Perihelion.
Part Two

 

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Lyle's office

Lyle picked up the syringe from the tin carrying case on his desk and stared at it. He felt like a pincushion. Hateful, dreadful thing that it was, its contents were his only means of staying alive. As part of his new regime, he would set a research team onto the path of finding a cure for him... or at least some kind of treatment which would enable him to live a more normal life, going for longer periods without medication.

How long could he go? He remembered being trapped in that shipping container with his sister, a journey that had taken days, with nothing but roasted grasshoppers for food. He’d missed all his injections then, and aside from feeling sick and dead tired when they arrived, he was okay. Once he had access to his medication, he felt just fine again. But he hadn’t nearly died, as he had in that room where Raines had trapped him. What had been different?

He frowned at the syringe. Something was wrong, but he wasn’t sure what it was.

“Mr. Lyle, Mr. Valentine is here to see you,” his secretary announced on his phone intercom.

“Thanks, Lily. Have him make himself comfortable, and I’ll buzz you when you can send him in.”

He didn’t bother with the alcohol swab, just jabbed the needle into his shoulder, delivered its contents and tossed the empty syringe on his desk. Quickly, he adjusted his clothes and hit the buzzer. A moment later, a tall man with salt and pepper hair, clipped short into a dapper Caesar, stepped into his office.

“Good to see you again, Valentine,” Lyle said with a smile. He stepped out from behind his desk and offered a hearty handshake and a clap on the other man’s shoulder. “I’m glad you could come.”

“Anything for you, Lyle. You know that.” Valentine smiled, his perfect white teeth bright against his tanned face. Deep dimples cleaved his cheeks, and his brown eyes twinkled with pleasure. “It’s been too long. Things are too civilized nowadays. Not like it was in Asia.”

Lyle winked at him conspiratorially. “You’d be surprised. You did notice my secretary, didn’t you?”

Valentine straightened his tie and smoothed down his navy suit jacket. “I’m going to enjoy working with her. Nice touch, finding such a capable Asian woman to work right under your nose. Must keep you revved all the time, knowing you can’t touch.”

“Exactly.”

“So what’s going on that needs my… shall we say, deft touch? I know you wouldn’t have called just to catch up on old times. And having me assigned to you as your sweeper-slash-right hand man wasn’t easy to do. Must be something big.”

“It is. But not all at once. There are a lot of pieces to put into place before it gets interesting, but I know you’re a patient man.”

Valentine nodded and sprawled into a chair across from Lyle’s desk. His eyes fell immediately on the empty syringe. “Taken up any bad habits I should know about?”

Lyle picked up the syringe and reached under his desk for the sharps container stored there for disposal of his supplies. Rather than just dropping the needles into the bin, however, Lyle always disposed of the entire syringe. He set the bin on top of his desk.

“You know all my bad habits, Valentine. In fact, you share some of them. But if you’re concerned I’m a dope head, don’t be. This is a little bonus the company gave me when I was too young to protest, and I need a little research assistance at the moment.” He took the top off the bin and tilted it so his guest could see into it. “There’s a couple of weeks’ supply in here, almost ready to send to Disposal. I want every one of these syringes tested, to see if there is any variation in the formula. I’m betting there is. If I’m right, I want to know what it is and how it got there. In detail.”

Valentine eyed the bin with disgust, but nodded. “You got it, boss man. Point me to the lab.”

Lyle capped the bin and gave directions to the laboratory he wanted used. “Nobody sees the results but me, Valentine. And you might want to read up on Kronos I before you get started.” Lyle handed over the file along with the bin.

“I’m on the job,” Valentine announced. He swung out of the office in a few long, lazy strides that covered distance quickly.

Lyle felt better already. Valentine was a man who got things done… anything anyone powerful enough to employ him wanted done. Lyle had to grease a lot of palms to get the man on his team, but Valentine was just what he needed. Now, there would be nothing he couldn’t accomplish.

He smiled, sat back down in his chair, and congratulated himself on his brilliant idea.

* * * * * * * * *

Pakor Frozen Foods
Baltimore, MD

Jarod had been through several simulations already, and this place was one of the major sources of untapped information in the Centre’s web of intrigue. He knew Pakor was where they stored the various materials needed to create Jordan. If they had that, they would undoubtedly have other genetic material. Jarod wanted to examine the storage records to see if he might find any references to the list of names he had found at NuGenesis.

It took time to get inside and get at the records without being seen, but his experience two years ago had taught him a lesson. While the Centre might have guessed that he would return eventually to NuGenesis and thus had changed the security arrangements there, they did not suspect he would make a return visit to Pakor. The security system hadn't been changed, and was easy to sabotage; getting the night watchman interested in a hockey game would keep him occupied for long enough to get the job done.

Jarod’s first stop was the frozen storage area. Donning the cold gear furnished near the door, he went into the freezer and began to examine the stored samples. None of the names on his list were mentioned, so they were probably not clones. He did, however, find additional samples of his own DNA, which he promptly destroyed, along with Miss Parker’s. Outrage simmered while he explored the vaults, but his natural sense of humor kicked in, and he decided to leave some surprises behind. He destroyed all the human samples he discovered, and substituted samplings of various animals in their place.

Centre scientists would be perplexed when future experiments with those particular samples produced some unexpected results… or no results at all.

But as he prowled through the various storage compartments, he made another startling -- and horrifying -- discovery. There were nearly 20 number coded samples of human sperm and ova in the banks. Things were starting to take a different turn, and he needed more information. Whose genetic material was that, and why was it being stored at Pakor? What did the Centre intend to do with it? Was this the source of the children he suspected had been produced at NuGenesis?

For those answers, he needed to break into the computer data bank at Pakor. After finishing up in the freezer, he returned the cold gear to storage and helped himself to a computer terminal. He was running out of time, only had a few minutes left to get out before the guard was due to make rounds, but breaking into the system from inside the building was easy.

Counting the seconds, he located the catalog file and emailed it to himself, shut down the terminal and slipped out the door.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod's Lair

An hour later, in the quiet of his seedy hotel room, he opened the file and began searching through the listings for the code numbers he had memorized in the freezer.

The first name that popped up was Kyle’s.

“The Centre had your sperm,” he said to the name on the screen, as if his dead brother could hear him. Realization dawned along with a wave of nausea. “Oh, my God.”

Rebecca
Lyle
Damon
Angelo
Mason
Morgan Parker
Jarod

All eight of the Red Files were on the list except for Dara, who had been rescued from the Centre as a child and died before Raines could get his hands on her again.

Kyle
Faith
Ethan
Dannie
Sun-Chai
Yuri
Allegra
Keely

Eight Blue Files were on the list, including both of his brothers. Jarod stood up so fast his chair fell over backwards. He grabbed his head, unable to stop the thoughts ricocheting around inside his brain. With no directive from a handler, he was already postulating which male mated with which female would achieve offspring with the greatest potential. And he himself was at the top of the list.

“No,” he gagged. “Make it stop. Sydney…”

Breath caught. Stomach heaved. He made it to the trash can just in time, and when he recovered, when he had calmed down enough to speak coherently, he dialed the number.

“The Yellow Files,” he whispered hoarsely into the mouthpiece. “Are they a eugenics project?”

“Jarod, are you all right? You don’t sound well.”

“Don’t play shrink with me, dammit,” Jarod snapped. “Just answer the question, for once.”

Sydney sighed. “It may be a possibility, yes. But to what purpose…”

Purpose didn’t matter. They had made a copy of him, so they could hold onto him forever. And now they were going to make the next generation of Pretenders, and God knew what else, from the best and the brightest, the most advanced human beings they could find. And when they had made this new generation of lab rats…

Tears filled his eyes and trickled onto his cheeks. Pain wrenched in his gut, bending him double. Jarod knew they already had the fruits of their labor. The Yellow Files were his children, his and the other Red and Blue File adults who had matured enough to breed.

“Jarod? Are you crying? What’s the mat --“

He pushed the cutoff button and ended the call, folded up the telephone and laid it down on the desk beside his laptop. And then he buried his face in his hands and wept.

Somewhere inside the Centre, he had a child. Or children. How many did he have?

Jarod knew he might never solve that riddle, and it would tear at his soul forever.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Meeting Room

The Chairman stared down the long conference table, considering the recent information he had received about potential plots from the South African branch of the Triumvirate. Remedial action was already in progress, and he knew that the faces at the table would be changing soon. He would not allow subversion in the ranks, and no one held more power over the various branches of the Centre than himself. He intended to keep it that way, and only by showing his strength and intolerance of personal agendas could he maintain that position.

He listened as the old African finished his report and sat down. The younger representative was in his pocket, and had helped him secure the Chairman’s seat. But the oldest of the African representatives had worn out his welcome when he idly suggested that more important research was going on in Johannesburg than in Delaware.

“Dr. Cox,” Parker called. “What do you have to report to us today?”

Sitting alone at the far end of the table, in the guest chair, the doctor stood. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began formally, “I’m sure you all remember the demonstration on Gabriel's first birthday. It is my pleasure to report to you today that the Seraphim Project is now in full swing, and every one of the candidates has begun training. Gabriel has been introduced to them, and has been accepted in the position of authority that he will one day hold among them as adults.”

A pleased murmur circulated up the table to the Chairman’s ears, and Parker smiled. He nodded for Cox to continue. With a nod and a smile of acknowledgement, the doctor launched into his report.

“…While Gideon and Michaela are now showing the first signs of their phenomenal abilities, they do not have the advantage of control, which causes a great deal of anxiety among their caregivers. Michaela is in the habit of giving mild static shocks to those who displease her, and Gideon has already started half a dozen fires in his nursery. We have found that low doses of tranquilizers keep this ability from manifesting, but we don’t want to keep him on medication too long. He will need to learn control of this talent, and can’t do that if he isn’t allowed to use it.”

“Herr Doctor, I seem to recall a rumor of a fire in your lower levels here some time ago, that was started by another of your wunderkind,” Madame Berkstresser said. “Isn’t a child like that too dangerous to utilize as a tool? There would be nothing beyond his reach, if he were too self-centered.”

Cox nodded. “We did have such an experience, madam, and learned valuable lessons from it, which we are ready to apply. Now that we have the means to control the children and bend them to our will, we can take a chance on developing lines of pyrokinetics and electrokinetics. With such weapons as these in our arsenal, there is nothing we cannot achieve.”

Parker watched the information soak into every mind at the table, knowing what thoughts it would inspire. The main objective at that moment in time was to hold everything together, to keep everyone focused on the common goal, rather than let petty egos try to fragment the Triumvirate’s power and go off on personal tangents with this research. But he was good at that sort of thing. He had been anticipating what would occur after the progress report was made public. Measures were in place, and only those who remained focused on the prize would retain their seats at this table. Others, like old Mbutu, would be replaced as soon as they made their move.

“There are, of course, one or two who require more delicate handling, like our Angelique,” Cox went on. “Because of her sensitivity to others, she prefers to be alone. She will need someone to act as her protector, build her confidence, and earn her loyalty. Gabriel will shortly be making great strides in that area.” He rose, gathered up his notes and caught the Chairman’s pleased eye. “We are succeeding, ladies and gentlemen. We are meeting our goals for the Seraphim more quickly than we had ever imagined. Gabriel is everything we created him to be, and you all deserve congratulations for managing this endeavor so well.”

He excused himself and left the conference room. Once the doors were closed again, Parker rose and addressed the Triumvirate. “It’s taken us 50 years to come this far.” He paused and met the eyes of the German delegation first. “You started us on a journey that has been exciting and dangerous.” He smiled and shifted his focus to the South African group. “You have provided the leadership and resources that kept us going when business took a downward turn. But now, it’s a new day, a new country’s turn to host the big project. And I think I can safely say that the strides we here in the United States have made in the last decade have brought us to this point.”

He reached beneath the table and produced an ornate Art Deco ice bucket, chilling a large bottle of Dom Perignon champagne. One step away from the table, he opened a wooden bar to reveal a set of champagne glasses, one for each person at the table. Then he faced his council members again, blue eyes glittering.

“I think we can safely say that our quest for the Master Race has come to a close, ladies and gentlemen. The Seraphim have arrived. They are the culmination of my life’s work, and yours as well. Every one of us has been dreaming of this day since we were youngsters, full of spit and vinegar.” He chuckled, and began handing out the glasses. “We did it, people. We have created Perfection.”

Sedate exclamations of approval and agreement went up around the table. People rose from their seats and came to the bar for a glass, and the Chairman poured the bubbly. They toasted each other, and broke up into small groups chatting amiably about various portions of the projects.

Parker watched them, and listened for every scrap of information he could glean, ready for the battles over the Seraphim to begin.

* * * * * * * * *

Pakor Frozen Foods
Baltimore, MD

It wasn’t enough. Jarod was certain there was more information in the building on the Yellow Files, so he arranged a second visit to the plant. This time, however, he wanted to examine the paper files stored in the president’s office.

Jarod didn’t go straight to the file cabinets when he shut himself into the room. Instead, he studied the decorating, the photos on the desk, the screen saver on the computer. All the elements in this room described some portion of its owner’s personality. Jarod knew from the pristine desktop that Mr. Orser was obsessively neat. Every file folder was in its place in his desk trays; paper clips were in a magnetic sorter so they would be easier to snatch in a hurry; every pen and pencil was placed just so in the holder. Orser also played golf -- there were photos of himself on favorite courses, or with famous players on the walls.

One picture in particular caught his eye. It was right in line with the chair behind the desk, so Orser could see it whenever he sat down. The image in the photo was of himself on St. Andrew’s in Scotland, one of the great shrines of the sport.

Jarod ignored the file cabinets and walked straight to the photo. He pressed his head against the wall, checking before he touched it to see if it was wired with sensors or an alarm. It was clean, and he pushed it away from the wall. The picture frame turned on hinges, and revealed a pocket built onto the back of the frame. Sticking out at the top was a small sliver of yellow paper.

He pulled it out.

One canary yellow file folder opened in his hand. Long strips of thermal paper were carefully folded inside. Numbered rows went down the left side, and to the right of each number were columns of shaded black marks or empty slots. At the top of each was a name, and the names were identical to the list he had located in the NuGenesis files. He took the papers and tucked them into the inner pocket of his leather jacket, then put the folder back into the pocket and set the photograph back into its proper place.

Jarod knew what those papers were. Each one was a genetic profile. This puzzle would take him some time to figure out, but he had time to study them. With feline grace he slipped back out into the night and returned to his hotel room.

Once the break-in was discovered, which was certain to happen by morning now that he had actually taken something, he needed to be long gone from this place. An examination of the profiles would have to wait. With great care he packed up all his stolen treasures, and headed for his car and somewhere else.

On to Act II

 
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