“Miss Parker,” Broots called to the brooding figure by the door, “I think
you’re gonna want to see this.” Fear or excitement, he could not determine
which was causing the shaking in his hands.
“What?” she barked, approaching his terminal.
Broots shuffled in his chair. “Um, this.” He called up the file. “Miss
Parker, Andromeda is Lyle’s daughter.”
“Now there’s a branch of the family tree I’m sure he’s not aware of.”
Her eyes shifted from the semi-stoic face of the tech, to the information
on the monitor. “See if you can find anything else.” A heavy sigh followed
the scream of her cell phone. “What?”
“I need your help.”
“No quips? No games?”
“Miss Parker, this is life and death. I know that’s cliché, but it is.
A young girl will die if she does not receive the proper medication within
the next hour.”
The desperation in his voice was convincing, but was there any way to
Her hesitation was expected. “Miss Parker, did you find Andromeda?”
“Then you should understand.”
“Well, I don’t. So, explain it to me.”
“Lyle is in charge of Project Nemesis. The girl has a rare genetic disorder,
created by The Centre, known as Kronos-I.”
“The first strain worked?” Miss Parker knew what the “I” after the name
meant -- The Centre had administered the first strain of the virus to
one of its people because the test results had been satisfactory. Disease
strains at The Centre were analyzed in labs until ready for subject testing,
each new strain of a virus was given a number, along with it’s name, and
once the strain was successful on the subjects, further development was
generally not required, and development ceased. She had never heard of
one succeeding in the first strain.
“Jarod, did you say it was genetic?”
She turned her face away from the phone. “Then Lyle has it too.”
Broots was paying attention now. What did Lyle also have?
“Miss Parker, Andromeda is in danger. We have to help her, or she will
“Lyle doesn’t know?”
“No. And he never can, or she will be in more danger.”
There was an excruciating pause while she pondered his request. Something
on the desk caught her eye. The book; The Velveteen Rabbit. Anger
welled beneath the surface, this would not be a direct hit on Daddy, but
just as effective. “Call me back in five minutes.” She snapped her phone
shut and began whispering orders to Broots.
“Miss Parker, I can’t do that.”
“Find her now!”
Reluctantly, Broots started a search. He retrieved the necessary information
and passed it along to a pacing Miss Parker.
“Jarod?” Her voice was more anxious than she had wanted it to be.
“Have Broots kill the security system for SL-13 and the elevators.”
“How did you…”
“Do you want me to explain or do you want to help me save Andromeda?”
She exhaled sharply and relayed her orders to Broots.
“Meet me at the elevator on SL-6.”
“Why 6?” Her question was lost in the dead air.
“Oh, dear God!” Broots jumped at the light pressure on his shoulder.
He turned to face the source. “Oh, geez. Jarod! What… I mean… uh…”
Why was he always like that? Jumpy and skittish. Jarod found it only
mildly annoying, but understood why the man was so nervous. “Thank you,
Broots swallowed hard before responding, “Uh, you have just over ten
minutes before the security system kicks in again.”
“Again. Thank you.” Jarod took off toward the elevator and climbed the
shaft to SL-6.
Pacing outside the elevator, Miss Parker was growing angry, and impatient.
Where the hell was he? The sound of his voice was almost a comfort, but
where did it originate? He was not in the hallway with her. Her phone
“Miss Parker, call the elevator.”
She pressed the call button and the doors slid open, revealing a black-clad
Jarod leaning against the metallic, rear wall. Miss Parker stepped onto
the car, waited for the doors to close. A slender finger to her lips stilled
“We can’t talk now.”
She was only going to ask what had kept him, but remained silent.
The elevator stopped on SL-13.
“Is that really necessary?” Jarod asked of Miss Parker’s drawn weapon.
“If Lyle has anything to do with this, yes.”
“Fine. Come on.”
“Someday you’ll have to explain to me how you do that.”
“Do what?” Confusion enveloped his face.
“Get in and out of here.”
“Maybe.” He peered through a small square window. “Here.”
“How do we get in?”
Jarod turned the handle on the door and pushed it open with a minor amount
of flourish, receiving a harsh scowl for his trouble. “Lyle’s in the Tower,”
he responded to the very serious question hiding behind the mock anger
in her eyes.
Crossing the room quietly, he knelt beside the prone Andrea, brushed
her hair away from her face. He removed several items from his jacket
pocket and set them on the floor.
“We are in a bit of a hurry, Jarod.”
“Miss Parker, if I do not give her this injection, getting out of here
won’t be a problem for just me.” He loaded the syringe and gave it a flick
before inserting it into the girl’s arm. “This should stabilize her long
enough to get her out of here.”
The dazed girl tried to open her eyes and focus on the man leaning over
her. She wanted to run from the unrecognizable figure, but her legs were
JELL-O, and her head was spinning. She could not even lift her arms to
push him away.
“Andrea, it’s Jarod.”
“Jarod?” she asked drowsily, rolling her head toward him.
“Yes. It’s all right, honey. We’re going to get you out of here.” He
lifted her from the floor, wrapping her arms around his neck. She nuzzled
her face against his shoulder, relaxing in the strength of his arms.
“Jarod, how are you getting out?” Miss Parker glanced up and down the
Looking at his watch, checking his time, he replied, “The same way I
got in. Sort of.” When she turned to check the corridor again, he disappeared.
Miss Parker turned to ask something else and met empty space. Dammit!
How does he do that? “Good luck, Jarod,” she whispered into the nothingness.
“What is going on down here?” Lyle called from the elevator.
Putting her gun away, Miss Parker replied, “I saw someone down here and
came to check it out. All I found was this open door.”
“What?” He pushed past her and rushed into his simulation room. “Damn!”
“Nemesis is gone.” He drew his cell phone and punched in a number. “Total
lockdown. Project Nemesis has escaped. I don’t care what you are in the
middle of, FIND HER, NOW!” He slammed his phone closed and grabbed Miss
Parker’s wrist in the same movement. “If I find out you had anything to
do with this, you will wish you had killed me.” He released her and stalked
to the elevator.
She would shoot him now if she thought it would do any good, but that
would only prove that she had helped Lyle’s pet project escape, and she
could not allow that, for Gabriel’s sake, Jarod’s, and her own.
Private Airstrip outside Greensboro, NC
She did not recognize the approaching vehicle, but the two passengers
were unmistakable. Never would she forget her daughter, though adopted,
or the man who had rescued her from the kidnappers. She glanced over her
shoulder to be sure her husband and son had followed. Holding the handrail
tighter than she expected, she descended the small set of airstairs. The
man and young woman crossed the tarmac with little hesitation.
“I’m glad you got my message,” the man called when he knew she was within
“Me too.” The woman nearly melted as she pulled the two into a large
embrace. “Andrea, are you okay?” She brushed several tears from her face.
“Yes, Mom. I’m fine. Thanks to Jarod,” Andrea replied after being released
from the embrace.
“Andrea, honey, thank God you’re all right.” Her father stepped in for
his own hug.
“Dad, I was so scared.” Andrea began sobbing, happy to be reunited with
her parents and away from those awful tests.
“I know, baby. But you’re safe now.” He stepped back and turned to Jarod.
“Mr. Hull, how can we ever thank you?”
Smiling, Jarod replied, “Just keep your daughter safe and your family
together. I know what it’s like to miss your family.”
“Andrea,” Mrs. Hatcher began, “there is someone else who wanted to say
help.” She moved to one side, revealing a tall man with soft, brown hair
and smiling eyes.
“Michael!” Andrea leapt into her older brother’s arms, relishing his
“Hey, kid. Been a long time.” He held her close, knowing she needed him.
“All right, I hate to break this up, but you need to be going.” Jarod
put a hand on Mrs. Hatcher’s shoulder.
“Jarod, thank you so much,” Mrs. Hatcher hugged him.
“You’re welcome. Now take your family to your new home.” He stood back,
smiling, as he watched the family mount the airstairs, Andrea turning
to give him a last wave before ducking into the plane.
Jarod returned to his vehicle and watched the plane take off into the
sky. One more child safe from The Centre, for now.
Two Days Later
“Something wrong, Lyle?” Miss Parker queried as her brother stalked through
the maze of desks and columns.
His stern look did not even trigger a flinch. He pulled his jacket off,
loosened his tie, and began unbuttoning his shirt.
“Stop right there.” Miss Parker held out a hand of insistence.
“Easy, Parker. Jarod left me this.” Lyle revealed, on his upper, left
bicep, a superb replication of the Andromeda constellation.
“Nice. It’s sure to be a hit at parties.”
“Miss Parker, like I told you earlier, if I discover you helped him steal
She stepped closer to her brother, stabbing a finger into his newly formed
tattoo, taking great pleasure in the wince on his face. “Any of your projects
that escape from this place, have my blessing.” She gave his shoulder
a slap and walked away, leaving Lyle standing in the corridor with his
shirt dangling from his wrists.
Mission City Hospital, Room 308
“Mr. Hull, it’s great to see you again,” Joseph Moore greeted Jarod as
he entered the hospital room.
“I see you’re feeling better.”
“Yeah, and parts of my memory are returning.”
“That’s wonderful.” Jarod smiled broadly. “I just spoke with the doctor
and she said you’ll be able to play again in a month or so.”
“Yeah. Did they find who did this?”
“They’ve been dealt with.” It was not a lie, but not the entire truth
Moore sipped his water. “I see. What happened to the Hatchers?”
“They’re fine. It’s probably best you don’t know all the details. For
your own protection.”
“Of course. Thank you, Jarod.” He gripped the visitor’s hand.
Jarod smiled again. “You’re welcome.”