Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Shaun Micallef as Warwick
Lenny von Dohlen as Cox
Keene Curtis as Mr. Fenigor
George Clooney as Valentine
Candace Bergen as Eve
Janet Hubert as Ms. Hart
Sam Ayres as Sam
Willie Gault as Willie
George Lazenby as Major Charles
Marissa Parker as Emily
Tyler Christopher as Ethan
Ryan Merriman as Jordan
Jonathan Osser as Jacob
David Boreanz as Yuri
Samantha Mathis as Rebecca
Russell Crowe as Alastair
Michelle Trachtenberg as Andromeda
Hugh Jackman as Sebastian
Rebecca de Mornay as Sumi
Vin Diesel as North
Oded Fehr as Namir
Angie Harmon as Ramona
Denzel Washington as Trevor
Sigrid Thornton as Elizabeth
John Daley as Cam
Reba McIntyre as Helen
Winona Ryder as Amy
Linda Carlson as Harries
The woman went to the letterbox and extracted the mail, her brow furrowing as she saw that one of the letters had been returned. Tucking it into the pocket of her apron, she flipped through the rest of the letters as she turned and began to walk toward the house, brushing back a strand of blond hair as the wind blew it into her eyes, pulling her coat more warmly around her.
Passing the barn, she waved a hand, seeing the curtain move almost imperceptibly, hearing the faint sound of a baby crying, before going into the house. In the kitchen, she shrugged out of her coat, reached behind the clock and pulled out a slip of paper, taking the envelope out of her pocket and closely comparing the two addresses. There was no error and she could only assume that the recipient had moved. There was nothing she could do about it.
Returning the slip to its place behind the clock, she placed the letter there also, making a mental note to contact her friend and find out what had happened. Getting a tray out of a cupboard, she got a jug of milk out of the refrigerator and took out a loaf of bread from a breadbox on the bench, adding a small treat for the baby, before slipping back into the coat and carrying the tray out of the house and across the small yard to the barn, crunching on new-fallen snow on the well-worn path.
Entering, she could hear the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls and wondered how they managed to stay in such an awful place for so long. The faint glow from the gas lamp barely filtered through to the lower level and was all but invisible to anyone outside the building. Resting the tray on her knee, she wiped the snow off the barn's lock, so that it wouldn't freeze, as it had the previous week, before looking around with a slight shudder. Places like this weren't meant for human habitation, especially not with a small baby, except for those who had no choice. Leaving the tray on a hay bale at the foot of the steps, she was about to leave when she heard a step behind her, turning to see a man halfway down the stairs.
The man held a model plane in his hand, offering it. "Would you give this to your caretaker for his son?"
"A Christmas present?" she smiled, accepting it.
"Yes." He nodded, stepping back and turning to pick up the tray. She watched him ascend the stairs before turning to go back to the house.
Jarod finished the lullaby and tucked the covers more closely around Jacob's small body, gently smoothing his hair, as two thin arms came up to drowsily embrace him.
"Will Jordan come soon?"
"In a while," Jarod promised the boy softly. "You go to sleep now and in the morning you can play with him, okay?"
"Uh huh." Jacob's dark head nodded once on the pillow, snuggling down for his first night in a proper bed, and he obediently closed his eyes. Jarod straightened up and retreated to the doorway, feeling his throat tighten as he looked down at the child, the innocence of the small face, marred by the numerous bruises that revealed moments in which Cox had lost control of his temper and had taken it out on this blameless human being.
Turning, he almost closed the bedroom door, knowing that a small nightlight he had borrowed from the nursery would be sufficient to illuminate the room. Silently he nodded to his sister, who sat on the sofa, reading, before entering his own apartment.
Through the half-open door to his bedroom, Jarod could see the small bed in which his baby son slept. The child was draped across the mattress in his sleep, providing a startling contrast to the scene Jarod had imagined when Jordan had described the scene in Cox's basement, and the man felt a renewed sense of gratitude that Gabriel was free from the life he might have had to live at the Centre, able to retain his innocence and confidence, instead of being as full of fear as Jacob had become in his six years of life. Walking into the bedroom, he pulled up the blanket that had been pushed down to the end of the bed by the small feet and lovingly spread it over his son. Gabriel moved slightly in his sleep, but relaxed when Jarod gently rubbed a hand against the middle of his back.
Turning, Jarod found Jordan and Yuri in the doorway. He came out into the living room to join them, closing the door after himself, seeing that Jordan was already holding all the research material he had gathered about Jacob. The pure agony that had been in Jordan's eyes when he had fled the room was still there, but it was accompanied by an obvious determination.
"What is it?"
"Can we start this now?" Jordan's hand rapped impatiently on the paperwork he held. "I mean, the sooner we get it done, the better, right?" The young man's voice was crisp, words tumbling out in a stream, his eyes pleading, trying to cope with what had happened in the only way he knew how -- by working.
Jarod hesitated. It wasn't that he didn't want to help the child. But he already felt drained from the work he had done earlier that evening, as well as the lack of sleep from the night before and the tension of rescuing his sister. Jordan, too, despite the short nap he had had, also already looked exhausted. Having intended to arrange a program the next day, Jarod wavered now, but yielded when he saw the pleading expression in Jordan's eyes.
"All right, son." He took a sheet of notepaper out of his pocket, handing it over. "This is what I came up with. Go see what's in Sebastian's lab."
Grabbing the page, Jordan ran out of the room. Jarod could hear his feet pounding down the hall and then a door slam as he obviously decided to use the stairs before the man turned to Yuri.
"Did you tell him?" he asked in a low voice.
"Some," Yuri admitted. "And some I didn't."
Nodding, Jarod was about to follow his son out of the room when Yuri grabbed his arm.
"Jordan wants me to help with Jacob's treatment," the man began hesitantly. "But I won't, if you don't want me to."
"You helped with his conception," Jarod replied, seeing the man flinch at the accusation, although it hadn't been intended as such, as they left the room, headed for the laboratory. "You probably know more about what's needed than I do." In the hallway, however, out of earshot of his sister, he stopped and turned to the younger Pretender. "I want to thank you," he added, "for your help today. I could never have saved Emily on my own."
Without waiting for a response, aware that one wouldn't be forthcoming, Jarod turned and led the way down the hall to the elevator, hearing the silence behind him before Yuri recovered enough to follow him.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod turned from the whiteboard on which they had been making notes about Jacob's diet and exercise to see the door open. Sebastian poked his head around it.
"Have you got a few minutes? We need to talk."
"Sure." Jarod capped the pen and threw it to Yuri. "We're close to being done here anyway. At least for now."
As soon as the door closed behind them, Yuri turned to Jordan. "I want to ask you a favor."
"What is it?"
Yuri tossed the pen from hand to hand, his dark eyes boring into Jordan's. "Don't tell Emily what I said to you before, about being the same as you and being from the Centre. I'd rather tell her that myself."
The young man's brow furrowed. "How come? I mean, it's not like she has no idea of what went on there or anything."
"I know that," Yuri snapped, continuing in a gentler tone. "I just don't feel ready to tell her all that yet. Maybe later, when we've been together for longer, but I don't want her to have that sort of burden yet." The expression in his eyes changed, suddenly seeming to beg for understanding. "Do you get what I mean?"
"Yeah." Jordan nodded, glancing at Yuri's hands, which, white-knuckled, had suddenly tightened around the pen. "Yeah, I understand. Sure, if you don't want me to, I won't say anything, but I think she'd understand. She's pretty cool."
"She's a lot of other things too," the older man added, turning back to the board, firmly steering the conversation back to the original project.
* * * * * * * * *
Ms. Hart cast a hunted look around before entering the building, slipping the key silently into the lock and turning it to enter the apartment. With practice born of long experience, and paranoia from the same cause, she had kept her eyes open during the journey, during which she had criss-crossed the continent, finally believing that she was safe, after so long with no sign.
Shutting the door, she discarded her hat and coat on the bed before walking over to turn on a small heater in the corner of the room. Her single bag of belongings stood in one corner and she placed a small bag of groceries she had purchased beside it. Sitting down in the chair and turning on the television, she sat back and began to flick channels in the hope of finding something that would take her mind off her current situation.
* * * * * * * * *
Elizabeth came out of her room into the dark corridor, seeing a glow from under one of the doors further along it, and wandered in that direction. Reaching the doorway, she heard the measured pacing from inside, unsurprised to find that she was outside Jarod's room. Pushing open the door without knocking, to avoid waking the sleeping inhabitant, and stepping inside, she saw the door to the bedroom standing half-open and wandered in that direction. Stopping while still out of sight, she watched as he paced the length of the room, halting at the bed in which Gabriel lay, sound asleep, and watching him for a moment, before turning and beginning his return lap. The woman couldn't help thinking that this had been going on since everyone else had retired to bed.
"Can't sleep?" she suggested, leaning against the doorjamb, her arms folded across her chest.
"Not usually," Jarod admitted with a shrug, turning towards the woman, obviously unsurprised at her appearance. "Not one of the things on my 'Top 10 Most Favorite Ways To Spend A Night.'"
She smiled, stepping into the room. "What do you do, then?"
He shrugged again, turning away and walking over to the small bed in the corner, leaning on the raised side to stare down into the sleeping face of his son.
"What frightens you so much about sleep?" Elizabeth asked softly, walking over to stand behind him. "The same thing Sebastian used to fear?"
"Used to?" He spun around to stare at her. "What do you mean by that?"
"Let me show you." She led the way to the room further down the hall, silently opening the door, seeing the envy in Jarod's eyes as he gazed at the pyrokinetic and his wife. Placing a hand on his arm, she drew him back and closed the door. "I can help you, Jarod," she promised.
"No," he muttered, turning to head back to his room, shoulders slumped. "There's only one thing that could ever help me like that." His hands clenched into fists as he forced down the longing for the drug once again.
"Will you at least let me try?" Elizabeth followed him into the room, sitting beside him on the bed. "Please, Jarod."
"How much do you know?" he growled.
"Everything." She spread her hands in a gesture of demonstration. "What you went through at the Centre, the experiment Lyle and Raines performed, Kodiak Brown, how much Sydney means to you." Elizabeth dimpled at him. "People don't have many secrets in their sleep."
His eyes glinted angrily as he glared at her, but he remained silent and Elizabeth could tell that he was weakening. Finally, with an exhausted sigh, Jarod yielded, running one hand through his hair as he trudged around to the side of the bed, lying down on it and staring blankly up at the ceiling. She sat beside him, placing a gentle hand on each of the fists that lay clenched at his sides, as if he was going to physically fight the demons that haunted him as soon as he closed his eyes.
"Trust me, Jarod," she whispered, reaching up to gently stroke the side of his face as his eyelids slid together. There was a brief struggle before he yielded, the frown he had worn since she had appeared in his room slowly fading.
"Daddy," a small voice plaintively stated, and Elizabeth turned to see the small boy sitting up in bed, his dark brown hair on end. Going over, she picked up the baby, returning to the bedside to pull the blankets over the sleeping man.
"It's all right, Gabriel," she murmured in the boy's ear. "Daddy's okay. He's sleeping."
"Sleep wiv Daddy?" the boy suggested hopefully, and the woman smiled.
"Would you like that, honey?"
He nodded eagerly, reaching out to the man with both hands. Elizabeth moved closer to the bed, pausing as the man rolled onto his side, sinking deeper into sleep, before gently placing the baby in his father's arms. Gabriel curled up, snuggling close to the man, so that his head was pressed against Jarod's chin. With a satisfied sigh, the child closed his eyes.
Placing a hand briefly on the boy's head after covering them both warmly, Elizabeth turned away and left the room. She would know if Jarod moved during the night and could return the little boy to his own bed if his father showed signs of becoming restive, but she knew that the experience of waking up with his son in his arms would be one Jarod would carry with him for a long time.
* * * * * * * * *
The door opened and the man entered the room, closing it firmly behind him before taking the vacant seat on the other side of the desk and looking over at the two men opposite him.
"What's the plan?"
"We have to find those children." Cox folded his arms. "It's vital that they be found - and quickly. If not, everything is at stake."
The man opposite couldn't help grinning, lounging in his seat. "You sound just like our beloved Chairman," Valentine remarked. "But no doubt you want my help."
"Why else would you be here?" the third man asked coolly. "Or did you think we were going to broadcast our intentions to the entire building?"
"At almost one o'clock in the morning, there aren't all that many who would hear you," Valentine remarked with a grin. "But I do get your point. Still, there could be a problem or two to go along with it."
"When isn't there?" Cox stated bitterly. "Did you have anything specific in mind?"
"Two 'specifics' actually."
Fenigor raised an eyebrow. "And they are?"
"First, and somewhat ironically, Eve." Valentine reached into the pocket of his shirt and pulled out a folded sheet of paper, tossing it across the desk. "It's a request," he obligingly told the other two men before they had the chance to they read it. "A request for assistance. As well as that, there's the implied suggestion that we work together. At least, that's how I understand it."
Cox looked up, a look of curiosity on his face. "I'm afraid I don't see the problem. You reject the offer - life goes on."
"For some," Valentine laughed. "Eve has a rather nice little plan. She wants my assistance in one specific area -- to get rid of you two. Then she, Mr. Parker and I have a lovely time taking charge of the place and running it according to the way she feels it ought to be run. Oh, yes, and there's wedding plans in there somewhere too, as far as I can make out." He laughed. "Three wives. That should be enough to make anybody suspicious."
"Particularly when they all die untimely deaths," Cox chuckled, eyeing the man opposite. "That is your idea, isn't it? I saw a similar expression on your face before I left South Africa and poor dear Mutumbo copped it."
"But before we get to that, let me guess," Fenigor commented dryly, waving the sheet of paper at the sweeper. "Eve's using the disappearance of the children as further leverage to get rid of both of us."
"Pretty much, yes," Valentine agreed cheerfully. "She's worried that her road to the chairmanship of the Triumvirate is blocked by the two of you, particularly since Jarod escaped again."
"So she should be worried." Cox rested his elbows on the table and entwined his fingers, his eyes firmly fixed on the man opposite. "What's the other problem?"
"I found a file that Broots made for Miss Parker just after Jarod escaped again, which has almost every available detail about all of the Files -- Red, Blue and Yellow. I'm not sure precisely why she got him to create the dossiers but they're very extensive."
Fenigor grinned. "Just like her mother, she always was one for wanting answers. I can't say that comes as such a huge surprise to me."
Cox shot a glance at the man beside him. "I'd wonder what she's doing with them, why she wants that information exactly." His lips thinned. "She may be planning to use the influence she has with her father to cut me out of a seat on the Triumvirate."
"So what do you want me to do?" Valentine queried. "Tear the files apart?"
"No," Cox replied thoughtfully. "No, just keep a firm eye on her. Let me know what she gets up to, as soon as she does."
"No problem," Valentine smirked. "It will be a pleasure."
"I'm sure it will," the other man grinned.
"Should I do the same for Eve?"
Cox was about to agree when Fenigor stopped him. "I suspect Eve will be more of a danger than Miss Parker."
Cox eyed the man beside him. "Why do you say that?"
"Eve knows more about what's going on here - at all levels. Miss Parker has the security details, of course, but that's as far as it goes. Eve's information is more in-depth - thus more dangerous. The fact that's she so close to the Chairman is also a concern." The older man leaned back in the black padded leather chair. "I can really only foresee a single way to remove that danger."
"Quite." Fenigor turned to Valentine. "What's your price?"
"Protection," the man responded seriously. "Your protection. As you said, Eve is very close to the Chairman and if he found that I was responsible for anything happening to her, my future might be as limited as hers."
"That's a very good point," Cox commented. "What's your suggestion?"
"A scapegoat." The man smirked. "Yuri. We've already got indications that he's wiping out people who are supporting the Centre. Maybe it's time he was seen to strike a little closer to home. For a person as paranoid as the Chairman is rapidly becoming, this could be the final straw "
"And then the way is cleared for us even further," Cox finished. "I like it a lot. Very well, Valentine, we will both provide you with a nice, watertight alibi for the time that you will be disposing of our colleague, Eve."
"And the pleasure," Valentine assured them as he rose to his feet, hiding a grin at the success of his plan and pocketing the 'request' he had earlier forged, "will be all mine."
* * * * * * * * *
Yuri silently opened the door of the first room, seeing the man lying in bed, his face peaceful, with the small boy curled up in his arms. The sound of deep breathing filled the room, and Yuri shut the door as noiselessly as he had opened it, slipping through the dividing door between the living rooms and opening Jordan's bedroom door.
His eyes traveled immediately to the mattress in the corner, brow furrowing when he saw that it was empty. Shooting a quick glance around the room, he finally saw the small, dark hump on the bed, Jacob curled up against Jordan's legs. As the man watched, Jordan stretched down a hand, despite being still sound asleep, to touch the small weight on his feet.
Feeling something painful twist inside him at the sight, Yuri turned away, pulling the door almost shut after him and leaving the apartment. His feet carried him quickly along the hallway, but at the doorway of the room Emily had been assigned for the night, he paused, looking in through the partly open doorway to where she lay, also sleeping. Then his eyes traveled along to the room he had been allocated. He didn't want to go in there.
He knew Jarod hadn't been deliberately vindictive during the discussion about possible treatment for Jacob, but every word the older Pretender had said about the child's condition seemed to sink into Yuri's heart, making it difficult to breathe. He leaned against the wall, trying to identify the emotion, but it wasn't until he remembered adopting Jarod's personality traits that he could put a name to it.
So this was what guilt really felt like.
It was unlike anything he'd ever felt before, with a sudden, suffocating pain Yuri thought he could never rid himself of. He felt anger bubble up in him like an old friend, rage at the way his results had been used in such a devastating manner. Suddenly he wanted to strike out, and instinctively avoided the door he stood beside, making his way down the hall to the stairs and running down them, choosing to stop at a random level. By chance, he found himself stepping through a door into a large room filled with punching bags and weights, padded mats scattered on the floor.
Yuri looked down at the clothing he wore, knowing it wasn't ideal and would restrict his movement a little, but right now he didn't care, not even bothering to warm up as he struck out at a punching bag with all his might. A memory of his urge to leave a permanent mark on Lyle for taking Emily boiled up in him again, along with Jarod's refusal to allow him to hurt anyone, and the force of his punches and kicks doubled, leaving him breathless but still unable to shake the weight on his soul. Closing his eyes, letting his instinct tell him where the bag was, he expended every ounce of energy, ignoring the tears that slid out from between his closed eyelids.
* * * * * * * * *
It was still dark when Morgan opened her eyes, remembering immediately where she was and all that had happened the day before. Faint sounds suggested that the other occupant of the house was up, and, pulling on the bathrobe, which had somehow draped itself over the end of the bed, although she had a vague memory of letting it fall to the floor before she crawled between the sheets, she slid her feet into her slippers as she got up and made her way down the stairs.
Her father sat at the kitchen table, an open shoebox on the table beside him and sheets of paper scattered around it.
"Did you sleep at all?" she queried, somewhat surprised to see him fully dressed.
"For a while." Sydney half-turned, smiling. As she placed her hand on his shoulder, he covered it with his own, squeezing gently. "How did you sleep?"
"Fine." She sat down beside him and poured some herself some coffee.
"I was going to wake you soon anyway," the man told her. "I want to get to the Centre early, so I can check on Angelo. Kim's coming at seven to pick me up."
Morgan leaned her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her fingers as the rich, Colombian beverage filled the kitchen with its fragrance.
"Do you think Angelo knows?"
"I don't think we have any way of knowing what your brother really understands," the psychiatrist replied thoughtfully. "But I'd say it's possible."
She nodded slowly, suddenly turning to him. "Were you planning to tell anyone?"
"Do you really think that would be wise?" Sydney placed his mug on the table. "After all, thanks in part to the assumed connection you have with the Chairman, you hold a powerful position which allows you to see and know a great deal about what really goes on. If it were revealed that you aren't who most people believe you to be, your whole future, to say nothing of your life, could be in jeopardy." The man smiled, reaching over to gently squeeze her hand. "Besides, Morgan, just because nobody else knows, that doesn't change the fact, does it?"
"Of course not," she agreed softly. "I'd just like other people to know, that's all. That I'm not one of them. It already sets me on edge when they call me 'Parker.' I can't wait for the day when I can be called by my real name."
"We didn't set the rules of the life we live by," Sydney responded thoughtfully. "But unless we play along, we run the risk of losing, and we can't afford for that to happen." He lifted her fingers to his lips, hiding the fact that they were trembling. "I don't want to lose you like we lost your mother." Reaching forward, he brushed the backs of his fingers down her cheek. "But I'm looking forward to that day too, Morgan. I'm so proud of you. I always was, even before I knew the truth."
His daughter smiled and leaned over to gently kiss her father's cheek before leaving the kitchen to get dressed.
* * * * * * * * *
The man felt hands shaking him as a weight was removed from his chest and forced himself to roll over, away from them. He was still tired and hoped that whoever it was would leave him alone for another hour or two.
"Jarod, wake up," a familiar voice stated in his ear as hands shook him even more vigorously. "It's important."
"It's always important," he grumbled, opening one eye to glare at his sister as he rolled onto his back. "One day it won't be, and I'll be able to sleep in like normal people."
"You're not normal," she reminded him absent-mindedly, sitting down on the bed beside him, her nephew in her arms. "It really is important, Jarod. Paul's gone."
It took the Pretender several seconds to remember who 'Paul' was, but as soon as he did, he lay back against the pillow with a groan.
"I was hoping for World War Three," he complained. "Something earth-shattering."
Gabriel climbed out of Emily's arms and onto Jarod's pillow, playing with his hair and giggling as the man tried to gently bat him away.
"This is important," the woman protested, ignoring both the boy and her brother's actions. "I know he goes off sometimes, but never without saying goodbye."
"Did he write a note or something?"
"Not to me."
"Check my computer," he told her obligingly, closing his eyes again as she stood up and walked over to the table, starting up the program.
"What's the password?"
"S-Y-D-N-E-Y," he responded, picking up his son and placing him on his chest, beginning to play a game of peek-a-boo. "Well?" he asked after a moment of silence from his sister. "Anything?"
"He said he got a lead on a story. He'll call once he's got some answers." She turned in the chair to look at him. "Why did he send this to you and not me?"
Jarod shrugged, sitting up with Gabriel in his arms. "No idea. You'll have to ask him that when he calls you." He smiled. "Don't worry, Em. He can take care of himself."
She eyed him skeptically but didn't have a chance to comment, looking around as the bedroom door opened and Jordan stuck his head around it.
"Are you awake?"
"No, son," Jarod remarked sarcastically. "I'm only awake when I've got my eyes closed, didn't you know?"
The young man grinned, pushing the door wider and waving Jacob into the room. The child held back until Jordan lifted him onto the bed, greeting Jarod with a hug and then curling up in the young man's arms as Jordan also sat on the mattress. Jacob immediately began asking Jordan questions about objects in the room as Jarod looked down at Gabriel, seeing the confused expression on the baby face.
"What is it?" he whispered in his son's ear.
Gabriel gazed up at him in bewilderment before pointing at Jordan and Jacob. "Free daddies?"
Sighing, Jarod looked up in time to see Jordan's eyes flash, knowing that he had heard, although Gabriel has spoken softly.
"No," he stated, avoiding the complicated explanation. "This is Jacob."
"It's time for breakfast," Jordan said suddenly, glancing at his watch, before picking up Jacob. "We'll meet you down there, Dad."
"Sure." Jarod watched the two boys leave, noticing that that his sister had also gone, and picked up Gabriel from the end of the bed, heading for the bathroom and a shower and shave.
* * * * * * * * *
Returning to the kitchen, half an hour later, Morgan found it empty. The box sat on the table, a note lying on top of it, informing her that he would see her at work. It was unsigned, underlining to her that he was suffering a similar dilemma to one that had struck her. How would they address each other? Of course, their working salutations wouldn't change, but outside those hours? It was no doubt something that would have to be addressed, but it wasn't a question she could answer on her own, so she turned her attention to the shoebox, aware that Sydney wouldn't have left it there if he hadn't wanted her to look at it.
Taking off the lid, Morgan looked at the photo that lay on top, inhaling sharply as she lifted out the frame, gazing down at the image of her mother and a man she had to assume was Sydney, with a baby held in the woman's arms. She couldn't help eyeing his stance, noting that he kept a small distance between himself and her mother, his arms held firmly at his sides. Standing the frame on the table, she looked again into the box, finding a number of letters, banded with ribbon.
She placed these to one side, surprised at the number in the box, considering that she knew their affair had only lasted for a few months. Briefly, she wondered what had ended it, before pushing aside the thought and peering into the box again. The last object it contained was another photo, but this was almost painfully different from the first. Her mother was in Sydney's arms, looking up into his face, the love she felt for him clearly visible in her eyes. Morgan placed the picture flat on the table, gazing down at the two people and imagining how difficult it must have been for Sydney during the years that had passed, with only this to remind him of all that might have been.
Amy opened the door that separated her room from that of her small charge, stopping short in the doorway and staring in disbelief at the small girl. The child's blond hair stood on end, and a short piece of ribbon gathered it into an antenna-like tuft on the very top. Her favorite blue dress was on back-to-front and she was turning in circles trying to do up the buttons on the back. One foot was clad in a green sock and the other was orange. Their mates were hanging out of the open drawer in which the girl's underwear was kept, and even as the woman watched, the other drawer, above the height for such small hands, slid open, the girl ceasing her twisting to concentrate.
"Tempest!" the woman exclaimed in disbelief. "What on earth are you doing?"
"Mommy coming," the small girl replied, turning with a beaming smile and running over with her arms outstretched, to be cuddled. "Help."
Picking up her charge, Amy walked over to sit on the bed, the blankets of which had been pulled up in an attempt to make it tidy. Undoing the few buttons that Tempest had managed to fasten, the woman stood the child on her knee as she turned the garment around.
"Who told you Mommy's coming?" she asked curiously.
Tempest tapped the side of her head with a small smile. "I dust know," she said proudly.
"But sweetie, you've said all along that Mommy would come," Amy reminded her gently. "Why is today any different?"
"'Cos she coming today," Tempest replied, sitting down as soon as the dress was properly done up so that her socks could be removed. "I never knowed the day b'fore."
Amy considered this briefly as she pulled on a pair of matching socks and then realized that the girl had failed to put on any panties, carrying her over to the drawer to get some. It was true that Tempest had always said that Mommy would come one day, although she hadn't used that word until Jarod had taught it to all the children when they had arrived at Sanctuary. Imitating Gabriel, she had always referred to her mother as "Mine," but made sure she hadn't used that word when Miss Parker had been in the nursery.
The caregiver knew the truth about the child's parentage, as did any of those whose charges had been matched to their parents genetically. Carrying the girl over to the corner where a dressing-table stood and sitting on the chair with Tempest in her lap, she removed the ribbon and began to brush flat the blond hair, seeing it spring into its usual curls.
"What about Daddy?" she asked eventually, thinking of the picture Jarod had shown her of Kyle.
Tempest's head shook slowly from side to side. Her small brow furrowed before looking at Amy in the mirror. As with all the children, she seemed to have an instinctive understanding of reflection. But now she was clearly struggling with something, and she finally turned to look around the room as the woman finished her hair.
"What's dat?" she asked finally, pointing to the two steps that led down from Amy's room to that of Tempest.
"I told you that last week," Amy reminded her. "They're stairs."
"Dat's it," the girl said in immense satisfaction. "'Stair come too."
* * * * * * * * *
Valentine arrived early, despite not having left the place until almost three. The absence of staff made his task easier, but he kept his gun handy, in case anyone should disturb him. Fortunately for those on duty, nobody did.
Taking the elevator to his personal surveillance room, he opened a locked strongbox that he had secreted in one of the darkest corners under the desk, and extracted a narrow metal casing with a nod of satisfaction. This would be the perfect method of fitting revenge, revenge that he was determined to have, one way or another. Relaxing in the overstuffed chair in front of the console, he brought up a list of names on his computer screen.
Opening the top drawer of his desk, he pulled out another small box, opening it to reveal a pile of skin-colored patches, removing one and holding it up to the light. He could still remember finding the email from Ms. Hart to his last remaining fellow Ghost, detailing the first round of vacations for the Seraphim caretakers. It hadn't taken much persuasion for her to tell him what was going on, and he had acquired a stock of Aurora patches for his own use. Nobody had missed the various Sweepers and Cleaners he had kept down in this room during the 48 hours required for their total addiction to the drug, and now he had a small but willing army at his disposal.
However he had made his selections carefully. He wanted people who would be most compliant to his wishes, and that decision would be made on past performance. He had already made summaries of each sweeper and cleaner before selecting those for his special group. Now he used those details to make his selecting, picking up the phone to summon the man and then relaxing back in his chair, twirling the casing in his hand like a grotesque baton, while he waited for the sweeper to arrive.
* * * * * * * * *
Namir entered the gymnasium, his mind on the training program he planned to do, but his gaze was drawn to the gap in the middle of the room, where the largest punching bag usually hung. There was nothing in the space, but his eyes picked out a glint of silver on the floor, walking over to pick up the bolt that lay there. Picking it up, Namir rolled the twisted metal between his fingers, seeing where it had been snapped away from the ceiling, and looked up at the hole.
Looking around, his eyes fell on the twisted heap of red in the corner, huge holes torn in it and the white insides poking out. Walking over, his eyes wide with surprise, he tried to lift it, a grunt coming from his mouth as he had to let it drop. An amazed whistle from the doorway let him know that somebody else had seen it.
"What the bejeezus happened?" Sebastian demanded from the doorway. "World War Three?"
"Somebody obviously wanted a good work-out," Trevor remarked as he entered. "Didn't think you had it in you, Namir."
The Israeli turned on him, eyes flashing angrily, and had the psychic on his back, gasping for air, in an instant, before he turned back to the Australian.
"It was like this when I got here."
"That's what they all say," Sebastian murmured, grinning at the healer to show he was joking, before hauling the bag out of the corner, the effort making him gasp. Lifting it, a shower of white filling rained down onto the floor, and the three men stare at the underside in disbelief. It had almost been shredded, long strands of red draping across the floor.
"A knife or fingernails?" suggested Trevor, from his prone position on the mat.
"The second," Namir said as he picked up a strand of white, showing the streak of blood his eyes had spotted. "This was no desire to work out. This was anger. Only real anger could give anyone this much energy to destroy."
"I'm inclined to agree with you," Sebastian stated. "Well, we can get a look at the security tapes to find out who it was, but for now, let's get something done before that next meeting."
Pushing the bag back into the corner, the three men turned their backs on it as they warmed up.
* * * * * * * * *
Eve entered her office and sat down in the chair behind her desk, unpacking and sorting out the papers she had pulled from her briefcase. Placing the bag on the floor, she opened the first of the memos that were waiting on her computer, reading it through quickly. A movement in the vent went unnoticed as a remote-controlled device tore a small hole in the silver canister and the gas it contained began to leak silently into the room.
The woman noticed a slightly sweet smell, but put it down to the flowers that had been delivered to her office in her absence, making a mental note to thank Parker for them later. Gazing at them for a moment, she turned back to the screen, surprised to see that it seemed to have a somewhat pink tint, and rubbed her eyes before opening the next memo. This looked blue, and she squinted at the screen, wondering vaguely what had happened to it. Leaning back in the chair, she waited until the memo had printed out, her hands resting in her lap, but when she would have moved to pick it up, her arms seemed to have been turned to marble and wouldn't move.
Frowning, Eve concentrated harder, finally managing to lift a finger, the effort exhausting her, and her head sank back against the chair. The sounds of the office seemed strangely enhanced, and the woman tried to think what she had been given, but thought was becoming as impossible as movement. The door of her office opened, and a man strolled in, a mask covering his mouth and nose, which led to a small, familiar-looking oxygen tank he pulled behind him on a wheeled cart. Through an hallucinatory haze, which made everything swim around her, Eve thought she saw the dark-skinned sweeper pick up her arm and place a tourniquet around it, tightening it until the blood vessels rose.
The needle slid in easily, and Eve watched as the familiar amber liquid was injected. Though she tried to summon the strength, she was unable to fight the drug as the waves of pleasure began sweeping over her. Her earlier concern faded, replaced by a warm happiness, as she watched Willie unclip the tourniquet and pocket both it and the empty syringe, smiling at her, although his eyes were devoid of emotion. She suddenly found herself smiling back at him from under heavily drooping eyelids.
"Welcome to Heaven," he whispered, the drug making his words seem to echo in her head as he reached forward and gently stroked her cheek. Strolling over to the door, he opened it, removed the mask and shut the door after himself before strolling nonchalantly away down the hall.
* * * * * * * * *
"Excuse me, Miss Parker?"
Looking up, she found a man standing in the doorway, one of Broots' most trusted assistants, and she waved him into the room.
"What is it, Warwick?"
"I've got the report you wanted, ma'am." He handed over a folder. "That has the phone records you asked for."
Morgan tried to keep the curiosity from her face as she accepted the booklet, dismissing the man with a cool nod. He left the office and then she opened the folder, running her eye down the phone list and picking out the call. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she noticed the connection code and she raised her head to stare thoughtfully at the wall opposite.
As with the system in Blue Cove, she knew that Berlin had arranged a similar organization, where the number was the same, apart from the last few digits. The call in which she had most interest, being the one Ethan had requested her to investigate, had a code which suggested that it had been made from one of the more important offices in Die Fakultät. Producing a book, which gave her the important phone numbers from all three branches, she matched the call made to Ethan's phone to the office owned by the German Director.
That, when combined with the initials on the email, at least let her know that, as with the Centre, the caller must have been one of few people who had business in that office, and such limitations narrowed the field considerably. Picking up the phone, Morgan gave her orders to Broots.
"I want you to get me list of all those who might have access to Delius' office in Berlin."
"All of them?"
"What do you mean, 'all of them?'"
"Well, visitors too," he suggested somewhat plaintively, "or just staff?"
"Limit it to staff at this stage," she directed. "Female staff. Later, I might have to expand it."
"Yes, Miss Parker."
He hung up and she went over to her filing cabinet, removing a file and sitting down again before she began studying the folder of the Seraphim child who was currently of most interest to her.
* * * * * * * * *
The boardroom seemed very full as Jordan entered it, in spite of the fact that only half a dozen people sat along the side of the table. Nervously, he walked over to stand opposite them, the full magnitude of his actions now coming home to him as he clasped his hands behind his back so that he could fidget unseen.
Sebastian's voice was so cold that, for a fleeting instant, Jordan wondered if he would be able to light a fire next time he tried, before mentally rebuking himself for being ridiculous and making a grab for his rapidly vanishing self-confidence, finally managing to meet Sebastian's hazel eyes, which now glowed with righteous, though restrained, anger.
"What did you think you were doing?" Sebastian demanded. "What right do you have to do what you did yesterday? To just take one of the Corporation's aeroplanes, to forge my signature and then disappear without trace! Do you know how worried your grandfather was about you? And the rest of us weren't exactly lounging by the pool while you were gone either! Then to come back without taking any of the security precautions that were clearly explained to you by the man who let you take the plane -- I didn't expect it of you, Jordan."
The young man briefly considered an answer, but eventually felt that silence would be better, dropping his eyes to intently study his shoes.
"Are you aware," Trevor put in, his voice hard, "that only sheer luck has prevented us from being overrun by the Centre yesterday? And if that had happened, nothing on earth could have saved us from whatever tortures they might have chosen to inflict. You might have decided that the life of that boy was more important than your own, but how about your father? Your baby brother and the other children? And all the others who have managed to find some respite here from the cruelties they suffered at the Centre's hands? You threw all our lives into jeopardy by your reckless behavior."
"I know," Jordan muttered at this point, becoming increasingly horrified at what he had done, the points being made now not having occurred to him when he had left in such haste.
"I would have thought," Ramona remarked from Sebastian's other side, "that anybody of your age would have been close to an adult, in maturity anyway, and thus behaved like an adult. With your intelligence, you should have an even greater advantage than most teenagers. But instead your behaviour was something that none of the children here would have done, deciding what you wanted and running after it without any thought for what might happen as a result."
"I wasn't trained to think of consequences," Jordan protested.
"Then it's time you started thinking about them," Sebastian replied firmly. "You've got no excuses. What you do here isn't a simulation. This is real life. If you can't see any differences between here and what you went through at Donoterase and the Centre, then your father and grandfather, people I believed you care about, shouldn't have bothered risking their lives to get you away from there. It seems to me," he went on meditatively, "that you're unaware of how much other people have done for you, Jordan."
The boy's brown eyes flashed indignantly as he looked up, but the expression on the faces on the other side of the table recalled him to his present state of disgrace and encouraged him to start studying the carpet pattern with enthusiasm.
"I can't help thinking," North put in after several minutes of uncomfortable silence, "that somebody so immature doesn't merit the freedoms we allow those who've proved that they deserve them."
"I agree," Sebastian growled. "And for this reason, Jordan, you are forbidden to leave the building for the next week, unless accompanied by an adult. Your flying lessons will be stopped for the next two. And you won't be allowed in a plane or a car unsupervised by one of us or by your grandfather or father for the next month. Maybe by the end of that time you'll have learnt a sense of responsibility. You may go."
His cheeks burning and eyes prickling, Jordan stumbled to the door, opening it with the feeling of six pairs of eyes burning into his back and finally escaping into the corridor. Hurrying down the hall to the stairwell, he threw open the door and ran up the five flights of stairs to the residence floor, racing to his own room and slamming the door behind him. He was about to throw himself onto the bed when the child on the mattress in the corner sat bolt upright, his eyes wide with panic.
Looking down into the dark, terror-filled eyes, Jordan felt the urge to expend his humiliation and wounded pride in a flurry of tears fade and he sat down on the bed next to the child.
"I'm sorry," he apologized, taking the small boy onto his lap and wrapping the newly purchased bathrobe over the small pajamas. "I didn't mean to wake you up."
Jacob's expression was still one of concern. "Are you angry?" he asked in quavering tones.
"Not with you," Jordan assured him, giving the boy a comforting hug. "I'm mad with myself. I did something pretty stupid."
The little boy's eyes widened even further. "Did he hit you?"
Jordan looked confused. "Who?"
"Sir." Jacob began to tremble, pressing himself against Jordan's chest, his eyes frantically darting from left to right before fixing on the door. "When I do something stupid, he he "
The tiny voice dissolved into a storm of tears, Jacob turning in the older boy's arms and pressing his face against Jordan's shoulder as he sobbed. The young man's pleas for him to calm down went unheeded until the door that led to the bathroom opened and Jarod stepped out, lifting the child into his arms.
Jarod held the boy against him, sitting down on Jordan's bed and letting the child sob against his neck, murmuring comfortingly in his ear. The weeping continued for several minutes, while Jarod rocked the small child, until it slowly began to abate. As Jacob gradually calmed down, the man wiped away the tears and stroked the boy's hair, his voice definitive as he spoke.
"Sir isn't going to come here," he vowed. "You'll never have to see Sir again. Ever. And that's a promise."
Jacob's mouth opened immediately and Jarod rested a finger gently against his lips.
"Ever," he reiterated firmly. "I want you to try not to even imagine the possibility. Try not to think about him again. We'll give you lots of other, better, things to think about. Okay?"
Hesitantly, Jacob nodded, and Jordan saw the boy's eyes light up at the smile that immediately crossed the man's face.
"Good," Jarod told him. "Now, we've got something to show you."
Jordan eyed his father curiously and raised an eyebrow. This seemed to be a plan of which he knew nothing, but he would play along until he knew where it was going. And when Jarod put a hand into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a small pair of swim trunks, the young man understood. As his father guided the boy into the bathroom, leaving Jordan to change into his own swimmers, a thought suddenly struck the young man, making him wonder exactly what his father had been doing in the bathroom in the first place.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker picked up the short list and eyed the two names on it before looking up at Broots as he stood on the other side of her desk.
"Uh huh." He nodded. "And they've both been working there for years."
"No surprise there," she muttered, handing the list over to Sydney. "Either of those familiar?"
The psychiatrist eyed the names, his attention caught by one.
"Julia Becker?" His brow furrowed. "I thought she was dead."
"Don't you remember?" Miss Parker retorted dryly. "Nobody ever dies at the Centre." She waited for moment, but he didn't respond. "Why do you think she's dead?"
Sydney looked at Broots. "Remember when we were in Massachusetts and I asked you to find information about a particular project for me?"
"Sure." Broots pulled up a chair. "That meningitis thing. You said that only five kids survived."
"It looks like I was wrong," the older man mused. "At least, if it's the same person. She was one of the patients overseen by Edna Raines. The report stated that she and several others died later of encephalitis, not long after Jarod was removed from the room."
Broots reached into his pack pocket and extracted a roll of paper. "I've got the background on all the people who have access to Delius' office." He found the relevant page. "Apparently she was taken to Die Fakultät from the Centre in 1975."
"That fits," Sydney agreed. Eyeing the floor for a moment, he suddenly took a sheet of paper from the pile Miss Parker had on her desk to make notes and scribbled four names on it, giving it to the technician. "Run a background check on those people for me, looking particularly in the Die Fakultät archives."
"Sure thing." Broots took the page and disappeared. When he was gone, Miss Parker picked up the page that outlined the woman's history, reading over it quickly.
"What's this about, Morgan?" Sydney queried softly. "Why this sudden interest in Delius?"
"It's not Delius," she responded slowly, before giving him a quick outline of the request Ethan had made of her, finally posing a question. "Would it have been possible for the Centre to have known of their existence for all this time?"
"It's the Centre," he reminded her. "Anything's possible."
Morgan eyed the names of the two women who had access to Delius' private office before taking their profiles out of the bundle of papers Broots had left behind. Picking up the page that gave a description of the Director's secretary, she eyed the woman's blond hair and green eyes before putting it down and picking up the other
"No photo," she mused. "Unusual."
As Sydney read through the information once more, she began hunting through the mainframe for a picture. An exclamation from behind made her turn to find the man staring at the image that she had just found.
"I know her!" he exclaimed in surprise. "When I was a Die Fakultät in 1995, she attended all of the meetings, along with Delius. She was his translator."
"Well, she's got a fifty percent chance of being the mother of my brother's son," Morgan put in.
Sydney nodded slowly, turning his attention back to the paperwork. A small furrow developed in his forehead as he read.
"This doesn't add up," he remarked. "I remember Julia Becker being classed as a pretender when she was brought to the Centre from South Africa. If she's still alive, why is she being used in a job that anybody could do? Why aren't they concentrating on her pretender skills?"
"Your guess is a good as mine," the woman answered. "What I want to know is why they used her ova to create Uriel, if that is the case. In fact, why use either of them? Surely they've got other possibilities."
"Well, like who?" Sydney asked reasonably. "I've seen the plans for the Seraphim project, and a major point was that they weren't going to use any woman's genetic material more than once, to try and minimize the possibilities of genetic defects. Who else could they get?"
She nodded, accepting this, before looking up as Broots reappeared in the room, somewhat out of breath.
"I don't have the others yet," he admitted. "I rushed the two women's through. I also ran a check through the NuGenesis storage banks, and only one showed a reference."
"Julia?" Morgan guessed.
"Uh huh." He dropped the folder onto the desk, sinking into the chair. "It looks like there was one major cover-up when those kids were shipped off to Germany. I ran a quick check, and nobody who knew about it at the time lived for longer than a week - except for Edna Raines and we know what happened to her."
"What is Julia?" Sydney queried, as Morgan began reading through the information. "Why did Die Fakultät want her, and what was the benefit the Chairman and Dr. Cox wanted her to hand down to her child? It presumably wasn't her ability as a pretender."
"She's a psychic," the woman responded, understanding dawning in her eyes. "That must be how she knew about the children, and about my brother."
"Probably," Broots agreed. "That would make sense."
"Can you bring me the other records as soon as possible?" Sydney requested. "And find out what these people are doing at Die Fakultät now, if they're alive."
"I'm on it." Broots disappeared from the room again, and Morgan handed the information over to Sydney before standing and beginning to slowly pace the room, her focus trained thoughtfully on the floor.
"If these people are at Die Fakultät, Sam should know something about them," she mused.
"And what good will this information do you?" Sydney asked. "There isn't exactly a lot for you to do with it."
"Not now," she agreed somewhat mysteriously. "But maybe later."
* * * * * * * * *
There was only one person using the pool when they arrived and, while Jarod clipped Jacob into a swimming vest, Jordan cast a nervous look at the pyrokinetic, who was doing laps, seemingly unaware of their arrival. Jarod caught a glimpse of the expression on his son's face and shook his head.
"That's finished, Jordan. As long as you stick to the punishment they set you, it won't be referred to again."
The young man eyed him doubtfully. "Do you know what they said?"
"Not word for word, but I know what the punishment was. We -- your grandfather, Sebastian and I -- discussed it last night." Jarod sat down on a bench and took Jacob on his lap, looking up at his son. "Jordan, living here, you have to consider all the residents, not just us. I know how strongly you felt about it all, and I can't say that, in a similar situation, I wouldn't have done the same thing. If it was just us -- up at Barrow or somewhere -- things would have been different, but we're here, guests of other people, and we can't just take advantage of what they're good enough to provide."
"I guess." Jordan dabbed his toe in a puddle, staring at the ground, before suddenly looking at his father. "Is that why you were haunting my room?"
"Is that what you're calling it?" Jarod grinned. "Yeah, it was. I wanted to make sure you didn't take it too hard. After all, it was the first real punishment -- aside from whatever they did to you at Donoterase -- that you'd ever had." He stood up, ruffling his son's hair. "Just call me an overprotective Dad."
"Call me anything you like, just don't call me late for dinner," a voice chanted from the pool. "Feel like a race, Jordan?"
"Sure." The young man unwrapped the towel from around his waist and draped it over the bench, watching the other man out of the corner of his eye to ensure that the Australian's expression was free of any suggestion of their previous meeting, but the man's face was frank and open.
As Jarod carefully carried Jacob into the pool, he watched Jordan dive over Sebastian's head into the water and laughed. "You're in for a tough challenge, Oz-Boy," he teased. "Jordan's had expert training."
"From you, I suppose," the other man shot back as Jordan resurfaced halfway along the Olympic-sized pool, swimming with powerful strokes back to the place his challenger waited. "Well, I've got a height advantage, so we'll see."
"Not much of one," Jarod commented, seeing Jordan resurface, the top of his head only a few inches below Sebastian's.
Grinning, the Pretender turned his attention back to the boy, who was bobbing on the water, his eyes wide with delight as he stared around at the pool.
"It's big," he told the man wonderingly. "And so blue."
"It sure is," Jarod agreed, gently tilting the boy onto his back and supporting his head. "Kick your legs, Jacob. Up and down. That's how you'll be able to travel through the water."
To the sounds of shrieks and violent splashing, as Sebastian got his revenge for being beaten, he initiated Jacob into the art of swimming, recalling his own days of learning to swim and enjoying the delight and determination on the faces of the two people that had been made from him.
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney looked up sharply as Broots almost ran into the office with this pronouncement. "All four of them?"
"Uh huh." He dropped one of the folders he carried onto the desk in front of the woman, gave the other to the psychiatrist and plumped down in the chair. "That's what the reports say."
Morgan opened the folder he had put in front of her, finding herself confronted with the images of Uriel that her brother had shown her several nights before, attached to an email.
'These are the pictures you wanted and the best I could take. He's a cute kid.'
She looked up abruptly. "Where did you get this?"
"It was from the computer in one of the guest rooms," he explained a little breathlessly.
Tapping the email, she raised an eyebrow. "Whose name is on the roster for this date?"
"Peter Winston. That's the guy who "
"I know who he is," she replied somewhat tartly, struggling to keep a smile from her face. Despite the effort, she noticed the sly smile Sydney sent her, ignoring it and concentrating on the task at hand. "This wasn't from the most recent visit."
"No," the technician agreed. "It's from the other time he was here, that big meeting called after the head of the German triad was murdered."
Placing the pictures on the desk, she picked up the other email, which had been sent to the room.
'Peter, Julia said a project called Mirage was the key.'
A well-informed young lady, Morgan mused silently, glancing at the picture on her computer screen.
Sydney placed the folder Broots had given him flat on the desk and began looking through all the information it contained. Each individual had three reports -- one from each station -- and Sydney glanced through the information quickly, eyeing the date of death with particular interest. For four of the five subjects, the pattern was the same: the Boer City and Blue Cove reports gave a date of death in 1975, whereas the Berlin report stated that they were still alive. Only for Julia was the pattern different. Boer City stated that she was deceased; Berlin that she was alive and the report from Delaware bore a question mark.
"You know who might know about that?" Morgan commented. "Sam."
"Did you want something, Miss Parker?"
All three occupants jumped before looking around to find Sam in the open doorway with a look of enquiry on his face. Morgan shot a hard look at Broots, who gulped nervously, before she nodded.
"Yes, Sam. Come in and shut the door."
He obeyed before walking over to stand in front of the desk. The pictures of the Berlin subjects caught his eye, and he smiled.
"I can probably give you more information about them than those reports can."
"That's exactly what I want you to do," his boss agreed. "Pull up a chair."
The sweeper sat down beside the desk, glancing at the five photos, smiling again as he reached out to touch one. "That's my brother."
"Alastair?" Sydney looked startled. "Edna told me that he and Jarod got up to all sorts of trouble."
"No surprise there," Sam agreed, laughing. "If my brother could make trouble, he would!"
"And the others?" Morgan asked.
"They're all still subjects," he admitted. "Julia works for the Director, as his personal translator, the twins -- Clare and Michael -- are doing the same sorts of sims that Jarod did " he trailed off and stared at his hands.
"Joseph?" Sydney prompted.
"I I can't tell you," Sam protested, his eyes full of fear as he looked up. "I promised!"
"Nothing goes beyond this office," Miss Parker stated firmly, "even if he's Jesus himself."
The sweeper considered for a moment before finally acquiescing. "He's a healer. Like Namir, that guy Mr. Parker was so keen to bring here."
Morgan raised an eyebrow. "How do you know about that?"
"I saw the message on your desk," he admitted slowly, studying the floor briefly before looking up to meet his boss's gaze steadily. "I heard rumors about a healer that the Chairman was interested in and came to see what I could find. I was worried it might have been Joseph, and I also thought the information might have been useful for the people back in Berlin. I found the memo and sent it off to let Mr. Winston know about Namir, and that Joseph was still a secret from this branch. As far as I know, Mr. Parker doesn't know what Joseph's capable of, or even that he's still alive. If he did, he'd have him sent here, and that would be terrible for Julia."
"Why?" Broots prompted.
Reaching into his shirt pocket, Sam extracted a black and white image of Julia, a boy in her arms, and Joseph standing beside her; a still from a security tape.
"Happy families," the sweeper stated bitterly, tossing it onto the desk, a glare creasing his brow. "The first child in what they hope will be the German version of the Seraphim."
Morgan's eyes widened in disbelief. "He is?"
"Yes," Sam growled. "They've only got a couple, but they're intending to have more eventually with similar skills to the kids here. They aren't as well designed as the kids Cox designed, more a case of hit and miss as far as their abilities go, but they're trying to figure out ways to improve certain traits. Delius is planning to start Peter on Aurora in the next few weeks, as soon as he can get the dosage right."
Stuffing the picture back into his pocket, obviously unable to say more, he stood, nodded slightly to his boss and then turned to the door, leaving three silent, horrified people behind him.
Jarod walked with Emily into the playroom, seeing her eyes widen as she looked around at the children.
"How many am I related to?" she asked softly.
"Three," he told her. "Gabriel, Uriel and Tempest." He pointed out the two boys and a girl, who, with Angelique, Raphael, Gideon and Dominique, were playing on the carousel in the middle of the room.
"Who's that?" his sister asked, pointing to a small girl who was sitting in the corner, watching the others.
"That's Michaela," a red-haired woman told her as she came up behind them. "I'm Helen. You must be Emily. I've heard Jarod talking about you a lot."
"That's right." Emily watched her brother walk away to the roundabout, but her eyes traveled back to the small girl on her own. "How could you tell?"
"Something about the face." Helen laughed. "There's a lot of similarities between you and your brother."
Smiling politely, Emily pointed unobtrusively at Michaela. "Why's she sitting there like that?"
The older woman smiled sadly. "She's an electrokinetic, and she threw a temper tantrum earlier. As with many of these children, such extremes of emotion can cause problems with their skills, and she short-circuited the fountain." Helen waved a hand at the water feature in the back of the room, over which a workman was leaning to replace the pump. "It frightened her, and now she's scared to touch anything in case it happens again."
Emily's eyes saddened. "Does that sort of thing happen often?"
"Unfortunately, yes," Helen admitted. "Particularly with Gideon." She pointed out the chubby little boy. "He hasn't got very good control over his skill yet -- he's Sebastian's son -- and any sudden change in his mood can make him accidentally start fires." She indicated a small bandage on the little pyrokinetic's arm, evidence of his most recent accident.
Helen continued, explaining the skills of the eight former Centre children. Just as she finished, a nurse appeared in the doorway and she excused herself, leaving the other woman alone. Emily continued to watch Michaela, saddened by the expression of unhappiness in those big brown eyes. A moment later, as if the girl had picked up on her thoughts, the small head turned in her direction.
Emily walked slowly forward, seeing the little girl cringe as if afraid of being hit, obviously afraid of this new face, and she inwardly cursed the training that had caused this in a child. However, the reassuring smile never moved from Emily's face as she sat on the floor.
"Is you mad at me?" the little voice quavered.
"No, sweetie," Emily assured her. "Of course I'm not mad." She reached out to gently brush back a lock of brown hair that fell into Michaela's eyes. "Why don't you go and play with the others?"
Michaela's head violently shook from side to side, making the fine, wispy hair fly around her face, a glint of terror in her eyes as tears filled them and she curled tightly into a ball. Before she could protest, Emily picked up the child, placing her onto her knee and wrapping her arms around her. The little girl froze for a second before turning in the woman's arms, burying her face in Emily's shoulder and beginning to sob.
"It gave you a nasty shock, didn't it, honey?" Emily soothed, rubbing her hand on the child's back. "It was a very big fright for such a little girl."
Slowly getting to her feet, she carried Michaela out of the playroom into the elevator, riding it up to her brother's room and carrying the child into the living area. Sitting on the sofa, she waited for the tears to dry up, eventually only the occasional sob and hiccup shaking the small body. Taking a tissue out of her pocket, she dried the small girl's face and smoothed back the messy hair.
"Why don't we do something, just the two of us?" she suggested. "What would you like to do?"
The girl looked around before pointing to a pile of children's jigsaw puzzles, which were stacked in the corner of the room, and Emily smiled sadly as she realized the child had picked a toy that she would be unlikely to damage. But she refrained from commenting and carried the girl over to the corner, sitting down and letting the girl settle into her lap before they began to do the first puzzle.
* * * * * * * * *
Broots glanced through the files about the last of the five Fakultät subjects, having found nothing about the other four. He was surprised to discover several files about Julia and read through them quickly. The information made his eyes widen as he rapidly printed out the details, sliding them in between two folders and then clearing his screen and all trace of his search before hurrying to the office next door.
Morgan looked up as he entered and shut the door, removing the pages and then sinking into the chair opposite.
"The Chairman knew," the technician exclaimed. "He knew about Julia, but it doesn't seem like he had any idea of the others."
Nodding slowly, she read through the pages, arching an eyebrow as she saw the detailed notes about the woman, including knowledge of her pregnancy.
"Interesting that he should be so well informed," she mused. "I wonder who was passing that sort of information along."
"Sam was passing information on from here," Broots reminded her. "What's to say we don't have the same thing going at the other two branches?"
"Good point," she agreed. "And why don't I know about them?"
Assuming this to be a hypothetical question, he ignored it and nodded at the pages in her hand. "I guess the other question is why he knew about her and not the others."
"That's easy," Morgan responded. "Julia must be very visible in her position. Even Sydney knows about her. But the others could be hidden down in the Experimental Floor that Sam told us about and nobody would ever know they were there. After all, most people wouldn't know that this place has 27 sub-levels. I'd imagine Delius came up with a way that Julia could be still alive but the four others weren't. Maybe that they died on the way to Germany or something."
He nodded before glancing at the pages she held again. "I think that's the other stuff you wanted me to find."
Shuffling through the pages, she found the relevant one and placed it on the desk, pushing aside the others, as her eyes made the necessary jumps between the genetic information provided.
"It is," she breathed, reading the paragraph written in Cox's small, neat hand.
Gathering the pages, she slid them into the bag she took to and from work every day, dismissing the technician with a nod and trying to concentrate once more on her work.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod stretched his legs out in front of him and picked up a book that he had bought from a store early that morning when he had been out for a walk, enjoying the sun that streamed onto the roof of the building as Jordan, Jacob and Gabriel played nearby. The door behind him opened and he cast a lazy eye in that direction, seeing Elizabeth stroll over to stretch out on a nearby sun-lounge with a book in her own hand.
"Taking a break from saving the world?" she teased.
"Hey, it gets a little boring after a while." He grinned before a thought occurred to him and he put the book aside. "I wanted to ask -- do you know everything that anyone here dreams about?"
"Pretty much." She shrugged. "I'm not perfect, and if I'm concentrating on removing nightmares from more than one person at a time then sometimes I can let things slip with others. I'm getting better at it, though."
The man nodded at the three young people playing a short distance away. "So why did you let Jordan dream about Jacob?"
She smiled faintly. "He's been having that same dream every night -- sometimes more than once -- since he came here. The same thing's happened with Trevor a few times, and when it does I usually think there must be a reason for it. I also couldn't see how it would be distressing for him. He has terrible nightmares, and this seemed positively kind in comparison to some of those."
He nodded slowly. "How about Jacob?"
The woman's eyes darkened and glinted angrily as her fingers tightened around the book in her hand. "You don't want to know."
"No," he agreed, his eyes fixed sadly on the small boy's face. "I probably don't."
"He won't have them anymore," a quiet voice stated from beside him. "I promise, Jarod."
* * * * * * * * *
Eve hardly heard the door open, and scarcely felt the needle enter her arm. Nor did or could she care about it. The Halcyon gas had enhanced Aurora to the extent that she felt herself floating on a bubble of pleasure, one from which she couldn't bear to come down. The world seemed made of bright, vibrant colors that, as Aurora trickled like a warm stream into her arm, appeared to twist and dance in brilliant patterns. Shapes flashed in and out, objects distorting, and she followed the best and brightest with her eyes as they contorted into unrecognizable forms. She knew this wasn't a normal side-affect of Aurora, suggesting another drug that added to the wonders of her creation.
When she actually could be bothered trying to think, Eve could only wonder that she'd never tried the drug on herself before, instead of wasting it on other people. A tiny voice warned her that the person giving it to her probably meant to harm her, but she quashed it easily, enjoying the feeling of pleasure the drugs caused. That they made her unable to move didn't seem to matter. It meant she didn't have to move or even think about it, so she paid no attention, concentrating instead on the hazy visions before her eyes, a dreamy smile on her lips as her eyelids drooped.
A dark shape bent over her, the details of which were unrecognizable, and she lazily swiveled her eyes up in the direction of what she assumed to be a face. As she tried to focus on it, however, it altered, becoming a square, then an oblong and finally almost triangular. The thought of anybody with a head that shape made her giggle silently, even as the man standing beside her picked up her wrist to time her pulse. Satisfied, he gave a nod and a trolley was wheeled into the room.
She barely even felt the several pairs of hands that lifted her out of the chair and placed her on to it, covering her with a sheet and rolling it out of the office. A dull click as the door of her office was locked echoed in her head, emphasized by the Halcyon gas, and the wheels rolling along the hall sounded like machinery, but she didn't care. The elevator doors shut almost silently and there as no sound from the men who surrounded the gurney, pushing it out of the elevator and bringing it up in front of the room.
Valentine opened the door with a satisfied nod before handing skin-colored patches to the men, who accepted them eagerly and quickly returned to the elevator. Wordlessly, he pulled the trolley into the room, peeling back the sheet and grinning down at the woman.
"Well, hello there, Eve, my dear soon-to-be drug addict. What a pleasure it is to have you down in my domain, although not as pleasurable as this is making you feel, right?"
The words boomed and echoed in her head, but she had no time to grasp their meaning, almost immediately distracted by a flash of gold in front of her face that swung from side to side several times, like a large pendulum, and her eyes lazily followed the gleaming motion. Suddenly it was snatched away and the dark shape beside her moved out of sight briefly, returning in a moment with something white, which he tied around her unresisting wrists, next wrapping it over her chest and then behind the trolley on which she was lying. Eve never noticed the restraints, seeming to be constantly in motion, appearing to float through waves of color and light.
Valentine stepped back, looking down at the woman, who was strapped firmly to the trolley, and a vindictive smile curled his lips as he turned away and sat down at the console.
* * * * * * * * *
The sunny day encouraged the group to choose a table outside, although Jarod made sure that both Gabriel and Jacob kept their jackets on as they sat down. There was an outbreak of giggling from Gabriel as he looked at the pictures in the menu, and Jordan leaned over to tease the child about his similarity to a pink-faced ice-cream clown. Jarod was glad to see that his older son's relationship with the baby was rapidly improving as he described the dishes to the silent boy who sat on his other side, looking around with wide eyes.
After giving their orders to the waitress who hovered nearby, Jarod began questioning Jordan about some of the work they had been studying in class, to which the young man responded with a deep groan that made Gabriel giggle again and Jacob look at him in astonishment.
Suddenly a pair of hands clapped over Jarod's eyes and a familiar, laughing voice spoke in his ear.
"Hmm," Jarod remarked thoughtfully. "Well, you're too young to be Sydney, too masculine to be Miss Parker, and too confident to be Broots, so I figure it's nobody from the Centre."
He heard a woman's laugh from nearby and grinned.
"Although I'm not psychic," he continued, "I'd guess -- Alastair!"
The hands lifted off his eyes and clapped him on the shoulder as he turned to look up into the man's familiar blue eyes, now sparkling with amusement.
"Showoff," Alastair teased, walking around to shake Jordan's hand. Meanwhile Jarod greeted the two blond females who waited nearby before the two men dragged over another table so that the newcomers could sit down, after which Jarod introduced Gabriel and Jacob.
"So what's going on?" the older man asked curiously. "Were you guys just in town, or have you been following me?"
"Actually, we kind of need a favor," Rebecca told him somewhat awkwardly. "It's Lyle."
"When isn't it?" Jarod retorted, with a wry grin at the man's daughter. "What's the problem?"
Rebecca glanced at Gabriel, who was watching her out of big, brown eyes, as if knowing that she would be talking about him. "Ever since the Centre lost one of their biggest projects, there's been a lot more pressure on the members of the Tower, particularly with the added fact that, should Mr. Parker lose the Chairmanship, the domino effect will continue down the pile."
"So Lyle's increasing the pressure on his underlings to find the rest of the Blue Files, to ensure he keeps his seat," Jarod finished, gazing thoughtfully at the table for a moment before looking up at her. "But how can I help?"
Alastair cocked an eyebrow in his direction before glancing around at several men in black outfits with flame logos on their tops, who had been waiting to see Jarod's reaction to the newcomers before they intervened, several having sensed that they posed no threat.
"Well, either you've hired your own security force or else there's some other group at work to keep you safe. This lot look kind of like my brother and his friends."
"Granted," Jarod laughed, looking around as a waitress came out with the ice creams for himself and the three boys. "Order something for yourselves and then I'll take you along to Sanctuary."
* * * * * * * * *
The shot went in quickly and easily, and the woman smiled as the feeling of happiness welled up inside her. Valentine capped the syringe and pocketed it, returning to his seat and watching the material he had recorded that day.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked after a few moments.
"You don't care about that," he returned, his eyes fixed on the screen. "All you care about now is being happy. I'll keep you happy, as long as you don't ask questions."
Nodding in agreeing and not interested enough to press further, Eve glanced at the clock hanging on the wall. She had spent so long watching the dancing shapes in front of her, the sounds of her office creating an almost musical accompaniment, that she no longer had any idea of what time it was. Sleep, too, had come intermittently, with dreams full of light and happiness, but even more so a sense of peace such as she had never known. Time had passed so rapidly that she was unsure what day it was, but any curiosity she may have felt instantly dissipated and she smiled at the happiness she felt, putting her head back against the thin pillow of the gurney and letting her eyes close. There was something missing this time, though. It wasn't as good as it had been before.
"It's not the same," she murmured regretfully, although the feeling of disappointment faded almost instantly.
Valentine glanced sharply over his shoulder. "What do you mean?"
"There's no colors," she told him, her eyes opening wide. "It was so pretty."
An evil smile curled at the edges of Valentine's mouth as he realized what she meant. Reaching under the desk, he pulled out the strongbox, producing another long, silver capsule. Taking out a mask, he affixed it to the top of the canister before placing the smooth rubber over her face. Twisting the release valve, he was able to hear the gas hissing into the mask.
"Breathe deeply," he ordered, "and then the colors will come."
Inhaling with a vague sense of desperation, Eve recognized the sweet smell that she could faintly remember from her office, before the first shot. Slowly, as the elastic of the gas mask was slipped behind her head and Valentine returned to his chair, the mundane colors of the room began to be enhanced, flickering as they strengthened. Objects began to dance in front of her and she let out a small sigh of satisfaction before falling silent.
* * * * * * * * *
Rebecca hesitated in the doorway of the playroom, her eyes running over the many small faces, eight of which had turned in her direction as soon as she had appeared. A pair of blue eyes lit up and a girl jumped to her feet, running across the room and throwing herself at the woman.
"Mama!" Tempest shrieked in excitement, hugging her legs, as the other children turned back to their games.
Rebecca picked up the girl, feeling the small hands tangle in her hair as kisses dampened her face. The man beside her waved her over to where a sofa and several armchairs stood on one corner of the room, watching as the woman carefully sat down with the child in her lap. Her expression filled with confusion and sadness, mixed with love, he could imagine what she was feeling, meeting her daughter for the first time.
Sorrow tugged at Jarod's heart like a ton-weight as he watched them. In all the time he had spent with this child since discovering the truth about her parentage, he had never been able to stop himself from wondering what sort of a father his brother might have made to this little girl and whether the necessity of helping to shape her young life might have been able to undo the years of brutal training which had turned Kyle into a sociopath.
He closed his eyes, picturing Kyle's initial trepidation at first meeting her. Like Tempest's mother, he would be devastated by what the Centre had done, using his genetic material to create this little girl. But he would fall in love with her big blue eyes, her sweetly angelic little face and those blond curls. Her infectious laughter would have him smiling in no time, and the innocent that she was would help to heal his broken soul.
Tempest would have been good for Kyle.
Had he lived.
Jarod took several deep breaths to control his emotions, looking up suddenly as a young voice spoke.
"Unca Jawid," the girl exclaimed, reaching out a hand for the man, the fingers of her other hand still tangled in her mother's hair.
Jarod looked up to see the knowing expression in Rebecca's eye and knew she had guessed the subject of his thoughts. Sitting on the sofa beside them, Tempest's little hand was able to grasp his leather jacket, struggling to pull him closer to her, her baby head still resting possessively against her mother's shoulder.
"This is something you can do for your brother -- that you've already done," Rebecca murmured, stroking the girl's hair. "You freed Tempest from the Centre before they could destroy her. Now, you can help make her into the sort of person Kyle might have been, if Raines had never gone near him."
Nodding, momentarily speechless, Jarod gently stroked the small, round cheek, vowing inwardly that his niece would have every opportunity he had already promised himself for his son. Jarod could see the fantasy unfolding: Kyle walking Tempest in the park, teaching her to catch a Frisbee or a baseball. He would bring home a puppy or kitten for her to play with and love. And he would read her stories before he tucked her into bed at night, kiss her little hurts away, and hold her in his arms when she needed him.
Kyle would have made a good father. But since he couldn't be there for his daughter, Uncle Jarod would have to do. With any luck, Tempest wouldn't feel her father's absence for a long, long time.
* * * * * * * * *
"So, who else is there?" Sebastian was demanding as Jarod opened the door to the boardroom.
Alastair leaned back in his chair, eyeing the ceiling thoughtfully. "I think I've told you about all the staff -- at least, all the ones who were there when I left. As far as I know, there haven't been many new employees hired, and nobody of any significance to you, except as far as numbers go."
"But there are others," Trevor prompted gloomily. "It's like the Centre; there are always subjects."
Nodding slowly, Alastair lowered his eyes to the table. "Yes," he admitted. "There are."
Ramona looked up from the notes she was making. "As many as the Centre?"
"There isn't the room," he mused. "There's only three levels underground in Berlin, and they don't keep subjects where people can see them."
"Anyone I know?" Jarod asked as he sat down, Rebecca taking a seat between him and Alastair, Tempest nestling happily in her mother's lap and playing with a long lock of her hair.
Alastair considered briefly before looking at the Pretender. "Do you remember Julia Becker?"
"Vaguely. Bed next to yours in 1975. Brown hair, brown eyes, very sick. She provided me with the charcoal for drawing on the sheets," Jarod finished with a grin.
"And that's vaguely," Cam snorted, grinning.
Alastair nodded, his face serious and eyes sad. "You might remember that Julia was classed as a pretender before the experiment, but not a very successful one. When we were sick, she began to see things, the same way Rebecca and I do." Alastair grinned weakly at his friend. "You were projecting a lot during that time, buddy, and she picked up on most of it."
Jarod raised an eyebrow, but remained silent, as Trevor tried not to laugh.
"After they dragged all five of us to Berlin," Alastair continued, "they were very excited when they found out about it. She was trained in her abilities, and, although she's not as advanced as either of us," he shot a glance at Rebecca, "they were very glad to have her."
"And where is she now?"
"Still there. When I got out three years ago, I suggested she come with me. She refused to leave."
Jarod gave him an astonished look. "Why?"
"That's the point of my story, or part of it. Can you remember Joseph?"
"He was the healer, wasn't he? You fell out of bed when you were trying to make trouble one day and he fixed your leg."
Ignoring the comment on his action, Alastair nodded. "Leiden had heard about what was planned in Delaware and loved the idea of designer kids so much that he decided to make his own. Of course, his methods weren't quite as neat or controlled. There were a lot of rejects, kids who didn't have the particular skill that he had been hoping for when he carried out the insemination. That's why Berlin is so far behind the Centre. If they don't get it right, they have to start over. But when it all began, he didn't know there were going to be so many problems. He persuaded Delius that Julia, his translator, would make an ideal candidate, so they artificially inseminated her."
"With her permission?" Sebastian demanded.
"Not exactly. Of course, she knew what they were going to do when they took her into the room, drugged her and did the procedure, but there wasn't much she could do. Even if she hadn't been the one to fall pregnant, they'd have used her ova and simply found a surrogate mother. They're as easy to get in Germany as they are here in America."
"So they got her pregnant, she gave birth, and refused to leave with you because her baby would have had to stay behind," Jarod guessed.
"Exactly." Alastair nodded soberly. "But can you remember what it was that gave her the abilities in the first place?
Jarod stared at him in horror. "They gave the baby meningitis as well?"
"Close. They did think about it, but some bright spark thought maybe the fever was what caused her abilities to develop, so they induced a fever of 109 degrees Fahrenheit in little Peter and kept him there for four days. In all that time, I might add, Julia wasn't allowed to see him."
Jarod abruptly got to his feet and began pacing the room, his eyes fixed on the floor as the others around the table stared at Alastair in disbelief. "Sounds like something Raines would have done."
"Then Raines was almost as bad as Leiden," Alastair remarked, his eyes sparkling angrily. "Julia almost snapped at that time, even though she knew what was going to happen."
"Which was?" Trevor inquired impatiently.
"I'm getting there. On the fifth day, they let his temperature return to normal and were delighted to find that they'd 'manufactured' a psychic. The healing abilities Peter inherited from his father had disappeared along the wayside somewhere but they didn't care. They had their psychic. And he's very successful too. He works with Clare and Michael -- you probably remember them, too."
"Are they deaf, like Edna thought they'd be?" Jarod demanded, suddenly remembering a vague conversation he had overheard during his illness.
"Unfortunately, yes." Alastair stared at the floor for a moment before lifting his head. "But it wasn't just Peter they tried the new treatment on. They experimented that way on thirty children, all of whom had a certain genetic trait that they believed was 'the one.' Peter was the only one who survived."
Jarod muttered an expletive under his breath. "So every time they want a psychic, they get Julia pregnant again?"
"I don't know about 'every time,' but she is pregnant again, yes." Alastair glared at the tabletop as he exhaled slowly. "Delius planned terrible recriminations for my escape against Clare, Michael and Joseph, because he believed that they knew I was planning to leave. After some persuasion, he agreed that, if he wouldn't do anything to them, she'd let him experiment on her in any way he wanted."
"So she just has to put up with it?" Sumi demanded in shocked tones. "Oh God, what monsters "
"What else can she do?" Alastair shot back angrily. "Do you know what he could do to her, would do to her, if she didn't agree?"
For a moment, he was unable to speak further, swallowing his urge to throw up at the knowledge of what he knew Delius had done to unwilling subjects. Glancing at his hands, seeing the scars that dotted them, all results of experiments gone wrong, he slid them under the table. Alastair wished for a long-sleeved top as he saw the eyes of the tall Australian opposite travel from scar to scar on his arms. Similar marks on Sebastian's skin made the psychic wonder briefly what had happened to the other man, his curiosity sparked by the images of fire that flared in his mind, as he continued.
"Delius' plan, and one which Leiden loves, I might add, is for her to have children every four years or so, and then, when the oldest are ready to reproduce, he'll see if, by using siblings, he can get a psychic child without having to risk them dying of fever."
Jarod refused to look at Sebastian as he spoke. "He could end up with major problems. Down's Syndrome and the like."
"He's hoping that, by then, it'll be possible to genetically correct things like that," Alastair stated in disgust.
"Another bastard playing God," Jarod remarked bitterly, returning to his chair, a glare on his face. "And I thought Raines and Cox were bad enough."
* * * * * * * * *
Morgan carried the plates back into the kitchen, returning to the living room and curling up in the unoccupied corner of the sofa. Sydney was gazing into the leaping flames in the fireplace, but at the silence, he turned.
"What is it?"
"Why didn't you ever tell me?"
He sighed deeply. "Would you have believed me, Morgan? And besides, I never knew for certain. Catherine made a point of telling me that you weren't mine. She even had a paternity test done, to prove it." The man smiled faintly. "I did think about it sometimes, and wondered, even hoped, but I also knew your mother went to Maine every year. I never knew why she went, but I was never able to help wondering if there was someone up there that she felt things for."
"Not the way she felt about you," his daughter assured him. "She was happy up there because she could escape from the pressures she was under here, but that was all."
Sydney's voice was suddenly soft. "Do you know, Morgan, I'm not an envious person, but when I used to think about why she went up there, I was closer to jealousy than at any other time in my life."
There was another prolonged silence before the woman spoke again.
"But why didn't she tell you? About me, I mean."
"I can only imagine that she didn't want me to feel pressured, or to put me in any danger. After all, if her husband had found out "
Yet another moment of silence that followed this before the woman spoke again.
"Will you tell me about it?"
Sydney smiled. "What did you want to know?"
"Everything," she admitted frankly, before coloring slightly. "That is, everything you're willing to tell me."
He nodded, turning his gaze back to the fire, unable to talk about Catherine when he was facing her, reminded of the woman he had loved every time he saw her face. "It began on the 14th of February, 1959. That was," he exhaled slowly, "that was the first time he ever hit her. She came to me; I'll never know why."
Morgan didn't need to hear any names to know who he was talking about. It meant that assaults on her mother had started more than a decade before she knew about them, and the rage she already felt at the man who claimed her paternity swelled inside until she could hardly breathe. She couldn't help wondering how many other times it had occurred and she hadn't known. Only the soft, sorrowful voice of the man sitting beside her kept the fury she felt from exploding.
"I never really thought about it being so wrong until later," he admitted. "The way he treated her, even at work, wasn't -- or shouldn't have been --- the treatment that a wife deserved from the man she was married to, and I was able to forget that they were married when we were together. Not that we ever had long." He sighed ruefully, staring at his hands, watching as the left trembled slightly, the way it always did at the end of the day. "I don't know if you can imagine how hard it was for me to see the way he behaved towards her, the days that she would turn up to work trying to hide bruises and cuts, and to hear her dismiss them as unimportant if I ever saw them." Sydney's right hand clenched around the arm of the sofa. "Before we were together, I could never show the way I felt, and after it was over, she tried to hide it so I wouldn't see."
"That would have been worse," the woman remarked knowingly, remembering her helplessness on the night she had heard her parents fighting and seen Raines leaving the house.
"Yes," he agreed softly. "Yes, it was."
"Did she come to you often?" Morgan asked, becoming sufficiently interested in the story to put away her anger for a moment.
"Sometimes," he admitted. "Mr. Parker occasionally spent nights at the Centre, and, when he did, she would often come here. I think Jacob knew something was going on, but he tried to turn a blind eye to it."
"Is that why you have some of her clothes at your house?"
"So you found those?" he asked with a smile. "Yes. People who are trying to hide something find all sorts of ways to make sure that nobody finds out, and your mother came up with the idea." He turned to her for a moment. "You may not remember, but on occasion, when things got too bad, she would come around at other times. That's why they were still there, even after it was finished. She didn't want other people to know that there was a problem and thought that, if she appeared in the same clothes two days in a row then people might get suspicious." He smiled fondly. "Your mother had the same love of clothing and taste that you do."
She nodded slightly, leaning her head against the back of the sofa and gazing at the man as he watched the flames dance in the fireplace and illuminate the otherwise dark room. For a second, the scene blurred, but she blinked to clear her vision, shifting on the sofa in an attempt to rouse herself.
"We were together for two months, until early April, 1959, when she left for Maine. I didn't want her to go, but we both knew that any change of her routine would make her husband suspicious, and neither of us wanted to take that risk. We spent the last night sitting on the veranda, watching the stars, and the next day she left."
"How did you know about Maine?" Morgan asked curiously. "Most people thought that she went to visit my aunt."
"She told me," he admitted. "When she told me that -- that she just needed a chance to get away from her husband for a while -- it made my actions somehow seem less wrong." Sydney began to gently massage his left hand with his right as he continued to speak. "When she came back from Maine, something was different. Of course, I know now that Catherine had probably discovered she was pregnant, but at the time I couldn't understand it. She told me that it wasn't fair on either of us to continue the relationship -- that my life would be in danger if her husband found out, and that she didn't know if she would be able to hide it at work."
Morgan suddenly saw the reflection of her own life in that of her parents and smiled at the thought as she wrapped her arms around a cushion, resting her chin on it.
"I found out in May of that year that Catherine was pregnant. Mr. Parker announced it at a meeting, and he was so proud when he told us the news that I couldn't believe the baby could possibly be mine."
That was what I most loved about him. The words echoed inside Morgan's head and there was a sudden feeling of warmth, as if her mother was embracing her. She knew it to be true. Sydney was everything Catherine's husband hadn't been: gentle and loving, modest and generous. The comparison was so strong as to be almost painful.
"She came to see me later that day," the man continued, his eyes seeing the scene in his office that day instead of the fire in front of him. His lips twisted with emotion, and Sydney had to briefly close his eyes before he felt able to continue. "I asked her if the baby was mine, but she told me definitively that it wasn't, and I couldn't argue when she seemed so sure."
"But," Morgan interrupted before her father could continue, "apart from the fact that Momma was married, wasn't it unethical for you to have an affair with a patient?"
Sighing, Sydney rose to his feet and walked over to the fire, leaning on the mantel and staring into the flames. "Yes," he admitted softly. "What we did was unethical, but circumstances made it difficult to refuse to take your mother on. You see," he turned to look at her, "your mother became my patient in January, 1960, soon after you were born. As you know, when Catherine gave birth to you and your brother, Raines took Angelo -- Timmy -- away, telling her that the baby had died. The news absolutely devastated your mother. She was ecstatic at having you, but the loss of your brother was excruciating for her. She slid into a state that some people would have believed to be post-natal depression, but with her history of manic depression, it was more likely to have simply been a deeper stage of that."
"You never told me about him," she stated softly.
"I couldn't see it as my responsibility," Sydney responded. "I never knew that he had survived and I thought it was your parents' responsibility to tell you about it, not mine."
Morgan wrapped her arms more firmly around the cushion, nodding slowly. Closing her eyes, she could see the DSA footage of the birth again, see Raines making the call about transporting her brother to NuGenesis, and Morgan could only imagine the pain her mother must have suffered at the thought of losing a child.
"Mr. Parker came to me about a week after you were born," Sydney reminisced. "He told me that he was worried about Catherine and wanted to know if I would do what I could for her. Of course, I wasn't going to refuse. I'd seen the change in your mother and was worried myself, but I didn't want to take her on. What I felt for her, even so many months after everything finished between us, meant that what I did was wrong. But her husband was asking, and we both had to hope that he still had no idea what had happened."
Sydney's eyes lifted from the carpet they had been examining to fix on her as he returned to his seat on the sofa.
"We talked about it -- your mother and I -- and eventually decided that the danger was too great for us not to. I felt it was the only way to protect her from her husband's anger, and she admitted several years later that she had felt the same way about me. We both know," he continued in a low voice, "what the Chairman is capable of."
There was a momentary pause, which Morgan broke. "So what did you do?"
"By getting her to focus on the child she still had, I hoped that I could ease the pain of the one she had seemingly lost, and it worked." The man smiled. "You became the most important thing in her life. You always were. Nothing she ever did afterwards came anywhere near it."
He sighed deeply, feeling the tears brimming in his eyes at the memory of those painful sessions when Catherine had been so depressed.
"I still loved her," he admitted. "I do today. But I knew that things could never be the way they had been. We moved on, and, whether I like it or not, that was probably the best thing that could have happened. The danger increased with every passing year, and her death emphasized that to me." He stopped, unable to continue for a moment, feeling pain constricting his chest and throat. "After she died, I knew she would have wanted me to do all I could to take care of her daughter. That's what I've tried to do. But I could never tell you how precious you were to me. Part of me always wished hoped dreamed, that you might have been mine."
Sydney blinked the final tears out of his eyes, watching the flames leap in the fireplace for several long minutes, and then turned his head to look at his daughter. His lips curled into a smile when he saw that she was clearly asleep. Standing, he made his way over to the closet and removed a blanket, covering the woman with it and tucking a stray curl behind her ear as he bent to gently kiss her hair. Collecting his cane and briefcase, Sydney softly opened the door and left the house, memories of the first woman he had loved assailing him as he wended his way home through the dark streets.
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 dreams about."
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 her nod.
"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 entered.
"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.
* * * * * * * * *
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 wall.
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 them?'
"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?"
"C " Jarod's voice cracked slightly. "Cox called him Jacob."
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. "At Donoterase?"
"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 prompted gently.
"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 right now."
"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."
"I 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, Jarod."
"Take care, Sydney."
There was a moment of silence, and then the dial tone.
* * * * * * * * *
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 your dad."
"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 all day."
"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 in Germany."
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 yourself crazy!"
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 him.
"Why?" he asked in a broken voice. "Why do they keep doing this?"
"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 down.
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 else?"
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 face her.
"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 woman.
"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 never altered.
"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 the car."
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.