Upright Infinity


home / season six / episode twentyfive / act IV


Wednesday afternoon
St. Charles Cemetery
Chicago suburbs

The family was small, but the loss of one of their own was felt deeply. Margaret's eyes were red-rimmed from crying, but she was holding up all right. The news had been a shock to her, but with her family on hand to help with the pain, she would get through it. She had lost another one of her children to the Centre, but the threat was over now. She had Emily and Jordan to look after, and her husband to lean on again. It would take time, but she would make it.

There would be no more pain, they had all told her. They were traveling down a different road now, and could put down roots wherever they wished. Emily wanted to stay in Boston and work for the newspaper, but had volunteered to assist with relocating the family to a new home, anywhere they wanted.

"No more running," Margaret whispered wearily.

"Do you need to rest, honey?" Major Charles asked her, tightening his grip on her shoulders briefly. "We can go back to the hotel so you can lie down for a little while."

She smiled gratefully up at him, sapped from all the tears of the last few days. A lance of pain shot through her heart as she remembered the sweet face of the little boy they had lost, and her breath caught. Moments later, she glanced up to see Emily at the door of the black limousine, eyeing her with concern.

The pain began to fade. It was interesting how her daughter seemed to have such a calming effect on her. Emily had always been her one constant, her one comfort… but now her family was whole again, after a fashion, and they could begin to rebuild.

Margaret climbed into the back seat, scooted over for her husband to sit beside her, and offered a weary smile to Emily, who climbed in to sit beside Jordan, holding his hand as he leaned his head on her shoulder.

The boy was inconsolable. This loss had hit him harder than anyone else, and Margaret was resolved to doing her best to help him through it. Being with him was like having Jarod back, young again, and that was priceless.

The grief would pass, Margaret knew. But they would never get over the loss. She turned her gaze out the window as the car started, then turned to look at her husband. "Wait. Where's Ethan? This car is for the family."

A look passed between father and daughter, and Emily gave a shyly pleased smile. "He's riding with Miss Parker -- that is, Morgan Ritter, Gabriel and Merritt, so they won't be alone."

"And I don't think there's room for four more in this car," the major added, his expression softening as well, just short of a smile. He patted his wife's knee affectionately. "They'll be coming by the house later on, to pay their respects."

"And Jarod?" Margaret asked. "I know he's not well enough to attend. I know he wanted to be here."

"He needs time to heal," her husband assured her. "We almost lost him."

"But he's going to be all right," Margaret added solemnly. She glanced out the window again, taking note of the mass of people still strolling about the cemetery, or heading for their cars. "Jarod seems to have made a lot of friends in a short while. Some of them came from as far away as Australia."

Emily sat quietly, her left arm around Jordan's shoulders, rubbing him fondly in silence.

"I didn't expect the Taylors to come," Major Charles observed.

"They came because of you and Jarod," Emily told him. "They're very fond of both of you." She lifted one hand and rubbed at her nose. Her bottom lip quivered, and then her reserve shattered and she began to weep. "I can't believe Jacob's gone. He never had much of a chance to live, did he?"

Margaret's heart went out to her. "But he was loved, honey. He didn't know it for a long time, but he found out when it mattered most. That's the best any of us can hope for, baby."

"I know." She clung to Jordan tightly, his face buried against her shoulder. "But it just isn't fair."

"No, honey. It wasn't fair what the Centre did to any of us, least of all him." Emily struggled to smile earnestly. "But at least he won't suffer any more. All the pain is gone now." She rocked Jordan in her arms, trying to smile and be brave and strong, like she always did.

Margaret watched her daughter, suddenly aware how much Emily had needed her while she was growing up, aware that she hadn't really been there. Margaret had spent so much time grieving for her lost sons that she hadn't been a proper mother to the one child she did have with her. That would have to be addressed.

Surfacing in her mind was the sudden image of another little face, one she hadn't thought about in far too long. What had happened to Kyle had been no fault of his own. He hadn't been as strong as Jarod, and now that Margaret had made progress with her mental health, she could remember him more clearly. He was like his mother, struggling to meet the challenges Life threw at him, but too often needing someone stronger to help him find his way and make the right decisions.

That realization touched her heart, warming the cold places that had been out of reach of Kyle's memory. He had finally come home to her, and despite what he had become, what that terrible place had made of him, he was still her baby. She loved him, and grieved that she had not been there for him when he died. She regretted that he didn't have the chance to make peace with her in person, but the warmth of his memory filled her soul, the sound of his childish laughter ringing in her ears and making her smile.

How odd it was, she thought, that such enormous grief could coexist at the same moment in the soul with such boundless joy.

The wounds would heal, Margaret knew. The family would survive this latest tragedy, and it would grow. Jordan and Gabriel were there for the family to pin their hopes on, to watch them become gifted men. Ethan and Emily might well find mates and marry, and add to the line, though Margaret thought they would have to be very special people to tolerate the inherent oddities of the whole group. They were unusual people; that was certain. But every one of them was special, gifted in their own way. Every one of them had something spectacular to offer the world, and now they would have a chance to share those gifts however they chose.

Jarod's legacy was freedom. It would not be wasted by those he had saved.

Margaret settled back against the seat, closed her eyes wearily, and began to sing softly the song her beloved firstborn had always loved. "Cree craw toad's foot, Geese walk barefoot…"

Friday, 24th May 2002
Dallas, Texas
Prometheus Building

"Jo-den, come see, come see!" called Gabriel. The toddler ran up to his older brother, took him by the hand and dragged him into the playroom. There in the middle of the room was a Lego model of the Prometheus building, complete with red flame logo on the side, made entirely out of the tiny colored blocks.

Jordan knew those blocks had to be used with supervision, so the little ones wouldn't put them into their mouths and get choked. How the boy got hold of that many with no one watching was a mystery he'd have to solve, or at least report to the caregivers. The Seraphim had been getting into a great deal of collective trouble lately, and it seemed that nothing was beyond their chubby little fists anymore. It was good that they were all so sweet natured.

"Good job, Gabe," the teenager observed. He sat down on the floor, cross-legged, to study it, turning the model slowly in a circle so he could see each face of the building, and compare it to his own remembered specs.

Gabriel climbed into his lap and snuggled up beneath his chin. "Jo-den's sad. You miss Jake."

Mention of that name brought all Jordan's half-buried feelings instantly to the fore. He choked on tears, swallowed them back down. "Yes, baby. I miss… my son." The feel of the child in his arms made him remember how it felt to have Jacob there, and he embraced the toddler fiercely. "Jacob's gone now, baby. And it makes me very, very sad."

Gabriel turned around in his grasp and hugged him tightly around the neck, burying his face in the hollow of Jordan's throat. "Love you, Jo-den." He gave Jordan's neck a brief, damp little baby kiss.

Jordan couldn't help smiling as his eyes filled with tears. Losing Jacob had been devastating. Parenthood was something Jordan had not been prepared for, but the strength of his paternal feelings for the child made from his body surprised him. He had been willing to kill for Jacob. He had been willing to die to save his son, and that had brought him a great deal of enlightenment about Jarod.

"Where's Daddy?" Gabriel asked, sensing the shift in Jordan's emotions and thoughts. "I want my daddy."

"Daddy can't come see you," Jordan told the boy again. "We talked about that, remember? He's in the hospital. He'll be home soon."

Gabriel nodded, sniffled a little, and hugged his brother closer.

"Don't worry, little bro," Jordan assured him, squeezing the child tightly. "I'll always be here for you. We don't have to be afraid anymore."

"Okay." Gabriel sat still for a moment, then wriggled out of his arms and went tearing out of the room just before a peal of adult laughter wafted back to him from the nursery common room.

Jordan rose and carried the contraband model with him, delivering it to Helen as evidence. After a brief chat, he left the nursery and headed up to the observation rooms at the top of the tower. It felt good to not have to worry about being recognized. It felt great to know that no one was chasing him anymore. Eventually, the full weight of that blessing would make him happy, knowing that he would be able to have a relatively normal life now.

But the best part of all of it was knowing that there would be no more Jacobs being made, no more Jordans, no more designer babies of any genetic heritage. He could live with that, knowing that the suffering was past. Now it was time to heal.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Sebastian said from a chair on the far side of the room. He rose and ambled over to the teenager, holding a book in his hands -- a book made of ordinary binding and paper. Weeks earlier, he had been afraid to touch them, but progress had been made. There were new drugs for him to take to dampen his talent, and new skills he had learned from his helpers that kept him on an even keel, made him feel safe enough to indulge in the mundane pastime of reading like a normal human being.

Jordan smiled as he saw the book, and the happiness in Sebastian's hazel eyes. "Just kinda wondering what the future holds for us all. Miss Parker… Morgan said you were instituting some new programs here."

"Yeah. We've got the training classes for the little ones, of course, so they can learn to live as ordinary lives as they may want. But I've been thinking about all the others the Centre has to deal with. I know they couldn't just fling open the doors at Blue Cove and tell everyone, 'Bugger off, mates. You're free!' They've been doing it slowly, one floor at a time, making sure there's personnel enough to help people make choices. So far, most of the lot have been going home." He grinned broadly. "It's great. But I know that being home won't be enough for most of them. They'll need something to do, some purpose in life. And some will need to be kept locked up, but given psychological counseling and therapy to help them try to get over what was done to them. I want to help with that."

"That's great. You'll find jobs for everybody, then?"

Sebastian nodded. "The Centre had some of the best minds on the planet enslaved. They'll need work to do, something positive for a change. Maybe we can come up with cures for cancer and diabetes, things like that."

Jordan fell silent. He would be among those displaced minds, in search of beneficial work for his own intellect. He thought medicine might be a good field to get into, since there was still so much about the workings of the body that remained unknown. But he didn't want to be in on genetics research.

"And in case you were wondering what happened to Yuri after all the hubbub," the Australian added, "I wanted to let you know that he's given himself up. He's gone into voluntary imprisonment under Morgan Ritter. He'll be working in the sciences division." He cleared his throat. "He'll never be allowed outside again, Jordan. Yuri knows that, and he's okay with it. He intends to put himself to good use, making up for the wrong he did while he was free."

"You can't bring back the dead," Jordan shot back sadly. Grief whispered, but he blinked the tears away. "He can't ever right those wrongs."

"No. You're right. But he regrets, and wants to help mankind instead of hurt them now. I'd say that's worth quite a bit."

"And Emily?"

Sadness crept into the other man's eyes. "She may get over him, eventually. She might forgive him. One can never be too sure about the map of the human heart. The landscape of it changes daily, with every fresh hurt and new joy."

Jordan nodded. He'd need to call his aunt soon for a long talk, or maybe go visit her in Boston. But for now, he wanted to spend more time with Gabriel, until both of them felt a little better and their loss didn't have such sharp edges as it bounced around in their hearts. Only time would help with that, he knew. And one day soon, he would be able to walk out of that place and go anywhere he wanted, with Merritt at his side.

The hard part was deciding exactly where to go, and who to be when they got there.

Monday, 27th May 2002
The Centre
SL-12, Suite 1208

Yuri sat at the computer scanning through the roster of project files, searching for something of interest. His assignment had been to catalogue and submit reports on the human subjects, in order of highest priority. It was hard, choosing which were in most need of immediate attention, but it was easy for him to step into their shoes and determine which were stronger than others.

There were just so many of them. He'd hardly slept since being released from the Infirmary and moved to these quarters. They were nice, he had to admit, for a prison cell. Incarceration would be painless now, under the benevolent rule of the new regime. Still, he deserved it for what he had done.

The door opened, and an older man with a kind face came in. He glanced around the room as if it was someplace familiar, but that he hadn't seen in a while. He seemed to feel at home there, and strolled across the landing to the sunken living area where the desk was set up.

"Pardon me for not getting up," Yuri apologized, and held out the cane he had to use to get around until he healed a little longer. "You're Dr. Sydney Ritter, aren't you?"

The Belgian smiled and nodded in acknowledgement. "Guilty. My daughter has assigned me to you temporarily, to help you with adjustment to your new role in the Centre hierarchy. Do you have any preferences in what you'd like to do, once we finish the liberation?"

Yuri shrugged. "Botany would be safe enough. If I kill a plant, nobody minds." He hung his head, sorrow washing over him in great waves. He thought of all the young minds within those lower floors, some damaged beyond repair. "But I'd really like to work with people, Sydney. I… I'd like…" He sighed. "I located some information in the data banks on a drug called Starlight. It will erase the subject's memory. Maybe that would be a good thing for me."

Sydney's eyes darkened, and his smile faded quickly away. "How much of who you are would you want to erase?"

The younger man lifted his brown eyes to his guest's. "Take a look at my DSAs, doc. Look at my whole life, and then you tell me. How much of your life would you erase, if you could?"

"None," the psychiatrist answered instantly. "I own all of it. Every mistake, every joy, every anguish of each decision I've ever made since coming here. I have regrets, certainly. But I cannot feel remorse for my sins if I can't remember them."

That hit Yuri right in the heart. He nodded in acquiescence. "Point taken. We'll decide on my future later. After we've helped all the others, we can talk again about my career choices."

"Agreed. In the meantime, I'll be working with you to achieve some sort of emotional balance, to try to help you restructure your moral compass. I can't promise that it will be easy, even for someone as brilliant as you. But it's necessary."

Yuri swallowed hard. "Yeah. I know it is." He eyed the DSA reader the other man had in his hand, and watched him set it up on the coffee table in front of his white sofa. "What's that for?"

"I wanted to show you something. We're doing this for all those directly involved, Yuri." From his pocket he withdrew a small silver disc and put it into the machine. He touched the trackball and moved the recording to the proper opening, waiting until Yuri rose and hobbled over to sit heavily beside him on the sofa. When the younger man was settled, he pressed the 'play' button and turned his eyes to the black and white screen.

The recording was labeled as the nursery in the Prometheus Building. There were children everywhere, most of them in the range of two to three years, but sparsely scattered among them were older ones. The toddlers were obviously advanced, well trained and moved as a unit. It was almost scary to watch how organized they were.

"Those are the kids Sebastian rescued from the Centre, aren't they?" Yuri asked.

Sydney pointed at each child in turn. "Yes. That's Uriel, son of Catherine Parker and Joseph Otto. He's a psychic healer. The little blonde girl beside him is Tempest, daughter of Rebecca and Jarod's late younger brother, Kyle. She's a telekinetic, with the genetic heritage to be a pretender as well. Raphael is the son of Julia Becker and Ethan, Jarod's brother. He's a psychic. Gideon is the son of Keely and Sebastian MacKenzie, a brother and sister with pyrokinetic gifts. Dominique, there, will be able to do anything she sees performed, and understand innately what it accomplishes. She's the daughter of Sun-Chai and Mason."

"I don't understand what these children have to do with me," Yuri cut in. "Am I supposed to teach them? I'm not sure you'd want me to be exposed to children. I stayed away from them while I was at Sanctuary."

Sydney's eyes were gentle as they glanced at him, then led him back to the screen. "That little blonde in the corner is Angelique. She's a hyper-empath, and daughter to Faith and Angelo, my son. The boy with her is Gabriel, son of Jarod and my daughter, Morgan. They're my grandchildren." He smiled, indulging in a moment of pride. Then he pointed to another little girl with dark hair and eyes and a sweet baby smile. "That one is Michaela. Her mother was a woman named Allegra, whose gift was electrokinesis. Overuse of that gift killed her, unfortunately, and Michaela will have to be watched throughout her life for the same sort of neural degeneration. She may die young, but we'll need help with research that may extend her life, and help her live normally."

Yuri turned slowly away from the screen and made eye contact with his visitor. "You didn't say who her father was."

"I know. I wanted you to know a little more about her first."

For a moment, Yuri couldn't breathe. His heart constricted, pain jabbing viciously into his soul. Tears filled his eyes as he understood the unspoken message, but he had to hear it, had to have it confirmed.

"She's mine? Michaela's my daughter?"

There was such sadness, such sympathy in the other man's eyes that he knew before the words came out.

"Yes, Yuri. She's your daughter. Yours and Allegra's. We were hoping you'd be interested in helping us with the research that might save her life."

"Yes," he answered breathlessly. "Anything. I'll do anything to help her."

He turned back to the screen, rolling the recording back to the beginning and watching her exclusively. He blinked to clear his vision, not caring that fat tears rolled down his cheeks as he drank in the sight of her. She was beautiful and innocent, and he could see himself in her face. She had his eyes, deep-set and dark, and his nose, but the mouth must be her mother's.

"What did she look like? Allegra, I mean."

Sydney handed him a color photograph, and he studied it.

"She was pretty."

"Yes, she was." Sydney was quiet, his eyes also on the screen.

Yuri counted heads. "There are eight of them," he mused softly. "Upright infinity." He smiled softly, and wiped at his eyes. "Eight was always my favorite number."

He turned, and saw his visitor looking at him strangely. "What?"

Sydney blinked away his own tears, and offered a smile filled with sadness. "I can't help but think what you might have been, had the Centre never touched your life, Yuri. You're so much like…" He glanced around the familiar room again, shook his head and rose, cane in hand, ready to leave. "I'll only be staying on for a short while, to help you get your bearings. And then, I'm going to retire and make a home for my children. I might even get married, if the lady I have in mind is willing." He laughed softly then. "We all have second chances now, Yuri. We get to make the world over again in the image of our dreams. Let's hope they are more true and kind than those of our predecessors."

Yuri stared at the little face on the screen. "Will I ever get to meet her?" he asked solemnly.


He raised his eyes to the older man's, his heart still beating with anguish in the rhythm. "Don't tell her who I am," Yuri asked softly. "Tell her that her father's dead, too. Okay?"

Sydney laid his free hand on the pretender's shoulder. "Let's give that decision some time, just yet. She's being raised by a loving family as one of their own. It'll be some time before she'll understand that there's a difference between a biological father and the man she calls 'daddy.'"

Yuri winced, knowing he would never hear her call him that. He didn't want her to ever address him that way. That she shared his genes was enough. He had left a legacy to the world that just might make up for some of the devastation he had caused. At least, she had a chance to do that, depending on how she was raised.

"Who are they? The people raising her."

"Sebastian and Sumi MacKenzie. Emily said you met them in Dallas. They're good people, Yuri. I trust them, and they'll have a staff of people and teachers to help them with the care of all of these children. We can't separate them, you see. They're part of each other."

"Genetically," Yuri assumed. "My God, what a nightmare."

"The Centre did some terrible things in the name of science," Sydney agreed. "Some things we can't take back, like these children. But we can -- we must -- go on from here, and do what we can to repair the damage."

"I'll help," Yuri promised fervently. "Just tell me what you need me to do."

"We will," Sydney assured him. "But you will always have the choice to decline any project we give you. Remember that. This is your sanctuary now, Yuri. Your refuge." He gave the room another glance, and shook his head.

"My home." Yuri shut off the machine, the vision of that innocently happy face burned forever into his memory. When the door closed and he was alone again, he put his head into his hands, and wept.

Renewal Wing
The Centre

Morgan sat on the chair, leaning forward against the bed, her cheek resting on her arms, crossed over the blankets. She had no tears left, but felt desperately in need of them. There had been so much death, so much pain and heartbreak in the last few days that she just couldn't contain it all.

The memory of Faith's body wheeled into the infirmary was the worst. Namir had explained what happened as best he could, understanding only that Faith had willingly chosen one last use of her gift to help save Jarod. That was like the sister Morgan had come to know, sacrificing herself for those she loved.

A grunt of pain from beside her made her lift her head and look at the man in the bed. For a few moments he wrestled with consciousness, fighting his way back to it. And then he opened his eyes.

She smiled at him, aware that she looked like a wreck, without a lick of makeup and eyes red-rimmed from tears and lack of sleep. "Hey, there," she said softly. "We thought we'd lost you."

It was a struggle for him to talk. "I thought you did, too." He swallowed thickly, and coughed a little, bringing with the motion a gasp of agony. His arm moved to embrace his abdomen. "How bad is it?"

"You'll be a while in bed," she assured him, plucking some chipped ice from a dispenser and moistening his lips with them before slipping them gently into his mouth. "But it looks like you'll make it. Your friend Namir nearly did himself in, saving your life. He's fine now, and he's been visiting you every day. But you have to do the rest of the getting well part on your own."

"How long have I been here?" Jarod asked, roused somewhat by the ice. "Where am I? In the Centre?"

"Five days, so far, and yes, you're still in the Centre. " She smiled wearily. "My Centre. You can leave anytime you like. We'll transfer you to Dover, if you'd prefer."

He grasped her hand and held onto it. "I trust you, Morgan. With my life."

She nodded, and her smile vanished. Her eyes felt as if they had been sandpapered, and fresh tears made them burn even more. "Jarod, I have to tell you about those we've lost." She went down the list of names of people on both sides, some he'd known, others who were strangers to him, and watched his eyes fill with tears and spill over, running across his temples as he listened. But there was one name she didn't mention.

"Faith's gone," he finished for her. "Isn't she?"

Morgan pulled a tissue from a box on the bedside table and delicately blotted his tears, a soft sigh escaping. "She helped bring you back, Jarod, but the strain was too much. A blood vessel in her brain just… let go, and she bled out before anyone could help her." She bent down and placed a kiss on his forehead. "I'm so sorry. I know you loved her. I did, too."

His hands came up, one tethered by an IV tube, and he embraced her, pulling her down to him. She slipped her arms beneath him and held him as tightly as she could. It wasn't enough. She kicked off her shoes and climbed onto the bed with him, stretching out beside him on top of the blankets, and held him as he wept.

After a few moments, a thought occurred to him. "Angelique," he whispered. "What about--"

"I'll be taking care of Angelique," she told him quietly. "She'll be loved and cared for. And Sebastian tells me that Faith was able to teach her what she needed to know in order to control her gift. She'll be okay, Jarod. We'll both make sure of that."

For a long time, they just lay there together in silence. She glanced up at him, and saw that his eyes were open, staring at the ceiling. He was thinking ahead, picturing the future without Faith in it, and what might happen to his heart in her absence. When she moved to sit up, he clung to her, pulled her close again.

"Don't leave," he entreated softly. "Please, Morgan. I… I need someone to hold onto. I can't deal with this alone. It feels like the whole world is just spinning out of control."

"I know, Jarod," she said softly. Peter Winston's smiling face flashed in her mind, and a wave of guilt swept over her. She knew what he wanted from her, knew he'd been in love with her for years. She'd been prepared to try -- but now, she just didn't think she had it in her to start over with him, not with so much of her soul tied up with this man. And Jarod needed her, more than he ever had.

She listened for the inner warning that had become so familiar, sought it out as she had every day she had kept watch over his bedside. It wasn't there. She wasn't sure exactly what that meant, since she had done her best to obey that guidance and put Jarod and Faith together, but Morgan's feelings hadn't changed. She still cared for him, and knew now that she always would.

They had an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, to start over and make the world into a new place without the fear and intrigue that had been so much a part of their lives for so long. She had his heart in her hands, and knew that she owed him a second chance. Yet without that inner guidance she had come to appreciate, she wasn't at all sure exactly what to do. He would need time to heal, time to recover from this loss before they even thought about exploring any possibilities. She would need time herself, to learn to trust him with her heart. But she no longer heard the whispers to step aside.

At least they would be traveling in the same direction for a change, side by side instead of in full pursuit mode. Wherever they were going, they would get there together.

She leaned over him and touched her lips to his, feather-light, a gentle promise for him to hold onto throughout the painful recovery that still lay before him.

Tuesday, 4th June 2002

Alexander pulled himself wearily up off the cot. It was an effort to move, and depression still weighed heavily on him. The medication Sydney gave him helped, as did the counseling sessions. He felt as if the man really cared, and that made Alexander want to work for him, to perform well, but it was still hard to fight his way through the crushing pall of daily life to get the job done. Things had been better lately, and he'd been allowed to work on the projects he liked, setting the virtual network aside. But he knew that that sort of respite was only temporary. That was the way things worked there, and the sadness that suffocated him constantly would not go away.

He heard the electronic lock disengage and lifted his head, trying to psyche himself up for another day's research into whatever project they assigned him that day.

A man in an electric wheelchair rolled through the door of his cell. He hadn't seen this guy before, and was instantly wary, despite the man's peaceful expression. He was tall, with dark hair and brown eyes that looked as if they had a secret glittering in their depths. He carried a clipboard and pen in his lap, and glanced at it briefly before speaking. He rolled toward the desk, and offered a warm smile of greeting.

"Hi, Alexander," the stranger said brightly. "I'm going to be working with you for a while, and I'd like to get to know you a little better before we start."

"Where's Sydney?" He couldn't help being a little afraid, and worried for his mentor and trainer. "Is he all right?"

"Yes, yes, Sydney's doing fine. He's retiring in a few weeks, and getting ready for his honeymoon. I'll take you to see him later, if you want. First off, I wanted to tell you how impressive your work is to date. You went places with the virtual network I found intriguing, even a little surprising. Great stuff."

"Uh… thanks. Do you want me to keep working on it, or do something different now?"

"That will be up to you," said the man. His eyes twinkled. He grinned, revealing big dimples in his cheeks. "What would you like to do with your life?"

That thought had never crossed his mind. Alexander's brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what the proper response to that question would be. This guy was hard to read. The signals he was giving off were confusing, and Alex was getting tired of playing the game. "Just tell me what you want me to do, and I'll do it."

"You don't understand, Alexander. Things have changed here at the Centre. You get to be the one to choose now. You can just sleep for a while if you want. You can go outside and walk in the sunshine. They're dismantling the locks on all the doors, and the rooms will be made livable for those who choose to stay." The man chuckled softly. "And we're doing our best to locate your family, in case you want to just go home. Does any of that appeal to you?"

Alexander's mind shut down. He couldn't comprehend this offer. It was impossible. That wasn't the way things were done at the Centre. "I don't understand," he murmured. Tears gathered in his eyes, and his heart hurt. The offer was too much. It cut deeply to have that waved in front of him, knowing it would be snatched away again soon.

"It's hard to believe, I know," the man agreed. "But it's true. Why don't we go outside, and we can discuss it in the sunshine?"

Mechanically, the youth rose and followed his new handler obediently out the door. A glance at the electronic lock showed there was indeed a technician opening the panel to do some work on it. He strolled down the corridor, keeping pace with his companion, noting that the doors of other cells were already open and empty.

He felt light headed as he boarded the elevator, unable to take it all in. Without a word, he walked through the front lobby and outside, shocked at first by the feel of the wind on his face, and the brightness of the sunlight. A lump formed in his throat, his thoughts turning now to the promise, not daring to hope it was real.

Then he saw them. There were hundreds of them, all dressed in the black uniform of the oppressed - research subjects just like himself. As far as the eye could see, there were people sitting on the grass, wandering on the driveway, standing on the cliffs. Among them were people in lab coats and suits, asking questions, offering information freely.

It was true. The world had changed, and this man was his new link to the outside world. He turned to the stranger's beaming face and noticed the kindness in his eyes, touched with a trace of bittersweet pain.

"I want to help you go home, if that's what you want," he assured the boy. "There was a battle here a few weeks ago. Some of those who came to free you were killed... I almost was, but other gifted people saved me. I figure there was a reason for that." He sighed heavily, grief etched into his features, deepening the lines in his forehead and around his mouth. "There's been a lot of death for us here. We hope to make up for all that, and bring happiness to people instead. You're one of the lucky ones now." He smiled, a glimmer of sadness still gleaming in his chocolate brown eyes. "It's taking us some time to work through all the prisoners, but I'm sure you've noticed you're not working on the virtual network anymore. Like I said, you get to choose now. What do you want to do?"

The youth sat down on the grass beside the chair and held his head with both hands. Breathlessly, still reeling from the shock, Alexander replied, "I… I want to go home. Who are you?"

Straightening in his chair with pride, the man answered, "My name is Michael Jarod Charles, Jr. But you can call me Jarod." He clapped the young man on the shoulder. "And I know exactly how you feel. Welcome to the rest of your life, Alexander."


This episode is dedicated to Michael T. Weiss, who gave The Pretender its soul.
Thanks, Michael.
We stand in awe of your accomplishment, and wish you great success.

Look for Circle of Fire, the first VS movie, in September 2002!

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