Nemesis

 

home / season five / episode eleven / act II

   

Miss Parker's House
the Next Day

**Damn! Just as you’re walking out the door.** “What?” She snapped, lifting the receiver to her ear.

“So, how does Mr. Lyle like his new décor?”

“Andromeda.”

“The star constellation or the galaxy?”

“Jarod, tell me about Andromeda.”

“I don’t know, Miss Parker.”

“Come on, Jarod. You know more about what goes on at The Centre than I do.”

“Now, now, Miss Parker, you know that isn’t true.”

“Andromeda.” She could feel the muscles in the back of her neck begin to tense.

“Look, Miss Parker, to get the information you wish, we will have to work together. I can help you, but I’ll need your help in return.”

“That won’t happen.”

“Then I guess you’re on your own.” He released the call, leaving Miss Parker with an earful of dead air.

“Dammit!” Miss Parker slammed the receiver into its cradle. Keys in hand, she left her home for The Centre.

*******************************

The Centre
Mr. Lyle's Office

When Jarod had mentioned Lyle’s new décor, Miss Parker knew this would be something she could not miss. She opened the door, Lyle was standing in the center of the room surrounded by cardboard standees of hockey players. One **team** consisted of the 1960’s stars - Hull, Orr, Howe, Mikita, and Richard - the other, The Centre - Sydney, Lyle, Broots, Cox, and herself. Both teams’ goaltenders were giant PEZ dispensers. Two of the cardboard men, Howe and Sydney were positioned to take a face-off at what could only be called - center ice. She could not resist asking, “So, who’s winning?”

That smirk, harsh, could kill. “What do you want?”

“I was on my way in and noticed the door was open. I was curious.” Was she good or what?

“Well, now you can leave. And, here,” he thrust the cardboard Gordie Howe at her, “take this thing. Put it in your office.”

Muting a snicker, “Oh, I don’t think so. Jarod gave these to you. If he found out you gave them away…”

“Out!” A stiff index finger pointed toward the exit.

She left the office, still holding laughter under her breath, definitely leaving the cardboard hockey player behind in Lyle’s office.

*******************************

The Centre
Blue Cove, DE
Nursery

**"Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!"

But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.**

Miss Parker finished the story and closed the book. She thought the story would put him to sleep, but Gabriel was alert and watching her. She kissed his little head and relinquished her hold on the book when he reached for it. He put the edge of the book in his mouth. Miss Parker smiled at his baby behavior, then started as the book flew across the room and smacked into the wall.

“Bad,” Gabriel said, making a sour face.

What did he mean? Her father had given her that book. It was one of her favorites. She had read it to Gabriel before, why was today different? She put him on the floor with his toys and retrieved the book. “Here you go.” She handed the book to him again.

“No! Bad.” Gabriel swatted at the book, sending it across the room once more.

The nursery door opened, the nurse entered. “It’s time for his bath,” the woman snorted, hands on her hips.

Miss Parker sneered at the haughty woman and knelt beside her brother. “I’ll visit again later.” She kissed him on the head and retrieved the book for a second time as she turned to leave.

“Book bad.” Gabriel called again as his big sister stepped into the hallway.

Still confused, she tucked the book under her arm and returned to her office.

*******************************

Mr. Lyle slid into his cozy corner, dark and suitable for hiding and eavesdropping. What exactly was sis up to now? He did not like it and was determined to put a stop to it. She was spending far too much time with that little boy, and she had somehow kept him away from the child. She had made him look bad on too many occasions, and he resented her for it. Now it was his turn. A thin smile passed over his face; the wheels in his mind turning.

*******************************

Mission City, MN
Hockey Practice, Monday afternoon

Standing behind the bench, Jarod watched, intently, the scrimmage. Currently, no score, but several quality chances from both teams. Jarod had divided his team in half, creating two smaller teams. He had learned from Sather how to invoke a competitive nature in the athletes.

Several plays and actions caught his attention: swift, agile movements and perfect stick placement and passing. Finally, a goal was scored. Kara Stetson received a beautiful pass from Andrea Hatcher, and tapped the puck into the net. With a smile on his face, he watched the celebration of their achievement.

Jarod made mental notes as he watched the rest of the scrimmage. He glanced at the scoreboard: forty-five seconds remained; he readied his whistle. The clock wound down and the buzzer sounded; Jarod blew his whistle and the mock-game was over. He dismissed the team, after a few encouraging words, and made his way to the parking lot. He watched one of his players move nimbly across the pavement, smacking her stick on either side of the bright-yellow, street-hockey puck in front of her, dribbling it around the vehicles. He remembered the card from his notebook. *…The child…* Nemesis was a person. The card was a warning. Someone would be coming to retrieve Nemesis. Which of these girls was the one?

“Mr. Hull,” a friendly voice called from somewhere to his left.

“Yes, Mrs. Hatcher?”

“Andrea talks about you all the time.”

“I’m sure she does,” he responded with a smile.

“Ordinarily I wouldn’t ask this, but it would mean so much to her.” The woman paused nervously, then continued, “Today is her birthday and her father and I thought it might be nice for you to have dinner with us.”

“I’d love to.”

*******************************

Jarod arrived at the Hatcher home a little after six; the setting sun cast a warm, rose glow over the white-stone building, roof topped with twinkling snow. It was such a lovely evening, not particularly cold, he had chosen to walk the twelve blocks from his rented home. The brass door knocker was simple, yet elegant; he raised it to announce his arrival. A moment passed as he waited for the door to be opened. The head that rose to meet his eyes was that of Andrea.

“Mr… uh, Jarod. Wow. What are you doing here?” She stood, astonished, in the doorway.

“I, um. Surprise?” Jarod responded, thinking it odd that Andrea had not been told he was coming.

“Wow,” she repeated.

Jarod made a steady surveillance of the porch. “Um, are you going to invite me in? Or shall we dine on the porch?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Come in. How rude of me.” The young woman stepped away to permit him entrance.

“It’s all right, Andrea.” He crossed the threshold into a warmly decorated living space.

“Mr. Hull, welcome. Please, come in,” Mrs. Hatcher greeted him kindly, shaking his hand before returning to the kitchen.

“Thank you for inviting me.” He glanced around at the photographs on the mantel, books on the shelves, rich mahogany walls, and plush furnishings. This was a lovely home.

“What? Mom, why didn’t you tell me?” Andrea half-pouted, semi-stomping into the kitchen behind her mother.

Mrs. Hatcher only shook her head.

Jarod leaned against the doorframe, watching the interlude by the stove. He began to wonder how many moments like this he missed because he had been taken by The Centre. Instead of watching his mother stir sauce on the stove, he was sitting in a darkened room becoming someone else. Instead of helping his father fix the car in the garage, he was figuring out, for The Centre, how a terrorist constructed a bomb that killed hundreds of people. A tapping on his arm pulled him from his musings.

“Jarod, ready?” Andrea motioned toward the table, set and placed for dinner.

“Definitely.” A broad smile crossed his face and he sat in the chair Andrea had pulled out for him, feeling a little awkward, feeling it should be he pulling the chair out for her.

The meal was lovely, simple, delicious. Jarod had seconds, then thirds, not remembering the last time he had enjoyed a home-cooked meal. He was so focused on eating he had almost missed all of the dinner conversation, but a question from Andrea got his attention.

“Excuse me?” He wiped his mouth with the paper napkin beside his plate.

“Did you ever meet Wayne Gretzky?” she asked eagerly.

“Sorry, no. I’ve never met Wayne Gretzky. I didn’t play very long. Once I injured my knee, it was really difficult and I had to try something else.”

“Coaching?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Hatcher asked her own question, “Why high school hockey?”

“I know you’re expecting the ‘everybody has to start somewhere’ response, but that’s not why I opted for high school. Many high school programs focus more on winning than on teaching the proper skills. I wanted to change that. I was offered a coaching position in the ECHL, but then I heard that Mr. Moore had been injured and liked what he was doing for the sport at the high school level, so I decided to help out here.”

“You gave up a position to fill-in here in Mission City?”

Jarod nodded. “It was not a difficult decision. I’ve heard wonderful things about Mission City, and, besides, it’s a beautiful town.”

“We’re glad you like it here. Perhaps you’ll stay a while?”

Jarod nodded again. “Perhaps I will.”

Mr. Hatcher returned to the table with dessert. Jarod had not even noticed that the man had left during the discussion about Jarod’s job decision.

Jarod’s eyes widened with joy. “Ice cream. My favorite,” he quipped, eager as a small child.

“Don’t forget birthday cake.”

“Birthday cake, huh?” Jarod was amazed at all the items that accompanied this special event.

“Yeah. Didn’t you ever have a birthday cake?” Andrea asked, wondering what planet Jarod had been living on for his entire life.

“We didn’t have a lot of sweets where I grew up.” Why had that become a common response when anyone ever asked him about all the foods he had never tried? Of course, it was the truth, and people usually did not question it. Why had Sydney never celebrated his birthday with him? Did Sydney even know the date of Jarod’s birth? Did Sydney care? Many more thoughts threatened to shove into his consciousness, but the sight of a frosted tower topped with flaming sticks was much more gripping.

Andrea’s parents stood over her and began a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Jarod listened carefully. Was this the birthday song? It was very clever, and catchy. Then, he watched in utter amazement as Andrea took a deep breath and exhaled onto the cake, forcing the tiny flames to disappear.

“So, for your birthday, people sing you a song and serve you a special dessert with small sticks that have been set on fire, which you extinguish by exhaling on them once the song is over?” Jarod removed one of the candles from the cake, observing the remnants clinging to the end.

“Yeah! On you birthday, you’re supposed to make a wish and blow out the candles.” Andrea pointed to the one he held in his hand. “You never did that?”

“My childhood was very sheltered.” His sad eyes looked away.

“Well, we’ll light them again and you can give it a try,” Andrea suggested.

“But it’s not my birthday.”

“Think of this as a practice run for your real birthday.”

He almost said he did not know the date of his birth, but thought that might sound even more unbelievable than his previous comments.

“Come on, Mr. Hull,” Andrea’s father pressed, “If you’ve never celebrated your birthday by blowing out candles on a cake, you’re missing one of the staples of American culture.”

“All right. You talked me into it.” A large smile covered his face, but the sadness still remained in those brown eyes.

Mr. Hatcher re-lit the candles and pushed the cake in front of Jarod, then stepped back, beginning a second rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

Jarod watched the fires flicker atop the pastry. He had never experienced this, and the lack of judgment by the Hatcher family made this all that much more exhilarating. He very much wished his parents and sister could be here to sing and share with him. Closing his eyes, he imagined them singing the birthday song to him, cheering for him to make his wish and blow out the candles. He opened his eyes and anxiously awaited the end of the song and his opportunity to ‘blow out the candles’.

“This is really fun!” Jarod exclaimed, discovering he had accomplished the feat at hand. He looked again and noticed three of the candles were still burning. “Andrea?” He waited for her acknowledgement; her parents had returned to the kitchen for some utensils. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Re-light the candles.”

“I didn’t. I didn’t do anything.” Noise from the kitchen startled her. “Jarod, don’t tell my parents about this.”

“I won’t.” Jarod blew out the candles and prepared himself for the eating part of the birthday celebration.

“Andrea,” her father began as he placed a knife beside the cake and shifted a packaged wrapped with colorful paper under his arm, “cut the cake, then we can open your presents.”

Jarod held his questions about the presents until the cake and ice cream portion of the birthday was completed. Poking a tentative finger into the slice of cake, he was rewarded with a sugary substance stuck to his finger. He studied it closely, putting it to his nose to inhale the fragrance - a light berry scent.

Holding a giggle in with her mouthful of cake, Andrea swallowed, then spoke, “Jarod, it’s strawberry frosting.”

“Why is it called frosting if it is not cold?”

“It’s not supposed to be cold, and honestly, I don’t know why it’s called frosting. That’s just what they call it.” She put another forkful of cake into her mouth, watching Jarod continue to examine the frosting. “Strawberry’s my favorite. Especially on yellow cake.”

“Frosting. It’s not supposed to be cold, but you put it on the cake?”

“It’s mostly for decoration. Try it.”

Jarod licked the frosting from his finger, then lifted a forkful of the cake to his mouth. “Mmm. This is very good.” Several more forkfuls followed, accompanied by the vanilla ice cream.

Andrea and her parents smiled at their guest and his enjoyment of the celebration. “All right, now, Andrea has some gifts to open,” her father announced, handing a box across the table.

Confused, Jarod felt compelled to return to his set of questions regarding the gifts. “So, on your birthday, in addition to the special cake and the song, you receive gifts?” He indicated the colorfully wrapped boxes.

“Well, generally.” Andrea looked at her gifts, then back to Jarod. “Do you want to open one of them for me?”

“No. This is your day. I’ll just watch.”

“Sure.” Eagerly, she tore into the first package. She opened the box and removed the object inside it. “Thanks, Mom.”

“You’re welcome.” There was a smile in her voice as she replied.

Andrea was enjoying her gifts, or the unwrapping of them, Jarod thought. He studied the gifts, noting the significance of each as Andrea explained them to him: a silver necklace with a silver crucifix from her mother - something she had always wanted; a first edition copy of the autobiography of Wayne Gretzky - a piece her father picked up in a used book store on one of his trips, and a must-have for avid hockey fans; the final gift was from her brother who was attending university in Madrid - an original language version of her favorite book -- **Don Quixote**.

“Why, **Don Quixote**?” Jarod asked, interested.

“My brother read it to me when I was little.” She led Jarod to the living room as they spoke, watching her parents move out to the swing on the back porch. “It was his Spanish homework assignment.” Andrea turned the leather-bound volume over in her hands.

“You miss your brother very much, don’t you?”

Sadly, Andrea nodded, then leaned her head into Jarod’s shoulder. “He used to play hockey with me in the driveway.”

“Does he come home on breaks?” Jarod put his arm around her.

“Yeah, but it’s not enough. One or two weeks at Christmas and during the spring, and sometimes a month during the summer.”

Jarod watched as the photograph flew past his head and crashed into the wall behind them. He made no comment, waiting for her to speak to him again.

Andrea raised her head. Frightened, blue eyes found his trusting ones. “Jarod, please don’t tell anybody.”

“Do you do that often?” he asked, cocking his head to one side.

“What?”

“Light candles without a match, throw pictures across the room from ten feet away.”

“I don’t know if it happens often. It just happens.”

“Can you control it at all?”

“Sometimes. But, not when I get angry or really upset.”

Jarod thought a moment; this girl had to be **Nemesis**. “When did you discover this ability?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been able to move stuff since I was, at least, five, but nothing like that ever happened before.”

“You need to learn to control your talent.”

“What? Control it? I want to get rid of it. I want to be like everyone else.” Her eyes widened, a fire igniting behind them.

“Andrea, you have a special gift. If you learn how to use it correctly, you can help a lot of people.”

“Jarod, I don’t want to be different anymore.”

Remembering something, he felt compelled to ask the next question: “Have you ever used your abilities on the ice?”

“No. That would be cheating.” Andrea lowered her head, then raised it again. “I did use them in practice once to freak out Joe.”

“Your coach?”

“Yeah. He spent an hour trying to figure out how I had done it. It was kinda funny.” She smiled at the memory, but the smile quickly faded as she remembered her coach lay in a hospital bed, battered and broken, in pain.

“It’s all right. Mr. Moore is fine. I spoke to him Friday afternoon.”

“Really? He’s okay?” Her face brightened with the news.

“Yes. He’s fine.” Jarod hated lying to her, but he did not have the heart to tell her that Joseph Moore did not remember anything, and that there was no way of knowing if he ever would.

“Thank you, Jarod.”

“You’re welcome. Now, can we get back to the subject at hand?”

Her head fell to her chest. “I guess.”

“Andrea, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I need to know about your abilities. Maybe then I can help you.”

“You’re a hockey coach. How can you help me?”

“I know a little bit about telekinesis.”

”What?”

“The ability to move objects using the mind.”

“Sure. So what do you need to know?”

*******************************

The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

Miss Parker noticed the door to Lyle’s office was ajar and he was speaking to someone on the phone. She peered through the small space between the doors and watched, confused, as her brother pressed a syringe into his shoulder. Why would Lyle need an injection? And, he had administered the injection so calmly, it must be something he does routinely. She started at the sudden rise in the volume of his voice.

“I don’t care what you have to do, just bring her back here!” Lyle slammed the receiver back into its cradle and slapped his gloved hands together.

“Trouble in paradise?” Miss Parker smirked from just inside the double doors.

“Did you need something, Sis?”

“I just wanted to know what you were doing for lunch.” She had planned to ask him about the injection, but changed her mind, wanting to investigate that one on her own.

“You want to take me to lunch?” Confusion was the most apparent look in his face.

“No.” Miss Parker watched the confusion turn to disappointed anger. “I just don’t want to run into you when I go to lunch.” She turned on her heel and pulled the double doors open, exiting with a minor flourish. Lyle was up to something and she was going to find out what. Perhaps she should have invited him to lunch, maybe she would have gotten some information out of him that way.

*******************************

Mission City, MN
Hockey Practice, Tuesday

Practice had gone well this afternoon. Jarod was pleased with the progress the team was making and was sure they would be ready for the game on Friday. He paid particular attention to Andrea, noticing her seemingly inherent abilities, resembling those of Wayne Gretzky. She could make plays others could not, and passes that seemed to connect every time, even without looking at her teammates. He wondered if she might also be psychic, or if she was truly a gifted athlete. A glance to his watch alerted him that it was time for practice to end for the day. He blew his whistle and dismissed the team.

Standing at the entrance to the arena used by the school, Jarod watched parents arrive to chauffeur their children home. He spotted an odd, black car that had pulled up, and a strange man stepped from the vehicle and spoke with a group of the girls. The man nodded and continued to wait. Moments later it seemed he had found what he wanted - Andrea. He spoke with her a moment and she followed him into the vehicle. She appeared to know the man, so Jarod thought little of it and returned to his office.

Thirty minutes later he received a frantic phone call from Andrea’s mother. Andrea had not returned home; she was supposed to have gotten a ride from a friend, but never showed. Jarod tried desperately to calm Mrs. Hatcher, but only succeeded in quelling her fears temporarily. He assured her that he would do everything he could to find her daughter.

Jarod ran the vehicle’s plates through the DMV database. Patiently, he waited while the machine processed his request. A beep and a pop-up window indicated the search was complete; he had traced the vehicle back to a corporation funded by The Centre. Andrea would be in danger if he did not find a way to get her back before The Centre completed its experiment.

He began putting all the pieces together - “Nemesis”, Moore’s beating, the note that fell from his red notebook, Andrea leaving in a strange car - he knew they were all connected, but how? He had established that “Nemesis” was Andrea, but what that had to do with everything else… The Centre had returned to reclaim its project and when Joseph Moore gave them nothing, he was “punished”. The Centre was terribly subtle that way. But how, then, did The Centre find her now? How did they know which girl was “Nemesis”? Jarod could not help feeling a little responsible, knew he had to find her and get her out of The Centre.

*******************************

The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

“Oh, Miss Parker!” Broots called, trying to catch the blur that was his boss. Cringing under her harsh glance, he waited for acknowledgement. “You have a message…” he swallowed hard, “…from Jarod.”

“Fine.”

Broots punched several keys and an email system opened with the note from their elusive prey.

“Broots, are you kidding? There is nothing there.”

Broots looked to the screen; it was blank except for a lower-case “j” at the bottom. Broots started at the sound of Miss Parker’s phone.

“What?” Miss Parker snapped into the phone.

“The Centre has lost something. I may have found it.”

“Lost?”

“If we work together maybe we can save it before it’s too late.”

“Where are you?”

“You know I can’t tell you that, Miss Parker.”

“How are we supposed to work together if you won’t let me know where you are?”

“There’s a light in your heart, Miss Parker. Follow it.” Jarod cradled the receiver without telling her more.

“’There’s a light in your heart’? What did he mean by that?” Miss Parker asked herself, apparently louder than she had thought.

“Maybe he’s telling you you’re not really as cold-hearted as you pretend to be,” Broots dared to respond, hoping he would not be knocked out for his boldness. He returned to his terminal, avoiding eye contact with the woman behind him.

Ordinarily she would have slapped him for a comment like that, but today, today was different. Something in the back of her mind told her he was right. Jarod had meant that her heart was good, like her mother’s. She only need believe it herself. She shook these thoughts from her mind. Work came first, she must locate Jarod @and@ whatever he might have **found**.

Leaning in very close to Broots’ ear, she spoke: “Broots,” she smiled at the flinch from the techie, “search Centre files for anything labeled as **missing**.”

“Miss Parker, that will take forever!”

“Well, then you’d better get started,” she hissed in his ear, keeping her head close for dramatic effect.

The computer tech set his fingers into motion. She knew he was hoping she would not stay long. Smiling inwardly, she decided to let the man work. Perhaps there was a light in her heart after all.

*******************************

The Centre
Blue Cove, DE
Nursery

Gabriel sat on the floor pushing blocks around, banging them into each other. Miss Parker, sitting on the floor beside him, watched his beaming face as he made crashing noises in his play. She ruffled his hair, smiling, rising to her feet. Watching Gabriel play in this pale, windowless room was tearing at her heart. He needed to see sunshine and nature.

“Come on, Gabriel, let’s go outside.”

The small boy eagerly toddled to his big sister and extended his tiny arms to her. She drew him up, close to her, grabbing the diaper bag on her way to the hall. The nurse would return from her “potty break” and find the child gone, but no matter, this was her brother and he needed to learn of things outside The Centre.

She carried him to a small greenhouse a few yards behind the main building. Sprigs of green were beginning to break through the melting snow. The sun was warm though the air felt cool. A few days ago, she had requested the sandbox, in which Gabriel now sat, to be placed in the greenhouse so he might enjoy it year- round. She loved to watch him play, enjoying all the aspects of life The Centre refused him. Brushing away some scattered sand, Miss Parker sat on the lip of the sandbox and began shoveling sand into a pail with Gabriel.

“Bad,” the baby muttered.

“What? I don’t understand. What is *bad*?” Something tugged at her mind and she looked over her shoulder, nothing. No one was there. She returned to Gabriel and the sandbox.

“Bad!” the boy said again, more vocal this time.

“That is it! I have told you to not interfere with the boy’s routine and you continue to defy me,” her father ranted as he snatched her brother from the sandbox, slinging tiny grains into her face and hair.

Defiant, she rose to her full height, hoping her father did not catch the slight stumble when her ankle wobbled under her slightly unsteady weight. “You keep him locked in there like a prisoner. He’s your SON, *Daddy*,” she snapped; *Daddy* hitting with the bite of sarcasm.

“That’s right. He’s *MY* son. Meaning *I* decide his schedule. And you are my daughter, and I’m telling you that you are no longer permitted to see him. Do I make myself clear?”

“But, Daddy…” she stopped at the harsh scowl and severely knitted brows on his face.

“DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?” he asked again, wanting an affirmative answer.

Miss Parker lowered her head an inch. “Crystal,” she whispered, hardly aware she had spoken.

“Good.” Mr. Parker shoved past his daughter, the small boy tossed over his shoulder, heading back toward The Centre.

“Mine!” Gabriel cried, reaching toward his sister.

She crossed to the greenhouse door, wanting to run across the grounds to him, but had evoked far too much of her father’s rage this time.

“Mine!” she heard Gabriel wail just before the door closed behind her father.

The breath she held finally escaped and she sank to the ground as her knees melted. Somehow she had just lost contact with the most important person in her life since Thomas. She had to find a way to get Gabriel back before he was ruined by The Centre.

*******************************

Mr. Lyle smiled, sly as a fox, watching his father tote away the small boy. Miss Parker would never know he was indirectly responsible for this simple maneuver. Those photographs, along with the DSA, he had strategically placed in his father’s office would never be traced back to him, he had made sure of that. His sister was still kneeling on the ground, emotional, seething under Daddy’s wrath. The scene contented him. “This was fun,” he said to himself, turning to make his way back to his office.

*******************************

Sub - Level 13
The Centre

He stood there, watching through the two-way mirror; the girl sat with her head to her chest. The blond hair fell loose around her face, hiding her features and expressions. Nothing moved inside the room, not even the girl. He was growing frustrated with her lack of cooperation, and stomped to the door. Collecting himself, putting his anger in check outside, he entered the room.

Pushing the door closed behind him, he stood in absolute silence for several moments. Finally, he introduced himself to the girl who had raised her head at his intrusion into her world, “My name is Mr. Lyle.”

No response.

“Let me explain this to you now to avoid misunderstanding in the future. I’m your only friend here, and things will be much easier if you cooperate.”

Nothing. She did not move her head, her eyes, her hands, her body; she only stared at the man across the table.

Lyle closed his eyes, cooling the fast rising anger, then opened them as he spoke again, trying to hold the frustration at bay, “Listen to me, Andromeda…”

“My name is **ANDREA**!”

“No, actually, it’s not. You’re name is Andromeda. And that is what I will call you.”

“I won’t answer,” she replied defiantly.

This girl was beginning to irritate him. But, he could handle this; he had handled the reluctant Jarod; this should be no different. “You **will** answer, or this will be one hell of a nightmare for you.”

She refused to back down, her eyes bored through his chest, straight to his heart. What was he going to do with this lovely little gem? She was terribly stubborn; it was going to be great fun breaking her.

Lyle crossed the room, lifting an object from a table in the corner. Standing with his back to her, he asked, “What am I holding in my hand, Andromeda?”

“Do I look like a psychic to you?” she spat, still facing the door where he had entered.

So, she will answer to her name, wonderful. And, yes, you do look like a psychic - a Centre-grown psychic. What else can I get her to do? Lyle contemplated the objects and surroundings a moment. Everything had been laid out according to a specific plan in the back of his mind. Nothing in this room was random; even the amount of lighting had been chosen for this specific interrogation. “Now, I know you are not a psychic,” let her believe the lie for just a while, “but I’d like you to guess anyway.” Had he really spoken so calmly? Either he was getting soft or Sydney was rubbing off on him. He shook those thoughts away as the girl answered.

“I don’t know. A candle?” She mumbled something he could not hear.

“What was that?” he snapped; his voice returning to its more familiar tone.

“Nothing. Was I right?”

“No. It’s a football.” He displayed the item to her, proving his statement.

“Now, I know I’m thrilled. What next? A game of catch?”

“Nothing of the kind. You will tell me where Jarod is.”

Wow, sudden change of subject, was this guy nuts? His question threw her off guard, perhaps that was exactly what he wanted. “I don’t know anyone named Jarod.”

“Of course you don’t. But that is not the point. I know you have the ability to find him. You can tell me exactly where he is.” He paced the room slowly, methodically, drawing his gloved fingers over the objects on the tables, the statues in the corners, lengthening the silence. He stopped. “Now, I did forget to mention that you will need one further piece of information before you can truly help me.”

“Oh, really? And what might that be?”

Her smart mouth is going to get her into a lot of trouble. Lyle stepped around the table and placed his left hand on her shoulder, applying mild pressure. “You need this.” He pulled a photograph of Jarod from one of the tables and placed it in front of her.

“That’s Jarod?”

“You know him?”

“No,” she lied. “I’m just wondering why you are having so much trouble catching him?”

“Oh, so you think it’s an easy task chasing a man who can become anyone? Well, that’s why you’re here. So, let’s get started.”

“I am not going to help you. Don’t you get it?”

Lyle’s reflexes were tested, as he was forced to duck when a large, heavy, book was hurled at his head. The pleasure he was feeling remained hidden, though he was sure she could feel it. She was more advanced than he had thought. Perhaps everything he had done worked. Mr. Parker, father, had assigned him this project shortly after his return to the Centre. His research on the subject had revealed that drugs and other experimental procedures were used to ensure the desired result. There had been one serious problem, the mother became ill halfway through the pregnancy, and continuing the experiment would have been dangerous to her, and by extension, the child, so the project was put on temporary hold. Once the mother’s life was out of danger, the next problem arose - the child could not be raised within the confines of The Centre. A decision was made to place the girl in the home of a family not associated with The Centre to ensure there would be no compromises in the manner in which the child was raised. The Centre, of course, kept a close watch on the family, and all was well, until the girl was returned to The Centre. Now, Lyle had to deal with a head-strong teenager, and a hockey player on top of that, making her not only stubborn, but physically strong as well.

Having completed a few more tests, Lyle corralled his project down the hall to his newly refurbished simulation room. Heavy draperies covered the walls, but pulling them to one side would reveal no windows. No chairs or tables were present, only a blanket and large bean bag chair in the center of the room. He watched the girl as she turned around the room, taking in the blank walls and draperies.

“What the hell is this?” Andrea kicked the dark, blue, cotton bean bag.

“Think of it as your office.” Lyle pushed the door closed, activating the electronic door lock. A quick glance at the steady red light confirmed the camera was working. “Now, let’s get to work.” He motioned for her to sit.

Reluctantly, she reclined into the bean bag, hoping compliance would grant her release from this dungeon of a place. “Now what?”

“Work. Focus on the pink drapery.” Lyle instructed, waiting for the contempt in her face to fade, and her compliance to surface. He saw her focus, waited a moment. “What’s behind the curtain?”

“A wall.”

Sarcasm. This he could only tolerate for a short while longer. “True. But there is something on the wall. I really need you to concentrate; focus your energy.”

**Is this guy for real? Focus my energy?** Andrea crossed her legs, Indian-style and settled her elbows on her knees. Staring at the pink drapery, she tried to focus on whatever was behind it, but could distinguish nothing. “I can’t do what you’re asking. I don’t know how.”

“Yes, you do. I know you do. Try again. Try harder.”

Once more she tried, focusing on the space behind the tapestry. Perhaps if she did as he asked, she would be allowed to return home. A picture filtered into her mind, a pleasant picture. “I see something. It’s a blond woman walking in a field of colorful flowers.” She smiled at the image in her mind.

Extremely pleased with the first demonstration of her ability, Lyle pulled the drapery aside revealing exactly what she had described. He had *cheated* a bit on that first one, having released the fragrance of flowers into the room to stimulate the correct response. Later tests would contain no such *hints*.

Lyle directed Andrea through the next several tests, casually observing. The cameras, carefully hidden in the walls, recorded every moment for review at his convenience. Only halfway through the series of tests, he could tell a review of the recordings would tell him nothing he did not already know - this was going to take much longer than he had planned. A change of strategy may be in order. He was pulled from his musings by her voice crossing his ears.

“My head hurts and I want to go home.” Andrea rubbed her temples. The pounding in her head was growing.

His stifled laughter angered her more, but she kept her anger at bay as Lyle spoke. “Andromeda, you are home.”

“This is not my home!”

“I beg to differ. This is where you were conceived, born, and raised for the first two years of your life. This is very much your home.”

She turned away from him, drawing her knees to her chest; resting her arms and head against her knees. Thoughts racing through her head told her this was not a vacation, and things were going to get worse.

*******************************

Mission City, MN

The wind whistling past the windows told him the weather was growing colder. The warmth of the last couple days would be fading quickly into a heavy snow and freezing temperatures. Jarod walked to the window and pulled the heavy drapery closed, blocking out some of the cooler air.

He returned to the table and placed the small card that had fallen from his notebook into the box. He fastened the silky ribbon into a perfect bow, tightly wrapped about the small box. Gently balancing the box on the tips of his fingers and thumb, he studied it for a moment, and whispered to the empty room, “Happy Birthday, Miss Parker.”

On to Act III

 
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