Taking Wing


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The Centre
SL-24, Archives Room 17

Mason stared at the photos in the sanction file, the findings from the Centre coroner's report echoing in his mind. Sun-Chai had been raped and tortured before she died, and that didn't sit well with him. He'd heard about the sanction before it was carried out, but had been powerless to change it. He'd expected it to be quick, clean and private, but there was no new grave in the Blue Cove cemetery. That had sent him hunting, and what he'd found played in graphic detail in his vivid imagination.

This was all wrong. This was not how conscientious employees were treated when they erred. The execution was too sloppy, and reflected far too much emotion to have been the impersonal task it should have been. The records didn't show who was responsible for carrying it out, but he had an idea where to look. The information in the sanction folder gave him all the facts he needed for a profile of the killer or killers.

He knew how to figure out who had done this. He knew how to walk in someone else's shoes and learn how they thought. And once he had been a mile down the road in that personality, he'd know who to hunt.

After that, he'd have to come up with the perfect vengeance. It might take him a while, but as long as he pretended to be on Centre business, he could do as he pleased in the background. He would watch, and he would wait. One day soon, Sun-Chai's killer would die in exactly the same way, in the same room of the same hotel where she had met her end. He owed her that.

Mason didn't know exactly what she had stepped in that earned her the sanction, but he'd find that out, too. He'd be more careful than she was -- he was always better at the intellectual things than she was, where she surpassed him with the physical. It was something important, he was sure. The Centre knew how valuable an asset she was, and for her to lose her value completely, it had to be a major error in judgment on her part.

He wouldn't make the same mistake. But he would find the truth. It was what he did best, finding answers. He made a copy of the file and put the original back into place, walked out of the Archives, and pretended to return to work. He had what he had come for, after all, and it would take him where he wanted to go.

* * * * * * * * *

Corridor outside DSA Storage, Room 32

There was no reason for Kim to be on that floor between her shifts, and if she was caught, she had no excuse, no directive from higher up. She had to be careful prowling around down there. It was becoming clearer day by day how difficult it had been for both Sydney and Jacob to continue working there, and her research into her own past brought with it volumes of enlightenment.

Today, now that she had discovered where the Archives were, she was looking up records on her mother. She had dates when Alexis Moore had been at the Centre, but nothing aside from those intermittent appearances. She had a date of death, and had visited her mother's grave knowing she couldn't leave flowers there. She mourned for a little while, but the experience seemed to stiffen her resolve to know who she was.

Jarod had been right to warn her away. He had known from his own experience how powerful one's own past could be, especially when cloaked in mystery. Now, all she wanted was to know her parents, who they had been, what they were like as people. Sydney was helping her with that, sharing information and photographs of her father, telling tales of incidents that had happened to them as boys.

But that had left a hole where memories of her mother should have been. All she had was a name and a photograph, and Kim wanted more. She knew how meticulous the Centre was with its records. Nothing was ever shredded or thrown away. It might not be properly labeled. It could be stored under the name of the person who headed the project, the subject's name, the project name, or simply mis-filed, but wherever the records were on Alexis Moore, she intended to find them.

The door to the DSA archive room opened before she reached it, and quickly she darted around a corner to hide. The man coming out of the door would glance both ways in the hallway before moving on, and she timed it so she leaned out to catch a glimpse of him before he left, moving away from her down the other end of the hallway.

She frowned, recognizing his large shape instantly, familiar with the way he walked, so that his identity was firm.

What would Sam be doing in the archives?

He glanced around nervously, and she knew. He wasn't supposed to be there, either. But what business was he on? What would draw him to the records rooms?

She made a mental note to observe him further, and if he was up to no good, she'd let the appropriate people know. If, on the other hand, he was trying to help someone who needed it, she'd make sure she let him know that he could trust her. But she'd need to be very sure.

Once he was out of sight, she eased into the room. From floor to ceiling in the huge room, metal storage cabinets lined the walls and formed interior walls between walkways. There were rolling ladders mounted on tracks at floor and ceiling so that people could retrieve items from the tallest cabinets with ease. She took note where the ladders were left in case she needed that information later, and then headed straight for the 'M' cabinet to start looking under Moore.

Less than an hour later, she had her pockets and clothing full of DSAs, and quickly retreated back to the locker room to secret them into her gym bag. After that, she commandeered an unused security terminal to hack into the monitors and erase the tape of her theft and Sam's, taking note where he had been in the room, which ladder, which drawer.

He had been looking into the drawer marked 'S,' fetching DSAs on a project called Seraphim.

* * * * * * * * *

Blue Cove
Hybrid Biotract #27

Mason stood on the cliff overlooking the building on a point of land jutting out into the ocean. The wind ruffled his hair, but he didn't feel it. He stood with his hands in his pockets, thinking how best to deal with the situation.

It had taken him weeks to discover all the details. He'd been very careful about how he gathered the information, making sure nothing pointed back to him, and he had been surprised at what he found. Apparently, he and Sun-Chai had a daughter through the Centre's biological banks, and it was her knowledge of this project that had gotten her sanctioned.

He didn't know who had raped her, though there were only two candidates available, two possibilities who had been in the location when she died. Simulations indicated which of the two was most likely to have accomplished that, and he was ninety percent sure it was Valentine. The man's reputation with the ladies and the disappearance of certain women he'd shown attention to confirmed those suspicions. The sanction and the unnecessary torture that accompanied it were the wake-up call that Mason had avoided for years. Working for the Centre was a liberating experience, but only when one was assured of their value. Sun-Chai's death illustrated that no one was indispensable, and status could change without notice.

Vengeance for Sun-Chai tempted him to action, but he knew those people. He'd been AWOL from the Asian station since a week after his partner and erstwhile lover hadn't come back from her trip to Triumvirate Station, trying to locate her in the vast international system that was the Centre. He had followed her trail to Blue Cove easily enough since she had been summoned there, but after that she'd been harder to track.

Now that he knew all the details, he had a choice to make. He could return to the fold and take the chance that he had become unnecessary baggage in the last few weeks, or lie in wait for Cox and Valentine to taste his brand of retribution… or simply disappear off their radar and try to find something interesting to do with the rest of his life. Sun-Chai's absence in his heart would be reminder enough not to cross paths with Centre people in the future, unless possibly through the crosshairs of a sniper rifle.

And then, of course, there was the issue of his offspring, newly kidnapped from the facility below him.

If he wanted, he was sure he could find her, but he had no interest in being a father. Whoever had the kid could keep her, he decided, and kudos to them for stealing the project from those people in the first place. That thought made him smile.

The Seraphim were Cox's project. Somebody had taken them from him, and unless he had other important cards up his sleeve, the doctor's value had just diminished considerably. That was a plus in Mason's book.

Then, of course, there was Valentine. Hunting down the sweeper could cost him. Mason weighed the possibilities, considering simulation after simulation, and the risk to himself was definitely there, even if he caught the man unaware and unprepared. He'd seen the sweeper in the gym and knew something about his skills.

A memory of Sun-Chai, laughing in his arms in a Hong Kong sunrise, touched his mind. Searing past that was a vision of Valentine with her in the last moments of her life. Heat roiled through his body, heat borne of rage and hatred. But as much fun as Sun-Chai had been, as much as he admired her, she was still dead and Mason was alive.

He wanted to keep it that way.

With a sigh of resignation, he turned away and trudged back through the brush, across the rolling hills of the experimental agricultural projects, and disappeared into the wilderness.

Sun-Chai would have to find a way to get her own vengeance. It was time for Mason the Pretender to become someone new, without The Centre as a net to catch him if he fell.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Lyle's office

"Earth to Allegra…" he said with a trace of irritation in his voice.

The woman sat on the sofa, staring at the tribal masks that adorned his walls, all cognitive processes at an apparent halt. Her face was slack, and a drop of spittle leaked from the corner of her pretty mouth and rolled slowly down her chin.

That was the last straw. "Allegra!" he shouted, leaning down into her line of sight.

She jumped, started, and wiped away the drool on her chin. "What? I must have… uh…" She shook her head. "What were we talking about?"

"We weren't talking," Lyle snapped. "I was talking. You were supposed to be listening. What's the matter with you, anyway? You haven't been able to concentrate on anything lately."

She shrugged, but the movement was jerky, not smooth at all, as if she didn't know how to operate her own body. "I dunno."

"Stop by the infirmary on your way back to your quarters," he ordered. "Tell the docs I said to give you the once-over. And I want it thorough."

She nodded, her eyes vacant, distracted.

"Oh, never mind. I'll tell them myself, and walk you down there. I don't want you getting lost on the way." He shook his head as he called the clinic, and escorted her to the elevator. He hesitated as she reached for the panel, unwilling to touch her for fear of getting zapped.

The control panel got it instead. The doors slid closed. The lights went out and the car dropped just far enough that the doors, when he pried them open with his fingertips, opened to solid wall. They were trapped between floors, because Allegra was losing the ability to control her electrokinetic talent. With a sigh of defeat, Lyle noted that she had shorted out the phone as well. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, and before he could get connected to anyone with a brain in Maintenance, the battery ran out and cut him off. They'd simply have to wait for someone to notice the elevator was inoperable, and send a maintenance team down to repair it.

He sighed and sat down in a corner, ordering her into the one opposite him. He didn't want her anywhere near him. It was bad enough that the elevator car was mostly metal, and would conduct any stray current right into him. He stood up, hoping the rubber soles of his shoes would be enough protection from her, in case she lost it again.

Allegra was fast becoming a liability to his team, rather than an asset. He needed to find out what was wrong with her, and get her fixed. Or else, send her down below and out of sight. As he watched her stare off into space, he liked the latter idea more with each passing second, and hoped for rescue soon.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building

It felt like weeks since Jarod had a good workout, his muscles stiff with fatigue. He needed to rest after the grueling ordeal with his Aurora patients, but before he went to bed, he wanted to work off some of the tension that had built up over the past few days. After indulging in some stretching, he hit the treadmill and let his mind drift to other projects in need of his intellect. When he slept these days, it was less traumatic, filled only with vaguely unsettling images that he barely remembered upon waking, rather than the nightmares that tore him out of his slumbers before arriving at Sanctuary with the children.

He hoped making peace with the darkness was responsible for that, but whatever the source, he was grateful for it.

The sounds of violence drew him from his reverie and made him seek out its source. His eyes went to a distant area of the gym where Namir was in the process of attacking a heavy bag hung on a thick chain from the high ceiling. The Israeli had his shirt off, his bronze skin glistening with sweat.

He had seen Namir's amazing work as a healer first hand. Sumi had her voice back. North's vision was restored. Many others who lived in Sanctuary had come away from encounters with the Israeli whole again. But Jarod saw the intensity with which the man practiced his martial arts. This was what he wanted, this power to protect and to serve those who mattered to him. Being a healer was at odds with his warrior nature, and would take some work to help him adjust to who he was.

The Pretender watched, and let simulations play in his mind, stepping into Namir's shoes for a little while. And when he had the answer to the other man's problem, he stepped off the treadmill and strolled over to him. He waited at the perimeter to be acknowledged.

"Greetings, Jarod," Namir called, sparing him only the briefest glance. "You wanted something?"

"How about a little one-on-one?"

Namir dodged the swinging bag and stepped out of range of its mindless arc, giving the other man his full attention. "You want to fight me?" he asked with a trace of doubt, smiling broadly. "Have you had training?"

Jarod grinned. "I picked up a little here and there," he admitted. "I think I can give you a challenge."

"You are taller and heavier than I am," Namir observed. "That gives you a certain advantage." He smiled broadly. "But I think the Israeli army has given me the real advantage here. Come, then, if you dare." He stepped into the center of the open area and bent his knees, waiting in a ready stance for Jarod's attack.

Approaching cautiously, Jarod decided to start with some Savate. His long legs would allow him to get in some good kicks to test Namir's reflexes. The foreigner had no trouble fielding those strikes, and easily deflected Jarod's feet. Next, he used some basic police takedowns, which failed miserably and earned the Pretender several unpleasant blows to his ribs and back. Shifting to karate, he managed to power his way into a few strikes that hit home.

"Okay, so you're great at defensive techniques," Jarod observed sagely. "How are you at offense?"

"Let us see, shall we?" Namir teased, and attacked with a series of punches and kicks.

Jarod instantly adopted Tai Chi Chuan maneuvers to redirect the Israeli's strikes, and was moderately successful in avoiding being beaten senseless.

Winded, he called the practice to a halt, observing his opponent's broad, beaming smile. "You like fighting," he stated, curious.

"It is good to keep the skills honed," Namir returned casually. "One never knows when one will need them."

Jarod picked up his towel from the sidelines and wiped the sweat off his face. "The struggle gives you a sense of purpose."

Namir nodded and went for his water bottle. "Where I was born, the struggle is necessary. One never knows what may lie around the next corner. The more sharply in tune we are to the dangers around us, the longer we survive." He shook his head. "Here, with these people, it seems there are no surprises. There is no need for someone like me… as a soldier."

Jarod hesitated. He stared soberly at his companion. "But there is," he said quietly. "You're exactly what I need."

The Israeli cast him a sideways glance. "You are ill, my friend?"

Shaking his head, Jarod reached for his own drink. "Aside from an addiction I don't think you can help me with, I'm in perfect health. What I need is a soldier. Maybe a general."

Namir laughed. "Are you planning a war?"

Jarod's eyes slid away and he took a long draught of the water. "Something like that," he answered without making eye contact. He didn't have to look at his companion to know that interest had been sparked. Without offering further details, he picked up his gear and headed for the showers, knowing that Namir would be at his heels until he had explained everything.

Adjusting to a life of relative peace would be difficult for Namir. He would need some transition time, until he found his place in that community of the gifted. And the job that Jarod had in mind would be right up the Israeli's alley, giving him a familiar framework in which to get to know the people of Sanctuary. Once he felt more at home with them, once he ceased to be amazed or uncomfortable with the psychics and telekinetics and geniuses who surrounded him, he could become comfortable in his own capacity as a healer. But he wasn't ready to go there yet. Namir needed a vehicle to ease him into this extraordinary community.

And Jarod knew just what it was.

The implementation of Catherine Parker's plan.

* * * * * * * * *

Broots' office

He sat at his desk, reviewing the hiccup he'd found in the security monitoring system. Whoever had edited the file was skilled, a true artist at electronic manipulation, which meant that whoever had breached the files posed an incredible danger to the Centre. He knew which terminal had been used; he'd traced it that far. But he still had no idea who the culprit was.

This wasn't an isolated incident, either, if records on that terminal were accurate. A lot of people used it as an extra, when they needed to run scans simultaneously with their own equipment, or traces from another station. The security techs had a system worked out to log time at the station, reserving it so their schedules didn't overlap anyone else's. This was usually done via a system of sticky-notes attached to the monitor, so everybody knew when it would be busy and when it would be free.

The station was in the back of the main security theater, the heartbeat of SIS. It wasn't covered by any direct video camera, so whoever worked on it could do so in complete privacy, but the big downstairs theater had cameras pointed at it from all sorts of angles, and Broots accessed the digital feeds of the stored footage to look for anyone out of place in the area.

He couldn't believe his eyes when he saw who it was, apparently on an innocent mission carrying information to Miss Parker from Sydney, who was barely back at work after his ordeal in the hospital.

Kim, the new security woman working under Sydney, the very one Miss Parker had been so interested in when she first came on, slipped into the alcove for approximately 20 minutes on the date of the event. The time in which she had completed her task was impressive, as well as the skill she displayed in doing the job. Previous investigations into her past had shown nothing remarkable, no trace of a relationship of any kind between her and Sydney, or the Centre. She was clean as a proverbial whistle, and that had laid any misgivings about her to rest. He and Miss Parker had just assumed Sydney was interested in her for personal reasons that neither of them chose to investigate.

But now Broots was giving second thoughts to who she might be, and what she might be doing at the Centre. He'd hardly spoken to her aside from a smile in passing in the gym or the hallways. But there was something about her, something that nudged him toward her, and he began to wonder if he might have some sort of undiscovered gift developing under Miss Parker's crucible of training.

He rubbed his shoulder, still sore from the last thrashing he'd gotten at their regular workout, but lately he was dishing it out pretty well himself. He left the information on his desktop, minimized in case anyone stepped in, and went next door to chat with his boss about his discovery. She was on the phone with Peter Winston in Berlin, inviting him to come and do a thorough check of their security measures to see how they might be improved. When she hung up she was smiling, but he pretended not to notice.

"I think we'd better take a second look at Kim, the new security gal," he began.

Parker's good humor evaporated and she faced him with sudden intent. "I think we'd better not," she shot back.

"But Miss Parker, I found her altering Centre records--"

She leaned forward and lowered her voice, as if sharing a secret with him. "Then you'd better go talk to her about it, Broots," she advised. "Kim may not be part of our inner circle, but we're looking after her just the same."

He leaned forward, getting as close as he dared so he could whisper. "Why? Who is she to us?"

A gleam of bright mischief glimmered in her blue-green eyes, and she almost smiled. There was something gentle about her expression that told Broots the issue of Kim was now suddenly personal. "She's Sydney's niece. And that does not leave this room, period."

A floodlight turned on above his head, and he got it. "Oh!" he gushed. "Now everything makes sense." He grinned, embarrassed for thinking privately that she and Sydney must be having a torrid affair, even though the woman didn't seem like his type. She was way younger than the women who had piqued Sydney's interest in the past. Broots didn't have a problem with May-December romances; it just seemed somehow suspicious. It didn't add up. He usually went for the smart ones, and sweepers and security officers were notoriously short in the brains department.

Then he remembered what she had done at that terminal, and his momentary humor vanished. "Talk to her?"

"Yes, Broots. If she's getting herself in trouble, you've got to warn her off. Don't leave it for anyone else to do. Help her cover her tracks if necessary, but keep her spotless."

"O-okay." He rose stiffly from the chair and walked toward the door, his palms already sweating.

"Oh, and Broots, since you're quite well settled in your new position as my number two, don't you think the tech wardrobe can go now? I'd like to see you in something a little more professional, if you don't mind."

If she'd knocked his feet out from under him, she couldn't have surprised him any more. His stomach dropped into his shoes. "Do I have to wear a suit?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "I've seen you in a suit. It didn't help. I'm thinking, maybe Polo shirts… Buy some Ralph Lauren. He's got some fairly classic styles that would be all right."

Head down, shoulders drooping, he whined acquiescence and excused himself from her office. Shutting down all the files he had been checking, he was concentrating so hard on the unpleasant task of the future shopping trip that he almost forgot what he was going to talk to Kim about when he all but ran over her coming out of Sydney's office. She smiled at him and tried to ease away down the hall, but he caught her arm and led her back into the office with him.

"We have to talk," he announced. Glancing around, he noticed Sydney wasn't there, and directed her to the guest chair while he sat on the front of the desk.

"What's up, sir?" she asked conversationally, aware of his position in the hierarchy.

"I know who you are," he began, keeping his voice low. "And I know you've been snooping in places you shouldn't be. You wanna tell me what that was all about?"

The dullness in her brown eyes vanished, and her intelligence gleamed brightly as she studied him, deciding how much to tell him and how much to hold back. "You first. Who am I?"

He glanced over his shoulder at the door, making sure they weren't over heard, then thought better of it and went to shut it. "You're Jacob's daughter, and Miss Parker said I should watch your back. And that's a good thing, 'cause you've stepped in it, and I've been following the tracks you didn't know you left behind."

From the expression on her face, she was obviously impressed. "Well, Mr. Broots, you are every bit as good as Sydney said you were," she breathed, a soft smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "Only a handful of people would have been able to figure out what I did with those digital files. My hat's off to your expertise."

He felt himself blushing, and for a moment didn't know what to do with his hands. He stuck them under his arms to keep from fidgeting, and tried hard to wipe the smile off his face. "Gee, thanks, Kim. I'm not used to getting compliments on my work. Miss Parker usually chews me up and spits me out when I miss even the slightest little detail, so I--" He realized he was blathering on mindlessly, and shut up. When he could form coherent thoughts again, he cleared his throat and tried to sound authoritative. "Um, so, whatever it is that you're looking for, I'm authorized to tell you to stop it. If you want to find out something, you should go through me. Understand?"

She nodded and clasped her hands in her lap, looking up at him like he was a bug under a microscope.

"I have a hard time trusting people," she told him honestly. "And that includes Sydney, but I've learned a lot, working with him these past few months. I don't know you, but he's told me some things…"

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

"Like, you belonged to a Monopoly club in school, so I know you like the game," she began. "You have a daughter named Debbie who's about 14, is that right?"

That was a surprise. Sydney had told his niece personal things about him. "Why would he tell you that?"

"Because I asked him." She grinned and winked at him. "You have a nice smile, Mr. Broots. And you don't seem like you belong here, though you're very good at what you do. Surprisingly good, in fact. You might even be able to keep up with me."

His face felt like it was on fire. She was a beautiful woman, she seemed to be interested in him, and she was complimenting him. It was just too much to handle. "Um, Kim, about the security stuff…"

"I got the message, sir," she responded, suddenly all business again. "But I already got what I wanted. The missing pieces of my past."

"You wanted to know who your mother was," he guessed. "You raided the archives."

"Right after someone else was there before me, getting information on the Seraphim."


"I'm only telling you this because Sydney said I could trust you. It was Sam, Miss Parker's sweeper, and I'm not sure which side he's on."

"I'll tell her, then, and we'll look into it."

She stood up and clasped her hands behind her back. "Is that all, sir?"

"You don't have to call me that."

She grinned. "What would you like me to call you?" She took a step closer.

For a moment, he couldn't think. Her lips were right there. She was so close, and she smelled soooo good…

"Laszlo. My name's Laszlo."

Her smile was blazing. "I don't think I should call you that on the job," she returned warmly. "Do you like Chinese, Laszlo Broots?"

"Oh, mama!" he whispered, connecting the dots to the fact that she was asking him out on a date. "You bet!"

"Since I don't work directly under you, this wouldn't be a breach of protocol, would it? Dinner, I mean."

"N-no. It's fine. Just fine. We can… dinner, yes. Eat. Food. Chinese."

She laughed softly. "I'm glad I didn't wait for you to ask me." She leaned close and kissed his cheek, then swept toward the door. "Am I dismissed, sir?"

"Yes, all done now," he panted, nervously rubbing the back of his neck. He tried to control his breathing, his head swimming, his heart pounding. Then he remembered he didn't know when this date was supposed to take place, and ran after her to find out.

End of Episode
Taking Wing

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