Not With a Bang,
But a Whimper

 

home / season six / episode one / act I

   

The Centre
Jarod's Apartment, SL-12

His body still ached. Everything hurt. The punishment he had given himself in Miss Parker's hotel room was nothing compared to what had taken place there once the sweepers arrived. There were four of them, called from a local branch of the Centre. They had come bursting into the room and hauled him up off the bed, intending to take him outside to the waiting black sedan.

As soon as Miss Parker holstered her gun, he went wild, making a great show of trying to get away before they stuffed him into the car. In the end, one of them knocked him cold long enough to get him into the back seat and strap him down with seat belts, his hands still secured behind him with Miss Parker’s cuffs. She followed behind them in her own car, heading for the airport and the plane that would fly them all back to Delaware.

They had sedated him at once, not with a pill, but with an injection. He fought that, too, but was unable to completely resist the medication. When he managed to rouse somewhat, he was already in the Centre dispensary, getting his wounds treated. Just scrapes and bruises, mostly, but a few cuts needed antibiotic ointment and some x-rays were taken to see if any bones had been broken. An army of sweepers and security personnel stood guard over him, proving that he was firmly back in their possession.

He was afraid. This was the last place on earth he wanted to be, and he knew that he might never escape again. This time, everything would be different. He just wasn’t sure how yet, and that uncertainty made everything much worse.

Once he had been cleared by the medical staff, he had been escorted back to the apartment he had lived in before his initial escape.

That was a surprise. There was no cell this time, no Lyle spraying him with a firehose, no cage, no torture. Miss Parker stood by, watching everything with steely-eyed confidence, playing her part to the hilt. But he knew she was upset. This was what had to be done, the sacrifice that had to be made, for Gabriel and the other children.

Moments after being released into his former home, a woman in a lab coat joined them. Her blonde hair was swept up in a chic but efficient coiffure, and in her hand she carried a small portable medical kit. With a nod, the sweepers directed Jarod toward a chair. He didn’t want to be drugged again - the effects of the first medication still hadn’t quite worn off, and he was groggy, muzzy-headed. He didn’t want to add to that.

“No,” he said firmly. “I’m not sure you’ve explored the interactions between whatever’s in that kit, and what’s in my system now.”

The blonde woman laughed softly. “My name is Eve, Jarod, and I’ve been a primary on the research for this protocol. The sedative you’re on now won’t have any contraindications, I promise.”

He backed away. It took eight of them to manhandle him into the straight-backed chair they pulled away from the table, and hold him while the others strapped him in with thick leather bindings. He could still tip over the chair, but decided against it. Such movement would only delay the inevitable.

He was conquered now, and he knew it. That terrified him, and he watched in abject fear as Eve calmly opened the kit and prepared the injection. She handed a rubber tourniquet to one of the sweepers, who placed it around Jarod’s left arm.

Tears gathered in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. He was sweating, despite the coolness of the room. There was no pretending now. His pleas for mercy were genuine as he begged Eve not to drug him.

The needle slid expertly into his vein, and the drug was delivered. Jarod watched in horror, strapped as he was into the chair. His arm felt warm at first. He tracked the drug as it moved throughout his body, timed the effects until he was certain they had started. He fought the sensation, but found himself slipping into a haze of pleasure that lightened his mood, which he recognized as a major effect of this treatment. It shocked and frightened him. What were they doing to him now? What was this drug made to accomplish? Why did it affect the pleasure center of his brain?

This is for the children, he reminded himself.

“What’s this drug called?” he asked.

“Aurora,” said the woman as she finished packing up her medical kit. “Nice, isn’t it?”

“Yes. It feels good.” He felt himself smiling, his eyelids drooping. It was almost as if he was floating outside himself, unaffected by his own emotions. “Like intravenous ice cream.”

Miss Parker shot him a look, pivoted on her heel and left the room. He was saddened to see her go, but that disappeared almost instantly. He felt too good to feel bad about anything, and he knew he would see her again eventually.

Eve laughed softly, and signaled one of the sweepers to come forward to release him from the chair.

Jarod stood, flexing his arms, rubbing them where the restraints had been. “When do I see Sydney?” he asked.

“I’m afraid you don’t,” she said stiffly. Her smile melted away. She nodded, and the gang of men left the room.

The Pretender knew he should have been startled by that pronouncement, but it simply registered as fact, without emotional repercussions. He still felt good. This was a far better reception than his previous one under Lyle.

“Then who will I be working with? What am I supposed to do with my time?”

The woman smiled again. “Your new handler has yet to be determined. As to your duties, that’s been planned for some time.”

The children. Jarod turned slowly to face her. “What did you have in mind?”

“A project called Seraphim, eventually.” She put the syringe into the portable sharps disposal unit she had brought with her. “But in the meantime, we’d like your assistance in research. There was a project in development while you were away that went awry, and we need your intellect to help us sort it all out, possibly find where the process went so horribly wrong. It will have to be restarted almost from scratch. We only have a few notes from a fellow researcher who was reassigned during the initial states of the project.”

“Project name?”

The woman ambled toward the door of the elegant apartment. “Everything you need has been loaded into the computer files in your terminal. You can begin whenever you like.”

Moments later, she was gone.

Jarod wandered around the room, glancing over the books and objects on the shelves, the paintings on the wall. His mind was tumbling over problems and questions constantly, but there was nothing for him to work on in that room that could occupy him well enough to avoid Eve’s assignment. Not even knowing what the project was, Jarod was certain it was something unpleasant.

He could sleep, but sleep was never pleasant for him. There were demons waiting there, so he slept as little as possible. He could read, but he had already read every book in that room many times over. He could meditate, but under the influence of the drug he shied away from the idea.

For hours he wandered through the room, needing something to do, some project that he could apply himself to completing. Still, he had given himself up for Gabriel, and for the boy’s mother. He had done it for all of the children. He could imagine them, see the photo of his son in his mind’s eye, but even that was not enough.

And finally, he sat down at the terminal, just to have a look. He had no intention of doing anything they wanted. The project of Catherine’s plan was still uppermost in his thoughts, but he had no way to communicate anything to Miss Parker just yet… not until Angelo decided to make an appearance at his air vents.

He booted up his terminal and tried to make a foray into the mainframe, but this particular station was not in the network. It was isolated in his quarters, for his use only. So, he opened up the file on his desktop and gave it a peek.

The folder was titled "Fountain."

* * * * * * * * *

Chairman's Office

She entered the room quietly, her footsteps soundless on the carpet. Parker was on the telephone to Germany, gazing out the window as he spoke, and as soon as he swiveled his chair to hang up the receiver, he saw her sitting across the desk from him, waiting. His normally pink face flushed pinker, as if caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Eve, what are you doing here?” he demanded.

She shrugged. “You may be the chairman, Parker, but as your next junior member in the American branch of the Triumvirate, I can still come to see you without an appointment." Her blonde hair was swept back from her face in an elegant coiffure, her business suit expensive silver Italian silk, handmade in Rome. Everything about this woman bespoke power and class.

“Well, of course, Eve. I’m always at your disposal. What did you want to talk about?”

Eve steepled her hands over her lap, elbows delicately balanced on the chair arms. “I’ve just come from giving Jarod his first dose of Aurora, and wanted to thank you for the privilege,” she began, her mellifluous voice husky and smooth.

Parker beamed. “You’re welcome. I know you’ve been a big part of that project, and thought it would be appropriate.”

She inclined her head regally toward him. “And now I have another request. I’d like to be assigned as Jarod’s new handler, since Sydney is otherwise engaged. I have the credentials and the skills, and even though I’ve never worked with Jarod before, I’ve taken great interest in his work and am, as you know, quite familiar with the process. Have you spoken to anyone else about it yet?”

Parker’s humor evaporated. “You know we were still exploring that idea when my daughter brought him back.”

Eve could see that he wasn’t pleased with her suggestion, but also knew that he could hardly refuse. Few people were qualified to work with Jarod, but she was one of them. She’d dealt with some of the less stellar pretenders and been reasonably successful. There was no reason to think she couldn’t handle this assignment as well, and she reminded him of that.

“How will you manage to keep up with your regular duties on the Triumvirate, if you begin this project?”

She chuckled. “Jarod’s a self-starter, Parker,” she told him confidently. “Aurora will take some time for the effects to become cumulative. During the initial adjustment period, he’ll need something to do, so I thought I’d start him on research. In fact, it’s already in progress. I can check on him several times a day, and be there to administer both injections during my shift, with a med tech to handle the evening dose. Trust me, I have it all planned out.”

Parker’s eyes narrowed as he gauged her intent, studying her for hidden motives. He smiled, but suspicion still gleamed in his blue eyes. He reached a hand across the desktop toward her. “I think this may work out just fine, Eve. But if problems crop up with your time, you come see me. I’ll keep looking through the roster for a replacement, if one becomes necessary.”

“That’s fine with me,” she told him, squeezing his hand firmly. His skin was clammy, but she held on, dueling with his eyes. She had not been on the Fountain Protocol, but Parker had, and she was still watching him, looking for signs of dementia. So far, there had been none, but that was always subject to change at any given moment. Perhaps he had stopped taking the doses in time, before any permanent damage was done. Or perhaps it was just a matter of time, patience, and keen observation before the effects made themselves known. Either way, she would be watching and waiting.

Eve was a patient woman. She offered her thanks and rose, striding soundlessly out the door with a smile on her face. Her wristwatch had already been set to chime when she needed to return to the lab for the next dose of Aurora and get it to Jarod before the previous dose wore off. The drug was highly addictive and included a nasty, debilitating withdrawal process, but Jarod would never need to know about that. If he ever left the Centre again, his need would bring him back in short order.

Two days was all it took to get the habit going, though absolute subjugation of his will would take considerably longer. Six doses, eight hours apart, and he would belong to the Centre forever. Eve smiled and headed back to her office, just a few doors down from the Chairman’s, with an equally stunning view of the coast and the grounds out in front of the building.

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker's Office

Once the final report had been printed, she tucked it into a file folder - a red one, just for this special occasion. She had not been back to visit Jarod since leaving his apartment, nor did she have any intention of seeing him again soon; it ate at her, though, wondering what new horrors were being visited upon him in her absence. But there were bigger fish to fry at the moment, more important things that had to be done.

She waited, checking her watch. With an impatient sigh, she continued to shuffle papers across her desk in an attempt to look busy when her guest arrived. He was late, and trying her patience.

At last the door opened, but she did not glance up from her work until the man was seated in her guest chair.

“Hello, angel,” said the Chairman, a note of gruff pride in his voice. He chuckled.

“Hello, Daddy,” she returned softly, finished signing a document and moved that paper aside. “Thank you for coming.” She raised her eyes to his and sat back in her chair.

“I knew you could do it,” he added. “I knew you’d catch Jarod one day.”

“Yes. Well, not without great difficulty,” she told him with a sigh. “My job would have been a great deal easier if I’d had access to information along the way.”

His smile vanished. Suspicion gleamed in his eyes. “We told you everything you needed to know.”

“No, you didn’t. In fact, because of stonewalling on the part of numerous Centre employees, it took me far longer to find Jarod than it would have if I’d known what I needed to. Sometimes it seemed that Jarod knew more about what was going on inside this place than I did.”

“Need to know, angel,” he reminded her firmly. “And you didn’t.”

Her palm slapped down on the desktop in defiance. “The hell I didn’t!” she shot back angrily. “You set me a goal and then made sure I was cut off at the knees every time I started running. When it came to hunting Jarod, no background information should have been off limits. You knew that. If you really wanted him caught-“

“I did,” the man growled back. “And you did the job. Just as soon as you’re ready to go back to Corporate-“

“After what I did for the Centre, I can write my own ticket. Isn’t that right, Daddy?” She glared at him, challenging him with her eyes. He sat silently, waiting for her demands, already mentally preparing to shoot her down. “I want my mother’s old job. I want to be director of SIS.”

For a moment the man didn’t move. His mouth crooked up on one side, and then he broke out into a beaming smile. “You really are a Parker, aren’t you, angel?”

“Did you ever have any doubts?” she hissed back. Struggling to calm herself, she tried a placating tone of voice. “Look, Daddy, I was happy in Corporate before this nightmare ever started. I was good at my job, good as a cleaner before that. I’ve got Parker instincts, just like you taught me. I’m not my mother.” She swallowed, hoping he didn’t notice how her voice softened when she mentioned her mother. “I can do this job. I’ve been head of Centre security here before it was Triumvirate Station. Now it’s time the Parkers were in charge of everything in this shooting match. I can do it better than anyone else, because I’m a Parker. And if you want the Centre -- not just this station, but the whole organization -- to operate like it should, you’ll agree to my request.”

The Chairman nodded. “You make strong arguments. Let me present it to the -“

“There’s no need for that, Daddy,” she reminded him curtly. “You’re the top dog. Whatever you say goes. If you want your security problems handled, you need new blood in the director’s chair. Parker blood.”

“It’s a big commitment,” he reminded her. “You won’t have time for much of anything else.”

She smiled, bitterness eating away at her inside. “This place has been my whole life, Daddy. What else could I ever do?”

He chuckled. “That’s my girl.” He stood and offered her his hand. “Congratulations on the new job.”

She took his hand, rose and leaned across the desk for a brief hug. “Thank you, Daddy. I’ll run this place like a Parker.”

He kissed her cheek and straightened, smoothing his suit back into place. “I’ll write a memo to inform everyone of the change of command, which will take place effective tomorrow.”

“One more thing, Daddy.”

“Yes?”

“I want the surveillance on me pulled. And I want to see Gabriel. I want visitation rights, whenever I have a moment to spare.”

The Chairman’s mouth drew up tightly, his gaze cool, calculating.

“I’ve earned it, Daddy. You know I have. So does everyone else. If Jarod isn’t proof of my loyalty, there isn’t any. And if you can’t trust me…” She smiled, aware that the gesture was lacking in her eyes. “…who can you trust?”

Something in his posture wilted slightly. “You’re right, angel. I’ll make the arrangements.”

“Thank you, Daddy.”

“But no more of this gallivanting off with Gabriel to playgrounds and such. He has all the stimulation he needs, right in his nursery. So whenever you want to see him, you go on down there. And Penfield stays while you’re visiting. My orders. He does belong to me, after all. He’s my son.”

She stiffened, nostrils flaring, a retort ready on her lips, but she bit it back. “Of course.” She picked up the red folder off her desk, came around the side and handed it to him. “This is my final report on Jarod. You’ll see after you read it why I asked for the SIS position. There need to be some changes around here.”

“We’ll talk about that later, angel,” he assured her, and walked her to the door.

“Morgan,” she corrected. “My name is Morgan. Don’t you think you could use it once in a while?” She knew very well that he wouldn’t dare let her name cross his lips, but wanted to get the dig in anyway.

Parker glanced warily at her over his shoulder, and went on his way.

* * * * * * * * *

Sydney's Office

He had waited long enough. Broots had been the one to deliver the message that Miss Parker was bringing Jarod in, and while the announcement had surprised him, it excited him as well. A sense of defeat shadowed him, too, a part of him wishing that Jarod was still free. He wasn’t sure any longer that the Centre was the best place for his protégé to live. Jarod had shown that he could survive in the world outside, but there was still a great deal to do. Sydney would need time to repair the damage previous treatment had inflicted on his charge, and have a free hand in choosing his projects.

But first, he needed to see the young man, to make sure he was all right. He had seen the gurney when they brought him in, took note of the bruises on Jarod’s face, and knew he was right to be worried. Since then, he’d gotten a look at the medical reports from the infirmary. There were no internal injuries; Jarod had just put up the fight of his life to remain free.

The Pretender was most certainly settled in his quarters now, but Sydney had to ask Broots where they had put him. That sort of information should have been coming directly to Sydney, and it disturbed him that it had not. Mr. Parker knew how important it was to maintain his relationship with Jarod. No one knew the young man better than his handler of the past 30-plus years.

He rose, taking a clipboard, writing tablet and a folder filled with material to the elevator. He punched the button for Jarod’s floor, and waited for the lift to deposit him there. It would be better to get the debriefing started, to get the Pretender’s mind off his aches and pains.

The doors slid open, and he stepped out into the corridor. He could see, a long way down the hallway, a gathering of sweepers and uniformed security personnel milling around outside Jarod’s old room. Striding purposefully toward them, he began to organize the path his session would take. This meeting had been a long time coming, and there was a great deal to discuss.

Three of the sweepers stepped into his path just as Sydney approached the door.

“Excuse me, gentlemen. I need to see my subject,” he informed them.

“Sorry, sir,” said one of them. “But you’re not on the approved list of visitors.”

Startled, Sydney gave a short laugh. “Then your list is incomplete. I’ve been Jarod’s handler for decades.”

“Not anymore,” another sweeper assured him. “We were told specifically that you were not to come near him. That you weren’t even supposed to be on the same floor with him. We’ll have to ask you to leave.”

Sydney’s mouth fell open in surprise, and was hastily shut. “On whose orders?” he demanded hotly.

“The Chairman’s.”

“I’ll rectify this grievous error, and be back shortly,” Sydney shot back. He turned on his heel and stormed back to the elevator, fuming that such an order had been given in the first place. Jarod needed Sydney. He wouldn’t be able to function properly for the Centre without him.

Half an hour later, the Belgian sat silently in his office, reeling from the announcement that he had been taken off Jarod’s team completely. He would no longer be allowed any form of contact with the Pretender. His new job was to be centered around the Seraphim, and little else. There were always research projects aplenty to occupy his time and talents, but nothing like what he had experienced with Jarod.

To be removed from him so completely, so utterly…

Sydney contemplated what would happen to Jarod on the Aurora program that Mr. Parker had described to him. In a matter of days he’d be addicted, worse than what had happened to him as a teenager. Sydney remembered how his own body had felt, first with the injections that he was told were to help Jarod’s mental clarity, and later with the torture of withdrawal when the drug didn’t work.

He had spent the last ten minutes looking over the Aurora drug trials, trying to prepare himself for what Jarod was up against this time.

From what he gathered in those files, this might well be the final trap that Jarod could never escape. As soon as the drug’s full effect was in control of his system, the Pretender would never want to be far from it. And even as strong as Jarod was, the notes Sydney read indicated that not a single one of the test subjects completed a successful withdrawal from the drug. They would die for it. They would kill for it, whatever it took to keep the flow constant in their veins.

Sydney closed his eyes, and wept.

On to Act II

 
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