Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Sam Ayers as Sam the Sweeper
Paul Dillon as Angelo
Jamie Denton as Lyle
Charles Esten as Charles
George Clooney as Valentine
Lenny von Dohlen as Cox
George Lazenby as Major Charles
Ryan Merriman as Jordan
Tyler Christopher as Ethan
Marisa Parker as Emily
David Boreanz as Yuri
Robert Duncan McNeill as Peter Winston
Hugh Jackman as Sebastian
Sigrid Thornton as Elizabeth
Denzel Washington as Trevor
John Daley as Cam
Iain Glen as Chris Walters
Reba McIntyre as Helen
Susan Gibney as Kim
David Gallagher as Alexander
The woman looked up sharply as Broots entered her office, closing the door after himself.
"What is it?"
"That call you asked me to trace, from Sam's cell phone "
"Could you get a name?"
"No," he admitted. "The phone company's records were faulty, or maybe tampered with, and I couldn't get a name."
"Keep trying," she demanded. "Anything else?"
"Another intercept, kind of." Broots put the file down in front of her. "It's a message Sam sent. I had a tracker put on his home computer yesterday and he sent this during the night."
"The same source as he got the threat from, as far as I could tell. His program has the same type of security wall on it that theirs did, so I couldn't get specifics."
"So that threat seems to have paid off," the woman mused thoughtfully. Without opening the folder, she waved a hand at the chair and then eyed the technician. "How sensitive was the information he was sending?"
Broots looked uncomfortable. "It's um about as sensitive as it gets. It's the passwords we use to access the mainframe and also the security system. Considering we only activated the system yesterday with the new program, Sam must have accessed it just after it was put in."
Miss Parker arched an eyebrow. "Anything else?"
"A program that will decrypt the passwords," he admitted. "With that, whoever he's sending it to will be able to get access to just about everything."
"Change the program," she snapped.
"I already have," he responded quickly. "But wherever Sam's getting it from, he'll probably be able to get the new one, too."
She nodded in agreement, glancing through the pages in the folder. After a minute of silence, she looked up again. "What's Sam doing now?"
"I changed his shift so that he's working in the lobby for this morning. This afternoon, he's got a gym session scheduled."
"That makes two of you," the woman commented, trying not to laugh at the technician's expression. "Come on, Broots, I thought you had more confidence now."
"I do, sort of," he admitted. "But I don't seem to do as well in practice as when I'm under pressure."
Her eyes twinkled as she watched him. "I could put you under pressure."
"Uh, no, thanks, it's okay." Broots got to his feet, pushing the chair back as he did so. "What do you want me to do about that?"
When he nodded at the folder, the humor faded out of Miss Parker's eyes. She shut the folder and folded her hands on top of it. "Find out everything you can. Break through their security if you have to. I want to know who this is going to. I know Sam's safe if he's on duty in the foyer, so we've got a few hours. Once we know, we'll see what Sam himself can tell us."
The technician turned towards the door, but Miss Parker called him back.
"Just a minute, Broots. I've got something else for you to do."
Returning to his seat, the man looked at her expectantly. "What is it, Miss Parker?"
She glanced at the door to make sure it was shut before pulling the piece of paper Ethan had given her out of her pocket. Scribbling the number on a piece of paper, she passed it over the desk to him.
"I want you to check the records of that phone," she directed. "Or if you can't manage it, get a person you trust to do it."
"Sure," he agreed, taking the number. "Whose is it?"
"Just bring me the information as soon as possible," she added, ignoring the question. "And I also want you to check the records of all the computers that delegates from Die Fakultät have used when they were here. If they send any files with attachments, I want to know what they sent. Put your best person on it."
"Right away, Miss Parker," Broots agreed, unfazed by her non-acknowledgement of his earlier question. "Is that all?"
"For now," she agreed, watching him leave the office. When he was gone, she picked up the next report that lay in her tray to be checked over before it was signed and passed on to the Chairman. And this was one for which he had been waiting eagerly.
Almost a week after the eight children and their assorted caregivers and guards had disappeared, a plane had been found in Tallahassee, Florida. It contained more of the used Aurora patches as well as a number of seats just the right size for children. The cleaners had brought back hair from various seats which could be tested to prove the use of the plane in the abduction of the children, and Morgan had spent several stressful hours waiting for the results to see if it was a viable lead she could present to strengthen her position with the Triumvirate hierarchy or just another dead end intended to distract her. They had been happening more and more often since Lyle had gained his Tower position, and although she suspected Lyle and his pet sweeper, there was no proof.
She had been immensely relieved when the results had been positive, showing that all eight of the children, their caregivers and even Keely and Jarod had been on that plane. The report had been filed with the other documents that she was intending to give the Chairman later that morning. But first she wanted to reread the details they had discovered about the flight.
The plane had been hired by a non-existent company, supposedly located in the same town where the plane had been found and the person who had signed the forms to allow the plane to be accessed had never worked at the airport in Wilmington. Morgan hadn't been surprised by this, however she was intrigued by the flight plan she had found, which had stated that the flight had been an international one, bound for Berlin. As the plane had been located on American soil, with no further suggestion of any other travel, this suggested that the plan had been falsified. Altogether, the report was relatively unhelpful, but at least it proved to the Triumvirate that she was continuing her search for the children, using every possible route to try and find them. And that, more than anything else, was what would keep herself, and those closest to her, safe.
* * * * * * * * *
Jordan stared down in disbelief at the sleeping boy at his feet, eyeing the familiar brown hair and facial features.
"Another one," he breathed, bending down to get a closer look.
There could be no doubt, in Jordan's mind at least. Cox also had a clone; one that the Centre apparently didn't know existed. That certainly would explain the nightmares he had had, assuming that the same connection existed between himself and this boy as it did between himself and the man he called 'father.'
Even as this occurred to Jordan, however, the figure lying on the blanket moved, opening his eyes to see the dim light above. Instantly, the boy cringed into the corner, whimpering softly. Jordan swung the beam into the far corner of the room, reminded of the day when the woman his father loved had come into his room at the Centre.
"What what do you want?" stammered the boy, his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his face turned away from the newcomer.
"I just want to talk," stated Jordan quietly, sitting down on the floor beside the child.
I just came to talk.
The memory of Miss Parker's words came forcibly back to Jordan as he watched the boy eye him suspiciously, flinching away as Jordan instinctively reached out. Returning his hand to his lap, Jordan straightened up. He could feel anger rising in him at the thought of what they had done and fought against his urge to strike out at someone, anyone within reach. Looking down into the small, tearstained face, however, Jordan suddenly realized that he couldn't take out his rage on the boy who was huddled beside him, keeping a visible distance between himself and the intruder. Recalling his own feelings during his brief time in the Centre, Jordan silently and fervently hoped he was doing the right thing as he began to speak.
"You don't have to be afraid of me," he stated softly. "All I want to do is help you."
"W what do you want me to do?"
Jordan smiled, trying to make his voice as reassuring as possible. "First, I want you to tell me your name."
The boy looked up at the intruder with fearful eyes, his voice trembling. "He calls me Echo."
"Is that all?"
"Sometimes," Echo offered, his eyes lighting up, "if I've been really good, he'll call me Jacob."
* * * * * * * * *
"As soon as you know they're ready in Horseshoe Bend, get back here as fast as possible. I don't want to be left here on my own to deal with whatever friend Jarod sends to get his sister back."
Valentine grinned, leaning against the balustrade of the balcony on which they were standing so that their voices wouldn't be heard by the woman inside. "Don't worry about it, Boss. We've still got an hour for me to get there and back, and if the office in Horseshoe Bend lets him go, that's their problem, not ours. We'll still have a lovely little prize to hand over to your dad when we get back."
Lyle snorted. "Yeah, I've heard things like that before. Our fault or not, if it doesn't go according to plan, it'll be our necks. Make tracks there and back. Double the speed limit if you have to. I don't care. I just don't want to be facing the cavalry without backup."
The sweeper chuckled as he shrugged into his jacket. "You know, Lyle," he suggested with a wink as he prepared to leave the balcony, "anyone'd think you were scared."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod tried not to grin with triumph as he watched the car drive away, Valentine looking warily to either side as he drove along the long track that led to the cabin.
"Got everything?" the younger man murmured in his ear.
Sliding a hand into his pocket, Jarod checked that the bottle and cloth pad were there before nodding once. He sent a sideways glance at Yuri. "Can you manage him?"
The other man flexed a bicep, which bulged under the skin-tight black top he was wearing. "You doubt me, Jarod?"
This honest statement elicited a chuckle from the other man as he slipped around the bushes that had hidden them and began noiselessly climbing the wall. Jarod was forced to admire the effortless grace with which the other Pretender moved as he got into position at the foot of the fire escape, which was out of sight for anyone on the balcony itself.
Within moments, and just as Yuri was in position, as they had both predicted, Lyle returned to the balcony from which he had watched Valentine drive away. He cast a wary look around before lowering the gun that he had been holding in a ready position.
Before he could move again, an arm was flung around Lyle's chest, pinning both arms to his sides. He fought against the hold, but this merely resulted in his unseen attacker tightening his grip until Lyle was unable to maintain his hold on the gun in his hand. Gasping for breath, he let the weapon fall to the ground, the pain that immediately followed this suggesting that he had dropped it on his own foot, and Lyle cursed as he began again to struggle against his assailant. Even as he turned his head, however, Lyle was distracted by movement in front of him and turned to find Jarod standing there, grinning broadly.
"You know, much as I hate to admit this, you were right," the Pretender greeted him. "Here I am, on your doorstep, just like you said. It's such a shame you don't have all those sweepers around, like you intended, isn't it, but then I guess it was pretty inconsiderate of Yuri to be spotted, just at that moment." He chuckled as the man fought even more violently but was unable to break free of the arms around him. "Now, now, Lyle, no need to be like that."
"Let me go," the other man gasped, unable to force out a louder sound due to the strength of his still-unseen attacker.
"Keep going like that and you'll tire yourself out," Jarod commented as he withdrew the bottle and cloth pad from his pocket. "Still, there's nothing wrong with lying down for a nap when you get weary, and I'm sure I could help you with that."
Lyle eyed the bottle, able to guess at its contents as Jarod soaked the pad with the pungent liquid. He exhaled as deeply as he could and then hurriedly breathed in, holding his breath as Jarod pressed the cold material against his mouth and nose.
Jarod shook his head, clucking almost maternally with his tongue. "Ah, ah, ah, naughty boy. Really, Lyle, here I am trying to help and you don't want me to." He grinned, releasing the pad for Yuri to grasp, and producing a feather from his pocket. Despite his concern for his sister, Jarod had enjoyed planning for this scenario, happy with the end result, knowing that there would be no more feeding of Kodiak Brown's sick fantasies, only his, Jarod's, own admittedly childish and playful urges. Slowly he brushed the feather once along the Centre operative's jawbone as his brown eyes twinkled. "I've often wondered, Lyle. Are you ticklish?"
The man's eyes widened as Jarod gently applied the feather to the skin under Lyle's chin and began to gently brush it back and forth. Lyle struggled once more against the arms that were still wrapped around him as, despite himself, the urge to laugh started to choke him. Finally, unable to bear it, Lyle took a death breath, inhaled the chloroform with which the material was soaked and almost instantly passed out.
* * * * * * * * *
Broots could feel the material of his sweats clinging clammily to him as he tried to remember the self-defense moves Miss Parker had taught him in earlier sessions. Finally he succeeded in disarming her, making the unloaded handgun with which she had threatened him fall to the mat. Breathing heavily, he took a step away and looked up to see the admiration in her eyes.
"Good work," she stated evenly, having regained her balance, and replaced the weapon in the holster that was loosely done up around her waist. She glanced to the side to see that Sam, who had been pumping weights in the nearby room set aside for that purpose, was now in the doorway, having watching the whole exercise. "What do you think, Sam?"
"He's doing really well," the sweeper affirmed as he approached the mats.
Miss Parker raised an eyebrow. "You want to take him on?"
Broots sent the woman a look of panic. Sure, he'd told her that he was better under pressure, but this was way too much. The look she shot at him was enough to tell him that she wouldn't accept any excuses and, with an exaggerated sigh of defeat, Broots took up his position.
Seconds later he found himself flat on his back on the mat, much as he had in his first session and on several subsequent occasions. He stared blankly up at the sweeper who stood above him for a moment, regaining his breath, before accepting the hand his opponent offered to get back on his feet. Miss Parker eyed the two men for a moment before smiling grimly.
"Well, now I know who to call on when I need a decent opponent."
Sam turned with a small smile. "Was that an offer to take me on?"
The woman eyed him in silence for a moment before nodding slightly. "I'll take you on, Sam, but I prefer a verbal sparring partner." Her eyes hardened. "I'll see you up in my office in ten minutes, in uniform."
The sweeper's face fell visibly at the order, but he put his shoulders back, nodded slightly and turned on his heel. Miss Parker watched him leave before turning to Broots.
"You know what to do."
He nodded and they both left the room together.
* * * * * * * * *
The boy sniffed, wiping his eyes on the rough fabric of his sleeve, before looking up at Jordan with an expression of curiosity in his eyes, only partly hidden by the fear that still lingered there.
"What's your name?"
The young man smiled. "I'm Jordan." He leaned in slightly, visually picking out the bruises that marred the boy's skin, only partly visible under the layers of dirt that made the white skin look almost black in patches. "It's okay, Jacob. I promise, I won't hurt you."
That name, and, more importantly, his tone brought tears back to Jacob's eyes, and suddenly he threw himself at Jordan, burying his face in the older boy's shoulder and sobbing violently. Hesitating for a second, Jordan then reached up and gently began to stroke the boy's filthy, matted hair.
"It's okay, Jacob, honest," he whispered urgently, suddenly aware of the time that all this was taking. "Come on, calm down. Stop crying, please."
When the boy's immediate reaction was to choke down his sobs, Jordan was reminded of his own days of instant obedience and the expression in his eyes softened. Jacob eventually sat passively in Jordan's lap and looked up at him, rubbing the dirty material of his sleeve across his nose.
"W what now?"
"Now, we get you out of here." Jordan picked up the blanket and wrapped it around Jacob's thin shoulders. "We have to leave before Cox comes back."
"No!" The boy's reaction was violent as he cringed away, sliding off Jordan's lap and backing into the corner. "No, I can't!"
Understanding, Jordan got to his feet and, placing the torch on the table so that it illuminated the room, began to look around, as he spoke softly.
"You know, Jacob, there's so much that you've never seen. The world outside - it's so big, so exciting. There's so much for you to learn about." His eyes fell on two bowls in the corner, one containing water and the other scraps that wouldn't be sufficient to feed a hungry dog. Jordan glared blackly at the bowl, still keeping his tones light. "It's so beautiful out in the world, and there's people who care about you and won't hurt you." Jordan turned to smile at the young boy, who was watching him warily, his expression one of doubt. "And you know the best part?"
The boy hesitantly shook his head, and Jordan, who had just seen a file on a shelf, went over to pick it up as he answered.
"You'll never have to work like you do here, ever again. You can do what other kids do."
What do other kids do?
Miss Parker's words came back to him again, but this boy was too scared to speak, so Jordan answered the unspoken question quickly. "You can play every day. You and I can play games together all day long."
Tearing the pages from the folder, he shoved them into his jacket pocket and returned the thin booklet to the shelf, turning back to the boy.
"Come on, Jacob."
Jacob swallowed hard, his voice shaking. "I I don't have to to work?"
Jordan walked over to kneel down in front of Jacob, shaking his head with a smile. "I promise, you'll never have to do those biological or genetic projects that he asked you to, ever again."
Eyes wide, Jacob stared up at him. "H how did you know?"
"I just did," Jordan urged softly. "And I also know that we really have to leave. Please, Jacob. I don't want to leave you here."
"I if I come, will you stay with me?"
Jordan smilingly stretched out a hand to the little boy whose grime-streaked face gleamed white in the dimly lit room. "I promise, Jacob. I'll stay with you."
Throwing himself at the older boy, Jacob curled his arms around Jordan's neck, nestling close to the young man. Jordan wrapped both arms around the small body, giving the child the first real sign of affection that Jacob had experienced in his entire six years of life. After a moment, Jordan pulled away a little and looked down.
"Shall we go?"
"Uh huh." Nodding, the boy snuggled against Jordan. With the flashlight in one hand and the other wrapped around the boy's back, the young man silently ascended the stairs, stopping at the top to relock the basement door and replace both the key and torch. Hurrying through the house, he slipped out through the front door, remembering to reactivate the security system, before letting them out through the gate and walking down the fortunately deserted street towards his car.
* * * * * * * * *
Passing the door of the changing room, Miss Parker halted as she heard a voice coming from inside it. Turning, she found Broots at her elbow.
"Sam was the only person in there when I left," he told her in a whisper.
Nodding, she waved him away as the voices became more audible.
"She knows, I'm convinced of it."
There was the sound of footsteps pacing the room. "No," Sam continued in aggravated tones. "I don't know how, either, but she does."
After a moment, he spoke again. "Are you sure I should tell her? Yes, I know you think it's okay, but I don't!"
There was a deep sigh. "Are you sure, Al? Do you know what'd happen if you were wrong?"
Miss Parker could hear footsteps approaching the door and turned on her heel, walking away down the hall towards her office before he could catch her listening.
* * * * * * * * *
Yuri lowered the unconscious figure of Lyle to the floor and dragged him through the doors into the house. Looking over, he saw Jarod removing the rope from around his sister, and it was a struggle for Yuri not to laugh as he saw the expression of astonishment on Emily's face as she stared at him.
"Paul Jennings, what are you doing here?"
"Well, I I had to come and save you, didn't I?" The words came out all in a rush and, having forgotten to mention to Emily's brother the name by which she knew him, Yuri suddenly had to hope that Jarod wasn't going to give him away. Before anybody could speak, however, the cell phone lying on the table rang.
Jarod eyed the other two. "What do you think? Should I ?"
"Might as well." Yuri pulled the car key out of his pocket, slipping his other arm around Emily's waist as she gratefully leaned against him. "We'll be out of here in a flash."
Nodding, Jarod walked over to pick up the cell phone and activated it.
"Mr. Parker!" he exclaimed after a moment. "Why, what a pleasant surprise!"
"Jarod!" the man on the other end growled. "What are you doing? Where's Lyle?"
"At my feet," the Pretender responded with a grin as he turned to look at the still-unconscious man. "It's kind of a long story. But you might want to give Valentine a call and get him to come around, before Lyle does anyway."
Grinning, he disconnected the call and dropped the phone on Lyle's chest, turning to the other two.
"Let's get out of here."
* * * * * * * * *
Knowing that Broots was listening to the discussion and would send in help if she required it, Miss Parker sat behind her desk, hands folded on the flat surface, watching the clock. Exactly ten minutes after she and Broots had left the gym, there was a soft knock on her door.
"Come in, Sam."
The sweeper's head was slightly bowed and he was examining the floor as he walked into the room. He straightened to attention in front of her desk, and, after a moment, also met her eye.
"Please, Miss Parker," he began immediately. "Let me explain before you judge me."
She raised an eyebrow. "It's a bit late for that, Sam. I don't know why I shouldn't just hand you over to the Chairman right now."
The man exhaled slowly, nodding slightly. "If you do that, Die Fakultät's work will be done."
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she watched him. "You know that place?"
Sam nodded again. "You could say that."
"Stop beating around the bush," she ordered. "What's your connection to the Berlin station?"
* * * * * * * * *
Jordan glanced into the back seat of the car as he stopped at a traffic light to see that Jacob, exhausted by the emotions of that morning and also the questions he hadn't stopped firing at the older boy since getting into the car, had finally fallen asleep, curled up in the corner of the car seat, still wrapped in the blanket Jordan had brought with them from Cox's. Pulling over to the side of the road and keeping a close eye on the cars that passed them, Jordan took out the cell phone Jarod had given him for Christmas and brought up his progenitor's number.
Jarod couldn't help continually glancing in the rearview mirror, but it wasn't to check that they weren't being followed. The look on his sister's face when Yuri had appeared in the room was the final proof Jarod needed to show him that the other man had been sincere. Somehow she had pierced the armor of non-emotion Yuri had built up in the Centre, and they would have to make sure that no-one connected with that place ever found out about the fact, or it could yet prove to be a fatal weakness for them.
Even as he thought this, however, his cell phone, lying on the passenger seat of the car, rang, causing all three occupants to jump. Keeping an eye on the road, Jarod activated the phone.
"Dad, it's me."
Jarod straightened in his seat. "Jordan! Where are you, son? Are you okay?"
"I'm in Delaware," the boy on the other end admitted. "But I'm nearly at the state line."
The tone of his voice gave the man a clue of the boy's activities over the previous 24 hours, and Jarod couldn't help grinning. "You got Echo, didn't you?"
"I couldn't leave him there," Jordan protested vehemently.
"I know," Jarod assured him. "So it's a boy?"
"Uh huh." Jordan swallowed hard. "Dad, it it's us."
Jarod suddenly pulled the car over to the side of the road, parking in a convenient space and staring blankly at the steering wheel. Yuri looked back over his shoulder, exclaiming in horror, before turning and begging the driver to keep going. Ignoring this, Jarod kept his attention on the phone.
"Jordan, are you sure?"
"Positive." The boy's voice trembled. "He looks just like you did in the photos that Da has in his wallet, and in the DSAs you showed me, so he has to look like me too." He paused for a second, swallowing painfully. "Dad, what do I do now?"
The older man smiled half-heartedly. "Take him back to where Dad's waiting, son. He's been worrying about you for hours. In fact, call him first and tell him you're safe."
"Would you do it for me?"
Jarod raised an eyebrow, despite knowing it would go unseen by his young counterpart. "You disobeyed a direct order, Jordan, and you've got to take the punishment that comes about as a result of it. Go back to Texas and we'll come down there as soon as we can. Okay?"
"Uh huh." Jordan's voice was hesitant.
"Oh, one more thing," Jarod put in quickly before the young man could hang up. "What should we call the boy, other than 'Echo'?"
"Cox sometimes called him Jacob," Jordan admitted. At the sound of a soft gasp on the other end of the line, he spoke again. "Dad, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," Jarod told him, his voice tight. "We'll see you in Texas."
* * * * * * * * *
The room was full of people, all gathered to try and come up with some way of making up for the missing children. All those present had a personal stake in the Seraphim, but, Cox thought, it could probably be said quite fairly that his was the highest. Or, as he caught sight of the Chairman's pale face and strained expression, one of the highest. He was, therefore, thankful for the other projects he had, of which most people had no idea.
At this juncture, his cell phone vibrated silently in his pocket, and, casting a wary look around the room, Cox slipped out of the door again, connecting the call once he was in the hall.
"Mr. Cox, this is Mr. Johns from Farnham Security. There's been an unusual activity regarding the security system at your house this morning and I just wanted to check that everything was all right."
The man raised an eyebrow. "Can you tell me - what kind of 'unusual activity?'"
"Not long after it was activated at your usual time, it was deactivated again, and then, an hour or so later, turned back on. I'll assume you forgot something," Mr. Johns laughed. "But you did say that I should check any strange behaviour with you "
"Yes, thank you," Cox interrupted. "I'll take it from here. Everything should be back to normal in the morning."
"Of course, Mr. Cox." The man hung up and Cox returned the cell phone to his pocket, turning at once to the elevator.
The doors slid open to reveal two men. Cox was about to brush past them into the car when he saw the tense expression in their eyes and stopped.
"Jarod," Lyle growled, not condescending to explain any further, as he headed for his father's office.
Valentine gave the doctor a brief overview of what had occurred, and Cox, as he got into the elevator, was at least relieved to know that, no matter what had happened at his house, the Pretender wasn't directly involved.
* * * * * * * * *
Glancing into the back seat of the car as he pulled up at a red light, Jordan saw that the boy was still asleep. A gleaming sign ahead gave him a hint of what was coming, and he heard his stomach growling as if in reply. Pulling into the parking lot, he followed the signs around to the drive-thru, eyeing the menu warily for a moment.
The last thing he wanted to do to Jacob was make him sick, and although the boy's thin body made him want to feed him with everything that Jordan could lay his hands on, the young man knew that this would be unwise. The order he placed, therefore, was restrained, and he saw the child move uncomfortably at the sound of his voice.
"It's okay, Jacob," he soothed, seeing the child fidget nervously as he saw the high walls of the drive-thru. "I'm getting something to eat. Are you hungry?"
"I I only get to eat after I work," the boy replied in a trembling voice.
"That was there," Jordan stated as he pulled up at the window. "Now, it's different."
Several minutes later, he accepted the warm bags and placed them on the passenger seat of the car, driving a short distance down the road and then turning into a quiet side street. With a wary glance around, he got out of the car and climbed into the back.
Jacob peered curiously at the item Jordan removed from the wrapper. "What is it?"
"It's a hamburger. They're very good," the older boy told him, breaking a piece off it and handing it over. "Try it."
The prompt order brought an equally prompt response as the boy immediately put the piece into his mouth, eyes widening at the new flavor. As Jordan ate the rest of the burger in large bites, he smiled at the child's eager face. He offered the fries with a warning.
"Just a few."
After several fries, he stopped Jacob, finishing the small bag himself, before turning eagerly to the dessert he hadn't been able to resist buying.
"Close your eyes," he directed with a grin, "and open your mouth."
Jacob eyed him warily for a second before doing as he was told. Jordan took the plastic cup out of the bag, removed the lid and scooped up a large serve of the ice cream, spooning it into Jacob's mouth. The child instinctively closed his mouth, clamping down on the plastic spoon, and stared at the older boy for a moment before giggling.
"It's cold," he gurgled, removing the spoon from his mouth as Jordan produced a second one from the bag.
"But it's good, isn't it?" Jordan suggested, helping himself to a generous serve.
The boy eagerly eyed the container, giggling again as he received a second mouthful, which had begun to melt and dripped onto his top. Like flicking a switch, the laughter vanished from his face and he began to tremble, looking around nervously.
"It's okay, Jacob," Jordan soothed, producing a napkin to wipe away the drip. "See? All gone."
He scooped some of the ice cream into the lid, offering it to the child.
"You can have this one, but hold it like this," Jordan demonstrated with the cup under his chin, "and it won't drip, okay?"
The boy nodded silently, anxiously accepting the lid, but the amusement never returned to his face and he ate the rest of the ice cream as if expecting to be punished at every mouthful.
* * * * * * * * *
"I worked for Die Fakultät until 1993," Sam began, sitting down in a seat to which Miss Parker had directed him. "That was the year I came to the Centre. But I didn't have to go through the normal interview processes. My employment was organized by my boss at the time."
"Yes." Sam nodded slowly. "His intention was that I should secure a position where I would be able to gain easy access to anything classified and hand it on. As you might remember, 1993 was the year that I began working with you, Miss Parker."
The woman gave a short, confirmatory nod, waiting for him to continue.
"Leiden got me that position 'cause he thought it was a way for me to get close to Mr. Parker. Leiden always thought your father would become Director of the Centre one day. He thought it was possible he might even be Chairman of the Triumvirate. He figured that if I worked with you, I'd be able to get access to whatever information he wanted."
Sam hesitated, uncertain of whether he should continue, but the expression in his boss's eyes convinced him to do so.
"Leiden also knew about you and the position you'd hold as the head of SIS. He knew about Project Artemis too," the sweeper continued before Miss Parker could speak and the question she had been about to ask died on her tongue at the name of that project. "He told me that he and Mr. Parker talked about it often and he gave me a basic outline. One of his directives was that I was to push you in that direction if the opportunity ever arose."
Sighing heavily, Sam stared down at his hands for a moment while the woman sat in stunned silence, before the man continued.
"I was told to make sure that nobody suspected what I was doing, and that I had to send him whatever information I could. The more I sent, and the more useful it was, the better things would be."
"So what did you do, that they're threatening to have you taken care of?" Miss Parker queried, in a tone that was only just not a sneer. "Miss one of their deadlines?"
"Not exactly." A faint smile played around the edges of Sam's mouth. "For a while now, things have been different."
* * * * * * * * *
Broots was listening, wide-eyed, to the conversation in Miss Parker's office, when the door to the office where he sat opened. Sydney looked surprised as he saw the recording equipment.
"What's going on?"
"Sam's been passing on top-secret information and Miss Parker's collared him, trying to find out why, and to whom," Broots told him bluntly.
Sydney lifted an eyebrow but otherwise didn't comment, settling himself comfortably in a chair on the other side of the desk, his walking stick hanging on the back of the seat. "And what are you doing, besides listening in, of course?"
The technician held up an alarm button. "If there's any problems, Miss Parker told me to press it and there ought to be sweepers in there to control Sam within seconds. But it doesn't sound like it's going to be necessary." He flicked a switch and immediately the conversation sounded clearly in the room. "Just listen for yourself."
After a few minutes, Broots looked up. "What did you want Miss Parker for? She said that, if anything really important came up, I could interrupt."
Sydney considered for a moment, the folder held firmly in his arms, but finally shook his head. "No, this isn't that vital. It's not a breach of security or anything else that would cause me to interrupt something like this. It's personal."
The younger man's eyes were full of curiosity as he looked up. "Like what?"
The psychiatrist shook his head. "As I said, Broots, this is personal. If Miss Parker wants you to know, after I tell her, then she can tell you herself."
Placing the folder on his lap, Sydney focused his attention on the voices that were audible in the next room and, after a moment, the technician did the same.
* * * * * * * * *
Bringing the plane to a stop, Jordan looked out through the windshield, able the recognize the two men who stood next to the hangar, and a lump formed in the young man's throat, which he hurriedly swallowed. This was the part he hadn't considered -- the consequences of his actions. It was obvious from his grandfather's expression that there would be trouble for going off in the way he had, but Sebastian's face was also sterner that Jordan had ever seen it before, and it took all his courage to turn to Jacob and help him off with his seatbelt without revealing his feelings.
As soon as he was out of the seat, Jacob clutched at Jordan's hand, peering around at the other planes through the windshield, his face even whiter than usual with fear. After wiping his other hand along the leg of his pants to remove the nervous perspiration, Jordan picked up the bag and stepped out of the aircraft.
Sebastian remained where he was as Major Charles approached them.
"Jordan, for God's sake, where have you been?!"
He held the boy at arm's length for a second before briefly drawing him into his arms and then holding him away again.
"I I'm sorry," the young man muttered. "I just I couldn't leave him there."
Reminded of the reason for Jordan's disappearance, the Major peered at the boy, who was now hiding behind Jordan's legs, huddled in a violently trembling ball on the ground with his arm over his head, almost beside himself with terror at this new face, with the stern voice that reminded him of the man who had scared him for every moment of his short life. The Major couldn't help raising an eyebrow.
"What on earth ?"
"He doesn't seem to like other people," Jordan admitted. "I think Cox might have trained him in that. It took a long time before he'd trust me, but "
Turning, Jordan bent down so that he was almost on eye level with the boy, slipping an arm around him and squeezing gently.
"It's okay, Jacob," Jordan soothed. "I'm here. It's all right."
With a muffled wail, Jacob threw himself into Jordan's arms, sobbing violently.
The man could barely restrain a gasp as he eyed the child's features, feeling a tugging at his heart as he examined the boy's face, forcibly reminded of his eldest son in the way that he least liked to remember him, from those last days before the abduction.
Sebastian stepped forward as the small boy's sobs became louder, verging on hysteria. His eyes widened slightly at the sight of the boy's face, shocked by both his obvious similarity to Jordan and Jarod, and also his extreme emaciation.
"Let's get back to Sanctuary," he directed. "We can take care of everything there."
Nodding, Jordan straightened up, feeling his grandfather's hand come to rest on his shoulder in an instinctively protective motion. In that instant, he was able to understand the depth of the man's feelings. The Major had been terrified at the thought that he had yet again lost his son, albeit in a different form. As they got into the company sedan, Jordan let Jacob slide into the corner of the seat, tucking the worn blanket from Cox's house around him, and watched as his grandfather sat beside him, Sebastian getting in beside the driver.
"I really am sorry," he stated softly. "When I went off, I I didn't think about how you'd feel."
"I know you didn't," Major Charles responded evenly. "I've got just one thing to say about this whole affair, Jordan. Although I understand why you went, and I can't say that I wouldn't have done the same thing if I'd felt as strongly about it as you did, putting yourself in direct danger like that is a very different thing from what Jarod or Emily do."
"Jarod went back to the Centre to get Kyle," Jordan reminded him.
"Much as I hate to have to say this, Jarod can fight his way out of a situation, should the need arise," the man explained. "You can't; at least not yet. That's why it's more dangerous for you to put yourself in that sort of situation. Do you understand?"
"Yes." Jordan met Charles' gaze steadily, appreciating the fact that he was being treated like an adult and not as a disobedient child. "And maybe I should have told you why I felt that way about it. If I had, you even might have been willing to come and help me."
"That's certainly possible," the man agreed. Suddenly he smiled. "You know, I figured you'd be coming back."
Jordan raised an eyebrow as he removed his jacket, wrapping it around the boy's emaciated body as Jacob began to shiver, both from cold and emotion. "How come?"
Pulling a PEZ dispenser from his pocket, Charles held it out. "You left this behind."
Laughing, Jordan accepted the dispenser as it was offered. "Incredible. I never missed it."
The Major nodded, his eyes becoming serious. "I know Sebastian has a few things to say to you as well, but they can wait. Jarod's on his way here, and we need to take care of this child first."
Jordan looked down at Jacob, who was curled up almost under his arm, his thin body still shaking with sobs. Lifting the boy onto his lap, Jordan wrapped his arms around Jacob, feeling the child burrow as close to him as he could, his face buried in Jordan's stomach and hot tears soaking the young man's black t-shirt.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod and Yuri supported Emily between them as they entered the large building, her muscles still cramping painfully from the long hours sitting in one position. Jarod saw his father's eyes widen with panic as he hurried over, nudging Yuri aside as he put his arm around Emily's shoulders, exchanging concerned glances with his son. After helping her to a nearby chair, the older man then turned to the stranger, who tentatively offered his hand.
"Major, my name is "
"Paul Jennings," Jarod interrupted smoothly. "He's a friend of Emily's, and, to a lesser extent, one of mine."
The older Pretender couldn't help seeing the relief that flashed in Yuri's eyes, hiding a smile as he turned to his sister.
"Em, you okay?"
She nodded slowly, closing her eyes briefly as she leaned against her father, who stroked her hair, his eyes demanding an answer from his son, but Jarod shook his head and mouthed the word 'later.' After a few minutes, she began to struggle to her feet, and Jarod slipped his arm around her back for support. Her father gave her a concerned look, exchanging glances with his son, as he moved to the woman's other side, leaving Yuri to follow behind. Major Charles suggested they go up to Jarod's room, where, he said, Jordan was waiting.
When the door opened, Jacob whimpered, cringing back against Jordan, who was sitting on the floor in the corner and reading to him. The older boy put his arms around him, unable to hide his relief at the sight of his genetic double entering the room. Jarod nodded to him, surreptitiously eyeing the child, but his primary concern was his sister and he helped her to a chair. As he began an examination, however, Emily shot him a sharp glance and moved out from under his hands.
"I'm okay," she insisted firmly. "I would have told you if there was anything wrong."
Jarod raised an eyebrow. "Sure?"
"Positive." She leaned in towards him, lowering her voice. "Not in front of Dad and Jordan."
"Okay, okay." Her brother got to his feet. "Maybe later."
"If I'll let you," she told him with a grin. "You'll have to catch me first."
Jarod responded with a grin of his own, giving her a nod, before turning his attention to where Jordan sat. His eyes traveled quickly over the boy, taking in the pale skin and sunken cheeks. The child was watching him, wide-eyed, his face almost hidden in Jordan's shoulder, peeping over the older boy's jacket collar. He whimpered again as Jarod came over to where the boys were sitting.
"How did it go?" Jarod queried, sitting down beside the boys and turning his gaze away from the terrified eyes of the child to a point in front of himself.
"Fine," Jordan responded, rubbing an encouraging hand on Jacob's back, staring forward also. "Did you think anything bad would happen?"
"I had no idea," the older man replied honestly, watching out of the corner of his eye as Yuri sat down beside Emily and she rested her head on his shoulder. "But, considering where you were and also how close you were to the Centre, it seemed like a reasonable question."
Jarod watched surreptitiously as Jacob began to relax his hold around Jordan's neck. Casting a quick glance at Jordan, the older man knew that they were thinking along similar lines, and he changed the subject to work Jordan had been doing since arriving at Sanctuary.
Jacob, his arms still around the one single person he felt he could trust, eyed the older man curiously. His faith in Jordan didn't just come from the older boy's sympathetic tone. His only good dreams contained the faces of the two people close to him. In his dreams, he had once seen them playing together in cold, white stuff that he had also seen out of the window of his room, before the man who always made him call him 'sir' had boarded it up. A feeling inside had told him that the man who had appeared in his room wouldn't hurt him, the way Sir did. Now this same feeling was extended to the new person who was sitting beside him. Jacob had no idea where the feeling came from, only that he trusted it.
Again peering over Jordan's coat collar, he found the dark eyes of the older man fixed on him. The child cringed back, but remained silent, watching warily as Jarod leaned forward.
"It's okay, Jacob," stated the older man softly, trying to overcome the emotions that that name caused in him. "I'm not going to hurt you." Jarod pushed the dirty, tangled hair out of the boy's eyes. "Do you believe me?"
The boy nodded very slightly, the terrified look slowly fading from his face. Suddenly shivering with cold and emotion, Jacob felt himself lifted out of Jordan's arms. Tensing momentarily, the child found his head pillowed by a leather-covered shoulder, closing his eyes as Jarod gently stroked his hair. Jordan got to his feet, exaggeratedly rubbing his legs and rolling his eyes, as Jarod tried not to laugh.
"Is your room tidy enough to get another bed put in it?" Jarod asked softly.
"Uh, I left sort of early yesterday morning," Jordan explained sheepishly, rubbing the toe of his shoe into the floor. "I didn't really get time "
"Then what say you go and do it," Major Charles put in at this point from the small kitchenette, in which he was preparing something for the new arrivals to eat from food that Ramona had left there for that purpose.
"And make up one for Emily," Yuri put in, having watched the scene silently up to now. "I think she should have a rest too."
"Emily, considering what kind of a day you've had "
She put a hand over his mouth and glared at him. "Not now," Emily hissed between clenched teeth, casting a quick glance at her father. "Later."
Standing, she slowly walked over to where Jarod was sitting on the floor, Jacob curled up in his arms. As she approached, the boy instantly raised his head, the fear flowering in his eyes once more.
"It's okay, Jacob," Jarod stated softly, feeling him tense. "This is a friend, I promise."
Sliding to the floor, Jacob curled up under Jarod's arm, peeping over it at the woman who sat down on the sofa. Putting an arm around his shoulders, Jarod tried to draw the boy closer, but Jacob resisted the man's touch, warily watching the woman. When she bent down to him, the boy shrank back against the wall, but, after Emily had spoken soothingly for several moments, Jacob was at least willing to return to his seat on Jarod's lap. Any further than this, however, he refused to go and Jarod didn't force him, aware that it would take time to undo six years of Cox's brutal training.
* * * * * * * * *
"I I have a brother," Sam admitted slowly, hoping he was doing the right thing. "He was one of the Pretoriat's subjects, then he was here in The Centre for a while, and after that he was taken to Berlin."
Miss Parker raised an eyebrow. "Why were all three branches so interested in him?"
"My brother's a psychic. I'm not," he added, preempting her question. "Otherwise they'd never have sent me over here. I went directly from South Africa to Germany. Then they sent me here when they thought I could be useful."
"So what are you?" she demanded impatiently. "What use did Die Fakultät find for you?"
"I'm pretty ordinary," the sweeper admitted with a half-shrug. "I'm better than the average man at martial arts, but that's about it. My position in Berlin was similar to what it is here -- a sweeper, although that's not what they call them."
Sighing deeply, Sam was about to continue when Miss Parker jumped in. "They -- specifically Leiden -- threatened your brother unless you sent them information, didn't he?"
"Yes," the man admitted, his voice strained. "He was all the family I had until my marriage, and he's still one of the most important people to me. Our parents were killed when we were taken from them. Nothing matters to me except that he's okay. If he was in danger, I'd do anything to protect him." Sam's large hands balled into fists, his voice trembling with anger. "I had to send them information for five years, from 1993 onwards. There was nothing else I could do. I know what Leiden's capable of. The thought of what he might have done to my brother terrified me."
"Why only five years?" the woman demanded. "What was different after 1998?"
"After that," he admitted, "things changed."
As Sam paused, Miss Parker eyed him curiously. "What changed?"
The sweeper's lips curled into a half-smile. "In 1998, my brother escaped."
* * * * * * * * *
Cox's fingers flew over the security pad and he pulled the door open, hurrying straight to the basement door. Flicking a light switch, he illuminated the underground room as he unlocked the door and pulled it open. From the top of the stairs, he glared down into the vacant room, seeing at once that it was free of occupation. Marching down the stairs, he seized the empty folder from the shelf and opened it, blankly staring at the tiny paper scraps which were all that remained of the careful notes he had taken. Dropping the cover back onto the shelf, he turned on his heel and stalked up the stairs.
In the living room, Cox glared around the spacious area, his eyes lighting on the rearranged animals that now decorated his home. His brow folded into a glare. The source of his change in decorations wasn't hard to find, remembering other changes that had occurred after the Pretender had been in his office or his house. But, when he thought more carefully, one thing flatly contradicted it.
There was nothing he could do now. No matter who had invaded his home, stolen his project, there was no way to change it. By now they would be long gone, and, because only one other person knew about Echo, Cox couldn't call in sweepers to make a search. All he could do now was to make sure that the boy wouldn't last long. If, as he suspected, one of the people associated with Jarod -- be it his father or someone else -- had come and taken the boy, they would soon discover his secret and try to work out some way to solve the dilemma that would be facing them.
Going back to the kitchen, Cox opened the refrigerator, extracting a box from which he took a number of medicine bottles and several vials. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Cox dialed a number before tucking the object between his shoulder and chin and, while waiting for his call to be answered, emptying the first bottle down the sink.
As Jarod was making up a bed in the corner of Jordan's room for Jacob, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning to find his father standing behind him, the major held out a paper-wrapped parcel, a look of sadness in his eyes. Raising an eyebrow, Jarod took it, feeling that the contents were soft and yielded under his fingers.
"What is it?"
His father swallowed painfully before forcing a small smile. "It's some of the clothes you wore, the day before you were abducted by the Centre. Your mother has one set, and I've kept the other with me ever since."
Jarod gently placed the parcel on the table before drawing the older man into his arms, his eyes glistening. After several silent moments, he drew away and started to unfasten the string that bound it. Almost reverently peeling back the paper, Jarod took out a hand-knitted sweater and neatly folded pants, which, accompanied by a shirt and a change of underclothes, made up an outfit that Jacob, despite his age, would fit into, his diet and environment having left him very small. Out of the corner of his eye, Jarod cast a glance at his father.
"Can you " Jarod's voice broke, but he managed to continue. "Can you bear to see him in this?"
"Put him in it and we'll see," the older man responded quickly, turning away. "We'll have to buy him more anyway -- a kid can't live in one change -- and he doesn't have to keep them."
Nodding, Jarod wrapped the paper over the clothing and watched his father leave the room as his sister entered. Dropping the bundle onto the older boy's bed, Jarod placed his hands on Emily's shoulders and drew her towards him, his eyes keenly searching her face.
"You sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, really," she assured him. "They didn't do anything except keep me tied to a chair for hours, and the flight from Idaho gave me time to get over that. A good sleep and I'll be back to normal." Emily eyed him curiously. "How do you know Paul?"
"We've met once or twice," Jarod responded carefully, determined to give the man himself a chance to explain, knowing how much his sister would resent any interference on his behalf. "But I had no idea you two were romantically involved."
"We're just friends," she protested indignantly, and Jarod laughed.
Grinning, Emily hugged him briefly before drawing away. The smile faded as she heard loud sobs from the adjoining room and was about to go in when Jarod stopped her.
"I'll deal with it. You and Y -- Paul go and help Dad."
Hoping that she hadn't noticed his hesitation, Jarod opened the bathroom door, stretching out an arm in time to prevent Jacob from bolting past him out into the bedroom. Catching the boy, Jarod firmly closed the door before looking at Jordan, whose face was flushed.
"What's going on?"
"Hydrophobia," Jordan responded tightly, running a hand impatiently through his short hair.
Jarod snorted. "I don't believe it."
"All right then," the younger man returned, exasperated. "You get him into the bath."
Nodding, Jarod knelt in front of Jacob and looked into his eyes, which revealed the child's fear of the big bathtub full of warm water and bubbles.
"What's the matter, Jacob?"
"Scared," the child muttered between dry sobs. "Water hurts."
Jarod nodded again, having guessed at something like this being the cause, remembering the times when water had been used on him as a punishment, from a scalding hot shower when he had been interested in his body to the forced shower Lyle had inflicted with the fire hose when he had been dragged back to the Centre after Miss Parker had been shot. He could only imagine the numerous ways Cox would have come up with to punish him, thus resulting in the child's understandable fear, and Jarod only hoped he could alleviate it.
"You know, Jacob," he began persuasively. "Water doesn't always hurt."
Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, the boy nodded vigorously, clutching Jordan's jacket around his thin, bare shoulders. "Always, with Sir."
"But Sir's not here now," Jarod responded gently. "Only Jordan and I are here, so let's find out if water hurts when we're here, shall we?"
Now shaking his head, the child lunged against the arms that were holding him, but the man simply tightened his grasp a little more, keeping the boy still.
"Jacob," he stated kindly. "I'm sure the room where the water hurt, with Sir, wasn't as nice as this, was it?"
Shooting a quick look around the room, Jacob slowly shook his head before burying his face in Jarod's shoulder, his small shoulders heaving. The man stroked the tangled mass of hair on the boy's head, giving him a reassuring hug. Jordan slid a hand into the bath, although he had already tested it to ensure that it wasn't too hot, swishing it around and making the water slap against the smooth sides of the tub. The sound brought Jacob's head up off Jarod's shoulder and he warily watched Jordan flicking the water against the tiles as Jarod continued.
"And," he reached into the pocket of his jacket, producing a colorful plastic toy, "I'm positive you didn't get to play with a little boat like this one, did you?"
He put the boat into the child's hands, seeing the delight in Jacob's eyes as his thin fingers closed around the object.
"Is is this for me?"
"For you to play with in the bath," Jarod agreed. He nodded at the older boy, who pulled a toy helicopter out of his pocket, before Jarod turned back to the child. "And you can have that too, to play with in the bath."
Jacob gave him a hopeful look, but there was wariness behind the positive expression. "Only in the bath?"
"These are specially for the bath," Jarod told him, as Jordan placed the helicopter on the rim of the tub and spun the prop. "But there are other toys for when you're out of the bath."
"And books to read," Jordan chimed in, remembering how much Jacob had seemed to enjoy the time they had spent reading. "Lots of books."
"So, what do you say, Jacob," Jarod put in, smiling briefly at Jordan before looking back at the boy. "Shall we try the bath?"
Jacob looked from Jarod to Jordan, then at the helicopter, and finally at the boat in his hands, before hesitantly nodding.
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney glanced at his watch before getting to his feet. With the folder under his arm, he firmly grasped the walking stick, meeting Broots' eye.
"She'll obviously be a while."
"Sounds like it," the technician agreed. "You've got things to do?"
The psychiatrist's lips curled into a smile. "Don't I always? When Miss Parker's finished, will you tell her that I want to talk to her and ask her to come and find me?"
"Sure thing." Broots held out a hand. "Want me to mind that for you?"
Unable to repress a smile at the curiosity in Broots' eyes, Sydney shook his head. "Thanks, but I'll take care of it."
Making his way to his office, Sydney returned the file to its hiding place before sitting down at his desk. The box that he had taken from Angelo's new quarters now sat on the floor beside his feet, and Sydney carefully lifted it into his lap. Taking out the first of the folders, a look was enough to show Sydney that this was information about Timmy's early work at the Centre and his simulation results. Setting it aside to look through later, Sydney picked up the second, noticing that it was dated 4/13/70, and, with a shudder of premonition he was unable to suppress, the psychiatrist replaced the box on the floor and opened the booklet on his desk.
The first sheet was dated July 3, 1965, and it contained measurements of a child. The paper bore a rough sketch of a familiar-looking neuro-electric chair, scribbled notations along the margins suggesting it was being sized down to fit a child. As Sydney's eyes traveled back to the date on the top right-hand corner, he suddenly realized why it looked so familiar. It was only two weeks before the experiment Raines had performed on Rebecca, and Sydney's right hand clenched into a fist as the anger rose in him.
In an attempt to dispel it, he turned to the next page. This, dated 4/14/70, contained medical documentation, the observations carried out by a nurse on SL-27 of an individual Sydney had to assume was Angelo. The observations continued for almost two weeks, ending in medical notations made in Raines' handwriting.
It is believed that Angelo will show no further improvement in his current condition, and is unlikely to be of any further use to the Proteus Project. This was a calculated risk of Project Harpocrates, and I cannot feel that an error has been made in allowing the project to go ahead. We can now begin to explore the potentials that Angelo's new mental and physical state provides us with. WR.
Sydney lifted his head to stare blankly at the opposite wall, eyes kindling with anger. To treat a defenseless child in that manner, to coldly calculate the risks of such an operation, with the knowledge of what it might do to him, the state it might leave him in, and to be happy, even satisfied, with such horrendous results -- Sydney was unable to fully express his feelings at this discovery, worsened by the knowledge that there was nobody at whom he could direct his anger. Raines was dead, and to bring such things to the attention of the Chairman would be the signing of his, Sydney's, own death warrant.
His eyes scanned the information once again, alighting on the name of the project. Something caught inside Sydney as a sneer curled his lip. Harpocrates. He could see how, to Raines' twisted sense of humor, the name would have seemed gloriously appropriate, considering his accurate prediction of the results of the experiment. Harpocrates -- the Greek God of silence and secrets. The anger rose in the psychiatrist again as he leaned back in the chair, staring at the wall of his office for a moment, before returning his eyes to the paperwork. Closing the folder, his hands trembling, not from the after-effects of the stroke, but from his own emotions, Sydney pushed it aside, wishing he could do the same with such ease to his own feelings of nausea.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod thoughtfully rocked back on his heels, watching Jordan and Jacob play with the toys. In the water, the bruises and scars were clearly visible, evidence of the harsh treatment that the boy had undergone. The child crowed with delight as Jordan filled a cup with warm water and tipped it over his head, giggling as the water ran down his face.
"Again!" Jacob cried eagerly, his eyes bright and, for the first time, free of fear. "Again!"
As Jordan obliged, Jarod soaped the loofah and rubbed it gently over the little body, watching the child giggle again at the ticklish sensation. Handing the loofah to Jordan so that he could finish washing the last of the basement grime off the boy, Jarod rose to his feet and left the room, returning after a few moments with the clothes that his father had given him. As he put them on the floor, Jarod picked up a towel.
"Let's see how these fit, shall we?"
Jordan helped the child out of the water, draining the bathtub as Jarod wrapped a towel around the small body and began to dry him thoroughly. When that was done, Jarod picked up the clothes, gently helping the child to don them.
Once he was finished, Jarod got to his feet, visually examining the boy and feeling a strange tightening of his throat. The clothes fit perfectly, the child's emaciated frame making him look more like four than six years old, and Jarod knew that this was the picture his parents would have carried in their heads of him for 33 years. Picking up the boy, Jarod held him so that the child was on eye level with the man.
"Do you trust us, Jacob?"
The expression in the boy's eyes became instantly wary, but he slowly nodded.
Jarod turned to the younger man, who had been watching this scene silently. "Son, would you ask your grandfather to come to your room?"
"Sure thing." Jordan opened the door and left the apartment, heading for Major Charles' room, while Jarod carried Jacob into the bedroom. Sitting down on Jordan's bed, the man looked at the child.
"Jacob, you don't have to be scared of that person, any more than you're scared of Jordan or me."
"B-but he yells," the child stammered fearfully, tears welling in his eyes as his fingers tightened around the collar of the shirt Jarod wore. "He yells like Sir did."
"He yelled once, because he was unhappy with Jordan," Jarod corrected gently, unfastening the thin, cold fingers and trapping them in his warm ones. "But he won't do it again."
Looking at the man in the doorway, Jarod could see the pain in his father's eyes as he gazed at the boy sitting on his son's lap. Smiling sadly, Jarod turned to the child on his knee.
"Do you trust me, Jacob?"
The child's fingers tightened around his, turning his gaze from the face close to him to that in the doorway, eyeing the sad expression in the man's eyes and the faint smile on his lips, before Jacob once more looked at Jarod and, very slowly this time, once more nodded his head.
* * * * * * * * *
Picking up the box again, Sydney noticed that it contained a number of sheets of printed data, names and addresses. The first name that caught his eye was 'Dragon House,' with the name Zeus alongside it, and Sydney reached over to his filing cabinet, producing a sheet on which was a list of coded names for all the Files, which Broots had given him several weeks earlier. Zeus, he understood almost immediately, was the code for Kyle, and Sydney flipped through the other pages, rapidly matching names with safe-houses.
Orpheus - Pine Ridge in Virginia, Minnesota. Orpheus was the code-name for
Achilles - Catherine Close in Hamilton, Alabama. That would be Mason.
Shiva - Ellinbank in Ulysses, Kansas. That was Yuri.
Page after page contained details of the various houses, including their accessibility from the ground and the air. Scribbled notations showed the dates on which they had been used, all on more than one occasion. Suddenly, gathering the pages together, Sydney turned his chair so that he could reach the scanner set up on the table behind him. Copying the data took only a few minutes and, while it was happening, Sydney once more examined the box. One sheet of paper remained, facedown, and, turning it over, the psychiatrist took note of the smudges and marks that suggested the page had been well handled. When his eyes fell on the name of the safe-house, however, Sydney understood.
It was the place Timmy had been taken, before being brought to the Centre. As a remnant of the past that he was perhaps able to recall, if only faintly, Sydney was left in no doubt that this was one of his most treasured pieces of information. Slipping the page into the scanner, he saved the details to a disk. Replacing the pages in the box, he stored the simulation results in a section of the filing cabinet in which he kept information about Angelo before picking up the box and carrying it to the elevator to return it to the empath.
* * * * * * * * *
His now-short hair shining in the light, Jacob curled up at Jarod's feet as the man sat on the sofa in the living room that led off Jordan's bedroom, reading through the pages of material Jordan had purloined from the cellar at Cox's house. The boy's eyes were trained fearfully on to the two people talking quietly in the far corner of the room, one claw-like hand clutching Jarod's ankle, as the man absent-mindedly stroked his hair.
As Jacob was about to turn his attention to the man on the couch, the woman rose to her feet and headed towards the doorway that led to the hall. The man she had been talking to, after watching her leave, stood and began walking towards the sofa. Instantly, Jacob climbed up to throw himself into Jarod's arms, trying to hide behind the cushions. Allowing the papers to fall to the floor, Jarod curled his arms around the emaciated shoulders, preventing the child from falling off the sofa.
Yuri sighed as he eyed the man and boy. "We need to talk."
"It's okay, Jacob," Jarod soothed, ignoring the comment. "He's safe."
The younger man cast a glance around the otherwise empty room, before grinning. "You sure about that, Jarod?"
"Probably," the older man amended immediately, not turning his eyes from the terrified boy's face. When the fear didn't abate, Jarod raised his voice. "Jordan? Will you come here, son?"
When the young man appeared in the doorway of his bedroom a few seconds later, a drowsy expression in his eyes suggesting that he had been sleeping, Jacob squirmed out of Jarod's arms, running over to the older boy and trying to hide behind him. Picking up Jacob, Jordan watched as Jarod got off the sofa and opened the door that Emily had shut behind her, letting the younger Pretender go out ahead of him and nodding to his clone before also leaving the room.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker drummed her fingers on the desk as he looked at the man seated opposite her.
"So, if your brother's safe, why are you still sending information to Berlin?"
Panic flashed briefly in the man's eyes before they were lowered in the direction of the floor, but he remained mutinously silent. Morgan waited for a moment before slamming her fist on the desk.
"Answer me, Sam!"
"It wasn't going to Leiden," the man mumbled.
"Then who?" she hissed, eyes narrow.
Even as she asked the question, a man's face flashed into her mind, along with the words he had spoken.
We don't seem so capable when intercepting messages as you here in Blue Cove.
"Was it Peter Winston?" she demanded suddenly, receiving confirmation in the way Sam's head snapped up and he stared at her in disbelief.
"H how did you ?"
"I just did," Morgan told him. Leaning back in the chair, she folded her arms and eyed him thoughtfully. "Now, what are we going to do with you, Sam?"
* * * * * * * * *
Yuri turned to Jarod when they were some distance from the building, watching the older man gazing up at the sky, as the sun began to sink towards the horizon.
"I Thank you," he offered, somewhat awkwardly.
"Do you believe me now, Yuri?" Jarod responded softly, still not looking at the other man. "Do you believe me when I say that some people are worth saving?"
The younger man's eyes hardened. "The only thing this has shown me is that there are some people who'll do anything to forward their careers." Scooping up a clod of hard-baked Texas clay, he crushed it to dust in the palm of his hand, letting the splinters of gravel blow away through his fingers.
Jarod eyed him peripherally. "You mean Lyle?"
"I mean Cox," Yuri spat. "What kind of a sick individual does what he did to that kid?"
Rightly perceiving this to be a hypothetical question, Jarod didn't answer it directly.
"People might say that the same thing was done to us," he suggested quietly.
"It was nothing like what we went through," Yuri shot back immediately, his hands clenched in tight fists and stuffed into the pockets of his jacket. "I'm not blind," he growled, after a moment of silence. "Even not being able to get anywhere near the kid, I could see what Cox's done to him. All those bruises and cuts. And it wouldn't even be Jacob's fault if he couldn't do what Cox wanted him to "
Jarod's eyebrows rose at this. "What do you mean?"
Yuri sighed deeply before turning to face the older man.
"Raines made me do some research into cloning, I guess not very long after Jordan was born. I was working with the material you put together, and my job was to figure out future stages -- defects that might occur, ways to correct them " Trailing off, Yuri glared at the ground before finishing in hard tones. "And the possibility of cloning clones."
Jarod's tones were full of horror. "You think "
"I can't say for sure," Yuri interrupted. "But I had a look at the notes Jordan took when he got Jacob out of Cox's cellar, and several of them use codes that I created for the work Raines had me do. It doesn't make any sense that Cox would have used those terms and codes if he was simply cloning you again. There had to be a reason for it, and the only one I can think of is that Jacob isn't you, or not directly. He's Jordan."
* * * * * * * * *
Sam looked up from an examination of the floor he had recommenced after the woman's question to find Miss Parker gazing coolly at him, one eyebrow slightly raised, her arms still crossed over her chest. When she realized that she had his attention, Morgan straightened and rested her elbows on the desk, leaning her chin on her fingers.
"Of course you know that I'll be checking up on this story of yours."
Nodding, Sam reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and produced a thin roll of paper. "If you went looking, this is all you'd find," he told her. "When I talked to my brother about it, he said that I should give it all to you. In fact," the sweeper added, smiling faintly. "He said I ought to have told you from the start."
Accepting the pages, the woman fixed him with a steely look.
"Do you trust me, Sam?" Morgan demanded suddenly.
He looked startled. "Well, o of course, Miss Parker."
"I don't want 'of course,'" she told him. "If I gave you an order, without any reason for it, would you trust me to have given you the right one?"
The man straightened in his seat, understanding the test of loyalty. "Yes," he replied quietly. "Yes, I would."
"Good." Morgan's previously stern expression relaxed somewhat. "And now, at least, I know I can rely on you."
Sam shot her an interrogative look. "Miss Parker?"
"Some people would call it blackmail," she explained. "I prefer to think of it as encouragement. If I find that you've betrayed the trust I'm going to place in you from now on, always assuming this backs up everything you've said," she tapped the sheets, "you'll find yourself reported to the Chairman for betraying the Centre."
Rising to his feet, Sam's eyes were free of the haunted expression they had held for the past few days as he nodded once in agreement. "I understand, Miss Parker."
Producing a sheet of paper, which contained the first threat they had found, she placed it on the desk in front of her. "A message will be sent to the people who were threatening you, with the suggestion that they desist at once. And, if you'd like," she eyed Sam closely, "I can also arrange for someone to keep an eye on your home when you're not there, to make sure that nothing happens to your family."
"I would appreciate that, Miss Parker."
"Good." She smiled. "And now, I've got something for you to do. You have several hours until you should be going home, I believe."
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed at once. "I was supposed to have been on duty, but "
"But your schedule was changed so we could get to the bottom of this," she interrupted. "For the next couple of hours, then, I'd like you to put your 'better than the average man' martial arts skills to the test." She raised her voice slightly. "Broots, come in here."
"You want me to teach him?" the sweeper suggested, unsurprised at the revelation that the technician had been listening to the conversation, and his boss nodded.
"Yes, I do. I may also get you to keep instructing him in other areas, too. You have more time for that sort of thing than I do at present."
Broots sidled into the room, his face devoid of color, having overheard the discussion. "Miss Parker, I "
"You said you worked better under pressure," Morgan reminded him, her eyes twinkling. "And I think Sam could put you under pressure even better than I could."
"Of course, Miss Parker," the sweeper agreed, straightening to attention and waiting for a sign from her before he turned. At the doorway, however, and with a hand on the other man's arm, he suddenly turned back. "Thank you."
She smiled again. "Earn it, Sam."
"I will, Miss Parker."
As the sweeper opened the door, however, Broots wriggled himself free from the other man's grip and turned.
"Miss Parker, Sydney said there was something important that he wanted to talk to you about. He asked if you'd go and see him when you were done here."
Morgan nodded. "Thank you, Broots." She suddenly grinned. "Have a good session."
She could hear the audible groan as the door closed.
* * * * * * * * *
"Sleeping," Jarod replied as he came into the living area of his apartment, to be greeted with this question. "But she's fine, or will be when she wakes up." He sat in an armchair opposite the man, speaking before the other Pretender did. "Dad's in Dallas, buying clothes for Jacob, and Jacob and Jordan are playing in their room. They won't hear us." He fixed Yuri with a firm look. "When are you going to tell Emily who you are?"
"I'm not," the younger man retorted, shooting a glance at the door to make sure that Jarod had shut it.
"My sister isn't stupid," Jarod stated bluntly. "And she's investigating the Executioner murders -- your murders. How long do you think it's going to take for her to figure out the connection: that wherever you are, someone somehow connected to the Centre dies."
"You didn't tell her," Yuri queried curiously. "Why not?"
Jarod examined the carpet for a moment. He knew his reasons for what he had, or rather had not done. But he also know that Yuri would find it difficult to empathize with, or even understand them, unless
The older Pretender's lips twitched faintly as he looked up. "You tell me," he responded. "You tell me my reasons."
The other man raised his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "I can't "
Jarod folded his arms, lounging back in his chair and crossing his ankles in front of him, a grin that he was unable to suppress on his face. "You can, and you know it. Become me. After all, that's what we were both trained to do, Yuri. I had to put myself in your place -- and it wasn't a particularly fun experience, I may as well tell you. Now it's your turn."
Yuri looked away, unable to cope with the expression of frank amusement in Jarod's face. As he did so, however, his mind slipped into the processes that he had learnt of its own accord, and he felt himself taking on the aspects of the other man that usually afforded him the most grounds for mockery, ever since reading about them in the files he had uncovered about the Centre's most successful Pretender.
The younger man felt his shoulders straighten, his head going up, in the posture Jarod that generally adopted, very different from his own habit of slouching. Yet at the same time there was a burden on his soul, the weight of the guilt Jarod carried around with him every day, the knowledge that his actions had hurt people, or contributed to their deaths. The determination not to needlessly hurt or torment people, either physically or emotionally, that Yuri had noticed during their planning to rescue Emily, seemed to become an important part of him, and it gave him an insight into the solution he sought. A reason for Jarod's failure to reveal Yuri's identity to Emily flashed into his mind; one that he instinctively knew was the right one
"You couldn't," he stated slowly. "There wasn't time when we first got there, in case one of the sweepers came back, and afterwards you knew that, if I hadn't come to find you, you might never have managed to free her, and there's hasn't been a 'right' moment since." Yuri paused for a moment. "That, and you don't want to hurt her with the truth."
Jarod raised an eyebrow, somewhat surprised at the other man's depth of understanding, but nodded in agreement. Forcing away the feelings inside him, Yuri stood and walked over to the screen showing the outside world, staring blankly out at the gathering darkness.
"My sister thinks you're pretty special," Jarod remarked. "I hope I won't regret asking this, but I'd like to know your plans for her."
The older Pretender waited for a response, but there was none.
"The Centre doesn't just 'get rid of' somebody unless they view them as completely useless," Jarod continued after a moment of awkward silence. "Now, I know Raines' reasons for having you tossed out of a limo in the middle of nowhere. If you've suddenly discovered a well of emotion inside the heart that all my lessons in biology taught me must be in there somewhere, and if my sister's the cause of that, then we're going to need to make sure nobody associated with the Centre ever finds it out. Because Lyle had no plans to let Emily go once they had me, and they definitely wouldn't let her go if they could use her as leverage to make you do what they wanted."
"I know," Yuri snarled impatiently. "What's the point of this lecture?"
"How much of what you said to me when you appeared in my apartment did you mean?" Jarod queried, with understandable curiosity. "Do you really care about her? Do you care enough to make sure that she was out of danger, no matter what happened to you? Although it may not have seemed like it, we came pretty close to being caught today. Would you try to protect her, even if it endangered your own freedom?"
"I I don't know!" Yuri protested. "I've never felt about anyone the way I feel about Emily. She isn't like any other woman I've ever met. But I don't know what to call this -- I don't even really know how I feel."
Jarod stood up and walked over to stand in front of the other man, meeting his gaze steadily, his voice quiet.
"Then I suggest you find out," he stated evenly. "The Centre's used my emotions against me for my entire life, and I know how to avoid most of their traps and pitfalls. You don't. And if you really cared for Emily, you'd walk away from her right now, rather than putting her in that sort of danger."
Yuri eyed him. "You mean Zoe?"
"Not only," the other man retorted. "Although she was one instance, yes. Fortunately for me, I had my dad to help. You don't, Paul. And I hope you never have to face the sort of choice that I did, because, to be totally blunt, I don't think you could cope with it."
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker arrived at the doorway to Sydney's office to find him putting files in his briefcase. As she tapped on the door, he looked up.
"Did you get my message?"
"Yes." She stepped into the office. "Going home?"
"I was planning to." He smiled somewhat sheepishly. "I've had a long few days, with probably more walking than is good for me right now."
Morgan eyed him sternly. "And does this discussion have to happen here?"
"No," he admitted, the smile changing to one of amusement. "It doesn't."
"Good." She placed a hand on the case. "Do you have everything?"
Nodding, Sydney seized the cane from its place on the back of his chair, watching the woman shut the briefcase, pick it up and gesture for him to lead the way out of the office.
* * * * * * * * *
Sam took off his jacket as he walked through the door, draping it over the chair in the hallway and venturing towards the rear of the house as he loosened his tie.
His wife appeared in the doorway, smilingly holding a finger to her lips. "I've just put Megan to bed, Sam. Keep it down to a dull roar, okay?"
He swept her into his arms. "Call the sitter, Mrs. Arnold. We're going out for dinner."
She raised an eyebrow. "What happened to you?"
"His baby brother was right, again," a laughing voice stated from behind the man. "Gotta hate that, don't you, Sammy?"
The sweeper spun around, staring at Alastair, who leaned against the doorframe, arms folded and his eyes twinkling with laughter, before Sam pulled his brother into a crushing embrace.
The flames were leaping in the fireplace, warming the formerly cold room, by the time Sydney returned, carrying a teapot, with two mugs dangling from his fingers. His fingers shook slightly as he lit the small candle and placed it in the holder, putting the teapot gently on top. Leaving the room again briefly, Sydney returned with a small jug of milk, which he placed on the table, before sitting down and nodding at a large easy-chair.
"Take a seat, Morgan."
She smiled. "It's wonderful, the way you obey directions."
His eyes danced as he poured the steaming beverage into the mugs. "Well, I have to, don't I? You are my boss."
Accepting the mug he offered, Morgan slipped off her shoes and tucked her bare feet beneath her, staring into the fire, a movement that seemed so natural, she simply couldn't help herself. Feeling herself to be under scrutiny, she looked up at the man. Surprised at the expression of sadness in Sydney's eyes, she raised an eyebrow.
"What is it?"
"Nothing important." He placed the mug on the table before opening the briefcase that lay on the sofa beside him. "But this is."
Extracting a manila folder, the man took out a color photograph of a girl with a man in his mid-forties standing beside her, his arm protectively around her shoulders.
"You know them both," he stated flatly as he handed it to her.
"Merritt," the woman murmured, gazing down at the face.
"Perhaps more commonly known to the world as Kendra Evans," Sydney commented. "But do you know who Mr. Raines or Mr. Parker would have considered her to be?"
Morgan raised her eyes to meet those of the man who watched her, keeping her voice calm. "Yes," she stated evenly. "She's me."
The man raised an eyebrow, surprised at the use of the present tense. "Is she still alive?"
The words stopped in her throat, habitual caution preventing her from speaking. When she remained silent, Sydney leaned forward slightly.
"Was she the person you visited at the end of last year, when you said that you had things to do and wouldn't tell me what they were?"
Several moments of silence passed, as Morgan examined the carpet, before
he spoke again, choosing his words carefully.
"We had an agreement, Miss Parker."
Looking up sharply at the name, she knew at once how deliberate his statement had been, and nodded slowly.
"Yes," she agreed. "She is still alive, and I was visiting her. We keep in intermittent contact."
Placing the picture on the sofa, Morgan stood up and walked to the window, staring blankly out at the white palings of the veranda that gleamed dimly in the increasing gloom. Suddenly, however, she turned.
"What do you know, Sydney?"
He exhaled slowly. "I think you ought to sit down before I tell you this."
She eyed him in silence for a moment, before slowly making her way back to the easy-chair and resuming her seat, legs curled up under her and her chin resting on the palm of one hand as she scrutinized him.
"What is it?"
"Morgan, Kendra -- Merritt, if that's what you know her better as -- wasn't cloned from you."
A denial rose quickly to the tip of her tongue, but died just as rapidly at the expression in the man's eyes. Somehow, even before he said it, she knew the truth, and it was as if a knife had sunk deep in her heart at his next words. Her mouth opened and closed without making any noise as her eyes filled and she looked up to meet the sympathetic gaze of the man opposite.
"Merritt is the clone of your mother, Catherine Parker."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod sank back against the sofa cushions, staring blankly at the details on the screen, which he and Yuri had uncovered in a sequence of private messages between Cox and an unknown person at Donoterase.
"Maybe you'll believe that I'm right now," Yuri growled as he paced the length of the room. "If they can create a child with an already limited life-expectancy and subject him to a life that will still further inhibit his chances of seeing his next birthday "
"They did everything they could to keep him alive," Jarod murmured almost inaudibly, but Yuri heard it, turning to stare at the other Pretender.
"What are you talking about?"
"This." Turning the machine, Jarod pointed at a series of numerical and alphabetic sequences and offered a notepad on which he had been scribbling. "This is a regime of drugs and a diet that Jacob was given, to keep him alive for as long they could and in the best heath possible, considering his likely problems."
"What are they?" Yuri demanded.
"I don't know," the older Pretender confessed. "The names and doses are there, but not the contents of the drugs, and I'd be willing to bet that Cox destroyed them as soon as he found out Jacob was missing, so there's no point going back to Blue Cove to find out. And even if we did, I'm guessing he'd tighten security so much that, although it might be possible to get in, getting out again wouldn't be feasible."
"So what do we do?"
Jarod concealed his surprise at the use of the term 'we' and gave the question the attention it deserved. "I guess we'll have to replicate the conditions as well as we can, excluding the drug program he was given, although maybe we can come up with some alternatives, to keep him in the best possible health."
Yuri met Jarod's eye. "How long do you think he's got?"
Shrugging, Jarod stood up. "We'll do an examination and find out as much as we can from it. Once we know that, we'll know best what to do next."
Nodding in agreement, Yuri followed the older man out of the room.
* * * * * * * * *
Angelo crept into the dark corner of the room. All the lights on the level were turned off, apart from the small ones that allowed the security cameras to keep filming, but he knew that they weren't bothering about him or what he was up to. Scrabbling about in the dust, he found the picture that he had dropped the day before. Brushing it clean, Angelo clutched it to his chest and scurried back across the empty passageway to the room where the bed stood.
Sydney had made the bed up for him, allowing him to forsake the other rooms that had been set up for his use when they first had begun sealing up the vents. Only a very few people came to disturb him here. Sydney, of course, and also Charles, who brought in the meals that he occasionally ate. Knowing himself to be safe, Angelo had begun scattering his belongings in odd corners or cupboards that had been left untouched after the children were taken.
His mind flew to one in particular. The One. The one that felt like him, or part of him, but also a bit like Faith. She wasn't so unhappy anymore. Not so scared. The people around her were no longer as quiet as they had once been, but their emotions were more positive now, and so not as frightening to her. Angelo was pleased about this, but he still missed her.
Curling up on the bed she had slept in, squashing himself into it despite the bed rails, he picked up the photo and held it so that the dim light fell on it. Sydney had decided to leave on a light in the room, so that anyone who came to check on the empath could see him easily. That was fine by Angelo. It meant he could see his treasures more easily, and this had become one of the most valuable since he had found it in his sister's desk.
The three figures in the photo smiled at the camera, their brown hair dusted with white flakes that also lay on the puffy parkas they were. The two males wore identical grins, and Angelo smiled at the expressions of delight in their eyes at their surroundings of cold snow, before he turned his gaze to the girl in the picture.
Her hair was long, dark brown, but her eyes shone piercingly blue, emphasized by the blue of her parka.
Angelo's smile became tender as he rolled onto his side, curling into a fetal position, his left arm wrapped around his stomach as his right hand clutched the picture. Placing it gently on the pillow, he lay his head next to it, keeping the index finger of his right hand on the image of the girl. A faint smile curled his lips as he closed his eyes.
"Momma," Angelo murmured softly to himself. "Momma."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod sat in the absolute darkness of the living area of his windowless apartment. Jordan's rooms were next door, with the living areas adjoined, and most of the time they kept the door connecting them open, allowing more interaction between them when they were at home. But this time, Jarod had closed the door before he began working on the problem he and Yuri had discussed earlier. For hours he had sat with the notes and figures, with the information he had downloaded from all the various electronic sources that the Centre yielded to his tireless searches, until he had some semblance of starting point for correcting the problem Jacob's unique physiology presented.
It was an unsolvable problem, at least in the time frame that lay before them. If he had a year, even six months, he might be able to come up with all the answers. But they didn't have that long. His gentle but thorough medical examination of Jacob confirmed that.
When Yuri left Jarod's rooms to go and find Emily, he had asked the younger man to turn off the lights, and Jarod had sat there in the darkness, alone, and thinking. For Jordan's sake, he had tried to hold back on his emotions, knowing the boy would sense his disquiet, and come seeking him. That was impossible, and he did not look up when the door opened and Jordan's tall frame filled the doorway, backlit from the room beyond.
"What is it, Dad?" he asked softly. Distantly, he could hear Emily's laughter, with Jacob's giggle and a deep chortle from Yuri accompanying it in the background.
"Come in, son. And close the door. You can turn on a light, if you want."
"I know my way around."
The door closed, and shortly he felt the boy's hand brushing against his shoulder, feeling his way blindly in the inky darkness to the sofa. A moment later, Jarod felt Jordan's weight settle on the floor at his feet.
"You're hurting," Jordan said simply.
A painful lump swelled in Jarod's throat and tears sprang to his eyes, but he couldn't let them go. He needed to be strong, because Jordan wouldn't be. He forced the ache in his heart away, and tried to bring up the problem in intellectual terms. Take the emotion out of it, and it wouldn't hurt so much.
But this was his son, not a patient in a clinic. The boy needed gentleness, and compassion. He needed love and comfort. "Come here, Jordan," Jarod ordered softly, parting his knees and reaching forward between them. "I need to hold you."
Without hesitation, the youth complied. He scooted close, and tucked his head beneath Jarod's chin, curling up against his chest and letting his father's arms fold around him. For a long time, Jarod just sat there, feeling this boy, this child of his body, in his embrace.
"Tell me," Jordan prompted at last, gently.
"It's Jacob, honey."
"I know. I can feel that much inside you. But what's wrong? What is it that you don't want to tell me about him?"
"You asked me, when we first started looking into Echo, why my impressions of the dreams we were having weren't as strong as yours." Jarod squeezed his eyes shut against the darkness, and a tear slipped down his cheek and fell onto his son. "That's because he isn't me, Jordan. He's you." He drew a ragged breath and tightened his hold on the boy. "That's why you could sense him so much more clearly than me."
There was an instant where the young man in his arms was motionless, and Jarod knew the shock he must be feeling. Then Jordan's chest rose and fell quickly, too quickly, followed by a soft choking sound. Jordan turned in his arms and put his arms around his father's neck. He buried his face against Jarod's throat; hot, silent tears streaming down his skin onto his chest. And then he began to sob, softly to keep from alerting the child in the next apartment.
"Why, Daddy?" he sniffed, his heart utterly broken. "Why?"
Jarod felt the boy's agony slicing into him, and knew that was a question he couldn't answer. He held onto his son, and wept quietly with him in the darkness of their new home.
* * * * * * * * *
There was a smug look on the woman's face as she raised her head from the paperwork she was reading at the knock on her door.
The sweeper strolled nonchalantly into the room, sitting down in the chair with care for the suit he wore.
"What is it?" he demanded somewhat impatiently.
Eve smiled, closing a folder and pushing it over the table towards him. "I know your dirty little secret, Mr. Valentine," she remarked with a sneer.
"Congratulations, Dr. Lovecraft," Valentine commented, both his face and the tone of his voice expressionless. His eyes, however, gleamed with an unpleasantly hard light, but Eve, having spent increasingly more time with people who expressed no emotion through these normally highly informative organs due to the influence of Aurora, failed to look and thus missed the peculiar light in them. "Might I ask what you propose to do about it?"
"On what you offer to keep me from broadcasting the information."
Valentine reflected for a second, wondering as he did so whether this woman was truly stupid or simply playing the role well, and also imagining how pleasant it would be when he came to have his revenge for the threat.
"What would you consider to be appropriate?" he queried eventually.
"I'll let you know," she replied coolly. "And, in the meantime, I'd be interested to know exactly what it is you do so often down in SL-26."
"Been following me?" he asked in surprised tones, raising an eyebrow.
"Something like that." Eve folded her arms. "I'll give you 24 hours, Valentine. If I don't hear all about it in that time, I'll be handing my information over to the Chairman."
The sweeper rose to his feet, nodding slightly as he replaced the folder on the desk. "In that case, I can assure you that you'll hear all about it."
Turning, Valentine left the office, already planning a way to get around the problem that had just been presented to him.
* * * * * * * * *
"Where's Emily?" Major Charles demanded as Jarod appeared in the doorway.
"Putting Jacob to bed," his son answered. "He trusts her enough to let her do that now."
"Good." The older man ran a hand through his hair before turning to face his son. "What are we going to do with this kid, Jarod?"
"That's something I need to talk to you about," Jarod admitted.
Jarod sat on the sofa, Jordan curled up beside him and the other two men seated themselves in the armchairs. A moment of silence passed before Jarod began, one arm lying around the young man's shoulders, Jordan's head resting on his arm as he talked.
"I told you who this boy is," he began, feeling Jordan tense. "What I haven't told you yet is that Cox had a program of drugs to keep Jacob alive, and relatively healthy. There's no way we can know what these drugs were, or what they contained. No doubt, they were matched to his needs from the day of his conception. While we could recreate some of them, it'd be a physical impossibility to know for sure that they were accurate."
"So what do we do?" his father interrupted. "Give him whatever you come up with and hope it helps?"
"That's one option," Jarod replied slowly. "The other is to return Jacob to Cox."
Major Charles' jaw sagged slightly at the suggestion, and Jordan stared at his father, his eyes revealing his feeling of disbelief.
"It would keep Jacob alive for longer," Jarod explained hurriedly. "And probably keep him in a healthier state, as well."
"Until Cox beats him to death," Major Charles growled. "That isn't an option, son."
Nodding, Jarod looked down at the notepad on his lap, containing his calculations of the boy's projected lifespan. It wasn't good.
"I'll see what I can create, to try and give him the best possible chance of some sort of a life, for "
A sob from the boy sitting next to him cut him off, and Jarod looked down to see that Jordan was in tears. He pulled him closer, feeling Jordan clutch the front of his shirt.
"How long ?"
The words were choked out, and Jarod dropped the notepad, taking the boy into his arms. "I don't know," he admitted honestly. "Not for sure. But I can't guarantee it'll be very long. Maybe only a few months "
Tearing himself away, tears streaming down his face, Jordan fled to the door, flinging it open and running frantically down the hall. Yuri was on his feet in a moment, following him out the door, and Jarod would have gone also, but his father put a restraining hand on his arm, with the notepad in his other hand, having caught it as his son had let it fall.
"Tell me what I need to know, Jarod."
Sinking back onto the sofa, the Pretender looked up to meet his father's eye. "Why, Dad?"
"I have to know," the man responded. "The boy will be staying with us, after all."
Jarod raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure that's what you want?"
Major Charles' tones were full of anger, but Jarod knew it was directed at the situation rather than at him. "What choice do I have?"
The two men turned at the female voice from the doorway to find Emily watching them. Jarod stood up and crossed the room to her.
"What is it?"
"Jacob wants you to go in and say goodnight." She smiled sadly at him. "I was singing Mom's lullaby to him, but he says you do it better."
Nodding slowly, Jarod pulled his sister into his arms for a moment, before going into the room where the third generation of himself waited.
* * * * * * * * *
The observation deck on the top of the tall concrete tower looked out over the city of Dallas, gleaming with lights in the darkness. Jordan clutched at the chest-high railing, trying to hang onto what was left of his wits. He could hardly breathe, the wind ruffling his hair and cooling his hot skin. He felt ill, knowing what the Centre had done, what Cox had done to him, to his father, and to that helpless little boy downstairs.
He could see the man's blue eyes, as they had bored into him over the dinner table, that night a year ago in Grace Valley, and he saw again the intensity of them as they forced him onto the floor of the bathroom, a hand pressed firmly over his mouth. Then into his memory slipped the entrance of his father, the dark eyes gleaming with fury, as he knocked the scientist away. Unable to suppress a shudder, Jordan tried to block out the memory of that scene, focusing on the third pair of identical eyes he had been presented with that day, remembering the joy in them as Jacob's taste-buds had reacted to the new flavors he had tasted, and the delight in them as water had trickled down his face in a warm stream. But thinking about that brought all Jordan's pain back to the fore, and he felt something twist agonizingly inside him.
"How could they?" he moaned, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead against the cold metal bars of the barrier.
"Jordan?" called a voice from the doorway. "Are you okay?"
"Hell, no!" he snapped, rounding on Yuri as he stepped onto the deck. "What do you think?"
Instantly sorry for his enraged outburst, he hung his head and started to apologize.
"Don't," the man ordered. "You don't need to do that with me. I know how you feel."
Jordan glanced up at him. He didn't know much about this stranger, except that he was Emily's boyfriend. But this was a personal matter, and Paul Jennings wasn't family.
"How could you?" Jordan shot back. "Nobody's ever made a clone of you, have they, Paul?"
The man shrugged and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his black jeans. "I don't know. Raines probably has one stashed away somewhere. Or at least, they've got my DNA on ice, so they could if they wanted to."
Jordan jerked around to stare at him, shocked by the revelation. "You're from there, too?"
"Yeah, kid. I'm a pretender, just like you and your dad. Maybe a little different." He eyed the boy solemnly for a moment. "So yeah, I do know exactly how you feel."
Jordan nodded, understanding. Then he turned away, needing solitude to gather his thoughts together and make some sense of the future he was facing. There wasn't enough time. He didn't think he could do what needed to be done.
"You're stronger than you think you are," the other man told him, as if reading his mind. "You'll get through this, because you have your family to help you bear the burden. And if anybody can solve the problem of how to treat Jacob, it'll be your dad. I'll help, too, if he wants. I was in on some of the preliminary work on this project, anyway. I just didn't know what it was about at the time." He shrugged again, and turned to look out over the glittering city. "Not that I'd have had any choice about working on it, if I hadn't wanted to participate."
Jordan looked up into his face and saw the cold, hard glint in his eyes as he stared off into the distance.
"What did they do to you?" he asked softly.
The other man looked at him, and Jordan shifted back a step, afraid for an instant of what he saw there.
"You don't want to know, son," Yuri told him. "But be thankful it'll never happen to you."
Jordan swallowed the lump in his throat, and nodded. He watched the rage in those brown eyes fade into sorrow, and the man offered him a sad smile. He clapped Jordan on the shoulder warmly.
"We'll help him, Jordan. I promise you that. Even if Jacob doesn't have very long, he'll know he's loved. He'll know what happiness is. And those will be the best gifts you could ever give him. Trust me on that."
Jordan recognized the truth and wisdom in those words, and resolved instantly to make the sentiment come true. He would grant every wish Jacob had, shower him with love and attention, to the best of his ability. Everything he wanted for himself could wait. The only thing that mattered now was that little boy.
"Thanks, Paul," he said softly. "I can see why Emily likes you so much. You care about people."
That brought a broad grin to the man's face, and a sparkle of surprise to his eyes. "Gee, you really think so?" he asked softly, a note of wonder in his voice. "Wow. That's pretty cool, huh?"
Jordan had to smile. They were all a strange lot, reacting in the most unusual ways to the simplest observations. But he thought he might learn to like this guy, and wanted to get to know him better.
"I'd be grateful if you'd help my dad with Jacob's treatment," he said hesitantly.
Yuri gave him a theatrical bow. "It would be my honor, Jordan."
"Then let's go back down and see what we need to do to get started."
Yuri put his arm around the youth's shoulders, and walked him back to the foyer and the elevators that would take them back downstairs.
* * * * * * * * *
With the rain drumming on the roof above her head, Morgan slipped into the white terry-towel bathrobe that Sydney had loaned her. Her damp hair hung down her back, and she absent-mindedly twisted a stray curl around her finger as she strolled into the bedroom Sydney had offered her for the night. Normally, she wouldn't have bothered to accept his offer. After all, it wasn't that far to her house. But something inside told her to stay, a thing she had listened to with increasing attention during the past few months.
Sitting on the bed, Morgan gazed down at the photo in her hands. This girl was her mother. Or at least, she shared the same genetic make-up as her mother. Morgan was surprised at how little that fact hurt now. At first, it had seemed overwhelming, as had the rage at what the man commonly recognized as her father had done to the woman who had been his wife. But, as the hours had passed and she and Sydney had discussed it, the pain had faded to virtually nothing and was replaced by a feeling of confusion.
She knew in what light Jarod regarded the boy they had created from him. But the place that Merritt was to hold in her life was a puzzle to which Morgan had not yet found the solution. They would have to discuss it, and that discussion was one that would have to occur soon. It wasn't fair on the girl to have so little understanding about their situation. Morgan was aware of what Jarod had said to Merritt, but that hadn't been enough. And it also wasn't enough for her.
How would she now regard the girl?
As a daughter?
A -- her heart almost stopped. A mother?
Was that fair -- to either of them?
The image of her mother rose to the front of Morgan's mind, and the woman blinked back the tears that filled her eyes. Turning away, her eye was caught by the clothes that hung over the back of a chair in the corner. A bag containing a complete change of clothes stood beside the chair. She had carried that bag in the trunk of her car ever since being put onto the pursuit for the occasions when she had had to leave the Centre without the chance to go home.
Standing, she opened the bag on the bed and took out the clothes inside, removing several of the coat hangars from the wardrobe and draping the garments onto them. Pushing aside the plastic-covered items, she made a space for her clothes. Lifting them to hang them on the rail, a top slipped from her fingers, catching on the covering of the neighboring clothes and ripping open the black plastic before sliding down to the floor. Picking it up and hanging it on the rail, the pattern of the material caught Morgan's eye, the cloth just visible through the hole, and she froze.
It was a floral design, one that would have been fashionable thirty years or so previously. The fabric itself was also appropriate for that time period, and Morgan had her doubts that either Sydney or Jacob would have worn such designs. Trying to take down the garment, she found that three of them were banded together at the top of the coat hangar, and she carried the lot over to the bed.
Tape sealed the bottom of the plastic, and she carefully undid it, finding her hands suddenly full of long skirts as they fell out of the makeshift bag. Morgan took a step back and stared at the fabric, her eyes widening. She knew those patterns as intimately as if she had worn them herself. Lunging at the bed, she tore the plastic up its length, revealing the smart cut in the style of the suits and dresses that her mother had worn to the Centre every day.
The breath caught in Morgan's throat as she turned back to the wardrobe, quickly locating a box on the floor of it and tearing off the lid. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper, nestled two pairs of shoes. Taking them out, Morgan turned them in the light, matching them to the three outfits that lay on the bed. Sinking onto the bed, she gathered the material in her hands, stroking the pattern and lowering her face to rest briefly in the silky fabric, breathing in the familiar scent of Catherine's signature perfume, which still faintly clung to the clothes, before letting the bundle drop onto her lap.
Only one person could solve the problem of how outfits belonging to her mother were hanging in the closet, and he was sitting in the living room.
* * * * * * * * *
At a soft knock on the door, Cox looked up from the papers he was feeding into the shredder.
"I got your message." The man entered and sat down. "What happened?"
"He's gone," Cox admitted, sitting down also. "And whoever took him has also hacked into the notes we made up that would keep him stable."
"That was only the names and dosages," Fenigor responded. "Considering the work it took to get us that far, I can't see them managing to create the right amounts and strengths while the boy's still alive."
"I know that," Cox snapped. "And, as the only person who knows what they contained is you, I'm not worried about myself."
"And if they can get past the blocks that our friend put in to cover my identity, I'll be surprised," Fenigor put in.
"Don't destroy the details, then," Cox stated abruptly. "We might want to try again."
"Maybe we could try a girl again this time," the older man suggested with a chuckle. "After all, as the Evans girl was such a success "
Cox eyed him. "And did you make sure to keep ?"
"Of course," Fenigor interrupted. "I've got everything I might need, so we could try as often as we wanted, to get it right."
"Well," the other man stated snidely, "I've got the room for it."
"Or there's all those lovely empty rooms down on SL-17," Fenigor remarked.
Cox's brow darkened into a glare. "I've started to work on a solution to that," he growled. "And the third member of our partnership to work on that little glitch should be here any minute."
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney lowered himself into the armchair, gazing out through the window to where lightning was illuminating the world outside. The fire still burned dimly in front of him, creating a warmth that was pleasant provided one sat quite close to the fireplace itself. For a brief moment, as a feeling of pain tugged at his heart, he could almost imagine that she was here again, sitting, as she so often had, in the other chair, her shoes on the floor in front of her, her legs curled underneath her body, and her damp hair hanging down her back as she rested her chin in the palm of her hand and gazed dreamily into the fireplace.
"Are you sure this is what you want?"
Catherine's eyes were full of determination as she looked up at him, softening at the look of pain in his, but still unwavering from the decision she had reached to end their affair.
"It's not fair. Not to either of us."
He wanted to take her in his arms again, but forced himself to keep his hands in the pockets of his jacket, his fingers balling into fists.
"We can't keep up any sort of façade in that place, not when it's this deep. It it's not right, Sydney."
"What do you want to happen?" he asked softly.
"I want it to be the way it was before," she conceded almost tearfully. "I want somebody I can talk to whenever I have something to say, and I want that person to be you."
Nodding, Sydney exhaled slowly, refusing to meet her eye so that she wouldn't see the pain he couldn't conceal. Reaching up, she gently stroked his cheek with the backs of her fingers, brushing his lips with hers one final time before tearing herself away.
He turned at the sound, a part of his mind still caught in the past, and barely able to stop the word that almost escaped his lips.
She nodded as if he had confirmed something and walked over to him, sitting down in front of the fire at his feet, looking up into his face, her voice soft.
"Did you love my mother, Sydney?'
A few seconds of silence passed before he spoke.
"And did she love you?"
A faint smile tugged at the corners of the man's mouth, a faraway look appearing in his eyes.
"I believe she did, yes."
"Did it " the words seemed to choke her, but she forced them out. "Did it go further?"
"Yes," Sydney confessed in barely audible tones. "Yes, it did."
The pounding was audible, in spite of howling wind and the driving snow that had compelled Jacob to spend the night at the Centre. Placing the coffee mug down on the table, Sydney got to his feet and hurried to open the door, his eyes widening at the sight of the woman standing on the doorstep. Her fingers were blue as she clutched the thin fabric of her jacket around her shoulders, and Sydney seized her arm, pulling her into the house and shutting the door.
"Catherine! What on earth ?"
Weeping, the woman sank into his arms, and he hurried her into the living room. Helping her over to the sofa, he sat beside her, taking off the jacket he hadn't bothered to remove since returning from work and slipping it around her shoulders after helping her off with the snow-soaked suit-coat she wore.
"What happened, Catherine?"
She looked up, her eyes still full of tears, and for the first time he noticed the redness on her jaw, turning her head gently to see the finger-marks that extended down her neck.
"Who was it?" he asked. "Who did this?"
The expression in her eyes gave him his answer, but, as Sydney was about to stand up and get some ice to prevent the swelling, Catherine placed a hand on his cheek, gently pulling him towards her and kissing him. Drawing back momentarily, Sydney saw the expectation in the woman's blue eyes as she waited for his response.
The admiration and secret affection he'd had for her for so long flared, and he was powerless to resist. Wordlessly, she had asked for comfort, for this. And he would deny her nothing she needed
As a log in the fire collapsed, Sydney blinked several times, looking down to find that Morgan had moved closer, sitting so that she was almost touching his knee. He was about to place a hand on her hair, a movement that seemed so natural he didn't know what stopped him, only that a feeling of a restraint kept his hands in his lap.
"Sydney." She looked up at him. "Can I I mean I want to ask you something."
She didn't even know why she was bothering to phrase the question. Everything, both inside her and in this situation, confirmed it. Still, she had to hear his answer.
"Are you my father?"
His eyes widening, Sydney stared at her in disbelief. He'd known it might have been possible, of course. The timing of their affair suggested it, but Catherine had only ever spoken to him about it twice, first when she had so categorically denied the possibility of it, and the second time when she had shown him proof in the paternity test. Her certainty had convinced him that her surviving baby wasn't his. But if Morgan was asking him now then she must have proof that the Chairman wasn't her father, and that would mean
"I don't know," Sydney murmured almost automatically, feeling torn at the pain in her eyes at his uncertainty. "I never I mean "
As she turned to gaze into the fire, the expression on her face one of disappointment, Sydney inhaled deeply, reaching out to touch her hair. At the gentle pressure, Morgan turned back to find his eyes glistening as he watched her.
"I can't say definitely," he began softly. "Your mother did tell me that you weren't, but I think it does have to be considered as a possibility, Morgan. If you know for sure that Mr. Parker isn't your biological father, then it's very likely to be me." He smiled, gently brushing her cheek with the backs of fingers. "And if it should prove that I am, then you should know that you not only had a mother who loved you, but a father who loves you too."
Morgan rested her head on his knee as a feeling of relief welled up in her, tears glistening in her eyes and sliding down her cheeks, her fingers clutching at the hand he slipped into hers, as her father gently stroked her hair with his other hand, feeling that she had finally come home.
Jonathan Osser as Jacob