Lake Charles, Louisiana
Jarod answered the videophone, knowing automatically who it would be.
He answered with a smile. "Dad! How are you?"
Major Charles was smiling too. "Just fine, son. We're snowed in
and probably will be for another couple of weeks. Weather's bad this time
of year. It's a good thing you packed in all these provisions, and Jordan
loves the greenhouse."
Jarod nodded. "His botany lessons are going well. How is Ethan doing?"
A broad grin split the older man's face, and he laughed. "I recorded
a little something for you. I'm sending you a streaming video."
Jarod waited for the file, chatting amiably about mundane things until
he had downloaded it. Putting his father on hold, he played the video.
In it, Ethan and Jordan were in their pajamas, having a boisterous pillow
fight, laughing and screeching at each other, obviously having a wonderful
time. Jarod couldn't help laughing.
"Looks like Ethan's fitting in just fine," he observed.
Charles nodded. "He's quite an interesting young man. It's been
a pleasure to get to know him." A dark cloud passed over the major's
face. "I only wish I knew how your mother would feel about having
him in the family."
"It wasn't as if you had an affair, Dad," Jarod reminded him.
"Nobody asked you. But he still belongs to us."
"Yes, he does. He's family, and I've made sure he understands that."
Charles shook his head. "But he has his own image of family, the
one that Raines gave him. This is going to take some time and adjustment
for all of us. "
Jarod smiled. "We're working on that. All of us are. And I know
when we find her
will accept him, too."
"I hope you're right, son." Glancing over his shoulder, Charles
smiled as Jordan came noisily into the room.
"Dad, is that you?" He bent over the major's shoulder to get
into the shot, and waved. Charles got up and let the boy sit down in his
"Yes, son, it's me," Jarod answered warmly. "How is that
tomato pollination project going?"
Jordan made a face. "It's not lesson time, is it? I've got enough
to do. I'm hardly getting any sleep with the pace you've set me."
"Your grandfather can adjust your pace, then. Unless you're just
staying up with projects of your own." He leaned toward the camera.
"I know how your mind works, you know."
Jordan grinned, caught red-handed. "Okay, I'll slow down on the
personal projects. But it sure would be nice to get out of here for a
while. I miss people. Never thought I would, but I do."
Jarod's smile screwed up into a knowing chuckle. "I think you mean,
you miss girls. Maybe one girl in particular. Right?"
He could see the boy's cheeks flushing pink. "You can stop reading
my mind now, Dad. That's unfair."
"Come spring, we'll take a vacation to someplace warm and sunny.
A camping trip, maybe. We might even invite your special friend for a
visit. Would you like that?"
Jordan's face lit up. "That would be the bomb!" he crowed.
"You'd better rein in those hormones before they explode, Jordan,"
Jarod advised wryly.
Jordan hesitated. "I miss you. Why can't you be here with us?"
The Pretender sighed. "I'm still searching. And I have work to do.
I told you about that."
Frowning, the boy sat back in his chair. "Yeah, I know. Gotta save
"No." Jarod shook his head. "I have to make the world
safe for you, son. I won't let them do to you what they did to me. I know
you understand that, but it's hard for you to accept. You're acquainted
with the Centre. You grew up in part of it. You know what they can do.
I can't risk-"
The boy held up his hands. "I know, I know. I just miss you. I want
to be with you. That's all."
"Soon, son. As soon as I can."
"Is that Jarod?" called a voice from off screen. Ethan ducked
into the picture and waved. "Hey, bro. How's it hangin'?"
Jarod shook his head, surprised by all the slang on the other end of
the connection. "I'm fine, Ethan. Glad to see you made it there all
Jordan let Ethan sit down and offered a brief farewell to his dad before
leaving the room.
"Hey, I meant to tell you, I met Emily. We spent Christmas together."
"Really? That's great! She's been
kind of quiet lately. I've
been worried about her."
Ethan sobered. "Yeah, she's had a rough time lately." He hesitated.
"Something to do with her mom."
That struck a chord, and drew a response from both Charles and Jarod.
"Is she all right?"
Ethan shrugged. "She's not in any danger, but Em wouldn't talk about
it. I just got
impressions, you know? Nothing clear."
Jarod nodded. He would call Emily and see what he could get out of her,
offer to help, and try to find out where Margaret was. Meanwhile, he visited
with his family as long as he could, then gave Jordan more lessons to
work on, and signed off.
There were things to do and promises to keep, and he was certain he would
find his mother eventually.
* * * * * * * * *
Our Lady of Refuge Convent
Snow was falling softly outside. Brown eyes blinked, but did not see
the pale landscape, though Margaret's face was bathed in the wan winter
light filtering in from the window. Instead, she saw the faces of little
children, two boys and a girl, innocent and trusting, filled with laughter
as they played around her feet. In the distance, her husband sat watching
them, carving another wooden airplane for the children, smiling at them
with quiet pride. This was what she wanted, where she was supposed to
be. There was no world other than this. The pain she remembered so vaguely
was fading quickly away.
She would never go back to that world where children could be ripped
away from her. This was a good place, a happy place, with her family together.
This was where she wanted to stay, and everything else was just a shadow.
"Time to eat, Margaret."
The voice was a mere whisper, echoing from somewhere far away. She felt
the spoon touch her lips and opened instinctively, swallowing without
tasting anything. She did not see the nun who fed her; instead, the children
sang her little nursery song to her, and she listened with her heart.
Yes, this was a very good place, and Margaret decided she would never
* * * * * * * * *
Hybrid Biotract #57
Parker strolled along the path, head down, thinking. There was snow on
the ground, and she clutched her coat closer as she listened to the silence.
Handy in her pocket was a tissue, but the cold air helped her breathe
past the last vestiges of sniffles still hanging on. Jarod's cure for
her cold helped a great deal, and the runny nose was the only remaining
reminder that she was still ill. She had been walking through the grounds
a lot lately, trying to sort things out in her mind.
Top of the list was Jarod.
The snow made her remember Barrow. Tears filled her eyes, chilling them.
She blinked them away, took a deep breath and shoved her gloved hands
deeper into her pockets. Barrow was a fantasy; nothing more. It wasn't
real, couldn't ever be real in the world where they lived. Jarod was Centre
property, and in the Centre's eyes it was her duty to recover him for
them. She had to make them think she was making progress in that endeavour,
and it had been far too long since she had anything to show for her work.
She had to find something to satisfy them, or get on with Catherine's
Months had passed since she and Jarod had viewed her mother's DSA, and
she felt no closer to any sort of resolution. That Jarod was working on
an answer, she was sure, but aside from gaining control of SIS, nothing
had changed. She wondered how long it would be, and the picture forming
in her consciousness was grim.
Jarod hadn't called her in a while. She knew he hadn't abandoned her.
She knew what had happened between them had been genuine in his heart.
But it couldn't go anywhere, not as long as things were the way they were.
She wasn't accustomed to trusting Jarod, and it was a hard habit to break.
Morgan wasn't sure she'd ever learn to fully trust him with anything important.
And that spelled trouble.
She pulled out her cell phone and dialed the number he had given her.
"We have to talk," she said brusquely. "Do you want to
do this over the phone, or in person?"
For a moment there was silence on the other end. "What do you mean,
She sighed. "I can't do this, Jarod. Whatever
us, it can't go anywhere. It's over."
"I can't accept that."
"Open your eyes, Jarod," she snapped. "If we try to see
each other, we take a chance on getting caught. If that happens, I'm dead
and any hope of carrying out my mother's plan ends forever. I can't take
that risk, and neither can you."
His voice was calm, soft, placating. "I know, Morgan. I never intended
for us to carry on a secret affair while things are so hostile. What happened
Christmas was an investment for the future. Be patient. Things are going
to change, and when they do-"
"Right now, I can't believe they will," she retorted. "And
if they do, I
I still can't see us doing the whole domestic bliss
thing. Not even for Gabriel. I'm sorry, Jarod."
"Give it time. Give us time."
She looked up into the white sky, feeling the whisper of fresh snow falling
and melting against her face. "I can't, Jarod. I've got to keep my
head in the game. This is tearing me up inside, and I have to stop it.
Christmas never happened. What we did
it was just a dream. And tomorrow,
or next year, or ten years from now, it'll still be a dream. We can't
go back there. Not ever."
"Gabriel needs us."
"He has us. We'll do what's right for him, and both of us know that.
But as far as we go
Jarod, I can't. Every time I try to imagine
a future with us in it, we're always standing at arm's length from each
other with Gabriel in the middle. I can't picture us together." She
sighed. "And I trust my inner sense to tell me the truth now. What
I see for us is the friendship we had growing up. That's all. It's the
only thing that feels real and right between us."
"Don't do this to me," Jarod pleaded in her ear. There was
pain in his voice, and it wasn't pretending. "Please, Morgan. We
need each other."
She shook her head. Her voice softened. "No, Jarod. We don't. We're
independent people. We're survivors. We always land on our feet, and nothing
will change that. The only real reason we have to be together is Gabriel."
He took a deep, trembling breath. She heard it, and knew how he was hurting.
She had pain of her own to deal with, though she couldn't let him know
that. "So what I feel for you doesn't matter."
"What we feel for each other doesn't matter," she whispered,
closing her eyes, trying to keep the anguish out of her voice. "It
just makes us bleed, and I think it's time to bind up the wounds and move
He didn't answer. She waited for a full minute, then cut off the call
and tucked the phone back into her coat pocket. Head up, eyes open, she
trudged back to the building down the long path.
She did not weep. She couldn't afford melting her makeup and answering
the questions that would ensue when she returned to her office. Parker
was good at hiding her emotions, and throughout the rest of the day, she
would appear as if nothing had happened. But when she got home that night,
she promised herself a hot shower and a good cry, when no one else would
* * * * * * * * *
It took a full two minutes for Jarod to hear the dial tone in his ear,
standing as he was, staring up blankly at the gray sky above him as light
flakes of snow dusted his skin. He had been pacing the paths of the park
outside his latest lair when the call came and, since it had begun, he
Now, for a moment, he didn't feel like he could.
Slowly he felt his throat beginning to close up as the full impact of
what she had decided hit him. He slipped the silent cell phone back into
the pocket of his long jacket and wrapped the garment more firmly around
him, feeling his hands on either side of his stomach. He tightened his
fingers around the harsh material, lowering his face into the lapels of
the coat that were raised to protect his neck from the bitter weather,
and stared blindly at the ground.
He coughed to remove the feeling that he was about to choke and turned
on his heel, walking smartly back to the building and letting himself
into his room. It was nearly as cold inside as out, and he left his coat
on as he shut the door and trudged over to the bed, sitting down on it,
his eyes trained on the floor.
Everything in him was fighting against what she had said, presenting
argument after argument as to why it was wrong - why the two of them did
belong together. There was a soft voice whispering in the back of his
mind that she was right, but he closed his ears to what it was telling
him, not wanting to hear it.
They belonged together, and not only for their son. They had shared so
much, had so many parts of their lives that fitted together seamlessly:
sadness reflected in sadness; their few moments of happiness always together.
Their childhoods had, for a long time, been spent together. Why was it
that some people were able to have solid, life-long romances with childhood
friends and he couldn't?
What was wrong with him?
He wanted to believe in the dream that he had created for them both in
Barrow, to believe that it would have turned out properly if things had
been different, and he wanted to somehow correct what had happened, all
the years of mistrust between them, and make it right.
But she wasn't going to let him.
Independent people, she had told him, and perhaps she was right.
Jarod looked around the bare walls of the room that he currently called
his, contrasting it with the fantasy hideaway that he had spent all his
spare time making for the past few months, and in which many members of
his family were currently staying, now secure. Whether he was an independent
person or not, one thing was undeniable.
He was lonely.
She could go and spend time with their son whenever she wanted company,
easing the pain she might be feeling in the presence of the boy, whereas
all he could do was stare at the walls
Something clenched inside him, appearing to tighten around his heart,
as he reached over to his laptop and opened a certain file. The photo
took only seconds to appear on the screen and Jarod stared longingly at
the small face, remembering the hours that he had spent with that boy
and with the other children, the pleasure, real, honest pleasure that
his hours with them had produced. He wondered if he ever really would
get the chance to be with them before they became part of the machine
that was the Centre, pumping out solutions and answers to enrich people
who cared nothing for other human beings, only for the profits that lined
Right now, he didn't know what hurt more - his abandonment by his childhood
friend, or the fact that he had abandoned his son to people who didn't
care about him.
Lowering his head, feeling the emotion well up inside, Jarod allowed
the first tears to escape from his eyes, quickly followed by others: a
warm rain that soaked through the lapels of his coat where they touched
* * * * * * * * *
The Centre, SIS
Office of Security Specialist, Daniel Pyne
He read through the woman's resume for the third time, mulling over the
answers to the questions he had asked her during the interview. "This
looks very good, Ms. Walker," he observed casually. "You've
got a lot of experience in the field. Not many women bounty hunters, which
speaks highly for your skills. Our security specialists have similar skills,
but mainly offer protection for our assets and project leaders. Industrial
espionage is a big factor, and sometimes we have to get rough keeping
what's ours out of competitors' hands. Are you up to that?"
Kim Leone nodded, tucking a strand of her newly auburn hair back behind
her ear. "Yes, sir. I take orders real well." She knew from
having observed some of the teams at work out in the 'field' that intelligence
was not a desired asset, and dumbed down her otherwise perfect grammar
Pyne nodded. "We've checked through your references and gotten some
good reports on you, but we like to test your skills before we make an
offer. Are you prepared for that?"
She shrugged. "Sure. You want me to demonstrate in my street clothes?"
She stood up, smoothing down her skirt for emphasis.
His dark eyes stroked her figure up and down before he smiled and said,
"We can get you some sweats to change into. If you'll come with me,
I'll take you to the gym." He rose and led her down a series of connected
corridors to the end of the long main building. Opening the door, he ushered
her into the spacious room and pointed toward the women's dressing room.
"You'll find sweats in bins marked for size, and there are lockers
where you can leave your things while we put you through your paces."
In minutes, she was back in the gym, barefoot and ready for whatever
Pyne stood beside a mat, chatting with an attractive man with dark hair
and a ready smile. The other fellow was shadow boxing as they talked,
dancing like Muhammad Ali on the padded surface. Gamely, she advanced,
sizing up her potential opponent, assuming that the big man in the suit
wasn't going to participate. She took no chances, however, and kept him
to one side rather than turning her back to him.
"Let's see what you've got, Ms. Walker," Pyne announced. "Go
for it, Valentine. Let's see what she can do."
She saw Valentine smile and ready himself for a kick. She dodged backward
just enough for his foot to miss her head, grabbed his leg in mid flight
and gave him a shove, tipping him over flat onto his back. He rolled to
his feet in a squatting position and came back at her with a sweep, but
she hopped over his outstretched leg and aimed a kick at his head, catching
him on the shoulder instead when he ducked. She backed off long enough
for him to stand, and when he swung at her she caught his arm at the wrist,
locked out his elbow and forced him to his knees. For a moment she held
him there, grunting with pain, and then released him, backing off a step
to let him make his next move.
The gleam in his dark eyes told her that he was both surprised and excited
by her prowess. He came in fast with a grab for her throat, but she jabbed
at his shoulders with her fists and shoved two fingers in a lightning-fast
combination deeply into the hollow of his throat, making him choke and
stumble backward. He was good, and he was learning to respect her, but
she still didn't know just how good he was. He was holding back, and she
was announcing in no uncertain terms that she was ready for his best.
He gave her a respectful nod, raised his fists, and dropped his weight,
bending his knees slightly to let him move fast. He lashed out at her
face with a hard right, but she slapped his hand out of the way just before
it made contact and rode the momentum into his jaw with the heel of her
hand. He caught himself and came back with another punch, but she rolled
her body across his arm and slammed her elbow into his ribs, knocking
him clean off the mat.
Pyne applauded. "Very good, Ms. Walker. How about a takedown?"
Valentine was already on it. He came back at her at a dead run. She sidestepped
as he grabbed for her, but he adjusted at the last second and took her
around the waist, lifting her off her feet and throwing her hard on the
mat. For an instant she saw stars, but moved by instinct, feeling for
his throat as he held her down with his body.
Her vision cleared quickly, and she saw the look in his eyes, which had
been handsome a moment earlier. The predatory gleam was bright, and she
recognized it instantly. Her fingers went straight for the hollow of his
throat again, digging in until he choked and backed off far enough for
her to roll partially out from under him. He grabbed at her again, but
she took his arm, wrapped it around his back with all her strength, and
climbed on top of him, pressing her knee into the small of his back while
she locked his elbow out, giving her control. If he tried to move out
of that position, she'd happily break the joint for him.
"Not bad," Pyne observed, arms crossed over his massive chest.
"What do you say, Valentine?"
"Yeah," he panted. "But can she shoot?"
Kim glanced up at Pyne for approval, and released her opponent when he
smiled. She stepped back quickly as Valentine got slowly to his feet,
and gave him a quick half-bow of respect, as she had been taught. But
she did not take her eyes off him.
"Would you mind taking her to the shooting range?" Pyne asked
Valentine grinned. "Sure thing. We'll get changed, and I'll walk
her over there. I'll bring you back the target with my recommendation."
Pyne nodded and left them alone. Kim eyed Valentine coolly. "Be
back in a few," she told him, and moved away toward the dressing
rooms, keeping her opponent in her line of sight as she walked. She watched
the door as she dressed, making sure he didn't invade that private area,
and when she was ready, she stepped back out into the gym and accompanied
him to another building at the back of the complex.
He engaged her in small talk about past careers and training, introduced
her to the range manager and supervised her target practice. When she
had finished decorating her target with a variety of intricate patterns,
including a smiley face made of bullet holes, she walked back to the main
building and Pyne's office. The Security Specialist asked Valentine to
take her on a tour of the buildings, but Kim declined.
"I don't really need to know what you people do here," she
said with a disinterested shrug. "That's your business. Just tell
me who I take orders from, and we'll be fine. I can learn the layout on
Pyne glanced at Valentine and smiled. He nodded with approval. "I
think you'll fit in just fine, Ms. Walker. Sweepers go on a first-name
basis around here, so we'll call you Kim. When can you start?"
"Give me a couple days to find a place to live, and I'll be ready
to punch in," she told him. "Is that good enough?"
"We have guest quarters where you can stay until you find a place,"
said Pyne. "Or if you'd rather, you can bunk in one of the dormitories.
We have floors below ground for permanent residents. If you're interested,
"That should be fine. I can go back to the hotel and pick up my
suitcases, call to have the rest of my things shipped in, and we'll be
set. I could start tomorrow, if you want."
Pyne agreed, rose and shook her hand. "Welcome to SIS, Kim."
He handed her a plastic bag with several booklets and sheets of paper
in it. "This is our new employees packet, with handbooks for behavior,
insurance and all that sort of thing, which you can read at your leisure.
If you have any questions, Human Resources can answer them for you at
extension1720. Valentine, would you show Kim to her new quarters? We'll
put her in
" He checked room availability on a handy list. "SL1,
Room 231. He can also register your handprint and signature, and take
you through the process of getting your identification papers in order.
Glad to have you with us."
"Glad to be here," she responded automatically. She rose and
followed Valentine to the registration center, where he promised to fetch
her after the process was completed. She thanked him for his help, and
watched him leave with a sigh of relief.
She would have to watch out for that one. Being a bounty hunter for as
many years as she had, Kim had a keen awareness of what sort of man he
was. That he was dangerous was certain, but she had a feeling that there
was much more to him than just that.
* * * * * * * * *
He stood outside in the snow, his long wool coat wrapped around him,
looking in the windows of the big house hidden away in the trees. Houses
like this one were rare, constructed of white brick instead of the usual
red, its roof covered in black tiles that were dusted with a light covering
of the powdery snow that was still falling around him, but the old woman
who lived there could afford the inflated price. He could smell the money
and power from where he stood, but he had never had the pleasure of meeting
Frau Helena Berkstresser was in the office in the rear of the house,
overlooking a snow-blanketed yard. Walking a beat around the house in
a regular sweep were burly men who acted as her personal security team,
and there were certain to be more inside the house. He was prepared for
that. In addition to the body armor he wore was a latex prosthesis that
gave him the proper body profile. On his face was more latex and a coating
of makeup that gave him the proper skin tone. Even his hair was covered
with a matching skullcap. The fake mustache itched, but he'd be ditching
it soon enough.
He checked the briefcase chained to his left wrist, circled around the
house and approached from the front. After showing his fake identification,
he strolled in the front door and was shown to the Frau's office. The
woman was seated at her desk, just finishing up a phone call. She seemed
to recognize him, and when he showed her the briefcase and attendant chain,
she waved her bodyguard into the next room.
He smiled, came toward the desk and set the briefcase on the desktop
beside her just as she hung up.
"What do we have here, Herr Pyne?" she demanded brusquely.
"What has happened that needs this sort of security?"
He said nothing, knowing that his higher pitched voice would give him
away. Instead, he opened the case, took out a sheaf of papers and laid
them on the desk in front of her. Then he closed the briefcase, picked
it up and stood slightly behind her chair to wait for her signature.
"This is a sanction," she stated as she read the top of the
sheet. Scanning down to the body of the text, she saw the name on it,
and gasped. It was her last breath.
The long chain on the handcuffs that kept the briefcase attached to Yuri's
wrist was suddenly wrapped around her neck, pulled tightly enough to prevent
her screaming to call her guards. He hauled her almost out of the chair,
watching with satisfaction as he strangled her. When it was done, he let
her body slump back into the chair, placed a black hood over her head
and began to set the scene. From his pocket he pulled a tape recorder,
hit the "play" button and listened to the woman's voice, previously
recorded on a phone call. He adjusted the volume, picked up the phone
receiver and laid it on her shoulder. Then he turned the chair toward
the window, knowing that he would be gone before the sweepers in the yard
caught sight of her hooded body in the chair.
He left the sanction order for Helena Berkstresser in plain sight on
her desk, refastened the briefcase chain to his wrist and headed out the
door. He offered a nod to the sweeper outside the door, held up his free
hand in imitation of someone talking on the phone, and held the door open
just long enough for the Frau's recorded voice to be heard. He shrugged
and headed out the door, trudging across the snow covered lawn to his
rented car. Moments later, in the warmth of the car, he chuckled to himself
as he drove off down the road, peeling off the latex and skull cap as
he drove. By the time he reached the place he had selected to make his
change, all that was left on his face was a few errant bits of adhesive.
A few minutes later he had effected a complete change of clothing and
left no trace of who he had been half an hour earlier.
It was easy, taking the old woman out. Ridiculously easy. And way too
* * * * * * * * *
The young woman came in and sat down across from his desk with an open
expression on her face. She was dressed conservatively, and with that
innocent look in her eyes and that long blonde hair, she seemed every
bit the girl-next-door type that made Lyle ill with disgust. He had her
file in front of him, though, and knew that this was just a façade
to put people at ease.
"Pleased to meet you at last, Allegra," he told her cheerfully.
"You're a hard woman to find."
She shrugged. "I've been working on my assigned projects."
She even sounded like a schoolgirl, syrupy sweet and precious.
"But I must admit, I'm getting a little bored. There's only so many
light bulbs I can shine and computers I can whack before it gets old.
He grinned. "Want something more challenging?" She had been
in training since childhood, conditioned as an assassin, though no such
exercises had been undertaken to test the effectiveness of her talent.
She was classified as an electrokinetic, able to tolerate larger than
normal amounts of current into her own body, as well as store up charges
of static electricity and discharge them at will. The current she was
able to generate was not strong enough to kill, and that had been a failure
in Raines' eyes when he shelved Project Thor the year before Faith made
cauliflower out of his brain.
But there were other uses for such talents as Allegra's.
Something gleamed in her blue eyes. "What do you have in mind?"
"It's time you started working with people, don't you think? Learn
some public relations skills, that sort of thing."
For a moment she looked disappointed. "That's not exactly what I
was hoping for."
He couldn't suppress a grin. "You want to be a useful member of
society, don't you, Allegra? Find out where you fit into the scheme of
She frowned and gave a small shrug. "I guess so."
"And then, when you're ready, we'll find out exactly what you can
do with some more
shall we say, real-world experiments? Just for
Something dark glittered in her eyes as she understood his veiled message.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Lyle. I think I'd really enjoy that. When do we start?"
He chuckled, pleased with her eager response. "Let me see what I
can do about rounding up some
test subjects. We may have
to send out to one of our nearby metropolitan area for a few transients
who won't be missed. Should be able to get started right after the weekend.
Will that fit into your schedule?"
Allegra smiled brightly and nodded her head. "That should be just
His smile faded somewhat. "You understand, of course, that if we
move you here to our main facility, we'll have to keep you under wraps
until we're sure how effective you'll be on our team. That will mean some
restrictions on your movements, but only temporarily. Can you handle that?"
She cocked her head, considering. "How long?"
"Maybe a month or so. I'd rather conduct the testing here, instead
of traveling to the facility on Bear Island." He grinned. "I
want to watch you in action, you know."
She smiled seductively at him, and dangled her shoe off the end of her
toe as a tease. "Yeah? You like to watch?"
"Oh, yeah," he murmured approvingly. Maybe she was his type
after all, even though she wasn't Asian. He'd have to wait on that and
see whether she had what he needed.
"Then, yeah. I'll do it."
He stood up and started to reach across the desk to shake on the deal,
but thought better of it. She had been a project under Raines, and therefore
couldn't be trusted yet, not until he knew more about how she thought
and what she wanted. As soon as he could get into her head, he could make
her do anything he wanted. All it took was a little patience.
"I think you'll enjoy working for me, Allegra," he promised.
"No more kiddie experiments. Under me, you'll get to really find
out what you can do. And then, you'll get to do it regularly."
"I look forward to it," she assured him.
He sighed with pleasure as Valentine escorted her out of his office,
to her new rooms on SL18. On the record, her suite was officially listed
as vacant, but he had brought with him her handler from Bear Island, as
well as a small staff who would be responsible for her care so that she
was completely dissociated from the system. He could keep that small group
under wraps for a month, but longer than that would be a strain. And at
the end of that 30 days, he would know whether she would be another tool
in his arsenal, or a toy he or Valentine could enjoy in other ways. Raines
had plenty of tricks up his vegetating sleeve, and Lyle could exploit
them any way he chose.
No one would question additional bodies headed for the incinerator or
the cemetery. That sort of thing happened at the Centre every day. And
with Valentine on hand to forge any necessary records to cover up the
incidents, he was a safe as a baby in the womb.
Lyle turned his attention back to her file, and waited for Valentine
to return for new instructions before Lyle left for the weekend. His sweeper
would enjoy spending a few days hunting for potential victims of their
latest project. That was the sort of thing the man liked best, especially
when he could dispose of a few for fun along the way.
* * * * * * * * *
Sebastian glanced up from the report as his visitor arrived. The man
was tall, with a shoulder-length mane of fair hair and intense green eyes.
He was a snappy dresser, always on the leading edge of fashion. He had
deep dimples when he smiled, and an affable manner that instantly put
people at ease. Charm was his greatest asset.
"Congratulations on your promotion, Mr. Sun," McKenzie said
casually. "This was a big move for you."
"I earned it," Sun answered with a blinding grin, bright against
his tanned face, and seated himself heavily. "I've put a lot into
my work for the Centre over the years. I've brought in the biggest contracts
in the last decade, and the powers that be have been grateful. They know
enough to reward a good thing, and now that I've got a vested interest
in management, they know I'll perform even better."
Sebastian nodded. "And I'll be providing you with a goodly portion
of those lucrative contracts."
"As you always have," Sun agreed happily. "What have you
got in mind for today?"
"I need some information," Sebastian told him. "Records
that need to be removed from Delaware. They can be sent to CGB under the
cover of transferring the research, but I want to make sure there's nothing
"I can do that. Will your people at CGB continue to develop it?"
"Of course. I have to keep your arse covered, if I'm going to continue
to hit you up for things I need." Sebastian winked at him, and flashed
a quick grin.
"And it'll be buried at CGB once it's completed, so that we can
drag it out if I get in trouble."
Mr. Sun nodded. "All right, then. Give me the specifics, and I'll
get the ball rolling."
Sebastian complied, accepted the DSA Sun had brought him, and shook hands
as they completed their business transaction. He would have to tread very
carefully with the man from now on, since his promotion complicated their
relationship considerably. Having a member of the American Triad in his
pocket was a necessary evil, but dangerous for everyone concerned. He
didn't want Sun killed. The way the last Corporate Director had died was
warning enough, and he didn't want any more blood on his hands than was
Not yet, anyway.
* * * * * * * * *
Savoy Hotel, Room number 342
Emily sat on the bed, her feet tucked under her, newspapers spread out
all around her. There was a copy of the London Times to her left,
the Berliner Tageszeitung to her right, and the Paris Le Monde
right in front of her. She turned a page of each one in order, scanning
the headlines for articles pertinent to her investigation. There had been
two more murders since she arrived, and she was waiting for a coroner's
report to come in on the latest victim before she returned to the scene
to do her own forensic examination.
A knock on the door pulled her out of her reverie, and she went to answer
it, calling cautiously through the door before opening it. She smiled
at the familiar face, and tiptoed up to give her friend a quick kiss on
the cheek. "You're late, Paul Jennings," she chided, and stepped
back to allow him into the room.
"My plane was delayed," he told her with a chuckle. "Nothing
I could do about it, I swear. You know how tight airport security is these
days." He pulled her into a brief embrace, spied the newspapers on
the bed and strolled over to them. "Still looking into those Executioner
"Yeah. You know me, once I get my teeth into something, I don't
let go till I have all the answers." She sighed, and crawled back
onto the bed, sitting cross-legged in front of the papers. "But there's
something I'm not seeing here, some connection I'm missing. These people
who died, they didn't know each other. And just like the ones in New York,
they had hoods on when the bodies were found. Covering the faces is a
personal thing, something someone does who cares for the victim, but this
just doesn't jive with the rest of the act."
Paul smiled, his brown eyes filled with amusement. "Don't worry,
Emily. You'll put it together, if anyone can. But for now, how about getting
something to eat? I'm starved."
She grinned up at him. "Look, you've been distracting me since I
started this project. And I didn't expect you to follow me across the
Atlantic on this story, even though you're a reporter, too. I shouldn't
be letting you in on any of this, or you'll scoop me at the last minute."
He held up his hands in protest. "Look, babe, I'm not interested
in your story. Serial killings aren't my thing." He chuckled, tickled
that he had her so completely fooled. "I like industrial espionage,
political scandals, that sort of thing. You can have this witch hunt."
He shoved the papers aside and sat down on the bed with her, snuggling
his head into her lap so he could look up into her pretty face.
He had to keep her distracted. She was a good investigator, and she was
putting the pieces together far more quickly than he had expected. Soon
enough, she would begin to see him differently, and as soon as she knew
that he was the man she was hunting, she wouldn't be smiling anymore.
Not unless he could make her understand.
Yuri pulled her down onto the bed with him, laughing playfully as he
wrestled her into a deeper, more sincere kiss that let her know just how
much he cared. Emily was special. She was Jarod's sister, which kept her
safe from retribution, knowing that she had grown up on the run, a victim
of the Centre's evil. But more than that, she was intelligent and kind,
and she had touched a place in his heart that he hadn't known was there.
He had gotten close to her initially to find a way to contact Prodigy,
and while he flirted with her, she had charmed him right back. That was
something he hadn't expected, and he wasn't sure just how to handle the
relationship developing between them. He was sure it would end badly,
but just for once, he wanted to know what it was like to be loved for
himself, and to dream of what might have been.