Part Two


home / season five / episode twenty-three / act IV


The Centre
Chairman's office

“You sent for me, sir?” asked Cox, clipboard in hand. He had disposed of the troublesome Eeyore in the first waste bin he encountered, on his way to see Mr. Parker. Michaela had shorted out the controls with a burst of static electricity, and made it speak at random intervals, rather than when its paw was pressed. Cox was quite proud of the toddler, but didn’t enjoy the deadpan remarks that always seemed to crop up at the most inopportune times.

“Do you have that report for me yet?” Parker asked brusquely. “I was disappointed you didn’t have more to display at the dog and pony show.”

Cox nodded. “I know you were expecting more, sir, but these children must be handled delicately until they’re old enough to go on the Aurora program. That includes surveillance and filming them. They’re quite aware, and most find such behavior disturbing.” He smiled. “Which will be a valuable trait later on, as adults. They’ll know without being told when they are being watched, and will act accordingly, making them impossible to catch in the midst of any… inappropriate behavior.”

Parker chuckled. “Great thinking. I hadn’t considered that aspect of their development.”

“They are, however, ready to begin the next phase of their education,” Cox assured him. “We’re doing it right, this time, not moving in such a hurry that we ignore crucial security measures, as happened before. I don’t want an SL-27 incident on my hands. Or on yours.”

The Chairman frowned, remembering. “Yes. I told Raines at the time that those children were dangerous, but he wouldn’t listen. How’s Gabriel doing?”

Cox beamed. “He’s advancing at an accelerated pace, doing far better than we expected at this stage. And he’s also had his first introduction to the Seraphim. Let me show you the highlights.”

He handed over a DSA, and narrated while it played. “The children knew they were going to be watched during this encounter. They realized it was something special, and Gabriel was everything we expected. Watch him with Angelique.”

Parker saw the two toddlers sitting near each other in a corner of the nursery playroom. Gabriel did not look directly at her, but stole glances at her peripherally. He had been given a toy that was Angelique’s favorite, and knew that she wanted it. But rather than hand it to her, he put it on the floor and took a long-handled push toy to scoot it within her reach, as if he understood that she didn’t want to risk being inadvertently touched.

“You see? He knows he’ll have to work within the parameters she sets, wait for her to come to him, rather than pursuing her. None of the others understood that.”

“Excellent!” Parker crowed. He took the DSA from the player and put it in his desk, rather than give it back to Cox. “What else have you got for me?”

The doctor’s smile was filled with secrets. “I conducted a test with Gabriel not long ago, with some interesting results. When Jarod is finally caught, Gabriel will be ready for the next stage of the program. You see, he already knows who Jarod is.”

The Chairman was shocked. “How is that possible? Does he really understand the connection between them?”

Cox shook his head. “I don’t think so. But he recognizes his face, and senses that Jarod is important to his future. The rest, I’m sure he’ll get in time, once he’s old enough to grasp the concept.”

“Should that trouble me, Cox?”

“Not at all,” the doctor assured him. “In fact, it’s just another remarkable gift in our crowning glory. We’re discovering new things about him almost every day.”

Parker seemed satisfied, and his frown melted into approval. “Great work, doctor. Keep me posted.”

Cox offered an elegant bow. “As always, Mr. Chairman. As always.”

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod knocked on the door of the nondescript motel, and Miss Parker let him in right away. He could see from the look on her face that she was upset. She needed him, and this time he knew he couldn’t walk away from her.

Instinctively, he reached for her, stroking his fingers along her forearm. “How can I help you, Miss Parker?” he asked softly.

“You know my name, Jarod,” she murmured. “It’s okay to use it.” Wearily, she pulled out of his light grasp, and took a seat on the bed.

That announcement was unsettling, but not unexpected. She had been opening up to him slowly for a long time now, and only recently had they crossed into this prelude to intimacy. The doors to her soul stood fully open to him now. He could feel it. He could feel her fear, her anguish.

“We have to talk,” she went on. “I’ve found some things that you need to know.”

“So have I,” he said sadly. He sighed, and drew an envelope out of his jacket. His dark eyes were filled with pain when he came to where she sat and fondled it in silence.

“What is it?”

For a moment he just stared at her. Then he handed over the envelope with the papers from Pakor and waited, pacing near the foot of the bed while she looked at them. She wouldn’t understand the full implications of the printouts, and he couldn’t keep the secret inside himself any longer. It was too painful.

“Gabriel is a designer baby, Morgan. He’s only one of a group, all classified under the project heading of Yellow Files. You and I were Reds. Kyle, Ethan and Faith were among the Blues. With each generation, they’re getting closer to what they’ve been working on for the last fifty years.”

She looked up at him. “I know part of it… about the Yellow Files… but I don't know why they're doing this. I don't understand the purpose of all the genetic research…”

He stopped, staring back. His eyes filled with tears. “They needed a starting point. That’s what we were. But now, with the chromosome mapping and DNA manipulation they’ve mastered --“

“Thanks to a lot of the research they made you do for them.”

Words choked in his throat. “Gabriel isn’t your brother, Morgan. He’s --“

The Pretender glanced down at the papers in her hand. Something inside him withered up, crumbling into ash.

“He’s your son,” he announced huskily. “Yours and mine. But they didn't stop there. They added to the genetic mix, with some bonuses from Faith and the others thrown in.”

She sat silently, staring at the papers. She saw the water stain on the printout without a name, and realized what it was. Jarod had wept on it, his heart broken by this new torture the Centre had visited upon him… and on her.

Everything made sense now… why she felt so close to Gabriel, why he was the exception in her otherwise childless life. It explained why Gabriel always wanted to be with her, and it explained how he had recognized Jarod, even though he'd never seen or been told about the Pretender. Somehow, instinctively, he'd known who his parents were -- just as she'd known underneath it all that he was hers.

The Centre had taken her eggs and Jarod's sperm and created a made-to-order child without her knowledge or permission. Sydney was right, more than even he imagined. Her life didn't just resemble her mother's -- it was her mother's. They had both been betrayed… and by the same man.

Parker stood, and faced Jarod. She was right in front of him now, her eyes pleading with him, needing him to help her. He took a step toward her, pulled her into his arms and held her close, her face pressed against his shirt.

This was not the Miss Parker who had hunted him for so long. This was little Morgan, his friend and confidante, the girl he had always cared about, somewhere deep down in his heart. And now she was also mother to his son.

“I don’t know for sure yet what they want these kids for,” he told her softly, stroking her hair. “But they’re being deliberately bred for something. We need to find out what that is.”

“There’s something else,” she told him, pulling away from him. The DSA reader was already set up on the far side of the bed. “This is why I asked you to come. I found the DSA of my mother’s plan. The one that got her killed.”

Jarod stood behind her as she played the clip, and wrapped his arms around her, knowing how much pain the sight of her dead mother gave her, and how much comfort. The two were irrevocably intertwined in her soul.

“So what do we do now?” Miss Parker asked him when it was over, resting the back of her head against his chest as she stared at the static-filled screen.

"The only thing we can do," he whispered against her hair. "Follow your mother's plan." He turned her to face him, her expression as forlorn as he felt. "We need information about what the Centre's planning for these children, if we're going to get them out. The only place to get it is from the hierarchy, perhaps even the Triumvirate itself."

Parker shook her head. "Jarod, that excuse I gave my father only went so far. I found out that he had my office and my house wired. He's listening to everything I say, everything I do. He'll never trust me enough to tell me what we need to know."

Jarod closed his eyes against what he needed to say next. "There is one way. Give your father what he wants -- what he's been asking you to do for the last five years. Take me back to the Centre."

Her reaction was immediate. “No. You know what they’ll do to you.” She sniffed, turning inside his embrace and hugging him tightly. “They’ll keep you this time, make you do whatever they want. You’ll never even think of escaping again, and I can’t let that happen, not knowing what I know now.”

“I understand.” He stroked her hair. “So we have to plan ahead.”

“You may never be free again, Jarod.”

He swallowed hard, his throat tightening. In his mind he could see the photograph of Gabriel that he had purloined and sent to her months earlier. The baby looked a great deal like him, though he hadn’t seen the resemblance until now. “If we can save our son and the other children, it will be worth it.”

“And I’ll have to live with the fact that I sent you back to Hell.”

He tightened his embrace briefly, knowing there was no more comfort he could offer her. “We have to make it look good,” he whispered. “Do you want to do it? I can handle it myself, if you’d rather not.”

Her answer was to pull away from him, heading for the door and waiting outside. There were soft thudding noises, the sounds of flesh being impacted solidly with some blunt object. In a few minutes, the door opened slightly, creaking as it moved on its derelict hinges.

Parker stepped back inside. Jarod sat in a chair, ready for her to lock the handcuffs in place. She put them on him, and slowly he turned around to face her. She didn’t flinch at the bruises on his face, or the blood trickling down his chin from a split lip. But in his eyes she saw how afraid he was, and felt it echoing in her own heart.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I wish we didn’t have to do this.”

“There’s no other way.” He wandered slowly toward the bed and reclined on it on his left side, facing her as she took a seat in a nearby chair.

She pulled out her cell phone, dialed the number and pasted on a false smile so it would be heard on the other end. "Daddy? I'm in Raleigh. Send a sweeper team." She paused, then added, "I've finally caught Jarod."

After giving instructions where a sweeper team should be sent, she ended the call and slipped the phone back into her jacket pocket. She didn’t want to look at him, but she couldn’t look away.

“Tell me,” Jarod asked, his voice trembling and husky, “about our son.”

of the first Virtual Season of The Pretender.
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