Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Richard Marcus as Raines
Paul Dillon as Angelo
Candace Bergen as Eve
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Lenny von Dohlen as Cox
James Marsters as "Him"
Angelina Jolie as Mimi Roberts
George Clooney as Valentine
Alex Wexo as Jacob/Younger Sydney
Kim Basinger as Alexis Moore
Nicholas Cage as Terry Camp
Marg Hellenberger as Pat duBois
Lani Tupu as The Man in the Balcony
Justin Hayward as David
Rutger Hauer as Mr. Kruger
David McCallum as Mr. Voorhees
Seal as Mr. Tshwane
She was all porcelain and gold in the sunlight, and Jacob could not take his eyes off her. Alexis Moore had been his subject of study for the last six months. He was not supposed to be intimately involved with her, but he couldn't help himself. There was such kindness, such sweetness in her that he had not been able to resist. That she had found something worthwhile in him was a miracle, and her love had brought him to question his work in a way that he had strenuously avoided since he and his twin had come to the Centre years earlier.
For so long now, everything had been all about the science, about pushing the limits of the knowledge of mankind, for the good of all. If some had to make sacrifices that were unpleasant or even harsh, it was for the best. He had been able to live with that.
But now, as he watched Alexis stroll along the grassy hills outside, talking about how she picked up on the nuances of an unfamiliar profession, becoming someone new each time she changed her environment, he was seeing his work through new eyes. She was amazing, undoubtedly brilliant in an unorthodox way. And she loved him.
He wasn't supposed to have touched her. He wasn't supposed to be so crazy about her. He just didn't have a choice.
"Is anybody home?" She was smiling at him, and pelted him with a wildflower as she picked up on his distraction. "I thought we were working."
"We are, Alexis," Jacob assured her. "I apologize for slipping away just then. There's a great deal on my mind today."
Her face sobered. "Mine, too." She wafted closer, sunlight gleaming on her platinum blonde hair, glaring brightly off the white collar and skirt of her dress. Glancing around nervously, afraid someone might see them, she took his hands in hers and squeezed them. "Jacob, there's something I have to tell you."
He could see the fear in her eyes. Had someone found out about their affair? Was he going to be reported, and lose contact with Alexis? He couldn't deal with that. If he was taken off her case, he would ask her to leave with him. They would go away and start a new life together. His research with her would be coming to a close in a few months anyway, and when they were done with her, she would be leaving.
"Wait," he told her. Leading her by the hand to a tree that would block them from view of anyone in the building, he knelt down before her. "Marry me, Alexis. I can't imagine life without you. I don't want to see you go when your part of the research here is finished. Stay with me, please. As my wife."
"Oh, Jacob!" Tears glistened in her eyes, and her smile beamed brightly. "Yes, my love. Yes!"
He rose and clasped her to him, aching to take her away to his apartment and make love to her, as he had done on only a handful of occasions. But she pushed him gently away, made him look into her eyes. The fear was gone, leaving behind a radiance of joy that nearly blinded him.
"I have to tell you, Jacob." She was glowing, deliriously happy. "I'm pregnant, darling. We're going to have a baby, and it will be brilliant and beautiful, just like you."
Something inside him ruptured painfully. He had known from the first time he touched her that this was a possibility. Part of him wanted that, wanted a family with her. But another part was terribly afraid.
"Then we must leave soon. We'll get married right away."
She nodded. "Yes. Of course. I don't want a big wedding. Don't have any family to attend one, anyway. We could go to Vegas, and then come back here and set up housekeeping."
He shook his head. "No. We can't stay here. The Centre would dismiss me for becoming intimately involved with one of my projects. It's best that we simply sever all ties here, and go out on our own, start new."
"What about your brother?"
Jacob smiled. "Sydney will give us his blessing, of course. I may get a reprimand for losing my professional perspective, but that will be all. He'll love you because I do."
She threw her arms about his neck and kissed him soundly, leaving him reeling and dizzy, drunk with passion, surprise and fear. "I love you, Jacob Ritter," she whispered against his mouth. "I want to make you happy forever."
"I love you, Alexis." He felt her flat belly pressing against his, and marveled that his child was growing there. What a wonderful, terrifying thing parenthood was. But he would embrace it, and be glad it had happened. He wondered idly if it would be twins.
"We should get back inside now," she told him. "We're late. They'll be wondering if we fell off a cliff or something."
Smiling, elated, he took her elbow and led her back toward the building. He would say nothing for a few more weeks, getting his personal life in order and preparing to move as soon as the time was right. They would have to be ready to leave before the pregnancy became obvious; otherwise, he would be dismissed summarily and no one would hire him anywhere as a psychiatrist. He wasn't sure he would be able to adapt as easily to a new career as Alexis could.
"Don't tell anyone just yet," he advised her. "I'll have to find a clean way out of this. All right?"
"Of course, Jacob. I'd do anything for you."
"I know you would, Alexis."
He wanted to run right to Sydney and tell him everything, but prudence suggested he wait on that as well. His twin would certainly keep his secret, but he didn't want any fallout to land on his brother if things went badly. Silence was best, until he had a clear course of action, and that would take some thought and planning. Jacob was good with that. This would be a new research project filled with secrets, just like all the others he dealt with on a regular basis... except this one was personal.
He escorted her to her quarters and wished her a good day, aching to hold her and kiss her goodbye. But the walls had eyes, and everything that went on in that place was recorded. He couldn't afford such a demonstration of his affection, and neither could she.
Jacob returned to his office and sat down at his desk to begin working on the problem, but the only thought that came to him was that announcement. He was going to be a father. He was going to be a husband. Alexis would soon be sleeping by his side for the rest of his life. Nothing could be more beautiful, more perfect than that.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker strode confidently down the corridor, eyes straight ahead. She had not asked her father for permission to see Jarod; as SIS Director, she had the authority to go anywhere and see anyone she chose. She knew it would be reported to him, but she hoped that Jarod would understand to watch what he said, since everything would be recorded. She wanted a few moments alone with him, but that was not possible.
She had to see him, had to know how he was doing, and what was being done to him.
Deftly keying in the entry code, she noticed that a fingerprint reader had been installed above the lock. That, too, would register her visit. She would have to make her reasoning good to convince her father that what she had done was company business.
Pressing her palm against the plate, she waited for the solid steel door to unlock. At the sound of the tumbler releasing, she pulled on the handle and swung the vault door open. It was the same cell that he'd had previously, posh and clean, but a cell nonetheless. The room was white on white, with extensive bookshelves, a desk with a computer, a sofa and coffee table for laying out project materials. In the far corner was a metal bunk welded to the floor, covers draped in white. The resident Centre slave reclined there, hands clasped behind his head as he lay staring up at the ceiling.
"I was wondering how long it would take," he mused, his voice a soft murmur. "I gave you another day, actually. What's your hurry?"
"I wanted to be sure you were secure." She moved the straight-backed wooden chair from its place at the desk to a spot beside the bed, took her seat in it, and gave him the once-over. No bruises or obvious physical discomfort put her a little more at ease. "You look okay."
"I'm fine, Miss Parker," he assured her.
She glanced around the elegant room. It was after his bedtime, but there were books strewn on the table and his computer was still running. "They've been treating you well? No complaints?"
He sat up slowly, hunching over his lap. "Congratulations on your promotion," he responded, changing the subject. "You deserve it."
"After the hell you put me through for the last five years? You're damn right I deserve it." There was something wrong with him. She could feel it, but couldn't pinpoint what it was. This wasn't the Jarod she knew. It had to be the drugs they were giving him.
She shuddered at the complacency in his eyes as he looked at her. "Reports say you're working again. How do you feel about that?"
He shrugged. "Okay. It doesn't bother me anymore. I know it should, but it doesn't."
"What are you working on?" That question, she knew, could get her in lots of trouble, if anybody was listening.
"Refining Aurora, at the moment," he admitted. He frowned briefly, as if struggling with something, and then it was gone.
"How are you dealing with the medication?"
"I'm self injecting now. Can't miss a dose, you know."
She sighed, her heart twisting up inside her. He was so accepting of everything now. That was scary. "I know, Jarod. Daddy's glad to have you back. He was pleased with my performance." That was just to let him know their plan achieved some of the goals they wanted. "One of these days, we need to have a chat about Centre security. Maybe you could give me some pointers."
He snorted a soft laugh. "Daddy." Bowing his head, he added, "Remember, Miss Parker, you know only what the Centre wants you to know." He glanced up at the camera pointed at them, drawing her attention there.
She frowned, noticing that the recording light was off. "What, specifically, are you talking about?" It had something to do with her father, she was sure. But what?
"When you know the questions, I'll help you find the answers."
She met his steady gaze, and tried to read his expressionless eyes. He wasn't giving her anything else, and she wasn't going to ask. She would let it simmer in the back of her consciousness, and listen for that inner voice that would tell her what he was hinting at so broadly. She glanced at the camera, and saw that the light was on again.
She rose, graceful and poised as a dancer. "I'll be visiting you again," she promised. "Just to make sure Aurora is doing the job we were promised." She took the few steps toward the door, and pulled it open with a glance over her shoulder at the man seated on the bunk. "You sure you're all right?"
"Just fine," he answered, his voice placid and even. He lay back down on the bunk, much of him out of sight, except for his bare feet crossed at the ankles. He was lost now, and she didn't know if he would ever find his way back to who he really was.
She walked out, reset the coded lock and went straight for the elevator that would take her back to her office. Keeping her shoulders back, her eyes focused straight ahead, her chin up, she refused to let the horror and regret show on her face. She would not allow herself to cry for what they were doing to him -- what he was now willingly doing to himself. He belonged to the Centre now, body and soul.
And that was the worst thing she could ever imagine for him to endure.
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney strode into the room and took his seat across the desk from Mr. Parker. The door opened behind him before he could speak, and a handful of others walked in to take a seat at the small conference table to the right of the desk. Sydney eyed them with distaste.
Cox was there, as hard to read as always. Eve sat where she could see him best, a smug smile on her face. Beside her, a man and woman whom he recognized from the caretaker staff, sat with their hands folded on the table, watching him impassively.
"When I requested this meeting," Sydney began, his gaze sliding back to the Chairman, "I hadn't realized you'd be inviting half the staff."
Parker grinned. "You said it was about the Seraphim. These are the people most involved. What did you have in mind, Sydney?"
The Belgian chose to ignore the others. "I want to work directly with the children."
"That would be a colossal error," Cox announced. "Your emotional instability would pollute them--"
"I am not emotionally unstable," Sydney snapped. "I always retain a professional demeanor, even under the most stressful circumstances. I retain emotional distance from my subjects to ensure untainted results. Obviously, Dr. Cox, you have not studied my records or my work well enough to know that detail."
Cox grinned. "Angry, doctor? The children would sense that instantly. They need calm in order to function, at this stage of their development."
Sydney turned in his chair to face the other man. "You cannot rear them in emotional isolation. They must be immersed in emotional turmoil, if they are to learn to function in it. How will they know to keep their heads if they have never known fear, grief or rage? You cannot teach those responses. They must be learned through exposure."
Parker pursed his lips. "Eve, what do you think? You've worked with the Seraphim."
"I'm not sure. There are merits to both points of view."
Terry Camp, the caretaker supervisor, spoke up, his words couched in a slow drawl. "I agree with Sydney. Not only is it nearly impossible for the staff to maintain an emotional plateau with kids like these, I think they'd learn to deal with negative emotions better if they encountered them on a daily basis. Sort of like teaching them to share. If they never have anybody to practice the lessons with, they can't learn the concept."
Pat duBois turned in her seat to face the Chairman, her short strawberry blonde hair catching the muted sunlight from the windows. "I disagree. While they're still so young, they're easier to handle when they're not upset. If they start encountering too much adult emotional trauma, it's sure to make them agitated and harder to control, not to mention the potential damage to the staff these kids could cause. We can't start them on Aurora yet, and the medication they're getting right now makes them just dull enough to keep the caretakers safe from them. I don't think we dare risk more. Not until they're older, anyway."
Parker's eyes moved from face to face at the conference table, pondering, and then finally lit on Sydney. "I'll have to think about this one. It seems everyone who routinely works with the children is strongly divided in their opinions. Let me get back to you, Sydney. Meantime, you're doing a fine job with counseling and teaching the staff."
He nodded, and Sydney recognized that as his cue to leave. He rose from his chair, noticing on his way out the door that the others stayed behind. He wanted to know what they said, certain that they would have continued the discussion of the subject once he was gone. Sydney was a patient man, but he desperately needed something to challenge him, to take his mind off Jarod. He had tried to visit his protégé several times, but Security wouldn't even let him exit the elevator on the floor where the Pretender worked and lived. All he'd gotten was a few glimpses that Broots had given him by tapping into the security cameras.
It wasn't enough.
He had failed with Jarod, failed to help him, and now he belonged completely to the Centre.
He would not make the same mistake with the Seraphim. He would make a difference with them, possibly even get them out of that place before they were ruined forever. But to do that, he would need to get close to them, and gain the trust of their keepers.
If he couldn't help Jarod, he could do something about the next generation of Centre slaves, or die trying.
* * * * * * * * *
Lyle sat waiting, fidgeting with the glove on his hand while Parker chatted with Mme. Berkstresser on the phone. He pulled it half off, adjusted the cotton wadding that filled the space where his left thumb should have been and pulled it firmly back on, remembering briefly the pain of losing the digit. Growing impatient, he rose and began to stroll about the office, gazing out the window to the verdant grounds below.
Another reprimand was in store, he was sure. However, this time he brought ammunition for a return salvo, and patted the breast pocket of his suit to remind himself of the gift he'd brought with him. Parker would be pleased with the project Lyle was about to unveil, and he felt it would certainly make up for the losses of so many of the Blue Files under his supervision. Helping to buoy his spirits was the promise by Mr. White that he was closing in on his target, the missing-but-not-forgotten Faith.
"Now, what did you want to see me about, son?"
Lyle turned at that gruff address, his attention flashing now to something else entirely. "You used to be afraid of me," he observed. "When I was your boss."
Parker shot him a warning glare. "That was before I knew who you were."
The younger man grinned. "What makes things any different, knowing your genes are in this package?"
"You belong to me, that's what makes it different. And I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that you'd let yourself slip so far from where you were. That's your mother's weakness in you, not mine." His blue eyes were cold and hard, disapproving as they swept up and down Lyle's form, measuring and finding the young man wanting.
Lyle swung away from the window, smoothed down his tie and cocked his head as he regarded his father. "Were you the one who sent me to those lunatics in Oklahoma? Was that to toughen me up, before sending for me?"
Parker's eyes narrowed. He frowned, and his voice was a low growl as he answered. "You were supposed to go to Kansas, to a couple I trusted to raise you. Raines was responsible for putting you in that nuthouse. I didn't know where the hell you were, or who you were when you came here. How did all that happen, anyway? How'd you find the Centre, much less work your way up in the hierarchy so fast?"
"Our friend, Raines," Lyle began, "saw to it that I got a glimpse of power when I was still in high school. After Eclipse, he put the idea in my head to erase my past, so Bobby Bowman had to die. When I'd proven myself, I got an engraved invitation to work for him here. And in spite of what you may think of my people skills..." He seated himself in the guest chair and smiled. "...I know how to play politics with the best of 'em. I wasn't in the Tower just because I'm pretty. I'm a damn good administrator when I've got good people under me." He let that unspoken accusation hang in the air for a moment, and then added, "Valentine has proven to be helpful in that aspect. He and I have uncovered some of Raines' private projects. Here's one of them, just to whet your appetite, and to prove that I haven't been slacking off. I may not be getting the results either of us want on those missing Blue Files, but I think this will more than make up for what we don't have at the moment."
He reached inside his jacket and pulled the DSA out, laying it on top of the Chairman's desk.
"What is it?"
"Her name is Ella. She's a pyrokinetic, a firestarter. Raines had his people in the Pretoriat working with her, keeping her hidden away from us here. I think you should have her moved to Delaware for more research."
Parker put the DSA into the reader and watched the girl being put through her paces. He switched off the machine and smiled at his son, his eyes gleaming. "Now, that's more like it. I'll call and make the arrangements. Kruger's not going to like this. Not one bit." He laughed darkly. "But we're in charge now, eh, son?"
Lyle folded his hands and smiled back. "Yes, we are. Dad."
The older man stood up and leaned across the desk to shake Lyle's hand as he rose. "Good work. I'll take care of it from here."
"I'll be following up some other leads. You may be surprised at all the goodies I've got up my sleeve."
"Impress me, son. That's what it's all about."
Lyle pivoted on his heel and sauntered toward the door. "Just don't ever forget..." He turned as he grasped the door handle, and made eye contact. "...that I'm a Parker. All the way to the bone."
* * * * * * * * *
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Jacob took a seat in the guest chair across from Raines' desk.
"Yes. I've been looking over your notes on Alexis Moore." Raines turned over several pages of paper in her file, pursed his lips, and then raised his eyes to meet Jacob's. "She's one of the best candidates we've seen for Project Proteus. There are others who are also high on our list, but some are too much in the public eye, and we can't proceed with them in the program as it's been designed. Alexis, however, can enter the program immediately. You'll see to that, won't you?"
Jacob felt his insides clench. "What, exactly, did you have in mind, Mr. Raines? I haven't read all the protocols for Proteus yet."
"I wasn't sure it would work with worldly Pretenders like Alexis, so we brought in fresh research material for comparison," Raines explained. "We'll isolate her from all distractions, as we have with the juvenile Pretenders, keep her focused on the projects we want her to work on, and see how well she does."
"What if she doesn't want to cooperate?"
Raines smiled, his watery blue eyes chilling. He smoothed a hand over his hair and leaned back in his tall leather chair. "Once suitable candidates are enrolled in the project, they don't get a choice. We're in control at that point, and they'll work for us until we decide we don't need them anymore."
Jacob swallowed. He had read profiles on half a dozen children scheduled for the program, and had seen firsthand when one was taken from his parents. Sydney was already working with one of them, and now they meant to make Alexis a prisoner as well. If she stayed in the Centre, their relationship would quickly become obvious.
"I'll take care of her," he promised, and rose to leave. Things had just become very dangerous, for himself and Alexis, and for the child she carried. He did not want to provide the Centre with more research material, especially not from his own blood.
He had to get her out of there, and it had to be within the next few days.
"Oh, and Jacob?" Raines called as he opened the door.
Jacob turned, hoping his face wasn't as bloodless as it felt. "Yes, sir?"
"Great work with Alexis. You really got in deep with her."
Raines had no idea just how deep. "Thank you, sir. I'll see to getting new quarters ready." He hesitated. "You know we won't be able to keep her in a cell, like the ones the children have. She's accustomed to comfort, and I'm sure she won't work unless she has pleasant surroundings."
The other man gave him a hard look. "You have to find a way to make her work, Jacob. That's your job."
Jacob couldn't breathe. He nodded, and stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind himself. He staggered as if he had been struck, and leaned heavily against the wall until he could right himself and summon up enough energy to walk away.
"Mon Dieu," he whispered to himself, blindly taking one step after another toward the elevator. He went to his office and phoned his assistant, giving orders to set up a new cell for Alexis Moore. Then, from his desk drawer, he took a notepad and began to write.
Once the letter was finished, he sealed it in an envelope and tucked it into an inner pocket in his suit jacket. He turned in his chair and pulled a book down off the credenza behind him, and let it fall open to the page where he had secreted a photograph of himself and Alexis, taken the day after he had made love to her the first time. She was beaming, and he stood behind her with his arms around her, smiling down at her. He had taken her on a drive that day, desperate to get away from the Centre and have her all to himself. He had asked a passerby to take the photo, and had the film developed out of town so no one in Blue Cove would know. That photograph was his touchstone, his power source when he needed an energy boost toward the end of a long day. He could look at that picture and feel her love, her joy, and be recharged.
He tucked it away again, slid the book back into place, and rose to take the letter to Alexis. He was all business when he informed her that she had been requested to assist with the next level of the program. Offering her his congratulations, he shook her hand and slipped her the letter just before he left.
After that, he went directly to Fenigor. He would need someone's help to get Alexis out of that place, and he trusted Fenigor. Jacob would have to tell Sydney now, even though it might well get him in serious trouble. He needed to know what was going on. He needed to know the truth about how the Centre had come into possession of the children with whom he had been working. Sydney had bought into the lie, and Jacob had kept his mouth shut.
Now it was time for a serious dose of truth. He asked his brother to cover for him at work, play the 'twins game' so no one would know that Jacob was gone. He went home to pack, planning to take only the necessary things so they could travel lightly. That afternoon he withdrew a large sum of money from his personal accounts and had Sydney drive him to the airport. Jacob bought a ticket for St. Paul and set up a bank account there, under an assumed name. There was just enough cash left in his Blue Cove account for living expenses for a few weeks, though he wouldn't be there that long. There would be money enough when he and Alexis arrived to buy a car and head out into the countryside, looking for a home in a quiet little town. He took another day to finish setting the plan in motion, took a connecting flight to Chicago to throw off any inquiries the Centre might launch after his departure, and phoned his brother to meet him at the Dover airport the next evening. He would tell Sydney on the way home, and after his brother dropped him off at his apartment, under cover of night, Jacob and Alexis would be gone.
* * * * * * * * *
Angelo slipped the items into the book, and left it lying on Sydney's chair. He had held the photograph for a long time, enjoying the feel of the love the man and woman had felt for each other. It was obvious in their faces, but it resonated in the paper, in the images as well.
That picture had been very special to him for a long time, since the first moment he had found it in the book in Jacob's office as a child. He had taken it, knowing it would not be missed, and later matched it up with the letter he had found hidden in one of the guest rooms in the west wing. The letter had been there for a long time before he found it, but he had treasured it, waiting for the right time to deliver them both.
It was time for Sydney to know. It was time for the truth that only blood will tell to those who listen, time for the rest of Jacob's message to be heard.
He stroked his fingers over the book, smiled fondly at it, and scurried away on a mission of his own.
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney took note of the book instantly. Environment and Genetics: The Birth of Personality was an old favorite of his brother's, but he hadn't seen it in years. He smiled as he sat down, recalling the many debates he and Jacob had over the text. Opening the cover, he saw Jacob's signature, and knew that this had been his personal copy. Then he saw the separation between the pages where something had been inserted.
He let the book fall open to that spot, and pulled an envelope out from between the pages. It had been opened already, and he reached into the ragged split. Inside was a letter, written in Jacob's own hand, and a photograph of his brother and a smiling, beautiful blonde woman. Sydney didn't recognize her at first.
Not until he began to read.
My darling Alexis,
You have my heart, and always will. Know that I would die to protect you, and that your safety and happiness are all that matter to me. I want our child to be protected as well, but things have changed here. You are both in great danger, and there is little I can do for the moment but go along with the decisions that have been made.
Fear not, my dearest heart. You will soon be moved to a secured room, where you will be locked in and made to do my bidding. Please, go along with whatever is asked of you. In a few days at most, I will be able to get you out of that dreadful place, and we will flee to somewhere we will never be found. We will need to live simply, possibly in pastoral isolation, but I vow to take care of you and our children, always.
Trust me, beloved. I will not let you down. I would give my life to set you free.
With great love,
Alexis Moore had been Jacob's primary project at the time of the accident that put him into a coma. The few times he had awakened afterward, he had not mentioned her because he couldn't remember so much of his life. Jacob had gone to his grave without telling Sydney about her, or about their child.
He concentrated, trying to recall details of their last conversation together, the night of the accident.
"You've been missing for three days, Jacob. I can't keep covering for you with Mr. Raines," Sydney had said.
"I've had personal business." Jacob was morose, obviously troubled.
Rain beat at the car on the dark country road leading back to Blue Cove from Dover. There were a great many curves on that road, but he knew it well. He had been down it hundreds of times, bringing new research subjects in for testing, and driving them back again. But this time, his mind wasn't on the road, despite the slick pavement.
Sydney was worried about his twin. "You never kept secrets from me." It was an accusation, quiet and without judgement, prompting Jacob to confess, to open up the closed space between them.
"Sydney, I - I have ethical concerns about our work..."
They had argued, but Sydney refused to listen. He didn't want to hear about work. He wanted to know where Jacob had gone, why he had just disappeared without sharing what had made him leave.
"...Do you know how we got those children?" Jacob had asked him then, worrying at him with dogged persistence.
"I know what I need to know," Sydney had replied calmly, but even then, he felt his own twinge of suspicion that he tried to keep buried. Sanctimonious pride tamped it back down again.
"No, no! You know what the Centre wants you to know. You -- you always do this! You always push away whatever doesn't fit into your pristine view of the world."
Jacob had been right about that. Sydney was always the one who wanted to believe fairy tales were real when they were children, ever the optimist as an adult. That observation had stung, and he lashed back at his twin.
"And all you want to do is poison the good things in your life!" he snarled back.
He had looked away from the road for just a second. The sound of a car horn and the sudden flash of lights in his face had made him jerk the wheel even before Jacob's warning shout. It was almost as if that other car had come out of nowhere, straight at them...
Jacob had been trying to tell him something, trying to tell him about Jarod and the others. Perhaps he had been leading up to telling him about Alexis... Sydney had to find out what had happened to the woman. If she was still in the Centre somewhere, he had to talk to her.
He rose, tucked the photo and letter into his jacket, and headed for Broots' office. If anyone could help him uncover what had happened to Alexis Moore, it would be the tech. A search would take time, but Sydney was determined. Nothing would stop him from locating the woman his brother had loved. He would explain to her what had happened, why Jacob hadn't come for her. He would help her understand, and he would set her free.
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 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 that test.
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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 of death?"
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 my brother."
"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, too.
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 chief.
* * * * * * * * *
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 back.
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 right?"
"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 room.
"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 looking for?"
"Something for Sydney. He's looking for info on a woman named Alexis Moore."
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 hand."
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 letter.
"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 up dead."
"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 anymore."
"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 a miracle."
"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 happy.
He fell asleep with a smile on his face, and dreamed of sunshine and laughter.
* * * * * * * * *
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 ground.
"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.
"Where are we going today?" asked Jarod as he stood behind Eve.
"To start your new project," she replied as she punched the button for SL-17.
"I already have several in the works," he reminded her. "What's the priority level of this one?"
She smiled. "This one comes first, and behind it Aurora, then Fountain. There should be plenty of time for everything, and this one might even be fun for you. The project is called Seraphim."
He nodded, his face blank. He had been expecting this, but sooner. Apparently they wanted to make sure they could trust him with the children, and he had certainly proved himself many times over. They could trust him now to do anything they asked.
He searched himself for the feelings one particular child in the group brought to mind. He should have been excited, knowing that he was going to meet Gabriel, but there was nothing besides a mild anticipation and a fragile wisp of sadness that he could barely hold onto before it began to dissipate. Stepping off the elevator after her, he followed her down the corridor, eyeing the man in the lab coat waiting for them outside a door.
Cox smiled at him. Jarod remembered the things he'd done to this man, all the nasty, twisted jokes he'd played. He remembered Zoe, and another shadow of sadness passed through him and vanished. There was no reason to hate Cox anymore, no reason for vengeance. Zoe was gone, and nothing would bring her back. He strolled past and into an observation room, darkened so that the light from the next room would illuminate the subjects on the other side of the one-way glass.
In the corner, by herself and clutching a rag doll, was the one he guessed to be Faith's daughter. He wondered again if she knew, and then that brief curiosity was also gone.
"These are the Seraphim," Eve told him. "They have been genetically created to fulfill a purpose, one we will tell you about in good time. They possess certain skills which will set them apart from the rest of humanity and make them dangerous unless they are taught control and discipline. Conversely, they must also learn to develop those talents in controlled circumstances."
Cox pointed at one little girl with Asian features. "That one is an excellent mimic. She'll be able to copy any physical motion and master it quickly -- dance, martial arts, knife-throwing -- the possibilities are endless. That little girl there, the brunette, is an electrokinetic. Her body can store up a charge of static electricity strong enough to blow out a computer already. Once she becomes an adult, she'll be able to kill with a touch and convince even the best forensic experts that the victim was dispatched accidentally. Bolt of lightning or some such easily explainable natural phenomenon."
Jarod noted the excitement in Cox's eyes as he talked about death. "These are the children for whom Aurora is in development?"
"Yes, they are." Eve beamed proudly.
"I'll need their medical records, and those of their parents, if they're available. I need more medical data to determine what levels of the drug may be most appropriate for them."
"You're close, then?" Cox leaned closer, a gleam of greed in his chilling eyes.
Jarod shook his head. "I have to do more than calculate a dosage based upon weight, sir. There are whole spectra of contributing factors, especially in light of each child's talent. I need to determine whether the drugs will upset their natural chemistry, since we're dealing with genetic constructs. You did make them here, didn't you?"
Cox nodded, crestfallen. "How long, do you think?"
Jarod shrugged. "Give or take, six months to a year. I'm much closer to a patch system for adults. Three or four months on that." He glanced down at his left arm, clothed in the black sleeve that discreetly hid his needle marks.
"Of course you'd be more interested in developing that one quickly," Cox returned snidely.
And you're not the addict here, Jarod said in his mind. An instant later, the flash of temper eased into perfect calm once again. "Yes. It seemed more prudent to work on the delivery system first, and the reduced dosages second. Would you like me to change my focus?"
"That won't be necessary, Jarod," Eve told him, patting his arm. "Now, let's go meet them. This one's just settling into his new quarters. He's been on a different floor, but we thought it wiser to integrate them young, to make them a working unit."
He followed the man and woman out of the observation room and one door down toward the elevator. An older woman was waiting, dressed in the white uniform of the caregivers. She nodded to Jarod in greeting.
"I'm Ms. Penfield, Gabriel's nurse."
"Gabriel," Jarod murmured. A tiny thrill of excitement shot through him. He focused on it, but it was too quickly gone. "I'd like to meet him."
"He's been waiting for you," she assured him, and went through the door into the room beyond. She barely had time to get inside before she was stooping to pick the child up, and brought him back with her. "Jarod, this is Gabriel. Gabriel, this is Jarod. He's going to be your teacher."
Gabriel's dark eyes were shining with anticipation. He wriggled in her arms, beside himself with excitement. She couldn't hold onto him, and set him on his feet before she dropped him.
Jarod looked down as the toddler careened toward him. Gabriel ran with his arms out, ready to be picked up. The pretender glanced at Cox for approval, and when it was given, he grasped the boy around the ribs and lifted him into his arms, until they were eye to eye.
"Hello, Gabriel," said Jarod.
Hands waving back and forth with excitement, the toddler managed to control himself enough to reach forward and touch Jarod with exploring fingers, like a blind man learning the terrain of a beloved face. "Jawid," he breathed, eyes wide with awe. "Jawid."
"Looks like you've made quite an impression on the boy already," Cox observed with a knowing grin. "It's almost as if he knows you."
Jarod opened his mouth, hesitated, and closed it again. He wanted to tell them that he knew this was his son, but the last reserves of resistance won out. Instead, he asked, "When do I meet the others?"
"How about now?" Eve asked. She nodded to Penfield, who took possession of the child and carried him into the nursery with the trio of adults in tow.
Gabriel squirmed and reached over her shoulder for Jarod, hands opening and closing, grabbing air between them, trying to close the gap. With an exasperated sigh, Penfield set him down on the floor, and Gabriel rushed up to Jarod, grasping his pant leg.
"Jawid!" he shouted, looking up at first, then out at the other children. "Dis is Jawid!"
There was a note of pride in his expression, in the tone of his voice, that was unmistakably possessive. Jarod thought he couldn't have been more obvious if he had said, "This is my daddy."
Jarod squatted down, then sat on the floor and let all the children come up and touch him. They explored his face, poking little fingers into ears and up nostrils, squeezing lips and stroking over his clean-shaven but still rough chin. They climbed on his back and into his lap, all of them but the little girl who sat in the corner.
Gabriel noticed him watching her, and pulled him down to whisper not so softly in his ear. "Annie scared. Peepoe too loud." He patted his chest to emphasize that he meant inside.
"Their feelings are too strong?" Jarod asked, clarifying.
The boy nodded. Then he took Jarod by the hand, tugging until the man got to hands and knees and crawled slowly toward her. Two of the toddlers leaped gleefully onto his back for a ride.
Jarod felt warm inside with pleasure, intensified by Aurora's influence in his system. This was good, being with the children. It was fun.
He stopped near the little girl, but not close enough to make her dash away. She eyed him, looking so much like her mother, waiting for him to get too close. But he sat down, letting his riders slide giggling to their feet, and looked at the floor rather than make eye contact.
"How do I feel?" he asked her softly. "Can you feel me?" In his peripheral vision, he could see her squinting, reaching out to him, probing his emotions.
And then he saw her smile, a big, brilliant grin from ear to ear.
"Jawid is flat," she pronounced happily. She stood up, doll clutched close to her chest with her left arm, and approached him. The other children stepped away, watching to see what would happen. Angelique touched his face with her palm, gently. Then she rested her hand there for a moment and made eye contact.
She laughed. "Jawid is mine!" She threw her free arm around his neck and hugged him, holding him close.
"No!" shouted Gabriel, but he didn't touch her. "Jawid is mine, Annie!"
The girl let go enough to turn her head to look at the boy. Eye to eye, they came to a silent agreement, and she sat down in Jarod's lap. "We share," she announced.
Gabriel came over and wedged himself into Jarod's lap right beside her, hip to hip, not giving an inch. And Angelique didn't move away.
Cox and Eve exchanged a glance of astonishment.
"Well, I never thought I'd see that in a million years," Penfield said with a low whistle.
"Join the club," Eve agreed.
Cox moved into Jarod's line of sight and began introducing the children, citing each of their skills, and describing what training they wanted him to give them. The pretender glanced at Eve for confirmation, and then shifted into the proper mode. He lifted his arms in a gathering motion, and they all came to stand in front of him, except for the two in his lap.
"Let's play a game," he suggested. "Who likes games?"
Little hands went up everywhere, and some jumped in the air for emphasis.
Children so young normally didn't know what it meant to raise their hands in answer to a question, which was bold testament to how well they had been trained so far. This was going to be a challenge, but he thought it would also be quite enjoyable. And that was, after all, what it was all about now. The pleasure was everything, artificial or not.
* * * * * * * * *
"Miss Parker! Miss Parker! You'll never guess what I found!"
Broots was beside himself with excitement. He had stormed into the room, startling her from a report she had been reading. Without waiting for a response, he grabbed her DSA reader from its spot beside her credenza, set it up on the desk and then ran back to shut her office door.
"What the hell's going on, Broots?" she demanded crossly.
"You've got to see this to believe it! I saw it, and I still don't think I saw what I think I saw." Hands trembling, he inserted the disk, worked the track ball to pull up the scene he wanted, and then stepped back to watch it with her.
The disc was dated June, the year before she was born in January.
The room in view was small, apparently a private office. Eve walked in, followed quickly by a youthful Mr. Parker, who shut the door after them. The woman turned on him, obviously upset, arms crossed, body tense.
"What are we going to do? I can't stay here and have this baby. Catherine will figure out what we've done, and I'll get fired."
"I told you, I'll take care of it. I'll get you an assignment overseas, at the German offices. Even as head of SIS, nobody knows her over there. Her influence with them will be minimal. This'll just be a shift of human resources. We do that all the time anyway."
"What will you do with it when it's born?" She glanced down at her slim waist. "I certainly don't want it."
He took her by the shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. "I've already got that all planned out. There's a couple in Kansas already waiting. At least I know this one's mine." He patted her still-flat belly gently.
Eve softened instantly. "Do you know who slept with Catherine?"
"Not yet. She doesn't think I know she was unfaithful. I may not tell her, either. She's useful. We need her here, for the program. If I tell her I know the truth, she'll leave and I've got plans for her. Especially now."
"If I take a leave of absence instead of going to Germany, can you get me back my position?"
"Maybe. Or I could have you work under me."
She chuckled. "Working under you is what got me pregnant."
He laughed with her. "That was the deal, as I recall. Catherine didn't want to have a baby with me, so I had to go to someone else who would. I need an heir, someone to carry on with the plan after I'm gone. She wouldn't hear that."
"But she was all for it with someone else."
Parker glowered. "Oh, she'll pay for that, you can be sure," he promised the other woman. "I'll take my pound of flesh an ounce or two at a time."
Both of them laughed, arms entwining, lips meeting in a happy kiss.
The picture went blank.
Stunned, Miss Parker sat still, staring at the black screen.
"I found this when I was going through some old discs I had taken from Mr. Raines' office, the last time I was in there. I forget what I was looking for, but I must have found it before I got to this one because I never looked at it." Broots took the disc out and started putting away the reader.
"Miss Parker?" He stopped, noting the absence of intellect in her expression. He waved his hand in front of her face, and she didn't blink. "Are you okay?"
Something clicked. "Don't tell anyone about this, Broots," she breathed, and snatched the disc out of his hand. "I guess we know who Lyle's mother is now." She shook her head. "And it was a business deal. My God, is there nothing that man isn't capable of, no low he won't stoop to?"
"Apparently not." Broots packed away the reader and put it back beside the credenza. "Miss Parker, I've been thinking."
"Don't hurt yourself," she retorted. Instantly she regretted the snappy comeback. "Sorry. Old habits die hard. You were saying...?"
"Yeah. Thanks. I've got tons of these DSAs, but not enough time in a day to go through them all, looking for things. So I'm working on a voice recognition search program that will be able to do rapid locations of key words on the DSAs. Hopefully, if that word or name pops up anywhere on the disc, the program will be able to zip to those bits so we can see exactly what the reference is without having to watch the whole disc."
She smiled. "That's brilliant, Broots. It ought to be a valuable research tool. Please keep me posted on how it goes. And don't share it with the company."
"Yes, ma'am." He was beaming at her polite praise.
"You do great work, Broots. I couldn't do my job without you."
He blushed and stumbled all over himself and his vocabulary on the way out the door.
She shook her head, still smiling. Broots was priceless in his own bumbling way. He had endeared himself to her with his willingness and his reluctant affection, and earned her respect with his technical expertise. She was lucky to have him on her team, and was beginning to think a promotion was in order, if she could swing it. He'd make a good Number Two in SIS, and he certainly had the technical skills to handle it.
Morgan could play games just as well as Eve; possibly even better. She would pay a call to her fa-- to the Chairman, and make the arrangements for Broots to join her in Security. She could use his expertise, and the move would allow him more control over the sensitive areas where he went on electronic raids. With him as her right-hand man, she could accomplish a great deal more.
But he wasn't enough support for what she had in mind for the Centre. She needed more, and had nowhere else to turn. Neither Sydney nor Jarod could be completely trusted, and until she found sufficient allies to help her, she would simply have to do what she could from SIS.
* * * * * * * * *
The program was working. He'd had to do some fancy footwork and tell a couple of lies to get a DSA reader of his own to monkey with, and finding a way to hook it up to his computer had been a challenge, but after that, things had gone smoothly. Disc after disc went through the machine, playing at speeds higher than humanly possible to comprehend, but when he was done, the library of DSAs that he had amassed were catalogued completely, referenced according to dialogue and ready for a search.
He programmed in the name Alexis Moore, and three hits popped up. Sorting through the rack he had purloined from Archives, he pulled out the three discs. The first one was a report on the female Pretender, delivered to Dr. Raines by Jacob. The second was a meeting between Jacob and Raines, where he wanted the woman added to the Proteus Project, which Broots knew was the project name for all of the Pretenders, after the Greco-Roman god who could change his shape and take on the persona of other people.
The third was pay dirt. He watched in horror as the woman in Sydney's photograph gave birth, shackled to that table he had seen on SL-27. The baby was handed off to a nearby nurse, who carried the child out of the room while the doctors worked to save the mother's life in vain.
The next scene following that one showed the nurse heading for the elevator on SL-26 with the baby in her arms. The doors opened, and Catherine Parker stood there, waiting to take the child away. She thanked the nurse, who headed for the emergency stairs rather than going back down below.
Just before the doors closed, Broots heard Catherine say to the newborn, "You get to have a good life now, little girl. You're going to a family who will love you and keep you safe from this place. That's what Alexis and Jacob would have wanted for you."
There was nothing else after that. Broots felt his insides quivering. Sydney wouldn't need to see all that. He would be told that the child had been adopted out, and that would satisfy him. His niece was among those children that Catherine had rescued, and she was safe. That was all that mattered.
Rubbing his eyes wearily, he packed up the discs, locked them into his safe that Miss Parker had sent to him for just such a purpose. He went home for the night, intending to share his news with Sydney the next morning. Good news could always wait.
* * * * * * * * *
Broots checked the hallway before ducking into the massive room where all the old paper records were stored. He had a few files to put back before they were missed, and some others to gather. Jarod had directed him to look through the files on Jacob, and Broots was thorough. Even though he had the answer he wanted to give to Sydney, it wouldn't hurt to dig a little deeper.
He busied himself with putting away the files he had brought with him first, and then started looking for files on Jacob. He decided to start looking in the cabinets that he knew had once belonged exclusively to Mr. Raines.
The light bulb just above his head blew out, and the door opened at the same instant. Out of instinct, Broots dropped down, hiding from whoever had come into the room. Then he remembered he was on a legitimate mission, under orders from both of his superiors, and cautiously stood up to peer over the filing cabinet at the interloper.
No one was in view. He shrugged off the notion that someone had come in, and started back on his search. He was working through the "R's" when a hand came out of nowhere, reaching up from beneath the drawer to close it.
Broots gasped and leaped backward as he saw Angelo squatting down below him. The empath duck-walked to the filing cabinet beside the one where he was searching and opened another drawer instead. Heart pounding, Broots ran a hand over his smooth dome, struggling to catch his breath.
"Jeez, Angelo! You scared the bejezus out of me."
"Here," the empath suggested. "Jacob."
"Jacob would be under J," Broots corrected. Or under R for Ritter. Thats the P drawer.
Angelo's left hand hovered for a moment over the open drawer. "Jacob," he insisted. He reached in without looking and pulled out a thick file.
The tab read: Proteus Project / Ritter, Jacob
Broots eyed Angelo, who glanced away, his blue eyes wandering aimlessly around the dusty room. "You know, Angelo," the tech mused, "sometimes I think you know everything that goes on in this place."
Angelo grinned and galloped away on all fours, destination unknown.
Broots just shook his head and smiled, closed the drawer and took it back to his office for further study.
* * * * * * * * *
The dark of night was Angelo's favorite time. He could go anywhere, and few people were awake and working, especially in the labs. Some were busy 24 hours a day, but this one only had only one shift. This was the lab where all the manufacturing was done on finished products, but no research was ever conducted.
He let himself down from the grate and listened. There wasn't a sound of human motion, just the handful of rats he liked to visit. They distracted him for a moment, and he played with the long-tailed one that was his favorite, letting her crawl onto his shoulder and ride while he felt along the surface of the glass cabinet where the finished products were stored.
The vials had no names, no product information save for a code number that matched up with a production record. Elsewhere in the system, that number could be traced to a name, but that knowledge was unavailable to the chemists and lab techs who created those compounds from chemical formulas stored in their computers. They didn't know what they were making, and thus, could be trusted not to tamper with or liberate any specimens for personal use.
Angelo didn't know exactly what he was looking for as he held out his hands toward the cabinet. He felt for what he needed, and as soon as he found the vials, he deftly picked the lock and removed two of them. He didn't know for sure why it was so important to take these bottles, but that would come later. All he knew was that it must be done, must be secreted away now. They were necessary, even though they frightened him.
He put the vials into his pants pocket, kissed the rat on the nose, and put her back into her cage.
"Bye, Sophie," he whispered, and scampered back to the grate. Moments later he was on his way back to his secret place, to store the vials of Aurora with his treasure stash. Jarod needed them, and he was going to help.
* * * * * * * * *
The door opened slowly. Sydney glanced up, taking note of the tech hesitating in the doorway. "Come in, Broots," he said gently. "Do you have news?"
"Uh, yeah." He stepped fully into the dimly lit room and closed the door behind himself. "Good news and bad news. Which do you want first?"
Sydney's eyes followed the other man as he moved to the chair across from his desk and laid a folder in his lap. "I'll take the bad news first."
"Leave it to a shrink to make that choice," Broots said with a half-hearted grin that disappeared almost as quickly as it came. He lifted the folder onto the desktop and slid it toward Sydney. "I found this file on Jacob in the archives. I thought you might want to keep it."
For a moment, the older man just stared at it. Reluctantly, he flipped the manila jacket open and began to read. There were pages of handwritten notes, followed by neatly typed reports. It might take him weeks to read through all the material, but he promised himself to do just that. It would be a way of touching Jacob's mind again, and he needed that just then.
"What did you find, Broots?" he asked solemnly.
The technician winced and fidgeted in his chair. "There's a paper in the back of the folder. It's an order from Mr. Raines."
Sydney closed the folder, opened it from the back and turned over the last sheet of paper. It was an official Centre document, regarding Raines' suspicion that Jacob was planning to flee with Alexis Moore. There was documentation to back it up, and mention of Jacob's change of heart toward others of the prized subjects currently in use for research. Raines stated his fear that the psychiatrist might attempt to liberate others in addition to Alexis, and that he had to be stopped. He called for official sanction, and the signatures at the bottom revealed that the sanction had been approved by everyone except the director of SIS, who would have been Catherine Parker.
Centre sanctions, Sydney knew, were often permanent. Then he noticed the date. August 1, 1967, the day before the automobile accident which put Jacob into a coma that lasted for nearly thirty years.
"Oh, my God," he breathed. "They meant to kill him!"
"That's what I thought, too. I couldn't remember exactly when that accident happened, but I knew it was somewhere around 30 years ago. Was I right?"
Sydney's throat closed up. He couldn't answer, but knew from the haunted look in Broots' eyes that he understood. Sydney worked to swallow, to try to regain his mental stability.
Raines had tried to have Jacob killed. Sydney had gone to pick up Jacob at the last minute, because his brother had wanted to talk. Jacob was trying to clear his conscience, and possibly ask Sydney to help him rescue the children the Centre had stolen, and the woman he loved.
The older man stared at the signatures. All of them were dead. All but one.
"And the good news?" he asked quietly, when he could make his voice work again. He tucked the paper back into the folder and closed it. That he would deal with later, in his own time, on his own terms. At least, now he knew the truth.
"Jacob's daughter was rescued by Catherine Parker the day she was born. She was adopted out, and they have no record of where she went. She's safe, Sydney."
He closed his eyes, spilling great tears over his cheeks. He nodded. "Thank you, Broots. You are invaluable to me. And a great friend."
"You're welcome, Sydney." The tech rose and stepped quietly out of the office, leaving the other man to his own thoughts.
Eagle Mountain Bank was her first stop. Jarod hadn't given her the extra key, but the bank had it in an envelope in the rental file, along with a copy of her signature that the Pretender had either stolen or forged, and a photograph of her for identification purposes.
The diary was the only thing inside the box. She took it, stuffed it into her purse and left as quickly as she could, returning to the hotel room she had rented for her overnight stay. Morning would have her on a plane back to Delaware, and she would read the whole thing on the way.
She couldn't wait, though, and ordered room service while she scanned the first page. She smiled as she read about Catherine's courtship with Parker, and the handful of entries during the first years of their marriage. The new wore off quickly, as Parker revealed himself to be self-centered and demanding. There were entries that alluded to problems at the Centre, but never went into specific detail.
Then, three years before Morgan's birth, something drastic happened that forever changed her marriage. Because of her strong Catholic beliefs and her work at the Centre, there was no way out of the relationship. She talked about her sister, and how Dorothy encouraged her to get away, to clear her head. That's when she made her first trip to Lake Catherine, Maine. Her first visit to Ben Miller's inn was an accidental stop on her way to visit her sister, but she felt so comfortable with the man that she promised herself to return.
Morgan already knew about those annual trips, and Jarod had suggested that Miller might be a candidate for her father. She knew that her mother wasn't the type to sleep around. If she had found a lover, he would have been the only one in her life.
Exhaustion kicked in, and she reluctantly gave in to it. Tucking the diary under her pillow with her pistol, she turned off the bedside lamp and sighed into sleep. The answer could wait until tomorrow, and if she didn't get what she wanted in the diary, there were other ways she could discover the truth. All she needed was time.
* * * * * * * * *
The window slid open, and through it came a soundless shadow. It eased lightly into the tub, stepped carefully over the side and listened. In the dark, it was easy to hear the smallest sound. The hum of an air conditioner turned down low took a little filtering out, but then a soft sigh issued from the next room, a sound of sleep.
The shadow moved into the dressing room, ignoring the reflection of his black shape as he took another silent step toward the bed. Just enough light came through the nondescript white hotel curtains that he could see the outline of her body beneath the sheets, blankets thrown over the end of the bed. Soft skin gleamed on her shoulders, chest and face. Her eyes were closed and scrubbed free of makeup. There was such beauty in her face, but no peace.
Valentine smiled. He stood over her, watching her sleep, appreciating the curves of her womanly form, the curtain of her long dark hair over the pillow. He would enjoy her soon enough. This was just a foretaste, a tease to keep him stimulated while he waited for just the right moment to advance. She had resisted him so far, but he knew some of her weaknesses now, like the perfume he had left on her desk. He would learn other, more important ways to get into her psyche, as well. He would make her come to him, make her dance and scream. She was made for that.
He bent low over her hair. Slowly, silently so she wouldn't hear, he inhaled her fragrance. And then he turned and went back out the way he had come in. Lyle had said he couldn't touch her, that she was off limits. Lyle was his boss.
But he wasn't the boss.
Valentine could do what he pleased, as long as he pleased the one who mattered.
* * * * * * * * *
Ben Miller was away when Miss Parker arrived, but the woman keeping the house for him during his vacation, Mrs. Beth-Ann Hodgins, recognized her from the pictures and let her into the inn. Parker went straight to her mother's room, to the cedar chest where she had found the envelope marked 'Rescued' that her mother had left behind. She sat on the bed and looked through the birth certificates and adoption contracts until she found the one she had come to locate.
The baby wasn't named -- 'female' was all that was marked where a name should have been written -- but the mother's name was Alexis Moore, and the father's was Jacob Ritter. There was a small photograph of the newborn attached to the birth certificate, but no other documentation that might have shed more light on where she went after Catherine took her away.
She sighed, and reached for a stack of the other papers, intending to put them back into the envelope.
Find them, Morgan.
The young man whose baby picture she had in her hand was nearly 30 years old now. She had no way of knowing whether the name on the birth certificate was the name the man now wore, or his original name which would have been changed after adoption or placement with a family for safekeeping from the Centre. But she could not let go of the papers.
"Why?" she murmured, staring at the baby's pink face. She closed her eyes, concentrating, searching for that quiet place in her heart that was her mother's legacy. Tell me why I need to find them, Mama.
You need them, and they need you. They need to know where they came from.
She sighed, and bent her head, clasping the papers and pictures to her chest. That was a journey she didn't want to make, didn't even know where to start. But as much as she let the thoughts cross her mind, she felt the answering warmth of her mother's spirit.
"I will, Mama. I'll find them."
No one will understand like they do, sweetheart.
She nodded, opened her eyes and went out to her car to fetch her laptop. She borrowed Ben's scanner for the photos, but took the time to type in the records rather than taking any of the papers with her. They were too valuable to have at home or in her office -- if the Chairman got suspicious and instituted a search of her things, she didn't want those to be found.
As soon as she got back to the Centre, she'd write the files to a DSA for Broots to begin working on, looking for clues to what might have become of the children, and what had been done with them while they were in the Centre. She needed every scrap of information she could find on them to be able to know where to start looking for them, but she knew that she was going to have to depend heavily on the slowly developing inner sense that was her mother's legacy.
Just as she picked up the last stack of papers, she glanced at the one on top.
That was one she knew something about, but she'd have to check her personal notes to remember everything about the conversation she'd had with Dara's adoptive mother. There was something significant about that one that she needed to begin the search, but she couldn't quite pin down exactly what it was. That, too, would come in time.
She placed the envelope back into the cedar chest, gave the room a fond farewell, and smiled at her mother's photograph as she went to thank Mrs. Hodgins for her hospitality.
* * * * * * * * *
The day had been long and tiring. It was late, and the Belgian was already in his pajamas, but there was one more thing that needed to be done before he could sleep. He pulled the box from the shopping bag he'd brought home with him earlier, and took out a heavy antique silver picture frame. The velvet covered back was hinged to allow access to the glass, and he carefully placed the photograph of Jacob and Alexis into it. Securing it, he turned it over in his hands to look at them.
They made a lovely couple. He could see how much his brother cared for her in his expression, in the way his arms wound around her slender waist. Sydney touched the glass, tracing over the faces thoughtfully.
"She's safe, Jacob," he told the picture. "Your baby is out there somewhere, all grown up. And one day, I'm going to find her for you, and tell her all about you." He sighed. "I only wish I'd known Alexis better. You should have told me."
Sydney chided himself for thinking such things. He had known, all along, somewhere deep in his soul, in that unfathomable connection he shared with his twin. He had also been struggling with the same issues regarding the children, wanting answers the Centre was unwilling to give. But unlike his brother, he had turned away from the unsettling questions, the answers that didn't quite add up, and in the end, he had done nothing to help those children, or his brother.
All that was ancient history, and no power on earth could change what had happened to each of them.
Sydney carried the photograph to his bedroom, took the photograph of himself and Jacob from its normal resting place on the nightstand, and replaced it with the new picture. This was how he wanted to remember Jacob, smiling and deeply in love. This was the first thing he would see when he awakened in the mornings, and one day, there would be another photograph to fill the empty space on the left side of the frame, a photograph of a young woman whose face Sydney had never seen.
He stretched himself out under the covers and closed his eyes, letting his mind relax and wind down from the long day. Sleep crept up on him slowly, and a vision presented itself to lead him into dreams. The faces were familiar, and reminded him that it had been too long. He would call or write a letter soon to Nicholas and Michelle, and one day he hoped that they would all be free from the shadow of the Centre.
And he hoped he would still be alive to see it.
* * * * * * * * *
Angelo watched the child through the grate. She was small and blonde, and for the moment, all alone in the room. She cuddled a soft cloth doll close to her, the one she was almost never without except at bath time. She rocked herself gently, clutching the doll to her chest, and hummed.
She wasn't aware of him just yet, but as soon as he moved to unfasten the screws holding the grate closed, she flinched and ran for the corner, cowering behind a large floor pillow.
She started to cry, tears streaming silently down her chubby cheeks, big blue eyes wide and frightened, not a sound coming out of her except for tense, shallow breathing.
Angelo pushed the vent open and slipped slowly out, keeping his eyes on her all the time. He wasn't sure what he should do, but she was so sad, and so afraid. He could feel it, pounding against him like tiny fists. He squatted down on all fours and hummed the same tune she had been creating a moment earlier.
"Angelique." He pointed at her, then at himself. "Angelo."
The child cowered further down behind the pillow.
"It's okay," he promised, and smiled. "Feel me." He closed his eyes and remembered how her sadness had touched him, how her unhappiness called to him from the depths of the Centre. She had been better since Jarod had come to her and started working with the children, but the connection between them still called to him. "Had to come. For you."
She stood up cautiously, peering at him from over the top of the pillow. Her anguish subsided slightly, as curiosity blossomed inside her. He could sense it, that tentative opening of herself, wondering if he would hurt her as so many others had.
He opened his eyes and stared at the floor in front of the pillow, rather than directly at her. She was so beautiful, so precious, so fragile of spirit. He knew who she was, how she had come to be. She was part of Faith. And she was part of him. He could not help but love her. His eyes filled with tears as he let that sensation radiate from him, like sunshine on a cloudless summer day, endlessly warm and pleasant. She needed to know that she was loved, that she belonged to him, was part of him.
Angelique dropped her doll, tiny mouth hanging open now as she stared at him. She took a step away from the pillow and let it fall. Then she took another step, away from the corner. And then she was running, flying across the room toward him, arms outstretched, her cherubic face filled with grief and fear and need.
His arms opened and he let her crash fully into him, knocking him onto his butt as he embraced her fiercely.
"Baby sad," he sobbed.
"Not sad," she sniffed against his neck. "Got my Angel now."
"Got Angel always. Inside."
* * * * * * * * *
It seemed to Mimi that Sanctuary was nothing more than a prison. She was tired of staying in her room, tired of the weirdos that her boyfriend called friends, tired of being "looked after" all the time. Just for a little while, she wanted to get away. Dallas was a big enough place to get lost, and with the cash she stole from her knight in black leather, she could have a good time indeed.
A taxi took her to the hottest dance club in the city, and she got in with no trouble. The lights and the noise, the bodies in motion, grinding against one another with impersonal abandon, all of it was exactly what she needed. All she had to do was step out onto the floor, and there would be someone to take her mind off her troubles and her recent captivity. She wouldn't be smothered anymore.
Maybe, if she got lucky, she wouldn't even go back to him and his oddball friends.
She saw the guy in the balcony eyeing her right away, but ignored him. He had the look of money, with a well-cut white suit, his jet-black hair pulled back into a ponytail. A neatly trimmed beard and mustache framed just his mouth, his jaws clean-shaven. He was pretty in a masculine sort of way, and looked tall. And he never took his smoky dark eyes off her while she danced.
An hour later, she was sitting in his lap on the balcony, a drink in one hand, cigarette in the other. He promised a lot without saying a word, and when he paid the check with a wad of cash, she followed him outside into the night. He had a limo and a driver waiting, and she smiled broadly as she got into the back with him, ready for anything.
* * * * * * * * *
He stood on the street corner, a light drizzle of rain dampening his platinum blonde hair and beading up on his leather coat. Across the street, a line of yellow crime scene tape had been stretched across an alley. Police cars blocked most of the street, and uniformed officers directed traffic through the narrow opening that was left. A coroner's van was parked on the sidewalk, and he could see them pushing the gurney toward the open doors.
The body was concealed in a black plastic bag, but he knew without looking inside that it was Mimi. He had tracked her that far, but he was too late. For one moment he had let his attention slip, concentrated on a different aspect of his responsibility to her, and she took that moment to escape.
He had known she was restless. He saw that the others gave her the willies, but he had counted on her trying to settle in with them. Only she hadn't wanted to do that. And while he was distracted with his medical research into a treatment for her, she made plain what was most important to her.
He didn't blame her for wanting her freedom. But it didn't make his pain any less. He had failed her, and that was all that mattered.
That, and tracking down her killer. He was very good at that sort of thing. And when he found the man who had taken the light from his life, he would reveal what true darkness really was to Mimi's murderer.
* * * * * * * * *
The sun was shining in a cloudless azure sky, and a light breeze had picked up, taking away the heat of the Indian summer. Man and woman strolled together over the neatly trimmed grass without speaking. She led the way, walking the path by memory from the front gates.
They came to a stop in front of a large marble headstone that read, Catherine Parker.
"I knew I remembered that name from somewhere," Miss Parker mused, her gaze shifting to the headstone just to the left of her mother's.
It read simply, Alexis Moore, 1937-1968.
"You haven't been here for a while," Sydney observed.
Parker shrugged. "I figured, what's the point, since I know my mother's not in there?"
Sydney squatted down and placed a bouquet of white roses and gardenias on Alexis's grave. "The point is remembering. Paying homage."
The woman smiled, and patted her chest, tears gleaming in her eyes and then blinked away. "I have her in here, Sydney. I don't need a grave to put flowers on in order to remember her. She's in my blood, in my soul. She'll always be a part of me."
He nodded and pressed to his feet. "Thank you for remembering this for me. I only wish..."
He didn't have to finish the sentence for Parker to know what he meant. Jacob and Alexis should have been buried together, and would have been, if Sydney had known about the relationship and where Alexis had been laid to rest when his brother died. There was nothing to be done about it now, so she touched him briefly on the shoulder and left him to return to her car and the drive home.
"Good luck, Sydney," she whispered as she glanced at him out the passenger window. He hadn't said anything, but Broots had told her the whole story, showed her the DSAs and everything. She knew what his next move would be, and she hoped he found his niece. It would be a way to touch his brother again, just for a moment.
He had their mother's eyes, only she had never seen it until after she knew for sure that he was her twin. He had the inner sense that Raines warped into that phenomenal empathic ability, and Lyle hadn't exhibited even a flicker of that talent. Angelo was her mother's legacy, as much as she was herself. There was so much to make up for, so much lost between them, and the best time to start was now. As she drove home, she thought about all the things she'd like to do for him, and made a mental list. He needed so little, and had such an enjoyment of small things.
First thing in the morning, she was going to stop by the store on the way home, and buy every box of Cracker Jack on the shelf.
Angelo was going to get a birthday present, even though their birthday was still months off. She was going to give him a party with just the two of them, take him to the park and let him play on the swings, maybe even go to the circus, if he could handle being out among that many people. She would be kind to him, and she would learn to love him. He belonged to her, after all.
She couldn't tell him, not as long as the Chairman was in power, but one day Angelo would know the truth. And she would see to it that he was never mistreated again. Raines was no longer his master, but she didn't know for sure who had control of the empath at the moment. Soon, though, no one would be ordering him around but her. She would protect him, for as long as she could. To do that, she would have to be strong.
And God help anybody who got in her way.
* * * * * * * * *
Parker's eyes roved over the reports unhappily. Some of the shadow corporations were in serious jeopardy. Financial assets had virtually disappeared, but they didn't have Jarod's usual signature to label them as his thefts. Key people had resigned, taken ill or died of late; far too many to be mere coincidence. Something unpleasant was afoot, but he couldn't figure out what it was.
Some of his best people were working on the problem. Initial reports had come up with some interesting hypotheses, not the least of which was the development of a rival corporation centered in the heart of what was once the Soviet Union. There was even an indication that some of those who had voluntarily left their positions had joined up with this upstart think tank, and something was going to have to be done about it. Already plans were underway to develop intelligence on who they were and what they had up their sleeves.
But there was another, even more disturbing possibility that Parker didn't want to consider. He had the Shiva file on his desk, had looked through it more than once, and each time convinced himself that it was not possible. The Shiva Project was dead.
In the Centre, however, things tended not to stay that way.
He pulled the folder back before him with a sigh, opened it up, and began to read it all over again, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand up as he read the first protocol.
* * * * * * * * *
The jacaranda trees were in full bloom, painting the cosmopolitan city in shades of lavender and green. David stopped outside the doorway of the white stone building, briefcase in hand, gripping the handle tightly. He hated that place, hated what it stood for, what it had become, but still he followed his own footsteps there every day, beating a path between the Centre and his home in the hills. Taking a last breath of free air, it was all he could do to force himself into the arched, brass edged doorway, past the identification checkpoint and into the elevator. After that, it had him and his reservations were temporarily conquered, buried under layers of guilt, built up over 30 years of work. His blonde hair was now liberally streaked with white, mute testament to how much of himself he had put into the job, but his sapphire eyes were as clear and intense as the day he had started, fresh from the university. There were lines around his eyes, but he hardly looked like he'd survived five decades of toil, most of them buried in the depths of that place, conducting unspeakable experiments upon his innocent young subjects.
He had been with the Centre a long time, and had seen Triumvirate Station shift from its beginnings in Germany, to a long spell in Boer City, and now to the upstart Delaware facility. For years the Americans had been producing better, faster results in the development of the project, and now, because of their apparent success, they had earned the right to pilot the research the rest of the way to completion. He had worked long and hard to keep Mutumbo pleased, but Parker had outstripped them all with the talent he had procured in America.
David sat down at his desk, unloaded his briefcase and put the files he'd been working on at home onto his blotter. There were messages waiting in his computer and voice mailbox, but he hesitated before diving into the day's work. He had someone on his mind, and couldn't bear seeing her. The practice run Kruger ordered the day before had been awful, and the girl was recovering in the infirmary, but she would never be the same. Terrible burns covered most of her body, including her pretty face. Though she had the pyrokinetic talent, she lacked control in its use, and forcing her to test her limits in the trial yesterday had nearly killed her.
He buried his head in his hands. "No more," he breathed, his perfectly cultured British accent husky with unshed tears. "Heaven help us all."
A sound in the hallway just outside his office made him glance up.
Two blonde men in suits pushed the door open in his dimly lit office, and the taller one flipped the overhead light switch to brighten the room. Mr. Kruger made himself at home in the guest chair, while Mr. Voorhees stood patiently behind him. David squinted at the brightness and frowned at his boss.
"You know too much light hurts my eyes, sir," David growled unhappily. He reached into his jacket pocket for his sunglasses, and put them on.
"You need to get used to it," Kruger assured him with a grin. "That which does not kill us makes us stronger, yes?" His Americanized English was liberally tinged with native German inflections. "We have good news. The debacle yesterday with your pyrokinetic -- we have a use for her that will end her suffering."
David's head came up. He sat straight up in the chair, his forearms and nape prickling with gooseflesh in anticipation of the orders. This was not good.
A large black man with a scarred face came into the room. Dressed impeccably in an Italian suit, his expression was one of superiority, assured of his own power. Tshwane was a cleaner, known for his intelligence as well as his brawn. He stood behind Kruger, making plain to David that no protest would be tolerated.
"Jah, it seems you've guessed it. Tshwane will take Ella to a specific location, where she will then ignite--"
David leaped to his feet. "No! She's much too injured to travel, Mr. Kruger. Moving her would be sheer torture. I forbid it."
Kruger's expression collapsed in total shock. Then he grinned, slapped his knee, sat back in the chair and laughed. "You forbid it! And who do you think you are, herr doktor? You are not the one to give orders here." He snapped his fingers toward the man standing behind him. "Tell him, Mr. Voorhees."
The other man spoke clearly, his British origins also readily apparent. "Ella will be given a strong pain killer that will make her comfortable enough to travel. She'll barely be conscious. Once we have her in place, the medication will wear off rapidly. When the level of pain becomes intolerable, she will no doubt ignite, literally becoming a timed incendiary device." He swallowed hard as he finished speaking, and shifted his gaze guiltily to the floor.
David stared at him. Neither of them had ever spoken of their feelings toward their work, but it had been obvious in Voorhees' eyes that this assignment made him ill. He could not make eye contact, and added, "It will be best for Ella to go quickly. Without this, she faces a long and painful recovery, and people will react to her in horror for the rest of her life. This will be... almost a blessing, ending it now." His voice had softened with compassion at the end.
Taking a slow breath, David shook his head, his lips pressed firmly together. Then he sighed in defeat. "Will I be required to give her orders before she leaves?"
"No," said Kruger. "Just confirm Vorhees' theory, and you will never have to look your failure in the eye again."
"My failure? My failure!" David choked on the swell of rage that suddenly bubbled up inside him. He clenched his fists on the desk, wanting desperately to set Kruger straight, knowing he dared not do so and live. Kruger was far more dangerous than Mutumbo had ever been, and David knew it. Quickly, he strangled his anger, cramming it down into its usual prison at the roots of his soul. Professional demeanor was the key to survival in the Centre. He sat back down in his chair, his back stiff, his tall body tense with unspoken protest. "Is there anything else, Herr Kruger?"
The German stood, and straightened his expensive black suit. "That will be all, David. Close out Ella's files and take further work with her off your schedule. If you need another project to fill your day, we can certainly find something for you to do." He strolled toward the door. "Come, Voorhees. Mr. Tshwane, you know where to take our little firecracker."
Tshwane gave a single elegant nod, and led Kruger out into the corridor.
Voorhees stared at David for a moment. He started to open his mouth, closed it firmly and turned away. Then he turned back. "I'm sorry, David. I know you liked her."
David nodded, and rested his head in his hands again. "She's only 17," he whispered. "She hasn't even lived yet."
He forced himself back to work, as he always did, when tragedy struck his subjects. He had done his very best through the years to blunt as much of the trauma for them as possible, but he didn't always succeed, couldn't always take away their pain or shield them from the dangers inherent in the research. The suffering was becoming too much for him, and something was going to have to give or he'd end up leaping off a tall building.
Punching in the code on his telephone that allowed him to retrieve his voice messages, he sat with pen and paper to take down any necessary information or requests for future action. The first three were from his staff regarding current research projects. The next one, however, was strange indeed.
It was a long distance call, by the sound of the static in the background. The voice was American male, gruff and raspy, but not one he recognized right away. He listened to it twice before requesting from Pretoriat SIS that the origin of the call be traced via phone records. Then he listened to it again.
"I know what you're doing. You can't beat us. We're the ones who did it. We succeeded, when you failed. But you've got to watch your backs now. Shiva's coming to destroy us all, and the ghosts won't leave me alone."
Hours later, SIS confirmed that the call had come from the new Triumvirate Station in Delaware, but a specific telephone extension could not be determined. There was something familiar about the voice, but he couldn't quite place it. Whoever it was sounded slightly unhinged.
David decided not to investigate further unless the caller contacted him again, and chalked it up to the damage the Centre had done to some unfortunate soul who happened to get too close to a telephone.