Necessary Evil

 

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The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Sydney gazed solemnly at the surface of his desk, thoughts of Kim's appearance distracting him from the paperwork he was supposed to be filling out, to be handed to the Chairman the next day about the state of the Seraphim caregivers. Despite, or perhaps because of, the importance of the work, he continued to be irritated that he was unable to work directly with the children. For Jarod's sake, he had tried on a number of other occasions to spend time with them, but such efforts were constantly thwarted by the quick reactions of Cox, until a phone call from Mr. Parker brought all such efforts to a halt. Now, however, he was also thinking of something else, in addition to both these points.

He knew that Broots had gone through his files, looking for some information that Miss Parker obviously felt was necessary. Although it was no longer a concern that she sent Broots on such errands, he was unable to help wishing that she would just come to him, asking for whatever she wanted. It hurt him that she didn't trust him enough to include him in the list of people that she went to for help.

"Sydney?"

The man looked up sharply at the sound of the female voice in the doorway, his brow lowering and his eyes glistening with barely-suppressed anger as he saw the woman standing there.

"What do you want, Eve?" he snapped.

"Your help," the woman returned bluntly. "Can I come in?"

"I'm busy," he told her flatly.

"This is important." She stepped into the room. "It's about Miss Parker. I think she could be in danger."

"Why?" the psychiatrist couldn't resist replying. "Were you planning to use her as one of your guinea pigs for Aurora?"

She eyed him for a moment in silence before continuing to speak. "Listen, Sydney, I know what you think of me, but I also know that you worry about Miss Parker, and I really think that she could be heading into some serious trouble."

There was another moment of silence before Sydney pushed the folders away with a sigh. "Fine. What is it?"

Eve shut the door and then took a seat opposite him. "What do you know about Delius, the new head of the German triad?"

"I met him a few years ago, in 1996," Sydney returned. "I was sent to Germany for a conference and he was part of that as well."

"What sort of a man is he?"

"The way a lot of people who hold higher positions in the Centre are," he replied sharply. "Determined to get and keep their positions, by fair means or foul." Sydney arched an eyebrow. "What does this have to do with Miss Parker?"

"He seemed to be showing interest in her."

"She's an attractive woman," the man responded. "I would have thought it was natural. Equally, she holds an important position in the Centre and is the daughter of the Chairman. For somebody who enjoys power as much as Delius does, that seems a natural step for him to take."

"Look, will you just help me to find out everything we can about him?" Eve demanded impatiently. "If there's nothing that might possibly cause problems, it won't matter. If there is, then she should probably know about it."

"So why come to me? Why not do the research yourself?"

"She wouldn't believe me, if I told her," the woman answered slowly. "She'd just think that I was trying to get in her way or something."

Sydney couldn't help wondering if she was. He remembered Delius well, and knew that many women considered him to be a very attractive man with a magnetic personality. It was impossible for him not to think that a man like Delius wouldn't make an impact on someone like Eve. Leaning back in the chair, he eyed her closely as he responded.

"All right, I'll see what Broots can dig up for me and call you with what I know. If I think there's any sort of risk, then I'll alert Miss Parker to it. She can make up her own mind from there."

* * * * * * * * *

Sydney took the folder that the technician offered, opening it to see the two DSAs tucked into the back of the booklet, and looked up.

"How much was there?"

"Nothing except basic biographical information on the mainframe," the younger man told him. "But when I did a little more research, I found those." Broots' brow furrowed. "He's a bit of a mystery. It's like he's got totally different personalities - he can be a charmer, a real ladies' man one minute, and worse than Cox or Valentine the next."

The psychiatrist arched an eyebrow as he read quickly through the information. "And he was a protégé of Leiden? Interesting." Sydney reached forward and put the first DSA into the player, rolling the track-ball to the start and beginning to play the clip it contained. After a moment, he stopped it and, tucking the machine under one arm, walked around the desk.

"W…where are you going?"

"To show Miss Parker," Sydney told him. "She should see this, too."

Broots stared after the older man for a minute, rubbing the top of his head thoughtfully with one hand, and then, his eyes widening, quickly followed the psychiatrist out of the room.

* * * * * * * * *

Berkstresser House, Berlin

Emily stood near the street, looking toward the house. It was closed up now that the police had finished their investigation, but she was just getting started. Somehow, this one seemed the most significant of the Executioner murders, and she wanted details that had not been in the police reports she had copied. For that, she needed to see the setting where the murder was committed.

Glancing around, she saw that no one was watching her. There was hardly anyone about anyway, and she walked purposefully up the path toward the house, angling off half way there to circle around it through the trees. In the back yard she had a clear view of the woman's office, the position of her desk and chair, and came up close to peer in through the window.

"She thought it was someone she knew," said a deep, familiar voice behind her.

Emily whirled around toward the sound, and saw her brother strolling toward her from the trees farther back in the yard. "Jarod! What are you doing here?"

"Same thing you are, I'll bet," he answered slowly. With a smile he held his arms out to her. "Good to see you again, Em. How are you feeling?"

She hugged him tightly. "Fully recovered from my recent bout with the 'flu, thanks." She stepped back and glanced at the window again. "He walked in right under the noses of the people protecting her. Clever guy."

"He had everything planned out in advance. Everything was simulated, down to the last detail. He knew exactly what to do, how it should be timed. But he's not the only reason I'm here. I needed to see you."

She frowned and glanced at him guiltily. "Okay. What's up?"

"I wanted to talk about mom."

Emily had sworn Jordan to secrecy about where Margaret lived. She knew the boy would keep his word, but she also knew her brother was smart enough that he might have figured things out for himself. "What about mom?"

"Where is she? How is she? I know something's wrong, Em. Please tell me what it is."

She almost sighed aloud with relief, and did her best to hide her emotions from him. "She's fine. That's all you need to know right now."

Something in his expression hardened. "Why won't you tell me? What are you afraid of?"

"This isn't about you, Jarod," Emily assured him. "It's about her. About what's best for her right now. Trust me on this, okay?"

He grasped her by the shoulders, his need clearly revealed on his face. "Let me help. Please, Em. She's my mom, too."

For a moment she wavered. In her mind she could see the shock on his face, followed by grief and despair as he realized what had happened to his mother's mind. She couldn't do that to him. She put her slender hands on his forearms, lightly holding onto him. "I know, Jarod. But there's nothing you can do. Not yet. I'll let you know when it's time."

He swallowed hard, and then pulled away from her, accepting her pronouncement. He stuffed his gloved hands back into his coat pockets. "I trust you, Emily. I'll wait."

She could see the haunted look in his eyes, and her heart clenched inside her. This was hurting him, but she was helpless to change that. It was more merciful than the truth, at least. And one day, when she was ready to bring them together, she knew that he would forgive her.

Still, that knowledge did little to relieve the guilt she felt. It was her fault their mother had slipped so far away from them all. "Thanks, big brother."

"So how come you didn't come to Christmas with the family?" he asked, changing the subject. He started to stroll back toward the trees, then stopped to wait for her.

Emily shrugged. "I had things to do." For a moment, she considered what to say to him. "Jarod, I can't shut myself away from the world. I've been in it all my life, and I like doing what I do. If I went to Barrow like you asked, I might have wanted to stay and I can't do that to myself. Family's important. It's one of the most important things in life, but not the only one. I have to have something to do with my life, some work that accomplishes a greater good. Can you understand that?"

He stared into her eyes with such warmth and love that she could feel it all the way to the roots of her soul. Then he smiled. "Of course, I understand. I know exactly what you mean. But I want you to be safe, too, Emily. One day, I want us all to be able to be together under the same roof, to get to know each other. We're almost there."

She shook her head. "But we could only be together for a few days at most. Then we'd have to split to the four winds, because the Centre would be after us again. It's a dream, Jarod. No matter how much you want it, you can't make it happen by wishing. You can't get to know us all in days. It takes time, and we don't have that right now."

Jarod pulled her into his arms and kissed her hair. "We will, I promise," he said softly, his words puffing out into clouds of steam in the winter air.

She hoped he was right, but wouldn't hold her breath till the dream came true.

* * * * * * * * *

SIM Lab #6
Observation Room

Lyle sat in his chair, watching through the plate glass window as Allegra experimented with her developing skill. He smiled as he listened to the screams muffled through the speaker and the wall, nodding his head with approval. Glancing up at his companion, he chuckled. "This is better than watching the movies, don't you think, Valentine?"

"The girl's got good instincts," the sweeper agreed. "She seems to have a real feel for what causes the most pain. Too bad she doesn't have the voltage to do more than that."

"Maybe we could equip her with some kind of mechanical enhancer," Lyle suggested.

The homeless man she was chasing stumbled and fell, rolling away from her and tucking himself into a corner. He whimpered, though he was a large man, powerfully built, who could easily have beaten her to a pulp, if he'd only been able to hold onto her. Every time he had tried to grab her, she had shocked him enough to make him let go. He had tried valiantly to stay away from her, but he had been hobbled before the observers left the room, making him unable to run.

Now, the shirtless man cowered in a corner, begging her to leave him alone.

Allegra smiled as she stroked his hair, building up another violent charge of static electricity, and discharging it on the sensitive skin on his throat, or the inside of his arm, or the small of his back.

He howled in pain, and Allegra continued her torture, leaving black handprints on his skin.

"I think she likes it," Valentine said with a grin. "How long do you think she can keep it up?"

Lyle glanced at the folder in his lap, and read through the exercise notes from her last handler. "She's usually good for about half an hour, before she gives out. Seems the discharges make her dizzy and weak after a while. Her doctor says he thinks the activity may be wearing out her neural pathways." He closed the folder. "Pity. She might only have a couple of years left, then, if those estimates are correct. But I don't think we should tell her that."

"Should I stop her?"

"Let her have her fun," answered Lyle. "She'll stop when she's had enough." He chuckled again as Allegra squatted down before her victim and slid her hand up his thigh. "Damn! Remind me not to let her get too close to me. Girl's got a wicked sense of humor."

Valentine laughed too. "She'd make a good addition to the team."

"You're right. Let's talk about that. Bounce around some ideas of how she can be most useful."

"As a human taser, she'd be very useful."

Valentine leaned against the wall and shut off the speaker so the screams from the next room wouldn't interfere with their brainstorming session.

* * * * * * * * *

Berlin, Germany

Jarod took the box back to a room he booked for himself at a hotel near the station, hoping that would keep his mysterious opponent off his track for a while. Settling into the room, he ordered a meal to be brought up by room service and turned on the television, trying to distract himself from the thoughts that had circled in mind for the last few days. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the white box lying on top of the jacket that he had thrown onto the bed earlier. It reminded him of his mysterious contact at the aviary, and his brow furrowed as he tried to remember any experience that the two of them might have shared.

The voice had been almost completely unfamiliar. Almost. There was a faint hint, a slight tone that he picked up on at once, his memory struggling to remember where he had heard it before. Even now, almost an hour after seeing her, he was still unable to come up with it. The face, what he had been able to see of it, was not at all known to him, nor was the slender figure, dark hair hanging down around her face.

"It'll take more than that and even more than just you and Miss Parker."

Just the name made his heart ache again, his mind instantly distracted from his mysterious friend. He could remember the time they had spent together in Barrow as accurately as if it was still happening in front of him and, as his eyes filled with tears, Jarod lowered his head.

The knock on his door brought his head up again and Jarod blinked away the hot tears before they could fall as he got up to let in the room service woman, who carried the tray over to the table and put it down, getting his signature before leaving again. He sat down at the table and stared at the food before picking up the roll and beginning to nibble on it. His hunger had evaporated and he hunted about for something to distract his thoughts from Miss Parker.

As he moved in the chair, something crackled in his pocket and Jarod pulled out the note that the mysterious woman had given him. Unfolding it, he looked at the names that were written neatly on the small sheet below the headings of 'Blue Cove', 'Berlin' and 'Pretoriat'. Each list contained about half a dozen names, and he saw immediately that Miss Parker and Sydney were both listed under the 'Centre' section, as was Broots. Unexpectedly, he also saw that Kim's name was listed and wondered how she could be among them. It was a mystery that he hoped Miss Parker would be able to clear up for him, making a mental note to ask her the next time he spoke with her.

He had to wonder how much the woman could really be trusted, remembering her direction that he give it to the right people at the right time. He also had to wonder just how much she knew, or whether she had only been bluffing when she offered her help.

Standing, he rescued the package from the bed and opened it on his lap, staring down at the small wooden mask that lay in the box. Gently taking it out, he turned it around, noting that the eyes had been burned out, but that the ash was still fresh, coming off on his fingers, as if it had been done very recently. Bits of black in the box suggested to him that it had only happened just prior to being packed, and he pulled the black cloth mask out of his pocket, holding it in his free hand and looking from one to the other.

The message was clear enough, but also double-edged. He was not meant to see the person who kept him on the move with this hunt, not until that person was ready to reveal himself. The mask was a link to his own past, as he already knew, similar to that which had been used on him. Jarod stared thoughtfully at the wall. He already knew that he was not the only person who had been brought to the Centre, and it was a fair enough assumption that the methods would still be similar. Therefore his tormenter was possibly also in some way associated with the place. That reduced the list of possible candidates, but not by much.

Turning the box over in his hands, he spotted the small gift tag stuck to the bottom of it, for a shop in Berlin, an importer and gift store. Picking up his computer, he logged onto the internet, hacking into the shop's records. He found a number of stores on the African continent from which they imported their products, dramatically narrowing down his next destination.

He looked back at the mask, noticing the markings on the face. Specific African tribes used individual marks in their rituals and, as Jarod turned the mask from side to side, he also took note of the wood from which it was made and the style in which it had been carved. Everything pointed to a place somewhere in the south of the continent, the timber establishing that it would probably come from South Africa, most likely in the north of the country. Only one exception seemed to dispute this - the color of the lips. Jarod gazed at the shade thoughtfully. It was impossible for natural products to produce this particular hue, and in fact he knew of only one place that he had seen it - on Miss Parker's face.

Jarod let out a long, slow, deep breath, took out his cell phone, booked a ticket for the next plane to South Africa and then quickly ate the dinner in front of him before collecting his things and leaving the room.

* * * * * * * * *

Tegel Airport, Berlin

Jarod strolled outside in the fresh air, scented with airplane fuel. What little luggage he had with him was carry-on, and though boarding took longer these days, he still had a few minutes to spare. Pulling out his cell phone, he couldn't help thinking of Barrow.

He dialed the number, routing the call through a variety of devices he had installed as a security precaution. Though he trusted Miss Parker, he never knew when someone else in the Centre might choose to bug her phone. He was calmer now, but no less cautious.

"What?" she demanded curtly, as always.

"Can you talk?"

Her voice softened. "I'm alone, yes."

He sighed, his heart filling with sadness. He missed her. He wanted to hold her again, but that wasn't possible, not yet. Maybe not ever again, and that hurt. "I just wanted you to know that I thought about what you said. I don't agree, but I won't try to force you to change your mind. If friendship is what you want, then that's what we'll have. For our son's sake."

His free hand formed into a fist and crammed into his jacket pocket.

Her sigh of relief was audible. "That's good, Jarod. You're quite the new-age man, aren't you?"

"I just wanted to make sure this is really what you want."

"It is."

His throat started constricting. "It wasn't something I did or said, was it?"

"No." She hesitated. "If things had been different, we could have had a life. But fantasy doesn't count. You know that. What we had wasn't real, and both of us need to face that. It was a moment out of time, and we're back in the flow now. We have to deal with what is, whether we like it or not." She sighed again. "Jarod, I've spent most of my life not trusting you. It's a habit. Whatever you say or do, I'll automatically jump to conclusions brought about by suspicion. It's going to take time for me to correct that, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to leave it completely behind. And that's no way to maintain a relationship, not when someone we both love could get hurt in the process."

He inhaled sharply. She was making sense, and as much as he hated it, she was right. That cut him, all the way down to the bone. He wiped away the tears he knew she couldn't see, and swallowed the lump in his throat. "All right, Miss Parker. We're back to where we were, then. I just… I just wanted to make sure."

"I'm sure, Jarod. This is the best thing for all of us. Let's put Gabriel first, and go on from there." She paused. "Is that all?"

He shook his head, trying to clear it of a vision of her wearing nothing but a smile. "I'm going to need some information from you soon. I don't know what it is just yet, but I'll contact you by email as soon as I know what I need."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks." He hung up, slipped the phone back into his pocket and lifted his face to the sky. There would be no more tears, no more looking back at what should have been. But that didn't mean he could shut off the pain her decision had left behind in his heart.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre, SIS

"Pull up that database, Broots, and let's look at what we've got so far," Miss Parker ordered, hovering over the tech's shoulder at his desk. His fingers danced over the keys, and the spreadsheet appeared magically on the screen. "Okay, where do we stand with the Blue Files? Have you uncovered anything more on those?"

"Yeah. Project Thor was under Mr. Raines. It was housed at a small facility in rural Pennsylvania, but when I checked on its status through the external network, records showed it was transferred to Blue Cove. Funny thing is, there's no record of it arriving here."

"Keep digging, and see what you can find out. If it's been moved here, there are bound to be people logging into the reception files who don't show up anywhere else in internal records. That will tell us something, at least."

Broots highlighted the project title, and moved on to report on the next one. "Project Pele, also under Mr. Raines. This one's local, though I had a hard time tracking it. Guess who was put in charge of that one last year?"

"Lyle?"

He placed his cursor over the project title and clicked on it. A new screen popped up that outlined the data on project parameters, including a notation at the top made by the subject's new handler. "Nope," Broots returned with a trace of pride in his voice. "Took me a while to find, because Pele was moved from under her normal project heading to one of the test subjects in the Aurora trials."

"Eve," Miss Parker guessed. She read through the data in the appropriated file, and saw a name she recognized. "Okay, Broots. I want you to backtrack to the beginning of this project, probably through NuGenesis, and confirm who Pele's parents are. Look for answers in connection with this name-" She pointed to the screen. "-and see if you can get a DNA match from Pele to any of the Seraphim."

Broots looked a little ill. "That's in Cox's records, Miss Parker. And didn't you say that any information on those kids can get people killed?"

She glared at him, making sure he took notice. "The only people who have to worry about knowledge of the Seraphim are the kids' parents, and you're not one of those. Like I told the Chairman, anything that may have an impact on Centre security is under my jurisdiction. You don't have to sneak around any more, Broots. Just go ask for the records, and go with the file clerks to get the information. If you have them sent to us, they'll be compromised."

"Cox won't be happy about it," he reminded her.

She straightened up, her face firm with distaste. "Cox can go f-"

"I'm on it, Miss Parker," he cut in, and started shutting down the program. "What are you going to do now?"

"Go visit with Pele," she replied. "Meet me there when you've got the records."

"Yes, ma'am."

Project Pele was housed on SL-18 with many of the other adult subjects, in suite #18-27. From the location she assumed that Pele was not one of the more successful projects, since the useful ones were kept closer to the elevator and the simulation rooms at the north end of the floor. To be located so far back in the dormitory area usually meant that this particular subject had value, but was either not dependable or still in the beginning stages of research.

Parker had seen the woman's age - pushing 30 years - and knew that, for the Centre to have held onto her for so long, they had to be using her with some degree of success. She approached the room, slid her personal key card through the door lock and entered her code, which would override any restrictions her handlers might have placed on visitors. The door opened, and she strolled in.

The woman was sitting in a hot tub, humming softly to herself. She looked up and started when she saw that her visitor was a stranger, and slid a little farther down into the water to hide her nakedness. "Who are you?" she asked stiffly.

"Miss Parker. What's your name?"

"Keely. Did Eve send you here? She didn't tell me what she wants me to do. I wasn't expecting visitors."

Parker stopped a few feet away from the tub. "I have authority over Eve," she explained, "and I've got some questions I want answered."

Keely was instantly compliant. "Of course. Just tell me what you want me to do."

The brunette crossed her arms over her chest. "I've read about the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion, but had no idea that our research department had progressed as far as this on research. I'd like a demonstration, please."

Keely prepared to stand up, but Parker stopped her. "I'll find something for you to work with. Just stay put."

She wandered over to the desk in the back of the quarters and found a small pad of blank notepaper. Retrieving the pad, she returned to the hot tub and held it out to the blonde. One wet hand emerged from the water, palm up and dripping, and Parker laid the pad on it. She also took note of the needle marks tracking the woman's veins all the way up her arm, and the vacant look in her eyes.

"Burn it," Parker ordered.

"Yes, Miss Parker." Keely turned her attention to the paper, staring at it for a moment. Nothing happened, so she closed her eyes and concentrated. "It's hard. Ever since I started Aurora, I haven't been able to do it on command, unless…"

"Unless what?"

Keely opened her eyes and stared up at her visitor. "Unless I'm scared or something. The drug interferes with my ability." She handed the notepad back. "I'm sorry. Do you want me to do anything else?"

"Get out and get dressed. I want to talk to you about a few other things."

Without hesitation, Keely obeyed. Parker had turned away to fetch a towel from the rack nearby when a gasp at the door made her turn. Broots stood there, folders in hand, staring at the naked, wet woman beside the hot tub.

"Wait outside!" Parker ordered, and flung the towel at Keely.

Broots seemed turned to stone, mouth wide open and eyes bulging.

Parker stomped over to the door and slammed it shut in his face. When the woman was dressed, Parker opened the door again, took the folders from Broots and gave him a look that she hoped would wipe what he had seen right off his gray matter. He wilted beneath her gaze, and when he had cowered sufficiently, she opened the door wide enough to admit him.

"Did you find what I wanted?" she asked him quietly.

He couldn't keep from glancing at the pretty blonde standing like a fragile statue at the far end of the room. "Uh, yeah. The DNA records. They match. They didn't even bother to hide the results here."

She opened the file and began to read. Her stomach clenched. She turned the page, looking for the original DNA donors, and they were listed. Looking back at the chart for Gideon, she checked it three times before admitting to herself what the Centre had done.

Of all the sick, twisted things she had witnessed in that place, this was right up there with the sickest of them all.

She felt her blood settle in her feet and knew that, if she didn't get out of there in a hurry, she was going to lose what little lunch she still had in her.

"No more questions, Keely," she breathed. "I'll see you later."

She left as quickly as she could, leaning up against the wall in the corridor outside to try to regain her equilibrium.

Broots smiled at Keely and waved, then tripped all over his shoes on his way out when the woman waved back and graced him with a bedimpled grin.

He composed himself once more when he got a look at Miss Parker's face after she closed and locked the door to Keely's apartment. "What was that all about?"

"Read the file, Broots," she groaned. "My God, I can't believe they'd do this. That poor baby."

"Yeah, I know. Putting someone as pretty as that on Aurora, making her a drug addict for the rest of her life-"

Parker reached out with a muffled snarl and slapped at his head. He ducked just in time. "Not her, you moron! Her son."

"What about him?" Broots took the folder she shoved back at him, opened it and glanced at the page she indicated. "Oh. That's Keely's son. He's one of the Seraphim. What's so bad about that?"

She snatched the folders back from him with an exasperated sigh. "Never mind, Broots. I've got to get some air." She stomped down the corridors back to the elevator, with her tech in tow. Pacing in the small room, she seemed to grow more distraught and upset the higher they went, until the doors opened on the third floor. She handed the folder to him and told him to put it in her office. Once he had stepped off the car, she punched the button for the ground floor, and as soon as she could, she went outside.

It only took a few minutes in the coatless cold to help her gather her wits about her, but she couldn't help the tears in her eyes or the bitter taste in her mouth as she returned inside. This secret she would never get over, no matter how she tried to put it out of her mind.

All she could do was hope she never saw the woman again. And she found herself thankful that she was no longer in Corporate. There was one Centre client out there in the world who was now a father, and if he ever found out what Cox and the Chairman had done…

She didn't want to think about that. Money was power. And power, in that place, could mean death. She didn't want to be on the list if the news ever got out, and she would see to having those records cleaned personally.

* * * * * * * * *

Seraphim Playroom

Miss Parker sat in the rocking chair with Gabriel in her lap, reading his favorite book to him. She knew it by heart now, and as she recited the passages, she lifted her eyes from the page and watched Gideon playing in the water fountain at the back of the room. That was the boy's favorite spot, and if his nurse wasn't on her toes, he'd start stripping off his clothes and climb right into the water. He loved the water. He felt safe there.

Her heart twisted up inside her as she thought about his genetic background. It was sickening, but there he was, a sweet little boy with a ready smile and a shock of light brown hair who loved waterfalls. What had been done could not be undone.

She turned her eyes back to the page and read the rest of the story to her son, hoping he wouldn't pick up on her emotional turmoil.

Just before she left, she turned for one last look at Gideon. He met her eyes, and all trace of humor vanished, as if he could sense her sadness. Then he turned away, made a beeline for the fountain and climbed into the water, clothes and all.

Parker left as Gideon's nurse rushed to get him out, but she did not look back.

She stepped out of the elevator, strode down the corridor and stopped in her tracks as she spied Sydney standing outside his office, leaning over a young woman dressed in a security uniform. The woman had her back to the wall, and Sydney's hand pressed against the wall just above her head. He looked down at her intently, free hand thrust into his trouser pocket.

Their positions spoke volumes about intimacy. There was a relationship there, and Parker couldn't tell just how personal it was. That was a detail she needed to know.

She continued her approach, letting the click of her heels on the polished floor announce her presence. Both of them glanced her way, and Sydney straightened up immediately. There was a flash of warning in his eyes, and she knew instantly that he was not having an affair with this woman. Protectiveness was there, certainly; that had been evident in his posture a moment earlier, shielding her with his body. But sex wasn't a part of this equation.

"Sydney," she greeted him coolly.

"Miss Parker," he answered with a nod. "This is Kim. She's new in Security."

Morgan knew that was all she was going to get from him. She flexed a polite smile. "Glad to have you with us," she told the woman. Then to Sydney, she added, "We need to talk."

Sydney turned to Kim. "I'll see you later."

"Sure," Kim replied. With a nod toward Miss Parker, she moved away, presumably to return to her rounds.

Parker reminded herself to find out exactly what Kim's assignment was before she grilled Sydney about his relationship to her.

"About what, Miss Parker?" the Belgian asked, and stepped into his office.

"About Gideon," she said softly, following him inside. She closed the door and handed the folder over to him. "And about any of the other Seraphim whose parentage haven't been obscured."

He glanced at her with a gleam of suspicion in his brown eyes, and took a seat in his chair.

* * * * * * * * *

Boer City, South Africa

Jarod picked up the package from General Delivery, and took it back to his lair. The original postmark was from Dover, so he knew who had sent it. The liner notes looked like they had been made on a good quality printer, rather than having been run through a professional press, and that was the first tip-off that things were not what they seemed. After reading through the first one, he knew what they were and slipped one in the MP3 player to listen to while he put another disk into his DSA player.

He watched the hiring interview with Florence Penfield with interest, taking note of her facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language as well as what she said with her words. This was a woman who prized control above all else. She was good at her job, good at keeping order with very small children, but she wasn't warm and cuddly. She was not a loving person, and that hit him where it hurt. Penfield would give Gabriel all the right words and motions. She would hold him when he cried, comfort him with soft words when he was afraid, but she would not love him because she couldn't. And the child would know it.

The pretender put that disk away and chose another one. This one was different from the others, with a plain black cover and a picture of Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, standing before a full moon with bow in hand, clinging to the antlers of a deer at her feet. He put the disk inside the DSA player and sat back to watch it.

The Centre, 3/7/1998
Yuri

Raines stood to one side of the simulation room, while the young man stood in the center of the frame. Flashing behind him was a video, only a portion of it visible, revealing a young woman's legs as she walked.

"How do you hunt the huntress?" Raines asked him.

Yuri's eyes were turned upward, watching the film projected on the wall before him. "Who is she?"

"That's not important," the old man growled. "How do you find her? How do you destroy her?"

The younger man shrugged. "She's beautiful. Why would you want to hurt her? What's she done?"

Raines bristled visibly. "She's a failure. She's undermining our success. And she wants to destroy us."

Yuri turned to look at him then. "Me? She wants to destroy me?"

Raines nodded, smiling slightly. "Yes. Both of us. She envies us our success, and wants to take it away. Failing that, she'd kill either of us with little provocation. See how well she uses her gun?"

The young Pretender cocked his head to one side. "What's her name?"

Raines sighed. "Artemis." He clasped his hands behind his back. "How do you destroy her?"

With a short, soft laugh, Yuri turned to his master. "With love. That's her weakness. It's also her strength, but she doesn't know it." He looked back up to the projection and smiled. "I could destroy her for you, Mr. Raines. And I'd enjoy it."

"Not yet, Yuri." Raines was smiling now as well. "But soon." He strolled off camera, leaving the pretender alone with the flickering images of the woman.

The angle of the shot changed. The man wandered up to the wall and placed his fingertips on the woman's face, stroking along the line of her jaw. "Artemis," he whispered softly. "He doesn't know what you are. But I do."

Jarod stared at the scene, recognizing the woman's face instantly.

It was Miss Parker.

He checked each of the disks to see whether they were Seraphim- or Yuri-related, and set the Seraphim ones aside. That would wait. Yuri would not, and Jarod would not stop until he had seen everything on this man. It was necessary, and suddenly the search for Yuri was the most important thing on his agenda.

Hours later, when he had seen everything twice and committed the paperwork to memory, he knew who had been teasing him into this wild goose chase all over Europe and beyond. Yuri was one step ahead of him at every junction, because Jarod didn't know who was on the other end of those clues. Now he did, and they were even.

It was time to get the jump on the other guy for a change.

He got out his computer and started searching through telephone records, beginning with MacCaffrey Enterprises. The hunt took him nearly three days, during which time he continued running down the clues his invisible opponent left him. When he hit pay dirt, he memorized the number, took out his cellular phone and dialed.

"No more games," he said firmly into the mouthpiece.

Yuri laughed into his ear. "But I'm enjoying it so much, Jarod."

"If I can find your phone number under a fictitious name, I can find you," Jarod warned him. "You need to retire, Yuri. Find something constructive to do with your life. Or are you too screwed up to do something positive, that actually helps people instead of kills them?"

"Hey, I only kill those who deserve it," Yuri shot back, irritation showing clearly in his voice.

"How do you know they deserve it? Who made you God? Can you see into their hearts? Do you know they're so evil they don't deserve mercy? That's why we have laws, Yuri. We let the courts decide."

"Who made them God? Besides, if you've got the bank to hire a top-notch lawyer, you don't do a day in jail. The rich get off, Prodigy. The poor go to the gas chamber. Or hadn't you noticed that?"

Jarod clenched his teeth. "No more games," he reiterated. "Or I'll have to hunt you down and stop you myself."

"You don't wanna do that, my man," Yuri assured him. "Just ask Mr. Tshwane. If you can find what's left of him. I heard they had to hose him off the walls."

The depth of this man's disturbed psyche was obvious, and Jarod understood where it originated. Part of him felt a twinge of compassion for him. "Let me help you, Yuri. Meet me somewhere, and we'll talk. I don't want to hurt you."

"And I don't want to hurt you, either, pal. We've been through hell, and as far as I'm concerned, you deserve a break or two. You get ready to come over to my side, you just let me know. After all," Yuri chuckled, "you've got my phone number now."

"I'm not going to kill people I think are above the law. And I'm not going to kill people just because they work for the Centre. They aren't all evil, Yuri. Some of them are… worth saving." He felt the paper with the list of names in his trouser pocket, and remembered those who were mentioned on it.

"I'll believe that when you rub my nose in it, Prodigy. Meantime, I've got work to do. See ya."

Jarod heard the dial tone in his ear, and knew that there would be no more scavenger hunt across the globe. Whatever else Yuri had up his sleeve, Jarod was no longer a part of it. The invitation had been withdrawn and the challenge laid down. If Jarod was going to find him before he hurt anyone else, he was going to have to be quick about it, because Yuri had a long-range plan.

This would be the most difficult simulation of all, because lives were at stake at every turn. The longer he took to find Yuri, the more people would die. It was going to be like hunting himself, and to be successful, he was going to have to go into some places in his own soul that had never seen the light of day, places where evil reigned and hatred was the only currency.

And Jarod wasn't sure he was willing to do that. He wasn't sure if he could.

End of Episode
Necessary Evil

 
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