Oracle

by KB

Regular Cast:
Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots

Guest Stars:
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Jamie Denton as Lyle
George Clooney as Valentine
Lenny von Dohlen as Dr. Cox
Paul Dillon as Angelo
Alex Wexo as Younger Sydney
Lucy Liu as Sun-Chai
Samantha Mathis as Oracle/Rebecca
Michelle Trachtenberg as Andrea Hatcher/Andromeda
Gerald McRaney as Mr. Hatcher
Teryl Rothery as Mrs. Hatcher
Hugh Jackman as Sebastian
Denzel Washington as Trevor
Angie Harmon as Ramona
Liam Neeson as Texas Centre Operative
Charles Eston as Charles


ACT I

Monday, 10th December, 2001
The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Fingers rapping impatiently on the desk in the office that he used in the infirmary, rereading the memo that had landed in front of him that morning, Cox waited for the visitor he expected. He had already discussed the security breach - or ‘incident,’ as Mr. Parker preferred to call it - with the Chairman that morning, and everything was set in motion for the events that were to come. The first steps were already underway, without having waited for official permission, but Dr. Cox knew in what light Mr. Parker regarded such situations and had already been prepared.

A knock at the door interrupted his musings and he looked up sharply, straightening his brow and endeavoring, despite his rage, to produce a pleasant expression.

“Come in.”

The door swung inwards and the woman appeared, closing it carefully behind her and turning to face the office’s sole occupant.

“Dr. Cox?”

“Good morning, Sun-Chai.” He gave her a beaming smile. “Come in. Sit down. I wanted to talk to you.”

She took the seat he indicated with a wave of his hand and looked up expectantly.

“I’ve been noticing that you seemed a little unwell of late,” he began carefully. “As you know, I had a series of tests run on you yesterday and I’ve got something that might help.”

Opening the drawer of his desk, he produced a small glass vial and a syringe, carefully pulling on a pair of latex gloves before attaching the needle to the plastic tube.

“A dose of this every eight hours should have you back to blooming health in no time.”

Sun-Chai watched the man warily. She knew that he was in charge of her daughter and the rest of the Seraphim, and she had full confidence in the work he did with them, but such extreme treatment for what was merely a terrible headache was enough to make her cautious. Before she could inquire as to the actual contents of the syringe, however, Cox opened a drawer of his desk, removed a tourniquet and stood up, walking around the desk towards her. Immediately getting to her feet, the woman met his gaze as her curiosity was replaced with feeling of resentment that he thought she needed to be shown what was very obvious. In addition, she was determined that the man wouldn’t touch her.

“There is no need for the demonstration, Dr. Cox. I am well aware of how to administer this.”

Quickly filling the syringe with the amount specified on the vial, she removed the tourniquet from his hand and fastened it around her upper arm. When she was ready, she slipped the needle into the vein and depressed the plunger. Cox returned to his chair, watching the woman out of the corner of his eye.

Sun-Chai sat down also, unclipping the tight band from her bicep, and placing it and the used syringe on the desk. The headaches which had begun upon her recall to the Centre, and which had been the reason for the medical examination that she had undergone, quickly began to fade, and she looked up in astonishment at the speed with which it was gone. The pleasure she felt at its disappearance seemed slightly disproportionate, but, even as she was about to remark on this, the man in the chair opposite spoke.

“I think that’s enough for now, Sun-Chai. I’ll have somebody come for you in eight hours so that I can give you the next dose and make sure it’s having no adverse effects.”

“Of course,” she agreed, suddenly happy to know that the doctor cared enough about her to give the medication himself. He stood up again and she did the same, waiting for him to reach her side before she turned toward the door. The man placed a hand in the small of her back, steering her in the right direction, and the woman gave him a grateful smile as she left the office. Cox watched her go, a smile curling his own lips, as the door closed behind her.

When she was gone, he stood and removed a small sachet from his pocket, picking up the phone and dialing a number. Within minutes, a sweeper appeared in the doorway.

“Yes, sir?”

The doctor offered the packet. “It’s the same as before, Charles,” he told the man. “Make sure it’s in Sun-Chai’s lunch.”

“Of course, Dr. Cox.”

Taking the small plastic bag, the sweeper turned smartly and left the office, heading for the kitchens to carry out his assignment.

* * * * * * * * *

Saturday 15th December, 2001
New Boston, Texas

The woman threw back her blankets and reached out for her hairbrush as she stood up, brushing the long, blond hair and then firmly fastening it at the back of her head. She quickly glanced at her watch as she walked into the bathroom, mentally checking through the contents of her fridge and cupboards as she turned on the shower, making sure that there was nothing left to buy. She knew he would come today. Everything confirmed it. She just had to be ready.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

The ringing of his phone brought Cox’s attention away from the photos he was looking at and he picked up the receiver.

“Cox.”

“You want something?”

“Did you find the case?” the doctor demanded.

“It was hard to miss,” Valentine chuckled. “Smack bang on the middle of my desk. I’ll assume that it’s not the latest treatments for my boss.”

Cox snorted derisively. “Working with Lyle’s softened your brains.”

“What do you want, Cox?” Valentine demanded. “Be quick about it. I’m waiting for Lyle to appear and then we’ll be off down south in obedience to ‘Daddy’s’ orders.”

“Fine. You know Sun-Chai?”

“We haven’t been introduced, but I’ve done the necessary reading and seen her in action once or twice. Lethal woman.”

“Not for long,” Cox laughed. “She’ll come to you very soon, begging for help. All you have to do is administer a shot of that and give me a call.”

“And then?” the sweeper demanded.

“And then I’ll expect a couple more works of art,” Cox stated, glancing at the photos on his desk once more. “You know how much I love them.”

“Of course,” Valentine affirmed. “I’ll assume you’ve got all the necessary paperwork.”

“Definitely,” Cox agreed. “And make sure…”

“No time,” Valentine interrupted. “Gotta go. Boss is coming.”

The dial tone sounded in Cox’s ear as he heard a knock on his door, and the man swept the pile of photos into his drawer before hanging up the receiver.

“Come in, Sun-Chai.”

The dull-eyed Asian woman walked into the room, closing the door carefully after her, and sitting down as Cox nodded at the seat.

“How is it going, my dear?” the doctor asked paternally. “Everything all right?”

“It’s wonderful,” she affirmed quietly, smiling at him dreamily. “Just wonderful.”

“I’m so glad,” he exclaimed, rising to his feet. As he approached her, Sun-Chai remained seated, her eyes taking several seconds to travel from the chair he had occupied to the man as he arrived beside her and began checking her pulse.

The woman watched him, feeling the warmth that had become a vital part of her being ever since first coming to see Cox at his office and receiving the first dose of that wonderful medication. The headaches hadn’t returned since she had been receiving the regular injections every eight hours, and she thought that such relief from the pain which made her virtually unable to think was worth any side-effects the drug might induce. Not that she had felt any yet.

Cox reseated himself, satisfied that his regular injections had fully addicted the woman.

“I have to tell you,” he began, “that the Chairman is anxious to have you back at work. So for that reason…”

“Can’t I stay?” Sun-Chai begged, with a sudden fear that, once far away from the Centre and from this man, she would suffer the pain again, perhaps even worse than before.

“No, my dear,” he affirmed. “But I’m sure you can manage to give yourself the treatment. After all, you managed so well the first time.”

“Please, Dr. Cox, let me stay,” she pleaded. “I’ll do anything here.”

“It’s out of my hands,” he explained in gentle tones. “I can only do what the Chairman tells me to, and he wants you back out there, but I can provide you with everything you need to keep the pain away, and I’ll give you a final shot now.”

“But how will I get more when I run out?” she demanded desperately.

Cox pulled out a photo of the sweeper, pushing it over the desk to her. “Do you know Valentine?”

“No, sir,” she responded, examining the man’s facial features with her eyes. “But I have seen him around sometimes.”

“Well, I’ve asked Valentine to keep you well provided with the medication you’ve been taking, at least for the next few days until you start to feel better.”

Sun-Chai smiled, feeling the warmth rise again at his concern, forgetting the rumors she had heard about this man. “Of course,” she agreed cheerfully, delighted at the possibility of such pain-free happiness continuing for as long as she wanted it. “I can find him.”

“His cell phone number is written on the back of the photo,” Cox told her. “He’ll be expecting your call.”

Cox waited for the woman to turn the picture over, memorizing the numbers. Once she was finally looking at him again, the doctor produced a glass vial and handed it to her. From his desk drawer, Cox took a number of plastic syringes and a strip of needles. “Sun-Chai, this will get you through the next few days. If there are any problems, all you have to do is get in touch with Valentine and he can help you.”

He walked over to her, quickly administering the shot after a brief hunt for a viable vein. Cox saw the woman’s lips curl into a smile as the drug took hold and nodded in satisfaction as he peeled off the gloves and threw the needle into the sharps bin.

“Well, that’s everything,” he affirmed as she relaxed back in her chair. “If there are any major problems, Valentine will give me a call.”

“Thank you, sir,” she responded, eagerly seizing the vial and pocketing it as she stood up, turning to the door.

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

Jarod could feel his shirt sticking to him, his breath coming in painful, labored gasps; a stitch tugged at his side as he ran, the light dimming as evening approached. His grasp on the bags in his hands were becoming tentative as his fingers became slippery, and he was almost ready to believe that there was no escape this time when he rounded a corner into a small alley and saw the open doorway.

Instinct sent him in through the space, and his momentum carried him almost to the far side of the room. Jarod quickly spun around, prepared to face whatever new threat he was presented with, in time to see the door silently swing shut, revealing a woman who had been standing behind it. Her blond hair was drawn back from her face to reveal blue eyes that shone with a determined light, fixed on him. Jarod glanced quickly around, taking in the fact that the room in which he stood had no windows and that the only exit was the same door by which he had entered. Even as he made a move towards it, however, the woman stepped forward also and placed one finger on her lips.

“What…?” he demanded, fear making him aggressive.

“Shh!”

Her whisper was urgent and, even as Jarod's hand reached out for the doorknob, his eyes took in the sight of the key silently and smoothly turning in the lock. Jarod's hand snapped back from the knob as if it burnt him and he cast a suspicious look at the woman. As Jarod was about to speak, however, pounding footsteps could be heard in the alley, stopping just in front of the place where Jarod was standing. Instinctively, he took a step back, looking around for something to use as a weapon if they broke the door down.

A small security screen mounted on the wall in the corner, and beside which the stranger was standing, caught his eye, and Jarod took a wary step closer, keeping a decent distance between himself as the woman. On the screen, he could see a group of men on the other side of the wall as they looked up and down the alley, trying various doors. What caught Jarod completely by surprise, however, was that the door in through which he had run wasn’t visible on the screen. Stepping closer, momentarily forgetting his concern about the woman in his astonishment, Jarod narrowly examined the surface, unable to pick out any lines that would designate a door. As he did so, however, the two men halted to look around.

“Well, where is he?”

Jarod tensed at the familiar sound of Lyle’s voice, seeing that the woman who now stood beside him looked almost as anxious as himself. He couldn’t help wondering who she was, even as he obeyed the logical directive to remain silent.

“I don’t know, Boss,” Valentine retorted shortly. “He definitely came down this way. There are two possible exits from the alley, though.”

“Then get down there and find him,” Lyle growled and Jarod could hear the pounding of a number of pairs of feet as sweepers who had been chasing him for the last half hour took off in obedience to the directive.

“Never expected him to be in this part of the world,” Lyle growled. “What’s he doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Valentine replied, and Jarod could hear sounds suggesting that the two men were carrying out careful searches of the various piles of rubbish in the alley that he had barely noticed before entering the room. “But he couldn’t have found out about that lead. We only got in an hour or so ago ourselves, and the guy said that he’d only just seen her.”

“Nothing here,” Lyle spat. “We’re wasting our time. Let’s see what the sweepers found.”

“You want me to leave someone here to guard the place?” the sweeper suggested.

“Why don’t we just leave a man in every street in the city?” Lyle mocked. “Don’t be stupid. If he’s here, it’s only a matter of time until we find him.” He chuckled mercilessly. “It’s not like my sister and her posse are here to hold us back this time.”

The footsteps sounded loudly in the silent room as the two men made their way down the alley in the direction that the sweepers had gone some time earlier.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Miss Parker entered her office impatiently, the doors pushed back so hard that they almost closed again in her face, and she sat down at her desk with a glare in the direction of the flat surface. It was almost impossible for her to sit in the same room with the Chairman, listening to the terms of supposed endearment with which he thought he was favoring her, and it was only the thought of what would happen, to herself and others, if she revealed the secret to which she was privy that prevented her from refusing to attend the weekly conferences.

A small murmur from the corner caught her attention and she looked over to find Angelo hunched up in a chair with a piece of paper cradled against his chest and, she could almost believe, a faint smile on his face. When he realized that he had her attention, Angelo scrambled off the seat and sidled over to the desk, placing the page in front of her. She glanced at the features of the young girl in the photograph, noting the long, blond hair and bright blue eyes, before Miss Parker turned her attention back to her brother. Even as he was about to disappear, she reached out one hand and gently grabbed his wrist.

“Who is that, Angelo?”

He sent a small grin in her direction. “Oracle,” the empath muttered, twisting easily out of her hold and ambling from the room.

She stood up to follow him, but, by the time she got to the doorway, he had already disappeared. Rather than looking for him, suspecting that he would go to some hidey-hole of his own and not be found until he wanted to, Miss Parker returned to her desk and picked up the photo.

“Oracle,” she murmured under her breath, eyeing the young girl’s features and guessing that she was only about three or four years of age. Something about the features seemed vaguely familiar and, as she got up to leave the room, her mind was busy, struggling to recall where she had seen similar looks before.

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

When the silence outside the room had continued for several minutes, Jarod turned to the woman who still stood beside him.

“Who are you?”

“A friend,” she responded with a small smile. Turning, she walked towards a seemingly blank wall at the back of the room. Stopping several paces away, she stretched out a hand and pressed a button beside her. Jarod started violently as a door that had been almost invisible in the wall now swung silently open to reveal a well-lit room in the space behind.

“If you want somewhere to cool down, or maybe to have a drink,” the woman said, “may I offer you the use of my home?”

He raised an eyebrow, edging warily towards the door behind himself at the same time. “You live here?”

“I have to live somewhere,” she retorted. “And I doubt that you want to return to the streets while they’re still crawling with sweepers, do you?”

Jarod looked at her sharply, his heart pounding in his ears even faster than it had been when he was being chased. “What do you know about sweepers?”

“That they dress in black suits, use their first names and are generally mindlessly obedient, with no real personalities of their own,” she answered. “Oh, yes, and they also work for that charming organization called the Centre.”

His hand was touching the key by this time, ready to turn it quickly and bolt through the doorway, when she suddenly turned to face him.

“You don’t have to be afraid of me, Jarod. I’m not one of them, nor do I work for them. I was a victim, just like you.”

His eyes narrowed, having silently unlocked the door in preparation for his escape, but Jarod was unable to stop himself from asking his first question again.

“Who are you?”

Her lips curled into another small smile. “I’m Rebecca, the first Red File.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“Sydney!”

“Miss Parker.” The psychiatrist raised his head from the paperwork he was reading, recognizing a familiar tone of voice and mannerism as the woman stalked into his office. He waited for whatever information she wanted with a feeling of resignation. “What can I do for you today?”

“Oracle.”

The psychiatrist remained motionless and silent with his eyes trained on her face, his own facial features expressionless; at the same time, he was forced to recollect that the woman in front of his desk had the identical gift for finding out snippets of information as her mother. He just wished from the depths of his heart that she hadn’t found out about this one.

“Well?” she demanded impatiently after a long minute of silence.

His voice was calm. “‘Well’ what, Miss Parker?”

“What is Oracle?”

“An oracle is a person or thing considered as a source of knowledge, insight or prophesy. It can also be a wise saying or a prophetic statement.” Sydney turned back to the papers he had been reviewing when she entered.

“You know,” Morgan began conversationally, resting one hand on his desk, “if I didn’t know you better, I’d honestly think that you didn’t have any more to tell me.”

His response was firm. “I don’t.”

She straightened up and placed one hand on the pages, forcing them down onto the desk’s flat surface. The man looked up at her again, unable to prevent a hint of annoyance from appearing on his face.

“You won’t believe me, Miss Parker, because you never do, but I have nothing more to say to you on the topic of Oracle and I want you out of my office immediately.”

He stood and faced her, his tones suddenly cold.

“I meant now.”

“I’ll ask Broots and see what he can find out for me,” she snapped.

“Ask whatever you like to whomever you like, but don’t ask me.”

He released the pages, walked around his desk and left the room.

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

Jarod's eyes widened in disbelief. “But…that’s not…you’re…”

“Dead, I know,” she stated evenly. “Or so they think. But rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” She waited a moment, but the man failed to understand the reference, so Rebecca continued. “That was always what they were supposed to believe, but I assure that I’m as alive as you are. Although,” she added thoughtfully, “if you hadn’t run in through my doorway just now, I might have been even more alive.”

The man narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“You don’t,” she replied with a graceful shrug. “All you can do is trust me when I say that’s who I am. I might be able to give you a little evidence to prove it to you, but for that you’ll need to stay, and obviously that’s something you’re not too keen to do right now.”

“And I suppose you figured that out through some psychic skill you possess,” he snapped.

“Actually, yes,” she responded, laughing. “Although I wasn’t nearly as good before Jacob began to teach me.”

Jarod froze at the name, staring at the woman, his voice a faint whisper. “Jacob Ritter?”

“Is there any other?” Still smiling, she waved a hand at the lit room, visible through the open door and in which was a large living area. “I’m sure you could do with something to eat by this time, let alone a cool drink. Come in, Jarod, and then I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“Broots!”

The technician jumped slightly before turning in his chair from watching the details flash over the screen to see the familiar look of impatience on his boss’s face and waited to hear her request. “Yes, Miss Parker?”

She walked over to him. “What are you doing?”

“Basic security check.”

“Can it wait?”

“Well, I do have to finish it…yes,” he finished with a sigh, stopping the motion of data across the screen with the press of a button. “It can.”

“Good.” She pulled up another chair to sit beside him. “I want you to find out everything you can about anything called Oracle - project name, person, everything.”

He turned to the computer at once, looking back at her over his shoulder. “Why don’t you ask…?”

“I tried to ask Sydney but he got edgy.”

The technician looked up at her curiously as the machine began its task. “The same way as when you asked him about Eclipse?”

She looked at him as the computer began to produce the first superficial results. “Now that I think about it, that was similar, yes.” She stared thoughtfully at a spot above his head. “So this probably does have something to do with the Centre.”

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

Lyle angrily slammed the door of the car and glared at the steering wheel for a moment before he started the engine.

“Another total waste of time,” he growled. “No Rebecca and no Jarod either.”

“The sweepers will find something,” Valentine affirmed with irrepressible good humor. “Then we can come back and wipe the place clean. And in the meantime…”

Lyle glanced at the other man out of the corner of his eye, seeing the smile curling the corners of his mouth, and raised an eyebrow. “What did you have in mind?”

“I used to know this area pretty darned well, Boss,” the other man suggested. “All the women got to know me pretty well too.”

“I bet they did,” Lyle chuckled, his good humor rapidly resurfacing. “Anything to my taste?”

“There’s a great series of Asian joints along the main streets, all take-out, if you get my meaning.”

“Perfectly, Valentine,” Lyle agreed. “We may as well take advantage of the good setting for a few days. And I do need a little recovery time, particularly after the latest hospital stay.”

“Oh, I meant to tell you about that…”

“Not yet,” the driver ordered. “Unless it’s urgent. We’ve got more important things to do now.”

“Sure thing,” Valentine agreed cheerfully. “You’re the boss.”

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod uneasily sidled into the room, keeping an eye on the door to ensure an escape, should he feel the need for one, and quickly looked around. His eyes rapidly came to rest on a framed photograph on a nearby shelf, and the pretender gazed at the familiar features of a young man standing next to a girl who was sitting at a table, in a position Jarod couldn’t help but find horribly familiar, as she looked at something that he suspected was a simulation.

“Jacob and I,” the voice of his hostess informed him from the corner where she was taking a jug of cold drink out of the small fridge in the kitchenette, “taken from one of my DSAs.”

He spun around to stare at her. “You have…?”

She waved her hand at a case standing open on a table in the corner. “I wanted to be able to see my life too, just like you did with yours. Luckily for me, though, I’ve only got a few disks.” She cast an almost sorrowful glance at the Halliburton case he still held in one hand, before placing the jug on a tray with two glasses, and carrying it over to the corner, where he stood. Rebecca waved her hand at one of the chairs and sat down in the other herself.

“What are you?” he queried, sitting down warily, making sure that his things were still within easy reach and waiting for her to taste the contents of her glass before drinking his own. “Why did the Centre want you? When were you there? How long did you stay? When did you escape? How did you get out? Where...”

She laughed softly. “I always knew you were curious, Jarod, but, even for you, that seems a little extreme.”

“How do you know my name?” he demanded sternly.

“I would have thought that anybody associated with the Centre would have known about you, and it wouldn’t have been exactly difficult for me to guess your identity, even if I hadn’t already had a good idea of what you looked like.”

“How?” he shot back.

“Sydney,” she returned with another smile. “And my own knowledge.”

“Oh, yes,” he commented sarcastically, returning the glass to the table and eyeing her skeptically. “Of course. You’re a psychic. How could I have forgotten?”

“You don’t believe in such things,” she stated, unable to keep a twinkle out of her eye. “Just because you’ve never met one before doesn’t mean they don’t exist, does it? After all, some people could say the same things about pretenders.”

“Fine,” he retorted, still uncomfortable with his current situation. “What’s your association with the Centre?”

Smiling, Rebecca settled back in the chair, refilling her glass and suppressing her amusement at the impatient look in the eyes of the man opposite, before she began.

“I was brought to the Centre in the middle of 1962…”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“What have you got?” the woman’s voice demanded from the doorway and the technician turned from the screen with a slight shrug.

“Unfortunately not a lot. Oracle was a project in the early days of the Centre.”

He handed her a folder and Miss Parker opened it as Broots continued.

“She was born in early 1959. She was brought to the Centre when she was three years old, after both her parents were killed in a car crash.”

“And what is she?”

“What do you mean?”

Miss Parker sighed impatiently, flipping the folder shut and then folding her arms, the red booklet dangling from her fingers. “Her special gift: pretender, empath, what? What reason did the Centre have for wanting her?”

Understanding, Broots turned the screen so she could see it. “She had the genetic predisposition that we know is common to all pretenders, but apparently the Centre was more interested in her ability as a psychic. That’s why her project name was Oracle and she wasn’t regarded as being a part of the Prodigy Project although,” he corrected himself, “she did do occasional work for that in 1962 and early 1963.”

“A three-year-old psychic?” Miss Parker's voice betrayed her skepticism even as Broots nodded.

“According to what I read in a police report, two months before she was brought to the Centre, a boy living in the house next door went missing. They were searching for him for almost 36 hours, until Rebecca told her mother that he was ‘in the pipes, in the dark.’”

The woman doubtfully lifted a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “And what did she mean by that?”

“There was apparently building work going on in the neighborhood. The boy had crawled into one of the water pipes that were going to be installed and, as it narrowed at one end, got stuck there. If the girl hadn’t told her mother, he might have been dead before they found him, especially as rain had stopped construction and was several inches deep across the whole building site. The pipe was filling fast when they got him out.”

Miss Parker leaned against a desk. “And how did the Centre know about her in the first place?”

“You might be able to guess. To get pregnant, her mother was a patient at…”

“…NuGenesis,” she finished in resigned tones.

He nodded. “It just so happened that, right after the crash where her parents died, one of the first doctors on the scene knew about her. He claimed to be a relative.”

“I don’t suppose it was our old friend Raines, by any chance?”

Broots shook his head. “No. The name isn’t provided in here, but the person who made that claim brought her to the Centre. According to the report, she was sedated for the journey, and, a couple of hours after she arrived, she was put under the care of…”

Miss Parker jumped in, understanding a possible reason for the psychiatrist’s reaction earlier that morning. “Sydney?”

“No.” He pointed to a name in the folder and she looked from it to the technician, nodding slowly.

“Jacob.”


Act II

New Boston, Texas

“So you’re a pretender too?”

“Genetically,” she agreed with a small smile. “But I never had the ability that you did.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “You did do work for the Prodigy Project.”

“For a few months, yes,” she admitted with a grin. “But I cheated a little.”

“In what way?”

“Knowing Jacob as well as I did, I could work out what he wanted to see me do…”

“And then you’d do it,” Jarod finished for her. “Nobody ever picked up on the fact?”

“Jacob himself did,” Rebecca replied. “One day I was supposed to be doing a simulation when we were joined by another of the Centre’s staff.” Her jaw tensed, eyes gleaming with a hard light that made Jarod look up at her in surprise. “Raines came to watch it, but I couldn’t figure out the result he wanted and eventually he left in disgust. The moment he was gone, I could provide exactly the answer they were looking for.”

“Why?” the man demanded.

“I’m not sure of the exact scientific reason for it, but I don’t seem able to use my abilities properly when I’m around people I dislike.” She shrugged. “Jacob always thought it was a mental block I created sub-consciously. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s one of the reasons that Jacob tried to get me out.” Her voice softened as she stared at the floor. “That and maybe something else…”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“Miss Parker,” called the technician from behind her as the woman was heading for her office. She turned.

“Well?”

“I’ve found more about…” he trailed off, nodding at the papers he held.

“What is it?”

He nodded slightly in the direction of her office and, understanding, Miss Parker pushed open the door, letting him walk in ahead of her and locking the door firmly after her. Walking around to sit behind her desk, she fixed a firm gaze on him.

“What did you find?”

“The information in there’s wrong.” He nodded towards the folder she had just placed on the top of her desk. “Or at least some of it is.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Which part?”

“The part under the date of the project’s termination.”

The woman flipped open the red booklet and looked at the arrangement of numbers before lifting her eyes. “What’s wrong with the date of death?”

“She’s not dead,” the man responded immediately. “At least, I don’t think she is.”

Miss Parker sighed impatiently. “She has to be, Broots. We’ve already established that Oracle is the code-name for Rebecca, the first Red File, and we know she’s been dead for 36 years. There is simply no way that they could have kept her…”

“They did it with Look…Faith,” Broots reminded her. “But it seems like this was different.”

“That wasn’t quite as long,” Miss Parker muttered virtually under her breath before raising her voice so that it would be audible to the man opposite. “How was this different?”

“Several people were involved in actually removing Rebecca from the Centre.”

Miss Parker pulled the release form out of the folder in front of her and waved it at the technician, averting her eyes from a photo that showed the body of the girl on an autopsy table. “According to this, the Triumvirate saw her dead body, and gave permission for Jacob to cremate the body and bury the ashes on Centre grounds. They ended the project and filed the results away.”

Broots briefly held up the folder he was clutching. “This suggests something else. It proposes that the death was staged and it’s believed two people worked together to set up the whole scenario and then smuggle the girl out of the Centre.”

“How reliable is this piece of information?”

“It was a memo I intercepted between Lyle and your father.”

Miss Parker suffocated the anger she felt at the use of that phrase and changed the subject. “And who were the two people?”

“Jacob…”

“Of course,” she interrupted impatiently. “And?”

He gazed at the floor for a moment before raising his eyes to her. “Your mother.”

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Stop!” Jarod put up his hands in a gesture of protest and stared at her. “Are you telling me that Catherine Parker helped Jacob get you out of the Centre?”

“Yes. I was the first child she rescued.”

“How?”

“Do you remember the experiment in 1970 that transformed Timmy into Angelo?”

“You know Angelo?” he interrupted.

Rebecca smiled. “I’ve always known of him, yes, the same way I knew about you. We only met once, face to face. I helped him - I should say I helped Timmy - get to the cabin where you were staying when you were working at NuGenesis. But he always knew about Catherine and Jacob’s feeling for me - especially Catherine’s - and so he got in touch with me.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “How?”

“The same way he does with you. Or,” Rebecca teased, “do you think he sneaks out more often than just to save Broots from Brigitte and to help you save other victims of NuGenesis?”

He laughed, nodding in agreement, letting her continue. The humor faded from the woman’s face as she recalled the reason that Angelo’s name had come into the conversation in the first place.

“Raines pioneered the treatment that he would late use on Timmy in 1965 - on me.”

“But…”Jarod stared at her, his own amusement dissipating like snow in springtime. “Why?”

“He thought that it might be possible to enhance my abilities as a psychic, but he didn’t want to do it to one of his own projects. Raines thought that if he did it to one of the others the handler of that child, Jacob in this case, would get the blame if something went wrong.”

“And something did.”

The woman nodded silently. Standing, she picked up a photograph from under the framed picture and handed it to him. Jarod eyed the bleeding sores dotted along the hairline of the girl in the photo, her lips blue and eyelids closed; then he examined the face of the woman seated opposite him, taking note of the small scars that were only just visible along the top of her forehead. His mind presented him with the images of what she must have gone through that day - the terror of Raines’ appearance in her room, aware as she would have been of at least some of what he planned to do to her; the agony as massive charges of electricity were applied to her head; the burning sensation that such a strong current would provide…

“It wasn’t that bad,” she interrupted, trying to stop him, and also not wanting to relive it herself.

Jarod arched an eyebrow skeptically, not bothering to question her statement, instead changing the subject. “So the result of that was…?”

“The report Jacob filed stated that he came into my room to find me like that,” she nodded at the picture, “and took me down the infirmary, where they tried to revive me but failed. The Triumvirate was called to view my body…”

“But you weren’t dead,” he broke in.

“Well, obviously,” Rebecca retorted, her eyes twinkling.

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “So how did he do it?”

“According to what Jacob told me later, he found me in my room several hours after Raines ordered me taken me back there. I was unconscious because of the treatment I’d been given and Jacob used the opportunity to stage my death. When I finally woke up, we were in his car. Jacob was driving and Catherine was sitting in the back seat, holding me.”

“And you were going…?”

“Catherine knew of a possible family where I would be safe.” Rebecca’s voice became a little sad. “I never saw either of them again.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“So what does this memo of yours say?” Miss Parker demanded after a moment of silence.

“Apparently, a few days ago, Mr. Parker found a letter from Catherine to a girl in Oklahoma called ‘Rebecca’ that was written in March, 1970. A sweeper team was sent there, but they didn’t find anything. On the off chance that it might have been real, he sent a message to the usual people across the country, letting them know about her and asking them to keep an eye out.”

“And there was a sighting,” the woman finished, leaning back in her chair. “So that explains why Lyle and Valentine left the Centre this morning looking like wolves were after them.”

“Basically, yes,” Broots agreed, before hesitantly offering the other piece of information that he’d found. “I…I guess you should know…your father told Lyle not to tell you about it.”

“Why?” she snapped.

“I…I don’t know exactly. That’s all it says.” He pushed the memo across the table and stood up. “I’ll let you know if I find anything else.”

Miss Parker looked up at him thoughtfully. “You know, I just don’t get why Sydney was unwilling to talk about it before.”

Broots dropped back into the chair. “Well, it was his brother’s project…”

“It’s more than that,” she interrupted. “Sydney's kept secrets before, but there was always a good reason for it, like when he didn’t tell me about my mother, and when he didn’t talk about Eclipse.” She pressed the tips of her fingers together and stared at them blankly for a moment before lifting her eyes to the man opposite. “Usually he’s protecting somebody, but there’s nobody to protect in this case. It’s been 36 years since Rebecca ‘died,’ and there was no suggestion before this that anybody knew she was alive, was there?”

She touched the memo and eyed the man, watching as he slowly shook his head.

“As far as I could find out, her project’s been lying dormant for all that time. Nobody’s even looked at it.”

“So what’s he trying to hide?” Miss Parker asked rhetorically, eyeing the page for several minutes in silence, before getting abruptly to her feet. The technician watched her, somewhat confused.

“Where are you going?”

“To ask him.” She got to the doorway and looked back. “And I meant both of us.”

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

Jarod sat back in his chair and looked around the room, eyeing the windowless walls and solid doors, one that led back into the room from which he had entered and the other that presumably led to other rooms in the building. The walls were devoid of any personal touches, except for that one photograph he had noticed earlier, and the place seemed hardly lived in. Only the woman’s obvious familiarity suggested longer habitation. After taking note of all that, he turned back to his hostess.

“How long have you lived here?”

“About 20 years, on and off.” She shrugged as he stared at her in disbelief. “When I left home to study at college, I didn’t want to live on campus. This was pretty convenient. It’s also safe. Nobody can come in without me knowing.”

There was a look of near-envy as he watched her, his voice becoming quiet. “What was it like, not living in the Centre?”

“Not as good as it should have been.” Rebecca sighed regretfully, staring at her hands. “If they’d been able to save you instead of me, you would have done a lot more than I did.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

She studied the floor for a moment before looking up at him. “People are scared of me, when they find out what I can do,” she admitted slowly. “I left home because the people I called my parents were afraid of what I could do and what I knew about them. I guess it’s natural - nobody likes the idea of somebody being able to hunt around inside your head,” she added after a second of silent thought.

“Did you do it to me?” he asked suddenly and she smiled.

“Not as effectively as I can now.”

He recoiled slightly in the chair, eyeing her with sudden suspicion. “What do you mean by that?”

“I already told you about one way in which I’m limited. Well, the opposite is also true. After I meet people that I already feel positive things for, I’m better able to predict what they’ll do.”

“So you knew I was coming,” Jarod retorted.

“Well, I hardly leave my door open every day, on the off-chance that you might decide to stop by,” she responded with a smile. “But, although I knew it would be today, I didn’t know the exact time you were coming. I was actually just about ready to give up when you appeared.”

The silence extended for a few more moments while Jarod thoughtfully gazed at the floor and the woman seated opposite watched him. Finally she spoke.

“Jarod, you still don’t trust me.”

“Bad habit,” he admitted, looking up. “But you’re right. Considering that all the information I found said you’ve been dead for more than three decades now, it’s a little hard for me to turn my thinking around, just on your say-so.”

“And I always thought you were flexible,” she joked, standing up. “Let me show you something to try and convince you that I am who I say I am.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

The psychiatrist looked up from his most recent series of reports to find Miss Parker and Broots in the doorway of his office. He raised an eyebrow at the expectant look on the woman’s face.

“What do you want?”

“Everything you know about Rebecca,” the woman responded, walking in as Sydney stood up.

“I’ve already told you, Parker…” he began angrily.

“You haven’t told me anything,” she snapped. “It’s time you did.”

“She’s dead,” he told her firmly. “It can’t make any difference now.”

“No, she’s not,” Broots spoke up, seeing a look of shock cross Sydney’s face momentarily before it was gone.

“And you found out about this fairy-tale how?” the older man demanded forcefully, sinking into his chair again.

Miss Parker ushered the technician into the room and firmly shut the door. “It’s a reliable source,” she retorted before suddenly eyeing the psychiatrist sharply, reading the expression in his eyes, and understanding why he hadn’t been willing to talk about the girl before, her voice softening as she watched him. “You’ve known all along that she’s still alive.”

He sighed once before yielding and nodding slowly. “I didn’t know it at the time. I bought into the same story that Catherine and my brother were trying to sell to the Triumvirate.”

Morgan raised an eyebrow. “Your own brother didn’t tell you?”

“I suppose they thought that the fewer people who knew, the better it would be. Still, they got her to a safe place and nobody was any the wiser.” He eyed the two people now sitting opposite him. “At least, nobody was, until now.”

“The only people who do are the three of us, Mr. Parker, Lyle and probably Valentine,” Broots told him. “Oh, and the sweepers who went with them, too.”

“And Angelo,” Miss Parker added. “He’s the reason I came looking in the first place.”

Sydney ran his eyes over the memo that Broots handed him, nodding again as he looked up. “I’m not surprised at them wanting to keep it secret. Lyle hasn’t exactly been living up to the reputation that his father was no doubt hoping he would. This is probably an attempt to give him a little more status.”

“What do they want with Rebecca?” the woman demanded. “I mean, I know that she’s a psychic, and I guess from the fact that she was a Red File and part of Prodigy that she’s also a pretender, but what do they actually want her to do?”

“I’m not that sure,” Sydney responded. “But possibly they’ll want her to take care of and help train the Seraphim.” His eyes became sad. “After all there’s nobody to help her escape if she was ever caught.”

Miss Parker eyed him firmly. “She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”

“A great deal,” Sydney admitted quietly. Looking up, there was an expression of near-amusement on his face. “A few months after Rebecca was brought to the Centre, during a simulation she did in January of 1963, she told Jacob and I about someone named ‘Jarod,’ who would be coming to the Centre soon.”

The other two people looked up at him sharply but remained silent.

“She’d been given a difficult simulation to complete and Jacob asked me to help him oversee it. I discovered later that the Triumvirate told him to do so, so that they could see if I’d be able to work effectively with Jarod when he arrived.”

Sydney paused and then smiled faintly.

“She managed to work out a solution and then looked at Jacob, saying there was more than one right answer. Naturally he asked what she meant and she told him that someone else, a different person, would come up with a different answer to the problem.”

“And so she knew…”

“Rebecca never had interaction with any of the other children in the Centre as far as we knew. In fact, I don’t know if she and Angelo even met. But somehow Rebecca knew that at least one child was going to arrive. After saying that about the other answers she looked up at me and said that Jarod would provide me with that different answer.” Sydney suddenly laughed. “It never occurred to me until now that she probably wasn’t only talking about that simulation.”

The woman nodded slowly. “But why wouldn’t you say that before, when I asked?”

“I…had a promise to keep,” he admitted softly. “When we saw each other again, some time later, I promised that I’d keep it a secret.”

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

Rebecca slid the videocassette into the machine, and then returned to her chair. With the remote control on her knee, she looked over at her visitor.

“By the time I was eighteen, I hated what I could do,” she stated softly. “I hated being different, so I tried to deny everything. I fought against it as hard as I could, refusing to listen to that little voice inside that told me what was going to happen.”

“But why?” There was a sense of incomprehension in Jarod’s tone. “You could do so much good with that sort of ability…”

She laughed somewhat scornfully. “But you were never a teenager in normal society, trying to live a normal life with abnormal abilities.” For a moment, she stared at the floor before continuing. “I’d always wanted a normal boyfriend, and when I moved away from home I had one for two months. He was around one evening, when I knew that something terrible had happened at his house. It took a lot of persuasion, but we finally went there and…”

Rebecca trailed off and there was moment of silence before Jarod spoke softly. “What was it?”

“His mother was cooking and had an epileptic seizure. The kitchen was on fire. We were nearly too late.”

“But you saved her…”

“And I lost the one boyfriend I ever had as a result,” she returned bitterly. “He didn’t want anything to do with me after that. Admittedly, he didn’t tell anyone else, but just that was enough.” Rebecca shuddered. “I couldn’t do that to myself again. I cut myself off from other people who might have been interested, because I hated the thought of going through it all in the future.”

Jarod saw the pain in her eyes and abruptly changed the subject. “So what’s that?” He nodded at the video recorder and she smiled faintly.

“This was someone who made me change my mind.”

The tape whirred into life and Jarod started as a familiar figure was shown into the room where he now sat by a younger version of the woman who sat in the chair near him.

“Sydney?!”

The woman smiled faintly. “Thirteen years after Jacob and Catherine got me out of the Centre, I was studying psychology at the college and we had a guest teacher for a few days.”

“He did go away for a while in 1978,” Jarod mused thoughtfully. “It wasn’t very long after Raines’ daughter…”

Rebecca looked at him sadly as he stopped abruptly, staring at the floor. After an uncomfortable moment of silence, she continued softly. “I wanted to see him again - or at least see what Jacob would have looked like by then - so I went along.”

It was Jarod's turn to give her a look of sympathy but, as Rebecca was gazing sorrowfully at her hands, she missed the expression. His voice was quiet.

“Did he recognize you?”

“He thought he did.” She smiled, shifting in her chair and altering the subject somewhat. “Can you remember a sim in 1966 when you were asked to create something that would age the photos of crime suspects?”

“Of course,” he agreed. “It was kind of fun, and,” Jarod added, his eyes suddenly darkening with a feeling of rage, “they haven’t worked out a way to put it to a negative use yet.”

“Jacob got hold of it, just after you finished it,” Rebecca continued, speaking firmly to distract him from the thoughts in his mind. “I always knew he missed me a little, but I wouldn’t admit to myself just how much, until he took that photo of me and used your techniques to age it.” She nodded at the picture on the shelf. “Sydney found it when he was cleaning away Jacob’s things, after the car accident, and one was me at the age of eighteen.”

“Sydney looked up, about to start the lecture, when he saw you,” Jarod guessed, knowing enough of his mentor to be able to image the scene, and grinning at the thought of how shocked the man must have been.

“We all had to wait for a few minutes until he regained his composure,” Rebecca agreed, giggling at the memory. “He spent the whole lecture trying to catch my eye, but I left before he could talk to me. He searched the campus and the town for the rest of the day, trying to find me, but as you know, my room’s pretty well hidden.”

Jarod looked at the tape, which had continued to play, in slight confusion. “So how did he…?”

“I thought you would have asked ‘why did I leave?'” she queried, a smile curling her lips.

“I already know the answer to that.” Jarod's eyes were soft. “It hurt too much to see him and have to remember Jacob.”

Rebecca nodded slowly. “I thought that would be enough - one peep - but I knew he was coming back the next day…”

“And you couldn’t stop yourself from going,” Jarod finished. “Then, when it was over, he managed to stop you from leaving.”

“Sydney can be awfully quick when he wants to be,” she remarked, smiling. “I just got to the door, when I heard a voice from behind me…”

“Jacob sends his greetings.”

Rebecca half-turned, surprised that he had managed to say it, and seeing the pain in the eyes of the man at the lectern.

“No, he doesn’t,” she told him as the last student left the room. “He’s been gone - unreachable - for almost as long as I have.”

“If only he was as close as you are,” Sydney remarked softly, gathering his things and walking over to her. “How are you, Rebecca?”

“I’m dead, Sydney,” she replied firmly. “You know that. I’ve been dead for years.”

“So they say,” he finished, his blue eyes twinkling. “For some reason, I have to doubt that, all of a sudden.”

“I might as well be,” she muttered, turning away. “Then everything would be easier.”

Sydney caught her arm and prevented her from leaving. “You don’t mean that,” he affirmed. “You never gave up as a child. You wouldn’t do it now.”

“Things have changed.”

“No,” he contradicted. “Not you. Not to that extent.” Reaching up, the man gently brushed her hair away from her face. “Is there somewhere we can talk, Rebecca? I think maybe we need to.”

She sighed as she gazed at the figure on the video. “We talked for a long time, that night. He told me what he knew of my last hours at the Centre…”

“Why didn’t you know?” Jarod interrupted.

“I do know a few bits and pieces,” she confessed. “At least the time I was conscious for, anyway. I’ve managed to ‘see’ some other parts of it, but most of that’s occurred since I talked to Sydney.” Her lips thinned as she glanced at him. “As you’ve already simulated, Jarod, I was in a lot of pain during the time and I didn’t want to remember more of it than I could help.”

He nodded in agreement, raising an eyebrow as a question occurred to him. “But in that case, I can’t imagine why you’d record it.”

“That wasn’t the important bit,” she remarked with a smile. “I don’t know how he did it, but Sydney convinced me that it was important to listen when I was told things.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “Considering that you were ignoring the things you ‘saw’ and were told, I don’t understand why you filmed it at all.”

“I knew it was going to be important,” she replied with a shrug. “Some things were just too big for me to ignore.”

* * * * * * * * *

“Well?”

“We didn’t find her,” Lyle admitted grudgingly. “How sure are we about this contact?”

“Very damn sure,” the Chairman thundered. “She’s in that town somewhere and it’s your responsibility to find her.”

The younger man momentarily considered telling his father about the other Centre subject in town, but, through the slightly open door, saw Valentine pass, his arms around two women, and decided against it.

“I’ll find her, Dad,” he assured the man on the other end. “Sweepers are scouring every place she was seen and we’ve got men at the airport and train station. There’s no way…”

“I’ve heard that before,” snarled the older Parker impatiently. “Just make sure it happens.”

Hearing the dial tone at the other end, Lyle hung up the hotel-room phone and, pasting a smile on his face, gleefully opened the doors that separated the two bedrooms.

* * * * * * * * *

“So why are you resurfacing now?”

Jarod looked over as he asked the question, watching Rebecca return the video to its spot on top of the TV.

“This is hardly ‘resurfacing,’” the woman retorted as she looked around the room that was dimly lit by uncovered table lamps and a bare light-globe in the ceiling.

“You know what I mean,” he stated, standing up as she went over to the kitchenette. “You’ve lived for more than 30 years without the Centre having any idea that you’re still alive, but now you won’t be able to go outside this place because they’d grab you right away.”

“As you said,” she remarked, seeing Jarod’s eyes light up as she took an uncooked pizza from its box and put it on a tray, sliding it into the oven. “It’s been more than 30 years. I was six when they last saw me. They’d be hard-pressed to remember me now, particularly as only a few people who were there then are still employed there, or are even alive anymore.” Rebecca’s lips twitched emotionally as she got out plates and napkins.

Jarod leaned against the wall and eyed her narrowly, changing the subject. “I have a feeling it was more than just a desire to be helpful that made you leave the door open for me today.”

She gave him a look of mock wonder. “You really are a genius!”

He grinned. “What do you want?”

“Persistent too. Always good.”

“Rebecca!”

The woman laughed, taking a can of Dr. Pepper out of the fridge and handing it to him, getting a drink for herself. “You’re right. There is, and it’s to do with a person you already know.”

“Oh, really?” Jarod arched an eyebrow. “Do you know how many people I’ve met during the past five years?”

“Would you like the figure or was that a rhetorical question?” she teased. “I’d add a useful pointer about her being someone who owes you a big debt of gratitude, but I guess that wouldn’t be very helpful either.”

Jarod reseated himself as Rebecca returned to her armchair. “Who is it?”

“My daughter,” the woman smiled. “Andrea Hatcher.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Miss Parker was still staring at the girl in the photograph when Broots burst into her office without knocking. Irritated, she looked up.

“What?”

I…that security check - the one I was doing when you first asked me to look for information about Ora…Rebecca - “

“Today and in English, Broots,” she snapped. “What did it find?”

“A memo from Eve to the Chairman.”

“And that’s so unusual,” the woman rapped out, rolling her eyes. “Like that doesn’t happen every day.”

“But not all of them are about…” he glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice, “killing your twin brother.”

Starting slightly, Miss Parker was unable to avoid glancing at the air vent in the room, before she realized that he was talking about Lyle and had to hope that he hadn’t picked up on her slip “Well, what is it?”

“You remember how he was in the infirmary until a day or two ago,” the man stated quietly, sliding into the chair in front of her desk as she nodded impatiently.

“Yes, we all had some peace and quiet. I don’t see what that has to do with it.”

“Well, after I found this,” he waved the single sheet, “I went looking through the records and found some memos from Lyle to Eve that had been sent over the last few weeks.”

Broots passed the note over the desk. Miss Parker read through it thoroughly and then fed it into the shredder that sat on the floor beside her desk. When the room was silent again she waited for him to continue.

“Apparently,” he informed her softly, “Lyle was hoping that, with all of her experience with drugs -- you know she was the person who oversaw the creation of Aurora -- she might be able to come up with something that could control Kronos I. That was the genetic disorder…”

“That we found out Lyle had last year, I remember,” she replied, suddenly staring at the photo on the desk. “And we found out that his daughter had it too.” Miss Parker snatched the photograph and waved it in his face. “That’s who Rebecca looks like! She’s the image of Lyle’s daughter!”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“Well?”

“It’s all coming along fine, Mr. Parker,” Cox affirmed. “I’ve had her watched all day and it’s only a matter of time before we can quickly and quietly get her taken care of.”

“Has she told anyone?” the Chairman demanded.

“There’s no one to tell,” the other man affirmed. “We’ve made sure that she and Mason were kept away from each other and out of touch, and there isn’t anyone else she trusts enough to let it slip.”

“Good,” Parker growled. “Make sure it stays that way. Anyone who finds out the truth - I don’t care who it is - must be eliminated. This information is too valuable to be released. Understand?”

“I always have, Mr. Parker,” Cox responded quickly. “I don’t want to this become public, any more than you do.”

“No, I’m sure you don’t,” Mr. Parker agreed. “So how are the Seraphim doing, anyway?”

* * * * * * * * *

New Boston, Texas

Jarod’s eyes widened as he stared at the woman in amazement. She sat, unperturbed, aware of the feelings that were running through the man, and waited for him to speak.

“But…how…when…where…why…?’

“You’re doing better than you did before for asking questions,” she laughed. “But it would be good if you’d ask them in full before I had to answer them.”

“You’re the one who said you were psychic,” he teased. “Now prove it.”

“Okay, you’re having difficulty understanding how Andrea could be my daughter, when you know for a fact that she’s been living with the Hatchers for almost her entire life, except for the first two years, when she was in the Centre,” the woman suggested as she took the pizza out of the oven and began to share it out.

“Among other things, yes,” he agreed, laughing. “That was rather taxing my curiosity.”

Rebecca divided the food between the two heated plates, giving Jarod a large share and taking a small amount for herself. He raised an eyebrow as he accepted the plate and returned to his seat while she did the same.

“Why did you…?”

“It’s a part of my story,” she broke in. “Let me tell it and then you’ll find out.”

Nodding in agreement, he bit into the hot slice, stretching the mozzarella cheese into long strings that led from his mouth to the plate. Smiling, Rebecca bit into her own piece, and the man stared as it seemed like the cheese was cut by an unseen hand and the woman returned the bitten slice to her plate, neatly swallowing the short ends.

“Oh,” she remarked, trying to suppress her amusement at his open mouth, a few strings hanging down his chin as his eyes widened. “Did I forget to mention the fact that I’m a telekinetic as well? Silly me.”

He eyed her curiously. “You are?”

“I wasn’t when I was brought to the Centre,” she informed him. “At least, I don’t think I was. After the experiment that Raines performed, I found that I could do the same sorts of things that people in circuses can - bend spoons and that sort of thing. It was so much fun as a little kid, being able to show off like that, so I practiced a lot more, getting a lot better and stronger, mentally. It isn’t possible for me to tell if the experiment electrically enhanced a part of my brain that made it able to happen, or whether it would have happened anyway. I just know it works.”

“So what can you do?”

She smiled. “What would you like to see?”

He glanced around the room, his eyes coming to light on the gas stovetop, and the question in his eyes was obvious as he turned back to her. Before he could speak, she nodded in the direction of the corner, and he looked back to see that all four burners were alight. They burned steadily for a few minutes before Jarod saw the dials twist around to the ‘off’ position and the flames extinguish. He turned back to the woman, staring at her in silence for a moment before laughing. She grinned as Jarod picked up his glass and sipped at the contents to prevent himself from choking on the bit of pizza still in his mouth.

“Can I continue or should I wait until there’s no danger of you expiring on my living room floor?”

“Go ahead,” he spluttered as the drink foamed in his mouth, swallowing hard to stop it from going up his nose. “I’m calm.”

“Hmm, yes, I believe it too,” she retorted sarcastically. “But as you’re so sure, I will.” Her face took on a somber expression as she stared at the plate of pizza on her lap. After a moment of silence, she began to speak.

“At the start of 1984, I got very sick. Of course, I knew even before they told me that it was cancer and, because I had to have radiation treatment, which could have affected my chances of having children, when they offered to extract my eggs, I agreed.”

Jarod looked from the plate in her lap to that in his own. “Was that why you…?”

“Yes,” she agreed without letting him finish. “I can’t do some of the things I used to anymore, not after that. I was so sick that they thought I was going to die.” She swallowed painfully. “So did I.”

“And…Andrea?” he asked softly after a moment.

She looked up, her eyes kindling with sudden anger. “Raines never believed that I had really died and he kept trying to pressure Jacob to tell him the truth about what had happened. Jacob didn’t, but Raines kept an eye out for somebody who might have been me, and eventually he must have managed to find out about me being sick.” Rebecca’s fingers clenched around the plate. “The lab in which they had stored my ova couldn’t understand why anybody would want to break in - but I could.”

“He…stole it?” the man demanded in disbelief.

“He’s stolen plenty of other things,” she spat. “Like lives.”

Jarod nodded in silent agreement, waiting for her to continue.

“As far as I’ve been able to tell, he never told anybody who Andrea really is,” she explained after a moment. “He wanted all the glory of what she could do for himself, without having to possibly share his results with anybody else.”

“Did you know he’d do that?” the man asked. “Did you know who her father would be?”

“If I had, do you think I’d have done it?” she challenged. “Would I have put Andrea through all the things they did to her, if I’d known?”

He nodded again, seeing the angry tears welling up in her eyes, before speaking again. “But why haven’t you come back into her life before? Why haven’t you tried to protect her?”

“I couldn’t do that,” she whispered. “I couldn’t come into her life, only to have had to leave again if the cancer did what the Centre couldn’t.”

Jarod eyed her, noting the pallor of her skin and the clarity of her eyes, not wanting to ask about her current medical state but guessing that she was probably in remission, if not cured.

“So how do you want my help? What can I do?” he asked, hoping to take her mind off her current train of thought.

“I’m concerned for her,” Rebecca emphasized, looking up at him. “The Hatchers want to help her, but they can’t fully understand what she feels. She has to learn how to deal with everything she’ll be faced with in the future, and they won’t be able to teach her that.”

“So go and introduce yourself.”

The woman raised her eyebrows. “It took me showing you footage of one of the people you trust most in the world to convince you that I was safe. Within the past 12 months, their daughter was kidnapped and they didn’t know if she was going to be rescued. Why should they believe that I’m not a part of that too, especially if they were to discover somehow that I’d been a victim of that place too?”

He nodded slowly. “And how do you think I can help?”

“The Hatchers do trust you,” she told him firmly. “And they have good reason to.”


Act III

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.”


Act IV

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