Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Meg Ryan as Leah
Katharine Hepburn as Dr. Carol Sherer
George Lazenby as Major Charles
Lenny von Dohlan as Mr. Cox
Ryan Merriman as Jordan
Jarod stared at the screen, his stomach plummeting as he read the words
Jordan's gone. He left a note for us:
I've gone to find out who I am, since no one will tell me.
The boy didn't even sign it with the name I gave him. Please help me find him, son. I have to correct the error in judgment I made when I wouldn't talk about his former life, or yours. I thought it best that you handle that, when you had the time. You'd know how he would react better than I. But he needed to know, didn't he?
"No," the Pretender breathed. He pulled out his cellular phone and dialed the number his father had given him. Almost instantly, he heard the older man on the other end
"Yes, it's me."
"Thank God... He's only been gone a few hours..."
The two men discussed details, and then Jarod packed up his meager belongings and left his lair before properly starting his latest Pretend. Minutes later, he was driving through the night toward the nearest airport. After that, he would be on a commercial flight bound for Denver. He would hire a car and drive to Boulder, where Major Charles had been living with Jarod's young clone
He recalled guiltily that he had danced around that word, never actually telling the boy what he was. He had explained it in subtle terms instead, knowing the boy would make the necessary leap to comprehension. Jarod remembered his frustration at not being allowed to see his own reflection, once upon a time in the Centre, how desperately he needed to know what he looked like. Jordan would have felt similar anxiety at not knowing who or what he was. They should have told him. They should have explained, but there hadn't been time
No, that wasn't quite true. Jarod had wanted to spare the boy those awful words and the rip in his soul they would bring. But Jordan was a smart boy. Some part of him would have known by the words Jarod had used the night they had spent together, following his rescue from Donoterase. He had figured it out himself, and simply wanted someone to say it, to be honest with him... and no one had
More than half the day would be gone before Jarod could meet with his father, but he was already starting on the hunt. By the time he reached Colorado, he would have some ideas where to look, and phone them in. And even if the major was successful in locating Jarod's younger self, the Pretender was still going to join them. It was time they all had a talk, and straightened out a few things. There would be hard questions, some that he couldn't answer, but they needed to be asked, and Jordan needed to be looking into his eyes when he asked them
* * * * * * * * *
Grace Valley, Colorado
Jordan was a dark shape against the white landscape, walking along the road with his head down, dusted with snow. It was beautiful stuff, but it was cold, and he had been out in it far too long. He lifted his head and glanced around at the buildings lining the narrow strip of road
The trucker who had dropped him off at the outskirts had warned him that nothing might be open but the bar, and he was too young to go in there, but Jordan had insisted that Grace Valley was far enough. He thanked the man, hitched up his coat collar and began the trek into town. It was a good enough place to get lost, without too many people. He wasn't used to so many others around him, and would need time to adjust to that part of being out in the world. He had found in his travels with the major that vast numbers of people in big cities made him nervous, and he preferred small towns instead
He headed straight for the bar
The place was dimly lit, mostly from neon beer signs on the walls. When he had stepped inside, he noticed that all eyes turned immediately on him. The middle-aged woman behind the counter spoke up before he took another step
"Sorry, son. You can't come in here. You're underage."
He nodded. "I know. But it's cold out, and I just wanted some hot cocoa. This looks like the only place open."
The woman grinned. "Well, yeah. Normally we roll up the sidewalks at six o'clock, cause nobody stops here after that," she admitted
The teenager frowned. "How do you roll up sidewalks? Aren't they made of concrete?"
The barkeep and most of the patrons laughed. She came out from behind the bar and met him at the door. Pointing out into the snow to a lovely Victorian style house at the end of the block, she told him, "You head on over there. That's Betsy's Bed and Breakfast. They don't usually offer food and drinks to anybody but those staying in the rooms, but this is off season since we're not close to ski country. Any cash coming in the door will be welcome, and I'll call to make sure Betsy knows you're on the way."
He smiled at her. "Thanks."
"You're welcome, son. I just don't wanna lose my liquor license by serving a minor, and since the sheriff is sitting at the bar yonder, I can't take the risk. You go on over to Betsy's. She makes a mean apple pie, too."
"I'll be sure to avoid it, then," he told her soberly
She laughed again, patted his shoulder and sent him on his way
Betsy was standing on the wrap-around porch of the powder blue and white trimmed Victorian when he arrived.
He stamped his feet and dusted the snow off his head and shoulders before following her into the house. "Thanks for opening up for me."
"Not a problem, honey," she assured him. "I've only got two other guests at the moment, and we were just sitting down to dinner. Want to join us?"
Jordan smiled. "Thanks, that would be great."
"You traveling alone, son?" Betsy asked as she took his coat and backpack hung them on a hook near the door.
"I'm meeting my dad here next week," he lied. "I was supposed to be here earlier, but got held up." He sniffed, exhaling warm air into his hands to warm his mouth and nose. His lips felt frozen, and it was hard to enunciate clearly like that. "I'd be happy to pay for lodging till then, if you've got an extra room." He dug a wad of cash out of his trouser pocket to show her
Betsy smiled. "Sure thing, son. Dining room's that way. Have a seat at the table and I'll set you a place." She pointed to a large room to their left
Jordan watched her leave for the kitchen, surveyed the interior of the house from the foyer, hypothesizing general layout. He was planning already, and this seemed like as good a place to start as any. His mission was unclear, but it was forming in glimpses. And when he could see what he needed to do, he would not hesitate. And he didn't care if anyone got in his way
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker stared at the computer screen until the letters blurred, but nothing made any sense. This was all she had on the Blue Files -- Looking Glass, Chimera, Mirage, Gemini, Nemesis... code names for projects. She had been able to decipher some, but not others. It was frustrating, and she needed a break
She closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. Taking a deep breath, she let her thoughts settle, willing the swirling confusion to stop, to be silent, and let her rest. Then her eyes popped open and she shut down the program, stormed out of her office and into Sydney's, full of purpose and fire
"Where was my mother's office?" she demanded
"Good morning, Miss Parker," he addressed her calmly, with a slight smile. "How are you today?"
"Just answer me." She tapped her foot impatiently, her arms crossed over her chest, defying him with a look to try her patience
"Why do you want to know?"
His voice was always so calming, so relaxing. But today it didn't affect her one way or another. She narrowed her eyes at him
"Mr. Raines moved into it after... the elevator incident. I'd have thought you would remember that."
She made no further conversation, but pivoted on her stiletto heel and strode out of his office again.
The office was still under guard, though she couldn't figure why. Pasting a false smile on her face, she pretended to be friendly with the new sweeper on duty. She hadn't seen him before, but recognized the type -- low on brains, big on muscle
There was no way he was going to let her in. Her reputation had preceded her, and even though she had made him question the rumors he'd heard and think she was interested in him, orders were orders and she wasn't Mr. Raines. That problem, however, could easily be resolved
She headed straight for Renewal, and shortly afterward wheeled Dr. Billy and his pet oxygen tank right past the guard and into Raines' Inner Sanctum. She parked him behind the desk and started going through the drawers
"Make yourself comfortable, Raines," she growled. "I don't know what I'm looking for, but you can be damned sure I'll find it."
Only nothing caught her interest.
The file cabinets were next. She wasn't sure exactly what she was looking for at first, but then she remembered his reference to her mother's lost DSA. He had said he hadn't found it, but Raines wouldn't be the first Centre employee to lie to another, so she looked through every reference she thought might connect her to it. And then, she started searching the office itself, checking for hidden panels or niches where a DSA might be secreted
Still nothing of interest, aside from a single yellow file folder marked Fountain. Whatever had been inside it was gone now and she shrugged it off, pacing the floor to try to think what to do next
Standing in the middle of the room, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and willed her mind to stillness once more
The door burst open, and Willie charged inside, his face set, eyes narrowed as they met hers. "What the hell do you think you're doing in here, Miss Parker?"
She didn't bother with a smile. Willie knew her well enough to detect any smoke screens she might try to throw up. "My job," she ground out between clenched teeth. "If I'm going to catch Jarod, I need to be able to look anywhere, anytime, into any records I think might help me get one step ahead of him. As long as I'm isolated from important information, I'll always be a step behind. Capiche?"
"That's your problem, Miss Parker," Willie snapped. "Now, get out of Mr. Raines' office, and don't even think about coming back... or I'll have to report you to your father. I understand you're not one of his favorite people right now."
She lifted her chin in defiance. "Fine. And you can take Mr. Potato Head back to the compost pile. Or just leave him there, for all I care. Maybe he'll put down roots. Be sure you water him twice a week." Striding confidently out of the room, she did not look back or offer even the tiniest smile to the sweeper whose job she had placed in jeopardy. It was his own fault, after all, letting a woman flatter and lie her way past him. She had no regrets. People decided their own destinies based on the paths they chose.
Returning to her office, she sat down at her desk and tried once again to grasp the fleeting image that had come to her just as Willie had interrupted, but it was gone
All she knew for certain was that the thing she was looking for wasn't in Raines' office.
It was something. She was making progress, and her mother's gift was growing. Eventually, she was certain she would be able to tap into it whenever she needed, and make it work for her. And when that day came, no one would ever be able to lie to her again
She could feel it all the way down to her toes
* * * * * * * * *
Willie sat down across from the desk and contemplated Raines in his seat of power
"You look good, back where you belong," he observed quietly.
Raines said nothing, didn't move or even blink to acknowledge that he had heard
"I do have something to report, though," Willie told him with a soft smile. "Fountain has made progress. They're starting clinical trials now, and I thought you might like me to include you on the list."
Raines didn't move
"Aren't you excited?" asked the sweeper. "I should think this would make your day, seeing this particular project move forward. Especially at this rate. We didn't expect it to be so far along for another few years, but the Triumvirate has given the go-ahead on their pet project."
Still no response
Willie leaned across the desk, dropping his voice to a tense whisper. "This could be even bigger than Gabriel, if it works like they wanted it to. Even the Chairman himself is on the list of recipients."
For a moment, the older man did not stir. Then he blinked. He smiled. And he raised his head. "Put me on the list, Willie," he rasped. "If it's good enough for the Chairman, it's good enough for me."
Willie's fist punched the air excitedly as he sat back in his chair. "Time to shake the pillars of Heaven!" he crowed, and rubbed his palms together with glee
Raines nodded, then let his face go slack. "But it's not time for me to be all the way back, just yet." His head drooped, and he relaxed into the posture he had abandoned a moment before. Willie rose and moved behind the desk, grasped the handles on the wheelchair back, and piloted his boss back to Renewal as he whistled a happy tune
* * * * * * * * *
Cox pulled into the driveway and parked the SUV. The drive west had been exciting - he had two ice chests full of road kill to enjoy after dark. But first, he had to check into a room for the night. This little hole-in-the-wall village was just a stop along the way to Gunnison, where he had just rented a remote cabin for a week's stay to clear his mind.
At first it had been fun, the surprises that Jarod had sent to him. He tolerated the others pawing over his gifts, studying them and dissecting the psychological implications of what each one meant. The video had kept them busy for weeks, allowing him to enjoy the other things in the game they played with each other.
He still hadn't figured out how Jarod had managed to completely fill his office with Pez dispensers, so that as soon as he opened the door, an avalanche of gaily colored plastic swept him backward. He hadn't been able to stop smiling for days afterward. Then there was the crate of live snakes that arrived just a few weeks later. That hadn't been difficult to understand, since each of the species in the crate was among the most deadly on the planet. The meaning behind that was clear, and none of the psychologists spent a great deal of time with those beauties
Cox, however, found excellent uses for all of them
But then the packages had taken an ugly turn, becoming more personal in the following weeks. Jarod had been doing his homework, it seemed, prying into Cox's personal life, and lifting images from his past that should have been left alone. With each package that came, Cox made sure he got them before any other prying eyes discovered their contents. Those that came to his home he never reported. He wanted it that way.
This game was between him and Jarod. But the last one had turned a corner with Cox. It was beautifully sculpted, incredibly real-looking. The mounting board was hand polished, elegantly stained. The sculpture itself was skillfully crafted of modeling clay, painted with great talent, so that it looked exactly like Cox himself, glass eyes and all. And the engraved brass plate beneath it simply read, "Soon."
The mounted head had appeared on the pillow next to him in the middle of the night
Cox understood. Jarod wasn't playing a game of cat and mouse. He was planning a campaign with a specific end in mind, and it wasn't just tease and titillate. Jarod had illustrated how easily he could touch Cox, at any time, any place
The last tap on the shoulder had been the most subtle, the most thought-provoking. He had been about to brush his teeth before bed one night, and upon squeezing the tube, a tiny ball wrapped in aluminum foil had oozed out onto his toothbrush. Curiosity had made him pick at the ball and, carefully unrolling it, he discovered a message from the errant Pretender. It was dated, and described a particularly toxic, fast acting poison that was odorless, tasteless and colorless
Reading between the lines, Cox got the message. The ball had been in the tube for more than two weeks before he discovered it. Had it been the poison instead, Cox would have died in his bed, slowly suffocating from the effects of the chemical in his system, unable to call for help
At first, he tried to reason with himself that Jarod wasn't the sort of person to commit cold-blooded murder. But then he began doing more in-depth research into the Pretender's background, just to find out how far he might go, if pushed. The answers were not as reassuring as he had initially believed, and now Cox was beginning to feel a nagging doubt that he had chosen an inappropriate path in killing Zoe
The Centre offered him some protection, but he couldn't live there. He needed his freedom to pursue his personal fetishes. But now, with Jarod breathing down his neck, he found himself curtailing such things for fear of meeting up with the other man in some dark, isolated place.
Cox didn't like being nervous. It cramped his style. What he needed was another way to strike back, to up the ante, and make Jarod understand that the stakes were too high for him to want to continue with his campaign of terror. But until he discovered the proper bargaining chip, he wanted to disappear for a while, take some time off and head out to the great unknown, hence his drive west.
Every twist and turn of his trip had been capricious. He had no destination in mind when he left Delaware, traveling south, then west, then north again into Colorado. The area began to look familiar, and he had just called to rent a cabin where he had stayed once before, pleased to find it available. In the off-season, he could stay just about anywhere he wanted, and the little Victorian place looked like a good enough spot to spend the night. Snow was coming down thickly, and he was tired. He looked forward to a hot meal, a warm bed, and an early start in the morning, weather permitting
But what he didn't expect was the face at the dinner table, the familiar youth whose image he had seen in black and white so often that he recognized every nuance, every glance, every gesture
He smiled, and introduced himself with pleasure
* * * * * * * * *
People were so easy to fool.
Jordan had no trouble coming up with explanations to answer their questions, and they always believed him. It was almost fun, inventing things to tell them. He studied each person when he had the time, and gauged his response to what he thought would be most palatable to them
But Dr. Cox wasn't as easy to read as most people. He made Jordan uneasy, the way he seemed to look right through him. The man seemed friendly enough, a little on the reserved side, but there was something in his eyes that sang to Jordan, and the silent music made his hair stand on end. Had the weather been better, he would have left during the night, but as it was, he needed the shelter. Come morning, he would be gone as soon as the sun was up, breakfast or no
After all, he had plenty of money now
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod put on the radio to break the silence in his car as he drove. He was tired, but he couldn't afford to stop. He was close now, and would be arriving any minute to the meeting place he had set up with his father
"...In other news," the commentator blared, "Computer hackers are at it again. Yesterday, a routine analysis at a Fortune 500 company revealed that one percent of the company's cash assets had been transferred to a dummy account in Colorado. The news spurred several other companies to do a hasty check into their accounting systems, and they, too, had been electronically mugged by the clever thief. The programmer was traced to a Boulder mall hosting an AT&T DSL demonstration station, but when authorities went to investigate, they discovered that the mall's security cameras had been turned off. The identity of the thief or thieves remains unknown at this time, and the assets, once transferred into the phantom Boulder account, also seem to have vanished, although no transaction records exist either for the establishment of the account or the dispensation of the cash. Estimated totals of the robbery are running between five and six million dollars..."
"They'll never find that money," Jarod told himself, and changed to a music station instead, turning his mind to where the boy might have gone from the lodge where he had been staying with Maj. Charles. He had been at it for hours, trying to choose which direction he would have gone... but he simply couldn't imagine walking away from his father by choice. He knew Jordan was too smart to fall for any kind of lure, and was sure the major had taught the boy about such things. But Jordan was still innocent, trained to comply with the wishes of controlling adults. There was a possibility, however slim, that Jordan could have been taken by someone who didn't have his best interests at heart
Jarod was afraid for him. He could be anywhere. He could be alive or dead. Jarod had to get to the starting point and talk to his father, find out what had been on Jordan's mind when he decided to take off
The boy couldn't be traveling alone. He would need transportation, though his thumb could get him that. Hitchhiking was a risky way of getting around, especially for one so young. And Jordan would need money--
"No!" he breathed, remembering the radio report.
The lodge where Maj. Charles had been staying with the boy was located in Boulder, and so was the mall where the robbery program had been written
Jordan would easily be able to figure out how to take care of himself. And after having been raised under Raines' guidance, his moral compass might not be as strong as the one Sydney had helped to instill in Jarod. The boy might well have had no problems of conscience to deal with in taking such a seemingly small amount of money from those bloated organizations, thinking they might never miss it, and save for the timing of a regular accounting sweep, they might not have discovered the theft for weeks
The boy was leaving a trail for him after all. But with almost unlimited funds at his disposal, he could certainly be anywhere. Jarod wouldn't have time to visit with his father after all. He drove straight to the mall and started his search there, looking for traces of where the stolen money had been moved, that the government's top computer experts might take days to uncover. Jordan didn't have that much time. Jarod had to find him, and wherever the money was, Jordan wouldn't be far behind
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod stood outside the mall at closing time, pulling his coat closer around his neck, part of his mind enjoying the beautiful white blanket covering the world and the fat, fluffy flakes gliding past his gaze. The other part was dissecting the information he had gained from the DSL station, and now he was looking around for some sign that would help him figure out Jordan's next move. Across from the vast parking lot lay a highway, and on the other side of the highway was a truck stop. That rang a bell, and Jarod headed for his car
Truckers often picked up hitchhikers for company on their long hauls, and a teenage runaway would be able to find a ride there easily with a sad enough story. Jordan was sure to have told one that would get him a ride anywhere. But where would he want to go?
The Pretender sat at the bar and ordered a cup of coffee to warm himself, and began his interviews of the wait staff. Fifteen minutes later, he knew that the boy had been picked up by a regular visitor to the café, who trucked a route from Colorado to Texas and back every week. Turning south, Jarod watched the miles go by, imagining the boy's conversation with a lonesome trucker, listening for the moment when Jordan would decide he had gone far enough
He flipped open his cellular phone to call his father and ask the questions he still needed to have answered, in order to find his young clone
How he hated that word! How it infuriated him that the Centre had duplicated him. And how he loved the boy they had made from him
Sydney had been right in referring to Jordan as Jarod's son, when he reunited them briefly with Major Charles so long ago. The way he felt about Jordan was certainly what he imagined a father would feel toward his son. But Jordan was his twin, identical physically in every way to the original. He had no right to think of the boy as his own. Jordan belonged to Maj. Charles, giving his father a second chance to raise him
He couldn't be with them now, not while the Centre dogged his trail every step of the way. Perhaps, when he could stop running and rejoin them, he might move into that role. But for now, it was best for him to stay out of the picture, and let his father be Jordan's father as well
"Hi, Dad. It's me," he said warmly into the telephone, his eyes on the road, recently plowed free of snow as it wound through the mountains.
"What's the word son?" Maj. Charles sounded weary, concern etching his tone.
"I'm on way south, toward New Mexico. It seems Jordan was picked up by a trucker on a route back to Texas. I don't know much more, but the minute I do, you'll know."
"Thanks, son. I'm so sorry, Jarod. Make sure he's all right, because I have to tell him that, too."
Jarod scanned the highway signs, opting to stay on the road he was already traveling. "He'll be fine, Dad. I promise." Hoping he could keep that promise, he sighed quietly. "Can you tell me anything you haven't already, something that might give me a clue to where he's headed?" Listening to his father's answer, he stared out his windshield at the beginnings of rush hour traffic in the city, wishing for the time to go faster.
Broots stepped out of the tech room, file folder in hand. He reached back to pull the door closed, and just as he prepared to take a step into the corridor, he fell back against the door to avoid a caravan of women snaking their way past him in the hall. The woman in the lead, dressed in a lab coat, carried a clipboard and guided the group into an elevator. All the other women were dressed in blue hospital scrubs, their distended bellies confirming that they were all pregnant
That was something he didn't often see at the Centre. He forgot about them and took the stairs to the next floor, heading for Miss Parker's office by way of Accounting, where he was planning to share an e-joke he had received that morning. Pausing at a snack machine, he fished in his pocket for the appropriate change
A reflection in the thick acrylic panel on the front of the machine caught his eye, and he turned to watch another line of pregnant women in pink scrubs heading for somewhere else
"Wow. Twice in one day," he said to himself, and dropped the quarters in. "That's bizarre." He pulled the knob for a package of Funyuns, retrieved them and stuffed the package into his trouser pocket
After a brief delay in Accounting, he took the elevator to Miss Parker's floor and stepped out, right into the path of another line of pregnant women, this time wearing mixed pink and blue scrubs
"Jeez, they're everywhere!" he commented to himself. But curiosity was not a good thing in that place, so he tucked it away, put his head down and did his best to ignore them as he made for his destination
Miss Parker was sitting at her desk, her hands on her forehead, elbows on the blotter, apparently deep in thought
He knocked softly on the door he held open, to announce himself. "Miss Parker?" he inquired gently when she didn't move
"What is it, Broots?" she answered, her voice barely audible
"Are you okay? Want me to get you some aspirin or something?"
She lifted her head and went back to what she had been doing on her computer. "I'm fine. What did you bring me?"
He edged forward, still unsure if she needed help. "The only reference I found regarding a project named Fountain was that it was under the coding of Yellow Files, and that it was initiated by Mr. Raines over a year ago. It was moved when he... you know... and I don't have the security clearance to get to more information. It's under Mr. Lyle now. Dr. Cox is up to his armpits in it, too." He laid the report on her desk
"Thanks, Broots. I know I can always count on you."
That shook him. She never complimented anyone, him least of all. Something was definitely wrong with her
He sat down across from her desk. "Miss Parker, um, what's wrong?"
She met his curious gaze, her face expressionless. "Just a wave of nostalgia, I suppose. Nothing to worry about."
"Oh. Okay." That was a relief, and he smiled a little. "You're sure? Nothing I can help you with?"
For a moment, she studied him. Her lips softened into a half smile. "I miss my baby brother, Broots. But don't worry. I'll be fine." She sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I need more information on Fountain. Are you going to let a little thing like security clearances get in your way?"
His stomach clenched. This was so unlike her it was scary. "Um, no?"
She smiled fully and nodded her head. "Right answer." And turned back to her computer
He started to rise
"Broots... I've just... got a lot on my mind," she confessed. "Don't worry about me, okay?"
"Uh, sure thing, Miss Parker," he mumbled, though he didn't mean a word of it. Understanding that he had been dismissed, he headed for the door and pulled it open. Then he shut it, and turned back to her, taking a step closer to her desk
"Have you seen all the pregnant women out there lately?" he asked her
"I haven't paid much attention, frankly."
"I must've seen at least three or four dozen just in the last half hour. What's up with that?"
"Fountain, Broots," she reminded him coolly. "Let's stay focused here."
He bobbed his head in acknowledgement and eased out the door, leaving her to her work. Between her sudden alteration in personality and all the mothers-to-be wandering the halls, he couldn't help but be creeped out. All was not business as usual at the Centre, but he couldn't afford to be curious. He had a child of his own at home, and his work at that place was just to pay the bills to give Debbie the best life possible
That, and getting to play with all the cool toys the Centre could offer him, things that wouldn't hit the outside market for years to come. That was always a perk that he enjoyed. But he was also aware that one misstep in the wrong direction could get him killed. He was good, and he was careful. He would make sure that he covered his tracks well when he went snooping in the Forbidden Zone, because he so enjoyed breathing
Broots made a bee-line for the elevator, and wedged himself uneasily into the car filled with women in pink and blue scrubs
* * * * * * * * *
A city didn't seem like the place the boy would have stopped. While he could disappear in a crowd, there were simply too many people. He'd always wanted to avoid the busy places they'd go, Maj. Charles had told him. It was almost as if he was expecting someone from his old life to be lurking in the middle of a throng of people, waiting to snatch him back. Passing the outside city limits for Colorado Springs, changing highways as the woman at the last truck stop had suggested, Jarod kept an eye on the small towns along the road, the ones so small they wouldn't even be on the map.
He slowed down as he approached a small - well, town wasn't exactly the right word for it. A bar, a couple of small houses. He didn't see much more. There were a few cars parked outside a quaint Victorian, one a Mountaineer with out of state plates. Jarod drove past, something about the little town pricking his consciousness. He parked beside the bar, gathered his wallet and phone from the passenger seat of his Xterra, opened the door and hopped out. Glancing up at the sky, he crossed his fingers - something new he had learned -- for the briefest second before heading toward the front door of the establishment. It was the only place still open, and with a reasonable gathering of people he could ask about the boy
"Yes, he arrived last night. Said he was waiting for his father." Betsy smiled at the tall, handsome man in front of her. "That must be you. I can see the family resemblance."
"Yes, I'm his father," Jarod assured her quickly, not processing what he was saying, barely returning the woman's smile. "Is he here now?"
Offering him a key, Betsy nodded toward the stairs. "Top of the stairs, second room on the right. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you. The poor thing arrived here late, in the cold, all alone." Making a 'tsk' sound, she shook her head. "I just put dinner away. Would you like me to make you something, a sandwich maybe?"
Jarod took the key, and shrugged a shoulder as he headed toward the stairwell, trying to unload what he knew was a silent comment on his 'parenting skills' from the woman. "Yes, please. Thank you for the offer. And for keeping an eye on my... son," he said, hoping he rushed the slip enough to not be obvious. It seemed he had, as the woman's gray head bobbed in recognition. Tipping his head toward her, he moved quickly to the second floor.
Stopping outside the door to the room she'd indicated, Jarod tapped against the wood with a soft knock. "I don't need anything, Betsy," the sleepy voice from inside sounded muffled. Sighing, Jarod put the key in the lock, turning slowly.
The boy was already in bed, no doubt exhausted from his trip. He lay with his back to the door, but rolled over quickly to see who had intruded
"Jordan?" he called softly, closing the door as he entered the room, leaning against the wood panel
"What are you doing here?" Jordan responded venomously as he sat up under the covers. "You're the last person I want to see," he growled at the man blocking the door. "I look at you every day in the mirror. Isn't that enough?" He took flung off the covers and stood up, clad only in T-shirt and shorts, and took a step toward the door, trying to maneuver past Jarod. "Get out of my way."
Jarod's hand moved from his side to take a firm hold of the young man's arm. "No," he said softly, his gaze steely; jaw set. "We need to talk. This probably should have happened a long time ago, and I'm sorry that it didn't." His grip on Jordan's arm loosened, and finally released as he took in his young clone. "Have a seat. You're not going to just run away from this. It won't solve anything anyway."
A sullen expression was firmly painted on Jordan's face as he stood defiantly in front of the original he could never be. "It certainly would," he shot back. "I'd get out from under your shadow." Meeting the gaze of the man in front of him, a modicum of the fight left him, and he turned toward the bed, putting his back to Jarod as he did so
"I'm not keeping you in my shadow, Jordan." Jarod took another step into the room, moving to stand beside the nightstand next to the bed. "No one is doing that to you."
"You don't understand," the young man shot back angrily, his hands curling into tight fists at his sides
Aware of the incredible tension between them, Jarod shook his head behind Jordan's back. "No, I don't. You're right. I don't understand why you decided that running away was a solution. I don't understand why you decided that stealing from people was okay. You shouldn't be doing that. You know better."
Jordan spun around, his face a mask of fury. "No. You know better. You wouldn't think to do this. Don't pretend that you know what I would do. I'm not you." His head shook, his expression mirroring the look that had graced his older counterpart's face moments ago. "I didn't know what I would do, so how the hell could you know?" Not waiting for an answer, he turned away again, stalking into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him
Staring after him, Jarod sighed, reaching into his jacket to pull out his phone. Dialing his father, he tapped his fingers on the arm of the corner chair as he waited for the major to answer.
"I found him. He's not happy to see me, but he's okay." Hearing his father's breath of relief, he continued. "I have a feeling we'll be back soon, but I can't promise how soon. He's going to have to calm down first."
"I understand. So long as I know you're together, I won't worry so much. Take care of him, son."
Eyes fixed on the bathroom door, Jarod nodded. "I will."
* * * * * * * * *
Parker rose from her desk and paced the room. She strolled slowly, her head down, deep in thought. She knew Fountain was important, but her mother's DSA was out there somewhere, and she had to find it. That was the key to everything, she was sure.
But where could it be? Where could her mother have hidden it?
She had been thinking for hours, recalling the chain of events of the last year of her mother's life. Catherine had been rescuing children from the Centre, sending them out to be adopted by families who would keep them safe and raise their special children with love. She had been planning to rescue Jarod and take her daughter with her, when she had found out she was pregnant with Ethan. That had changed everything, and Parker was sure that was when her mother had created the DSA
Catherine had set up her staged death in the elevator, and then gone into hiding at Mr. Raines' country house. She had not secreted the DSA in her office, Parker was sure of that now. Might she have hidden it at that house, the place where she had been murdered for real?
It was worth a look. She hadn't told Sydney or Broots about Raines' confession, about the DSA. And until she found it and knew what it said, she intended to keep that to herself. The fewer people who knew it existed, the better
She had not been back to that house since Jarod's startling revelation, the secret message her mother had given him to remember about Ethan. She could still vividly recall that clip on the DSA that had shown Ethan being born, and Raines murdering Catherine Parker on the orders of her father. She had not wanted to go back there, ever again. But she had to find that DSA her mother had left for her, and that house was the most likely place to look
An hour later, she stood on the threshold, her hand trembling as she readied the lockpick
"Come on, Morgan," she told herself. "You can do this. You have to do this."
She eased the device into the lock and moments later, turned the handle and went inside. Well into the night she searched the house, examining every crack, every seam, every panel, looking for some hidey-hole that might accommodate one of those tiny silver discs. Room by room, she tore the place apart, not caring if she left it in a mess.
Finally, she pulled open the doors to the last room, the one where her mother had died. Everything was still draped with dust covers, but she could see clearly the final scene on that video -- Catherine half sitting on that delivery table, staring at Raines, who had just handed her baby off to a nurse, now aiming a pistol at her head
Parker closed her eyes, trying to shut it out.
"Are you still here, Momma?" she whispered, her voice trembling, rough with unshed tears. "Is this where you left it?"
Her eyes popped open, but she didn't see that awful room. She saw the vision of her mother's face, damp with sweat from her labor, smiling at her. Catherine shook her head and mouthed the words, "I love you." And then she was gone
The room faded back into view, but now it wasn't as horrible as it had been a moment before
Miss Parker smiled. "I love you, too, Momma." She sighed. "Thank you."
She pulled the doors closed and returned to her car. The DSA wasn't there. She didn't know where it was yet, but the warmth in her heart was incredible, and she wanted to enjoy that sensation forever. It was as if her mother had given her a big hug
And she was going to find the DSA soon. Maybe not today, but soon. She was getting there, making progress at last, and her mother was guiding the way. All she had to do was listen
* * * * * * * * *
Jordan was taking a shower. He'd calmed down a hair, enough to let Jarod know that he was hungry again. Jarod offered to go downstairs to see if Betsy would let them bring some food back to the room, if Jordan promised not to take off again.
Reaching a delicate agreement, the boy had gone to take his shower, as Jarod had wandered downstairs in search of supper.
"Now, I normally don't like to do this," Betsy admonished him, as she set out turkey, cheese, and homemade bread on her counter. "I serve a proper dinner, and you should have been here early enough to share a meal with your son. He's got a hearty appetite," she added with a chuckle. Slicing the bread, she slathered it with mayonnaise before stacking turkey on top and adding cheese. Eyeing Jarod, she sliced the sandwiches in half. "You had a good reason for missing dinner, I'm assuming?" He nodded once, and she smiled. "Catching up with your boy?" Again, his head dipped. "Well, then that's an excuse I can support. You enjoy these, and I'll expect to see you two for breakfast."
Putting her sandwich-making supplies away, she smiled again, and left the kitchen. Jarod gathered up the sandwiches onto a paper plate and covered them in plastic wrap. Carrying the food back to the room, he opened the door and set the plate down on the bedside table. The sound of running water alerted him that Jordan was still in the shower, and he settled down, taking a bite of his sandwich. A thud from the bathroom startled him. As he opened his mouth to call out to the boy, there was another thud.
Jarod moved quickly, yanking the bathroom door open. Jordan was curled on the floor in the back corner of the room, putting up a fight as Cox knelt over him, a hypo in one hand, the other crushed against the boy's mouth. "Get away from him!" Jarod roared. He dashed into the room, securing a tight grip around Cox's neck before the smaller man fully realized he was there. Holding tightly against the struggling man, Jarod maneuvered his body, turning, slamming Cox into the wall. The hypo fell from the man's hand as they continued to struggle, carrying the fight out into the bedroom.
Cox twisted himself against Jarod's grip, causing both men to tumble to the floor. Cox landed first, and groaned at the impact. The men fought against each other for another few moments, before Cox began to slow, finally slumping to the floor.
Keeping a secure hold on the man, Jarod moved enough to see what, exactly, was going on. Turning Cox slightly, Jarod couldn't contain the ironic chuckle at seeing the hypo sticking out of the now-unconscious man's shoulder. Dropping him back to the floor, he sat back, looking at Jordan. "Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"
"No." Moving carefully, obviously shaken, Jordan stood, darting past the men on the floor, to stand in the bathroom doorway. He looked young and vulnerable standing there in his underwear. "Who is he? Do you know him?"
Standing, Jarod placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Get dressed. Get your things. We have to go." He squeezed Jordan's shoulder. "I'll explain what I can once we're out of here."
Watching him for a moment, Jordan decided it was better to listen than argue. Hurriedly, they gathered up the room, left some of Jarod's cash on the nightstand for Betsy, and slipped out into the stillness of the night.
* * * * * * * * *
Marsala Restaurant, Blue Cove
Daddy had invited her to dinner at their favorite restaurant. She knew what his agenda was. He wanted to smooth her ruffled feathers, salve her hurt feelings since his orders to keep her away from Gabriel. And she had agreed, hoping he would change his mind and let her visit her brother again. That was the way it had always worked between them
She sat waiting at the table, toying with her drink rather than sipping it. He was late, as usual, but at least he hadn't called to cancel. She was half expecting that when he appeared at her side, bubbling over with good humor
"Angel! Good to see you," he told her, smiling broadly. He sat down opposite her and signaled the waiter. He placed his drink order and then turned to face his daughter
She was staring at him. "Daddy, have you colored your hair?" Unable to stop herself, she reached out and stroked the gray hair at his collar that had recently been snow white
He chuckled. "Naw, naw, nothing like that," he assured her with gruff glee. "I'm not a vain man, angel. You know that."
"Then, what? You look..." She studied him. His face was thinner, and there were fewer lines around his mouth and eyes. "You look ten years younger."
His eyes twinkled. "Why, it's Gabriel, of course! He's making me young again!" He chuckled. "I never thought being a father at my age would be easy, but I feel marvelous, simply marvelous."
"So you've been spending more time with him?" She was hopeful. If he was growing closer to his son, then perhaps he would see her point, that family was far more important than education at his age
"Don't you worry about Gabriel," he answered evasively. "He's doing fine. Spunky little tot. Just a ball of fire, sometimes."
"May I start visiting him again? I know he misses me." She didn't want to push, but she had to have his answer
He frowned. "Let's not get into that right now, angel. We have other things to talk about besides the baby."
"But, Daddy, I thought--"
The waiter brought his drink and set it down, then disappeared again
"Not right now," he ordered, flashing her a warning glare. "I wanted to get an update on how things were going in the search for Jarod. We haven't talked in a while, and though I've been reading all your reports, I wanted to get firsthand stuff that you might not put into a document. So, where are we with that?"
Defeated before she began, she gave him a quick, impersonal run-down of the most recent facts, leaving out just enough to keep in concert with what she had written down in the records. She knew he wasn't going to give her what she wanted, at least not anytime soon. But she couldn't afford to engender any more animosity between them. She'd have to play politics with him, like she did with everyone else in the Centre, only the stakes would be higher. She was playing for the love of a child she adored, who needed her as much as she needed him. And her father's approval was the key
She was going to have to find a way to make some progress with Jarod. If she could bring him in, she was sure she could do whatever she wanted with Gabriel and her father would have no objections. If she could catch their runaway Pretender, she might even be able to quit her job and take him home to raise. Her father could see him as much by dropping in at her house as he did now, dropping into the nursery when he had a moment
That would be the best thing for all of them
But somewhere, way down deep inside, she knew that would never happen. The world was changing yet again, and part of her knew that things were going to be far worse than they were now
* * * * * * * * *
Starlight Motel, Rural Colorado
Sighing at the news report of the young woman who had turned herself in for attempting to kill a police officer, a woman whom he suspected was taking the fall for her boyfriend, Jarod turned the television off, casting a glance at Jordan. The younger version of himself lay asleep in the motel bed. Shaking his head, Jarod reached for his phone. This was more important; he was simply unused to putting personal issues above those of strangers. Family came first, even if he was just learning that now
"This is Sydney."
"If you could go back, and talk to yourself as a teenager, what would you say?"
Sydney switched ears on his phone, leaning back in his chair. "I have a feeling what I'd say to myself, and what you'd say to the boy are very different things."
Silence hung heavy over the line for close to a minute, as Jarod stood from the couch, striding to the window to look out at the nearly-full moon. "I don't know what to do. Jordan doesn't understand anything I've tried to tell him. He doesn't want to understand. How can he not understand me?" Jarod's voice revealed how lost he felt at the lack of understanding between Jordan and himself
"How have you approached this, Jarod?"
"What do you mean?"
"I know you would never mean to do this, but Jordan is, despite the idea behind his creation, a different person than you. You have to remember that he was raised in almost the antithesis of the environment you were, within the same agenda."
Jarod's mouth twisted as he considered these words. "I'm aware of that, Sydney," he replied, sounding hurt that the older man spoke as though he hadn't been apprised of Jordan's upbringing
"You are, but are you acting like it?" Knowing instantly the words were phrased wrong; Sydney rushed to correct what he'd said. "What I mean to say... Jarod, while you were both brought up within the walls of the Centre, you had contact with those who were compassionate." Clearing his throat around the lump forming, he continued softly. "Or, at the least, who tried to be."
"You were," Jarod interjected in a whisper, falling silent again to allow his mentor to continue
Not vocally acknowledging the comment, knowing he wasn't expected to, Sydney swallowed hard, trying, again unsuccessfully to clear his throat. "Jordan was raised by Raines. He didn't have any form of positive reinforcement, unless you consider stoic approval at properly-executed sims positive. He reacts differently to things, Jarod. You look at him, and you see you, right?"
"He is me, Sydney. I... can't help it."
"Which is perfectly understandable. You just have to remember that when he looks at you, he sees what he'll never be; what I can only imagine he believes is what everyone expects from him."
Pulling the sweatshirt he'd been wearing off over his head, Jarod returned to the couch, pressing his bare back against the cool leather cushions, contrasting with the heat in the room. Jordan had been cold when he'd finally gone to bed; the thermostat was now set too high for Jarod's liking. With a glance at the bed, he settled back rather than turn the heat down. Jordan was sleeping under a heavy quilt, wrapped up tightly as if still chilled. "You're right," he murmured into the phone. "It's so hard to see the differences on the surface. And I don't remember to make myself look past that. We just should be the same."
"It would be easier for you if you were. But not for him. The world doesn't need two Jarods. It needs Jarod, and Jordan, two people with their own personalities, their own lives." Shutting his eyes, Sydney exhaled slowly, forcing his emotions as far from the surface as he could. "We'll all be better for it."
"Thank you," Jarod whispered hoarsely, "for being the one who showed me there was more than the dark walls inside that place. I hate to think of my where my life would be without that." His eyes scanned the room, and came to rest on the sleeping form on the bed. "That's what he is, isn't he? Who I would have been, without you."
"That..." Sydney's eyes squeezed tightly shut, and he rested his forehead against his fingers as he took a breath against his shaky voice. "That would be one way of looking at it."
Fighting his own emotions, Jarod bent his legs at the knee, drawing them against his chest. He curled slightly, adjusting his body into a sitting version of the fetal position. "Have we been trying to correct past mistakes with him? My father, in raising him. Me, in everything I do with him?"
"I wouldn't be that hard on you. But yes, I think that there has been more of that than anyone has stopped to actually consider. Your father should have been able to prove, to both his sons, what a wonderful parent he would have been. He wasn't allowed that chance. Naturally, he's got to look at Jordan the same way you do -- as you. Try as we all might, the fact remains that Jordan is genetically you. That, as you said, makes it hard to see the differences under the surface. It takes more work to see that, and vigilance to see that we look. Jordan has to be lost as well, Jarod. None of the adults in this situation understand it. He can't possibly."
"Knowing that you raised me is a comfort for my father, Sydney." Jarod paused for a moment, blinking at the stinging sensation of tears pricking the backs of his eyes. "As it is for me," he finished in a barely audible whisper
"And seeing the man you grew into has made me proud," the older man admitted softly. "Jarod, you'll know how to deal with Jordan, so long as you look past what you can see, to what makes him who he is." Tamping down the urge to react more strongly to the conversation, Sydney sat up in his chair. "It's late, Jarod. Go get some rest. I hope this will be easier for you in the morning."
"Goodnight, Sydney." Uncurling himself from the corner of the couch, he hit the button on his phone to end the call. He slowly stood, stretching out his muscles as he moved. Walking past the bed, he paused to look down at Jordan, gently tucking the blankets more snugly around the sleeping boy. Jordan moaned softly in his sleep, turning over, putting his back to Jarod even in sleep
Forcing himself not to take the movement personally, his hand retreated from the bed quickly as he turned to continue on his way into the bathroom
Not bothering to turn on the lights, the streetlight outside casting enough illumination for visibility, he turned the shower on. Stripping, he slipped under the hot water, his forehead coming to rest against the cool tiles. Too tired to fight them now, he let his tears fall, the salty drops getting lost in the cascading streams pouring against his head and shoulders from the showerhead
He knew the hot water would run out before his tears did
* * * * * * * * * *
Sitting back in the darkness of his office, Sydney held a small plastic monkey in the palm of his hand. His fingers curled around the toy, pressing it into his hand deeply, leaving an impression in the flesh. His eyes focused on a dark spot on the ceiling, eyelids blinking rapidly before stopping, closed against the tears. Jaw set, he slipped the toy back into the metal box, sat up and opened his eyes. Replacing the box, he stood and walked quickly out of the dark, empty building into the cold night, brightly lit by a large moon. Staring up at the orb for a moment, his shoulders squared against the chill as he made his way to his car
He could not afford to give in to his emotions. Jarod needed him to keep a clear head, to keep focused so that, whenever the Pretender called on his mentor, he would be able to give him the answers he needed. But once, just once, he wished he could say what was in his heart, to cast off the impersonal professional and be..
No. Jarod had his family. He didn't need Sydney at all
He heard his own footsteps crunching on the fallen snow, clenched his teeth, and slipped the key into his car door.
After stopping off at the snack machine, Broots headed for the cafeteria. The food selection there was always Bugs Bunny territory - fresh raw vegetables, salads, rice and broiled chicken or fish, whenever meat was available. But today was tuna salad day, and he made it a point to eat in the lunchroom whenever that was on the menu. He had to bring his own dessert, though, and stopped by the vending machine in Maintenance before lunch. Rumor had it that the best snacks to be had were in that machine
Today he had chosen a package of Funyuns as an appetizer (for the crunch factor), DingDongs for his dessert and a Hershey bar for a late afternoon snack. He was blissfully indulging his meal when a flash of pink caught his eye. Glancing up, he looked right into the sparkling blue eyes of a blonde angel, sitting across the table from him, and smiling
His cheeks were as full as a chipmunk's, and there was no way he could utter a word
"Hi," the woman said softly. She was pert and beautiful, delicate and soft and happy-looking, her round belly pushing her back from the edge of the table. "My name's Leah." She glanced around, taking note of the group she had stolen away from for a moment. "I know we're not supposed to talk to other people here," she whispered, leaning closer to him, "but you look like a trustworthy guy, so I thought I'd take a chance. Are you? Trustworthy, I mean."
Broots nodded, chewing furiously, trying to swallow that bite that now seemed ten times larger than it had been before he noticed the woman
Leah seemed genuinely pleased. "Great! I'm getting a little stir-crazy here," she admitted. "They've been trying to keep us busy so we don't get bored, but..." She shrugged. "Anyway, I noticed your Buffy the Vampire Slayer T-shirt and thought it might be nice to talk with a fellow fan for a minute."
The tuna swam down his throat with an audible gulp. "Uh, sure. That's one of my favorite shows. My recorder's set to tape 'em all, since I don't always get home in time to see it."
"What's been going on? I've been here for three months now, part of a control group in this special project. You know, on fetal nutrition?" She waited for a beat, but at his blank look, she went on. "They give us supplements, control our diet and exercise and keep us in a specially isolated environment, like with lots of classical music and stuff, for the babies."
He shrugged. "I haven't heard about it," he admitted. "But there's a lot that goes on here that I don't know about." He took a drink of orange soda pop. "I'll bet your husband misses you, after three months in this place."
Leah gazed slyly up at him. "No husband," she told him proudly, wiggling a naked left hand in front of him. "I worked for a long time to get to a point where I could do this on my own. NuGenesis provided me with the father's contribution, and I'm taking two years off work to enjoy being a mommy."
Broots's interest level skyrocketed. Single, beautiful and hitting on him were enormous incentives, and he wasn't about to let her go without finding out more about her. He smiled. "That's not an easy decision to make, I know," he returned. "My daughter, Debbie, just turned 12 and it's just the two of us, so I know a little something about being a single parent."
Leah seemed interested. Truly interested. Broots would have asked for her number, but if she was involved in an isolated research project, there was no way he could hook up with her inside the Centre
"Are you going to be here through delivery and everything? Cause if you need, you know, a coach or something..."
She beamed. "That's sweet. What was your name?"
"Broots. I'm in the Tech Department. A computer guy." He reached across the table and shook her hand. Something inside him melted, and it wasn't the Hershey bar in his back pocket
"Well, Broots, unfortunately I'm not going to be staying much longer. This project was only for three months, and it's terminating tomorrow. They'll do a final blood draw later today to check the baby's nutrient levels and blood chemistry, all that sort of thing, and then I'm out of here. But thanks for the offer. Maybe we could chat online sometime."
He was beside himself. His whole body wiggled with excitement. "Yeah, sure. That would be great!" He gave her his email address and memorized hers
She glanced back at the table and noticed one of the other women signaling her. Their caretaker was returning, and she didn't want to get caught away from her group. "Gotta go, Broots. It was great talking to you." The DingDongs on his tray caught her eye. "I'm probably going on a junk food binge when I get back to Baltimore tomorrow."
Without thinking about it, he grabbed up the cellophane package and pressed it into her hand. The sparkle of a thin gold bracelet on her wrist caught his eye for a second. "Why wait?" he whispered. "You can start right after the tests today. What was the name of the project again?"
"Fountain of Health, or something like that," she whispered as she rose. "Just Fountain for short." Leah winked at him, and quickly returned to her group just as the caretaker started roll call at the far end of the table
She shot him a glance as her group rose and began to trek out of the cafeteria, back to their dormitory, and waved before she went out the door
Broots stood up, his body so wired with excitement he couldn't sit still any longer. He felt like cheering, like dancing. He wanted to tell somebody. Glancing at the glum faces all around him, he tamped down his overflowing enthusiasm. There wasn't anyone he could tell in that room. His news would have to wait for an appropriately receptive audience, so he sat back down and began to eat, his eyes focused on where Leah had been sitting, remembering her face, her gestures, and the sound of her voice. He barely noticed when he took the last bite of his lunch, and moved mechanically to dispense of the tray
Sometimes, he decided, it definitely paid to work at the Centre
* * * * * * * * *
Turning from the window, Jarod looked toward the bed. Jordan was sitting up under the blankets, watching him. "Yes?"
"Are you going to take me back to your father?"
Taking a breath, Jarod moved to sit at the foot of the bed. Now or never, he told himself, steadying his nerves for what he knew would likely be a harrowing conversation. "That was the plan," he answered finally. "Don't you want to go back?"
"Do you know what it's like for me? I look in the mirror, and I see someone else. Everywhere I turn, someone is telling me what you would do, what you've done." His eyes clouded for a moment. "It's just a constant reinforcement that I'm nothing more than a broken version of you."
The boy's words ripped at Jarod's heart. He had come to love the young man deeply, as he imagined he'd feel about a child he'd raised. Never would he wish anything like what Jordan had experienced on anyone. Watching his reactions, Jarod kept himself in check, even as his heart told him to physically reach out to Jordan, his head reminded him to take baby steps. "You're not broken, Jordan. No one should have ever allowed you to think that."
A bitter smile crossed Jordan's face. "Face it, I'm just you, missing a few pieces. They made me. I don't have parents; I don't have a family. I was created to be you, only under complete control. I have nothing of my own."
"You have your mind. Your heart. Those aren't me. The DNA, maybe." Jarod's hand raised to touch the side of his own head. "What's in here - we experienced different things. That separates you from me. I had a conversation with someone earlier, who told me that the world doesn't need two of me. He's right. You deserve to have every opportunity to be your own person."
Jordan stared at the man in front of him, his lower lip trembling slightly. "I don't even know how to do that," he whispered.
"Of course, you don't. None of us do. You just have to find your own way, whatever that is, and go in that direction until something changes, then follow that path. As easy as it would make things, there isn't a user manual for life."
Head shaking, Jordan attempted a smile that failed halfway. "No, there isn't." Staring down at the quilt, he shrugged, falling silent. "What am I to you?" he asked finally, looking back up at Jarod with the most vulnerable expression the older man had ever seen.
"You... Jordan, I don't quite know how to explain what you are to me," Jarod answered slowly, feeling a fresh round of emotional responses rising up. His psyche must have gotten a rest, as he was finding himself again teetering on the edge of tears. "I wish I could be your father," he admitted softly, watching the boy for reaction. "In here," his hand moved to touch his chest. "You feel like my son." Jordan's head nodded slowly and shakily at Jarod's words. "You aren't, but at the same time you are, and... it's hard to define."
A tear slipped down Jordan's cheek as the young man sniffled once. "Do you love me, or do you just feel like you have no choice; that I'm here, and now you have to deal with me?"
"Oh, Jordan... I do love you. You're not a burden to me. You're not someone I simply feel responsible for. You matter to me, so much more than you can understand."
As they sat, watching each other, their emotional reactions strikingly similar, Jordan slowly extended his hand toward the man he came from, his eyes pleading that Jarod respond to the gesture that was taking so much for him to make. Reaching out, Jarod touched the boy's hand, taking the smaller one in his own, squeezing.
"Can I stay with you?" Jordan whispered, staring at Jarod intently. Another tear fell as Jarod shook his head. "Why not?"
"It's too dangerous right now for us to be together. Believe me when I tell you I want to be there." Swallowing back tears of his own, Jarod shook his head again. "But keeping you safe is more important to me."
"That means I should go back to your father, right?"
Nodding, Jarod squeezed his hand again. "Yes. And Jordan, you were wrong. You do have a family. Not just me, either. Dad loves you, and I know he realizes where he made some of his mistakes. If he hasn't caught all of them - it is okay to point them out."
Wiping at his eyes with his free hand, Jordan nodded slowly. "I guess that means we should go home, huh?"
"Yes, we should."
Eyeing the man in front of him, Jordan nodded toward the head of the bed. "You should sleep before we start driving again. You look worn out."
Jarod chuckled softly. "It's been a draining night. I think you're right. Make you a deal," he said, moving to a place where he could actually lie down on the mattress. "Next time, we do this in stages. No running away, fighting, battling Centre personnel, more fighting, having emotional breakdowns all in the space of thirty-six hours, okay?"
"Okay." Jordan lay back down next to Jarod. "In the morning, we go home," he murmured, shutting his eyes
"Yeah, home," Jarod echoed, his own eyes drifting shut.
* * * * * * * * *
It wasn't until the next morning that the thought struck him
Broots remembered that Leah had said she got the father's contribution - the sperm sample to create her baby - from NuGenesis. He had not been able to find any references to a project called Fountain after Miss Parker had asked him to look it up, but he had been checking Centre records exclusively. And if Leah was part of the Centre's breeding program, the same one that had created Jarod in the first place 40 years earlier, then she could be in deep trouble
He had to find out about Project Fountain. Her life might well depend on whatever he discovered. And the first place he thought to look was in NuGenesis files
Cracking their database from home was no big deal. He had done worse hacking before he joined the Centre. But it took him most of the night to find anything at all on Fountain
He printed everything out, but couldn't make sense of the data. Hoping Miss Parker might be able to help with that, he took the reports with him and put them on her desk first thing the next morning. Leah was supposed to go home that day. He knew the room number where she had been moved that morning - it was in the records. But he didn't want to go there without checking in with his boss first
"Broots, isn't that what you were wearing yesterday?" she asked him as he laid the folder in front of her
He glanced down at his clothes. Apparently, he had forgotten to change in his haste to get there, after having slept for a scant three hours before leaving for work. "Uh, yeah. This was more important." He flipped open the folder for her. "What do you make of that? It's everything I could find about Fountain. And look who's in charge of the project, since Raines is out of the picture."
Parker's eyes narrowed. "Dr. Cox. Why am I not surprised?" She studied the first sheet of paper, then glanced at the checklist on the next page. "Corneas, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver... All checked off. Looks like a donor list to me, Broots. What is it?"
"I don't know. That's what bothers me. That was the first thing I thought of, too." He started to pace. "But if that's what it is, then Leah's in deep sneakers. I've got to get her out of here."
She flipped the page over. "Records say she's in room number..."
Broots stopped on the far side of the desk, pointing at the notation he read upside down. He blanched. "Ohmigod. Ohmigod... I know where that is. I've passed it on the way to Maintenance." He turned and ran out of her office
Taking the time to close the folder and stow it in her desk drawer, Parker darted out after him. "Broots! Broots, wait up." She barely caught him before the elevator doors closed
"Come on. Come on!" Broots called, trying to rush the lift to move faster. The doors opened to the ground floor and he dashed down a long corridor, heading for the fourth wing, far in the back of the complex. He barely slowed down as he zoomed down the hallway toward Maintenance, and skidded to a stop before the door labeled 7734. The numbers were made in that LCD-type lettering that Broots thought looked like "hell" written upside down and backwards
He burst into the door, not at all certain what he expected to see
A large cargo elevator stood open in the left wall. Four empty hospital-type gurneys were parked in it, along with several bags marked for the Centre laundry facility. Poking out the tops of the bags were wrinkled, used pink and blue scrubs
Dazed, Broots wandered slowly into the empty room with Miss Parker on his heels. He swept the bare walls with a glance, taking in the sink and counter on the right wall. A narrow workbench stood against the front wall, and in the back a pair of large metal doors stood closed, fixed in place by a heavy metal latch
He could feel the heat radiating from those doors from just inside the room. Hanging on the brick wall at the back were a pair of thick, heavy work gloves and an iron crowbar, just the right size and shape for lifting the latch on those thick steel doors. Broots couldn't help himself. He donned the gloves, took the crowbar and opened up the incinerator.
A fire was still burning inside. The scent of cooked meat and burning hair was strong inside that chamber. His stomach was tight, cramping up so hard he thought he was going to break in half. "No," he breathed. "No. This can't be. This is some awful nightmare. Miss Parker, wake me up."
He turned away from the door, and the sleeve of his flannel shirt caught on a gouge where the door had been pierced ages ago, ripping loose a rough fragment of metal. Glancing down, he freed himself mechanically. And then the glitter of something shiny at his feet drew his eyes down to the floor. He bent to pick it up, and recognized it instantly
It was Leah's bracelet. It must have caught on the same gouge on the door, when they..
He crumpled in a heap on the floor
* * * * * * * * *
The detour to the mall was short.
With Jarod's help, the reversal of his earlier actions took Jordan much less time, and was probably more securely done. The AT&T store wouldn't know what hit it, two hack-jobs on this level in three days.
Jarod couldn't have very well made Jordan take the money back to each company, no matter how tempting the thought. He would have been arrested. That would not fall under the category of protecting him, so he'd simply helped the boy filter the millions back to their rightful bank accounts
The ride back to Boulder had been spent in large part with Jordan listening to Jarod explain exactly why what he'd done with the money was a bad thing. He did, in fact know this, but somewhere deep down, past the sullen teenager that just didn't want to hear it, a piece of him thrilled at the fact that indeed Jarod was acting the role of a father-figure, something that, despite his desire to break from the "Jarod Mold," he truly wanted.
As the Xterra came to a stop outside the lodge Jordan had been sharing with Maj. Charles, Jarod turned to him. "You promise to give him a second chance?"
The major was standing on the porch waiting for them, and Jordan looked out at him. "I promise," he answered as he undid his seatbelt, opening the car door.
Jarod followed suit, walking around the front of the SUV to stand by the passenger door. "I'm not coming in right now," he told Jordan, with a glance at his father. "It's probably not a good idea for me to stick around. But I'll be back, and you've got Dad until then." The young man at his side nodded soberly, before turning away to go inside.
Jordan didn't take more than a step before turning back to Jarod. Closing the distance between them, Jarod wrapped his arms around the boy, smiling as he was hugged back fiercely. "Stay out of trouble for a while, okay?" Jordan nodded as he released Jarod, not looking back this time as he turned away, stopping only to exchange a word with Maj. Charles.
The elder man stepped from the porch to greet his son. "Jordan says you're not staying."
"I can't. We were too close to being in real trouble back there. I have to ensure it won't happen again. Not being with you is one of the ways I can do that best."
The major wrapped his son in a hug. "When you can stop running, you come home. Your family will be waiting for you."
Nodding, Jarod pulled away reluctantly. "I know. I finally know that. It makes what I have to do harder, because I have to leave. But easier, too, because I can come back."
"I love you, son."
"I know. I love you, too, Dad."
Climbing back into the SUV, Jarod cast a last glance toward the cabin, meeting Jordan's eyes a final time before turning the ignition and driving away.
Miss Parker paced beside the sofa in her office, watching Broots as he stared blankly at the ceiling. She had barely been able to convince him to stay with her after their grisly discovery in the Maintenance wing. But she was sure that the Centre would not let him live if he suddenly disappeared from his regular place at work, especially not after they tracked all the research he had done for her on Fountain. As long as he kept his place, did his job and stayed quiet, he would be safe. He would have time to cover his tracks, but not if he just left. He was trapped, just like she was. And he was terrified
Neither of them had all the pieces to this puzzle yet, but she knew she was getting close. And as long as they didn't know all the answers, that made the little knowledge they did possess an incredibly dangerous thing. She had to help him keep his sanity, but that wasn't exactly her field
Sydney came in on cue, and closed the door behind himself
"Thanks for coming, Syd," she said softly. "Broots needs a sympathetic ear and a second voice of reason, or else he's going to be very dead very soon."
"What do you mean, Miss Parker?"
She explained about the incinerator
Sydney flinched, his face gone suddenly gray, a look of horror in his eyes. "Cremating bodies on Centre grounds? My God!"
"But what did they do to her, and why? What is Project Fountain about?"
The older man looked startled. "Fountain? How do you know she was involved in that?"
"Leah told me herself," Broots sniffed. "Yesterday, in the cafeteria. I talked to her there for a couple minutes." He sighed shakily and sat up, running a hand nervously over his shiny head. "She said her part of the project was being terminated today. She didn't know that meant her life. Or her baby's."
"Maybe they took the baby first," Miss Parker suggested hopefully
Broots shook his head. "I don't think she was far enough along." He buried his face in his hands, leaving just enough space between his palms to speak and breathe. "I could have helped her."
Sydney pursed his lips thoughtfully, his eyes still haunted from the discovery, and took a seat in Miss Parker's favorite chair. "You couldn't have known what was going to happen to her," he reminded the tech. He sighed. He stared at his shoes, obviously uneasy. "I heard something not long ago. Something so incredible as to be the stuff of fantasy..."
Parker stopped pacing and eyed the Belgian. "And?"
He adjusted his position again, as if he couldn't quite sit still. "There was a rumor among some of the elder staff..." He stared at Broots. His eyes moved reluctantly to Miss Parker instead. "That Dr. Cox has discovered a fountain of youth."
Parker recoiled physically, knowing instantly that it was true, and that her father had partaken of it. "Oh, my God!" She covered her mouth with her hand as the rest of the truth dawned. "And it's something they get from unborn babies."
Broots bolted off the couch, dashing for her bathroom. He slid to his knees, grabbed the nearer waste basket instead, and retched into it violently. And when that was over, he dissolved into tears
"My God," Sydney rasped. "Is there no limits to what these people will do, Miss Parker?"
She sighed wearily, and shook her head. "And it seems they still turn a profit by selling the mother's organs before they're done with her. This is sick."
"This is Cox," Broots choked, wiping his mouth on his left sleeve. He dragged his right sleeve over his eyes to soak up the tears. "It's got that bastard's name all over it." He drew a shaky breath. "Miss Parker, isn't there anything we can do? They're still doing it. There are pregnant women all over the place. And unless we help them, they're all gonna die."
Parker's expression hardened into steel. "I'm going to my father about this."
"Do you think that's wise?" Sydney asked thoughtfully, worry in his eyes as he raised them to hers. "You and he are having other difficulties at the moment. Perhaps you shouldn't add that kind of stress to your relationship."
Her nostrils flared as she nailed him with an icy gaze. "You got a better idea, Freud?"
"Let me make some inquiries." He rose, buttoned his jacket and regarded her with determination gleaming now in his eyes. "I had hoped this sort of thing was gone forever with the demise of the SS, but I see the monsters are still with us, if only in spirit." He gave her a nod, and a half smile of encouragement to Broots behind her. "I'll let you know as soon as I have something."
"Just make it fast, Sydney," Broots wheezed as he got slowly to his feet. "We don't have much time."
"Neither do those women," Parker added
Sydney nodded and left, his step unhurried as always, and closed the door lightly behind himself
* * * * * * * * *
Cox awoke to find himself splayed out on the floor of the bedroom that the clone had occupied. His face was bruised and the hypodermic needle had broken off in his shoulder, but otherwise he seemed to be all right. He sighed, and pushed himself up to a sitting position
The chance of a lifetime had slipped through his fingers. If he'd had just a few more minutes, he could have subdued the boy with the sedative and taken him to his own room. And with Jarod not knowing where his young clone was, that would have made the perfect bargaining chip to force him back to the Centre. Had he brought both versions of Jarod back with him, he would have been able to write his own ticket. He could even have worked his way into a seat on the Triumvirate with that coup
But they had ganged up on him instead, and now he had nothing
Wearily, the effects of the drug still lingering in his system, he got to his feet and headed for the door
Just as he opened it, he looked directly into the beady eyes of a man in uniform, who smiled back at him as if he'd just won the lottery
"Morning, Mr. Cox," said the sheriff. He held up a freshly faxed copy of a Wanted poster
Cox recognized the face instantly. It was his own
Jarod had found yet another gift to give him. This one the Centre would have to help him out of, as soon as he got his required phone call. "I suppose it would do no good to tell you that this Wanted poster is a fake?" he asked stiffly, holding out his wrists to be cuffed
"Comes from the State Police, sir," the sheriff assured him. "I don't think anyone there would be sending out practical jokes."
"No, I suppose they wouldn't," Cox growled
An hour later, once the processing was done, he dialed the number. He dialed every other number he could think of to reach someone, anyone at the Centre. The lines were busy, all of them, and stayed that way for six hours
* * * * * * * **
Sydney strolled down the corridor slowly, clipboard in hand. Surreptitiously he glanced about to check that the hallway was empty before stepping into the laboratory. The door closed with a hiss as the hydraulic pump eased it back into place
This was the nerve center of Fountain, as near as he could tell. He had heard about the project in hushed whispers, fragments of ideas on the tips of excited tongues, but he hadn't paid attention. There were always pipe dreams under research at the Centre, some idea that had gotten a little attention and was being studied, only to be cast off a few weeks or months down the road as unfeasible. He had thought this Fountain of Youth would be one of those
He recognized a gray head bent over a benchtop analyzer in the back of the laboratory, and stole closer to offer a hushed greeting. "Dr. Sherer, isn't it?" He introduced himself once he had gotten the researcher's attention. "I've heard about the project, and wanted to find out about it personally, rather than relying on rumor. If it's true, then perhaps..." He smiled, hoping he looked greedy, and ran a hand over his silver hair
"I've got all the guinea pigs I need, Sydney," Sherer shot back. "But thanks for the offer."
Sydney's eyes raked over the woman. She had been pretty, once upon a time, with streaks of copper in her gray and white locks. Her face sagged with wrinkles, but her gray eyes were still sharp, twinkling with intelligence - and suspicion. On the counter to one side lay a file folder stuffed with a sheaf of notes, each page of carefully printed figures now inked over with scribbles and diagrams
"It doesn't hurt to ask," the Belgian assured her with a placatory shrug. "But I am interested in the science behind the discovery. Can you share any of that with me? Keeping the Centre's guidelines regarding project confidentiality intact, of course."
"Even if I was interested, which I'm not," she snapped, "I don't have the time to explain the theory behind Fountain at the moment. I've got a lot to do, and I can't have any distractions interrupting me, so good day to you." She turned back to her notes, peered into a microscope parked beside the analyzer and scribbled more notes
Sydney noticed that she was sweating, fine beads formed on her upper lip. The room was chilly, as most laboratories were, to keep the machinery cool. Which could only mean one thing
"Is the project in trouble, doctor?" he prodded gently. "I've already seen the results of the injections. You've taken decades off everyone who has had any of the treatments."
"Short term results are spectacular," she spat out, stepping away from the counter. She tapped her foot, right hand akimbo on her hip, head cocked defiantly. "But the long term results have placed Fountain in jeopardy. I told Cox it was too soon to go with human trials, but he wouldn't listen, and neither would the Triumvirate. Maybe this will teach the German triad a little caution for a change." She stepped back up to her equipment, gray eyes flashing fire. "Now, get out of my lab before I call Security."
"Of course," Sydney assured her. He offered a gracious half bow. "Sorry for the interruption, Dr. Sherer. And if I can ever be of service to you, please don't hesitate."
Sherer sighed, leaned on the counter and bowed her head. "You said your specialty's psychiatry?" Her tone was weary now, resigned
"Yes. I'm in the Centre directory, if you ever want to talk."
She closed the file, carried it to a safe, locked it up and followed him to the door. "Got a minute now?"
He gestured her out the door and walked her up to his office, uncertain what he was about to discover, but sure that it would be much more than he wanted to hear
* * * * * * * * *
Lyle sat at his desk, sorting through several blue folders for the one he wanted. He glanced up when his door opened, and took brief note of the battered and weary face of Dr. Cox as he limped toward a chair. "I heard you had an interesting vacation," he observed quietly
"Mmmm," Cox mumbled. "Interesting. Yes, you could call it that."
"Too bad you didn't have more luck catching Jarod. That could have been quite a feather in your cap."
Cox cleared his throat. "I'm just pleased he was in such a hurry to leave that he didn't take full advantage of my unconscious state."
"Yeah, that would have been a tragedy," Lyle agreed flatly. "But, life goes on. Any idea where they were headed?"
The doctor shook his head. "Not a clue."
Lyle said nothing more, concentrating on the papers in front of him
"I see now why it's been so difficult for you to catch him," Cox observed
Lyle's eyes rolled up to meet his impatiently. "Enlighten me, doctor."
"Because he doesn't let his emotions get in the way, like every other human being does. He's ruled by his intellect, and makes his decisions according to what the situation requires, rather than what he most wants."
"This isn't news, Cox. At least, not to me."
"Perhaps not," the doctor agreed. "But it's a lesson I've just learned. Killing his girlfriend had no appreciable effect on him. If we want to catch him, we have to use another weapon."
"That's what I'm looking for, doc," Lyle assured him, and turned his attention back to the blue folders on his desk
* * * * * * * * *
Broots watched the busloads of women departing via the security camera he had tapped into from his monitor. He was pretty sure that all of them weren't going home, that there were still some trapped in the bowels of the Centre for some other unspeakable research, but those riding away from the building, still blissfully ignorant, had been saved
Miss Parker's reasoning was sound. He had been the Centre's target before, and the only way to keep his daughter safe was to play their game for now. But he could no longer afford to turn a blind eye, to not listen to every rumor and whisper he heard in that place
He would have to make some alternate arrangements for Debbie, in case something happened to him suddenly. She couldn't go back to her mom and he didn't want her in foster care with strangers. There had to be someone who could raise her if it became necessary for him to... He still couldn't go there, couldn't think about it
Weariness settled on him like a lead blanket. He rubbed his eyes, still aware of the tightness in his chest when he thought about Leah and her baby. But at least that horrible project had been put to rest
Sydney had told him that the drug Cox's team had developed to reverse the aging process worked, regenerating lost chemical balances and tissues that dissipated as people grew old. Fountain's initial successes were astounding, shaving years off the lab animals' lives, decades off the people who were treated with it. But the effects were short-term, and required regular treatments for the process to be stable. Only it wasn't discovered until nearly a year had passed that Fountain also destroyed necessary chemicals in the brain, which caused that tissue to atrophy and die. Patients would die young and beautiful, but they would ultimately suffer dementia and expire as long as the treatments were continued. Almost half a dozen of the top scientists who had been on the drug expired in the last week - but Dr. Sherer, who was in charge of the program during Cox's absence, had prudently not included herself on the list of guinea pigs
The program had not been completely scrapped, but the need for so many in-utero donors for the makings were all but gone. It would likely be many years before the brain chemistry problem was solved, and once it was fixed, the trials would start up again. That's how the Triumvirate worked. But Carol Sherer had other plans
Broots almost smiled, thinking about what she had done.
The doctor must have known her health was bad. She had taken all the research out of the safe, wiped all the computer files and destroyed the last samples of the drug, making it virtually impossible for anyone to duplicate what she and her assistants had done in the year they had been working on Fountain. For a week after her talk with Sydney, she puttered about the laboratory as if nothing had changed. When the heart attack took her, it was massive and devastating, and even though the Centre infirmary had a competent staff of medical professionals, they were not able to save her
When she died, the project died with her
That, at least, was some comfort. Broots was never certain if Dr. Sherer really knew where the materials for her research came from, but he suspected that she did. But human beings were not meant to play God, and she ultimately recognized that fact
He watched the buses disappear into the snowy landscape, and wondered if Debbie might like to spend a little extra time with him when he got home that evening. He needed her, needed to watch her smile. That was always the best medicine for pain.