Southern Tier Restaurant
The albino leaned his elbow on the counter and eyed the woman standing
behind it. He would have preferred a table, but experience told him sitting
in this part of the restaurant -- off to the side away from traffic --
would create a feeling of intimacy. He would get more information here,
and information was his stock in trade. "You say you recognize this
Edith, the rotund waitress serving him, nodded. She set his coffee in
front of him and looked again at the picture he had given her. "Yeah,
she worked here for a while. Wasn't much for talking, but she was good
with the customers. Always seemed to know when they wanted something."
"And the name she gave you was Faith?"
"That's what she called herself... Faith Perkins." Edith paused.
"Say, that wasn't a lie, was it? I'd hate to think we hired some
kind of fugitive or something."
Mr. White merely smiled, and took a sip of the warm liquid. "Can
you remember anything unusual about her -- things she liked or didn't
like, strange habits, what she talked about?"
"Well, like I said, she didn't talk much. Kind of an odd duck, to
tell you the truth. But once in a while, when business was slow, she'd
open her mouth. Then, it was twenty questions. Always about the same thing,
Edith shrugged. "People. She seemed to have trouble figuring out
the relationship stuff."
As Jarod did, after he escaped. She's another seeker -- but for this
one, understanding her own emotions will probably be the most difficult
path of all. White shifted slightly on the stool underneath him, and
wished again that he could sit in a proper chair. "What did you tell
The woman sighed, and rolled her eyes. "Honey, I've been married
for fifteen years. I've seen my husband bring me roses on our anniversary,
and I've seen him fart like a demon in his sleep. Love isn't just about
the mushy stuff. It's about life."
White chuckled briefly, knowing he needed to acknowledge her comment
in some way. "That's very profound."
His flattery made her smile, but that faded quickly as she frowned in
thought. "Why are you looking for Faith, anyway? She do something
He perked up slightly. "What would make you think she had?"
"Well, she didn't act like a criminal or anything. But the way she
left was strange. This guy came in, looking kind of lost. Said his name
was Ethan, and asked for a minute of her time. They went in the back to
talk, and she just stood there with the coffee pot in her hand for a good
ten minutes after he left. Next thing I know, she's handing in her uniform
and saying she's got somewhere else to be."
The mention of Jarod and Miss Parker's half-brother startled him. Ethan
had been nearly impossible to trace ever since the subway incident --
Jarod had obviously hidden him well. How Ethan and Faith knew each other
was uncertain, but it sounded as though they were now working together
toward some goal. "Where was she planning to go?"
"Not sure. But whatever it was must have been important."
"Why do you say that?"
Edith gave him a knowing look. "Because she didn't even stop long
enough to let me know where to send her last paycheck. Just took her things,
and charged out of here like she was on some kind of holy mission."
* * * * * * * * *
Outside the Centre
Blue Cove, DE
It was the middle of the night when Faith arrived at her destination.
She parked a half-mile from the main building, in almost the exact spot
Miss Parker and Sydney had chosen months earlier.
She had promised herself she would never come back to this place alone.
The Centre was dangerous, swirling with dark emotions, and the chance
of capture waiting around every corner. Now that she had finally escaped,
no one could have persuaded her to return.
No one, except Jarod.
She knew from Angelo that he had deliberately allowed himself to be captured,
in the hope of learning the Centre's future plans. And she knew from her
own special connection with him that drugs were slowly bending him to
the Centre's will. The visit from Ethan had crystallized everything. There
was a way out of the trap, but it had to be taken now. If she waited any
longer, Jarod would be lost completely.
Angelo was waiting at the entrance to the ventilation system, as she
had known he would be. After pressing his palm to hers in greeting, he
handed her two small vials of liquid. "Aurora," he explained.
Faith didn't ask how he had gotten them; Angelo had his own way of doing
things. Instead she nodded, and slipped them into her pocket.
She followed him into the shaft -- sometimes crawling, sometimes walking
upright through the system he knew so well. They deliberately chose an
eccentric route, hoping to throw off the suspicions of anyone actually
awake and paying attention. Nothing to see here, folks; nothing more
than a blip on the radar, mice scurrying back to their nests in the walls
of the lower floors.
At one point, Angelo paused on SL-17, behind the grate leading to a large,
empty room. It was obviously meant for play, with plush carpeting on the
floor and toys stacked neatly against one wall. He turned to her, and
his eyes were large and shining in the near-darkness. "Scared for
the babies," he whispered. "Scared for the One. Baby needs mommy."
She knew who he meant. Faith had been aware of the Seraphim for a long
time, aware that her genetic material had been used to create a child
destined to become a pawn of the Centre -- and a slave to anyone whose
calm presence relieved the curse that was empathy, even for a little while.
To avoid a lifetime of pain, training in how to handle her talent would
need to begin, hopefully before the child reached her fourth birthday.
But who would teach her? Angelique knew nothing of her biological mother,
and Faith paused to wonder if that, too, had been a mistake. She seemed
to have made quite a few of them over the course of her life.
Angelo knew his daughter's need, but could offer nothing more than comfort.
Even Jarod wouldn't have had the necessary skills. Only someone born an
empath, who had learned how to place mental barriers between herself and
the world, could pass on the knowledge. Faith knew she couldn't develop
that kind of relationship with Angelique now -- not without surrendering
to the Centre. It would have to wait until the day that all of the Seraphim
were safe and protected.
She laid her hand lightly on top of Angelo's. "The time will come,"
she assured him. "Until then
keep her close."
He nodded his head gravely. "Understand."
Together they turned away from the grate, and continued their journey.
* * * * * * * * *
Sim Lab 2
One of the benefits of Aurora was deep, restful sleep. He always had
pleasant dreams, and awoke refreshed. Jarod couldn't remember another
time in his life when he could make that claim. And yet, somewhat perversely,
he often preferred to stay up part or all of the night working on his
various projects. Now that he was spending every day with the children,
he needed the extra time these sessions afforded him.
He felt the approach of others, raising the hair on the back of his neck,
before he actually heard them. Against the far wall, the grating covering
the air duct opened and a blonde woman slowly emerged, then stood to face
him. "Hello, Jarod."
"Faith." He knew he should feel surprise, excitement, something
at her sudden appearance, but there was nothing... nothing but the peace
of Aurora. The woman was a fugitive from the Centre, and he wondered idly
if he should sound the alarm; but a small part of him still rebelled at
the thought, so he let it go. Instead, he watched with curious eyes as
she approached his desk.
"I'm here to help you escape."
"I don't want to escape," he told her simply, confidently.
"I have a lot of projects to finish. I'm needed here. Why would you
want to interfere with that?"
"I know you did this for the children, Jarod, because you had no
choice -- but your goal has been accomplished. Miss Parker is back in
a position of power now. It's time for you to go, before it's too late."
He could feel her gathering her forces, preparing herself for what the
Centre had taught her to do. He suddenly realized it was the reason she
had come. "Don't 'mirror' me, Faith," he warned. "I'm not
one of your subjects."
Her face lost all expression, only her eyes shining as she began reaching
down into his soul. It was the same look she'd had right before she sent
Raines into mental oblivion. Jarod shook his head in denial and stood,
knocking over the chair he'd been sitting in.
"I know you're in there somewhere, Jarod," she whispered. "Beneath
the confusion and the fear, beneath Aurora, there's a part of you that
wants to leave this place. I know it's there. Show it to me."
If she was determined, there might not be any way to keep her out. Again,
Jarod considered hitting the alarm, even glanced across at it and wondered
if he could make it that far before she could stop him.
"You don't want to do that," she coaxed, her voice softening.
She was right. He didn't. At the moment, Jarod wasn't sure what he did
want, except to stop the war that was starting to build inside of him.
* * * * * * * * *
Gabriel woke suddenly out of a peaceful sleep, sitting straight up in
bed. Something was wrong, he could feel it. Automatically, he reached
out with his thoughts, searching his familiar places for comfort. The
woman he called his sister was asleep, in her own bed. That was good.
But Jarod was awake. And someone was with him.
He recognized the voice, the feel of the woman talking to Jarod. She
was his faceless friend, the one who had come to him when he was afraid,
when Jarod was remembering all the Bad Things. She had comforted him then,
promised to look after Jarod for him. Not knowing her name, he had given
her one of his own -- Bunny, after the stuffed rabbit her voice had seemed
to come from.
For a while, everything had been just as Bunny said. Jarod got better,
and he even came to live in Gabriel's house, where all of the children
could see him every day. When Jarod was around, Annie was friendly, Kayla
didn't make people feel all tingly, and Gideon didn't burn up his toys.
Everyone was happy. But now his Friend wanted Jarod to leave, and Jarod
didn't want to go.
"No, no, Bunny!" Gabriel scooted to the bottom of the mattress,
and crawled down between the bed rail and the foot board until he reached
the floor. He ran to the door connecting his room to Ms. Penfield's. Panting
with effort, he reached his little hands up toward the doorknob, trying
to turn it, but he wasn't tall enough. Frustrated, he began pounding on
the door instead.
"No, Bunny! No take Jawid!" He kicked the door, but that hurt
without his shoes, so he went back to hitting. "Jawid! Jawid!"
Finally, the lights came on; then the door opened and his nurse appeared,
wearing a robe she had hastily wrapped around herself. "Gabriel,
what in the world
He dashed past her and over to the next door, the one leading to the
hallway. "Bunny take Jawid 'way, Enny!" he cried excitedly.
"Want Jawid now!"
She picked him up, starting back toward his room, and he struggled to
release himself from her grasp. "Gabriel, it's all right," she
said in what passed for a pleasant tone. "You had a bad dream. Jarod's
Gabriel knew better. Enny didn't understand things the way he did. She
couldn't hear the things Bunny was saying, and she didn't know how close
Jarod was to giving in. He threw his head back and screamed, hoping that
somehow his Friend would hear him. "No, no, Bunny! No, no!"
* * * * * * * * *
Sim Lab 2
Jarod had his back against the wall as Faith faced him, using all of
her strength to try to reach him. She had never realized just how stubborn
he was, and what a strong will he had. Even now, when almost anyone else
would have given in, he continued trying to block her, throwing everything
in her mental path that he could.
She was sure a large part of that determination came from Aurora -- the
pull of the drug was strong, and he knew if he left the Centre he would
lose his supply of it. Still, Faith had seen the real Jarod, the kind,
gentle man who agonized over what the Centre had done in his name. That
Jarod wanted out, and she needed to liberate him, before anyone else figured
out what they were up to.
Faith realized moments later that it was too late for that. Another personality
crashed awkwardly into her space, uncontrollable, spilling his emotions
everywhere. It was a child, but one with a powerful mind
who didn't understand that Jarod was in danger as long as he stayed at
the Centre. Gabriel, who only wanted to keep his father close to him,
even if he didn't know why it was so important.
There was no energy to spare for an explanation. She needed all her concentration
to break down Jarod's barriers. But without direction, Gabriel's distress
could easily become an alarm that would wake the sleeping giant around
them. Time was running out.
"Please understand, Gabriel," she murmured. "I have to
do this, for his sake."
* * * * * * * * *
There were many nights when she lay awake, unable to sleep because of
the noisy emotions around her. Angelique was used to it, but something
about this night made her uneasy. She clutched Fay, her doll, close to
her chest and listened -- not with her ears, but with her soul, in the
way Jarod had told her was "special."
She didn't make friends easily, but she liked Jarod and she liked Gabriel.
At the moment, both of them were very upset, and their feelings made a
terrible grating noise inside her. Gabriel was crying, afraid that Jarod
would go away. Someone was telling Jarod to go away. Someone, she picked
up in a burst of inspiration, named Bunny.
Angelique didn't want Jarod to go, either. He was flat; it didn't hurt
to be around him, the way it did with so many others. If he left, they
would bring in other, nastier teachers, people who made her want to run
and hide in the corner. She couldn't let that happen.
"No, Bunny!" she cried, kicking the bed and adding in her own
high-pitched scream. "No, no, no, no, no!"
Within moments her caretaker, Nancy, appeared, still in the nightgown
she had worn to bed. "Angelique, honey, what's wrong?"
"Bunny taking Jawid away, Nanny," she explained, breathing
"Bunny? Who is Bunny?" the woman asked.
Angelique didn't know how to explain. Instead, she screamed again, and
her panic began to bleed out into the other rooms, waking the rest of
her sleeping playmates.
After that, things accelerated quickly. She heard Nanny talking on the
phone to Miss Penny, heard her say that someone should go to check on
Jarod. Once they were certain he was still there, they would send for
him to come down to the children and quiet them.
Nanny and Miss Penny were upset too, but the grownups didnt understand.
They didnt hear or see or feel like the Playmates did. And until
they knew, until they saw that Jarod was in trouble, nothing would be
all right, no matter what they said.
Angelique couldn't go to sleep now, not until she saw Jarod again. Not
until he promised that he would stay. She slid off the bed and ran away
when Nanny tried to catch her. She didnt like to be touched, not
by anyone but Jarod or the Empty Man, and right now, the only one she
wanted was Jarod.
* * * * * * * * *
Sim Lab 2
They were calling out the cavalry. The need to leave had become urgent.
Inside the air duct, Angelo was becoming agitated. He stuck his head
out and called to Faith. "Must go!"
With a final effort, Faith pushed past the last of Jarod's defenses and
found what she was looking for. He did want to leave the Centre -- that
voice had simply been drowned out by the others imposed on him, those
which advocated peace and obedience above everything else.
Using the skills she had learned, she magnified that feeling, allowed
it to blossom, until the desire to leave was so strong it shoved everything
else aside. When it reached what felt like critical mass, she stretched
out her hand in wordless invitation. Jarod took it without hesitating,
and together they hurried over to the grate.
Angelo was urging them on. "Go! Go now!" He went first, and
Faith let Jarod take the middle position, with herself bringing up the
rear. They scrambled through the duct on all fours, no longer trying to
hide their presence or their destination. Surprise was lost, and speed
was the only thing still on their side.
* * * * * * * * *
The door to the Sim Lab opened, and two burly sweepers entered the cavernous
room. Jarod's workspace was deserted, the computer he used still up and
running. Contact with a second team sent to his quarters confirmed that
he wasn't there, either.
"Sound the alarm," one of the men barked into his phone. "Jarod
is missing. He may be trying to escape."
* * * * * * * * *
There was no physical alarm bell, but Faith was aware the instant they
began searching for Jarod in earnest. She knew the pattern: they would
seal all of the traditional exits, then search all of the rooms on the
floor he was known to inhabit, and quickly expand to other floors. It
would take a very short time for them to remember the air ducts -- especially
since their last escapee, namely herself, had used them.
They practically flew through the system, following the pace Angelo set.
Faith could almost hear the echoing cries of frightened, angry children,
but knew they were too young to understand, even if she could have explained
it to them. For now, there was nothing anyone could do.
When they reached the end, Angelo burst out the grate into the night
air, Jarod following quickly after him. He was panicked now, eyes glassy
with fear, his peace temporarily shattered. Faith had to try to keep up
with him, but as she emerged from the duct she saw the look on Angelos
face and knew instantly where he was headed.
You cant go to her, Angelo, she warned. Not now.
They'll be looking for you, wanting to know if you helped us. Go to your
special place and hide until it's safe.
He was crestfallen. Baby needs daddy, he whispered, still
panting from exertion.
Yes. But you cant go to her now. Too many people. Faith
laid her palm along his cheek. Wait till shes alone. You can
help her then. Okay?
With tears in his eyes, he nodded and darted back into the duct, pulling
the grate in place behind him.
Let's move, she told Jarod, and they were off, racing across
the field of tall grass into the darkness, and oblivion.