Gift Horses


home / season six / episode twentyfour / act I


Friday, early morning
Prometheus Building

The old wound bothered him still, especially when the weather was about to change. Major Charles sat up in bed, his back aching, unable to sleep. The dreams had been vivid without Elizabeth there to buffer them for him. He missed the Australian woman and the comfort she provided those who lived in the tall tower, but she was needed elsewhere, so Sanctuary would have to do without her for a while.

He rose, deciding to forego his futile attempt at rest for a while, and walked the corridors, checking on family members to make sure they were sleeping.

All was well. But as he settled into an armchair with a book, he rubbed his weary eyes and remembered the dream that had been troubling him, prodding out of bed. It had been about Catherine.

He didn't know how she had found him, since he and Margaret had left no trails behind them, but she had told him she knew where his sons were, and promised to help rescue them. But first, she had told him, she needed his help to disappear.

Someone else had come up with the plan. He had been reluctant to go through with it at first, until she showed him the photographs of the boys. Instantly he recognized their faces, how much Jarod looked like his mother, but with his own dark hair, and Kyle, who looked like him, blue eyes and all. He would have done anything to get them back. Only he didn't know where they were.

He arranged the meet on his own terms, watching Catherine and Raines arrive at the rendezvous place alone, waiting impatiently for him to join them. They were nervous, but he took great care to ensure that they were alone. When he was sure of that fact, he presented himself to them, and listened to the plan Raines had formulated. Catherine would go to his house afterward, where she would be safe. He promised both of them that. All they needed was a convincing distraction, someone from the outside with a believable vendetta against the Centre to be the trigger man.

The major would provide the gun loaded with blanks. He would make his way with false identification, provided by Raines, into the lobby area on the proper floor, and wait for her to arrive at the appointed time. When she showed, she would quickly apply the fake blood and latex appliance that would convince any casual observers that she had been shot, and Raines would take care of her from there.

Only the major hadn't counted on immediate reprisals. Security people came from everywhere, as if it was a real assassination, and he had barely gotten out alive. It took him months to recover once he reached a hospital a safe distance away, and he never found out what had happened to Catherine Parker, until Jarod cleared up that mystery.

He understood now why Catherine had to get away -- so she could bear Ethan, his youngest child, in peace and freedom. Only Raines had shattered that dream as well with his lies and betrayal. She was dead now, long dead, by Raines' hand, and because of Raines, Jarod and Kyle had spent decades of their lives being tortured and oppressed in that terrible place.

Maj. Charles could not have gone back alone, even after he recovered. He wasn't even sure the boys were there, though it seemed most likely that they were. Then he had received a lead on Kyle that took him elsewhere, and the search had begun again.

He sighed as he massaged his lower back, grumpy that the pain never seemed to go away. But it was a reminder to him of what those people were, and what they had done to his family. And now Jarod and his friends had gone to Delaware to stand in the shadow of that nightmare factory, and plot its end.

He wished them well, and hoped and prayed that they would succeed. But he had been there, and knew what sort of bastion they were up against. It would not be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. He just hoped his son came back alive. He had promised to stay behind to look after the children, just in case.

Getting down on his knees beside his bed, he crossed himself, and silently began to pray for them all.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Residence Floor

James Sun paced the room, the image of that DSA repeating itself through his mind. The dream had awakened him early, and he had not been able to shut it out. Catherine was dead, on orders from someone higher up in the company. He had taken pains to look up the original sanction, and see whose signatures were on it. It was approved by her own husband, at his request, and signed off as completed by William Raines.

He had felt a degree of satisfaction when he heard the announcement that the old man died, but it was a hollow victory. Even if he had died in pain, without the consciousness to appreciate it, the death was still meaningless. But there was still one person who could answer for her death, and it was about time somebody did something about it.

With all the recent deaths among the executive branches of Centre hierarchy, surely he could pass this off as just another of the unknown assassin's jobs. And if not, well, it would be worth the personal cost. He owed it to Catherine to take the vengeance nobody else seemed interested in having. She had been his friend, his confidante, and even though the feelings were unrequited, he had loved her in his own way.

It was time to act, and damn the consequences.

With a fresh sense of purpose, he planned out how and when he would handle the situation, and started work that morning with a renewed sense of peace. There were a few details left to handle, but they wouldn't take more than a couple of days at most. He needed to make sure of Mr. Parker's schedule so he'd be at the right place at the right time, and from there on, he'd find the justice he had so wanted all these years.

* * * * * * * * *

Friday morning
The Centre
Shipping Dock #3

The item arrived on a truck, encased in a crate addressed in familiar fashion. Though the shipping label had been electronically generated, the employees in the shipping department realized who it was from and delivered it via forklift to one of the sim labs down below. The appropriate authorities were notified that another package had arrived from Jarod, and a team of scientists was dispatched for the initial examination.

They liberated an enormous Tylenol capsule from the crate and set it in the middle of the floor. The capsule was coated in the exact same gel used to cover and seal the actual medication, and the brand name was printed along the side in the proper typeface. It looked exactly like the real thing, except that a closer examination showed a stainless steel body lined with lead to prevent x-ray penetration. No one knew what the capsule held, but the first attempt at opening it revealed the presence of a time lock. It would open when Jarod wanted it to open.

Miss Parker, Broots and Sydney came later to stroll around it, offering different theories on what Jarod meant by sending them the giant headache pill, but nothing was certain. They knew they would figure it out once it opened, and left it in the lab, awaiting the moment the surprise would hatch on its own.

In the ambient lighting, in the silence of the empty room, the two halves of the giant cylinder began to turn. Accompanied by a faint electronic hum, the lock disengaged and the pieces separated. Heaving a sigh of relief, the occupant climbed out of the package, glanced around for the door, and made his way silently toward it. In a little under an hour he had achieved his objective and walked out the door without raising an eyebrow from the security people at the front desk.

They may not have known who he was, but they knew they had seen him before in an official capacity, and that was good enough for them.

He smiled to himself as he slipped away to the parking lot, hot-wired somebody's car and drove off into the wee hours of morning, heading for his next stop.

* * * * * * * * *

The Pretoriat
Boer City, South Africa

Voorhees stood with his back to the gleaming building, his hands trembling as he stuffed them in the pockets of his blazer. A tear eased down beside his nose, and he scrubbed it angrily away. He sniffed, and hearing footsteps behind him, he turned to see the tall, familiar frame of David ambling toward him. The man's blond hair blew into his eyes, and he raised an elegant hand to brush it back.

Care lined his attractive features, and worry was evident in David's blue eyes. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

Voorhees nodded. "I didn't want to talk in that place, David. Thank you for meeting me out here."

David nodded gravely. "What do we do now? Have you heard anything about the man who murdered Kruger?"

"I don't expect we'll find him, till he wants to be found," Voorhees returned uneasily. "Miss Parker has told me who he is. I got copies of his files via email this morning." He sighed wearily. "But in the wake of Kruger's demise, that pushes me to the top spot."

"And next in line for the killer," David reminded him.

Swallowing hard, Voorhees nodded. He couldn't help the tears in his eyes. He was afraid for his life, but there were more important things to be done while he still had the power to do them. "I'm moving you to the Triad, David. You'll take over my place as head of Sciences. And as quickly as we can, I want to institute sweeping changes. It's going to cause havoc all through the system, but I have the authority to get it done… at least, until Mr. Parker orders my sanction." He shrugged, dropping his gaze to the earth. "Either way, I'm a doomed man. I want my life to count for something good."

David laid his hand on the other man's shoulder, and squeezed. "You've done what you could, Jock. We both have."

"It just hasn't been enough." He sniffed again, wiped his eyes and straightened, throwing his shoulders back. "So, while I'm still alive, I want all the research subjects freed. Those who wish to stay and continue working voluntarily may do so, but they'll be rewarded with paychecks and apartments and the freedom to come and go as they please. We've got to move fast, so we can get rid of all those who want to leave -- before Parker sends in an army to shut us down."

"Thank God!" David crowed. He embraced the other man, hugging him with unbridled joy. "I don't know if I'd have had the courage to do it, but by God, I have always dreamed of this day." He stepped back, his eyes bright with joy and unshed tears. "We'll assign a security detail to you, round the clock, to keep you safe from the Executioner. Perhaps we can--"

"That won't be necessary, gentlemen," said a voice from behind a small stand of trees on the cliff.

A man stepped into view. He was young, a tall brunette dressed in a long black coat, a Mauser pistol in his right hand, a piece of black cloth dangling from the left. "I'm guessing you both know who I am." He waved the hood at them like a calling card, dark eyes gleaming with anticipation, a smile on his handsome face.

Voorhees choked, stumbling back with fear and surprise. "Oh, God! It's Yuri."

With a smile and a theatrical bow, Yuri acknowledged his identity. "My reputation precedes me, I see."

David stepped in front of his boss, shielding his body with his own. "Please, don't do this. He's needed--"

"I know," Yuri agreed, sobering. "If I thought either of you had guessed I was there, you'd both be dead already. But I learned something, listening just now. I learned that I might have judged too hastily." His eyes fell on Voorhees, now gathering himself and stepping in front of the psychiatrist to face up to his own death.

"Please let David go, Yuri. He wants to help--"

"Save it, Voorhees," Yuri snapped. "Keep your promises to each other. Think of this as a present. You get to live… And I guess Jarod was right after all." He saluted the two men, and backed away a few steps. "I'll be watching, so don't screw up, or I'll be back… and then nothing can save you from me."

He tossed the hood at them, thumbed the safety on, deposited the gun in a deep pocket of his coat, and then ran full tilt at the cliff, leaping headlong over the edge.

Voorhees and David turned to look out to sea, and moments later, saw a flash of sea green explode into view as a parasail opened above Yuri's head and carried him off into the distance.

They looked at each other, aware of how close to death they had come, and turned to hurry back to the building and get the process started. There wasn't much time, and they had a great deal to do before the world came tumbling down upon them. All they wanted was to save as many lives in the process as they could, and relieve the burdens of those who had suffered for so long. It was noble work, and it wouldn't be secret for long.

* * * * * * * * *

Trader Vic's Campground and Emporium
Rural area near Blue Cove

Jarod checked the shipping manifest personally, ensuring that all the protective gear and weaponry he had ordered arrived. He had gone through the scenario hundreds of times in his head, and each time there were casualties, each time he saw some other detail that would need attention to minimize the damage. He glanced at the people unloading the trucks, stowing the gear into tents and knew that not all of them would survive. Still, they were all volunteers. They had been told what was at stake. Some of them already knew first-hand, and they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

There was an air of sobriety in the camp during the day as people went about the serious business of training for the coming coup, but at night voices were lifted in song, music played loudly and people danced with abandon. Couples paired off and disappeared, and he knew what they were doing. Life was being celebrated here, and he was not immune to the emotional storm swirling all about him. He could feel their fear, their desperate need for joy, because those same things echoed in his own heart. But he couldn't give in to such desires. He had to stay focused on what was to come.

Jarod met daily with Sebastian and Namir, going over strategies and plans of action. He had drawn up diagrams of each floor of the Centre, both above and below ground. He had made models of the buildings for others to use, and plans were staked out on the green meadow so that movements could be practiced. They worked in the guise of clowns and performers striding through parades, carrying brightly colored batons bedecked with ribbons, in case anyone from the building got curious and came to watch their practices.

Jarod's disguise covered his face well enough, and the blue jumpsuit that all of the circus employees and crew wore helped him blend in with the others. He'd be hard to spot dressed like that, unless someone knew to look specifically for him there, and that was a closely guarded secret. Only a handful of the Sanctuary people knew who he was, other than one of the organizers of this mission, but everyone there had volunteered to participate. Most of them knew someone affected by the Centre's machinations, and of those who didn't have a personal connection, other data had swayed them to get involved.

Everything was in motion. They were days away from a mission that would change his whole world. But he wasn't doing this for himself. There were others still trapped within the Centre, who would live and die in horrific circumstances, under crushing brutality, unless he acted. There were the children, who would forever live under the shadow of capture and clones yet to be born, who should never be conceived at all.

And he was ready to give up his own life to accomplish that goal.

Jarod wondered what it would feel like, to die. There were still so many questions that needed to be answered for him, so many issues about what happened afterward that he hadn't had time to come to terms with, but now there might never be time for that. He had watched people he loved die before, and he hoped that, if the religious theologists were right, he would see them all again soon.

He smiled as he remembered Kyle, and imagined him in that place called Heaven, healed of all the pain and damage inflicted on his innocent soul. He hoped his brother was watching over him, ready to bring him home. That image made him feel good, and he turned back to his list, putting his mind to the simulation one more time, to look for other holes.

* * * * * * * * *

The Hidden Truth Chinese Restaurant
Blue Cove

"We have a deal, then?" asked Lyle, reaching for another morsel of General Tso's chicken expertly with his chopsticks. He eyed the man across the table from him, waiting for an answer.

"It's a start," Cox assured him. "We'll each get what we want from it. For the time being, anyway."

"With all the commotion going on in Berlin and Boer City, it won't really cause much concern," Lyle assured him. "They're all trying to cover their own asses and stay alive, and won't even raise an eyebrow when a new Chairman takes office."

"Yes. It seems the Shiva project had some unexpected benefits, which we will happily exploit." He raised his glass in a toast. "To future successes."

Lyle grabbed his plum wine and lifted the goblet, clinking it against Cox's tumbler of water. "To staying alive." He finished chewing and swallowed the bite, reaching for another. All the planning they had done whetted his appetite, and he was starving, unable to get enough. "You've got a plan for that, too, I take it." He rolled his eyes up to the other man's face pointedly. "And I'm sure it covers both of us, right?"

"I do." Cox inclined his head graciously. "And I intend to use your dear sister as bait. All we'll need is the change of power to draw Yuri here." He sighed. "I'd love to be a fly on the wall when it happens, though. Watching an expert like him is just fascinating."

Lyle chose to say nothing, his gaze flicking to the young woman who had waited his table that night. His belly growled, and his jaws worked fiercely on the chicken, his eyes burning as they followed her slender form from kitchen to front counter. "It's nice to know you appreciate his work," Lyle shot back. He connected with Cox again. "Pity we can't send him after Delius. If anybody needs to be wiped off the face of the planet, it would be that guy."

Cox's expression darkened. "Yes. We can hope. Yuri seems to have a penchant for knocking off the top dogs, and no matter what safety precautions they take, he still somehow manages to get through them."

"Kruger certainly thought he was invincible." Lyle remembered the photograph he'd seen in his email that morning, copied from the Chairman's email by his clever sweeper. The vehemence with which the body had been attacked left no doubt that the vendetta was considered personal. Lyle had never met Yuri, and hoped he never had the dubious pleasure. That was the only thing that concerned him. "Are you sure of your people? You're sure they'll stand by you?"

Cox's eyes glittered strangely. "They know who they serve, Mr. Lyle." He smiled.

Lyle felt a distinct chill. "We've all suffered from the loss of the Seraphim, but we'll make up for it shortly. Once I've got the top seat, I'll raid everything Germany and South Africa have. And if it's not enough, we'll go back to the labs with fresh ideas and new material. We have still got extra samples of Jarod's biologicals, right?"

"Safely locked away, in a secret place that only I know about. Everything that was at Pakor has been presumably destroyed."

Nodding, Lyle approved of the subterfuge, aware that Cox was much more interested in the science than the power he might wield with such cunning. "I'm ready to lay aside all the disagreements we've had over the last year, if you are, Cox. Both of us need allies if we're going to succeed."

"Agreed. But I will expect great things of you." He leaned across the table, his eyes intent. "Mr. Raines once told me that you were the Boogeyman. Let's see if you live up to the name when hell is yours to rule."

Ambition flared in Lyle's chest. He had his own agenda to accomplish, his personal gods to please. His eyes strayed once more to the pretty Asian waitress. Those gods wanted another sacrifice, and it was high time they got one. "I'll see you later, back at the Centre, sometime on Monday. I'm spending the weekend incommunicado, if anyone asks."

Cox followed his gaze, and smiled back at him. "Perhaps I should have a ringside seat for your favorite entertainment, as well, Mr. Lyle."

He fixed the doctor with an unflinching gaze. "I don't ever play to an audience," he growled. "You've got your hobbies. I've got mine. I'll see you later, doctor."

With a soft chuckle, Cox rose from the table and laid a twenty dollar bill beside his plate. "That's for the tip," he told his new partner. "I'll expect it back on Monday. Your victim deserves a little happiness first, don't you think? One for the road, as they say."

Lyle said nothing, continuing to stare at Cox until the man was out the restaurant door. Then he turned to watch Mei-Li, waiting for the appropriate moment to begin his seduction. The gods were hungry, and only that exotic beauty would appease them. His stomach growled again, and he wolfed down another bite of meat.

* * * * * * * * *

Parker House
Outside Blue Cove

The lock on the front door was child's play. He let himself in without a sound, and padded silently through the darkened front room, careful not to bump into any furniture. Though he had never been in the house before, he was fairly certain which way the bedroom lay, and followed the beam of his tiny flashlight down the hall toward it.

Miss Parker lay beneath the covers, illuminated by a beam of moonlight. He switched off his flashlight, hoping to avoid waking her up. He figured she probably kept a gun handy, but this was a chance worth taking. Squatting beside the bed, he slipped his hand slowly underneath her pillow and deftly removed the gun, depositing it on the floor. In her disorientation on not finding it in its usual place, he would have a little time to get her attention.

With the patience of a saint and the body control of a gymnast, he lowered himself gently on the bed beside her, letting his body relax once he was in place. He turned his head on the pillow and just watched her, appreciating her beauty for a moment. Then, forgetting himself for only an instant, he sighed.

Her eyes flew open. She sat bolt upright, her hand reaching for her protection.

"Wait! It's just me."

On hearing the familiar voice, she pushed her hair out of her eyes and turned on the lamp on the nightstand.

"Peter? What the hell are you doing in my bed in the middle of the night?" She reached out and slapped him, then sat on her knees, trembling with shock.

Winston grinned, rubbing his cheek to relieve the sting. "Sorry for that," he apologized gently, "but I wanted to make a point."

"And what," she gritted through her teeth, "would the point be?" She sighed angrily and crossed her arms over her chest and waited. Then realizing she was wearing only a thin satin gown, she pulled the sheet up over her and held it to her chest.

"Shame to spoil the view," he teased. "Anyway, to get to the point… Wait. Let's back up a little. Have you ever done a background check on me?"

"I've read your dossier. What about it?"

"There was one important item left out of my records, Miss Parker. Did you know I used to be a professional thief?"

Her eyes widened, but she said nothing.

"One of the best. In fact, I was never caught. But Madame Berkstresser followed my career and managed to track me down a few years back. She made me a job offer, and I chose to accept."

"So you became a security expert--"

"Because nobody knows security better than those who violate it regularly," he finished for her proudly. "And as you know, Die Fakultät's security is tighter that Blue Cove's, with the building above ground except for three floors. And most of my territory is surrounded by glass. That's difficult to protect."

She nodded, appraising him. She seemed impressed, and even a little turned on, if that sexy smile was any indicator.

He glanced away, doing his best to keep to the task at hand. "So with that in mind, I thought I should come by and let you know that you've lost some important data tonight." He reached into his pocket and withdrew the two DSAs, holding them up for her to see before returning them to his pants pocket.

"You got in," she guessed. "How?"

"You'll figure it out. Let's just say that you should beware Trojan Horses. They come bearing unwanted gifts." He wasn't sure if she got it from that reference, since her expression didn't change. "I wanted to give you a heads up and let you know where the information was going. Delius wants it, and he had no qualms about stealing it from you guys."

"Okay. Now what?"

He sighed. "Parker, we've got a situation here. The competition between branches of the Centre is getting fierce. People are dying, and I'm not at all sure it isn't part of somebody's master plan to topple the whole organization. We've got to put a stop to it." He studied her face, and the gleam in her eyes. The tiniest of smiles pulled at the corners of her mouth. "It's not you, is it? You don't seem like the type to order sanctions to gain power."

She smiled and shook her head. "No, it's not me. Yuri's a loose cannon with a personal agenda to bring down the house, a mistake the Centre made in tossing out, and now they're reaping the rewards. I don't like what Yuri's doing, and we're trying to stop him." Her smile broadened. "But if he's shaking the pillars of heaven, I'm not averse to taking advantage of the quake."

Peter studied her. "You'd seize power, if the chance came?"

"And stand the place on its head," she confirmed. "How about you?"

For a moment he was quiet, considering. "I want the killing to stop. I have a conscience, Parker. I can't bear to see those people they abuse, living like they do." His voice caught, remembering Julia, Michael and Clare. "I want to see them have choices, and be able to leave if they want. Is that… Could we…"

"Yes." She relaxed visibly. "It can be done, but it isn't time yet." She sighed, and lowered her head.

She looked vulnerable like that, not the ice queen he thought he knew before they had gone out together. She looked more like the college girl who had given up her innocence to him decades earlier. He had thought that Morgan Parker was gone forever, until now.

"How many of your people do you trust?" she asked quietly.

He grinned. "I've made sure that the people I hire in are loyal to me, not to Die Fakultät, and especially not to Delius. I know how to treat them. I look out for them, and they know that."

"Good. That's good." She contemplated. "I'll let you know when change is in the wind, Peter. Until then… Thank you. I know you didn't have to tell me about this. You probably shouldn't have. But I'm glad you did."

She seemed torn about something, and slowly lowered her hands, allowing him to look at her in her nightgown. There was invitation in her eyes, acceptance that things between them had changed drastically. She leaned down to kiss him gently, hesitantly.

He felt it all the way down to his toes. When she drew away, her eyes asking, he had to clear his throat and struggle to get control of his emotions. "Don't tempt me, Parker. You know I'd love to just throw caution to the wind and…" He looked at her, how beautiful she was, how sexy, and caught his breath, remembering that night in Italy ages ago. "But I won't. Not now. I want it to mean something to you this time. I don't want it to be like it was before, when I was just handy for something new you wanted to try. I want us to really get to know each other. I want there to be more to it than sympathy or mutual attraction. You know?"

She smiled at him then. It happened slowly, like the sun rising over mountains, and lit up the room just as brightly. "Yeah, Peter. I know what you mean. And you know you just made a boatload of brownie points with that little speech."

He coughed a little in surprise and sat up. "Jeez, I got the dimples!" he crowed. "You have the most beautiful smile, Parker. It stuns me."

"Morgan," she corrected. "My name is Morgan. And you're not so shabby yourself, Winston." She leaned over and kissed him again, deeper this time, filled with promise.

He could not have hoped for better than that.

* * * * * * * * *

Calgary, Alberta

Michelle opened the door and gasped when she recognized the face on her doorstep. Instinct told her to run, but logic held her in place. If Mr. Parker had found her, the opportunity to escape had already expired. She was thankful that Nicholas was away, at least.

"Won't you come in, sir," she asked cordially, stepping aside to allow him entry. She eyed the man in the suit behind him, saw the secretive half smile he gave her, and closed the door once they entered the house. She took them to the living room, and offered the older man a seat. According to Centre protocol, she pretended that the sweeper didn't exist, and gave him only the merest glance as he took up his post behind the Chairman. "What brings you here, after all this time?"

"Took me long enough to find you," Parker grumbled. "Valentine, here, seems to have a talent for finding lost connections." He glanced behind him at the sweeper, whose eyes were aimlessly exploring the room. "He's quite the hunter." The old man's gaze returned to her face. "But I needed to see you, Michelle. I need to know if the past is repeating itself."

"Would you like some tea? Coffee?" she asked, playing the hostess as she headed for the kitchen.

"Sit down, Michelle," Parker ordered. "I know about your connection to the power behind the throne. That's what kept you alive all these years."

"Don't you think I know that?" she snapped. Taking a deep breath, she returned to her chair opposite the couch and sat down. Ignoring the sweeper, she fixed Parker with an angry glare. "Hermann Bruce was my brother, but I didn't want anyone at the Centre to accuse us of nepotism. I took up my mother's maiden name when I went into practice there, so no one would know we fell from the same family tree. Bruce isn't our real name, anyway. Just something that didn't sound German after the war."

"But I knew Hermann well, and he shared that secret with me," Parker admitted, worry in his eyes. "It was through him that I got my place in administration, and through his son that I made it to the Triumvirate." He sighed, worry evident in his eyes. His hands trembled. "But things have been happening of late that make me wonder if Lucien isn't cleaning house again."

Michelle's eyes narrowed as she studied him. "What do you mean?"

Parker enumerated the recent deaths of corporate chiefs and Triumvirate members. "There haven't been any signed sanctions, and they could be the work of one of the Centre's rejected projects, but still, I need to know for sure. I need to know if I'm on the list to be replaced."

The news was shocking, to say the least. Something was definitely happening, but it didn't concern her, and she told him so. "I left all that behind me decades ago. I don't have any answers."

"But you have connections. You can get in touch with Lucien, and ask him."

She glanced at the sweeper, who had taken a sudden interest in a photograph of Nicholas and herself on the mantel behind him. Someone in the Centre hierarchy had already threatened Nicholas once. If things were that different now, if panic set in, as she was concerned it might have from the look in Parker's eyes, Nicholas could certainly be in danger again.

"Lucien will let you know when he's ready to tell you," Michelle assured him, meeting eyes with the sweeper once more. He smiled at her, and she felt her palms sweating as she recognized the threat he represented. "I can't help you, Mr. Parker."

The old man sighed and hung his head. "Raines didn't know who you were when he blackmailed you into leaving," he told her. "Lyle didn't know who Nicholas was when he kidnapped him to put pressure on Sydney, and I didn't find out about that till it was over. If you want me to continue to protect you and your son, you'll help me here, Michelle. Your brother was a brilliant man with vision--"

"Yes, sick and twisted as it was," she shot back angrily, remembering. "Hermann had the misfortune to marry a woman who was beautiful and brilliant in her own way. That's all he saw, until she killed him. And my nephew had to endure having that psychopath for a mother."

"Angela Bruce died a long time ago," Parker told her. "Lucien is the only one left with control, and nobody but you knows how to get in contact with him. Nobody even knows what he looks like, Michelle. Except you."

She kept her gaze steady on the old man's face, ignoring the sweeper's quiet, bemused humming as he ambled about the room in the background. "I can't help you, Parker. But I'm sure you'll be hearing from Lucien soon anyway. He always was one to stay on top of things. You can bet your fortune he knows what's going on with all this, and he'll make his presence known when he chooses. If he has to come in and rebuild, he will. Otherwise, he prefers to work behind the scenes. And I choose not to interfere."

Parker's eyes misted briefly. "You can't help, or you won't?"

"It's out of my hands, Parker. I have no influence over Lucien. It's safer that way."

She let her gaze shift involuntarily up to the sweeper's impassive face as she and the old man got to their feet. Taking note of the gleam in his dark eyes, she knew that it would have been nothing to this man to kill her, just as it was nothing for him to walk away and leave her breathing. She didn't need to know who he was to understand the danger he represented.

How he had found her, she wasn't quite sure, but it was time to disappear again. She'd make a call to Nicholas and tell him not to come home for a while, till she was settled in a new place. And she'd tell Sydney as well. The past had been stirred up far too often, and he was suffering from that, she knew. She wanted to keep the connection with him open, in case he found a way to come back to her at last.

But first, she had to escort these men from her house, pack up only her most personal items, and disappear. It was the only way she could hope to remain safe from the Centre, even though she could never be free of who she was. Her brother had started the Centre in Nazi Germany, managed to escape the international housecleaning of the German government that ensued by changing his name, and maintained his work under the guise of a beneficent think-tank. And then, when the furor died down and the rest of the world stopped looking at their research, he had returned to his original work in eugenics, with the Triumvirate managing his enterprise so that he could concentrate on science.

That was her family's legacy. When she found out what they were really doing, she wanted no part of it, but she had to keep the family secret. Even Sydney didn't know who she really was.

Perhaps it was time to tell him, and let him decide whether he wanted to continue renewing their relationship, or let it fade from his heart forever. It was the right thing to do, no matter how much the thought of the admission frightened her. He deserved the truth, and Nicholas did as well. It would be hard telling her son who he really was. It would be the hardest thing she had ever done, and yet another omission of the truth he'd have to accept. But Nicholas was strong, and he would forgive her.

At least, she hoped he would.

On to Act II

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