Part One


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The Centre
Mr. Lyle's Office

There it was, in black and white on the computer screen. Lyle’s eyes ran down the list of trace elements, DNA charts and research data for the project called Kronos I. It was supposed to have been a blank virus matrix that could be manipulated into a myriad of other biological devices… some benign, some obscenely deadly. But with this version, the matrix had begun to mutate on its own into something incredibly powerful. As he read over the creator’s findings, he could objectively understand why the Centre had thought it so valuable.

But the following paragraphs chilled him to the bone as the effects of the virus on its host were spelled out in sickening detail.

Of course, they had also perfected a stabilizer -- not a cure -- which would render the virus dormant until the stabilizer was absent for a particular number of days. Research had since progressed to the point where the virus could be attacked and treated once it went active in the host’s system, returning it to its dormant state, but still there was no cure. There would never be a cure, because it had attached itself to his DNA. It was imbedded in his genetic code, and would pass through him into any future generations he might sire.

His head came up.


She was his! Somehow, the Centre had managed to steal his genetic material and produce another little monster for their twisted experiments. No fatherly feelings surfaced with the realization. Instead, he sank further into the depths of the dark emotions swirling through him, knowing that they had used him in yet another experiment without his permission. They had treated him as a subject his entire life, even when he was supposedly in a position of power, as if he was had no more authority than… than Jarod. Lyle was supposed to be on a different side of the fence than the Pretender, but if they thought he was just another commodity at their disposal, they would soon learn the difference.

He would make the Centre tremble before him, wield its power for his own purposes. All he needed were the right tools to bring the Triumvirate to its collective knees.

A smile curved slowly over his mouth. He needed weapons. Perhaps the Centre had provided him with some after all.

Andromeda must have had a mother somewhere along the way, and with that information in his pocket, he just might have a way to gain voluntary control over the girl, once he found her again. He would put his best people on her trail, and soon enough he would have her back in the Centre, wrapped around his finger the same way his sister bowed and scraped before their father. Andromeda was his key… one of them, anyway. The Blue Files were under his direct supervision, and there were more of them than the Red Files, or the Yellow. They would make a suitable army for his coup, as long as they would follow him. That meant mending some fences, becoming Mr. Nice Guy for a while to those abominations he could convince, and getting rid of those he could not.

Faith, of course, was first on that list.

He left the building and pulled out of the parking lot, heading down the road past the last listening post. Taking out his cellular phone, he dialed a number. A clipped voice answered with a single sharp syllable.

“Tell Mr. White I need to see him. I’ll meet him in the usual place, at the usual time.”

Without waiting for a response, he cut the call off and pocketed his phone. There were things to do, people to see in order to set his plan in motion.

* * * * * * * * *

Chairman's Office

The bruise showed plainly through the makeup Miss Parker had so carefully applied, but she wanted it visible. Beneath her sunglasses only a little of it could be seen, so she kept them on until she stepped through the doors to her father’s office. Whipping them off, she glared at him, and shifted her icy gaze to Willie, who was bending over his desk to hand him a memo.

“Angel! What the hell happened to you?” the Chairman demanded. He glanced at Willie and waved him impatiently away.

The sweeper straightened, his dark eyes blazing with leashed fury as he stared back at the woman. He stepped around the desk, confronting her. “I know it was you,” he sneered. “You helped Looking Glass escape, and because of that, Mr. Raines is as good as dead.”

“What the hell is Looking Glass?” she snapped, feigning innocence.

“That wasn’t her fault, Willie,” Mr. Parker assured the other man. “She and Sydney were off chasing Jarod during that… incident.”

Without a word, the sweeper left the office, his expression evidence enough that he hated her.

“Now, what’s the matter?” her father asked softly. “What happened to your face?”

“Haven’t you heard?” she snapped. Crossing her arms, she began to pace in front of his desk, the graze on her arm stinging as she flexed. “I sneaked down to the nursery to see my brother last night and found out he’d been moved. What’s going on, Daddy? Is Gabriel in danger?”

Surprise fleeted across his face, fading into a disapproving frown. “You were told to stay away from the boy. I meant that.”

“And I have obeyed your wishes, until last night.” Her voice softened, and she pleaded with him with her eyes. “It’s been months, Daddy. I miss him, and I know he misses me. I just wanted to see him for a few minutes. Please? You tell me when it’s convenient to his schedule, and I’ll --“

“Angel, angel!” He rose from his desk and came toward her, his tone placating. “I know how hard this is for both of you.” He stepped in front of her, halting her, and reached for her upper arms. At her gasp of pain when he touched her wound, he flinched back. “Are you all right?”

She rubbed her arm lightly. “One of your goons shot at me.” She brushed a lock of her hair back from her forehead, once again pleading softly, and laid her palms on the lapels of his suit. “Daddy, why did you have so much security down there? What’s going on?”

“I had a report that someone wanted to kidnap him.”

She gasped, pretending that was news. “Oh, my God. Is he all right? Who would do such a thing?”

His gaze was hard, questioning. “That’s what I wanted to know, but we don’t have any answers yet.” He patted her good shoulder. “Don’t you worry, though. We’ll find out who it is, and I’ll deal with them. Meantime, you keep focused on Jarod, and I’ll think about taking you down for a visit soon.”

“Really?” Her smile was genuine, her relief profound. “Oh, Daddy, that’s wonderful! Thank you. I promise, you won’t regret it.” She gave him a brief hug and kissed his cheek, then left quickly with her dimples still showing.

Outside his doors, her smile faded, but did not completely disappear. Jarod had been right. She was safe for now. But that could change at any moment, and she would be wary, ready for the slightest hint of change in the wind.

* * * * * * * * *

The Chairman watched her leave, and frowned. She had been so easy to see through, but the thought of her potential mutiny didn’t quite catch. His influence with her ran deep, and he simply could not swallow that she would betray him.

Better to be safe than sorry, though. He picked up the phone, and dialed one of the many Security agents the Centre employed. The man answered curtly, never one to waste words -- a by-product, perhaps, of listening to so many other conversations.

“Jackson, I want to set up surveillance on my daughter. Have it done while she’s out of the office. And I want it done discreetly.”

“Her home as well, sir?”

Parker pursed his lips. He didn’t relish the thought of his security people watching the woman undress. “Audio only. I want to know when she has visitors. I want to know what they talk about. And no one is to listen in but you. Bring anything significant directly to me.”

“Of course, sir.”

Parker hung up the phone. He was confident of Jackson's discretion, but he was no fool. This was the Centre, and no secret was safe from those who were driven to know the answers. As Chairman, he never had to hunt for them, but his daughter was a force of nature all to herself. In time, she would know everything. But by then, he would know whether he could trust her with it.

* * * * * * * * *

The Hideaway
Blue Cove, DE

He laid the photograph onto the smoothly polished bar and slid it over to the man on the stool beside his.

“Lovely lady,” White mused. “Word has it that there are already a great many people looking for her. Why bring me into the hunt?”

Lyle didn’t bother to glance in his direction. “Because no one else has your talent for finding people.” He sipped his drink, glanced toward the bartender chatting with a handful of patrons at the far end of the smoky room. “And because this one is different from all the others you’ve been sent after. You don’t want her to know you’re there. And I don’t want her breathing when you bring her back.”

White’s pale eyes crinkled. He barely suppressed a smile. “You know that’s not usually my style.”

“That’s the requirement for getting paid,” Lyle assured him. “She’s more dangerous than she looks. More dangerous than we can afford to have running loose.” He turned and faced the albino. “More dangerous than we can afford to keep.”

“I see.” White tucked the photograph into his jacket pocket. “I’ll want everything you have on her. And it will cost you extra.”

“Locker 319 at the bus station.” Lyle handed over a key to the locker where he had stored a reasonably complete dossier on the Looking Glass project.

“You didn’t ask how much,” White noted, a trace of amusement in his voice. “That’s significant. I’ll name my price afterward, then.”

“Done.” He turned his gaze to the rows of multicolored bottles lining the bar back and listened as the other man rose from his barstool. “And Mr. White, changing your mind is not an option. Neither is failure.”

For a moment, silence stretched between the two men. Then White leaned close, smiled, and said softly, “Understood.”

Lyle watched him leave in the mirror behind the liquor bottles, and continued to sip his drink.

* * * * * * * * *

Nursery Level
Yellow Files Project

Sydney strolled down the corridor, folders in hand, looking into the different rooms that sported windows on their thick steel doors. These were not the drab cells Jarod had spent his childhood in, but brightly colored, cheery places that would appeal to very small children… which was, of course, what was housed on this floor.

The Yellow Files subjects weren’t the only little ones on this level, however. There was a group of excited mothers carrying their toddlers to the elevator to leave, now that their testing had been done. He could only imagine what comparative material had been generated by that particular group, but as he passed a laboratory, he noticed a sad-faced little cherub sitting on a red tricycle, her feet unable to reach the pedals, staring up at her caregiver. The woman was angry, scolding her charge for some infraction of the rules that would govern the child’s life inside Centre walls.

He sighed. Children that young belonged with their parents. He would have to check into the family lives of these Yellow File babies, to see what their status was in that regard. Taking them away from a stable home environment and placing them in the care of workers -- no matter how well paid -- who had no emotional investment in the children could do irreparable harm to their developing psyches. The Centre would end up with unmanageable burdens that they couldn’t control and couldn’t predict how they would react to stimuli.

“Marvelous, aren’t they?”

Sydney’s head whipped around. Cox had moved silently up to stand right behind him, just off to one side, and watch him watching the toddler. The man made the hair on the back of Sydney’s neck stand on end.

“I don’t know much about them, just yet, Dr. Cox. Mr. Parker has just reassigned me to the Yellow Files project.”

Cox smiled. “My Seraphim are coming along nicely, for the most part. I appreciate the lectures you’ve given to their caregivers up until now, but I’m afraid they need more of your… psychological expertise. We must keep the children's' environment free of tension and negativity.”

Sydney’s eyes narrowed. “Why? Children need to learn how to react to negative stimuli, as well as positive. Wouldn’t you rather I worked directly with the children themselves?”

“These are far from ordinary children,” Cox assured him.

“If they were, they would be at home with their families.” Sydney cocked a gray eyebrow and waited for the return volley.

Cox offered a gracious half bow in recognition of the point scored. “They are very talented, in ways you can’t possibly imagine, and incredibly sensitive as well. They need a serene environment, and you have far too much baggage. They’d sense it in an instant, and all we’ve worked for these past several years would be undone.” He sighed and shrugged. “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow that kind of emotional pollution. Not yet, anyway.”

Affronted at the suggestion that he would let his emotions interfere, Sydney lifted his chin and clasped his hands behind his back. “I am always professional in my demeanor and my techniques, Cox. My presence would hardly pollute these subjects.”

“Sorry. You’ll have to stick to working with their caregivers. At least for the moment.”

“Aren’t you afraid my emotional baggage will color my working relationships with their caregivers? How can they be better at my job than I am?”

Cox grinned. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t…” He didn’t bother finishing the old axiom, but shrugged again and walked away, leaving Sydney to come to his own conclusions.

The Belgian continued his stroll down the corridor, watching the children when possible through the observation windows. He observed their caregivers interacting with them, focusing on the information he would need to improve the teachers’ techniques. But there were holes in the files, ones that he would need to fill in before he could be of true value in shaping these children into functioning adolescents.

And for that authority, he would need to see the Chairman.

He spent the rest of the day on the Nursery Level, gathering information that he would use in his campaign to open the vaults. This might be his chance to do things better than he had with Jarod. He had learned from his mistakes, and he would not make the same ones with these new charges.

No, he corrected himself. Not with these children.

* * * * * * * * *

Atlanta, GA

Keen observation always paid off. Jarod watched the facility from a distance for long enough to determine the best plan of entry. Some online research helped him discover the security company that had been employed to devise new defenses for the clinic, and a little additional legwork would get him the plans he needed to thwart both the electronic measures and the human guards that would be prowling a beat around the perimeter.

He had mulled over the problems on the drive from Norfolk, and now was certain that the information he needed would be found somewhere inside those walls. While there was a chance that the list of names he had uncovered in his electronic search of NuGenesis files might be project names, he felt almost certain they were the names of children that the fertility clinic had produced. Jarod would need to locate the families raising them, and determine what level of danger the children might be facing. Gabriel was a priority, but in order to be adequately prepared for whatever came next, he had to know something about the other names on that enigmatic list. He had to know what the Centre was planning on doing with them, and the best place to start was at the beginning.

Raines had tried to re-start the Pretender Project a few years back, and had failed. They had cloned Jarod, and that successful project was stolen out from under them by the Pretender himself. Part of him was afraid that, eventually, he might discover a whole building full of little Jarods of various ages, all victims of various research programs that might corrupt them in myriad ways.

The Centre would do just such heinous things without a second thought. But the organization was a patient one, too. They had waited until they knew the cloning projects for himself and Miss Parker were a success before they would try it again. That could be anytime now. They could already have started building another Jarod.

He should have destroyed the biological materials he had found at Pakor Foods, but he’d been distracted by the discovery of his father.

Jarod shook his head, trying to shake the dark thoughts loose. There was time to explore that. He had been looking intermittently, but there seemed to be no action on their part toward renewing the cloning project. It was just his own irrational fear surfacing to distract him.

He could deal with that. He hiked back to where he had left his car and drove to his new job at Sentinel Security, ready for a profitable day of research into security system designs. In his latest research, he had taken note of an interesting name on the roster of NuGenesis board members, one that had surprised him a little.

And somewhere inside, that doctor had an office. Out of all the places Jarod could look inside the clinic, that one office was the only one that held any interest for him. He suspected it wouldn’t be easy to find.

On to Act III

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