed in time to see Ethan gather an equally upset Uriel in his arms, holding him close. Elizabeth, her strained expression instantly replaced by one of relief, ran into Trevor's arms.
"It's all right, baby," Morgan murmured in Gabriel's ear. "It's okay. I'm right here."
He sobbed against her throat, his arms clutching her around the neck, his grip surprisingly strong. Gradually, as the moments passed, the group in the lobby thinned; Trevor going with his wife to report to Sebastian that Lucian was finally dead, Namir going to hunt out Ramona, and Ethan going reassuring the other Seraphim that everything was fine. Finally, it was only Jarod, Sydney, Morgan and Gabriel, and the baby began to calm down.
His eyes were red and swollen when he lifted his head, reaching out for his father, who stepped over and wrapped his arms around them both, indicating with his eyes that Sydney should join them. As soon as the psychiatrist was close enough, Gabriel lifted his head to plant a kiss on the man's cheek.
"Gran'pa finded Mine," he announced proudly, releasing his hold on his mother just long enough to give the older man an enthusiastic hug, before clutching the woman around the neck again.
"Let's go up to the playroom," Jarod suggested quietly, guiding the group over to the elevators.
Gabriel had even stopped hiccupping by the time the doors slid open on the twelfth floor to reveal the brightly painted hallway. However, he refused to let his mother go, and Morgan finally carried him over to the sofa, sitting down on it, Sydney beside her, his arm around her shoulders. Heavy-eyed with tension and exhaustion, she leaned her head against him.
Jarod glanced around at the other Seraphim, preparatory to joining them, but his breath caught in his throat as he saw Michaela sitting at a table in the far corner, coloring in a book, opposite Yuri.
Looking around, he saw Sebastian leaning against the wall nearby, and the intentness of his gaze made the Australian move to his side.
"What's up, mate?"
Speechless, Jarod waved a hand at the man and his daughter, seeing Sebastian grin.
"We lost her again this morning, just after you left," the man confessed. "Seems like I wasn't good enough in the comfort department, and she wanted Yuri." His eyes rested fondly on the girl. "She trusts him, and that says buckets to me. In fact, all the kids do, even Angelique, and God knows what emotions she picked up from him. He's going to be supervised with them, of course, at least for the time being, but he seems to realize he's got a responsibility to his daughter, and I think that'll straighten him out more than spending the rest of his life in a cell at the Centre."
"Are you sure?" Jarod demanded, and his friend nodded.
"Who knows?" Sebastian suggested thoughtfully, smiling. "One day, we might even tell her the truth about who he is, and he can have the privilege of hearing her call him 'daddy.'"