Dangerious Minds


home / season six / episode twentyone / act I


Room X
The Centre
Blue Cove, DE

Valentine paced the floor of his hideaway, as he had been doing for the past hour. He needed to figure out a way to find Faith, the woman otherwise known as Project Looking Glass. She seemed to have vanished off the face of the planet, in much the same way as the Seraphim. The children were undoubtedly under Jarod's protection, sequestered in some out-of-the-way place where they could remain hidden for years. Quite possibly, Faith was there as well. He needed to flush her out of hiding, but had no way to reach her.

She had shamed him, bested him, when no other woman could make that statement and still be breathing. There had to be something in her past that he could use to track her down. With a sigh, he pulled out all the research materials on the Looking Glass project and started over, from the very beginning.

Back then, it had been called Project Faith. Raines had been the primary, discovering the orphan girl's natural inclination toward empathy. He believed that drugs and isolation would be the keys to jump-starting the development of her talent, that she would reach out in her loneliness and begin to tap into her empathic skills -- and he had been right.

For a while, only their work sessions were recorded. The rest of the time, the little blond girl lay alone in her secret room. Several weeks into the project, though, Raines began to suspect she was receiving visitors, because Faith's mood improved. He started having her monitored constantly, and that hunch was rewarded. Jarod, Miss Parker, and Angelo had appeared on the recordings, both together and separately. That had been the impetus for Faith's staged "death," so the other children would stop looking for her.

Valentine grabbed a DSA randomly from the stack, and inserted it into the player, listening to Faith and Parker talk.

"You're sad," Faith said softly. "I can feel it, inside. Do you want to tell me what's wrong?"

"It's my mom," Miss Parker replied. "I really miss her, you know? My dad's always working, and Jarod's nice, but he's got other stuff to do. Sometimes I just wish I could talk to somebody who understands."

"I know what it's like," Faith told her. "I miss my mommy, too. She died in a car accident. Maybe we could both talk about our mommies, and then we'll feel better…"

The sweeper didn't need to look any further. He stopped the recording on that vision of the child empath, her eyes sympathetic as she looked into the other girl's troubled face. He retrieved the disk from the machine and stored it with the other materials on the Looking Glass project.

Miss Parker and Faith had been friends. Parker would almost certainly be one of the keys to finding his elusive quarry, and he was going to enjoy figuring out how to push her buttons.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, TX

Jarod sat on the overstuffed red sofa, notes and research material strewn about him while he worked on a treatment regimen for Jacob. He watched the little ones move about the playroom, Jacob interacting well with the other children, particularly the eight from the Centre. But the boy rested often, and rarely had the energy to play for more than an hour at a time.

Jacob didn't have long, and Jarod was spending every spare moment working to stabilize him, but the task was daunting and heartbreaking, watching the child's steady and rapid decline.

With a sigh, Jarod turned his attention to others in the room and noticed a few of the toddlers taking turns with a bowling set. Faith sat on the floor behind the pins, setting them up by hand between players. It was an excellent game for teaching hand-eye coordination, and Dominique excelled at it, getting a strike so often that she lost interest and went back to the computer. Gabriel was excited as he knocked down most of the pins, and jumped away gleefully to take his place at the end of the queue. Angelique was more subdued, but seemed happy when she managed to topple three pins. Faith clapped in appreciation, and when Angelique ran to her she swooped her daughter into a hug.

Faith had made great progress since she arrived at Sanctuary, he mused. After a couple of early missteps and with a little prodding, she turned out to be very good with the children. They, in turn, had taught her to loosen up and not take herself quite so seriously. She smiled more often now, and the sound of her laughter made him feel warm inside.

Gabriel came bouncing over as the players all sped off in different directions to pursue other entertainment. The little boy's face was beaming as he climbed up into his father's lap. "I bowled good!" he exclaimed proudly, now enunciating his 'l' sounds more clearly.

"Yes, you did," Jarod assured him with a hug. He started to say something else, but the child wriggled out of his arms and was off toward the rocking horses before a coherent thought could be formed.

Faith rose from her seat on the floor and wandered over to a nearby chair, her attention still on the kids.

"I'm glad you stayed, Faith," he told her warmly. "You're fitting in beautifully." He paused, intending to say more, but was suddenly unable to find the words to express himself properly.

Faith eyed him, waiting, then changed the subject, turning her gaze to the busy denizens of the playroom. "They're magnificent, aren't they?" she observed quietly. Her moment of awe shifted into sadness. "But I can't help wondering what's going to become of them. They have such awesome talents, but they don't have a clue how to handle them."

Jarod's eyes lit on little Gideon, dressed constantly now in swim trunks and a tank top, splashing about in the fountain that was his favorite safe place. "At least they won't be exploited now," he reminded her.

She didn't look at him. Her frown deepened. "Their very existence is exploitation, Jarod. They're beautiful, shining little souls, who will grow up to be incredible people. But they weren't meant for this world. Humanity's evolving at its own pace, with special people like you and Sebastian popping up here and there, but…" She sighed, and there were tears in her eyes blinked hastily away. "…but these kids with their genetically-manipulated power were never meant to be -- and neither was I. Maybe in a thousand years or so, everyone will be like that. But for now, we're just--"

"Ahead of your time," he finished for her. He didn't need to have any kind of internal radar to know what she was feeling. It was all written right there on her face.

He decided to let the subject drop, and turned his attention back to the research instead.

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker's House
Blue Cove, DE

Valentine noted with a smile that no security system had been installed, and wondered how Miss Parker could be so foolish. She knew better; he assumed it was her inherent stubbornness that kept her from making that choice. Some part of her still wanted to believe there were safe places in the world, and for her, that was home.

He let himself in without incident, and spent several hours prowling through her things. He was careful to leave everything in exactly the same place he picked it up, leaving no apparent trace of his presence. For this visit, he chose not to use latex gloves to hide his fingerprints, wanting to leave his mark invisibly, like a dog spraying its territory. He was staking a claim, albeit only in his own mind, but that was where it counted.

The discovery he made there surprised him, but it made perfect sense. An old photograph album in the library shelves near the fireplace yielded a single new picture, one that spoke volumes to him. He had seen a similar photograph on her desk at work, featuring herself, the Chairman and little Gabriel, all seated together in a formal pose and smiling. But this photo had been retouched, erasing all trace of Mr. Parker and replacing his image with one of Catherine Parker, aged to what she might have looked like if she were still alive.

Valentine knew in an instant that this wasn't something Miss Parker would have had done on her own. It looked -- and felt -- more like Jarod's handiwork, and he wondered briefly why she hadn't brought it in. But he knew the answer to that. This was personal, something that meant so much to her she couldn't even share it with her father.

Which made it vastly important. Ideas started ticking away in his mind, and he pulled out his digital camera and snapped off a couple of shots of the picture. It would be important to get the details right, if his plan were to succeed. Carefully, he closed the book and slid it back onto the shelf, then let himself out of the house.

Suddenly he had a great deal to do, and wanted it handled as quickly as possible.

* * * * * * * * *

Flight 408
Wilmington, DE to Lincoln, NE

Calendar dates tended to sneak up on Lyle sometimes, especially when he was busy. But this one he always blocked out weeks in advance, the airline tickets purchased months beforehand; no matter what his schedule looked like, he never missed this appointment. He disliked the personal reflection that often accompanied the trip, but it was also part of the ritual. Once the plane set down in Lincoln, he'd rent a car, buy the largest, most elegant bouquet of flowers he could find, and drive back to the place he once called home for his annual pilgrimage.

Jimmy Radloff was impossible to forget. He had been Bobby Bowman's co-conspirator in every bit of mischief he'd ever pulled, growing up. He had been the brother Bobby always wanted, but never had. And Jimmy's mom…

He could still recall the lines of her face, the sweetness of her smile, the way the light made her golden hair glow like a halo.

He sighed. He missed her, even now. But Jimmy…

Lyle closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the seat.

They had been walking through the countryside together, as they often did, and Bobby was the one who suggested the climb up Noddy Peak. For weeks, he had been contemplating his future, though he hadn't mentioned it to anyone yet. He knew exactly what had to be done and how to go about it. That was why he suggested the camping trip. This would open the door to freedom, and pay his adoptive father back for all the cruelty ever since he returned from his first visit to the Centre.

He smiled to himself. That "visit" had been a liberating experience. Bobby had been such a cowardly kid, always needing somebody by his side to share his trouble, if the guilt were discovered. But the addition of Lung Li to his personality via Eclipse had been inspiration of the highest order. He no longer needed a partner in crime.

All he needed was a victim.

They had stood at the top of that cliff, breathless and exhilarated after their long trek, in awe of the view stretching out before them. Nebraska didn't boast much in the way of rugged terrain, but that hill stood watch over a deep ravine carved out by an old river now little more than a memory. It wasn't as high as a real mountain, but it was high enough.

Jimmy hadn't been expecting anything. All the way up the hill, Bobby hinted at what had happened to him in Delaware, making it sound enticing without revealing even a shade of the truth. He kept talking, answering Jimmy's eager questions with innuendo, until the other youth stood on the precipice. Only then had Bobby told him the truth. And as Jimmy turned around with disbelieving eyes to confront him, Bobby pushed him over the edge to the rocks below, and leaned over to watch the boy fall.

The plummet hadn't killed him, but Bobby had brought just the thing to resolve that problem. Lyle remembered how Jimmy had pleaded with him, begged him for his life, and how pathetic it sounded. He would never do that, he promised himself. If Death ever stared him in the face, he'd look it right in the eye and fight back.

Butchering the body had been interesting. He spent quite some time hiding the headless corpse and burying the head elsewhere, so it would never be found. He had been patient in waiting for the right moment to spring the trap on Mr. Bowman, and making sure that everybody thought Jimmy had run away.

Those had been the best days, fresh from a kill, spending as much time as he could with Jimmy's mother. He had consoled her beautifully, assuring her that it was her alcoholic husband's fault that her son had disappeared. She had believed him, and the relationship between them deepened.

That was when he had written the first letter, copying the handwriting from an old school paper he and Jimmy had worked on together. The words he had written echoed what Bobby said, and included sincere words of love for his mother, and a promise to return to her one day, a changed man. The handwriting might have been a copy of Jimmy's, but the words were his own. He meant it when he told Marnie Radloff that he loved her. She understood him and cared for him when no one else did. And she would be the one light in his darkness, the one person in his past who would always be with him.

Lyle reached into his trouser pocket for his wallet, and flipped it open to the choice of corporate credit cards, his drivers' license, corporate identification and other necessary cards. In the back, facing the black leather of the wallet's interior, was the only photograph he carried, the only part of his past that remained connected to the present. He stared at the photograph fondly, memories and emotions swirling together in a maelstrom of confusion that he had never quite sorted out.

This time, he promised himself, it would be different. This time, he would free himself from the bondage of his past, of the debt he continued to pay. Somehow, he would find a way to leave Marnie Radloff behind in Townsend, Nebraska.

* * * * * * * * *

Frankfort, KY

The woman smiled, admiring her reflection in the mirror. "This is the easiest job I've ever had!" she beamed, reaching up to touch the latex appliances covering her face. "I can't believe you just want me to walk around like this and spend money. What's the catch?"

Willie shrugged. "No catch." He pulled a photograph out of his jacket pocket and put it into the woman's hands. "Just be seen in public places. Stay on the move, but make sure you can be tracked. Keep this woman on your trail, and when I call you, you can let her catch you."

"Who is she?" The actress smoothed a lock of her gray-streaked hair over her shoulder and studied the photograph.

"That's none of your concern. We're after someone she associates with, and are using one to find the other." He handed over a platinum credit card. "This will keep you wined and dined, and comfortably ensconced in only the best hotels. And there's a car waiting for you out front. Remember, come back here every morning to have your face put on, and make sure you change your clothes when you change your identity. She'll spot that sort of thing, and your cover will be blown."

The woman's blue eyes glittered with excitement. "I can't believe I'm helping the FBI catch a most wanted criminal," she gushed. "Thank you, Agent Raines. This is something really cool to add to my resume."

He nodded, wondering briefly if her acting career would be finished after this job. But that wasn't any of Willie's business. "Not a problem, ma'am. We're glad to have your help. You have the right height and build, the right style and grace, and with this face, from a distance, no one can tell you're not the real thing."

She nodded, and looked at the face in the mirror again. "So who is this woman I'm portraying?"

The sweeper patted her arm. "Her name's Catherine, but that's no concern of yours, ma'am. Just go out and be seen, and we'll take care of the rest. All right?"

"Sure thing." She glanced at the credit card and smiled, her face wrinkling up around the eyes and mouth, as it was intended to do. "Mind if I go shopping, too?"

"Just be aware, there's a five thousand dollar limit on that card," he advised her casually. "Don't get too wild with it. And make sure any clothes you buy are in the best of taste. Anything less would be another tip-off."

The woman leaned forward and kissed his cheek, her eyes sparkling. "It will be my pleasure," she assured him, drawing herself up like a queen.

He watched her stride out of the theater and noted how well Valentine had chosen the actress who would play this part. She even had the right walk. Though Willie had never met the real woman, he had seen her daughter often enough to know a ringer when he saw one.

The sweeper rose, straightened his suit and paid off the makeup artist who would do the woman's face every day until the mission was over. Then he went to meet Valentine to tell him that the first part of the plan was completed. He wished he'd be able to see it when the truth was revealed, and to watch the suffering along the way, but that wasn't what Valentine wanted.

And what Valentine wanted, Willie wanted as well. He touched the clear patch beneath his shirt collar at the back of his neck, and smiled. Aurora was everything, and his need for vengeance was gone, unless it became important to the man who wielded the patches.

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, TX

Jarod finished drawing the necessary blood from his host, marked the tubes and set them aside for testing.

"Is that it?" Sebastian asked slowly, watching Jarod strip of the latex gloves and toss them in the trash can.

"That's it for the moment," Jarod assured him. "I'll be running all sorts of profiles on your blood to determine your exact chemical composition. I may need some tissue and bone samples later, but those procedures are more involved, and I don't want to have to go there if I get what I need from this information."

Sebastian rolled down his sleeve and flexed his hand. "You sound just like a doctor."

"That's what I am today," the Pretender promised with a smile. "You and Jacob are my number one patients."

Sebastian nodded somberly, obviously thinking of the boy. "Have you had a chance to chat with Keely lately? I was wondering how she was doing… you know, with the withdrawal."

Jarod couldn't help grinning. "She's making the transition, Sebastian. Fortunately, the outside world offers plenty of pleasures and distractions the Centre didn't. I think she's going to be just fine, especially when I get this little problem worked out for you both."

"And for my son."

Jarod nodded. Then he remembered that Gideon's unique genetic makeup was a double dose of the burden his father bore. "Are you ever going to tell Keely that Gideon's her son, too?"

Sebastian's mouth opened. It closed again as he lifted his face to make eye contact with the man in the lab coat. Tears sprang into his eyes and were hastily blinked away. Then a portion of his sleeve caught fire.

Jarod reached for a beaker of water he had ready just in case, and doused the flames. "Breathe," he advised the Australian sharply. "Deep breaths, Sebastian. Concentrate on peace."

"Peace," the other man repeated mechanically. "What a concept." A few moments later, he glanced down and watched as Jarod began to treat the burn, cutting off the wet, damaged sleeve. "You do that well, mate. Ever consider a career in medicine for real?"

"Don't have time," Jarod shot back without thinking. "Too much to do now, and I have to sleep sometime."

Sebastian chuckled. "Yeah. But at least we can have that now. Elizabeth was a real find for us."

Jarod smiled. "Yes. I like her."

"Just don't let Trevor hear you say that," the Australian warned with a grin. "He's just starting to mark his territory 'round her, so make sure you don't get too close."

"I wish them both happiness," the Pretender assured his host. "Elizabeth's just a friend."

"You've made a lot of friends here, mate. Can we talk you into staying?" Sebastian flexed his arm beneath the bandage, appreciating the expert patch job.

With a shake of his head, Jarod returned, "I'd love to be able to say yes, but unlike Trevor, I can't see what the future holds for me. If I'm needed elsewhere, I'll have to go. Right now, I'm needed here more than anywhere else." His eyes strayed to the latest data he had tabulated on Jacob, and sighed.

Sebastian noted where the other man was looking. "How long's he got?" he asked gently.

Jarod's expression was grim. "Not long enough, Sebastian. Not nearly long enough."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre

Miss Parker swept into her office and set her briefcase on the floor as she glanced at her blotter. She read through a memo waiting on top, signed it and set it into her OUT tray for pickup, then took her seat and sent for coffee. The morning was hectic, but she sifted through the stack of reports waiting for her attention, and then opened up her computer to check the day's email.

Halfway down the list, she spied a familiar entry that made her eyes widen. Raines' account had been archived, and no one had the password when he died. Only Broots and possibly a couple of other brilliant techs might have the skills to crack that, so the list of who might have hacked into his account was short. Hair standing up on the back of her neck, she opened the email and found the message area blank, but there was an attachment.

It was a photograph, and a big one at that. It took a long time to load, but before it was halfway down the image, she was sitting forward in her chair, hand over her open mouth, eyes spilling over with tears. She couldn't move, couldn't breathe, even after the picture had finished loading, until her screen saver came up and began to scroll across the black field.

"This can't be," she whispered, reaching out to turn off the screensaver. "Oh, my God. It's impossible."

But nobody ever stayed dead at the Centre. Raines had pulled off one faked death already. Had he done it again? The vivid memory of her mother's brains splattering onto the wall in Raines' forest house could simply not have been faked... could it?

She stared at the photograph, certain that whomever had sent it to her knew who the woman was, and how important this discovery would be to Morgan.

Head spinning, she got to her feet and walked next door to her underling's office.

"Broots, come here," she said softly. "There's something I want you to see."

Unable to feel her feet, she went back to her desk and tried to get a grip on reality. Almost as an afterthought, she picked up the phone and called Sydney to join them. When Broots arrived, he took one look at her face and sat down in the chair to wait.

Sydney saw her from the doorway and hurried over. "What is it? What's wrong?"

He pulled her into his arms and held her there as she wept.

Broots got up and shut the door, returning to his seat.

Bonelessly, she eased back into her chair when Sydney let her go. "I can't believe it," she sniffed, and opened a drawer in search of a tissue. "I just can't believe it."

"What, Miss Parker?" Broots asked gently. "How can we help you?"

She turned the computer screen toward them and hit the space bar to deactivate the screen saver. She saw the shock in their faces, and the devastated recognition in Sydney's. His eyes were horrified and hopeful as they turned to meet hers again.

"Do you think it's possible that your mother's still alive? What does your inner sense tell you?"

She smiled, bitter irony squeezing out one more tear. "Right now, it's a whisper in a tornado, Sydney. It doesn't tell me anything, because I'm so torn up inside I can't hear it."

"This says it came from Raines' account," Broots observed, checking the file information on the email. "I'll dig around to see who might have used it to send you this. Somebody knows something. Somebody took this picture and sent it to you."

"We have to find her," Sydney told him anxiously. "Look at everything in the background of that photograph, every shop, every sign. Find out where this place is, and we'll go there. You can track down the sender later."

Broots was already out of the chair and halfway across the office. "I'm on it," he called over his shoulder. The door closed quietly behind him.

Morgan forwarded the email to his account, and turned to her father once more.

"She wouldn't have left me," she said softly. "She wouldn't have let Raines take Ethan and then just walk away."

"I agree."

"Then who is this? Who is this woman who looks just like my mother, right age and everything?"

"I don't know, Mor-- Miss Parker," Sydney assured her. "But we'll damned sure find out."

Her heart felt as if it was on fire. And there was only one way to put it out.

With the truth.

On to Act II

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