Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Angelo -- Paul Dillon
Michael Weatherly as Shane
Gillian Anderson as Molly
Angelina Jolie as Mimi
James Marsters as 'Him'
Kelsey Mulrooney as Debbie Broots
A passing car’s headlights glinted off the water covering the road. Stepping back, deeper into the shadows, a man stared up at the house across the street.
She’d just arrived home. Obviously, she’d either ignored, or not received his message the last time. This time, he’d make sure it was received.
Watching, he stood hidden in the darkness. The smooth leather jacket hung open over the black t-shirt and jeans he wore. The black cap he’d thrown on to cover his shockingly blonde hair allowed him to blend into the night. He waited.
She was pacing the living room floor, obviously agitated. When she found his messages, she would be more-so. Part of him regretted that he had to put anyone through these paces, but it was necessary.
Her pacing stopped and as he watched, she picked up her phone, moving to sit on the couch near the window. He’d wait until she was in bed to leave the package that rested in his hand. No use in getting shot while trying to help.
Leaning back against the tree next to him, he continued to wait. Luckily, he was patient.
“Don’t you ever want to answer the phone like a normal person?”
Slipping her shoes off, Miss Parker sank onto her couch, leaning her head back against the cushions. “Nah, normal is highly overrated.” Smiling at the answering chuckle she received, she shut her eyes. “So what do I owe this honor to Jarod? It’s almost midnight here.”
“Here too. We’re sharing a coast at the moment. As for why I’m calling...” She could almost hear the wheels turning in his mind. “I missed your voice,” he informed her in a wry tone.
“For a pretender, you’re a lousy liar.”
Jarod’s laugh rang through the phone. “I don’t have to lie to pretender.” He paused for a moment, and when he spoke again, the mirth had left his voice. “How’s everything going there?”
“Same old, same old. Lots of running around on a giant gerbil wheel, never getting anywhere.”
“I know the feeling.” They fell silent a moment, the statement weighing heavy in the air. There was a rustling on Jarod’s end of the line. “I forgot how cold spring can be along the coast.”
“It’s an unusual year.”
“In more ways than one.”
Deciding that didn’t require a response, she propped her feet up on the couch cushion next to where she sat. “So, why did you really call?”
He sighed quietly. “Just wanted to check in, see what’s going on outside of the historic Virginia community I’m occupying at the moment.”
Blinking her eyes open for a moment, Miss Parker moved the phone from her ear long enough to stare at it, as if it had tried to bite her. “Uh, Jarod…” she began as she returned it to her ear. “Aren’t you giving me a bit more information than you should be?”
“Do I have reason to be concerned? I thought just maybe we were actually getting past that.”
“I guess we are,” she admitted softly, leaning her head back and shutting her eyes again. “But it is still my job…”
Jarod was silent for a long moment. “That doesn’t exactly mean you’re actually doing your job.”
Before she could answer, the call waiting beeped. “Jarod, I have another call...”
Smiling, Miss Parker clicked over. “What?”
“Miss Parker,” Broots’ hushed whisper met her ear. “You told me to call you if I found anything more about Eclipse.”
Eyes opening, she sat up. “And did you?”
“Not exactly.” He took a deep breath. “But I found something. There isn’t much, but I ran across a set of files. All tied somehow to Eclipse. All of them were empty, except for a single text file in each. All it said was ‘Nebula Series.’”
Broots was being far too straightforward; this was serious. “What the hell is that?”
“All I know so far is that it’s tied to Eclipse. And to three other projects. They were what I found files on. Aurora, Nova and Starlight.”
“I want everything you can possibly find on those.” She paused for a moment. “Like, yesterday Broots.”
Shuffling sounds came from his end of the line. “Of course Miss Parker. I’m doing what I can.”
Disconnecting her call with Broots, Miss Parker clicked back over to Jarod. “Jarod?”
“Hmm?” He sounded tired.
She bit her lip for a moment, considering how much to share. In the end, she was going to need extra minds on this one. And he not only had a right to know; he would probably be more help than anyone else, aside, perhaps, from Faith. “Nebula Series. Know anything about it?”
“Not a clue Miss Parker. Why?”
“I don’t know. But it’s related to Eclipse.”
“I’ll look into it.”
Standing, Miss Parker moved out of the living room to her bedroom. “Me too,” she said as she slipped out of her work clothes, holding the phone between her ear and shoulder while she unbuttoned her shirt. As she changed into her silk pajamas, she sat on the edge of her bed. “Jarod, it’s late…”
“Get some rest, Miss Parker,” he murmured into her ear, his fingers tapping over the keys on his keyboard. “We’ll talk again soon.
Disconnecting the call, her fingers buttoned the pajama shirt quickly. She lay back, curling her arms around the extra pillow on her bed. Instead of closing her eyes, she simply stared into the darkest corner of the room.
Smiling as the dial tone replaced Miss Parker’s voice, Jarod hung up his phone, turning his focus back to the computer. He’d spent the night researching the small bio-chem and bio-tech firm just outside the Norfolk city limits that he was interested in and she’d been right, it was late. Closing in on one in the morning and he was due to meet with the director of the firm in less than six hours.
The ‘new mail’ notification sounded as he was going to disconnect the modem. Opening his mail program, he stared at the message for a moment. Blank subject line, ‘*.*’ as a sender. Deciding that the small file size precluded a virus, he clicked to open it, staring at the words that appeared on his screen.
Leaning back in his chair, Jarod squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, before opening them, standing and heading into the kitchen to make some coffee. He wasn’t going to sleep that night.
Meeting over with, having met the director's approval before walking in the door, Jarod was escorted to his new office within the building by the director himself, who wanted to continue their conversation. "So, Jarod, you'll be sure and keep me informed as you work on these therapies? I look forward to seeing what you can come up with. Your ideas should be a welcome change from the same old monotony we've been working in around here."
Nodding, Jarod scanned the hallways. "Of course Dr. Kedis."
"Greg, please." The men smiled at each other as they rounded a corner, coming up short to avoid crashing into a petite redheaded woman walking toward them with her nose buried in a report. "Oh, Molly, good to see you. I'd like you to meet Jarod Worton. He'll be working with Shane. Jarod, this is Molly O'Brien."
Molly looked up at Jarod from behind a pair of glasses and smiled. "Pleasure to meet you," she said softly, her voice reflecting a strong Irish accent.
"You too." Jarod smiled warmly at her and extended a hand. Molly shook it and turned to move around them.
"She's very dedicated to her work," Greg informed him as they continued down the hallway. "Ah, here we are. I'm sorry you're so far from the main entrance." Opening the door, he held it open for Jarod to enter first. "There's parking and an employee entrance on this side of the building."
Walking into the office, Jarod looked around. It was actually half office, half lab and the office side was strewn with papers, as if someone had been rifling through them and had left quickly. "Thanks," he said to the man in the doorway. "I'm sure I'll be seeing you soon."
With a confirming nod, Greg left Jarod alone to acquaint himself with his new office.
Taking in the lab equipment, the computers, Jarod moved toward the desk and sat, running his hand over some of the paperwork, picking up a page here and there, skimming it, returning it to the messy pile. Finding a picture frame, which appeared to have fallen over and become buried, he lifted it, looking at the young, dark-haired woman in the photograph.
"Who are you?"
Looking up, Jarod smiled at the man in the doorway as he returned the photo to the desk, upright this time. "I'm Jarod Worton. You must be Shane Roberts, I've been assigned to work with you."
Shane tipped his head to the side, regarding the man sitting at his desk. "Worton? Any relation to Ronald Worton?"
Jarod grinned, and shook his head. "No, but working with him in Ottawa, it was hard to convince anyone I didn't get the job due to nepotism."
Removing his glasses for a moment, idly cleaning one of the lenses, Shane stepped closer to the desk. "I wasn't informed I'd be getting an assistant," Returning his glasses to rest on his nose, he ran his fingers through the short, somewhat spiky hair on his head, eyeing Jarod carefully.
"I think it was a last-minute decision." Jarod stood and held out a hand, which Shane took, shaking briefly. "Dr. Kedis was interviewing for a position on the chem side, but I expressed an interest in the ideas behind the drugs made here. He mentioned that there was going to be a second position opening in this department, and offered to let me in working with, as he put it, the best he has, in order to get up to speed before - Telkon, is it? Leaves."
"Telkon's leaving?" Shaking his head, Shane moved to sit in the chair Jarod had recently abandoned. "So, Jarod, I assume you come with qualifications?"
Jarod lifted his briefcase, popping it open, and extracting a resume, one that would turn anyone's head, without raising enough questions to get him into trouble. "Of course."
Taking it, Shane settled back, reading over the information. "Let's see - you've worked on… bollworm moth gene splicing with Robert Staten. You worked with gene mutations and therapies with Dr. Worton. You wanted to work in this department… Are you one of those guys who grew up thinking that you should have been god, because you could have done it better?"
Chuckling, Jarod shook his head. "I didn't think it, no." Looking up from the report he'd been reading, he shrugged. "People around me told me as much though."
"I know that one." Looking over the papers in his hand once more, Shane tucked them into his desk drawer. "I suppose I can at least trust you to do the work." He smiled to show he was joking, but Jarod noted that the smile didn't extend to his eyes. Shane didn't trust him. He was a smart man and it was obviously going to take more than credentials to win him over.
"Shane?" The door to the office opened and the red-head Jarod had met in the hallway stuck her head in. "Are you busy, or can I get you to look at something?"
Looking up at her, Shane gestured for her to enter. "Come on in Molly. Have you met Jarod yet?"
Dipping her head at Jarod in greeting, she walked straight to Shane's desk. "Yes, Greg introduced us." Holding out a file, she perched on the corner of the desk. “This is not working. The reactions are all wrong. And I’m on a serious deadline to find out why. Can you take a look? I’ve been staring at the formulas for too long, a second pair of eyes would be extremely helpful.”
“Of course.” Shane looked up at her, and Jarod couldn’t help but notice the gleam that entered his eyes as he gazed at Molly.
Gracing them both with a bright smile, Molly hopped off the desk. “Thank you so much Shane.” Pausing at the door, she turned back. “Why don’t you take a look at that, and come find me for lunch -- we can discuss what you think.” Reaching the door, she paused. “How’s Mimi?” She asked quietly, not turning her head back to look at the men in the room.
The pause prior to Shane’s response was heavy. “She’s… doing all right,” he said, casting a quick glance at the photo on his desk, turning it back to the face-down position it’d been in before Jarod had picked it up. His gaze returned to Molly’s back. “I don’t know that there’s more that can be done at this point -- and she doesn’t want help anyway.”
Nodding, Molly slipped out the door without a response. Shane’s eyes remained glued to the door until Jarod’s voice snapped him back to the here and now. “She’s gone now.”
“Right, so, shall I show you around?” Shane’s head shook, his eyes clearing; the gleam instantly replaced with the emotionless, professional look he’d occupied prior to Molly’s entrance.
Staring at the picture frame for a moment, Jarod nodded, following Shane as he left the room.
Scrambling up from under the desk, Broots turned to look at Miss Parker as she strode into the room. “Y-yes Miss Parker?”
Her hand extended toward him, offering him a stack of papers. “Find out what the hell this is.”
He took the papers, glancing through them at the codes that left no white space on any of the pages. “Are these…”
“No. These appeared on my doorstep last night. They’re similar to the last set, but not the same.” She turned on her heel to leave.
“Um, Miss Parker?”
“I, um… may have found something else.” He gestured to his monitor once she turned back to face him. “About Nebula.” As she moved quickly back to his desk, he pulled up a file. “I was cross-referencing the names of the files I found, against the Centre databases, and going through the archives -- some of that stuff is secured using 128-bit encryption, I’m still trying to hack into it…”
Miss Parker’s fingers snapped in front of his face. “In English and today Broots.”
He nodded and hit a few keys on his keyboard. “Starlight is referenced in an old file on Kyle.” Pointing to the screen, he pulled up an excerpt from a memo. “This was all I could find, before the system locked me out again.”
Test subject: Kyle
Notes: The new Starlight regimen seems to have secured the desired result. Subject will remain on the trial protocol until we have assurance of total success. Risk of imminent failure seems to have passed, proper effects appear lingering. Memory retrieval is becoming more
“I’m sorry Miss Parker,” Broots continued as she read. “That’s all I got. The memo seemed to just end there.”
“I want everything, Broots. And I want it now.”
His head dipped in acknowledgement. “Of course. I’ll do what I can with the encryption, but 128-bit is next to impossible…”
Reaching a hand out, Miss Parker gripped his shirt collar. “I don’t care if you have to walk on water to get me that information. Just get it.” Releasing him, she left the room quickly, her heels echoing into the silence she left behind, before it was turned into the click-clack of frantic typing.
Strains of music filtered out from the building, flooding the street with sound. Glancing up, the blonde man flashed his ID at the bouncer, slipping past the large man into the club.
It was, as expected, full of barely twenty-one year olds drinking and dancing to what he supposed they called music. The bar itself was packed with young people pushing to get their drink orders, thirsting more for the buzz the alcohol would induce than the liquid itself. Strobe lights flickered across the dance floor, which was full to capacity with sweaty, just this side of drunk bodies grinding against one another in a ritual pre-foreplay manifestation of attempted sexual gratification.
He didn’t want to be there.
His eyes scanned the room, looking for her. She’d be here; she was always here. Or the club across the street. Around the corner. Two blocks over. Somewhere, in the midst of post-adolescent chaos, she always found her home.
“Has my hero come to rescue me? Again?”
Turning to his left, he found her standing at his side, a large grin affixed to her face. A drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other, her large brown eyes sparkled, seeming to dance in time to the music. He extracted the drink from her hand, downing the last of the liquid in the glass before she could protest. “Come on, we’re leaving. Now.”
The grin instantly slipped into a pout, as she pressed herself to his side, swaying to the beat. “That’s not fair. I was just starting to have some fun.”
His arm wrapped around her shoulder as he began to lead her toward the exit. “When have you ever known me to be fair?”
“Never, not when it involves letting me have a good time.” She dragged her feet as they moved, her heavily-lipsticked lips twisted deeper into a classic pout, causing him to think she looked like a small child who’d been caught playing with her mother’s makeup.
“That’s right Mimi, I hate it when you have fun.”
Outside and away from the club, he stopped, looking down at her. Her lips were bright red. Dark grays and blacks edged and surrounded her eyes. He pulled a tissue from his pocket and proceeded to do his best to remove her makeup. “How many times have I told you, you’re a thousand times more beautiful when you don't hide behind all this junk?”
She shut her eyes when he moved to brush away some of the eye shadow. “Every time you see me.”
“Then why don’t you believe me?” Her eyes opened again to look up at him and he smiled. “Do you think I’m lying to you?”
She met his gaze for a moment before squirming away from his touch. She still didn’t like close contact for long periods of time, but he continued to push her, hoping to break through. It wasn’t often that he actually cared about someone other than himself -- usually when he chose to involve himself with others it was only to help himself in the end. “Well?” he questioned after they’d stood in silence for a while.
“No,” she mumbled, the pout creeping into her voice.
He chuckled. “That brother of yours has got to be worried about where you are.” He unlocked the car they were standing next to, opening the passenger door for her. “I’m taking you home.” Unable to stifle the laugh as she flung herself into the seat and slammed the door, folding her arms across her chest in a sullen gesture, he moved to the drivers’ side, climbing into the car himself.
The drive was made in silence, as it always was. They’d fallen into this routine and while he couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was that made him continue to watch over her, as he glanced while paused at a stop sign, he couldn’t help but smile. She’d curled up on the seat, her feet tucked under her, eyes shut, fast asleep. All the wildness she exhibited while awake was gone; if he hadn’t witnessed it on a regular basis he could pretend it hadn’t been there at all.
“We’re home,” he told her fifteen minutes later as he stopped his car in front of the small house he saw on an almost nightly basis. He could see the shadow of someone inside walking the length of the living room. “Looks like big brother’s waiting up again.”
Her eyes opened and she glared at the house. “Shane needs to get a life.” Before he could respond, she opened the door, and jumped out of the car, slamming it shut behind her.
Watching until she was inside the front door, he shrugged at the lack of goodbye, pulling the car away from the curb.
He’d see her again tomorrow.
“Where have you been?”
“Don’t start with me.” Mimi glared at her brother as she shrugged off her jacket. The leather was new enough that the smell of smoke didn’t linger too heavily on it as she dropped it to the floor at her feet, kicking off her shoes as well. “I’m home. I always come home. He always brings me home. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were in on it, making sure he kept an eye on me.” Moving quickly, she ducked around the man in the doorway, heading straight for the couch, where she flopped down, curling her legs under her, grabbing for the remote.
Shane watched his younger sister as she flipped the channels, wincing when she settled on ‘Celebrity Undercover’ on MTV. “Janie!” he snapped, quickly moving to the TV and turning it off.
The glare he received was enough to freeze him on the spot. “That,” she spat at him, sitting up. “Is not my name.”
“No, it’s not. It’s the name of a little girl. When you act like a child, I will call you by the name you used as a child.”
She stood from the couch, turning to leave the room. “You’re not my father,” she reminded him, her voice a notch below ‘scream.’ “You’re just my uptight big brother.” She took a big breath, pausing at the doorway. “Just get, and stay out of my life.”
Sinking to the couch, Shane shut his eyes against the sound of her stomping footsteps up the stairs. He cringed, as the door to her room was slammed shut. He should be used to the outbursts by now, she’d been having them since she hit puberty. They’d been aimed at him since she was sixteen, when their mother had passed away.
They just never got any easier to deal with.
Jarod pulled the thin white coat that screamed ‘scientist’ around his torso, trying to ward off the wind blowing around him. Hurrying to his car, he unlocked it and pulled out a notebook, tucking it under an arm. Locking the car, he moved back to the side of the building, happy for the buffer it provided.
A small squeak drifted across the breeze toward him from the small alley between the buildings, where the dumpsters were kept. Turning toward the noise, Jarod stopped short, finding that he was standing in front of two large men, one with his arm wrapped around the waist of the young woman in the photograph on Shane’s desk. Thinking for half a second, Jarod found her name buried in his memory. Mimi.
“Hey, let her go,” he said, stepping closer to them, watching as Mimi struggled against the grip the one man had on her.
“Git outta here, mind your own business,” one of them replied, stepping toward Jarod. Jarod took an advancing step toward them and the man stepped closer as well, reaching out and pushing at Jarod’s shoulder, hard.
Stumbling into the wall next to the building, the folder falling from his grip, papers falling every which way, Jarod shook himself, quickly regaining his footing. He turned slowly, facing the man who had shoved him. "I think I told you to let go of her," he growled softly, glancing at the second man, who still had a firm grip on Mimi.
"We like it much better this way," the man next to him replied, balling his hand into a fist. "And we ain't takin' orders from some geek in a lab coat."
Jarod's lips twisted into an angry grimace. The goon moved to swing at him, and Jarod pounced, taking advantage of the lack of balance involved in the swing and knocking him backwards onto the ground. The man's head struck the side of the dumpster next to them and he remained on the ground in a daze.
Moving quickly, Jarod took hold of the other man, and pried his grip from around Mimi's shoulder. Forcing him away from the young woman, Jarod stepped between them, keeping Mimi from the other man's reach. "Just take care of your friend, and leave us alone," Jarod ordered, stooping to gather his paperwork into a messy pile in his hand before moving from the alleyway, Mimi in tow.
"Thanks," she murmured to him, hanging onto his arm as if it were the only thing keeping her on her feet.
"You're welcome," Jarod replied, smiling down at her. "I think your brother's a bit worried about you, let's get on inside, shall we?"
Nodding, agreeing without question, she followed closely at his side as they moved around to the front of the building, and inside. Shane was waiting by the door, a worried look on his face. The worry increased as he took in the dirt smudge on Mimi's cheek, and the grip she had on Jarod's arm. Instantly moving to brush at the smudge, he cast his gaze from his sister to his new partner. "What happened?"
Squirming away from Shane, and closer to Jarod, Mimi grimaced. "Nothing, big brother. Some guys grabbed me, and my hero here," she squeezed Jarod's arm as she gazed at him like a love-struck teenager. "Rescued me."
Gently removing her hands, Jarod offered Shane a sheepish smile. "I was getting my notes from the car… I'd forgotten them this morning. And I just walked by at the right time."
Eyeing the space between them as it went from non-existent to about a foot, Shane nodded. "Thanks Jarod," he said as he swept his sister into a hug, one she seemed to go into passively for all of three seconds before squirming to get away. "We should go call the police about this."
"No we shouldn't." Mimi looked up at her brother and pouted. "It wasn't a big deal, okay? Just some jerks messing around. Stud-boy here saved me, and it's over. Let it be over, okay?"
“She’s right,” Jarod interjected quickly, moving another half-foot from Mimi. “The guys are probably gone by now, or would be by the time the police got here. They were just looking for someone to harass.”
Mimi took a step toward the door, trying to maneuver past Shane, who seemed to know he was defeated on the police subject, into the building. “Look, I ditched the bodyguard for the afternoon and I’m only here to get that…” she grimaced. “Stuff you insisted I try.” One of her hands shoved at her brother’s shoulder until he moved. “I’m the stupid one for being out there without my ‘protection’ anyway. After all,” she squared her shoulders. “Both you and him seem to agree on that subject.”
The men followed her as she turned her back to them, walking down the hallway toward their office. Jarod remained silent and off to the side as he watched Shane give a small bottle to his sister. They didn’t say much until she was almost out the door. “Will you at least be home for dinner tonight?” Shane questioned as she turned the doorknob.
“I’ll think about it.” The reply drifted back from the hallway just before the door shut.
Sitting back at his desk, Jarod watched Shane pace behind his own. The mans agitation was obvious; Shane removed his glasses, ran a hand through his hair and put the glasses back on, pausing for a moment to look over at Jarod.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Shane said quietly, stopping and sitting in his desk chair, staring down at the top of the desk.
“No you don’t,” Jarod replied softly.
Shane’s head bobbed slowly. “Sure. Everyone thinks the same thing about her.” His head rose, meeting Jarod’s gaze for a moment. “She’s high-strung, obviously out of control - it’s next to impossible to believe that she’s in her mid-twenties when she acts like a fourteen year old.” One of his shoulders shrugged, almost defeatedly. “I’m used to people thinking that. People always feel sorry for me, when they meet her.”
“Why is that?”
Visibly studying Jarod for a long moment, Shane leaned back, picking the picture frame off his desk as he moved. “When our mother was pregnant with Mimi, she got very sick. She almost died, almost had to abort the pregnancy early in her second trimester. The doctors said it was the medications they had to give her to stabilize both of them that caused some anomalies to occur in Mimi’s brain.
“Mom died when I was sixteen. I basically found myself with very few options. I could let the state take my baby sister -- she was eleven -- or I could figure something out and keep her with me. It wasn’t easy. Not even close to easy. But Mom had left us some money. We owned the house outright. I did what I could to make sure that, at least until I was eighteen and could fight as an adult to protect her, that no one found out what was going on. I coached her not to talk about how home was -- that Mom was gone.” He stopped for a moment and looked up from the picture he’d been studying with great intent. “Why am I telling you all of this?”
Jarod smiled. “It’s easier to explain to someone who’s still more or less a stranger?”
“Must be.” Shane smiled in return, returning to his story. “We had a rough time. One of the things that had been obvious since my sister was a baby was that she wasn’t going to respond to much in a normal, expected way. She had outbursts, things that left temper tantrums in the dust before she even started. Five minutes later, she’d be the happiest, sweetest child you’d ever meet. She’s still like that. She hit puberty early and never left.”
“Is that why you became involved in bio-tech?”
Shane nodded slowly. “In large part, yes. Even before we knew there was something wrong with my sister, I was interested in chemistry, in why things were made the way they were and how to change them. But it never would have become more than a hobby if it weren’t for wanting to help her.” He dragged a hand over his face, showing exhaustion. “The more work we do, the more it seems like I’ll never be able to do anything to help her. We’ve developed scores of therapies that are supposed to help conditions similar to hers. None of them do much of anything to her. Except when the side effects are really bad.” His eyes darkened, becoming haunted. “Those are the worst. When I try something for her, only to make her sick.”
His eyes cleared quickly as he looked back at Jarod. “Greg doesn’t exactly know about this… Please don’t say anything. Molly helps me sometimes in getting things for Mimi, but if Greg knew… I’d lose my job.”
“Don’t worry,” Jarod assured him. “Nothing you’ve said leaves this office. Keeping necessary secrets is something I’ve become quite good at over the years.”
An understanding silence wrapped itself around the room as the men both turned to their respective computers, work needing to be finished.
The office was silent as Miss Parker entered, settling herself behind her desk. She was just reaching for a file when a clattering of computer disks falling to the floor shattered the silence. Broots stood in her doorway, looking down at them. “What do you want?”
“Uh, Miss Parker…” He dropped to his knees, grabbing for the small pieces of plastic. “I, uh, found some more information…” He looked up, disks clutched in his hand. “On -- you know.”
Miss Parker leaned forward at her desk, looking down at him. “What?”
“Um, well, I managed to slip past some of the lesser encryptions and found…” Broots shuffled the disks, locating one with a piece of tape across the top. “Here, look at this.”
He stood, placing the disk in her outstretched hand. Inserting it into her computer, she moved out of the way to allow him to pull up the files. “These were in a file on Nova. Just these snippets.”
*Early tests failed completely. Subject exhibited erroneous reactions -- this cycle should be rejected and destroyed. Start over.
*Violent tendencies exacerbated.
*Subject had calculated reaction -- deceased.
Miss Parker’s eyes widened at the last line. “Death was calculated… What the hell is going on here?”
“I don’t know.” Broots shrugged a shoulder, looking at her. “But this is dangerous. There was a set of death certificates with this file -- but the system locked me out before I could transfer them.”
“Four that I saw. No names, no dates. Just filed under Nova.” He looked away from her, back at the monitor.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
He visibly cringed. “All of them were signed off on by Raines.”
He sat at a table outside. A grande tripe mocha sat in front of him, half-finished. A cigarette burned in an ashtray in the center of the table, forgotten.
He appeared to be people watching. In fact, he wasn’t seeing anyone who passed in front of him. His mind was on Mimi.
Still unable to put finger on what it was that drew him to her, he turned the relationship over in his mind. They’d met by chance. He’d been trying to get his hands on some information that would prove to be vital to the situation he was now in. Email from his friend, pointing him toward the genetics lab at CGB Bio-tech. In, out, gone -- just like always. Except this time, he’d been met with big, beautiful, tear-filled eyes and a soft, sweet face staring up at him from the steps.
“I can’t find her.”
“Can’t find who love?” His response was instant and unthinking. He barely even startled when she reached up, taking his hand and holding on tight.
“Mommy. She’s gone and I don’t know where.” Tears slipped down her face as her lower lip trembled.
The woman had to be at least in her twenties. Her voice, her mannerisms, tried to be much younger. “When did you last see her?” he questioned in a gentle tone, sitting next to her.
“A long time ago.” She sniffled and laid her head against his shoulder. “I’m scared.”
“It’ll be all right, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Her eyes glistened as she looked up at him. “Promise?”
“Daydreaming much?” Mimi’s voice startled him out of the memory. She grabbed the chair next to his, turned it so the back faced the table and sat, straddling it. Grabbing for his coffee, she took a drink.
“Mimi, what a pleasant surprise.”
She grinned and took another drink. “You can’t lie. So, what are you doing just sitting here staring off into space on this bright, sunny afternoon?”
He looked her over carefully. She looked mellow, almost content. Her clothes were sedate in comparison to the last time he’d seen her. Black jeans and a casual white button-down shirt, only buttoned on the middle three buttons. Her hair was loosely pulled back from her face in a ponytail and she was virtually free of makeup. “Not too much,” he answered, smiling at her. He liked to see her like this and it was rare that he got to.
“Well…” She finished off the last of his coffee, took a drag from the cigarette and crushed it out. “Then we should do something.” Standing, she grabbed his hand. “Come on, you know you want to spend some money on me.”
Following her up and away from the table, he allowed her to hang onto his hand. Honestly, he enjoyed the contact. It was rare she permitted people to touch her, so he took full advantage. “What makes you think I have any money, or that I’d spend it on you?” he teased, falling into step with her as she led the way down the street.
“Because I want you to and you live to make me happy.” They stopped at a corner, waiting for the light t change.” You’re far better to me than you should be,” she whispered to him in all seriousness.
Laying a hand on her cheek, his head shook. “No, that’s impossible.” Leaning, he kissed her forehead. “I couldn’t ever actually be good enough to you that it would be more than you’d deserve.”
“I…” The smile on her face faded as she looked up at him. “I don’t… Something’s wrong.”
“I don’t know.” Her hand clutched his jacket for stability as her legs seemed to give out. “Shane gave me a new protocol to try. My head feels better,” her voice cracked slightly. “But my body feels like it’s falling apart.”
He caught her as she slipped unconscious.
Miss Parker looked up from her uncooperative computer as the teenager entered her office. “Hello, Debbie,” she stated obligatorily.
“Hello, Miss Parker. How are you today?” Debbie asked, polite and cheerful.
“Eh,” she mumbled in response, returning to her computer and the pages of code that still didn’t make any sense to her.
Debbie Broots stood quietly beside Miss Parker’s desk, holding her backpack in front of her. Quietly, she seemed to wait for further acknowledgement from the woman on the other side of the desk. She tucked her hair behind her ear with one hand and blinked at the silence.
Miss Parker sighed. She needed to say something. “So, Debbie,” she smiled broadly, “what are you studying in school?”
“Well, lots of things.” She looked up and saw the tiny sneer that appeared on Miss Parker’s mouth, then unzipped her bag, pulling out a book. “I have biology homework tonight. Did you study biology in school?”
Not the way you are. Miss Parker suppressed a snicker. “Yes. Yes I did. I’m afraid I don’t remember very much of it though.”
“That’s okay. I usually get my daddy to help me.” She placed the book on the desk and began to dig around in her bag again. “Oh, I’m reading this really great story in English.”
Miss Parker looked up, obviously distracted, a furrow in her brow. “Debbie, why are you here?”
“I was looking for my dad, but he’s not in his office, and I didn’t know where else to go. Can you help me find him?”
How had Debbie gotten in without security having a fit? Miss Parker pressed a few more keys and the computer screen went blank. She then heard the sound from the box by her feet that meant the damned thing was rebooting because it had just crashed. Not again. “I don’t have time for that right now. I’m busy, really busy.”
Debbie’s lip trembled and she opened her mouth to say something, to apologize for having bothered Miss Parker. Looking at the expression on the woman’s face, she closed her mouth quickly, grabbing her bag from the floor and running from the office.
Staring after her, Miss Parker sighed. She’d have to apologize. Later, she decided as she glared at her computer. Looking down at her desk, her gaze caught a brightly colored illustration of a strand of DNA. She reached over and picked up Debbie’s biology book, turning it over in her hands. A nagging feeling came over her, as her computer finished booting, prompting her for a password.
Absently typing in the name of her baby brother, she stared at the cover of the book. Quickly she pulled up the file she’d been going over before, at the same time opening the book and flipping through the pages. The text was far too vanilla for what she was looking for; she’d have to hope she remembered more on her own.
They weren’t full sequences, but the more she stared, the more the basics of what genetic sequence of a strand of DNA looked like surfaced in her mind.
There was a noise above her head and the heating grate over her desk moved slightly. “Angelo, what are you up to?”
Silence answered her, until a piece of paper slipped between the grates and fluttered toward her desk. It landed face-down, showing the lipstick smudges that still wouldn’t quite come off. Turning it over, she stared down at the sweet, tiny face of her brother.
The code forgotten, for now, she sat back, staring at the photograph. ‘Don’t let it happen again.’
She’d brought that little boy into the world, been the one to hold him as he’d struggled for that first breath. She’d held him as he’d cried his first tears. She missed him.
Children weren’t part of her life’s plan in any way, shape or form. But this little boy had barreled his way past that objection the moment his eyes had focused on her, just moments after entering the world. She loved him more than she herself had thought possible. “I’ve been good,” she muttered to herself.
Her brother, she decided as she stared at his picture, was not going to grow up like she had. Like Jarod had.
Not so long as she was still breathing.
Mimi was gathered in his arms, head lolling back and bouncing with each step he took.
He kicked the door to Shane’s office open, finding the man he was looking for sitting at his desk. “What the hell did you give her this time?” he demanded, setting Mimi into the empty desk chair.
Shane leapt to his feet, crossing to his sister’s side. He did a quick check of her vitals, barely glancing at the blonde man next to him. “What happened?”
“Whatever you gave her messed her up, that’s what happened, big brother.” He sneered down at Shane, furious. “You just can’t leave well enough alone can you? You’re going to kill her one of these days.”
Shane stood, drawing himself to full height. “Look, this is my sister, I care about her more than anything in my life. Do you think I’m doing this to her intentionally? I’m trying to help her.”
He stared back at Shane. “She seemed better -- mentally. Happy, cognitive, mellow. She said it felt like her body was falling apart.” He looked down at Mimi, slumped, still unconscious, in the chair. “Bad side effects this time. You have to stop using her like this.”
Running his hand through his hair, Shane knelt back at his sister’s side. “What else can I do? I’m helpless, if I can’t do what I’ve been doing to help her.” Mimi moaned quietly and blinked her eyes open, trying to focus on him. “Mimi, honey…”
Breathing a sigh of relief, the blonde shook his head. “You’re not helping her, you’re not going to be able to.” Reaching, he took Mimi’s hand, holding it between his, kneeling next to Shane. “This isn’t something that can be helped like this -- I think that’s become painfully obvious.”
Mimi opened her mouth, moving it in a mechanical up and down motion, not speaking. She blinked a few times, as if looking at them through a fog. Shane touched her cheek. “Honey, can you hear me?” She nodded exaggeratedly, the movement taking effort. Her motor functions had been seriously impaired. “I’m so sorry Mimi. So sorry.”
The other man released her hand and reached for a file. “Is this what you gave her?” he asked, flipping it open. Shane nodded, as he watched his sister. “My god, you idiot.”
“Did you even look at the ingredients in this? This,” he pointed at an element on the sheet of paper in his hand. “And this shouldn’t be combined in anyone who isn’t a para- or quadriplegic. It desensitizes the nervous system. How the hell could you have missed that?”
Sitting back in disbelief, taking the folder, Shane stared at it, too shocked to question how this man knew that, when he didn’t. “I… I didn’t know. I didn’t develop this… I never would have…”
“For a smart guy you’re pretty stupid. If you didn’t develop this, who did? Why did they give you something for your sister that was intended for other purposes?” He wasn’t giving an inch. Well aware of how much Shane cared about his sister, he was livid that this had happened, that Shane had missed the obvious.
Mimi groaned, shaking her head slowly. “Wha’ happened?”
“An accident,” Shane answered quickly, smoothing back some stray hairs that had removed themselves from her ponytail. “A bad accident.”
Jarod opened the office door, stopping short, surprised to see someone other than Shane in the room. Mimi sat in his chair, looking rather sick. A tall blonde man stood watch over her. “Um, should I come back?”
Shane looked up and nodded. “That might be best Jarod. Thanks.”
Turning, Jarod caught the blonde giving him a funny look. “No, wait, maybe the good doctor has a thought about the situation?”
Surprised, Shane looked between the two men and shrugged. He quickly filled Jarod in on the situation. “Any thoughts?”
“Sorry. This isn’t actually an area I’m familiar with. I wish I were. She didn’t take enough to cause permanent damage, that much is obvious. My best suggestion? Stop giving her things you don’t know the trial protocols of.”
Nodding, the blonde smiled thinly. “Yes, very good.” Mimi had slipped to sleep in the course of their talking. “I know your heart is in the right place -- but you’re going to end up killing her.”
“And I suppose you can take better care of her than I can? Is that what you’re saying? Because you rode in on a white horse one day and decided to spend all your time chasing after her when she gets out of control? I’ve done that for my entire life -- you’ve put in four months.”
The sleeping young woman moaned, thrashing in the chair. She let out a whimper, obviously trapped in a nightmare. The blonde moved to her side, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She curled close to him, her fingers wrapping around the leather jacket he wore and she calmed.
Shane watched for a moment before turning away. “Fine, you’re better for her than I am. That much is painfully obvious.”
Jarod stood to the side of the room, silent. For once, he didn’t even know where to begin to help them.
They had to help themselves, but they didn’t know how either. None of them were in a good position. And it didn’t seem to be getting better.
“Molly, may I speak with you for a moment?”
“Of course Shane, what’s up?” The small redhead turned toward Shane, her glasses slipping down her nose, Her eyes widened as she looked at him. “You don’t look so good. What’s wrong?”
Steering her toward a doorway, he opened the door to an empty office, following her inside. “I found something yesterday, something that has me very upset.” He watched her movements as she laid her notebook on the desk, perching on the edge of it. “Do you know what’s going on with the advanced stages of the drug series we’ve been working on?”
Her nose twitched as she stared up at where he stood, towering over her. “Which?”
Shane’s jaw tightened at her innocent tone. “The ones I’ve been giving my sister,” he growled. “The ones you’ve been giving me to give to her. Are you actually clueless, or are you using her as a guinea pig?”
“Shane, I…” Her eyes glistened with tears as she looked up at him. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t my choice. None of it was. I can’t just walk away from this place.” Her head dropped, stopping when her chin rested on her chest. “I should have, a long time ago. But it’s just not that easy for me.”
"How could you?" Hurt carried through the anger in his voice as he stared down at her. "How could you do that to Mimi? To me?" He turned his back on her, balling his hands at his sides. "You were always better than that -- than those people who thought I should have turned her over. Was it all an act to get what you needed from us?"
Her voice shook when she responded, her accent coming out to play more prominently than he'd heard it in all the time he'd known her. "Christ no Shane." She moved behind him, laying a hand on his shoulder. "I never intentionally set out to hurt you. I didn't know what was going on, when I offered my help. Someone higher up caught wind of it and threatened my family if I didn't continue on in the direction they dictated. My Da is still in Ireland and he's not exactly a friend of the IRA. My Ma was killed a few years ago, just before I started working here. She'd gone home to be with Da and my brother, who didn't want to come to America when we did." Her hand dropped as Shane turned to look at her. "I was scared and I wanted to protect my family. I'm still scared," she admitted softly, turning her face away from his.
"All I ever wanted to do was protect my family. You protected yours by trying to hurt mine." Shane's voice lost all emotion as he spoke, simply becoming cold. "I thought we were friends Molly. That maybe I meant more to you than that."
"I don't know what to say. I'm sorry."
His head shook. "Don't. Just don't." Walking to the door, he looked back at Molly for a moment. "You're no better than the ones who threatened you," he said sadly, turning and leaving the room before she could respond.
From the desk of Dr. Raines
Subject A given version three of Aurora. Suggestions of passivity were given and obeyed.
Subject B given version three of Nova. Violent tendencies exacerbated.
Further suggestion to Subject A of cowardice, inability to act on self defense offered and obeyed.
Putting the subjects together proved successful. Subject B acted upon vengeful feelings toward A for earlier experiments with interrogation. No weapons provided, B proceeded to beat A into near unconscious before stopped. A didn’t move once to defend against the attack.
Application of version five of Starlight has proved successful. The memories of the events have effectively been wiped clean.
Further versions will continue to be developed to ensure the achievement of effect, account for every possibility.
Subjects will continue to participate. Risk of overdose of Starlight is acceptable, risk of use of Nova is calculated -- Guinea subjects will be used for first-round tests of all protocols.
Angelo blinked a few times rapidly, attaching the pages of gibberish-looking code and pressing ‘send’ on the email message to his friend. The only one who could help.
Molly moved about the office, cleaning it out. She gathered papers and personal items into a box on her desk. Her work, which had started with the best of intentions to help people, had become nothing but a series of things harming those who mattered to her.
She hoped to sneak out quietly, not bringing too much attention to herself in the process. There wasn’t anything left for her anywhere -- she'd try to go home to Ireland. Or, at least, trade her Da’s life for her own, allowing her family to remain safe.
Tucking a letter to Shane under the corner of the desk blotter, she picked up the box, ready to slip out into the early morning. Oblivious to her surroundings, she turned the light in her office off, heading for the door.
Not hearing or seeing anyone else in the room, she barely felt the prick of the needle in her arm until the injection had begun to work. The box fell from her hand and she toppled to the floor next to it. Black shoes walked past her line of vision and out the door, shutting it behind them.
Leaving her in the pitch black room, alone, slowly becoming paralyzed. She didn’t even have the strength to call out -- not that there was likely anyone to hear her anyway.
The door to the office swung open and she tried to move, afraid whoever it was had come back. The light switched on, the brightness hurting her eyes, forcing her to shut them.
“Molly?” Shane stepped into the room, looking around. The fallen box caught his eye long enough for him to see the red hair on the floor next to it. Hurrying to her side, he knelt next to her. “Molly, can you hear me?”
She nodded slowly, opening her eyes and looking up at him. He lifted her head, laying it on his lap. “What can I do?”
Her head shook. ‘Nothing’ she mouthed, unable to speak. Whatever had been injected worked quickly. Her breathing was slowing, becoming labored. ‘I’m sorry.’
“Don’t. Don’t you die on me.” Grabbing for his cell phone, he dialed 911, talking quickly to the operator, hanging up before she said it was all right to do so. “Molly, please, hang on. Do you know what happened?”
She licked her lips. “Drugged,” she whispered, barely achieving sound. “Can’t do anything. I’m so sorry Shane.”
“Consider yourself forgiven,” he whispered back, holding her hand tightly with one of his own, the other stroking back her hair.
The sirens were just getting close enough to hear them as her eyes slipped shut, her chest falling for the last time on exhale of a final breath.
“I can’t believe I let her go.”
Jarod looked over at his friend as they watched the car drive into the distance. “It’s best for you, you know that. She’s got to experience her own life. He’ll take care of her.”
Shane nodded slowly, heading back inside. “This whole week has been surreal. Next thing I know, you’re going to tell me you’re not really into all this bio-tech stuff, that you’re really some undercover agent or something.”
Choking back laughter, Jarod nodded. “Yeah, something like that. Hey, are you going to be okay?”
“I think so. I’ve spent my whole life taking care of my sister. She’s gone. One of my closest friends died in my arms two days ago. And the only other friend I’ve made in years is leaving.” Shane smiled sadly. “I’ll be just fine Jarod.” He picked up an envelope from his coffee table. “Oh, our mysterious friend there wanted me to give this to you.”
“Thanks.” Jarod took the envelope, opening it and glancing inside. Three pieces of paper were inside, two that looked like a sequence of genetic coding, the other a note. ‘Compare notes with your friend when you see her again.’ Tucking the note back inside, he looked back at Shane. “So, you don’t actually believe a word you just said, do you?”
“Oh, no, he did want you to have that.” They both chuckled. “No, I don’t. I don’t trust that this is all going to be okay. But what choice do I have? Look, get out of here. I have your cell number, if I decide to end it all,” he smiled jokingly. “I’ll call first.”
Jarod extended a hand, Shane shook it. Jarod pulled him into a quick hug. “You better. If you decide to end it, I want to be there. God knows you’ll have some spectacular ending planned.” With a grin on his face, Jarod quickly left, knowing he’d hear from Shane again soon enough.
Miss Parker’s heart pounded as she moved down the hall. Still unsure of what possessed her, she kept one hand tightly on her gun, sliding along the dark hallway, her back pressed to the wall.
She’d spent the previous couple of days planning. Gabriel’s schedule was permanently imprinted in her mind, as were the list of ‘approved’ visitors and his ‘guardians,’ the sweepers and other staff who were paid to watch over him.
Preparation had gone further than that as well. Some snooping around had led her to only one possible location for Jarod, which she’d tucked away in the back of her mind ‘just in case.’ She’d bought a carseat and baby clothes. She had enough cash to get out of the state.
She couldn’t believe she was going to do this.
Pausing at the door to the baby’s room, she looked around. One last precaution, she’d quietly convinced Angelo to loop the security tapes for her.
Stepping into the room, she moved toward the crib, listening to the familiar ‘Mine’ she always heard when she entered the room.
The silence broke, but not by the small voice she’d hoped to hear. “What do we have here?” A man’s voice came from the shadows. The owner of the voice stepped forward; it was a large man she’d never seen before. “Looks like Mr. Parker was right about someone trying to harm the baby.”
Miss Parker had reached for her gun the second she heard the voice and she leveled it at the man. “I would never harm that child. Where is he?”
“He’s safe, missy. Why don’t you just put down the gun and cooperate with us?”
A blow from behind caught her off-guard and she fell forward, her cheek making contact with the side of the crib on her way down. Her grip never loosened from the gun and she turned onto her back quickly, aiming at the darkness where the shove had come from. Firing once into the dark, she scrambled to her feet.
“You bitch. That could have hit me!” The second man stepped from the shadows with an enraged look on his face.
“That was the intent. Where is the baby?” she growled at both men, looking from one to the other.
At the lack of answer, she made a move toward the door. The first man lunged at her, narrowly missing her as she leapt out of the way, taking a blow to the end with the butt of her gun for his troubles. The second raised his own gun, taking aim.
Almost to the door, she heard the cocking of the barrel and moved. Fast.
Not fast enough. The bullet ripped through her forearm, sending ripples of agony up her arm into her shoulder and neck. She stumbled into the wall for a moment before regaining her balance. Raising her weapon, she fired, only slightly satisfied to hear the groan of pain as the bullet entered the man’s body.
Not waiting to find out how either man was, she maneuvered her way through the route she’d planned back to outside, her hand pressed to the bleeding wound in an attempt to slow the blood until she could wrap it.
When the hell had her father increased security around the baby’s room? And where was Gabriel? Had someone tipped Daddy to her prowling?
Groaning, she leaned on the side of her car for a moment, hugging her injured left arm to her chest. The bullet had simply grazed her arm; her reflexes had been fast enough to ensure the wound wasn’t serious. It only felt like someone had ripped her arm in two with a hot poker.
Taking a deep breath, drawing the cool night air into her lungs, she shut her eyes for a moment. Getting out of the Centre had been harder than she’d anticipated, and even in the running shoes she’d worn, the trek through the grounds at a run hadn’t been easy. The sound of rustling met her ears as her eyes opened, and she quickly unlocked the car, slipping inside. There was no thought put into the motions of inserting the key in the ignition and turning it on; in fact she barely noticed until she was in third gear that she was even on the road.
Looking up into her rear-view mirror, she was satisfied that no one was behind her. As her eyes cast downward, she caught a glimpse of the carseat in the back. The sting at the backs of her eyes was quickly blinked away as she refocused on the road, and headed toward the freeway, trying to steer with her knees as she shifted, as to not jar her arm further.
I can’t go home, she thought, stopping her car at a rest stop along the freeway. Not if Daddy knows…
Looking down at her arm, she sighed; pulling one of the small towels she’d stuck in with the few items of baby clothes from the floor of the back seat. Gritting her teeth, she wrapped it best she could around her arm, grimacing as the rough material pressed itself into the wound.
Staring out the window, she tried to relax as best she could, to not let the fact that the carseat in back was empty. Glancing to her left, resting her forehead on the cool pane of glass, her eyes focused on the car next to her. The rim of light around the Virginia license plates stood out against the darkness.
Norfolk wasn’t that long a drive. Especially if she flew just under radar the whole way.
Turning the key, she pulled out of the parking space, heading back toward the freeway. If she topped the speed limit by ten miles or so, she could be there before the sun came up.
“I know it’s best. I just miss her.”
Jarod smiled sadly into his phone. “I know Shane. She’ll be better off for now, he’ll take care of her.”
There was a pained chuckle on the other end of the phone. “How can you be so sure of that? Do you know something about him that I don’t?”
Looking down at the pages of code on his desk, Jarod nodded slightly. “Just trust me Shane. You can trust him. You knew that, or you wouldn’t have let them go without you.”
The silence stretched for almost a minute before Shane responded. “I hate it when you’re right.” They both laughed. “So what’s next for you Jarod?”
“I don’t know.” He looked over the code a final time, before putting it in the drawer next to him. “I haven’t decided where I want to go next.”
“Keep me posted?”
As Jarod began to respond, the sound of insistent knocking filtered in from his door. He stood to answer, continuing his conversation. “Of course I will.” Pulling the door open, he locked his gaze on Miss Parker. Taking in the bruise on her cheek, and the bloodied material wrapped around her arm, he ushered her in. “Shane, I have to go.” Disconnecting the phone, he shut the door. “What happened?”
Slipping down onto the couch, her eyes shut. “Much as I’m loath to admit this…” She looked back up at him. “I need…” She took a breath, her jaw setting. “Your help.”