was still at his desk when Miss Parker and Sydney made their way down. Parker
was beginning to wonder if he ever did anything except stare at the computer
screen and raid the vending machines. Still, she was glad at this moment
not to have to go searching for him. Timing would be crucial if they wanted
to stay above suspicion.
"Broots," she said without preamble, "I want you to order a car and have it ready to go in exactly five minutes."
He looked up at her, and blinked. "Are we going somewhere?"
"Sydney and I are. We're following a lead on Jarod, and we're leaving right now. Understand? Right now. Check the time, and remember what I said. If anyone asks about us, tell them what I've just told you."
He looked back and forth from one to the other. "Something's going on here, isn't it?"
"Not at all," Sydney assured him smoothly. "We're just following Centre rules and letting you know where we'll be in case we're needed."
"In case you need an alibi, you mean," he mumbled.
Parker gave him a predatory smile. "I'm glad we understand each other." She paused a moment, while the tech stared at her. "This century, Broots, if you can manage it."
"What? Oh, yeah. Sorry." He picked up the phone, speaking as he dialed. "I, uh, hope your lead pans out -- whatever it is."
Sydney gave him a weak smile as they left the room. "Thank you, Broots. So do we."
* * * * * * * * *
Shutting the door to Broots' office, Parker pulled Sydney over to the side of the hallway. "I'm going to give you a location, about a half-mile away. I want you to take the car, drive to that spot, and wait. Faith and I will be there just as soon as we can."
He frowned. "How are you going to get Faith out of the Centre? You can't just walk out the front door."
The way Angelo gets around, I guess he'd know...
She gave him a knowing look. "The same way all the nutcases escape this hellhole."
* * * * * * * * *
Willie eased quietly into the all-white room at the end of the hallway, and shut the door. He crept up to the man in the wheelchair and squatted down beside it. "Mr. Raines, we may have a problem," he began. "Miss Parker hasn't given up on Eclipse. And I now have reason to believe that Looking Glass may have been compromised. I know she was on SL-12 today. What are your instructions?"
Raines continued sitting in the chair, unresponsive. For a moment, it seemed as though he would remain silent. Then he lifted his head and murmured, "You know what to do."
Willie nodded. "Yes, sir." He stood, and turned to walk away. Raines' head returned to its former position, but a tiny smile played around his lips for several moments before fading away.
Outside Renewal, Willie checked his gun, making sure it was fully loaded before he headed for the elevator and SL-12. He had a job now, and it would be done with the efficiency Mr. Raines always demanded.
His master deserved no less.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod stood next to the window, watching the gentle snowfall. He tried to keep his mind clear as best he could -- occupy it with busy work, computations that would obstruct errant memories from coming into view -- but it was no use. When they came, there was no stopping them.
His stomach roiled, clenched, felt like it was dropping into his shoes. He doubled over, trying to make it to the bed, and missed. He lost his footing and crashed against the nightstand, striking his forehead on the corner of the wooden stand. The pain staved off the memory, allowing him to lift one hand to the cut and trace it with his fingertips. It wasn't bad.
Then he looked at his fingers, and the sight of blood threw him full-blown into the memory he had been fighting to escape.
She screamed so sweetly, her eyes so large and bright, almost all pupil. Natalie was her name. He had seen her before, helping out with clean-up in the sim lab. She was a high school student or something like that. He liked them young, while they were in their prime.
She struggled underneath him, and it excited him. He teased her with the blade, letting her get away just once, so he could knock her down. There were people watching this time, in the darkness outside the windowed room where they had given her to him.
"You can do anything you want with her," they told him. "No one will care. In fact, we'll enjoy it with you."
That had turned him on. He'd never had an audience before -- at least, not an audience that survived. But these people recognized that he was an artist. They respected his work and wanted to study how he did it. Of course, there were things he wouldn't do in front of them, because they were too intimate, something to be shared only between him and his lady.
She smelled so good, like baby powder, innocent and fresh. Just for an instant, he thought about testing that innocence, but not with people watching. Suddenly, that made him angry. He wanted them to go away, so he could enjoy her all to himself, but they wouldn't. They were always there, always watching him.
Who am I?
He let her go, and sat up, knife pressed between his palm and the floor. He held his head with his free hand, and lifted his gaze to the windows surrounding him. They were dark, no shapes visible outside them, but he knew they were there. They were always watching him, always.
But if they were always watching him, how could he do the things he remembered happening in solitude? It didn't make sense. He couldn't --
Natalie screamed, and beat on the panel that had once opened to admit her tormentor. "Let me out, please! He's going to kill me!"
He rose from the floor, blade in hand, and stalked toward her, reminded now of his purpose. "That's just what they want to see," he growled. "Let's give 'em a good show, shall we?"
He slammed her down on the floor, ripped open her blouse and straddled her. With his left hand he pinned her shoulder, and with his right he began to trace random patterns with the tip of his blade over her face, her neck, her chest…
Jarod cried out in pain and denial. Freed from his paralysis, he tried again to reach the bed, and managed this time to grab the bedspread and haul himself onto the mattress. Once there, he lay on his side and curled into the fetal position, as if it would somehow protect himself from further onslaughts.
He couldn't take this much longer. The brilliant mind he prided himself on was slipping away, inch by inch, and when it was gone the rest of him would follow.
"Help me," he whispered. "Someone, please help me."
* * * * * * * *
Angelo had an uncanny way of being exactly where he was needed when someone wanted him -- unless of course it was something he didn't want to do. Parker was in her office, wondering how best to locate him, when he appeared at the grate covering her air duct. He grabbed her attention by tossing a candy-coated kernel of Cracker Jack onto the floor in front of her.
"Angelo! I need your help."
"Free Looking Glass," he shot back, apparently expecting her request.
"That's right," she agreed. "Can you help me get her out of the Centre?"
His head bobbed. "Go now?"
"Yes, now. Meet me on SL-12, okay?"
An instant later, he was gone. She checked her pistol, made sure she had a full clip, and headed for the stairwell. It was important to avoid anyone who might be passing by; if she were seen now, it would completely blow the timeline she had created for Broots.
When she reached SL-12, she made a beeline for Faith's room, still passing no one in the corridor. Punching in the key code, she opened up the door and greeted her childhood friend. Faith appeared ready to leave, almost as if she had known Parker was coming.
"This way," Parker said softly, heading further down the corridor to the nearest air duct. Angelo was waiting, and held the grate open for them. He caught Miss Parker by the wrist and pulled her up, despite her whispered protest to take Faith first. In the interest of time, she cut off her argument and crawled in, turned around and reached out to help Faith into the duct.
"Hey!" called a voice. Appearing around a corner, a sweeper spotted Faith and pointed his gun at her. "Where do you think you're going?"
Parker held her breath. She couldn't reach her gun easily, bent over as she was in the narrow tunnel. Carefully, she stretched her body out to gain access to her weapon. Protecting Faith was a priority, but she didn't take her eyes off the sweeper.
"Leave me alone," Faith said softly, turning toward the man.
Parker's gaze shifted to the blonde's face, which was suddenly a blank mask, except for the intensity in her blue eyes.
"I… ack!" the sweeper gagged. He dropped his pistol and fell to his knees, clutching his gun hand to his chest, his face twisted with agony. He writhed on the floor briefly before passing out.
Faith turned back to the grate, reaching for Parker's and Angelo's hands. They hoisted her up and inside, and started on their way with Angelo in the lead. Parker flattened herself along the tunnel to let Faith into the middle position.
"What the hell happened back there?"
"He injured his hand earlier today," Faith answered flatly. "It hurts a lot more now."
Parker contemplated that enigmatic statement, but shrugged it off. There were more important things to consider at the moment. She wasn't pleased about wearing out the knees on her best silk pants, but getting Faith out took precedence over her wardrobe disasters. At least she wouldn't have to borrow clothes from Broots.
It seemed as though they crawled through tunnels, ducts and pipes forever, and when they emerged into the fresh, cold outdoors, Parker bit back the unkind comment that leapt so easily to her lips and offered Angelo her thanks instead. She stood in a patch of melting snow as he slid back into the tunnel they had just left.
Angelo hesitated, his eyes on Faith. She stepped up to him with her palm extended. He placed his against hers for a moment, then laced their fingers together. "Help Jarod."
"I will." She laid her free hand against the side of her head. "Stay safe."
His face grew sad. He squeezed her hand tightly, then let her go and disappeared back the way he had come, back into the bowels of the Centre.
"I won't ask what that was about," Parker mused.
Faith nodded. "We must leave now, if we're to reach Jarod. He doesn't have much time."
"What's happening to him, Faith?"
She swallowed hard, looking directly into Miss Parker's eyes. "Unless we can stop it," she replied thickly, "the destruction of his soul."
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