Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Jamie Denton as Mr. Lyle
Lenny von Dohlen as Dr. Cox
Candace Bergen as Eve
Valerie Bertinelli as Faith
Tobin Bell as Mr. White
Paul Dillon as Angelo
Louise Fletcher as Ms. Penfield
George Lazenby as Major Charles
Ryan Merriman as Jordan/Young Jarod
Caitlin Wachs as Young Faith
Sam Ayers as Sam the sweeper
Camryn Manheim as Edith
Roxann Dawson as Nancy
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 woman?"
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, too."
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 her?"
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 wrong?"
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."
* * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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 fine."
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!"
* * * * * * * * *
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 Gabriel, 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 hard.
"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.
* * * * * * * * *
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.
The Crisis Management Team assembled quickly, given the early-morning hour. They sat around the table, representing the impacted departments: Mr. Parker, the Triumvirate; Eve, Jarod's handler; Dr. Cox, the Seraphim; and Mr. Lyle, the Centre at large. No one had so much as a cup of coffee in front of them, because they all knew the Chairman wanted their undivided attention in this matter.
The Centre had been thoroughly searched; Jarod was definitely gone.
"All right," Mr. Parker harrumphed. "I know it's early, but word of this is spreading through the Centre like wildfire. I'm going to have to tell the Triumvirate something. Before that happens, I want an explanation for how Jarod escaped, and I want to know what would have given him the idea to take off in the middle of the night."
Cox nodded his head in agreement. "It was a well-timed maneuver. If the
children hadn't raised the alarm, we still might not know about it."
Lyle cleared his throat. "Pardon me for saying so, but shouldn't my dear sister be here? The new head of SIS was supposedly going to make this place escape-proof. I, for one, would like to hear her explanation of why it isn't." Then we can rake her over the coals and blame someone besides ourselves for this mess.
"I'll deal with her in due time, but this comes first." He turned to Eve, who had obviously put herself together quickly after receiving the call. It was the first time any of them had seen her looking less than immaculate. "Security on Jarod was lax," he told her. "You assured me there would be no escape attempts while he was on the Aurora protocol, and I took you at your word."
Eve stiffened under his barrage. "I still don't understand it. We had no indication that Jarod was contemplating a move like this. Aurora was working perfectly, keeping him in line without damaging his genius in any way." She brushed a stray bit of hair back from her face and added defiantly, "It could still bring him back. No one has ever successfully managed a withdrawal from this drug."
"So what you're telling me is, he might end up lying dead in a ditch somewhere if he decides that's a better option than working for us," Parker thundered.
"What I'm telling you, Mr. Chairman, is that Jarod doesn't have the option of deciding what's best. Aurora is all he needs, and all he wants. It's simply not possible that he would decide to leave on his own, without a plan, without backup."
Her words hung in the air for a moment, until Cox put his elbows on the table, steepling his hands and voicing the thought forming in all of their minds. "Jarod had help."
"I can't think of a way anyone could have persuaded him to leave," Eve insisted.
Lyle sorted carefully through the suspects in his mind, until the answer popped out at him. It had been staring them in the face right along. "I know who did it."
His father turned to look at him. "Who?"
He answered the question with a question. "Who's been trained to 'mirror' other peoples' emotions? Who could dig around in Junkie Boy's psyche until she found what she wanted, then make leaving the Centre sound like the best thing since sliced bread?"
Mr. Parker's expression closed off. "Faith," he announced grimly.
Lyle nodded. "Faith." Even the woman's name bothered him, when he said it out loud. "She knows what's going on in Jarod's head. Always has, ever since Eclipse. She must have come back to the Centre specifically to get him." And not me, thankfully.
"We let her pull it off, right under our noses," the Chairman growled. Well, she's not going to get away with it. Go after her, and put our best man on it. What about your new sweeper, what's his name, Valentine?"
Lyle smiled to himself. Valentine would love that. And when he was finished with the little troublemaker, there'd be nothing left of her. At least, nothing that anyone would find. Too bad I didn't think of it sooner. "Actually, I already have someone on the job; Mr. White's been tailing her. Now that she's got a drug addict in tow, I'm betting that job just got a whole lot easier."
Are you sure Whites up to the job? Parker demanded. Faith is no walk in the park.
I warned him, and gave specific instructions on how to handle her, Lyle assured him. No need to tell anyone I ordered her death. After this incident, they'll be glad enough to see her gone.
The phone on the table rang. With a look of terminal impatience that made his face flush red, Parker lifted the receiver. What? he shouted angrily. He listened. His shoulders drooped. His eyes rolled. Yes, yes, Ill be there as soon as I can.
He replaced the phone on its cradle and turned bloodshot eyes on the group. I want all of you to shake down everyone in your departments who had anything to do with Jarod or Faith. I want to know exactly what happened here tonight. He cleared his throat. Ill be back in my office shortly, and Ill expect a full report from each of you. If Im not here, wait for me in the conference room. Now, get out and do your jobs.
The group split up on their various missions, and Lyle watched as his father headed straight for the elevator, grumbling under his breath. The old man's blood pressure was probably sky high, and he looked tired, in no mood for this kind of crisis. No doubt someone was going to pay for this fiasco; the only question was who would make the most appropriate scapegoat.
* * * * * * * * *
They flew down the highway in the predawn darkness, nearly alone with only the occasional car passing them. "Well, I see you learned to drive," Jarod observed. "Although I never expected you to be practicing for the Indy 500 on Delaware's back roads.
She flashed him a tiny grin. I like to get where I'm going." After a moment, she added, Besides, the more distance we put between us and the Centre, the better.
It was tiring, keeping up the pressure on him, and she felt that control starting to slip. He was agitated now, and she knew it was because his last dose of Aurora was starting to wear off. Soon he would be twitching, possibly violent, maybe impossible to contain. The haunted look in his eyes was enough to convince her to act.
I understand what you did to get me out, Faith, he said, fidgeting with his hands in his lap, as if he didnt know what to do with them. But I don't like it. You took unfair advantage--
I couldn't have convinced you unless some part of you already wanted to leave, Jarod. You know that. I cant plant emotions into peoples' minds, I can only emphasize whats already there.
I want to go back," he said abruptly. "Turn the car around, or just stop and let me out. Ill walk, take a bus, run, whatever I have to do. Please
Her face set, and her mouth firmed up in a thin, angry line. Damn them for doing this to you. She reached into her pocket and withdrew one of the vials Angelo had given her. This will take care of you for the moment. The syringes and tubing are in the glove compartment.
He snatched the bottle from her hand and dove into the compartment. Clutching the items to his chest like a life preserver, the relief in his expression was obvious. In the semi-darkness of the car, he prepared the injection and sent it home, followed by a sigh of relief. With meticulous precision, he packed the materials away and set them in his lap. He wasnt going to let them out of his sight.
He turned to her as he waited for the drug to take effect, studying her profile in the glow of the dashboard lights. Why couldnt you have just left me alone? Because of Aurora, I can finally relax. I can sleep without the demons haunting me. Im happy.
And how relaxed and happy were you a few moments ago? She shot him a frustrated glance. No, Jarod, you only think you are. Its nothing but a drug-induced haze, a lie you want desperately to believe. It isnt you."
How would you know? he snapped, before turning his face away from her and closing his eyes. Youve never been happy in your life.
That wasn't strictly true, although she knew what he was trying to say. She had worked fiercely to maintain a middle ground, surrounded as she was by the emotional maelstrom that was the Centre. All her life, true heartbreak and true joy had eluded her. They simply couldn't be afforded. She knew sadness as an old friend, but hadn't allowed herself to cry for many years. And now that she was free, that rigid control was proving difficult to shake.
Faith sighed. Now wasnt the time to start thinking about that. She had an agenda, a life to save -- and she would pursue it, whether Jarod wanted to be saved or not.
* * * * * * * * *
Lyle punched in the phone number from memory. The response was immediate, in spite of the early hour. Dont you ever sleep? he queried, without bothering to identify himself.
A soft chuckle sounded in his ear. Im not paid to sleep, Mr. White reminded him.
Mind telling me where you are right now?
In a little town nobody ever heard of in upstate New York. Im still on her trail, Mr. Lyle. She gave me the slip last night, but Ill find her again. And when I do, Ill be ready to make my move.
Lyles lips pursed. Disappointment burned in his chest. Remember what I told you about her. Dont get too close. Dont let her know youre there. Just find her and get rid of her. He sighed. It may already be too late. Seems Jarod has escaped from the Centre again and guess who probably helped him?
Another low chuckle. Im not surprised. It fits with the abrupt way she left her last job.
Weeks have gone by since I gave you this assignment. I told you to take care of her.
And I will. But I have to know my target if Im going to anticipate their actions. Ive studied her. Very interesting woman. And besides, now that shes gotten your Pretender out, theyll have to deal with his addiction. They wont be able to make it far before his need becomes too strong to ignore.
Thats what the powers that be are hoping for, Lyle assured him. But dont underestimate our Looking Glass. Shes resourceful. Check with the hospitals and clinics first.
I know how to do my job, White responded coolly. Jarods friends arent likely to move in such an obvious fashion, but I know a great deal about how Faith operates. Ill find her.
While youre at it, why dont you just put us all out of our collective misery and kill them both? No one has to know, and youll like the bonus Im offering.
That will depend on opportunity. Ill let you know when I have more information.
Lyle hung up the phone and stared at the masks on his wall for a moment. He'd always been able to find his way around rocks and hard places. If he got into trouble for killing their precious pretender, he could always remind them that the clone was still out there somewhere, and could take his predecessors place in a heartbeat. No doubt the boy would be more malleable and less trouble, once they got him away from Major Charles.
And with Mr. White in his pocket, he had no doubt the man could find Gemini. That would be a feather in his cap that might well earn him a seat on the Triumvirate. From there, it would be one small step to the Chairmanship. Once he had that, they'd never be able to take him down.
He smiled, winking at the African death mask grinning back at him, and opened up one of the files waiting for his attention.
* * * * * * * * *
The ringing woke her out of a sound sleep. Parker reached blindly for the nightstand, grabbing her cordless phone and preparing to blast whomever was calling at this ungodly hour. "What?!"
"I need you to get to the Centre as quickly as possible," came the deep voice on the other end.
She frowned, the words slowly penetrating as the fog around her brain began to lift. "Daddy? What's wrong?"
"Jarod has escaped."
Those three words acted like a jolt of electricity to her system. She all but leaped out of bed, instantly awake, and started for the bathroom. "I'll be there as soon as I can," she promised before ending the call and tossing the phone back on onto the mattress.
There wasn't time for her usual morning routine, so she threw something on as quickly as she could, and flew out of the house. Part of her wanted to rejoice that Jarod had gotten away from the Centre, but she was also worried. What would happen when he needed another dose of the drug that kept him leashed? She had read the protocols. She knew what cold turkey withdrawal would do to him, and the picture was horrifying indeed.
She tore out of her driveway, slinging gravel in every direction as she turned onto the highway. In minutes she was pulling past the front gate, flashing her ID, and parking as close to the front door as possible. She tried to breeze past the checkpoint at the entry, but her own procedures, recently enacted, forced her to walk through a metal detector, sign in electronically and while that signature was being checked, place her left palm on the glass to have it scanned and verify her identity.
All this, and still Jarod had managed to get out.
Sam was waiting for her in the lobby, looking equally haggard and unkempt. "They need you down on SL-17," he told her tensely. "The whole place is in an uproar. I don't know what the hell's going on, but it's big."
She pushed him out of her way without a word, stepped into the elevator and punched the button. Sam stepped in before the doors closed, and she caught him staring. Wisely, he turned his eyes back toward the doors, cleared his throat nervously, and waited for them to open.
Slippers flapping angrily down the smooth corridor floor, Parker rushed toward the nursery. There were several people standing outside Gabriel's new rooms, including Cox and the Chairman himself. Cox was wrapping a length of white gauze around the older man's right hand.
"What the hell happened?" she demanded.
The Chairman's face was flushed beet red. "The little... Gabriel bit me," he announced. "I went in there to talk to him, and he bit me!"
She fought the urge to laugh out loud at the man's discomfiture. "What's the matter with him? What did you do?"
When he didn't answer immediately, she moved resolutely through the door into Penfield's personal quarters. The toddler's strident wailing could be heard through the door into the nursery, while Penfield herself was pacing slow, measured steps across the small room.
A look of relief passed over the older woman's face, although it quickly dissolved back into the blank mask she usually wore. "Gabriel is inconsolable. He's trashing his room, won't let anyone come near. I don't know what's gotten into him."
"I do," the Chairman grumbled angrily, coming in the door. "Every one of the children on this floor knows what happened. Jarod's gone, and they can feel it. They want him back."
Miss Parker whirled around to face him. So, Jarod was working with the children. Her eyes narrowed, and she slipped seamlessly into the role of outraged sister. "What do you mean, they want him back? You allowed that junkie to associate with the children? With my brother?"
Now comes the double-talk and lies.
The Chairman straightened up, gazing at her down his nose. "We didn't want to waste Jarod's brilliance. He has a gift, and I wanted Gabriel to make use of it. The boy's smart." He glanced down at his bandaged hand. "Maybe too smart. But we were always very careful to watch every interaction. Jarod was never left alone with the children."
"Why wasn't I told?" Miss Parker demanded. She crossed her arms over her chest and waited.
Something in the next room crashed and broke against the door.
"Right now," the old man advised, "I think you need to see if you can calm the boy down. None of the rest of us have had any luck." He sighed. "I had no idea a two-year-old could be so damned destructive. You were never like that."
Without a word, she went to the door, pausing long enough to compose herself before she went inside.
Gabriel's room was a disaster area. Sheets and blankets had been dragged off the bed. A small bookcase was overturned, books scattered everywhere, and a lamp beside the rocking chair was smashed into tiny pieces, the chair itself lying on its side.
As temper tantrums went, this was a doozy.
Standing in the middle of the room, a Golden book in each hand, was Gabriel. His face was reddened, and tears filled his eyes and streamed down his chubby cheeks. His voice was hoarse, almost gone. Spotting a grown-up shape through the tears, he let fly with one of the books, and it went whizzing past her to impact against the wall. Not bad for a toddler.
But when he saw her, recognized her through his grief, he dropped the other book he had been about to throw and ran to her, arms up, calling, "Mine! Mine!"
"Yes, baby, I'm here now. It's okay," she cooed, grabbing him up in a fierce embrace. "What happened? What made you so mad?"
"Jawid gone," the boy cried, bringing on fresh tears. He buried his face against her throat and sobbed.
She soothed and kissed him in her arms, holding him close, making her way across the room toward the rocker. Balancing carefully, she hooked her right foot under one of the arms and struggled to right it without falling down. With surprisingly little effort, she managed to get it done and then sat down to have a talk with her son.
"What happened to Jarod?" she asked the child.
"Bunny take Jawid 'way," he said, sniffling.
"Who is Bunny?"
He looked at her helplessly, unable to explain the name he had chosen for his Friend. "Jawid go 'way," he repeated. "I want Jawid." With a wail, he began crying again.
Miss Parker cuddled him close and began to rock, crooning softly to him. "It's all right, honey. You'll see Jarod again."
He looked up at her, a ray of hope on his little tear-stained face. "Jawid come back?"
She reminded herself that she was being watched. Good as it sounded, she couldn't tell Gabriel that Jarod would return. God willing, their next encounter would be when he and all of the other children were away from this house of horrors. "You'll see Jarod again," she repeated, stroking his back gently. "I promise."
* * * * * * * * *
The two men looked through the one-way glass at the homey scene.
"How far can you trust her?" Cox asked pensively. "She's much too close to the boy. The connection they share could be dangerous."
"Don't you worry about my little girl," the chairman assured him. "I've got her right where I want her."
Cox nodded, but did not look convinced. He turned and left the observation room, mumbling about finishing his night's sleep down the hall.
Parker watched his daughter soothe the toddler back to sleep, just about the time Penfield stole in and set up his bed again. The young woman tucked the child into his bed, placed a kiss on his hair, and shot a frigid glare at the nurse on her way out of the nursery.
The Chairman met her in the hallway outside.
She was livid. "What happened to Jarod?" she demanded. "Why could his absence possibly stir Gabriel up so much? And how could Aurora fail so miserably to keep your prize in jail?"
The older man looked suddenly ancient. The lines in his face deepened. He ran a hand over his shiny dome and sighed. "The breakout occurred a couple of hours ago. The children--"
"Two hours ago?" She felt as if she was about to explode. "And you're just telling me about it now? Did it not occur to you that I'm the freaking head of SIS? I should have been the first person notified!"
He held up his hands to hold off her fury. "Now, now, angel, I--"
She jabbed a finger at him, punctuating her words with additional angry thrusts. "Don't you 'angel' me, Daddy! This is my territory, and you've cut me out of it. Why wasn't I informed first?"
"Because I had issued orders that all incidents relating to Jarod go to Eve first, and me second."
She took a deep breath and let it out noisily, as if trying to gain control of her rising temper. "Look, Daddy, we've had this discussion before. I can't do my job unless I know what's going on. I have to know everything, every detail. If you keep cutting me out--"
"I want you to catch him for me again."
Parker fell silent. The ramifications of that request echoed inside her head. If she was demoted, if she lost her seat in SIS, she would lose any hope of implementing her mother's plan. She couldn't let that happen.
"As long as I stay on as director of SIS, I can do that. After five years of chasing Jarod, I've earned this job, and I intend to keep it. And in SIS, I'll be sure to have access to all the information I need to do the job right this time."
The Chairman winced and glanced down at his hand. "We'll talk about that later. I've set up a meeting for this afternoon. For now, you've got work to do. I suggest you get on it before the trail goes cold."
He headed for the elevator, leaving her standing in the nursery corridor, head spinning with the events of the night.
Jarod couldn't have -- wouldn't have -- done this alone. That was the first thing that jumped into her mind. Gabriel said "Bunny" had taken him away. But who -- or what -- was Bunny?
* * * * * * * * *
The elevator deposited her on the third floor, and she headed straight for her office. Broots came rushing up -- she could smell the Funyuns on his breath before she caught sight of him -- and escorted her into her base of operations. There were already department heads clustered in the staging area downstairs, and in a few moments they would be called up to report to her directly.
"Miss Parker, did you hear the news? Jarod's escaped!"
"No kidding, Sherlock. And what are you doing here at this hour of the morning? You didn't leave Debbie at home alone, did you?"
"Uh, no, a neighbor is staying with her. I got the call about an hour ago."
She could only stare in disbelief. They had called Eve, Cox, even her own underling before calling her. Heads were going to roll.
"You're going to help me figure this out," she told him. "I want to talk to everyone who had anything to do with Jarod, the floor he was on, the projects he was working on, and especially the Aurora project. We're going to recreate the circumstances, and we're going to find out what happened. I'm not losing my job over this." She strode out to the balcony, snapped her fingers over it at the people down below and shouted for coffee. Half a dozen people scurried away in different directions to do her bidding.
Broots sighed. "It's going to be a long day."
Faith parked beside the unmarked silver van at the loading dock. She checked the address again on the piece of paper Ethan had given her, and verified it against the weathered sign above the abandoned building. This is it, she announced, getting out of the car. Come with me.
Jarod quietly followed her. They climbed up the concrete steps and pushed open the door to a darkened interior. It smelled of dust and expired refrigerant. Faith closed her eyes for a moment and felt for the hum of emotion, found it, and headed in that direction. She had no idea who she was supposed to be meeting there -- only that they would help Jarod.
One small room upstairs in a row of offices had been cleaned and made over into a miniature hospital room, complete with a railed bed with built-in IV pole, and an array of monitoring equipment.
Jarod! called an older man, rising from his seat with obvious excitement. Son! Im so glad to see you. Are you all right? He drew the Pretender into a firm embrace, then backed off to look into his eyes.
Im fine, Jarod said automatically.
Faith noticed the teenage boy in the back of the room, hovering over a machine. The look in his eyes was haunted, and she felt his fear, his anguish.
No, Jarod's not fine, she told them. But Im assuming from all this equipment that you know what he needs.
Dad, what are you doing here? Jarod asked slowly. Jordan? Whats going on?
The older mans face fell, recognizing that Jarods muted reaction was not normal. His eyes went to Faith immediately. I imagine youre the one Ethan told us about. Faith, isn't it? Thank you for getting my son out of that hell-hole. My name is Charles, and this is Jarods son, Jordan. He swept a hand in the boys direction.
Faith smiled slightly. I wasn't sure I was ready for this, but Ethan can be very persuasive. She glanced up at her long-time friend, and her tiny smile disappeared. Were all scared for him. I just hope this works.
You hope what works? Jarod asked. His eyes wandered around the room, taking in the equipment, and the concern on Jordans face. The youth still hadnt said a word of greeting.
The major took his son by the arm and led him over to the bed. Were going to help you beat this thing. Weve done the research, gotten the information we need, and--
What makes you think I want to beat it? Jarod demanded. That he felt the threat was obvious. He just couldnt seem to get worked up about it.
Charles shot a troubled glance at Faith, then looked back at his son. Are you going to fight us?
Jarod shrugged. I'm not going to hit anyone, if that's what you mean. He clutched the box and vial that held the remains of his tether. As long as I have this, everythings okay. His eyes pleaded for understanding. Dont take it away from me, please. It makes me happy. It's everything I want, everything I need.
Jordan looked quickly away, busying himself with preparation for the task at hand, but Faith felt his torn spirit from across the room. She didnt have to see the boys face to know there were tears in his eyes. As gently as she could, she soothed his hurt, boosting the logic that told the boy it was the drugs talking, and not Jarod.
Providing comfort was less draining, if a bit more unfamiliar. And this boy felt so much like the Jarod she knew as a child that it was almost frightening. The resemblance itself was uncanny. But she had work to do, and turned her attention back to Jarod.
Sit here, son, Charles ordered. Were going to hook you up to an IV. Jordan has trained as an anesthesiologist, and will put you to sleep while we clean out your system. Im sure you know how its done already. Well be using one of your own inventions to help with the rapid detox, to make the physical withdrawal easier. Ive been learning how to administer and monitor the medications. He grinned. Its nothing like being a pilot, but Im a quick study. Youre going to be just fine.
Jarods eyes went to Faith. And what will you do? he wondered aloud.
She took his hand. Ill be watching over you, making sure you can find the way back to us.
Yeah. Youre good at that sort of thing, the pretender shot back with just a hint of sarcasm.
Charles did not try to relieve his son of the drug that he wanted so badly. Instead, he donned a pair of latex gloves and grasped Jarods free arm in search of a vein. He sucked in a sharp breath as he saw the needle marks tracking all the way up to both elbows. Charles turned Jarods hand over and started feeling along the back of it for a suitable point of entry for the IV.
* * * * * * * * *
Sydney sat behind the desk, his face haggard from weariness, but his attention fixed on the young woman across from him. Her distress was obvious; she could not function properly in her current state, and he had to help her. He had to find a solution to all this, and soon, or there would be serious repercussions.
I cant explain it, Nancy said softly. Angelique was comfortable with Jarod in a way she hadnt been with anyone, even me. Im worried about her. Shes withdrawn and combative, refusing to let go of her doll and hiding in the corner when anyone enters the room. The only one who seems to connect with her now is Gabriel, maybe because he and Jarod were so close. How do I reach her? What can I do to help her accept this loss?
The psychiatrist kept his expression neutral, but he couldnt help the feeling of joy that had come with the news of Jarods escape, though he was deeply concerned about the impending withdrawal his protégé would experience. He was afraid that, if the measures he tried didnt work, the young man might resort to suicide to end his pain.
Nancy was the third caregiver in his office that morning, all of them stressed to their wits end, which only worsened the childrens distress.
He sighed. Since we dont know where Jarod has gone or how long he may be away, we must treat this as a worst-case scenario. The children were just becoming accustomed to Jarod, and it has upset them. This will manifest in a variety of ways, some of which are already being exhibited. He paused, pondering the case notes he had read on this particular child, wishing once again that he might work with her and the others directly, rather than secondhand. Its not surprising that Angelique has regressed. She trusted Jarod to be there, and that trust has been violated. It will have to be built back slowly, piece by piece. Let her work this out in whatever fashion she chooses, aside from hurting herself. Be patient with her, and be calm. She needs that from you, more than ever now.
The young woman nodded, sighed and stood up. Thank you, Sydney. Ill do my best.
She had no sooner left than Broots came in. "I'm sorry for interrupting," he said in his typically hesitant fashion.
"You're not. Our session was finished." He took the notes he had made and placed them in Nancy's folder, intending to transcribe them later. "What can I do for you, Broots?"
The tech took the question as an invitation, and sat down in the chair Nancy had just vacated. "You heard that Jarod escaped, right?"
Sydney crossed his arms on the desk in front of him. "Since the entire Centre has heard about it, that knowledge did finally make its way down to me, yes."
He winced at the other man's dry, sarcastic tone. "Well, Miss Parker is trying to figure out how and why Jarod left. I've talked to some people, but you knew him best, so I figure youre the best source of information.
"'Knew' being the operative word," Sydney replied. "I haven't seen Jarod, except from a great distance, since she brought him in. I don't know that I'd be qualified to answer your questions at this point."
Broots leaned forward in his chair. "Look, Syd, I know you resent the fact that they wouldn't let you talk to Jarod, and I don't blame you. I mean, you practically raised him from a little boy. But I don't think Miss Parker had anything to do with that decision. I don't think she's deliberately shutting you out."
"Has she said something to you?"
He shook his head. "No, it's more like a feeling I get when I'm around her. Miss Parker isn't the same person she used to be, you know? I mean, she's still tough when she has to be, but she's just she apologizes after making cracks, she says she trusts me she's just different. Does that make any sense?"
A tiny smile flickered at the corners of Sydneys mouth. Yes, I suppose it does. Shes finally becoming her own person, rather than her fathers martinet.
So, then, how do you think this thing with Jarod happened? They said the drugs they had him on would make it impossible for him to leave.
From what Ive read of the research, I agree with that supposition, Sydney returned thoughtfully. Its more than just the physical addiction, however. Jarods conquered that before, and could certainly do it again. Under Auroras influence, he wouldnt have had the will to walk out on his own.
Broots sat back in his chair, mouth hanging open for a moment. You mean, someone helped him? Like who?
Sydney couldnt help smiling, knowing Broots wouldnt understand. Theres only one person who could have done it. If Miss Parker thinks about it, shell have the answer. All it takes is a little faith in herself and her own abilities.
Broots frowned, realizing that he wasnt going to get anything more. Then he nodded, and left.
Sydney had been thinking about that problem all morning, since he received the first frantic call to come into the office, and discovered what was going on. Faith was a troubled woman, but she cared for Jarod and Miss Parker. She was connected to both of them, and only someone with her talent could have persuaded the Pretender to walk away from the source of his pleasure. She would take care of him, and do her best to keep him safe.
He just hoped that what she had to offer would be enough to keep Jarod alive.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarods eyes were closed, his breathing regular and even. He didnt flinch when Charles removed the kit and vial from his relaxed grasp, and everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief. He was unconscious, the medication already in his veins to purge Aurora from his body.
"So far, so good," Jordan said.
He seemed calm, at least on the outside. Faith knew he was more than competent
to play this role; after all, he had Jarod's genius, and his own skill as a
pretender. Still, she knew he was worried -- both of them were. She got up from
her chair, and went across the room to sit beside the Major. "All we can
do now is wait," she told him.
He smiled. "Ethan didn't say much about you. He just told me that you and Jarod had known each other as children, and that you could help him in a way no one else could."
"I only met Ethan for a few minutes, but I knew Jarod had a half-brother. He has an inner sense, in the same way Miss Parker does. When he came to me out of the blue and told me it was time to get Jarod out, I knew he was right."
"He also told me you had a unique talent."
She took a deep breath. Im what they call a hyper-empath. I can sense other peoples emotions, but my major 'talent' is being able to collect and then reflect back whatever emotion I choose." It sounds so odd when I say it out loud. Offering a small, tight smile, she added, Strange, I know. But we all have the ability to some degree. Were all connected to each other, especially when were physically or emotionally close to someone.
Charles nodded. It does sound kind of fantastic, but Ive seen a lot of impossible things in the last few years. Theres a large part of our brains that go unused, and I imagine these types of things come from that unknown territory. He frowned. Only the Centre seems to be on the leading edge of exploring and mapping it.
"Taking his natural desire to escape and magnifying it is how I persuaded Jarod to leave, even under the influence of Aurora, but it was a near thing. This is a very strong drug. It will take a long time for him to recover from its influence." She did not add her doubt about whether he would ever completely conquer it.
"You must have been at the Centre the same time as Jarod was. Were you one of their subjects?"
She nodded. "I was nine when they took me out of the orphanage where I was living. That's a little older than they liked, but I had a skill they desperately wanted. They used adoption as a cover, so no one would be suspicious. My legal name is Faith Parker." She watched Charles' reaction, but other than a slight raising of his eyebrows, he was silent. Jarod had already been there for years, but he was still kind and gentle. He always wanted to help people. A memory crept up on her unexpectedly, bringing a soft smile with it. He said I was beautiful once.
You are, Charles agreed.
Faith shook her head. "I haven't been beautiful for a very long time, Major. At least, not on the inside. But I always remembered him saying that. There's a part of Jarod that managed to stay innocent, even in the hostile environment of the Centre. Sydney had a hand in it, I'm sure; but part of it was just his nature. He always seemed to know how to find the good in a situation, or a person, if there was any."
"It sounds as though you knew each other well."
"There were moments, events that Jarod will tell you about when he's ready." She looked over at Jarod's form. He appeared to be sleeping peacefully. No one deserves that more than you, Jarod, especially after what you've been through. I only wish you could have gotten it some other way than through Aurora.
Mentioning the events that had brought them together reminded her of Eclipse. Her eyes closed, momentarily, as her mind slipped back to that place and that time.
The boat that represented Jarod's return to consciousness skidded onto the white sand beach of their imagination. Faith stepped out over the prow, and Jarod followed her.
Something squished when he walked, and he glanced down at his feet. One of them was stained black, and as they watched, the substance absorbed quickly into his skin. He turned to look back at the hungry ocean, roaring angrily for its missed meal, before the scenario dissolved completely.
As Faith came to awareness, she was back inside the Centre, in a small room, sitting with her back to the wall. Jarod was right there with her.
Jarod? she asked.
He lifted his head and looked over at her. What was that? he asked. What was that black stuff? I could feel it going through me.
She knew he was too fragile right then to understand the truth -- that a small part of Kodiak Brown's personality had managed to merge with his. That revelation would have to wait until he was stronger.
Its nothing, she lied. Dont worry about it.
Faith opened her eyes and stared at the blank wall across from her, repeating softly, Its nothing at all.
* * * * * * * * *
The tech fell into the guest chair across from his boss. "I can say with complete certainty that Jarod got out through the ventilation system again." He tossed a file folder onto her desk, closed his eyes and rubbed them. "I thought you were going to have those sealed off, and motion detectors hard-wired in."
She sipped her hazelnut cream coffee. She had managed to return home long enough to dress and groom herself properly, leaving her minions to start gathering the information she needed. Now she was digesting everything, taking it all in and trying to find the places where the errors occurred. "I put in a request last month to my father. Apparently, that got shelved. None of the improved security measures I suggested were implemented, with the exception of the front entrance, and his chain of command superseded my orders to the contrary."
"What I want to know is, why did Jarod leave?" the tech wondered. "He's hooked on Aurora. There's no supply for it outside of here."
She pondered that for a moment. "Angelo, maybe?"
Broots shook his head. "Angelo wouldn't go near him in that state. He was afraid of Jarod. But I did talk to Sydney, and he seems to have figured things out. He said if you thought about it he was sure you would, too."
"Bunny," she murmured, remembering the toddlers distressed admission. "Bunny took Jarod." She glanced up and saw that Broots was staring at her as if she had lost her mind. "That's what Gabriel told me, that someone named Bunny took Jarod away. Who would do that? Who could make him "
She stopped. That was it. Someone had forced Jarod to leave, and just anyone with a gun wouldn't have been able to overcome his dependence on Aurora. It would have to be something else, something even stronger, if that were possible.
She sat up straight in her chair, set down her coffee cup and looked the tech in the eye. "Get me everything you can lay hands on concerning the Looking Glass project."
"Well, there wasn't much the first time, so I doubt that I'll find--"
"Just go, Broots!" she snapped.
He was out of his chair and on his way to the door when she apologized. He just grinned at her and ducked out the door. Two years ago she'd never have let an apology slip out. She let it slide, confident in the fact that she had just found a bargaining chip that might allow her to keep her job.
* * * * * * * * *
Icy Kold warehouse
Charles checked the dosage four times, meticulously expelled the air bubble from the syringe, and loaded it into the IV port that took it into his sons arm. His attention was firmly fixed on his job, and he was performing well. Faith decided he didnt need a distraction and moved away to a chair near the heart monitor.
She studied the boy instead, remarking to herself how the memories of young Jarod flooded back when she looked at him. She couldnt help smiling.
How come youre looking at me like that? Jordan asked, checking the electronic panel once more, before making brief eye contact with her.
You look just like--
I know, he cut in.
This has been hard for you, she said softly, scooting her chair a little closer to him. Youve been experiencing something strange, a connection to Jarod like nothing youve ever known, and its scary. I know about that sort of thing.
Jordans gaze went to hers and held. How did you know?
She shrugged. Youve got the same blood, the same heart and mind. How could you not feel this terrible thing thats been happening to him?
The teenagers surprise gave way to understanding, and to relief. Concern etched itself into tight lines around his mouth as he observed his patient, and checked the monitors again. You knew him when he was a teenager, right?
Faith nodded. She could feel her face relaxing with the memories. Yes, I did.
Was he was he like me then?
Jarod was always an optimist, looking for the bright spots. But he was also troubled about what they did to him, what they made him do. Some of it was bad, very bad.
He had been about Jordan's age the last time she saw him as a child, after Eclipse. They had been shut away together, in the hope that she could save his original personality. Attempts to retrieve the other subjects had failed miserably.
He shivered, and she wondered if he was cold. It was just a dream, wasnt it? he asked her desperately. I didnt really hurt anyone, did I? He stared at his hands. I can see her face. I can see the knife in my hands. I didnt want to do it. Why couldnt I stop?
She felt the distress coming off him in waves. The simulation hadnt broken him, but she feared that what lay ahead, the realization of what he had done, would unhinge his mind. As long as he had those memories, as long as they continued to torture him, he would slip further and further away until no one could reach him. She could already feel him retreating.
Rest, she whispered, holding his hand and encouraging him to lean against her. Itll be okay.
He was so drained, so weary from his internal struggles, that he obeyed. And while he was unconscious, she took those dark memories and built a wall around them, just strong enough to let him recover.
Soon afterward, the Centre had done a little brainwashing of their own, making him forget he had even seen her. But the wall she had built to protect him had been placed with such care that it held for 25 years.
She remembered her delight at seeing the others who came to visit after she arrived at the Centre. Those three had been her lifeline, her only source of hope. What she felt for Jarod, her adopted sister, and Angelo was the closest thing to love that she could recall since losing her parents.
And she wondered if that wall she had so carefully built out of love had ended up hurting Jarod in the long run, doing more damage than the memories of Eclipse might have, had they been left for him to deal with on his own. She had told Sydney that she would deal with this problem in her own way; and yet, it was still an open wound.
There wasnt time to come to terms with it now. There were far more important things on her mind, not the least of which were the three men in that room. She turned back to Jordan and began engaging him in safer topics of conversation, doing what little she could to help in the adjustment to this newest facet of his relationship with the man he now called father.
She sat in the large gray chenille-covered chair at the head of the long, low table where she had her conferences every morning. Sitting to her left were Cox and Lyle. Sitting to her right were Eve and the Chairman. She had already met with her own Emergency Response team, heard their reports, and prepared one of her own. Now it was time to lower the boom and put the responsibility for this fiasco directly where it ought to be. She might not have been included in the initial meeting right after the escape, but all attention was now focused on her.
It wont come as any surprise to announce that Jarod got out through the air ducts -- again, she began.
That was always a point of weakness in this system, the Chairman pointed out gruffly. We need to make sure it doesnt happen again.
She shot him a glance, furious that he would even comment, but held her tongue for the moment. Instead, she turned her cool gaze on Eve. I find it very strange that he would want to leave in the first place. Dont you agree, Eve? I mean, Aurora was supposed to keep him here forever. How could it be that he just left, if its such a powerful incentive for him to stay?
The older womans mouth pressed into a firm line. Her eyes narrowed. I cant explain it. The results on all other test subjects have been one hundred percent successful. There was no reason to imagine escape was possible, that he would ever consider it.
And why was it that the lab where Jarod was working had no video monitors turned on? Isnt it standard protocol for Jarod to be under security observation 24-7?
Eve glanced at the Chairman for support. We thought it unnecessary, considering the hold Aurora had on him. He had an escort whenever he moved from his quarters to the lab, but surveillance was deemed redundant.
Obviously, Miss Parker hissed, someone was mistaken. She glanced at her watch. And its even more interesting that Jarod hasnt come crawling back, hours after his last dose must have worn off. I wonder how he managed without it? She sat for a moment, then opened her mouth with a gasp of mock surprise. Maybe its because there are two vials of Aurora missing from the supply lab. Now, who do you suppose would have any interest in those?
Eves gaze dropped to the floor.
Parker straightened in her chair. Jarod couldnt have gotten to those vials from where he was in the short amount of time he had to escape. That leaves only one conclusion -- he had help.
Uncomfortable glances were exchanged all around the table, meeting every eye but hers.
She stood up, arms crossed over her chest, and began to pace around the open space in the middle of the room. As director of SIS, I should have access to any and all information that might pose a security risk to this place and its concerns. She drummed her fingers on her arm. Yet I am continually in the dark about far too many projects that have bearing on my work. She turned and fixed the Chairman with a stony gaze, determined not to let him get the upper hand -- not this time, and not in front of this group. "I had my people look through project files. Guess what they came up with?
It doesnt matter who helped him, Sis, Lyle interjected impatiently. What matters is that hes gone. What are you going to do about it?
Turning her gaze to Lyle, she ignored his outburst and asked him, "Why was it that I was never told about Project Looking Glass? This woman's ability to 'mirror' emotion is the only impetus I can find that might have persuaded Jarod to leave the source of his addiction. He'd have fought for his life, risked dying to stay here, unless someone offered him an even more powerful incentive to leave."
Lyle was silent.
"Why would Looking Glass care about Jarod so much to want to rescue him, Lyle? Who is she? Whats their connection?"
Lyle's mouth opened and closed reflexively. He shot a desperate glance at his father, and Miss Parker followed his eyes there. The old man's face pinkened, then flushed deeper.
"That was one of those projects you didn't need to know about, angel. I--"
"As head of SIS, I need to know about everything," she corrected vehemently. "Who is Looking Glass, and what does she want with Jarod?"
The Chairman wilted. He slumped back against the sofa and stared in defeat at the coffee table in front of him. "She's someone who's known Jarod since childhood. She called herself his friend."
Lyle took the sign of capitulation for what it was and volunteered the rest. "Looking Glass's real name is Faith. Remember our adopted little sister? The one who's supposed to be dead?" Smiling smugly, he crossed his arms over his chest.
Pretending shock, she turned back to the Chairman. "Is this true, Daddy? Why would you lie about something like that, especially to me?"
"None of that matters now," he grumbled. "What matters is that Jarod's gone, and we've got to get him back." He made eye contact then. "So what are you doing to meet that end?"
She paused, pretending to consider this latest information. Then she resumed her seat, leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and fixed him with a steely gaze. "If I had known the Centre had produced someone with abilities like those, someone with an emotional connection to Jarod, I could have planned for it. I'm tired of not having all the facts. I can't do my job without them, yet you continue to leave me in the dark. And I did offer you revised security measures in my audit over a month ago, measures that would have prevented this from happening. Did you even bother to read it?" She reached toward the table and nudged a copy toward him. "I just found out this morning that you rescinded those changes as being too extravagant. Apparently, your faith in Aurora made you think such measures were obsolete."
His face flushed crimson.
"I'll give you my terms for getting Jarod back, Daddy," she added smoothly. "I'll go back to hunting for your prize, but I'm also keeping the SIS job. I want Sydney back on my team, and there will be no more secrets that might affect security at the Centre, or at Triumvirate Station. This is my show now. I get access to every project, current and past. I get what I want, and you get Jarod and Faith back. She straightened, gave each of them a penetrating gaze, and waved her hand in dismissal. You all decide how you want to play this game. I can come through for you, just like I did before. But this time, Im in charge of the hunt.
The others shared nervous glances, but made no motions to assent or object. She rose, strode to her desk, and retrieved a handful of copies of another report, including a cover letter addressed to each of the Triumvirate members in each of the stations. She handed copies to Mr. Parker and Eve.
"You'll find details of the investigation in this report," she told them. "I haven't sent it yet, because I wanted you both to look over it for accuracy. I have all my facts corroborated, memos copied and a complete log of all the factors contributing to this incident. If my request is denied, this report will be my last act as director of SIS. I want it known among all the Triumvirate members exactly who is responsible for this loss."
She eyed Eve and the Chairman meaningfully.
"I don't think that will be necessary, Miss Parker," Eve returned graciously, setting her copy down on the table.
Lyle reached for it, but the Chairman slapped his hand down on it and pulled it into his own lap first with a frown of disapproval.
"You'd better dazzle me," the old man growled. "I'll expect weeks, instead of years, this time around."
He nodded and waved a hand at the others, and they all rose and departed swiftly, but he did not move from his seat on the couch. Are you sure you dont have a problem going after Faith?"
Miss Parker sighed and smoothed her hair wearily back from her face. The woman I read about in these reports is a danger to society. This is the safest place for her. Of course Ill bring her back. Its my job, regardless of who she is. She shook her head, and pasted on a hurt, little-girl look. Why, Daddy? Why didnt you tell me the truth about her?
Those treatments we were giving her he began, and expelled a heavy breath. We were trying to help her, as I told you long ago, but it wasn't leukemia. We wanted to help her learn to control this ability, to dampen it so she could function as a normal human being. You couldnt have understood what we were doing, and when we saw that it didnt work, we felt it best to keep her in a place where she couldnt do any harm. Can you ever forgive me, angel? I never meant to hurt either of you. I just didnt have a choice. Im sorry.
The audacity of his lies almost made her ill. She stepped into his arms and rested her head on his shoulder as she always had, so he wouldnt notice how revolted she really was. It made her stomach roil to be so close to him, and to know at long last what he was, how he had manipulated her. She could see him clearly now, but he couldnt know that she did.
He pulled back and looked down at her. "Something happened between you and Jarod, didn't it? Brought things to a head somehow. Your attitude has been different ever since you brought him back."
Yes, something happened. I learned that Jarod isn't the monster you told me he was. I learned that Gabriel is my son, created as part of a Centre project. I learned that you're not really my father, a fact I suspect you've known all along. "I'd rather not discuss it," she told him coolly. "But you're right, it did have a profound effect on me."
"Doesn't matter, I suppose. For the first time in a very long while, you're acting like a Parker. That's what counts." His attitude had changed completely, his face almost beaming with pride.
And I learned that you forbade the use of my first name in order to blunt my inner sense, because you were afraid I'd see you for the charlatan you are. "My name is my strength, Daddy. It's taken a long time for me to learn that lesson, but I know it now."
"You betcha." He patted her on the shoulder.
She knew he would assume it was the Parker name that she meant. Let him. It would buy her time, and give her the opportunity to retain her hold on SIS.
He favored her with a smile, kissed her on the forehead, and left.
He didn't have a clue of the things to come. And that was just the way she liked it.
* * * * * * * * *
Faiths eyes were closed. She sat beside the bed, out of the way of Charles and Jordan, holding Jarods hand. It was almost over; at least, the detoxification portion was nearly done. The rest of it would take a lifetime, but she was ready to help with that.
Her head came up. In that unfocused state, as her mind drifted, she had sensed something -- a faint echo of emotional resonance that identified people to her as easily as recognizing a voice in the distance. She rose from her chair, skirted behind the bed and angled toward the door with the Major and the boy watching her. A slight flare of alarm showed in both their eyes.
Its nothing, she lied. Ill be back in a minute. Jarods fine, I promise.
The two turned their attention back to the careful monitoring of their precious patient, trusting her words. She went down the stairs and stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine, squinting to get her bearings.
Not here, she whispered to herself, remembering the albino man she had glimpsed on her trail. Not now, of all times. Where are you?
She couldnt see him, but his presence was a steady blip on her internal radar. To the left, it said. She turned that way and began to walk, gazing at the sidewalk and trying to shut out the emotional chaos around her. The warehouse lay at the end of the street in an old industrial district, slowly being reformed into a commons with a variety of shops and businesses. People were scattered here and there, a tempting distraction, but one presence was more urgent than the others and drew her full attention.
Faith had felt him before, easing close, then backing away. He seemed curious, above everything else. That was how she recognized him, by his unquenchable thirst to know.
An echo of startled pleasure reached her. He was surprised, and rather pleased, that she had come hunting him for a change. He was stepping away from a newsstand, tucking the photo of her that he had just shown to the vendor back into his jacket pocket.
What do you want with me? she demanded as she approached.
He smiled softly. Oh, my. You are as good as I was told. With a soft chuckle, he added, I have no designs on you whatsoever. Im simply a finder of the lost. He gestured her down the sidewalk, and they fell in step together, keeping plenty of space between them so that they didnt appear too companionable.
I'm not lost.
I believe the owners of the Southern Tier Restaurant -- not to mention your handlers at the Centre -- would beg to differ.
Faith looked at him sharply. I left when it was time, in both cases, she answered quietly.
He chose to ignore the remark. Having your abilities would be a boon to my profession, he mused idly. It would be much easier to find people that way, don't you agree? Glancing at her face, he clasped his hands behind himself. Youre as curious about people as I am. I like that about you. But you dont let many of them get close. You don't trust them, even though your empathic sense functions as a very reliable truth detector." He smiled again. "What I don't understand is why my employer is so insistent on sanction rather than restoration, where youre concerned. I see no reason why you couldn't still be a productive member of their team.
Faith crossed her arms over her chest, unnerved that he had been so painfully correct in his observations. He was proud of his accuracy, of his skill. She could feel the pride radiating from him. He was good at hunting people, and it excited him, but there was more to his fascination with her. He wanted to know what made her tick.
Youre not taking me back, she told him firmly. You cant make me go with you. She wanted him to leave her alone, but a tickle in the back of her mind told her he never would, as long as Lyle was calling his shots.
My employer said I should be careful with you, said the man. His voice was slightly raspy, but his manner of speech refined and dignified. His pale skin and hair made him stand out from the rest of the people on the sidewalk like a beacon. And at that moment, excitement and anticipation poured off him like a fountain, drenching her in the spray. You do look delicate. But I know youre not.
There was nothing lustful in his comment, which gave her a slight bit of relief. What he wanted was more intrinsic than sexual gratification. Just go away, she repeated to herself, the unspoken words echoing in her head. In the distance, she could feel Jarod rousing, coming up from the depths of his drug-induced sleep. She needed to get back to him, to be there when he awakened.
This hunter, however, was relaxed, in no hurry to go anywhere.
Relaxed, at least on the surface. Knowing it was the only weapon she had, she began to concentrate on what else she could find inside him besides pride and curiosity. In the very depths of his soul, she felt fear, like a whisper in the maelstrom of emotion that surrounded her on the sidewalk, brushing up against her consciousness feather-lightly, barely there. But once she felt it, once she connected with it, she expanded it with all her strength and sent it back to him full force.
Go away! she hissed aloud.
His eyes widened, and he staggered back as if he had been struck. She turned around and kept walking, her mind focused on that glimmer of fear, magnifying it until it was overwhelming. Head down, she trudged along the sidewalk, back the way she had come, certain that he would not dare to follow.
The screech of metal and rubber tires whipped her head around in time to see the albino running straight into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler. The impact hurled him through the air in a graceful arc, and through a plate glass window fronting a coffee shop across the intersection.
Forty feet away from his mangled body, she knew already that he was dead.
She couldnt move, standing on the sidewalk and staring as several people gathered around him. They would tell the police that he had been talking to a woman. They would want to question her, to know what she had said that propelled him toward his doom.
Only Faith knew that it wasnt what she said to him. It wasnt a suicide, as others might suspect. She hadnt meant to kill him; she had only wanted him to leave her alone. But she had also known the albino would probably dog her trail forever, unless she stopped him for good.
She had been functioning as a psychic mirror for a long time. Somewhere deep inside she had understood, as she always did, the possible consequences of her actions. And somewhere inside, she had chosen this man's death as an acceptable outcome.
* * * * * * * * *
Broots shuffled in and took a seat, glancing at Sydney who was already there and waiting. They had both been summoned, apparently so Miss Parker could make some type of announcement.
Good news, boys, she told them. Were back on the hunt for Jarod.
The tech saw the absence of surprise on the Belgians face and turned his gaze back to his boss. Does that mean youve been demoted? he inquired tentatively.
She smiled, teeth flashing to compliment the predatory gleam in her eyes. Theres
no way Id give up this post to be a hound dog again, Broots. And if I
get my way, well have our fingers in all of the pies very shortly. That
should make it easier to have the information we need, when we need it."
"Are you that anxious to have Jarod locked up again, Miss Parker?" Sydney asked slowly.
She watched him for several moments, then blinked. "I said we would look for him, Sydney," she replied mildly. "I didn't say what we would do if we found him."
Broots chuckled with relief. After a pause, Sydney did the same.
The tech nudged him. What do you think? Is it good to be back?
Yes. Yes, Broots, it is.
Parker winked at them, and shooed them out the door with new assignments, pleased that things were finally starting to move according to plan.
* * * * * * * * *
She hurried back to the warehouse where Jarod was just starting to move toward consciousness. He looked so peaceful, so innocent, much like the boy who had supervised his detoxification. Innocence, she knew, wasn't a word that could be applied to her. This wasnt the first time she had taken a life.
At last, she understood. This was the lesson she needed to learn. She didnt belong among people. None of them were safe with her, not even those few she cared about.
With a sigh, she squeezed back behind the bed and took Jarods hand. How are we doing? she asked Jordan.
Good. He should be coming around in a minute or two.
Jarods eyes began to move beneath closed lids. He moaned, his head rolling from side to side on the pillow. And he whimpered, unable to find his way back in the dark.
She closed her eyes, expanding the range of her awareness until hers bled into his. Gently, she brought him back with her, comforting him, sharing the devastating emptiness that Aurora had left in its wake.
You can handle this, she whispered. Youre stronger than the evil that wants to own you.
He opened his eyes.
The major let go an explosive sigh, as if he had been holding his breath for hours. Thank God, youre all right, son, he choked. I was afraid this wasnt going to work.
Jarod reached up toward his head for the young man who had been his safety net. Oh, ye of little faith, the pretender croaked. He grasped Jordans hand weakly. Need water.
Faith grabbed a cup of ice chips and slipped a few into his mouth. I don't mean to rush you, but we need to leave here as soon as Jarod is able to move.
The Centre? asked Jordan, already starting to shut down the monitoring equipment. He changed the intravenous fluids, hung a fresh bag of lactated ringers solution to help Jarod stay hydrated, and helped his older counterpart to sit up.
Yes, the Centre, Faith whispered, recalling the image of the albinos broken body in the shattered remains of the window.
Thats where you went, isnt it? asked Charles. To buy us some time.
She nodded. Times up. We need to be gone before the police get here. Jarod, can you make it into a wheelchair?
I can walk, he assured her, but crumbled into the chair his father brought to the bedside.
Jordan moved the IV bag to the pole on the chair while the major ran to get the van started. Faith stayed at the door as they went out. Jarod turned, reaching weakly toward her.
"Faith earlier, I said some things " He struggled to fight off the effects of the anesthesia. "I'm sorry."
Its all right, Jarod. I understood, better than you know. She took his hand as they rushed across the warehouse toward the van, but stopped on the dock and did not follow them down.
Come on, Faith. Jordan glanced at her over his shoulder as he and the major lifted the chair down off the steps to the ground below.
She shook her head. Her throat felt raw and tight, and her chest hurt. She had never felt that way before, and wondered if she was ill. I cant, she told him. Theyll be looking for me. Ill leave a few minutes after you. Go. Youve got to get out of here.
Jarod's expression changed, taking on a forlorn look as he realized she wasn't coming with them. A part of her desperately wanted to, but she kept a lid on it as he was loaded into the van and the doors closed, cutting him off from view.
She nodded and waved them away, watching till the van was gone in traffic.
It was time to disappear once again. Faith knew she was too strong to simply lie down and die, but for the first time she began to wonder if in the long run it might be better for everyone -- especially Jarod -- if she could.
* * * * * * * * *
She glanced up from her perusal of the report on the Seraphim to her laptop, chiming that new mail had arrived, and took note of the sender: email@example.com.
Our mutual friend will recover.
She sighed with relief. Obviously, it wouldn't be easy for Jarod to overcome a dependency of this magnitude, but he had a start. And he had someone who cared looking after him while he worked at it. She deleted the file, making a mental note to have Broots erase it from the system as soon as possible, and went back to her reading.
* * * * * * * * *
An anonymous sweeper delivered the message. It was brief and to the point.
Mr. White was dead. The Centre had sent a cleaner to deal with the situation before anyone could figure out who he was and, more importantly, to whom he was connected. According to at least one eyewitness, the man had run blindly into traffic, and been mowed down by a truck. He seemed in a hurry, almost as if he were trying to get away from something.
Or someone. Lyle had no doubt that Faith was responsible. He had warned White about getting too close unless he meant business, and with good reason. She was more dangerous than anyone else in the Centre realized -- and unless he did something about it, White might not be her last victim.
He picked up the phone, intending to summon Valentine. Once on the case, he knew his tenacious sweeper wouldn't stop until he found Faith, and introduced her to his own particular brand of entertainment. Mr. White had been willing to kill, for a price. Valentine would do it simply because he was intrigued.
The thought of Little Miss Looking Glass in a dozen pieces comforted Lyle, and he smiled.
It was time to unleash the dogs.