The Centre, Miss Parker's office
Monday morning, 7 am
Miss Parker sat at her desk, not a hair out of place. Nobody could have
guessed from looking at her that she was operating on less than five hours
of sleep. The tap on the door told her it was Broots, in answer to her
summons. Only Broots could sound both tentative and determined at the
Come in. The door opened and Broots entered. Have a
seat. It was a measure of the confidence hed gained that Broots
actually did just that.
Miss Parker reached across the table and handed him a file folder. Take
this and find these people for me. Dont disclose their locations
to anyone. She handed him a note. Broots read it, and nodded. The
instructions said simply, Call me at my place and say Debbie wants
to see me when you have some answers. Broots left and Miss Parker
turned her gaze to the clock on the wall. It was time for her to make
another move. And it was too important to chance that a Centre observer
might accidentally discover what she was up to.
* * * * * * * * *
Simmons and Hart, Booksellers
Jarod inhaled the smell of old books. Logically, he knew that he was
likely inhaling all sorts of mold spores and dust, yet the smell was somehow
relaxing. The dark, quiet peace of the antiquarian bookstore appealed
to him. There were dozens of shelves, with a two-foot width between the
shelves. In the rear, the space widened and there was a wooden rocking
chair in front of a window. Apparently, the owner figured that if you
got back that far, you deserved to be able to sit quietly and read. Working
here gave Jarod quiet in which to plan his next move, and it gave him
lots of time to surf the net. Just because he sold old books, the owner
said, that was no reason not to have the latest conveniences, including
a high speed Internet connection. Part of Jarods duties required
keeping track of the latest auctions and then shipping the books out to
the highest bidder.
Surfing the net meant that he could keep in contact with people he cared
about. In particular, Jarod was sharing his discoveries with Jordan. Hed
never read John Carter of Mars or the Tarzan books, and
neither had Jordan. They were reading them together via Project Gutenberg,
delighting in the tales of a more innocent time. Jarod thought about it,
then sent another e-mail. He was going to add someone else to his book
* * * * * * * * *
The Centre, Miss Parker's office
Sydney entered the office first, precisely at nine oclock. He had
a small pad of paper with him, but no file folders. He carried everything
he knew about Jarod in his head now.
Eve was only a few minutes behind Sydney. In many ways, she reminded
Miss Parker of her father, confident and impersonal. Eve was dressed in
the most elegant of business suits, and she wore an air of assurance that
told both Parker and Sydney that she hadnt lost much face since
Jarods escape. She had a small DSA viewer, which she placed on Parkers
So, Miss Parker said, have you any idea, Sydney, how
Aurora might be affecting Jarod at this point?
I cant begin to imagine. He hasnt contacted us. The
usual addict/supplier scenario doesnt apply here. Sydney sat
calmly in the chair next to Miss Parker, directly facing her desk.
I have some examples here of how Aurora worked on the test subjects,
Eve answered. Eve placed a DSA in the viewer and switched it on. The sight
before their eyes was astonishing. One of the test subjects, a slight
man who reminded Miss Parker vaguely of Broots, had killed a sweeper well
over six feet tall in order to get the drug. It was as though hed
been so consumed with need for the drug that he was willing to risk anything,
injury or death, in order to get Aurora. Over 20 test subjects had been
given the drug and none of them were able to fight the addiction. None
of them had even shown signs over the test period of wanting to try.
Eve stopped the DSA with a particularly gruesome suicide on the screen,
as though she wanted to provoke a reaction from Sydney.
If they couldnt get Aurora, the test subjects didnt
want to live. It seems hard to believe that Jarod could break that kind
of addiction, Eve remarked.
He has been forcibly addicted to drugs before. And he survived
a pretend in a drug rehabilitation center without becoming addicted a
year and a half ago, Sydney answered. Possibly he developed
skills during that period which hes using now.
Eve looked surprised. No one mentioned that to me. That could
certainly be playing a part in his recovery. Why isnt that information
in his files?
Thank Mr. Raines, Miss Parker answered, but did not elaborate.
Its also possible our little genius has synthesized the drug
on his own. After all, he did have full access to the formula.
Its even possible that he was able to make some modifications
in the formula which preclude the need for him to contact us, Sydney
We saw that he tried to go through detoxification, yet there was
nothing in that warehouse to indicate how successful the detoxification
was, Eve said. If Jarod had already gone through the process,
he may have built up an immunity to some of the cravings of addiction.
Jarods ability to anticipate the thoughts and feelings of
others, and to think several steps ahead, is one of the reasons the Centre
finds him so valuable, stated Sydney.
Of course, Eve answered. It still frustrated her that so
little of the research that Jarod left behind had been able to be used.
Many of his notes were in a unique shorthand which Jarod had not used
before while in the Centre. But to keep him going, there must be
something else motivating him. We need to use that.
Jarod is motivated by two things: his need to help other people,
which we instilled in him in order to get him to complete his sims as
a child, and his need to find his family. If you add an addiction into
the picture, theres no telling what youll come up with,
Eve snorted delicately. Nonetheless, this gives us a starting place.
Indeed. Why dont you drop some breadcrumbs and well
see where the trail leads us? Miss Parker answered with only a hint
of her usual sarcasm. She didnt want Eve to go away angrily, just
to go away.
Eve left, taking the DSAs with her. The door shut firmly behind her.
I dont like her attitude, Sydney said. Its
possible shell be looking for Jarod on her own and not be willing
to share all her information.
And this would be a new way for a Centre employee to act?
Miss Parker answered, raising her eyebrows.
Miss Parker, I dont know what your agenda is, but Id
like to get Jarod back in one piece. I cant believe that inestimable
harm hasnt been done by enslaving him to this drug. The DSAs of
the other addicts were hardly reassuring, nor was the one of Jarod I was
allowed to see, Sydney replied.
Im here to do a job. Jarod must be returned to the Centre.
Theres no way we can let him go roaming around on his own. Nor am
I terribly comfortable with the idea that he might still be so addicted
that hed sell his soul for another dose. Id much rather have
Jarod loyal to my interests when he's back at the Centre, than to whomever
can keep him supplied with a drug. That much, Miss Parker felt,
was safe to say, even in the Centre. She doubted very much that her office
had been re-bugged, but she couldnt take any chances. Gabriels
future, as well as hers and Jarods, was at stake. This was not the
place to confide in Sydney.
Do you have a plan? Sydney asked.
Several. You dont need to concern yourself with them, Syd.
And dont worry about Eve. Ill be keeping a very close eye
on her, just in case shes tempted to get into mischief.
Sydney knew that was all he was going to get out of Miss Parker at the
moment. He left, with two words on the pad of paper hed brought
along: Catherines plan. When Catherine had made up her mind,
she could be incredibly stubborn. That stubbornness was a trait shared
by her daughter. Hopefully it wouldnt lead Miss Parker into the
same sort of danger that had killed her mother.
* * * * * * * * *
St. Catherine's School
The dark-haired teenager wore a bracelet with her adopted name, Merritt
on her left wrist. She glanced at the watch on her other hand, noting
the time. She turned on her computer and accessed her chat software, typing
Merritt: I havent got long, but I wanted to say hi.
Threepio: Hi. Glad were on at the same time.
Merritt: Can we meet later?
Threepio: Sure. Im going to be visiting friends in PA and might
be able to meet up with you if you are near there.
Merritt: Wow! I thought you meant meet online. But Id like to
meet in person.
Threepio: OK. We can meet at the Liberty Bell in Philly at noon on Wednesday.
Would that work?
Merritt: Ill make it work. See you there.
Her face got the grim, determined look that meant she was coming up with
a plan. If anyone had been in the plain, white-walled bedroom with her,
they would have known it meant trouble. The last time, the trouble had
been as simple as candy where it was strictly forbidden. This time things
were going to be just a little more complicated. She needed to meet her
She and Threepio had been chatting online for about six months now. Jarod
had introduced them in a chat session. Merritt hadnt told Threepio
her real name, and he hadnt told her his. Merritt knew Jarod would
never lie to her about her safety and that it was OK to have Threepio
as a friend if Jarod said so. Threepio was someone who Jarod thought it
was safe for her to know, and who knew about the Centre. Jarod had been
very particular in mentioning that point. It was important, because while
Merritt had friends in school, she always felt like she was holding something
back. Threepio seemed like he might be a cute guy, but what appealed to
her the most was that she wouldnt have to pretend with him. She
and Jarod had exchanged e-mail regarding how much he thought she could
tell Threepio and shed been kind of surprised when Jarod had said
everything. Jarod was the only person whose instincts she
trusted more than her own.
Lately, shed had the feeling that something important was coming.
She wasnt sure if it connected to Threepio or not. Her feelings
were never quite that clear beforehand. At the moment, meeting with Threepio
felt so right that she didnt question that this was what she should
* * * * * * * * *
Merritt dialed the phone.
Hi, Aunt Harriet. Can I come and visit this weekend? she
Sure, honey. Harriet Tashman had developed a great interest
in the young girl who looked so much like her friend Catherine. Theyd
met at a church-sponsored bazaar. Harriet had been astonished by the resemblance
and had been delighted to befriend the lonely young girl. She hadnt
liked to push her, though, which was why the overture from Merritt meant
so much. A young girl didnt always want to confide in an older woman,
especially an ex-nun.
* * * * * * * * *
Simmons and Hart, Booksellers, Kingston, NY
Jarod booted up his computer. There was a message from Jordan; he wanted
to go to Philadelphia and meet up with Merritt. Jarod had known that would
happen from the moment he introduced Merritt to Jordan online. As Threepio,
Jordans quick mind had given Merritt a companion who could keep
up with her. Their online games and conversations had quickly developed
into a strong friendship.
It was risky for Jordan and Merritt to meet face to face. But, they
were both adrift and alone and could use the friendship. Hed take
them to a secure place.
The second message however, was clearly not from anyone in his family.
Nobody he knew would send him an anonymous picture of an Asian doll. It
was dressed in an ornate kimono, its pale face painted after the fashion
of Kabuki masks. A quick attempt at tracking its origin showed that the
file wasnt easily traceable. He had used a similar strategy when
he first left the Centre. That wasnt a guarantee that the Centre
was behind the picture, but it was enough to send a shiver down his spine.
Jarod was keeping the bookstore open and running the ebay auction in
order to raise funds for a family in desperate need of the money. Victims
of a rare blood disorder, they needed specialized treatment, which would
be paid for with the proceeds of the auction.
But it also meant that, in the present, Jarod had to lay low and keep
away from anything that might put anyone else into danger.
Jarod picked up his cell phone and dialed a familiar number.
Emily, Ive got a favor to ask you. Jordan wants to meet a
young friend of his in Philadelphia. Ive arranged the meeting and
wanted to be there, but it just isnt going to work out. Could you
take him for me? Jarod asked.
Are you in trouble? Emily replied.
No more than usual. Its possible the Centre is closer to
finding me than Id like, and Im not willing to risk Jordan
being anywhere near them. So it looks like my best option is to lay low
for a few days and then move on.
OK, big brother, no problem. Just be sure you stay in one piece.
If I had a dime for every time I've been worried about you, Id be
rich, Emily replied.
You be careful, too. This should be safe, but theres no guarantee,
I dont need guarantees. Emilys sigh was barely
audible, but it conveyed a lot of meaning to Jarod. And I suppose
you want me to be the one to sweet-talk Dad into letting Jordan do this,
Hell listen to you. I think there's a part of Dad thats
still trying to compensate for my kidnapping. I understand how protective
family can make someone feel, but Jordan has to have more opportunities
to interact with others. Youre good for him, Em, Jarod stated.
His conversations with Jordan had confirmed that the younger man always
relaxed more around Emily. And Jordan would have more fun with Merritt
if he was relaxed.
Emily, the tonic, she said with a smile in her voice.
Something like that, Jarod answered with a similar smile
in his tone. We should try and get together in person sometime soon.
I really miss you all.
I miss you, too. After I bring Jordan home Ill try and spend
some time with him and Dad, Emily promised. She carefully avoided
prompting Jarod for promises of a meeting she wasnt sure shed
be able to attend. Margaret was slowly improving, but she needed Emilys
support in order to do it. Juggling all the members of her family was
getting a little complicated.
You will be careful, though, Jarod said. He had been hoping Emily
would spend time with his father and Jordan. Em had sounded like she was
under stress, and being with her family always seemed to help.
Very. And you watch your back, too, big brother, Emily retorted.
Always, Jarod replied, hanging up the phone. He trusted Emily
to get Jordan to the rendezvous without making a production out of it.
And Jordan was more likely to respond positively to any encouragement
to be careful from Emily. Although Jordan got along well enough with the
older man, it sometimes seemed as though the generation gap between his
father and Jordan interfered with communication. Their father would let
Jordan go off with Emily or Jarod without comment, but he wouldnt
approve of anything which might bring Jordan to the Centres attention.
He didnt tolerate the idea of risk to his family well. While Jarod
certainly had some of the same feelings, he also had a strong motivation
to make Jordans life as normal as possible. One place to start was
to make sure he had friends he could talk to about what his life was really
He then sent Jordan an e-mail telling him about the change in plans.
Jordans reply indicated that he was disappointed but not surprised.
Since his return from Australia, Jarod had been reluctant to stay too
close to his family in case the Centre caught up to him. His caution had
kept him free for a long time, and he intended to stay that way.