Elizabeth looked up in surprise at the knock on her door, waving the
other Australian inside and closing the book she had been reading.
"Can I do something for you, Sebastian?"
"Probably," he agreed, sitting down on a chair in the corner.
"I don't know if you've got any rules about this, or personal standards,
but I wonder if you'd give me a quick idea of the sorts of things Jarod
The woman raised an eyebrow, her lips twitching. "Wondering if you're
the subject of them?"
His laughter seemed to fill the room. "Not exactly," he choked
at last. "I've never pictured Jarod as having that inclination."
Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her legs, eyeing him thoughtfully as
the pyrokinetic regained his self-control.
"Tell me why you're asking, Sebastian," she offered. "I
can't help feeling that dreams are pretty personal things. If it was vital,
I'd tell you, but I might be able to answer your question without the
need to do that."
Sebastian nodded, instantly sober. "Does he ever dream about a drug
called Aurora?" He gave her a quick outline of what it did, seeing
"Yes," she admitted slowly. "Yes, he does. Often. They're
some of the best dreams he has."
"Do me a favor," he proposed. "Take them away. I can that
imagine he enjoys them," as Elizabeth was about to interrupt, "but
it'll be easier for him to shake the addiction if his subconscious doesn't
drag it back every night, reminding him what it was like."
She nodded understandingly. "It always felt strange," she confessed.
"Like it was too good. I was never able to work it out, but if it's
something like that, it makes a lot of sense." She looked at him
candidly. "Addiction's a terrible thing, isn't it, Sebastian?"
"Is that a personal question?"
"Not for me." She paused, eyeing him sadly. "I had a similar
conversation with your wife not long after I came here. She asked me to
do the same thing for you."
He stood up and walked over to the bed, bending down to hug her. "You've
got no idea how much of a difference you've made to my life."
"You're a very strong person," she told him. "You would
have coped if I hadn't appeared."
"But coping isn't always enough," he reminded her as he strolled
to the door. "It's not a real life."
* * * * * * * * *
The woman awoke to find herself bound to a table. That should have surprised
her, but Aurora caused the curiosity to fade instantly, and there was
nothing but a calm acceptance of the fact as the door opened and the man
"Nice to see you're awake," Valentine remarked, looking down
at a clipboard that lay on the table in front of him. "And as you
are, and can think straight again, I have a choice for you to make."
The woman waited passively for him to continue, glancing around at the
men who lined the walls, all wearing the uniforms of Centre sweepers,
their eyes totally void of expression. The man put a hand into his pocket,
producing a syringe filled with the amber liquid and uncapping it, eyeing
it thoughtfully in the bright light of the building.
"Your choice," he purred, never moving his eyes from the syringe,
knowing that all but one other person in the room was eyeing it with almost
unbridled desire, "is whether or not you want to be our high-level
eyes on the inside. You pass on the documents and memos that only you
and the Chairman see, and I'll make sure you stay blissfully happy for
the rest of your life."
Her immediate instinct was to refuse, and she had no fear that she would
have to be without the drug. Knowing how terrible withdrawal would be,
doing without it wasn't an option. She had tasted the pleasure; it was
enough to convince her that she wanted it forever. But she knew the composition
of Aurora, and could make it for herself. She had no need for dependence.
Calmly, she shook her head.
"No," she stated flatly. "No, I won't."
Valentine raised an eyebrow in surprise, turning to the sweeper who stood
nearby. "Willie, just to confirm, what did she say?"
"She said no," the man responded, his voice emotionless and
a vacant smile curling his lips. A hint of disappointment showed in his
face as the other man recapped the syringe and returned it to his pocket,
but that vanished almost instantly.
"That's what I thought," agreed his questioner, shooting a
glance around at those lining the walls of the room. "All right,
get out. Your part's over."
Without a murmur, the men filed out of the room, leaving only Willie,
Valentine and Eve. As soon as they were alone, Valentine smirked in the
direction of the table as he produced a small black case from his pocket,
opening it and eyeing a vial with eager anticipation.
* * * * * * * * *
25 Washington Avenue
Blue Cove, Delaware
On the doorstep, Sydney removed his cap and jacket, shaking the water
from them and then entering the house to hang them on the rack. Thankfully
putting his briefcase on the floor, he shut and locked the front door
before picking up the mail and walking into the kitchen.
Sitting at the table, he sorted the letters, finding an express package
on the bottom of the pile, addressed in a familiar hand. Slitting the
top, he extracted several photos and a small note.
They did it again.
The words seemed to burn into his soul as he moved the slip of paper
aside and glanced at the first picture. His breath caught in his throat
as he looked down at the small face of the boy, running his eyes over
the familiar features, seeming to travel back in time in his mind to the
day when he had first opened the door of the sim lab to see the person
who would change his life. The bruises reminded him forcibly of the first
Christmas after Jarod had arrived at the Centre and he had left the boy
at Raines' mercy, wondering, as he lowered the photos to the tabletop,
who had caused the injuries to this innocent boy.
Standing, he went back to the hallway and, from the pocket of his jacket,
extracted his cell phone. There had been no call from his former protégé
for several weeks, since the Seraphim had been taken from the Centre,
but now Sydney was expecting one. Returning to the kitchen, he reseated
himself and began to flip through the photos, feeling as if the two brown
eyes were staring directly into his out of every one. The last picture
was the one that made his eyes fill as he gazed at it.
If he hadn't been aware of the grotesque genetic connection, it would
have seemed like a happy family; one man, a very similar-looking younger
figure and a child who shared many of the same features sat in a spacious
living room, the floor of which was cluttered with books and papers, interspersed
with toys. All three bent over a half-completed jigsaw puzzle. The child
was sitting in the young man's lap, one hand resting on his arm in a gesture
that spoke volumes for the trust he had in this look-alike. Swallowing
a lump in his throat, Sydney raised his head to stare blankly at the opposite
He had just stood up to make himself a drink when the phone rang.
There was a pause on the other end, then a soft sigh. "Did you get
"Yes." The psychiatrist looked down at the pictures. "Are
you all right?"
"Why, Sydney?" The voice was almost a whisper, full of pain.
"Why do they keep doing this me?"
"You're valuable, Jarod," Sydney responded gently. "To
them, you're a commodity, nothing else. They can't see you as a person,
having rights, the way I do, or your family does. And if they can't have
you, they want the next best thing." He touched the photo that showed
the small face most clearly. "How did you find out about him?"
"It's kind of complicated." There was a slight rustle of paper
on the other end. "I'm going to send you the information about the
project. I thought you might be interested."
"Yes, thank you." Sydney hesitated for a moment, turning away
from the table. "What will you call him?"
" Jarod's voice cracked slightly. "Cox called
The silence stretched long for several minutes after this revelation
as Sydney froze, his eyes on the dark world outside, feeling as if someone
had stolen every breath from his body. His hand reached out for the benchtop,
the other tightening around the phone, as a tear he was unable to prevent
slid out of his eye, making its way slowly down his cheek. Brushing away
its mate, he turned and walked deliberately back to the table.
"So he was Cox's project?" he asked gruffly, sitting down.
"No, he kept the boy at his house," the younger man responded.
"Jordan took him from there a few days go."
"Walking in your footsteps," the psychiatrist remarked with
a faint smile. "You've trained him well."
"He's my son, Sydney," Jarod replied emotionally. "Isn't
it my responsibility?"
"Yes, of course," the older man agreed. "I'm just glad
that you realize it."
"I've had a good example in front of me, my whole life," the
Pretender stated. "And I'm sorry that I burdened you with this, but
"That's what I'm here for, Jarod," Sydney interrupted. "If
you don't feel like you can talk about this with your father, then I'd
like to think that you would turn to me."
"It's harder for him," the younger man confessed. "He
looks at Jacob and sees me -- the way he remembered me for so many years,
from the time before the Centre took me. Those clothes he's wearing are
even mine. I don't know how he could help it."
"And what do you see when you look at him?" the psychiatrist
"I know what you're saying." There was the sound of a faint
smile in Jarod's voice. "I'm trying not to see me when I look at
him, or to see Jordan. But it's easier with Jacob -- he's so different
from us, so terrified of everything. I was never that way, except with
Raines, and Jordan hasn't been like that for months, since we first got
him out of the Centre."
"I can believe that time with Cox would terrify anybody," Sydney
remarked in a soft growl.
There was the faint sound of a door opening in the background and then
Jarod's voice came back on the line, more hurried. "It's late, Sydney,
and I shouldn't be keeping you up. You need as much rest as you can get
"I'm getting quite a bit of that from other people," the psychiatrist
retorted sharply. "I don't need to be mollycoddled by you too."
"Not even if I want to?" Jarod asked, trying to sound hurt,
before laughing, his tone lighter, as if he had been released from a burden.
"Even with the old adage that doctors make the worst patients, you've
always been in the top of that league."
"So what makes you think I'll listen to you?"
"Because you know I care about you," the younger man replied
softly. "And because you know that, in the past few weeks, I've read
everything about strokes that I could lay my hands on, so I know what
you should and shouldn't be doing, even more than I did before. And I
know that rest is vitally important right now."
"All right, Jarod," Sydney conceded, unable to help smiling
as he tucked the phone under his chin and gathered the photos together.
"Just be careful around that child. He'll pick up your emotions very
quickly, and he's suffered enough in his life, without having to suffer
because of any negative feelings you may have about him."
"I will." There was a short pause. "Thank you, Sydney.
I really appreciate this."
"I value the trust you put in me," the older man responded.
"I'll talk to you soon."
sent you my cell phone number," Jarod admitted almost
shyly. "On the back of that note. In case you ever wanted to call."
The psychiatrist flipped the page over immediately, gazing at the numbers
on the sheet, his eyes glistening, knowing how much such a gesture meant.
Suddenly, he remembered the time he had gone to seek Jarod's forgiveness
for his actions in the younger man's life, able to recall in painful clarity
the scorn in the Pretender's eyes as he had stood at the Refuge bar. Sydney's
eyes traced the firm lines that made up the number and he mentally shook
himself, swallowing a sudden urge to weep with relief.
"Thank you," he finally said softly. "I appreciate this,
"Take care, Sydney."
There was a moment of silence, and then the dial tone.
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Morgan felt a faint draft and shivered slightly, pulling the blanket
more closely around herself. The sound of footsteps crossing the carpet
made her look up sharply to find a figure standing between herself and
the dying fire as he threw some wood onto it.
"Ethan," she breathed in relief as she recognized his outline
and sat up. "One day, you and I have got to have a serious discussion
about the niceties of knocking."
"You were asleep," he explained with a shrug. "I was hoping
not to wake you."
The woman pushed the blanket aside, gesturing with a corner of it. "Thank
you for that."
"Oh, it wasn't me," he assured her. "Momma said it was
"He's gone?" She looked around in astonishment. "When
did he leave?"
"I don't know." Ethan shrugged. "I just got here."
She smiled faintly before reaching out to hug him, recoiling as she felt
his clothes to be soaking wet. "What happened?"
"It's raining," he retorted with another shrug. "Has been
"And you've been out in it?" she exclaimed in horror, jumping
to her feet. "For Pete's sake, Ethan, Jarod and I don't want to lose
our brother to pneumonia. I'll going to get you something to change into.
Take off those wet things and wrap yourself in this."
Dropping the blanket on his lap, Morgan left the room, returning several
minutes later with a pair of Thomas' warmest pajamas and a towel draped
over one shoulder. Vanishing into the kitchen, to reappear carrying a
mug of scalding hot coffee, she found him attired in the garments, which
were much too large, but at least dry, and vigorously toweling his hair.
Accepting the mug, Ethan wrapped his cold fingers around it and watched
his sister collect his clothes and leave the room. A moment later, a dull
hum echoed through the house as the clothes dryer was turned on, and then
she returned, stoking the fire and finally resuming her seat beside him.
"What did you find?" he asked, turning anxious, pain-filled
eyes in her direction, after placing the mug onto the coffee table without
having taken even a sip. "Was she right? Is he mine?"
"Yes," she admitted softly. "Yes, he is. Uriel is your
son. His mother's name is Julia. She's one of the subjects at Die Fakultät
His eyes filled with tears at the news, although it was what he had been
expecting to hear. Ethan had spent the day in a nearby park, pacing the
paths, his eyes fixed on the pictures, forgetting the danger of the Centre
nearby, and he was now verging on exhaustion. Realizing this, Morgan put
her arms around him, drawing her brother closer and feeling him start
to sob as his head came to rest on her shoulder.
"It's okay," she soothed. "I understand. I really do.
I felt the same way, when Jarod told me about Gabriel. He did, too."
"But why?" Ethan wailed in a muffled voice. "What do they
want with me? Why did they make him from me? I'm not special. I'm nothing
but a crazy person who hears voices!"
"No!" she protested sharply, shaking him. "No, you're
not that, do you hear me? Don't ever let me hear you say that about yourself
again! You're a very special person, a gifted person. Don't you dare call
The expression on his face was almost fearful as he raised his head,
and Morgan's eyes softened as she looked at him.
"It's not that bad," she promised softly, brushing away the
tears. "Honestly. Your son's free of the Centre, and he won't ever
have to go back there, I swear. We'll make sure of it. In the morning,
you call Jarod and get him to tell you exactly where Uriel is so that
you can spend time with him and find out if he hears our mother's voice
as well. If he does, you can teach him to listen to her, and understand
what she's telling him."
Sniffing, Ethan nodded slowly, pulling away and slumping back against
the sofa cushions, staring blankly at the floor. Standing, Morgan offered
her hand, waiting until he took it and gently helping him to his feet.
Putting an arm around his shoulders, she walked with him into the spare
bedroom, sitting down beside him on the bed after turning it back.
"It's all right, Ethan," she urged softly. "Get some rest
for a few hours, and in the morning you can call Jarod."
Nodding, he sank down onto the bed, his head on the pillow and his eyes
closing immediately as his sister raised his legs onto the mattress. Bending
over the bed, she gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek before covering
him with the blankets and leaving the room.
* * * * * * * * *
Sebastian walked out of the elevator on the 12th floor, entering the
playroom and crossing it to the door that led into the children's bedrooms.
His son's room was the first on the left and he went in silently, making
his way over to the side of the bed and looking down at the sleeping boy,
who lay curled up in the corner of the crib.
He could feel pain clenched like a fist in his chest, reaching out to
smooth Gideon's hair and pull his blankets straight while struggling for
emotional control. Turning away, he quickly left the room, going to the
stairs and running down them to the pool in the basement, changing quickly
and diving into the water.
After a few laps at top speed, expending his fury in the only way he
knew was safe, Sebastian felt the anger wane, replaced by a wave of sadness.
He had believed that only one person was sick enough to consider making
a child from siblings; to discover that more than one such individual
existed brought him to the brink of tears. His sister was still blissfully
unaware of the fact that she had a son, and he had no intention of enlightening
her to the truth, feeling that such a burden was too heavy for her, but
it meant that he had to carry the encumbrance alone.
Pulling himself onto the side of the pool, he stared blankly at the blue
waves slapping against the tiled walls, suddenly feeling two hands come
around his neck in a loving embrace. Tears still ran down his face as
Sumi sat next to him, wrapping his arms around her and leaning against
"Why?" he asked in a broken voice. "Why do they keep doing
"I don't know," she murmured, stroking the hair of the arm
wrapped around her chest. "Neither do you. Nobody does, Sebastian.
They just want power and think this is the best way to get it."
Swallowing the last of his tears, he ran a hand across his eyes, forcing
back the anger and trying to regain his required even emotional plane
so as not to injure the woman he loved. Standing, he helped her to her
feet and slipped his arm around her shoulders, neither saying a word as
they got into the elevator, heading for their room.
* * * * * * * * *
Valentine slid the needle out of the woman's arm and capped it, dropping
it into a handy sharps container, which he immediately handed to Willie,
who left the room to destroy it.
"What's that?" the woman demanded as something struck her as
being different about this shot.
"I'm assuming you've heard of the Nebula series," the sweeper
began, leaning against the table and folding his arms. When the woman
nodded in agreement, he smiled slightly. "This is a new branch of
it, called Supernova, although I personally thought 'Black Hole' would
have been more appropriate."
Chuckling, Valentine pulled on a pair of latex gloves before producing
a large butcher's knife from his pocket and unsheathing it, placing it
on the table in front of where the woman sat, hands lying in her lap.
Eve's eyes were turned up to his, but, as the contents of the shot took
hold, they rolled off to one side. With an effort, she brought them back
to focus on him, however her vision blurred rapidly and her head sank
Valentine eyed his watch and, at the end of sixty seconds, sharply clicked
his fingers. Eve's head rose slowly and her eyes eventually focused on
him, the lack of expression caused by Aurora still apparent.
"What do you want?"
"I'm testing a new drug," he remarked. "It's quite simple
really. All you have to do is to pick up that knife on the table in front
of you and run the blade across the back of your hand."
The sweeper wondered just how powerful the drug truly was. Its effect
was to inhibit the subject's knowledge of who they were and what would
occur as a result of their actions. It had a secondary component that
increased their susceptibility to suggestion, to the point, according
to preliminary results, where a subject was unable to resist the proposals
put to them.
Valentine's eyes sparkled with anticipation as the woman unhesitatingly
picked up the knife from the desk and slid the blade over her skin, looking
at him with a surprised expression in her eyes as the blood flowed.
"No," he contradicted immediately with a smile. "I'm sure
it doesn't hurt."
"You're right," Eve agreed instantly as the pain seemed to
disappear, forgetting immediately that it had ever hurt at all. Placing
the knife on the table and folding her hands, Eve looked down to see the
blood flowing onto her dress. "But it's messy."
"There's nothing there," Valentine told her, smiling. "You
haven't done anything that would make a mess."
"Of course not," she conceded happily, briefly admiring the
pattern of her dress before looking up at him again. "Was there anything
Valentine arched an eyebrow, making a mental note to take all evidence
of Supernova out of the chemistry labs and give the drug to Fenigor for
future testing. However, he wanted to see how far it could be carried,
so the man wandered around to the other side of the table, turning to
"Stand up," he directed, watching as she immediately rose to
her feet. "Step into the middle of the room -- just here."
Pointing at a spot several feet away, he waited until she was in position,
a flash of expectation in her eyes as she watched him.
He picked up the knife by the blade and offered the handle of it to the
"Take this," he ordered, moving several paces away. "Now,
press the point against your stomach, just there."
Pointing it at a spot above her navel, he gave her a second to do so
before speaking again.
"Push it in. Deep. To the hilt. It won't hurt."
There was a quick expulsion of air as the blade pierced the skin, but
the woman's feet remained firmly planted on the floor and her facial expression
"Do it again," Valentine ordered. "To the left this time."
He watched as the woman mutilated herself under his orders, his eyes
sparkling with malice. This couldn't even be classed as murder. This was
suicide, pure and simple, and a wonderful method of control as well, not
to mention so much fun to watch.
Finally, Eve could no longer stand, collapsing to the floor as her blood
stained the carpet.
"Give me the knife," Valentine ordered, but blood loss had
brought the woman to the stage where she could no longer react, and so
he snatched it from her. Seizing a handful of hair and yanking her head
back, he made a cut across her throat, deep enough to sever her vocal
cords. "Now it hurts," he told her spitefully. "This is
the worst pain you've ever experienced. It's absolute agony. Every single
cut you made is throbbing and burning."
The gurgling noise in her throat was inaudible to anyone outside the
room as the woman writhed on the floor. Reaching out to the man with blood-covered
hands as her vision blurred and started to tunnel, she saw the shape move
several paces away, out of reach.
"You were right," Valentine commented, watching the woman's
life-blood drain out of her as he peeled off the latex gloves. "Your
investigation was right on the money. But you can't know that information
and live. So that's why you have to die."
Eve's chest rose and fell in one final breath, a fine trail of blood
trickling from between her parted lips and down her chin, open eyes staring
blankly at the ceiling, as Valentine walked over to turn off a video camera
he had secreted in the corner of the room, removing the tape and pocketing
it. From his other pocket, he produced a camera, taking photos of the
woman from various angles, before pocketing this also and then taking
out a small plastic bag.
Placing the bag and the camera onto the table, he then undid and peeled
off his blood-soaked coverall, revealing a neatly-pressed suit underneath,
and shoved the coveralls into a large plastic bag. Dropping it in the
corner, he once more produced the small box from his pocket and withdrew
a syringe and vial. Filling the syringe, he recapped it and returned the
box to his pocket.
Placing the needle on the table, Valentine then peeled off a mould that
he wore on his left hand, flexing the left thumb to get the blood flowing
in it again. With both hands, he reached out to his forehead, digging
the fingernails under the edge of a thicker latex mould he wore and peeling
it down his face until it parted from his chin. Dropping it on the table,
he took out a small mirror from his pocket and examined himself, peeling
off the last spots of glue. Returning the mirror to his pocket, he then
dropped the mask into the bag with his coveralls and the latex gloves,
tying a loose knot in the top, dropping it back into the corner.
"Willie!" he called as soon as this was complete, and the door
opened at once.
"Come here," he ordered, watching as the sweeper immediately
walked towards him. Valentine waved at the chair. "Sit down."
Taking a seat, the sweeper looked up passively, watching as the other
man held out the syringe.
"Your next dose."
A flicker of alarm rose in the man's eyes as he took a quick look around
the room and hesitantly shook his head. "I don't use that."
"This time, you do," Valentine ordered. "I started you
on this, Willie. I can stop it. Do you want that to happen?
Shaking his head, the fear evident in his eyes as he removed his jacket,
the sweeper immediately rolled up his sleeve, taking the syringe as terror
caused him to increase the normal pace of his actions. Plunging it into
his arm, Willie pressed the plunger, extracting it as soon as the dose
had been delivered.
Valentine waited the obligatory sixty seconds, watching the man's head
sink forward in the brief moment of unconsciousness that the drug caused.
At the end of it, he clicked his fingers and saw the man's head lift,
eyes focusing dully on him.
"Take that bag out of the room to the incinerator and burn it,"
Valentine ordered, waving at the bag in the corner. "Then wait at
As soon as the other man was gone, Valentine opened a small bag of hair
that had been in his pocket. Its contents were scattered around the room
and then, pocketing the camera and syringe, he left the room. The sweeper
was already standing at the car door and opened it for him as he approached.
Before getting in, Valentine put a hand on Willie's upper arm.
"You know nothing of what went on here. You have spent the whole
of the evening in your room at the Centre. Clear?"
"Where else would I have been?" the sweeper asked in astonishment,
seemingly unaware of the paradox of that query when he was clearly somewhere
other than the Centre.
"You will drive me back to the Centre now and, when you arrive in
your room, you will have been there for the whole night."
"Of course." Willie nodded in agreement. "I went to bed
at my usual time and got up for my shift at the normal time in the morning."
"Very good," Valentine commented with a somewhat vindictive
smile as he got into the car. When they were underway, he pulled out his
cell phone to call Fenigor and have the vials of Supernova and all attendant
research on the drug removed from the laboratory.