Taking Wing

 

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Peltier Island Maximum Security Prison
Friday, February 22

Jarod walked slowly down the corridor, looking into the cells one by one as he passed them. "Damon," he murmured softly as he glanced into the first room, then moved on to the next in the row. "Kyle…" He paused outside Pauley Fishman's cell, looked for similarities to his late brother, and found them. Subtleties in the way they both moved came through loud and clear. Eclipse had left its mark on Kyle, but his brother was dead now. Nothing could be done about what had happened to him. Jarod moved on down the row, glancing at the last cell as he stopped walking just before he reached it. "Lyle... and me."

He peered into the cell where an aging Kodiak Brown stared back at him. He was still strong, obviously keeping in shape even with the limited means his cage gave him, but his face was lined and his long, dark hair was still worn in a ponytail, just now beginning to show some gray at his temples. Those sharp blue eyes had not dulled in intensity from the last time he had seen the man, even though Jarod had been unwilling to look at him for more than the moment it took to identify who he was.

Now, though, he had come specifically to gaze into those eyes, to meet that evil head-on.

"And what can I do for you?" Kodiak drawled, rising slowly to his feet. "Come to figure out what makes me tick, like all the others?"

Jarod resisted his first impulse to simply turn around and leave. He had come here for a reason, one that had to be seen through, no matter how difficult it was. He cocked his head and stared at the other man. And felt himself looking back through the glass. It made his skin prickle with gooseflesh.

"This isn't a zoo," the inmate snapped. "State your business, or move on."

Jarod straightened, clasping his hands loosely behind his back. This man had haunted him, waking and sleeping, for decades. Coming back here and confronting the source of his fear was the only way he knew to finally be rid of the man's influence. "You don't know me, do you?" he asked quietly.

Kodiak smiled. "Well, maybe I do, and maybe I don't. I know I've seen you before. We don't get many visitors down here, besides shrinks. Are you a shrink, son?"

"Not today," the Pretender said quietly. "But you can call me 'Doc' if it makes you feel better."

He suddenly looked smug. "Well, Doc, you're standing pretty far away from the cage. Are you afraid of me?"

Jarod swallowed hard. His hands were perspiring, and his stomach cramped, being this close to the man. He was suddenly reminded of the interviews he had conducted with Douglas Willard several years ago, in a similar environment. He was desperate back then, enduring the taunts and the nickname prodigy in the hopes of saving a young girl's life -- and finding the body of Annie Raines.

But circumstances were different now. There was no one to save, no one to find, except perhaps himself. "I'm no one you know," he assured the killer. "No one you ever knew. But I know you. I have a map of your soul, Kodiak. I was a prisoner there for a long time." He sighed. Kodiak was caged, put away from the rest of the world forever. But part of him lived on in Jarod's soul, and always would.

Frowning, Kodiak strolled closer to the Plexiglas wall that separated them. "You some kind of profiler or something? Is that what this is about?"

"No," Jarod whispered painfully. "Something far worse." He felt his stomach roil. Backing up, he sat heavily on the plastic bench against the far wall and turned his gaze to the smooth, polished stone floor. He wanted to run, but fought back the urge with all his strength. He needed to be here, needed to win… but looking into those eyes had a price. The memories were coming now, merciless in their clarity.

A gleam of interest sparked in Kodiak's eyes. "You want to tell me about it? Unburden yourself?" His voice was softer now, seductive. He wanted to hear this tale of horror, wanted to enjoy it. It had been a long time since he'd had that.

But Jarod understood where that path would take him. He'd already unburdened himself, to Sydney and to Faith. He didn't need to relive it; what he needed was to find the core of strength within himself, the strength this alter-ego offered… but on his own terms.

Pit Kodiak Brown against Kodiak Jarod, and let the better man win.

He could see that conflict in his mind, watch the two match wits and exchange blows in the arena of his consciousness. There was no contest. As dark as this man was, Jarod's conviction in truth and goodness was stronger. His cunning paled beside Pretender genius. And shadows disappear in the light.

"You didn't win, Kodiak," Jarod said slowly. "Evil never does, in the end."

Anger sparkled in those blue eyes, but the prisoner said nothing.

"The only power you have is what other people give you," Jarod went on, more sure of himself now. "And you can stand there and pretend you have power over me, but you don't, because I won't let you. Not anymore."

Kodiak narrowed his eyes, a sneer of disgust curling his lip. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about, Doc, but it sounds pretty screwed up to me."

He's right. I am screwed up, maybe beyond repair. But I've got something he doesn't. I have a conscience. He eased himself gently to his feet, straightened his suit, and made eye contact as he stepped right up to the transparent wall. "Maybe I'm a little crazy. But unlike you, I want to get better. I have people who want to help me. And one day, I'll be free. I don't think you can say the same."

He took a step away, then stopped and glanced over his shoulder. "Have a nice rest of your life, Kodiak. I might write you a letter now and then, just to let you know how I'm doing, and how nice it is to be out in the world."

The prisoner frowned. "I didn't get your name."

"That's right," Jarod assured him solemnly. "And you never will." He offered a casual salute in parting and left the facility, certain Kodiak Brown would be stewing over that visit for some time to come. He, on the other hand, would do his best to put it behind him.

As he stepped aboard the ferry that would take him back to shore, his cell phone rang and he pulled it out as he watched the prison fade from view in the chilly mist sweeping up the river.

"How are things, old mate?"

"Well, hello, Sebastian. What can I do for you?" he said into the mouthpiece. He listened for a moment, and checked his wristwatch for the date. "Yes, I think I can meet you in Wilmington by then. What's up?"

"I can't let the cat out of the bag, mate. I just need you to be there," the Australian told him.

His brow wrinkled as he listened. "I'm not sure what that means, but I'll bet the cat didn't like it. Can you be a little less cryptic?"

"Sorry, mate. I'll explain at the airport Monday morning. I hope you like surprises."

He paused and watched the shore looming closer, eager now to get to his car. "Okay, I'll trust you. And yes, I do like surprises. As long as they're not from the Centre."

"You'll like this one, I promise. Four a.m. sharp, Eastern time. I know that's ungodly early, but no tardies. It's important."

The Pretender could hear the smile loud and clear through the earpiece, but it left him a little unsettled, knowing he'd be so close to the Centre and placing his life in someone else's hands, someone he barely knew, who had a history with the Centre. Sebastian had proven his dislike of the place, yet he worked with them hand in hand via his businesses. Jarod had been careful to check all that out when he first met the man. The two didn't quite add up, leaving some blemishes on the man's character that made Jarod wary of him.

He would run through a few simulations over the weekend and make sure he had some planned avenues of escape before he made the rendezvous, just in case.

Jarod rang off and put his phone away, taking a final glimpse of the ghostly building behind him, all but invisible now in the fog. The air was chilly and damp, but Jarod felt warm inside. He felt less lost now, because he recognized the influence this spectre of the Centre had forced on his psyche. He could hope now that one day his soul might take wing and find the freedom he ached to own.

He would move on with his life, and watch for the darkness to rise. He could be on guard against it now, and one day he hoped that the shadow that had covered him since Eclipse might finally be banished into the light. It would be a daily struggle, much like the one that Aurora had left behind, but he was strong. He had people who cared about him, who would support him if he needed it. Kodiak Brown could now be resigned to the past. He had confronted the evil in person, and now it would be easier to do it in his own mind. Once more he turned toward the approaching shore, and knew that this time, he would never look back.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Monday, February 25
4 am EST

The blond man laid his left palm on the glass scanner, aware of how his hand was perspiring inside the thin, nearly invisible latex glove that had been made to look like real skin. He presented the fake IDs that could not be distinguished from real ones, and forged the signature he had perfected on the digital pad. Waiting patiently, he met the eyes of the security guard waiting on the far side of the entry station and nodded in silent greeting.

"Welcome to Delaware, Mr. Voorhees," said the receptionist, once the visitor's identity had been verified. "Guest quarters have been prepared for you in the Tower. George, here, will take you there so you can rest before the senior staff arrives tomorrow." The woman smiled and handed back his ID cards.

The blond man tucked the cards into his jacket pocket and followed the guard across the elegant marble foyer and into an elevator. "So it begins," said the visitor, and pushed the button for SL-17. As the car slowed to a stop, he turned to George and handed over a small, flat sealed package. "This patch will get you through the next eight hours. Be sure you're at the rendezvous point at the proper time."

"Yes, sir," said George. The guard remained on the elevator after the visitor stepped into the corridor, punched another button and the doors slid closed again.

The blond strode directly to the first room, placed his left thumb on the scanner and punched in the code. The door opened, and Penfield remained in her seat on the side of the bed. Her expression was blank, her eyes hollow. In her arms, she held the tiny body of a toddler.

The boy roused slightly, eyes heavy lidded, and studied the man. "Go see Jawid?" asked Gabriel.

The man smiled and came close. He squatted down and gently stroked the boy's hair. "Yes, little one. You're going to see Jarod very soon. Won't that be wonderful?"

"Jawid." Gabriel's eyes rolled slightly, and closed at last.

"The medication should have taken effect by now," the man observed quietly. He glanced at Penfield, but did not stop stroking the little boy's hair.

"He's been fighting the sedation," the nurse explained. "He's very excited. All the children are."

"That's understandable, but the clock is ticking," he returned quietly. "Have you got the laundry carts ready?"

"Yes, sir." Penfield rose and carried Gabriel over to a cart nearly filled with bedding and play clothes. She laid the boy gently into it, took an additional blanket from her bed, and laid it over the sleeping child so that no part of him could be seen. Then, she pushed the cart out into the corridor and toward the elevator. Two other carts were already on their way, and the false Mr. Voorhees rounded up the others, heading them in that direction as well.

He paid no attention to the video cameras watching the corridor. He didn't have to worry about that at all.

* * * * * * * * *

The Pretoriat
Boer City, South Africa
Monday, 9:00 am

"I can't believe they'd hide something like this from us," the Chairman growled. He glared at the woman beside him. "I thought you had a handle on all the projects?"

"Daddy, do you know how many projects I've scanned through so far?" she snapped. "Thousands. Thousands! And you can damn well bet there are thousands more that Die Fakultät and The Pretoriat don't have on the books officially. My guess is, this is one of those."

Parker harrumphed. "Still, this is excellent news. I'm glad Voorhees called."

Morgan sighed and offered her ID packet at the reception desk. Verification took a few minutes, but as she looked around, she noted similarities between the South African building and the one in Delaware. This had been the first one built, she knew from conversations with the Chairman, followed by the American one, and then returning to the roots of the progenitors in Germany. That had tickled her curiosity, knowing as she did that some of the primary scientists heading up the original members of the Triumvirate had been Nazi doctors. But things had changed since the beginning days of the Centre. Projects became benevolent, geared toward the advancement of humanity, before the current regime returned it to its evil roots.

Voorhees himself greeted them in the lobby. He looked tired, but Morgan supposed that was due to the extra time he'd spent on the Nebula series. She hadn't been pleased to hear about this development, but couldn't let that show, especially not since the Chairman was so interested in it.

She followed Voorhees directly to the labs below ground, hanging back as he explained how close they were to development of a patch system for all the drugs in the series. Other developments included a refining of the Nova protocol, and the potential uses of people under the influence made her stomach turn. Another drug in the series had been created, which showed promise in use as a brainwashing tool, allowing complete reprogramming of a subject's mind and memories.

That was the one that had so intrigued the Chairman, and Morgan knew who he had in mind to use it on, as soon as she brought Jarod back.

Voorhees demonstrated with several subjects, showing them DSA footage of before and after the treatments. There were side effects still to be addressed, which included a host of physical problems that would endanger the lives of subjects, but they were close to solving those puzzles. Another six months, he promised, and those problems would be gone.

Mr. Parker was pleased. He wanted the research moved to Delaware.

Voorhees looked oddly relieved.

Morgan wondered why, and decided to look into the project a little more deeply while she was there.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Monday, 4:27 a.m. EST

He watched the last child go into a well-padded cardboard box, oxygen mask covering the little nose and mouth. The box was taped closed and lifted gently onto a cart. Then he turned to the waiting caregivers, and instructed them to get into the larger boxes, also marked FRAGILE - HANDLE WITH CARE. The adults were cramped inside the heavy-duty containers, but they made no protest when he handed them patch packets as comfort for the ride. He sealed the boxes up personally, and made the call to Shipping to retrieve the containers and get them to the dock.

George stood by, watching the boxes being loaded up one by one onto pallets, and escorted them to the freight elevator. Everything was being done now according to Centre protocols, and before the clock struck five, the boxes were loaded into a half full truck for transport to a Centre facility in Boston. Once the doors were closed and locked, George climbed into the cab with the driver, as designated security agent assigned to accompany the shipment of sensitive materials to their destination.

The blond man watched the truck depart, smiled and prepared to vanish before anyone was the wiser. Cox would be checking on the Seraphim in an hour, and by then they would all be long gone. Returning to the guest quarters previously assigned to him, he changed into a waiting security guard's uniform and headed for the elevator to dispose of the evidence of his crime and make his own escape.

The document incinerator was on SL-26. Shifts were getting ready to change, so there would be no one there, but as soon as he stepped off the elevator, he had the sneaking suspicion that he was not alone. Carefully he made his way to the pit, opened the door and tossed the latex appliances and false ID documents into the fire, closing the cast iron door and locking it down.

"Want to tell me what that was?" asked a deep voice from the shadows behind a massive boiler to his right.

The blond put his hand on his gun, released the safety strap and started to lift it out of the holster on his hip. "Who's there?" he demanded.

A figure stepped slowly out from behind the boiler, hands in plain sight, and obviously empty. The dim lighting didn't help with recognition, but the man glanced up at the low-wattage bulb, giving a clearer view of his face. He smiled.

"Valentine, old mate," said the blond. "It's been a long time. I thought you were dead."

The sweeper chuckled. "I am. What's with the British accent? Last I heard, you were from Jersey."

The lower-class British accent abruptly vanished in favor of an East Coast one. "Women like it. I'm thinkin' of changin' it to French next week. Don't like living in one skin too long, y'know."

Valentine nodded. "What brings you back to this place?"

"The usual."

"Yeah. Me, too." He stepped aside and gestured toward the elevator. "I'll catch up with you later. Have fun, whatever the assignment is."

"Don't I always?" The blond didn't waste time with more pointless small talk. He took the opportunity given and ignored the reason that might have brought Valentine down to that level, into that part of the complex. He knew that the only thing of any importance to someone like Valentine in that area was the hatch that led to a place that wasn't supposed to exist. The maintenance crews believed that hatch led into a waste holding tank, and so never opened it. Few other people inside the building knew it existed. SL-27 was a well-kept secret, the burned-out shell of an old nightmare. Whatever Valentine was doing down there was his business, and the visitor left that subject alone.

He stepped into the elevator and went up to the ground floor, preparing to leave at the shift change. This was exactly the kind of thing he was good at, what he had been trained by the Centre to do. But he wasn't the only one, and that made him uneasy as he remembered Valentine's casual smile.

* * * * * * * * *

Cove Road
5:15 am EST

The man in the suit sat in stony silence as the driver beside him yawned, complaining about the early morning hour.

"I mean, it's not like this stuff couldn't wait till eight or nine to ship out. And it's not like there's that much traffic on the roads to or from here. I don't know why they like sending cargo out at these hours. Jeez, what's the difference, you know?" He stuck out his hand. "By the way, I'm Jake Cleary. It's a long ride to Boston, so we might as well get to know each other."

The other guy obviously wasn't much on conversation, so Jake turned back to the road, committing himself to a long, boring trip. He reached down to turn on the radio, and glanced at the suit when he turned it off immediately afterward. Jake turned his attention back to his job with a sigh.

It was going to be a long trip.

Up ahead, he noticed a road sign indicating an approaching curve. The sign was marked with a stripe of red paint, barely visible in the glare of the headlights. The man beside him moved, and Jake glanced over to see the sweeper reach for his pistol, then turn and aim it at him. "Pull over right here," he instructed flatly.

Cleary was shocked. "What the…" Glancing at the muzzle of the gun, he was quick to obey. "Look, pal, I don't know what you think you're doing here, but you won't get away with it. Nobody steals from The Centre and lives. They're worse than the mob." He parked the truck on the shoulder of the road and put his hands in the air.

"Give me your cell phone," the sweeper ordered. When he had the device in hand, he added, "Get out and start walking."

The guard took the keys out of the ignition and pocketed them.

Jake did as he was told. Just as he had gotten to the back of the truck, he heard a noise that made him look up. Two helicopters flew over them, settling on the road with rotors beating as the sweeper opened up the back doors on the trailer. Cleary watched as the guy sliced open the big computer boxes. Jake's jaw dropped open as he saw people start getting out, some dressed in security uniforms, but most were women dressed in white nurse's uniforms. Hardly able to believe what he was seeing, he watched in stunned fascination as the women opened several smaller boxes and took little kids out of them.

"Oh, my God," Jake whispered to himself. He turned away and ran down the road toward The Centre, knowing he was in deep trouble, but eager to let his bosses know he was a victim rather than a willing participant. Before he got a hundred feet down the road, the helicopters lifted off again, leaving the truck empty and wide open. Jake dashed back to the truck, knowing he could make it back to The Centre faster in that vehicle than he could on foot.

But the sweeper had taken the keys, and minutes later he was jogging back toward the building, terrified that he was going to be held responsible for this kidnapping, and wondering if he might be better off just disappearing instead.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Corporate Jet
Wilmington-New Castle airport
5:57 am EST

Jarod paced down the aisle, barely controlling his fury. "How could you do this?" he demanded of his host. "You put them all in danger. They could have been killed, Sebastian! There were other ways."

"Like what?" the Aussie demanded impatiently. "You've known about these children for months, and they were still in that place. When were you planning to move? When they turned ten? Sorry, but I don't have your patience, mate. I know what happens in the Centre. We had a plan, and it worked. They're free, and they're on the way here. All of them, including your son."

The Pretender held his head in his hands briefly, anxiety welling up inside him. He reached into his pocket for another dose of his medication, and swallowed a pill. It would take about a half hour to have its calming effect on his jangled nerves, but it would help him handle the growing need for Aurora that went along with his disturbed emotional state.

"How much longer?" he demanded.

"Minutes," Sebastian assured him. "Minutes that feel like hours. God, I can't wait to see them."

Trevor bounded into the aircraft with a big grin. "They're here. I'm going to start prepping the plane for takeoff." He hurried to the cockpit and closed the door behind himself.

Sebastian rose quickly from his seat and stood, nervously wiping his hands on his thighs. "Stay calm. Stay calm…" He took several slow, deep breaths, and closed his eyes.

Jarod dashed toward the door and stuck his head outside, glancing around for some sign of the arriving passengers. Not far away on the tarmac, a helicopter finished setting down, and people began to spill out of it. Some wore the familiar uniforms of Centre security, others white nurses' outfits, and one young woman was dressed in the black uniform of the unfortunate research subjects. He knew instantly who she was, though her face was obscured by her fair hair, blown wildly about by the rotor wash from the helicopter.

Ducking under the blades, the people came toward the plane on the run. Jarod sprinted out to them, picking Penfield out of the women in white. He had eyes only for the sleeping child in her arms, and held his hands out to her.

"Give him to me," he ordered. Penfield glared at him briefly, and then meekly complied. He paused, holding the toddler close against his body, eyes closed, thankful that his son was safe at last… or at least, for the moment. "Gabriel," he whispered, choking on the beloved name. "My son. My baby. You're free now, free to be whoever you want to be."

When he opened his eyes he saw that the others were boarding the plane, and hurried after them. Once they were all inside, Ramona had the stairs moved and the door sealed, and then she directed everyone into their seats. The toddlers were carefully placed in child safety seats, ready and waiting for them on the plane, and the adults strapped themselves in for the ride.

Jarod couldn't stop looking at his son. Sebastian had done a wonderful thing for him, something he hadn't been able to do for himself. And as the plane pulled into place on the runway to prepare for takeoff, he leaned forward to offer his thanks to his host, who sat in front of him. The seat in the middle was filled with a safety seat that Jarod knew held Gideon, and in the window seat was the young woman dressed in black.

"Where are we going?" she asked aloud. "Who are these children?"

"We're going home, Keely," Sebastian answered, his voice husky with emotion. "You're free, all of you. And I'm…" His voice cracked, and he started to weep. "I'm your brother, Sebastian." He reached out to touch the child between them. And this is… my son, Gideon. We're your family, and we're taking you home."

"Okay," she said passively, her moment of curiosity gone. She turned to look out the window, ignoring her brother and the boy.

Jarod watched them. He knew how Sebastian felt, how crushed and broken his heart was at that moment. The man had intentionally spared his sister the knowledge that the Centre had made her a mother, using her own brother as the sperm donor. Once they rescued her from Aurora and she had her life back on her own terms, he might tell her the truth, but Jarod suspected that secret might never be revealed to her. It wasn't necessary that she know, and would only cause her further pain if she did.

He didn't know where they were going, and didn't care. Sebastian knew what the Centre was capable of, and would be prepared with a safe haven for them all, where they could be protected, yet still have freedoms the Centre would not have allowed them. Jarod would be able to take Gabriel places, let him experience the world he himself had only known for a few years. Gabriel would have a life, albeit sheltered for a while, until the Centre was no longer a threat to his children or anyone else.

It was time for things to start changing.

But just then, as the seatbelt light went off, all he wanted was to hold his son. He pulled the sleeping child out of the seat and into his lap, waiting for the sedation to wear off and those beloved little brown eyes to open and see him. And when Gabriel wakened, Jarod would teach him a new word.

Daddy.

* * * * * * * * *

3 Kennedy Avenue
Blue Cove
5:54 am EST

The telephone rang, and Cox glanced at the clock, instantly and unhappily awake. "This better be good," he groaned, falling back against his pillow. A moment later, he sat bolt upright and flung off the covers. "Impossible. They can't all be gone! Search for them. Search every room. Now!"

He slammed the phone back into the cradle and leaped out of bed. The cool air in the room made gooseflesh rise on his bare skin, and he pulled random clothes out of his closet, stepping into them without benefit of a shower. He didn't care how he looked this time, didn't even reach for his comb on his way out the bedroom door. But as he laid his hand on the keypad to disengage the security system, he had a thought and made a stop in the basement first. Five minutes later, his right hand smarting from the workout he'd given his fists, he left for the drive in to work.

Everyone he passed was wide-eyed and nervous, from the front doors all the way into the bowels of the building. He headed straight for SIS, and found the night shift supervisor up to his eyeballs in security personnel all trying to report to him at once. Cox bellowed for a status report, and people stepped back, making the way to the supervisor clear.

The doctor listened with ice in his veins as he heard the preliminary report. All eight children were missing, along with their nurses and four of the security people who should have been watching them. Vanished, without a trace.

"Call Miss Parker," he hissed. "Call the Chairman. Tell them what happened, but find those children now. Cover every airport, every bus station, every street corner if you have to. But you find those children."

The man was sweating and trembling. He knew what was likely to happen to him because of this fiasco, and Cox would make sure he didn't leave the building. The doctor issued orders and retreated to the Nursery floor to do an examination of his own.

Security people were everywhere. Cox prowled among them for an hour, watching them work, but felt no closer to any answers. This sort of mystery wasn't his forte. But whoever was responsible for this theft of his project would pay. He'd make sure of that all the way down the line, no matter how far up the chain of command he had to go.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
6:31 am EST

Sydney walked into SIS, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, leaning heavily on his cane. The call had come from Broots half an hour earlier, shortly after Miss Parker called and ordered her second in command to take over SIS until her return. Because Sydney was involved with the Seraphim, Broots had called him in for additional support, along with his personal bodyguard, who still did his driving for him.

Sydney felt confident Broots was doing everything necessary to amass the information needed to put the investigation into full swing. Though that sort of thing was out of Sydney's range of expertise, he knew that the security team Miss Parker had assembled were good at their jobs, and would be able to help him do what was necessary until she arrived. That included himself, and his small part of the process.

He went directly to her office in SIS and listened as Broots met with the departmental managers, who had all spoken to their boss by phone and had their orders. The tech gave commands effortlessly, keeping people organized and staying on top of every piece of information that came to him. Sydney intended to report to Miss Parker just how capably things were run in her absence, and planned to commend Broots personally, once things settled down.

During a lull in the action, he went down to the Nursery level to see for himself what had happened. He moved slowly still, and took frequent rest breaks, but he was improving steadily. This would be a taxing day for him, but he promised himself a nap as soon as there was time. He knew not to push himself so soon after such a devastating event in his health, and knew that he wouldn't be chastised for it.

Forensic technicians were dusting the rooms for fingerprints, collecting evidence and taking photographs as if a murder had taken place there. Nothing seemed out of place, and Sydney had no idea how the kidnapping had been accomplished, or by whom. That was disturbing enough, but he was stopped cold by the sight of Angelo sitting in the back corner of one nursery room, rocking back and forth as he clutched a floor pillow to his chest.

Sydney eased closer, waving back the sweepers who had been about to evict the empath from the scene. "I'll handle this," he assured the two men gently. He came close and sat down on a nearby chair, leaning heavily on his cane, observing Angelo to try to get an idea of what had brought the man to that room. To Sydney's knowledge, Angelo knew nothing about the Seraphim, and had never even been seen on that floor.

Tears rolled slowly down the empath's face. He was whispering softly to himself, obviously upset. Sydney leaned closer, trying to hear what the other man was saying.

"Baby's gone. Baby's gone. Baby's gone…"

Sydney knew whose room this was. He also had guessed that Angelique was Angelo's child. But the fact that Angelo seemed aware of his connection with this particular child was both startling and frightening. It could put Angelo in a difficult position, one that could get him locked up forever… or worse.

"Do you know who took the children, Angelo?" Sydney asked softly. He put his arm around the other man's shoulders, offering what comfort he could.

"Aurora," the empath whispered brokenly. "Aurora took the babies."

Sydney frowned. The only Aurora he knew was the drug the Centre had created. Inanimate objects couldn't kidnap children… but people under the influence could. "Are you saying that the caregivers were on Aurora?"

Angelo nodded. He buried his face against Sydney's chest and began to sob. Sydney held the younger man, knowing that any further questioning would have to wait. Angelo couldn't help him any more at the moment. He would have to wait for other means of discovering how the kidnapping had been accomplished, right under the noses of their new, improved security measures.

On to Act II

 
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