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
"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
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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
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
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. "
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
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
* * * * * * * * *
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
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
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
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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
"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.
* * * * * * * * *
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
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
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
"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."
* * * * * * * * *
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
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
"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
Head spinning, she got to her feet and walked next door to her underling's
"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?
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
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
"She wouldn't have left me," she said softly. "She wouldn't
have let Raines take Ethan and then just walk away."
"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.