A Shot in the Dark

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Namir heard the door of the room he had been given open and rolled over to face it. When Sebastian poked his head around it, the man sat up.

"Can I help you?"

"How're you feeling?" the Australian asked, strolling towards the bed.

"Better," the Israeli responded with a smile. "I was thinking that I might get up later."

"Good to hear." Sebastian gave him a beaming smile, which dimmed a little as he remembered his other reason for coming to see the man. Turning, he strolled over to the screen that showed the outside world, gazing down into the car park.

"Was there something else?" the healer asked curiously.

"Yes," his host admitted, running a hand through his hair. "I wanted to know, can you help with addiction?"

"In what way?"

"Can you cure the cravings, the desire?" Sebastian put his shoulders back, turning to face the other man. Relating the scene Ramona had described to him from several days earlier, he raised an eyebrow. "Is it possible for you to stop Jarod wanting Aurora?"

Namir thought for a moment before sadly shaking his head. "It is a… I don't know the word, but the desire is in his mind, not in his body. His mind leads his body, making him want it more. I can't make his mind change itself. The mind is a force beyond my control, unless there is some physical damage to it." Sadly, the healer watched Sebastian nod his head in agreement. "I can heal tissue, Sebastian, but that is all. My gift doesn't extend beyond that."

"No, I figured that'd be the case," the other man agreed, disappointed. Walking to the door, he stopped and looked back over his shoulder, forcing a half-smile. "See you at lunch."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Sydney entered his office, immediately noticing a memo on his desk. With a grateful sigh, he put down the many folders he carried and took a seat, reaching out for the sheet of paper. Running his eyes over the brief memo, he stared at it blankly for a moment before rereading the few words it contained, an expression of disbelief appearing on his face as he lowered the page.

"Excuse me, Doctor?"

The psychiatrist looked up sharply. "Yes, Sam?"

"The Chairman asked if you had a moment."

"Thank you." As the sweeper turned away, the older man spoke again. "Sam, just a minute."

"Yes, sir?"

"Did you get this memo as well?" He held it up so the other man could see it, watching him nod.

"Yes, sir." Sam's normally stern features broke into a slight smile. "I've already told my wife about it. We haven't had a holiday in years."

"Do you know who else got one?"

"As far as I'm aware, only you, me, Mr. Broots and Miss Parker."

"Thank you, Sam." Sydney smiled. "Have a good weekend."

"You too, sir."

He watched the sweeper leave the office before looking once more at the memo and then getting to his feet, leaving the room abruptly.

* * * * * * * * *

Die Fakultat
Berlin, Germany

Herr Delius, the director of the German triad, waved away the car before approaching the building as it stood gleaming in the winter sunlight, the first rays reflecting off the glass-covered walls and into his eyes. It was quite pleasant to be back from Blue Cove, he thought, as he walked through the large doors and nodded to the receptionist, receiving a smile and blush in return. Much as he had been looking forward to his first Triumvirate meeting as German Director, it had rapidly become tedious, particularly the long hours spent in the boardroom so many floors below ground. The lack of sunlight was what he disliked most, and, entering the lift, the man thought in satisfaction of the large boardroom on the top floor of the building he was now in, with expansive floor-to-ceiling windows that provided such a glorious panorama of the city.

As the elevator halted at the appropriate floor, he was the first one out, and, a spring in his step and a broad beam on his face, he approached the desk. His blond-haired secretary looked up at him with a smile that was almost a simper.

"Good morning, Herr Direktor," she commented politely. "And how was it in Delaware for your first Triumvirate Conference?"

"You know, Maria…" He sat on the edge of the desk and leaned over, watching her start to breathe slightly faster. "…it's a lovely place. The building's located right on the beach, and that makes such a nice change, not to find yourself in the middle of a big city like this one whenever you leave the office. Maybe," he winked subtly at her, "one day you and I should go there to get away from it all here."

"You know sir," the woman attempted to sound formal, "that I would be glad to go anywhere in the world to help you with your work."

"Ah, but who says I was talking about work?" He leaned slightly closer. "As our friends in America put it, all work and no play…"

Winking once more, he stood up and straightened his jacket before reaching out for the mail that had gathered during his absence. Before he could enter his office, however, the woman spoke again, in slightly higher than normal tones.

"Excuse me, Herr Delius, but you have some people to see you."

"Indeed?" His tone had become brusque, unhappy with the change of form. "And who might they be?"

A dry chuckle came from the corner of the waiting area and a figure rose to his feet, hands in the pocket of the long coat that he was wearing. His Asian features were creased into a smile that barely escaped being a smirk as he surveyed the man in front of him.

"You once promised me that you would do anything to help," the newcomer commented in fluent English. "And I think it's time for you to keep that promise."

"Most certainly." A smile appeared on the face of the Herr Direktor, seeing a second figure rise to stand beside the first, the similarity of features suggesting a relationship between the two Japanese men. Delius forcibly concealed the emotions that rose in him at the sight of the pair. "And, as you may realize, it gives me great pleasure to do so."

"I would expect so," the first visitor commented, running a hand through his gray hair. "I'm certain you heard what happened to the last person who wasn't so happy to be of use."

The German nodded, turning abruptly to his secretary. "Maria, would you ask…?"

He stopped as the elevator doors opened and a woman stepped out, her dark hair in a loose knot atop her head and a trim dark red suit hugging her slender figure as her dark brown eyes traveled from one face to the other. Herr Delius looked back at his secretary.

"Never mind, Maria."

Without another word, he ushered the three people into his office and firmly closed the door.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Sydney paused in the doorway to see the other man frowning at the screen of a DSA player that lay open on the desk in front of him. For a moment, Sydney wondered what he was seeing, able to hear his own voice and that of a much younger Jarod, before tapping gently on the open door.

"Mr. Parker? You wanted to see me, sir?"

Looking up, Mr. Parker smiled. "Yes, Sydney. Come in."

The Chairman shut the DSA player and pushed it away to one side, gesturing at the chair on the other side of the desk. As the other man took a seat, Mr. Parker rose to his feet and walked over to the window, staring for a moment through the glass before he turned.

"I wanted your perspective on how things are going with Jarod. I'm aware," he went on quickly, as if expecting the psychiatrist to interrupt, "that you aren't in charge of the program, but I would like to hear your view."

"Well, sir," Sydney replied carefully, unobtrusively eyeing the other man. "I believe that things are going as well as can be expected."

"Good, good." The Chairman sat down with a relieved sigh. "You got my memo, I hope."

"Yes, Mr. Parker."

"I'm glad to hear it. I hope you enjoy your weekend off. You really deserve it with all the hard work you've been putting in."

"I wanted to ask you about that, sir. You don't have any… " Sydney paused for a moment to select his next word prudently. "Concerns?"

"None at all." The man leaned back in his chair, linking both hands behind his head and laughing. "It's not as though Jarod could escape from that little room of his down on SL-22, is it?"

Sydney nodded slowly, his mind racing, but he managed to remain silent, and endeavored to keep his expression professionally void of the astonishment he was feeling. Mr. Parker filled the gap.

"I'm probably keeping you from wherever you were planning to spend your long weekend. Have a good vacation, Sydney."

"Thank you." The psychiatrist rose to his feet and turned. Halting at the door, he looked back and raised his left wrist. "Excuse me, Mr. Parker, but would you remind me of today's date? My watch appears to have stopped."

The man looked up with a smile. "Forgotten to wind your watch? You really do need this vacation, Sydney. You must have been working too hard." He glanced at the calendar on his desk. "Today is January 26th. And it's 1984, in case you'd forgotten."

"Thank you, Mr. Parker." Sydney gave the man one last long look before letting the door swing shut behind him and heading thoughtfully back to his office.

* * * * * * * * *

Die Fakultat
Berlin, Germany

"I congratulate you, Tanaka, on your escape." Delius sat behind his desk, waving the newcomers to chairs opposite. "I hadn't expected to see you for some time to come."

"That isn't sarcasm, I hope," Sammy Tanaka chuckled before looking up at the woman who stood by her boss's right hand. "And who's this?"

"My translator, Julia."

"Last time we met, your Japanese was near to being perfect."

"I haven't had practice in a while," the man replied smoothly. "I find it useful to have somebody on hand, just in case."

"I congratulate you, young woman," Tanaka remarked mockingly, surreptitiously eyeing Delius at the same time, "on attaining such a position as many women would envy."

"Most do," the Director responded with a grin. "But Julia has an edge that gave her the job."

"And that is?"

In reply, the German turned to his translator. "How did Mr. Tanaka escape, Julia?"

For a moment, the woman gazed evenly at the visitor, before turning to her boss. "He intimidated one of the guards who cheated the Yakuza a few years ago, and the man helped him to get away in one of the laundry vans."

Herr Delius chuckled dryly. "How very undignified for a man in your position."

The Japanese stared at the woman, failing to conceal his astonishment, before turning a doubting eye on the man opposite. "Considering that the guard and I were the only two who knew, and if he valued his life…"

"Oh, don't worry," Delius assured him calmly. "I imagine you left him in no fit state to tell anybody anything. No, Julia is mildly psychic."

The expression on the Japanese man's face altered from astonished to skeptical in the blink of an eye and he leaned back in his chair. "I can't say that I have ever had too much faith in that sort of thing."

"That's your choice." Delius shrugged. "We'll change the subject. What, exactly, were you wanting from me today? Apart from the possibility of an extra digit to add to your collection, of course."

Tanaka chuckled. "No, we don't go in for that sort of thing now. It's easier to remove another part -- thus ensuring that we don't have to hear any complaints about ill treatment."

Herr Delius smiled appreciatively. "I understand. So what, while I still have a chance to ask, were you wanting from me precisely?"

"For the moment, protection."

"Why not go to the Centre? You've had dealings with them in the past."

Tommy Tanaka lounged back in his chair and grinned lazily. "Are you deliberately trying to sound stupid, Delius, or have actually you lost brain cells since we last worked together?"

"Just wanting to make sure I understand completely," the man responded carefully, forcing down his anger at the insult.

"With the 'illustrious pin-head,' as he was politely described at our last visit, being so close to the Chairman, we thought it was better to come to you," Tommy explained calmly. "After the chairmanship of the Triumvirate returns to its proper home, we will be able to work together."

"That sounds very promising indeed." Mr. Delius stood up. "I'm sure that we'll be able to arrive at a suitable arrangement. In the meantime, I'll have someone direct you to the guest-quarters that we keep for special visitors like yourselves." The director eyed the tattered clothes that he could clearly see under the long coat. "And we'll also get you some new suits. You can't possibly be expected to walk around the offices in those."

"You are very kind, Herr Delius." The older Tanaka smiled, as a man in a plain gray suit with black hair and hard, gray eyes came into the room. "I know that we will work together well."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"Syd, what the hell is this?"

The psychiatrist looked up from putting some files into his briefcase to see Miss Parker standing in the doorway, holding out a sheet of paper that bore the same message as the one he had found on his desk that morning. Even as the man was about to respond, Broots appeared behind her, an identical piece of paper in his hand. Sydney waved the two people into his office.

"I just spoke to Mr. Parker about that."

"Is it genuine?"

"Completely."

Morgan eyed him narrowly. "And since when is the Chairman in the habit of just handing out free weekends?"

Sydney leaned against his desk and folded his arms. "Parker, do you remember when we found out about Fountain?"

Broots looked up sharply, his face losing color and voice becoming pained, revealing the depth of the man's feelings at the remembrance of the project. "Not that again?!"

"No." Sydney shook his head. "Not the project itself, but rather the effects of it. Dementia is one of the projected results of using that drug, and, although I couldn't make a definitive diagnosis, simply talking to Mr. Parker convinces me that he's well into the first stages of it. In fact, I have to confess that I'm surprised at not having seen signs before this."

"But that was only supposed to happen if the treatment continued," Miss Parker protested quietly, horrified despite herself and also despite the knowledge that the object of their discussion wasn't her real father, at the same time making a determined effort not to look at the chalk white face of the technician.

"That results in death, Miss Parker," the psychiatrist replied in similarly restrained tones. "But just using the drug causes the tissues of the brain to atrophy, and the result, if not actual dementia, is a condition strikingly similar to it. That, unless I'm very much mistaken, is what your father is now showing."

The woman's voice was tight. "And what gave you the idea?"

Sydney held up the sheet of paper. "As you said, since when is he in the habit of handing out free weekends?"

"And that was all?"

"There were two other points. Firstly, he seemed to believe that Jarod was still here at the Centre, in SL-22. He was moved from a room down there nearly fifteen years ago, when it was found that the newly built Sim Labs were too far from his room, and was never taken back."

Miss Parker leaned back in her chair, pursing her lips in thought, before she spoke again. "What's the other point?"

"I asked him the date. He got the day right, but said it was 1984."

Producing another sheet of paper, the psychiatrist turned the memo so that the others could read it and tapped the list of recipients.

"Who's not on this list?" Sydney met Miss Parker's gaze, keeping both face and voice professionally expressionless, in an attempt to prevent himself from adding to the feelings of both Broots and Miss Parker. "What name would you expect to be on here that isn't if he was handing out free weekends to the pursuit team, which is exactly what it seems to be? You're here, so is Broots and so is Sam…"

"Lyle," the technician broke in, in surprised tones, as he looked up. "His name isn't on the list."

"Exactly. And Lyle, in 1984, was at Die Fakultät, not at the Centre."

"But why the 'pursuit team?'" Broots continued. "In 1984, Jarod still had years before his escape."

"In dementia," Sydney explained, "the brain will often make leaps which, to the sufferer, seem perfectly logical. No doubt Mr. Parker can't see anything wrong with us being the recipients of something like this, and even if it was explained to him, he would possibly still consider it to be self-explanatory."

There was long moment of silence following this, before the technician spoke again.

"So what do we do now?"

Broots looked from Miss Parker to Sydney as he asked the question, seeing a tiny smile appear on the woman's face as she glanced first at the door and then at the two men.

"Very simple, Broots." Miss Parker stood up. "We leave for our weekend off."

* * * * * * * * *

Barrow, Alaska

Making the descent, Jarod was thankful that the terrible weather of the last few days had cleared up enough for him to fly in rather than having to travel by sled. The time was short enough without having to reduce it further like that. The helipad had obviously been cleared of snow only an hour or two before, and a grin formed on the Pretender's face as he saw the figure dancing around the edge of the large circle. Making the landing, Jarod opened his door, allowing the cold air to blow into the machine, even as he made sure that everything was off. Seizing his jacket, the man only had time to realize that the other door had been opened, before the boy had flung himself into the co-pilot's seat, dropped his pack into the back and thrown his arms around the tall man.

"Hi, Dad!"

Jarod returned the hug before pulling back slightly and looking down into the boy's face, giving him a careful visual examination.

"You look good, son."

"I'm looking forward to getting out of here for a bit," the boy affirmed with a grin, reaching for his seat belt, at which Jarod laughed.

"Hey, give me a chance to say hi to everybody else before we take off, okay?"

"I'm a little impatient."

"No, really?" Jarod gave him a look of mock-surprise. "I'd never have guessed!"

Jordan swung a punch in the older man's direction, laughing, as Jarod got out of the helicopter and strolled into the building with the boy following.

"Dad?"

"Hi, Jarod." Major Charles came out of the room that held the large heater, wiping his oily hands on a rag. "Aren't you a little early?"

"Considering how impatient Jordan looked," he laughed, hugging his father, "I thought I was late."

Charles grinned at the boy, who was still shifting from one foot to the other. "Should I tell him how long you've been out there for?"

"Uh, no, that's okay." Jordan grinned sheepishly, turning away, as Jarod and his father continued to talk.

"Do you have everything?"

"Hmm," Jarod leaned against the wall, assuming a stance of mock-thought. "Tents, food, first aid kit, flashlights with extra batteries, cooking implements, books…"

"Pack horses," Ethan joked as he walked out of his room.

"Climbing gear," Jarod continued as if he hadn't been interrupted, at the same time embracing his brother. "Sleeping bags, warm clothes, Pez…"

"Good to know you put the most important things last," his father remarked with a laugh, noticing the grin on Jordan's face. "Can we contact you?"

"Dad, we'll be in the middle of the mountains," the Pretender laughingly protested.

"So if anything goes wrong…"

"Relax." Jarod took a slip of paper out of the pocket of his plaid shirt, giving it to his father. "That's my cell phone number. You can call whenever you want."

"And when Jordan gets sick of your company," Ethan remarked, "then he can talk to sane people like us instead."

"It's so nice to have friends," his brother responded in mock-annoyance. "What's he going to do the next time he gets sick of your company?"

"I guess you should get going," Major Charles interrupted, glancing at his watch. "It gets dark pretty early this time of year, and you don't want to be stuck in the air, or looking for shelter."

"You're right," his older son agreed, shooting an amused look at Jordan who was still impatiently hovering at the door. "So, son, ready to go?"

* * * * * * * * *

Die Fakultat
Berlin, Germany

"What is it, Julia?" Delius looked up from his paperwork in some irritation as the woman remained standing next to his desk. "Can't you see that I'm busy?"

The woman's voice was cautious in reply. "Please, Herr Direktor, would you take me along to the next Triumvirate meeting?"

The man leaned back in his chair and stared at her. "What possible reason could I have for doing something like that? We already have people to act as translators and," he added patronizingly, "I prefer to know that you are safely back here."

"I feel that I can be of use," the woman responded carefully, her face expressionless.

"Do you?" he demanded mockingly. "In what way?"

"Sir, the people you take along currently do not have the same level of skill that I possess, and I am sure that would be valuable for you."

"Valuable, certainly," he agreed. "I'm not sure, however, whether it would be wise."

"Why, sir?" Julia's face took on an expression of innocence. "Are you suspecting me of trying to work against you?"

"You know very well that I would never do that." He eyed her narrowly. "You aren't that stupid."

"Thank you, sir," she murmured softly.

"However you're well aware that I'm going to refuse, just as I've refused on every other occasion you've asked me. I don't know why you waste your breath or my time."

"I had hoped, sir, that you might reconsider."

"I might reconsider keeping you in your current position if you ask again," Delius replied sharply, looking up at her, and Julia could sense the aggravation in his mind that was not revealed in his tones. Nodding wordlessly, she turned to the door. As she opened it, however, he spoke again.

"Oh, and Julia, I would like you to try and limit the number of visits you make to the Experimental Floor. I can't see what good you think you're doing, and apparently some subjects find it difficult to concentrate after you've been visiting them."

"Sir." She turned back and gazed at him calmly. "Those people are my friends."

"Then perhaps," he responded coldly, "it's time for you to make some new ones."

* * * * * * * * *

Over Barrow, Alaska

Peering through the small window as they rose into the air, Jordan watched the ground disappear below them and then looked at the man in the pilot's seat. "So we dump this somewhere and hike from there?"

"That's the plan." He eyed the boy, who still wore a puffy parka that was so necessary outside the building where he was keeping his family safe, but which would be too thick when hiking. "You brought a thinner jacket, right?"

"Uh huh." Jordan filled a Pez dispenser held it out. "Want some?"

"You think I'm going to refuse?" Jarod laughed, extracting a piece of candy with his teeth and giving it back. "You might want to keep some, though. It's hard to buy Pez in the middle of Yellowstone."

The boy ignored this, putting the dispenser back into his pocket. "So how long do we have?"

"I thought a week, but I've got nothing special planned so we can always extend it if we want to."

"You've been there before, right?"

The Pretender smiled faintly. "Yeah. I'm hoping not to crash-land this time, if I can possibly avoid it."

"You're no fun," Jordan sulked, hiding a grin. "All I wanted was a little excitement in my life."

"I can leave you dangling from a cliff face if you think it'd help," the Pretender offered helpfully. "Or else let you get eaten by wolves or bears or something."

"Cool!" The boy laughed. "Actually, just a couple of days trying to keep up with you will probably be enough. Try to remember that my legs are shorter than yours."

Jarod smiled at him. "I'll do my best, son."

* * * * * * * * *

Die Fakultat
Berlin, Germany

"Do you have a minute, Dr. Leiden?"

The man looked up with a pleased smile on his face. "Of course. Please come in, Herr Direktor," he added in mocking tones, seeing Delius grin. "Sit down."

"Thank you." The man shut the door and sat in a chair. For several long minutes he stared at the floor before looking up. "Did you read the reports?"

"Of the Triumvirate meeting? Yes." Leiden eyed his former protégé. "Patience," he purred softly. "You have to be patient. These things take time."

"I frankly don't understand why Parker was given control in the first place."

"The Seraphim," the older man reminded him. "It was the existence of the children -- Gabriel, in particular."

"So we transfer them here."

The older man leaned back in his chair, laughing softly. "You'll be the one who arranges for eight two-year-olds to be flown halfway around the world? I've never seen you as the mothering kind."

"Aurora seemed to work well enough on…"

"But not on a child of that age. It's too uncertain. That is why you must try and be patient. When the time is right, then…"

"By then, they'll have somebody else ready."

"They only have two possible candidates," Leiden reminded him.

"Mr. Lyle and Mr. Cox."

"Exactly. And Mr. Lyle, poor thing, is in no fit state to be Chairman of anything."

Delius grinned. "I enjoyed developing Kronos I at the time. If I'd known of its final use, it would've been even more fun." Leaning forward, he became more serious. "But what about Cox? The man is developing quickly."

"But all he has is the Seraphim. His expertise extends no further." Wolfram Leiden gave a smug smile. "You can't get the top seat with such limited knowledge."

The Director shot him a glance. "Just out of pure curiosity, is that why you made me do so much work, all over…?"

Leiden smiled again, but remained silent. Delius nodded appreciatively before continuing.

"And what makes you think Mr. Parker won't continue?"

"This." The older man reached into a top drawer, pulling out a folder. "This is highly confidential, you know."

"And, since the tragic death of our dear friend Helena Berkstresser, I've become the director." The man gave a complacent smile as he seized the booklet. "Meaning that no information can possibly be too confidential for me not to see it."

The doctor leaned back in his chair in satisfaction. "I taught you well."

"Very well," the younger man smirked. "Very well indeed."

* * * * * * * * *

Springfield, Massachusetts

Having finally retrieved their bags from the luggage carousel, Sydney turned to where Broots stood next to him. "Well, let's get all this lot outside and find a cab." He felt a hand on his shoulder, turning with a smile. "Nicholas! I didn't know if you'd be coming home this weekend."

"Mom called when she knew you were coming and I was working nearby."

"I'm glad." Sydney quickly introduced Broots and Debbie to his son before succinctly explaining their sudden appearance. "We were all given a sudden vacation, and, when I called your mother, she invited them to your new house as well."

The younger man raised an eyebrow as the four people made their way out of the airport.

"Since when does that happen?"

"It's a rarity," the psychiatrist laughed. "That's why we were all gone within an hour of getting the memo." He greeted Michelle, who was waiting at the car, before introducing her to Debbie and Broots.

"So, what did you have planned?" the woman proposed, taking his hand.

"Not a lot," Sydney smiled. "A few days of R&R will be nice."

"Just what the doctor ordered, huh?"

The older man nodded firmly, laughing. "Well, this doctor certainly did."

On to Act II

 
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