Necessary Evil


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Corridor 15
The Centre

Sydney's attention was riveted on the folder in his hand. He read the report over again, putting the pieces together and disturbed by the picture painted by the information. It was even more important for him to begin working with the Seraphim, and something like this just might tip the balance in his favor. He would write up a report and submit it to the Chairman, letting the information speak for itself. If the others involved in the project disagreed, he'd be spared the humiliation of being shot down in person.

He strolled up to the elevator and pressed the "down" button, keeping his eyes on the paper until the doors opened. Glancing upward, he stepped inside and froze, recognizing a familiar face standing inside. He couldn't breathe for a moment.

His eyes swept over the security uniform clothing the woman's slender body, the auburn hair pulled back neatly into an efficient bun at the nape of her neck. She eyed him with a gleam of warning, stiffening with alarm. She was the last person he expected to see at the Centre, and having her there meant she had put herself in incredible danger. He dared not give her away.

His palms began to perspire. He closed the folder and held it at his side, moving further into the car and pressing the button for his floor. Valentine stood behind her, so Sydney couldn't say what he wanted to her. He smiled reflexively, and pretended she was unimportant. That was the only way to keep her safe.

"How are you today, Sydney?" Valentine asked from the back of the lift.

"Well, thank you," the Belgian returned. "And yourself?"

"Slightly bruised," the sweeper volunteered cheerfully. "Testing a new security recruit today." He chuckled softly, and patted the woman on the shoulder. "She passed. Kim, this is Sydney. He's one of the shrinks here. Sydney, this is Kim."

Politely, he turned and offered her his hand as if he had never seen her before, and she reciprocated.

Inside, he was frantic. He was furious. How dare she track him down to that place? How dare she put her life in danger by getting a job there? He was going to have to protect her somehow, without revealing her relationship to him, and that was going to require some thought.

Working on his project was useless now. Kim's presence had distracted him so thoroughly that he wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything else, until he knew she was safe. And God help them both if anyone found out who she really was.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

The doors of the elevator slid smoothly open and Mr. Parker waved for the other man to exit slightly ahead of him, rapidly catching up so that the two were walking side by side.

"Not a bad set-up you have here," remarked the man in a strong Oxford accent but with a hint of something that suggested foreignness.

Parker showed his appreciation for the compliment with a wide smile. "Your arrangements in Berlin aren't exactly second-rate either."

"It's better since we moved into the new building," the foreigner admitted. "More space and lots of light."

For a second, the Chairman wondered if there was an implied insult in the remark, but decided, for the time being, to ignore it. This was somebody he wanted on his side, particularly in light of the recent events, and his opinion should be humored. Looking ahead, Parker saw the blond woman standing outside his office, her eye caught by his companion, and the American urged the man forward.

"Mr. Delius, this is one of the members of the American triad. Eve, this is the new director of the German group."

The woman's eyes traveled quickly over the crisply tailored suit, eyeing the man's features and dark, earnest gaze that, at that moment, was coolly examining her. Despite herself, Eve's gaze sank in the direction of the floor, feeling her heart rate increase and her breathing quicken slightly.

"It's nice to make your acquaintance, madam," Delius stated smoothly, shaking the hand that she tentatively offered him.

Parker nodded his satisfaction before turning to see a slender brunette approaching from the other direction.

"I'm glad you got my message, Angel," the Chairman accosted her as soon as she was in earshot, turning to see the expression of his European visitor and hiding a grin.

"You wanted to see me?" Miss Parker queried sharply, her already bad mood heightened by the sight of the woman who had lingered at the entrance to Parker's office.

"As head of SIS," Parker glanced at the German to be sure that the man had picked up on the high position that the woman held. "You'll already be aware of both the presence of the other branches of the Triumvirate and also the tragic death of the director of the German triad. This man has taken over that position."

The German stepped forward. "A pleasure to meet you, madam. Your servant, Mr. Delius." He took the hand that she offered, bending his head over it and brushing the back of her hand with his lips.

Despite herself, Miss Parker was unable to help appreciating the gesture, especially seeing the jealousy that flared in Eve's eyes as the Chairman opened the office door. Delius straightened up, deliberately eyeing the woman from head to toe before once more meeting her gaze steadily.

"Such a charming woman will present us with a detailed plan of the best way to ensure that the assets of all three groups are secure? Surely," the corners of his lips lifted, "there are a number of things that you would prefer to be doing than this…"

Raising an eyebrow suggestively, Delius watched as faint color rose in the woman's face and her grasp on the folder in her hand tightened.

"It's an important job, Mr. Delius."

"Undoubtedly and," his tones became smooth, "I have no doubt that you carry it out superbly."

Parker's lips lifted in an involuntary smirk as he waved a hand towards the interior of his office. "I believe that we need to get things underway."

As the other two entered his office, Delius allowing the woman to precede him and holding a seat for her, the Chairman turned to where Eve continued to stand in the doorway. Brusquely, he took the folder she carried out of her hands and deliberately began to close the door in her face.

"We have business to discuss, Eve. Come back in a few hours and we can talk about this." Giving the folder a flick with a careless finger he firmly shut the door, leaving the woman staring blankly at the smooth surface before she abruptly turned and headed for the elevator.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Mr. Parker took his place at the head of the table, looking down at the faces along either side and finally meeting the gaze of the man who sat at the far end, his face expressionless.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," he stated as soon as the room as quiet. "I'm sure you've all had time to digest the shocking news of our dearly esteemed colleague's death, although I know, for some, it will be impossible to ever get over such a tragedy."

He shook his head in sorrow as a murmuring could be heard from both sides before silence resumed.

"Despite this," the Chairman stated calmly, "it is imperative that we continue along the path that she forged for us during her many years of devotion to the organization. The German sector has been quick to name a replacement in Herr Delius, who has been an eager student of Frau Berkstresser's for many years and will, I am certain, provide as capable leadership as she did."

There was a moment of applause as Delius stood. "Thank you, Mr. Parker. Colleagues," the man began, his eyes traveling quickly over the others seated around the table. "We have much work to do and the time in which we have to do it seems to be reducing every day. Rest assured that the death of our valued friend and guide will in no way hinder the work that we are carrying out at Die Fakultät. Indeed, we have a hope that projects which are yet only in their infancy will blossom into results that will be of significant benefit to the cause in which we all have such a firm belief."

He glanced at several people seated around the table. "However, as I am sure you are all aware, every new player brings with them his or her own team of trained experts and specialists. To that end I have asked that the heads of our Security and Corporate sectors accompany me to this meeting. Herr Romei is in charge of Corporate for Die Fakultät and the equivalent of the SIS section here in America is represented by Mr. Peter Winston."

Parker looked up with a slight start at the name. For some reason it seemed familiar, although the face was unknown to him. He struggled to remember where he had heard it before, and in association with whom, but was unable to do so. His thoughtfulness meant that he missed the slight sneer evident on Delius' face as he looked down at another man who sat further along the table and who had been casting a black glare at the head of his sector since the meeting had begun. Herr Mogge resented his demotion from head of Corporate fiercely, a fact of which Delius was well aware, but the Director cared nothing of the other man's feelings and only had him watched closely to ensure that the man wouldn't try to regain his position, by fair means or foul.

With a small half-bow, Delius resumed his seat, to the applause of other Triumvirate members. Mr. Parker, after waiting a moment to ensure that the man wasn't going to continue, stood again to speak.

"The purpose of this meeting was to review some of our more important projects. I have asked Dr. Cox to give us an overview of the Seraphim, which he will be here to do in twenty minutes, but in the meantime, it would be interesting for us to hear what has been happening in the Pretoriat."

He turned to Mr. Kruger, who sat further down the table, and Parker resumed his seat as the South African Director got to his feet and began to speak.

* * * * * * * * *


Jarod stood on the sidewalk and gazed up at the old building. His eyes traveled over the orange brick face, its lower floors lightened with many-paned windows, trimmed in white. His keen eyes picked up on the worn places on its face, as though many hands had lovingly touched it and worn away pieces of it with their affection. He held in his hand the delivery slip he had received only the day before, and glanced once more at the address on the glass above the arched doorway.

221b Baker Street.

The address was the same. He knocked, made his inquiry at the Sherlock Holmes Museum Gift Shop, picked up the package that had been left there for him, and strolled out onto the sidewalk just as a drizzling rain began. He pulled the collar of his coat up to try to ward off the chill, but the cold followed the column of his neck down to his body, freezing him to the bone.

England was dismally cold at that time of year.

Not until he had returned to the warmth of his bed-and-breakfast room and treated himself to a cup of hot lime-flowered tea did he take a good look at the package. It had been sent from Germany, whatever it was. The handwriting was neat, in all caps, to Mr. Jarod Champion. The postal slip he'd received in the mail only the day before had given him time to prepare sufficient ID to collect the package, but there was no trace of a sender's identity.

He knew that it would have been X-rayed before being shipped across the Channel. It yielded beneath his careful touch, fingertips exploring the brown paper envelope before venturing to open it. Unable to divine its contents, he finally pulled at the adhesive seal, lifting it gently open.

Out slid a piece of black cloth.

Gingerly, he picked it up and saw that it was a hood, much like the one the Centre had used on him as a child, except that this one was adult-sized.

"Peek-a-boo," he murmured, turning it this way and that, gazing at the eyehole-less blank fabric face. "I don't see you."

Nothing leaped out right away from the mask, but enough simulations and he'd have some clues. He laid the hood on the foot of his rented bed and bent over the envelope, studying it in turn for more source material. Someone was astute enough to know where he was to have the delivery slip sent to him. That in itself had been enough to get him on a plane bound for England overnight. But who, besides an informed Miss Parker, knew enough about him to be able to second guess such decisions in his life? In all the years he had been away from the Centre, no one had been able to do that but Angelo, and even Angelo had not been able to anticipate him to this degree.

Who, then?

The handwriting was unfamiliar. The address, then, had to be significant. He booted up his laptop and did a search of who had lived there, all the while considering the name "Champion" that had been added as part of the teaser. What he discovered was the almost religious appeal of a fictional character named Sherlock Holmes, who had shared that address on Baker Street. By all accounts, it was the most famous address in the world, one that everyone who had ever heard of the enigmatic Holmes knew well.

He studied the package again, and this time noticed that the back of the envelope had the faint imprint of a shoe sole on it. In a few hours he had the make and size of shoe - one he wore himself - though that was no clear indicator of anything in particular. So he took himself back to Baker Street, this time through the legendary London fog that now rolled about his feet, where he purchased a collection of Holmes stories. As he walked back, he picked up a London Times that he skimmed through until he returned to his room, where he read through all of the Holmes stories with whispers of "Executioner murderer" headlines echoing in his consciousness.

Then he leaned back in his chair, staring at the package and the hood, and sighed, "The game's afoot." He studied the shoe imprint, understanding the unwritten message. But who was the sender? And where did he go from there?

Something was bound to pop up, but at the moment, he didn't have a clue other than the headlines. He felt hollow inside, knowing that his mother wasn't doing well. Add in Morgan Parker's recent rejection, and he felt himself twisting up, sweating and trembling. Aurora whispered softly to him, the memory of it seductive and still powerful, despite his months of living clean.

And on top of all of that, someone was capable enough to track his every movement, and stay a step ahead. That was the greatest danger of all, and he needed to focus on that threat first. Whoever was playing this game with him had the potential to lead him back to the Centre, or lead the Centre to him. He needed to clear his mind and concentrate if he was going to figure out this puzzle. Someone evil was challenging him, and he had to be ready for what lay ahead.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

His presentation complete, Cox returned to his office with a sense of satisfaction. Despite the slow progress of the development of different Aurora delivery systems, the project was going as well as could be expected. Seating himself behind his desk, Cox returned the folder containing the results to a filing cabinet behind his seat, turning back to see a figure in the doorway.

"A fine speech, my friend," the newcomer commented, walking into the room and shutting the door.

"I'm no friend of yours," Cox snarled, rising to his feet. "It was a business deal, that's all. It gives you no right to waltz in here…"

"Oh, I think it does," the German director stated smoothly as he took a seat opposite the man. "You might as well sit down, Cox, before you fall down. That would be rather undignified, don't you think?"

Somewhat unwillingly, Cox resumed his seat, mistrustfully eyeing the man opposite. "What do you want from me, Delius?"

"How very perceptive," the man remarked. "What on earth made you realize that I want something?"

"Eight years of working together will do that," the other man spat, tucking his hands under the desktop, out of sight, so that the man opposite wouldn't see them trembling. "Tell me what it is and get out."

Delius raised an eyebrow, lounging back in the chair. "I'm disappointed," he told the other man. "I expected a much better reaction for the man who made you everything you are today. Look at you." He waved one hand around to indicate the spacious surrounds. "A good office, an excellent job, a chance to work with the best minds that the place produces…"

"And you want that chance too," Cox finished for him. "No deal."

"Oh, really?" Delius raised an eyebrow, leaning forward slightly and pressing the tips of his fingers together as he rested his elbows on his legs. "Are you really in a position to make a refusal like that? After all, if your beloved Chairman knew of some of your plans, life could get rather nasty, couldn't it?"

Cox leaned back in his chair, stiffening, feeling the blood drain from his face. "How much do you know?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Delius chuckled as he got to his feet. "I know everything. I always have." He strolled to the other side of the desk, leaning against the solid piece of furniture with his arms folded, his height meaning that he towered over the seated man. "And, should the day ever come when you get to the highest point of all, I'll be coming back for that little favor you owe me."

"I owe you nothing," Cox protested vehemently, standing up suddenly. "Nothing at all. You repaid yourself a thousand times over, with everything you put me through."

"It's a shame I don't see it that way," the other man told him. "As I see it, your debts are still stacked up, and if there's ever anything you can do to repay that, I'm sure you'll be willing to do everything you can." He took a threatening step forward. "Won't you, Dr. Cox?"

The man retreated a step, his eyes involuntarily widening, as Delius returned to the far side of the desk and bowed his head slightly. "Until we see each other again, my friend. Auf Wiedersehen."

Turning on his heel, the man left the room and Cox sank into his chair with a slight groan, wiping a trembling hand over his forehead to remove the beads of sweat that were sliding down it.

* * * * * * * *


Jarod relaxed in the armchair in front of the blazing fire that heated his room and made his jacket, hung on the back of the door, steam, his eyes fixed on the black mask that lay on the table in front of him. He had no further clues as to what move to make next, although he had carefully gone through the books again, to be sure. Even as he thought, however, there was a sharp knock on his door.

"Come in."

"I just brought you some afternoon tea," stated a cheerful female voice and a woman bustled into the room bearing a tray. "I thought you might want something to warm yourself up after being out in that fog."

"Thank you," he replied quietly, moving the objects off the table so that she could place the tray down. The woman then stoked the fire and added some more wood from the basket nearby.

"Oh, and your friend apologized for not being able to wait around for you to come back earlier. They left you a note."

The buxom woman nodded at the tray as she headed for the door and Jarod picked up the square envelope that lay beside the teacup. When he looked up to ask her about his mysterious friend, however, the woman was already gone. Looking down again, he carefully examined the outside of the envelope. The address had been hand-written and hand-delivered, meaning that there was no postcode for him to work with this time. Extracting the other note from his pocket, Jarod closely compared the two styles of handwriting, noting that, although they were somewhat similar, there were sufficient differences to suggest that they came from two different people.

With a sigh, he picked up the knife from the tray and slit the top of the envelope, extracting the small piece of paper that it contained. Before unfolding it, he held the envelope up to the fire but there was nothing that he could see in the light, turning his attention to the letter. His eyes ran over the words as he picked up one of the small cakes from the plate beside the teapot and began to nibble on it. The message itself was so cryptic that he could get no help from it, particularly as he had no idea of his next destination.

Finally, frustrated, Jarod returned the newly arrived letter to the tray and picked up the package that he had received at the Sherlock Holmes Museum. His eye was once again fixed on the postcode and Jarod pulled out his cell phone, getting the number for telephone enquiries in Germany. Maybe, once he knew where the mask had come from, he could get a better idea of what he should do next.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Tower Suite #3
Office of Mr. Sun

Miss Parker sauntered through the chrome doors, remembering the last time she had seen this man. He had been her boss for years, but since she had been put on Jarod's trail, she hadn't even spoken to him. Corporate had been fun under his leadership. Mr. Sun was a dynamic individual, and it seemed that whenever he campaigned for a client, no matter how outrageous the initial terms, he always managed to get the best deal for the Centre and satisfy the customers as well.

He sat at his desk, feet up, chair kicked back, phone in hand. He was chuckling, closing yet another deal, but as he caught sight of her he hurried off the phone and hung up, offering a big smile in greeting. He rose from his chair, stepped around the glass and chrome desk, and gave her a big hug.

"Parker! It's great to see you," he cheered, and offered her a seat on his sofa. He sat down a cushion away, giving her room, yet maintaining warm closeness. He sighed. "I just can't get over it. Every time I look at you, I think…" He paused, his humor melting away, and shook his head. "Never mind. How've you been, kiddo? I heard you got kicked upstairs to SIS. Congratulations."

She smiled. She could never resist his charm. Neither could anyone else. "Yes. I'm global director now, which you knew already. There isn't a whole hell of a lot that happens in this company that you don't know about first."

"You've been in SIS before," he remarked casually, his green eyes studying her, measuring. "But I got the impression you didn't like it. That's why you transferred to Corporate, if I remember right."

She nodded. Her smile faded. "But I was a different person then. I like to think my eyes are more open now."

He sat back a little, and cocked his head slightly. "Oh? In what way?"

"A lot of ways," she assured him. She laid her hand briefly on his knee. "I used to think my mother was weak. I hated it when people told me how much I reminded them of her." Bittersweet memories tugged at her mind, teasing her mouth into a half smile. "But now, I enjoy hearing it. Just now, when I came into your office, I saw that look in your eyes. You were remembering her, but you thought saying so would make me angry."

He smiled. This time, there was genuine warmth in it, and in his eyes. "She was my friend, Parker. I miss her."

Something pulled at her heart as she gazed into his eyes. She knew that her mother and this man had worked together since Catherine first came to the Centre. They knew each other long before she was born. And that he cared deeply for Catherine was evident in his eyes. Might this man be her real father?

"So do I." She sighed. Her eyes held his. "Were you more than friends, Mr. Sun?"

He looked genuinely shocked. "What ever would make you think that?" He composed himself, pulled a little farther away from her, now sitting fully upright. "No. We weren't lovers, Parker. Not that I wouldn't have wanted to be more to her, but there was only room in her heart for one man, and that wasn't me. We were just friends." He leaned forward, balancing his elbows on his knees, and bowed his head sadly. "She was my hero."

That struck a chord in her. "What do you mean by that?"

He shot her a sidelong glance. "The way she felt about people, always trying to help. She cared about everybody, and it went soul deep. She was such a light in my life. I… I can't explain it any better than that. She was just such an amazing woman. And I'm sorry you had to grow up without her."

"You think I'd have been different, if she had lived," Parker mused. He seemed to be trying to tell her something, but danced around it to keep from saying too much. He was afraid of her, and she felt little whispers inside her, too faint to hear. She closed her eyes for a moment and listened, straining to catch the message.

Tell him. Tell him everything.

She didn't want to resist, but in the Centre, caution was an imperative.

"You're right. I would have been different, if I'd had my mother's counsel to listen to as I grew up." She laid her hand on his shoulder, and left it there. "And I've been learning to do that lately."

He faced her again, hope flickering in his eyes, and curiosity.

She placed her hand over her heart and smiled. "I still have her with me, Mr. Sun. In here. All I had to do was listen."

His mouth tightened. His brows twitched together. For a moment, she thought she saw tears in his eyes that disappeared when he blinked and turned away. He nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

But he didn't, and that was obvious to her. "My mother was special," she told him. "She knew things. It was a gift." She saw his eyes move back to her face, and knew then that he understood. "I have the same gift, Mr. Sun. Only I didn't know it until recently. I never listened to that little voice inside me that was hers." She gave his shoulder a squeeze and drew her hand back to her lap. "Now, I do."

He studied her intently. Emotions flickered over his face, flashing in his eyes. An explosive sigh blew out of him, and he relaxed against the cushions. "Thank God." He buried his face in his hands for a moment, rubbed it wearily as if he had just awakened, and then dropped his hands into his lap again. He turned fully toward her and laid his right arm over the back of the sofa, a touch of excitement gleaming in his eyes. "I want to tell you something about her. She didn't die in that elevator, Parker."

"Please, call me Morgan."

His face split into a beaming smile. "Yes. She loved your name. It was her favorite aunt's."

She nodded. Morgan knew she had chosen her own name, as her brother Ethan had, and that it was simply a happy coincidence that she shared the name with her mother's aunt. Her name was the key to her inner sense, and the reason it had not been used for such a long time. "I know. And I know she faked her death in that elevator."

Light glowed in his eyes. "I keep hoping that, one day, I'll get a postcard or a telephone call, or that maybe I'll see her picking flowers by the roadside in the spring. Did you know why she left?"

Morgan's heart clenched. He doesn't know the truth. "Yes, I know that she was pregnant, and she wanted to keep the baby safe." She sighed. "But you won't be hearing from her again, Mr. Sun. She trusted the wrong person with her life."

The shock was genuine, followed immediately by grief. He bowed his head. "Who?"

"Raines. On the Chairman's orders… And as a part of his own twisted scheme."

"How? When?"

She could see something dark and ugly settling into his attractive features. "I'll bring you the DSA."

"Thank you."

He had closed himself off to her now. She rose. Glancing around his office, she thought it looked more like a record producer's than a corporate mogul's. He had a guitar on a stand in one corner, which she knew he often played when he was thinking. There were vinyl albums from his favorite bands framed and hanging on the walls. Racks of CDs took up space on the credenza, framing a Bose CD player that had music issuing from it almost constantly. Even now, she could hear the soft strains of something New Age and soothing.

"I'm sorry," she told him truthfully.

He rose, standing right in front of her. After a beat, he reached out and took her face in his hands, his eyes hot with pain. His thumbs stroked her cheeks gently. "You can see her every time you look in the mirror, Morgan. You can hear her in your heart. All I have left of her…"

He dropped his hands, stepped back and strode stiffly over to the stereo. He popped out the CD and reached for another. "All I have left of her is memories," he growled, and cranked the volume. The song was dark and filled with pain. She thought it was Pink Floyd, but wasn't sure.

Parker turned and let herself out the door. The reason she had come to see him would wait. She had renewed an old friendship, gained a new ally, and wounded him to the core all in one sitting. Now she needed to give him time to grieve, and then she would help him heal. They had a lot to do, and having the support of one of the American Triad was a definite plus. She'd make good use of him, but carefully. She couldn't afford to get him killed.

* * * * * * * * *

Plane over London, England

Jarod settled himself into the plane seat and pulled out the note again. His eyes ran over the cryptic clue it contained and wondered how best to solve it.

Charlotte 'n' Wilmer's friends await your arrival in the village.
The young circle of political sponsors is ready in the castle.

He stared out of the window, planning his first move when he arrived in Berlin. It had taken some time to work out that the postcode he had found was connected to a suburb of that city. Pulling out the notes he'd made, Jarod glanced at a small detail he'd written during the phone call when making his enquiries. The suburb, the woman had told him, was either called Charlottenburg or Wilmersdorf. She hadn't quite been sure which. Looking down at the note again, he had to smother a chuckle.

Charlotte and Wilmer in the village. Jarod took out the map he had bought before his sudden departure from London. Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. 'Burg' translated to castle and 'dorf' was the German word for village. Obviously the rest of the clue was going to lead him to the next piece of the game he seemed to be involved in. He took a pen and notepad out of his shirt pocket, starting to scribble the translations of the words that made up the note.

Young - jung

Circle of political sponsors - politischer Förderkreis

But the signature? E.V.?

And what did the collection of numbers mean?

Jarod stared blankly at the seat in front of him for a moment before the sitting woman in the seat next to him attracted his attention.

"Eh, excuse me?"

He turned with a slight smile. "Can I help you?"

"Well, it seems that you're going to the place I was supposed to visit as well, and I wonder if you would mind delivering something for me."

At his slightly mystified expression, she nodded at the notepad on the tray in front of him. "The Fördererkreis Junge Politik e.V. My friend's son is staying there right now and she asked if I'd give a letter to him, but if it's not too much trouble, would you mind doing it for me?"

"Can you tell me," he asked hesitantly, "what it is? A youth hostel?"

"Not really. It's a student home." She took his notepad and wrote some directions on it. "If you catch the 109 bus from the airport to the railway station and then either the bus 149 or the X34, get off at Amtsgerichtplatz, and you'll be right in front of it." She showed him the place on the map. "The student home is there."

He took the envelope and tucked it into his jacket pocket. "Not a problem. Thanks for your help."

"Are you visiting someone there too?"

"Not exactly." He took out the note and handed it to her. "It's kind of a game."

"A treasure hunt?"

"Something like that."

She read through the words and smiled. "That's almost like the cryptic crossword puzzles I used to enjoy as a girl."

Jarod raised an eyebrow. "Cross…word?"

"Yes." She unfolded out a copy of the Times, turning it to show him the page. "It's a lot of fun."

He eyed the black and white squares before reading through the list of clues printed beside it, pairing up the clues with the few answers she had been able to fill in and using that to work out how the thing was done.

"Fascinating," he murmured before glancing up to see the expression of surprise on the woman's face.

"You've never seen one of those before?"

"It's…not the part of the paper I'm usually interested in," he replied awkwardly.

"Oh, you're probably one of those sports buffs," she commented, laughing as she surreptitiously eyed his figure. "Well, maybe you can use the crossword to work other parts of your brain than those in which the MVPs and all-time best scores are kept."

For a moment, Jarod considered responding, but decided that this was neither the time nor the place to get bogged down in explanations.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre, Archives

Broots copied the last DSA, put the original back in the file drawer, and took the copies with him, stuffed into the pockets of his pants and shirt. In his hand he carried a benign folder from the Archives, so that, in case someone stopped him and asked him what he had taken, he could reply with a clear conscience. Even so, he was sweating as he returned to his office, walked in and shut the door. Almost as an afterthought, he locked it as well, and then did a quick scan for surveillance devices that might have been planted in his absence. Even as Miss Parker's Number Two, he couldn't be too careful.

He didn't want anyone walking in on him while he was cataloguing those DSAs. It would be even worse if someone came in while he was viewing any of them. He could feel the danger radiating from them, but Miss Parker had instructed him weeks earlier to amass everything he could on that project, and this was his first chance to follow up on it. He had simply added to the most current mission Miss Parker had sent him to complete.

Each one of the Seraphim caregivers was an expert in early childhood behavior, education and development. They had been hand picked from among the country's finest, and each had been employed at the Centre for a minimum of five years before they had been put in charge of one of the children. Their loyalty was unquestioned - they belonged completely to the Centre, and believed in what they were doing.

That was precisely what made them dangerous. Some of the DSAs contained recordings of the eight women in action, during routine tasks prior to the births of the Seraphim. He had already copied the documents in their personnel files onto the disks, and the information that was contained on them would certainly offer a complete profile of each individual, how they thought, their strengths and weaknesses.

Broots had never met any of them besides Ms. Penfield. She seemed okay, kind of stern in a grandmotherly way. But it wasn't in his job description to second-guess why his boss wanted the scoop on these people. They were among the most trusted employees in the company, responsible for the shaping of fine little minds, including Miss Parker's baby brother. He was sure that, if she suspected some misbehavior on their part, she'd have said something to him.

All she had told him was to dig up everything on the eight women he could find and make portable copies of the information.

That part was easy enough. Terry Camp was their supervisor; Sydney was their manager. Broots didn't like sneaking into Sydney's files, but worried about that less than digging into Lyle's stuff. At least, he didn't worry that Sydney would kill him if he got caught.

What worried him the most, though, was the other errand he had been on, the one that had taken him to the Archives. The Shiva case files had already been examined, but not the DSAs. What he had seen in the paper files was enough to know that Yuri was bad news, but after the report came back from Miss Parker's trip to MacCaffrey Enterprises, something had been bothering him about the guy. He was still on the loose, and nobody seemed to be paying much attention to that fact.

He spent a few minutes cataloguing the dialogue for future reference, and then did a search for a few words at random. Nothing popped on "Jarod" or "Seraphim." When "Artemis" had a hit, he scrolled the trackball to the location, digitally reversed to the beginning of that simulation, and let it play. With sweaty palms and clenched stomach, he plugged in a few more keywords and watched Yuri in action.

When he finished, he locked the Shiva DSAs into the safe Miss Parker had given him for just such sensitive items, and went to the bathroom to wash his face with trembling hands, and try to calm himself down while he decided whether or not he should tell her what he had found. The best person to handle that information was Jarod, but he had no idea how to get it to him without risking his own neck. For that, he was going to have to think like Jarod… or wait for the Pretender to show up on his doorstep again. Broots didn't want to wait on this. He needed to get it in Jarod's hands fast.

It might not mean anything, really. But it could also get Miss Parker killed. He'd show it to Sydney as soon as he could, and have the Belgian relay the message to Jarod next time he called. That was the best he could do, and he hoped it would be good enough to save her life.

On to Act III

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