home / season six / episode six / act I


January, 2000
Rural Delaware

"Where are you taking me?" the young man slurred. He pitched sideways in the seat as the car turned a sharp corner. Narrow plastic restraints cut into his wrists and ankles, and as he struggled to work one hand free, he could feel the sticky dampness of his blood trickling onto his palms.

He didn't like feeling so helpless, and the hood over his head intensified that, pushing him deeper into fear.

"Just a little farther, Yuri," Willie announced from somewhere nearby.

Yuri jerked impatiently against the cuffs, seething with pain, edging nearer to panic. "Where are you taking me?" he demanded again. He leaned forward in his seat and started to work his hands underneath him, hoping if he was quick enough, he could get them out from behind his back.

"Not so fast!" Willie snapped, and planted his foot in the middle of Yuri's chest, shoving him hard against the seat.

Yuri yelped with pain, drawing his hands behind his back once more. "You broke my wrist!" he cried, gasping with agony now, seeking some position that would offer a little relief from the white-hot lightning shooting up to his shoulder and down his fingers.

"You should know better than to try to make a move on me, Yuri," Willie reminded him evenly. "I'm not as stupid as you think I am."

Yuri sat still, paralyzed with pain, panting against the seat. "I never said you were stupid, Willie," he ground out between clenched teeth.

"Never in so many words," Willie agreed. "That's not your style." He chuckled softly. "Would you like a little something for the pain, Genius Boy?"

"Am I not doped up enough for you?" Yuri closed his eyes. He couldn't see anything with that hood over his head anyway.

"Now, you know I'd prefer to load you up with some happy drugs, but I'm under orders. Just enough to get the job done, they said."

A sharp prick in his thigh made Yuri jump, but he didn't fight it. They weren't going to kill him outright, which was a surprise in itself. But he didn't know for sure what they were planning, either, and that was unsettling.

The drugs worked quickly. His wrist still hurt, but he didn't care much anymore. All he wanted right then was to sleep. His head nodded forward and he let consciousness slip away.

Some time later, Yuri wasn't sure how long, he heard Willie call out to the driver, "This is far enough." The limousine slowed but did not stop.

Yuri heard the door to his right open, and struggled to force himself completely awake. Then Willie grabbed hold of Yuri's clothes and flung him out of the car. He landed on something cold and wet, soft enough to cushion his fall as he rolled. The momentum sent him far from the road, bashing his body at last into a tree.

Thrown away like so much garbage, Yuri fought to maintain consciousness. He refused to feel sorry for himself. He refused to be beaten, especially by them.

It took him ten long, painful minutes to work his hands out from behind his back. As soon as he could manage, he pulled the hood off and checked his surroundings. As he suspected, he was out in the middle of nowhere. He would have to free himself from his bonds and find shelter, food and supplies to treat his injuries. He would need time to heal, time to discover all the things the Centre had kept from him.

But unless he found help soon, he knew that his injuries and the drugs they had given him would render him unconscious, and exposure to the elements would kill him off in a matter of hours. Perhaps that was what they intended, to let him die alone in the world he had demanded to see. What a waste that would be. What a tragedy.

Yuri laughed softly into the cold air. That was exactly Centre protocol.

A sound made him look up. Down the road a car was approaching. It offered him a chance, and he took it. Struggling to his feet, he stumbled toward the road. The headlights caught him full in the face, and he shouted for help. The motorist slowed, then stopped. Yuri lurched forward, landing on the pavement on his knees, right in front of the oncoming car.

"Thank God!" he wailed. "I'm saved!"

A lone man got out and stood inside the shelter of the open door, hesitant to come near.

"Are you all right?" the fellow asked, clutching his coat around him tighter against the cold.

"Help me!" Yuri cried pitifully. "Some men… they robbed me, drugged me…" He made a feeble effort to get to his feet again, lifting his bound hands into the bright beams of the headlights. "They tied me up… left me out here to die."

The man swore softly and took a step out onto the road. He was coming closer, coming to help.

"Ribs broken," Yuri panted. "And my right wrist. Please, help me. Don't let me die."

"I'll get you to a hospital, quick as I can," the man assured him. He came to Yuri's side and drew a small folding knife from his pocket. With a quick swipe, he sliced through the bonds and gingerly helped Yuri to his feet. "I'm Al. Al Jergens. Don't worry. I'll help you, pal. What's your name?"

"Yuri. I can't thank you enough."

"No thanks necessary, Yuri. The world's a dangerous place. I'm just glad I found you before you froze to death."

"Yeah. Me, too." Yuri fell heavily onto the car seat and slumped against the door after his rescuer shut it. The car was warm, and soft music was playing, the sound of a harp interspersed with rolling thunder. Presently a woman’s voice began a wordless tune that helped him to relax a little. She sounded like an angel.

“Who’s singing?” he whispered, not wanting to break the spell the music was creating for him, the illusion of safety and peace.

“Loreena McKennitt,” Al replied. “The poem’s by William Blake.”

Yuri listened. Presently a dignified man’s voice began to recite a poem that was a terrifying narrative of some great apocalypse. He smiled as he listened.

O for a voice like thunder, and a tongue
To drown the throat of war! - When the senses
Are shaken, and the soul is driven to madness,
Who can stand? When the souls of the oppressed
Fight in the troubled air that rages, who can stand?
When the whirlwind of fury comes from the
Throne of God, when the frowns of his countenance
Drive the nations together, who can stand?
When Sin claps his broad wings over the battle,
And sails rejoicing in the flood of Death;
When souls are torn to everlasting fire,
And fiends of Hell rejoice upon the slain,
O who can stand? O who hath caused this?
O who can answer at the throne of God?
The Kings and Nobles of the Land have done it!
Hear it not, Heaven, thy Ministers have done it!

Yes, he thought to himself, struggling to keep himself composed against the pain. Those in charge were responsible for a great deal of destruction, and now it was time for them to reap the bounty of their sins.

The whirlwind of fury that comes from the Throne of God…

Raines had told him once that Yuri meant ‘flame of Jehovah.’ It was supposed to prompt him to further destruction, and for a time it had. But now, listening to that poem, it began to have a different meaning, one that called him to a mission of epic proportions.

Just before he slipped into unconsciousness, he realized he still held the hood that had covered his head. He decided to keep that little bit of fabric. It just might come in handy later on.

* * * * * * * * *

February 2001
New York City

He walked into the Wall Street high-rise, smiling as he gazed at the elegant appointments. Marble accented with gleaming brass and polished steel were everywhere. The people who passed by him were all dressed in designer clothes, wafting fragrances as individual as their faces. He inhaled, chuckling softly to himself.

The scent of power was strong in that place.

It was exactly where he belonged, and it had taken a great deal of time and patience to get there. He rubbed his palms together in anticipation. "Time to go to work," he said aloud, to no one at all.

A pretty woman caught his eye, and he winked at her, flashing a blinding smile. She was dressed to kill all the way down to her red FM pumps, and he knew opportunity when he saw it. He followed her into the elevator, taking note of small details that would tell him things about her. She would think that he knew her from somewhere, and that would help him get the information she -- or someone like her -- could give him.

Yuri was on his way.

It felt good to finally be free. He had spent his recuperation time well, learning about all that he had been denied in his life. The year after that had been spent putting the pieces into place, setting events in motion, building up to this. But there was still a great deal of lost time to make up for -- 25 years' worth of retribution added up after a while.

Yuri was, above all things, a patient man, and he was good with people. With a face like his and a little charm, he could get them to do anything he wanted. And when congenial persuasion didn't work, he knew other ways to get the job done. He was always very creative with that.

* * * * * * * * *

Present Day

Jarod stared at the computer screen, frowning. His chin rested on his left fist, stacked on his right, propped on the table. He contemplated the message, wondering about its significance. He had intercepted it in a routine search for information in Centre files, though this wasn't in the sector he had been investigating. It had popped up in answer to an encrypted search he had instigated, which meant that someone had programmed it to respond to this type of inquiries from outside sources -- namely, him.

Someone in the Centre wanted him to act on the message. But who? And why?

His eyes roamed over the text, and its simple directive.

Find Yuri.

Someone inside the Centre wanted him to locate Yuri. But who was he? Had he escaped from the Centre as well? Who wanted him found, and why? Jarod straightened and reached for the track ball on his laptop.

He scrolled the mouse further and clicked on a URL to a news website. That story had been about a Fortune 500 CEO who had died in a car crash as an apparent suicide, leaving his company in chaos. Stocks were plummeting and all of Wall Street was shaken. Something about the story tugged at Jarod’s consciousness. But if he swallowed the bait and it was the set-up it seemed, he would be walking straight into a trap. After all, MacCaffrey Enterprises included a drug research organization, technology development and bioscience engineering. Just the sort of businesses that might have profited from Centre research - from Jarod’s own research, when he had been the Centre’s obedient slave.

But without knowing who had sent the information, all of it was highly suspect and he decided not to make any hasty assumptions.

He busied himself with working on his stock portfolio to structure the proper fortune. He knew enough about finance to fit in anywhere on the Street. What he needed now was a reputation, and that would take a little time to build.

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker's Office, SIS

Miss Parker opened her eyes to a startlingly close view of Broots’ nostrils directly above her. Jarring as that vision was, it helped her grasp that she was lying on the floor in his arms. He was babbling her name and patting her face with sweaty palms.

With a groan, she pushed away from him, forcing herself into an upright position. Her head was still spinning, but at least she wasn’t looking up anyone’s nose. She was, however, incredibly nauseous and thought she might need to get to her bathroom posthaste.

“Help me up, Broots, and mute the volume,” she snarled.

“Miss Parker, that’s the second time you’ve fainted this week,” he observed breathlessly. “Maybe you should see a doctor.”

“I don’t need a doctor. I need a vacation.”

“I’m calling Sydney.” Broots helped her toward the bathroom attached to her office, and then went to her desk phone.

By the time she emerged, shaking and pale, the Belgian was there, bearing a tea tray complete with a small amount of fruit and cheese in addition to the biscuits and fragrant brew of Darjeeling, made just the way she liked it.

She sat wearily in her chair and picked up the cup with trembling hands. “Thanks,” she murmured softly, and took a sip.

“You should take better care of yourself,” Sydney admonished. “No one’s seen you in the cafeteria and I know you don’t bring your lunch. You’re also not a breakfast person, so I’ve been wondering since your last fainting spell whether or not you’re eating.”

She took a bite of shortbread cookie and chewed slowly. “That’s my problem, not yours,” she grumbled.

“You have ulcers,” he reminded her. “You need to eat regular meals.”

Even her glare didn’t have the usual fire in it, just a weary warning. “I can take care of myself, Syd.”

“You don’t seem to be doing a very good job of it, if you ask me,” Broots chimed in.

“No one asked you,” she snapped. Unless she changed the subject, they were not going to leave her alone. But the food did taste good, and they were right. She did need to start looking after herself better. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger, she reminded herself. Finishing the cookie, she picked up a grape and threw it at Broots, who had wandered away and was examining some papers she had left out on her coffee table.

“Broots!” she called, once she had his attention. “What have you been able to dig up on those files?”

“Which files, Miss Parker?”

Of course, her mouth was full. Sometimes she wondered if he had donated his brain to science before he was finished using it. Swallowing prematurely, she sputtered and gulped a mouthful of hot tea to wash down the cheese sticking in her throat, and burned her tongue.

“Blue and Yellow,” she reminded him. “We know the completed list of the Red and Yellow Files, but-“

“We do?”

“I do,” she clarified. “And aside from Ethan, Kyle, Faith and a few others, we have very little on the Blue Files, and I’ve been wondering lately if there may be additional candidates that were moved into other programs. Have you been able to find anything else?”

He hurried to her desk and leaned over it, whispering conspiratorially, “I have a complete list of project names for the Blue Files, but that’s it.”

“Still, it’s progress,” Sydney assured them. “Now that we have the project names, we can begin looking for references to them.”

“Get me the list,” Parker ordered. “Now would be good.”

Broots pulled a piece of paper out of his trouser pocket. It was folded, crumpled and stained, and there were notes scrawled on the top layer. He handed it to her, trying to unfold it, but she snatched it out of his hand before he could finish.

Looking Glass. That was Faith.
Mirage was Ethan.
Zeus, Thor, Vulcan, Shiva and Chimera were next, followed by Gemini, Jarod’s clone.

Five of the Blue Files left to identify. One of them she was sure would probably be Kyle, another was undoubtedly Sun-Chai, but the rest could be any of the Centre’s creations.

She sighed. "Broots, you're the best technogeek we have. I want you to set up a secured database in the system that nobody but you can get to. Understand? And don't use Debbie as your password again, okay, genius?"

"Sure, Miss Parker, but--"

"Put everything into it that we discover. I want comprehensive data for all the investigations we've made so far into Centre business, including the Red, Blue and Yellow files. I'll fill in the blanks for you once you have it set up. Everything else, you plug in as we come across the information."

"Are you sure you want to do that, Miss Parker?" Sydney asked hesitantly. "Putting all that data into a single repository could be exceedingly dangerous."

Parker fixed him with a glare. "If anybody in this company can break down Broots' best firewall, then we deserve to get caught," she snapped.

Broots straightened, and smiled proudly. "Gee, thanks, Miss Parker."

Her eyes narrowed dangerously at him. "Don't misplace my faith in you," she growled.

He paled. "Uh, no. I would never do that."

Lips pressed tightly together, she turned away.

"Um, Miss Parker?"


Broots flinched at the ice in her tone. She was upset about something; that was obvious. But he dared not ask her to explain. She wasn't the type to cry on his shoulder, or anyone else's. But she did need to know.

"Uh, I found an encrypted message stored in the mainframe security program. It popped up after an unauthorized search earlier today."

She rounded on him, eyes alert, demanding.

"It said, 'Find Yuri.' Do you know who Yuri is?"

"No, but you already did a search, and you're going to tell me, aren't you, Broots?"

He wilted slightly, hoping to break the news that he already had the answers when she asked him to look into it. "Yuri was one of the last entries into the Pretender project, under Mr. Raines. His records weren't destroyed in the fire, because they were moved to Archives over a year and a half ago. He was released from the Centre as being unproductive after a series of failed simulations."


Broots shook his head. "They couldn't control him. He didn't care about anything or anyone, so there wasn't any emotional leverage they could use to get him to cooperate if he didn't want to."

"And, of course, Aurora wasn't finished yet. They weren't even up to trials at that point."

"But if they dismissed him, why would someone here want him found now?" asked Sydney.

The tech glanced at Sydney. “There was a signed sanction in his file. I suppose they thought they killed him, and just found out they were wrong.”

Miss Parker pondered. Head down, she slowly paced her office. "Broots, see if you can figure out who encoded that message, or at least, where it came from within the Centre. Backtrack it as far as you can. And get me a copy of that sanction. I want to know who did what, and how they failed."

"I'm already on it." He turned toward her door.

"Broots." She met his gaze steadily. "Who do you think this message was intended for?"

Broots met Sydney’s knowing gaze. All three of them already knew the answer to that. "Jarod. If he tried to get into Centre records through any kind of electronic search, the message would activate on his computer."

"So someone wants Jarod to find Yuri. Why?"

The tech went to her desk, minimized the files she had been working on before their meeting started, and plugged in the information to bring up the message. Then he scrolled down to the URL for the news page, and brought it up on the screen as she looked over his shoulder.

"MacCaffrey Enterprises," she mused aloud. "One of our best clients. I worked with Angus on several occasions when I was still in Corporate." Her gaze traveled over the news report. "More than the usual number of casualties on their board, Broots. If Yuri's behind this…"

"Would the Centre send an assassin to kill off its best client?" Sydney asked. "It makes more sense to protect them, rather than destroy them."

Parker glanced up at him. "That's why somebody wants Jarod to go after Yuri. This smacks of a personal agenda, Sydney. I don't think these deaths are a result of Centre orders."

"So if Jarod is, indeed, working to solve this mystery and find Yuri before he can tumble MacCaffrey Enterprises, would your father want Jarod caught before he finishes this particular job?"

She straightened slowly. It rankled to have that man referred to as her father, when she knew at last that he wasn't. But that information wasn't for sharing with even her closest associates in that place. "Maybe I should go and ask him about that."

"Still want me to find the source of the message, Miss Parker?" Broots asked.

"Leave that to me. I have another bone to pick with him first, and an errand to run, but after that, I'll get your answer," she shot back, and strode briskly out of her office.

* * * * * * * * *

New York City

Elan was the newest hotel in Manhattan. It was built on the spot where a former city landmark had stood, and graced the skyline with sleek modern lines, all golden glass and brass. Though it had stood in place less than a year, it had already garnered a worldwide reputation for class and impeccable service. The concierge at Elan, it was said, could get the residents anything they wanted. Anything.

The reservation list was booked years in advance, and the suites were touted as the most expensive in the world.

Jarod hated paying so much for his lodgings when he could use his money to help others. But this particular Pretend required such high-profile digs. And with the amount of security in that place, he knew Miss Parker would not be sniffing on his trail until he was ready for her to appear. This was, after all, one of the last places in the world that the Centre would expect him to live.

He nodded his approval as the bell captain finished his tour of the rooms. "This will do," he assured the man, and slipped a fifty into the man's gloved hand as he left. The concierge stood near the door, his hands clasped behind his back, waiting for additional instructions.

Jarod faced him. "My assistant will be arriving in the morning. Please have additional quarters ready for her when she arrives. Her name is Jean Destry.”

"I'll have everything ready," Martin assured him. "Will you require a car? Personal protection? A bank liaison?"

"I prefer to drive, Martin. Make the car black, not red. I don't want to attract attention. And the rest I manage myself."


"Bentley. I prefer to deal with as few people as possible on my personal staff."

"Of course, sir." Martin bowed slightly. "Will there be anything else, Mr. Pendleton?"

"Not at the moment. See you in the morning."

He watched the man leave and sighed when the door closed behind him. Jarod knew all too well how he would be expected to behave, if his portrayal of a man born to wealth and power were to be believed. It would be tiring, but he had lived under the yoke of the powerful all his life. It would be interesting to stand on the other side of the equation for a while.

Jarod sat down at the computer terminal and punched up the hotel's room service menu. There were selections from their own kitchens as well as choices from some of the city's premier restaurants. He chose an appropriate meal that he didn't intend to eat, including an expensive wine, and waited for his luggage to arrive.

The bell captain escorted Housekeeping up with his bags, and the bevy of women unpacked his handmade suits, unaware that he had made them himself, including the painstakingly hand copied labels of an internationally known Chinese tailor. All his gear except for the Halliburton in which he carried his DSAs were purchased new, just to make the proper impression on the denizens of Manhattan. They were sure to notice anything that wasn't genuine, and only the best would do.

He made a few telephone calls, setting things in motion for the next few days, and waited for the maids to leave. On their heels came the dinner staff, presenting his meal with aplomb, set out on the dining table in front of the massive floor-to-ceiling windows that gave him an eagle's eye view of the city, and the gaping wound where the twin towers had once stood. He remembered how the news affected him once he had heard about the disaster, after his most recent departure from the Centre. He was still astounded by the depths of hatred that could lead to such horrors, but he understood. That was one of the great tragedies of his upbringing, that he could clearly understand the thinking on both sides of the equation, anticipate and plan countermoves. Had his captors been interested in helping his country, he might have been able to provide solutions. He might have been able to avert the disaster completely.

But that was not the sort of people who were in power at The Centre. They had their own agenda, and it did not include helping anyone other than themselves.

He stared at the hole in the horizon, pushed away the memories to a place where he could keep his grief at bay, and turned his attention to the project at hand.

Hunger gnawed at his belly, making him realize that it had been some time since he had eaten. The food smelled good, and without thinking he sat down at the table. In short order his plate was empty, and he poured a glass of the wine, giving it a sniff. One sip was enough to tell him that he didn't like wine, and he took the bottle and glass into the bathroom. Pouring out just enough to make it appear as if he had imbibed, he returned the items to the tray. The servants were just outside his door, waiting to take it all back to the kitchens, and when they were gone, he locked the door and headed for the bathroom for a hot soak, hoping it would help him relax.

He just couldn't get comfortable in that place. Shadows of Aurora plagued him constantly, reminding him of the peace and pleasure he was missing, of what he could have if he just went back to Delaware. Every moment of happiness, however brief -- the taste of good food, the feel of warm water against his skin, the sight of a parent interacting lovingly with their child -- anything that gave him pleasure was a reminder of what he could never allow himself to have again.

Hours later, he lay stretched out on scented sheets, his eyelids drooping heavily as he slid swiftly into dreams of needles and bliss. Aurora still had a hold on him in those unguarded moments. He wondered as he dreamed if it always would.

* * * * * * * * *

Chairman's Office
The Centre

The doors swept open and the director of SIS strode purposefully into the room. She glared at the underlings clustered around the desk as they listened to orders from the top dog himself. With a nod of her head, they went scurrying for the door with tails between their legs. She leaned over the desk, lightly balanced on her fingertips, and gazed at Parker down her elegant nose.

"I read through the records on the Seraphim," she announced. "They're the children on the nursery floor, aren't they? The ones my brother plays with."

Parker frowned. "Yes, they are," he growled back. She had seen Gabriel with the others weeks earlier, but asked no questions about them then. "They're the only kids in this place that Gabriel can relate to, so I don't want to hear any whining about him having playmates. He needs to learn to interact with others, and these kids are the best and brightest the Centre has to offer. I should think you'd be glad he's not alone."

She leaned down closer to him. "I'm just looking out for his interests, Daddy," she returned coolly. "I don't want him to become another Centre project. And as director of SIS, I should know everything important happening in this place, including projects that my brother could be involved in, however marginally. If I don't know what's going on, I can't look out for our best interests. Or his."

He barked a sharply derisive laugh. "Don't you worry about that, angel," he assured her. "No one will forget that Gabriel belongs to me. And I've made sure the Seraphim children are exceedingly well protected. They're special, just like Gabriel is, and I want them to be safe and well cared for. That's why I've gone to such great lengths to protect them."

She stood up, a look of satisfaction on her face, and crossed her arms over her chest. " Where did they come from? I need to know something about them, so I'll be able to talk with Gabriel about them."

He pursed his lips, already a step ahead of her, but wanting her to think he was considering what he should say. Injecting a tone of false compassion into his voice, he told her, "They’re all orphans, angel. We’ve gathered them from agencies all over the world as the best and brightest, for a special early education program. Gabriel’s a part of that, since he’s so bright, but I assure you, it’s just what he needs to develop that sharp little mind of his. You can interview their caregivers, if you like. But don't plan on spending much time with them. You've got far too much to do to be playing room mother to your brother's pre-kindergarten class." The Seraphim files she read had been specially prepared for just this occasion, and the nursing staff had also been forewarned on what they could and could not say to his daughter.

Parker knew the project couldn't be kept from her forever. She was digging into everything -- it was part of her job -- and as far as he could see, she was doing wonders, fulfilling his every expectation. Even Jarod's escape had been someone else's fault. She had asked for measures to prevent such things, and his own refusal to spend the money to implement her suggestions had contributed to the loss. His arrogant dependence on Aurora was responsible, thanks to Eve and her assurances of the drug’s power.

But there were things that his daughter would never know the truth about, not even with the power of her new title behind her. He had already seen to that. Pertinent records had been moved to secure places where only he could get at them.

Soon enough, she would be placated by what she discovered about this group of toddlers. All she would see was how well they interacted together, and how Gabriel cared for them. Then, he knew, his worries would be over. She would turn a blind eye to the Seraphim project, and things would continue according to plan.

He knew exactly how she thought, and how to make best use of those tendencies. After all, he had been programming her since childhood. She discovered after the escape that Jarod had been their intended trainer, but her fears along those lines had been quelled abruptly. And when she brought their Pretender back again, she would never see Gabriel working with him. Having the two of them in such close proximity made his true heritage so obvious it screamed. And if she ever did discover that Jarod was the boy's true father, she might also question the other half of his heritage.

Parker couldn't allow that. As long as she was in the dark, she was safe. As long as she accepted what he told her and never looked beyond that, she would live.

He watched her smile.

"I know, Daddy," she purred. "I'm really not trying to make trouble for you. And I know I'm not Gabriel's mother. It's just that, since he doesn't have a mommy…" Her smile was sad, and she shrugged. Tears drowned her eyes and disappeared with a blink. "I went to the Infirmary recently. Did they tell you?"

He pretended to be shocked. "Are you all right, angel? Working too hard?"

She turned half away from him, presenting her profile. "Vitamin deficiency, stress, all the usual." She sighed, and bowed her head. "But they also found something else. The exam was pretty thorough."

Pasting on a look of concern, he leaned forward. "What is it? You can tell me. I'm your father."

She heaved a quivering sigh. "I just found out I can't have children, Daddy. I really hadn't planned on having a family of my own, not after… Tommy." She put her back to him and stepped away, strolling aimlessly around the room. "But now that I know that's not an option, it's kind of hard. I guess Gabriel's the closest thing I'll ever have to a child of my own, so you can understand why I'm a little wound up over this."

"Yes, angel," he assured her, with as much warmth as he could force into his tone of voice. He rose, stepped around the desk and held out his arms to her. She came into them slowly, stiffly, and rested her cheek on his shoulder. "I know how hard that kind of news must be." He patted her back, stroked her hair, going through all the fatherly motions with her. "And it's okay if you want to fill that role with my boy, within limits. He'll need a mother figure in his life, and you can do that for him. But you must always remember who you really are to him. All right?"

She pulled away from him then, her eyes filled with such sadness and longing. She nodded. "All right, Daddy. I promise."

He dropped his arms and stepped quickly back behind his desk. "And don't compromise your time. You've got a big job with this organization, and that has to come first."

"Family comes first," she said softly. Then she smiled. "And this is the family business. Don't worry about my priorities, Daddy. I'm a Parker, remember?"

She turned away and left quietly, but as he returned to his seat she was standing in front of the desk again.

"Something else on your mind, angel?" he queried. Glancing up, he saw that the woman standing before him had longer hair, dated clothing and heavier makeup. He frowned, staring at her. "You're not real," he snapped, and bent his head over his papers. "Go away and leave me alone."

The ring of her laughter forced him to make eye contact again. She was pointing at him, lost in apparent merriment.

He glanced around the room, aware that he was sweating. There was no one else there, and he was certain he was alone. The apparition was nothing more than a figment of his imagination. It didn't exist.

But he could not make it go away, and the laughter ate at him until he buried his head on his desk and covered his ears with his hands.

"Go away," he chanted softly. "Go away, Catherine… Leave me in peace…"

On to Act II

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