Total Eclipse,
Part One

 

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The Centre
Chairman's Office

Cox was already in Mr. Parker's office when Lyle arrived for their meeting. Hesitating in the doorway, he grit his teeth. He wasn't sure he liked those two working so closely together, even though Cox had been his father's man from the start. Lyle liked the prestige that went with being the heir apparent, and he wasn't about to give up that seat to anyone, including Doctor Death.

Admittedly, he'd made some mistakes recently. The loss of so many of the Centre's projects, while not really his fault, made him look bad. Something had to be done about the situation; he just wasn't sure what. Yet.

"Ah, Lyle," Mr. Parker greeted him. "And how is our Looking Glass today?"

"Insolent as ever," Lyle replied with a sarcastic bite to his voice. "But a sweep of her room came up clean." Taking a seat, he turned to Cox and added, "I see you haven't wasted any time."

Cox gave him a smirk. "There is much to be done, in a number of areas. Which reminds me -- lost track of any more projects lately?"

"Jarod filled your office with anything lately?" came the retort.

"That's enough of that," Mr. Parker said in a no-nonsense voice. Both men immediately turned their attention to the Triumvirate Chairman. "I called this meeting because we've been hemorrhaging Blue Files for months now, and it has got to stop. This isn't a penny ante operation we're running here, it's the Centre."

"All of the problems can be traced back to one person," Lyle quickly asserted. He leaned forward in his chair. "Every time we lose one of our subjects… Gemini, Ethan, Kendra, Andromeda… Jarod is always involved. Hell, he killed Damon himself, and Kyle took a bullet for him. Plus, he's stolen millions of dollars in Centre funds. How much more damage are we going to let him do?"

Mr. Parker's face was stern in the face of this barrage. "I turned over responsibility for the Blue Files to you. It's your job to keep track of them. Are you saying you can't handle it?"

Again, Lyle grit his teeth, grinding the upper and lower set against each other to calm himself before speaking. "I'm saying that we started out with orders to capture Jarod alive or dead. Somewhere along the way it became 'capture him alive at all costs.'"

"That was my decision," Mr. Parker reminded him.

"And it's handicapping us," Lyle insisted. "If all we had to do was plug Jarod full of holes, this would have ended a long time ago. Instead, it's become a battle of wits… a fight my sister loses at every turn, I might add. Why not give shoot to kill orders and be done with it?"

"Mr. Parker has plans for Jarod," Cox murmured smoothly.

"Plans you're well aware of," the Chairman added. He elevated his voice several notches. "I want Jarod back. I do not want him killed. Is that understood?"

Both men agreed.

"Good," he said with a snap of finality. "Now let's get back to the subject of this meeting… a way to stem the tide of Blue Files."

* * * * * * * * *

Sydney's Office

He was finishing up some paperwork -- even in the Centre, there was endless paperwork -- when Miss Parker breezed in and sat down in a chair directly opposite his desk. She didn't have to say a word; he knew exactly what she wanted. It was the same thing she always wanted lately: information.

"Can I help you, Miss Parker?"

"Cute, Syd. You know why I'm here. Except this time, I've got something to go on." She handed over the printout Broots had given her. "Damon wasn't the only one involved in Eclipse. My brother, Jarod, and Kyle were part of it too."

He glanced at the paper, then handed it back. "I'm not familiar with this particular document. But my answer is the same. I don't wish to talk about this, with you or anyone else."

"Sydney, I don't know why you're being so stubborn --"

The psychiatrist interrupted her. "Parker, I don't know how to make you understand that it's best to let sleeping dogs lie. This is a volatile subject, and digging into it won't get you anywhere but into trouble."

She was about to reply when the phone rang, and without thinking he punched the speaker button, grateful for the interruption. "This is Sydney."

"It's me."

Instantly, he sat a bit straighter in his chair. "Jarod? What's wrong? You sound terrible."

The pretender's voice was soft and wavering. It almost sounded as though he had been crying. "I'm… not sleeping very well. In fact, I'm not doing anything very well right now."

Miss Parker seemed to want to say something, but Sydney warned her with a gesture to keep quiet. "Has something happened?"

"Not the way you mean." Jarod stopped, took a deep breath, then continued. "I've been having these… memory flashes… and they won't leave me alone. The feelings attached to them are so strong, Sydney… it's almost as though they're attacking me. I've never felt that way before."

Sydney was filled with a sense of foreboding at his words. "What sort of memories?"

Jarod was obviously reluctant to get into the details. "I'm not even sure they are memories. They seem so… violent." There was a long pause. "I see myself… hurting people, or wanting to hurt them. There's a woman, and she begs me to stop --" He broke off, and his rough breathing told Sydney how frayed his protégé's emotions were. After a moment, he seemed to recover. "I don't care what they are. I want them to go away."

"I understand, but it may not be that simple." He fought to remain calm, clinical, but underneath his concern was growing. "When did all this start?"

"A few days ago, Miss Parker asked me about -- Eclipse." He paused again, and Sydney gave Parker a hard look before turning his attention back to the phone. "I thought I could handle it. I've recovered memories before, but these are different. I'm not the one being hurt, I'm the one…" His voice dipped again, so quiet it was almost inaudible. "They have to stop. They have to."

Sydney picked up the receiver, cutting off the speaker. "Jarod, please, tell me where you are. I'll come to you, help you any way I can."

The Pretender's voice was anguished. "I can't. I want to trust you, but I just… I can't." He took another deep breath, and his voice came back harder, angrier. "How many, Sydney?"

"How many what?"

"How many more time bombs did the Centre leave inside my head, just waiting for them to go off?" Abruptly, the line went dead.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod hung up the phone and buried his face in his arms as he sat at the table. He wanted to give Sydney his location very badly. The man was undoubtedly sincere about wanting to help; but, as long as he worked for the Centre, there was always the chance they could interfere. Jarod couldn't risk that right now.

He thought about making another call, but those he had met during his travels wouldn't understand what he was going through. Even Dr. Nixon, who had been so helpful during his depression, knew nothing about his past life.

No one else knew about Eclipse. No one else could interpret these memories, send them back into the far reaches of his mind where they belonged.

He was completely, utterly alone.

* * * * * * * * *

"Did he tell you where he is?"

Sydney put the receiver back in its cradle slowly. "No. He's too frightened and too vulnerable to trust anyone right now."

"You're worried about him."

He looked sharply at her, and his eyes were dark, clouded. "With good reason, I assure you. Parker, I warned you about opening up this subject, and now --"

"--now, you've got no reason to keep it secret," she finished. At the look on his face, her voice softened. "Syd, I'm onto something big here, I know it. Please, don't shut me out."

He thought for a moment, steepling his fingers on the desk. "Your inner sense is speaking to you, isn't it?"

After a short pause, she nodded. "I don't know why, but it's telling me to pursue this." She looked away pensively. "The last time that happened, we found Ethan."

"This time, we may lose Jarod." The psychiatrist sighed heavily, and ran a hand over his face. "I had hoped this subject would never come up again. I prayed it wouldn't, for his sake."

"Something went wrong during Eclipse, didn't it?"

His voice turned bitter. "On the contrary, the results were better than anyone expected. It was the very success of the project which left us with such a horrific legacy."

"I already know that it involved four Centre subjects, including my brother and Jarod. It also had something to do with serial killers, even the mention of which was enough to give Broots the heebie-jeebies. How much worse could it get?"

"Infinitely, Miss Parker, infinitely." Sydney sighed, and closed his eyes against what he was about to tell her. "Put simply, Eclipse was designed to test the limits of a Pretender's ability. With the aid of hypnotic drugs, Jarod was taken so far into the killer's mind that he left everything behind, even the awareness of his own identity. Without that, he had no anchor to his true self. He literally became Kodiak Brown -- in personality, if not in name."

It took her a moment to understand the gravity of what he was saying. "They didn't… let him out in that state, did they?" she asked hesitantly.

Sydney opened his eyes and stared straight ahead. "No, Miss Parker. They let someone in."

There's a woman, and she begs me to stop…

Parker swallowed hard. "And I can assume you were completely against this?"

"When I saw what was happening, they had to physically restrain me in order to keep me from halting the simulation. Raines allowed it to continue. That was the moment I began to realize what a dangerous man he had become."

The memo in her hand caught Miss Parker's attention. "What do you know about this section marked 'Retrieval?'"

She handed it back to Sydney, who studied it for a moment. "Nothing. When it was over, Jarod was taken away. They brought him back twenty-four hours later, shaken, but himself." Sydney turned the paper over and slid it back toward her across his desktop. "The simulation, and whatever happened afterward, was apparently too much for Jarod's mind to handle. Upon his return, he didn't seem to recall anything about it, and I chose to leave it that way." He raised his eyes to meet hers. "I wish you had, as well."

"So you don't know who Looking Glass is?" Parker prodded, flipping the paper face up again and leaving it on the desk as she stood.

"I've never heard of a project by that name. Have you asked Angelo about it?"

Parker stiffened. "Angelo was very upset. Communication was impossible."

Sydney narrowed his eyes at her disapprovingly. "Then perhaps his behavior should have tipped you off, as should mine. This is not a breadcrumb scattered in your path. It is not a trail to be followed. It will not provide additional information about your mother, or a hint that might lead you to Jarod. You were specifically warned to leave Eclipse alone --"

"Thanks for the information, Syd," she cut in. Pivoting on her heel, she decided to return to Broots' office and see if he had discovered anything about the elusive Looking Glass. That project was the key to everything, she was sure.

The more she dug into Eclipse, the more often that sweep of gooseflesh crept up her arms and across the back of her neck. But this wasn't something she could just walk away from, no matter how ugly it was becoming, no matter who warned her away. Eclipse was important, and until she discovered everything, she wouldn't know why her inner sense kept pushing her to dig deeper into the project.

She didn't want to be doing this. But she had to know.

* * * * * * * * *

Gabriel's Nursery

The schedule said it was naptime, but a visitor to the Nursery certainly wouldn't have known. Gabriel, who was usually a good sleeper, stood up in his crib, leaning against the railing, wailing with all his might. "Bun-ny," he called. "Bun-nee…"

Ms. Penfield, the nurse, knew Mr. Parker's orders were very clear; the child was to have no unapproved toys, and certainly nothing that would remind him of his sister. Miss Parker had given Gabriel the stuffed rabbit he was calling for, so it was definitely not on the list. Why it hadn't been removed from the nursery, or destroyed, she wasn't certain. Currently it was locked in a closet, and Gabriel clearly knew it was there.

A body could only withstand that kind of crying for so long. The baby would lose his voice if he kept it up, and that would reflect badly on her as well. After a long moment of indecision, she finally gave in. If Mr. Parker ever found out, there would be hell to pay. But then, his visits were infrequent enough that she felt safe in taking a chance.

Unlocking the closet door and removing the object in question, she brought it over to the crib. "Here's your bunny."

Instantly, Gabriel stopped crying and reached out eagerly to take it from her. "Bendamin, Enny," he informed her, calling her by the closest approximation of her name that he could manage. "Bendamin."

"Yes, well, you and Benjamin should lie down now," she answered gruffly. "It's time to go to sleep."

He obeyed, settling down on his side and clutching the animal tightly. Ms. Penfield nodded in satisfaction and went back to her chair. As soon as she was far enough away, he stuck his thumb in his mouth. Enny always said no. Too bad.

Rubbing his face against the bunny's soft white fur, he thought about his sister. "Mine," he murmured, another tear escaping and slipping down his cheek. Then, more softly, he whispered the other name, the one he had been forbidden to use. "Dawid…"

Gabriel knew things. He didn't understand how or why they came to him, only that they did. He knew a Big Thing now, but knowing did no good. He had no one to tell, and no way to help.

It's all right, Little One. I hear you.

The voice seemed to come from nowhere -- or perhaps everywhere -- but Gabriel wasn't frightened. Instead, he was intrigued enough to listen as it spoke.

Is there something you want to tell me?

How to say the Big Thing? He was quiet for a moment before whispering, "Dawid cwying."

I know. Jarod is confused and afraid. He's remembering some very sad things. But we'll take care of him.

"Mine go?" he asked hopefully.

The voice was soft, and oddly comforting. I hope so.

"Go too? See Dawid?"

Not this time, but someday. Be patient.

Gabriel made a face. Having to wait was hard, but he didn't fuss. He knew his sister had helped Jarod before; she would do it again -- she and the Voice.

With his message delivered, at least for the moment, he was suddenly tired. His eyelids began to droop, and he held the rabbit tightly to him for comfort.

Have a good rest, Little One. I'll keep watch over him -- and you. I promise.

Maybe his new friend would come back later. He hoped so. "Bye-bye," he murmured as he drifted off to sleep.

On to Act III

 
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