Special Treatment

 

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The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"That's illegal!"

Sydney looked at Miss Parker as she protested, his voice remaining muted. "Actually, it's not, but has that fact ever stopped them before?"

"So, all of the women I saw…" Broots stopped short, looking at Sydney. "How will they get what they need?"

"The pregnancies will be aborted within the required period and the embryos sent wherever they have the research facilities," the psychiatrist responded evenly. Suddenly his expression became thoughtful. "Come to think of it, I can't fully understand why the experiment isn't being performed in one of the laboratories. After all, it's not as if the babies will get to the stage where they need the conditions of the womb."

Morgan looked sharply back at the screen. "I didn't get this before, but it makes more sense now. It says here that they also want to experiment with the cells of the PLC. I didn't know what they meant by the abbreviation before, but I guess it's the…"

"Placenta," Sydney finished, when she stopped. "Nothing I've read about this suggested that the cells of the placenta would be of any use in that respect, but possibly the published material isn't as far advanced as what the Centre's doing."

"Or else they're trying to start Fountain from the memories of the other people involved," Broots added in tense tones. "So they'll take the embryonic cells and the placental cells…"

"And the women?" Morgan queried softly, her eyes still fixed on the screen.

The question seemed to hang in the air for several seconds, until she took the page from Sydney's hand and picked up the phone.

"This is Parker. I want the jet."

As she hung up, Broots looked at her. "What are you going to do?"

"Sydney and I will go and find out exactly what's going on. You stay here and see what else you can find."

"What do you think you'll be able to do, Parker?"

"I don't honestly know, Sydney," she admitted, turning around to look at him. "But unless we try, we won't ever know."

Nodding, the psychiatrist stood, and the two people left the office in silence.

* * * * * * * * *

Columbus, Ohio

His work had revealed nothing, but Jarod hadn't expected it to. That wasn't the way these things ever worked. His own investigations had provided some answers, and he could go looking around for more when he knew better what to look for. In the meantime, he pulled out the notebook and reviewed the information he had so far in the various articles.

All of them were about children who were operated on at All Saints hospital. Several days before the first article, which had come out only three days previously, an autopsy on a child had revealed that organs had been removed during surgery without parental consent. Autopsies that were then carried out on other children who had recently died revealed causes of death all related to the unauthorized removals and, as a result, all operations at the hospital had been temporarily suspended, and the staff involved stood down. Suspecting that the surgical area of the hospital would be suspicious of any new applicants in that area, fearing an undercover investigation as well as that being carried out by police, Jarod had joined the research sector. This had provided him with access to some of the information for which he had been searching.

Jarod picked up one and looked down at the face of a boy who had died after the removal of his thalamus gland. For several moments, he gazed into the eyes of the face in the photograph, trying to imagine what the parents would suffer at losing a child in that way; how he would feel if anything like that happened to Gabriel. Jamming his other hand into his pocket, the fingernails of his clenched fist digging into his palm, he let the clipping drift back to the tabletop and wandered over to the window.

The glass reflected the thick, black headlines, and Jarod's eye traveled over the reflection of the name of the senior surgeon.

Luther Miniter.

Something about that name nagged at him, but he hadn't yet bothered to work out what. Suddenly it hit him, with such force that the breath exploded out of him as if he had been punched.

"No."

The word was a harsh whisper, as Jarod sank his face into his hands. Suddenly the dream came back into his mind, along with words that he himself had spoken several years earlier.

"Come on, Luther, wake up. We've still got some work to do. Disconcerting, isn't it? Waking up in pain, not knowing where you are. That's how I felt in Mexico. That's how your son feels in his hospital room."

The darkness from his dream came back to Jarod again, the pain in his side now making perfect sense, and he knew that, had he not woken, he would have seen himself standing by that bed, a scalpel in his hand. Jarod clenched both his fists, pushing them into his eyes until he saw stars, trying to get rid of the vision, suddenly forced to justify his actions to himself.

"It was the only way," he argued aloud, trying to persuade himself that the words he uttered were true.

No, a voice inside his head seemed to contradict immediately. It wasn't.

"Ryan would have died…"

Who says he didn't?

The thought hit him with as much physical force as the earlier one had, and Jarod quickly pulled the laptop towards him, staring at it blankly for a minute before activating the program.

"Where do I start?"

The words came loudly in the silent room and, as his mind refused to provide him with an answer, he sank his face into his hands again.

You could always find out about Luther, the voice seemed to suggest, and Jarod nodded, pulling up the files about the Cadrenas Federal Prison in Mexico. When the search revealed nothing, he picked up his cell phone from its place on the table.

"Can I help you?" queried a polite voice in Spanish.

"I'm trying to find out some information about one of your prisoners." Jarod got up from his chair, beginning to pace the length of the room again. "Luther Ecksley."

"There's nobody here of that name, sir," the voice informed him after a brief pause, during which the shuffling of papers had been audible, and the Pretender stopped short.

"There has to be. He was given a twenty-five year sentence."

The voice was calm. "Mr. Ecksley died three years ago, sir."

Jarod swallowed hard, running a trembling hand through his hair. "C… can you repeat that?"

"Mr. Ecksley died a few weeks after a transfer from California back to the Cadrenas prison, three years ago, sir. I can put you through to the Records department, if you would like, and they can give you more details."

"No, thank you, it's fine."

He disconnected the call, staring blankly at the carpet before lunging for his laptop. His violence almost knocked it to the floor, but he managed to prevent that from happening. Logging into the prison records, he found the reports about Ecksley, including the autopsy that had been carried out on the dead man.

Peritonitis.

Jarod looked up slowly from the computer, his hands trembling and a bead of sweat beginning to slide down the side of his face.

He…

He had…

He had caused a man to die.

He had killed a man.

Jarod's fingers clenched themselves into fists as he sat back in the chair.

Ryan.

Urgently, as if the information was going to disappear before he could find it, Jarod logged into the computer records of the hospital in California, bringing up the boy's medical history. Reading through the first parts, he started to relax. There was no doubt that the kidney would have taken, and that Ryan would be all right.

No doubt…

…except for another operation performed almost a month after the initial surgery.

Jarod froze, staring at the medical notes he'd found. There could only have been one reason for Ryan to have needed surgery the length and seriousness of what he'd had to undergo later that year: if his father's kidney had been rejected.

A note at the end of the file told him that the second operation showed every sign of success, as a kidney had been donated by Luther's sister. A final note at the end of the files revealed to Jarod that Ryan was now doing relatively well.

The Pretender stared at the words, feeling something twist painfully inside himself.

"It wasn't me."

Jarod slowly raised his head to see his reflection in a mirror hanging on the wall opposite him. His face was ashen, apart from a red trail that ran down his chin. Lifting a hand he slowly wiped away the blood from where he had bitten his lip, looking at the screen once more.

The boy was alive. That was important, of course. But everything he'd tried to do, all the problems he'd caused -- he had killed a man for no reason! Luther Ecksley was dead because Jarod had done something -- his eyes traveled to the articles on the table in front of him -- he'd done a thing just as bad as those people that he had been thinking of punishing.

No, it wasn't just as bad. He knew that at once.

This was worse.

This was worse because he knew better, and because he had no excuses…

Shaking his head, Jarod rose from the chair and walked over to the window, resting his head against the glass and staring blindly out at the traffic below. His hands began to shake and he raised one, pressing the palm of it against the glass. Using it to push off from the window, he slowly turned, his eyes running over the furniture in the room without seeing it. Taking an unsteady step away from the window, something hard clenched in his stomach as he forced out a sentence.

"I'm a murderer."

The words were a pain-filled murmur and Jarod sank to his knees, staring at the blood on the tips of his fingers and feeling the damp trails as tears began to course down his cheeks.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Broots once more impatiently consulted his watch, calculating the time it would take before Miss Parker and Sydney could land in Ohio and get to the hospital. Sitting down at his desk, he shut his eyes, resting his forehead in the palms of his hands.

In his mind, he strolled into the cafeteria again, the Funyuns and Dingdongs in his pockets as he collected his serving of tuna salad and sat down at the table.

"Hi. My name's Leah. I know we're not supposed to talk to other people here but you look like a trustworthy guy, so I thought I'd take a chance. Are you? Trustworthy, I mean."

Sitting bolt upright, Broots stared at the wall in front of him, breathing fast, feeling his fingers tighten into fists and a sudden feeling of nausea rise in him. The scene had replayed itself in his mind almost every day since he had first met her, and it had only been during the past few weeks, the man realized suddenly, that he had been thinking about it less often.

Now, of course, it would haunt him even more.

Shaking his head, the technician sat up and looked at the files on the computer, waiting for him to work on them. Aware that he would be unable to concentrate, Broots reached into the drawer of his desk. He pulled out a box and, taking his house keys, found the tiny one that would unlock the box. Opening the lid, he took out a gold bracelet and laid it on the open palm of his hand, moving it slightly so that it sparkled in the light.

He could see her again in his mind, the bracelet sparkling in the light as their fingers had touched briefly. The memory of her bright blue eyes and blond hair caused a lump to rise in the back of his throat and only by swallowing and blinking hard could he stop the tears forming in his eyes from falling. Suddenly, as if the metal had burnt him, he let it drop back into the box and, in one single movement, relocked the box and swept it back into his drawer. A moment later, a vague murmur of voices that had drawn his attention in the first place became louder.

Looking down at the surface of his desk, Broots finally became aware of a cream-colored manila folder lying on his desk. It had obviously been placed there in the brief time when he had gone to make himself a new cup of coffee, which, Broots realized as he reached out for the place where it should have been standing, was presumably still sitting on the tray of the coffee-making machine, thoughts of Leah having distracted him enough to prevent him from taking it. Broots was about to go and get the coffee when the label on the folder caught his attention, snatching his attention away from both the voices in the hallway and the coffee.

"Mr. Fenigor."

The words were breathed, almost inaudible, as Broots opened the folder, his eyes running over the information it contained. He only had time to read a few words when the voice that he thought had passed by could be clearly heard outside the door of his office, a familiar voice that made the technician flip the folder shut and shove it into the drawer on top of the box. His door opened just as he turned his eyes to the computer screen in front of him.

"Excuse me, Mr. Broots?"

"Yes, Sam?" The man looked up, hoping his face was as expressionless as he wanted it to be.

"There's somebody here to see you."

"Oh, yes?" The technician glanced at his computer. "I… I'm kind of busy…"

"It'll only take a minute." The older man stepped around the sweeper and into the room. "I wanted to renew an old acquaintance."

"R… really?" the man stammered, nonplussed. "I… I don't remember…"

"Oh come on, Mr. Broots. Surely you remember coming down with Miss Parker to find me down in Renewal Wing?" The man's voice was light, but there was a deeper tone of meaning obvious in it. "I certainly do, even if you don't seem to." Fenigor turned to the sweeper. "Thank you, Sam."

* * * * * * * * *

Columbus, Ohio

"…if you're forced to resort to more extreme measures - I'd understand."

"That was too extreme." Jarod propped his elbows up on the table and rested his forehead in his palms, his voice an almost incoherent mumble. "I never meant for him to die. It wasn't ever meant to go that far. I never meant to kill him."

He raised his head and examined his hands, where fingernails had pierced the skin when he had clenched his fists, before rising to his feet and pacing the room, his eyes seeming to see not the hotel room but the glass that had once separated him from Ecksley, his hand once again holding the black telephone receiver.

"Do you believe in redemption, Jarod?"

"Maybe. You have a lot to make up for."

"This could be a start though, right?"

"Redemption," the Pretender murmured. Looking up, Jarod could see the gray clouds through the window, the weather reflecting his feelings within. "Where do I go to find mine? Didn't I earn it too? I help people if I can. Isn't there anybody to help me?"

"As a part of your personality, its strength can become your greatest asset. What you feared most may yet turn out to be your saving grace. Try to think of it that way."

"Not now," he moaned, sinking down onto the bed and staring at the floor. "No, I can't think of it like that. Not anymore. It's not just a dark side now. It's all of me."

He lifted his hands briefly, before letting them fall helplessly in his lap again, the tears continuing to pour, unheeded, down his cheeks. In his mind, he could see her again, the light shining on her blond hair as she appeared in the doorway of the motel room, making her look more angelic than she had even in those terrible hours on the mountain. The specks of blood on his hands caught his eye and his throat tightened, making it momentarily difficult to breathe. The longing for help Jarod had begun to feel faded as he looked at the blood and the full realization of his actions sank deep into his heart and mind.

"I know, now, why you didn't ever stay with me, Faith. You were always too afraid." He swallowed the urge to throw up and leaned against the wall, shutting his eyes with another soft moan. "I'd be afraid of me too. You should never have brought me back from Eclipse. I didn't deserve it. You should have left me there. Left me with Kodiak. Then what I did would have seemed right, instead of knowing that it's wrong."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"I was hoping to be able to speak with Miss Parker, Mr. Broots. Do you have any idea where she might be?"

The technician managed to stop himself from wriggling in his chair, unwilling to look into the cool, expressionless eyes of the man standing opposite him on the other side of the desk.

"N… no, Mr. Fenigor. She and Sydney left to check out a possible lead on Jarod."

"So you're still running that little game." The corners of the man's lips lifted slightly. "I would have thought that the three of you could have been given more productive positions at other places in the Centre instead of chasing after him and others like him. After all," the man's smile grew wider, "it's not really that necessary that he be brought back here, is it?"

Broots' brow furrowed slightly. "I… I don't…"

"Oh, it doesn't matter." The man shrugged carelessly. "I'm sure we'll catch up at some point. I've got so many things that I'd like to talk to her about." He smiled, producing a card from his pocket and sliding it over the desk. The technician saw that it contained a cell phone number. "As soon as she comes back, you will let me know, won't you?"

"O… of course, Mr. Fenigor."

"Good." The man turned to the door, glancing back over his shoulder with a wink. "And good luck with your search."

* * * * * * * * *

Columbus, Ohio

Sydney looked over as Miss Parker drove the car through the streets from the airstrip where the jet had landed as the late afternoon sun lit the city. "What do you want to do first, Parker?"

"Let's get to a hotel and register. Broots said that he'd send us any articles he could find about the whole thing at the hospital, so we can do some background work before we go there for a proper investigation."

"What are you really hoping to achieve here?" His voice was quiet. "Even if you stop it happening with this hospital, there must still be others…"

"This is a start, Syd. We have to start somewhere." She pulled up in front of the building offering rooms, eyeing the four stars on the sign. "This'll do."

Sydney exited the car when she did and followed her up the stairs, waiting silently as she booked them into double rooms with adjoining doors. He took the set of hotel room keys she held out as they walked back to the front of the building.

"I'll park the car." He took the rental car keys from her hand and opened the driver's door. "You take the things in and see what Broots sent."

"Thanks." She flashed him a tight smile and carried the bags into the building as he drove the car into the hotel's parking lot, found a spot and then got out, starting to walk towards the elevator.

Glancing carelessly at a car parked nearest to the elevator, Sydney stopped short, staring into the front seat. His breath caught in his throat at the familiarity of what he was seeing. Underneath a cream medical folder, the corner of a red notebook was just visible. Reaching out a hand, Sydney cautiously tried the door, but it was locked, as were the others when he checked them. Running his eyes over the rest of the car's visible contents, his expression became one of deep thought as the elevator doors opened and the psychiatrist stepped inside.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Fenigor shook the hand of the man being introduced to him, preserving a standard expression of mild interest, but was unable to help seeing the knowing gleam in Cox's eye that appeared as the Chairman turned away. When Parker looked down at the paperwork on the desk in front of him, Fenigor risked a wink in response before clearing his face of expression and turning his attention back to Mr. Parker, even as the Chairman looked at the doctor.

"What do you think, Cox? How would they respond to someone like Fenigor?"

"Well, it's difficult to say," the man responded thoughtfully. "Still, as you seem sure that he won't cause the children any difficulties, I don't have any concerns. If there's a problem, we can simply stop him from going in with them."

"Fine, fine." Mr. Parker nodded in agreement. "Then perhaps you could take him down to meet them now?"

Fenigor cast a glance at the clock on the wall. "As I understand it, Parker, the children are now having their naps. Maybe it would be better to wait until later."

Cox sent a look of respectful surprise in the other man's direction, an expression immediately picked up on by Parker, who laughed.

"You'll have to watch yourself with this one, Cox. Alex probably knows as much about the kids as you do."

"Perhaps," the doctor responded coolly, rising to his feet. "And in the meantime, I have things to do. Mr. Fenigor, if it's convenient for you, we could meet to discuss the children in my office in 30 minutes."

"I'll look forward to it." The man bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement, watching him leave before turning back to the Chairman.

"Let me know if you think there's going to be a problem," Parker stated at once. "We can't afford for anything to go wrong in that department."

"Oh, nothing will," Fenigor assured him, standing also. "If you'll excuse me, Parker, I want to get my things set up in the lab and my room."

"Good, good." The other man nodded. "I'll see you later, then."

Nodding, Fenigor left the office, letting the door fall shut behind him before casting a smirk at the man who was waiting in the hall.

"'Perhaps,'" he remarked mockingly, in snobbish tones, tilting his nose in the air and watching out of the corner of his eye as Cox grinned, falling into step with him. "'Perhaps' I know because you told me everything."

"Perhaps," Cox laughed as they got into the elevator. "I always thought you were a scientist, Alex, not an actor."

"I try." Fenigor shrugged. "What act will we put on in front of the kids?"

"The same," Cox agreed after a moment of thought as the elevator descended. "Several of those caregivers are in Parker's pocket and tell him everything. But it can 'thaw' over the next couple of days."

The older man handed over a card bearing a number and an address. "I got a new cell phone and this is the suite I was allocated. Feel free to drop in at any time."

"Oh, I will," Cox agreed. "After all, we've got a lot to discuss." He glanced at his watch as the car arrived and the two men got out, strolling down towards Cox's office. "By the way, I meant to tell you that Echo's on track."

"Glad to hear it," Fenigor retorted. "Should I keep going around there?"

"Every few days," the doctor responded carelessly. "Doesn't need more than that."

Cox stopped at the door of his office and waved an arm in a gesture that was an invitation. The other man entered the office with a smile, sitting down comfortably on the other side of the desk as his friend took a seat on the other.

* * * * * * * * *

Columbus, Ohio

"It's not supposed to happen like this." Jarod lay on his back, studying the ceiling, talking aloud as if there was someone else there to hear. "You aren't supposed to come back into my life when it's finally all over. I should just to be able to walk away, to forget it. Why can't you disappear, Luther? Let me forget!"

"Guilt is a healthy emotion. It stops most people from doing bad things, or at least makes them repent. You are not suffering from guilt. You are shamed. Shame is an unhealthy emotion. Why are you ashamed of yourself, Jarod?"

The words of the psychiatrist seemed to hang in the air and he recalled their conversation on that New Year's Eve. Jarod considered calling Lily, but as he had on that other occasion, when he felt as though he were falling apart as Eclipse swept in on him, he knew that there was no point. This time, the feeling was different.

This time he deserved to feel it all because he was directly responsible for what had occurred.

He could remember the way it felt to hold the syringe in his hand and to exchange the few words of light banter with the man, before cutting him open and taking…

Jarod squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the image and rolling over so that his face was pressed into the pillow.

"Why couldn't I forget this? It's not fair that I should be remembering this. It hurts too much."

It is fair, the voice seemed to say in response. You killed a man. Why on earth should you be able to forget? No doubt he didn't. Right up until the moment he --

"No!"

With the word coming out almost as a scream, Jarod sat bolt upright on the bed, hands clutching either side of the mattress, as if it were a boat rocking on the sea during a storm.

"Why didn't they get rid of all this when I was returned to the Centre?" a voice moaned, and it took Jarod several seconds to realize that the words had come from his own mouth. "Why didn't they wipe it all away? Why do I have to remember?"

You killed him.

The voice sounded in his mind again.

Why shouldn't you remember what you did? Why should you get an easy escape from the results of your actions? You know how bad peritonitis is. You know how much pain he would have been in as he died.

"He was a criminal," Jarod protested weakly.

He was a human being, the stern voice replied. A living, breathing human being. And you took all that away from him.

On to Act III

 
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