Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Lenny von Dohlen as Dr. Cox
Keene Curtis as Mr. Fenigor
Don Johnson as Mr. Sun
Susan Gibney as Kim
Kelsey Mulrooney as Debbie Broots
James Hong as Mr. Lee
Michael Clark Duncan as The Cat
Valentine Pelka as Mason
Colin Firth as Herr Delius
John Neville as Wolfram Leiden
Justine Waddell as Julia
Robert Duncan McNeill as Peter Winston
George Lazenby as Major Charles
Ryan Merriman as Jordan
Jonathan Osser as Jacob
Marisa Parker as Emily
David Boreanz as Yuri
Hugh Jackman as Sebastian
Angie Harmon as Ramona
Denzel Washington as Trevor
Sigrid Thornton as Elizabeth
Samantha Mathis as Rebecca
Paul Mercurio as Joseph
Winona Ryder as Amy
Reba McIntyre as Helen
James Marsters as Him
Snarling, the Chairman threw the letter forcibly onto his desk, turning to glare blackly out of the window. Sebastian MacKenzie was nobody -- an ex-subject who had taken it upon himself to get revenge for the imaginary offences that had been supposedly committed against him during his time at the Centre. But it was undeniable that he had placed himself in a strong position. The investigation Mr. Parker had carried out after their return from Texas had shown just how strong his hold over some of the Centre's major associates was, but Parker wasn't prepared to buckle under the emotional blackmail that was being applied. There were ways around this situation and, given time, he would test them all and find the strongest, so that, when the time was right, he could apply it to the weakest point and see MacKenzie's empire crumble.
But that was still some time away and, as he heard a knock on his office door, Parker turned and went back to his chair, sitting down.
The head of the Centre's Corporate sector strolled casually into the office, taking the seat to which he was directed and looking up at his boss expectantly.
"You wanted to see me?"
"I've got a deal I need you to close."
Mr. Sun's eyes glowed delightedly. "I'm always happy to oblige," he remarked. "Where, when and who?"
Mr. Parker pushed a folder across the desk, watching Sun pick it up. The man flipped through the pages and then nodded, about to get to his feet.
"Just a moment," the Chairman ordered. "You aren't alone on this one. I'm sending someone with you to view the wares and ensure they're still viable."
Sun's green eyes took on a hurt expression. "You don't trust me, Parker?"
Another knock on the door prevented the other man from responding to the question, but he bade the person to enter, watching as the psychiatrist made his way towards the desk, glancing at the man beside him before turning his attention to the Chairman as he sat down.
"What can I do for you, sir?"
"Sydney, I want you and Sun to travel to Texas," Mr. Parker began. "He's got most of the details, but I'm sending you to check on the state of the children."
"You've found the Seraphim?" the psychiatrist asked eagerly. "That's wonderful!"
"It will be when we get them back here," his boss responded gruffly. "And it's your responsibility to make sure that they will be capable of recommencing their work here as soon as they are brought back. Clear?"
"Of course, Mr. Parker," Sydney agreed.
"My daughter will be accompanying you, and I want you to take several sweepers." Parker's blue eyes fixed firmly on the psychiatrist. "But you are the only person to see the children. Is that understood?"
"Might I ask why?" the Belgian asked quietly.
"She would upset them," came the short reply. "They'll be upset enough by the sheer fact of being away from their familiar environments. The last thing they need is her fluttering around. Her job is to help Sun in the negotiations. End of story."
The Chairman waited for the answering nod and, when neither appeared to have any questions, he dismissed them, before trying to put the whole thing out of his mind and concentrating on the next of the projects he had in mind.
* * * * * * * * *
The man made his way into the room, finding the chair and settling himself in it, his expression one of expectation.
"You asked for me?"
"Yes," growled a deep voice from somewhere in front of him. "We have a little job that needs your so-called expertise."
Ignoring the slight on his efficiency, the blind man tilted his head slightly to one side. "And who is my target?"
"Mason," another voice responded. "We considered the arguments you put to us last week, and, after much deliberation, have agreed with them. You bring him back, and you will be allowed to oversee his further work. You will decide if he is of any further benefit to us."
The man's dark eyes glowed with satisfaction and he smiled slightly. "And what about my other suggestion?"
There was a chuckle from somewhere across the room. "I don't know what the Chairman would say," the man admitted. "But we've given you clearance for that, too."
"Fine, good," the man purred. "Just one condition, though. I choose my own assistant."
"Naturally, naturally," his boss agreed, his voice suddenly becoming hard. "But you have to agree to our condition. You have three days, Mr. Lee. At the end of that time, if you haven't succeeded, you'll become the subject instead."
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney couldn't help casting glances at the man opposite as they got into the elevator, wondering just how he felt about their assignment. Despite having been Sun's colleague for years, their work in such different areas of the Centre meant that they had had little to do with each other. He knew that Sun and Catherine had been very close, and the jealousy he had sometimes felt towards Catherine's friend in Maine had also extended to this man. That was gone now, but the uncertainty remained.
"This is an interesting situation," Sun suddenly remarked, and Sydney started.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, can you imagine either of us successfully keeping Parker away from those children? She'd ram her way right through, even if every sweeper the Centre possessed was standing in between them."
The psychiatrist smiled somewhat warily. "She's acting under her father's orders."
It grated so much for him to say those words, but the façade had to be kept up, no matter how much both of them wanted to tear it down. Sun began to whistle softly, his eyes swinging around to examine the other man, and Sydney felt himself tensing under the close scrutiny. Rather than responding, however, Sun opened the folder and looked down at the details with which they had been provided.
"We have to be at the jet in 30 minutes."
"See you there," Sydney responded carefully, as the doors opened and Sun exited the car without a backward glance.
Sydney could feel his own excitement building at what was to come and delighted in the fact that he seemed to be the person who got to impart the news to his daughter. His pace was faster than usual as he made his way along the hallway to her office, and he was slightly out of breath when he appeared. Morgan looked up from her paperwork and jumped out of her chair as he closed the door.
"You shouldn't be pushing yourself," she scolded, hurrying to his side and helping him over to the nearby sofa. "You know that."
He grinned at her triumphantly. "There's no time to worry about me," he told her. "What do you think just happened, Morgan?"
"Raines came back from the dead -- again," she retorted at once, trying not to laugh. "Or maybe the Chairman just went to join him, six feet under."
"Better," her father told her, gathering her hands in his. "We're going down to Texas. Mr. Parker is sending you, me, Mr. Sun and a few sweepers down to check on your son and the other children."
The woman froze, staring at him in disbelief, before her blue eyes suddenly glistened. "Y you're kidding, right?'
"I promise, Morgan," he stated softly, brushing away the first tear before it had a chance to fall. "I wouldn't tease about something like that -- you know I wouldn't."
Morgan's chest rose and fell in quick breaths, which were only just short of being sobs, before her head went up and she nodded. "When?"
"We're taking off in half an hour. You'll need to get a few sweepers to go with us."
"Sam to come in to Sanctuary with us, and the others to stay behind at the jet," she responded promptly. "And I should "
She trailed off and stood up, going over to her desk, but her father smiled knowingly.
"You should call Jarod," he finished for her. "Gabriel deserves his parents to be together, even if it's only for a short time."
"And I'll need to make sure Sebastian's board is there, so we can get the necessary signatures to convince the Chairman that we were trying to do what he wanted," she added, closing down the program on which she had been working and locking away several files.
"I do have to tell you one thing," the psychiatrist told her after several long minutes of silence. "Mr. Parker told us you weren't to see the children."
Her head snapped up and she stared at him in disbelief. "He said that?"
"He ordered it," Sydney amended. "According to his directions, I'm the only person who's to see them." He waited, but she remained speechless. "It means," he continued, "that when we come back, we'll have to play a slightly complicated game." The man suddenly smiled. "A prolonged bout of sulking, for instance, wouldn't be out of character for Mr. Parker's daughter."
She remained speechless, staring at him, before suddenly breaking into laughter. "Sydney," she told him in amusement. "I had no idea you could be so devious."
* * * * * * * * *
Yuri felt two hands shaking him as a voice giggled in his ear and opened one eye to look up at the woman who was kneeling beside him on the bed.
"Paul Jennings, you promised to get up and have breakfast with me! It's a glorious, warm day!"
"What time is it?" he mumbled, turning his face in to the pillow to block out the sunlight.
"Late," she told him succinctly. "Nine o'clock."
"That's early," he retorted grumpily. "Unless there's some news breaking somewhere that I should find out about."
He felt her retreat off the bed and hoped it meant she was going to leave him to go back to sleep. Yuri was drowsing comfortably when he felt a drop of cold water on his back, and flipped over to find himself staring at a cold, damp washcloth, which hung threatening over his body.
"Do it, and I'll throw you into the pool, fully dressed," he warned her, and she grinned.
"Let's see you try it," she teased, tightening her fingers around the cloth. A trickle of cold water landed on his chest and he jumped up, grabbing her around the waist and then scooping her up in his arms, hearing her shriek loudly and beg for mercy, kicking her legs frantically as he carried her out of the building and into the back garden.
The pool surface glittered, smooth and unbroken, in the early morning sunshine and he opened the gate, stepping close to the edge.
"One," he chanted, beginning to swing her in his arms. "Two "
"No!" she shrieked, fighting to get away.
"Three!" he roared, about to toss her into the water when she threw her arms around his neck and held on tightly.
The momentum was too far gone to be stopped and he was dragged along with her, both of them hitting the water at the same moment. His feet touched the bottom and he pushed up, breaking through the surface after only a few seconds and shaking his head to clear the water out of his eyes. Emily surfaced beside him, gasping for breath, and he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close to him.
"I did warn you," he began with a grin. "If you don't listen to warnings "
"You're a bully," she told him with a muffled sob, her bottom lip protruding, refusing to meet his eye.
"And you're faking," he retorted, clasping her face in his wet hands and pulling her close to him, planting a kiss on her lips. "But you do look very sweet when you try the pathetic stunt."
"I'm soaking wet," she wailed. "I'll probably get the flu and die!"
"I wouldn't let that happen," he promised, brushing a strand of wet hair away from her face. "I'd go get your brother to look after you."
He kissed her again, seeing the twinkle of laughter in her eyes, and pulled her close, loving every minute. This was what he really wanted -- a life as close to a normal person as it was possible for a man like him, who wasn't normal, to enjoy. He could never forget what had happened, but when he was in a situation like this, it faded into the background, like a dream that could never occur in real life. Emily's arms snaked around his neck, drawing his head down so that she could kiss him again, and he could feel her legs moving in the water, occasionally brushing against his.
"Now we have a dilemma," he remarked with a grin. "We either stay here and starve or have to get out of the water to eat that breakfast you mentioned when I was about a quarter awake."
She tossed her head to one side, looking at him out of those adorable brown eyes. "Or we could go for option three," she suggested. "We bring breakfast to the pool and sit in the water while we eat."
"I always thought you were a genius," he whispered in her ear, lowering his head to gently nibble on her earlobe. She giggled and pulled away, but not before he had seen a dark line that extended below her hairline.
"What's this?" he queried, brushing the hair aside to see the small figure tattooed on her skin.
"It's something I had a done a few years ago," she replied softly, her voice suddenly full of pain. "Remember how I told you about that day when we saw Jarod, here in Boston?"
He nodded, slightly tightening his hold around her waist, gazing at her intently.
"I wanted something to hang on to," she admitted. "My family was scattered long before that, but it was the first time Mom and I had been together in years. We didn't even know where Dad was, to tell him. But we both hoped that maybe we -- the three of us, including Jarod -- could find him. Then, in just a few seconds, it was all torn apart again."
"I know, baby," he murmured, guiding her over to the steps and sitting on the lowest so that he was still chest-deep in the water, pulling her down to sit on his lap. "Want to tell me the rest?"
Nodding, she rested her head against his shoulder. "I got it done the next day. I I never told anyone else that I did it, but I wanted something nobody could ever take away, like they took away my family." Something trickled down from her face onto Yuri's shoulder, but he couldn't tell whether it was a tear or a drop of pool water. He felt her finger tracing something on his chest, and it only took a few seconds for him to recognize it.
"The Chinese symbol for 'family,'" he stated softly. "Then you always had your family close."
She nodded again, pressing her face into his neck, and he turned his head to kiss her hair, wondering if there would ever be a time when they would be able to go through a day without pain like this -- and wondering if she would still be beside him when that day arrived, if it ever did. That thought reminded him of his next intended target, and even as he murmured comforting words in her ear, his mind presented him with possible ways to carry out his next mission.
* * * * * * * * *
The car was already waiting on the tarmac when the jet pulled to a stop and, after a moment, four people descended the stairs that were rolled into position. The man in the black suit opened the door, courteously waiting until the last person was in, before shutting it after them and getting into the passenger seat. The limousine pulled smoothly away, leaving the pilots of the jet to steer it to the refueling depot where it was provided with a hangar and they went to their hotel rooms for an uneventful night.
There was a brief moment of silence in the car, before Sun leaned forward to shake Trevor's hand warmly. "How's it going?" he asked, as Sydney shot him a sharp glance and then looked at the woman who sat on his other side, an eyebrow raised, waiting to see if she knew about this apparent acquaintance. "Everything okay?"
"Fine," the psychic agreed. "Sebastian made sure the board would be in attendance, so your little visit looks genuine."
Morgan shot a wary look at both men, a question obvious in her eyes, but she refrained from any speech, even as Trevor turned to Sam.
"Your brother's there," he informed the sweeper, with a grin. "You'll get to meet his new romance as well, and Rebecca's kids, too."
"Sounds good," the Centre operative stated with a satisfied smile, turning back to look out of the window.
"Just how do you know each other?" the woman finally demanded, looking from Trevor to Sun, an expression of curiosity on her face, and her former boss laughed.
"Well, Parker, you know I do a lot of deals for the Centre. Sebastian's companies constitute quite a few of my clients."
"So you knew where the children were all along?" she snapped.
"I had a vague idea," he admitted, his eyes twinkling and dimples in his cheeks. "Particularly since Sam's brother took refuge at Sanctuary, I've been able to keep an eye on that place, which gave me the benefit of knowing exactly where the Seraphim were taken, after they were removed from the Centre."
"Rescued," Trevor suggested as the car approached the city.
"Rescued," Sun amended, looking around at the three other occupants of the back seat as he continued. "I also know I'm safe, saying that here. Sam and I know each other from way back."
He winked at the sweeper, and Morgan was surprised to see a rare smile break the man's usually somber expression.
"You've worked with me, Parker. I know that I can trust you. I've always known that." He grinned at Sydney. "Although Dr. Ritter and I have never worked together, I've done a little research and I don't think there's much doubt about him, so, as I said, I know I'm in safe company."
"We need to talk," Morgan told him firmly.
"We sure do," he agreed. "Although I suspect we share a lot of the same information." He shot an amused glance at Sydney. "What was I saying in the elevator, about keeping Parker away from the children?"
"Never mind," the psychiatrist retorted quickly. "I get the idea."
* * * * * * * * *
Fenigor looked up as the familiar shape of the Chairman loomed in the doorway and waved the man into his office.
"What can I do for you, Parker?"
"I want you to take on a top-priority project, Alex," the man responded as he shut the door and sat down. "We need to move on from the most recent disaster and look to the future."
"Which project?" the scientist asked immediately.
"Ares," Mr. Parker responded firmly, at which point Fenigor raised an eyebrow and he gave a soft whistle.
"But I thought we agreed that that class of projects wasn't going to go ahead for at least the next six months, until we could be sure there wouldn't be any interference from related sources."
"Yes, I know that," the other man responded impatiently. "But we can't afford to wait. Unless we have something new to present to the Triumvirate, we run the risk of the Chairmanship going to one of the other branches. If that happens, we might lose some of our best researchers, and that isn't a situation I want to have to handle."
"Well, all right," Fenigor agreed hesitantly. "But I want increased security at Pakor. There's always the chance that somebody might find out exactly what's going on, and word might get around."
"Of course," the Chairman agreed at once as he rose to his feet. "Except for those directly related to the project, nobody else will know a thing."
* * * * * * * * *
The group was still chattering excitedly as they stepped out of the elevator onto the residence floor and were escorted to their rooms. Morgan dropped her bag onto the double bed and began to remove her clothes, pulling a crumpled sleeve straight and draping the garment over a nearby chair. As she was reaching for the next, a suppressed sound from the doorway, suspiciously like a giggle, made her turn sharply to see a familiar figure, a sleeping child in his arms.
She froze, eyes fixed on that small, beloved face, feeling a lump in her throat as she reached out in Jarod's direction. He smiled and stepped forward, easing the surprisingly heavy weight into her arms, before gently shaking the boy.
"It's time to wake up now, baby," he advised his son. Gabriel stirred and his eyes opened, staring at the woman for a second before squealing and throwing his arms around her neck.
"Mommy!" he shouted in delight. "Mommy commed! Mommy commed!"
Morgan was vaguely aware that Jarod had stepped away, retreating to a corner of the room and sitting on one of the chairs, but her attention was fixed on her son, remembering how good it had always felt to hold him and how much better it was now. Gabriel's fingers were tangled in her hair and he was hugging her as tightly as he could manage, his eyes bright, still repeatedly calling her either 'Mommy' or 'Mine.' Both words were like music to her ears.
"I promised you I'd come," she reminded her son, sitting down on the bed. "Remember? I always said I'd come."
"Uh huh." Gabriel nodded vigorously, his brown hair flying all around his face, before he suddenly squeezed her around her waist, his arms unable to reach all the way around. He grunted with the effort and she smiled again at the sound.
"I've missed you so much, Gabriel," she whispered huskily, smoothing his hair, intently studying his face with her eyes. "Did you know that?"
"Lub you, Mommy," he told her, pressing his hot little hand against her chest. "Lubs you heaps in here."
She looked up, knowing that the boy had been taught this concept by the man who sat opposite, silently watching the scene. He raised an eyebrow expectantly and she looked back at their son.
"I love you, too, baby," she responded, lifting him so that she could kiss his cheek. "I love you with all of my heart."
Morgan almost missed the movement on the other side of the room, looking up just in time to see the door close, but her son immediately claimed her attention again, and she felt her eyes fill with hot tears as she saw the eagerness on his face. He sat down suddenly in her lap with his back to her and drew a small foot up to his lap, undoing his laces. Confused, she bent over him.
"What is it, baby?"
"Dis," Gabriel told her with an effort, grunting again as he wrapped the laces of his shoes around his little fingers, struggling to tie them into bows. He managed the first knot, but the loops were too large and the ends slipped through. Pouting, his tongue protruded from between his teeth as he looked up. "Daddy showded me," he explained. "But it only works sometimes."
"How about this?" she asked, tapping a button, knowing that he wanted to show her what he had learnt.
"Dat's easy," he responded, sliding the button in and out of the hole. "And dis." The zipper on his jacket went up and down. "But de lace is hard."
"I know, baby," she told him softly. "But my mommy taught me a rhyme to help me learn the right way to do that. Do you want me to teach you?"
"Uh huh." He nodded enthusiastically, leaning back against her as she picked up the shoelaces, and she settled back on the bed, able only, as she began to recite the poem, to think about how wonderful this moment was.
* * * * * * * * *
The Direktor looked up as the older man entered his office without knocking.
"Nice of you to stop by," he stated, fishing a form out of his desk drawer and passing it over. "I need your signature."
Wolfram Leiden smiled, getting a pen out of his jacket pocket and scribbling his signature on the relevant line. "Busy?" he suggested with an almost mocking smirk.
"Of course," Delius agreed with an answering smile. "But I'm still enjoying it. This is really my cup of tea."
"As I would have expected," Leiden affirmed. "If I hadn't thought you capable, you wouldn't be in that chair right now." He cast an eye over a pile of folders stacked up at his elbow. "When are you going to make your move towards the Chairmanship?"
"I'm looking at the 1st of July," the younger man responded thoughtfully. "I've give the caregivers for the children another two weeks to submit their progress reports, and depending on those, I'll plan my approach then."
"What do you think, though?" his former teacher prompted and Delius grinned.
"Well, judging by last month's targets, we're well ahead. I don't see any reason for it not to be at least put to the board. If it is, I'll also be dropping a few hints about the Chairman's failing mental health, and, added to the debacle with the Seraphim, I'd expect them to see me as the only logical choice." He stretched luxuriously. "It's so close, I can almost taste it."
Wolfram chuckled. "Putting the cart before the horse again. I thought I broke that habit. You know you can't do anything until the Triumvirate's actually approved it. And until then, Parker is still the Chairman."
Delius' eyes flashed angrily. "There's no reason why I won't succeed. I can be patient, if it suits me, and I'll wait for as long as it takes."
Leiden rose from his chair, smiling in frank amusement. "We'll see, my boy. We'll see."
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod closed the door behind himself and strolled down the hall to his own room, leaving his son with the boy's mother. Jordan lay on the sofa, on his stomach, intently reading a book, but he waggled a foot in greeting, grinning over his shoulder at his father. Jarod smiled in response and then went into his own room, stopping short at the sight of the man sitting on an armchair.
The psychiatrist smiled. "Morgan didn't tell you I was coming?"
"Uh, no," the Pretender replied hesitantly, slowly recovering from his shock. "She just told me she was."
The older man rose to his feet, offering a hand to his former student and feeling as Jarod's arms wrapped around him in a firm hug. He returned the embrace warmly, sitting down again as Jarod moved over to fill the kettle and place it on the stove.
"You look good, son," the psychiatrist told him. "Better than when I last saw you."
"I am," Jarod agreed, his eyes glowing at the term Sydney had used. "Much." He turned, leaning against the sink and eyeing the man critically as he folded his arms. "I could say the same about you."
Sydney laughed. "I think that's an understatement."
"Probably." Jarod's eyes twinkled. "I'd introduce you to my baby, but his mother's feeling a little bit possessive right now."
"I'll have to meet him some time," the psychiatrist told him. "That's the reason I'm here -- to check on the children and," his voice hardened, "to make sure they can continue their education when they're taken back to the Centre."
The Pretender nodded slowly, using the excuse of making coffee as a way of concealing the rage he felt. Walking over, he gave one mug to the older man and sat down with the other in his hand. Suddenly, his eyes brightened.
"Of course. I'm not thinking." He raised his voice so it would be audible in the next room. "Jordan, would you possibly be able to tear yourself away from that fascinating dissertation on the study of hedonism in 16th century middle-class society for a second, son?"
There was a groan from the other room, then the noise of a book falling to the floor, before the tall figure appeared in the doorway, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans. "It was just getting interesting, too," Jordan complained. "What's up, Dad?"
Jarod nodded at the psychiatrist, his dark eyes glowing with pride as he looked back at the young man. "This is Sydney. Sydney, this is my son, Jordan."
"We've met," the young man responded stiffly, seeming to forget his manners as he sat down on the sofa beside his father.
The Pretender glanced at the man opposite, seeing him nod slightly as if understanding Jordan's attitude. In light of Sydney's apparent acceptance of the situation, Jarod decided not to push the point, changing the subject.
Jordan's face immediately lost its formerly hard expression and his eyes became dark pools of emotion as he looked at his father.
"He's I don't know," he eventually murmured unevenly. "Will you take a look at him?"
"Sure." Jarod slipped an arm around the young man's shoulder and squeezed gently, feeling as Jordan's arm passed around him in an almost desperate hug. "Do you want to go get him a treat while I check on him?"
"'Kay." Jordan wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, ignoring the psychiatrist as he stood up and went over to the door. As soon as he was gone, Jarod turned to Sydney, his expression apologetic, but the older man held up a hand to stop him.
"It's all right, Jarod. I can't expect him to see me as anything but a Centre employee, and neither can you, particularly considering that the last time we met, it's exactly what I was."
"No, I guess not," the younger man admitted slowly, standing and putting his mug on the coffee table, watching as Sydney did the same.
The Pretender led the way through the dividing door, halting momentarily in the doorway of the dark bedroom so that his eyes could adjust, before making his way over to the bedside where the small boy lay. It was a comfort to him, to see that Jacob no longer subconsciously protected himself as he slept. The boy lay on his side, one hand tucked under his thin cheek and the other wrapped around the teddy bear that he had been given after falling in love with it in the playroom. Breath hissed softly from between his parted lips, culminating occasionally in a soft choking sound.
The man hesitated briefly, hating to break into the peace that was evident in the child's relaxed features, but he had to be back at Trader Vic's in a little over 24 hours and wanted the chance to see how Jacob was progressing with his latest medication, as much as his promise to Jordan to check on him, so he reluctantly shook the child.
"Time to wake up, Jake."
The boy drowsily shook his head, snuggling closer to the pillow, and muttered a refusal under his breath. "'M sleepy, Jordan," he mumbled.
For a moment, Jarod was confused, until he suddenly realized how similar the voices of himself and his son had become over recent weeks, and grinned faintly. Bending down beside the pillow, he smoothed the child's hair, remembering with a smile the time before he had left for Blue Cove, when Jordan had teasingly suggested that he should become the boy's grandfather. Although he had allowed himself to think of that fact when first realizing how close Jordan was to admitting his own relationship with Jacob, something inside him rebelled against being a grandfather to a child older than his own son.
"It's Jarod, honey," he told the boy softly. "Don't you want to see me?"
Jacob's eyes flew open and he sat up in a hurry, panting as he struggled out of the blankets. The man put out a hand to help him as the boy looked up out of delighted eyes.
"Jarod!" he exclaimed in breathless tones, trying to free himself. "When did you come?"
"About an hour ago," the man responded, gently picking up the light weight in his arms, wrapping a blanket around him and carrying him out into the living room. Sitting on the sofa, he tucked the ends of the rug more firmly around Jacob's feet, his eyes running over the new darkened patches on his face and neck as the boy nestled close to him. Out of the corner of his eye, Jarod saw the psychiatrist scrutinizing the small face, and the Pretender believed that he could recognize the same pain that had been in his father's eyes when Major Charles had first seen the boy. However, it quickly disappeared, replaced by professional detachment, in an attempt not to reveal the way he felt. The Pretender focused once more on the boy in his lap. "How are you, Jake?"
"Happy," the child responded with a satisfied smile, as if that was the only thing that mattered in the world. "Jordan took me swimming yesterday."
"And did you have fun?"
"Uh huh." The boy nodded enthusiastically but slowly, as if such violent movement would cause him pain. "I like it."
At this juncture, the door to the room opened and Jordan returned, casting a sideways glance at the psychiatrist, who was sitting on a chair on the far side of the room, before sinking to his knees in front of his father and slipping a straw into the glass filled with a frothy concoction.
"Special treat, Jake," he told the boy with a smile, watching the child's eyes widen in delight as he sipped the milkshake.
"It's got ice cream in it," Jacob reported after the first experimental taste, dimples in his cheeks as he smiled at the two people. "And chocolate."
"Lucky you," Jarod responded with forced cheerfulness, feeling that the child had dramatically lost weight since he had last seen him. Jacob immediately offered the straw for the man to have a sip, but Jarod shook his head. "No, honey, you have it. Jordan made it for you."
Jacob had to stop to draw breath between every enthusiastic mouthful, but when the glass was finally empty, he leaned back against Jarod, beaming.
"Yummy," he affirmed simply.
Jordan glanced at his watch. "Shall we go give you a bath and then we can all go to the playroom after?"
Carefully, Jacob nodded his head again, stretching out his hands to the young man and snuggling close to him as he was picked up. The man watched the two leave and, when the door closed, his eyes swung around to the silent psychiatrist.
"Well, I guess you've " Jarod's voice broke, but he forced himself to continue, still in the tone of forced brightness, his voice fading to a harsh whisper. "You've met the whole family."
His lips trembled and he looked down abruptly, squeezing his eyes shut to stop the tears he could feel welling up from escaping. His elbows were propped on his knees and he rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers, slowly exhaling, fighting for emotional control. There was the soft sound of someone rising from a chair and the next moment Sydney was sitting next to him on the sofa.
"This is not your fault, Jarod," the older man stated firmly. "You aren't responsible for the way this technology's been abused, nor the way Cox treated Jacob."
"But I can't do anything about this," Jarod rasped painfully. "I can do anything I put my mind to, but now, when something means so much to me, I can't do a thing about it." He shrugged, raising his head and lifting his hands in a gesture of demonstration before letting them fall back onto his lap. "I'd give everything -- every person I've ever helped, every wrong I've ever righted, every good thing about myself -- to save that little boy." The first tear slid slowly down his face as he stared straight ahead, his tone revealing his feeling of hopelessness, the words being forced out from between clenched teeth. "And it wouldn't do any good at all."
Sydney's arm slid around his shoulders, squeezing gently, the psychiatrist remaining silent, but the Pretender felt the sympathy that seemed to emanate from him and allowed himself several moments to expel the negative emotions he was always careful to suppress around those who would pick them up most easily.
Julia waited until she had carefully shut the door behind her before sinking down onto her bed and letting her eyes fill with tears. There was a constant pressure on her chest, which had begun on the day that her son was taken from her, and which had only increased as time went on and she heard nothing about him. It was now a continual weight, making it difficult to draw breath and left her feeling listless. Every morning, when she awoke and felt it there, it was hard to convince herself to get out of bed. Even the threat of what she knew the Herr Direktor would do to her was barely sufficient to make her move.
And yet her son was happy. He had made friends with his stepbrothers and cousins, as well as the other children, and he delighted in the new games they taught him. He also had his mother's gift for languages and was confidently using the few English words he had been taught. But she knew there were times when he missed her, and it was hard for her not to break down in tears herself, every time she glimpsed him crying himself to sleep under the quilt she had made, the only thing that linked him to his life in Germany, and to her. The people at Sanctuary had wanted to take it away, to be washed and, on one occasion, mended, but he had refused, clearly terrified that they wouldn't give it back, and so it remained on his bed.
It was she who truly had nothing. Another person slept in Peter's room, and Joseph's had been converted into a storeroom. Clare and Michael were now given so many simulations that they had no time to talk to her anymore. Her own workload had also been increased, with the head of Security also demanding her assistance on the few occasions when Herr Delius was out of the building. The nights were the only times that she had to herself.
A knock on her door made her wipe the tears off her cheeks and stand up hurriedly as she called for the person to enter. Herr Winston stepped into the room and carefully closed the door behind himself.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," he stated quietly, in his native language. "But this arrived today and it's been the first opportunity I've had to give it to you."
He held out an envelope and she accepted it with trembling hands, easing it open and pulling out the sheet inside. Unfolding it, she saw that it was a picture of her son, painted with the firm, sure brushstrokes of a skilled artist. The words 'I miss you Mommy' and 'Love Peter' were written in a large, untidy hand along the top and bottom of the sheet, and the picture was signed by someone called Keely. Julia sank back onto her bed, unable to help the tears that flowed from her eyes and down her face.
A soft click made her look up sharply to see the door had closed after the man. As she returned her eyes to the painting, she noticed a dot of color on the floor and realized that she had dropped the envelope. The color that had attracted her attention was a large, lopsided heart drawn on the inside flap, and she touched the bright red object with a shaking finger, biting her bottom lip to stop it from trembling. The longing for her son increased, until she pushed away the page and lay on the bed, sobbing frantically into her pillow.
* * * * * * * * *
Mr. Sun dropped a pile of papers onto the table in front of the Australian and sat down in the chair behind him. Sebastian couldn't help chuckling at the satisfaction on his face.
"If the wind changes, you'll be stuck like that."
"I'd just love the chance to tell Parker that every time he sends me here to try and persuade you to give him back the kids, he's giving me the chance to pass on such useful information." The man grinned, the dimples in his cheeks almost making his green eyes close. "It's almost too easy, really."
"Don't get complacent," Trevor warned as he read through one of the sheets. "We're too close for it all to go wrong now."
"It won't," Sun vowed, before laughing again. "You should have heard Sydney in the Chairman's office. He sounded like getting the kids back was the main aim of his life."
"I'm still not sure I trust him. He's the only person we don't really know about," Sebastian stated thoughtfully. "He doesn't have a motive for being on our side "
"Except for his relationship with Jarod," the Centre employee interrupted. "Have you seen them together? It's just like father and son, only closer."
"The same 'father' who held him in the Centre for 33 years," Trevor remarked icily. "I don't know how much we could trust him if he was alone."
"I don't think he ever will be," Sun responded. "Somehow, I can't see Miss Parker ever letting him come without her."
"Good." Sebastian nodded in satisfaction and then pulled the pile of papers over the table toward himself, spreading them out so that he could see the progress of numerous projects that were underway. Trevor brought up a screen on which they had already been keeping note of many of these, and they began to compare the results.
* * * * * * * * *
Jordan carried Jacob out of the elevator, followed, a short distance behind, by Jarod and Sydney. The noise increased as soon as they opened the door to the playroom, and Jarod laughed as a ball hit the wall next to the psychiatrist's head. The Pretender caught it in a neat swipe worthy of a major league shortstop.
"You have to watch yourself in here," he warned the older man, his mood lighter than it had been an hour earlier, as he tossed the ball back to his niece. Tempest accepted it with a dimpled grin and continued with the game.
Sydney eyed the numerous children in the room. "These aren't just the Seraphim?"
"Not unless they multiplied when we weren't looking," Jarod agreed with a grin, steering the man over to the sofa in the corner. "Some of the children were already here, a few are children of the people Sebastian's gathered around himself and others were brought here because of their own skills." He pointed to a dark-haired little boy, playing in a corner with Raphael. "That's Peter. He's from Germany."
The psychiatrist turned, his eyes curious. "Sam told us about him, I think. His father's a healer?"
"Joseph, yes." Jarod smiled. "He and Peter managed to escape a week ago. They're both still trying to adjust." The Pretender felt a small hand tugging at his jacket and looked down into a pair of blue eyes, placing Angelique on his lap with a smile and brushing a strand of blond hair off her face. "Hi, sweetie."
She hugged him gently, but her eyes quickly swiveled around to the man beside him, and Jarod wondered for a second exactly what emotions she had picked up from the psychiatrist. However, even as he was about to perform an introduction, the older man spoke.
"This would be Angelique," Sydney stated softly, leaning forward slightly, his face expressionless. "I've heard a lot about you from your Daddy, Angelique."
Her blue eyes widened. "You knows my Angel?"
Sydney shot a sly look at the man beside him before nodding in agreement. "Yes, I know him very well. In fact, I probably know him almost as well as you do."
Jarod couldn't help raising a skeptical eyebrow at this, although he couldn't deny that the girl on his lap was no longer tense with anxiety. In fact, her body was wriggling with anticipation as her eyes lit up in sudden understanding.
"Angel telled me 'bout you," she suddenly said, her voice full of suppressed excitement, bouncing on Jarod's knee. "You's Gran'pa!"
The Pretender's jaw dropped and he stared at the psychiatrist in utter disbelief. Ignoring this, the older man picked up the little girl, placing her on his own lap and gently returning the enthusiastic hug she gave him. Before Jarod could demand the explanation he was preparing, another child's voice shrieked and then a small body hurled itself at Sydney's legs.
"Gam'pa!" Gabriel yelped in delight, squeezing tightly, as Jarod rose to his feet in bewilderment, looking around to meet Morgan's amused eyes. He opened his mouth to ask a question, saw the smug look in her eyes and shook his head.
"I don't think I want to know."
"Well, that's got to be a first for you," she retorted, passing him to sit down on the sofa beside her father. Jarod watched as she picked up their son, introducing Gabriel to the psychiatrist, before moving towards the middle of the room, hearing Morgan call the other six children to her, one at a time, to be introduced to Sydney.
Turning his attention to other parts of the room, he saw Jacob sidle over to the table where Peter was trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle. Jacob's body was slowly falling apart, but his mind was still sharp, and Jordan had begun teaching him German so that he could converse with this new friend. Their discussions were still of the simplest variety, but Jacob was teaching Peter English, and the foreign child was now enthusiastically repeating words as Jarod listened.
"What do you think, Dad?"
Jarod turned to find Jordan beside him and passed an arm around the young man's shoulders, a task made slightly difficult by the fact that his son was now almost exactly the same height.
"You're doing a wonderful job with him, Jordan," the man stated encouragingly. "He's much more confident than he was, and he's happy. They're the most important things."
"He's not any better," Jordan confessed, his eyes filling, and Jarod gently guided him over to the other side of the room, sitting beside him on the floor and feeling his son's head come to rest on his shoulder. "Everything I try, it just doesn't seem to do any good."
"I know it's hard," Jarod murmured, stroking the young man's hair. "But you're doing the best you can, son. We always knew this would be difficult -- an almost impossible fight. We just don't have the time to get it right."
"But he doesn't seem to mind, that's the worst part," Jordan choked out, between sobs. "He goes through so much pain every day, and yet he's never grumpy or complaining. He just sits there and tells me 'it's not so bad today,' even when he can hardly breathe." His arms passed around Jarod's stomach and he squeezed tightly, his voice a faint wail. "It's not fair, Daddy!"
"I know, Jordan," the man soothed, feeling his son's agony flash through him like a searing of his soul. "It's hard for me, too, being up there and knowing what you're going through down here and that I can't be here to help you. And I can only imagine how difficult it must be, trying to be so cheerful around him all the time." He gently squeezed the boy's shoulder. "I'm very proud of you, son. There wouldn't be many people who could go through something like this as well as you have. It's comforting to me, to know that I can leave him in your capable hands." The man gently brushed the tears off Jordan's face. "I just hate the thought of how it affects you inside."
"W-when he looks at me, and w-when he smiles," the young man stammered, the fight for control obvious in his eyes, "then I can almost forget what's coming."
"Do that, son," Jarod whispered lovingly. "Don't think about it -- not yet. Enjoy the moment. Show him how much you love him, and know that I feel exactly the same way about you."
Jordan gave up his struggle and turned his face to Jarod's shoulder, weeping silently. The man's eyes glistened also as he held his son close, watching the delight and satisfaction on the small boy's face as he fitted a piece into the jigsaw.
* * * * * * * * *
Broots felt Debbie's hand slip into his and turned his head to smile at her. She'd been doing that a lot lately, and it was nice to think that she wasn't embarrassed about being seen with her father. After Miss Parker had received notification to travel to Texas, knowing that she would be gone for most of that day and possibly the next, she had allowed him time off, trusting his guarantee that his team could handle any emergencies. After a quick call to make sure Debbie was free, he had come up to see her.
It also meant that he could keep his promise to take her to buy her first pair of shoes with proper heels, to match the dress that was being made for her school dance in six weeks' time. It was at times like these that he wished she still had a mother who actually cared about her. Miss Parker was always commenting negatively on his taste and had insisted that he use the free time she was giving him to also buy a few more decent shirts. The new ones he had purchased were an improvement, she had said cuttingly, but he had worn them so often that she was beginning to see their patterns in her sleep. She wanted more.
"Lazslo!" exclaimed a familiar voice from behind them. "Fancy meeting you here."
He turned to find Kim standing behind them and stared at her in a second in astonishment before he remembered to speak.
"Kim! What are you doing here?"
"This is the first place I lived, after moving to America from Africa, five years ago," she told him, looking around with a satisfied smile. "I still have a few friends here, and Sydney gave me the day off while he went to Texas, so I thought I'd come up and spend it here. How about you?"
He explained his purpose, feeling his daughter's eyes on him, an expectant expression in them. He couldn't help gulping slightly. He wanted his daughter to like this woman. He could even feel his brow beginning to bead with sweat as he introduced them.
"This is my daughter, Debbie. Debbie, this is Kim. She works with me."
The woman offered her hand to the girl with a smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I've heard a lot about you from your Dad." She eyed the girl critically. "You know, I think I recognize that style of jacket. Doesn't Miss Parker have one just like it?"
Debbie beamed. "Yeah, she does," the girl admitted shyly. "She helped me pick this one."
"She did a great job," Kim enthused. "It's looks wonderful, but then she always has great taste in clothes, doesn't she?"
Nodding, Debbie's eyes ran up and down Kim's red dress, which clung to her figure and yet was also light and flowing enough not to be mistaken for a gown. Broots had already noticed and had felt a bead of sweat begin to trickle down the back of his neck at the low cut of it.
"That's the same color as my dance dress," Debbie told Kim eagerly, pulling the photo out of her pocket to show the woman. "That's what it's going to look like when it's done."
"Wow, it's great," the woman responded enthusiastically. "And are you buying all the etceteras for it today?"
"Shoes," Debbie told her, before leaning forward to whisper, "and maybe, if I can persuade Dad, a nice necklace or something too."
Kim grinned at Broots, who had heard, but was pretending he hadn't, before whispering back, "I bet we can convince him together. Or maybe I can lend you some of mine."
"Hey, that'd be cool!" the girl beamed. Her eye was caught by a shoe shop and she raced over to the window as Kim and Broots followed.
"Mind if I tag along?" the woman asked. "I wasn't really doing anything special and it'd be nice to have company. My friend's working until seven."
"That'd be good," the man responded, relieved. "I think this could do with a woman's touch."
Kim grinned and then stepped forward to admire a pair of shoes at which Debbie was staring with a look of longing on her face. As she bent down to get a closer look, the low-cut back of her dress meant that Broots could easily see the line of color along the small of her back and he stared at it for a second, before hoping frantically that Debbie wouldn't notice. She had been bugging him for ages to be allowed to get a tattoo, and so far he had stood firm in his refusal, although they had eventually compromised on pierced ears. It was, however, still a bone of contention and he hoped that his daughter wouldn't see this, even as he moved over to join them at the window.
"How about those?"
Broots' eyes widened as he saw the price tag beside the pair Debbie had pointed out, but Kim was eyeing them and it was suddenly obvious to the man that her opinion would mean more to Debbie than his.
"Hmm, I'm not sure," the woman stated thoughtfully. "It's really hard to buy red shoes that will be a perfect match for your dress, unless you've got the material with you. It might be better this time to buy black ones, just to be safe. Then," she laughed, "when you're rich and famous, you can get a shoemaker and a dressmaker to come to your house and make exactly what you ask for."
Debbie giggled at this, turning away from the red shoes without a murmur. The woman pointed out a pair of black ones, about half the price, and walked with the girl into the shop to try them on. Broots followed, watching as Kim dealt crisply with the shop assistant and seeing as she and his daughter giggled while trying on the shoes, relieved that they seemed to be getting along.
At the second shop, his daughter fell in love with a different pair of black shoes, and he could feel another trickle of sweat down his back at the price, but Kim calmly had them put aside and then drew the girl out of the store.
"Let me show you a little trick I know," she told the girl, who was beginning to look disappointed, and led her around the corner, down a small, quiet alley. At the end, she halted at a window and pointed. There, in the corner, was an almost identical pair, at a much cheaper price, and the man was able to relax as Debbie's mood immediately improved. The shoes were tried on, found to be a perfect fit and purchased, Kim making sure, though, that Broots' opinion was consulted first.
The girl was almost dancing along the street, with Broots and Kim following, when she stopped in front of another store and turned to her father with a pleading look on her face. He could guess which it was even before they reached it and suddenly wished that they didn't have anyone else with them. He could probably have withstood his daughter's pleading on his own, but not when she had an ally.
"Please, Daddy!" Debbie was begging as soon as they drew level with the store.
"Oh, was this one of the etceteras?" Kim asked, laughing, and Debbie turned to her.
"I've wanted one for ages!" she exclaimed. "Ever since we went to Paris! And Daddy keeps on saying no."
"So what makes you think I'll change my mind now?" the man began, in an attempt at sternness, one that he knew instinctively was doomed to fail this time.
"What's wrong with a tattoo?" Kim asked in surprise, and Broots groaned inwardly. Debbie's eyes were wide at the prospect of assistance.
"Do you have one?" she asked in awe-struck tones.
"I sure do," the woman told her, turning and pulling down the back of her dress. In the mirror of the shop window, as she looked over her shoulder, she could see the multi-colored animal that crawled along her lower back.
"What is it?" Debbie asked in hushed tones.
"A chameleon," Kim responded. "It's a personal symbol for me."
"That's so cool!" the girl exclaimed. "It looks so real."
"Only the real ones look good," Kim told her, pointing to a rack in the tattooist's window, showing a range of delicate butterfly pictures. Then she pointed at a variety of cartoon characters, which looked gaudy by comparison. "See what I mean?"
"Uh huh." Debbie's eyes were wide as she turned to her father. "Please, Daddy! Can't I have one for the dance?"
"I'd like to see you getting it back off after the dance," the man grumbled, knowing that he was losing ground fast, and Kim laughed.
"Come on, Lazslo, it's not that bad. And she'll take good care of it, so it won't get infected. This is one of the better places, too." The woman pointed to a sign in the window, signifying that it was officially recognized. "Tell you what, I'll make sure she doesn't choose anything too outrageous and you can go do a little shopping on your own." Her eyes traveled pointedly over his shirt. "Just like you were told to."
Debbie giggled again, her hand already on the doorknob, and Broots rolled his eyes, even as he turned away, knowing this was battle he could never win. And he also had to consider, although he would never admit this to his daughter, that seeing Kim with a tattoo had played a significant role in lessening his dislike of them.
* * * * * * * * *
Elizabeth walked down the hallway, unsurprised at the number of rooms that were still lit, and in which the occupants were still awake. The children had been particularly difficult to settle tonight, and she had had to induce sleep in a number herself. Now, only Gabriel remained awake, and she stopped outside the door of the room that had been given to Miss Parker, listening to the low hum of voices in there, broken only occasionally by the drowsy interruptions from the small boy, as Faith and her adopted sister were able to spend some meaningful time together.
At another door, she entered the room, finding the living area empty but the bedroom door ajar. As she appeared, a tall figure was framed in the bathroom doorway, his toothbrush in his hand, but he recognized her, despite the dim light, and sent a shy smile in her direction. The woman knelt down beside the small bed, listening to Jordan gargle, and stroked the hair of the sleeping boy, keeping the demons in his young mind at bay, if only for that one night. But there were fewer than there had been since she had last seen them, and always, at the end, came a tall figure with dark hair and flashing brown eyes to rescue the terrified child from whatever torments beset him; a figure the boy addressed adoringly as "Daddy."
"Doing your nightly rounds?" Jordan asked in a teasing voice, and she smiled.
"Doing your Dad a favor," she responded, turning back the covers and watching as he climbed in between the sheets. "You need a night of solid sleep, too, or you'll never be able to keep yourself going."
"You sound like a mom," he remarked, unable to suppress a yawn.
"Maybe one day I will be," she suggested softly. "I'm not as old as I look."
"Then you must only be about 15," the young man stated drowsily. "'Cos you don't look that much older than 20."
"Thank you, Jordan," Elizabeth smiled, smoothing his hair and tucking the blankets more closely around him. "Sweet dreams."
"Uh huh." He gave another massive yawn and snuggled down beneath the covers, rolling onto his side and nestling into the pillow. "You too."
The last words were almost inaudible and he was asleep before she even turned away from the bed. Closing the door behind her, she paused at the open door that separated Jarod's apartment from Jordan's and nodded to let him know that his son was asleep, seeing the man's answering smile as he continued his conversation with Sydney, learning about the man's relationship with Catherine Parker. Elizabeth returned to the hallway in time to see Faith coming out of her sister's room and walked with the empath down the hall to her room.
* * * * * * * * *
Mr. Parker watched as Sydney entered the office, taking a seat opposite and extracting a sheaf of paper from a folder he carried.
"I made a report on each child," he told the Chairman. "I gave each one an examination and spent time watching them play. I will say," he admitted, "that MacKenzie is continuing with quite a lot of the classes they did here, or at least projects with similar objectives."
The man's blue eyes sparkled angrily. "And the caregivers?"
"Several are still working with the children -- those of Angelique and Tempest, for instance - and the others are doing work around the building. They're all surviving their Aurora addiction, though. Whenever we get the children back, we'll probably have some or all of them too."
"And you still believe the children will be useful to us once they're brought back?"
"They're learning to work as a team, relying on each other as much as their caregivers for comfort if something happens," Sydney responded thoughtfully. "They might have lost a few of the more detailed skills, but I'm not really sure because I never worked with them personally."
"No, that was a mistake," Parker mused. "If we'd known what was going to happen "
"Then, with all due respect, you probably would never have created Aurora in the first place," the psychiatrist interrupted softly. "That played the largest role in all this. Without it, MacKenzie would never have had the chance to arrange for the abduction."
"Possibly," the Chairman mused for a moment, before picking up the pile of pages from the desk and dropping them into his tray. "Thank you, Sydney. I may need you to go down to Texas again on a few occasions in the future. It's going to take time before we have everything in place to get the children back."
The man rose, nodding in agreement. "I understand, Mr. Parker. But, as you know, sir, it's not so easy for me to get around these days." He cast a demonstrative glance at his cane. "It might be useful if I could have someone with me."
"Yes, yes," his boss responded impatiently. "Of course. I'll let you know a little in advance each time, so you can organize something."
"Thank you, sir." The psychiatrist nodded and went to the door. As he opened it, the Chairman could see his heads of the Corporate and Security sector waiting outside and, noting the scowl on the woman's face, sighed deeply before waving them in.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod returned to his trailer, feeling somehow empty, the way he always did after one of his visits to Sanctuary. As he sat in front of his computer, he made an inner vow to go down there at least once a week. His son needed support, and the plan could go ahead without him for one night. He also wanted to be there when Jacob began to fail, and he'd told Joseph to call him, no matter what day or time it was. Briefly, he eyed the blond beard and wig lying on his bed, but they were distinctly heating things to wear, so he decided to remain without them for a little longer.
The machine started up its usual program and he checked whether he had any new messages. One sat in his box, but the sender was unknown and he gazed at it thoughtfully. Being so small, he dismissed any risk of viruses almost automatically and opened it. The message was short.
Meet me in Jackson's Barn, Carney's Point, New Jersey, on Tuesday, 14th May at midnight. Bring a photo of the oldest of the Seraphim.
Jarod sat back in his chair, staring thoughtfully at the screen. He felt instinctively that this was not from any of the people employed by the Centre. It was too obvious for that. And the request for the photo seemed to discount any suggestion of it being a threat. That made it more likely to be from one of children's parents, and, as Jarod pocketed his cell phone and wallet, preparatory for his trip to New Jersey, he wondered exactly what they wanted.
* * * * * * * * *
Jordan let himself softly into the room, knowing that Jacob would be awake from his nap now. He usually used the spare time for something he enjoyed, like being down in his greenhouse. Jacob couldn't be taken down there. The air was too difficult for him to breathe, so Jordan neglected his beloved plants to spend time with the boy.
"Hi, Daddy," a soft voice greeted him from the corner, and he stepped over to the bed, sitting on the edge of the air-filled mattress, seeing Jacob giggle as the bed bulged underneath him.
"How'd you sleep, Jake?" Jordan knew better than to ask how the boy was, as this question was invariably answered in the same non-committal way. The child was, so far, more honest about his sleep.
"In bits," the child responded thoughtfully. "I had lots of dreams." His small brow furrowed. "It's funny; I didn't have any last night."
The young man decided not to bother with explanations. They tired the child, who had numerous questions he wanted answered, questions Jordan sometimes found very difficult to find a solution to.
"What do you want to do now, squirt?"
Jacob's arms tightened around his teddy-bear as he considered this question, before his eyes suddenly brightened. "Can we go to the playroom? Peter and I were doing a big puzzle and Helen promised to leave it for us to finish."
"Sure we can." Jordan pulled back the covers, helping the child sit up on the edge of the bed, and got the clothes that were draped over the back of a chair that stood nearby.
As he helped the boy to don them, he took note of the new bruises that had appeared, knowing it was time to take the child back to Joseph for another session of treatment. All of Jacob's clothes were loose-fitting and none put any pressure on his body when they were being pulled on, with buttons and studs around the waist and neck-holes. Jordan had designed the clothes and helped Rebecca to make them.
The stroller stood by the door, but before Jordan could put Jacob in it, the child looked up at him out of hopeful eyes. "Will you carry me?"
"Piggyback?" Jordan suggested, knowing that Jacob loved this mode of transport, and the child giggled as he nodded. The young man bent down beside the bed so that his son could climb on, and then ran carefully down the hallway to the elevator, making sure not to bump the fragile body.
Peter looked up in delight as Jacob was put down on the seat beside him. "Help?" he asked in his limited English, beaming as Jacob nodded, reaching for a piece. Jordan smiled as they discussed the proper location for the bit, occasionally turning to him when they got stuck over a word.
"Can I help, Jo-din?"
Jordan looked down to find Gabriel standing beside him, and pulled the boy up onto his lap. "Not this time, Gabe, okay? They want to finish it themselves. But maybe the next time they start one, they'll let you help."
The child nodded wisely, looking at the brightly colored farmyard picture on the box, and Jordan saw with relief that he didn't try to interfere as the other boys tried to fit a piece into a place that was obviously wrong. Gabriel was a lot sturdier than either Jacob or Peter and Jordan didn't want the weaker boys hurt if the younger child tried to push them aside in his enthusiasm.
"Dey speaks funny," the little boy pronounced flatly, after a brief period of listening to the gabbled conversation opposite, his big brown eyes, full of curiosity, swinging up to meet those of his older brother. "What's dey saying?"
"They're talking in another language, kiddo," Jordan explained. "It's called German." He pulled an atlas off the nearby shelf and opened it to show a map of Europe, pointing out the German-speaking areas. "That's the main language in all those places and here," he pointed at Berlin, "is where Peter and his dad came from."
Gabriel studied the map intently, and Jordan knew that he would recognize any of the major cities on it, if asked about them again. He pointed at various countries, and Jordan told him something about each and the language they spoke, providing a sentence or two in as many languages and dialects as he knew. The child repeated them after him, struggling to get his tongue around some of the more complicated pronunciations.
There was a lot of laughter over some of Gabriel's struggles, and it attracted the attention of the other Seraphim. The group gathered around, and Jordan suddenly found that he was conducting an inadvertent language class. Dominique was the standout student, managing to get her little tongue around some of the more convoluted sentences, and the child beamed at the praise she received from Jordan and the caregivers.
Elizabeth lay beside Trevor on his bed, her arms around him, gently stroking his face, watching him sleep. As she had promised, she blocked out the events in his dreams, but it hurt to see the pain on his face as he struggled to escape from them and know that she could do nothing to help him.
"It's all right, my love," she murmured in his ear. "I'm here. You're safe. It's just a dream."
A tear escaped from his eye and began the slow trek down his face, which lay against her chest. His body was curled up beside hers, his arms wrapped loosely around her back, but as the reality of the dream strengthened, his grasp tightened, making it suddenly difficult for her to breathe, and she gasped.
She had two options -- wake him, or let him continue to sleep. There was a third, but she couldn't conceive of breaking her promise to him, no matter how hard this was for both of them. That, to her, constituted betrayal, and she had her own ideas about the power of promises. Just as she was about to rouse him, however, a thought occurred to her and she summoned her strength, her entire focus on the man beside her, forcing him into deeper sleep, beyond the phase in which the dreams tormented him.
His face slowly went slack, his arms relaxing from their tight hold, and she heaved a sigh of relief, thankfully taking in a lungful of air.
"That's better, darling," she told him, touching his face lovingly, her eyes filling as she brushed away the trace of the tear. "Oh, Trevor," she whispered longingly. "Why won't you let me help you? Let me carry that burden with you, sweetheart. You don't have to cope on your own anymore."
Moonlight shone in through the small window of the trailer and onto the bed, making the new ring on her left hand glisten in the silver light. Elizabeth made the decision that, in the morning, once she saw what mood he was in, she would confront him about sharing the bad parts of their lives as well as the good ones. But for now she could do nothing, other than gently stroke the side of his head with smooth, regular motions, as she stared mournfully at the ceiling.
* * * * * * * * *
The Pretender turned sharply, the light of the moon streaming in through the window at his back, instantly recognizing the figure approaching him out of the shadows of the barn door, having already guessed from the details of the email who he would be going to meet.
"Mason!" he hissed angrily from between clenched teeth. "What do you want?"
"Did you bring the photo?" the younger Pretender demanded.
After a second of hesitation, Jarod slid it out of his pocket, letting it drop to the floor at his feet and backing several paces away, not removing his eyes from the other man's hands. Mason took a step forward and, keeping both hands in the light, picked up the photo, turning on the flashlight he held and shining it on the face of his daughter.
"She's pretty," he remarked, noncommittally.
"She's beautiful," Jarod corrected immediately, forgetting his initial impression, when the children had first been brought to Sanctuary, that perhaps it was not always desirable for the parents to be given care of their children, and feeling only anger at the careless way in which this man spoke of his offspring.
Mason seemed to feel this, his dark eyes lifting up off the image and casting an appraising look at the tall man opposite.
"She looks like her mother," he stated evenly. "And her mother -- the woman I loved -- is dead. Did you know that?"
"No," Jarod was forced to admit. "No, I didn't."
"I don't want the kid," the man spat, suddenly tossing the photo back. Jarod awkwardly managed to catch it between the tips of two fingers. "I don't want to see that face every day and be forced to remember what happened to her mother. I don't want to be burdened by a child when I'm trying just to stay alive, to stay ahead of them."
"Is that why you contacted me?" Jarod demanded furiously. "To throw your daughter on my pity? To hope I'd take care of her, because you won't?"
"Exactly," the bearded man replied coolly. "You care for people, Prodigy," he stated. "I don't give a damn. If they can help me, good. If they can't, I don't want anything to do with them. And if they don't get out of my way fast enough, I get them out of it."
"You're the perfect Centre subject," Jarod sneered. "I don't know why you're running. Why don't you go back where you belong?"
"Because I know how fast fashions change there," the younger man responded emotionlessly. "I don't want to become a reject one day, when they decide they don't need me anymore. I want to choose how to live my life, not let them do it for me."
Jarod couldn't help appreciating that viewpoint. It had been a major incentive for his own escape from the Centre, years earlier. But his mind kept presenting images of the little girl who had just been so callously abandoned by her father, which was something he found a lot more difficult to accept.
A sudden noise made both men start and look towards the back of the barn, through the window behind Jarod. Two figures could be seen stealthily approaching the building and Mason turned back to the older man.
"Hide!" he hissed urgently. "You won't get anywhere if you run. They'd catch you in no time. They want me, not you. If they find me, they'll stop looking."
Without bothering to argue, Jarod hurriedly scrambled up a nearby ladder, hurling himself into the hayrack when he reached it. Lying on his stomach, he parted several strands so that he could look down on the ensuing scene. Something shining on the floor caught his eye and he saw the younger Pretender walk over to pick it up, realizing that it was Dominique's photo. Jarod saw the man slip the photo into his pocket, turning suddenly as the largest man Jarod had ever seen burst into the barn. It was the work of only a second for the behemoth to subdue Mason, holding him so the man was unable to fight. Then another figure strolled in, the familiarity of which made Jarod catch his breath.
Mr. Lee entered the building, apparently listening to the sounds that the giant's victim made as he continued to struggle, before he gave a satisfied smile.
"Well done, my Cat," he purred, and the large, dark-skinned man nodded, his eyes gleaming, as Lee turned his attention to the Pretender.
"Do you know," he began meditatively, "that they want you dead? The entire board of the Asian station wanted you hunted down by the best assassins they have. But I persuaded them that you would be of more value alive than dead."
Mason had stopped struggling and now faced the other man in silence, sneering. "I never thought loyalties meant so much to you," he snarled.
"Oh, on the contrary," Mr. Lee assured him smoothly. "Family is all-important to me." He stepped closer, until he must have been able to feel Mason's labored breathing on his face. "Despite what it looks like now, I appreciate what you did for my daughter."
Jarod's mind was spinning, struggling to understand the connection that was being discussed on the ground below. His eyes studied the face of the blind man, recognizing some of the features, and then he knew.
"You gave Sun-Chai some of the happiest moments of her life."
"If the Centre hadn't interfered, those would have continued," Mason promised. "And yet you still work for them, even though they killed her."
"I'm a wise man, Mr. Mason," Lee stated calmly. "And sometimes it is better to be wise that to let moral scruples get in the way. My daughter was not wise," he continued thoughtfully. "If she had been, she would have realized that her activities were putting her in danger. But there is nothing I can do to help her now." His blind eyes swung around to the captive. "However, I can help you."
Putting a hand into his pocket, he extracted a capped syringe, removing the top. Jarod instantly recognized the amber contents, shining in the moonlight, and his breath caught in his throat, his hands tightening around the edge of the hayrack.
Mason began to struggle at the sight of the needle, but the giant, the man Lee had called "Cat," gave him what looked like a gentle tap the back of the head. The Pretender's head lolled forward at once, obviously stunned, and the Cat used the moment to pull up the sleeve of the black top Mason wore, pressing his thumb against the man's left arm until a blood vessel rose. Taking the syringe, he inserted it into the man's vein. Mason's head shot up at the pain, but he was unable to pull away, his face wearing the same expression of sheer terror Jarod imagined had been on his own face, the day when he had first been given Aurora.
Jarod was unable to help counting silently, knowing when the first effects would begin. He could see that Mason was fighting against the contents of the syringe, his fear magnified by the lack of knowledge of what had been given to him. The younger Pretender's dark eyes were fixed on the place in his arm where the needle had entered, his entire body rigid, but as the seconds passed, it was possible to see his muscles slowly begin to relax. The terror in his eyes faded, replaced by a warmth that was almost painful to look at, his lips easing together from their terrified partly open position into a faint smile, which gradually broadened, until his face glowed with pleasure. His left arm, which had been held out stiffly in front of him, now sank down until it hung loosely at his side and the fingers of his other hand, which had been clenched into a fist, also hung limp. He relaxed back against the hands that continued to hold him firmly, eyelids drooping, appearing to be about to fall asleep.
"Now, you see, Mason," Lee suggested in a smooth voice, "what a nice man I am. Isn't this better than being dead?"
"It's lovely," the Pretender agreed in a dreamy voice, and Jarod shuddered, hating most of all the knowledge that he had sounded the same, aware of how Mason was feeling. He would seem to be drifting, his problems falling away, leaving nothing but happiness and a total lack of care. The memory of that sensation made Jarod suddenly nauseous.
"I can give you more," the Asian man proposed. "If you come with me, I can make sure you feel this good for the rest of your life. Wouldn't you like that?"
Mason nodded numbly, willingly, and Jarod watched the Cat release his hold, stepping back. The man rubbed a hand over the point on his arm where the needle had gone in, obviously waiting for his orders. Lee seemed to be somehow aware of this and nodded, spinning on his heel and going to the door. Mason followed readily, with the Cat last. The large man turned, giving the inside of the barn one final searching look, before leaving.
Jarod remained frozen in the hayrack, his eyes traveling to the window, out of which he could just see from his position, watching the three people walking across the moonlight-bathed farmyard to a bank of shadows. A moment later, the sound of a powerful motor reached his ears, a dull hum that receded into the background, replaced, eventually, by the normal sounds of the night.
Finally, the Pretender carefully descended the ladder, prepared at any moment for the large man to reappear in the doorway. It would, after all, make things go better for Mason if he and Lee were able to hand Jarod back to the Centre. However the silence continued, and Jarod slowly relaxed. Suddenly a thought struck him, and he knew Mason wouldn't say anything, unless he was directly asked. After all, the man had made the effort of getting in touch with him, giving his daughter into Jarod's care, rather than simply disappearing without a trace. He had also hidden Jarod when he could have handed him over to Mr. Lee. Such acts could only mean that, despite him saying he didn't care about her, he must have still harbored some paternal feelings for the child, wanting the older Pretender to be able to care for his daughter, although in a different way from Sun-Chai.
It was then, Jarod realized, that for the first time he hadn't felt the urge he usually found so hard to control when in the same room as Aurora. Picking up the discarded syringe, he lifted it to the light, eyeing the traces of the golden liquid, which still clung to the plastic casing. His hands didn't shake, no perspiration beaded his face and the longing that normally made his heart ache was absent. Jarod's head went up and he nodded in satisfaction. The addiction wasn't beaten, he was aware, and in difficult times it would resurface, but this was a very important step.
It also meant that the research he had been putting off for months could now begin. He had been trying to convince himself that the reason he hadn't started it yet was because he had no time, but he knew deep down that it was because he was too afraid to be in the same room as the drug in case, as he had once before, he was unable to fight against his cravings, particularly with his current additional tension, the forthcoming conflict and his anxiety about Jacob. But now he could take what little spare time he had to work on a better stabilizer, one which would make the lives of those who were still trying to recover from their own addictions easier, many of whom, the man knew, still longed for the drug in the same way he had during the early days.
His eyes lifted from the syringe, fixing on the world outside, the light of which was fading as the moon sank slowly towards the horizon. Sliding the needle into his pocket, he left the barn, waiting in the doorway for a second, before breaking out of the shelter of the building, slipping across the ground like a shadow, and melting into the darkened area of trees where his car was parked.
* * * * * * * * *
When Sydney came back from lunch, the order was on his desk and he didn't bother to sit down, immediately returning to the elevator and riding it up to the Tower. He couldn't help wondering if he was going to be sent back to Texas as he knocked on the Chairman's door.
Entering the office, he made his way to the chair in front of the desk and sat down, his expression expectant. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes, Sydney." Mr. Parker picked up a folder from his desk and handed it over. "I've got a project that I want you to consider taking on. I know," he continued before Sydney could protest, "you've got a lot going on. That's why I'm giving you so much advanced notice. It's probably going to be about nine months, if everything goes according to plan, before this project will be ready for your active participation. Still, you can begin preparing for it now."
The psychiatrist's mind was whirling, but he managed to make sense of the timeframe with which he had just be supplied. "Mr. Chairman, are you saying that the child hasn't even been born yet?"
Parker chuckled. "Exactly, Sydney." He leaned back in his chair, turning it slightly so that he could look out of the window behind him. "We need to look to the future," he began impressively. "It's important that we start to think long-term and work on a broader time-span. We did so in the past, but since the Seraphim were born, that practice has been halted. Now it will be started again."
Sydney listened to the speech with half an ear, opening the folder and running an eye over all the details with which he had been supplied. He saw that the prospective mothers had been tested and a group of five had been selected as surrogates, noting that they had no close family. Finally, he looked at the source of the future child's parents. Only one space was filled in, but the code-name of the project filled him with horror and he looked up so sharply that the Chairman noticed and broke off his spiel.
"What is it, Sydney?"
The psychiatrist took a second to gather his thoughts. "Mr. Parker, what makes you believe that the clone of this individual will be any more successful as a Pretender than the original individual was?"
The Chairman arched an eyebrow. "How do you know who it is?" he demanded.
"When Jarod worked with him, I read through his file," the man responded carefully. "And the codename was in his folder then."
Mr. Parker seemed to accept this, because he nodded and turned his attention to the question he had been asked. "The reason we believe he will succeed," the Chairman replied, "is because I've always felt that the reason he was a failure was due to Raines' influence. I saw your success with Jarod and I'm sure you can do it again."
Sydney looked skeptical. "Mr. Parker, I'm 68 years old. I'm not sure I'll be able to work for as long as this project would require it. Certainly not the 30 years or more that I spent with Jarod."
"I'm aware of that," Parker snapped impatiently, as if uncomfortable at the reference to age, as he cast a glance at the black sleeve of his suit coat, flicking off a gray hair with what Sydney believed was almost a shudder of disgust. "I'm planning, over the next two years, to bring in a number of new psychiatrists and other project overseers. You'll be among the team to train them, particularly in the education of future Pretenders." He gave a condescending smile. "You're one of our best teachers, Sydney, and we want the chance to pass your methods on to a whole new generation."
* * * * * * * * *
The face that flashed into her mind was familiar, but she couldn't put a name to it. Checking her watch, the psychic walked over to the bed in which her daughter lay. Tempest was already awake from her afternoon nap and her face broke into a smile as Rebecca bent over the bed, climbing up into a standing position and reaching out for her mother.
"Mama," she crowed delightedly, hugging Rebecca around the neck, as she was picked up and carried over to the bed.
"How's my baby?" the woman murmured automatically, her mind still exercised by the vision, as she curled up against the pile of pillows and placed a teddy-bear into her daughter's arms.
Suddenly the little girl's blue eyes were firmly fixed on her mother's face. "It's Daddy," she stated firmly, and Rebecca jumped, gathering the child in her arms again.
"What did you say, baby?"
"Daddy," Tempest remarked again, reaching out to tap the side of her mother's head.
"You mean Alastair?" Rebecca asked hopefully, but the girl firmly shook her head.
"Daddy," she told her mother once more, firmly, before crawling back over to the teddy-bear.
Standing, the woman picked up Tempest and placed her down among a pile of toys in the corner before going over to the computer that stood on a desk in another corner. Sitting down, Rebecca started up a program and waited for the call to be answered.
When it finally was, she forced a smile at the man, almost unrecognizable with his blond wig and matching beard.
He grinned in return, but she could immediately see the concern in his gray eyes. "Hey, Rebecca. Is everything okay?"
"Fine," she assured him. "Your son found several tubes of red paint this morning and managed to decorate three of the other children and two walls before anybody noticed."
"He's a budding artist," the child's father chuckled. "I hope it wasn't oil-based."
"Oh, don't worry, it washed off. Michaela's still slightly tinted, but apart from that, they're fine."
"Glad to hear it." His expression became one of curiosity. "So what's up?"
She sighed. "Do you have a photo of your brother?"
"He's right outside," Jarod assured her. "I'll go get " He trailed off and looked at her closely, his voice becoming soft. "You don't mean Ethan, do you?"
It wasn't posed as a question but she shook her head in response.
"What is it?" he asked when she hesitated.
"The photo?" she prompted gently, watching him immediately reach into his bag and extract one, holding it up to the screen. "That's him," she sighed regretfully, hearing a small voice from behind her repeat the word "Daddy."
"Who?" the man demanded. "What's going on?"
Rebecca hated the thought of what her knowledge was going to do to him, but he had to know the truth.
"There's another clone planned, Jarod," she finally admitted. "The Centre's going to clone Kyle."
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney paced the length of his living room, studying the carpet and trying to reach a decision. He knew that what he should do immediately was contact Jarod and have him do what he could to stop the project. But the Chairman had made a point about the extra security he had arranged for this project, as if guessing what Sydney might do, and he also had to be sure that any attempt the Pretender might make wouldn't be traced back to the psychiatrist.
However, he also couldn't bear the thought of what Jarod would suffer if and when he ever learnt about the project, should it be allowed to go ahead now. The tentative trust had been built between them slowly, and it would only take one misunderstanding, such as this, to tear it apart again. The photos of Jacob lay on the coffee table and he eventually picked up the one with the phone number, turning it over and picking up his cell phone.
"Jarod, it's me."
"Sydney!" Jarod sounded relieved. "I was going to call you, but I didn't think you'd be home yet. I wanted you to look up a project for me."
The psychiatrist thankfully put aside his own news. "Why wait until I was home?" he enquired. "I can't do a lot from here."
"No, but I didn't want the chance of anyone overhearing the conversation," the younger man went on. "If this project is for real, the security surrounding it would be second only to Fort Knox, to try to keep me out."
"What project?" Sydney sat on the sofa. "Tell me what it is. I'll do whatever I can."
There was a deep sigh on the other end. "I got a call from Rebecca," the Pretender began. "She has this idea that the Centre's going to clone Kyle."
Sydney's eyes flew to the folder in front of him and his breath caught in his throat, but he stayed silent and allowed Jarod to continue.
"Now, I don't know if this is for real. I don't know why they'd bother, but that's never stopped them before "
"It is real, Jarod," the older man interrupted softly. "That's exactly what I'm calling you about."
A second of silence followed this, before Jarod spoke again, his voice cracking slightly. "How do you know?"
"Mr. Parker has asked me to oversee the boy's development, after his birth," Sydney explained as gently as he could. "He's looking into the future, in an attempt to retain the Chairmanship."
"He said that?"
"Not in so many words," the psychiatrist admitted. "But it's not hard to read between the lines." He waited for a moment, but Jarod remained silent. "The project is called Ares," he continued.
"Son of Zeus," Jarod spat. "How appropriate."
"There's not a lot on it," the older man went on, ignoring this. "So far, the only information I've got is the details about prospective surrogate mothers. I do know, though, that Fenigor has been at Pakor for the past two days, and Morgan was asked to provide extra security for the place, which is supposed to continue for the next two weeks. After that, the security moves to Donoterase and then back to the Centre in March next year."
"He really is thinking long-term," Jarod ground out, other noises suggesting that he was pulling on his jacket. "But we'll see just how good that security really is."
"Jarod, please, be careful," Sydney begged. "They're waiting for this -- in fact, they're counting on it. And if they do catch you, who would stop them then?"
"You'd be surprised," the Pretender responded drily, before his tone became filled with anger. "My brother saved my life, Sydney, and I'm not going to let them get away with this. He would've been devastated enough to discover that they'd made him a father, but I'll be damned if they're going to clone him, too."
There was a sharp beep on the other end as Jarod disconnected the call and Sydney pressed the button to turn off the phone. A thought occurred to him, however, and he switched it on again, putting in a number and waiting for the call to be answered as he picked up the folder about Ares, remembering to adopt the tone he used at work when the call was finally answered.
"Kim, it's Sydney. Would you mind bringing a car around? I think I may need some help."
* * * * * * * * *
Slipping into the darkened room, Jarod looked around carefully by the limited light of the torch he carried, knowing how long he had before the security guard would pass by the door. His eyes scanned a list on the wall and he found the relevant number, pulling on the necessary protective gear before opening the frozen storage container and withdrawing the first holder. The samples he was after weren't there. With a feeling of increasing urgency, his heart pounding in his ears and a dull metallic taste in his mouth, Jarod took out the second. When that also failed to provide the object of his search, he urgently hunted through the last two.
Kyle's samples were missing.
With trembling hands, Jarod refitted the lid, not bothering to tighten it, and tore off the mask. If the samples had been removed, that meant only one thing -- they were already being used. His eyes flashed around the room, knowing that the implantation wouldn't be carried out in the storage room. Another door caught his eye and he hurried over to it, silently pushing down on the handle and easing the door towards himself.
The neighboring room was, thankfully, empty. The small light on the microscope, which allowed a camera to take pictures every few seconds, provided sufficient illumination for him to see the vial on the bench nearby. Snatching it up, Jarod saw and instantly recognized the numbers, turning furious eyes to the microscope. Fitting his eye to the eyepiece, he felt a tightening in his chest as he saw that the cells had already begun to divide and multiply. The clone of his brother was being formed on that Petri dish, right there in front of him.
His hand hovered for a moment over the switch on one side of the large glass cube in which the microscope was mostly housed, and which kept the cells at a constant temperature. After a brief pause, Jarod flicked the switch. There was a small whine, then silence.
Yanking open the box, Jarod pulled out the Petri dish, carrying it over to the sink and washing the contents down the drain. Leaving the circular glass container lying on the shining silver surface, he turned to the door, checking his watch to see when the guard would pass.
"Well, well, well," remarked a cool voice from behind him. "What have we here?"
* * * * * * * * *
The old man entered the bathroom of his apartment and turned on the tap, filling the basin with hot water for his shave. Opening the mirrored cabinet, he removed the equipment he needed before closing the door again with a firm click. It was then, in the reflection of the rapidly fogging mirror, that he saw the tall man, dressed all in black, standing directly behind him. Wolfram Leiden drew in his breath to yell for help, but before he could make a sound, a clear film of plastic was placed over his mouth and nose, pulled tightly until the back of his head was pressed against his attacker's chest.
Leiden's frail hands clawed at the surface of the mask, and although some of the clear film was scraped off by his fingernails, the mask was too thick for him to scratch through in the short time he had left to live. His assailant's dark eyes gleamed as the man fought for air.
"The Executioner strikes again," Yuri muttered, seeing the German's eyes widen as he struggled. "But they don't know the truth, do they, old man? They can't see a pattern. And yet it's so clear."
He could see the man's eyes rolling as he began to lose consciousness and there was a glint of satisfaction in Yuri's eyes.
"None of your victims were ever this lucky," he spat. "Their deaths were long, slow and lingering. Or else they had to live with nightmares of you for the rest of their lives, like Sydney and Jacob Ritter. Remember them, Leiden? Those two helpless little boys you treated like guinea pigs? If you don't remember, they sure remember you. Or Sydney does. I'm sure he'll consider this one a favor, once he finds out."
Yuri held the mask with one hand and pressed two fingers against the unconscious man's neck to search for a pulse. There was none. He glanced at his watch, waiting for another full two minutes, before he released his hold, letting the man's body drop to the floor. Leiden's wrinkled skin was a pale gray color and the veins stood out darkly on his forehead. Removing a black hood from his pocket, the Pretender pulled it down over the dead man's eyes, knowing that the gloves he wore would prevent any prints from showing up.
After closing the bathroom door, he crossed the bedroom in the same silent strides he had made several hours earlier to conceal himself in the shower stall and noiselessly left the apartment. He stripped off his gloves and pocketed them, knowing that the warmth of the season would make him look suspicious if he left them on, and pulled out his cell phone to report a suspicious sighting around the building to the local newspaper. The Press would feel that the Executioner had, after a break, struck again. Herr Delius, Mr. Parker and the other big guns at the Triumvirate would know for certain.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod's hand froze on the door handle and his heart seemed to stop. There was a dull click that he had no difficulty in recognizing, and the Pretender turned slowly to meet the blue eyes of the man watching him. Cox had apparently entered the room from the storeroom, and he must have done so almost silently. Jarod deliberately gazed at the gun in his hand.
"Were you expecting my brother's DNA to fight back?" he enquired, thankful to hear that his voice betrayed no sign of his anxiety.
"DNA doesn't turn on taps," Cox responded immediately. "Nor does it turn off heaters, the action of which caused a small alarm to sound." He smiled in satisfaction. "You didn't know that, did you, genius?"
The Pretender raised an eyebrow. "Does one also go off when the temperature of the frozen cells drops?"
The doctor's eyes widened slightly as he understood the implication and he aimed the gun at the electric lock on the door, shooting to make it blow so that the door would be sealed shut, before spinning on his heel and racing into the storage room. The door separating the two rooms also clicked loudly as it was locked and then the Pretender grinned. He pulled the outer door towards him, slipping silently into the corridor, and pulling it shut after him, the damage to the electronic lock making it henceforth impossible to open. Firmly pressing the alarm button on the lock for the storage room made that also seal, but then lights and sirens disturbed the former silence of the corridor and the man took off for the exit at a run.
Jarod could hear feet pounding after him, emphasized by muffled yells, apparently from Cox, who now found himself trapped. The person chasing him was gaining, and the Pretender put on an extra burst of speed, knowing that if he could get to the front door, he would have a better chance of escape.
The guard on the door was already waiting, but fortunately had been looking the other way when Jarod rounded the corner, his momentum carrying him right into the man and sending the suited figure crashing back into the wall. That cleared the doorway, and Jarod was through it in a bound, still hearing the dull pounding of footsteps behind him.
His car was several blocks away, not having wanted to alert any guards who might have been on duty at the perimeters of his approach. He wondered now if he would be able to make it. Even as he thought this, however, the headlights of a vehicle parked only a few hundred feet down the road suddenly blazed brightly and the passenger window was wound down.
The voice was familiar, and he headed instinctively for the car, even as the door to Pakor Frozen Foods was flung open, a team of guards streaming out. The rear door of the car was opened and Jarod threw himself inside, the car taking off from its parked position at once. The momentum of the vehicle slammed the door, and Jarod lay across the back seat, struggling to catch his breath. After a moment, when his heart was no longer pounding so loudly in his ears, he rolled onto his side, looking up at the psychiatrist, who was watching him from the front seat in concern, and managed a feeble grin, his eyes flickering briefly over to where Kim sat behind the wheel, her hands wrapped firmly around the wheel and her eyes focused on the road, before looking back at Sydney.
The Direktor looked up as the door to the office opened and the woman appeared in response to his summons. He could see that her eyes were puffy and dark-ringed, her lack of energy obvious in the droop of her shoulders and the way her feet dragged.
"You sent for me, Herr Direktor?"
He rose from behind the desk, slamming the door shut with his hand, and shoving her further into the room, so that she stumbled and almost fell. Her eyes widened, panic evident in them, but she made no effort to fight or get away. That fact seemed to fan the fury that was already burning in him, and which had only been exacerbated by reading about Leiden's death in the newspaper he had received a few minutes earlier.
Delius slammed his foot into the side of her leg, sweeping her feet out from under her, and bent over to punch his fist into her stomach. After the first strike, he remembered that she was pregnant and focused his next hits on her chest and arms. Weak cries came from her mouth at each contact, but he ignored these, knowing that no one would come to help her if they valued their lives.
The first spot of blood on his hand reminded him of the ignominy of being forced to send one of his most prized possessions, this woman's son, over to the man who held the position he, Delius, coveted, and the strength of his blows doubled.
When he finally stopped to draw breath, the woman lay unconscious on the floor in front of him, the marble of his office floor being covered by a slowly-increasing pool of blood. Straightening, he stepped around to pick up a pile of papers from the desk, about to leave the office, when there was a knock on the door.
His head of Security entered the room, his face expressionless. "Excuse me, Herr Direktor," he began apologetically, "but you never gave me back that report you wanted to work on."
"Oh, yes," the German conceded, nodding at his computer. "I've made the necessary changes, but you'll have to print it out yourself."
He left the room at once, knowing that Winston couldn't access any files Delius didn't want him to, the majority being password-protected. Closing the door, he saw that his secretary was working and didn't even have time to spare him a glance. Nodding in satisfaction, he got into the elevator.
As soon as the door was shut, Peter Winston dropped to his knees beside the woman, avoiding the blood as he checked for a pulse. The door opened and Maria entered with a bowl of water and a cloth, her face wearing a resigned expression, which faded to one of horror when she saw the state of the translator.
"This happens often?" the man snapped.
"Too often," Maria responded, cleaning her friend's face. "But it hasn't happened for a while."
Winston picked up the phone, calling for a stretcher. When he turned back, the secretary was cradling Julia's head in her lap, holding the cloth against a split in her lip, which was continuing to bleed. The man knelt down on the floor, feeling the woman's arms and legs for any breaks, even as the door opened and a medical team entered.
* * * * * * * * *
A scream shattered the peace of the nursery floor, and every child was instantly sitting up in bed as a boy began to sob, crying out in a foreign tongue. Amy, after quickly checking on Tempest, hurried into the room next door, seeing that Peter was sitting up, howling, as tears poured down his face. Helen appeared as Amy hurried to the bedside, and the caregiver turned with a quick direction.
"Get Jordan and Joseph."
She sat on the side of the bed, gathering the child in her arms and seeing her own charge appear in the doorway, her eyes wide. Rocking Peter, the woman managed to get the howling to dissolve into small, pathetic sobs, but he constantly called out for his mother and paid no attention to the words she was murmuring in his ear.
Joseph appeared in the doorway a moment later, Jordan looming behind him, Jacob in his arms. The German man caught up his son, and Amy moved aside, seeing the child's arms curl around his father's neck, sobbing against his throat. Joseph seemed to be asking questions, but it took a few minutes until Peter was calm enough to answer them. The healer looked up at Jordan as he listened to his son's voice, finally providing an explanation for what was happening. The young man looked suddenly ill as he tried to explain, tightening his hold on the boy he carried.
"He says that Peter saw his mother being beaten. Apparently she's very ill, in the infirmary. She's pregnant and there's the risk that they might lose the baby, or that she might die."
There was a prolonged silence in the room following this, broken only by the soft sobbing of the boy in his father's arms. Suddenly Helen's eyes blazed with purpose.
"North," she stated firmly. "He can at least tell us what's happening there."
Leaving the room to fetch a phone, Jordan explained what she had said to Joseph, who was pale, his tension obvious in his eyes. Going over, the young man sat down on the bed, seeing as Jacob reached out of his arms to embrace his small friend. Peter raised his head and, after a moment, returned the hug.
Helen returned with a laptop and a speakerphone, plugging them in. Jordan eased Jacob off his lap and onto the bed, sitting down in front of the computer and finding Die Fakultät's coordinates, as the overseer of the nursery made the call. The remote viewer's voice was sleepy as he answered, but when he knew the reason for the call, he became more business-like. There was a moment of silence before he began to speak, and Jordan mentally censored what was being told to them before repeating it to the man and his son.
"She's alive, but looks badly injured," was the first report. "And she's being put into a bed. There's plaster on her left arm and leg, as well as a bandage over one eye."
"The baby?" Jordan demanded, knowing that this was one of Joseph's major concerns.
"I don't know," North responded after a moment. "There's no way for me to find out."
Even as Jordan was glumly repeating this to Joseph, the door of the room opened and Alastair appeared, cell phone in hand. He hurried to the bed, sitting down and slipping an arm around his friend's shoulders.
<"It's okay,"> he stated softly in German. <"She's going to be all right, and Winston said that they managed to save the baby.">
Jordan sighed with relief before translating it for those who hadn't understood. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement in the doorway and turned to find the other seven Seraphim waiting there, their eyes all fixed on the small, sobbing child. Tempest sidled over to join them and Jacob seemed to feel the pressure of their gaze, because he eased himself out of Peter's hold and held out his hands to Jordan, nestling close when he was picked up.
As soon as there was space around the small German boy, the eight children moved as one to the bedside, Raphael and Uriel climbing up to hug their half-brother. Joseph let Peter slip down to the floor, and the boy was hugged by each of the other six children in turn, each murmuring a few words in his ear. Jordan saw the look of concern on the faces of all the children and remembered the discussion he had had with his father about having to make sure that the Seraphim learnt to value other peoples' lives. He was unable to help seeing this as evidence of the fact that, despite the environment in which they had spent the first developmental years of their lives, it didn't seem as if it would be as difficult a task as it had first appeared.
The caregivers now began to extract their charges from the room and take them back to their own rooms. Peter had climbed back into his father's lap, wrapping his arms around Joseph's neck and snuggling close to him. The man embraced his son and, using Alastair as translator, it was agreed that Peter could spend the night with his father. Jordan felt Jacob's head droop down onto his shoulder, knowing that the child's limited reserves of energy had already been sapped by the night's events, and excused himself from the room.
The residential floor seemed strangely empty, with so few rooms in use, their occupants being in Blue Cove. Jordan wandered along it, increasing his pace when he felt Jacob begin to shiver. The boy had little control over his body temperature and Jordan knew how important it was that he not be allowed to get either too cold or too hot. A door along the corridor opened as he passed and Major Charles stepped out, following the young man to his room.
"Is everything okay?"
Jordan noticed appreciatively that the man hadn't asked what had happened. Any pressure there had once been for details about Jordan's actions had all but vanished since he had left to rescue Jacob, and he valued that, returning the favor by answering questions with as many details as he could supply.
"It's fine," Jordan told him. "There was a problem with Peter and Joseph, and they needed me to translate. That's it."
The man brushed Jacob's hair smooth with a smile. "You put him to bed and I'll make you a hot drink, okay?"
"That'd be good." Jordan sent him a grateful smile, carrying the boy into the shared bedroom and laying him on the little bed, releasing Jacob's relaxed hold around his neck and tucking the teddy-bear into his arms. By the time he had piled some pillows at the head of his own bed and crawled back into it, Major Charles appeared with a steaming mug, which smelt deliciously of chocolate, and Jordan beamed as he accepted it. "Thanks, Da."
"Make sure you get some sleep," the man told him, grinning. "I don't want to have to answer to your dad if he pays us another unexpected visit."
"Yeah, he's a real bully," Jordan agreed, smiling as he picked up his book, seeing the older man turn away. "Good night."
* * * * * * * * *
The rising sun shone onto the café in the small town, making the few cars parked outside it look pink in the reflections from the sky. Quickly, however, the rosy gleam faded and the sky became its usual blue. One of the café's regular customers sauntered inside, his brow furrowing briefly in annoyance as he saw that his favorite table was in use, before shrugging off the irritation, sitting down at the bar to order his usual breakfast, and flirting with the waitress as he did so. He cast another look over at the table, seeing that those sitting there were strangers, and then turned to attack his meal with enthusiasm.
Three people sat around the table, one all in black, with a leather jacket slung over the back of his chair, another woman dressed in a neat black suit and immaculate white shirt, and a third man, also in a suit, whose concerned eyes were focused on the man opposite.
"Are you sure you got rid of it all?" Sydney asked as Jarod paused to draw breath.
"I don't know," the Pretender responded, toying with his napkin. "Somehow, I don't think so. They wouldn't use all of Kyle's genetic material at once, would they?" He looked at the man opposite for the confirmation of what he already suspected, seeing the older man slowly shake his head.
"I don't think so."
"Unless they've already used the rest," Kim broke in suddenly, seeing the eyes of both men swing around to her, the startled expression in them suggesting that this hadn't occurred to them, or that they had been trying to avoid thinking about it. "I mean," she continued, "what's to say that they haven't? Just because Mr. Parker didn't ask Sydney to oversee the child's development before? If that's all, they might have created another clone while Jarod was still at the Centre. Or because Rebecca didn't know about any of others? Who's to say she's perfect?"
Sydney swilled around the last off his coffee in the mug before drinking it. "We don't know that for sure," he finally admitted. "All we can do is hope they haven't."
Jarod nodded slowly before looking up. "Could you see what you can find? If there is another -- or others," he corrected gloomily, "I want to know."
"Of course," Sydney agreed quietly, placing a hand over that of the younger man. "You know we'd tell you."
Nodding again, Jarod pushed his chair back and stood up, swinging his jacket over his shoulders. "I should go," he told the two people. "I've got to get back."
"To Texas?" The psychiatrist looked startled. "How will you ?"
"Not Texas." Jarod's eyes twinkled darkly. "Let's just keep the location a surprise, okay?"
"Somehow that's not unusual," Sydney remarked drily. "Look after yourself, Jarod."
"You too." He grinned. "Thanks again."
Walking over to the counter, he pulled a note from his pocket and dropped it into the hands of the waitress, ignoring her offer to give him change, before opening the door. With a nod to the two people in the corner, he crossed the street and disappeared down an alley. Sydney watched him go before turning to his niece.
"Well, that's the excitement over."
Kim smiled, putting out a hand to help her uncle. "And you're going to go home and have a good rest before turning up to work, right?"
Sydney rolled his eyes and gave a fretful sigh. "You don't let up, do you?"
"Nope." She grinned at him. "Just like my father."
* * * * * * * * *
Sebastian looked up from a list he was checking over to see the familiar figure enter the grounds and slowly make his way over to his trailer. The slumped shoulders and jerky movements were so unlike Jarod's normal motion that he rose and followed the Pretender to his trailer.
"What is it, mate?" he enquired softly, upon entering, to see that Jarod stood beside the table, on which stood his laptop and DSA player, apparently hunting for a particular disk.
"Crap," the Australian told him succinctly. "You took off like a bat out of hell, and now you look like your whole world's come crashing down." His voice softened as he sat on the man's bed. "Come on, Jarod, we're friends. Talk to me. Get it off your chest."
The older man sighed deeply before slowly turning. "I guess I really should be used to the Centre exploiting my family by now," he stated bitterly. "But somehow, every time it happens, it gets that much harder to take."
"Yeah, it does," the pyrokenetic agreed, thinking of his son and sister.
"I could deal with it, if it was just me," Jarod continued, his voice strained. "I'm used to that. But when they do stuff like that to my brother "
"Ethan?" Sebastian was startled. "What did they do?"
"Not Ethan." The Pretender glared at the ground before suddenly looking up, the comprehension dawning in his eyes. "Of course. You never knew about Kyle."
"I'm not a mind-reader," the younger man reminded him softly. "I've heard the name, in relation to Tempest, but that's all."
"I know," Jarod returned impatiently. "Kyle died four years ago last week. The Centre killed him. I It's hard to talk about him, even now. But they were going to clone him. That's why I left. I had to stop them."
Sebastian's hands clenched in rage, and he took several deep breaths before speaking. "And did you?"
"This time." The man kicked angrily at the floor. "But there'll be a next time. There always is."
Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, Sebastian looked over surreptitiously to see a man hovering around the doorway, the pyrokenetic catching his eye and shaking his head. The blue eyes flashed and the platinum blond head nodded curtly before the man turned on his heel and vanished.
"Worry about next time then," the pyrokenetic stated firmly. "If it even happens. It'll take time until they're ready to try again, and the current regime may not even be in charge by then."
"Geez, I hope not," Jarod growled, breath hissing between his teeth, hands clenched at his sides, before he turned, his expression apologetic. "You're right, Sebastian. I did stop it. Now I just have to stop thinking about what might have happened if I hadn't."
"You said yourself that it's what you were trained to do," the younger man responded with a weak attempt at a grin. "I can't blame you for it. Look, why don't you go and do a workout? Maybe you'll be able to shake it then, or at least get rid of your excess anger on something that won't feel it."
"Good idea," the Pretender agreed, pushing off his shoes and padding over to his bag to take out the shoes he used in the gym. Sebastian gave him another long look before slipping out of the tent, divining that he wanted to be alone.
Jarod crossed the campground in large strides towards the massive tent that had been set up in the middle. It served a two-fold purpose: it made them look like a real circus and it also acted as a place to hide the equipment that would become necessary later. Inside, there was an area set up like a gymnasium, but it also included circus-type equipment, such as a trapeze and a tightrope, which had been provided with the big top.
As he entered the outer area of the tent, he could hear that someone was using the trapeze, also seeing, as he warmed up, that the large inflated pillows had been moved into position in case of accidents. He swept the heavy canvas side back, entering and looking up to see that a woman hung by her knees from the trapeze bar, increasing her swing until it was in time with the other bar. When she was ready, she caught the bar in her hands and released her legs, managing a graceful arch over to the platform on one of the central poles of the tent.
"Where'd you learn that?" he demanded when she was safely on her feet, and Elizabeth grinned down at him.
"I always wanted to run away and join the circus when I was a little girl," she laughed, "so I went to gymnastics classes and learnt the skills I might need one day."
"You're full of secrets, aren't you?" he teased. "Next, you'll say you had a pet lion cub."
"Always wanted one," she told him, reapplying resin powder to her hands from a bag on the pillar and clapping to remove the excess. "But lions don't go too well in the Australian climate. And they eat heaps!"
He grinned, starting up the treadmill and beginning to jog. Even with just the regular activity, he could feel some of the tension begin to ebb away, his shoulders straightening and head going up as he began to sweat. A pile of towels were stacked nearby, and he grabbed one without even breaking his stride, draping it over the bar in front of him as he increased the speed to a flat-out run.
Jarod didn't know which he heard first, the click or the woman's horrified yell, turning just in time to see her body falling fast, arcing away from the air-filled pillow beneath the trapeze equipment, taking in the fact that the bar was now only attached at one end. His hand found the emergency stop button, but his feet were still traveling backwards on the belt when he saw her body hit the edge of the air bag, rising off it again, a dull thud echoing in the large tent, as she slammed into the ground, landing heavily on her left side. He was halfway across the tent towards her when the door was swept back and Trevor entered at a run. Both men reached her at the same time.
"Don't move her," the Pretender warned immediately, sinking to his knees and gently tapping the cheeks of the pale woman, lying with her eyes closed. "Elizabeth?"
Her dark eyes were even darker than usual as they opened and looked up at him. "Ow," she told him succinctly.
Trevor brushed the hair away from her face, his face panic-stricken. "Where does it hurt, Liz?"
"I think it'd be quicker to say where it didn't," she told him weakly. "My little toe isn't throbbing too much."
Jarod's hands slid along her body, checking for any bleeding. "Any place that hurts more?"
"Left arm," she ground out from between clenched teeth. "And my back's not too happy."
The Pretender gently tapped her left kneecap. "Can you feel that?"
He repeated the action on her right, relieved at the positive response, moving along to gently feel her right arm, touching along the shoulder and across her chest. It was when his hand reached the point at which the swelling had already started that she winced.
"Ow," she stated again, closing her eyes briefly but opening them when Trevor made a tiny noise in his throat. With her right hand, she reached out and took his. "I'm all right, Trev," she stated, in a surprisingly calm voice. "I'll be fine."
The psychic's fingers wrapped around hers, looking up at Jarod out of anguished eyes, but he remained silent, seemingly incapable of speech. Rising to his feet, Jarod ran over to the entrance of the tent. He saw Sebastian nearby and whistled to get his attention. The Australian loped over, his long legs carrying him quickly over the ground.
Jarod drew back the tent flap so that the other man could see inside. "Get a stretcher, and make sure Namir's waiting in the infirmary."
"Sure thing, mate," the pyrokenetic agreed, wheeling around and heading off for the tent in which they had set up a temporary hospital for their stay in Blue Cove.
Going back into the tent and dropping the flap, he returned to the injured woman, seeing Trevor's eyes fixed on Elizabeth's face, which was quickly losing color as shock set in.
"How did you know it happened?" he asked the man softly, seeing that the pain had increased to the extent that Elizabeth was no longer capable of speech, her jaw clenched and the fingers of her right hand curled tightly around Trevor's hand, her eyes squeezed shut.
"I saw it." The psychic shuddered, briefly closing his eyes. "God, I hope I never see anything like that again."
Jarod placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, keeping the fingers of his other hand lying gently against the woman's neck to check her pulse. Before he could actually utter any of the sentences forming in his head, the tent's entrance was swept aside and a group of people entered with a stretcher. Jarod supervised the loading of the woman onto it and took one end himself, gesturing at Trevor with his eyes as Sebastian appeared.
Once Elizabeth lay on one of the beds in the infirmary, he shooed most people away. While the healer moved in to begin treating the injuries, Jarod turned on a small electric kettle and, when it boiled, made mug of hot, sweet tea. It was as he carried it across the small tent that he realized his former depression had fled in the necessity of action, and although it wasn't a situation he would have chosen, it had certainly given him a rapid change of outlook.
"Here," he ordered Trevor. "Drink this."
The psychic tried to push it away, but the older man insisted, forcing it into his hands. "It'll do you good," he instructed, suddenly grinning. "Trust me, I'm a doctor. Today."
Sebastian laughed somewhat weakly, his tanned complexion paler than normal. "You're a fraud."
"I'm a Pretender," Jarod protested indignantly. "There's a difference. Remind me to explain it to you one day."
Before anybody could comment, Namir crossed the room to the trio, leaving one of the nurses to cover Elizabeth with blankets.
"She has a break in her arm," he reported. "I've started it healing. It will need a few days, though, to be back to full strength." He glanced at Jarod. "A bandage might be useful, to keep it still and also to remind her not to use it. The nurse is going to put that on."
"What else?" Trevor demanded anxiously. "What about her back?"
"It is -- " He once more turned to Jarod, providing a word in his native tongue for which he clearly didn't know the English alternative, and the Pretender translated for the others, adding details that he had been simulating in his mind from the fall.
"It's a strained muscle, probably caused by twisting in mid-air when the bar broke. That's also what aimed her away from the air bag. We should get a bigger one, or a net instead, in case it happens again."
"We'll have to look into that," Sebastian mused. "It should never have happened at all."
"It was probably only an accident," the Pretender responded. "After all, no one else had used the trapeze, so it probably wasn't checked as carefully as the other equipment." He saw that Trevor was rapidly losing patience and finished translating the comments Namir had made. "She'll need to spend the next few days in bed to allow it to heal properly, but there shouldn't be permanent damage. It would've been a lot worse if she'd hit the ground directly."
"And that's it?"
"Yes," Namir reported. "Apart from feeling sore for the rest of today."
"I'll give her something to help with that," Jarod put in. "The guards on night duty can go without her special skills for a few hours."
Sebastian nodded soberly, waiting until Namir had left the tent to check on the trapeze bar and Trevor had moved to the bedside, before turning anxious eyes to the older man.
"I don't want to sound selfish," he began, "but what about tonight?"
"I don't know," Jarod admitted thoughtfully. "It'll depend what state she's in then. He eyed the man in concern. "I don't like the idea, but I could always sedate you. There wouldn't be much of a risk then, if any. The medication would prevent you entering the dream state. You wouldn't be as rested, but it would be better than no sleep at all."
"You won't have to do that," a weak voice interrupted, and both men turned to find Elizabeth watching them. "If I can have something now to get over the shock, I'll be all right by then."
"You're going to be one of those medical professionals who are terrible patients, aren't you?" the Pretender teased, moving over to the bedside and looking down to see the woman grin faintly.
"I was a terrible patient long before I was a nurse," she informed him as he took the syringe that the nurse standing beside him offered. "I've never liked bed that much, outside of proper times." She flashed a quick grin at Trevor. "But I'm learning it has other uses, too."
"This is one of those times, for you," Jarod reminded her, as he slid the point of the needle under the skin of her arm, ignoring the other comment. "Behave for the next day or two and I'll let you know when you can get up."
"Bully," she informed him, slipping her hand into Trevor's once the shot was given.
Jarod stepped away from the bed, seeing the psychic's fingers brush against the woman's cheek as her eyes closed, her head turning slightly in his direction. Knowing that he wouldn't be needed for a few hours, he gave the nurse some directions and then left the tent, heading back to the big top and his interrupted workout.
* * * * * * * * *
"Do you know what happened?"
Sydney didn't even bother to lift his head from his paperwork as the doors of his office were flung open and the woman marched in. "Good morning, Miss Parker," he greeted her politely. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you for asking. Sorry to have worried you."
She snorted, throwing herself into the chair on the other side of the desk. "I already know why you were late," she stated. "Kim told me."
He looked up. "I didn't think you'd object."
The woman shrugged. "Who says I am?"
"I assumed, from the fact that a whirlwind just arrived in my office, that something big has just been brought to your attention, and couldn't imagine what else it might be." He smiled. "If it's not that, you'd better tell me, before I expire from curiosity."
She glared at him. "You're just making fun of me now."
Sydney's voice was calm. "What makes you think that?"
Morgan snorted once more. "It'd serve you right if I didn't tell you."
He smiled. "You'll never be able to restrain your natural feminine urge to gossip to that extent. I know I'm safe to learn all about it."
She glared at him again, but yielded quickly. "Okay, remember when Broots took the day off to go up and see Debbie?"
The man nodded, leaning back slightly in his chair.
"Well, records show that Kim was up there as well. In fact, she and Broots came back together."
"And this surprises you?"
The woman glared at him. "You knew?"
"I knew Broots was interested in Kim, yes," he admitted, smiling. "She told me that they went out to dinner one night. She's quite taken with him, it seems."
"Well, they've done it again," she told him triumphantly. "Yesterday, Sam overheard Broots asking Kim over to his house for dinner last night. And I was driving past this morning on the way to work and saw Kim's car out the front, so she probably spent the night."
He stared at her for a second in amazement before chuckling. "Good luck to them."
"You don't mind?"
"Mind?" Sydney sent her a bemused look. "Why would I mind? Kim's a grown woman, and Broots is a mature man with a daughter, of whom he takes excellent care. What's there to mind in that? I'm glad my niece has found someone as responsible and honest as our Mr. Broots."
Miss Parker's response died on her tongue as the door of Sydney's office was shoved open and the technician appeared, looking strained, walking straight past her to the desk and putting down the newspaper he carried under one arm.
"I think you'll want to see this," he told the psychiatrist. "It was just sent over from Die Fakultät by courier. Several copies, in fact. The Chairman has one."
Sydney looked down at the paper, his breath catching in his throat at the familiar photo staring at him out of the front page.
"Leiden," he murmured, reaching out to unfold the paper, his eyes widening as he saw the large, black headline announcing the next Executioner murder. Suddenly he looked up. "Do you have the package this came in?"
Broots put a hand in his pocket and pulled out the plastic bag, straightening it out and laying it flat on the desk. Morgan stared at the writing for a moment before looking up at the older man.
"That's Yuri's handwriting!"
"Are you sure?" the technician demanded, and she nodded.
"I saw it when I was going through his sims. That's definitely his."
Sydney nodded. "I thought it would be," he stated softly. "This has been a long time coming."
"You're happy about this?" Morgan asked in amazement.
"Not happy," he told her quietly. "Just relieved."
* * * * * * * * *
The place was locked up tight after Jarod's invasion, security positively impenetrable.
Except for a ghost.
The man's head was covered by a black hood that hid his platinum blond hair and his face, except for the eyes. His lithe body sheathed in black spandex, his hands covered by gloves, his feet by flexible slippers with silent rubber soles, he slipped in unnoticed and headed straight for the big store-room where the most important biological samples were kept. Carefully, he opened the door and slid the two containers he'd brought with him into the cool room.
From another container in a slender backpack, he withdrew a hose and liberally sprayed the entire interior with the contents. The highly flammable gel would cling to every container in the room, making sure the fire destroyed everything. He didn't care whose samples were stored there. He hadn't been assigned this mission by anyone.
He had simply looked into the faces of those children at Sanctuary, and the agony that contorted Jarod's features at the campground, and knew it had to be done.
There would be no more designer babies made from this stockpile of genetic material. He knew a few of the samples had been withdrawn recently, and tracking those down would be his next mission. They wouldn't be too hard for someone like him to find, especially since he knew where to look.
Surveying his handiwork, making sure everything was set, he pushed the two containers of napalm further into the room and detached a small bomb from the bottom pouch of his backpack. Once it blew, the ensuing fire would spread all over the room, heating the napalm containers until they exploded. The fire would burn for a very long time, and everything in that room would be ash by the time it burnt itself out.
He set the timer and pushed it into the room, inserted a soft piece of metal in the door lock to jam it closed, and slipped back out into the night.
From a safe distance away he watched the commotion as the room blew and the security team kicked into gear, bringing in the fire department and trying to assist them in battling the blaze. He smiled as more of the building caught fire and the conflagration spread, eventually consuming fully half the facility. This would be an expensive loss for the Centre.
One he hoped they would never forget.
He turned away, mask discarded along with his gloves and backpack, and strolled down the street amidst the crowd of onlookers, pleased for once to be invisible among them.