Air Vents, SL-12
Angelo peered through the grate, watching the Pretender work at his desk.
Presently Jarod got up, and stretched to relieve the tension of a long
bout of sedentary work. A chime sounded softly, and a cover on a small
pass-through in the wall opened. Inside was an alcohol swab, a rubber
tourniquet and a syringe.
He watched as Jarod injected the liquid into his arm, and saw the expression
of bliss on his old friend's face as the medication took hold. Angelo
reached out, touching the other man with his empathic sense. He felt the
alien pleasure, the wiping away of shadows of morality and conscience.
He felt the darkness envelop the other man, filling up his soul.
Angelo backed away. He didn't know who that was, but it wasn't Jarod.
It was hideous, and it frightened him.
He scurried off to another part of the building, pausing for a moment
beside his diminishing stash of goodies, trying to remember if there was
something else he was supposed to deliver. Nothing came to mind, so he
ambled off to the left and found himself on the Nursery floor. He watched
the children play, taking note of the little girl with the long tumble
of sandy-blonde curls and big blue eyes.
His eyes. Faith's soft little mouth. But the girl never smiled. He wanted
to see her smile.
He was tired, and lay down in the vent to watch, to drowse a little and
listen to their sweet child noises. He almost fell asleep, but something
wakened him, and he glanced through the grate once again. Gabriel was
pushing one of the bigger boys back, trying to get him away from the little
girl. She was sitting in a corner, hiding behind a pillow, and the bigger
boy was trying to take her doll away.
Angelique huddled over it, not making a sound, but he could feel her,
feel the waves of distress coming off her like sprays of hot water jetting
out of a fire hose.
Somehow, Gabriel managed to distract the other child with a game, and
soon Angelique was left alone again.
The man in the vent clung to the cool metal surfaces that surrounded
him, air whooshing over his body and into the room on the other side of
the grate. He was powerless to move, devastated by the depth of the child's
sadness. He could feel her now from anywhere in the building. There was
so much emotion radiating from her that it was almost impossible to tell
if she could feel him there, aching with her.
But he could not go down to her, not yet. Angelo lifted his head and
peered through the grate. There were teachers in the room, supervisors
and caregivers who would chase him away and tell on him, get him in trouble.
He would have to wait. And while he waited, he would suffer with her.
She was not alone, but until she understood that, he could not help her,
no matter how much he wanted it.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker's Office
Miss Parker stared at the photograph of her mother and father, smiling
into the camera. What had Jarod meant when she told him that Daddy was
proud of her? What did that have to do with samples and a laboratory?
She reached for the photo, her fingers sliding over the sharp edge on
the corner of the frame. It didn't quite cut, but she watched her finger
for a moment to see if it was going to bleed. Then it struck her.
Lyle had cut himself on that same frame. She had taken the bloody tissue
to have his genetic profile done, to determine whether he or Angelo was
her real brother. The test had come back positive for Lyle.
You know what the Centre wants you to know.
Had they rigged the test or told her the wrong results? She had believed
them. She trusted the information she had been given. Maybe she shouldn't
have. It suddenly seemed awfully convenient that he had been so calm about
cutting himself in her office, right when she needed a blood sample for
Instinct told her this was exactly the right conclusion. Jarod wanted
her to re-test, to prove something to her. He wanted samples of her family
to compare to herself, and he would get them. Blood wasn't the only source
of the DNA he needed for the tests - she could borrow toothbrushes, steal
a few hairs from their brushes or combs. She would get samples from both
of them, and from Angelo, too. She knew he would be more cooperative than
the other two men, and probably wouldn't even remember the blood draw
an hour after the fact.
The first place to start would be Lyle's office, since he was conveniently
away for the day. He'd gotten a lead on one of the missing Blue Files,
and had left to check it out. She rummaged around in there for a while,
and left with the biohazard container he kept under his desk, nearly filled
with used syringes. That might provide enough source material for a test,
and if it didn't, she'd stop by his apartment to raid his hairbrush.
Angelo barely noticed the pinprick she gave him, filling the tiny plastic
tube she had borrowed from one of the labs. She capped the tube when there
was enough material in it, put a band-aid on the wound and stroked his
head with a word of thanks. He sighed, and leaned against her.
"Miss Parker sad," he observed.
She embraced him lightly. "Yes, Angelo. I'm sad. How are you?"
He sighed. "Angelo sad. Baby sad. Baby needs daddy."
Gabriel, she thought instantly. He already knows about Jarod,
but is too young to understand that Jarod is his father.
"Yes. Babies need their fathers," she responded absently.
That got her attention. She knelt down beside him as he sat on the chair
in her office. "Why are you scared, Angelo? Can I help?"
He shook his head. He shrugged. He wriggled on the chair. His hands grabbed
at his head, stroked through his hair and left it standing on end. "Scared
for all the babies."
Parker hugged him. "I know. I'm scared for them, too." She
rubbed his back, knowing that there were no words of comfort she could
offer him. She wanted to get the Seraphim out of the Centre, but it was
impossible alone, and there was no place for them to go if she did manage
that feat by herself. She wasn't entirely sure she could trust Jarod now,
but this was all his idea. She needed to follow through to see where his
latest trail of breadcrumbs led her.
She stood up, slipped the little tube into her suit pocket, and leaned
over to place a kiss on top of his head. Smoothing his hair back into
place as best she could, she sighed. "I'll see you later, Angelo."
He bounced out of her chair and shambled out into the hall, a wreck of
a human being, created by Centre research.
But way down deep in her soul, she hoped the test came out different
this time. She'd rather have Angelo for a brother than Lyle any day.
* * * * * * * * *
Hybrid Biotract #57
Broots meandered along the pathway, hands thrust into pockets, glancing
around for some sign of Sydney. The Belgian had asked to meet there, and
Broots was late. But he had what the other man wanted, after looking through
every electronic file he could find.
Sydney wore his driving cap and a tweed jacket over a black turtleneck.
He sat on a low stone wall, tossing bird seed to a flock of peafowl gathered
around his feet. There was great sadness in his face, and the tech knew
that the news he had brought would do nothing to cheer the other man up.
He sidled up and seated himself on the wall beside his friend. "I
found what you wanted, Sydney." Broots pulled a sheet of paper from
his pocket and unfolded it as he handed it over. "It's a death certificate
for Alexis Moore. She died just a few months after Jacob's accident."
For a moment, there was only silence. Sydney did not take the paper;
instead, he tossed another handful of seed onto the ground. "Cause
Broots cleared his throat. This was the hard part. "Postpartum hemorrhage.
She died in childbirth." He sighed. "Does that mean..."
"...that Jacob and Alexis had a child together? Yes, Broots, it
does. And I need to find out what happened to that child. I owe it to
"I'll get right on it, but it won't be easy. I ended up in the Archives,
looking through a lot of paper for this. There weren't any current records
on Alexis Moore, because she's been dead for so long. And I don't even
know if the baby was a boy or a girl, so it's going to be hard to--"
"I don't care how you get the information," Sydney snapped,
flinging the last of the birdseed violently to the ground. His dark eyes
were flashing as he turned to regard his companion. "If you can't
spare the time to look, point me in the right direction and I'll do it
myself. But I must know what happened to that child!"
Broots recoiled slightly at the angry display. Hands palm out, he said,
"It's okay, Sydney. I want to help you. It's just going to take some
time. That's all I was saying."
Sydney wilted, hung his head. His voice softened. "I'm sorry, Broots.
I didn't mean to chastise you. I'm just... anxious, I suppose. A bit impatient.
Please forgive me."
"No problem," said Broots with an embarrassed grin. "Look,
if it was me, I'd be going crazy, not knowing. I'll be as quick as I can,
but I'll find out, I promise."
With a clap on the shoulder of genuine affection, the Belgian smiled.
"Thank you, Broots. You're a good friend, and an excellent researcher.
I know you can do it."
It felt good to be given credit where it was due. He patted Sydney on
the back, rose and strolled back the way he had come. Broots did not envy
the other man his position. Both of them knew what horrifying things the
Centre had done to countless other children, and neither of them wanted
Jacob's son or daughter to be one of the casualties. He would find out
what had happened to that child, and as soon as he knew, Sydney would,
And if that child, who would now be close to Broots' own age, was still
being kept inside those walls, Broots and Sydney would find a way to get
him or her out... with or without the cooperation of the new security
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker strolled in, aware of the cameras watching her. She had delivered
the syringes and Angelo's blood to Jarod's lab earlier, but the hairs
from her father had been more difficult to come by; still, she had gotten
all the source materials she needed for analysis of her family tree. Jarod
had told her how long the tests would take, and she had waited patiently.
Broots was under orders to interfere with the recording of her meeting
with the Pretender in such a way that it looked as if there was a malfunction
of the equipment. They would have only a few minutes at best for him to
give her the report on his findings. Time started ticking from the moment
she entered the door.
"Hello, Jarod," she said softly.
He was sitting at his desk, drawing a picture of his father. "Good
evening, Miss Parker," he murmured. "Are you ready?"
"Your twin brother is Angelo, not Lyle, as you were told before.
You never actually saw that report, did you?"
"Thank God!" she breathed, and sat down on the sofa. "You
don't know how much better that makes me feel." She thought back.
"Broots brought me the answer, but I suppose they could have made
up a false report, switched the names on the test results or something,
to convince us both."
"Once upon a time, you'd have been outraged that An-jello-brains
was related to you."
She nodded. "I was a different person, then. I bought into the fairy
tale my father told me."
"Perhaps you'll also be relieved to know that Mr. Parker isn't your
father, either... but he is Lyle's."
She sat back, stunned by that pronouncement. "Are you sure?"
"Do you doubt me?"
This was Jarod. Of course he was certain. "No. I'm just a little
surprised, that's all." She exhaled noisily. "That means that
both my mother and father were having affairs at the same time. What I
thought was a happy marriage was only a sham."
"Parker also gave the order for your mother's death," Jarod
reminded her. "Maybe that was his vengeance for her infidelity, after
all. That, and raising you like he did."
She rose, and took a step closer to the desk, leaning over it. "Thank
you, Jarod. It's good to have those questions answered by someone I can
trust." She laid her hand on his shoulder briefly, but he kept drawing
as if she wasn't even there. She turned to go.
"There's more," he told her. "Your mother left a diary
in that safe deposit box where I got her medical records. I kept it, intending
to give it to you later. You'll find it in another safe deposit box under
your name in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, at Eagle Mountain Bank."
For a moment, she couldn't move. She felt time ticking away, and realized
that it was almost up. "Did you read it?"
He stopped drawing, and raised his eyes to meet hers for the first time
since she had come into the room. The hollowness in them shocked her,
and she found herself stepping backward. She was losing him. Soon, he
would be completely gone, a stranger in a familiar body.
Someone else was going to have to help her carry out her mother's plan
for the Centre. Jarod was going over to the other side.
"Of course I did. I had to have more material to annoy you with."
He should have been grinning in that overgrown little boy way of his,
but his expression was blank, soulless. The hair on the back of her neck
stood up. Without another word, she turned and left the room, locking
the door securely behind herself. And this time, she would not be going
She ran down the corridor to the elevator, hurrying to get away from
him as fast as possible. Then she headed for the nursery, desperate to
be with Gabriel, to hold him close and protect him from the monster who
would be coming to see him soon. But there was nothing she could do to
stop that meeting.
Outside the nursery door, she stopped and collected herself. She was
in no state to see the baby; he would sense her fear and it would upset
him. Even now, he probably already knew how distressed she was.
She pushed open the door carefully, hoping he would be asleep.
Penfield sat up in her bed, waking to the sound of the door opening.
"Who's there?" she demanded in an angry whisper.
"It's me, Penfield," Parker answered. "Is Gabriel all
"Sleeping soundly. Now go away. You don't want to wake him up in
the middle of the night." She flipped her blankets back and swung
her legs over the side of the bed, preparing to chase the visitor away.
"I know," Parker whispered back. "I'll come back tomorrow."
Morgan let the door glide softly closed, and backed away. At a more sedate
pace, she returned upstairs, meeting with Broots in his office. The tech
had come in just to help her, and had sent his daughter to sleep over
at a friend's so he could be there at that late hour. He sat at his desk,
his face lit only by the glow of his monitor, fingers tapping away on
the keyboard as he yawned.
"How'd you do?" he asked sleepily as he spied her enter the
"You couldn't tell?"
He grinned, pride in his eyes. "Neither could anybody else."
His eyes went back to the keyboard and his screen.
"Good. I got what I went there for," she assured him. "But
we can't trust Jarod any more after this, Broots. Aurora has too great
a hold on him now."
Broots glanced sharply up at her. Then his shoulders sagged. "Oh,
no. That's awful."
"He doesn't seem to mind." She glanced over his shoulder to
the screens cascading across his electronic desktop. "What are you
"Something for Sydney. He's looking for info on a woman named Alexis
She frowned. "I know that name. Where have I heard of her?"
He eyed her warily. "I don't know. She'd be about Sydney's age now,
if she was still alive."
"Oh. Who was she?"
Broots scratched his head. "One of the natural adult pretenders
brought in for research at the beginning of the project back in the 60's.
She was here off and on, till she died in 1968."
"Is there anything I need to know about her?"
He shrugged. "If you think of where you remember her from, let me
know. Or tell Sydney."
"I will. Thanks, Broots. And good night."
"Sure thing, Miss Parker. I'll be closing up shop and going home
to bed in a few minutes."
She patted his shoulder and strolled out the door to her own office,
grabbed her purse and keys, and headed for home.
The answers were clearer now. Parker had been angry with Catherine over
the affair. For whatever reason, he had chosen to accept Morgan as his
own, and given the other twin to Raines to spite his wife. How it must
have pleased him to know what had been done to that child! How he must
have gloated over his secret triumphs. And after Catherine died, how he
had enjoyed training her daughter, teaching Morgan to hide her feelings,
to be hard and cold as he was himself.
But she was not his daughter. Somewhere out there, she had a father who
probably didn't even know about her. And with the help of her mother's
diary, she hoped to find out exactly who he was.
She would plan the trip at her earliest opportunity, and then she would
have her answers. She could play the same game Parker had, pretending
to love him while she plotted for control of the organization that was
his life. She would make him dance for her for a change, and no longer
care if he withheld his approval. He wasn't her father, but he would have
to remain "Daddy" for a while longer.
It would grate on her to call him that every time she saw him. One day,
she promised herself, she would tell him that she knew the truth. But
not until she had crushed him.
* * * * * * * * *
He lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. The demons no longer troubled
him in his sleep, and he felt rested every morning when he awakened. But
it wasn't always easy to get to sleep, turning over problems in his mind
as he lay still, trying to shut down and rest.
Tonight was no exception. He had been lying there for several hours,
eyes unable to close. A noise caught his attention, and he listened for
it to appear again.
It was coming from the vent, the sound of stealthy movement as a body
eased closer to the grate.
"Angelo?" he called softly, and sat up to look.
A slip of paper, rolled up very small, was inserted through the grate
for him to take.
"It's me," called Broots. "I'm getting desperate, and
don't want to go back to Sydney empty-handed. I tried to get Angelo to
bring this to you, but he freaked out when I asked him. He kinda led the
way and got me close, but I had to figure out part of it myself. I don't
know how he does it, but the guy knows these vents like the back of his
Jarod shrugged. "He grew up in them. What's this?" He took
the paper and unrolled it, revealing two photocopies: one of a black and
white photograph of Jacob and a blonde woman; the other a handwritten
"Sydney wanted you to look at that. He needs your advice."
Broots coughed softly. "Well, um, actually, I need your advice. I'm
trying to help Sydney locate the baby this woman had in 1968. I'm sure
it was born somewhere in the Centre, but can't find any proof."
"Jacob's child," Jarod mused, glancing at the letter. "Of
course, he'd want to find his own flesh and blood."
Broots reeled off the places he had already looked, and his frustration
at coming up empty handed.
"You're looking in the wrong place," Jarod told the other man.
"Trace through Jacob's records, not the woman's."
"I thought of that. I've got everything I could lay hands on, but
I just know there's more. I just don't know where to go from here."
He paused. "Do you know Sydney's last name? You know the way people
are around here with those. You know somebody's full name, and they end
"Or in Renewal Wing." Jarod rolled the pages back up and slipped
them through the grate again. "His last name is Ritter. Look in Archives,
on paper rather than electronic, and you may find something. Check with
Miss Parker, too. She may have discovered something at Lake Catherine
a while back that could be of help."
"Lake Catherine? At the inn? Ben Miller's inn?"
Jarod nodded. It felt good to be accomplishing things, helping people.
But then he felt pretty good all the time, thanks to Aurora.
"That's the one. She'll know what I mean."
"Thanks, Jarod." Broots hesitated. "Look, I know we're
not best buds here or anything, but I owe you, well, my life. You know?
So I think I owe you this. Sydney misses you. They won't let him see you
"It's okay, Broots. Tell him I'm all right. I'm happy now."
He could feel it, the pleasure so constant in his system that he could
tell when it was time for another dose by how it waned. He needed that
happiness to survive. Living without it was unthinkable. He smiled.
"Jesus!" said Broots, staring at him in horror through the
grate. "What have they done to you?"
He shrugged. "It's not so bad. In fact, it's pretty good. No highs,
no lows... just a constant stream of 'nice' flowing through me. Aurora's
"Not from where I'm standing," Broots shot back. "Look,
if there's anything I can do for you..."
"I've got everything I need right in my veins," he assured
his friend. "Good luck with Alexis."
"Yeah. Sure. Thanks." Broots backed up in the vent, and after
a few moments, Jarod couldn't hear him anymore.
He lay back on his bunk, closed his eyes, and pictured Jacob and Alexis
together, smiling and happy as they had been in that picture. That was
how things were supposed to be in the world. People were supposed to be
He fell asleep with a smile on his face, and dreamed of sunshine and
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker's Office, SIS
Morgan Parker listened to the officers who worked under her as they reported
routine security breaches from Centre branch offices, and the solutions
that had been given for resolving the breaks. She issued orders for shoring
up weaknesses, and dismissed the group to return to their regular duties.
Gathering up her own sheaf of papers, she went back to her desk, preparing
for another day's work.
"That was quite impressive," said a voice from the doorway.
She glanced up, and recognized the blonde woman instantly. She had never
liked Eve, not since the first time she met the woman years earlier. "What
can I do for you?" She turned back to stacking folders and reports.
"I was wondering why you've been making visits to see Jarod after
hours," Eve told her, strolling into the room. "Your business
with him was pretty much over once he was back on the grounds, as I recall."
"Security is my business, Eve," she reminded the other woman.
"Jarod has always been a threat to Centre security, and I'll continue
to check up on him as I feel is necessary."
"Still, I'd appreciate it if you'd clear any visits through me first.
I am his new handler, you know. I'm sure your father told you."
She shot the blonde a withering look, already impatient with her overtly
polite reprimand. "My business isn't your business, and you can find
out about my visits through the logs. I don't need your permission to
do my job."
"Unless the Chairman decides you need to follow my instructions."
There it was, the threat she had been expecting. Parker strode around
the table, right up to the woman, almost nose to nose. Eve did not give
an inch as she invaded the other woman's personal space, but stood her
"Unless you have some kind of personal hold on my father--"
Saying that almost made her ill, "--I suggest that you leave the
security to SIS. If Jarod pulls a prank or decides he wants to try to
escape again, I won't be looking you up to ask permission to stop him.
Are we clear?"
Eve smirked. "As crystal, Miss Parker." She pivoted on her
heel and left the conference room.
Parker returned to her desk and sat down at her computer, fuming at the
challenge. Half an hour later, her telephone rang. The Chairman politely
requested that any non-emergency visits to Jarod be cleared through Eve.
She had no choice but to comply. As soon as she got off the phone, she
called Broots into her office. "I want you to dig up everything you
can find on Eve," she demanded. "I want to know when she sneezes,
who walks her dog, what flavor of soft drink she prefers. You got it?"
He looked tired. All the research he had been doing lately was telling
on him, and she softened as he nodded his head in acquiescence. "Go
ahead and finish up what you were doing for Sydney first, and take a break.
This one can wait a little while."
"Thanks." He sat down in her guest chair and sighed wearily.
"Um, Miss Parker, I'm supposed to ask you to check for the name Alexis
Moore. Something to do with Ben Miller. Do you know what that means?"
She shook her head. "No, but I'll find out. I've been planning a
trip away, and can make a detour through Maine on the way back."
"Yeah? You taking a vacation?"
"Plugging a hole."
He frowned, then grinned and shook his head. "I guess you're not
going to explain. I'll get right on it, Miss Parker."
She started the query herself after the tech left, but she was sure there
was something important that she wasn't seeing. Eve had walked into the
Chairman's office, made her demand and gotten the result she wanted much
too quickly. There had to be a reason for that power over him, and Morgan
was going to find out what it was.