Not With a Bang,
But a Whimper

 

home / season six / episode one / act III

   

A cabin outside Snohomish, Oregon

The older man watched the boy from his bedroom doorway, disturbed by how the youth tossed and turned in his sleep. Jordan whimpered, and began to cry. Whatever was in this latest nightmare woke him, and the boy sat up slowly, panting and upset, scrubbing at the tears drying on his face.

"It's okay, Jordan," Major Charles said softly, coming fully into the room. "It was just a dream. You're all right."

"No, I'm not," Jordan sniffed. "What's happening to me?"

Charles sat down on the side of the narrow bed and put his arm around the boy. "I don't know. Can you tell me about it?" His palm stroked across Jordan's forehead, palm settling briefly on skin to feel for fever. There was none.

Jordan shook his head. "It's nothing I can describe. Just feelings. Scared. Horrified. Angry. All of that mixed up with feeling so great… it's weird. None of those emotions should go together. It was getting really hard to tell them apart."

"That would be scary," Charles agreed. "Want to get up for a little while, or try for more sleep?"

The teenager threw off the covers and edged past the other man off the side of the bed. "I think I'll get online and see if I can raise Jarod. I haven't heard from him in a while, and I'm starting to get worried."

"Yeah. Me, too." Charles stood up, and headed for the kitchen of the tiny cabin, bent on making some hot chocolate to warm and relax them both while Jordan headed for the laptop on what served as both coffee and dining table. He had just poured the milk into the pan when a knock came at the door.

Jordan glanced up at him nervously. It was just after two in the morning, and they weren't expecting visitors. If it was Centre goons, they certainly wouldn't have knocked to announce their presence. Still, Charles was careful.

With a nod and a hand signal that Jordan knew meant to take cover, Charles eased up to the front door. He had his pistol in hand, fully loaded and safety off, and knew that Jordan had gone to his bedroom to retrieve the other gun, which he would handle as Charles had taught him.

There was no peephole in the door.

"Who is it?" he demanded.

"My name is Ethan," called a male voice on the other side. "Jarod sent me."

Charles opened the door. The young man standing there was unshaven and weary looking, as if he had traveled a great distance very quickly, without rest. Keeping the gun trained on Ethan, Charles let him in.

"Jarod sent you?" he asked suspiciously, his eyes roving over the man's face. There was something familiar about him, but Charles couldn't place it. "Do I know you?"

"No. But I think you've heard about me," Ethan told him quietly. "I'm your son."

"Oh, my God." Instantly, Charles knew it was true. This was the one Jarod and Emily had told him about, the one the Centre had made with Catherine Parker. "Ethan! I'm sorry. Come in. Sit down. You look tired."

Ethan nodded. "I am. But I had to come here. Had to find you, to tell you--"

"It's Jarod," Jordan cut in, stepping into the living room. The pistol he held dangled at his side, and his eyes were vacant. "They've caught him."

Ethan turned, staring at the young man. "No. He gave himself up."

Charles locked the door and laid his pistol down on the coffee table. He started to pace, unable to comprehend what would make his oldest son do such a thing. "Why? Why would he--"

"Because they have his son," Ethan explained. His gaze went back to the teenager, still standing in the doorway. "His other son. A baby."

The major stopped dead in his tracks. “Dear God in heaven.” His knees began to wobble, and he sat down quickly on the coffee table beside his pistol. “Not again. They've made another…”

The look on Jordan's face betrayed his newfound pain. “How can they keep doing this?” He stepped back into the hallway, flung the pistol away and stood, fists clenching. “Why can’t they leave us alone?”

Ethan looked from one to the other, his dark eyes worried. “This isn’t about the rest of us. It’s about Jarod now.”

Jordan locked his eyes with the major's. "We have to help him. We have to get him out of there."

"Absolutely. Right away. I'll start packing." Charles was already headed for the bedroom.

"Major -- Dad -- Sir," Ethan stuttered, uncertain what to call this stranger.

Charles turned, meeting Ethan's eyes. He couldn't get a handle on his emotions. He should have embraced this young man, welcomed him into his heart and assured him that he would have his love, no matter what the circumstances of his birth. But he was afraid for Jarod, and that fear consumed the maelstrom spinning inside him, taking control.

"Sir, you can't do that. Not right now." Ethan stuffed his hands into the pockets of his dirty jeans. "There are things that need to be done, before we can help him."

"What things?" Charles snapped. He regretted the acid tone of impatience, saw how the young man flinched as if he had been struck. His shoulders sagged a little, and he moved toward him, arms open. "I'm sorry, Ethan. I didn't mean--"

"I know," Ethan assured him. "It's all right." He sighed, and let the older man embrace him. Eyes closing, he accepted the embrace and returned it.

Charles let him go, and Ethan sat down on the ancient sofa. He hung his head. "Right now, if we got Jarod out, he'd go right back to them. There are things that need to be done, to be ready for when he does escape. You -- " he glanced at his father "-- need to get a new job. I'll show you where."

"I have a job," Charles told him. "I'm a cargo pilot for --"

"Not that kind of job," Ethan assured the other man. "You're not a pretender, but you learn fast. You've never had this kind of job, but you need to learn. For Jarod, when he comes back to us."

Charles narrowed his eyes at his son. "How do you know all this?"

Ethan's eyes darkened. Charles could see fear in them, and soul-deep sadness. He was haunted, another human being permanently damaged by the Centre.

"I just know," he whispered tightly. His gaze moved to the pale-faced youth standing behind the sofa, listening to them talk. "And so does he. Don't you, Jarod?"

The teenager bristled, hot color seeping into his cheeks. "I'm not Jarod. I'm Jordan."

Ethan nodded. "Yes. But you're part of him, on some level. You can feel him, can't you, Jordan? That's why you can't sleep."

Charles and Jordan exchanged a knowing glance, and then turned back to their visitor.

"Now what do we do?" asked Jordan. "We can't just sit around and wait."

Ethan sighed wearily. "For now, that's exactly what we have to do. Rest, learn and prepare. Then, when the time is right, you go east."

"When? How long?" demanded Charles.

"Not long," Ethan shrugged. "Too long. I can't tell you exactly. But things are in motion. We can't help him till you know what to do."

Charles gritted his teeth. "You'll forgive me if I don't buy vagaries. I want to know what's going on."

Ethan seemed to wilt, head and shoulders drooping with exhaustion. "I can’t tell you more than that right now. I don’t know exactly what’s going on with Jarod. I’m not clairvoyant. I just know things, and I’ll know the place you need to be when I see it."

"You’re asking me to take a lot on faith, here, Ethan,” Charles returned gently. He could see the pain in his son’s eyes, and knew it was genuine. “But I’ll trust you on this. For Jarod’s sake.”

"I want to help, too," Jordan assured him thickly.

Ethan nodded. “You will. But some of it’s going to be… difficult for you to watch. You can feel that already.”

Jordan nodded, more color draining from his already pale face. “Everything’s all mixed up inside. It’s scary.”

“I know.”

Charles closed his eyes, trying to imagine what Jarod was going through, his vivid imagination failing to take him there. He couldn't handle images like the torture they could be putting Jarod through, his mind recoiling at such thoughts. How could they do such things as he had witnessed on the DSAs he had glimpsed while Jarod slept? How could the Centre be so soulless? How could they…

He turned to regard his visitor, and knew. The Centre was capable of anything. They had created both of his companions through science, through playing God. Neither of the two young men with him had asked to be created, nor did they have the privilege of being made with love. They were science projects, spawned from his genes.

"Damn them," he growled, black rage simmering inside him. "Damn them all. They'll pay for what they've done to my family. By God, I'll make them all pay."

Ethan shrank back a little, eyes trained on the floor. He embraced himself, as if trying to shield himself from the other man's anger. Charles wondered what this young man's gifts were, that he seemed so sensitive to emotion.

"It's not your fault, son," he promised gently. "Let me fix you something to eat. You go take a shower and I'll bring you some pajamas. We'll all get some sleep, and talk more in the morning. I’ll sleep on the couch, and you can have my bed."

"That would be nice," Ethan said with a soft sigh. "I'm really tired."

Charles gave him another brief hug, and left him to Jordan for a tour of the cabin. He went into the kitchen to finish that hot chocolate and rustle up some dinner for their guest. For his son, he corrected. And he prayed that there would be no more horrors to come out of that terrible place.

* * * * * * * * *

Lyle's office

“You wanted to see me?” Valentine sat down in the chair across the desk from his boss.

Lyle smiled. “You seem to be all the buzz among the women on staff,” he mused, closing the folder he’d been working on when his assistant arrived. “And I’ve taken note of those who go missing. Just so you know. Any problems cropping up in that regard?”

Valentine’s dimples showed, his teeth flashing whitely against his deeply tanned face and black stubble. “I’m always careful. You know that.”

“I know. But I also know that unexpected things happen. People get in a hurry, or they get sloppy when they’re in a rut. You’re a good planner, you execute well - pardon the pun - and you pay attention to details. But we can’t afford a slip-up.”

“Of course.” Valentine nodded. “I’ve been checking up on that tech you asked me about.”

”How is Mr. Broots?”

“Nothing official yet, but I’ll bet your sister takes him with her into SIS. How are you dealing with her promotion?”

“It’s not a problem. I know how to handle her.” Lyle noticed the gleam in his henchman’s eyes. “What do you think of her?”

Glancing at his manicure, Valentine mused softly, “She’s smart. She loves power, loves being the boss. She’s sexy, and that’s a weapon for her. She’s also not easily broken, and can take a lot of punishment.” He grinned. “Hell, growing up was punishment for her. I can see that, now that I know more about the family dynamics.”

That hit a nerve, and Lyle didn’t like it at all. “Sounds like your ideal woman. But remember, you can’t touch her.” She might have gotten the best of what the Parker family had to offer, but not for long. “At least, not until I say so.”

A moment of silence stretched between them. Valentine’s dark eyes rolled lazily to meet his boss’s. Feigning a more casual interest than he felt, he asked, “So what would it take to get your permission? As if I didn’t know.”

Lyle leaned forward. The trap had been set, and now it was sprung. He was no fool. He knew very well what the other man wanted. Forbidding it was the trick to make him want it all the more. “I’d have to be her boss,” Lyle whispered, leaning conspiratorially across the desk and flashing a smile. His laugh was a dark whisper.

Valentine smiled. There was genuine pleasure in his eyes and teasing at the corners of his mouth. “That’s a tall order. Are you sure you’re up to the job?”

Snorting softly in derision, Lyle shot back, “I want this as much as I know you want her. And the only way you can have carte blanche with her, no repercussions, no reprisals, no death sentence, is through me. I can go part of the way on my own, but I need backup. I need what you can do for me to get me the rest of the way there.”

The assistant cocked his head slightly, eyeing his boss. “Are you questioning my loyalty, Lyle?”

“I don’t have to. I know you, remember? You can learn a lot about somebody when you have to depend on each other for survival. Parts of Asia were a blast. Other parts nearly killed us. We’ve shared too much not to know the other, almost as intimately as lovers. I know exactly how far I can trust you. I know what you want. I’ve seen it when you look at her. And you know what to do to get her.”

Valentine chuckled. “She’s something, isn’t she?”

“Yeah. And for now, she belongs to me. Make your move too soon, and I’ll string you up for it personally.”

With a regal nod of acceptance, Valentine rose. “Of course.” He leaned across the desk, firmly clasped Lyle’s face in his strong hands and planted a kiss directly on the other man’s lips. “But you really don’t know me at all, Lyle. You know only what I wanted you to know. Remember that.”

Stunned, Lyle remained in his chair as he watched the other man leave. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he wondered if this was just another of Valentine’s trademark mind games. He was sure he could count on the man to do his bidding. Keeping him under tight rein was another matter altogether. But Valentine was, above all things, a frighteningly careful man. If something happened to his sister, there would be no evidence to point to either of them, and it would be one less obstacle in the way to the Chairman’s seat.

That wasn’t how he wanted to play it, but if it happened, he could live with it. As long as he got what he wanted. And as long as Valentine never touched him again.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod's Apartment

Eve keyed in the code on the electronic lock, wondering briefly if that would be enough security for their resident escape artist. Certainly it wouldn’t keep him in if he chose to leave, but she was about to test his tether. She saw Jarod pacing the room, head down, apparently deep in thought when she pushed open the door, but as soon as he saw her, he stood still, his eyes flicking to the kit in her left hand.

“Good afternoon, Jarod,” she greeted him. “How are things going for you?”

“Fine,” he answered automatically. “Everything’s just peachy.” His gaze lingered on the kit in her hand, but there was no readable expression on his face. He made eye contact, and like a good host, directed her to sit on the comfortable white couch near his desk. He sat down at the far end and laid one arm out along the back.

“How are you, Eve?”

“Same as I was this morning.” She laid the kit out on the coffee table, syringe in plain sight, but made no motion to give him the medication. “I’d like to talk for a little while, if you don’t mind.”

“Shoot. I’m easy.” He made eye contact, and held it.

“No unpleasant side effects from Aurora?” she asked, crossing her legs and facing him more fully. “My records indicate that you’re losing weight, and not finishing your meals.”

He shook his head. “I’m getting enough nourishment for my diminished physical routine. I’ve calculated the caloric requirements-“

“Would you like some exercise? You’re always cooped up in your quarters or one of the labs, 24-7.”

“Sure. That would be great.”

She noted that his responses lacked enthusiasm, but were tempered with the proper tone of voice expected in normal conversation. “I’ll set that up for you, then. An hour a day in the gym, your choice of exercises. Now, how about your mental sharpness? Any change in that?”

He shrugged. “I tend to daydream a little more than before. Focus is more difficult, but once I get started, it’s hard to remember to stop for anything.”

She glanced at the syringe and smiled. “Except Aurora.”

He turned his head and stared at the offering. “Yes. Except that.” Turning, he braced his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands, studying the syringe.

“Does it bother you that you’re taking it?”

“No more than it bothers me to breathe.” He began to roll up the left sleeve of his black uniform shirt. There was only the slightest whisper of protest, but it was drowned out by the memory of bliss promised in that syringe. Day by day, the resistance grew fainter, and soon it would be all gone.

“How does it make you feel?”

He tapped his fingers on an appropriate vein, picked up the alcohol swab she had laid out, and cleaned an injection site. “I can sleep nights,” he answered slowly. Picking up the syringe, he eyed it without expression. “Nothing bothers me anymore. It’s better this way.”

He punctured his vein and delivered the drug expertly. A tiny drop of blood followed the needle out, leaving only minor evidence of intrusion. A sprinkling of other dots, dried and healing, speckled his arm like freckles, all tracking a major vein.

“That’s great,” Eve told him. “I’m very pleased for you.”

“Of course you are.” He dropped the syringe into the sharps disposal unit, cleaned up the rest of the gear and tossed it into a nearby trashcan. He turned to her with a tiny smile. “Is there anything you want me to do? It’s about time for a test. I’ve been expecting one any day now.”

She chuckled. “Aurora hasn’t affected your mental clarity at all, I don’t think.” She stood up. “I’ll be right back. You had the day pegged, Jarod.”

She left the room and returned a few moments later to find him sprawled in the same position she had left him, head leaned back against the wall, eyes closed. As soon as the door closed, he sat up, alert and eyeing the young woman she had brought with her. Eve retrieved a chair from Jarod's dining set and gestured the girl into it.

She was tall and slender but seemed small because she was so delicately built. Blonde hair hung just to her shoulders, and her big, brown eyes stared back at him without expression. The dimple in her chin gave her face an almost doll-like fragility. She was pretty, but looked as if she might break if he breathed on her too hard.

Eve stepped back a few paces. “Come closer, Jarod,” she instructed him.

The Pretender strolled to a stop right in front of the chair.

“Make a fist.”

He did so, clenching his fingers so tightly that muscles bulged all the way up his right arm.

“Now, hit her, as hard as you can.”

He hesitated, staring down at her looking back at him. That tiny voice surfaced again, louder now, fighting the urge to obey. He knew it was wrong, knew how it would feel to that delicate woman to be struck by a man with his strength. He could tap her, just hard enough to turn her head without doing any real damage, but that wasn’t what Eve wanted, and Eve brought him Aurora.

Jarod drew back his arm, silenced that internal voice and threw a mighty punch that knocked the woman out of the chair. She sprawled onto the carpeted floor, a dark bruise forming on her jaw where he had struck her.

“Very good,” Eve purred. She stepped closer and helped the young woman back into the chair, whispering into her ear before stepping away. The woman was reeling, having difficulty keeping her eyes open, and worked her jaw to test if anything had been broken, but she made no sound. “Now, Jarod, do it again.”

He pulled back with his left fist, and let fly another roundhouse punch. But this time, the woman dodged the blow, grabbed his forearm as it went past. He screamed, crumpling to the floor as pain seared his skin.

“What the hell was that?” he demanded, taking a look at the singed flesh on his forearm.

“A test for you and for Keely,” Eve admitted. “And you both passed. Congratulations.” She turned to the woman in the chair. “You may go, Keely. Willie will take you to the infirmary for an exam, just to make sure nothing’s broken.”

The young woman rose unsteadily from her chair, now barely able to see out of her left eye, and stumbled toward the door.

Eve crouched beside Jarod, studying the blistered flesh on his arm in the shape of a small human hand. She smiled. “I’ll have some medicinal equipment sent down for that. I know you’ll be able to treat it yourself.” She rose and replaced the chair, gathered the sharps container and watched him get to his feet. There was no anger in his eyes. The moment of surprise had faded to acceptance, and it was over.

She smiled. “Great job, Jarod. This was exactly what we were hoping for. Now, come and sit down. There’s one more thing I wanted to talk with you about.”

She took a seat on the sofa, and patted the cushion beside herself. He meekly obeyed. “We already know that Aurora is what we need for management of adult subjects in our research programs,” she began. “But we can’t justify making pincushions of our juvenile subjects. We need data on potential growth and systemic disturbances the protocol might cause in differing age groups, dosages and a suitable delivery system for the young, as well as an alternate delivery system for the adult. Your veins won’t hold out forever. I’d like you to start working on that right away, please.”

From the pocket of her black Ralph Lauren suit, she withdrew a diskette and handed it to him. “Everything you need to start work is on this. Please keep me posted on how you’re doing. It’s rather urgent.”

He nodded. “Anything else?”

She rose and smoothed the wrinkles out of her suit. “I’ll let you know.”

Barely able to contain her excitement, she strode out of his quarters. Keely was gone. Everything was going according to plan, and soon she would be able to make her move. Fountain could wait; what was more important was control of the Seraphim, and if she had them, she would have everything.

* * * * * * * * *

SL-3
Security, Investigations and Sanctions

Valentine stood in the corridor outside the nerve center of the organization, flirting with a couple of women from the SIS inspection team. Broots watched them blush and giggle, completely addled over the man, and crossed his arms over his chest in disapproval. The women preened and strutted for him, and their shameless display got on the tech’s nerves.

Miss Parker came out of SIS, briefcase and handbag testifying to the fact that she was on the way home for the day. She gave Lyle’s new sweeper a scathing glance along with a silent “get back to work” glare at the women, who dashed away to their cubicles in answer. Valentine stared after her, the expression on his face plain enough to read.

The creep wanted her, and not in a good way.

Broots was supposed to be bringing her a report, but had stepped aside to wait for Valentine to leave. Now, he ducked out of sight behind a potted ficus and waited for his boss to pass. He wanted to keep an eye on the guy for her. He got the feeling Valentine was up to no good, and that look he had given Parker made Broots’ skin crawl.

The SIS nerve center was a big room, partitioned off with cubicles around the perimeter downstairs, with offices backing the balcony upstairs. A huge video panel was mounted on the back wall, and in the center area were banks of monitoring stations where electronic watch was kept on every sensitive area of the complex. Miss Parker’s new office was upstairs, facing the big screen.

Broots stepped out from behind his camouflage and heard her voice wafting softly back to him.

“Good night, Broots. I’ll look at that report in the morning.”

Embarrassed that she had seen him hiding, he muttered, “Boy, she doesn’t miss a thing.” A quick glance told him that Valentine hadn’t seen or heard him; in fact, the guy was skulking through the door into the heart of SIS.

Broots followed discreetly, stopping to chat with a fellow tech on the main floor, where he could see the whole room.

Valentine moseyed up the stairs to the balcony, watching the others who eyed him suspiciously or with a smile. He strolled down the circular balcony until he was just outside Miss Parker’s office, and then he leaned on the metal railing, just watching everyone work. He stayed there for a good while, and for a moment even Broots forgot what he had come into the room for, so engrossed was he in conversation with Snodgrass about the malfunction of the snack machine in Maintenance.

As soon as he noticed Valentine was gone, Broots dashed up the stairs, flattening himself outside his boss’s office and listening. There was movement inside, and cautiously he peered around the corner. Miss Parker had left a teacup sitting on the long coffee table in the middle of the pit group where she now held conferences with her department heads, and Valentine had it in his hands. Holding his breath as if the man might hear him, Broots watched as Valentine sniffed the contents of the cup, studied the lipstick stain, and then licked it, right where Miss Parker’s lips had touched the rim.

Broots recoiled in horror. “I did not just see that,” he whispered to himself. “Ewwww!” Summoning up his reserves, he peered around the corner again.

The man just wandered around her office, touching her things, sniffing this, tasting that, and further creeping out the tech who was watching. Valentine didn’t seem to be looking for anything in particular, just browsing in her space. Soon enough, he stopped in the middle of the room and sighed.

“Soon,” he murmured. “When you least expect me, I’ll be there.” He turned and headed at a leisurely pace toward the door.

Broots bolted back down the stairs, taking cover in an empty cubicle and peering over the top of it as Valentine left SIS. Breathing a sigh of relief, the tech exited, trudged slowly back up the stairs and placed the report he had been clutching onto Parker’s desk. Sitting on the blotter was a small cobalt blue glass decanter topped with Austrian crystals, exquisitely shaped and filled with her favorite perfume.

He didn’t touch it, but made a mental note to warn her who had left it there. On his way out, he closed the door behind him and put a word into Snodgrass’ ear to keep an eye and maybe a camera trained on that door whenever Parker wasn’t in. And then he returned to his own office and started a search through Centre records for anything about the enigmatic Valentine. It was bad enough that the guy was working for Lyle, but Broots wanted to find everything he could locate about this new face.

Know thine enemy, a tiny voice inside his head warned him. And he was okay with that philosophy.

On to Act IV

 
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