Existence by KB, admin

1. Part 1 by KB

2. Part 2 by KB

3. Part 3 by KB

4. Part 4 by KB

5. Part 5 by KB

6. Epilogue by KB

Part 1 by KB
Although the individual story ideas are mine, the characters are not and nor is the central concept of The Pretender. They belong to TNT, MTM and NBC productions, as well as the fertile imaginations of Craig Mitchell and Steven Van Sickle.
Original characters are mine and I would beg you not to use them without my permission.

Part 1

"Remember this, --that very little is needed to make a happy life."
Meditations. ii. 67


"It is the mind that makes the man, and our vigor is in our immortal soul."
Metamorphoses xiii

I don’t know what first prompted me, when I got out, to help people.

A desire for justice, perhaps, or just the need to make up for what happened.

But if I really wanted justice then I would have begun destroying the Centre from the outset, and if I wanted to make up for what had happened, I would have gone to all of the people who I harmed, or their families, and told them what had happened.

People always want answers to their questions and this is always more so in a tragic event or even a near-tragic one. But I could never bring myself to go and admit to being the cause of their problems. Would it have helped? I tried to convince myself that it wouldn’t. But I’ll never really know whether it would or not.

My life is easy. I have no responsibilities and no one is counting on me for anything. But my life is lacking and in some ways that is more difficult. At least if people are relying on you, it means that they are your own. I have no one and this is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, I’m lonely. Well, sometimes. I keep busy, as you might have noticed, but there’s always time to reflect and that’s the danger. Once Sydney talked to me about the possibility of finishing it all but that’s not an idea that I can deal with. Problems might seem severe but there’s always a solution somewhere, even if it’s not immediately obvious. I mean, in my time at the Centre I met quite a few people who killed themselves, unable to deal with what they were being forced to do. Not that I was told that they killed themselves. The official line was that they had been relocated to another site. At least that’s what Sydney told me. I saw no reason to doubt him then. Of course there are plenty of things that he told me which were also untrue. It makes me wonder how much I can trust anything that he’s said to me over the years.

I’m happy, to a certain extent, with my life. I can look back on the last few years with satisfaction, and even in the Centre I was of the belief that what I was doing would be beneficial, saving lives. Of course, pleading ignorance is no real excuse, but it’s the only one I have and the one that I truly believed at the time. If I could change the past…but I can’t and there isn’t any reason to think of the "what ifs". All it does is create a certain amount of stress and that’s never helped anyone unless they have a viable means of allowing it to escape. I don’t. I have a bad habit of berating myself for everything that’s ever gone wrong in my life. And that comes back to the idea of "what if". Nice vicious circle, huh?

So, anyway, that’s why I keep so busy - an attempt to escape from my own thoughts and ease some of my guilt by helping someone else. I figure that if I run around all day helping people and keeping myself totally occupied, by the time I fall into bed at night, I’ll be so exhausted that I won’t have time to remember or think about anything before I’m asleep. But there’s the little problem of the dreams that I have. See, I thought that if you were exhausted, you were less inclined to dream because your brain would be too tired to think of things like that. Only that theory was a little out. My nightmares are usually worse than the things I think about when I’m awake. And they only haunt me worse when I can’t remember them properly. Which happens quite a bit. I guess you know how frustrating that is. Like when you have a comment in your head but it vanishes somewhere between there and your mouth. Except that my fear is that it will always be a memory that would have helped me to recreate part of the life that I lost when I arrived at the Centre. Or even from my time in the Centre. One of the reasons that the DSAs are so valuable to me, annoying as the lack of privacy was at the time, was that it gave me a chance to see SIMs and other events from an unbiased perspective. A camera can’t be judgmental. It shows you everything, whether you want to see it or not. Most of the time I don’t, but often I just can’t help myself.

My view of the world is a little different from that of most people. I guess it’s because I don’t know it as well as they do. But maybe, seeing it through clear eyes, I understand it even better than they do. After all, they’ve never known anything else, whereas I’ve experienced an alternative life, if it merits that title. So much of what I see makes me angry and frustrated, not only because of the bad parts of life, but also because people so rarely value the good parts. Like the freedom to go wherever they want to and to do what they want. But the worst thing, the one thing that I can’t bear hearing is when someone says that they aren’t appreciated or loved by their parents or friends. Sure, some people don’t get on with their parents or other members of their family, but if they lost them, the grief would be enormous, whether they allowed themselves to admit it or not. And I defy anyone to say that, if they did disappear, no one would miss them. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t mean something to someone, even if they weren’t actually aware of it themselves.

In some ways, crazy though it sounds, I’ve had experiences, which, in the end, have become beneficial. Not because they were good at the time but because they have taught me something, either about other people or about myself. And I’ve learnt that it’s often the way with seemingly negative things. You go through the pain and difficulty, and when you emerge from the tunnel of darkness and unhappiness, you can look back and realize there was a reason, a purpose, and that whatever you have lost, at some point, provided you don’t give up, you will gain something equal to it in value.
Part 2 by KB
Part 2

"Remember this, --that very little is needed to make a happy life."
Meditations. ii. 67


"Earth’s noblest thing - a woman perfected."

I’ve tried to explain, to others, and myself why I feel the way I do. Why there’s so much anger and frustration that I just can’t let go. Thomas tried to help me get rid of it but even he wasn’t very successful. He might have been, of course. I guess I’ll never know, now, whether he would have been or not.

My relationships with other people could never be considered as normal. Although I don’t like to admit it, even to myself, I push people away when I desperately need them to be close to me. Only two people have ever really realised that - Sydney and Jarod. Perhaps Angelo too, but I’m not sure about him. But I’ve suffered in my life and I try to convince myself that, by hiding from emotion, I can also hide from the pain that it causes. I’m not sure that it works, but I can’t give something like that up now.

I count as success only the utmost of what I set out to achieve - a perfectionist, I suppose that makes me. I won’t tolerate failure from anyone, least of all myself. That’s something that turned a lot of people off me. Jarod was the first person who refused to be repelled. I guess working with someone who was just as much of a perfectionist as I was meant that he wasn’t even aware of it. He just accepted it as part of me. He was the only person I’ve ever met who could do that.

I’ll never really understand what changed between us. I suppose part of it was the person that I became. The fact that he was no different after so many years, and I wouldn’t allow myself to see that it was because he wasn’t allowed to change, meant that I saw him as the child I first met when I was only nine years old. But was there one event that changed everything? I’m not sure. If I ever knew, then I’ve repressed the memory deep down inside. I don’t want it to escape. I’ve been forced to relive so many memories since Jarod escaped and they’ve all brought back so much pain that it almost makes them unbearable.

My childhood was never normal. When your parents are hardly ever around, you soon develop a life without them. If it could be called a life. And running around the Centre could hardly be called a life either. Perhaps that’s why I have a problem with Jarod - he managed to create something that I didn’t have. I’ve always secretly resented his relationship with Sydney. After all, I might just as well not have had family. The memories of my mother are nice, but she was a part of my life during the time when everything seems nice. Have you noticed that about childhood? It often seems like the nicest time - when there was no concern or stress. No decisions that had to be made or problems that had to be sorted out. Always someone there to do it for you. Well, almost always.

After my mother died, maybe I should have stayed away from the Centre. But the memories, until I leant to hide them away, always continued to hurt me unless I was always doing something to keep them away. I would fall asleep, exhausted, at the end of the day, but then the dreams would come and, more often than not, I would wake up sweating and clawing at the sheets. But then, before I could properly remember them, they would be gone, withdrawing to the outer limits of my subconscious and waiting there until I was vulnerable again.

Jarod has had nightmares all his life and, when we were little, he would often tell me about them when I went to visit him. Once, Sydney found us and suggested that he tell me other, happier stories from his vast imagination. I can still remember the look on Jarod’s face when he said that he didn’t know any happy stories. If he hadn’t turned away, Jarod could have seen an almost identical look on Sydney’s. It was one of the first times that I realized how close the bond between them was. The greatest tragedy, and one that still gives me no end of frustration, is the fact that neither of them will really admit it. Of course, Jarod tried. But Sydney won’t admit to himself how powerful his own feelings are and this means that Jarod is not willing to open himself up to hurt by allowing his own emotions to be voiced.

Am I that different from Jarod? Perhaps not. Except that I have no life and he does. But, one day, that situation will change and I will have the chance to properly live again. I remember the few years of freedom. Of course I can see now that they were never really free, but instead I was always under some sort of investigation. The Centre will never let a person really go. All I ask is the chance to have a proper life, and perhaps a family. I wouldn’t have thought that it was too impossible a request.

I mentioned vulnerability before, and the fear of letting people know I’m vulnerable is and always has been the one thing that terrifies me. Let people see inside you and they tear you to pieces at the first opportunity. I’ve seen it happen. To my mother and to people like her. Having seen what she went through, I could steel myself from allowing it to happen to me. And I do. It all comes back to emotions. Show them to people and that allows people to take advantage of you. Hide them and they gnaw away at your insides, never letting you escape from them - or yourself. I remember once talking about dying. Jarod said that taking your own life was the easy way out, the coward’s way. I said that sometimes it looked like the only way. He shook his head and showed me that there was always something, or someone, who would be damaged by a person’s death. No matter what the person themselves thought. I sometimes wonder what it would do to Jarod himself. Not if I were to kill myself, but if I were to let the Centre suck me in and make me disappear, in the way that so many other people have disappeared. It’s a constant fight to stay away from the turbulence, to stay safe. I can’t help wondering, sometimes, if that tireless, endless fight is really worth it. I wouldn’t do it myself. I have too much self-respect to bring myself that far down. But to let go, to stop fighting the power of the Centre, it would be tantamount to suicide. It would also be failure. And I won’t tolerate failure. From myself or anyone else.
Part 3 by KB
Part 3

"Remember this, --that very little is needed to make a happy life."
Meditations. ii. 67


"Our birth is nothing but our death begun."
Edward Young: Night Thoughts, night v. line 718

Now, although I’d never admit it, I’m scared.

I’ve done what I need to do - I’ve produced a child to carry on the Parker name and to extend the influence of the Parkers inside the Centre.

So now what happens? Am I still valuable? Or is my life just a burden? I know what happens to people in the Centre who become burdens. It’s done without ceremony, without emotion. It just happens. And no one who values their own lives ever mentions your name again. Is that my fate? I don’t know any more. A child never really needs their mother. My…Miss Parker is a perfect example. Hard, cold, unfeeling. She fits perfectly into the Centre. I don’t. I’m insecure but I hide it. How well? I don’t know. That bitch is ideal - and she knows it. Other people do, too. Even Lyle. He obsesses over her and she totally ignores him, which irritates him even more. All I am to him is a convenience. He uses me, like I use him. He gets me the things I wants, panders to me when I need it, on the unspoken condition that I do the same to him.

All my life I’ve tried to do anything that would get me ahead, regardless of the consequences. If it didn’t work, I would lie low and wait for an opportunity to try again. At least, in all of my attempts, there’s one thing I’ve never had to worry about - feelings. I’ve made sure that I distance myself from everything that might hurt me. The outpouring of emotion that I see from so many people makes me sick. Love, admiration, respect - it’s all totally useless. I’ve seen it all and I’ve seen the heartache it causes. Therefore I don’t allow myself to get at all involved. Even this child that I’ve been carrying for so long. I’ve heard other women talk about ‘establishing a bond with their unborn child’. I prefer to be realistic. It’s going to happen and it might as well happen sooner than later. Get it over and done with. It will be taken away from me as soon as it’s born anyway, so why should I worry? Handed over to Raines, I suppose. He’s as good a person as any. And with its older siblings as Red Files, presumably this child will be brought up to try and replace Jarod.

Now there’s a person for whom I have feelings. Of course, they aren’t positive ones. I hate him, and I’ve never hated anyone or anything before. But when someone is so capable of humiliating me as often as he’s done…well, it’s not that much of a comfort that he’s done it to others before me. It’s as though he does it deliberately. All of the times that I’ve been so close to success and been thwarted. The best time of my life was when he was back in the Centre and I got to see him being humiliated in his turn. Great, I thought, now maybe I’ll get the chance for a little revenge. Not that it actually happened. No, I was told, you have to take care of yourself. We can’t allow you into a situation where the child could be in danger. So it wasn’t me that they were worried about. It was the little brat that I’m carrying around. That’s depriving me of sleep and making me look like a beached whale. Oh, I’m aware of how I look. My stepdaughter reminds me of it constantly. Perhaps I hate her too, but I doubt it. I can’t really be bothered wasting energy on her, except when she’s more successful than I am. It was the pleasure of my life to subject her to a T-board investigation. But the memory of each time that she was more successful makes bile rise in the back of my throat.

I’m not sure whether I want to live or die. It can’t be denied that the pressure of working in the Centre is enough to drive anyone to the edge. But life isn’t that important to me anymore. All I really want is a chance to redeem myself for any past mistakes and to gain some revenge for anything that people may have done to me over the years. That's my aim before I allow them to take me away. Feelings for the child? Why should I care? It isn't mine. It's belonged to the Centre since it's inception. The fate of Parkers, Raines told me and who am I to doubt him? After all, both Miss Parker and Lyle are now both inextricably linked to the Centre. And I'll be linked until I stop being useful. The question is who is now the most important person. There is a long list and I could easily assimilate myself with any of them.

I suppose you wonder how I can bring myself to act in that way. If you lived in an environment where any step could be the wrong one and the wrong step could be fatal, you'd act the same way. And it can't be denied that I'm a survivor. I'll do what I have to do to get to the top. It's like playing snakes and ladders. Sometimes, when you make the wrong move, you slide down the levels of power. But patience and careful decisions will bring you back, sometimes to a better situation than the one you were in before. That's the way I play the game. I gamble and sometimes I lose but I can usually make up for it with careful deliberation and decision-making.

If the day comes, and I know that it will, I'll do my best to make the most of it that I can. I'm not going to disappear without a trace. People aren't going to forget me, that's for sure. And I won't be one of those people who aren't mentioned after they disappear without a trace. I'm ready to go but not without one last fight, without a chance to gain back some of what I've lost. I want a reputation that will last and there are plenty of ways to get one. It's not going to be easy for them to remove me. Even if no one is willing to help me, I'll manage it on my own. And, for a while I'll be successful. I know that they won't let me win forever. I'm not even trying to buy time. What I want is the opportunity to show myself as I've never been seen before.
Part 4 by KB
Part 4

"Remember this, --that very little is needed to make a happy life."
Meditations. ii. 67


"In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our outward opinions and principles."
Discources, Chap. xi

And so the walls begin to close in.

I know that they will be coming for me. Perhaps not today, or even tomorrow. But some time. And I'll be ready. I won't go quietly. They'll have to earn my death. In my time I've been a success. I have a loving family and I've worked to the fullest extent all my life. I really couldn't ask for more.

But I know that they want me dead.

I know too much. And I stand in their way. They could be even more if they didn't have me there. But I'm not going to go. Not yet. And not in the way that they think. I'm going to make a comeback. An almighty shock to those that think they got rid of me for good. Because they thought they had, some of them. Oh, how wrong they were. And I have the bargaining chips. Soon it will be my Centre. Raines and the others will be removed, or taken care of, and I will have complete control. Jarod will be brought back. There will be no excuses, and the others who help him will be weeded out and removed also. Then his family will be captured. Used to persuade him that it would be better if he co-operated. And he will. I'll make him. And if the threat of harm to his family don't work, we'll see what would happen if my daughter was in danger. Any fool can see that he's mad for her. And she, Parker as she is, will control any emotions that she feels and do exactly what I tell her. As she always does.

I find emotions to be inconvenient things. Ethics, too, come to think of it. If we had followed my plan and stripped Jarod of any ethical concerns he might have had, he would have made the perfect Pretender. Of course, it's probably too late now. I really don't know why the Tower wants him back alive. It would be so much easier to be able to conveniently dispose of him in the usual, neat manner. In fact keeping him alive seems to be a greater risk than having him removed.

In this game of cat and mouse that I'm playing, I just need a chance to prove myself. Of course, for that to happen I need Raines out of the way. I wouldn't imagine, though, that it would be so difficult. I mean, he's got a fairly firm grip on life but take away the tank and he's just a breathing mass of skin grafts. There are times when I wish that the shot that blew up the tank had taken him with it.

And so my position is as tentative as it has ever been. People that I neither trust nor like surround me. I married so that there would be a younger Parker to take control of the Centre after we are all gone. I cannot rely on my daughter to provide such a person and my son will never be given that opportunity. His earlier habits have shown that to be impossible. And so that left myself. Well, I have done what I set out to do and what they wanted me to do. So the next step is up to them, I guess. Although waiting is never something I particularly like, I know when it's necessary and it certainly is now. Waiting for the right moment to appear and show them how wrong them they were to underestimate me. No one should ever allow him- or herself to underestimate me. They'll soon learn their mistake. My wife, for example, thinks I'm a complete idiot. Well, she'll learn. I'll bide my time and, if Raines doesn't get to her first, then she's mine. If Raines fails then the Tower will learn of his failure and he, too, will be made to pay.

The person by whom I am most underestimated is my daughter. She assumed I knew nothing of her brother until she informed me of it, and that I was ignorant of her mother's affair with the man who is really my children's father. He, too, will be made to be sorry for what he did. She, my daughter, will never believe that I knew of this, or that I killed her mother because of it. The looks that the two share are the only reminder of what I did that day. I'm not sorry. I feel no guilt over it. She betrayed me for another man and that was my revenge. Not that I killed her myself. I let other people do that and there are plenty for whom a threat will give you instant obedience.

Perhaps the only person who never underestimated me was the Pretender himself. I think Jarod has always been aware of my limits and capabilities. He understands me, but I don't want understanding. I want respect. I want him to fear me and to know that I hold his life in my hands. As it is. Or as it should be. I should be in control of everything. I deserve it, after all. And, after all the effort that I've put in, building up the Centre, I deserve being more than just the Chairman.

So that's the situation. For me and for other people. It's a matter of waiting, of dodging around, avoiding possible traps and trying to get them before they get me. And I will get what I want. I can make enough effort to succeed. And when I do, the Centre will earn more money than it's ever done before. It will become a multinational organization, incorporating groups from all over the world, replacing governments and taking control of people. It will be a major success, no longer a secret organization, but an open group that exchanges ideas and solves problems for groups all over the world. It will be everything that I ever wanted it to be, and more. And I will enjoy every moment of it.

And so the Centre will survive. My older son will have control after I die and then my younger son, when he reaches the right age, will take over. My older son must make room for him, that's all there is to it. I am not unrealistic enough to think that I will live to see the baby grow up - there's no question that it's just not going to happen.
Part 5 by KB
Part 5

"Remember this, --that very little is needed to make a happy life."
Meditations. ii. 67


"For a man can lose neither the past not the future; for how can one take from him that which is not his? So remember these two points: first, that each thing is of like form from everlasting and comes around again in its cycle, and that it signifies not whether a man shall look upon the same thing for a hundred years or two hundred, or for an infinity of time; second, that the longest lived and the shortest lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing."
Meditations. ii. 14

Jarod watched from the window as Miss Parker entered the building just below. It hurt for him to have to stay there and allow her to find him but he knew it was necessary. From the window he saw Brigitte sitting in the car below and he slipped further behind the curtain as she swept the window with a pair of powerful binoculars. As the black sedan drew up behind the other car, Jarod heard the footsteps outside his room. The preparation he had made was coming to fruition and he slipped behind the door, confident that things would work out as planned.

Brigitte turned and was about to look out the rear window of the car when he husband appeared at the door.

"Give him to me."

"But I..."

"Shut up and hand him over."

Brigitte looked up into her husband's eyes and tried to force away the fear that flowered in her own as she gave the baby to his assumed father.

"Why are you doing this?"

"You know why."

"Tell me again."

One of the sweepers came up and pulled the woman roughly out of the car. The street, ending in a dead end, had only a few windows facing from the surrounding buildings and she knew that she could get no help. Even Parker would not be able to save her. Not that Parker would do it anyway, Brigitte thought bitterly as her arms were dragged behind her back. She couldn't help looking up again at the man she had married. They both knew why she had married him, or he had married her. It had been a marriage of convenience, but now it was no longer convenient and so the end would be quick and clean.

Miss Parker kicked the door open and, gun raised, entered the room. The two arms that grabbed her from behind caught her off guard, as Jarod had known they would, and he was able to disarm her by slamming her hands against the wall. When the gun dropped to the floor, he slightly loosened his grip. She angrily twisted in his arms, expecting to see the annoying grin with which he generally greeted a confrontation. The sight of a serious, and somewhat sad, expression on his face knocked the words out of her head.

"What do you want, Jarod?"

"To show you this."

He walked her over to the window, knocking the gun under a cabinet with one foot as he did so, and the two stood behind the tinted glass, staring down as the scene unfolded below.

Brigitte stared up from the seat of the car where the sweeper had thrown her. Her feet were tightly bound and she could see the hands, holding a mask, gradually approaching her face.

"You still haven't told me why." She suppressed the tremor in her voice.

"Why? Because you would have done the same to me. Because you know, when you married me, that this would be the result. Because I no longer need you or want you."

"Is this what your first wife felt like? Did you explain it to her, too? Did she feel like this? Was she useless to you as well?"

Mr Parker brushed the sweeper aside and dragged the woman from the car. On the ground he kicked her repeatedly in the stomach and chest, ignoring the screams that came from the twisted mouth. Picking her up, he slammed her against the bonnet of the car and began smashing his fists into her face.

"How dare you?" The voice was low and Brigitte, her whole body throbbing in agony, barely heard it. "It would serve you right if I just left you here to bleed to death instead of humanely putting you out of your misery."

He stepped back and nodded to the sweeper. "Never mind about the blindfold. Let her see it coming. The bitch deserves it anyway." The sweeper paused for a second. "Well, what are you waiting for? Or do you want to join her?"

"N...no, Mr Parker. But I thought you were going to..."

"Well, I'm not. I want to make sure that you do it, understand?"

The first shot made Miss Parker turn and bury her head in Jarod's chest. A second crack made her look up in amazement to see the sweeper at her father's feet and the older man quietly wiping his hands on his handkerchief after returning the small pistol to his pocket while the body of the woman lay draped across the bonnet. Her eyes were wide and stared up at the sky as blood commenced its slow movement down the car's black metal surface and onto the ground. As he picked up his cell-phone from the driver's seat of the black sedan and began dialing, Miss Parker finally found her voice.


"You heard why," Jarod told her quietly.

"Why did I have to see this?"

"I wanted you to know the truth, Miss Parker. Before he comes for you, too."

"My father would never..." She looked out of the window, down at the blood-filled scene and couldn't finish the sentence.

Jarod pulled her gently away from the window and put her on the bed that sat in the corner of the room. She didn't resist when he began to wrap the rope around her wrists and then tie them to the head of the bed. Only when he started on her feet did she speak again.

"What now?"

"That depends on what you want, Miss Parker."

"Why do you have to show me these parts of my life?"

"Would you rather learn them the way your stepmother did? Or before you can do something about them? You know what he's really like, Miss Parker. You've always known it. I can't take any of it away from you. I can only help you to make a better future." The ropes were soft; having been created from the linen sheets that had been on the bed until the morning.

Jarod's knots were firm enough that removing them would be difficult but they were unlikely to cause her any pain. Once she was secured, he stepped back. "I hadn't wanted you to learn that lesson but, once I knew about it, I couldn't help it." He walked to the door but looked back just before leaving. "I never really wanted to hurt you, Miss Parker. I want you to know that."

Mr Parker looked up as a car announced the arrival of the cleaner team that he had requested. A second car, he noted with inward frustration, contained Sydney, Broots and Lyle. Broots, following Sydney, stumbled out of the car as though glad to be escaping from its remaining occupant.

"Well, Dad, what happened?"

"It seems as though they had a shooting match. I was too late to do anything about it." Lyle noted the lack of concern in his father's voice but, feeling as little emotion himself about the death, turned away without a word.

"Lyle." The young man turned back. "Take this." The baby was hurriedly dumped in his arms as a third vehicle drew up. Lyle just as rapidly handed the baby to Broots.

"Oh, Mr Parker," Sydney's voice was calm. "I understand that Miss Parker came with Brigitte. Do you know where she went?"

"I'm not sure, Doctor. Possibly into the building."

Sydney and Broots, still carrying the baby, disappeared into the aging structure as the cleaners began their gruesome task.

"Miss Parker?" the psychiatrist called, somewhat tentatively.

"She's upstairs." The figure, dressed in black, materialized beside the two men. "Take care of her. She's been through a lot."

Before Sydney could even address him, Jarod had slipped through a hidden door and was gone. The two men climbed the stairs and entered the room as Miss Parker managed to free her hands from the straps and sit up.


"Is my father still here?"

"Yes, Angel. I was worried about you." The voice from the doorway caused Miss Parker to shrink back slightly but her father failed to notice. "What did he do?"

"He tied me up after...so he could escape."

"So he got away again."

"Yes." There was a pause. "I'm fine though, Daddy."

Sydney noticed the almost child-like tone of her voice, and recalled the numerous other times he had heard it, as her father turned away. After leaving the room, Mr Parker began to walk down the stairs. The group heard the feet on the stairs as Sydney moved forward and undid the bonds from Miss Parker's ankles.

"Give him to me." Miss Parker reached out her arms, a curiously soft look on her face, and Broots handed over the small bundle.

"I'll take that, Miss Parker." A thin, rasping voice from the doorway made the group turn to see Raines waiting, his arms outstretched.

"No, Raines." Miss Parker held the child close to her. "You won't."

"Give me the boy, Miss Parker."

Miss Parker dumped the baby back into Broots' arms and stood up. Moving over, she hissed in the ghoul's ear. "How do you want to die, Raines? Quickly or slowly? From a great height, perhaps? Such as a three-storey window - maybe like this one?"

His eyes widened and, without another word, he turned and left the room. Miss Parker retrieved her gun from where Jarod had kicked it and returned it to the holster before taking the baby again.

As the group were leaving the room and walking down the stairs, Raines was already waiting inside his limousine. One of the sweepers that he had brought with him ushered Mr Parker into the vehicle.

"I think that it's time we had a talk."

Mr Parker surreptitiously fingered the blade that he had earlier concealed in his sleeve and thought comfortingly of the gun in his pocket as he swung his legs into the car and pulled the door shut.

"Yes, William, I think so too."

The black car created a cloud of dust as it left the scene.

Miss Parker's hair was wrapped in a damp towel and her skin had been rubbed almost red raw from the shower, in which she had tried to remove the feelings that she knew were internal but which she wanted to get rid of in any way possible. She thought longingly of the evenings that she and Thomas had shared, in which she would rest a damp head on his lap while they watched t.v, resulting in him needing to change before he could go to bed. The memory made her throat tighten and, to distract herself, she drew the diary, identical to her mothers, towards her and read through the entry that she had written the day before. The vortex of the Centre. She hadn't realized at the time how right she had been.

The phone rang and she picked it up without thinking, tucking the receiver under her chin.


"How are you doing?" a deep voice asked softly.

"I...don't know."

"And your father?"

"He hasn't come back."

"But Raines has returned?"

"After a few hours, yes."

There was a pause.

"Can you cope, without him?"

"Perhaps better than if he was around."

Jarod could hardly prevent himself from sighing audibly with relief. The outcome of what he had shown her was the only part of the situation that he had been unable to accurately simulate before the event and he was relieved that it seemed to be relatively positive.

"And Lyle?"

"Nothing yet." Miss Parker's voice hardened. "But I think he's planning a take-over as soon as possible."

"And how's your other brother?"

Miss Parker looked down at the small figure in her arms and then at the silhouette of the sweeper outsider her front door, standing guard. "He's fine. He's here, with me."

"I'm glad. He's your family now. Take care of him, won't you?"

"And what about you?"

"I'm doing just fine, Miss Parker. Just fine." Jarod smiled as he looked down at the scene between the stair rails above her head before retreating into the bedroom. Going through the window and down the tree outside took less than a minute and, as he passed the sweeper and pushed an envelope into the man's hand, he ended the call.

An hour later, in accordance with the plan, the sweeper entered the room. "Miss Parker, I found this at the edge of the garden. It's addressed to you."

"Yes, thank-you Sam." She put the baby down in the corner of the sofa and took the envelope. Her eyes returned to the television until the man had left the room and then she took up her paper knife and slit the white surface. Her eyes widened as she picked up the first piece of paper and began to read.

I don’t know what first prompted me, when I got out, to help people. A desire for justice, perhaps, or just the need to make up for what happened. But if I really wanted justice then I would have begun destroying the Centre from the outset, and if I wanted to make up for what had happened, I would have gone to all of the people who I harmed, or their families, and told them what had happened. People always want answers to their questions and this is always more so in a tragic event or even a near-tragic one. But I could never bring myself to go and admit to being the cause of their problems. Would it have helped? I tried to convince myself that it wouldn’t. But I’ll never really know whether it would or not…
Epilogue by KB

How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one's culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light. Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

Tech Room Report April 15th, 2000

Report on:
Centre Directive #9840

Date for directive to be carried out: April 14, 2000

Directive for: Mrs. Parker; Miss Parker

Directions: Miss Parker, as bodyguard, to accompany Mrs. Parker on her visit (with child Parker) to pediatrician at 5/234 Holloway Lane, Blue Cove

Access code: 232567J

Signed: Director (Mr Parker)

Date(s) accessed: April 10th, 2000; April 11th, 2000

Accessed by: Miss Parker; Sweeper (unidentified); Mrs. Parker; Mr. Lyle; Mr. Parker; Mr. Broots; Mr. Raines; Dr. Sydney

Date intercepted: April 9th, 2000

Intercepted by: Source unknown (suspected Jarod)

This story archived at http://www.pretendercentre.com/missingpieces/viewstory.php?sid=2529