Ghent On The Square
Slipping down onto the couch, Miss Parker's eyes shut. “Much as I’m loath
to admit this…” She looked back up at Jarod. “I need…” She took a breath,
her jaw setting. “Your help.”
Her words took him by surprise. Although he had been working toward this
moment ever since the day he escaped from the Centre, lately he had begun
to wonder whether they would ever regain the level of openness and trust
they once had. And now she was here. Obviously, she had just been through
an ordeal of some kind.
“Take off your shirt,” he ordered gently, heading for the bathroom without
even looking back. Without protest, without even a snappy comeback, he
somehow knew she would comply.
Moments later, armed with a first-aid kit and an ice pack prepared in
the kitchen, he returned to the couch and sat down to patch her up.
“I take it you were unsuccessful at whatever you were trying to do,”
he murmured, soaking a clean washcloth with hydrogen peroxide to cleanse
Miss Parker sucked in a pained breath, but did not flinch. Instead, she
placed the ice pack over her bruised cheek. “I was trying to take Gabriel
out of the Centre.” She sighed, and her good eye opened and regarded him
hesitantly as he worked. “Will you help me?”
“This won’t need stitches, but it’s going to leave a scar,” he reported.
“He’s your brother. He’s the Chairman’s son. He’ll have the best care
any child could want. Money’s no object, and some of the best minds in
the world will be teaching him. Why would you want to take him away from
“Cut the sarcasm, Jarod,” she snapped. “I’m dead serious. He’s in danger.”
She bit her lip as his ministrations made her wince. “If I don’t get him
out of there, he’s going to end up as somebody’s experiment, I just know
Jarod applied antibacterial ointment to a gauze pad, and taped it in
place over her wound before meeting her eyes. “Of course I’ll help you.
Tell me what happened.”
She recited the events of her attempted rescue in orderly detail. Then
she lowered the icepack to her lap, her eyes worried. “If Daddy knows
what I was doing -- Jarod, I can’t go back.”
She wasn't seeing things very clearly at the moment, which wasn't surprising.
“Yes, you can,” he assured her. “You didn’t tell anyone what you were
planning. You can bluff, say you were just trying to get in to see Gabriel,
and that you were upset when you found he’d been moved. There’s enough
truth in it that he’ll believe you. After all, you are his daughter.”
Her eyes narrowed at the emphasis he put on that last word. “I always
got the impression that you knew more about that subject than I ever did.”
He shrugged, and turned to cleaning the dried blood off the rest of her
arm, then put away the supplies. “Nothing concrete. But I have done simulations,
and whenever I take the time to verify one of the results, they’re usually
Jarod chuckled. “Not just my ass.”
Parker sighed and leaned wearily against the back of the couch. “So what
do I do now? I have to find Gabriel. I have to get him out of there, and
I can’t do it by myself.”
He returned and sat back down beside her. “You’re right. But we’re going
to have to plan this out carefully, so I’ll need a little time. Meanwhile,
it would be helpful for you to stay physically close to him, and find
out whatever you can.”
She closed her eyes. “I suppose I should go back as soon as possible,
then, if I’m going to pull off this bluff.” She rose, went to his closet
and helped herself to his best black silk dress shirt, leaving her bloodied
sweatshirt on the floor where she had dropped it. “How will I get in touch
For a moment he just stared, weighing possibilities. So much had happened
since Eclipse, since Faith’s reappearance in their lives. He wasn’t accustomed
to trusting her, but the boy he had once been would have done it instantly.
He gave her the number to his cell phone and an email address. “Don’t
write them down anywhere. Don’t put the email address in your electronic
address book. Just keep them in your head. Okay?”
She nodded, and with a whispered thanks strode out the door and into
the night, back the way she had come.
Jarod flopped down on the couch, staring up at the ceiling. She had found
him easily enough. And she had walked away without turning him in, when
bringing him back to the Centre might have earned her the prize she so
wanted to save.
This was a passage for both of them. The revelations Eclipse had brought
were over now, but they left him with important decisions to make about
his future. So much had changed that he couldn’t keep treading the same
path, controlled by the emotions he once believed he had buried. It was
time to wake up, to operate by conscious choice rather than subliminal
It was time to return to the beginning, to where his world and his life
had been, before it all went so horribly wrong.
* * * * * * * * *
“You sent for me?” asked Sydney, closing the door behind himself. The
Chairman’s new office was the best that could be had in the building.
It was decorated in his usual art deco theme, boasting huge murals on
the walls, and accented with a few small African masks and hand printed
German posters from the 20’s to tie together the scope of the Triumvirate’s
influence. It was a beautiful room, but cold even with the warm, earthy
colors that filled his view.
"Sydney, please come in." Mr. Parker gestured toward an overstuffed
maroon chair. "Have a seat."
His polite manner was unnerving. Sydney knew that to catch the Chairman
of the Triumvirate's attention, this would have to be serious. He sat,
but waited to see what the man across the desk had in mind before saying
“I’ve been reviewing your schedule," Parker began, "and I have
to say that I think your talents are being squandered in the position
you currently hold.”
Sydney remained silent.
“The search for Jarod was never meant to drag on for so long. You spend
far too much time with my daughter trying to figure out where he is, and
I think we can afford to pare down the hours you spend on that pursuit.”
Sydney noticed he did not say he was calling off the dogs. Not at all.
That could be a bad sign, but he would have to wait until he heard the
Parker grinned, a gleam of certainty in his cool blue eyes. “Oh, I know
what you’re thinking. And we will get Jarod back one day, I assure you.”
He chuckled to himself. “But in the meantime, we have other projects that
could use your expertise, your deft touch with young minds.”
Something in Sydney's chest clenched. This didn’t feel right, and though
he didn't usually put a great deal of stock in his own intuition, the
suspicion was strong and frightening. “I still have a great deal to do
on my twins project --“
“You were willing to drop everything in order to work with Gemini,"
Parker reminded him. "In fact, you took the initiative, and made
a damn good argument for taking control of the project. Impressed the
hell out of me."
Obviously, the Chairman had never caught on to the fact that Sydney had
taken control of the Gemini project for the express purpose of helping
Jarod remove his young clone from the Centre. It was just as well; were
such a betrayal to be discovered, it would undoubtedly bring the wrath
of the gods down upon him.
"I'm offering you a chance to broaden the scope of your work,"
the Chairman continued in a deceptively gentle voice. “I know you've invested
a lot of energy in Jarod over the years. But we have other projects in
the works that are just as important. Maybe moreso.”
“I can’t imagine anything more important to the Centre than Jarod,” Sydney
returned, mildly astonished. “You always said he was --“
Parker stood up. “I know what I said, but things have changed. We still
need Jarod. He’s pivotal to what we’re trying to accomplish. But until
we can recover him and successfully insert him into the program, you’re
the closest thing we’ve got. You know how his mind works. We can use that
expertise on the Seraphim Project.”
Parker couldn’t smother a grin. “You’ve already been working with their
caregivers. Remember that early childhood education course I assigned
you, teaching them how to work with gifted youngsters? That wasn’t just
theoretical. We want you to shift your focus toward working with the real
thing.” He picked up a yellow folder and handed it across the desk.
“Read through this to get your feet wet. They’ll be expecting you on
SL-17 later today. Once you’re on assignment, you can work with my daughter
no more than two hours a day. I’d prefer if you kept it to telephone and
email contact, but if you must have meetings, you can go to her office.”
Sydney nodded, and waited for dismissal. Parker gave it, and he headed
for the door.
He stopped, his hand on the long brass door handle. “Yes, Mr. Parker?”
“Don’t share this information with anyone, including my daughter. Understood?”
He nodded again, something curdling in the pit of his stomach. “Understood,
“Good. I look forward to your first report.”
Sydney couldn’t get out of there fast enough. For all intents and purposes,
he was being pulled off the hunt for Jarod. And if he were separated from
Jarod now, it would be more difficult to begin working with him when he
was inevitably caught -- if indeed he ever allowed them to lay hands on
him again. Sydney knew Jarod, and unless the Pretender wanted to close
the distance between himself and his pursuers, they would always be following
ten steps behind him. Yet if an accident or illness should befall him
that rendered him incapable of flight, he could fall victim to Miss Parker’s
relentless pursuit. And if Sydney was working full time with other projects…
He shuddered to think what would happen to Jarod without his protection
inside the Centre. He certainly didn’t want to lose him, for a myriad
of reasons. Jarod was more his son than Nicholas could ever be, and he
would die before allowing Jarod to be taken away from him. That, or else
he would have to take measures to see that the Centre never caught up
to the errant Pretender again.
* * * * * * * * *
Lyle stepped down from the ladder, directly into a puddle. He frowned,
knowing the water would stain the leather of his new shoes. Still, he
only glanced at the damage before turning his flashlight beam on the wide,
empty corridor ahead.
“This brings back memories,” he mused softly to himself, and smiled.
He had been young then, learning the ropes of the Centre's power structure.
Though he had never been strong scholastically, his native intelligence
had at last found something of a challenge in this place. The research
done on this level had been interesting, and none of the scientists in
charge had let morals or emotion get in their way. He had enjoyed the
trials they asked him to supervise, the tests he inflicted on the residents
on this floor, hidden away from the world and known to only a handful
of people. Without a conscience to slow him down, he had moved quickly
through the ranks, and found a curious satisfaction in the torment they
suffered at his hands, his and the other scientists in charge.
Eclipse had been a turning point in his life. With the strength gained
from Lung Li, he finally found a way to repay his adopted father for the
care he’d been given growing up. He built himself a new life, went to
college on stolen credits under his new identity, leaving Bobby Bowman
far behind. And then Raines had brought him back here, not as a specimen
but as a colleague… or so he had thought.
Lyle walked the corridor from memory, hesitating where a metal hook still
dangled on the wall. Once upon a time, there had been an environmental
suit there, hanging like a trophy, until Sydney set off the firebomb that
had incinerated everything on that level. But Lyle could still see it,
the faceplate pierced with a bullet hole and a matching hole through the
glasses the skeleton still wore.
That had been Dr. Peter Graham.
Lyle moved past the hook into the laboratory. Pieces of debris still
littered the floor and crunched underfoot as he walked toward the far
wall. He ignored the delivery table with attached shackles, putting off
the memories of the women held fast while the scientists worked on them
and the monsters they bore. Straight to the steel encased pantry he went,
and pulled it out from the wall. The gloves and jumpsuit he had borrowed
from Maintenance protected his clothing and hands from the rust, dirt
and ashes, but his shoes would need cleaning before he could return to
Behind the pantry, a DSA remained attached to the wall. The tape that
held it there had long since carbonized, but provided a sort of fragile
vacuum that crumbled away as soon as he touched it. He brushed the soot
off the back of the disc, turned it over in his hands, and saw that it
It glistened in the halo of his flashlight. He had meant to leave it
there for only a few moments, but Dr. Graham got in his way.
Lyle had been in the cold room next door without authorization, and wasn’t
sure if someone had seen him leave. He had hurried into this lab, looking
for an out of the way place he could stash his booty. Someone had promised
him a lot of money for that little disc, and he intended to collect as
soon as possible. He spied the lockup where the drugs were kept, slipped
the disc behind it and pushed the cabinet into place just as Graham followed
him in, freshly suited up for his day in the cold room, working with the
project he had been so excited about lately. Graham was heading straight
for Lyle, and he didn’t look happy. He couldn’t possibly have discovered
the theft so quickly, but if he had been the one who had seen Lyle leaving
the cold room...
“Come with me, Lyle,” he ordered. “There’s a situation. One of the subjects
has gotten out of hand. We have to save --“
A scream from his right made both of them turn. The flash of fire blinded
him for a moment, but Graham went quickly into action. He grabbed a fire
extinguisher and went to work on the blaze, but the little demon that
had started it ignited another and another with the touch of her small,
chubby hands, until it was evident that the whole room was going up in
flames. The child stopped suddenly, her big, dark eyes fixed on Lyle.
For a moment, he thought she was going to torch him, too, but she ran
away, out of the lab and down the hall, as fast as she could.
Lyle dropped the wet towel he had been using to try to smother the flames
and headed for the cabinet.
Graham dashed into the next room, leaving the door behind Lyle wide open.
The lab was filling with smoke, and Lyle wasn’t sure where the exit was
anymore. He headed uncertainly for the door, choosing his own life over
the potential profit from the sale of the data on that DSA, but just as
he found the opening, someone grabbed his arm. The voice shouting at him
“The subjects! We can’t let them be destroyed!”
“One of those monsters started this fire!” Lyle reminded Graham. He tried
to shake loose of the other man’s grip. The sprinkler system came on,
and a puff of clear air wafted between the two, just in time for Lyle
to see Graham’s other hand coming at him with a fist. He jerked away,
dodging the blow.
Lyle shoved the other man backward. He saw a handful of ampoules and
syringes fly out of Graham’s grip, and heard them tinkle on the polished
“We have to save the research,” Graham blathered. “Those children are
irreplaceable! You have to understand --“ He pushed Lyle out the door,
toward the exit. “Come with me. They’re just --“
“I’m not risking my life for those little devils!” Lyle roared. “You
can’t control them. You never could. We’ll never be able to use them,
can’t you see that?” He grasped the suit at the shoulders and struggled
with Graham toward the rack where the suits were kept. Smoke was thick,
choking him, but he had to get out of there if he was going to live. Lyle
shoved. Graham lost his balance, bounced off the wall and collided with
the hook, neatly looping it into the ring on the top of the helmet. He
floundered for a moment, struggling to get his feet back under him.
Lyle reached under his lab coat for the pistol he had tucked into the
back of his trousers. He had come prepared, in case he got caught stealing.
Aiming the pistol at Graham, he repeated his demand, making sure the other
man saw the gun.
People were running past them, oblivious of the confrontation, heading
Graham called, “Help me down from here, Lyle, and then get your ass to
“Don’t be ridiculous! We don’t have time for this.” Lyle was already
backing away, toward the ladder that would take him to safety. There were
no elevator exits on SL-27. Only the people who worked there even knew
“Help me get those children out, or I’ll make sure Raines and Parker
both know you let their prizes die!”
Losing the prestige he had managed to build up was something Lyle just
couldn’t afford. His finger tightened and he pulled the trigger, watching
as the bullet pierced the faceplate of Graham's helmet, passed through
his eye socket, and embedded itself in his brain. He died instantly, and
with him the threat of discovery, or punishment.
Lyle turned and fled the room, made it to the ladder, and hauled himself
up to safety.
He wiped the disc clean on the overalls and slipped it into his jacket
pocket. Retreating to the ladder, he returned to SL-26 and sealed the
hatch again. After cleaning his shoes and returning the overalls to the
Maintenance laundry bin, he headed straight for his office.
It was the fire in SL-27 which had chained Raines to an oxygen tank all
those years ago. The children he had taken it upon himself to create were
powerful, but undisciplined. Even Lyle had seen that without a method
of controlling them, the project was doomed; but Raines was convinced
he could keep it going until the proper drugs were developed. When the
project fell apart after the fire, the Centre moved away from the idea
entirely, devoting much of their considerable resources to cloning instead.
Until now. The Chairman had a new plan, and it didn't seem to require
any of the Blue Files that Lyle had been chastised for losing. By all
rights, he should have been in the thick of the Seraphim Project, instead
of being relegated to chasing after phantoms.
Lyle understood power. He had held it firmly in his grasp until Jarod
disappeared off the radar. Since then, he had been in a slow-motion plummet
from the heights he had managed to scale. He had wasted too much of his
precious energy over the last several years, kowtowing to the Centre's
wishes and not paying enough attention to his own interests.
That, he decided, was about to change.
* * * * * * * * *
Ghent On The Square
"You have mail," the laptop announced.
Jarod had nearly finished packing up the things he planned to take with
him when he left. He took a moment to arrange the last of the clues he
intended to leave behind for Miss Parker as a cover, then sat down at
the desk and opened his email box.
The subject line read MISSING.
The list of items went on and on. He scrolled down, wondering who had
sent the file to him, and why. Many of the items were ridiculously unimportant.
The sender was a generic Centre email address, one that any number of
people could have used, though few knew how to contact him. He could guess,
but the message was still an enigma.
He continued scrolling, smiling when he saw that he was on the list.
Mr. Parker was, too, though he had been “found” some time ago and apparently
never removed. Then, toward the bottom, he saw an item highlighted in
yellow around the black text.
Below that was an italicized message: Find them.
Jarod knew about the Red Files -- he had discovered them several years
ago, learned that they documented the original eight children who were
taken, or at least considered, for the Pretender Project. He was a member
of that group. But until this moment, he hadn't put together the remaining
pieces of the puzzle.
He glanced at the red notebook lying propped up against the Beanie Baby
elephant on the table. The Centre had given him a red notebook to keep
his case notes in, for every new project. Kyle had worked in blue notebooks.
Red Files. Blue Files. And now… Yellow Files. More Centre projects, and
they -- or at least copies of their paperwork -- were missing.
For a moment he just stared at the screen, contemplating, running scenarios
through his mind. Then he saved the message to a separate file on his
hard drive, and deleted it from the mailbox.
The first place he decided to look was NuGenesis. Fingers dancing on
the keyboard, he initiated a search into their mainframe, using a new
program that would be in and out before their security people were aware
the firewall had been breached.
Yellow.txt was the only document to pop up, and inside he found
a list of names.
Michaela. Raphael. Angelique. Gideon. Dominique. Uriel. Tempest. Gabriel.
What was Mr. Parker’s son’s name doing on the list? What were the Yellow
Files? Or rather, who were they?
There was nothing more in the file, and Jarod got out of the NuGenesis
mainframe as quickly as he could, once the program had made a complete
search. No other information was available electronically.
If he wanted more, he would have to search the building in person. They
knew him there, and would recognize him if he tried to just walk in the
front door, regardless of whatever pretend he offered. He had done a bit
of breaking and entering as well, and was sure they would have completely
altered their security measures, making it much more difficult for him
to enter the grounds.
But nothing they did would keep out a man as determined as he was. If
NuGenesis had more to give him regarding this project and these people,
Jarod would find it. Miss Parker had been right to be concerned about
her little brother. If Gabriel was one of the Yellow Files, the Centre
-- and Mr. Parker -- wouldn't wait very long before putting him on the
treadmill to earn his keep.
The baby deserved better. But until Jarod knew more about the Yellow
Files and how valuable they were to the Centre, he was not going to be
able to devise a successful plan for getting the baby out of there, and
keeping him safe once he was free. He would need to find a place for the
child on the outside, since he would be dependent on adults for his care
for a long time to come.
Jarod remembered the photograph he had sent to Miss Parker. Gabriel was
the picture of innocence, but inside the Centre, that innocence wouldn’t
last long. He hoped it wasn’t already too late.