Special Treatment

 

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Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

Sebastian sat down and opened up the files attached to an email that Jarod had sent. There were six women with that name employed by the Centre, but all were several generations older than the woman in the guestroom several doors away. Somewhat comforted, but still not completely ready to accept her, Sebastian got up, walking over to the screen showing the outside world and gazing at it.

Everybody else had retired for the night, but, as was so often the case, he didn't want to close his eyes. It had been a struggle to remain emotionally stable today, his concern about the unknown woman bringing him close to the edge, and Sebastian didn't want to run the risk of losing control in his sleep. But he was so tired. Sighing wearily, he returned to the chair. Briefly, he let his eyes close to ease the burning he felt in the back of them. Exhaustion swept in on him like a wave and his head slowly nodded forward as his sleep deepened.

* * * * * * * * *

Trevor opened his eyes and reached out to turn on the light as his alarm clock jangled in his ear. Sitting up, he stretched, feeling more relaxed than he had for some time and trying to understand what had caused it. A slight movement caught his eye and he looked up sharply in time to see the door shut with an almost soundless click. Leaping to his feet, he bounded across the room in two large steps and tore it open, looking sharply up and down the hallway, seeing the door of the next-door guest room silently close.

Flinging it open with such force that it almost shut in his face again, Trevor met the eyes of the woman who stood beside the bed. Her face was expressionless, but her eyes twinkled with a light that she couldn't suppress as she met his gaze steadily.

"Good morning."

"What were you doing in my room?" he demanded suspiciously.

"How did you sleep?" she asked, lips twitching as she put the question. "Pleasant dreams?"

All of a sudden, Trevor realized what was different about this morning from other days. During the past few weeks, he had been haunted by a nightmare of the scenario that he had picked up from Jarod's mind during their discussion. More and more of the event had been revealed to him until he had been dreaming that he himself was the subject of the experiment. This had been the first night for over month that he hadn't had that dream and awakened in a cold sweat. Looking at the woman, he saw a knowing expression in her eyes. His first instincts about Elizabeth returned to his mind and he firmly closed the door, walking over to sit down deliberately in a chair on the far side of the room and looking up at her, eyes demanding an explanation.

"Tell me what you did."

* * * * * * * * *

Idaho

"Are you sure you won't stay, Jarod?"

The man smiled. "Thanks for the offer, Dr. Goetz, but I've got to deliver something for Dad and if I don't get going soon, the office will close."

Ethan looked uneasily out of the window as dark clouds began to gather on the horizon. "Are you sure you should fly through that?"

"I'll be fine," the Pretender stated cheerfully. "I'll call you when I land, okay?"

"Make sure you do." Ethan returned his brother's hug. "Want me to call Dad for you?"

"You can call him after I call you, so he'll know the package got there okay." He smiled. "And tell Jordan that I'll talk to him in the next day or two, okay?"

"Will do."

Waving, Ethan watched his brother stroll over to a plane waiting on the tarmac. The man waved back before getting into it and shutting the doors. In the increasing gloom, as night fell, the white object stood out clearly in the darkened airport, with only a strip of lights showing the runway. The doctor slipped her arm through his with a gentle squeeze.

"He'll be fine," Dr. Goetz assured him. "Don't worry about Jarod. Let's grab some dinner and you can tell me all you've been up to."

With a grateful smile, Ethan let her lead him through the airport building as, over their heads, the plane took off into the evening sky.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

She found her way up to the roof, softly opening the door to step out onto the uneven surface, the neglect of which suggested that few people had ever been out there before her. The night air was cool, and she shut her eyes, letting it buffet her frame. Her thoughts drifted, touching on first one and then another of the brilliant minds below her. It was strange how her abilities only worked when the conscious mind was switched off and the subconscious was allowed to play. Elizabeth had never tried to work it out, and she didn't want to bother. Just doing what she did every night was enough, and she was only grateful that she didn't have to carry the emotional burden of the dreams she absorbed, filing them away somewhere deep in the recesses of her mind, using them to give her insights into people's characters.

A disturbance drew her mind back into depths of the building. Never had one place held so many dreams for her to counteract, but she was enjoying stretching her abilities and wondered just how far she could -- or would have to -- go.

Passing a partly open door, she heard footsteps from within it, as if a person was slowly pacing, and made a mental note to return. Gliding noiselessly down the staircase to the next level, she slipped into a bedroom, standing near the door. Here, the images flew at her more quickly, and, as she stepped towards the bed, the intensity increased. Reaching out, she held her hand a short distance above the sleeping man's face. This wasn't necessary in every case, but some dreams resisted her more than others, and this one fought briefly before allowing her to ease it out of the man's mind. His facial features relaxed immediately as the young man rolled onto his side. She placed a gentle hand on Cam's arm as she mentally searched for any other disturbances in his usually controlled mind. When nothing showed itself, she silently retreated, closing the door and heading back up the stairs.

* * * * * * * * *

New York

Jarod let himself into the room of the tumbledown hotel, his eyes burning from exhaustion and his legs barely able to move. Having flown through the beginnings of the storm that was attacking the northeastern states, he was ready for nothing but sleep, regardless of what dreams might arise. Dropping his bags in the corner, Jarod shrugged out of his leather jacket, slinging it over the back of a chair and stretching out on the bed without even bothering to take off his shoes. Pulling up a blanket that was folded at his feet, he curled up under it and closed his eyes.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

"You know," an Australian accent suggested from the doorway, making Sebastian jump, "normal people sleep at night."

He glanced over his shoulder to see the slim brunette standing just inside the room and grimaced at the sight.

"I'm not normal," he growled.

"Neither am I," she responded, laughing. "I don't know whether you've noticed, but I'm not exactly out for the count either."

He couldn't help smiling at the familiar accent and teasing tone of her voice. Turning, he waved a hand at the armchair opposite his bed, sitting on the floor opposite her. "Trevor still hasn't told me what's special about you," he admitted, studying her intently with his eyes. "He said I'd discover it for myself."

She grinned. "What are you suspecting, Sebastian?"

"No idea." He shrugged. "I wouldn't want to start guessing. I'm probably way out."

"Beyond the black stump," she agreed, watching him grin at the familiar expression. "And further."

"So what are you?" he demanded, eyes curious.

"I don't know what you'd call it," she confessed. "A human dream-catcher maybe."

He raised an eyebrow. "Say what?"

Elizabeth resettled herself in the chair, crossing her legs, Indian-style. "When people are asleep, I can see what they're about to dream."

Sebastian eyed her skeptically. "And then what?"

"I can take them out," she admitted. "I can guess at the way a dream might make a person feel, the same way as a mother would see how a toy with a sharp corner could injure a child. Just as the mother would take the toy away before the child could play with it, I can take away the dream before a person actually dreams it."

His eyes were suddenly hopeful. "Could you do it for me?"

"I've never found anybody I couldn't help," she stated. "If you dream -- and everybody does -- I can remove the bad ones." Elizabeth eyed the man, her tones soft. "Trevor told me some of what you go through, Sebastian. If you slept better at nights, that would have to make the days easier. Don't you agree?"

He nodded slowly, turning his gaze to the floor, considering the full implication of what the woman was saying. Sebastian tried to recall a time when the people who watched over him hadn't had to wake him, stopping him before he could subconsciously lose control. He wasn't able to remember a single night. Pain filled him, hot tears sliding out of his eyes, as he recalled the many hours when he had watched others, even his wife, sleep, afraid to shut his own eyes.

When Sebastian raised his head, Elizabeth had risen to her feet and now stood beside him. She silently offered him a hand, helping him to his feet and sitting beside him on the bed of sand that filled a corner of the room. His eye was caught by the long-sleeved shirt he wore and, as the door of the room opened and the man who usually watched over him at night silently entered, sitting in a chair in the far corner, almost hidden in the half-light cast by a small lamp on the other side of the room, Sebastian cast a concerned and somewhat embarrassed look in Elizabeth's direction, the import of which clearly went over her head.

"What is it?"

He cast another glance at his shirt, trying to find a way to explain, when understanding flashed in Elizabeth's eyes and she nodded slowly.

"Why don't we try it this way?" The woman cast a glance at the psychic, who was watching this in silence, but whose concern was obvious. "Give it an hour, perhaps? Maybe two?"

Sebastian looked at the psychic, who nodded in agreement, before he turned back to her, anxiety making him feel almost ill. The woman's brown eyes glowed with a confidence that he found encouraging and he slowly lay back against the sand. She gently placed her hands on either side of his head as he gazed up at her, his concern now changing to the thought of what she might be going to do.

"Close your eyes, Sebastian," she directed quietly. "Let me do it."

He found it difficult, even knowing how much faith Trevor seemingly had in this woman, to put his full trust in her abilities, but he felt his body slowly relaxing as a tingle of some power, like a gentle electric current, seemed to travel from her hands into his mind. His eyelids closed almost against his will, and the man found his thoughts fogging, as if someone had administered a mild sedative. Sebastian had a vague feeling that he could successfully fight against what she was doing but, as sleep swept in on him, he realized that he didn't want to resist.

* * * * * * * * *

Craig watched from his seat in the corner of the room, occasionally glancing at his watch. It had been more than five hours since Sebastian had fallen asleep, and Elizabeth hadn't moved from her seat on the side of the bed. The psychic had seen flashes of the nightmares that the woman had been removing from the pyrokinetic's sleeping mind, and Craig had quickly recognized them as ones that Sebastian had regularly, mostly vague and hazy, always full of fire and smoke, with an underlying fear of causing injury to some innocent person if he were unable to control himself at a critical time.

The previous night, he had woken Sebastian only a short time after the man had fallen asleep in the boardroom, concerned at the way sleeping in a chair might have affected his mood. Now, he had to wonder what might have happened if he had left the man to sleep. Craig guessed, from watching the woman, that the contents of the dreams were unsurprising to her, suggesting that she recognized them from the night before. The tension in Elizabeth's face, however, suggested that, despite being unsurprised at their content, she was being mentally bombarded by their sheer numbers and strength.

He looked around sharply as the door opened and Trevor silently entered. He nodded and smiled in Craig's direction and then stepped towards the bed. His words were murmured but still audible to the man in the corner.

"How's it going?"

"What… time is it…?" she asked slowly, and Craig could see what an effort it was for her to utter the words. She had earlier explained to him that she was using all her strength to ensure that she caught every dream, thus making her other responses slow.

"A little after seven," Trevor replied after consulting his watch. "Sebastian has a meeting at eight."

"He'll… wake… soon…" she offered.

Craig saw Trevor nod thoughtfully before his attention was caught by the peaceful expression on Sebastian's face, his surprise only increasing when he saw that the man was also fully dressed. A smile crossed Craig's face, which only broadened as Sebastian began to rouse. Sleepily rolling onto his side, Sebastian yawned, slowly opening his eyes to gaze blankly at the wall above their heads, before sitting bolt upright and staring at the woman who sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes dancing.

"Sleep well?" Elizabeth inquired demurely, and Craig tried to suppress his laughter as he stood up and headed for the door, thankful that Trevor's attention had been drawn to the unremarkable-looking woman walking along the Dallas street.

* * * * * * * * *

New York

The room was dark when he opened his eyes, bile rising in his throat, but he forced it down as he tried to raise his head, looking around and struggling to make out objects in the pale light. He was in pain. They had done something that gave him a terrible feeling of pain in his stomach. He tried to reach out, to touch it, but his hands were fastened somehow at the head of the bed…

Jarod opened his eyes with a gasp, staring up at the ceiling of the hotel room as he instinctively put one hand on his side where the pain had been. When nothing hurt, he pulled himself into an upright position, forced his breathing to slow down, and then slowly got to his feet. Dragging his feet, he slowly crossed the room, seizing his bag and lifting it up onto the table with arms that felt like ton-weights. Producing a bottle of water, he gulped down half of it, sinking into a chair at the table, sipping the cool liquid as he gazed blankly at the storm raging outside the window, making the early morning sky almost as dark as night.

Clenching his hands into fists, he glared at the thin carpet of the floor, eyes fixing on a point that was worn through and showed the floorboards beneath. His expression became one of confusion as he tried to remember exactly what had occurred, the dream already indistinct and becoming hazier the more he tried to concentrate on it. All he knew was that the Centre would have had to have been involved somehow.

His eye was caught by the DSA case on the floor nearby, but he baulked at the idea of trying to find the incident on one of the many discs in that case. Instead, he finished the water and threw the bottle into the trash, collecting his bags and leaving the room. He had no destination in mind; he just hoped that moving might allow him to leave the dream behind.

* * * * * * * * *

Blue Cove, Delaware

The man drove through the town, looking to either side as he halted the car at a traffic light. It was good to be back. It was a long time since his sudden departure from the place and he now looked forward to getting back into the hub of the action again. Certainly Donoterase had provided some scope, but the Centre was a more productive working environment, and possibilities for his future projects became virtually endless in a place where nobody got in the way of real research.

With an eye on the light he took out an envelope, extracting a letter. The invitation was more than acceptable; it was definitely welcome. Picking up the security card, he fingered the thin plastic, a distinct improvement on the item with which he'd been identified when he last worked there, more than thirty years ago, before he had been ignominiously thrown out after Catherine Parker's faked death. With a slight shake of his head and an amused smile, Fenigor dropped the objects back on the seat and, as the light turned to green, turned the corner onto the road that led up to the large building now visible on the skyline.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

His eyes still fixed on the computer screen as the phone rang, the man picked up the receiver and tucked it under his chin as his hands remained on the keyboard.

"Broots here."

"Aren't you forgetting something, Broots?"

His eyes traveling to the clock, the technician let out a gasp of horror, to be answered by a dry chuckle on the other end.

"She's waiting and the storm clouds are gathering. You'd better hurry."

Dropping the receiver back in the cradle, the technician jumped to his feet, casting a final glance at the computer before running from the room. Skidding to a stop at the elevator, he frantically pushed the button, watching the board above the doors as the car descended. Finally, the doors slid open to reveal that the elevator was full of women attired in medical scrubs. The researcher who stood in the front gave him an apologetic smile.

"Sorry, hun, but you'll have to get the next one."

Nodding dazedly, he watched as the doors closed again, staring at the pale blue material until the metal hid it from his sight. Turning, he found Cox beside him, hand outstretched to press the call button, and Broots moved quickly away, struggling not to cast a glare in the man's direction as he hurried to Sydney's office, forgetting his original destination.

"What's going on?"

Sydney looked up sharply. "With what?"

"All the women." Broots started to pace the office. "Are they planning to start Fountain again?"

"Slow down," the psychiatrist protested. "All what women?"

"The ones I just saw in the elevator," the technician explained, his words tumbling out rapidly as he halted momentarily in front of the desk. "The ones in scrubs. Is it Fountain? Is that what's going on?"

"You know that's not possible," Sydney reminded him quietly. "After Carol Sherer died, all of her information was gone too. If they ever did manage to start it up again, it would be years away, if not decades."

"Well, something's happening."

"You've noticed it too," a quiet voice from the doorway commented. "I hoped you wouldn't."

"How could I not, Miss Parker? It's hard to hide large groups of subjects, even in a place like this." He continued to pace, his hands balled into fists at his sides. "If it's starting up again…"

"Broots, I told you…" the psychiatrist began patiently.

"Well, what is it then?" He turned, an unfamiliar glare on his face. "There's some project -- either still going on, or starting up -- that needs a lot of women for it, and I'll bet it isn't something legal."

"At least keep your voice down," Miss Parker urged from her seat near the door. "You won't be able to do anything if you're dead."

"What can we do?" He turned to her, a look of helplessness in his eyes.

"We can find out what's going on." Morgan went over and held open the door, with a gesture that invited him to lead the way out of the office.

* * * * * * * * *

Columbus, Ohio

Entering the hotel room he had just booked, Jarod dropped his bag onto the floor and then pulled out his laptop, plugging into the phone line before accessing the Internet to see what else he could find out about an article that had caught his attention. It had been months since his last real Pretend, and although he enjoyed the fact that not doing them left him time to spend with his family, there were times when Jarod wanted to expand his knowledge and put it to a practical use.

He hadn't heard anything more of Yuri for a while, and the trail of "Executioner" murders seemed to have ceased, temporarily anyway. Jarod wasn't stupid enough to believe that the other man would stop altogether. It was clear that he had enjoyed what he was doing and saw no reason to stop it, just because Jarod had told him to. Still, there had been no sign for several weeks, and Jarod knew that Yuri wouldn't be found until he wanted to be. He would have to wait until there was some clue, and until then he could concentrate on other things. Like this.

Opening the paper on the desk, he picked up a pair of scissors from his bag and cut it out, taking a red notebook and opening it to place the article inside. Morgan had asked him to continue with the pattern that had been established at the very beginning of the pursuit, because such actions would prove that nothing had changed. He was determined to show them that, despite the signs, nothing had. This would be a good start.

His computer beeped, alerting him to the fact that several relevant hits had been found. Pulling up the first, Jarod ran his eyes over it before bookmarking it and moving on to the next. Within only a few minutes, he not only had a series of relevant articles, he had enough background information to begin setting up a detailed curriculum vitae to be presented at his new place of work.

* * * * * * * * *

SL-17, The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"Excuse me, Mr. Parker?"

The man looked up from watching Gabriel solving a complicated mathematical puzzle to see a sweeper in the doorway.

"What is it?"

"There's a person to see you, sir. He said that he has an appointment."

"Good." Mr. Parker glanced around. "You may as well show him in here."

"Yes, sir." The sweeper disappeared for a moment, returning with a man who he showed into the room. Mr. Parker stared at the man blankly until the sweeper spoke again. "Mr. Fenigor, sir."

"Ah, of course. The Maker of Men." Mr. Parker rose from his seat. "Alex, it's good to see you."

"You, too."

The two men shook hands and then Mr. Parker waved at another chair. "Sit down, Alex. How was the trip?"

"Fine."

"And how was everything at Donoterase when you left?"

"Busy, as always." Fenigor laughed softly. "The next level of the project will take a bit of work, but they'll get there."

"They just lost their best person," Mr. Parker remarked. "If I didn't think you'd be more useful here, I'd have suggested you stay there."

Mr. Fenigor eyed the small boy, who was watching them surreptitiously, before his gaze traveled back to the other man. "So where, in all these twenty-seven sub-levels, were you intending to put me?"

"For the time being," the older man replied, leaning back in the chair, "I want you to be helping the children's caregivers to resolve any of the concerns or problems they might be feeling. Sydney was in that position, but his time is being increasingly taken up with the hunt for Jarod."

"To be honest," Fenigor told him, "I was hoping to work with the children themselves."

"They require a specialized team," the Chairman reminded him.

Fenigor spread out his hands in a gesture of demonstration. "Parker, you know my training. How much more specialized do you need?"

The older man laughed. "Okay, Alex, I'll get Cox to introduce you to the Seraphim at some point today."

* * * * * * * * *

Sydney's Office

"So what is it?" Sydney queried.

"I don't know." Broots stared at the screen. "But a group of women were sent to Donoterase from a hospital in Ohio and then referred here. They're all between two and four months along in their pregnancy. The same hospital that referred them here has recently been sending packages to the Centre."

"Do we know what the packages contain?" Miss Parker leaned over the technician's shoulder, reading the material that he had found.

"Bodily organs." He brought up another file. "It's one of the hospitals that organs from Mr. Fenigor were supposedly sent to." Broots picked up a page he had printed out and pointed to a series of numbers. "These are time and date details of a delivery here in Blue Cove."

"Do you know what this is, Syd?" Morgan carried the printout over to the psychiatrist, who looked over the details.

"It's information about what was transferred: the amounts and weights." The psychiatrist eyed the numbers, raising an eyebrow. "For bodily organs, they're pretty light. I'd guess it's tissue samples rather than whole organs."

"What can we find out about the hospital?" she demanded, turning back to the technician.

Broots pulled up another file. "It's been in the news quite a lot recently. Several patients have died and most of them were children. Autopsies showed that many of those who died had had organs taken from them during surgery."

"Illegally?" The query was sharp as Sydney looked up.

"Well, it's doesn't say, but I guess so." Broots sat back in his chair. "I don't get it. What would they be doing with the sorts of tissue they were taking? And why is the hospital sending them here to the Centre? Surely they'd have facilities to test the organs there, or they wouldn't take them in the first place."

"Perhaps the Centre uses them for something the hospital couldn't do there, in case the ethicists found out," the psychiatrist suggested as a thought struck him, putting together various rumors he had heard. "It would also provide a reason for the abundance of pregnant women in the Centre. This is also something for which they often use embryonic tissue."

Miss Parker looked at him sharply. "What, exactly, are you talking about?"

Sydney's voice was quiet. "Stem cell research."

* * * * * * * * *

All Saints Hospital
Columbus, Ohio

"Dr. Jarod Baltimore."

"Dr. Luther Miniter. Pleased to meet you."

Jarod shook hands with the doctor to whom he was being introduced and followed him into the man's office.

"So what brought you here, Dr. Baltimore?"

"Please, call me Jarod." The Pretender sat in the seat and looked at the man opposite him. "I've started to do some investigation into stem-cell research, and, as you've been putting out some wonderful papers on it, I thought this would be a good place to start."

"Oh, really?" Miniter raised an eyebrow. "So what field were you in before?"

"I've been interested in cloning for a couple of years," Jarod responded carefully, and the doctor laughed.

"You and the rest of the scientific community, not to mention the world." The researcher leaned back in his seat, pressing his fingertips together. "You have to understand that we can't afford to hire people who'll run off to our competitors with every single one of our findings. There's a great deal of money to be had in this field by the people who make the breakthroughs, and we don't want to share."

"And then," the Pretender suggested thoughtfully, "there's all the possible medical benefits to the wider public as well."

"Of course, of course," the man agreed quickly. "But if people want it, they'll pay for it, no matter what price we put on it. Anything to get an advantage."

"Quite," Jarod commented softly.

"Still, Jarod, you've got good credentials, and I doubt you'll find a better center for your research than here." He stood up. "Let me show you around."

On to Act II

 
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