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The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“Did you find the DNA results?” the woman demanded as she entered the tech room. The man at the computer turned, nodding.

“Yes, and you were right.” Casting a wary glance at the other people seated nearby, he pushed a sheet of paper into her hand. Miss Parker ran her eyes over the results before turning away.

“There’s something else,” the technician stated softly and she turned back.

“Is it…?”

“I think it’s better,” he agreed as she slightly indicated her office with a nod of her head.

Leading the way to the elevator, Miss Parker read through the report that had been written after tests had finally determined the genetic heritage of the girl she had helped Jarod rescue from Lyle twelve months earlier. When they arrived, she firmly locked the door and then sat down.

“Well, what is it?”

“I was talking to Petey, the guy who’s head of the chemistry labs down on SL-14, and he said that Eve came down to the lab a year or so ago, only a couple of months before Lyle was trapped in that room - remember?”

“I certainly remember the complaining that followed it, every time I went down to the Infirmary to tell him something,” she agreed. “But I wouldn’t have thought that was so unusual.”

“Well, she’s got her own lab on the same level as her suite, on SL-4, and she usually does all her work there. The only reason Petey thought she would have come to the chem labs was because she wanted things that people wouldn’t expect to find in her rooms - things that had nothing to do with the drugs she was working on.”

Miss Parker folded her arms impatiently. “What’s the point of the story, Broots?”

“Well, when Valentine appeared on the scene he ran some tests on Lyle’s syringes and Petey got a look at the results. Apparently, somebody was messing with your brother’s medication so that it wouldn’t have any effect, and Petey thinks it was Eve.”

“Obviously Lyle doesn’t know about that or he wouldn’t be running off to her for help,” Miss Parker declared. “So what’s she doing now?”

“Well, there was a surveillance tap in the room where they met that I don’t think Lyle knew about.” Broots took a small cassette recorder out of his pocket and put it on the table. The two voices sounded loudly through the silent office when he turned it on.

“All I’m asking for is your help,” Lyle’s voice offered smoothly. “And I’m sure there are one or two little favors I could do for you in return.”

“I can get everything I want,” came the sharp voice of the woman, becoming slightly vindictive as she continued. “But I’m sure that Aurora would provide you with a good way of controlling Kronos I, if you were willing to try.”

“I’m not becoming one of your guinea pigs for Aurora,” the man on the tape spat and his footsteps were audible as he apparently began to pace the floor.

“Pity,” Eve replied quickly. “It might have been a very effective method of control. Still, I suppose there’s no harm in me seeing what I could do for you.”

“I’d be very grateful,” Lyle responded. “And my gratitude is a very valuable thing.”

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

Jarod sat back in his seat, having eaten the last bite of pizza, and wiped his fingers on a napkin before dropping it on the plate and looking up.

“Can I ask something a little off-track?”

“Sure.”

“If you knew about Andrea’s kidnapping, why didn’t you step in and try to prevent it?”

The woman stared down at her own empty plate, but when she looked up, despite the efforts she had made to hide it, Jarod could still see the fear in her eyes. He spoke before she could work out the words she wanted to use.

“You’re afraid of them. Him.”

“And you’re not?” she challenged. “I already told you that my knowledge is limited around people who I dislike, and I can’t help hating Lyle for all the things that he did to my daughter and so many others.”

There was a moment of silence before she continued.

“I was afraid that, if I turned up to help, I might have made things worse. After all, neither you nor Miss Parker would have had any real reason to trust me. If we’d been getting caught up in all the necessary explanations, with my own limitations, I might not have been able to tell when Lyle was coming back and he could have caught us all.” She swallowed hard. “It wasn’t easy to stay away, but…”

“Did you know we’d succeed?” he demanded bluntly as she stopped.

“I hoped so,” she offered. “But it’s hard to always be sure.” Rebecca smiled faintly. “But you can be sure that, if something had gone wrong, I was ready to do whatever I could to get both of you out of there, even if I’d had to reveal myself to those who still think I’m dead.”

* * * * * * * * *

Valentine slammed the aerial down on his cell phone in a way that threatened to snap it off and threw it onto the bed, where faint marks on the sheets and even the wall revealed the results of the night’s entertainment. His face was folded into a glare as he tapped lightly on the connecting door.

“Boss? It’s important.”

“What is it?” the other man’s voice growled, still thick with sleep.

“Sighting of Andromeda, Boss. They’re pretty sure it’s genuine and they want us there, ASAP.”

The door slammed back against the wall and Lyle glared at the sweeper. “Where?”

“Only a few hours away. If we leave some sweepers here to look for Rebecca, the two of us could make it there by dawn.”

“The jet?” the other man snarled.

“In for repairs, and besides,” Valentine added. “By the time it got down here, we’d be there.”

Lyle made no response, slamming the door as he went back to his bedroom to get dressed.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“I just wish there was some way to warn her.” Sydney began pacing the room, his eyes fixed on the floor. “I can’t. She called me on the odd occasions we got in touch, and I know that she only ever checks her email if she’s expecting something, and she won’t be now. If they got close…”

“There could be - one way,” Miss Parker suggested hesitantly, seeing the flicker of hope in the eyes of the older man as he turned to her.

“How?” he demanded.

She eyed him narrowly for a moment, wondering if she was doing the right thing, before making up her mind and reaching out for the phone. With habitual wariness, she covered the buttons as she dialed the number, her fingers rapping impatiently on the top of her desk as she waited for it to be answered.

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

Having stretched out on the sofa Rebecca had offered him as a bed for the night, tucking one of the cushions under his head, Jarod stretched out a hand for his cell phone as it rang.

“Hello?”

“Jarod?”

“Miss Parker?” He straightened up, knowing that only something important would force her to call him and using her full title in case anyone else was listening. “What’s happened?”

“It’s about Rebecca,” another voice cut in. “The first of the Red Files. She’s alive and in trouble.”

He raised an eyebrow, keeping his voice carefully neutral. “How do you know?”

“We just do,” she snapped. “Do you know where she is?”

“Possibly," he replied, determined not to give anything away. “In what way is she in trouble?”

“Lyle’s on her trail,” the psychiatrist informed him softly. “Mr. Parker found out that she’s still alive and has sent Lyle and a number of sweepers to find her.”

Jarod swung his legs off the sofa, sitting upright and staring at the floor. “Do they know where she is?”

“Lyle was heading somewhere down south,” the woman stated. “They left here early this morning and they could be anywhere by now.”

Without replying, Jarod cut the connection, hearing a sound and turning to see the woman in the doorway, rapidly doing up the buttons on her blue shirt before tying back her straight, blond hair as she spoke.

“We have to leave,” she told him, going over to the table and closing down her DSA player. With a smooth movement, she took the framed photo from the shelf and slid both it and the video from the top of the television into a bag that she carried as Jarod stood up and grabbed his things.

“No kidding,” he remarked dryly. “Considering Lyle’s after you, I’m surprised we’re still here.”

She turned to stare at him blankly. “They’re after Andrea,” the woman corrected after several long seconds of silence.

“Her, too,” he agreed over his shoulder, opening the door. “But somehow the Chairman found out you’re alive and he sent Lyle down here to take you back.”

“Well, they’re not in town now, although we will have to go carefully to avoid one of the sweepers who’s keeping an eye out,” she remarked, getting into a car parked just near the door.

“But you said you couldn’t…” he began in vehement protest.

“I can’t predict as accurately what they’ll do,” she snapped. “But I can sometimes tell where they are.”

“Where’s he headed?” Jarod queried with understandable curiosity as he got into the car. “Lyle, I mean.”

“The same place we are,” she told him. “But I know a way that will get us there a little before they do.”

He stared at her in disbelief. “Rebecca, do you understand what you’re doing?”

“Of course.” She set her jaw. “I’m going to save my baby. This time, I’m not going to leave it to anybody else.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Miss Parker stared at the phone as she heard the dial tone before Sydney reached out to turn off the speaker. Then she looked up at the man opposite.

“Do you think he’ll get there in time?”

“I hope so.” Sydney sighed and stared at the top of his desk. “If not, she’ll be caught, without any doubt.”

The woman looked skeptical. “Jarod escapes constantly, even when it seems like he shouldn’t be able to. Why shouldn’t she?”

“I told you about the limitations she has with her psychic ability. Her ability as a telekinetic has the same limitations.”

“But you believe that’s all in her mind,” she offered. “As did Jacob. Surely if she was under a lot of pressure, she could overcome that.”

“There is such a thing as performance anxiety,” he commented, before shrugging. “Emotions can be incredibly powerful, as you know. I’ve seen her in situations that, by your logic, she should have been able to change, and she couldn’t.”

“When she was six,” the woman agreed. “I’m sure she’s different now.”

“To a certain degree, but something changed her even more than just age and time would have,” Sydney told her. “We’ve been in contact - intermittently - since we met that day. The cancer she developed in the mid-1980s has left her physically weak. She wouldn’t be able to run either fast enough or long enough to get away.”

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

“You dislike Mr. Parker so much that you couldn’t even tell he’d found out about you?”

“And you don’t feel the same way?” she demanded. “Considering how aware you are of what kind of a man he is, can you really feel any differently about him than I do?” Rebecca rolled her eyes, her hands firmly on the steering wheel. “Trust me, Jarod, I had no idea. But I do know that unless we get there soon Andrea will be returned to the Centre and the rest of the Hatchers will probably face the same fate as my adoptive parents.”

He saw the pain in her eyes as she stared ahead into the darkness and suddenly understood the truth about what had happened to them.

“They wouldn’t tell where you were,” he stated softly. “So they were killed.”

“I knew it was a hit,” she confessed in a pain-filled whisper, blinking away the tears from her eyes. “But I couldn’t ever figure out who’d done it, although I always suspected Raines. Obviously that’s who it was.”

“It’s his style,” Jarod murmured almost inaudibly.

“I can’t let Andrea go through that,” the woman’s voice pleaded. “I don’t care what happens to me, but she isn’t going to have to suffer like I did. The fact of what she can do is bad enough, without the guilt that I have to suffer every day.”

“But don’t you want to teach her how to use her abilities?” he proposed. “Andrea could use them to keep herself and the people she loves safe.”

“You have no idea how much of a burden it is,” Rebecca replied. “I agree that it might be good for her to control them, so that she could stay safe from the Centre too, but at the same time…”

“‘Too?’” Jarod turned quickly. “What do you mean by that?”

The woman sighed deeply. “I always hoped that maybe that knowledge might be a way for her to control her illness. I don’t know for sure if it would happen, but…”

“That would make it the most important thing you could do for her,” Jarod interrupted. “That could be life-threatening, and if she even knew in advance that a certain situation might cause bleeding, then she’d be able to avoid it.”

“I’ve taught her a little,” she admitted. “And she seems keen, but there are so many negatives…”

“Rebecca, Andrea is mature enough to make her own decisions,” he stated firmly. “Why don’t you let her choose she wants to do?”

* * * * * * * * *

Gilmer, Texas

“As we’ve got so much time,” Lyle remarked snidely, “why not tell me what you discovered about my latest hospital stay?”

Valentine resettled himself in the passenger seat. “This was bad,” he said bluntly. “The combination of drugs you were using was the reason that you ended up bed-bound in the first place. I think we’ve found someone who might have the cojones…”

“Seems somewhat ironic that it should be Eve, in that case,” the driver growled.

The sweeper’s eyes held an excited but restrained light. “You want me to take care of it, Boss?”

“You’d enjoy that,” Lyle smirked. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea. She’s under Dad’s wing, in the worst way, and things could get unpleasant for us if he found out, not to mention what she could do to us herself.”

“So what do we do?” the other man queried, raising an eyebrow. “Ignore it?”

“Not exactly,” Lyle affirmed. “I’ve tried the ‘legal’ approach and that takes too long. It’s too risky. If we find enough people to rely on, we can just note down every incident and let the points add up. Then, when the army’s ready, we let rip with everything we’ve got.”

“For how long? How long do we wait?” Valentine prompted impatiently.

“Not long,” Lyle remarked. “I don’t think it will be very long at all.”

* * * * * * * * *

Near Nesbitt, Texas

“The Hatchers already know who you are?”

“Somewhat,” Rebecca agreed. “We met a few months ago.”

“They don’t know you’re Andrea’s real mother,” Jarod guessed shrewdly and she nodded.

“I haven’t found the courage to tell them, yet. I’m worried how they’ll react.”

“How did you meet them?”

“I was in the right place at the right time to stop Andrea being taken by Lyle on another occasion, when he was close to getting her.”

“But they still don’t trust you fully?”

“No, not yet.” Rebecca’s fingers drummed impatiently on the steering wheel as they stopped at a traffic light. “I can’t provide them with explanations for everything they’ve asked me about - such as the first six years of my life.” She eyed him. “You know how difficult that can be.”

He nodded in agreement as she continued. “That’s why I waited until you trusted me. I’m hoping you’ll have more luck than me in convincing them.”

“We may not get time for that,” the man snapped. “Lyle won’t be that far behind, if he isn’t already there.”

“He isn’t,” she stated firmly. “While I might not always be able to tell what Lyle’s doing, I do know about Andrea.”

“And are you going to tell her who you are?”

“She already suspects,” Rebecca commented with a tiny smile. “But she hasn’t told the Hatchers, for the same reason that I haven’t.”

Jarod looked at his watch, making out the position of the hands as they passed under a streetlight and then turning to the woman in the seat beside him. “How long until we get there?”

“Not very long,” she promised. For several minutes Rebecca watched him out of the corner of her eye as he sat silently, finally speaking. “What is it, Jarod? What do you want to ask me?”

“You regret your life sometimes,” the man asked softly. “Do you ever regret hers?”

“There are days when I regret doing what I did,” she admitted, her eyes brimming with tears. “A lot of days, particularly with all the time I missed, not being able to be a mother to her. There are also times when I’m so jealous of what the Hatchers got that I never had.”

“You saw some of it.”

“But I never lived it.” She swallowed hard and a determined light came into the woman’s eyes as she focused on the road. “That’s why I can’t let them get her now. I don’t want to deny either of us the time we might have in the future.”

* * * * * * * * *

Mt. Enterprise, Texas

Andrea rolled onto her back, linking her fingers behind her head, gazing at the ceiling. It was only four o’clock, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to happen that day, and was probably only an hour or two away. Tossing back the blanket, Andrea swung her legs off the mattress and got up, reaching for the bathrobe that was draped over the chair beside the bed; but suddenly she changed her mind, going over to her wardrobe and getting out clothes for the day.

“Andrea?”

“Hi, Mom.”

“Aren’t you up early, baby?”

“I couldn’t sleep.” The girl pulled on a t-shirt and then turned to see that her mother was watching her with a worried expression on her face. “I’m okay, Mom. I just couldn’t sleep, that’s all.”

“I was going to make some coffee for us before your father has to get ready to go to the bakery. Do you want some?”

The girl grinned. “I thought you said coffee wasn’t good for me.”

Her mother eyed her suspiciously. “I don’t remember saying that to you.”

Andrea pulled on her jeans before replying, her eyes dancing. “You didn’t.”

She led the way into the kitchen as the older woman followed, a confused expression on her face.

* * * * * * * * *

Near Carthage, Texas

“What are you going to do when we get there?” Jarod demanded. “How do you plan to save her if Lyle shows up? They’ll be armed, you know.”

“I’m hoping we won’t have to get into that situation,” Rebecca confessed, her fingers tightening on the wheel until her knuckles were white.

“And if we do?” he prompted.

“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I really don’t.”

“Do you have a gun?” he demanded. “Just in case.”

“I could never do that,” she protested vehemently. “I could never hurt anyone.”

“Not even if they…?” he trailed off, seeing the color begin to fade from the woman’s face.

“Not even then,” the woman responded firmly. “I hurt somebody once and I can’t do it again, not to anyone, no matter what they might do.”

Jarod folded his arms, watching her. “What happened?”

There was a long moment of silence following this, and the man expected her to refuse, but finally she sighed and began to speak.

“I told you about the time when I was denying what I could do,” she reminded him. “It stems from that period. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, it takes a lot of control to throw things around or light the gas from the other side of the room.”

He nodded in agreement and she continued.

“Without constant practice, it’s easy to let that control relax. I was having an argument with one of my friends one day and got so frustrated that I finally had to get out my anger somehow. After she left the room, I began to throw things around. As I hadn’t done it for a few months, it seemed like a good way to release the excess emotion, until she returned unexpectedly.”

“You didn’t know?”

“No. If something did tell me, it wasn’t strong enough for me to pay attention. She walked back in just as I’d started to throw a book across the room. It went straight into the back of her head.”

Remembering the scene, the woman flinched and Jarod, who had created the scene in his mind, reacted in a similar manner.

“I felt so guilty that I forced myself to feel the same pain she did. Knowing how bad it was, and all because I couldn’t control my anger, I just don’t think I can inflict something like that on somebody else, no matter who it is! I’d know just how much pain they were suffering and I can’t inflict that on another person.”

“You’re defenseless,” Jarod clarified, and she nodded slowly.

“I guess so, yes.”

“So why should Andrea be able to do what you can’t?”

“She doesn’t have all the same reasons I do for my feelings,” she explained tentatively. “Yes, she does have a reason for the things she thinks of her real father, but that doesn’t extend to others at the Centre.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “What does she think of him?”

“Would you be surprised if I said she didn’t like him?”

He grinned. “No, not really.”

She smiled. “She doesn’t hate him - at least, not as much as I do - but she doesn’t want to be in his vicinity more than she has to.”

“Well, that makes two of us,” Jarod muttered. “Why do you hate him?”

Rebecca eyed him silently for a moment before speaking. “Because of what he did to you, to Miss Parker and to all of the innocent women who have suffered under his hands."

The man nodded slowly, changing the subject. “How good is she? Andrea, I mean.”

“It’s hard to say,” the psychic responded slowly. “In the short time we’ve known each other, during the times that we’ve been alone, I’ve been teaching her a few basics and she’s very good at the essentials already.”

“Good enough to make up for you?” he demanded.

“I sure hope so,” she murmured under her breath.

* * * * * * * * *

Mt. Enterprise, Texas

Rebecca turned the car onto the street, sighing with relief when she saw that there were no cars that might hold Lyle or anybody else who could be a threat.

“Which house is it?” Jarod asked curiously.

“The one with the light,” she told him, nodding at a house through which light shone onto the front lawn.

“She’s waiting for you?”

“I expect that she knows something’s going to happen, but probably not everything.” Rebecca bit her bottom lip nervously. “At least, hopefully not everything.”

“It’s her choice,” Jarod reminded the woman softly, gently placing his hand over hers as Rebecca reached over to put on the handbrake.

“I know,” she responded curtly, responding in a similar manner to the gentle squeeze he gave her fingers, before letting go and undoing her seatbelt. Getting out of the car, she exhaled slowly and waited until Jarod stood beside her before walking up to the front door and putting out her hand to knock.

* * * * * * * * *

Lyle pulled up in front of the building and the two men got out, walking up to the door as the man who had been watching for their car came out.

“Where is she?”

The stranger offered a piece of paper. “This is the street. We’ve got two possible houses - one on either side - and as there’s two of you, she shouldn’t be able to get away.”

“Good.” Lyle nodded curtly, snatching the page. “And where’s the street?”

“Just a few blocks away, Mr. Lyle.” Producing a map and pen, the man circled the relevant place and handed it over. When Lyle tried to turn away, the Centre operative from the Texas office put out a hand and grabbed his wrist, his dark eyes glinting with anger. “I was promised a reward for this.”

“If it proves to be a viable lead,” Lyle snarled. “And only then.”

“Now,” the stranger demanded. “I can’t wait around.”

“You’re right there,” Valentine stated flatly, drawing his gun. The silencer muffled the sound of the shot, and the body rolled into the gutter. Ignoring it, Lyle nodded and got into the car, the sweeper following.

“You go to one house, I’ll take the other,” Lyle ordered, handing Valentine the map. Glancing over the page, the sweeper began giving directions.

* * * * * * * * *

“Who’s there?”

“Mrs. Hatcher, it’s Rebecca. I know it’s early…”

The woman swung open the door and stared at the visitor on the doorstep. “Rebecca, it’s only 4:30. I know you like surprise visits, but…” She caught sight of the man who waited silently to one side and started slightly. “Jarod, what are you doing here?”

“It’s important, Mrs. Hatcher,” the man asserted. “Can we come in?”

“Rebecca.” The girl appeared in the doorway behind her adoptive mother, her eyes studying the blond woman who had made no move to enter, although the other woman had moved aside.

“Andrea.” The psychic nodded her head briefly in acknowledgement of the girl’s presence, noting with relief that she was dressed, as was her mother.

“My father’s coming, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” Rebecca agreed, unsurprised by the question, although she had seen both Jarod and the girl’s adoptive mother raise their eyebrows, as Mr. Hatcher appeared in the doorway of a room that led off the hall, dressed in readiness for work.

“Then we have to leave,” Andrea stated flatly, going into her room.

When she was gone, the older woman turned to her visitors. “I suppose you should come in,” she remarked with little real hospitality in her voice. “It’s not warm enough to stay on the doorstep.”

As soon as the door was shut, Rebecca turned with a look of urgency on her face. “She was right, Andrea, I mean,” she began, somewhat incomprehensibly. “We do have to leave. They can’t be that far away now.”

“Who?” Mr. Hatcher demanded as he pulled on his jacket.

“Lyle,” Andrea stated as she re-entered, carrying a small bag. “The same guy who kidnapped me the last time.”

* * * * * * * * *

“How close are we?”

“Two blocks, Boss,” Valentine retorted shortly. “Next right and second left. That’s the street.”

“That guy had better be right,” Lyle muttered. “There’s a long list of other things that I’d rather be doing right now.”

The sweeper’s eyes twinkled as he nodded in agreement before concentrating on the map.

* * * * * * * * *

“How can you possibly know that, Andrea?” Mrs. Hatcher demanded.

“I just do,” the girl replied quickly. “I’ve known ever since Rebecca and I first met. I know it even better than she does, because Lyle’s my real father.”

Her adoptive father reached over and put the back of his hand on her forehead to check for fever, a look of concern on his face. The girl twisted out of his reach.

“I’m serious!” she demanded. “We don’t have much time! We have to leave, now!”

“Andrea,” the older woman began, but Jarod interrupted her.

“She’s right, Mrs. Hatcher. We’ve got good proof that Lyle isn’t that far away, and if we’re going to get away before he arrives, we’ll need to leave now.”

“As grateful as I am for what you did for us, Jarod,” the woman responded shortly, “I’m afraid that we can’t just up and leave at a moment’s notice, based on ‘good proof.’”

“How about the proof that their car just pulled up in front of the house?” Rebecca snapped. “Would that be good enough for you?”

Before anyone could respond, the silence of the morning was broken by the sound of smashing glass as the butt of a gun broke through one of the panels in the front door. Jarod saw that Rebecca’s face was chalk-white, her eyes revealing her panic, as a man’s hand reached in and unlocked the door, turning the knob, before he strolled casually into the house, gun now at the ready.

“Apologies for the rather loud wake-up call,” Lyle remarked casually. “Unavoidable, I’m afraid.”

On to Act IV

 
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