Oracle

 

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Mt. Enterprise, Texas

“Well, what a scoop,” Lyle commented as he took in the people who were slowly getting up off the floor, their eyes on the gun he held. “Not only Andromeda, but Jarod, too, and if it isn’t the long-dead psychic. Rebecca, my dear, for somebody who’s been dead 36 years, I do have to say that you’re looking remarkably well. A little pale, perhaps, but that’s understandable.”

He waited, but the group remained silent. The older Hatchers were staring in disbelief at the man who was now standing in their hallway, Rebecca’s face was still white, her eyes wide, and Jarod himself was cautious about making any sudden moves when he had no method of defense, even as he glanced the others out of the corner of his eye. Only Andrea seemed relaxed, but he could see a look of concentration in her eyes that reminded him of Faith when she had pressured him to leave the Centre, and Jarod idly wondered what the girl was trying to do, even as he frantically tried to think of a way out that wouldn’t get them all killed.

“I’m sure you’re looking forward to coming home, Jarod,” Lyle continued. “After all, it’s been such a long time since your last dose of Aurora. You must be looking forward to getting back to it. In all the DSAs I saw, you didn’t exactly seem to be objecting to it. Self-medicating at the end there, or so I heard.”

“Of course, it’s an unexplored joy for Rebecca and Andromeda,” Lyle added as his gaze moved to the woman and her daughter, strolling into the living room and stopping directly in front of the still-silent group. “But, from what I hear it’s certainly one you’ll love. After all, it must be nice to be able to sleep at night and live such active, fulfilled lives during the day.”

Jarod hadn’t been able to shut out his words, and the part of him that never ceased to long for the drug now seemed to be rising inside him, making its presence felt. His self-control forced it down, but he still knew it was there, and he could feel beads of sweat beginning to form on his forehead as he set his jaw. The cool hand that slipped into his was a momentary distraction, and he looked down subtly to see that Andrea had wrapped his fingers in hers. Before Jarod could react to this, however, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up to see a solid object flying across the room. The marble bookend slammed into the back of Lyle’s head and his unconscious form slumped to the floor at Jarod’s feet.

Jarod's first reaction was to put his foot on Lyle’s gun and his second was to eye the others in the living room. Andrea had taken Rebecca’s hand and there was more color in the psychic’s face as she turned to him.

”There’s another one,” she stated quietly, as he bent down to pick up Lyle’s gun and check that it was loaded. “Lyle had a sweeper with him.”

“Then we have to leave - now,” he ordered. Looking at the Hatchers, he saw that they were both watching him.

“Of course,” the woman agreed instantly, still shaken from the incident and unable to help casting another look at the man on the carpet. Her husband placed an arm around her shoulders and she could feel that he was also trembling as they quickly left the house.

Even as they reached the end of the driveway, however, a figure loomed out of the darkness and Jarod stopped abruptly, his fingers tightening around the pistol he held.

“Get out of the way, Valentine,” he growled, having recognized the man immediately from several descriptions that Miss Parker had given him.

“Jarod!” the sweeper exclaimed, his tone mockingly delighted, although his eyes glinted like steel. “What a pleasant surprise!”

“If that hand makes a move in the direction of your gun, you’ll lose it,” the pretender declared.

“My gun?” the other man queried politely.

“Your hand,” Jarod affirmed, his eyes remaining fixed on the man as he spoke to the woman who still stood beside him. “Rebecca, get into the car. Take the others with you.”

The group moved toward the vehicle that was still parked at the curb, another directly behind it, and Jarod returned his full attention to his black-suited opponent.

“Your boss is currently bleeding all over the carpet in the living room of the house there,” and he nodded his head in the direction of the building. “So I suggest you get in there and fix him up, or you might find yourself on the lists of the unemployed next week.”

“Oh, dear,” Valentine exclaimed in tones of mock horror. “How terrible. Well, I certainly won’t try to follow you then, and find out where you go.”

Jarod could hear that the engine was already running and he saw out of the corner of his eye that a door was being held for him by the girl in the back seat.

“See that you don’t,” he growled and then jumped into the vehicle, which sped from the curb as soon as he was in it. Valentine smiled snidely as he watched it drive away.

“Not this time, anyway,” he muttered to himself. “After all, I wouldn’t want a hole in my new suit.”

Putting a hand into his pocket, he produced a slip of paper, eyeing the times that were written on it and glancing at his watch. Making allowances for time differences, he would expect a call within the next hour or so, and that meant getting Lyle out of the way. Valentine’s lips curled into a tiny, vindictive smile as he walked up the path to the house.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Mr. Parker glared at the clock on his desk and rapped his fingers impatiently on the flat surface as he waited for the call he was expecting.

“They were supposed to check in at midnight with their next report,” he growled to the man sitting on the other side of the desk. “They’re over six hours late.”

“Maybe they’re caught up in the middle of something,” Cox suggested mildly.

“I can make a good guess what,” the Chairman sneered. “Remind me to have a good look at their expenses for this month. I won’t have them padding their reports with things like that when they’re supposed to be retrieving valuable Centre property.” He glared at the floor. “If they haven’t called in two hours, send a team to whatever town they claimed they were going to and find them.”

“The jet’s in for repairs, Mr. Parker,” Cox reminded him.

“I don’t care how you do it,” the older man boomed. “Just get down there and find out what’s going on!”

* * * * * * * * *

Mt. Enterprise, Texas

Valentine strolled into the house as the car disappeared around the corner, eyeing the shards of glass with amused disdain as he avoided stepping on them. The next sight that met his eyes was his boss on the floor, a small, solid object on the floor beside him and blood seeping onto the rug. Picking up a framed photo of four people from the hall table he eyed the blond girl sitting next to a taller man, with sparkling brown eyes, his arm around her shoulders. Thoughtfully raising an eyebrow, the sweeper slid the photograph out of the frame and pocketed it, looking down again in time to see the man lying on the floor begin to move.

“Wakey, wakey,” Valentine muttered under his breath, reaching into his pocket and extracting the case he kept there. Selecting a syringe, he filled it from a vial and then approached the man.

Lyle moaned, feeling the pain in his head and the firm hand on his arm as it pushed up his sleeve and began to search for a vein. Opening his eyes, he blinked until his vision cleared and then, as the needle slid in under his skin, pulled himself carefully into a sitting position.

“Is that one of yours,” he demanded in a slurred voice, “or a ‘gift’ from Eve?”

“No poison apples from me, Boss,” Valentine assured him as he recapped the needle. “It ought to be only a minute or two more and then we can get into the car. I’ll order the jet down here and we can go back to the Centre.”

“They…were here…” Lyle mumbled, leaning against the wall.

“Who?” Valentine demanded. “I didn’t see anyone.”

“Rebecca, Andromeda, Jarod…they were all here.”

“Andromeda, maybe,” the sweeper agreed. “But I don’t know about the others. If they were, they’ll be long gone by now, so let’s not worry about it.”

Lyle considered protesting, but the pain in his head was too great and his hand snaked up toward the spot where the bookend had made contact with the back of his skull. Valentine helped Lyle to his feet and to a chair. After waiting for a few more minutes, they left the house and drove off.

* * * * * * * * *

Somewhere in Texas

Jarod looked warily at the woman who was driving, seeing that there was more color in her face as she concentrated on the road. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Mr. Hatcher staring blankly out of the window, his fingers firmly wrapped around one of his daughter’s hands, while Andrea’s adoptive mother clutched her other hand. The girl herself was resting her head on Mrs. Hatcher’s shoulder, her eyes closed and gingerly biting her bottom lip. Jarod believed he could guess at the thoughts that were passing through her mind as he turned back to the woman in the driver’s seat.

“Are you okay, Rebecca?” he asked softly.

“I think so,” she responded equally quietly.

“Want me to drive?”

“I don’t think we should stop yet. Maybe when we get further away - like over the state line.”

He nodded in silent agreement, feeling his fingers still wrapped firmly around the gun in his hand, and Jarod unloaded the bullets into the palm of his other hand, putting them into his pants pocket before sliding the empty weapon into his other pocket.

“Are you so sure you won’t be needing that anymore?” asked a soft voice from the back seat and Jarod turned to see Mr. Hatcher watching him warily.

“I hope not,” the pretender responded honestly. “I’ve never liked using them.”

“You won’t,” Andrea added without opening her eyes. “Not from Lyle anyway. He and his sweeper are going back to the Centre.”

“He’s still alive?” Jarod demanded.

“I’m not strong enough to kill him,” the girl protested indignantly, looking up. “And that other man got there in time to stop the bleeding.”

“You did that?!” Mrs. Hatcher stared at the girl in disbelief. “But how could you…?”

“You’ve often been confused by things that have happened when Andrea was around, like the TV changing channel on its own, or, when she was little, finding her playing with toys that you thought you’d locked away,” Rebecca put in. “This was another of those moments.”

“How do you know that?” the man in the back seat demanded, putting an arm protectively around his adopted daughter’s shoulders. “How could you possibly…?”

“I just do,” the woman affirmed. “Your daughter, as you’ve suspected for quite some time, has the ability of a telekinetic. The action this morning was a result of that.”

“Did she get it from you?” the other woman asked suspiciously. “Is that how you knew?”

“I can’t be sure,” Rebecca responded slowly. “But I think it’s likely.”

“And are there any other…unexpected surprises waiting for us?” Mr. Hatcher proposed, his voice containing a hint of asperity.

“How do you think I knew about D…Lyle coming?” the girl demanded, sitting upright in her seat.

“Let’s wait until we can get somewhere that we can sit down for a proper conversation,” Rebecca proposed before anyone else could answer this. “I think that would probably be the best.”

* * * * * * * * *

Tyler Municipal Airport
Tyler, Texas

Lyle turned to Valentine just before getting onto the small jet that had eventually arrived, and was now waiting to whisk him back to the Centre.

“The sweepers…in that town…” the man said with difficulty, struggling to speak clearly in spite of the powerful painkiller that had been administered during the drive.

“Don’t worry about it, Boss,” the sweeper soothed. “I’ll take care of it. You get back so they can fix that hole in your head.”

Nodding cautiously, Lyle let himself be assisted onto the aircraft, with a hand pressed to the back of his head, where a bandage prevented him from bleeding too badly. Keeping his delight at the directive hidden, Valentine listened in seeming obedience to the final directions before leaving the jet so it could begin its return journey, and took his cell phone out of his pocket as it rang. The ID showed him who was calling and the sweeper beamed as he answered.

“Sun-Chai! What a delightful surprise! What can I do for you?”

* * * * * * * * *

Mansfield, Louisiana

“Were you planning to take your daughter away with you?” Mrs. Hatcher demanded at the end of a long discussion.

Rebecca looked up with a smile as the question she had been struggling not to ask ever since the conversation began shot out of the woman’s mouth like a bullet.

“She knows you as her family. It would be much harder for her if she had to adjust to me without you being there too.”

Andrea’s father sighed at this before looking up again, instantly contrite. “I’m sorry. I know she’s your daughter and you have every right, of course, but…”

“All I want to do, Mr. Hatcher, is to help all of you, meaning that for Andrea to protect herself and those she loves, she needs to learn how to use her abilities. That’s what I want to teach her. And also,” the woman added honestly, her eyes glistening. “I would like to get to know my daughter properly, as my daughter.”

“And what do you want, Andrea?” Mrs. Hatcher turned to the girl, partially reassured by the other woman’s response to her question but still nervous.

“I don’t…know,” the girl responded slowly, sitting silently for a moment before making up her mind and turning to the psychic. “Yes, I do. I want to be able to protect all of us from the Centre, and from him.” She looked up at Rebecca. “Teach me more.”

The psychic smiled. “Of course I will.”

* * * * * * * * *

Train station
Jacksonville, Texas

He arrived at the large train station and had just begin to look around when he felt the hand clutch at his arm. Looking down, he smiled into the haggard face and pain-filled eyes of the woman who had appeared at his side.

“Help me,” Sun-Chai whispered desperately. “Please…”

“Why, of course,” Valentine affirmed cheerfully. “That’s what I’m here for.”

He half-carried the woman to his car, making it seem to any interested observer as if they were simply close friends, and opened the back door for her. Pain wracked Sun-Chai, making it totally impossible for her to get in on her own, and she was unable to summon enough strength to force the man to give her the drug, as she had believed she would do when the injection that morning from the latest vial Cox supplied had failed to ease the pain sufficiently. Sun-Chai leaned weakly against the car and watched as he searched his pockets for the black case, finally locating it and removing the desired items. Her eyes were fixed on the glass vial as soon as she laid eyes on it, her desire for the drug palpable as he loaded the syringe.

“Where?” he asked curtly and she slightly raised one arm. He pushed up the sleeve on the Asian-style dress that he admired so much and raised the vein that already had a number of dots visible on the skin along its length. The injection was rapidly completed, and then he capped the needle, seeing the look of panic in the woman’s eyes fading rapidly to their recently acquired dullness. He kept an eye on her as he returned the case to his pocket.

She felt the warmth traveling along her arm and down her body as the drug was quickly absorbed into her system, the pain easing with its usual speed. It was only at the last minute that Sun-Chai felt something different, and she vaguely noticed Valentine stretching out his arms to catch her as the world suddenly went black.

* * * * * * * * *

Mansfield, Louisiana

Rebecca placed a candle on the living room table, looking at Jarod with a hint amusement on her face, before turning back to her daughter as she sat next to her on the sofa with her legs crossed.

“Go ahead, Andrea.”

The girl focused for a moment and then the wick flared into light.

“Good! You’ve been practicing!” Rebecca exclaimed, pleased. “Now put it out - no blowing, mind you.”

For several long minutes the girl focused, but the flame continued to burn steadily. Eventually she looked up, frustration evident on her face.

“That’s hard.”

“It’s harder to destroy something than to create it,” Rebecca agreed. She glanced at the candle and the flame went out immediately.

“How do you do it?”

“Let me show you.” Rebecca put out her hand, gently covering her daughter’s with it. There was a moment of silence while Jarod watched the two women, Andrea’s eyes closed and a small cleft in her forehead as she concentrated.

“Do you know now?” the psychic asked gently.

The girl nodded, opening her eyes and then looking over at the table. As she did so, the candle lit itself and then, a short time later, put itself out again.

“Good!”

Andrea looked over to see the amazement in Jarod's eyes and she giggled.

“It’s fun.”

“I know.” Rebecca smiled. “Now, grab your book.”

The woman reached out an arm to prevent the girl from getting up off the sofa and going over to a bag that had sat in the corner of the living room since the five people arrived. “Not that way - with your mind. Bring it to you.”

The book flew across the room and landed with a loud bang on the table. The sound was enough to bring Andrea’s parents into the doorway, from the kitchen where they had been talking.

“Open it at page 18,” Rebecca directed.

Andrea stared at the book for a moment before closing her eyes. Jarod couldn’t help holding his breath, as the cover slowly opened and the pages flipped over, finally stopping at the requested one.

“Well done!” Rebecca hugged the girl, who looked up at her.

“You didn’t help?”

“Not one bit. I wouldn’t. You need to learn how to control it on your own.”

Andrea’s expression was eager. “More!”

Rebecca laughed as the book shut on its own and she looked at the girl. “Page 69.”

As her daughter began to concentrate, Rebecca looked up to see the expressions that appeared on the faces of the Hatchers. Even as she watched, they turned away and returned to the kitchen. Sighing sadly, the psychic turned back to her daughter.

Jarod's eyes traveled from the girl’s face as she concentrated on the task she had been set to the woman sitting beside her. He noted the determination in Rebecca’s eyes that her daughter would succeed in learning everything necessary and Jarod couldn’t help wondering if he would have the chance to teach his son to use his own skills. Jordan, too, would require education of a type that he, Jarod, was far more qualified to provide than his father could be and he knew that one day soon they would have to sort out their unique situation so that that education could begin to go forward.

Feeling his eyes on her, the woman looked up. In the man’s eyes, Rebecca could see the doubt he was feeling and smiled. In response to the question on his face, she nodded slowly and then looked down once more at her daughter.

* * * * * * * * *

Quality Inn
Jacksonville, Texas

She could feel the restraints around her wrists and neck as the blackness lifted abruptly, looking up to see Valentine standing above her, recapping a syringe. He slid the needle containing a drug that had nullified both the sedative and Aurora into his pocket as he spoke.

“Good morning,” he stated smoothly. “Nice of you to join me.”

The warmth was gone, Sun-Chai suddenly realized, and a feeling of panic filled her as she fought against the restraint, gagging as the rope across her throat cut into her windpipe. It distracted her momentarily from the pain she had felt lower down in her body, the nausea and the agonizing cramps in all her limbs.

“What do you want?” she hissed, glaring up at the man who was doing up the buttons of his shirt, thus giving her another hint as to what had happened while she was unconscious. The anger his actions caused bubbled up in her, but the ropes were tight and she couldn’t move.

“Oh, it’s not me,” he assured her mockingly. “After all, I’m just a lowly sweeper. I simply do what I’m told, as you would have been better to do,” he added menacingly. “If you hadn’t poked your nose in where it didn’t belong, you wouldn’t be in this mess now.”

“What…?”

“The Seraphim,” another voice interrupted smoothly, “aren’t your department.”

Cox wandered over to stand beside Valentine and looked down at the woman strapped to the bed with narrow eyes. “You had your work to do, Sun-Chai, and you should have focused on that and not tried to find out what else was happening.”

“That’s my child,” she screamed, struggling against the ropes again. “Why shouldn’t I be allowed to see her?”

“Because your place is where the Centre sends you,” Cox spat, striking the woman’s cheek with an open palm and sending her head sharply to the left, leaving her cheek glowing. “It’s none of your business what we do in Delaware.”

“It ‘was’ none of her business,” Valentine corrected with a smirk. “Now it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Cox mused. He eyed the woman again before turning to the man. “We have the signed sanction. You know what to do.”

“Oh, yes.” Valentine looked down at the woman who was again lunging futilely against the bonds, the eagerness in his eyes clear as Cox left the room. “I certainly know what to do.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Sydney closed the door of the car, having collected his coat from the back seat, and was about to put it on when his cell phone rang.

“This is Sydney.”

The voice on the end was slightly mocking. “How’s Lyle?”

“I don’t know, Jarod,” the psychiatrist responded honestly. “I haven’t seen him.” He paused. “Are you okay, or…?” he stopped, unable to continue.

“We’re fine,” the younger man assured him. “Rebecca, too.”

“And her daughter?”

Jarod glanced through the window to where the girl and her mother sat on the sofa, wrapping his coat more firmly around himself. “They’re both fine. I think there’s some heavy discussion ahead, but for the moment it’s looking good.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” the psychiatrist stated softly. “Tell her I said hello.”

“I’ll do that.” Jarod disconnected the call, returning the cell phone to his pocket as he gazed at the rising sun.

* * * * * * * * *

Quality Inn
Jacksonville, Texas

Valentine closed the door, consulting his watch to find that the cleaner team Cox had ordered for him would arrive in a little under an hour. Sliding the digital camera back into his pocket, he wiped the final smears of blood off his fingers onto a tissue to protect his suit, and then took his car keys out of his other pocket. Replacing the tissue, he felt the thin sheet of paper that he had taken from the frame in the house in Mt. Enterprise and examined the face of the girl’s older adoptive brother as he got into his car and headed for the airport.

Stopping at a traffic light, he reached down to the floor of the car and picked up a large parcel. It had taken a moment out of the past few busy days, but when he had seen it in a shop window he had been unable to stop himself from going in and buying it. She would like it so much, he knew, just as she had appreciated the perfume and other gifts he had given her.

* * * * * * * * *

Mansfield, Louisiana

Rebecca took the framed photo out of her bag and propped it up on the shelf of the bedroom in the building where she had driven them. For a few moments she gazed fondly at the man in the picture before turning at the sound of a knock on her door.

“Come in.”

“May I have a word, Rebecca?”

“Of course, Mrs. Hatcher.” Rebecca indicated a chair in the corner and sat down on the end of the bed. “What can I do for you?”

The older woman raised an eyebrow. “I thought you would already have known.”

The psychic smiled faintly. “Actually, I do, but some people find it a little disconcerting if I tell them what they want to know before they ask.”

Nodding, Mrs. Hatcher stared at her hands before looking up again. “Why did you come into Andrea’s life now?”

“Because she has to learn how to protect herself. Her abilities and knowledge as they are now, if they were left untrained, could cause more harm than good.”

“In what way?”

“You saw what she was capable of today, and that was with only limited training. If Andrea struck out in anger with that sort of power, she could conceivably kill somebody, and I would hate for her to bring that sort of guilt on herself.”

“Is that personal experience talking, Rebecca?”

Hearing the anxiety in the other woman’s voice, the psychic looked up sharply. “No, Mrs. Hatcher. I’ve never killed anybody in my life.”

“And that other…thing?”

“My psychic knowledge is what keeps me most safe. By being better able to predict what other people might do, and what will happen, it can help me to avoid some potentially dangerous situations.”

“But not all.”

“Life isn’t certain, Mrs. Hatcher, and it’s impossible for anybody to guarantee what will happen in every situation.”

There was a long moment of silence before Rebecca spoke again.

“Your daughter is still the same person she’s ever been. Andrea hasn’t changed inside herself. What is different is the fact that she now knows what she can be capable of, if she works hard, and also to what purpose her skills can be put. They’re the things I want to teach her, and they’re also the things she wants and needs to learn. She can teach herself everything else, and she would have done that whether I’d appeared or not. I can teach her an element of control, and that’s all.”

“Is that what you were taught?”

“I had three years of being instructed in that, yes. When that time ended, I was given to people to whom my skills were as unusual and frightening as Andrea’s are to you. They tried to convince me the abilities were nothing more than figments of my imagination, and denied that they existed. They did love me, I know that, but they were scared of me because they never saw me as ‘normal.'”

Taking a deep breath, Rebecca fixed her eyes firmly on the woman opposite, begging softly.

“Please, Mrs. Hatcher, you love Andrea as much as if she’s your own daughter, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. Don’t let what you’ve just learnt about her now alter the feelings you have for her. She still needs you - she’s still your daughter. You both brought her up. You’ve sculpted her mind and heart into the person she’s become. She’s a wonderful girl, Mrs. Hatcher.” Rebecca’s eyes shone with unshed tears. “I know how proud you are of her, and you have every right to be. She’s a credit to both of you.”

“She’s your daughter,” the other woman offered hesitantly.

“Genetically, yes,” Rebecca agreed. “But emotionally she’s still yours, and she’s so afraid that you won’t want her to be, anymore. I tried to hide from her the things I went through, with the people I called my parents, but she picked up on it anyway, and she’s terrified that that will happen to her, as well.”

* * * * * * * * *

Prometheus Building
Dallas, Texas

The man marched in through the door of the room, throwing himself into a chair and looking over to where the woman sat, calmly watching him.

“Well?”

Ramona shook her head. “Not yet, Sebastian.”

He shook his head in frustration, his voice a low growl. “We know how it works, what it does and what it could do. I fail to understand the delay.”

“If we jumped into this too quickly, it might be dangerous,” the woman protested.

“It couldn’t be any worse than it is now.” He glared blankly in the direction of the floor before lifting his eyes to the dark-skinned man who sat opposite. “Any suggestions?”

“We need an expert,” Trevor stated. “Despite everything we know about Aurora, we can’t do more until we know more about it and there isn’t a single person here able to work it all out.”

“But there is someone,” Sebastian queried. “If there wasn’t…”

“You’re right,” the other man interrupted, leaning back in his chair and linking his fingers behind his head. “There’s someone who is an expert on this drug. He knows, even better than the people who created it, what it’s capable of.”

“And if we gave him an invitation…?”

“As long as it was one he found impossible to refuse,” Trevor retorted calmly. “I can’t see any real problem with getting him here, or getting him to stay.”

A slow grin appeared on Sebastian’s face as he rose from his chair and went over to the screen that showed the outside world, staring at it for a moment before turning.

“Then, by all means, let’s begin preparations to welcome our special guest.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“What’s this?” the man demanded as a black folder was handed to him by Lucy as she arrived at his bedside in the infirmary.

“A report about a staff death, Mr. Lyle,” his secretary replied. “Mr. Valentine seemed very eager for you to see it.”

Nodding, he opened the booklet, gazing at the photograph of the woman and starting slightly as he recognized her features. Reading through the details of the death that the cleaner team had sent back, he could also recognize the way in which she had died. It was particularly familiar, considering the treatment he and Valentine had doled out to the unfortunate women who had caught the sweeper’s eye during their recent excursion to Texas. He knew full well why Valentine had wanted him to see this and a wave of jealousy enveloped him as he flapped the folder shut.

His eye was caught by the shapely woman who still stood at the bedside waiting for further orders and Lyle looked her quickly up and down before sitting up in bed, his mood changing abruptly as the scent of her perfume caught his attention. He could remember the feeling of the woman with whom he had spent the previous night, but that hadn’t been enough then and, considering all that he now knew Valentine had enjoyed, it was even more important for him to even the score. Lyle knew that, in front of him now, he had the perfect way of doing it. With an effort he managed to keep his feelings away from his face and forced a smile.

“I think it’s time I got out of here,” he commented in a pleasant tone. “Lucy, would you mind giving me a lift home? I’m not sure I’m up to driving.”

“Of course, Mr. Lyle,” she responded lightly. “Shall I get you a wheelchair, sir?”

“I’m sure you can give me a hand when I need it,” he told her. “I’m feeling a little hungry as well. If you’ve got some time, maybe you could join me for dinner?”

“I would be delighted, Mr. Lyle,” the woman stated, offering him her hand to get up.

* * * * * * * * *

Mansfield, Louisiana

Rebecca opened her eyes to see the first rays of the winter sun lighting her room. She had barely slept all night, only closing her eyes an hour earlier, having talked until late into the night with her daughter’s adoptive father while Mrs. Hatcher was in serious discussion with Andrea.

“M…Rebecca?”

Smiling faintly, the woman looked up to see her daughter curled up in the armchair with a blanket wrapped firmly around herself.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

“Just like you,” Andrea agreed. “Jarod’s gone.”

“I know.” Rebecca pulled herself up in bed. “He never stays around for long.”

Nodding in agreement, the girl got up and came over to sit on the bed. For several minutes there was silence, until Rebecca reached up to brush a long strand of blond hair off the girl’s face.

“Talk to me, Andrea.”

“It’s kind of hard.” The girl’s lips twisted into a smile. “You already know what I’m going to say.”

“As do you,” Rebecca reminded her. “But it’s easier to say it. Then you’ll know I’ve heard it, rather than worrying that I won’t have understood.”

Nodding again, the girl looked up. “I don’t know what to call you.”

“I do have a name,” the psychic reminded her with a smile. “And, if I do say so myself, it’s quite a nice one.”

“But that’s the name everyone uses!” Andrea protested. “I want to call you something different!”

“You’ve already got something in mind,” Rebecca remarked. “You almost let it slip before.”

The girl’s eyes were fearful as she looked up, but the expression in her mother’s eyes brought the tears to her eyes as she threw herself into the woman’s arms.

“Momma,” she murmured. “That’s the name I want to give you. I can’t call you the same thing as what I say to my other mother, but…”

“I know,” Rebecca soothed, feeling the girl begin to sob softly. “I know, Andrea.”

“No!” the girl asserted, looking up suddenly. “Not that one!”

Rebecca raised an eyebrow. “You want me to call you the same thing…he does?”

“It…fits.”

“Why, Andromeda?”

“Because you know, too, like he does. You know what I’m capable of, and when you call me that, it means that I’ll remember it as well. It’s - important for me.”

“If it’s what you want,” her mother agreed, holding her close, “then that’s what I’ll call you.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

She saw the delicate china vase, filled with red roses, as soon as she entered her office, and the woman took only seconds to identify the giver. Over the past few months, ever since Valentine’s arrival at the Centre, such gifts had become commonplace and all ended up in the same place - the trashcan.

Picking up the vase, Miss Parker hurled it into the corner of her office, watching with a feeling of satisfaction as it shattered, the rose petals scattering over the highly polished floor. Sitting down at her desk, she was about to pull out the latest security reports when there was a knock at her door.

“Come in.”

Sydney and Broots appeared in the doorway, the latter wearing a blanched expression, and he was breathing quickly as he handed her a folder and the psychiatrist closed the door.

“This is…important, Miss Parker,” he mumbled, sinking into a chair and mopping his brow as the older man took the other chair, only revealing his tension in his eyes.

She quickly read over the information, her eyes coming to rest on the signature on the bottom of the page, and she paled as she looked up.

“They’re not…making any attempts to hide this,” she said unevenly as the truth hit home.

“It’s an official sanction,” Sydney replied slowly. “Why should they hide it?”

“So they - wanted him to kill Sun-Chai,” she muttered, unable to help casting an uncomfortable look at the small heap of smashed china on the floor, the petals looking like drops of blood on the floor.

“It looks that way,” the older man returned carefully, sitting back in his chair. “And I suppose the only thing we have to find out now is - why? What did she find out that she shouldn’t have?”

* * * * * * * * *

Mansfield, Louisiana

Rebecca left her room and walked down the hall a short way. She was about to tap on another door when it swung inwards, away from her.

“Come in, Momma.”

The girl glanced up from her position on the bed, a book in her hand, as the woman walked over.

“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”

Rebecca nodded. “Yes, Andromeda. I am.”

“But you’ll come back?”

“You know I will.” The woman sat beside her daughter. “I’ll come back whenever you need me, or maybe even if you just want me.”

The girl sat up and threw her arms around her mother. “I’ll miss you.”

“You can call me at any time, you know that.”

“And I will, I promise,” Andromeda stated solemnly.

“Me too.”

“And if I need help…”

“I’m a thought away,” her mother told her.

Rebecca put her hand into her pocket and pulled out a small box. “This is just a keepsake for you to remember me by.”

Andromeda opened it, finding a silver medallion on which the major stars in the Andromeda system were emphasized in gold. Immediately she released the catch and slipped it around her neck.

“I love it.”

“I love you,” Rebecca told her softly.

“And I love you too, Momma.” Andromeda hugged the woman tightly around her waist. “Don’t stay away too long.”

End of Episode
Oracle

 
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