He watched files cascade across his screen, catching the individual terms "looking" and "glass" without any direct matches linking the two words together. The search engine he had built ages ago had to be constantly updated to allow for encryptions he encountered during the frequent searches of Centre documents that Miss Parker had him perform, but he was confident that his program was sifting through everything logged into every archive and desktop and hidden electronic cache in every Centre database. No one but Jarod could have done the job better, he was sure. One by one, he shut off the documents that the searches brought up, after scanning them for Looking Glass with his own eyes.
Nothing. The search finished and asked for another request. He typed in "Blue Files," knowing that Looking Glass had been listed once upon a time as a project name under that heading. Whatever had once been there was now gone, printed out to microfilm and stored physically in some archive in dusty back rooms or shipped off to God-knows-where, never again to see the light of day.
There simply were no records on Project Looking Glass.
Only moments after he was sure of that fact, Miss Parker strode back into his office. He sighed, took a deep breath and told her the bad news.
As they were considering their next move, Angelo suddenly appeared at the entrance to the air duct. Parker spotted him and moved out of the way. She still remembered their last encounter, when he had violently smashed a DSA reader. This time, Angelo appeared much calmer. He pushed the grate aside and stepped into the room. "Find Looking Glass," he muttered.
"Hey!" Broots protested as Angelo pushed him aside and began tapping on the computer keyboard. Instinctively, he started to push back, but Parker put out her hand to stop him. Instead, they watched as Angelo began pulling up information with a speed that astonished both of them.
"He's accessing the Centre schematics," Broots whispered. "What would he want those for?"
"Find Looking Glass," Angelo repeated. He isolated SL-12, and after a moment's pause clicked on Suite 1217. Then he stepped back to let the others examine his handiwork.
Miss Parker looked from the screen to Angelo's earnest face. "This is where I can find Looking Glass? Suite 1217?" He nodded.
"Well, the way Angelo gets around, I guess he'd know if anyone does," Broots acknowledged.
Angelo put his finger on the diagram on the screen, gazed up at Miss Parker and smiled. "Find Looking Glass." His head bobbed with encouragement.
Parker laid her hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, Angelo," she murmured, her gaze returning to the screen. "Not much gets by you, does it?" She sighed and stroked her hand fondly over his hair. "Getting the information out of your head is the problem."
She reached forward and hit the Escape key, jumping the computer out of the program. "Well, I'm off to see what this top secret project is all about."
"You're going there now?"
"Carpe diem, Broots. I want you to tap into the security system in that suite. Loop the video feed, or whatever it is that you do. Give me fifteen minutes, twenty if you can."
"No cameras," Angelo informed them, grinning.
Broots was tapping furiously at his keyboard. "Angelo's right," he said after a few moments. "There's nothing to fix. Whoever's in there, they're not recording it."
She opened her eyes wide in astonishment. "They've got a project secret enough that you can't find anything in the database, and they didn't even try to take pictures?"
Broots shook his head. "You don't understand. The equipment's already wired in; it's just that the system's inactive."
Parker thought for a moment. "You mean they could be recording whoever's in there, but they've chosen not to?"
"Basically, yeah." Broots turned back to the screen. "Why does the fact that they're not recording something make me even more nervous than when they are?" he muttered to himself.
She shot him a glance filled with reluctant determination, turned on her heel and left on her mission.
* * * * * * * * *
Lyle caught a glimpse of the man he wanted just stepping into an otherwise empty elevator, and dashed to squeeze in just as the doors slid closed. He glared at Cox suspiciously. "You want to tell me why you didn't support me in that meeting with my father?" he demanded. "You know I'm right. You know Jarod is the source of all my trouble lately."
Cox stared straight ahead, one corner of his mouth lifting slightly with a touch of cold humor.
Lyle crossed his arms, cocked his head and studied the other man for a moment. "In fact, didn't you tell me that, after you killed his precious Zoe, our Pretender would be so overwrought with guilt that he'd be easier to catch? When did that happen? Or am I just missing something?"
"Besides your thumb?" Cox shot back, sliding a superior glance in the younger man's direction. "Undoubtedly, Mr. Lyle. You've been so busy playing Centre politics that you let your chance -- and our Pretender -- slip right through your hands. I did my part and put up the stumbling block. But when Jarod fell, as he inevitably did, you were looking the other way." He sighed, straightened his suit jacket, and stepped toward the doors as they opened on his floor. "Follow-up, my friend. It's all about follow-up."
Cox strode into a waiting group of bigwigs that Lyle recognized as visitors from the German contingent. Evidently, Mr. Parker had chosen to have the doctor be their guide during their stay in the States, rather than assign his own son and heir to the throne. That, and the dressing down he had received that morning, did not bode well for him at all.
He was going to have to do something about Cox. And he was going to have to make his move soon, before the doctor got an even firmer foothold in the Chairman's confidences. Lyle punched the button for his own floor, and smiled at the woman who stepped into the elevator with him. She was a pretty brunette, not Asian specifically, but slender and with those lovely brown sloe eyes that could easily be mistaken for a mark of Asian descent. He licked his lips and engaged her in conversation as the elevator car began to move.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker crept silently down the hall, alert for any opening door or footstep that would indicate another presence. She could not afford to be seen here, not after her public inquiry into Eclipse. Luck was with her, until she reached the door and remembered the electronic keypad.
Knowing the Centre's system for such things as she did, she managed the combination on the third try. Quickly, she stepped into the room, holding the door partially open to allow a fast exit if she needed one. She took in the posh setting, so like Jarod's old room, and her eyes settled on a blonde woman bent over the desk. The woman had her back to her and made no immediate move to turn around.
Instead, she straightened slowly, putting down the photograph she had been studying. "Hello, Miss Parker. Or should I call you… sister?" She turned then -- facing her guest and letting her get a good look.
Parker simply stared at the woman for a long moment. Then, suddenly, everything clicked into place. She knew those features. They were almost thirty years older, but still familiar. "Oh my God," she whispered, letting the door latch into place behind her. "Faith."
It couldn't be. Faith was dead. She had died as a child, a fact Miss Parker herself had witnessed and Mr. Parker had confirmed only two years ago. She began stalking back and forth across the threshold, wrestling with the reality that now faced her across the room.
The woman seemed to almost read her mind. "You saw what the Centre wanted you to see, back then," she stated quietly, and gestured toward the sectional couch. "Please, sit down before you fall down."
The brunette continued to pace. "I don't want to sit down," she declared perversely.
"Of course you do," Faith murmured.
Parker sat. The other woman came close and took a seat across from her in a large, comfortable chair.
"I'm not sure I know where to start," Parker whispered. "I don't understand why the Centre -- my father -- would want me to believe you were dead. Why go to such lengths to cover up your existence?"
Faith shrugged. "They had other uses for me, as they did for Angelo."
"Angelo," Parker breathed. "He's known, all this time. Why didn't he tell anyone? Why didn't he tell me?"
"Because you wouldn't have understood -- spending time with Angelo and Jarod, yet knowing so little about the Centre's real activities. It's taken thirty years for the timing to be right, for you to be ready to accept what you see…but that time is here, now."
"And… they took you because you're like Angelo? An empath?"
"Except Raines didn't need to scramble my brains," she explained. A look of profound sadness washed over Faith's face. "I already had what he wanted when I was brought here. Since then, I've gained strength, risen a few steps above what Angelo can do. I'm a hyper-empath now."
Parker's head was spinning as she tried to grasp what Faith was saying.
"Imagine it's wartime, and your government has captured a spy from another country. You need information, quickly. Angelo can tell you what the spy is feeling, that he's afraid. But what if you could take that natural fear and reflect it back a hundred times stronger, evolve it into sheer terror? You could get anything you wanted from anyone." Faith smiled then, but there was no humor in her eyes. "That is, if you could control the psychic mirror you were using. Which they can't."
At least one of the pieces was falling into place. "That's why they called you Looking Glass."
Faith nodded. "I rarely hear my own name anymore -- unless of course your father pays me a visit." She sighed and glanced around the beautiful room that was her prison. "I knew eventually you would find me. They've been depending on secrecy to keep me hidden, rather than surveillance." Her tone lightened a bit. "They used to try recording me, but I made them turn the cameras off so many times that eventually they gave up. So, now they send someone in periodically to sweep my room. Lately, they've been sending Mr. Lyle."
The mention of her brother reminded Parker why she had come. "You were involved in Eclipse," she stated. "In the Retrieval phase. I need to know what happened, Faith. What was Retrieval?"
Something flared in Faith's eyes, and when she spoke again, it was with a sense of urgency. "I'll explain it to you, but not now. What I need now is for you to help me leave this place. Jarod needs us, and I think you already know why."
Faith hadn't been anywhere near Sydney's office when Jarod's call came through. "How could you possibly know that? How could --"
"It doesn't matter how I know," Faith insisted. "Understand this: if Jarod's memories of Eclipse return without warning, without preparation, he will not be able to handle them. His only hope is for me -- for us -- to finish what I started so many years ago."
She pulled a DSA from her pocket, and handed it to Parker. "Watch this. See the damage that's been done, and then decide what you want to do."
Parker stared down at the silver disc in her hand. It was all too much, too fast. She needed time to think things through, time the little voice inside was suddenly telling her she didn't have. Without another word, she stood and swept Faith up into an awkward embrace, pocketed the DSA and left to return upstairs.
* * * * * * * * *
Willie walked up to the elevator and punched the button. He glanced at the indicator, and saw the light come on at SL-12. Only one of the suites on that level was engaged, so nobody went there anymore, except for Mr. Lyle.
He watched the car rise to his floor and stop. The doors slid open, and out stepped Miss Parker. Her gaze looked past him, barely seeing him as she headed for Sydney's office.
There was only one reason Miss Parker might have been on SL-12. If she had found out…
Willie stepped into the car and punched the floor for the Renewal Wing. Mr. Raines would definitely need to know about this.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker made her way to Sydney's office on auto-pilot. Her thoughts were jumbled, but all relating to one subject: the reality of what she had just experienced. A number of the Centre's dirty little secrets had been revealed over the last five years, too many of them having to do with her own family. This one topped them all.
All the other times, she'd given herself an out -- the possibility, however unlikely, that her father hadn't really known the truth, or was trying somehow to protect her. This was different. Flat on her back in the hospital and he lied to her, saying Faith was her adopted sister and shedding crocodile tears over her supposed death. They'd even gone to the grave site together after she was discharged. But the memo Broots had found proved her father had known for years that Faith was alive, and what was happening to her.
She dropped heavily into a chair, and Sydney looked up, concerned at the change in her demeanor since the last time he'd seen her. "Miss Parker?" When she didn't answer, he tried again. "Parker, what is it?"
She stared straight ahead, past his head to a spot on the wall. "Sydney… what would you say if I told you that Faith is alive?"
It took him a moment to digest her statement. "You mean the little girl with leukemia? The one they brought to the Centre to treat? You know that's not possible."
"Trust me, it's possible. Anything's possible around here." She got up again suddenly, and began to pace back and forth in front of his desk. "I was searching for Looking Glass, and I found her. Looking Glass is Faith. Daddy's had her locked away all these years --" Her voice caught in her throat.
"And it's definitely Faith? You're certain?"
"She's different from the little girl I knew, but yes… it's definitely her."
"I'm not sure I completely understand it. She tells me she's some sort of psychic mirror, Sydney, capable of turning people's emotions back on them. That the Centre cooked up the whole scenario with her dying of leukemia, maybe just to cover up the fact that we found out about her. I don't know." She reached into her pocket and drew out the disk. "But she gave me this. She said to watch it, and I would know 'the damage that's been done,' whatever that means."
"Well, I suppose there's no time like the present." Sydney lifted his DSA reader onto his desk and set it up. Standing beside her, he watched Miss Parker insert the disk into the machine and the images begin to flicker on the screen The young man they saw was twenty years younger, but easily recognizable.
Jarod straddled the young woman, his free hand pinning her shoulder to the floor. He was smiling, obviously enjoying her terror. He traced random patterns with the tip of his blade into her skin, not deep enough to cut, but to allow her to feel the weapon as it moved against her like a lover's caress. The point danced over her face, her neck, her bare chest… all the while with Jarod describing the violence he intended to do to her, whispering in seductive tones…
Parker hit the pause button and turned to Sydney. "What in God's name is this?"
Sydney's expression was grave. "This is a portion of Jarod's Eclipse simulation." When she covered her eyes with her hand, he continued, "It's what I warned you about, Parker. With the assistance of drugs, Jarod immersed himself in the life and acts of a serial killer named Kodiak Brown -- a man who had a penchant for the mutilation, torture and murder of young women. The young man on that DSA is not the Jarod we know."
Parker turned away, sickened. She understood now why Sydney hadn't wanted to discuss this project. It was horrible, a gross misuse of Jarod's Pretender abilities. Why would Faith have wanted her to see it? Why view Jarod in such a negative light?
And then, as if on cue, a memory of her own began to appear. She stood, momentarily spellbound as it unfolded in her mind.
She was fifteen, and about to be shipped off to high school abroad. Leaving the Centre behind wouldn't be hard, but leaving her friends would. Jarod and Angelo were the only ones who really listened to her; Jarod treated her as an equal, gave her ideas consideration even though he was probably way smarter than she'd ever be. The last person who had paid that kind of attention to her had been her mother.
On that day, her father had requested her presence in his office, and that made it a special occasion. She took the elevator up into the tower, and hesitantly pushed the office doors open. He was waiting for her, standing behind his desk with what looked like an open suitcase sitting on top of it. He gestured for her to come around, and she approached him curiously.
"I need you to see something, angel," he said, his face grave. "I hadn't wanted to show this to you, but for your own protection, I must."
The suitcase held some kind of electronic device. Her father took a small, shiny disk and inserted it into a slot. Pictures appeared on the small screen in front of her, like a little movie, and she began to watch…
"Parker," Sydney called again. "Are you all right?"
Snapping back to the moment, she nodded. "Fine, Sydney. But I've made a decision. I'm getting Faith out of here, and taking her to find Jarod. I know you're worried about him, so I imagine you'll want to come along for the ride."
For a moment, the psychiatrist appeared dumbfounded. "Does she even know where he is?"
"I'm not sure. I guess we'll find out, won't we?"
"Parker, it's not like you to make such snap decisions. I know you care for Faith, but if it's to catch Jarod, this is not the way --"
She waved away his objections. "Just don't… examine my motives too closely right now, Sydney. I don't exactly know why I'm doing this, but I'm going to do it. Are you with me, or not?"
Sydney hesitated only a moment longer. "Yes," he agreed, "I'm with you."
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