Jarod laid the DNA profiles out, rearranging them like pieces of a puzzle,
until he got them to match. Each profile for each of the children on his
list contained two major sets of DNA patterns, with a handful of additional
codes added in to make them complete and unique, different even from their
parents. The two major sets of patterns under each name was designated
with a number, and Jarod had spent hours studying genetics to understand
all of what he was seeing.
Finally, he had everything separated into eight individual piles, all
of the items in each pile relating to one specific child. One by one,
he examined the data, working to determine which, if any, might be his.
The oldest of the children was over two years, and Gabriel was the youngest.
He went methodically in birth order, combing through the profiles to see
if he could determine parentage on any of them.
He knew how to read the data. A dark spot in one column would indicate
blue eyes; in another column it would mark brown eyes. This marker designated
the profile as male, that one as female. He separated the men from the
women, the blue eyed from the brown, and narrowed it down to four potentials.
Three of the males, in fact, seemed to be related. He decided those three
were himself, Kyle and Ethan.
At that point, he took a breather, and decided to work on the women’s
profiles. He would need to know everything about these children, who their
parents were, and if he was too overwrought, he wouldn’t be able to finish
properly. So he studied the women’s profiles, and after a great deal of
deliberation, he fixed maternity on each of the children.
For several minutes he stared at one profile, his heart pounding painfully
in his chest. He would have to tell this child’s mother, if she didn't
already know; either way, it wouldn’t be an easy thing to do.
He embraced his pain, and went back to the men’s profiles, studying those
four that had the right characteristics.
Kyle’s eyes had been blue, and Ethan’s mother was different, so there
were patterns in their files that marked them. Which left one profile
that had to be his own.
He stared at that profile, aware of the thumping in his chest, the heat
of his body, the life pumping in his veins. He was strong, able to wield
tremendous destructive force with his hands and with his mind, but at
the moment he was utterly helpless. What was done was done, and he could
not undo it.
He had a child, part of his body and this woman’s who did not even know
she was a mother. And his child lived as a prisoner, a laboratory animal
in the Centre.
He rose and began to pace beside the table where he had so carefully
laid out all the data. Rage swirled through him, blocking out rational
thought. He envisioned the Centre exploding into billions of tiny fragments,
fire ravaging whatever was left.
But he couldn't take direct action against them. Not yet. Not as long
as they had his child. Not as long as they had any children, but particularly
those who were the Yellow Files.
He sat down again, eyes closed as he tried to control his fury. He would
have to restrain himself and think, figure out what to do to save them.
He couldn’t do it by himself, he already knew that. But he needed a plan,
and to construct one, he would have to be able to think clearly.
Jarod applied himself to that task with his whole being, unaware that
he was crying. Tears streamed down his cheeks unheeded, dropping into
a small puddle on the printout directly in front of him. Ink dissolved
into the tears, blurring the name neatly printed at the top of the narrow
strip of paper.
* * * * * * * * *
SL-17, Nursery Level
Cox stepped out of the playroom, clipboard in hand, a broken plush toy
tucked under his arm. He secured the lock on the door and looked up as
he stepped away, heading for the elevator that would take him back to
his office. Just stepping off that elevator were a group of workers, and
Cox strolled over to him. “May I ask why you've chosen this level?” he
“Just giving Valentine, here, the tour,” Lyle answered casually. “He’s
my new sweeper. Valentine, this is Cox.”
The other man leaned closer, narrowing his eyes as he stared directly
into Cox’s, but did not extend his hand in greeting. In fact, he kept
his hands firmly clasped behind his back. “You’re traveling light, there,
aren’t you, Dr. Cox?” he asked enigmatically.
“This sub-level is off limits,” Cox reiterated. But he couldn’t shift
his gaze back to Lyle. Something about the new sweeper mesmerized him,
nailed his attention. It felt as if the man was looking right into his
soul, but that was impossible; he had none.
Valentine smiled at him. Something cold glimmered in his eyes, with hard,
sharp edges. Cox felt the danger instantly, and knew that this man should
not be trifled with unless absolutely necessary. But if he was Lyle’s
lackey, he could certainly be reassigned.
Cox opened his mouth to speak, but the stuffed Eeyore under his arm hiccuped
and said, in a deep and slightly forlorn voice, “Got a question? Well,
go ahead and ask it.”
Lyle grinned. “I know you want me out of your way. You were in cahoots
with Raines, trying to get rid of me. And I also know you’re using the
Yellow Files to try to snatch power, but you’ll going to have to watch
your step. After all, the Chairman of the Triumvirate is my father.”
“I’m aware of your family tree, Mr. Lyle,” Cox assured him coolly. He
wanted to laugh at the man’s overblown sense of importance. “But whom
do you think the Centre would consider more important to its continued
success: someone who has deliberately mishandled their prize Pretender,
and lost most of the Blue Files, or the man who created the Seraphim for
them?” He chuckled, forgetting about the new sweeper for the moment. “I
have the power of life and death in my hands. What do you have in yours?”
He yanked the toy out from under his arm and pushed it against Lyle’s
“Outcome looks sorta gloomy,” said Eeyore.
Cox laughed softly. “If your 'vitamin deficiency' doesn’t destroy you,
maybe Faith will, as she did Raines. Your ineptitude seems to be forever
coming back to haunt you.”
"You can't win them all," Eeyore commiserated.
Lyle took the toy as Cox sidestepped and walked away toward the elevator.
"Keep away from the children, Lyle,” he called over his shoulder.
A pair of nearby sweepers heard the directive and moved toward them.
Lyle held up his hands in a placatory gesture and began to back away.
He and his companion also turned and headed toward the elevator, stepping
inside just as the doors closed.
Cox selected a floor, and Lyle pushed another button immediately afterward.
“Watch yourself, Cox,” Lyle warned amiably. “One day soon, I just might
be your boss. Then where will you be?”
He tossed Eeyore back to the doctor just as the doors slid open to deposit
him on the next floor down.
"Looks good, for you," the toy said. "Must
“Never underestimate someone who’s got nothing to lose,” Lyle offered
as a parting shot, just as the doors closed again.
Cox tucked the toy back under his arm. “Idle threats,” he mused to himself,
certain that Lyle was just trying to make himself look good in front of
the new lackey.
Eeyore hiccuped once more. "Sorry to bother you, but... is my
tail still there?"
Cox stared down at the toy, its sad eyes in brave contrast to its stitched
smile. He didn’t have a talent for precognition, but recognized that all
humans were capable of it at times. And suddenly, he didn’t feel quite
as sure of himself where Lyle was concerned.
He punched the button again, even though the elevator was already in
motion, anxious to get back to his office after completing his rounds.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker's office
The day seemed to last forever. Miss Parker put in overtime, sifting
through clues left at Jarod’s last lair as if she were seriously trying
to divine his next mission. He was gone from Norfolk already, and in another
day she would lead her cohorts to Ghent On The Square for a search of
his latest lair. For now, she played her part well, stretching out the
time until she could call it quits for the day.
Her drive home was uneventful, but she took notice of the cable van parked
just up the road from her house. That would be the listening post, where
the technicians assigned to spy on her would be waiting, monitoring for
any visitors to come to her house or any phone call she made, hoping she
would slip up and plot something aloud that could be reported to the Chairman.
Parker was no fool. Broots’ warning had been sufficient. She knew there
would be no cameras installed to watch her at home -- he had told her
so. They didn’t want to see her doing mundane things, only to know if
she was planning treason with any accomplices. She was safe as long as
she kept quiet, but the feeling of being watched was impossible to shake.
Uncomfortable as that was, she wanted nothing more than to get a good
night’s rest. Dinner was leftovers from the Chinese takeout she’d had
the night before, and after a hot bath and a large scotch, she fell into
bed. Sleep claimed her quickly, but it was not peaceful.
Get up, honey.
Parker moaned, and pulled the pillow over her head. “Not now, Mama,”
she said aloud.
It’s time. You have to finish my work.
She sat up slowly, suddenly aware that the voice she had been hearing
was her mother’s. The room was empty, as usual, but the feeling was strong
that Catherine was somewhere nearby.
“Mama?” she whispered sleepily. “What is it?”
They’re listening. Remember that.
Parker nodded now fully awake. “I know.” She could hear the voice clearly,
and wondered if anyone else could hear it, too.
The voice was calm, and a sensation of warmth infused her, as if someone
had just put loving arms around her and held her close. Comfort seeped
into her, and she lifted her head, eyes closed, listening to that wonderful
voice she had wanted to hear again for so long. She sighed, and waited,
This is your perihelion, my darling. You have to get close to the fire,
and let the strength you find there propel you on a different journey.
Finish my work, Morgan. It’s what you were born to do.
“But where --“
Parker opened her eyes. The vision of her mother was gone again, without
giving her the information she needed. She still didn’t know where to
find the DSA with her mother’s plan on it.
She wasn’t going to go back to sleep this time. She paced the floor until
she got cold, then went into the closet to put on one of Tommy’s flannel
shirts for warmth. It still smelled like him, and almost felt as if he
had his arms around her.
She wandered into the living room, poured herself another drink and sat
down on the sofa to contemplate what her mother had said. She lifted her
drink to her lips and raised her eyes to the fireplace across the room.
For a moment, she couldn’t move.
You have to get closer to the fire, her mother had said. Mechanically
setting the glass aside, she rose and moved to sit on the hearth, studying
the bricks dusted with soot in the back of the fireplace. It was coming
up on summer anyway, and the fireplace could use a good cleaning. She
changed into sweats, pulled her hair into a ponytail and returned to the
hearth with a box of tools. Donning a pair of rubber gloves to try to
keep her hands clean, she began first to wiggle each of the bricks in
the outer face of the fireplace, trying to find one that might be even
the slightest bit loose, but there were none. She continued with those
bricks she could reach on the three inner walls of the fire chamber, then
hauled out all the partially burned logs on the iron cradle. Next, she
swept up the ashes and worried at the floor, hoping to find something
With a sigh of frustration, she climbed all the way into the fireplace
and took a look up the chimney, what she could see of it. Her head wouldn’t
fit all the way into the flue, but she could get an arm into the mechanism
that kept the smoke flowing upward, and not back into the house. Gingerly
she felt around inside it, but wasn’t sure what she was feeling through
Into her bedroom she dashed, retrieving a couple of small hand mirrors
and a flashlight before returning to the fireplace. It took some clever
maneuvering to arrange the mirrors in such a way where she could see into
the chimney, but her efforts were rewarded with the sight of a small square,
coated in thick black soot, attached to a wall. It didn’t appear to have
a purpose, and she reached for it.
Moments later, she held the object in her hand, gently brushing the powdery
black off the metal surface, in search of a catch. Holding her breath,
she whipped off the rubber gloves, no longer caring if the soot stained
her fingers or nails, and opened the box. Inside it was a DSA, carefully
packed in heat-resistant foam.
She wanted to laugh, to shout for joy. This was her mother’s last message
to her, recorded at some point before her death at Raines' hands. She
could hardly wait to see her mother’s face smiling back at her, to hear
her voice --
Parker suddenly realized she couldn’t play the DSA in her house or at
her office. She was going to have to get away somewhere before she could
hear her mother’s plan. Quickly, she went to the bathroom, washed her
hands and took the DSA with her into her closet. She changed again, dressing
in jeans and a silk tank top, with Tommy’s flannel shirt over it. Slipping
the disc into one of the shirt pockets, she took her DSA reader, got into
the car, and drove.
She gave no thought to where she was headed, but soon found herself pulling
into a motel on the way to Norfolk. Watching the traffic all around her,
she was certain she had not been followed, certain that no one would be
listening. Barely able to contain her excitement, she checked in, locked
the door and turned on the water in the shower, just in case. Setting
the reader up on the bathroom counter, she slipped the disc in and set
it to play.
Catherine Parker was alone in the house Miss Parker now called her own,
sitting on the couch only a few feet from the fireplace where the DSA
had eventually been stored. She leaned forward to adjust the camera, looked
into the lens and smiled, but there was great sadness in her eyes, mixed
“Hi, sweetheart,” she said softly. “It feels a little strange to be talking
to you like this…”
Tears filled her eyes and she glanced away, then pasted on a brave face
and continued. "If you've found this recording, it means that you've
managed to develop the inner sense I always knew was inside of you."
She smiled sadly. "Your father did his best to prevent that, by forbidding
the use of your name. But I knew that one day you would see through it
all. Your name is your strength, Morgan. Never forget that."
The sight of her mother pulled at Parker's soul, but she was trying not
to feel the agony of her loss. She was trying to listen, to understand.
Instinctively she knew how important this message was, both to herself
and to her late mother.
"The reason I'm making this now is that I have to go away for a
while. I don't want to leave you, don't want to put you through the pain
that's bound to come… but the choice has been taken out of my hands."
She stopped for a moment, sniffling, then continued. "When it's all
over, I'll try to come back for you. But if I don't --" Her voice
broke. "-- if I don't, then I need you to understand what I've been
doing at the Centre. I need you to understand my plan."
Catherine’s face screwed up. Her breath caught, and her hand shot forward
to shut off the camera. The scene resumed a half second later, but it
was obvious that she had been crying.
"The Centre was a good place once, a place that helped people. The
influence of the Triumvirate changed all that. Some of the things they've
done, especially their work with children, frightens me. I've tried to
save as many as I can, but it's never enough. And there are always people
watching, always someone ready and willing to betray you for a chance
to move up the ladder.
"I thought about leaving, but I couldn't -- not with so many innocents
in danger. And then, one day, I had a vision." She tilted her head,
as if reliving it at that moment. "It's difficult to describe, but
I believe my inner sense was showing me a piece of the future… much further
ahead than anything I'd seen before."
Catherine leaned forward, closer to the camera. "I saw children,
dozens of them, all controlled by the Centre. I watched them grow into
adults, right before my eyes. And then I saw them turn on their handlers,
fighting as though for their very existence. It was a sort of… holy war,
but fought with weapons I'd never seen before. Weapons the Centre had
She shifted position, and her voice softened. "The Centre cannot
be taken down from the outside. Cut off an arm or leg, even the head itself,
and part will remain -- enough to regenerate, given time. The only way
to stop this insanity is to change it from the inside. That's what I've
been trying to do. It's what I need you to do now.
"Find the children," she instructed. "The Red Files, and
the others to come, when they are old enough to understand. Together,
you can root out the evil and help the Centre become the benevolent place
it once was. My plan will take time… it will have to wait until you and
the others are grown, but it's the only way. When you finish, you will
have fulfilled my legacy -- and I have no doubt that God will smile upon
The woman on the screen finished talking, but did not shut off the camera.
She looked into it for a moment, considering, chewing her lower lip nervously.
And then she spoke again, even more softly.
"If you need someone to help you, someone whose strength you can
rely on, seek out Jarod. I can see, even now, the kind of man he's going
to be one day. He's his father's son, which means you can trust him implicitly.
At the Centre, that's worth its weight in gold.
“That’s all I have to say, baby. I know you’ll do the right thing. You’re
going to be a strong woman, and kind. You’re special, not just because
you’re my daughter and I love you, but because you have a gift.“ She smiled,
wiping her tears with a tissue. “You’re going to be amazing, Morgan. You
have everything you need already inside you. All you have to do is find
Parker’s mouth dropped slightly open. What was her mother talking about?
Her brow furrowed, and she waited for more.
Catherine only smiled, blew a kiss, and reached to shut off the recorder.
Static filled the screen, and Parker used the track ball to scan for any
additional item that might have been recorded onto the disc, but there
was nothing. She played the whole thing back again, just to watch her
mother, to love her with her eyes.
And when she was finished, she retreated to the bed to catch up on a
little sleep. She was exhausted, and more than anything else she needed
to rest. Hours later, she rose, packed up her things and drove the rest
of the way to Norfolk. Jarod was already gone, as she knew he would be.
She telephoned him at the number he had given her, and waited for him
Jarod would know what needed to be done. With his guidance, she would
carry out Catherine’s brave coup. A holy war had started with her death,
but now, at perihelion, the persecuted would turn and stand fast, rather
than run and hide.
Things were changing, and she was going to be lost in the eye of the