Perihelion.
Part One

 

home / season five / episode twenty-two / act I

   

Ghent On The Square
Norfolk, VA

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 the wound.

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 all that?”

“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 it.”

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 right.”

“Smart ass.”

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 with you?”

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 programming.

It was time to return to the beginning, to where his world and his life had been, before it all went so horribly wrong.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Chairman's Office

“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 anything.

“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 entire story.

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.”

“Which is…?”

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.

“Sydney.”

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, sir.”

“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.

* * * * * * * * *

SL-27

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 his office.

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 was unharmed.

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 was Graham’s.

“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 concrete floor.

“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 for safety.

Graham called, “Help me down from here, Lyle, and then get your ass to the cells!”

“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 it existed.

“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
Norfolk, VA

"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.

Yellow Files.

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.

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.

On to Act II

 
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