Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Lenny von Dohlen as Mr. Cox
Sam Ayres as Sam
Ryan Merriman as Jordan
George Lazenby as Major Charles
Tyler Christopher as Ethan
Catherine Bent as Dr. Goetz
Hugh Jackman as Sebastian
Rebecca de Mornay as Sumi
Denzel Washington as Trevor
John Daley as Cam
Sigrid Thornton as Elizabeth
Heath Ledger as Craig
Samantha Mathis as Rebecca
Michelle Trachtenberg as Andromeda
Robert De Niro as Luther Miniter
Trevor wandered out of the sushi restaurant where he had been enjoying a solitary late lunch. His eyes slid from one face to the next as they passed him, but he wasn't concentrating on any one individual until his eyes met the figure of a woman strolling in his direction.
Her dark brown eyes burned with an intensity that Trevor hadn't seen for a long time, but the rest of her facial features were relaxed. Curious at such a contradiction, the psychic paused, clasping his hands behind his back as he leaned against the corner of a nearby store.
Images flashed in on him, one after another, but he was adept at his skill after so many years and rapidly sorted them into some sort of order. This woman had a gift that revolved around sleep and dreams. That much he could pick up, but the details were vague, intermingled with flashes that didn't seem to belong to this fragile-looking individual. Thoughtfully, Trevor tried to delve deeper. He didn't like dipping into people's minds, generally waiting to see what they threw at him first, but in this case it would have been impossible. She was unreadable in that sense. Not that there was nothing to see. Trevor had a sense that, underneath her exterior of calm, her personality bubbled; but she had learnt to hide it well and so, wanting to know more, he had to go fishing.
Even as he watched her, she turned as something in a store window caught her eye, the change in direction causing something to drop out of her bag. It fell to the ground almost at his feet, but the woman didn't notice. Bending down, Trevor scooped up the fallen object to discover it was a purse. Hurrying after the woman, he placed a hand on her arm.
"Excuse me. You dropped this."
She turned, her expression unusually frank and open, as if danger of any sort was unknown to her, becoming a mixture of embarrassment and laughter as she accepted it from him.
"Thank you so much -- "
"Trevor," he supplied with a grin that showed off his white teeth.
"Elizabeth," she offered, slipping the purse back into her bag.
"You're not from around here, are you?" he suggested, falling into step beside her.
She grinned, showing dimples in her cheeks. "What gave me away?"
"The accent," he retorted at once. "You're Australian?"
"How could you tell?"
"I know one already," he admitted. "You're a long way from home."
"Trying to find a new one," Elizabeth sighed. "But I've lived in the US for a while. Just arrived here in Dallas today."
"Do you have a place to stay?"
She shrugged, sending him a sly grin. "You know, I thought only Australian men were this blunt in the pick-up line department."
Trevor laughed, his eye caught by one of his favorite cafés down the street, and nodded towards it. "How about I practice over coffee?"
The woman arched an eyebrow. "How can I trust that you're not some homicidal maniac?"
The man grinned. "Don't you think you could escape in a café?"
"Probably." She looked once more into the window of the shop that had grabbed her attention and glanced back at the man. "Let me go in here for just a sec, while you make a concerted effort to suppress your 'homicidal maniac' tendencies, and then I'll treat you to a coffee for giving me back my purse without emptying it first."
He nodded smiling acquiescence, waiting until she disappeared into the store before pulling out his cellphone. The call he made was answered quickly.
"Cam? I need your special skills, buddy. Can you get down here fast?"
* * * * * * * * *
"Embryonic stem cell research is at the leading edge of a series of moral hazards. The initial stem cell researcher was at first reluctant to begin his research, fearing it might be used for human cloning. Scientists have already cloned a sheep. Researchers are telling us the next step could be to clone human beings to create individual designer stem cells, essentially to grow another you, to be available in case you need another heart or lung or liver. I strongly oppose human cloning, as do most Americans. We recoil at the idea of growing human beings for spare body parts or creating life for our convenience."
The Chairman lifted the remote control and the gray-haired figure on screen froze. There was a smirk on the viewer's face as he rewound and replayed the footage.
"You hypocrite," Parker sneered softly. "If the people listening with bated breath to that broadcast really knew where their dollars were going "
He glanced around the office in which he sat, his eyes coming to rest on the photo of the woman in the frame on his desk, and the sneer grew as he gazed mockingly on the face of his first wife, before looking down at a folder on his desk that presented the latest report on the project.
"If all those people knew what we'd already done, and what we're doing now ."
With a mocking laugh, he turned off the television and rose from his seat, collecting his briefcase and switching off the television before turning off the lights and leaving the room.
* * * * * * * * *
Sebastian turned to Cam as soon as the door shut behind Trevor and Elizabeth, eyes demanding an explanation.
"She's harmless," the young man retorted. "And she doesn't have to stay. It's not like she knows what goes on here, and she won't find out."
The man's fingers drummed impatiently on the tabletop. "Can you be sure? How do we know she isn't a Centre spy or something?"
Cam raised an eyebrow. "You don't trust Trevor and me?"
"It isn't that," Sebastian growled. "But we can't afford to take risks."
"Geez, it's one night," the other man returned, glancing at the screen, showing the rain that was pouring down outside, for emphasis. "Throw her out on her ear tomorrow, if you want to, but at least give her a chance." Cam grinned. "After all, you gave me one."
"You could prove your usefulness," his boss retorted. "I haven't seen any sign of "
"So set her cleaning the kitchens or something," the young man interrupted. "Isn't it obvious that Trevor must have some reason for being keen to have her here? Not everybody's different. There are some ordinary ones as well."
"I'll ask Jarod," Sebastian mused, half to himself. "He should be able to tell me."
"Fine, if it makes you happy," the empath responded as he stood up and walked to the door. "But unless you start trusting people, we'll spend the rest of our lives in this place until we rot."
Cam let the door slam as he left the room, leaving Sebastian gazing thoughtfully after him.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod collected Jordan's things from the back of the helicopter and walked with his son to the building in which his father and brother were still staying. Major Charles met them as they began to remove the snow from their clothes.
"How was it?"
"Fantastic!" Jordan grinned, returning the man's hug before scraping the snow from his boots and taking them off. Putting on a pair of slippers, he then led the way to the living room.
Major Charles slipped an arm around his son's shoulders as they followed the young man. "When will you go south?"
"Well, I was planning to head off soon," Jarod remarked as they walked into the room. "That is, as long as Ethan's ready."
Ethan caught Jordan's eye and understood the young man's unspoken plea, shaking his head. "I thought you'd stay at least one night, so I haven't packed yet."
Jarod saw the glance and gave his brother a suspicious look. "And just how long does it take you to pack?" he began, before seeing the pleading expression on Jordan's face and yielding with a sigh. "Okay, I guess there's no harm in extending my vacation by another day."
"Great!" Jordan's eyes lit up in delight before jumping to his feet. "Want me to grab your stuff?"
"And then you'll hide it so I don't leave tomorrow either, right?" his father offered with a knowing chuckle. "Thanks, son, but I prefer to do that myself."
"Okay." Jordan walked over to the table where a jug of hot chocolate waited and poured himself a mug before getting a book out of the bag he had dumped in the doorway and settling down in a large easy-chair to read.
Leaving the room, Jarod again donned his boots and jacket, going out to the helicopter to get a bag containing his clothes out of the back. He cast a glance at the DSA player, finally deciding to leave it, but taking the laptop, and, lowering his head against the wind, crossing the fallen snow to the building. Before he got there, however, the cell phone in the pocket of his jacket rang. Pulling it out, Jarod cupped his hand around the mouthpiece so that his words would be comprehensible.
"Jarod, it's Sebastian."
The Pretender's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Hi. What's going on?"
"I've got a favor to ask you. Would you know if there's anybody employed by the Centre called 'Elizabeth?'"
Slamming the door behind him, Jarod dropped the bag in disbelief. "Sebastian, do you have any idea how many people the Centre employs? How could I possibly have all those names at my fingertips?"
There was a dry chuckle from the other end, conceding this. "Well, can you find out? I don't want to place the whole operation here in jeopardy by having someone working for them on the inside, but I also don't want to be unreasonably suspicious. Is there any way for you to know?"
"One," Jarod conceded. "I'll do what I can and either call you back or send you anything I find out, okay?"
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
Jarod picked up the bag after removing his jacket and shoes again, strolling along the hallway to his room. Sitting down on the bed, he punched in a number and waited for it to be answered.
There was a sound like a regretful sigh on the other end. "Jarod, I really hope you aren't calling to try and make me "
"It's not that," he interrupted before she could refer to their last meeting, in the massage room. "I want some information about a possible Centre staff member."
Her brusque tones revealed her relief that he wasn't going to bring up a painful subject yet again. "What's the name?"
"Elizabeth, but I don't know a last name. Can you just send me whatever you've got about anyone with that name, particularly with a photo if you can manage it?"
"I'll do my best," she promised before cutting the connection. Hanging up, Jarod returned the cell phone to his pocket, setting up the laptop to receive any incoming messages and then leaving the room to see what his family was up to.
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.
"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."
* * * * * * * * *
"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?"
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
"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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
"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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
"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."
The two men shook hands and then Mr. Parker waved at another chair. "Sit down, Alex. How was the trip?"
"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."
* * * * * * * * *
"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."
* * * * * * * * *
"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."
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
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."
* * * * * * * * *
" 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."
* * * * * * * * *
"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."
* * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
"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 --
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.
"What do you have, Parker?" the psychiatrist queried as he entered the hotel room.
"Broots sent eight articles, all relating to the deaths of the children and also the impending court cases." She looked up at Sydney. "If one or more of these finds the hospital guilty, they stand to lose a lot, or possibly everything."
"Just out of interest," he sat down opposite her, "who's representing them?"
Miss Parker stared at him for a moment before the meaning of his words sank in. "You think that the Centre ?"
"They do a lot of things to protect their own interests." He looked at the screen in front of him, an expression of pain in his eyes as he was unable to help thinking of one in particular. "And this has the possibility of a lot of benefit for them."
"In what way?"
"If this all succeeded, and if the Centre was the first to unlock the methods of using stem cells, it'd be worth more than just about anything they've ever done. It isn't like some other projects they've worked on, which still need to be kept secret -- "
"Like?" Miss Parker looked at him quizzically.
"Considering the current situation, what do you think would happen if the Centre announced that, almost two decades ago, they successfully cloned human beings, and that they were now fit and healthy teenagers? The science world would be all over it, but I've no doubt that ethicists would quickly be all over the Centre, and probably go a large way towards discrediting it, perhaps even to the extent of shutting it down."
The woman sat back in her chair, examining the floor for a moment before raising her eyes. "Can you explain it all to me? What exactly is stem cell research? I mean, I know it was the subject of a Presidential address a while back, but I'm not sure I understand exactly what it is."
Sydney rose from his seat and walked over to the window, staring out to the street below, before he turned back to look at her.
"First, remember that I'm not an expert in this field. I don't know everything about it. But stem cell research is an attempt to help some of the worst diseases that attack mankind, like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart damage, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer -- anything that attacks specific organs."
He waited until she nodded before continuing.
"Stem cells are what scientists call pluripotent cells, meaning that they can develop into cells that will grown into any organ in the body. After the fertilization of a human embryo, the cells around the outside of the egg begin developing into the placenta and other tissues vital for the survival of the embryo. The cells inside the egg become these pluripotent cells. Without the outer cells, the cells within have no chance of ever becoming an embryo. As long as the external cells are there, the embryo can go on to develop into a fetus and, hopefully, a baby. But stem cells don't just exist in an unborn baby. They continue to develop in areas like the blood after birth."
Sydney gazed thoughtfully at the floor for a moment before continuing.
"Using stem cells, scientists hope to 'shape' them into different organs like heart, lung, pancreatic or kidney tissue. These can then be 'grown' into full organs and implanted into a body whose own organ has failed. It's hoped that stem cells from the patients themselves could be used, drastically reducing or even eliminating the possibility of rejection."
Miss Parker looked over at him, curiosity on her face. "I'm not sure I understand the problem."
"The problem is that some scientists feel that only the embryonic stem cells can be 'shaped' into the required tissue, meaning that they need cells from embryos and, because that act necessarily stops the embryo from any further development, those who feel that a cluster of cells is a human being from the instant that sperm and ova fuse argue that scientists are murdering people."
She nodded slowly. "So the Centre has artificially inseminated those women and kept the ones who are still pregnant "
"And will harvest the embryos for research." Sydney nodded slowly. "I expect so."
"And the women will be taken down to the " Her thoughts raced ahead and she stopped herself from stating the logical conclusion to the scenario.
He looked at her for a moment before turning away. After a moment of silence, she spoke again.
"Is there any other way to get the same benefits?"
"Maybe. About two weeks before Bush made his speech, a company said that they had managed to revert adult stem cells to a similar stage to those of embryo stem cells. Other laboratories have said that they can get similar results with the adult cells themselves. Then there are the stem cells in blood and possibly other tissue as well, which may have the potential to be used."
"So is that what this hospital is providing to the Centre?"
"Very probably, yes."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod continued to stare at the ceiling, hands linked above his head, his fingers twisting painfully as he tried to justify the unjustifiable.
"I couldn't do anything else."
And yet somebody else found another answer, the voice told him mockingly.
"But Ryan's still alive."
No thanks to you. You had to try to be a hero, rushing all over two countries to steal an organ from somebody. You punished a woman four and a half years ago for doing the exact same thing. Who's going to punish you now?
"Look on the bright side. At least I'm gonna tell you that I'm gonna harvest part of your body for someone else."
The name came out as a harsh whisper from between clenched teeth and he was suddenly able to remember how it had felt to be standing over her with the skin parer in his hand, looking down into the woman's terrified eyes, the same way that it that it had felt with his fingers wrapped around the scalpel in that dingy hotel room. Jarod jumped off the bed and ran into the bathroom, retching violently as he sank down in front of the ceramic bowl.
"Your dark side, Jarod. This is where it came from."
"That's not enough of an excuse," he stated sadly, staring at his distorted reflection in the twisted silver pipes behind the toilet.
Shaking his head, Jarod moved until his back was pressed up against the cold tiles of the wall that separated his room from that next door. The walls were thin and he was able to make out the murmur of voices next door, one male and one female. For a moment, he almost believed that he could recognize them and he straightened slightly as a thought slid into his head.
"They could take you back," Jarod murmured to himself, rubbing one hand along the length of his other arm. "Take you back to the Centre. Wipe it all away. But is it them?"
Even as he listened, though, the two voices fell silent and Jarod pulled himself slowly, in stages, to his feet. Taking a cloth from the basin, he moistened it and wiped his mouth in an attempt to rid himself of the acidic aftertaste of vomit, before going back into the other room where he sank down into the chair at the table.
"I should have known better," he muttered.
The voice in his head was silent.
"I did know better," he told the empty room.
Jarod stared into the mirror, at his white face and the lines on his forehead and new ones around his mouth. His hair stood on end and shadows had already begun to appear under his eyes. His hands, he saw as he looked down, were trembling slightly and Jarod suddenly felt again the way he had in the first days after coming off Aurora, instinctively reaching for the tin of tablets in his pocket and swallowing one. Placing the object onto the table, he returned to his previous position as if he had never left it.
Closing his eyes, he could remember once more how it felt to sit under the stars of the southern sky, watching from the top of Mount Worth as the sun sank to the western horizon. He could feel the leather of the reins between his fingers and hear the crickets as they chirped and flies started to buzz around his face.
Luther will never have a chance to do that.
The voice spoke in his mind again and his head snapped up as his eyes opened, gazing again at his reflection.
You know, another voice seemed to suggest, if you went back to the Centre now, they could wipe the memory of it all from your mind, everything you're so ashamed of, all the things that you did to hurt people over the last five years, all supposedly under the guise of "justice." It might be them in the next room -- Sydney and Miss Parker. They've found you before. They might have been able to do it again. It's a nice, easy way out for you. They take you back to the Centre, someone wipes the whole thing from your mind, and then you never have to think about it ever again. Luther can't haunt your dreams. Your actions won't hurt you anymore because you won't be able to remember them.
Jarod could hear the weakness of the protest. Despite the fact that he had pushed it aside when it had occurred to him earlier, it had been then, and was now, a tempting idea. It meant that he wouldn't ever have to face the past again, a past that was now haunting him with ferocity; so much so that it was wonderful to think it could all vanish.
And there was the other reward too -- Aurora.
But he shook his head, even as the desire began to swell in him.
"It's too easy," he mumbled unevenly.
Why shouldn't it be? You suffered, the voice seemed to suggest. Why not, for once, take the easy way out?
"Dad, Jordan, Emily," Jarod choked out, his eyes seeing not the room but images of needles and vials of amber fluid, shining in artificial light. "I can't leave them "
Why would they want any more to do with you? the voice mocked. Do you really think they'll want to be around a murderer? When they know
"Don't tell them what I became."
There was a sudden sense of understanding now, as Kyle's words sprang, fresh and crisp, to the forefront of his mind. In an instant he was in the van, listening as the police approached down the sides of the embankment, and seeing the blood on his brother's leg. For a moment, he could feel the touch of Kyle's hand on his, and then the bright flash
The word exploded out of him as Jarod leaned forward, closing his eyes and resting his forehead on the tips of his outstretched fingers.
"This was always your fear, Kyle."
The words were whispered from between clenched teeth.
"You were terrified they wouldn't want anything to do with you. Just like they won't want anything to do with me "
Jarod's head sank to rest on the arms that he folded on the table, his eyes fixed on the floor, and tears ran down his cheeks, dropping on his knees and the floor as he began to sob inconsolably.
Go ahead. The voice was speaking again, breaking through the emotion. See if they're there. It can't hurt if you look. The hotel's register is on computer. It would take only a few seconds
Slowly his head lifted as if pulled by an unseen force. His eyes focused on the computer that sat at his right hand and, gradually, he turned towards it, pulling it closer. Logging into the system, as the voice in his head had stated, took only a moment, and he ran his eye down the list of names, stopping first at his own and then at the name allocated to the rooms next door to his, and of that in the room beyond it.
"Refuge," he whispered brokenly. "Please. Be there."
* * * * * * * * *
Elizabeth felt the eyes that burned into her back, carefully maintaining control over Sebastian's sleeping mind as she slowly turned. The dreams were familiar to her, even after only one night. He dreamt the same things, over and over, so it was easy for her to predict what was going to come. Because of this, she had begun to relax some of her control, discovering that she was able to catch the dreams before Sebastian dreamt them while still acting almost normally. Elizabeth was sure that, with only a little more practice, she would eventually not even need to sit in the room with him, but for now, she felt that it was preferable for her to remain at the bedside, where the dreams were strongest.
Sebastian's wife stood silently in the doorway. Her eyes revealed her concern as she viewed the scene, and Elizabeth immediately rose from her chair, walking over to the woman, gesturing at the bed with her hand as she spoke.
"You could join him."
"No." Sumi recoiled instantly. "No, that's not "
"It wasn't possible," Elizabeth agreed softly. "But we can only try, and we have backup."
She waved at Craig who stood in the corner, almost invisible in the darkness.
"I'm not going to kill you, Sumi," she urged gently. "If I didn't think it was safe -- if they didn't -- I wouldn't suggest it."
The woman's eyes were still fearful as they turned to her. "How can you be sure that you won't miss one? What would happen if you fell asleep?"
"Think of me like Argos," Elizabeth suggested. "A hundred eyes -- never all closed at once."
"Even Argos had a weakness," Sumi retorted with a faint smile.
"There's one big difference," the other woman grinned.
"You're not from Greek mythology?"
"That too," Elizabeth agreed, laughing softly. "But Argos had one major weakness, which I'll never fall victim to." She dimpled at the woman as she guided her to the bed. "I'm not male."
Sumi's movements were hesitant, fearful, as she lay down beside her husband, taking a moment to get comfortable on the bed. Her head rested on the sleeping man's chest, her hand lying close to her face, and, through her fear of the situation, the telepath felt the other's woman's hand come to rest gently on her hair before the urge to sleep became too strong.
* * * * * * * * *
The woman wearily passed a hand through her hair, glancing out briefly at the night sky before looking back at the computer. "So what have we found out?"
"The same doctor was overseeing all of the children, according to information that Broots sent," Sydney told her. "All, however, had their operations performed by a different person working in the same medical field at the hospital."
Miss Parker looked up again, a frown on her face. "Doesn't that seem just slightly strange?"
"Parker, this is connected to the Centre. It's supposed to be strange." Sydney pulled at the sheets of paper and they slid over the table towards him. "All deliveries to the Centre have taken place in the past two and a half years "
"That's the date of the first operation." Miss Parker scribbled a date on a piece of paper on which she had begun making notes, pushing it over to the man. "It probably gives us the approximate date at which the projects will have actively begun within the Centre too."
"Take a closer look at that date, Parker." The expression in Sydney's eyes became grave as he gave it back. "Do you notice anything familiar about it?"
"Oh my God." Her eyes widened slightly. "That's the day "
"That Brigitte gave birth to Gabriel."
She sat back in the chair, turning slightly pale. "Could there be a connection?"
"It's possible. I'd suggest that it wasn't only Brigitte who was pregnant at the time, just to ensure a greater chance of success."
Miss Parker pressed a fist up to her mouth, turning to the window and blinking away the tears that had begun to amass in her eyes. When she turned back, her voice was slightly rough. "Who do you think ordered this?"
"I wouldn't want to say for sure." Sydney returned the pages to the table. "But Mr. Parker was trying to regain the Chairmanship at that point."
Nodding slightly, as if he had confirmed a suspicion rather than presented a new idea, she rose from her seat and began pacing the room. "So what do we do?"
"We tread carefully," the psychiatrist responded. "If the Chairman's overseeing this then we have to tread very carefully indeed. And that goes for Broots as well."
"I know." She stopped with her back to the door, and gazed out of the window behind his head. At the sound of a knock at the door, she jumped slightly before exchanging puzzled glances with the man in the chair, finally walking over and pulling it open.
* * * * * * * * *
Broots put his coffee down on the desk, sighing as he glanced at the clock. He couldn't leave the Centre, in case they called, and he didn't even want to think about sleep anyway. He knew what, or rather who, would be waiting for him the moment that he closed his eyes. Debbie was now old enough to be left at home on her own, and he had called to tell her that he wouldn't be coming home that night. Rubbing a hand over his head, he sipped the lukewarm drink and then noticed the folder, which was once more lying on top of the desk, having obviously been taken out of the drawer while he was gone.
Looking sharply at the door to make sure that it was still shut, he opened the beige cover with the Centre's logo on the front, glancing at the first page of information. His eyes were drawn to a list of details that seemed familiar for some reason, and as he sat back in the chair, Broots tried to remember where he had seen them before.
Jumping at the voice before turning in the direction it had come from, Broots saw Angelo sidle out of the corner where he had been sitting, unseen.
"I'm sorry, Angelo, but I don't get it. What does this have to do with Jacob?"
Approaching the desk, the empath pointed at Fenigor's professional qualification details. "Jacob."
"You mean that these are Jacob's details?"
The empath vigorously shook his head even as realization struck the technician.
"These are the same as Jacob's? Jacob and Fenigor studied together?"
Broots' eyebrows shot up. "You're sure?"
Angelo lifted the first pages, showing Broots the duplicate of a letter, which the man quickly read through before turning his attention back to the other man. "So Mr. Fenigor was the person who convinced Mr. Parker to recruit Sydney and Jacob?"
Nodding, the empath wandered back into the corner of the room, picking up a book and flipping aimlessly through it. Broots stared at him briefly before turning back to the folder. Reading through some more of the information, the technician looked up again sharply.
"Angelo, what's Project Genesis?" He waited for a response, which was not forthcoming, before trying to get the other man's attention once more. "Angelo? Angelo!"
The empath was already lost, sitting in the corner and quietly rocking as he stared at the picture of the soaring eagle that he had found in the book. For several minutes, the technician watched him silently before picking up the phone.
As he was dialing the number, however, a small black object lying next to his desk caught his eye and, as the call was connected, the cell phone on the floor began to ring, skittering quickly across the parquet. After dropping the receiver back into the cradle, Broots bent down, picking up Miss Parker's phone and looking at it with frustration evident in his eyes, before turning to log on to the internet directory for Columbus, Ohio and, with a sigh, beginning to make his inquiries.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod raised both hands as the door was opened, his wrists pressed together so that she could clip on the handcuffs, looking only at her feet, unable as much as unwilling to meet her eyes.
"Take me back."
She stared at him blankly for a second as if disbelieving that he was there, but even while Morgan hesitated, Sydney jumped up from his seat.
"Take me back, Sydney. I don't deserve to be out here." Jarod lifted his red-rimmed eyes to those of the older man, his voice dull and face expressionless. "Take me back and make me forget that I was ever anywhere except the Centre."
Reaching past the woman, who remained frozen in the doorway, the psychiatrist placed one hand on the Pretender's arm, gently steering him into the room. "Sit down," he ordered, endeavoring to speak calmly as he directed the man to a chair. "Sit down and tell me what's wrong."
"I killed somebody." A solitary tear began to trickle down Jarod's cheek as he slowly sank into the seat Sydney indicated. The psychiatrist took one opposite, his eyes full of concern as he visually examined the younger man, who continued to speak numbly. "With my own two hands I took a man's life. I murdered another human being." As he said the word, Jarod lifted both hands briefly before letting them drop back into his lap, staring helplessly at the floor of the room.
"Tell me what happened."
"I can't." Jarod's voice was a harsh whisper. "I already hate myself enough for what I did. You'll only hate me too, when you know."
"I can't help you unless you tell me, Jarod." Sydney placed his hand on that of the younger man. "You know your actions won't change my opinion of you. What you did, no matter how terrible it was, isn't who you are. Please. Tell me."
* * * * * * * * *
Fenigor walked down the deserted corridor of the infirmary as the air conditioning made the curtains billow around him. The lateness of the hour had left only a skeleton staff on duty, and they weren't going to venture out of their comfortable staff room unless an emergency made it necessary. For the only patient in these rows of beds wouldn't be able to call them, even if one did occur.
The man halted at the bed, brushing aside the flimsy curtains and stepping into the cubicle. His eyes were drawn to the figure that lay on the bed, blank eyes staring towards the ceiling, and the visitor smirked.
"Hello, Raines. Bet you didn't think I'd be around again, not after what you tried to do to me."
Pulling a chair up beside the bed, Fenigor took a seat, his eyes glowing with anticipation as he continued to speak, at the same time pulling on a pair of latex gloves.
"I don't know whether you can hear me and I don't really care. The satisfaction is that I can say the words and do the deed, not that you'll hear or know." Putting one hand in his pocket, the man extracted a small syringe. "There is, of course, a small benefit in the fact that I have a nice friend who, being very capable with technology, managed to shut off the cameras for me, so nobody's going to help you, not this time."
He held the syringe up to the light, flicking it once or twice and slightly depressing the plunger to force out the last air bubbles.
"You know, Raines, I've thought about this almost every day for the past three and a half years. I've even dreamed about it. As I've sat at my desk at Donoterase, a supposedly hard-working scientist, I've really been thinking about all the ways that could bring me to this situation. Now, of course, it's here. And I'm so looking forward to it. You just lie there and let me take care of it. Oh, but I forgot. You aren't able to do anything else, are you?"
Chuckling softly, the doctor inserted the syringe into the IV tube that provided sustenance to the man in the bed. Gently, slowly, he depressed the plunger and emptied the contents. Leaning over the bed, he lowered his mouth down close to the man's ear.
"Even in your state, you should still feel this pain. Not right now, of course. I wouldn't be found in a dead man's room, even one in your condition. But, in a few hours, it'll begin burning inside you, an agony that will tweak every pain sensor you possess. And you know what happens during periods of prolonged pain, I'm sure, William. The heart starts having to work a little quicker, then faster still, until it's double or even triple the normal, healthy rate."
He chuckled, placing his hands onto Raines' chest and gently drumming, slowly at first, then with increasing speed, enjoying the hollow sound, before he continued to speak in a whisper.
"Of course, in someone like you, with a body weakened by years of ill health, even in spite of the donated lung, it won't be able to hold out for very long. With nobody knowing precisely what's wrong, in a couple of hours, your heart will give out. Then, as we should have been a very long time ago, we'll finally be able to bury you six feet underground. And nobody will be happier at your funeral than me -- and that's saying a lot."
His latex-gloved hands delicately replaced the cover on syringe before returning it to his pocket. For a moment, he stood silently beside the bed, watching the man with a sparkle of malice in his eyes. Raines' body continued to take in and expel air, the chest rising and falling, but the skin of his arm, where the IV fed the liquid into his body, was slowly turning red, and the reddened patch was gradually working its way along his arm. Fenigor smiled to himself, nodded once and then brushed the curtains aside, walking down the corridor towards the elevator.
* * * * * * * * *
Sebastian woke slowly, taking a few seconds to orient himself, before he felt the slight weight on his chest and shoulder. His eyes flew open and he turned his head, breathing in sharply at the sight of Sumi lying against him. Before he could speak, however, a movement drew his eyes to a corner of the room, seeing Elizabeth rest a finger against her lips with a smile.
"Are you insane?" he hissed between clenched teeth.
"I can't help you when you're awake," she stated softly. "Calm down, Sebastian. You don't want to hurt her."
Recognizing the sense of her statement, he took several deep breaths, glaring at the woman until he felt that his rage was sufficiently under control for him to speak.
"What, in the name of all that's good, holy or St. Kilda, were you thinking?!"
Elizabeth cocked an eyebrow at Sebastian. "I was thinking that, when the danger is reduced to almost nothing, there's no reason why Sumi shouldn't be able to spend more time with the man she loves. Nor why you shouldn't be able to spend time with her." Suddenly she twisted her face into a revolted expression. "Although anybody who has so little taste that they actually barrack for St. Kilda "
He tried not to grin at the disgusted look on her face, allowing himself to be steered away from the potentially dangerous subject. "Okay, then, which Aussie Rules football team do you barrack for?"
She shrugged. "The only decent one. Essendon."
He shook his head in disappointment as he slowly pulled himself into a sitting position, with care for the woman who remained asleep.
"I might have to reconsider having you here, with such terrible taste." He ran a hand through his hair, glimpsing his attire, before catching her eye again and then gazing at his wife. "Or maybe not," he murmured softly, reaching out to touch Sumi's hair.
"This is a gift I can give you," Elizabeth told him softy. "Those who usually watch over you every night are still keeping their internal eyes open to prevent any disasters. It's another level of your security."
Sebastian eyed her curiously. "What, exactly, do you know? How much of what we might get up to in here "
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" She raised both hands in protest. "I know exactly where you're going with that, Sebastian, and you're wrong."
Nodding, Elizabeth settled herself on the edge of the bed as she began to explain. "Think of your waking consciousness like a blanket. When you're awake, that blanket covers your subconscious mind. It's still active -- frantically so -- but I can't see into it. While you sleep, the blanket is raised and then I can see into your dreams."
She dimpled at the man. "Whatever you and your wife got up to in the sanctuary of your bedroom, I wouldn't know. Of course," she smiled. "If your subconscious decided to relive it again, after you fell asleep "
He smiled broadly before looking around. His eyes were serious by the time they met hers again. "What about a normal room?"
"Not yet." She gently reached out to touch his arm. "Give it time, Sebastian. Give me time. I'm not used to the work involved with you. When I'm more practiced, then we'll move on to other things." The woman smiled again. "Pajamas, a normal mattress, silk sheets "
Exhaling slowly, he heard the breath hissing between his teeth. "Don't tempt me," he muttered as he looked down in time to see his wife's eyes open, looking up at him with a loving smile.
The rising sun began illuminating the room, which, until now, had only been lit by a lamp standing on the table where the two Centre operatives had been working. The woman sat in a chair on the far side of the room, only just able to hear the words passing between the men. For a while, she had tried to read through the information they had found, but slowly her attention became focused on the psychoanalysis Sydney was performing.
Her eyes traveled over Jarod's figure. He was still slumped in the chair, his shoulders bowed and his eyes fixed, for the most part, on the floor. Occasionally, he glanced up at Sydney, but he had never acknowledged her presence beyond that first comment, and she was torn between wishing he would and hoping he didn't.
Sydney, meanwhile, was finally allowing himself to concede that the hours of analysis were slowly beginning to produce a result. Jarod's answers to his questions were becoming more reasonable, and the psychiatrist knew that he was starting to accept the reality of what had occurred and not the twisted world that the hours of solitude in the room next door had caused.
"You'll never know for sure if it was your actions which caused him to develop the peritonitis."
"I should never have done it at all."
"No, that's true. It was a mistake." Sydney spoke calmly.
"Except that this 'mistake' cost a man his life, for what? What good came out of it? What benefit?" Jarod's tones were bitter and he turned away, his fingers clenched around the edge of his chair.
"You were trying to save a child's life, Jarod, a child you became very close to during the time that you spent together, and whether you like to admit it or not, it's very easy for emotion to cloud your judgment, as it is for almost everyone."
"Other people's actions don't result in people dying."
"Neither did yours."
Jarod stared at the psychiatrist in utter disbelief. "Have you been listening to a word I've said?"
Sydney smiled understandingly. "Of course I have. And I mean it. You didn't put your hands around his throat and squeeze every bit of life out of him, did you? You didn't put a gun to his temple and pull the trigger. You didn't do one thing that directly caused this man's death. Your actions, I agree, might have contributed to it, but you'll never know that for sure. If you were to be charged with his murder, would the case stand up in court?"
"Just because nobody else could prove it doesn't mean that I won't believe it."
"If you hadn't done it, would Ryan still be alive?"
Jarod lowered his head, closing his eyes briefly to prevent the tears from starting to pour from his eyes again as his hands moved back to lie in his lap.
"I don't know," he mumbled.
"Yes, you do, Jarod." Sydney leaned forward. "You know, and I know, from what you've told me, that if you hadn't done anything, that child would have died. That was not a situation where you could have won. Yes, you could have worked part of it differently, and perhaps things would have been different, but the basic facts would have remained the same."
Sydney paused, but the other man remained silent, his eyes fixed on the small flecks of blood on his palms from where his nails had sunk into the skin.
"This was a no-win situation. Whether Ecksley gave his kidney willingly or not, Ryan's body would still have rejected it and the situation would have been as critical, or more so, than it was before you acted. Your actions bought Ryan the time he needed until the other organ became available."
"A man died "
"And if he hadn't, then a boy would have." Sydney reached out a hand and covered Jarod's with it. "That's what I meant about no-win. You'll never be able to weigh up all of your options from the situation and say 'this person was more important' because life doesn't work like that. Instead, you have to step back from it, tell yourself that you did what you could and that the situation got out of your control. It'd be nice if you could go back and change what you did, but it isn't possible. You can only accept what you did at the time and use it as an incentive to ensure that you do the right thing next time."
His eyes still fixed on the floor, Jarod was forced to nod, albeit unwillingly. Sydney eyed the man for a moment before reaching over to the table and pulling a plate towards him. Miss Parker had left the room briefly to bring food up for dinner, although Jarod had refused to eat at the time, but the psychiatrist now forcibly placed a banana in the younger man's hand, watching him begin to automatically peel and eat it.
Suddenly, the phone on the table rang, making all three occupants of the room jump. Morgan leaned forward and activated the speaker.
"Uh, Miss Parker, I "
"Broots, what on earth are you calling on this for?" She glared down at the phone as if he could see her, and his tones contained a hint of resentment at her sharp tones.
"Well, you forgot your cell phone in my office when you and Sydney left."
"Did you find out any more about the hospital?"
"N not exactly. Something else came up."
Her tones dripped with sarcasm. "Of less or a lot less importance than the things I asked you to find?"
"Actually, you'll probably think it is kind of important. I mean, I know we knew for sure he wasn't really dead, even though they tried to tell us he was, but we never heard about him again, so he may as well have been dead, and he has got a kind of connection to what you asked me to look for, so maybe I did find a bit of stuff after all, but I guess it wasn't really me because the file just appeared on my desk and I think Angelo put it there - "
Miss Parker slammed her fist down on the table, making the phone jump and the man on the other end instantly silent. "Broots, who is 'he?'"
"Mr. Fenigor," a voice stated from behind the woman, and she spun around to stare at Jarod.
"How did you know what he was talk ?"
"Is Jarod there, too?" The tech's voice was suddenly full of curiosity. "Does he know anything about a project called Genesis?"
"Genesis?" Jarod stood up from the chair and walked over to the table, the pain that had been in his eyes fading as his focus was directed away from the thoughts that had been circling in his mind. "Why are you asking?"
"Apparently it was something that Fenigor was involved with. What is it?"
"It's a new name for the Yellow Files," Sydney responded from his seat. "To disguise the activities of the project once Miss Parker learned they were called Seraphim, Mr. Parker arranged to have the name changed."
Sydney ignored the look of astonished resentment that Miss Parker shot at him and continued.
"You already know that Proteus are the Red Files and, if it helps, Blue Files are called
"Olympus." Broots finished for him.
Miss Parker stared at the phone. "How did you know?"
"All three names are mentioned here. Fenigor's been involved with all of them."
Jarod seated himself in front of the laptop that was open on the table and started to access the mainframe, allowing Miss Parker to lean over his shoulder and type in the correct password.
"Is there anything else?"
"A project called Exodus. The only information about it here is that Fenigor was involved with the beginnings of it about two and a half years ago."
"That's it." Miss Parker met Sydney's eye. "That's the project all those women are part of. Broots, find out everything you can about it and send it to me. We'll do all we can from this end."
"Sure thing, Miss Parker."
The woman disconnected the call as the dial tone sounded, turning to Sydney.
"How was Fenigor involved with all three groups of Files?"
Sydney shrugged slightly. "I don't know," he admitted. "I don't know anything about the work that he did at the Centre."
She turned to Jarod. "You sent us that tape. How much do you know?"
"Not much," the Pretender admitted. "I sent the tape because I knew he had something to do with your mother. After we talked to him at the bank, I did a little more research, but all I could find was that Fenigor acted as go-between for NuGenesis from almost the first day. When I was working at NuGenesis, I found out that he was sent there on the 14th of April, 1970."
He waited for Morgan to react to the date, but only the woman's eyes betrayed her surprise. She arched an eyebrow when he remained silent. "Well? Then what?"
"Then, in 1984, he was transferred to Donoterase."
"Where, presumably, he became involved with Project Olympus," Sydney mused.
"When did they start?" Morgan asked curiously.
"The first of January, 1970," the psychiatrist told her.
"That was the day Fenigor began receiving money from Mr. Parker," Jarod reminded the woman. "Presumably that was at least part of the reason for them."
"Hefty pay raise," she remarked dryly, looking back at Sydney. "Before the official beginning, how did people like Kyle or Faith fit?"
"They were allotted to Prodigy, or at least Kyle and Dannie were."
"Just what is Prodigy?" Miss Parker interrupted.
"It's a selected group made up of Red and Blue Files. Only those who had the necessary genetic predisposition to be pretenders were allotted to Prodigy. The others were put only into either Red or Blue files, depending on their ages."
Morgan looked at the Pretender sharply. "How do you know so much about it, all of a sudden?"
Jarod shrugged. "I did a little research after getting blown up in SL-27 and before being dragged back to the Centre about a year later."
Nodding, the woman turned back to Sydney. "And Faith?"
"I'd imagine Faith was probably assigned to the Blue Files -- Olympus -- after she was brought to the Centre," he told her.
"And Genesis?" she queried, turning back to Jarod when Sydney remained silent.
He eyed her without speaking, painfully swallowing a lump in his throat, before standing up and walking over to sit down on the sofa. She took his place in front of the computer, scanning the information he had been looking through, a series of messages between two parties identified by numerical codes.
"What's Fenigor's code?"
"CIV2." Jarod said in a monotone. "He oversaw the sorting of the genetic program from which all of the Yellow Files were created, so that Cox and the Chairman could make their selections." He swallowed hard. "Including our s Gabriel," he corrected himself quickly, casting a surreptitious glance at Sydney.
"I don't know." Jarod shrugged. "But I'd guess it's Mr. Parker. Why?"
"According to this, there's been a lot of messages passing between the two of them in the last few months," she glanced at him, "more specifically, since Raines was taken down to Renewal Wing."
"You know," Jarod commented dryly, "there seems to be something ironic about a man in his condition being down there. They ought to open a Non-Renewal Wing for him."
Sydney smiled faintly, relieved to see that Jarod's depression seemed to have abated slightly. "I'll suggest it at the first opportunity."
"Can you guess why they'd be sending so many messages back and forth?" Morgan put in.
"Mr. Parker and Alex were always quite friendly," Sydney remarked. "Fenigor was one of the first people he ever hired at the Centre, as far as I know. Now that Mr. Parker's back in control, he can bring in whoever he wants and clearly feels that Fenigor will be useful, probably for this 'Exodus' project, whatever it is." His brow furrowed. "What information is available about it?"
Morgan turned back to the screen, scrolling down it so that he could get a glimpse of the material. "It's a project the Centre's been working on since the late 1970s." Her brow furrowed. "I don't get it. This says the project was abandoned in the mid-80s."
"There's nothing to say it hasn't been restarted," Sydney reminded her. "It doesn't have to be quite the same. They could use the same material "
"It looks like they have," she interrupted, pointing at various items on the screen. "Some of the old Exodus files have been opened again quite recently." Pointing at a date, she caught Sydney's eye. "And it's been going on ever since Gabriel was born. That's Exodus, then. All those organs."
Jarod's expression was already wary at the mention of his son, but this made his eyes open wide in astonishment. "What organs?"
Sydney half-turned to provide an explanation. "Parker and I are here because a hospital has been involved sending bodily organs and tissue to the Centre."
Jarod raised an eyebrow. "It wouldn't be All Saints, would it?"
The psychiatrist looked at him in astonishment. "How did you ?"
"I found some articles about children dying and came to investigate."
"These?" Miss Parker opened the files Broots had sent earlier and moved aside so he could see the headlines. Rising to his feet, he glanced at the headlines and nodded.
"Among others, yes."
"So what did you find out?" Morgan demanded.
Jarod began to pace the room. "It's a weird scenario. From what I could find out, Miniter has contacts among those who bring illegal immigrants to the US and selects those who could be useful to him. Then the hospital offers them jobs. A few days or weeks after they start he warns them that if they don't co-operate, he'll hand them over to the police. Then he gets them to perform the operations and remove the various tissues and organs from the children. He's present during the surgery but his name never shows up on records, so when the cases get to court, Miniter can say that he had no idea what was going on and will get away with it."
"So what does All Saints get out of it?" The woman's brow furrowed. "It seems like they run all the risks - they hire illegal staff, they perform the illegal operations and they run the risk of being shut down now that they've been caught. What could the Centre possibly be offering them?"
"Miniter is being paid by the Chairman to continue doing it," a voice from the doorway interrupted and the room's three occupants turned in surprise. "You people really should lock the door."
"What difference would it make, Rebecca?" Jarod retorted quickly with a smile. "You can open it anyway."
"Okay, good point." The woman entered the room and closed the door, going over to hug Sydney before sitting down on the sofa beside Jarod. "Anything I can help with?"
"If you didn't think there was," the younger man asked, "Why are you here?"
"A different reason." She eyed him thoughtfully. "But I thought I'd see what else I could do."
"What hold does Mr. Parker have over Miniter?" Sydney asked. "I don't remember anyone of that name working at the Centre."
"He didn't directly," Rebecca admitted. "But check the Centre records and you might be interested in what's there."
Morgan turned immediately to the computer, taking only minutes to locate the information. A gasp caused Sydney to step over to the table, his eyes widening as he read the details.
"What is it?" Jarod demanded impatiently.
"Minter was the doctor who performed the examination on Momma for the police, the night she was assaulted," Morgan replied in a tight voice.
"Mr. Parker found out," the Pretender guessed, "and threatened him so that he never named a suspect."
"He then used him for several major projects at places connected with the Centre and gave him a very good salary," Sydney put in, reading more of the information, "and has been paying him ever since to keep quiet about both what he saw at the Centre and presumably also the attack."
"So nice for them both to get pocket money," Jarod commented wryly. "It must have been tough, paying both him and Fenigor out of his private pocket. I wonder if Mr. Parker put in for a raise."
Morgan turned as Jarod said the name, her eyes coming to rest thoughtfully on the other woman. "As you know obviously know so much about it, Rebecca," she began, "what else can you tell us about Fenigor? Why did he resurface now?"
"Because he can," the psychic responded. "I did some investigation into his background a couple of years ago, just after he was shot, and discovered that he and Raines were always jostling for the same position. Raines wanted Fenigor's position very badly and finally decided that there was only one way to get rid of him."
"So Raines had Fenigor shot," Sydney finished, eyeing Jarod warily but deciding not to mention the other agenda that the sniper outside the Dover Town Bank apparently had. "And that got him nicely out of the way so that Raines could get on with his other projects."
"And the Chairman had no complaints because it meant that he didn't have to keep paying him," Morgan added thoughtfully, her tones somewhat bitter as she exchanged glances with Jarod. "A nice bit of extra pocket money for him every month."
* * * * * * * * *
She was pert and beautiful, delicate and soft and happy-looking, her round belly pushing her back from the edge of the table.
Broots' head hit the desk with a resounding crack, and he sat bolt upright, breathing hard. Raising a hand, he wiped the sweat of his face, closing his eyes briefly and feeling pain in his chest at the memory of the dream. The thing he remembered most about her was her smile, an expression of innocent happiness that beamed back at him from his memory. He wanted it to go away, but at the same time hoped it wouldn't, wanting to remember their meeting, afraid that, if he forgot it, he might remember that other moment, when he knew what had happened to her, when he'd looked down to find the bracelet lying on the floor of the incinerator room
Something clenched in his stomach, making him glad that he hadn't eaten since the day before, a superstitious concern making him worry that, now he was investigating a similar project, the same thing might happen. He would go down the cafeteria, sit down with his tray, and face
With a hollow groan, Broots sank his head into his hands, unable to block the sight of those bright blue eyes out of his mind, no matter how hard he tried.
* * * * * * * * *
Rebecca pulled a sheet of paper out of her pocket, handing it over. "I did a little investigation and managed to find a list of projects that are somehow related to the Seraphim."
"And Exodus is top of the list," Morgan remarked as she read through the names.
"What was the original Exodus, in the early 70s?" Jarod queried. "And how is it related to the new one?"
"It was something to do with organs again," Miss Parker mused. "But I don't know what."
"It was the Centre's way of taking advantage of the growing market for organs that was increasing at the time, with the production of better antibiotics and other drugs so that transplantation would be more successful," Sydney told her. "I remember that much about it, but that's all."
"Where did they get the organs from?" the younger man asked somewhat suspiciously as an idea struck him.
Rebecca nodded sadly, picking up on an image of Jordan in Jarod's mind. "Yes," she agreed. "It was Gemini."
As Jarod turned away, feeling suddenly sick, Miss Parker looked over. "So were all the things that Broots and I found at Donoterase the results of that? Or were they the more irregular results, kept for their unusual appearance?"
"Probably the latter," the psychiatrist responded. "I'd imagine that the others were stripped of any useful organs and cremated, just like the women in the Fountain projects were and those in the Exodus project probably will be."
Nobody could think of an appropriate remark to reply to this and, for several minutes, there was no movement from anyone in the room.
* * * * * * * * *
He was becoming absent-minded. It was the effects of Fountain, he was sure of it. Files that had been sitting on his desk in the morning were turning up in his filing cabinet in the afternoon, with pages missing, which would appear the following morning on his desk. Nobody would be going in to his office during the day, Parker was certain, so that meant he must have been doing it himself. It was more than annoying, it was beginning to endanger his position. He was sure that eventually he would misplace a file required for a Triumvirate meeting. Others would see the state he was in and force him out of his position. God only knew who they would select to replace him.
He had had one hope, but now that was gone. Although he knew Lyle was still keeping his team searching for the Israeli healer, Parker suspected that, if he were found, Lyle would force Namir to cure his own problems, leaving his father to fade into oblivion. That was a risk he had taken by providing Lyle with the promised Tower position, and, although there had been no other option at the time, Parker now regretted it. He had already begun planning for a successor and knew Cox would be both ready and eager to take over when the time came, but right now his knowledge was too limited for that to happen. The only way to block Lyle's path to the top was with a better prepared candidate, and Parker had already begun to carry out the steps that would need to be taken so Cox could be ready to take his place when the time was right. Having brought Fenigor back to the Centre would help to ensure that. Provided that the two men could work well together, it would be a combination powerful enough, with any luck, to knock Lyle out of the running.
The Chairman's hands tightened into fists that trembled. His hair was beginning to fall out, leaving the shoulders of his jacket decorated with numerous silver strands, and the skin on his face and hands showed new, deep wrinkles. In other words, the aging process was catching up to what it had been before he had allowed himself to be a guinea pig for Fountain. The concern Parker had was that it would begin to accelerate beyond that point, increasing in speed, until his body would be a decade or two older than his mind. And there was now nothing he could do. He had to let it happen.
* * * * * * * * *
Rebecca watched Jarod and Miss Parker pore over the articles and other information that Broots had sent from the Centre and they had located on the mainframe. Sydney sat down quietly at her side and she smiled, turning to face him.
"Why did you really come, Rebecca? You could have sent that information."
With a knowing smile, Rebecca looked up to see the softened expression in his eyes. "I thought I was the psychic one, Sydney."
"You are," he told her. "But I'd heard so much about you from Jacob, even aside from the time we spent together, that I always felt as if I knew you."
"Did he tell you that I introduced him to Alexis?"
"You know that I never knew about Alexis -- except for the work she did as one of his projects -- until about five months ago."
Nodding slowly, she watched the other people in the room before suddenly giving a soft laugh, at the sound of which Sydney raised an eyebrow.
"What is it?"
"This whole situation -- the two of them." She kept her voice low so that neither would be able to hear it. "Every time I know that they're working together, I can never stop myself from thinking of the first few months after Jarod escaped in 1996."
"They were close as children."
"And I was envious of that," she confided suddenly. "I never had any real friends after I was taken out of the Centre and I was always jealous of their friendship." She sighed sadly. "I always knew this would happen and I think that's what I was jealous of. The few people I've ever drawn close to in my life usually get scared off because of the amount I know and the things I can do."
Rebecca watched as Miss Parker reached for the glass she had been drinking from, her eyes still fixed on the screen, and mentally moved the object several inches away, resulting in Morgan's hand merely brushing vacant air. Sydney laughed as he saw Miss Parker glance sharply over her shoulder and receive a look of innocence from the telekinetic on the sofa beside him, before he continued with their conversation.
"You've never been ?"
"Romantically involved?" Rebecca laughed. "Sydney, I'm a single mother, remember? It's usually a turn-off."
He smiled in acknowledgement. "Was that a thing you told every man who'd show interest in you, just to see what he'd do?"
"Not exactly. The sorts of places I live are usually enough to turn men off, and that's even more so now that the Centre's searching for me too."
"She's still living with the Hatchers. She comes to see me sometimes, or I'll go and visit there, but they're always uncomfortable with me being around." She crossed her legs, chewing her bottom lip nervously. "Unfortunately, all too soon that feeling will extend to her as well, and then I'm going to have to have her with me all the time."
"I'm scared, Sydney." She looked at him and he could see in her eyes the same vulnerability that he had also seen during the years she had been at the Centre and in their other meeting, years later. "I'm scared that I won't be able to do what's best for her. She lived in a settled environment at the Hatchers', before Lyle abducted her, and if I can't provide a similar situation too then there's nowhere else for her to go."
Jarod turned around suddenly. "Is Andromeda your only child?"
She responded to his question with one of her own. "With what you know of my limitations, Jarod, don't you wonder why I know so much about the Seraphim and some of the people who work with them?"
Jarod flipped through his memory of the children's faces, suddenly recalling a little girl with bright blue eyes and a shock of blond hair, whose telekinetic abilities had been so proudly displayed to him by Cox. He turned sad eyes on the psychic.
"Tempest," he replied somewhat glumly.
"Yes," she agreed softly. "Your niece."
The man froze in his chair as the full meaning of the words sank in, ignoring the startled looks on the faces of both Sydney and Miss Parker. Finally, a word managed to work its way out.
"E Ethan?" he offered almost hopefully.
She shook her head sadly. "No, Jarod. Tempest is Kyle's daughter. Kyle's and mine."
"But Mr. Parker didn't even know you were still alive," Sydney protested, while Jarod remained speechless.
"Actually, they were hoping to make a Pretender," Rebecca admitted. "That's what Tempest was supposed to be, according to the notes I found at Donoterase. They used my ova by chance. Cox found them in Raines' lab and tested them for viability, but there was nothing to match them to. Raines' notes gave them clues to possible abilities of the donor, but no name. It wasn't until they -- specifically Mr. Parker -- realized I was alive that they did the tests. It was, as I'm sure you can imagine, a pleasant surprise." The last words were spoken through clenched teeth, as Rebecca rose from her seat on the sofa and walked to the window. An uncomfortable moment of silence followed, which Miss Parker finally broke.
"Are the Yellow Files the Centre's peak project?"
Rebecca turned, nodding at Miss Parker's question and pointing to the list lying on the table next to her. "All of the other projects the Centre is running at the moment are designed to ensure that nothing bad ever happens to those children."
"So Exodus ?"
"Exodus, as every religious person knows," she smiled faintly, "comes after Genesis. And it does in this case, as well. Exodus is a continuation, intended as a support program. The research from Exodus is intended to correct any problems the children may develop later in life." She shrugged. "As I said, they don't want any thing to happen to these children. From the information I've found, they're staking everything on them. It's a gamble, and they hope it'll pay off, big time."
"And what exactly is this new Exodus supposed to do for the children?" Morgan queried.
"That differs, depending on the child," the psychic retorted. "For someone like Gideon, with all of the possible problems that could arise from his unfortunate parentage, they want to be sure they can correct any mistakes that might come up. They've been monitoring him incredibly closely for his whole life to prevent any genetic defects or biological crises."
"And the others?" Jarod asked somewhat unevenly, trying to ignore the blanched look on Morgan's face.
Rebecca resettled herself. "Mostly, they just want to ensure that, if anything goes medically wrong with those children -- cancer, Parkinson's, any of the diseases that are likely to affect at least one of them during their lifetimes -- they'll be able to do something about it. They can't afford for those children to die. The Centre's whole future is wrapped up in them. It's probably that which keeps Mr. Parker in his position as Chairman. If they can cure the children of anything which may affect their ability to work -- and also make a little pocket money by selling off their results to the highest bidder -- then the Triumvirate's power, and that of the Centre, would be unchallengeable."
Falling silent, Rebecca stood up, trying to suppress a shudder at the thought as she walked over to the window, staring out of it in a silence that was oppressive.
Returning to the sofa, she perched on the arm of it, her eyes traveling slowly from one to another of the faces in front of her. "You know what the children are like now, with the training they have. Just imagine what they'll be capable of in five years - in twenty! Most of them will have the maturity level of children more than twice their age, particularly those like Angelique or Gideon, who need emotional stability in their lives."
"And with their abilities," Jarod offered, his mind racing. "When they learn to control them and can use them in any way they're ordered to."
Only Rebecca saw the pain in Sydney's eyes as he watched his former protégé, but the emotion on the faces of all four people in the room revealed that they were all aware of the horror that the Centre could inflict when it had total control of the eight brilliant and highly skilled minds that were being trained on SL-17.
* * * * * * * * *
Trevor was meditating when the images began to appear on the edge of his mind's eye. Knowing that concentrating would be the fastest way to make them disappear, he forced himself to relax, resisting the urge to panic as he recognized one of the faces. Slowly, the steps began to be laid out in logical order, all pointing to one definite conclusion, and the corners of the psychic's mouth lifted as an image was presented to him, his ears filled with the sounds of childish laughter that accompanied it.
His eyes opened, taking a second to recognize his surroundings, before Trevor slowly got to his feet. The plan would need organization and it would take a lot of work, but it was doable. His eyes eager, the man rapidly left the room, hurrying to the stairs and running up them to the room where his boss was working.
* * * * * * * * *
"So what can we do?"
"Nothing," Rebecca responded quietly. "Not if you want to save your son."
Miss Parker looked up at her sharply. "What do you mean?"
Leaning over Jarod's shoulder, Rebecca pointed to a file that they hadn't yet opened and, when the information was in front of them, tapped her finger on the screen, indicating one of the lists. "This is All Saints legal team. Any or all of those names familiar?"
"But we could shut them down " Jarod protested and she looked down at him.
"If the Centre wasn't playing such a large role with their hold over Miniter, I'd agree with you. But I've got no doubt by this time that the Centre is well aware of you being there. Walk through those doors -- any of you -- and you can kiss goodbye any chance of walking out unescorted. And you know as well as I do that it would be an escort right into Renewal Wing. Like I said, if you want to help your son and the other children, this is one of the places you'll have to leave alone, at least for now. Maybe later, when things settle down, you can think about it, but get your priorities right."
"And they are?"
"Family," stated a voice from the doorway. "That's what you're going to say, isn't it, Momma?"
Rebecca went over and put her arms around Andromeda, whose pale face and red-rimmed eyes revealed her emotions, feeling the girl bury her face in her mother's shoulder. Gently, the psychic led her daughter over and sat her down on the sofa, feeling hot tears soak her shirt.
"It's all right, Andromeda, I know what happened."
"I I always thought "
Rebecca knelt down in front of the sobbing girl. "They do still love you, baby, but they're afraid of you now, afraid of what you know. My family was the same." She started to stroke the girl's hair. "They'll still want to see you, honey, particularly Michael."
"Can I live with you?"
The psychic recognized the question for what it was - a desperate desire for just a hint of comfort -- and sat down next to the girl, holding her close and pressing her lips to the girl's blond hair. "I'd love you to, Andromeda. I'd love to have my baby with me. It's hard for you, I know, but we'll be okay, you'll see."
A thought suddenly struck Sydney, and he turned to Miss Parker. "You should call Broots and tell him to stop looking into Exodus before anyone finds out, or we could have the same problems we had after Fountain."
Nodding, she picked up the phone. As she dialed the number, Jarod looked back at the laptop, an expression of concern in his eyes.
"I know that you don't like leaving this unfinished, Jarod," Rebecca told him quietly. "But you can't afford to meddle in things that could get you killed. Not at this stage of the game. There's just too much at stake."
Slowly, he nodded, closing down the files on the computer and, after sending the files on Fenigor to his own email address, shutting down the machine.
"So what now?" Sydney sat down opposite the woman. "What happens from this point on?"
She smiled. "What do you want, Sydney, a detailed plan of the next thirty years?"
"It might be nice," he admitted with a small laugh. "Actually, just knowing that we'll be alive at the end of this year might be nice, too."
"As I've said before, Sydney, there are a lot of maybes. And I don't have all the answers."
"That's so comforting," the psychiatrist responded dryly.
"You're in no more danger now than you have been for the last forty years working at the Centre. Why should this year be any different? You learnt a long time ago how to stay alive. Just keep practicing the same skills and there isn't any reason for things to change that dramatically." She smiled. "As for what happens from this point on, that depends on what Centre secret you dig up next, and that's a definite 'maybe.'"
"There's so many to choose from." Rebecca rolled her eyes, trying not to laugh at the expression on Jarod's face. "Please, don't ask me to start listing them or we could be here forever."
"We don't have time to be," Miss Parker interrupted as she hung up the phone and picked up the laptop. "Broots said that Fenigor's asked where I am about four times now and unless we head back soon, he might tell somebody else."
Rebecca reached into the bag she had brought with her and extracted a red notebook, which she handed over, grinning as Jarod's jaw dropped.
"Where did you ?"
"Angelo gave it to me when we met. It's got a couple of articles about the sorts of things you may have been investigating and I'm sure that'll be quite satisfactory to the boys in black. Otherwise," she grinned meaningfully at Morgan, "Jarod's lair was clean. Oops. Guess he got away again."
Laughing, the woman got to her feet. "I guess he did." She looked over at Sydney. "Are you ready to go?"
"As long as everything's in hand here." He glanced at Jarod in concern before turning to Rebecca as the psychic nodded.
"Everything's fine. We won't be here much longer than you, so in a few hours, as soon as you get back to Blue Cove, you can send a sweeper teams here if you're feeling so keen. Otherwise, we'll see you around."
Once they reached the car, Miss Parker opened the trunk and then threw the keys to Sydney.
He caught the keys instinctively before eyeing her somewhat warily as she packed the bags into the trunk. "To the airport?"
"To the Centre,' she told him, getting into the passenger seat. "I sent the jet back already."
The psychiatrist was unable to help raising an eyebrow. "Could I ask why?"
"I have to talk to you," she stated firmly. "And this is probably the best chance I'll get."
Sydney barely repressed a sigh. This was the last thing he wanted to do right then, but he knew there was no point in arguing, so he slid the key into the ignition and started the engine.
Ten minutes later, they were driving through the outskirts of the city, but Morgan still sat silent in the passenger seat. Just as Sydney was about to say something, however, she spoke.
"Do you think he'll be okay?"
"Who, Jarod?" He shot a surreptitious glance at her. "I hope so. Why?"
She resettled herself in her seat and sighed deeply, her eyes fixed on a point at the far distant horizon. He could tell that she was thinking and wouldn't want to be disturbed by questions, so he remained silent. However a quick glance revealed to him the same expression of concern that he had seen on her face while she had been watching the psychotherapy session hours earlier, and Sydney couldn't help wondering why she seemed to be so concerned about Jarod.
"Do you care about him?" she demanded suddenly.
The man almost jumped at the ferocity of her tones, but he considered the question seriously for a moment before responding honestly.
"Yes, I do."
"Do you love him?"
There was a moment of silence, with the word Sydney was trying to say stuck in his throat as he fervently wished that he could admit it to the man himself, but knowing that his own reserve made that impossible.
"Yes," he finally confessed in a voice that was only just audible.
She turned to look at him, forcing down a sudden wave of emotion that caused unexpected tears to form in her eyes.
"Do you love me, Sydney?"
He shot another look at her, feeling something melt inside at the loneliness in her voice. She was looking down now, studiously examining her hands, which were fiddling with a loose thread on her jacket. He reflected briefly that it was the first time in her adult life he had seen her looking so uncertain. Something made him remember the scene in his office, when he had been trying to comfort her after Catherine's funeral, and he reached out, covering her hands with one of his own as he turned his eyes back to the road.
"I always have."
Morgan looked up sharply, watching as his lips began to frame a name that he hadn't called her for years, but stopping himself just in time.
"Then why don't you trust me?"
Sydney raised an eyebrow, glancing at her. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, come on," she protested. "All the things you never told me -- the name of the Yellow Files being changed, your brother, even the truth about my mother's death. Didn't you think I'd want to know?"
"What good would it have done if I had told you?" he asked patiently. "I doubt that you would have believed me as a child -- particularly considering what you saw and heard in that hallway. By the time you might have been old enough to believe me, Catherine was long dead. I knew that. She told me that she would contact me. When she didn't, I knew she couldn't. That she wasn't coming back."
"Did you know about Ethan?"
"No. Catherine never told me why she was going to fake her death," he replied. "I knew nothing of your brother until you found out about it." He exhaled slowly before a thought struck him. "While we're on the subject, what about the things you haven't trusted me enough to tell me about?"
He gave her a small smile. "Your 'brother,' for one. I might be getting older, but I'm neither deaf nor blind. What relation is Gabriel to you?"
The word choked in her throat, emotion as much as caution preventing her from saying it. But her silence seemed to confirm something to the psychiatrist, who nodded.
"Does Mr. Parker know that you know he's your son?"
"If he did," she returned abruptly, "do you think I'd be head of SIS?"
He smiled understandingly before altering the subject somewhat. "Was that another reason your attitude toward Jarod changed?"
She arched an eyebrow, folding her arms. "What made you think it has, beyond Eclipse?"
Sydney glanced at his watch, unable to help laughing. "Because we just spent more than twelve hours in the same room with him, and you didn't call the sweepers."
Morgan conceded with a half-smile, remembering the look of pain in Jarod's eyes when he had first told her about their son. "Yes," she admitted quietly. "That's part of it."
Several long minutes of silence followed this, both people immersed in their own thoughts, but the silence was comfortable when, at last, Sydney spoke.
"If you want something from me," he stated, "then you can always ask, rather than sending Broots to rifle through my office."
"You didn't tell me about Rebecca when I asked you," she reminded him.
"Yes, that's true," he agreed. "But, as I told you some time ago, I also can't betray the trust that a person puts in me as a psychiatrist. That's why I never told you some things about your mother."
"What about Kim?" she suddenly demanded, surprising herself as much as him with the question.
He cast a suddenly wary look in her direction. "What about her?"
Morgan leaned back in the seat and crossed her arms over her chest as she raised an eyebrow. "I know there's some connection between the two of you, and I'm sure she didn't ask you to keep quiet about it. Who is she, Sydney?"
Exhaling slowly, the man kept his eyes on the road as he replied. "Kim is the daughter of Jacob and Alexis. She's my niece."
The woman's eyes were wide. "And you're letting her work at the Centre? Sydney, that's as close to suicide for Kim as it gets!"
"You think I don't know that?" he snapped angrily. "I never asked her to come. It was her decision to apply for a job there!" He stopped abruptly before continuing. "I'm sorry. I'm not angry with you, and I have no right to take out my concern about Kim on you like that."
Morgan dismissed the apology with a wave of her hand. "But why didn't you tell me?" she asked. "If I'd known, I'd have "
"You'd have done what?" he interrupted. "There's nothing you could have done. Nor anything that I could. Once she was in, that was it. That's why I asked for her to be working with me. I wanted to try to keep her safe."
"And for myself," he admitted softly. "You don't know how much I value the fact that Kim's there at times."
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked gently.
He sighed heavily. "After everything that happened with Jarod being brought back to the Centre, I just couldn't be sure of you anymore. I thought I knew you until then, but when I couldn't come up with any reason for what you did, I had to question my belief in you. And when you don't trust someone, the last thing you do is entrust them with a secret that could result in the death of at least one person."
She nodded understandingly before a half-smile appeared on her face. "I guess there wouldn't be a lot of point in asking you what else you haven't told me?"
Sydney smiled, grateful to have had the subject changed. "In future, Parker, ask me. If I can tell you something, I will. If I can't, then I'll tell you why I can't tell you about it, okay?"
His use of the name grated, as it did when anyone said it to her now. Almost without thinking, she turned once more to face him.
"Please, Sydney, don't call me that."
His eyebrows rose immediately, his eyes revealing his astonishment as he shot a quick glance at her before looking back at the road. She waited for the obvious question: why? It never came.
"What do you want me to call you then?"
"The name you almost used before," she responded with a half-smile. "At least when we're not in any danger of being overheard."
"Are you sure, Morgan?"
Nodding, she turned to look out of the window, wondering how best to phrase her next statement.
"I want to trust you," she explained after a moment. "There aren't many people that I trust in that place, and I want you to be one of them."
"If you didn't trust me," he queried, "would we be having this conversation?"
"Not like that," she clarified impatiently. "I already know that, if I tell you something, you won't run around bleating it to everybody at the Centre who happens to have their ears open. But I need people that I can discuss things with -- like Exodus, or the Seraphim, or any of the big projects that other people don't want me to know about."
"You've always done that."
"No," she contradicted flatly. "Not always. Sometimes. If I thought you might know."
His eyes twinkled. "I probably know more than you think I do."
"That's why I want to be able to ask you, if questions arise," Morgan stated. "And I want to be able to trust that I'll know everything you do."
"Unless it's confidential, due to the constraints of my profession," he added. "Otherwise, from now on, I promise that you will."
* * * * * * * * *
Rebecca looked down at the girl, giving her hair one last gentle touch before withdrawing her arm from around her shoulders. Shooting a glance at the man who was still reading the information he had uncovered, she lowered her voice to a faint murmur.
"Baby, will you go pack Jarod's things and take them down to his car?"
Understanding, Andromeda nodded, giving her mother another hug before letting go and leaving the room. When she was gone, Rebecca stood up and walked over to the table, sitting down on the other chair.
"Jarod, this isn't the end of it."
"I know," he muttered, never moving his eyes from the pages.
"What are you going to do now?"
He shrugged noncommittally, turning away so that she wouldn't see the pain in his eyes.
"You have to face this," she told him.
"You know what I'm talking about," she reprimanded gently. "Not just Ecksley but all of it. You're so close to being able to shake it all off, Jarod, and you can't let this one thing get you down now. If you don't, other nightmares, ones you've buried even deeper than this, will come back too. And Sydney might not be in the neighboring room next time."
A memory of the concern in the psychiatrist's eyes flashed in Jarod's mind but he pushed it away and turned to her, a pleading expression in his own.
"Would you be?"
She smiled. "'Would I be' what, Jarod?"
"I know why you came," he told her impatiently, pushing the chair back from the table and rising to his feet. Rapid pacing carried him to the window and he stared out at the teeming rain for a moment before turning to look at her. "Next time -- if there was a next time "
Rebecca looked up at him candidly, although it was an effort to prevent her lips twitching. "I think there's a much closer friend than me, who would be a far better comfort than anything I could provide." She allowed herself to smile as she also stood. "We have to leave, Jarod. If they send a team, we need to be gone."
Nodding, he gathered the papers before turning with a pleading expression on his face. "Come with me?"
"I can't." She looked at the doorway, where Andromeda was waiting. "I have something else to do now."
"Yeah, I guess you do."
He followed the women down to the carpark, noting without surprise that his bags lay on the back seat of his car and that Rebecca's car was parked next to his. After saying goodbye, he watched them drive away before getting into his own car and leaving the underground parking lot. Turning onto the freeway at the first entrance he saw, Jarod settled back in the seat, picking up his cell phone.
"Sebastian? It's Jarod. You know that little favor you asked? Well, I need one in return. There's a hospital in Ohio that's doing some dirty deals and I was wondering if you could get a legal team to look into it "
William Shockley as Luther Ecksley
Meg Ryan as Leah
Jeffrey Donovan as Kyle
Katie Mitchell as Dr. Christine Brandt
Richard Marcus as Mr. Raines
Keene Curtis as Mr. Fenigor