New York City
Jarod went over the computations again and again, checking and rechecking
his figures until he was certain of the outcome. Every time, the simulation
came out the same way.
He had done it.
The process was complicated. It was painful during certain stages. It
would not be pleasant for a good month after an addict started the detoxification,
but it would be far more comfortable than the hell he had endured during
his own withdrawal.
The first person he notified was Broots. Routing the call through several
Centre stations on the east coast, he knew it would be days before they
traced the call back to the lab, and by then he would be long gone, along
with his research. He listened for Broots to answer, and greeted him warmly.
The tech's terrified whisper let him know that he was not expecting Jarod
to call him directly.
"That problem you needed solved," Jarod offered cryptically.
"I have your solution."
"What prob-- Oh, that!" Broots sounded excited now. "That's
great! Can you get it to me? How do I--"
"You don't," Jarod told him. "You let me handle that.
"Just tell me what you need."
"You don't need to be involved. I'll take it from here, and I'll
keep in touch." Jarod smiled. He wanted to help Keely, and was glad
that he had an inside man if he needed one, to get him information if
he couldn't get it any other way. Jarod would only use Broots as a last
resort, though, aware that any requests might be traceable and get the
tech killed. "Be patient, Mr. Broots. Your friend is going to be
He remembered the email Broots had sent him, describing the young woman
he'd seen weeks earlier, hollow-eyed and complacent, quite obviously addicted
to the drug, and Jarod had recognized her name. They had corresponded
about her, and the tech had done some digging for him into her records.
It took Broots some time to admit his first view of her was naked and
dripping wet, but the pretender had found it charming that he cared so
much for someone he barely knew.
"Thanks, Jarod. You don't know what this means to me." Broots
sighed into the phone. "She's just so sweet and fragile and beautiful,
you know? I don't understand how people could do that to her, put her
on that stuff."
Jarod's voice softened. "I know. I don't understand how they could
use Aurora on anyone." He traced his left hand over the words and
symbols he had written on the formula page. "But we'll make her better.
Thanks for caring."
"Sure. You bet."
Broots' sadness weighed heavy on Jarod's heart, sympathizing with his
pain. He gathered up the papers and the samples he had made, along with
his personal supply of medication, and prepared to take his findings to
Sebastian. The man was articulate but disinterested, agreeable and pleasant,
but Jarod could see how pleased and excited his wife and the others were.
Sumi assured him that the process would be put to immediate use, and
told him that the group was about to be returning to their home base in
Dallas. She invited him to come with them, but he declined. He had other
projects in mind and asked for a little more time at the lab before he
struck out on his own.
An hour later, he was saying goodbye to them as they got into the limousine
that would take them to the airport and away.
He had made friends, but there was still a great deal to do. The first
thing on his list was a complete investigation of Prometheus Productions
and Sanctuary. He had entrusted them with his life over the last few days,
and still knew almost nothing about them. That, he knew, was not a good
policy for someone like him. He needed to know who he was dealing with,
and before much time passed, he would know everything about everyone associated
with the two groups.
The penthouse suite was his until he chose to leave, so he made himself
at home and started looking into the lives of the gifted people of Sanctuary.
* * * * * * * * *
"This is great!" Broots cheered enthusiastically as he felt
the balmy winter atmosphere in the bright Texas sunshine. "I don't
even need a coat!" He shrugged out of his winter parka and draped
it over his arm as he followed his boss and Sydney into the baggage claim
area at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, and toward the doors to
the parking lot outside. "Maybe we should move the Centre to Texas,
She fixed him with a withering glare. "Have you ever been here in
the summer, Broots?" she asked impatiently. "The concrete melts
under your feet. People die of sunstroke in the shade. Personally, I'd
rather deal with a little snow in the winter than living in hell all summer.
We'll stay right where we are, thanks." She turned away, glanced
right and left for a taxi stand and sighted a sleek black car pulling
up right in front of them.
Assuming it was a Centre car, she got into the back seat with Sydney
beside her and Broots in the front seat of the sedan, beside the driver.
"Good afternoon, Miss Parker," said the driver, a woman with
long, dark hair and dressed in a neatly tailored business suit. "Jarod
sends his good wishes, and has asked me to take you straight to his latest
digs. Your bags will be delivered to the downtown Marriott, to the rooms
he's reserved for you."
She rolled her eyes. "Jarod sent you. I should have known."
The woman glanced in the rear-view mirror. "Greetings, Sydney."
She looked to the left and smiled. "And you must be Mr. Broots. I'm
Broots' mouth worked, but no sound came out as he stared at the beautiful
"How do you know Jarod, Ramona?" asked Sydney.
"He's been doing some consulting work for us at one of our labs
in New York City. Nice guy. Kind of twitchy lately, though. Must be the
Parker shot a startled glance at Sydney, shocked that the Pretender would
have revealed such a personal confidence to this near stranger. "What
Ramona smiled. "A project he was working on. It's a new treatment
for people who are severely addicted to drugs. There's a big market for
that these days."
"And he was here, also?" Sydney returned Parker's suspicious
"Yeah, for a while. Checking up on our corporation. Smart guy. It
pays to know who you're doing business with." Ramona drove the car
down the curved roads that circled around and under several other thoroughfares,
which eventually merged into a straightaway that led them onto I-30, toward
Dallas. The nearby city skyline was visible through a faint brownish haze
The drive to the old landmark Blackstone Hotel took less than half an
hour, and Ramona showed them up to the room Jarod had so recently occupied.
Small slips of paper clung to the wall at the back, each a different color
and size, bearing a few words per slip, written in Jarod's hand. Parker
strolled closer and began to read.
"I see Jarod's discovered Post-it Notes," she mused aloud.
She squinted to read the note at the top. "Pele Enterprises. Is that
the corporation he was investigating?"
"Yes, ma'am, it is," Ramona confirmed. "The division I
work for is Prometheus Productions. We film major motion pictures at a
"Movies?" Broots echoed enthusiastically. "Wow, that's
cool! Do you think I could get a tour--"
"Broots!" Parker snapped. "Business before pleasure."
Ramona chuckled. "If you're here long enough, sure. Las Colinas
Studios offers regular tours. I'll get you some information."
"We won't be here that long," Parker assured her. One of the
slips caught her eye, and she reached for it. She read the scribbled note
three times before tucking the paper into her jacket pocket. "Do
you have any more information to share, Ramona, or is this it?"
The other woman shrugged. "That depends. If you need to ask me any
" She pulled a business card out of a small purse
slung over her shoulder and handed it over. "
just call me.
The Prometheus building isn't far from here, and I can be back in about
ten minutes. Meanwhile, I'll leave you to explore."
She left with a polite smile, and Parker felt the note in her pocket
tugging for attention again. "Broots, can you get into the Centre
mainframe from here?"
"My laptop's still in the corporate jet, but yeah. What do you need?"
"Call the jet and have one of the sweepers bring the laptop here,"
she ordered, turning her gaze back to the notes decorating the wall. "I
want you to look up any reference to Prometheus in the mainframe. It'll
be an old project, maybe 20 years back. Find out everything you can. And
check out Pele, too."
"Both deities associated with fire," Sydney mused. "Prometheus
was one of the Greco-Roman demigods, whom legend has it brought fire to
man from heaven and put them on a higher footing with the gods. Prometheus
was tortured for that transgression ever afterward, until being rescued
by Hercules. And Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano."
Parker's eyes roved over the notes, tracking them from the parent company
all the way down to the smallest subsidiaries. There were names on the
list that were familiar, and she was certain that some of them were on
the Centre's financial investment rolls as well. "Broots, as soon
as you get that laptop here, I want you to enter in all the names of these
companies and do searches on them, too. I think we may be looking at some
of the company's bedfellows here, and if we are, I need to know what doors
to open and which to leave closed."
Broots had his cellular phone up to his ear, already dialing the plane,
and nodded to let her know he had received her instruction. He gave her
message to the crew, looking around the room on his own while he talked.
He strolled close and began to read the notes as well, and when he hung
up, he pointed toward one of the slips. "CGB. Isn't that the research
firm that was doing beta testing on the Nebula series drugs?"
"Now what would a motion picture company want with a research laboratory
that produces drugs?" asked Sydney, who was looking through a file
stuffed with printouts of corporate financial transactions.
"Heck if I know," Broots returned. "But I'll bet Jarod's
got it all figured out."
A full examination of the room didn't take long, and by the time they
were finished the sweeper had arrived with Broots' laptop. He started
working on the projects as assigned, while his companions left the hotel
in search of their own rooms elsewhere. She and Sydney parted company
in the lobby, and as soon as she got to her room, she pulled the business
card out of her pocket and dialed the number.
Twenty minutes later, she strode into a meeting room in the Prometheus
Building with Ramona leading the way.
"No need for introductions," Parker told her, and the brunette
left with a polite nod.
"It's been a long time," said Morgan.
Standing with his back to her, the man at the far end of the room turned
to face her at last. "Decades," he responded quietly. "You
look as beautiful as ever, Parker."
Her eyes took in his height, his impeccable clothing, and the intensity
in those daunting hazel eyes. She smiled broadly. "Well, Sebastian.
Didn't you turn into a biscuit! Too bad you were so much younger than
me last time we met."
"Still am." He chuckled. "But -- A, we were children then,
and B, I'm quite married now, thank you." He waggled the ring finger
on his left hand at her for emphasis.
"Lucky woman," Parker purred, enjoying the view. Her smile
dimmed, and she sighed. "But you know that's not why I'm here."
Sebastian shook his head. "No, I know why you're here. You're looking
up my knickers to see if you can catch a glimpse of the Pretender I'm
hiding. Only I'm not hiding him. I have no idea where your Jarod is at
She crossed her arms over her chest and sauntered closer. "Looks
like you own several of our closest business associates, from the breadcrumbs
Jarod left us. You want to explain to me what that's all about?"
He shrugged. "My parents had close ties with the Centre, once upon
a time. Don't you remember?" He didn't give time for her to answer.
"Da was always a smart one when it came to business, really into
diversification. Made me a millionaire before I was toilet trained. I've
simply carried on the relationships he built, and expanded where possible."
"Did you know who Jarod was when he came to you?" She sat on
the edge of the table right beside where he stood and gazed up at him.
"Yes, I did."
"And you didn't think it would be
beneficial for you to turn
him in to us?"
"Beneficial for whom? To the Centre? Yeah, I knew that." He
leaned close. "But I've been there, remember? I knew it wouldn't
be beneficial for him."
She held his steady gaze as he straightened up. "I have to bring
him back, Sebastian. It's my job."
He stared at her in silence for a moment. Then he smiled. "Not if
you can't catch him." Slowly, he moved even closer, forcing her to
lean back against the table on her palms to keep from falling over. "And
if you don't tell that we knew who he was, no one will be in the least
suspicious. We weren't supposed to be informed, now, were we? Nobody sent
us a memo with a mug shot. So your lovely arse is covered quite nicely.
Isn't it, sheila?"
"Back off, torch boy," she snarled. "I never said I felt
He sat down at the table and relaxed into the chair. "I used to
like you, you know. When we were kids."
"I thought you were a freak." She eased back to a sitting position
and shot him a chilly glance.
"On the bugle," he returned casually, tapping his nose for
emphasis. "That's because I am one." He cocked an eyebrow at
her. "And if your boy appears on our doorstep again, my lovely, you
can bet the ranch I won't be ringing you up to let you know."
"So you'd offer him protection from us?"
"In a heartbeat."
She stared at him, considering all the ramifications of what he had told
her. He had the resources to offer protection to Jarod, to protect him
from sweepers, assassins, or herself. Apparently, he had the inclination,
as well. But what she wasn't clear on was motive.
"You have to ask?" He pushed back in the chair and stood up.
"This interview is over, Miss Parker. Anything else you need, you'll
have to go through Ramona."
"I think I got enough," she said with a smile. "For the
moment, anyway." She rose and paced regally toward the door, almost
certain she smelled smoke behind her.
* * * * * * * * *
The room was dimly lit and smelled of machine oil and cardboard. Namir
opened his eyes and lifted his head, trying to make out where he was.
Ropes bound his arms to the back of the chair where he was seated, his
ankles tied to the legs. He vaguely remembered what happened at the airport,
when Sebastian and the others had put him on the plane for home. An airport
security team took him off the plane and hustled him away, saying something
about a terrorist threat, and the next thing he knew he was being hustled
into a limousine. He barely caught a glimpse of one of the men who had
been on the plane with Allegra, and knew then that he'd been recaptured
by The Centre.
His struggle for freedom, however, had been brief. They were ready for
him, and put him out again with another injection of some kind of sedative.
During that period of unconsciousness, they had brought him to this place.
It looked like a garage of some sort, a storage area in the back where
auto parts were kept.
Boxes were stacked up against the walls. A drum of oil leaked a thick,
greasy brown stain onto the floor beneath it, spreading now to some of
the boxes. In the middle of the room was a clear space where his chair
sat, with a path leading toward the only door and a small aisle toward
the back corner where a small counter and coffeemaker sat. Overhead, a
bank of fluorescent lights cast what little illumination there was in
the room, since only one of the four bulbs was burning.
He felt the positioning of the ropes and began to flex his hands, arms
and legs, hoping to loosen them enough to allow him to slip through them.
After a moment, he could hear voices outside, approaching quickly. They
sounded excited, and when the door opened, an old man in a gray suit came
in, his face beaming, his blue eyes dancing. A fringe of white hair skirted
around the back and sides of his head, matched by a thick white mustache
over his lips. His voice was gruff but filled with joy.
"You've done it, son!" he crowed. "I can't tell you how
excited I am about this." He stepped up close, looking Namir over
like he was a piece of prize livestock. "Great job, Valentine. I
don't know how you two found him, but I'm grateful."
It made the Israeli angry. He was not a piece of meat, a beast of burden,
something to be used like a machine. Whatever they wanted from him, he
promised himself they wouldn't get it.
He snarled at them in his native tongue, spouting off a stream of curses
that would have curled the old man's hair, if he'd had enough of it.
"Oh, he's a fiery one," the elder observed, even more pleased.
"He's strong. That's good." He glanced around for a place to
sit and pulled up a sturdy box, planting himself in front of his captive.
"Namir, I'm Mr. Parker. This is my son, Mr. Lyle, and the gentleman
who brought you to us is Mr. Valentine." He gestured to each of them
in turn, making sure Namir saw that Valentine had a gun at rest in his
Parker chuckled. "Oh, don't worry. We're not going to hurt you.
That is, not if you cooperate."
Namir loosed another stream of invectives, including generations of the
man's family in his insult.
"Want to know what he said, Mr. Parker?" Valentine asked casually,
locking the door and crossing his hands in front of his body, keeping
that pistol in plain view and ready to be used.
"No, I get the picture." Parker locked eyes with Namir. "And
I know you understand English, so let's discuss your situation."
"There is nothing to discuss. Set me free or I will kill you all!"
He continued working the ropes, certain he almost had one hand free. Just
a little more movement, and he'd be able to get out of the bonds once
they gave him a chance. "I have been trained by the finest--"
"I know about your training, my young friend," Parker cut in,
his humor evaporating. His eyes grew intense. "And I know what else
you can do. I know you're a healer." His gaze slid upward to the
faces of his two companions, offering a warning before he returned his
attention to his captive. "I want you to heal me."
Parker gave a nod, and Lyle stepped up behind the chair. From his jacket
pocket he withdrew a garotte, knotted professionally in the middle, looped
it around Namir's neck and twisted it tightly with his inefficient grip.
While the missing thumb kept the throttle from completely cutting off
Namir's air, it was enough to get the point across.
If he couldn't get his hands free, he'd be completely at their mercy.
He'd have to cooperate just a little, and when the man let him go, he
agreed, gasping for breath. He coughed and sputtered, trying to inhale
deeply. "I'll need my hands free," he told them. "It comes
through my hands."
Parker nodded. "Just his hands, son. Valentine, you keep that pistol
aimed where it'll do the most good. Take out his knee if you have to.
I don't want him killed. He's too valuable."
"I never miss," Valentine assured him, and took aim.
Namir shifted in his chair, glancing around to make sure he had all the
details before getting started. As his hands came loose, he collected
himself and concentrated on his ankle, trying to feel if his knife was
still in the sheath strapped there. He wriggled against the rope, pressing
it close until he could just detect the warm brass tip of the handle touching
"Don't try anything," Lyle warned him. "You won't make
it, if you try to escape."
"What is your injury?" Namir asked quietly, still calculating.
"Chemical imbalance," Parker shot back, glancing at his companions
again. "It affects the brain."
Namir rubbed his hands together to warm them, and placed them on either
side of the man's head. Parker's eyes closed, trusting him. The Israeli
felt a little tremor run through him, snatching his attention to his hands
for a moment. Curiosity focused him on the sensations pouring into his
arms, snaking through his body like snakes of white fire. Whatever was
wrong with this man, it was not just a simple chemical imbalance. It was
He let go, sitting upright in his chair for an instant. "I can hear
screams," he breathed, looking into Parker's eyes as the man opened
them. "The screams of infants. It echoes through me like soundwaves
from a loudspeaker. What have you done?"
Parker glowered. "Never mind how it happened. Just fix it."
"I'm next," Lyle put in, tightening his glove over his missing
digit. "I can't tell you how good it'll feel to be free of those
"I cannot do this," Namir protested. "The damage is too
great. It is beyond my ability--"
"It better not be," Lyle threatened, moving a little closer.
Namir saw that the thumbless man did not completely obscure the gunman's
line of fire, but he had moved a little into it. Just enough to do the
trick. He nodded, and laid his hands on Parker's face once again.
Pain shot into his hands, and he gasped. He would send no energy back
through the connection, but the contact took his breath away, numbed his
hands slightly. He had to move, and he had to do it now before he lost
the use of them.
Like a striking snake, he shoved Parker roughly to one side, unbalancing
him so he'd topple to the floor. Using the push as momentum, Namir continued
to twist his upper body until his hands made contact with Lyle's midsection.
At the same time he pushed the other man at the gunman, he jerked the
chair backward, into the area shielded by Lyle's falling body. He reached
for his knife, skimming up his pant leg, pulling the blade free and slicing
the rope as he continued to scoot the chair backward, behind the shielding
wall of stacked boxes.
In seconds he was free. He shoved at the boxes with his shoulder, toppling
the upper ones onto the men on the other side. The confusion gave him
the seconds he needed to step out into the open, locate the gun and make
a grab for it. For an instant the muzzle flash blinded him. The impact
of the bullet knocked him backward, but the pistol came away in his hand
as he fell. Keeping his composure as he had been taught, he turned the
weapon around and aimed it at the men as he struggled to his feet.
"I will not help you," Namir snarled at Parker. "You are
With the pistol enforcing his will, he made them move to the back corner
of the room, giving him clear access to the door. Holding his free hand
over the wound in his side, he staggered out into the empty garage, locking
the men into the little storage room. As he limped toward the rear exit
of the building, he felt the energy coursing through his hand and into
the wound, knitting the damaged tissues back together. He wouldn't get
far, but he'd find someplace to hole up until it had closed and he had
recovered from the effort of healing himself. He would need extra sleep
for days afterward, but until he found sanctuary, he couldn't afford to
He'd do his best to find his way back to the people who had helped him
before, and make sure that the Centre came nowhere near him again.
* * * * * * * * *
On the way to JFK Airport
Mr. Parker's eyes were bloodshot. There was a bump on his forehead the
size of a golf ball and a smudge of dirty oil on his chin. He was devastated
enough not to care. "So close," he breathed. "So damned
"I wonder if he could've given me a new thumb," Lyle mused
casually, glancing at his glove. "Oh, well. We'll find him again.
And next time we do, we'll bring him to the Centre. He won't get away
"Mmmm." Parker's defeated eyes turned to stare out the window.
"Still, you kept your part of the bargain, son. You get your old
job back. You earned it."
Lyle nodded, smiling. "I'm glad you see it that way. I was going
to hold you to it, you know. It's the Parker way. Our word is our bond."
He chuckled, pleased with his own good humor.
"At least you got something you wanted," Parker pouted.
Lyle was merciless in his joy. "So how soon do you go crazy? That
was Fountain the guy was talking about back there, wasn't it?"
That hurt as if a knife had just been slipped between his ribs. Parker
winced. "It's already happening," he confessed wearily. "I
don't know how much longer I've got." He made eye contact with his
son. "But whatever happens, you've got to protect me. I can't give
you the Chairmanship. You've got to earn it, but I'll do everything I
can to help you. I need you to watch my back. Meanwhile, welcome to the
"Sounds like a deal."
Valentine remained silent, smiling and nodding. "Works for me. I
can ride your coattails, boss-man. And I'll enjoy the trip."
Parker turned his gaze to shift between his companions. He knew what
they were. He knew what the Centre would become under them, but he had
The house of shadows that he had helped to engineer was about to darken
to such a degree that all light inside it would be lost.
As long as he kept his power and didn't become a victim of it, he thought
it was an acceptable evolution.
End of Episode