Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Jamie Denton as Mr. Lyle
Lenny von Dohlen as Mr. Cox
Paul Dillon as Angelo
Ashley Peldon as Young Miss Parker
Ryan Merriman as Young Jarod
Richard Marcus as Mr. Raines
Willie Gault as Willie the sweeper
Scott Reeves as Henry the sweeper
Louise Fletcher as Ms. Penfield
Ed Asner as Mr. Fairweather
Nadia Bjorlin as Natalie
Valerie Bertinelli as Looking Glass
The sim lab was shrouded in darkness. Jarod found himself standing under a single spotlight in the middle of the cavernous room. For a moment, it seemed as if he were alone. No one else could be heard or seen; no audience had appeared to judge him.
Still, he knew they were there, in the dark, watching. He could feel their presence, even if he didn't know the exact number. For thirty years, being observed had been a way of life. He still knew what that prickle on the back of his neck meant.
"Who are you?" a male voice asked from off to the left. Jarod squinted, searching the gloom for a face, a pair of feet, anything… but found nothing. Instead, the others took it up, becoming a round robin, asking the same question until it echoed around the room. "Who are you? Who are you?"
They wouldn't be satisfied with "Jarod." Instinctively, he knew that. They wanted more, but he had nothing more to give them. "I don't know," he said quietly.
The question began again, louder this time, more demanding. "Who are you? Who are you? WHO ARE YOU?"
"I don't know!" he shouted back, frustrated. Their voices rang in his head, and he had to stop himself from clapping his hands over his ears. "Who am I supposed to be? Who do you want me to be?"
For a moment, there was complete silence. Then the chorus began again, slowly. "Kodiak," they whispered. "Kodiak…"
The name made his heart beat faster. In the very core of his being he knew it was a bad name, an evil name, to be rejected at any cost. "No," he whimpered, "not that one…"
The others ignored him. He could feel them starting to move, to push closer, as if to crowd him out of the only square of light available. "Kodiak," they insisted. "Kodiak…"
He couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't think.
"Kodiak, Kodiak, KODIAK!"
Jarod was up and out of bed the moment his eyes flew open, trembling so hard his legs almost went out from under him. It had been a stupid mistake. He knew he shouldn't have gone to sleep, but he was so tired, and the pillow had beckoned him…
"No," he murmured, reaching out for the motel room wall to steady himself. "I won't go back to that place. I'll find something to take my mind away from it."
At the moment, that would probably be a shower. He ran his hand along the wall, making his way to the bathroom and what he hoped would be a cool, invigorating spray. Morning had arrived, judging by the shafts of light peeking around the drape. He had no time for demons from the past, present, or future.
The question of whether they had time for him was yet to be addressed.
* * * * * * * * *
He knew the combination to the door by heart. Lyle's fingers flew over the keypad, and within seconds came the click, which meant he could enter. Not that he wanted to. Of all the responsibilities his father had given him over the last several years, this was the one he enjoyed least.
The room he entered was no different from that of any other "special resident" the Centre housed. Bookshelves lined the entryway; the living area contained a sectional couch and dining set; against the back wall sat a desk with a state-of-the-art computer; somewhere off to the right were the bed and a door leading to the bathroom. It all seemed very modern, very civilized… until you remembered the door was locked from the outside.
The room's occupant sat calmly on the couch, watching him. He hated the way she looked at him. She had eyes that could punch through anything, like a knife cutting into tender flesh, leaving a gaping wound behind. If looks could kill... But then, he imagined her looks really could kill, if she wanted them to.
"You know how much I hate that name," he growled.
"You hate so many things," the blond woman replied tartly, "that it's difficult to keep track."
"Then don't bother." Pretending to ignore her, Lyle began wandering around the room. His eyes did a visual sweep, searching for anything out of place and desperately hoping to come up empty. Maintaining the status quo was his job, and he did it, even though he'd rather be almost anywhere else right now.
"You won't find any of your missing Blue Files under there," she commented as he checked under the desk, "if that's what you're looking for."
Lyle straightened. "And what would you know about that?" he asked, trying to make his voice casual.
She blinked slowly, deliberately, drawing his attention back to those eyes. "Gemini, Mirage, Nemesis… should I go on?"
"I think you've said enough." He completed his examination of her quarters, satisfied with the results. "You know, I've often wondered why we don't just send a sweeper down here and put an end to this charade, once and for all."
"And whose torment would he be ending -- mine, or yours?" When there was no answer, her voice became more strident. "We have unfinished business, Bobby. One day, there will be a reckoning for the choices you've made."
Mustering all the bravado he could, Lyle leaned over and met her face to face. "I'm not afraid of you."
Her gaze was steady, her face expressionless as she answered. "You should be."
They stared at each other, but Lyle was the first to fold, lowering his eyes. Without another word, he turned and left, locking the door firmly behind him.
A noise from the other side of the room made the woman rise, and head for a large metal grate set low in the wall. The air duct leading to her room was large enough, as many in the building were, to hold an adult. In her case, the grate had been firmly welded to prevent its use as an escape route. She didn't care; for her, it had another use.
She kneeled on the floor in front of the duct and Angelo appeared, as she had known he would. He put his left hand up to the grate, pressing against it, and she placed her right in the same position, palm to palm with only the metal between them. It was a form of greeting, one they had developed over the years.
"The time is approaching," she told him. "I know it will be difficult. Are you ready for what comes next?"
Angelo nodded and reached somewhere behind him, then slipped a DSA through the grate and into her hand. Smiling ever so slightly, he murmured, "Soon, no more secrets."
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker was in Broots' office within moments of his call. Normally she didn't respond to a summons from anyone, except perhaps her father, but this sounded like a breakthrough. For this, she would make an exception.
"I did what you said," he told her eagerly as the door closed. "I kept looking for anything relating to Project Eclipse, and I found this old memo. It was really hard, because it was in code like the other stuff and I didn't have a key at first, but--"
"Broots!" She smacked her hand down on the desktop, instantly getting his attention. "Do you have something for me?"
"Oh, yeah, right here. I scanned it into the computer." He motioned for her to come around the desk, and showed her his screen. "It was from Raines to your father. Take a look."
To: Mr. Parker
From: Mr. Raines
Date: July 8, 1975
Subj: Eclipse Schedule
Project Eclipse is now underway, and the subjects are currently in the preparation phase. The pairings will be as follows:
Kyle Pauley Fishman
Damon Ron Chambers
Jarod Kodiak Brown
Lyle Lung Li
In addition, I have finalized the choices for Retrieval. They will be:
Kyle, Damon Angelo
Jarod, Lyle Looking Glass
I will assume this meets with your approval unless I hear otherwise. The simulations are scheduled to begin shortly.
"My brother was part of this?" Parker leaned over the back of Broots' chair, looking at the screen. "He's never said anything… in fact, I've never heard a whisper, from him or anyone else, about it."
"Jarod either," Broots reminded her, "and he's not much for keeping secrets about the way the Centre treated him."
Parker nodded slowly. "Jarod called a few nights ago -- just to annoy me," she added quickly. "He had the same reaction Sydney and Angelo did when I brought it up."
"Something weird is going on, because nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to talk about this." The tech shrugged. "I asked some of the old-timers around here -- just sort of, you know, sneaking it into the conversation -- and if they know anything, they won't admit it."
"Subtlety isn't your strong point," she tossed back. "But if old one-eared Grimby won't talk, I guess we're at a dead end there."
He tilted his head back and looked at her. "You remembered Grimby?"
She ignored him. "What about these other names, the ones paired with Jarod and company? Anything on them?"
"Well, that's the really freaky part," Broots explained. "I looked them up, and… get this… they're all serial killers." He shuddered. "They've all been in prison since the early seventies, though. Thank God."
"That doesn't mean they couldn't still reach out and touch someone," she replied absently. Her index finger traced over the word Retrieval. "Angelo knows something, though I doubt he's up to an explanation. But Looking Glass… I've seen that before."
"Sounds like another project name."
"Yes, it does." She straightened. "Get me a hard copy of this, and forget about Eclipse for the moment. I want you to find everything -- and I mean everything -- you can about Looking Glass. One way or another, I'm going to get to the bottom of this."
"What are you going to do?"
Miss Parker frowned. "I think I'll have another little talk with The Man Who Knows Everything About Simulations."
* * * * * * * * *
The bell over the door jingled as Jarod entered the office. Aside from the required check-in counter and pegboard full of keys, there were a variety of items scattered around the room: postcards singing the praises of northwestern Pennsylvania, toiletry items, snack foods, and a refrigerated chest filled with various kinds of pop. It was there that Jarod gravitated, lifting the lid and removing a bottle of orange Crush.
The manager appeared from a back room and gave him a good-natured grin. "'Morning, Jarod."
"Good morning, Mr. Fairweather." He put the bottle down on the counter and reached in his pocket for some change.
The man chuckled. "I swear, I never saw anyone drink so much cold pop in this kind of weather. And always that Canadian stuff. Don't you like anything else?"
"I was a Mountie once," Jarod replied, managing a wry smile. "I acquired a taste for it there." He handed over the required amount, and prepared to leave.
"Er, Jarod." Jarod turned back to look at him. "No offense, but… you're looking kind of peaked. Are you okay?"
There was no use getting into it. Mr. Fairweather didn't really know anything about him, and couldn't help if he did. "I'm fine," Jarod lied. "Just a little tired. I didn't get much sleep last night." He held up the bottle of Crush. "I figured the sugar rush would help."
"Well, you know I'm grateful for what you did, and you're welcome to stay as long as you like. But if you're sick, maybe you ought to see a doctor." The manager pulled out the Corry phone book, a rather slim volume. "I can recommend someone, or even make an appointment if you want."
What I have, a doctor can't cure. At least, none of the doctors around here. "Thanks, but I'll be fine. Really." Before the man could say anything else, Jarod left, shutting the door carefully behind him.
Once outside, he thought briefly about taking a walk across the grounds in back of the motel. The snow had melted, at least temporarily, and a brisk exchange of air in his lungs would do him good.
And then, he suddenly changed his mind. Like the smell an epileptic often experiences before a seizure, he felt the tickle in the back of his mind that told him something was coming, something big. Jarod dashed down the pathway back to his own unit, and went inside.
He barely had time to shut the door when it hit him, a wave of memory so powerful it stopped him in his tracks. He doubled up, moaning as it washed over him.
The knife in his hand felt good. Its length, its weight, the sharpness of the blade -- everything had been chosen with the utmost of care. His weapon was an extension of himself, and its selection was very important. Craftsmen took pride in their work, and he was definitely a craftsman.
As they approached the sim lab, he held the knife at his side, making no attempt to hide it. There was no need. People, especially women, were extremely gullible. They would believe almost any story he told them. No one wanted to admit they had the poor judgment to let a predator get close to them.
Inside the lab, the young woman was waiting, as they said she would be. Brunette, pretty, and innocent -- just the way he liked them. Winning her over would be child's play.
He smiled as he approached, deliberately allowing it to reach his eyes, warm them. "Hi, Natalie. My name is Jarod."
"No! That's not me!" Gasping, he managed to stand upright and grab onto the bedpost for balance. A small table and chairs lay straight ahead, and he did his best to navigate, although his head felt as if it were going to explode.
"Jarod, don't! Please… no, don't… please don't hurt me…."
The bottle of pop slipped from his hand and crashed to the floor. Jarod fell into the chair and put his head down on the table, clapping his hands over his ears as if that could somehow drown out the sounds and pictures racing through his head. "Go away," he moaned. "Please, go away."
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."
* * * * * * * * *
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."
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
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."
"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."