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
Ashley Peldon as Young Miss Parker
Ryan Merriman as Young Jarod
Caitlin Wachs as Young Faith
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 elevator doors opened, and Willie stepped out, walking purposefully down the corridor toward Suite 1217. The woman known as Looking Glass was currently the only occupant of this sub-level, and he had his orders.
When Mr. Raines had taken Willie into his confidence about this matter, he had given him one directive: if security surrounding her continued existence were ever compromised, Looking Glass was expendable. Jarod and Miss Parker, in particular, could never be allowed to find her. In that light, Miss Parker's continued prying into the events surrounding Project Eclipse qualified as cause for serious concern.
Willie had nearly reached the door in question when he heard a low moan from somewhere nearby, and stopped long enough to investigate. Around the corner he found Henry, the sweeper assigned to periodically make rounds, struggling to rise from the floor over by the ventilation shaft. The grate hung off the opening, slightly crooked, indicating that someone had removed it and then put it back in a hurry.
This was definitely not a good development. He turned and headed for the door, punched in the code, and went inside. A quick but thorough check of the suite yielded nothing. Just as he'd suspected, the woman was gone.
He went back to Henry, who had managed to stand, albeit swaying like a drunken man. "What happened here?" he snapped.
Henry gingerly cradled his right hand in his left as he spoke. "I saw an unauthorized person trying to climb into the air duct. When I ordered her to stop, she just… stared at me, and all of a sudden my hand was on fire. At least, that's how it felt." He grimaced, and shifted position slightly. "I don't know how she did it, but I must have passed out from the pain. Damn thing still hurts, too."
"Describe this woman."
He thought for a moment. "Mid-to-late thirties, blonde, blue eyes, Centre issue clothing."
Faith, without a doubt. But how had she gotten out, and why had she chosen now to make her escape? Those questions would need to be addressed, but by someone with a higher authority.
Guiding a staggering Henry back toward the elevator, he called for a car and punched the button which would take them to Mr. Parker's office in the Tower. There was no need to tell the Chairman what he had been about to do. For now, the fact that he had discovered an escape would be enough. No doubt it would help him score points with the man in charge.
And of course, if it didn't, there was always Henry to take the fall.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker couldn't help but be curious about her old friend. She sat behind the wheel, glancing away from the road at odd moments to watch the woman sitting across the front seat. No doubt Sydney, sitting in the back, was doing so as well. Both were interested in the same thing: the woman's reaction, or lack of it, to stimuli.
Somehow, Parker would have expected someone who hadn't seen the light of day in almost thirty years to be enraptured with the outside world, excited, perhaps overcome by it all. She had no doubt, although she hadn't been there, that Jarod's reaction to freedom had been like that. But Faith seemed not to notice the landscape around her, or feel the brisk wind on her face when Parker rolled down her window an inch or two. Instead, she appeared to withdraw even further into her own world.
"Are you sure about where we're going?" Parker asked.
"Yes, a town called Corry. It's on Route 6 in the northwestern part of the state."
"How exactly did you figure out where Jarod is?" Sydney's voice carried from the rear.
"A little friend told me." Her face softened momentarily, and her lips curved into the first genuine smile Parker had seen. It troubled her that the sweet, friendly girl she had known, however briefly, had become the serious, intensely focused woman she saw now.
But then, the same could probably be said of Parker herself. Had been, actually, by Jarod. He would no doubt blame it on the Centre -- and it was the Centre who had made Faith whatever she was.
Maybe Jarod was right. Maybe The Saddest Little Valentine has some merit, after all. Aside, of course, from that humiliating cover that I'll never forgive him for painting.
"Faith," she murmured, "what happened to you? Why did the Centre feel they had to keep you a secret?"
For a moment, it seemed as though Faith hadn't heard, or wasn't interested. Then her smile vanished, and she turned her face away, staring blindly out the window. Quietly, she began to speak.
"Because of what I am -- what I became. I've always… known things about people. My mother used to call it 'the gift.' After she died, I thought I'd grow up in an orphanage…until they sent me to a place called NuGenesis for tests."
Both of the car's other occupants reacted to the name, but she continued before they could say anything.
"That's when I started feeling sick. The Centre pumped me so full of drugs that I really believed I was dying, that they were doing me a favor by taking care of me. I didn't understand what they wanted from me until it was too late."
"What did they want?"
Faith's expression hardened. "To make me into a weapon, Sydney. One they could point in any direction they chose."
"And they gave you drugs to enhance your abilities?"
Her tone was sarcastic. "Oh, yes. It was their favorite game: 'Let's See What This One Does.'"
With a muttered expletive, Parker gripped the steering wheel tightly. She'd quit smoking a couple of years ago, but right about now she needed a cigarette. "You were nine years old. What did they expect?"
Faith turned her head so she could watch Miss Parker's profile. "How old were you when your mother was killed?" she countered. "How old was Jarod when they took him? How old was Timmy when he became Angelo? All these people care about is gaining power, any way they can."
"Those are Jarod's sentiments," Sydney murmured. "You obviously think along the same lines."
"Jarod understands much of what was done to him… but the pieces haven't come together for him yet. He's searching for answers to who he is." She closed her eyes, steeling her resolve. "It's long past time he found them."
* * * * * * * * * *
By the time Lyle arrived in response to his father's summons, Henry was already halfway through a second recitation of the day's events. The unfortunate sweeper had been seated facing the Chairman, with Willie standing directly behind him. To Lyle, it looked like the perfect setup for an inquisition; he just hoped it wouldn't end up being his.
This morning, Faith had sarcastically mentioned the loss of a number of Blue File subjects. She knew damn well she was a Blue File herself, and that her escape could easily be enough to get him in deep trouble. That was probably all the motivation she had needed.
"…and then she just stared at me with those piercing eyes," Henry was saying, "and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. My hand felt like someone took a hot iron to it."
Mr. Parker nodded his head to acknowledge Lyle's arrival before continuing his questioning. "And when you woke up, she was gone?"
"Oh, yes, sir. I don't think I was out for very long, but I can't be sure." The sweeper shook his head. "I still don't know how she did it. I mean, she didn't touch me or anything -- just looked at me with those eyes."
Lyle decided he'd better appoint himself chief inquisitor, and quickly. He came up to stand beside his father. "Did something happen to your hand earlier today?"
Henry looked surprised. Obviously, the connection hadn't occurred to him. "Actually, Mr. Lyle, I sprained my wrist. But it wasn't bad. I don't understand how that could--"
"She 'Mirrored' you," Lyle interrupted. "It's what she does best. It's what we taught her to do."
"What I'd like to know is how she got out of her suite," Mr. Parker added. "Someone had to have unlocked the door from the outside, and I want that person identified."
Willie gripped the back of Henry's chair and straightened his spine, making himself look even taller, if possible. "Shortly before this happened, sir, Miss Parker was on SL-12."
The Chairman narrowed his eyes. "Are you accusing my daughter of allowing valuable Centre property to escape?"
"All I know is what I saw, sir." Willie's expression was serious, but a tiny hint of smugness played around his lips. "While waiting for the elevator earlier today, I noticed that the car had previously stopped on Sub-Level 12. When the doors opened, Miss Parker was the only passenger."
Lyle was more than happy to jump on the bandwagon, especially if it pointed the finger at someone else. "Come to think of it, I haven't seen dear old Sis in quite a while. Maybe I should find out what she's up to."
Mr. Parker's face resembled a thundercloud, but he inclined his head in Lyle's direction. "Do that. Meanwhile," he addressed the others, "I want a small but efficient group of sweepers to comb through this building, including the ventilation system, and the surrounding Blue Cove area. Next to Jarod, Looking Glass is our most valuable resource. Any clue that leads to her recapture will be rewarded. Failure to find her will be punished. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir." Willie helped Henry out of the chair, and both men disappeared through the glass doors, Henry turning back to give his boss a last, nervous look.
Mr. Parker turned to focus on Lyle. "I'll expect you to implement some of the measures we agreed on earlier today. Find Faith before she becomes another Blue File statistic." He let out a small, humorless laugh. "At least you won't be able to blame this one on Jarod."
"Oh, Jarod's involved in this somehow," Lyle insisted as he turned to leave. "That, I guarantee you."
* * * * * * * * *
In his room, Jarod lay curled on his side on the bed, somewhere between waking and sleeping. The time of day didn't really matter anymore. If he slept, the nightmares were terrible; if he stayed awake, the memories came at him with a force that literally paralyzed him.
There was nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to call. Something was breaking inside of him, and he was a witness to its slow but inevitable destruction.
It was in this state that he saw her -- the figure who began to materialize at the foot of the bed. She was young, and blonde, and beautiful. She had brilliant blue eyes, and a long, pristine white dress that covered her legs as she tucked them under herself and sat, the better to make eye contact.
Somewhere deep inside, he still recognized her. She was dead, of course, but in his vision she appeared strong and vibrant, just as she had up on the mountain after his plane crashed. That, he suddenly realized, had been two years ago.
"Jarod," the vision said, "don't give up. You have to hang on."
He looked at her through a haze, unsure of whether his mind was playing tricks on him. "Faith? Are you here?"
The girl nodded, and the look in her eyes was infinitely sad. "You see me this way because it's the way you remember me. But my thoughts are here, now. I've been watching over you, just like I promised."
"Take me with you," he whispered. "Please, I'm so tired."
The girl leaned closer, putting her head down on a level with his. "Listen to me, Jarod," her high, soft voice pleaded. "I'm coming to find you. Just hang on a little longer." His eyes started to close, and she became more forceful. "Promise me you won't give up. Promise me."
It's too late, he wanted to say, even for a guardian angel. But something about her was compelling; even in his weakened state, he recognized the intensity of her spirit. "I promise," he answered slowly.
That seemed to satisfy her, and she gave him a tiny smile. "I'll be there soon," she told him, as her image began to fade away. Slowly, she became more and more transparent, until she was finally gone.
Jarod's eyes started to close again, but this time he forced them back open. The memories he continued to endure were agonizing, but he had made a promise; for now, at least, he would do his best to keep it.
* * * * * * * * *
"Jarod's strength is beginning to fade." Faith opened her eyes, which still held a faraway look in them. Miss Parker had thought she might be asleep, but evidently she had been using whatever power she possessed to make contact with the wayward Pretender. "We need to reach him soon," she added.
Parker already knew better than to ask how Faith figured these things out. If she said Jarod was losing it, then he probably was. But a problem still remained, and apparently it was up to her to mention it. "There's one thing we haven't discussed," she reminded the others. "What exactly are we planning to do for Jarod when we get there?" She looked over her shoulder at Sydney. "How about it, Dr. Freud?"
For his part, Sydney was studying her sister. "I have the distinct feeling that Faith knows exactly what needs to be done."
He was probably right, but Parker wasn't sure how she felt about that. A part of her wanted to believe that she knew Jarod better than anyone, except perhaps Sydney. Another part wondered if perhaps the fact that he allowed anyone to get that close was a good sign in and of itself. There was a time when she had believed him incapable of such things.
"I knew this day would come," Faith was saying. "I've been expecting it for a long time."
Parker frowned. "What I don't understand is why these memories are so painful. I've come up with some pretty nasty things myself, but they've never… 'attacked' is the word I think he used. They've never attacked me like that."
"These memories are especially difficult because Jarod has a mental block against Eclipse," she answered.
"What exactly does that mean?"
"Think of it as a wall in his mind, holding all the memories and the pain in a place he can't access. The wall is cracked now, and the memories are spilling out."
Parker considered for a moment. "And you need to reinforce that wall?"
"No, Miss Parker, it's too late for that. Jarod's own mind is fighting itself now. I have to tear the wall down, piece by piece, before it disintegrates on its own."
Sydney was silent for several moments. "Faith," he asked gently, "how do you know so much about this mental block?"
Again, she turned her head away to stare out the window. "I think you know the answer, Sydney." Her voice was soft, and tinged with what sounded like regret. "I put it there."
Broots knew he should go home. It was past quitting time -- when he was actually in the office, anyway -- and Debbie would be looking for him. Still, he couldn't help wondering where Miss Parker and Sydney had gone, and what exactly they had been looking for. He thought perhaps if he stayed, a phone call or other piece of information might come to him.
He realized he'd waited too long when Lyle came marching into his office, a sweeper at each flank. For a split second his brain went into panic mode, wondering what in the world he'd done to merit such a show of force. Then, he remembered what Miss Parker had said. They were probably here to check up on her.
Well, Miss P, I hope the alibi you gave me holds up. If it doesn't, these guys are gonna have my ass in a sling. "G-good evening, Mr. Lyle, " he said, trying to project an air of total innocence. "Can I help you with something?"
Lyle smiled at him, in that soulless way he had. His tone was deceptively friendly. "Mr. Broots, I'm looking for my sister. I wonder if you can tell me where she is right now?"
Showtime, Broots. Make it good. "She and Sydney are following a lead on Jarod. They left several hours ago."
Lyle turned to one of the sweepers, who shook his head slowly. Then he turned back to Broots, and his expression hardened slightly. "The corporate jet hasn't left the airstrip since this morning. Try again."
"Th-they took a car," Broots protested. When Lyle's expression was skeptical, he added, "I called for it myself. Go ahead, check, if you don't believe me."
With a snap of his fingers, Lyle had the other sweeper on the phone, doing just that. When the man nodded a confirmation, he leaned forward, putting his hands on the desk and looking the frightened tech in the eyes. "Did she tell you where she was going?"
He inched his face closer. "And you don't find that the slightest bit -- unusual?"
Broots gulped. The man was obviously trying to intimidate him. And it's working. His mind raced through several answers before settling on one. "I, uh, think she left her cell phone on. You could call and ask her yourself, if you want."
To his surprise, Lyle chose not to do that. Instead, he asked another question. "And you're positive about the time she left the Centre?"
"Oh, yes sir, positively positive. Sydney, too," he added for good measure.
Lyle compressed his lips into a thin line, and straightened. "Well, if you hear from her, you will remember to let me know, won't you?"
Broots nodded his head. "Absolutely, Mr. Lyle. You'll be the first person I talk to." He paused for a moment. "That is, um, after I talk to Miss Parker first, then you'll be next."
As he slowly trailed off, Lyle gave him a look that would freeze lava, then turned on his heel and left. The sweepers fell into line behind him, closing the office door with a loud bang.
When he was sure they were gone, Broots let out a long sigh of relief. Lyle was scary enough, but the sweepers made it worse. Something major was up, and he had a feeling that if they caught him -- or Miss Parker and Sydney -- in a lie, it would be curtains for all three of them.
The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he really didn't want to know what was going on. Better to remain ignorant and innocent than be in the know and in the soup. With that, Broots shut down his computer and gathered up the few unclassified documents floating around on his desk.
It really was time to go home now.
* * * * * * * * *
Ms. Penfield stood toe-to-toe with the dark-haired visitor who stood in the doorway. "I'm sorry, but it's getting rather late. I'll have to ask you to come back tomorrow."
Her assertiveness didn't faze him. He had dealt with her type before. "My name is Cox. If you check your records, I believe you'll find that I'm on Mr. Parker's list of approved visitors."
She crossed her arms in front of her. "I know who you are, Dr. Cox. But approved or not, it's Gabriel's bedtime, and I'm not allowed to disrupt his schedule."
Cox remained calm, stating his case quietly. "I'm quite sure Mr. Parker wouldn't object, since it was his request that I look in on the child when I had a moment. However, if you'd care to pick up the phone and ask him…?"
Ms. Penfield paled slightly. "I'm sure that won't be necessary."
She knows what will happen if she disturbs him with a non-emergency. Cox smiled. "I thought not. I have a special test to administer, but it won't take long. If you would be so good as to give us a few moments of privacy, I'll finish up as quickly as I can."
He watched the defiant look in her eyes melt. Silently, she gave in to his request and withdrew from the room.
Cox went directly to Gabriel's crib, where the little boy sat watching him. He was already clad in a pair of blue pajamas, complete with feet. However, his eyes showed a level of alertness that was inconsistent with sleep.
The child was interested in him; that was good. Of course, little Gabriel would have no understanding of Cox's true intentions. He had made quite sure of that fact before beginning any experiments. All of the Yellow Files children saw him as a blank slate, and therefore took him at face value. He appeared to be nothing more than an ordinary man, which was just the way he wanted it.
"Hello, Gabriel," he said, lifting the boy out of his crib with surprising care and placing him on the carpeted floor. "My name is Dr. Cox."
"Where Enny?" Gabriel asked.
"Ms. Penfield is in the other room." He reached into the envelope he had brought with him, and pulled out a small group of photographs. "I have a little game for you. Would you like to play?"
Gabriel's brow furrowed. He cocked his head, and scrutinized his new friend. After a moment, he agreed. "P'ay game."
Cox drew out the first picture. "Whom do you see?" He held up a photo of Gabriel, taken as he played with his blocks.
The child clapped his hands with delight. "Gabwio," he said, pointing at the picture and then at himself.
"Very good. And this one?" Cox held up a picture of Miss Parker.
"Mine." His lower lip quivered slightly as he reached out to touch the shiny surface of the photograph. "Mine," he repeated.
"That's what you call your sister, isn't it? Excellent. And this one?" Cox held up a picture of Mr. Parker.
Gabriel's reaction was immediate. He made a face and swatted the picture away. "Bad. Bad man."
Cox was amused, although he tried not to show it. How interesting that the child saw right through Mr. Parker's pleasant, harmless exterior to the ruthless businessman underneath -- something Miss Parker had never quite managed. "I suppose he is, at that," Cox agreed. The next picture featured Mr. Lyle. "How about this one?"
Gabriel's baby face was blank. He truly didn't seem to recognize the man, although Cox had heard stories about his "Lielee bad" comment. It would seem that particular knowledge had come to him in other ways.
"Well, apparently you've never met Mr. Lyle face to face. Between you and I, it's no great loss." Cox pulled out the last photograph and held it up. "I think you'll know this one, though."
Gabriel hesitated. Recognition flared in his eyes, but also wariness. Someone had warned him against talking about this particular subject.
Cox did his best to be reassuring. "It's all right, you can tell me." Taking an educated guess about the source of the problem, he added, "Your sister won't be angry, I promise. Now, who is this?"
Gabriel looked up at the man sitting in front of him, eyes large and round, for another long moment before finally speaking. "Dawid."
Cox smiled broadly, for Gabriel's benefit. "Very, very good. You see, I knew you could do it." He swept the child into his arms and placed him back in his crib. "You passed your test with flying colors," he informed him, "just as I told Mr. Parker you would."
Opening the door into the next room, he brought the nurse back in before taking his leave. "Good night, Gabriel. Sleep well. I'm sure we'll meet again very soon."
The results of his simple test were most interesting. The boy hadn't recognized Lyle, who at one point had been as close as Ms. Penfield in the next room. And yet, he knew Jarod, a complete stranger who was undoubtedly thousands of miles away. The conclusion was unmistakable. Jarod was part of the child's inner life, in a way that Lyle was not.
Gabriel's development was right on schedule, just as he had predicted. Mr. Parker had used the boy's abilities to reach the highest levels of power, and Cox intended to do the same. His transitory failures -- the brush with Gemini, Jarod's vendetta -- paled in comparison to this accomplishment. As he left the Nursery and headed for the elevator, for the first time in his life he actually felt like whistling.
What he had told Lyle was true. It really was all about follow-up.
* * * * * * * * *
The bell over the door jingled as Miss Parker and Sydney entered the office. The manager looked up from whatever he was reading, and smiled. "'Morning, folks. What can I do for you?"
"We're looking for someone," Miss Parker told him. Despite the cool winter air, she felt like a wet dishrag after driving all night. Desperately, she hoped that Faith was right, and this was the place. "His name is Jarod. This is his picture." She held out a photograph of the Pretender, the same one Gabriel had identified on her desk several months ago.
"Why, sure, I know Jarod," the man replied. "He's been a big help to me -- don't know what I would have done without him."
"Is he still here?" Sydney asked.
Mr. Fairweather leaned forward over the desk. "You friends of his?"
Miss Parker nodded. "Yes, that's right, friends. We're concerned about his health, and we're here to help him."
Fairweather nodded, and sat back. "He has been looking peaked lately, and that's a fact. I couldn't convince him to see the doctor, but maybe you can change his mind."
"I'm a doctor myself," Sydney explained. "I'll be able to look after him."
The man scrutinized both of them for a moment, and seemed satisfied. "Jarod's still here. Unit 12, down on the end to the left."
"Thank you." Parker gave him the best smile she could manage, and went back outside, Sydney in tow. "Now, which way are we headed?" she murmured, turning around to get her bearings.
"It seems that Faith has already found it," Sydney informed her.
While they were in the office, Faith had gone to stand on the sidewalk outside a unit on the far end. She stayed there as they approached, her eyes roaming over the door, with its transom window at the top. Apparently, Parker decided, that was what passed for air circulation in these types of places.
"I think it would be best if we went in first," Sydney suggested. "Give Jarod a moment to adjust. We don't know how he'll react when he sees Faith."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod had begun to drift off, but woke with a start and sat up on the bed when he heard the door open. Apparently, he'd forgotten to lock it. Assuming the visitor was Mr. Fairweather, he prepared to lie once again, say he was just catching up on some sleep. But instead of the portly manager, two figures came into the room. As they moved closer, he recognized Sydney and Miss Parker.
Alarm bells began to go off in Jarod's head. His eyes frantically searched for a way out, but it was impossible; his reaction time was much too slow at this point. He probably wouldn't even make it as far as his car, or behind the trees around back, especially if sweepers were waiting for him outside.
Escape was impossible. Instead, with a crab-like movement he scrambled for the headboard and put his back up against it, breathing rapidly.
Sydney held out a hand to stop him, and spoke gently. "Jarod, it's all right. We haven't come here to capture you. We want to help."
"How--how did you find me?" he asked in a small voice.
"We had a little help," Miss Parker told him.
She and Sydney parted, and from behind them another woman walked into the room and approached the bed. Sunlight streaming through the open door mixed with her blonde hair to create a halo effect, giving her an almost angelic appearance.
Jarod stared at her, his eyes wide. Recognition was instantaneous. "Faith," he whispered.
"I promised you I would come," she said as she sat down next to him. With her left hand, she reached out to touch the side of his face, as she had done with Angelo. "I know about the memories, Jarod. I understand, better than anyone, what you're going through. I'm here to help you."
His expression changed, and he looked at her with an almost pathetic eagerness. "Please, take them away. I don't want to know what happened back then." He glanced over to include Sydney in his plea. "I want to forget that Eclipse ever existed."
Faith gently steered his gaze back to her. "I know you're afraid," she acknowledged, "but you can't push this away anymore. The time has come for you to remember -- and understand -- everything."
They all settled into their respective positions, with Jarod on the bed, and Faith beside him. Sydney had pulled up one of the chairs so he could sit directly opposite his protégé. Off to the side, Miss Parker had taken the other chair. Her participation would be limited, but when given the opportunity to leave, she had declined. They'd come this far, and she wasn't about to let Jarod out of her sight until they got the whole story.
"Are you positive this is the right thing to do?" Jarod asked. He sounded so unsure of himself -- so unlike the confident, in-control man they all knew -- that Sydney felt a sudden urge to take the younger man into his arms, comfort him, as he had sometimes done for the child Jarod had once been.
In fact, he had doubted the wisdom of this himself, at first. If Jarod were unable to deal with the memories, there would be no going back. After some discussion, it was Faith who had convinced him. Faith, who apparently had a better understanding of Jarod than either he or Miss Parker would have guessed.
"Yes, it's the right thing," he said finally. "You need to understand what happened, view it with some perspective, instead of in pieces."
"I suppose I'm ready, then," Jarod answered.
"Very well. Let's begin." He watched as first Jarod, and then Faith closed their eyes, concentrating. After a moment, he asked his first question. "Jarod, do you remember what made this simulation different from the others you had participated in?"
"I was afraid," Jarod replied after a moment's pause.
"What were you afraid of?"
"Not coming back. Forgetting who I was. I'd never thought about that during a simulation before, but this was scary."
"Why do I need an injection, Dr. Raines?"
The older man scowled at Jarod. "Because I say you do." He took the cap off the needle, and plunged it into Jarod's arm, making him wince. "It's designed to take you deeper into the simulation, and give us a better result."
He had sim'd a serial killer once before, and knew what was required. "But, if I go deeper into his mind, doesn't that mean--"
"Enough!" Raines bellowed. "Concentrate on the simulation. Concentrate on Kodiak Brown."
Jarod didn't like Kodiak Brown. He was an evil man, one who tortured and killed women for no other reason than because he enjoyed it. But his case had been solved, and he'd been in prison for over a year. No good could possibly come from rehashing this man's deeds now.
He had wanted to tell Sydney, but his mentor wasn't in charge this time; Dr. Raines was. Jarod didn't like Raines, either.
The drug was starting to take effect. He began to feel dizzy, detached, as if he were leaving his body. But instead of floating up near the ceiling, he was drawn down into a whirlpool, somewhere inside himself. Whatever Raines had put in that shot was trapping him inside his own skull, and as he watched in horror, someone else stood up to take his place. The part of him that knew Kodiak Brown -- had studied him, had read his case files over and over -- took control.
He was still Jarod and yet, he wasn't Jarod. There was no way back, and no way out.
"It felt like I was drowning," Jarod whispered. "Drowning in a deep, black sea somewhere inside my head, being tossed around by the currents."
Beside him, he felt Faith gently squeeze his hand. She understood.
"Do you know what happened while the Kodiak Brown personality was in control?" Sydney asked.
As they were released, the memories began to flow toward him. "Yes. I remember the sim lab, the windowed room where they put us. And I remember Natalie."
He smiled as he approached, deliberately allowing it to reach his eyes, warm them. "Hi, Natalie. My name is Jarod."
She smiled back, completely unaware of what was about to happen to her. "It's nice to meet you, Jarod."
* * *
The point of the knife danced over her face, her neck, her bare chest and all the while, Jarod described the violence he intended to do to her. In seductive tones, he whispered his plans for her eyes, her arms and legs, her breasts, her heart
* * *
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, in the darkness outside the windowed room where they had given her to him.
* * *
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!"
Jarod rose from the floor, blade in hand, and stalked toward her, reminded of his purpose. "That's just what they want to see," he growled. "Let's give 'em a good show, shall we?"
"No! I can't take this any more!" Jarod's eyes flew open, and he stood, withdrawing from Faith's grasp.
"Jarod, please. I know how difficult this is, but we can't stop now."
Jarod looked at Sydney incredulously. "Don't you understand what I've done? I hurt someone, a young woman who trusted me, and I took pleasure in it!" His body fairly shook with emotion. "It makes me no better than those who hurt me -- no better than Raines, or Lyle. How am I supposed to live with that?" he demanded hoarsely. "How?"
"By understanding that it's not who you are," Sydney insisted. "It was a misuse of your Pretender abilities, Jarod. They misused you. What happened during that simulation is not your fault, because you were not in control."
Eyes glinting dangerously for a moment before clouding, Jarod shook his head. "I was never in control for a single moment during my time at the Centre. But it doesn't matter. I learned that I have it in me to derive pleasure from someone else's pain. That knowledge will never go away." At his sides, his hands balled into fists in a display of impotent rage and despair.
"But it's not the end of the lesson," Faith reminded him softly from where she sat. "There is more you need to know, before you judge yourself so harshly."
The room fell into a hushed silence, save for the rhythmic breathing of its occupants. Jarod stood, unmoving, attempting to allow the memories to process; the others simply waited, unable to do more.
The passage of time seemed to slow the longer they waited. Finally, Jarod’s head lifted, and he faced Faith once again. "Help me," he whispered, his voice raw.
She reached out a hand, silently imploring him to take it. When his fingers touched hers, she guided him back to a seated position. She gripped him tightly as he looked from her to Sydney and back again, his expression lost, pained.
There was more to remember, and he didn't want any of it.
Taking hold of the girl, he wrapped his arm across her shoulders, body pressed against hers. He trailed the knife along the column of her throat, scraping the full length of the blade over her flesh, tracing the tip against her rapidly beating pulse. Her whimpers and cries of terror excited him further, as the struggle in her body ceased to near-nothingness, in order to avoid the knife accidentally pricking her skin.
Shifting his hold on her, his hand moved from her shoulder to curl around her throat. "Are you ready?" he whispered, inhaling her scent, drawing the essence deep into his lungs. At the slight shake of her head, and the tormented, whispered no," he laughed, lowering the knife.
Her body relaxed slightly as it moved away from her neck, only to tense once more as the blade suddenly pierced the flesh at her side, drawing itself in toward her stomach as her breath escaped in a painful scream.
From the other side of the windows, he heard sounds of a scuffle, and a voice shouted "Stop this, Raines! End it now, or I will!"
Moments later, two black-suited men burst into the room, hauling him off the girl and pinning his arms behind him, forcing him to drop the knife. She lay on the ground where he left her, crying and moaning softly. Jarod kicked and punched, putting up the best fight he could; they had promised Natalie to him, and he wanted, needed, to finish the job.
Then a third man entered the room, pulling a syringe out of his pocket. Jarod fought harder than ever, yelling obscenities, until he felt the needle go into his arm. A warm numbness began spreading through him, and he slowly dropped to the floor as the world went black.
"I didn't kill her, did I? Please, tell me I didn't kill her."
Sydney shook his head. "You didn't. She was left with physical and psychological scars, but as far as I know, she did survive."
Jarod was silent, and for a moment it seemed as though they had gone as far as they could. Faith knew better. "Retrieval, Jarod," she told him. "You need to remember what happened after they brought you to me -- when I searched for, and found, the real you."
He was drowning, the black water sucking him down into its depths. No matter how he struggled against the tide, it continued to overpower him. He was weakening, losing the fight, and he knew if that happened, nothing would ever be the same. The part of him that still knew how to laugh and love, the part that cared about others, was dying.
"Jarod!" called a high, soft voice. "I'm here! Let me help you!"
Hope surged up inside him, buoyed him to the surface, and he reached for the slender hand held out to him in friendship. New strength filled him, and he struggled into the tiny boat that he instinctively knew represented a return to consciousness. He looked up into that young face, so fair and so familiar.
Faith! She was alive! As he struggled to understand, his attention shifted for a fraction of a second. In that instant, the black water sucked at him, loosening his grip on the boat, and began to carry him back down again.
"No!" he cried. "Help me, Faith!"
She grabbed his arm and pulled him back with tremendous strength, more than her slender body had any right to possess. "Come on, Jarod!" she shouted at him. "Fight it! You have to want to survive."
He did, more than anything. With his last ounce of strength, he grabbed for her with his other arm and gave a last mighty heave. The waters released him, and his body crashed into the bottom of the boat. One foot dangled into the ocean while he caught his breath, and Faith rowed them both to shore. At last, the boat skidded onto the white sand beach. Faith stepped out over the prow, and Jarod followed her.
Something squished when he walked, and he glanced down at his feet. One of them was stained black, and as he watched, the substance absorbed quickly into his skin. He could feel it inside him, moving with his blood into his heart, his mind, his soul. It was part of him now, something he would never lose. He turned to look back at the hungry ocean, roaring angrily for its missed meal, before the scenario dissolved completely.
Slowly, Jarod's face took on a haunted look as he finally realized what Faith had known all along. "I didn't come back alone, did I?"
She looked at him sadly, and her voice was hushed. "No."
"I brought -- him -- with me."
"A small piece of him, yes; there was no other way. The others didn't make it back at all. You were my -- our -- last hope." She squeezed his hand, willing him to understand. "Your dark side, Jarod. This is where it came from."
"The part of me that likes to punish." His eyes closed, only to be forced open again at imagery he still wasn’t ready to face. "So, I'm still hurting people. I'm just doing it under a different guise, in the name of justice."
"None of this is your fault," she emphasized. "As long as you blocked the memories of Eclipse, you couldn't acknowledge that part of yourself. You didn't know what you were doing, or why. Now, finally, you have a chance to understand."
Into the silence that followed, Sydney said, "I think, perhaps, we're finished now."
"Not quite," Faith murmured softly. She looked over at Miss Parker. "There is one secret left, and we all need to hear it."
Sydney seemed to understand what she meant. "When you talked about the 'damage that's been done,' you didn't mean just to Jarod, did you? You were referring to Miss Parker as well." He turned to her. "Something has been bothering you since before we left the Centre. It's connected to all this, isn't it?"
She closed her eyes, trying to hold back the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. "Yes. When I saw the DSA that Faith gave me, I remembered that I'd seen it before. It was a long time ago, in my father's office. I was fifteen."
"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.
The scene, which unfolded before her, was terrible to see. Jarod straddled a dark-haired young woman, his free hand pinning her shoulder to the floor. He traced random patterns with the tip of his knife into her skin, not deep enough to cut, but to allow her to feel the weapon as it moved against her. 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. Parker turned away, sickened.
"I'm sorry, angel," her father repeated, "but you needed to see this. It's important for you to understand that Jarod is not the sort of person you seem to think he is."
Tears began to form in her eyes as she considered how terrified that poor girl must have been. "But why, Daddy? Why would he do something like that?"
Mr. Parker sighed. "Jarod is what we call a sociopath. He can be gentle one moment, and, without warning, become violent. He's a very sick young man. That's why we keep him here at the Centre."
Miss Parker sniffled, doing her best not to cry. "Then Sydney is his doctor? That's why they spend so much time together?"
"Yes, that's right, Sydney is his doctor." Mr. Parker put his hands on his daughter's shoulders. "You've been lucky so far, but I don't want to take any more chances with your safety. It's important that you cut all ties with Jarod right away. Do you understand?"
Never see Jarod again? Never talk to the one person who truly understood her? "But Jarod's my friend. I can't abandon him."
"Sweetheart, Jarod can't be friends with anyone in his state. He doesn't know the meaning of the word. Now, I want you to promise that you won't see him anymore. Promise me."
She had to believe in her father. He was all the family she had left in the world. "I promise," she whispered.
He beamed at her. "That's my girl. Now, since you're here, how about going down to the cafeteria and having lunch with your old man?"
"And you believed everything he told you," Sydney stated flatly.
Instantly, she became defensive. "He showed me the DSA, Sydney. I had to believe what was in front of my eyes. I didn't know about Eclipse." She stopped, and her voice twisted slightly. "I didn't know."
He nodded, understanding. "That's why, when we first started working together, you called him a sociopath, a monster. You truly believed he was. But your inner sense knew it was a lie. And the stronger it became, the less you believed."
Miss Parker looked over at Jarod. "I'm not sure, but I think maybe a part of me has been waiting all this time, expecting you to turn on me the way you did on that girl. It never happened."
"You were my friend," he told her simply. "You trusted me with your first name. I could never hurt you, Miss Parker. Never."
Squaring her jaw, Parker nodded once in reaction, unwilling to allow her emotions free reign with so many people watching. Her eyes were her only betrayal, as she watched the nearly broken man in front of her. Standing, she took a step toward the bed, her hand extending just a fraction, as if to reach out to him. Then the thoughts in her head began to swirl, making her dizzy, and instead of continuing her advance toward the person who had, at one time, been her best friend, she turned and slipped out the door into the gathering darkness.
Jarod’s eyes followed her as she left, and he blinked as the door shut behind her. Shoulders slumped, he turned away from the door, from the others in the room, and picked a pillow up from the head of the bed.
"You should rest," Sydney agreed. "We'll be here; if anything happens, we'll wake you."
Wrapping himself around the pillow, Jarod lay back, his head finding the other. His eyes remained fixated on a corner of the room for only a few moments before exhaustion forced them closed.
"He loves you, you know," Faith said quietly. "If you ever doubted it?"
"I don’t," Sydney replied. He looked into her eyes, and smiled sadly. "Not anymore, I don’t," he amended before she had the chance to correct him. Her knowledge beyond herself unnerved him a bit, and he took a moment to watch Jarod, rather than continue to meet her gaze.
Faith stepped away from the bed, to look out the back window. "I’m sorry that I can’t be of more comfort," she told Sydney in a slow, soft voice. "It isn't exactly something I was taught to do."
There's still compassion in your soul, Faith. I see it whenever you look at him. "You were there when he needed you. That's the most important thing one friend can do for another." Exhaling a slow breath, he looked over at her. Ensuring the shrink's hat was firmly in place, he continued to speak. "I know you must feel as though you failed Jarod somehow --"
She cut him off before he could say anything else. "Sydney, don't. I've lived with this choice for twenty-five years, and one therapy session isn't going to purge it now. I'll deal with the consequences of my actions in my own way."
Sydney watched her for a moment, before turning back to the man sleeping on the bed. "He shouldn’t be left alone, not now." His voice was weary, but determined. He was exhausted himself, yet prepared to stay up all night, at Jarod’s side.
"It's all right. I'll keep watch over Jarod," she asserted. "I promised someone that I would."
"Promised who? Angelo?" he asked.
She turned to him, and there was a strange light in her eyes. "Gabriel."
* * * * * * * * *
It took all the strength she had left to keep herself on an even keel while she went back to the office and registered for a room. But once she was behind a locked door, Miss Parker stretched out on the bed and let loose the flood of emotions she had been holding onto for nearly two days.
Why had she come here? Why had she felt compelled to investigate Eclipse, to find Faith, and to risk her career, perhaps her very life, to help Jarod? Was it simple curiosity? Or was it, as Sydney had said, a signal that her growing inner sense knew what needed to be done?
Maybe this was a signal that it knew the truth about the Centre, and about her father -- a truth that, until now, she had refused to face. He had lied to her so many times, and each time she had forgiven him. After all, she was a big girl, and she knew the score.
Now, she was suddenly fifteen again, a lonely young girl with only one true friend in the entire world. Her father had taken that away, used the agony he had unleashed on another to make his point. Eventually, she had moved on found another friend, like Laura, here and there. But the memories of her time in the Centre, with Jarod, had never faded.
"Daddy," she whispered into the pillow, "how could you do that to me?"
She thought about what she had learned, about the consequences of Project Eclipse. Jarod would probably pay for them the rest of his life. The part of her mother that still lived in her heart knew it was wrong. For the first time, she let herself acknowledge that. And for the first time, Miss Parker truly allowed herself to feel the compassion she had stubbornly pushed away for so long.
"How could you do that to him?"
She took those thoughts with her down into the depths of an exhausted sleep.
She had nothing with her -- no change of clothes, no toiletries, no cosmetics other than those in her purse. For a brief moment, Parker considered simply leaving things as they were until she could make it home. Then she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror: pillow hair, smeared makeup, clothes that looked like the cat had dragged her all the way from Timbuktu. It was enough to send her into the shower, and hang the consequences. Sydney would just have to adjust to her au natural look.
Next time, maybe I could persuade Jarod to stay in one of the pricier chains, where they provide shampoo and soap, with deodorant upon request"
Shortly after she had decided she was as put-together as she was going to get, there was a knock at the door. She opened it to find Jarod standing there, Sydney and Faith behind him. Jarod looked tired, though physically none the worse for wear after his ordeal. Sydney, on the other hand, looked as though he had slept in one of the motel's very uncomfortable chairs -- which he probably had.
"May I come in?" Jarod inquired politely.
She stepped aside to let the entourage inside, closing the door behind them.
"I'm not going to play games with you," the Pretender announced. "It's going to take time for me to process everything I learned yesterday, and I don't have the strength to run very far if you intend to chase me. So, I need to know: are you planning to take me back to the Centre?"
It was unlike him to be quite so direct. Parker paused, remembering the upheaval she had just gone through. It was a given that she couldn't allow herself to be ruled by her emotions but they hadn't all been swept away by a single night's sleep, either. "Not today," she answered gently.
He smiled, showing off those dimples she knew so well. "Thank you -- for that, and for bringing Faith and Sydney to me."
"Try to leave a few things in your room, so I can give the sweepers something to cart back to the Centre," she added. "Have to cover our butts, you know."
He did a double take, and for a moment she thought he would make some kind of remark. Then he turned, and left the room.
Faith was next. They'd had so little time together, and Parker was reluctant to give her up. "I don't suppose you would consider coming home with me for a while," she said, knowing it was impossible but suggesting it anyway. "I make a mean piece of toast when I put my mind to it. And we have so much left to talk about."
"I can't," her sister replied. "The Centre will come looking for me, and I'm never going back there. The further away I am, the harder I'll be to find."
Parker put her hand on her sister's shoulder. "Will you be all right?"
"Will you?" Faith countered.
They looked at each other for a moment, and she smiled sadly. "I guess we'll both just have to do our best, won't we?" She drew Faith into a short hug, then watched her leave, following Jarod out into the sunshine.
The room suddenly became very quiet. To fill up the silence, she turned to her remaining companion. "Well, I don't know about you, Syd, but I haven't eaten in more than 24 hours. I don't suppose they have anything but one-star restaurants around here, so we'll have to take what we can get before the sweeper team arrives."
"Parker--" he began hesitantly.
"While I am as anxious as you are to get past this experience, I don't believe you have grasped the full implications of Eclipse."
Miss Parker sighed. "Is this something we have to get into right now?"
"Now is the most opportune time, yes. Jarod wasn’t the only participant in this project; that's something you need to remember."
"I know that," she replied instantly. "As I recall, I was the one who had to dig up the information in the first place."
Sydney shook his head. "Have you realized that what Jarod described may have been true for them as well?" He scrutinized her closely as he spoke. "Lyle, for example? Do you recall who his model was?"
Her eyes shut, head tilted to one side. "Someone called Lung Li."
"And what is the one thing have we learned about Lyle over the last several years?"
Suddenly, she understood the direction his thoughts were taking. "Oh, my God. He kills Asian women."
"Serial killers almost never cross racial lines, but Lyle did" because his model was Asian. Eclipse left him with an appetite for killing he may or may not have had before. It definitely made him more dangerous."
All she could do was stare at him helplessly as he concluded his statement.
"The effects of Eclipse are still with us, Miss Parker. They always will be."
* * * * * * * * *
In the white curtained room at the end of the hallway, Willie pulled up a chair and sat down beside his master. "Things have not gone as we had hoped, sir," he began. "Looking Glass escaped before I could carry out your orders. Miss Parker is suspected of helping her, but right now we have no proof. And Mr. Lyle has had no success finding her. I'm not even certain he wants her found."
Raines sat, still and silent in his wheelchair for several moments. Then he lifted his head slightly. "This is disappointing," he murmured, "but all is not lost. There is another possibility."
"What do you need me to do, sir?"
He rolled one eye to the side, and gave Willie a calculating look. "How far are you willing to go?"
Willie lifted his head proudly. "No distance is too great, Mr. Raines. I'll go wherever you direct me. I'll do whatever is necessary."
A smile appeared on Raines' face. It was the most animation he had shown in months. "Then by all means," he rumbled, "let us begin."
He proceeded to tell his right-hand man what would be required. It was a very short list.
* * * * * * * * *
She had barely made it to her desk, intending to throw a few papers in her briefcase before heading home, when she heard his voice from the doorway. "And where have you been?"
Parker closed her eyes and sighed. She never enjoyed Lyle's third degree, but this was the worst possible moment he could have chosen. "As I'm sure Broots told you, I was following a lead on Jarod."
Lyle crossed his arms in front of himself. "I suppose it would be too much to hope for that you actually caught him."
She ignored the dig. "No, we didn't bring him in. But sweepers are bringing in the remains of his last lair so we can analyze them to death. You're welcome to join that party, it promises to be a regular hootenanny." She closed her briefcase fastenings with a snap. "And what were you up to, if I might ask?"
"I was' chasing other things."
"Your tail, for instance?"
Lyle clapped. "Oh, very good," he said sarcastically. "I'm so glad to see you haven't lost your sense of humor."
"Well, you're going to lose another piece of your anatomy if you don't get out of my way. I've had a long couple of days, I'm tired, and I'm not in the mood for this." She picked up her briefcase and headed for the door, intending to breeze right by him. Instead, he held out his arm, blocking her way.
"If I ever find out you weren't where you claimed to be, doing what you said you were doing, I'll have you up before another T-board faster than you can blink," he whispered in her ear. "And this time, old wheezy won't be on the other end."
She pulled out her very best Parker disdain, and looked down her nose at him. "I don't know what you're talking about. But if I were you, I wouldn't go throwing any stones. Your glass house might get damaged."
"Just remember what I said," he warned, before removing his arm and disappearing into the corridor.
She had a brother who liked to kill, preferably but not always Asian women; who had been raised, if you could call it that, by the Centre's most ferocious watchdog; who had shot the employees of a Centre records office without a second thought; and who had the ear of the Triumvirate Chairman, the most powerful man in the organization.
Oh, yes, she'd remember. In fact, it would be impossible for her to forget.
* * * * * * * * *
"Are you sure I can't talk you into coming with me?" Jarod asked as she got out of the car, and reached into the back seat for the small travel case he had put together for her. He climbed out as well, to say goodbye before she got on the bus.
"You probably could," Faith answered, a tiny hint of amusement on her face. "But it would be best not to try. You need time, Jarod, to absorb what you've learned. And I need time to rediscover the world, find my place in it."
He knew she was right, but it was hard. "Will I see you again?"
"The bond we formed during Eclipse will never be broken. I'll be back when the time is right."
Offering her a smile, Jarod nodded in understanding. "Thank you," he murmured.
He moved closer, but she placed a hand against his chest, shaking her head. "Not this. Not now." Her fingers tapped against him, directly over his heart. "I know you see the dark part of yourself as your greatest liability, but it doesn't have to be." Looking up, into his eyes, she studied him carefully. "As a part of your personality, its strength can become your greatest asset. What you feared most may yet turn out to be your saving grace. Try to think of it that way."
Before he could respond, she removed her hand, turned and moved quickly away from him, toward the bus terminal.
He watched her until she disappeared into the building, before getting back in the car and driving quietly away.
*The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Brynna, Victoria Rivers, and Madison to this story. Thanks so much -- I couldn't have done it without you!